Is President Obama a Muslim? A lot has been written about this, but if photographs speak louder than words, then a photo taken at last August’s U.S.-African Leaders’ Summit in Washington D.C. might shed considerable light.
It shows Barack Hussein Obama flashing the one-finger affirmation of Islamic faith to dozens of African delegates.
Barack Hussein Obama flashes the Muslim shahada to delegates of the US-African Leaders Conference in Washington DC in August 2014.
The Associated Press took this astonishing photo as the African dignitaries joined Obama, who hosted the event, in a State Department auditorium for a group photograph. It was published in an article in Britain’s Daily Mail, and it was the only use ever of the photo.
The one-finger display is the distinctive Muslim gang sign: The index finger points straight up while the thumb wraps underneath and presses against the digital phalange of the middle finger. The remaining fingers are squeezed against the palm in order to highlight the extended forefinger. The extended finger is symbolic of the one-God concept of Muhammad and is understood by all believers to be a symbolicshahada, the Muslim affirmation of faith: There is but one God and Muhammad is his messenger.
Thus when believers stick their index finger in the air, they demonstrate they are partisans of Muhammad’s God concept. And they also affirm their belief in Muhammad’s claim he was the interface between God and man. They also demonstrate they are part of the umma, the exclusive transtribal supertribe of believers that Muhammad started 1,400 years ago.
With his forefinger in the air, Obama affirmed his membership in this tribe.
ISIS fighter displays the gang sign. To Muslims, the extended forefinger is symbolic of the fundamental belief of Islam: There is but one God and Muhammad is his messenger.
The Daily Mail editors did not understand what they were looking at. They captioned it “finger wagging” by Obama. But the African dignitaries understood, and a range of reactions can be detected among the ones who observed the gesture: amusement, surprise, curiosity, disapproval, contempt. Note the reactions of Abdelilah Berkirane, the prime minister of Morroco pictured just behind Obama’s left shoulder, and Ibrahim Boubacas Keita, the president of Mali in white garb and hat. They are Muslims through and through, and they are all smiles. They knew what Obama’s upright forefinger meant.
The reaction of Togo president Faure Gnassingbe, at the top row second to the left, is less approving. Through his face you can read the mind of this Sorbonne- and George Washington University educated leader. His mind is screaming, “You gotta be kidding!”
Gnassingbe’s country is squeezed between Benin and the Ivory Coast and is not far from Nigeria and its Boko Haram plague — perhaps a two-hour flight in a slow Cessna from Togo’s capital to the Nigerian capital, less than an hour in something faster. At the time of the Washington conference, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau had just declared Borno State in northeastern Nigeria as the seat of his caliphate. Massacres of entire villages were taking place; only a few months earlier nearly three hundred girls were abducted from a Borno secondary school.
Togo has seven million people, 50 percent animists, 30 percent Christian. The remainder are Muslims, part of the umma. Gnassingbe and all other non-Muslims of Togo have reason to worry about radicalization of some of these members of the transtribal supertribe of Muhammad who reside among them. And so his look of disdain. “You gotta be kidding.”