Obama Is No Apostate -- Arab Media Have No Problem with his Christian Faith

Eye on Arab Media

New America Media, News Analysis, Jalal Ghazi and Souheila Al-Jadda Posted: May 15, 2008

Editor’s Note: The recent New York Times op-ed claiming that Muslims view Barack Obama as an 'apostate' has no basis in the Arab media, write the commentators. In fact, they argue, Obama has received more favorable coverage in the Arab media than in the American press. Jalal Ghazi and Souheila Al-Jadda are associate producers of "Mosaic: World News from the Middle East" on Link TV.

The most shocking coverage about Barack Obama’s faith appeared in the New York Times this week, when op-ed contributor Edward N. Luttwak claimed that Obama would not be able to improve relations with the Muslim world because he would be viewed as an “apostate.” Luttwak wrote that Obama’s "conversion" was “a crime in Muslim eyes; it is ‘irtidad’ or ‘ridda,’ usually translated from the Arabic as ‘apostasy’” and is “the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit, worse than murder.”

This claim has never been expressed on any Arab television station or newspaper. In fact, Obama has received overwhelmingly favorable coverage by Arab media including Saudi television stations known for their conservative politics.

Luttwak does not cite a single Muslim scholar. Even if he wanted to, there is no Muslim scholar who has accused Obama of apostasy.

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq of Upper Iowa University has compiled citations from more than 100 notable Islamic scholars affirming the right of Muslims to change their faith.

Some of these scholars include Egyptian Islamic thinker Jamal al Banna who wrote an article entitled "No Punishment for Ridda [Muslims leaving Islam]: Freedom of Thought is the Backbone of Islam." Al-Banna quoted all of the Qur’anic verses on the subject, and then concluded, "These verses are clear with regard to ridda in Islam; they make no mention of any torture or punishment for the murtadd [the person who changes his religion] in this world.”

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, one of the most prominent Sunni institutions, Muhammad Sayyed Tantantawi said, “A Muslim who renounced his faith or turned apostate should be left alone as long as he does not pose a threat or belittle Islam.”

Dr. Jamal Badawi, professor emeritus at Canada’s Saint Mary's University, added, "The preponderance of evidence from both the Qur'an and Sunnah [the prophet Muhammad’s teachings] indicates that there is no firm ground for the claim that apostasy is in itself a mandatory fixed punishment (hadd), namely capital punishment."

The list goes on.

Arab media have never considered Luttwak’s apostate argument. If anything, Obama has received more favorable coverage in the Arab media than in American media.

Saudi Satellite Television presents Obama as the candidate who is most capable of changing U.S. policy towards Muslim countries. One Saudi reporter said, “We noticed that Obama said that he would attend an Islamic conference in a capital of one of the Islamic countries, which is an indication that Obama has the willingness to a policy of openness towards the Muslim world.”

Obama’s Kenyan grandmother was a hit on Al Jazeera. She told Al Jazeera television, “Barack resembles his father in terms of intelligence and eloquence; he visited us three times. The first time was when his father was dying. The last time he visited us, I asked him to finish building a school that his father started building.”

The fact that Obama never cut his ties from his village and family in Kenya made the Arab media take notice. One Al Jazeera reporter noted that “the young Obama, who is competing to become the Democratic Party nominee in the U.S. presidential elections, is not one of the American blacks who suffered during the era of racial segregation. Obama has a Kenyan Muslim father and white Christian mother…. The [Kenyan] family only has one dream, that their son can achieve what other black Americans have not been able to achieve.”

On the other hand, American media have shown no mercy in their coverage of Obama’s family. No other candidate has been so scrutinized about his African and Muslim roots, his childhood, his name and the clothes he wears. Auma Obama, Barack’s stepsister, has expressed her concern over the way his family has been treated. “To stigmatize a faith is very, very unfortunate,” she told Al Jazeera English. “In that respect, it is very, very problematic that this issue keeps being brought up and it is brought up in a way that Barack Obama has had to defend the fact that he is not a Muslim.”

Ironically, these relentless attacks by American media have stirred hope among Arabs and Muslims that Obama has the potential to slow the tide of Islamophobia.

Lebanese journalist Dianna Mukkaled argues in Asharq Al Awsat newspaper that the smear campaign denigrating Obama’s background should be turned into a launching pad for reform.

On a recent Saudi talk show, Dr. Fawaz Gerges, a professor of international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College, called Obama “the only presidential candidate that talked about reconciliation with the Arab and Muslim worlds.”

On the same talk show, Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a U.S.-based civil rights organization, put it this way: “If Obama succeeds despite the intensive campaign that was launched against him and Islam, I think he will promise change and we are optimistic that if he succeeds he will rebuild the bridges of understandings with the Muslim world.”

Yet some Arab media wish Obama had gone further in his response to these attacks. Hasan Al Brari wrote in the Jordanian Alghad newspaper that he wished that “instead of only stressing that he is not a Muslim, he would have said, ‘What if I were a Muslim?’ If he had said that, he would have changed the dynamics of the debate and exposed the chauvinists that are making these accusations.”


Related Articles:

Beyond Black and White: Ethnic Media Respond to Obama’s Call for Dialogue on Race

The Spook who Sat by the White House Door

Prophets Don't Speak the Language of Politics



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User Comments


come on on Jun 06, 2008 at 21:03:33 said:

He's Arab, not Muslim. Just like any faith, you have to accept it to be it.
His Dad's from Kenya, birth certificate Arab, who had some black mixed in, and who only clung to his Arab decent. This doesn't have any bearing on who Obama decides to be, in a literal, baptismal sense.


Brenda on Jun 04, 2008 at 11:37:40 said:

Obama is a BIG mistake. american child is born from a muslim father is a muslim. He is a deceiver and defeating you. Islamic want\\\'s him in the white house. So the Islamic can acheive their goals in the name of Allah by taking over the world. Hello WAKE UP AMERICA
I have put information on myspace to share with you. You can accepted or you don\\\'t. The choice is yours. www.myspace.com/sweetthing140


Neccia Muhammad on May 28, 2008 at 10:53:46 said:

We all have comments about Obama, but the U.S have serious issues of a person of color to run this country, if Obama was a full European American decendant, would we still have all this negativity about this, I live in America and I hear to often that white America feel that we are not smart enough to run a country, when we live in a country ran by Bush for eight years, and the depression, oppression, deceit, and as far as other countries looking at America and the people of compassion and fear of God, we know the truth, I'm a Muslim and I was born in America, and I always say to all people read in the Bible (to the ones who live in the Bible-Belt WAy in the South) the story of Pharoah and look at America and see just how we resemble that time of Pharoah's rule. They speak of terrorists, but Allah sends tornadoes, rains, earthquakes to all countries and destroy some of them. Allah (God) sits on his throne and send destruction amongst all of us and we still argue and past judgement on who we are as to judge when we are no better than the one we speak ill of!


Joe on May 20, 2008 at 11:24:20 said:

Barak Obama can't be an apostate becasue he never was a muslim. I don't know where Mr. Luttwak is getting his idea's but being born to a non practicing muslim father doesn't make you a muslim. Obama himself says his father was an atheist born to a muslim family so if anyone is the apostate it was obama's father


Pat on May 17, 2008 at 11:18:50 said:

“A Muslim who renounced his faith or turned apostate should be left alone as long as he does not pose a threat or belittle Islam.”

Why is there always a qualifier? You allow yourselves to claim that no one need fear leaving Islam but then say they shouldn't pose a threat or "belittle" Islam? Belittle? What does that mean? Why couldn't that Sunni imam end his sentence after "alone"? He said you have a right to kill non-Muslims if they don't do what you want them to do: sit down and shut up.


kawahchan on May 17, 2008 at 08:36:04 said:

Sen. Barack Obama said he would engage Iran with "tough diplomacy" to persuade the Islamic state to abandon support for terrorism and its alleged nuclear weapons ambition ...
Osama bin Laden : "How much Barack Obama knows about Islamic national integrity ? Don't make me laugh ?"
Obama's Godfather Rev. Jeremiah Wright : "God D@#% America !"
Iran Official : "Tough diplomacy ? Iran has crude oil fields, many sharp (nuclear) physicists and missile-engineers; who wants to play with you Barack Obama ? By the way, who is Barack Obama ? Where is the Barack Obama's foothold in Middle East anyway ?
Obama : "Hey, what's happening babe ?"


Sara on May 16, 2008 at 08:44:07 said:

Thank you for speaking the truth about this issue. There are so many things being written about Arabs and Islam that completely distort the religion and people. This corrects some of that!

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