Mazen Asbahi

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Mazen Asbahi, an attorney, was briefly the Muslim American Outreach coordinator for the Barack Obama presidential campaign, 2008. He was appointed on July 26, 2008 but resigned on August 8 due to questions about ties with a fundamentalist group eight years ago. [1]He remains a board member of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

Current activities

Before his appointment, he had been an associate in the law firm, Schiff Hardin LLP, but has gone into private practice, saying

I also grew to understand the importance of independence. Independence gives me the opportunity to study, reflect and write, and the opportunity to pursue my legal practice in a way that makes more sense to my current and prospective clients. Independence also affords the opportunity to serve the community more effectively than would have been possible while working for a large law firm.

This rethinking also gave me time to reflect on the importance of working with others for the common good, and how I can best help individuals succeed in their practices, businesses and nonprofits.

It is in this context that I am pleased to announce the formation of my law practice. [2]

He wrote a column about wise charity giving for Muslims, carrying out the obligation of zakat without getting into legal trouble by giving to organizations associated with terrorism. President Obama said, in his Cairo address, “That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”[3] An American Civil Liberties Union report identified a chilling effect on legitimate giving.[4] Mazen's advice to avoid problems:[3]

  • Look for U.S. charities approved under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) "that provide relief services overseas and that have a significant track record of conducting such activities. These charities are organized under U.S. laws and are accountable to federal and state authorities."
  • ... "Investigate the charity. Is the organization transparent? Does it give the names and bios of its board of directors or trustees and staff? Does it conduct annual audits and are those readily available? Are its annual filings to the IRS easily accessible? Are its board members and staff reachable and accessible to answer your questions?"
  • "When making a contribution, clarify your intent and indicate whether the donation is to be used for a specific program or activity or whether it is for general purposes. You can specify your intention by writing a notation on the memo line of your check.
  • "Understand the wide variety of permitted types of charitable activities that may be funded by your zakat.
  • "Be wary of giving directly to individuals or foreign-based organizations. Direct giving is the practice most affected by counter-terrorism financing laws. The standards for due diligence, oversight and reporting are, as a general matter, too difficult and expensive for the individual donor.

2000 association and 2008 resignation

In 2000, he was the board of the Allied Assets Advisors Fund, whose board members included Jamal Said, based at a fundamentalist mosque. The Fund is a subsidiary of the North American Islamic Trust, funded by Saudi Arabia. Said, who was an unindicted conspirator in a 1993 prosecution, which ended in a mistrial, associated with fundraising for Hamas. [5]

Asbahi said,

I served on that board for only a few weeks before resigning as soon as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board...Since concerns have been raised about that brief time, I am stepping down...to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change.[1]

Militant Islam Monitor began by describing "The move is being greeted by the usual terror friendly suspects such as CAIR as further evidence of "Islamophobia," and Internet "persecution," cites the Said link, and also mentions his being on the speakers' bureau list of the Islamic Society of North America. It also cites his ISNA biography as showing links to the "Nawawi Foundation [a da'wa organization run by a convert to Islam which presents all of history from an Islamist perspective] as well as the National Association of Muslim Lawyers (NAML) which has close ties to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), " [6] That biography does list the Nawawi Foundation as well as the National Association of Muslim Lawyers and the Auxiliary Board of the Chicago Legal Clinic, but does not mention a CAIR link. It also shows him is a 2007 Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago and has previously served as president of the Muslim Bar Association of Chicago.[7]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Obama's Muslim coordinator out: Resignation spotlights struggle to woo Islamic voters", Chicago Sun-Times, 7 August 2009
  2. Update & Announcement from Mazen Asbahi, iContactCommunity, 28 August 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mazen Asbahi (23 August 2009), "American Muslims: Give Without Fear (But Give Wisely)", Nonprofit Law Prof Blog: A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network
  4. Report: Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity, American Civil Liberties Union, 16 June 2009
  5. Glenn R. Simpson and Amy Chozick (6 August 2008), "Obama's Muslim-Outreach Adviser Resigns", Wall Street Journal
  6. William Mayer and Beila Rabinowitz (6 August 2008), Mazen Asbahi, Obama's Immoderate Muslim Outreach Director, Forced To Resign
  7. Mazen Asbahi, Islamic Society of North America