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mutual forbearance.

Between Hubal, the god whose image was inside
the Ka'bah, and Allah (" the God "), of whom much
will be heard, there was perhaps some connection ; yet
the identification of the two suggested* by Wellhau-
sen is not yet more than an hypothesis. It seems pos-
sible that Allah, really a male deity, of which Al-Lat
was the female, f identified by Mohammed with the
object of monotheistic adoration, was the tribal god
of the Kuraish ; and indeed in lines which may possi-
bly be pre-Islamic the Kuraish are called Allah's fam-
ily. J At the ceremonies of Muzdalifah the Kuraish
and their co-religionists used to say, "We are the fam-
ily of Allah "§; and by this name they were known
in Arabia.|| Something of this sort is also assumed
in the polemic of the Koran. T According to
ancient custom the Kuraish, when they became
supreme, gave their deity a place beside the deities
of the older tribes, such as Al-'Uzza, Al-Lat, Manat,

* And hesitatingly approved by Noldeke, Z. D. At. <?., xli., 715.

f Wakidi{W.\ 362.

\Ibn Duraid, 94 ; Z. D. At. G. t xviii., 226.

§ Tirmidhi, i., 167.

\Azraki, 98, 155.

If Chapter v., ultra.



20 Mohammed

and others ; a process described in the Koran by the
commercial term " associating " or u taking into part-
nership," which probably had no underlying theo-
logical speculation. That association did not lead
to a distinction of functions between different gods
and goddesses,* which was only found in Arabia by
those who had been schooled in the theology of
Egypt or Greece. In Arabia each tribe had its god
or patron, from whom it expected everything, and
where tribes were confederate the relation between
the gods was a friendly one, whence a man might call
different sons after different gods ; as indeed was
done by Mohammed's grandfather. It is possible, in
some cases probable, that these gods or some of them
had been in earlier stages of Arabic development im-
personations of some moral or physical quality, or be-
longed to a system of astronomical theology f; but
such associations had long since vanished, just as the
ordinary worshippers of Zeus or Jupiter were un-
aware that his name meant the sky. The number of
the gods who had a place near the Ka'bah would seem
to have been very large and some of these were also
identified with trees or stones in the neighbourhood,
which pious persons visited, bringing offerings. Of
the same and perhaps of others there were also
household representations, which received homage
in domestic rites. Their number is to be accounted



* "Auf keinen Fall diirfte man es versuchen die arabischen Gotter
durch eine formliche Mythologie zu verknupfen." Noldeke, Z. D.
M. G., xli., 714,

f An Egyptian writer has recently endeavoured to take them all to
Egypt.



The Birthplace of the Hero 2 1

for in part by the practice of exogamy or obtaining
wives outside the husband's tribe, whose gods would
often accompany them ; in part by the trading of the
Meccans, who had opportunities of learning of the
existence and power of foreign deities.

Paganism is called by the Koran the period of
Ignorance — a phrase in the opinion of some borrowed
from the New Testament * ; in the Koran it is thus
explained : the Meccans had, we are assured, no
previous revelation ; no Prophet, no books, no guid-
ance, f The only reason which they could assign for
the rites they practised was that their fathers had
done the same.

It seems likely that this account is near the truth.
We should miss much in the origin of Islam if we
failed to keep before our minds its claim to be a first
instruction to the people whom it addressed. Against
any previous code, therefore, the Koran does not
argue, just as it does not lean upon any such back-
ground. It is true the Moslems suppose that the
Arabs had been originally bound by the code of
Abraham and Ishmael, and that to certain Arab
races other prophets had been sent. But this was
only assumed in order to prove fetish worship and
the practices of the pagans to be innovations; and
the Arabs could even name the miscreant who was
responsible for their introduction.

The Koran makes indeed an exception when it
denies that the Arabs had any previous guide. It is



*Wellhausen, Reste y 71. Wrongly according to Goldziher, M. S.,
i., 225, who renders it " Barbarianism."
f Surah xxxiv., 43, xxxvi., 5.



22 Mohammed

recorded* that some of those who enquired about
Islam declared that they had before been in pos-
session of the Book of Lukman, and the Koran once
reproduces a certain number of maxims addressed
by Lukman to his son. Many more such maxims
are quoted by Moslem writers, but unfortunately
we have rarely any good reason for believing
them to be handed down from very early time.
The Koran clearly supposes Lukman to have
been a monotheist, and the sayings ascribed to
him are ordinarily in the style of the Biblical
Proverbs — containing a mixture of religious, moral,
and worldly counsels. Some of his precepts
may have been employed in instructing the Arab
youth ; and he was ordinarily supposed to have been
an Arab, though some legends f make him out to
have been a black. But of any reverend and
beloved name being made responsible for pagan
practice we do not hear. Against the Prophet
Mohammed the general practice of a series of gen-
erations was quoted, but not apparently any author-
itative code.

Where these practices are described — and many of
them had been forgotten by the time when the Mos-
lems came to study them with some sort of sym-
pathy — they continually admit of easy illustration
from, if not of identification with, the practices of
other pagan races. To the religious institutions
(such as prayer, vows, sacrifices) which the Arabs
shared with the nations of classical antiquity we



*Tabari, i., 1207.
f Jahiz, Opuscula, 58.



The Birthplace of the Hero 23

need do no more than allude. That there should be
many rites of a superstitious nature connected with
the camel is natural, considering the importance
which attached to that animal in the life of the Arab.
Of the practice of Tabu, so richly illustrated in Mr.
Manning's Old New Zealand, the customs of Central
Arabia contain many examples. Of ancestor wor-
ship,* sacrifices to the dead,f human sacrifices,^: and
even cannibalism traces have been preserved. Cases
occur in the biography of the Prophet of women
biting the liver or drinking out of the skull of a fallen
foe. Rich illustration is also provided of the sanctu-
ary or domain controlled by a god whose force per-
meates it somewhat after the fashion of an electric
current ; a doctrine so lucidly explained in Frazer's
Golden Bough. A mythology of a naive sort was
taught by nurses to children, a few details of which
crop up from time to time. The soul was thought
at death to take the form of a bird.§ The sun was
supposed at eventide to sink into a well.

Although the practices of paganism were exceed-
ingly numerous and complicated, it does not appear
that there was any systematic knowledge of them ;
old men could state, so far as their memory
served them, what had been the invariable custom,
but it is unlikely that any one had been taught to ob-
serve or to make collections of cases ; and it is only






+Goldziher, M.S., i., 230.
f Ibid., 239.

\Wellhausen, Reste, 1 15.

§ In Globus, 1901, 358, etc , parallels to this superstition are
collected.



24 Mohammed

where this is done that any system can come into
being. We must not therefore make the mistake of
supposing that there were definite notions and fixed
rules, where at best there may have been a vague
tendency towards uniformity.

It has been asserted by some authors that the in-
sufficiency of paganism as a satisfaction of the re-
ligious need was felt at Meccah, and that the whole
of the Arabs were ready for something better. If
this be interpreted as meaning that paganism was
becoming unfashionable, it is correct ; devout be-
lievers in Al-Lat and Al-'Uzza were thought by those
who had been in the great world to be behind the
times. Practices which savoured of savagery were
already condemned by the common sense of in-
fluential men ; and those who, having travelled,
learned that paganism was despised and ridiculed in^
the Roman Empire and in Persia, often thought
it proper to despise and ridicule it themselves. But
that the fetishism of the Arabs was otherwise insuf-
ficient for their religious needs is an assertion which
does not admit of proof. A god is an imaginary
being who can do good or harm ; and everything
goes to show that the Arabs who had not seen the
great world were firmly convinced that their gods
or goddesses could do both. Hence the images
of the gods provided sanctuary for persons whose
lives were forfeit, and this sanctuary was respected
by all save the enlightened.* Of the real philan-
thropists and reformers among them, men who
squandered their substance in saving the lives of

*Ibn Duraid, 235.



The Birthplace of the Hero 25

girls doomed to death* or in releasing prisoners,f or
who kept their word at any cost, some were faithful
adherents of the cults of Al-'Uzza and Al-Lat. Oc-
cupied with the reform of their own lives and the
righting of actual wrongs, these persons made no
noise, and being earnest, did not suppose that the
setting up of one cult for another would make men
virtuous; and Mohammed himself had occasion to
draw a contrast between the conduct of his pagan
and that of his believing son-in-law, greatly to the dis-
advantage of the latter. So far as the religious
sentiment required gratification, there is no evidence
to show that paganism failed to gratify it. We
gather from the inscriptions of the pagan Arabs
that a wealth of affection and gratitude was be-
stowed upon their gods and patrons. Few indeed
were prepared to die for their deities, when told to
reject them or be executed. But then with sound
though rare logic they inferred from their reduction
to this strait that their gods were impotent and had
been vainly worshipped.

A great scholar, indeed, from whom it is un-
safe to differ, finds a difference between the central
and the southern Arabians, and supposes the latter
to have been earnest worshippers, while the former
were indifferent. The ground for this assertion
appears to lie in the absence of religious inscriptions
from Central Arabia ; but there is no saying when



* This act is also ascribed to the monotheist, Zaid, son of 'Amr.
Ibn Sa\i % iii., 277.

f Ibn Duraid, 193 : Sa'd, son of Mushammit, vowed that he would
never see a prisoner but he would release him.



26 Mohammed

this gap in our knowledge may be filled up, and
little can be inferred on such matters from negative
evidence. The fact, moreover, that several of the
chief objects of worship were goddesses suggests
that the Arabs of Central Arabia were not wanting
in piety, since the cult of goddesses all over the
world appears to be conducted with special fervour,
and calls into play sentiments which a male cult
is not capable of exciting. Doubtless too the iden-
tification of these objects varied very much with the
mental capacity of different worshippers ; to some
they may have been stars, or fetishes, or sentiments,
but to the greater number they were women, not in-
deed often to be seen, but neither quite invisible
nor far off, who were more powerful certainly than
the women of the tribe, but resembling them in
character and disposition.

With regard to morals, there is no doubt that the
Arabs possessed the notions of right and wrong, but
the denotation assigned to these notions was ordin-
arily very different from what we expect in civilised
countries. Mr. Beckwourth tells us how when he
lived with the Blackfeet, he one day struck down
his wife for disobeying him ; her supposed death,
however, occasioned no resentment on the part
of her father, who gave her husband his second
daughter as a substitute the selfsame evening ; and
when the husband discovered that the former wife
had been merely stunned, not killed, the situation
was in no way complicated thereby. How many
violations of European morality he committed thus
within twenty-four hours it would not be easy to



The Birthplace of the Hero 2 7

count. In a civilised state he would have been
arrested for murder, and imprisoned for bigamy;
tabooed on half a dozen grounds and ousted from
decent society. Among the Blackfeet his con-
duct was normal and praiseworthy, nor was his
father-in-law's conduct — to us heartless and indecent
in the extreme — improper. Similarly with the
people of the Ignorance a moral stigma attached to
certain states and certain acts; but not always to
those states and acts which the experience of ages
of civilisation has shown to be deleterious to the
community, and which members of organised states
taboo. To the taking of human life it is clear that no
moral guilt was thought to attach ; and between ac-
cidental homicide and intentional murder the Arabs
seem to have been quite unable to distinguish ;
when some men, building up a lion pit, accidentally
pushed,* or pulled, f each other in and were killed
by the lion, their relatives could with the greatest
difficulty be prevented from avenging the deaths;
and of the right to blood-money there was no ques-
tion. On the other hand not to avenge a murder
was disgraceful. The taking of blood-money by the
relatives was thought degrading, but not because it
implied heartlessness or sordidness : rather because
it suggested weakness and fear. Only when the
steady accumulation of wealth began to be found
attractive, and peace was seen to be a necessary
condition of this, did the presence in the tribe of a
swashbuckler prove inconvenient. Such a person



* Afusnad, i., 77.
f Ibid. , i, 128



28 Mohammed

therefore was apt to be publicly discarded. But if
he remained in the tribe, murders committed by him
were likely to involve the tribe in war, since the
blood-feud demanded the death of any of the mur-
derer's tribesmen, and to hand over a murderer to
the vengeance of the heirs of the murdered man was
thought in the highest degree dishonourable.

In another matter which civilisation has hedged
in with a variety of rules and ordinances, Central
Arabia exhibits the simultaneous existence of many
stages of development. The institution of marriage
in our sense had certainly existed for untold centu-
ries; of polyandry in its various forms only faint
traces survived ; even in a rather backward commun-
ity like that of Medinah, a girl in order to be mar-
riageable required a dowry — in our sense of the
word * ; and there is evidence that concubinage was
in some tribes considered improper, f The question
whether the wife should enter the husband's tribe or
the husband enter the wife's was settled by the cir-
cumstances of the case ; in normal cases the former
took place. Still the social condition described by
Beckwourth appears to have existed in certain of the
Arab tribes. Those men who did most for the com-
munity married many women ; but it would rather
appear that the dissolution of a marriage was the
right of the woman, not of the man. It does not
appear that dishonour everywhere attached to un-
chastity in women, though ideas on this subject
varied very much in different tribes. In some the

* Ibn Sa'dff., ii., 78.

f Z. D. M. G. , xlvi. , 2 ; Wellhausen, Ehe, 440.



The Birthplace of the Hero 29

birth of a daughter was the occasion for special
felicitation,* containing an allusion to the dowry or
purchase-money she would bring her parents; on
the other hand the Koran asserts that the birth of a
daughter was regarded as a misfortune, and that the
practice of burying girls alive was common, and such
occurrences are attested for the period with which
Mohammed's early life coincided.! That practice
cannot be altogether dissociated from fears concern-
ing female frailty, and even in the most civilised
period of the Caliphate we find the death of a daugh-
ter in childhood regarded as a subject for congratu-
lation, the father being thereby saved from a possible
source of danger to his honour. " Were it not,"
says the author of a letter of condolence on such an
occasion, " for my knowledge of your late daughter's
rare virtues, I should be more inclined to congratu-
late you than to condole with you, since the hiding
of one's weak points is an advantage, and the burial
of a daughter is a desirable thing." % With an allu-
sion to the same notion, poets praising women speak
of them as having been buried before death in the
secrecy of the harem, or at death being transferred
from one harem to another. A still older theory,
however, is that the father is in any case disgraced
by giving his flesh and blood into another man's
power. || Where infanticide was not practised, fear
of dishonour (or perhaps a religious scruple) led to



* Hariri, Sch., 334.

f Musnad, i., 398. For this subject, see Wellhausen % Ehe, 458.

% Letters of Khwarizmi (Const.), 20.

I Wellhausen, Efie, 433.



30 Mohammed

child marriage, seven or eight being the normal age
at which girls became wives. *

^The general freedom of pagan days, and the varie-
ties of the practice of different tribes, permitted of
much abnormal development. Sensuality and un-
chastity were normal ; but in some tribes the erotic
sentiment took a sublime and romantic form, and
many a legend tells of the ennobling of the passion
into fastidious chivalry and refinement. Deprived
by custom of the right of inheriting,f women not
unfrequently accumulated and disposed of wealth;
as poetesses they could fan the embers of feuds into
flame, and as prophetesses direct the movements of
their tribes. Following the men into the battle-field,
they could encourage the fighters by savage music,
or could themselves (like Beckwourth's "Pine Leaf")
deal wounds and death ; or, more often, strip and
mutilate the slain. The institutions (if that term
may be used) of paganism were not unfavourable to
the prominence of those women who had the requi-
site gifts of courage or insight. And the ensuing
narrative will show examples of women acting with
originality and resolution, when there was room for
the display of those qualities.

Of respect for property and loyalty and honour,
pagan Arabia shows no exalted standard. The in-
stitution of private property would appear to have
existed, and indeed to have been fairly developed at
Meccah, in spite of its apparent contradiction to the
doctrine of the blood-feud. Thus the Meccan heads



* A lif-Bd, i. , 394.

\ Perron, Femmes Arabes avant el depuis V 'fslamisme, 1858.



The Birthplace of the Hero 3 1

of houses are represented as forming a joint-stock
company for the purpose of foreign trade, the profits
on each occasion being divided proportionately
among the investors, and by them expended or
hoarded, or invested in fresh speculations. Sales of
various sorts between individuals are recorded for
the period before the taking of Meccah. Probably,
therefore, this community was somewhat further
advanced in commercial civilisation than the Crows
or Blackfeet of Beckwourth's time.

The course of the following narrative will show
that Mohammed's mission at Meccah was a failure,
and that it was only at Medinah, which had been suf-
fering for years from the curse of civil war, that he
readily found a hearing, and that having turned
Medinah into an armed camp, he was able partly by
force and partly by bribes to subjugate Meccah,
whence he proceeded quickly to subdue the rest of
Arabia. The conquest of Arabia speedily led to
that of the surrounding nations. From this we
may draw with regard to Meccah certain inferences
which correspond very well with the historical tradi-
tion. It had clearly acquired at the time when
Mohammed arose a position of importance in Arabia,
since its example was so speedily followed, and in-
deed many an Arabian state seems to have waited
to submit to the Prophet till Meccah had submitted.
That importance was not due to military strength, but
either to the respect felt for the deities of the Mec-
can temple, or to the intellectual and political super-
iority of its inhabitants ; an early writer perhaps
with justice attributes it to the miraculous repulse



3 2 Mohammed

of the Abyssinian invasion, which impressed the
Arabs with the idea that the Meccans were the
favoured of heaven *; Wellhausen on the other hand
ascribes it mainly to the ability of the Kuraish, " who
understood better than others how to draw water
out of their own well, and make their neighbours'
water flow in their channels." f

Meccah then was in a sufficiently healthy condi-
tion to be able to throw off without serious trouble
such a civil disease as is represented by a secret
society, aiming at reconstruction of the social fabric.
But outside Meccah there was much instability, and
much opportunity for the intervention of a strong
will. The title of king was maintained by a few
heads of tribes, % an< 3 certain other historic appella-
tions were not yet extinct among the populations of
the south and centre of the peninsula; but these
chieftains resembled the feudal barons, whose author-
ity reached but a little way beyond the fortresses
whence they could conduct their raids, and was of
no avail for the protection of life or property.

These neighbours of the Meccans still lived the
nomad life — a life in which the raiding of camels
was the only manly occupation, and in which the
blood-feud was the most important of existing insti-
tutions. That Bedouin institution was still retained
by the Meccans, though they had abandoned the
nomad state ; blood shed by another tribe demanded
vengeance, and therefore some trivial cause was likely



* Azraki, 98.

\Reste, 93.

\ Kindah ; also in Hajar, and Oman.



The Birthplace of the Hero 33

at any moment to involve the state in war, or cause
the constituent groups to be arrayed against each
other. War meant such an upsetting of arrange-
ments that we find the Meccan magnates dominated
by the desire for peace.

The wealth which some of the community had
acquired made them sufficiently important to be
honoured with appeals from various disputants: in
such cases we find it the policy of the arbiters to do
anything rather than make a pronouncement which
is at all likely to produce a broil. A legend which
may have a basis of truth makes Abu Sufyan, of
whom much will be heard, appointed arbiter by per-
sons who were disputing over the claims of their
respective clans. To favour either would have prob-
ably involved both the favoured party and the arbi-
ter in a dispute*: Abu Sufyan therefore refused to
say more than that they were like the " Knees of a
camel " and declined to state which was the right
knee. The other Kurashite leaders were no less
cautious ; and resorted to great sacrifices to stifle
disputes at their commencement.

For the north and east two Christian or partly
Christian outposts were formed by the Ghassanide
kingdom which held the Gulf of Akabah and was de-
pendent on Byzantium, and the kingdom of Hirah
which held the approaches to Mesopotamia and was
dependent on Persia.

In both cases civilised powers employed Arabs to
keep Arabs in order f : the purpose of these Arab

*Agh., xv., 54.
f Rothstein, Lakhmiden, 127.
3 ^



34 Mohammed

kingdoms being to "form bulwarks against the raid-
ing Bedouins. But the dynasty of Hirah was abol-
ished about 602 A.D. by the Persian suzerain — for a
variety of reasons : and a few years after at Dhu
Kar the Bedouins had an earnest of their future
conquest of the empire of the Khosroes.

It appears that some goods had been entrusted to
a certain Arab tribe by Nu 'man, son of Mundhir,
King of Hirah, shortly before his deposition, and that
the new viceroy had demanded that these, consist-
ing chiefly in weapons and armour, together with
hostages, should be given up. A chieftain of the
Banu 'Ijl, Hanzalah, son of Tha 'labah, was brought
to the front by this demand, which was backed with
the terrible force of the Persian empire. He re-
solved to resist it: the arms instead of being handed
over to the Persians were distributed among men
capable of bearing them ; and plans were devised
by which the organisation of the Persians and their
skill as bowmen should be rendered unavailing. The
Persian forces were lured into a place where there
was no water, and the soldiers were speedily incapaci-
tated by thirst ; an ambush was prepared whence a
body of Bedouins could emerge at a critical moment



Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 3 of 32)