Obama Goes On Campaign to Debunk Madrassa Education Allegation


Jan. 24, 2007 — -- Sensing a need to respond to an untrue allegation that he had been educated during his childhood in an Indonesia madrassa, Sen. Barack Obama and his staff have aggressively launched a campaign to debunk the story, perhaps indicating a fear that some may believe it.

"When I was six, I attended an Indonesian public school where a bunch of the kids were Muslim, because the country is 90 percent Muslim," the Democratic presidential hopeful told ABC's Chicago affiliate WLS-TV. "The notion that somehow, at the age of 6 or 7, I was being trained for something other than math, science and reading, is ludicrous."

Obama described the allegation as indicative of the "climate of smear" associated with presidential campaigns and called on the press to make sure "stories are substantiated."

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Obama defended his education at "Sekolah Dasar Negeri 04," which roughly translates as government elementary school No. 4 in Indonesia, where he moved at the age of 6 after his mother married an Indonesian man. After two years at the government elementary school, Obama transferred to a Catholic school.

The false coloring of Obama's early education gained considerable steam during a "Fox and Friends" round table on Jan. 19, 2006. Host Steve Doocy said that Obama spent "the first decade of his life raised by his Muslim father as a Muslim and was educated in a madrassa." It is almost impossible to tabulate how many false claims are in that sentence.

Doocy went on to colorfully "define" madrassas as "financed by Saudis, they teach the religion that pretty much hates us. The big question: Was that on the curriculum back then?"

The round table was discussing a since-discredited story that ran in Insight Magazine entitled "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background." The story cited unnamed sources that claimed that the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, a New York Democrat who has announced her candidacy for president, was looking into whether Obama's Indonesian elementary school was a "madrassa" that "espous[ed] Wahhabism, a form of radical Islam."

Clinton's campaign said there was absolutely no truth to the magazine's claim.

"We have no connection to this story and think it's deplorable," said Phil Singer, a Clinton campaign spokesman. "It's an attack on both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama."

On Monday, CNN filed a story from Indonesia indicating that the school Obama attended was not a madrassa.

"This is a public school. We don't focus on religion," Hardi Priyono, deputy headmaster of the Basuki school, told CNN. "In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preferential treatment."

CNN also interviewed one of Obama's classmates, Bandug Winadijanto, who said the school isn't and has never been an "Islamic school."

"It's general…There is a lot of Christians, Buddhists, also Confucian," said Winadijanto. "So, that's a mixed school."

Obama's representatives have stressed his Christianity.

"To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim and is a committed Christian," said Obama's communications director Robert Gibbs in a statement today.

An ABC News poll from last September indicated that 46 percent of Americans express an unfavorable opinion of Islam. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll from last summer indicated that 54 percent of the American people would not vote for a Muslim for president.

Obama's autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," details the freshman senator's early life, including how his parents -- a secular Muslim named Barack Hussein Obama Sr. and a secular Christian Ann Dunham, who lived in Hawaii -- divorced when he was only 2.

When Obama was 6, his mother remarried Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian oil company manager, and the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where Obama's sister was born. In "Dreams from My Father," Obama writes that like "many Indonesians, Lolo followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths."

When he was 10, Obama moved back to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents and attend the Punahou School.

Obama addressed faith in public life at a church last summer.

"I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just 2, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist," he said. "My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I."

Obama eventually became a devout Christian and member of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago.

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