Accusations fly about attempts to convert Obama's grandmother

By Ecumenical News International
April 29, 2009

A row is simmering between the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in western Kenya and Muslims in the country over reported attempts to convert to Christianity Sarah Obama, the grandmother of US President Barack Obama - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"We had invited her to grace our meeting in Kisumu which was to mark the end of a three-week convention, but although she had prepared, she did not attend," Lewis Ondiek, SDA central Nyanza executive director, told Ecumenical News International.

Some members of her family had stopped Sarah Obama from attending the service, which was led by an Australian evangelist, John Jeremic. Apart from stating that she is a Muslim, they said she had a knee complication and that they could not guarantee her safety.

The Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya secretary, Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa said, "Mama Sarah should not be forced by anybody to join Christianity since she is a Muslim. Conversion must take place in a voluntary manner." He said, "Muslims will not sit and watch one of their own being coerced by some religious leaders to convert to Christianity."

The 87-year-old Obama captured the media spotlight in the remote, mainly Christian village of Kogelo, in western Kenya, soon after Barack Obama was elected US president in November 2008. She is widely sought after to preside over occasions because of her new status.

"Mama Sarah had assured us that she was converting, and we were ready to baptise her today, but it seems her family has prevailed upon her," Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper had quoted SDA Pastor Tom Obuya as saying on 19 April 2009.

Sarah Obama is the third wife of Obama's paternal grandfather.

Barack Obama is the son of a Kenyan father and American mother who met at a university in Hawaii. He was born in 1961, but his parents split up when he was two. His father returned to Kenya where he worked after independence in the administration of Kenya's founding president Jomo Kenyatta, while his mother settled with Barack and a new partner in Indonesia. Barack Obama had little contact with his father's family after his parents divorced.

The son of Sarah Obama, Saidi Obama, said, "She would have attracted unnecessary attention, which is not good for her."

Some SDA leaders had denied they wanted to convert Sarah Obama.

A number of protesting Muslims leaders in the country have sought state intervention, warning of a religious stand-off. Some of the leaders raised questions about Christians being interested in her because she is now seen as influential and richer.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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