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Comment: Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf.
Date of Publication: 2013
Binding: hardcover
Edition: First Edition
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Description: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall 9780307268228 xv, 393pp, illustrations.
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Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders Hardcover – 24 Oct 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group; First Edition edition (24 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307268225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268228
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 3.3 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 527,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Praise for "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an"
"Denise Spellberg has done a great thing here by recovering the spirit and the substance of Thomas Jefferson's vision of true religious liberty. For Jefferson and many of his Founding colleagues, the shift from 'toleration' to 'liberty' marked a profound change, extending protection and, yes, sanctuary to those of any faith whatsoever, including those of no faith. By focusing on the Jeffersonian understanding of Islam, Spellberg tells a fresh story in engaging fashion and shows us that the past, while surely not perfect, still has much to teach us all these years distant."
--Jon Meacham, winner of the Pulitzer prize and author of" Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power"
"An impressive and timely book, explaining in detail the universalism of Jefferson's religious toleration, his contemplation of full citizenship and equality not only for Jews and Catholics but for Muslims as well, while still accepting the traditional view of the 'errors' of Islam. Denise Spellberg documents in detail 'where, when, and how Muslims were first included in American ideals.' An exploration of the extent of the Founders' pluralism, the book is not only a notable addition to our understanding of Jefferson but a significant comment on the world today."
--Bernard Bailyn. Two-time winner of the Pulitzer prize and author of "The Barbarous Years"
"In this ground breaking book, Spellberg explores how America's founding fathers intended religious tolerance as a key American ideal not only for various Protestant groups, but also for its future Muslim citizens. As her book explores how tolerant attitudes towards Catholics, Jews, and Muslims led key early American thinkers to consider religious freedom in the widest possible terms, it offers a crucial corrective to those who today resist the nation's inherent blueprint for religious pluralism. In tracing the transatlantic development of these ideas, Spellberg has laid critical groun

Praise for "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an"
""Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an" examines the intersection during the nation's founding era of two contentious themes in culture wars--the relationship of Islam to America, and the proper relationship between church and state. The story that it tells ought to be familiar to most Americans, and is familiar to historians of the nation's founding. And yet, by using Islam as her book's touchstone, Spellberg brings illuminating freshness to an oft-told tale...Compelling, formidably documented...Spellberg's book is essential reading in these troubled times."
--R.B. Bernstein, "The Daily Beast"
"Denise Spellberg has done a great thing here by recovering the spirit and the substance of Thomas Jefferson's vision of true religious liberty. For Jefferson and many of his Founding colleagues, the shift from 'toleration' to 'liberty' marked a profound change, extending protection and, yes, sanctuary to those of any faith whatsoever, including those of no faith. By focusing on the Jeffersonian understanding of Islam, Spellberg tells a fresh story in engaging fashion and shows us that the past, while surely not perfect, still has much to teach us all these years distant."
--Jon Meacham, winner of the Pulitzer prize and author of" Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power"
"An impressive and timely book, explaining in detail the universalism of Jefferson's religious toleration, his contemplation of full citizenship and equality not only for Jews and Catholics but for Muslims as well, while still accepting the traditional view of the 'errors' of Islam. Denise Spellberg documents in detail 'where, when, and how Muslims were first included in American ideals.' An exploration of the extent of the Founders' pluralism, the book is not only a notable addition to our understanding of Jefferson but a significant comment on the world today."
--Bernard Bailyn. Two-time winner of the Pulitzer prize and author of "The Barbarous Ye

Praise for "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an"
"Wonderful...Spellberg provides valuable historical context for the struggle for religious tolerance and inclusion. In itself, her book constitutes a step toward inclusiveness in the ongoing construction of American history."
--Jonathan P. Berkey, "San Francisco Chronicle"
""Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an" examines the intersection during the nation's founding era of two contentious themes in culture wars--the relationship of Islam to America, and the proper relationship between church and state. The story that it tells ought to be familiar to most Americans, and is familiar to historians of the nation's founding. And yet, by using Islam as her book's touchstone, Spellberg brings illuminating freshness to an oft-told tale...Compelling, formidably documented...Spellberg's book is essential reading in these troubled times."
--R.B. Bernstein, "The Daily Beast"
"Denise Spellberg has done a great thing here by recovering the spirit and the substance of Thomas Jefferson's vision of true religious liberty. For Jefferson and many of his Founding colleagues, the shift from 'toleration' to 'liberty' marked a profound change, extending protection and, yes, sanctuary to those of any faith whatsoever, including those of no faith. By focusing on the Jeffersonian understanding of Islam, Spellberg tells a fresh story in engaging fashion and shows us that the past, while surely not perfect, still has much to teach us all these years distant."
--Jon Meacham, winner of the Pulitzer prize and author of" Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power"
"An impressive and timely book, explaining in detail the universalism of Jefferson's religious toleration, his contemplation of full citizenship and equality not only for Jews and Catholics but for Muslims as well, while still accepting the traditional view of the 'errors' of Islam. Denise Spellberg documents in detail 'where, when, and how Muslims were first included in American ideals.' An exploration of the extent of the Founders' pluralism, the book is not only a notable addition to our understanding of Jefferson but a significant comment on the world today."
--Bernard Bailyn. Two-time winner of the Pulitzer prize and author of "The Barbarous Years"
"In this ground breaking book, Spellberg explores how America's founding fathers intended religious tolerance as a key American ideal not only for various Protestant groups, but also for its future Muslim citizens. As her book explores how tolerant attitudes towards Catholics, Jews, and Muslims led key early American thinkers to consider religious freedom in the widest possible terms, it offers a crucial corrective to those who today resist the nation's inherent blueprint for religious pluralism. In tracing the transatlantic development of these ideas, Spellberg has laid critical groundwork for those interested in European and American perceptions of Islam and religious diversity at the time of the founding of the United States."
--Ali Asani, Professor and Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University

Praise for "Thomas Jefferson s Qur an"
Wonderful Spellberg provides valuable historical context for the struggle for religious tolerance and inclusion. In itself, her book constitutes a step toward inclusiveness in the ongoing construction of American history.
Jonathan P. Berkey, "San Francisco Chronicle"
"Thomas Jefferson s Qur an" examines the intersection during the nation s founding era of two contentious themes in culture wars the relationship of Islam to America, and the proper relationship between church and state. The story that it tells ought to be familiar to most Americans, and is familiar to historians of the nation s founding. And yet, by using Islam as her book s touchstone, Spellberg brings illuminating freshness to an oft-told tale Compelling, formidably documented Spellberg s book is essential reading in these troubled times.
R.B. Bernstein, "The Daily Beast"
Denise Spellberg has done a great thing here by recovering the spirit and the substance of Thomas Jefferson's vision of true religious liberty. For Jefferson and many of his Founding colleagues, the shift from toleration to liberty marked a profound change, extending protection and, yes, sanctuary to those of any faith whatsoever, including those of no faith. By focusing on the Jeffersonian understanding of Islam, Spellberg tells a fresh story in engaging fashion and shows us that the past, while surely not perfect, still has much to teach us all these years distant.
Jon Meacham, winner of the Pulitzer prize and author of" Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power"
An impressive and timely book, explaining in detail the universalism of Jefferson s religious toleration, his contemplation of full citizenship and equality not only for Jews and Catholics but for Muslims as well, while still accepting the traditional view of the errors of Islam. Denise Spellberg documents in detail where, when, and how Muslims were first included in American ideals. An exploration of the extent of the Founders pluralism, the book is not only a notable addition to our understanding of Jefferson but a significant comment on the world today.
Bernard Bailyn. Two-time winner of the Pulitzer prize and author of "The Barbarous Years"
In thisground breaking book, Spellbergexploreshow America's founding fathers intended religious tolerance asakey American ideal not only for various Protestant groups, but also for itsfutureMuslim citizens. Asher bookexplores how tolerant attitudes towards Catholics, Jews, and Muslims led key early American thinkers to consider religious freedom in the widest possible terms, itoffers a crucialcorrective to those who todayresist the nation s inherent blueprint for religious pluralism. In tracing the transatlantic development of these ideas, Spellberg has laid critical groundwork forthose interested in European and American perceptions of Islam and religious diversity at the time of thefounding of the United States.
Ali Asani, Professor and Director of the Prince Alwaleed binTalal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University"

About the Author

Denise A. Spellberg is an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches courses on Islamic civilization and Islam in Europe and America.


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book addresses a fascinating paradox - the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, in particular Thomas Jefferson, discussed the theoretical possibility of non-Christians, in particular Muslims, becoming President, while apparently remaining ignorant of the large number of slaves with Muslim origins. The book looks at some of the arguments used to support the separation of church and state in the USA, as manifested in the "no establishment of religion" clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution and also in the rejection of oaths and religious tests for public office. I had not realised that, despite the ban on religious tests at Federal level, such tests persisted in certain states until well into the 19th century.

Although this book reflects careful and wide research, and is clearly written, at times I sensed that the author was trying to make a "short story" into a full book. There is a lot of repetition, and at least one chapter that is linked to Jefferson only tenuously. Despite this, the book provides an interesting slant on the development of the US Constitution and helps to explain the peculiar position of religion in the ostensibly secular USA.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is an excellent account of how religious tolerance came to the early USA. It is only, however, rather tangentially related to the Qur'an, Mr. Jefferson's or any other.

Some books don't work well in the Kindle format, but I found no difficulties with this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa004e45c) out of 5 stars 61 reviews
122 of 136 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ff07420) out of 5 stars Setting the Record Straight 12 Oct. 2013
By R Marie Jones Collins - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I take issue with the previous reviewer, Shaun Kennedy, who has perpetrated erroneous charges against Spellberg's meticulous documentation, while perpetrating three factual errors of his own. If he had read the book, and there's little evidence he has, he would have seen that the pivotal quote Jefferson noted from John Locke may be found in Chapter 3, p.106, note 183. The reference is directly to the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, volume 1, p. 548. Second, to confirm that Jefferson considered Muslim civil rights, Spellberg includes an illustration of Jefferson's actual handwritten reference to Muslims from John Locke reproduced on p. 107. (The original is in the Library of Congress.) Third, Kennedy is wrong about the source of the quotation, which he says is from "The Second Treatise" instead of Spellberg's correct identification of the quotation from Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689). Spellberg's analysis of why these eighteenth-century precedents about Muslims as future citizens now matter is compelling, based on real founding precedents.
75 of 87 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ff3b24c) out of 5 stars Surprising, Fascinating and Detailed 4 Oct. 2013
By John C. Snider - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book might also be called "The Enlightenment, America and Islam." It's a detailed exploration of how the West viewed Islam during the Enlightenment era, culminating in the Founders' views on religious liberty. While Islam remained a distant, poorly understood belief system to the Founding Fathers, they nonetheless defended rights of conscience to include such (to them) outrageously fringe belief systems as Islam. Jefferson and Adams would be disgusted by the willful ignorance and blithe bigotry of present-day politicians and talking heads, many of whom have made shockingly offensive statements denying that Muslims should enjoy the same freedoms as the rest of us (and by that, of course, they mean "Christians"). Too bad this book wasn't around when Keith Ellison was taking the oath of office on Jefferson's personal copy of the Qur'an.
49 of 62 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2c2a24c) out of 5 stars America and the Muslims 11 Dec. 2013
By Rob Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
We are still trying to figure out the place of Islam and of Muslims in America. We shouldn’t be going through this; the Founding Fathers considered the rules for Muslims to participate in the new government. They did so even though the Muslims they were considering were hypothetical, since there was little visible Muslim presence in the new nation. The enlightening _Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders_ (Knopf) by historian Denise A. Spellberg shows how Jefferson and his fellows worked out how the nation would solve the knotty problems of religious toleration. It also shows that the admirable solution is still being imperfectly applied.

Jefferson and the founders knew about Islam but they didn’t know Muslims. This was partly due to uncaring blindness; many of the slaves brought from Africa were of course Muslims, but this would have made little impression on the founders. What they knew about Muslims was that they were vastly different. Many Americans, if they thought of the issue at all, suspected that Muslims were dangerous threats to America and to the Christian religion. This enabled those championing religious toleration in the new nation, like Jefferson, Madison, and Washington, to use Muslims as a bogey, a worst-case scenario, and to show that even then, there ought to be no restrictions on either their ability to practice their religion or to participate fully as citizens. Given the historic introduction Spellberg gives, Jefferson’s views were breathtakingly radical. Jefferson himself, like many of the founders, was a deist, one who saw God at work at the inception of the universe but who denied the role of miracles, and the divinity of Jesus, within it. He drew inspiration from the Bible and knew it well, but he proposed that the government had no role in the religious salvation of its citizens which he knew to be an inherently personal matter of conscience. During the ratification controversy over the US Constitution, even before the Bill of Rights was passed, the main document held a ban on any religious tests for holding federal office. The opponents against this provision fulminated that if it were included, “a Jew, Turk, or infidel” might become president. Though Spellberg’s book is mostly about acceptance of practitioners of Islam, Jefferson and the other legislators of the time were thinking also of these other religions, and about Catholics. Both those in favor of equality and inclusion and those in favor of maintaining mainstream Protestants as the only potential officeholders used Muslims as the chief example or counter-example.

Spellberg winds up her illuminating book to show that Jefferson’s enlightened view that anyone’s religious opinions should have no effect on citizenship or service has yet to be accepted by all our citizens. Jefferson, with his unorthodox religious ideas, was derided as being a Muslim himself during a vicious political campaign. President Obama has also been accused of being a Muslim (although it must be said that the accusations come from the same quarters that refuse to accept his birth certificate). The right reply to such accusations is simply, “So what?” The president, thanks to the constitutional debates over two hundred years ago, can take any religion he wants. Sarah Palin promoting her recent book denouncing the delusional “war on Christmas” says that only moral, religious people can understand or abide by the Constitution, ignoring that it is specifically written without religious qualifiers. When Congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim, was sworn in in 2007, he did so with his hand on the very Qur’an from Jefferson’s library, which made some Christians furious. There is a requirement that there be an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, but anyone can lay a hand on any book desired while taking that oath. One columnist wrote that if you can’t take an oath on a Bible, you should not serve in Congress; other citizens phoned or e-mailed death threats. It is improbable that such people will read Spellberg’s history, but it is fun to imagine them doing so and admitting: America has no official religion, no religious requirement for its citizens, and none for its officials. Here is the amazing story of how that came to be.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ff3bc54) out of 5 stars Thought provoking. 18 May 2014
By Shabreen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ever since I heard about Thomas Jefferson and his insights of Islam together with the copy of the Holy Quran that he held which is today stored for future generations to explore, this book was an eye opener written by Denise. I am looking forward to reading her future works. Congratulations to her on her hard work and effort.
53 of 74 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ff4e42c) out of 5 stars Good but flawed 4 Nov. 2013
By Phocion - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The book is fascinating, and I learned a lot from it. It will contain a great deal of historical tidbits unknown to most readers, and mostly related in a very readable and enjoyable style. But it has numerous flaws. First, it is absolutely chock-full of errors. Most of the errors I noticed were fairly minor and would not overly impact Spellberg's argument, but that's only the errors I noticed in passing, and even so the number was alarming. To pick two at random: first, Spellberg claims that a Latin translation of the Qur'an had been written in 1143 after the failure of the Crusades; of course, the Second Crusade had not even begun in 1143, and the Crusaders were still in fact in possession of Jerusalem after the wildly successful First Crusade. Second, Spellberg is utterly ignorant of Latin, which would not be a problem except that she attempts to make hay out of what the Latin version of Locke's Letter on Toleration does or does not say, and does so in a way that would make any student reading the end-note laugh out loud. Again, these are mostly minor problems, but the sheer number of similar errors was alarming and does not encourage me about the rest of the research.

Spellberg also has a few quirks that I found annoying, though they can't be classified as factual errors. First, I lost track of how many times she criticizes someone for making the "mistake" of saying that Muhammad is the author of the Qur'an. Yes, I understand that this is not the case in Muslim tradition, and the point may have been making once, but the enormous number of times she criticizes people for this makes it seem that this is, to her, a very important point; but is it really a factual mistake worth repeatedly pointing out that the Christians/Deists she cites, who obviously do not believe that the Qur'an is the Word of God, call Muhammad its author? This is no necessary indication of their ignorance of Islam, as she takes it to be.

Overall, this book is worth reading: it is clear and informative, and often fun. But be aware that it is sometimes poorly written, and keep a google tab open to check any facts that seem dubious: they're probably wrong.
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