Obama’s Muslim envoy defends religious freedom At Dearborn event, adviser slams extremism

By Niraj Warikoo
Free Press Staff Writer
As President Barack Obama comes under fire for supporting the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, his top adviser to the Islamic world defended religious freedom to an audience of Muslim leaders Sunday night in Dearborn.

“People have the right, including Muslim Americans, to practice their religion freely,” said Rashad Hussain, appointed this year by Obama as special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has 57 Muslim-majority countries or territories. “This is America after all.”

At the same time, Hussain slammed extremist Muslims such as the members of al-Qaida and the attackers who killed more than 50 in a July suicide attack at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan, believed to have done by the Taliban. In response to a question from an Iraqi-American Christian, he also called upon Muslim-majority nations to respect and protect minorities in their countries.

“Terror has no religion,” Hussain said. He quoted a verse in fluent Arabic from the Quran, the Muslim holy book, that preaches against the killing of even one innocent person.

“Al-Qaida’s cause is not Islam,” Hussain said. “They’re terrorists who murder innocent” people.

Hussain made his remarks late Sunday at a Ramadan dinner, an iftar, before about 120 Muslim leaders and others inside the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. It was hosted by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which Hussain worked on several years ago. Damon Keith, Senior Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, for whom Hussain also once worked, attended the dinner as well.

Hussain’s remarks came two days after Obama spoke at an iftar dinner at the White House in which he strongly defended the right of Muslim Americans to practice their religion, including building a mosque in lower Manhattan. Critics have raised questions about the mosque’s location, the views of its developers, and the sources of its funding.

But Obama and Hussain said they support freedom of religion.

“Islam has been part of the U.S. for … quite some time,” Hussain said.

Hussain, 31, was praised by Conyers and Keith at the dinner.

“He’s a brilliant lawyer,” Keith said. “A fine human being.”

Hussain referred often in his remarks to Obama’s new approach to reaching out to the Muslim world, outlined in a speech he gave in Cairo, Egypt, in 2009.

Hussain said the U.S. is not “at war with Islam,” and rejected the view that “America and Islam are not compatible.”

Some Chaldean, Iraqi Catholic, leaders attended the dinner, one of whom raised questions about how non-Muslims are treated in Muslim-majority areas.

Hussain replied by saying that in Muslim countries, “minorities should be protected.”

“Non-Muslims should be respected as well,” in Muslim-majority countries, he added.

Others in the audience complained of U.S. support for certain countries as the cause of terrorism, which Hussain dismissed.

The idea that if certain policies “were reversed tomorrow, terrorism would end. I don’t agree with that.”

Hussain then cited the suicide attack on the Sufi Muslim shrine in Pakistan that killed innocent worshippers.

A graduate of Yale Law School, Hussain is a hafiz, meaning someone who has memorized the entire Quran. Of Indian descent, Hussain was in India this month for a nine-day trip, and accompanied other Muslim-American leaders on a recent trip to Auschwitz’s concentration camps organized by a Jewish leader.