Calling Out Political Islamophobia

Many of you, I’m sure, read about the Pew study last August that determined 18% of Americans (roughly one in five) believe that President Obama is a Muslim. And I’m sure many might be tempted to disprove this claim as patently ridiculous.  My response? What should it matter if he was?

Let’s be honest. Those who cast doubt on Obama’s religious affiliation are not driven by compelling evidence – they are simply fomenting Islamophobia for abject political purposes.

Take a look at this interview clip with Sarah Palin (above). She purports to be making argument against a media “double standard” – but she plays her true cards when she refers to our president as “Barack Hussein Obama.”

This is about as patently cynical as it gets.  It’s clear that Palin and her ilk aren’t really all that interested in media accountability or presenting anything resembling evidence. They’re really just riding a rising wave of American anti-Muslim prejudice, pure and simple.

My two cents? We need to spend less time trying to dissuade irrational people from holding irrational ideas and more time calling out these Islamophobes for who they really are. No, Obama is not a Muslim, but if we’re not troubled in the least by the prospect of a Muslim president, then it seem to me we should be prepared to stand up and say so in no uncertain terms.

14 thoughts on “Calling Out Political Islamophobia

  1. It isn’t necessary to use “islamophobia” as a explanation of why many people think Obama is a Muslim. It can be explained by a number of other factors.
    Firstly, according to Muslim Sharia Law, he was born a Muslim because his father was a Muslim.
    Secondly, there is a peculiarly American view of what religious affiliation means. Traditionally, all religions carried a series of doctrines that were obligatory for the believer to hold in order to be fully accepted as a member of that religion in good standing. These can, for Christians include understanding the nature of Jesus and the authority of whatever church one may belong to and the power of its leadership to make policy. For Jews, it was tradtionally the authority of the Torah, the obligatory nature of the mitzvot and the power of the Rabbinical authorities.
    Many Americans today do not accept these requirements for religious identification. It is very common today for Americans to pick and choose various customs and values of different religions and mix them together and to reject others that were traditionally part of their religion because they are inconvenient or “politically incorrect”.
    Thus, people might not find it odd that Obama, who claims to be a Christian, having a Passover Seder in the White House, which is a particularly Jewish custom. It is very common for Protestant parents to send their children to a Catholic day school, even tho0gh there are wide doctrinal differences between them, simply because the Catholics have a very good school system, while the Protestants don’t. A very good example was the recent wedding of Chelsea Clinton with a Jewish man. Both a rabbi and a Christian minister officiated, even though Judaism adamantly opposes intermarriage. The groom even wore a tallit, a Jewish religious garment.
    Regarding Obama, everyone sees he is not a regular church-goer, and in the past, he attended a church run by Wright who expresses extreme views, so one may think that Obama was more attracted by Wright’s radical political philosophy more than his theology.
    Considering all this, it is not necessarily unreasonable to think that Obama identifies, at least in part, with Islam, at least in some eclectic way, much the way that Gandhi in India developed his own sort of syncretic religion which was based on the Hinduism which he was born into but which went well beyond it by incorporating ideas from Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

    • I don’t understand how anything you said shows that it’s not completely unreasonable to think that Obama is a Muslim.

      • Richard,

        That you even make such a statement proves your inherent prejudice. President Obama professes to be a practicing Christian and has long affiliated with Christian congregations. He has discussed his faith on numerous occasions and has written about it extensively in his autobiography. The burden of proof is not on him (or others) to prove he is not a Muslim – the burden rests upon those who claim he is Muslim to bring forth real and compelling evidence – not simply mere insinuation.

      • That comment has made me more angry than anything I have yet to see on this blog. What “inherent prejudice”? Against Obama? Against Muslims? What exactly did I say that indicated that the burden of proof is on Obama to prove that he’s not a Muslim? Did you even read my comment or did you just see “Richard Kahn” and make assumptions about what I would say?

  2. Factually incorrect on several counts right out of the box, and continuously throughout.

    according to Muslim Sharia Law, he was born a Muslim because his father was a Muslim.

    Wrong. First, Obama’s father was not a Muslim, he was in fact the exact opposite of a Muslim. A Muslim is someone to whom the belief in the God of Abraham as the only God is the central tenet of his religion. If you don’t believe that you are not a Muslim. Obama’s father was an avowed atheist who had renounced the concept of God. Therefore he was not a Muslim. Second, merely having a Muslim for a father is not enough. In order to be a Muslim one must sincerely and with comprehension recite the Shehada, which consists of an acknowledgement of the First Commandment of Moses that there is no god but the God of Abraham followed by a statement that Mohammad is God’s Prophet.

    Also, I would recommend that you learn at least the bare basics of Shari`a before you try invoking it again in an argument. The phrase “Muslim Shari`a Law” makes no sense, and on top of that it is a double redundancy. The word Muslim refers to a person who adheres to Islam, not things pertaining to Islam. Referring to Shari`a as “Muslim Shari`a Law” is more or less the same thing as referring to Halacha as “Jew Halacha Law”. Literally what you have said is “person who practices Islam Islamic Law law”.

    And your mistakes do not stop there.

    Traditionally, all religions carried a series of doctrines that were obligatory for the believer to hold in order to be fully accepted as a member of that religion in good standing. These can, for Christians include understanding the nature of Jesus

    You are very confused about the obligatory beliefs of Christians are. Perhaps you should do a bit more studying before you pontificate on this subject again.

    people might not find it odd that Obama, who claims to be a Christian, having a Passover Seder in the White House, which is a particularly Jewish custom.

    Nobody found it odd in Iraq, or Syria, or Lebanon, or Palestine when Muslims and Christians joined their Jewish colleagues and neighbors for a Passover Seder, or when Muslim and Jewish neighbors enjoyed a Christmas or Easter celebration with their Christian neighbors, or when Christian and Jewish neighbors visited Muslims to partake in a Ramadhan Iftar, or the celebrations of `Eid.

    It is very common for Protestant parents to send their children to a Catholic day school, even tho0gh there are wide doctrinal differences between them, simply because the Catholics have a very good school system, while the Protestants don’t.

    For many years one of the most elite boys’ schools in Baghdad was Baghdad College, which was founded and run by Jesuits from Boston. It was attended by boys from the best families regardless of whether they were Christian, Muslim, Jew, Mandaean, or whatever. They were there for the excellent academic education, and were never subjected to religious indoctrination. Protestant, Jewish, and secular parents in the US send their kids to Catholic schools for the academic education, and say thanks but no thanks to religious training. There is no blurring of the lines.

    • I left out that American Muslim families also send their children to Catholic schools, not only for the good academic education they offer, but also for the personal discipline that they instill in the students.

  3. Shirin-
    (1)Your nitpicking on the redundancy of saying “Muslim Sharia Law” misses the point…I was trying to clarify that Muslims observe Sharia Law to those out there who are not familiar with these terms. Not everyone out there knows Arabic as you do.
    (2) As you well know, Islam does not diestinguis between civil and religious law. In many Middle Easter countries, one’s personal status is determined by what religion one belongs to. This applies to most if not all Muslim countries in the Middle East in addition to Israel. Personal status refers to what customs and laws are followed when a baby is born, marriage, divorce and death. A person who is born a Muslim is subject to Sharia law, WHETHER OR NOT THE PERSON OBSERVES THE TENETS OF ISLAM. For example, in Egypt, Coptic Christians may not get divorced, just like the Catholics. A non-religious Copt, if he wants to get divorced may decide to convert to Islam in order to have the state recognize his divorce which would now be given under Islamic law. THe person may not believe in either Christianity or Islam but the state requires him to obey their rules. Obama’s father, if he had been an Egyptian citizen, would have been recognized as a Muslim and he would have passed this identification on to his children, again, REGARDLESS OF HIS OWN PERSON BELIEFS.
    In any event, I don’t think you enmough about the religiuos beliefs of Obama’s father to make any such declaratons that “he wasn’t a Muslim when Barack was born”, even if you got this information from Barack Obama’s autobiograpy. People often go in and out of belief.
    (3) Your quaint description of people of different religions participating in each other’s feast misses the point I was making. A Christian may invite his Muslim neighbor to a Christmas celebration, but the Muslim doens’t put on the celebration himself and invite the Christian. Obama HIMSELF put on the seder which makes no sense to me since he isnt’ a Jew.

    • YBD,

      I’m not an expert on Islam, but I believe your statement “Islam does not distinguish between civil and religious law” is incorrect – or at the very least sweepingly simplistic.

      Your comment “the Muslim doesn’t put on the celebration itself and invite the Christian” is a staggeringly naive statement. I know full well of Islamic communities that have held Iftar celebrations and have invited the local interfaith community to attend. I know this because I have received such invitations myself.

      Those of us who are not Muslims or scholars of Islam need to take a very deep breath before giving in to making sweepingly general statements about the Islamic faith.

      I’ll leave it to Shirin to fill in the details of which I am admittedly ignorant…

      • In that vein, I’ve been to an Iftar hosted by a Jewish community.

        Shirin, I’m curious about your comment about the definition of a Muslim. Does this mean that if someone renounced a basic Muslim principle of faith and later decided to reclaim it, he would have to undergo a formal Muslim conversion? Is an avowed atheist actually no longer a Muslim or is he more excommunicated?

      • if someone renounced a basic Muslim principle of faith and later decided to reclaim it, he would have to undergo a formal Muslim conversion?

        The two essential basic faith principles of Islam are the belief in one God, the God of Abraham, and the belief that Muhammad, a human being (as opposed to a divine figure, as Christ is viewed), is God’s Prophet. Everything else, including the Five Pillars, hangs on those two items of faith. If a Muslim renounced the belief in God, or in Muhammad as God’s Prophet, then regained his faith, s/he could recite the Shehada, and be officially a Muslim again. Islam does not have a formal conversion process as Judaism and Christianity do.

        Is an avowed atheist actually no longer a Muslim or is he more excommunicated?

        Islam is decentralized and non-hierarchical compared to Christianity, and probably even more than Judaism is (though Shi`a Islam does have a sort of a quasi-centralized hierarchical system based mainly on degree of learning). There is definitely no clergy through which a Muslim communicates with God as in Catholicism, but has a direct relationship with God. Ultimately a Muslim’s faith is a matter between himself and God (though of course other Muslims may step in and try to guide, or encourage him toward what they see as the right path).

        There is no excommunication as such in Islam. Someone who rejects the belief in God is no longer a Muslim in any real religious sense. That does not necessarily mean s/he will be barred from the mosque or ostracized. That depends on the situation. The person SHOULD be welcomed and encouraged to reconsider and re-embrace their faith, but of course that does not happen in all cases. Depends (in my opinion) upon how closely the mosque and those associate with it adhere to the original principles and ideas of Islam.

        Of course, what I have written here is the “short, basic version”, and just as in Judaism there are a lot of views, opinions and arguments over the details. There isn’t time or space to go very deeply into it, nor am I necessarily equipped to do a lengthy dissertation on it.

    • Actually, YBD, in the United States it’s increasingly common for Christians to put on seders, sometimes as interfaith gestures, sometimes as attempts (however anachronistic) to integrate rabbinic Jewish practice into their own faith. Add to that the political motivations behind the event, and it makes a lot of sense, although maybe not Jewish sense per se.

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