Daniel Pipes: Barack Obama through Muslim Eyes

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is http://www.danielpipes.org. Click here for his blog.]

How do Muslims see Barack Hussein Obama? They have three choices: either as he presents himself – someone who has"never been a Muslim" and has"always been a Christian"; or as a fellow Muslim; or as an apostate from Islam.

Reports suggests that while Americans generally view the Democratic candidate 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:"Barack Obama's father was Muslim and therefore, according to Islamic law, so is the candidate. In spite of the Quranic verses explaining that there is no compulsion in religion, a Muslim child takes the religion of his or her father. … for Muslims around the world, non-American Muslims at any rate, they can only ever see Barack Hussein Obama as a Muslim." 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 his religion's founder, Fard Muhammad.

But this excitement also has a dark side – suspicions that Obama is a traitor to his birth religion, an apostate (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 U.S. 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."

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 liberal 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, differences in Muslim and American views of religious affiliation will create problems.

Read entire article at Frontpagemag.com

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omar ibrahim baker - 9/1/2008

The value of what Mr. Pipes writes, and his basic credibility, is well demonstrated in this post.

Quoting a certain Mr Lee he claims that "Muslims around the world etc etc " then to support his hypothesis of "Muslims around the world" he quotes an Egyptian, barely known, newspaper and a conversation at a grocer's reported by the Christian Science Monitor etc.

Not that any of the above are disparaged BUT the claim of "Muslims around the world" , to be taken semi seriously, needs further substantiation and documentation than that .

However, patently, it is NOT what Muslims around the world think of or about Obama that is Pipes' main, or secondary, interest.
His whole interest here is one more, among many neocon/Zionist, attempt to "attach" Islam to Obama hoping for , the sadly inevitable, negative effect it will have on his chances to win the presidency of the USA considering what was claimed all along, but particularly post 9/11, by his alma matter, Zionism, about Islam!

The real issue here is NOT Obama's alleged Islam or professed Christianity (Pipes and ilk pretend to know the man's religion better than he does. Failing to face him outright with it they insinuate it.).
The real issue here is how far will Zionism go to misinform , through malicious insinuation, the American general public about an intrinsically internal American affair, to serve an external body: Israel.

Should Obama be discredited and denied votes for his alleged Islam, and its presumptive consequent pro Islam bias, there would be more substantial grounds for all US Zionists and AIPAC supporters to be NOT only discredited but denied out right the right to vote in Presidential and congressional elections for their professed bias to Israel.
The absurdity of the last proposal is only made to demonstrate the hyper inanity of the earlier supposition!

Michael Green - 8/29/2008

A fascinating attempt by Mr. Pipes to create hatred toward Mr. Obama among Americans by parsing him into the Muslim faith. Mr. Pipes's allies in the Republican party are no doubt proud.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/25/2008

I suspect that Obama's rise to prominence may highlight the advent of a Muslim identity separate from Muslim religiousity, a feature common to globalized religions.

"Culture" and "heritage" are more complicated than medieval doctrinalism.