Marlowe's Tamburlaine (1587) and Islamic Theology

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The Qur'an is the first and most authentic source of Islam. As a book, it is arranged in 114 Suras or chapters. Every chapter is divided into rhymed prose verses in Arabic. The verses of the Qur'an are, stylistically, to be recited in a perfect and inimitable way. As the Qur'an was gradually revealed to Prophet Muhammad (570-632), the Prophet began to challenge the polytheistic beliefs that abounded in Mecca and the Arabian Peninsula. His new teaching that there is "No God but Allah (God), Muhammad is the messenger of Allah" led the cities of Mecca and Medina to war--Muhammad and his followers finally triumphant. The Qur'an's theology is monotheistic, and it is considered by believers to be the source of the one true religion which reckons among its previous prophets, such as David, Moses, and Jesus. The Islamic doctrine of the Unity of God is in disagreement to the Christian belief of Trinity. God ordered Muslims in the Qur'an: "Say, we believe in Allah, and that which has been revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and to the Other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit" (3:83). There is a continual insistence upon Unity or monotheism in the Qur'an, and may be said to be the distinctive theology or the foundation-stone of the faith of Islam.

The image of the Qur'an is distorted in European literature in general and English literature in particular. For centuries, English Christians regarded Mohammed as a false prophet and the Qur'an as human. Robert Boyle summarizes this popular attitude in his frequently published book in Britain, The Religions of the World (1886). The English consider the Qur'an as Muhammad's own composition with full plagiarisms from the old heaven scriptures (Maurice 1886:16). From this allegation, wide-ranging historical, theological, literary and linguistic judgments are portrayed with absolute recurrences which have promoted these statements to facts in the Western legacy.

2. The representation of the Qur'an before Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

The famous medieval Latin ink drawing of the Prophet Muhammad with a curved sword of tyranny in his right hand and the Qur'an in the left hand is a factual representation of Islam in the European Dark Ages. (1) The same image of the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur'an is depicted in the Modern American frieze of the stone sculptures of eighteen lawgivers, from Hammurabi to John Marshall, which is in the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the same Machiavellian image of the Prophet Muhammad is reproduced in the prominent medieval writers as spread by sword, though the sword of Islam abolished the oppression of tyrant rulers who were carrying on against the faithful Christians and Jews.

Islam was antagonistically reported by the fanatic Western medieval authors. For instance, Michael the Elder, a Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch in Syria, writing in the second half of the twelfth century, approved the attitude of his antecedents at the advent of the Islamic armies in the seventh century. He describes the change of history as the power of God in 'His Arab conquests', even after the Eastern Churches had had five centuries of experience with the Islamic laws which were inspired from the Qur'an. After narrating the discriminations carried on by Heraclius against his 'coreligionists', Michael the Elder remarks:

This is why the God of vengeance--who alone is All-Powerful and changes the empires of mortals as He will, giving it to whomsoever He will, and uplifting the Humble-beholding the wickedness of the Romans, who, throughout their dominions, cruelly plundered our churches and our monasteries and condemned us without pity--brought from the region of the south the sons of Ishmael, to deliver us through them from the hands of the Romans ... It was no slight advantage for us to be delivered from the cruelty of the Romans, their wickedness, their wrath and cruel zeal against us, and to find ourselves at peace (Arnold 1986:54-6). …