JERUSALEM – Was Sen. Barack Obama a Muslim? Did he ever practice Islam?
The presidential candidate officially rejects the claims, but the issue of Obama’s personal faith has re-emerged amid conflicting accounts of his enrollment as a Muslim during elementary school in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Widely distributed reports have noted in January 1968, Obama was registered as a Muslim at Jakarta’s Roman Catholic Franciscus Assisi Primary School under the name Barry Soetoro. He was listed as an Indonesian citizen whose stepfather, listed on school documents as “L Soetoro Ma,” worked for the topography department of the Indonesian Army.
Catholic schools in Indonesia routinely accept non-Catholic students, but exempt them from studying religion. Obama’s school documents, though, wrongly list him as being Indonesian.
After attending the Assisi Primary School, Obama was enrolled – also as a Muslim, according to documents – in the Besuki Primary School, a public school in Jakarta.
The Loatze blog run by an American expatriate in Southeast Asia who visited the Besuki school, noted, “All Indonesian students are required to study religion at school and a young ‘Barry Soetoro’ being a Muslim would have been required to study Islam daily in school. He would have been taught to read and write Arabic, to recite his prayers properly, to read and recite from the Quran and to study the laws of Islam.”
Indeed, the Israel Insider online magazine points out in Obama’s autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” he acknowledges studying the Quran and describes the public school as “a Muslim school.”
“In the Muslim school, the teacher wrote to tell mother I made faces during Quranic studies,” wrote Obama.
The Indonesian media have been flooded with accounts of Obama’s childhood Islamic studies, some describing him as a religious Muslim .
Speaking to the country’s Kaltim Post, Tine Hahiyary, who was principal of Obama’s school while he was enrolled there, said she recalls he studied the Quran in Arabic.
“At that time, I was not Barry’s teacher but he is still in my memory” claimed Tine, who is 80 years old. The Kaltim Post says Obama’s teacher, named Hendri, died.
“I remember that he studied ‘mengaji (recitation of the Quran),” Tine said, according to an English translation by Loatze.
Mengaji, or the act of reading the Quran with its correct Arabic punctuation, is usually taught to more religious pupils and is not known as a secular study.
Also, Loatze documented the Indonesian daily Banjarmasin Post caught up with Rony Amir, an Obama classmate and Muslim, who describe Obama as “previously quite religious in Islam.”
“We previously often asked him to the prayer room close to the house. If he was wearing a sarong (waist fabric worn for religious or casual occasions) he looked funny,” Amir said.
The Los Angeles Times, which sent a reporter to Jakarta, quoted Zulfin Adi, who identified himself as among Obama’s closest childhood friends, stating the presidential candidate prayed in a mosque, something Obama’s campaign claimed he never did.
“We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque. But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played,” said Adi.
Obama’s official campaign site has a page titled “Obama has never been a Muslim, and is a committed Christian.” The page states, “Obama never prayed in a mosque. He has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ.”
But the campaign changed its tune when it issued a slightly different statement to the Times stating Obama “has never been a practicing Muslim.”
An article last month by the Chicago Tribune seems to dispute Adi’s statements to the L.A. Times. The Tribune catches up with Obama’s declared childhood friend, who now describes himself as only knowing Obama for a few months in 1970 when his family moved to the neighborhood. Adi said he was unsure about his recollections of Obama
But the Tribune found Obama did attend mosque.
“Interviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” states the Tribune article.
It quotes the presidential candidate’s former neighbors and 3rd grade teacher recalling Obama “occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers.”
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, notes the Tribune article – cited by liberal blogs as refuting claims Obama is Muslim – actually implies Obama was an irregularly practicing Muslim and twice confirms Obama attended mosque services.
In a free-ranging interview with the New York Times, Obama described the Muslim call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”
The Times’ Nicholos Kristof wrote Obama recited, “with a first-class [Arabic] accent,” the opening lines of the Muslim call to prayer.
Israel Insider’s Reuven Koret notes the first few lines state:
“Allah is Supreme! Allah is Supreme!
Allah is Supreme! Allah is Supreme!
I witness that there is no god but Allah
I witness that there is no god but Allah
I witness that Muhammad is his prophet… “
Some attention also has been paid to Obama’s paternal side of the family. His father, described in some reports as an atheist, polygamist and alcoholic, was buried in Kenya as a Muslim. Obama Sr., also named Barack Obama, had three sons with another woman who reportedly all are Muslim.
Obama’s brother Roy is described as a practicing Muslim.
Writing in a chapter of his book describing his 1992 wedding, the presidential candidate stated: “The person who made me proudest of all was Roy. Actually, now we call him Abongo, his Luo name, for two years ago he decided to reassert his African heritage. He converted to Islam, and has sworn off pork and tobacco and alcohol.”
Still, Obama says he was raised by his Christian mother and repeatedly has labeled as “smears” several reports attempting to paint him as a Muslim.
“Let’s make clear what the facts are: I am a Christian. I have been sworn in with a Bible. I pledge allegiance [to the American flag] and lead the pledge of allegiance sometimes in the United States Senate when I’m presiding,” he told the UK’s Times Online earlier this year.
To interview Aaron Klein, contact M. Sliwa Public Relations by e-mail, or call 973-272-2861 or 212-202-4453.