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French Thinker : Vincent Monteil



French orientalist Vincent Monteil was the Professor of Arabic Language and Islamic History at the University of Paris, and then the President of the Foundation for Islamic Studies in Dakar. Throughout his life, Monteil wrote several books, including:

  • Zionist Terrorism.
  • Muslims in the Soviet Union.
  • Islam in Black Africa.
  • The keys of Arab Thought.
  • He also translated Ibn Khaldun’s “The Prelude” into French.

He chose Islam as a religion with full conviction and satisfaction, and took Muslim Arabs as his brothers in Islam, without renouncing his French nationality, believing that there was no contradiction between his Islamic faith and his French nationality.

On choosing Islam as a religion, he said: “I chose Islam as a religion with which I would meet Allah Al Mighty, for various reasons, including religious, moral, social, cultural, and emotional reasons”. Then he went on adding such a pleasant detail: “I have chosen the religion of the natural inborn instinct … It is Islam. Previously, I was a Catholic, but I was not convinced in and I did not understand many things in Catholicism. While in the religion of Islam, it is enough for the Muslim to pray to his Lord directly without an intermediary.

The First Contact:

It happened that I read for the first time in my life a translation for the meanings of the Holy Quran, and I was taken by the meanings of its words: {Say: He is God, the One; God to whom the creatures turn for their needs; He begets not, nor was He begotten; and there is none like Him} (Sura Tawheed)

He also mentions that the translation of this Holy Ayah also caught his attention: {So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. Adhere to the natural inborn instinct (Fitrah) of Allah upon which He has created people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know} (Rum: 30)

He also recalls that he read a Prophetic Tradition which made him feel that Islam is truly the religion of the genuine inborn instinct: “Every child is born on the genuine inborn instinct, and his parents make him either a Jew, a Christian, or a majus.”

Thus Vincent Monteil says: “I believed in Mohammad’s message and its credibility, just as I absolutely believed in the oneness of God … Mohammad (SAWA) is truly the Messenger of God … The Holy Quran is revealed by God, and it is not from the creation or manufacture of Mohammad … His divine and kind message is not limited to Arabs; it addresses all mankind”.

On what drew his attention in Islam also, he says: “I found in Islam amazing tolerance. High morals are the goal of every Muslim. Islam preserves for man his humanity and encourages him to enjoy life and its pleasures as long as that does not disagree with the teachings of Allah Al Mighty” … He tilts his head, and his face shines with a broad smile, as he recites the Holy Ayah: {(Allah) has not placed upon you in religion any difficulty} (Hajj 78).

His translation of Ibn Khaldun’s “The Prelude” into French

However, no soon his smile fades as he remembers those who oppose Islam, and the groundless fake accusations they charge Islam of, mentioning these allegations with the appropriated refutations: “The enemies of Islam claim that Muslims do not accept less than others be Muslims too… If they are not Muslims, the Muslims announce jihad against them… However, were they acquainted with Islam, they would have known that the Islamic Jihad is an obligation, but for the sake of achieving righteousness and overcoming falsehood”.

Monteil had undertaken several voyages to various Arab countries, Senegal, Indonesia, Mali, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Mauritania, and Sierra Leone. In these countries, he came to know Islam and Muslims closely. He came to know several facts about Islam, the Holy Quran, and the noble traditions of Muslims which he was ignorant of before. This long trip and field study yielded its fruits by Monteil announcing his Islam in Nouakchott in the summer of 1977.

Monteil continues refuting the claims of the enemies of Islam, saying: “They accuse Islam of extreme cruelty, even though Islam is the religion of peace, tolerance, forgiveness and mercy. They also accuse Islam of the phenomenon of slavery which existed before Islam and not after it. Moreover, when Islam spread and its teachings were implemented, this religion sought to abolish slavery; moreover, many of the atonements of sins perpetrated by men include ‘liberating the necks’ or (freeing the enslaved), which Islam views as an obligation by which man is rewarded divine proximity.

 “Then they try to offend Islam from the point of view of polygamous marriage. If they are rational, they would find that though Islam allows polygamy, Islam had set for that precise conditions based on absolute fairness and good treatment. Islam had also taken into consideration the women whose circumstances prevented them from marriage, the illness of the wife, and other reasons.”

Islam in Black Africa

After a pose, he draws a final conclusion: “Islam is magnificent, deep, clear, sublime, and tolerant, and it calls for human dignity in every time and place. No one can harm the image of Islam. That is because Islam is in itself strong, and its teachings call for gaining power through not committing sins and evils that weaken power, such as adultery, drinking wine, eating pork, and other things that are forbidden by the true religion.”

Overwhelmed with a blush of faith, he concludes his speech saying:

 “That is why I chose Islam … in order to feel contented in its splendour and shelter… Yes, I converted to Islam to feel and realize that I embraced a religion that does not separate between the body and the soul, between the spirit and the body… a religion that seeks morals and achieving them and human dignity and adhering to it”.

On the 27th of February 2005, at the age of 91, Vincent Monteil left this world, leaving behind abundant works among rich studies, testimonies and translations. He was one of the most prolific and humble researchers in his field.