Prophet Mahomet & Voltaire

Among Voltaire’s letters and writings, I came up with the following collections regarding his views of the Prophet of Allah and his message. Most of what he says or writes indicates incomplete knowledge of Islam as a religion. In a letter from Voltaire to Frederick, he writes of the purpose of Mahomet: “It wasn’t my design merely to represent a real fact… but above all, to show the horrid schemes which villainy can invent, and fanaticism put in practice”( Richter 66) and to warn “impressionable persons” as Seide of what may happen because of ignorance. In many occasions, Voltaire criticizes certain areas that have nothing to do with the real Islam. Citing his own words about Mahomet’s subject shows his misunderstanding of that religion:
“It concerns a young man born virtuous, who, seduced by fanaticism, murders an old man, who loves him, a young man who, thinking to serve God, unknowingly becomes a parricide; it concerns an imposter who orders this murder, and who promises the murderer an incest for reward”(Besterman 262)
So, he shows that religious fanaticism, seduction of innocent people, and motivations of self-interest are parts of the religion that he writes about. In another occasion, he views the prophet as:
“Enthusiasts, being forcibly struck with his own ideas, uttered them at first he has felt them; these growing afterwards more strong by being repeated, he deceived himself while he was deceiving others; and at length he had recourse to imposture to support a doctrine which he thought right(Richter 90)
Later, he apologizes for the image of Mahomet that he introduces in his play saying “I am sorry for having painted Mahomet in more odious colors than he deserved, and I’ve done so because great passions and great crimes are indispensable requisites in tragedy”(Besterman 261) .
Now, let’s have a look on Voltaire’s “Mahomet.” Voltaire draws in his play an image of a criminal man who claims divine sanction, free of human flaws, with false miracles, blind religious enthusiasm, godlike authority, and superstitious right to control others, who dare to call: “We need a new religion/ We need new chains/ We need new god for the blind world”(II.5). His call for a new religion gives him not only religious but also political dominion over people. He is shown as a symbol of human greed, destined to rule without reservation or questioning. Thus his actions seem motivated by his personal hatred, love for women, and devotion to either political or religious ideals. His followers, the Muslims, emerges as evil incarnates, and ” impious sect/ Of vile imposters”. He appears as the most villain of all not only for his responsibility of Zopire’s death, but also for feeling jealous of his own son, and exploiting a fifteen-year-old child. He practices control over others’ mind and the result is three innocent victims: Zopire, the father, and his two children. From the previous-mentioned incidents, Islam, as Voltaire sees it, is shown as a religion free of reasoning and free thoughts, encouraging blind obedience of a single commander. He portrays Islam as the religion of falsehood and anti-natural orders as clearly seen in mentioning Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. And at the end, he shows how religious fanaticisms and lack of reason lead to human sufferings and deaths and the ironic victory of the villain.

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