Actually, Obama Did Go to a ‘Madrasah’

US Politics
on 25 Comments

CNN’s “Situation Room” tonight sought to dispel the rumor that has started that Barack Obama attended a “madrasah” in Indonesia as a boy. The show reported that Obama has written in his autobiography that he attended a Muslim school for two years. But that’s not a madrasah!

I beg to differ. Two weeks ago I attended a lecture on development in the Arab world at the 92d Street Y. The lecturer was Saifedean Ammous, a Palestinian graduate student in international studies at Columbia. A woman in the audience asked Ammous about all those terrible madrasah’s that Arabs send their children to. Ammous answered that “madrasah” simply means school in Arabic, and he attended a Quaker madrasah in Ramallah.

I asked him about the point today; and Ammous emailed me:

The term Madrasah simply means school, and is used exactly as in English, so you could use it to refer to a Jewish, Christian or Islamic Madrasah, as well as a public, private, elementary or secondary Madrasah. In the English language, and due to the amount of coverage that some of these schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been getting over the last few years, the term Madrasah has been associated with religious schools that supposedly indoctrinate and train terrorists.

Obama clearly went to a Madrasah in Indonesia, in that he clearly went to a school… Even if he did go to a religious school, that almost certainly doesn’t mean that it was a place where they learned Koran and not Chemistry. In all likelihood it was an Islamic school inasmuch as Catholic schools in America are Catholic: a regular school teaching all the regular subjects, but putting a little extra emphasis on religion and the morality of its students.

I highly doubt that he had gone to what are known as “radical madrasas”, I don’t even know if they are common in Indonesia, and can imagine that his family, who seem largely secular, would’ve wanted to make sure their kid studies math and science.

25 Responses

  1. Sanity
    January 23, 2007, 12:52 am

    While you're at it why don't you smoke some pot with Soros, and you can both be more paranoid about the Jewish Lobby. BOO, they're going to get you!

  2. js
    January 23, 2007, 11:53 am

    The Indonesian term for school is not "madrasah"; it's "sekolah". And no, we don't speak Arabic in Indonesia.

    So, no, Obama did not go to a "madrasah". He went to a private non-religious school. And there are many of those in Indonesia.

  3. js
    January 23, 2007, 12:03 pm

    The Indonesian term for school is not "madrasah"; it's "sekolah". And no, we don't speak Arabic in Indonesia.

    So, no, Obama did not go to a "madrasah". He went to a private non-religious school. And there are many of those in Indonesia.

  4. alit
    January 23, 2007, 12:18 pm

    i grew up in the malay archipelago and can tell you with certainty that the sporadic rise of "radical" islam is a recent thing. when i was a child, i knew many people who went to madrassahs because it was religiously expected–being able to recite large tracts of the koran is something small children of both sexes win little prizes and praise for, just as you would in sunday school; but also because in some areas, it was the best way to get a free education. suharto the dictator, endlessly supported and armed by america, and wolfowitz in particular, was more interested in stealing from the indonesians than providing them with schools and advancement opportunities.

    when you understand the word and its cultural significance, you realize that senator obama experienced a world completely different from america, but not an anti-american one. but seriously, what's wrong with a candidate who has lived abroad, tasted its cultures, sensibilities and dangers, and has come thru it a more balanced individual? i believe bush is such a bad president because he has never traveled or been really tested– or to be more accurate, has never been uncomfortable in his life!

  5. she'elah
    January 23, 2007, 1:18 pm

    ani rotzeh l'daht:
    weiss dofek kushner b'tahchat oh ha efech, kushner dofek weiss b'tahchat?

  6. Rowan Berkeley
    January 23, 2007, 2:04 pm

    Perhaps they take turns, she'elah.

  7. hmmmm
    January 23, 2007, 3:02 pm

    Could anyone please provide the translation of she'ela's post?

  8. noname
    January 23, 2007, 5:20 pm

    link to

    CNN’s Senior International Correspondent John Vause filed a report from Indonesia. Watch it:

    In the report, Vause says, “I’ve been to those madrassas in Pakistan … this school is nothing like that.” He also interviews a classmate of Obama’s who says the school was not even strictly Muslim; it also taught Christian, Buddhist, and Confucian students.

    CNN has more details HERE.

  9. David
    January 23, 2007, 5:28 pm

    "i believe bush is such a bad president because he has never traveled"

    Well, actually he has. His sole trip out of the country prior to becoming leader of the free world was when AIPAC took him to Israel. :)

  10. Warner
    January 24, 2007, 1:28 am

    I'm confused. What does this have to do with the Israel Lobby? Did they fund the Madrasah as part of some sort of nefarious plot to control Obama?

  11. tina
    January 24, 2007, 2:28 am

    translation of She'ela's Hebrew is something that has to do with who is "up the ass" of whom – Phil or Tony Kushner – highly intelligent post, she'ela!

  12. eewie
    January 24, 2007, 9:54 am

    Highly intelligent of tina to presume that the 'kushner' means Tony Kushner- but that's what this blog is about bad analysis and subjective reasoning- I would guess it means the publisher of the Observer

  13. eewie
    January 24, 2007, 11:47 am

    Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii,

    to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Muslim from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya

    and Ann Dunham, an atheist from Wichita, Kansas.

    Obama's parents met at the University of Hawaii.

    When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced.

    His father returned to Kenya.

    His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a radical Muslim from Indonesia.

    When Obama was 6 years old, the family relocated to Indonesia.

    Obama attended a Muslim school in Jakarta.

    He also spent two years in a Catholic school.

    Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim.

    He is quick to point out that,

    "He was once a Muslim, but that he also attended Catholic school."

    Obama's political handlers are attempting to make it appear that Obama's introduction

    to Islam came via his father, and that this influence was temporary at best.

    In reality, the senior Obama returned to Kenya soon after the divorce,

    and never again had any direct influence over his son's education.

    Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama's mother, Ann Dunham,

    introduced his stepson to Islam.

    Osama was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta.

    Wahabism is the radical teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists

    who are now waging Jihad against the western world.

    Since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when seeking major public office

    in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ

    in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background.

    Let us all remain alert concerning Obama's expected presidential candidacy.

  14. lester
    January 24, 2007, 3:49 pm

    phil did you see this one? from the jewish advocate. brandeis presidents wife goin off. bill perlman will appreciate this:

    Two themes for Jimmy Carter
    By Shulamit Reinharz – Wednesday January 24 2007

    As everyone knows, Jimmy Carter is generating lots of bad publicity for himself right now because of a major contradiction: He claims he wants to start a debate, but he won’t debate. I’ve got two theories to explain this behavior – “unconditional love run amok” and “inability to handle frustration.”
    Unconditional love run amok: First and foremost, and unfortunately for him, many people will always remember Carter for his immortal words in the November 1976 issue of Playboy magazine. His statement is worth looking at very carefully. “I try not to commit a deliberate sin. I recognize that I’m going to do it anyhow, because I’m human and I’m tempted. And Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. Christ said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery’… I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do – and I have done it – and God forgives me for it.”
    In these sentences, Jimmy Carter describes himself as a man full of contradictions: He is good, weak, forgiven, governed by his notions of Christ, a confessor and a predictable sinner. And Christ is partly to blame for this mess, because Christ’s standards are impossibly high. The important theme here is that Jimmy knows that although he is doing the wrong thing, he will be forgiven. In this scenario, Jimmy is always good, even if he is bad.
    Many people are puzzled by Carter’s recently published book about the Israelis and the Palestinians. Using clues in his comments on lust, someone should tell him the following:
    No, Jimmy. When people do the wrong thing, they are not guaranteed forgiveness. When people do the wrong thing, there are actual consequences. When you write a book that says things that are dangerous or patently false, you create real problems in the world. If you plagiarize, you will be punished, maybe not by Christ, but surely by public opinion.
    Remember, Jimmy, when you speak or write, you have the status of a former president, so your opinions will be heard. It’s not like being the man on the street simply lusting for the woman on the street without anyone knowing. Jimmy, please keep your opinions about the Middle East – as you did your lust – in your heart.
    Jimmy, you might be beyond the age of lusting for women, but you seem to be lusting to use your former power. Get real. You are no longer president. So grow up and face the music.
    And finally, Jimmy, when Playboy published your “lust” article, what did Rosalyn say to you? It could not have made her happy. Did she automatically forgive you, too? Like Christ did? Only babies are forgiven no matter what they do; adults don’t behave that way. This is unconditional love run amok.
    My second theory relates to Carter’s inability to deal with frustration. His decision to blame Israel for the quagmire in which the Palestinians find themselves may be related to the unfinished business of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of March 26, 1979. Carter considered the signing of that treaty to be his finest hour, and it clearly was a triumph. But it was not enough. Even the Nobel Peace Prize was not enough. Behind that famous grin was another face that we did not see, the grimace of frustration because the agreement was only partial. It did not include the Palestinians. Carter longed to have that achievement as well, but it was beyond his grasp. He failed and he needs to blame someone. So he reasons that if the United States is friendly to Israel, and the U.S. has been unable to broker that elusive peace, then it must be the Israelis’ fault.
    Here is what I would say to Carter about that: Don’t be frustrated. No one has been able to accomplish an agreement with the Palestinians. And no one will, until the Palestinians themselves step forward and say they want peace. Blaming Israel will not get you one step closer to that longed-for reality. In fact, it might push peace further away because the Palestinians don’t have to do anything to get your sympathy. In the meantime, please watch your words, Jimmy, particularly your book titles. They are dangerous. Keep them in your heart if you have to, but don’t express them. You might not be forgiven, after all.

  15. Rowan Berkeley
    January 24, 2007, 5:06 pm

    Let me understand this : the above article's authoress, Shulamit Reinharz, is the wife of the President of Brandeis?

    What an unfortunate man her husband must be!

  16. confuz'd hick
    January 24, 2007, 5:19 pm

    I always though Islamist Obama bin-Laden went to a madrasah. But then again, this Hussein guy was alway a secular nationalist, but is still connected with 9/11.

  17. leser
    January 24, 2007, 5:24 pm

    there is an article in the normally very pro israel boston globe today about this and some of her other columns just basically lke "what the hell?"

    link to

    he takes the thing about christ out of context though i think.

  18. Rowan Berkeley is an anti-semite
    January 24, 2007, 10:00 pm

    I am quite convinced that unless people understand the current systematic deception regarding the role of Jews* in modern international finance – and in its apparent antagonist, international proletarian revolutionism – they will not be able to do a single thing about zionism. This deception takes the form that the zionists can represent themselves as the inheritors of the oppressed anti-imperialist masses, rather than of the oppressors and imperialists, by exploiting the common ignorance of modern social and political history in general.*(not 'the Jews', as if they were a sort of telepathically coordinated solid bloc, but enough of the most powerful Jews, who among other things can use the rest as pawns)Rowan Berkeley

  19. Rowan Berkeley is an anti-semite
    January 24, 2007, 10:14 pm

    Anti-Semitic Posting #2

    Incidentally, I think it is a sociological fact about the Jewish world that gambling addiction is its most prevalent vice, just as alcoholism is its least prevalent. I’m sorry I can’t offer a link to a survey that demonstrates this, but I don’t think it’s very controversial. Ultimately, I think it derives from the diasporic condition

    January 24, 2007, 11:25 pm

    I'm sorry, but I don't see any anti-semitism in those posts.

    The first one explicitly makes the distinction between Jews as a whole and what SOME powerful and rich Jews might be doing. This can't be anti-semitic unless we are to believe that there could never possibly be any villains or evildoers among Jews (g-d forbid!).

    As far as the second one goes, even though Mr. Rowan Berkeley admits he cannot substantiate his claim with evidence, it is not anti-semitic either. For example, if one were to say that alcoholism is the most prevalent vice of say, Native Americans, or say, the British, would that be "anti-Native American" or "anti-British"?

    I don't think so.

  21. trouvere
    January 24, 2007, 11:27 pm

    Looks like the zionists have identified a threat.

  22. David
    January 24, 2007, 11:50 pm

    I've been amazed that this blog of Phil Weiss has been allowed to proceed in relative civility for as long as it has. As anyone who has ever tried to broach the subject of Jewish political power knows, just one or two screams of "anti-Semitism!" per thread is actually quite a subdued response from the Zionist bullies. I predict it's going to start getting much more violent.

  23. Fight the thought police
    January 25, 2007, 12:27 am

    Let them do as they please. It will only expose them to more and more Americans for what they really are, an Orwellian thought police which uses the anti-Semitism libel against gentiles and the self-hatred libel against any Jew with a conscience, in order to stifle debate, silence critics and advance their territorial expansionism, regardless of the tragedies this brings to Israelis and Arabs alike.

    They are so delusional, they think Foxman or pit bulls like Dershowitz are good for their cause. Yeah, use a notorious amoralist like Dershowitz to argue the moral high ground of Israel's policies and the Occupation!

    They still haven't grasped the meaning of the Internet and the information revolution, and after Iraq they have found themselves in a tunnel, thinking they see a light at the end of it without realizing it's on oncoming train.

    Let the bullies bring it on. They can't fool all the people all the time. That's a lesson they'll have to learn the hard way.

  24. vknut
    January 25, 2007, 2:03 pm

    Undisputed FACTS:
    Obama has a significant connection to Islam–in a country not friendly to the us. (Undisputed!!!

    Much of his childhood (the very impressionable grade school years!!)was spent in another country's HEAVILY Muslim influenced culture.


    Barack Hussein Obama's background should continue to be researched—ALL candidates for the Presidency should be subject to the most penetrating (aND UNBIASED) MEDIA SPOTLIGHT.

    His background does bother me!

  25. Rowan Berkeley
    January 25, 2007, 5:39 pm


    — now those aren't words you often hear in Jewish milieux.

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