Representative – elect Keith Ellison, D-Minn will be the first Muslim elected to Congress. He has apparently decided that he will take his oath of office using a Qur’an once owned by Thomas Jefferson to make the point that:

“religious differences are nothing to be afraid of.”

NOTE: Ellison’s decision to use Jefferson’s Qur’an was first reported by The Washington Post back in November.

The edition of the Qur’an that Ellsion wants to use during his ceremonial swearing-in on Thursday January 4, 2007, is an centuries-old tomb 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.

Ellison says:

“A visionary like Thomas Jefferson was not afraid of a different belief system,”/1 and, “This just shows that religious tolerance is the bedrock of our country, and religious differences are nothing to be afraid of.”

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. Jefferson was born in Albemarle County, in what is now Goode’s congressional district in central Virginia. This is near where I went to College at Radford University, and carefully studied Jefferson and his views on Government.

I have to admit that when I first learned about Ellison’s plans I reacted negatively and became angry. I called Rep. Goode, and I spoke with him at length about his own reasons for feeling threatened by Ellison’s plans.

I won’t betray a trust and report his precise words. But, as I listened intently to Virgil, I began to envision the millions of immigrants that came to this country under a wide variety of beliefs and the roles they all played in forming this country – and, in many cases, protecting it. And, after I thought about if for awhile I came to realize it might actually demonstrate 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 Qur’an.

My research says that an English translation of the Arabic, Jefferson’s Qur’an was published in 1764 in London; a later printing of one originally published in 1734. 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. The Qur’an survived an 1851 fire in the Capitol. Congressional Library records describe it as a two-volume work, bound in leather with marble boards.

I think this is cool and particularly noteworthy…. The chief of the Library of Congress’ rare book and special collections division, Mark Dimunation, will walk the Qur’an across the street to the Capitol and bring it back after the ceremony.

We need to understand that this is considered the text that shaped Europe’s understanding of the Qur’an. People like Ellison have an opportunity to help us see that all people of Faith are searching for a way to connect with the One GOD by rewarding his constituents with good character and leadership. But, I am standing by to hear what Jesse Jackson pipes in with (tongue in cheek).

“It was a real bargain,” Dimunation said. “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.”

GOD has to be in this story. And, the best outcome is what we choose to make of the story.

Brian Patrick Cork
1/ See “On Being Jeffersonian – Part I dated February 9, 2007, and “On Being Jeffersonian – Part II dated February 10, 2007 by Brian Patrick Cork