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Shadia: Islam's influence on the Founding Fathers

Even though I wasn't born or raised here, there's a reason I feel at home in America.

America's principles align with Islam's teachings. In fact, America's principles are not just based on Judeo-Christian values, but Judeo-Christian-Islamic values. After all, the three religions share the same father, Abraham, and the same God.

After some research and a chat with a friend, who shared with me the work of a few authors and scholars, I'm convinced that this relationship and compatibility between Islam and America is not a coincidence.

It is because America's forefathers were influenced by Islam itself.

Hear me out.

There's no doubt that when the Founding Fathers were forming the Constitution, they relied heavily on thinkers like John Locke.

Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence, used the terms "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," which were taken directly from Locke's "Second Treatise of Civil Government," according to a comparative religion paper written by Zulfiqar Ali Shah, an Islamic scholar.

Locke's ideas were used to form the Constitution and heavily influenced figures like Thomas Paine, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.

You probably knew all of that. Locke was one of the political philosophers I studied in graduate school, and I often thought his ideas on human rights were in line with Islam's.

But what I didn't know is that Locke got many of his ideas from Islam and was often accused of being a Muslim by others, according to Shah. Apparently, accusing your opponents of being Muslim is not a new thing (ahem!).

Locke, as well as Jefferson, owned a copy of the Koran. Jefferson was the first president to host a Ramadan Iftar dinner at the White House, and, while campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, he demanded that people recognize the religious rights of the "Mohamadan," the Jews and the "Pagan," according to a Library of Congress article by James H. Hutson, chief of the Manuscript Division.

Muslims were also part of this country from its inception.

"Readers may be surprised to learn that there may have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Muslims in the United States in 1776 — imported as slaves from areas of Africa where Islam flourished," Hutson wrote. "Although there is no evidence that the Founders were aware of the religious convictions of their bondsmen, it is clear that the Founding Fathers thought about the relationship of Islam to the new nation and were prepared to make a place for it in the republic."

Did you know that there's a statue of the Prophet Muhammad in the Supreme Court? It has been there for many years and no one is up in arms over it.

TheCouncil on American-Islamic Relations(CAIR), however, petitioned the court to remove the statue in 1997. The organization argued that the statue's depiction of the prophet with a sword was not accurate, that Islam — fearing idol worship — discourages its followers from portraying prophets in photos or any other artistic forms. CAIR also said that pamphlets about the prophet handed out to tourists were inaccurate, according to an article in Mental Floss.

Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist denied CAIR's request, saying the sword is depicted as a symbol of justice and that the statue wasn't intended for idol worship but to recognize the prophet "as an important figure in the history of law," according to Mental Floss.

Rehnquist, however, said he would ensure that the pamphlets would be corrected.

So how do Islam's principles align with America's?

The answer is they both call for a just system that suggests democracy.

The Koran never specifies which kind of a government people should establish, but lists certain principles and values that must be followed. These include the right to protection of life, human dignity, family, religion, education and property from harm or abuse in a system that is just to all, regardless of faith.

This is basically the definition of — wait for it — Sharia, Islam's code of ethics, conduct and belief.

Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, one of Islam's early leading scholars, said, "The foundation of the Shariah is wisdom and the safeguarding of people's interests in this world and the next. In its entirety it is justice, mercy and wisdom. Every rule which transforms justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil, and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the Shariah."

Most Islamic scholars agree that Islam demands justice to be at the heart of any society, and it's evident in how the prophet conducted his affairs and forged treaties with what Muslims call the People of the Book: Jews and Christians.

The Koran is clear on the issue of diversity and states that it is part of God's divine wisdom. I'd be pretty bored if everyone looked like me, thought like me, believed like me and acted like me.

And this is why America's system closely resembles that of what God intended.

It is why this is my home.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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