Was Churchill ever a wannabe Muslim?
If the human race ever reaches a stage of development – when religion will cease to assist and comfort mankind – Christianity will be put aside as a crutch which is no longer needed, and man will stand erect on the firm legs of reason
– Winston Churchill.
Now, given that those words written by Churchill in a letter to his mother when he was 26, would the future British Prime Minister and international statesman every have contemplated converting to Islam?
Yes, according to this Independent report, which claims that Churchill’s family urged him to “fight against” the desire to convert to Islam.
The report is based on a newly discovered letter dated August 1907 in which Churchill’s soon to be sister-in-law wrote to him:
Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise, Pasha-like tendencies, I really have.
If you come into contact with Islam your conversion might be effected with greater ease than you might have supposed, call of the blood, don’t you know what I mean, do fight against it.
The letter, discovered by a history research fellow at Cambridge University, Dr Warren Dockter, was written by Lady Gwendoline Bertie who married Churchill’s brother Jack.
But Dr Dockter said:
Churchill never seriously considered converting. He was more or less an atheist by this time anyway. He did however have a fascination with Islamic culture which was common among Victorians.
Churchill had opportunity to observe Islamic society when he served as an officer of the British Army in Sudan. In a letter written to Lady Lytton in 1907 Churchill wrote that he “wished he were” a Pasha, which was a rank of distinction in the Ottoman Empire.
He even took to dressing in Arab clothes in private – an enthusiasm he shared with his good friend the poet Wilfrid S Blunt. But Dr Dockter thinks Churchill’s family need never have worried about his interest in Islam.
Lady Gwendoline Bertie] would have been worried because Churchill was leaving for an African tour and she would have known Churchill had been seeing his friend, Wilfrid S Blunt, who was a renowned Arabist, anti-imperialist and poet.
Though he and Churchill were friends and dressed in Arabian dress at times for Blunt’s eccentric parties, they rarely agreed.
Another eccentric Brit well known for dressing up in Arab garb is Prince Charles, as the picture below shows.
In 1940, when Churchill was leading Britain’s fight against Nazi Germany, he gave his support to plans to build what became the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park – putting aside £100,000 for the purpose – in the hope of winning the support of Muslim countries in the war.
He later told the House of Commons that “many of our friends in Muslim countries” had expressed appreciation for this “gift”.
But regarding Mohammedanism itself Islam, Churchill regarded it with utmost contempt. He wrote in his 1899 account of Sudan, The River War:
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.
A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.
Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die: but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.
Dockter, who assisted the London Mayor Boris Johnson on his book about Churchill, discovered the letter while researching his forthcoming book Winston Churchill and the Islamic World: Orientalism, Empire and Diplomacy in the Middle East.
Incidentally, Dockter’s contention that Churchill was “more or less” an atheist is contested here by Dr Jerry A Johnson. Writing for “Christ and Culture”, Johnson refers to the quote at the top of this report, but suggests that, at 26, he was not mature enough to know better.
It is indicative of the youthful anti-religious mood.
Speaking of books, here’s your chance to win a signed copy of Tony Akkersmans’ recently published Happily Godless: Humanism for a Better World, which is available to buy on Amazon (see a short excerpt here).
Just send a caption for the Prince Charles picture above to barry@freethinker. Mark your entries “Allahu Akbar”. Closing date for entries is January 10, 2014.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn