Ben Carson and Islam

by Andrew C. McCarthy

Hard on the manufactured controversy over what Donald Trump did not say about President Obama and Islam, we now have a controversy over what Ben Carson clearly did say about Islam – namely, that he does not believe it is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”

These assertions would not be nearly as hotly debated if the political class and the media had not sought for decades to suppress all discussion of Islam – other than mindless blather about its being a “religion of peace.” If we had been having the adult discussion we should have been having, it would be well understood by now that Islam is not merely a religion but a comprehensive societal framework with its own legal system.

Why is that important to grasp? Because in the West, we recognize a division between the spiritual realm and political life – a division reflected in our Constitution. Mainstream Islam recognizes no such separation. While Islam unquestionably has tenets that we would recognize as religious in nature (e.g., the oneness of Allah), it is also teeming with rules that control law, governance, the economy, military affairs, social life, hygiene – virtually everything we see as the realm of politics and self-determination.

Islam’s sharia is a code premised on the principles that Allah has prescribed the ideal way for human life to be lived; that people are required to submit to that prescription; and that Islamic governments exist to enforce that requirement. Our Constitution, to the contrary, is premised on the principles that we are free to choose how we will live; the laws we make are not required to comply with the principles of any religion; and that government is our servant, not our master.

The Constitution has nothing to say about Islam’s purely religious tenets. It could not be more obvious, though, that mainstream Islamic ideology and the Islamic law that reflects it are not consistent with the Constitution. As I have repeatedly catalogued, citing an authoritative sharia manual endorsed by, among other prominent Muslims, the scholars at al-Azhar University (the center of Islamic scholarship for over a century), Islamic law rejects the premise that people are free to govern themselves as they choose, rejects freedom of conscience, rejects freedom of speech, rejects equality between Muslims and non-Muslims, rejects equality between men and women, justifies wars of aggression against non-Muslims, and rejects our safeguards of liberty and privacy – prescribing draconian penalties, often including death, for apostasy, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, and other personal choices.

When we discuss “Islam,” it should be assumed that we are talking about both a religion and a political-social ideology. Clearly, one can accept the religious tenets and not the ideology. But if someone asks a public figure about “Islam,” the term should be understood as conveying a belief system that is not merely, or even primarily, religious. And if that is not what the questioner intends, then the burden should be on the questioner to clarify.

When Dr. Carson said Islam is inconsistent with the Constitution, he meant that Islamic ideology is inconsistent with the Constitution. That is so patently true that a question about whether this is the case should be considered frivolous. Carson was not saying that being a Muslim who accepts the purely religious tenets of Islam is inconsistent with fidelity to the Constitution. In fact, when asked if he would consider voting for a Muslim for Congress, he replied that this would “depend on who that Muslim is and what their policies are.”

That makes perfect sense – a pro-Constitution Muslim who accepts Islam’s religious tenets but rejects the imposition of sharia on society would be fine; an adherent of Islamic ideology who seeks to impose sharia on society (i.e., an Islamist or Islamic supremacist) would not. This, undoubtedly, is why Carson included Muslims within the broad group of people he could support (persons of “any faith”) provided that their statements and actions suggest “things that will elevate this nation and make it possible for everybody to succeed, and bring peace and harmony.”

What Carson said should not be controversial. That it is says more about the state of our politics than it does about Carson.

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