D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The early development of Mohammedanism; lectures delivered in the University of London, May and June 1913 online

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teacher excused on the ground that if 'Utbah once
resolved to break with a habit, he could be counted
upon never to resume it.


Granting that food must at certain times be taken —
and there were ascetics who even feasted on certain
occasions — the number of points to be observed in
connection therewith is no fewer than one iiundred
and seventy ; ^ whence it may be doubted whether
Islam is, after all, so simple as has been thought.
Many of these points would seem to belong to
elementary etiquette, or at best to fashion ; yet the
pious Umayyad Omar II. thought some of them
sufficiently important to be regulated by rescripts.

To the employment of hunger as a means of grace
must be added the employment of illness. Even in
Plato, who as a Greek favoured the development of
physical strength and beauty, we find the suggestion
that men are at times led to become philosophers
by illness ; and since the holy war cannot well be
carried on except by men in full physical vigour, we
fancy the Prophet would have absolutely rejected the
doctrine that ill-health should be cultivated. The
Sufis, however, who thought only of spiritual warfare,
naturally perceived that Satan, in the sense of the
lusts of the eye and flesh and the pride of life, could be
defeated with greater ease by the sickly than by the
strong. What tempted Pharadh to claim divinity
was the fact that he had lived four hundred years
without suffering fever or headache. Further, sick-
ness has propitiatory value : a day's fever atones
for a year's misdeeds. Health, then, to the Sufis
signifies mental or spiritual health ; a man is in good
health when he is free from transgression. The loss

1 K. K. ii. 179.


of any member or faculty took away the possibility
of transgressing ; whence some of the Companions of
the Prophet were credited with desiring to be blind.
Although the Prophet was an authority on medicine
as on other subjects, the morality of employing
curatives was questioned ; for there was the danger
that the effect apparently produced by the drug
might be ascribed to the drug, and the patient or
physician become in his secret thoughts a polytheist
— recognising some power other than God in the
world. On the other hand, it was clear that the
postures to be adopted in the daily devotion required
that the body should be in a condition of vigour:
one saint, therefore, who was paralysed obtained by
prayer the use of his limbs for those daily devotions :
so soon as they were over he became bedridden as

Still deeper meanings were found in illness. Sahl
refused to treat himself for a malady which he cured
in others, because a blow from the beloved did not
pain. The saint's consciousness of God was clearest
when he was in fever.

Just as speculation on the meaning and purpose
of fasting led to "perpetual fasting," for if fasting
were a virtuous act, there was no reason why it
should be reserved for a particular time of the year,
so speculation led to some modification of the
doctrine of the pilgrimage. In the case of this
institution we have a difficulty similar to that of
which the Pentateuch gives evidence : where a feast
is held within or in the immediate neighbourhood of


a city or village, it is possible for the whole com-
munity to join in the celebration ; for an occasional
holiday interferes with the work of no one, and even
the suspension of all business for a short period
is possible. But where the feasting-place is at a
distance, various difficulties come in ; since few
occupations can be neglected for many days at a
time, and the quitting of habitations for months
together by the whole population would be ruinous ;
a yearly pilgrimage might be contemplated by a
nomad tribe, but would be impossible in the case of
one that was settled. The text of the Koran there-
fore enjoins the pilgrimage on all w^ho can take part
in it ;^ but whereas it apparently prescribes pilgrimage
not once in a lifetime, but every year, it also leaves
it open to the Moslem to make his pilgrimage in one
or other of several months, and leaves it to him to
fix the time. It merely enjoins on him the per-
formance of certain ceremonies and abstinence from
certain acts during the time in which he chooses
to perform the rite. The old employment of the
pilgrimage as a fair or meeting for the exchange of
merchandise is permitted, so far as it does not
interfere with these prescriptions^.

The Koranic texts are obscure, and the interpreters
are evidently embarrassed by them ; this, however,
appears to be the natural sense. The extension of
the Islamic empire to distances which even the
Prophet can scarcely have contemplated rendered
the annual performance of the rite impossible for

1 iii. 91.


many members of the community, and exceedingly
irksome to others ; hence the theory that it should be
performed once at least in a lifetime. Moreover, the
days when certain special ceremonies were usual
apparently came to be thought of as the most
important part of the feast ; hence the wide limits
permitted in the Koran were restricted, and a
distinction was made between the minor pilgrimage,
of which the time was fixed by the devotee, and the
major pilgrimage, of which the time was fixed by
the law. And though annual pilgrimage was re-
garded as meritorious, the name "pilgrimage of
Islam " was given to that which a Believer performed
once in his lifetime, any other being supererogatory.

But the question arose : if residence in Meccah
were meritorious, if it meant in reality neighbourhood
to God, how came it that one visit of a few days was
sufficient ? Ought not the devotee to reside there
all his life ? Hence there were persons who followed
this argument to its logical conclusion, and earned
the title " neighbour of Allah." But others felt more
inclined to spiritualise the precept, and make the
pilgrimage allegorical ; the intellectual journey was
to serve instead of the actual. A man who had
provided 2000 dirhems for journey money to Meccah
was told by a saint that he could acquire more merit
by disbursing them in charity than by going on
pilgrimage with them ; ^ the very thought of pre-
ferring the pilgrimage to the charity was a sign that
the man's soul had been blinded by greed.

1 K. K. i. 95.


To the ceremonies of the pilgrimage there was no
occasion to make any addition ; that institution
already contained a number which originally had
belonged to different sanctuaries and diiferent cults.
One point wherein the ordinary interpretation of the
precept could be straitened was with regard to the
period of life wherein it should be undertaken ; and
Abu Talib decides that a man should make the
pilgrimage so soon as the act is within his power.
From the words of the Prophet at the Farewell
Pilgrimage it was inferred that no man was a
complete Moslem who had not yet gone through
this ceremony ; Omar, it was said, had thought of
imposing the poll-tax on all who had not yet per-
formed it, since they were no better than Jews or
Christians. Some authorities held that no prayers
should be said over the graves of wealthy Moslems
who had failed to carry out this obligation, and texts
of the Koran wherein the lost solicit a return to this
world in order to make good omissions were inter-
preted of this ceremony.

Then some additional merit could be acquired by
rendering the journey, which in any case was fatigu-
ing, additionally difficult. Any invention or appli-
ance which was calculated to increase the rider's
comfort was to be condemned ; the same was to be
held of all ostentation or display of wealth ; the
colour red in particular was to be avoided. The
employment of luxurious litters on this occasion was
said to have been an innovation of the notorious
Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf, an Umayyad governor whose


name became proverbial for tyranny and ruthlessness,
and who might with certainty be reckoned among
the lost.^ The most meritorious procedure was to
walk ; but, since the course which caused the greatest
amount of discomfort was the best, probably the
sound reply was that of a jurist who held that the
person to whom the hiring of a mount occasioned
more mental anguish than walking, had better hire.

In the matter of sacrifice the oldest system of
valuation was retained : the more valuable the
animal the better the sacrifice : quality was to be
considered above quantity. Omar was offered the
price of thirty beasts for the beast which he proposed
to sacrifice, but was told by the Prophet to refuse.
The list of possible blemishes in the animal to be
offered is made out with an elaboration which we
miss even in the Levitical code. It may be observed
that the Koran is no less positive than the Hebrew
Prophets that God can have no possible use for a
slaughtered animal ; but this hardihood in theory was
not accompanied by similar hardihood in practice ; it
was not for the Prophet of Allah to deprive Allah of
any honour which had previously been paid. him.

Further, it was possible to divest the feast of all
festive elements by emphasising the seriousness of the
occasion ; the same transformation was to be effected
as that which the teaching of St Paul brought about
in the Christian love-feasts. So far as possible the
pilgrim was to fast and maintain silence ; his service
might count on acceptance if he made his pilgrimage

^ Jahiz, Hayawan iv. 146.


an occasion to substitute pious for impious associates,
and meditation on serious matters for sport. In
Meccah only were men responsible for evil thoughts
and punishable for entertaining them. Omar said he
would rather commit seventy sins elsewhere than one
in Meccah ; and there were pilgrims who pitched two
tents, one within and one outside the sacred area, in
order to be safe. And the danger which resulted
from the extreme sanctity of Meccah was probably
the reason why the " neighbourhood of Allah " was
not ordinarily thought desirable. Besides this, it was
clear that familiarity could not fail to produce a
certain amount of contempt, or at least diminution of
reverence ; Meccah at a distance was more glorious
than it appeared to a resident. To this consideration
there was to be added the sordid and mundane one
that everything was costly at Meccah, although,
according to some, it was sinful to take rent for
houses or apartments in the sacred city.

The Sufi precepts on the subject of almsgiving
agree almost verbally with those of the Sermon on the
Mount, and doubtless to some extent are traceable -to
that source. " Let not thy left hand know what thy
right hand doeth " is the form adopted for the regula-
tion of the procedure ; the expression is defended as
the sort of exaggeration tolerated by the Arabic
language, and parallels to it are cited from the Koran.
As in the Sermon on the Mount, any ostentation in
charity is said to annul the merit thereby acquired,
and some ingenious modes are recorded whereby the

givers of charity endeavoured to conceal their



personalities. Where such concealment is not
practised, still the attitude of the giver should be
humble, the recipient so far as possible spared all
humiliation ; since it is the giver who is according
to the etymological theory of charity purified by the
gift, he should acknowledge that the recipient is his
superior ; and though it is the duty of the recipient
to render thanks, it is his duty towards God, and is
not a claim which the giver should try to enforce.
For it is the reward of God which the giver should
seek to obtain, and he cannot expect a double reward
for the same act. The gift, it is said, goes into the
hand of God before it goes into the hand of the
recipient ; and those recipients are to be preferred
who thank God only for the gift. This is the moral
of the story of *A'ishah, who when there came the
revelation defending her honour, declared that God
was to be thanked for it, not Mohammed — who,
it appears, had harboured doubts concerning her

Since the giving of alms is a matter wherein two
participate, there is necessarily some little conflict of
interests, giving rise to differences of opinion. It
would seem to be the interest of the giver that the
gift should be kept secret, since only thus can its
sincerity be assured ; on the other hand, it is the
interest of the recipient that it should be public, since
the latter ought to harbour no false pride. Again, it
is to the spiritual interest of the giver that the gift
should be as large as possible, whereas the recipient
should take the least which necessity permits. The


saint Junaid — perhaps before the days of his con-
version — hearing that another saint held out his
hand for gifts with the view of enabling wealthy
people to obtain merit in the next world, sent
a hundred dirhems plus some unknown quantity.
The recipient accepted the unknown quantity, but
returned the hundred dirhems ; since God would
accept only that which was sent on the principle
that the right hand should not know what the left
hand doeth. Others refused gifts offered in public
and accepted them in private, alleging that it was
unlawful to give alms in public and they could not
countenance breaches of the law, or more naively
confessing that they disliked the humiliation. Yet
another theory, which neglected the intermediaries
and saw no cause but God, ignored the difference
between the hidden and the open, and made no
distinction between the public and the private alms.
Abu Talib makes the whole question one of casuistry,
to be settled by the character of individual donors
and recipients, the general principle being that the
giver should conceal and the taker reveal.

The apparent simplicity of the Koranic teaching
was thus gradually altered into elaborate ritualism ;
and the moderation of Islam was forgotten. The
weekly day of worship, which was almost a surrogate
for the Saturday and Sunday of the Jews and
Christians, since the text of the Koran expressly
permits the conduct of business except actually
during the time when public worship is going on,
became assimilated to those other days of rest,


although it seems clear that the Prophet regarded
the Jewish Sabbath as anything but a blessing to the
community which observed it. The permission to
transact business was interpreted away as permission
to ask God's favour by prayer. Special merit was
assigned to an early appearance in the mosque ; he
was to be accounted a lukewarm Moslem who only
arrived in time to take part in the midday worship.
Men were enjoined to put on festal attire ; a tradition
ascribed to the Prophet made the Friday bath
obligatory. Both sexes should employ perfume :
the men such as displayed its odour but concealed
its colour ; the women such as concealed its odour
but displayed its colour. The visit to the mosque
on the Friday was to be thought of as a visit to the
House of God, wherein the ceremonies usual when
the humble visit the great should be observed. The
turban should not be removed from the head, at any
rate while the public service is going on ; for that
curious difference between Eastern and Western
etiquette is emphasised here also. Otherwise the
Friday is to be regarded as a day of rest, yet in the
Puritan sense : pleasure is as reprehensible therein as
work. The term work is not, of course, applied to
religious study ; but any other sort should be
avoided. Even the collection which forms part of
most Christian services finds some imitation. The
giving of alms at the conclusion of the Friday
service is specially meritorious.

The transference of a feast into a fast is noteworthy,
but belongs to a whole class of phenomena depending


on the spiritualisation of religion, whereas our word
" hohday " illustrates either the reverse process, or the
persistence in stereotyped form of the earlier notion
attaching to holiness. Fasting on the Friday is
recommended by some saints — whether in imitation
of Christians or because holiness is associated with
fasting rather than with feasting. The laying in a
stock of provisions on the Thursday for use on the
Friday is deprecated : only spiritual provisions should
be laid in.

The fancy of pious Moslems was largely occupied
with devising myths on the subject of the Friday ;
besides being the day whereon Adam was created, it
was also the day of his fall and the day of his death ;
the two last scarcely reasons for festive commemora-
tion. Like the Christian Sunday it is also to be the
day of the Resurrection. Just as the Jewish Sabbath
is thought to be kept by the Deity Himlself, so there
is a tradition that every Friday Allah performs a
great act of manumission, which with mankind is
especially pious : He releases sixty thousand souls that
are imprisoned in Hell.

Special forms of prayer were invented for the
Friday by the Prophet Idris, and the saint Ibrahim
Tbn Adham: their employment ensures the vouch-
safing of whatever the Believer requests ; but, indeed,
there is some particular time on the Friday when
prayer is quite certain to be answered. There are,
however, great differences of opinion as to the loca-
tion of this moment, and some deny that it can be
located. It is comparable to the Night of Kadar,


which is some night but no particular night in

Up to this point we have only traced the channels
through which the Islamic ascetics worked their way
to higher things, or at least to notions whose abstract-
ness contrasts singularly with the materialism of the
Koran, and the political and military role which the
Islamic Prophet played. Their exercises and specu-
lations, as will be seen, led them still further from
the doctrines of the Koran, and exposed them to the
censure and even execration of orthodox jurists who
might have been prepared to accompany them in
their earlier stages. So long, however, as their pro-
cedure was confined to exaggerated observance of
Koranic institutions they won the respect of their
fellows, and earned the right to rebuke vice, and in
general to look after the morals of the community.
And even when their extravagances brought upon
them official censure, and even terrible punishments,
their memory was apt to be cherished by the masses,
whom their saintliness had impressed.



If we have hitherto found the ascetic occupied
with exaggeration of the four performances enjoined
by Islam, we shall now find him developing unlooked-
for consequences from the primary proposition of the
system — there is no God but Allah, with Whom
nothing must be associated. The sense of the former
expression naturally depends on the meaning to be
assigned to the word " god," whereon the pious
perhaps preferred not to speculate ; but the meaning
of " association " could be studied without danger,
and it followed that nothing else might be admitted
into any sphere where God was to be found. If, e,g.^
God is to be loved, then nothing else may be loved ;
any other object of affection would be associated with
God, and the person who bestowed the affection
would be a pagan. The same argument excludes all
desires ; if the worshipper's object is Paradise, then
he is desiring something besides God, and so is a
polytheist. The notion thereby comes in that the
ceremonies enjoined by the code have only dis-
ciplinary value, as helps to the attainment of the
true knowledge and realisation of the divine unity.



Whence we shall find that the most advanced among
the mystics declared that these performances were no
longer necessary in their case, but were to be kept up,
if at all, for the edification of the vulgar. They
formed part of a discipline to be undergone in pursuit
of an end.

Most of the ascetic practices enumerated could be
summed up in the word " poverty," since that at
which the Sufi aims is to undergo out of choice the
privations which the poor man undergoes out of
necessity. Doubtless the chief merit lies in the
privation being voluntary ; and in general there is a
tendency in all hagiologies to demonstrate that the
saints were in origin persons of wealth and station
who had voluntarily abandoned what most men prize.
But if the enjoyment of luxuries is absolutely wicked,
it would seem clear that poverty has the advantage
of safety. And this premise is certainly assumed.
Severe as are the doctrines formulated by Abu Talib
on the subject of hospitality, he mentions five reasons
which justify a man who has accepted an invitation
to a meal in going away leaving it untasted ; one is
the employment by the host of silver plate, to the
extent even of the stopper of a vessel. Ahmad Ibn
Hanbal before the Inquisition was invited to a
banquet, and accepted the invitation ; seeing a silver
vessel on the cloth he rose and left, his disciples or
admirers following him ; as may be imagined, to the
consternation of the host, who had reason to be
thankful that they had not followed their convictions
to the extent of damaging the goods. Similarly, the


presence of satin is a justification for quitting ; any-
one who by staying assents to the employment of
such a luxury becomes a participator in the crime.

Hence we get a series of aphorisms attributed to
the Prophet containing glowing eulogies of poverty,
though we should have thought the Prophet had had
far too great experience of affairs to take such a view
seriously. Similar aphorisms are ascribed to leading
saints ; piety amid wealth is like a garden growing
on a dunghill ; where there is poverty it is like a pearl
necklace on a fair woman.

The notion of poverty is, of course, a relative one,
and since wealth means storage of provisions, the
completest poverty is where there is no store of any
sort, and the poor man is also a beggar. This mode
of life does not appear to have had the Prophet's
approval, and he is even said, in accepting the sub-
mission or conversion of some tribes, to have stipulated
that they should not beg. The limit of storage is
fixed by the Koranic statement that God made an
appointment with Moses for the fortieth day ; for
if a man may count on living forty days, it follows
that he has a licence to store for forty days. The
better theory is doubtless that death should be
expected momentarily, whence only a minimum of
storage should be permitted. A mendicant Sufi to
whom a purse containing hundreds of dirhems was
given, had spent the whole by supper-time and had to
beg for that meal. He explained that he had not
expected to live so long ; had he done so, he would
have saved up for it. ^


To some extent the admiration and cultivation of
poverty is limited by the fatalistic doctrine according
to which a man's rizk or fortune is settled by God,
whence he can no more evade it than he can escape
death ; he who rejects a windfall is rejecting a gift
of God, and so is committing an act of ingratitude
and discourtesy. There would appear to be consider-
able variety not only in fortunes, but in the places
in which fortune, or at any rate sustenance, is
assigned ; some persons will find it in ten thousand
places, others only in one. A saint who left the city
to live in the desert in the belief that God would
send him his provision there, after a week was near
dying of starvation : when he returned to the town
he found supplies flowing in from all sides.

Humility, or rather humiliation, is to be practised
by the aspirant to unheard-of degrees. A man com-^
plained to Bistami that in spite of constant fasting
and prayer he could not attain to the experiences of
the saints. Bistami told him that the reason of this
was that he still harboured some pride ; the exercise
that he recommended was that the man should
take a bag of nuts, collect the street arabs round
him, and offer a nut to any boy who cuffed him ;
the aspirant refused the suggestion, and Bistami
declined to offer another. A Sufi stole the best
clothes from a public bath, and exhibited his booty
for no other purpose than that he might become the
object of public contempt and reprobation. Some

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Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe early development of Mohammedanism; lectures delivered in the University of London, May and June 1913 → online text (page 11 of 18)