The myth of Obama’s “apostasy”

Historical myths and simplifications about a monolithic “Islamic world” are a besetting problem in the U.S. media, and I think professional historians should be concerned — especially when a member of the profession is responsible for sowing confusion in the first place, as in this case.

The story, in brief, is that the world’s Muslims see Barack Obama as an “apostate” who deserves to die for abandoning their religion. Acceptance of the story relies on the assumption that Muslims are irrational savages. It also overlooks the fact that the media in the Muslim world are uninterested in this alleged issue.

I have a feeling this story won’t go away, so here are some links for my own reference, and for anyone else who’s interested. (All URLs are shortened via

  • Edward N. Luttwak, “President Apostate?” This is the New York Times opinion article that first stirred the pot.
  • Readers’ comments were generally unfavorable.
  • Emory professor Abdullahi An-Na‘im responded with “Misrepresenting Islam” (Religion Dispatches).
  • Clark Hoyt, “Entitled to Their Opinion, Yes. But Their Facts?” After canvassing Islamic scholars, the NYT public editor criticizes Luttwak’s piece.
  • Svend White, “Who’s Smearing Obama?” (Religion Dispatches) traces the rumor campaign back to Daniel Pipes, the Chicken Little of Muslim fright tales. White mentions how this story serves the aggressive propaganda strategy of “swiftboating,” or telling fibs in order to recast an opponent’s political strengths as weaknesses.

P.S. Dr. An-Na‘im’s insightful (and historically aware) new book on Islam and the secular state is reviewed at the SSRC blog: Great read.

P.P.S. This post started out as a Facebook note; hence the written-out URLs.

P.P.P.S.The link shortening service is defunct. I need to track down each of those links to their sources and update this post.

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