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At the main mosque in Paris, which serves as both a cultural and religious center, customers at the adjoining restaurant enjoyed mint tea and pastries at the outdoor cafe while on the other side of the sprawling building women in headscarves stepped through a doorway for wadu (washing before ritual prayer).
In his corner office, Simane Nadour, the Mosque's communication director, sat in front of his computer watching a rebroadcast of President Obama's speech with simultaneous translation into French. He said he was impressed that Obama recognized and spoke of Islam as a civilization.
To his recollection, it was the first time that a U.S. president had spoken "in such a concrete way" to the Arab world, he said.
The speech represented not only a major diplomatic shift for the U.S., but the president also extended a hand to the Muslim world in a spirit of progress, peace, dialogue, respect and the promotion of common values, he said.
"How can we not agree," Nadour said, smiling and pointing to the computer screen. He called the speech "formidable" and said a lot of people were "pleasantly surprised."
"He really opened a path and an important step to dialogue between the religions."