As Barack Obama's candidacy comes under increasing scrutiny, his account of his religious upbringing deserves careful attention for what it tells us about the candidate's integrity.
Obama asserted in December, "I've always been a Christian," and he has adamantly denied ever having been a Muslim. "The only connection I've had to Islam is that my grandfather on my father's side came from that country [Kenya]. But I've never practiced Islam."
In February, he claimed, "I have never been a Muslim.... other than my name and the fact that I lived in a populous Muslim country for four years when I was a child [Indonesia, 1967-71] I have very little connection to the Islamic religion."
"Always" and "never" leave little room for equivocation. But many biographical facts, culled mainly from the American press, suggest that, when growing up, the Democratic candidate for president both saw himself and was seen as a Muslim.
• Obama's Kenyan birth father: In Islam, religion passes from the father to the child. Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. (1936-1982) was a Muslim who named his boy Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.
• Obama's Indonesian family: His stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was also a Muslim. In fact, as Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng explained to Jodi Kantor of The New York Times: "My whole family was Muslim, and most of the people I knew were Muslim." An Indonesian publication, The Banjarmasin Post, reports a former classmate, Rony Amir, recalling that "All the relatives of Barry's father were very devout Muslims."
• Obama's Catholic school in Jakarta: Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press reports that "documents showed he enrolled as a Muslim" while at a Catholic school during first through third grades. Kim Barker of The Chicago Tribune confirms that Obama was "listed as a Muslim on the registration form for the Catholic school."
• The public school: Paul Watson of The Los Angeles Times learned from Indonesians familiar with Obama when he lived in Jakarta that he "was registered by his family as a Muslim at both schools he attended." Haroon Siddiqui of The Toronto Star visited the Jakarta public school Obama attended and found that "Three of his teachers have said he was enrolled as a Muslim." Although Siddiqui cautions that "With the school records missing, eaten by bugs, one has to rely on people's shifting memories," he cites only one retired teacher, Tine Hahiyari, retracting her earlier certainty about Obama's being registered as a Muslim.
• Barack Obama's public school in Jakarta, Koran class: In his autobiography, Dreams of My Father, Obama relates how he got into trouble for making faces during Koran studies. Indeed, Obama still retains knowledge from that class: Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times reports that Obama "recalled the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer, reciting them [to Kristof] with a first-rate accent."
• Mosque attendance: Obama's half-sister recalled that the family attended the mosque "for big communal events." Watson learned from childhood friends that "Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque." Barker found that "Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers." One Indonesia friend, Zulfin Adi, states that Obama "was Muslim. He went to the mosque. I remember him wearing a sarong" (a garment associated with Muslims).
• Piety: Obama himself says that while living in Indonesia, a Muslim country, he "didn't practice [Islam]." Indonesians differ in their memories of him. One, Rony Amir, describes Obama as "previously quite religious in Islam."
OBAMA'S HAVING been born and raised a Muslim and having left the faith to become a Christian make him neither more nor less qualified to become president of the United States. But if he was born and raised a Muslim and is now hiding that fact, this points to a major deceit, a fundamental misrepresentation about himself that has profound implications about his character and his suitability as president.
The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and is the Taube/Diller distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.