What’s in a Name, Hussein?
Remember the day the media pointed the finger at Barack Hussein Obama and claimed he was a Muslim? What I found most offensive about the allegations was that they dared to suggest it would be a bad thing if he did or ever had followed Islam. With Afro-American icons and idols such as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and even Michael Jackson having converted to Islam of their own free will, why wasn’t Obama’s choice of faith…well…Obama’s choice?
Muslims and Christians the world over may disagree on many things but they are united as they puzzle over Obama’s religious status. Both are sceptical of his self-identification as a Christian and assume that a baby born to a Muslim father and named “Hussein” must have begun life as a Muslim.
Muslim: A Literal Translation
In an article by Daniel Pipes, published during Obama’s presidential campaign, Lee Smith of the Hudson Institute explains the conundrum and grey areas pretty well:
“Barack Obama’s father was Muslim and therefore, according to Islamic law, so is the candidate. In spite of the Quranic verses explaining that there is no compulsion in religion, a Muslim child takes the religion of his or her father. … for Muslims around the world, non-American Muslims at any rate, they can only ever see Barack Hussein Obama as a Muslim.” He says.
Another affirmative detail in the eyes of many is the fact that Barack’s school record from Indonesia lists him as a Muslim.
The Word on The Streets in the Diaspora.
Here’s a selection of quotes from non-American Muslim sources on Obama and Islam:
“Obama is a Muslim and a person with an African and Islamic identity.”
- Libyan ruler Mu‘ammar al-Qaddafi.
“Obama may not want to be counted as a Muslim but Muslims are eager to count him as one of their own.”
- Naseem Jamali, Al-Jazeera
“He has to be good for Arabs because he is a Muslim. He can’t be a Christian. His middle name is Hussein.”
- Grocer in Beirut speaking to The Christian Science Monitor.
The Welcome Embrace Back Home
And here’s what US Muslims have to say:
During Obama’s campaign, Sayyid M. Syeed, President of the Islamic Society of North America told Muslims at a conference in Houston that regardless of whether he were to be elected, Obama’s candidacy would reinforce the potential that Muslim children could “become the presidents of this country.”
The Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan called Obama “the hope of the entire world” and compared him to his religion’s founder, Fard Muhammad.
Not all Muslims rejoice at the possibility of the President’s Islamic heritage. Some view him as a traitor to his birth religion; an apostate (murtadd) from Islam.
Daniel Pipe’s article features a controversial commentary by Shireen K. Burki of the University of Mary Washington, speaking before Obama’s election. Ms Burki claimed that his victory in becoming U.S. commander in chief could lead Al-Qaeda to “exploit his background to argue that an apostate is leading the global war on terror … to galvanize sympathizers into action.”
Kuwait’s Al-Watan referred to Obama as “a born Muslim, an apostate, and a convert to Christianity.” Syrian liberal Nidal Na‘isa repeatedly tagged Obama an “apostate Muslim”, in the Arab Times.
Not all opinions are quite so extreme. Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian researcher and journalist, reassures that many Muslims react “with bewilderment and curiosity” when Obama is labelled a Muslim apostate.
If Obama were to feel the call to follow/rediscover Islam, it would certainly throw a real spanner in the works, given differences in Muslim and (some) American views.
I know I’m an idealist but aren’t we all (fully entitled to be) right and wrong sometimes, and shouldn’t we all find a way to embrace our different beliefs, celebrate our diversity and live together in peace?
P.S. I never suggested John Lennon was a Muslim…