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Change of Religion under Islamic Shari'a: the Case of Barack Obama

Gabriel Sawma, Esq. | 26.01.2008 17:01 | Analysis | Other Press | London

Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat candidate for president claims that he was born of a Muslim father and that he converted to Christianity. This article deals with the issue of conversion according to the Islamic Shari’a.

U.S. Senator Barack Hussein Obama’s Muslim past had emerged as an issue in the Democrat presidential campaign. The candidate is born of a Black Muslim father from Kenya and a white non-Muslim mother from Kansas.

His father deserted the family when Barack Jr. was two and returned to Kenya. His mother then married another Muslim, Lolo Soetoro from Indonesia.

Barack moved with his mother and stepfather to Jakarta when he was six where he attended a madrassa (national Muslim school) for two years in addition to the two years he spent in Catholic schools.

Barack claims he follows the Christian faith and attends with his wife, Michelle, the United Church of Christ in the state of Illinois. In a speech he gave in June 2006, Barack Obama admits his birth of a Muslim father, he says: “My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was Muslim but as an adult became an atheist…”

Is Barack Hussein Obama a Muslim?

Muslim theologians define Muslims as those who were born as such or became Muslims later, (See Al Ahkam Al Sultaniyya fi Al Wilaayaat al diniyya by Abi Al Hassan Al Mawardi, Dar Al kutub Al ‘Ilmiyya, Beirut, Lebanon, p. 67). The Quran allows a Muslim to marry a woman who belongs to the ‘People of the Book’, that is Christian or Jew, but does not force the wives to change their religion (Quran 5:6). As for women who are pagans, the Quran insists that they must convert to Islam if they have to marry a Muslim man (Quran 2:222). In other words, a Muslim man is allowed to get married to a woman belonging to any religion. Based on a provision from the Quran (60:11) which reads: “The women (i.e. Muslims) are not lawful for them (disbelievers)…,” Muslim theologian prohibit a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim.

It is further understood by Islamic laws that the children born of a Muslim man must be raised as Muslims, which means that the religion of the children born of a Muslim man must be Islam. Therefore, it is obvious that Barack Obama is considered, according to Islamic Shari’a, a Muslim regardless of whether he practiced the religion of Islam in dedication to the prayers, paying the ‘zakat’ (alms giving), or going to Mecca for pilgrimage, or any of the other conditions prescribed by the Quran for Muslims to follow. Those conditions are important for any Muslim to be in good standing within his religion, but they do not cause a Muslim to be considered an apostate if he decides not to follow these conditions. Under these circumstances, Barack Hussein Obama is, without any doubt, a Muslim because he was born of a Muslim father. Obama claims that his father became atheist later in life; that creates more problems to the father, because the Islamic Shari’a considers a Muslim who becomes atheist (Arabic, zindeeq) as bad as is the apostate, and subject to the death penalty.

Apostasy in Islam (Al Radda)

All Muslim theologians agree that a Muslim who converts to any other religion (Arabic, murtadd), is subject to the death penalty. This is based on what the prophet of Islam said: “Kill he who changes his religion.” The death penalty for apostasy in Islam is supported by all four schools of thought in the Sunni traditions: Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanafi, and Hanbali, (see Kitab al Fiqh according to the four traditions by Abdul Rahman Al Jaziri, Dar Al Irshad, Egypt, vol.5, pp. 333-342).

Muslim theologians disagree on whether an apostate should be sentenced to death immediately or be given a three-day’s grace period, during which he may reverse his conversion. Some theologians argue that an apostate should be executed as soon as change of religion becomes known; others allow a three-day grace period during which an apostate has a chance to change his mind and recant his apostasy. According to Abi Alhassan al Mawardi, a prominent theologian (mentioned earlier), the method of execution varies from beheading by the sword or by beating up the defendant with wood stick until he meets a slow death, or by any other method of execution.

After the apostate is executed, his body should not be washed in accordance with the Islamic traditions, and fellow Muslims should not pray for him during the burial procession; he is not to be buried in a Muslim cemetery and his assets, which were acquired during his apostasy, are confiscated and distributed among the Muslim community.

Furthermore, Islamic laws allow the Imam (religious head of the Muslim community) or the religious judge to nullify the marriage between an apostate and his Muslim wife; his children will then be taken away from him, and the wife is forced to divorce him and be given a permission to remarry to someone else. If both, husband and wife declare their apostasy, they are both subject to the death penalty, and their children will be taken away and given to a custody of the parent’s family or to a Muslim family designated by the judge.

It is important to note that the jurisdiction on cases of apostasy belongs to either the Imam, or to the religious judge, wherever the Islamic Shari’a is applicable, or whenever the laws of the country are based on the Islamic Shari’a, such as Egypt and other countries whose majority population are Muslims. It is also important to note that once a ‘fatwa’ (a decision) of execution is issued by an imam or a religious judge, then any Muslim is authorized to carry out the execution regardless of his nationality; the Quran regards Muslims to be one nation (Arabic, ummah), it reads: “Our Lord, make us submissive (Muslims) to you and from our descendents make a nation (Arabic, ummah) submissive to you…,” Quran 2:129. Every Muslim in the world is considered to be a citizen of the Islamic nation (ummah Islamiyyah).
Is Barack Hussein Obama an apostate?

On his website, Barack Obama states the following: “He has been a member of Trinity Church of Christ for twenty years…he was baptized and attends church once a week when he is able,” ( He wrote in the Audacity of Hope (publication): “I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized.” When asked about his decision to be baptized, Obama said: “Kneeling beneath that Cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me…I submitted myself to his will and dedicated myself to discovering his truth, (same reference).

At a rally in South Carolina primary, Senator Obama said: “I’ve been to the same Church for almost 20 years…I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible. Whenever I’m in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States…”

For a Muslim to swear on the Bible is an utmost offence to the Quran and what it represents. Senator Obama has indeed violated the teachings of the Quran and the Sunna of the prophet Muhammad; “…And whoso from among you turns back from his faith and dies while he is a disbeliever, it is they whose works shall be vain in this world and the next. These are the inmates of the Fire and therein shall they abide,” Quran 2:218. There is no room in Islam for apostasy; once a person is a Muslim, either by birth or by choice, he or she is a Muslim for life and falls under the rules and guidance of the Islamic Shari’a, which prohibits apostasy, under the threat of execution.

Consequently, and according to the Islamic Shari’a, Senator Obama has violated the provisions stated in the Quran and the Sunna, and therefore, hi is considered, in the eyes of the Islamic Shari’a, an apostate. So far, Islamic religious leaders have not addressed his apostasy yet. Taking into consideration his position as a U.S. Senator and a candidate for president of the United States, they will probably turn a blind eye and ignore the issue altogether.

Gabriel Sawma is considered an authority on Islamic Shari’a; a lawyer dealing with international law; professor of Comparative Studies of Middle East Constitutions, and author of “The Qur’an: Misinterpreted, Mistranslated, and Misread; The Aramaic Language of the Qur’an”.; Email:

Gabriel Sawma, Esq.
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Display the following 5 comments

  1. Does anyone care? — Black Hole
  2. well said — atheist
  3. Misquoting, misleading, or at least a lot left out — Michael D Novack
  4. Dodgy donations and property deals everywhere — whatdemocracy
  5. Barack Obama? — Strepsil


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