Donald Trump, the front-runner to become the Republican Party's 2016 candidate for U.S. president, has proposed a "total and complete shutdown" of all Muslims entering the United States -- drawing scorn and criticism from across the political spectrum and across the world.
Trump's provocative and divisive remarks came as other presidential candidates were contemplating ways to improve national security following last week's mass shooting in San Bernardino, California by a Muslim couple believed to have been radicalized by extremists.
Trump said during a campaign speech in South Carolina on December 7 that a total ban on entry for Muslims should remain in place "until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."
He said the ban was necessary because of what he described as hatred among "large segments of the Muslim population" toward Americans.
The billionaire real estate mogul and reality television celebrity said in a statement, "Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine."
He said, "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life."
Neither Trump nor his aides specified if the proposal would affect both tourists and immigrants, nor whether it would target Muslim U.S. citizens who are abroad.
The White House immediately denounced Trump's remarks as "totally contrary" to U.S. values.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Trump was tapping into a darker side to "play on people's fears in order to build on support for his campaign."
Earnest said that instead of condemning the Muslim community, U.S. officials should work with Muslim leaders to root out extremist voices and "insulate those who are vulnerable to being radicalized."
Ben Rhodes, one of President Barack Obama's top foreign-policy aides, rejected Trump's proposal as unconstitutional, saying, "We have, in our Bill of Rights, respect for the freedom of religion."
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, a Republican, condemned Trump's remarks while Republican candidate Jeb Bush, the brother of former U.S. President George W. Bush, said that Trump was "unhinged."
Rival Republican candidates Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Lindsey Graham also were among those who rejected Trump's proposal.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton described Trump's comments as "reprehensible, prejudiced, and divisive."
In a message she tweeted to Trump, Clinton said: "You don't get it. This makes us less safe."
Democratic contender Martin O'Malley said that "Donald Trump is a fascist demagogue."
Nihad Awad, executive director of the U.S.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was "extremely shocked" and that Trump's remarks were "reckless and simply un-American."
Awad said, "Trump sounds more like a leader of a lynch mob than a great nation like ours."
In Pakistan, where one the San Bernardino shooters, Tashfeen Malik, was born, rights activists and religious leaders also denounced Trump as a bigot who promotes violence.
Asma Jahangir, one of Pakistan's most prominent human rights lawyers, said Trump had made "so absurd a statement that I don't even wish to react to it."
Jahangir said Trump's proposal was "the worst kind of bigotry mixed with ignorance," and compared Trump with "an ignorant criminal-minded mullah of Pakistan who denounces people of other religions."
Tahir Ashrafi, the head of Pakistan's Ulema Council of Muslim clerics, said Trump was promoting violence and should be condemned -- just as radical Muslim clerics are condemned for promoting violence against non-Muslims.
Muslims in other countries also criticized Trumps remarks.
Azra Khan, president of the Canberra Islamic Center in Australia, said, "Clearly Donald Trump is trying to inflame the situation."
Somchai Jewangma, an official with Thailand's Sheikhul Islam Office, said Trump was trying to please American voters "who don't like Muslims and to gain more support."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and BBC