The threat of sharia, or Islamic law, to America's cities, towns, and way of life in general is going to be a major debate topic among Republican presidential candidates this cycle. More than a dozen states have been working to pass anti-Sharia laws, and we should expect to see more state ballot measures in 2012. It's a big thing in Republican politics these days. So wait until GOP primary voters hear about Tim Pawlenty's old plan to boost sharia-compliant mortgages, so Muslims could own houses! Oh, yikes.

The American Prospect's Adam Serwer has an interesting piece out today about the former Minnesota governor's 2004 initiative. Minnesota has a large Muslim population, and many Muslims who follow sharia are forced to rent because their religion bans the taking of interest-bearing loans. (Just like Christianity and Judaism supposedly do! But no one brings that up anymore.) Our beloved financial innovators, however, have devised certain sharia-compliant mortgages, which are structured in a way (frequently at a higher overall cost) to avoid interest payments. Tim Pawlenty helped promote these mortgages. Serwer writes:

In 2004, then-Gov. Pawlenty urged the Minnesota Housing Financing Agency to partner with local groups and businesses in an effort to increase minority homeownership in the state. That partnership became the Emerging Markets Homeowners Initiative. At the time, Minnesota's minority homeownership rate of 42 percent was slightly behind the national average, and part of the reason was that Minnesota's relatively large Muslim population was unable to purchase homes. The MHFA decided to partner with a local group, the African Development Center, in "developing culturally sensitive products," that would allow Muslims to enter the market. According to MHFA spokesperson Megan Ryan, the effort fizzled, in part because the ADC wasn't able to find interested homebuyers. "I don't know if it was that point in the economy," Ryan said. "for whatever reason the program never took off."

Pawlenty's effort to increase minority homeownership by encouraging companies to offer Sharia-compliant mortgages was entirely in keeping with his reputation as a "Sam's Club Republican" concerned with helping "regular people." But in the 2012 race, he'll be up against competitors who may try to use it against him.

We're really looking forward to the funny primary commercials about Tim Pawlenty's Muslim Mortgages.

[Image via AP]