Thomas Carlyle, Karen Armstrong, John Davenport and Prof. Laura Veccia Vaglieri

· Islam

Misinformation, medieval and prejudicial information abounds, when it comes to Islam in the West. So, I thought it is necessary for me to suggest some Christian sources of information, where readers could get ‘fair and balanced’ information, rather than vitriolic propaganda against Islam and its founder.

To have a more reasonable and modern paradigm to review Islam, I suggest that researchers should start with the writings of Thomas Carlyle, Karen Armstrong and John Davenport.
Carlyle has been introduced in some detail in a recent Muslim publication.
Carlyle wrote:
“I confess I can make nothing of the critics in these times, who would accuse Mohammed of deceit prepense; of conscious deceit, and writing this Koran as a forger and a juggler would have done.  Every candid eye, I think, will read the Koran far otherwise than so.”[1]
The first book of Carlyle that I want to suggest here is:
On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle (available on
Thomas Carlyle (4 December 1795 – 5 February 1881)

Thomas Carlyle (4 December 1795 – 5 February 1881)

A few short quotes from his book:

How one man single-handedly, could weld warring tribes and Bedouins into a most powerful and civilized nation in less than two decades?

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 in earnest. He was to kindle the world; the Worlds Maker had ordered so.

Karen Armstrong had written a biography of the Prophet Muhammad before September 11th and that is a much better and accurate account of history than the second biography, more recently published in 2007:
Karen Armstrong: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong (Paperback – Dec 3, 2001)
In this she has a chapter examining early Christian-Muslim relationship and I have some quotes from that chapter in my article, ‘Tear Down the Spanish Wall.’

A recent convert to Islam in Netherland, Abdul Haq Compier wrote an article, examining Christian-Muslim relationship in the sixteenth century.  He introduces his article with these words:

“Religious tolerance may seem very self-evident to the modern reader, who is educated to believe that tolerance is one of the fundamental values upon which Europe was built. However, up until the 16th century, religious tolerance was not seen anywhere in Europe. Ever since the Roman Empire, Christian rulers governed by the phrase ‘One Empire, One Law, One Faith.’ Christian theology regarded Christ as the only way to salvation, and the Church as the only way to Christ. Disbelievers were regarded to be exempted from salvation, and hence criminals, ‘children of Satan.’ The Church argued that it was the responsibility of the ruler to cleanse the community of corruption, or he would be held responsible. When persecutions became unbearable, Christians looked to Islam for help.”
For the rest of his article go to, Alislam.
In his article he has several quotes from Karen Armstrong’s book, ‘Jerusalem,’ especially pertaining to the second Muslim Caliph, Hadhrat Umar.

Minaret of Mosque of Umar next to the Church of Holy Sepulcher

Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) personally participated in cleaning of the Temple Mount which had been made into a garbage dump for the town at that time.
In his book  An apology for Mohammed and the Koran, John  Davenport has a chapter dedicated to refuting four different allegations  against the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.  In the beginning  of the chapter he makes a list of the four allegations that he is going to  defend:
The charges brought against Mohammed are reducible to four, as follows  :—
I. The promulgating a new and false religion as a revelation from God, it  being, on the contrary, but a mere invention of his own, for the purpose of  gratifying his ambition and lust.
II. That Mohammed propagated his religion by the sword, thereby causing an  enormous waste of human blood and a vast amount of human misery.
III. The sensual character of his Paradise as described in the Koran.
IV. The encouragement he has given to licentiousness by legalizing  Polygamy.
Below I have quoted some parts from that chapter:
Is it possible to conceive, we may ask, that the man who directed such  great and lasting reforms in his own country by substituting the worship of the  one only true God for the gross and debasing idolatry in which his countrymen  had been plunged for ages; who abolished infanticide, prohibited the use of  spirituos liquors and games of chance (those sources of moral depravity),  who restricted within comparatively narrow limits the unrestrained polygamy  which he found in existence and practice—can we, we repeat, conceive so great  and zealous a reformer to have been a mere impostor, or that his whole career  was one of sheer hypocrisy? Can we imagine that his divine mission was a mere  invention of his own of whose falsehood he was conscious throughout? No, surely,  nothing but a consciousness of really righteous intentions could have carried  Mohammed so steadily and constantly without ever flinching or wavering, without  ever betraying himself to his most intimate connections and companions, from his  first revelation to Khadijah to his last agony in the arms of Ayesha.

Surely a good and sincere man, full of confidence in his Creator, who makes  an immense reform both in faith and practice, is truly a direct instrument in  the hands of God, and may be said to have a commission from Him. Why may  not Mohammed be recognized, no less than other faithful, though imperfect  servants of God, as truly a servant of God, serving him faithfully though  imperfectly? Why may it not be believed that he was, in his own age and country,  a preacher of truth and righteousness sent to teach his own people the unity and  righteousness of God, to give them civil and moral precepts suited to their  condition.

The Muslims, however, believe that the Prophet Muhammad did serve his God  perfectly.  Having said that, any Muslim cannot but help being grateful to  John Davenport for his eloquence in the defense of Islam.

In another place John Davenport beautifully explains that the religion  of Islam is a continuation of the religion of all the previous  prophets:

It has also been objected that Mohammed, while pretending not to deliver any  new religion to the Arabians, but only to revive that old one which God had  revealed to Abraham, and Abraham had delivered to Ishmael, the founder of their  nation, actually did found a new religion, and, consequently, spake that which  was false. But, if that only be a new religion which differs from the former in  the object of its worship, and the moral duties imposed by it, then, certainly  neither that of Moses, nor that of Jesus Christ, nor that of Mohammed, were new  religions. That of Moses was no more than the renewal and enforcement by laws of  that religion which Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael professed, and  which was to adore the one only God, and Him to love and obey with their whole  soul, and to practise those moral duties which the necessity of human  society as well as the will of God imposed upon mankind. Thus, Jesus Christ  tells us that to love God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves was  the whole law and the prophets, that is, that Moses and the prophets taught  the Israelites a religion which entirely consisted in the love and adoration of  one eternal God, and an extensive love of one another; and hence the doctrine of  Jesus Christ himself was not new, but the same that Moses had taught before,  with this only difference, that our moral duties to one another were  commanded with more force than before, and this admirable and divine  rule set down, by which the meanest and most ignorant of mankind might know with  almost certainty when he offended against these moral duties and when not, as  the precept ’do unto others as you would they should do unto you’ clearly  shows.

At the appearance of Jesus, the Jews inhabiting Judea were extremely  corrupt in their morals, and a criminal self love and egotism having been  long spread among them, both priests and people, there was nothing to  be found but avarice, rapine, injustice and oppression, for, placing their  righteousness in the rigid observance of some ceremonies and formulas of  religion, they had entirely lost its real substance. To restore this seems to  have been the whole aim, drift and design of the mission of Christ,  for to that all his doctrines plainly tend—a consideration sufficient to  show that the Christian religion in its foundation was but the renewing of that  of Moses. The business of Mohammed was not only to enforce moral doctrines, but  also to establish the adoration of one God, for the people among whom  it was his lot to be cast were gone vastly astray in both; it was,  therefore, his intent to revive the religion of Ishmael the founder of his  nation—namely, the worship of one God; and this is enough to prove that Mohammed  did but speak the truth when he told the Arabians that he did not preach to them  a new religion, but only the ancient one which their forefather Ishmael had  proposed many ages before.

He goes on to painting a beautiful picture of the Prophet of Islam, as he  writes:

Mohammed, then, was doubtless fully convinced of his own mission, as well as  that in the name of God, and in the character of his Apostle he wrought a great,  albeit perhaps an imperfect reform, in his own country. Nor was his belief in  his own mission ill founded. Through mockery and persecution the Prophet kept  unflinchingly his path; no threats, no injuries hinder him from still preaching  to his people the unity and the righteousness of God, and exhorting to a far  better and purer morality than had ever up to his time been set before them. He  claimed no temporal power, no spiritual domination, he asked but for simple  toleration, free permission to win men by persuasion into the way of truth. He  required that men should do justice and love mercy, and walk humbly before their  God, and, as the sanction of all, he taught that there will be a  resurrection of the dead as well of the just and the unjust.

Compare Mohammed with his own degenerate followers, with Timour at Ispahan,  and Nadir Shah at Delhi, with the wretches who, in our times, have desolated  Chios and Cyprus, and Kassandra. The entry of an Eastern victor is ordinarily  the signal for murder and massacre alike of the armed and unarmed, of the  innocent and the guilty. Mohammed had his wrongs to avenge, but they are  satisfied by a handful of exceptions to a general amnesty, and the  majority, even of these, are ultimately forgiven. It is the temple of God  desecrated by idols, which he had come to ransom. With the sublime  words, ‘Truth is come, let falsehood disappear,’ he shivers, in  succession, the 360 abominations which were standing erect, in the holy place,  and his work once accomplished, he did not, like his victorious namesake, in  later times, fix his throne in the city he had won. He reared no palace for his  own honour by the side of the temple which he had recovered to the honour of  God. The city of his fathers, the metropolis of his race, the shrine of his  religion, was again deserted for his humble dwelling among those who had stood  by him in the day of trial.

For refutation of the other three charges by John Davenport read  pages 141-161 of the book, not the PDF file.

Prof. Laura Veccia Vaglieri contributed several articles to the Encyclopedia of Islam. She was a pioneer of Arabic and Islamic studies in Italy, Veccia Vaglieri served as professor at the Naples Eastern University and was the author of books on the historical and institutional analysis of the Arab and Muslim world.  She is certainly deserving of joining an august list of Orientalists, who overcame their received biases and presented a positive picture of Islam and its Founder the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him!

The Muslim Times is making her book An Interpretation of Islam available online in PDF file and word file will soon follow.  Prof. Laura Veccia Vaglieri said about the unique beauty of the Holy Quran:

The miracle of Islam par excellence is the Quran, through which a constant and unbroken tradition transmits to us news of an absolute certainty. This is a book which cannot be imitated. Each of its expressions is a comprehensive one, and yet it is of proper size, neither too long nor too short. Its style is original. There is no model for this style in Arab literature of the times, preceding it. The effect which it produces on the human soul is obtained without any adventitious aid through its own inherent excellences. The verses are equally eloquent all through the text, even when they deal with topics, such as commandments and prohibitions, which must necessarily affect its tone. Stories of Prophets, descriptions of the beginning and the end of the world, enumerations and expositions of the divine attributes are repeated but repeated in a way which is so impressive that they do not weaken the effect. The text proceeds from one topic to another without losing its power. Depth and sweetness, qualities which generally do not go together, are found together here, where each rhetoric figure finds a perfect application. How could this marvelous book be the work of Muhammad, an illiterate Arab who in all his life composed only two or three verses, none of which reveals the least poetic quality?

She also wrote about human equality in Islam in this book. She states:

Islam, which has never made any distinction of race or colour among men, which considered the white and the black, the nomad and the settled farmer, the ruler and the subject as all alike, not only in theory but also in practice (and as a matter of fact in the tent, in the palace, in the mosque, in the market, they all mingled together without reserve and with no sign of contempt or arrogance towards each other), never countenanced any humiliating treatment for slaves. Is it not fitting to remember here, while talking of the social equality imposed by Islam, the beautiful episode of King Jabale, who, having become a Muslim, went in great state to Makkah. While he was making the ritual tour around the Ka’bah, he struck a Bedouin who had accidentally trodden on his rich mantle. The Caliph Umar ruled that he was to receive a similar blow from the Bedouin because in Islam all men are alike. Jabale refused to submit to this and that very night he left with his five hundred knights and went straight to Byzantium where he became a Christian. Many years later, in the midst of honours and riches, the memories of Islam still filled his eyes with tears.

History furnishes many examples of slaves to whom high and honourable positions were given (among others, Bilal, who, because of his beautiful voice was accorded the high honour of being the first muezzin in Islam) and of freedmen who occupied high government positions, even rising to the Caliphate.

Laura Veccia Vaglieri (1893 – 1989) was an Italian orientalist.  Her works include

  1. A textbook on the grammar of the Arabic language (Grammatica teorico-pratica della lingua araba (Istituto per l’Oriente, Rome, 1937, 2 voll.))
  2. Apologia dell’ Islamismo (Rome, A. F. Formiggini, 1925). An Interpretation of Islam. Zurich: Islamic Foundation. Translated from Italian by Dr. Aldo Caselli, Haverford College, Pennsylvania. 1980.
  3. A synthesis on the classical Islam (L’Islam da Maometto al secolo XVI, in: Storia Universale (dir. Ernesto Pontieri), Milan, F. Vallardi, 1963))

and a number of articles on the early Islam. She also contributed several articles to the Encyclopaedia of Islam.

The back cover of her book, an interpretation of Islam states:

The Prophet Muhammad at God’s behest, called men to the worship of one God and proclaimed that, by responding to this call, mankind would achieve true dignity, honour, prosperity and happiness. Within an astonishingly brief period, and over vast areas which were in the grip of ignorance, darkness and confusion were finally dispelled, order was established and all manner of beneficent institutions sprang into life, a high moral order was set up and the blessings of knowledge, learning and science began to be widely diffused. The strength of this message was its crystal clear simplicity and marvelous easiness, for Islam reached out to the soul of the people without having recourse to long explanations and involved sermons. Thanks to this message, bringing the ideals of tauhid, resalat, peace and harmony, paganism in its various forms was defeated, and human dignity finally became a reality.

Islam taught right thinking, proper action and honest speaking, and for these reasons it found its way, without any difficulty, into both the minds and hearts of men.


  1. This quote is mentioned on the title of John Davenport’s book, An apology for Mohammed and the Koran, available in and Google books.
  2. John Davenport. An apology for Mohammed and the Koran. London, 1869. Pages 138-139.
  3. John Davenport. An apology for Mohammed and the Koran. London, 1869. Pages 140-141.
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