Milton's Enmity towards Islam and the Intellectus Agens

Feisal G. Mohamed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


“The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced”, Carl Schmitt famously pronounced, “is that between friend and enemy.” Milton's politics are often premised on a distinction between the amity of the enlightened few and a benighted global majority often associated with the East, and specifically with Islam. The distinction is articulated most clearly in The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, which declares that an “Englishman forgetting all laws, human, civil and religious … is no better than a Turk, a Sarasin, a Heathen”; it also informs the sustained association of Satan with barbarous Middle Eastern rule in Paradise Lost. The animosities reflect in many ways growing contact with the Islamic world arising with the expansion of English trade—at times rapid, at times halting, always contested—contact that also pressed home the awareness, expressed by Milton's friend Roger Williams in The Hireling Ministrie None of Christs, that Muslims significantly outnumbered Christians in the period. Over his career, Milton's cosmopolitanism, like his nationalism, becomes characterized by an ever more pronounced sense of the worldly power of the benighted majority, occasioning an emphasis on the inward turn of the enlightened few. But in a way that is most visible in the invocation to light in Paradise Lost, the language of Milton's inward turn draws on the intellectus agens tradition with its roots in Islamic philosophy. This article explores these roots and examines their potential influence on Milton's poetry. Is Milton consciously drawing on al-Farabi and Ibn Sina, or is his engagement of this category only a response to such contemporaries as John Smith? Has he distinguished himself from falsafa, or has he developed an idea of the enlightened subject that has admitted an enemy within? Exploring these questions might reorient the intellectual history informing Milton's anthropology, and also complicate the Islamophobic language in which he indulges with unsettling frequency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-81
Number of pages17
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Milton's Enmity towards Islam and the Intellectus Agens'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this