As a political scientist, I’ve always thought of Obama as a Muslim if only because I tend to categorize people by the cultural influences which impact them as children. Early influences, for example, help us predict later political party affiliations.
Surprisingly, Pew reports that the number of Americans who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim has jumped from 12% in early 2009 to 18% in 2010. Similarly, Pew reports a decline in the number of respondents who identify Obama as a Christian – 34% today compared to 48% in March 2009 and 51% during the Presidential campaign in October 2008. As usual, there is a less decisive group floating out there – adding up to a plurality of 43% - who respond that they do not know what is Obama’s religion. These undecided respondents are up from 34% in 2009.
I’m certain that if Pew telephoned me, I would have been one of the folks who said Obama was a Muslim and who would not have been given the time to fully explain what I mean.
First, I know that Obama’s step-father, Lolo Soetoro, was a practicing Muslim. According to freely available press accounts, Soetoro took little Obama with him to the mosque to pray and enrolled little Obama in school as a Muslim. Second, I know that Obama grew up in a predominantly Muslim country, Indonesia. Third, when I met the young Obama - while he was a sophomore at Occidental College - I can report that his closest friends were the Muslim students on campus, in particular, an older Pakistani student named Mohammed Hasan Chandoo. Hasan visited Obama while he was a student at Columbia and attended Obama’s wedding to Michelle in 1992, unlike the African-Americans at Occidental who now claim they were close friends with the young Obama.
As for Obama’s more contemporary connections to Islam, I pay the most attention to his words in his book, Audacity of Hope, where Obama calls into question the divinity of Christ. This is, in my view, a bright dividing line between being a Christian believer and being a Muslim adherent. I also know that Rev. Wright is a former Muslim and maintains close ties to the Muslim community. All of this information gives me confidence that Obama’s world view, his basic mental architecture, has more links to Islam than Christianity.
Nevertheless, I’m sure the media will spin the results of Pew’s poll as evidence of racism or religious intolerance or an effort to portray Obama as the “other.” My perspective, however, gives me an advantage over mainstream journalists who are puzzled about how Obama could be so completely foolish as to endorse the Ground Zero Mosque. In my view, he is simply defending his base, a base of Muslim adherents to whom Obama has shown considerable loyalty ever since he was a little child.
John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.