The Obama campaign finally tapped an Arab-American and Muslim-American coordinator July 26 — Chicago lawyer Mazen Asbahi. Monday, he stepped down after questions were raised by the Wall Street Journal about his brief tenure on the board of an Islamic investment fund. The episode exposes the Obama team’s struggle to woo Muslim voters while denying Obama ever embraced the faith and as he looks for Jewish support.
Asbahi, an associate at Schiff Hardin, e-mailed the campaign Monday, before the story was published, saying he was quitting the volunteer position in order to not become a distraction.
“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,” he wrote.
Another board member was Jamal Said, an imam at a mosque in Broadview who has been linked by the Justice Department to alleged Hamas fund-raisers.
The Asbahi resignation demonstrates “the difficulty of charting the waters of Islamophopia in this election cycle,” said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago Council of American-Islamic Relations.
The Obama campaign said a replacement for Asbahi is being sought.
“Candidates would be wise not to take the Muslim vote for granted,” Rehab said.
Asbahi joined the campaign at the end of Obama’s Middle East and European swing where he visited Jordan and Israel and made a quick side trip to visit Palestinian Authority leaders in Ramallah.
Obama, a Christian whose middle name is Hussein — and whose father and stepfather have Muslim roots — is continuing to wrestle with false rumors that he is a Muslim.