By Jonathan Vankin
Recently, a self-styled “pastor” in Florida sparked a worldwide controversy by threatening to burn copies of the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book. But he was far from the only member of America’s right wing to condemn Islam as a fundamentally evil religion. It is not uncommon for these religious conservatives to claim the nation’s Founding Fathers, in particular Thomas Jefferson, as supporters of their war against Islam.
A new book by a noted scholar of Middle Eastern studies says that the conservatives have it all backwards. Jefferson was not only not an Islamophobe, he actually studied the Qur’an and adamantly supported laws that guaranteed religious freedom for Muslims.
“That he owned a Qur’an reveals Jefferson’s interest in the Islamic religion, but it does not explain his support for the rights of Muslims,” writes Denise Spellberg, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in her book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an.
She reports in the book that Jefferson bought his copy of the Qur’an in 1765, 11 years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence that set out the principles which he and other Founding Fathers based their new nation