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The Saracens from the earliest times to the fall of Bagdad online

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exerted another noteworthy influence ; it gave Mo-



hammed more leisure to indulge his habitual habit of
meditation, and for study in the religions of his fathers,
as well as in those of the Jews and Christians. It is
probably true that he could neither read nor write,
but in this he was not behind his contemporaries in
Arabia; letters, as we have observed, were but little
cultivated before his day, and there is no probability
that there existed a single volume of prose, the prod-
uct of the Arabian mind, which he could have read
had he been better instructed. There were a few
poems, such as had gained prizes at the fairs, but
that was all, and he who wished to cultivate his
mind was forced to look to Jewish or Christian
sources. In these directions Mohammed did not
learn from books, but from oral tradition, and what he
took into his mind was distorted, disconnected, and
fragmentary ; but, though it was a mixture, thert
ran through it all certain general principles which
took root and bore fruit.

During this period the Arabians were becoming
better acquainted with their neighbors to the east-
ward. A commercial expedition had visited the city
of Hira, capital of Irak, a city situated in the valley
of the Euphrates, not far south of the site of Baby-
lon. The men who had accompanied this caravan
returned with rich profits, and adorned the city of
Taif with new buildings, erected by laborers sent by
the Persian ruler specially to make a memorial of
his good-will towards them ; for he had been very
favorably impressed by their sagacity and spirit. At
this time the empires of Rome and Persia were, as
we have seen, the two prominent powers of the


world, dividing between them the fairest and most
famous regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The
Eastern empire, with its capital at Constantinople,
still extended over nearly all the countries around
the Mediterranean, and the commands of Caesar
were obeyed from the Atlantic to the Euphrates.
The illustrious dynasty of the Sassanidae now ruled
Persia, and its greatness is one of the most remark-
able phenomena in the history of the world. Rome,
or the Eastern empire, represented Christianity, and
Persia the Zoroastrian fire-worship.*

Under the influence of his new wealth, we find
Mohammed gradually withdrawing from commerce
and devoting his time to reflection upon the con-
dition of his country, and the possibilities of improv-
ing it. We must remember that while the Bedawins
roamed the interior desert free from all dictation by
outside rulers, the Arabs of Yemen and of some
other sections were under Persian influence ; those of
Syria were governed from Constantinople ; while
those of Irak or Mesopotamia vacillated between
allegiance to the one great power and the other.

Judaism and Christianity existed alongside of feti-
chism and paganism ; but the largest portion of the
people worshipped the numberless divinities of the
Kaaba, though admitting that there was an Allah,
supreme above all others. The belief in jinns and
angels, which has been outlined, was not systemati-
cally expressed at any time, though it had long ex-
isted as a vague and poetic superstition. There was

* " The History and Conquests of the Saracens," by E. A. Free-
man, pp. lo, 17.


also an uncertain faith in the resurrection to another
life, after^tlje separation of the soul and the body.
The people were grossly addicted to gaming, and to
the abuse of wine ; and every man married as many
wives as he could support, some of these relations
being of the most odious character. The ferocious
custom of burying female offspring alive as soon
as born was followed, either as considering women
not worth bringing up, or from an exaggerate sense
of honor, as though fearing that the helpless ones
might some day be carried off by an enemy !

The most learned man of his time was that War,
aka who chivalrously entered upon the search for
a better religion than that of his fathers, and of his
society and wisdom Mohammed enjoyed the advan-
tage. Like him, Mohammed was cast down by re-
flections upon the condition of his people ; and like
him also, he had dim impressions that there might
be something elevating for them in the scriptures of
other lands.

On the side of the mountain Hera, two or three
miles to the north from Mecca, there was a small
cavern in the red-granite rock, in which Mohammed
found a quiet place for nursing his thoughts, and
there he was sometimes accompanied by his faithful
Kadija. Like a Christian anchorite, he secluded
himself for days at a time, brooding with ever deep-
ening anxiety upon the weighty problems that had
presented themselves to his soul. Here he was
accustomed to pass the Arabian Lent, the month
Ramadan, in fasting, meditation, and prayer, looking
from his lofty vantage-ground upon a natural scene


quite in consonance with the upheavals of his souK
Not a green object did his weary eye rest upon ; all
was barren and black ; save when the white sand of
the valley fell within his view.

Under such an unnatural strain Mohammed's
mind became the sport of dreams by day and of
dreams by night ; ecstacies and trances came upon
him, and oftentimes, losing all consciousness of sur-
rounding objects, he lay upon the ground as dead.*
Good Kadija sometimes witnessed these accesses of
enthusiasm, and vainly enquired their cause. Her
husband made mysterious responses ; at times he
gave utterance to almost frenzied language, some of
which has been preserved. One of his rhapsodies,
though not the earliest, is repeated as a sort
of Pater Noster in the public and private worship of
Arabia still :

Praise be to Allah, the Lord of creation,
The All-merciful, the All-compassionate !
Ruler of the day of reckoning !

* We need not trouble ourselves to enquire into the nature of these
trances upon which so much discussion has been based. Syed
Ahmed, in his "Essays," says "Mohammed was vigorous and
healthy, both in his infancy and his youth. . . , Through the
whole of his life he was exposed to great perils and hardships, all
of which he bore with unflinching patience and courage." Sprenger
believes that they were epileptic fits ; but Lake (" Islam : its Origin,
Genius, and Mission," pp. 37, 41) says : " This state of mind is not
peculiar to any religion. It is found among all religious enthusiasts,
not excepting the idolaters of India, Greece, and Rome, and amongst
Christians of most shades of opinion, — in convents, in nunneries, and
with hermits in the wilderness. ... It was the paroxysm of a
soul struggling from darkness into light, although the light was only
that of natural religion."


Thee we worship and thee we invoke for aid.

Lead us in the right path ;
The path of those to whom thou art gracious,
Not of those thou art wroth with, nor of those who err.

— Sura i.

Perhaps, overcome by a sense of the ungratefulness
of man, when forgetting that he was supported by
Allah most gracious, he exclaimed :

" By the snorting chargers !

And those who strike tire with the hoof !

And those that make unexpected raids,

And darken with the dust of the desert.

And dash through a host therein !

Verily man is to his Lord ungrateful,

And is himself a witness thereof ;

Verily he is keen in loving this world's goods.

Ah, knoweth he not when the graves shall be opened

And what is in the graves shall be brought forth ?

Verily on that day Allah shall learn what is in them."

— Sura c.

At another time the lost state of human kind forced
itself upon him with vividness, and he cried out :

" By the declining day !

Verily man rushes to destruction,

Save such as believe and do righteousness,

And urge one another to truth and patience."

— Sura ciii.

These are not the ravings of an unbalanced mind,
but the powerful cries of one in earnest for the good
of others. They were forced from the prophet by
intense feeling, and are the utterances of one who,
in the words of a master of emphatic expression, had
" found it all out ; was in doubt and darkness no
longer, but saw it all. That all idols and formulas


were nothing, miserable bits of wood ; that there
was one God, in and over all ; and we must leave all
idols and look to Him. That God is great ; and
that there is nothing else great ! He is Reality.
Wooden idols are not real ; he is real. He made us
at first, sustains us yet ; we and all things are but a
shadow of Him ; a transitory garment, veiling the
Eternal Splendor. ^Alla/m akbarj — Allah is great.
* Is/ajn,' — We must submit to Allah ! " *

Meantime, the prestige of Mohammed was grow-
ing. On one occasion, when a flood had rushed
down the valley, or when perhaps a fire had de-
stroyed a portion of the Kaaba, it w^as rebuilt up to
the point at which the sacred white stone was to be
put in its former place. Then a strife for the honor
of inserting the precious symbol arose, and hot words
passed between the devout but quick-tempered
builders as to which tribe should furnish the man
to perform the coveted duty. A solemn convoca-
tion was called in the sacred enclosure, where, at
the suggestion of the head of the Koreishites, it was
agreed that the person who should, at a specified
time, enter a certain door, should be commissioned
to replace the stone. At the moment, Mohammed,
— " el Amin," the Faithful one, entered, and was in-
formed of the agreement. With a sagacity that as-
tonished the simple-minded folk, he threw down his
mantle, placed the stone upon it, and asked the four

* Carlyle, " The Hero as a Prophet." The late Emanuel Deutsch
differs from this interpretation, and says that a Moslem means
" one who strives after righteousness with his own strength." Islam
is the religion of a Moslem.



chief men of the four principal families to grasp each
a corner. Thus they lifted the stone to the proper
height, and then Mohammed gently pushed it into
its place in the wall. So deep an impression did the
circumstance make upon the people of Mecca, that
the names of the four men who held the mantle
have, with religious care, been kept in memory to
the present time. Not only was peace preserved by
this act, but the character of Mohammed for wis-
dom and judgment was much raised ; probably,
also, he was himself impressed by a feeling that he
was no ordinary person, a sentiment that seems to
have been strong in his mind throughout life.



Years passed, and Mohammed continued his life
of meditation in desert places. At times he heard
voices calling to him and saying: "Hail! thou
messenger of Allah ! " but when he looked about to
see who spoke to him, lo, only trees and rocks were
about him on all sides. We cannot believe that
Mohammed lived such a life, and kept in his own
heart all the stimulating impulses which he possessed
at these times without betraying the fact to the
people about him. They must have discussed
among themselves the change that had come over
the husband of Kadija, the man whom they had once
so highly esteemed for his practical character.

Doubtless he spoke to them of the religion of the
Jew and the Christian, and in his presence they may
have attended to him, saying: "Truly, Allah docs
hold the heavens and the earth, lest they fall ; if he had
given us a prophet as he gave prophets to the other
peoples, we should have been guided by them even
as they were guided." Perhaps, when they went
their way from him, they uttered hard things about
him, and it may well be that it was to such double-
faced persons that he spake when he uttered the
words of the sura of the Slanderer :




" Woe unto the backbiter and the defamer !
Unto them who lay up wealth and number it,
Who think that riches will make them to stay forever !
Nay ! They shall be hurled into the Fire that Splitteth.
What shall make them understand what the Fire that Splitteth is ?
It is the fire kindled of Allah,
Which flameth above the hearts,
Verily, it shall be as arches above them.
As arches upon lofty columns ! "

— Sura civ.

Was it not to such, also, that he exclaimed ? —

" Surely we have created man in trouble ;

Doth he indeed think nought can prevail against him ?

He saith, ' I have wasted much wealth.'

Doth he think that none seeth him ?

Have we not made him two eyes, a tongue, and two lips.

And shown him the two roads ?

Yet he attempteth not the ascent.

What shall make thee know what the proof is ?

It is to free the captive.

Giving food in famine

To the orphan near of kin.

Or to the poor lying in the dust ;
It is to join with the believers
To stir one another to patience, and to encourage one another to

These shall sit on the right hand ;

They who misbelieve our signs shall be on the left hand.
Above them shall the flames arch ! "

— Sura xc.

The name of the month Ramadan, the annual
period of fasting and prayer, signified originally a
time of great heat ; but the Arabian year was divided
into lunar months, and there having been no allow-
ance for the fact that twelve of them do not corre-


spond with a revolution of the sun, they gradually-
lost their proper positions in the solar year, and at
the time which we are now considering, Ramadan,
instead of coming at the period of great heat, corre-
sponded with portions of December and January.
When it fell on the long summer days, the fast was
excessively severe in such a climate.

Mohammed was now at the mature age of near
forty years. We have come to the month of De-
cember in the year 6io of our era. He was wander-
ing over the wild but fascinating hills, for it was the
sacred month, though most of it had indeed passed.*
The strain of the long vigil was nearly over, but its
effects were at their highest ; he was ready for im-
pressions. It was the "blessed night Al Kadar," of
which the Koran says:

What shall make thee understand how excellent the nighty

Al Kadar is ?
The night Al Kadar is better than a thousand months !
Therein do the angels descend,

And the spirit also,
By permission of their Lord,
With his decrees concerning all matters,
It bringeth peace until the rosy dawn !

— Sura xcvii.

The name Al Kadar signifies "power," "honor,"
"dignity," and also "the divine decree," for it is on
that night that (according to tradition) the decrees
for the ensuing year are annually settled, or, per-

* This was the year in which Heraclius went from Alexandria to
Constantinople, slew Phocas, the usurper, and placed himself upon
the throne of the Roman empire.


haps, merely taken from the table before the throne
of Allah, and given to the angels to be executed.
At midnight Mohammed awoke and thought he
heard a voice. Twice was it repeated, and twice
he made efforts to avoid hearing it, but it could not
be ignored ; he felt as if a fearful weight were upon
him, and as though his last moment had arrived.
A third time he heard the sound, and could not stop
his ears against it. Now there came audible words
from the sky, addressed to him by an angel in bright
apparel, whom his imagination showed him.

" O Mohammed, I am Gabriel ! "

Terrified at this apparition, for it was new to him,
though he had often before heard voices, he hastened
to Kadija, his ever constant comforter in trouble,
and exclaimed : " I have ever truly abhorred those
who hold communication with jinns, and, lo, now I
fear that I am to become a soothsayer myself! " A
great trembling came upon him, and the perspiration
ran down to his feet.

" Never, O father of Kasim ! " she replied, '' Allah
will not allow his servant to fall "; and she hastened
to let Waraka know what she had heard.

" Allah be praised ! " cried the old man ; " the son
of Abdalla speaks the truth ; this is the beginning of
prophecy ; there shall come unto Mohammed the
great Law, like unto the law of Moses ; charge him to
keep hope in his heart ; I will stand by him ! "

Whether during the first interview or at another
— it is not quite certain — Gabriel said, holding up
a broad piece of silken stuff covered with written
characters :


' Cry ! in the name of Allah !
In the name of Allah who hath created, —
Who hath created man of thick blood ! " *

" But I cannot read," cried the trembling father of
Kasim," " I am a man untaught."

" Cry ! " repeated the heavenly visitor,—

"Cry, by the most beneficent Allah,
Who taught the pen to write,
Who taught man what he knev/ not !
Verily, verily, man is rebellious ;
Is insolent, because he groweth in riches.
Truly unto Allah is the return of all !
What of him who holdeth back,
W^ho forbiddeth a servant when he prayeth?
What of him ? Doth he follow right,
Or command unto piety?

Dost not see that he rejecteth truth and turneth back ?
Doth he not know that Allah seeth ?
Verily, verily, if he desist not, we will drag him by the

The lying, sinful forelock.
Let him call his assembly ;
We will call the guards of the Abyss !
Nay, obey him not, but adore and draw nigh ! "

— Sura xcvi.

Despite the assurances of Waraka, Mohammed
was filled with doubts and perplexities ; he had been

* The principal words bear a striking identity with those in Isaiah,
the fortieth chapter : " The voice of one saying ' Cry ! ' and one said
'What shall I cry?' " The word " cry," says Emanuel Deutsch, " is
one of those very few onomatopoetic words still common to both
Semitic and Indo-European." Its significations range from the
vague sound of a bird or a tree to the silent weeping of a person ;
the crying of " deep unto deep;" the weird " sc/uvi " of the Ger-
mans ; the technical " reading of the Scriptures," in Aramaic ; and
even the solemn proclamation of a Greek herald. From it isderivecj
Koran, the reading.



spoken to by Gabriel, and felt as though a book had
been written in his heart, but he was not sure that
his mission was to preach ; besides, certain of the
Koreishites reviled him, In.this condition of per-
plexity he sought the weird mountain, intent on
self-destruction, but at every attempt he was re-
strained, and he sat wrapped in his mantle or rug,
after the Eastern fashion, when the angel again ap-
peared. He said :

" O thou that art covered !
Arise and preach.
And magnify Allah !

Purify thy garments,
And shun abominations !
Grant not favors for increase ;
Wait patiently for Allah.
When the trump shall blow shall be distress for misbelievers ! ' "

— Sura Ixxiv.

Now, Mohammed had, he thought, been in direct
communication with the messenger of Allah , he
had distinctly been commissioned to preach ; had
been told what to say, and had been assured that he
was the Prophet of the Most High. There was no
more to be uncertainty nor trembling on his part ;
" Thus saith Allah ! " was henceforth to be his cry.
Did he reflect upon the apparent hopelessness of his
mission ? He was to tell a nation of idolaters, a na-
tion that held in honor hundreds of idols, and pre-
served their images on their altars, that there was
one God, and only one. If he stopped to think, he
must have deemed it hopelessly impracticable. No
one, surely, would listen, even to "the faithful one,"
bringing sqch a message. True, there were four


seekers, but of them one had been murdered, and
one had found a religion of different character.
They afforded very little ground for hope ; but the
true reformer does not ask much encouragement.

He rose superior to all his trembling forebodings
and exultantly cried :

" By the splendor of midday !

By the stilly night !
The Lord hath not forsaken thee,

Neither doth He hate thee ?
Verily the life to come shall be better than the past J

In the end Allah shalt award thee,

And thou shalt be pleased.
Did He not find thee an orphan, and give thee a home ?

Find thee erring, and guide thee ?

He found thee poor and made thee rich.
Wherefore oppress not the orphan,

Nor repel the beggar,
But declare the great bounty of Allah ! "

— Sura xcili.

The new prophet did not seem to have any ulterior
objects in his mind as he entered upon his mission;
fasting and prayer it had begun with ; and faith was
strong in his mind that Allah would in due time give
his blessing. He did not hasten to make converts
from idol worship ; neither did he hesitate to stand
firmly for the principles that he had accepted.
Still he went to the mountains and the dark valleys
to make his prayers and hold his fasts; and in one
of these lonesome retreats he was one day encoun-
tered by his uncle, Abu Talib.

" What calls you here," asked the uncle, " and
what religion do you profess?"

" I profess the religion of Allah, of his angels, of



his prophets," repHed the son of Abdalla — " the
rehgion of Abraham. Allah has commissioned me
to preach this to men, and to urge them to embrace
it. Naught would be more worthy of thee, O my
uncle, than to adopt the true faith, and to help me
to spread it."

" Son of my brother," replied Abu Talib, " I can
never abjure the faith of my ancestors ; but if thou
art attacked I will defend thee." Then, turning to
AH, his son, he added : " Mohammed will never lead
thee into any wrong way ; hesitate not to follow any
advice he giveth."



History is crowded with wrecks of systems ol
religion which have been outgrown by mankind.
The career of the prophet is never an easy one ; he
may pipe, but his audience may refuse to keep time
to the march he entunes. It is comparatively easy
to make good and far-reaching plans, but more difH-
cult to carry them out. Least of all is it easy for a
prophet to gain a hearing in his own country and
among his own kin ; among those who have known
him as a child, as a boy, as a growing young man,
and finally as a man, liable to the inconsistencies of
a man, to the irregularities of a man, to the failures
to which humanity is ever exposed. Yet this, all of
this, is what Mohammed, the unlearned Arabian, the
camel-driver of the widow Kadija, attempted. He,
who perhaps could not write his own name, set him-
self up not only as a teacher, but as the only teach-;r
who was to be listened to In the most important
ter that concerns humanity, in the regulation of its
loftiest duties — its duties to the Most High Govl.
Was this not either the sublimest impudence, or tho
most wonderful faith?

His effort, if successful, promised to break down


the commercial importance of his native city, to sap
the fountain from which his own tribe derived its
wealth and importance. He would put a stop to
the worship of the three hundred and sixty-five
deities of the Kaaba ; turn away the thousands of
pilgrims that adored them ; dry up the demand that
for so many years had been supplied by the Koreish-
ites to the innumerable caravans which threaded
their devious ways among the wadies and over the
deserts from Hadramawt and Akaba, from Nejd
and Yemen, toward the house of the sacred black
stone that had fallen from heaven in the days of the
fathers. It did not require the wisdom of the seer
to know that every Koreishite must, of necessity, be
opposed to such a movement, and opposed to it to
ihe death ; they would be ready to cry, in the spirit
of the silversmiths of Ephesus, " Great is the Kaaba
of Mecca!" for it brought no small business unto
them.* The worship of the Kaaba was intrenched
not only behind the religious sentiments of hundreds
of thousands of men on the Arabian peninsula, but
also behind the mercantile interests of the entire
tribe of the Koreishites and of all those who earned
their honest living in Mecca, no less than in the

* Sir William Muir naturally thinks also of the tumult at Ephesus,
and says, in this connection, " There was no antagonism of a pri\'i-
leged class or of a priesthood supported by the temple ; no ' crafts-
men of Diana ' deriving their livelihood from the shrine ; but there
was the strong hereditary affection for practices associated from
infancy vnih. the daily life of every inhabitant of Mecca, and
patriotic devotion to a system which made his city the foremost in
Arabia. These advantages he would not lightly abandon." — " The

Online LibraryArthur GilmanThe Saracens from the earliest times to the fall of Bagdad → online text (page 5 of 31)