Islam and American Politics


The 2008 presidential elections in the United States have brought three topics which our parents repeatedly told us should not, under any circumstances, be discussed in polite company: sex, race and religion. But with a woman, an African American – with rumors that he might be Muslim – running for president of the United States, all three issues have surfaced and have become the topic of great debate.

Of particular interest and scrutiny has been the question of religion, mainly Islam, although during the earlier stages of the election, candidates included a Mormon and a Protestant minister. Still, it was the question of Obama's religious affiliation that attracted, and continues to attract much media attention.

The controversy surrounding Illinois Senator Barack Obama having allegedly attended a "madrassa" and the fact that he might have been a Muslim has put both the candidate and Islam on the center stage of American politics. Long debates were held over the issue of the possibility that a Muslim would be sitting in the Oval Office. Questions were asked if a Muslim could be a good president. For example, here is what Republican presidential candidate John McCain replied when asked that very question in a September 2007 interview:

"I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles … personally, I prefer someone who I know has a solid grounding in my faith. But that does not mean that I'm sure that someone who is a good Muslim would not make a good president."

For the record, a "madrassa" is simply the Arabic word for school. The question therefore should be: "Did Obama go to an Islamic madrassa?" In which case the answer is, "no."

The question that seems to bother many Americans is not so much if Senator Obama is a Muslim or not, rather, the issue is centered more on a question stemming from a disease which has been plaguing the United States ever since September 11, 2001. The disease is called Islamophobia. The symptoms consist of the false belief that everything relating to Islam is tied to terrorism.

The question of Obama's religious affiliation, in fact, came up during a roundtable discussion titled, "Islam and American Politics: Deepening the Dialogue," on Capitol Hill on Thursday. It was convened by the Community of West and Islam Dialogue of the World Economic Forum and Georgetown University.

The first question tackled by the panel composed of respected scholars and experts in theology and Islam was focused on, "How is Islam emerging in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign?"

 


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