Obama reaches out to Muslim
By Michael Conlon
Chicago - Barack Obama should be
able to count on heavy support from US Muslims in the November election, if
polls are correct, but he risks offending some members of that faith by having
to explain he is not one himself.
The number of votes at stake is
small since Muslims account for only a fraction of the US population and there
are no reliable figures on how many are registered to vote.
But with a recent history of
close presidential elections, no vote can be discounted when Democrat Obama,
who would be the first black president, faces off against Republican John
A survey from the Pew Forum on
Religion and Politics found that 63 percent of US Muslims either considered
themselves to be Democrats or leaned in that direction, compared with 11
percent who said they were Republican or identified with that party.
At the same time, about 12
percent of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, a misconception that has
persisted for months and been fed by Internet rumours.
The touchy issue was in the news
again when The New Yorker published a satirical cartoon on its cover depicting
an Arab-garbed Obama and his gun-toting wife in the White House Oval Office
with an American flag burning in the fireplace.
There have also been unconfirmed
reports that the Obama campaign plans to appoint a liaison to the Muslim
A religion section on an Obama
Web site, "Fight the Smears," that was created to deal with such
rumours, labels claims that he is a Muslim a "lie" and states he
"has never been a Muslim, was not raised as a Muslim and is a committed
"We know he isn't a Muslim
but who cares if he is?" said Sofian Zakkout, director of the American
Muslim Association of North America.
Obama's pledge "to bring
communities together" is his appeal, Zakkout said, and "We don't
expect him to come to us and say, 'I'm with you.' We don't need that."
But Saaqib Rangoonwala, managing
editor of Southern California InFocus, a Muslim newspaper, sees a close
election in which "American Muslim votes will be needed and it is time for
Muslims to take a stand ...
"Muslims are not less
deserving of Obama's time than other groups that he has met with ... to his
credit, he met with a Muslim leader and personally apologised to the Muslim
women who were banned by campaign volunteers from sitting behind the podium at
a Detroit rally because the women wore hijabs," he said.
"These actions are well and
good," Rangoonwala said, but "Muslims need to let Obama know that he
has to earn their votes."
Ahmed Rehab, executive director
of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there
was a high level of interest in the presidential election among Muslims, with
the main issues being civil rights, peace in the Middle East, immigration, the
economy and Islamophobia.
But he thinks Obama may be
"overcompensating" in trying to correct the misconception he is a
Muslim, leaving the impression that being a Muslim is somehow un-American - a
"Many in the Muslim
community think he is being sheepish in reaching out to them," he said.
Obama already has faced problems
within his own Christian church, having to distance himself from controversial
comments by his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, that were
perceived by some as anti-American.
A 2007 Pew report found that US
Muslims were mainly middle class and mostly in mainstream society. A later
survey of likely voters by the Council on American-Islamic Relations also found
them largely Democrats and young, with 75 percent of them US-born or having
lived in the country for 20 years or more.
The Pew reports have estimated
Muslims at just 0,06 percent of the population, although other reports have
placed the number higher.
In Minneapolis, which has a large
concentration of Somali Muslim immigrants, Mohamed Burk, 53, said, "I'm
listening and thinking," but he is undecided between Obama and McCain.
Abdulaziz Al-Salim, 23, a
Minnesota native who now lives in Daman, Saudi Arabia, where he works as a
financial analyst for Saudi Aramco, the oil company, said he was sad that
"being associated with Muslims is a political liability."
But he said he would vote for
Obama "for the same reasons that everyone else is supporting him. He's a
unifier, charismatic and represents change."
Published on the Web by IOL on 2008-07-25