By Professor Abdur Raheem Kidwai
[This is the concluding part of this article. Its first, second and third parts appeared in the issue Nos. 47, 48 and 49 of Radiance Viewsweekly]
Frederick Quinn (1935–), an Episcopal priest and Adjunct Professor of History, Utah University, USA, stands out as yet another scholar of history, cultural studies and Islam, whose brilliant book, The Sum of all Heresies: The Image of Islam in Western Thought (2008) has ensured a better perception of Islam and the Prophet ﷺ in the West. He attributes the current Islamophobia to “a general lack of knowledge about Islamic history, beliefs, and politics, and a sharply negative image of Islam often held by policy makers, religious leaders, and the general public.”
As John O. Voll points out: “Quinn provides Westerners with an important portrayal of their own prejudices about Islam, warning that these entrenched images have not been replaced but rather persist in shifting forms to this day.”
His superb description of the negative portrayals in the West of Islam, the Prophet and Muslims is based on his judicious scrutiny of a plethora of religious writings, histories, travelogues, literature, visual arts and films, from the Middle Ages to the present. Throughout his concern is to highlight and promote the common ground between Christians/ Westerners and Muslims, and to advocate a dialogue “among members of different faiths, by showing the historical roots of such misperceptions and origins of such religious and cultural mistrust and hatred.”
He minces no words in condemning such Islam-bashers of our time as the Baptist preacher, Jerry Falwel, the American evangelical, Don Richardson the “hawkish” Samuel Huntington, and the US-based historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis. By the same token, he praises the US Republican legislator Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of the US Congress’s use of the Qur’ān for his swearing-in on January 4, 2007, and the British Prince Charles’s speeches, including the one at al-Azhar, Cairo, Egypt on March 21, 2006, which aim at bridging the gaps between Muslims and the West.
John Tolan (1959 –)
Another scholar of this valuable category is John V. Tolan, a historian of religious and cultural relations between the West and Islam. He is presently Professor of History at the University of Nantes, France. His significant works which have pointed out the bias against Islam and the Prophet in the Western writings are Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination (2002), Sons of Ishmael: Muslims through European Eyes in the Middle Ages (2008) and Saint Francis and the Sultan: The Curious History of a Christian-Muslim Encounter (2009).
Matthew Dimmock (1975 –)
Matthew Dimmock, Professor of Early Modern Studies, University of Sussex, UK, has accomplished the commendable task of tracing out the distorted image of the Prophet and Turks in his recent first-rate studies, Mythologies of the Prophet Muhammad in Early Modern English Culture (2013) and New Turkes: Dramatizing Islam and the Ottomans in Early Modern England (2005) respectively. The former is a mine of authentic information, tracking down all that there is to know about the “grotesque version” of the Prophet, being the “product of vilification, caricature and misinformation placed at the centre of Christian conceptions of Islam” in England between 1500 and 1700.
Aptly enough, he speaks of his work as “a study of the misrepresentation of a biography, or perhaps, the biography of a misrepresentation.”
Behind this “Christian construction of the Prophet” were the “Christian travelers to Muslim lands and zealous propagandizing clergy.” His study is an amazing spectacle of substantial and insightful scholarship, recounting how the image of the Prophet was fabricated in early literature, during the Reformation period, on stage through plays of the Elizabethan period and in the seventeenth-century literature, religious texts and popular culture. His following remarks on the Prophet’s life and mission are a pointer to both his fairness and erudition:
Muir’s Mahomet is a cynical manipulator, a fallen man consumed by lust and power, situated within a Christian universe as a shadow of Christ….
… Imputing Satanic motivations to Mahomet is now a step too far. Muir’s approach is also unusual when seen against the backdrop of Victorian “naturalistic” interpretations of Islam. Having read Muir’s text, the Austrian orientalist Aloys Sprenger remarked that just as “the geologists manage to explain the revolutions of our planet by natural powers to us”, so too ‘the origin of Islam is capable of explanation in a quite natural way, and we do not need to ascribe to the Devil an influence upon it.
Although Dimmock’s analysis is focused on the Elizabethan period, he takes note of “the infamous and destructive Danish cartoon controversy” and the Florida pastor Terry Jones’s burning of a copy the Qur’ān.
More significantly, he acclaims the Prophet’s prominence on the world stage, as he brilliantly restores the Prophet’s reputation, which is “scarred by vilification, caricature and misinformation.” His elucidation of the “Christian tradition of confutation” is destined to generating and promoting a better understanding the Prophet’s life which, in his words, “Christendom … distorted … to create a grotesque.” (Concluded)