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A Popular Essay on the Life of the Prophet of Islam



There is no God but God,
and Mohammed is the Apostle of God.

(_Moslem Creed._)

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So-called Moslem missionaries are spreading through the Press such
idealistic and false views of the religion and character of Mohammed,
that we need to be on our guard against them.

Unbiased historians have stated that there is much that is deplorable
in the life of the prophet of Islam. And it is certain that his
teaching has increased the degradation of the nations that have come
under its influence.

Much of the literature that is being circulated in England by the
"Moslem missionaries," claims that Moslem women are better off, so far
as property rights go, than their Christian sisters. However true this
may be, it does not lift them out of the degradation of polygamy and
concubinage, with a capricious system of divorce, which makes them the
victims of the selfish baseness of their husbands and masters, which
Mohammed himself sanctioned.

The following essay, it is hoped, will help to counteract the false
ideas that are being scattered abroad, and lead those who read to
study more deeply the problems and sorrows of millions of the Moslem
subjects of our Gracious King.

The prayers of all Christians are asked on behalf of these millions,
and for those who labour to preach the "unsearchable riches of Christ"
amongst them.



July, 1914.


The Prophet of Islam.



Just as the character of Jesus is stamped upon the religion which
originated in His Person, so is the character of Mohammed impressed
upon the system which he, with marvellous ingenuity, founded. The
practical influence of Islam upon individual lives produces results
that reflect unmistakably the character of its founder, and a careful
study of the tenets of the system in relation to its history enable
the student to estimate the real worth of the man.

As the Apostle of God, Mohammed is the ideal of every true Moslem. His
life is the standard by which the lives of his followers are tested,
although he himself confesses that his life was not holy. In the
Koran, and the earlier traditions, he is pictured as being in no way
better than his fellows, and as weak and liable to error as the
poorest of his contemporaries. Yet later tradition minimises his
faults and weakness, and surrounds his person with a halo of glory
that makes him appear sinless and almost divine. All the doubtful
incidents of his life are either eliminated and ignored, or
assiduously supported and defended by his pious, misguided followers.

It is a point in his favour that he never claimed infallibility for
his actions or opinions; and his habit of attempting to cover or
justify his glaring faults by suitable revelations, although
indefensibly immoral, reveals the fact that he was conscious of his
own shortcomings. When he was at the zenith of his power, "revelation"
became merely an instrument of self glorification, licensing him in
every whim and fancy, because it gave him, as the prophet of God,
exemption from all law and order. His scheme was characteristically
ingenious and immoral. Had he known of the divine effulgence with
which he was afterwards encircled by his fanatical followers, he
would, in all probability, have strongly discountenanced it. The
incongruous sanctity with which his commonplace utterances and petty
actions were invested would have caused fear lest it became derogatory
to his creed of divine unity.


As a source of information, the traditions are obviously unreliable,
for they are coloured by the excessive zeal and irrational bias of
men whose judgment was warped by irrepressible fanaticism. They
attributed to their hero elements that are grotesquely impossible. His
advent was in their estimation, so portentous that it was celebrated
by events which, for the time, upset all natural law. And his whole
life has been linked with miraculous happenings of a most ludicrous
type. More reasonable men have exalted the prophet because they have
convinced themselves that he was what he ought to have been. This may
account for the pious confidence of some of the more intelligent, who,
accepting tradition as historical, have exalted their hero to the
ideal, and have received the imagined glory as real. This tendency to
exalt their master is well illustrated by the maxim of Shafy - "In the
exaltation of Mohammed it is lawful to exaggerate" - a maxim invaluable
to men who were seeking to glorify the prophet, and the usefulness of
which was fully appreciated by the legislators and doctors when they
were called upon to cope with the new relations and exigencies that
came into being after his death. The conquests and progress of Islam
necessitated almost daily the framing of new rules, while in the
application of the old, constant modification and adaptation were
required. To meet these needs, actual or supposed sayings and actions
of the prophet were eagerly sought after, and, in time, with the
growth of a professional body of traditionalists, all legitimate
sources being exhausted, that which was doubtful, and even disputed,
was accepted as authentic and reliable. Imagination augmented the
legitimate springs of information, and the result was an exhaustive
accumulation of precedents for every possible circumstance.

Sprenger, in his essay on "Tradition," regarding the value and nature
of the material needed for compiling a life of Mohammed, says:

"During the stir and activity of the first sixty years, thousands
and thousands occupied themselves with handing down traditions. In
every mosque they committed them to memory, and rehearsed them in
every social gathering. All such knowledge was the common property
of the nation; it was learned by heart and transmitted orally. It
possessed, therefore, in the highest possible degree, the elements
of life and plasticity. Bunson has discovered the divinity of the
Bible in its always having been the people's book. If this
criterion be decisive, then no religion has better claim to be
called the 'vox Dei,' because none is in so full a sense the 'vox
populi.' The creations of the period we have been considering
possess this character for hundreds of millions of our fellow men;
for modern Islamism is as far removed from the spirit in which the
Coran was composed, as Catholicism is from the spirit of the
Gospel; and modern Islamism is grounded upon tradition. But in
tradition we find nothing but the Ideal, Invention, Fancy,
Historical facts, however they may have been floating among the
people in the days if Ibn 'Abbas, and the other founders of
genealogy, were trodden under feet, because men wished to remove
every barrier which stood in the way of self-glorification. And of
the thousand inventions which every day gave birth to, only those
were recognised as true which most flattered the religious and
national pride ..."

He also goes on to say:

"The time of creative activity, the gestation era of Moslem
knowledge, passed away. Hajjaj choked the young life in its own
blood, and the Abbaside dynasty, with kingly patriotism, sold the
dearly-bought conquests of the nation, first to the Persians, and
then to Turkish slaves, with the view of procuring an imaginary
security for their throne. And thus there arose for the spiritual
life also a new period. Already Wackidi had begun to work up into
shape the mass of his traditionary stores, and busy himself in the
department of scholastic industry. In the schools one could as
little affect now the material tradition, or alter its nature, as
attempt to change the organism of the new-born child. However
arbitrary might be the invention of the 'Miraj' (Mahomed's heavenly
journey), and other fabrications of the first century, they still
formed in this way the positive element and soul of religious,
political and social life. The schools, as always, confined their
exertions to collecting, comparing, abbreviating, systematising,
and commenting. The material was altogether divine; and any
unprejudiced historical inquiry, any simple and natural
interpretation of the Coran, any free judgment on tradition or its
origin, was condemned as apostasy. The only task that remained was
to work up, in scholastic form, the existing material; and in this
way was developed a literature of boundless dimensions, which yet
at bottom possessed nothing real. The whole spiritual activity of
the Mohamedans, from the time of the prophet to the present day, is
a dream; but it is a dream in which a large portion of the human
race have lived; and it has all the interest which things relating
to mankind always possess for man."

Sir William Muir agrees with these views, subject to two
considerations. He says: -

"The tendency to glorify Mohammed and the reciters of the
traditions was considerably modified by the mortal strife which
characterised the factions that opposed one another at the period,
where, in attempting to depreciate one another, they would not be
averse to perpetuating traditions in support of their contentions;
such partisanship secured no insignificant body of historical fact,
which otherwise would have been lost."

He also points out that in a state of society circumscribed and
dwarfed by the powerful Islamic system, which proscribed the free
exercise of thought and discussion, tradition can scarcely be said to
be the "vox populi." The growth and development of tradition, the
flagrant distortion of historical fact, the ethical code of Islam, may
well give rise to a questioning of the validity of the prophet's
arrogant claims, and by their very methods of defence the apologists
of Islam exhibit its weakness and inadequacy to meet the religious
needs of man. The natural bias of Mohammed is evident throughout the
Coran. His conceptions of God, of the future life, and of the duty of
man, are all influenced by his consuming master passion. In all his
writings there are lacking those characteristics which distinguish the
true prophet - the messenger of God - from those to whom he is sent.
This will be apparent by contrasting his views with those of any of
the Old Testament prophets. They were eminently men prepared for their
high calling by lofty yet practical communion with God - men whose
message was inspired by a vision of Divine Majesty, and an impressive
conception of the justice and awful purity of Jehovah. Men who called
the nation to righteousness of life by a stirring appeal to
conscience, and an unfaltering denunciation of the evils of the time.
Their spiritual aspirations, therefore, by far surpass the loftiest
ideals of the prophet of Islam, while their ethical conceptions
infinitely transcend all that Mohammed dreamed of. The voice of the
Eternal is clearly heard in the earnest utterances that fell from
their lips, and through all their prophecies the willingness of Divine
Mercy to reason with men in spite of their erring ways, is apparent.

Three characteristic elements are perceived in their preaching - a very
keen and practical conscience of sin; an overpowering vision of God;
and a very sharp perception of the politics of their day. Of these
elements, Mohammed's teaching possesses only the last.


His conception of God is essentially deistical. The intimate personal
communion, so characteristic of the Old Testament, is unknown and
unrealised: hence there is little, if anything, in his system that
tends to draw men nigh to God. Attempts to remedy this characteristic
defect have been vainly made by the dervish orders, which, while
acknowledging the claims of Mohammed and his book, have introduced
methods not sanctioned by the system, by which they attempt to find
the communion with the Unseen, for which their souls crave. These
methods are very much akin to the efforts of the devotees of Hinduism.
There is, therefore, lacking amongst Moslems that need which grows out
of personal relationship with the Divine - that need which leads to
moral transformation and spiritual intensity on the part of those who
enjoy such fellowship. The Creator exists apart from His handiwork. He
has predetermined the actions of men. They are destined to eternal
bliss or destruction by an Inflexible Will, so that there is no need
for Divine Interference in their affairs. "God is in His heaven, and
the world is working out its end according to His unalterable decree."

Because of this gross conception, Palgrave has designated the system
"The Pantheism of Force," and says:

"Immeasurably and eternally exalted above, and dissimilar from all
creatures, which he levelled before Him on one common plane of
instrumentality and inertness, God is One in the totality of
omnipotent and omnipresent action, which acknowledges no rule,
standard or limit, save His own sole and absolute will. He
communicates nothing to His creatures, for their seeming power and
act ever remain His alone, and in return He receives nothing from
them; for whatever they may be, that they are in Him, by Him, and
from Him only. And, secondly, no superiority, no distinction, no
pre-eminence, can be lawfully claimed by one creature ever its
fellow, in the utter equalisation of their unexceptional servitude
and abasement; all are alike tools of the one solitary Force which
employs them to crush or to benefit, to truth or to error, to
honour or shame, to happiness or misery, quite independently of
their individual fitness, deserts, or advantages, and simply
because 'He wills it,' and 'as He wills it ...'

"One might at first sight think that this tremendous Autocrat, this
uncontrolled and unsympathising Power, would be far above anything
like passions, desires, or inclinations. Yet such is not the case,
for He has, with respect to His creatures, one main feeling and
source of action, namely, jealousy of them, lest they should
perchance attribute to themselves something of what is His alone,
and thus encroach on His all engrossing kingdom. Hence He is ever
more prone to punish than to reward; to inflict pain than to bestow
pleasure; to ruin than to build. It is His singular satisfaction to
let created beings continually feel that they are nothing else than
His slaves, His tools, and contemptible tools also; that thus they
may the better acknowledge His superiority, and know His power to
be above their power, His cunning above their cunning, His will
above their will, His pride above their pride - or, rather, that
there is no power, cunning, will, or pride save His own.

"But He Himself, sterile in His inaccessible height, neither loving
nor enjoying aught save His own and self-measured decree, without
son, companion, or counsellor, is no less barren of Himself than
for His creatures, and His own barrenness and lone egoism in
Himself is the cause and rule of His indifferent and unregarding
despotism around. The first note is the key of the whole tune, and
the primal idea of God runs through and modifies the whole system
and creed that centres in Him."

Contrast this summary with the teaching of the Old Testament prophets,
the following quotations of which are but a small sample: -

"Come, now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your
sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be
red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

"Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye
comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is
accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned."

"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me: because the Lord has
anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek. He hath sent me
to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, etc."

"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, saith
the Lord."

"Who is a god like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth
by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth
not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy. He will
turn again; He will have compassion upon us. He will subdue our
iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the

"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord
require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk
humbly with thy God."

"The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He
knoweth them that trust in Him."

In the light of such lofty teaching, the conceptions of Mohammed
appear gross and degraded. His asceticism and contemplation never
brought him a vision of God that overwhelmed him and purified as by
fire. He knew the Creator only from what he heard from the lips of
sinful, ignorant men, whose ideas of Deity were base and ignoble.
These ideas, and the passions that made up such a large portion of his
life, obscured his vision, warped his judgment, and led him to
postulate a God that inhabited not a Holy Spiritual Realm, but a
grossly carnal and sensuous paradise.

Millions have been brought beneath his sway because his system panders
to the natural inclinations of man. Spiritual insight is blinded by
carnal desire; conduct is influenced by unbridled license; bigotry and
hatred are fostered by his policy of intoleration; and his followers
are enslaved by a tyranny that blights the reason, because it
discountenances inquiry, and places an insurmountable barrier in the
way of all human progress.

In studying the life of Mohammed, the cause of his failure to uplift
humanity will be clearly seen. His early sincerity, if sincerity it
can be named, was absorbed by his consuming ambition. Had it been
otherwise he might have had his name inscribed with the honourable
ones of the earth - those men whose claims are ratified by their happy
effects. As it is, his name is linked with those whose deeds cause a
shudder of horror and repulsion to all who love honesty, purity, and


Mohammed was born in Mecca, a town in Arabia, about seventy miles
inland from the Red Sea. His father, who died 570 A.D., a few months
before the child was born, was a member of the Banu Hashim clan. His
family, although well connected, was a humble one, possessing but
little wealth. On the death of his mother some six years later, the
child was taken by his grandfather, 'ABD-EL-MUTTALIB, who took care of
him for two years. Then he was adopted by his uncle, ABU TALIB, who
employed him to look after his flocks and herds.

From his earliest years, Mohammed must have been brought into contact
with the religious life of Mecca, for his grandfather was custodian of
the Kaaba, or temple, and would frequently take the boy with him on
his official visits to the place. The numerous images of the gods set
up in the temple would be familiar objects to the future prophet,
whose iconoclastic zeal was eventually to bring about their
destruction. His lonely shepherd life favoured the cultivation of the
contemplative habits of his manhood, and played no unimportant part in
the development of those characteristics which eminently fitted him
for the life he was to lead. Nature had endowed him with the essential
abilities of a commander of men, and his early environment provided a
training that enabled him to exercise those gifts most advantageously.

The population of Arabia at this time consisted of numerous
independent nomadic tribes, who were often at enmity one with another.
Political unity there was none, while each tribe had its own patron,
or god, which was considered to be responsible for everything
concerning the tribe's welfare. Where tribes were united, or at peace,
there the individual gods were supposed to be friendly. Even in Mecca,
which for many years had been occupied by a settled community, there
was no political or judicial organisation. The existing order was
maintained by a form of patriarchal government, under which system it
was possible for the head of a tribe or clan, to protect the life of
any individual he chose to befriend.

The religious beliefs and customs were evidently gross materialistic
corruptions of what had once been a purely spiritual worship. Mohammed
had been preceded by men who had from time to time, in spite of the
moral and intellectual darkness, been so endowed with spiritual
perception as to recognise and bewail the hollowness and degradation
of the Pagan system. Some, indeed, had been conscientious enough to
utter words of condemnation; others had gone so far as to despise and
ridicule its claims. So that when Mohammed was born the people were in
a condition of religious uncertainty. Many elements contributed to
this unrest. Travellers learned that the more prosperous nations had
rejected the age long sanctions of Paganism; earnest, thoughtful men
could not but recognise its inadequacy to satisfy the religious
aspirations of their fellows; Jews and Christians, who had settled in
the country, had introduced views that appealed to those who were
dissatisfied with the old methods of thought; while the need for
social and political unity called for a force that would unite the
scattered tribes in the pursuit of common ideals. Thus was the land

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Online LibraryH.E. E. HayesMohammed, The Prophet of Islam → online text (page 1 of 3)