Ben Carson's blunt remarks about a Muslim president triggered much outrage, even after he partially walked them back. But secular Muslims like me, who reject political Islam, understood what he meant: He doesn't want a Muslim as president who doesn't believe in the strict secular separation of mosque and state, so that the laws of the state aren't at all touched by sharia, or Islamic law derived from the Quran and hadith, the sayings and traditions of prophet Muhammad. Neither do we. We really don't want a first lady—or a president—in a burka, or face veil.
Carson's comments underscore a political reality in which Muslim communities, not only in far-flung theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also in the United States, still struggle with existential questions about whether Islam is compatible with democracy and secularism. This struggle results in the very real phenomenon of "creeping sharia," as critics in the West call it (and which some Muslims like to mock as an "Islamophobic" allegation). While the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment states the United States "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," the Quran states that Allah "takes account of every single thing (72:28)," which has led to the divine mandate by leading Muslim scholars to reject secularism, or alamaniya, or the way of the "world," derived, from the Arabic root for world, alam.