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wards assumed. ^

To the sacred offices held by Abd-al-Muttalib,
Zobier, his second son, succeeded (for the eldest,
Al-Harith, was dead), and from him they descended
to Abu Talib ; but he was poor and unable to meet

' Note, ' ' Among the religious observances of the Arabs in
their ' days of ignorance ' — that is to say, before the pi-omulga-
tion of the Moslem doctrines — fasting and prayer had a foremost
place. They had three principal fasts within the year : one of
seven, one of nine, and one of thirty days. They prayed three
times a day : about sunrise, at noon, and about sunset ; turning
their faces in the direction of the Kaaba, which was their Kebla,
or point of adoration." — W. Irving, "Life of Mahomet," p. 17.
E 2


the demands which the performance of the hospitable
duties involved, and so the privilege of supplying
water was made over to Abbas, a younger and richer
brother ; whilst the right of giving food to the pil-
grims was made over to the descendants of Naufal, a
brother of the munificent Hashim. Still, from the
nobility of his character, and the gentleness yet firm-
ness of his disposition, Abu Talib occupied a com-
manding position among the richer chiefs of Mecca
as one of the guardians of the Kaaba, though his
positive power was less than that of the richer de-
scendants of Abd-Shams. The latter was the father
of Omeya, from whom the royal race of the Omeyades
took their name. Omeya was the father of Harb, and
Harb of Abu Sofian, afterwards the obstinate opponent
and bitter enemy of Mahomet.

It was unfortunate for the preservation of the
Jrights of private property, and the orderly execution
of the law, that the powers of the government had
thus become divided among the hostile, or, at any
rate, rival branches of the house of Coreish ; for the
consequence was that there remained no smgle chief
in Mecca strong enough to restrain tyranny and op-
pression, and to protect the helpless. The incon-
venience of this state of things, which threatened
seriously to interfere Avith the commercial prosperity
of the city, led in time to the formation of a league
among the heads of the chief families, called the
" Hilf-al-Fadhul," the object of which was to secure
the due and impartial execution of justice. ^

The arrival of the early caravan on its w^ay

' Muir, ii. lO.


from the south to Syria, with the influx of the ])ilgrinis
to the Kaaba, was probably the most interesting event
of the year, and was looked forward to with ardent
curiosity by the youth of Mecca. The multitude of
camels bearing spices, the merchants of Aden and
Hadhramaut with their precious freights — the choice
products of Yemen and of India— the bustle and
tumult of the crowded streets, would excite the imagi-
nation with visions of those distant regions whence all
the riches came, and arouse a desire to visit them.
From this influence the youthful Mahomet did not
escape. At his earnest entreaty his guardian, Abu
Tahb (who, like most of the chiefs of his house,
engaged in mercantile adventure), permitted the
youth, then in his twelfth year, to accompany him on
the northward journey. On this, and on subsequent
trading expeditions, indelible impressions must have
been made upon his youthful mind. With the excep-
tion of one visit to Medina when six years of age, and
his infant days spent in his desert home in the hills
of Tayif, he had never been absent from the narrow
valley of Mecca. Now the daily march, the nightly
halt, new scenes, the camp fires, around which wild
tales and legends of spectral beings haunting each
hill and vale, and of ancient races swept away in ages
past, 1 would naturally imprint themselves deeply on
the imagination of the melancholy child. On the way
he had to journey between the mountains and the
sea, and would pass, not without mournful regret, the
tomb of his mother at Abwa ; and then on to Akaba,

' Conf. Koran, suia Ixxxix. 6; sura xci. il ; sura vii. 63-
73 ; sura liv. 18-31 ; and Sale's P. D., p. 67.


where, in the dim distance of the western sky, there
would arise to his view the sacred heights of Horeb
and of Sinai, once the scene of God's message to man
through that mighty Prophet, to whom in after-years
he ventured to deem himself more than equal. He
would visit the rocks of Petra, the glories of which
had passed away; and so to the halting-place at
Bostra, beyond the accursed valley, where the waters
of the Dead Sea were said to hide for ever the devoted
cities of the plain.

During these journeys Mahomet must without
doubt have come in contact with numerous Christians,
who, as we have before stated, were scattered over
the regions he visited ; and it is not improbable that
he may frequently have witnessed the ceremonies of
their worship. The Christian Church in the East
had been for a long time convulsed by theological
controversies. Bitter disputes for centuries over the
great mysteries of the faith had ended in the produc-
tion of a number of sects. There were the Arians,
who denied the essential equality of the three Persons
of the Godhead ; the Sabellians, who reduced these
Persons to three relations ; and the Eutychians, who
believed in the fusion of the Godhead and the man-
hood of Christ into one nature. There were the
Jacobites, adherents of the Monophysite heresy, the
Nazaraeans, and the Ebionites, numerous in Arabia,
the Marianites, who made the Virgin Mother the
third person in the Trinity ; the Collyridians, who
made Mary their God, and worshipped her as such ; ^

' Koran, sura v. 115 : "And when God shall say unto Jesus
at the last day, O Jesus, Son of Mary, hast thou said unto


and " other sects there were, of many denomina-
tions, within the borders of Arabia, which took refuge
there from the proscription of the imperial edicts "
(Sale, p. 35). We learn, too, that the worship of
saints and images had there arrived at a very high
pitch, and that many other superstitions largely pre-
vailed (Sale, P. D., p. 33).

In Syria, Mahomet would see the Christian re-
ligion the ruling national faith, in full vigour, with
its scenic ritual, its crosses, pictures, vestments, pro-
cessions, and regularly-recurring services ; and these
observances he would, doubtless, compare with that
gross idolatry, in the practice of which he had grown
up to years of manhood. Still, though those who called
themselves by the name of the Saviour were nume-
rous in Arabia, in Syria, at Bostra, and at Hira, and
though he must have had full and ample opportunity
of learning the truth of the things which they believed,
"nothing is more remarkable than the gross igno-
rance of some of the leading features of Christianity,
which, notwithstanding all the means of information
which, at any rate during his residence at Medina, he
possessed, is displayed by Mahomet" (Muir, i. cxci,

In the account of his first journey, in his twelfth
year, miraculous signs crowd upon us, and the visible
protection of Heaven accompanies the youthful pro-
phet. At one time the wings of his guardian angel
shield him from the noonday heat ; at another, the

men, take me and my mother for two gods, beside God ? " From
this passage it is evident that this early worship of Mary was
known to Ivlahomet.


withered trees of the desert are clothed in living
green, to afford shelter to the chosen of Heaven
(W. Irving, p. 20). At Bostra, a city lying eastward of
the Jordan, and chiefly inhabited by Nestorian Chris-
tians, where the caravan halted, the prophetic light •
which shone in his face, and the seal of prophecy
between his shoulders, are seen and recognized by a
monk of a neighbouring convent. By him the youth
is hospitably entertained and instructed in the true
faith of the living God ; but especially, and thus early,
is there sown in his heart a deep-rooted abhorrence of
that idolatry in which he had hitherto been educated. -
This Nestorian monk is variously called Bahira,
Sergius or Jergis, Felix and Said, and the whole story
is so mixed up with fable as to make it, as it stands,
quite unworthy of belief. It is quite possible that
Mahomet may have imbibed impressions, or received
instruction similar to that noted in the text, during
one of his commercial visits to the Syrian towns ; and
we are further assured that he was on intimate and
familiar terms with several persons of the Christian
and Jewish faith. It appears a vain and unprofitable
task to inquire at what particular time he adopted
his iconoclastic views, and was led to assert his
especial dogma of the unity of the Godhead. The
most superficial acquaintance with the books of the

' This is an old myth, and occurs in the stoiy of the lambent
flame which played in the hair of Ascanius, and that settled on
the cradle of Servius Tullius (Livy, i. 35).

^ Prideaux, " Life of Mahomet," p. 7; Muir, i. 36, note;
Lamartine, i. p. 91 ; Dr. Sprenger, "Life of Mahomet," p. 79 ;
W. Irving, p. 21. Conf. also Sale, Koran, sura xvi. p. 223,
where the question is discussed.


Old Testament — such knowledge as he had full and
ample opportunity of gaining, would impress on his
mind the great salient fact that idolatry and the
worship of strange gods was the one especial sin which
uniformly provoked the wrath of Heaven, and called
down temporal punishment upon that chosen nation,
whose especial mission it was to keep alive in the
earth the knowledge of Him in whose worship no
graven image was to take part. If we can assume his
acquaintance with the first two Mosaic command-
ments, or if he had learnt the "Shema" (Deut. vi. 4)
usually taught to Jewish children, even of the humble
classes,^ we have sufficient data to account for the
two special doctrines which he sought afterwards to

At the annual fair at Ocatz, which he attended,
there is reason to believe that he listened to the fervid
eloquence and pure doctrine preached by Coss, the
Christian bishop of Najran, and there he may have

' Farrar, "Life of Christ," i. 89, note.

' On this head Dr. Adler, Chief Rabbi, has kindly favoured
me with the following remarks, in answer to an inquiry whether
the Decalogue formed part of the daily services of the Jews at
that time. He says: "At the time when he (Mahomet) lived,
it is probable that tlie recitation of the Decalogue did not form
an integral portion of the daily public service ; for we are told
that the priests recited it at the Temple service, but that laymen
w ere not to include it in their daily devotions, lest they should
imagine that these were the only precepts given in the law.
(Talmud Berachoth.) Still the Decalogue is included in every
prayer-book, and was read as the lesson of th.C day on the Feast,
of Pentecost, and on two Sabbaths of the year. Mahomet would
have become acquainted with the prohibitions of images from his
intercourse with Jc«'s."


imbibed the germs of that faith round which the
tribes of Arabia were one day to rally. The jnutual
animosity of Jew towards Christian, though both pro-
fessed to worship the true God, though both appealed
to the Old Testament, and both equally revered the
name of Abraham and professed to abhor that idolatry
in \vhich he had been bred, may have led him to
think that possibly some divine truth lay hid in both
these systems of belief, though covered and concealed
by human inventions, and may have suggested to
him the possibility of forming out of these conflicting
elements one single simple catholic creed, and of
thus uniting mankind in the worship and love of the
Great Father of all.

And so the life of Mahomet ran on. At the
age of twenty (A.D. 590) he is found engaged in
what is called " Fijar," or " the Sacrilegious War," in
which "he was present with his uncles and discharged
arrows at the enemy." ^ This arose from a feud be-
tween the Coreish and the Beni Hawazin, a tribe of
kindred origin, and gained its name from having been
fought Avithin the sacred territory and during one of
the sacred months. At this time, too, he was em-
ployed, like Moses and David of old, in tending
sheep, and in following the ewes great with young, in
the valley beneath the slopes of the Jebel Jyad, south
of Mecca. Such an occupation was suited to the con-
templative and thoughtful mind of the youth, whose
pure manners and unobtrusive demeanour gained him
the title of " Al-Amin," or "the Faithful."

When he had reached his twenty-fifth year, on

' Muir, ii. 6.


the recommendation of Abu Talib, he entered the
service of Khadija, a rich widow of Mecca. She was
of the house of Coreish, the daughter of KhuweiHd,
who was the son of Asad, the son of Abd-al-Ozza, the
son of Cussai. With Meisara, her servant, he was
placed in charge of the widows' merchandise ; and
accompanying the yearly caravan to the north, by
judicious barter with the Syrian merchants of Bostra,
Aleppo, and Damascus, succeeded in doubling Kha-
dija's venture. From Marr-al-Tzahran, the last halt-
ing-place on the return journey before Mecca, he
was sent forward to announce to his thrifty and ex-
pectant mistress the success of their journey. The
widow was charmed with the noble features of the
ingenuous youth, and her heart was touched with a
soft and irresistible feeling. The negotiations and
advances which her love and modesty set on foot
soon brought about the union she desired. The
home of Mahomet and Khadija was a bright and
happy one, and their marriage fortunate and fruitful.
Two sons and four daughters were its issue. Their
eldest son was Casim, who died at the age of two
years ; then followed (in what precise order is un-
known) four daughters, — Zeinab, Rockeya, Om-Kol-
thum, and Fatima ; and lastly a son, generally known
by the name of Abdallah, who died in infancy.

The wealth of Khadija raised Mahomet to a
level with the other chiefs of his house, and re-
lieved him from the shepherd's crook and from his
duties among the camel-drivers of Mecca. The love
of Khadija, who had at first been attracted by his
noble and pleasing exterior, increased daily at the


recognition of the sterling qualities which her partial
heartwas ready to discover in the husband of her choice.
Though usually reserved and thoughtful, he was known
at times to unbend, and to yield to a vein of humour,
which occasionally tinged his graver words. He was
able to keep his passions under the strongest control,
and in his general intercourse amongst his friends, the
affectionate though often hidden impulses of his
heart knew how to " grapi)Ie with hooks of steel "
those whom his commanding aspect at first had
awed and attracted. But the chief idiosyncrasy of
his character was a quiet patient determination of
will and fixedness of purpose, which neither years of
opposition nor personal danger nor exile could sub-
due, and which "was destined to achieve the marvel-
lous work of bowing towards him the hearts of all
Arabia as the heart of one man" (Muir, ii. 31).

In all his troubles, and amid all his mental
doubts and conflicts, he had one tender and affec-
tionate bosom into which he could pour his griefs,
and to which he could, in later years, confide the
story of the ecstatic visions which, in the solitary cave
or on the arid uplands, haunted his day dreams and
his nightly vigils. For the heart of Mahomet did
safely trust her, and Khadija yielded to him her
faith ; and when the world called him impostor and
cheat, she was the first to acknowledge him to be
indeed the apostle of God.

In his thirty-fifth year, the Kaaba having been
seriously injured by the action of one of those periodic
deluges to which the valley of Mecca is to the present
day liable, the chiefs of the Corcish set about the task


of executing the necessary repairs, for which the
timbers of a ship stranded on the coast near Jedda
furnished them a welcome though unexpected supply
of material. The rivalry and jealousy of the various
" heads of houses " in Mecca who exercised any of the
sacerdotal offices was so great that an elaborate pre-
vious distribution of the work was necessary before
the repairs were allowed to be undertaken. At length
the four sides of the shrine were divided among
four sets of the families interested, and then they
began their task. The fiery Walid ^ was the first to
commence the work, but as it proceeded, and the
walls rose, the question presented itself who was to
move to its place the sacred Black Stone. The dis-
pute grew hot, swords w'ere drawn, and bloodshed
was imminent, when it was settled to refer the solu-
tion of the dispute to him who first entered the sacred
inclosure by the gate of the Beni-Sheyba ; when lo !
Mahomet was seen approaching, and was the first to
reach the appointed spot. The story goes on to tell
how he spread his mantle on the ground, placed the
stone thereon, and gave to the chief of each party a
corner, so that each might equally assist in raising it,
but that he himself guided and fixed it in its final

We cannot but suppose that this incident, accom-
panied by the circumstances which assigned to him
the most honourable task in the rehabilitation of the
national shrine, was deeply impressed on his memory ;
and that it afterwards served to confirm his own

' Walid-Ibn-al-Mughira was descended from Makhzum, a son
of Yokdah, uncle of Cussai.


belief in the divineness of his mission, and strength-
ened his claim on the faith of his adherents.

Though after his marriage with Khadija he still
continued his commercial pursuits, and at times
accompanied the yearly caravans north and south,
and visited the fairs of Arabia, he yet had ample
leisure for that religious meditation to which he
was naturally inclined. The general bias of his mind
in this direction, fostered by his early training and
associations in the house of Abd-al-Muttalib and of
Abu Talib, inclined him to speculation in matters of
faith ; and this was further stimulated by the view of
the gross idolatry which he saw practised at the
Kaaba, as contrasted with the more spiritual worship
of the Christian and Jew, of which he had been witness
on his visits to Syria. With the real doctrines and
true teaching of lieither of these religions had he
made himself acquainted. He knew not how in the
eternal purpose of God the ritual of the Mosaic dis-
pensation, its hallowed priesthood, its bleeding sacri-
fices, its lamb without spot or blemish, the blood
sprinkled on the mercy-seat, were types and shadows
of Him who was to come. Of the need of a
Redeemer, and of the finished Atonement, he knew
nothing ; and he doubtless formed his opinion of the
Christian religion and of the Jewish Church chiefly
from corrupt Christian sects who paid adoration to
the Virgin Mary and to saints and images, and from
the Jewish communities he met on his journeys, and
whom he considered no less idolatrous. With such
erroneous notions, and the sight of the mutual
hatred, the divergent worship and recriminations alike


of Jew and Gentile, it is scarcely to be marvelled at
that the necessity for some reformation occurred to
him ; and that his solitary musings aided him in fixing
his mind on the task which he set before himself of
freeing the observances of religion from all visible
objects of idolatrous adoration, and of reducing the
faith of the creature to its original purity, the sum
and substance of which was to be the worship of the
one only God.

Such were probably some of the thoughts which
occupied him ; but other influences there were at
work which further directed his mind in this field of
speculation. In the house of Khadija, Waraca, her
cousin, was a frequent and a welcome visitor. He is
said to have been a convert to Christianity, and to
have had some knowledge of the Scriptures of both
Christian and Jew. From him Mahomet is " thought
to have derived much of his information regarding
these WTitings, and many of the traditions of the
Mishna and Talmud, on which he draws so copiously
in the Koran." ^ From Zeid also,^ his adopted son,
sprung from Arab tribes in which Christianity had
made considerable progress, he would gather some
dim impressions of the teachings of the Christian
faith ; and Othman,^ too, another cousin of Khadija,
who had embraced Christianity at Constantinople,

* W. Irving, "Life of Mahomet," p. 29.

^ For his previous history, see Muir, ii. 47.

' Othman Ibn-Huweirith, cousin of Khadija. He was put to
death at Constantinople. He is not to be confounded with
Othman-Ibn-Affan, afterwards Caliph.


would further instruct him in the chief tenets which
he held.

From the knowledge thus gained by actual in-
tercourse with those who had been instructed, how-
ever imperfectly, in a better faith : from the general
spirit of inquiry which is said to have prevailed at the
time ; from what he himself had seen and learnt of
the nature of Christian and Jewish worship, and from
dim traditions of the purer faith of their ancestor
Abraham, he gradually became sensible how much
such pure adoration was at variance with the gross
and degrading idolatry which prevailed in Arabia.
With a brooding anxiety for something that would
answer the secret longings of his soul, he began to
withdraw himself from the busy scenes of the city to
the barren hills, whose desolate solitudes were con-
genial to his meditative and melancholy nature.

We read that often with his faithful wife he
repaired to the cave of Hira ' for meditation and
prayer, and that his long and anxious vigils and nightly
wanderings were followed by ecstasies, and trances,
and convulsive fits long continued, which alarmed
his wife, but in which " the faithful " see the begin-
ning of the working of the Spirit of God, and the
throes of a mind burdened with a revelation more
than human. His tendency to epileptic attacks, and
his long vigils, sufficiently account for these pheno-

* Mount Hira lies about three miles north of Mecca, and is
about a quarter of a league to the left of the road to Arafat, and
beyond the Sherifs' summer-house. The cave is about four
yards long, and varies in breadth from one to three yards {vide
Muir, ii. 55, notes).


mena. To the faithful, however, they constituted the
ordeal through which he had to pass before he could
be made the means of revealing the message of

It is not easy for an adherent of any other religion
to form an impartial opinion upon the part played by
the founder of Islam. Of those who deny the truth
of the claims which Mahomet sets forth, the judg-
ments have been, and probably will continue to be,
very divergent. Luther looked upon him as " a devil
and the firstborn child of Satan." The gentle Me-
lanchthon considered " that Mahomet was inspired by
Satan, because he does not explain what sin is, and
showeth not the reason of human miser}'." Maracci,
on the Papal side, was of opinion that Mahometanism
and Lutheranism were not very dissimilar, — " witness
the iconoclastic tendencies of both." Spanheim and
D'Herbelot were liberal in their epithets of "wicked im-
postor," "dastardly liar," &c., with reference to him.^
By one earnest and learned writer ^ he is pronounced a
wilful and intentional deceiver from first to last, who,
for the purpose of raising himself to supreme power,
invented the wicked imposture which he palmed with
so much success on the world. He is accused, in
prosecution of his design, of having abandoned a licen-
tious course of life, and of having affected that of an
Eremite, in order to gain " a reputation for sanctity
before he set up for prophet " ; and with his accom-
plices in the cave, of having " made his Al-Koran "
whilst pretending that his visits there were for fasting

' Quarterly Review, October, 1S69,
^ Prideaux, "Life of Mahomet," pp. Ii, no.


and prayer ; and generally that hypocrisy, the lust oi
power, and lechery were the sole and leading principles
of his conduct. Such indiscriminate abuse is unsup-
ported by facts, and cannot be justified by a reference
to what is known of his early conduct His life up
to the time of his assumption of the prophetic cha-
racter is eminently decorous, for " all authorities agree
in ascribing to the youth of Mahomet a correctness of
deportment and a purity of manners rare among the

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Online LibraryJ. W. H. (James William Hampson) StobartIslam & its founder → online text (page 4 of 18)