A Republican activist I had met last month at a Middle East Policy Council seminar in Washington called over the weekend. She asked what I thought about President Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., before getting to the reason for her call.
Did I know if “Obama is really a Muslim”? The middle-aged woman had learned that Muslims consider the Old and New Testaments part of their faith. She was trying to find out if Obama could be adhering to his father’s religion, Islam; and mother’s, Christianity; at the same time
She left me wondering if some Republicans are trying to dig up some plausible rationale to paint Obama as a Muslim on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign trail. I will presently address the president’s religious affiliation. First, a word about what the persistence of the question of his religious identity says about race and religion in America.
A Pew Research Center survey, put out in July, found that only 49 percent of respondents believed that Obama is a Christian. One-third didn’t know his religious affiliation, and 17 percent believed he’s a Muslim. There’s concern among the president’s campaign team that the perception of his Muslim identity may cost him votes on November 6th.
Of course, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights confer social and political equality on all Americans, regardless of their race or religion. But many white American Christians still look askance at their colored and non-Christian compatriots’ claim to political and social equality.
Obama’s father was a black Kenyan Muslim, who gave his U.S.-born son his own skin color and his own Muslim name: Barack Hussein Obama. The president’s mother is a white American-born Christian, who brought up young Obama as a Christian. Obama Jr. has since been practicing the Christian faith.
The awful history of American slavery and European Holocaust has delegitimized racism in the Western public domain. Religion remains a widely approved value system in America. The Christian right and Christian Zionism have a stranglehold on the Republican Party . Religious values and prejudices on abortion, homosexuality, Islamophobia, etc., continue to color American political discourse.
Islamophobia — the loathing and resentment of Islam and Muslims — has heightened in America and Europe for several reasons. One, resurgent Islam has posed a serious challenge to U.S.-NATO hegemony over many Muslim societies. Secondly, Muslims generally are resistant to assimilation with white Christians in the West, and Muslim lifestyles often contrast sharply with those of the white mainstream. Thirdly, the nearly simultaneous resurgence of Christian fundamentalism in America and Islamic revival in the Muslim world has also revived the old cultural and hegemonic antagonism between Muslim and Western civilizations, which began with Muslim invasions of Christian countries in the Levant, North Africa and Iberia in the 7th and 8th centuries.
Finally, Al-Qaeda’s attack on the United States in 2001 has turned the simmering Islamophobia into anti-Muslim hysteria among many governments and white citizens throughout the West. Large numbers of Muslims have been profiled, surveiled, demonized, detained, interrogated and held in “black sites.” Many Americans — conservatives as much as liberals — avoid Muslims in the public space. Some openly say they wouldn’t want to travel with Muslims in the same plane. Hence the president’s reelection campaign’s concern that questions about his religious identity may alienate some voters.
So, is Obama a Muslim? Some of those who think he is have researched the question. They cite, as mentioned, Muslims’ belief in the truth of the Bible and the Torah, and their veneration of Hebrew prophets and Jesus. They point to the Quranic injunction to allow Christians and Jews to practice their faiths freely in Islamic states. Yes, Obama doesn’t worship at mosques. But Islamic scripture says a Muslim remains a Muslim even if he or she doesn’t perform any of the Islamic rites. All he or she needs to do to be a Muslim is believe that there is a God, and that Muhammad was the last and final prophet. If so, why can’t it be possible for the president to remain a Muslim while going to Christian churches?
What these folks also need to know is that the Qur’an says unequivocally that the Bible and the Torah, God’s true revelations as they are, have been overridden by the Qur’an; and that a Muslim ceases to be a Muslim when he joins another faith. In other words, Obama can’t be a Muslim and a Christian at the same time.
- Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West’: http://islam-and-west.com.