The question of whether Barack Obama was a Muslim as a boy is still lurking around in some people’s minds, as demonstrated by Daniel Pipes’ Christmas Eve questions about Obama’s potential apostasy and Ben Smith’s reply calling the article a smear tactic.
In a country of John Smiths, Barack Obama’s name carries with it an inherent liability, one that is not necessarily deserved but does raise questions – including some legitimate ones – in the minds of Christian voters.
Smith says that this paragraph penned by Pipes is a xenophobic smear based solely on Obama’s name:
“If I were a Muslim I would let you know,” Barack Obama has said, and I believe him. In fact, he is a practicing Christian, a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ. He is not now a Muslim.
It sounds like an accurate, matter-of-fact statement to me. It is also the basis for Pipes’ article and a very interesting question, namely whether Obama might be categorized as an apostate and marked for death by radical Muslim terrorists.
Pipes’ summary of Obama’s youth:
Summarized, available evidence suggests Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father. At some point, he converted to Christianity. It appears false to state, as Obama does, “I’ve always been a Christian” and “I’ve never practiced Islam.” The campaign appears to be either ignorant or fabricating when it states that “Obama never prayed in a mosque.”
This has the feel of truth about it. As far as justifying ultra-Christian fears about Obama being a Muslim mole, Pipes’ interpretation of the evidence does nothing. Much as I went to Christian churches and went through the motions as a boy without being a Christian (then), Obama did the same in the places he was raised in. I think he’s right to say that it gives him a certain insight into the character of Islam, though it is necessarily the insight of a child and of questionable value.
So I don’t see Pipes’ comments as a smear, merely as a lead-in to the bigger question: Would Obama be assassinated by Muslims if elected president?
More importantly, how would more mainstream Muslims respond to him, would they be angry at what they would consider his apostasy? That reaction is a real possibility, one that could undermine his initiatives toward the Muslim world.
While this is a possibility, I believe that it’s irrelevant. Consider the level of discourse that would take place if Rudy Guiliani were to be elected president. Could the Muslim reaction to Obama be any less civil? I think not.
The more interesting aspect to the issue is this:
On the positive side, were Obama prominently charged with apostasy, that would uniquely raise the issue of a Muslim’s right to change religion, taking a topic on the perpetual back-burner and placing it front and center, perhaps to the great future benefit of those Muslims who seek to declare themselves atheists or to convert to another religion.
Pipes does not examine this thread further, unfortunately. But if a President Barack Obama were to stand tall on the American stage, acknowledge his childhood relationship with Islam, and declare that, like him, all people of all faiths have the inalienable right to choose their own religion or renounce the same, what would the outcome be?
Such an act could very well bring the wrath of Islam down on Obama. It could also set a billion people free.
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