Doha, Asharq Al-Awsat- “Whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind” [Al-Maeda, Verse 32]. This is just one of the Quranic verses cited by President Barack Hussein Obama in the historic speech he gave on Thursday from Cairo University that was watched by the entire Muslim world. The surprises did not stop here, and the President cited another Quranic verse in closing, “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another” [Al-Hujraat, Verse 13].
The US President surprised not only the Islamic world, but also the rest of the world, by using accurate information on Islam, and citing the Quran [in his speech], but where did President Obama get this message that addresses the hearts and minds of the Muslim community?
Who suggested to the President that he should address the Muslim world by citing the Holy Quran in this way?
The answer is Dahlia Mujahid. She is a US citizen of Egyptian origin who wears the hijab, and who was recently appointed as Barack Obama’s presidential adviser on Islamic affairs.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Mujahid confirmed that she was the one to present these ideas to the President, and suggest that he cite verses of the Holy Quran in his speech to the Muslim world. Dahlia Mujahid, who is also the Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, revealed that three weeks before President Obama’s historic speech in Cairo she was commissioned to provide “ideas and proposals” on the relationship between the US and the Muslim community for the President to use in the speech.
Mujahid said “I submitted a 5-page report, and some of us in the President’s Advisory Council met to discuss them.” Dahlia Mujahid revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that her report focused upon three main issues “Firstly, mutual respect between the US and the Islamic world. Secondly, cooperation on the basis that Muslims want to be [equal] partners [with the US]. And thirdly, discussing the issues that angered the Muslim community with the US, such as the Arab – Israeli conflict, the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.”
Mujahid also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that she would have preferred it if President Obama’s speech concentrated upon saying that the perceived hostility of the Muslim community towards the US “does not have a long history, and does not exceed fifty or sixty years, therefore it is not a historic dispute, but a recent one. I hoped that the President would begin [his speech] as I proposed by saying that the first country to recognize the US was Morocco, and continue with this idea saying that America is not a colonial power against the Muslim countries, and that America has never entered a Crusade [religious war] against Islam, as Europe has done [in the past].”
Mujahid indicated that the main idea that she presented to the US President is the idea that the Muslims do not want to cut themselves off [from the world] “but at the same time do not want cooperation to be imposed upon them by force. What is important here is that there is equal participation in any cooperation initiative between the US and the Islamic world.”
Dahlia Mujahid criticized the US President’s speech as she believes that her country, the USA, is not associated with any historical hostility [with the Islamic world] in the way that Europe is. She told Asharq Al-Awsat “President Obama linked America with Europe and the West in general, [but] the US has never killed Muslims in religious wars, rather it has defended them on numerous occasions. Therefore, I believe that the President’s speech neglected this powerful idea, and did not touch upon it at all, and it was possible that this would have had a greater resonance in the Islamic world, sending the message that the President wants.”
Mujahid also criticized the President for speaking about Palestinian violence against the Israelis “but he neglected talking about the violence that Israel commits against the Palestinians.”
Mujahid revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat some of the ideas that she submitted in her report that were not used in the Obama speech, and these include differentiating between extremism and Islam, although she added that the speech did point out that terrorism is a common enemy to both the US and the Islamic world.
Dahlia Mujahid also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Obama’s speech included her ideas that clarify that Islam “is not just a religion of peace – as former President George W. Bush would always say – but also a religion of progress and civilization.” Mujahid added “I made reference [in my report] to the sciences that Islam pioneered throughout history.”
Mujahid believes that the appointment of a hijab-wearing Muslim as a presidential adviser has had “broad resonance in the Arab and Islamic world, and sends a clear message that America is not hostile to Muslims, and that America protects religious freedoms, unlike other European, Muslim, and even Arab countries that fight against and ban the hijab.”
But where did Dahlia Mujahid get the ideas that she passed onto President Obama?
The US Presidential adviser informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “I think that my book ‘Who talks on behalf of Islam” was important, and I think – although I’m not certain – that my appointment in this position came after the US administration were made aware of my book which discusses the causes behind the disputes between the US and the Muslim community.”
As for what steps Dahlia Mujahid will take in the future as presidential adviser on Islamic affairs, she said that “we will work to put into practice the framework that the President outlined in his speech; we will work to find an effective mechanism through which we can move closer to the Islamic world.”
Dahlia Mujahid is President Obama’s adviser on Islamic Affairs, and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. She is the first Muslim woman to occupy a position of this kind. She is of Egyptian descent, and married to an Egyptian Doctor who works in Washington. She has two sons, Gibreel and Tariq. Dahlia Mujahid immigrated to America when she was 5 years old, and began wearing the hijab at 17 after becoming more interested in religion.