Born in Cairo, Egypt in 1974, Dalia Mogahed immigrated to the United States with her family at age 5 and later became a naturalized American citizen. She earned an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin, and then a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh. After completing her schooling, Mogahed took a job as a marketing researcher for Procter & Gamble. Today she is a senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a research center that collects and analyzes data on the views of Muslim populations around the world. She also directs the Muslim-West Facts Initiative, through which Gallup and the Coexist Foundation disseminate the findings of the Gallup World Poll.
In her role with Gallup, Mogahed in the mid-2000s led a large-scale survey of Muslims in many nations. She subsequently reported that, according to her research, most Muslims worldwide support democracy and freedom of speech; are just as likely as Americans to reject terrorist attacks on civilians; and rarely (only 7%) embrace political radicalism. These findings served as the informational foundation for Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think—a 2008 book that Mogahed co-authored with Professor John Esposito. In addition, Mogahed’s Gallup survey provided key data for Feisal Abdul Rauf‘s “Shariah Index Project” (SIP), whose objective was to “define, interpret and implement the concept of the Islamic State in modern times.” A May 2008 analysis by Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, however, exposed Mogahed’s statistics as deeply flawed.
In a 2007 speech in Aspen, Colorado, Mogahed said that terrorists try “to exploit broadly felt legitimate grievances” in order to gain new recruits. According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, “She also appeared to suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood might be a peaceful alternative to jihadists.”
In a 2007 interview on Link Television, Mogahed was asked to comment on the harsh punishments (like stonings, canings, and dismemberment) associated with Sharia Law. She replied that Muslims generally tend to view Sharia as a framework for achieving “a more just society,” “protection of human rights,” and “rule of law.”
Mogahed has consistently defended Islamist organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), both of which have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. At the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual conference in Washington, DC in September 2008, she stated that it would be unfair for those groups to be “disenfranchised” because of “misinformation” about their alleged ties to Islamic radicals. “[T]here is a concerted effort to silence, you know, institution-building among Muslims,” said Mogahed. “And the way to do it is [to] malign these groups. And it’s kind of a witch hunt.”
At the same September conference, Mogahed stated that “‘Islamic terrorism’ is really a contradiction in terms” because “terrorism is not Islamic by definition.” Dismissing the claims of actual terrorists who candidly cite Islamic scripture as the motivation behind their actions, Mogahed said: “My response to that is, you know, Cuba calls itself a democracy, but that’s not what we call it.” To even suggest that Islamic doctrines might somehow be related to terrorist activity, she added, was “counterproductive” and a “gift” to terrorists, allowing the latter to be seen as “legitimate” and as “moral freedom fighters.”
Together with such notables as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Feisal Abdul Rauf, and American diplomat Dennis Ross, Mogahed was a leading voice in the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement (LGUSME), which in September 2008 issued a 154-page paper replete with recommendations for improving America’s relationship with Muslims globally. A number of those suggestions were eventually adopted by President Barack Obama‘s administration. Most significantly, the LGUSME paper exhorted the United States to engage opposition parties in Egypt (including the Muslim Brotherhood), and to use intermediaries to engage Hamas—in hopes of moderating the terror group.
In early 2009, Mogahed stated that “Muslim concerns over injustice have been largely dismissed by the previous [Bush] administration, leaving a vacuum exploited by extremists.” Further, she recommended that “a senior member of the [Barack Obama] administration go on a ‘listening tour’ of the U.S. and hear what Muslim Americans are concerned over”—most notably, issues like “racial profiling, discriminatory immigration policy, and the erosion of civil liberties.”
In April 2009, Mogahed was appointed by President Obama to serve on his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, making Mogahed the first veiled Muslim woman to serve in the White House. She explained that her duty, in this post, would be “to convey … to the President and other public officials what it is Muslims want.” Nihad Awad, the pro-Hamas executive director of CAIR, said:
“Congratulations to Ms. Mogahed on this well-deserved appointment. Her knowledge and expertise will be an asset to this important council. The American Muslim community can feel confident that she will be a balanced and valuable resource on the vital issues the council must address.”
Also assigned to the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council, Mogahed testified before the U.S. Senate on how the American government could effectively engage with the Muslim community. Further, Mogahed was named to the Department of Homeland Security Working Group on Countering Violent Extremism.
In May 2009, Mogahed spoke at the 34th annual conference of the Islamic Council of North America; the event was co-sponsored by the Muslim American Society, which was founded to serve as the Muslim Brotherhood’s formal American franchise.
Mogahed claims to have played a significant role in helping to draft the speech that President Obama delivered in Cairo in June 2009.
In a July 4, 2009 speech to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Mogahed depicted supporters of violent jihad as people who crave freedom and democracy but “believe more than do the mainstream that their society, their faith and their way of life is threatened, militarily threatened and in some ways even culturally threatened by the West.” “They’re more likely to believe that there is a war against their faith,” said Mogahed. “They are also more likely to say that moving toward greater democracy will help Muslims’ progress.”
In early October 2009, Mogahed was interviewed on a British television program hosted by Ibtihal Bsis, a member of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, which seeks to facilitate the creation of a worldwide Islamic state governed by Sharia Law. When Bsis and another guest (also a Hizb-ut-Tahrir member) stated that Sharia should be “the source of legislation” for all nations in the world, and repeatedly condemned the “man-made law” and the “lethal cocktail of liberty and capitalism” that exists in Western societies, Mogahed did not dispute any of their assertions. Instead she stated that the Western view of Sharia was “oversimplified,” and that the majority of Muslim women around the world associate Islamic Law with “gender justice.”
Also in 2009, Mogahed lamented: “Islamophobia in America is very real. Gallup finds that Muslims are among the most unfavorably viewed groups in the U.S.… This presents a grave danger to America as a whole. The disease of racism, by definition, is a bias in judgment….”
In a 2010 interview with The National, an English-language publication based in the United Arab Emirates, Mogahed said that her research indicated that “there is just no correlation between religiosity and violent extremism,” and that “the majority of people in the Middle East believe in principles of free speech, free press and a representative government.”
In April 2010, the Investigative Project on Terrorism reported:
“Since joining the White House council, Mogahed has worked quietly to ensure that CAIR and ISNA are active participants in its work. And she has reached out to radical Muslim groups like the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) as well.”
That same month, Hudson Istitute fellow Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab, wrote: “Dalia Mogahed may be the most influential person guiding the Obama Administration’s Middle East outreach…. Mogahed alone has regular access to the White House, through its Senior Director for Global Engagement, Pradeep Ramamurthy, and through Joshua DuBois at the office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.”
In addition to her aforementioned affiliations, Mogahed is also a member of Women in International Security, the Brookings Institution‘s Crisis in the Middle East Task Force, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Arab World. She serves on the boards of Freedom House and Soliya, and is a nonresident senior public-policy scholar at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (based at the American University of Beirut). In 2010, Arabian Business magazine recognized Mogahed as one of the most influential Arab women in the world, and the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre included her in its 2009 and 2010 lists of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims.