WASHINGTON (AFP) — White House hopeful Barack Obama personally apologized Thursday to two Muslim women after campaign volunteers barred them from appearing in a picture because of their headscarves.
Obama spoke by telephone with Shimaa Abdelfadeel and left a message to Hebba Aref after Muslim leaders urged the Democrat to personally apologize to the women.
The campaign has blamed the incident on volunteers who, during a rally in Detroit, Michigan on Monday told the two Muslim women they could not stand behind Obama because of their "hijab" headgear.
"The actions of these volunteers were unacceptable and in no way reflect any policy of my campaign," Obama said in a statement.
"Our campaign is about bringing people together, and I'm grateful that Ms Abdelfadeel accepted our apology and I hope Ms Aref and any who were offended accept my apology as well," he said.
The Obama campaign had already apologized for the snub.
But the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) had 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.
Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR's Michigan branch, told AFP that Abdelfadeel and Aref were "very pleased that the senator personally called them to apologize."
The women said Obama told them that "such behavior has no place in his campaign and does not represent his values," Walid said, adding that CAIR welcomed the apology.
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.
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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