Muslim scholar responds to “Sharia smear” against Obama

May 30, 2008

Obama speaks at First Congregation/Carlos Barriaal United Church of Christ in Mason City, Iowa, 16 Dec 2007Two recent op-ed articles in the United States presented Barack Obama as a “Muslim apostate” according to “Muslim law as it is universally understood.” Since Muslims were bound to see him as an apostate, they argued, the potential next president could be seen as “al Qaeda’s candidate” because Islamists could whip up popular anger in the Muslim world by portraying him as a turncoat heading a Western war against Islam. He also risked assassination, one suggested, because Muslim law considers apostasy a crime worthy of the death sentence and bars punishment for any Muslim who kills an apostate.

There were many generalisations about Islam in these two articles, one by Edward Luttwak in the New York Times and the other by Shireen K. Burki in the Christian Science Monitor. There is no one code of Muslim law, as Luttwak (who is a strategic analyst not previously known for his mastery of Islamic jurisprudence) or Burki (who we’re told “studied Islam at school” in Pakistan) want unsuspecting readers to believe. Few Muslim countries have death for apostates on their books, and even fewer actually carry it out. This is not meant to defend any law about apostasy, which is an individual right, but just to state a few facts.

Most important of all, Obama never tires of saying that he is a committed Christian and has never practiced the religion that his father (who left his son when he was 2 years old) no longer practiced either. The fact these articles appeared amid an “Obama-is-a-Muslim” whispering campaign in an election year makes a good case for suspecting they may have been motivated more by political strategy than legal scholarship. A lot of the 368 comments on Luttwak’s article assume that’s the case. Call it the “Sharia smear.”

We considered asking around in the Muslim world for reactions to Luttwak’s article (the first to appear), but it was so unfounded that it did not seem worthwhile. There wasn’t much echo there, anyway.

An-Na’im’s book on ShariaA respected Islamic scholar, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, has now given a Muslim response to the supposed Islamic legal arguments the two articles are based on. “A strange paradox has emerged whereby Sharia (the religious law of Islam) has paradoxically become mythical in its alleged power to determine the behavior of Muslims everywhere, yet defenseless against the most fanciful, even outrageous claims and charges,” he remarks on the Religion Dispatches blog at Emory University, where he teaches law. An-Na’im has just published a well-reviewed book on Sharia, Islam and The Secular State .

The argument by Luttwak “is wrong from a Sharia point of view, and false in terms of the present political and legal realities of Muslim-majority countries,” An-Na’im writes. “Those who think Muslims will respond negatively to Sen. Obama based on his presumed religion have an overly simplistic view of what it means to be Muslim today.

As for impunity for apostate killers, he asks, “how is it that the killers of the Egyptian intellectual Dr. Farag Foda were prosecuted and executed for murder by the Egyptian state in 1994?”

For all the details, the full text is here (“Swiftboating Obama/Misrepresenting Islam”) and cross-posted at The Immanent Frame (hat tip).

UPDATE: After posting this, I saw I’d missed that Ali Eteraz had already dissected Luttwak’s op-ed. Chalk it up to me being on the road…

25 comments

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I think Obama’s citizenship records are in he state so a question of religion should not arise.

Posted by Dozy Abata | Report as abusive

The intricacies and delicacies of religious scholarship don’t really interest me.

What concerns and interests me are the many innocent people who are killed & maimed each year in the name of religion. Note that I said “in the name of”, and “not on behalf of”.

After all, aren’t we supposed to associate good with religion and evil with the d-evil? Isn’t killing & maiming innocent people evil? Well, it can’t possibly be good can it?

Therefore, in my view, what has to be the truth of it is this. Although the standards and banners out in front of the killing & maiming are religious ones, the real motivation for all of this evilness is not religious at all.

Somewhere I once read that the love of money is the root of all evil. While money (e.g., from oil) may be on the table, I believe that the real culprit is the almighty lust for power by the few over the many.

I also heard somewhere that absolute power corrupts absolutely (or words to that effect).

I believe in keeping things direct and to the point, i.e., simplifying the complex.

So…couched in terms that can be easily understood…many powerful, rich and “religious” folks who like to call themselves Christians are simply corrupt evildoers. The same goes for many Jews and Muslims. There are other religions besides these three, of course, but for some reason I don’t hear about them spending their time killing & maiming innocent people.

Now…in so called representative government, corrupt and evil politicians and heads of state are elected and reelected to office by the majority of those who vote. Therefore, this majority can only blame themselves for what happens after that. The blame also lies at the feet of those who don’t vote, when they have the perfect right to do so.

On the other hand, I can’t really say that I can lay blame at the feet of people who are denied the right to vote by corrupt and evil politicians and heads of state in their respective countries. Of course, I guess that these people could rise up and revolutionize their respective forms of government if they didn’t like the killing & maiming being done in the name of the religion that they (the people) adhere to. However, such revolutions are rare. The latter is especially true when corrupt and evil politicians and heads of state from friendly representative governments provide military & economic support to such monarchies and oligarchies…so that these ruthless evildoers then have the means with which to intimidate their own populations and keep them in submission.

Which brings me to the title of the book shown in the photo above.

“Secular” says it all for me. Considering how religion is prostituted in the minds and hearts of corrupt evildoers who covet and lust after power over the many…I believe that matters of state and matters of religion should always be mutually exclusive, i.e., have as much an impenetrable wall as humanly possible between them.

I think that this wall took some heavy hits here in the United States beginning in January 2001. Fortunately it is still standing. It needs some repairs, however. Perhaps Mr. Obama can effect those repairs. I’m counting on him to lead the way on that. I’m also counting on the U.S. congress and our supreme court judges to get on board the train that he will be driving.

I’m not even sure that such a wall is even possible in many other parts of the world. Because of that, corrupt evildoers always have a readily available source of camouflage for the killing & maiming that they do in the name of religion, i.e., the evil that they do in the name of all that is good.

Jack

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

FYI, the link provided at the end of the article is labeled “Swiftboating Osama”. It should be OBAMA. Tsk tsk.

Posted by Nattuk | Report as abusive

Nattuk – tks, typo corrected.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Isn’t it funny that no matter how many times that Barack Obama says that he is a beliver in Jesus Christ and prays to him, that so many active mouths with inactive brains can still jump on the supposition that he must be islamic. Incidentally, I would not recommend to Obama that he follow John McCain’s (king of the gaffs) advice, which almost sounded like a command, to go to Iraq.

Posted by Carole H. | Report as abusive

No matter if Obama is considered (by Islamic Law) a muslim. We have religious freedoms.

The question US voters should ask, “It this person so ‘great’ in our history that electing him is worth the risk to find out?”

Wikipedia compares all three candidate profiles and accomplishments. Unbiased.

While doing our civic duty, check it out and re-thinK the above question.

Posted by Niels | Report as abusive

A true Christian is know by his/her actions. That person does not need to say over and over again, “I believe in Christ.” I see no actions on Obama’s part to show me he is a Christian. I see no evidence that he has accomplished anything at all. In fact I had never heard of him before this election, have any of you?

Posted by Deborah Williams | Report as abusive

Obama is the victim of racial discrimination and now more lies and damned lies.

Persecution is an ugly, demaning and ultimately shameful act.

But some people have NO shame.

Some people, like Hilary C., are shameless.

Obama is the victim of a hate campaign.

You would need to be stupid, witless or quite senseless NOT to agree with that!

Posted by The Truth Is... | Report as abusive

Sorry – ‘demaning’ ahould be ‘demeaning’.

Posted by The Truth Is... | Report as abusive

Jack –

5th Para.

You probably read this quotation in the Bible.

…love of money is the root of all evil.
New Testament KJV 1Timothy 6:10

Posted by nihil | Report as abusive

I am not sure what all the commotion is about. I read Luttwak’s article and his point is about Obama and not about Islam. And he was not accusing Obama of anything. He just said that Obama’s election won’t improve the US standing in the Muslim world and he is right. I think that the host of arm-chair Mahatma-Gandhis that descended on this site to defend Obama can relax and go home.

Luttwak is also right about Islam taking apostasy as a very serious business and he is absolutely correct that in many instances the understanding among the clerics seems to be that apostasy is punishable by death. This fact was highlighted by several high profile cases celebrated in the media in the recent years. Now what the real Islam is about I have no idea and the same probably goes about the author of this article, but it’s not hard to see that the attitudes of modern Muslims to apostasy is much more complex than both he and Eteraz would want us to believe.

Posted by NB | Report as abusive

Obama is a victim of smear campain from the extreme right, if he says he is not a Muslim, THEN HE IS NOT A MUSLIM. Just drop the subject and talk about something more important like the ECONOMY, I just hope we never get McCain in the office to continue Goerge’s failed 8 years in office.

Posted by MIKE H | Report as abusive

re: Dunkin Donuts,The company is now owned by Carlyle fund . This is the same private equity fund that was funded originally by the Ben Laden family money and others from the Republican party. These people were very happy to use Osama’s family funds to parley huge profits until outed then they gave back their original investment but let the large profits keep riding into all kinds of buys and more profits .Now these same guys own Dunkin Donuts. The reason these got rid of that ad is to hide their connections to these type of guys.

Posted by jay | Report as abusive

This article says that there is no one universal ‘Muslim’ law and that the many different branches of Islam interpret said laws differently.

As Al Queda is an extreme interpretation and they have used this interpretation to carry out recruiting and terrorist acts, it stands to reason that, they very much can brand Obama Hussein Barrack as an apostate, recruit members with this interpretation and further their campaign against the United States.

Much has been publicized across the world for years of different Muslim and Islamic leaders different interprtations of Sharia Law and the actions they justify according to their interpretations.

Therefore, this articles intention to spin the apostate matter as not relevant is completely off base, misses the point entirely and is a waste of time to read.

Get with the reality of the situation instead of some type of idealistic wish for a problem to go away.

Posted by Robert NYC | Report as abusive

WHY WON’T OBAMA JOIN A NEW CHURCH UNTIL EARLY NEXT YEAR???
NYTIMES/REUTERS:

The decision to quit the church appeared to be a sign that Obama wants to put the issue behind him before the general election.

Obama said he and his family would find another church, although he said they would not likely settle on one until early next year.

Whoever wins in November will be inaugurated in January to succeed President George W. Bush.

HE’S GONNA WAIT… NOT GO TO CHURCH BETWEEN NOW AND THE ELECTION… HMM…

* IF HE WAS SMART, THEN HE’D JOIN A SYNAGOGUE!
* OR A ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH.
* WHY WAIT?
* THERE’S ONLY ONE REASON, (HEH!): AFTER GE GETS EKLECTED, HE”LL BE FREE TP JOIN A MOSQUE IN DC!

http://astuteblogger.blogspot.com/2008/0 5/why-wonobama-will-not-join-new-church. html

He won’t join a new church until next year because of people like you, tickler. He has never been a muslim and he is an avowed Christian. He has belonged to Trinity Church of Christ for many, many years – since long before he became a presidential candidate. Now the press and people like you will not stop harassing him or his church, so he has decided, quite correctly, that he should not choose a new one until the election is over. He did not say he would not attend a church until next year. He said he would not become a “member” of a new church until next year. If you know anything about protestant Christian churches, you know that you can attend them at any time whether you are a member or not. Once you have found a church that you wish to make your home church, you then become a member. Senator Obama has stated that he intends to choose a new Christian church once the election is over and his membership will not be a burden to the church due to the press coverage of his candidacy.

Posted by Linda | Report as abusive

To Robert NYC — Al Qaeda may very well brand Obama an apostate and try to rally new supporters with this argument. If Luttwak had only said that, there would be no problem with his article. But he aims at a far broader argument by using the classic “simplify and exaggerate” tactic — simplify the complex and varied nature of Islamic law and exaggerate the potential pool of Muslims who will agree with Al Qaeda on this issue. The result is a heavy dose of spin that presumes U.S. readers will not know enough about Islam to dispute. It’s a variant of the “Obama-is-a-Muslim” line, with a sheen of supposed expertise in Islamic law to make it seem more authoritative.

Just look at the sweeping phrases Luttwak used to blot out any complexity. Take, for example, phrases like “Muslim law as it is universally understood” or “With few exceptions, the jurists of all Sunni and Shiite schools prescribe execution for all adults who leave the faith not under duress.” Once he posits this supposed monolithic Islamic law (which An-Na’im rightly mocks), he overstates its importance to vastly inflate the potential number of sympathisers Al Qaeda could win with this apostasy argument. Just read this: “most citizens of the Islamic world would be horrified by the fact of Senator Obama’s conversion to Christianity once it became widely known.” The implication is that they would be easy pickings for Al Qaeda.

Most citizens? Horrified? Really? If so many Muslims would be so horrified, why hasn’t Luttwak’s “revelation” been front-page news across the Islamic world? Why does this shocking news seem to have been met with a yawn there?

It hasn’t been splashed across front pages from Morocco to Malaysia because most readers there are probably not going to buy this argument. That doesn’t actually matter, though, because in fact it isn’t even aimed at them. It’s aimed at feeding the “Obama-is-a-Muslim” rumours in the U.S. election campaign. The value of An-Na’im’s criticism is that it helps U.S. readers see through the false apostasy argument and judge both these articles for themselves.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

poor america ,hahahha

Posted by dudes | Report as abusive

Still, you’ll be surprised how many supposed critical-thinking people believe anything that jives with their deepest beliefs.

It all depends on the amount of information one has access to, and the kind. If more people predisposed to believe a candidate for US President named “Barack Hussein Obama” was a Muslim and now is an apostate fail to get the right kind of information, who/what will make them believe otherwise?

And if certain people find that they can benefit from branding Obama as Muslim, whether current or former, and these people happen to be Strategic Constituents and/or Gatekeepers of Information, how can the opinion of someone unknown to them like An-Na’im matter? Will Al Qaeda and every radical – whether Christian or Muslim – believe otherwise?

As a Communications/PR specialist, I have an… appreciation about how information is packaged and how people process that information. Really, you’ll be surprised how easily supposedly rational people believe what they hear/see when it resonates with their deepest held beliefs, and when its echoed by their Strategic Constituents, over and above even supposedly empirical data.

Your article (to mislead on purpose?) blurs the distinction between sharia, the only law in islam and the primary law for any muslim, and secular law.

True, few countries have a death penalty for apostasy in their secular law (if they have such, a real islamic nation is based on sharia itself). However the sharia law applies to all muslims the world over and it is never varied. Sharia is based on the Quran. It cannot be changed, cannot be misinterpreted. For a muslim, sharia is the primary law.

Thus any muslim will see Obama as an apostate, as he has inherited the religion of Islam from his father (islam is a paternal religion), and willingly and knowingly left it at some point by converting into christianity.

It does not matter whether he prayed at the mosque 5 times a day (very rare), prayed 5 times a day somewhere as a good muslim should, prayed sometimes as required by his school, social contacts and culture (in a muslim nation like Indonesia you will quickly become a social outcast if you’re not seen at the friday prayers, and avoiding the school prayer times would be nearly impossible), or never prayed anywhere at all.

He is still a muslim until he renounces islam, at which point he becomes an apostate.

(Not relating to Obama, sharia can be used to an interesting effect in muslim nations in non-muslim families: a son secretly converts to islam, forcefully converts his ailing father to islam with testifiers from the local mosque, according to sharia law inheritance can only go to a muslim, thus the son received 100% of the inheritance with the surviving wife and other children receiving nothing. This islamic grave robbery is actively practiced this day especially in islamic nations with sizable non-muslim minorities like Malaysia and Indonesia. The sharia law trumps secular law where the parties concerned are currently muslim.)

Posted by kebor saluur | Report as abusive

Kebor Saluur, with all respect, your comment seems to mislead on purpose by blurring the distinction between theory and practice. Yes, in theory, sharia is the law for Muslims and takes precedence over secular law. But vast numbers of Muslims live in situations (be it in Muslim countries or not) where the opposite is the case. Almost all Muslim countries give precedence to secular law over sharia. Many Muslims say they respect sharia but do not always act or decide according to it. So sweeping statements like “any Muslim will see Obama as an apostate” are based on an assumption about the factual preeminence of sharia law that is not borne out in reality. My guess is that many Muslims will not judge this case simply on what sharia says, but what they think is reasonable.

Furthermore, is this idea that one is a Muslim because one’s father is a Muslim based on the Koran or hadith? Or is it a cultural tradition that Muslims have come to assume is part of their religion. I’m not a scholar of Islam so I don’t even know where to look to check this. But I get suspicious about undocumented assertions about Islamic law, such as those Luttwak makes, because it is such a contested field.

As for your example of “Islamic grave robbery,” there is something wrong with the application of sharia in such countries if someone can “forcefully convert” an ailing father to Islam in order to shut his siblings out of their inheritance. How much does that reflect Islamic values? Whatever happened to “there is no compulsion in religion”?

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

bloggers, non-scholars and the average american really does not have to know scholarly information about islam and barack obama. all we need is functioning common sense and perhaps a streak of patriotism (it’s post-911 remember? this is where common sense comes in), to be able to see that barack obama is a tad creepy. here’s what supports my reasoning.

there’s too much evidence for obama supporting our worst fears, and it’s hinted at all over the place, beginning with his muslim background (which is a start), his associations, then some activities of his. just read what i’ve posted here:

“administrative jihad up close and personal”
http://make-informed-decisions.blogspot. com/2008/05/administrative-jihad-up-clos e-and.html

or

“evidence that raila odinga made an agreement with the islamic community to hand over kenya to sharia law. why did barack obama campaign for odinga?”
http://make-informed-decisions.blogspot. com/2008/05/evidence-that-raila-odinga-m ade.html

there’s a lot there, especially the obama-odinga-kenya connection. you’d never find hillary or mccain caught dead in kenya supporting an individual ready to hand over the kenyan government to islamic sharia law (written about below).

on associations, fox new’s sean hannity has successfully exposed obama’s william ayers connection (a confessed american terrorist), and obama spending 20 years in a church who’s pastor (with louis farrakhan) went to libya to meet with moammar khadafi (an extremist islamic terrorist), showing they sympathsize with extremist islam. not to mention what louis farrakhan himself stands for – the leader of the nation of islam. my god, come on. obama could have chosen any church, so why that one?

on activities, by the way, did you know barack obama supported and actually campaigned for raila odinga of kenya in 2006? odinga, had he been elected president of kenya, was prepared to hand over ‘muslim-declared’ areas of the country to islamic sharia law. where is obama coming from supporting a character like this? he has all kinds of islam-supporting connections – you have to connect the dots. newt gingrich wonders about it probably (hinting at this, often saying “we know nothing about obama”), pat buchanan subtly rails on obama, sean hannity of fox news has been hammering obama VERY HARD, but not coming out and saying he’s devoutly muslim, just exposing his connections to ANTI-AMERICAN individuals. it’s by implication. it’s a matter of connecting the dots and reading between the lines. what he does he does behind the scenes for sure, as most political agenda’s are handled.

another weird activity – as chairman of the senate foreign relations subcommittee on european affairs, which has important jurisdiction over nato and therefore is critical to military activities in afghanistan, barack obama has failed to hold even one hearing as chairman. he’s virtually done nothing in that position. now talk about ‘administrative jihad’ – i believe that would be considered a win in al qaeda’s eyes.

muslims are well known to practice ‘taqiyya’, or dissimulation, which is a form of deception they use to conceal the truth. were barack obama not to have had a muslim upbringing, or not to have had all the odd associations, and not to have supported people in the islamic camp (including wanting to meet with terrorist leaders without pre-conditions) .. then yes, i would wholeheartedly think that the allegation that obama is secretly supporting extremist islam is crazy. but the evidence is there. come on now, this caution is an exercise of god-given common sense based on evidence.

honestly, senator obama has so much support because of the ignorance and/or naiveness of the 18-30 demographics that follow him. they don’t have a mature ‘big picture’ of everything, not to mention just plain being in the dark to many facts about obama. i’ve campaigned (and continue to do so) on facebook for hillary and mccain, and have seen wall posts and discussion boards repeatedly DELETED by group administrators. rather than defending their candidate they find it easier to simply delete posts. is it any wonder the obama camp is in the dark STILL about full knowledge of their candidate? it’s a post-911 era and a muslim-american is now running for president? where has common sense gone?

Marcus, I think your claim to help readers “make informed decisions” falls apart when you use the cheap trick of implying that Obama is a Muslim, declaring that Muslims use ‘taqiyya’ and then concluding that all this adds up to him supporting extremist Islam. Taqiyya is a deus ex machina, a debating trick for people who want to accuse Muslims of something but don’t have proof for it. Serious people making serious arguments don’t need a crutch like this to convince people. You say several times that readers should connect the dots in your argument. But you need the ‘taqiyya’ sleight of hand to do it yourself. So a key connection is missing.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

The fact that any Muslim country would have on their books that someone could be killed for apostasizing is wrong, duh. So don’t excuse it by saying that very few practice it. And it is in their scripture to kill infidels, that’s why it was a law. Unfortunately most Muslims are victims of terrorisim. Check out the movie Obsession, this documentary makes it very clear that the Islamic leaders are trying to model themselves after Hitler in their propaganda, and they have openly declared war on the West. We just don’t take them seriously. Obama lies, and for some reason people just look over it, because they are so desperate for economic changes. The Iraq war was a good decision, and we should attack Iran next before they attack us. Newsflash! Terrorism has actually decreased by neary 50% since we attacked Iraq and that includes any terrorist attacks still occuring in Iraq. To say the war didn’t work is ridiculous, we haven’t had an attack since. And for note, Obama is a Muslim.

Posted by Obama lies | Report as abusive

marcus…thank you. Your post was excellently written. Oh to have more men of your ilk . Your good common sense and wisdom. Please keep it up. Don’t stop stating your observations!!People will eventually listen!!