Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders

Denise A. Spellberg. Knopf, $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-307-26822-8
Spellberg, a professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas, Austin, presents for the reader a comprehensive survey of attitudes toward Islam in Europe and America in the 17th and 18th centuries, detailing Thomas Jefferson's vision of a religiously pluralist society and his positive answer to the question of whether a Muslim could be a full citizen of the new United States. The book's focus is often undecided, though, as it wanders away from Jefferson to explore prominent early political figures such as John Adams and John Leland, and even the question of Islam among African-American slaves; it doesn't provide enough in-depth material on other founders to fully justify the subtitle or turn the main spotlight from Jefferson himself. In its stronger moments, the book explores some fascinating topics relevant to the modern political landscape, such as the First Barbary War, and accusations by Jefferson's political opponents that he was a secret Muslim, and makes a convincing case that Muslims have always served as the Other in American discourse. In its weaker moments, however, its dry tone and dense lists of facts, often without full context or analysis, will make it more appealing to academics with a specialty in the subject than to the lay reader. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/23/2013
Release date: 10/01/2013
Paperback - 392 pages - 978-0-307-38839-1
Open Ebook - 366 pages - 978-0-385-35053-2
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