US Congressman taking an oath on the Quran

The newly elected first Muslim congressman Keith Ellison must not be allowed to take an oath on the Quran, says Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host in Southern California. Why? It would destroy the foundation of American culture. 

Really! If the culture is so fragile that it would disintegrate by a simple act of swearing in on the Quran, then it deserves to be analyzed carefully.

Even though the first amendment guarantees freedom of religion, and the constitution does not require people to talk an oath of allegiance on the Bible, the issue goes beyond the realm of legalities. It is a debate about the future of this country and a discussion on changing demographic, intellectual and social realities.

Changes in the demography indicate that America has become home of various religious communities that were considered insignificant a few decades ago. Muslims with over six million, Hindus with more than three million, Buddhists with about two million, Bhais with over a million and of course Jews with about seven million as well as Sikhs, Jains, Pagans, atheists and agnostics make up about 15 percent of the population. With the exception of Jews who accept the Old Testament and reject the New Testament, none view the Bible as their Holy Scripture. Muslims acknowledge the divine origin of Torah (Old Testament) and Injeel, (New Testament), but question its authenticity. Hindus have a polytheistic perspective and Buddhist don't believe in the concept of one God. Bahais view all religions equal and add that their leader was the last of the exponent of the divine message. Fifteen-percent of the population is not an insignificant number. Its religious identity cannot be ignored and certainly commentators like Dennis Prager, himself a Jew, have failed to recognize it's existence. 

Socially, these communities have their own religious institutions and many of them are actively involved in the political arena as well. To expect them to show allegiance to a Book that they don't accept as a guiding principle in their every day life is meaningless. Those who demand such an act either do not understand the significance of an oath or do not take the act seriously. They are either reacting on the basis of their chauvinistic tendencies or religious bigotry.

However, it is at the intellectual level that debate about using a book other than the Bible assumes much significance, because it is this discussion that is going to have its impact on the future of the country.

There are four different dimensions of the debate on the issue. Some tend to believe that the country is founded on Judeo-Christian traditions and the inclusion of any other religious tradition would corrupt the ideological foundations of the state. Then there are those that believe Judeo-Christian traditions are incomplete without the inclusion of Islam. Hence they argue that America should recognize it as a country guided by Judeo-Christian-Islamic values. The third group argues that in a secular polity, no religious book should be required for an oath of allegiance and the fourth group believes that everyone should be given the freedom to choose whatever book, he or she chooses to take an oath of any office.

Those who believe in the supremacy of the Judeo-Christian traditions of the country comprise three perspectives. The first one include a great majority of Americans who sincerely believe that the country is essentially Christian and the constitutional freedoms primarily refer to guarantees given to various Christian denominations. They don't view other religions worthy of impacting the social and cultural life of Americans. They believe that others can enjoy freedom of religion as long as they accept the supremacy of the Bible. The proponents of the second perspective argue that Judeo-Christian traditions of America are crucial to maintain the current political system and practices. Most of them realize that there is nothing Judeo-Christian in their theology. Jews, for instance do not recognize the New Testament and consider Jesus as a false Messiah. However, they accept the supremacy of Judeo-Christian tradition for political purposes. They view Muslims as the most vocal opponents of their political policies and practices. In their view, Israel occupies a central status in the so called divine politics and America is seen as a country doing the divine work by ensuring that Israel fulfills the divine prophecy in years to come. 

They tend to believe that the acceptance of anything else other than the Bible would erode the political support for the state of Israel as other perspectives will gain legitimacy, thus, neutralizing or softening the stand of Americans on its continued one sided support for the state of Israel. It is this paranoia that has driven commentators like Dennis Prager to express their opinion on the issue of taking oath on the Quran.

The third perspective within the Judeo-Christian traditions sincerely believes that the Quran has no place within the socio-political structure of the country. They believe that through their tireless tirade against Islam, they would intimidate Muslims to renounce Islam or at least change those portions of the Quran they don't approve. They view the Quran as a book contrary to their conservatism or liberalism promoting hatred and violence. They don't want to see the Quran finding its place in the corridors of power.

When Dennis Prager wrote his piece, he apparently had in mind the support that he would gather from the three proponents of the Judeo-Christian traditions. 

And sure he did. The initial response to what he wrote came from right wing conservatives, political Zionists and extremist right wing groups. Prager knows that he would not be able to stop Ellison from taking an oath on the Quran, but he would spark a debate about the Quran raising doubts in the mind of average Americans about its relevance to America.

How should Muslims respond to the debate? From a Quranic perspective, the Muslims can take either of the two following positions. Either they line up with those who believe that no book other than the constitution should be used for an oath of allegiance or all books should be permitted for that purpose. Some Muslims will argue that the sovereignty belongs to God and by showing allegiance to the constitution they would be transferring the powers to the people who are considered the ultimate power in determining the legislative directions of the country. 

However, the outcome of the debate would also be determined on the basis of Muslim's outreach in explaining to others including their opponents what the Quran is and what is its relevance to America. If they fail in this attempt, they would not become marginalized, but would become irrelevant to America as well.

Muslims have to realize that some amongst us have distorted the message of the Quran for their own political gains, some have misused it for their personal interests, and some have ignored the call of the Quran for justice and peace. 

Through their behavior and constant references of the Quran they have created negative feelings about the Quran among many non-Muslims. It is this outreach that will help most Americans overcome their fears about the Quran.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, acting chairman of the Muslim Council of America as well as the editor-in-Chief of the weekly Muslim Observer.

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Older Comments:

Largely, the sentiments of this piece, and all other I've seen on this site to date are encouraging.

I particularly appreciated the good Doctor pointing out the essential truth that, for an oath to have meaning, it must be sworn on the basis of what the oath taker holds most dear.

For a Muslim, it seems obvious, the ONLY way the oath could be valid (in the context of placing ones hand on something Holy) is by using the Koran as a symbol.


"Never again" is the command Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel gives my English I students every time we read the novel Night in class. After reading Virgil Goode's letter to his constituents days ago, my first thought was "Please God, not again."

A native of Minnesota and now a Houstonian by choice for the past ten years, I was unphased that Minnesotans had elected Keith Ellison to Congress, the first U.S. born Muslim elected to a national position. Aside from the Jessie Ventura anomaly, Minnesotans select candidates based on ability and brainpower, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or class.

The same holds true for Houston. Arguably, Houston is the most diverse, internationally cosmopolitan cities in the United States. Some may suggest that my thoughts are too credulous, but, generally, most of us have other pressing needs than to obsess over a politician's religious affiliation--at least until now.

The most incredulous aspect of this controversy, though, is Mr. Goode's response. In a stentorian manner, Mr. Goode refused to apologize and even had the gall in his "twangy" Virginian drawl to demand that there was nothing bigoted written in his letter.

As Americans, though, we know otherwise. A spade is a spade, a duck is a duck, and a racist is a racist. The right thing to do, as Americans, is to condemn this letter, and, at a minimum, demand that he apologize to all people, not just us Muslims. The logicians may correct this next statement, but its value rings true: an attack against any American is an attack against all Americans. In other words, we risk our cherished freedoms when we as the majority fail to protect our most vulnerable in this country.

At the end of the novel Night, I ask students what is the most important thing they learned. Without hesitation, the first thing they say is that hatred unchecked can lead to crimes against humanity. How true they are!

Important Clarification
When anyone takes an oath on the Quran, he is in fact swearing in the name of Allah, God Almighty. He or she is declaring that God is omnipotent and omnipresent. He or she is also declaring that consciously they would not do anything that would violate their trust with God, almighty.
God is the one to whom Ellison will swear by when he takes the Quran in his hand on the day of oath taking ceremony. Those who are opposing him in fact are saying that God of Muslims is not the same as the god of Jews and Christians. They may be right in a way because Muslims do not beleive in the divinity of Jesus or the deficiency of God in creating a perfect world. Yet, they are wrong. Regardless of their erroneous perception, God is one. He did not beget anyone nor begotten.

ALI FROM U.S.A said:
As American Culture is a mixed salad and so the foundation. The Congressman Keith Ellison must allow to take Oath on his Holy Book Quran. And all books must be allowed for Oath since America is a home of mixed communities.

Mazen, this may come as a surprise to you but our value system and our policies, be it US or European are absolutely not based upon the Judeo-Christian values that were mentioned in the Old Testament or the original Torah. As such it is quite disingenuous to lay claim to the fact that our social order and political systems are based upon the Bible or the Torah when nothing could be farther from the truth. Further unlike the Bible and the Torah the Koran is in its original text there are no versions like the many that exist of the Bible and Torah. Also if you have read the Old Testament and the Torah, there are directives there that would make your hair stand on its end, such as those encouraging murder, rape, pillage, mayhem, torture and destruction. Obviously God did not author this madness. Historically it has been man's desire to change God's written word to suit his own political agenda, and hence the numerous versions of these books. Further many quotes in the Koran were stated in the context of incidents and wars. These quotes provided an answer to an immediate problem at hand. For example the Jewish tribe of Bani Nadir repeatedly violated their treaties with the governing Islamic state, in conspiring with its enemies. The decree to confront the aggressors and violators of peace by war was quite understandable. But at the same time, compassion, humanity and peace are invoked, time and time again. Another issue that of stoning was recommended in the Bible and Torah even before the Koran was revealed. Nothing is served by a superficial and perfunctory analysis of any issue and a response that is redolent of racism and elitism. This is methodology of lies and deceit to achieve an end quite common with hateful rabble rousers such as Pat Robinson and Bill O'Reilly or Glen Beck is really not required if their message is based on truth. When one has no basis for an argument one lies to justify one's stance. God does not need you to stoop low for Him at all.

How 'valid' is the oath a person took using a 'holy' book, in which he did not believe in?

Seems like the above question is stupid. After all, politicians ignore all oaths they take. If they did not ignore them, they will not be politicians. After all, politicians are "professional liars".

I am an atheist. If I were to take an oath, which book I will use? Athiests don't have any 'bible'.

As usual, this country is going through its silly phases. But I am happy that it is going through it; the issues are going into the open and will be resolved soon. I Hope Keith Ellison sticks to his guns.

To Saba Hafeez:

In India, parliamentarians don't take oaths using any religious book. Sessions of Indian Paliament don't begin with any kind of prayer. In that sense, India is a far more secular country than USA is. Indian parliamentarians belong to too many religions to agree on taking oaths using one religious book. So, they just don't use any book. Well, in this case, Indian Parliamentarians are a little less hypocritical than US lawmakers.

I think it is so strange that someone takes an oath on a book to withhold values that are contradicting with the teachings of the very same book. How can a Muslim take an oath to his creator that he will protect and honour a system that puts itself in place of the creator in passing laws that govern poeple? Muslims should be honest with Allah and with themselves and stay away from the corporate controlled so called democratic system. Some may say we need to have our voice heard, I say in your dreams, you will only allow yourself to be used by this system.

Congressman Elect Keith Ellison,

I respect your decision to take the oath on Quran as Muslim, as an American, and as a human being.

I don't understand what the fuss is about? Should a Christian MP in India take an oath on Ramayan, Hindus Holy Book? Isn't the idea of oath is that the person is bringing his/her God as a witness, so shouldn't one take the oath to what he/she believes in rather than to someone else faith or on someone else book?

Even in old days people were allowed to take the oath on their own Holy Book where as most states didn't labeled itself as secular. It is common sense, its human courtesy, its religious freedom even within religions!

Sincere regards,

Los Angeles, CA

Look! This congressman Keith Ellison won't be any different than any other run-of-the mill politicians who start with all the good sense of service , but loose track of it in their political careers. All this is clever starategy to draw attention to oneself. Is praying 5 times day not good enough for the congressman? All these are just showing off.!

How about those lawmakers in Muslim countries who pray and take oath on Quran !! Have they become little angels serving their countries?

Just wait and see what this gut is going to do!! I couldn't care less if he stands on his head and takes the Oath!!

(somewhere stranded in an airport)

Surely a person swears on what he/she holds dear and there is no words worthy for a Muslim to swear upon than that which he/she believes in, and that is The Quran. That is the logic of it and thus the person is beholden to tell the truth at least according to his/her own belief, and it matters not what it is provided it is held dear to that person.

The oath is a verbal profession of faith. While it is easy to verbally profess ones faith it is much harder to walk the path. To understand this just look at Bush. He swore to protect the constitution of the US but has acted as if it didn't even exist. Humans put too much trust in verbal professions and give little thought to the actual profession of faith, their actions. But maybe I put too much emphasis on Bush's example. Bush professes to be "Christian" and "Christians" have a severe handicap when it comes to faith. Modern Christianity is an example of week monotheism.
Week monotheism is the concept of monotheism from the point of view of the human. It can be anything the human conceives it to be as long as they think of it as the worship of a single being. Weak monotheism accepts idols, icons, "a different God" or even amalgams as long as the worshiper believes it to be "one". Strong monotheism is monotheism from the point of view of The Creator. There is no God but the Creator and Strong monotheism is a deep subject rarely practiced. By practice I mean just that, one's acts.
"Christianity" is probably one of the most ironic names given to a "religion" in that modern Christianity teaches a paradigm that is anti-theoretical to the concept of Jesus being a Christ. Indeed if the concept of Jesus being a Christ became widespread, modern Christianity would collapse. And so we have a "religion" named after a concept it cannot abide and by extension Christians are blocked from the path Jesus taught.
Ancient Christianity was a true religion. "Re"-again, "ligio"-to bind. A true religion is about binding the soul back to God, partially through the development of conscience. "Con" - with, "science"-knowledge, the knowledge shared with God. Failing strong monotheism, modern Christianity fails in the development of the conscience, the binding to the Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Read 2:138, 19:93-96 18:42 If the Christians read these possibly they would fall silent

The US is afree country. Anybody is free to use which book he likes to take his oath.Hindus use their book, Jews use their book, Christian use their book, Islam use their book, Buddhist use teir book and so on and so forth.Come on man, let be peace in this ailing world.This is just small matter. Don't kill the Palestinian, Lebanese, Iraqis, Sudanis and the Afghan for this, man. Come on man. Freedom man, freedom. There is no terrorist man but nationalist against corrupt rulers. Peace man, Peace!

Let us take a good hard look at this issue.

1. One right wing racist talk show host does not make speak for all Americans.

Ignore him!

2. Stop making so much fuss over one member of congress. Congress is amongst the most corrupt places on earth with its members in the back pockets of special interests.
And their moral and ethical standards can best tbe judged by their willingness to go to war against Iraq on flimsy grounds, their affairs with pages and women interns, and their "greed"!

3. Most importantly are we MUSLIMS allowed to swear or take oaths on The Quran?
And what are the rules governing the taking of such oaths? for example can a non-muslim hold The Quran in his hand and administer the oath?and How can a person be held responsible for breaking his oath?

4. Sufficient is ALLAH (SWT) as the Disposer of Affairs.
Stop making the duniya and acceptance by people who should know better more impoirtant than pleasing ALLAH(SWT).

Interesting. I know a relevent event to this issue. Once a Muslim acquaintance of my son was called to the witness stand in a trial. My son was in the court room watching the developments. He saw this acquaintance picking up the Bible, while the court provided all books including Quran for swearing. After the court adjourned, my son asked the acquaintance, "why did you swear on the Bible? are you a Christian?" The acquaintance answered, "I feared for retaliations from the gangsters if I said the truth and I fear God even more. I wanted to shadow parts of my testimony, swearing on the Quran wouldn't have allowed me to."

I think, everyone should be recommended to awear on what is "Holiest" for that person if we wanted honesty and truthfullness. Every religion with its book and seculars with the constitution or flag or anything "Holy" to them. But to single out one religion or more because they weren't there before is stupid, for the fact that if somebody swears on a book he doesn't believe in, his oath is invalid. I believe that for governmental positions, all subjects believe in the country's foundation laws. As such, an oath on the flag would eliminate this debate. It is done this way in several countries, e.g., Russia.

O what a wonderful world would it be
If we only learn how to live peacefully

Freedon of Religion, this is what America was founded on. But a few refuse to follow their own laws.

Yes, Keith Ellison should not be allowed to take oath on Koran in the House of Representatives, but for different reasons. US is a secular country; there should not be any oath based on any religion. There should be no Bible or Torah or Koran in Congress. The office of Chaplain in the Congress should be abolished. All sessions must NOT (that is right Must NOT) start with any kind of prayer, even a non-demoninational prayer; even a non-demoninational concept is against secular concepts.

to take an oath on any book that you refer as Scriptures is making an promise to God or Allah that you intend to keep His word and govern this country according to His precepts. I have no problem and would trust this man to as he promices. If he don't we can vote him out next election.the Qu'ran is just as much a sciptures as is the bible and torah. people should give him a chance to show his worth

I think it is better to banish religion to one's heart, home, Church, temples and synagogue etc., than bring it to the realm of public life. It has been divider than a unifier when politicised.

I say Ban the religion in pilitics. Getting fixated by religion is very dangerous.


The article does bring up interesting questions. What about those who's spirituality has no sacred book but accepts that other groups hold a book or books sacred. Swearing an oath on a book when one doesn't hold it sacred is fairly foolish if the idea is that it is supposedly a promise made to a particular deity because if one doesn't believe in that deity how binding could it be? Shouldn't someone's solumn word and the penaties for perjury be enough? (And then there is good old George W., who on becoming president, took an oath on a bible that he would defend the contitution and ever since has been working hard to dismantle it. How serious did he take his book and his oath?)

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Assalaamu Alaikum

The congressman must take the oath on the Glorious Quran. Sometimes, people make comments or complain just to get attention. We shouldn't give too much weight to such complains.

I would also like to advise myself first and then to my brother Dr. Aslam that the Book of Allah (SWT) Injeel does not translate to New Testatment. Injeel Translates to The Gospel, singular. The New Testatment is, among other things, copilation of the four gosples (plural) of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Glorious Qur'am does not make any reference to these gospels.

The Original teachings of Isaa Alaihi Salaam (Jesus, peace be upon him), which were the result of the revelation he received (Injeel) from Allah (SWT) was the one that has been tampered with and changed. Allah (SWT) Knows best!

Finally, the New Testament, the four gospels does have some teachings of Jesus (PBUH); and only those teachings can be considered Jesus (PBUH) the ones that can be verified by the Glorious Qur'an.

Jazak Allahu Khairn Brother Aslam for your article. May Allah (SWT) reward you with abundance of khair in this Dunya and the Akhirah, Ameen.

Your Brother in Islam

Once again the Zionist have proven to all that they will go to all sorts of lengths to put Islam in a bad light (even though some of our folks are also guilty of this!). I feel Dr. Aslam Abdullah hit the nail right on the head when he argued that either everyone is allowed to swear an oath by the book he/she believes in or NONE at should be permitted.