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Islam, the Founding Fathers and the 4th of July.


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By Frankie Martin

The Founding Fathers

This Fourth of July, Americans gathered at barbeques, watched firework displays and remembered the men who assembled in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. For many, the celebrations serve as a reminder of the value of freedom, of a country forged by the people in direct opposition to monarchy and tyranny.

It is sometimes easy to forget, however, that America’s founders were also concerned with another kind of freedom: the freedom to worship.

For the Founding Fathers, religious freedom was at the very core of being American. As America’s first president George Washington wrote, America was open to receive “the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions”, including Christians, Jews and Muslims. However, throughout its history America has sometimes failed to live up to this ideal, most recently after the 9/11 attacks.

I saw this firsthand when I travelled as part of a research team headed by Professor Akbar Ahmed of American University to 75 American cities and 100 mosques for the new book, Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, which explores how Muslim Americans are assimilating into American society and consequently delves into the question of American identity. We met Muslim American citizens who had been imprisoned on suspicion of planning or partaking in terrorist activities without trial and held in inhuman conditions, those whose mosques had been firebombed, and many others who had been subjected to attack and harassment by fellow members of their local communities.

And one has only to turn on the television to see that the media is full of commentators who ridicule and malign Islam’s holy book and prophet. Some Americans even told me that Muslims cannot be American.

These Americans should read the works of our own Founding Fathers. These great scholars and statesmen showed an immense respect for Islam and went out of their way to welcome Muslims. John Adams, America’s second president, named the Prophet Muhammad one of the world’s great truth seekers alongside Socrates and Confucius. Thomas Jefferson, the country’s third president and the author of the Declaration of Independence, learned Arabic using his copy of the Qur’an and hosted the first presidential iftar, marking the end of the daily fast during Ramadan. The Founding Fathers also drew upon principles from Muslim civilisations, among many others, in fashioning the American political and judicial system.

But perhaps the most striking writings on Islam by the Founding Fathers come from Benjamin Franklin, America’s great philosopher and scientist. Franklin expressed his respect for Islam and his strong belief in religious freedom when he wrote of his desire to see the Mufti of Istanbul preach Islam from a Philadelphia pulpit.

But he faced a challenge from his own countrymen in convincing them to be as tolerant.

In December 1763, a group of 50 Pennsylvania frontiersmen, seeking to prevent Native American attacks on their homes and frustrated that the government had not taken action against hostile tribes, tortured, mutilated and murdered a group of peaceful Christian Native Americans in the most horrific fashion.

The supposedly Christian frontiersmen, wrote an outraged Franklin, were more barbaric than those to which they claimed superiority.

Franklin went on to assert that Native Americans would have been safer had they been living in a Muslim country, as Islam shows even prisoners more humanity than the frontiersmen had shown free men. Franklin praised the compassion of the Prophet Muhammad, writing that the Prophet had applauded the humaneness of soldiers who treated their captives well. Franklin also spoke of his admiration for the 12th century sultan Saladin as a ruler who demonstrated both justice and compassion.

In a country where feelings against Islam are precarious, the outlook of the Founding Fathers could not be more significant. And at a time of tension between some people in the United States and the Muslim world, both Muslims and non-Muslims can benefit by considering both the American ideals of the Founding Fathers and the Islamic ideals for which they had such admiration.

These complementary ideals have been challenged to the core by post-9/11 confrontations. So as we settle back into our routines after the Fourth of July holiday, I hope we take time to remember the true America as envisioned by those extraordinary men in 1776 and work to make it a reality. The Founding Fathers would expect nothing less.

Frankie Martin is the Ibn Khaldun Chair Research Fellow at American University’s School of International Service.

Courtesy Moin Ansari

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  1. Rafay Bin Ali says:

    Wow. fascinating stuff. Thanks for the information.

  2. Asim Shafi says:

    Nice article, but lacks references. It comes off as propaganda and not as a work of research which is expected of a person who is supposedly the Ibn Khuldoon Chair.

  3. Mansoor Malik says:

    The Americans have perhaps forgotten to read their own history which is spread over at the Smithsonian in Washington for visitors to read and get inspired from including the copies of the Holy Quran which some of the Founding Fathers of America studied.Apart from America, the existing best Civic Laws prevalent in the world to-day is in Sweden and they have called it Umar’s Laws, after Hazrat Umar the third Caliph of the first Islamic State.All ignorant s to kindly study before passing any judgment.It appears ill-literacy is spreading more in America than imagined.

  4. An average American understands the principles of liberalism and democracy. The fact is that the propaganda machines are so swift and overwhelming, while people are pressed for time, they neither have time nor motivation to look beyond their comfort zones. Everyone finds it easy to swim in the direction of the current.
    Writers like Frankie Martin are doing a good job of awakening and perhaps changing the course of current in the positive direction.

  5. Setiva Shahzad says:

    I was born and raised in America and converted to Islam when I married my husband. To read this article has given my confidence a boost in our American heritage that even the first men who helped form our country had such great respect for Islam. I hope that more articles and information comes out and makes Americans more aware of how strong yet loving and peaceful Islam is. Allhumdulullah!

  6. First, there is an infinite ideological gulf between the Founders of the constitutional US Republic and the current run-amok Warcriminal Imperio-Capitalist U$an Military Empire with active ambitions of expanding its rapacious dictatorship Worldwide. The Founders fought against this type of Tyranny, as should any decent and intelligent person nowadays.

    Regardless of your religion or lack thereof, any attempt to curry-favour with or ‘integrate’ into this system means abdication of the common human moral responsibility to work for the advancement of justice, effectively granting immunity for the past and future crimes of the most violent and dangerous entity known, in exchange for its toleration of your existence. No, that misery is not worth it – better to die on your feet than live on your knees under the yoke of domination.

    Calling upon faded historical figures (or gods of whatever stripe) for protection is the sure path to extinction when faced by technologically tooled-up modern tyrannts with a middle-ages mentality. Better is to urgently get educated politically and ORGANISED for self-defence, resistance and REVOLUTION to enable justice.

    U$-Empire is now racing to expand its violent and injust dominion globally before bankruptcy busts its bubble. Let’s all work to achieve the latter.


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