During a conference call in preparation for President Obama's trip to Cairo, Egypt, where he will address the Muslim world, deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Denis McDonough said "the President himself experienced Islam on three continents before he was able to -- or before he's been able to visit, really, the heart of the Islamic world -- you know, growing up in Indonesia, having a Muslim father -- obviously Muslim Americans (are) a key part of Illinois and Chicago."
Given widespread unease and prejudice against Muslims among Americans, especially in the wake of 9/11, the Obama campaign was perhaps understandably very sensitive during the primaries and general election to downplay the candidate's Muslim roots.
The candidate was even offended when referred to by his initials "BHO," because he considered the use of his middle name, "Hussein," an attempt to frighten voters.
With insane rumors suggesting he was some sort of Muslim Manchurian candidate, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his campaign did everything they could to emphasize his Christianity and de-emphasize the fact that his father, Barack Obama Sr., was born Muslim.
The candidate's comment at a Boca Raton, Florida, town hall meeting on May 22, 2008, was typical: "My father was basically agnostic, as far as I can tell, and I didn't know him," he said.
In September 2008, candidate Obama told a Pennsylvania crowd, "I know that I'm not your typical presidential candidate and I just want to be honest with you. I know that the temptation is to say, 'You know what? The guy hasn't been there that long in Washington. You know, he's got a funny name. You know, we're not sure about him.' And that's what the Republicans when they say this isn't about issues, it's about personalities, what they're really saying is, 'We're going to try to scare people about Barack. So we're going to say that, you know, maybe he's got Muslim connections.'...Just making stuff up."
Back then, the campaign's "Fight the Smears" website addressed the candidate's faith without mentioning his father's religion:
"Barack Obama is a committed Christian. He was sworn into the Senate on his family Bible. He has regularly attended church with his wife and daughters for years. But shameful, shadowy attackers have been lying about Barack’s religion, claiming he is a Muslim instead of a committed Christian. When people fabricate stories about someone’s faith to denigrate them politically, that’s an attack on people of all faiths. Make sure everyone you know is aware of this deception."
The website also provided quotes from the Boston Globe and Newsweek mentioning his father's roots.
Since the election, however, with the threat of the rumors at least somewhat abated, the White House has been increasingly forthcoming about the president's roots. Especially when reaching out to the Muslim world.
In his April 6 address to the Turkish Parliament, President Obama referenced how many "Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim majority country. I know, because I am one of them."
- Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller