In a very clever gesture, Keith Ellison, the first Moslem to be
elected to Congress, has announced that will take his oath of office using
Thomas Jefferson's own copy of the Koran. While widely viewed as a way to
diffuse criticism from arch-conservative Christians, the move also sends a
subtle message to Islamic extremists as well. The Jefferson Koran is in English.
Arch-conservative Moslems consider translating the Koran from the original
Arabic blasphemous. For example, the centuries long tension between Arabs
and Berbers in the Sahara is partially fueled by the Berber use of a translated
version of the Koran.
a black American who converted to Islam, Ellison personifies a significant, if
usually unpublicized, rift in the Moslem community in the U.S. Perhaps 30-40
percent of American Moslems are African Americans, many of them former "Nation
of Islam" adherents who became mainstream Moslems. They are often regarded as
"second class" Moslems by co-religionists of recent immigrant origins, and
particularly so by Moslems with Arab roots. Race certainly plays a part in
this, as black slavery was once common in much of the Arab world, and Arabs
usually consider Moslems of other ethnicities as inferior in any case.
there is more. African American Moslems usually have a much different world
view than do Moslems of other ethnicities. To begin with, they are Americans,
and have a much firmer grasp of the nature of American society, the political
process, and the complexities of living in a pluralistic environment. They also
adhere to some "American" cultural values. Black American Moslems differ from
their immigrant co-religionists in that they are much more committed to
securing a niche in mainstream society. They are also much more socially
liberal; the most socially conservative Republicans seem like revolutionaries
compared with most orthodox Moslems.
is thus staking out a position distancing himself from the Islamic
conservatives, while still asserting his religious preferences. This may make
him particularly effective.