Mazen Asbahi,Obama's Immoderate Muslim Outreach Director, Forced To Resign
August 6, 2008
|Mr. Asbahi said he did not want to distract Obama's campaign.
Chicago lawyer Mazen Asbahi, who was appointed volunteer national coordinator for Muslim American affairs by the Obama campaign on July 26, stepped down Monday after an Internet newsletter wrote about his brief stint on the fund's board, which also included a fundamentalist imam.
"Mr. Asbahi has informed the campaign that he no longer wishes to serve in his volunteer position, and we are in the process of searching for a new national Arab American and Muslim American outreach coordinator," spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.
A corporate lawyer at the firm of Schiff Hardin LLP, Mr. Asbahi tendered his resignation after he and the Obama campaign received emailed inquiries about his background from The Wall Street Journal. He did not respond to the email or a message left at his law office; the campaign released a letter in which Mr. Asbahi said he did not want to be a distraction.
The Obama campaign is trying to strike a balance between courting Muslim American voters and dispelling rumors intended by some to link the candidate to radical Islam. Sen. Obama is a Christian.
Until Mr. Asbahi joined the campaign, Sen. Obama did not have a Muslim-outreach coordinator and had relied on the Democratic National Committee's efforts. The campaign has long had its own outreach efforts to Catholic, evangelical Christian and Jewish voters. Some Muslim voters have complained about the disparity. An Obama aide says Mr. Asbahi was brought on in part to bridge that perceived gap and to reach out to Muslim communities in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, states seen as among the most competitive this fall.
"We need Muslim Americans to get excited about the Campaign, and there's a lot to get excited about!" Mr. Asbahi wrote in a statement posted on a blog when he was appointed. "Sure, there have been mis-steps," he added.
In 2000, Mr. Asbahi briefly served on the board of Allied Assets Advisors Fund, a Delaware-registered trust. Its other board members at the time included Jamal Said, the imam at a fundamentalist-controlled mosque in Illinois.
"I served on that board for only a few weeks before resigning as soon as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board," Mr. Asbahi said in his resignation letter. "Since concerns have been raised about that brief time, I am stepping down...to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change."
The eight-year-old connection between Mr. Asbahi and Mr. Said was raised last week by the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report, which is published by a Washington think tank and chronicles the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, a world-wide fundamentalist group based in Egypt. Other Web sites, some pro-Republican and others critical of fundamentalist Islam, also have reported on the background of Mr. Asbahi. He is a frequent speaker before several groups in the U.S. that scholars have associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Justice Department named Mr. Said an unindicted co-conspirator in the racketeering trial last year of several alleged Hamas fund-raisers, which ended in a mistrial. He has also been identified as a leading member of the group in news reports going back to 1993.
Mr. Said is the imam at the Bridgeview Mosque in Bridge-view, Ill., outside Chicago. He left the board of the Islamic fund in 2005, Securities and Exchange Commission filings state. A message left for Mr. Said at the mosque was not returned.
Allied Asset Advisors is a subsidiary of the North American Islamic Trust. The trust, which is supported financially by the government of Saudi Arabia, holds title to many mosques in the U.S. and promotes a conservative brand of Islam compatible with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and also akin to the fundamentalist style predominant in Saudi Arabia. Allied executives did not respond to inquiries.
MIM: Mazen Asbahi attended a fundraiser for Keith Ellison held at the home of the president of CAIR Michigan.
By Niraj Warikoo • Free Press Staff Writer • August 6, 2008
A native of metro Detroit who had just been appointed as Barack Obama's national coordinator for Muslim-American and Arab-American affairs has resigned this week amid a controversy over alleged connections with a suspected Muslim extremist.
Mazen Asbahi, an attorney based in Chicago who grew up in Northville, was tapped late last month by the Obama campaign to be the outreach coordinator to Muslims and Arab-Americans. Born to immigrants from Syria, Asbahi graduated from Detroit Country Day and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1996, and then went to Northwestern University for law school.
Asbahi sent an e-mail Monday to the Obama campaign that read:
"In 2000, I agreed to serve as a member of the board of trustees of the Dow Jones Islamic Index Fund. I served on that board for only a few weeks before resigning as soon as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board. Since concerns have been raised about that brief time, I am stepping down from the volunteer role I recently agreed to take on with the Obama campaign as Arab American and Muslim American outreach coordinator in order to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change."
Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said today that "Mr. Asbahi has informed the campaign that he no longer wishes to serve in his volunteer position, and we are in the process of searching for a new national Arab American and Muslim American outreach coordinator."
Asbahi and his family are well known in metro Detroit's Muslim communities. His appointment had been praised by Muslim activists who said he was a good choice. Two weekends ago, Asbahi was in metro Detroit meeting with local Muslims, say local Muslim leaders.
He was at the wedding of the son of Yahya Basha, a Muslim activist from West Bloomfield who knows Asbahi's family well. Asbahi also attended a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), the first Muslim Congressman, held at the home of a board member of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. And Asbahi attended a rally at the east Dearborn office for Obama's campaign.
Friends who know Asbahi said they were disappointed to hear of his resignation.
"This is a targeted effort…to disenfranchise all Muslims from the political process," said Haaris Ahmad, assistant corporation counsel for Wayne County.
In a May 2007 story in Medill Reports about Muslim professionals, Asbahi talks about the challenges of being an observant Muslim in the U.S.
Drinking is one challenge that he mentions.
"We're left out of that," Asbahi is quoted in a part of the story about work-related social events involving alcohol. "Cocktail parties are not as big of a deal. What get to me are more of the social, fun outings that are based on drinking. Can't we do something else?
Asbahi is also a board member of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a Muslim think tank based in Clinton Township. And he is director of publications for the Nawawi Foundation, an educational non-profit group based in Illinois.
He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in political science and Islamic studies and was past president of the Muslim Bar Association of Chicago.
In an article written on the Obama campaign website before he resigned, Asbahi started by writing: "Assalamu-Aleikum," the traditional Islamic greeting. He then wrote:
"In order to get Senator Obama elected, the Campaign needs all of you to continue your support and if possible to take it to another level. It's a race for every vote in the key battleground states, such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio. We need Muslim Americans to get excited about the Campaign, and there's a lot to get excited about!
Sure, there have been mis-steps. And of course there are added sensitivities with our faith given the "smear" campaign trying to paint the Senator as too exotic and too un-American to be President."
MIM: Details of the fundraiser which Asbahi attended at the home of the president of the Michigan chapter of CAIR.
Ellison to visit metro Detroit this weekend
By Niraj Warikoo • Free Press Staff Writer • July 25, 2008
U.S. House Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), a Detroit native and the first Muslim elected to Congress, is visiting metro Detroit this weekend to raise money from local Muslims.
Rep. Ellison will be speaking at a private fund-raiser for him in Shelby Township on Saturday at the home of Dr. Jukaku Tayeb, president of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Tayeb said.
Born and raised as a Catholic in Detroit, Ellison converted to Islam while a student at Wayne State University. He moved to Minnesota for law school and was elected to Congress in 2006 in a victory that garnered international attention because of his faith.
Since then, another Muslim – U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana) – was elected to Congress after he won a special election in March.
Ellison is up for re-election this year.