French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's Islam

Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah

Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the greatest military genius in history. He conquered much of
Europe and became the emperor of France from 1804 to 1815. He centralized the French
government, established the Bank of France and introduced the Napoleon Code to reform the
French law. Finally his army was defeated by the allied forces and he was imprisoned by the
British on the remote Atlantic Ocean island of St. Helena. He died there on May 5, 1821.
Napoleon very much appreciated Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He studied the Qur’an
as well as the life of Prophet Muhammad and appropriated that knowledge to realize his world
ambitions. He converted to Islam and took the name of “Ali Bonaparte.” He was a student of
oriental history in general and Islamic history in particular. Ziad Elmarsafy observes that “There
are few more momentous “applications” of European learning about Islam than Napoleon’s
invasion of Egypt… A learned man, Napoleon embodied the relationship between power and
Orientalists knowledge.” Napoleon’s military genius and successes owed much to his knowledge
of the Orient. Henry Laurens argues that “Bonaparte invented nothing, but he translated certain
simple principles of the totality of Oriental learning of his age better than anyone else.”
Napoleon studied the Orient especially the history of Islam and its Prophet with great
enthusiasm. Claude-Étienne Savary (1750–1788), who spent three years in Egypt (1776-1779)
and published his translation of the Qur’an in 1784, was one the main sources of Napoleon’s
knowledge of Islam. Savary admired the Prophet of Islam as a “rare genius aided by
circumstance.” To him “Mahomet was one of those extraordinary men who, born with superior
gifts, show up infrequently on the face of the earth to change it and lead mortals behind their
chariot. When we consider his point of departure and the summit of grandeur that he reached, we
are astonished by what human genius can accomplish under favorable circumstances.” Napoleon
wanted to be the same genius conqueror of the world. He wanted to be for the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries “what Muhammad had been to the seventh.” Therefore he could not accept
the slightest denigration of the Prophet. He admired Muhammad in the following words:
“Mahomet was a great man, an intrepid soldier; with a handful of men he triumphed at the battle
of Bender (sic); a great captain, eloquent, a great man of state, he revived his fatherland and
created a new people and a new power in the middle of the Arabian deserts.” Here Napoleon
refers to the Battle of Badar which was fought in the second year of Prophetic migration to
Madinah.
Napoleon’s biographer Emmanuel-Augustin-Dieudonné-Joseph, count of Las Cases, reports that
Napoleon was unhappy with Voltaire’s dramatization and apparent denigration of Muhammad in
his play “Mahomet.” Napoleon, in the final years of his life, was exiled to the Island of St.
Helene. During these long years of forced exile he had the opportunity to reflect upon a series of
important issues. His conversations and memoir were recorded by a number of fellows including
the Count of Las Cases. In relating to conversations made in April of 1816, the Count of Las
Cases wrote:
"Mahomet was the subject of deep criticism. “Voltaire”, said the Emperor, “in the character and
conduct of his hero, has departed both from nature and history. He has degraded Mahomet, by
making him descend to the lowest intrigues. He has represented a great man who changed the
face of the world, acting like a scoundrel, worthy of the gallows. He has no less absurdly
traverstied the character of Omar, which he has drawn like that of a cut-throat in a melo-drama.
Voltaire committed a fundamental error in attributing to intrigue that which was solely the result
of opinion." Omar here refers to Omar bin al-Khattab who was the second caliph after Prophet
Muhammad.
Napoleon rejected the central theme of Voltaire’s play that Muhammad was a fanatic. He
observed that the rapid social changes and political victories which Prophet Muhammad realized
within a short span of time could not have been the result of fanaticism. “Fanaticism could not
have accomplished this miracle, for fanaticism must have had time to establish her dominion,
and the career of Mahomet lasted only thirteen years." General Baron Gourgaud, one of the
closest generals to Napoleon, gives almost identical accounts of Napoleon’s evaluations of
Voltaire’s play. Napoleon further observed that "Mohammed has been accused of frightful
crimes. Great men are always supposed to have committed crimes, such as poisonings; that is
quite false; they never succeed by such means."
Napoleon was a true admirer of both Prophet Muhammad and his religion. As an aspiring world
conqueror and legislator, Napoleon adopted Muhammad as his role model and claimed to be
walking in his footsteps. Before his military excursion to Egypt he advised his soldiers and
officers to respect the Muslim religion. “The people amongst whom we are going to live are
Mahometans. The first article of their faith is this: "There is no God but God, and Mahomet is his
prophet." Do not contradict them… Extend to the ceremonies prescribed by the Koran and to the
mosques the same toleration which you showed to the synagogues, to the religion of Moses and
of Jesus Christ.” In 1798 Napoleon landed in Egypt along with his strong army of fifty five
thousands to occupy Egypt and disrupt English trade route to India. He believed that “Whoever
is master of Egypt is master of India.”
He addressed the Egyptians employing traditional Islamic vocabulary of God’s unity and
universal mission of Prophet Muhammad. He publically confessed himself to be a true Muslim.
“In the name of God the Beneficent, the Merciful, there is no other God than God, he has neither
son nor associate to his rule. On behalf of the French Republic founded on the basis of liberty
and equality, the General Bonaparte, head of the French Army, proclaims to the people of Egypt
that for too long the Beys who rule Egypt insult the French nation and heap abuse on its
merchants; the hour of their chastisement has come. For too long, this rabble of slaves brought
up in the Caucasus and in Georgia tyrannizes the finest region of the world; but God, Lord of the
worlds, all-powerful, has proclaimed an end to their empire. Egyptians, some will say that I have
come to destroy your religion; this is a lie, do not believe it! Tell them that I have come to restore
your rights and to punish the usurpers; that I respect, more than do the Mamluks, God, his
prophet Muhammad and the glorious Qur'an... we are true Muslims. Are we not the one who has
destroyed the Pope who preached war against Muslims? Did we not destroy the Knights of
Malta, because these fanatics believed that God wanted them to make war against the Muslims?”
Humberto Garcia observes that Bonaparte promised “to restore egalitarian justice in Ottoman
Egypt under an Islamic republic based in Cairo.” The intended Islamic republic was to be based
upon the egalitarian laws of “the Prophet and his holy Koran.” Bonaparte casted himself as a
Muslim convert and took the Islamic name of “Ali”, the celebrated son in law and cousin of
Prophet Muhammad. He expressed his desire to establish a “uniform regime, founded on the
principles of the Qur’an, which are the only true ones, and which can alone ensure the well-being
of men.” Garcia further observes that “supposedly, the French came as deist liberators rather than
colonizing crusaders… and not to convert the population to Christianity…” Juan Cole states that
“The French Jacobins, who had taken over Notre Dame for the celebration of a cult of Reason
and had invaded and subdued the Vatican, were now creating Egypt as the world’s first modern
Islamic Republic.”
Throughout his stay in Egypt Napoleon used the Qur’anic verses and Ahadith (Prophetic reports)
in his proclamations to the Egyptians. “Tell your people that since the beginning of time God has
decreed the destruction of the enemies of Islam and the breaking of the crosses by my hand.
Moreover He decreed from eternity that I shall come from the West to the Land of Egypt for the
purpose of destroying those who have acted tyrannically in it and to carry out the tasks which He
set upon me. And no sensible man will doubt that all this is by virtue of God’s decree and will.
Also tell your people that the many verses of the glorious Qur’an announce the occurrence of
events which have occurred and indicate others which are to occur in the future…” Napoleon
used the Muslim apocalyptic vocabulary and tradition to convey his political motives. Ziad
observes that the “use of the Qur’an and Sunna in the remaining proclamations serves to
consolidate further the image of Napoleon as not only a follower of Muhammad, but a Mahdi
destined to conquer that region.” Napoleon truly infused his declarations with “an unprecedented
degree of Qur’anic allusion and auto-deification. No longer a mere exporter of the
Enlightenment, Napoleon is now the arm of God…”
Napoleon formed a “Directory” comprised of French officials, Cairo elites and Muslim clergy.
He patronized mosques and the madrassas, the centers of Qura’nic studies programs. He
participated and presided over the Muslim festivals and Egyptian holidays and “even tried
converting the French army to Islam legally without undergoing the Muslim practice of
circumcision and imposing the wine-drinking prohibition… Marriages between Frenchmen and
Muslims women were common, accompanied by formal conversion to Islam. Indeed, French
general Jacques Manou, governor of Rosetta, married a notable Egyptian woman of the Sharif
cast and changed his name to “Abdullah” (Servant of Allah).” Manuo was a senior French
general. He married Zubayda in the spring of 1799. “The adoption of an almost Catholic
discourse of piety in an Islamic guise by a French officer in Egypt could scarcely have been
foreseen by the Jacobins on the Directory and in the legislature who urged the invasion.”
Such a widespread conversion of French officers to Islam was not a blot out of the blue. Many of
them had already lost faith in Christianity. Just before the French Revolution Baron d‟Holbach
could write about Jesus and his Christianity in the following words: “A poor Jew, who pretended
to be descended from the royal house of David, after being long unknown in his own country,
emerges from obscurity, and goes forth to make proselytes. He succeeded amongst some of the
most ignorant part of the populace. To them he preached his doctrines, and taught them that he
was the son of God, the deliverer of his oppressed nation, and the Messiah announced by the
prophets. His disciples, being either imposters or themselves deceived, rendered a clamorous
testimony of his power, and declared that his mission had been proved by miracles without
number. The only prodigy that he was incapable of effecting, was that of convincing the Jews,
who, far from being touched by his beneficent and marvelous works, caused him to suffer an
ignominious death. Thus the Son of God died in the sight of all Jerusalem; but his followers
declare that he was secretly resuscitated three days after his death. Visible to them alone, and
invisible to the nation which he came to enlighten and convert to his doctrine, Jesus, after his
resurrection, say they, conversed some time with his disciples, and then ascended into heaven,
where, having again become the equal to God the Father, he shares with him the adorations and
homages of the sectaries of his law. These sectaries, by accumulating superstitions, inventing
impostures, and fabricating dogmas and mysteries, have, little by little, heaped up a distorted and
unconnected system of religion which is called Christianity, after the name of Christ its founder.”
The French Revolution ushered an era of de-Christianization of the French populace in general
and the French elites in particular. From 1789 to the Concordat of 1801, the Catholic Church, its
lands, properties, educational institutions, monasteries, churches, bishops and priests were all the
victims of the revolutionaries. The Church which owned almost everything that was not owned
by the monarchy in France was stripped of its lands, churches, schools, seminaries and all
privileges. The crosses, bells, statues, plates and every sign of Christianity including its
iconography were removed from the churches. On October 21, 1793, a law was passed that made
all clergy and those who harbored them liable to death on sight. Religion, which in the pre
modern old regime Europe meant Christianity with its multifarious branches and Churches, was
itself the target. The famous Notre Dame Cathedral was turned into the temple of the goddess
“Reason” on November 10, 1793.
Consequently, many French officers and soldiers by the time they put their foot on the Egyptian
soil were already de-Christianized deists or atheists. Juan Cole explains that “Many French in the
age of the Revolution had become deists, that is, they believed that God, if he existed at all, was
a cosmic clockmaker who had set the universe in motion but did not any longer intervene in its
affairs. Most deists did not consider themselves Christians any longer and looked down on
Middle Eastern Christians as priest-ridden and backward.” They believed in a Supreme Being
who imparted laws to the nature and let it run its course in conformity with those laws without
intervention. This meant that Nature was rational and not irrational. Such a rational outlook at
the cosmos was antithetical to the traditional Christian cosmology. The Christian God intervened
and interfered in the cosmos at will and was supposedly persuaded by the Christian priests, his
agents upon the earth. The deistic notions of divinity in reality were expressions of absolute
anticlericalism, the hallmark of French society after the Revolution. Moreover, the deists of the
eighteenth century imagined Muhammad as “earlier and more radical reformer than Luther.” The
French Jacobins like their deists comrades believed that “Mahometans” were “closer to “the
standard of reason” than the Christians…”
Therefore, it was not too difficult for Napoleon to ask his soldiers to convert to Islam. Some
notable French thinkers, as discussed above, had already “tried to show how close Europeans
could be to Islamic practice, without knowing it, as a way of critiquing religion.” They had
already employed Islamic ideas to root out the priestcraft. Therefore, Napoleon was reaping the
fruits of a long strand of French radical enlightenment where Islam and Muhammad were the
known commodities. Bonaparte’s personal deistic disposition and the overall French propensity
towards hatred of organized Christianity and its irrational dogmas combined with simultaneous
appreciation of Islamic rational monotheism and medieval Islamic civilization were truly at play
in Egypt. The political expediency added to the already existent seeds of the French radical
enlightenment and caused them to flourish in a congenial Muslim Egyptian environment. The
French were not accepting a new religion. They were accepting a reformed version of their
deeply held religious convictions, something already present in their religious outlook.
There were some exceptions though. Some of them clearly disdained this supposed Islamization
drama but kept quite so as not to offend their powerful and persuasive general, Ali Bonaparte.
They went along with their admired general’s Islamization strategies.
Bonaparte dressed in Islamic attire, promoted Islamic art and sciences, and greatly emphasized
the “affinity between the French egalitarian principles and Shari’a law. The political ideal of
liberty, equality, and fraternity was fused with a hermitically tinged Islamic messianism, which,
in a time of change and uncertainty, temporarily served as the de facto state idiom of France
between 1798 and 1999.” Like Voltaire, Bayle and Encyclopedie, Napoleon praised the Muslim
Abbasid Caliphs of eighth and ninth centuries for patronizing the arts, sciences and translation of
Greek and Latin works to Arabic. He pinpointed Europe’s indebtedness to this Arab-Greco
legacy. The Egyptian scholars, in their letter to the Sharif of Mecca and Madinah, wrote the
following about Bonaparte. “He has assured us that he recognizes the unity of God, that the
French honor our Prophet, as well as the Qur’an, and that they regard the Muslim religion as the
best religion. The French have proved their love for Islam in freeing the Muslim prisoners
detained in Malta, in destroying churches and breaking crosses in the city of Venice, and in
pursuing the pope, who commanded the Christians to kill the Muslims and who had represented
that act as a religious duty.” Napoleon’s public conversion to Islam was more significant for the
Egyptians than any of his other policies.
Napoleon’s conversion to Islam was highlighted by the known newspapers both in France and
England. In England, the “Copies of Original Letters from the Army of General Bonaparte” was
published in a total of eight editions to implicate “a Franco-Ottoman conspiracy to eradicate
Christianity.” The publicity and importance given to Napoleon’s proclamation was geared
towards “supplying indisputable evidence of French admiration of Islam”, and identifying a
“Jacobin-Mahometan plot to undermine British national interests at home and abroad.” The
alliance between the Islamic Egypt and French republicanism was the source of English paranoia
that resulted in a grand scale polemical works against Islam culminating in a new biography of
Muhammad, the professed model of Napoleon Bonaparte. Humphrey Prideux’s famous
biography “The Life of Mahomet, or the history of that Imposter, which was begun, carried on,
and finally established him in Arabia… To which is added, an account of Egypt” was published
in London in the year 1799. The books multiple editions over a short span of time, the
enthusiastic support it generated both from the Church of England and English monarchy and its
widespread distribution over the European continent in different languages reflect the levels of
anxiety, alarm, suspicion and fears caused by a perceived alliance between the Islamic and
French republicanisms.
This famous eighteenth century demeaning biography of Muhammad “speaks more to
Bonaparte, the deist “imposter” of Egypt, than to Mahomet, the false prophet of Arabia. It is
prepared throughout with political allusions to the Egyptian campaign, invoking an anti-Christian
Jacobin-Mahometan plot.” H. Prideaux argued that “I have heard that in France there are no less
than fifty thousand avowed atheists, divided into different clubs and societies throughout the
extensive republic, which I believe as firmly as that there are fifty thousand devils around the
throne of God; but supposing it were true, and by no means a piece of British manufacture, I do
boldly assert that their united endeavors, though assisted by four hundred thousand libertines,
atheists, and deists from England, will neither keep Mahometanism from the grave of oblivion,
nor the HEALER OF THE NATIONS from universal triumph.”
Prideaux’s claims of hundreds of thousands of hidden “Mahometans” both in France and
England highlight the extent of cross cultural pollination of Islamic ideas during the eighteenth
century Europe. While scolding the Mahometan policies of Bonaparte, Prideaux also wanted to
incite the British public against the radical enlighteners at home, like Henry Stubbe, John
Toland, Blount, Tindal etc., who, like Bonaparte, subscribed to the Islamic republicanism. The
egalitarian republicanism of the radical enlighteners both in France and England was depicted as
the “corrupt political theology imported from the Muslim world.” The Christian Europe’s divine
right monarchy and ecclesiastical authority were in a chaos due to Islamic ideas foreign to
Christian Europe. Napoleon’s supposed conversion to Islam had really caused a public paranoia
about an Islamic conspiracy to overtake Europe. Napoleon was completely identified with Islam
and Muhammad.
As noted above, many scholars have argued that Napoleon’s Muslim garb was a cynical attempt
to serve his political agenda. He manipulated Egyptians’ religious sentiments to win their hearts
and avoid their resistance. Juan Cole, on the other hand contends that “Although Bonaparte and
his defender, Bourrienne, prefaced this account by saying that Bonaparte never converted, never
went to mosque, and never prayed in the Muslim way, all of that is immaterial. It is quite clear
that he was attempting to find a way for French deists to be declared Muslims for purposes of
statecraft. This strategy is of a piece with the one used in his initial Arabic proclamation, in
which he maintained that the French army, being without any particular religion and rejecting
Trinitarianism, was already “muslim” with a small “m.” Islam was less important to him, of
course, than legitimacy. Without legitimacy, the French could not hope to hold Egypt in the long
run, and being declared some sort of strange Muslim was the shortcut that appealed to
Bonaparte.”
A systematic study of his ideas over the later years of his life substantiates the fact that he was a
true admirer of Prophet Muhammad and his religion. Juan Cole admits that “Bonaparte’s
admiration for the Prophet Muhammad, in contrast, was genuine.” Napoleon expressed the same
positive sentiments about Muhammad and Qur’an while leaving Egypt after his failed attempt to
control it. In 1799 on his way back to France he left specific instructions to French
administrators in Egypt. He strongly urged them to respect the Qur’an and love the Prophet, "one
must take great care to persuade the Muslims that we love the Qur'an and that we venerate the
prophet. One thoughtless word or action can destroy the work of many years." Napoleon showed
the same respect towards the Prophet in the last years of his life while living in captivity on a
tiny Island in the middle of Atlantic Ocean, Saint Helene, without any hope of political power or
gain. One can easily see that in conformity with the French Enlightenment ideals Napoleon truly
believed that Prophet Muhammad’s concept of God was genuinely sublime and that the Prophet
was a model lawmaker. That is what he said in St. Helene: “Arabia was idolatrous when
Muhammad, seven centuries after Jesus Christ, introduced the cult of the God of Abraham,
Ishmael, Moses and Jesus Christ. The Arians and other sects that had troubled the tranquility of
the Orient had raised questions concerning the nature of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Muhammad declared that there was one unique God who had neither father nor son; that the
trinity implied idolatry. He wrote on the frontispiece of the Qur'an: "There is no other god than
God."
Muhammad spoke to people according to their background and turned the illiterate desert
dwellers into builders of civilizations. “He addressed savage, poor peoples, who lacked
everything and were very ignorant; had he spoken to their spirit, they would not have listened to
him. In the midst of abundance in Greece, the spiritual pleasures of contemplation were a
necessity; but in the midst of the deserts, where the Arab ceaselessly sighed for a spring of water,
for the shade of a palm where he could take refuge from the rays of the burning tropical sun, it
was necessary to promise to the chosen, as a reward, inexhaustible rivers of milk, sweet-smelling
woods where they could relax in eternal shade, in the arms of divine houris with white skin and
black eyes. The Bedouins were impassioned by the promise of such an enchanting abode; they
exposed themselves to every danger to reach it; they became heroes.”
Muhammad’s lack of resources and greatness of accomplishments make him the super hero. His
fifteen years of achievements surpass fifteen centuries accomplishment of the Jews and
Christians. “Muhammad was a prince; he rallied his compatriots around him. In a few years, his
Muslims conquered half the world. They plucked more souls from the false gods, knocked down
more idols, razed more pagan temples in fifteen years, than the followers of Moses and Jesus
Christ did in fifteen centuries. Muhammad was a great man. He would indeed have been a god, if
the revolution that he had performed had not been prepared by the circumstances.”
General Baron Guidaud reports that Napoleon said, "Mohammed appeared at a moment when all
men were anxious to be authorized to believe in but one God. It is possible that Arabia had
before that been convulsed by civil wars, the only way to train men of courage. After Bender we
find Mohammed a hero! A man can be only a man, but sometimes as a man he can accomplish
great things. He is often like a spark among inflammable material. I do not think that Mohammed
would at the present time succeed in Arabia. But in his own day his religion in ten years
conquered half the known world, whilst it took three centuries for the religion of Christ firmly to
establish itself.” Napoleon identified himself with Muhammad. "Mohammed's case was like
mine. I found all the elements ready at hand to found an empire. Europe was weary of anarchy.
Men wanted to make an end of it.”
Napoleon who was born and raised as a Catholic seems to have denounced his original faith and
denied not only Jesus’ divinity but existence also. He is reported to have said: "I have dictated
thirty pages on the world's three religions; and I have read the Bible. My own opinion is made
up. I do not think Jesus Christ ever existed. I would believe in the Christian religion if it dated
from the beginning of the world. That Socrates, Plato, the Mohammedan, and all the English
should be damned is too absurd.” Napoleon substantiated his claims by historical perspectives.
"Did Jesus ever exist, or did he not? I think no contemporary historian has ever mentioned him;
not even Josephus. Nor do they mention the darkness that covered the earth at the time of his
death." He claimed to have studied Josephus’ writings. Josephus was a Jewish historian of Jesus’
times. "I once found at Milan an original manuscript of the 'Wars of the Jews’ in which Jesus is
not mentioned. The Pope pressed me to give him this manuscript.” Here Napoleon insinuated a
papal conspiracy to hide all historical evidences that went against the historical narrative of the
Church.
On the other hand, he also said that "The Christian religion offers much pomp to the eye, and
gives its worshippers many brilliant spectacles. It affords something all the time to occupy the
imagination.” This did not mean that Napoleon appreciated the Christian incarnation theology
and confusing dogmas such as the Trinity. Napoleon believed that religion was necessary for law
and order in a given society. “All religions since that of Jupiter inculcate morality.” He further
stated that “Society needs a religion to establish and consolidate the relations of men with one
another. It moves great forces; but is it good, or is it bad for a man to put himself entirely under
the sway of a director? There are so many bad priests in the world." That is why he did not
abolish any religion from any country which he conquered. It seems that he outwardly showed
respect to almost every faith tradition including the Catholics but inwardly despised Christianity
due to his deistic notions of the divinity. The same reasons made him respect the rational
monotheism of Islam.
He believed that an encounter with Islamic logical monotheism did leave an impression upon
people including the fanatic Christians such as the Crusades. "The Crusaders came back worse
Christians than they were when they left their homes. Intercourse with Mohammedans had made
them less- Christian.” Napoleon entertained the same lofty ideas about Islam in the final years of
his life. He said "The Mohammedan religion is the finest of all. In Egypt the sheiks greatly
embarrassed me by asking what we meant when we said 'the Son- of God.' If we had three gods,
we must be heathen." He was a staunch admirer of Islamic morality which he considered a
prerequisite to the wellbeing of all societies. “A man may have no religion, but may yet have
morality. He must have morality for the sake of society.” The simple Islamic monotheism, its
lack of burdensome ceremonies and strong emphasis upon morality were the keys to Napoleon’s
admiration of Islam. "That is how men are imposed upon Jesus said he was the Son of God, and
yet he was descended from David. I like the Mohammedan religion best. It has fewer incredible
things in it than ours. The Turks call Christians idolaters." While denying the biblical miracles
attributed to Moses, Napoleon confirmed the historical miracle of Muhammad, the stunning
victories and sweeping social changes in a short span of ten or so years. "The Emperor dictated a
note to me, to prove that the water struck out of a rock by Moses could not have quenched the
thirst of two millions of Israelites."
John Tolan states that “Bonaparte's Muhammad is a model statesman and conqueror: he knows
how to motivate his troops and, as a result, was a far more successful conqueror than was
Napoleon, holed up on a windswept island in the South Atlantic. If he promised sensual delights
to his faithful, it is because that is all they understood: this manipulation, far from being cause
for scandal (as it had been for European writers since the twelfth century) provokes only the
admiration of the former emperor.”
Napoleon was also impressed by certain aspects of the Islamic Shari’ah and intended to
incorporate some of them into his “Napoleon Code”. John Tolan observes that Napoleon was
“ready to excuse, even to praise, parts of Muslim law that had been objects of countless
polemics, including polygamy.” Napoleon argued that “Asia and Africa are inhabited by men of
many colors: polygamy is the only efficient means of mixing them so that whites do not
persecute the blacks, or blacks the whites. Polygamy has them born from the same mother or the
same father; the black and the white, since they are brothers, sit together at the same table and
see each other. Hence in the Orient no color pretends to be superior to another. But, to
accomplish this, Muhammad thought that four wives were sufficient.... When we will wish, in
our colonies, to give liberty to the blacks and to destroy color prejudice, the legislator will
authorize polygamy.”
In conclusion, Muhammad, Islam and Islamic civilization had been part and parcel of the pre
modern European social imaginary. In France Islam provided the images, stories and legends
needed for a socio cultural change and break from the old traditional cosmology of the Christian
faith. Islam was one of the principal mediums which were used to delineate the cultural
transformation and transmission. Islamic republicanism helped usher the French non-
authoritarian freedom and liberty that dismantled the old regime with exclusionist and oppressive
Church policies. The coffee house and salon discussions lead to the French Revolution. But
“Bonaparte had profoundly altered the arena in which these discussions were taking place. The
arrival of some 32,000 French soldiers in Egypt in the summer of 1798 made the question of how
to think about Islam more than a parlor game. The French were involved in the largest scale
encounter of a Western European culture with a Middle Eastern Muslim one since the Crusades.”
The identification between Napoleon and Prophet Muhammad and the emphasis upon
Muhammad the lawgiver perhaps played a role in Adolph A. Weinman’s visual expressions
which decorate the main chamber of the U. S. Supreme Court. Weinman (December 11, 1870 –
August 8, 1952), a German-born American sculptor, visualized the Prophet as one the great
lawgivers of the world. He is one of the eighteen great conquerors, statesmen and lawgivers
commemorated in a series that includes Moses, Confucius and Napoleon. Even though Muslims
have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of the Prophet, they can still
appreciate the impact of his legacy upon the legal and political traditions in the West.
Notes:
Ziad Elmarsafy, The Enlightenment Qur’an: The Politics of Translation and Construction of
Islam, Oxford: Oneworld, 2009, p. 143
Quoted from Ziad, Ibid, p. 143
Ziad, Ibid, p. 146
Ziad, Ibid, p. 147
Ziad, Ibid, p. 148
Ziad, Ibid, p. 150
Auguste-Dieudonné comte de Las Cases, Memorial de Sainte Hélène: Journal of the private life
and conversations of the emperor Napoleon at Saint Helena, Volume 1, Part 1 - Volume 2, Part
4, Wells and Lilly, 1823, p. 46
Las Cases, Memorial de Sainte Hélène, p. 46;
General Baron Gourgaud, Talks with Napoleon at St. Helene, translated by Elizabeth Wormeley
Latimer, A. C. McClurg and Co., 1903, p. 255-256
Talks of Napoleon, p. 262
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, Complete by Louis Antoine
Fauvelet de Bourrienne,
Talks of Napoleon, p. 70
John Tolan, “European accounts of Muhammad’s life” in The Cambridge Companion to
Muhammad edited by Jonathan E. Brockopp, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, p.
243
Humberto Garcia, Islam and the English Enlightenment, Baltimore: John Hopkins University
Press, 2012, p. 127
Garcia, Ibid, p. 127
See Garcia, Ibid, p. 138
Cole, Ibid, p. 130
Garcia, Ibid, 138
Cole, Ibid, p. 130
See Ziad, Ibid, p. 154
Ziad, Ibid, p. 155
Ziad, Ibid, p. 154
Ziad, Ibid, p. 156
Garcia, Islam, p. 139
Cole, Ibid, p. 135
Baron d‟Holbach , Christianity Unveiled: being an Examination of the Principles and Effects of
the Christian Religion, New York: Robertson and Cowan, 1793, p. 28-29; see it
at http://books.google.com/books?id=TEIAAAAAYAAJ&q=accumulating+superstitio...
See Robert R. Palmer, Catholics and Unbelievers in Eighteenth-Century France (Princeton, N.J.,
1939; John McManners, Death and the Enlightenment: Changing Attitudes to Death in
Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford, 1981); and French Ecclesiastical Society under the Ancien
Régime: A Study of Angers in the Eighteenth Century (Manchester, 1960)
John McManners, The French Revolution and the Church. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press,
1982
Juan Cole, Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007,
p. 31-32
Garcia, Ibid, p. 7
Garcia, Ibid, p. 9
Cole, Ibid, p. 141
See Cole, Ibid, p. 136ff
Garcia, Ibid, p. 141
Cole, Ibid, p. 131
Garcia, Ibid, p. 141
Garcia, Ibid, p. 141
Garcia, Ibid, p. 141
Garcia, Ibid, p. 142
Humphrey Prideaux, The True Nature of Impostor Fully Displayed in the Life of Mahomet,
London: 1697, p. 182
Garcia, Ibid, p. 143
Cole, Ibid, p. 294
Cole, Ibid, p. 294
Tolan in Cambridge Companion to Muhammad, p. 243-244
Ibid, p. 244
Tolan, Cambridge Companion to Muhammad, p. 244
Ibid, p. 244
Talks of Napoleon, p. 68
Talks of Napoleon, p. 68
Talk Of Napoleon, p. 276
Talks of Napoleon, p. 272
Talks, p. 277
Talks of Napoleon, p. 271
Talks of Napoleon, p. 271
Talks of Napoleon, p. 271
Talks, p. 272
Talks, p. 274
Talks, p. 279
Talks, p. 280
Talks, p. 280
Tolan in Cambridge Companion to Muhammad, p. 245
Tolan, Ibid, p. 245
Tolan, Ibid, p. 245
Cole, Ibid, p. 142

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