The narrative surrounding Prophet Muhammad(P) and the religion he founded, Islam, has been mired in controversy and misinformation since its inception in the 7th century. The spread of Islam, with its profound spiritual and ethical teachings, rapidly extended beyond the Arabian Peninsula, reaching the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and parts of Europe. This expansion was not just a geographical phenomenon but also a significant cultural and religious shift that challenged the existing socio-political and religious order. The Christian Church and European rulers, perceiving a threat to their religious and political hegemony, responded not only with military opposition but also through a campaign of misinformation and defamation with their lies about Muhammad, aimed at undermining the credibility and truthfulness of his message.
From the early days, the polemics against Islam and its Prophet were deeply rooted in a lack of understanding and fear of the “other”. The Christian missionaries, in their efforts to counter the spread of Islam, embarked on a systematic study of the religion. However, instead of fostering interfaith dialogue or seeking a deeper understanding, their studies often led to the propagation of falsehoods and slander. Their approach was not merely academic ; it was driven by a desire to incite fear and hatred among the general populace towards Islam. Figures such as Peter the Venerable and Saint John of Damascus were instrumental in shaping the Western perception of Islam, often portraying it in a negative light. This campaign of misinformation was multifaceted, involving the distortion of Islamic teachings and the vilification of Muhammad(P) himself.
This brief paper would serve to reflect on past and present polemical attacks made by Christians against the Prophet(P), insha’allah.
Language of the Christian Missionaries
The father of anti-Islamic polemics was John of Damascus (675−749 CE), and when the Christian polemics started a few centuries ago in the era of the Crusades, he began the tradition of ridiculing Islam and the Prophet(P). He claimed in his book, Heresies, that the Qur’an was not revealed but created by the Prophet(P) and that he was helped by a Christian monk, Bahira, to use the Old and New Testament to create a new scripture. He also claimed that the Prophet(P) created verses of the Qur’an to fulfill his own desires, and these were usually to do with lust and sexual deviancy.
John of Damascus was followed by others such as Ludovico Marracci, Johann Heinrich Hottinger, and Humphrey Prideaux, contributed to spreading ideas that portrayed Islam as an inferior religion. However, Nicholas of Cusa adopted a more dialogical approach, engaging in comparative religious discussions rather than outright condemnation.1
Later, during the European scramble for colonial power in Asia and Africa, Christians once more encountered Islam. Most of the Muslim lands fell under direct or indirect European rule.
It then became the policy of the Colonial Governments, supported by the Church, to portray Muslims as barbarians and try to destroy Islamic institutions, practices and influences.
Most of us may not have heard the word Maometis derived from Mahomet, the word Maometis meaning the number of the beast, i.e., 666 stuff in the Book of Revelations. This is the result of the Holy Ghost-inspired Christians. They concocted all kind of stories to malign the Prophet(P) in order to distort Islam and call it a “Satanic” religion.
As noted by Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi :
[The clergy, missionaries and European authors] have presented both the Prophet and his Message in shockingly hideous colours as a result of which astonishingly false and baseless talks have gained currency about them.2
We have to unanimously agree with the Orientalist W. Montgomery Watt when he says that :
Of all the world’s greatest men none has been so much maligned as Muhammad. It is easy to see how this has come about. For centuries Islam was the great enemy of Christendom, for Christendom was in direct contact with no other organized states comparable in power to the Muslims. The Byzantine empire, after losing its provinces in Syria and Egypt, was being attacked in Asia Minor, while Western Europe was threatened through Spain and Sicily. Even before the Crusades focused attention on the expulsion of the Sarcens from the Holy Land, medieval war-propaganda, free from the restraints of factuality was building up a conception of ‘the great enemy’. At one point Muhammad was transformed into Mahound, the prince of darkness. By the eleventh century the idea about Islam and Muslims current in the crusading armies were such travesties that they had a bad effect on morale. The crusaders had been led to expect the worst of their enemies, and, when they found many chivalrous knights among them, they were filled with distrust for the authorities of their own religion.3
It was during the Crusades that the most vile accusations were hurled against the Prophet(P) and Islam. Karen Armstrong tells us that during the Crusades :
…biographies of Mohammed by Christians describe the Prophet’s sex life in a manner that reveals far more about their own sexual problems than about the facts of the Prophet’s life. The Koran was said, quite incorrectly, to condone homosexuality and to encourage unnatural forms of intercourse. One scholar claimed that the foulness of lust among Muslims was inexpressible ; they were deep in this filth from the soles of their feet to the crown of the head. Soon the Church would accuse any out-group in Christendom of excessive and unnatural sexual practices and twelfth century Christians stigmatized “heresy” of Islam by cursing what they considered its sexual laxity.4
This stigma of “sexual laxity” by the Crusaders upon “those cursed Moslems” (sic) is further confirmed when Dominican Friar Humbert of Lyons (c. 1300) says that :
Nor did Mahomet teach anything of great austerity…indeed, he even allowed many pleasurable things, to do with a multitude of women, abuse of them, and suchlike…many Christians change and will change to the Saracen religion.5
In the 16th century, the Protestant movement began under Luther (1483−1546) and Calvin (1509−1564). Their attitude were no different from the Christian Catholics whom they broke away from.
Martin Luther’s attitude towards Islam was reflected in the following words :
…who fights against the Turks [Muslims]…should consider that he is fighting an enemy of God and a blasphemer of Christ, indeed, the devil himself.…6
Calvin’s attitude towards Islam was no different. Among the Protestants in Germany, the word Mahoun and Mahound was used to refer the Prophet(P), which in German means dog. In Scottish this word means the devil, with which to frighten children.
Several examples of the baseless claims about the Prophet(P) written by the Christian missionaries and Orientalists are as follows7 :
- Dante Alighieri, a poet from Florence, Italy, in his epic poem called La Divina Commedia, or The Divine Comedy, said that in one of his visits, he saw the Prophet(P) in the fourth level of Hell.
- In the “Song of Roland,” an 11th-century chanson de geste, the conflict between Charlemagne’s Franks and King Marsile’s Saracens is central to the narrative. The poem, reflecting the medieval Christian perspective, depicts the Muslims in Al-Andalus as worshippers of an unholy trinity, comprising Mahome (Mahound), Apollyon (Appolin), and Termagant (Termagaunt)
- D.S. Margoliuth wrote in The Biography of Mohammad that the Prophet was “a person who uses conjury. He had secret meetings which are similar to Masonic festivals and his companions had signs to be recognized, i.e. they take out the end of their turbans”.
- H.A. Lammens, a Jesuit and Church pastor, wrote that Muhammad(P) “ate a lot, followed his (sexual) desires and died because of stomach disease”.
- Papa Bardoux wrote that the Prophet was “a propagandist of the Sahara desert and died because of poisoning”.
- Prideaux wrote, among others, the following : “Islam is the religion for the followers of the devil. The Moslems are an ignorant race and the Koran from the beginning to the end is filled with the stories of the impossible”.
Reading all the above, one wonders whether it is the Holy Spirit of the Christians or the Devil himself which have “inspired” them in their dastardly deed.
One who has even a rudimentary knowledge of Islam could easily see that all these allegations are all lies and damned lies. Of course, that does not stop Christians from repeating them time and time again.
Clearing Muhammad’s Name
There are, however, people who have studied the life of the Prophet(P) as well as Islam. They do not have an axe to grind like the missionaries mentioned above.
Montgomery Watt after examining the various charges of voluptuousness, apart from others heaped on the Prophet(P) concludes that
In his day and generation Muhammad was a social reformer, indeed a reformer even in the sphere of morals. He created a new system of social security and a new family structure, both of which were a vast improvement on what went before. In this way he adapted for settled communities all that was best in the morality of the nomad, and established a religious and a social framework for the life of a sixth of the human race today. That is not the work of a traitor or a lecher.8
Thomas Carlyle also spoke regarding Western slander of the Prophet(P):
Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Imposter, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to any one. The lies which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man are disgraceful to ourselves only…A silent great soul, one of that who cannot but be earnest. He was to kindle the world, the world’s Maker had ordered so.9
In concuring with Watt, Roger DuPasquier points out the following :
In general one must unhappily concur with an Orientalist like Montgomery Watt when he writes that ‘of all the great men of the world, no-one has had as many detractors as Muhammad.’ Having engaged in a lengthy study of the life and work of the Prophet, the British Arabist add that ‘it is hard to understand why this has been the case’, finding the only plausible explanation in the fact that for centuries Christianity treated Islam as its worst enemy. And although Europeans today look at Islam and its founder in a somewhat more objective light, ‘many ancient prejudices still remain.‘10
Crusades Not Over ?
Even today in this modern age, we still see the Christians being the worst of the slanderers of the character of the Prophet(P), some in politically-correct language. These derogatory names were concocted by “love-thy-neighbor”, “turn-thy-cheek” Christians who maintained an open policy of defamation against Islam and Muhammad(P) throughout the Middle Ages.
Apparently, this policy still exists today, albeit in a much more sophisticated apparatus.
As recent as 1989, we read the following :
Muslim society looks profoundly repulsive…It looks repulsive because it is repulsive…A Westerner who claims to admire Muslim society, while still adhering to Western values, is either a hypocrite or an ignoramus, or a bit of both.…Arab and Muslim society is sick, and has been sick for a long time.11
Claims like Child Molester, a Leader of Camel Bandits, and an anti-Christ by the Christians, who frequent throughout newsgroups and discussion boards on the Internet, are common whether out of willful ignorance or otherwise.
Not to mention that there are several Christians who take delight in misrepresenting the Qur’anic verses and the hadith, even to the extent of imposing “Christology” upon the Qur’an and later claim that the Qur’an “supports” the Christian doctrines of original sin and the Trinity.
Is there a purpose behind this misrepresentation of Islam ?
Norman A. Daniel observes that :
[the] West formed a more or less invariable canon of beliefs about Islam ; it decided for itself what Islam was, and formed a view materially different from anything Muslims would recognise … The important thing was it suited the West. It corresponded to need … it gave Christendom self-respect in dealing with a civilisation in many ways its superior.12
Rana Kabbani further expands on the reasons why Muslims and the East were portrayed in this manner, and concludes that :
If it could be suggested that Eastern peoples were slothful, preoccupied with sex, violence, and incapable of self-government, then the imperialist would feel himself justified in stepping in and ruling. Political domination and economic exploitation needed the cosmetic cant of mission civilisatrice to seem fully commendatory…The image of the European coloniser had to remain an honourable one : he did not come as exploiter, but as enlightener.13
So basically, nothing has changed from the days of Crusades until today. The “Crusades” are still not over, albeit having replaced the sword with “missionary-ganda” and arguments wrapped up in a deceptive way to dupe the Muslim mind.
It would always be the goal of the Christian missionaries who view Muslim countries as “the last frontier” to cause confusion within unknowledgeable Muslims and ultimately convert them to their cause.
The churches in the West are emptying, some even sold for the building of new mosques, but the missionaries are looking East for their “expansion”. In the Qur’an, God Almighty have warned the Muslims of their plan.
“And they say : ‘Be Jews or Christians, then ye will be rightly guided.’ Say : ‘Nay, but (we follow) the religion of Abraham, the upright, and he was not of the idolaters.’ ” (Qur’an 2:135)
“And they say : ‘None entereth Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.’ These are their (vain) desires. Say : ‘Bring your proof (of what ye state) if ye are truthful!’ ” (Qur’an 2:111)
However, one really wonders : if Islam was just some false belief with complicated doctrines that didn’t make any sense, why would so many people, from Western Orientalists to Christian missionaries, have to tell so many untruths about it ?
If Islam is indeed from the Devil, you do not need the Devil’s ways to defeat it — explaining the truth would be enough. The reason is simple, that the ultimate truth of Islam stands on solid ground and its simple yet unshakable belief in the Unity of God is beyond reproach.
No wonder that some Christians, after struggling with the “mental dialectics” of explanation of the Holy Trinity for so long, finally either become an atheist or turn to Islam !
This is what the missionaries, from the era of the Crusades until the modern age, fear very much.
Certainly, there is much truth in the statement that Islam is the most misrepresented religion of the world. But if Muslims take the effort to correct the image of Islam, lies will finally be dispelled by truth, insha’allah.
And certainly, only God knows best !
- H. Zainal Abidin Abbas, Sejarah dan Perjuangan Nabi Muhammad, Jld 1, pp. 28 – 32
- Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Speaking Plainly to the West, p. 35
- W. M. Watt, Muhammad At Medina, 1956
- Karen Armstrong, Holy War : The Crusades and their Impact on Today’s World, 1992
- Norman Daniel, Heroes and Saracens : An Interpretation of the Chansons de Geste, 1984
- E. Grislis, Luther and the Turks, The Muslim World, Vol. LXIV, No.3 (July, 1974), p. 183.
- H. Zainal Abidin Abbas, op. cit.
- W. M. Watt, op. cit.
- Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History
- Roger DuPasquier, Unveiling Islam, p. 47
- Connor Cruise O’ Brian, The Times (London), May 1989
- Norman A. Daniel, Islam and the West : The Making of an Image, p. 270
- Rana Kabbani, Imperial Fiction : Europe’s Myths of the Orient, p. 6