By Hesham Hassaballa
Faith is a very important aspect of our lives. And, it is not unreasonable to expect that candidates for public office will also hold their faith as an important part of their lives. President Barack Obama, a Christian, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, express strong love and respect for their faiths. Many candidates throughout history have said that their faith guides their decision-making as well as their philosophy of life and governing. But, to what extent? The natural question arises, should the candidates’ faith matter?
Does it make a difference if the candidate is Christian? Does it make a difference if the candidate is Mormon? Does it make a difference if the candidate is, God forbid, a Muslim? I ask this last question facetiously, of course. But still, is a candidate’s faith important?
As citizens, our duty and obligation is to be engaged in the process of government. That means we must be active and always alert as to who wants to lead us in public office. And, it is our duty to pick those who are honest, capable and respectful of the tremendous amount of public trust that we place in them. Furthermore, it is no secret that I would like to see more Muslims in public office — not because I want Muslims in office for the sake of their being Muslim, but because it is important for the Muslim community to be active in every aspect of society, and that includes politics.
Having said that, however, their faith should not play a role in our decision. For instance, if the best candidate for a particular public office happens to be a Christian, then it is my duty to elect him or her. If the best candidate for public office is Jewish, then my duty is to elect the Jewish candidate. If the best candidate for a particular office is Atheist, then it is my duty to pick the Atheist for that position.
We desperately need highly qualified, honest public servants, especially in this day and age. And, we need to find them wherever they may be. Yes, a candidate’s faith is part of who they are, but it should not be the determining factor for picking who is to represent us in office. Rather, we should pick candidates based upon their experience, qualifications, their policy positions, their past record (if one exists), and their promises about what they will do once in office.
If an extremely pious Muslim is running for, say, governor, but he is not the best candidate (based on his policy stances), then I should not vote for him, even though he is my brother in faith. In the same way, I should not rule out any particular candidate because of their faith. Just because someone is Muslim, that does not automatically make her unfit for office. The same goes for a Christian, a Jew, an Atheist or Hindu.
So, does that mean that no person of faith should either run for or hold public office? Of course not. All faiths call for very similar values: honesty, goodness, integrity, and a constant striving for the common good. If a candidate for public office takes in these values because of their faith, that would be a great thing, irrespective of his or her particular faith tradition.
Yet, if a candidate will impose his or her religious beliefs upon the rest of the country, then I would not support such a candidate, even if he or she be a Muslim. That is why I was heartened to hear Vice President Joe Biden say in the vice presidential debate that, although he accepts the Catholic Church’s position on abortion, he will not impose his belief upon the rest of the country.
In a similar manner, if a Muslim runs for local office vowing to ban pork from all restaurants in my city, I will not support him or her. Yes, I may not eat pork myself, but that doesn’t mean that I have the right to force my religious beliefs upon everyone else. We live in the United States of America – a place where all faiths are welcome.
There should be no religious test for those running for public office. That is part of what makes our country the best in the world. Here, a Muslim can serve alongside a Jew in total harmony for the greater good. And, it should always be that way. So, cast your vote tomorrow based on which candidate you feel has the best policies and vision for this country.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based physician and writer. He is author of, most recently, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press). You can follow Hesham Hassaballa on Facebook. Hassaballa’s column, “An American Islam,” is published monthly on the Muslim portal at Patheos. Subscribe via email or RSS.
This article is part of the “Election 2012 – American Muslims VOTE!” series, which is running on Altmuslim at Patheos, Altmuslimah, Illume, and Aziz Poonawalla’s news and politics blog on Patheos. Click on this special topics page to view all articles in this series and add your comments. Tweet your thoughts on this article, on the series, and on the 2012 elections using the hashtag #MuslimVOTE.