A real leader wouldn’t stigmatize Muslims


Originally published in CNN

Sunday morning, my hope for the next presidency changed to disbelief after Dr. Ben Carson’s interview on “Meet the Press” when he boldly stated his belief that Islam is incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and a Muslim should never be elected as president of the United States.

I sat in disbelief because this is the season when candidates for office make whatever promise necessary to appease voters and win their favor. Do Muslims really present so little value that a presidential candidate would flaunt a callous disregard about getting their vote?

I sat in disbelief that someone claiming to be suitable to lead this great nation could so completely forget Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which clearly states “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

I sat in disbelief because an educated person just expressed a wholly erroneous narrative about me and the millions of Muslims living in this country — he was not speaking of radicals or extremists; he spoke of ordinary American Muslims.

Finally, I sat in disbelief because the faith not only that I cherish but also that I have deeply studied for nearly two decades — with the conclusion that its documented teachings advocate for the same freedoms and liberties we treasure in the United States — was just called incompatible with the values of our Constitution.

How do I process this? What does this all mean? Do I have to tell my 7-year-old I lied when I said he could one day be the president of the United States? Did I have to take back all the times I responded to people asking me, “What’s your nationality?” by telling them proudly, “I’m American?”

But then it hit me. It was nothing new to see a presidential candidate condone or enable bias against Muslims. Donald Trump stood idly by nodding his head as a supporter cited Muslims as being a problem in America and saying that President Barack Obama was a hidden Muslim. Trump gave safe haven to fear and mistrust of Muslims as the boogeyman.

Earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee claimed that Obama “is against what Christians stand for” and “against the Jews” but gives “his undying, unfailing support” to Muslims. Huckabee isolated Muslims, as if caring for them can only be done at the expense of caring for Christians and Jews. In 2011, he told Christians not to rent space in their churches to Muslims because he claimed Muslims believe “that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated.” This lie stands in stark contrast to the love, respect and adoration Islam gives to Jesus as a noble prophet and Messiah.

Let us not forget the 2012 presidential election, when Republican candidate Herman Cain said he would not appoint a Muslim in his Cabinet or as a federal judge because he felt “there is this creeping attempt … to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.” He went so far as to claim that while banning churches or synagogues is religious discrimination, banning mosques is not.

It is disappointing to see presidential candidates continually vilify and foster mistrust and fear of an entire body of U.S. citizens due only to their faith of Islam. It is time to understand that leadership matters.

True leaders stand up for truth, righteousness, fair dealing and justice. Do not forget that America’s Founding Fathers sought to escape religious discrimination, not create a nation with more religious discrimination. They recognized the rights of Americans who are Muslim as equal citizens.

It’s time for us to re-connect with this vision of our Founding Fathers to create a just and united society of diverse backgrounds. This is why I will not attack Carson for the uninformed nature of his comments. Rather, I invite him to a dialogue to learn more about Islam and American Muslims so that he can reconsider his views, which are currently based on hearsay and not facts.

I invite Carson to consider a case study of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the oldest Muslim organization in the United States. Under the leadership of the khalifa of Islam, this group of Muslims has a consistent 95-year track record of being loyal, civic-minded and active law-abiding citizens of the United States.

So Dr. Carson, I invite you to a dialogue. Let us go to the source to understand true Islam and how it is entirely compatible with the values and principles of the U.S. Constitution. Let me change your disbelief into hope — a hope for a better America and better leadership irrespective of religious affiliation.

About the author

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Harris Zafar

Harris Zafar serves as National Spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is author of the book “Demystifying Islam: Tackling the Tough Questions.” Harris addresses issues facing Islam and the Muslim world in various media and also elucidates the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s nationwide efforts towards pluralism and understanding. As National Director of Faith Outreach for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, he encourages Muslim youth, in particular, to speak out about the true, peaceful and tolerant teachings of Islam.

Harris is a frequent speaker and lecturer about Islam at conferences, universities, schools, churches and other public events. He has spoken in cities such as London, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Seattle and Portland. Harris is also an Adjunct Professor at two colleges, teaching classes about Islam. He has appeared on several national and local news programs to provide commentary on current issues from an Islamic perspective and to explain what Muslim Americans are doing to combat intolerance.

His approach to religion is based on rational discourse and justice.

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Avatar photo By Harris Zafar