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ISLAM, IMAGE OF IN WESTERN COUNTRIES

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Islam originated from monotheism, it conceived idolatry as its real enemy and acted with the purpose of subduing it first in the Arabian Peninsula. The Muslims marched northward into Syria, defeated the army of Heraclius at Yarmuk, and captured Jerusalem and Damascus. They went eastward into Iraq, defeated the Iranian at Seleucia. They further went westward and occupied Egypt away from the Byzantine empire. "In all this expansion" writes T.C. Young in Near Eastern Culture and Society (New Jersey, 1951, p. 100), "there was no forcible conversion of Jews or Christians to the Muslim religion. There was freedom for the people of the book to continue in their own beliefs and practices."

The Koran accepts Christianity and Judaism as divinely revealed religions, therefore, it did not instigate any struggle against them. Christianity first however conceived of Islam as a competitor and therefore, attacked it directly. Since inconoclasticism of Islam was against their frame of mind, the Christianity started a crusade against Islam, and their reaction in the East and West took different forms. The Christians tried to distort the very image of Islam through their propaganda machinery. John of Damascus (675-749) in his book, De Haeresibus considered Islam as heresy. The first Byzantine writer who referred to the Prophet of Islam was Theophanes the Confessor (d. 202/817), attacked Islam as wildly as John. Guilbert de Nogent (d. 518/1124) criticized on the fact that wine and pork were tabooed in Islam. Guillaume de Tripoli's work during 12th and 13th century was based with extreme hate and was most offensive. Raymond Lull (d. 716/1316) studied Arabic and Muslim philosophy in Tunis, and suggested to the then Pope to start a moral crusade against Islam. Marco Polo spoke of the Muslims as the worshippers of Muhammad. Renan wrote that Muhammad invented a new religion to revenge himself on his brethren. Roger Wendover (d. 635/1237) and John Maundeville (d.757/1356) attained mastership in cultivating quite senseless and baseless stories for the Prophet. Saint Eulogius also applied savage language for Islam to its extreme. Diceto followed Sigebert (1030-1112) to describe that the Muslims offered Muhammad the worship of Godhead. Edward Herbert (1583-1648) wrote that Muhammad preached against Pope Boniface's usurpation of the title of Universal Bishop. Pedro de Alfonso wrote that the Prophet attempted to become king under the veil of religion on the model of David and Solomon. Fantastically, du Pont mentioned that the Prophet not only allowed every male to have ten wives, but every woman ten husbands. Thus, in the fabulous writings, a fairly consistent picture of Islam was designed in the western countries. The blind and fictitious literary aggression in Europe, however, continued for a long period without any break. They knew the historical fact less, but propagated more on the basis of fairy tales, which can be gauged from the report of a Latin author, Joinville (1224-1317), who was quite unknown with the relationship of the Prophet with Ali, making the latter as the uncle of the former. Lemons made A'isha as the first wife of the Prophet. Pedro wrote that the Prophet's father Abdullah was known as Habedileth, that is, "slave of the idol Leth." When mentioning the Prophet's name, Hottinger says: "at the mention of whom the mind shudders." Thus, in view of H. Reland, "No religion has been more calumniated than Islam in western literature." Curiously enough, Peter Heylyn wrote in 1621, a geographical treatise, Mikrokosmos, wherein he describes, "Deprived of both his parents when but two years old, Muhammad was left unto the care of an uncle, who not able to give him education, sold him at 16 years of age to the Ismaelites, by whom exposed to sale in the open markets; he was bought by a certain Abdalmutaliffe, a wealthy merchant. On his master's death, Muhammad falls heir to his wealth by marrying his widow."

During the early part of the Middle Age, the Prophet was mostly pronounced in the occidental literature as Bafum, Maphomet, Mammet, Mahound or Mawmet. The western poets, romancers and composers of plays also rendered the terms of Mahoune, Mahown, Mahoun, Mahon, Macon or Maho. The Prophet was also described as Saint Mahoun, Lord Mahown or Sir Mahown. During 12th century, the usage of Mawment ultimately passed to Mahomet, and was also latinized as Machumat, Machomet, Magmed and Moomethes. The negative approach of the westerners can be seen further from their writings, in which the Muslims had been termed with different misnomers, such as Infidels, Miscreants, Paynims, Pagans, Heathens, Heathen hounds, Enemies of God, the Turks, Allophilli, Hagarebes, Ishmaelites, Canes, Moabites, Aliens, Gentiles, etc., and occasionally Goths and Vandals in the poetical works. The most popular term, however, was the Saracens.

The crooked approach towards Islam can be judged from the fantastic prophecies of Sansovino and countless others, limiting the life of Islam to a millennium. According to Flowers of History (Bonn, 1849, 2:515), the astronomers of Toledo record that, "Within seven years from the year of 1229, a doubt will spring up amongst the Saracens, they shall abandon their mosques and embrace Christianity." Emperor Leo of Constantinople predicted that Islam would be destroyed by a light-haired family! In the reign of the Empress Theodora, a prophecy was announced about the end of the Muslims on the whole by the Macendonians.

During the early part of the Middle Ages, when Islam and Christianity were arrayed against each other as opposing camps, and often there was an open war, all sorts of blasphemies were invented further against Islam. Peter the Venerable (1094-1156) had the Koran translated for the first time from Arabic into Latin, whose purpose was to refute Islamic mission. Another Koranic translated brought forth by Robert of Ketton in 1143. It was followed by the translation of Mark of Toledo (1190-1200) under the title, Alcorani Machometi Liber. The same period produced Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) and Raymond Lull (1232-1316), whose writings were absolutely unreliable and untrue. Ranulf Higden (d. 1364) and John Mandeville (1300-1372) repeated once again the legends of 11th and 12th centuries about the Prophet. Further, the Crusades according to Calverley poured out false informations for several centuries to all people of Europe, and the false reports brought back by the Crusaders, filled the west with popular misinformation that western mass education has not yet able to remove.

In spite of the fact that the Renaissance became possible only through profiting by Muslim works on science and philosophy, and their translations thereof for centuries, the attitude of some western people, who were hostile to the very civilization that created these works indicates how deep-rooted the religious, political and racial prejudices were. Europe remained ignorant of Islam for a considerably long time, and when it tried to get it know, it was suffering from strange notions-calumnious as well as whimsical. The writings of John Bale (1495-1563) and Henry Smith (1560-1591) however indicate an unchanged thinking of the westerners about Islam. Between 1572 and 1575, many traditional predictions also poured out in Europe against Islam. An Abyssinian prediction relates that, "Mecca and Medina shall be destroyed soon." The prophecy of the wandering Jews, uttered at Astrakhan in 1676, assigned the year 1700 for the breakdown of the Turks and Islam.

During the later period of the Middle Ages, and the early and later periods of the Modern Age, the original sources almost came to the hands of the European scholars, giving rise to the scholarly and creative spirit in Islamic study, and a humanistic turn began to appear in western thought. With the establishment of the College de France in 1500 at Paris, the oriental language had been included in its curriculum, and Guillaume Postel was the first from this college to compile Arabic grammar in 1560. The French king Henry III (1551-1588) established a chair of Arabic in this college in 1587. Soon afterwards, in 1613, a chair of Arabic was created at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. In England, a chair was created at Cambridge in 1632 and one in Oxford in 1634. Pope Gregory (d. 1591) also founded a printing press at Rome to publish books in Arabic characters, and the al-Qanun fi't Tibb of Ibn Sina was its first publication. Louis le Dieu also put forth a Persian grammar in 1639 at Holland. Golius (d. 1667), Arpineus, Edward Pecock and Hattinger studied the translated Arabic works, but they mostly referred to the translated Arabic works of those Christian writers who lived in Islamic countries, such as Sa'id bin Bitriq (877-941), the Patriarch of Alexandria; Ibn al-Amind al-Makin (d. 1237), the courtier of the Egyptian kings, and Abul Faraj ibn Ibri Malati (d. 1286), the Christian scholar in Egypt. The period under review, however, was not quite barren in attacking the Islam. The noteworthy work is Pierre Bayle's Mahomet (Rotterdam, 1697), in which he described the Prophet as a "false" and the "arch-enemy of Christianity.!"

It will perhaps be well at this stage to glance at Bibliotheque Orientale produced by Barthelmi D'Herbelot (1620-1695) in that period in France, which is undoubtedly the original forebear of the modern The Encyclopaedia of Islam (1908), whose titles have been compiled by the non-Muslim scholars.

During the later period of the Modern Age, it appears that the western aggressive propaganda had continued, but this period is remarkably noted also for bringing forth few eminent scholars on Islamic studies. H.Roland, the Dutch scholar and Utrecht professor of theology, who in the beginning of the 18th century, frankly and warmly recommended the application of historical justice towards Islam in his short Latin sketch of Islam, entitled H. Relandi de religione Mohammedica libri duo (Utrecht, 1704). He also recommended the Muslim authorities and sources to speak for themselves, and wrote, "Let the Moslems themselves describe their own religion for us; just as the Jewish and Christian religions are falsely represented by the heathens, so every religion is misrepresented by its antagonists. We are mortals, subject to error, especially where religious matters are concerned, we often allow ourselves to be grossly misled by passion." Jacob Ehrhart is famous for publishing a short examination of the charges made against the Prophet and Islam in 1731. The translation of Koran by Edward Sale (1697-1736) came out in 1734, who matched the Prophet in his preface, with Thesee and Pompilius, and praised his mission. Boulainvilliers in Life of the Prophet tried to prove Islam superior to Christianity in rationalism and realism. Savory's Koran appeared in 1783, making the Prophet as "one of the marvellous persons." Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) also admired Islamic mission in his La Religion dans le Limites de la simple raison. Goethe's Mahomet published in 1770, who put high remarks on Islamic mission. Turpin's The Life of Mohammad in 1773 also contained excellent regards to the Prophet.

In the present period of the Modern Age and onward, the diligent research spirit in the European countries freshly came up, and the collection of rare Islamic documents began to be unearthed. The Arabic teaching had been also included in the leading universities, and mass literature on Islam began to pour out to such extent that it became difficult to compile a list of bibliography of the Prophet. D.S. Margoliouth (1858-1940) remarked, "The list of Muhammad's biographers is inexhaustible, but it is a matter of pride to find a place in it." The most famous works published in England were Beamfton Sermons (1800) by Dr. White, Life of Mohammad (1815) by Dr. G.B., Apology for Mohammad (1829) by Godfrey Higgins, Life of Mahomet (1849) by Washington Irving, Life of Mahomet (1861) by William Muir, Mohammad and the Rise of Islam (1905) by Margoliouth, etc. Germany produced Islamism (1830) by Dr. J.A. Muller, Muhammad der Prophet (1845) by Dr. G. Weil, Life of Mahomet (1851) by Dr. Sprenger, History of Mohammad's Campaigns (1856) by Von Kramer, Muhammaden Studies (1890) by Ignaz Goldziher, etc. Among the French publications, the most famous are Islam and Quran (1831) by Garcin de Tassy, History of Arabia (1847) by M. Caussin de Perceval, History of the Founder of Islam (1874) by Julius Charles, Historie de Arabes (1877) by Sedillot, Views on Islam (1894) by Henry de Casteri, etc. Holland also brought forth, Histoire des Musulmanes (1861) by Dozy, Mohammad (1894) by H. Grimme, Das Laben Muhammeds (1905) by F. Buhl, etc.

The most organized research however took place with the foundation of Ecole des Langues Orientales Vivantes in 1795 at Paris. Modern orientalism began with this school, founded by Silvestre de Sacy (1758-1838). The Paris Asiatic Society was founded in 1821, and in 1823 it launched its own periodical, Journal Asiatique. In 1834, there appeared the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. But, it is not until nearly a century after the foundation of the Paris school in 1795 that we see the establishment of the Oriental Studies in German universities, the opening of the Seminar fur Orientalische Spranchen at Berlin in 1887, the introduction of the study of Oriental languages at the Cambridge university and later the founding of the School of Oriental Studies at London in 1906. In Russia, foreign specialists in the University of Kazan in 1804, and next one in 1854 had organized an Oriental department in the University of St. Petersburg. The first International Congress of Orientalists held also in 1873 at Paris. It was subsequently followed in 1874 at London, in 1876 at St. Petersburg, in 1878 at Florence, in 1881 at Berlin, in 1883 at Leiden, in 1886 at Vienna, in 1889 at Stockholm, in 1894 at Geneva, in 1899 at Rome, and in 1902 at Hamburg. In 1916, the School of Oriental Studies was founded in the University of London, which came to be known as School of Oriental and African Studies in 1938. Holland was the first to establish Asiatic Society in 1778. The English founded one in Calcutta on January 15, 1784 with the untiring efforts of Sir William Jones (d. 1794), and another in 1795 at France. In 1839, a regularly produced journal, the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal took place in India of the Asiatick Researches of William Jones's group. In 1841, the Bombay branch issued its own journal. The year 1842 was the founding of the American Oriental Society along with its own periodical. In 1849, the Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft was launched in Leipzig. It was published by the German Oriental Society, which had been formed two years earlier. From 1804, the teaching of oriental languages at university level was extended at Kharkov and, above all, to Kazan in Russia. Thus, the oriental languages like Arabic, Persian and Turkish began to be studied, enabling the scholars to inspect the original source materials. Such was the origin of Orientalism. The term Orientalist occurred in England towards 1779, and Orientaliste in France in 1799. Orientalisme found a place in the Dictionnarie de l' Academie Francaise in 1838.

From the 18th century on, the attitude of western free thinkers took a truly humanistic turn. It evoked a strong reaction in Voltaire, who finds much to commend in the precepts of Islam, and was an admirer of Koran, vide Essai sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations (Paris, 1858). Turpin's work, The Life of Mohammad described the Prophet as a "great prophet", "powerful mind", "true believer" and the "founder of natural religion." Goethe was captivated by the personality of the Prophet and writes, "I could never see Muhammad as an imposter" (Dichtung und Wahrbeit). The English historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) writes in Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire (1848) magnificent pages in defence of the merits of the Prophet. Dieterici, Sedillot, E. Quartermere (1782-1852), Horton, de Boer, Masson Oursel, Goichon, Gardet, Louis Massignon (1883-1962), Rene Guenon, Asin Palacious, E.G. Browne (1862-1926), Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), Wustenfeld (d. 1899), R.A. Nicholson (1868-1945), Hamilton Gibb (1895-1971) etc. are among those who get rid of their prejudice views, and knew how to take fact seriously through scientific research.

It must be admitted that the events of the life of the Prophet were first reduced to writing almost a hundred years after his death, and therefore, the writers had no written sources to fall back upon except memorized reports and traditions. The oral reports that have been in circulation for over a century, cannot be possibly well knit in structure. The historical fictitious and stories were given no floral touches at that time, and were put into writing, and as a result, the most reliable works are also incorporated with such reports that are too weak and doubtful. In a similar situation, when facts have to be recorded long after their occurrence, people generally pick up all sorts of street-gossip, without caring to quote the names of the reporters. This worthless non-historical collection evidently passed for a piece of interesting historical stuff, and the western literature on Islam during and after 18th century is the outcome of such type of materials. The Muslim reporters did not give their first care to the narrations they had sorted out, and the occidental scholars found these collections from the sources, influencing greatly to their writings.

With the pace of scholarly study in Europe on Islam, it is however learnt the old baseless myths and legends minted almost during 11th and 12th centuries came to be condemned in the light of original materials, resulting the charges on the Prophet to a less number. Bosworth Smith writes in Mohammad and Mohammadanism (New York, 1857, p. 63) that, "We cannot imagine what the Muslims will say on hearing all those stories and songs about Islam in vogue in Europe during the mediaeval ages. All these stories and poems are filled with jealousy and enmity due to the ignorance of the religion of the Muslims." Oswald Carlyle in Heroes and Hero-worship (London, 1928, p. 35) also referred to these false accusations, and condemned that, "This kind of opinion is shame on us."

While examining the western books bank, it appears that the charges yet are being repeated despite several literary efforts of the learned Muslim scholars. Thus, the western writers can be classified safely into three groups: Firstly, those who do not understand Arabic and original sources. Secondly, those who know Arabic, but have no idea of the sources; and thirdly, those who know Arabic and original sources. The scholars therefore, like E.H. Palmer (1840-1882) and D.S. Margoliouth (1858-1940) may be placed in the above third group, and their status may be termed in the words: "I see everything, but understand nothing." Among the accusations, however, there are few which the European scholars have not yet removed, and continued to repeat, i.e., the spread of Islam by force and sword, the plurality of wives by the Prophet, the approval of slavery, the kingship in Medina etc. Among these charges, the charges of the spread of Islam by sword and the plurality of wives are such that have been stuck in the occidental chronicles since 11th and 12th centuries. There are however, many western scholars who do not accept these derogatory charges.


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