Obama’s Muslim

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Asbahi.jpgThe Obama campaign has appointed its national coordinator for Muslim affairs and it’s not (as originally reported) Hiam Nawas, but a Chicago lawyer named Mazen Asbahi. Asbahi graduated from Northwestern Law School a dozen years ago, and has acquired his legal chops at some of the toniest law firms in the Second City. He’s also a practicing Muslim (see August 30, 2007 article in Chicago Daily Herald) and a player in the American Muslim community. (See his service on the board of directors of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.) He has been involved with the Nawawi Foundation, founded in Chicago in 2000, which describes itself as “born out of a need to provide relevant, meaningful Islamic teachings to America’s growing first and second generation Muslims – teachings firmly rooted in authentic scholarship and taught in a way that is dynamic and applicable to the modern world.” He’s fluent in Arabic.
In the Obama campaign, Mazen will have the job of coordinating with the Arab as well as the Muslim communities. Politico’s Ben Smith calls this “a tricky double portfolio, as most American Muslims aren’t Arabs, and many Arab Americans aren’t Muslim.” This, however, fails to grasp the crucial political point, which is Michigan. Asbahi went to the University of Michigan (graduating summa) and has good connections with the Arab/Muslim community in that state. In 2006 he eulogized a pillar of that community, Syed Salman (in a publication that also includes a tribute from the Michigan area director of the American Jewish Committee).
Michigan is the critical swing state that also happens to be the one state where the Arab-American vote could make a difference. The epicenter of that community is Dearborn, which comprises many Muslim Arabs but even more Christian Arabs. Look for Asbahi to be spending a lot of time in Dearborn.