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Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders
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Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  75 ratings  ·  22 reviews
In this original and illuminating book, Denise A. Spellberg reveals a little-known but crucial dimension of the story of American religious freedom—a drama in which Islam played a surprising role. In 1765, eleven years before composing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson bought a Qur’an. This marked only the beginning of his lifelong interest in Islam, and he ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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Hadrian
Fun Fact: Thomas Jefferson was accused by his political opponents of being a secret Muslim in the election of 1800, partly due to his opposition to forming an American state church.

This is a compelling, if a bit unfocused, book about the history of religious tolerance in the early United States. We start with a discussion about Thomas Jefferson and his decision to purchase the Qur'an and use it as a law textbook and the influence of John Locke on his legislation, but the focus moves to John Ada
...more
Joel Trono-Doerksen
Probably one of the best books of the year. So much research has gone into this book by this excellent scholar; the notes are filled with great references and so many other books to read. Although some parts can be a bit repetitive (especially about the different people debating about imagined Muslim civil rights) throughout the author kept me interested and as I was reading it I would look up at a page and realize I was 10 more pages ahead than I thought. The most interesting fact I learned was ...more
Antony
In 2007, Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, swore in on Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an. This book looks at the discussion about Islam in early America (which makes one realise how little has changed), and what Jefferson made of it. The book needs to be far more streamlined (esp the arcane details of debate by minor figures), but documents quite an important test case in Jefferson's thoughts about the new republic and the place of faith communities.
Zekeriya
To me, this book overall paints the Muslims in a positive light, which is good (hence I gave it three stars). However, her analysis offers Muslims, at least to me, as a yard stick for the revolutionaries, representing to themselves, "just how far are we willing to take this."

Also, I didn't like how her analysis of sources completely ignored the intellectual orientalist traditions of pre-modern to modern era European scholarship. Without this, I felt like the book was completely ignoring the colo
...more
Mitchell
Poorly organized and unfocused book that could have been 100 pages smaller. Very repetitious as well. That's the bad news. The good news is the author does do a good job of explaining the largely overlooked debate over religion in public life that took place in America's early days. She revives the legacy of largely forgotten historical figures and the contributions they made. Best of all, she restores Jeffereson's legacy as a great and far-sighted thinker who understood that if America was goin ...more
Fred Kohn
I remained confused as to why this book was titled Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an until the last chapter of the book. Although Jefferson owned a Qur'an, there seems to be no evidence at all that he ever read it. Sure, he probably did, but what use he made of it remains pure conjecture. Even worse, it seems clear to me that he never read its excellent (for the time) 200 page introduction, as the author makes clear that he seems totally unaware of the facts contained therein. Most of the book is concer ...more
Peter Goodman

1/25/2014

“Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders,” by Denise A. Spellberg (Knopf, 2013). This is an important book. Spellberg traces the development of the concept of religious freedom---freedom of conscience---in England and then in North America. It was part of the Enlightenment movement away from unthinking worship of Jesus Christ, acknowledgment of the disastrous effects of religious warfare, etc. Englishmen, and western Europeans generally, knew almost nothing about Islam except
...more
Michael
"Now, as in the eighteenth century, American Muslims symbolize the universality of religious inclusion and equality promised at the nation’s founding by Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Leland, and others, an ideal still in the course of being fully realized more than two centuries later. Any attack upon the rights of Muslim citizens should be recognized for what it remains: an assault upon the universal ideal of civil rights promised all believers at the country’s founding. No group, based on re ...more
Kate
Straight up, I can barely bring myself to care about American History, particularly the founding fathers, because of the simplistic, insidious and long lasting lies I was told in elementary and high school about the homogeneous picture of early America. Especially since the truth is much more complicated and interesting.

Confession two: I am not T. Jeff's biggest fan. I think he's a liar, a racist, and a hypocrite.

I am so pleased Spellberg wrote this book and doubly pleased to have read it. I b
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Hiknbean
Very interesting read. Jefferson so very pro-religious freedom to the point that he included Muslims in his thinking although he only met one Muslim during his lifetime. Jefferson's view on separation between church and state to me has been misinterpreted. Jefferson's take was that a man's faith should not drive his respect for and allegiance to his Constitutional duties. How was he to know about 9/11 or the governmental grab for control of our personal freedoms?
سامي هاشم
So I was sold on the title.
The book deals with how Jefferson's belief in the general principle of the seperation of church and state, imaginatively, includes muslims.

The few parts in the beginning that trace the history of the extension of British biases towards Islam and how it crossed the Atlantic are important to know; politically and personally as a muslim.

It is thorough in explaining thomas's overall attitude towards Islam, which I commend.

The part on muslims slaves was interesting to me on
...more
Mudasser Iqbal
Today, Islam is still seen as a stranger but clearly has been in the US for less than three centuries. I knew that Jefferson possessed a noble Qur'an, but had no knowledge of him actually having read it. I found it interesting that how Joe Leland never read the noble Qur'an, but was an advocate to supporting the freedom of Muslim slaves, opposite to Jefferson. It's a good book for those wanting to learn about 18th century views on Muslims and compare to the views portrayed by the mass media
Sascha Cohen
This book is both fascinating and necessary, giving our present day twin obsessions with misinformation about Islam, and mythologizing the founders of the nation an opportunity to be aired in tandem. what Spellberg has done here is provide an engaging and enlightening context for a simple but profound and overlooked truth: Islam is no stranger to the US, and has been post of our dialogs on policy and culture almost since before the founding of the nation.

For anyone who has an interest in Jeffer
...more
Munira N
I need to read it again and again and again to really get it !
Relena_reads
Really well put together, though a few times it did feel more academic than I really wanted it to feel. John Leland is one of my new heroes. Seriously, he was awesome and we need to highlight him more. I want to put this book, but especially the chapter on Leland, in the hands of all of the "America is a Christian nation"-ites I can.

My only big desire would have been for the endnotes to have been at the end of each chapter. I love reading background information that's contained in notes, but it
...more
William Ramsey
There were nuggets of interesting facts in this book hidden by clunky prose, poor organization, and a lack of direction. I spent most of my time wondering "where are you going with this" and the rest of it thinking "we get it, many slaves were also Muslims, but no one knew it." Its only redeeming part was the conclusion which examines current islamaphobia in America.
The Advocate
"From early philosophers promoting religious toleration to West African Muslim slaves continuing to practice in the U.S. (one, a Senegalese, wrote his autobiography in Arabic in 1831), “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an” challenges easy assumptions."
Read more here.
Erdoan A.
One of the best written books on history of US religious pluralism, and can't-put-it-down book that everyone, especially community leaders in the US, should read it! Very highly recommended!
Noor
Interesting topic written in a very boring way. Had to stop reading a quarter of the way through.
Dee Halzack
Very interesting.
Khalid
Great piece of research. Authors views of Islam is fair, unlike many others. A surprising discovery of Muslim world relations with founders of modern USA.
Abdulrahman
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“So, if they hold aloof from you and wage not war against you and offer you peace, Allah alloweth you no way against them” (Qur’an 4:90).” 0 likes
“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest, to grant indulgence; whereas, all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and established creeds, should be avoided as the worst of evils. —John Leland, “Virginia Chronicle,” 1790” 0 likes
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