Why this Muslim group says Ben Carson is unfit to be president

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is expected to demand Ben Carson withdraw from the presidential race Monday. How will the controversy impact his momentum and the Republican Party's broader appeal? 

Chris Keane/REUTERS
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina September 18, 2015.

After Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said he would not support a Muslim becoming president, the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the US says Carson himself is unfit for the Oval Office.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is expected to demand Carson withdraw from the presidential race at an 11 a.m. Eastern time news conference Monday.

While appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Carson said "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."

Carson also said he does not believe Islamic values are consistent with the US Constitution. He cited Sharia law, a broad system of laws mostly based on interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith, in which there is no universal consensus between Muslims.  

"[Carson] has great respect for the Muslim community, but there is a huge gulf between the faith and practice of the Muslim faith, and our Constitution and American values,” said Doug Watts, a Carson campaign spokesman, told NBC.

That explanation is still unacceptable to CAIR.

"We call on our nation's political leaders – across the political spectrum – to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Award, adding that the Constitution states “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office.”

Carson later clarified he does not think a Muslim should be barred from running for President, but still would not vote for such a candidate.

Recently, Carson has been experiencing a surge in popularity, thanks to his anti-establishment appeal. The former neurosurgeon has never run for public office before now.

According to a new CNN/ORC poll released Sunday, Ben Carson has a 65 percent favorability rating among registered Republicans, the highest of any GOP presidential candidate. That’s a 30 point increase since July for the candidate. The same poll, conducted before Sunday's comments, shows Carson slipping to third place, behind Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.

While the controversy could galvanize Carson supporters, the Republican Party leadership is concerned that such statements are undermining the party's broader voter appeal.

As the Associated Press’s Kevin Freking and Julie Pace reported, the GOP must seize on a more inclusive message or it risks alienating young voters, a crucial demographic for growing the party.

Steve Schmidt, who served as Republican Sen. John McCain’s top strategist in the 2008 presidential election, said it’s problematic for the GOP to be seen as intolerant, particularly with moderate voters who help sway the general election.

“Of course it’s worrisome if you have a party that’s perceived as anti-Latino, anti-Asian, anti-gay, intolerant of Muslims,” Schmidt said.

Asked specifically about Carson’s comments on NBC, Schmidt said it exposed him as an amateur politician and underscored his “total lack of understanding about the American political system."

Recently, the portrayal of Muslim-Americans in post-9/11 America has been a hot-button issue. Last week, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed became an overnight sensation after he was arrested for bringing a homemade clock into school. To some school officials and law enforcement, the project looked like a potential bomb. But many are saying this was a case of discrimination-- Ahmed is Muslim and of Sudanese descent.  

And at a town hall hosted by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in New Hampshire on Thursday, a man made Islamophobic remarks while posing a question.

"We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims,” said the Trump supporter. “Our current president is one. We know he’s not even an American. We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

“A lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and a lot of different things,” responded Trump, neglecting to clarify that President Obama is Christian and a United States citizen.

A Public Policy Poll found that two-thirds of Trump’s supporters believe Obama is Muslim, and 61 percent believe he was born outside the US, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

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