Month: May 2012

A Letter From Mecca

Posted on Updated on

In 1964, a major American public figure and “a Muslim par excellence, a martyr in the cause of Allah”, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, Malcolm X, wrote a letter from Mecca to the members of his “Organization of Afro-American Unity” in Harlem, New York:

“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this Ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures.  For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.

I have been blessed to visit the Holy City of Mecca.  I have made my seven circuits around the Ka’ba, led by a young Mutawaf named Muhammad.  I drank from the well of Zam Zam.  I ran seven times back and forth between the hills of Mt. Al-Safa and Al-Marwah.  I have prayed in the ancient city of Mina, and I have prayed on Mt. Arafat.

There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world.  They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans.  But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.

America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.  Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered “white” – but the “white” attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam.  I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.

You may be shocked by these words coming from me.  But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions.  This was not too difficult for me.  Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it.  I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.

During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed  (or on the same rug) – while praying to the same God – with fellow Muslims, whose eyes where the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white.  And in the words and in the actions, in the deeds of the “white”  Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana.

We were truly all the same (brothers) – because their belief in one God had removed the white from their minds, the white from their behavior, and the white from their attitude.

I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man – and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their “differences” in color.

With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called “Christian” white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem.  Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster – the same distruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually distroyed the Germans themselves.

Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insight into what is happening in America between black and white.  The American Negro can never be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of  the conscious racism of the American whites.  But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences  that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwritting on the walls and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth – the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to.

Never have I been so highly honored.  Never have I been made to feel more humble and unworthy.  Who would believe the blessings that have been heaped upon an American Negro?  A few nights ago, a man who would be called in America a “white man”, a United Nations diplomat, an ambassador, a companion of kings, gave me his hotel suite, his bed. … Never would I have even thought of dreaming that I would ever be a recipient of such honors – honors that in America would be bestowed upon a King – not a Negro. ”  

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.


El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz

(Malcolm X)


Moorish Heritage in the Cuisines of Spain and Portugal

Posted on Updated on

Entrada Index

Iberian Peninsula.

Moorish Heritage in the Cuisines of Spain and Portugal

SHORT VERSION OF – VERSION DE MODIFICADA DE: TERESA DE CASTRO>>, Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, New York, USA. Scribner and Sons. 2003, Vol 2, pp. 227-22. (La Peninsula Iberica: Vision General) Teresa de Castro c 2009 – 2016

The Iberian Peninsula, in south-western Europe, is occupied by Spain and Portugal.  it is separated from the main continent by the Pyrennees and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the northwest and west and the Mediterranean to the south and east.

The characteristics of the Iberian cuisine cannot be understood without the culinary influence of Romans, Arabs, Jews and Christians, and the dietary exchange that followed the colonisation of America and the  colonialism of Africa and the Far East. Still, Rome never conquered the Basque Country and the Arabic heritage never reached the north-western fringe of the Peninsula.  Moorish influence is particularly important in areas in which Moors and/or Moriscos remained longer, that is, in the southern and eastern regions ( Alentejo, Algarve, Andalusia, Aragon, Extremadura, Murcia and Valencia0 especially in rural areas.

Moorish cuisine was shaped by the combination of Andalusian, Persian Maghribian ingredients, and had a selection of basic foodstuff, condiments and cooking processes.  Experacion Garcia in La Alimentacion, Lucie  Bolens in La cuisine andalouse, and Manuela Marin in Cuisine D’ Orient have described this cuisine. The expulsion of Mariscos from the Peninsula in the 17th century was the end of the Moorish culinary system in Iberian lands. However some elements of this system are still visible  in the Peninsula.

The foodways influenced indirectly Christian’s cuisine as a result of the contact that Muslims and Christians had during long periods of time in frontier’s lands in peaceful periods, mostly before the 15th century.

Christians’ cuisine absorbed Moorish influence, firstly, through the effect that Moors’ foodway had on Christian upper classes during the Caliphate and Ta’ifa’s periods (10th-12th c), when al-Andalus (Iberian Muslim Kingdom/s) was a cultural model to imitate.  This was the golden age of al-Andalus, and for the Christian World, “Moorish style”, meant luxury and exoticism.

A second way of penetration was through the contact that Moors and Christians had during long peaceful periods of time in frontier’s lands, especially in the south.

A third way was the result of years of interaction between Moorish and Christian communities in those cities where, after the Christian conquest, Mudejares (Muslims who did not convert to Christianity) had been set in ghettos inside or outside of urban walls.

The final via was through the neighborhood that Moriscos (Muslims who converted to Christianity), had with Christians in the Kingdom of Granada, the last Muslim territory to be conquered (1492).

After the failure of the Morisco’ rebellion in Alpujarras region (1568-1570) the Moriscos were expelled from Andalusia and relocated around the Kingdom of Castile, spreading even more their influence.  Nevertheless, the resistance of the Moriscos to integrate themselves – despite the pressure of the Inquisition produced a Christian’s disgust and hostility with regard to Morisco foodways.  Although this anger could not stop the culinary exchange, the action of Christian culture and foodways on Moors’ cuisine led to the disappearance, substitution,  addition, modification or different combination of ingredients and culinary practices once Moorish. The outcome was a cuisine that contained some Moorish components but was different because it had different flavours, smells, colors, and textures.

Moorish Culinary Contribution

Expiracion Garcia in La Alimentacion, Lucie Bolens in La cuisine andalouse, and Manuela Marin in Cuisine  d’Orient have described Al-Andalus cuisine.  However, contemporary Iberian cuisine has only a few elements of this Al-Andalus cuisine. In the Iberian Peninsula, these culinary features are marked by the prevalence or use of certain ingredients, dishes, methods of cooking, or ways of eating that was once typical of Al-Andalus but devoid of any religious meaning. These features having a Moorish heritage are:

  • Communal sharing from the same dish.  Examples of such shared dishes are paella, migas (fried bread crumbs or semolina), and gachas and papas (porridge).  This practice of sharing is no longer as prevalent as it once was.
  • Predominance of  yellow, green and white colors.  Yellow is common in most rice dishes, in fish stews with rice or noodles, and in some chickpea stews.  White is typical of some sweet rice pudding (arroz con leche and arroz con doce), some porridges, and some soups such ajo blanco (white garlic soup), the original gazpacho, gazpachuelo (a fish and egg soup), and various almond soups.  Green is the dominant color of some Portuguese dishes prepared with coriander, although the sopa verde (green soup) cannot be included in this category.
  • Use of saffron, cumin, coriander.  Coriander is rarely found in traditional Spanish cuisine but is very popular in Portugal, especially in dishes from Alentejo; some food writers relate this use to African influences.  Saffron is used both to color and to flavor rice dishes, legume stews, and meat casseroles.  Cumin season some legume stews sausages, and dishes of meat and fish.
  • Spiced stews made from chickpeas, lentils, and from fresh or dried broad beans.  Examples of such legume and bean stews include potaje de garbanzos, poteje de lentjas, fava rica, fava con coentro.  The consumption of broad beans, however, has diminished during the last sixty years.  Bulgur, or cracked wheat, is still included in some dishes from the Alpujarras region in Andalusia.
  • Savory or sweet porridges, made from different flours.  These, porridges, such as gachas and papas, were also the basis of Roman cuisine.
  • Dishes made with bread crumbs or slices of bread.  Breadcrumbs or torn up slices of bread are used for thickening and giving texture to many varieties of gazpacho and other kinds of soups (acorda, sopa de ajo, ensopados, and sopas secas).  Breadcrumbs are also the main ingredient in migas, a traditional popular dishe.  There are some factors that relate the recipe for migas, in its Andalusian version, to the recipe for couscous.  The first element is the way in which migas are cooked.  A sort of steam cooking is produced through sauteeing and continuous stirring of the ingredients such as fresh fruit, fried vegetables, fried or roasted fish or sausages, and even sweets.  Finally, migas, like couscous are eaten from the pan in which they were prepared.  The pan is placed on the table, and the whole family eats from it.
  • Spiced fritters and desserts.  Various doughnut-like  fritters (bunuelos. boladinhos, roscos. filhos, pestinos), and desserts (alcorza, alfenique, alaju, nougat, and marzipan) are made by combining honey or sugar, egg yolk, cinnamon, and sometimes ground almonds.
  • Other popular food dishes.  Flatbreads, either baked (pao estentidos) or fried ( pao de serta, sorta), stuffed eggs, stuffed eggplants, vermicelli stew, spiced meatballs, shish kebabs, (pinchos morunos, espetada), and quince paste are current Iberian foods also mentioned in Arab cookbooks.

Nikah: Marriage in Islam

Posted on Updated on

In Islam, marriage is a contract between a man and a woman to live as husband and wife. A formal, binding contract is considered integral to a religiously valid Islamic marriage, and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the husband and the wife.  The marriage must be declared publicly.  Divorce is permitted.

In addition to the usual marriage until death or divorce, there is a different fixed-term marriage known as Nikah al-Mut’ah (“temporary marriage”) permitted only by Twelvers (a branch of Shia Islam) for a pre-fixed period.

Nikah al-Mut’ah (“pleasure marriage” or “short-term marriage”), is a fixed- term contractual marriage in Shia Islam.  It is automatically dissolved upon completion of its term.  Marriage in Islam including the Nikah al-Mut’ah, is contractual. Mu’tah has the same rulings and Mahr (“dowry”) as conventional marriage.

All the rights are given to the contractual wife while she is within the contractual period. The mut’ah offspring has the same rights as the conventional marriage offspring. There are some basic rules and requirements which must be fulfilled for a justified Nikah al-Mut’ah; for example a virgin girl cannot contract a Mut’ah without permission from her father or grandfather.

Shia and Sunnis agree that Mut’ah was legal in early times, but the Sunnis consider that it was abrogated.  Ibn Kathir writes:

“There’s no doubt that in the outset of Islam, Mut’ah was allowed under the Shariah” (Islamic Law).

Temporary marriage was a custom of pre-Islamic Arabs. It was used as a convenience shield, useful in the case where a man had to travel away from home for long periods of time, or was not able to commit fully to marriage.

In the Hadith  (statements and traditions of Prophet Muhammad, salla alaiyhi wa salaam) collection of Tirmizi, Abdullah ibn Abbas narrates:

“Temporary marriage was at the beginning of Islam. A man comes by a town where he has no acquaintances, so he marries for a fixed time depending on his stay in the town, the woman looks after his provisions and prepares his food, until the verse was revealed: “Except to your wives or what your right hand possess.”

A majority of Sunnis believe that Prophet Muhammad later abolished this type of marriage at several different large events, the most accepted being at Khaybar in 7AH(629 CE) Bukhari 059.527 and at the victory of Mecca in 8 AH(630 CE).  Most Sunnis beleive that Umar later was merely enforcing a prohibition that was established during Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) time.

Shi’a Muslims believe that Umar ibn al-Khattab abolished it, not the Prophet.  He did it during the third year of his reign, 15 AH (637 CE), 6 years after the revelation of the verse 4:24, in the Hadith of Umar’s speech of forbidding Mut’ah, but since he, according to them, had no authority to do so, Umar’s prohibition seems to have been temporary and applicable to one place, hence may be ignored (Muslim 2801).

Shi’a Muslims believe that this institution was established by God through Prophet Muhammad(saw) in the Qur’an.  Its single mention in  the Qur’an is verse 4:24. Tafsir:

“Then give those of these women you have enjoyed the agreed dower” was revealed on the subject of the Mut’ah marriage.”

Shi’a Muslims have “concensus”(ijma) on interpretation of the following verse in the Qur’an:

“And all married women (are forbidden unto you) save those (captives) whom your right hand possess.  It is a decree of Allah for you. Lawful unto you are all beyond those mentioned, so that ye seek them with your wealth in honest wedlock, not debauchery. And those of whom ye seek content (by marrying them), give unto them their portion as a duty. And there is no sin for you in what ye do by mutual agreement after the duty (hath been done). Lo! Allah is ever Knower, Wise. (Sura 4:24).

Al-Tabari, in his Tafsir (commentary), writes under this verse a Hadith from Mujahid: “The phrase “Then give those these women you have enjoyed the agreed dower” means the temporary marriage'”

But Sunni commentators disagree in their Tafsirs, arguing the phrase “Then give those of these women you have enjoyed the agreed dower” refers to permanent marriage.

Mut’ah is one of the distinctive features of the Ja’fari Jurisprudence.  No other school of Islamic Jurisprudence allows it. According to Imam Jafar as Saddiq, “One of the matters about which I shall never keep precautionary silence (taqiyya) is the matter of Mut’ah.”

According to Shi’a scholar Ali Komenei:

“Temporary marriage like permanent marriage, requires a contract.  Moreover there is no difference between permanent marriage and temporary marriage except in some aspects of the law, such as there is no divorce in temporary mirriage – it terminates with the expiration of the time period.  Likewise, neither spouse in a temporary marriage inherits from the other. The temporary marriage is as follows: The female says: “I marry myself to you for the specified dowry (mention the amount) and for the specified time period (mention the time period)”.  Then the man says: “I accept'”

Nikah Misyar:

Nikah Misyar is a Sunni Muslim Nikah (Travel Marriage) (marriage) carried out via the normal contractual period, with the specificity that the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will, such as living together, equal division of nights between wives in cases of polygamy, the wife’s right to housing, and maintenance money (“nafaqa”), and the husband’s right of homekeeping, and access etc.

Essentially the couple continue to live separately from each other, as before their contract, and see each other to fulfill their needs in a permissible (halaal) maner when they please.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Kubaissi from the United Arab Emirates thinks there is no problem with “misyar mirriage.  It fulfils all the demands of Islamic law.  Nevertheless, he describes it as contrary to the norms of decent Islamic life.

Some people consider that the Misyar marriage can meet the needs of young people whose resources are too limited to settle down in a separate home; divorcees, widows, widowers, who have their own residences and their own financial resources but cannot, or do not want to marry again according to the usual formula; and of slightly elder people who have not tasted the joys of marriage.

Islamic Lawyers (Mujtahids) add that this type of marriage fits the needs of conservative countries which punishes “zina” (fornication) and other sexual relationships which are established outside of a marrige.  Thus, some Muslim foreigners working in the Persian Gulf countries prefer to engage in the misyar marriage rather than live alone for years.  many of them are actually already married with wives and children in their home country, but they cannot bring them to the region.

Islamic scholars like Ibn Uthaimeen or Al-Albani claim, for their part, that misyar marriage may be legal, but not moral.  They agree that the wife can at any time, reclaim the rights which she gave up at the time of of the contract. But, they are opposed  to this kind of marriage on the grounds that it contradicts the spirit of the Islamic law of marriage and that it has perverse effects on the woman, the family and the  community in general.

For Al-Albani, misyar marriage may even be considered as illicit, because it runs counter to the objective and the spirit of marriage in Islam, as described in this verse in the Qur’an:

“And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts).”

Al-Albani also underlines the social problems which result from the “misyar” marriage, particularly in the event that children are born from this union.  The children raised by their mother in a home from which their father is always absent, without reason may suffer difficulties. The situation becomes even worse if the wife is abandoned or reputiated by her husband, with no means of substance, as usually happens.

“Shaykh Ibn Baaz” (may Allah have mercy on him) was asked about Misyar marriage; this kind of marriage is were the man marries a second, third or fourth wife and the wife is in a situation that compels her to stay with her parents or one of them in her own house, and the husband goes to her at various times depending on the circumstances of both.  What is the Islamic ruling on this type of marriage?

Shaykh Ibn Baaz replied”

“There is nothing wrong with that if the marriage contract fulfills all the conditions set out by Shariah, which is the presence of the Wali (guardian) and the consent of both partners, and the presence of two witnesses of good character to the drawing up of the contract, and both partners being free of any impediments, because of the general meaning of the Prophet ( peace and blessings of Allah be upon him): “The conditions that are most deserving of being fulfilled are those by means of which intimacy becomes permissible for you” and “The Muslims are bound by their conditions.”  If the partners agree that the woman will stay with her family or that her share of the husband’s time will be during the day and not the night, or on certain days and nights, there is nothing wrong with that, so long as the marriage is announced and not hidden.”

Shaykh Al-Albani was asked about Misyar marriage and he disallowed it for two reasons:

  1. That the purpose of marriage is repose as Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And among His signs is this, that He created for you wives from among youselves, that you may find repose in them, and He has put between you effection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect.”(al-Room 30:21).  But this is not achieved in this kind of marriage. 2) It may be decreed that the husband has children with this woman, but because he is far away from her and rarely comes to her, that will be nagatively reflected in his children’s upbringing and attitude.

As for Ibn Uthaymeen, he recognizes the legality of “misyar” marriage from the Shariah standpoint, but considers that it should be opposed because it has been turned into a real merchandise that is being marketed on a large scale by “marriage agencies”, with no relation to the nature of Islamic marriage.

Critics of this marriage observe, more generally, that this type of marriage usaully ends up in divorce.  As a result the wife finds herself abandoned , forced to lead a solitary life as she had before the marriage, but truamatized by the experience, while her social status and reputation degraded.

The proponents of the misyar marriage, though they recognize that it can result in problems,  observe that it doesn’t have a monopoly on them. The problems result, more generally, from the way in which people apply the rules of the Shariah.

Today, in a large number of Muslim countries, there are official family and marriage law codes whose provisions wouldn’t allow the conclusion of marriage of misyar type. However, in a number of Gulf States essentially, misyar marriage is accepted by the community and is usually arranged privately through a notary with no publicity.


Ijtihad is the making of a decision in Islamic Law (Sharia) by personal effort (Jihad), independently of any school (madhab) of jusisprudence (fiqh), as opposed to taqlid, copying or obeying without question.

Ijtihad is mainly associated with the Usuli Shia Muslim Jafari school of jurisprudence.  To be valid and accepted it has to be rooted in the Quran and hadith and it is required that no established doctrine rules the case. A Mujtahid is an Islamic scholar who is competent to interpret sharia by ijtihad. Whereas Ahkbari Shi’a Muslims outright reject ijtihad and do not imitate a mujtahid who practice ijtihad.

The Qu’ran commands ijtihad and the “Door of Ijtahad” was opened by Umar ibn al-Khattab.  Muslim scholar Muhammad al Tijani writes in his book “Then I Was Guided” that the first Companions to open the door of Ijtihad was the second Caliph, who used his discretion vis-a-vis the Quranic Text after the death of the Messenger of Allah (saw).

In early Islam it was common practice and later it integrated into early Islamic philosophy. It slowly fell out of practice in Sunni fiqh for several reasons, particulary due to the efforts of the Asharite theologians, most notably al-Ghazali whose book “The Incoherence of the Philosophers” was the most celebrated statement of the view that ijtihad was leading to errors of over-confidence in judgement.

Anthony Janszoon van Salee- New York’s first Muslim American

Posted on Updated on

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, commonly known as Murat Reis the younger (circa 1570 – post 1641?) was the President and Grand Admiral of the Corsair Republic of Sale, Governor of Qualidia, and a Dutch pirate, one of the most notorious of the Barbary pirates from the 17th century; the most famous of the “Sale Rovers.”

In 1619, the Sale Rovers or Salle Rovers declared the Moroccan port of Sale to be an independent Republic free of the Sultan. They set up a government that consisted of 14 pirate leaders, and elected Janszoon as their President.  He would also serve as the Grand Admiral of their navy. The Sale fleet totaled about eighteen ships, all small because of the very shallow harbor entrance.

Even the Sultan of Morocco, after an unsuccessful siege of the city, acknowledged its semi-autonomy. Contrary to popular belief that Sultan Zidan Abu Maali had reclaimed sovereignty over Sale and appointed Janszoon the Governor in 1624, the Sultan merely approved Janszoon’s election as President by formally appointing him as his ceremonial governor.

Under Janzoon’s leadership, business in Sale thrived.  The main sources of income of this republic remained piracy and its by-trades, shipping and dealing in stolen property. Historians have noted Janszoon’s intelligence and courage which reflected in his leadership ability.

Janszoon had become very wealthy from his income as piratical admiral, payments for anchorage and other harbor dues, and the brokerage of stolen goods. The political climate in Sale worsened toward the end of 1627, so Janszoon quietly moved his family and his entire piratical operation back to semi-independent Algiers.

In 1596, by an unknown Dutch women, Janszoon’s first child was born, Lysbeth Janszoon van Haarlem.

After becoming a privateer, Janszoon met an unknown woman in Cartagena, Spain, who he would marry.  The identity of this woman is historically vague, but the consensus is that she was of some kind of mixed-ethnic background, considered “Moorish” in Spain.  Historians have claimed her to be nothing more than a concubine, others claim she was a Muslim Mudejar – a name given to individual Moors or Muslims of Al-Andalus who remained in Iberia after the Christian Reconquista but were not converted to Christianity, unlike Moriscos who had converted- claims have been made that she worked for a Christian noble family, and other claims have been made that she was a “Moorish princess.” Through this mariage, Janszoon had four children: Abraham Janszoon van Salle (b. 1602), Philip Janszoon van Salle (b. 1604), Anthony Janszoon van Salle (b. 1607), and Cornelius Janszoon van Salle (b. 1608).

It is speculated that Janszoon married for the third time to the daughter of Sultan Moulay Ziden in 1624.

Jan Janszoon’s fourth child, Anthony Janszoon van Salee (1607-1676), was an original settler of and prominant landholder, merchant, and creditor in New Neatherlands (New York city).  Anthony Janszoon van Salee was New York’s first Muslim, an arguably one of the first in the New World. His Qur’an was eventually auctioned in the following centuries, having passed through a descendant, Robert Bayles, a one-time President of the Market and Fulton National Bank of New York.

Anthony Janszoon van Salee was born in 1607 in Cartagena, Spain. In 1624 Anthony was in Sale, Morocco with his father, leaving in 1627 for Algiers with his family. Van Salee was living near the harbor in Amsterdam when he obtained a marriage license on December 15, 1629 to marry a 27-year old German native Grietse Reyniers two days before his ship was to set sail for the New World. In 1630, at the age of 22, he had immigrated to New Neatherlands (New York city), along with his bride, as a colonist of the Dutch West India Company.

It is speculated that Anthony’s father had provided him a considerable fortune, and by 1639 he was one of the largest landholders on the island, as well as a prosperous farmer. The relationship with his father after arriving in New Amsterdam (New York) is unclear.

One of Van Salee’s  first properties was  a farm on the island of Manhatten acquired in 1638 which was named “Wellenstein”, titiled in memory of Albrecht von Wellenstein. Becoming one of the original settlers of the area, the plat was located on the north side of the stockade along present-day Wall Street. The bouwery was surveyed from Broadway to the East River between Ann Street and Maiden Lane.  He transfered the deed the following year.

Following numerous legal disputes, including with the church, Anthony was ordered to leave New Neatherland, but on appeal to the Dutch West India Company, was allowed to settle on 200 acres (0.81 km) in what would become  New Ultretch and Gravesend, Brookyln.  This made him now one of the largest and most prominent landholders on Long Island.  In 1643 he purchased a house on Bridge Street in New Amsterdam, in defiance of the court order restricting such. He would go onto become a successful merchant and creditor in New Amsterdam, while owning several properties throughout the region.

Anthony was a defender of minorities in the colony and subjected to repeated discrimination.  Neighbors called him ” A Turk”, a rascal, and a horned beast.” He was engaged in many legal disputes, from his dog attacking the hog of a black townsman, Anthony the Portuguese, to pointing loaded pistols at slave overseers from the Dutch West India Company.

The first grantee of Conyne Eylandt (Coney Island), he helped found many long Island settlements, including New Ultrecht, Gravesend, and in 1660 Boswijck along with 23 settlers which included Franciscus the Negro, a former slave who had won his freedom. Religiously, he read his Qur’an freguently, partioned for Christian missionaries, and was fined for housing an English Quaker at his home on Bridge Street who was to repair a Dutch church.  He was the neighbor of Lady Deborah Moody, of whom he was on good terms with,  although he had disputes with her husband Sir Henry who filed speech charges against him.

Claims have been made that Grietse Reyniers, a woman from the Neatherlands was previously the mistress of Woulter van Twitter.  She encountered him while an employee of the tavern belonging to Pieter de Winter. Grietse was dubbed the first Manhatten “lady of the night” by some accounts, while some have called her the “Carrie Bradshaw” of colonial Manhatten.

Between 1638 – 1639, the couple accounted for 10% or 15 of the 93 cases brought before the Dutch legal system in the colony. During this period the Dutch legal system was heavily invested in quarrels, and the cases included actions of petty slander from the likes of Anneka and Domine Bogardus after Grietse accused of them of lying, Grietse mooning the naval fleet and Anthony’s drunkenness.

Grietse died in 1669, and Anthony married Metje Grevenraet, before dying in 1676 after passing his final years at his home on Bridge Street. Metje was a Quaker who helped Anthony tolerate the church.

He had four daughters with Reyniers who married into repectable colonial commercial families:

  • Eva Antonis, who married Ferdinandus van Sycklin, an original immigrant to New Neatherlands for whom Van Siclen Avenue in Brooklyn is named for. He was a descendant of a crusader and banker named Simon van der Sicklen, whose family possesed the domain of Nazareth, Belgium during the medieval ages and founded the town of Siclin, now in France. The families original surname was de la Faucille.
  • Cornelia, who married William Johnson.
  • Annica, who married Thomas Southhard, born Thomas Southworth, cousin to Constant Southworth, stepson of Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony, Annica and Thomas daughter Abigail was the great-great grandmother of Cornelius Vanderbilt.
  • Sara, who married John Emans.

Anthony Janszoon van Salee’s physical appearance and race is the subject of much debate, and like his mother, the consensus was that he was of mixed-ethnic background.  He was incredibly tall with superior strenght.  Van Salee has been described many ways, with some calling him a “semi-Dutchman” of “tawny” complexion, erecting the first “European” house in New Ultrecht.  Other descriptions have said he was a “former black slave” who was a “mullato”, others include “half Moroccan”, “Turk”, “Berber” and “swarthy”.

Anthony was very wealthy and had made many enemies, falsely being attributed to certain history written well after his death.  Anthony’s appearance is consistantly used in court documentation alongside his name with the phrase “Turk”, indicating his appearance and/or lifestyle was a main emphasis for documentarians and historians during  that period.  From deduction, he was not a “free black”, claimed in 2008, and a “former slave”, as claimed in 2001, because he was the wealthy heir of a former head of state.  It is also noted that Anthony was considered “European” enough to be credited in 1643, for building the first “European” settlement in New Ultrecht, while even historic Southern African-centric collections cannot determine what his actual appearance, race or origin was.  It is also noted that he had four daughters who married into respectable, colonial New Amsterdam families of European origin.

Anthony Janszoon van Salee’s notable descendent’s include the Vanderbilt dynasty in the United States and Europe, while it is unclear if a brother or himself was a progenitor of the Bouvier line of the Kennedy dynasty according to family legacy.

It is claimed that Jan Janszoon van Harleem, Murat Reis, President and Grand Admiral of the Corsair Republic of Sale had many prominent descendent’s in North America and Europe.  They include William Henry Vanderbilt, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Dr. John van Salee de Grasse, John Vernou Bouvier III, John H. Hammond, Princess Lee Radziwell, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, Gloria Vanderbilt, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Dutchess of Marlborough; James Spencer- Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough; Lady- in- waiting to Queen Elizabeth II, Rosemary Mildred Spencer-Churchill, George Spencer-Churchill, Earl of Sunderland, Christopher Denys Stormont Finch Hatton, 17th Earl of Nottingham, Countess Gladys Vanderbilt Szechenyi of Hungary, Countess Sylvia Szechenyi of Hungary, and: Jacqueline Kennedy, former American First Lady, Humphey Bogart,  Academy Award Winning Actor, Caroline Kennedy, American First Daughter, Gertrude Vanderbilt, American Socialite, John F. Kennedy Jr., American First Son, Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, American Senator, Anderson Cooper, American Media Personality.

Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an

Posted on Updated on

Written by Sebastian Prange

Photographed by Aasil Ahmad

Saudi Aramco World

July/August 2011

Volume 62, Number 4

Facing the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. stands the Jefferson Building, the main building of the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library, with holdings of more than 140 million books and other printed items. The stately building, with its neoclassical exterior, copper-plated dome and marble halls, is named after Thomas Jefferson, one of the ‘founding fathers” of the United States, principle author of the 1776 Declaration of Independence and, from 1801 to 1809, the third president of the young republic. But the name also recognizes Jefferson’s role as a founder of the Library itself. As president, he enshrined the institution in law and in 1814, after a fire set by British troops during the Anglo-American War destroyed the Library’s 3000-volume collection, he offered all or part of his own wide-ranging book collection as a replacement for the losses, commenting that “there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”

Among the nearly 6500 books Jefferson sold to the Library was a two-volume English translation of the Qur’an, the book Muslims recite, study and revere as the revealed wordd of God.  The presence of this Qur’an, first in Jefferson’s private library and later in the Library of Congress, prompts the questions why Jefferson purchased this book, what use he made of it, and why he included it in his young nation’s repository of knowledge.

These questions are all the more pertinent in light of assertions by some present-day commentators that Jefferson purchased his Qur’an in the 1780’s in response to conflict between the US and the “Barbary states” of North Africa – today Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. That was a conflict Jefferson followed closely- indeed, in 1786, he helped negotiate a treaty with Morocco, the United States’ first treaty with a foreign power. Then, it was relations with Algeria that were the most nettlesome, as its ruler demanded the payment of tribute in return for ending semiofficial piracy of American merchant shipping.  Jefferson staunchly opposed tribute payment. In this context, such popular accounts claim, Jefferson was studying the Qur’an to better understand these adversaries, in keeping with the adage “know thy enemy.” However, when we look more closely at the place of this copy of the Qur’an in Jefferson’s library- and in his thinking- and when we examine the context of this particular translation, we see a different story.

From his youth, Thomas Jefferson read and collected a great number of books, and a wide varity of them: The collection he eventually sold to the Library of Congress comprised 6487 volumes, ranging in subject from classical philosophy to cooking.  Like many collectors of the time, Jefferson not only cataloged his books but also marked them. It is his singular way of marking his books that makes it possible to establish that, among the millions of volumes in today’s Library of Congress, this one specific Qur’an did indeed belong to him.

In the 18th century, the production of books was still an essentially manual process.  By means of a hand press, large sheets of paper were printed on both sides with multiple pages before being folded. They were folded once to produce four pages for the folio size, twice to produce eight pages for the quarto or four time to produce the 16-page octavo.  These folded sheets, known as “gatherings,” were then sewn together along their inner edges before being attached to the binding. To ensure that the bookbinders would stichthe gatherings together in the correct sequence, each was marked with a different letter of the alphabet on what, after folding, would become that gathering’s first page.

Thus, in an octavo volume like Jefferson’s Qur’an, there is a small printed letter in the bottom right-hand corner of every 16th page.  It was Jefferson’s habit to take advantage of these preexisting marks to discreetly inscribe each of his books. On each book’s 10th gathering, in front of the printer’s mark J he wrote a letter T, and on the 20th gathering, to the printed T he added a J, thereby in each case producing his initial. This subtle yet unmistakable signature appears clearly on the two leather-bound volumes in the Library of Congress.

Jefferson’s system for organizing his library has often been described as a “blueprint of his own mind.” Jefferson kept his Qur’an in the section on religion, located between a book on the myths and gods of antiquity and a copy of the Old Testament.  It is illuminating that Jefferson did not class religious works with books on history or ethics- as might perhaps be expected- but that he regarded their proper place to be within jurisprudence.

The story of Jefferson’s purchase of the Qur’an helps to explain this classification.  Sifting through the records of the Virginia Gazette, through which Jefferson ordered many of his books, the scholar Frank Dewey discovered that jefferson bought this copy of the Qur’an around 1765, when he was still a student of law at the College William and Mary in Virginia. This quickly refutes the notion that Jefferson’s interest in Islam came in response to the Babary threat to shipping. Instead, it situate his interest in the Qur’an in the context of his legal studies- a conclusion that is consistent with his shelving of it in the section on jurisprudence.

Jefferson’s legal interest in the Qur’an was not without precedent. There is of course the entire Islamic juridical tradition of religious law (Shari’ah) based on Qur’anic exegesis, but Jefferson had an example at hand that was closer to his own tradition. The standard work on comparative law during his time was Of The Law of Nature and Nations,  written by the German scholar Samuel von Pufendorf and first published in 1672.  As Dewey shows, Jefferson studied Pufendorf’s treatise intensively and, in his own legal writtings, cited it more freguently than any other text.  Pufendorf’s book contains numerous references to Islam and to the Qur’an.  Although many of these were disparaging- typical for European works of the period- on other ocassions Pufendorf cited Qur’anic legal precedents approvingly, including the Qur’anic emphasis on promoting moral behavior, its proscription of games of chance and its admonition to make peace between warring countries. As Kevin Hayes, another eminent Jefferson scholar, writes: “Wanting to broaden his legal studies as much as possible, Jefferson found the Qur’an well worth his attention.”

In his reading of the Qur’an as a law book, Jefferson was aided by a relatively new English translation that was not only thechnically superior to earlier attempts, but also produced with a sensitivity that was not unlike Jefferson’s own emerging attitudes. Entitled The Koran; commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed, it was prepared by the Englishman George Sale andpublished in 1734 in Lodon. A second edition was printed in 1764, and it was this edition that Jefferson bought. Like Jefferson, Sale was a lawyer, although his heart lay in oriental scholarship.  In the preface to his translation, he lamented that the work “was carried on at leisure time only, and amidst the necessary avocations of a troublesome profession.” This preface also informed the reader of Sale’s motives: “If the religious and civil Institutions of foreign nations are worth our knowledge, those of Mohammed, the lawgiver of the Arabians, and founder of an empire which in less than a century spread itself over a greater part of the world than the Romans were ever masters of, must needs be so.” Like Pufendorf, Sale stressed Muhammad’s role as “lawgiver” and the Qur’an as an example of a distinct legal tradition.

This is not to say that Sale’s translation is free of the kind of prejudices against Muslims that characterize most European works on Islam of this period.  However, Sale did not stoop to the kinds of affronts that tend to fill the pages of earlier such attempts at translation. To the contrary, Sale felt himself obliged to treat “with common decency, and even to approve such particulars as seemed to me to deserve approbation.” In keeping with this commitment, Sale described the Prophet of Islam as “richly furnished with personal endowments, beautiful in person, of subtle wit, agreeable behavior, shewing liberality to the poor, courtesy to every one, fortitude against his enemies, and above all, a high reverence for the name of God.” This portrayal is markedly different from those of earlier translators, whose primary motive was to assert the superiority of Christianity.

In addition to the relative liberality of Sale’s approach, he also surpassed earlier writers in the quality of his translation. Previous English versions of the Qur’an were not based on the original Arabic, but rather on Latin or French versions, a process that layered fresh mistakes upon the errors of their sources.  Sale, by contrast, worked from the Arabic text. It was not true, as Votaire claimed in his famous Dictionnaire philosophique of 1764, that la savent Sale had acquired his Arabic skills by having lived for 25 years among Arabs; rather, Sale had learnt the language through his involvement in preparing an Arabic translation of the New Testament to be used by Syrian Christians, a project that was underwritten by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge in London.  Studying alongside Arab scholars who had come to London to assist in this work, he acquired within a few years such good command of the language that he was able to serve as a proofreader of the Arabic text.

“Translation” or  “Interpretation”?

“In this Qur’an, We have put forward all kinds of illustrations for people, so that they may take heed- an Arabic Qur’an, free from any distortion.”

That quotation from Surah 39, Verses 27-28, of the Qur’an was rendered into English by Muhammad A.S. Abdel Haleem, Professor of Islamic Studies at the School Oriental and African Studies in London.  It emphasizes a basic yet far-reaching fact about the holy book of Islam: It was received and recorded in the Arabic language.  Muslims believe that the Qur’an is inseparable from the language in which it was revealed, and for this reason, all Muslims worldwide recite it in Arabic, even though today the vast majority of Muslims are neither Arabs nor native speakers of Arabic. Many Muslims also regard the eloquence of the Qur’an as evidence of its divine provenance. A popular story recounts how, in the time of Muhammad, the most famous poet of Makkah converted to Islam after reading one of its verses, convinced that no human could ever produce a work of such beauty.

This makes any attempt to render the Qur’an into another language a daunting task, and explains why Muslims prefer to call non-Arabic versions of the Qur’an “interpretations.”  The difficulties are compounded further by the interpretive problems inherent in all translations, that is, the word-by-word demand for decisions about the intended meaning of the original and most suitable equivalent in the target language.  These issues the Qur’an itself seems to anticipate: “Some of its verses are definite in meaning- these are the conerstone of the scripture- and others are ambiguous. The perverse at heart eagerly persue the ambiguities in their attempt to make trouble and pin down specific meaning of their own: only God knows the true meaning.” (Surah 3, Verse 7, Abdel Heleem version)

Most modern-day “translators” of the Qur’an explicitly engage these issues and explain their particular approach and decisions.  While there will never be a definitive Qur’an in any language other than Arabic, these days English readers are able to choose from among a wide selection of careful “interpretations.”

It is thus not so surprising that Sale turned from translating the holy text of Christians into Arabic to rendering the holy text of  Muslims into his native English. Noting the absence of a reliable English translation, he aimed to provide a “more genuine idea of the original.” Lest his readers be unduly daunted, he justified choice of fedelity to the original by stating that “we must not expect to read a version of so extarordinary a book with the same ease and pleasure as a modern composition.”  Indeed, even though Sale’s English may appear overwrought today, there is no denying that he strove to convey some of the beauty and poetry of the original Arabic.

Sale’s aspiration to provide an accurate rendition of the Qur’an was matched by his desire also to provide his readers with a more honest introduction to Islam. This “Preliminary Discourse,” as he entitiled it, runs more than 200 pages in the edition Jefferson purchased.  Fairly presented and conscientously documented, it contains a section on Islamic civil law that repeatedly points out parallels to Jewish legal precepts in regard to marriage, devorce, inheritence, and lawful retaliation and rules of warfare.  In this substantial discussion, Sale displays the same quality of dispassionate interest comparative that later moved Jefferson.

But did reading the Qur’an influence Thomas  Jefferson? That question is difficult to answer, because the few scattered references he made to it in his writtings do not reveal his views.  Though it may have sparked in him a desire to learn the Arabic language (during the 1770’s Jefferson purchased a number of Arabic grammars), it is far more significant that it may have reinforced his commitment to religious freedom.  Two examples support this idea.

In 1777, the year after he drafted the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was tasked with excising colonial legacies from Virginia’s legal code.  As part of this undertaking, he drafted a bill for the establishment of religious freedom, which was enacted in 1786.  In his autobiography, Jefferson recounted his strong desire that the bill should not only should extend to Christians of all denominations but should also include “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohometan (Muslim), the Hindoo, and the infidel of every denomination.”

This all-encompassing attitude to religious pluralism was by no means universally shared by Jefferson’s contemporaries.  As the historian Robert Allison documents, many American writters and statesman in the late 18th century made reference to Islam for less salutary aims. Armed with tendentious and often grossly distorted accounts, they portrayed Islam as embodying the very dangers of tyranny and depotism that the young republic had just overcome.  Allison argues that many American politicians who used “the Muslim world as a reference point for their own society were not concerned with historical truth or with an accurate description of Islam, but rather with this description’s political convenience.

These attitudes again came into conflict with Jefferson’s vision in 1788, when the states voted to ratify the United States Constitution.  One of the matters at issue was the provision- now Article VI, Section 3- that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any office or public Trust under the United States.” Some Anti-Federalist singled out and opposed this ban on religious discrimination by painting a hypothetical scenerio in which a Muslim could become president. On the other side of the argument. despite their frequent opposition to Jefferson on other matters, the Federalist praised and drew on Jefferson’s vision of religious tolerance in supporting uncircumscribed rights to bothto faith and elected office for all citizens.  As the historian Denise Spellberg shows in her examination of this dispute among delegates in North Carolina, in the course of these constitutional debates ” Muslims became symbolically embroiled in what it meant to be American citizens.”

It is intriguing to think that Jefferson’s study of the Qur’an may have inoculated him- to a degree that today we can only surmise- ainst such popular prejudice about Islam, and it may have informed his conviction that Muslims, no less and no more than any other religious group, were entitled to all the legal rights his new nation could offer.  And although Jefferson was an early and vocal proponent of going to war against the Barbary states over their attacks on US shipping, he never framed his argument for doing so in religious terms, sticky firmly to a position of political principle. Far from reading the Qur’an  to better understand the mindset of his adversaries, it is likely that his earlier knowledge it confirmed his analysis that the root of the Barbary conflict were economic, not religious.

Sale’s Koran remained the best available English version of the Qur’an for another 150 years.  Today, along with the original copy of Jefferson’s Qur’an, the Library of Congress holds nearly one million printed items relating to Islam- a vast collection of knowledge for every new generation of lawmakers and citizens, with its roots in the law student’s leather-bound volumes.

“We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to freguent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or beliefs; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or effect their civil capacities'” – From the Virginia Stutue For Religious Freedom, ratified 1786; drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1777.

“The style of the Koran is generally beautiful and fluent, especially where it imitates the prophetic manner, and scripture phrases.  Its is consise, and often obscure, adoredn with bold figures after eastern taste, enlivened with florid and sententious expressions, and in many places, especially where the majesty and attributes of God are described, sublime and magnificent; of which the reader cannot but observe several instances, though he must not imagine the translation comes up to the original, notwithstanding my indeavours to do it justice.” – From ” A Preliminary Discourse” by George Sale