Nerina Rustomji

Nerina Rustomji is associate professor of history at St. John's University where she specializes in the intellectual and cultural formation of Islamic societies and the Middle East. She is the author of The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture, which narrates a history of heaven and hell in Islamic texts, material cultures, and book arts from the seventh century C.E. She is currently completing Beauty of the Houri: Heavenly Virgins, Earthly Jihad, and the Feminine Models of Islam, which narrates an intellectual history of Islamic, European, and American notions of the pure female companions of Islamic paradise.

Posts by Nerina Rustomji:

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

Muslim fears and Muslim rights

Thomas Jefferson's Qur'anMuslims played a crucial role in determining the full extent of religious liberty in the early history of the United States of America. Even though the founders did not know any actual Muslims, the figure of a Muslim represented two ideas about authority and belonging. The first idea drew upon European fears of Islamic authority. For Americans who were familiar with Enlightenment texts, Muslims, and particularly Turks, supported despotism and enslavement, and it was believed that if the United States did not stamp out monarchical tendencies, then it was in danger of replicating tyrannical systems represented by the Ottoman Empire. The second idea celebrated the promise of civic rights by including hypothetical Muslims as potential citizens and office-bearers of the United States.

Denise Spellberg’s book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders demonstrates that fear of Muslims may have played a role in American cultural perceptions of the world, but it was the second idea about rights of Muslims that guided the founders as they built a government based on religious liberty.

Read the rest of Muslim fears and Muslim rights.