Many in the media are indignant with Reverend Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Invited on “Morning Joe” last Tuesday to discuss Christian persecution, the hosts turned the focus to interrogating Graham on whether he thought President Barack Obama was Christian or not. Though the Reverend concluded that Obama “has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is,” he appeared skeptical, suggesting Obama’s policies disagree with Christian principles, and thus earning the full ire of much of the fourth estate.
|Obama bowing before the Saudi King, 2009.|
Intrinsically trivial on many levels, this incident nevertheless brings several important points to the fore.
First, Graham was absolutely right to say that, “under Islamic law, the Muslim world sees Barack Obama as a Muslim, as a son of Islam”: according to Sharia, if one’s father is Muslim, one automatically becomes Muslim. In fact, the reason behind last week’s church attack in Egypt, when thousands of Muslims tried to torch a church and kill its pastor, is that a Christian girl fled her father after he converted to Islam: she did not want to be Muslim, and was rumored to be hiding in the church. (This would not be the first time in recent months that churches were attacked on similar rumors.)
Because of this automatic passage of Islam from father to son—with the death penalty for those seeking to apostatize, the condemned Iranian pastor being just the most visible example—and because Obama attended a madrassa (a Muslim religious school) during his youth in Indonesia, many Muslims are convinced that Obama is a “secret” Muslim. In a Forbes article, “My Muslim President Obama: Why members of the faith see him as one of the flock,” writer Asma Gull Hasan elaborates:
[S]ince Election Day, I have been part of more and more conversations with Muslims in which it was either offhandedly agreed that Obama is Muslim or enthusiastically blurted out. In commenting on our new president, “I have to support my fellow Muslim brother,” would slip out of my mouth before I had a chance to think twice. “Well, I know he’s not really Muslim,” I would quickly add. But if the person I was talking to was Muslim, they would say, “yes he is.” …. Most of the Muslims I know (me included) can’t seem to accept that Obama is not Muslim. Of the few Muslims I polled who said that Obama is not Muslim, even they conceded that he had ties to Islam…. The rationalistic, Western side of me knows that Obama has denied being Muslim, that his father was non-practicing, that he doesn’t attend a mosque. Many Muslims simply say back, “my father’s not a strict Muslim either, and I haven’t been to a mosque in years.” Obama even told The New York Times he could recite the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, which the vast majority of Muslims, I would guess, do not know well enough to recite. [Read the entire article, which is more eye-opening than the author probably intended.]
Another reason why many Muslims believe Obama is Muslim (a reason Ms. Hasan’s article understandably omits) is that, under the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya, Muslims are permitted—in certain contexts even encouraged—to deny being Muslim, if so doing secures them or Islam an advantage. Accordingly, Islamic history is full of stories of Muslims denying and publicly cursing Islam, even pretending to be Christian, whenever it was strategic.