The first Muslim elected to Congress took his oath of office using a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson to make the point that "religious differences are nothing to be afraid of."
WASHINGTON – The first Muslim elected to Congress took his oath of office using a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson to make the point that “religious differences are nothing to be afraid of.”
Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, D-Minn., decided to use the centuries-old Quran during his ceremonial swearing-in today after he learned that it is kept at the Library of Congress. Jefferson, the nation’s third president and a collector of books in all topics and languages, sold the book to Congress in 1815 as part of a collection.
“It demonstrates that from the very beginning of our country, we had people who were visionary, who were religiously tolerant, who believed that knowledge and wisdom could be gleaned from any number of sources, including the Quran,” Ellison said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
“A visionary like Thomas Jefferson was not afraid of a different belief system,” Ellison said. “This just shows that religious tolerance is the bedrock of our country, and religious differences are nothing to be afraid of.”
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Some critics have argued that only a Bible should be used for the swearing-in. Last month, Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., warned that unless immigration is tightened, “many more Muslims” will be elected and follow Ellison’s lead. Ellison was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college.
Ellison said an anonymous person wrote to tell him about the Quran, and he arranged with the Library of Congress to use it. The chief of the Library of Congress’ rare book and special collections division, Mark Dimunation, will walk the Quran across the street to the Capitol and bring it back after the ceremony.
Ellison’s decision to use Jefferson’s Quran was first reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Jefferson was born in Albemarle County, in what is now Goode’s congressional district in central Virginia. Goode’s office did not return phone and e-mail messages left Wednesday.
An English translation of the Arabic, Jefferson’s Quran was published in 1764 in London, a later printing of one originally published in 1734.
“This is considered the text that shaped Europe’s understanding of the Quran,” Dimunation said.
It was acquired in 1815 as part of a more than 6,400-volume collection that Jefferson sold for $24,000 to replace the congressional library that had been burned by British troops the year before, in the War of 1812.
“It was a real bargain,” Dimunation said.
The Quran survived an 1851 fire in the Capitol. Dimunation described it as a two-volume work, bound in leather with marble boards.
“As a rare book librarian,” he said, “there is something special about the idea that Thomas Jefferson’s books are being walked across the street to the Capitol building, to bring in yet another session of governmental structure that he helped create.”