When Rashida Tlaib stands on January 3 for her ceremonial swearing in as the first Palestinian-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, it will be with her hand on a copy of the Koran.
But this won’t be just any Koran: She will use Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of George Sale’s 1734 translation of the Koran into English, a two-volume work that resides in the Library of Congress.
“It’s important to me because a lot of Americans have this kind of feeling that Islam is somehow foreign to American history,” said Tlaib, who also will become, with Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women sworn into the U.S. House. “Muslims were there at the beginning. … Some of our founding fathers knew more about Islam than some members of Congress now.”
She won’t be surprised, however, if her using the Koran raises hackles for some people who believe she shouldn’t be allowed to do so. Twelve years ago, when U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., used the same Koran for his swearing in as Congress’ first Muslim member, some commentators argued that only a Bible was suitable for the purpose.
Contrary to some beliefs, there is no requirement that new members of Congress be sworn in on the Bible or any other book. In fact, when they are officially sworn in, no book at all is used, though each member can hold one — any one — if they wish.
As the New York Times once put it, one could use “a comic book, a lesser Shakespeare play or nothing at all” for the function.
That official swearing in happens at the beginning of every new Congress, around noon on Jan. 3, shortly after the election of the House speaker, who then asks the members to rise together, raise their right hands and take the oath of office, required by the Constitution and written into law:
“Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?”
The members respond en masse: “I do,” after which they are, officially, members of Congress.
After that, however, new U.S. House members generally attend individual — and ceremonial — swearings-in inside the speaker’s office. Flanked by family and friends, the new member stands with the speaker for a photo, often placing one hand on the Bible and raising his or her other hand — though again, no book is mandated, no book is required.
It’s at this ceremonial swearing in that Tlaib will use Jefferson’s Koran.
In addition, Tlaib has announced that she will wear traditional Palestinian clothing at the swearing in.
Note: Tlaib will be one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress.
Aljazeera described Tlaib’s Palestinian immigrant parents, who settled in Detroit, as coming from the “occupied” West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Todd Spangler, “Detroit congresswoman to use Jefferson’s Koran for swearing-in ceremony“, Detroit Free Press, December 19, 2018.
Penny Starr, “Rashida Tlaib Will Wear Palestinian Garb for Congressional Swearing-In“, Breitbart, December 17, 2018.
Update: Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib in the end chose to use her own copy of the Koran in her swearing-in ceremony.