Montesquieu

Usbek to his cou­sin Gemchid, der­vish of the brilliant monas­tery of Tauris


What do you think of Christians, sublime der­vish ? Do you think that on judg­ment day they will be like the Turkish infi­dels, who will serve as asses to the Jews and be led by them in full trot into hell ? I know of course that they will not go to the sojourn of the pro­phets, and that the great Ali did not come for them. But since they did not have the good for­tu­nate to find mos­ques in their coun­try, do you believe they will be condem­ned to eter­nal punish­ments, and that God will punish them for fai­ling to prac­tice a reli­gion he has not had revea­led to them ? I can tell you this, that I have often exa­mi­ned these Christians ; I have ques­tio­ned them to see whe­ther they had some know­ledge of the great Ali who was the hand­so­mist of all men : I have found that they had never heard of him.

They are not like those infi­dels whom our holy pro­phets had run through with swords because they refu­sed to believe in the mira­cles of hea­ven1 : they are more like those unfor­tu­na­tes who lived in the dark­ness of ido­la­try before the divine light came to illu­mi­nate the face of our great Prophet.

Moreover, if one exa­mi­nes their reli­gion clo­sely, one will finds in it some­thing like a germ of our doc­tri­nes. I have often admi­red the secrets of Providence, which seems to have inten­ded the­reby to pre­pare the way for gene­ral conver­sion. I have heard of a book by one of their doc­tors, cal­led Triumphant Polygamy,2 in which it is pro­ven that Christians are com­man­ded to prac­tice poly­gamy. Their bap­tism is the image of our ritual ablu­tions, and Christians err only in the effi­ca­cious­ness they attri­bute to that ini­tial ablu­tion, which they think ought to suf­fice for all the others. Their priests and monks pray, as we do, seven times a day ; they hope to go to a para­dise where they will enjoy a thou­sand delights by means of the resur­rec­tion of the body ; they have desi­gna­ted fasts as we do, mor­ti­fi­ca­tions by which they hope to influence divine mercy ; they revere good angels, and are wary of the bad ones ; they have a holy cre­du­lity for the mira­cles which God per­forms through the minis­try of his ser­vants ; they reco­gnize as we do the ina­de­quacy of their des­serts, and the need they have of an inter­ces­sor with God.3 I see Muhammadanism eve­ryw­here, though I now­here see Muhammed. Whatever we do, the truth esca­pes, and always pier­ces the dark­ness that sur­rounds it. A day will come when the Eternal One will see none but true belie­vers on the earth4 : time which consu­mes eve­ry­thing will des­troy errors as well ; all men will mar­vel to find them­sel­ves under the same stan­dard ; eve­ry­thing, even the Law, will be consu­med. The divine pro­to­ty­pes will be taken from the earth and borne into the celes­tial archi­ves.

Paris this 20th day of the moon of Zilhagé 1713

Chardin cites the eleven miracles of Muhammed that are incorporated in the Muslim calendar (VII, 444-448).

Johann Leyser, Polygamia triumphatrix, id est Discursus politicus de polygamia, auctore Theophilo Aletheo (Londini Scanorum 1682). Apparently Montesquieu did not own this book, but it was mentioned very critically by Bayle (DHC, “Lyserus” and note A of “Lamech” ; see also Nouvelles de la république des letters for April 1685.

For Christians, this expression evokes Christ ; the Muslim equivalent would be Muhammed the “messenger” or “apostle sent from God” (Chardin, VII, preface).

Chardin mentions the theory of a thirteenth imam, who is to take the place of the “twelfth and last imam or successor of Muhammed,” who had disappeared in the year 296 of the Hegira.