French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's Islam - Page 4

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.
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
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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