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fused either to enjoy the Alms himself, or to allow
any members of his family to enjoy them. The most
successful of the mediums played this card. Home
with its aid won his way into the society of princes.

Like most of those who have known mankind
thoroughly, Mohammed held, and at times all but
openly avowed, the doctrine that- every man has
his price, and indeed a price to be estimated in

But where " temporal relief " was not required, the
promise of the Garden worked wonders. The glow-
ing descriptions thereof contained in the Koran are
still a powerful instrument in the hands of Moslem
missionaries. The history of Islam is a record of
sacrifices gladly made in order to obtain those gaud-
ily painted delights. Its character is not unlike that
of some savage Paradises : " there are prettier women
in the Land of the Great Spirit than any of your

t squaws, and game in much greater abundance," said

1 1 4 Mohammed

a Crow to Beckwourth,* urging him to fight. Its
name was taken from Jews or Christians, its descrip-
tion in part from Ta'if, where the wealthy Meccans
had gardens, but various touches were added as
occasion required.

So soon as Islam became strong, the ordinary
rule of the secret society was avowed : whereby
whoso joins it once joins it for ever, his life being
forfeit if he quits. This rule, which to the present
day renders the conversion of a Mohammedan all
but an impossibility, is so intimately connected with
the nature of secret societies that we should place
the beginnings of it very early ; and a suspicion at
least of its existence was probably what kept many
a proselyte faithful under persecution. Yet the re-
ligion which is embraced for sordid motives is often
retained for honourable reasons ; and early observers
found that among the most sincere believers in Islam
were persons who had been lured into it by bribes.f

Moreover, to some persons secrecy has an attrac-
tion, and some gratification is afforded by leading
a double life. Secret societies still exist, meeting
where no one suspects their object, sometimes proba-
bly for mummeries, sometimes to discuss schemes
of far-reaching import. One writer of ability sus-
pects that at Mohammed's early meetings some
socialistic scheme was discussed, some better divi-
sion of wealth between rich and poor. % For this

* Autobiography, 161.
\ Muslim, ii., 212 ; Musnad, Hi., 175.

% So, too, preachers describe fylohammed as sent that he might ob-
tain justice for the poor from the rich. Hariri, p. 328.

Islam as a Secret Society 1 1 5

there is little evidence. That the harsh things said
at these meetings about the worship of idols included
condemnation of the representatives of the official
worship at Meccah is exceedingly probable ; and the
notion that a Prophet ought to be an autocrat
probably was developed very early. But if one of
the secret society asked another why he belonged to
it, he would probably have replied : in order to gain
Paradise and escape the Fire. * Men were initiated
into the mysteries of Eleusis for some similar reason.
Examples are not wanting of converts whose faith
received some sudden shock, or who (as unbelievers
might say) suddenly woke up to the unreality of the
whole system.

New sects require some freemasonry by which
members may know each other, and perhaps the
greeting M Peace upon you " was introduced at this
early period, though a visitor to Medinah fifteen
years after the commencement of the mission de-
clared that it was new.f This greeting was doubt-
less usual among Jews and Christians; but it seems
to have deeply affected Mohammed, who constantly
refers to it in the Koran. God pronounces it over
the Prophets, the angels taught it to Abraham,
with it the beatified dead are greeted in Para-
dise, where indeed it is the whole conversation.
By adopting this salutation, Mohammed practically
identified his system with that of Jews and

*Cf. Tabari, i., 1218, 10.
' f Isabah, iii., 70; but Wellhausen(W., 75) renders this differently.
In Muslim, ii., 255, Abu Dharr claims to have invented it. See
also Goldziker, Z. DM. G., xlvi., 22.

1 1 6 Mohammed

Christians. If this greeting was not at first permitted
in public, perhaps the Moslems could recognise each
other by some slight peculiarity in their attire;
thus the Moslems let the end of the turban hang
down the back, whereas the pagans tucked it in. *
So at a later time members of the chief sects of
Islam could be distinguished by their mode of dis-
posing their turbans, f

Finally a name had to be given to the new sect,
and either accident or choice led to its being called
the sect of the Muslims (Moslems) or Hanifs. Were
these originally names by which the followers of
Maslamah the prophet of the Banu Hani/ah had
been known ? Or had some other sect, monotheistic
and professedly following Abraham, whose descend-
ants according to the Bible some of the Arabs were,
been thus designated ? We cannot say ; no Arab
seems to have known anything about the Hanifs,
except that Abraham was one, and perhaps one or
two of the precursors of Mohammed ; and since in
Hebrew the word means " hypocrite " and in Syriac
"heathen," pious followers of Mohammed did not
care to study its etymology. The other name, Mus-
lim, meant naturally " traitor," and when the new
sect came to be lampooned, it provided the satirists
with a witticism ; Mohammed showed some want of
humour in adopting it, but displayed great ingenuity
in giving it an honourable meaning : whereas it or-

* Hariri, Sckoi., 346.

f Hamadhani, Makamas, 199. So now Kaisites and Yemenites
{Goldziher, M. S., i., 84). There is also incidental evidence that
Mohammed at the first wore his hair in the Jewish style, and in such
particulars he was likely to be followed by the disciples.

Islam as a Secret Society 1 1 7

dinarily signified one who handed over his friends to
their enemies, it was glorified into meaning one who
handed over his person to God; and though, like
Christian, it may conceivably have been first in-
vented by enemies of the sect whom it designated,
divine authority was presently adduced for the
statement that Abraham coined the name. Like
the Jews, these new Abrahamites called their pagan
brethren the Gentiles, using an Abyssinian word.
The pagans appear to have ordinarily called the new
sect, when it had ceased to be secret, Sabian, * a
word properly meaning Baptist, and belonging to a
community still-perpetuated as the Soubbas, whose
home is in the marshes of the Euphrates.f The ap-
plication of the name to Mohammed's followers may
have been due to mere ignorance, as the Arabians
of our day called Doughty a Jew, because he was a
Christian ; or it may have been due to the promin-
ence given by Mohammed to the ceremony of

* The passages are collected by Wellhausen y Reste, 236, 237.
f Sioujfi, Les Soubbas.



WHO first professed the new religion before
the world is not certain : a tradition* as-
cribes the act to a certain Khabbab, son of
the Stammerer, a slave who worked at sword-making
and a starveling.f To avow Islam meant to re-
nounce publicly the national worship, to ridicule,
and, if possible, break down idols, and unabashedly
to use the new salutation and celebrate the new-
fangled rites. For it must be remembered that Islam
was in its nature polemical. Its Allah was not satis-
fied with worship, unless similar honour was paid to
no other name ; and his worship also was intolerant
of idols, and of all rites not instituted or approved
by himself. This then was the meaning of the
meetings in the house of Al-Arkam, and doubtless of
the knowing glances which the members of the new
sect had been observed to interchange. Mohammed
and Abu Bakr were planning an attack on the
national religion, that cult which every Meccan

* Isabah ; in Musnad, i. , 404, seven persons are named in this
contest, but not Khabbab.
\Tirmidhi, i., 181.

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proudly remembered had within their memory been
defended by a miracle from the Abyssinian invaders
and in their myths had often thus triumphed before.
The gods they worshipped were, Mohammed and
Abu Bakr asserted, no gods. For their worship
these innovators would substitute that of the Jews
whose power in South Arabia had recently been
overthrown, and of the Christians with whose defeat
the national spirit of Arabia had just awakened.

Mr. Grote in his treatment of the affair of the
Hermocopidae taught men to judge one age by
another. Persons who are tolerant of opinions which
differ from their own become indignant when their
own beliefs are ruthlessly assailed. When the asser-
tions of Mohammed were first heard by those who
had not been sounded and prepared for them, it
was natural that they should appear ridiculous, and
wicked, and suicidal. Ridiculous, because the gods
were thoroughly familiar figures. " Their part-
ners,"* Al-'Uzza and Al-Lat, did not exist? Why,
lany a man could state the occasions on which they
had done him personally a service, many a child owed
its existence to their intervention, and recorded the
fact by its name. To many they had appeared in
dreams; to some doubtless in waking hours; solicit-
ing and bestowing favours. And if the men's attach-
ment to their deities was weak at times, that of the
women who needed their help more was strong.

But what weighed with the men who could think
calmly f was the fact that Meccah lived mainly by

* Surah vi., 137.

f Wellhausen, Reste, 220.

1 20 Mohammed

its being a religious centre, and by the pagan institu-
tion of the four months of peace. That valuable in-
stitution the Christians were known not to observe ;
and since Mohammed's followers prayed toward
another sanctuary and no longer kissed the Black
Stone, * it could be inferred that he wanted to
destroy the Ka'bah ; and indeed till a late period in
his career there were Moslems who wished for its de-
struction.! An early revelation seems intended to
reassure the Meccans on this point ; and Mohammed,
whose practical sense never deserted him, was care-
ful to find a place for the Ka'bah in his system.

Some of our authorities introduce the first public
preaching of Islam with a theatrical scene. Moham-
med goes to the precincts of the Ka'bah and calls
on the assembled throng to utter the formula,
" There is no God but Allah " ; the blasphemous
words cause him to be mobbed ; news of his danger
spreads to his family, and one of Khadijah's child-
ren, Al-Harith, son of Abu Halah t rushing to defend
his stepfather, perished, the first martyr of Islam. J
But indeed the transference of the Islamic doctrine
from secrecy to publicity must have taken place by
some definite act of delivery — if the phrase may be
employed. When one member of the community
after another was found to be tainted with heresy,
and each referred to Mohammed as his guide, Mo-
hammed was, we suppose, confronted by some of
those in authority, and challenged to declare his

*Ibn Sa'<f, Hi., 88, 10.

f IVellhausen, Reste, 69, n. I,

\ Isabah, i., 60.

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views. And he confessed and denied not. On
later occasions when compelled to risk much on an
effort, he spared no pains in preparation, and his
first public address to the people of Meccah was
doubtless elaborately prepared. Whether the as-
sembly broke up in mirth or in tumult, the Rubi-
con was now crossed. The husband of Khadijah
claimed to supersede all existing authority, and to be
the accredited representative of the God of the tribe.
And there were in Meccah something like a hundred
persons who recognised his claims. But the an-
nouncement came as a surprise to those who were
not in the secret ; and Abu Sufyan, then in Yemen,
receiving a letter to the effect that one of his re-
lations claimed to be God's Apostle, had to ask
which of his relations it was.*

The view prevalent at Meccah concerning Mo-
hammed appears to have been that he was mad —
under the influence of a Jinn, one of the beings
who were supposed to speak through poets and
sorcerers. That this charge stung Mohammed to
the quick may be inferred from the virulence with
which he rejects it, and the invective with which he
attacks the " bastard M who had uttered it. f He
charges the author of the outrage with being unable
to write and with being over head and ears in debt,
and threatens to brand him on his " proboscis."

Against the humbler followers^: of the new

* Aghani y ii., 96.
f Surah lxviii., 10-16.

J Such as Khabbab, Suhaib Ibn Sinan, 'Amir Ibn Fuhairah,
'Ammar and his family. {Ibn Sa'd.)

1 2 2 Moh ammed

doctrine violence was speedily put in motion ; to in-
crease, as time went on, to burning with hot irons,
or exposure face upwards to the midday sun ; till
some found refuge in the houses of their more
powerful brethren, or were ransomed by the more
wealthy ; or (with Mohammed's approval) de-
nied with their lips,* while believing in their
heart. Five only are said to have actually re-
turned to paganism in consequence, f Even
strangers visiting Meccah who inquired after the
Prophet were subjected to violence. \ Against
those who were wealthy and powerful violence
could not at first be tried ; the very young
could indeed be rebuked and punished by their
fathers, but the grown men were safe for a time
owing to that institution of paganism which made
the ties of clan and family more powerful than
any moral law ; which made a man's kin necessarily
accomplices in his misdeeds. In some cases parents
tried to reclaim their sons by appealing to their
affections : the mother of Sa'd, son of Abu Wakkas,
vowed that she would take no food until he recanted ;
but he recanted not, and food was forced down her
throat.§ Abu Talib, who for some reason appears to
have been the head of his clan, undertook to protect
Mohammed from the fury of the orthodox, not
without their approval. Probably he had been in the
secret for some time. He is said to have surprised

*Ibn Sa'd, iii., 178,
\ Ya'kubi, ii., 28.
% Muslim , ii., 254.
%Ibid., ii., 24.

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his son AH with Mohammed prostrating themselves
in the valley of Nakhlah, and when the nature of
the performance was explained to him, to have
declared that he had no objection to it, but did not
like the idea of raising his seant above his head,
a jest the thought of which caused Ali to laugh
years afterwards.* This story is likely to be true,
and characteristic of Abu Talib, apparently a good-
natured man, not inclined to take things seriously,
yet'rigidly attached to old-fashioned ideas of duty.f
But other members of the family opposed Moham-
med vehemently, notably his uncle, Abu Lahab,
and his cousin, Abu Sufyan, son of Al-Harith. %

For a time then the war between Mohammed and
the Meccans was to be one of words, — a long time,
no less than eight, or, according to most, ten years,
so tenacious was the Meccan community of the cult
of the c/an, so timid of the consequences which
arise from the shedding of kindred blood. If the
head of Mohammed's clan had let him be outlawed,
then Meccah might have been rid of him, but Abu
Talib could not be persuaded to do this, and his
veto blocked the way. Perhaps Abu Talib and his
numerous- family could not afford to abandon their
wealthy relative ; and, indeed, had Mohammed not
had some power over his uncle, it is unlikely that
the latter would have submitted to the inconven-
ience which his nephew's mission brought on him.

* Afustiad, i. , gg,

f Abu Talib was supposed to be a poet, but most of the verses
attributed to him were suspect in very early days. Some few are
regarded by modern scholars as genuine. Z.D.M.G. , xviii. , 223.

% Wakidi ( IV.), 328.

124 Mohammed

The clear-headed man who played the part of
Prophet could have at any time secured his own
safety by taking refuge in a Christian country, but
his aim was to be not a subject but a sovereign, and
so he made no such mistake. Truly the hand with
which he started contained some good cards : Kha-
dijah's devotion and her fortune ; Abu Talib's affec-
tion and his influence ; Abu Bakr's blind trust and
his persuasiveness. When the first two cards were
withdrawn by fortune, better ones were substituted,
and so Mohammed won the game.

Three separate deputations from the Meccans to
Abu Talib are reported (or invented) by the bio-
grapher : the leading men of Meccah are sent to the
Sheykh to request him to abandon his nephew : on
one occasion they offer to provide him with a sub-
stitute — 'Umarah, son of Al-Walid, — as good a man
as any in Meccah, if it is only a question of not
losing a member from the family. This 'Umarah
appears to have been an Adonis, who turned
women's heads : he went on an expedition to Abys-
sinia once with 'Amr, son of Al-'Asi, and would
have killed his companion to seize his wife ; and
presently seduced one of the Abyssinian's queens,
and was punished, not with death, but with what,
to an Arab, was as bad. He was, besides, a hard
drinker. Perhaps Abu Talib was not satisfied that
he would gain peace by the exchange ; whatever
his reason, he held out bravely and induced the rest
of his clan to join him in protecting their kinsman.

Mohammed is to be admired for having profited
to the utmost from the sanctity of the clan, while

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himself yielding nothing in consequence. At a later
period sons suffered their fathers to be killed in the
cause of Islam without the faintest scruple : but even
at an early period of the mission the converts began
to treat their pagan relatives with gross disrespect.
Mohammed is said to have been struck with the
rudeness of the neophytes towards their uncon-
verted fathers, — a phenomenon which had its origin
in the sentiment illustrated by Lecky, which some-
times renders religion incompatible with the domes-
tic affections.

The history then of the first years of Moham-
med's preaching at Meccah is not without events,
but it is, in the main, the history of a debate, and a
debate in which the speeches of the counsel of one
side only are preserved. The Meccan Surahs of the
Koran are rarely to be dated with precision : many
are reports or notes of the same course of lectures
repeated over and over again by the lecturer.
Hence, the order in which question after question
was posed by the adversary is not known.

Of the procedure by which a reform in religion
spreads, history gives so many examples that from
one or other we can picture to ourselves what hap-
pened at Meccah as the adherents of Mohammed
increased. The reformers invariably become aggres-
sive and endeavour to interfere with the worship
which they regard as improper. We need not
doubt that followers of Mohammed pursued this
course with the rites to which they were taught to
object at Meccah. The Koran praises the conduct
of Abraham who knocked down the idols in his

126 Mohammed

father's shop and ascribed the act ironically to the
largest idol. The early converts at Medinah are
known to have acted in the style of Abraham, and it
is probable that the Meccan converts had set the ex-
ample. Violent scenes were certain to be the result
of such actions.

The old pagan religion was certainly not wanting
in rules on the subject of food — though the concepts
" clean and unclean " may have been strange to
it. It is expressly stated that some foods were
permitted to men only, and others probably were
only lawful for women ; and of other regulations we
occasionally hear details.* Mohammed's conversa-
tions with Jews and Christians had taught him to as-
sign a far higher importance to that subject than the
pagans are likely to have assigned it. All his life he
had a hankering after the Jewish regulations on this
subject ; only as the Jewish system forbade the use
of camel's flesh, he could not well adopt it : he pre-
ferred therefore that of the Christians who followed
the regulation of the Council of Jerusalem described
in Acts xv. Blood, meats offered to idols, strangled
beasts, and swine f were to be forbidden, but other
meat lawful. Probably at a later period carnivorous
beasts, birds of prey, and the domestic ass were de-
clared unlawful. % This apparently easy regulation
would suffice to render it impossible for a Moslem to
join in the meals of most of his countrymen § ; for

* Noldeke, Sasaniden, 203; Wellhausen, Reste, 125, n. 1, 168.
\ Bentley conjectured xoipeiaS for nopvEiaS.
\ Musnad, i. , 302.

§A Moslem prisoner at Meccah at a later time implored his
guards not to give him meat offered to idols. Isabah, iii., 963.

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doubtless the slaughter of an animal was in the ma-
jority of cases a religious act * ; and Mohammed
made " eating of our slaughtering " a test of Islam.f
One convert used to speak with regret of his enjoy-
ment of blood in the time of paganism. :(: Unwill-
ingness to eat the food of others ordinarily in such
cases implies loathing and disgust for it. Hence we
can conjecture with ease the indignation with which
this idea of purity was viewed by those whose con-
duct was impugned by it.

The debates with which the earlier years were
filled were conducted in a variety of ways. Occa-
sionally the Prophet himself condescended to enter
the arena, and confront his antagonist: he was
indeed a powerful preacher, and " when he talked
of the Day of Judgment his cheeks blazed, and his
voice rose, and his manner was fiery "§ ; apparently,
however, he was not a ready debater, and was worsted
when he tried this plan. Moreover his temper in de-
bate was not easily controlled, and he was apt to
give violent and insulting answers to questioners. |
He therefore received divine instructions not to take
part in open debate, and if addressed and ques-
tioned by unbelievers, to evade the question and
retire.*! More often then the controversy was con-
ducted as it is in this country in election times,
when different speakers address different meetings.

* Wellhausen ( IV.), 160.

f Isabah, iii., 943.

\ Ibid., iii., 670.

%Musnad, Hi., 371.

I Tabari, Comm. xxiii., 19.

Tf Surah vi. , 67.

128 Mohammed

The points are recorded and reported by members
of the audience to the antagonists; who then pro-
ceed, if they deem it worth while, in some manner to
reply. It is also certain that the Koran at an early
period circulated in writing, though we do not know
in what form. A revelation could then be published
in answer to an objection, sometimes with the form-
ula " it will be said by " * prefixed.

Some of the scenes which the tradition describes
in connection with the debates may be historical.
By the time when the Prophet's revelations had
attracted curiosity, any public appearance on his
part betokened the occurrence of something new.
He is found in the Precincts by Abu Jahl who asks
scornfully for the latest. The Prophet replies that
he has been carried to Jerusalem and back during
the night. Abu Jahl does not contradict, wishing
to know what effect the statement will have on the
Prophet's followers. He summons the clans to an
assembly : the Prophet repeats the assertion. Per-
sons present who had visited Jerusalem request him
to describe it. He complies, but gets involved in
difficulties. The tradition adds that thereupon a
divine model of the city was placed before him
to enable him to describe it accurately, f It also
adds that the story of the nightly journey made
some of Mohammed's followers fall away:};: Abu
Jahl had hoped it might shake the faith of Abu
Bakr ; but Abu Bakr retorted that he had already

* Sttrah vi., 149.

f Musnad, i., 309.

t Tabari % Comm. y xv., iniU

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believed greater improbabilities on Mohammed's

It has been asserted that the Meccans obtained
the aid of Jews to assist them in their refutation of
the Prophet. This would appear to be an anachron-
ism ; after the Flight, when the Prophet began to
quarrel with the Jews of Medinah, there is no doubt
that some of the latter went to Meccah and de-
lighted the Meccans with ridicule of the Prophet's
ignorance ; but during the first years of the Meccan
mission, there is strong reason for believing that so
far as the Jews interfered it was on the side of Mo-
hammed. The Jews were appealed to by the latter
as a final authority * ; he positively asserts that they
(as opposed to " the Gentiles ") believe in him: in-
deed, when in doubt concerning his own mission, he
is invited to appeal to them to make sure, f So
long as his campaign against idolatry and in favour
of " Allah " showed no sign of interfering with

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 9 of 32)