BOOK REVIEW: Western defender of the Prophet of Islam

30th Jan 2015


Henry Stubbe and the Prophet Muhammad: Challenging Misrepresentation. By Nabil Matar. London, Richmond, Surrey: AMSS UK, 2012, pp25, PB.

The author of this research paper is a prominent academic, author and specialist in English literature. He is currently Presidential Professor of English at the University of Minnesota, United States, and is a member of the History Department and the Religious Studies Program. He has written extensively on relations between Western Europe and the Islamic Mediterranean.

Although Matar is best known for his historical study titled Islam in Britain, 1558-1685 (Cambridge University Press, 2008), he has since published many other books including Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578-1727 (2008) and British Captives from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, 1563-1760 (2014).
In the research paper under review, Matar argues that medieval and early modern European writings about Islam in general and its Prophet in particular was always hostile in their tone and factually inaccurate. At a time when it was fashionable to malign and misrepresent the Prophet of Islam, one man refused to accept such caricature and ignorance and went out of his way to study the life and teachings of the Prophet based on both Muslim and non-Muslim sources and in so doing he challenged the distorted history of Islam that was being developed in Europe at that time.

Henry Stubbe was neither a theologian nor an Orientalist, but an English physician. Born in 1632 in Partney, Lincolnshire and educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford University, he trained and practised as a physician in Stratford-upon-Avon. He also became a noted scholar, mathematician and historian. He died of an accident and was buried in Bath in 1676. Though Stubbe was a prolific writer, he is today best known for his An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism: with the life of Mahomet and a Vindication of him and his religion from the calumnies of the Christians (cir. 1674).

According to Matar, the author of this book became the ‘first writer in English to demonstrate the effectiveness of moving beyond the Euro-centric production of knowledge about Islam to alternative sources…he pored over the tomes of English Edward Pococke, Swiss Johann Hottinger and Issac Casaubon, French Claudius Salmansius, English John Selden, and Dutch Thomas Erpenius, and the chronicles of al-Makin, ibn al-Batriq and Abu al-Faraj…[and] became the physician trying to find the cure for the disease of ignorance…Henry Stubbe belongs to that century in English and continental history when Arab-Islamic manuscripts made an impact on European thought. They were collected, edited, translated, and integrated into early modern intellectual activity, sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected, and sometimes adapted into discussions of biblical history and philosophy, philology and law, geography and mathematics.’ (pp20-21)

As Matar rightly points out, Stubbe did not discover any new material about the Prophet of Islam nor did he have access to information that others did not, but he did pursue an objective approach to his subject and in the process produced a biography that corrected a large number of misconceptions about Islam and its Prophet. This was a significant achievement considering that Muslims were widely considered to be devil-worshippers across much of Europe at the time and the Prophet of Islam was portrayed as the personification of anti-Christ himself.

Living as we do at a time when the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) is being again publicly mocked and vilified across much of Europe – and all in the name of so-called freedom, equality and fraternity – I am convinced that the life, scholarship and legacy of Henry Stubbe provides the most powerful rebuke to all such forces of darkness, ignorance and hatred.

The author of this research paper deserves much credit for his invaluable contribution. It should be read in conjunction with the author’s most recent publication titled Henry Stubbe and the Beginnings of Islam: The Originall and Progress of Mahometanism (Columbia University Press, 2014).

Muhammad Khan, author of the acclaimed The Muslim 100 (2008) and The Muslim Heritage of Bengal (2013)

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