The Surprising Story Of ‘Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an’

Jefferson memorial in Washington DC

Source: NPR

Thomas Jefferson had a vast personal library reflecting his enormous curiosity about the world. Among his volumes: a Quran purchased in 1765 that informed his ideas about plurality and religious freedom in the founding of America.

In her book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders, author Denise Spellberg draws parallels between the beliefs of the founding father and religious tolerance in the United States today.

“I think that there is anxiety about what Muslims believe, largely because people don’t understand Islam very well. I think that was also true in the 18th century,” Spellberg says. “It strikes me that Jefferson was theorizing for a future that included Muslims — not in spite of their religion, but because of it and because of his notion of universal civil rights.”

She sat down with All Things Considered host Arun Rath to discuss Jefferson’s Qur’an and the lasting impact of the third U.S. president’s views on religious freedom.

On how Jefferson came to have a Quran:

“He actually was a bibliophile from the beginning. He ordered this Quran in 1765, eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was a law student at the time, and he had the book shipped from England to Williamsburg, Va. … There’s an entry in the local newspaper because they were the booksellers for the time.

“Europeans, and Americans after them, in this period tended to be quite hostile toward Islam. And yet Jefferson was curious about the religion and law of Muslims, and that’s probably why he bought the Quran.”

On his views of religious freedom:

“Jefferson was unique in many ways. He criticized Islam as he did Christianity and Judaism. He talked about Islam as a religion that repressed scientific inquiry — a strange idea he got from Voltaire that wasn’t right — but … was able to separate his principles about Muslim religious liberty and civil rights from these inherited European prejudices about Islam.

Read further and listen to a 6 minute interview of the author

Additional Reading

President Thomas Jefferson — Was he a monotheist?

Keith Elison, the first Muslim USA Congressman taking oath on Jefferson’s copy of the Quran, in the picture you also see his wife and Ex. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

7 replies

  1. If you want to maintain the status quo the Holy Prophet(Peace and Blessings Of Allah will forever rain upon him) would be excellent example to cite.

  2. President Thomas Jefferson was one of the key figures, leading from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution of USA.

    The US Constitution has become the template for all the constitutions of the world.

    We should judge things by a Quranic criterion:

    He (Allah) sends down water from the sky, so that valleys flow according to their measure, and the flood bears on its surface swelling foam. And from that which they heat in the fire, seeking to make ornaments or utensils, comes out a foam similar to it. Thus does Allah illustrate truth and falsehood. Now, as to the foam, it goes away as rubbish, but as to that which benefits men, it stays on the earth. Thus does Allah set forth parables. (Al Quran 13:18)

  3. I am surprised by the comments of Ahmad Bashir on Thomas Jefferson. Yes, Jefferson had slaves, many of them, and after the death of his wife, he did sleep with a slave woman and produced children. But we should judge his actions by the norms of his time, and clearly civilized society the world over has changed. For that matter, reflecting the norms of the seventh century tribal society in Arabia, the Holy Koran has numerous references to slavery, including intercourse with slave women (e.g., 70:22). You are also allowed to marry your step daughters under certain conditions(4:24). We should not judge such actions by today’s norms.

  4. I agree that the practice is against the norms of today’s society almost everywhere in the world. But why don’t you look up the reference given (4:24) — I used the Penguin Classics version by N. J. Dawood.

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