Ellison Uses Thomas Jefferson's Quran
Thursday, January 4, 2007; 8:18 PM
WASHINGTON -- Keith Ellison made history Thursday, becoming the first Muslim member of Congress and punctuating the occasion by taking a ceremonial oath with a Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
"Look at that. That's something else," Ellison, D-Minn., said as officials from the Library of Congress showed him the two-volume Quran, which was published in London in 1764.
A few minutes later, Ellison took the ceremonial oath with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at his side. So many of Ellison's family members attended the ceremony that it was done in two takes.
Ellison had already planned to be sworn in using a Quran, rather than a Bible. He learned last month about Jefferson's Quran, with its multicolored cover and brown leather binding, and arranged to borrow it.
Although the Library of Congress is right across the street from the Capitol, library officials took extra precautions in delivering the Quran for the ceremony. To protect it from the elements, they placed the Quran in a rectangular box and handled it with a green felt wrapper once inside the Capitol.
Instead of using surface streets, they walked it over via a series of winding, underground tunnels _ a trip that took more than 15 minutes. Guards then ran the book through security machines at the Capitol.
The Quran was acquired in 1815 as part of a more than 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. Jefferson, the nation's third president, was a collector of books in all topics and languages.
The book's leather binding was added in 1919. Inside, it reads, "The Koran, commonly called 'The Alcoran of Mohammed.'" Jefferson marked his ownership by writing the letter "J" next to the letter "T" that was already at the bottom of pages, according to Mark Dimunation, chief of the Library of Congress' rare book and special collections division.
Ellison, the first black member of Congress from Minnesota, was born in Detroit and converted to Islam in college. He said earlier this week that he chose to use this Quran because it showed that a visionary like Jefferson believed that wisdom could be gleaned from many sources.
In a brief interview Thursday on his way to a vote, Ellison suggested he had tired of the whole issue of his using the Quran.
"It was good, we did it, it's over, and now it's time to get down to business," he said.
Asked if he was relieved to have it behind him, Ellison said, "Yeah, because maybe we don't have to talk about it so much anymore. Not that I'm complaining, but the pressing issues the country is facing are just a little bit more on my mind right now."
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 approached Goode on the House floor Thursday, introducing himself and offering to meet for coffee. According to Ellison, Goode said he'd be interested in doing that. The subject of Goode's comments didn't come up, Ellison said.
"Look, we're trying to build bridges," Ellison said. "We're trying to help bring about understanding. We don't want issues of misunderstanding and division to exist if they don't have to."
Goode's office did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages for comment.
Ellison's mother, Clida Ellison, said in an interview that she thought any controversy over her son's choice was good, "because many people in America are going to learn what the diversity of America is all about."
She described herself as a practicing Catholic.
"I go to Mass every day," she said.