Thomas Jefferson’s Holy Qur’an

America’s third President Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) was the principal author of Declaraion of Independence (1776) and the Statute of Viginia for Religious Freedom (1977). Jefferson was also considered the founder of the Library of Congress (Jefferson Building), which holds more than 140 million books and other printed items. Among them is a copy of George Sale’s copy of ‘The Koran; commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed‘, reprinted in 1764 (from the 1734 original).

This copy of Holy Qur’an was one of the 6487 books Thomas Jefferson had sold to the Library of Congress from his personal collection. According to American scholar-historian Frank Dewey, Jefferson bought this copy of Holy Qur’an around 1765, when he was still a student of law at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.

George Sale (1697-1736) was a British lawyer and author. Sale had learnt Arabic language for his assignment to prepare an Arabic translation of the New Testament to be used by Syrian Christians, a project funded by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge in London. Sale gave reason for his translation of Holy Qur’an from its Divine Arabic text, in the book entitled ‘Preliminary Discourse‘: “If the religious and civil Institutions of foreign nations are worth our knowledge, those of Mohammed, the lawgiver of Arabians, and founder of an empire which in less than a century spread itself over a greater part of the world than the Romans were ever masters of, must need to be so”.

In other words, George Sale’s admission of the superiority of Islamic jurisdiction inspired Thomas Jefferson to learn from the 7th century “lawgiver” and Holy Qur’an as example of a distinct legal (Shri’ah) tradition.

In contrast to most of his contemporary Judeo-Christian writers, George Sale, was not baised toward Islam. He praised the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by saying: “Mohammed was richly furnished with personal endowments, beautiful in person, of a subtle wit, agreeable behaviour, shewing liberality to the poor, courtesy to everone, fortitude against his enemies, and, above all a high reverence for the name of God“.

It’s stated that in 1788, when the states voted to ratify the US Constitution, drafted by Jefferson in 1777 including the current Article VI, Section 3 that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States“. Lawmakers like Joe Lieberman, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, King, etc. singled out and opposed this ban on religious discrimonation by painting a hypothetical scenario in which a Muslim could become US President.

Thomas Jefferson who established Viginia University in 1819 – proudly, almost bragging , he wrote to a friend in the medieval-style Harward, “We shall allow students uncontrolled choice in the lectures they shall choose to attend. Our institution will proceed on the principle of letting everyone come and listen to whatever he thinks may improve the condition of his mind“. As ‘civilized westerner’, Jefferson did not like to admit that for more than 900 years the Al-Azhar University (Cairo) proceeded on precisely that principle.

During the 10th century Muslim Spain, Cordoba had five libraries, each having more than 400,000 books each on religion, history, philosopy, science, arts and many other subjects. At that time, Europe’s largest collection of 10,000 books was Papal library in Vatican city.


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