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The Books that Politicians Use to Swear-in

One of the articles I chanced upon on the Feedspot blog was written by Robert Spencer and entitled "What's Wrong With Being Sworn In On The Qur'an." The article is dated March 4, 2022, and comes from, a periodical that Spencer and his colleagues produce to share Muslim violations worldwide. This article grabbed my attention because I also addressed loyalty oaths taken by members of Congress using the Qur'an as their sacred book in my forthcoming book, Muslim Mechanics. I admit that Dr. Spencer added a few facts that I was unaware of, and I would like to embellish my content with material from his article.

Newly elected members of Congress must take an oath of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. Newly elected members of Congress do not place their hands on any book during the official swearing-in ceremonies when they raise their right hand to take the oath of office in January. They stand in front of the Speaker's podium altogether, raise their right hands, and pledge a commitment in which they swear to uphold the Constitution. Members, individually, may choose to carry a sacred text.

Jefferson's Qur'an was placed in the national spotlight in January 2007 when Keith Ellison, the United States' first Muslim congressman, chose to swear his private oath of office on it instead of the customary Bible. Again, in January 2019, Rashida Tlaib, a new Muslim congresswoman, used Jefferson's Qur'an to repeat what Ellison had initiated. After the official swearing-in, Ellison, and later Tlaib, used Jefferson's two-volume Qur'an borrowed from the Library of Congress for a photo-op. To date, there have been four Muslims elected to Congress, but only two have used Jefferson's Qu'ran as their swearing-in book. Rep. Omar used her grandfather's Qur'an, and it is not clear which book Rep. Andre Carson used for his photo op.

Some people are upset that the Qur'an was used for such a solemn purpose. However, let's look at other books used by some non-Muslim politicians. George Washington began the tradition of using the Bible. While most Presidents followed suit, in 1825, former President John Quincy Adams swore his oath on a law book. In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt did not use any book due to circumstances but in 1905 used a Bible for his second term. In 1963, Lyndon Johnson used a Catholic prayer book. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator John Ossoff have used Hebrew books of scripture. In 2013, Congressman Tulsi Gabbard, a Hindu, swore on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. In 2019, voters in Georgia and Hawaii elected the first two Buddhists – Democrats Hank Johnson and Mazie Hirono – to the U.S. Congress. Johnson, citing tradition, elected to use the Bible. Hirono did not use any religious book, but in the past, when she was sworn in as lieutenant governor, she used a Bible. Also, in 2019, Senator Sinema of Arizona, with no religious affiliation, used copies of the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions. In 2014, while not a congressman, Kelli Dunaway, a county councilwoman for St. Louis, used the children's book Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss.

The earliest Western use of oath books in a legal setting occurred in ninth-century England when, in the absence of a structured royal government, certain transactions were conducted at the altar, the participants swearing on a gospel book. Three centuries later, English courts adopted the practice, requiring jury members and individuals in particular trials to take an oath on the Bible. In time, this became standard legal procedure—all witnesses swearing, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—and made its way into American courts. The tradition of using a book during the oath of office is borrowed from the courts, partly explaining why the Bible is the most frequently chosen text. An oath is religious in origin; however, the paragraph in the Constitution requiring that all officials "be bound by Oath or Affirmation" concludes with the declaration that "no religious test" should be applied to a person taking office. Thus the book the oath-taker uses is open to personal selection.

There are two ways to look at this: first, the oath is recited and affirmed by the oath-taker, and their integrity is at stake if they do not live up to the promises they publicly accepted. The second way to look at this is to assume the book on which they place their hand will guide their loyalty. Spencer suggests that someone could use Hitler's Mein Kampf as their sacred book. White supremacists would not be above doing that if they got elected, and should people be concerned if that happens, I would think so. The same would apply to the Qur'an. The Qur'an is the bedrock of sharia which is Islamic law that is sovereign to God alone, not rules made by man. If you are a true Muslim, you are an apostate if you believe in democracy. However, Islamic laws allow you to use politics if it advances sharia. So, will the oath-takers follow their oath to the U.S. Constitution, or will they follow their religion?

In my opinion, you have people who fall on both sides of the line. Even non-Muslims can be divided this way. We have non-Muslim politicians like Nancy Pelosi and even Joe Biden who have failed to follow their oaths to support the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, Muslims like Rep. Andre Carson have had stellar careers supporting the U.S. Constitution. It all depends on the person, but I would think that people lean on the values with which they grew up. People who grew up Muslim will tend to follow that approach. People who converted to Islam later in their lives will not feel comfortable with Muslim values that violate democratic laws.

One other topic that Dr. Spencer covers is taqiyya. I also cover this topic in my book, but Spencer adds more details that make it interesting. Taqiyya makes it legitimate for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims to further Islam's goals. According to Dr. Spencer, the Shi'ites developed the concept back in the eighth century, when the Sunnis were persecuting the Shi'ites. Taqiyya allowed Shi'ites to pretend to be Sunnis to protect themselves from Sunnis killing Shi'ites. Sunnis refer to the Qur'an (3:28) as a reason to extend deception when it is useful. The Muslims legitimize this deception, but I believe that politicians, in general, are untrustworthy. That is why we need transparency in government. It doesn't matter who is mayor or President. The people need to see what is happening, what deals are being made, and where taxpayer money is spent. Liberal democracy allows for that but activists must see that government stays within its boundaries. Sunshine laws and Freedom of Information regulations enable all citizens to see behind closed doors.

The sacred books that elected politicians use are just photo-ops to show their constituency what they stand for. When hard issues need tough policies, we may find that the candidate finds a solution that everyone can live with or not. The true politician will come out later when given chances to vote on issues and champion different causes. That is what we should be looking for. Then you will know whether that politician can be trusted to do the right thing.

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