Churchill found Islam tempting, letter shows

Islamic culture, rather than theology, that gave British wartime leader Winston Churchill - pictured here with his trademark cigar and flashing his 'V for Victory' sign - his interest in Islam. (Photo courtesy of North Country Public Radio)

A recently discovered letter showed famed British wartime leader Winston Churchill not only desired to be an Ottoman-style pasha, but was fascinated by Islamic culture, prompting one of his relatives to be concerned and begged him not to convert to Islam, The Independent reported Sunday.

Churchill’s soon to be sister-in-law urged him in a letter - dated August 1907 - not to convert to Islam.

“Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalize, Pasha-like tendencies, I really have,” wrote Lady Gwendoline Bertie, who married Churchill’s brother Jack, in a letter that was discovered by a history research fellow at Cambridge University, Warren Dockter.

Bertie added: “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.”

Culture, not theology

It was Islamic culture, rather than theology, that gave Churchill - who was Britain's prime minister through much of World War 2 - his interest in Islam, according to Dockter.

“Churchill never seriously considered converting,” Dockter told The Independent. “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.”

In another letter, which was written to Lady Lytton in 1907, Churchill said he “wished he were” a Pasha. A person was bestowed the title Pasha as a higher rank distinction in the Ottoman Empire.

Churchill, who previously served as an officer of the British Army in Sudan, sometimes donned Arabic traditional garments in private, which were sartorial fascination also shared with his good friend Wilfrid S. Blunt.

In further evidence that Churchill was fascinated with Islamic culture as opposed to the religion, he wrote in his 1899 account of Sudan, “The River War,” that “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,”

He added: “Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralizes 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.”

According to Dockter, Churchill’s family should not have worried about his interest in Islam.

He said: “[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.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:43 - GMT 06:43
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