Obama & the Muslim World


A recent poll taken by the Pew Research Center on Religion in Public Life shows that approximately one-fifth of Americans think that their president is a Muslim, this despite the fact that he was baptized into, as well as married in, the Christian faith in Chicago while he was working closely with Christian pastors of various denominations as a community organizer and continues to consult closely and often pray for guidance with several ordained Christian clergymen.


No doubt his unusual name raises suspicions. Yet “Barack,” from the Hebrew “barakah” — meaning “blessing,” was also the name of the Old Testament prophet Baruch — so on that account is our president really Jewish?  Hussein” (meaning “handsome” in Arabic), was the name of one of Mohammed’s grandsons, as well as the name of the late king of Jordan, who claimed to be a direct descendant of Mohammed and who, along with his American wife, were among our best friends in the Middle East. But it was unfortunately also the last name of the Iraqi dictator who turned on us after we helped install him in power and backed him in his failed war against Iran. As for the president’s family name, “Obama,” that is purely African, from Kenya where his grandfather became a Muslim, yet his father became an agnostic quite early in life.  His mother, of mostly Protestant Irish-American background also became an agnostic.  So much for our president’s supposed Muslim identity. 


Still, given all this prejudice against him, why did the president almost go out of his way to raise suspicions by his defense of some American Muslims who want to rebuild (it has already been there for some time in an older building) an Islamic cultural center only a few of the few blocks away from the side of the World Trade Center that was destroyed by Muslim extremists on 9/11?  Granted that he is perfectly right on constitutional grounds. But why venture into such a sensitive subject? — something that reminds us of the furor raised by many Jews a few years ago when Catholic Carmelite nuns in Poland tried to build a new convent next to the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp where a member of their order (Edith Stein, who vowed to share her fate with the people of her own origin and is now honored as a saint) also died. Yet, in much the same way, we ignore the fact that about three hundred Muslims were also victims of the 9/11 attacks.


Granted that the president is an idealist whose ideals sometimes clash with harsh realities. But the reality today is that a large part of the Muslim world believes that America is out to destroy Islam. Yet, as mistaken as that belief might be, the prevention of these particularly peace-loving Sufi Muslims (who have also been targeted in Pakistan and elsewhere by Islamic fundamentalists) from building their center, which — a lot like YMCA buildings contain a chapel — will include a room that will serve as a mosque, only confirms this mistaken belief in the minds of many Muslims who, we should note, make up about a fifth of the world’s population. In contrast, can we Americans, who make up only a 20th of the world’s population, afford to make even more enemies of those who belong to what our former president, George W. Bush, called “one of the world’s great religions” and who were once our friends?


The name of the proposed building — “The Cordoba Center” — is especially evocative. Cordoba was one of those cities in Spain was where Muslims, Jews, and Christians once lived in proximity to each other and got along just fine. In fact, during that period, Christian culture in Europe made great strides in philosophy, theology, and science, due to the fact that the Muslims had preserved the intellectual riches of ancient Greece and were anxious to share them with the rest of the world.  Unfortunately that happy period of cooperation came to an abrupt halt when the “Catholic Monarchs” Ferdinand and Isabella took complete control of Spain and 1492 and immediately began requiring Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or else leave.


Is this the kind of country we want America to become? — one where citizens who happen to be of a different religion are shunned, or prevented from building houses of worship, or are accused of disloyalty simply out because of their ancestry or traditions? I hardly think so. Yet, in view of the amount of misinformation, anger, and in some instances, outright bigotry being displayed by a large portion of the American public, it seems that is where, at least for the moment, we are unfortunately headed.



R W Kropf    8/24/2010                        Obama & the Muslim World.doc    10-08-24.html