BARACK OBAMA THROUGH MUSLIM EYES
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
Reports suggests that, while Americans generally view the Democratic presidential candidate as having had no religion before converting at Reverend Jeremiah Wrights's hands at age 27, Muslims the world over rarely see him as Christian, but usually as either Muslim or ex-Muslim.
Lee Smith, of the Hudson Institute, explains why:
In addition, his school record from Indonesia lists him as a Muslim
Thus, an Egyptian newspaper, Al-Masri al-Youm, refers to his "Muslim origins." Libyan ruler Mu‘ammar al-Qaddafi referred to Obama as "a Muslim" and a person with an "African and Islamic identity." One Al-Jazeera analysis calls him a "non-Christian man," a second refers to his "Muslim Kenyan" father, and a third, by Naseem Jamali, notes that "Obama may not want to be counted as a Muslim, but Muslims are eager to count him as one of their own."
A conversation in Beirut, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, captures the puzzlement. "He has to be good for Arabs because he is a Muslim," observed a grocer. "He's not a Muslim, he's a Christian," replied a customer. Retorted the grocer: "He can't be a Christian. His middle name is Hussein." Arabic discussions of Obama sometimes mention his middle name as a code, with no further comment needed.
"The symbolism of a major American presidential candidate with the middle name of Hussein, who went to elementary school in Indonesia," reports Tamara Cofman Wittes, of the Brookings Institution, from a U.S.-Muslim conference in Qatar, "that certainly speaks to Muslims abroad." Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times found that Egyptians "don't really understand Obama's family tree, but what they do know is that, if America — despite being attacked by Muslim militants on 9/11 — were to elect as its President some guy with the middle name ‘Hussein,' it would mark a sea change in America-Muslim world relations."
Some American Muslim leaders also perceive Obama as Muslim. The President of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid M. Syeed, told Muslims at a conference in Houston that, whether Obama wins or loses, his candidacy will reinforce that Muslim children can "become the Presidents of this country." The Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan called Obama "the hope of the entire world" and compared him to Wallace Fard Muhammad, Founder of the Nation of Islam.
But this excitement also has a dark side – suspicions that Obama is a traitor to his birth religion, an apostate (murtadd) from Islam. Al-Qa'ida has prominently featured Obama's stating "I am not a Muslim" and one analyst, Shireen K. Burki, of the University of Mary Washington, sees Obama as "bin Laden's dream candidate." Should he become U.S. Commander in Chief, she believes, Al-Qa'ida would likely "exploit his background to argue that an apostate is leading the global war on terror … to galvanize sympathizers into action."
Mainstream Muslims tend to tiptoe around this topic. An Egyptian supporter of Obama, Yasser Khalil, reports that many Muslims react "with bewilderment and curiosity" when Obama is described as a Muslim apostate; Josie Delap and Robert Lane Greene of the Economist even claim that the Obama-as-apostate theme "has been notably absent" among Arabic-language columnists and editorialists.
That latter claim is inaccurate, for the topic is indeed discussed. At least one Arabic-language newspaper published Burki's article. Kuwait's Al-Watan referred to Obama as "a born Muslim, an apostate, a convert to Christianity." Writing in the Arab Times, Syrian democratic constitutionalist Nidal Na‘isa repeatedly called Obama an "apostate Muslim."
In sum, Muslims puzzle over Obama's present religious status. They resist his self-identification as a Christian, while they assume a baby born to a Muslim father and named "Hussein" began life a Muslim. Should Obama become President of the U.S.A., differences in Muslim and American views of religious affiliation will create problems.
© Daniel Pipes 2008
Originally Published in Front Page Magazine, August 25, 2008
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, August 25, 2008
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/5845
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
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