WAS BARAK OBAMA A MUSLIM
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
But was he ever a Muslim or seen by others as a Muslim? More precisely, might Muslims consider him a murtadd (apostate), that is, a Muslim who converted to another religion and, therefore, someone whose blood may be shed?
The candidate for President of the United States has delivered two principal statements in reply. His campaign website carries a statement dated November 12, 2007, with the headline, "Barack Obama Is Not and Has Never Been a Muslim," followed by:
Then, on December 22, in the unlikely setting of the Smoky Row Coffee Shop in Oskaloosa, Iowa, as he munched on pumpkin pie and drank tea with four locals, Obama provided more detail took on this topic than before. When asked to explain his Muslim heritage, he replied:
These statements raise two questions: What is Obama's true connection to Islam and what implications might this have for an Obama presidency?
More: family and friends considered him, as a child, to be Muslim. In "Obama Debunks Claim About Islamic School," Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press wrote on January 24, 2007:
Asked about this, Obama Communications Director Robert Gibbs responded by indicating to Pickler that he wasn't sure why the document had Obama listed as a Muslim. "Senator Obama has never been a Muslim."
Two months later, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times (available online in a Baltimore Sun reprint) reported that the Obama campaign had retreated from that absolute statement and, instead, issued a more nuanced one: "Obama has never been a practicing Muslim." The Los Angeles Times looked into the matter further and learned more about his Indonesian interlude:
The childhood friends say Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque. "We prayed, but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque," Zulfin Adi said. "But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played." Obama's younger sister, Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only "for big communal events," not every Friday.
Recalling Obama's time in Indonesia, the Los Angeles Times account contains quotes that Obama "went to the mosque," and that he "was Muslim."
Summarized, available evidence suggests Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and, for some years, had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father. At some point, he converted to Christianity. It appears false to state, as Obama does, "I've always been a Christian" and "I've never practiced Islam." The Obama presidential campaign organization appears to be either ignorant or fabricating when it states that "Obama never prayed in a mosque."
That said, the punishment for childhood apostasy is less severe than for the adult version. As Robert Spencer points out, "according to Islamic law, an apostate male is not to be put to death if he has not reached puberty (cf. ‘Umdat al-Salik o8.2; Hidayah vol. II p. 246). Some, however, hold that he should be imprisoned until he is of age and then ‘invited' to accept Islam, but officially the death penalty for youthful apostates is ruled out."
On the positive side, were Obama prominently charged with apostasy, that would uniquely raise the issue of a Muslim's right to change religion, taking a topic on the perpetual back-burner and placing it front and center, perhaps to the great future benefit of those Muslims who seek to declare themselves atheists or to convert to another religion.
But would Muslims seeing Obama as a murtadd significantly affect an Obama presidency? The only precedent to judge by is that of Carlos Saúl Menem, the President of Argentina from 1989 to 1999. The son of two Muslim Syrian immigrants and husband of another Syrian-Argentine, Zulema Fátima Yoma, Menem converted to Roman Catholicism. His wife said publicly that Menem left Islam for political reasons — because Argentinean law, until 1994, required the President of the country to be a member of the Catholic Church. From a Muslim point of view, NYT 8 Jan 89 Menem's conversion is worse than Obama's, having been done as an adult. Nonetheless, Menem was not threatened or otherwise made to pay a price for his change of religion, even during his trips to majority-Muslim countries, Syria in particular.
It is one thing to be President of Argentina in the 1990s, however, and another to be President of the United States in 2009. One must assume that some Islamists would renounce him as a murtadd and would try to execute him. Given the protective bubble surrounding an American president, though, this threat presumably would not make much difference to his carrying out his duties.
More significantly, 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.
© Daniel Pipes 2007
Originally Published in Front Page Magazine, December 24, 2007
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, December 24, 2007
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/5286
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Dr. Daniel Pipes, a Ph.D. in Islamic History (Harvard University, 1978), is the Founder and Director of the Middle East Forum, the Founder of Campus Watch, a signatory of the Project for the New American Century, a former board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a former adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Golden Circle supporter of the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon, a former member of the U.S. Department of Defense Special Task Force on Terrorism and Technology, and a former lecturer at the U.S. Naval War College, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Pipes was the Director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute from 1986 to 1993.
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
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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