Ted Widmer had some stuff to say in his article for Boston.com. He traces the history of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, through the hands of multiple founding fathers, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Widmer claims that the founding fathers were “way ahead of us” in seeking to build a country which included and respected those who cherished the Quran. “They knew something that we do not,” Widmer writes. “To a remarkable degree, the Koran is not alien to American history — but inside it.”
Widmer first turns his attention to John Adams’ relationship to the Quran. He writes:
Why would John Adams and a cluster of farmers in the Connecticut valley have bought copies of the Koran in 1806? Surprisingly, there was a long tradition of New Englanders reading in the Islamic scripture. The legendary bluenose Cotton Mather had his faults, but a lack of curiosity about the world was not one of them. Mather paid scrupulous attention to the Ottoman Empire in his voracious reading, and cited the Koran often in passing. True, much of it was in his pinched voice — as far back as the 17th century, New England sailors were being kidnapped by North African pirates, a source of never ending vexation, and Mather denounced the pirates as “Mahometan Turks, and Moors and Devils.” But he admired Arab and Ottoman learning, and when Turks in Constantinople and Smyrna succeeded in inoculating patients against smallpox, he led a public campaign to do the same in Boston (a campaign for which he was much vilified by those who called inoculation the “work of the Devil,” merely because of its Islamic origin). It was one of his finer moments.
And what about Thomas Jefferson?
Thomas Jefferson, especially, had a familiarity with Islam that borders on the astonishing. Like Adams, he owned a Koran, a 1764 English edition that he bought while studying law as a young man in Williamsburg, Va. Only two years ago, that Koran became the center of a controversy, when the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, asked if he could place his hand on it while taking his oath of office — a request that elicited tremendous screeches from the talk radio extremists. Jefferson even tried to learn Arabic, and wrote his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom to protect “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.”
Some writers and commentators have suggested that Adams and Jefferson only owned a copy of the Quran because they wanted to “understand the enemy.” Is this a far-fetched idea considering the things Adams and Jefferson said about safeguarding religious freedom?
Tagged: American identity, History of Islam in America, Islam and the Founding Fathers, Islam in America, Islam news, Jefferson Quran, John Adams, Quran, Religious freedom, Ted Widmer, Thomas Jefferson, Tolerance