Syed Ameer Ali.

The spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm online

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His simple trust and sublime faith in his Master rose superior
to all their materialistic scepticism. They asked him to
cause wells and rivers to gush forth, to bring down the heaven

1 The idolaters are almost always called " Associaters," Mushrikin, in the
Koran, or men who associate other beings with God.

2 Can there be a better summary of Mohammed's work or of his teachings ?
Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 6i ; and Ibn-Hisham, pp. 219, 220.

3 Ibn-Hisham, p. 188. A Christian historian goes into raptures at the
subtlety of the idolaters ; see Osborn, Islam under the Arabs,



I. MORAL EVIDENCES OF MOHAMMED'S MISSION 31

in pieces, to remove mountains, to have a house of gold erected,
to ascend to heaven by a ladder. 1 It was a repetition of the
old story, with this difference, that in the case of Jesus his own
followers insisted upon his performing miracles to satisfy
them of the truth of his mission. " His immediate disciples,"
says Professor Momerie, " were always misunderstanding him
and his work : wanting him to call down fire from heaven ;
wanting him to declare himself king of the Jews ; wanting to
sit on his right hand and on his left hand in his kingdom ;
wanting him to show them the Father, to make God visible
to their bodily eyes ; wanting him to do, and wanting to do
themselves, anything and everything that was incompatible
with his great plan. This was how they treated him until
the end. When that came, they all forsook him, and
fled."

To these unsatisfied, lukewarm spirits, whose craving for
wonders was no less strong than that of the Koreish, and who
afterwards clothed the revered figure of Jesus in a mist, a legacy
which even modern idealistic Christianity cannot shake off,
the Master was wont to reply, at times angrily, that it was an
evil and adulterous age which sought after a sign, and that no
sign should be given to it ; and that if a man believed not in
Moses and the prophets, he would not repent even though one
rose from the dead. 2

It must be said to the credit of the disciples of the Arabian
Teacher, that they never called for a miracle from their Master.
They — scholars, merchants, and soldiers — looked to the moral
evidences of his mission. They ranged themselves round the
friendless preacher at the sacrifice of all their worldly interests
and worldly hopes, and adhered to him through life and death
with a devotion to his human personality to which there is
scarcely a parallel in the history of the world.

In an age when miracles were supposed to be ordinary
occurrences at the beck of the commonest saint, when the

1 Sura xvii. 92-96.

2 Patristic Christianity has held, and still holds, to the miracles as a proof
of the divinity of Jesus ; modern Christianity calls them Aberglanbe. It may
well be, as the author of Literature and Dogma says, that the miracles are
doomed, and that the miracle-saga of Christianity must, sooner or later, go
with all legends, Eastern or Western.



32 THE LIFE OF MOHAMMED I.

whole atmosphere was surcharged with supernaturalism, not
only in Arabia, but in the neighbouring countries where
civilisation had made far greater progress, the great Pioneer of
rationalism unhesitatingly replies to the miracle-seeking
heathens — " God has not sent me to work wonders ; He has
sent me to preach to you. My Lord be praised ! Am I more
than a man sent as an apostle ? . . . Angels do not commonly
walk the earth, or God would have despatched an angel to
preach His truth to you. 1 I never said that Allah's treasures
are in my hand, that I knew the hidden things, or that I was
an angel. ... I who cannot even help or trust myself, unless
God pleaseth." ... No extraordinary pretensions, no indulg-
ence in hyperbolical language, no endeavour to cast a glamour
round his character or personality. " I am only a preacher
of God's words, the bringer of God's message to mankind,"
repeats he always. From first to last no expression escapes
him " which could be construed into a request for human
worship " ; 2 from first to last there is unvarying soberness of
expression, which, considering the age and surrounding, is
more marvellous ; from first to last the tone is one of simple,
deep humility before the Creator. And in the moment of his
greatest exaltation the feeling is one of humble, sweet thank-
fulness : —

" In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate !
Whatsoever is in heaven and on earth praises God the King,
the Holy One, the Almighty, the All-wise. It is He who out
of the midst of the illiterate Arabs has raised an apostle to show
unto them His signs, and to sanctify them, and to teach them
the Scripture and the Wisdom, them who before had been
in great darkness. . . . This is God's free grace, which
He giveth unto whomsoever He wills. God is of great
mercy ! " 3

Disclaiming every power of wonder-working, the Prophet
of Islam ever rests the truth of his divine commission entirely
upon his Teachings. He never resorts to the miraculous to
assert his influence or to enforce his warnings. He invariably
appeals to the familiar phenomena of nature as signs of the

1 Sura xvii. 95-98 ; sura lxxii. 21-24. 2 Professor Momerie.

3 Sura lxii. vv. 1-10.



i. MOHAMMED'S APPEAL TO REASON 33

divine presence. 1 He unswervingly addresses himself to the
inner consciousness of man, to his reason, and not to his weak-
ness or his credulity. Look round yourself : is this wonderful
world, the sun, the moon, and the stars, holding their swift silent
course in the blue vault of heaven, the law and system prevailing
in the universe ; the rain-drops falling to revive the parched
earth into life ; the ships moving across the ocean, beladen
with what is profitable to mankind ; the beautiful palm
covered with its golden fruit — are these the handiwork of your
wooden or stone gods ? 2

Fools ! do you want a sign, when the whole creation is full
of the signs of God ? The structure of your body, how wonder-
fully complex, how beautifully regulated ; the alternations
of night and day, of life and death ; your sleeping and awaking ;
your desire to accumulate from the abundance of God ; the
winds driving abroad the pregnant clouds as the forerunners
of the Creator's mercy ; the harmony and order in the midst
of diversity ; the variety of the human race, and yet their
close affinity ; fruits, flowers, animals, human beings them-
selves — are these not signs enough of the presence of a Master-
Mind ? 3

To the Prophet of Islam, nature in itself is a revelation and
a miracle.

" There is a tongue in every leaf,
A voice in every rill,
A voice that speaketh everywhere,
/ In flood and fair, through earth and air,
A voice that's never still." *

The Prophet of Monotheism is pre-eminently the Prophet of
Nature. His ethical appeal and his earnest assertion of divine

1 The passage of Sir W. Muir on this point is, to say the least, remarkable.
He says : " Whether the idolatry of Mecca would not have succumbed with-
out a struggle before such preaching as Mahomet's, sustained by reasonable
evidence, may be matter for speculation " (the italics are his own), vol. ii. p.
144. like the Koreish, Sir W. Muir is not satisfied with the teachings, unless
supported by wonder-workings.

2 Sura xxv. 49-59 ; sura 1. 9, etc.

3 Sura vi. 96-99, li. 20, xv. 20, xx. 50-57, xxxiv. 20-28, 39, etc.

4 Comp. ±f if iSj j£ J) i<±s»j * Oi}) eJ-f^r J' ** <^4 j*>
" Every blade that springs from the earth bears testimony to the unity of
God."

s.i. c



34 THE LIFE OF MOHAMMED I.

Unity are founded upon the rational and intellectual recognition
of all-pervading order, of the visible presence of one Mind, one
Will, regulating, guiding, and governing the Universe. His
grandest miracle is the Book in which he has poured forth with
an inspired tongue all the " revelations of nature, conscience,
and prophecy." Ask you a greater miracle than this, O
unbelieving people ! than to have your vulgar tongue chosen
as the language of that incomparable Book, one piece of which
puts to shame all your golden poesy and suspended songs — to
convey the tidings of universal mercy, the warnings to pride
and tyranny !

But to all his exhortations the Koreish turned a deaf ear.
They were blind to the signs of God, blind to the presence of a
Divine Personality in nature, deaf to the call of the Seer to
come back to righteousness, to forego the crimes and abomina-
tions of antiquity. Their answer to him breathes a fierce
animosity paralleled only by the darkest days of Arian or
Pelagian persecution in Christendom. " Know this, O Moham-
med," said they, " we shall never cease to stop thee from
preaching till either thou or we perish."

During this interval occurred an incident which has been
differently construed by the Moslem historians and the Christian
biographers of the Prophet. One day, in one of his prophetic
trances, Mohammed was reciting within the Kaaba some
verses which now form part of the fifty-third chapter of the
Koran. When he came to the words, " What think ye of
al-Lat, al-'Uzza, and Manat ? the third besides," an idolater
who was present on the occasion, and whom tradition has
converted into the devil, anxious to avert the threatened
denunciation called out, " They are exalted damsels, and their
intercession with God may be hoped for." These words were
supposed to form part of the Prophet's revelation. And the
Koreish, overjoyed either at the trick or at Mohammed's
supposed concession, hastened to express their willingness to
come to terms. When Mohammed learnt what had happened,
he immediately proclaimed the words, " They are nought but
empty names, which you and your fathers have invented."
This is the version given by Mohammedan historians and
traditionists. According to the Christian biographers, the



I. PERSECUTION CONTINUES 35

incident is supposed to indicate a momentary desire on the
part of the Prophet to end the strife with the Koreish by some
compromise. The bigot calls it "a lapse " and " a fall " ;
but the generous and unbiased historian considers the episode
as throwing additional lustre on the Prophet of Arabia.
Persecution was becoming fiercer and fiercer every day, the
sufferings of his followers were increasing, and the whole city
was up in arms against them. The sight of his poor disciples
afflicted him deeply ; his weary struggle with the Arabian
idolatry filled him with grief. What wonder that a momentary
thought crossed his mind to end the conflict by making a slight
concession to the bigotry of his enemies. " And so Mohammed
made his first and last concession. He recited a revelation
to the Koreish, in which he spoke respectfully of the three
moon-goddesses, and asserted that their intercession with
God might be hoped for : ' Wherefore bow down before God
and serve Him ' ; and the whole audience, overjoyed at the
compromise, bowed down and worshipped at the name of the
God of Mohammed — the whole city was reconciled to the
double religion. But this dreamer of the desert was not the
man to rest upon a lie. At the price of the whole city of Mecca
he would not remain untrue to himself. He came forward
and said he had done wrong — the devil had tempted him.
He openly and frankly retracted what he had said ; and
' as for their idols, they were but empty names which they
and their fathers had invented.' "

" Western biographers have rejoiced greatly over ' Moham-
med's fall.' Yet it was a tempting compromise, and few
would have withstood it. And the life of Mohammed is not
the life of a god, but of a man ; from first to last it is intensely
human. But if for once he was not superior to the temptation
of gaining over the whole city, and obtaining peace where
before had been only bitter persecution, what can we say of
his manfully thrusting back the rich prize he had gained,
freely confessing his fault, and resolutely giving himself over
again to the old indignities and insults ? If he was once
insincere — and who is not ? — how intrepid was his after
sincerity ! He was untrue to himself for a while, and he is
ever referring to it in his public preaching with shame and



36 THE LIFE OF MOHAMMED I.

remorse ; but the false step was more than atoned for by his
magnificent recantation." x

Upon the promulgation that Lat, 'Uzza, and Manat were
but empty names, the persecution burst out anew with re-
doubled fury.

Supported, however, by a firm conviction of divine assistance,
and upheld by the admonitions of the heavenly voice within,
conveyed to him by the ministrators of heavenly mercy, he
continued his preaching undeterred by the hostility of his
enemies, or by the injuries they inflicted upon him. In spite
of all opposition, however, slowly but surely the new teachings
gained ground. The seeds of truth thus scattered could not
fail to fructify. The wild Arab of the desert, the trading
citizen of distant townships who came to the national fair, heard
the words of the strange man whom his enemies thought
possessed, listened to the admonitions in which he poured
forth his soul, listened with awe and wonder to his denunciations
of their divinities and of their superstitions, of their unright-
eousness, of their evil ways, and carried back to their far-off
homes new light and new life, even unconsciously to themselves.
And the satires, the ill-names his enemies heaped upon
Mohammed, only tended to make his words more extensively
known.

The Meccans, on their side, were by no means quiet. Several
times the Koreish sent deputations to Abu Talib, asking him
to stop his nephew from preaching against their religion. At
first Abu Talib turned them away with soft and courteous
words. But as Mohammed persisted in his fiery denunciations
against their godlessness and impiety, they expelled him from
the Kaaba where he had been wont to preach, and then
came in a body to his uncle. 2 " We respect thy age and thy
rank," said they, " but our respect for thee has bounds, and
verily we can have no further patience with thy nephew's
abuse of our gods, and his ill words against our ancestors ;
wherefore do thou either prevent him from so doing, or thyself
take part with him, so that we may settle the matter by fight

1 Stanley Lane-Poole, Introd. to the Selections from the Koran, p. xlix.

2 Tabari, vol. ii. p. 406 ; according to this author's authorities, ver. 214 of
chap. xxi. of the Koran was revealed about this period.



I. KOREISHITE LEAGUE AGAINST MOHAMMED 37

until one of the two parties is exterminated." x Having thus
spoken, they departed. Abu Talib was unwilling to separate
himself from his people, neither did he like abandoning his
nephew to the idolaters. Sending for Mohammed, he informed
him of the speech of the Koreish, and begged him to renounce
his task. Mohammed thought his uncle wished to withdraw
his protection ; but his high resolve did not fail him even at
this moment. Firmly he replied : " O my uncle, if they
placed the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left, to
force me to renounce my work, verily I would not desist there-
from until God made manifest His cause, or I perished in the
attempt." But overcome by the thought of desertion by his
kind protector, he turned to depart. Then Abu Talib called
aloud : " Son of my brother, come back " ; and he came.
And Abu Talib said : " Say whatsoever thou pleasest ; for
by the Lord, I shall not abandon thee, nay, never." 2 The
Koreish made another attempt to persuade Abu Talib to deliver
up his nephew to them. They offered in exchange a young
man of the family of Makhzum, but it was of no avail. 3 The
declared intention of Abu Talib to support his nephew excited
their fury, and they renewed their menaces of violence. The
venerable patriarch appealed to the sense of honour of the
Bani-Hashim and Bani-Muttalib, the kinsmen of Mohammed,
to protect a distinguished member of their family from falling
a victim to the^Jiatred of rival clans. And the appeal was
nobly responded to, with the solitary exception of the squint-
eyed Abu Lahab, " the Father of the Flame," as the sequel
will show.

At this time the new Faith gained a valuable adherent in
Omar, whose energy of character made him an important
factor in the future commonwealth of Islam. His services to
the religion of Mohammed have engraved his name on the
pages of history. A distinguished member of the family of
'Adi ibn-Ka'b, and the son of Khattab, notorious for the
persecution of the Moslems, he was hitherto a violent opponent
of Islam, and a bitter adversary of the Prophet. His

1 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 47 ; Ibn-Hisham, pp. 167, 168.

2 Ibn-Hisham, p. 168 ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 48 ; Abulfeda, p. 17.

3 Ibn-Hisham, p. 169 ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 48.



38 THE LIFE OF MOHAMMED I.

conversion is said to have been worked by the magic effect
on his mind of a chapter of the Koran which he heard recited
in his sister's house, where he had gone in a furious rage and
with murderous intent.

Struck with the words which he had heard, he went straight
to the Prophet with the naked sword in his hand with which
he had meant to slay Mohammed and his disciples, causing
considerable consternation among the assembly of the Faithful
listening to the Preacher. He kissed the Master's hand, and
then demanded to be taken into the fold of God ; and heartfelt
thanks went up to heaven from the Moslems for the grace
that had fallen on Omar. After his conversion he became
one of the bulwarks of the Faith.

Islam need no more hide its head in byways and corners, go
about in concealment, or offer its prayers to God in secret and
trepidation. Besides a large following taken from the humbler
walks of life, there were now gathered round the Prophet a
chosen band of apostles, consisting, not of ignorant folk, but
of men of energy, talent, and worth, like Hamza, Abu Bakr,
and Omar. And though Ali was in his youth, he was fast
rising into prominence.

These important adhesions gave heart to the Moslems, and
they now ventured to perform their devotions in public. The
Koreish, who were at first thunderstruck at the conversion of
Omar, saw the gravity of the situation. And yet they waited
to strike the decisive blow.

The return of the deputies, however, from Abyssinia, and the
announcement of their unsuccessful mission, roused them to
frenzy. They determined at last to exterminate with one
stroke the entire clan of Hashim and Muttalib. With that
purpose they, in the 7th year of the Mission, towards the
end of 616 A. a, formed a league against the descendants of
Hashim and Muttalib. They bound themselves by a solemn
document, which was deposited in the Kaaba, not to enter
into any contract of marriage with the Hashimites, or to buy
and sell with them. The Hashimites and Muttalibites,
Musulmans as well as idolaters, were struck with dismay,
and fearful that this might be the prelude to some other attack,
judged it safer to abandon their houses dispersed in the city,



I. THE YEAR OF MOURNING 39

and concentrate themselves at one point. They betook
themselves accordingly to the Shi'b (or quarter) of Abu Talib
— a long, narrow mountain defile on the eastern skirts of
Mecca, cut off by rocks or walls from the city, except for one
narrow gateway. Abu Lahab alone remained aloof, and
ranged himself on the side of the enemy.

They lived in this defensive position with Mohammed in
their midst for nearly three years, beleaguered by the Koreish,
and subjected to every privation. The provisions which they
had carried with them were soon exhausted, and the cries of
the starving children could be heard outside. Probably they
would have entirely perished but for the occasional help they
received surreptitiously from less bigoted compatriots. Some
of the chiefs, however, were beginning to be ashamed of their
injustice. Towards the tenth year of the Mission (619 a. a),
Hisham, son of 'Amr, who took a lively interest in the Hashi-
mites, tried to bring about a reconciliation between the
Koreishites and the two families of Hashim and Muttalib.
He succeeded in winning over Zubair, son of Abu Ommeyya,
to his side ; and, seconded by him and others, the pact was
annulled, and the two families were taken back to the enjoy-
ment of the communal rights, and were allowed to return to
Mecca.

During the period Mohammed was shut up in the Shi'b with
his kinspeople, Islam made no progress outside. In the
sacred months, when violence was considered a sacrilege, the
Teacher would come out of his prison and endeavour to obtain
hearers among the pilgrims ; but the squint-eyed " Father of
the Flame " followed him about, and made his words nought
by calling him " a liar and a Sabean."

The year which followed is called in the history of Islam
" the Year of Mourning " for the loss of Abu Talib and Khadija,
who followed each other to the grave within a short interval.
In Abu Talib, Mohammed lost the guardian of his youth, who
had hitherto stood between him and his enemies. The death
of Khadija was a severe blow. When none believed in him,
when he himself had not yet awakened to the full consciousness
of his mission, and his heart was full of doubts, when all around
him was dark and despairing, her love, her faith had stood by



40 THE LIFE OF MOHAMMED i.

him. " She was ever his angel of hope and consolation."
To the end of his life he retained the tenderest recollection of
her love and devotion.



Note to Chapter I.

Sir W. Muir thinks M. Caussin de Perceval has made a
mistake in supposing Batha. to be the name of a place. He
thinks it signifies the nature of the soil over which these
people were tortured ; vol. ii. p. 128. To corroborate M.
Caussin de Perceval and myself, I have only to add that the
existence of this place is an undoubted fact ; and Batha
especially has been frequently referred to by Mohammedan
authors as a place in the immediate vicinity of Mecca. For
example, the celebrated Hakim Sanai says :

Cho 'ilmat hast khidmat kun cho

bi-'ilman, ke zisht aid,
Girifta Chinian ihram, wa Mekki

khufta dar Batha.

" If thou possessest knowledge, serve like those who are
ignorant ; for it is unseemly that people from China should
adopt the Ihram (that is to say, come on a pilgrimage to
Mecca), and the native of Mecca should lie sleeping at Batha."



CHAPTER II

THE HEGIRA



O ' '•>



t £



THE children of Ommeyya and other hostile clans,
actuated as much by their attachment to the old cult
as by their jealousy of, and hatred towards, the
Hashimites, considered this a favourable opportunity to crush
out Islam in Mecca ; and the death of Abu Talib, whose
personal influence and character had restrained their fury
within some limits, became the signal for the Koreish to
redouble their persecutions. 1

Weighed down by the loss of his venerable protector and of
his cherished wife, hopeless of turning the Koreish from
idolatry, with a saddened heart, and yet full of trust, he
determined to turn to some other field for the exercise of his
ministry. Mecca had rejected the words of God, hapless
Tayef may listen to them. Accompanied by his faithful
servant Zaid, he arrived among the Thakif. 2 He spoke to
them about his Mission ; told them about their iniquities, and
called them to the worship of God. His words caused a storm
of indignation. Who was this crazy man, said they, who
invited them to abandon the beautiful divinities they wor-
shipped with such lightness of heart and such freedom of
morals ? They drove him from the city ; and the rabble and
the slaves followed, hooting and pelting him with stones until
the evening, when they left him to pursue his way alone.
Wounded and bleeding, footsore and weary, he betook himself

1 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 69. - The people of Tayef.



42 THE LIFE OF MOHAMMED I.

to prayer under the shade of some palm trees, which afforded
a welcome shelter to the thirsty and famished wayfarer.
Raising his hands towards heaven, he cried : " O Lord ! I
make my complaint unto Thee, out of my feebleness, and the
vanity of my wishes, I am insignificant in the sight of men.

Thou most merciful ! Lord of the weak ! Thou art my
Lord ! Do not forsake me. Leave me not a prey to strangers,
nor to mine enemies. If Thou art not offended, I am safe.

1 seek refuge in the light of Thy countenance, by which all
darkness is dispersed, and peace comes here and hereafter.
Let not Thy anger descend on me ; solve my difficulties as
it pleaseth Thee. There is no power, no help, but in
Thee." »

Mohammed returned to Mecca sorely stricken in heart. He
lived here for some time, retired from his people, preaching



Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 10 of 55)