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This video, makes the following claim, as aired on Fox News:

[Obama] did bow to the Muslim King, while he did not do it to the British Queen of England, and by bowing he showed the world that "I am subservient, I do bow down to you as a Muslim King." Something that no other president has done with Saudi Arabia. [5:26]


... it made an American president, for the first time in history, bow to a Muslim King. [6:29]

The video makes many other claims, most of which are far too subjective to be worthy of consideration, let alone on-topic here.

I'm interested in only the following claim: Obama is the first U.S. president to bow to a Muslim King.

And I see two areas of easy contention. The first being the definition of a bow. Does the gesture shown in the video carry the significance of a "bow" in Muslim cultures?

And if what Obama did is considered a bow in the relevant culture, is he indeed the first president to have done it?

For bonus points, have other U.S. presidents bowed to other Muslim world leaders who did not carry the title of King?

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To quote wiki: "In Islam, it is a sin to bow to anyone but God." - it is not a Muslim sign of deference between 2 people. Internationally, a bow can mean simply respect, sincerity, etc - not just deference or subservience. –  Marc Gravell Feb 12 '12 at 22:49
Wow. I watched as much as I could of that video (about 2 or 3 minutes). It has caused me some self-reflection and revelation! I've looked back at my own history and the topics I have ever talked about (which apparently, when taken out of context, is evidence that I hold them as sacred), and realised I am a Muslim! And a Jew! And a Christian! And a buddhist/athiest/lawyer/lesbian/politician/pro-sports-playing bar-tender. Hooray for lowering the bar for evidence! –  Oddthinking Feb 13 '12 at 0:40
As soon as you start searching on this, you come across claims that there is an established protocol establishing that US Presidents ought not to bow. Regrettably, they don't speak to that in the FAQ at the Office of the Chief of Protocol (state.gov/s/cpr). Presumably the Chief of Protocol simply lifts his or her eyebrows significantly as appropriate. –  Larry OBrien Feb 13 '12 at 1:40
Using the video's out-of-context quote-mining technique, I'm pretty sure someone could prove that Bill O'Reilly is a black lesbian. –  Zano Feb 13 '12 at 18:59
Makes about as much sense as accusing Nixon of being a commie because he was the first to recognise China. –  matt_black Feb 14 '12 at 23:11
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2 Answers

George W Bush bowed to, hugged, kissed, and walked in the garden holding hands with that same Saudi king. So the answer is clearly no.

The bow occurred in January 2008, while receiving a medal from King Abdullah. The visit was reported by many news providers, including CNN and http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,322467,00.html

It is likely that other previous Presidents have also exchanged various courtesies with foreign leaders, including Muslim ones.

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Can you cite specific, reliable websites? At least some of the hits were to websites that aren't reliable sources. –  Andrew Grimm Dec 6 '12 at 20:02
For example, the first hit for the first search is to abovetopsecret.org, which promotes a lot of debunked claims, and the second hit is to reformation.org, which says that "It seems that Allah has now invaded the White House." –  Andrew Grimm Dec 6 '12 at 21:19
I am prepared to accept this answer, if a reliable source can be cited. Pictures of GWB with an otherwise random man in Muslim garb does not qualify as proof that GWB bowed to a king. –  Flimzy Dec 6 '12 at 21:42
It looks like Bush is "bowing" because the king is about a put a medal on him / over his head. –  ChrisW Dec 7 '12 at 2:12
The bowing, as @ChrisW notes, doesn't look anything like a bow. But the hand-holding ones look more plausible, given there seem to be multiple takes from different positions and times. –  Benjol Dec 7 '12 at 12:52
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This is not a complete answer. Anyone, please feel free to update/edit this with additional relevant info if you feel so inclined.

I'm attempting to determine which U.S. presidents have ever met with Islamic Kings, to determine how many opportunities there have been for a previous bow to have taken place.

I'm starting with a list of Islamic Monarchies, as found on Wikipedia, and will eliminate those that don't match the criteria of having had a U.S. president meet with their King.

  • Bahrain -- Gained independence from Persia in 1783. Has had a king since 2002, but no King/president meetings since then (source).
  • Brunei -- Gained independence from the UK in 1984. Since governed by a Sultan*, not a King.
  • Jordan -- Wikipedia mentions no diplomatic trips at all, so I'm cautiously removing this from the running for the time being. (source)
  • Kuwait -- Gained independence from the UK in 1961. Since governed by an Emir, not a King.
  • Malaysia -- No (official) visits between a U.S. president and Malaysian King (source)
  • Morocco -- Has a King. U.S./Morocco relations are strong, and there have been a number of diplomatic visits by King Hassan II and several U.S. presidents.
  • Oman -- Independent for centuries, but governed by a Sultan*, not a King.
  • Qatar -- Governed by an emir, not a king.
  • Saudi Arabia -- Both George W. Bush and Obama (duh!) have met with the King of Saudi Arabia. (source)
  • United Arab Emirates -- Governed by a president, not a king.

This list may not be exhaustive, as it only lists current Islamic Monarchies, so any nations that had an Islamic Monarchy in the past ~200 years, but no longer does, is not listed.

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a sultan or emir is the local equivalent of a king, so include those. Emirates, split them up as it's a conglomerate of sultanates (similar to the EU, each having its own government and head of state). –  jwenting Feb 13 '12 at 9:59
@jwenting: Indeed, but if a person goes by a different title, even if they have the exact same power as a King, it wold be possible to exclude them from such a claim. –  Flimzy Feb 13 '12 at 19:05
@Flimzy - no it wouldn't. They are fully equivalent titles. That's like saying "I didn't steal that car, because it's not a car but a truck" in court. –  DVK Feb 16 '12 at 2:01
Also, you should include reasonably recent monarchies (Iran had a Shah within very recent timeframe at least). –  DVK Feb 16 '12 at 2:06
BTW, I don't see why this is so much up-voted. While it's a very nice piece of research, it doesn't relate to the question in any way. Disqalifying a bunch of monarchies is irrelevant unless you goal is to prove that no such meetings took place at all - which you clearly already shown to be NOT the case by second from last bullet point. Merely proving that GWB didn't bow to Saudi monarch while Obama did would show a discrepancy in protocol, and as you said, they both met the King. –  DVK Feb 16 '12 at 2:07
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