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Largest US Muslim Group Sends Open Letter to Obama

As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to address Muslims around the world from Cairo, Egypt, on June 4th, one of the largest groups of American Muslims in the United States has offered some free advice on how to achieve the goal of better U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations - known by its acronym, CAIR - has published an open letter to President Obama written by CAIR's national executive director, Nihad Awad. The Awad letter notes that the president's statements since his inauguration have raised the Muslim world's hopes for real change in U.S. foreign and domestic policies. But Awad stresses that those positive statements must now be backed up with concrete policy initiatives.

"Today, it is the time for America to tell Israel that it cannot continue to build settlements," Awad tells VOA. "The settlements not only have to stop but have to be dismantled. The [Israeli] blockade on Gaza has to be lifted and also restoration of the Palestinians rights and a commitment to the establishment of the Palestinian state has to come within clear deadlines.

"Also toward Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the change should be based on the reduction of the U.S. intervention and the respect and support for local solutions and indigenous democratic decisions by the local governments."

Obama should speak up for human rights, tolerance, letter says

Presenting an American-Muslim point of view, Awad's open letter offers President Obama a clear road map to help move the United States toward better relations with Muslims around the world.

The letter emphasizes that America must champion political and religious freedom, human rights, the growth and stabilization of democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law for everyone. It must hold every nation, including U.S. allies, to a uniform standard of justice and equality.

And here at home, Awad says, Mr. Obama should provide an example for elected representatives, religious leaders, commentators and citizens of all faiths in speaking out forcefully against the rising level of anti-Muslim rhetoric and discrimination in American society.

"We should have [a] clear stance by the U.S. government to fight against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination that has been rampant after 9/11," Awad says. "In particular, there have been some decisions to target American-Muslim institutions and individuals, and there has been politicization of terror trials. All of these things have to be re-evaluated and reversed."

Also, says Awad, U.S. visa policies should be changed to allow Muslim intellectuals and business leaders to travel to America without fear of humiliation or harassment at points of entry.

Muslims also have a role to play

In his open letter, Nihad Awad acknowledges that Muslim nations must make changes of their own to foster better relations with the United States.

"I think it is very important for the Muslim world to move toward reform - serious internal reforms - toward the respect of human rights, democracy and the rule of law," Awad says. "And second, to reduce the rhetoric and commit themselves to public service and political and civic engagement. And finally, interfaith dialogue is very important. It has to be based on mutual respect and not rhetorical statements, as we have seen coming from different sides - from the non-Muslim side and from the Muslim side."

Awad's letter notes that President Obama cannot act alone in changing policies and fixing the damage done to U.S.-Muslim relations over the past several years and that the U.S. Congress will need to work with the president toward that goal.

And prospects are good that it will, says Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim ever elected to the national legislature.

"The president is very influential with the Congress," Ellison notes, "so as he continues to make overtures of peace, he is signaling to the Congress that they need to support his efforts. And I think he is going to get it, because he is a very popular president, and nobody wants to be caught in opposition to the president at this time, because we all have to face our voters."

American Muslims, like Muslims around the world, will be closely watching President Obama's address in Cairo Thursday to see what he is offering as the next step in America's continued outreach to the Muslim world.