Would you support a Muslim for president of the United States? That was the question asked of Dr. Ben Carson on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”
He replied, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” The Islamic faith, said Carson in explanation, is incompatible with the Constitution.
Many Muslim clerics and scholars have said much the same about the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. They point out that laws are made by God, not man. Hence, man-made laws are a blasphemous usurpation of God’s authority. But Muslim activists in America were quick to pounce on Carson’s remarks. Nihad Awad, the head of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, called for Carson to withdraw from the presidential race and he called for political leaders to “repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements.” In an echo of CAIR’s sentiments, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer referred to Carson’s comments as “shocking anti-Muslim remarks.”
“Do you agree with Dr. Carson that a Muslim should not be president?” That, undoubtedly, will become the question of the hour in the days ahead. It will be used to beat GOP candidates about the head in the hopes that they will disqualify themselves by giving the wrong answer.
The correct answer in the minds of most media people is that it doesn’t matter what faith a candidate holds to. To say otherwise puts one beyond the pale of polite discussion. In the multicultural society, one is supposed to assume that cultures and religions are interchangeable. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, “What difference does it make what a person believes?”
A few years ago, Madonna said something similar. In the middle of a concert, she endorsed Barack Obama by shouting out, “We have a black Muslim in the White House!” When later pressed about her outburst, she backtracked, saying, “Yes, I know that Obama is not a Muslim—though I know that plenty of people in this country think he is. And what if he were?… I don’t care what religion Obama is, nor should anyone else in America.”
Here’s what I wrote about her comment at the time:
“I don’t care what religion Obama is”? Maybe we can still afford to indulge in such superficial thinking in America, but in many parts of the world, people know through hard experience that the nature of a leader’s religion is a matter of great concern. No Baha’i living in Iran is foolish enough to think, “I don’t care what the Ayatollah’s religion is.” No Coptic Christian in Egypt is so deluded as to think that the religious beliefs of Mohamed Morsi are of no consequence.
It seems to me that Dr. Carson had it about right. The first question asked by moderator Chuck Todd was whether or not someone’s faith was an important qualification for office. “I guess it depends on what that faith is,” replied Carson. I don’t know about Chuck Todd, but to most of the media elite, religion is a fuzzy feeling, common to the hoi polloi, about one’s personal relationship with God—whoever he or she might be. Carson was reminding them that the reality is different. In the real world, different religions have different content. And content matters.
Saying that it doesn’t matter what a person believes as long as he believes in something is like saying that it doesn’t matter what a child learns in school as long as he learns something. We all agree that it’s more important to learn how to read in school than to learn how to cheat at cards. Why should it be a matter of indifference what is taught in mosques and madrassas?
We tend to give all religions the courtesy of not questioning their dogmas because we’ve come to believe that all religions share the same values and the same essential truths. People who aren’t particularly interested in religion are especially prone to taking this generic view of faith. For them, religion is merely a therapeutic tool which helps people feel good about themselves. In short, so long as it works for you, the content of your faith is not important.
From this perspective, it doesn’t matter whether a candidate believes in Allah or in the divine nature of Prince Philip (as do some South Seas cargo cults). Thus, to worry about a man or woman’s belief system is unnecessary. Moreover, by even raising the question, the Carsons and Trumps of this world threaten to bring us back to those Neanderthal days when some excitable souls thought that the election of a Catholic president would open the door to a Vatican takeover of the U.S.
Still, despite the criticisms from CAIR, Dr. Carson seems to have the better of the argument when he maintains that there is something in Islam that doesn’t like the Constitution. Islam is not just a faith, but also an all-encompassing political, legal, and moral system. The embodiment of the system is sharia law, which, because it is believed to be of divine origin, is not optional for Muslims. As Carson suggested, a side-by-side comparison of sharia with the U.S. Constitution reveals that the two are almost totally at odds. The sharia proscription against apostasy is in direct contradiction of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. Sharia laws against blasphemy clash with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Sharia-prescribed punishments, such as amputation for theft, conflict with the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” And so on: the list of irreconcilable differences between sharia and the Constitution is a long one.
I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic in the future.
An Islamic government? Wouldn’t that entail the establishment of sharia law over the Constitution? And, come to think of it, wouldn’t it also be a violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause? The trouble is, Hooper’s point of view is not uncommon among American Muslim leaders. Take Imam Feisal Rauf, the organizer of the now defunct Ground Zero mosque project, and a media darling. In a 2009 Huffington Post essay entitled “What Shariah Law is All About,” Rauf wrote, “What Muslims want is a judiciary that ensures that the laws are not in conflict with the Qur’an and the Hadith.” Not in conflict with the Qur’an and the Hadith? It sounds like Rauf was arguing for a sharia-compliant America. It’s no coincidence that the constitutions of many Islamic countries use a similar wording: whatever rights and freedoms are granted in such constitutions must be in conformity with sharia or with the Qur’an and Sunnah (the sources of sharia). For example, from the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan:
Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah.
The Constitution of Saudi Arabia starts off this way:
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion; God’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet … are its constitution.
It can be argued that our own founding documents are also based on the claim that our rights derive from our Creator. So what’s the difference? The difference, once again, is content. There are major dichotomies separating the Judeo-Christian conception of God and His laws from the Islamic conception. Those differences are reflected in the sharp contrast between sharia law and American law. They are also reflected in the contrast between the freedoms enjoyed by the heirs of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the near-slavery experienced by many who were born into the Islamic tradition.
Are religions interchangeable? That is what our betters in the media would have us believe. But, as Dr. Carson reminds us, it would not be wise to bet your freedom on it.
Should a Muslim be prohibited from running for president? Of course not. The Constitution says that no religious test shall be required as a qualification for office. Should you vote for the Muslim candidate? Now that’s a different question. Although there should be no religious test for public office, voters should employ the test of common sense. There is no constitutional requirement to check your brains at the door before you enter the voting booth.