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Barack Obama was NOT a Muslim

Reader comment on item: Barack Obama's Muslim Childhood

Submitted by Irfan Khawaja (United States), Jun 15, 2008 at 17:01

I'm sorry, but Dr Pipes has presented no evidence whatsoever--of any kind--that Barack Obama was a Muslim, or was even raised as one or had a Muslim upbringing.

To be a Muslim, you have to believe the shehada with full sincerity. To be raised a Muslim you have to be induced to believe it by those who brought you up, and their inducement has to be successful. If you don't believe it, you aren't a Muslim. If you never believed it, you were never a Muslim. And if the people raising you never succeeded in getting you to believe it, you weren't "raised as a Muslim" and you didn't have a "Muslim upbringing" either. You were raised by people who tried to make you a Muslim but never succeeded. If the people raising you didn't even try all that hard to induce you to believe the shehada and you didn't believe it, then the idea of raising the issue of your "Muslim upbringing" crosses the line into surreal absurdity. Which is where we currently are.

Pipes says that only Muslim children are named "Hussein." Really? How does he know? I'm not a Muslim and neither is my wife. What if we named our kid Hussein because we liked the way it sounded? Or because I grew up around people with Arabic names and was comfortable with them? Would that make him a Muslim? No. It would make him a child with an Arabic name often used by Muslims. My middle name is Ahmad, and some people call me by that name. Does that make me a Muslim? No. It makes me a guy with an Arab-Muslim middle name. What if I named my son after me? Same thing. You don't turn into a Muslim because your father named you Hussein or Ahmad. Your name has nothing to do with your faith at all. Sorry. This is Islam 101. No amount of confusing the issue by invoking Arabic grammar (the "h-s-n" triliteral root, etc.) is going to change that.

Nor does it make sense to say that "Hussein" is indicative of being a "born Muslim." There is no such thing as a "born Muslim." Muslims may believe that everyone is born a Muslim, but in reality, to be a Muslim is a choice, and the choice isn't possible at birth. No one is a "born Muslim" because no one is born any religion.

And no, in Islam, religion does not "pass" from father to son. It doesn't "pass" at all (except by God, if you want to call that a "passage" and want to suppose God's existence). It's either affirmed or not affirmed. Genetics is irrelevant.

The preceding disposes of the so-called evidence concerning Obama's Indonesian family. What Obama's step-father believes has no bearing whatsoever on Obama's beliefs or his status as a Muslim. You cannot be made a Muslim by what your relatives wish or do. If you could, I would still be a Muslim, since all my relatives lament my apostasy. But I don't believe in Islam, hence I am not a Muslim, and Obama doesn't and didn't believe in Islam, hence he was not and is not one. I was raised as a Muslim because I once believed it, but Obama was not raised as one because there is no indication he ever believed it. End of story.

The fact that Obama was "registered as a Muslim" for school is likewise irrelevant. At the age at which he registered for school, his parents would have been in charge of registering him. But their registering him (a) has nothing to do with what Obama himself believed, and (b) may not even have had a specifically religious motive on their part. A parent can thoughtlessly (or with some ulterior, non-religious motive) describe his family as "Muslim" even though not everyone in the family believes in Islam, and no one in the family takes the task of Islamic education very seriously. I know countless families like this. A father's mixed or ulterior motives (or false beliefs) in registering his son at school as a Muslim cannot make his son a Muslim and proves nothing about his upbringing either (except perhaps that he had the kind of father who would describe his family as "Muslim" even if the facts indicated otherwise). Never mind that documents from third world countries (especially documents of several decades provenance) are hopelessly unreliable, and the evidence presented here is itself of dubious relevance even if taken at face value.

It goes without saying that what Obama's teachers (fellow students, etc) say/said about him is irrelevant. Even apart from the problem of faulty memories (we're talking about testimony decades after the fact, which is a laugh in and of itself), they present no evidence that they knew that he believed in Islam, and no evidence that he was brought up as a Muslim.

I repeat: going through the motions of doing Muslim stuff without Muslim belief is not a Muslim upbringing. I went to Jewish day camp all my childhood, and celebrated shabbos there every Friday. Every Friday, I ate challah, drank faux Manischevitz grape juice, wore a yarmulke, recited the standard sabbath prayer, and sang "We remember thee, Zion" with everyone else. And you should have heard my Hebrew accent! I could have impressed Nicholas Kristof with it. But I neither am nor was a Jew, nor was brought up as one, and no one has ever imagined that I was, except in a joking or ironic context.

The fact that Obama made faces in Quran class does not show that he was a Muslim, and does not show that he was brought up as one. Being forced or required to go to Quran class as a child does not make you a Muslim. Being able to recite strings of Arabic that you don't believe in doesn't make you one, either. Going through the rote motions but never believing any of it is not compatible with being a Muslim or having a Muslim upbringing (especially if you had a simultaneous allegiance to some other religion). Lots of my Muslim friends growing up went to Catholic schools. They were forced to go to Bible class and forced to go to mass. Were they brought up as Catholics? No, not even if they made faces there.

Going to mosque does not make you a Muslim, either. I was raised as a Muslim, and went to Catholic mass as well as Protestant and Jewish services while I was a kid. That didn't make me a Catholic, a Methodist, or a Jew. If you go to mosque because everyone else is going, and nobody takes the religious part of going very seriously (a common phenomenon), then you aren't a Muslim and you weren't brought up as a Muslim (any more than putting up a Xmas tree or even going to midnight mass makes you a Christian). It's more acurate to say that Obama was brought up in an Islamicate culture while withholding his belief in Islam, not that his upbringing was Muslim.

Finally, there is no such thing as a "Muslim identity" minus Muslim belief. The concept is a plain contradiction in terms. Either you submit yourself to the will of God or you don't, and either you believe in the prophecy of Muhammad or you don't. If you disbelieve either of those things, you are not a Muslim, no matter what else you believe or do. You can wear anything you want, avoid as much pork and wine as you want, and give 2.5% of your wealth away to the poor every Ramadan, etc. but you're not a Muslim.

Daniel Pipes is surely familiar with Marshall Hodgson's distinction between the Islamic and the Islamicate, and surely knows that the two are not equivalent. Obama's upbringing is a paradigm instance of the Islamicate, not the Islamic. He grew up around Muslims, and though there is no evidence he ever was one, he had the superficial trappings of the Muslims around him, through habit and custom. That's it. Why confuse the issues--unless the propagation of confusion is the very object of the exercise? ...


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