Unbeknownst to many, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States (1801-1809) was greatly influenced by Islam and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. With this in mind, what does this actually mean in regards to one of the founding fathers of the United States? It’s important to know first that Jefferson was known to have a copy of the Qu’ran, and had several accounts of Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad that he kept in his extensive library collection. This suggests that the teachings of the Prophet may have indeed played a significant role when formulating the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights, but what role was that exactly?
The Founding Fathers
In 1787, the American Constitution was ratified with a pivotal principle. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise therefore.” George Washington, the first President of the United States (1789-1797) declared that the nation should be one of receiving, and of welcoming all people regardless of creed, religion, or lack of religion. “The bosom of America is open to receive the oppressed and the persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges. They may be Muslims, Jews, Christians of any sect, or they may be atheists.” John Adams, the second President of the United States who also served as the first Vice President, (1797-1801), referred to the Prophet as one of many of the world’s “sober inquirers of truth,” right alongside other notable historical figures including Greek philosopher Socrates and Chinese philosopher and politician Confucius. Fast forward to Jefferson’s presidency in regards to the formulation of US law, he emphasized the need for the nation’s law to be one that is universal and all inclusive. Rather than use Jesus Christ in bills, a notion he stood against, he advocated that “neither Pagan nor Muslim nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” Defining Muslims at this time in the 18th century as citizens of the future in the United States, Jefferson truly brought his vision into reality as a way of making the nation an all inclusive one of faith, or lack thereof. In 1805, Jefferson organized the very first Ramadan iftar at the White House as he welcomed a Muslim ambassador from Tunis. As a way of showing recognition and respect to other faiths, Jefferson ensured that dinner time be precisely at sunset.
It may seem, especially with the politics of today, that the Muslim world and the West are not in alignment and have hostility towards each other since the start. However, this is quite the contrary. In 1797, the Ottoman Empire, the most powerful Muslim state throughout this particular period, signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the United States. In addition, it is important to remember the following statement: “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims).” Regarding the peaceful harmony that exists between them, both parties declared that under no circumstances will a conflict arise from each other that stems from religious opinions. And in 1806, Thomas Jefferson signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which clearly states that the government of the United States is not officially a Christian one, and is not in anyway an anti-Islamic one.
Principles of Islam
Thomas Jefferson was known to be an avid reader, owning the biggest personal library in the United States at the time. When searching for principles that would be in alignment with what the United States should be emphasizing on, built upon, and practice throughout its existence, he searched deep within the books of foreign history, ancient and modern history, religious scriptures, and many more. Jefferson held views on Islam that were both in agreement and in disagreement, but still remained tolerant nonetheless. “Difference in religion is advantageous in religion” said English philosopher John Locke, who Jefferson had been familiar with and shared this idea, and this can be seen in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, which unequivocally states “Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.” However, what is known is that the first person to bring forth this principle was the Prophet Muhammad, who stated “Difference in opinion [in religious matters], is a mercy for my community.” Indeed other figures in history contributed greatly to the formulation of the United States, including French writer Voltaire, Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and others.
Debates arose when formulating the right words for the US Declaration of Independence, as the founding fathers discussed what word(s) to use in regards to the Divinity. Would it be God? Jesus? Eventually, it was decided that Creator would be the final choice, a word that whether accidentally or not, appeared twice in the beginning of the text, as well as in the first few verses of the Qu’ran that were revealed to the Prophet, Surah Al-Alaq. When it comes to the rights of individuals, the liberties, and freedoms expressed in the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence, the following were included:
- The right to bear arms
- The right to property
- The right to a fair trial
- The right to petition the government without fear of punishment and reprisals
- General welfare
- Democratic and open process of consultation
- The prohibition of cruel punishments
- To be free of oppressive taxation
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of religion
These principles are also mentioned throughout the Qu’ran, the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad, and the Constitution of Medina. Keep in mind that at this time, religious freedom was practically unheard of during the 18th century, and religious pluralism and tolerance of other religions was not something practiced and observed in the Western world.
Prophet Muhammad Honored
In 1935, the United States Supreme Court honored the 18 greatest lawgivers of the world, one of which was the Prophet Muhammad, as well as Confucius, King Solomon, Moses, and King Hammurabi. A frieze was made by sculptor Adolf Weinman. On the Supreme Court’s website, it stated “Muhammad (c. 570 – 632) The Prophet of Islam. He is depicted holding the Qur’an. The Qur’an provides the primary source of Islamic Law. Prophet Muhammad’s teachings explain and implement Qur’anic principles. The figure above is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor, Adolph Weinman, to honor Muhammad, and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad. Muslims generally have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of their Prophet.”
WE SAID THIS: In case you missed it, make sure to read about Prayer For Peace: From New York To Philadelphia, The Muslim Community Stands With #BlackLivesMatter