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world, waited to marry till he could better himself
thereby. He had indeed made an offer for the hand
of his cousin, Umm Hani, Abu Talib's daughter, a
girl of whom he doubtless saw much in his childhood
and youth. For the character of the relations be-
tween the sexes at this time an analogy should be
drawn rather from Bedouin life than from the town
life introduced by the founder of Islam; and in the
Bedouin life these marriages between cousins, which
are normal, are often preceded and determined by
attachment.* Mohammed's proposal was rejected
by his uncle, who preferred another and probably
richer cousin. This early rebuff may have had
something to do with the future career of the
Prophet, on whom the ills of poverty had thus been
painfully impressed. Long after, Umm Hani, re-
lieved of her husband, desired Mohammed to renew
the offer, but he refused. When he was twenty-five
years of age, Khadijah, the wealthy woman whose

* Mayeux, iii., 143. The well-informed novelist in the Egyptian
magazine Rats, ii., 93, makes it a rule of the Bedouins that love
must not precede marriage.

Early Life of Mohammed 67

caravan he had safely conducted, offered him her
hand. Arab ladies have to this day no gine in
such matters, and in pagan times women were
doubtless freer than after Islam had introduced
the veil ; some of the privileges dating from the old
days of matriarchate remaining.* She was some
years older than Mohammed, but assuredly not
forty, as Mohammed's biographers assert ; though
the legend makes some of the Bedouin ladies keep
their good looks till eighty or even one hundred,f
and the Kurashite women were regarded as an
exception to the law which renders childbearing
impossible after sixty. % Her nephew Hakim, son
of Hizam, was one of the Meccan magnates. At
a later period he figures as a trader, and, indeed,
a speculator in corn.§ He professed to have
liberated forty slaves in Pagan times. || If it be true
that he gave four hundred dirhemsT for the slave
Zaid, son of Harithah, and then presented him to
his aunt, he must, indeed, have had means — accumu-
lated, it is said, by rigid economy.** Khadijah's
cousin Warakah is said to have blessed the union
in the homely language of the Bedouins, calling
Mohammed a camel "whose nose would not be

* Robertson Smith, in his Kinship and Marriage, has an excursus
on Khadijah's marriage, but brings no fresh light.

f Jahiz, Afahasin, 205.

\Id., Opuscula, 78, 5.

%AIusnad, iii., 403.

I Ibid., iii., 434.

1 Ibn Sa'd, iii., 27.

** Baihaki, Mahasin, 315. He was one of those who ran away from
Badr. Ibn Duraid, 103.

68 Mohammed

struck."* The future Prophet left his uncle's camels
to become master of a house — or part of one, for
Khadijah lived in the house of her above-mentioned
nephew, in the Hizamiyah street, with a covered
walk and a garden, where there was a door leading
to the house of 'Awwam, who had married an aunt
of the Prophet. \

That great step in a career had been taken where-
by a man, freed from the absorbing care of his daily
bread, like a balloon loosed from its moorings,
begins to ascend. Henceforth he either led no
camels, or led his own. But indeed he appears to
have been set up in business in Meccah, having for
his partner Kais, son of Al-Sa'ib, whose fidelity he
afterwards commended highly. The tradition ap-
pears not to know with what goods he supplied his
fellow-citizens, though it has preserved this detail in
the case of his immediate associates. In the one
shopping scene of which we have a record for this
period the Prophet is buyer, not seller. Suwaid, son
of Kais, said : " Makhramah, the Abdite, and I
brought a bale of clothes from Haji to Meccah ; the
Prophet bargained with us for a pair of breeches ;
there were in the shop some persons who were weigh-
ing with pieces of clay, and the Prophet told them
to give us good measure." % Since breeches could
scarcely be sold by weight, perhaps the Prophet gave
them some grain or fruit in return. Mohammed and

* Mubarrad, Kamil, i., 93. Another tradition ascribes the words
to Abu Sufyan, when Mohammed married his daughter. Letters 0/
Hamadhani, p. 216.

f Azraki, 463.

\Musnad t iv., 352.

Early Life of Mohammed 69

his partner offered their goods for sale in the dwelling
of the latter,* and the traces of this calling are found
all over his Sacred Book. A dissertation has been
written on the commercial language of the Koran,
showing that the tradesman Prophet could not keep
free of metaphors taken from his business. M God,"
he repeatedly says, " is good at accounts. The Be-
lievers are doing a good business, the unbelievers
a losing trade. Those who buy error for guidance
make a bad bargain." The shake of the hand which
closes a bargain became with him and his followers
the form by which homage was done to a sovereign.
Even when he was sovereign at Medinah he did not
disdain to buy goods wholesale and make a profit by
selling them retail f ; while occasionally he consented
to act as auctioneer. %

Children were born to the couple, four daughters
and one son or more ; whence Mohammed could call
himself honourably Abu'l-Kasim, father of Kasim,
after the style of the Arabs ; whether they held like
the Indians that a sonless man goes straight to hell,
or whether without a son a man had no full franchise.
But the son or sons died in infancy,§ and the girls were
weaklings, of whom the most long-lived did not see
her fortieth year ; whence some who understand med-
icine have drawn their inferences about their father.
The names of some of the children show that their'

* Azraki, 471.

f Afusnad, i., 255.

\Ibid.i Hi., in. Hence he is supposed to have invented auc-
tions. Baihaki, Mahasin, 393, 3.

§One of these was born in Islam, according to our authorities,
after his mother was fifty-two. Ibn Sa'd, iii., 2.

jo Mohammed

parents when they named them were idolators. Nor
is there anything to indicate that Mohammed was at
this time of a monotheistic or religious turn of mind.
He with Khadijah performed some domestic rite in
honour of one of the goddesses each night before
retiring.* At the wedding of his cousin, Abu
Lahab's daughter, he is represented as clamouring
for sport f ; and indeed even when Prophet he had a
taste for the performances of singing girls. % He con-
fessed to having at one time sacrificed a grey sheep
to Al-'Uzza§ — and probably did so more than once,
since after his mission he used to slaughter sheep for
sacrifice with his own hands.] A story which may
be true shows us Mohammed with his stepson invit-
ing the Meccan monotheist Zaid, son of \Amr, to
eat with them — of meat offered to idols : the old
man refused ; thereby inspiring Mohammed with a
dislike for such food-T

Of Khadijah's children — and Mohammed appears
to have had both stepsons and stepdaughters — not
much is recorded. Mohammed was at all times of
an affectionate disposition, and even demonstratively
so ; he expressed disgust at a man who having ten
children declared that he had never kissed one of
them ** : and he remained demonstratively affection-
ate to the end towards the slave Zaid, whom he

* Musnad, iv., 222.

\Ibid., iv., 67.

\ Ibid., iii., 391.

§ Wellhausen, Reste, 34.

\ Musnad, iii., 99.

\ Ibid., i., 189.

** Tirmidhi, 321 (i., 348).

Early Life of Mohammed 7 1

adopted as a son. In his prayers he would at times
hold a child in his arms when he stood up, putting
it down when he prostrated himself.* At Medinah f
he would let a little girl take his hand and lead him
where she chose. Affectionate treatment of step-
children is attested for a later period of his life. %
He is not likely to have failed in his duty towards
Khadijah's children : and indeed one of these is said
to have lost his life in endeavouring to save Moham-
med from the fury of the populace when he first
preached the unity of God. Of another a story is
told in which he offers friendly counsel to his step-

As Mohammed's daughters grew up, they were
given in marriage : Umm Kulthum to her cousin on
the father's side, son of Abu Lahab, presently Mo-
hammed's bitter enemy ; Zainab to her cousin on
the mother's side, Abu'l-'Asi. All this was normal
and in order. Abu'l-'Asi was a brave man and
true, § accustomed to spend his evenings in Moham-
med's house.] This marriage was one of affection,
which Islam could not change. Zainab in after
times repeatedly made use of her privileges as the
Prophet's daughter to save the life of her unbeliev-
ing husband ; and his faithfulness to her won him
warm encomiums from her father.

For the rest we imagine Mohammed during these

* JVasa'i, i., 132.
f Musnad, iii., 174.
X Ibid., vi., 101.
§Ibid., iv., 326.
I Isabah % iv., 223.

72 Mohammed

fifteen years to have been a respected and undis-
tinguished tradesman. The little that we glean of
his sayings during the period is commonplace. One
'Arfajah, son of Al-As'ad, had lost his nose in a pre-
Islamic battle, and had one of silver fitted to his
face ; as this became foul, Mohammed recommended
him to try one of gold.*

^In the case of many of the Heroes of the Na-
tions it is possible to point to the occasion which
first led them to play their heroic part ; a crisis called
and they responded. In Mohammed's case it is
impossible to indicate any such event. For many
years he was, as we have seen, a respectable citizen,
an undistinguished tradesman ; at the age of forty
we find him the nucleus of a secret society, aiming
at reconstruction of the entire social fabric. At the
age of forty, it is asserted, a Meccan citizen had
access to the Council Chamber ; and there may be
some truth in this statement, though only a vague
interpretation can be given it, since there were no
registers at Meccah, and when the Prophet died, it
was uncertain whether he was sixty-three or sixty-
five. Supposing him to have been harbouring his
scheme of reform for years, he may have waited first
till he could gauge the possibilities of the Council
Chamber for launching it. If the Council Chamber
resembled any other debating body, the Prophet
would have had little chance of succeeding there;
for he was not a ready debater, and when he became
a religious controversialist, he received divine orders
to avoid public disputation. Still it was in Mo-

* Musnad, v., 23, etc.

Early Life of Mohammed 73

hammed's character to try easy and normal methods
before he attempted abnormal and difficult ones,
and there may be some connection between the
facts of the fortieth year being the time for the
acquisition of the franchise and the period of Mo-
hammed's life at which his mission commenced.
And since it was his custom only to launch his
schemes when they were mature, the part which
he was to play may have been present to his mind
for many years, suggested by conversations with
Jews, Christians, and Parsees ; shown to him to be
imperatively called for by the difficulties and in-
justices which arose from the need of it.

The Jews, the Christians, the Magians, the Sabae-
ans, had all one thing which the Arabs had not :
a legislator, who had acted as divine commissioner.
None of the members of these sects hesitated a
moment when asked what code he followed, or
from whom it emanated. Moses, Jesus, Zoroaster,
St. John the Baptist, they would severally and im-
mediately reply. But whom did the worshippers of
Hubal, Al-Lat, and Al-'Uzza follow ? No one at all.
Foreigners indeed told them that they had Abra-
ham for their father, but only foreigners knew any-
thing about him ; to the Meccans he was not even
a name. Those who tried to discover either an
Abrahamic community or an Abrahamic code trav-
ersed the world in vain. Yet each nation ought to
have a leader.* Here then was an opportunity for
a Prophet.

In what form the conviction comes to a man of

* Surah xiii., 8,

74 Mohammed

the existence of a need which he can or should sup-
ply is rarely recorded, perhaps not often remem-
bered. Of the evils of the tribal system and the
blood-feud Mohammed had ample experience ; and
visits to countries where the whole population was
subject to the law of God may well have convinced
him that the Arabs were backward, and that the
revelation of a divine code was an indispensable
preliminary of progress. Such a code was associated
with the God of the Jews and the Christians, but not
with the Meccan Allah, Al-Lat, and Al-'Uzza, though
it is likely that these deities approved and disap-
proved of various acts. But the name of the God
of the Jews and Christians was identical with that
of the god of the Kuraish. The inference that there
was room for a messenger of Allah lay in the pre-
mises which the phenomena provided ; Mohammed's
greatness is to be found in the two facts of his
drawing the inference, and of his ability to render
that knowledge effective.

The execution of this resolve closes this period of
forty years or more ; his soaring spirit had found the
outlet upwards through which it proceeded to make
its way. It is more often the seeker who finds than
one who is not searching. When Starbuck wished to
collect cases of conversion, he had to go to sects in
which it was normal, and where men and women
might expect to be converted. And the conversions
which he studied were found by him to resemble
cases in which persons feel after an idea with unrest
and perplexity until the result is finally presented to
clear consciousness ready made.

Early Life of Mohammed 75

"The unaccomplished volition is doubtless an indica-
tion that new nerve-connections are budding, that a new-
channel of mental activity is being opened, and in time
the act of centring force (trying) in the given direction
may through increased circulation and heightened nutri-
tion of that point itself directly contribute to the forma-
tion of those nerve-connections through which the high
potential energy which corresponds to the new insight
expends itself."

Into this psychological explanation we cannot in
the present case follow him ; but the evidence which
he has produced of conversion meaning the start-
ing of a fresh career, the bringing of the converted
individual into fresh connection with his fellows, is
very much to the purpose. To the enlarging of
the breast and the exalting of the name the Koran
adds the forgiveness of sin. Normal cases of conver-
sion bring out only the last sensation, the forgiveness
of sin ; the enlarging of the breast and exalting of
the name are found in cases where the converted
person has abnormal talents.

The idea of reproducing the role of Moses, Jesus,
or Zoroaster must not be judged from the mod-
ern standpoint, whence those characters are either
wholly unhistorical, or owe that which is enviable in
their history to myth and legend. To Mohammed
the first two (of the third he may not have heard)
were men, highly favoured by God, it is true, but
still flesh and blood, " eating food."

To carry out in practice the part of a mythical
hero was, as he afterwards found, exceedingly diffi-
cult ; but that his predecessors were mythical never


y6 Mohammed

entered into his mind. The idea that a Prophet was
expected in Arabia, that either Jews or Christians
foretold the arrival of one, may be dismissed as a
vatichiium post eventum ; so, too, when Islam had
conquered Persia, it was discovered that portents oc-
curred in Persia when Mohammed was born. The
Meccans, as we see them in the Fijar wars, or at the
building of their Ka'bah, appear by no means deso-
late at the want of a Prophet. They enjoyed their
life exceedingly ; even when the battle of Badr was
looming, they went to the fight in high spirits, spend-
ing lavishly ; wine and music were at their feasts.
And the best proof that they enjoyed life is to be
found in the good nature with which they fought.
They gladly displayed their courage, but bore no
ill-will against the foe.

That Mohammed in the course of his conversa-
tions with Jews and Christians had become con-
vinced of the general truth of their systems is fairly
clear; or rather it had not occurred to him to doubt
it. He shared the general attitude of the people of
Meccah towards their learned neighbours. But these
conversations had further forced upon his attention
the divisions that existed, not only between Jews and
Christians — who each denied that the other had any
standing ground — but also between the Christian
sects, which anathematised each other. It is curi-
ous that the founder of the Mormons similarly re-
ceived an early impulse from his observation of the
differences between the rival sects.* Which were in
the right, Jews or Christians, and if the latter, which

* The Mormons, London, 185 i„

Early Life of Mohammed Jj

of the sects? Clearly a new Prophet was needed
to settle this point, and Mohammed, at Medinah,
claimed that it was his mission to put them right
where they disagreed. The notions, however, which
he acquired of both Jewish and Christian doctrine
were, as has been seen, those of a superficial, though
shrewd, observer. If he thought the Christians wor-
shipped a goddess and two gods, that was the prac-
tical as opposed to the theoretical character of all
but Nestorian Christianity in the East.* Nor could
he fail to observe that the Christians were more lax
in the matter of food than the Jews. With each
community he sympathised in one point or another;
to have joined either of the communities and to
have become a missionary for either would have
been a serious mistake, and utterly unsuited to Mo-
hammed's plans. Christianity could not be disso-
ciated from subjection to the suzerainty of Byzan-
tium ; and Mohammed was far too great a patriot to
contemplate the introduction of a foreign yoke. A
convert to an old established religion, he could not
have pretended to such knowledge of it as older
members possessed ; and even appointed head of a
new congregation, he would have been compelled to
affiliate it to some existing branch. It is certain
that a fundamental dogma of his system was the
personal ore that he was God's Prophet ; agreement
on other points presently became useless, if that
were not conceded.

Hence it would appear that Mohammed regarded
these systems chiefly as systems founded respectively

* J. M. Robertson, A Short History of Christianity, 1902, p. 184.

yS Mohammed

by Moses and Jesus — a point of view from which
they are not ordinarily regarded, since men think
rather in each case of the code than of the authority
for it. Whoso honours not himself shall not be
honoured, Zuhair sings : the ambitious Christian
or Jew hopes to be a bishop, perhaps, or a rabbi,
but regards the founders of the systems as beyond
all possibility of competition. But thoughts are not
impracticable because they are bold, and this Arab
conceived the idea which a proselyte's notion of
Judaism or Christianity would have rendered be-
yond his reach. To the proselyte both figures
would have seemed simply inaccessible, placed on
pinnacles beyond climbing. To the cool-headed
student of human nature they were men, and what
they had done he could do.

It is likely, we might say certain, that Mohammed's
notion of a Prophet underwent some growth in the
course of his career ; we can even trace the steps by
which the mission was extended from Meccah to the
world ; and before Mohammed reached Medinah he
may not have been quite familiar with the Hebrew
word for prophet. But there were certain notions
connected with the office which were in his mind from
first to last. A messenger of God was quite certain
to be successful. The messengers, he was to learn,
were harassed by opposition and unbelief, but they
succeeded in time. The notion that Jesus was cruci-
fied was repugnant to his system, he was convinced
that the truth was with the Julianists who held that
the traitor Judas had been crucified : the true Prophet
was naturally and certainly victorious. Of the whole


O i

I- ^
«> <,

* I

Early Life of Mohammed 79

number, from Abraham to Mohammed, this held

Belief therefore in himself was the dogma which
he taught himself first, and afterwards taught others.
Of strong convictions on other subjects we cannot be
so sure ; and in any case, of the charge of fanatic-
ism, brought against him by several writers, he can
easily be cleared. Reasons of policy and reasons of
humanity were sufficient to make him modify or at
times even abandon each one of the doctrines and
practices on which he set the greatest store. To
these voices the ears of fanatics are closed, but his
were invariably open. Of exaggeration, whether in
religious exercises or in liberality, he always had a
horror : beneath the mask of the enthusiast there
was the soundest and sanest common-sense. Though
he railed against idolatry, he clearly had not that
physical repugnance to it which men have often had :
otherwise the Kissing of the Black Stone would not
have been a ceremony for which he yearned when
deprived of it, and which he permanently retained.
His physical repugnance seems to have been not to
fetishes but to representations, which, according to
some anecdotes that are recorded, he found worrying
and distracting. His identification of the god Al-
lah with the God of the Jews and Christians was in
a manner accidental ; it is precisely parallel to St.
Paul's endeavour to make the " Unknown God "
paramount at Athens to the exclusion of all the
other deities. But the Jewish and Christian records
narrated how their Allah had despatched messengers,
and such a messenger he might be. The message

80 Mohammed

was in many cases subordinate to the dignity of the
office, just as we think of a king's ambassador as a
high official, rather than as the bearer of a definite
message. For the contents of the message he had
to go back to Jewish and Christian Scriptures, until
the course of events provided him with plenty to

Why and how the idea of playing that part should
have come into the mind of this particular Arab, or
in the case of this particular Arab have found a
man with the patience and resolution and inge-
nuity to make it a success — about that we cannot
even hazard a conjecture. As Carlyle says, from
the time of Tubal Cain there had been iron and
boiling water ; but through all these millennia no
one invented the steam-engine. Either men wanted
the ingenuity to see the possibilities of things, or
they wanted the patience to make their discover-
ies fruitful. The daughter of Abu Jahl, one of Mo-
hammed's chief opponents, declared that her father
might have been Prophet had he chosen, but was
unwilling to create sedition.* Prophets indeed
had arisen in Arabia before Mohammed : in Yemen
among the Himyarites one Samaifa had imitated the
exploit of old Zamolxis : had hidden himself for a
time and then re-appeared, when one hundred thou-
sand men prostrated themselves before their risen
lord.f Legends containing probably some germ of
truth recorded how shortly before Mohammed one
Khalid, son of Sinan, had been sent to preach to the

*Azraki, 192; Wakidi (IV.), 343.
f Isabah, i., 1003.

Early Life of Mohammed 81

tribe of 'Abs, and one Hanzalah, son of Safwan,
to some other of the inhabitants of Arabia. In
Yemamah, too, one Maslamah had given a sign that
he was sent from God : through the narrow neck of
a bottle he introduced an egg unbroken to the bowl.*
Since Yemamah supplied Meccah with corn, the
tradition that makes Mohammed a pupil of Maslamah
has certainly some foundation. But Mohammed
had far more to teach Maslamah than to learn from
him. Maslamah's aspirations scarcely rose above
those of a conjurer ; his pupil, far less able to mystify,
saw how a Prophet could become the head of a

When the plan had become an assured success,
others were inclined to try it for their own benefit.
To Mohammed their claims did not seem to merit a
moment's consideration, he treated them as the
people of Meccah had at first treated him. The
wish that all the Lord's people were prophets,
probably never felt by any who uttered it, was not
even expressed by him. If men failed to agree with
his second dogma, his own apostleship, he devised
ingenious reasons for showing that they disagreed
with him concerning the first dogma, the Unity of
God. Hence we are justified in supposing that the
second was the dogma to which he attached the
greater importance. And if a Prophet was not a
subject charged with painful duties, but a sovereign
privileged with extraordinary rights, the unity of

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 6 of 32)