Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Rashida Tlaib Swears In on Thomas Jefferson's Koran -- But Why Did He Have One?

This week, Rashida Tlaib will be one of our first 2 Muslim congresswomen. Ilhan Omar is the other. Tlaib's swearing-in will be noteworthy because she will be sworn in using Thomas Jefferson's own copy of the Koran.

Tlaib, of course, will not be the first to use Jefferson's Koran for the swearing-in -- Keith Ellison used it, amidst all kinds of discussion and debate back in 2007. At the time, Ellison said his use of Jefferson's Koran
demonstrates that from the very beginning of our country, we had people who were visionary, who were religiously tolerant, who believed that knowledge and wisdom could be gleaned from any number of sources, including the Koran.
snapshot from YouTube video
Two volume set of the Koran, translated by George Sale
Snapshot from YouTube video

Yair Rosenberg touches upon the use of Jefferson's Koran, noting the complicated history of Thomas Jefferson’s Koran. The complication is that Jefferson's copy of George Sale's 1734 translation of the Koran has the following introduction:
“Whatever use an impartial version of the Korân may be of in other respects, it is absolutely necessary to undeceive those who, from the ignorant or unfair translations which have appeared, have entertained too favourable an opinion of the original, and also to enable us effectually to expose the imposture.”
According to Rosenberg, this original intent of Sale's edition of the Koran to convert Muslims makes its use "particularly appropriate for this occasion, not in spite of the prejudice within it, but because of it." That is because it serves as a reminder that Islam has been part of American history from its beginning, while on the other hand, Sale’s translation reminds us of the fear and misunderstanding of Muslims.

Fair enough. Islam has been part of US history from the beginning -- but how?
And might there have been any other motivation for Jefferson to own a copy of the Koran?

Joshua E. London, author of the book "Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation" wrote an article back in 2005 about that part of US history in an article, "America’s Earliest Terrorists Lessons from America’s first war against Islamic terror."

Some background from Mr. London:
The Barbary states, modern-day Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, are collectively known to the Arab world as the Maghrib (“Land of Sunset”), denoting Islam’s territorial holdings west of Egypt. With the advance of Mohammed’s armies into the Christian Levant in the seventh century, the Mediterranean was slowly transformed into the backwater frontier of the battles between crescent and cross. Battles raged on both land and sea, and religious piracy flourished.

The Maghrib served as a staging ground for Muslim piracy throughout the Mediterranean, and even parts of the Atlantic. America’s struggle with the terror of Muslim piracy from the Barbary states began soon after the 13 colonies declared their independence from Britain in 1776, and continued for roughly four decades, finally ending in 1815.
In 1786, a meeting was arranged in London for Thomas Jefferson and John Adams with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Tripolitan ambassador to Britain in order to negotiate a peace treaty protecting the US from the threat of Barbary piracy.

During the meeting
These future United States presidents questioned the ambassador as to why his government was so hostile to the new American republic even though America had done nothing to provoke any such animosity. Ambassador Adja answered them, as they reported to the Continental Congress, “that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
London emphasizes that this all happened long before Western colonialism made its way to Muslim lands -- before oil interests drew the US in and long before the re-establishment of Israel.

There is more to that copy of the Koran than an intent to convert Muslims.

Here is 4-minute video with more background on why Jefferson actually read the Koran:

You cannot argue about the Crusades without noting the conquests of the Islamic empire into Northern Europe. Similarly, you cannot properly appreciate the complexity of the symbolism of Jefferson's Koran without noting the history of the Barbary pirates and their jihad against the United States.

You need the balance from both sides of the story in order to appreciate just how complex and multifaceted a symbol Jefferson's Koran really is.

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