WASHINGTON (AFP) — US Muslim leaders Thursday urged Barack Obama to personally apologize to two supporters in headscarves who were barred from appearing in camera shot with the White House contender this week.
The Democrat's campaign has apologized for the snub, which occurred when campaign volunteers at a rally Monday in Detroit, Michigan told the two Muslim women they could not stand behind Obama because of their "hijab" headgear.
But the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for a personal apology from Obama to help redress the grievance and also combat growing anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States.
"Although we welcome the Obama campaign's apology, we are extremely concerned about the level of Islamophobia in our society that would prompt other minorities to view Muslim supporters as potential liabilities," CAIR's national legislative director Corey Saylor said in a statement.
"We hope that Senator Obama will personally apologize to the two women and (show) that he decries the current Islamophobic climate in our nation that is not only attacking him, but has even jaded some within his own campaign."
CAIR, the leading US group for Muslims' civil rights, also urged Obama to invite the women to the stage during a future campaign event.
An Obama aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to say whether the senator would personally apologize to the women.
But she told AFP that Emmett Beliveau, the campaign's director of advance events, had spoken to at least one of the women, 25-year-old lawyer Hebba Aref, to express remorse.
"This is of course not the policy of the campaign," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement Wednesday.
"It is offensive and counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run. We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers," he said.
Obama, who is Christian and promises to turn a page on America's cultural wars, has struggled to counter false Internet rumors that he is a Muslim.
Obama's vigorous denials have frustrated some followers of Islam because of the implication that there is something wrong with the religion.
In separate incidents Monday at the rally in Detroit, which boasts one of the largest Muslim communities in the United States, two women were told they could not sit in the section that forms the visual backdrop behind Obama.
"I was coming to support him, and I felt like I was discriminated against by the very person who was supposed to be bringing this change," Aref told Politico.com.
"The message that I thought was delivered to us was that they do not want him associated with Muslims or Muslim supporters," she said.
A friend accompanying Aref said a campaign volunteer had specifically cited "the political climate" as an explanation.
The other woman, Shimaa Abdelfadeel, said she was told no one with any head coverings, including baseball caps and scarves, could sit behind the stage, and that the rule was not an attack on her religion.
The Obama campaign insisted that the volunteers had acted on their own initiative without any kind of official approval. It distributed photographs from other events that show the Democrat standing with women in Islamic dress.
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