Islamic Influence on American Liturature

Although most Muslims don’t realize it, American Literature has been highly influenced by Islam.


Ibn Tufail’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is one of the most influential books in American philosophy in the 1600’s. Ibn Tufail was a philosopher in Muslim Spain. His book, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan was about a boy who is raised on a deserted island by a gazelle. The boy grows up to be very curious and learns about God and science through his own discoveries and explorations of the island. He becomes a self-taught philosopher, independent of previous philosophers. The story suggested that people do not need organized religion or institutions to become enlightened. John Locke, Isaac Newton, and many of our founding fathers embraced this philosophy. The story has also been said to inspire Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe.


Most of us who live in Dallas know about Irving, TX. Muslims around Dallas often visit the Irving Mosque and may notice that the neighborhoods and streets around the mosque are named after Muslim scholars. The names of some of the roads include Alhambra Dr., Biruni St., and Al Razi St. Most would think that the Mosque was the one who influenced the names of these streets and neighborhoods. However, Washington Irving, the person for whom the town of Irving, TX was named was known for his interest in Islamic Spain. Washington Irving is one of the most iconic American authors. He is most commonly known for short stories such as the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. However, he is also well known for several books that were inspired by his years in Spain, where he was a diplomat. In 1850, he published, The Life of Mohamet and his Successors, which became the first biography of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) written in English. His books, Tales of a Traveler, Tales of the Alhambra, and Tales of Granada also referred to the lives of Muslims in Islamic Spain. So it makes sense that areas around Irving, TX would have names inspired by Islamic Spain.

Unknown-2Finally, who hasn’t graduated from high school without reading works by Ralph Waldo Emerson? Emerson’s transcendentalist poetry was inspired in large part by the Qur’an, the Sirah, and by the Muslim Persian poets, Hafiz and Rumi. In many cases, Emerson’s work often reflected many of the messages of Rumi. Emerson was particularly interested in the enthusiasm that Prophet Muhammad’s message had on the Arabs. He was also intrigued by the messages in the Qur’an that were equivalent to the transcendental belief that the world has order and purpose. He quoted twice from the Qur’an in his Representative Men, which emphasizes the importance of the spiritual leader who tackles the problems of existence. Emerson admired Islam’s emphasis on education and knowledge as a means for fulfilling an individual’s human needs. Emerson found in Islamic literature and history examples of the virtue of temperance demonstrated by Muslims leaders such as Omar Ibn Khattab and Ali ibn Abu Talib. He termed this virtue as “temperance troops” that was motivated by high enthusiasm and faith. In addition, he found in Muslim leaders heroism, self-reliance, and humor, all of which are character qualities he cherished and tried to portray in his poetry.

The following are some quotes from Emerson’s poetry that were inspired by Islam.



I was a gem concealed;

My burning ray revealed.


From: Love, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every great and commanding moment in the annuals of the world is the triumph of some enthusiasm. The victories of the Arabs after (Muhammad), who in a few years, from a small and mean beginning, established a larger empire than that of Rome, is an example.

From Heroism, by Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. How did Ibn Tufayl’s work influence the enlightened period?
  2. What are some of the works by Washington Irving that were influenced by his time in Spain?
  3. What are some of the themes that drew Ralph Waldo Emerson to admire Islamic teachings and heroes?
  4. Who are some of the Islamic poets that were reflected in Emerson’s poetry?