In the interview Obama maintained that his aim is denying religious legitimacy to radicals by promoting this alternative vision of Islam. He insisted again that the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda aren’t true Muslims, in a manifestation of his strategy for ‘takfiring the takfiris’. (Excommunicating the excommunicators.) The president wants ordinary Muslims to take a lighter approach to Islam that will help show this alternate vision, which contrasts sharply with the infuriatingly literalist interpretation of ISIS.
While admitting that he is not an expert in Islamic theology, Obama explained that a lot could be learned from the experience of liberal Christians and Jews which illustrates that a more metaphorical interpretation of religious texts can help reconcile the differences between religious dogma and modern sensibilities. For example if the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, the metaphorical interpretation could be that it is not a sin. Much like when you say to someone ‘you’re bad’ when in fact you mean ‘you’re good’.
Obama emphasised that rites like prayer, fasting and wearing headscarves are perfectly ok, but other aspects of Islam could perhaps be toned down a bit to become more acceptable in the eyes of western liberals. Much like what many modern Christians do when it comes to the Bible, Obama suggested that Muslims don’t have to dwell on passages that are particularly strongly phrased or might cause liberals to be upset because they don’t seem to conform to our contemporary tastes.
Obama added that sharia law in particular causes many non-Muslim people to become uncomfortable and perhaps there could be more of a metaphorical interpretation in the spirit of the cooler, lighter, more modern Islam. The president emphasised that this will help bridge the gap between the spirit of Islam and liberal expectations of what a religion should look like.
For example, liberals regularly engage in poetic readings of religion that allow for more nuanced interpretations. The duality between sin/not sin in particular seems to be a product of old-fashioned binary oppositions and perhaps Muslims should be looking at various shades of grey in between sin and not sin. This will help create more lax moral codes that allow people to reconcile between their religious beliefs and their human desires and basically not become too inconvenienced by the demands of their faith.
At the end, the president once again reiterated how much the cooperation of Muslims in promoting ‘cool Islam’ will help in the battle against extremism, urging Muslims to get behind this plan. However, when asked if he will be advocating this to his allies in Saudi Arabia, the president said he is late for an appointment and had to leave quickly.