Two hundred and three years ago this month, President James Madison approved the act of Congress purchasing Thomas Jefferson’s private library. Intended to restock the Library of Congress after its previous holdings were destroyed by British arson during the War of 1812, the transfer of books from Monticello to Washington also highlights a forgotten aspect of religious diversity in early America. Among the 6,487 books that soon traveled north, Jefferson’s 1734 edition of the Qur’an is perhaps the most surprising. Historians have attributed the third president’s ownership of the Muslim holy book to his curiosity about a variety of religious perspectives. It’s appropriate to view it that way. Jefferson bought this book while he was a young man studying law, and he may have read it in part to better understand Islam’s influence on some of the world’s legal systems. But that obscures a crucial fact: To many living in Jefferson’s young nation, this book meant much more. Some scholars estimate 20 percent of the enslaved men and women brought to the Americas were Muslims. While today these American followers of the Prophet Muhammad have been largely forgotten, the presence of Islam in the United States was not unknown among the nation’s citizens in the 18th and 19th centuries. Often practiced in secret, reluctantly abandoned, or blended with other traditions, these first attempts ultimately did not survive slavery. But the mere existence of Islam in the early republic is evidence that religious diversity in this country has a deeper and more complex history than many now know. Not long before Jefferson’s Qur’an rolled north with the rest of his library in 1815, another American attempted to write his own Islamic sacred text, albeit in a form that could not be so easily transported or understood. He wrote his in Arabic on a jail cell wall. Slave traders captured Omar ibn Said in what is now Senegal and brought him to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1807. He was sold to a man that Said would describe as cruel and a kafir, or infidel. A devout Muslim when he arrived in the United States, Said strived during his enslavement first to maintain his faith, and then to transform it. His story has earned a place in history—as well as in the “Religion in Early America” exhibition, currently on view at the National Museum of American History, and on the Smithsonian Institution’s latest Sidedoor podcast. Read more: Why Thomas Jefferson Owned a Qur’an | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! Give the gift of Smithsonian Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter That's an interesting bit of history.