Religion

New Scholarship Sheds Light on Islam and the American Founding Fathers

Source: Daily Beast
Source: Daily Beast

I am very happy to see an interesting new book written by Denise Spellberg, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Spellberg’s book, titled Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders and touched upon in this Daily Beast article, seeks to understand the role of Islam in the early American struggle to protect religious liberty by asking how Muslims and Islam fit into eighteenth-century Americans’ models of religious freedom.

She looks specifically to Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an as a symbol of the founding fathers’ respect for religious freedom and liberty.

According to the Daily Beast, Spellberg’s thesis is that, “contrary to those today who would dismiss Islam and Muslims as essentially and irretrievably alien to the American experiment and its religious mix, key figures in the era of the nation’s founding argued that that American church-state calculus both could and should make room for Islam and for believing Muslims.”

As a footnote, Thomas Jefferson’s relationship to Islam is a topic at the heart of Professor Akbar Ahmed’s thesis in Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, a book published by the Brookings Institution in 2009 that explores American identity through the lens of Muslims.

Source: "Journey into America" documentary
Source: “Journey into America” documentary

I travelled with Professor Ahmed and his team to collect data for “Journey into America,” a project which also culminated in a full-length documentary feature film called Journey into America (watch it on YouTube and read reviews here).

One of the scenes of the documentary, which I directed, takes us to the University of Virginia, where we found a statue of Jefferson advocating “Religious Freedom, 1786” with the words God, Jehovah, Brahma and Allah carved on the tablet he embraces.

Here are two videos that document our trip to the University of Virginia, as well as Jefferson’s home at Monticello.

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