From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Washington Irving: Sleepy Hollow awakens to Islam

(Washington Irving - Jarvis, 1809)
If Washington Irving’s main claim to fame were the retelling of a good old ghost story, residents of Sleepy Hollow may have still lain awake nights listening for the headless horseman.

However, Irving’s literary agenda went far beyond mere entertainment.  Along with his classic tales of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, Irving wrote equally classic tales about Islam (from the Life of Mahomet to the glory days of Moorish Spain).  These latter tales helped to awaken his fellow New Yorkers to ways of life that they knew little to nothing about (which is all too often still the case, as revealed by ongoing “Ground-Zero” stereotypes).

Irving did not just hang by the Hudson imaging what life was like during the Islamic Golden Ages.  He instead went to Spain to research this for himself - and even lived for a while in Granada’s famed Alhambra.  His Chronicles of the Conquest of Granada was published in 1829, his Tales of the Alhambra was published in 1832, and his groundbreaking Mahomet and his Successors (the first serious American biography of Muhammad) was published in 1850.  He also served as the American Minister to Spain (as appointed by then-President John Tyler) from 1842 to 1846.

Syed Ashraf Ali, former Director General of the Islamic Foundation in Bangladesh, reports that Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra was instrumental in the restoration of the “hitherto forgotten Alhambra.”  Renewed appreciation and concern was then also given to the Alcazars of Toledo and Seville, as well as to the Great Mosque of Cordova.  Irving’s Conquest of Granada presented a much more balanced approach to the Arab-Christian wars than was usually presented within the Western writings of his time.  His portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad was also unusually balanced, as illustrated by this excerpt:  The early aspirations of his spirit continually returned and bore him above all earthy things.  Prayer, that vital duty of Islam, and that infallible purifier of the soul, was his constant practice…


Copyright April 3, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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