Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Two Books About Muslim Identity

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

By Omar Saif Ghobash
244 pp. Picador. $22.

A Journey From Religion to Reason
By Ali A. Rizvi
247 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $26.99.

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson’s friend Senator Richard Henry Lee expressed both of their opinions when he asserted in Congress, referring to Muslims and Hindus, that “true freedom embraces the Mahometan and the Gentoo as well as the Christian religion.” In 1777, the Muslim kingdom of Morocco became the first country in the world to formally accept the United States as a sovereign nation. In 1786, when the United States needed protection from North African pirates who were stealing ships and enslaving crews, it signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which stated that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Musselmen.” In 1785, George Washington declared that he would welcome Muslim workers at Mount Vernon. In 1786, Jefferson triumphed in his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, by persuading the Legislature to overwhelmingly reject attempts to include Jesus Christ as the religious authority in the bill. Jefferson later declared that this was one of his three greatest accomplishments.

Clearly, some of our founding fathers were very comfortable extending religious freedom to include Islam. They should have been. Islam didn’t just show up in America one day like an excited tourist. America imported it when we brought slaves over from Africa, an estimated 20 percent of whom were Muslim. This is not to suggest our colonial founders urged Islam’s spread. No one who follows a particular religion wants the competition to flourish. Tolerance is not the same as encouragement. Still, there was an inclusive spirit afoot in this bold, young country that would, in principle, make a Muslim feel safe and welcomed.

It’s safe to say America’s relationship with Islam has been headed downhill ever since. Read more

Source: The New York Times