Two months before his Cairo address, at an April 6 press conference in Ankara, Turkey, the President had surprised some listeners with his comment that “one of the great strengths of the United States is – although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population – we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.”
Of course, the U.S. does not have a state-established church. However, historians and political scientists have long acknowledged a Judeo-Christian influence on the nation’s founding documents and laws. No comparable claim can be made regarding Muslim influence. Yet, to his June 4 audience at Cairo University, it might have seemed that President Obama was depicting the U.S. as a Judeo-Christian-Islamic nation. Speaking to French reporter Laura Haim on the eve of his Cairo address, the President said that “one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”
Was President Obama overstating his case? Estimates of America’s Muslim population range from 1.8 million to 10 million, depending on how one counts American convert believers and those immigrants who abandon their family faith. Even at the high end of the estimate, the U.S. – the world’s third most populous country – would barely reach the top 30 of Muslim nations, and by more conservative estimates it is not even in the top 50.
Some commentators have suggested that in his eagerness to reach out to Islamic nations, the President seems more willing to emphasize America’s Muslim heritage when speaking to Muslims than to praise America’s Judeo-Christian heritage when speaking to Christians and Jews. President Obama even told his Cairo audience: “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”
Do these words signal a shift in U.S. policy regarding the Middle East? Many were surprised by the President’s assertion in Cairo that, “America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam.” How could he say this, considering that even a significant number of “moderate” Muslims today hope for a time when America’s present legislative and judicial systems will be replaced by Muslim law?
One clue may come from President Obama’s early upbringing in Indonesia, where different monotheistic religions are tolerated under the banner of a state ideology known as pancasila. More Muslims live in Indonesia than in any other nation, and most Indonesian Muslims view their Islam through the prism of these five principles of tolerance and social justice first enunciated in 1945 by Indonesian independence leader Sukarno. The moderate Islam with which President Obama has firsthand acquaintance is not the extremist Islam of al-Qaeda.
Is the President naïve about Islam because of his upbringing? Or is he simply extending a long-overdue message of goodwill, hoping to heal old wounds and prevent future crises? Whatever we may think, we must remember: he is the leader whom God has set over the U.S., and he needs the prayers of all Christians everywhere (1 Timothy 2:1–2; Romans 13).
Ultimately, too, we should note that President Obama is correct in at least one important detail: Bible prophecy reveals the final end-time conflict before Jesus Christ’s return, but it is not a conflict between America and Islam. At the end of this age, there will be a powerful “King of the South” ruling much of the Middle East. That king will fight a European “King of the North” whose religio-political empire will have risen to world prominence after the decline of the United States and the British-descended nations. You can read about this prophesied end-time conflict in chapter 11 of the book of Daniel.
To learn more about the role of Islam in end-time religio-political events, read our Tomorrow’s World article, “An Islamic Europe?” and our booklet, The Middle East in Prophecy. They will give you hope, and help you understand the changes that are really going on as we approach the end of this age.