Whenever there is the swearing-in of a Muslim on Jefferson’s Qur’an, or whenever there is an Iftar Dinner held at the White House, Denise Spellberg uses the occasion to trot out the same article she’s been republishing for the last five years, as here or here, the one entitled “Jefferson’s Quran” or “Jefferson’s Iftar Dinner,” or “Why Jefferson’s Vision Of American Islam Matters Today.” She is dutifully interviewed on television, where she claims that the fact that Jefferson once bought a Qur’an shows that “Islam has been part of American history for a long time.” No one thinks to ask her: If Jefferson had bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, would that show that Hinduism had always been “part of America’s story”?
Here’s the latest iteration by Spellberg of the same article, with only a handful of words changed to connect it to what’s currently in the news at the time of writing — from Keith Ellison’s swearing-in to President Trump’s failure to hold an Iftar Dinner in 2017, to Rashida Tlaib’s recent swearing-in, like Keith Ellison’s before her, that was announced to be on Jefferson’s Qur’an, but turned out to on her own copy.
Muslims arrived in North America as early as the 17th century, eventually composing 15 to 30 percent of the enslaved West African population of British America. (Muslims from the Middle East did not begin to immigrate here as free citizens until the late 19th century.) Even key American Founding Fathers demonstrated a marked interest in the faith and its practitioners, most notably Thomas Jefferson.