Persian Letter Series: Letter 60 – Usbek to Ibben, at Smyrna

This is the thirteenth post in a series of posts examining excerpts from Charles Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters. Each post in this series examines a selected excerpt for study and discussion. The following is an excerpt from Letter 60:

Among the Christians as with the Muslims, the Jews display that invincibly stubborn religious conviction which verges on folly.  The Jewish religion is an aged tree-trunk which has covered the earth with the two branches that it has produced – Islam and Christianity; or rather, it is a mother who has given birth to two daughters, and they have inflicted a thousand wounds on her; for where religion is concerned, those most closely related are the greatest enemies.  But despite the bad treatment she has had from them, she still prides herself on having brought them forth.  Through them, she embraces the whole world; and similarly her venerable age embraces the whole of time.

…It is very desirable that the Muslims should take as sensible a view about the matter as the Christians; that we should make peace once and for all between Ali and Abu-Bekr, and leave it to God to decide between these holy prophets.  I should like them to be honoured by acts of veneration and respect, not by meaningless acts of favouritism, and I should like men to try to earn their approval whatever place God has assigned to them, on his right hand or beneath the steps of his throne.

Comments on the excerpt above:

Judaism, Christianity, and IslamMohammed Ali was the son-in-law of Mohammed and founded the Shiite form of Muslim belief adopted by the Persians; Abu-Bekr was Mohammed’s father-in-law and first successor, although the succession was disputed by Ali.  Abu-Bekr, together with Omar, the second successor, was followed by the Sunnites.   But, regardless of that, Montesquieu is just talking about religious tolerance here.  If you are a Christian or a Muslim, why would you ever be anti-Semitic?  Your religion descended from Judaism.  Why then would you not be able to find tolerance for those to whom you’re related?  Are we not all brothers?  If you are a Sunnite or Shiite, are you not both the brethren of the same prophet?

I will quote Martin Luther King again with the same quote I tend to invoke again and again:  “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”