Syed Ameer Ali.

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

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Saif the son of Zu'l Yezen on his accession to the throne of the
Tobbas, with the help of the Persians.

With the death of Abd ul-Muttalib opens another epoch in
the life of the orphan. On his death-bed the old grandfather
had confided to Abu Talib the charge of his brother's child,
and in the house of Abu Talib Mohammed passed his early life.
We can almost see the lad with his deep wistful eyes, earnest
and thoughtful, looking, as it were, into futurity, moving
about in the humble unpretentious household of his uncle, or
going often into the desert to gaze upon the beauteous face of
nature ; sweet and gentle of disposition, painfully sensitive to
human suffering, this pure-hearted child of the desert was the
beloved of his small circle, and there ever existed the warmest
attachment between uncle and nephew. " The angels of God
had opened out his heart, and filled it with light." His early
life was not free from the burden of labour. He had often to go
into the desert to watch the flocks of his uncle. The princely
munificence of Hashim and Abd ul-Muttalib had told upon the
fortunes of their heirs, and the Hashimites, owing to the lack
of means, were fast losing their commanding position. The
duty of providing the pilgrims with food was given up to the
rival branch of Ommeyya, who had always entertained the
bitterest jealousy towards the children of Hashim.

Mohammed was but a child when the " Sacrilegious Wars "
— the Ghazwat ul-Fijdr, which continued with varying fortunes
and considerable loss of human life for a number of years —
broke out at 'Ukaz between the Koreish and the Bani-Kinana
on one side, and the Kais-Aylan on the other. 'Ukaz lies
between Tayef and Nakhla, three short journeys from Mecca.
At this place, famous in Arab history, was held a great annual
fair in the sacred month of Zu'1-ka'da, when it was forbidden to
engage in war or shed human blood in anger — " a sort of God's
truce." Other fairs were held at Majna near Marr uz-Zuhran,
not far from Mecca, and at Zu'l Majaz at the foot of Mount
'Arafat ; but the gathering at 'Ukaz was a great national affair.
Here, in the sacred month, when all enmity and tribal vendetta
was supposed to lie buried for the time, flowed from all parts
of Arabia and even more distant lands, the commerce of the
world. Here came the merchants of " Araby the blest," of


Hijaz, of Najd ; the poet-heroes of the desert ; and the actors,
often disguised from the avengers of blood, in masks or veils,
to recite their poems and win the applause of the nations
gathered there. 'Ukaz was " the Olympia of Arabia " ;
here they came, not for trade only, but to sing of their prowess,
of their glory — to display their poetical and literary talents.
The Kasidas, which won the admiration of the assembled
multitude, were inscribed in letters of gold (Muzahhabdt, golden),
and hung up in the national pantheon as a memorial to posterity. 1
During these weeks, 'Ukaz presented a gay scene of pleasure
and excitement. But there was also another side to the pic-
ture. The dancing women, like their modern representatives
the almas and ghawdzin of Egypt, moving from tent to tent,
exciting the impetuous son of the desert by their songs and their
merriment ; the congregation of Corinthians, who did not
even pretend to the calling of music ; the drunken orgies,
frequently ending in brawls and bloodshed ; the gaming-tables,
at which the Meccan gambled from night till morning ; the
bitter hatred and ill-feeling evoked by the pointed personalities
of rival poets, leading to sudden affrays and permanent and
disastrous quarrels, deepened the shadows of the picture, and
made a vivid impression on the orphan child of Amina.

During the interval between the first and second of those
fratricidal wars, named sacrilegious from the violation of the
sanctity of the month in which all quarrel was forbidden,
Mohammed accompanied his uncle and guardian on one of
his mercantile journeys to Syria. 2 Here was opened before
him a scene of social misery and religious degradation, the
sight of which never faded from his memory. Silently and
humbly, with many thoughts in his mind, the solitary orphan
boy grew from childhood to youth and from youth to manhood.

Deeply versed in the legendary lore of his nation, education
in the modern sense of the term he had none. With all his
affection for his people, in his ways and mode of thought he
seemed far removed from them, isolated in the midst of a

1 Hence also called the Mu'allakat, or " suspended poems."

2 Abu Talib, like his father and grandfather, carried on a considerable
trade with Syria and Yemen. He transported to Damascus, to Basra, and
other places in Syria the dates of Hijaz and Hijr and the perfumes of Yemen,
and in return brought back with him the products of the Byzantine empire.


chaotic society with his eyes fixed intently on the moving
panorama of an effete and depraved age. The lawlessness
rife among the Meccans, the sudden outbursts of causeless
and sanguinary quarrels among the tribes frequenting the
fairs of 'Ukaz, the immorality and scepticism of the Koreish,
naturally caused feelings of intense horror and disgust in the
mind of the sensitive youth.

In the twenty-fifth year of his age, Mohammed travelled
once more into Syria as the factor or steward of a noble
Koreishite lady named Khadija, a kinswoman of his. The
prudence with which he discharged his duties made a favourable
impression on Khadija, which gradually deepened into attach-
ment. A marriage, which proved a singularly happy one, was
soon after arranged between Mohammed and his noble kins-
woman, and was solemnised amidst universal rejoicings. In
spite of the disparity of age between Mohammed and his wife,
who was much the senior of her husband, there alwa}'S existed
the tenderest devotion on both sides. This marriage " brought
him that repose and exemption from daily toil which he needed
in order to prepare his mind for his great work. But beyond
that it gave him a loving woman's heart, that was the first to
believe in his mission, that was ever ready to console him in his
despair, and to keep alive within him the thin flickering flame
of hope when no man believed in him — not even himself — and
the world was black before his eyes."

Khadija is a notable figure, an exemplar among the woman-
hood of Islam. The calumny which is levelled at Mohammed's
system, that it has degraded the female sex, is sufficiently
refuted by the high position which his wife and youngest daughter,
our " Lady of Light," occupy in the estimation of the Moslem.
Khadija bore Mohammed several children — three sons and
four daughters ; but the sons all died in infancy, and their loss,
which wrung the heart of the bereaved father so tenderly and
devotedly attached to them, supplied the hostile Koreish later
with an abusive epithet to apply to the Prophet. 1 The
daughters long survived the new Dispensation. With the
exception of an occasional appearance in public when the
exigencies of his position or the necessities of the city of his

1 Al-abtar, literally without a tail ; in its secondary sense, one without issue.


birth demanded it, the next fifteen years after his marriage is a
silent record of introspection, preparation, and spiritual com-
munion. Since the death of Abd ul-Muttalib authority in
Mecca had become more or less divided. Each of the senators
enjoyed a somewhat limited authority, and among the different
functions there was no such institution as a magistracy to
insure the peaceable enjoyment by individuals of their rights
and property. The ties of blood and family esprit do corps
afforded some degree of protection to every citizen against
injustice and spoliation, but strangers were exposed to all kinds
of oppression. They would often find themselves robbed, not
only of their goods and chattels, but also of their wives and
daughters. A famous poet of the name of Hanzala of the
tribe of Bani'l Kayn, better known as Abu Tamahan, was
publicly robbed in the streets of Mecca, notwithstanding that
he had entered the city as a client of a Koreishite notable,
Abdullah ibn Juda'an. Another similar act of lawlessness
brought matters to a crisis. At the instance of Mohammed,
the descendants of Hashim and of Muttalib and the principal
members of the family of Zuhra and Taym bound themselves
by a solemn oath to defend every individual, whether Meccan
or stranger, free or slave, from any wrong or injustice to which
he might be subjected in Meccan territories, and to obtain
redress for him from the oppressor. This chivalrous league
received the name of the Hilf ul-Fuzul, or the Federation of the
Fuzul, in memory of an ancient society instituted with a
similar object among the Jurhum, and composed of four
personages, named Fazl, Fazal, Muffazzal, and Fuzail, col-
lectively Fuzul. Mohammed was the principal member of this
new association, which was founded about 595 A. a, shortly after
his marriage. "The League of the Fuzul" exercised efficient
protection over the weak and oppressed, and during the first
year of its institution the simple threat of its intervention was
sufficient to repress the lawlessness of the strong, and to afford
redress to the helpless. The League continued to exist in full
force for the first half-century of Islam. It was some years
after the establishment of the Hilf ul-Fuzul, and towards the
commencement of the seventh century of the Christian era,
that an attempt was made by Osman, son of Huwairith, backed


by Byzantine gold, to convert Hijaz into a Roman dependency.
His attempt failed chiefly through the instrumentality of
Mohammed, and Osman was obliged to fly into Syria, where
he was subsequently poisoned by 'Amr, the Ghassanide prince.
In 605 A.c, when Mohammed was thirty-five, the Koreish took
in hand the reconstruction of the Kaaba. In the course of this
work a dispute among the different families engaged in the
building of the temple, which at one time seemed likely to
lead to great bloodshed, was happily settled by the ready
intervention of Mohammed. These are all we know of his
public acts within these fifteen years. His gentle disposition, his
austerity of conduct, the severe purity of his • life, his scrupu-
lous refinement, his ever-ready helpfulness towards the poor and
the weak, his noble sense of honour, his unflinching fidelity,
his stern sense of duty had won him, among his compatriots,
the high and enviable designation of al-Amin, the Trusty.

It was at this period that he tried to discharge some portion
of the debt of gratitude and obligation he owed his uncle Abu
Talib, by charging himself with the education of Ali, one of
his sons. Abu Talib's endeavour to maintain the old position
of his family had considerably straitened his circumstances.
Mohammed, rich by his alliance with Khadija, and Abbas,
the brother of Abu Talib, were the most opulent citizens of
Mecca. During a severe famine which afflicted the country,
Mohammed persuaded his uncle Abbas, to adopt one of the sons
of Abu Talib, whilst he adopted another. Thus Abbas took
Ja'far ; Mohammed, Ali, and 'Akil remained with his father. 1
Mohammed had lost all his sons in early infancy. In the
love of Ali he found some consolation for their loss ; and the
future marriage of the son of Abu Talib with the youngest
daughter of Mohammed, Fatima, 2 sealed the bond of love
and devotedness.

Mohammed about this time set an example to his fellow-
citizens by an act of humanity which created a salutary effect
upon his people. A young Arab of the name of Zaid, son of
Harith, was brought as a captive to Mecca by a hostile tribe,

1 Ibn-Hisham, p. 109; al-Halabi, Insan-ul-'Uyun, vol. 212; Ibn ul-Athir,
vol. ii. p. 42.

2 Born in 606 A.c.


and sold to a nephew of Khadija, who presented the young
lad to her. Mohammed obtained Zaid as a gift from Khadija,
and immediately enfranchised him. This kindness on the one
side gave rise to absolute devotion on the other, and the Arab
boy could not be induced, even by his own father, to return
to his tribe or forsake Mohammed.

Thus passed the fifteen years of trial and probation, years
marked by many afflictions and yet full of sympathy with
human suffering and sorrow.

Before him lay his country, bleeding and torn by fratricidal
wars and inter-tribal dissensions, his people sunk in ignorance,
addicted to obscene rites and superstitions, and, with all their
desert virtues, lawless and cruel. His two visits to Syria had
opened to him a scene of unutterable moral and social desola-
tion ; rival creeds and sects tearing each other to pieces,
wrangling over the body of the God they pretended to worship,
carrying their hatred to the valleys and deserts of Hijaz, and
rending the townships of Arabia with their quarrels and
bitterness. The picture before him was one of dreary hope-
lessness. The few who, abandoning their ancient beliefs, were
groping in the dark for some resting-place, represented a
general feeling of unrest. 1 In their minds there was nothing
capable of appealing to the humanity beyond themselves.
Mohammed's soul was soaring aloft, trying to peer into the
mysteries of creation, of life and death, of good and evil, to
find order out of chaos. And God's words uttered to his soul
became at last the life-giving power of the world. For years
after his marriage it had been his wont to betake himself,
sometimes with his family, at other times alone, for praj'er
and meditation to a cave on the Mount Hira, 2 " a huge barren

1 Four men, Zaid, Waraka, son of Naufal and a cousin of Khadija, and two
others (Obaidullah and Osman), abandoning the fetishism of their countrymen,
had betaken themselves to a search for the true faith. Zaid was the principal
person among them. Before the Prophet retired into the wilderness, like
Jesus, to commune with God, he had come in contact with Zaid, and learnt
to esteem his abhorrence of idolatry. When Zaid's cousin asked the Prophet
in later times to supplicate divine mercy for him, Mohammed, who would not
pray for his own grandfather, as he had died in idolatry, willingly did so for
Zaid. — Ibn-Hisham, p. 145.

2 Now called the Mount of Light. Ibn-Hisham, Ibn ul-Athir, and Abulfeda
mention the month of Ramazan as the month which Mohammed usually
spent at Hira in prayer and the succour of the poor and famished wayfarers
of the desert. Tabari mentions Rajab.


rock, torn by cleft and hollow ravine, standing out solitary
in the full white glare of the desert sun, shadowless, flowerless,
without well or rill." Solitude had indeed become a passion
with him. Here in this cave he often remained whole nights

plunged in profoundest thought, deep in communion ( cJ^-'i )
with the unseen yet all-pervading God of the Universe. Slowly
the heaven and earth fill with pre-destined vision and command.
A voice seems to issue even from the inanimate objects around
him, the stones and rocks and trees, calling on him to fulfil
the task an Almighty Power was directing him to undertake. 1
Can the poetry of the soul go further ? The mental visions
and the apparitions of angels at these moments were the bright,
though gradual, dawnings of those truths with which he was
to quicken the world into life. Often in the dark and benighted
pathways of concrete existence, the soul of every great man has
been conscious of unrealised yet not unseen influences, which
have led to some of the happiest achievements of humanity.
From Samuel, that ancient Seer, wild and awful as he stands,
deep in the misty horizon of the Past, to Jesus in the wilderness,
pondering over the darksome fate of his people and the magni-
tude of his work, listening to the gentle accents of the God of
Truth, — from Jesus to Mohammed in the solitude of his
mountain retreat, there is no break in the action of these
influences. 2 In the still hours of the night, in the calm-
ness of the early dawn, in the depth of solitude, when no
human sympathy is near, a Voice comes to him from heaven,
softly as the sough of the morning breeze : " Thou art the
man, Thou art the Prophet of God " ; or, when wrapt in
thought it comes in mighty waves : " Cry in the name of thy
Lord." 3 The over- wrought mind at these moments raises a
vision before the eye, a vision of the celestial ministrants who
are believed to form the medium of inter-communication
between the God of Heaven and the man on earth. " The
Father of Truth chooses His own prophets, and He speaks to
them in a voice stronger than the voice of thunder. It is the

1 Ibn-Hisham, p. 151.

2 Koran, sura xcvi. 2 ; Ibn-Hisham, p. 153; Al-Halabi, Insan-ul-'Uyxin,
vol. i. p. 249 ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 34.

3 Comp. Isa. xl. 6.


same inner voice through which God speaks to all of us. That
voice may dwindle away, and become hardly audible ; it may
lose its divine accent, and sink into the language of worldly
prudence ; but it may also from time to time assume its real
nature with the chosen of God, and sound in their ears as a
voice from heaven." 1

" The natural relations of Mahomet's vast conception of the
personality of God with the atmosphere of his age," says a
great writer, 2 " is the only explanation of that amazing sober-
ness and self-command with which he entertained his all-
absorbing visions " ; and then adds, " it could not have been
accidental that the one supreme force of the epoch issued from
the solitudes of that vast peninsula round which the tides of
empire rose and fell. Every exclusive prophetic claim in the
name of a sovereign Will has been a cry from the desert. The
symbolic meaning given to Arabia by the withdrawal of the
Christian apostle to commune with a power above flesh and
blood, in Mahomet became more than a symbol. Arabia was
itself the man of the hour, the prophet of Islam its concentrated
word. To the child of her exalted traditions, driven by secret
compulsion out into the lonely places of the starry night, his
mouth in the dust, the desert spoke without reserve."

One night — " the Night of Power and Excellence " — when a
divine peace rests on creation, and all nature is lifted up towards
its Lord — in the middle of that night the Book was opened to
the thirsting soul. Whilst lying self-absorbed, he is called by a
mighty Voice, surging like the waves of the ocean, to cry.
Twice the Voice called, and twice he struggled and waived its
call. But a fearful weight was laid on him, and an answer
was wrung out of his heart. " Cry ! " called out the Voice
for the third time.

And he said, " What shall I cry ? " Came the answer :
" Cry — in the name of thy Lord ! "

When the Voice had ceased to speak, telling him how from
minutest beginnings man had been called into existence and
lifted up by understanding and knowledge of the Lord, who is

1 Professor Muller, quoted from Dean Stanley's Lectures on the History of
the Jewish Church, Part i. Lect. xviii. p. 394.

2 Johnson, Oriental Religions, p. 561.

s.i. b


most beneficent, and who by the Pen had revealed that which
men did not know, 1 Mohammed woke from his trance, and felt
as if the words spoken to his soul had been written on his heart.
A great trembling came upon him, and he hastened home to
his wife, and said, " O Khadija ! What has happened to me ? "
He lay down, and she watched by him. When he recovered
from his paroxysm he said, " O Khadija ! he of whom one
would not have believed it (meaning himself) has become either
a soothsayer 2 (Kdhin) or one possessed — mad." She replied,
" God is my protection, O Abu'l-Kasim ! (a name of Mohammed,
derived from one of his boys), He will surely not let such a
thing happen unto thee ; for thou speakest the truth, dost not
return evil for evil, keepest faith, art of a good life, and kind to
thy relations and friends. And neither art thou a babbler
in the market-places. What has befallen thee ? Hast thou
seen aught terrible ? " Mohammed replied, " Yes." And he
told her what he had seen. Whereupon she answered and
said, " Rejoice, O dear husband, and be of good cheer. He,
in whose hands stands Khadija's life, is my witness that thou
wilt be the Prophet of this people." Then she arose and went
to her cousin Waraka, son of Naufal, who was old and blind,
and " knew the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians." When
she told him what she had heard, he cried out, " Knddusiin,
Kuddusun ! Holy, holy ! Verily this is the Ndmus al-akbar 3
who came to Moses and Jesus. He will be the Prophet of
his people. Tell him this. Bid him be of brave heart."

In the midst of the wreck of empires and nations, in the wild
turmoil of tribes and clans, there was a voice in the air — east
and west, north and south — that God's message was close
at hand : the shepherd was nigh who was to call back the

1 Sura xcvi. vers. 1-5. " Ikra " is usually rendered into " read " ; but I
have preferred to follow the rendering suggested by Deutsch, as more in
accordance with the call to the Prophet ; see Rodwell also, and compare
Zamakhshari (the Kashshdf).

2 Diviners and soothsayers were his particular aversions ; most of them
were attached to the temples.

3 The primary signification of the word NdmUs in Arabic is a messenger,
one who communicates a secret message. It also means law, as the Greek
vo/j.os. " In Talmudical phraseology," says Deutsch, " it signifies the revealed
law. In Waraka's mind these different significations were combined ; the
messenger and the message, both divine, had come to Mohammed even as
they had come to Moses and Jesus,"


erring flock into the Master's fold. It had spoken to the
heart of Waraka.

And when the two men met subsequently in the streets, the
blind old reader of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, who had
searched in them for consolation and found none, but who
knew of the promise held out to mankind of a Deliverer, spoke
of his faith and trust. " I swear by Him in whose hand War-
aka's life is," said the old man, " God has chosen thee to be
the prophet of this people ; the Ndmus al-akbar has come to
thee. They will call thee a liar, they will persecute thee, they
will banish thee, they will fight against thee. Oh, that I
could live to those days ! I would fight for thee." 1 And he
kissed him on his forehead. These words of hope and trust
brought comfort to the troubled soul. 2 And then followed a
period of waiting for the Voice to come again — the inspiration
of Heaven to fall once more on the anxious mind.

We can appreciate the spiritual throes, the severe mental
conflicts, the doubts, hopes, and misgivings which alternately
wrung the heart of Mohammed, when we are told that before
he had himself realised his Mission he was driven to the verge
of self-destruction, when the angel of God recalled him to his
duty to mankind. 3 It spoke to the poor grieved heart, agitated
by doubt and fear, — of hope and trust, of the bright future
when he should see the people of the earth crowding into the
one true Faith.

Saved by the gracious monition, he hurries home from the
desert, exhausted in mind and body, to the bosom of his
devoted wife, praying only to be covered from the overwhelming

His was not the communion with God of those egoists who
bury themselves in deserts or forests, and live a life of quietude
for themselves alone. His was the hard struggle of the man
who is led onwards by a nobler destiny towards the liberation
of his race from the bondage of idolatry. His destiny was
unfolded to him when, wrapt in profound meditation, melan-
choly and sad, he felt himself called by that Voice from heaven

1 Ibn-Hisham, p. 103; al-Halabi, Insdn-ul-'Uyun, vol. i. p. 256.

2 Waraka died soon after this event. — Ibn-Hisham, p. 104.

3 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. pp. 35, 36 ; Tibri (Zotenberg's transl.), vol. ii. p. 392.


which had called those who had gone before him, to arise and
preach. " O thou, enwrapped in thy mantle, arise and warn,
and glorify thy Lord." 1 And he arose and girded himself for
the work to which he was called. Thenceforth his life is
devoted to humanity. Preaching with unswerving purpose
amidst unremitting persecution, insulted and outraged, he held
on in his path of reproof and reform.

Khadija was the first to accept his Mission. She was the
first to believe in the revelation, to abandon the idolatry of her

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 8 of 55)