Islamic Links on Obama Web Site Stir Criticism

Fred Lucas | Staff Writer | Monday, February 25, 2008

Islamic Links on Obama Web Site Stir Criticism

( - A page for Muslim supporters of Sen. Barack Obama hosted on Obama's presidential campaign Web site promotes events sponsored by controversial Islamic groups.

The Muslim Americans for Obama'08 was created on Obama's main campaign site where users can create their own page through a "My Obama" option. The Muslim Americans for Obama page also links to a Web site that features lectures by people who have expressed radical Islamic views in the past.

The portion of the Muslim Americans for Obama page lists proposals to establish a Muslim American advisory group on U.S. foreign policy; provide prayer areas in public places such as malls, airports, universities and government buildings; institute a law to allow Muslim employees to take time from their work day for prayer; and institute a law against harassment of Muslim women in public areas.

The Obama campaign's press office did not respond to numerous phone calls and e-mail messages from Cybercast News Service on this matter.

Throughout the campaign, Obama has professed his Christian faith, though his father is a Muslim.

Late last year, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a supporter of Obama's Democratic rival New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, caused some stir in Iowa when he said,
"It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim," Kerrey said.

"Muslim Americans for Obama '08 is a grassroots initiative to support the presidential campaign for Barack Obama 2008," the Web page says. "Our sincere intention is to serve as a resource for Muslim and non-Muslim Americans to get involved and learn more about the political process and Barack Obama as a person and presidential candidate."

Other "My Obama" pages on the campaign's Web site include "Jews for Obama," "Christians for Obama" and "Gay Christians for Obama."

But it is a link and a list of events on the Muslim Americans for Obama page that has prompted critics that consider themselves watchdogs of Islamist groups to take notice.

The list of events on the Muslim Americans for Obama page includes voter registration drives at conventions sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), held last April and August in Rosemont, Ill., and the convention co-sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS).

These groups routinely inject themselves into political causes, said M. Zhudi Jasser, chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He thinks all political candidates should stay clear of mixing religion and politics, saying the root of terror is political Islam.

"Any candidate that engaged American Islamist organizations without any ideological litmus test about their stances regarding the transnational goals of Islamism, I think that is going to be a major liability," Jasser, a Muslim, told Cybercast News Service.

"I wouldn't specifically say Obama. I would say any candidate that doesn't identify that Muslim organizations should be leading the effort against political Islam and its impact on the ends of that terrorists seek. I think it will be a liability," he said.

The MAS has faced intense scrutiny in recent years for its alleged ties to terrorism.

In the appeal of Sabri Benkhala, a man convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice last year after being acquitted of trying to help the Taliban, the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia filed a brief that referenced to MAS as an "overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood for the United States."

The Muslim Brotherhood is a militant Islamic group in Egypt. The government has not brought any charges against MAS.

"We are an American Muslim organization, and we don't take orders from anybody oversees," MAS Executive Director Mahdi Bray told Cybercast News Service. "We were established in America, and we are not an overt or covert arm of the Muslim Brotherhood."

In 2004, after the Israeli military killed Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin, the MAS Freedom Foundation announced it would push Congress to enforce provisions of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act against Israel, which forbids the use of U.S. weapons from being used against civilian targets.

Bray said other human rights organizations and the United Nations also opposed the action by Israel.

In 2006, the Minnesota chapter of MAS issued a fatwa, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, proclaiming that "Islamic jurisprudence" would prohibit Muslim taxi cab drivers from transporting anyone carrying alcohol "because it involves cooperating with sin, according to Islam."

The group tried and failed to get the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to create a two-tier system for Muslim and non-Muslim cab drivers. In this case, Bray said, the state chapter was "out of line" and not acting on behalf of the national organization.

As for the Obama candidacy, Bray anticipates his Muslim heritage could be smeared.

"After the tragedy of 9/11, Republicans might politically exploit this for fear and smear," Bray said. "He's a Christian, but the right-wing bloggers are already talking about his name Obama Hussein.

"Can you believe we live in such a bigoted country that people would denounce him for his name? It wouldn't matter if he were a Christian or a Mormon or Jewish. It's unfair to denounce someone because of their name and connect that to their Muslim heritage," he added.

Bray stressed there is no monolithic support for any single candidate among Muslim voters.

ICNA and MAS, which co-sponsor conventions, are non-profit religious organizations and thus do not endorse any candidates, said Azeem Khan, assistant secretary general for ICNA.

"We don't have a problem with people having tables" at our conventions, Khan told Cybercast News Service. "In '04, Kerry had a table. In 2000, the ISNA convention had a table of Muslims for Bush."

Khan has his doubts about the electoral impact the Muslim community can have in the presidential race.

"Muslims are less than 2 percent of the population in the U.S. and are not a category weighed heavily," Khan said. "Muslims are naturally close to the Republican Party on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. The difference comes on foreign policy and other issues."

Khan said President George W. Bush, a Republican, won overwhelmingly among Muslim voters in 2000, but the pendulum swung to the Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.

ISNA promotes itself as a civil rights group seeking interfaith dialogue, but the group has had to weather controversy in past years.

ISNA was an unindicted co-conspirator in a case, declared a mistrial, against the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation. The government accused the group but did not convict it of raising $12 million for the terrorist group Hamas.

J. Michael Waller, an Annenberg professor of international communication at the Institute of World Politics, told a Senate panel in 2003 that ISNA provides training for Wahhabi-trained imams. Wahhabiism is a form of Sunni Islam that includes radical adherents.

An ISNA spokesperson could not be reached for comment for this story.

Jasser was also concerned that the Muslim Americans for Obama site contained a "Qaran (Audio) English Translation." Clicking on that brings a user to the Web site "The Sounds of Islam." At this site users can listen to numerous lectures regarding Islam, including those from people who have expressed radical views in the past.

One of the more controversial lecturers on the site is the Islamic preacher Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who has advocated suicide bombings.

"Allah Almighty is just; through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak a weapon the strong do not have and that is their ability to turn their bodies into bombs as Palestinians do," the BBC quoted him as saying.

The "Sounds of Islam" site also includes lectures by Abdul Rahman Al Sudais, the chief cleric of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, who has used inflammatory rhetoric against people of different faiths.

The BBC quoted him as saying, "The worst ... of the enemies of Islam are those ... whom he ... made monkeys and pigs, the aggressive Jews and oppressive Zionists and those that follow them: the callers of the trinity and the cross worshippers ... those influenced by the rottenness of their ideas, and the poison of their cultures the followers of secularism .... How can we talk sweetly when the Hindus and the idol worshippers indulge in their overwhelming hatred against our brothers."

Jasser said it's not a stretch to show concern about such a link on the pro-Obama site.

"That's the problem with Islamism," he said. "It's an insinuating, permeating, political ideology that utilizes this political activism to bring forth the political agenda of Islamists. Unless you deal with organizations that separate religion and politics, you're going to find yourself one or two steps away from the international Muslim Brotherhood."