Roots of Misconception: From the Middle Ages through the Modern Period: The European Discovery of Is

From the Middle Ages through the Modern Period:
The European Discovery of Islam as a World Culture

Ibrahim Kalin

The Christian impression of Islam as a heretical religion was countered by the admiration of Islamic civilization in the works of some late medieval and Renaissance thinkers. The Islamic scientific and philosophical culture, inter alia, played a significant role in this process.  Here we will mention only two examples, both of which show the extent to which Muslim philosophers were embraced with full enthusiasm. Our first example is Dante and his great work The Divine Comedy, an epitome of Medieval Christian cosmology and eschatology in which everything is accorded a place proper to its rank in the Christian hierarchy of things. Writing in his purely Christian environment, Dante places the Prophet and Ali, his son-in-law and the second important figure of Islam after the Prophet, in hell.(18) By contrast, he places Saladin, Avicenna, and Averroes in limbo, thus granting them the possibility of salvation. This positive attitude is further revealed by the fact that Siger de Brabant, the champion of Latin Averroism, is placed in paradise as a salute to the memories of Avicenna and Averroes. With this scheme, Dante points to a first step in coming to terms with Islam: if it is to be rejected as a faith, its intellectual heroes are to be accorded their proper place. This conclusion can also be regarded a result of Dantes interest in Islamic philosophy and science and is corroborated by the fact that besides Avicenna and Averroes, he refers to some Muslim astronomers and philosophers in other writings. The influence of the nocturnal ascent or the night journey (miҒraj) of the Prophet of Islam on the composition and structure of the Divine Comedy has been debated by a number of European scholars, pointing to Dantes overall interest in Semitic languages and Arabic-Islamic culture. The Spanish scholar Asin Palacios has claimed that the night journey served as a model for the Divine Comedy.(19)  In spite of DanteҒs rejection of the Prophet for strictly Christian reasons, his appreciation of Islamic thought and culture is a remarkable example of how the two civilizations can co-exist and interact with one another on intellectual and cultural grounds.

Another closely associated case in which one can easily discern a different perception of Islamic culture is the rise of Latin Averroism in the West and its dominance of the intellectual scene of the Scholastics until its official ban in 1277 by Bishop Tempier. Even though Averroism was denounced as a heretical school, it remained to be a witness to the deep impact of Islamic thought on the West. Roger Bacon (1214-1294), one of the luminaries of 13th century Scholasticism, called for the study of the language of the Saracens so that they could be defeated on intellectual, if not religious, grounds. Albertus Magnus (c. 1208-1280), considered to be the founder of Latin scholasticism, was not shy in admitting the superiority of Islamic thought on a number of issues in philosophy. Even Raymond Lull (c. 1235-1316), one of the most important figures for the study of Islam in the Middle Ages, was in favor of the scholarly study of Islamic culture in tandem with his conviction that the Christian faith could be demonstrated to non-believers through rational means.(20)  Finally St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who represents the pinnacle of Christian thought in the classical period could not remain indifferent to the challenge of Islamic thought and especially that of Averroes since Averroism was no longer a distant threat but something right at home as represented by such Latin scholars as Siger de Brabant (c. 1240-1284), Boethius of Dacia and other Averroists.(21)

It is pertinent here to point out that this new intellectual attitude towards Islam came to fruition at a time when Western Europe, convinced of the nascent threat of Muslim power, was hoping for the conversion of the Mongols (TartarsӔ as they were called by Latins) to Christianity for the final undoing of Islam. That the clergy saw conversion as a probable way of dealing with the problem of Islam was clear in the missionary activities of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the founder of the Cistercian order and an instrumental figure for the dispatching of the second Crusade in the 12th century, and Raymond Lull, the first missionary to Muslims,Ӕ despite the fact that neither of them conceived the goal of the Crusades to be one of proselytizing. In complaining about the absence of missionary work designed for the Gentiles, Bernard of Clairvaux implored his fellow Christians by saying thatare we waiting for faith to descend on them? Who [ever] came to believe through chance? How are they to believe without being preached to?(22) With Mongols embracing Islam under the leadership of Oljaytu, the great grandson of Chengiz Khan, however, these hopes were dashed(23) and the deployment of philosophical rather than purely theological methods of persuasion presented itself as the only reasonable way of dealing with the people of Islamic faith. Interestingly enough, the interest of European scholars in Islamic culture minus its religion in the 11th and 12th centuries contributed to what C. H. Haskins has called the ԓRenaissance of the twelfth century.(24)

The experience of convivencia of the three Abrahamic religions in Andalusia is an important chapter in the European perceptions of Islam during the Middle Ages. The translation movement centered in Toledo, the rise of Mozarabs and Mudejars, and the flourishing of Islamic culture in southern Spain are some of the indications of a different mode of interaction between Islam and medieval Europe with a strong tendency to see Islamic culture as superior. Already in the 9th century, Alvaro, a Spanish Christian, was complaining about the influence of Islamic culture on the Christian youth:

My fellow Christians delight in the poems and romances of the Arabs; they study the works of Mohammedan theologians and philosophers, not in order to refute them, but to acquire a correct and elegant Arabic style. Where today can a layman be found who reads the Latin commentaries on Holy Scriptures? Who is there that studies the Gospels, the Prophets, the Apostles? Alas! The young Christians who are most conspicuous for their talents have no knowledge of any literature or language save the Arabic; they read and study with avidity Arabian books; they amass whole libraries of them at a vast cost, and they everywhere sing the praises of Arabian lore.(25)

Although the perception of Islam as a religion did not undergo any major change, the appreciation of the Muslim culture of Andalusia provided a framework in which important ideas were exchanged in the fields of philosophy, science and art. Despite the expected tensions of power between various groups, Spain as a ԓfrontier culture became home to many new ideas and cultural products from the Beati miniatures and Flamenco music to ElipandusԒ revival of adoptionism.Ӕ Toledo, Seville and Cordoba were hailed not simply as Muslimђ cities in the religious sense of the term but as places of opulence, elegance, and remarkable cultural exchange and interaction.(26)  One can also mention here the deep impact of Islamic culture on Spanish literature and especially of Sufism on St. John of the Cross.(27)

In spite of the esteemed memory of Andalusia, the belligerent attitude towards Islam as a heresy remained invariable even after the demise of the Christian Middle Ages when Western Europe sat out to forge a new paradigm which would culminate in the rise of a new secular worldview. Pascal (1623-1662), perhaps the most passionate defender of the Christian faith in the 17th century, for instance, was as harsh and uncompromising as his predecessors in condemning the Prophet of Islam as an impostor and fraudulent prophet. The fifteenth movementђ of his Les Penses, called contre Mahomet, voices an important sentiment of Pascal and his co-religionists on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad: Muhammad is in no way comparable to Jesus; Muhammad speaks with no Divine authority; he brought no miracles; his coming has not been foretold; and what he did could be done by anyone whereas what Jesus did is supra-human and supra-historical.(28) A similar attitude penetrates the work of George Sandys (1578-1644) entitled Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom. 1610. Foure Books. Containing a description of the Turkish Empire, of Aegypt, of the Holy Land, of the Remote parts of Italy, and Ilands adioyning, which is one of the earliest travel accounts of the Islamic world to reach Europe. Hailed as both a humanist and a Christian, Sandys saw Islam under the same light as did Pascal but had no intentions of placing his humanist鑒 outlook over his Christian prejudices against Islam. Sandys book contains important observations on the Islamic world, highly polemical remarks about the QurҦn and the Prophet, and finally some very edifying praises of Muslim philosophers. The dual attitude of rejecting Islam as a religion while admiring its cultural achievements is clearly exemplified in Sandys work. Of 咓the Mahometan Religion, Sandys has the following to say:

So that we may now conclude, that the Mahometan religion, being deriued from a person in life so wicked, so worldly in his projects, in his prosecutions of them so disloyall, treacherous & cruel; being grounded vpon fables and false reuelations, repugnant to sound reason, & that wisedome which the Diuine hand hath imprinted in his workes; alluring men with those inchantments of fleshly pleasures, permitted in this life and promised for the life ensuing; being also supported with tyranny and the sword (for it is death to speake there against it;) and lastly, where it is planted rooting out all vertue, all wisedome and science, and in summe all liberty and ciuility; and laying the earth so waste, dispeopled and vninhabited, that neither it came from God (saue as a scourge by permission) neither can bring them to God that follow it.(29)

Having rejected the religious foundations of Islam, Sandys follows suit in pitting Muslim philosophers against Islam as a common strategy during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The assumption behind this, voiced by a figure no less prominent than Roger Bacon, was the secret conversion of Avicenna and Averroes to Christianity and/or their profession of the Muslim faith for fear of persecution. For many Europeans, this was the most plausible way of explaining the genius of Muslim philosophers and scientists against the backdrop of a religion that the medieval West abhorred, ignored, and rejected. Thus Sandys speaks of Avicenna (Ibn Sԥn) in terms of praise and vindication while discarding Islam as irrational on the basis of the celebrated double-truth theory呒 attributed by St. Thomas Aquinas to Averroes:

For although as a Mahometan, in his bookes De Anima and De Almahad, addressed particularly to a Mahometan Prince, he extolleth Mahomet highly, as being the seale of diuine lawes and the last of the Prophets But now this Auicen, laying downe for a while his outward person of a Mahometan, and putting on the habite of a Philosopher; in his Metaphysicks seemeth to make a flat opposition between the truth of their faith receiued from their Prophet, and the truth of vnderstanding by demonstrative argumentŅ And it is worthy obseruation, that in the judgment of Aucien one thing is true in their faith, & contrary in pure & demonstratiue reason. Wheras (to the honor of Christian Religion be it spoken) it is confessed by all, & enacted by a Councel, that it is an errour to say, one thing is true in Theology, & in Philosophy the contrary. For the truths of religion are many times aboue reason, but neuer against it.(30)

We see a similar line of thought articulated in Peter Bayles monumental Dictionnaire historique et critique (Historical and Critical Dictionary, 1697). Bayle (1647-1706) was one of the pioneers of the Enlightenment and his skeptical scholarship had a deep impact on the French Encyclopedists, championed by Diderot, and the rationalist philosophers of the 18th century. His Dictionnaire, which has been aptly called the “arsenal of the Enlightenment”, devotes a generously lengthy twenty-three page entry on the Prophet of Islam under the name ғMahomet as opposed to seven pages on Averroes and only half a page on al-Kindi (ԓAlchindus). Bayle exercises caution in narrating the Christian bashings of Islam and the Prophet and rejects as simply foolish and baseless some of the legendary stories concerning the ProphetԒs tomb being in the air, his dead body having been eaten by dogs as a sign of Divine curse and punishment, and his being the anti-Christ. There is enough material, Bayle argues, to charge the Prophet of Islam with:

I will not deny, but, in some respects, the zeal of our own disputants us unjust; for if they make use of the extravagances of a Mahometan legendary, to make Mahomet himself odious or to ridicule him, they violate the equity, which is due to all the world, to wicked, as well as good men. We must not impute to any body what they never did, and consequently we must not argue against Mahomet from these idle fancies, which some of his followers have fabled of him, if he himself never published them. We have sufficient material against him, tho we charge him only with his own faults, and do not make him answerable for the follies, which the indiscreet and romantic zeal of some of his disciples has prompted to write.(31)

Having stated this precaution, Bayle joins his fellow Europeans in describing the Prophet of Islam as a man of sensuality and bellicosity, an impostor and a ғfalse teacher. In The Dictionary, the Prophet appears under the same light of medieval Christian polemics, and Bayle states, on Humphrey PrideauxԒs authority, that

Mahomet was an impostor, and that he made his imposture subservient to his lust what is related of his amours, is very strange. He was jealous to the highest degree, and yet he bore with patience the gallantries of that wife [őAishah], which was the dearest to himҔ and that Ӆ I choose to concur with the common opinion, That Mahomet was an impostor: for, besides what I shall say elsewhere his insinuating behavior, and dexterous address, in procuring friends, do plainly show, that he made use of religion only as an expedient to aggrandize himself.(32)

While Bayles entry is hardly an improvement upon the gruesome picturing of the Prophet in the previous centuries, it does contain some important observations on Islamic culture, based mostly on the available travel accounts of the time. The modesty of Turkish women, for instance, is narrated in the context of stressing the ґnormalcy of Muslim culture, which is contrasted to the common mores of Europe, indicating in a clear way the extent to which EuropeҒs self-image was at work in various depictions of Islam and Muslims. Bayle also praises Muslim nations for their religious tolerance and admonishes the zeal of medieval Christians to persecute their own co-religionists. Like many of his predecessor and peers, Bayle pits Muslim history against the injunctions of the religion of Islam and explains the glory of Muslim history as a result of the deviation of Muslim nations from the principles of Islam rather an application of them. Thus he says that

the Mahometans, according to the principles of their faith, are obliged to employ violence, to destroy other religions, and yet they tolerate them now, and have done so for many ages. The Christians have no order, but to preach, and instruct; and yet, time out of mind, they destroy, with fire and sword, those who are not of their religion. őWhen you meet with Infidels, fays Mohamet, kill them, cut off their heads, or take them prisoners, and put them in chains, till they have paid their ransom, or you find it convenient to set them at liberty. Be not afraid to persecute them, till they have laid down their arms, and submitted to you. Nevertheless, it is true, that the Saracens quickly left off the ways of violence; and that the Greek churches, as well the orthodox as the schismatical, have continued to this day under the yoke of Mahomet. They have their Patriarchs, their Metropolitans, their Synods, their Discipline, their Monks ҅ It may be affirmed for a certain truth, That if the western princess had been lords of Asia, instead of the Saracens and Turks, there would be now no remnant of the Greek church, and they would not have tolerated Mahometanism, as these Infidels have tolerated Christianity.(33)

Towards the end of his entry, Bayle refers his readers to the work of Humphrey Prideaux (d. 1724) of Westminster and Christ Church for further information about Islam, whose title leaves little need to explain its content: The true nature of imposture fully displayd in the life of Mahomet: With a discourse annexҒd for the vindication of Christianity from this charge. Offered to the considerations of the Deists of the present age.  Prideauxs book, published in 1697, was one of the most virulent and bitter attacks on Islam during the Enlightenment.  That it became a best-seller in the 18th century and was reprinted many times into the 19th century tells much about the Enlightenment approach to Islam(34). The robust rationalism and overt disdain for religion was a major factor in the reinforcement of medieval perceptions of Islam as a religious worldview, and attacking Islam was an expedient way of deconstructing religion as such.  This attitude is obvious in Voltaire (1694-1778), one of the most widely read celebrities of the Enlightenment, who took a less hostile position towards Islamic culture while maintaining the erstwhile Christian representations of the Prophet Muhammad. In his famous tragedy Fanatisme ou Mahomet le prophҩte, Voltaire projects Muhammad as a prototype of fanaticism, cruelty, imposture, and sensuality, which was nothing new to his readers except for the legends and stories that he himself had invented. In a letter to Frederick of Prussia, he states that

a merchant of camels should excite a revolt in his townlet Ņ that he should boast of being rapt to Heaven, and of having received there part of this unintelligible book which affronts common sense at every page; that he should put his own country to fire and the sword, to make this book respected; that he should cut the fathers throats and ravish the daughters; that he should give the vanquished the choice between his religion and death; this certainly is what no man can excuse.(35)

The ambivalent attitude of the 17th and 18th centuries, torn between the received images of Islam and the Prophet from Christian polemics and the glory of Islamic civilization witnessed by many travelers and scholars, resulted in a different genre of writing concerning Islam. One important work to be mentioned here is StubbeҒs defense of Islamђ. A typical Renaissance man, historian, librarian, theologian and a doctor, Henry Stubbe (1632-1676), published an unusual book with the following title: An account of the rise and progress of Mahometanism with the life of Mahomet and a vindication of him and his religion from the calumnies of the Christians.(36) In fact, it was this book which had led Prideaux to write his attack on Islam mentioned above. Stubbe had no reservations about going against the grain and responding to the traditional charges of violence and sensuality associated with Muslims. More importantly, he openly defended Islamic faith as more proximate to mans reason and nature as a tacit way of criticizing Christian theology and sacraments. A typical passage from his book reads:

This is the sum of Mahometan Religion, on the one hand not clogging MenҒs Faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse Notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of Reason and common Sense; nor on the other hand loading them with the performance of many troublesome, expensive, and superstitious Ceremonies, yet enjoying a due observance of Religious Worship, as the surest Method to keep Men in the bounds of their Duty both to God and Man.(37)

In addition to the Islamic faith, the Prophet also receives a very fair treatment from Stubbe who appears to be heralding the rise of a new class of European scholars of Islam in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Another very important exception of this period is the famous Swiss theologian and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and his historical theology of the rise of Islam. Swedenborg considered the spread of Islam to be part of the Divine Providence. For him, the true goal of Islam and its Prophet was to destroy the rampant paganism of pre-Islamic Arabs and their neighbors because the Church was too weak and dispersed to fight against paganism. It was as a response to this historic moment that the Lord sent a religion accommodated to the genius of the OrientalsӔ. Thus Swedenborg states that

the Mahometan religion acknowledges the Lord as the Son of God, as the wisest of men, and as the greatest prophet Ӆ that religion was raised up by the Lords Divine Providence to destroy the idolatries of many nations ҅ that all these idolatries might be extirpated, it was brought to pass, by the Divine Providence of the Lord, that a new religion should arise, accommodated to the genius of the orientals, in which there should be something from both Testaments of the Word, and which should teach that the Lord came into the world, and that he was the greatest prophet, the wisest of all men, and the Son of God. This was accomplished through Mahomet.(38)

Although Swedenborg attributes the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ to Muslims, which is unwarranted in the Islamic sources, he hastens to add that the reason why Islam accepted Jesus only as a prophet and not a divine being was because ԓthe orientals acknowledged God the Creator of the universe, and could not comprehend that He came into the world and assumed the Human. So neither do Christians comprehend it.(39) By combining his theology of history with an anthropology of the ԑorientals, Swedenborg confronts Islam as a religion whose essential message is the same as that of Christianity. That such an inclusivist approach should be taken by a mystic theologian of the stature of Emanuel Swedenborg is extremely important considering the rising tide of conservative Christian attacks on Islam in recent decades and especially after 9/11. The example of Swedenborg together with Goethe and others evinces the reality of a peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims on both social and, more importantly, religious and theological grounds.

In contradistinction to the radical opposition of Pascal, Bayle, Prideaux, and Voltaire to Muhammad as a figure of religion, some of their contemporaries, including Stubbe mentioned above, saw something different in the Prophet of Islam as a man of the world. Divested of his claims to have received GodҒs word, the Prophet Muhammad could be appreciated for what he had accomplished in history. This is an important shift from the strictly Christian assessments of Muhammad as a false prophet to putting increasingly more emphasis on his human qualities. This new attitude is also the beginning of the depiction of the Prophet and many other figures of the past as heroesђ and geniusesђ, the ostensibly non-religious terms that the Enlightenment intellectuals were fond of using against the Christian conceptions of history. The 17th and 18th centuries witnessed the rise of many scholars and intellectuals who looked at the Prophet of Islam under this new light, which eventually led to more liberal and less inimical appraisals of Islam and Muslims. In England, Edward Pococke (1604-1691), the first chair holder of Islamic studies at Oxford, published his Specimen Historiae Arabum, a medley of analyses and translations on the history of Islam, its basic tenets and practices, and a selective rendering of one of the works of al-Ghazali. Judged by the standards of his time, Pocockes work was a major step in the scholarly study of Islam. Furthermore, Pococke was one of the first among the European scholars of Islam to spend time in the Islamic world collecting material for his studies. Of equal importance and prominence was George Sale (1697-1736), who produced the first English translation of the QurҦn in 1734, making use of Lodovico Marraccis Latin translation(40) published at Padua in 1698, rather than that of Robert Ketton published in the 12th century.

Sale had no intentions of granting Islam any authenticity as a religion, and he made this point very clear in his ‘Preliminary Discourse’ written as a preface to his translation. His overall approach to Islam, which earned him the somewhat belittling title of 咑half-Mussulman, however, was to set the tone for the 18th and 19th century studies of Islam in Europe and paved the way for the establishment of Orientalism as a discipline. SaleҒs translation was a huge improvement on an earlier rendering of the Quran into English by Alexander Ross, which was based on Andre du RyerҒs French translation published in 1647.(41) Like that of Sale, Ross translation contained a short discourse on Islam and the Prophet in which Ross explained the raison dҒetre of the translation to his Christian readers and assured them that there was no danger in reading the Quran because it was comprised of ғcontradictions, blasphemies, obscene speeches, and ridiculous fables.Ŕ(42) It is important to note that the Ross translation was the first edition of the Quran in America, which came out in Massachusetts in 1806 and enjoyed a wide circulation until the Sale translation became the standard text. In any case, SaleҒs translation was the definitive text of the Quran in the English language well until the end of the 19th century and it was on the basis of this translation that Gibbon and Carlyle read and discarded the QurҒan as a wearisome confused jumble, crude, incondite; endless iterations, long-windedness, entanglement; most crude, incondite;—insupportable stupidity, in short! Nothing but a sense of duty could carry any European through the QurӒan.(43)

While the QurԒan and, by derivation, the religious foundations of Islam were invariably denied, the human qualities of the Prophet of Islam were invoked by the humanist intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries either to level subtle criticisms against Christianity or simply to cherish their humanist-secular philosophy of history. The depiction of the Prophet as a genius and hero with a piercing mind and perspicacity, remarkable power of persuasion, sincerity, and dedication reached a climax with Carlyle and his heroic philosophy of history. In Carlyles work, the Prophet is presented as a remarkable man of the world: a hero, a genius, a charismatic figure, a personality that the Christian spirit of the Middle Ages was incapable of seeing and appreciating. Although Carlyle had placed his analysis of the Prophet within a clearly secular framework and thus preempted any charges of heresy, he still felt obligated to apologize for his positive estimation of the Prophet: ғas there is no danger of our becoming, any of us, Mahometans, I mean to say all the good of him I justly can. It is the way to get at his secret: let us try to understand what he meant with the world; what the world meant and means with him, will then be a more answerable question.(44) A much more asserting voice of the time was that of Goethe (1749-1832), who was neither secretive nor apologetic about his admiration of things Islamic. His West-oestlicher Diwan was a loud celebration of Persian-Islamic culture and his interest in the Islamic world went certainly beyond the mere curiosity of a German poet when he said, as quoted by Carlyle, that ԓif this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?(45) In the 19th century, GoetheԒs call was taken up by a whole generation of European and American poets and men of literature, which included such celebrities as Emerson and Thoreau.(46)
18. Inferno, Canto 28 where Dante describes the heretics in the ninth level of hell. Dante puts the Prophet Muhammad in the limbo as a heretic responsible for schism and disorder. We can see in this depiction the repercussions of the labeling of Islam as an Ishmaelite heresy by St. John of Damascus and Bede in the 8th century.

19. Cf. Miguel Asin Palacios, Islam and the Divine Comedy tr. with abridgment Harold Sunderland (London: 1926), pp.  256-263.

20. Lulls most important work Ars Magna provides ample material for his approach to Islam as a religious and cultural/philosophical challenge.

21. Averroists were known for their distinctly heretical views and all of these views, attributed to Averroes and his Latin followers, were listed in the 1277 condemnation of Averroism. Among those, four are the most important: the eternity of the world; the claim that God does not know the particulars; monopsychism, i.e., the view that there is only one intellect for all human beings and this absolves individuals of their moral responsibility; and finally the all-too-famous double-truth theory, i.e., the view that religion and philosophy hold different truths and that they should be kept separate. The third view on monopsychism was taken to be such a major challenge for Christian theology that St. Thomas Aquinas had to write a treatise called On the Unity of the Intellect against the Averroists. For the 219 propositions condemned by Bishop Tempier on the order of Pope John XXI, see Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions ed. Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1973), pp. 584-591.

22. De consideratione, III, I, 3-4, quoted in Benjamin Z. Kedar, Crusade and Mission, p. 61.

23. OljaytuҒs embracing of the Shiite branch of Islam instead of Buddhism or Christianity, the two religions he had studied before accepting Islam, is a momentous event in the history of Islam with repercussions both for Shiism and Muslim-Christian relations. For some of the Christian reactions to the historic Mongol conversion, see David Bundy, The Syriac and Armenian Christian Responses to the Islamification of the MongolsӔ in John Victor Tolan (ed.), Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam (New York/London: Garland Publishing, 1996), pp. 33-53.

24. Haskins attributes a considerable role to the interaction of Muslims and Christians in al-Andalus and especially in Toledo where many of the translations from Arabic into Latin were made for the flourishing of a new intellectual climate in the 12th century. See his The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976; first published in 1927), especially pp. 278-367.

25. Alvaro, Indiculus luminosus, chapt. 35, quoted in Grunebaum, Medieval Islam (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 1946), p. 57.

26. For a brief treatment of Andalusia in the history of Islam and the West, see Anwar Chejne, The Role of al-Andalus in the Movements of Ideas Between Islam and the WestӔ in Khalil I. Semaan (ed.), Islam and the Medieval West: Aspects of Intercultural Relations (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), pp. 110-133. See also, Jane Smith, Islam and ChristendomӔ in The Oxford History of Islam, ed. by J. L. Esposito (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 317-321.

27. Cf. Luce Lopez-Baralt, The Sufi Trobar Clus and Spanish Mysticism: A Shared Symbolism (Lahore: Iqbal Academy, 2000).

28. Les Penses de Blaise Pascal (Le club franais du livre, 1957), pp. 200-1.

29. Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom. 1610, p. 60, quoted in Jonathan Haynes, The Humanist as Traveler: George Sandys駒s Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom. 1610 (London/Toronto: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986), p. 71.

30. Ibid., pp. 59-60, quoted in Haynes, p. 70.

31. The Dictionary Historical and Critical of Mr. Peter Bayle (Garland Publishing, Inc., New York/London, 1984), Vol. IV, p. 29.  The Translation has been slightly modified from Medieval spellings to more modern spellings.

32. Bayle, The Dictionary, p. 47 and 30.

33. Bayle, The Dictionary, p. 39.

34. On Prideauxs approach to Islamic history, see P. M. Holt, ғThe Treatment of Arab history by Prideaux, Oackley and Sale in B. Lewis and P. M. Holt (eds.), Historians of the Middle East (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 290-302.

35. From the Lettre au roi de Prusse quoted in N. Daniel, Islam and the West, p. 311.

36. StubbeԒs book remained in manuscript form until 1911when it was edited and published for the first time by Hafiz Mahmud Khan Shairani (London: Luzac, 1911). A second edition was printed in Lahore in 1954. For references to Stubbes work, see P. M. Holt, A Seventeenth-Century Defender of Islam: Henry Stubbe (1632-76) and His Book (London: Dr. WilliamsҒ s Trust, 1972).

37. Quoted in Holt, A Seventeenth-Century Defender of Islam, pp. 22-23.

38. E. Swedenborg, Divine ProvidenceӔ in A Compendium of Swedenborgs Theological Writings, edited by Samuel M. Warren (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, Inc., 1974; first edition 1975), pp. 520-1.

39. Ibid., p. 521.

40. In addition to his meticulous translation of the QurҦn into Latin as late as the end of the 17th century, Maracci wrote also a number of polemics against Islam including his Prodromus and Refutatio both of which have been added to his translation. Cf. N. Daniel, Islam and the West, 321.

41. There were other translations of the Qur妥n into the European languages in the 18th and 19th centuries. The works of Claude Etienne Savary (1750-1788), Garcin de Tassy (1794-1878), and Albert de Biberstein Kasimirski (1808-1887) contained partial translations of the Qurn into French. Several anonymous translations of the Qur楦n in English were in circulation in the 19th century but Sales rendering remained to be the definitive text. In Germany, Martin Luther咒s (1483-1546) interest in the Qurn was already known and some have even attributed a selective translation to Luther. In 1659, Johann Andreas Endter and Wolfgang Endter published a German translation of the Qur楦n titled al-Koranum Mahumedanum. As a fashion of the late Middle Ages, the Qur妥n was called the sacred book of the TurksӔ and sometimes the Turkish Bible.Ӕ This was followed by Johan Langes version published in Hamburg in 1688. Theodor ArnoldҒs Der Koran, based on the Arabic original and Sales English translation, was published 1746 to be followed by David Friedrich MegerlinҒs Die Turkische Bibel order des Koran in 1772. A comprehensive list of Qurn translations can be found in Ismet Binark and Halit Eren, World Bibliography of Translations of the Meanings of the Holy Quran: Printed Translations, 1515-1980, edited with introduction by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (Istanbul: Research Centre for Islamic History, Art, and Culture (IRCICA), 1986). See also Muhammad Hamidullah (trans), Le Saint Coran (Paris: Club Francais du Livre, 1985), pp. LX-XC.

42. Quoted in Fuad Sha楒ban, Islam and Arabs in Early American Thought, p. 31.

43. Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1840) ed. Carl Niemeyer (Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), pp. 64-65. Carlyle mentions Sales translation as a ґvery fair one.

44. Carlyle, ibid., p. 43.

45.  Carlyle, ibid., p. 56.

46. Cf. John D. Yohannan, Persian Poetry in England and America: A 200-Year History (Delmar, N.Y.: Caravan Books, 1977).

Originally published in “Roots of Misconception: Euro-American Perceptions of Islam Before and After September 11th” in Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition ed. by Joseph Lumbard (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2004), pp. 143-187

First published online at

This article may be found on the webpage of Ibrahim Kalin at 

Ibrahim Kalin is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA


Roots of Misconception (Introduction and 4 parts), Ibrahim Kalin:

Euro-American Perceptions of Islam Before and After 9/11 - INTRODUCTION
From Theological Rivalry to Cultural Differentiation: Perceptions of Islam During the Middle Ages
From the Middle Ages through the Modern Period: The European Discovery of Islam as a World Culture
The 19th Century Perceptions of Islam: From the Pilgrim to the Orientalist
The Legacy of Orientalism and the New World: Islam as the Other呒 of America?