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Published by: Humza on Jun 14, 2011
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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)
He studied Arabic handbooks, grammars, travel-books, poetry, anthologies,books on the sira of the Prophet Muhammad - may Allah bless him and givehim peace! - and had a widespread exchange with oriental scholars aboutthese matters. Goethe liked the German translation of Hafis' "Diwan" byHammer (May 1814) and studied the different translations of Qur'an of histime. All of this inspired him to write his own "West-östlicher Divan" and of course many poems of the "Divan" are clearly inspired by and relate todifferent Ayats of Qur'an.Goethe bought original Arabic manuscripts of Rumi, Dschami, Hafis, Saadi,Attar, Qur'an-Tafsir, Du'as, an Arabic-Turkish dictionary, texts on matters likethe freeing of slaves, buying and selling, interest, usury and Arabian scriptsfrom Sultan Selim.In his "West-Eastern Divan" (published 1816), a book of poetry, inspired bythe Persian poet Hafiz and other world-famous Muslim writers, Goetherefuses the christian view of Jesus – peace be upon him - and confirms theunity of Allah in a poem of his "Divan":"
Jesus felt pure and calmly thoughtOnly the One God;Who made himself to be a godOffends his holy will.And thus the right(ness) has to shineWhat Mahomet also achieved;Only by the term of the OneHe mastered the whole world
""Jesus fühlte rein und dachteNur den Einen Gott im Stillen;Wer ihn selbst zum Gotte machteKränkte seinen heil'gen Willen.Und so muß das Rechte scheinenWas auch Mahomet gelungen;Nur durch den Begriff des EinenHat er alle Welt bezwungen."(WA I, 6, 288 ff)Beside Jesus – peace be upon him - and Muhammad - may Allah bless himand give him peace! - in the following verses Goethe also names Abraham,Moses and David – peace be upon them - as the representatives of theOneness of God (Tauhid). It is a known fact that Goethe felt a strong dislikefor the symbol of the cross. In his "Divan" he wrote:
"And now you come with a sign ...which among all others I mostly dislike.All this modern nonsense You are going to bring me to Schiras!Should I, in all its stiffness,Sing of two crossed wooden pieces?"
"Und nun kommst du, hast ein ZeichenDran gehängt, das unter allen ...Mir am schlechtesten will gefallenDiese ganze moderne NarrheitMagst du mir nach Schiras bringen!Soll ich wohl, in seiner Starrheit,Hölzchen quer auf Hölzchen singen?..."Und sogar noch stärker:"Mir willst du zum Gotte machenSolch ein Jammerbild am Holze!"Also in his late novel „Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre/Wilhelm Meister's yearsof travel“ (1829) Goethe quite frankly wrote that it is a "cursed insolence ... toplay with secrets that are hidden in the divine depth of suffering" One shouldrather "cover it with a veil". Finally, in the poem of the „Seven Sleepers“ of his"Divan"
Goethe calls Jesus a prophet
: "Ephesus for many years/ Honoursthe teaching of the Prophet Jesus. (Peace be upon the good one!)" (WA I, 6,269)Goethe is fascinated by Saadi's metaphor of the "fly in love" flying into thelight where it dies as the image for the Muslim who loves God. See hereespecially the poem of the "Divan" about the butterfly flying into the light"Blissful yearning / Selige Sehnsucht" whose earlier titles were "Sacrifice of the self /Selbstopfer" and "Perfection/Vollendung". In the chapter about RumiGoethe acknowledges the invocation of God/Allah and the blessing of it:"Already the so-called mahometan rosary [prayer-beeds] by which the nameAllah is glorified with ninety-nine qualities is such a praise litany. Affirmingand negating qualities indicate the inconceivable Being [Wesen]; theworshipper is amazed, submits and calms down." (WA I, 7, 59)Goethe considered it not to be a mere accident but rather as meaningfulincidents, in fact as part of his decree and signs of God, when:- in autumn 1813 he was brought an old Arabic handwritten manuscript fromSpain by a German soldier coming from Spain which contained the last SuratAn-Nas (114). Later Goethe tried to copy it himself with the help of theprofessors in Jena who had helped him in finding out the manuscript'scontent

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