Friday, September 18, 2015

If Obama is a Muslim, He is a Very Bad One

Various people, including Donald Trump, have suggested that Obama was not born in the U.S. and may be a Muslim. The former claim, while it may be false, is not absurd—there is no obvious way of being certain of the details of the birth more than fifty years ago of someone of no particular prominence. The claim he is a Muslim, on the other hand, has at least two serious problems. 

One of the binding obligations of Islam is to pray five times a day, in a specified manner (with some possible variations), at specified times. If Obama has managed to do that through most of two terms without anyone noticing, he is a very talented man. A second binding obligation is to fast through the month of Ramadan—neither eat nor drink in daylight hours.


At 4:12 PM, September 18, 2015, Anonymous HH said...

Correction unrelated to main point: Muslims must pray five times a day.

Salat al-fajr: dawn, before sunrise
Salat al-zuhr: midday, after the sun passes its highest
Salat al-'asr: the late part of the afternoon
Salat al-maghrib: just after sunset
Salat al-'isha: between sunset and midnight

At 4:18 PM, September 18, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

Thanks--the risk of writing by memory. Corrected.

At 4:44 PM, September 18, 2015, Blogger Attempting to be a Skeptical Thinker said...

Well, to play the Devil's advocate, depending on your interpretation of Taqiya it might be highly appropriate for a highly placed Muslim behind enemy lines to disguise their faith. I would assume that majority Muslim countries have spy services analogous to our CIA. It would be awfully inconvenient if their native agents were easily identified by forced religious observances when operating undercover in foreign countries. Being forced to rely on atheists or non-Muslim believers would seem to go against the grain.

I'm not arguing for or against the proposition mind, just pointing out that it might not be completely beyond the pale.

At 4:46 PM, September 18, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A related question is: why do so many people seem to think he is Muslim? There seem to be many reasons, from his calling the Islamic call to prayer (IIRC) "the most beautiful sound" to the White House's recognition of Islamic holy days, including obscure ones, over otherwise comparable Christian and Jewish holy days, to his prohibition of calling radical Islamic terrorism by that name, e.g. the mass shooting at Ft. Hood several years ago. Irrespective of what he actually believes, his behavior shows some special sympathies to Islam. (I.e. even if he is not devout and practicing.)

At 4:55 PM, September 18, 2015, Anonymous HH said...


Obama lived in an Islamic country in his youth. My guess is that had an effect on him. Some things just stick with you. (I lived in Germany at the same age, and I still have a fondness for some things German two decades later.)
Let's also not forget that dealing with the Islamic world is one of the country's biggest challenges, so seeming friendly to that life may be part political. (Not to defend Obama foreign policy; just rationalizing some behaviors.)

At 6:06 PM, September 18, 2015, Blogger jimbino said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6:07 PM, September 18, 2015, Blogger jimbino said...

There must not be any such thing as a Muslim spy, then. I would assume that donning any costume or strategem in order to bring down the infidel is AOK for the Muslim.

At 7:11 PM, September 18, 2015, Blogger Arthur B. said...

Five pillars of Islam, five layers, five pointed stars. Islam likes the number five.

At 7:13 PM, September 18, 2015, Blogger Arthur B. said...

Five pillars of Islam, five layers, five pointed stars. Islam likes the number five.

At 6:48 AM, September 19, 2015, Blogger Gordon said...

Bush was an even more adept covert Muslim radical. Look at how his policies have strengthened Islamic terrorism, all the while appearing to oppose it.

At 7:06 AM, September 19, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I'm sure some people honestly believe he's Muslim, I think that for most opponents of the president, the accusation serves one or more functions, in varying degrees for various people:

- it serves as a shibboleth,
- it is a more socially acceptable way to cast him at "other" than some of the more obvious slurs (think of the famous Lee Atwater explanation of how racial attacks become more indirect)
- it is a pretty quotidian political slur/distraction, of the "make the bastard deny it" variety
- as an extension of the last point, it is a pretty standard attack for hawkish types to identify opponents with (perceived or real) enemies.
- it plays on anxieties for some religious types, some hawkish types, and especially the overlap of the two. Which happens to be a solid minority of the Republican base.

Truth or falsity aside, It is actually a very well-crafted political slur. It seems absurd to many, so they write it off as typical political stupidity, but is well tailored to a significant portion of the target audience.

At 7:56 AM, September 19, 2015, Blogger Roger said...

Lots of people are considered Jews, even tho they do not keep kosher. Obama has a Muslim name. He had a Muslim father. He lived in a Muslim country, with a Muslim step-father. He sometimes speaks positively about Islam. He has even said he was Muslim, in a couple of slips of the tongue. He has not repudiated Islam.

While he professes Christianity, a lot of people find that unconvincing. Supposedly he belonged to Rev. Wright's church, but then did not seem to know much about it. Some of his fans suspect he is an atheist. Polls show that even most Democrats do not know what religion and denomination he is.

Most Christians are quite happy to explain that they are not Muslims. I have not heard him do that.

While not a devout Muslim, I think it is fair to say that he has some unusual sympathies toward Islam.

At 8:00 AM, September 19, 2015, Anonymous Sieben said...

Don't a lot of Muslims self-identify as Muslim without actually obeying the orthodoxy? It's like how Christians have premarital sex and stuff.

At 9:48 AM, September 19, 2015, Blogger Gordon said...

Roger writes, "Lots of people are considered Jews, even tho they do not keep kosher. Obama has a Muslim name. He had a Muslim father. He lived in a Muslim country, with a Muslim step-father. He sometimes speaks positively about Islam. He has even said he was Muslim, in a couple of slips of the tongue. He has not repudiated Islam."

These are among the clues that make it easy to identify Obama's true religion. That is why Bush is the more masterful of the two. Nevertheless, Bush, too, has not repudiated Islam; his calculus must have been that it was unnecessary and, perhaps, even counterproductive.

At 11:02 AM, September 19, 2015, Anonymous Dain said...

Paul Ryan, while not an Objectivist, got tarred with that feather because at one point he was into Ayn Rand.

Obama is about as Muslim as Paul Ryan is a Rand devotee. In either case, people aren't idiots for suspecting the man isn't what he claims to be, you know, officially.

At 2:37 PM, September 19, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

The question of what a Muslim is entitled to do to conceal his religion is an interesting one. I don't think it goes as far as violating the pillars of Islam, but I am willing to be convinced otherwise. I believe Shia are allowed to conceal the fact that they are Shia if otherwise at risk from Sunni. And a Muslim is permitted to eat carrion, otherwise forbidden, if the alternative is starvation.

"Jew" and "Muslim" are not really equivalent as kinds of labels. Judaism is not a proselytizing religion like Islam or Christianity. "Jewish" is commonly used as both a religious and ethnic label--in the latter but not the former since I'm Jewish. Muslim is not.

At 3:23 PM, September 19, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doubt that Obama is a Muslim, but it seems to me more likely that he's an atheist than a Christian - not that I think that's particularly a problem.

At 3:27 PM, September 19, 2015, Blogger Roger said...

Islam does have the concept that once someone is a Muslim, he is always a Muslim. So many would regard Obama as either a Muslim or an apostate.

At 11:56 PM, September 19, 2015, Blogger Lorenzo said...

Off-topic: I continue to find your 1977 paper on state size enlightening and useful. I link to it twice in my most recent blog post, though I emphasise a bit more the network nature of trade and consider the role of public goods provision somewhat more than your original paper does.

In the post, I also link to your chapter on Chinese law, which fits in very nicely with recent political economy work on Chinese history.

The post is here:

My next post will follow up on the nature of the state, particularly critiquing the common idea that states are inherently products of the society they rule, which is very bad history and seriously and adversely affects a lot of historical and social analysis.

At 12:51 AM, September 20, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

Lorenzo: I'm fond of that article. It was my first published article in economics. At some point I came across someone's summary of the literature on the subject. There was my article. Ten years later an article by Jim Buchanan. After that a variety of articles and a book or two by other people.

I hope you were looking at a reasonably recent version of the Chinese chapter. I revised it substantially a year or so ago on the basis of new information.

Currently I'm most of the way through reading all of the Icelandic sagas set in Iceland in order to write that chapter. I know a good deal more than I did when I wrote my old article. Interesting stuff.

At 12:58 PM, September 20, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doubt Obama believes in anything – but to be officially a Muslim, you have to publicly pronounce the Shahada: “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”. Obama did as a child, and recently repeated in public as an adult. To cease to be a Muslim, you have to publicly reject that proposition, which he has not done, or publicly accept a contrary proposition, such as “Jesus is Lord”, which he has not done.

At 5:27 PM, September 20, 2015, Blogger Roger said...

Not repudiating Islam is an important point. Normally we consider someone a Catholic or Mormon or anything else if he was reared that way, and has not repudiated the religion.

Carson just said that a Muslim should not be elected President. Other candidates will probably be asked this question.

At 8:52 AM, September 21, 2015, Anonymous Dan said...

The % of muslims, who actually pray 5 times a day and fast in ramadan, is probably < 10%. Those who fulfill all 5 pillars, is probably < 0.1%.

At 8:55 AM, September 21, 2015, Anonymous Dan said...

"While not a devout Muslim, I think it is fair to say that he has some unusual sympathies toward Islam."

Wasn't he bragging about bombing several muslim countries (twice as many as Bush)?

At 10:27 AM, September 21, 2015, Blogger Roger said...

Yes, Obama has bombed Islamic countries, like Libya. But the result was to make Libya more Islamic. Muslims kill other Muslims all the time. What he has not done is to come to the defense of Christians persecuted in those countries.

At 11:00 PM, September 21, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

The figure I've seen for the Hajj in 2012 is three million, which suggests that about 150 million Muslims do it once in their life. That would be about 10% of the world Muslim population.It's a requirement if you can manage it but not otherwise.

My guess is that that's the least common pillar, so I would be surprised if Dan's estimate was anywhere close to correct. Any data to support it?

At 7:46 AM, September 22, 2015, Anonymous Dan said...

There has been a substantial increase in hajj over time. 2012 is the highest number of all time. Half of which is local. Large % would be repeats by people who either live close by or have the resources to travel. Though recently some are implementing limits on how may times you can visit (e.g. once every 10 yrs). My back of the envelope calculations suggest a total of 42 million foreigners have visited over the past 40 years including repeats.

Think about this as an expensive international trip. What % of the islamic population have the resources to do this?

Also, hajj would not be the least common pillar. That would be zakat, which is an annual wealth (not income) tax.

I have actually lived in a muslim country. It's rare for people who work full time to pray five times a day, and those who do hard labor under the sun to fast for a month (which includes not drinking water).

The problem is people look at what happens in saudi arabia (where these %'s are higher, except maybe for zakat) and then generalize to the whole islamic population, which covers a population of eastern european albanians to uygurs living in china.

At 11:47 PM, September 22, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

Note that Hajj is not obligatory if you don't have the resources. I haven't lived in a Muslim country do don't have direct observation on prayer or fasting or zakat.

As I assume you know, the Ramadan visit is only daytime. And as you probably also know, zakat isn't quite what we think of as a tax, since the individual can decide for himself who, among the specified categories, his payment goes to.

At 10:47 PM, September 24, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest, he would be better off being a Muslim than admitting to having spent 20 years as part of Jermiah Wright's congregation.

At 12:56 AM, September 26, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would think better of him, but I'm not sure that view is widely shared in the U.S.


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