Founding Father's of America's Indebtedness to Islamic Thought

Islam, Muslims and Islamic civilization are under siege in America. Subsequent to the tragic incidents of September 11 and Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 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 been turned into a profitable business and a 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 and terrorism. Islamic civilization is depicted as an alien culture with no or minimal contributions to human civilization, progress and development especially in the America context. The 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 government, socio economic institutions, sciences and culture. Islamic theology, philosophy, ethico-political thought and scientific discoveries served as a catalyst to European Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment which heralded the American Enlightenment and Revolution.

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 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.

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. 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. 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.” 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. For instance, 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.

Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727), a friend of John Locke, was also a Socinian. 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.

In Short, both John Locke and Isaac Newton were anti-traditional and anti-clerical Christianity. 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. Both were anti-Trinitarians subscribing to the Socinian 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.

John Locke 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. 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 established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 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, burnt 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 chose 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 principles of the Islamic Shari’ah. The Americans need not to fear Islam or Islamic Shari’ah 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.

To be continued.