Originally published in Salon
In his recent anti-Muslim crusade, Ben Carson promoted a disturbing form of religious segregation, claiming that a Muslim should only be president if he or she “renounces the tenets of Islam.”
In the process, Dr. Carson has helped promote and sustain frighteningly high levels of anti-Muslim sentiment. A recent PPP survey in North Carolina reported that 72 percent believe a Muslim should not be allowed to be president of the United States. Likewise, 40 percent seek to ban Islam altogether.
Under Dr. Carson’s crusade of religious segregation, some Americans appear to have forgotten the First Amendment’s fundamental religious freedom guarantee, and likewise Article VI of the Constitution, which forbids religious tests for any government office. Like his racial segregationist predecessors, Dr. Carson demonstrates that the Constitution is suddenly meaningless when influential politicians use fear and hate to advance their agenda.
Undeterred from his myopic comments on CNN and the resulting blowback last week, Carson advanced his religious segregationist views in a recent email to his constituents, claiming that “Under Shariah law, women must be subservient and people following other religions must be killed.”
Dr. Carson defends these claims by arguing that he “hate[s] political correctness. It’s dangerous.” More dangerous, however, are his patently false claims about women in Islam, and Islam’s view of non-Muslims. If Dr. Carson is correct—and unfortunately his rising poll figures indicate that enough Americans believe he is correct—then America’s 3 million Muslims are obliged to make America’s 170 million women subservient and likewise kill the nation’s 330 million non-Muslims. Both concepts are beyond absurd and wholly unfounded in Islam.
For example, far from Dr. Carson’s claim that in Islam women are subservient, Islam gave women equal rights in 610 that our own United States haven’t given even in 2015. To this day America has not passed the Equal Rights Amendment. Meanwhile the Quran 33:36 emphatically declares the equality of men and women:
“Surely, men who submit themselves to God and women who submit themselves to Him…God has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward.”
Carson’s parents divorced when he was 8—a right American women didn’t have until the 19th century. Meanwhile, Islam was the first religion to give women the right to choose to marry or to divorce, the right to own property, to become secular or religious scholars, the right to inherit, or to run a business—all in the 7th century.
Ayesha, wife of Muhammad, is recognized as one of the foremost legal scholars in Islamic history. Meanwhile, American women finally earn legal recognition as lawyers in the late 1800s. While women of color in 2015 America continue to lag behind white women in terms of college graduation rates and access to financial resources, Fatimah al-Fihri, an African Muslim woman scholar, used her inheritance from her father to establish the world’s first University, al-Qarawiyyin University in 859 C.E.
Prophet Muhammad repeatedly declared, “It is incumbent upon every Muslim male and every Muslim female to attain education.”
Dr. Carson’s second claim, that Shariah requires killing people of other faiths, is highly objectionable to both the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad. In truth, the Qur’an only permits fighting in self-defense, or to protect “churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques” from attack. Prophet Muhammad issued numerous charters with Christians, Jews, and pagans to affirm his commitment to universal religious freedom and equal human rights for all people regardless of faith. Throughout history non-Muslim historians have praised Muhammad for his pluralism and tolerance.
While extremists have no doubt attempted to malign true Islam, Dr. Carson should recognize that a president’s role is to build bridges of peace and understanding—not fear and intolerance. Just as the George Wallaces of Dr. Carson’s childhood are remembered with disdain for their racial segregationist views, Dr. Carson risks a future where our children remember him in disdain for his religious segregationist views.
America was founded on the ideal of religious pluralism, not religious segregation. It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to realize this fact.
Actually, I take that back.