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Founding Fathers And Islam
The debate over a Muslim in Congress may seem new to you, but over two centuries ago,
the Founding Fathers considered the possibility. Guess which side they took!
By Shahed Amanullah, January 3, 2007
Sale, while clearly distancing himself from Islamic theology in his commentary (the translation Ellison will take his oath on calls the Prophet Muhammad a "criminal... imposing a false religion"), also states that "the praises due to his real virtues ought not to be denied him" and that Islam had no better or worse a historical record than Judaism or Christianity. And despite public opinion about Islam at the time (which differs little from Sale's professed negative statements), Jefferson explicitly referenced Islam in his support of Virginia's Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1786, where he praised its protections of "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and the Infidel." Early American writings show Jefferson wasn't alone. "It is clear that the Founding Fathers thought about the relationship of Islam to the new nation," writes James Hutson, Manuscript Division Chief for the Library of Congress, "and were prepared to make a place for it in the republic."
One of the signers of the Declaration of
Independence and a colleague of Jefferson,
Pennsylvania's Benjamin Rush,
wrote that he would "rather see the opinions of
Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than
see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of
religious principles." "If we may openly speak the
truth," wrote John Locke wrote in his influential
Letter Concerning Toleration, "neither Pagan nor
Mahometan, nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the
civil rights of the commonwealth because of his
religion." An important point to note is that
regardless of personal opinion about the religion of
Islam, neither politician nor citizen during
America's founding would countenance the exclusion
of Muslims from American political or civic life.
During the formation of the United States, when the
Constitution and Bill of Rights were being debated
at both the state and federal level, opponents of
religious freedom statutes
cited the fear of a Muslim being elected to
office ("As there are no religious tests, pagans,
deists and Mahometans might obtain office," argued
Baptist Rev. Henry Abbot during North Carolina's
debate), but thankfully the other side prevailed.
"In the course of four or five hundred years I do
not know how it will work,"
countered North Carolina Provincial Congress
member William Lancaster. "This is most certain,
that Papists may occupy that [government] chair, and
Mahometans may take it. I see nothing against it."
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