Faith-Based Council Produces Muslim Celebrity Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim, is one of 25 people President Obama tapped to advise him on faith issues. She may have met the president exactly once, but to Muslims, she's a celebrity — thanks to the headscarf, or hijab, she wears every day.
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Faith-Based Council Produces Muslim Celebrity

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Faith-Based Council Produces Muslim Celebrity

Faith-Based Council Produces Muslim Celebrity

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

In the early days of his presidency, Barack Obama appointed 25 people to advise him on faith issues. Among the well-known names is one that is relatively unknown. She's young and she's Muslim. And her head scarf has made her a reluctant celebrity in parts of the Muslim world. Here's NPR's Jamie Tarabay.

JAMIE TARABAY: It was seen as an historic moment - an American president speaking from a lectern at Cairo University in Egypt to the Muslim world.

BARACK OBAMA: So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace.

TARABAY: Dalia Mogahed was there in the audience, sitting in the middle, five rows from the front.

DALIA MOGAHED: It was very surreal for me to actually go back to Egypt, where I'm from, to be treated like a celebrity. It was very different and something I'm not used to at all.

TARABAY: The denials didn't matter, because more than anything, the sight of Mogahed in her head scarf, or hijab, seeming all official in Washington, prompted Muslims to think of her as something more. To them, she's the hijabi in the White House.

MOGADHED: That's what stuck and that's how this story has been framed ever since. I've tried so many times to re frame it and have failed miserably.

TARABAY: She's only met the president once, but try telling that to Muslims everywhere who see her voluntary non-paying appointment as a back stage pass to the White House.

MOGADHED: Everything from my father's in jail, and I want you to ask Obama to pardon him to I need a visa. I mean just everything you can imagine.

TARABAY: She says she's not there to represent Islam.

MOGADHED: Right now, those opinions have swung sharply in favor of the U.S. Mogahed saw that firsthand when she traveled around the region right after the president's speech.

MOGADHED: Mogahed lives in suburban Virginia with her husband, a physician, and her two sons, who both spoke Arabic before they spoke English. She came here from Egypt when she was five years old. Driving to work on this rainy day, she talks about how she got interested in market research right after getting her degree in engineering.

MOGAHED: That's really when I became fascinated by ht idea of applying the scientific method to the understanding of people.

TARABAY: Sofia Kluch is her colleague at Gallup.

SOFIA KLUCH: I've visibly seen the transformation that happens with people when they have walked in with their own perception and how this is changed and shaped by this very calm, very - not passionate, not advocacy-driven person.

TARABAY: Mogahed knows, though, that with all her qualifications, the sight of her in her headscarf on a political council could just be for show.

MOGAHED: It really doesn't matter why someone puts you on a council or on a committee. Once you're on that council, you can decide whether or not you want to be a token or you want to be a substantive member of that group. And I see all those opportunities as just that - opportunities.

TARABAY: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.

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