Mahomet (Play)

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Mahomet (Le fanatisme, ou Mahomet) aka "Fanaticism, or Mahomet" is a play in five acts written in 1736 by French playwright and philosopher Voltaire with its debut performance at Lille on 25 April 1741.

The play is a study of religious fanaticism and self-serving manipulation based on the traditional biography of Muhammad in which he orders the murder of his critics [1] and which Voltaire described as "written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect to whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet" [2]

Some writters have argued that the play uses the Islamic figure of Muhammad to indict not only Islam but all monotheistic religions.[3]

Contents

Cast of principal Characters

The characters of the play are actual historical characters

  • Mahomet: Founder of Islam , known today as Muhammad
  • Zopir: Leader of Mecca, of whom Mahomet has killed his wife and his brother and enslaved his children. Zopir is defiant of the tyranny and subjection which Mahomet is trying to impose.
  • Omar : General and second in command to Mahomet. A reference to (Umar ibn al-Khattāb)
  • Seid : Zopir's son abducted and enslaved by Mahomet since childhood but unaware that he is Zopir's son and Pamilra's brother. An allusion to (Zayd ibn Harithah)
  • Palmira: Zopir's daughter , abducted and enslaved by Mahomet since childhood but unaware that she is Zopir's daughter and Seid's sister. An allusion to Zaynab bint Jahsh
  • Phanor: Senator of Mecca.
  • Meccan tribes.
  • Mahomet's followers

Plot

The story of "Mahomet" unfolds during Muhammad's post exile siege of Mecca in 630 AD where the opposing forces are under a short term truce that has been called so that the both sides may discuss the terms and course of the war.

In the first act we are introduced to the leader of the Meccans, Zopir, an ardent and defiant advocate of free will and liberty who rejects the tyranny that his opponent Mahomet is seeking to impose. Mahomet is presented through his conversations with his second in command Omar and with his opponent Zopir and with two of Zopir's long lost children (Seid and Palmira) whom unbeknownst to Zopir, Mahomet had abducted and enslaved since infancy fifteen years earlier.

The now young and beautiful captive Palmira has become the object of Mahomet's desires and jealousy. Having observed a growing affection between Palmira's and Seid, Mahomet devises a plan to steer Seid away from her heart by indoctrinating young Seid in religious fanaticism and sending him on a suicide attack to assassinate Zopir in Mecca, an event which he hopes will would rid him both of Zopir and Seid and free Palmira's affections for his own conquest.[4] Mahomet invokes divine authority to justify his conduct .

Seid still respectful of Zopir's nobility of character, hesitates at first about carrying out his assignment, but eventually his fanatical loyalty to Mahomet overtakes him [5] and he slays Zopir. Phanor arrives and reveals to Seid and Palmira to their disbelief that Zopir was their father. Omar arrives and deceptively orders Seid arrested for Zopir's murder despite knowing that it was Mahomet who had ordered the assassination. Mahomet decides to cover up the whole event so as to not be seen for what he is , a deceitful impostor and tyrant.

Having now uncovered Mahomet's "vile" deception[6] Palmira , renounces Mahomet's god [7]and commits suicides rather than to fall into the clutches of the murderous Mahomet.

Analysis

Voltaire indicated that the play was not historical, but rather a representation of fanaticism.[8] The play is a direct assault on the moral character of Muhammad. The characters of Seid and Palmira representing Muhammad's adopted son Zayd ibn Harithah and his wife Zaynab bint Jahsh over whom Muhammad's lechery prompted him to invent a commandment from Allah stating that Allah ordered Zeid to divorce Zaynab and that is was divinely allowed for Muhammad to marry his daughter-in-law.[9]

Recall that you said to the one who was blessed by Allah, and blessed by you, "Keep your wife and reverence to Allah," and you hid inside yourself what Allah wished to proclaim. Thus, you feared the people, when you were supposed to fear only Allah. When Zayd was completely through with his wife, we had you marry her, in order to establish the precedent that a man may marry the divorced wife of his adopted son. Allah's commands shall be done. Qur'an Sura 33:37

Reception

At first the play was poorly received by its audiences when it first debuted for its strong religious attitudes.[10] Voltaire, under pressure from the state stopped productions of the play until 1751. [11] The ban on the play was not lifted until Pope Benedict XIV gave his approval.[12][13] Voltaire, in this letter, clarified that his play was directed only at Mahomet"[14]

In 2005, a production of the play in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, Ain, France, resulted in Islamic demands for cancellation and street disturbances outside the performance itself. [1]

François Busnel indicated that the play was not to be interpreted historically bur rather as a tragedy and satire.[15]. Rebecca Joubin, has stated that the play 's focus functions as a surrogate for Jesus. .[16].

Reference

  1. Voltaire, Mahomet the Prophet or Fanaticism: A Tragedy in Five Acts, trans. Robert L. Myers, ( New York: Frederick Ungar, 1964)
  2. Voltaire Letter to Benedict XIV written in Paris on August 17,1745 AD Your holiness will pardon the liberty taken by one of the lowest of the faithful, though a zealous admirer of virtue, of submitting to the head of the true religion this performance, written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect. To whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet, than to the vicar and representative of a God of truth and mercy? Your holiness will therefore give me leave to lay at your feet both the piece and the author of it, and humbly to request your protection of the one, and your benediction upon the other; in hopes of which, with the profoundest reverence, I kiss your sacred feet.
  3. François Busnel, "Voltaire, le retour," Lire (juillet 2004 / août 2004) http://www.lire.fr/critique.asp/idC=47034/idTC=3/idR=213/idG=8 Le fanatisme ou Mahomet le prophète is a charge against Islam and more widely against all monotheistic religions
  4. Mahomet Act IV Scene I Mahomet speaking We must work in secret, the dark shades of death must hide our purpose—while we shed old Zopir's blood, be sure you keep Palmira in deepest ignorance; she must not know the secret of her birth: her bliss and mine depend upon it
  5. Mahomet Act IV scene IV Seid speaking To serve my God, to please and merit thee, This sword, devoted to the cause of heaven, Is drawn, and shall destroy its deadliest foe
  6. Mahomet Act V scene II: Palmira speaking to Mahomet "What joys, what blessings, or what happiness can I expect from thee, thou vile impostor? thou bloody savage! This alone was wanting this cruel insult to complete my woes: eternal father, look upon this king,this "holy prophet", this all-powerful god whom i adored: thou monster, to betray two guiltless hearts into the crying sin of parricide; thou infamous seducer of my unguarded youth, how darest thou think,stained as thou art with my dear father's blood, to gain palmira's heart? But know, proud tyrant, thou are not yet invincible: the veil is off that hid thee."
  7. Mahomet Act V scene V: Palmira speaking to Mahomet "I die: and dying hope a God more just than thine has yet in store a state of happiness for injured innocence "
  8. Letter to FRÉDÉRIC II, King of Prussia written by Voltaire in 1740 Je sais que Mahomet n’a pas tramé précisément l’espèce de trahison qui fait le sujet de cette tragédie... Je n’ai pas prétendu mettre seulement une action vraie sur la scène, mais des moeurs vraies; faire penser les hommes comme ils pensent dans les circonstances où ils se trouvent, et représenter enfin ce que la fourberie peut inventer de plus atroce, et ce que le fanatisme peut exécuter de plus horrible. Mahomet n’est ici autre chose que Tartuffe les armes à la main. .
  9. Letter to FRÉDÉRIC II, King of Prussia written by Voltaire in 1740
  10. Ronald W. Tobin, "The Sources of Voltaire's "Mahomet"," The French Review, 34 (Feb. 1961). 372.
  11. Paul M. Bondois, "Le procureur-général Joly de Fleury et le Mahomet de Voltaire," Revue d'Histoire Littéraire, XXXVI (1929). 246-259.
  12. Voltaire Letter to Benedict XIV written in Paris on August 17,1745 AD
  13. Ronald W. Tobin, "The Sources of Voltaire's "Mahomet"," The French Review, 34 (Feb. 1961). 372-373.
  14. Voltaire Letter to Benedict XIV written in Paris on August 17,1745 AD
  15. , "Voltaire, le retour," Lire (juillet 2004 / août 2004) http://www.lire.fr/critique.asp/idC=47034/idTC=3/idR=213/idG=8
  16. Rebecca Joubin, "Islam and Arabs through the Eyes of the Encyclopedie: The "Other" as a Case of French Cultural Self-Criticism," International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 32, No. 2. (May, 2000). 198.

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