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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inscriptions by specialists.

One method of dealing with the discrepancies
between the Biblical narratives and the Koran was
to supply the original Bible which the Jews and
Christians had been supposed to corrupt. Copies of
such works are occasionally found ; they are close
imitations in style of the Koran, and therefore take

1 Ibn Khallikan ii. 148.


the form of addresses by the Divine Being to the
prophets to whom they are supposed to have been
revealed. Apparently Sprenger was misled into
supposing that a book of this kind, bearing the name
of Abraham, was the Roll of Abraham to which
some early Surahs of the Koran refer. The Sufi Abu
Talib al-Mekki makes tolerably frequent use of a
collection which he calls " the Israelite traditions,"
some of which are evidently based on narratives
actually found in the Bible. Thus he tells the story
of the Temple of Jeroboam and the adventure of
the prophet who announced its fall with very fair
accuracy ; proper names are indeed omitted, and the
whole story is a sort of replica of the Mosque of
Dirdr or " nonconformity," which was built by some
of the disaffected near the end of the Prophet's
career, and of which the Prophet ordered the destruc-
tion ; only the prophet who disobeyed the order is
shown by a special revelation to have been eaten
by the lion not as a punishment, but as an honour.
One Khaithamah declared that the Gospel contained
a statement about the keys of Korah's treasure-houses,
which according to the Koran were a load for several
persons ; the Gospel gave the exact weight.^ The
" Gospel " perhaps was also responsible for a long
story about the relations between Korah and Moses,
in which the latter is credited with introducing a
code identical with that of Mohammed. In these
cases we have to do with pure fiction ; but, as we
have seen, at times the information really goes back

1 Tabari, Comm. xx. 63-68.


to the Jewish or Christian Scriptures, only it is
altered in the interest of Islam. Abu Nu'aim gives
a sort of epitome of the prophecies of Isaiah, wherein
the Servant of the Lord is interpreted as the Prophet ;
some verses are quoted almost literally, but they are
interpolated with other matter so as to bring in the
chief facts of the Prophet's life. He also gives a
fairly accurate account of the Vision of Nebuchad-
nezzar, only he naturally makes the stone cut out of
the living rock to stand for the Mohammedan re-
ligion. The " Israelite traditions " were not merely
repeated orally ; Abu Talib tells us that he had
read in a Surah of the Torah called " the Surah
of Yearning," how the Divine Being taunted some-
one with the interest which he took in a letter from
a friend as compared with his neglect of the divine
revelation and the messages which it contained.
Yet we learn how little the actual books were
consulted from the fact that such a scholar as Jahiz
records stories which one of the early proselytes told
out of the Torah on the authority of that proselyte,
and merely guesses that by the Torah he means one
of the other books to be found in the Jewish Bible. ^

The theory that we should not differentiate
between the prophets, which is a maxim of the
Koran, and which perhaps accounts for a certain
carelessness that we find in the New Testament as
to the ascription of prophecies, leads to the attribu-
tion of sayings to personages who, we may be sure,
never uttered them ; thus there is a saying attributed

^ Hayawan iv. 6Q.


to Christ to the effect that by saying the prescribed
prayers a man escapes God's vengeance, and by
prayers of supererogation wins his way to God's
favour ; but we are told that there was a similar
saying ascribed to the Prophet Mohammed, to whom
it is somewhat more appropriate. Where the older
books are actually quoted, there is usually a tendency
to expand or repeat, or at any rate introduce un-
necessary verbiage, even where the sense is not
seriously altered. A lengthy example is quoted in
Mohammedanism ; ^ another which may be given from
the work of Abu Talib al-Mekki is that Christ said,
" Sit not with the dead, lest your hearts die." He
was asked, "Who are the dead?" He replied, "Those
who love the world and desire it." That this is a
reminiscence of a passage in the Gospel may be
allowed ; but it preserves more of the commentary
than of the text. Similar paraphrases are to be
found of passages of Isaiah, such as " This people
approacheth me with the lips, but their heart is far
from me " ; though in this case the application is
correct, or at least appears to be so. Occasionally
the source of the references is some Jewish Midrash,
either existing or lost. So we are told that Asaph
committed some offence, so terrible that it had best
not be mentioned, but was pardoned ; whereas the
offence of Balaam was comparatively mild, but it
was not pardoned.

These apocrypha, however, seem to have contained
mainly homiletic matter, and possibly an occasional

1 P. 207.


prophecy relating to the coming of the Prophet ;
indeed the Koran declares that the name Ahmad is
to be found in the Gospel, and an ancient charge
against the Jews is that of having altered a descrip-
tion of the Prophet which was to be found in the
Law. In consequence of these Biblical or pseudo-
Biblical studies the Moslems became familiar with a
few Old Testament names which are not found in
the Koran ; those of the New Testament at all
times remained strange to them.

But if the records of the Jews and Christians had
to be rewritten for edifying purposes, those of early
Islam required something of the same sort. It is
curious how little of the miraculous or the homiletic
is found in the earliest life of the Prophet : its author
Ibn Ishak composed it in a form which required
some expurgation at the hands of its earliest editors ;
the editor whose recension has come down to us
confesses that he omitted matter calculated to give
offence. Even so Ibn Ishak places all the generosity,
the heroism, and the public and private virtues on
the side of Mohammed's enemies. The character
which he gives the Companions of the Prophet is
rarely pleasing, even if it is not actually repulsive.
All these persons had somehow to be compelled to
live up to their characters, and to be furnished
besides with supplies of wise and noble sayings.
The period of the pious Caliphs came to be depicted
as a sort of halcyon days of the world, when the
rulers set an example of piety and justice such as the
world has never seen at any other time.


With regard to the life of the Prophet, the fictions
wherewith it was embelhshed were rarely such as to
impair the historical narrative. The order of events
almost from the commencement of the mission was
of such grave importance for a variety of reasons
that serious alteration was not easily possible ; the
chronology of that career had come to be bound up
with a variety of vested interests, whence it was not
possible to disturb it. The hands and arms whereon
the Prophet had relied were so well known, the
exploits of the champions of Islam so celebrated,
that they had to be admitted. In a letter which is
some ten years earlier in date than the first biography
of the Prophet, the Caliph Mansur assumes that the
main facts of it are known : the genuineness of the
letter is evinced by the fact that its author carelessly
misquotes the Koran. The attempts that are made
to whitewash the hei^os eponymus of the Abbasids,
the Prophet's uncle *Abbas, by making him out a
secret adherent of the Prophet, are either clumsy
or unconvincing. History was not seriously affected
by mild fictions, showing how the Prophet had
decided various cases that had come up for decision,
or attributing to him stores of wisdom on all subjects,
not excepting medicine and cookery. The canon
which we have seen to be assumed or formulated,
that the Prophet's practices should be preferred to
the product of the reasoning faculty, was a safeguard
against serious misrepresentation of his career ; for
since a thing was right because he had said or done
it, his character would not suffer from anything that


might be recorded about him. Still, it could not be
expected that his followers would wish otherwise
than that his character should be regarded as
admirable by any standard ; and in treatises of
metaphysical theology the unapproachable perfection
of the Prophet's character is urged as a proof of his

On the other hand, there is a principle deeply
grounded in human nature that such claims as were
made by the Prophet, and maintained by him and
his adherents on his behalf at the sword's point, should
be backed by something more overwhelming than
perfections of character, of style, or even of scholar-
ship. The miracle of the Koran, which consists in
the unattainable perfections of the latter, was not
sufficient for ages in which a high standard of
correctness and even of eloquence was demanded
of all writers, and wherein the historical matters to
which the Koran makes allusion were matters of
common knowledge. It was probably difficult to
realise the degree of ignorance wherewith the Prophet
credits himself and his Meccan contemporaries ; and
the Koran itself credited certain prophets, notably
Moses and Jesus, with performances to which the plain
biography of Mohammed offered no parallel. When
Moslems consented to argue with Jews or Christians,
grave embarrassment must have been occasioned by
this proof of superiority which the opponents could
adduce from the irrefragable testimony of the Moslem
Scriptures. Hence a not unnatural endeavour was
made to meet these opponents on their own ground :


to accept the natural opinion that a supernatural
mission must be attested by supernatural powers ;
but to show that the exploits of the Islamic Prophet
in this field fell short in no way of those which
had formed the glory of the founders of Judaism
and Christianity.

The miracle whereby history was least falsified was
prophecy : Mohammed could be credited harmlessly
with having foretold the most noteworthy events
of the period which followed his death. Thus he
foretold how and when Ali should die ; he warned
Zubair that he would fight against Ali, but that he
would be in the wrong ; he warned his wife 'A'ishah
that at one of his wives the dogs of Hau ab would bark,
and that this would be the worse for her ; and ' A'ishah
recalled this saying on her way to stir up the people
of Basrah against Ali — the commencement of that
civil war which never really stopped, When another
eminent follower of the Prophet, 'Ammar Ibn Yasir,
was slain on the field of Siffin, it was remembered
how the Prophet had foretold that he would be
killed by usurpers, and indeed uttered this prophecy
at the time when the Mosque of Medinah was being
built. We have already seen him credited with
prophecies about the chief sects of Islam, whose
names had not been invented in his lifetime. These
inventions naturally led to some difficulties, which
it required some further exercise of the imagination
to solve. If 'A'ishah had really been warned about
the dogs of Hau'ab, how came she to continue her
expedition ? If Ali knew who was to be his assassin,


why did he not anticipate the blow ? If Zubair had
been told beforehand that he would be in the wrong
in his dispute with AH, why did he persist therein ?
Even in the case of Fatimah, who was told by the
dying Prophet that she was to follow him speedily,
it was clear that the prophecy had no influence either
on her conduct or that of anyone else.

A considerable collection of matter, with the usual
chains of authorities, attesting the miraculous ele-
ments in the Prophet's career, was put together in
the fourth century of Islam by one Abu Nu'aim,
under the title " Proofs of the Prophetic Mission."
Any reader of hagiologies is aware that the human
fancy is ordinarily somewhat sterile, and the cir-
cumstances of a miraculous career admit of only
slight variations. The fancy is by no means satis-
fied with such a career commencing late in life ;
Mohammed must have been a prophet from his
birth — nay before his birth — nay from the beginning
of the world. The second chapter of the Dalail
gives evidence showing that the Prophet's call took
place when Adam was half created, when his clay
had been modelled but the spirit had not yet been
infused. The statement, indeed, goes back to the
Prophet himself; but some external attestation is
also adduced. When the Prophet first announced
his mission in Meccah, a certain Jubair Ibn Mut'im
went on a trading expedition to Bosra ; there
some Christians assured him that in a collection of
statues they had one of the Prophet who was to

come forth, and requested him to see whether he



could identify the statue of Mohammed. He could
not find it in the first monastery into which he
was taken, but found it easily in the second. This
collection of prophetic statues fortunately served
to settle another controversy, viz. that between the
two great sects of Islam ; for this monastery con-
tained not only the image of the Prophet, but also
that of his legitimate successor, who turned out to
be Abu Bakr.

Another anecdote of the same sort follows, but
it is less convincing, since it is located after the
Prophet's death, when a mission was sent by Abu
Bakr to the Byzantine sovereign who happened
to be in Damascus. He exhibits to his visitors
a whole collection of portraits on silk, among which
they recognise that of their Prophet ; the rest, as
the king explains, are representations of his pre-
decessors, beginning with Adam. To the question
whence the king had got this valuable collection of
portraits he replied that Adam had requested to be
shown the figures of all his prophetic posterity, and
this request had been granted by Allah ; they
remained in the Treasury of Adam in the West
till it was plundered by Alexander the Great. At
some time Daniel obtained access to them and copied
them, and apparently Daniel's copies were those
shown in Damascus. What the collection proved
was that the Prophet's call was at the least coeval
with the creation of Adam. . j|

Neither of these stories is free from religious
objections ; for since statues are tabooed, and pictures


disapproved by the pious, neither of these impro-
prieties ought to be associated with the Prophet.
On the other hand, Christianity dealt so much in
icons of rehgious personages that Mohammed might
reasonably be expected to be found somewhere in
the company of those with whom the Koran regularly
associates him. The story of the pictures on silk
seems also to bear some relation to the Veronica

If we consider how orthodox Islam denies the
credibility of Jews or Christians, we may feel some
surprise at the anxiety with which attestations of
these sectarians to the genuineness of the Prophet's
mission are got together. Immediately before the
Prophet's arrival at Medinah a Jew there named
Joshua foretold that such a personage would come
thither from Meccah during the lifetime of some then
present ; unfortunately this harbinger of the Prophet
himself refused to believe in the mission which he
had foretold — a circumstance which seems to have
occurred at other times. When the Prophet's court-
poet Hassan Ibn Thabit was seven or eight years
of age, a Jew of the Koraizah tribe standing on the
top of his fortress announced to^ the other Jews the
rising of the Prophet Ahmad's star ; which also
portended destruction to their countrymen ii^ Arabia.
It is rather interesting that by this time the Jews
should be sufficiently associated with astrology to
be able of themselves to discharge the task for which
the Magi are called in in the Christian Gospel.
Indeed the coming of Ahmad and his figure were


so well known to the Medinese Jews before the
Prophet's call that the children used to be taught
all about him in the schools. Some dissentient Arabs
after the Prophet had become powerful went to seek
the aid of the Egyptian governor, whom the Arabs
call Mukaukis — a puzzling expression, which has not
yet been interpreted with certainty ; to their astonish-
ment, the Mukaukis argued forcibly in favour of
the Prophet's veracity, and the inquiries addressed
to bishops of the Alexandrian communities with
reference to the description of Mohammed to be
found in the Christian books were so satisfactorily
answered that these Arabs were converted. Some of
the invaders of Irak came across a cave in which
there lived one Darib, son of Bartholomew, who had
remained alive since the time of Jesus ; he sent warm
greetings to Omar with a confession of faith in

We find that among the confessors to whose testi-
mony some weight is attached in the Gospels are
demons, even when they are driven out. The
Prophet's relations with these beings were on the
whole friendly, and we learn from the Koran that a
number of them adopted Islam ; but it was desirable
to get some of their testimony recorded by others
than the Prophet himself. The first harbinger of the
mission at Medinah was a pagan woman visited by a
spirit which took the form of a white bird perched
on a wall ; when the woman asked it to converse, it
rephed that a prophet had now arisen in Meccah
who had told the jinn to quit. A sorceress consulted


by Othman in Syria was told by her familiar that
he could now no longer enter her door, because
Ahmad had appeared and the jinn had to make
themselves scarce. Other sorcerers in Arabia were
warned by their familiars that their trade was now
abolished, since they had now no chance of eaves-
dropping at the heavenly council-chamber. An idol
in Samaya, a village of Oman, found voice one day
at a sacrifice and bade the sacrificers follow the
religion of Ahmad who had just appeared. It seems
rather hard on this idol that the sacrificer in answer
to this message destroyed it. On the other hand, the
priest obtained through the Prophet's intercession a
variety of blessings, including four wives. Voices
were heard from the interior of other fetishes calling
on their worshippers to abandon idolatry and follow
the true faith. It is conceivable that some of these
tales may go back to the time of the Prophet, when
the Arab chieftains were hurrying to pay homage to
the new ruler and excogitating ingenious flatteries.
The most popular of all is the romance of the wizard
Satih, a creature without bones or sinews, who could
be folded up like a garment ; and who, imitating the
exploit of Daniel, repeated to a^ Ghassanide king a
dream which he had seen, foretelling the fortunes of
Arabia and the arrival of the Prophet.

That the Prophet's nativity should be graced with
miracles was to be expected, though we have here
a difficulty which is found in other cases : such
miraculous antecedents ought, one fancies, to have
prepared the people of Meccah for the mission when


it came, whereas historically they appear to have
been wholly unprepared for it. The women who
attended Aminah, the Prophet's mother, at her
confinement saw the stars fall and heard mysterious
voices ; the mother of one of the foremost Com-
panions, named Shifa, was one of these, and she
treasured up these experiences until the call came.
That the powers of evil should make some attempt
to kill him in his youth was also to be expected ;
when he was being reared as an infant among the
Banu Sa'd a sorcerer endeavoured to bring about his
death, but his nurse succeeded in rescuing him. It
is rather strange that no such attempt seems to be
recorded on the part of the Persian king, who was
warned of the Prophet's birth by a whole series of
portents, including the fall of a portion of his palace
and the extinction of the sacred fire " which had not
been extinguished for a thousand years " ; he so far
plays the part of Herod that he solicits the aid of
magicians in interpreting these prodigies ; but though
he learns that they portend trouble to come from the
direction of Arabia, he does not appear to have taken
any step to anticipate it. Like Hezekiah he seems
to have been satisfied with a promise that the trouble
should not come in his time.

Edifying fiction of this sort has to hover between
two contradictory assumptions — one that the infant
is highly esteemed, the other that he belonged to the -
humblest class ; thus we are told that Mohammed's
clan was so wealthy, and his arrival so welcome,
that the whole population of Meccah was entertained


lavishly by his grandfather on the occasion of his
birth ; on the other hand, that none of the wet-nurses
who came to Meccah to find employment would
look at Mohammed, because they could not expect
to gain by nursing a fatherless boy. Hence he had
to be taken by a woman who had failed to
secure any foster-child, and the woman prospered
marvellously in consequence.

It was to be expected that the migration to
Medinah should somehow be anticipated, and so
Mohammed is made to go to Medinah in his sixth
year, being taken thither by his mother on a visit
to her relations. Some of the Jews visit the house
where he lodges with his mother, and are allowed to
investigate his person, where they search for the signs
of prophecy. These, of course, they find, and inform
his relations that they have with them the Prophet
of the Arabs, who will one day migrate to their city,
where he will massacre the Jews. A slave-girl who
goes with them " treasures these things in her heart."

The imasfination is not much exercised over the
years which he is said to have spent under the
guardianship of his grandfather and his uncle ; the
persons who are made to foretell his greatness are, as
before, Jews and Christians, because it is clear that
the Arabs have no expectation of a Prophet or
Messiah. One member of a tribe which practised
tracking does indeed notice the extraordinary re-
semblance of the Prophet's foot to that of Abraham,
whose sole had left its imprint on a stone in the
Meccan sanctuary. At the meals, necessarily scanty.


provided by Abu Talib for his household, it was
observed that if the Prophet were present there was
always enough and to spare ; if he were absent, no
one had enough.

In spite of his appointment to the prophetic office
having been made when Adam was only half created,
some further consecration was required ; and this
was by a baptism of the heart, two angels splitting
his stomach and washing the contents with snow
before replacing them. The angels appeared in the
form of white birds to a playmate of the Prophet,
but he does not seem to have witnessed the rest of
the scene. We have already seen that " purity of
heart " is interpreted literally by the Moslem mystics,
as a state to be produced by fasting, whence there is
nothing incongruous about this material purgation.
The story looks like a conscious improvement on
that of the Saviour's baptism, especially in the
introduction of the angels in the form of birds ; it
was argued that an internal cleansing rather than
an external was requisite. Further, Arabia, and
especially Meccah, has no river which could serve as
the analogue of the Jordan. The word " clean " is
that which Arabic theologians employ for " holy " ;
and in the Koran the Prophet is bidden clean his
garments, where garments, it is supposed, may stand
for " heart." That the heart of man is the source of
defilement is taught in the Gospel, in a striking
passage which was doubtless familiar to many who
were but slightly acquainted with the Gospel. The
pious inventor of this story, then, wished to devise


a scheme whereby in the Prophet's case this source
of pollution should have been rendered clean, and
though his method is somewhat naive, it was effec-
tive. The phrase ** washing with snow " is probably
due to a slight confusion of thought, its author mean-
ing washing snow-white.

In the narrative of the Prophet's journey with the
caravan to Syria we leave the area of the New
Testament and get traits from the historical books of
the Old Testament. The monk Bahira of Bosra

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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 16 of 18)