1. The Real Captain Jack
“The legendary Captain Jack Birdy, once sung about by every balladeer in England, might have all but been forgotten, yet his memory remains as the spirit behind the fictional character Captain Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise… Who was John Ward, the British Naval officer? Who was Captain John Ward, the privateer endorsed by the Crown of England? Who was Captain Jack Birdy, the privateer turned pirate betrayed by that same Crown? And finally, who was Yusuf Reis, formerly Captain Jack Birdy, formerly Captain John Ward, who would rescue thousands upon thousands of Spanish Jews and Muslims fleeing the Moriscos and Conversos expulsion of the 16th and 17th centuries? These were all one man. With so many characters wrapped in one, the stories of his adventures are exponentially more exciting than anything a Hollywood film could capture…” Read More here >
In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
2a. Commenting on the Comments
Shibli Zaman’s article (via the link, above) used to be on Suhaib Webb’s site, but has been removed (and now placed on the link here, above). Perhaps the reason for the change is because of the crazy (hateful) comments generated. I don’t know. I wanted to consider some of the comments that came up. But before I do that, have a glance at what is said about Jack Ward on wikipedia.
If you were able to read the comments (from the old site) you would have found tensions between some groups of people. The people and their arguments could be said to revolve around the following five points:
Muslims making a claim that there might be Muslim antecedents to an apparently non Muslim thing [i.e. Muslim origin to Captain Jack].
Non Muslims who aggressively want to pooh-pooh Muslim suggestions that there might be Muslim antecedents to an apparently non Muslim thing. And resort to being rude etc.
Muslims becoming overly defensive with their points of view and resort to being rude too.
Muslims and Non Muslims who disagree with defensive Muslims based on a reasonable debate over ‘grey-area facts’ in a mature way
Muslims and Non Muslims who disagree with aggressive non Muslims based on either a) the reasonable facts presented by Muslims in a mature way or b) a spirit of camaraderie (though they might disagree with the ‘facts’)
2b. Identity, Greatness, Story-Telling and the Media
“Pretty pathetic actually that Muslims feel the need to claim a FICTIONAL character in order to feel better about themselves. It reminds me of Christians who claim rubbish that Darwin recanted on his death bed. Sad lots the both of you.”
I think this statement raises interesting questions for Muslims and non Muslims. That is:
Why do we – any of us – refer to ‘fictional’ – or indeed non fictional people from the past? He says to “feel better about ourselves”. Is this a purely Muslim business? Why is there massive sales of literature/films etc about the legendary characters such as King Arthur and Robin Hood – or indeed about historical figures like Elizabeth I, or Churchill? Could it be something about ‘greatness’ and our want to share in it? Do we believe that to identify with the ‘great person’ we must join with those that do in order to share in this ‘greatness’? That is to say that our identity is shared with them? So are we all slaves to our self-perceived (imaginary) identities? (Link to Anderson’s ‘imagined communities’)
Is there a way to not be blind slaves to identities based on characters whether historical, legendary, mythical of purely fictional? How many of us admire Maximus from Gladiator, aspire to be a Han Solo or a James Bond, look up to Abraham Lincoln or JFK when all we’ve done is watch a film about them…? Is there a way that by understanding truths about a character then at least we can mediate our identities with that person based on reality and not based on fiction?
It is possible to create a completely fictional back story to characters – like Captain Jack or to plots like the movie U-571? Yes. Clearly. But surely wanting to know what truly happened allows one to (want to) be more grounded (in reality), allowing for greater scope for discernment by being more informed. We might watch the ‘White Queen’ on TV or the ‘Vikings’ or the ‘Tudors’ and then go online to research what really happened. It is better to delve into the truth, right? Or at least to inquire about it…?
When you read fiction, watch the TV, watch a film, who are the noticeable good, heroic, likeable Muslim figures? … Hmm. If you’re lucky you’d probably be able to count them on one hand or finger (!) – especially if you’re not Muslim. This does NOT mean there are no heroes! Rather the Western mainstream media might have no idea of them, or not care for them. And with TV films and movies like Homeland, 24, Taken 2 (and a host of others) – where there is reference to Islamic culture, such references tend to be entirely negative and so youngsters (or anyone) watching them are likely to adopt such negativity as they undergo a type of brainwashing. The takeover of their minds with these undermining subtle cues against normative Islam is internalised. This would then explain why there is a real need to be explicit and vocal when documenting positive Muslim characters in mainstream films. And why this comes across to the majority, unaware of the brainwashing, as defensive. It will also explain why those with a hatred for Muslims would want to silence anything positive about Islam, which is a shame.
A final reason is one to do with silencing, marginalising and ignoring Muslim positive contributions, historically. A classic example of this is how in history books, we almost always jump from the European Dark Ages to the European Renaissance and sweep the whole medial stage known as the Classical Islamic golden Age (600s to 1700s). This time period – if – and when it is discussed, is nearly always focussed on the Christian Medieval period alone. And modernity (Post 1700) is often explained from one direction (a Euro-centric one), which is fine if you want a one-dimensional view of the world – but since in the world, there are other actors, to really understand what’s going on, it might be useful to actually look around. So, the need to tell the real stories behind such apparently ‘fictional’ characters helps to bring out other less known – though not necessarily any less important – ‘facts’ in history. This would clearly help anyone to get closer to the truth of history out in the open.
3. Further Debate and References to the Identity of Captain Jack
Shibli explains the source for his article and also gives his own reasons for writing them (in the lost comments sections) as follows:
“…This article is original material, authored by me, and is not an excerpt from any book, though it contains some actual quotes of William Lithgow and Captain Jack as well as other real citations from historical works. It is a dramatization based upon real facts and historical events. It is all backed by references in the footnotes which the reader is free to peruse.
The point of the piece is to present small taste of buried and little known historical information about the real Captain Jack in the hopes that it will inspire the reader to want to read and research more on the subject.
I may write more, as this takes place 30 years after Captain Jack’s piracy in the Caribbean and 5 years before he died in Tunis. There are many of stories to tell in between. If the readers want more, I’ll write more, God willing 🙂 “
Then there was a response that said:
“Captain Jack Sparrow is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. The character was created by screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and is portrayed by Johnny Depp. He is first introduced in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). He later appears in the sequels Dead Man’s Chest (2006), At World’s End (2007), and On Stranger Tides (2011). Jack Sparrow was originally conceived as a supporting character. He was brought to life by Depp, who based his characterization on The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and cartoon character Pepé Le Pew. The series Pirates of the Caribbean was inspired by a Disney theme park ride, and when the ride was revamped in 2006, the character of Jack Sparrow was added to it. He never had a place in history. He was created for a part in a film. Get over it!”
A reply to this could be had from Shibli stating:
“Jack Sparrow is the Hollywood character. Jack Birdy is the historical figure who inspired the Hollywood character played by Johnny Depp. “Birdy” became “Sparrow”. You can read a brief synopsis of Jack Ward a.k.a. Jack “Birdy” on Wikipedia here.”
There was a comment at the (now defunct) blogspot site (mentioned above) that said:
“Bartholomew Roberts was actually the pirate he was based on, also known as Black Bart see the link here.”
And a reply to that said:
“To the comment of him being based the the pirate Bartholomew Roberts is incorrect. Bartholomew Roberts was Welsh and has no resemblance to the man. He was non-alcoholic were as Jack is famed for his love of rum in his portrayal. He never sacked Nessau port and was famed for taking a Spanish ship laden with riches from South America whilst it was in dock on the coast of Brazil, without killing or losing a man on his crew.. He also never killed a man in his career as a pirate. Although both remarkable for their time and exploits the character Jack Sparrow is a portrayal of the Islamic Pirate not the Welsh one.”
When asked for further references about Captain Ward/Birdy, Shibli stated:
“There’s a book that might be a bit hard to find but it is a fantastic book documented much of Captain Jack’s life since childhood. Its called “Barbary Pirate: The Life and Crimes of John Ward, the Most Infamous Privateer of His Time” by Greg Bak. I also highly recommend “Pirates of Barbary, Corsairs, Conquests and Captivity in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean” by Adrian Tinniswood which gives a very detailed account of Captain Jack’s conversion to Islam at the hands of Uthman Dey in Tunis. When God commanded us “Read!”, little did mankind know how thrilling it would be 🙂
A commentor added:
“The Lithgow book is on Google books too :-)” Click here.
“Good find! The picture you see of William Lithgow on the cover was drawn by his own hand. It seems he eventually warmed up to the idea of having “the head of an owl” and “a coat like a fool” 🙂 “
Another commentator added:
“You may have come across the following written by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad of Cambridge. I read it years ago, but didn’t connect it to Capt. Jack Sparrow until I read your article! For all the history buffs out there, here’s another aspect of this story from the larger milieu of its socio-religious-political context: Click Here.”
4. Final Thoughts. Final Conclusions
So was Captain Jack a Muslim? Of course, yes. There is detailed references provided from Muslim and non Muslim sources. But what is more curious is the negative over-reaction by some. And the curious manner in which Captain Jack’s ‘Islam’ was whitewashed from the movies. Doesn’t anyone else find that a little odd?
The explanation to both might reside in an issue of identity – and the ‘politics’ therein. But there is a solution to the riddle of identity. And it lay along the road of ‘quizzing for’ and ‘seeking out’ the Truth.
سبحان ربك رب العزة عما يصفون وسلام على المرسلين والحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله محمد وعلى اله وصحبه أجمعين
Exalted be your Lord, the Lord of Glory, above what they attribute to Him, and peace be upon the Messengers, and all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. And the peace and blessing upon prophet Mohammed and his relatives and all his companions.