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the Prophet invoked curses were four, — Abu Jahl,
'Utbah, son of Rabi'ah, Shaibah, son of Rabi'ah,
Umayyah, son of Khalef. Legends were afterwards
invented showing how all who either injured the

Publicity 145

Prophet or mocked at the Koran were divinely
punished. During the vicissitudes of this period,
its successes and failures, conquests and rebuffs,
the Koran served as the Prophet's faithful confidant
— like Lucilius, thither he would recur whether he
were doing well or badly. In it he records — or lets
Allah record for him — the sayings and doings of his
enemies, his own chagrin and despondency, and the
reflections wherewith he is consoled. Were its
verses only dated, we should know his state of mind
from day to day, in the years which witnessed the
struggling of Islam into the light. But even during
these years Apollo was not always drawing his bow.
Much of the Koran is not polemical, but homiletic
or narrative. Whatever fragments of the Old or
New Testament, of the Lives of the Saints, of
the Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, or of ordinary
folklore happened to be in the Prophet's memory
were regarded by him as suitable matter for the
Koran. He does not often venture to quote his
sources by name ; in exceptional cases he men-
tions that some sentiment or other is ''written by
Us " in the Psalms of David or the Law of Moses :
and in quite early passages the Rolls of Abraham
and Moses are cited. The name of the Law appears
to have been learned by him in the course of con-
troversy ; and there is some probability that the
"Sayings of the Fathers" called by the Jews Pera-
kim lie hidden in the name of a sacred book which
he calls Furkan.

At times his homilies are somewhat like those
to be heard from modern pplpits, in which a

1 46 Mohammed

preacher tells a biblical story, adding some detail
from his fancy and amplifying or explaining on the
way. The story which is told at greatest length
and with most continuity is that of Joseph — that
famous biblical romance which Eastern Christians
never tired of versifying or re-telling in a variety
of ways. Once or twice, too, he recollects enough
of the Bible to be able to tell the history of Moses
and Aaron with an approach to accuracy. A story
of Moses and a prophet whom the Moslems identify
with Elijah seems to be a conflation of a number
of anecdotes about different persons. Of several
heroes he knows the story but is unable to give
names : this is notably the case with Dhu'1-Kar-
nain, who is doubtless Alexander the Great. But of
the greater number of biblical and other heroes his
knowledge is clearly meagre in the extreme. He
knows of Solomon's acquaintance with the Jinn and
with the Queen of Sheba — this story, as being con-
nected with Arabia, was doubtless familiar even to
some of the Meccans; his knowledge of it, however,
comes from Jewish story-tellers, not from the Bible.
We should have expected him to know of Solomon's
judgment,* being a narrative of a style which would
have suited him ; evidently he had not heard of it,
but had heard of David and Nathan, though he has
very seriously misstated the episode. Of Penelope's
web he had also heard, but the Arabs, who find a
native Penelope, had not.

Ingenuity has been well spent in discovering the
sources of the Koran, and the amount that is of un-

Knowledge of it is ascribed to him in the Tradition.

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certain origin is not large. Probably the author
should not be denied to possess some felicity of
expression, some exuberance of fancy, and even
some poetical sublimity. If, to us, the repetitions
in the Koran seem intolerable, it must be remem-
bered that the men who have impressed the world
most are those who have always been saying the
same about the same things. Napoleon said there
is only one rhetorical figure of serious importance
and that is repetition.* Just as the hearers of
Socrates were prepared to be told or questioned
about the tailor and the shoemaker, so the hearers
of Mohammed could not hear too often the tales of
'Ad and Thamud, or the legends of Abraham and

In some cases the Surahs appear to be merely
the product of an exuberant and poetical fancy, to
which it can only be regretted that theological value
should have ever been assigned. Such a Surah is the
narrative of the Jinn listening to his preaching and
being converted ; they profess horror at the blas-
phemies of the idolators ; they acknowledge that
the shooting stars are now driving them away from
the heavenly councils where they used to listen.
This Surah is a pleasing effusion, to be compared
with Horace's account of his vision of Pan, whose
followers, the spirits of the woods, are not very un-
like the Jinn, who were spirits of the desert. Such,
too, was the lost Surah in which the Prophet de-
scribed his nocturnal visit to Jerusalem, which, as we
have seen, gave offence, and was withdrawn.

*Lebon, Crowds, p. 126.

148 Mohammed

But, besides the recitation of the Koran, to which
direct descent from heaven was ascribed, there were
utterances of the Prophet called " The Wisdom,"
which were only made infallible at a later time
through logical necessity. These were nearer the
modern sermon in that their delivery was neither
accompanied nor preceded by the signs of posses-
sion ; and they appear to have consisted of aphor-
isms on a variety of subjects, of which conduct was
perhaps the chief. The writing down of this table-
talk was forbidden by the Prophet, and of the great
mass of the matter which is ascribed to him we
cannot be sure that as much as a tenth was actually
said by him. At times, however, the reports of
this table-talk circulated and gave rise to criticisms
no more sparing than those which the Koran called
forth. Occasionally, too, the Koran makes allusions
to the Prophet's sayings, when their author had
special reason to be gratified with them. Large num-
bers of the dicta ascribed to him are aphorisms, pithy
sayings either about himself or others, such as that
the three things about which he cared were scent,
women, and prayer ; or formulae in which he sum-
marised the theological view which for the moment
dominated his mind, as that a man's heart is be-
tween two of God's fingers, to be turned whither
God will, or that every new-born child is attacked by
Satan, and cries in consequence. "When a man dies
three follow him, but only one stays with him : he
is followed by his family, his property, and his
works ; his works abide, and the rest return." *
+ Bokhari, iv., 81.

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"Three things gladden the eye of the gazer: green
fields, running water, and fair faces."*

Of any moralising or demoralising effect which
Mohammed's teaching had upon his followers, we
cannot speak with precision. When he was at the
head of a robber community it is probable that the
demoralising influence began to be felt ; it was then
that men who had never broken an oath learnt that
they might evade their obligations,f and that men
to whom the blood of the clansmen had been as
their own began to shed it with impunity in the
cause of God ; and that lying and treachery in the
cause of Islam received divine approval, hesita-
tion to perjure oneself in that cause being repre-
hended as a weakness. % It was then, too, that
Moslems became distinguished by the obscenity of
their language. § It was then, too, that the coveting
of goods and wives (possessed by Unbelievers) was
avowed without discouragement from the Prophet.
Yet it was then, too, that the theory of mutual obli-
gations between the members of the Moslem brother-
hood became clearly evolved, and the morality which
is necessary for the existence of the state was most
earnestly enforced. At Meccah, however, it is not
likely that these developments showed themselves.
On the other hand, there is no evidence that the
Moslems were either in personal or altruistic moral-
ity better than the pagans, though persons who had

* Schol. Hariri, 492.

\ Bokhari, iv., 90 ; Musnad, iv., 256.

\ Musnad, iv., 79.

§ Ishak, 433, 744 ; Ibn Sa'd, iii., 116, 13.

1 50 Mohammed

been successful traders before conversion found their
new life incompatible with business. * Liquor was
not yet forbidden, and even in Medinah we find
Mohammed's uncle savage from drink, while an or-
dinance that Believers were not to pray when in a
state of intoxication, for fear they should maul their
prayers, implies that intoxication was no uncommon
state for Believers to be found in.f The suppres-
sion of gambling was also a measure of the Medinah
period ; but since the gambling practised at Meccah
was probably a religious ceremony, it is likely that
the adoption of monotheism prevented the Believers
from taking part in it. Of improvements in sexual
morality it is difficult to speak with precision ; it is
probable that prostitution was already forbidden by
the Prophet, though there is reason for supposing
that it was regarded at Meccah somewhat as it has
been regarded at most great capitals : as an offence
against decorum, but not as involving any serious
stigma on the man. It was recorded in after times
for the benefit of posterity, that " the Apostle "
Zubair, son of 'Awwam, gave his wife so sound a
beating that he broke her arm J; and our authori-
ties frequently entertain us with specimens of con-
jugal bickerings among the converts. § There can
be no doubt, however, that the liability to persecu-
tion under which the Moslems suffered led to a
more stringent morality on their part than they

* Abu'l-Darda, Isabah, iii., 89.
f Cf. Musnad, iii., 447.
\ Jahiz, Mahasin, 235.
§ So/#» Sad II., ii., 86.

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had previously practised ; for it is only so that per-
secuted communities can survive ; and the need for
mutual support certainly led to some degree of

Further, Islam had the effect rightly emphasised
by Wellhausen, of making men earnest. The ex-
perience of even our own day shows that revivalistic
preaching can be highly effective in this way ; those
whom experience of earthly misery does not affect
are often made earnest by being threatened with
eternal fire and eternal contempt. Some of the con-
verts certainly wished to be ascetics, and were only
prevented by the express admonitions of Moham-
med, who resolved to have no monkery in Islam.
Of one it is recorded that, alarmed by Mohammed's
nleclaration that the Day of Judgment was at hand,
he went and sold his five hundred sheep, probably
spending the proceeds in the path of God. *

* Isabah, ii., 128.



THE fact that Mohammed kept his mission
secret as long as possible shows that he was
aware that it was fraught with danger. What
steps were thought legitimate at Meccah in the case
of one who had abandoned the gods of his country
we know not ; it is, however, certain that the gods
suffer by the neglect of their dues, and as they have
representatives on earth, some men suffer thereby
also. And since the favour of the gods is thought
to be necessary for the well-being of the state, many
persons who have no other commercial interest in
the matter are anxious to suppress heresy for fear of
offending their masters. From whatever motives,
then, there were many persons in Meccah from whom
Mohammed anticipated opposition. By the time
that he was compelled to face it, he was fairly well

With perhaps the exception of Abu Sufyan, the
Meccan magnates are obscure figures. When they
died unconverted tradition is silent about them ;
when they lived to embrace Islam it wilfully per-
verts their biographies. Abu Sufyan probably was


History of the Meccan Period 1 53

not a prominent opponent till after the battle of
Badr, when he headed the Meccans against Moham-
med till the taking of the city ; proving himself
throughout the period not altogether incompetent
or wanting in energy, but intellectually no match for
the Prophet. A tradition * makes him one of a party
of free-thinkers, who had learned atheism from the
H Christians of the Harrah " : and to his scepticism
he added loose morality .f The callousness to insults
and injuries which formed so remarkable a trait in
his son Mu'awiyah appears to have characterised him
also, since we find him employing as lieutenant
Khalid, son of Al-Walid, whose brother had killed a
man protected by Abu Sufyan, thereby causing the
death of many Kurashites. % Of Mohammed's oppon-
ents before the Flight the most prominent appear to
have been Abu Jahl, or Abu '1-Hakam, son of Hisham,
of the tribe Makhzum ; and the Prophet's uncle Abu
Lahab Abd al-'Uzza. § The former enjoyed a great
reputation for sagacity ; at thirty years of age he
had been admitted to the Council Chamber, whereas
other Meccans had to wait till their fortieth year.||
The latter, like Abu Sufyan, is said to have been a
loose liver, involved among others in the theft of
the golden gazelles placed in the Ka'bah, which he
and his companions melted down to distribute among

I* Lata' if al-Mctarif, 64.
f /*/,/., 63.
% Ibn Duraid, 295.
§ The name means "father of flame," and was given him, it is
said, owing to his red complexion.
I Ibn Duraid, 97.

154 Mohammed

their singing women ; an act for which he would have
lost his hand, had not the Khuza 'ah, to whom his
mother belonged, interceded.* He professed great
devotion to the goddess Al-'Uzza,f as a speculation,
however, on the chance of her having an existence ;
ready to console himself, in the other event, with
the fact that her arch-enemy, Mohammed, was his
nephew. These two persons appear, at times at
least, to have used violence, and the same is asserted
of Abdallah, son of Umayyah, the Prophet's cousin ;
whereas the others who are named seem to have
done more to suppress rioting and brawls than to
have deliberately brought them on. The hands of
all alike were tied by fear of bloodshed ; but in the
case of humble converts they were ready to come
very near that limit. The persons whose accession
to Islam was most welcomed were men of physical
strength, and much actual fighting must have taken
place at Meccah before the Flight ; else the readiness
with which the Moslems after the Flight could pro-
duce from their number tried champions would be
inexplicable. A tried champion must have been
tried somewhere : and no external fights are re-
corded or are even the subject of an allusion for
this period. The Prophet himself is said on one
occasion after reciting Surah xxxvi. to have flung
dust on the heads of his opponents. % And the wise
principle of hitting back when hit appears to have
characterised the new religion from its start, and to

* Ibn Duraid, 76.

\Azraki t 81.

\ Wakidi (W.\ 51.

History of the Meccan Period 155

have been the cause of its speedy success. We
learn incidentally* that the Prophetic office did not
prevent Mohammed from continuing to work at his
business; but those of his followers who were in
dependent situations certainly lost them. Those
who like Khalid, son of Sa 'id, were driven from their
homes by indignant parents had to be fed at the
Prophet's table. The growth of the new religion
tended to spread discord between families and so
keep the city in a state of turmoil and confusion.
Those who for any reason felt aggrieved with their
condition could gratify their ill-will by joining Mo-
hammed ; and some probably did this in momentary
pique. Desperadoes of whom the whole city was
ashamed seem to have been received into the fold
of Islam ; they could then on the strength of their
faith claim to be better than their neighbours.

A measure which seems to us both natural and
harmless was taken by the Meccans ; the Moslems
were kept out of the Precincts of the Ka'bah.
When they came there their devotions were rudely

From personal violence the Prophet himself was
ordinarily secured by the protection of his relations,
especially when his uncle, the mighty hunter Ham-
zah, joined Islam — we know not why : one tradition
says, because of his indignation at the insults inflicted
on Mohammed by Abu Jahl; another that he de-
manded (like Philip) to be shown the Angel Gabriel,
and with this request Mohammed complied ; the
Angel, whose feet were of emerald, appearing

*Ishak, 189.

156 Mohammed

mounted on a clothes-horse in the Ka'bah.* If this
story be true, we should couple with it another,
presently to meet us, where Hamzah figures dis-
gracefully intoxicated.f Hamzah's sword was de-
stined to do good service later on.

After a time the situation became intolerable.
The resources of the Believers who were independ-
ent were insufficient to support the strain of their
starving brethren, nor was the life of the latter en-
durable, amid ceaseless vexations and persecutions.
A few, as we learn from the Koran, fell away, though
the Prophet assured them that their sufferings were
slight compared with those which monotheists in for-
mer times had to endure. The idea which so readily
occurs, and which has so often proved the salvation
of persecuted communities suggested itself. God's
earth was wide, so why should not those who were
injured in their native country flee to another?
Thus a few generations ago the Mormons, vexed
and persecuted, fled to a new land and started a now
thriving colony. That the Moslems did not do this
may be attributed to their being essentially artisans
and traders, accustomed to the handling, not to the
production, of raw materials. Moreover, the per-
manent abandonment of Meccah seems never to
have entered the Prophet's mind, though the mode
in which the Meccan sanctuary was worked into his
system was probably the product of slow develop-

* Ibn Sa'd, iii. , 6.

f Still it may have been a case of "hypnotic hallucination," — the
mode whereby Riley explains the evidence of the three witnesses
who saw Joseph Smith's gold plates. Loc. cit., p. 212.


^ 2


History of the Meccan Period 157

ment. Still a temporary refuge was clearly desirable
and Mohammed had not to look far to find it. In
that country which had sent effective aid to the
persecuted Arabian Christians and which had mani-
fested detestation of the Meccan idolatry, Moham-
med resolved to find a refuge for his followers, per-
haps looking forward to seeing them return at the
head of an Abyssinian army.* Among those with
whom he had associated there had certainly been
Abyssinians, and indeed he had himself most likely
visited the country, so as to know something of
its conditions.

The Meccans were in commercial relations with
the state of Axum, whose port Massoua is separated
by an easy journey from the Arabian coast. The
beginnings of Christianity in that country are lost
in obscurity, and its chronicles up to the Portuguese
invasion are all fabulous. But Greek authors attest
the Arabian legend which makes the Negus in the
sixth century send an army to the relief of the
persecuted Christians in South Arabia ; and every
Meccan child knew that an Abyssinian force had
been sent to destroy the Ka'bah and had been
miraculously repelled. Thither (in the fifth year
of the mission, it is said)f the Moslems began to
slink away, probably in small groups, though the
number of refugees reached in time eighty-three
families. At the head of the list one tradition places
the weakly Othman, son of 'Affan, with his wife
Rukayyah, Mohammed's daughter, whereas another

* This suggestion is made by Sir William Muir.
\ Wakidi in DhakhaHr wa A'lak y 204.

158 Mohammed

makes the first refugee a certain Hatib, son of 'Amr,
who occupies otherwise no prominent place in the
history. The remainder of the list seems to include
nearly all the persons who were enumerated among
the converts. Ja 'far, Abu Talib's son, was one of.
the emigrants. Abu Bakr started for Abyssinia, but
was recalled by the promise of protection of a
certain Ibn Dughunnah. Abu Bakr, however, per-
formed his orisons with so much ostentation, and
thereby attracted so much attention that his patron
had publicly to withdraw his protection. In some
cases the Meccans endeavoured to prevent the
flight of their persecuted brethren : this is recorded
of Salamah, brother of Abu Jahl.

Little is known of the condition of the refugees in
Abyssinia. The bulk of our information is derived
from the narative of Umm Salamah, wife of Abdal-
lah Ibn Abd al-Asad, who afterwards became wife of
the Prophet. Some of the matter contained in this
narrative is certainly afterthought ; but the employ-
ment of some Ethiopic words in the speeches of
the King of Abyssinia which she records, seems evid-
ence of authenticity. How these people lived in Abys-
sinia is not known, nor do we even know whether
they and the Abyssiniarts were mutually intelligible.*
Their life there was not of a sort which can have
been very enjoyable, since they all manifested great
anxiety to return, with the exception of such as be-
came Christians. One of the refugees (Asma, daugh-
ter of Unais) described it as miserable to the last

* Interpreters are required between Abyssinians and Arabs, Nol-
deke % Sass., 220.

History of the Meccan Period 159

degree.* Perhaps they found some menial employ-
ments, enabling them to earn a livelihood. No great
interest was at first manifested in them by the King,
who was probably not averse to the reception of im-
migrant aliens.

According to Umm Salamah, however, the Mec-
cans were not disposed to lose so considerable a
number of their fellow-citizens. At a later time we
find them unreasonably tenacious of citizens who by
abandoning their religion had ceased to be of any
use to themselves ; they preferred keeping them in
chains at home to letting them go free. The reason
for this is in part to be found in the institution called
mundf arali, \ a sort of contest in which men endeav-
oured to prove their families to be the biggest ; ridi-
culed in the Koran, where some one is said to swell
the list by counting gravestones. Hence a volun-
tary exile was said to bid defiance to his friends.J
A deputation consisting of Abdallah (then called
Bujair), son of Abu Rabi'ah, and father of a cele-
brated poet, and 'Amr, son of Al-'Asi, afterwards
famous, was sent to induce the King to extradite
them. 'Amr, son of Al-'Asi, was well known at
the Abyssinian court, where he had revealed to
the King the unfaithfulness of one of his queens, §
and so avenged his own wrong while he avenged
the King's. They were told to take presents
to the nobles and approach the King through

* Muslim, ii., 265.
\Goldziher, M. S. t l, 56.
X Ion Duraid, 223.
§ Agh y viii., 53.

1 60 Mohammed

them. The way having been duly paved, the
envoys submitted their desire that their mis-
guided brethren might be handed over to them ;
returned, we must suppose, with an Abyssinian es-
cort to the Arabian coast. The King wished to
know first what the new religion was. An assembly
was called at which Ja'far, being summoned to reply,
read out the earlier part* of Surah xix., a discourse
specially prepared by Mohammed for this occasion.
Its description of the experiences of the Virgin Mary
moved the Negus to tears ; and he resolved never to
abandon these followers of Christ. The disappointed
envoys endeavoured to show the King that Moham-
med's views of the nature of Christ were unorthodox,
but the King, to their vexation, declared the Ko-
ranic doctrine on that matter to be the solely true

How much of this narrative is true is not known.
From a later anecdote Ja'far appears incidentally to
have had some experience of the Negus's court. f It is
in any case a fact that the Negus favoured the cause of
Mohammed against the Kuraish, and remained Mo-
hammed's faithful friend to his death ; when success
had crowned Mohammed's arms he restored his fol-
lowers to him, and went to the expense of finding the
dowry of one of his numerous brides, Ethiopian
Christianity, unlike most other branches, tolerating
polygamy. Without an Abyssinian account of the
affair we cannot make out certainly the King's mo-
tives or the actual course of Mohammed's policy.

* Wakidi, Dhakha'ir, 205.
f Wakidi(W.), 302.

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History of the Meccan Period 161

The XlXth Surah is (like many others) a summary
of the Prophet's teaching, only in it the story of the
Nativity occupies the chief place ; we fancy Wara-
kah's translation of the Gospel must have come in
useful at this period. The indignant denial which it
contains of the divine sonship of Jesus is without
question an addition inserted at a later time ; Mo-

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 11 of 32)