Five Great Places of Islamic History in the U.S.

 

By Furqan Shaikh

In the current climate of political rhetoric against Islam and Muslims, it can be hard to remember that the United States has always been a country that has respected and acknowledged the contributions of people, places and ideas from outside its borders. While we often think of its inheritance from Greece or Rome, here is a quick tour of five surprising places where Islamic history, verses, or symbols have been represented and recognized by US institutions.

1) Harvard Law School

The tour starts just inside the entrance of the Faculty Library at Harvard Law School, where the Words of Justice exhibit presents 33 quotations representing history’s greatest expressions of justice. Displayed prominently at the entrance wall are three quotations, the first by Augustine of Hippo, the second from the Magna Carta, and the third a verse from the Holy Qur’an (Chapter 4, verse 135), which reads: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both.” The passages of the exhibit were chosen by Harvard Law faculty and students for their “testimony to the endurance of humanity’s yearning for fairness and dignity through law.”

2) The Supreme Court

Move from the renowned school of law to the highest court. Carved in marble inside the Supreme Court building in Washington D.C., directly above the courtroom bench, is a frieze showing eighteen of the greatest leaders in history who played a role in establishing laws. The line-up includes Justinian, Charlemagne, King John, and the Prophet Muhammad.

US Supreme Court

US Supreme Court

Although the frieze was carved in 1935, the inclusion caused a controversy in 1997. A Muslim group argued that the portrayal of the Prophet was forbidden and that the faof the sculpture should be sanded down. Chief Justice William Rehnquist responded that the sculpture was “intended only to recognize [Prophet Muhammad], among many other lawgivers, as an important figure in the history of law.” In addition, an Islamic legal scholar, Taha Jaber al-Alwani of the Fiqh Council of North America, wrote an extensive fatwa arguing that the sculpture was intended as a positive gesture and as an honor bestowed by non-Muslims. The group that raised the concern stated that they felt the issue was closed and the matter was behind them. As one article noted, the incident helped point out that not all taboos are eternal.

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