WASHINGTON – Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, will use a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson during his ceremonial swearing-in Thursday.
The chief of the Library of Congress’ rare book and special collections division, Mark Dimunation, will walk the Quran across the street to the Capitol and then walk it back after the ceremony.
Ellison, D-Minn., contacted the library about the book last month, Dimunation said.
Some critics have argued that only a Bible should be used for the swearing-in. Last month, Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., warned that unless immigration is tightened, “many more Muslims” will be elected and follow Ellison’s lead. Ellison was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college.
Ellison spokesman Rick Jauert said the new congressman “wants this to be a special day, and using Thomas Jefferson’s Quran makes it even more special.”
“Jefferson’s Quran dates religious tolerance to the founders of our country,” he added.
An English translation of the Arabic, it was published in 1764 in London, a later printing of one originally published in 1734.
“This is considered the text that shaped Europe’s understanding of the Quran,” Dimunation said.
It was acquired in 1815 as part of a 6,400-volume collection that Jefferson sold for $24,000, to replace the congressional library that had been burned by British troops the year before, in the War of 1812.
“It was a real bargain,” Dimunation said.
Jefferson, the third president of the United States, collected books in all topics and languages, said Dimunation. The Quran survived an 1851 fire in the Capitol building. Dimunation described it as a two-volume work, bound in leather with marble boards.
“As a rare book librarian,” he said, “there is something special about the idea that Thomas Jefferson’s books are being walked across the street to the Capitol building, to bring in yet another session of governmental structure that he helped create.”