Of the thousands of books in Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, can any one account for the Founding Father’s seminal ideas about religious freedom and plurality? In her book “Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders,” author Denise Spellberg singles out an English translation of the Muslim holy book acquired by Jefferson more than a decade before he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
Spellberg explores Islam’s role in the American model of religious freedom through the years, focusing on Jefferson’s 18th century notions. At a time when Islam and its adherents were viewed with suspicion by most Americans, Jefferson argued that America needed to make room for Muslim citizens in order for the religious liberty aspect of the American experiment to work.
Centuries later, as Muslims continue to face exclusion and discrimination in America’s post-9/11 era, Spellberg’s work takes a pertinent look back at America’s founding — and Jefferson’s enlightened case for Muslim inclusion within America’s definition of religious freedom.
Did you know that Jefferson had championed Muslim civil rights early on? Do you think Jefferson’s blueprint for religious pluralism is in place today? How do American perceptions of Islam and religious diversity today compare to those in place when the nation was founded?
Denise A. Spellberg, author of “Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders”; Associate Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin