We don’t know exactly how closely Tomas Jefferson read the Quran he owned. We do know that he is the only Founding Father to have a basic understanding of Arabic. We do know that he promoted and championed the creation of an Oriental languages department at his alma mater, the College of
William & Mary. And we do know that he would be the first American president to go to war with Islamic radicals. It is clear, however, that Jefferson was, to put it mildly, suspicious of Islam. He compared the faith with Catholicism, and believed that neither had undergone a reformation. Both religions, he felt, suppressed rational thought and persecuted skeptics. When combined with the power of the state, religion would corrupt and stifle individual rights. Islam, to Jefferson’s mind, provided a cautionary tale of what happened when a faith insisted on combining religious and political power into one.
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