By now, you’ve no doubt heard that Senator Barack Obama once dressed in the traditional garb of a country that he was visiting, a country that happens to be predominantly Muslim. If this sounds like a non-story to you, brace yourself for eight more months of non-news—the Obama/Muslim narrative is far too tantalizing for it to go away.
Responding to such a smear is delicate: One has to be both adamant that Obama is not and never has been a Muslim and clear that the suggestion shouldn’t be so appalling. But it is appalling to many Americans, and, as Firas Ahmad writes in Utne Independent Press Award nominee Islamica, this puts American Muslims in an odd position: While many admire Obama and see him as sympathetic to their particular struggles as Americans, they also know that if he openly sought their support, it would cause his campaign more trouble than it’s worth.
Ahmad doesn’t call for Obama to throw caution to the wind and embrace the Muslim community; the problem is not with the Obama campaign but with public opinion. Ahmad argues that the American Muslim community should invest more money and energy in the sorts of institutions that can actually change public opinion—journalism scholarships, publications, think tanks that engage the general public. He also insists on confronting the fact that few black American Muslims have leadership roles in the U.S. Muslim establishment, even though many of them have been politically and socially engaged far longer than other American Muslims. Such steps could bring the country closer to a place in which it isn’t shocking to suggest that a presidential candidate is a Muslim, in which a candidate is anxious to court Muslim voters just like everybody else.