The fact that nearly 20% of Americans say that President Obama is a Muslim has certainly not kept him from talking to Muslims. Just in the past week, the president gave his second major address to the Muslim world, and issued greetings to Muslims for Eid-ul-Adha, the celebration of Abraham’s “willingness to sacrifice his son.” Even in this small act of presidential courtesy, however, Obama had to tread very carefully. Note that the administration did not include the name of Abraham’s son. Muslims believe that Abraham was willing to sacrifice Ishmael, while the Jewish and Christian Scriptures contend that it was Isaac ”” indeed, this is one of the most fundamental divergences between these religious traditions. The president wants to acknowledge the Muslim holiday, without exacerbating religious tensions.
In matters large and small, Obama has to strike a delicate balance regarding Islam. It is not that he has taken an unprecedented interest in Islam: President Thomas Jefferson had his copy of the Quran, and President George W. Bush discussed Islam just as much as Obama. But because of the ongoing war against jihadist terror, the controversy about the Ground Zero mosque, and especially because of persistent (if absurd) rumors about the president’s own faith, Obama has a special burden to carry about Islam. He must communicate that America’s millions of Muslims are fully welcome here, and that America is not at war with the Muslim community at large. Yet he must also maintain moral clarity about the menace of jihadist terrorism.