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their interests, there was no reason why he should
not find them friendly and ready to support him.
Since there was great danger of all Arabia becom-
ing Christian, they may even have deemed it saga-
cious to encourage a non-Christian teacher. But
there were also persons " to whom Knowledge had
been given aforetime " who prostrated themselves
when the Koran was read : which implies that
the Prophet had also Christian supporters at Mec-
cah. X One authority informs us that the Kuraish

* Surah xiii., 43 ; xxviii., 52 ; xxix.. 46.
\ Ibid x. , 94.
\Ibid xvii., 108, 9.

1 30 Mohammed

had Parsee prompters*; and this is not wholly

The objections recorded and ostensibly an-
swered in the Koran appear to have been directed
against every part and feature of the new system ;
against Mohammed personally, against his notion of
prophecy, against his style, his statements, his doc-
trines. It is impossible to suggest any chronological
order for them.

From the first he had followed the example of
the New Testament prophets in threatening that
a terrible day was at hand. The stories which are
repeated so often in the Koran are mainly intended
as warnings. Prophets whose names he had partly
from Jews, partly from Christians, partly from
pagans, had before this time done the same. They
had come to announce a terrible judgment, only to
be averted by obeying them and following their law.
Those who disobeyed them were shortly overtaken
by the judgment, and perished : while the prophet
and his followers escaped.

Into this scheme the histories of the Old Testa-
ment are worked. Moses, e. g., was sent to Pharaoh,
a King of Egypt, who had for colleagues or ministers
Haman and Corah. Pharaoh had divided his people
into castes, one of which oppressed the other. Moses
comes claiming to be the messenger of the Lord of
the world. Pharaoh desires him to prove his claim
by a sign, which he does. Pharaoh refuses to be-
lieve, and in consequence is drowned with his host,
whereas the oppressed caste who followed Moses

* Tabari, Comm., viii.. 12,

Publicity 1 3 1

inherit the country. This is the framework of the
story of Moses as Mohammed first grasped it. Fur-
ther conversation led him to find out rather more
of the history of Moses, which he worked up into
his peculiar style, and repeatedly told ; at Medinah
he even learned a great deal about the history of
the children of Israel. But when he had to deal
with pagans only, the tale as told above was what
he required.

The story in certain cases makes the Prophets
message condemnation of some definite vice. The
purpose of the mission of Lot to Sodom naturally
suggests itself; a prophet named Shu'aib* is sent to
Midyan to warn against deceitful weights and meas-
ures; the prophet Hud warns the people of 'Ad
against pride, etc. Most frequently the exhortation
would seem to have been against polytheism. Mo-
hammed identifies himself in thought with each of
these prophets in turn, and in their persons he over-
comes the objections of his opponents. He, there-
fore, in warning the Meccans of the troubles that
would befall them could point to all these examples.

It is probably an error to distinguish this punish-
ment very clearly from the Day of Judgment and
the future world. To John Bunyan the two were
certainly not distinct ; the consumption of the earth
by heavenly flame and the resurrection to shame
and everlasting contempt were sides of the same
event ; the concepts fade into one another, like the
doctrines of Virgil's inferno. At a later period

* Halevy's suggestion that this is a misreading of the Syriac form
of Jobab seems adequate.

132 Mohammed

Mohammed styles the banishment of his enemies,
the Nadirites, " the beginning of the resurrection "
—a first instalment of the final Judgment.* It is
probable that Mohammed wished the Meccans to
think that unless they obeyed him they would be
swallowed up by the earth, or be crushed by the
falling of the sky. And there were at Meccah men
who, though true to the rites of paganism, took a
philosophical view of the order of events, and justly
ridiculed any threat of temporal punishment for dis-
obeying a Prophet. Of the order of events they
knew less than the twentieth century knows ; but
that the moral conduct of mankind had nothing to
do with it they were well aware. Hence they scorn-
fully told him to bring down the sky as soon as he
pleased, or at any rate required a date for the ex-
hibition. Finding that no amount of threats caused
nature to vary her course, the Prophet ingeniously
declared that his presence in Meccah prevented the
calamity ; or that the experience of Allah with other
cities which had failed to be convinced by mira-
cles was what prevented him from sending one by
Mohammed, f

For indeed a criticism to which the stories of
Moses, etc., gave rise was that Mohammed provided
no miracle. Moses at the start had been armed with
a whole stock of miracles ; and though not every
prophet appears to have been thus furnished, there
was no question of it in the leading cases of Moses
and " 'Isa," who made live sparrows out of clay, and

* Surah lix. , 2.
f J bid. xvii., 61.

(Bodleian Library.) Cf. Lane-Poole,
Or. Coins of the British Museum, i.,
p. 174, 4.



(Bodleian Library.)

(Bodleian Library.) Cf. Sabatier,
Monnaies Byzantines, pi. xxix., 18.

(Bodleian Library.) Cf. Longp^rier,
Dynastie Sassanide % pi. xi., 4.

(Bodleian Library.) Cf. Lane-Poole,

Or. Coins 0/ the British Museum, ix.,

p. 6.

Publicity 133

performed various miracles of healing. It is worth
noticing, in order to transfer ourselves into a region
of thought so different from that of modern times,
that none of the miraculous stories in the Bible
or out of it appears to have been received by Mo-
hammed with the semblance of a doubt : hence he
repeated those tales in perfectly good faith ; thereby
laying himself open to this serious objection to his
own mission. The miracle which would have pleased
the Meccans best would have been some decided im-
provement in the physical condition of Meccah, espe-
cially the production of a perennial river * ; but the
appearance of an angel, or even supernatural sus-
tenance provided to the Prophet, would have satis-
fied them : or, like the relations of Dives, they would
have wished to seethe founder of the tribe — Kusayy,
son of Kilab, — rise from the dead and testify to Mo-
hammed's veracity. Or they would have gladly seen
Mount Safa turned into gold.f Only on one occasion
does he appear to have been induced to venture on
a prophecy — the famous declaration that though the
Greeks had been defeated by the Persians " in the
nearest part of the earth," they would yet again be
victorious. The interest of the prophecy for us is
that it gives us a date for a Meccan Surah of the
Koran ; according to the tradition the Meccans at
this time favoured the Persians and the Moslems
the Greeks; and the prophecy was occasioned by
the gratification of the Meccans at the victory of
Chosroes over the nearer East in 616. Abu Bakr

*Ishak, 185.

f Afusnad, i., 243.


134 Mohammed

seems to have made the mistake of betting that it
would be fulfilled within five years, * and to have lost
in consequence. The guess was not an unnatural one
to hazard : and the ambiguity of the Arabic script
rendered it as safe as the Delphic communication of
Crcesus. f

Many years had to elapse before he could tri-
umphantly meet the demand for a miracle : the
battle of Badr, when three hundred Moslems de-
feated twice the number of Unbelievers, was alleged
as a miracle at last. Before that he had to make
shift with the Koran. If he had no miraculous
power he could reply that he had miraculous know-
ledge. He had previously been unable to read or
write and now he could do both. He had not been
present at the scenes of ancient history which he
described, and lo and behold, he knew them. If the
genuineness of his narrations were disputed, the peo-
ple who knew — i. e., the Jews and Christians — would
attest them. Finally when the Prophet had become
perfect in his own peculiar style he could boast that
no one without divine aid could compose so well.
Let all mankind, with the aid of the Jinn, try to pro-
duce ten Surahs, or even one, and they would fail.J

The criticisms on these assertions were numerous
and powerful. The reading and writing miracle was

* Musnad, i., 276.

f Compare Riley s remarks on Joseph Smith's prophecy of the
American Civil War, /. c, p. 184.

% Similarly Joseph Smith, rebuking one of his associates : " William
E. McLellin, the wisest man, in his own estimation, endeavoured to
write a commandment like unto one of the least of the Lord's, but
failed." Riley, p. 322.

Publicity 135

probably not urged, because the Prophet was never
an adept at either ; but to the miraculous character
of both the matter and the style of the Koran ex-
ception was repeatedly taken. If the Prophet told
stories to be found in the Christian and Jewish
books, his opponents declared that there were peo-
ple who taught him and they even undertook to
name his mentor. It is not in our power to say
with precision whether this charge was just or not :
the facts that have been stated in the last chapter are
rather against the theory of a mentor. But whether
there was a mentor or not, probably the stories were
not altogether new to the Meccans, who in the
course of business or pleasure had come into contact
with Jews and Christians and had heard allusions to
the subjects. Hence these Acts of the Prophets^
were termed " Stories of the Ancients," or perhap*
" Old Wives' Fables," which it required no divine ii
terposition to reproduce. One man, Al-Nadir Ibn
Harith, accepted the challenge to produce anything
as good, and either versified or put into rhyme the
tales of the Persian kings which Firdausi some four
centuries later rendered immortal — or perhaps those
of the kings of Hirah. These " surahs " he read out
at stances similar to those in which the Prophet pub-
lished the Koran. The effect of this criticism must
have been very damaging ; for when the Prophet at
the battle of Badr got the man into his power, he
executed him at once, while he allowed the other
prisoners to be ransomed.

A further objection to the Koran was that it was re-
vealed in portions or parcels, as occasion required ; if

1 36 Mohammed

really copied from " a well-guarded tablet," why could
it not have been produced in a final edition once for
all ? The reason given by the Prophet was his own
personal comfort or convenience* ; and similarly we
find that Joseph Smith, having published his Book of
Mormon as a volume, was compelled to supplement it
from time to time with occasional revelations. The
theory of the " well-guarded tablet •■ appears to have
been more useful to later generations of theologians
than to the Prophet himself. It was as a living well
of revelation that he won the reverence of his fol-
lowers : not as one who had access to an otherwise
inaccessible book.

Doubtless as the debate between Mohammed and
the Meccans continued, the critical powers of the lat-
ter were greatly sharpened, and their attention was
called to a variety of matters on which they had
not previously speculated. The Meccans were con-
stantly taunted with having no sacred book or au-
thority which they could cite for their practice,
whereas Mohammed could quote his revelation for
the Moslem precepts.f Inquiries were made into
the character of other sacred books, which, it was
discovered, were mainly in dead and sacred lan-
guages : some notions were obtained as to the quali-
fications and character of persons who were supposed
to deliver supernatural messages, and inquiries were
suggested concerning the lives of persons whose
names were known among the Jews and Christians.
Ibn Ishak has a story to the effect that the Meccans

* Surah xvii., 107.

f See especially Surah vi., 145, 6.

Publicity 137

sent two envoys to Medinah to get the opinion of
the Jews there, who suggested three questions which
Mohammed was to answer if he were to show him-
self a true Prophet. According to the biographer,
Mohammed undertook to answer the questions in a
day, and was unable to do so until a fortnight had
elapsed, a fact which confirms the theory of the
mentor very strongly, which is scarcely weakened
by the advice given in the Surah to the Prophet to
consult no one. * Since, however, the questions
concerned the Seven Sleepers and Alexander the
Great, we may be sure that they were not suggested
by Jews.

The Koran bears traces of criticisms which his
answers to these questions occasioned. Mohammed
clearly made a mistake in the number of the Sleep-
ers; in a later edition of the Surah, while adhering
to the number which he had originally given, he
acknowledged that there were various opinions on
the subject, but declared that God must know best.
Another statement which had to be corrected was
that what is worshipped will be punished as well as
the worshipper — a doctrine learned from a Rabbin-
ical Midrash. An ingenious Meccan argued that
Jesus would be among the lost in that case. A fresh
revelation came to give the necessary exception, f

One who knew mankind less profoundly than Mo-
hammed would probably have been induced by fear
of this sort of criticism to have recourse to study to
prevent the recurrence of such errors. But Moham-

* Surah xviii., 22.
f Ishak, 237.

138 Mohammed

med knew that accuracy and scholarship were of no
use for such an enterprise as his. The persons who
were prepared to believe in the Revelation were not
likely to be affected by the clearest refutation of the
errors of the Koran. The danger to be feared from
reliance on any living authority was far greater than
that which could arise from the most demonstrable
misstatements concerning ancient history. Unhesi-
tating assertion and assurance would win respect from
Abu Bakr and the like, and be supported by them
against all the learning of the " People of the Book,"
if that could be produced on the other side. There
was, however, at this period some difficulty in obtain-
ing it ; for, as we have seen, the " People of the
Book" were on Mohammed's side.

On the doctrines as opposed to the history of the
Koran many criticisms are recorded, such as free-
thinking persons would naturally make. The doctrine
of the future life could not be dissociated by Mo-
hammed from that of the resurrection of the body,
against which there are some very obvious objections.
The pagans had believed in some sort of " survival
of human personality," but the notion of the recon-
struction of the decayed body seemed to them in the
highest degree absurd, and Mohammed's promise of
heavenly spouses occasioned mirth.* Mohammed
was asked to prove his point by bringing them their
deceased ancestors. His only reply was the sophism
that the resurrection of the body was not more won-
derful than its original formation — a process which he
is never weary of describing. This, of course, may
* Wakidi{W.\ 131.

Publicity 1 39

be so, but the pagans probably thought that this
argument left the matter precisely where it was.

We must, however, acknowledge his wisdom in
adhering to this doctrine. His most effective ser-
mons were, as we have seen, descriptions of torture
and enjoyment, both of which require and imply the
possession of bodily organs. He did not hesitate
therefore to assert that the body would be restored
for the purpose of enjoying and suffering; and even
provided for the danger that suffering might con-
sume the body, by the declaration that it would be
renewed repeatedly in order to suffer continuously.
These descriptions were not indeed without careless
statements which gave rise to ribald criticisms ; of
which, if no other explanation was forthcoming, he
could say that the purpose had been to test the faith
of believers, * to see, as we might put it, how much
they would be prepared to accept. Or, if the im-
prudence committed had been too considerable, the
verse could be withdrawn. To do this, withdraw a
revelation and substitute another for it, was, he as-
serted, well within the power of God. Doubtless it
was, but so obviously within the power of man that
it is to us astonishing how so compromising a
procedure can have been permitted to be introduced
into the system by friends and foes.

Of the mode in which the doctrine of the future
life produced conversions we have some anecdotes
which may well be true. 'Amr Ibn Al-'Asif professed
to have been converted by the arguments of one who

* Joseph Smith used the same plea at times,
f Isabah.

140 Mohammed

asked him whether the Meccans were or were not
better than the Byzantines and Persians. He replied
naturally that the Meccans were better. The next
question was whether the Meccans were better off
than those other nations. He had to reply that
they were worse off. Being therefore surpassed in
this world, if their superiority were to display itself,
it must be in another world. But who knew about
such another world save Mohammed ? This argu-
ment sank in his mind ; but he waited to join Mo-
hammed till Fortune had definitely declared herself
on the Prophet's side. His former allies noticed his
growing coolness, and finally he abandoned them.

Another controversy which occasioned Moham-
med some difficulty was that old one of free-will and
determinism. The description in the Koran of the
omnipotence of God led to the belief that men's acts
were God's acts, whence the worship of idols might
be regarded as willed by God, and the idolators
freed from blame. Mohammed was fortunately too
little of a philosopher to perceive the rigidity of this
consequence, and the Koran answers this objection
as it answers others. Owing however to his repeated
declarations on the subject of appointed terms, and
events designed by God, the opinion that he was
a fatalist has gained ground ; traditions were in-
vented in which he positively asserted that human
action was all arranged beforehand without the
possibility of innovation,* and indeed many of the
phenomena of Islam are explained on this supposi-
tion. The fact is that his mind was not of a sort to

* Jlfusnad, iv. , 67 , etc.

Publicity 141

which contradictory propositions occasion any diffi-
culty. When discontented subjects urged that if
their friends had stayed at home instead of going to
war they would not have been killed, he could
assert with the conviction of common-sense that
those who were destined to die on a certain day
would have died on that day in any case ; but with
equal common-sense he could warn men of the
consequences which would follow according to the
course which they took. The Islamic controversy
on this subject belongs to a later age — one in which
the works of Aristotle had begun to influence the
thinkers of Baghdad.

Thus then the years of the Meccan controversy
rolled on ; in which the parties increased in vehem-
ence and antagonism, and in which the success-
ful polemics of the Meccans on the new religion
were met by ridicule and refutation of the religious
notions current among the pagans. As has been
said, the Meccan side is known only from the state-
ments of the adversary, whose acquaintance with
the Meccan religion may not have been deep. If his
statements were to be trusted, we should fancy the
Meccans to have been very near monotheism. We
should infer that Allah was the national God, to
whom they appealed in any trouble, whereas in
times of comfort and quiet they slid back into poly-
theism. We should suppose that they recognised
Allah as the Creator of heaven and earth, and as-
signed the other deities quite subordinate functions.
" How many deities do you worship?" Mohammed
is supposed to have asked a Khuza'ite (Hasin, son of

142 Mohammed

'Ubaid),* sent to reason with him by the Kurashites.
" Seven on earth and one in heaven," was the reply,
and further conversation elicited the confession that
in all serious trouble the God of heaven (Allah) only
was invoked. And doubtless to other followers Mo-
hammed's innovation appeared to lie in the merging
of all minor cults in that of the heaven God. At
a later time the chief of the tribe Muzainah, who
broke the idol Nahum, declared in his verse that he
henceforth worshipped the God of heaven. \ A
Thakafite convert (from Ta'if, twin city to Meccah)
asked Mohammed whether he should keep a vow
made before conversion ; since questioning elicited
the fact that the vow had been made to Allah, not
to an idol, Mohammed declared that it should be
kept. %

The above assumptions are frequently required for
the reasoning of the Koran and are unhesitatingly
made. The Meccans are taunted with worshipping
additional deities who, being feminine, are called
Allah's daughters, and who are identified by them
with the Christian angels. These beings, though
theoretically inferior to Allah, are said to receive
a larger share in the offerings. Naturally we cannot
implicitly trust a case as stated by the adversary ;
and it is even permissible to suppose that the Meccan
worship of Allah consisted of no more than a belief
in the power of the God worshipped by Jews and
Christians; but the statements that the Meccan

* Isabak, i., 692.

\lHd. y i., 874.

%Ibid., iii., 581 ; Mttsnad, iii., 419,

Publicity 143

deities were daughters of Allah and worshipped as
intercessors may have been ventured in the course of
the argument with Mohammed, when perhaps for
the first time the Meccan reasoners began to reflect
on the nature of their religion.* Yet difficulties as-
sail us at every turn. The theory that Allah had
daughters is refuted by the statement that a daugh-
ter is regarded as a misfortune, so that if Allah had
children at all, he would certainly have had sons in-
stead ; implying that this theory of the children
of Allah did not apply to the male deities, which
however the Meccans as well as other Arab tribes
are known to have worshipped. We fancy that
this argument about daughters brought on Moham-
med some well-deserved taunts about having only
daughters himself; and indeed a Surah is revealed
endeavouring to console him and clear him of the
charge of being abtar or sonless.

From some texts f and traditions we should
gather that the Meccan objection was not to the
glorification of Allah, but to the identification of
their familiar deity with him whom the Jews called
Rahman (the Merciful), a title applied to pagan
deities also. But the reason of this objection lies
beyond our reach.

In estimating the arguments of the Koran with
the Meccans we must constantly remember that
Mohammed is playing the part of a Hebrew Prophet,
recalling his countrymen to the sole worship of the
national God, whose rites have been abandoned for

* So Wdlhausen, Reste, 208.
f So Surah xvii., no.

144 Mohammed

other and idolatrous cults. That part he may in-
deed have sincerely believed himself to be playing ;
and in the scene as he represents it, he probably as-
signed corresponding roles to his antagonists. But if
the paganism of Meccah really came so near mono-
theism as the Koran represents it, it is clear that
with a little good-will and candour the differences
of detail might have been made up.

Those qualities, however, were not present. As
the controversy progressed, there arose among the
Meccans a personal dislike of Mohammed which
to us does not seem unintelligible. Although the
later myths represent him as a member of a noble
family, the Koran confesses that this was not so :
if the Meccans were to be reformed, they would have
preferred being reformed by a man of rank either
of Meccah or of Ta'if. Political and religious head-
ship could not be separated : and they were not pre-
pared to see Mohammed at the head of the state.

Hence the debate went on, not to be settled
till more powerful weapons than words had been
brought to bear upon it. Though Mohammed's
life was spared, he had, apparently, to put up with
much rudeness, and occasionally even with personal
violence. As he prostrated himself in his newly
invented ceremony of prayers, some one threw some
camel's refuse over his back, and probably similar
insults were not uncommon. The persons on whom

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 10 of 32)