Sen. Barack Obama's director of Muslim outreach has resigned amid controversy, just a few weeks after joining Obama's presidential campaign.
Attorney Mazen Asbahi started working as the campaign's outreach coordinator on July 26, and he resigned on Monday. In a letter, he said he was stepping down "to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change," the Associated Press reported.
The A.P. said Asbahi resigned amid questions about his connection to an imam linked to people who allegedly raised funds for Hamas.
News of Asbahi's departure dismayed the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an Islamic civil rights group.
Asbahi's resignation "is symptomatic of a nationwide effort by Islamophobes who seek to deny Muslims access to the political process," CAIR said in a news release. The group says Asbahi was smeared by Internet rumors.
Asbahi served on the board of the Dow Jones Islamic Index Fund for a few weeks in 2000, but resigned "as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board," he said in his letter to the Obama campaign.
"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.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the other board member was Jamal Said, the imam at a fundamentalist mosque in Illinois. The Justice Department named Said as an unindicted co-conspirator in last year's racketeering trial of several alleged Hamas fundraisers. The case ended in a mistrial.
The newspaper said the connections between Asbahi and Said were first exposed by an Internet newsletter -- the "Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report," which monitors the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that got its start in Egypt.
(Press reports quoted the newsletter as saying: "Democratic Presidential candidate Barrack Obama has named Mazen Asbahi, a Chicago lawyer with ties to a financial organization close to the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, as National Coordinator for Muslim American Affairs for his campaign.")
CAIR called it “ironic” that Asbahi resigned following attacks on his ties to the "mainstream Muslim community, an attribute that would seem to be a requirement for his position."
“Muslim-bashers play a ‘six degrees of separation’ game of guilt by association with any Muslim who dares to engage in positive social or political activism,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR’s Chicago chapter.
“As Americans, we should not allow intolerant and agenda-driven extremists to succeed in their tactics of exclusion based on smears and mischaracterizations of leaders or institutions at the forefront of civic engagement.”
Rehab said the rise in rhetorical attacks on Islamic leaders and institutions may be the result of increasing Muslim political activism and involvement.
The Obama campaign reportedly is looking for a new volunteer coordinator to replace Asbahi.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter, told the Associated Press that "baseless smears about a Muslim with a very good reputation was used to marginalize not only him (Asbahi) but the (Muslim) community from the political process.
"If someone like Mr. Asbahi can't be vetted to work for the Obama campaign, then who can?" Walid asked.