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Is Daniel Pipes a Former Muslim? (Obama & the Apostasy Argument)

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2008-03-17-080317_obama_hp.jpgIn his New York Times op-ed on May 12, Edward Luttwak puts forth the provocative claim that Barack Obama is considered an apostate by Islamic law. According to Luttwak, Obama will therefore be a liability for American relations with the Muslim world, and he may even face greater risk of assassination than other potential presidents, even those who happen to be right wing warmongers.

Luttwak’s argument borrows heavily from Daniel Pipes, who also attempts to prove that Obama is a former Muslim. Pipes claims that Obama was listed as “Muslim” on some documents from his elementary school in Indonesia and that he was occasionally taken to Friday prayer by his Muslim step-father. In the minds of Luttwak and Pipes, these events, sprinkled throughout what seems to be a very ecumenical childhood, are sufficient to make Obama a former Muslim and current apostate.

The issue of apostasy and execution in Islam, and how it applies to this situation, has been addressed elsewhere, so I will only mention a few points. First, this whole discussion relates to Obama’s religious conduct and identity as a child. Consider this: I have never been a Jew nor have I ever practiced Judaism. Yet when I was a child, my mother took me to a Passover event at a local synagogue. I don’t remember much about it except that she made me eat horseradish, which was a bit traumatic. As far as I know, the synagogue did not make me declare my religion before entering, but if it had done so, my mother would have written “Catholic”. Perhaps then you could say I was a practicing Catholic, unless you ever witnessed me at church, sitting several seats away from my grandfather so he couldn’t tell that I was lip syncing the Nicene creed because I didn’t know the words. Somehow, I think my religious experience as a child is fairly representative, and yet in the case of Obama, it has become a matter of national debate, significant enough to warrant space in the New York Times.

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Obama knew Muslims as a child and even had Muslim relatives, through whom he gained some exposure to Islamic practices. OK, but how could any reasonable person conclude that Obama was a “practicing Muslim” and that his eventual embrace of Christianity constitutes apostasy? Normally I would say that Pipes and Luttwak, like all extremists, have an aversion to context and subtleties. But in this case, it’s not even subtle. First, there is the claim that Obama is a former Muslim based on some childhood experiences. Then, it is later argued that Muslims may view him as an apostate, but only if they mimic the same preposterous line of thinking that allowed Pipes and company to declare him a Muslim in the first place.

The fact is that Obama can only be considered a former Muslim in the same way that Pipes and Luttwak can be considered former Muslims. According to Islam, everyone is born with the natural predisposition toward pure monotheism, which the religion then nurtures and cultivates. That is why many of those who embrace Islam call themselves “reverts” rather than “converts.”

As a Muslim, I hope that Obama might accept the pure monotheism that was taught by Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them. However, if he chooses to exercise the religious freedom that is in fact protected by Islam, then I am still happy to see the good in him and his promises of change. And incidentally, I hope Pipes and Luttwak will return to Islam as well.

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Musa Maguire is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and accepted Islam after graduating from college. In 2004-2005, he received a Fulbright grant to study in Egypt, and then spent the following year working at Huda TV, an English-language Islamic satellite channel that broadcasts from Cairo.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Ahmad AlFarsi

    May 16, 2008 at 11:24 AM

    And incidentally, I hope Pipes and Luttwak will return to Islam as well.

    I don’t know if that last statement was supposed to elicit laughter, but I couldn’t help myself :) . SubhanAllah, in all seriousness, Ameen to your dua… some of the best after their return to Islam were among the worst enemies of Islam prior to their reversion. May Allah return Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, et al. to Islam and thus make them amongst the best of humanity. AAMEEN!

  2. Hassan

    May 16, 2008 at 11:43 AM

    As Colbert said (referring to Jeremiah Wright), “you think Obama’s priest is fierce, wait till you listen to his imam”

  3. OM

    May 16, 2008 at 11:47 AM

    Eteraz’s article doesn’t represent the shar`i stance accurately, as usual. I mean, not to mention the fact that he rejects it (the hadd) in the first place.

  4. MR

    May 16, 2008 at 12:22 PM

    Excellent response to the New York Times crappy article.

  5. Amad

    May 16, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    You know i find it amazing that NY Times actually printed this crap. I mean it seems that they are so desperate for Hillary, that they would allow right-wing neocon nonsense in their prestigious paper. Why do I have a feeling that their love affair with Hillary has something to do with THE LOBBY too, and the notion that Obama hasn’t started worshiping the 300lb gorilla yet? ;)

  6. Brad V.

    May 16, 2008 at 7:57 PM

    I’m very disappointed with the NYT for printing such filth. The NYT is the only paper I read and am generally happy with their coverage of news.

    As for the writer of the article, he should spend some time studying real Islam, not the hate-filled propaganda that Pipes and others spew. If I remember correctly, death for apostasy was only meant for political traitors during the Prophet’s time (peace be upon him). The US has the same law that allows traitors to be executed. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    The Qur’an even says “Let there be no compulsion in religion”.

  7. Amad

    May 17, 2008 at 4:59 PM

    Thx Brad. Most people found the piece quite awful, at least as evidenced by the vast majority of comments associated with the article online.

    I have cross-posted this on Dailykos and Streetprophets… I expect similar reaction there.

    Reaction on NY times in Letters including letters from Ingrid Mattson, Zaid Shakir, etc… I am glad Muslim leaders spoke up against this nonsense.

  8. Nadia

    May 17, 2008 at 7:31 PM

    ^ Me too. I read some of the comments and it seems like everyone pretty much agrees it wasn’t NYTimes worhty material. I hope the paper refrains from publishing items like that and from qouting people who don’t represent what they’re trying to cover.

  9. Al Iskandarani

    May 19, 2008 at 10:36 AM

    Alsalamualaikum,

    I came across this set of Letters to the Editor via my NY Times Email Alerts this morning. See if you can find the running theme :)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/14/opinion/lweb14muslim.html?ex=1211860800&en=85eb3ef35095ee89&ei=5070&emc=eta1

  10. Sunie Nizami

    May 21, 2008 at 10:53 AM

    SubhanAllah, this Daniel Pipes Charecter. One of our good collegues at the University ended up on DP’s blog as a person training for Jihad. This is becuase his name was on a poster advertising a very innocent MSA paintballing trip, organized to relieve exam stress. A google search of his name leads straight to DP’s blog… Think employment prospectives. May Allah save us from the evil and closed minded arguments of such people.

  11. Aalia

    May 27, 2008 at 5:23 AM

    Ah, Daniel Pipes. I used to go visit his site whenever I needed a raw laugh, but now his antics have crossed into spewing hatred and he is an extremist/border-line terrorist IMO

  12. Al Iskandarani

    June 2, 2008 at 8:35 AM

    Another response on the NYT website. At least the word is out and it’s not just “us” making noise.

  13. zainab

    May 22, 2009 at 7:07 AM

    i agree with you ,i sincerely hope that pipes and luttwak realise their mistake, return to islam and ask/beg allah for forgiveness before they meet him.
    Regarding N Y Times kudos to muslim leaders for standing up to the religion may allah reward them abundantly.amin

  14. employment

    October 1, 2009 at 9:11 PM

    You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity.

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