Islam and Creative Western Literature

Book: Blessing in Disguise : Islam and Creative Western Literature
Editor: Dr. Syed Mashkoor Ali
Publisher: Surabhi Publications, Jaipur
Year: 2009
Pages: XII+236
Price: Rs. 495/

Islam: The Fertilizing Rain
“…. most of the western writers, from the earliest days were immensely impressed and deeply influenced by Islam …… writers like Dante, Shakespeare, Byron, Coleridge, Dryden …. Carlyle, Emerson, Bernad Shaw, …. E.M. Forster, Dorris Lessing, …. T.S. Eliot …..wrote under the influence of Islamic doctrines. Some of them presented Islam favourably …. Others looked at Islam with jaundiced eyes and presented it in a distorted form …. If Islam had not been there much of western creative literature …. would have either remained unattempted or would or would have been written in altogether a different manner. Islam thus proves to be a blessing in disguise.

This is how Syed Mashkoor Ali defends the title “Blessing in Disguise” for Islam which in fact, was a Fertilizing rain for Renaissance. Citing extensively from Dr. M.Q. Khan’s Eastern Contribution to European Renaissance in his opening contribution A.G. Khan quotes several European scholars who acknowledged Europe’s debt to Islam. Recording Sir Thomas Arnold, Napoleon, Shaw he cites Goethe who said, “If this is Islam then we live in Islam”. Quoting Davies, Khan draws our attention to the fact …. At a time when in Europe the practice of medicine was practically forbidden …. When religious rites such as exorcising imaginary devils were regarded as cures …. The Muhammadans had a real science for medicine. Not only medicine, architecture, culture, language and science were moulded in Islamic furnace.

M.Q. Khan established how the Elizabethan literature borrowed immensely from Islamic sources. The Baroque Style, picaresque novel and several poetical stanzas are imitations of Arabic production.

Syed Mashkoor Ali and Sonal Mehta both demonstrate how deeply Dante was influenced by Islam while writing the Divine Comedy. Prophet’s Miraj fired his imagination to borrow the form and the content of the Miraj to produce an anti-Islamic text. The reason was, of course, obvious, Miraj literature of the period depicted Christians in hell. Dante “avenged” the portrayal by showing the Prophet in hell.

Muhammad Sirajul Islam sees Shakespeare’s Macbeth a tragedy through Islamic code of conduct and finds that the tragedy was a result of a total rejection of human values that Islam upholds. Attia Abid brings home the fact that Dryden portrayed not only Aurangzeb but also Shah Jehan in poor colours. He, in order to earn the royal patronage, transferred all the vices of the English court to Mughal era. Muhammad A. Al-Dami sees in the portrayals of the harems the coloniser’s agenda of giving the Muslims a bad name and poor reputation in order to justify occupation of Muslim lands for : “civilizing” the savage. Oriental scholarship was driven by the motive to portray the east as barbaric to pave way for the noble liberators in form of imperial conquerors. Manish Vyas too presents the same attitude of mind in portrayal of Haji Baba of Isphahan-a shrewd calculating mind for whom nothing is evil.

 While there are a few scholars who assert that Washington Irving was not merely impressed by Islam; he embraced it. The editor studies orient as reflected in the works of Irving. Amina Amin laments the fact that Herman Melville’s reference to Muhammad and Islam, remains on the surface only” in contrast to his deeper probe of Zorastrianism and Hinduism. Baldev Rathod quite convincingly established Emerson’s reverence for Islamic scriptures and his fascination for the Persian literature - especially of the Sufis.

 Muna Al-Alwan categorically asserts: “No other American poet …wrote so enthusiastically of Islam and Arab as Taylor” He was writing for a culture hungry audience. His dedication, love and understanding of Eastern culture, values, and religion surely stem from a deeply embedded orientalism in his nature.

 Muhammad Asim Siddiqui’s analysis of Mark Twain’s travelogue reveals his high brow attitude who like Naipaul found nothing worthwhile. Siddiqui shows Twain’s hostile attitude which Kishwar Zafir finds echoed in Naipaul’s writing.

 Baldev Rathod finds Eliot’s concept of the Rose Garden borrowed from Sheikh Saadi and Hafiz. Sarla Kumar sees Dorris Lessing’s world permeated with Sufism.

 Urbashi Barat in her study of Muslims who epitomize and symbolize the ambiguities and the complexes of the relationship between the colonial and the colonized showing both as losers. E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India is a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of the Muslim in the Raj. B.O.S. Reddy sees Ross Masood immortalized as Dr. Aziz.

 Sania Rafiq draws a comparative picture of the Islamic world vis-à-vis the Western cultures in Alex Haley’s roots. He narrates the atrocities the Black Muslims suffered during slavery in America. Obama’s grandfather was one of such victims.

 The editor has collected 21 articles from 15 scholars (his own contribution is of three papers). Out of them 8 are non-Muslims who not only see Islam favourably but are also conversant with several ahadis. Syed M. Ali deserves praise for obtaining articles not only from India but also from Bangladesh, Iraq and Bahrain.

This is a well-produced text with a very appealing cover - a remarkable achievement.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2010 on page no. 27

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