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 as enslaved Africans; but much of the citizenry at the time didn’t acknowledge that Muslims existed in America, according to several historians.


You might add that while Jefferson believed in religious freedom for Muslims, he also had no problems as president with sending the tiny US Navy and Marines to kill the Muslim pirates of Tripoli.

While people want to argue whether or not the founding fathers were believing Christians, they certainly did believe in human reason. Christianity and Judaism are compatible with human reason, but also contain supernatural revelation. Islam, not so much; Islamic scholars overwhelmingly rejected human reason in favor of an extreme sola scriptura approach after only a few generations from its founding.


Agreed and if we are talking about the Founding Fathers, one can draw out all of those quotes by John Adams that basically say America and the Constitution is for moral peoples if not Christian peoples.

Washington was not present as signing the Declaration of Independence but nonetheless, is a Founding Father:

George Washington
1st U.S. President

“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
–The Writings of Washington, pp. 342-343.

Suffice it to stop there, apparently one can find contrary quotes as well so it becomes a bit of “quoting the Founding Father” to try to prove a point but I do think, overall, one would find Christianity seen as a principle.

A problem with the internet as well is that some quotes are not always accurate or truly said by the man alleged.

And Jefferson may well have come out against the Mohammedans as well. Who else do we quote? Winston Churchill? General Pershing?


I could see a # of the African slaves who were sent to the USA on slave ships being Muslims. Its also worth noting that slavery could be found in the Arab majority countries as well as the USA during the early 19th century.

There is a fascinating history wrt Muslims in the USA. Muslims were reported to be on the side of the Patriots during the American revolution, a few Muslims served on the Union side during the US civil war. Thomas Jefferson studied an English version of the Quran. Jefferson invited a Muslim diplomat to the White House and even hosted an Iftar dinner for said Muslim diplomat. While its true that a # of US politicians of the past openly spoke with disdain toward a # of non Christian groups, there were also US politicians who spoke positively toward non Christian groups.


It should be added that some persons would assert slavery is still found in the Middle East as far as that goes.


The Barbary Wars

Nearly two hundred years before the State Department found it necessary to delve into the Qur’an, Jefferson had already done so to great effect. Jefferson again engaged with the Barbary Pirates as President between 1801 and 1805, during the first of what would become known as the Barbary Wars. Politically, this would be one of his last diplomatic engagements with Islam where he utilized his knowledge of the Qur’an for the benefit of the United States. At the conclusion of the first Barbary War, with the United States procuring its first victory on foreign shores, a temporary peace was reached and Jefferson extended an invitation to the Tunisian Ambassador in Washington to attend dinner at the White House. The invitation happened to fall in the month of Ramadan, and so dinner was rescheduled and became the White House’s first iftar. This iftar that marked the conclusion of 1805 and the treaty with at least one of the Barbary States was a symbolic conclusion to Jefferson’s documented and known use of the Qur’an and his knowledge of Islam. Surely both Jefferson and his guest could appreciate the breaking of the Ramadan fast, a reward of nourishment after a day of reflection and struggle for personal betterment.

*The Legacy of Jefferson’s Qur’an

Thomas Jefferson rarely spoke on the topic of religion and did not leave us any written record of his opinion of Islam. But, based on how he used the Qur’an politically, we can conjecture about his attitudes toward what his colleague George Washington called "the children of the Stock of Abraham."xvii He was certainly sympathetic to Islam and to those in the borderlands of the Christian West, but he was also keenly aware of the effect of scripture, whether Biblical or Quranic, on the politics, motivations, and aspirations of nations and empires. At the same time, Jefferson was perhaps influenced by the moral, humanitarian elements of the Qur’an and, as mentioned above, the Constitution of Medina, which may have accompanied his study of Islam. We may never truly know what Jefferson thought about Islam, but what we do know is that the Qur’an served not simply as an exotic book occupying the shelves of Jefferson’s Monticello or Adams’s Peacefield; on the contrary, the founding fathers knew about Islam, and they thrust themselves into the necessity of knowing. If we excavate the volumes of documents authored by Jefferson and his contemporaries in the early days of the new republic, we find moments wherein Jefferson’s Qur’an may well have even influenced the founding, shaping, and sustenance of a newly sovereign nation.*


Yes in ISIL lands slavery is still going on. One can compare the reported treatment of for example non white non Arabs in Saudi Arabia to the reported treatment of Mexican immigrants in the USA. Neither the gov of Saudi Arabia, or the gov of the USA approve of discriminating against people based on their skin color or religion.

I’m not about heavily criticizing sovereign nations which are allies of the USA. I have much respect for the peace of Westphalia which to this day influences international relationships. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Israelis, Saudis, Jordanians. So I’m careful wrt the language I use toward Israels, Saudis, Jordanians, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc. Fwiw Thomas Jefferson was well known for his diplomatic skills, I try and follow in the footsteps of Jefferson when it comes to talking about other countries.


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