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crats, who requested him to send away this scum
before they would argue with him. Indeed the

* Wellhausen, Reste % 221.

98 Mohammed

Koran acknowledges so distinctly that the followers
of the Prophet were the lowest of the people * that
grave doubt attaches to early traditions which con-
flict with this statement. (The phraseology em-
ployed, " the worst of us — at first sight," is curiously
lucid. 7 And later on, when the aristocrats had been
forced into Islam, they were wont to reproach their
new brethren with their earlier condition. f For many
a man the honour of being Abu Bakr's first convert
was afterwards claimed ; and the length of time in
which the mission remained a secret rendered their
claims difficult to assess. When men were asked
what first led them to Mohammed they were apt to
give fantastic answers ; perhaps they had forgotten
the real motive or preferred to conceal it. Khalid,
son of Sa'id, the fourth or fifth convert, dreamed that
his father was pushing him into a lake of fire, whence
another man saved him. He asked Abu Bakr to in-
terpret % ; Abu Bakr took him to Mohammed, then
in retreat at Ajyad, near Safa ; in whom the dreamer
recognised his Saviour, and was converted. Do men
really dream thus? Flammarion and Myers would
answer that they do. Abdallah, son of Mas'ud, a
client and serf, declared that when feeding the herds
of 'Ukbah, son of Mu'ait (afterwards a prominent
opponent of Mohammed) in the country, he had
been solicited for a bowl of milk by Mohammed and
Abu Bakr, who were walking together away from

* Surah xi., 27.

\Wahidi, 1 1 8.

\ Abu Bakr regularly figures as dream interpreter. Wellhauscn

KW.) t 14.

Islam as a Secret Society 99

men ; and Abdallah was converted by perceiving
the goat's udder swell and contract at the Prophet's
pleasure.* Othman, son of Maz'un,f a man of ascetic
turn of mind, came one day to sit with the Prophet;
the Prophet gazed up into heaven, presently looked
at a certain spot, went thither, came back, and
again gazed up into heaven. Asked the meaning
of this performance, he replied that he had been
visited by a messenger of God, who told him to
preach justice, kindness, chastity, etc.; and Othman
believed. Several declared that dissatisfaction with
pagan beliefs was what had led them to the Prophet ;
and if there was a trace of this feeling in a man, Abu
Bakr would not let it escape him. Such a convert
may have been Sa'id, son of Zaid Ibn 'Amr; his
father had rejected polytheism and idolatry before
Mohammed's mission was started, without, however,
adopting Judaism or Christianity. Sa'id's conver-
sion was early, but he is not reckoned among Abu
Bakr's proselytes. Such a convert may also have
been 'Abd al-Ka'bah (servant of the Ka'bah), son of
'Auf, re-named 'Abd al-Rahman ; for the Ka'bah
was not yet dissociated from paganism.:): This man
was a merchant, partner of a certain Rabah, called
by his new friends the trustworthy ; he had a rare
talent for making money, with which he was free-
handed. Years after, when he§ with the other
Refugees arrived at Yathrib destitute, he asked for

* Musnad, i., 462.

1\Ibid,\., 318.
% His original name is doubtful ; others give it as servant of 'Amr
%Alif-Bfi,i., 437

ioo Mohammed

no further provision than to be shown the market ;
once there he could get on, though he had no cap-
ital.* He is said to have been a total abstainer be-
fore conversion ; to have disapproved of righting in
the cause of Islam, yet when the practice had once
begun, to have been inferior to none in courage.
Such a man might not seem to be promising ma-
terial for Abu Bakr; but he was some eight years
Abu Bakr's junior, and may have been subject to his
influence. Or in his case, too, a lady may have been
involved. There was at Meccah a certain Mikdad,
who had fled from his own tribe for a murder, and
been received by the Kindah ; among them, too, he
shed blood, and fled to Meccah, where he was
adopted by a man named Al-Aswad, of the tribe of
Mohammed's mother. 'Abd al-Ka'bah advised him
(in conversation) to marry, yet refused him his
daughter, with scorn ; but he found consolation
from Mohammed, who gave him the daughter of
his uncle, Zubair, already dead, on the same condi-
tions (we suspect) as those to which Othman had
been compelled to assent. The further steps which
led to the winning over of 'Abd al-Ka'bah are un-
known. With Mikdad there was won another con-
vert, 'Utbah, son of Ghazwan, also a client, and
probably poor.

Three men who figure among the earliest converts
are Al-Zubair, son of 'Awwam; Sa'd, son of Abu
Wakkas, and Talhah, son of 'Ubaidallah. The first
of these, according to different traditions was eight,
ten, or seventeen at this time ; he was a cousin of

* Isabah.

Islam as a Secret. Society } i ',; : \ : iot

the Prophet, son of a corn-chandler, in training to be
a butcher, and is said to have experienced rough
treatment at home. If his conversion be rightly
placed at this time, perhaps he was a playmate of
Ali, initiated in the mysteries that he might not
reveal them; for, as we have seen, their houses
were connected.

Talhah was certainly grown up, and professed to
have been directed to Mohammed by a monk whom
he met when travelling on business to Syria. If
any value attaches to this statement, it probably
means that he had heard the Arabian paganism
ridiculed by followers of the fashionable creed, and
though their jibes were without effect on most
minds, some were impressed thereby. Later in
life he won celebrity by his freehandedness with

Sa'd claimed to have been for a whole week the
third Moslem, in which case he was actually Abu
Bakr's first convert. He was by trade an arrow-
maker, and was thought to have shed the first blood
in the new cause. He was aged seventeen at the
time of his conversion.

Every convert when brought to Mohammed ex-
hibited some repugnance, except Abu Bakr. This
was afterwards acknowledged by the Prophet : but
he did not state what it was that the newcomers
disliked. Nor have we any record of the procedure
at these solemn scenes: at most we hear that the
Prophet taught the proselytes to pray. At a later
time, however, admission to see the Prophet meant

* Ghurar al-KhascCis, 245.

IC2: Mohammed

that the proselyte was prepared to swear allegiance,
and bound himself to abstain from certain immoral
acts ; for the commission of which he was to undergo
punishment in this life, if he meant to escape punish-
ment hereafter*; and besides at a still later period
(in the case of men) to fight all nations till they
adopted the new religion. We can scarcely doubt
that from the first the proselytes undertook some
serious obligation, such as those who are admitted
to other secret societies undertake ; those obligations
are not ordinarily some definite performances in the
present but readiness to act when called upon in
the future. It would appear that from the first the
Prophet instituted brotherhoods between pairs of
believers, whose new relationship was to supersede
the claims of blood just as the Christianity of the
tribes who formed the y Ibad or Christians of Hirah
had provided a bond different from that of the tribe.
The repugnance observed by the Prophet probably
lay in the anxiety which even the young feel in com-
mitting themselves to something for life, especially
when that something is an unknown quantity, a
course of which the issue is obscure.

Of the evolution of the Mohammedan ceremony
called saldt, the name of which was borrowed from
either the Jewish or the Christian name for prayer,
we possess little detailed knowledge. In the form
afterwards stereotyped the Jewish practice of stand-
ing erect, the Christian of prostration,^ and a third

* Tabari, i., 1213.

\ Rothstein, Lakhmiden, 25.

\ Von Kr enter, Streifziige % 15.


Islam as a Secret Society . 103

of inclination (the back horizontal with the hands
on the knees) were combined ; and certain formulae
were prescribed. " We used at first," said a convert,
" not knowing what to say when we prayed, to salute
God, Gabriel, and Michael; the Prophet presently
taught us another formula instead."* A prayer corre-
sponding to the Pater Noster was composed probably
at a later time : it contains polemical references to
some sect or sects not specified, f As will be seen, the
saldt was afterwards employed as a sort of military
drill : at the first it was ascetic in character, the de-
votee " tying a cord to his chest." % That the
division of the day into periods for the purpose of
performing saldt five times was an innovation of the
late Meccan period is asserted by the tradition ; and
the details of the purity legislation appear to have
been still later. Yet the theory that God should be
approached only by persons in a state of purity was
known in South Arabia before Mohammed's time,
whence it is probable that his earliest converts were
instructed therein ; and indeed the washing of the
garments which marked conversion belongs to the
same range of ideas.

The saldt was during this early period performed
in strict privacy, and doubtless meetings of believers
were fixed with great caution. Whatever part the

* Musnad, i., 423.

f "Lead us in the straight path, the path of those unto whom
Thou hast been gracious, not those with whom Thou hast been
angry [the Jews ?], nor those who go astray [the Christians?]" This
is Tirmidhi's explanation.

\ Tabari, Comm., xvi., 90. Probably the other end of the cord
was attached to the roof; Histoire du Bas-cmpire, xiii., 312.

104 • Mohammed

converts had previously taken in the Meccan worship
they doubtless continued to take. Whether the
sanctity of the Ka'bah was maintained at this time
by the Prophet we do not know : more probably it
was rejected. And if the question of a direction to be
taken in prayer was considered at this time, we can
scarcely doubt that the Temple of Jerusalem was
the point to which he turned. The connection of
the Abraham-myth with the Ka'bah appears to have
been the result of later speculation, and to have
been fully developed only when a political need for
it arose.

A fair amount of the Koran must have been in
existence when Abu Bakr started his mission ; at
least he must have been able to assure the prose-
lytes that his Prophet was in receipt of divine com-
munications, such as he could allege in proof of his
personal acquaintance with the real God ; and it is
probable that with the gradual increase in the num-
bers of the believers, the Koran transformed itself
from the " mediumistic " communications with which
it began to the powerful sermons with which its
second period is occupied. For a very small audi-
ence the processes undergone by the medium are
exceedingly effective. The necessity of excluding
strangers keeps those present in a state of alarm ;
the approach of the " superior condition" shown by
the medium collapsing, requiring to be wrapped up,
and then revealing himself in a violent state of
perspiration, is highly sensational ; the marvellous
processes which the spectators have witnessed make
them attach extraordinary value to the utterances

Islam as a Secret Society 105

which the medium produces, as the result of his
trance. If any unbelievers are present the medium
(in many cases) cannot act : and the words of the
biographers imply that in the case of these early
converts they signified their belief before they were
brought into Mohammed's presence.

As the Prophet more and more identified himself
with his part he endeavoured to live up to it. It is
said that he habitually wore a veil,* and this prac-
tice may have begun at the time of these mys-
terious stances, of which it served to enhance the
solemnity. In course of time he acquired a be-
nign and pastoral manner; when he shook hands he
would not withdraw his hand first ; when he looked
at a man he would wait for the other to turn away
his face.f Scrupulous care was bestowed by him on
his person : every night he painted his eyes, and his
body was at all times fragrant with perfumes.^ His
hair was suffered to grow long till it reached his
shoulders ; and when it began to display signs of
grey, § these were concealed with dyes. || He pos-
sessed the art of speaking a word in season to the
neophytes — saying something which gratified the
special inclinations of each, or which manifested
acquaintance with his antecedents. How many of
the stories which illustrate the latter talent are true
it is hard to say ; but there is little doubt that he
ras acquainted with the devices known to modern

*Jahiz s Bayan, ii., 79, 84.

f Tirmidhiy 410 (ii., 80).

\Alif-Bd, ii., 29.

%Musnad, iv., 188.

I Ibid., iv., 163. This is disputed.

io6 Mohammed

mediums by which private information can either
be obtained, or the appearance of possessing it dis-
played. Moreover, in the early period none were
admitted to see the Prophet in character of whom
the missionary was not sure, and who had not been
prepared to venerate.

"The needs of his profession do not appear to have
made him actually a student — yet there is no ques-
tion that as the Koran grew in bulk, its knowledge
of biblical stories became somewhat more accurate :
and though this greater degree of accuracy may
have at times been due to the Prophet's memory, it
is more likely that he took such opportunities as
offered of acquiring more information. The follow-
ing story gives us an idea of his method. Jabr, a
client of the Banu 'Abd al-Dar, was a Jew* who
worked as a smith in Meccah. He and Yasar (also a
Jew) used to sit together at their trade and in the
course of their work read out their sacred book ; the
Prophet used to pass by and listen. Presently Jabr
was converted by hearing the Prophet read the
Surah of Joseph. f It has been suggested that some
of the Christian matter in the Koran may have been
learned from an early follower named Suhaib, who
was a Greek from Mosul.J The tradition names
more than one person who was thought by the
Meccans to be the Prophet's mentor, and the Koran
even refutes this charge by stating that the person
to whom they allude had a foreign tongue, and could

* Or a Christian ; the Moslems are careless about distinguishing,
f Isabah, i., 452 ; Wakidi ( IV.), 349.
% Loth in Z. D. M. G., xxxv., 621.

Islam as a Secret Society 107

not therefore be the author of an Arabic Koran.
Perhaps that reply is unconvincing ; but the impres-
sion which the Koran leaves is that of information
picked up casually rather than acquired by any sort
of methodical study.* In a Surah delivered at
Medinah in which the story of Saul should be told,
Saul's name is mutilated to Talut, clearly a jingle
with Galut,the nearest that the Prophet could get to
Goliath : the name of Samuel is forgotten, he is con-
fused with Gideon, and the story of Gideon is told
wrongly. This phenomenon almost disposes of the
theory of a mentor, for no mentor could be so ignor-
ant of the Bible. Moreover the sources of the Koran
are very numerous — Abyssinian and Syriac, as well
as Hebrew and Greek.f So far then as the biblical
tales of the Koran were not reproductions of matter
heard by Mohammed on his early travels, they are
likely to have been all picked up by listening when
services or Bible readings were going on. The Jinn
were thought by him to listen at the heavenly coun-
cils in the same way, and in consequence to pick
up intelligence which was only partially correct.
That danger there was no way of averting, except
engaging a teacher, which would have involved
still greater risks.

Publicity was expressly discouraged by him. A
Syrian ('Amr, son of 'Abasah) who claimed at a
later time to have been the fourth Moslem, asserted

* Noldeke, Sketches, c. ii.

fThe best evidence for this is the form assumed by the proper
names. Syt, Die Eigcnnamen im Koran, 1903, does scant justice to
this theme.

108 Mohammed

that having himself abandoned the worship of idols,*
he had come to Mohammed, who, he heard, was in
possession of the truth ; he found Mohammed bent
on maintaining the secrecy of his mission : he offered
to join Mohammed openly, but was forbidden to do
so, since he would serve the cause better by return-
ing to his country and — we may presume — playing
the part of Abu Bakr. Some early revelations are
said to have been delivered in a cave, a natural form
of hiding-place f; and in the anecdotes that have
already been told Mohammed is found in seclusion ;
when Abu Dharr, afterwards a famous ascetic, came
from a distance to learn about the Prophet's views
(according to one account), the latter was hiding in
the mountains.^: But one fact that emerges from the
obscurity which is spread over the early days of the
mission is that Mohammed, after some conversions
had been made, went into " the house of Al-Arkam,
on Mount Safa." This Al-Arkam was a member of
the tribe Makhzum, and must have been about
seventeen when the mission started : some made him
out to be the seventh, others the tenth convert.
His house on Safa appears to have served as a meet-
ing-house, where the Prophet could receive neophytes
or hold stances without fear of being disturbed. So
we are told of two converts, both Greek slaves,
Suhaib, son of Sinan, and 'Ammar, son of Yasir,
accidentally meeting at the door of Al-Arkam's
house, entering to make their profession of faith, and

* Musnad y iv., in.
f Muslim, ii., 194.
\Isabah, iii., 11 73.

Islam as a Secret Society 109

then at eventide skulking away.* Many years
lapsed before Mohammed was able to reward his
faithful entertainer by presenting him with a dwell-
ing at Medinah. Even if secrecy had not been
desirable, the intense curiosity of Orientals would
have seriously interfered with stances held in a
thickly populated town. But that curiosity would
not induce them to go a short journey outside it,
hence Mohammed could hold his meetings in peace.
Since at the first conversion did not interfere with a
man's business, it is likely that these meetings were
at irregular intervals.

We should gladly be able to make use of the tables
drawn up by Professor Starbuck in analysing the
next set of conversions ; but the ages recorded are
absolutely irregular, and the phenomena can be
brought under no rule. The persons who went to
the house of Arkam were of all sorts of ages, the
oldest ten years the Prophet's senior, some in
middle life, forty-six or thirty-four, several quite
young. Several were slaves or freedmen — persons
for whom a new system which holds out prospects
of equality had an easily intelligible attraction.
And indeed their condition speedily bettered itself
— for the manumission of believers was soon declared
to be a pious duty.f Some belonged to the .metic
class, who were without relations in Meccah. Hatib,
son of Abu Balta'ah, probably a Christian from Hirah,
who will meet us once or twice in the sequel, is a speci-
men. Most of them are however to us mere names.

* Ibn Sad, iii., 162.

f So Abu Bakr bought and manumitted 'Amir Ibn Fuhairah.

no Mohammed

In a few cases families were converted wholesale,
three sons of Jahsh, three sons of Al-Harith (Hatib,
Hattab, and Ma'mar), four sons of Al-Bukair, three
sons of Maz'un, are enumerated among the acces-
sions of this period ; and in several cases the conver-
sion of one brother was succeeded by that of
another ; so Ali's older brother Ja'far joined the
movement, in which he was destined to play a part
of some importance, though less distinguished than
that of the Prophet's son-in-law. The privilege of
re-naming followers was one of which other prophets
had availed themselves, and this Mohammed claimed
wherever a proselyte was called after an idol, or
otherwise had an ill-omened appellation. Special
titles of honour were also conferred, but probably at
a later time: Abu Bakr was called the Faithful
Friend, Zubair, the Apostle, Abu Ubaidah, son of
Jarrah, the Faithful, Omar, the Saviour. These
were like the decorations conferred by the sovereign
in modern times on persons who have either done
some public service, or are intrusted with some
important charge.

The precursors of Mohammed do not enter on the
scene at this period, and it is not probable that they
were in the secret, supposing more than one of them
to have been alive at the time. "Those that are
whole need not a physician," and the proud possess-
ors of monotheistic book-learning were at no time
promising material for proselytism. Moreover these
persons (it would appear) had not kept their opinions

That conversion could be concealed for any

Islam as a Secret Society 1 1 1

length of time is rather surprising, for, even if
the positive part of the new system could be per-
formed in secrecy, the negative part would speedily
give evidence of itself. The worship of the gods
was a feature of every-day life. Visits to their
abodes for a number of days, accompanied by sacri-
fices of sheep and camels, were not uncommon.*
Mohammed's partner (or his son) described some of
the household rites : " My parents used to churn the
milk till it was done, when they would pour some of
it into a vessel, and tell me to take it to the gods.
Then a dog might come and drink the milk or eat the
butter, and afterwards pollute the vessel." This rite
was no more and no less ridiculous than any other in
which an imaginary person is treated as a human
being ; but it can be made out to be ridiculous : and
the persons whose eyes had been focussed to the
point whence the sacrifice of milk to Al-Lat ap-
peared ridiculous would feel the greatest repugnance
when called upon to take part in it : the young and
thoughtless would burn to play the part of Abraham
who broke his father's idols. And indeed Ali as-
serted that Abraham's act had been imitated by the
Prophet himself. The two went secretly to the
Ka'bah to destroy an idol that was on the roof.
First Mohammed tried to mount on Ali's shoulders:
but Ali was not yet strong enough, and there-
fore Mohammed had to support his cousin ; who
wrenched the idol from its place, and caused it to
crash in pieces on the ground.f Probably this story

*Azraki, 81.

\ Musnad, i., 84, etc.

1 1 2 Mohamrnea

represents rather what they ought to have done than
what they actually did. Still we see the need for
proselytising only persons in whose self-control con-
fidence could be felt. At a later period Mohammed
is recorded to have recommended a certain proced-
ure to persons who, in order to save their lives, had
to go through some of the ceremonies of idolatry : to
appear to men to worship while in secret venting
some expressions of contempt upon the idol. Those
who found the idols unable to resent this behaviour
would be only confirmed in their contempt for them.
Meanwhile the worship which was to be substituted
for the old rites was carried on in strict privacy.

To what extent the secret society was conscious
of its potentialities we know not. The advantage
of the darkness for the first few years of its growth
was great. That darkness saved it from being
crushed at the outset. Ridicule and contempt could
be more easily endured when some hundred persons
were involved, than if the Prophet had been com-
pelled to endure them by himself. It saved him, too,
from the character of the eccentric sage (such as
Warakah and the others had borne), investing him
from his first public appearance with that of the
leader of a party : it gave the Prophet time to secure
over a reasonable number of persons that influence
which he could exercise to such an extraordinary
degree. It prepared him for ruling men on a great
scale. Gathered in the house of Al-Arkam there
were specimens of most of the classes with whom
his further career brought him in contact : there
were examples of the religious enthusiast and gloomy

Islam as a Secret Society 1 1 3

fanatic — Othman, son of Maz'un, seems to have been
of this type ; some of the weak-minded and super-
stitious ; many of the persons who find in religion
the possibility of a career. The skill of both Abu
Bakr and the Prophet was displayed in retaining
their hold on this slowly growing company. In the
case of the poor it was done by subsidies ; presently,
when Islam was penalised, the Prophet found he had
whole families on his hands ; but we need not doubt
that from the first the wealth which he controlled
proved useful. Unlike the Christian missionaries
who had to be supported by their converts, he could
claim that he sought no reward, and to the end re-

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 8 of 32)