Islam’s Influence on the Founding Fathers

Islam’s influence on the Founding Fathers
By Mona Shadia
a reporter for Times Community News

Even though I wasn’t born or raised here, there’s a reason I feel at home in America. America’s principles align with Islam’s teachings. In fact, America’s principles are not just based on Judeo-Christian values, but Judeo-Christian-Islamic values. After all, the three religions share the same father, Abraham, and the same God.After some research and a chat with a friend, who shared with me the work of a few authors and scholars, I’m convinced that this relationship and compatibility between Islam and America is not a coincidence. There’s no doubt that when the Founding Fathers were forming the Constitution, they relied heavily on thinkers like John Locke.
Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence, used the terms “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which were taken directly from Locke’s “Second Treatise of Civil Government,” according to a comparative religion paper written by Zulfiqar Ali Shah, an Islamic scholar.Locke’s ideas were used to form the Constitution and heavily influenced figures like Thomas Paine, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.You probably knew all of that. Locke was one of the political philosophers I studied in graduate school, and I often thought his ideas on human rights were in line with Islam’s.But what I didn’t know is that Locke got many of his ideas from Islam and was often accused of being a Muslim by others, according to Shah. Apparently, accusing your opponents of being Muslim is not a new thing (ahem!).Locke, as well as Jefferson, owned a copy of the Koran. Jefferson was the first president to host a Ramadan Iftar dinner at the White House, and, while campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, he demanded that people recognize the religious rights of the “Mohamadan,” the Jews and the “Pagan,” according to a Library of Congress article by James H. Hutson, chief of the Manuscript Division.
Muslims were also part of this country from its inception.”Readers may be surprised to learn that there may have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Muslims in the United States in 1776 — imported as slaves from areas of Africa where Islam flourished,” Hutson wrote. “Although there is no evidence that the Founders were aware of the religious convictions of their bondsmen, it is clear that the Founding Fathers thought about the relationship of Islam to the new nation and were prepared to make a place for it in the republic.”
Did you know that there’s a statue of the Prophet Muhammad in the Supreme Court? It has been there for many years and no one is up in arms over it.The Council on American-Islamic Relations(CAIR), however, petitioned the court to remove the statue in 1997. The organization argued that the statue’s depiction of the prophet with a sword was not accurate, that Islam — fearing idol worship — discourages its followers from portraying prophets in photos or any other artistic forms. CAIR also said that pamphlets about the prophet handed out to tourists were inaccurate, according to an article in Mental Floss.Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist denied CAIR’s request, saying the sword is depicted as a symbol of justice and that the statue wasn’t intended for idol worship but to recognize the prophet “as an important figure in the history of law,” according to Mental Floss.Rehnquist, however, said he would ensure that the pamphlets would be corrected.
So how do Islam’s principles align with America’s?The answer is they both call for a just system that suggests democracy.The Koran never specifies which kind of a government people should establish, but lists certain principles and values that must be followed. These include the right to protection of life, human dignity, family, religion, education and property from harm or abuse in a system that is just to all, regardless of faith.This is basically the definition of Sharia, Islam’s code of ethics, conduct and belief.Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, one of Islam’s early leading scholars, said, “The foundation of the Shariah is wisdom and the safeguarding of people’s interests in this world and the next. In its entirety it is justice, mercy and wisdom. Every rule which transforms justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil, and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the Shariah.”
Most Islamic scholars agree that Islam demands justice to be at the heart of any society, and it’s evident in how the prophet conducted his affairs and forged treaties with what Muslims call the People of the Book: Jews and Christians.The Koran is clear on the issue of diversity and states that it is part of God’s divine wisdom. I’d be pretty bored if everyone looked like me, thought like me, believed like me and acted like me.And this is why America’s system closely resembles that of what God intended.It is why this is my home.

6 Responses to “Islam’s Influence on the Founding Fathers”

  1. MCA Says:

    The Proud Duck

    This is thin at best. The argument is that the Founding Fathers were influenced by John Locke (which is unquestioned) and that Locke was influenced by Islam. That’s where the argument breaks down. The argument is that Islam rejects the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, whereas Locke’s thinking about the Trinity was potentially unorthodox. Therefore, the argument goes, Locke must have been influenced by Islam.
    But as your math teacher used to say, “show your work.” The Locke-Islam connection theorists don’t. The truth is that Christians have been arguing about just exactly how the three persons of the Trinity constitute one God pretty much ever since the beginning. Differing from the prevailing view doesn’t indicate influence by Islam — it’s far more likely that any similarities resulted from parallel development.
    Now, if you wanted to make a better case for Islamic influence on the American founding, you’d have to go back to the High Middle Ages, where the Islamic philosopher Averroes was definitely an influence on Thomas Aquinas, inspiring him to go back to the Greek philosophical sources and work their thought into Christian thinking. There’s definitely a common thread running from there to the Founding. Unfortunately, Islamic civilization then rejected Averroes and the “faylasuf” philosophers, and stayed stuck in the Dark Ages.

  2. Alyssa Vigo Says:

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  3. Bob Williams Says:

    The author is to be congratulated for her attempt to approach a huge void in the history of North American-North African relations. For starters, who was John Hancock trading with when he sent ships to Tripoli and other North African cities for black market tea? Since the North American British colonials were not known to speak Arabic, their trading suggests that North Africa was also a destination for those fleeing gallows and poor houses of England. English expatriates in North Africa were likely trading with Hancock and other North American colonials.

    More than money and tea was no doubt exchanged between the two English-speaking parties - ideas were likely exchanged as well. For example, both Protestants and Muslims at that time were under attack by Roman Catholic empires such as Spain and France. Indeed, the British government had the foresight to introduce the concept of paying all the North African city-states for British use of the Mediterranean Sea, which effectively bought for Britain an anti-Catholic coast guard on the cheap. Prior to that, North Africans had never considered charging to use the sea. In addition to sharing a common foe, English-speaking Protestant expatriates might have noticed that Muslims had embarked upon a ‘protestantism’ of Romanism several centuries ahead of them.

    Muslim societies at that time were the world’s most advanced societies in terms of liberty and women’s rights, as noted in chapter 10 of Henry Grady Weaver’s ‘The Mainspring of Human Progress’. Anthropology has demonstrated that human action seldom unfolds in a vacuum. It is quite plausible that the North American colonials were inspired by examples of Islamic libertarianism when a minority of colonials eventually decided upon independence. So, again, kudos for shining the spotlight on this much neglected area of historical scholarship. Anthropology and History will be the better for it.

  4. Founding Fathers Tolerant of Islam? | The American Heritage Project Says:

    [...] Shadia, Mona (2012), “Islam’s Influence on the Founding Fathers,” Muslim Council of America Foundation, [...]

  5. MCA Says:

    Bob Williams, Greetings. You had written a few things in the history of North America and North african relations mentioning specifically John Hancock.your treatment of this subject wa squite enlightening and we want to thank you for that. You had written this in march and your comments were duly published. buti am sorry that i read it in a belated manner, My apoloy for that,otherwise i would have expressed my appreciation much earlier.
    If you like to write any article- 4 pages limit, we would welcome it. I trust that you are a person of knowledge. if i knew your background i could suggest specific topic But i am sure that you could find on your own some thing if you browse through the website. I trust that you are American that is my guess based on your name. One of our objective is to see Muslims move and develop American identity.Integration in the two raises many issues worth commenting. This is just a little exercise in speculation, you please suit your self.

    Looking forward to hear from you,

    Mohammad Akhtar, Ph.D

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