WASHINGTON: An attorney who volunteered to help Barack Obama improve his relationship with Muslim and Arab-Americans has resigned from the campaign amid questions about his connection to a fundamentalist imam.
Mazen Asbahi started as the campaign's outreach coordinator on July 26, and he resigned in a letter to the campaign Monday. He said he was stepping down "to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change."
Asbahi, an associate at the Chicago law firm Schiff Hardin, said in his letter that he served on the board of the Dow Jones Islamic Index Fund for a few weeks, but resigned "as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board."
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the other board member during Asbahi's tenure in 2000 was Jamal Said, imam at a fundamentalist-controlled mosque in Illinois. The Justice Department named Said as an unindicted co-conspirator in the racketeering trial last year of several alleged Hamas fundraisers. The case ended in a mistrial. The newspaper said the connections were first exposed by an Internet newsletter.
Obama, who is a Christian, has been fighting false Internet rumors that he is a Muslim. Asbahi, in a post on the Obama campaign blog last week, said that had created "added sensitivities" between the campaign and the Muslim community, and he encouraged Muslims and Arab-Americans to get involved.
The campaign previously conducted outreach to the community through its interfaith outreach program and the Muslim American outreach desk at the Democratic Party. Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said the campaign is searching for a new volunteer coordinator to replace Asbahi.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter, said Asbahi was a victim of Internet rumors.
"This incident just shows how Islamophobic the political climate is right now," Walid said. "Baseless smears about a Muslim with a very good reputation was used to marginalize not only him but the community from the political process.
"If someone like Mr. Asbahi can't be vetted to work for the Obama campaign, then who can?"
A message was left Wednesday afternoon for Asbahi by The Associated Press seeking comment.