Islam, Muslims and Islamic civilization are under siege in America. Subsequent to the tragic incidents of September 11, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, ISIS’s barbarism and Paris shooting, Islam both as religion and community has witnessed some of the worst attacks upon its heritage and legacy unprecedented in the previous history. Islam and Muslim bashing has become a lucrative profession. The Islamophobs portray Islam as a violently barbaric faith that breeds nothing but violence, ignorance and superstitions. It is a set of irrational dogmas which promote theodicy, theocracy, barbarism, totalitarianism and terrorism. As such Islam is antithetical to liberty, freedom, democracy, republicanism and constitutionalism.
Islamic civilization is depicted as an alien culture with no or minimal contributions to human civilization and progress especially in the American context. The superiority of the Western civilization, Judeo Christian tradition and European manifest destiny are some of the underlying ethos of Euro-centrism and American exceptionalism. The Euro-centrist Islamophobs and neo-cons forget that Islam was a dominant world power and at the pinnacle of human civilization from 634 to 1924 AD having its own system of limited monarchy, republicanism, constitutionalism, humanism, freedom of conscience and religion, tolerance for dissent whether temporal or religious, well developed and crafted socio-economic, politico-religious and scientifico-cultural institutions. The Islamic theology, philosophy, ethico-political thought and scientific discoveries served as a catalyst to the European Humanism, Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment which heralded both the American and French Enlightenments and Revolutions. John Locke, Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson all these enlightened leaders were more closer to the Unitarian Islamic theology and Islamic republicanism than the traditional incarnation/Trinitarian theology and divine right absolutism. They were Unitarian Muhammadan Christians rather than traditional Christians. They were heirs to a long tradition of East West cross cultural tradition carried through the Muslim Spain, Sicily, Africa and Levant. This cross cultural tradition was mostly responsible for the Latin Europe’s transition from the Dark Ages to the medieval Renaissance civilization.
The Twelfth Century Renaissance:
The transition from the Dark Ages to Medieval Renaissance began in the twelfth century partly due to the translation of countless philosophical and scientific Arabic manuscripts to Latin. Charles Homer Haskins, the Harvard historian of the Middle Ages, and advisor to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, noted that in Europe “A library of ca. 1100 would have little beyond the Bible and the Latin Fathers, with their Carolingian commentators, the service books of the church and various lives of saints, the textbooks of Boethius and some others, bits of local history, and perhaps certain of the Latin classics, too often covered with dust.” But the twelfth century witnessed a Latin campaign to translate books of “philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy unknown to the earlier mediaeval tradition and recovered from the Greeks and Arabs in the course of the twelfth century” ushering the “Twelfth Century Renaissance”. Haskins stated that the “Renaissance of the twelfth century, like its Italian successor three hundred years later, drew its life from two principal sources. Each was based in part upon the knowledge and ideas already present in the Latin West, in part upon an influx of new learning and literature from the East. But whereas the Renaissance of the fifteenth century was concerned primarily with literature, that of the twelfth century was concerned even more with philosophy and science. And while in the Quattrocento the foreign source was wholly Greek, in the twelfth century it was also Arabic, derived from Spain and Sicily and Syria and Africa as well as from Constantinople.”
Early Muslims were heir to the Greek scientific and philosophical tradition long lost in the Western world. They also absorbed the Egyptian, Persian, Chinese and Indian traditions of knowledge and created an Islamic synthesis in conformity with the fundamental principles of their faith. Haskins observed that the Muslims “with no native philosophy and science of their own, but with a marvellous power of assimilating the culture of others, quickly absorbed whatever they found in Western Asia, while in course of time they added much from their own observation and from the peoples farther to the East. Arabic translations were made directly from the Greek, as in the case of Ptolemy’s Almagest (A.D. 827), as well as from Syriac and Hebrew. Certain of the caliphs especially favored learning, while the universal diffusion of the Arabic language made communication easy and spread a common culture throughout Islam, regardless of political divisions. The most vigorous scientific and philosophical activity of the early Middle Ages lay in the lands of the Prophet, whether in the fields of medicine and mathematics or in those of astronomy, astrology, and alchemy. To their Greek inheritance the Arabs added something of their own: observation of disease sufficiently accurate to permit of identification; large advances in arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry, where we must also take account of Hindu contributions; and the standard astronomical tables of the Middle Ages. The reception of this science in Western Europe marks a turning-point in the history of European intelligence. Until the twelfth century the intellectual contacts between Christian Europe and the Arab world were few and unimportant. “
The Muslim Spain played a major role in this transmission process. “Spain’s part was to serve as the chief link with the learning of the Mohammedan world; the very names of the translators who worked there illustrate the European character of the new search for learning: John of Seville, Hugh of Santalla, Plato of Tivoli, Gerard of Cremona, Hermann of Carinthia, Rudolf of Bruges, Robert of Chester, and the rest. Christian Spain was merely a transmitter to the North.” Haskins further observed that “When, in the twelfth century, the Latin world began to absorb this Oriental lore, the pioneers of the new learning turned chiefly to Spain, where one after another sought the key to knowledge in the mathematics and astronomy, the astrology and medicine and philosophy which were there stored up; and throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Spain remained the land of mystery, of the unknown yet knowable, for inquiring minds beyond the Pyrenees. The great adventure of the European scholar lay in the Peninsula…the lure of Spain began to act only in the twelfth century, and the active impulse toward the spread of Arabic learning came from beyond the Pyrenees and from men of diverse origins. The chief names are Adelard of Bath, Plato of Tivoli, Robert of Chester, Hermann of Carinthia, with his pupil Rudolf of Bruges, and Gerard of Cremona, while in Spain itself we have Dominicus Gondisalvi, Hugh of Santalla, and a group of Jewish scholars, Petrus Alphonsi, John of Seville, Savasorda, and Abraham ben Ezra. Much in their biography and relations with one another is still obscure. Their work was at first confined to no single place, but translation was carried on at Barcelona, Tarazona, Segovia, Leon, Pampiona, as well as beyond the Pyrenees at Toulouse, Beziers, Narbonne, and Marseilles. Later, however, the chief centre became Toledo.”
The European’s pursuit of the Arabic and Islamic knowledge continued for the next few centuries culminating in an insatiable philosophical and scientific curiosity in France, Italy and many other areas of Northern Europe. Haskins notes that “This Spanish tide flowed over the Pyrenees into Southern France, to centres like Narbonne, Beziers, Toulouse, Montpellier, and Marseilles, where the new astronomy appears as early as 1139 and traces can also be found of the astrology, philosophy, and medicine of the Arabs on into the fourteenth century.”
In Italy, the cultural and philosophical revival first started in the South. Sicily had been under the Muslim rule from 902 to 1091. Additionally, the Italian City States such as Amalfi, Venice, Milan, Genoa and Florence were in constant close relations with the Muslim Spain, Sicily, North Africa, Syria and Egypt. Their lucrative international trade with the Middle East was on going long before the Crusades. It flourished during the two centuries of Crusader’s presence in the Holy Land and continued afterwards. The Italian merchants transmitted a host of skills, sciences, arts and values to the Italian Peninsula. For instance, “Leonard of Pisa, son of a Pisan customs official in North Africa, acquired there a familiarity with Arabic mathematics which made him the leading European mathematician of the thirteenth century.”
The Sicilian contributions to the translation and transmission movement were far greater than any other Italian state. The process was not impeded by the Norman conquest of Sicily. It was the other way around. It greatly enhanced and facilitated the transmission process. Huskins states that there was “one Italian land which took more direct part in the movement, namely Sicily. Midway between Europe and Africa, Sicily had been under Arab rule from 902 to 1091, and under the Normans who followed it retained a large Mohammedan element in its population. Moreover, it had many commercial relations with Mohammedan countries, while King Roger conducted campaigns in Northern Africa and Frederick II made an expedition to Palestine. Arabian physicians and astrologers were employed at the Sicilian court, and one of the great works of Arabic learning, the Geography of Edrisi, was composed at King Roger’s command. A contemporary scholar, Eugene the Emir, translated the Optics of Ptolemy, while under Frederick II Michael Scot and Theodore of Antioch made versions of Arabic works on zoology for the Emperor’s use. Frederick also maintained a correspondence on scientific topics with many sovereigns and scholars of Mohammedan lands, and the work of translation went on under his son and successor Manfred, while we should probably refer to this Sicilian centre some of the versions by unknown authors.”
The Western Europe learned, understood and digested many Greco-Roman sciences through the Muslim medium. It does not make sense that the Europe which for centuries had no or minimal contact with the Greco-Roman sciences and philosophy suddenly woke up to understand, digest, master and apply these sophisticated philosophical concept and scientific precincts. The Europeans needed a continuous philosophical and scientific tradition with relevant contemporary vocabulary, concepts, explanations and understandings to make sense of an old philosophical legacy and scientific heritage. This legacy was well preserved, explained, adapted and synthesized by the Muslim culture and tradition. The Latin Europe received a well preserved and cooked scientific tradition from the East and initially absorbed it as it was and then expanded upon it with the passage of time. The assimilation and expansion process left its indelible imprint upon the ultimate outcome. Huskins notes that the “indebtedness of the Western world to the Arabs is well illustrated in the scientific and commercial terms which its various languages have borrowed untranslated from the Arabic. Words like algebra, zero, cipher tell their own tale, as do ‘Arabic’ numerals and the word algorism which long distinguished their use as taught by al-Khwarizmi. In astronomy the same process is exemplified in almanac, zenith, nadir, and azimuth. From the Arabic we get alchemy, and perhaps chemistry, as well as alcohol, alkali, elixir, alembic, not to mention pharmaceutical terms like syrup and gum arabic. In the field of trade and navigation we have hazar and tariff, admiral and arsenal, and products of Mohammedan lands such as sugar and cotton, the muslin of Mosul and the damask of Damascus, the leather of Cordova and Morocco. Such fossils of our vocabulary reveal whole chapters of human intercourse in the Mediterranean. If Arabic learning reached Latin Christendom at many points, direct translation from the Greek was in the twelfth century almost wholly confined to Italy, where the most important meeting-point of Greek and Latin culture was the Norman kingdom of Southern Italy and Sicily.”
The Medieval Renaissance:
Islam was also a vital part of the Latin Scholasticism, Italian humanism, the so called two tributaries of the medieval Renaissance. George Makdisi in his book “The Rise of Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West: With Special Reference to Scholasticism” has amply demonstrated that the medieval scholastic tradition, Italian Humanism and Renaissance had vital Islamic origins. He has shown that a major part of the Western intellectual culture owed its origins to Arabo-Islamic contributions including the medieval universities and centers of learning. The Latin West borrowed many of its educational institutions from the Muslim East as well as from the Muslim Spain and Sicily. This fact is well demonstrated in George Makdisi’s other book “The Rise of Colleges.”
Scholasticism and Humanism:
The Eurocentric interpretations of medieval scholasticism portray it as a totally homegrown and uniquely European phenomenon. Medieval historians such as Martin Grabmann, J. A. Endres and others contend that Sentences of Prosper Aquitaine (d. around 455) or Tres libre sententiarum of Isidore of Seville (d. 636) or Peter Abelard’s (d. 1142) Prologue or Ivo of Chartres (d. 1116) were the main sources of medieval scholasticism. They tend to obliterate the influence of Arabs and Muslims upon scholasticism while the scholastics themselves “considered Arabic learning to be an important part of their intellectual legacy…” Scholasticism was considered a kind of Aristotelianism and the scholastics knew the important role played by Muslim philosopher and jurist Ibn Rusd (Averroes) in transmitting and expanding Aristotle’s philosophical legacy. To the likes of Florentine Giunta and his editorial team Averroes was “the only Aristotelian commentator worthy of the name and as a substantial philosopher in his own right, one who had developed and refined the material he found in Aristotle.”
George Makdisi finds faults with Eurocentric approach to scholasticism. He argues that none of the above mentioned ancient and early medieval writers had any developed concept or model of scholastic methodology. Indeed there are some scholastic elements variegated in a number of manuscripts but they do not even come close to be called a model for the twelfth century scholasticism. “Clearly the twelfth century is a pivotal point in the history of the scholastic method, as it is in the history of Western medieval civilization generally. It is with good reason that Charles Homer Haskins devoted one of his books to it, The Renaissance of the 12th Century.” This abrupt appearance of a full-fledged scholastic method towards the end of the eleventh century has confused many historians. “There is nothing known in the previous patristic period in the West to explain its existence. Nor can it be explained by Aristotle’s aporias, or difficulties, as discussed briefly by him especially in the beginning of Book III of his Metaphysics. For not only was this work not known as yet in the West, the aporias are not quite of the same nature as the sic-et-non confrontation of conflicting texts.” Makdisi argues that “the scholastic method had already been used in the Islamic East, a century or so previously. The constituent elements had already developed there… One of the most striking facts that face the seeker of the origins of the scholastic method in the Muslim East is that the sic-et-non method has its natural habitat, so to speak, in Muslim religious law. Once this discovery is made – the student of Islam can hardly avoid making it – the rest of the elements we mentioned fall into their proper place in their appropriate stages of development…Islamic law was no less important in the development of the scholastic method.” The Muslim orthodoxy used this scholastic method to establish their authenticity, vitality and relevance. Therefore, scholastic method was used in the Muslim world centuries before its technical use in the Christian West.
Islam had its scholastic renaissance in the eighth and ninth centuries. Power struggle and political strife divided the nascent Muslim community just thirty years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death. The contending parties used Islamic scripture and prophetic traditions to justify their political stances leading to issues concerning scriptural interpretations and methodologies. It was argued that human reason was a common denominator and must be used as a barometer of authentic scriptural interpretations. The possible subjective interpretations of Islamic texts were checked by objective rational methods. Muslims already had the direct access to Qur’an and prophetic traditions without any intermediary authoritative filters. The rational and individualistic discourse to revelation eliminated any possibility of authoritative church or state interpretations. Reason, freedom, liberty, individual consciousness, self-identity and natural ethics were propagated in opposition to official, authoritarian and subjective manipulations of the revelation.
This was also the period when contacts with Eastern Christianity and Greek sciences brought about an invasion of Greek philosophy into Muslim lands. The Muslim response was a kind of Islamization of Greek philosophy. The resultant Muslim rationalism embodied by Mu’atazilites reconciled Islamic theology with reason. Mu’atazilites thoroughly rationalized the Islamic revelation sincerely believing that reason and true revelation both were gifts of the One and Only God and hence not contradictory. They corroborated revelation with reason by allegorical interpretations within the established boundaries of Arabic language and Islamic theology. The result was a rational synthesis of God’s unity and attributes, omnipotence and justice, omnipotence and human free will, reason and revelation. The traditionalists also recognized and accepted the significance of human reason in understanding the revelation but gave revelation upper hand while corroborating it with reason. The Greek logic was equally used by the rationalists and traditionalists. The dialectical Islamic scholasticism was the product of these centuries’ long scriptural, philological and logical debates. Hans Daiber states that the” rise of Islam was essentially shaped by its dialogue with cultures that it encountered during its expansion. The Arabian Peninsula be¬fore Islam was the bone of contention between Rome and Persia. Since Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC, the Hellenistic culture had spread to Persia. Islamic culture received crucial stimulation from the Iranian and, especially, from the Greek culture … without thereby losing its identity. This resulted in the islamization of the Hellenistic heritage.” He further states the “growing interest of the Arabs in Arabic translations from Greek since the 8th century has been interpreted as a sign of humanism in Islam. This is comparable to humanists in Europe who, since the 14th centu¬ry, considered the Greek and Latin literature the foundation of spiritual and moral education.” The moral implications of such a discourse were imminent as Daiber argues that “the discussions of the Muʿtazilites in the 9th and 10th century created the necessary room for the free will of man; they in¬tended to limit the old Arabic fatalism and Islamic Qur’ānic divine pre¬destination. Man has free will to be guided by the concepts of good or evil; however, his decisions, although based on his own, follow the laws of nature, which he cannot escape. The reassessment of human will is the product of a polarity between divine immanence and determination on the one hand, and transcen¬dence of an infinite God on the other. The human will implies increas¬ing sovereignty of the individual, who is responsible for his own deci¬sions.” Diaber concludes that there “was and there is an Islamic humanism. Through Arab-Latin translations it shaped scholastic thinking in the Middle Ages, as well the educational program.”
The Mu’atazilite’s humanistic and sophisticated rational theological tools were adopted even by their main opponents, the Ash’arites, who constituted the orthodoxy in Islam. They used the already established scholastic method of Muslim jurists to determine orthodoxy of their theological positions. Consequently the scholastic method of presenting arguments, counter arguments, the main thesis and nullification of counter arguments was incorporated into major theological enterprises. The orthodox theologians were also rationalists and logicians but a little conservative than their ultra-rationalists opponents, the Mu’atazilites. Theologians like Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, his student Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali and other later Asha’rites like Fakhar al-Din al-Razi were all fine products of such a scholastic tradition.
George Makdisi concluded that the famous Hanbali jurist and rationalist theologian Ibn A’qil’s Kitab al-Funun was the hallmark of Muslim scholastic methodology and could have served as the model for St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa due to close resemblance in their argumentation scheme and methodology. He also argues that transmission of such knowledge from the Muslim East to the Christian West was not difficult. Averroes like Avicenna combined theology with philosophy and natural sciences. They were the masters of scholastic method. Their works were well known to St. Thomas and other medieval Christian divines. To Makdisi “Ibn A’qil and St. Thomas belong to the same spiritual family.” There is another possible link. Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople, one of the known expositors of scholastic method in the West, was once an ambassador to the court of Muslim caliph al-Mutawakkil (reign: 849-861). The Muslim caliphs usually held theological as well as juristic debates in their courts and encouraged foreign dignitaries’ participation in those courtly debates. The scholarly soul such as Photius would have not missed the opportunity.
Just like the Muslim predecessors, the medieval scholastics frequently discussed matters related to existence of God, divine unity and attributes, mortality or immortality of soul, human free will and predestination. The issue of predestination was more urgent in the Christian West due to its correlation with Christian dogma of original sin and justification through faith. The scholastics, mostly church theologians, tended towards determinism or predestination while the medieval humanists, like Muslim Mu’atazilites, emphasized individual subjective consciousness and freedom of choice. The idea of free will was more popular with humanists than their scholastic counterparts. Ernst Cassirer has no hesitation to call the “Humanism of the Renaissance as a Humanism of Individuality.”
Islam experienced its phase of humanism long before the Latin West. Human dignity, equality, freedom of will and choice, salvation through moral actions, freedom of expression and difference, government through selective consent, limited monarchy, rhetoric and eloquence all were important parts of Islamic civilization. Islam was not the other worldly religion. It allowed enough room for material pursuits and accumulation of wealth. There was no restriction on public display of wealth as long as wealth was shared with less fortunate members of the society through obligatory alms giving. Trade was considered a prophetic profession. Prophet Muhammad was the model businessman who engaged in local, national and international trade. Cultural expressions of individuality, prosperity and power were not prohibited as long as they did not encroach upon others dignity by exhibiting arrogance. Additionally there were no ecclesiastical establishments, clerical impositions, papal political ambitions and corruptions, irrational mysteries, medieval filters to original scriptures, multiple layers of Church traditions, decrees, councils and sacraments. There was not much of a gap between the classical sciences including the Arabic language and contemporary Islamic discourse. There was no absolute divine right monarchy having the right to make or break laws. Islamic Shari’ah was to be followed by both, the clergy and laity, the elites and commoners. Knowledge and wisdom was thought to be the lost commodity of all believers. Muslims were encouraged to seek knowledge even if they had to travel to far distant areas such as China and indeed they did. Muslims were trading with China and Western Europe by the middle of ninth century.
The merchants of Genoa, Venice, Amalfi and Florence had their fundaqs (Inns) and counsels in Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo and Damascus. Deborah Howard in her book “Venice and the East” and her article “Venice as an “Eastern City,” demonstrates with historical proof that some Italian merchants stayed in the Levant for over forty years. Some died there and were buried there. Howard observes that “The theft of St. Mark’s body from Alexandria in 828 was only possible because the appearance of Venetian merchants in the Egyptian port caused no surprise. In the same year the testament of Doge Giustiniano Parrecipazio revealed that he himself had huge investments in overseas trading voyages. Over the centuries, Venice struggled to achieve supremacy over her rivals in Levantine trade, especially Pisa and Genoa.” She puts the point in a nutshell by stating that the “Venetian commerce depended on the maintenance of smooth relations with Muslim trading partners.” All sorts of Venetian merchants lived and interacted with local Muslim officials, businessmen and merchants in the Middle East. Howard states that the “Traveling merchants came from a wide range of backgrounds. At the lowest end of the scale were the oarsmen, who were allowed to collect indulgences at a local pilgrim site and to peddle their modest possessions when moored in a foreign port. A consul represented the interest of the Venetian community, and the priest served as notary as well as chaplain. Most “colonies” had a fondaco for storage and lodgings, a church, a bakery, and a public bathhouse. In some cities, such as Damascus, Venetians lived outside the fondaco in rented property in the town alongside the local population. Skilled artisans from home served the daily needs of the visiting or resident merchants: these included barbers and tailors, bakers and cooks, goldsmiths and pharmacists. Barbers could serve as surgeons, and we also have documentary evidence of physicians accompanying consuls and ambassadors to the East.”
There were cross cultural transmissions of sciences and technologies from an early period of Islamic caliphate. Indian, Persian, Chinese and Greek sciences were all sought after. Muslims had already assimilated the so called pagan Greek sciences and philosophy into their religious narrative Islamizing them wherever needed. Jack Goody observes that “Islam itself experienced humanistic phases in the Magreb during which non-theological studies were developed, and scientific and secular knowledge was allowed a freer hand. After all Islam was a culture that sometimes reluctantly, sometimes enthusiastically, transmitted ‘pagan’ Greek ideas as well as Islamic ones, by means of schools of higher education, madrasas and academies.”
Islam as a dominant medieval culture, with its developed scholastic and humanist approaches, was the model emulated by the Latin West. George Makdisi in his “The Rise of Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West: With Special Reference to Scholasticism” has amply demonstrated that the medieval scholastic tradition, Italian Humanism and Renaissance had vital Islamic origins. The Muslim tradition has always dignified man, the crown of God’s creation, emphasized the significance of eloquence and insisted upon understanding the Qur’an from its original text. The Qur’an was always recited, memorized and understood from its original Arabic text. Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, was kept alive and updated as a significant tool of direct access to divine revelation. Arabic grammar, poetry, rhetoric, eloquence, manners and moral philosophy were an intrinsic part of Islamic education and civilization. This classical Muslim humanism was a good model for Europeans to imitate.
Makdisi, after an exhaustive study of the Italian Humanism, stated that “I have come to the conclusion that classical Islam appears to have provided the model for Italian Renaissance humanism.” He argued that the “major fields of humanism, known by the term studia humanitatis, come under the Classical Arabic term, adab, and may be referred to as the studia adabiya…” Makdisi further observed that eloquence and human dignity were the two fundamental characteristics of the Italian humanism and the “humanist of Classical Islam was imbued with the notions of eloquence and the dignity of man, from his tender years, through his memorization and recitation of the Qur’an.” Pico della Mirandola (d.1481) in his famous and oft quoted speech had already pinpointed the fact that a transmission of humanism from Arabic sources to the West took place. “I have read, reverend Fathers, in the works of Arabs, that when Abdala the Saracen was asked what he regarded the most to be wondered at on the world’s stage, so to speak, he answered that there was nothing to be seen more wonderful than man.” Makdisi argues that we also “have these lines on the dignity of man from a tenth century Muslim jurist, secretary, and poet-humanist, Abu’ l-Fath al-Busti (d.363/973-74)…” Jack Goody also observes that in “Europe the process of liberation had its tentative roots in the humanist activity of the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, much influenced by Islam.”
Michael G. Carter noted that although “at first sight the terms humanism and Islam might seem incompatible, there is good evidence that they are not. The highly developed urbanism of Islam, its elaborate bureaucracy, wealthy courts and associated patronage, and a universal respect for learning all combined to provide a fertile environment for the emergence of a kind of humanism analogous to that which arose in the West. The supreme importance of Arabic on the religious, cultural, administrative, and commercial levels made it inevitable that whatever kind of humanism appeared, it would have to give a special place to language.” Carter then identified the five distinct kinds of Islamic classical humanism namely the philosophical, religious, intellectual, legal and literary.
In addition to demonstrating the historical fact that the medieval scholasticism and humanism had its origins in the Classical Islam, Makdisi also showed that a major part of the Western intellectual culture owed its origins to Arabo-Islamic contributions including the medieval universities and centers of learning. The Latin West borrowed many of its educational institutions from the Muslim Spain and Sicily. This fact is well presented in his book “The Rise of Colleges.”
Makdisi explained that Madrassa, the Muslim college of Islamic learning, was a privately run and Waqf or trust based endowed institution. It was incorporated to enhance Islamic knowledge and God’s governance on earth. It had a specific curriculum, specialized teachers and a scholastic orientation as Islamic law constituted the bulk of Madrassa teaching. But it was not the only source of Islamic knowledge. Other Islamic sciences such as philosophy, rational theology or Kalam and other natural sciences were taught and discussed outside Madrassa in various libraries, homes and study circles. This was the result of a clash between the orthodoxy and Muslim rationalistic trend. The Muslim colleges, the madrassas, were mostly dedicated to Islamic law and jurisprudence. They became the center of Muslim scholasticism, a middle road between the extremes of conservative orthodoxy and liberal rationalists. They were the “product of legal studies.” Makdisi details eighteenth parallels between the Muslim colleges and European universities and concludes that such a depth and breadth of similarities and parallels are not “devoid of influence.”
Jack Goody argues that nobody should “neglect the fact that the rise of the universities was accompanied by a revival of learning between 1100 and 1200 when an influx of knowledge arrived from what had been Muslim Sicily (until 1091) but mainly through Arab Spain. Moreover although the universities were said to be different from the madrasas which had been established throughout the Muslim world in the tenth and eleventh centuries, there were significant parallels between the system of education in Islam and that of the Christian West.” He continues that “the college ‘as an eleemosynary, charitable foundation was quite definitely native to Islam’, based on the Islamic waqf. Paris was the first western city where a college was established in 1138 by a pilgrim returning from Jerusalem; it was founded, probably copying a madrasa, as a house of scholars, created by an individual without a royal charter. So too was Balliol in Oxford before it became a corporation.” Goody maintains that “Clearly Islam did have important institutions of higher learning for religious and legal education from an early period. Whether or not these stimulated western Europe is a moot question but there were clear parallels as there were in other advanced written cultures. But perhaps more importantly, in Islam these institutions were more or less exclusively devoted to religious studies, whereas in Europe, although religion initially dominated, other subjects were allowed to grow up within the university domain. Gradually forms of secular knowledge became increasingly important. In Islam such forms of learning had to take place elsewhere.” In conclusion he states that “let us look not at origins so much as parallels of which there are many between Islam and Christian learning. Indeed in many ways it may have been Islamic methods that preceded the founding of the first European University at Bologna, teaching law, as did the Badras school in Byzantium. The sic et non (central to the work of the scholastics like Aquinas), the questiones disputatae, the reportio, and the legal dialectic could have their earlier Islamic parallels.”
Hugh Goddard is certain that both the Western universities and Renaissance owe their impetus to Islamic influences. “What is more certain, however, is that in at least two respects one institutional and one intellectual in the wider sense, Islamic culture had a major impact on late medieval Europe. Firstly, Islamic influence was crucial for the establishment in Western Europe of a new kind of institution, beginning in the twelfth/sixth century, namely the university. The idea of the university in the modern sense, that is, a place of learning where students congregate to study a variety of subjects under a variety of teachers, is generally recognised as being an Islamic innovation, going back to the establishment of al-Azhar in Cairo in 969/358. Earlier institutions of learning such as those of the ancient Greeks tended to be centred on individual teachers, and it is therefore the idea of an institution with different faculties which represents the Islamic contribution towards the emergence of the university as a distinct institution.” Goddard further states: “Five Western European universities trace their origins to the years before 1200/596, and their locations, when put alongside the dates of their foundation, provide some evidence that the idea developed in those parts of Europe nearest to the world of Islam and then spread northwards from there. They are Bologna and Salerno in Italy, famous respectively for law and medicine, Montpellier and Paris in France, and Oxford in England.” He argues that “the fact that we still talk of professors holding the `Chair’ of their subject is based on the traditional Islamic pattern of teaching where the professor sits on a chair and the students sit around him. The term `academic circles’ has the same origin, since the students sat in a circle around their professor. Terms such as having `fellows’, `reading’ a subject, and obtaining `degrees’, can all be traced back to Islamic concepts… practices such as delivering inaugural lectures, wearing academic robes, obtaining doctorates by defending a thesis, and even the idea of academic freedom are also modelled on Islamic custom”
The University of Naples was among the earliest European institutions of higher learning. Goddard notices that “Islamic influence was certainly discernible in the foundation of the first deliberately planned university, that of Naples, founded by Frederick II (1215/612-1250/ 648), in 1224/621.” He also argues that more than the universities it is “therefore the colleges, as they evolved first in Paris and then in universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which are based on the Islamic model of the waqf (charitable endowment), and show the real traces of Islamic influence.” There is sufficient historical proof then to conclude with J. Riberea that “the medieval university owed much to the collegiate institution of Arab education.”
These institutions of higher learning became of the major centers of scholastic intellectual synthesis and ushered an era of rational inquiry and merger of theology with philosophy and other natural sciences. Scholasticism was a major tributary to European Renaissance and the Islamic influences were manifestly imminent. Goddard explains: “The other undoubted aspect of major Islamic influence on medieval Western Europe is its impact on the wider intellectual renaissance which began in the twelfth/sixth century and gathered pace thereafter. This was in part a legacy of the translation movement, especially in Spain, which we have already looked at in connection with Peter the Venerable’s efforts to gather more accurate information about Islam, but it was more particularly a result of the translations which were made of works in the field of philosophy, both original Greek works and Islamic commentaries on them.”
Both Scholasticism and Humanism greatly contributed to revival of ancient letters and sciences which stimulated intellectual inquiry, rationalism and individualism. The process was facilitated through the medium of Muslim civilization. It does not make sense that the Europeans, after centuries of intellectual stagnation, suddenly woke up to reclaim their lost heritage and then instantly intellectualized the entire continent and the globe. The intellectual progress takes time to realize change and bear fruits. There was a huge gap, both historical and intellectual, between the medieval present and the distant classical past. The cultural milieu, nature of scientific knowledge and thinking processes were totally divergent. Europe was not a unified entity and was marred with constant bloody rivalries and contentions. Its medieval parochial, unsophisticated and unenlightened socio-political and religious structure was not congenial to scientific research, inquiry and innovation. Intellectual creativity and independent thinking was largely discouraged and at times severely punished. Europe needed a stimulus to come out of its Dark Ages and that incentive came through the Muslim channel. Many translation works were produced through the medium of Muslim culture and Arabic language. The process of transmission, digestion, assimilation and practical implementation spawned over the centuries. This long and gradual change was negotiated through the Islamic medium. The resultant intellectual movement was called the Renaissance. S. Todd Lowry states that the “historical facts are undeniable, namely that the culture of antiquity was sustained and developed in the Islamic world during the medieval period; and the intellectual darkness in northern Europe from the seventh to the eleventh century AD was a strictly local phenomenon. The torchbearers of ancient learning during the medieval period were the Muslims, and it was from them that the Renaissance was sparked and the Enlightenment kindled.”
S. M. Ghazanfar emphasizes the same historical fact. “Almost precisely during this period, the Islamic civilization represented about the most fertile environment of intellectual activity in almost all areas of then known endeavours, including socio-economic thought. With the background of the rediscovered Greek intellectual reservoir, numerous Islamic scholars developed concepts and notions on various economic topics, among other things, which are remarkably similar, though less elegantly couched, to those found in the writings of subsequent European scholars as well as in the contemporary literature; some Islamic sages even wrote separate treatises specifically devoted to economic/commercial issues. Further, almost all of this intellectual output was transferred en masse, through various sources and over several centuries, to early Latin-Europe.”
Islam and the Protestant Reformation:
Islam and Muslims were also a major part of Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) reformation. In fact in the medieval and pre-modern eras, the Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans all acted and reacted to Islam, it’s Prophet Muhammad, its history, its theology, philosophy, socio political thought and sciences in varying degrees and capacities.
The Reformation leaders clearly acted and reacted to Islam in a number of ways. The Ottoman Muslims were not far from the Western Europe. They were in the Eastern Europe, in Balkans, and knocking at the doors of Vienna not far from Luther’s Germany and Calvin’s Geneva. According to R.W. Southern, “The existence of Islam was the most far-reaching problem in medieval Christendom.”
In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire exhausted the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his Papal allies. The Catholic Habsburg monarchy was quite entangled with the Ottomans throughout the Reformation period. The constant warfare drained the Habsburg resources forcing Charles V to seek help of German princes against the Ottoman peril. Luther and his patrons used the opportunity to gain more and more concessions from the Emperor and Pope. The same Emperor who was vying to burn alive all the Protestant heretics was forced to seek their alliance and assistance due to Ottoman pressure.
The Romanian American historian Stephan A. Fischer-Galati notes that in 1530 “Charles with the support of Ferdinand and the Catholics, pronounced a death sentence on Protestantism at the Diet of Augusburg…But the Protestants won a reprieve, primarily because of a powerful Ottoman offensive against Hungary and the Empire. Charles and Ferdinand could interdict Lutheranism at Speyer and Augusburg but could not dispense with its assistance when their secular interests in Eastern Europe and the very security of the Empire itself appeared in grave danger. In return for support against the Turks the Emperor was prepared to guarantee the existence of Lutheranism until the meeting of a council.” The Ottoman activities in Hungary and the Mediterranean and their ally the French Emperor Francis 1’s aggression in Italy forced Charles to “renew and extend the guarantees” which the Lutherans had gotten from him in 1530’s.
It is pertinent to note that there had been numerous efforts before Luther to reform the Christian tradition from within. The 11th to 13 century Catharism, Peter Waldo’s Waldensians, the French Albigenses and John Huss and Hussites were almost all annihilated by the Papal orders. There were numerous crusades directed at the dissenting Christians throughout the Middle Ages. The history of the Inquisitions is well known. There were thousands of Christians who were burned at the stake as a result of mere doubt about their orthodoxy. Luther and his Reformation would have not succeeded without the sympathy of the Muslim Turks and their unrelenting pressure over the Holy Roman Empire. Kenneth Setton in “Europe and Levant in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance” observes that “It is often said that the Reformation aided the Turks; certainly the Turks aided the Reformation; without them Protestantism might conceivably have gone the way of Albigensianism.”
Without the Ottomans there would have been no Luther or Protestantism. Stephan A. Fischer-Galati in his “Ottoman Imperialism and German Protestantism, 1521-1555” makes the point clear. He argues that the summary statement of Kenneth Setton should be “extended also to the political presence of Lutheranism in Germany on the basis of the provisions of the Religious Peace of Augusburg of 1555. In brief, it seems fair to argue that the entire course of the Protestant Reformation in Germany would have been different had Charles and Ferdinand of Habsburg assigned priority to German affairs over the consolidating of their family inheritance threatened, inter alia, by Ottoman imperialism.” He further observes that “the Habsburgs’ neglect of German affairs and readiness to compromise when beset by international pressures and exigencies was the single most important factor in expanding the process of consolidation, expansion and formal recognition of Lutheranism in 1555. It is also evident that from an early date Lutheran leaders appreciated the significance of international commitments of Habsburgs and the vast benefits that might be derived from their exploitation. It is in this connection that the Ottoman Turks assumed a major role in the history of the German Reformation.” The success of German Reformation was so “closely linked with the fortunes of the generally feared and despised Turks.” Fischer-Galati concludes that the “consolidation, expansion, and legitimization of Lutheranism in Germany by 1555 should be attributed to Ottoman imperialism more than to any other single factor.” Ottomans, to Fischer-Galati, were the “saviour of Protestantism in Germany and the ultimate guarantor of Protestant interests in Hungary and Transylvania.”
Jae Jerkins in “Islam in the Early Modern Protestant Imagination” observes that “European commercial relations with the Ottomans flourished across Europe as different nations saw the advantage that could be gained from Ottoman support. France and England independently sought alliances with the Ottomans against Catholic Spain. With Suleiman’s siege of Vienna in 1529, the Lutherans were placed in a favorable position to force concessions from the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Feeling pressure from the Lutherans within, the French to the west, and the Ottomans to the east, Charles V sought a truce with the Ottomans in 1539. This indirect relation of power between the Lutheran Protestants and the Ottoman Muslims is typical of the Islamicate–Christian relations of the period. Typically, it was Catholic forces and funds that resisted the advance of the Ottoman Empire. Despite the anti–Islamic and anti–Muhammad rhetoric of theologians like Luther and Calvin, Islam was the best thing to happen to the Protestant cause, qua Catholic hegemony. Luther’s struggle with Charles V could have gone very differently had Suleiman’s armies not been knocking at Germany’s door.”
The Protestant English Queen Elizabeth 1 wrote a personal letter to Ottoman Sultan Murad III in an effort to forge an alliance against the so called idolater Habsburg Catholic Emperor Charles V of Spain. In the letter she tried to show more affinity with the Muslim monotheism than the so perceived Catholic polytheism.
“Elizabeth, by the grace of the most mighty God, the three part and yet singular Creator of Heaven and Earth, Queen of England, France and Ireland, the most invincible and most mighty defender of the Christian faith against all the idolatry of those unworthy ones that live amongst Christians, and falsely profess the name of Christ” Jerkins notes that Queen Elizabeth “framed her hopes of political alliance as being a partnership between the pious monotheists of England and Turkey against the idolatrous Spanish Habsburgs.”
The Hungarian academic historian Bela K. Kiraly in “Tolerance and Movements of Religious Dissent in Eastern Europe” states that “The simultaneity of Luther’s rupture with Rome and Ottoman penetration of Hungary’s underbelly prefigured one of the most striking characteristics of the spread of Protestantism through Hungry: the interdependence of the Ottoman conquest in central Hungary and the dissemination of the new faith.” Kiraly further observes that “The Ottoman Empire completed it conquest of the Hungarian heartland during the first half of the sixteenth century. In direct relation, Protestantism also made great headways, and during the second half of the century Catholic Hungary became a Protestant land.” To Kiraly the Protestant success in Hungary and Transylvania were dependent on the Ottoman conquest of these lands and their favorable treatment of the Protestants.
The Ottomans were known to Europe as tolerant of religious pluralism while the Austrian Habsburg Empire was notorious for persecution of non-Catholic Christians. The contemporary French thinker Jean Bodin wrote:
“The great emperor of the Turks does with as great devotion as any prince in the world honour and observe the religion by him received from his ancestors, and yet detests he not the strange religions of others; but on the contrary permits every man to live according to his conscience: yes, and that more is, near unto his palace at Pera, suffers four diverse religions viz. that of the Jews, that of the Christians, that of the Grecians, and that of the Mahometans.”
Moreover, Islam, as mentioned earlier, was considered an ideological ally having more commonalities with Protestantism than Catholicism. Jack Goody states that “Islam was seen as closer to Protestantism in banning images from places of worship, in not treating marriage as a sacrament and in rejecting monastic orders.”
In reality many Protestants preferred to side with the Muslims against their Catholic enemies. The French, English and Dutch sought military alliances with the Ottomans against the Catholic Habsburg Spain and in fact fought along with the Ottomans against their common enemy.
There are existent correspondences between Lutherans in Flanders and Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his successor Sultan Murad III. In his letter of 1571 Sultan Murad III wrote, “As you, for your part, do not worship idols, you have banished the idols and portraits and “bells” from churches, and declared your faith by stating that God Almighty is one and Holy Jesus is His Prophet and Servant, and now, with heart and soul, are seeking and desirous of the true faith; but the faithless one they call Papa does not recognize his Creator as One, ascribing divinity to Holy Jesus (upon him be peace!), and worshiping idols and pictures which he has made with his own hands, thus casting doubt upon the oneness of God and instigating how many servants to that path of error.”
Originally Luther himself felt an affinity with the Turkish leadership and at one time remarked that “A smart Turk makes a better ruler than a dumb Christian.” He called the Pope and Jews with derogatory names such as “Devil incarnate” and “Antichrist” while portraying the Turks in a positive fashion. He observed that some of his contemporaries “actually want the Turk to come and rule, because they think that our German people are wild and uncivilized – indeed that they are half-devil and half-man.” Many Lutherans, Calvinists and Unitarians from Transylvania, Holland and England particularly the Hungarian Protestants under the leadership of Imre Tokoly were part of the Ottoman invasion of Vienna.
Luther turned against the Turks and their religion after an imminent danger of Ottoman invasion was felt in Germany and public uproar about it. Even then he helped in publishing Theodore Bibliander’s (1509-1564) translation of the Qur’an in 1543 and wrote its’ preface with the intention of thwarting Islamic intellectual invasion before the Turkish military invasion. Luther wrote, “Since we now have the Turk and his religion at our very doorstep our people must be warned lest, either moved by the splendour of the Turkish religion and the external appearances of their customs or displeased by the meagre display of our own faith or the deformity of our customs, they deny their Christ and follow Muhammad.” He genuinely admired Islamic piety, morality, charity, virtues, religious practices and spiritualism though he scorned Islam for its emphasis upon a working rather than a gracing faith. “We see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies—and, I might almost say, in customs—than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and the simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people [at mosque] that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us …. [W]hich of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictines, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wonderous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, nor Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display [of religiosity]. This is the reason why many persons so easily depart from faith in Christ for Muhammadanism and adhere to it so tenaciously. I sincerely believe that no papist, monk, cleric or their equal in faith would be able to remain in their faith if they should spend three days among the Turks.” Luther further observed that “if it should come to the point of arguing about religion, the whole papistry with all of its trappings would fall. Nor would they be able to defend their own faith and at the same time refute the faith of Muhammad.” Luther considered Islam as God’s scourge for sinning Christians who among other things have tolerated papal abominations. The Muslims were Germany’s school teachers who must teach the Germans how to repent of their sins.
Luther strongly believed in the Christian dogma of “Original Sin” and the subsequent human depravity. He held that the fallen man could have not attained his salvation through good deeds but through the atoning death of Jesus Christ, the true Lord and Savior, the second person of the Holy Trinity. The grace was a gift of God and an arbitrary bestowal. A Muslim may work hard to achieve salvation but will never get it because in “doing so, he rejects the true Ladder appointed by God in His Son and constructs his own ladder to heaven.” This is “a false righteousness that strives to be holy, not through faith in the merits of Christ but through his own self-chosen works”. Luther like Calvin emphasized upon the grace to the extent that it eliminated any possibility of a working faith, human free will and agency, and made salvation a solely predestined, predetermined and arbitrary divine prerogative.
Luther scolded Islam for denying Jesus’ divinity and worship. He also disagreed with Islamic way of government where the wicked (heretics) were not properly punished. Luther wanted Muslims to know that “Christ is the son of God, that he died for our sins, that he was raised for our life, that justified by faith in him our sins are forgiven and we are saved, etc. These are the thunder that destroys not only Muhammad but even the gates of hell.”
Islam, to Luther, was far better than Catholic idolatry and popery. His problem with Islam was mostly due to Islam’s emphasis upon a working faith, upon human free will at the expense of justification through grace, denial of Christ’s atoning crucifixion and divinity. In short, Islam’s denial of the original sin and Trinity, the two fundamental and distinctive Christian propositions, were among the main sources of Luther’s contempt for Islam. To him the Protestant Reformation was the solution to Christendom’s debacles. The subsequent Christian internal warfare and further Protestant divisions into Lutheran, Calvinist and Anglican churches proved him wrong. The so called reformed churches and monarchs were no less harsh on dissent and nonconformity than their Catholic predecessors. They did allow people an open access to the Bible but did not permit them the liberty to think for themselves. The creedal conformity was required as a prelude to societal uniformity hence imposed from the top with an iron fist. Dissenters were declared heretics and burned alive without any due process or jury. The civil authorities i.e. monarchs and spiritual authorities i.e. the Church both ruled the masses with absolute authoritarianism. The “Divine Right” monarchy and the “Divine Right” Church were absolutes to the extent that challenging their authority was made tantamount to challenging God. The early reformers set the tone of liberty by challenging the Catholic Church and its claims to divine authority and the later reformers pushed it further by defying the Protestant ecclesiastical establishments and their irrational dogmas.
The turbulent 16th and 17th centuries’ constant warfare between the Catholics and Protestant worlds on the one hand and inter-Protestant power struggles on the other rendered both the monarchs and their Church allies weak. The entire European continent was almost in shambles. Many thinking Christians tried to salvage Christendom from the miseries of traditional Christianity as epitomized in both the Catholic and Protestant Churches and looked for solutions within and without the Christian borders. They wanted a uniting rather than dividing Christianity. The irrational mysteries, scholastic jargons, cumbersome ceremonies and power hungry and greedy priestcraft and monarchs were identified as the fundamental sources of European ills. The pre-modern reformers of 16th and 17th century looked for a rational faith which can prove its reasonableness without resorting to illogical and unintelligible argots of the priests and their fanatic supporters. They needed a minimal credo religion with moral ethos which can tolerate differing views and orientations. They longed for a religious philosophy that can be translated into a rational practical political thought so as to curb the unruly kings and their ecclesiastical cronies. They required a republican tradition which could help them to limit the monarchial powers and church abuses. They found a ready-made roadmap of such an aspired reformation in the Islamic tradition as practiced by the Ottoman Muslim Empire. The Islamic tradition required just a minimal creed that there is “No God but One God and Muhammad is His prophet.” This rational and simple credo was sufficient enough to grant a person citizenship in the Ottoman Empire which tolerated almost every other intera-faith disagreements whether theological or juristic. The Ottoman Muslims also tolerated other religious communities as long as they paid a small tax called “Jizyah” as a token of their loyalty to the state. The religious minorities including the Jews and Christians were accorded freedom of religion and worship. The Sultan enjoyed the executive authority while the “Shura” mostly enjoyed the legislative power and the religious scholars were assigned the judiciary. Though not an ideal model it presented a variety of mechanisms for checks and balances and distribution of power, the mechanisms and institution totally absent in the then Christian world.
The civic and civil religion of the Muslim Turks along with its toleration for dissent and restriction of absolute monarchial and ecclesiastical powers was quite attractive to the pre-modern reformers. They gave serious thoughts to such a republican model with built in rational, natural and limited monarchy and institutions. The moderate reformers appropriated the Islamic republican model to their indigenous needs by couching it in a traditional Christian verbiage. The reformers such as John Locke, Isaac Newton took a moderate and cautious approach to gradually changing the infected wine without throwing away the bottle itself. They explained the traditional Christian dogmas such as the Trinity and Original Sin in such a fashion that it kept the bottle but totally changed the wine. Their version of the reasonable Christianity was a non-Trinitarian, rational, natural and working faith free of irrational mysteries, unintelligible scholastic jargons, unnecessary miracles, saints and unqualified grace. It was a faith congenial to human efforts, liberty, freedom, logic, commonsense, virtues and confidence.
They avoided any association with non-Christian dogmas or entities to protect themselves against the harsh and heavy hammers of heresy hunting priestcraft. Both John Locke and Isaac Newton like their countless friends were closet Unitarians and Socinians, the two theological strands closely linked to Islamic monotheism and theology, as will be seen below. The radical reformers such as Henry Stubbe and John Toland along with their Unitarian and Deist friends pushed for a completion of reform of Christianity on Islamic lines. They connected Islamic monotheism with the universal monotheistic prophetic tradition passing through Moses and Jesus and culminating in Muhammad. They insisted upon completing the reformatory project by replacing the corrupt priestly Christianity with simple, rational and republican Muhammaden Christianity. Their clandestine and radical works were known to the moderate reformers such as John Locke as they were friends and colleagues. Actually Henry Stubbe worked for Shaftesbury and helped him in his political campaigns against the royalists just like John Locke did during his London career. John Toland met with Locke at Oates and had the opportunity to share his writings with him. John Locke’s closeness to the famous deist Anthony Collins and his reading of Charles Blount and John Biddle’s works is a well-known fact. The moderate reformers incorporated the radical ideas into their writings but with a sense of sobriety and serenity. They had learned from the fate of Thomas Aikenhead (1676-1697) who was burned alive on the charges of Socinianism.
Therefore, Islamic theological and philosophical ideas were an integral part of the unfinished reformation as well as the finished reformation which heralded the 18th century Enlightenment. Both the radicals as well as the moderate enlightenment figures agreed that Islam was a genuine heir to the universal monotheistic prophetic tradition, as will be shown in the coming page.
The Christendom had known Islam from its very inception in a number of different capacities, encounters and ways. In addition to the early confrontations with Byzantine Christians from 7th to 11th centuries, the Muslims ruled Spain and Sicily for a long time. Southern Italy and Northern France were not far from the Muslim borders. Cultural transmission and dissemination of Islamic ideas to the Latin West is a known story. The encounters in the Holy Land during the Crusades were not trivial. The Mighty Ottoman armies, as shown above, were at the doorsteps of Vienna, the gateway to Western Europe by 1529 and continued the push until 1680’s. The Protestant Hungarian rebel Imre Tokoly (1657-1705), the Prince of Transylvania, known as Count Teckely in England, had sought out Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV’s protection and help against the Catholic Hapsburg monarchs. He fought along with the Ottomans against the Catholics till the battle of Zenta in 1697 and lived under the Ottoman auspices till his death in 1705. He like the Hungarian King John Sigismund Zápolya (1540 -1571) preferred the Unitarian Islamic faith and relatively tolerant Islamic law in opposition to the Trinitarian and intolerant Catholic Austrians. The Euro Ottoman affairs had their resonance all around Europe including England and France. The Protestant alliances with Ottoman Muslims were widely discussed in Europe. In England the Muslims and their so called secret hegemonic agendas were connected with the Whig parliamentarians. For instance, Count Teckely was often identified with the English republicans, the Whigs who were dubbed as seditious “Teckelites” or as the Protestant allies of the Turco-Islamic cause. The anonymous writer of “The rebels association in Hungary for reformation of religion and advancement of Empire (1682), invoked such a close collaboration in the following words:
“The Teckelites are in Discipline and Principles much the same with those they call Whigs in England, Religion being the ground of their Exorbitances. Under pretence of Religion (which is indeed but Rebellion,) they will Levy Arms against the Emperour, and for Defence of the Gospel, join with the Turk against their Christian Sovereign.”
Matthew Birchwood and Nabil Matar have consistently shown that “images of Islam and the dreaded Ottoman Turk have played a crucial role in the formation of national identity and religious difference in Restoration England.” Humberto Garcia has proven beyond doubt that “English radical Protestantism achieved historical, philosophical, and ideological coherence, in part, through its sympathetic identification with what I am calling Islamic republicanism, a flexible and malleable trope that casts Mahomet’s revolutionary reestablishment of the Christian prophetic monarchy as the epitome of English constitutional virtue.” He has also noticed that the above mentioned satire “The rebels association” “seeks to expose the defense of a limited Protestant monarchy as a false pretense for concealing an international conspiracy between radical Protestants and Muslims intent on overthrowing Christendom, renewing the English Civil War, and welcoming an Ottoman invasion.” He has demonstrated that the “satirical figuration of English reformers as Teckelite infidels has its political and literary roots in Henry Stubbe’s defense of Islam—The Rise and Progress of Mahometanism (circa 1671; published in 1911).”
As mentioned earlier, Stubbe was a close friend of John Locke and had attended both Westminster and Christ Church College with Locke. He was also an important part of Shaftesbury’s entourage. Stubbe propagated a policy of toleration for dissenters as promulgated and popularized by Anthony Ashley Cooper, the First Earl of Shaftesbury, who also fought for a limited monarchy. James R. Jacob shows that “Stubbe’s career rests on his defense of Mahomet, depicted as a wise legislator who founded a tolerant republican monarchy.” This way Islam was considered, as Garcia argues, “the natural ally of the Radical Enlightenment, an underground international movement that tended to borrow the legends, stories, and motifs associated with various prophetic strains of near-eastern monotheism in order to define its theological and political heterodoxy in republican-constitutionalist terms.” In short, Islam was part and parcel of the reformatory project and the Enlightenment landscape. The reformers completed the unfinished reformation of Luther by rejecting the Trinity, Original Sin and justification through grace and went far ahead in promoting the Mohammaden Christianity and its republican ideals. The Christianity which they bequeathed to posterity was far more identical to Muhammaden Christianity i.e. Islam than the traditional, incarnational and irrational Christianity of the ancient and medieval Church establishments. Many of the Founding Fathers of America inherited such a revised version of Christianity more akin to deism and Unitarianism than incarnational Trinitarian Christianity.
There is crystal clear historical evidence that many of the Founding Fathers of America were directly influenced by the English thinkers such as John Lock and Isaac Newton who were thoroughly influenced, as seen above, by Islamic sciences, theology, political thinking and morality. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most important Founding Fathers, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809) identified Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Isaac Newton as “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception,” in his 1789 letter ordering portraits of them from the American painter, John Trumbull. Jefferson also declared Locke as the most important thinker on liberty. Jefferson and his Declaration of Independence were heavily influenced by John Locke. One can see in the text of the document, and even in the list of reasons given to separate from Great Britain, Locke’s words, ideas, and theories coming into play. One of the most noticeable instances of direct influence is in the preamble, where the Declaration of Independence proclaims the right of every man to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. These terms were borrowed from Locke’s Second Treatise, as will be seen below. John Adams thought the DOI was copied from Locke, and James Madison apologized for its plagiarism by saying that “The object was to assert, not to discover truths.” These and other Lockean ideas were eventually incorporated into the American Constitution and became intrinsic part of the American dream. Thomas Jefferson was also a staunch anti-Trinitarian and anti-Calvinism. His moral Christianity was far closer to the Muhammadan Christianity as advocated by Locke than the Trinitarian Christianity. Jefferson was a confessed Unitarian. He also owned a copy of the Qur’an and, like Locke, was accused of being a “Muslim” in 1800.
Locke also helped inspire another Founding Father Thomas Paine’s radical ideas about revolution. Locke fired up George Mason. From Locke, James Madison derived his principles of liberty and government. Locke’s writings were part of Benjamin Franklin’s self-education, and John Adams believed that both girls and boys should learn about Locke. The French philosopher Voltaire called Locke “the man of the greatest wisdom. What he has not seen clearly, I despair of ever seeing.”
John Locke (August 1632 – 28 October 1704), was accused of being a “Moslim” by his adversaries such as John Edwards (1637–1716), an ordained Deacon and English Calvinistic divine, because his religious beliefs and political outlook closely resembled the Islamic teachings. Locke argued in his “Reasonableness of Christianity” (1695) that Jesus was neither God nor divine but just a Messiah. He advocated that the Church should reject its hierarchical structure and authority, abandon its irrational beliefs such as Trinity and superstitious theology including beliefs in mysteries and miracles, forfeit its creed and sacraments, its pagan liturgy, customs and traditions in favor of one requirement for membership and salvation- to acknowledge and believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the King of righteous believers. It is plain, argued Locke, “that the gospel was writ to induce men into a belief of this proposition, “That Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah;” which if they believed, they should have life.” He further argued that “all that was to be believed for justification, was no more but this single proposition, that “Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, or the Messiah.”
In the period 1661–1662 Locke recorded his belief in the Trinity in his Essay on Infallibility where he also stated he did not comprehend its arguments or how it was true: the truth of Trinity could not be grasped by the mind or expressed in words other than those God had used to express it in His own words; i.e., in revelation. By the 1690s when Locke had revised his published Essay, his views of the Trinity had drastically changed as a result of his reading Socinian works.
John Marshall argues, “Indeed, given his apparently contemporaneous Socinian reading and composition of the Essay…Locke had the Trinity in his mind in composing the Essay, a series of linked arguments about the difficulties of assenting to a true faith.” Locke was quite aware of the Socinians’ theological and scriptural arguments against the Trinity as well as public opposition to the dogma, and most likely had extended his Socinian sympathies to denying the Trinity. Locke had followed the Unitarian Controversy since his return to England from Holland in 1689. He extensively read anti-Trinitarian Socinian and Unitarian books and struck a close friendship with the ant-Trinitarian Isaac Newton, shortly after his return from Holland.
Newton shared with Locke two lengthy manuscripts criticizing biblical texts that were often cited by the clergy to support the Trinity. Newton declared such texts were fraudulent insertions into the Bible. Locke copied these criticisms and forwarded them to friends such as Jean le Clerc. John Marshall observes, “It is quite possible that Newton’s willingness to send Locke his manuscript criticisms of Trinitarian texts as early as 1690 indicates that Locke had revealed to Newton that he was antitrinitarian by that date.” Marshall also argues that the absence of any discussion of Trinity in Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity was “the result of lengthy and detailed consideration of the Trinity, and that in issuing the Reasonableness Locke was consciously willing to give succor to the Unitarian side in the Unitarian Controversy, albeit anonymously.” Arthur Wainwright has also concluded that by the end of his life, especially in his Paraphrase, Locke was unequivocally anti-Trinitarian.
Scholars differ over whether Locke believed in the pre-existence of Christ. For instance, Arthur Wainwright argues that by the end of his life Locke had come to believe that Christ was a pre-existent person to historical Jesus. Such a position would pitch Locke against the Socinian point of view of Christ. The Socinians maintained that Christ was not pre-existent in a literal sense but just a Prophetic Messiah. Locke, like the Socinians, had believed that Christ existed in God from eternity as God’s Word and not as a distinct person. This allegorical glory of Christ is very different than the Trinitarian notions of Christ as a distinct person co-equal with God in eternity and essence. Locke broadly followed the Socinian position regarding Christ’s pre-existence as he did regarding original sin, satisfaction, and Trinity.
Locke believed in a monotheistic prophetic tradition and insisted that since the times gone by only the unity of God was the crucial foundation of true faith and that the same unity of the One and Only God must be cherished now. “We must, therefore, examine and see what God requires us to believe now, under the revelation of the gospel; for the belief of one invisible, eternal, omnipotent God, maker of heaven and earth, was required before, as well as now.” Locke insisted upon the divine justice and required good deeds for salvation. Mere faith was not sufficient for attaining the needed salvation. “Neither, indeed, could it be otherwise; for life, eternal life, being the reward of justice or righteousness only, appointed by the righteous God (who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity) to those who only had no taint or infection of sin upon them, it is impossible that he should justify those who had no regard to justice at all whatever they believed.” Jesus did not come to die for man’s sins but “to reform the corrupt state of degenerate man; and out of those who would mend their lives, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, erect a new kingdom.” Locke further argued that it was “not enough to believe him to be the Messiah, unless we also obey his laws, and take him to be our king to reign over us.”
Locke like Stubbe and Toland declared Islam as the heir to the true Unitarian message of Jesus Christ. His wordings are nothing but an echo of the brief and simple Islamic credo that there is but One God. Locke’s stated that “since our Saviour’s time, the “belief of one God” has prevailed and spread itself over the face of the earth. For even to the light that the Messiah brought into the world with him, we must ascribe the owning and profession of one God, which the mahometan religion hath derived and borrowed from it. So that in this sense it is certainly and manifestly true of our Saviour, what St. John says of him, 1 John iii. 8, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” This light the world needed, and this light is received from him: that there is but “one God,” and he “eternal, invisible;” not like to any visible objects, nor to be represented by them.”
Locke strongly bonded the belief in Unity of the One and Only God and that Jesus is His sent Messiah with morality. Morality was nothing but following the laws promulgated by the revelation. These laws were neither abrogated nor suspended by Jesus. The eternal reward or punishment was based upon conformity to these moral laws. “Open their eyes upon the endless, unspeakable joys of another life, and their hearts will find something solid and powerful to move them. The view of heaven and hell will cast a slight upon the short pleasures and pains of this present state, and give attractions and encouragements to virtue which reason and interest, and the care of ourselves, cannot but allow and prefer. Upon this foundation, and upon this only, morality stands firm, and may defy all competition. This makes it more than a name; a substantial good, worth all our aims and endeavours; and thus the gospel of Jesus Christ has delivered it to us.” In short, Lockes promoted a working faith deeply oriented towards and anchored in the life hereafter, a faith in total opposition to both the traditional Catholic as well as Protestant churches.
Locke’s “Reasonable Christianity” then was fundamentally different from both the Catholic and Reformed versions of the Christian faith. The traditional Christianity revolved around the central Christian doctrines of Trinity, justification through grace, original sin, crucifixion and atonement. Locke had strong aversion to these central Christian dogmas. Locke, in total opposition to the traditional dogmas, held that the original sin did not taint the good nature of humanity. A child was born with a clean slate without any innate ideas and learned things and constructed ideas through senses and experience. It was the education and not the original sin which contributed the most to human personality. Unlike Luther and Calvin, Locke believed that man was neither predetermined nor predestined by God but enjoyed free will. Salvation was based upon good deeds and moral choices rather than the atoning death of Christ or arbitrary grace of God. Locke’s understandings of the human self, essence and person were too individualistic to accommodate any idea of Trinitarian unity of the Godhead with allowance of distinction in persons or consciousness. Locke was a rationalist and had neither room nor tolerance for irrational mysteries such as the Trinity or divinity of a feeble historical man, Jesus of Nazareth.
Locke’s strong emphasize upon free will and human choices and insistence upon human efforts rather than the grace of God in attaining salvation was at odd with the Dutch Arminian theology. The Arminians, including Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), focused more upon the grace of God while giving less prominence to the human agency. Locke’s theology was rather closer to the Polish Socinians than the Dutch Arminians. The crypto Muslim Socinians, as they were called by the Anglicans and other traditional Christians, were anti-Trinitarian rationalist who emphasized human free will and moral agency. They denied Jesus’ divinity, emphasized upon salvation through human efforts and declared Jesus to be a model prophet and messiah. The Socinians were very close to the Islamic theological outlook and were accused of being closet Muslims. John Locke suffered the same fate.
Locke knew Islam and its theology very well. His Oxford teacher Dr. Edward Pococke (1604-1691) was a known orientalist who extensively wrote about Islam, its history, theology and civilization. He was the Arabic chair at Oxford and his Arabic history of Bar-Hebraeus (Greg. Abulfaragii historia compendiosa dynastiarum) was well received in England. Locke’s old friend Henry Stubbe (1632–1676) wrote “An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians”and is believed to have converted to Islam. Locke then was quite aware of Islamic theology and religion. He also owned a copy of the Qur’an.
Justin Champion and others have shown that John Locke’s adversaries saw in him a Muslim who interpreted the Christian Gospel in light of the Koran (Qur’an). Champion states that “Indeed Edwards in his Socinianism Unmasked (1696) had confronted John Locke, the author of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), firstly as a Socinian, and then by implication as a Moslem. He wrote with obvious malevolence, ‘It is likely I shall further exasperate this author when I desire the reader to observe that this lank faith of his is in a manner no other than the faith of a Turk’. Edwards objected to Locke’s assertion that there was only one necessary defining credal belief in Christianity accessible to all understandings, i.e. that Jesus was the Messiah. Edwards slyly commented that Locke ‘seems to have consulted the Mahometan bible’. We know that Locke possessed an edition of the Koran.”
H. J. McLachlan and John Marshall have clearly proved that John Locke was an outright Socinian and a Unitarian. Socinianism was a system of Christian doctrine named for Fausto Sozzini (Latin: Faustus Socinus), which was developed among the Polish Brethren in the Minor Reformed Church of Poland during the 15th and 16th centuries. Martin Mulsow observes that “Socinianism —or, broader: anti-trinitarianiism— was often paralleled to Islam: both the Christian heresy and the Muslim religion reject the doctrine of the Trinity and regard Jesus only as a prophet, not as a god. There are indeed numerous historical connections between both currents. From Michael Servetus onward, the Qur’ān and islamic writings had an impact on the emerging Socinian critique. Antitrinitarians tried to establish a historical genealogy from early (Ebionite) Christianity through Islam (which preserved the true monotheistic idea) to the present.” Locke’s understanding of the monotheistic prophetic tradition culminating in Islam was almost identical to the Socinian and anti-Trinitarians historical scheme.
Miguel Servet or Miguel Serveto (29 September 1511 – 27 October 1553) was a Spanish theologian, physician and humanist. P. Hughes has shown that Miguel “Servet came from Spain, where Islamic rule prevailed for centuries and where still hundreds of thousands of Moriscos lived. In his work De trinitatis erroribus (1531), Servet mentions the Qur’ān several times. After Theodor Bibliander’s Latin translation of the Qur’ān that was based on the medieval translation of Robert of Ketton (1143) had been printed in 1543, Servet had actually read it and he even quoted specific sūrah-s such as sūrah 3, 4, and 5 in his main work, Restitutio Christianismi (1553).” John Calvin, during Servet’s trial in Geneva, used Servet’s Qur’anic knowledge and quotations to prove that Servet was an Islamic infidel bent on denying Lord Jesus Christ’s divinity. Condemned by Catholics and Protestants alike, Servet was burnt at the stake as a heretic by order of the Protestant Geneva governing council.
In England during the Restoration period (beginning with 1660) the “Socinianism appears to have extended its influence to the highest levels. The coterie surrounding the philanthropist Thomas Firmin included Locke, Tillotson the future Archbishop of Canterbury, and minor members of the Anglican Church, such as Stephen Nye (1648-1719) and Henry Hedworth (1626-1705).” The believing Church leaders and their royal supporters left no stone unturned to attack Socinians and their Islamic beliefs. For instance, Charles Leslie (July 1650 – 13 April 1722), the principal non-juror polemicist, arguing against the Socinians in his Socinian Controversy Discussed (1708) maintained that “Mahomet is much more Christian than these, and an express unitarian, but these are not so well in the world as Mahomet is, therefore you would not own Mahomet to be of your party, lest the people should stone you, for they all have a great aversion to Mahomet.’” In Transylvania, Peter Melius had already warned in 1568 that anti-Trinitarians preached a «Turkish Christ». The Leiden-trained theologian Johann Heinrich Hottinger from Zurich published in 1660 in the second edition of his Historia orientalis a chapter with the title “De pseudo-Christianis illis, quos Arabes vocant al-muwahhidīn”. “It dogmatically explicitly spelled out the parallels between Socinianism and Islam, mainly based on authentic Muslim documents. Already before Hottinger, the latter’s teacher Jacob Golius, Johannes Hoornbeck and others had in some passages in their works emphasized this similarity…”
Martin Mulsow further observes that “Throughout the entire seventeenth century, it (Socinianism) became the specter of all Christian denominations until it slowly transformed into unitarianism and liberal theology during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” He also maintains that “More interestingly, Socinianism was in fact a precursor to the Enlightenment—and to the Radical Enlightenment as well. Its rationalist opposition to everything that seemed illogical in doctrine, its interpretation of the teachings of Jesus—he was simply viewed as a human being— as some kind of moral philosophy, and its arguments for religious tolerance foreshadow the views of the eighteeenth-century Enlightenment. Indeed, especially during the second half of the eighteenth century it is possible to see a continuity between Socinians such as Andreas Wissowatius, Samuel Przypkowsky and Samuel Crell on the one hand, and early Enlightenment figures such as John Locke, Jean Le Clerc, Philipp van Limborch—even Isaac Newton and William Whiston— on the other. Around 1700 there were numerous members of the intellectual avantgarde who promoted various mixes of Socinian, Cartesian, Spinozistic, and Lockean views.”
In addition to John Locke’s Socinian affiliations, some of his close friends were either Muslims or Muslim sympathizers. As seen earlier, his Westminster School friend Henry Stubbe (1632–1676) who also attended Christ Church, Oxford with him converted to Islam. Stubbe had a great deal of dialogues with Locke and influenced Locke’s religious thinking. Stubbe wrote in 1674 “An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians. Both Justin Champion and J. R. Jacob place this work in the “broad context of the Unitarian-Islamic syncretism.” Stubbe argued that the Islamic concept of divine unity was the pristine message of salvation preached by all the Prophets starting with Adam, Noah and culminating in the last Prophet Muhammad. He used the Qur’anic terminology “Isa” for Jesus calling him Prophet Isa throughout his work. He vehemently attacked Christian dogma of Trinity and divinity of Jesus and called it tri-theism and paganism. He argued that the Church has corrupted the Gospel of Isa and his message of salvation (through good deeds and morality) after the Council of Nicaea. Prophet Muhammad was sent by God to rectify Christian corruptions. He noted that the theology of Prophet Muhammad was in line with the original message of Isa (Jesus) and his original followers the Nazarene (Qur’anic Nasaara). John Toland (30 November 1670 – 11 March 1722) furthered this historical thesis of Islam’s validity in his famous book “Nazarenus: or Jewish, Gentile and Mahometan Christianity, containing the history of the ancient gospel of Barnabas… Also the Original Plan of Christianity explained in the history of the Nazarens…. with… a summary of ancient Irish Christianity.” Justin Champion rightly observes that “Stubbe and Toland can thus be seen to place the historical past of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into a Polybian framework.” Stubbe’s works were highly influential among the English thinkers of his time. Champion states that “We know that Charles Blount plagiarized a section in his Oracles of Reason (1693) and also that he sent Rochester extracts of the Account… An unnoticed influence can be found in Sir John Finch’s correspondence with Lord Conway between 4 and 14th February 1675. These letters give a ‘politic’ account of the growth of Islam including a presentation of the Islamic notion of the unipersonality of God… Mahomet is referred to as both a wise prince and legislator. There also may be the possibility that William Temple read and adopted Stubbe’s work.”
John Locke also have other Socinian and Unitarian friends like Anglican theologian Arthur Bury (1624-1714), Stephen Nye and William Freke who willingly acknowledged the prescriptive value of Islamic reformation, wrote about its validity and never shied away from sharing their thoughts and writing with other thinkers including Locke. Bury’s 1690 anti-trinitarian work, The Naked Gospel, first published anonymously, was commanded to be burnt at Oxford, and, in a complex sequence of events involving legal action, Bury lost his position as Rector of Exeter College, Oxford after being expelled initially in 1689. These Unitarian thinkers had a great deal of interest in and appreciation of Islamic monotheism and morality. They used to assemble at the house of Thomas Firmin (June 1632–1697) who was an English businessman and philanthropist, and Unitarian publisher. Firmin was also the main supporter of John Locke and his works. William Freke (1662–1744) was an English mystical writer, of Wadham College, Oxford and barrister of the Temple. He suffered at the hands of Parliament in 1694 for his anti-Trinitarian beliefs. William Freke sent his Brief but Clear Confutation of the Doctrine of the Trinity to both Houses of Parliament, was fined and the book burnt. Stephen Nye (1648–1719) was an English clergyman, known as a theological writer and for his Unitarian views. He also faced much opposition from orthodox Anglicans just like his other friends. These British Socinians strongly advocated reformation of the Christian dogmas, practices and morals in light of the Islamic Unitarian theology and humanistic morals. These radical reformers urged to replace the corrupt priestly Christianity with the Muhammdan Christianity.
Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727), a friend of John Locke, was also a Socinian and a Unitarian. Stephen David Snobelen in his “Isaac Newton, Socinianism and “The One Supreme God” has proven beyond doubt that Newton was a Socinian who categorically denied the Christian Dogma of Trinity. He like Locke was a cautious person who avoided persecution by keeping his views confined to his inner circle of friends. His writings were published after his death and leave no room to doubt his anti-trinitarianism and total appreciation for Socinian views regarding Jesus, Bible, God and salvation. To the scientist theologian Newton, worship of Jesus as God is “idolatry”, “the fundamental sin.” “a breach of the first and greatest commandment”, and a more dangerous crime than atheism.
John Milton (1608–1674) was initially an Arminian, a sixteenth-century Soteriological sect of Protestant Christianity but at his death he left a manuscript On Christian Doctrine, not discovered and published until 1825, which shows he had become a Socinian/Unitarian in belief. Even Voltaire exalted Socinian’s countless contributions towards enlightening the intellectual landscape of the Continent.
In Short, John Locke, John Milton and Isaac Newton were anti-traditional and anti-clerical Christians. They denounced fundamental Christian dogmas such as Trinity, Jesus’ divinity, Original Sin, Ecclesiastical authority, biblical inerrancy and salvation through the redemptive death and crucifixion of Christ. They were anti-Trinitarians subscribing to the Socinian and Unitarian theology and outlook. They declared that the fundamental Christian dogmas and mysteries were absolutely irrational and hence an impediment to a rational discourse. They believed that “reason” was a gift of God and must be used to understand God’s revelation and creation. They insisted upon using reason and common sense to understand God’s will and guidance. In short, they were less of traditional Christians and more of Muhammadan Christians.
In addition to his Unitarian theological outlook, Locke was influenced by Islamic republicanism, toleration and natural law theories. He possessed a copy of the Qur’an and was greatly influenced by the Muslim philosophers especially the Spanish philosopher Ibn Tufayl (known as “Abubacer” or “Ebn Tophail in the West) whose philosophical novel Hayy bin Yaqzan was one of the sources of Locke’s political thought and theory of Tabula Rasa. Ibn Tufayl in Hayy ibn Yaqzan depicted the development of the mind of a feral child “from a tabula rasa to that of an adult, in complete isolation from society” on a desert island, through experience alone. Following him, Locke hypothesized that the human mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa. In contrast to pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, Locke maintained that humans are born without innate ideas, and that human knowledge is attained by experience and sense perception. This theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of self, consciousness and identity. Locke formulated this theory in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
For centuries the Church and Monarchs had used the theory of innate ideas to maintain their authority. Innatism held that human beings were born with certain ideas irrespective of their origin, ethnicity and education. The idea of God was innate to humanity. The Church was the agent of God on earth and the sole proprietor of his grace. The kings also claimed to be the shadows of God on earth. Obeying the Church and the monarch was equal to obeying God and vice versa. The Church claimed to govern the believers based upon the spiritual authority of Jesus Christ while the kings used the civil authority in the name of God. The divine right absolutism was a commonplace both in the Catholic and Protestant worlds.The Church and the monarchs had cut a deal to mutually support each-others’ authority and to curb the rebellion. The Church always used biblical injunction in Romans 13:1-2 to this end. The verse reads, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” The Church also used the dogma of determinism and predestination towards political goals.
Voltaire once depicted organized Christianity as a tool of tyrants and oppressors and as being used to defend monarchism. This has been true throughout the Christian history. Millions have been persecuted, interrogated, burned alive and deprived of their basic human rights in the name of God. There were no inalienable human rights but the rights given by the Church or the Kings. John Locke like other reformists felt that the Church was using innatism and determinism to abuse the power and was hostile to the development of reason and the progress of science. The reformers also believed that the Church teachings were irrational defying reason and incapable of verification. Ibn Tufayls’ theory of tabula rasa provided Locke with the ammunition and he used it very well. He argued that man is a product of his experience. Man should be allowed to think for himself and adopt a discourse which satisfies his rational instincts and natural inclinations. The natural laws governing the universe are the same laws which govern the human life. A reasoned approach to life and nature can help humanity understand the universal natural laws. Empiricism rather than dogmatism was the key to unlock the hidden treasures of human nature as well as the nature around man. Reason and “Nature” were the two most emphasized terms and concepts during the Enlightenment period.
Since the times of Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d. 505H), and Abu Isaac al-Shatibi (d. 790H), the significant developments were made in the formulation of the theory of Al-Maqasid or the Objectives of Islamic Shari’ah. Al-Shatibi, the Spanish Muslim jurist, summarized objectives of the Islamic Shari’ah into five: Preservation of “Life, Religion, Family, Property and Reason”. Throughout history Muslim jurists have insisted that Islamic law has come to protect the universal inalienable God given rights of life, religious freedom, liberty to choose and protect ones family, property and human intellect. The Qur’anic dictum of common human origins from Adam and Eve dictated absolute human equality (Surah 49:13) and universal human dignity. (Surah 17:70) These Qur’anic concepts of common origins, absolute equality and human dignity formulated the foundations of God given, inalienable, universal human rights. This tradition of inalienable human rights was a commonplace among the Spanish Muslim philosophers, jurists and political thinkers such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes). The same tradition was transmitted to the Latin West along with Aristotelianism. The Islamic humanism heralded the Italian humanism and was transported to the middle age European continent through Renaissance and scholasticism.
Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Tufail (1105–1185) was an Andalusian theologian, philosopher and novelist. He was a friend and a teacher of Ibn Rushd, the famous Muslim philosopher, theologian and jurist who wrote extensive commentaries on Aristotle’s works. Both Moses Maimonides (the renowned Jewish philosopher and theologian) and Thomas Aquinas (the famous Christian theologian and philosopher) incorporated Ibn Rushd’s Greco-Islamic ideas into their writings with varying degrees. The Medieval Jewish and Christian theology as well as philosophy were thoroughly imbued with Ibn Rushd’s rational and humanistic discourse. Latin Averroism was a widespread movement during the 13th century and mainly responsible for Latin Scholasticism which emphasized the rational and analytical inquiry rather than blind dogmatism. As a result of philosophical Averroism many ancient and medieval irrational and inhumane religious dogmas were rationalized and humanized. The resultant rationalized and humanized doctrines greatly served the continental reformation and enlightenment endeavors.
In his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, also known as Philosophus Autodidactus in the Western world, Ibn Tufayl emphasized the natural and inalienable rights of humanity. This philosophical novel was an influential best-seller throughout Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. A Latin translation of Hayy bin Yaqzan, entitled Philosophus Autodidactus, was prepared by Edward Pococke and first appeared in 1671. Dr. Poccke was the Chair of Arabic in Oxford University and a confidant of John Locke. G. A. Russel in “The Arabick Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England” has shown that John Locke read Hayy bin Yaqzan and changed his political outlook. Locke assimilated the Islamic philosophical ideas because they served his purpose of English and continental reformation. He molded the ideas to fit his scheme of European enlightenment. Locke used them to challenge the existing menace of absolute monarchism and irrational dogmatism, the two main sources of human misery during the pre-modern era. Locke, just like Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Rushd, insisted upon reason and nature as the two most significant sources of human religious and political endeavors.
John Lock summarized the inalienable human rights into four: Life, Health, Liberty and Possession. In his famous “Two Treatises of Government” published in October 1689 with a 1690 date on the title page Lock stated that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” He incorporated “Reason”, the fifth objective of Islamic Shari’ah, as the fundamental source of all his religious, political and scientific thinking. Many historians such a J. R. Pole in “The Pursuit of Equality in America History” has shown that Thomas Jefferson took Lock’s tally of inalienable rights and summarized them further into three: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Jefferson argued that liberty, health and property in themselves are not the guarantees of happiness. One has to make proper choices to attain true happiness. Therefore he maintained that the pursuit of happiness rather than just property or family is the inalienable human right.
Therefore, the American dream “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is a summarized version of the five objectives of Islamic Shari’ah highlighted by Ibn Tufail and incorporated by John Lock in his Treatises. There is no inherent conflict between the American dream and the moral principles of Islamic faith, the so called Muhammadan Christianity. The Americans need not to fear Islam and Muslims should not hate, despise or doubt the American dream. In its purest sense it is nothing but a reflection of their philosophical ideals and a manifestation of their lost legacy.