In the Name of Almighty God, The Merciful, The Compassionate

بسم لله الرحمان الرحيم

Salaam Aleikum (Peace be with you)! I hope you may gain some insight from my work here. Remember, I'm not a scholar and don't claim to be. I only claim to be a person who has a passion for both Islam and this great republic in which I live and wish to share my thoughts with others. Remember that anything good you find in this blog is from Allah, and anything wrong or bad is from my own flawed self.

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The Holy Ka'aba

The Holy Ka'aba
The House of God built by Abraham (peace be upon him)

The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance
take out the 9th line, and it would be haram (forbidden) to say this.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Muslims in Early America: Part 3: The Founding Fathers on Islam and Muslims

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. In the last two posts I have discussed the history of Islam in early American society amongst slaves and minorities as well as amongst the few white Anglo-American Muslims of the time. But what of the Founding Fathers' opinions of Islam and Muslims? Given that they were the authors of the Constitution and thereby the very "creators" of the ideals this great nation was founded upon, it would definitely matter to this conversation what their opinions of the "Mohamatans" was.
I'll start with this; it is a quote from the Treaty of Tripoli, signed between United States (started under the Washington administration and continued and finished under Adams) and the Barbary states of North Africa. It states,

"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 emnity against the laws, religion or tranquility of the Musselman, - and as the said states have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohamatin nation, - it is declared by the parties (the US and Barbary nations) that no pretext of religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries". -Signed into law by President John Adams, June 1797.

This treaty was the initial "official" position of the United States (and it's founding fathers) toward the religion and the people of Islam.
It should also be noted that this came at the end of fierce fighting in the Mediterranean between Americans and Muslims of North Africa. The aggression of some Muslims in North Africa came mostly for two main reasons. A) The Barbary Pirates were just that; "pirates" and like the Christian Pirates of the Caribbean or the Vikings, care about religion only when it serves their plundering interests. B) Because the Muslims of North Africa had not yet understood the distinction between the United States and the Christian European nations who had been at war with Muslims for centuries. That was part of the purpose of this treaty and in particular this specific article; to make the distinction that the United States was not officially a Christian nation and therefore had no intent or interest in religious conflict with Muslim countries.
While this dealt with early American foreign relations, what then of the founding fathers opinions of American Muslims. It is known, as I pointed out before, that there were many Muslims living in America at that time; as slaves that is. There is no sufficient evidence to suggest that the founding fathers knew much of the presence of Islam amongst American slaves, however the founding fathers were not void of opinions of Muslims' place in American society. John Lock (an idol of American founder Thomas Jefferson), once insisted in his "Letter on Toleration (1689) that Muslims and all others who believed in God be accepted and tolerated in England. Thomas Jefferson echoed these sentiments in his view of America. In his autobiography he recalls his time in the Virginia legislature when he struggled to pass his "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" (1786). He remembers proudly that the Virginia legislature "rejected by a great majority" a move to limit the bill's scope "in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohametin". In other words the body of Virginia Representatives recognize the basic right to freedom of religion to all faiths including Muslims. Earlier at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee (one of the signers from Virginia and ancestor of Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia of the Confederacy during the Civil War) said, "True freedom, embraces the Mohamitin, the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion". Officials in Massachusetts also insisted that the Constitution give "the most ample liberty of Deists, Mohametans, Jews and Christians". Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Theophilus Parsons also affirmed this in 1810, being the son of a clergyman and one of the 26 who drafted the Declaration of Independence. It was once wrote in a Boston newspaper that, "A Mohametan, is excited to the practice of good morals in hopes that after resurrection he shall enjoy the beautiful girls of Paradise to all eternity. He is afraid to commit murder, adultery and theft, least he should be cast into hell, where he must drink scalding water and the scum of the damned" (This person has studied Islam and the Qur'anic description of Hell). Benjamin Rush, Pennsylvania signer of the Declaration of Independence, reportedly admired this feature of Islam and said he'd "rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammad inculcated on our youth than see then grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles".

It is self evident by the statements quoted above that the founding fathers not only indirectly but actually explicitly included the presence of Islam and Muslims in their vision of America. The principals of religious plurality was at the core of their dream for this nation. While they were (for the most part) devout Christians of differing denominations, who of course had their theological differences with Islam, they were wise enough to realize that that Christian idea of God cannot be any "official" concept within the American dream. In reality, the American dream is bigger than the human labels of Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or any other. The American dream is the dream of one nation, existing under God (by His many names whether God, Allah, Jehovah, Elohim, etc...), where all of His beloved human creation, could live, work and worship in peace, harmony and fellowship. That's what American pluralism is all about. "E Pluribus Unum", "From Many, We are One". This, I would say is summed up by a petition sent to the Virginia legislature by citizens of Chesterfield County, Virginia in 1785 that states,

"Let Jews, Mohametans, and Christians of every denomination enjoy religious liberty...thrust them not out now by establishing the Christian religion least thereby we become our own enemies and weaken this infant state. It is mens' labor in our manufactories, their service by sea and land that aggrandize our country and not their creeds. Chain your citizens to the state by their interest. Let Jews, Mohametans, and Christians of every denomination find their advantage in living under your laws."

"Our society is enriched by our Muslim citizens whose commitment to faith reminds us of the gift of religious freedom in this country"
----------President George W. Bush

...And Allah Knows Best...

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