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Did Leo Tolstoy convert to Islam?

Leo Tolstoy was a Russian philosopher and writer, who was born in 1828. He was one of the greatest authors of all time. His book War and Peace, published in 1869 is one of the finest novels ever written. Although he did not belong to the royal family, his family belonged to the most powerful family in Russia.

1. Tolstoy had a conversion to personal faith in the Savior Jesus Christ

Leo Tolstoy became interested in the meaning of life. For him it was not a case of knowledge, but had to do with the complete existence of human life. When he was 18 years old, Tolstoy started to doubt some rituals in the Russian orthodox church, like aesthetics of the symbols and body exercise with bowing the knee in front of the altar. He was more interested in deeper moral life and concluded that a number of people in church were egoistic, immoral and cruel. On the other side he saw many people outside his church who were open, honest and with good moral. He continued to believe in God and in what was written in the Gospel about Jesus Christ. After 1870, Tolstoy had a mid-life crisis. He tried to become a perfect moral man, but failed: “Every time I tried to display my innermost desires-a wish to be morally good-I was met with contempt and scorn, and as soon as I gave in to base desires I was praised and encouraged.” [1]. Now he had to conclude that he was as egoistic and immoral as other people he didn’t like. Tolstoy was still considered to be a man with good moral. But when he became honest with himself he had to notice that he was lying, steeling, committing immorality, alcoholic, violent and even had a desire to kill other people. Two personal experiences were the foundation to a radical change in his life. First experience was the execution of young men in Paris. Tolstoy realized that execution was wrong, because judgments on what is good or bad should be based on the instincts of the soul. The other experience was the death of his brother. He had observed that his brother never understood why he had lived and why he died. Tolstoy became aware that the day came that he died. That was his personal situation just before he made a conversion to the Savior Jesus Christ. Tolstoy experienced a powerful spiritual conversion. After his conversion to Jesus Christ, he started to practice the guidelines of the Gospel, like the ethical teachings of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount. The words of Jesus: “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:39) made him a pacifist. With Jesus’ words “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:9) Tolstoy became a Christian anarchist. He became a preacher of salvation in the Savior Jesus Christ: “But this very necessity of involuntary suffering (by poor people) for eternal salvation is also expressed by that utterance of the Savior (Matthew 19:24): "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Therefore those who were greatly in earnest about their eternal salvation, chose voluntary poverty when fate had denied this to them and they had been born in wealth” [2]. In his book “What I Believe”, Tolstoy expressed in 1884 his faith in the Savior Jesus Christ. He also created a book with the words of Jesus himself in the Bible, called “Tolstoy’s Bible”. Tolstoy said that he was touched in a personal way with the mentioned Bible verses. [3]. His faith of a true Christian was that to find eternal glory by doing goodwill and love to his neighbor, just as Jesus explained in the Great Commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). After Tolstoy’s conversion to Jesus Christ and awareness of the Gospel, his goal was for the rest of his life to develop and to promote his new faith [4].

2. Tolstoy didn’t promote Islam

Tolstoy had studied Arabic literature in the University of Kazan, Russia. As an enlightened philosopher, he corresponded with the Grand Mufti of Egypt. He only showed sympathy for the Islamic society over Russian orthodox church, but not over Christianity. As a social reformer, Tolstoy was strongly against violence and terrorism acts of his time. His remark in 1909: “Please regard me as a Mohammedan” has been taken out of context by many Muslim promotors. They are trying to mislead people by saying that Leo Tolstoy had become a Muslim. However, his remark was only directed against the Russian orthodox church. He left that church in 1901 [5]. Tolstoy wanted to show people in a country where almost everybody belongs to the Russian orthodox church that he is a protestant Christian. Some Muslim apologists have created false documents with the name of Leo Tolstoy to promote Islam. Prof. Dr. Telman Aliyev lived in the Soviet Union and comes from a Muslim Azerbaijani background. He claims together with Rasih Yilmaz and Faruk Arslan that that Leo Tolstoy had written in 1908 a book with the title “The Hadiths of Prophet Muhammed”, in Turkish: “Hz.Muhammed: Gizlenen Kitap”. However Leo Tolstoy maintained his diary daily since 1847 till his death in 1910. He continued even when he was sick, or in bad mood. It was Tolstoy’s will that everything he wrote during his life should be published, including his dairy. The comprehensive Russian edition of all his works, finished in 1958, included his diary. There is no Islam promotion in it, like Telman Aliyev claimed [6]. There is enough evidence that Leo Tolstoy had not written something more about Islam. He never promoted Islam.

3. Tolstoy was a Christian till he died

Tolstoy published many books about his personal faith in the Savior Jesus Christ, including: A Confession (1879), A Criticism of Dogmatic Theology (1880), The Gospel in Brief, or A Short Exposition of the Gospel (1881), The Four Gospel Unified and Translated (1881), Church and State (1882), What I Believe (My Religion) (1884), What Is to Be Done? (What Then Must We Do?) (1886), The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), On Life (1887), The Love of God and of One"s Neighbour (1889), Reason and Religion (1894), Religion and Morality (1894), Christianity and Patriotism (1894), How to Read the Gospels (1896), Christian Teaching (1898), On Religious Toleration (1901), What Is Religion and What is its Essence? (1902), The Grate Sin (1905), Do Not Kill (1906), Love Each Other (1906), The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (1908), The Only Command (1909). Note that Islam doesn’t preach the Gospel, pacifism or economic equality. We have a clear understanding about the religious life practices of Leo Tolstoy and can conclude that they are close to the Protestant branch of Christianity. He had close contact with many Protestant Christians from the United States, including Quakers who introduced him to a non-violence lifestyle. Tolstoy believed that a Christian should be a pacifist, which was the reason he started to preach non-violence. As result of this he had conflicts with the government and their supporters of the orthodox church. Tolstoy did in 1909 a clear refutation of Islam and wrote to a Russian woman who married the Muslim E. Vekilov: “for me who values the Christian ideals and the teaching of Christ in their pure sense more that anything else”. Tolstoy’s last hours before his death were preaching love, nonviolence, and economic value equally to all people of society to people.[7]. By preaching typical guidelines of the Savior Jesus Christ of the Gospel in the last seconds of his life, we can be sure he had no relation with Islam.

4. Conclusion

Born in a Russian orthodox church, Tolstoy discovered Jesus Christ as his Savior and that gave him certainty about eternal life. He worked the rest of his life with Christian activities in a similar way as we see today in Protestant Christianity. The fact that some Muslims say that he promoted Islam is just a miscommunication of some words of Tolstoy taken out of context. He never was a Muslim or promoted Islam.

Notes

1. Leo Tolstoy, A Confession and Other Religious Writings, Chapter II, 1879.
2. Leo Tolstoy, A Confession and Other Religious Writings, Chapter VI, 1879.
3. Donna T. Orwin, The Cambridge Companion to Tolstoy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002.
4. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Leo Tolstoy, Conversion and religious, beliefs, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leo-Tolstoy.
5. Leo Tolstoy, Church and State, On Life and Essays on Religion, 1934.
6. Leonid Maharinsky, Should an ‘Arab’ mean a liar, http://www.answering-islam.org/Hoaxes/tolstoy.
7. Kenneth C. Wenzer, "Tolstoy"s Georgist spiritual political economy: anarchism and land reform – 1897–1910", Special Issue: Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Death of Henry George, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Oct, 1997; http://www.ditext.com/wenzer/tolstoy.html