Trump’s Muslim Immigration Ban Should Touch Off a Badly Needed Discussion
Wednesday, December 09, 2015
Donald Trump’s rhetorical excesses aside, he has a way of pushing
us into important debates, particularly on immigration.
He has done it
again with his bracing proposal to force “a total and complete shutdown
of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s
representatives can figure out what is going on.”
I have no idea what Mr. Trump knows about either immigration law or
But it should be obvious to any objective person that Muslim
immigration to the West is a vexing challenge.
Some Muslims come to the United States to practice their religion
peacefully, and assimilate into the Western tradition of tolerance of
other people’s liberties, including religious liberty — a tradition
alien to the theocratic societies in which they grew up.
here to champion sharia, Islam’s authoritarian societal framework and
legal code, resisting assimilation into our pluralistic society.
Since we want to both honor religious liberty and preserve the
Constitution that enshrines and protects it, we have a dilemma.
The assumption that is central to this dilemma — the one that Trump has
stumbled on and that Washington refuses to examine — is that Islam is
merely a religion.
If that’s true, then it is likely that religious
liberty will trump constitutional and national-security concerns. How,
after all, can a mere religion be a threat to a constitutional system
dedicated to religious liberty?
But Islam is no mere religion.
As understood by the mainstream of Muslim-majority countries that
are the source of immigration to America and the West, Islam is a
comprehensive ideological system that governs all human affairs, from
political, economic, and military matters to interpersonal relations and
It is beyond dispute that Islam has religious tenets —
the oneness of Allah, the belief that Mohammed is the final prophet, the
obligation of ritual prayer. Yet these make up only a fraction of what
is overwhelmingly a political ideology.
Our constitutional principle of religious liberty is derived from the
Western concept that the spiritual realm should be separate from civic
and political life. The concept flows from the New Testament injunction
to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.
Crucially, the interpretation of Islam that is mainstream in most Muslim-majority countries does not accept a division between mosque and state. In fact, to invoke “mosque” as the equivalent of “church” in referring to a division between spiritual and political life is itself a misleading projection of Western principles onto Islamic society.
A mosque is not merely a house of worship. It does not separate politics from religion any more than Islam as a whole does. There is a reason why many of the fiery political protests that turn riotous in the Middle East occur on Fridays — the Muslim Sabbath, on which people pour out of the mosques with ears still burning from the imam’s sermon.