In Democratic primaries this year the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans voted for a man who has, throughout the campaign, vigorously knocked down rumors that he is a Muslim.
But support for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., during the primaries doesn't mean the Democrat has a free pass from the Muslim American community.
Last week's incident at an Obama rally in Michigan put some added strain on Obama's support in the Muslim American community. A campaign volunteer reportedly barred two Muslim American women from appearing in camera-range behind Obama's podium after they refused the campaign representative's request to remove their headscarves. After the incident received media attention, Obama called the women personally to apologize. But the hurt still lingers for some Muslim Americans.
"I was quite disappointed. The Obama campaign to me, represents a change from traditional politics and embodies an America which supersedes discrimination and racism. This incident is in stark contradiction to that notion," said Lydia Habhab, a 23-year-old Arab Muslim-American graduate student and Dearborn, Michigan native.
"For a candidate who is talking about change, and who is a minority … who is talking about giving hope to everyone, it was very offensive to me as a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf," said Tuqa Nusairat, a 24-year-old Arab Muslim-American who is a Virginia native and graduate student.
"Although Obama personally called the girls wearing hijab to apologize, it is still disheartening to think that the level of Islamophobia in his campaign and within America is so high, that having women wearing hijab within a camera shot away from Obama was even an issue, especially within one of the most highly populated Muslim areas in the country," said Habhab.
Reza Marashi, a 26-year-old non-practicing Iranian Muslim American raised in Seattle, agrees. "I think it's a testament to both the climate of misunderstanding in this country surrounding Muslims and Islam, and the inexcusably poor job the Bush Administration has done in trying to educate American people on Muslims and Islam."
"Obama called the two women personally to apologize. That's the classy thing to do. If he becomes president, hopefully he'll continue to address these issues with class," Marashi added.
While Marashi accepts Obama's apology, Dr. Yvonne Haddad, a Christian Arab professor at Georgetown University and expert on Islam in North America and the West, said it's hard to tell whether this incident will have any lasting repercussions among voters.
The Michigan speech episode adds to some feelings of resentment at the way that Obama has knocked down false rumors that he is, or was at one time, Muslim. Some say they are offended when the Obama campaign refers to those false assertions that he is a Muslim as "smears."
The Obama campaign earlier this month launched a new Web site dedicated to knocking down false rumors, especially those circulated on the Internet, called www.fightthesmears.com. The third 'smear' listed on the site's homepage is the one that claims Obama is a Muslim. The campaign explains on the site that the truth is: "Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised as a Muslim, and is a committed Christian."
"When the mudslinging began and campaigns were launched 'exposing' Obama as a Muslim, he had every reason to deny it," said Habhab.