Why is Barack Obama’s religion our business?

Published: March 2, 2015
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Prior to Obama, no incumbent president’s religious credentials have ever been questioned. Not in the modern times, at least. PHOTO: REUTERS

Sitting by the television this morning, going about my morning rituals of brewing coffee and toasting bread for a quick breakfast, I came across CNN running a blurb, advertising a documentary series titled Finding Jesus. I couldn’t resist mumbling to myself,

“Jesus Christ, really? Is this 2015 or 1515? Are we living in times when mankind was still groping in the dark, trying to outline the philosophical basis of divergent faiths or hoping to find the Supreme Being using some historical, hypothetical evidence to prove that all the luminaries of religions did indeed exist?”

Why will an established news network like CNN even spend its time, money and resources to find Jesus?

Believe it or not, religion is now a big deal in America. I feel there’s this ironic ‘back to religion’ movement that is engulfing our body politic, a civilisational shift and conflict that is forcing us to redefine and reconfigure the country’s roots. It’s a ‘reboot’ scenario whereby there’s this strange curiosity to know what people believe in ‘deep down’. Even the poor president of United States of America is not immune from this inquiring bombardment.

survey, recently carried out by an online publication Vox and conducted by some academics at the University of California, suggests that 54% of our Republican friends think that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

This religion absurdity is too nagging. It agonises me and some people even think that, at times, I steer away from objectively analysing and looking at the pros and cons of having a religion in our lives and drift into the dirt road of rough emotional degeneration. But that’s just me. As for the guy in the White House, I haven’t met him for years now but his buddies tell me that he’s sick of the unsubstantiated birthed claims and the lying liars of ‘Obama is a Muslim’ campaign.

Since when did religion become a public issue in America?

When I first arrived here, back in the 1990’s, discussing religion was an ‘eww’ thing. Religion was one of those subjects of discussion that were perhaps only restricted  to seminaries, self-proclaimed holy people, theologians and whoever had the time to pay attention to the mundane and the trivial.

There was a fad that took over academic campuses for Buddhism that, in a way, was, at the most, an interesting development, one that did not leave a negative impact on anyone. The movie Seven Years in Tibet was perhaps the only consequence of our short-lived love affair with religion. Yes, one did see the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses making rounds of streets and blocks ‘enlightening’ folks with the spiritual benefits of their faiths but that was about it.

These are different times. The world is now too civilisationally challenged and conflicted. My beliefs are somehow my neighbour’s, my community’s concern. Where I come from is important too. Religious fundamentalism of all types is peaking. Many around us have been radicalised and are marching toward ‘defending’ their faiths. Radicalisation of thoughts is in the air. Those who advocate peaceful coexistence are made fun of and often times their ideas of intermingling and community building are shot down without much debate or discussion. Maintaining faith neutrality is a burdensome ideal that’ll not win you many fans and followers.

Prior to Obama, no incumbent president’s religious credentials have ever been questioned. Not in the modern times, at least. There’s a certain segment of the American society that took upon itself the ‘responsibility’ to spread negativity about the president right from the day he was elected to the White House. These included self-professed, right wing ‘extremists’ like Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, the Fox network, and anyone and everyone who had issues and could not digest the fact that someone, an African-American, from a humble and modest background could rise up from the rungs of society to become the president of the country.

The fact that the president’s middle name is ‘Hussein’ does not work too well for him. Granted that this is a heavily loaded Muslim name, his crazy sceptics give it a twist to suit their political agenda. The fact that Obama’s biological father was from Kenya and perhaps a Muslim does not necessarily make the president a Muslim. His mother was a lady of Christian faith. There are times when people adopt to ways that they like and prefer to go the route that makes them feel comfortable. Nothing earthshaking about it. In Obama’s case, he opted to grow up as a Christian, practice Christianity and attended the same church in Chicago for several years.

I’m not making an effort to convince my readers that the president is a practicing Christian but what I’m trying to bring home is the fact that it really doesn’t matter what religious background we all have. What matters at the end of the day or the end of life is what we did and how we treated our fellow human beings. It is immaterial if we are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists. All we need is to respect ourselves, others and spread an abundance of peace.

Our roles in life make us who we are. In Barack Hussein Obama’s case, he is the president of the United States of America and how he performs in office is what matters and what we should remember once he departs from the White House. His politics, policies, principles and practices and what he delivers is important for the American public and the world at large. And, mind you, the US constitution does not put any restriction on presidential candidates to belong to a particular religion. All one has to be is a natural born citizen.

Given the set of circumstances under which he took office, Obama has done a darn good job. Although he hasn’t been able to live up to and fulfil his promise as an idealistic thinker, thanks to the political restrictions that come along with power and the stubbornness of the Republicans, he still has left a mark on the nation’s life and its citizens. Of course, who can ever forget, Obamacare, technically called the Affordable Healthcare Act, that has helped millions of people in the US to obtain access to affordable healthcare, previously an unknown phenomenon. Despite all the political opposition that the president has had to face, due to Obamacare, Americans are no longer at the mercy of their employers or blood-sucking corporations to provide them with health coverage. Millions have already benefitted and millions more continue to benefit.

One facet of governance that Obama hasn’t been able to deliver on is gun control. Thanks to the dreadful Second Amendment, millions are allowed to carry guns and thousands are killed every year. Each successive event of hostility is followed by calls for imposing restrictions on sale of weaponry and ammunition and Obama’s pledge to deal with the issue. I’m saddened to report that we haven’t been able to make any headway so far. The president’s hands are tied. Gun lobby is too strong and the nuts who own guns are stronger. With the president nearing the end of his second term, there’s little hope that he can work towards tackling and eliminating gun violence.

Long story short, we are nobody to judge anyone for his or her beliefs, be it the president of United States of America or a petty, ignorant civilian like yours truly. The world is a mess. Religion only makes it messier. Religion bleeds conflict and conflict brings human suffering. Right from times immemorial there has been a constant effort to politicise and hog power in the name of religion. We grew up being taught that all religions are peaceful. Now that my generation has finally grown up and witnessed all the violence that takes place around us and the way the Talibans, the al Qaedas, the ISIS, and fundamentalists of all hue and colour dominate, control and influence our lives, many of us have become bitter enough to show our backs to religion and, in some instances, God as well.

Haters will be haters and while there is no dearth of radicalism in any religion, that’s exactly the reason why this crowd is literally hounding Barack Obama, calling him names, branding him a Muslim and not leaving the man alone. He’s even been accused by some quarters of going soft on terrorist outfits and Iran because he’s a Muslim. The issue at hand is not who or which group is closer to God but which tactics can bring these incredibly outrageous nincompoops a step closer to the corridors of power. They simply don’t know how to ease up on the reigns.

While one cannot deny the presence and role of religion as a universal force, one can certainly contest the contention of those who make us believe that religion is a community exercise. Religion is an individualised activity, one that is a business between man and God. Religion only casts an evil spell when it becomes overwhelming overbearing, enough to turn faith into a nasty, obsessive compulsive disorder.

God is merciful. Life, however, is not perfect. Human beings must falter and that’s why we are humans and not angels. When humans contaminate faiths with their laws and judge others, the very essence of life disappears into thin air. Trust and harmony give way to war and strife. So why plot and pollute? Why not live and let live? Why not leave God and His business with us taken care of by Him and us? Let’s resolve to stop judging and be gracious enough to talk about Almighty’s love and message in any shape or form possible. It does not matter who we are ‘deep down’. What matters is how we, as people, carry ourselves and contribute to our own and other’s well being.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.