JERUSALEM – President-elect Barack Obama declared in an interview he plans to deliver a major address in an Islamic capital as part of his global outreach, which he said would target the Muslim world.
“I think we’ve got a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular,” Obama said in a free-ranging interview yesterday with the Chicago Tribune, promising an “unrelenting” desire to “create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of good will who want their citizens and ours to prosper together.”
The Tribune reported Obama spoke of a major address in an Islamic capital but did not provide specific details.
“The message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the terrorist extremism we saw in Mumbai,” Obama said.
In the interview, Obama went on to discuss his strategy for his first year in office as well as reflect on his role as the first African American to be elected president.
Obama’s comments come days after WND reported an Egyptian cleric broadcast on state-funded television a plea urging Obama to convert to Islam while claiming the president-elect has roots in Islam.
“You, Obama, are among those who have pledged before Allah – Allah who created you, sustained you, and brought you to this position – to be a Muslim who believes that Allah is the one God, especially since you have some kind of roots in Islam,” declared Egyptian cleric Hassan Abu Al-Ashbal, speaking last week on the state-funded Al Nas religious television network.
“Convert to Islam, and you will be saved. All glory and honor lie in following Allah and his messenger, Muhammad. Know that the true religion is the religion of Islam, and all other religions are fabricated religions, which are null and void – religions that were abrogated by the Shariah of Muhammad,” Ashbal said.
Obama was ‘quite religious in Islam’
Obama repeatedly has denied he is a Muslim. His presidential campaign website contained the statement, “Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised as a Muslim, and is a committed Christian.”
But as WND has reported, public records in Indonesia listed Obama as a Muslim during his early years, and a number of childhood friends claimed to the media Obama was once a mosque-attending Muslim.
Obama’s campaign several times had wavered in response to reporters queries regarding the senator’s childhood faith.
Commenting on a Los Angeles Times report quoting a childhood friend stating Obama prayed in a mosque. Obama’s campaign released a statement explaining the senator “has never been a practicing Muslim.”
Widely distributed reports have noted that 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.
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.
Laotze 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, in Obama’s autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” he acknowledged 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 said Obama’s teacher, named Hendri, had 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 interviewed Rony Amir, an Obama classmate and Muslim, who described Obama as “previously quite religious in Islam.”
“We previously often asked him to the prayer room close to the house,” Amir said. “If he was wearing a sarong (waist fabric worn for religious or casual occasions) he looked funny.”
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,” said Adi. “But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played.”
Obama’s official campaign site contained a page titled “Obama has never been a Muslim, and is a committed Christian.” The page stated, “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 “practicing Muslim” clarification to the Los Angeles Times.
An article in March by the Chicago Tribune apparently disputed Adi’s statements to the L.A. paper. The Tribune caught 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 Obama’s former neighbors and third-grade teacher recalling how the young 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 an 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.
The first few lines of the call to prayer 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, including his father and his brother, Roy.
Writing in a chapter of his book describing his 1992 wedding, Obama 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 maintains 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 Times of London earlier this year.