First Muslim in U.S. Congress to use historic Koran
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; 12:55 PM
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, attacked for planning to use the Koran at his swearing-in instead of a Bible, will use a copy of the Muslim holy book once owned by Thomas Jefferson, an official said on Wednesday.
Representative-elect Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, requested the 18th century copy of the Koran for the unofficial part of his swearing in on Thursday, according to Mark Dimunation, chief of rare books and special collections at the Library of Congress in Washington.
Ellison, a Muslim convert who traces his U.S. ancestry to 1741, wanted a special copy of the book to use, Dimunation said, and approached the library for one.
The third U.S. president, serving from 1801 to 1809, Jefferson was a collector with wide-ranging interests. His 6,000-volume library, the largest in North America at the time, became the basis for the Library of Congress.
Ellison, elected in November, initially came under attack in the blogosphere and by at least one conservative radio commentator after he said he would use the Koran in his unofficial ceremony.
Members are sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives as a group with no Bibles or other books involved; but in a country where three out of every four people consider themselves Christians, the Bible has traditionally been used in ensuing unofficial ceremonies.
These unofficial events among other things provide each member with a photo opportunity for themselves and their constituents.
Rep. Virgil Goode, a Virginia Republican who represents the area where Jefferson lived, was one of those who criticized Ellison for wanting to use the Koran, calling for strict immigration policies specially crafted to keep Muslims out of the United States.
The English translation of the Koran from Jefferson's collection dates to the 1750s. Jefferson sold his collection to the U.S. Congress after its library was lost when the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812. Much of his collection was destroyed in an ensuing fire in 1851 but the Koran that Ellison will use survived, Dimunation said.
Ellison, a native of Detroit, will be one of 42 blacks in the House next term. There will be one black U.S. senator.