A Skewed View: The Question of Obama's Religion
In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 18% of Americans and 46% of the GOP believe President Obama is a Muslim. Yikes. In a country where people are publically burning the Quran and protesting the building of a Mosque close to Ground Zero, this is quite worrisome for a president whose poll numbers continue to slide downwards. So where does the confusion come from? No major news network has come out and stated that Obama is anything but a Christian. Where do these conflicting rumors come from and why are they so hard to shake?
This article examines a few key reasons:
The Name: Barack Hussein Obama
During the 2008 elections, I remember watching a news clip in which a reporter went to a neighborhood bar in the Deep South to ask its patrons a few questions about the upcoming election. When one resident was asked about his view on Obama, he managed to link Obama with Sadam Hussein. Why? How is it possible that a United States presidential candidate could possibly be paired with one of the greatest terrorists of our time? He implied that since they shared a name - Hussein - they must have other things in common.
Opposing candidate John McCain had something to say about Obama's middle name as well. In an interview with Bill Cunningham, McCain was asked if it was appropriate to use Obama's middle name, Hussein. He replied, "No, it is not. Any comment that is disparaging of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is totally inappropriate," an obvious implication that the name Hussein is an insult.
Even international citizens seem to suspect Obama has Muslim ties. In an interview with an Israeli television station, Obama is quoted as saying, "I think what this [skepticism] arises from... some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion."
The History: Living in a Predominantly Muslim Country
Obama is the son of a Muslim man from Kenya. When Obama was just two-years-old, his parents got a divorce. His mother's next husband was another Muslim, an Indonesian named Lolo Soetoro. Subsequently, Obama moved with his mother and new stepfather to Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world. In a new movie about Obama's childhood in Jakarta, co-director Damien Dematra, says that people will see his childhood friends dressed in traditional clothing (Film Portraying President Obama's Early Years in Indonesia Premieres).
This is a far cry from the childhoods our previous presidents have experienced. Is it possible that Obama's international background have misled Americans into believing that he adopted his previous resident country's majority religion, or that he inherited his religious beliefs from his father or stepfather?
Muslim Americans: Sympathizing with the Enemy
Last year, Asma Gull Hasan, author of Red, White, and Muslim: My Story of Belief wrote an interesting article for Forbes entitled My Muslim President Obama in which she explains why her and other Muslim Americans she knows tend to label Obama as Muslim. In it, she cites his church of choice (Unitarian), his shared personality traits with the Prophet Muhammad, including openness to critics, and his exposure to the religion through his father and Indonesia as facts to sustain her position.
It's natural for human beings to look for, and sometimes exaggerate, commonalities between a person or entity in order to relate to it and make a personal connection. Could it be that the poll was skewed by the opinions of Muslim Americans who share Hasan's view?
A Lack of Denial by the GOP
On the campaign trail in 2008, a woman said to Senator McCain, "I have read about him and he's not – he's an Arab." McCain told her quite bluntly, "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, a citizen." Kudos to you, Mr. McCain. That's the Maverick we all know and love. It would have been easy for him to sit back and ride these rumors to the White House, but instead he corrected the woman and went on with his speech.
Today? Not so much. Right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh, who boasts one of the largest audiences on radio, says this of the President: "Obama says he's a Christian, but where's the evidence?" He has repeatedly called Obama "imam Obama" and has said, "I'm just throwing things out there, folks, because people are questioning his Christianity." He has planted the seed of doubt and it is festering in the hearts of far too many Americans (New York Times).
For the record, Obama said in Christianity Today in 2008 that he is a "devout Christian" who believes "in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ." Still, individuals such as Rev. Franklin Graham state that Obama was "born a Muslim because of the religious seed passed on from his father." And unlike before, McCain has not stepped up to correct him. In fact, no influential Republican has.
To disagree with the President is entirely okay. We live in a democratic society where freedom of speech is encouraged and individuals are entitled to their own opinions. However, it is important that we disagree with our leaders for the right reasons. The lies and rumors that have cloaked Obama's presidency are unfounded and ridiculous.
Our country is in dire need of help and the longer we sit and debate the merits of Obama's birth location or religion, the less attention is given to the actual issues. Let's debate taxes. Let's debate putting restrictions on big banks. Let's debate Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Israel.
But let's settle the question of Obama's religion once and for all.
He's a Christian.
J. Stephenson is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on accredited online colleges for Guide to Online Schools.