In President Obama, American Muslims Find New Ally

June 2, 2009

Author: Eli Saslow


Wire Service: AP

Seventeen years in this city, a house in the suburbs, almost a decade spent explaining Islam at training seminars across the state-and still Aida Mansoor walks on eggshells. Even in Hartford, a liberal city rich in diversity, practicing Islam in 2009 means she ignores the jokes about her hijab and dismisses the hate mail sent to her mosque. It means she spends a Thursday morning in late May standing here, a few steps inside the Hartford Public Library entrance, repeating a Muslim greeting to 30 strangers as they file silently past. "Salaam aleikum," she says, over and over, and then translates. "Peace be with you."

Her attempts at cross-cultural connection can sometimes feel futile, says Mansoor, 41. But her energy this year has been fortified by a powerful new ally: President Obama, a Christian who has promised unprecedented outreach to the Muslim world. More than 85 percent of Muslims in the United States approve of Obama's performance as president, according to a recent Gallup poll, which is his strongest endorsement from any religious group. Obama will travel to Egypt to give a speech about Islam on Thursday, his attempt to bridge two cultures-American and Islamic-so often at odds.

"What he says could go a long way toward dispelling the myths," Mansoor says. "For a long time, Muslims have been the bad guys in this country. There is so much hate and misunderstanding, and he might be able to help the world overcome some of it."