Swearing in Barack Hussein Obama

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Photo: flickr/clia cliapop

In this post and a few to come, I’m going to take excerpts from the words of the Hopi Elder that I posted yesterday, and explore how they relate to the spirituality that I see guiding Barack Obama’s actions and decisions. I’ll start with this:

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

Now we have learned that Barack will use all three of his names when he takes the oath of office. He will be sworn in as Barack Hussein Obama.

In the video Barack plays down the idea that there’s anything unusual in his using his middle name. But considering that the most vicious of those who opposed him used all three names when they referred to him, mostly spitting out Hussein as though it were an obscenity, I find the decision delightful on several levels.

Barack never seemed to take personally any of the poorly veiled hints that he was an outsider hiding his true religion – Islam – and that his middle name was ipso facto proof that he is a terrorist. His remark at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York City – “I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn’t realize I would run for president.” – was hardly the kind of thing someone who took such things personally would say.

It takes spiritual strength to refuse to take personally the kinds of thinly veiled racial and ethnic insults even some in his own party leveled at him.

While I never heard him use the term “born again,” Obama did declare himself a Christian when it was appropriate to do so. But he never addressed the assertion that he was a Muslin in hiding. To do so would have been to walk into a trap I’m sure was consciously set for him. “I am not a Muslim” would have gone down as an insult to Islam, a tacit agreement with those who paint all Muslims with the terrorist brush. It was better to say nothing than to assert that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim. Colin Powell could (and did) do just that, but he wasn’t the one being accused of hiding his true religion.

By his actions, Saddam Hussein sullied the name of Hussein ibn Ali ((626-680 CE) a martyr revered in Shi’a Muslim history. That Hussein stood up to the Caliph Yazid, a tyrant who persecuted the family of Hussein’s grandfather, the prophet Muhammad. For this, Hussein paid with his life. Sunni Muslims don’t give Hussein quite as much honor as do the Shi’a, but they still consider him a pious and righteous man.

Over at Americablog, they have this to say:

Obama says he’s not making a statement, but he is. This is about putting the final nail in the coffin of the GOP’s ongoing slur over his middle name, but it also very much is about reaching out to the world’s 1 billion Muslims. This may seem like nothing to some people, but it’s not nothing. Symbolism matters. Obama understands that. This is smart. Very smart. (And with an approval rating about 3 times that of George Bush, Obama can afford to use a little of that goodwill to put the middle-name rap to rest once and for all.)

Barack’s father, we are told, was a secular Muslim, but that didn’t prevent him from giving his son a name holy in Islam. (My parents were secular Jews, but that didn’t prevent them from giving me the name of Moses’ sister.)

Barack, or a variant of it, means “blessed” in all Semitic and many African languages. Hussein means “good” or “beautiful.” What a wonderfully positive message those two names convey. But even more wonderful and positive is what the child made of those names. He turned himself into a beautifully spiritual man, whose clarity strength will help us find our way through the present wilderness, if anything can.

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3 Responses to “Swearing in Barack Hussein Obama”

  1. Thank you, Miryam.

  2. I am glad he will be using his full name,  he should be proud of it and claim it, and let it sound in people’s ears in the words of the Oath , not the words of those who said it in tones dripping with hate and bigotry.
    And yes I agree that it is a sort of outreach…. it really is a significant thing to many in the world to see a U.S. president sworn in with that name, and be reminded that Americans elected someone with that name…. that and his racial background have made many people stop and realize their own negative stereotypes about the USA were not the whole story, not by a long shot. 

    Out of other Husseins in recent history,  I dont first think of Saddam but of King Hussein of Jordan, to whom I personally feel thankful for his donation of money for a home-away -from home for cancer patients to stay while getting treatment at the Mayo clinic, where King Hussein himself was treated.  Which is very helpful for people who don’t have as much money as he did!

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