Dalia Mogahed, a hijab-clad American Muslim, has made history being
the first Muslim woman appointed to a position in President Barack
She sets on a newly-formed interfaith advisory
board the administration hopes will improve relations with Muslims
in the US and across the globe.
The Egyptian-born American heads the Gallup
American Center for Muslim Studies, a research center that produces
studies on Muslim public opinion worldwide.
In an exclusive interview, IslamOnline.net
discussed with Egyptian-born Mogahed her new role, the challenges
facing Muslims, Islamophobia in the US and her own success story.
How do you feel about being the
first Muslim appointed to the Obama administration?
I am not actually the first Muslim.
There have been other Muslims appointed to Obama's administration. I
am also not the only Muslim on the White House advisory Council on
Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. I join Dr. Eboo Patel as
the second Muslim on the council. I am, however, the first Muslim
woman in this council. I feel very honored for the privilege to
serve in this way, but also recognize the responsibility that I've
agreed to take on. I see my role much more in terms of what needs to
get done rather than a historical accomplishment. I believe the
accomplishments are yet to be fulfilled.
What is the role of the Council on
Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership?
I am a member of a 25-person advisory
council to the White House focused on offering solutions for
societal problems sourced in the wisdom of faith communities. More
specifically, I am on the Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation
Task Force, a group of only 5. We will work on recommendations for
our area of focus and these will be reviewed by the larger council
and then included in an annual report with recommendations from the
council to the President.
What is your role as an advisor on
I would not say I am an advisor on
Islam. I would say that it is my role to convey the facts about what
Muslims think and feel. I see my role as offering the voices of the
silenced majority of Muslims in America and around the world to the
council so that our deliberations are informed by their ideas and
wisdom. I believe that I was chosen because the administration cares
about what Muslims think and wants to listen.
What kind of advise would you be
giving Obama to improve relations with US Muslims and the Muslim
I would advise him to listen first and
foremost. Many have claimed that terrorists have 'hijacked Islam'. I
disagree. I think Islam is safe and thriving in the lives of Muslims
around the world. What the terrorists have been allowed to take over
are Muslim grievances. Muslim concerns over injustice have been
largely dismissed by the previous administration leaving a vacuum
exploited by extremists. This is a dangerous reality for all of us.
Instead, the US must hear mainstream Muslim concerns even if America
does not agree with their perceptions. These issues can no longer be
ignored or left and the extremists to monopolize.
What areas of domestic and foreign
policies you think the administration should be introducing change
I would endorse the action plan
outlined in the report "Changing Course" which recommends four areas
of action: Respect, Reform (political and economic) and Resolution
of conflict. When it comes to the US, I would recommend that a
senior member of the administration go on a "listening tour" of the
US and hear what Muslim Americans are concerned over. Like all
Americans, they are worried about the economic crisis, their
financial future and jobs. And like many other US citizens, Muslim
Americans are also worried about racial profiling, discriminatory
immigration policy and the erosion of civil liberties.
What do you think of the rising
Islamphobia in America?
Islamphobia in America is very real.
Gallup finds that Muslims are among the most unfavorably viewed
groups in the US and only a little over a third of Americans say
they have no prejudice against Muslims. This presents a grave danger
to America as a whole. The disease of racism, by definition, is a
bias in judgment. This means that racism clouds sound judgment and
leads people to make irrational decisions. It also divides a nation
and prevents the full utilization of its intellectual and cultural
resources. Racism is wasteful. Racism is a strategic disadvantage. I
am very proud of the progress America has made in fighting this
problem as it relates to the relationship between blacks and whites.
In 1956 only 4% of Americans approved of a marriage between whites
and blacks. The marriage that produced our president was illegal in
Virginia when he was born. Today 80% of Americans approve of
marriage between blacks and whites. Last year, Barack Obama became
the first Democratic Presidential candidate in decades to carry
Virginia. We are a stronger and smarter nation because of this
growth. Our next growth spurt will be in ridding our society of
What do you think US Muslims
themselves need to do?
Muslim Americans lag behind other
Americans in their political and civic participation according to
our research (National Portrait). The best thing they can do to
strengthen America is to become fully engaged in writing its next
chapter by getting involved and feeling a strong sense of ownership
for the future of their country.
What are you hopes and aspirations
for US Muslims?
I hope that they enrich America by
becoming fully engaged in its growth and development, as well as its
Tell us about your own journey of
success as an American Muslim woman, with hijab. What challenges
have you faced along the way?
I have been tremendously blessed, Alhamdulillah. I feel that mine is
a uniquely American story. I grew up in an educated middle class
home, but with no special connections or privilege. By excelling in
school, I was able to attend a top university and helped pay my way
by working during the summer as an engineering intern. My summer job
was at a paper factory in a small Wisconsin town. I was only 19
years old. Managing technicians often reminded me that they've been
working on the machine longer than I've been on Earth. Many also
told me that I was the first Muslim they'd ever met. Very few women
worked in the factory, so I was already a minority just as a female,
but I was also the only hijab-wearing woman in the entire town and
the only Muslim in the factory. All of this of course presented a
challenge, but one that taught me a great deal. Once people got to
know me I became a professional to them, not a woman in hijab. I
took this experience with me to my permanent job after college and
to my graduate work. These situations taught me that living
according to your conscience was more important than comfortably
conforming to your surroundings. I think this simple lesson of life
is one that has helped me succeed and given me the courage to face
the most difficult and daunting situations.