Many have noted that this election, more American Muslims are running for office than ever before. Sadly, Muslim candidates are often met with suspicion if not outright vitriol, especially in the fetid fever-swamps of social media.
Some of this will be unavoidable; bigots will be bigots. But to be fair to one's fellow citizens, some suspicious people are motivated by legitimate concerns. They want to know: Would a Muslim officeholder attempt to give Islamic beliefs the force of law in the United States, as they have in places like Saudi Arabia?
You might scoff at the idea, but in a time when political debates and mistaken pronouns are stigmatized as "hate speech," it is easy to fear that criticizing another religion might become illegal. From there, it does not take much to imagine the government forcing non-Muslims to make accommodations for particular religious needs—after all, employers already must make reasonable accommodations or face lawsuits. And Islamists are not shy about presenting Shari'a as a template for how American society ought to look, or promoting a "gradualist" strategy for achieving such a change. How much further might it go?
Whether such suspicions are fair or not, they are real. And it would be a mistake for Muslim-American candidates to simply brush off these doubts. In fact, they have a wonderful opportunity to educate their fellow Americans, and to start a real dialogue that brings people together rather than leaving them hunkered down behind their respective barricades.
I hope American-Muslim candidates can forgive some unsolicited advice from a non-Muslim. Because I think that answering these questions—forthrightly, clearly, and at length—will go a long way toward alleviating suspicion toward your campaigns; and it may even help heal the divisions between neighbors that are tormenting this country:
- Should U.S. law prosecute those who insult Islam or Islamic religious figures? What about religious figures of other religions? What about hate speech in general?
- What is the role of Shari'a in a pluralistic society?
- How can democracy be reconciled with the rule of God?
- Which community organizations best represent the views of the American Muslim community, if any?
- What steps can be taken to reduce suspicion between American Muslims and the larger citizenry?