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Should our votes be influenced by potential Islamic perception of Obama apostasy?

Reader comment on item: Was Barack Obama a Muslim?

Submitted by Dennis Graves (United States), Dec 25, 2007 at 19:21

Dr. Pipes' article suggests that some Muslims may consider Obama to have been a Muslim as a child under Islamic religious/cultural interpretations. This is because Obama apparently 1) had a nominally Muslim father and grandfather and 2) attended Islamic classes as a grade school child in Indonesia, a Muslim country, where a child of a Muslim parent was expected to attend classes on Islam. Dr. Pipes notes that some Muslims may construe this to mean Obama was a Muslim regardless of whether Obama considers that he ever was. Further, some of those Muslims may believe Obama is subject to severe Sharia penalites as an apostate because he accepted Christianity. After noting the practical point that no radical Muslim is likely to penetrate security and harm the President of the US, Dr. Pipes raises an interesting issue:

"....how would more mainstream Muslims respond to him, would they be angry at what they would consider his apostasy? That reaction is a real possibility, one that could undermine his initiatives toward the Muslim world."

Dr. Pipes' concern that the reaction of some Muslims to Obama might imperil presidential initiatives towards the Muslim world raises a more fundamental question: should our choice of president be influenced by a potential Muslim reaction based on beliefs irreconcilable with our laws and fundamental freedoms?

I am not a Sharia lawyer and would not be qualified to argue the issue of whether Muslims might properly consider that Obama was a Muslim as a child and should be punished as an apostate adult. However, I do not think that should be the focus of the inquiry. As an attorney, I will observe that our Constitution clearly guarantees Obama the right to chose Islam, Christianity or no religion. The critical point is that, to the extent Islam does not allow a Muslim to embrace another religion (or to reject religion entirely), Islam is irreconcilable with freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.

Obama may have offended some Muslims by becoming a Christian, but in doing so he has merely exercised a basic freedom guaranteed by our Constitution. Regardless of whether Obama actually was a Muslim, he is running for president of the US, not an Islamic country. That the basic freedom to choose a religion may not exist in Muslim countries ought to underscore the point that we should not allow fear of Islamic reaction re perceived apostasy to influence our vote.

As Professor Huntington famously noted, we may be facing a "clash of civilizations" over many issues about which Islamic and Western ways are at odds. If concern about Islamic reaction were to cause us to reject a candidate who is otherwise qualified and capable, then I suggest that we are on the very slippery slope of allowing fear of Islamic reaction to undermine many of our cherished traditions and institutions.

The question American voters ought to consider is whether Obama's childhood exposure to Islam would help him to protect American interests by shaping effective policies and making sound decisions regarding the Islamic world. I believe that the single greatest problem our government faces when dealing with the Islamic world is that very few Americans – including those in government – have an adequate understanding of Islam and how Muslims view the western world. My view is that Obama's childhood exposure to Islam may provide him insight and understanding that would be valuable in dealing with the Muslim world.


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