|Draft letter from Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists|
Lorianne Updike Toler
Many in the West have maintained that a Muslim state and democracy are mutually exclusive, highlighting what seems to be a fundamental difference between Eastern and Western philosophies.
Yet the difference may stem from common origins. The concept of “Separation of Church and State” embedded in Western psyche is taken from a rare 1801 letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Danbury, Connecticut Baptists constituents explaining his interpretation of the First Amendment’s language that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or respecting the free exercise thereof.”
Although Jefferson’s interpretation was quite unique in the Age of “established” state and locality churches and may have been misinterpreted itself, with the Supreme Court’s use of it for the first time in the Mormon Polygamy case Reynolds v. United States and again in a case regarding public busing as recent as 1947, it has imperceptibly become incorporated into the vocabulary and psyche of Americans and the West generally as a normative standard for democracy, in part because it has the imprimatur of a Founder, because it has primal origins.
There is an undeniable and inescapable sense common to all men that what is old, is right. This may explain, in part, adherence to tradition, the attraction of Ancient Greek and Roman civilization and philosophy, the attraction of Catholicism, and the broad appeal of the American Founders to their political philosophy (including yours truly).
The same is true for those who promote Islam in the Middle East and North Africa region. Islam and its origins are forwarded as the correct basis for society not only because the period that witnessed its rise and hegemony was a golden period for the Muslim world, but because it is old, it is first.
Returning to “first principles” is common lingo in the United States. Instating or re-instating observance of Muslim law and religious precepts is the Islamic world’s own “first principles.”