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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Geoffrey Chaucer’s debt to Islam

Geoffrey Chaucer’s debt to Islam

Is the title unbelievable? Well the truth is stranger than fiction and in this case because of the truth there would be no fiction! Chaucer is described as one of the most important figures in English language. Here are some interesting quotes that you should consider.

“Geoffrey Chaucer is remembered as the author of Canterbury Tales, which ranks as one of the greatest epic works of world literature. Chaucer made a crucial contribution to the English literature in writing in English at a time when much court poetry was still composed in Anglo-Norman or Latin.” (

“Lilius Giraldus, one of the foremost humanists of Italy, in a survey of European letters, recognises the eminence of Chaucer in English.” (

“He is called the great translator.” (ibid)

There is a more tenable or tangible link to his work and we shall explore here. He was well educated and well travelled in a time in which the renaissance was flourishing innovating thought in Europe.

“In 1387, he began his most famous work, 'The Canterbury Tales', in which a diverse group of people recount stories to pass the time on a pilgrimage to Canterbury.” (


His sources claim to be: “Chaucer took his narrative inspiration for his works from several sources, such as the Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Loris, Ovid's poems, and such Italian authors as Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.” (

Giovanno Boccoccio is a famous author and his major work was the Decameron which is a work that contains one hundred stories. Also look at Dante’s work the Divine Comedy which is work that was influenced by hadith and the stories found in Islam.

To understand this we need to realise that it was Italy not Spain that was where the renaissance brought Europe to life. This was due to them being open to trade with the Islamic world and also the openness of receiving ideas from the Muslim world. Despite Islam being present in Spain it did not transfer as much knowledge to Europe as Italy did.

So even these Italian links mean that they were direct influences from the Islamic world but hang on there isn't there an even more interesting link?


Chaucer wrote a treatise on the Astrolabe for his son and used Arabic terms in it. Why? Because that was the language of science!

“But natheles suffise to the these; trewe conclusions in Englissh as wel as sufficith; to these noble clerkes Grekes these; same conclusions in Grek; and to Arabiens; in Arabik, and to Jewes in Ebrew, and to; Latyn folk in Latyn; whiche Latyn folk had hem first out of othere dyverse langages, and writen hem in her owne tunge, that is to seyn,in Latyn.” (Part one p.29-36)

Here are the Arabic terms and their equivalent Latin terms:
Alkab Iota Aurigae
Alpheta Alpha Corona Borealis
Alramih Arcturus
Alkaid Eta Ursae Majoris
K.Alasad Alpha Leonis
Algomisa Procyon
Alhabor Sirius
Alghul Beta Persei
Alnath Beta Tauri
Markab Alpha Pegasi
Alradif Delta Cephei
Alnasir Alpha Andromedae

He must have known Arabic or else he could not have used Arabic terms this is the proof. If he had not known the terms then he could not have used them!

The astrolabe is an Islamic invention by Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Fazari (d. 796 or 806).

1001 nights

There is at least a tangible link to his work and the Islamic legacy. 1001 nights was a famous text, by Masudi, that Europeans were reading and as they had not read anything like it it had an influence on Europe that we cannot imagine. Mostly the influence was upon the literature that was written subsequent to the reading of this text.

Look at the similarities between the Canterbury tales and 1001 nights. Both have a grand narrative that runs separately alongside other short stories. In 1001 nights we have the King and his wife Scheherazade as the story runs alongside the other stories that are told in it.

In the Canterbury tales we have the Monks on their way to Canterbury amusing each other with stories. Is that just coincidence?


We consider there to be more than a tangible link to Islamic/Arab culture in the Canterbury tales. In fact if there was no link then there would be no Canterbury tales and if there was no Canterbury tales then there would be no English literature and there would no luminaries like Shakespeare or Dickens. Ponder the fact that all English root meanings are sourced from words in Middle English the very time of Chaucer. Look in any good dictionary or many online dictionaries and you will see them source almost all words from Middle English. They had no dictionaries in the West until Islam came and taught them the meanings of words! It was only then that they began to write down the meaning and thus they began to preserve their language.

The whole cause of western literature a direct result of the book that was sent to a Prophet who dwelled in vast desert plains. The book was the first book in the history of Arabs because they had no books until the Quran came and as a direct result nowhere else had books like the Muslims did. The influence developed into books on Islam and literature which then gave birth to 1001 nights. This influence ran into Europe and into the books that we have now, because people like Chaucer who was directly influenced by works of Islam.

So even though some fools burn our book, its because of our book that they have books or else they would not have any books to burn!!

Canterbury cathedral

Look at this pulpit and tell me how it looks like a minbar.

Look at this roof and tell me that there is no Islamic influence.

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