If you think Obama’s full name is ‘Barack Obama’ then you are half right. His middle name, which is hardly flashed in the media, is ‘Hussein’. Thus his complete name is ‘Barack Hussein Obama.’
Now the question that would certainly follow is: ‘Does he, or not, have a Muslim background?’ When the very same question was asked to him sometimes back his answer was ‘If I was a Muslim, I would let you know.’ and I believed in him. Obama is today a practicing Christian and also a member of the Trinity Church of Christ.
Obama in his campaign website on November 12, 2007 posted a statement with the headline ‘Barack Obama is not and has never been a Muslim’, followed by ‘Obama never prayed in Mosque. He has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim and is a committed Christian.’
Speaking personally about his Muslim lineage, on Dec 22, 2007, Obama spoke thus: ‘My father was from Kenya, and lots of people in his village were Muslim. He didn’t practice Islam. Truth is he wasn’t very religious. He met my mother. My mother was a Christian from Kansas, and they married and then divorced. I was raised by my mother so I have always been a Christian. The only connection I have had to Islam is that my grandfather on my father’s side came from that country. But I have never practiced Islam… For a while I lived in Indonesia because my mother was teaching there. And that’s a Muslim country. And I went to school. But I didn’t practice Islam…’
However, in complete contrast to Obama’s aforesaid statement, in the article ‘Obama Debunks Claim about Islamic School’ Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press wrote, on January 24, 2007, that: ‘Obama’s mother, divorced from Obama’s father married a man from Indonesia named Lolo Soetoro, and the family relocated to country from 1967-71. At first Obama attended the Catholic School Fransiskus Assisis where documents showed he enrolled as a Muslim, the religion of his step-father. The document required that each student choose one of the five sanctioned religions while registering – Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant.’
In response to the above claim Obama’s communication director, Robert Gibbs, responded that ‘He wasn’t sure why the document had Obama registered as a Muslim.’
What more? Two months later, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times 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 Times looked into the matter further and learned more about his Indonesian interlude: ‘His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers along with two people who were identified by Obama’s grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both schools he attended. That registration meant that during the third and fourth grades Obama learned about Islam for two hours each week in religion class.’ The article further continued stating that ‘his childhood friends say Obama sometimes went for Friday prayers at local mosque. “We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque. But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and we went to mosque together and prayed.” Said Zulfin Adi’
Obama’s younger sister, the article mentioned, ‘Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only for “big communal events” and not every Friday.’ Recalling Obama’s time in Indonesia, the Times account contains quotes that Obama ‘went to the mosque,’ and that ‘he [was] a Muslim.’
By summarizing the evidence we would get that: ‘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.’ also it appears false to state that, as Obama does, ‘I have always been a practicing Christian.’ and ‘I have never been a Muslim.’ The campaign, thus, appears to be either ignorant or fabricating when it states that ‘Obama never prayed in a Mosque.’
Important also is remarks from Arab Columnists like that of Naseem Jamali of Aljazeera, who recently stated that ‘Obama may not want to be counted as a Muslim but Muslims are eager to count him as one of their own.’
Of considerable importance also is a conversation in Beirut, as quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, which 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. The grocer’s answer for this was “He can’t be a Christian. His middle name is Hussein.”’ Arabic discussion of Obama sometimes mentions his middle as a code, with no further comment needed!
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 looses, his candidacy will reinforce that Muslim children can ‘become the Presidents of this country.’ What an excitement it should be for them.
But this excitement also has a dark side – suspicion that Obama is a traitor to his birth religion, an ‘apostate’ or ‘Murtadd’ from Islam. Al-Qaeda 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 the US Commander in Chief, she believes, Al-Qaeda would likely ‘exploit his background to argue that an apostate is leading the global war on terror… to galvanize sympathizers into action.’
Interestingly, as per Josie Delap and Robert Lane Green, of the Economist the ‘Obama-as-apostate’ theme ‘has been notably absent’ among Arabic language Columns and Editorials.
Somehow I find logic in the analysis of my friend and Director of Middle-East Forum, Daniel Pipes, who believes that ‘Should Obama become President, differences in American views of religious affiliations [will] create problem.’
But what is of keener importance, to me at least, is that ‘why has not been Obama frank in this regard?’ It paves ways for a great deal of suspicion and conspiracy theories.
Author is Co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of upcoming apolitical Magazine FOLKS (http://www.folksone.com) and also a fellow of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London (UK).