Can the President be Muslim?

What the Constitution Says About Religion and the White House

Barack Obama holding a microphone and smiling.

Hannes Magerstaedt / Stringer / Getty Images

With all the rumors claiming former President Barack Obama was a Muslim, it's fair to ask: So what if he was?

What's wrong with having a Muslim president?

The answer is: not a thing.

The No Religious Test Clause of the U.S. Constitution makes it perfectly clear that voters can elect a Muslim President of the United States or one belonging to any faith they choose, even none at all.

In fact, three Muslims are currently serving in the 116th Congress: On November 6, 2018, Michigan Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim women elected to the House, where the join Rep. Andre Carson, a Muslim Democrat from Indiana. In the general realm of Arab religions, all three Hindus who served in the 115th Congress were reelected to the 116th: Rep. Ro Khanna, (D-California); Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, (D-Illinois); and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, (D-Hawaii).

Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution states: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

By and large, however, American presidents have been Christians. To date, not a single Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or other non-Christian has occupied the White House.

Obama has repeatedly stated that he was and is a Christian.

That hasn't stopped his most strident critics from raising questions about his faith and fomenting vicious innuendo by claiming falsely that Obama canceled the National Day of Prayer or that he supports the mosque near ground zero.

The only qualifications required of presidents by the Constitution are that they be natural-born citizens who are at least 35 years old and have resided in the country for at least 14 years.

There's nothing in Constitution disqualifying a Muslim president.

Whether America is ready for a Muslim president is another story.

Religious Makeup of Congress

While the percentage of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, a Pew Research Center analysis shows that the religious makeup of Congress has changed only slightly since the early 1960s. The new, 116th Congress includes the first two Muslim women ever to serve in the House of Representatives, and is, overall, slightly more religiously diverse than the 115th Congress.

The number of Congress members who identify as Christian has declined by 3 percentage points. In the 115th Congress, 91 percent of members were Christian, while in the 116th, 88 percent are Christian. In addition, four more Jews, one more Muslim, and one more Unitarian Universalist are serving in the 116th Congress. The number of members who decline to state their religious affiliation increased by eight—from 10 in the 115th Congress to 18 in the 116th Congress.

Despite their slight decrease, the number of self-identified Christians in Congress—especially Protestants and Catholics—are still overrepresented in proportion to their presence in the general public. As Pew Research notes, the overall religious makeup of the 116th Congress “is very different from that of the United States population.”

Muslims in Congress

As of 2020, four Muslim Americans have ever been elected to Congress, the first being Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, Ellison had converted to Islam in 1982. He retired from Congress in 2019 to run successfully for Minnesota Attorney General.

Three Muslims, André Carson, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib currently serve in Congress, all in the House of Representatives.

Elected in 2008, Democrat André Carson of Indiana converted to Islam in the 1990s.

As one of the first of two Muslim women in Congress and the first Muslim to succeed another Muslim, Democrat Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was elected in 2019. Born to a Muslim family in Somalia, Omar immigrated as a refugee to the United States in 1995.

Also elected in 2019, Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan was born to a Muslim family of Palestinian immigrants.

Religions of the Founding Fathers

Given the diversity of faiths held by America’s Founding Fathers, the fact that the Constitution places no restrictions on religious affiliation, or lack thereof. In his book “The Faiths of the Founding Fathers,” historian of American religion David L. Holmes notes that Founding Fathers fell into three religious categories:

The largest group, practicing Christians who expressed a traditional belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Patrick Henry, John Jay, and Samuel Adams, as well as most of their wives and children fell into this category.

The founders who, while retaining their Christian loyalties and practices, were influenced by Deism, the belief that, while God as the creator exists, he or she cannot perform miracles, answer prayers, or play any part in the lives of humans. These Deistic Christians included John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and James Monroe.

The smallest group, including Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen, who had abandoned their former Judeo-Christian heritages and had become Deists who openly adhered to the Enlightenment period’s religion of nature and reason.

Updated by Robert Longley

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Murse, Tom. "Can the President be Muslim?" ThoughtCo, Jul. 3, 2021, Murse, Tom. (2021, July 3). Can the President be Muslim? Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "Can the President be Muslim?" ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).