from Barack Obama on His Muslim Heritage
By Barack Obama
There has been a lot made in the recent weeks about the Muslim history of my family. Some of the things that have been said
are true, others are false, so I am writing this letter to clear up the
misunderstandings on this issue.
Yes, it is true that I have a name that is common amongst Kenyan Muslims where
my father came from and that my middle name is Hussein. Barack is a name which
means "blessing" and Hussein is a masculine form of the word beauty.
Since there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of blessings from God
and the beauty He creates I fail to see the problem with these names. Some will say wouldn't it be a problem to have a president
with a name similar to the deposed and executed former dictator of Iraq?
My answer to this is simply no; rather it is the strength and beauty of America
that the son of an African man with a "funny sounding" name, born
under British Colonial Rule, can now be a serious candidate for the presidency
of the United States .
My father was a Muslim and although I did not know him well the religion of my
father and his family was always something I had an interest in. This interest
became more intense when my mother married an Indonesian Muslim man and as a
small child I lived in Indonesia and attended school alongside Muslim pupils. I
saw their parents dutifully observing the daily prayers, the mothers covered in
the Muslim hijab, the atmosphere of the school change during Ramadan, and the
festiveness of the Eid celebrations.
The man my mother was married to was not particularly religious; but he would
attend the mosque on occasion, and had copies of the Quran in different
languages in the home, and books of the sayings and life of the Prophet Muhammad.
From time to time he would quote Islamic phrases such as "no one truly
believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself",
"oppression is worse than slaughter", and "all humans are equal
the only difference comes from our deeds".
Growing up in Hawaii with my mother and her grandparents Islam largely escaped
my mind. My mother installed in me the values of
humanism and I did not grow-up in a home where religion was taught.
It was later while I attended college at Columbia University and Harvard Law
that I became reacquainted with Muslims as both schools had large Muslims
student populations. Some of them were my friends and many came from countries
that our nation now has hostile relations with. The background I had from my
early childhood in Indonesia helped me get to know them and learn from them and
to me Muslims are not to be looked upon as something
strange. In my experiences up until college a Muslim was no less exotic
to me than a Mormon, a Jew, or a Jehovah's Witness.
After college I settled in my adopted hometown of Chicago and lived on the
South Side and worked as a community organizer. Chicago has one of the largest
Muslim populations in America (estimated to be around 300,000) and Muslims
make-up some of the most productive citizens in the area. I met countless
numbers of Muslims in my job as an organizer and later on in my early political
career. I ate in their homes, played with their kids, and looked at them as
friends and peers and sought their advice.
Therefore, when the tragic terrorist attacks of 9-11 occurred I was deeply
saddened with the rest of America , and I wanted justice for the victims of
this horrific attack, but I did not blame all Muslims or the religion of Islam.
From my experience I knew the good character of most
Muslims and the value that they bring to America. Many, who did not
personally know Muslims, indicted the entire religion for the bad actions of a
few; my experience taught me that this was something foolish and unwise.
Later I had the chance to visit the homeland of my father and meet Muslim
relatives of my including my grandmother. I found that these were people who
wanted the same things out of life as people right here in America and worked
hard, strive to make a better way for their children, and prayed to God to
grant them success.
This is what I will bring to the office of the
Presidency of the United States. I will deal with Muslims from a position of
familiarity and respect and at this time in the history of our nation that is
something sorely needed .