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Watch a new video by John Tolan: The Enlightenment Muhammad: An Anticlerical Hero

From the eighteenth century onwards, many European and American leaders saw the Prophet Muhammad as a symbol of justice and law and an anticlerical Hero. Among them were Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, and Edward Gibbon.
In this video, John Tolan, professor of history at the University of Nantes in France, shows that while many Europeans, from the Middle Ages to today, had a negative, polemical perception of Muhammad, others looked on him with fascination and admiration. The video is based on his recent book, Faces of the Prophet: A History of Western Portrayals of Muhammad.

You can get his book from Princeton University Press (

00:00 Intro
00:00 John Tolan’s book
00:56 European perceptions of the Prophet Muhammad
01:07 Jefferson’s Qur’an
01:38 George Sale’s perception of the Prophet Muhammad
02:16 Influence of George Sale’s translation of the Qur’an
03:18 Claude-Étienne Savary’s French translation of the Qur’an
03:46 Napoleon’s perception of the Prophet Muhammad
04:12 Perceptions of the Prophet Muhammad by other Enlightenment figures
04:59 Supreme Court friezes honoring lawgivers
05:36 Outro