‘Protestant Mahometans’: Islam and the coming of tolerance to Britain

Of course, the issue of tolerance did not pass by Britain unnoticed. Although the Anglican church had separated itself from the Pope, it did not adopt a policy of tolerance until the discussions like those on the Huguenots in France and the Calvinists in the Netherlands were held with regard to the Nonconformists in Britain. In these discussions, the example of the Ottoman Empire was employed by such authors as Walter Raleigh, Henry Burton, Roger Williams, Charles Blackwood and Quakers like George Fox.

Nonconformist Edward Bagshaw presented the Ottoman example to appeal for tolerance of his community, whereupon John Locke, who was to become an inspiration for the American Constitution, wrote against Bagshaw and denied the right of nonconformists to be tolerated while at the same time accepting that Muslims and Jews should be allowed. Later however, Locke would change his position and affirmed Bagshaw by allowing the Nonconformists to be tolerated like in Islam.

In the discussions in Britain, specific derogatives came to be in use to refer to the constant alliances made between dissenting Christians and the Turks, both in the military and in the ideological sense. Indeed, ‘Mahometan’ became the abusive for those who committed the ‘tyranny’ of tolerating other religions. Nabil Matar writes:

Anglican writers reviled the Non-conformists as ‘Protestant Mahometans’ who ‘according to the Law of the Alchoran, (which for propagating Religions was in the late times translated into English) [are] so zealous for Toleration of all Jews, Pagans, Turks, and Infidels; if they have but a Conscience, it is no matter of what colour or size it is, it must have a Liberty’.

John Locke was one of those who were accused of having adopted ideas from ‘the Alchoran’. William Rainolds and William Gifford, two English Catholics in exile in Antwerp, in 1597 first coined the term ‘Calvinoturcism’ to refer to the coöperation between the Turks and Christian reformists all over Europe.

This is an excerpt from the article ‘Let the Muslim be my Master in Outward Things’, on Islamic influences on the emergence of tolerance in Europe. Download the complete article with references from Al-Islam eGazette, January 2010.

Categories: Europe, ISLAM, Muslim Heritage, UK

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