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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Did the Qur'an Influence the Founding of America?

For those who have followed my blog with any regularity, you are surely aware of the fact that I am 100% against the nonsensical notion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. The pseudeo-historians like David Barton, Peter Lillback and Glenn Beck, who waste everyone's time preaching this bogus doctrine, do so at the cost of true historical literacy. After all, the historical record is very clear on this issue, and I fail to see why so many continue to believe the fiction. Our Founding Fathers, though often members of various Christian faiths, did not specifically rely on Christian doctrines and teachings in the founding of the United States, in fact, they did quite the opposite (can anyone give me a single reference to Christianity in the Constitution?). Enlightenment teachings, along with other secular sources, were the principal sources that our Founding Fathers consulted when creating the foundations of this nation. Period.

And though Christianity didn't play a direct role in the founding of the United States, it certainly played an indirect role in setting the stage for many of the ideas of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. So, in a very distant and indirect fashion, Christianity acted like the 3rd string quarterback on a Super Bowl team; it did a great job of holding the clipboard and wearing a ball cap, but that's about it.

But an even sillier notion than the one regurgitated by the Christian nationalist zealots is one being taught by Professor Azizah Y. al-Hibri, who was recently appointed by President Obama to the Commission on International Religious Freedom. In the following video, Professor al-Hibri suggests that the Founding Fathers (with particular emphasis on Thomas Jefferson) may have been influenced by the teachings of Islam and the Qur'an when founding the United States:

Let me first state that I am in no way a "Muslim hater" like so many ignorant Americans today. Having read the Qur'an and done some detailed personal study of the religion, I am of the opinion that Islam is a beautiful, inspiring and relevant faith. I am in envy of the devotion that so many Muslims have towards their faith, particularly when it comes to their deep love of prayer. In my opinion nobody, not even the best Christians, can pray like the Muslims.

With that said, the notion that Islam and the Qur'an played a role in the founding of the United States is so historically stupid that I'm not sure where to begin. Aside from the obvious fact that none of our founding documents make even a remote reference to Islam, Professor al-Hibri seems to forget that Islam and the Qur'an are not the exclusive sources on earth which teach about a separation of Church and state. The fact that Thomas Jefferson owned a Qur'an does not mean he gleaned his ideas about religion and government from it. In fact, we know precicely why Jefferson purchased and read the Qur'an, and it didn't have anything to do with religious freedom.

In 1786, Jefferson, then the American ambassador to France, and John Adams, then the American ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Tripolitan ambassador to Britain. American merchant ships had been captured by the Barbary corsairs and their crews and passengers imprisoned. They could only by freed by the payment of large ransoms. The Americans wanted to negotiate a peace treaty to spare their ships these piratical attacks. Congress was willing to appease the Barbary pirates if only they could gain peace at a reasonable price. It was for these reasons that Jefferson decided to do a little personal research on the Muslim faith. In a letter to his friend John Jay, Jefferson wrote:

It was written in their Koran that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to [P]aradise.
Sorry, Prof. al-Hibri but Jefferson wasn't reading the Qur'an to learn how to create a republic. He was reading it to learn how to defend it. It wasn't the Qur'an that inspired Jefferson. In fact, Jefferson is very clear on who his sources of inspiration were. Men like Cicero, Montesquieu, Locke, etc. were his chief sources, not the Qur'an. Jefferson was a book junkie. Owning a Qur'an was a staple in his library, but at no time was it a Jefferson favorite. Heck, Jefferson spent far more time with the Holy Bible than he ever did with the Qur'an.

Besides, do you honestly think that Jefferson, a man who largely detested organized Christianity and rejected most of its chief doctrines, would somehow look to Islam for his inspiration? Especially when it came to the founding of the American republic?


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