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Sinister ceremony

Posted by Richard on January 8, 2007

One of the new representatives sworn in last Thursday was Keith Ellison of Minnesota. He got a lot of press for being the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. He took the oath of office on the Koran (not just any Koran, but one that had belonged to Thomas Jefferson). That bothered some people, but not me.

If this picture of the swearing-in was widely disseminated in the Muslim world, however, I bet it bothered the heck out of a bunch of people, and not just because of Pelosi’s precious pose. What kind of Muslim takes an oath of office with his left hand on the Koran?

Traditional Muslims — for instance, Mahmoud Abbas on the left and an Iraqi local official on the right — take an oath by putting their right hand on the Koran:

Mahmoud Abbas taking oath of office Local officials in Al-Anbar province take oath of office

Muslims consider the left hand unclean:

"The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used his right hand for getting water for ablution and taking food, and his left hand for his evacuation and for anything repugnant." (Sunan Abu Dawud)

Maybe Louis Farrakhan’s "Islam for Dummies" doesn’t place as much emphasis as it should on cleanliness and purity. Cleanliness and purity are pretty important to traditional Muslims, and the list of things that are impure is rather long.

One can argue that an oath on the Koran differs in meaning from one on the Torah or Christian bible: Implicit in an oath on one of the latter is the statement, "God (or the tradition I embrace) requires me not to bear false witness." Implicit in an oath on the former is the statement, "Allah requires me to be honest with other believers most of the time, but says I should lie to infidels if it helps Islam."

Of course, no book possesses magical powers of enforcing honesty, so I’m not sure what making Rep. Ellison put his hand on the Christian bible is supposed to accomplish — certainly, there’s been no shortage of liars taking oaths on it. It’s the same silly obsession with symbols that causes some Bircher types to argue that we can restore our liberties by removing the gold fringe from the American flag in courtrooms.

A better case can be made that someone with certain values and beliefs — such as: the only legitimate law is Allah’s, the only legitimate nation is Islam, and all non-believers must be forced to submit — can’t possibly uphold the U.S. Constitution, so we know in advance that he’ll betray his oath of office. But I’m afraid that argument should have been made to the citizens of Minnesota’s 5th district.
 

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