Thomas Jefferson's Quran to Visit Dubai Expo

Former American President Thomas Jefferson's Quran, which has been used by American politicians at swearing-in ceremonies, sits on display at the U.S. pavilion at the Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

(RNS) — A copy of the Quran once owned by former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson will be displayed in the Unites States' pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020, the world's fair currently underway in the United Arab Emirates after being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The historic English-language Quran, translated with a preface by George Sale, has never traveled outside the United States since it arrived in what was then colonial America. The two-volume set was printed in London in 1764.

According to the Library of Congress, Jefferson's Quran will be the "first object on display after guests emerge from a sound and light experience that showcases the U.S. founding principles, particularly its innovations. Jefferson and the Quran are the first example of those goals."

The pavilion will also feature a SpaceX rocket and rock taken from the Moon during a NASA mission.

"It gives me great pride that this Holy Quran … which has been in the possession of one of the founding Fathers of the United States, is being displayed to the world as a symbol of America's respect for religious plurality," said Anila Ali, the founder of the American Muslim & Multifaith Empowerment Council, who will be traveling to Dubai as part of an interfaith delegation.

The Dubai Expo 2020 is the latest world's fair of "the works of industry of all nations" that began in London in 1851 and has taken place at varying intervals ever since. More than 192 countries have pavilions at this year's event, which began on October 1 under strict COVID-19 protocols. More than 25 million visitors from around the world are set to visit the event.

Though the event will run until next March, Jefferson's Quran will only be on display for the first three months of the Expo. According to the Library of Congress, the stay is "unusual," as its holdings are normally only loaned to museums or other cultural institutions.

The Library of Congress speculates that Jefferson, due to his large holdings of enslaved Africans and their descendants, "may well have had firsthand experience with members of the faith." 

Yet, Jefferson, as the United States' first secretary of state as well as its third president, was also interested in the Muslim world for geopolitical reasons. The Kingdom of the Morocco was the first country to recognize American independence in 1777. During the First Barbary War in 1805, Jefferson entertained a Tunisian envoy at the White House during Ramadan.

The dinner was held at sunset to accommodate the religious needs of Jefferson's Muslim guest.

When Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison became the first Muslim to be elected to Congress in 2006, he chose to be sworn into office using Jefferson's copy of the Quran.
The theme of the USA Pavilion at the Dubai 2020 Expo will be "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of the Future," a take on Jefferson's phrase from the Declaration of Independence championing "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," itself Jefferson's improvement on philosopher John Locke's "life, liberty and property." 

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.