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What One Muslim Woman Had to Say About the Future of Islam in America After Attending Obama's Mosque Visit

"Visiting a mosque is important. But it's just one part of addressing islamaphobia," said Khadija Gurnah.

Khadija Gurnah with President Barack Obama at the Catholic Health Association’s 2015 annual membership Assembly on June 9 in Washington, D.C., when he spoke on the Affordable Care Act.
Photo Credit: Copyright: Khadija Gurnah

On a historic day, Khadija Gurnah sat just a few feet away from the most powerful man in the country and listened to him highlight the importance of the Mmosque in the American sory. But this wasn't the first time. The mother, activist and former program manager for American Muslim Health Professionals had previously met the president through her involvement with the Affordable Care Act. And to Obama's point, Muslim Americans like Gurnah are serving their community, lifting up the lives of their neighbors and helping keep the country strong. 
 
"This roundtable was significant to me not just because it was an honor to be able to speak to the president and relate our experiences to him, but also because it's very clearly a process and partnership by the administration to work with the Muslim community to ensure that negative rhetoric does not define us," Gurnah said.
 
The president's speech and mosque visit come after a series of conversations with Muslim Americans late last year, which the president referenced yesterday. It hinges on his deep desire to portray America as an inclusive country. "In one of the previous conversations, the president spoke about the abolishment of slavery not just being a civil rights issue, but about what kind of country we want to be. I asked the same. What's next?" she said.
 
One policy change resulting from one of these meetings was a set of guidelines issued by the Department of Education for schools to speak to the bullying some Muslim children are experiencing. Gurnah also asked for greater investment in mental health resources for young adults, while others brought up racial profiling and surveillance. 
 
But the preservation of hope and solidarity remains unclear as the Obama presidency comes to a close.
 
"This isn't going to go away in his term," Gurnah said. "Maybe not even in the next president's term. I don't know how much I can hope for from the election."
 
Visiting a mosque is important, but it's just one part of addressing Islamophobia. Both Democratic candidates have been supportive of Muslims, according to Gurnah, but support doesn't necessarily translate into solving the underlying causes.
 
"I would be more interested in the candidates' foreign policy plans," she said. 
 
The Iran deal, which confirms the U.S. lifting its nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, exemplifies these plans, she says. When it comes to domestic policy, Gurnah said both Clinton and Sanders have shown a commitment to the issues she cares about, a high compliment given her own expertise. In her role as program manager for American Muslim Health Professionals, Gurnah mobilized 81 partner institutions, resulting in thousands of enrollments and newly formed relationships between clergy and civic leaders. She is also part of a network of activists that advocates for policies that support vulnerable families.
 
"I would like a candidate who brings greater stability to conflict zones and who is committed to resolving international conflict—Iraq, Syria, Libya—because that conflict plays a large part in how Americans perceive Muslims. I don't honestly know who would be the better candidate for that," she said.

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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