The fascinating history of how Jefferson and other Founding Fathers defended Muslim rights

Muslims are at the center of today’s roiling debate over religious freedom in the United States. But they’ve actually been a part of that heated conversation from the very beginning of the nation’s founding.

A number of the Founding Fathers explicitly mentioned Muslims — along with other believers outside the prevailing Protestant mainstream — as they outlined the parameters of religious freedom and equal protection.

Muslims, referred to in those years as “Mahometans” or alluded to as “Turks,” likely lived in this country; an estimated 20 percent of enslaved Africans were Muslim. But much of the citizenry at the time didn’t acknowledge that Muslims existed in America, according to several historians.

Jefferson and a majority of the other Founders would certainly have defended freedom of religion for Muslims and other non-Christians. However, it would be quite a stretch to paint them as sympathetic to Islam. The US was at war with Muslim pirates during its’ early years. See “the Shores of Tripoli” in the US Marine Corps Hymn.

Exactly! In fact, in our current era, and in view of such lyrics as “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” it’s surprising that the Marine Hymn hasn’t been attacked as “offensive” and “insensitive” to at least two different groups! Of course, no one - especially this current feckless administration - would take on the Marines!

Look up First Barbary War on Wikipedia.

According to Robert Davis, between 1 and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Also, look up the historical accounts of the terrorism that led to the Barbary Wars.

The few surviving historical accounts suggest that Yusuf Karamanli was “feared and hated” in Tripoli; one American diplomat who dealt with him extensively described him as “a large, vulgar beast,” “a bully,” and “a cur who can be disciplined only with the whip.” One of Yusuf ’s first acts as bashaw was to sign with the United States on 4 November 1796 a treaty of “firm and perpetual peace and friendship,” which was rati- fied with the unanimous (23–0) advice and consent of the Senate on 7 June 1796. Article 10 of this treaty specified that no “periodical tribute or farther payment is ever to be made by either party.” Article 12 provided that in the event of a dispute neither party would resort to arms but that the dispute would be submitted to the dey of Algiers for binding resolution.

Documents referenced in the treaty acknowledged a receipt of a one-time payment of forty thousand Spanish dollars, assorted watches, rings, and fancy cloth. Additionally, there was a “note” in which the U.S. government promised that each new consul appointed to represent the United States in Tripoli would bring twelve thousand Spanish dollars and specified quantities of artillery, anchors, pine and oak boards (wood being scarce in the desert), and other valuable commodities. This, of course, provided a strong incentive for the bashaw to quarrel with any American diplomat, as an excuse to declare him persona non grata and set the stage for a successor with a new installment of treasure.

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