Despite the best efforts of his aides to minimize his dual religious upbringing, the election campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama continues to be dogged by the issue.
Obama's childhood religious practice and its influence in his formative years is being repeatedly raised as an issue due to a question over whether he might buckle under pressure exerted by the Muslim and Arab world when it comes to foreign policy decisions relating to the State of Israel.
'My Muslim Faith' – Freudian Slip?
Obama in fact slipped during a nationally-televised ABC interview on Sunday by referring to "my Muslim faith" while accusing the Republicans of suggesting he has Muslim connections.
Interviewer George Stephanopoulus, former senior political advisor and White House communications director to former Democratic president Bill Clinton, did what he could to gloss over what may have been a Freudian slip, but the damage was done.
The ABC transcript follows:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You mention your Christian faith. Yesterday you took off after the Republicans for suggesting you have Muslim connections. Just a few minutes ago, Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, said they've never done that. This is a false and cynical attempt to play victim.
OBAMA: You know what? I mean, these guys love to throw a rock and hide their hand. The...
STEPHANOPOULOS: The McCain campaign has never suggested you have Muslim connections.
OBAMA: No, no, no. But the -- I don't think that when you look at what is being promulgated on Fox News, let's say, and Republican commentators who are closely allied to these folks–
STEPHANOPOULOS: But John McCain said that's wrong.
OBAMA: Now, well, look. Listen. You and I both know that the minute that Governor Palin was forced to talk about her daughter, I immediately said that's off limits. And–
STEPHANOPOULOS: But John McCain said the same thing about questioning your faith.
OBAMA: And what was the first thing the McCain’s campaign went out and did? They said, look, these liberal blogs that support Obama are out there attacking Governor Palin.
Let's not play games. What I was suggesting -- you're absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith. And you're absolutely right that that has not come–
STEPHANOPOULOS: Christian faith.
OBAMA: -- my Christian faith. Well, what I'm saying is that he hasn't suggested–
STEPHANOPOULOS: Has connections, right.
OBAMA: -- that I'm a Muslim. And I think that his campaign's upper echelons have not, either. What I think is fair to say is that, coming out of the Republican camp, there have been efforts to suggest that perhaps I'm not who I say I am when it comes to my faith -- something which I find deeply offensive, and that has been going on for a pretty long time.
Praying to Saints, Bowing in Mosques
In his childhood, Obama was registered as a Muslim and bowed toward a mosque on Fridays while praying to a Catholic saint on other days, according to a 2007 report in The Los Angeles Times.
Obama's chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, was careful in an earlier statement to emphasize that he was raised in a secular household in
However, the issue, which has dogged the Obama team throughout the campaign, is one that is being juggled as a hot potato, with statements by aides being adjusted as time goes on. A subsequent statement to The Times offered a little more careful wording, saying that "Obama has never been a practicing Muslim," but admitting that he had, as a child, spent time in his Chicago neighborhood's Islamic Center.
The article quoted his former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers, and others who said that Senator Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both of the schools he attended while in the third and fourth grades.
"We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque. But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played," The Times quoted Zulfin Adi, who described himself as among Obama’s closest childhood friends.
Obama has written in his autobiography, "In the Catholic school when it came time to pray, I would close my eyes, then peek around the room. Nothing happened. No angels descended. Just a parched old nun and 30 brown children, muttering words."
As a first-grader in the Catholic school, Obama prayed as a Catholic, but was registered as a Muslim since that was his father's faith.
Questioning Obama's Sincerity on Support for
Jewish groups are also wondering whether Obama is reliable in his expressed support for Israel. The Democratic candidate told an AIPAC convention earlier this year that he backs an undivided Jerusalem.
Within 24 hours, however, in the face of a firestorm of Arab rage Obama quickly backtracked, qualifying his declaration of support with a "clarification" that he had simply meant he did not want to see the Jewish capital split asunder by barbed wire as it had been when captured by the Jordanians during the war in 1948.
Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu contributed to this report.