Faith-Based Council Produces Muslim Celebrity

October 22, 2009

Author: Staff Writer

Source: NPR

Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim, is one of 25 people President Obama tapped to advise him on faith issues. She may have met the president exactly once, but to Muslims, she's a celebrity — thanks to the headscarf, or hijab, she wears every day.

When Obama spoke to the Muslim world from Egypt last summer, Mogahed was in the audience, sitting five rows from the front, sandwiched between old men in prayer caps and women in suits. 

To Muslims who saw her there, she was traveling with the president — even though she wasn't. To them, she'd written his speech — even though she'd only contributed a couple of paragraphs.

To them, she was his Islamic adviser. She's not.

The denials didn't matter. The sight of Mogahed, a Muslim, in her hijab, seeming very official and "Washington," prompted Muslims to think of her as something more. To them, she is the hijabi in the White House.

"That's what stuck and that's how the story has been framed ever since. I've tried many times to reframe it and failed miserably," Mogahed says.

Muslims everywhere see her voluntary appointment as a backstage pass to the White House. She hears everything from "My father is in jail, and I want you to ask Obama to pardon him" to "I need a visa," she says.

What Mogahed actually does for the president is work on his faith-based council. They're supposed to come up with ideas on how the American government can partner with communities and social groups. What she brings to the table is research from her polling of Muslims at her day job with Gallup.