Thomas Carlyle, Karen Armstrong, John Davenport and Prof. Laura Veccia Vaglieri

Misinformation, medieval and prejudicial information abounds, when it comes to Islam in the West. So, I thought it is necessary for me to suggest some Christian sources of information, where readers could get ‘fair and balanced’ information, rather than vitriolic propaganda against Islam and its founder.

To have a more reasonable and modern paradigm to review Islam, I suggest that researchers should start with the writings of Thomas Carlyle, Karen Armstrong and John Davenport.


Carlyle has been introduced in some detail in a recent Muslim publication:
Carlyle wrote:
“I confess I can make nothing of the critics in these times, who would accuse Mohammed of deceit prepense; of conscious deceit, and writing this Koran as a forger and a juggler would have done.  Every candid eye, I think, will read the Koran far otherwise than so.”[1]
The first book of Carlyle that I want to suggest here is:
On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History by Thomas Carlyle (available on
thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle (4 December 1795 – 5 February 1881)

A few short quotes from his book:

How one man single-handedly, could weld warring tribes and Bedouins into a most powerful and civilized nation in less than two decades?

The lies which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man are disgraceful to ourselves only.

A silent great soul, one of that who cannot but be in earnest. He was to kindle the world; the Worlds Maker had ordered so.


Karen Armstrong had written a biography of the Prophet Muhammad before September 11th and that is a much better and accurate account of history than the second biography, more recently published in 2007:
Karen Armstrong: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong (Paperback – Dec 3, 2001)
In this she has a chapter examining early Christian-Muslim relationship and I have some quotes from that chapter in my article, ‘Tear Down the Spanish Wall.’

A recent convert to Islam in Netherland, Abdul Haq Compier wrote an article, examining Christian-Muslim relationship in the sixteenth century.  He introduces his article with these words:

“Religious tolerance may seem very self-evident to the modern reader, who is educated to believe that tolerance is one of the fundamental values upon which Europe was built. However, up until the 16th century, religious tolerance was not seen anywhere in Europe. Ever since the Roman Empire, Christian rulers governed by the phrase ‘One Empire, One Law, One Faith.’ Christian theology regarded Christ as the only way to salvation, and the Church as the only way to Christ. Disbelievers were regarded to be exempted from salvation, and hence criminals, ‘children of Satan.’ The Church argued that it was the responsibility of the ruler to cleanse the community of corruption, or he would be held responsible. When persecutions became unbearable, Christians looked to Islam for help.”
For the rest of his article go to:
In his article he has several quotes from Karen Armstrong’s book, ‘Jerusalem,’ especially pertaining to the second Muslim Caliph, Hadhrat Umar.
Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) personally participated in cleaning of the Temple Mount which had been made into a garbage dump for the town at that time.


Is it possible to conceive, we may ask, that the man who effected such great and lasting reforms in his own country by substituting the worship of the one only true God for the gross and debasing idolatry in which his countrymen had been plunged for ages; who abolished infanticide, prohibited the use of spirituous liquors and games of chance (those sources of moral depravity), who restricted within comparatively narrow limits the unrestrained polygamy which he found in existence and practice—can we, we repeat, conceive so great and zealous a reformer to have been a mere impostor, or that his whole career was one of sheer hypocrisy? Can we imagine that his divine mission was a mere invention of his own of whose falsehood he was conscious throughout? No, sorely, nothing but a consciousness of really righteous intentions could have carried Mohammed so steadily and constantly without ever flinching or wavering, without ever betraying himself to his most intimate connections and companions, from his first revelation to Khadijah to his last agony in the arms of Ayesha.  John Davenport

In his book  An apology for Mohammed and the Koran, John Davenport has a chapter dedicated to refuting four different allegations against the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him.  In the beginning of the chapter he makes a list of the four allegations that he is going to defend:
The charges brought against Mohammed are reducible to four, as follows :—
I. The promulgating a new and false religion as a revelation from God, it being, on the contrary, but a mere invention of his own, for the purpose of gratifying his ambition and lust.
II. That Mohammed propagated his religion by the sword, thereby causing an enormous waste of human blood and a vast amount of human misery.
III. The sensual character of his Paradise as described in tho Koran.
IV. The encouragement he has given to licentiousness by legalizing Polygamy.
Below I have quoted some parts from that chapter:
“Is it possible to concoive, we may ask, that tho man who directed such great and lasting reforms in his own country by substituting the worship of tho one only true God for tho gross and debasing idolatry in which his countrymen had boon plunged for ages; who abolished infanticide, prohibited the use of spirituons liquors and games of chance (those sources of moral depravity), who restricted within comparatively narrow limits the unrestrained polygamy which he found in existence and practice—can we, we repeat, conceive so great and zealous a reformer to have been a mere impostor, or that his whole career was one of sheer hypocrisy? Can we imagine that his divine mission was a mere invention of his own of whose falsehood he was conscious throughout? No, surely, nothing but a consciousness of really righteous intentions could have carried Mohammed so steadily and constantly without ever flinching or wavering, without ever betraying himself to his most intimate connections and companions, from his first revelation to Khadijah to his last agony in the arms of Ayesha.

Surely a good and sincere man, full of confidence in his Creator, who makes an immense reform both in faith and practice, is truly a direct instrument in the hands of God, and may be said to have a commission from Him. Why may not Mohammed be recognized, no less than other faithful, though imperfect servants of God, as truly a servant of God, serving him faithfully though imperfectly? Why may it not be believed that he was, in his own age and country, a preacher of truth and righteousness sent to teach his own people the unity and righteousness of God, to give them civil and moral precepts suited to their condition.”

The Muslims, however, believe that the Prophet Muhammad did serve his God perfectly.  Having said that, any Muslim cannot but help being grateful to John Davenport for his eloquence in the defense of Islam.

In another place John Davenport beautifully explains that the religion of Islam is a continuation of the religion of all the previous prophets:

“It has also been objected that Mohammed, while pretending not to deliver any new religion to the Arabians, but only to revive that old one which God had revealed to Abraham, and Abraham had delivered to Ishmael, the founder of their nation, actually did found a new religion, and, consequently, spake that which was false. But, if that only be a new religion which differs from the former in the object of its worship, and the moral duties imposed by it, then, certainly neither that of Moses, nor that of Jesns Christ, nor that of Mohammed, were new religions. That of Moses was no more than the renewal and enforcement by laws of that religion which Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael professed, and which was to adore the one only God, and Him to love and obey with their whole soul, and to practise those moral duties which the necessity of human society as well as the will of God imposed upon mankind. Thus, Jesus Christ tells us that to love God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves was the whole law and the prophets, that is, that Moses and the prophets taught the Israelites a religion which entirely consisted in the love and adoration of one eternal God, and an extensive love of one another; and hence the doctrine of Jesus Christ himself was not new, but the same that Moses had taught before, with this only difference, that our moral duties to one another were commanded with more force than before, and tais admirable and divine rule set down, by which the meanest and most ignorant of mankind might know with almost certainty when he offended against these moral duties and when not, as the precept ‘do unto others as you would they should do unto you’ clearly shows.

At the appearance of Jesus, the Jews inhabiting Judea were extremely corrupt in their morals, and a criminal selflove and egotism having been long spread among them, both priests and people, there was nothing to be found but avarice, rapine, injustice and oppression, for, placing their righteousness in the rigid observance of some ceremonies and formulas of religion, they had entirely lost its real substance. To restore this seems to have been the whole aim, drift and design of the mission of Christ, for to that all his doctrines plainly tend—a consideration sufficient to show that the Christian religion in its foundation was but the renewing of that of Moses. The business of Mohammed was not only to enforce moral doctrines, but also to establish the adoration of one God, for the people among whom it was his lot to be cast were gone vastly astray in both; it was, therefore, his intent to revive tbe religion of Ishmael the founder of his nation—namely, the worship of one God; and this is enough to prove that Mohammed did but speak the truth when he told the Arabians that he did not preach to them a new religion, but only the ancient one which their forefather Ishmael had proposed many ages before.”[2]

He goes on to painting a beautiful picture of the Prophet of Islam, as he writes:

“Mohammed, then, was doubtless fully convinced of his own mission, as well as that in the name of God, and in the character of his Apostle he wrought a great, albeit perhaps an imperfect reform, in his own country. Nor was his belief in his own mission ill founded. Through mockery and persecution the Prophet kept unflinchingly his path; no threats, no injuries hinder him from still preaching to his people the unity and the righteousness of God, and exhorting to a far better and purer morality than had ever up to his time been set before them. He claimed no temporal power, no spiritual domination, he asked but for simple toleration, free permission to win men by persuasion into the way of truth. He required that men should do justice and love mercy, and walk humbly before their God, and, as the sanction of all, he taught that there will be a resurrection of the dead as well of the just and the unjust.

Compare Mohammed with his own degenerate followers, with Timour at Ispahan, and Nadir Shah at Delhi, with the wretches who, in our times, have desolated Chios and Cyprus, and Kassandra. The entry cf an Eastern victor is ordinarily the signal for murder and massacre alike of the armed and unarmed, of the innocent and the guilty. Mohammed had his wrongs to avenge, but they are satisfied by a handful of exceptions to a general amnesty, and the majority, even of these, are ultimately forgiven. It is the temple of God desecrated by idols, which he had come to ransom. With the sublime words, ‘Truth is come, let falsehood disappear,’ he shivers, in succession, the 360 abominations which were standing erect, in the holy place, and his work once accomplished, he did not, like his victorious namesake, in later times, fix his throne in the city he had won. He reared no palace for his own honour by the side of the temple which he had recovered to the honour of God. The city of his fathers, the metropolis of his race, the shrine of his religion, was again deserted for his humble dwelling among those who had stood by him in the day of trial.”[3]

 For refutation of the other three charges by John Davenport read pages 141-161 of the book, not the PDF file:
Prof. Laura Veccia Vaglieri contributed several articles to the Encyclopedia of Islam. She was a pioneer of Arabic and Islamic studies in Italy, Veccia Vaglieri served as professor at the Naples Eastern University and was the author of books on the historical and institutional analysis of the Arab and Muslim world.  She is certainly deserving of joining this august list of Orientalists!

The back cover of her book, an interpretation of Islam states:

The Prophet Muhammad at God’s behest, called men to the worship of one God and proclaimed that, by responding to this call, mankind would achieve true dignity, honour, prosperity and happiness. Within an astonishingly brief period, and over vast areas which were in the grip of ignorance, darkness and confusion were finally dispelled, order was established and all manner of beneficent institutions sprang into life, a high moral order was set up and the blessings of knowledge, learning and science began to be widely diffused. The strength of this message was its crystal clear simplicity and marvelous easiness, for Islam reached out to the soul of the people without having recourse to long explanations and involved sermons. Thanks to this message, bringing the ideals of tauhid, resalat, peace and harmony, paganism in its various forms was defeated, and human dignity finally became a reality.

Islam taught right thinking, proper action and honest speaking, and for these reasons it found its way, without any difficulty, into both the minds and hearts of men.

She also wrote about human equality in Islam in this book. She states:

Islam, which has never made any distinction of race or colour among men, which considered the white and the black, the nomad and the settled farmer, the ruler and the subject as all alike, not only in theory but also in practice (and as a matter of fact in the tent, in the palace, in the mosque, in the market, they all mingled together without reserve and with no sign of contempt or arrogance towards each other), never countenanced any humiliating treatment for slaves. Is it not fitting to remember here, while talking of the social equality imposed by Islam, the beautiful episode of King Jabale, who, having become a Muslim, went in great state to Makkah. While he was making the ritual tour around the Ka’bah, he struck a Bedouin who had accidentally trodden on his rich mantle. The Caliph Umar ruled that he was to receive a similar blow from the Bedouin because in Islam all men are alike. Jabale refused to submit to this and that very night he left with his five hundred knights and went straight to Byzantium where he became a Christian. Many years later, in the midst of honours and riches, the memories of Islam still filled his eyes with tears.

History furnishes many examples of slaves to whom high and honourable positions were given (among others, Bilal, who, because of his beautiful voice was accorded the high honour of being the first muezzin in Islam) and of freedmen who occupied high government positions, even rising to the Caliphate.

Laura Veccia Vaglieri (1893 – 1989) was an Italian orientalist.

A pioneer of Arabic and Islamic studies in Italy, Veccia Vaglieri served as professor at the Naples Eastern University and was the author of books on the historical and institutional analysis of the Arab and Muslim world. Her works include

  1. A textbook on the grammar of the Arabic language (Grammatica teorico-pratica della lingua araba (Istituto per l’Oriente, Rome, 1937, 2 voll.))
  2. Apologia dell’ Islamismo (Rome, A. F. Formiggini, 1925). An Interpretation of Islam. Zurich: Islamic Foundation. Translated from Italian by Dr. Aldo Caselli, Haverford College, Pennsylvania. 1980.
  3. A synthesis on the classical Islam (L’Islam da Maometto al secolo XVI, in: Storia Universale (dir. Ernesto Pontieri), Milan, F. Vallardi, 1963))

and a number of articles on the early Islam. She also contributed several articles to the Encyclopaedia of Islam.


  1. This quote is mentioned on the title of John Davenport’s book, An apology for Mohammed and the Koran, available in and Google books.
  2. John Davenport. An apology for Mohammed and the Koran. London, 1869. Pages 138-139.
  3. John Davenport. An apology for Mohammed and the Koran. London, 1869. Pages 140-141.

Categories: Highlight, Islam, Muhammad

8 replies

  1. Carlyle’s quote that Islam did not spread by sword
    Much has been said of Mahomet’s propagating his Religion by the sword. It is no doubt far nobler what we have to boast of the Christian Religion, that it propagated itself peaceably in the way of preaching and conviction. Yet withal, if we take this for an argument of the truth or falsehood of a religion, there is a radical mistake in it. The sword indeed: but where will you get your sword! Every new opinion, at its starting, is precisely in a minority of one. In one man’s head alone, there it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it; there is one man against all men. That he take a sword, and try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You must first get your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can. We do not find, of the Christian Religion either, that it always disdained the sword, when once it had got one.

    I care little about the sword: I will allow a thing to struggle for itself in this world, with any sword or tongue or implement it has, or can lay hold of. We will let it preach, and pamphleteer, and fight, and to the uttermost bestir itself, and do, beak and claws, whatsoever is in it; very sure that it will, in the long-run, conquer nothing which does not deserve to be conquered. What is better than itself, it cannot put away, but only what is worse. In this great Duel, Nature herself is umpire, and can do no wrong: the thing which is deepest-rooted in Nature, what we call truest, that thing and not the other will be found growing at last.

    A video clip echoing Calyle’s defense of Islam:

  2. A few detailed quotes from Carlyle
    From, ‘On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History’ by Thomas Carlyle:

    “Our current hypothesis about Muhammad, that he was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to any one. The lies, which well meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only. When Pococke inquired of Grotius, Where the proof was of that story of the pigeon, trained to pick peas from Muhammad’s ear, and pass for an angel dictating to him? Grotius answered that there was no proof! It is really time to dismiss all that. The word this man spoke has been the life guidance now of a hundred and eighty millions of men these twelve hundred years. These hundred and eighty millions were made by God as well as we. A greater number of God’s creatures believe in Muhammad’s word at this hour than in any other word whatever. Are we to suppose that it was a miserable piece of spiritual legerdemain, this which so many creatures of the Almighty have lived by and died by? I, for my part, cannot form any such supposition. I will believe most things sooner than that. One would be entirely at a loss what to think of this world at all, if quackery so grew and were sanctioned here.

    Alas, such theories are very lamentable. If we would attain to knowledge of anything in God’s true Creation, let us disbelieve them wholly! They are the product of an Age of Skepticism; they indicate the saddest spiritual paralysis, and mere death life of the souls of men; more godless theory, I think, was never promulgated in this Earth. A false man found a religion? Why, a false man cannot build a brick house! If he do not know and follow truly the properties of mortar, burnt clay and what else he works in, it is no house that he makes, but a rubbish heap. It will not stand for twelve centuries, to lodge a hundred and eighty millions; it will fall straightway. A man must conform himself to Nature’s laws, be verily in communion with Nature and the truth of things, or Nature will answer him, No, not at all! Speciosities are specious—-ah me!—-a Cagliostro, many Cagliostros, prominent world leaders, do prosper by their quackery, for a day. It is like a forged bank-note; they get it passed out of their worthless hands: others, not they, have to smart for it. Nature bursts-up in fire-flames, French Revolutions and such like, proclaiming with terrible veracity that forged notes are forged.

    But of a Great Man especially, of him I will venture to assert that it is incredible he should have been other than true. It seems to me the primary foundation of him, and of all that can lie in him, this. No Mirabeau, Napoleon, Burns, Cromwell, no man adequate to do anything, but is first of all in right earnest about it; what I call a sincere man. I should say sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic. Not the sincerity that calls itself sincere; ah no, that is a very poor matter indeed;—-a shallow braggart conscious sincerity; oftenest self-conceit mainly. The Great Man’s sincerity is of the kind he cannot speak of, is not conscious of: nay, I suppose, he is conscious rather of insincerity; for what man can walk accurately by the law of truth for one day? No, the Great Man does not boast himself sincere, far from that; perhaps does not ask himself if he is so: I would say rather, his sincerity does not depend on himself; he cannot help being sincere! The great Fact of Existence is great to him. Fly as he will, he cannot get out of the awful presence of this Reality. His mind is so made; he is great by that, first of all. Fearful and wonderful, real as Life, real as Death, is this Universe to him. Though all men should forget its truth, and walk in a vain show, he cannot. At all moments the Flame image glares in upon him; undeniable, there, there!—-I wish you to take this as my primary definition of a Great Man. A little man may have this, it is competent to all men that God has made: but a Great Man cannot be without it.”

  3. John Davenport standing shoulder to shoulder with Carlyle in defense of Muhammad
    John Davenport writes in his book, An apology for Mohammed and the Koran:

    “It is in the compositions of Friar Bacon, who was born in 1214, and who learned the Oriental languages, that we discover the most extensive acquaintance with the Arabian anthors. He quotes Albumazar, Thabet-Ebu-Corah, Ali Alhacer, Alkandi, Alfraganus and Arzakeb; and seems to have been as familiar with them as with the Greek and Latin classics, especially with Avicenna, whom he calls ‘the chief and prince of philosophy.’ The great Lord Bacon, it is well known, imbibed and borrowed the first principles of his famous experimental philosophy from his predecessor and namesake Roger Bacon, a fact which indisputably establishes the derivation of the Baconian philosophical system from the descendants of Ishmael and disciples of Mohammed.”

    In a short paragraph, John Davenport has very precisely identified all the links in the human intellectual evolution. Additionally, his book, that is available in Google books, is a master piece in the defence of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him. Read his two page Preface and you immediately begin to notice that he is standing shoulder to shoulder with other great souls, who have painted the Prophet Muhammad, in true colors, in the Western world, like Thomas Carlyle.

  4. “History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated” [De Lacy O’Leary in ‘Islam at the Crossroads,’ London, 1923]

  5. The Holy Quran prescribed liberation of slaves as atonement for several faults or sins

    For references and details listen to Friday Sermon of Khalifatul Masih V, the international leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of November 25th, 2011:

    He said in this sermon among other things:

    An Italian professor, Laura Veccia Vaglieri writes that slavery has been around ever since human civilisation began and it remains. She opines that the condition of slavery among Muslim nations is comparatively better. She writes about the benevolence of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and cites him as saying ‘do not say he is my slave, rather say he is my son and do not say she is my female-slave rather say she is my daughter. She writes that on reflection the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) made magnificent reformations in this matter. In pre-Islamic days a person in debt faced the possibility of having his freedom snatched, but after Islam no Muslim could enslave another free Muslim. Not only did the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) limit slavery, rather he introduced regulations about this and told the Muslims to march onwards regarding it until such time that all slaves were free. Hudhur said the professor wrote her book in Italian and it has been translated in English. A while ago the USA Jama’at had published this book. It mentions teachings of Islam in a very fine way. If the copyrights are in place, it should be re-printed by USA Jama’at. It is sufficient to silence the detractors who raise objections about Islam and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him). This magnificent teaching and blessed model are the reality of freedom of man.

  6. THANK YOU VERY VERY MUCH.As a matter of fact,i can keep the mouths of the ignorants and disbelievers shut by this information presented by you.In fact,i have some chrisitian friends to answer.

Leave a Reply