Monthly Archives: May 2013

NYC Masonic Lodge of U.S. founding fathers welcomed Muslims as “friends and brothers”

Holland Lodge No. 8 on religious freedom

Holland Lodge No. 8 on religious freedom

Author and award-winning speaker Precious Rasheeda Muhammad wrote recently a very interesting piece for Patheos on her latest “Muslim detective” escapade in New York City.

Muhammad begins her article by sharing the 1793 speech on the “universality of masonry” by Dewitt Clinton, who included Muslims among those considered “friends and brothers” (in the same speech he also warned against “the madness of religious hatred.”) The speech was delivered at New York City’s Holland Lodge No. 8, one of the country’s foremost Masonic Lodges.

Muhammad suggests that it is likely that Dewitt gained some of his brotherly spirit, for harmony across religious divisions, from working with his uncle, founding father George Clinton, for whom he served as a personal secretary from 1790-1795.

George Clinton, as Muhammad notes, was surrounded by strong proponents of religious freedom, among them George Washington, who he had traveled with in 1790 on a campaign to gain support for ratification of the Bill of Rights. It was during this campaign when President Washington gave his famous “To Bigotry No Sanction” speech to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, Rhode Island.

The important link here is that George Clinton and George Washington were both members of the Holland Lodge, wherein Dewitt had made clear that Muslims were welcomed as “friends and brothers.” Muhammad also notes that the Qur’an is among the religious scriptures welcome in Masonic assemblies.

I also want to bring attention to George Washington’s “Masonic character” speech, which is also highlighted by Muhammad. Washington stated:

It must be made obvious to a mind of the least reflection, that were Masonry to prescribe particular tenets and opinions in religion for her votaries, that it would be utterly incompatible with the universality of the Order. For this, and the reasons before mentioned, she has wisely avoided an explicit patronage of any theological creed.

To which Muhammad responds:

The commitment to unity across religious divisions articulated inside the walls of the Holland Lodge was not unlike the commitment to religious freedom outside the walls, clearly defined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Right’s adopted just two years earlier… Like the Masons, America too had “wisely avoided an explicit patronage of any theological creed” in order to preserve its union and universality.

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Founding documents of Islam and the U.S. show Muhammad and founding fathers were kindred spirits

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By Craig Considine for ISLAMICommentary

Although they are typically seen to represent overwhelming opposites, the Prophet Muhammad and America’s founding fathers shared many common characteristics and beliefs, which can be seen in historical documents. By comparing the speeches and texts that they left behind, we can learn of the similar viewpoints that Muhammad and the founding fathers held on issues pertaining to equal rights and religious liberty.

Prophet Muhammad and the American founding fathers shared an interest in protecting people regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or sexuality. Muhammad, for example, received revelations from God, who directed him to celebrate diversity and cherish it as a staple of Muslim society. Muhammad’s encounter with God would later be recorded in the Quran, which states, “O mankind, We created you from male and a female and made you into tribes and nations that you may get to know each other.”

Furthermore, in his final sermon at Mount Arafat in 632 AD, Muhammad left a code of equality for Muslims to follow. “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab,” he stated, “nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab… a white person has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” The Quran and Muhammad’s final sermon show his apathy for judging people based on their beliefs or skin color and his indifference to a homogenous society based on exclusive requisites for belonging.

America’s founding fathers had a similar apathy for determining a person’s societal worth based on ethnicity and heritage. In 1776 several of America’s founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia to write the Declaration of Independence, which held a strong and clear position on promoting equality similar to that of the Quran and Muhammad’s final sermon. The second paragraph of the Declaration states that Americans are “to hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” which mirrors the progressive spirit of Muhammad written down over 1,000 years prior to the founding of the United States.

When the American Constitution was ratified in 1787, the founding fathers also put into practice that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therefore,” which suggests that by law no particular group is to be treated as superior to another group in the United States. Similarly, the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution “prohibits the denial of suffrage based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” which again cements a culture based on civic principles instead of more absolute and ethnocentric requirements.

The founding fathers’ interest in safeguarding equality in diverse circumstances is similar to Muhammad’s concern for tolerance in his multifarious Muslim community. Muslims worldwide and Americans would be wise to remember this balanced approach in finding parity in their own communities today.

Historical documents also show that Muhammad and America’s founding fathers were compassionate men. The depth of Muhammad’s humanity can be found in the Constitution of Medina, a document he created to ensure that the more vulnerable members of society felt safe and protected under the majority Muslim rule. Also referred to as the Medina Charter, Muhammad’s Constitution gave equal rights to non-Muslims living under an Islamic government. “Strangers” in Muhammad’s Muslim society were to be treated with special consideration and “on the same ground as their protectors.” Acting as a social charter for all Muslims to live by, the Medina Constitution helped to actualize the idea of a single community made up of a diverse people living under one government and under one creator.

Ten centuries after Muhammad’s charter, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would adopt a similar societal structure as the basis for their new nation. In 1783, Washington wrote that “the bosom of America is open to receive… the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions, whom [Americans] shall welcome to a participation of all [their] rights and privileges… They may be [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect.”

Likewise Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, wrote in a document for the Virginian colonial legislature that “the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian, and the [Muslim], the [Hindu], and infidel of every decimation” are accepted as equal citizens in the United States. The Constitution of Medina and documents of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson show that welcoming vulnerable groups who are perceived as outsiders is a central component of what it means to be Muslim and American. Muslims worldwide and American citizens should defend the creeds of their founding fathers and fight against prejudice and discrimination in their respective societies.

Muhammad and the American founding fathers were keen to respect Judaism. Muhammad’s Medina Charter singled out Jews, who “shall maintain their own religion and the Muslim theirs… The close friends of Jews are as themselves.” Muhammad added in the Constitution that “those who followed [Jews] and joined them and struggled with them… form one and the same community.” Muhammad’s tolerance of Judaism is strikingly similar to that of Washington, who in 1783 wrote in a letter to the Jewish Community of Rhode Island that “the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, [will] continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of their inhabitants.” This tribute to Jews by Muhammad and Washington is an important reminder for Muslims worldwide and Americans in their own struggles against anti-Semitism.

Both Muhammad and the American founding fathers also worked to assure women’s rights. In a time when women had few – if any – rights in Arabia, Muhammad helped liberate women with divinely sanctioned social, property, and marital rights. The Quran states that men and women were created “of a single soul, male and female.” Under sharia, or Islamic law, women were able to own property, freely spend their earnings, and agree or disagree to marriage arrangements – all unprecedented rights prior to God’s revelation to Muhammad. He also requested that men treat their daughters and wives with dignity and respect. “Do treat your women well and be kind to them,” he is reported to have said in a hadith, or saying of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the same disposition, the language of the Declaration of Independence, although written at a time when women were not considered to be equal to men, later inspired American women to fight for their “inalienable rights,” such as the right to own property and vote in elections. Although it did not explicitly verify the human rights of women, the Constitution was later reformed in the Nineteenth Amendment that prohibited voting discrimination on the basis of sex. The on-going struggle of equal rights for women in the United States and around the world is also an effort to reaffirm the democratic outlook of Muhammad and the founding fathers. Muslims worldwide and Americans should commemorate their standpoint by treating women with the utmost courtesy and respect.

The impartial temperament of Muhammad and the American founding fathers is being challenged today by people who proclaim that Islamic principles and American values are incompatible. The example of Muhammad and founding fathers like Washington and Jefferson should remind us of our duty to uphold universal ideals even when intolerant people and dogmatic organizations seek to destroy bridges for mutual cooperation.

George Washington’s “Abrahamic tradition” letter to the Jews

George Washington's letter to Jews in Rhode Island

George Washington‘s letter to Jews in Rhode Island

George Washington, first president of the United States, reached out to the small Jewish community in Rhode Island in 1790. The letter was addressed to Moses Seixas and the Hebrew Congregation at Newport. The letter is the origin of Washington’s famous “to bigotry no sanction” quote.

All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Washington’s letter is important in light of current relations between non-Muslims and Muslims in the United States. Although Washington was not writing specifically to Muslims in his letter, he was speaking to a broader connection between Christianity and Judaism in the Abrahamic tradition, which Islam is also part of. In addition, Washington made it clear that American identity is based on civil liberties and citizenship and not ethnic or religious components.

“… neither Pagan nor Mahomedan nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” – Third President Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Franklin on interfaith engagement

 

In 1739, Benjamin Franklin became involved with one of the earliest documented places intended for interfaith use in America. From its inception, it was built with the idea of being inclusive of all—including Muslims. In his writings, Franklin made clear the intent: 

Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.

In other words, the “preaching-house” was to be a meeting place open to people of all faiths, including a
representative from the religious hierarchy of the “Muslim world,” even so far as allowing him to “preach” Islam in America.

Source: atlantamasjid.com

President Obama comments on the Jefferson iftar

President Obama addressing Jefferson iftar

President Obama addressing Jefferson iftar

Ramadan,” said President Obama at a White House iftar dinner in 2010 (full transcript), “is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan — making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.”

The dinner to which the president referred took place on December 9, 1805, and Jefferson’s guest was Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, an envoy from the bey (chieftain) of Tunis who spent six months in Washington. The context of Mellimelli’s visit to the United States was a tense dispute over piracy on American merchant vessels by the Barbary states and the capture of Tunisian vessels trying to run an American blockade of Tripoli.

Mellimelli arrived during Ramadan, and Jefferson, when he invited the envoy to the president’s house, changed the meal time from the usual hour of 3:30 p.m. to “precisely at sunset” in deference to the man’s religious obligation.

Jefferson’s knowledge of Islam likely came from his legal studies of natural law. In 1765, Jefferson purchased a two-volume English translation of the Quran for his personal library, a collection that became, in 1815, the basis of the modern Library of Congress.

Source

When John Adams hailed Muhammad as a “sober inquirer of truth”

Second President of the United States John Adams wrote a document dated April 1776 called “Thoughts on Government,” where he wrote:

All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius, Zo- roaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.

John Adams on Muhammad

John Adams on Muhammad

Adams’ thoughts on Muhammad are in stark contrast to much of the despicable commentary coming from many Americans on the prophet of Islam. “Thoughts on Government” has some truly valuable insight on the nature of government and enlightenment philosophic principles. I highly recommend reading it here.

 

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