Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, found himself under attack last month when he announced heâ€™d take his oath of office on the Qur`an — especially from Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, who called it a threat to American values.
Yet the holy book at the ceremony has an unassailably all-American provenance. The new congressman — in a savvy bit of political symbolism — held the personal copy once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
â€œHe wanted to use a Qur`an that was special,â€ said Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division at the Library of Congress, who was contacted by the Minnesota Dem early in December. Dimunation, who grew up in Ellisonâ€™s 5th District, was happy to help.
Jeffersonâ€™s copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jeffersonâ€™s collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isnâ€™t the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies — the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.
Ellison took the official oath of office along with the other incoming members in the House chamber, then used the Qur`an in his individual, ceremonial oath with new Speaker Nancy Pelosi. â€œKeith is paying respect not only to the founding fathersâ€™ belief in religious freedom but the Constitution itself,â€ said Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert.
One person unlikely to be swayed by the bookâ€™s illustrious history is Goode, who released a letter two weeks ago objecting to Ellisonâ€™s use of the Qur`an.
â€œI believe that the overwhelming majority of voters in my district would prefer the use of the Bible,â€ the Virginia Republican told Fox News, and then went on to warn about what he regards as the dangers of Muslims immigrating to the United States and Muslims gaining elective office.
Yeah, but what about a Qur`an that belonged to one of the greatest Virginians in history? Goode, who represents Jeffersonâ€™s birthplace of Albemarle County, had no comment yesterday.