On FrontPageMag.com, Daniel Pipes purported to consider whether Sen. Barack Obama was “ever a Muslim or seen by others as a Muslim.” But in support of his statement that “available evidence suggests Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing,” Pipes cited a March Los Angeles Times article, critical parts of which have been challenged by the Chicago Tribune.
In an article dated December 24 (and posted on right-wing pundit David Horowitz's FrontPageMag.com website on December 26), Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes purported to consider whether Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was “ever a Muslim or seen by others as a Muslim” -- or, "[m]ore precisely," he wrote, “might Muslims consider him a 'murtadd' (apostate), that is, a Muslim who converted to another religion and, therefore someone whose blood may be shed.” Drawing heavily on a March 16 Los Angeles Times article (reprinted in the Baltimore Sun) and its quotations of Zulfin Adi, who the Times reported “describes himself as among Obama's closest childhood friends,” Pipes concluded that “available evidence suggests Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father.” However, key aspects of the March 16 Los Angeles Times article were later challenged by the Chicago Tribune, which reported that Adi said he “was not certain” about his statements regarding Obama's childhood and that he “only knew Obama for a few months.” Additionally, the Tribune reported that "[i]nterviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia."
Also, while writing that Obama “was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father,” Pipes did not note that Obama's Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, has been described in the Tribune as “much more of a free spirit than a devout Muslim.”
In his December 24 article, Pipes relied heavily on the Los Angeles Times' March 16 article and its quotations of Adi:
Two months later, Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times (available online in a Baltimore Sun reprint) reported that the Obama campaign had retreated from that absolute statement and instead issued a more nuanced one: “Obama has never been a practicing Muslim.” The Times looked into the matter further and learned more about his Indonesian interlude:
His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers, along with two people who were identified by Obama's grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both schools he attended. That registration meant that during the third and fourth grades, Obama learned about Islam for two hours each week in religion class.
The childhood friends say Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque. “We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque,” Zulfin Adi said. “But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played.” ... Obama's younger sister, Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only “for big communal events,” not every Friday.
Recalling Obama's time in Indonesia, the Times account contains quotes that Obama “went to the mosque,” and that he “was Muslim.”
Summarized, available evidence suggests Obama was born a Muslim to a non-practicing Muslim father and for some years had a reasonably Muslim upbringing under the auspices of his Indonesian step-father. At some point, he converted to Christianity. It appears false to state, as Obama does, “I've always been a Christian” and “I've never practiced Islam.” The campaign appears to be either ignorant or fabricating when it states that “Obama never prayed in a mosque.”
Pipes' excerpt of the Times article differs from how it appears in the reprinted version that he linked to in The Sun, and from the original Los Angeles Times version as it appears in the Nexis database, both of which reported that Adi “describe[d] himself as among Obama's closest childhood friends,” an assertion that is inconsistent with the Tribune's report that Adi “only knew Obama for a few months, during 1970, when his family moved to the neighborhood.” Other reprinted versions of the article, such as the March 18 Sun-Sentinel (Florida) version and Pipes' excerpt, did not contain Adi's description of himself. Adi, as noted above and by Media Matters for America here, reportedly backed away from his statements regarding his childhood friendship with Obama. The Chicago Tribune reported on March 25:
Obama and his mother moved from Honolulu to Jakarta to join Soetoro in 1967, when Obama was 6. Here, Obama became “Barry Soetoro.”
In their first neighborhood, Obama occasionally followed his stepfather to the mosque for Friday prayers, a few neighbors said. But Soetoro usually was too busy working, first for the Indonesian army and later for a Western oil company.
“Sometimes Lolo went to the mosque to pray, but he rarely socialized with people,” said Fermina Katarina Sinaga, Obama's 3rd-grade teacher at the Catholic school, who lived near the family. “Rarely, Barry went to the mosque with Lolo.”
Zulfan Adi, a former neighborhood playmate of Obama's who has been cited in news reports as saying Obama regularly attended Friday prayers with Soetoro, told the Tribune he was not certain about that when pressed about his recollections. He only knew Obama for a few months, during 1970, when his family moved to the neighborhood.
Soetoro, who died in 1987, was hardly the image of a pious Muslim, friends and family members say.
His nephew, Sonny Trisulo, 49, said Soetoro always liked women and alcohol. One of his health problems was a failing liver. “He loved drinking, was a smart and warm person, the naughtiest one in the family,” Trisulo recalled.
In a December 30 post titled "The Muslim smear, version 2.0," Politico writer Ben Smith criticized the Pipes article, writing: “Keep an eye on this one, because if Obama's the nominee, this Front Page magazine piece by the conservative writer Daniel Pipes is likely to be the template for a faux-legitimate assault on Obama's religion." Smith wrote that Pipes' article is “pretty stunning in the twists of its logic,” adding: “But the political impact of the piece isn't the tortured argument. It's branding Obama a Muslim, by a subtler means.” In an update to his post, Smith wrote: “Pipes is reportedly advising Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, but he said in an email he hadn't discussed the column with the campaign or heard from them about it. Giuliani spokeswoman Katie Levinson noted that he's not ... a part of the campaign's formal advisory structure.”