At a time when most Americans were uninformed, misinformed, or simply afraid of Islam, Thomas Jefferson imagined Muslims as future citizens of his new nation. His engagement with the faith began with the purchase of a Qur’an eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s Qur’an survives still in the Library of Congress, serving as a symbol of his and early America’s complex relationship with Islam and its adherents. That relationship remains of signal importance to this day.That he owned a Qur’an reveals Jefferson’s interest in the Islamic religion, but it does not explain his support for the rights of Muslims. Jefferson first read about Muslim “civil rights” in the work of one of his intellectual heroes: the seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke. Locke had advocated the toleration of Muslims—and Jews—following in the footsteps of a few others in Europe who had considered the matter for more than a century before him. Jefferson’s ideas about Muslim rights must be understood within this older context, a complex set of transatlantic ideas that would continue to evolve most markedly from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries.
Amid the interdenominational Christian violence in Europe, some Christians, beginning in the sixteenth century, chose Muslims as the test case for the demarcation of the theoretical boundaries of their toleration for all believers. Because of these European precedents, Muslims also became a part of American debates about religion and the limits of citizenship.
- From “Our Founding Fathers included Islam,” adapted from a book by Denise Spellberg
Spoiler Alert: If you didn’t watch last week’s episode of Scandal, do not read any further.
While Shonda Rhime’s “Scandal” has become a reliable source of Twitter water-cooler talk every Thursday night, last week’s episode especially touched a nerve, after this scene between our protagonist, high-powered problem-solver Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn):
“I’m feeling a little Sally Hemings-Thomas Jefferson about all this,” Olivia told Fitz, who looked about as stunned as many shows reacted online.
So what to make of this in a broader context? As the season finale approaches Thursday, Guest Contributors T.F. Charlton and Arrianna Conerly Coleman weigh in on this special Roundtable.