The drama surrounding the American election has reached the political stage. There are still nine months left before the country’s citizens cast their votes to elect the successor to Barack Obama. The election will matter for Pakistan and other countries of the Muslim world. Most contenders for the Republican Party’s ticket used religion to build their support base. This could have been done without making explicit anti-Muslim and anti-Islam statements. But some events in the period leading to the first electoral test in the small mid-western state of Iowa compelled several candidates to take positions contemptuous of Muslims and their religion. On December 2, a couple of Pakistani origin fired on a group attending an office party in their work place, killing 14 of them. In the investigations that followed it was revealed that that the woman, Tashfeen Malik , had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Shocked by the incident, many in America demanded action and Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz — even the more sedate Jeb Bush — promised to exclude many Muslims from America. The battle against Islam was on. Islamophobia that had been developing for some time reached the public space. The ‘phobic’ suffix as applied to Islam has a history extending back at least half a century. The suffix became a way to call bigotry a disease. For those who were identified with it worked hard to escape that description. This is the hope President Barack Obama has as he escalates the fight against those who have come to routinely label Islam as a faith that does not fit into American culture and political system. It was a coincidence that the president’s first visit to a mosque during his entire tenure took place two days after the voters went to the caucuses in Iowa. But if recent history is any guide, Obama and those who believe as he does have a long distance to travel. Religion has always been a factor in American politics. Frank Bruni, a liberal columnist writing for The New York Times, dealt with this subject a day before the voters in the state of Iowa caucused to winnow the Republican Party’s field of the nearly dozen aspirants for the presidential contest in November. According to him “religion was integral to our country’s founding. It’s central to our understanding of the liberty that each of us deserves. But so are the principles that we don’t enshrine any one creed or submit anyone — including those running for office — to religious litmus test.” But the Republican aspirants ignored this basic tenet of the American system. Most contenders went out of their way to impress the Iowan voters about their religiosity. Senator Ted Cruz, who emerged as the winner in Iowa, said: “Any president who doesn’t begin the day on his knees isn’t fit to be the commander-in-chief of this country.” One of the many responsibilities that devolve on the person who occupies the White House is to command the country’s large armed forces. Senator Marco Rubio, who came in third in the Iowa caucuses, worked religion into most responses he gave to the questions he was asked. Asked to interpret what Time magazine meant when it called the senator the Republican Party savior, Rubio was quick to respond: “Let me be clear about one thing. There is only one savior and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ, who came down to Earth and died for our sins.” In another response Rubio tried to pick up on Cruz’s pledge to kneel before God before the start of every day. “I pray to God for wisdom,” he said. “The presidency of the United States is an extraordinary burden and you look at some of the greatest presidents in American history. They were very clear. They were on their knees all the time asking God for wisdom and for the strength to persevere.” Religion in America routinely plays a prominent part in politics, especially on the side of the Republican Party. It always has an outsized role in Iowa where evangelical Christians make up an especially large faction of the Republican electorate. While the 2016 campaign was more expressive about the role of religion in America, the Iowans had been there before. The winner of the Iowa caucuses in 2012 was Rick Santorum who put his Catholicism at the forefront of his campaign. The winner in 2008 was former Governor Mike Huckabee, once an evangelical pastor who never let the voters forget that fact. Will the candidates who took such overt positions on the question of religion in politics move away from it as the contest travels to other, less religious, parts of the country? That would be hard for the Republicans to do. If in November, the White House goes to a Republican, the Muslim world should be prepared to deal with a hostile United States. ( The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank)