President Barack Obama is photographed after delivering a televised address from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday June 15, 2010. President Obama said the nation will continue to fight the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for "as long as it takes." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
For some, whether President Barack Obama is Muslim or Christian is still up for discussion. But a local man says the country has more important things to talk about.
“It is unfortunate in this politically divided atmosphere that these issues keep on coming up when we have far more important issues we have to deal with,” said Dr. Azhar Sheikh, an internal medicine doctor in Cleveland, Tenn., who is also Muslim.
A recent poll found nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, said Obama is Muslim, up from the 11 percent who said so in March 2009, according to The Associated Press. Only 34 percent, down from 48 percent in March of last year, correctly say he is Christian, according to the poll.
Conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and its affiliated Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the poll is based on interviews conducted before the controversy over whether Muslims can build an Islamic center two blocks from the former World Trade Center site.
Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build the mosque there, though he’s also said he won’t take a position on whether they should actually build it.
Stella Fletcher, a Ringgold, Ga., resident and co-founder of the Catoosa Tea Party, agrees with Sheikh, saying there are bigger issues to deal with. But she also said she doesn’t know if Obama is Christian.
“He claims to be Christian and, until he says different, we have to accept what he says,” she said, adding that these are her opinions and not those of the Catoosa Tea Party.
But she said she has never trusted him as the leader of the country.
“From the very beginning when he started campaigning, I kept thinking, ‘Who is Barack Obama? Where did he come from and what do we know about him?’” she said.
Almost two years later, she is asking herself the same questions, she said.
For Kabah Raheem, an imam, or religious leader, at the Islamic Center of Greater Chattanooga, the only thing the poll reflects is that Obama is “just trying to be the president for the whole people and deal with what’s right,” he said.
“If he was Muslim, he would be practicing his religion,” he said. “He is trying to be fair as president.”
In the poll, six in 10 of those saying Obama is a Muslim said they got the information from the media, with the largest portion — 16 percent — saying it was on television.
“In this day and age, where access of information is almost instantaneous, it is the responsibility of our established traditional media to come out and try to present the information in a balanced way,” Sheikh said.
“In my mind, it puts more responsibility on traditional media to try to either refute a claim or prove a claim,” he said. “Otherwise, on the Internet, there is no stopping this.”
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...