“O prophet of God, I will beat out the teeth, pull out the eyes, rip open the bellies and cut off the legs of all who shall dare to oppose thee.”
—Ali, Assistant to the Prophet Mohammad
Jefferson Buys a Koran
In 1765, While Thomas Jefferson was studying law at the College of William and Mary, he purchased George Sale’s rendering into English of the Koran from the original Arabic. At the time Jefferson first read the Koran, it was due to curiosity sparked by references to Islamic law in his legal studies.
Islam as the Outer Limit for Religious Tolerance
Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said he chose to use Jefferson’s Koran with which to be sworn into office because it was proof that “a visionary like Jefferson” believed wisdom could come from many sources. But it wasn’t wisdom that Jefferson desired from the Koran. He wanted to understand the alien mindset it represented. Jefferson actually imagined a future in which “Mussulmen”—or “Mahomedans”—might live in America. What might such Americans be like?
Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom (the original basis for the First Amendment), which was passed in 1779, disestablishing the Church of England and providing the basis for total religious freedom. In the course of writing the statute, some wanted reference made to “Jesus,” but “Almighty God” was chosen as less offensive and was met with overwhelming approval. Jefferson, always careful in his public statements on religion, said he took the more neutral choice, since he believed Americans preferred the law to “comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahomedan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”
What Jefferson left unsaid was this: that by not choosing a religion-specific name for the deity, the disestablishment of the state religion became more solid. Jefferson, always hyper-aware of future political ramifications, knew that a state religion, if one existed, could always be changed—even to Islam! Jefferson’s concerns about Islam, and his tendency toward the imagining of extreme possibilities, put him solidly in the corner of those who would prevent the state establishment of any religion whatsoever.
Islam as a Practical Problem
Some years later, Jefferson needed to fathom Muslims as adversaries. The Barbary States of North Africa were Muslim states that, for centuries, had engaged in piracy throughout the Mediterranean Sea. If a non-Muslim country did not pay tribute, they killed and enslaved their citizens, going so far as to castrate boys to make eunuchs for guarding harems and to give little girls to Muslim men for use as wives or concubines.
In March 1785, when Jefferson was Ambassador to France and John Adams was Ambassador to Great Britain, the two met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Ambassador to Britain from Tripoli. The Barbary Pirates had captured American merchant ships and had imprisoned their passengers and crew. Not yet having a strong navy, the Congress wanted to negotiate a fair tribute as a way to appease the pirates.
Jefferson and Adams were eager to know how the Barbary States could claim the right of piracy against peaceful American merchant vessels. Jefferson wrote that, in the ambassador’s view, according to the Koran, “all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
Since the nascent United States of America had forfeited the right of British protection of their merchant fleet, and America’s own navy was not yet strong enough to take on a naval war against these pirates, the young country had little choice but to submit to Islamic extortion, at least for the time being. So treaties were signed with the Barbary States.
Prelude to War
By 1800, the annual payments to piratic Muslim states were almost one million dollars a year, one fifth of the federal budget. Jefferson knew that lying to infidels and breaking treaties with them is allowed under Sharia Law any time doing so would present an advantage to the military advancement of Islam.
All of these facts must have been in the mind of Jefferson as he campaigned against John Adams for the presidency. Once he assumed office, President Jefferson picked up his copy of the Koran. A thorough reading helped him to imagine the mentality of his enemy from a strategic perspective.
Jefferson’s Opening Salvo in the War on Terror
Just ahead of Jefferson’s 1801 inauguration, the Pasha of Tripoli released the crew members of two American ships but demanded an increase in tribute. Refusal would mean a war declaration against America.
Jefferson ordered a naval force of four warships to sail for the Mediterranean, thus starting the First Barbary War, which would last until 1805. Ultimately, it was a ground campaign that sealed the fate of the Barbary States, with US Marines making use of guerilla tactics and inciting insurgency against the pasha. To keep power, the pasha agreed to a treaty to end the conflict. It became the first foreign war the US fought and won, dispatching many a Muslim pirate to his paradise in the process.
The Allure of Paradise
George Sale, in the commentaries of his translation of the Koran, wrote the following about Muslim Paradise: “The very meanest in Paradise will have eighty thousand servants, seventy-two wives of the girls of Paradise, besides the wives he had in this world. . . .” So Jefferson was well aware of the sexual allure of death to the Mussulman, willing to die for the carnal rewards Islam offered in its afterlife.
Jefferson understood the threat of radical Islam. And the information he learned is still good for today’s purposes. The Koran absolutely has not changed!