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Reimagining Islam: One professor tries to improve Islam's barbaric history

Americans heard about torture and its horrors when the CIA used it in Guantanamo Bay Cuba on the people who planned 9/1/1 attack. They decided not to read the Muslim terrorists their Miranda rights. Torture as a nasty practice did not start with the CIA. There is a long history of  Muslims denying the rights of people and using creative methods to torture them.

Muslims pirates had a firm grip on the north coast of Africa - the Barbary Coast - from where they terrorized thousands of people groups along the Mediterranean Sea, and north into Europe and England. They weren't known for spreading Democracy. Yet, when it comes to Islam and liberals, hope springs eternal.

One professor seeks to make a claim on Muslims and Islam, that the religion contributed to Thomas Jefferson's idea of our government granting rights to citizens of all religions. Denise A. Spellberg, the author of “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an,” believes the fact Jefferson owned a copy of a Qur'an and studied it, means that Islam contributed to our form of government in the U.S.

Islam has a dark history. As a majority religious state or country, Islam or Muslms have never produced a democracy where people have equal rights or even the right to freely vote for candidates. The darkness started with Mohammed, and has not stopped. There is a historical continuum of consistent behavior from the first military conquest of Mohammed and his followers to the attack of the World Trade Center - 9/1/1.

This has not stopped people from trying to skew the history of Islam.

Jake Tapper, host of The Lead on CNN, attempted to get the best of Roy Moore’s campaign adviser by questioning his knowledge of the Quran and Thomas Jefferson, since a U.S. Representative used a Quran to swear his allegiance to the U.S. during a swearing in ceremony. Judge Roy Moore said he would not approve of a Muslim as president.

Had this campaign adviser known his history, he would have rejoined that the only reason why Jefferson had a copy of the Quran was to attempt to understand why Islam and its leaders were devoid of any sense of decency, and barbaric in dealing with pretty much everybody. They raped, pillaged, took hostages, sold people into slavery, and created novel methods of torturing people.

Jefferson was not the only American diplomat or government representative in Europe who was aware of this behavior; it was well-known in France, Italy and elsewhere. The Muslims on the Barbary Coast had no ability to create any kind of civilization short of taking it from other people by force.

In his contact with an Islamic "ambassador," representatives were proud of their ability to torture and demand payment to the release of hostages, as though it were their God-given right to do so. He simply wanted to know why they felt emboldened to act like this. The treatment of people they captured is so well documented that a priest artist in France created a picture of the 22 methods the Barbary Pirates used to torture the people they captured.

The phenomena hasn't changed much since then. People still want to know why. After 9/1/1, people wanted to know why a group of religious people would be so full of hate, so irrational as to plot of destroy other people and their civilization. People like Professor Spellberg are still trying to excuse the bad behavior of Muslims.

Here is an interview with her from 15 minute history, a publication of the University of Texas at Austin, where she is a professor. (

Spellberg: "Yes, in fact, Jefferson is probably the Founder who had the most complicated and interesting interaction with ideas about Islam, and even with Muslims. He met two Muslim ambassadors during his lifetime. He negotiated with both of them, one in London in 1786, and another one he had at the White House during—the first Tunisian ambassador to the United States, the first Muslim ambassador to the U.S., who came to Washington, and even had a state dinner with Jefferson at the White House in 1805."

As recounted in many books and documents, American diplomats attempted to bargain with an Islamic representative in London in 1786. It did not go well. The Muslim ambassador defended the practice of plundering nations and mercantile vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, taking hostages, and selling them as slaves. Jefferson knew this because Muslim pirates kidnapped American marines traveling through the Mediterranean Sea. 

Joan Neuberger, the interviewer:

“Well, you argue in the book that Islam, his study of Islam and his interactions with Muslims, had a major impact on his thinking about what kind of state the United States should be, and the role of religion in citizenship.”

“And out of that we see a discussion by a few people who were willing to risk their lives—to be banished, or exiled, or put in prison—to say simply that the government (and we see this with early English Baptists too), particularly the king, has no right to interfere in a person’s religious beliefs, and that religion should be separate from government control. These early Baptists suffered extreme persecution; the one I’m thinking of died in prison in England.”

She claims that Jefferson was a champion of Muslim rights, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jefferson owned slaves in the U.S. because slavery was not opposed in Islam or Africa. In fact, the U.S. and England were the first countries to outlaw slavery. Slavery still exists in Africa, in Mauritania. It’s not that he owned slaves that were Muslim; it’s that the option to outlaw slavery was in it’s infant stage in England in the U.S. Slavery was not outlawed by Muslims. It was quite the opposite. Muslims in the Barbary Coast had no problem with slavery or rape and profited from slavery.

Spellberg: “So Washington, who actually also had these beliefs about religious liberties as a universal (and who also listed Muslims in that category) ironically owned Muslims and didn’t see that these ideas about rights were in conflict with then notions of race and slavery.”

Jefferson and Washington appropriated rights to slaves because of their Christian heritage and influence. That concept was never introduced on the Barbary Coast because the Barbary pirates were Muslim and did not understand the idea that slavery might be wrong.

Spellberg: “That’s the biggest contradiction in all of this. You can map out rights, you can talk about a future with Muslims in the country, but at the same time you’re oblivious to the Muslims who were there.”

There is no contradiction here, because Muslims were not opposed to slavery anywhere in the world. In fact, much of the slave trade - the buying and selling of people - was done by Muslims.

Further, there is nothing in the Qur’an that would suggest any opposition to slavery, nor was the Qur’an ever used by the Founding Fathers to institute any kind of religious rights. If anything, American representatives who were exposed to the evils of Islam understood that adopting that religion would deny religious rights, not establish them.

Jews and Catholics were outsiders in the 18th century. The difference is that as a religious or cultural group, they did not have a long and sustained battle with Western Civilization that continues to this day. Muslims did and still do.

A people group living in the U.S. can walk in the same direction as Western Civilization that is generally based on the Bible. The difference between these two groups and Muslims is that Muslims, as they acted in regard to Jefferson and John Adams, did not accept Western Civilization, and still oppose it. In fact, Islam does not tolerate other religions and demands that people in countries where they are a majority bend their knee to Islam, or be oppressed. There is no real theory of civil rights or religious liberty in Islamic countries.

In fact, it’s not that American Muslims are not full citizens, it’s that true believers in Islam or the Qur’an are not to give allegiance to any government or idea other than Allah. This is the conflict between becoming full citizens of a democratic, freedom loving country and a Muslim identifying with Allah or Mohammed. People who are truly Muslims can't renounce their belief in Allah and believe in the concepts of freedom and liberty.

Spellberg: “Right. In fact this is essentially the principle that supports inclusion. So you’re either going to include everyone—Jefferson even mentions Hindus in his notion of those who should be included, not just with religious liberty, but actual rights and potential access to political office. In fact, when we see Congressman Ellison elected, I don’t think it was in spite of his religion, I happen to think it was because of it. That there was a place for that - electing a Muslim. That’s the logical outcome of these prescriptions from the 18th century.”

History reflects the need for countries that have adopted the Judeo Christian and supports Western Civilization, to take increasing steps to fight the advance of militant Muslims for centuries in the Mediterranean Sea, in France, Spain, Italy, across the Balkans. Western Civilization counts as one of its most important and pivotal events the defeat of Muslim armies in Austria, which halted the aggressive advance of this oppressive religion.

Here is Spellman's "fascinating" description of her book:

“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 would go on to acquire numerous books on Middle Eastern languages, history, and travel, taking extensive notes on Islam as it relates to English common law. Jefferson sought to understand Islam notwithstanding his personal disdain for the faith, a sentiment prevalent among his Protestant contemporaries in England and America. But unlike most of them, by 1776 Jefferson could imagine Muslims as future citizens of his new country. 

Based on groundbreaking research, Spellberg compellingly recounts how a handful of the Founders, Jefferson foremost among them, drew upon Enlightenment ideas about the toleration of Muslims (then deemed the ultimate outsiders in Western society) to fashion out of what had been a purely speculative debate a practical foundation for governance in America. In this way, Muslims, who were not even known to exist in the colonies, became the imaginary outer limit for an unprecedented, uniquely American religious pluralism that would also encompass the actual despised minorities of Jews and Catholics. The rancorous public dispute concerning the inclusion of Muslims, for which principle Jefferson’s political foes would vilify him to the end of his life, thus became decisive in the Founders’ ultimate judgment not to establish a Protestant nation, as they might well have done. 

As popular suspicions about Islam persist and the numbers of American Muslim citizenry grow into the millions, Spellberg’s revelatory understanding of this radical notion of the Founders is more urgent than ever. Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an is a timely look at the ideals that existed at our country’s creation, and their fundamental implications for our present and future.”

It's interesting to group Muslims with Jews and Catholics, two groups that were kidnapped and tortured by Muslims in the Barbary Coast. Perhaps Spellberg could suggest memorials to both these people groups in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia or Morocco. I'm sure Muslims would also love to know how their Qur'an contributed to "a practical foundation for governance in America." Unfortunately, Muslims seem not to be interested in similar ideas of governance and religious liberty in their own countries.

© 2018 Larry Ingram

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