WASHINGTON — Rashida Tlaib, the newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Michigan, will be sworn in to Congress on Thursday on a Quran that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.
“It’s important to me because a lot of Americans have this kind of feeling that Islam is somehow foreign to American history,” Tlaib told the Detroit Free Press.
“Muslims were there at the beginning. … Some of our founding fathers knew more about Islam than some members of Congress now,” said Tlaib, who along with Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, will be one of the first two Muslim women sworn into the US House.
She said she was not making a religious point.
“I believe in secular government (and) my swearing in on the Quran is about me showing that the American people are made up of diverse backgrounds and we all have love of justice and freedom,” she said. “My faith has centered me. The prophet Mohammed was always talking about freedom and justice.”
Tlaib, whose parents are from the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Foqa, near Ramallah, has already announced plans to wear a traditional Palestinian gown for her swearing-in ceremony on Thursday.
Jefferson’s personal copy of George Sale’s 1734 translation of the Quran into English, a two-volume work that resides in the Library of Congress, was also used by Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman.
Traditionally, new representatives take the oath with a Bible, but that is only a custom, and no book is called for by law.
Tlaib said she was aware that using a Quran could cause outrage in some circles, but said those who were upset would be angry regardless.
“My mere existence, that I’m even of Muslim faith, is going to be a problem for them with or without me swearing in on any Quran,” she said.
Last month she announced she would wear a traditional Palestinian outfit, posting a photo to her Instagram account showing the hand-woven garment, called a thobe, she said she will wear at the event.
“Sneak peek: This is what I am wearing when I am sworn into Congress,” she wrote of the thobe, which was black with a deep red flower pattern.
Palestinian women wear hand-embroidered gowns with a unique pattern that represents the city of origin of the wearer.
Last month Tlaib said she plans to lead a trip of incoming US lawmakers to the West Bank.
Tlaib told The Intercept that her trip will focus on issues like Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, education, access to clean water and poverty – and perhaps a visit to Beit Ur al-Foqa, where her grandmother still lives.
Her trip is a counterpoint to the traditional Israel trip for first-term lawmakers sponsored by the education arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which includes touring and meetings with leading Israeli figures in business, government, and the military.
She said at the time she did not yet know when the trip will take place and which Palestinian advocacy group she would partner with to provide the thousands of dollars in needed funding.
Tlaib in the interview also came out in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, which she said brings attention to “issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now.”
J Street withdrew its endorsement of Tlaib during her campaign for Congress after she called for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tlaib also called for a reduction in foreign aid to Israel, and told Britain’s Channel 4 that she supported slashing US military aid to the Jewish state.
J Street, the liberal Mideast policy organization, advocates for a two-state solution to the conflict, among other things. Tlaib had previously received the endorsement of the lobby’s JStreetPAC based on her support for two states.
Omar of Minnesota, the other Muslim woman elected to Congress in November, said in an interview shortly after the November election that she supports the BDS movement, after saying during her campaign that it was “counteractive” and prevents dialogue.
JTA contributed to this report