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Commentary: Columnist's grasp on history is shaky

May 09, 2012|By Brad DeFord

Almost always, I read Mona Shadia's columns with bemusement and incredulity. Her mixture of Islamic religious advocacy and sheer naïveté is mostly harmless drivel, like the rest of what is printed in the Independent.

Yet what she writes and how she writes it in her column titled "Islam's influence on the Founding Fathers" (Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C., April 26) simply cannot be passed over so easily.

When I read that John Locke "got many of his ideas from Islam and was often accused of being a Muslim by others," I simply had to do what any discerning reader and, I would think, any responsible editor would do: I went to the Internet to check her sources.

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It turns out that it is more than a bit of a stretch to say that "America's forefathers were influenced by Islam itself." Shadia cites Zulfiqar Ali Shah, whom she rightly says is an "Islamic scholar."

Shah's paper on "comparative religion" can be found at http://www.fiqhcouncil.org and is titled "Founding Father's of America's Indebtedness to Islamic Thought." Apart from the grammatical difficulties of the title, there is a long distance between Islam and "Islamic thought." Shadia implies otherwise.

Shah's paper is an interesting study. He says that Locke was "accused of being a 'Moslim' by his adversaries such as John Edwards (1637-1716)" — "accused" not because he was a Muslim nor because he believed in Islam, but because he was a "Socinian," meaning that, like a Muslim, he denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.

For Shadia to say "apparently, accusing your opponents of being Muslim is not a new thing (ahem!)" is to misunderstand and misplace the historical context of Shah's remark. Shadia would do better to understand this distinction: It is one thing to be accused falsely by one's enemies of being a Muslim, which one is not. It is another to be a Muslim, and to be accused by people hostile to Islam.

However, the personal religious beliefs of Locke are not at issue, even though Shadia implies that they are. Perhaps, as Shah says, "some of [Locke's] close friends were either Muslims or Muslim sympathizers."

Regardless of the company Locke kept, I think it more likely, and more significant, that he and others of his time drew their ideas with the wider net encouraged by the Enlightenment, the age in which they lived. At best, one could say that some Islamic thinkers influenced Locke's thinking, and his thinking in turn influenced Thomas Jefferson.

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