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FIRST-PERSON: The president’s misguided Ramadan greeting

MELBOURNE, Australia (BP)–There’s nothing wrong with a president or a prime minister wishing Muslims well for the season of Ramadan. It is, after all, one of the most important events in the Islamic calendar. Good neighborliness is a virtue, and just as Christians would appreciate hearty greetings from Muslims at Christmas, we should be willing to pass our good wishes to Muslims for Ramadan.

But President Obama went far beyond that in his greeting to the world’s Muslims for Ramadan 2010 [1]. His 269-word message was flawed in five key ways.

First, he declared that “Muslims provide support to others to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere.” This statement is hardly borne out by the record of international development assistance funded by Muslim governments. The three largest Muslim government aid donors — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates — have a long history of favoring Muslims in their disbursements, and on those occasions when non-Muslims do benefit from their aid largesse, there is often an accompanying incentive to adopt Islam.

Second, President Obama made an astounding reference to “Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” The president really should sit down and talk to Christian minorities living in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sudan, Egypt and so on. The stories of disadvantage, discrimination and, at times, active persecution of religious minorities emerging from these locations are continuous and irrefutable.

Third, Mr. Obama referred to Islam as “a faith known for great diversity and racial equality.” Great diversity perhaps, but racial equality? Mr. Obama would do well to read the considerable number of reliable scholarly studies published on the Islamic slave trade, which pre-dated the dreadful European trade and, more concerning, post-dated it as well, continuing on into the present day in some locations.

Fourth, the president repeated the mantra dear to historical revisionists that “Islam has always been part of America.” This seemingly innocuous phrase is built upon a very subtle campaign underway in the education sector to weave an Islamic presence into America’s historical tapestry where, in truth, it has no place.

Fifth, Mr. Obama declared that “American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country.” Well, there is some truth in that in the case of certain individuals no doubt, but the general principle is that their contribution has probably been inversely proportional to their degree of devotion to a literalist approach to their faith. Those Muslims making the greatest contribution to the USA today are those who have reshaped their faith to fit a pluralistic, democratic, rationalist mold. And sadly, such Muslims are likely to have their faith credentials subjected to question by countless traditional scholars in Muslim-majority countries.

One might hope that President Obama would take a more realistic approach in his dealings with the Islamic world. Unfortunately, he is not alone. Many have succumbed to political correctness and the drumbeat of Islamist advocacy. It is certainly a time for clearer thinking on these matters.
[1] See “Statement by the President on the Occasion of Ramadan,” White House Website, August 11, 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/08/11/statement-president-occasion-ramadan (accessed Aug. 13, 2010). Compare the president’s message with the far less gushing and more appropriate Ramadan message by British Prime Minister David Cameron, “Prime Minister’s Message for Ramadan,” Number10 Website, Aug. 12, 2010, http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/latest-news/2010/08/prime-ministers-message-for-ramadan-54476 (accessed August 14, 2010).
Peter Riddell is dean of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths in Melbourne, Australia, and senior fellow with KairosJournal.org, a website for pastors where this article originally appeared.

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  • Peter Riddell