In the West, several views have existed concerning the person and mission of Rasulullah (SAW). He seems to be the most hated as well as respected figure in the West.
The most odious criticism of his person and obnoxious evaluations of his mission were and still are often generated during the geo political hostilities between the Muslim East and the Christian West. Whenever the Christian world in the past felt threatened by the Muslim forces or currently feels challenged by the Islamic revival or resistance movements, the stereotypical material pops up in Christendom against the Prophet of Islam to galvanize broader support against the Muslim armies or resistance movements. Hurting Muhammad (PBUH) in reality is meant to hurt the Muslims.
The Muslims over the centuries have expressed their utmost love, veneration and admiration for the Prophet of Allah and used him as the true model of piety, morality, resistance, perseverance and socio-political reformation. It is a religious taboo to touch in any way or form the honor, dignity and sanctity of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This unqualified love, adoration and reverence of the Prophet is never comprised in the Muslim world. Likewise the Muslim community also loves and respects all the Prophets and Messengers of Allah SWT. This is one of the fundamental traits of the Islamic faith, tradition and civilization and is promulgated by the Qur’an itself.
On the other hand, the Jewish and Christian traditions are prone to interfaith and intra-faith polemics where the most revered central religious figure of the other tradition is often the target of inter-religious ridicule. For instance, the Jewish community of the first and second century A.D. severely scorned Prophet Jesus (PBUH) and used profanity against his virgin mother Mary (PBUH). The Talmud, the second authoritative Jewish source, is filled with vulgar remarks about Jesus and his mother (PBUT). Similarly the early Christian works are filled with contempt, scorn and disdain, at times to the level of obscenity, against the Jews. Unfortunately it has been a part of the Jewish and Christian traditions, with some exceptions, to label the “Other” as disingenuous, duplicitous, lecherous and bawdy. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is no exception to this inherent tendency. The Christian West of the Prophet Muhammad’s times had no hesitation to call him a monster, a lustful lewd and anti-Christ.
As each action has a reaction, the unjustified criticism of the Prophet of Islam has often encouraged some Westerners to objectively study the life and mission of Muhammad (PBUH). This close look at his character, values and accomplishments has won him (PBUH) many Western hearts and minds. These two polar tendencies of extreme hatred and respect seem to have existed in the West simultaneously. Muhammad (PBUH) is truly a paradox in the West.
Since the advent of Islam and until today, there have always been individuals who have looked upon Muhammad (SAW) either as an impostor or as a model of perpetual violence, barbarism and terrorism. The question is what has fuelled this seemingly entrenched antipathy? Islam rose in seventh century Arabia (a peninsula comprised of mostly desert and barren land), achieving territorial expansion with unprecedented speed, and within a few short years following the death of Rasulullah (SAW), overrunning much of the Middle East Christian world, as well as crucial parts of the Church of North Africa. This brilliant success was enormously threatening. As a result, the initial seeds of hostility were sown as opposition to and propaganda against Islam and the Prophet mushroomed, becoming harsh and vociferous. And, from the time of Rudolph de Ludheim (620) until the present, this antipathy has remained. For example, Nichlas de Cuse (1401-1464), German philosopher and bishop, Joan Lluís Vives (1493-1540), Valencian Spanish scholar and humanist, Louis Maracci (1612-1700), an Italian Catholic priest who translated the Qur'an into Latin in 1698 in Padua, Johann Jakob Hottinger (1652–1735), Zurich theologian, Theodore Bibliander (1506-1564), Swiss orientalist, Humphrey Prideaux (1648–1724), Oxford theologian, and many other reputed figures have down the centuries presented the Prophet as an impostor, Islam as a cluster of all heresies, the Muslims as brutes, and the Qur'an as a tissue of absurdities. With the onset of the Crusades, the tone and words chosen to present the Prophet Muhammad as well as the Qur'an and its message became increasingly bitter. Such was the state of affairs that in the Middle Ages a preposterous story of a "dove" and "bull" became the almost standard interpretation of the Islamic revelation. "One tale", writes K. Armstrong,
spoke of a white bull which had terrorized the population and which finally appeared with the Qur'an the scripture which Muhammad had brought to the Arabs, floating miraculously between its horns. Muhammad was also said to have trained a dove to peck peas from his ears so that it looked as though the Holy Spirit were whispering into them.
In 1697, at the very beginning of the Enlightenment, two influential books appeared on Islam. Barthelmy d'Herbelot de Molainville (1625–1695), a French orientalist, was author of the first, Bibliotèque Orientale. In it, he describes Prophet Muhammad with the words: "This is the famous impostor Mahomet, Author and Founder of a heresy, which has taken on the name of religion, which we call Mohammadan." Author of the second was Humphry Prideaux, a Doctor of Divinity, who in his The history of the life of the great impostor Mahomet writes about the Prophet:
For the first Part of his Life he led a very wicked and licentious Course, much delighting in Rapine, Plunder, and Blood-shed…His two predominant Passions were Ambition and Lust. The Course which he took to gain Empire, abundantly shews the former; and the multitude of Women which he had to do with, proves the latter. And indeed these two run through the whole Frame of his Religion, there being scarce a Chapter in his Alcoran, which doth not lay down some Law of war and Blood-shed for the promoting of the one; or else give some Liberty for use of Women here, or some Promise for the enjoyment of them hereafter, to the gratifying of the other.
Ironically despite the age of reason in which the books were authored, with its supposed belief in rationality liberating thinking from dogmatism and crippling religious biases, both books revert to the anti-intellectualism of the past, reiterating the same irrational propaganda concerning the Prophet Muhammad which had prevailed in the Middle Ages.
It is a trend we find continuing even into the eighteenth century with writers such as Simon Ockley, George Sale, and Voltaire, as well as historians such as Gibbon etc., accusing Muhammad of insincerity, ambition and lust. Simon Ockley, for instance, describes Muhammad as a "very subtle and crafty man, who put on the appearance only of those good qualities, while the principles of his soul were ambition and lust."
It is pertinent to note here that there has also been a parallel trend among some European circles that has been quite favorable to the person, character, model and mission of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Like any given society, Christendom has witnessed bitter internal struggles between various stratums of the society. The Monarchs had usually aligned themselves with the Church for mutual gains. The kings and princes had imposed upon common people Church dogmas to win ecclesiastical support for their monarchies and the churches had preached from the pulpit that obedience to monarchial rules was tantamount to divine obedience. Those opposed to the king’s unqualified claims to absolute authority had always opposed the Church teachings and dogmas as a mean to diminish the monarchial dictatorship. The opposition had always looked outside Christendom for guidance, models and ideals to reform their society accordingly. Many such groups were prevalent in the fifteenth and sixteenth century Europe. For instance the Polish Socinians, the Continental Unitarians and the seventeenth century Deists used Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a true model of reformation, renaissance and socio political justice.
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 fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Socinian statement of faith as manifest in the book Racovian Catechism, following Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), emphasized the significance of human reason and preferred rationality over revelation. It declared the dogma of the Trinity as irrational and maintained the unipersonality of God. It also denied Jesus’ divinity and emphasized his humanity and messianic role. The book, dedicated to King James I of England, was first published there in 1609 and later was publicly burned. In 1640 the Laudian Canon was introduced by the King of England to curb Racovian’s impact. John Biddle, the founder of English Unitarianism, translated it into English and published it in 1652. The Racovian theology was so similar to Islamic outlook and to the model of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that prominent English Presbyterian Francis Chennell (1608–1665), President of St. John's College, Oxford, called it a “Racovian Alcoran.”
Thomas Calvert observed that when Christians turn to Islam, “they begin with Arianism and Socinianisme, and then Turcism [Islam] is not so strange a thing. Such a transition from Christianity to Socinianism and from there to Islam was a commonplace in many areas of Europe, including Holland and England. Consequently, Socinianism and Unitarianism were so closely associated with Islam that all those
…who ventured into anti-Trinitarian theologies were viewed as crypto-Muslims: as a result, orthodox theologians started seeing Muslims wherever they saw Unitarians. A high number of Christians and Britons was reported in English writings to have converted to Islam.
Several factors fed this widespread conversion to Islam in Europe. The Islamic creedal statement “There is no god but One God” was simple and logical and resonated with human nature and logic. The Christian mysteries such as the Trinity, incarnation, and satisfaction through crucifixion were rationally problematic, difficult to comprehend, and discordant with human reason. The Christian religious establishment maintained a number of expensive and cumbersome rituals that only they could officiate. Leaders also claimed a special mediatorial role of forgiving human sins on the authority of God while abusing their own spiritual, economic, and civil powers. John Toland, a radical reformer and Enlightenment thinker, succinctly stated the point:
Every day yields fresh instances of the ambitious and traitorous designs of degenerate Clergymen, Whose lives make Atheists, and whose doctrine slaves. The ultimate designs of such men are to procure to themselves Riches and consequently Power and Authority: as, in order to secure both, they train up their hearers in Ignorance and consequently in Superstition and Bigotry.
This was the dominant concern of most early reformers and almost all the Enlightenment thinkers. They accused clergy of imposing irrational dogmas such as the Trinity and turning many sincere Christians into atheists.
The Church alliance with kings and princes and belief in the divine right of kings had helped the Church to persecute millions of believing Christians and burn many of them at the stake just because they either challenged the Church authority or genuinely inquired about irrational dogmas. On the other hand, Islamic religion promulgated simple, inexpensive, and socially valuable rituals such as daily prayers, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. Islam allowed freedom of religious beliefs and pluralism where the Jews, Christians, and people of other faith could freely practice their religions as long as those practices did not interfere with public discourse and political authority. Jizyah, or a small amount of tribute, was required of the minorities in return for their religious freedom.
While living among the Muslims, many Jews and Christians openly challenged Islamic beliefs while proving the validity of their own religious traditions. Moses Maimonides and other Jewish writers of that era provide good examples. Despite periods of persecutions and lack of freedom of expression, depending upon a caliph or regime’s political agenda, on the whole, Islamic civilization was relatively open to religious pluralism, interfaith debate and dialogues, and especially to intra-faith debate and controversy. Such debate or freedom was prohibited in the Christian world since the Nicean Council and the strict Justinian codes of the sixth century AD.
The Islamic world presented an allure for some Europeans at that time. The Muslim Ottoman Empire, for example, offered more opportunities of political power, economic progress, and religious freedom. Consequently, Christians of England and other European countries from different walks of life converted to Islam for various reasons. There were intellectuals, thinkers, sailors, carpenters, cabin boys, gunners, felons, and pirates who accepted Islam to escape persecutions. Many English cities, towns, and even villages had Muslim converts with Turkish turbans, traditional Muslim clothes, Turkish costumes, and coffee. Nabil Matar observes that accepting Islam in the period from 1558 to 1686 was tantamount to “joining a powerful empire and partaking of the ‘prosperous Success of the Turks.’ This is how an English convert described his condition to Robert Blake in 1638…”
Therefore, this widespread conversion to Islam was perceived as a serious threat to the English and European political and spiritual realms and as a precursor to Muslim religious and political dominance. Ecclesiastical and monarchial authorities took the threat seriously and sponsored polemical literature against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Islam, Turks, and all those who subscribed to Islamic political outlook or theology, such as Socinians and Unitarians. Those opposing the Church and Royalty became increasingly pro-Muhammad and Pro-Islam.
Henry Stubbe (1632–1676), a radical reformist and influential English thinker, is believed to have converted to Islam. Stubbe was John Locke’s friend at the Westminster School, London. He attended Christ Church, Oxford with Locke. At Oxford, Stubbe along with Locke and Isaac Newton, attended Dr. Edward Pococke’s (1604–1691) classes. Professor Pococke was an English Orientalist and biblical scholar who had spent many years in Aleppo and Constantinople to learn Arabic, Islam, and Islamic civilization in addition to his missionary work. He was the chair of Arabic at Oxford while Locke, Stubbe, and Newton studied there. In 1649, Pococke published the Specimen historiae arabum, a short account of the origin and manners of the Arabs, taken from the Arab writer Bar-Hebraeus’s (Abulfaragius) Arabic works. Professor Pococke was well-versed in Islamic theology, history, manners, and political thought. He imparted the same to his Oxford students.
Stubbe engaged in extensive dialogue with Locke and might have influenced Locke’s thinking. Stubbe wrote in 1674 his famous book 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 Muhammaden concept of divine unity was the pristine message of salvation preached by all the Prophets starting with Adam and Noah and culminating in the last Prophet, Muhammad. He vehemently attacked the Christian dogma of the Trinity and divinity of Jesus and called it tri-theism and paganism. He argued that the Christian church corrupted the Gospel of Jesus and his message of salvation through good deeds and morality after the Council of Nicea. He noted that Prophet Mohammad was sent by God to rectify Christian corruptions, and his theology was in line with the original message of Jesus and his original followers, the Nazarene (Qur’anic Nasaara).
James A. Jacob has shown that Stubbe, borrowing mostly from John Seldon, Thomas Hobbes, and James Harrington “developed and advocated a civil religion which would survive the Restoration, undergoing several mutations in the course of the 1660s and 1670s. Stubbes’ civil religion was based upon a “deistical minimum, common to the Jews, the Muslims and the primitive Christian…” The original Jewish, Christian, and Islamic message was the one and same Unity of a transcendent and just God. Stubbe in An Account argued that Jesus was sent to rectify Jewish excesses and that Prophet Mohammad came to “revive ancient Christianity.”
The decline of original Christianity, especially the corruptions of Christian scriptures and the introduction of irrational dogmas such as the Trinity and Church abuses spurred the advance of Islam. While “most of Christianity was sunk in superstition and internecine war, Mohammed accomplished the fourth revolution, the invention, establishment and expansion of Islam.” Mohammed’s intelligence and thoughts are “not to be scorned but admired.” Jacob sees in Stubbe a synthesis of “Mohammed’s simple creed, Hobbes’ natural religion and the deistical confessions of Cherbury and Blount.” Stubbe in conclusion of his Account said,
This is the sum of Mahometan religion, on the one hand, not clogging men’s faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of reason and common sense: nor on the other hand loading them with performance of many troublesome, expensive, and superstitious ceremonies, yet enjoining a due observance of religion, as the surest method to keep men in the bounds of their duty both to God and man.
Jacob rightly observes that in his Account, Stubbe
…turns true religion inside out. Trinitarian Christianity is dismissed as hopelessly corrupt and false in favor of Islam, which is represented as the religion of Christ and the Apostles. There are some striking similarities between Stubbe’s ‘Mahometan Christianity’ and Hobbes’ natural religion set out in Chapter 31 of Leviathan.
Stubbe enjoyed a close friendship with Hobbes since 1656 and was mostly responsible for translating Leviathan into Latin. On occasions Hobbes even incorporated Stubbe’s critique of his work. No wonder that Hobbes’s ideas about natural religion were strikingly close to Stubbe’s ‘Mahometan Christianity,’ which was Stubbe’s ideal civil religion. Jacob has shown that Stubbe’s central doctrines consisted of “the beliefs of ‘the most primitive’ Christians, revived by Mohammed.”
Stubbe was also the source of Charles Blount’s deism. Deism would later become the predominant religious ideology of many of the Founding Fathers of America. Jacob observes, “There are more striking similarities between Stubbe and the early deism of Charles Blount.” After a detailed discussion of these striking similarities and Blount’s friendship with Stubbe, Jacob concludes that “Stubbe must now be reckoned as one of the founders of English deism, though his creed wore the guise of ‘Mahometan Christianity.” Jacob also shows that Bristol Quaker leader George Bishop in his article “A Looking-Glass for the Times” published in 1668, recognized Stubbe as “the source of many of his own Quaker ideals.” Stubbe’s ideal of ‘Mahometan Christianity’ resonated with many other English dissenters in addition to Quakers, Deists, Socinians, and Unitarians.
Stubbe was also extremely impressed by the Islamic concept of religious pluralism and toleration for other religious traditions. He emphasized that Mohammad never imposed his religion upon others as long as they were not idolatrous or paid a moderate tribute (jizyah).
The security which he gave to the Jews and Christians that they might live quietly under him without molestation brought a great deal of riches into the publick treasury, and those securities were observed with so inviolate a faith that it was a great invitation to the next neighbours to come under his government.
Stubbe wanted Europeans to follow the tolerant path of Muhammad and his followers, the Muslim Turkish Empire, and allow freedom of religious beliefs, expression, worship, and freedom of conscience. “So favorable are the conditions of Muslim rule…that Christians in contemporary Europe would prefer, if given the choice, Muslim rule to their own…”
To Stubbe, the interest of the kings and princes “…at present keeps all Europe from submitting to the Turks.” Unlike the Christian princes and church leaders, Mohammad was
…far from depriving any Ismaelite [Arab] of his liberty, that he would set even a bird free if he saw him encaged, and so remote from ambition and avarice that the greatest pleasure he takes in having anything is that he may give it away to some more indigent Moslemin.
Therefore Muhammad’s religion and his government must be a Christian ideal, “…a government based upon natural prudence to match ‘the religion of Noah’ and of nature.” His Account was a theological and political presc riptive critique of European religion and government.
England would be better off if religious authority were vested in the civil sovereign, as under Islam, just as Mohammed did; moreover, the sovereign should enforce a rational religion, a ‘Mahometan Christianity’ which would represent a return to the Apostolic church. Again just as Mohammed did, the sovereign should allow for toleration of opinion beyond the enforcement of this doctrinal minimum, this rational religion of nature.
To Anthony Wood, the earliest biographer of Stubbe, he was “…the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced.” Stubbe died in 1676 but his influence continued through the remainder of the Restoration and after the Revolution of 1688–1689, until at least 1720. He was the source of
…the early English deism of Charles Blount and the civil religion or ‘Mahometan Christianity’ of John Toland, and hence charted the intellectual links between the radical Protestantism and subversive naturalism represented by Stubbe and the deism and vitalistic materialism or pantheism (to use Toland’s words) of the early Enlightenment. Stubbe is a key connection between the radicalism of the mid-century English revolution with the radicalism of the early eighteenth century. The principle medium of this connection…was Stubbe’s manuscript “An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism,” which circulated underground between the 1670s and 1720.
John Toland (1670–1722) furthered Stubbe’s 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. This book was written in 1718. He wrote earlier in 1699 Amyntor: Or a Defence of Milton's Life in which he denied the authenticity and validity of the New Testament. He classified the New Testament material into three categories: orthodox, apocryphal, and fictitious. Toland maintained that the present New Testament was canonized centuries after Jesus or his original followers and was not reliable source to know what Jesus believed or preached. He contended the original followers of Jesus were “Nazarenes” who followed the Gospel of Barnabas. In 1709 Toland discovered a manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas in Amsterdam through his acquaintance with Prince Eugene of Vienna who possessed that manuscript. Toland began work on Nazarenus in 1710 based upon his study of the Gospel of Barnabas. Justin Champion shows that Toland “…readily employed this text as evidence, following Stubbe's argument, of the continuity of Judaic, Christian and Islamic theology.”
Toland like Stubbe believed the pristine message of divine unity was a common thread through all the Prophets starting with Adam. All the Prophets preached the same message of divine unity, charity, and moral responsibility. Jesus came to correct Jewish excesses and Mohammad came to rectify Christian corruptions such as the trinity, original sin, and satisfaction through crucifixion. He insisted that the “fundamental doctrines of Mahometanism to have their rise, not from Sergius the Nestorian monk (a person who has hitherto serv’d for a world of fine purposes) but from the earliest monuments of the Christian religion.” Toland maintained that the original followers of Jesus were Nazarene or Ebionites who were
…mortal enemies to Paul…whom they stil’d an Apostate…and a transgressor of the Law…representing him as an intruder on the genuine Christianity…a stranger to the person of Christ, yet substituting his own pretended Revelations to the doctrines of those with whom Christ had convers’d, and to whom he actually communicated his will.
Mahometans believe concerning Christ and his doctrine, were neither the inventions of Mahomet, nor yet of those Monks who are said to have assisted him in framing of his Alcoran but that they are as old as the time of the Apostles having been the sentiments of whole sects or Churches…
Champion observes, “Toland deployed the Islamic notion of the succession of the prophets as the authors of new institutions each increasingly perfect, 'tho' in substance it still be one and the same religion'.” Toland accepted the Islamic charge that Jesus' prophecy of Mahomet, that he would come 'to complete or perfect all things,' had been erased from Scripture by the priests.” He was keen to see Muslims tolerated in Europe as Christians and Jews were tolerated throughout the Muslim Empire. Muslims
…might with as much reason and safety be tolerated at London and Amsterdam, as the Christians of every kind are so tolerated at London and Amsterdam, as the Christians of every kind are so tolerated at Constantinople and throughout all Turkey.
Champion rightly observes, “Stubbe and Toland can thus be seen to place the historical past of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into a Polybian framework.” Further,
Both works set out to present an unbiased view of Islam, rejecting the slanders of the medieval canon identified in Prideaux's work. It must be remembered that especially when Toland's work was published it was into a public arena which had perceived Islam through the distorting lens of Prideaux's polemic.
Both Stubbe and Toland used Islam or ‘Mahometan Christianity’ as their ideal for a civil religion that would eliminate the corrupted Trinitarian Christianity and its stifling dogmas. The rector of St. Nicholas Church in Guildford, Thomas Mangey (1688–1755), condemned Toland’s work:
His expression of the Mahometan Christianity is the only passage in this book which I do not condemn, provided he would mean by it not the Muselmans on the other side of the water, but the Socinians here. These may truely and properly be termed Mahometan Christians.
Stubbe’s ideal of ‘Mahometan Christianity’ and his works were highly influential among the English thinkers of his time. Champion wrote,
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 14 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.
Furthermore, Nabil Matar in Islam in Britain and Jacob in Henry Stubbe have proven beyond doubt that interest in Islamic ideas, philosophy, sciences, and institutions was prevalent among the English intelligentsia since the 1660s.
There was considerable interest at court in the 1670s and 1680s in things Islamic, from coffee to costumes to religious doctrine. Viscount Conway, who was a Privy Councillor for Ireland at the time, commissioned his brother-in-law, Sir John Finch, Ambassador to Constantinople, to write a series of reports concerning Muslim customs and culture with a view to suggesting the ways in which they might be applied in England to the reform of political and religious institutions. In 1675, Sir John compiled after some delay, and the letters exist in manuscript in the British Library.
G.A. Russell, in her book The 'Arabick' Interest of the Natural Philosophers in the Seventeenth-Century has shown that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the age of Arabic in England when thousands of Arabic manuscripts were translated into Latin and English for multiple purposes by a variety of scholars and scientists. This direct Islamic influence and Socinian missionary work apparently influenced many English thinkers of that era such as John Milton and Newton.
John Milton (1608–1674) was at first 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.
Isaac Newton (1642-1727), a close 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. “Newton’s Christology was…further from orthodoxy than Socinianism.” Just like Locke, Newton rejected the doctrines of original sin, satisfaction through crucifixion, and clerical authority. In his church history Newton stated, “…the nature of the satisfaction made by Christ” among a list of adiaphora “…more difficult to be understood and not so absolutely necessary to salvation.” Newton believed that Prophet Muhammad was a genuine prophet sent to the Arabs to rectify Christian corruptions.
Arthur Bury’s 1690 anti-trinitarian work, The Naked Gospel, first published anonymously, was commanded to burning 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. In his book’s preface Bury refuted the Church establishment’s claims that Mohammad was an imposter and that Islam was spread with the power of sword rather than with God’s providence. It has been argued since St. Augustine’s time that due to merit and divine providence Christ’s message prevailed over old Jewish message although Jesus came from a meek background and his early followers were illiterate fishermen, his message succeeded against educated philosophers and powerful kings. Bury used the same argument to defend Islam and Mohammad. He argued,
So the victories of the Alcoran over the Gospel must be evidence, that as the religion of Moses was better than that of the Canaanites, and the religion of Christ better than that of Moses; so must the religion of Mahomet be better than that of Christ. Thus may a Mahometan either disarm us of St. Augustine’s argument, or restore it against us; for either it is of no force at all or of so much more force for Mahomet, by how much more he hath prevailed over the Churches of Christ.
To Bury, Mohammad was neither a divine scourge nor an imposter but a Christian reformer sent by divine providence to rectify Christian excesses and to restore the pristine message of divine unity. Therefore, instead of condemning Islam and Mohammad, Christians must commend them as their own. William Freke also expressed veneration for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by noting that the Prophetic revelation, al-Qur’an, contained over a hundred indictments of the Trinity dogma. He reiterated that the doctrine was not original to Christianity but a post-Nicean creedal innovation. Freke argued that Muhammad rectified Christian innovations.
S. Nye perhaps was the most emphatic Unitarian to refute the Church dogmas, mysteries, and abusive authority. In his Brief History of the Unitarians, called also Socinians, first published in 1687 and republished in 1691, Nye categorically denied that the Christianity of his time had any connection with the original message of Jesus Christ. Trinitarian Christianity was a degradation and depravation of the genuine Christian message. The original followers of Jesus were Nazarenes who like the original Apostles maintained the unipersonality of God. That pristine message had only survived in the Turkish or Mahomaten tradition. This historical model of pre-Nicene Unitarianism, and its links with Islam, was reiterated and reinforced by Nye in his ‘Letter of Resolution Concerning the Doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation’ (1695). He strongly criticized Church teachings such as worship of Mary, saints and images, ecclesiastical authority and tradition, papal supremacy, indulgences, the mystery of transubstantiation, original sin, and satisfaction through crucifixion. To Nye, all these corruptions were post-Nicean and an extension of corrupt Trinitarian theology.
Nye also defended Islam and Mohammad as true reflections of Jesus’ message:
Mahomet had 'no other design in pretending himself to be a prophet, but to restore the belief of the Unity of God. Mahomet proclaimed himself disciple of the 'Messias or Christ' aiming to restore the Unitarian 'true intent of the Christian religion'. Mahomet's success in converting Asia, Africa and part of Europe was not to be attributed to the force of arms but to 'that one truth in the Alkoran, the unity of God'
As seen above, these Unitarian thinkers appreciated and were interested in Islamic monotheism and morality. They truly respected Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a genuine leader, lawgiver and reformer. They encouraged the Europeans to emulate his model to reform the European society accordingly. These Unitarians used to assemble at the house of Thomas Firmin (1632–1697), an English businessman, philanthropist, and Unitarian publisher. Firmin was also the main supporter of John Locke and his works. John Edwards was not wrong when he insisted that John Locke was “confounding Turky with Christendom.” The statement clearly pinpoints that the English Unitarians including the influential thinkers such as Isaac Newton and John Locke were trying to use the Islamic Turkish model to reform the Christian world from within.
By now it should become clear that the Islamic thought and sources influenced and made important contributions to Europe’s radical Enlightenment and the early American Revolution and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was used as the model. Clear and credible historical evidence demonstrates that many Founding Fathers of America were either “deists” or “Unitarians.” Islamic thought directly contributed to both of these Enlightenment ideologies through figures like Michael Servetus, Henry Stubbe, John Toland, Stephen Nye, John Biddle, and Charles Blount, and movements such as the Socinians. Some leading Founding Fathers of America such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and others were directly influenced by English thinkers such as John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Hobbes, who were also exposed to Islamic sciences, philosophy, theology, political thought, and morality. In these radically enlightened circles Prophet Muhammad was not looked as an imposter but as a genuine religious, moral and political leader. He was praised as the true law giver who not only changed minds and souls but also people, societies, governments and empires. For instance Alphonse de LaMartaine, a French writer, poet and politician who was instrumental in the foundation of the Second French Republic, in his book “Historie de la Turquie,” (Paris, 1854), said the following about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
"Never has a man set for himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, a more sublime aim, since this aim was superhuman; to subvert superstitions which had been imposed between man and his Creator, to render God unto man and man unto God; to restore the rational and sacred idea of divinity amidst the chaos of the material and disfigured gods of idolatry, then existing. Never has a man undertaken a work so far beyond human power with so feeble means, for he (Muhammad) had in the conception as well as in the execution of such a great design, no other instrument than himself and no other aid except a handful of men living in a corner of the desert. Finally, never has a man accomplished such a huge and lasting revolution in the world, because in less than two centuries after its appearance, Islam, in faith and in arms, reigned over the whole of Arabia, and conquered, in God's name, Persia Khorasan, Transoxania, Western India, Syria, Egypt, Abyssinia, all the known continent of Northern Africa, numerous islands of the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, and part of Gaul.”
"If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws, and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples, dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and the souls.”
He further observed:
"On the basis of a Book, every letter which has become law, he created a spiritual nationality which blend together peoples of every tongue and race. He has left the indelible characteristic of this Muslim nationality the hatred of false gods and the passion for the One and Immaterial God. This avenging patriotism against the profanation of Heaven formed the virtue of the followers of Muhammad; the conquest of one-third the earth to the dogma was his miracle; or rather it was not the miracle of man but that of reason.
The idea of the unity of God, proclaimed amidst the exhaustion of the fabulous theogonies, was in itself such a miracle that upon it's utterance from his lips it destroyed all the ancient temples of idols and set on fire one-third of the world. His life, his meditations, his heroic revelings against the superstitions of his country, and his boldness in defying the furies of idolatry, his firmness in enduring them for fifteen years in Mecca, his acceptance of the role of public scorn and almost of being a victim of his fellow countrymen... This dogma was twofold the unity of God and the immateriality of God: the former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea with words.
Philosopher, Orator, Apostle, Legislator, Conqueror of Ideas, Restorer of Rational beliefs.... The founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?"
In 1841, renowned Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), wrote:
A silent great soul; he was one of those who cannot but be in earnest; whom Nature herself had appointed to be sincere.... Such sincerity, as we named it, has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature's own Heart.... To be Sheik of Mecca or Arabia, and have a bit of gilt-wood put into your hand, ... will that be one's salvation? I decidedly think not. We leave it altogether, this impostor hypothesis, as not credible; not very tolerable even, worthy chiefly of dismissal by us.
Many writers followed Carlyle in this regard. Ernest Renan (1823-1892), a French philosopher, described Muhammad as "a man gentle, sensible, faithful, and free from hatred. His affections were sincere; his character in general bent to benevolence... All his conduct gives the lie to the enterprising audacious character which has been commonly attributed to him."
James William Hampson Stobart, Principal of La Martiniere College, Lucknow, India, argued that
the impostor pictured by some writers is refuted alike by his unswerving belief in the truth of his own mission, by the loyalty and unshaken confidence of his companions, who had ample opportunities of forming a right estimate of his sincerity, and, finally, by the magnitude of the task which he brought to so successful an issue. No impostor, it may safely be said, could have accomplished so mighty a work. No one unsupported by a living faith in the reality of his mission, in the goodness of his cause, could have maintained the same consistent attitude through long years of adverse fortune, alike in the day of victory and the hour of defeat, in the plenitude of his power and at the moment of death.
Reverend Bosworth Smith in 'Muhammad and Muhammadanism,' (London, 1874) stated:
"Head of the State as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without the Pope's pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life."
"In Mohammadanism everything is different here. Instead of the shadowy and the mysterious, we have history....We know of the external history of Muhammad....while for his internal history after his mission had been proclaimed, we have a book absolutely unique in its origin, in its preservation....on the Substantial authority of which no one has ever been able to cast a serious doubt."
The above quoted positive evaluations of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), his mission, message, accomplishments and values, (mostly by the European writers), were transmitted to the American colonies by the efforts of Unitarian preachers such as Joseph Priestly.
Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) was an influential Unitarian English theologian, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and political theorist. A prolific author, he published over 150 works on a variety of subjects. His theological views and political outlook was totally Socinian and Unitarian. In 1800 the Anti-Jacobin Review claimed that Priestley was prompted by the same spirit of proselytizing that led “Mahomet …to raise a party against the Christian World.” Priestly was accused of preaching Muhammad’s message in the garbs of Unitarianism. He was a close friend of the American President Thomas Jefferson and dedicated his General History of the Christian Church to Jefferson. He also wrote him letters about the structure and curriculum of the University of Virginia when Jefferson was working on its founding documents. Priestly’s Unitarian Christology, political thought, and moral views greatly influenced some leading Founding Fathers such as Jefferson, Madison, and Adams.
Another possible source of Islamic influence upon some Founding Fathers of America such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson was George English, a friend of the Secretary of State and then-President James Madison. George Bethune English (1787–1828) was an American adventurer, diplomat, soldier, and convert to Islam. He received his Masters in Christian theology from Harvard University and was an ordained minister. English began to have doubts about central Christian dogmas while at Harvard. He recorded his misgivings in his famous book The Grounds of Christianity Examined that led to his ex-communication from the Church of Christ in 1814. His friend president James Madison appointed him to the United States’ Marine Corps as a second lieutenant in 1815.
George English sailed to the Mediterranean, and resigned from his commission while in Egypt, then renounced Christianity, converted to Islam, and joined Ismail Pasha’s army. He revamped Pasha’s artillery and was appointed as one of the chief artillery officers in the army. His River Nile’s expedition was published in 1822 as Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennaar and was read by both Madison and Jefferson. English had become such a devout Muslim that he learned Arabic and Turkish and became fluent in both of these Islamic languages. He often debated the truthfulness of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his message, Islam, with American missionaries stationed in Egypt and Istanbul, especially those who actively tried to win him back to Christianity. He was a conscious Muslim who was well-grounded in Islamic theology and other Islamic teachings. He was a proud American and a proud Muslim. He did not give up his Islamic identity even when pressured in 1827 and 1828 by his fellow diplomats in Washington.
After working for Ismail Pasha, English returned to his native country. Madison appointed him to the Diplomatic Corps of the United States in the Levant. Due to his Islamic background, Turkish language, customs, and costumes, English was able to help secure the first trade agreement between the government of the United States and the Ottoman Empire against the will of the British Crown. This agreement had an estimated trade value of nearly $800,000 in 1822. English returned to the United States in 1827 and died as a Muslim in Washington in 1828.
From the 19th century onward the United States of America has been the most influential Western power in the world. The Americans were relatively tolerant of Islam, Muslims and especially of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) until the incidents of 9/11. For instance Michael H. Hart, an American historian in his famous book “The 100, a Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History” has no hesitation to rank Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the most influential man in human history. This courageous selection did not cause any uproar among the American scholarship but was often accepted as a debatable historical fact. Hart defended his choice of Muhammad (PBUH) with the following arguments:
“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels. Of humble origins, Muhammad founded and promulgated one of the world's great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive. The majority of the persons in this book had the advantage of being born and raised in centers of civilization, highly cultured or politically pivotal nations. Muhammad, however, was born in the year 570, in the city of Mecca, in southern Arabia, at that time a backward area of the world, far from the centers of trade, art, and learning. Orphaned at age six, he was reared in modest surroundings. Islamic tradition tells us that he was illiterate. His economic position improved when, at age twenty-five, he married a wealthy widow. Nevertheless, as he approached forty, there was little outward indication that he was a remarkable person.”
“How, then, is one to assess the overall impact of Muhammad on human history? Like all religions, Islam exerts an enormous influence upon the lives of its followers. It is for this reason that the founders of the world's great religions all figure prominently in this book. Since there are roughly twice as many Christians as Moslems in the world, it may initially seem strange that Muhammad has been ranked higher than Jesus. There are two principal reasons for that decision. First, Muhammad played a far more important role in the development of Islam than Jesus did in the development of Christianity. Although Jesus was responsible for the main ethical and moral precepts of Christianity (insofar as these differed from Judaism), St. Paul was the main developer of Christian theology, its principal proselytizer, and the author of a large portion of the New Testament. Muhammad, however, was responsible for both the theology of Islam and its main ethical and moral principles. In addition, he played the key role in proselytizing the new faith, and in establishing the religious practices of Islam. Moreover, he is the author of the Moslem holy scriptures, the Koran, a collection of certain of Muhammad's insights that he believed had been directly revealed to him by Allah. Most of these utterances were copied more or less faithfully during Muhammad's lifetime and were collected together in authoritative form not long after his death. The Koran therefore, closely represents Muhammad's ideas and teachings and to a considerable extent his exact words. No such detailed compilation of the teachings of Christ has survived. Since the Koran is at least as important to Moslems as the Bible is to Christians, the influence of Muhammad through the medium of the Koran has been enormous. It is probable that the relative influence of Muhammad on Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity.”
“On the purely religious level, then, it seems likely that Muhammad has been as influential in human history as Jesus. Furthermore, Muhammad (unlike Jesus) was a secular as well as a religious leader. In fact, as the driving force behind the Arab conquests, he may well rank as the most influential political leader of all time. Of many important historical events, one might say that they were inevitable and would have occurred even without the particular political leader who guided them. For example, the South American colonies would probably have won their independence from Spain even if Simon Bolivar had never lived. But this cannot be said of the Arab conquests. Nothing similar had occurred before Muhammad, and there is no reason to believe that the conquests would have been achieved without him. The only comparable conquests in human history are those of the Mongols in the thirteenth century, which were primarily due to the influence of Genghis Khan. These conquests, however, though more extensive than those of the Arabs, did not prove permanent, and today the only areas occupied by the Mongols are those that they held prior to the time of Genghis Khan. It is far different with the conquests of the Arabs. From Iraq to Morocco, there extends a whole chain of Moslem nations united not merely by their faith in Islam, but also by their Arabic language, history, and culture.”
The Americans relative tolerance of Islam and respect for the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) turned upside down as a result of the 9/11 incidents. The post 9/11 response to Muhammad (PBUH) can be categorized in four main categories.
1: Religious Ideologues: The Evangelical and ultra-right figures like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham are spewing hatred against the Prophet of Islam because of their ideological and theological differences with Islam. For instance Pat Robertson on the Sean Hannity radio program said about the Prophet Muhammad: “This man was an absolute wild-eyed fanatic. He was a robber and a brigand. And to say that these terrorists distort Islam, they’re carrying out Islam.” In the program’s second segment, Robertson said: “[The Quran, Islam’s revealed text] is strictly a theft of Jewish theology. I mean, this man [Muhammad] was a killer. And to think that this is a peaceful religion is fraudulent.”
2: Neo-Cons & Political Ideologues: People like Frank Gaffney , Steven Emerson, William Boykin, Pamela Geller, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, William Gawthrop, David Yarushalmi and many such right wing hard core neo conservatives depict Islam as a threat to global peace, security and democracy. They portray Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the Muslim model for violent acts of terrorism, chaos and political instability. These folks are often connected with some so called “think tanks” and foundations which have hidden agendas such as supporting Zionism, Capitalism and many such political and economic ideologies. They constantly bash Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as an epitome of world violence, archetype of global terrorism, quintessence of human insecurity and personification of economic instability.
For example, William Gawthrop, who long headed a key counterintelligence and counterterrorism program set up at the Pentagon after 9/11, argued that to defeat the Jihadist terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies must study the Muslim Prophet Muhammad’s military doctrine. To Gawthrop, the American forces’ failure to defeat or control the Muslim insurgents and terrorists lies in the Pentagon military leadership’s failure in implementing a “systematic study” of the Prophet Muhammad’s military teachings. “Muhammad’s mindset is a source for terrorism,” Gawthrop argued. He further maintained that “There is evidence to support the contention that sources of terrorism in Islam may reside within the strategic themes of Islam,” Gawthrop said. They include “the example of Muhammad, the Quran, the hadiths, Islamic law, the pillars of faith and jihad.”
3: Opportunists and Sympathizers: These are some of the self-claimed pseudo experts on Islam and some politicians who exploit the fear found in the Western world in general and America in particular about the threat of political Islam, revival movements and insurgencies to achieve personal financial gain. They make money by exploiting anti-Islamic sentiments and their main target is the person of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Qur’an, the two main revelatory sources of the Islamic faith. The Danish Cartoonist Jyllands Posten, the Egyptian American Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the producer of the dirty movie “Innocence of Muslims”, Pastors Gary Vine and Terry Jones, Walid Shoebat, Nonie Darwish, Brigitte Gabriel, Ayaan Hersi Ali and Andrew Bostom can be quoted as examples of this category. Ultra-right political factions such as the Tea Party Patriots and the politicians like Congressmen Allen West and Peter King have tried to play on Americans’ perceived fear of Islam, Shari’ah and Muslim dominance to stereotype Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the archetype of violence, terrorism and barbarism. These political opportunists use Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a political whip to gain voters’ attention and sympathies.
4: Ignorant & Ill Educated: A great majority of the Westerners are totally ignorant about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and hate him (PBUH) just because they are fed wrong information by the media outlets. A little education can change their views about the Prophet (PBUH).
On the other hand, those who oppose the extreme right, neo-conservatism, evangelism, militarism, extravagant Capitalism and various forms of racism and discrimination tend to express sympathies for Muslims, Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). These individuals/groups have often been themselves victimized by the above mentioned extreme ideologies which never hesitate to employ means of cultural, political, economic and social pressures/terrorism to intimidate anyone and everyone who dares to disagree with them. These moderate liberals, we can call them so, denounce dehumanization of the Muslims and demonization of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Consequently the paradox of the hatred and love of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) continues in the West. The Prophet bashers do their dirty work of demonizing the person and the mission of Muhammad (SAW) and Allah SWT finds the Prophetic defenders from within themselves. This is the Sunnah of Allah SWT since the beginning of this mission. The bad rap introduces the Prophet (PBUH) to the masses, though in a negative fashion, and the defenders of the Prophet purge his character of the negative perceptions, inculcate his positive traits instead and further his cause by presenting his illustrious model to the humanity. This way the struggle continues. The Prophet (PBUH) is always the winner as his true picture always wins hearts and minds of people.