Saturday, October 5, 2013

Our Founding Fathers included Islam

That's the title to this article in Salon by DENISE SPELLBERG that is an excerpt from her book. A taste:
Amid the interdenominational Christian violence in Europe, some Christians, beginning in the sixteenth century, chose Muslims as the test case for the demarcation of the theoretical boundaries of their toleration for all believers. Because of these European precedents, Muslims also became a part of American debates about religion and the limits of citizenship. As they set about creating a new government in the United States, the American Founders, Protestants all, frequently referred to the adherents of Islam as they contemplated the proper scope of religious freedom and individual rights among the nation’s present and potential inhabitants. The founding generation debated whether the United States should be exclusively Protestant or a religiously plural polity. And if the latter, whether political equality—the full rights of citizenship, including access to the highest office—should extend to non-Protestants. The mention, then, of Muslims as potential citizens of the United States forced the Protestant majority to imagine the parameters of their new society beyond toleration. It obliged them to interrogate the nature of religious freedom: the issue of a “religious test” in the Constitution, like the ones that would exist at the state level into the nineteenth century; the question of “an establishment of religion,” potentially of Protestant Christianity; and the meaning and extent of a separation of religion from government.


Tom Van Dyke said...

"They did so, however, not for the sake of actual Muslims, because none were known at the time to live in America. Instead, Jefferson and others defended Muslim rights for the sake of “imagined Muslims,” the promotion of whose theoretical citizenship would prove the true universality of American rights.:"

Duh. Who spoke of banning Islam?

However 12 of the 13 states kept religious tests for statewide office.

Spielberg's work so far is mostly a bunch of vague generalizations that don't amount to much.
One year later, in 1784, Washington theoretically enfolded Muslims into his private world at Mount Vernon.

Yeah, he said he'd hire a Muslim workman [although there were probably close to zero in America at the time.] What thin gruel.

Jonathan Rowe said...

GW also compared Muslims to Jews in wishing them an accommodation/exemption from Patrick Henry's proposed act to financially support Christianity which Madison and Jefferson (and the Baptists) saw defeated.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Any evidence GWash knew anything about Islam?

Of course not, Jon. That's why Dr. Spellberg has a bunch of vague knowledge and scattered quotes about Islam in the Founding era in search of a thesis.

I've actually looked all this up previously, Jon. As a young man, Jefferson studied Islam while he was studying law, because historically, Islam had a somewhat passable system of justice when compared to say England's Tower of London, drawing and quartering, etc.

However, Jefferson never--to my knowledge--studied Islam as an actual religion, that is to say as a theology. And he abandoned his study of Islam as a young man. Hell, he didn't think all that much of orthodox Christianity!

This discussion is non-existent, Jon. Allah might as well be the

that atheists put on their back bumpers to mock religion. Islam here is a space-filler for not-Christianity. Judaism fills the bill as well and better, since early America actually had some Jews in it.

When GWash said he'd hire a Muslim to work on his farm, what he was saying in effect was that he'd hire a FlyingSpaghettiMonsterean.

Funny thing is, Jon---GWash ran a distillery. Any good Muslim would refuse to work in an alcohol-producing facility!

Oh, the humanity. The absurdity!

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think they had a lack of knowledge about Islam; and that lack of knowledge made it easier to make Islam "fit" with their political theology: all religions teach the same essential truths that Christianity does, which is the existence of an overriding Providence and future state of rewards and punishments, with Christianity having the best moral teachings. Therefore there's a place for all religions in US society.

Bill Fortenberry said...

The two of you are overlooking the Baptist tradition of granting religious freedom to all - including actual Muslims. In AD 650, the Baptists in Armenia known as the Paulicians sought refuge among the Arabs in order to avoid Catholic persecution. Then, in the 9th century, the Paulicians returned the favor. When they took up arms to drive out the Catholics and establish the free state of Teprice, they granted religious freedom to all within their borders and offered sanctuary to Muslims fleeing from the Catholics. The reasoning of the Baptists has always been the same as that expressed in Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance. They have always welcomed Muslims for the purpose of sharing the gospel with them in order to convert them to Christianity.

By the way, Doug Indeap and I had a brief interchange on the subject of the freedom of religion and the First Amendment which y'all may find interesting. Doug's claims and my response were posted as comments to my article: What Freedom of Religion?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Therefore there's a place for all religions in US society.

Sure, but for all practical purposes we could be talking about Zoroastrianism. Spellberg's natterings about Islam are only tangentially relevant. Indeed, GWash was open to any religion that would peaceably abide by American pluralism. he would not have approved of the Islam of the Barbary pirates

But one cannot get around what Jefferson heard when he went with John Adams to wait upon Tripoli’s ambassador to London in March 1785. When they inquired by what right the Barbary states preyed upon American shipping, enslaving both crews and passengers, America’s two foremost envoys were informed that “it was written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

The reasoning of the Baptists has always been the same as that expressed in Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance. They have always welcomed Muslims for the purpose of sharing the gospel with them in order to convert them to Christianity.

Not quite the same thing as religious freedom, though. Bill, ever read Adams' letter to the Zionist Joachim Noah

"I really wish the Jews again in Judea, an independent nation, for, as I believe, the most enlightened men of it have participated in the amelioration of the philosophy of the age; once restored to an independent government, and no longer persecuted, they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character, possibly in time become liberal Unitarian Christians..."

Sweet. What a mook.