Credit Photo: Stock photo: Mr. Lincoln
Author: Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah
Islamic thought and sources have contributed both to the radical Enlightenment and early American Revolution. There is crystal clear historical evidence that many of the Founding Fathers of America were either “deists” or “Unitarians”. Both of these Enlightenment ideologies were directly influenced by Islamic thought through figures like Michael Servetus, Henry Stubbe, John Toland, Stephen Nye, John Biddle, Charles Blount, and movements such as Socinians. Some of the leading Founding Fathers were directly influenced by English thinkers such as John Lock, Isaac Newton and Thomas Hobbes who were in turn influenced by Islamic sciences, philosophy theology, political thinking and morality.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the most important Founding Fathers, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809) identified Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Isaac Newton as “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception,” in his 1789 letter ordering portraits of them from the American painter, John Trumbull. Jefferson considered Locke as the most important thinker on liberty. Both Jefferson and his Declaration of Independence were heavily influenced by John Locke. Jefferson incorporated John Locke’s ideas, theories and words into the Declaration of Independence and even the list of reasons and circumstances to seek independence from Great Britain were a reflection of Locke’s thoughts.
Locke was the source of another Founding Father Thomas Paine’s radical ideas about revolution. Locke inspired George Mason, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams about principles of freedom, liberty and government. Locke’s writings were part of Benjamin Franklin’s self-education, and John Adams believed that both girls and boys should learn about Locke. The French philosopher Voltaire called Locke “the man of the greatest wisdom. What he has not seen clearly, I despair of ever seeing.”
Carl Becker’s famous treatment of The Declaration of Independence is a scholarly witness to America’s longing for independence as Lockean one. Becker observed that “Most Americans had absorbed Locke’s works as a kind of political gospel; and the Declaration, in its form, in its phraseology, follows closely certain sentences in Locke’s Second Treatise on Government.” Many other scholars such as Louis Hartz , Charles A. Beard and Jerome Huyler , while differing on many points of details and analytical substance, do agree on Lockean foundations of American Constitution and the resultant American civilization. Jerome Huyler after a detailed analysis of the period has no hesitation to depict the “American founding as essentially Lockean.”
Though Caroline Robbins , J. G. A. Pocock , Thomas Pangle and Steven Dworetz have discounted Lockean contribution to many American ideas and called for a republican revisionism aiming at demolition of Lockean “myth”, there are ample contemporary testimonies to Lockean influence upon the Founding documents of our great nation. John Adams in 1822 correctly thought that the DOI was copied from Locke, Richard Henry Lee specifically pinpointed that DOI was copied from Locke’s Treatise on Government and James Madison apologized for its plagiarism by saying that “The object was to assert, not to discover truths.” Jefferson never denied the charge but indirectly confessed that “I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether and to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before… All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.”
The famous phrase of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was directly borrowed from Locke’s Second Treatise and represents perhaps one of the most noticeable influences. These and many other Lockean ideas were eventually incorporated into the American Constitution and became an intrinsic part of the American dream.
John Locke (1632 –1704), was accused of being a “Mohemetan” by his adversaries such as John Edwards (1637–1716), an ordained Deacon and English Calvinistic divine, because Locke’s theological insights, moral philosophy and political outlook resembled Islamic teachings. Locke argued in his “Reasonableness of Christianity” (1695) that Jesus was neither God nor divine but just a Messiah. He advocated that the Church should reject its hierarchical structure and authority, its alliance with corrupt monarchs, abandon its superstitious theology including beliefs in mysteries and miracles especially the irrational dogma of the Trinity, forfeit its innovated creeds and sacraments, its pagan liturgy, customs and traditions in favor of one requirement for membership and salvation- to acknowledge and believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Justin Champion and others have shown that John Locke’s adversaries saw in him a Muslim who interpreted the Christian Gospel in light of the Koran (Qur’an). Champion states that “Indeed Edwards in his Socinianism Unmasked (1696) had confronted John Locke, the author of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), firstly as a Socinian, and then by implication as a Moslem. He wrote…, ‘It is likely I shall further exasperate this author when I desire the reader to observe that this lank faith of his is in a manner no other than the faith of a Turk’. Edwards objected to Locke’s assertion that there was only one necessary defining credal belief in Christianity accessible to all understandings, i.e. that Jesus was the Messiah. Edwards slyly commented that Locke ‘seems to have consulted the Mahometan bible’. We know that Locke possessed an edition of the Koran.”
Locke’s adversaries were not only vilifying his anti-Christian beliefs but also identifying his sources. Locke’s Christology resembled Islamic Jesus so much so that a cursory reader of the Qur’an or Islamic theology could have not missed the striking similarity. Almost all Christian sects including the most heretical such as the Arians and Monophysites believed that Jesus possessed some sort of divine nature. The dispute has been mainly between the advocates of hard and soft divinity. To Arius Jesus the divine Logos was pre-existent and “performed an essential mediatorial role in the relation of God to [the] world…” Arius, observes Hilaire Belloc, “was willing to grant our Lord every kind of honour and majesty short of the full nature of the Godhead…He was granted one might say (paradoxically) all the divine attributes – except divinity.” To Arius, Jesus did not have a human soul. “The soul of Christ was the Logos; only his body was human. As a consequence all that he did and suffered was done and suffered by the Logos.” Because of what he did during his earthly life, maintaining unswerving devotion to the divine will, the Son was given glory and lordship and would even be called “God” and worshipped. But to identify him with God’s essence is to commit blasphemy. Arius then was, we can conclude with Bright, “speaking of Him as, after all, only the eldest and highest of creatures; not denying to him the title of God, but by limitations and glosses abating its real power.” The Council of Nicea opposed Arian by maintaining that “the Father and the Son are of the same substance” (homoousios).
The Alexandrian Monophysites did neither reject Jesus’ divinity nor the dogma of the Holy Trinity. They only denied that Jesus has two natures. In opposition to the School of Antioch which emphasized Jesus human nature, the Alexandrian monophysites insisted upon the merger of the divine and human nature in Jesus at incarnation. To both kinds of Monophysites (Eutychianism as well as Appollinarianism), at incarnation the human nature of Jesus was “dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea.” The first century Ebionites though disagreeing with the Trinitarian formula of three in one did believe in a sort of angelology that claimed that Christ was the archangel who incarnated in Jesus and was adopted as the son of God. Unfortunately the historically authentic sources about Ebionites are extremely scarce. They are first mentioned in the 2nd century literature and almost always in a polemical tone “heretical Judaizers” by the Church Fathers.
Therefore, the Lockean Christology of a prophetic messiah resembled only the Islamic Christology. His adversaries genuinely believed that Locke consulted the Mahometan Bible rather than the Christian Bible to formulate his Christological scheme.
Some scholars argue that the Qur’anic Christology is misplaced because the Qur’an has an erroneous understanding of the Trinity. Unlike Christians, it includes Mary in the triune formula and rejects Jesus’ divine son ship due to sexual implications only. The following verses of the Qur’an are quoted to substantiate this erroneous claim. “Yet they ascribe as partners unto Him the jinn, although He did create them, and impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him. Glorified be He and High Exalted above (all) that they ascribe (unto Him). The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child, when there is for Him no consort, when He created all things and is Aware of all things?” (Qur’an 6:100-101) There is no mention of the Trinity here in these verses. The Qur’an is referring to the Arab polytheists who believed that Allah has sons and daughters. The verse 72:3 is from chapter “Jinn” and is again referring to the Jinn and not to the Christian dogma of the Trinity. There is categorically nothing in the Qur’an which includes Mary as the third person of the Trinity. The verse “And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah ? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy Mind. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower of Things Hidden ?” (5:116) does not refer to the Trinity either. It alludes to the worship of Mary as God. The worship of Mary as a goddess was quite prevalent in some Christian circles.
It was St. Athanasius, the architect of the Nicaean Creed who called Mary “the Mother of God.” By the fourth century it was a tendency very common among the masses, especially among the monks, to exalt the Virgin Mary as “Mother of God” or theotokos and worship her. Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople (428 AD), cried in vain to Cyril and to the Church in general, “Do not make the Virgin into a goddess.” Nestorius observed that “God cannot have a mother… and no creature could have engendered the Godhead; Mary bore a man, the vehicle of divinity but not God. The Godhead cannot have been carried for nine months in a woman’s womb, or have been wrapped in baby-clothes, or have suffered, died and been buried.” Cyril in his letter of 430 AD condemned Nestorius by the following words: “If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore the holy Virgin is theotokos – for she bore in the flesh the Word of God became flesh – let him be anathema.” Nestorius was anathematized by the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople (533). The Council was able to do so because the worship of Mary as the mother of God was quite widespread in Christian circles at that time. Not surprisingly, she was worshipped, called upon in prayers for support and venerated through Christian iconography. Images of her abounded and were worshipped.
George Sale states that the “notion of the divinity of the Virgin Mary was also believed by some at the Council of Nice, who said there were two gods besides the Father viz. Christ and the virgin Mary, and were thence named Mariamites. Others imagined her to be exempt from humanity, and deified; which goes but little beyond the popish superstition in calling her the complement of the Trinity, as if it were imperfect without her. This foolish imagination is justly condemned in the Koran as idolatrous…” Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall in his book “The Original Sources of The Qur’an” and Edward Gibbon in his book “The History of The Decline & Fall of The Roman Empire” attested to the same fact that Mary was worshipped “with the name and honours of a goddess” Therefore, the above quoted Qur’anic verse is alluding to the worship of Mary as goddess and not as a person of the Trinity. The Qur’an condemns any association with God (Allah), the One and Only God.
It is worth noting that the antitrinitarian Qur’anic statements roundly reject both interpretations of the Trinity whether Augustinian or Cappadocian. The Augustinian model of water, ice and vapor but one essence or the Capadocian social Trinity of James, John and Luke sharing the same human essence both are considered associating partners with God and are unacceptable to Islam. It is pretty clear that whether the ‘Holy’ Trinity is composed of the Father, Jesus and the Mary or the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit both are equally and categorically condemned in the Qur’an. Any idea of associating partners with the One and Only God is totally unacceptable.
By now it should be clear that John Lock was following the Islamic Christology of a Prophetic Messiah rather that the traditional, Christian Trinitarian incarnation Christology.
John Locke’s Mahometan connection could possibly be traced back to his Socinian association. H. J. McLachlan and John Marshall have clearly proved that John Locke was an outright Socinian. Socinianism was a system of Christian doctrine named for Fausto Sozzini (Latin: Faustus Socinus), which was developed among the Polish Brethren in the Minor Reformed Church of Poland during the 15th and 16th centuries. Martin Mulsow observes that “Socinianism —or, broader: anti-trinitarianiism— was often paralleled to Islam: both the Christian heresy and the Muslim religion reject the doctrine of the Trinity and regard Jesus only as a prophet, not as a god. There are indeed numerous historical connections between both currents. From Michael Servetus onward, the Qur’ān and islamic writings had an impact on the emerging Socinian critique. Antitrinitarians tried to establish a historical genealogy from early (Ebionite) Christianity through Islam (which preserved the true monotheistic idea) to the present.”
In Transylvania, Peter Melius had already warned in 1568 that anti-Trinitarians preached a «Turkish Christ». The Leiden-trained theologian Johann Heinrich Hottinger of Zurich published in 1660 his “Historia Orientalis”. He dedicated a full chapter of the book to demonstrate Socinian affiliations with Islamic teachings. “It dogmatically explicitly spelled out the parallels between Socinianism and Islam, mainly based on authentic Muslim documents. Already before Hottinger, the latter’s teacher Jacob Golius, Johannes Hoornbeck and others had in some passages in their works emphasized this similarity…”
The Socinian statement of faith “Racovian Catechism” emphasized the significance of human reason and preferred rationality over revelation. It declared the dogma of the Trinity as irrational and maintained the unipersonality of God. It also denied Jesus’ divinity and emphasized his humanity and messianic role. It was first published in England in 1609 dedicated to James I and was publicly burnt. In 1640 Laudian Canon was introduced to curb the Recovian’s impact. John Biddle, the founder of English Unitarianism, translated it into English and published it in 1652. The Recovian’s theology was so similar to Islamic outlook that the prominent English Presbyterian Francis Chennell (1608–1665), President of St. John’s College, Oxford, had no hesitation to call it a ‘Racovian Alcoran’.
Thomas Calvert observed that when Christians turned to Islam, “they begin with Arianism and Socinianisme, and then Turcism [Islam] is not so strange a thing.” Such a transition was a common place in many areas of the European Continent including Holland and England. Consequently, Socinianism and Unitarianism were so closely associated with Islam that all those “who ventured into anti-Trinitarian theologies were viewed as crypto-Muslims: as a result, orthodox theologians started seeing Muslims wherever they saw Unitarians. A high number of Christians and Britons was reported in English writings to have converted to Islam.”
There were several reasons for this widespread conversion to Islam. Islamic creedal statement “There is no god but One God” was simple, logical and resonated with human nature and logic. The Christian mysteries such as the Trinity, Incarnation and Satisfaction through Crucifixion were rationally problematic and difficult to comprehend. The human reason defied them. The Christian religious establishment had introduced a number of expensive and cumbersome rituals which only they could officiate. They also had claims to a special mediatorial role of forgiving human sins on the authority of God while themselves abusing their spiritual, economic and civil powers. John Toland, a radical reformer and Enlightenment thinker succinctly put the point in the nutshell. “Everyday yields fresh instances of the ambitious and traitorous designs of degenerate Clergymen, Whose lives make Atheists, and whose doctrine slaves. The ultimate designs of such men are to procure to themselves Riches and consequently Power and Authority: as, in order to secure both, they train up their hearers in Ignorance and consequently in Superstition and Bigotry.” This was the dominant concern of the majority of early reformers and almost all the Enlightenment thinkers. They accused clergy of imposing irrational dogmas such as the Trinity and turning many sincere Christians into atheists.
The Church alliance with kings and princes had helped the Church to persecute millions of believing Christians and burnt many of them at the stake just because they either challenged the Church authority or genuinely inquired about irrational dogmas. On the other hand, Islamic religion promulgated simple, inexpensive and socially valuable rituals such as daily prayers, alms giving, fasting and pilgrimage. Islam allowed freedom of religious beliefs and pluralism where the Jews, Christians and people of other faith could freely practice their religions as long as it did not interfere with public discourse and political authority. Jizyah or a small amount of tribute was required of the minorities in return of their religious freedom. While living among the Muslims, many Jews and Christians openly challenged Islamic beliefs while proving the validity of their own religious traditions. Moses Maimonides and others Jewish writers of that era are a good example. Though there were periods of persecutions and lack of such a freedom of expression depending upon the Caliph or the regime’s political agenda, predominantly the Islamic empire was relatively open to religious pluralism, interfaith debates/dialogues and especially to intra-faith debates and controversies. Such a debate or freedom was unavailable to the Christian world since the Nicaean Council and the strict Justinian codes of the sixth century AD.
There was also an allure in the Islamic world of that time. The Muslim Ottoman Empire offered more opportunities of political power, economic betterment and religious freedom. Consequently, Christians of England and other European countries from various walks of life converted to Islam for various reasons depending upon their needs and aptitude. There were intellectuals, thinkers, sailors, carpenters, cabin boys, gunners as there were felons and pirates who accepted Islam to escape persecutions. Many English cities, towns and even villages had Muslim converts with Turkish turbans, traditional Muslim clothes, Turkish costumes and coffee. Nabil Matar observes that accepting Islam in the period from 1558 to 1686 was tantamount to “joining a powerful empire and partaking of the “prosperous Success of the Turks.” This is how an English convert described his condition to Robert Blake in 1638…” That is why this widespread conversion to Islam was taken as a serious threat to both English as well as European political and spiritual realms and as a precursor to Muslim religious and political dominance. Both the ecclesiastical and monarchial authorities took the threat seriously and sponsored polemical literature against Islam, Turks and all those who subscribed to Islamic political outlook or theology such as Socinians and Unitarians.
The anonymous author of the “Historical and Critical Reflections upon Mahometanism and Socinianism” did a thorough search of the Islamic and Socinian sources to show that it was “impossible to distinguish them.” After a detailed discussion of the Islamic doctrines, he concluded that in the Islamic “Confessions of Faith which I have related, the Socinians find anything that, according to their own Principles, they can condemn as erroneous or impious. Nay, I am persuaded, that if they acted with Sincerity, they would own that Mahometans are Orthodox: And indeed they must be so by the Principles of all those who have embrac’d the Socinian Religion. The two sects are proud to be call’d Unitarians; a name that signifies the same thing with both Parties…The chief of the Sect has acted herein with more Sincerity… he owns, that the Alcoran speaks of the Unity of God in the same sense, that he spoke of it himself, and that his Predecessors in Poland and Transylvania had spoke of it before him.” The author further showed that the Socinian arguments against the Trinity are the same old Islamic rational arguments. Muslims contended that no “human Understanding can perceive or comprehend, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are at the same time, and in the same Essence, one and the same God; and the Omnipotent God never requir’d nor commanded Man to believe what can neither be perciev’d nor understood. On the contrary, he hath given Man an Understanding apt to conceive whatever was possible and necessary, and to deny and not conceive what is impossible. We shall see presently the Socinians making use of the same Sophism. Indeed ‘tis what they insist most upon…” He clearly denounced Socinain’s tendency to elevate human reason and rational arguments over Christian mysteries substantiated by Christian revelation. To him, this was the old Islamic discourse quite known to the Christian scholarship.
He further argued that the Socinians acceptance of Jesus’ crucifixion which the Mahometans deny “puts no great difference between them; since the Socinians don’t own the Fruits and Necessity of that Death… To deny this Satisfaction, and to deny the Death that made it, is the same.” He claimed that the Socinians can never deny the Prophetic mission of Mahomet because “an able Mussulman will shew them the necessity of it, by Principles that are common to both Sects…” He gave a geographical as well as historical connection between Socinianism and Islam by observing that “Poland and Germany shar’d with the Turks the Ruins of Dispersion of Venice; but the Turks had the greatest Lot; and indeed they seem’d to have the best Right to it. Michael Servetus, who was the first that dogmatiz’d in the sixteenth Century against the Mystery of the Trinity, had dip’d into the Alcoran, upon the Briars of which (they are words of Lubinietski) like a Bee, he gather’d the Honey of his Doctrine. He had travel’d from Spain to Africa, doubtless with a design to communicate his Sentiments to the Mahometan Doctors, and profit by their Instructions. We ought not therefore to be surpriz’d, if the Unitarians of Transylvania, in the Infancy of their Sect, cited the Alcoran as one of the Classic Books of their Religion.” The author further observed that other antitrinitarians such as Francis David who otherwise was an anti Socinian “made no scruple of citing the Alcoran, to support what he advanc’d concerning the Divinity and Adoration of Jesus Christ. Certainly, says he, as ‘tis not without reason said in the Alcoran, that Jesus Christ can give no Assistance to those who worship him, because they would have him pass for God, contrary to the Doctrine which he taught…”
It is authentically proven that Lelio Francesco Maria Sozzini (1525 -1562), the uncle of Faustus Socinus, knew Arabic as well as Hebrew and gave a copy of the Qur’an to Theodore Bibliander (1509-1564), the Swiss orientalist who published the first printed edition of the Qur’an in Latin (Basel, 1543), based on the medieval translation of Robert of Ketton. Therefore the original connection between the Qur’an and Socinian teachings is historically well attested. Miguel Servet, the original thinker of antitrinitarianism, read and quoted Robert Ketton’s Qur’anic translation.
Miguel Servet or Miguel Serveto (1511 – 1553) was a Spanish theologian, physician and humanist. P. Hughes has shown that Miguel “Servet came from Spain, where Islamic rule prevailed for centuries and where still hundreds of thousands of Moriscos lived. In his work De trinitatis erroribus (1531), Servet mentions the Qur’ān several times. After Theodor Bibliander’s Latin translation of the Qur’ān that was based on the medieval translation of Robert of Ketton (1143) had been printed in 1543, Servet had actually read it and he even quoted specific sūrah-s such as sūrah 3, 4, and 5 in his main work, Restitutio Christianismi (1553).”
Under the leadership of John Calvin, Servet, the Islamist, was burnt at the stake as a heretic. M. Servet was burnt alive in accordance with Justinian code promulgated by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century against anti-trinitarianism. The Reformists like Calvin who originally aimed at religious tolerance quickly became as intolerant as the old Roman church. Both branches of Christianity persecuted hundreds and thousands of so called heretics who deviated from or questioned the accepted dogmas especially that of the Trinity. Moreover, Servet had denied the Original Sin, Predestination and Satisfaction through Crucifixion. He placed value upon human dignity, good nature, reason, good works and through them upon human autonomy in moral decisions. He insisted that all humans have the right to think for themselves, express their religious views and follow their conscience. The Biblical God had chosen the Jewish people and graced them with his special covenant. Both Catholics and Protestants extended that grace to certain individuals at the time of creation rather than to a nation or a people like Jews. Calvin completely ruled out that a man can attain salvation through good works. Eternity and salvation was completely determined by God. Servet paid with his life for opposing Calvin and traditional Christian dogmas but left a legacy of anti-trinitarianism, religious freedom, toleration and salvation through good works which was followed by the Socinians who went against these Orthodox dogmas and emphasized a great deal upon human autonomy, religious tolerance, freedom of religious expression and conscience. The same Socinian influence will be seen in John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers and through Joseph Priestly and others all the way to the Founding Fathers of America such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and others. The Islamic teachings regarding the religious pluralism, Original Sin, Free Will, salvation through good deeds and individual moral responsibility were handy instruments for Servet, Socinians and the Enlightenment thinkers especially the radical reformists such as Henry Stubbe and John Toland.
Martin Mulsow observes that “Throughout the entire seventeenth century, it (Socinianism) became the specter of all Christian denominations until it slowly transformed into unitarianism and liberal theology during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” He also maintains that “More interestingly, Socinianism was in fact a precursor to the Enlightenment—and to the Radical Enlightenment as well. Its rationalist opposition to everything that seemed illogical in doctrine, its interpretation of the teachings of Jesus—he was simply viewed as a human being— as some kind of moral philosophy, and its arguments for religious tolerance foreshadow the views of the eighteeenth-century Enlightenment. Indeed, especially during the second half of the eighteenth century it is possible to see a continuity between Socinians such as Andreas Wissowatius, Samuel Przypkowsky and Samuel Crell on the one hand, and early Enlightenment figures such as John Locke, Jean Le Clerc, Philipp van Limborch—even Isaac Newton and William Whiston— on the other.”
Henry Stubbe (1632–1676), a radical reformist and influential English thinker, was Locke’s Westminster School friend. He also attended Christ Church, Oxford with him, attended Dr. Edward Pococke’s (1604–1691) classes just like Locke and Newton and is believed to have converted to Islam. Prof. Pococke was an English Orientalist and biblical scholar who had spent many years in Aleppo and Constantinople to learn Arabic, Islam and Islamic civilization in addition to his missionary work. He was the Chair of Arabic at Oxford while Locke, Stubbe and Newton were studying there. In 1649, Pococke published the Specimen historiae arabum, a short account of the origin and manners of the Arabs, taken from Bar-Hebraeus (Abulfaragius).
Stubbe had a great deal of dialogues and exchanges with Locke and might have influenced Locke’s thinking. Stubbe wrote in 1674 “An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians”. Both Justin Champion and J. R. Jacob place this work in the “broad context of the Unitarian-Islamic syncretism.” Stubbe argued that the Islamic concept of divine unity was the pristine message of salvation preached by all the Prophets starting with Adam, Noah and culminating in the last Prophet Muhammad. He vehemently attacked Christian dogma of Trinity and divinity of Jesus and called it tri-theism and paganism. He argued that the Church has corrupted the Gospel of Jesus and his message of salvation (through good deeds and morality) after the Council of Nicaea. Prophet Muhammad was sent by God to rectify Christian corruptions. He noted that the theology of Prophet Muhammad was in line with the original message of Jesus and his original followers, the Nazarene (Qur’anic Nasaara).
James A. Jacob has shown that Henry Stubbe, borrowing mostly from John Seldon, Thomas Hobbes and James Harrington “developed and advocated a civil religion which would survive the Restoration, undergoing several mutations in the course of the 1660s and 1670s. Stubbes’ civil religion was based upon a “deistical minimum, common to the Jews, the Muslims and the primitive Christian…” The original Jewish, Christian and Islamic message was the one and same Unity of a transcendent and just God. Henry Stubbe in his “An Account” argued that Jesus was sent to rectify Jewish accesses and Prophet Muhammad came to “revive ancient Christianity.” The decline of original Christianity especially the corruptions of Christian scriptures, the introduction of irrational dogmas such as the Trinity and Church abuses spurred the advance of Islam. While “most of Christianity was sunk in superstition and internecine war, Mohammed accomplished the fourth revolution, the invention, establishment and expansion of Islam.” Therefore, Muhammed’s intelligence and thoughts are “not to be scorned but admired…” Jacob sees in Stubbe a synthesis of “Mohammed’s simple creed, Hobbes’ natural religion and the deistical confessions of Cherbury and Blount.” Stubbe in conclusion of his “Account” stated that “This is the sum of Mahometan religion, on the one hand, not clogging men’s faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of reason and common sense: nor on the other hand loading them with performance of many troublesome, expensive and superstitious ceremonies, yet enjoining a due observance of religion, as the surest method to keep men in the bounds of their duty both to God and man.” Jacob rightly observes that in “Account” Stubbe “turns true religion inside out. Trinitarian Christianity is dismissed as hopelessly corrupt and false in favor of Islam, which is represented as the religion of Christ and the Apostles. There are some striking similarities between Stubbe’s ‘Mahometan Christianity’ and Hobbe’s natural religion set out in chapter 31 of Leviathan” History is a witness that Stubbe had enjoyed a close friendship with Hobbes since 1656 and was mostly responsible for translating Hobbes’ “Leviathan” into Latin. On “occasions Hobbes even incorporated Stubbe’s critique…” No wonder that Hobbes ideas about natural religion were strikingly close to Stubbes’ “Mahometan Christianity”, Stubbes’ ideal civil religion. James Jacob has shown that Stubbe’s central doctrines consisted of “the beliefs of ‘the most primitive’ Christians, revived by Mohammed.”
Stubbe was also the source of Charles Blount’s deism. Jacob observes that “there are more striking similarities between Stubbe and the early deism of Charles Blount.” After a detailed discussion of these striking similarities and Blount’s friendship with Stubbe, Jacob concludes that “Stubbe must now be reckoned as one of the founders of English deism, though his creed wore the guise of ‘Mahometan Christianity.” James Jacob also shows that Bristol Quaker leader George Bishop in “A Looking-Glass for the Times” published in 1668 recognized Stubbe as “the source of many of his own Quaker ideals.” Stubbes’ ideal of ‘Mahometan Christianity’ well resonated with many other English Dissenters in addition to Quakers, Deists, Socinians and Unitarians.
Stubbe was also extremely impressed by Islamic concept of religious pluralism and toleration for other religious traditions. He emphatically insisted that Muhammad never imposed his religion upon others as long as they were not idolatrous or they paid a moderate tribute called Jizyah. “The security which he gave to the Jews and Christians that they might live quietly under him without molestation brought a great deal of riches into the publick treasury, and those securities were observed with so inviolate a faith that it was a great invitation to the next neigbours to come under his government.” Stubbe wanted Europeans to follow the tolerant path of the Muslim Turkish Empire and allow a variety of freedom of religious beliefs, expressions, worships and freedom of conscience. “So favorable are the conditions of Muslim rule…that Christians in contemporary Europe would prefer, if given the choice, Muslim rule to their own…” To him it was the interests of the kings and princes “which at present keeps all Europe from submitting to the Turks.” Unlike the Christian princes and church leaders, Muhammad was “far from depriving any Ismaelite [Arab] of his liberty, that he would set even a bird free if he saw him encaged, and so remote from ambition and avarice that the greatest pleasure he takes in having anything is that he may give it away to some more indigent Moslemin.” Therefore Muhammad’s religion and his government must be a Christian ideal “a government based upon natural prudence to match ‘the religion of Noah’ and of nature.” His “Account” was a theological as well as a political prescriptive critique of European religion as well as government system. “England would be better off if religious authority were vested in the civil sovereign, as under Islam, just as Muhammed did, moreover, the sovereign should enforce a rational religion, a ‘Mahometan Christianity’ which would represent a return to the Apostolic church. Again just as Muhammed did, the sovereign should allow for toleration of opinion beyond the enforcement of this doctrinal minimum, this rational religion of nature.”
To Anthony Wood, the earliest biographer of Henry Stubbe, he was “the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced.” He died in 1676 but his influence continued through the remainder of the Restoration and after the Revolution of 1688-9, until at least 1720. He was the source of “the early English deism of Charles Blount and the civil religion or ‘Mahometan Christianity’ of John Toland, and hence to chart the intellectual links between the radical Protestantism and subversive naturalism represented by Stubbe and the deism and vitalistic materialism or pantheism (to use Toland’s own words) of the early Enlightenment. This is nothing less than to connect through Stubbe the radicalism of the mid-century English revolution with the radicalism of the early eighteenth century. The principle medium of this connection…was Stubbe’s manuscript An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, which circulated underground between the 1670s and 1720.”
John Toland (1670 – 1722) furthered Stubbe’s historical thesis of Islam’s validity in his famous book “Nazarenus: or Jewish, Gentile and Mahometan Christianity, containing the history of the ancient gospel of Barnabas… Also the Original Plan of Christianity explained in the history of the Nazarens…. with… a summary of ancient Irish Christianity.” He had earlier in (1699) published “Amyntor: or a defence of Milton’s Life” in which he denied the authenticity and validity of the New Testament. He classified the New Testament material into three categories i.e., orthodox, apocryphal and downright fictitious. He insisted that the present New Testament was canonized centuries after Jesus or his original followers and was not reliable source to know what Jesus believed or preached. He contended that the original followers of Jesus were “Nazarenes” who followed the Gospel of Barnabas. Toland had discovered a manuscript of the Gospel of Barnabas in Amsterdam in 1709 through his acquaintance with Prince Eugene of Vienna who possessed that manuscript. Toland started his work on “Nazarenus” in 1710 based upon his study of the Gospel of Barnabas. Justin Champion shows that Toland “readily employed this text as evidence, following Stubbe’s argument, of the continuity of Judaic, Christian and Islamic theology.”
He like Stubbe believed that the pristine message of divine unity was a common thread between all the Prophets starting with Adam. All the Prophets preached the same message of divine unity, charity and moral responsibility. Jesus came to correct the Jewish accesses and Muhammad came to rectify Christian corruptions such as the Trinity, Original Sin and Satisfaction through Crucifixion. He insisted that the “fundamental doctrines of Mahometanism to have their rise, not from SERGIUS the Nestorian monk (a person who has hitherto serv’d for a world of fine purposes) but from the earliest monuments of the Christian religion.” Toland maintained that the original followers of Jesus were Nazarene or Ebionites who were “mortal enemies to Paul…whom they stil’d an Apostate…and a transgressor of the Law…representing him as an intruder on the genuine Christianity… a stranger to the person of CHRIST, yet substituting his own pretended Revelations to the doctrines of those with whom CHRIST had convers’d, and to whom he actually communicated his will.” His conclusion was that the “Mahometans believe concerning CHRIST and his doctrine, were neither the inventions of Mahomet, nor yet of those Monks who are said to have assisted him in framing of his Alcoran but that they are as old as the time of the Apostles having been the sentiments of whole sects or Churches…” Justin Champion observes that “Toland deployed the Islamic notion of the succession of the prophets as the authors of new institutions each increasingly perfect, ‘tho’ in substance it still be one and the same religion’. Toland accepted the Islamic charge that Jesus’ prophecy of Mahomet, that he would come ‘to complete or perfect all things,’ had been erased from Scripture by the priests.” He was keen to see Muslims tolerated in Europe as Christians and Jews were tolerated throughout the Muslim Empire. Muslims “might with as much reason and safety be tolerated at London and Amsterdam, as the Christians of every kind are so tolerated at Constantinople and thro-out all Turkey.”
Justin Champion rightly observes that “Stubbe and Toland can thus be seen to place the historical past of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into a Polybian framework.” Champion also notes that “Both works set out to present an unbiased view of Islam, rejecting the slanders of the medieval canon identified in Prideaux’s work. It must be remembered that especially when Toland’s work was published it was into a public arena which had perceived Islam through the distorting lens of Prideaux’s polemic.”
Both Stubbe and Toland used Islam or “Mahometan Christianity” as their ideal for a civil religion which would do away with the corrupted Trinitarian Christianity and its stifling dogmas. The rector of St Nicholas’, Thomas Mangey, condemned Toland’s work in the following words: “his expression of the Mahometan Christianity is the only passage in this book which I do not condemn, provided he would mean by it not the Muselmans on the other side of the water, but the Socinians here. These may truely and properly be termed Mahometan Christians.”
Stubbe’s ideal of “Mahometan Christianity” and his works were highly influential among the English thinkers of his time. Champion states that “We know that Charles Blount plagiarized a section in his Oracles of Reason (1693) and also that he sent Rochester extracts of the Account… An unnoticed influence can be found in Sir John Finch’s correspondence with Lord Conway between 4 and 14th February 1675. These letters give a ‘politic’ account of the growth of Islam including a presentation of the Islamic notion of the unipersonality of God… Mahomet is referred to as both a wise prince and legislator. There also may be the possibility that William Temple read and adopted Stubbe’s work.”
Additionally, Nabil Matar in his “Islam in Britain” and Jacob in his Henry Stubbe have proven beyond doubts that interest in Islamic ideas, philosophy, sciences and institution was prevalent among the English intelligentsia since 1660s. “There was considerable interest at court in the 1670s and 1680s in things Islamic, from coffee to costumes to religious doctrine. Viscount Conway, who was a Privy Councillor for Ireland at the time, commissioned his brother –in-law, Sir John Finch, Ambassador to Constantinople, to write a series of reports concerning Muslim customs and culture with a view to suggesting the ways in which they might be applied in England to the reform of political and religious institutions. In 1675, Sir John compiled after some delay, and the letters exist in manuscript in the British Library.” G. A. Russell has shown that Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries were the “Age of ‘Arabick’ in England where thousands of Arabic manuscripts were translated into Latin and English for multiple purposes by a variety of scholars and scientists. This direct Islamic influence along with Socinian missionary work seemed to have affected a great many English thinkers of that era such as Milton and Newton.
John Milton (1608–1674) was at first an Arminian, but at his death he left a manuscript (On Christian Doctrine, not discovered and published until 1825, which shows that he had become a Socinian/ Unitarian in belief. Even Voltaire exalted Socinian’s countless contributions towards enlightening the intellectual landscape of the Continent.
Isaac Newton (1642–1727), a close friend of John Locke, was also a Socinian. Stephen David Snobelen in his “Isaac Newton, Socinianism and “The One Supreme God,” has proven beyond doubt that Newton was a Socinian who categorically denied the Christian Dogma of Trinity. “Newton’s Christology was … further from orthodoxy than Socinianism.” Just like Locke, Newton rejected the doctrines of Original Sin, Satisfaction through Crucifixion and clerical authority. In his church history Newton included that “the nature of the satisfaction made by Christ” among a list of adiaphora “more diﬃcult to be understood & not so absolutely necessary to salvation.”
Moreover, Newton’s beliefs show aﬃnities with radical and dissenting theologies of Henry Stubbe and other Dissenters like the continental Radical Reformists as well as British non-conformists especially the Unitarians. “Much of the antitrinitarian argumentation of writers like John Biddle, who is often termed “the father of Unitarianism”, and Stephen Nye, is isomorphic with that of Newton. Additionally, Newton’s near intervention in the Trinitarian controversy of the late 1680s and early 1690s reveals that he shared some common reformist goals with the British Unitarians. Newton’s anti-Athanasian “Paradoxical questions” is part of the same genre as the Unitarian Tracts of the 1690s. Newton owned at least one collection of the Unitarian Tracts and would have been familiar with the teachings of the movement that produced them—a movement that was developing its theology contemporaneously with Newton.” Just like his friend John Locke, Newton was attacked by Edwards as a “Turk” and a “Socinian.” He like Locke was a cautious person who avoided persecution by keeping his views confined to his inner circle of friends. Why would not they be cautious while they had known that the Socinian views had landed Thomas Aikenhead, a student of Edinburgh University, to ignominious death by public hanging in 1697. In 1698 an additional promulgation the ‘Act for the more effectual Suppression of Blasphemy and Profaneness’ tried to stop all discussions of the Trinitarian controversy. It introduced a denial of all civil rights and three years’ imprisonment for a second conviction. The act was reinforced by royal command in 1714.
Newton kept his Socinian views and writings within a trusted circle of friends. His writings were published after his death and leave no room to doubt his anti-trinitarianism and total appreciation for Socinian views regarding Jesus, Bible, God and salvation. To the scientist theologian Newton, worship of Jesus as God is “idolatry”, “the fundamental sin”, “a breach of the first and greatest commandment”, and a more dangerous crime than atheism.
In England during the Restoration period (beginning with 1660) the “Socinianism appears to have extended its influence to the highest levels. The coterie surrounding the philanthropist Thomas Firmin, an avowed Socinian and a Unitarian, included Locke, Tillotson the future Archbishop of Canterbury, and minor members of the Anglican Church, such as Stephen Nye (1648-1719) and Henry Hedworth (1626-1705).” Perhaps the most widespread of the Socinian influences was reflected in the direction of broad religious toleration, and in the tendency to reduce the essentials of Christianity to the minimal most important things referred to as Latitudinarianism. The Trinitarian Athanasian Creed, which was a must in public worship thirteen times a year, was publically recited by many members of the clergy with a twinge of conscience without having much faith in its validity or authenticity. The Socinian/Unitarian theological impact can be gauged from the fact that even Archbishop Tillotson said, “I wish we were well rid of it.”
John Locke’s other Unitarian affinities are also well attested. He befriended Anglican theologians such as Arthur Bury (1624-1714), Stephen Nye and William Freke who willingly acknowledged the prescriptive value of Islamic reformation, wrote about its validity and never shied away from sharing their thoughts and writing with other thinkers including Locke. William Freke (1662–1744) was an English mystical writer, of Wadham College, Oxford and barrister of the Temple. He suffered at the hands of Parliament in 1694 for his anti-Trinitarian beliefs. William Freke sent his Brief but Clear Confutation of the Doctrine of the Trinity to both Houses of Parliament, was fined and the book burnt. Stephen Nye (1648–1719) was an English clergyman, known as a theological writer and for his Unitarian views. He also faced much opposition from orthodox Anglicans just like his other friends.
Bury’s 1690 anti-trinitarian work, The Naked Gospel, first published anonymously, was commanded to be burnt at Oxford, and, in a complex sequence of events involving legal action, Bury lost his position as Rector of Exeter College, Oxford after being expelled initially in 1689. The Naked Gospel of Bury was an indictment of the Christian Scriptures, mysteries and Church corruptions. He demanded purification of Christian Scripture by purging them of human additions and Church manipulations. This would clear Christianity of irrational mysteries invented by the priestcraft after the Council of Nicaea. Dusting off mysteries would let the original message of Jesus and hence of the Gospel shine. That message, to Bury, was nothing but love your God and love your neighbor or “repent and believe.” He concluded his book observing that the “end of all is to determine between Faith and Love… Give unto Faith the things that are Faith’s and the Love that are Love’s… Do good to all especially to those that are of the household of Faith…”
In the “Preface” of his book Bury refuted Church establishment’s claims that Muhammad was an imposter and that Islam was spread with the power of sword rather than with the providence of God. It has been argued since St. Augustine’s times that Christ’ message prevailed over the old Jewish laws due to its merit and divine providence. Jesus himself came from a meek background. His early followers were illiterate fishermen without much resources but his message succeeded against the educated philosophers and powerful kings. Bury used the same argument to defend Islam and Muhammad. He argued: “so the victories of the Alcoran over the Gospel must be evidence, that as the religion of Moses was better than that of the Canaanites, and the religion of Christ better than that of Moses; so must the religion of Mahomet be better than that of Christ. Thus may a Mahometan either disarm us of St. Augustine’s’ argument, or restore it against us; for either it is of no force at all or of so much more force for Mahomet, by how much more he hath prevailed over the Churches of Christ.” To Bury Muhammad was neither a divine scourge nor an imposter but a Christian reformer sent by divine providence to rectify Christian accesses and to restore the pristine message of divine unity. Therefore, instead of condemning Islam and Muhammad, Christian must commend them as their own.
William Freke also noted that the Koran contained ‘above a hundred’ indictments of the dogma of Trinity. He reiterated that the doctrine of Trinity was not original to Christianity but a post Nicaean creedal innovation.
S. Nye perhaps was the most emphatic of all these Unitarians to refute the Church dogmas, mysteries and abusive authority. In his “Brief History of the Unitarians, called also Socinians”, first published in 1687 and republished in 1691, Nye categorically denied that Christianity of his time had anything to do with the original message of Jesus Christ. Trinitarian Christianity was a degradation and depravation of genuine Christian message. The original followers of Jesus were Nazarenes who like the original Apostles maintained the unipersonality of God. That pristine message had only survived in the Turkish or Mahomaten tradition. This “historical model of pre-Nicene Unitarianism, and its links with Islam, was reiterated and reinforced by Nye in his Letter of Resolution Concerning the Doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation (1695).” He strongly criticized the Church teachings such as worship of Mary, saints and images, ecclesiastical authority as well as tradition, papal supremacy as well as indulgences, mystery of transubstantiation, Original Sin and Satisfaction through Crucifixion. To Nye, all these corruptions were post Nicaean and an extension of corrupt Trinitarian theology.
Nye also defended Islam and Muhammad as the true reflection of Jesus’ message. “Mahomet had ‘no other design in pretending himself to be a prophet, but to restore the belief of the Unity of God’. Mahomet proclaimed himself disciple of the ‘Messias or Christ’ aiming to restore the Unitarian ‘true intent of the Christian religion’. Mahomet’s success in converting Asia, Africa and part of Europe was not to be attributed to the force of arms but to ‘that one truth in the Alkoran, the unity of God’.”
These Unitarian thinkers had a great deal of interest in and appreciation of Islamic monotheism and morality as seen above. They used to assemble at the house of Thomas Firmin (June 1632–1697) who was an English businessman and philanthropist, and Unitarian publisher. Firmin was also the main supporter of John Locke and his works. Edwards was not wrong when he insisted that Locke was “confounding Turky with Christendom”.
It is commonly argued that Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Newton, Stubbe, Toland and others were neither theologians nor religiously oriented people. They were secular political thinkers who wanted to replace religion with reason. This modern secularistic interpretation is misplaced. A detailed analysis of writings of Locke, Newton and other English thinkers of sixteenth and seventeenth century shows that they in fact were religiously oriented theologians who wanted to reform religion rather than banishing it altogether. Their reformation scheme was profoundly religious in nature. The alliance between the Church and state and redefinition of this bondage was central to their desires for viable political changes. The monarchial sovereignty and the Church authority and independence were mutually interconnected. Dismantling theological foundations of Church doctrines was tantamount to shaking the foundations of ecclesiastical authority and monarchial sovereignty. A correct conception of God, man and human nature was a fundamental premise for morality and good character and a deviant conception of God, man and human nature was the source of immoral, capricious human behavior. The central characteristic of their understanding of God and religion was that they had to contribute towards inducing a virtues and moral social, political and economic life. Cumbersome rituals, irrational mysteries and corrupt dogmas were antithetical to morality and good character. That is why these thinkers tried to reform Christianity rather than throwing it out of the window. They tried to do so by importing heterodox theological perspectives from outside. The Islamic model and sources provided them with a helpful tool and they used it for their reformation agendas.
In Short, both Locke and Isaac Newton were anti-clerical Christianity. They denounced fundamental Christian dogmas such as the Trinity, Jesus’ divinity, Original Sin, Ecclesiastical authority, biblical inerrancy and salvation through the redemptive death and crucifixion of Christ. Both were anti-Trinitarians subscribing to the Socinian/Unitarian theology and outlook. This Socinian/Unitarian theology and political thought was transmitted to some of the most influential Founding Fathers of America through Locke’s writings and Joseph Priestly’s preaching.
Joseph Priestley, (1733-1804) was an influential but controversial Unitarian English theologian, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and political theorist. He was prolific author who published over 150 works on a variety of subjects. His theological views and political outlook was totally Socinian and Unitarian. In 1800 the Anti-Jacobin Review claimed that Priestley was prompted by the same spirit of proselytizing that led “Mahomet … to raise a party against the Christian World.” Priestly was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson and dedicated his “General History of the Christian Church” to President Jefferson. He also wrote him letters about the structure and curriculum of the University of Virginia when Jefferson was working on its founding documents. Priestly’s Unitarian Christology, political thought and moral views had greatly influenced some of the leading Founding Fathers such as Jefferson, Madison and John Adams.
A good number of the Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Cornelius Harnett, Gouverneur Morris, Hugh Williamson, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Ethan Allen, and Thomas Paine left their Judeo-Christian heritages and become advocates of “Deism”. Their writings and political speeches show distinct deistic influence. Figures like George Washington, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams kept their Christian loyalties but were influenced by Deism. A small group including Patrick Henry, John Jay, and Samuel Adams retained their super naturalistic world view and remained practicing Christians.
They all believed in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Ralph Barton Perry has observed that “The history of American democracy is a gradual realization, too slow for some and too rapid for others, of the implications of the Declaration of Independence.” Very often it is argued that the DOI was and is a political document void of any religious content or theological backdrop. This is an absolutely wrong secular interpretation of DOI. The reality is that the theological and religious matrix that played out during the sixteenth and seventeenth century English and European struggles against Church and monarchial authorities and heralded the Enlightenment was the same milieu and backdrop that dominated the pre-Declaration period America. The Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson harbored theological views totally different from the orthodox Christianity. Their heterodox theology was inextricably linked to the democratic nature and efficacy of the DOI. Allan Jayne has rightly observed that their “succinctly stated theology, with its heterodox concepts of God and man, was among the primary truths of the democratic polity institutionalized in the Declaration… Jefferson saw the concepts of God and man upheld by orthodox theological circles in the colonies as antithetical to the Declaration’s theological and political ideals.”
In his 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson stated: “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth…” Jefferson strongly believed that the Gospels were compromised and many of the traditional doctrines were follies: “For if we could believe that he [Jesus] really countenanced the follies, the falsehoods and the charlatanisms which his biographers father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations and theorizations of the fathers of the early, and fanatics of the latter ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind, that he was an impostor.” Jefferson used his razor to eliminate the perceived follies and his version of the Bible was free of mysteries, irrational dogmas and creeds. He was emphatically against the Trinity. To him, this “paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.” The later church leaders have “so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus… as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its Founder an impostor.” Jefferson further stated that the “doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason, that nonsense can never be explained.”
Like the Enlightenment thinkers, Jefferson denied almost all the fundamental Christian dogmas such as the Original Sin, biblical inerrancy, church authority, predestination and Satisfaction through Crucifixion. He preferred reason over so called Christian revelation and believed that the laws of nature rather than the biblical laws were the laws of God. To Jefferson the biblical laws were “cruel” and “remorseless” and biblical God who chose the Hebrews over others was a “family God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the local God of Israel.” The Jews “had presented for the object of their worship, a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.” He argued that “Moses had bound the Jews to many idle ceremonies, mummeries and observances, of no effect towards producing the social utilities which constitute the essence of virtue…” The laws of reason and the laws of nature were totally compatible and in reality were the true laws of God. Jefferson likewise scolded the dogmas of Original Sin and Predestination and believed that the God portrayed by the New Testament writers was no different than the capricious God of the Old Testament. He like Henry Stubbe, John Toland and John Locke believed in a universal civil religion not limited to the Jews or the Christians. Allan Jayne puts the point in the nutshell: “Jefferson’s God of the Declaration is, therefore, antithetical to any God who would manifest partiality by choosing one people or nation over others, as did the God of the Old Testament. The God of the Declaration repudiates such partial choosing, for all peoples and all nations are equal in His eyes.”
Jefferson believed that historical Christianity and its institutions were antithetical to science and progress. He expressed disdain about how faith backed by civil government persecuted scientific inquiry. “Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere: the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error however at length prevailed, the earth became a globe.” He ridiculed such a faith and prophesized that such an erroneous faith would soon flee once “Reason and experiment have been indulged.” Jefferson believed that religious freedom was a God given right of each and every individual. Theological exclusivism and sole claims to truth were the root causes of religious persecutions and tyranny exhibited by the history of institutionalized Christianity. He like M. Servet, Socinians and Unitarians advocated a complete separation between the Church and the state.
The above discussed theological perspectives were a reflection of Jefferson’s Unitarian leaning. Unitarian leader Joseph Priestly was a close friend of Jefferson and he attended many of Priestly’s lectures and sermons. Jefferson viewed Unitarianism as a product of the Enlightenment and critical reasoning. He hoped that “the dawn of reason, and freedom of thought in these United States, will do away all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.” “I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither Kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.”
The Islamic influence led Servetus to develop first anti-trinitarian, Unitarian and humanitarian movement which led to a full-fledged doctrinal system of Transylvania and Socinians of Poland. The Socinain influences moved continental and English thinkers towards toleration, reason, nature and Unitarianism. It was the Socinians who demanded a complete separation of Church and state because the church’s teachings were irrational, abusive and manipulative. Therefore it is safe to conclude with James Jacob and M. Mulsow that “from early anti-trinitarianism to seventeenth-century Orientalism and reception of Islamic sources by early Deism, illustrates the origins of the Radical Enlightenment.” He also maintains that “the seventeenth century saw the emergence of theories that try to establish the chain of Jewish – Christians – Islam – Socinians – Elightenment.” Jonathan Israel has a special chapter on “Socinianism and the Social, Psychological, and Cultural Roots of Enlightenment.” This does not mean however that the Radical Reformists and Enlightenment figures absorbed Islamic sources, ideas, beliefs or institution for the love of Islam. There existed an internal need for reformation and a matrix which necessitated or allowed absorption of the Islamic ideas. The Islamic ideas were reconstituted, modified and at times completely changed in accordance with internal needs.
The American Founding Fathers were influenced by the Enlightenment thinkers especially by the Socinians/Unitarians. They compiled the Bill of Rights and the American Constitution mainly in accordance with the principles of toleration, human dignity, autonomy and freedom of conscience and expression mostly at odd with the Christian teachings upheld and explained by the Church authorities (both Catholic as well as Protestants).
It is commonly held that Islam gives priority to revelation over reason and that source of law in Islam is Islamic Shar’iah and not the logical thinking. Islam believes that the true revelation can never go against the true reason and logic. God has revealed two books: the book of revelation and the book of creation. Pondering upon the book of creation is as essential tool to understanding the book of revelation. (Qur’an:2:190) There is an inherent alliance between the reason and true revelation. The conflict arises only if the true revelation is corrupted or the pure reason is tainted with ignorance and hidden agendas. The speculative theologians such as Mau’tazilites, Muslim philosophers such as al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Shia school of thought and Ismai’lis all prefer reason over revelation and accept it as a valid source of law and interpretation.
It must be noted that the Mu`tazilites utilized, in the first place, Greek logic and rationalism to support Islamic belief and revelation to convince non-Muslims of their vitality, but then later went to the position of giving priority to reason (al-`aql) over revelation (al-waḥy), as Z. Jarallah observes, in effect subordinating the latter to the former. While the Qur’an, argues Rippin, “had its place in the discussions, it was not so much a source, when used by Mu`tazila, as a testimony to the veracity of the claims which they were making. The basic assumptions of the Greek philosophical system…was the fundamental element underlying the whole position; it was argued that reason, and not only traditional sources, could be used as a source of reliable knowledge for human beings.” Jasser Auda, a contemporary jurist states that “the Mu’tazili school and a few scholars of fundamental (usulis) gave ‘reason’ (al-‘Aql) the status of ‘the most fundamental source of legislation, even relative to the verses of the Qur’an. Mu’tazilites argued that reason is more fundamental than the scripts because it leads us to believe in the scripts themselves.” This view of the role of reason, Rippin further argues, “is significant in terms of the ultimate fate of the Mu`tazila, for it implied that the legal scholars of Islam had, in fact, no particular claim to sole possession of the right interpretation of all Muslim dogma.”
This group of Muslim rationalists would not mind interpreting a scriptural text metaphorically and at times deny some texts just to satisfy the dictates of reason as reason to them is a higher source of knowledge than a weak text. They did not deny the authentic Qur’anic and Prophetic texts but interpreted them metaphorically to conform to the dictates of reason.
The Orthodoxy on the other hand is not against reason or interpretation either. They allow it within specified bounds with proper limitations. It is the context and the intention of the language that will determine, providing the clues, for a metaphorical or not interpretation. No violence to the established semantic, grammatical and philological nature of the text is permitted in the process of metaphorical interpretation, a tedious process of linguistic and textual analysis must be followed, conforming to the leads of lexicographers, grammarians, philologists, literary exegetes, poetics and literary critics. Absolutely forbidden are arbitrary allegorical interpretations which do not follow a careful and thorough analysis, which lack scholarly tools or which render the text to arbitrary fanciful interpretations, without much linguistic or textual support. To Conservatives like Asha’rites, the human reason and rationale should follow the revelation and not supersede, supplant or nullify it. Even the most conservative Muslim sects do give an important place to reason while understanding the revelation. Most of the Islamic Fiqh rules and their derivative methodology is based upon (qiyas) analogy, deduction and reasoning.
Numerous Qur’anic verses, such as 59:2, which urges people of understanding to reflect and verse 7:184 demand the believers to use reason and intellect. To Ibn Rushd (Averroes) reason or demonstration (burhan) is absolutely compatible with the explicit or implicit prescriptions of Scripture. Ibn Rushd gives the philosophers a higher place in his rational paradigm than the traditional scholars and common people. The other Muslim rationalists agree with him on this classification.
John Locke possessed a copy of the Qur’an and was influenced by the Muslim philosophers especially the Spanish philosopher Ibn Tufayl (known as “Abubacer” or “Ebn Tophail in the West) whose philosophical novel Hayy bin Yaqzan was one of the main sources of Locke’s theory of Tabula Rasa.
Ibn Tufayl, the mentor, teacher and trainer of Ibn Rushd, in Hayy ibn Yaqzan depicted the development of the mind of a feral child “from a tabula rasa to that of an adult, in complete isolation from society” on a desert island, through reason and experience alone without the help of any book of law or revelation. Following him, Locke hypothesized that the human mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa. In contrast to pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, Locke maintained that humans are born without innate ideas, and that human knowledge is attained by experience and sense perception. Man discovers through reason and experience ideas about external nature, God and morality. This theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of self, consciousness and identity. Locke formulated this theory in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1671, the year in which Hayy bin Yaqzan was published at Oxford both in Latin and Arabic. G. A. Russell calls this work “with perfect justification, a case study for the main thesis of Locke’s Essay.”
For centuries the Church and Monarchs had used the theory of innate ideas and Original Sin to maintain their authority. The Original Sin or Fall has been central to all Christian sects and denominations since St. Paul’s times. St. Augustine expounded the doctrine further and St. Thomas Aquinas, Loyola, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli all believed that human nature was tainted due to the Original Sin. Both Catholics and Protestants maintained that man was incapable of making proper moral decisions because of original sinful nature. The Fall had deprived people of moral authority individually as well as collectively. Only God through His Son Jesus Christ and His Word, the Bible, can determine and teach morality and good behavior. The clergy carried that moral authority as hears to Apostolic tradition and scriptural interpretations. Human reason is at a loss to determine moral or ethical values. The reason has to follow the scriptures and traditions (ecclesiastical authority) otherwise its tainted nature will lead to sinful behavior and immoral values.
The Church claimed to govern the believers based upon the spiritual authority of Jesus Christ while the kings used the civil authority in the name of God. The Church and the monarchs had cut a deal to mutually support each other to curb rebellion. The Church always used biblical injunction in Romans 13:1-2 to this end. The verse reads, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Voltaire once depicted organized Christianity as a tool of tyrants and oppressors and as being used to defend monarchism. This has been true throughout the Christian history. Millions have been persecuted, interrogated, burnt alive and deprived of their basic human rights in the name of God. There were no inalienable human rights but the rights given by the Church or the Kings. John Locke like other reformists felt that the Church was using the doctrine of Original Sin and philosophy of innatism to subjugate human mind and abuse power. Their laws, doctrines, practices, institutions and scriptural interpretations were hostile to rational discourse, reason and science. They also believed that the Church teachings were utterly incapable of verification. Ibn Tofayls’ theory of tabula rasa, a clean slate, a pure human nature at birth and education and development through experience and reason provided Locke with the ammunition and he used it very well. The result was Lockean sensory-based epistemology well explained in his “An Essay concerning Human Understanding.” As the Christian mysteries by nature were not verifiable, and by definition not known, to Locke, they were just mysteries or fabrications. God could be known through nature and its laws, reason, morality and good works. This scheme of salvation through moral actions and good works closely resembled the Islamic understanding of eternal success and salvation and resonated well with the Objectives of Islamic Law (Shari’ah).
Since the times of Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d. 505H), and Abu Isaac al-Shatibi (d. 790H), the significant developments were made in the formulation of the theory of Al-Maqasid or the Objectives of Islamic Shari’ah. Al-Shatibi, the Spanish Muslim jurist, summarized objectives of the Islamic Shari’ah into five: Preservation of “Life, Religion, Family, Property and Reason”. Throughout history Muslim jurists have insisted that Islamic law has come to protect the universal inalienable God given rights of life, religious freedom, liberty to chose and protect ones family, property and human intellect. Although the objectives have been verbalized in different terms over the centuries but the original intent has not changed. The contemporary Muslim scholars tend to use modern terms to depict the same old objectives of the Islamic Shari’ah. The Qur’anic dictum of common human origins from Adam and Eve dictated absolute human equality (Surah 49:13) and universal human dignity. (Surah 17:70) These Qur’anic concepts of common origins, absolute equality and human dignity formulated the foundations of God given, inalienable, universal human rights. This tradition of inalienable human rights was a common place among the Spanish Muslim philosophers, jurists and political thinkers.
As discussed above, Muhammad ibn Tufail (1105–1185) in his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, also known as Philosophus Autodidactus in the Western world, emphasized these inalienable rights of humanity. This philosophical novel was an influential best-seller throughout Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. A Latin translation of Hayy bin Yaqzan, entitled Philosophus Autodidactus, was prepared by Edward Pococke and first appeared in 1671, as noted above. Dr. Poccke was the Chair of Arabic in Oxford University and a teacher of John Locke. G. A. Russel in “The Arabick Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England” has shown that John Locke read Hayy bin Yaqzan and changed his political outlook. “The circumstances established beyond doubt that Locke had detailed acquaintance with the Philosophus autodidactus. He could only have been unaware of it, were he the victim of some gigantic conspiracy…”
John Lock summarized the inalienable human rights into four: Life, Health, Liberty and Possession. In his famous “Two Treatises of Government” published in October 1689 with a 1690 date on the title page Lock stated that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” He incorporated “Reason”, the fifth objective of Islamic Shari’ah, as the fundamental source of all his religious, political and scientific thinking. Many historians such a J. R. Pole in “The Pursuit of Equality in America History” has shown that Thomas Jefferson took Lock’s tally of inalienable rights and summarized them further into three: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Jefferson argued that liberty, health and property in themselves are not the guarantees of happiness. One has to make proper choices to attain true happiness. Therefore he maintained that the pursuit of happiness rather than just property or family is the inalienable human right.
Therefore, the American dream “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is a summarized version of the five objectives of Islamic Shari’ah highlighted by Ibn Tufail and incorporated by John Lock in his Treatises. There is no inherent conflict between the American dream and principles of the Islamic Shari’ah. Americans need not fear Islam or Islamic Shari’ah and Muslims should not hate, despise or doubt the American dream. In its purest sense it is nothing but a reflection of their religious ideals and a manifestation of their lost legacy.