Divine Retribution, also known as contrapasso in Italian, is clearly demonstrated in Canto 28 through the punishment of the sowers of schism and scandal in the 9th bolgia of Circle 8.
To begin this canto, Dante discusses the many wars in Puglia (southeastern Italy) and across the peninsula, which have been known as the bloodiest. He does this to show that this 9th bolgia is far bloodier than these and beyond description. Those in this bolgia are punished by having to walk a track where they are cut open and slashed, but their wounds heal only to be cut again. The father of the worldwide religion of Islam, Mahomet, is placed here, along with his follower, Ali.
To illustrate the severity of the punishments to which these people are subjected, Dante uses the idea of blood and bones with decaying flesh. He states that the extent is incomprehensible and cannot be captured by words. Yet, he says that if the bones and blood of the many wars that have plagued the peninsula of Italy could be piled up, they would not compare to the sight of the 9th bolgia. The punishment is extremely grotesque and demeaning, as shown by the description of Mahomet being ripped open from his chin to where we fart. Between his legs, his guts spilled out, with the heart and other vital parts, and the dirty sack that turns to *censored* whatever the mouth gulps down.” The disgust that accompanies this description must be intended, and it is no coincidence that he is the father of the nation of Islam. With Mahomet and Ali are others who can be classified as sowers of scandal, as opposed to schism in the religious sense.
They are the causes of wars, troubles, and discord among many people, leading to death. Some have had their throats slit, others have been cut beyond recognition, and still others have had their arms chopped off. Bertran de Born, who counseled the young Prince Henry to revolt against his father, King Henry II of England, is among them. With the young prince’s death came the imprisonment of Bertran. He states that since his head is the home of his evil thoughts, and with his plan foiled, the decapitation of his head is fitting for the perfect contrapasso.”
So he walks with his head in his hand, swinging by his hair as if it were a lantern (again, the notion of his head being the encasement of light and ideas). In whole, the implications of classifying Mahomet and Ali in this 9th bolgia lead one to think that Dante was making a conclusion on the entire religion itself. To say the least, it is devastating and very narrow-minded. More importantly, it shows the extent of disrespect shown by Dante on two levels: the fact that Mahomet and Ali are placed so low in hell and are punished in such a disgusting place and manner, and that they are accompanied by such persons as those who are responsible for creating strife. This implies that they too can be classified as those who are instigators, which is patronizing for those who believe them to be prophets (Muslims greatly outnumber Catholics). Therefore, in the sense of contrapasso, this placement of these religious leaders would be unjust. This is a worldwide religion, and no one on earth can state that they are sure of the true religion.
The more intelligent response would be that all religions must be respected and not deemed frivolous or unimportant. I say this not to directly criticize Dante solely, but the idea of religious prejudice, which was still widely practiced by Catholics less than 50 years ago and still is today. It is not just by Catholics, and no one is innocent. It is the incessant notion of religious supremacy that has come to be believed by so many who will not accept the idea of the validity of other religions. It is the idea of conformity that yields prejudice.
Bibliography: Dante’s Inferno, Canticle (Book) 1 of his Divine Comedy