The Surprising Story of ‘Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an’

Posted on October 13, 2013

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NPR Staff

Thomas Jefferson had a vast personal library reflecting his enormous curiosity about the world. Among his volumes: a Quran purchased in 1765 that informed his ideas about plurality and religious freedom in the founding of America.

In her book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders, author Denise Spellberg draws parallels between the beliefs of the founding father and religious tolerance in the United States today.

“I think that there is anxiety about what Muslims believe, largely because people don’t understand Islam very well. I think that was also true in the 18th century,” Spellberg says. “It strikes me that Jefferson was theorizing for a future that included Muslims — not in spite of their religion, but because of it and because of his notion of universal civil rights.”

She sat down with All Things Considered host Arun Rath to discuss Jefferson’s Qur’an and the lasting impact of the third U.S. president’s views on religious freedom.

On how Jefferson came to have a Quran:

“He actually was a bibliophile from the beginning. He ordered this Quran in 1765, eleven years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He was a law student at the time, and he had the book shipped from England to Williamsburg, Va. … There’s an entry in the local newspaper because they were the booksellers for the time.

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Posted in: Islam