UTRECHT, Netherlands (ChurchMilitant.com) - A new Dutch translation of the Divine Comedy has erased the name of Muhammad from the opus magnum of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri to prevent the epic poem from becoming "unnecessarily offensive" to Muslims.
"We knew that if we left this passage as it is, we would have unnecessarily hurt a large part of the readers," Lavrijsen said, noting that the decision was made "in the tense period which saw the death of teacher Samuel Paty in France."
In October, 18-year-old Muslim refugee Aboulakh Anzorov beheaded schoolteacher Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (a suburb of Paris) for showing cartoons of Muhammad to pupils during a class on free speech.
Defending the deletion of Muhammad's name, publisher Myrthe Spiteri of Blossom Books explained that naming the prophet of Islam in the translation "is not necessary for the understanding of the literary text."
"Muhammad is subjected to a cruel and humiliating fate, just because he is the founder of Islam," Spiteri told De Standaard. "Thieves or murderers in Dante's Hell have made real mistakes, but founding a religion cannot be reprehensible."
"After all, the poet places homosexuals in Hell, but only because Christianity considered them sinners. And Dante still writes about this with a lot of respect," Spiteri added.
Speaking to Church Militant, Italian literary expert Elisabetta Sala criticized the "act of cultural vandalism."
"As for narrow-minded Puritans trying to contain genius, myriad-minded Shakespeare had a verb coined all to himself when, in the Victorian Age, he got 'bowdlerized' by two zealot siblings," Sala excoriated.
"Now, politically correct Puritans have 'Lavrijsen-ized' myriad-minded Dante. Well done! Dante, too, was badly in need of a verb all to himself," remarked Sala, author of Shakespeare's Riddle: Courtier or Dissident?
Sidestepping the controversy and not wanting to take sides between the Italian patriotic love of Dante and a growing Muslim presence in Italy, the Italian bishops' newspaper, Avvenire, noted that "Dante's position towards Arab-Muslim culture is very complex and involves a dense series of exchanges."
Sala, a faithful Catholic, told Church Militant: "The funny bit, though, is that Lavrijsen leaves other people, such as popes and homosexuals, suffering in Hell. She's already become a conservative and a reactionary, as one day we'll have to remove them too and perhaps get rid of Hell itself!"
Referring to Muhammad as "the Prophet," Avvenire commented:
The unearthly fate of Muhammad described in Canto 28 represents a particularly delicate textual element, both for the infernal destination of the Prophet — who, as a schismatic, is in some way assimilated to Christianity — and for the mutilations inflicted on him as a punishment, which, for Islam, is an intolerable outrage to the integrity of the body.
In Canto 28 of Dante's Inferno, Muhammad's body is split from end to end so that his entrails dangle out amid excrement. In the Penguin Classics translation by Mark Musa:
Between his legs his guts spilled out, with the heart
and other vital parts, and the dirty sack
that turns to shit whatever the mouth gulps down.
Along with Ali (who was his son-in-law and Islam's first caliph), Muhammad is punished for being a "sower of scandal and schism."
See how Mahomet is deformed and torn!
In front of me, and weeping, Ali walks,
his face cleft from his chin up to the crown.
The souls that you see passing in this ditch
were all sowers of scandal and schism in life,
and so in death you see them torn asunder.
Muslims also joined in the outcry against the translation.
"Apart from the fact that this is censorship, it shows how little historical knowledge people have of the Mediterranean world in the Middle Ages. You can take 'Muhammad' from the translation, but the influence of the Islamic world cannot be ignored in Dante's work," historian Farah Bazzi tweeted.
Moroccan-Dutch writer and journalist Abdelkader Benali said he "checked some Arabic translations of the Divine Comedy" and found that "modern translators just leave the passage, often with footnotes explaining how the image should be contextualized in its time," since the work was written from about 1308 to 1320.
"The Divine Comedy is a sacrosanct masterpiece. You can't cut it like that," exclaimed Dutch translator Peter Verstegen, who has also translated Dante's work.
In the Netherlands, I have never been asked [to censor the piece]. It is true that, in the case of an adaptation, one has more freedom, but then it must be indicated in the book that it is an adaptation and not a translation. In any case, no one asked for this capitulation.
Pope Francis published his apostolic letter titled Candor Lucis Aeternae (Splendor of Light Eternal) marking the 700th anniversary of the death of the great Italian poet on March 25, celebrated each year as "Dante Day" in Italy.
Congratulating teachers who "passionately communicate Dante's message and introduce others to the cultural, religious and moral riches contained in his works," Francis urged artists "to give voice, face and heart, form, color and sound to Dante's poetry by following the path of beauty which he so masterfully traveled."
In 2002, a jihadi outfit linked to Al-Qaeda planned to blow up Bologna's biggest church in order to destroy Giovanni da Modena's 15th-century Gothic fresco "The Inferno," which portrays Muhammad being tormented by demons in Hell.
Modena was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, which consigns Muhammad to the ninth circle of Hell — reserved for schismatics.
In 2006, police uncovered a second jihadi plot to bomb Bologna's basilica. "Even though the two plots by Muslims to bomb the basilica were foiled, other Muslims have since called for the Catholic Church itself to demolish, or if not that, at least to 'remove,' this fresco," Jihad Watch reported.
In order to protect the painting, a metal grate has now been installed, obscuring the view of Modena's masterpiece.
The upshot, Jihad Watch said, is that "the Muslims in Bologna have won; the hated fresco is still where it was, but now it is a part of Italy's art heritage that can no longer be seen and admired because it has to be protected from Muslims."