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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: July ::
Shakespeare and Islam
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0618  Tuesday, 4 July 2006

From: 		Nabie Swaray <
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Date: 		Monday, 3 Jul 2006 09:18:22 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 17.0588 Shakespeare and Islam
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0588 Shakespeare and Islam

The Ottoman Empire as a major player in European conquest, as a 
formidable foe that threatens Europe's expansionist ambition, and of 
course, of her military might are factors that must have led to the 
spread of Islam and a passionate interest in Islamic teachings. 
Shakespeare refers to the Ottomans, now Turkey, as " The barbarous 
Turks" who poses a threat to Cyprus, a Christian establishment. 
Eventually, this immediate threat leads to the employment of Othello as 
General to tame the " barbarous Turks." Today, the "September 11" 
incident that led to the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York, The 
Pentagon and other tragic incidents linked to Alqaeda have ignited a 
love-hate interest in Islam. Some American Universities are not only 
recommending courses in Islam but that student must read the 'Quran 
itself as the source to understand the enemy. The entire world is 
gripped in this dilemma, and the media continues to bombard us with 
images and news about Islamic atrocities. The parallels are similar. If 
the method of conquest and conversion employed by the " barbarous Turks" 
are as frightening and threatening to the safety of the rest of the 
world and her citizens, this and other factors must have fueled a 
passionate interest in Islam. How can one fight a treacherous and 
barbaric enemy if you failed to understand the source that motivates 
him/her. This must have been the dilemma Shakespeare and even other 
writers such as the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists had to face. If 
Islam was becoming a threat and an overwhelming force at Shakespeare's 
time, the audience, with an awe-inspiring attitude, thirst for knowledge 
about Islam and the "Turks." As a result, Shakespeare must have found 
Islam an interesting topic to write about. Today, we are gripped with 
important and dominating subjects such as "Islamic Terrorists", HIV/AIDS 
and other great issues. During the cold war, the spy novel thrived and 
dominated the world of fiction. John Updike has a new novel, titled: 
"Terrorists." Why did he choose to write a novel based on the subject? 
The answer is, Terrorism is now the most popular subject and it has 
dominated our lives since the "911" incident.  Therefore, Islam, which 
is linked with the rise and dominance of the Ottoman Empire at that 
period must have  sparked a global interest, especially when that part 
of the world remained threatened by this unfamiliar enemy. I hope my 
answer has shed some light on this question: Why Islam in Shakespeare's 
three plays: Othello, Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice.

Thanks, Cary DiPietro for bringing up this subject. I am very interested 
in writing about Islam in Africa.  There are other African authors who 
have already treated this subject in some of their works. Here, I will 
name a few: "Ambiguous Adventure" by Sheik Hamid Kane; "Bound To 
Violence" by Ologuem; " The Dark Child" by Camara Laye; in film: the 
most notorious is the Senegalese Filmmaker, Osman Sembene, in films such 
as: "Cedo," "Mandabe" or "The Money Order" and " Xala." My play: " Worl' 
Do For Fraid" published by Three Continents Press also addresses this 
question-not the violence that is connected with radical Islam but Islam 
as taught by the Sunii Muslims. My great grandfather was the first to 
build an Islamic college in one of the Anglo-phone sub-Saharan West 
Africa-Sierra Leone. This college inspired early British colonialists, 
and the late Blyden the First in his writings discussed the spread of 
Islam in my home town, Kambia. Islam became such a powerful force in 
early colonial Sierra Leone that Governor Rowe was forced to practice a 
policy of tolerance and compromise if Britain was to hold on to this 
principality. But when Islam of the sword practiced by a tragic-figure 
from Mauritania, Hyedara "Konthorfilli" came to Sierra Leone to spread a 
radical form of Islam that involved the same violent methods practiced 
today by Osama Bin Laden and Alqaeda, his rebellious group provoked the 
British colonial government, it ended in tragedy. Records at the British 
Museum are available that showed the savgery, brutality and terrorists 
activities employed by Hyedara in spreading Islam from Franco-phone 
countries to Anglo-phone countries in Sub-Saharan West Africa. The 
climax of this conflict resulted in the death of a British District 
Officer, a young Oxford educated in charge of Kambia District, a region 
in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. Hyedara's methods have 
terrorized the African natives and conquered many territories. He was 
bent on expanding his Islamic Empire that would infringe upon British 
Rule and principalities. Hyedara's ambition to drive the British from 
Sierra Leone resulted in his death. He and his men were poised to 
unleash a reign of terror in order to subdue the rest of Sierra Leone. 
On a very fateful day, he began his Islamic conquest to gain more 
territories in Sierra Leone. The British Colonial Government was by now 
greatly determined to stop his movement. The young district officer set 
out to meet him at the Kambia Barracks. His method was to persuade him 
not continue his conquest. Just when the young officer stepped forward 
to ask him and his men to turn back, Hyedara drew his sword, cut off his 
head and killed him. Although there were rumors about Hyedara's 
invincibility and supernatural powers, the soldiers protecting the young 
British officer, also slaughtered him. This ended the spread of radical 
Islam in many West African countries. Although the British succeeded in 
this, the spread of radical Islam is spreading like wild fire today in 
the African continent. I have given you this account to show you that 
Islam, not just as a religious force but also as a political force had 
and continue to play a part in the conflict between the Islamic world 
and Western World. Writers influenced by such events are bound to write 
about it. This was the situation with Shakespeare.

Have a nice Fourth of July holiday.

Sincerely,
Nabie Y. Swaray.

PS. My play about radical Islam I am working on is called: "The Day 
Allah Died in My Father's House." The novel and Film I plan to write 
about Radical Islam is: "Hyedara: The Prophet and the Sword of Allah. A 
play like "Tamborine" also discusses Islam.

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