And We have sent thee (Muhammad) not but as a mercy for all peoples. (Al Quran 21:108)
By Dr. Craig Considine, from his website
Although they are typically seen to represent overwhelming opposites, the Prophet Muhammad and America’s founding fathers shared many common characteristics and beliefs, which can be seen in historical documents. By comparing the speeches and texts that they left behind, we can learn of the similar viewpoints that Muhammad and the founding fathers held on issues pertaining to equal rights and religious liberty.
Prophet Muhammad and the American founding fathers shared an interest in protecting people regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or sexuality. Muhammad, for example, received revelations from God, who directed him to celebrate diversity and cherish it as a staple of Muslim society. Muhammad’s encounter with God would later be recorded in the Quran, which states, “O mankind, We created you from male and a female and made you into tribes and nations that you may get to know each other.”
Furthermore, in his final sermon at Mount Arafat in 632 AD, Muhammad left a code of equality for Muslims to follow. “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab,” he stated, “nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab… a white person has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” The Quran and Muhammad’s final sermon show his apathy for judging people based on their beliefs or skin color and his indifference to a homogenous society based on exclusive requisites for belonging.
- Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson drafting The Declaration of Independence
America’s founding fathers had a similar apathy for determining a person’s societal worth based on ethnicity and heritage. In 1776 several of America’s founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia to write the Declaration of Independence, which held a strong and clear position on promoting equality similar to that of the Quran and Muhammad’s final sermon. The second paragraph of the Declaration states that Americans are “to hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” which mirrors the progressive spirit of Muhammad written down over 1,000 years prior to the founding of the United States.
When the American Constitution was ratified in 1787, the founding fathers also put into practice that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therefore,” which suggests that by law no particular group is to be treated as superior to another group in the United States. Similarly, the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution “prohibits the denial of suffrage based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” which again cements a culture based on civic principles instead of more absolute and ethnocentric requirements.
The founding fathers’ interest in safeguarding equality in diverse circumstances is similar to Muhammad’s concern for tolerance in his multifarious Muslim community. Muslims worldwide and Americans would be wise to remember this balanced approach in finding parity in their own communities today.
Historical documents also show that Muhammad and America’s founding fathers were compassionate men. The depth of Muhammad’s humanity can be found in the Constitution of Medina, a document he created to ensure that the more vulnerable members of society felt safe and protected under the majority Muslim rule. Also referred to as the Medina Charter, Muhammad’s Constitution gave equal rights to non-Muslims living under an Islamic government. “Strangers” in Muhammad’s Muslim society were to be treated with special consideration and “on the same ground as their protectors.” Acting as a social charter for all Muslims to live by, the Medina Constitution helped to actualize the idea of a single community made up of a diverse people living under one government and under one creator.
Ten centuries after Muhammad’s charter, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would adopt a similar societal structure as the basis for their new nation. In 1783, Washington wrote that “the bosom of America is open to receive… the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions, whom [Americans] shall welcome to a participation of all [their] rights and privileges… They may be [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect.”
Likewise Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence, wrote in a document for the Virginian colonial legislature that “the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian, and the [Muslim], the [Hindu], and infidel of every decimation” are accepted as equal citizens in the United States. The Constitution of Medina and documents of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson show that welcoming vulnerable groups who are perceived as outsiders is a central component of what it means to be Muslim and American. Muslims worldwide and American citizens should defend the creeds of their founding fathers and fight against prejudice and discrimination in their respective societies.
Comment by Dr. Haneef Koya: Let’s keep in mind the 17th Century America steeped in slavery and racial divide needed a just and fair constitution for all. Its on record Mr. Jefferson was in possession of a copy of the Holy Quran and that he had worked in the Middle Eastern and Muslim countries. Such a documented needed input from all sources. The concept of equality and justice for all is directly borrowed from the final sermon of the Holy Prophet Islam not found elsewhere in the entire human history. The general spirit and intent of the US Constitution resonates with the teachings of Islam and is not written for Whites, Backs or colored. It is void of even the faintest notion of race and superiority of any one class that only Islam stipulated 1400 years. Allah be praised that His words and words of His Prophet Muhammad became the guiding principles in preparation of the greatest humanly written document.