From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Charlemagne, without Mohammet, would be inconceivable."[...]
"Mahomet indulged the appetites of a man, and abused the claims of a prophet. A special revelation dispensed him from the laws which he had imposed on his nation: the female sex, without reserve, was abandoned to his desires; and this singular prerogative excited the envy, rather than the scandal, the veneration, rather than the envy, of the devout Mussulmans. If we remember the seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines of the wise Solomon, we shall applaud the modesty of the Arabian, who espoused no more than seventeen or fifteen wives; eleven are enumerated who occupied at Medina their separate apartments round the house of the apostle, and enjoyed in their turns the favor of his conjugal society. What is singular enough, they were all widows, excepting only Ayesha, the daughter of Abubeker. She was doubtless a virgin, since Mahomet consummated his nuptials (such is the premature ripeness of the climate) when she was only nine years of age." --The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
"The cause of the break with the tradition of antiquity was the rapid and unexpected advance of Islam. The result of this advance was the final separation of East from West, and the end of the Mediterranean unity. Countries like Africa and Spain, which had always been parts of the Western community, gravitated henceforth in the orbit of Baghdad. In these countries another religion made its appearance, and an entirely different culture. The Western Mediterranean, having become a Musulman lake, was no longer the thoroughfare of commerce and of thought which it had always been." --Mohammed and Charlemagne (1922) by Henri Pirenne
Emergence of positive views in Europe
Guillaume Postel was among the first to present a more positive view of Muhammad. Gottfried Leibniz praised Muhammad because "he did not deviate from the natural religion". Henri de Boulainvilliers, in his Vie de Mahomed which was published posthumously in 1730, described Muhammad as a gifted political leader and a just lawmaker. He presents him as a divinely inspired messenger whom God employed to confound the bickering Oriental Christians, to liberate the Orient from the despotic rule of the Romans and Persians, and to spread the knowledge of the unity of God from India to Spain. Voltaire had a somewhat mixed opinion on Muhammad: in his play Le fanatisme, ou Mahomet le Prophète he vilifies Muhammad as a symbol of fanaticism, and in a published essay in 1748 he calls him "a sublime and hearty charlatan", but in his historical survey Essai sur les mœurs, he presents him as legislator and a conqueror and calls him an "enthusiast." Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his The Social Contract (1762), brushing aside hostile legends of Muhammad as a trickster and impostor, presents him as a sage legislator who wisely fused religious and political powers.
Emmanuel Pastoret published in 1787 his Zoroaster, Confucius and Muhammad, in which he presents the lives of these three "great men", "the greatest legislators of the universe", and compares their careers as religious reformers and lawgivers. He rejects the common view that Muhammad is an impostor and argues that the Quran proffers "the most sublime truths of cult and morals"; it defines the unity of God with an "admirable concision." Pastoret writes that the common accusations of his immorality are unfounded: on the contrary, his law enjoins sobriety, generosity, and compassion on his followers: the "legislator of Arabia" was "a great man." Napoleon Bonaparte admired Muhammad and Islam, and described him as a model lawmaker and a great man. Thomas Carlyle in his book Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History (1840) describes Muhammad as "[a] silent great soul; [...] one of those who cannot but be in earnest". Carlyle's interpretation has been widely cited by Muslim scholars as a demonstration that Western scholarship validates Muhammad's status as a great man in history.
Views by modern historians
Recent writers such as William Montgomery Watt and Richard Bell dismiss the idea that Muhammad deliberately deceived his followers, arguing that Muhammad "was absolutely sincere and acted in complete good faith" and Muhammad's readiness to endure hardship for his cause, with what seemed to be no rational basis for hope, shows his sincerity. Watt says that sincerity does not directly imply correctness: In contemporary terms, Muhammad might have mistaken his subconscious for divine revelation. Watt and Bernard Lewis argue that viewing Muhammad as a self-seeking impostor makes it impossible to understand Islam's development. Alford T. Welch holds that Muhammad was able to be so influential and successful because of his firm belief in his vocation.
As early as the 7th century Muhammad was attacked by non-Muslim Arab contemporaries for preaching monotheism. In modern times, criticism has also dealt with Muhammad's sincerity in claiming to be a prophet, his morality, warfare, and his marriages.
- Medieval Christian views on Muhammad
- Cartoons of Muhammad
- "Charlemagne, without Mohammet, would be inconceivable"
- List of founders of religious traditions
- Mohammad, Messenger of God (aka The Message)
- Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (documentary)
- Muhammad's illiteracy
- Mahomet (play), by Voltaire
- Idris Muhammad
- The Message (1976 film)
- Depictions of Muhammad