Goethe embraces Islam

Goethe and Christianity

Goethe said that there is "much nonsense in the doctrines of the [christian] church." (Conversations with Eckermann, 11.3.1832) In his "Divan" Goethe stresses the value of the precious present moment rather than having the Christian attitude of only waiting for the next life and therefore, disgracing what God gives man in every moment of his life.

Goethe refuses the christian view of Jesus and confirms the unity of Allah in a poem of his "Divan":

"Jesus felt pure and calmly thought
Only the One God;
Who made himself to be a god
Offends his holy will.
And thus the right(ness) has to shine
What Mahomet also achieved;
Only by the term of the One
He mastered the whole world"

"Jesus f|hlte rein und dachte
Nur den Einen Gott im Stillen;
Wer ihn selbst zum Gotte machte
Krdnkte seinen heil'gen Willen.
Und so mu_ das Rechte scheinen
Was auch Mahomet gelungen;
Nur durch den Begriff des Einen
Hat er alle Welt bezwungen."
(WA I, 6, 288 ff)

Besides Jesus and Muhammad - may Allah bless him and give him peace! - in the following verses Goethe also names Abraham, Moses and David as the representatives of the Oneness of God. It is a known fact that Goethe felt a strong dislike for the symbol of the cross. He wrote:

"And now you come with a sign ...
which among all others I mostly dislike.
All this modern nonsense
You are going to bring me to Schiras!
Should I, in all its stiffness,
Sing of two crossed wooden pieces?"

"Und nun kommst du, hast ein Zeichen
Dran gehdngt, das unter allen ...
Mir am schlechtesten will gefallen
Diese ganze moderne Narrheit
Magst du mir nach Schiras bringen!
Soll ich wohl, in seiner Starrheit,
Hvlzchen quer auf Hvlzchen singen?..."
Und sogar noch stdrker:
"Mir willst du zum Gotte machen
Solch ein Jammerbild am Holze!"

Also in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre Goethe quite frankly wrote that it is a "cursed insolence ... to play with secrets that are hidden in the divine depth of suffering" One should rather "cover it with a veil".

Finally, in the poem of the Seven Sleepers of his "Divan" Goethe calls Jesus a prophet: "Ephesus for many years/ Honours the teaching of the Prophet Jesus. (Peace be upon the good one!)" (WA I, 6, 269)

Practice of Dhikr

Goethe is fascinated by Saadi's metaphor of the "fly in love" flying into the light where it dies. See here especially the poem of the "Divan" about the butterfly flying into the light "Blissful yearning / Selige Sehnsucht" whose earlier titles were "Sacrifice of the self / Selbstopfer" and "Perfection / Vollendung". In the chapter about Rumi, Goethe acknowledges the invocation of Allah and the blessing of it: "Already the so-called mahometan rosary [prayer-beeds] by which the name Allah is glorified with ninety-nine qualities is such a praise litany. Affirming and negating qualities indicate the inconceivable Being [Wesen]; the worshipper is amazed, submits and calms down." (WA I, 7, 59)

Goethe and Islam

As a young man Goethe wanted to study oriental studies - but his father finally wanted him to study law; he always admired the first travellers to Arabia (Michaelis, Niebuhr), he was fascinated by it and read everything they published about their trips. In 1814/15 at the time of his "Divan" Goethe trained himself with the professors for oriental studies Paulus, Lorsbach and Kosegarten (Jena) in reading and writing Arabic. After looking at his Arabic manuscripts and having known about the Qur'an, Goethe felt a great yearning to learn Arabic. He copied short Arabic Du'as by himself and wrote: "In no other language spirit, word and letter are embodied in such a primal way." (Letter to Schlosser, 23.1.1815, WA IV, 25, 165)

At the age of 70 Goethe writes (Notes and Essays to the Divan, WA I, 17, 153) that he intends "to celebrate respectfully that night when the Prophet was given the Koran completely from above" He also wrote: "No one may wonder about the great efficiency of the Book. That is why it has been declared as uncreated by real admirers" and added to it: "This book will eternally remain highly efficacious/effective" (WA I, 7, 35/36)

Still today we have the handwritten manuscripts of his first intensive Qur'an-studies of 1771/1772 and the later ones in the Goethe and Schiller-Archive in Weimar. Goethe read the German translation of Qur'an by J. v. Hammer (possibly as well from the more prosaic English translation of G. Sale) out loud in front of members of the Duke's family in Weimar and their guests. Being witnesses Schiller and his wife reported about the reading. (Schiller's letter to Knebel, 22.2.1815) Goethe always felt the shortcomings of all the translations (Latin, English, German and French) and was constantly looking for new translations. In his "Divan" Goethe says:

"Whether the Koran is of eternity?
I don't question that!...
That it is the book of books
I believe out of the muslim's duty."

"Ob der Koran von Ewigkeit sei?
Darnach frag' ich nicht ! ...
Da_ er das Buch der B|cher sei
Glaub' ich aus Mosleminen-
(WA I, 6, 203)

He studied Arabic handbooks, grammars, travel-books, poetry, anthologies, books on the sira of the Prophet Muhammad - may Allah bless him and give him peace! - and had a widespread exchange with oriental scholars about these matters. Goethe liked the German translation of Hafis' "Diwan" by Hammer (May 1814) and studied the different translations of Qur'an of his time. All of this inspired him to write his own "West-