International Journal of English
Literature and Culture
Vol. 1(1), pp. 1–8,
Elizabethan Image of the Qur’ān
Fahd Mohammed Taleb Saeed Al-Olaqi
Department of English, Faculty of Science and Arts, Khulais King
Abdulaziz University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabi, Email:
Accepted 18 August, 2013
The Arabic Qur’ān entered Europe through Spain
with Muslim conquerors in the eighth century. Though the Elizabethan
treaties about Islam introduced the Qur’ānic teachings, Prophet
Muhammad’s mission was rejected, and he was announced a false
prophet. In Elizabethan literature, this anti-Islamic misinformation
is intently expressed against the Prophet and the Qur’ān. Crimes and
evil characteristics are imputed to the stereotypes of the Moors and
Turks. These traits are referred to the Muslims’ culture as they are
represented being imbedded in the Qur’ān. Some Elizabethan
dramatists have developed their interest in the Qur’ānic theology.
It has been depicted to the Elizabethan audience that Qur’ān
justifies the Turkish imperialism. For Marlowe, smashing or burning
copies of the Qur’ān is a symbol of personal revenge and attack on
Key words: Saracen, Turkish Qur’ān, Muhammad, translation,
In early English literature, the Arabic Al-Quran, Al-Qur’an and Al-Qur’ān
is mentioned in English as Alchoran, Alcharon Alcoran, Al-coran,
Alkaron, Alkeran Alkoran, and Alkaron. AL is the Arabic article for
the. The word Alcoran was previously adopted in almost all the
European languages, but modern English authors choose Koran (Isık,
2007: 5). Sometimes transliterated as Quran, Koran, Qur’ān, al-Coran
or al-Qur’ān. Qur’ān is the primary source of Islam. For Muslims, it
is the last revelation of God, Allah, and The Creator.
This work casts lights on the literary colours illustrated from the
Qur’ān. Through all ages, English writers have different fragmentary
references to the Qur’ān. Most of these allusions are descriptive.
For instance, Chaucer, William Langland and Lydgate portray (1927)
rebellious blasphemies on the prominent Muslim characters, like
sultans, after their outrageous temper over Islamic faith. However,
to burn it, Marlowe denigrates the Qur’ān and unfairly falsifies the
The Qur’ān as a Medieval Heretic Script
The Elizabethan tradition of the Islamic symbols is rooted to the
Medieval times. The Qur’ānic theology was in the interest of
Medieval literary works. For instance, Prophet Muhammad was
represented as the manifestation of the devil or Antichrist. The
Medieval context of the term ‘Saracen’ is a non-Christian or
heathen, pagan and infidel. Medieval people understood that the
Saracens substituted their faith in Testaments with an evil
duplicate book named the Qur’ān. Saracens worship ‘Mahoune’ or
having faith in him as a deity (Smith, 1977: 1). In The National
Scottish Dictionary ‘Mahoune’ is defined as a name given to the
devil. The Song of Roland (11th century) provides the earliest
instances of the presence of Islam in the Western literary
tradition. The misrepresentation born of deep hostility towards
Islam dismissed outrightly as a mere Christian heresy in a figuring
of Islamic creed and in projecting a repulsive picture of people of
Islam. Perceived as the discipline of the devil, Islamic teachings
appear in the Songs as heresy and violent. The King Marsile knows
not but cheating in the name of his Islamic holy polytheistic laws.
He drives violence possessing nature of a typical villain Saracen.
In the Song, a knight describes him saying:
Thereby there stood a high-seat wrought out of elephant horn.
King Marsile let before him a certain book be borne.
Mahound and Termagaunt their law therein was written plain.
XXXIII. Then Blanchandrin stepped forward before the King to stand;
And Ganelon beside him, he led him by the hand.
And he said to the King:
May now our gods keep thee both safe and sound
Whose holy laws we keep always—Apollo and Mahound.
We gave thy charge to Charlemagne that raised his hands in air.
Like in polytheistic practice, a Saracen is introduced as a pagan
who swore first by Muhammad as his powerful god and then God, The
Almighty: ‘By Mahomet’, ‘By Mahoun my lord, or by omnipotent god,’
‘mi god mahun’. More is depicted about his faith saying: ‘And then
his oath upon it swore that Saracen of Spain/ That, if upon Count
Roland in the rear-guard he might light’ (Bacon, 1919: 155).
Some Medieval writers claimed to represent a truthful Islamic
perception of Muhammad. They introduced him as an idol. His
sculpture is either permanently erected in ‘maumetries’ and
‘synagogues’, or carried about and placed upon the maintop of ships.
It is put up in make-shift temples or installed in the King of
Spain's tent. In the Song, the Arab Emir of Babylon keeps the
picture of Muhammad in his court. In reverse when they fail, they
beat and insult their idols:
Of their gods Mahound and Termagant a sore complaint they made.
And moreover of Apollo, whence they got no help at all.
When the ball is over, they smote the idol of Mahound:
His carbuncle from Termagant has the angry Paynims torn,
And they have hurled Mahomet into a foss forlorn. (CXCVI)
Besides Muhammad, a long incompatible list of gods such as
Beelzebub, Apollo, Jupiter, Termagant, Nero, Ascorat and other
mythical, biblical and historical figures were credited by the
Saracens. The so-called Saracen gods are, of course, fabrications of
the romance writers and are quite unknown in Islamic faith (Smith,
1977: 11, 21). The Qur’ān is described as the Bible of the Saracens.
As well as it is included among those supposed gods: ‘He defied
Mahounde and Apolyne\ Iubiter Ascart and Alcaron also’ (The Sowdone
of Babylone 2272, 2761-62). Edmund Spenser referred to the ‘Mahoun’
idol of Medieval literature (Chew, 1937: 389). Like Spenser, Robert
Greene’s Alphonsus, describes the devil as hidden inside an idol in
a heathen temple or Mosque. When the idol shakes, it begins to issue
forth clouds of smoke. He is represented on London stage as a
‘Brazen Head’ or ‘Pow’ that speaks to his priests and instructs the
Turkish emperors (Greene, 1965: 112).
Sacrilege is not a remote element in the demonstration of Muslim
characters in the Medieval period. Saracens, Turks, Moors and
heretics alike, treat Muhammad as an idol worshipper. They believe
in the Holy Qur’ān as a source of their canon. Blasphemy of Saracen
characters was given a wider prevalence in the early fourteenth
century and was in exchange until seventeenth century. Chaucer talks
of ‘mammatte’ that had turned into a legend in The Man of Law’s
Tale.1 For instance, Chaucer portrays rebellious blasphemy in a
statement of the Sultan who expresses his outrage over his Islamic
faith, the Qur’ān and Sunnah - the tradition of the Prophet:
The hooly laws of our Alkoran
Yeven by Goddess message Makomete.
But oon a vow to grate God I heete
The lyf shal rather but of my body stertic
Or Makometes lawe out of myn hertel. (2.3. 32-37)
In Medieval Ages, William Langland was a chief priest. He translated
the Bible into English. In Piers Plowman, he describes that
‘Sarrasyns’ [Muslims] behave like ‘Jews’ do. (Passus, XVI, ii,
84-7). They are nations of superstitions, magic and myths. They are
very uncharitable. John Lydgate (1927:1370- 1451), in his The Fall
of Princes, includes an extensive account entitled ‘Off Machomet the
false prophete and how he beyng dronke was deuoured among swyn;’
Lydgate culled his material from ‘bookis olde’ called Alkeran. He
begins his story by charging the prophet with being a magician.
‘When Muhammad grew up, we are told, he was admired by his fellow
countrymen for teaching them how to use camels for carriage’. From
his frequent journeys to Egypt, Lydgate continues, Muhammad ‘lerned
the Olde and Newe Testament’ (71-74, 920-923).
1. " Maumerye" is from the false idea that the Mahometans were
idolaters — a belief very general in the Middle Ages — arose the
French mahommet, an idol ; mahumeriey idolatry, or an idolatrous
temple, as here.
The European authors in medieval ages curiously view the most
primitive Qur’ānic picture Prophet Muhammad’s journey to Heaven, the
‘Miraj.’ This Islamic story is the theme of Dante’s The Divine
Comedy. It was written in the beginning of the fourteenth century.
The Qur’ān briefly mentioned the story but Hadith books of the
speech of the Prophet perfectly narrate it. Dante manipulated the
story, definitely rather deeply, by a Christian counter text made
available in Latin that detailed Muhammad’s journey through the
heavens. Dante tried to distort image of the Prophet Muhammad, and
spread to such an extent that it was preserved and perpetuated in
literature. He consigns the Prophet Muhammad to the lowest level of
Hell (Miguel: 103). Hugh Goddard (2001) argues in a very precise way
that The Divine Comedy offers a clear acknowledgement of
Christendom’s debt to Islam for earth and heaven interactions
(55-56). Later, the Victorian poet, Joseph Addison (1672-1719),
recalled the story of ‘Miraj’ to the English memory in a number of
magazines such as The Guardian, Freeholder and The Spectator. On
August 30, 1714, issue No. 587, Addison wrote an article to deny the
Prophethood of Muhammad with an illustration about his ascendance,
which was the topic of The Divine Comedy.
In his Introduction of Knowledge, written about 1501, (Borde 1855),
physician and traveller, treats Islam as a medieval paganism whose
followers worshipped the superstition of ‘Alkaron’, which ‘macomyt,
a false fellow made’ (215) Medieval and early modern Western
European texts about Islam nearly always defined it as a licentious
religion of sensuality. In Islam and the West: The Making of an
Image, Norman Daniel discusses the prevalent European notion that
“Islam was essentially built upon a foundation of sexual license,
which was plainly contrary to the natural and the divine law’
(1966:152). This tradition of anti-Islamic polemic saw the religion
of Muhammad based on “fraud, lust, and violence” (1966:434).
Distance and the lack of any real contact between the audience and
the Muslim world left the medieval romance writer free to depict the
Saracen as a directed fancy. The place of the Saracen in medieval
fiction might well represent by depicting his religious and physical
portrayal out of the cursory reading of romances. Elizabethan
writers and poet-entertainers made much of this alien appearance.
For some writers, the use of false information of Islam was a
patriotic attack on Eastern characters that represented a threat to
the Christianity in the Europe. For example, because the Ottoman
threat for Europe, the Quran is identified as Turkish and Turkish
characters collectively disfigured the Qur’ān and its holiness in
Image of the Turkish Qur’ān
The Elizabethans’ perception of the Qur’ān is Turkish and the Turks
are the people of the Qur’ān, Islam and Muhammad. The Elizabethan
dramatists treated them unkindly as foreign to the English life.
Hostility is obvious in Marlowe, Shakespeare, Greene, Massinger,
etc. The reaction is entirely conventional and aggressive. For the
Elizabethan Christian audience, Islam was a deceptive and new
account of some earlier religions. A rigorous Christian picture of
Islam was intensified in innumerable ways. For Norman Daniel, the
Europeans’ response to the Ottoman menace is evidently reproduced in
Elizabethan drama (1960:499). Consequently, Daniel says that ‘the
use of false evidence to attack Islam was all but universal’ (1966:
After the establish¬ment of the Levant Company in 1531, scores of
learned diplomats, traders and scholars visited the East and
returned with favourable impressions of Islam. The rise of Oriental
travel to the Ottoman Empire was high between 1580 and 1720. English
visitors were eager to explore the East. It was really a public
English interest which stimulated the writers to allude,
authentically or sometimes otherwise, to the mysterious Islamic
World. Louis Wann reports that between 1558 and 1642 the major
British playwrights produced no less than forty-seven plays dealing
with Eastern material. The production of Islamic plays was not
because of the fancy of one author or group of authors, but Wann
thinks that it was due to the interest of the Elizabethan audience
in Oriental matter (1915:427).
The travel accounts made its echo on Elizabethan Literature. English
travellers brought back more details of Islamic life, with less
partiality in their reports. For instance, the Turks captured the
English gunner and traveller Edward Ebbe in the last quarter of the
sixteenth century. He had the audacity and naivety to say that his
captors forced him to fight against the forces of Pester John. He
has an effect to praise Muslims: “Alla, that it is gret sclaundre to
cure faith and to oure lawe… For the Sarazines ben gode and
feythfulle, for thei keen entirely the commandment of the holy book
Alkaron that God sente hem by his messenger Aachomet” (24). The word
‘Allah’ is the highest invocation. It is the name Allah. The name is
of the Unqualified Divinity, “the Supreme Name,” “the Unique Name,”
“the Name of Majesty.” Within its two syllables and four letters,
the symbolism of which has been often commented on, this name
concentrates on all of the redemptive effectiveness of the divine
Travel sources were not authentic enough to be granted as William
Lithgow’s report that the Prophet’s tomb hangs in the mid-air upon
the Kaaba’s roof in Makkah. Marlowe describes this portrait in
Tamburlaine The Great (1589), throughout Orcanes. As a religious
personality as well as a great commander in the Turkish forces, the
commander takes a vow by holy Muhammad whose death-place is Makkah:
By sacred Mahomet
Whose glorious body when he left the world,
Closed in a coffin mounted up the air,
And hung on stately Mecca’s temple roof. (Part II, 1.2.60-63)
4. Inter. J. English Lit. and Cult.
Another famous Elizabethan traveller, Sandys, narrated many
religious accounts about Muslims in his travels in the Islamic
World. He was impressed by Muslims’ dealing with the Qur’ān, when
‘they kisse it, embrace it, and sweare by it, calling it the booke
of glory’; such accounts like these find their way in the
presentation of the Qur’ān in Elizabethan literature. Robert Wilson
represents in his masterpiece, The Pedlars Prophecies (1595) that
the high respect of the holy book is more done by Muslims to the
Qur’ān than Christians to the Bible. Wilson remarks, ‘Of the Gospel
we do boast, and it professe, But more honest fidelitie is among
Turkes’ (II, 916f; Chew, 1937: 440-1). In his poem, Abuses Script
and Whipt (1622), George Wither expresses his admiration for the
reverence and devoutness of Muslims to the Qur’ān in their life and
Our cursed Pagan unbelieving foe,
I meant the Turke, more reverence doth show
In those his damn’d erroneous Rites than we
In the true Worship: for ‘tis knowne that he
Will not so much as touch his Alcharon,
That doth containe his false Religion,
With unwasht hands: nor till he hath o’erwent
All that his vaine and confus’d rabblement
Of Ceremonies us’d much lesse dares looke
On the Contents of that unhallowed Booke. (Book II, Satire iv,
The Gracious Qur’ān was a subject of approving eyewitness. Muslims
put right hand on the holy Qur’ān and swear to say. It was practiced
in the Islamic world to verify the Muslim’s witness to say truth.
Though the Qur’ān and the tradition of the Prophet did not approve
of this, Western tradition adopted this practice. In Dryden’s Don
Sebastian. Marsh says:
That all is true you make delivered
Both lay your hands upon the Alcoran.
It was after proved holy to Muslims to tell truth (III, ii,
The same vision is remarkably mentioned in Elizabethan literature.
Muslims respect the book highly, so they swear on a copy of it in
courts. In Soliman and Perseda, Soliman says: “Faith two great night
of the post swore upon/ Alcoran that he would have fired the Turks”
(V.iii.34-35). Kyd remarks this with admiration of this devotion
among Muslim community. His character, Marsh assists the practice
for mortal, social and personal affairs and relationship. The Qur’ān
is used to endorse marriage. Marsh says: ‘That all is true that here
you have declared,/ Both lay your hands upon the Alcoran’ (V,
The English abridgment of Sebastian’s Minister’s cosmography
contains a charity on Muslim’s practices. Chew supports the
authenticity of the information saying ‘it is quite accurate so far
as it goes to abridge knowledge between the Elizabethan readers and
the Muslim world’ (442). Travel and trade in the East provided many
opportunities for Europeans to think deeply about Islam.
Conversion to Islam
Islam attracted non-Muslims not only because it was the religion of
the Arabs but even more because it was increasingly the worldwide
religion. Europeans were curious to know how Arabs had been able to
conquer the world, and how they had contributed to the world
civilization. Muhammad is the Prophet and Messenger of God. God
delivered him his message to humanity. This divine message is the
Holy Qur’ān. For instance, Marlowe amazes his Elizabethan audience
with this description of Qur’ānic God, suggested to be taken
assertively as the same Christian Godhead. He speaks marvellously of
the oneness of God, declaring: ‘The God that sits in heaven.../ For
he is God alone, and none but he’ (Part II, 5.1.199-200). Carleen
Ibrahim (1996) remarks that ‘Marlowe means the verse of Ayat Al-Kursi
(Throne), a great verse in the Noble Qur’ān (2.255) (40). The verse
means the equivalent significance which Marlowe puts across the
depiction to his Christian spectators:
He that sits on high and never sleep,
Nor in one place is circumscriptible,
But everywhere fills every continent,
With strange infusion of his sacred vigour. (Part II, 2.2.49-52)
The verse means that the throne of Allah in the sky includes all
things, world, planets and skies. The following is the verse:
Allah! There is no god but He, - the Living, the Self-Subsisting
Supporter of all. No slumber can seize Him, nor sleep. His are all
things in the heavens and on earth. Who can intercede in His
presence except as He permits? He knows what (approaches His
creatures) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass
aught of His knowledge except as He wills. His throne extends over
the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and
preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory). (Qur’ān,
Many Europeans and Englishmen embraced Islam in the Elizabethan
time. Benjamin Bishop, the English ambassador in Egypt in 1606, was
an educated, wealthy and successful person who took an interest in
Islam as a religion (Matar, 1988: 226). Therefore, converts to Islam
grew in number that made Europeans not so strange in the Islamic
World. The Elizabethan Captain Ward was extensively known in England
to have accomplished power and wealth as a Muslim, and "the
rumours of Ward's riches" were so gorgeous that they captured the
imagination of adventurers. In fact, reports from the Barbary
coastline included the surname of Sir Francis Verney, a member of
the English nobility-as having joined Ward and turned Turk, a Muslim
(Chew, 1937: 441).
The term ‘turn Turk', is applied by Elizabethans to signify a change
entirely for the worse. The original inspiration was to turn into a
renegade of Christianity and embrace Islam. In Shakespeare, Hamlet
gives the same sense; ‘ If the rest of my fortunes turn
Turk’(3.2.262). The source of this phrase, ‘turn Turk', is told in a
story for Thomas Saunders. He was one of the ship's companies and
captured by Tripoliten pirates. A Frenchman in the crew “protested
to turne Turke, hoping thereby to have safe his life. Then, said the
Turke, if thou wilt turne Turke, speak the words that thereunto
belong (that is the declaration of that ‘There is no God by Allah,
and Muhammad is His Messenger'): and he did so. Then, said they unto
him, now thou shalt die in the faith of a Turke and so he did.” This
byword was very frequent in the factual sense of embracing Islam, as
when a Muslim Commander asks in Thomas Kyd's Soliman and Perseda:
"What say these prisoners? Will they turn Turke or not?" (III. v,
26-23). Kyd reports about Turkish forces enforced massive conversion
of Christians into Islam. He mistakenly thinks that they will
worship Muhammad (1950).
Hath Brusor led a valiant troope of Turkes,
And made some Christians kneele to Mahomet:
Him we adore, and in his name I crie,
Mahomet for me and Soliman. (I, iii, 60-63)
The play A Christian Turn’d Turk (1612) is an initiative story of
one of the Elizabethan elite, Captain Ward, who converted to Islam
and became politically a pro-Turk. As a result, the expression ‘Turn
a Turk’ was frequently used in Elizabethan literature. This common
idiom was also in use up to the early eighteenth century literature.
It was employed chiefly for hammering disrespect and hatred is
‘Turk’, used regularly by Shakespeare in Othello (II, i, 114),
Hamlet (III, ii, 275), King Lear (III, iv, 91), 2 Henry IV (V, ii,
47), Richard II (IV, I, 95), Richard III (III, v, 40), The Merchant
of Venice (IV, i, 32) and Much Ado About Nothing (III, iv, 56). For
instance, Othello uses the phrase as he denounces a fight between
his soldiers in which a quarrel among Turks is forbidden in their
religion: ‘Are we turned Turks, and to ourselves do that\Which
heaven hat forbid the Ottomites?’ (2.3.161-2). As well, Iago says:
‘Nay, it is true, or else I am a Turk’ (2.1.141).
It might be appropriate here to refer to the quality and number of
people, who embraced Islam. The major conversion Elizabethan stories
are in Soliman and Perseda, A Christian Turn’d Turk, The Fair Maid
of the West, Othello and The Renegado. Those who convert to
Christianity in these plays are the good and the gracious
commanders, sultan, or princess among their own people while those
who convert to Islam, in contrast, are the unlucky and slaves,
fools, or slaves among their fellows. While the new Muslims are
damned and punished for their apostasy, the new Christian converters
are prized, blessed and saved by the end of the play.
There is no reference or investigation on conversions and accounts
of converters. However, the power of Islam is not only military, but
it is also commercial. Islamic business rules practiced by Muslims
in the world such as central of Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, led
peoples to embrace Islam. In Europe, Europeans had less interest in
Islam as they lived in the threat of the Islamic Ottoman Empire.
However, some writers hold an antagonistic attitude towards Muslims.
For example, Marlowe seems to be familiar with the Qur’ānic
teachings. Marlowe’s offensive utterances about the Qur’ān do not
rest on any academic source. To a certain extent, it shows,
accidentally, the lack of his understanding of Islam. His remarks
are based on the inaccurate paraphrases available in European
languages. As far as Elizabethan writers were quite apprehensive,
they had three translations of the Qur’ān, Marracci’s (1538) in
Latin and Sieur Du Ryer’s (1647) in French and Alexander Ross’s
(1649) in English. They, however, called it the Saracen Alcoran.
Islam and Muslims were viewed within their limited, rather
incomplete understanding of the Islamic world.
Burning the Qur’an
Marlowe’s reference to the Qur’ān and the Prophet Muhammad is
remarkable in the two parts of the play. Marlowe seems to be
familiar with the Islamic Scripture and its teachings. In the second
part of the play, Tamburlaine, Marlowe frequently insulted the
Prophet. Subsequently, the last act is a public burning scene of the
Qur’ān. Marlowe calls it the 'Turkish Alcoran' to attack the Turkish
pride as he feels the imperial Turkish threat to Christendom.
However, at the end, Marlowe’s Tamburlaine persistently burnt the
Qur’ān with disgust for it. This public burning scene of the Qur’ān
is a bizarre. However, to burn Qur’ān, Marlowe unjustly degrades it
and misrepresents the Prophet Muhammad. His attack on Islam is
regarded as a natural attack on the infidel enemy and his theology.
A simple Christian spectator rather a critic will not accept to see
the burning event happen to the Bible than to accuse the author of
Marlowe’s hero, Tamburlaine orders his soldiers to collect the
copies of the Qur’ān from the Islamic temples. He identifies that
this book is of the real enemy of Elizabethans. Tamburlaine's
burning of the Qur’ān is regarded as a sign of Christian power and
victory. The Qur’ānic biblioclasm on London stage was bizarre. The
huge flames and vaunting speeches of Tamburlaine draw an earthly
hell for Muslims in the Middle East, which has no limits. It seems
the end of the Islamic World.
Now, Casane, where's the Turkish Alcoran,
And all the heaps of superstitious books
Found in the temples of that Mahomet
Whom I have thought a god? They shall be burnt. (Part II, 5.1.171-4)
Tamburlaine asks the Prophet Muhammad to take revenge from him just
to mock him. He has continued ordering homicide for the Prophet’s
kinsmen, fellows and scholars. Tamburlaine overwhelmingly slew
Muslims. In a remarkable pause in his speech, he comments that he is
alive and ‘untouched by’ the Prophet Muhammad. Tamburlaine defies
the Prophet for not saving Qur’ān from the devastating burning. He
Now Mahomet, if thou have any power:
Come down thyself and work a miracle’
Thou art not worthy to be worshipped
That suffer'st flames of fire to burn the writ
Wherein the sum of thy religion rests:
Why send'st thou not a furious whirlwind down,
To blow thy Alcoran up to thy throne. (Part II, 5.1.185-191)
Marlowe’s Tamburlaine is an exciting Elizabethan play. Though it is
an Oriental play, it is made for Christian audience. The Qur’ān,
therefore, has been quite often and seriously misunderstood in
Europe. This derogatory treatment betrays the Marlowe’s lack of
understanding of Islam in general and the Qur’ān in particular.
Despite the fact that several performances of the play recently
replace the copies of the Qur’ān by irreligious books, the English
Christian Tamburlaine is imaginatively known as the Qur’ān burner in
the English literature. By burning the Qur’ān, Marlowe seems to
think that the Qur’ānic law is entirely demolished.
In English literature, blasphemy is the end of the devotion of most
Muslim characters and their fate is Hell and contemptuous for the
majority of Muslims. For instance, Robert Baron portrays in his play
Mirza, the prince of Persia, insults the Qur’ān, calls it ‘a Fardel
of Blasphemies, Rabbinical Fables, Impossibilities and
contradictions’ (Chew, 1937: 439). The lack of interest in Islamic
religious practices marks the failure to even the twentieth century
Christians to recognize any end of spiritual life in Islam, though
this does not apply evenly to all aspects. Elizabethan writers had
nothing about Islam except deformity and blackness. The Qur’ān has
been seriously misapprehended in England as well. Though Islam
emerged in the light of history, Europeans did not know much more
about the Prophet and laws of Islam. Therefore, writers have been
attacking Islam on this modernist and historical ground, though not
very systematically. Recently, a Pastor of a monitory church in
Florida, Terry Jones (1942), works publically to put the Qur’ān on a
ridiculous trial in his own church to irrationally and personally
burn it. In news reports, when he was questioned about his knowledge
of the Qur’ān by a court, he said that he had heard that it
resembles Mosaic Law.
The Qur’ān as a Source of Law
At this period and in the past time, Mohammad is described as the
great lawgiver, and the wisest legislator that ever was. The
Qur’ānic law is deeply rooted in the Islamic world's culture and
religion. The Qur’ān perfectly has no comparable scripture in other
religions. Sale’s interpretation (1635) of the Qur’ān remained until
today a standard work. He was carried by the current of his age in
portraying the Prophet as an imposter, but on the other hand, he
proved some neutral and objective attitude in some places to the
extent that he was charged with putting Islam on a rank with
Christianity. Consequently, the failure to comprehend this leads the
Europeans persistently to compare Christ and Prophet Muhammad and
nothing marks more manifestly the gap between Islamic and European
thought. Daniel states that the translation of Peter was scholarly
and notoriously full of errors (1966: 33). Non-Muslims have not
realized that the Qur’ān describes itself as a copy from a heavenly
prototype, so that it is unlike anything known to Christianity.
Kyd describes the Qur’ān as holy and sacred in Soliman and Perseda.
He recognizes it ‘holy’ Qur’ān and his characters such as Sultan
Soliman of Turkey ‘swears’ by the holy Alcoran’. (I, v, 7) On the
other hand, Nashe has denigrated the Great Qur’ān. He approves of
the West’s general hostility towards Islam. Nash writes about
‘Mahomet’s angles in the Alchoran having ‘ears’ ‘stretching from one
End of heaven to the other’; and whose real shape covered the sky.
Nashe, scornfully, speaks about the Qur’ān as ‘it is written that
two-hundred fifty ladies, hanged themselves for love of Mahomet,\
Have with you to saffron-Walden’ (iii,33). On his treatment of
Qur’ānic issues, he repeats a number of mistakes that had already
been passed from one writer to another. Much of his aggravation with
Holy Qur’ān states from his lack of knowledge but the nature of its
According to John Bale (1495-1563), one of the champions who
reformed England, believes that “the Magog,” against whom Jesus
warned his believers, is none other than that "tyrant" Muhammad
whose Qur’ān is ‘a mean law’ and designed to seduce men by
encouraging vice and "voluptuous pleasures". It might be mentioned
that Muhammad’s partner in deceiving people in the four quarters of
the earth was, none other than the "Romish Pope", who was identified
as God (Bale, 1949: 569-72). David Lindsay (1490-1555), reflecting
one of the religious attacks, says that there are many Antichrists
on earth but none more harmful than Muhammad and his Law:
Quha wes one greter Antichrist And more contraryous to Christ
Nor the fals Propheit Machomeit
Quilk his curste lawis maid so sweit? (V, 197-200)
In Soliman and Perseda, Sultan Soliman speaks admirably about
Erastus as a good citizen in Turkey. He compares his faith in Christ
as it is replaced by the faith in Muhammad for Muslims.
A man whose presence more delighted me;
And had he worshipt Mahomet for Christ,
He might haue borne me through out all the world,
So well I loued and honoured the man.( Act III, Sc. I 22-25)
In this connection of Muhammad as a devil, one might add that the
Elizabethan Mahu or Maho, who appears as the general dictator or
prince of hell is alluded to in Shakespeare’s King Lear (III, iv,
140). Greene’s The Tragicall Raigne of Selimus, Emperour of the
Turkes describes the Qur’an as ‘farced’ and ‘dread laws’
(V.1170-1698). In another picture, Chapman states in his Arabian
play Revenge for Honour that the Qur’ān is a source of moral law. It
forbids drinking wine. He depicts the religious sins. Muslim commits
a great sin in taking sip or a glass of it. Selinthus informs
Gaselles about this creed:
By no means, though by the Alkoran wine be forbidden,
You soldiers in that case make't not your faith. (II, I, 378-380)
This information is frequently reoccurred to misuse the truth for a
new convert to Islam to scorn and to approve of the irrationality of
Islam. Massinger’s heroine (1976), Donusa in The Renegado, a niece
of the Ottoman Emperor, falls in love with Vitelli, a Venetian
slave, at first sight. She regularly invites him to visit her in her
chamber. Vitelli amuses Donusa’s attractiveness. Later on, Donusa’s
sexual relationship with Vitelli is discovered the people in the
court. Mustapha informs Donusa that ‘The Crime committed,\ Our
Alcoran calls Death’ for it (i.ii). The Ottoman Emperor, Amurath,
declares a suitable punishment for his niece’s sexual liaison with a
Christian in accordance with the laws of the “Alcoran:” Donusa must
If any virgin of what degree or quality so ever, born a natural
Turk, shall be convicted of corporal looseness and incontinence with
any Christian, she is, by the decree of our great prophet, Mahomet,
to lose her head . . . (4.2.313).
Harrie Cavendish, an Englishman who visited Constantinople in 1589,
notes; ‘No Christian man may have to do with a Turkish woman, but
she shall die for it if it be known, but a Turk may have as many
Christian women as he will’ (Vitkus, 2000: 42). Besides, Sandys
stresses that Muslim women believed their way of life in compliance
with the “Alcoran.” There were frequent accounts of Ottoman’s secret
love affairs, polygamy, and harem-filled concubines. The play
inspires Sandys’s reports, for Donusa proclaims, “our religion
allows all pleasure” (1.2.49-50).
On the other hand, Dryden’s Oriental play introduces an Islamic
theology in looking at God in paradise ‘O holy Alla that I live to
see’. In Don Sebastian, Dryden represents Sultan Almanzor ‘swear[s]
on the Alcoran’ (5, 191). Dryden talks about ‘fasting’ as an Islamic
‘law,’ and the same law ‘forbids to wed a Christian’ which is in the
Qur’ān (2: 221; 60:10). In his Hind and the Panther (1687), he
speaks derisively of Arabs not practicing their faith and of their
violation of the Islamic prohibition of wine in “Astraeu Redux”
(1660). A similar polemical scene is in the opening words of the
High Marshal of Rhodes in Davenant’s first English opera, The Siege
of Rhodes (1656): “My sword against proud Solyman I draw,\ His
cursed Prophet, and his sensual law” (iii, 212-213f).
To sum up, the Turkish Islamic law was unfamiliar in Europe.
Shelly’s The Revolt of Islam is a revolt poem against the Ottoman
Empire. He implicitly calls to free eastern parts of Greece from
Turkey. In Hellas: A Lyrical Drama, he seeks to have ‘a Diverse,
learned in the Koran, preaches, \ That it is, written how the sins
of Islam/ Must raise up a destroyer even now’ (545-7). He states
that the ’Greeks expect a Savoir from the West’. It is neither
priesthood nor clergy provided with the Koran to serve Islamic
community. The conspiracy Shelly seeks is a destruction of Islam
from its inner faith. The idea fulfils two hundred years later when
Kamal Ataturk blocked Islamic Laws in Turkey in 1932. The Bible is
unlike the Qur’ān. Prophet Muhammad derives his significance from
the Qur’ān but the Bible derives its significance from Prophet
Jesus. Islam was often assimilated in practice to heresy. The
exploitation of false accounts to attack Islamic teachings was
universal. It was hazily echoed in the West. Prejudice over the Holy
Qur’ān is striking in many English writings.
In conclusion, the Qur’ān has been so often and so critically
misunderstood in Elizabethan England. Elizabethan writers get to
know from travel books how Muslims revere Qur’ān. Therefore,
Elizabethan playwrights like Dryden’s Oriental plays contain
Qur’ānic theology. In the second half of the seventeenth century,
the political power of the Turkish Empire continued in declining.
Islamic lands became more and more reachable by Europeans.
Elizabethan travelers and residents of some Islamic Countries made
very useful records and observations about Islam. During this era,
some scholars treated Islam as an equal match for Christianity. Some
Elizabethan writers exploit their own literary interests in the
The Qur’ān is represented as a respected book in Elizabethan
literary works. Though the burning of the Qur’ān in Marlowe is a
symbol to attack the concept of religion, the representation of the
Qur’ān in general remains holy. A critic can easily analyse the
Elizabethan tradition of the depiction the Turks and the Turkish
Sultans which does not include the Qur’ān in the distortion. On this
literary level, throughout all ages, some English authors conclude
that Qur’ān contains many teachings of the ancient divine books.
However, these teachings are valid to the human life - past and
present. For them, Prophet Muhammad has no innovative or original
message. Therefore, for non-Muslims, his mission is rejected, and he
is a 2bogus prophet. The anti-Islamic information scarcely expressed
against the Prophet and the Qur’ān. Nevertheless, Peter’s Latin
translation of the Koran played an important role for the next four
centuries and was used for an Italian translation in 1557, which in
its turn led Sale in 1716 interwove the English mindset up to the
recent days. Elizabethan writers portray rebellious blasphemy in a
statement of the Turkish Sultan who expresses his fury over his
Islamic belief. Their attack on Islam is regarded as a natural
attack on the infidel enemy and his theology.
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