Fjordman Essay: A Critical Look at The House of Wisdom by Jonathan Lyons
From the page: “…Practically nothing of what Shakespeare used as a literary inspiration was available in the Islamic world at any point, despite the fact that much of North Africa and the Middle East had for centuries been a part of the Roman Empire. Latin writers were completely ignored by Muslims whereas the Roman writer Cicero had a huge impact on Western political thought, from Machiavelli and Montesquieu to the American Founding Fathers (see my essay The Importance of Cicero in Western Thought). While many Greek works on science and philosophy were translated into Arabic, often by non-Muslims, works on history, drama, art or politics held no interest for Muslims at all. Many central works of Greek or other literature are still not available in Arabic, Persian or Turkish translations to this day, yet can be read in the languages of European nations that were never a part of the Roman Empire, for instance Norwegian, Finnish or Polish. So much for our “shared Classical heritage.”
The re-writing of European history has become so bad that Shakespeare has been proclaimed a closet Muslim. “Shakespeare would have delighted in Sufism,” said the Islamic scholar Martin Lings, himself a Sufi Muslim, in 2004. According to newspaper The Guardian, Lings argued that Shakespeare’s work “resembles the teachings of the Islamic Sufi sect” in the International Shakespeare Globe Fellowship Lecture ….
As Robert Spencer commented back then, “Shakespeare is just the latest paradigmatic figure of Western Christian culture to be remade in a Muslim-friendly manner: recently the State Department asserted, without a shred of evidence, that Christopher Columbus (who in fact praised Ferdinand and Isabella for driving the Muslims out of Spain) was aided on his voyages by a Muslim navigator. It is a sign of the times when this kind of thinking is no longer confined to Islamic apologetics websites, but is taken up by the Globe Theatre and the U.S. State Department – hardly representatives of the cultural fringes – and even American textbook publishers. The state of American education is so dismal today that teachers themselves are ill-equipped to counter these historical fantasies. They will become willing propagators of the new history: nothing to fear from Muslims, you see. Shakespeare was one of them. Oh yes, and Goethe. And Abraham Lincoln’s mother.”
However, the very concept of “theater” hardly existed in medieval or early modern Islam; it’s another part of the Greco-Roman heritage that was not “shared, preserved and passed on to us” by Muslims since they were never interested in it even at the best of times. The theater, perhaps because of its association with pagan rites in Antiquity, disappeared from the Middle East in the Islamic Middle Ages and did not reappear until centuries later. Bernard Lewis explains in The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years:
“The notion of a play – of a connected performance with a narrative thread and a more or less prepared text – is first attested in the fourteenth century, notably in Egypt and Turkey. The characters were played by puppets or by shadows projected on a screen. The words were spoken by a puppet master….Puppets were known from antiquity. The shadow-play, far more popular in the central Islamic lands, appears to have been introduced from east Asia, possibly in the time of the Turks or Mongols, who opened new lines of communication between eastern and western Asia. The introduction of the theatre in the strict sense, with human actors playing roles in a developing story with a prepared text, dates from the Ottoman period and was almost certainly the work of Jewish refugees from Europe, chiefly from Spain, who came in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We hear of Jewish and later also Christian – Armenian and Greek – troupes performing, presumably in Turkish, at court and other celebrations. All this, however, was very limited in scope and effect, and the real introduction of the theatre as an art form dates only from the period of European influence in the nineteenth century.”
Muslims rejected most aspects of the Roman heritage and many aspects of the Greek one, from wine, sculpture and pictorial arts to theater…”