American Muslims and Election '08

Worshippers listen to the Khutba during Friday Prayer at the 43rd annual Islamic Society of North America convention Friday, Sept, 1, 2006 in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Barack Hussein Obama may have won the presidency, but it was a rough campaign season to be Muslim in America.

On the stump, on right-wing radio, in vicious DVD attacks and leaflets, simply being Muslim was made into a threat, an epithet. American Muslims were watching and listening and hurting under the smears.

Not until mid-October did a big somebody — Colin Powell — step up to say, hey, Obama’s Christian, but what if he were Muslim? It shouldn’t matter. Let’s stop the smears.

This hour, On Point: American Muslims talk about a rough campaign, and their hopes for Obama and beyond.


Joining us from New Rochelle, NY, is Farooq Kathwari. He’s chairman, president, and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, chairman of Refugees International, and director of the International Rescue Committee. He grew up in Kashmir.

From Washington, we’re joined by Sabra Jafarzadeh. She’s a law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. She grew up in Maryland, and her parents are Iranian.

And in Boston, we’re joined by Robert Azzi, a freelance photojournalist who has spent 30 years covering the Middle East.

Colin Powell, on “Meet the Press” in October, referred to this moving photograph of Elsheba Khan at the grave of her son, Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, who was killed serving in Iraq, which appeared in The New Yorker in September. Here are Powell’s comments on “Meet the Press” regarding the treatment of Muslims in the campaign (read the full transcript at

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

The Pluralism Project, at Harvard University, has collected national coverage and protest of the anti-Muslim DVD “Obsession” that was distributed in many American newspapers during the election campaign.

Here’s another thoughtful response to Muslims’ place in the 2008 campaign, from the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

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