Louis Palme / Jun 07, 2009

In his June 4 speech to the Muslim world, President Obama noted that when the first Muslim-American [Keith Ellison] was elected to Congress  he took his oath to defend the Constitution using the same Holy Quran that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in  his personal library.  The implication was that Islam has made a long and enriching contribution to the United States.


The Quran he was describing was a translation by George Sale, first published in 1734.  Jefferson’s was a two volume edition published in London in 1764.  By chance, I was able to buy later edition of this Quran which included the 145 page “Preliminary Discourse” found in all editions.  Had Keith Ellison or President Obama read this introduction, they would have never cited this particular Quran as evidence of our Founding Fathers’ respect for Islam.  Here are some excerpts:


To the Reader:


I imagine it almost needless to make an apology for publishing the following translation, or to go about to prove it a work of use as well as curiosity. He must have a mean opinion of the Christian religion, or be but ill grounded therein, who can apprehend any danger from so manifest a forgery. . . .But whatever use an impartial version of the Quran may be of in other respects, it is absolutely necessary to undeceive those who, from the ignorant or unfair translations which have appeared, have entertained too favourable an opinion of the original, and also to enable us effectually to expose the imposture. . . . [Because Catholic translators and writers attempt to defend their own idolatry and other superstitions causing Muslims to be more adverse to Christians in general,] the Protestants alone are able to attack the Quran with success; and for them, I trust, Providence has reserved the glory of its overthrow. . . .I have not, in speaking of Mohammed or his Quran, allowed myself to use those opprobrious appellations, and unmannerly expressions, which seem to be the strongest arguments of several who have written against them, . . for how criminal soever Mohammed may have been in imposing a false religion on mankind, the praised due to his real virtues ought not to be denied him.


Regarding Arabs:


As the Arabs have their excellencies [such as hospitality], so have they, like other nations their defects and vices. Their own writers acknowledge that they have a natural disposition to war, bloodshed, cruelty, and rapine, being so much addicted to bear malice that they scarce ever forget an old grudge . . . The frequent robberies committed by these people on merchants and travelers have rendered the name of an Arab almost infamous in Europe; this they are sensible of, and endeavour to excuse themselves by alleging the hard usage of their father Ismael, who, being turned out of doors by Abraham, had the open plains and deserts given to him by God for his patrimony, with permission to take whatever he could find there; and on this account they think they may, with safe conscience, indemnify themselves as well as they can,  not only on the posterity of Isaac, but also on anybody else, always supposing a sort of kindred between themselves and those they plunder. And in relating their adventures of this kind, they think it sufficient to change the expressions, and instead of  “I robbed a man of such or such a thing,” to say, “I gained it.”  We must not, however, imagine that they are the less honest for this among themselves, or towards those whom they receive as friends; on the contrary, the strictest probity is observed in their camp, where everything is open and nothing ever known to be stolen.


Regarding Jews and Christians:


 The Jews . .  in Arabia . . fled from the destruction of Jerusalem and  grew very powerful, several tribes and princes embracing their religion; which made Mohammed at first show great regard to them, adopting many of their opinions, doctrines, and customs; thereby to draw them, if possible, into his interest. But that people . . . were so far from being his proselytes, that they were some of the bitterest enemies he had, waging continual war with him, so that their reduction cost him infinite trouble and danger, and at last  his life. This aversion of theirs created at length as great a one in him to them, so that he used them, for the latter part of his life, much worse than he did the Christians, and frequently exclaims against them in his Quran; his followers to this day observe the same difference between them and the Christians, treating the former as the most abject and contemptible people on earth. 


The [Christian] Roman empire declined apace after Constantine, as did the lands of the Grecians and the Persians. As these empires were weak and declining, so Arabia, at Mohammed’s setting up, was strong and flourishing. . .  The Arabs seem to have been raised up on purpose by God, to be a scourge to the Christian church, for not living answerably to that most holy religion which they had received. . . But the damage done by Mohammed to Christianity seems to have been rather owing to his ignorance than malice; for his great misfortune was, his not having a competent knowledge of the real and pure doctrines of the Christian religion, which was in his time so abominably corrupted, that it is not surprising if he went too far, and resolved to abolish what he might think incapable of reform.


Regarding Muhammad:


It is scarce to be doubted but that Mohammed had a violent desire of being reckoned an extraordinary person, which he could attain to by no means more effectively, than by pretending to be a messenger sent from God, to inform mankind of his will. The scheme of religion which Mohammed framed, and the design and artful contrivance of those written revelations (as he pretended them to be) which compose his Quran, shall be the subject of the following sections.  . . . It is certainly one of the most convincing proofs that Mohammedism was no other than a human invention, that it owed its progress and establishment almost entirely to the sword; and it is one of the strongest demonstrations of the divine original of Christianity, that it prevailed against all the force and powers of the world by the mere dint of its own truth, after having stood the assaults of all manner of persecutions, as well as other oppositions, for 300 years together and at length made the Roman emperors themselves submit thereto; after which time, indeed, this proof seems to fail . . .



The Quran:


The style of the Quran is generally beautiful and fluent, especially where it imitates the prophetic manner and scripture phrases. He must have a very bad ear who is not uncommonly moved with the very cadence of a well-turned sentence; and Mohammed seems not to have been ignorant of the enthusiastic operation of rhetoric on the minds of men; for which reason he has not only employed his utmost skill in these his pretended revelations, to preserve that dignity and sublimity of style, which might seem  not unworthy of the majesty of that Being, whom he gave out to be the author of them; and to imitate the prophetic manner of the Old Testament; he has not neglected even the other arts of oratory; wherein he succeeded so well, and so strangely captivated the minds of  his audience, that several of his opponents thought it the effect of witchcraft and enchantment, as he sometimes complains. . . . That Mohammed was really the author and chief contriver of the Quran is beyond dispute. . . . However it be, the Mohammedans absolutely deny the Quran was composed by their prophet himself; that it is eternal and uncreated, that the first transcript has been from everlasting by God’s throne, written on a table of vast bigness.


Other Holy Scriptures:


As to the scriptures, the Mohammedans are taught by the Quran that God, in divers ages of the world, gave revelations of his will in writing to several prophets, the whole and every word of which it is absolutely necessary for a good Moslem to believe.  The number of these sacred books were, according to them, 104. Of which ten were given to Adam, fifty to Seth, thirty to Edris or Enoch, ten to Abraham, and the other four, being the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Gospel, and the Quran, were successively  given to Moses, David, Jesus, and Mohammed; which last being the seal of the prophets, those revelations are now closed, and no more are to be expected. All these divine books, except the four last, they agree to be now entirely lost, and their contents unknown. . .  And of those four the Pentateuch, Psalms, and Gospel, they say, have undergone so many alterations and corruptions, that though there may possibly be some part of the true word of God therein, yet no credit is to be given to the present copies in the hands of the Jews and Christians. The Mohammedans have also a Gospel in Arabic, attributed to St. Barnabas, wherein the history of Jesus Christ is related in a manner very different from what we find in the true Gospels, and correspondent to those traditions which Mohammed has followed in his Quran. [This Gospel of Barnabas contains a complete  history of Jesus Christ from His birth to His ascension; and most of the circumstances in the four real Gospels are to be found therein, but many of them turned, and some artfully enough, to favor the Mohammedan system. From the design of the whole, and the frequent interpolations of stories and passages wherein Mohammed is spoken of and foretold by name, as the messenger of God, and the great prophet who was to perfect the dispensation of Jesus, it appears to be a most barefaced forgery. One particular I observe therein induces me to believe it to have been dressed up by a renegade Christian, slightly instructed in his new religion, and not educated a Mohammedan; I mean the giving to Mohammed the title of Messiah, and that not once or twice only, but in several places; whereas the title of the Messiah, or, as the Arabs write it, al Masih, i.e., Christ, is appropriated to Jesus in the Quran, and is constantly applied by the Mohammedans to Him, and never to their own prophet.]


Women and Paradise:


But all the glories [of Paradise] will be eclipsed by the resplendent and ravishing girls of paradise, called, from their large black eyes, Hur al oyun, the enjoyment of whose company will be a principal felicity of the faithful. . . . [T]he 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, and a tent erected for him of pearls, jacinths, and emeralds, of a very large extent; and, according to another tradition, will be waited on by three hundred attendants while he eats, will be served in dishes of gold, whereof three hundred shall be set before him at once, containing each a different kind of food . . . [T]here will be no want of wine, which, though forbidden in this life, will yet be freely allowed to be drunk in the next, and without danger, since the wine of paradise will  not inebriate, as that we drink here. . . . .[T]he inhabitants of paradise will not need to ease themselves, nor even to blow their nose, for that all superfluities will be discharged and carried off by perspiration, or a sweat as odoriferous as musk, after which their appetite shall return afresh.


Before we quit this subject it may not be improper to observe the falsehood of a vulgar imputation on the Mohammedans, who are by several writers reported to hold that women have no souls, or, if they have, that they will perish, like those of brute beasts, and will not be rewarded in the next life. In an answer returned to an old women, who, desiring him to intercede with God that she might be admitted into paradise, [Mohammed] told her that no old woman would enter that place; which setting the poor woman a-crying, he explained himself by saying that God would then make her young again.


The Pilgrimage:


The pilgrimage to Mecca is so necessary a point of practice that, according to a tradition of Mohammed, he who dies without performing it, may as well die a Jew or a Christian, and the same is expressly commanded in the Quran.  The [pilgrimage] ceremonies, by the confession of the Mohammedans themselves, were almost all of them observed by the pagan Arabs many ages before their prophet’s appearance; and particularly the compassing of the Kabah, the running between Safa and Merwa, and the throwing of the stones in Mina, and were confirmed by Mohammed, with some alteration in such points as seemed most exceptional: thus, for example, he ordered that when they compassed the Kabah they should be clothed; whereas, before his time, they performed that piece of devotion naked, throwing off their clothes as a mark that they had cast off their sins. . .  It is also acknowledged that the greater part of these rites are of no intrinsic worth, neither affecting the soul, nor agreeing with natural reason, but altogether arbitrary, and commanded merely to try the obedience of mankind, without any further view; and are therefore to be complied with; not that they are good in themselves, but because God has so appointed.  The pilgrimage to Mecca, and the ceremonies prescribed to those who perform it, are, perhaps, liable to greater exception than other of Mohammed’s institutions; not only as silly and ridiculous in themselves, but as relics of idolatrous superstition.


The temple of Mecca was held in excessive veneration by all the Arabs . . . and especially those of Mecca. . . .[A]s the most silly and insignificant things are generally the objects of the greatest superstition, Mohammed found it much easier to abolish idolatry itself, than to eradicate the superstitious bigotry with which they were addicted to that temple, and the rites performed there. . . .

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