Obama's Entreaty to Islam Surprises Muslims

April 7, 2009

Author: Matthai Kuruvila

Source: San Francisco Chronicle


President Obama's speech to the Turkish parliament Monday left Muslims across the United States stunned by the dramatic way he continues to build bridges with their brethren.

"He is uniquely qualified among all the American presidents to really reach out and change the mood of the relationship between America and the Muslim world," said Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani ambassador and now a professor of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C. "He's the first president to talk about respect for the Muslim world."

In his speech, Obama recast an often adversarial U.S. relationship with Muslims into other terms - referring to friends or friendship 10 times. It was the most significant in a series of gestures to reach out to the Muslim community since his inaugural address, when he called for a "new way forward" with Muslims "based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

"The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam," Obama said to applause, according to a White House transcript of Monday's speech. "In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical, not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people."

Obama also tapped into his own unique heritage, which was a lightning rod in the campaign. Republicans used his middle name, Hussein, as a slur to suggest he was anti-American. At the time, Obama did relatively little outreach to Muslims, most notably not visiting a mosque while going to the sanctuaries of other faiths.