Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s ties to Islam is a story line that is not going away, according to a recent analysis by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
“Rumors that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim whose patriotism was questionable first appeared on blogs and in e-mail messages,” PJE noted.
“In March, the rumors began to show up in the press, though only minimally.”
PJE’s News Coverage Index found that media reports about these rumors accounted for 0.4 percent of the “campaign newshole” from mid-March to mid-April.
But coverage has steadily increased since then, and accounted for 3.8 percent of the campaign news from mid-June to mid-July.
Obama has denied he is a Muslim or ever was a practicing Muslim.
The basis of the “rumor” germinates with Obama’s father, who was a Muslim, though Obama claims he was non-practicing. Adding to the mix is Obama’s full name, Barack Hussein Obama, which is an Arabic name.
Obama’s biological father disappeared from his son’s life soon after he was born and returned to his native Kenya.
Obama’s Kansas-born mother and her second husband, an Indonesian who was also a Muslim, moved from Hawaii to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, in 1967. Obama lived there from ages 6 to 10.
Reports dating back as far as early 2007 held that Obama was educated at a radical Islamic school in Indonesia.
Press accounts revealed that in fact, Obama first attended a Catholic school for almost three years. However, his mother registered him in the school as a Muslim.
Some press reports indicated that Obama attended a radical madrasa, a school for radical Islamics. But that story was found to be untrue.
In the wake of that controversy, the Los Angeles Times sent a reporter to Jakarta to ferret out the truth.
The Times report, published on March 16, 2008, revealed:
• A close boyhood friend of Obama, Zulfin Adi, said Barack "was a Muslim. He went to the mosque."
• Obama's first-grade teacher at a Catholic school, Israella Dharmawan, said: "Barry (Barack's nickname) was Muslim. He was registered as a Muslim because his father was Muslim."
• In the third grade, Obama transferred to a public school, where he was also registered as a Muslim. At the school, Muslim students attended weekly religion lessons about Islam.
Some of these details have been confirmed by Obama himself. In his autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," Obama mentions studying the Koran and describes the public school as "a Muslim school."
Earlier this year, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs claimed: "Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian."
But the facts suggest that statement is not exactly true.
Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes wrote on FrontPageMag.com that his research led him to conclude that "Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian stepfather."
After the Los Angeles Times conducted its own investigation, Gibbs amended his previous statement on behalf of Obama, telling the Los Angeles Times: "Obama has never been a practicing Muslim," the key word being "practicing."
After the Los Angeles Times report, Obama’s hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, came to his rescue, publishing its own story about Obama’s Indonesian years less than two weeks after the Times report.
The Tribune said they had re-interviewed Obama’s boyhood friend Adi. He told the Tribune he was not sure Obama had been a practicing Muslim. The Tribune also claimed it conducted “interviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends” — all who indicated that Obama “was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia.'"
Despite heated denials — perhaps fueled by his attendance at Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakan’s Million Man March — doubts linger about Obama’s religious status.
For example, The New Yorker magazine’s recent controversial cover depicting Obama in traditional Muslim clothing — sandals, robe and turban – reflects those doubts.
The PJE’s News Coverage Index examines about four dozen news outlets to determine what is being covered and what is not.
Many of the news accounts surrounding this story have reported stories debunking the belief that Obama was or still is a Muslim. Nevertheless, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 12 percent of respondents believed the candidate is a Muslim.
Poll results released in mid-July by Newsweek magazine showed that 26 percent of respondents believe Obama was sworn in as a U.S. senator on a Koran, 26 percent believe he was raised as a Muslim, and 39 percent believe he attended an Islamic school as a child growing up in Indonesia.
While rebuffing reports of his ties to Islam, Obama has insisted there is “nothing wrong” with being a Muslim.
But any perceived link between Obama and Islam could be detrimental to his campaign, polls show.
A survey by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics conducted when Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was a Republican presidential candidate found that 32 percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is Mormon — while 45 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a Muslim.
And a poll by the Pew Research Center disclosed that 35 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Muslims.
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