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:
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.