Barack Obama – Muslim apostate?
For Al Qaeda, the answer – and the implication – is clear.
Stafford, Va. — Osama bin Laden must be chuckling in his safe house. After all, the 2008 campaign could very well give Al Qaeda the ultimate propaganda tool: President Barack Hussein Obama, Muslim apostate.
The fact that Senator Obama – the son of a Muslim father – insists he was never a Muslim before becoming Christian is irrelevant to bin Laden. In bin Laden's eyes, Obama is a murtad fitri, the worst type of apostate, because he was blessed by Allah to be born into the true faith of Islam.
There are two types of apostates according to sharia (Islamic law) and the Hadith (sayings of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him).
The first type is murtad milli, one who converted to Islam and later renounced the faith. The second, and most egregious, type is murtad fitri. It refers to a person born of a Muslim father who renounces his birthright. Two recent examples of the latter are Magdi Allam (a male Egyptian who converted to Catholicism in Italy) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Somali-born woman who's now an atheist). Both now face death threats.
According to Islamic jurisprudence, children of a Muslim father – even an apparently nonpracticing one, such as Obama's father, and irrespective of the mother's faith – are automatically Muslims. Most Muslims around the world agree: A child of a Muslim father is a Muslim. Period.
Should Obama become US commander in chief, there is a strong likelihood that Al Qaeda's media arm, As-Sahab, will exploit his background to argue that an apostate is leading the global war on terror (read: attacks against fellow Muslims). This perception would be leveraged to galvanize sympathizers into action.
Remember: Al Qaeda's ultimate goal is to restore the caliphate (the Islamic form of government that would preside over the community of believers) and expand Dar al Islam ("Abode of Islam"). Reaching it requires a long war against all – Muslim and non-Muslim – who don't share its extremist Wahhabi worldview.
Al Qaeda, though, has struggled recently to recruit volunteers for this jihad. While bin Laden retains significant support as someone willing to stand up for Muslim concerns, most Muslims abhor Al Qaeda's terrorist methods whose primary targets are innocent noncombatants.
But an apostate as head of the United States could change this equation. It would be a propaganda boost for Al Qaeda's mission. All one has to do is read Al Qaeda's public statements to recognize how frequently it makes baseless apostasy accusations against fellow Muslims who challenge its message or actions.
That's why Obama is bin Laden's dream candidate.
Once branded as an apostate, President Obama would face enormous difficulties in the foreign policy realm, especially in the fight against terrorism.
He's caught between a rock and a hard place. If he softens the US strategy against Al Qaeda and its ideologues, his apostasy might be an afterthought for Al Qaeda. But if he acts firmly in America's national interest to defeat the terrorist threat, he'd be vilified in an Al Qaeda propaganda campaign for reneging on his "true identity."
Furthermore, his administration would struggle to positively engage the Muslim world, where Islam isn't just a religion, it's the way of life. Conservative Muslim populations that are riddled with poverty and low literacy rates can be more readily swayed to join the cause against the "Great Satan" (the US) if their imams and mullahs shout that it is led by an apostate.
Diplomacy is highly personal. The leaders of America's Middle Eastern allies – such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar – already feel besieged by jihadists and disgruntled citizens who see their governments as toadies of the West. The murtad card could intensify that pressure, so leaders of these countries might be compelled to distance themselves from Washington.
In short, an Obama presidency – which might be fine domestically – could have serious repercussions for US foreign interests at a time when it is especially vulnerable in a tight global oil market.
So far, Al Qaeda has been conspicuously quiet on Obama's candidacy. But that should not come as a surprise. Hoping Obama gets elected, they're probably waiting until he's taken the oath of office to begin branding him a traitor to the faith of his fathers.
Islamic terrorists know that the long road to success lies in stoking the "clash of civilizations." To reach their goal of restoring the Caliphate in a form that fits their worldview, they need massive numbers of Muslims to join their global jihad.
Bin Laden and his followers have already shown their willingness to exploit real or imagined religious schisms to expand their support base. So it's not hard to imagine bin Laden praying that Obama wins this November.
Shireen K. Burki is an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Va. The daughter of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, she spent her childhood in Islamabad, Pakistan, where she studied Islam at school.