Barack Obama mused about Islam in late 2007 and stated that his having gone to school in Indonesia gives him "insight into how these folks think" that would help him "create a better relationship with the Middle East." But then, during the presidential campaign, he did his best to distance himself from Islam.
How do things look now that he is president? Already in December 2008, one Muslim preacher called on Obama to return to his roots and convert to Islam. This weblog follows the story.
The rules have changed: Thomas Lifton notes a new, positive disposition towards Obama's Islamic origins:
Now that he is elected and almost inaugurated, the rules of public discourse have changed when it comes to Barack Obama and Islam. During the campaign, you were a racist if you noticed that his middle name is Hussein. If you added that his father was a Muslim, and that Islam regards anyone born of a Muslim father as a Muslim, then you were a fear-mongering hysteric.
But tomorrow when he takes the oath of office, he has let it be known he will use his full name. He has also let it be known that he will travel to the capital of an Islamic nation to meet with leaders of Muslim nations. Suddenly, Islam is "in".
So much so that a previously unthinkable thing has happened: CNN has actually compared tomorrow's inauguration gathering to the Haj pilgrimage in Mecca! Watch this video and see for yourself.
Are we about to see a wave of celebration of Obama's Islamic heritage? Is Muslim chic in the future?
(January 19, 2009)
"Barack Hussein Obama": Jim Sleeper, an Obama acolyte, explains "Why It's 'I, Barack Hussein Obama...'," along the way side-swipping me (and, as liberals tend to do, getting wrong what I have been saying):
Even as we progress from symbolism to substance in the most stately way imaginable, I hope that everyone appreciates the symbolic and substantive rewards of Obama's being sworn in as "Barack Hussein Obama." This is the moment to explain again briefly why it matters so much.
During the campaign, neo-conservatives such as Daniel Pipes and other Obama detractors thought it smart to highlight his paternal Muslim roots and associations. But now that he's becoming president, you'd have to be as naive as a neo-con to miss the nobility and world-historical gains this country achieves as, having overthrown a bad Hussein, it installs a good one—not in Baghdad, but in Washington.
Sure, the mind reels. Hussein is a title of honor applied to metaphorical descendants of the prophet Mohammed. An American president bearing that name, even only residually, enacts what philosophers call a transvaluation of values. He gives a wicked case of cognitive dissonance to millions of people like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, but also to millions in the Muslim world who are not like them at all. …
the very prospect of our Hussein's inauguration raised millions of young Muslims' democratic hopes even higher than America has raised their material and sensual ones. (And, given present economic circumstances, it's telling that just when Obama's election was about to reflect Western democracy's deepest strengths, the iconically Western Gordon Brown was begging the Saudis to aid the International Monetary Fund.)
Comment: For the record, I thought it was "smart" to highlight Obama's having lied about his birth and childhood religious affiliation. (January 20, 2009)
"Christians and Muslims": Obama's inaugural speech contained a startling formulation: "The United States is a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers." Hugh Fitzgerald comments on it at JihadWatch.org:
The traditional formulation has always paired "Christians" with "Jews"—"Christians and Jews." Such a blatant change, then, in that traditional formulation is sure to attract notice. It invites inspection. It disturbs. The order in which these adherents of different faiths are named, and which is paired with the obviously, and rightly, dominant "Christians" (this country was both founded on Christian or, to include the Old Testament, Judeo-Christian principles, and owes its development right up to the present day to those same ideas, enshrined in our political and legal institutions which are, after all, the best thing America has to offer) both count. …
Obama delivering his inaugural speech, Jan. 20, 2009.
on what basis did Obama make the decision to move up "Muslims" in the ranking, right after, or even possibly paired with, Christians, leaving the Jews demoted, in a sense? It cannot be on the basis of population, for there are twice as many Jews in the United States as there are Muslims. … Was this one more attempt to impress on the public the notion that we must appease Muslims, we must make of them something they are not in this country, in order to hold onto their loyalty that otherwise is in danger of being lost?
Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr., of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Virginia.
(January 20, 2009) Jan. 23, 2009 update
: A backlash among conservative Christians, including African-American ones
, has taken place to the inaugural speech phrase quoted here, reports AOL News. The upset has partly to do with the inclusion of "non-believers" and partly with the list of faiths. For example, Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr., of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Virginia
said he and others have no problem acknowledging that "this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want.'" Yet Obama crossed the line, in his view, in suggesting that all faiths (and none) were different roads to the same destination: "He made similar remarks in the campaign, and said, 'We are no longer a Christian nation, if we ever were. We are a Jewish, Hindu and non-believing nation.'" Not so, Jackson says: "Obviously, Jewish heritage is very much a part of Christianity; the Jewish Bible is part of our Bible. But Hindu, Muslim, and nonbelievers? I don't think so. We are not a Muslim nation or a non-believing nation."'
Jackson paraphrased here a statement by Obama on June 28, 2006 (at 1:04 in the recording): "Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers."
This formulation places Muslims after Jews but it strikingly refers to a "Muslim nation," a term that invokes both the Nation of Islam and the umma. Will this phrase be resurrected?
Jesus = Isa: Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in California delivered the invocation at Obama's inauguration and included a startling allusion to the Islamic name of Jesus:
We now commit our new president … into your loving care. I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [in Spanish pronunciation], Jesus.
Comment: One wonders whether Warren was encouraged to mention Isa or did so spontaneously. (January 20, 2009)
"I have Muslim members of my family, I have lived in Muslim countries": Stated in the course of a lengthy interview to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television channel, this comment startles because Obama had run away from his family connections to Islam when running for office. Now, when he finds it useful for reaching out to Muslim opinion, however, he is no longer shy about calling on it. (January 26, 2009)
"America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers": That same Al-Arabiya interview includes this curious variant on the earlier two formulations, cited above: "we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers."
Comment: The tally so far: four categories (Christians, Jews, Muslims, non-believers) mentioned three times, Hindus twice, and Buddhists once. Muslims twice ranked ahead of Jews, Jews once ranked ahead of Muslims. (January 26, 2009)
Jihadis apprehensive about Obama: According to the February issue of inSITE (not accessible online), newsletter of the SITE Intelligence Group, most members of jihadi forums "were pessimistic when discussing Obama and his initial address to Muslims, and many argued that his charisma made Obama an even greater danger for Muslims than George W. Bush. Posters noted that unwary Muslims could be seduced by the rhetoric of change and cease working for jihad."
This confirms what Rita Katz found in the January issue of inSITE devoted to the forthcoming U.S. presidential inauguration: "once Obama was elected, the top leaders of al-Qaeda, demonstrating an apprehension about the Obama presidency, embarked on a very harsh propaganda campaign targeting the President-elect, even resorting to personal insults." (February 1, 2009)
Provides brief religious autobiography: Obama used the occasion of the National Prayer Breakfast to tell about himself:
I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done. I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck – no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God's spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose.
Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast.
(February 5, 2009)
Quotes a Hadith: In that same National Prayer Breakfast, Obama showed the similarity of religions by quoting from a Christian, a Jewish, and an Islamic text, then mentioning other faiths:
no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know. We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.
Comment: Nice try, but the parallel does not quite work, for the Hadith from an-Nawawi's collection is directed to Muslims only. (February 5, 2009)
"My Muslim President Obama": Thus does Asma Gull Hasan title an article. She goes on to explain:
I know President Obama is not Muslim, but I am tempted nevertheless to think that he is, as are most Muslims I know. In a very unscientific oral poll, ranging from family members to Muslim acquaintances, many of us feel, just as African-Americans did for the non-black but culturally leaning African-American President Bill Clinton, that we have our first American Muslim president in Barack Hussein Obama.
I know it's odd to say this. At first, I thought I was the only Muslim engaging in this folly, and I am reluctant to express it lest right-wing zealots try to use "Muslim" as a smear and cite my theory as proof of an Islamic traitor in the White House or some such nonsense. But, since Election Day, I have been part of more and more conversations with Muslims in which it was either offhandedly agreed that Obama is Muslim or enthusiastically blurted out. In commenting on our new president, "I have to support my fellow Muslim brother," would slip out of my mouth before I had a chance to think twice.
"Well, I know he's not really Muslim," I would quickly add. But if the person I was talking to was Muslim, they would say, "yes he is." They would cite his open nature and habit of reaching out to critics, reminiscent of the Prophet Muhammad's own approach, and also Obama's middle name, Hussein. Most of the Muslims I know (me included) can't seem to accept that Obama is not Muslim.
Of the few Muslims I polled who said that Obama is not Muslim, even they conceded that he had ties to Islam. These realists said that, although not an avowed and practicing Muslim, Obama's exposure to Islam at a young age (both through his father and his stint in Indonesia) has given him a Muslim sensibility. In my book, that makes you a Muslim—maybe not a card-carrying one, but part of the flock for sure. One realist Muslim ventured that Obama worships at a Unitarian Church because it represents the middle ground between Christianity and Islam, incorporating the religious beliefs of the two faiths Obama feels connected to. Unitarianism could be Obama's way of still being a Muslim. (And let's not forget that the church Obama worshiped at for so many years had a minister who reminds most Muslims of their own raving, excitable ministers. Even if Obama really is Christian, he picked the most Muslim-esque minister out of the bunch to guide him.)
The rationalistic, Western side of me knows that Obama has denied being Muslim, that his father was non-practicing, that he doesn't attend a mosque. Many Muslims simply say back, "my father's not a strict Muslim either, and I haven't been to a mosque in years." Obama even told The New York Times he could recite the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, which the vast majority of Muslims, I would guess, do not know well enough to recite.
June 8, 2009 update: Frank Gaffney, Jr. concurs with Hasan, but from the non-Muslim vantage point. Writing under the title "America's First Muslim President," Gaffney brings up the same analogy as Hasan:
During his White House years, William Jefferson Clinton … was dubbed by an admirer in the African-American community "America's first black president." Applying the standard of identity politics and pandering to a special interest that earned Mr. Clinton that distinction, Barack Hussein Obama would have to be considered America's first Muslim president.
This is not to say, necessarily, that Mr. Obama actually is a Muslim, any more than Mr. Clinton actually is black. After five months in office and most especially after his just-concluded visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, however, a stunning conclusion seems increasingly plausible: The man now happy to have his Islamic-rooted middle name prominently featured has engaged in the most consequential bait-and-switch since Hitler duped Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia at Munich.
Half-brother says "on the inside Barack Obama is a Muslim": On a business trip to Turkey, George Hussein Onyango Obama (who has only met Barack twice, once as a child in the 1980s, once two years ago), 26, told an interviewer that "He may be behaving differently due to the position he is in, but on the inside Barack Obama is Muslim." (March 18, 2009)
One in nine Americans think Obama is a Muslim: "Do you happen to know what Barack Obama's religion is?" Asked that casual sounding question in March 2008, June 2008, September 2008, and October 2008, a steady 12 percent of respondents reached by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press replied that he's Muslim. Asked the same question in March 2009, 11 percent replied he is Muslim.
A breakdown by the identity of the person replying finds that
white evangelical Protestants (19%) and Republicans (17%) are among the most likely to view Obama as a Muslim. Fewer than half in each group -- 38% of white evangelicals and 46% of Republicans—correctly identify Obama as a Christian. While relatively few Democrats (7%) say Obama is a Muslim, just 55% correctly identify his religious beliefs as Christian, down slightly from 61% last fall.
(1) The current statistic of 11 percent is much more surprising than the 12 percents from before Obama's being elected president because one would expect the public to know the basics about their chief of state.
(2) This 11 percent number suggests an enduring bedrock of reluctance to believe that Obama is a Christian, one unaffected by his being sworn into office on a Bible or any statements he makes.
(3) This in turn makes me think that the view of Obama is not based in ignorance but in disbelief, something that he will find difficult to overcome.
(4) Obama could take steps to address this on-going issue; at the same time, his campaign to "respect" Muslims and Islam could also boost the numbers of disbelievers.
(5) The topic of Obama and Islam is still in its infancy, with many developments, and probably surprising ones, yet to unfold. (April 1, 2009)
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Obama's religion: The prime minister of Turkey opined: "I consider personally the election of Barack Hussein Obama to have very great symbolic meaning. A Muslim and a Christian name — so in his name there is a synthesis, although people from time to time want to overlook that and they do it intentionally. Barack Hussein Obama."
Comment: Erdoğan confirms my point, made many times over the past 1½ years, that "Hussein" is a Muslim name. That said, I fail to find Obama's "Christian name." (April 6, 2009)
In Ankara, Obama praises Muslims and Islam: In an address to the Turkish parliament, the American president was introduced as "Barack Hussein Obama" and went on to announce:
The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. (Applause.) In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.
I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world—including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country—I know, because I am one of them. (Applause.)
Comments: (1) Obama is correct that the United States "has been enriched by Muslim Americans." But he glides over the fact that the United States is also challenged by Muslim Americans. (2) The line about "Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country—I know, because I am one of them" received much attention. Here is one take, from Helene Cooper of the New York Times:
The line was a bold one for Mr. Obama, who has been falsely described as a Muslim. The claim persists on some right-wing Web sites, which may try to interpret his remarks as proof of that view. But Mr. Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, is calculating that the benefits of demonstrating to the Muslim world that Americans are not antagonistic toward it outweigh the potential political fallout back home. His calculus may also reflect an increased belief that he has enough political capital that he can spend some of it in pursuit of strengthening ties between Muslim nations and the West.
(April 6, 2009)
Americans approve of Obama's approach to Muslims: A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted by telephone on March 26-29 among a national U.S. random sample of 1,000 adults included two questions concerning of Islam:
23. How important do you think it is for Obama to try to improve U.S. relations with Muslim nations - very important, somewhat important, not so important or not important at all?
|----- Important -----
||----- Not important -----
||Not at all
24. In trying to improve U.S. relations with Muslim nations, do you think Obama will (go too far), (not go far enough) or handle it about right?
||Not far enough
Comment: Obama starts his efforts to win over Muslim opinion with a domestic wind behind him. (April 6, 2009)
"Obama wins praise from many Muslims": According to informal polling done by Lee Keath of the Associated Press, "Arabs and Muslims have been charmed" by Obama's wooing. They call his words a "turning point," a "fresh breeze" even a "light in the darkness."
Obama's visit to Turkey this week was full of gestures calculated at showing he is a friend to Muslims. … Even throwaway lines like a comment that he had to wrap up a town-hall meeting with Turkish students "before the call to prayer" showed he was no stranger to Muslims' way of life. To many, the town-hall format for a meeting with students in Istanbul on Tuesday sent a significant message. The sight of a U.S. president being questioned by Muslims was dramatically different from the perception many had of Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush. Bush was seen by many Arabs and Muslims as domineering and dictating U.S. policy on the Islamic world.
But the words have also raised expectations that U.S. policy will change, and that will not be as easy to effect. "I will believe him only when I see his troops leave Iraq and when I see him telling the Israelis that it's time for you to leave the Palestinian territories," said Tariq Hussein, 25, in Ramallah. "Other than that it's all a political maneuver." (April 8, 2009)
"Most big presidential issues have a Muslim angle": Jonathan Mann notes in at CNN that, after the economy, "Muslim issues dominate agenda" and lists six of them: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and the Palestinians.
Comment: Good point, but what about Darfur? Radical Islam? Its terrorism? Islam in Europe? (April 10, 2009)
Obama rejects Islamism for secularism? In a provocative piece, Halil M. Karaveli of the evocatively-named Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, argues that "what is almost revolutionary about Obama's vision is that it reintroduces a perspective inspired by Enlightenment thinking in the Western discourse about Islam - a school of thought which had been discarded not only by Western conservatives but by 'enlightened' liberals as well."
And what is that perspective? It is Obama's abandonment of any references to "moderate Islam" and his seeming intent on rehabilitating secularism.
Addressing the Turkish parliament - with its Islamic conservative majority - Obama spoke about "secular democracy" as "the greatest monument to Atatürk's life." Obama's tributes to the secularist revolutionary were not bows dictated by diplomatic etiquette to the founding father of a host country, but politically charged interventions in the ongoing debate about secularism and Islam. Indeed, his words were near-affronts to the belief held by Islamic conservatives and liberals - the alliance which dominates Turkish public discourse - that the introduction of secularist reforms was a traumatic event. …
Obama's rehabilitation of Atatürk failed to impress Turkish liberals and Islamic conservatives. Radical Islamists plotting in Pakistan and elsewhere, for their part, are sure to have found it profoundly provocative. A decade ago Osama bin Laden planned an attack on the Ataturk mausoleum in Ankara; in his first video message after 9/11, he referred to Atatürk's abolishment of the caliphate as the insufferable pain inflicted on Islam 80 years ago.
Comment: I am skeptical that Obama did what Karaveli ascribes to him, or that he even knows the complex game that Karaveli describes, but this is an argument to keep in mind. (April 19, 2009)
"Muslims and Christians in Kenya argue over Barack Obama's grandmother": For a 47-year-old, Obama has strikingly few peers or elders in his family. Perhaps the most important of them is his Kenyan step-grandmother, Sarah Obama, 87. So the news that Muslims accuse Christians of trying to convert her could have wider repercussions. According to Nick Meo in London's Daily Telegraph,
was reported locally to have been stopped from going to a Seventh Day Adventist Church by Muslims because they thought the church would try to convert her. "We had invited her to grace our meeting in Kisumu which was to mark the end of a three-week convention, but although she had prepared, she did not attend," Lewis Ondiek, a senior church figure, told Ecumenical News International.
Sarah Obama, 87, Barack Obama's Kenyan, Muslim step-grandmother.
It was claimed that family members stopped Mrs Obama from attending the service led by an Australian evangelist, John Jeremic, because they feared the church was trying to convert her to Islam [sic, should be "to Christianity"] but the family said she did not attend because she had a knee complication and could not go. Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya secretary, said: "Mama Sarah should not be forced by anybody to join Christianity since she is a Muslim. Muslims will not sit and watch one of their own being coerced by some religious leaders to convert to Christianity." …
Tom Obuya, of the SDA, denied the claims. "This is not true, she was never to be converted, this newspaper did not report well. she was due to be with us at a ceremony at the end of a three week evangelistic conversion mission, alongside other special guests." Saidi Obama, Barack's uncle and Sarah's son, said: "this is not true, she was not to be converted. she was to attend as a VIP but in the end she did not go because she had other commitments."
(April 24, 2009)
The United States "one of the largest Muslim countries"? Obama made the amazing statement to French television today that "if you actually took the number of Muslims Americans, we'd be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world."
Comments: (1) According to one listing of Muslim populations, the United States, with about 2.5 million Muslims, ranks about 47th.
(2) Poor Dan Quayle, poor George W. Bush. Had only they been liberals, they too could get away with saying the stupidest things and few would notice. (June 1, 2009) June 2, 2009 update: For an example of uncritical coverage, see how the New York Times under-reported this sensational statement at "Obama Says U.S. Could Be Seen as a Muslim Country, Too." June 3, 2009 update: Ivan Rioufol, Le Figaro's columnist and the best in France, agrees: "je m'étonne que la presse n'ai pas corrigé l'erreur" ("I am amazed that the press has not corrected the error").
ABC News notes the change: Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller note that during his presidential campaign, Obama and his staff "did everything they could to emphasize his Christianity and de-emphasize the fact that his father, Barack Obama Sr., was born Muslim. … Since the election, however, with the threat of the rumors at least somewhat abated, the White House has been increasingly forthcoming about the president's roots. Especially when reaching out to the Muslim world." (June 2, 2009)
Major speech in Cairo: I cover the speech in a separate weblog, "Islam in Obama's Cairo Speech." (June 4, 2009)
Ramadan message: Presidential holiday messages tend to be platitudinous, but not Barack Obama's first Ramadan message, which included several elements of note:
"Ramadan is the month in which Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad": I.e., I am no Muslim.
"Like many people of different faiths who have known Ramadan through our communities and families, I know this to be a festive time - a time when families gather, friends host iftars, and meals are shared. But I also know that Ramadan is a time of intense devotion and reflection - a time when Muslims fast during the day and perform tarawih prayers at night, reciting and listening to the entire Koran over the course of the month": I may not be a Muslim, but I sure know Islam up close. Note in particular the reference to performing "tarawih prayers at night," an allusion to the supplemental prayers Sunnis engage in during Ramadan. This, clearly, is no amateur speaking.
"fasting is a concept shared by many faiths - including my own Christian faith": Again, I am a Christian, don't forget it.
"we are isolating violent extremists while empowering the people in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan": Ah, those "violent extremists," troublemakers of no specific identity. Never ever connect them to Islam.
"we are unyielding in our support for a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security": Unyielding is a strange term in this context, confirms Obama's zealous views on the topic.
"at this time of renewal, I want to reiterate my commitment to a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world": I am the anti-George W. Bush. You will love me.
"We are … moving forward in partnering with the OIC and OIC member states to eradicate polio": One wonders if Obama realizes the minefield he walked into here.
"I want to join with the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world - and your families and friends - in welcoming the beginning of Ramadan": Just as Obama earlier cited the exaggerated figure of nearly seven million U.S. Muslims, so he now uses this too-large number, both times pandering to Muslims.
Comment: In all, it's precisely the Ramadan message one would expect from this politician. (August 21, 2009)
High school conversation: Keith Kakugawa, depicted as "Ray" in Dreams from My Father, recalls a conversation with Obama in high school in his autobiographical book, A Tale of Two Brothers: The Keith Kakugawa Story, transcribed and edited by Dave Burgess:
One time, after shooting some hoops over at the University, Barry and I had gone to the library at the school. We had been talking about Malcolm X, fries and ribs, pork ribs specifically, when we got into a heated discussion about being Muslim and being involved in the Civil Right Movement. He started checking out the writings of the radical Black leaders of the '60s. I confronted him about it, since I had met many of the writers through my mother in my early days in Los Angeles. Members of the Black Panthers and other "true" radicals had passed through my life. Angela Davis, the civil rights activist from the '60s, had been one of the people who watched me while my mother was teaching Black Studies at UCLA.
"A Tale of Two Brothers" cover.
Barry and I were in the library debating the trend of some Black athletes adopting the Muslim religion and changing their names. He picked up a Malcolm X book and said he'd thought about maybe becoming a Muslim. He looked at it and headed toward the desk to check it out. I said, "Hold on, man. What you gonna do? You don't know the first thing about being a Muslim. Are you even ready to give up pork? You ready to stop eating sausage for breakfast? I doubt it. Right now, you're just a kid, like me. What are you going to do, change your name?"
To him, the idea made sense. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had decided to become a Muslim because his ancestors, members of the Yoruba people of Africa, had been Muslims before being kidnapped and brought to America before converting to Catholicism, so the transition back must have been enticing.
Barry hit me with a bombshell that I definitely wasn't expecting: Barry's father had been Muslim.
He said, "Well, my name is Barack Hussein Obama."
We got in an argument about that right there in the library. I said, "No, it isn't." Looking back on it, I might have tried another tack; arguing with someone about their name seems a little silly in hindsight.
I asked him, "So, what do you think you're going to do? You really think you can be anything more than a radical wannabe?" I really couldn't get my head around what he'd said.
Barry pulled out his student identification card. "I don't have to do anything – I already have a Muslim name. I was named after my father, Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. You need to back up." It was the first time I'd ever realized his name wasn't Barry.
At that point, Mrs. Cross, the mother of one of our close friends, was working in the library and harshly "shushed" us. Barry waved to her, "Sorry – we'll take it outside."
We had talked in the past about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's name change and what it had meant for him. We knew of several other athletes who either had already changed their names, or were thinking of adopting the Muslim faith and changing their names in order to "cash in" on the current trend.
(September 8, 2009)
Obama's niece has an Arabic name: His half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng has two children with Konrad Ng, Suhaila and Savita. Suhaila (سهيلة) is an Arabic word meaning easy. (September 29, 2009)
Obama statue to be removed in Indonesia: The authorities are considering what to do with a bronze statue of "Little Barry" in Jakarta's Menteng Park just one month after it was unveiled. The statue depicts him in shorts and a T-shirt with a butterfly on his hand
Critics say the site should have been used to honour an Indonesian and 55,000 people have joined a page on social networking website Facebook calling for the statue to be removed. "We've been discussing for the past two weeks what to do with the statue... whether to take it down, move it elsewhere or retain it. We're finding the best solution," Jakarta parks agency official Dwi Bintarto said. … Members of the "Take Down the Barack Obama Statue in Menteng Park" group on Facebook say Obama has done nothing for Indonesia. "Barack Obama has yet to make a significant contribution to the Indonesian nation. We could say Obama only ate and s (expletive) in Menteng. He spent his subsequent days living as an American," the web page says. "For the dignity of a sovereign nation, Barack Obama's monument in Menteng Park must be removed immediately."
(January 25, 2010)
"Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim": So reports the Pew Research Center today, based on a poll conducted July 21-Aug. 5 among 3,003 respondents reached on landlines and cell phones and interviewed in English and Spanish. Numbers:
nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama's religion is.
Not surprisingly, political views affect this judgment:
Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance, while a majority of those who think he is a Christian approve of the job Obama is doing. Those who are unsure about Obama's religion are about evenly divided in their views of his performance.
Those who dislike Obama are most inclined to see him as a Muslim.
(August 19, 2010)
Obama stresses his Christian faith: Perhaps in response to the Pew poll, Obama has spoken out about his Christian faith as never before:
I'm a Christian by choice. My family didn't ... frankly, they weren't folks who went to church every week. My mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn't raise me into church. I came to my Christian faith later in life. ... It was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life I would want to lead. Being by brother's keepers ... treating others as they would treat me ... also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings. ...
We're sinful, and we're flawed, and we make mistakes, and we achieve salvation through the grace of God. ... We can still see God in other people and do our best to help them find their own grace. So that's what I strive to do and pray to do every day. ... I think my public service is a part of that effort to express my Christian faith.
But even in this context, he still mentions Islam:
But the one thing I want to emphasize ... as president of the United States, I'm also someone who deeply believes part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faiths. This is a country that is still predominantly Christian, but we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own, and that's part of what makes our country what it is.
(September 28, 2010)
Obama skips Golden Temple in Amritsar: The Indian government promoted a visit to the Sikh spiritual center but the Obama administration turned down the suggestion. Why? Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times explains:
Temple officials said that American advance teams had gone to Amritsar, the holy city that is the site of the temple, to discuss a possible visit. But the plan appears to have foundered on the thorny question of how Mr. Obama would cover his head, as Sikh tradition requires, while visiting the temple. "To come to golden temple he needs to cover his head," said Dalmegh Singh, secretary of the committee that runs the temple. "That is our tradition." Mr. Obama, a Christian, has struggled to fend off persistent rumors that he is a Muslim.
(October 19, 2010)
Obama on Islam and violence: Replying to a Muslim student, A. Ansari, asking for his views on jihad during a visit to St Xavier's college in Bombay, Obama responded:
"The phrase jihad has a lot of meaning within Islam and is subject to a lot of different interpretations, but I will say that first Islam is one of the world's great religions. More than a billion people practise Islam and an overwhelming majority view their obligations to a religion that reaffirms peace, fairness, tolerance. I think all of us recognise that this great religion in the hands of a few extremists has been distorted by violence."
Comment: Obama says jihad has "a lot of meanings" but it has just one meaning in public life – aggressive warfare to bring new lands under Muslim control. A spiritual meaning does exist but is irrelevant to public life. This is playing with words, analogous to saying that a tank on the military battlefield can be confused with a tank of oil in one's basement. (November 7, 2010)
Major speech in Jakarta: During a somewhat sentimental speech on his return to Indonesia, Obama referred to Islam in several ways:
- He opened and closed the speech with "As-salamu alaikum," which is specifically an intra-Muslim salutation.
- "my stepfather, like most Indonesians, was raised a Muslim."
- "Indonesia is steeped in spirituality -- a place where people worship God in many different ways. Along with this rich diversity, it is also home to the world's largest Muslim population -- a truth I came to know as a boy when I heard the call to prayer across Jakarta."
- He referred to his stop in a mosque as "a Christian visiting a mosque."
(November 10, 2010)
Obama's step-grandmother wants him to convert to Islam: Sarah Omar, 88, of Kenya is in Saudi Arabia on the hajj pilgrimage along with Obama's uncle Saeed Hussein Obama and four of her grandchildren, all of them guests of King Abdullah. While there, she told Al-Watan (Jidda), "I prayed for my grandson Barack to convert to Islam." One of those grandchildren, Musa Ismail, is currently studying at Madinah Islamic University; he informed the paper that he feels spiritually at home in Saudi Arabia. (November 26, 2010)
Somali Islamist wants Obama to convert to Islam: Fuad Mohamed "Shongole" Qalaf, a leader of Al-Shabaab, which controls most of southern and central Somalia, announced: "We tell the American President Barack Obama to embrace Islam before we come to his country," seeming to imply that only Obama's conversion to Islam will preempt Somali terrorism on U.S. soil. This is no idle threat given the twenty or so young Somali-Americans who have traveled to Somalia for jihadi training. (December 27, 2010)
Mentions Muslim in the State of the Union speech: From the White House transcript:
Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we're disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family. (Applause.)
(January 25, 2011)
Account of Obama's conversion to Christianity: Sojourners has almost six years later finally posted the transcript of Obama's address to it in June 2006:
I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I. It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma. …
Obama giving the keynote address at the Sojourners/Call to Renewal "Building a Covenant for a New America" conference in Washington, D.C., on June 26, 2006.
And in time, I came to realize that something was missing as well — that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone. And if it weren't for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the church. …
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. … kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.
(February 21, 2012)
Burqa'ed person expelled: A person wearing a black burqa was expelled from an Obama campaign event at Virginia Commonwealth University. A video (by VCU journalism instructor Vivian Medina-Messner) indicates the woman shouted in protest while being escorted from the hall. (May 7, 2012)
Reverend Wright's account: Edward Klein interviewed Jeremiah Wright for his book, The Amateur. This from p. 40:
"After Barack and I got to know each other, it got to the point where he would just drop by my church to talk," Wright said. "And the talk gradually moved away from his community-organizing concerns—street cleaning, housing, child care, and those kinds of needs—to larger things, more personal things. Like trying to make sense of the world. Like trying to make sense out of the diverse racial and religious background from which he came. He was confused. He wanted to know who he was.
"And I told him, 'Well, you already know the Muslim piece of your background,'" Wright continued. '"You studied Islam, didn't you?' And Barack said, 'Yeah, Rev, I studied Islam. But help me understand Christianity, because I already know Islam.' And I said, 'Well, let's start from the beginning. Who do you say Jesus is? Let's boil it down to the basics.'"
"Did you convert Obama from Islam to Christianity?" I asked Wright.
"That's hard to tell," Wright replied. "I think I convinced him that it was okay for him to make a choice in terms of who he believed Jesus is. And I told him it was really okay and not a putdown of the Muslim part of his family or his Muslim friends."
(May 15, 2012)
Praises Islam in the United States: Obama issued a Ramadan message in which he states that "Ramadan reminds us that Islam is part of the fabric of our Nation, and that—from public service to business, from healthcare and science to the arts—Muslim Americans help strengthen our country and enrich our lives. (July 20, 2011)
Half of Americans do not see Obama as Christian: A national survey by Pew Research conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, including 2,373 registered voters, finds that "17% of registered voters say that Obama is Muslim; 49% say he is Christian, while 31% say they do not know Obama's religion."
That amounts to an almost exact split between those who say he is Christian and those who do not. Pew notes that fewer respondents "say Obama is Christian – and more say he is Muslim – than did so in October 2008, near the end of the last presidential campaign. The increase since 2008 is particularly concentrated among conservative Republicans, about a third of whom (34%) describe the president as a Muslim." (July 26, 2012)
Comment: The change in Republican and especially conservative Republican attitudes bears note.
American Muslim disappointment: Writing in New America Media, Zaineb Mohammed writes that "Disillusioned by Obama, Muslim Voters Face Tough Choice." Excepts:
Four years ago, Obama enjoyed overwhelming support from Muslim voters – 89 percent of the population voted for him. There is currently no polling data indicating the percentage that intends to vote for Obama this November, but politically active community members agree that enthusiasm for his candidacy has waned. In particular, many say they are disappointed by the way Obama has shied away from addressing an apparent rise in Islamophobia spreading throughout the United States. …
Obama, in an effort to respond to false claims by some conservative activists that he practiced Islam, has repeated on several occasions that he is not Muslim. "Instead of saying there is nothing wrong with being Muslim, he just likes to distance himself, making it like being a Muslim is a crime," said [Mohamud Yussuf, of the Seattle's Somali magazine Runta]. …
Some Muslim Americans also believe that their needs are being ignored, while Obama makes an effort to meet the demands of other minority voters. "He has made concessions to various special interests or minority groups in the last year to win over their vote – suspending the deportation of Dream students, repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell – but I haven't seen a concession like that to the Muslim community," [noted Zahra Billoo of CAIR in San Francisco]. …
Although Obama touted his successes in foreign policy during his speech at the DNC, some Muslim American voters have taken a more critical stance. "By and large on foreign policy I rarely meet American Muslims who are happy," said [Zahir Janmohamed, a former Congressional staffer]. …
Political observers say the community's disappointment with both parties could lead some Muslim voters to stay home on Election Day. "I think there's no doubt that you're going to see fewer Muslim Americans coming to the polls, not giving contributions as they were in 2008," said [Suhail] Khan. "It remains to be seen how many will go to the GOP. Some may go to third party candidates." One of these voters is Billoo, who says she plans to vote for the Green Party in November because she is dissatisfied with both Republicans and Democrats.
(September 10, 2012)
Al Minar Books & Islamic Fashion sells "Michelle Obama" fragrance oil: Al Minar sells the product in five handy sizes. And while it is hardly the only outlet for this and like fragrances, it's revealing that this pious, Philadelphia-based company thinks its customers would want to evoke the First Lady. (March 12, 2013)
Al Minar Books & Islamic Fashion sells a Michelle Obama fragrance.
Obama on Christianity and Islam: There's a string of Obama quotes on the two religions – very different and revealing in both tone and substance – at Freedom Outpost. (September 28, 2013)
Muslims the most favorable U.S. religious group to Obama: By a wide margin, Muslims approve more of Barack Obama's performance as president than does any other religious community in the United States, reports Gallup.
Current views of Barack Obama by religious affiliation.
But the current approval number, 72 percent, is close to Obama's historic low among U.S. Muslims.
Historic views of Barack Obama by religious affiliation.
Comments: (1) Noteworthy that all non-Christian groups favor Obama substantially more than any Christian group. (2) As Gallup explains, "members of various religions view the president quite differently, but this may be attributable more to whether Obama's Democratic affiliation matches the political leanings of each religious group, and less to the specific policies and actions he has taken throughout his presidency." Put differently, one wonders how much the positive Muslim view results from the middle name Hussein and the Koranic lessons, how much from his general policies, and how much from policies specifically concerning Islam and Muslims. (July 11, 2014)
Related Topics: Muslims in the United States
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