To my surprise, I discovered today that I am a Muslim. I had had suspicions in the past but my awareness was not total until I read today about a Tea Party organizer in Munford, TN who outed President Obama as a Muslim—according to The Raw Story—because “he takes his shoes off.”
The article explains the context. Muslims take their shoes off when praying; Christians do not. The Tea Party theorist presented a photo of the president with his shoes off, though it was not certain whether Obama was praying or not. (He may have been walking around the White House in his stockings or barefoot.) Christians wear their shoes while praying; Muslims do not.
For close to forty years—well before I gave up Christianity—I took my shoes off, whenever I entered my apartment (or later, my house). Apparently, I was a Muslim years before I ever entered a Mosque. I’ve got friends—they’re Jewish—who always take their shoes off when they visit us. Worse, when our own children were young and they came in after playing outside, we had them remove their shoes. Sometimes even their socks, but I don’t know what religion that would make them.
Fact is, most religions around the world—not Christianity, but Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism—ask that people take their shoes off before entering their temples. It’s regarded as a form of respect for the religion. That translates into people choosing to take their shoes off when they enter their own homes also, probably with no thought about how Tea Party simpletons might regard them.
The full extent of President Obama’s Islamic beliefs was apparent in yesterday’s (April 5, 2010) Washington Post, a newspaper no doubt regarded by some Conservatives as having a Muslim bias. According to the Post, yesterday—Easter—President Obama and his family attended the Allen Chapel AME Church for the religious services. I thought the front-page article was odd because there was no photo of Obama attending the services; nor was there one inside.
It was only after I read the article about the Munford, Tennessee Tea Party intellects that I understood the reason why. Obviously, the Post was reluctant to show a photo of the president of the United States with his shoes off. Why disturb the 57 percent of mainstream Republicans who are convinced that Obama is a Muslim?
Reading the article, I recognized one of my own defining decisions to become a Muslim. When I was younger and I had more hair, I used to wrap a towel around my head after I washed my hair. If I’d only known how that simple act would have been interpreted by Republicans, I might, well, have decided to become a Druid.
CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.