Muslims Heartened By Obama Greeting

March 21, 2009

Author: Gregg Krupa

Source: The Detroit News

The thought weaved through excited conversations in mosques throughout Metro Detroit on Friday, as Muslims gathered for their weekly, public prayer: Is this the beginning of the new era that local Muslims and Arab-American leaders have been urging for years?

News that President Barack Obama sent a video greeting to Iranians at the start of a major festival celebrating spring was perceived Friday as a significant change, even for a president who only seven days ago extended U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

"Having a true dialogue with Iran could move the whole region toward peaceful solutions," said Ahmed Chebbani, chairman of the Dearborn-based U.S.-Arab Economic Forum, which seeks to build relations on the basis of commerce. "The region has been chaotic for years, and this is the type of approach that is needed to bring all parties to the table."

Israeli President Shimon Peres also sent a holiday greeting to Iran, on the festival of Nowruz, or "new day."

"The two things that surprised people is that President Obama sent this message to the Iranian people with subtitles in Farsi (the official language of Iran) as well as the very embracing tone of it," said Dawud Walid, of the Southfield-based Council on American Islamic Relations. "It is unprecedented."

"It is so wise," said Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi of Dearborn Heights, an Iranian-American who returns to Iran annually. "Even the timing, delivering it on the Nowruz, helps contribute to the healing that is necessary."

While many were hopeful of a new era, many could not dismiss the current disputes between the U.S. and Iran.