DENVER - Even in the crowded Pepsi Center, it's hard to miss Kinsi Korshell's dark head scarf as she accompanies her husband, Mohamed Jibrell, one of four Muslims in Minnesota's delegation to the Democratic National Convention.
"If you are a true Muslim," she said, "you can't hide it."
One of many tricky tasks for Barack Obama this week is reaching out and soothing sore feelings that sprang up in June after two Muslim women were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers at an Obama rally in Detroit.
One of Obama's top emissaries: Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and the man widely credited with orchestrating Obama's personal apology to the two women.
"We're all on the same page now," Ellison said Tuesday in an interview at the Minnesota delegation's hotel. "I criticized him before, but I'm praising him now."
Ellison, who had confronted Obama about the Detroit incident during a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, was one of the headliners at Monday's luncheon with the American Muslim Democratic Caucus, the first-ever national convention gathering of Muslims in the United States.
Joining the event was Joshua DuBois, the Obama campaign's director of religious affairs, who worked to assuage feelings of some in the Islamic community who feel that they have been shunted out of fear of fueling inaccurate perceptions that Obama is a Muslim.
"There is an unfortunate impression among many in the Muslim community that Obama has been distant," DuBois said at the luncheon.
No longer, said Ellison. "This is an example of there wasn't enough inclusion, we made an issue of it, drew attention to the problem, and they responded in a very positive way."
A sense of being shunned
In another historic first, the Democratic convention formally opened with an interfaith gathering Sunday that included a procession of Indian singers, gospel choirs and readings from the Qur'an, the Bible, the Torah and the Sutra Nipata.
Among those who attended was James Yee, the former U.S. Army chaplain who was accused of espionage at Guantanamo Bay. Yee, one of 48 Muslim delegates at the Democratic convention, said Muslims are a growing voting block in U.S. politics, particularly in battleground states such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"Muslims can't be pushed to the side any longer," said Yee, a delegate from Washington state who counts himself as a strong supporter of Ellison's efforts to foster Democratic unity. "Obama's coalition is diverse and includes everyone."
Complicating what some observers call Obama's "Muslim problem" is the double-edged political environment he faces in this election: On one side is a national e-mail campaign suggesting Obama is a closet Muslim; on the other are Muslims who would like to hear him say more forcefully that while he is not a Muslim, there would be nothing wrong with it if he was.
For some, there remains a sense of being shunned, even by an Obama candidacy that is multicultural to its core. "There is a desire to support him, but a fear of being marginalized, so people want more reassurance," said Rima Sinclair, who attended the caucus even though she is seeking a Colorado state House seat as a Republican.
Sinclair believes Democrats seeking to curry favor with white, working-class voters seem reluctant to address anti-Islamic prejudice head on. "There was not one word about Islamophobia at the inter-faith meeting," she said.
Others in the Islamic caucus, including Ellison, see the effects of post-9/11 trauma in the pressures that have come to bear on American Muslims and their participation in the political process. "The level of anxiety is so high," said Ellison, adding that the head scarf incident in Detroit was a perfect illustration.
"I think what happened is some members of the campaign responded in panic mode when people from the far right started, quote-unquote, accusing him of being a Muslim. So that caused a reaction. But Obama himself made clear that this is a campaign that includes everyone."
That version of events seems to be gaining wide acceptance among Muslim delegates eager to bridge any lingering rifts within the party.
"I think people who support Obama will get over it," said Jibrell, a Somali immigrant in Minnesota.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753