Goethe knew how to read and write Arabic!
Well known as a German writer and statesman, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is less well known for his fascination with Islam.
Goethe was an avid learner of languages. As a young boy, his father and private tutors gave him lessons in many languages, and as an adult he spoke Greek, Latin, French, English and Italian alongside his native German.
Goethe was also well versed in Arabic, driven by his interest in the Qur’an and love for Arabic poetry. After the Bible, the writer was more familiar with the Qur’an than with any other religious book.
As a young man, he wrote a poem devoted to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and even attempted to copy out a surah from the Qur’an.
When Goethe discovered the Diwan of the Persian poet Hafez, it reinvigorated this earlier interest and inspired him to write the West-ostlicher Divan - a collection of lyrical poems.
In "Mahomet", he described the style of the Qu’ran as corresponding to its content: "austere, grand, fearsome and in places truly sublime.” At the age of seventy, Goethe confessed that he intends to “celebrate in awe that holy night, when the Qur’an, in its entirety, was presented to the Prophet from above”. Arabic not only gave Goethe many insights into his own language, as we can see in our language learning quote of the week, it also gave him untold insights into the religion of Islam.