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01 August 2008


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State and religion – any lessons from Napoleon?
In a week when the government was getting its fingers burned funding a panel of theologians to debate Qur'anic interpretations, I was reading a 1970s biography of Napoleon
  • I had reached the Egyptian adventure
  • According to his biographer Vincent Cronin, the great conqueror had read the Qur'an on the way out and thought it 'sublime'

  • As an admirer of Voltaire, and as an eighteenth century rationalist, Napoleon believed in the brotherhood of man and the beneficence of God
  • Priests and pedantic theologians got in the way of believers worshipping together
  • He found nothing to contradict his beliefs in the Qur'an
  • He declared 'we too are true Muslims'
  • He told the muftis that he admired Mohammed
  • He wanted Egyptians to take an oath of loyalty to Napoleon's government, whereupon the muftis' response was that the French, in order to be true Muslims, would need to be circumcised and to renounce wine
  • That appears to have brought a dash of realism into the picture, but an interesting compromise was reached: for his continuing protection of Islam, Napoleon received a helpful endorsement from the muftis as God's messenger and a friend of the prophet

  • Judy Kirby & Allistair Lomax

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