Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Barack Obama's Muslim name interests Urdu newspapers

Barack Obama could be the next President of United States of America. I was not much interested in Obama and was faintly aware of the controversy regarding his Islamic past, until I realised that he had established some lead in the campaign and appeared to have strong chances of getting elected as President of USA.

It was then I came to know that his name is Barack Hussein Obama and the Barack is probably a variant spelling for Barkat or Baraka. So he has no connection with Islam and isn't a Muslim but Urdu tabloids in India appear quite interested in him, and intrigued by the name which appear Muslim to them. Headlines like 'Barkat Husain to become US President' do boost circulation for small newspapers for a few days. Of course, his father was a Muslim.

He is Black and if elected, that will also be a first in US' history. He is surely a favourite for the top post in USA and has established a lead over John McCain. Despite repeated malicious attacks and negative propaganda from his opponents, his popularity has soared and it proves that people trust Obama & expect a change from him.

Obama has done his best to clear if anybody has any misconceptions about his Islamic past. He says that his father Obama Senior (a Kenyan) was raised as a Muslim in his childhood but later became an atheist and married a Christian woman.

After their divorce little Obama's mother took him away. She married again, (it was also a Muslim this time and a 'radical' one, we are told) and they settled in Jakarta (Indonesia). Though Barack O'bama denies that he was ever a Muslim but some reports said that he did study at Madarsa and also used to go to Friday prayers to mosque.

Naturally there was a controversy recently and the pressure built up on Obama to 'come clean on his Islamic past' in a nation with strong 'Judeo-Christian values', especially after the War on Terror has divided the world. Obama vehemently denied some of these charges though he accepts that his father was a Muslim who had later become a 'confirmed atheist'.

Now the senator from Illinois is a democratic candidate for the Presidential Election year 2008. Though he has called for ending Iraq war, Barack O'bama had said that as President he could go for air-strikes in Pakistan, which was termed a diplomatic goof-up (US still has close links with Pakistan and it was naturally not considered a proper comment).

May be the hard stance against Muslim countries was to buttress his Christian credentials. After all, there is an 'adage' in Urdu , naya mulla pyaaz zyada khata hai (the new Mulla eats more onions), and he was trying to be a staunch Christian. During the campaign malicious questions have been raised that whether he is really a Christian and how much he has tried to conceal about his past.

There are many blog posts on the subject. And videos (like this video) on YouTube. Obama studied in a madarsa in Indonesia but in later years he got converted to Christianity and joined the United Church of Christ. But now it seems, Obama has struck a chord with majority of Americans.

The Blacks are around 15% of American's population and it is not possible that their acceptance alone can propel Obama to such popularity. There is an opposition to him from right-wing Christians and section of Jews, who aren't happy that he would occupy White House.

Of course, Muslims outside America also don't have much stakes in US election. (I am talking about perception and interest of Muslims outside US as the percentage of Muslims is America is not enough to tilt balance in the polls.

But surely he has support among other sections. He is not a Muslim, it's sure. One thing is clear, as a Black and as a person with a Muslim name (especially Hussein) he is a surprise candidate. And if he wins, it will be a new chapter in US's history of almost 220 years. Either intentional or due to slip of tongue, anchors on TV have also said Osama instead of Obama a couple of times. Surely it is going to be an interesting election, this November.

He may display a stronger bias against Arabs, Asian countries and Muslims, who knows! We can't predict. He may even go after Iran. But the fact that his strong position reflects a greater acceptance and inclusiveness for the other groups and minorities in America.

Update: This was an old post. Now Barack Hussein Obama has been elected US president and Indian newspapers in all languages are ecstatic at his victory. Urdu newspapers are playing up his name and his Muslim connection.