Goethe and Islam
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is the greatest German poet. Hewas also a scientist and a local politician.As a young man Goethe wanted to study oriental studies - but his father finally wanted him to study law; he always admired the first travellers toArabia (Michaelis, Niebuhr), he was fascinated by it and read everything theypublished about their trips. In 1814/15 at the time of his "Divan" Goethetrained himself with the professors for oriental studies Paulus, Lorsbach andKosegarten (University of Jena) in reading and writing Arabic. After looking athis Arabic manuscripts and having known about the Qur'an, Goethe felt agreat yearning to learn
. He copied short Arabic Du'as by himself andwrote:
"In no other language spirit, word and letter are embodied in sucha primal way."
(Letter to Schlosser, 23.1.1815, WA IV, 25, 165)At the age of 70 Goethe writes (Notes and Essays to the Divan, WA I, 17,153) that he intends to "
celebrate respectfully that night when the Prophetwas given the Koran completely from above
". He also wrote: "No one maywonder about the great efficiency of the Book. That is why it has beendeclared as uncreated by real admirers" and added to it: "
This book willeternally remain highly efficacious/effective
" (WA I, 7, 35/36)Still today we have the handwritten manuscripts of his first intensive Qur'an-studies of 1771/1772 and the later ones in the Goethe and Schiller-Archive inWeimar. Goethe read the German translation of Qur'an by J. v. Hammer (possibly as well from the more prosaic English translation of G. Sale) outloud in front of members of the Duke's family in Weimar and their guests.Being witnesses the other great German poet and Goethe's friend FriedrichSchiller and his wife reported about the reading. (Schiller's letter to Knebel,22.2.1815) Goethe always felt the shortcomings of all the translations (Latin,English, German and French) and was constantly looking for newtranslations. In his "Divan" Goethe says:
"Whether the Koran is of eternity?I don't question that!...That it is the book of booksI believe out of the muslim's duty."
"Ob der Koran von Ewigkeit sei?Darnach frag' ich nicht ! ...Daß er das Buch der Bücher seiGlaub' ich aus Mosleminen-Pflicht"(WA I, 6, 203)