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* That Maslamah had taken the title Rahman before Moham-
med left Meccah is attested by Wakidi ( W.\ 58 ; see also J. R.
A, S., 1903.

82 Mohammed

God's Prophet was no less certain than the unity
of God. The sayings that are recorded of the
Prophet show that he never compromised that high
dignity by any of the humility, genuine or affected,
which meets us in the speeches of those who
preached a doctrine without political ambitions. In
dicta which are ascribed to him he declared himself
to be the best in character and the most perfect in
beauty among mankind. His was the most noble
pedigree,* consisting entirely of well-born men and
chaste women. He was the most eloquent of all
who had pronounced the characteristic Arabic
letter dad. In the Koran he repeatedly points out
what a privilege his presence is, and how he is a
proof or embodiment of God's mercy to the world.
If ever he spoke of himself in a less exalted strain, it
was when some reverse, the blame for which he re-
fused to accept, compelled him to tell his followers
that they had expected too much. Hence we are
driven to the assumption that however many mo-
tives may have led to the adoption of the role of
Prophet, the desire for personal distinction, which the
Koran puts into the mouth of Noah's adversaries,f
— or let us rather say for a place in the community
whence he could enforce his ideas on the rest, — was
one of them ; and we shall more easily be able to ap-
preciate and admire the skill with which he piloted
his way, if we keep clearly in our minds the destina-
tion for which he was steering.

*Musnad, iv., 107, 166.
f Surah xxiii., 24.



IN his thirty-ninth year Mohammed became ac-
quainted or became intimate with Abu Bakr,
son of Abu Kuhafah, a cloth merchant, Mo-
hammed's junior by two years. He possessed some
business ability, whereby he had acquired a consid-
erable fortune, and, his father being blind, was the
head of the household. He was a man of a kindly
and complaisant disposition, of charming manners
and ready wit, though of an occasionally obscene
tongue, and his company was much sought after.
Since the Meccan tribes, like other Arabs, habitually
gathered in circles at evening time, and some
ladies* held salons in the courts of their houses,
there was at Meccah every opportunity of convers-
ing. Abu Bakr was a hero worshipper, if ever there
was one; he possessed a quality common in women,
but sometimes present in men, i.e., readiness to fol-
low the fortunes of some one else with complete and
blind devotion, never questioning nor looking back ;
to have believed much was with him a reason for

* Azraki, 467.


84 Mohammed

believing more. Mohammed, a shrewd judge of
men, perceived this quality and used it.

A year after their intimacy had begun, Mo-
hammed's call came, and the proselytising was then
done not by Mohammed, but by Abu Bakr.
Whether Mohammed had sounded any one before,
to find out the possibility of winning disciples, is
not known ; what is certain is that in this person
Mohammed discovered a man capable of believing
that one of his fellow-citizens had a message from
God, which it was incumbent on him to receive and
promote. It is so much easier to invite men to
recognise the claims of another than of oneself that
in the later history of Islam we find those Mahdis
most successful who could keep hidden while some
follower proclaimed their advent. But these were
ordinarily cases of collusion, where each party
anticipated some definite advantage from such an
arrangement : in Abu Bakr's case the notion of
acknowledged collusion cannot be admitted. Mo-
hammed used to assert that if he were to make any
man his confidant (khalil) he would make Abu Bakr,
but that he had not made a confidant of any one.
Abu Bakr, though an invaluable assistant, was not an
accomplice. He never forgot the distance between
his master and himself.

When a man professes to produce messages from
another world, he has to make both their form and
their manner correspond in some way with super-
natural origin. The problem before the medium
is to produce a message without appearing to furnish
it himself ; and Mohammed had to solve that prob-

Islam as a Seer el Sociely 8 5

lem no less than a modern medium. When revela-
tions came to him in public he seems instinctively *
(or, perhaps, after the example of the Kahins) to
have adopted a process common to the prophets of
all ages ; just as to the Sibyl :

" talia fanti
Ante fores subito non voltus, non color unus,
Non comptae mansere comae; sed pectus anhelum,
Et rabie fera corda tument: majorque videri
Nee mortale sonans, adflata est numine quando
Jam propiore dei,"

so Mohammed would fall into a violent state of agita-
tion, his face would turn livid, f and he would cover
himself with a blanket, from which he would after-
wards emerge perspiring copiously, % with a message
ready. At some period or other the articulate mes-
sage seems to have been preceded by an inarticulate
one, letters of the alphabet forming no words — curi-
ously resembling the initial movements of a plan-
chette. § We have already seen reason for believing
that Mohammed at some time had epileptic fits;
whence the phenomena accompanying such a fit may

♦One of the chief authorities for traditions of the Prophet used
at times to introduce his recollections of the Prophet's utterances with
a similar performance. Tabari, Comm., xii., 9.

f Tabari, Comm., xxviii., 4.

\Bouveret, Les sueurs Morbides (Paris, 1880), says : " Adamkie-
wicz has shown that perspiration can be provoked by artificial or
voluntary incitation of the muscles and their nerves."

§ Noldekes ingenious explanation of the mystic letters as signatures
of MSS. is abandoned by him in his Sketches for a theory resembling
the above.

86 Mohammed

have suggested a form which could afterwards be
artificially reproduced. The process described, at
times accompanied by snoring and reddening of the
face,* presently came to be recognised as the normal
form of inspiration, and could be produced without
the slightest preparation ; the Prophet would receive
a divine communication in immediate answer to a
question addressed him while he was eating ; and
would, after delivering it in this fashion, proceed to
finish the morsel which he held in his hand when he
was interrupted f ; or a revelation would come in
answer to a question addressed him as he stood in
the pulpit. % In revelations which appear to be very
early Mohammed is addressed as " the man in the
blanket," or " the man who is wrapped up." What-
ever may have been the occasion for this process, the
Prophet appears to have retained it from first to last.
The other questions which the medium must solve
roncern the matter of the revelation. Once the head
of a state Mohammed had plenty to say ; but at the
commencement of his career, the matter was not
provided by the circumstances. Mediums who are
similarly placed as a rule hit on the same plan.
They put into God's mouth sayings which are gen-
erally acknowledged to be His — i. e. y verses of the
Old or New Testament. These being recognised
as God's Word, no one is compromised by their
iteration. When Mohammed, forced by circum-

* Musnad, iv., 222. Bouveret, p. 47 : "La peau put rougir simuL
tantment" when perspiration is the result of a violent emotion,
f Musnad ', vi., 56.
\Ibid. % iii., 21.

Islam as a Secret Society 87

stances to produce revelations in increasing quan-
tities, followed this safe method, he could declare
that it was a miracle by which he was made ac-
quainted with the contents of books which he had
never read. When his style as a preacher had justly
won him the applause of large audiences, he could
change his ground somewhat and declare that the
miracle lay in his unrivalled eloquence.

This however is to anticipate. The earliest scraps
of revelation, which were communicated to Abu
Bakr, appear to have been imitations of the utter-
ances of revivalist preachers, whom Mohammed had
heard on his travels. There is (as we have seen)
a tradition that he had heard sermons from " the
most eloquent of the Arabs," Kuss, son of Sa'idah,
who bade men remember the transitoriness of life,
and infer the existence of the Creator from the phe-
nomena of the world. The subjects on which these
preachers dwelt were ^^ibtless the Day of Judg-
ment, the pains of hell fire, and the necessity of
worshipping Allah rather than the idols ; these be-
ing the ordinary themes of Christian revivalists.
Experience, moreover, shows that warnings of the
approaching end of the world readily find a hear-
ing.* Those who describe the first discourses of
the Prophet speak of them as warning the Meccans
of the divine punishment: the speaker comparing
himself to one who gives the alarm when the enemy
is raiding, f As we shall presently see, this doctrine
is not really to be dissociated from that of resurrec-

* History of the Mormons, London, 1851.

t " I am the naked alarm-giver," Alif-Bd, i., 133.

88 Mohammed

tion ; and the distinctive features of Mohammed's
teaching, as opposed to the ideas of paganism, were
from first to last the doctrine of a future life, and of
the unity of God. Arabian oratory seems to have
been in some sort of rhyme, and this Mohammed
imitated though he little understood its nature.

Against the supposition that Mohammed deliber-
ately mystified his contemporaries, objection has
been taken both in ancient and modern times from
the uprightness of his character, which is even said
to have earned him the name of " the Trusty."
Hence the story that he trained a pigeon to peck
grains from his ear has called forth bitter indigna-
tion from Carlyle and others. And indeed the
Moslem tradition does not record any occasions on
which he received revelations from pigeons. Still,
many scenes are recorded in which he appears to
have studied theatrical effect of a scarcely less naive
kind. In an empty room he professed to be unable
to find sitting-place, — all the seats being occupied
by angels. He turned his face away modestly from
a corpse, out of regard for two Houris who had come
from heaven to tend their husband. There is even
reason for supposing that he, at times, let confeder-
ates act the part of Gabriel, or let his followers iden-
tify some interlocutor of his with that angel,* The
revelations which he produced find a close parallel
in those of modern mediums, which can be studied
in the history of Spiritualism by Mr. F. Podmore,
whose researches cast great clou^ t on the proposition

* Ibn Sotd II., ii., 52. One Harithah Ibn Al-Nu'man declared he
had seen Gabriel twice.

Islam as a Secret Society 89

that an honourable man would not mystify his fel-
lows; and also make it appear that the conviction
produced by the performances of a medium is often
not shaken by the clearest exposure.- Of one of the
mediums whose career he describes, this author ob-
serves that he possessed the friendship and perfect
trust of his sitters, was aided by the religious emo-
tions inspired by his trance utterances, and could
appeal to an unstained character and a life of honour-
able activity. The possession of these advantages
greatly helped this medium in producing belief in
his sincerity ; but the historian of Spiritualism, though
uncertain how to account for all the phenomena, and
acknowledging the difficulties which attend his ex-
planation, is inclined to attribute all that is wonder-
ful in the medium's performances to trickery^ What
is clear is that Mohammed possessed the same ad-
vantages as Podmore enumerates, and thereby won
adherents ; that nevertheless the process of revelation
was so suspicious that one of the scribes employed
to take down the effusions became convinced that it
was imposture and discarded Islam in consequence.*
But to those who are studying merely the political
effectiveness of supernatural revelations the sincerity
of the medium is a question of little consequence.

We regard then Mohammed's assumption of the
role of medium as due to the receptivity of Abu
Bakr. \ It was in the Prophet's character to bide

* Musnad, iii., 121, etc.

\ Xoldeke, Z. D. M. G. t lii., 16-21, makes the order of converts
Khadijah, Zaid, Ali, some slaves, Sa'd, son of Abu Wakkas, and
Abu Bakr, with other Kurashites.

90 Mohammed

his time — to wait, before taking any step, till the
favourable moment had arrived. But such a new
role cannot be taken up quite suddenly — there must
be some period of transition between the old life
and the new. Most mediums have for such trans-
ition a period of solitude. Thus Joseph Smith,
founder of the Mormon sect, wandered into a wood,
and there, under the guidance of angels, unearthed
the Book of Mormon. The Seer of Poughkeepsie,
in March, 1844, "wandered into the country under
the guidance of his inward monitor, and fell into a
spontaneous trance, during which Galen and Swe-
denborg appeared to him in a churchyard, and
instructed him concerning his message to mankind."
His work, The Principles of Nature, afterwards
delivered by him in trance, if not quite so success-
ful as the Koran, nevertheless went through thirty-
four editions in thirty years, and is still * quoted by
some as a divine revelation. Now that Mohammed's
prophetic career began with a period of solitude
seems attested, though there is some inconsistency
between our authorities as to the details. For one
month of the year — and it would appear the month
of Ramadan, afterwards stereotyped as the Fasting
Month of Islam — the Meccans practised a rite called
tahannuth, of which the exact meaning is indeed
unknown, but which apparently was some sort of
asceticism. During this month it was Mohammed's
custom to retire to a cave in Mt. Hira, some three
miles from Meccah in the direction of Ta'if. He
would appear to have taken his family with him:

* Contemporary Rev. % Oct., 1903.

Islam as a Secret Society 91

yet probably their daily worship of Al-Lat or Al-
'Uzza * would not be carried on at such a time.
Moreover, a month devoted to ascetic observance
was one specially suited for aspirations towards a
more spiritual form of religion than the ordinary
paganism. At some time then in this month, when
he had descended by himself to the midst of the
valley, occurred the theophany (or its equivalent)
which led to Mohammed's starting as a divine

The idea of Joseph Smith was to communicate to
the world the contents of certain hidden tablets only
accessible to himself, and in a language which he
only could translate " by the grace of God." Mo-
hammed's was very similar ; he was empowered (or,
according to one account, forced) to read matter
contained in a well-guarded tablet — he having pre-
viously been unable to read or write. To the
miracle whereby he was enabled to read without
having learned — which may have been suggested by
narratives current about other prophets — he alludes,t
but he does not insist on it. His idea of being
permitted only occasionally to get access to the
guarded tablet was a better one than Smith's, be-
cause it enabled him to legislate as occasion de-
manded. In the traditions which bear on this
subject the communication is done by Gabriel, the
angel who in the New Testament conveys messages ;
but in the theophany recorded in the Koran, it
appears to be God Himself who descended, and at a

* Musnad, iv., 222.
\ Surah xxix., 47.

92 Mohammed

distance of rather less than two bowshots * addressed
the Prophet, and on a second occasion was seen by
him " at the lotus of the extreme end, where is the
garden of lodging." The substitution afterwards of
Gabriel is probably due to the development of the
Prophet's theology.

More than a shadowy outline of this commence-
ment of revelation will never be known. The
earliest account makes the Prophet so much alarmed
by his experience, and so afraid of becoming a Kahin
or a poet, that he all but commits suicide ; Khadijah,
finding him, comforts him with the assurance that he
is going to be the national nabl (Prophet) — a word
which she can scarcely have known ; and consults
her learned relative Warakah, son of Naufal, who is
equally encouraging. His words are given as,
" Kaddosh, Kaddosh, this is the Greater Nomos."
The first two words are Hebrew, and mean " Holy,
Holy ! " The last is Greek for " Law." The curious
and hybrid nature of the expressions makes it pos-
sible that there may be some truth in this story ; but
that the exclamation did not suit the occasion on
which it is supposed to have been uttered is implied
by the commentators, who make the " Law " mean
King's messenger, and apply it to Gabriel. Another
account made Khadijah consult not Warakah, but
a Christian slave, who recognised the name Gabriel.
Warakah figures no further in the narrative, f and it
would be rash to assert that the interview between

* The original is obscure.

fin Usd al-ghabah, i. , 207, he is said to have witnessed the torture
of one of Mohammed's followers.

Islam as a Secret Society 93

him and Khadijah was historical; it was known that
a relative of Khadijah was enlightened, and the
legend could scarcely do less than make him
acknowledge her husband's mission. Nor do we
assign any historical value to the tradition that
Mohammed dreamed he saw Warakah after his
death in white raiment, signifying a place in Para-
dise. * But that Khadijah may have been prepared
by her cousin's speculations and studies for a revolt
from the Meccan religion is not improbable. In
Khadijah's case moreover we might expect a priori
that maternal grief over her dead sons would enter
into the process of conversion, and this is confirmed
by a story told in the memoirs of Ali. ff\ If idolators
went to hell, she asked her husband, were her
parents in hell ? Mohammed replied that they were,
and, seeirfg that she looked pained, assured her that
if she could see them with their true nature revealed,
she would detest them too. Next she asked were
their dead children in hell also? To this question
the Prophet in reply produced a revelation : u And
whoso believe and are followed by their seed in
faith, unto them shall we attach their seedjj A
brilliant answer ; since thereby the bereaved mother
was assured that the eternal happiness of her dead
sons was made conditional on her believing; the
chance being thus given her not only of recovering
them, but of giving them access to the Garden of
Delight. No wonder that Khadijah devoted herself

* Musnad, vi., 68.
\Ibid. % i., 135.
\ Surah lii. f 21.

94 Mohammed

heart and soul to the mission, and received a promise
of a very special place in Paradise.*

It is clear that some of the ordinances of Islam
must have commenced from the moment that the
revelations were communicated to Abu Bakr and
Khadijah. For it is by no means sufficient to warn
people of the terrors of the Day of Judgment ; some
answer must be given to the question, What shall
I do to be saved ? And that answer, in order that
it may satisfy, must involve certain injunctions.
There appear to have been commands to wash the
clothes, and to avoid the idols. The first of these
was an easy symbolical act — with many races the
clothes are all but identical with the wearer, f The
second was difficult in a community where people saw
much of each other ; from stories which shall be
mentioned we gather that worship of idols was a
familiar feature of every-day life. Abandonment of
idolatry could not easily be concealed from the
household ; hence the secret of the Prophet's mission
had to be revealed almost at the first to the two
lads who were about Khadijah's house, Zaid, son of
Harithah, the adopted son, and Ali, the Prophet's
cousin, son of Abu Talib, for whom Mohammed
had undertaken to provide, owing to his uncle find-
ing difficulty in maintaining his numerous family.^
The latter was about ten years of age ; the former
was ten years the Prophet's junior § — according to

* Musnad y iv., 356.

f Wellkausen, Reste, 196.

\Noldeke, Z. D. M. G., lii., 19, regards this as a fiction.

%Jbn Sa'd, in., 30.

Islam as a Secret Society 95

the most likely account — but, as we shall have oc-
casion to see, entirely subject to the Prophet's

It is stated that the revelations ceased for a time
after they had begun — a phenomenon which may be
compared with the fact made out by Starbuck in the
cases of conversion which he studied : complete re-
lapses, he shows, are few, but periods of inactivity
and indifference numerous. Khadijah is credited
with having consoled the Prophet during the tem-
porary suspense of the divine visitations; which
perhaps we may interpret as meaning that the strong-
minded woman who kept him faithful during the
years in which his master-passion must have been
strongest compelled him to adhere to the line which
he had taken. But indeed he was compelled to con-
tinue by Abu Bakr, who immediately started pro-
selytising. Doubtless at the Prophet's desire the
mission was conducted with profound secrecy. Abu
Bakr communicated nothing save to persons in whom
he had confidence ; and on whom he was able to ob-
tain some leverage. But neither he nor the Prophet
were impatient, and they were satisfied if the first
year of Abu Bakr's propaganda produced three con-
verts.* There is strong reason for thinking that he
was helped from the first by an Abyssinian slave,
Bilal, of whose antecedents we should gladly know
more ; for Omar declared that Bilal was a third part
of Islam f ; and, lest we should mistake the meaning
of the phrase, a later follower used to call himself

* Isaiah, ii., 162.

f Jahiz, Opuscula, 58.

96 Mohammed

the quarter of Islam, * because, when he visited Mo-
hammed at 'Ukaz, he found him followed as yet by
one freeman, Abu Bakr, and one slave, Bilal. The
tradition clearly does not know for certain whose
slave he was. In want of better information we are
inclined to attribute to him some of the Abyssinian
elements in the Prophet's productions.f He was
after a time purchased and manumitted by Abu

How Abu Bakr proceeded is not recorded in many
cases. There is, however, one anecdote which is
likely to be true and characteristic. Othman, son of
'Affan, six years the Prophet's junior, was a cloth
merchant, having for partner a cousin of Mo-
hammed ^;jTie also did some business as a money-
lender, advancing sums for enterprises of which he
was to enjoy half the profits, § and in money matters
showed remarkable acuteness.J His sister was a
milliner, married to a barber,! and he himself
was unusually handsome, fond of personal adorn-
ment, and dignified ; Mohammed even did not
venture to appear in deshabille before him,** or
allow slave-girls to beat drums in his presencejf
He was no fighting man, as his subsequent history
proved, for he shirked one battle-field, ran away from

* Musnad, iv., 385.

f Enumerated by Wellhausen, Reste, 232.

%Isabah, i., 1036.

§ Ibn Sa'd, iii., ill.

I Wakidi ( W.\ 231.

^Isabah, i., 714.

** Muslim, ii., 234.

\\ Afusnad, iv., 353.

Islam as a Secret Society 97

another, and was killed, priest-like, ostentatiously
reading the Koran. He loved Mohammed's fair
daughter, Rukayyah, and learned to his chagrin
that she had been betrothed to another. Hearing
the sad news he came to pour his grief into Abu
Bakr's friendly ears. Abu Bakr in reply asked him
whether he did not think the Meccan gods stocks
and stones ? — a question of doubtful appropriateness,
it might seem, unless their services had been called in
by the lover ; but a conversation followed, whence
Othman inferred that if he chose to declare the
Meccan gods worthy of contempt and acknowledge
that Mohammed had a mission to suppress them,
Mohammed's daughter might still be his. Mo*
hammed presently passed by^ Abu Bakr whispered
something into his ear and the affair was arranged.
Othman became a believer and Rukayyah became
his wife.

In this case the process of conversion is laid
bare, and offers no further difficulty to the reader.
In each of the other cases the shrewd missionary
must have seen his opening, though we do not often
know what it was. Abu Bakr probably was aware
that women are more amenable to conversion than
men, resident foreigners than natives,* slaves than
freemen, persons in distress than persons in pro-
sperity and affluence. When Islam was found out,
the humble character of many of Mohammed's fol-
lowers was a stumbling-block to the Meccan aristo-

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 7 of 32)