Whether Texas Governor Rick Perry, as a presidential candidate, will continue bowing down to Muslims – and whether that is a liability for him in the current Islam-leery climate – remains to be seen.
CS Monitor -For years, Perry has been close friends with the head of the Ismaili sect, Aga Khan, whom he met in Paris in 2000. Since then, Perry has attended a number of Ismaili events in Texas, brokered a few agreements between the state and Ismailis (including the legislation introducing Islamic curricula into Texas schools), and even laid the first brick at the groundbreaking ceremony for an Ismaili worship center in Plano in 2005.
In a GOP field crowded with presidential hopefuls questioning Muslims’ loyalty and promising to crack down on Muslim religious sharia law in America, Texas Gov. Rick Perry enters the race with a distinguishing calling card: a historically good relationship with Muslims in his state.
An evangelical Christian and self-described social conservative who recently led a Christian prayer rally inTexas, Perry has had a surprisingly warm relationship with Muslims as governor, says Mohamed Elbiary, founder of the Freedom and Justice Foundation, a Muslim public policy organization in Texas.
“We’ve seen him for 20 years at state level, as lieutenant governor and state governor,” Mr. Elbiary says. “Throughout that whole history, he’s never taken an anti-Muslim or anti-Islam position. In fact, Perry’s relations with Ismailis, a Shia sect of Islam whose adherents number between 30,000 and 40,000 in Texas, have been particularly positive, says Mahmoud Eboo, President of the Ismaili Council for the USA.
“I believe that Governor Perry’s leadership philosophy has been to serve Texans of all races and religions and his relationship with the Muslim community generally and the Ismaili community in particular has been cordial and respectful,” Mr. Eboo says in an email.
In 2008, Perry helped expand the Muslim Histories and Culture Project, a teacher-training program spearheaded by Texas Ismailis that introduces Islamic history and culture curricula into Texas schools. In contrast, upon entering the race, most of Perry’s contenders immediately set about distancing themselves from Islam and Muslims.
Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Houston, calls the other candidates’ recent questioning of Muslims and Islam a “chilling” trend designed to galvanize support among the conservative base of the Republican Party. “I think what is happening is they’re using this anti-sharia law stuff as a red herring to get everybody fired up,” Mr. Carroll says. “In order to show how patriotic you are, [you have to demonstrate] how negative you can be about Muslims.
Perry’s relatively good relations with Muslims have already sparked distrust among some conservative bloggers. “Scratch him off my presidential list,” wrote RoadTest on the conservative site FreeRepublic.com. “We have already seen what a Muslim enabler in the White House can do.”
In a nominating race where every candidate is vying for the Christian conservative vote, a critical part of the GOP’s base, Perry will likely be criticized for his relationship with the Muslim community in Texas, says Professor Green. Muslim Americans say they are looking to Perry to set a more inclusive tone in the nominating contest.