Issue Date: www.insightmag.com - Jan. 16-22, 2007, Posted On: 1/17/2007
Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background
Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage?
This is the question Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s camp is asking about Sen. Barack Obama.
An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Sources close to the background check, which has not yet been released, said Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.
"He was a Muslim, but he concealed it," the source said. "His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign."
When contacted by Insight, Mr. Obama’s press secretary said he would consult with “his boss” and call back. He did not.
Sources said the background check, conducted by researchers connected to Senator Clinton, disclosed details of Mr. Obama's Muslim past. The sources said the Clinton camp concluded the Illinois Democrat concealed his prior Muslim faith and education.
"The background investigation will provide major ammunition to his opponents," the source said. "The idea is to show Obama as deceptive."
In two best-selling autobiographies—"The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" and "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance"—Mr. Obama, born in Honolulu where his parents met, mentions but does not expand on his Muslim background, alluding only to his attendance at a "predominantly Muslim school."
The sources said the young Obama was given the name Hussein by his Muslim father, which the Illinois Democrat rarely uses in public.
His father was black and came from Kenya. Mr. Obama’s mother, the daughter of a farmer, came from Wichita, Kansas. Mr. Obama's parents divorced when he was two years old. His father returned to Kenya.
Later, Mr. Obama's mother married an Indonesian student and the family moved to Jakarta. Mr. Obama returned to Hawaii when he was 10 to live with his maternal grandparents.
The sources said the background check concerned Mr. Obama's years in Jakarta. In Indonesia, the young Obama was enrolled in a Madrassa and was raised and educated as a Muslim. Although Indonesia is regarded as a moderate Muslim state, the U.S. intelligence community has determined that today most of these schools are financed by the Saudi Arabian government and they teach a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims.
Although the background check has not confirmed that the specific Madrassa Mr. Obama attended was espousing Wahhabism, the sources said his Democratic opponents believe this to be the case—and are seeking to prove it. The sources said the opponents are searching for evidence that Mr. Obama is still a Muslim or has ties to Islam.
Mr. Obama attends services at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago’s South Side. However, he is not known to be a regular parishioner.
"Obama's education began a life-long relationship with Islam as a faith and Muslims as a community," the source said. "This has been a relationship that contains numerous question marks."
The sources said Mr. Obama spent at least four years in a Muslim school in Indonesia. They said when Mr. Obama was 10, his mother and her second husband separated. She and her son returned to Hawaii.
"Then the official biography begins," the source said. "Obama never returned to Kenya to see relatives or family until it became politically expedient."
In both of his autobiographies, Mr. Obama characterizes himself as a Christian—although he describes his upbringing as mostly secular.
In “The Audacity of Hope,” Mr. Obama says, "I was not raised in a religious household." He describes his mother as secular, but says she had copies of the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita in their home.
Mr. Obama says his father was "raised a Muslim, but by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist...." Mr. Obama also describes his father as largely absent from his life. He says his Indonesian stepfather was "skeptical" about religion and "saw religion as not particularly useful in the practical business of making one's way in the world ...."
In the book, Mr. Obama briefly addresses his education in Indonesia. "During the five years that we would live with my stepfather in Indonesia, I was sent first to a neighborhood Catholic school and then to a predominantly Muslim school; in both cases, my mother was less concerned with me learning the catechism or puzzling out the meaning of the muezzin's call to evening prayer than she was with whether I was properly learning my multiplication tables."
Mr. Obama graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School; he became the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. He later settled in Chicago, joined a law firm and began attending and helping local churches.
Mr. Obama is married to Michelle Robinson and they have two daughters, Malia and Sasha. In 1996, he was elected to the Illinois state Senate. Eight years later, he became a U.S. senator from Illinois.
The sources said Ms. Clinton regards Mr. Obama as her most formidable opponent and the biggest obstacle to the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential nomination. They said Ms. Clinton has been angered by Mr. Obama's efforts to tap her supporters for donations.
In late 2006, when the Illinois senator demonstrated his intention to run for president, the Clinton campaign ordered a background check on Mr. Obama, the sources said. Earlier this week, Mr. Obama established an exploratory committee, the first step toward a formal race.
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