At the last board meeting for Texas Impact we discussed some of the ‘false opposites’ that have crept into our public political dialogue within the past decades. The most notable among these is an idea that has been leveraged extensively during this presidential election cycle: You can either be religious, or you can be liberal.
For decades, the conservative wing of American politics has effectively claimed ownership of Religion. This is despite the fact that their narrow interpretation of the word ‘religion’ doesn’t even encapsulate the views of all Christians, much less any of the other faith traditions practiced in the U.S. Rather than allowing individual Americans the freedom to make their own choices, the Right attempts to legislate women’s reproductive rights, dictate the definition of marriage and family, and question other Americans’ allegiance all based on a single, monolithic religious ideology: Conservative Christianity. In fact, Governor Rick Perry articulated this idea in his infamous “Strong” web ad where, among other ludicrous claims he states, “As President, I'll end Obama's war on religion. And I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”
But what I find even more disturbing about this false assertion is the increasing willingness of those on the Left to buy into it. Throughout the past months in both public and private discussions I’ve experienced my own liberal friends disparaging about religion even being mentioned in the political arena. “Why does a candidate’s religion even matter?” is the refrain. As if the mere mention of religion by a politician is a threat to the democratic process.
Part of the problem, of course, is that politicians who do make a point of discussing religion publicly generally tend to be ultra-conservatives. But that doesn’t mean candidates who don’t make religious rhetoric part of their official platform, are, in fact, irreligious. I’d much rather know about a politician’s religious convictions when deciding to vote for them than be left in the dark about this major facet of their personality. I also want to know whether or not my politicians feel entitled to impose their religious beliefs on others; and if they have the ability to be objective with regard to their own beliefs and those of their constituency.
For those of us who belong to a religious minority, it can seem tempting to backburner our religious-based activism in order to find political allies. But is that really feasible? As a religious liberal, I know that it is entirely possible to have a strong faith and not feel the need to force it on other people. But I would also be lying if I said that my beliefs didn’t in some way inspire my political views. My interpretation of Islam embraces pluralism, equality, social justice and activism. These are not just ideas I pulled out of a hat, but are part of the faith tradition I live each day. Taking my faith out of my activism would leave it hollow and incomplete.
The founding fathers understood that spirituality is an innate part of the human experience, and that each of us has a right to determine how our spirituality will express itself in our lives. That is why they included freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights. True, individuals who feel they have a right to make laws for all Americans based on their personal religious beliefs must not be entrusted with public office. However, by insisting that all of our politicians keep their own religious convictions out of view, aren’t we asking for even more disingenuous representation than we already have?
Among other things, pluralism means that even those with major differences in ideology can come together for a common purpose, while still honoring individual and deeply held beliefs. A citizen’s ability to hold an office should first and foremost be based on their character and the ability to operate in a pluralistic environment. Our public servants are entrusted with positions of power that can affect us all. Let’s resolve to examine them as whole people, not just as chess pieces for our pet issues. We must invite our candidates to express themselves fully, authentically as they petition for our vote. This should be the goal of Americans as we seek out representatives from among the people.
Amanda Qurashi is a Muslim-American writer, blogger, interfaith activist and tech professional living in Austin, Texas. In 2003 she founded Central Texas Muslimaat to address the unique needs of central Texas Muslim women. Amanda represented Austin’s Muslim community as the youngest board member in iACT/AAIM’s history. She currently works for Mobile Loaves & Fishes, serves on the Board of Directors for Texas Impact, and as a fellow