Essay, Research Paper: Dante On Islam

World Literature

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Divine Retribution (in Italian contrapasso) is clearly shown in canto 28 by
showing the punishment of the sowers of schism and scandal in the 9th bolgia of
circle 8. To begin this canto, Dante talks of the many wars in Puglia
(southeastern Italy) and across the peninsula which have been known as the
bloodiest. He does this to show that this 9th bolgia is far bloodier than these,
and beyond description. Those in this bolgia are punished by having to walk a
track where they are cut open and slashed, but their wounds heal only to be cut
again. The father of the worldwide religion of Islam, Mahomet, is placed here,
along with his follower, Ali. To illustrate the severity of the punishments to
which these people are under, Dante uses the idea of blood and bones with
decaying flesh. He states that the extent is incomprehensible, and cannot be
captured by words, yet he says that if the bones and blood of the many wars that
have plagued the peninsula of Italy could be piled up, they would not compare to
the sight of the 9th bolgia. The punishment is extremely grotesque and demeaning
as shown by the description of Mahomet as being “ripped open from his chin to
where we fart. Between his legs his guts spilled out, with the heart and other
vital parts, and the dirty sack that turns to *censored* whatever the mouth
gulps down.” The disgust that accompanies this description must be intended
and it is no coincidence that is the father of the nation of Islam. With Mahomet
and Ali are others which can be classified as being sowers of scandal as opposed
to schism in the religious sense. They are the causes of wars, troubles, and
many persons’ discord and death. Some have their throats slits, others cut
beyond recognition, and others have their arms chopped off. Bertran de Born, who
counciled the young prince Henry to revolt against his father, King Henry II of
England, is among those. With the young princes death, brought about the
imprisonment of Bertran. He states that since his head is the home of his evil
thoughts, and with his plan unfoiled, the decapitation of his head is fitting
for the “perfect contrapasso.” So he walks with his head in his hand
swinging by his hair as if it were a lantern (again the notion of his head being
the encasement of light and ideas). In a whole, the implications of classifying
Mahomet and Ali in the this 9th bolgia lead one to think that Dante was making a
conclusion on the entire religion itself. To say the least it is devastating and
very narrow minded, but more importantly it shows the extent of disrespect shown
by Dante on two levels: the fact that Mahomet and Ali are place so low in hell
and are punished in such a disgusting place and manner; and that they are
accompanied by such persons as those who are responsible for creating strife.
This implies that they too can be classified as those who are instigators, which
is patronizing for those who believe them to be prophets (Muslims do greatly
outnumber Catholics). Therefore, in the sense of contrapasso, this placement of
these religious leaders would be unjust, for, this is a worldwide religion, and
no one on earth can state that they are sure of the ‘true religion.’ The
more intelligent response would be that all religions must be respected, and not
deemed frivolous or un-important. I say this not to directly criticize Dante
solely, yet the idea of religious prejudice, which was still widely practiced by
Catholics less that 50 years ago, and is still today. It is not just by
Catholics, and no one is innocent. It is the incessant notion of religious
supremacy that has come to be believed by so many, who will not accept the idea
of the validity of other religions. It is the idea of conformity that yields
prejudice.

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