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The Jeffersonian Koran

The executive committee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council has already criticized Dennis Prager, a conservative pundit and council member, for arguing that a Muslim lawmaker should not take his congressional oath of office on a Koran. It turns out Prager’s argument isn’t making much headway at the Library of Congress.

It turns out that the Library is providing the Muslim congressman-elect, Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota, with a Koran owned by Thomas Jefferson to use in his private swearing-in ceremony.

Here’s the statement:


Rep.-elect Keith Ellison to Take Oath of Office on Alcoran of Mohammed (1764)

When Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) takes his individual ceremonial oath of office on Jan. 4, it is to be with one hand upon Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran.

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, requested to take the oath upon Jefferson’s personal copy of George Sale’s 1734 translation of the Koran, commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed (London: Hawes, Clarke, Collins and Wilcox, 1764). The two-volume work, which resides in the Library of Congress’ Rare Book and Special Collections Division, is one of nearly 6,500 titles sold to Congress by Jefferson in 1815 to replace the Congressional Library that had been destroyed when the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812.

“The unparalleled holdings of the Library of Congress reflect Thomas Jefferson’s universal approach to collecting,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “Jefferson believed that there was no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer. As the nation’s library, and as a symbol of the central role that free access to information plays in a knowledge-based democracy, the Library continues to collect internationally, on all subjects, and in more than 470 languages.”

The Library has periodically provided historic bibles and other works from its collections for use in ceremonial occasions.

Sale’s English translation is credited with introducing the West to the Koran. It is the first to have been translated directly from the Arabic to English. Jefferson’s copy was rebound by the Library in 1918.

In 2000, to mark the Library’s bicentennial and to honor the role played in its history by the third president, the Library mounted an exhibition titled “Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty,” which included a display of his personal library. The exhibition is accessible online at On the occasion, the Library also launched a worldwide search to locate duplicates of volumes from the personal library of Thomas Jefferson that were destroyed by a second fire in the U.S. Capitol on Christmas eve in 1851. The project was supported by a gift of $1 million from Jerral Jones, owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, and other donations from members of the Madison Council, the Library’s private sector advisory group.

Plans are currently underway to publicly display Jefferson’s library in late 2007 when the Library unveils its New Visitors Experience, which will showcase the Thomas Jefferson Building and the Library’s physical and digital resources. Selected volumes from Jefferson’s library are periodically on display in the “American Treasures of the Library” exhibition.


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