Perception of Muhammad in the Medieval West


Monday, March 22, 2010

Perception of Muhammad in the Medieval West



Stephan Hotz, Mohammed und seine Lehre in der Darstellung abendländischer Autoren vom späten 11. bis zur Mitte des 12. Jahrhunderts: Aspekte, Quellen und Tendenzen in Kontinuität und Wandel [Mohammed and his teaching according to the accounts of the occidental authors from the late 11th to the middle of the 12th centuries: continuing and changing aspects, sources and tendencies] Frankfurt am Main et al.: Peter Lang, 2002. (Studien zur klassischen Philologie; Bd. 137). ISBN: 3-631-50346-6

This book belongs to the studies on the reception of the image of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by Christians in the aftermath of his death. The author has based his research on texts written during the 11th and 12th centuries when the Christians set up a united front against Islam in both the Holy Land and Spain. In this historical context, the authors of the time had produced various texts in different genres: Embricho von Mainz wrote a poem on the Prophet’s life, Vita Mahumeti; Guibert von Nogent added a life-story of the Prophet in his report on the first Crusade, Gesta Dei per Francos; and Walter con Compiégne penned his Otia de Mahomete in verse. Petrus Alphonsi used the famous form of dialogues in his text on the teaching and the life of the Prophet, whereas Petrus Venerabilis dedicated two works in his dispute on Islam: Summa Totius Haeresis Saracenorum and Contra Sectam Saracenorum. All of these texts were produced in Latin.

What Stephan Hotz tries to accomplish in his book is to explore the differing representations of the Prophet’s life and his teachings in the light of the sources and basic tendencies of each cited work. On the other hand, he tries to portray the continuities and the discontinuities in these perceptions, sources and tendencies during the 11th and 12th centuries.

Due to its quick rise and spread, the Christian authors began to deal with Islam from the early times onwards. They tried to define who the prophet was; the kind of teachings he had brought and his position in the Christian teaching. Most of the texts defined this new religion as a complete heresy, and the teachings of Muhammad as heretical sayings. Having been inspired from these early authors, the writers in the late 11th and the mid-12th centuries also laid down two basic categories in which the Prophet has been used as an instrument by a heretical Christ to take revenge from the Catholic Church. In spite of their different intake on polemical aspects and factual arguments, these texts share a commonality: Each placed the Prophet and his teachings within a Christian framework and evaluated him accordingly. As a result, they perceived Islam as a heretical form of Christianity, which agreed with the principle of the unity of God, but denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. Due to this understanding, they think that Muhammad was a heretic and a pseudo-prophet, a thought which was first put forth five hundred years ago by Johannes Damascus, who had been the first Christian author contesting the teachings of Islam.

To conclude with an example from the texts he examined in his book, Stephan Hotz has attached the text of Embrichos Vita Mahumeti in its German translation.

عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه قَالَ:
قَبَّلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْحَسَنَ بْنَ عَلِيٍّ وَعِنْدَهُ الأَقْرَعُ بْنُ حَابِسٍ التَّمِيمِيُّ جَالِسًا‏.‏ فَقَالَ الأَقْرَعُ إِنَّ لِي عَشَرَةً مِنَ الْوَلَدِ مَا قَبَّلْتُ مِنْهُمْ أَحَدًا‏.‏ فَنَظَرَ إِلَيْهِ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏"‏ مَنْ لاَ يَرْحَمُ لاَ يُرْحَمُ ‏"‏‏
God's Messenger kissed Al-Hasan bin Ali (his grandchild) while Al-Aqra' bin Habis At-Tamim was sitting beside him. Al-Aqra said, "I have ten children and I have never kissed anyone of them", God's Messenger cast a look at him and said, "Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully." (Bukhari, Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab), 18)

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