US Muslims aren’t the only ones horrified by Newt Gingrich’s call for a religious test

The World
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich greets U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally at in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 6, 2016.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich greets U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally at in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 6, 2016. 

Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Newt Gingrich might have trumped Donald Trump with his call to deport Muslims who have not “given up sharia.” 

Trump, the all-but-annointed Republican Party candidate for president, had infamously called for a ban on Muslims entering the US from abroad. 

But Gingrich took the anti-Muslim theme further.

On Thursday night, as news was still breaking about the gruesome attack in Nice, France, the former House speaker told Fox News host Sean Hannity that beacause “Western civilization is in a war, we should, frankly, test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in sharia, they should be deported.”

In brief remarks about the attack in Nice on Friday, President Barack Obama said the idea of establishing a religious test for Muslims is “repugnant, an affront to everything that we stand for as Americans.” 

Gingrich is so wrong, on so many different levels, says Omid Safi of the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University. But perhaps most importantly, Safi says, “he’s wrong on the American Constitution.”

The First Amendment protects the freedom of religion, Safi says. 

“This is the very foundation of what makes us America, [and] to talk about imposing these kinds of loyalty tests is just so wrong-headed, and it is so against the very loftiest ideals of who we are and who we want to become as a people,” Safi says. 

Gingrich is also wrong on sharia, he adds. 

Good Muslims believe in sharia, Safi explains, which essentially means “pathway to God” and refers to a code of Islamic beliefs. But there are many different interpretations of sharia, he says. 

“If you ask me, do I follow the sharia? And does that mean that I pray, and I fast, and as the great scholars of Islam have said for a thousand years that the goal of sharia is to preserve life, family, property, learning and honor, then ... absolutely, that is something that I clutch onto to ease my path towards God.” 

If you’re asking, on the other hand, about the kind of “nonsensical, baseless interpretation” of sharia embraced by violent extremist groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda, “then of course categorically I would reject that,” Safi says. 

It’s not just Muslims, however, who are denouncing Gingrich’s call for a religious test. Joe Carter is with the Acton Institute, a think-tank in Michigan focused on the issue of religious liberty. Carter is a Christian who says Americans of all faiths should be alarmed by Gingrich’s proposal. 

“Newt’s presumption is that the deepest core of religious Americans, what they believe and how they want to order their lives, should be excluded from the United States, that you can’t be a good citizen and have a religious belief that tells you how to live,” Carter says. 

“That right there poses one of the greatest threats to religious liberty I’ve ever heard,” he says. 

Carter says Gingrich is probably just pandering to voters in an election season that’s seen no shortage of outrageous rhetoric. 

Anti-Muslim declarations from prominent public officials has another consequence, says Will McCants of the Brookings Instituation. He’s the author of, “The ISIS Apocolypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State."

McCants has done research in Europe showing that the more governments there have cracked down on religious freedom for Muslims, the greater numbers of young people joined up with groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. 

“My worry is that, if people were to take Gingrich’s ideas seriously and move to impose some sort of religious test in the United States, that we would also increase the number of people who are … attracted to militant Islam.” 

McCants says these kinds of proposals are exactly what ISIS wants. “Because it makes young Muslims in this country feel like they don’t have a stake in its future,” he says. 

“If these calls grow louder and louder,” McCants adds, “I think you’ll see a number of young Muslims more attracted to the message of [ISIS], because they will feel like they have not alternative other than rebellion.”