Obama’s Take on Islam

This latest post written by Nick Upton for the course Religion and Politics in a Global Context Fall 2014. Please take the time to read this post, Obama’s Take on Islam. Nick is extremely smart, a gifted student, and will do great things in the future. Way to go Nick.

Nick Upton, King University
Nick Upton, King University

My name is Nick Upton. I was born in California and raised in Tennessee. I’m a sophomore at King University currently studying Biblical and Religous Studies. My hobbies are watching soccer and playing video games. I’ve spent a little over a year working at Wal-mart and in the past have spent just over a year at Burger King before moving to Bristol for college.

In America, many people seem to think that our current president, Barrack Obama, is a Muslim. Many of these claims are founded on false theories, speeches and phases taken out of context, and concocted ideas with nothing to back them up.

In other words, many of these negative beliefs about Mr. Obama emerge from prejudice and propaganda.

Some would say that he has been using a false identity this whole time and that he is from a foreign country simply because of his skin color. Another claim commonly made is that at his first inauguration he placed his hand on the Quran and not the Bible.

One of the major reasons people use to support their claim is Obama’s speech to the Muslim population in Cairo, Egypt in 2009. People have taken the video of his speech, and taken words and phrases completely out of context in a way that tries to show that he is “obviously” a Muslim.

However, if one watches the entire speech, this is not the case. From the opening minutes, President Obama gives his reason and purpose for the speech.

He wants to acknowledge the tension: between the global Muslim community and the West, and to attempt to make amends between the two.

 He brings up the fact that because of this tension, a small but dangerous number of extremist Muslims have taken advantage of this situation, and they have launched attacks such as 9/11.

What Obama wants us as Americans to understand is that while certain Muslim groups have done terrible things, caused terror, killed some of our own and others, that should not be representative of the entire Muslim community.

There are extremists everywhere, including Judaism and Christianity, but that doesn’t make all Jews and Christians terrorists.

With this speech, several people have gone in and taken bits and clips of what he said to make it sound like he is a Muslim. In this video, however, he says this about his faith,

“Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I’m a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk.”

He admits to having a Muslim background, but clearly states that he is a Christian. I have also seen people try to take his comments and twist them by saying that since his father is a Muslim, he automatically has to be one too. The way people can irrationally jump towards these conclusions is a bit ridiculous. That’s almost the same as someone saying “Well, your father was a high school janitor, so you will be one too.” These claims are illogical and don’t contain any proof to back them up. What he does say is that he has grown up with at least a partial Muslim background, especially during his childhood, and because of that he accepts and has a better understanding of the Muslim community as a result. Thus, because of his experience he can look past the hateful, negative stereotypes that have been given to Islam and see the people for who they really are.

Let’s look at a few examples where people have misused Obama’s speech:

One is his ability to clearly pronounce Islamic words and phrases. From the beginning of his speech, as he is thanking the audience for their attendance, and he uses the phrase Assalaamu alaikum which is the Muslim greeting. People question his ability to so easily pronounce these words as though phrases like these can only be said by someone who is obviously a Muslim.

But one thing that comes to my mind is this: if you are going to be giving a speech to people who may use a different style of speech and word choice, would you not try to include some of their words to make your speech more effective? And would you not practice in advance to ensure you correctly pronounce the words to sound as though you know what you’re talking about and to not possibly offend that group or end up saying something completely different? The fact that Obama was able to recite those certain phrases so perfectly was due to his being prepared for the speech he was to give–not that he is a Muslim.

Another example is when he recites verses of the Quran throughout this speech. A noticeable part of this that many Christians have picked up on is when Obama mentions the Quran. He says something like, “As the Holy Koran tells us…” and at another part he says, “The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if he has killed all mankind. And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.” The key word people pick up on is “Holy.” When people hear that word, they give some sort of higher power to it. If he would have just said Koran instead of Holy Koran, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. Because he called it “Holy”, it’s saying it “comes from God” or that it is a “work of God” and that only a Muslim would say that about the Quran. This again is just silly, and one of the reasons he does this is so he can relate to his audience. Mr. Obama is giving his speech to the Muslim population and like any good public speaker, he prepared to do so.

So, in short, we have our president, Barack Obama, who has been accused of being a Muslim by many Americans despite his claiming to be a Christian. These people try to use his background against him. They also use lies such as saying that he swore on the Quran instead of the Bible when elected. And they take parts of his speeches and twist what he says so that he sounds like he is a Muslim.

Why do they do this? Could it be racism? Is it personal dislike? Or perhaps just plain ignorance?

While he has a history with Islam and he has a great deal of respect for Islam’s impact on the world and in America, he clearly states that he is a Christian and doesn’t really have any reason to hide that.

Furthermore, just recently Mr. Obama gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast regarding the violent actions of ISIL. In this speech, Obama addressed ISIL, telling us about how they use violence in the name of their God. Later on, Obama reminds us that using violence and evil in the name of God is something that has been used at some point by all the major religions including Christianity and Judaism. These comments left many questioning Mr. Obama and has again brought up the debate on what Obama’s religion of choice is. Obama calling out Christianity for its past actions has led to more Christians accusing him of being against his own religion. Here is an example from an article on the WashingtonPost regarding this speech.

Some Republicans were outraged. “The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” said former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore (R). “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

Apparently, according to Mr. Gilmore, every believing Christian should have been offended by this, and this speech just proved again that Obama is against America and its beliefs. This is certainly a biased and distorted viewpoint of the speech as that wasn’t what Obama did at all. There is even an article that introduces this prayer breakfast speech on the CNN website with the headline “Obama is not a Christian?” and contains several quotes from other sources to promote this ridiculous claim. One quote even goes as far as to say this:

“Barack Obama is not, in any meaningful way, a Christian,” wrote Erick Erickson at RedState.com. “Christ himself is truth. When we possess Christ, we possess truth. The President is a moral relativist.”

Again, more comments about Obama not being a Christian. Sadly, this conspiracy theory isn’t one that will go away soon, much less before the end of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

What are we to do? What is the antidote to this misinformation and blind prejudice?

Education. Open-mindedness. Epistemological humility.

Where is the line between our intrinsic biases and what is actually true? Where do we interrogate our own assumptions knowing that each one of us wants a certain outcome even before we try to understand someone or something else?

Good answers to these questions are sorely needed today—especially those of us who are young and embarking on our journeys into the 21st century.