ALEXANDER HAMILTON BUST AT SITE OF FAMED DUEL.

In recent weeks, people the world over have heard a great deal about divisions and conflict between Muslim communities and America. Yet looking more deeply at American history shows how much American tradition actually runs in the opposite direction. In today’s seemingly divisive world, I cannot help but think of the values of America’s Founding Fathers and their faith that America would always be a place that is open to people from all religious backgrounds.

Americans and Muslims worldwide shouldn’t be surprised when they see that the writings of America’s Founding Fathers reveal an open perspective and absolute acceptance of Islam and, indeed, all religions. “The bosom of America,” wrote George Washington in 1783, is “open to receive . . . the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions, whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges . . . They may be Mahometans [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be atheists.”

voices post VOICES: What Would America’s Founding Fathers Say About Islam?John Adams, who served as vice president under George Washington, called the Prophet Muhammad one of the world’s “sober inquirers of truth.” Echoing Washington, he stated in 1797 that the U.S. government “has in itself no character or enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of [Muslims].” Benjamin Franklin helped fund the construction of a religious temple in Philadelphia that would be open to all faiths, “so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach [Islam] to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”

In a document on religious freedom that was written for the Virginian colonial legislature in 1777, Thomas Jefferson stated that “the Jew, the Gentile, the Christian, and the [Muslim], the Hindoo [Hindu], and infidel of every denomination” are welcome. Today, a statue of Jefferson stands at the University of Virginia. He is holding a tablet that reads, “Religious Freedom, 1786,” below which is inscribed Allah, alongside God, Jehovah and Brahma.

“…some Americans have lost sight of fundamental components of American identity such as tolerance, compassion and openness.” – Craig Considine

It is in the egalitarian spirit of the Founding Fathers that Akbar Ahmed, former Pakistani ambassador to the U.K. and current Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, and several of his young American students traveled across the United States to explore American identity through the eyes of Muslims. Arising out of their travels was the documentary feature film Journey into America, which follows the team to over 75 cities, 100 mosques, and into the homes, schools and places of worship of Americans of all backgrounds. The film portrays how many Muslim Americans have restored the faith of the Founding Fathers, but it also goes beyond this to document how some Americans have lost sight of fundamental components of American identity such as tolerance, compassion and openness.

reu faith in america 300 25oct12 VOICES: What Would America’s Founding Fathers Say About Islam?

An activist carries a sign in support of tolerance near the site of the proposed lower Manhattan Muslim cultural center and mosque in New York (Reuters file photo).

In my opinion, the pluralist vision of the Founding Fathers is the quintessential value which makes American identity unique among the national identities of the world. To restore their vision of America as a place where all people – regardless of religious background – can coexist, I established the initiative One Film 9/11. The goal of this project is to screen Journey into America in as many places of religious worship around the United States and the Muslim world on September 11, 2013, in the hope of demonstrating how one film can ultimately have a positive impact on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide.

For Americans and Muslims to go forward in a mutually beneficial direction, both sides must dedicate themselves to the principles expressed by the Founding Fathers. One Film 9/11 is an important step in restoring this faith and building bridges in a world desperately in need of them.

This post was originally published on Commongroundnews.org.

The views expressed in this Voices post are the author’s own and are not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you have an opinion on this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. And, if you would like to share your own reflections on events or issues about or relevant to the Middle East, we would be glad to consider them for publication. Please email us through our Contact page with a short proposal for a Voices post or send us a link to an existing post already published on your personal blog.

 VOICES: What Would America’s Founding Fathers Say About Islam?

Craig Considine

Craig Considine is the director of Journey into America. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. You can follow One Film 9/11 on Facebook and on www.onefilm911.wordpress.com.

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  • John

    It is true that the founders wanted religious liberty for all. Religious Liberty means that they wanted all religions to be left alone by the government, with each religion left to practice their faith as they see fit. The problem in our modern time is that the Muslims in America don’t want to be equal with all other religions, they want to be held above them. They want to be acknowledged as a special group. They want to have Sharia law implemented, and force all others, including all other religions, to abide by their laws. This is NOT equality and is NOT religious liberty, and goes against everything that religious liberty means.

  • Esther

    That is BS, Craig Considine, you do not understand! The founders knew what we know now (heads roll) but had to keep it quiet because we have to trade along the Barbary Coast. Check out JOHN ADAMS by McCullough, he gives an insightful look at the little meeting that Adams had with the nefarious powers, and also that of the so-called “tax” (really coerced bribe) and the whole deal. Read up Craig.

  • Guest

    While the founding fathers were tolerant of all religions, they were also adamant about treason. So much so that they instituted the punishment of death for it! So it would be false to say that they had an “absolute acceptance” of all relgions if one were found to be treasonous.

    • Public Citizen

      Well stated. In addition I think it would be a fair statement that the Founding Fathers did not have the understanding of Muslims [the followers of the faith of Mohammed] or of Islam [the political entity wearing a false beard of religion to disguise its Imperialistic aspirations] that we posses today.

      Jefferson probably had the best understanding as he had to deal with the problem of the Barbary Coast Pirates [the Corsairs - all Muslims], going so far as to acquire a translation of the Koran so that he could study the seminal document for their beliefs and teachings. You will note the sparsity of Jefferson’s thoughts in the article.

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