First Published: 2007-01-18

 
Ellison and the Quran a great American story
 

Ellisons critics are not only ignorant of our American nations history, they also know nothing about the Quran. Theyve either never read it or have only read commentaries by those who have an axe to grind against all things Muslim, says James Zogby.

 

Middle East Online

Washington, D.C. - On January 4, 2007, when representative-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN) put his hand on the Quran and took the oath of office, he made US history.

As the first Muslim American elected to federal office, and the first African American elected to Congress from Minnesota, Ellison sends a clear message to the world about American diversity and our values of acceptance and inclusion that have made us strong.

Despite all that is significant about this event, Ellisons decision to use the Quran at his swearing-in ceremony provoked criticism from a handful of near-hysterical bigots who dont know or value the lessons of American history. Representative Virgil Goode (R-VA), for example, warned of a future where there will likely be many more Muslims elected to Congress and demanding use of the Quran.

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager warned of the Islamisation of America and said that in using the Quran, Ellison undermines American civilisation. Prager, among others, also suggested that the Christian Bible ought to be required.

Lets look at the facts.

Most members of Congress use no book at all when taking their oath. They simply stand by their desks, raise their right hand and are sworn in. Only those members who choose to participate in a photo-op swearing-in ceremony at the speakers office will bring a book. Some Christians will bring a family Bible. Some Jewish members may bring their sacred scriptures. Ellison brought his.

Most intriguing here, the Quran Ellison brought to his mock swearing-in was once the personal copy of none other than Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. Americas founders had a more profound respect for religious diversity than many of their latter-day disciples.

George Washington championed freedom of worship for Mohametens (Muslims), Jews, Christians of any sect, or atheists. Ben Franklin shared this belief, as well.

In using Jeffersons Quran, Ellison smartly reminds all Americans of their founding fathers convictions and the values they embraced that shaped the new American republic.

It is disturbing to me that so many conservatives have forgotten these values, putting the unique character of America at risk. (It is also ironic that Goode represents the very district from which Jefferson hailed).

Also troubling to me is that Ellisons critics are not only ignorant of our nations history, they also know nothing about the Quran. Theyve either never read it or have only read commentaries by those who have an axe to grind against all things Muslim. If they had taken the time to read this book, they would have found, for example, that the God of the Quran is the same as the God of the Old and New Testaments. (The Arabic word for God is Allah. Arab Christians, for example, use the same word for God.) And Allah, in the Quran, is just and forgiving, demanding and merciful. Above all, Allah is the creator and sustainer of the universe and humankind.

But for bigots, all this wont matter. Blinded by their fear or hatred of Islam, their line of argumentation appears to be no more sophisticated than something like: Its not up to me to have read it; he shouldnt be using it or I dont have to read it; Ive read about it or Dont you know we are at war with them?

My response to my fellow Americans, especially those who are confused or disturbed by this great event: take a deep breath and think about the richness of American history and the deep symbolism of this moment. An African American, descended of slaves, was sworn into the 110th Congress using Thomas Jeffersons own Quran. That, if anything, is a great American story. It deserves to be celebrated. It is now part of our nations history.

In becoming the first, Ellison has made us all richer and better. His election tells extremists (both at home and abroad) that America is bigger than they can imagine it to be.

James J. Zogby is founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI). The article originally appeared at The Jordan Times. It is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at GCNews.

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire