Editor’s Note: In this second of a five-part series, Middle East and Islam specialist Daniel Pipes documents evidence from Barack Obama’s childhood years that points to his Muslim identity.
Many pieces of evidence argue for Barack Obama having been born and raised a Muslim:
(1) Islam is a patrilineal religion: In Islam, the father passes his faith to the children, and when a Muslim man has children with a non-Muslim woman, Islam considers those children Muslim. Mr. Obama’s grandfather and father having been Muslims — the extent of their piety matters not at all — means that in Muslim eyes, Mr. Obama was born a Muslim.
(2) Arabic forenames based on the H-S-N trilateral root: All such names (Husayn or Hussein, Hasan, Hassan, Hassanein, Ahsan and others) are exclusively bestowed on Muslim babies. (The same goes for names based on the H-M-D root.) Mr. Obama’s middle name, Hussein, explicitly proclaims him born a Muslim.
(3) Registered as Muslim at SD Katolik Santo Fransiskus Asisi: Mr. Obama was registered at a Catholic school in Jakarta as “Barry Soetoro.” A surviving document correctly lists him as born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961. In addition, it lists him as having Indonesian nationality and Muslim religion.
(4) Registered as Muslim at SD Besuki: Although Besuki (also known as SDN 1 Menteng) is a public school, Mr. Obama curiously refers to it in “The Audacity of Hope” (Page 154) as “the Muslim school” he attended in Jakarta. Its records have not survived, but several journalists (Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times and David Maraniss of The Washington Post) all have confirmed that there, too, he was registered as a Muslim.
(5) Islamic class at Besuki: Mr. Obama mentions (“Audacity,” Page 154) that at Besuki, “the teacher wrote to tell my mother that I made faces during Koranic studies.” Only Muslim students attended the weekly two-hour Koran class, Mr. Watson reports:
“Two of his teachers, former Vice Principal Tine Hahiyari and third-grade teacher Pak Effendi, said they remember clearly that at this school, too, he was registered as a Muslim, which determined what class he attended during weekly religion lessons. ‘Muslim students were taught by a Muslim teacher, and Christian students were taught by a Christian teacher,’ Mr. Effendi said.”
Andrew Higgins of The Washington Post quotes Rully Dasaad, a former classmate, saying that Barack Obama horsed around in class and, during readings of the Koran, got “laughed at because of his funny pronunciation.” Mr. Maraniss learned that the class included not only studying “how to pray and how to read the Koran” but also actually praying in the Friday communal service on the school grounds.
(6) Mosque attendance: Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mr. Obama’s younger half-sister, said her father (Mr. Obama’s stepfather) attended the mosque “for big communal events.” Kim Barker of the Chicago Tribune found that “Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers.”
The childhood friends say Mr. Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque. “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 Zulfin Adi, who described himself as among Mr. Obama’s closest childhood friends. Sometimes, when the muezzin sounded the call to prayer, Lolo and Barry would walk to the makeshift mosque together, Mr. Adi said. “His mother often went to the church, but Barry was Muslim. He went to the mosque,” Mr. Adi said.
(7) Muslim clothing: Mr. Adi recalls about Mr. Obama, “I remember him wearing a sarong.” Likewise, Mr. Maraniss found not only that “his classmates recalled that Barry wore a sarong,” but written exchanges indicating that he continued to wear this garment in the United States. This fact has religious implications because in Indonesian culture, only Muslims wear sarongs.
(8) Piety: Mr. Obama said that in Indonesia, he “didn’t practice” Islam, an assertion that inadvertently acknowledges his Muslim identity by implying he was a nonobservant Muslim. But several of those who knew him contradict this recollection. Rony Amir described Mr. Obama as “previously quite religious in Islam.” A former teacher, Tine Hahiyary, quoted in the Kaltim Post, said the future president took part in advanced Islamic religious lessons: “I remember that he had studied mengaji.” In the context of Southeast Asian Islam, mengaji Koran means to recite the Koran in Arabic, a difficult task denoting advanced study.
In summary, the record points to Barack Obama having been born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and having lived for four years in a fully Muslim milieu under the auspices of his Muslim Indonesian stepfather. For these reasons, those who knew Mr. Obama in Indonesia considered him a Muslim.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum.