J. W. H. (James William Hampson) Stobart.

Islam & its founder online

. (page 9 of 18)
Online LibraryJ. W. H. (James William Hampson) StobartIslam & its founder → online text (page 9 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

to cope \vith its rich and powerful chiefs.

At this critical period, either because he found
it unsafe to remain in Mecca, or because he trusted
that his message would find more acceptance else-

' Conf. Koran, sura Ixvii. ii, 12. The names of these four
women who reached perfection were Asia, wife of Pharaoh ;
Mary, daughter of Imran, the mother of our blessed Lord ;
Khadija, the wife of Mahomet ; and Fatima his daughter, wife of
Ali. — Vide Sale, note ad loc.

^ Muir, ii. 195.


where, Mahomet, accompanied by his faithful freed-
man Zeid, set off to Tayif, a strongly fortified town
inhabited by the Bcni Thackif, situated some seventy
miles to the east of Mecca.

There is something very touching in the view of
the solitary wanderers as they set forth in faith and
devotion. On they toiled, across sandy wastes, over
l)urning rocks and barren hills, till they reached the
heights of the Jebel Kora, where gardens, palm-trees,
vineyards, and " fruits of plenty spread on every
hand," made a welcome and refreshing contrast to
the dreary wilderness through which they had passed,
and cheered the visionary seer and his faithful

And so they descended into the valley of Tayif,
which town at that time and long after was one
of the great strongholds of idolatry. There a stone
image, called " Al Lat," usually adorned with costly
vestments and precious stones, was an object of wor-
ship and profound veneration, and was esteemed to be
one of the daughters of God. Here for ten days
Mahomet preached to unwilling ears, and met with
nothing but opposition and scorn from the chief men,
which soon spread to the populace. At last, with Zeid
lie was driven out of the town, and, maltreated and
wounded, had to make for the foot of the hills,
where he hoped to find shelter among the vineyards
and to escape the pursuit of the infuriated rabble.

Driven thus forth from the city and worn out, they
sat down under a vine in a garden belonging to two
youths of the hostile Coreish, who had noticed the
fugitives' forlorn plight, and touched by their suffer-
ings sent them a dish of grapes. Refreshed by the


welcome present, Mahomet set forward on his journey,
and halfway to Mecca rested in the valley of Nakhla,
where, as we have seen, the Genii heard him at night
reading the Koran, and were converted. After a few
days' rest at this place he returned to Mecca, wearied
indeed and disappointed, but still strong in the belief
of his divine mission.

Mahomet now found himself free from personal
molestation, under the protection of Mutim, a chief
of the blood of Abd Shams. His unsuccessful
mission to Tayif, which became known to the hostile
faction, procured for him a season of contemptuous
toleration, more bitter, perhaps, to his lofty soul than
active opposition.

At this time (A.D. 620) he entered into a double
matrimonial alliance, taking to wife Sawda, the widow
of one of his converts of the Coreish ; and being be-
trothed to Ayesha — the daughter of his bosom friend
Abu Bekr — then only seven years of age.

But though thus pleasing himself in his do-
mestic life, his outward circumstances were dark
enough. His private means were straitened ; the
consoling sympathy of Khadija and of Abu Talib
was his no more ; for ten long years his life had
been a scene of such care, anxiety, obloquy, and
comparative failure, as must, at his age (for he was
now fifty), have weighed heavily on his mind.

His fortunes, however, had reached their lowest
ebb, when the tide suddenly turned, and in its flow
bore him on beyond his most sanguine expectations.
During the season of the annual pilgrimage, in the
spring, Mahomet sallied forth, as was his wont, and
preached to the assembled crowds.


When the usual ceremonies were drawing to a
close, and the devotees had returned to the valley
of Mina, he approached a " little group of six or
seven," who proved to be strangers from Medina,' of
the tribe of the Khazraj. To them he explained his
doctrines, and urged them to accept a purer faith
than tliat in which they were born. It would appear,
indeed, that upon the dwellers in Medina idolatry
had not so firm a hold as upon the Meccans, owing,
perhaps, to their familiarity with the purer worship
of the Jews, and also to the absence of any strong
personal or political interest in the maintenance of
the ancient superstition.

It is also believed by some writers that the Jewish
hopes of a Messiah had penetrated to their Arab
neighbours and had awakened in them, torn as they
were by intestine feuds, a yearning for a deliverer
so that they were ready to accept the one who came
to them of Arab blood, of the sacerdotal caste, and
who seemed likely to fulfil their highest hopes.

However this may be, it is certain that Maho-
met's eloquent teaching found more congenial soil
among them, and so they joyfully acknowledged his
mission, and made profession of " the faith." To his
new disciples he poured out the story of the difficulties
and dangers of his position at Mecca, and inquired
whether they would protect him at Medina. They

' The city of Yathrib, better known by its later name of Me-
dina, lies some 250 miles to the north of Mecca. In and around
it were large colonies and tribes of Jews, and from its proximity
to Syria, the inhabitants doubtless must have formed some con-
ception of a more spiritual religion than that practised at the



explained that their city was rent by opposing fac
tions, that they could not therefore make him the.
promise he desired, but that at the next annual pilgrim
age they would come and give him their answer.

And so they returned home, and spread his
doctrine, and that with such success that " there
remained hardly a family in Medina in which men-
tion was not made of the Prophet." ^ It would even
appear that the Jews favoured him, inasmuch as he had
acknowledged the validity of their Scriptures, and
taught some doctrines which they loved. Thus, from
a variety of causes, Islam secretly and openly took
deep root and spread in Medina.

Faithful to their promise, twelve of the new con-
verts returned at the annual pilgrimage and formally
acknowledged him as their prophet, and plighted
him their faith, " agreeing to acknowledge but one
God, to act morally and justly, not to kill their
children, and to obey the Prophet in all things
lawful." Such was the first pledge of Acaba, agreed
to in April, A.D. 621. And so they returned to their
native home, and the faith continued to spread in
Medina, chiefly through the preaching of Musab-ibn-
Omeir, a young and ardent Moslem, who had been
sent thither by Mahomet at the request of the inhabi-
tants. Their idols were thrown aside, many even of
the hostile factions of the Aws and the Khazraj joined
in the common devotions, and thus wonderfully was
a purer theistic faith substituted for the old super-
stitions of the Arab population.

External events, too, favoured the fortunes of
Islam. For many years the \-ictorious arms of the
' Muir, ii. 210.


Persian Chosroes had humbled the Christian princes
of the East ; but in A.D. 621 an important and decisive
victory gained by the emperor Heraelius, rolled back
the tide of invasion from the shores of the Bosphorus,
and the Cross triumphed over the fire-worship of the
Magian invaders. This was, at the same time, a
triumph for the theistic faith of Mahomet, and seemed
in its mystical meaning to prefigure the downfall of
Arabia's idolatrous rites, for in it true believers saw
the sure accomplishment of a prophecy which their
leader had uttered,^ thus " The Greeks have been
overcome by the Persians, but after their defeat they
shall overcome the others in turn within a few years "
— " Write, to God belongeth the disposal of this
matter " — " And on that day shall the believers rejoice
in the success granted by God." ^

The fortunes and hopes of the dejected prophet
having thus risen, his heart naturally went out to
those who had acknowledged his mission. Mecca
had rejected it, called him " liar," and his teaching
"falsehood." 3 No converts were being added to
the faithful few there ; surely it must be the will of
Heaven that he should leave them ! The Meccans
must have been given over to worship their idols,
and to a reprobate mind ; and what if his preaching
were opposed to the evident signs of the Almighty ?
what if he were found to be fighting against the
decrees of Allah ? Such may have been some of

' Sura XXX., entitled "The Greeks — Al Roum" — properly
the Romans.

■^ Conf. Kasimirski, "Koran,"' p. 343; Sale, notes, ad loc;
Muir, ii. 224; Freeman, "The Saracens," p. 24.

^ Sura vi. 34-37.

K 2


the thoughts which occupied the mind of Mahomet
as he reflected upon the hopeless prospect at home,
and gazed longingly over the northern hills towards
the city, where he was regarded as a revered apostle,
and perhaps almost as a prince. And so, as he
recalled the asylum which in past years the con-
verts had found beyond the sea, the picture of a
peaceful haven at Medina, and of crowds of enthu
siastic and devoted followers, would grow still brighter
and more alluring.

And therefore we cannot wonder that the little
flock are bidden to prepare themselves for abandon-
ing their homes, and that soon the wall of Heaven
is found to sanction, nay command, the step which
they meditate of quitting the doomed city; thus,
" they accuse thee, O Mohammed, of imposture, and
follow their own lusts " — " and now hath a message
come unto them, wherein is a warning from ob-
stinate infidelity : " — " but warners profit them not ;
wherefore do thou withdraw from them." ^

Thus the year A.D. 621 draws to its close, un-
marked by any important event. The cry of the
prophet is unheard in the streets, for his thoughts
are far away. Revelations from Heaven come as
occasion requires, by them the faithful are strength-
ened, but still more by the calm trust and undaunted
attitude of their spiritual guide.

In the spring of the next year, during the holy
months, there assembled at the national shrine
at Mecca the usual crowds of busy devotees ; but
amidst the throng one group alone of about seventy
persons need claim our regard. They are the new
' Sura liv. 2 -6.


disciples from Medina, come to tell the prophet of
their Avelfare, that the truth had found a ready recep-
tion, and that they were prepared to offer him a resting-
place in their midst, and to conduct him from the
idolatrous city.

I'owards the close of the ceremonies, the am-
bassadors assembled secretly at the hill of Acaba,
" a secluded glen " northward of Mecca, where, in
order to escape the notice of the hostile Coreish, it
had been arranged they were to meet the prophet,
and formally pledge him their word. Before mid-
night Mahomet repaired to the place, accompanied
by his uncle Al-Abbas, who (though he had not
openly declared for the new faith) loved his nephew,
and was anxious that his decision at this crisis should
be wise and prudent. He therefore urged on the
men of Medina not to raise hopes which they could
not fulfil, nor to promise a protection which they
might prove unable to afford. They replied that
they were able, and fully determined, to secure
his safety with their lives and fortunes ; nay, more, to
take him as their prophet and their master. Such
was the " second pledge of Acaba," ^ which took
place in the March of A.D. 622. The protection
thus offered and accepted, gained for the believers
of Medina the title of " Ansar," or Auxiliaries.

Some vague accounts of the midnight meeting,
and of the imi)ortant pact entered into between
Mahomet and the men of Medina, as well as rumours
of an early emigration of the Moslems from Mecca,
reached the ears of the Coreish, and roused them to
a renewal of such severities and persecutions, in-

' Muir, ii. 239.


eluding in some cases inaprisonment, as hastened
the departure of the believers to the city where they
were assured of a friendly reception. By permission
of the prophet the emigration began, and within two
months — with the exception of Mahomet and Abu-
Bekr and their households, and those who were
forcibly detained in slavery — all had met with the
cordial welcome and hospitality of their brethren at

The devotion of the Moslems at the call of
their faith and their prophet, and the sight of the
abandoned dwellings, alarmed the hostile chiefs of
Mecca ; but their deliberations as to how they might
effectually extinguish the growing sect, or counteract
the bold step which had been taken, came to no defi-
nite result. The flight of his adherents had placed
Mahomet more than ever in their power, yet they
seem to have been unable to settle how to act under
the unexpected emergency. Their deliberations, how-
ever, were made known to the prophet, and hearing
that certain of their number were appointed to visit
his house, he directed Ali to occupy his bed, threw
over the youth " his red Hadhramaut mantle," and at
once proceeded to the house of Abu-Bekr, who had
already made the necessary preparations for their

Passing the southern suburb of Mecca in the
dusk of evening, they escaped to a cave on Mount
Thaur, a lofty hill some six miles to the south-east.
There they remained concealed for three days, till
the search was somewhat relaxed. Food was con-
veyed to them at night by Abdallah and Asma, the
' Muir, ii. 247.


children of Abu-Bekr, and they had a plentiful supply
of milk brought them by a faithful shepherd. There
is, perhaps, no incident in the life of the prophet
which more nearly touches the sublime, which sets
his courage, his calm unwavering trust in God in a
more exalted light than the story of this cave on
Mount Thaur. If discovered thus alone on the
barren mountain how easily might the assassin have
executed his murderous work unseen by mortal eye.
Pursuit was hot, and the less masculine soul of Abu-
Bekr, fearful for the safety of the apostle of God, con-
jured up visions of approaching foes in each dark
shadow of the fitful twilight and in every rustling
leaf of the thorny acacias. " They be many th:,t
fight against us, and w^e are but two." "Not so,
Abu-Bekr," replied the prophet ; " we are but two,
but God is in the midst a third."

The flight, pursuit, and the safety of the wanderers
are, as might be expected, adorned with details
of the miraculous protection of Heaven. Among
these is the well-known story that for their safely a
spider spun its web over the mouth of the cave ; and
on a tree which miraculously sprang up the brood-
ing wood-pigeons, undisturbed, showed the pursuers
that no one could have taken refuge within. ^ In one
of the later Medina suras the before-mentioned cir-
cumstances are thus referred to : — " If ye assist not
the Prophet, verily God will assist him, as He assisted
him formerly, when the unbelievers drove him out of
Mecca, the second of two : when they were both in
the cave : when he said to his companion, God is
with us " (Sura ix. 40).

' Conf. Sale, P. D., p. 51 ; Irving, p. 72 ; Muir, ii. 257.


Two camels had been provided by Abu-Bekr
for their northern journey, and on the fourth day,
leaving their place of retreat, they struck off west-
ward towards the Red Sea, passed Bir-Osfan and
Codred, and on the eighth day reached the rocky
ridge whence the traveller looks down on the rich
valley in which Medina lies. Their eyes, wearied
with journeying under a meridian sun through barren
and thirsty defiles, must have been refreshed at the
sight which opened before them. They would look
down on green fields, orchards, and palm groves, a
scene to them of quiet, though of infinite beauty and
repose. To the right the summit of Jebel Ayr ;
northward, beyond the valley, the granite mountain
of Ohod, where afterwards the sword of Islam failed
in the hand that wielded it ; away to the south and
east, till lost in the horizon, the plateau of Najd ;
and below the peaceful suburb of Coba, nestling
amidst its palm groves.

Thither the travellers wended their way, and wel-
comed by the greeting of the exiles who had preceded
them, and by the smiles and gratulations of the new
converts, soon after alighted in Medina. Such was
the celebrated " Hejira," or Flight of Mahomet from
Mecca to Medina, from which the Mahometan world
computes its era. He fled from the cave of Thaur on
the 2oth, and arrived at Medina on the 28th June,
A.D. 622. Within a few weeks the members of the
families of Mahomet and Abu-Bekr, who had remained
behind at Mecca, set out leisurely and without mo-
lestation, to join the rest of the fugitives at Medina.


THE LATEST TEACHING AT MECCA. — [a.D. 6 1 7-62 2.]

I PROPOSE now to take into consideration those
chapters^ of the Koran which are thought to have
been dictated during the last years of the prophet's
residence at Mecca. In them we shall be able to
trace the influence of external circumstances on his
hopes and aspirations, and notice how they served to
develop the scope of his teaching and the future of

In nearly the whole of these chapters we meet with
wearisome repetitions of the same line of argument
which he had taken up in the earlier suras. We en-
counter the same references to the unsuccessful mission
of earlier prophets to the idolatrous nations of old, to
show that the rejection of his words by the Meccans
was to be looked upon as a mere repetition of the
same want of faith, and, more than this, as construc-
tively a proof of the validity of his mission. Hud
sent to the Adites, Salah to the children of Thamud,
Lot to the city of Sodom, Shoaib to the " Midianites
of the wood," Abraham's unheeded preaching, and

' Muir, " Life of Mahomet," Appendix, vol. ii., gives tlie fol-
lowing sequence of the chapters : — 46, 72, 35, 36, 19, 18, 27,
42, 40, 38, 25, 20, 43, 12, II, 10, 14, 6, 64, 28, 2"?, 22, 21, 17,
16, 13, 29, 7.


Pharaoh's rejection of the words of Moses, were but
so many types of his mission to the inhabitants of
Mecca, and of their reception of him; and it is
shown that calamities, similar to those which befell
the nations of old, will assuredly overwhelm them if
they continue to prefer their idols to the worship of
God, and still reject his warnings. His religion, he
tells them, is freely offered, for he asks no reward ;
and he assures them that he is not a preacher of any
new doctrine, no innovator, but sent at God's com-
mand to instruct them in that faith which is the only
true one, and the rejection of which will bring upon
them the judgment of Heaven. Thus : " He hath
ordained you the religion which He commanded
Noah, and revealed to thee, O Mohammed — and
Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying. Observe this
religion" (Sura xlii. 11).

During this period it cannot be doubted that
Mahomet found opportunity, generally we may believe
during the quiet hours of the night, for prosecuting
his study of the Jewish histories ; for he reproduces
the minute details of the stories of Moses (Sura xxviii.),
of Joseph (Sura xii.), and of others, though all are
more or less mixed up with legends and apocry-
phal additions of his own. In his treatment of the
Scriptures he shows no comprehensive grasp of Old
Testament teaching ; his knowledge is purely super-
ficial, touching only the outside shell of facts, and
these are often distorted and strained to suit his owti
purposes, and abound in fanciful and incongruous
details and fables.

Thus he tells the story of the " Seven Sleepers ''


donnant in the cave for 309 years, to illustrate
God's care of those who avoid idolatry (Sura
xviii.) ; the golden calf in the wilderness is made
to low (Sura xx. 90) ; the children of Israel are
seduced to idolatry by a Samaritan {Idem, 7, 8) ;
Joseph is stated to have been sorely tempted by the
" Egyptian's wife," and the women of Egypt cut them-
selves for their love of his beauty (Sura xii. 24) ;
Joseph satisfies his father that he is still alive in
Eg}'pt by sending him an inner garment, the smell
of which Jacob recognizes, and is by it cured of his
blindness (Sura xii. 95) ; the odour of the vest is
borne on the air to the aged patriarch from Egypt to
Canaan (Sura xii. 94) ; the people of the " City near
the sea " are changed into apes for fishing on the
Sabbath (Sura iii. 166) ; Abraham, for speaking
against the idolatry practised round him, is cast into
a burning pile — but God makes the fire cold (Sura
xxi. 69) ; the winds are said to have been subject to
Solomon, and to have run at his command {Idem, 81) ;
the latter asserts himself to have been taught the
language of birds (Sura xxvii. 16), and talks with a
lapwing which expresses its belief in the unity of God
{Idem, 20—26) ; a terrible genius (in org Efreet) brings
to Solomon, in the twinkling of an eye, the queen of
Shcba's throne {Idem, 40) ; Job strikes with his feet,
and a fountain springs up as a liniment for his sores ;
he is also ordered to beat his wife with rods {Idem,
41-43); &c.

Such are a few specimens of the frivolous inci-
dents mixed up with the graver story of the doings
of the old patriarchs. A perusal of the Koran can


alone give the reader any just idea of the tedious
manner in which certain " special subjects " are re-
peated over and over again, with but trivial variation.
In the midst of all these revelations there occur here
and there excellent moral sentiments to which no
exception can be taken. Thus the duty of helping
the poor, of relieving the needy traveller, and of doing
justice to the orphan, is insisted on. The love and
honour due to parents from their children, the per-
formance of covenants, and the use of just weights,
form part of the believer's duty. Liberality is com-
mended, profuseness condemned. The Prophet points
out, how, at the end of the world, our words, our
thoughts, nay, the very use of our eyesight, will be
brought into account, and he states how desirable it
is for the true believer to love God, to pray to Him,
and to walk humbly in His sight (Sura xvii.).

On the occurrence of such sentiments in the
Koran, it may be well to remember, that no civilized
heathen nation ever existed, in which just, beautiful,
and sublime sentiments were not known and recorded
in their sacred books. The works of Confucius abound
in them ; the ancient writings, still held in veneration
by millions in Hindostan, furnish many passages of a
morality as discriminating and high-toned as any to
be found in the book of Mahomet. But it is the
juxtaposition of other pernicious opinions, claiming
equal inspiration and authority, which have ever
tended to neutralize what was just and true, and to
render them without any efficient practical influence.*

' Conf. M. "Williams's " Indian Wisdom," pp. 3, 38, 58,
512, et seq.


We may notice at this time an important change
in the attitude to be assumed by believers. They
are now permitted to repel the ill-usage of their
enemies and draw the sword as a defensive weapon ;
thus, " Permission is granted to those who take arms
against the unbelievers, for that they have been un-
justly persecuted and turned out of their habitations
injuriously, and for no reason than because they say
our Lord God" (Sura xxii. 40). In a few short
months we shall find how tlie aggressive sword of
Islam is permitted to succeed this defensive war-

He is, as usual, profuse in his praise of "the
perspicuous," " the glorious Koran," sent down from
Heaven ; and he now ventures to appeal to his know-
ledge of the Old Testament histories as a proof of its
authenticity. He represents himself as ignorant and
illiterate, but that God directly instructed him. Thus :
" We (God) relate unto thee a most excellent history,
by revealing unto thee this Koran, whereas thou wast
before one of the negligent " (Sura xii. 2). And again :
" Say, it is a weighty message from which ye turn
aside. I (Mahomet) had no knowledge of the ex-
alted princes when they disputed about the creation
of man ; it hath been revealed unto me only as a
proof that I am a public preacher" (Sura xxxviii.

He explains his imperfect knowledge, and how it
is that he is still ignorant of some parts of the old

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryJ. W. H. (James William Hampson) StobartIslam & its founder → online text (page 9 of 18)