Vol. 4, Chapter III. Mohammedanism in Its Relation to Christianity

“There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his apostle.” — The Koran.

“There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” — 1Ti_2:5, 1Ti_2:6.


38. Literature

See A. Sprenger’s Bibliotheca Orientalis Sprengeriana. Giessen, 1857.

W. Muir.: Life of Mahomet, Vol. I., ch. 1. Muir discusses especially the value of Mohammedan traditions.

Ch. Friedrici: Bibliotheca Orientalis. London (Trübner & Co.) 1875 sqq.

I. Sources

1. The Koran or AL-Koran. The chief source. The Mohammedan Bible, claiming to be given by inspiration to Mohammed during the course of twenty years. About twice as large as the New Testament. The best Arabic MSS., often most beautifully written, are in the Mosques of Cairo, Damascus, Constantinople, and Paris; the largest, collection in the library of the Khedive in Cairo. Printed editions in Arabic by Hinkelmann (Hamburg, 1694); Molla Osman Ismael (St. Petersburg, 1787 and 1803); G. Flügel (Leipz., 1834); revised by Redslob (1837, 1842, 1858). Arabice et Latine, ed. L. Maraccius, Patav., 1698, 2 vols., fol. (Alcorani textus universus, with notes and refutation). A lithographed edition of the Arabic text appeared at Lucknow in India, 1878 (A. H. 1296).

The standard English translations: in prose by Geo. Sale (first publ., Lond., 1734, also 1801, 1825, Philad., 1833, etc.), with a learned and valuable preliminary discourse and notes; in the metre, but without the rhyme, of the original by J. M. Rodwell (Lond., 1861, 2d ed. 1876, the Suras arranged in chronological order). A new transl. in prose by E. H. Palmer. (Oxford, 1880, 2 vols.) in M. Müller’s “Sacred Books of the East.” Parts are admirably translated by Edward W. Lane.

French translation by Savary, Paris, 1783, 2 vols.; enlarged edition by Garcin de Tassy, 1829, in 3 vols.; another by M. Kasimirski, Paris, 1847, and 1873.

German translations by Wahl (Halle, 1828), L. Ullmann (Bielefeld, 1840, 4th ed. 1857), and parts by Hammer von Purgstall (in the Fundgruben des Orients), and Sprenger (in Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammad).

2. Secondary sources on the Life of Moh. and the origin of Islâm are the numerous poems of contemporaries, especially in Ibn Ishâc, and the collections of the sayings of Moh., especially the Sahih (i.e. The True, the Genuine) of Albuchârî (d. 871). Also the early Commentaries on the Koran, which explain difficult passages, reconcile the contradictions, and insert traditional sayings and legends. See Sprenger, III. CIV. sqq.


II. Works on the Koran

Th. Nöldeke: Geschichte des Quorâns, (History of the Koran), Göttingen, 1860; and his art. in the “Encycl. Brit., 9th ed. XVI. 597-606.

Garcin de Tassy: L’Islamisme d’après le Coran l’enseignement doctrinal et la pratique, 3d ed. Paris, 1874.

Gustav Weil: Hist. kritische Einleitung in den Koran. Bielefeld und Leipz., 1844, 2d ed., 1878.

Sir William Muir: The Corân. Its Composition and Teaching; and the Testimony it bears to the Holy Scriptures. (Allahabad, 1860), 3d ed., Lond., 1878.

Sprenger, l.c., III., pp. xviii.-cxx.


III. Biographies of Mohammed

1. Mohammedan Biographers

Zohri (the oldest, died after the Hegira 124).

Ibn Ishâc (or Ibni Ishak, d. A. H. 151, or a.d. 773), ed. in Arabic from MSS. by Wüstenfeld, Gött., 1858-60, translated by Weil, Stuttg., 1864.

Ibn (Ibni) Hishâm (d. A. H. 213, a.d. 835), also ed. by Wüstenfeld, and translated by Weil, 1864.

Katib Al Waquidi (or Wackedee, Wackidi, d. at Bagdad A. H. 207, a.d. 829), a man of prodigious learning, who collected the traditions, and left six hundred chests of books (Sprenger, III., LXXI.), and his secretary, Muhammad Ibn Sâad (d. A. H. 230, a.d. 852), who arranged, abridged, and completed the biographical works of his master in twelve or fifteen for. vols.; the first vol. contains the biography of Moh., and is preferred by Muir and Sprenger to all others. German transl. by Wellhausen: Muhammed in Medina. From the Arabic of Vakidi. Berlin, 1882.

Tabari (or Tibree, d. A. H. 310, a.d. 932), called by Gibbon “the Livy of the Arabians.”

Muir says (I., CIII.): “To the three biographies by Ibn Hishâm, by Wackidi, and his secretary, and by Tabari, the judicious historian of Mahomet will, as his original authorities, confine himself. He will also receive, with a similar respect, such traditions in the general collections of the earliest traditionists — Bokhâri, Muslim, Tirmidzi, etc., — as may bear upon his subject. But he will reject as evidence all later authors.” Abulfeda (or Abulfida, d. 1331), once considered the chief authority, now set aside by much older sources.

*Syed Ahmed Khan Bahador (member of the Royal Asiatic Society): A Series of Essays on the Life of Mohammed. London (Trübner & Co.), 1870. He wrote also a “Mohammedan Commentary on the Holy Bible.” He begins with the sentence: “In nomine Dei Misericordis Miseratoris. Of all the innumerable wonders of the universe, the most marvellous is religion.”

Syed Ameer Ali, Moulvé (a Mohammedan lawyer, and brother of the former): A Critical Examination of the Life and Teachings of Mohammed. London 1873. A defense of Moh. chiefly drawn from Ibn-Hishâm (and Ibn-al Athîr (1160-1223).


2. Christian Biographies

Dean Prideaux (d. 1724): Life of Mahomet, 1697, 7th ed. Lond., 1718. Very unfavorable.

Count Boulinvilliers: The Life of Mahomet. Transl. from the French. Lond., 1731.

Jean Gagnier (d. 1740): La vie de Mahomet, 1732, 2 vols., etc. Amsterd. 1748, 3 vols. Chiefly from Abulfeda and the Sonna. He also translated Abulfeda.

*Gibbon: Decline and Fall, etc. (1788), chs. 50-52. Although not an Arabic scholar, Gibbon made the best use of the sources then accessible in Latin, French, and English, and gives a brilliant and, upon the whole, impartial picture.

*Gustav Weil: Mohammed der Prophet, sein Leben und seine Lehre. Stuttgart, 1843. Comp. also his translation of Ibn Ishâc, and Ibn Hishâm, Stuttgart, 1864, 2 vols.; and his Biblische Legenden der Muselmänner aus arabischen Quellen und mit jüd. Sagen verglichen. Frcf., 1845. The last is also transl. into English.

Th. Carlyle: The Hero as Prophet, in his Heroes Hero- Worship and the Heroic in History. London, 1840. A mere sketch, but full of genius and stimulating hints. He says: “We have chosen Mahomet not as the most eminent prophet, but as the one we are freest to speak of. He is by no means the truest of prophets, but I esteem him a true one. Farther, as there is no danger of our becoming, any of us, Mahometans, I mean to say all the good of him I justly can. It is the way to get at his secret.”

Washington Irving: Mahomet and His Followers. N. Y., 1850. 2 vols.

George Bush: The Life of Mohammed. New York (Harpers).

*SIR William Muir (of the Bengal Civil Service): The Life of Mahomet. With introductory chapters on the original sources for the biography of Mahomet, and on the pre-Islamite history of Arabia. Lond., 1858-1861, 4 vols. Learned, able, and fair. Abridgement in 1 vol. Lond., 1877.

*A. Sprenger: First an English biography printed at Allahabad, 1851, and then a more complete one in German, Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammad. Nach bisher grösstentheils unbenutzten Quellen. Berlin, 1861-’65, 2d ed. 1869, 3 vols. This work is based on original and Arabic sources, and long personal intercourse with Mohammedans in India, but is not a well digested philosophical biography.

*Theod. Nöldeke: Das Leben Muhammeds. Hanover, 1863. Comp. his elaborate art. in Vol. XVIII. of Herzog’s Real-Encycl., first ed.

E. Renan: Mahomet, et les origines de l’islamisme, in his “Etudes de l’histoire relig.,” 7th ed. Par., 1864.

Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire: Mahomet et le Oran. Paris, 1865. Based on Sprenger and Muir.

Ch. Scholl: L’Islam et son Fondateur. Paris, 1874.

R. Bosworth Smith (Assistant Master in Harrow School): Mohammed and Mohammedanism. Lond. 1874, reprinted New York, 1875.

J. W. H. Stobart: Islam and its Founder. London, 1876.

J. Wellhausen: Art. Moh. in the “Encycl. Brit.” 9th ed. vol. XVI. 545-565.


IV. History of the Arabs and Turks

Jos. von Hammer-Purgstall: Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches. Pesth, 1827-34, 10 vols. A smaller ed. in 4 vols. This standard work is the result of thirty years’ labor, and brings the history down to 1774. By the same: Literaturgeschichte der Araber. Wien, 1850-’57, 7 vols.

*G. Weil: Gesch. der Chalifen. Mannheim, 1846-5l, 3 vols.

*Caussin de Perceval: Essai sur l’histoire des Arabes. Paris, 1848, 3 vols.

*Edward A. Freeman (D. C. L., LL. D.): History and Conquests of the Saracens. Lond., 1856, 3d ed. 1876.

Robert Durie Osborn (Major of the Bengal Staff Corps): Islam under the Arabs. London., 1876; Islam under the Khalifs of Baghdad. London, 1877.

Sir Edward S. Creasy: History of the Ottoman Turks from the Beginning of their Empire to the present Time. Lond., 2d ed. 1877. Chiefly founded on von Hammer’

Th. Nöldeke: Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sasaniden. Aus der arabischen Chronik des Tabari uebersetzt. Leyden, 1879.

Sir Wm. Muir: Annals of the Early Caliphate. London 1883.


V. Manners and Customs of the Mohammedans

Joh. Ludwig Burckhardt: Travels in Nubia, 1819; Travels in Syria and Palestine, 1823; Notes on the Bedouins, 1830.

*Edw. W. Lane: Modern Egyptians. Lond., 1836, 5th ed. 1871, in 2 vols.

*Rich. F. Burton: Personal narrative of a Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah, Lond. 1856, 3 vols.

C. B. Klunzinger: Upper Egypt: its People and its Products. A descriptive Account of the Manners, Customs, Superstitions, and Occupations of the People of the Nile Valley, the Desert, and the Red Sea Coast. New York, 1878. A valuable supplement to Lane.

Books of Eastern Travel, especially on Egypt and Turkey. Bahrdt’s Travels in Central Africa (1857), Palgrave’s Arabia (1867), etc.


VI. Relation of Mohammedanism to Judaism

*Abraham Geiger: Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthum aufgenommen? Bonn, 1833.

Hartwig Hirschfeld: Jüdische Elemente im Koran. Berlin, 1878.


VII. Mohammedanism as a Religion, and Its Relation to Christianity

L. Maracci: Prodromus ad refutationem Alcorani. Rom., 1691, 4 vols.

S. Lee: Controversial Tracts on Christianity and Mahometanism. 1824.

J. Döllingber (R.C.): Muhammed’s Religion nach ihrer innern Entwicklung u. ihrem Einfluss auf das Leben der Völker. Regensb. 1838.

A. Möhler (R.C.): Das Verhältniss des Islam zum Christenthum (in his “Gesammelte Schriften”). Regensb., 1839.

C. F. Gerock: Versuch einer Darstellung der Christologie des Koran. Hamburg and Gotha, 1839.

J. H. Newman (R.C.): The Turks in their relation to Europe (written in 1853), in his “Historical Sketches.” London, 1872, pp. 1-237.

Dean Arthur P. Stanley: Mahometanism and its relations to the Eastern Church (in Lectures on the “History of the Eastern Church.” London and New York, 1862, pp. 360-387). A picturesque sketch.

Dean Milman: History of Latin Christianity. Book IV., chs.1 and 2. (Vol. II. p. 109).

Theod. Nöldeke: Art. Muhammed und der Islam, in Herzog’s “Real-Encyclop.” Vol. XVIII. (1864), pp. 767-820.’

*Eman. Deutsch: Islam, in his “Liter. Remains.” Lond. and N. York, 1874, pp. 50-134. The article originally appeared in the London “Quarterly Review” for Oct. 1869, and is also printed at the end of the New York (Harper) ed. of R. Bosworth Smith’s Mohammed. Reports of the General Missionary Conference at Allahabad, 1873.

J. Mühleisen Arnold (formerly chaplain at Batavia): Islam: its History, Character, and Relation to Christianity. Lond., 1874, 3d ed.

Gustav. Rösch: Die Jesusmythen des Islam, in the “Studien und Kritiken.” Gotha, 1876. (No. III. pp. 409-454).

Marcus Dods: Mohammed, Buddha, and Christ. Lond. 2d ed. 1878.

Ch. A. Aiken: Mohammedanism as a Missionary Religion. In the “Bibliotheca Sacra,” of Andover for 1879, p. 157.

Archbishop Trench: Lectures on Medieval Church History (Lect. IV. 45-58). London, 1877.

Henry H. Jessup (Amer. Presbyt. missionary at Beirut): The Mohammedan Missionary Problem. Philadelphia, 1879.

Edouard Sayous: Jésus Christ d’après Mahomet. Paris 1880.

G. P. Badger: Muhámmed in Smith and Wace, III. 951-998.


39. Statistics and Chronological Table




Estimate of the Mohammedan Population (According to Keith Johnston).   

In Asia, 112,739,000   

In Africa, 50,416,000   

In Europe, 5,974,000   

Total, 169,129,000  


Mohammedans Under Christian Governments.   

England in India rules over 41,000,000   

Russia in Central Asia rules over 6,000,000   

France in Africa rules over 2,000,000   

Holland in Java and Celebes rules over 1,000,000   

Total, 50,000,000  


a.d. Chronological Survey.

570. Birth of Mohammed, at Mecca.

610. Mohammed received the visions of Gabriel and began his career as a prophet. (Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons).

622. The Hegira, or the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. Beginning of the Mohammedan era.

632. (June 8) Death of Mohammed at Medina.

632. Abû Bekr, first Caliph or successor of Mohammed

636. Capture of Jerusalem by the Caliph Omar.

640. Capture of Alexandria by Omar.

711. Tharyk crosses the Straits from Africa to Europe, and calls the mountain Jebel Tharyk (Gibraltar).

732. Battle of Poitiers and Tours; Abd-er-Rahman defeated by Charles Martel; Western Europe saved from Moslem conquest.

786-809. Haroun al Rashîd, Caliph of Bagdad. Golden era of Mohammedanism. (Correspondence with Charlemagne).

1063. Allp Arslan, Seljukian Turkish prince.

1096. The First Crusade. Capture of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon.

1187. Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and scourge of the Crusaders, conquers at Tiberias and takes Jerusalem, (1187); is defeated by Richard Coeur de Lion at Askelon, and dies 1193. Decline of the Crusades.

1288-1326. Reign of Othman, founder of the Ottoman (Turkish) dynasty.

1453. Capture of Constantinople by Mohammed II., “the Conqueror,” and founder of the greatness of Turkey. (Exodus of Greek scholars to Southern Europe; the Greek Testament brought to the West; the revival of letters.)

1492. July 2. Boabdil (or Alien Abdallah) defeated by Ferdinand at Granada; end of Moslem rule in Spain. (Discovery of America by Columbus).

1517. Ottoman Sultan Selim I. conquers Egypt, wrests the caliphate from the Arab line of the Koreish through Motawekkel Billah, and transfers it to the Ottoman Sultans; Ottoman caliphate never acknowledged by Persian or Moorish Moslems. (The Reformation.)

1521-1566. Solyman II., “the Magnificent,” marks the zenith of the military power of the Turks; takes Belgrade (1521), defeats the Hungarians (1526), but is repulsed from Vienna (1529 and 1532).

1571. Defeat of Selim II. at the naval battle of Lepanto by the Christian powers under Don John of Austria. Beginning of the decline of the Turkish power.

1683. Final repulse of the Turks at the gates of Vienna by John Sobieski, king of Poland, Sept. 12; Eastern Europe saved from Moslem rule.

1792. Peace at Jassy in Moldavia, which made the Dniester the frontier between Russia and Turkey.

1827. Annihilation of the Turko-Egyptian fleet by, the combined squadrons of England, France, and Russia, in the battle of Navarino, October 20. Treaty of Adrianople, 1829. Independence of the kingdom of Greece, 1832.

1856. End of Crimean War; Turkey saved by England and France aiding the Sultan against the aggression of Russia; Treaty of Paris; European agreement not to interfere in the domestic affairs of Turkey.

1878. Defeat of the Turks by Russia; but checked by the interference of England under the lead of Lord Beaconsfield. Congress of the European powers, and Treaty of Berlin; independence of Bulgaria secured; Anglo-Turkish Treaty; England occupies Cyprus — agrees to defend the frontier of Asiatic Turkey against Russia, on condition that the Sultan execute fundamental reforms in Asiatic Turkey.

1880. Supplementary Conference at Berlin. Rectification and enlargement of the boundary of Montenegro and Greece.


40. Position of Mohammedanism in Church History

While new races and countries in Northern and Western Europe, unknown to the apostles, were added to the Christian Church, we behold in Asia and Africa the opposite spectacle of the rise and progress of a rival religion which is now acknowledged by more than one-tenth of the inhabitants of the globe. It is called “Mohammedanism” from its founder, or “Islâm,” from its chief virtue, which is absolute surrender to the one true God. Like Christianity, it had its birth in the Shemitic race, the parent of the three monotheistic religions, but in an obscure and even desert district, and had a more rapid, though less enduring success.

But what a difference in the means employed and the results reached! Christianity made its conquest by peaceful missionaries and the power of persuasion, and carried with it the blessings of home, freedom and civilization. Mohammedanism conquered the fairest portions of the earth by the sword and cursed them by polygamy, slavery, despotism and desolation. The moving power of Christian missions was love to God and man; the moving power of Islâm was fanaticism and brute force. Christianity has found a home among all nations and climes; Mohammedanism, although it made a most vigorous effort to conquer the world, is after all a religion of the desert, of the tent and the caravan, and confined to nomad and savage or half-civilized nations, chiefly Arabs, Persians, and Turks. It never made an impression on Europe except by brute force; it is only encamped, not really domesticated, in Constantinople, and when it must withdraw from Europe it will leave no trace behind.

Islâm in its conquering march took forcible possession of the lands of the Bible, and the Greek church, seized the throne of Constantine, overran Spain, crossed the Pyrenees, and for a long time threatened even the church of Rome and the German empire, until it was finally repulsed beneath the walls of Vienna. The Crusades which figure so prominently in the history of medieval Christianity, originated in the desire to wrest the holy land from the followers of “the false prophet,” and brought the East in contact with the West. The monarchy and the church of Spain, with their architecture, chivalry, bigotry, and inquisition, emerged from a fierce conflict with the Moors. Even the Reformation in the sixteenth century was complicated with the Turkish question, which occupied the attention of the diet of Augsburg as much as the Confession of the Evangelical princes and divines. Luther, in one of his most popular hymns, prays for deliverance from “the murdering Pope and Turk,” as the two chief enemies of the gospel; and the Anglican Prayer Book, in the collect for Good Friday, invokes God “to have mercy upon all Turks,” as well as upon “Jews, Infidels, and Heretics.”

The danger for Western Christendom from that quarter has long since passed away; the “unspeakable” Turk has ceased to be unconquerable, but the Asiatic and a part of the East European portion of the Greek church are still subject to the despotic rule of the Sultan, whose throne in Constantinople has been for more than four hundred years a standing insult to Christendom.

Mohammedanism then figures as a hostile force, as a real Ishmaelite in church history; it is the only formidable rival which Christianity ever had, the only religion which for a while at least aspired to universal empire.

And yet it is not hostile only. It has not been without beneficial effect upon Western civilization. It aided in the development of chivalry; it influenced Christian architecture; it stimulated the study of mathematics, chemistry, medicine (as is indicated by the technical terms: algebra, chemistry, alchemy); and the Arabic translations and commentaries on Aristotle by the Spanish Moors laid the philosophical foundation of scholasticism. Even the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks brought an inestimable blessing to the West by driving Greek scholars with the Greek Testament to Italy to inaugurate there the revival of letters which prepared the way for the Protestant Reformation.

Viewed in its relation to the Eastern Church which it robbed of the fairest dominions, Mohammedanism was a well-deserved divine punishment for the unfruitful speculations, bitter contentions, empty ceremonialism and virtual idolatry which degraded and disgraced the Christianity of the East after the fifth century. The essence of true religion, love to God and to man, was eaten out by rancor and strife, and there was left no power of ultimate resistance to the foreign conqueror. The hatred between the orthodox Eastern church and the Eastern schismatics driven from her communion, and the jealousy between the Greek and Latin churches prevented them from aiding each other in efforts to arrest the progress of the common foe. The Greeks detested the Latin Filioque as a heresy more deadly than Islâm; while the Latins cared more for the supremacy of the Pope than the triumph of Christianity, and set up during the Crusades a rival hierarchy in the East. Even now Greek and Latin monks in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are apt to fight at Christmas and Easter over the cradle and the grave of their common Lord and Redeemer, unless Turkish soldiers keep them in order!

But viewed in relation to the heathenism from which it arose or which it converted, Mahommedanism is a vast progress, and may ultimately be a stepping-stone to Christianity, like the law of Moses which served as a schoolmaster to lead men to the gospel. It has destroyed the power of idolatry in Arabia and a large part of Asia and Africa, and raised Tartars and Negroes from the rudest forms of superstition to the belief and worship of the one true God, and to a certain degree of civilization.

It should be mentioned, however, that, according to the testimony of missionaries and African travelers, Mohammedanism has inflamed the simple minded African tribes with the impure fire of fanaticism and given them greater power of resistance to Christianity. Sir William Muir, a very competent judge, thinks that Mohammedanism by the poisoning influence of polygamy and slavery, and by crushing all freedom of judgment in religion has interposed the most effectual barrier against the reception of Christianity. “No system,” he says, “could have been devised with more consummate skill for shutting out the nations over which it has sway, from the light of truth. Idolatrous Arabs might have been aroused to spiritual life and to the adoption of the faith of Jesus; Mahometan Arabia is, to the human eye, sealed against the benign influences of the gospel …. The sword of Mahomet and the Coran are the most fatal enemies of civilization, liberty, and truth.”

This is no doubt true of the past. But we have not yet seen the end of this historical problem. It is not impossible that Islâm may yet prove to be a necessary condition for the revival of a pure Scriptural religion in the East. Protestant missionaries from England and America enjoy greater liberty under the Mohammedan rule than they would under a Greek or Russian government. The Mohammedan abhorrence of idolatry and image worship, Mohammedan simplicity and temperance are points of contact with the evangelical type of Christianity, which from the extreme West has established flourishing missions in the most important parts of Turkey. The Greek Church can do little or nothing with the Mohammedans; if they are to be converted it must be done by a Christianity which is free from all appearance of idolatry, more simple in worship, and more vigorous in life than that which they have so easily conquered and learned to despise. It is an encouraging fact that Mohammedans have great respect for the Anglo-Saxon race. They now swear by the word of an Englishman as much as by the beard of Mohammed.

Islâm is still a great religious power in the East. It rules supreme in Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, North Africa, and makes progress among the savage tribes in the interior of the Dark Continent. It is by no means simply, as Schlegel characterized the system, “a prophet without miracles, a faith without mysteries, and a morality without love.” It has tenacity, aggressive vitality and intense enthusiasm. Every traveller in the Orient must be struck with the power of its simple monotheism upon its followers. A visit to the Moslem University in the Mosque El Azhar at Cairo is very instructive. It dates from the tenth century (975), and numbers (or numbered in 1877, when I visited it) no less than ten thousand students who come from all parts of the Mohammedan world and present the appearance of a huge Sunday School, seated in small groups on the floor, studying the Koran as the beginning and end of all wisdom, and then at the stated hours for prayer rising to perform their devotions under the lead of their teachers. They live in primitive simplicity, studying, eating and sleeping on a blanket or straw mat in the same mosque, but the expression of their faces betrays the fanatical devotion to their creed. They support themselves, or are aided by the alms of the faithful. The teachers (over three hundred) receive no salary and live by private instruction or presents from rich scholars.

Nevertheless the power of Islâm, like its symbol, the moon, is disappearing before the sun of Christianity which is rising once more over the Eastern horizon. Nearly one-third of its followers are under Christian (mostly English) rule. It is essentially a politico-religious system, and Turkey is its stronghold. The Sultan has long been a “sick man,” and owes his life to the forbearance and jealousy of the Christian powers. Sooner or later he will be driven out of Europe, to Brusa or Mecca. The colossal empire of Russia is the hereditary enemy of Turkey, and would have destroyed her in the wars of 1854 and 1877, if Catholic France and Protestant England had not come to her aid. In the meantime the silent influences of European civilization and Christian missions are undermining the foundations of Turkey, and preparing the way for a religious, moral and social regeneration and transformation of the East. “God’s mills grind slowly, but surely and wonderfully fine.” A thousand years before Him are as one day, and one day may do the work of a thousand years.


41. The Home, and the Antecedents of Islâm

On the Aborigines of Arabia and its religious condition before Islam, compare the preliminary discourse of Sale, Sect.1 and 2; Muir, Vol. I. ch. 2d; Sprenger, I. 13-92, and Stobart, ch. 1.

The fatherland of Islâm is Arabia, a peninsula between the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. It is covered with sandy deserts, barren hills, rock-bound coasts, fertile wadies, and rich pastures. It is inhabited by nomadic tribes and traders who claim descent from five patriarchal stocks, Cush, Shem, Ishmael, Keturah, and Esau. It was divided by the ancients into Arabia Deserta, Arabia Petraea (the Sinai district with Petra as the capital), and Arabia Felix (El-Yemen, i.e. the land on the right hand, or of the South). Most of its rivers are swelled by periodical rains and then lose themselves in the sandy plains; few reach the ocean; none of them is navigable. It is a land of grim deserts and strips of green verdure, of drought and barrenness, violent rains, clear skies, tropical heat, date palms, aromatic herbs, coffee, balsam, myrrh, frankincense, and dhurra (which takes the place of grain). Its chief animals are the camel, “the ship of the desert,” an excellent breed of horses, sheep, and goats. The desert, like the ocean, is not without its grandeur. It creates the impression of infinitude, it fosters silence and meditation on God and eternity. Man is there alone with God. The Arabian desert gave birth to some of the sublimest compositions, the ode of liberty by Miriam, the ninetieth Psalm by Moses, the book of Job, which Carlyle calls “the grandest poem written by the pen of man.”

The Arabs love a roaming life, are simple and temperate, courteous, respectful, hospitable, imaginative, fond of poetry and eloquence, careless of human life, revengeful, sensual, and fanatical. Arabia, protected by its deserts, was never properly conquered by a foreign nation.

The religious capital of Islâm, and the birthplace of its founder — its Jerusalem and Rome — is Mecca (or Mekka), one of the oldest cities of Arabia. It is situated sixty-five miles East of Jiddah on the Red Sea, two hundred and forty-five miles South of Medina, in a narrow and sterile valley and shut in by bare hills. It numbered in its days of prosperity over one hundred thousand inhabitants, now only about forty-five thousand. It stands under the immediate control of the Sultan. The streets are broad, but unpaved, dusty in summer, muddy in winter. The houses are built of brick or stone, three or four stories high; the rooms better furnished than is usual in the East. They are a chief source of revenue by being let to the pilgrims. There is scarcely a garden or cultivated field in and around Mecca, and only here and there a thorny acacia and stunted brushwood relieves the eye. The city derives all its fruit — watermelons, dates, cucumbers, limes, grapes, apricots, figs, almonds — from Tâif and Wady Fatima, which during the pilgrimage season send more than one hundred camels daily to the capital. The inhabitants are indolent, though avaricious, and make their living chiefly of the pilgrims who annually flock thither by thousands and tens of thousands from all parts of the Mohammedan world. None but Moslems are allowed to enter Mecca, but a few Christian travellers — Ali Bey (the assumed name of the Spaniard, Domingo Badia y Leblich, d. 1818), Burckhardt in 1814, Burton in 1852, Maltzan in 1862, Keane in 1880 — have visited it in Mussulman disguise, and at the risk of their lives. To them we owe our knowledge of the place.

The most holy place in Mecca is Al-Kaaba, a small oblong temple, so called from its cubic form. To it the faces of millions of Moslems are devoutly turned in prayer five times a day. It is inclosed by the great mosque, which corresponds in importance to the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome, and can hold about thirty-five thousand persons. It is surrounded by colonnades, chambers, domes and minarets. Near it is the bubbling well Zemzem, from which Hagar and Ishmael are said to have quenched their burning thirst. The Kaaba is much older than Mecca. Diodorus Siculus mentions it as the oldest and most honored temple in his time. It is supposed to have been first built by angels in the shape of a tent and to have been let down from heaven; there Adam worshipped after his expulsion from Paradise; Seth substituted a structure of clay and stone for a tent; after the destruction by the deluge Abraham and Ishmael reconstructed it, and their footsteps are shown. It was entirely rebuilt in 1627. It contains the famous Black Stone, in the North-Eastern corner near the door. This is probably a meteoric stone, or of volcanic origin, and served originally as an altar. The Arabs believe that it fell from Paradise with Adam, and was as white as milk, but turned black on account of man’s sins. It is semi-circular in shape, measures about six inches in height, and eight inches in breadth, is four or five feet from the ground, of reddish black color, polished by innumerable kisses (like the foot of the Peter-statue in St. Peter’s at Rome), encased in silver, and covered with black silk and inscriptions from the Koran. It was an object of veneration from time immemorial, and is still devoutly kissed or touched by the Moslem pilgrims on each of their seven circuits around the temple.

Mohammed subsequently cleared the Kaaba of all relics of idolatry, and made it the place of pilgrimage for his followers. He invented or revived the legend that Abraham by divine command sent his son Ishmael with Hagar to Mecca to establish there the true worship and the pilgrim festival. He says in the Koran: “God hath appointed the Kaaba, the sacred house, to be a station for mankind,” and, “Remember when we appointed the sanctuary as man’s resort and safe retreat, and said, ‘Take ye the station of Abraham for a place of prayer.’ And we commanded Abraham and Ishmael, ‘Purify my house for those who shall go in procession round it, and those who shall bow down and prostrate themselves.’”

Arabia had at the time when Mohammed appeared, all the elements for a wild, warlike, eclectic religion like the one which he established. It was inhabited by heathen star-worshippers, Jews, and Christians.

The heathen were the ruling race, descended from Ishmael, the bastard son of Abraham (Ibrahim), the real sons of the desert, full of animal life and energy. They had their sanctuary in the Kaaba at Mecca, which attracted annually large numbers of pilgrims long before Mohammed.

The Jews, after the destruction of Jerusalem, were scattered in Arabia, especially in the district of Medina, and exerted considerable influence by their higher culture and rabbinical traditions.

The Christians belonged mostly to the various heretical sects which were expelled from the Roman empire during the violent doctrinal controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. We find there traces of Arians, Sabellians, Ebionites, Nestorians, Eutychians, Monophysites, Marianites, and Collyridians or worshippers of Mary. Anchorets and monks settled in large numbers in Wady Feiran around Mount Serbal, and Justinian laid the foundation of the Convent of St. Catharine at the foot of Mount Sinai, which till the year 1859 harbored the oldest and most complete uncial manuscript of the Greek Scriptures of both Testaments from the age of Constantine. But it was a very superficial and corrupt Christianity which had found a home in those desert regions, where even the apostle Paul spent three years after his conversion in silent preparation for his great mission.

These three races and religions, though deadly hostile to each other, alike revered Abraham, the father of the faithful, as their common ancestor. This fact might suggest to a great mind the idea to unite them by a national religion monotheistic in principle and eclectic in its character. This seems to have been the original project of the founder of Islâm.

It is made certain by recent research that there were at the time and before the call of Mohammed a considerable number of inquirers at Mecca and Medina, who had intercourse with Eastern Christians in Syria and Abyssinia, were dissatisfied with the idolatry around them, and inclined to monotheism, which they traced to Abraham. They called themselves Hanyfs, i.e. Converts, Puritans. One of them, Omayah of Tâif, we know to have been under Christian influence; others seem to have derived their monotheistic ideas from Judaism. Some of the early converts of Mohammed as, Zayd (his favorite slave), Omayab, or Umaijah (a popular poet), and Waraka (a cousin of Chadijah and a student of the Holy Scriptures of the Jews and Christians) belonged to this sect, and even Mohammed acknowledged himself at first a Hanyf. Waraka, it is said, believed in him, as long as he was a Hanyf, but then forsook him, and died a Christian or a Jew.

Mohammed consolidated and energized this reform-movement, and gave it a world-wide significance, under the new name of Islâm, i.e. resignation to God; whence Moslem (or Muslim), one who resigns himself to God.


42. Life and Character of Mohammed

Life of Mohammed

Mohammed, an unschooled, self-taught, semi-barbarous son of nature, of noble birth, handsome person, imaginative, energetic, brave, the ideal of a Bedouin chief, was destined to become the political and religious reformer, the poet, prophet, priest, and king of Arabia.

He was born about a.d. 570 at Mecca, the only child of a young widow named Amina. His father Abdallah had died a few months before in his twenty-fifth year on a mercantile journey in Medina, and left to his orphan five camels, some sheep and a slave girl. He belonged to the heathen family of the Hàshim, which was not wealthy, but claimed lineal descent from Ishmael, and was connected with the Koreish or Korashites, the leading tribe of the Arabs and the hereditary guardians of the sacred Kaaba. Tradition surrounds his advent in the world with a halo of marvellous legends: he was born circumcised and with his navel cut, with the seal of prophecy written on his back in letters of light; he prostrated himself at once on the ground, and, raising his hands, prayed for the pardon of his people; three persons, brilliant as the sun, one holding a silver goblet, the second an emerald tray, the third a silken towel, appeared from heaven, washed him seven times, then blessed and saluted him as the “Prince of Mankind.” He was nursed by a healthy Bedouin woman of the desert. When a boy of four years he was seized with something like a fit of epilepsy, which Wâckidi and other historians transformed into a miraculous occurrence. He was often subject to severe headaches and feverish convulsions, in which he fell on the ground like a drunken man, and snored like a camel. In his sixth year he lost his mother on the return from Medina, whither she had taken him on camel’s back to ‘visit the maternal relations of his father, and was carried back to Mecca by his nurse, a faithful slave girl. He was taken care of by his aged grandfather, Abd al Motkalib, and after his death in 578 by his uncle Abu Tâlib, who had two wives and ten children, and, though poor and no believer in his nephew’s mission, generously protected him to the end.

He accompanied his uncle on a commercial journey to Syria, passing through the desert, ruined cities of old, and Jewish and Christian settlements, which must have made a deep impression on his youthful imagination.

Mohammed made a scanty living as an attendant on caravans and by watching sheep and goats. The latter is rather a disreputable occupation among the Arabs, and left to unmarried women and slaves; but he afterwards gloried in it by appealing to the example of Moses and David, and said that God never calls a prophet who has not been a shepherd before. According to tradition — for, owing to the strict prohibition of images, we have no likeness of the prophet — he was of medium size, rather slender, but broad-shouldered and of strong muscles, had black eyes and hair, an oval-shaped face, white teeth, a long nose, a patriarchal beard, and a commanding look. His step was quick and firm. He wore white cotton stuff, but on festive occasions fine linen striped or dyed in red. He did everything for himself; to the last he mended his own clothes, and cobbled his sandals, and aided his wives in sewing and cooking. He laughed and smiled often. He had a most fertile imagination and a genius for poetry and religion, but no learning. He was an “illiterate prophet,” in this respect resembling some of the prophets of Israel and the fishermen of Galilee. It is a disputed question among Moslem and Christian scholars whether he could even read and write. Probably he could not. He dictated the Koran from inspiration to his disciples and clerks. What knowledge he possessed, he picked up on the way from intercourse with men, from hearing books read, and especially from his travels.

In his twenty-fifth year he married a rich widow, Chadijah (or Chadîdsha), who was fifteen years older than himself, and who had previously hired him to carry on the mercantile business of her former husband. Her father was opposed to the match; but she made and kept him drunk until the ceremony was completed. He took charge of her caravans with great success, and made several journeys. The marriage was happy and fruitful of six children, two sons and four daughters; but all died except little Fâtima, who became the mother of innumerable legitimate and illegitimate descendants of the prophet. He also adopted Alî, whose close connection with him became so important in the history of Islâm. He was faithful to Chadijah, and held her in grateful remembrance after her death. He used to say, “Chadijah believed in me when nobody else did.” He married afterwards a number of wives, who caused him much trouble and scandal. His favorite wife, Ayesha, was more jealous of the dead Chadijah than any of her twelve or more living rivals, for he constantly held up the toothless old woman as the model of a wife.

On his commercial journeys to Syria, he became acquainted with Jews and Christians, and acquired an imperfect knowledge of their traditions. He spent much of his time in retirement, prayer, fasting, and meditation. He had violent convulsions and epileptic fits, which his enemies, and at first he himself, traced to demoniacal possessions, but afterwards to the overpowering presence of God. His soul was fired with the idea of the divine unity, which became his ruling passion; and then he awoke to the bold thought that he was a messenger of God, called to warn his countrymen to escape the judgment and the damnation of hell by forsaking idolatry and worshipping the only true God. His monotheistic enthusiasm was disturbed, though not weakened, by his ignorance and his imperfect sense of the difference between right and wrong.

In his fortieth year (a.d. 610), he received the call of Gabriel, the archangel at the right hand of God, who announced the birth of the Saviour to the Virgin Mary. The first revelation was made to him in a trance in the wild solitude of Mount Hirâ, an hour’s walk from Mecca. He was directed “to cry in the name of the Lord.” He trembled, as if something dreadful had happened to him, and hastened home to his wife, who told him to rejoice, for he would be the prophet of his people. He waited for other visions; but none came. He went up to Mount Hirâ again — this time to commit suicide. But as often as he approached the precipice, he beheld Gabriel at the end of the horizon saying to him: “I am Gabriel, and thou art Mohammed, the prophet of God. Fear not!” He then commenced his career of a prophet and founder of a new religion, which combined various elements of the three religious represented in Arabia, but was animated and controlled by the faith in Allah, as an almighty, ever-present and working will. From this time on, his life was enacted before the eyes of the world, and is embodied in his deeds and in the Koran.

The revelations continued from time to time for more than twenty years. When asked how they were delivered to him, he replied (as reported by Ayesha): “Sometimes like the sound of a bell — a kind of communication which was very severe for me; and when the sounds ceased, I found myself aware of the instructions. And sometimes the angel would come in the form of a man, and converse with me, and all his words I remembered.”

After his call, Mohammed labored first for three years among his family and friends, under great discouragements, making about forty converts, of whom his wife Chadijah was the first, his father-in-law, Abu Bakr, and the young, energetic Omar the most important. His daughter Fatima, his adopted son Alî, and his slave Zayd likewise believed in his divine mission. Then he publicly announced his determination to assume by command of God the office of prophet and lawgiver, preached to the pilgrims flocking to Mecca, attacked Meccan idolatry, reasoned with his opponents, answered their demand for miracles by producing the Koran “leaf by leaf,” as occasion demanded, and provoked persecution and civil commotion. He was forced in the year 622 to flee for his life with his followers from Mecca to Medina (El-Medina an-Nabî, the City of the Prophet), a distance of two hundred and fifty miles North, or ten days’ journey over the sands and rocks of the desert.

This flight or emigration, called Hégira or Hidshra, marks the beginning of his wonderful success, and of the Mohammedan era (July 15, 622). He was recognized in Medina as prophet and lawgiver. At first he proclaimed toleration: “Let there be no compulsion in religion;” but afterwards he revealed the opposite principle that all unbelievers must be summoned to Islâm, tribute, or the sword. With an increasing army of his enthusiastic followers, he took the field against his enemies, gained in 624 his first victory over the Koreish with an army of 305 (mostly citizens of Medina) against a force twice as large, conquered several Jewish and Christian tribes, ordered and watched in person the massacre of six hundred Jews in one day, while their wives and children were sold into slavery (627), triumphantly entered Mecca (630), demolished the three hundred and sixty idols of the Kaaba, and became master of Arabia. The Koreish were overawed by his success, and now shouted: “There is but one God, and Mohammed is his prophet.” The various tribes were melted into a nation, and their old hereditary feuds changed into a common fanatical hatred of the infidels, as the followers of all other religions were called. The last chapter of the Koran commands the remorseless extermination of all idolaters in Arabia, unless they submit within four months.

In the tenth year of the Hegira, the prophet made his last pilgrimage to Mecca at the head of forty thousand Moslems, instructed them in all important ordinances, and exhorted them to protect the weak, the poor, and the women, and to abstain from usury. He planned a large campaign against the Greeks.

But soon after his return to Medina, he died of a violent fever in the house and the arms of Ayesha, June 8, 632, in the sixty-third year of his age, and was buried on the spot where he died, which is now enclosed by a mosque. He suffered great pain, cried and wailed, turned on his couch in despair, and said to his wives when they expressed their surprise at his conduct: “Do ye not know that prophets have to suffer more than all others? One was eaten up by vermin; another died so poor that he had nothing but rags to cover his shame; but their reward will be all the greater in the life beyond.” Among his last utterances were: “The Lord destroy the Jews and Christians! Let his anger be kindled against those that turn the tombs of their prophets into places of worship! O Lord, let not my tomb be an object of worship! Let there not remain any faith but that of Islâm throughout the whole of Arabia …. Gabriel, come close to me! Lord, grant me pardon and join me to thy companionship on high! Eternity in paradise! Pardon! Yes, the blessed companionship on high!”

Omar would not believe that Mohammed was dead, and proclaimed in the mosque of Medina: “The prophet has only swooned away; he shall not die until he have rooted out every hypocrite and unbeliever.” But Abu Bakr silenced him and said: “Whosoever worships Mohammed, let him know that Mohammed is dead; but whosoever worships God, let him know that the Lord liveth, and will never die.” Abu Bakr, whom he had loved most, was chosen Calif, or Successor of Mohammed.

Later tradition, and even the earliest biography, ascribe to the prophet of Mecca strange miracles, and surround his name with a mythical halo of glory. He was saluted by walking trees and stones; he often made by a simple touch the udders of dry goats distend with milk; he caused floods of water to well up from the parched ground, or gush forth from empty vessels, or issue from betwixt the fingers; he raised the dead; he made a night journey on his steed Borak through the air from Mecca to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to paradise and the mansions of the prophets and angels, and back again to Mecca. But he himself, in several passages of the Koran, expressly disclaims the power of miracles; he appeals to the internal proofs of his doctrine, and shields himself behind the providence of God, who refuses those signs which might diminish the merit of faith and aggravate the guilt of unbelief.


Character of Mohammed

The Koran, if chronologically arranged, must be regarded as the best commentary on his character. While his followers regard him to this day as the greatest prophet of God, he was long abhorred in Christendom as a wicked impostor, as the antichrist, or the false prophet, predicted in the Bible, and inspired by the father of lies.

The calmer judgment of recent historians inclines to the belief that he combined the good and bad qualities of an Oriental chief, and that in the earlier part of his life he was a sincere reformer and enthusiast, but after the establishment of his kingdom a slave of ambition for conquest. He was a better man in the period of his adversity and persecution at Mecca, than during his prosperity and triumph at Medina. History records many examples of characters rising from poverty and obscurity to greatness, and then decaying under the sunshine of wealth and power. He degenerated, like Solomon, but did not repent, like the preacher of “vanity of vanities.” He had a melancholic and nervous temperament, liable to fantastic hallucinations and alternations of high excitement and deep depression, bordering at times on despair and suicide. The story of his early and frequent epileptic fits throws some light on his revelations, during which he sometimes growled like a camel, foamed at his mouth, and streamed with perspiration. He believed in evil spirits, omens, charms, and dreams. His mind was neither clear nor sharp, but strong and fervent, and under the influence of an exuberant imagination. He was a poet of high order, and the Koran is the first classic in Arabic literature. He believed himself to be a prophet, irresistibly impelled by supernatural influence to teach and warn his fellow-men. He started with the over-powering conviction of the unity of God and a horror of idolatry, and wished to rescue his countrymen from this sin of sins and from the terrors of the judgment to come; but gradually he rose above the office of a national reformer to that of the founder of a universal religion, which was to absorb the other religions, and to be propagated by violence. It is difficult to draw the line in such a character between honest zeal and selfish ambition, the fear of God and the love of power and glory.

He despised a throne and a diadem, lived with his wives in a row of low and homely cottages of unbaked bricks, and aided them in their household duties; he was strictly temperate in eating and drinking, his chief diet being dates and water; he was not ashamed to milk his goats, to mend his clothes and to cobble his shoes; his personal property at his death amounted to some confiscated lands, fourteen or fifteen slaves, a few camels and mules, a hundred sheep, and a rooster. This simplicity of a Bedouin Sheikh of the desert contrasts most favorably with the luxurious style and gorgeous display of Mohammed’s successors, the Califs and Sultans, who have dozens of palaces and harems filled with eunuchs and women that know nothing beyond the vanities of dress and etiquette and a little music. He was easy of access to visitors who approached him with faith and reverence; patient, generous, and (according to Ayesha) as modest and bashful “as a veiled virgin.” But towards his enemies he was cruel and revengeful. He did not shrink from perfidy. He believed in the use of the sword as the best missionary, and was utterly unscrupulous as to the means of success. He had great moral, but little physical courage; he braved for thirteen years the taunts and threats of the people, but never exposed himself to danger in battle, although he always accompanied his forces.

Mohammed was a slave of sensual passion. Ayesha, who knew him best in his private character and habits, used to say: “The prophet loved three things, women, perfumes and food; he had his heart’s desire of the two first, but not of the last.” The motives of his excess in polygamy were his sensuality which grew with his years, and his desire for male offspring. His followers excused or justified him by the examples of Abraham, David and Solomon, and by the difficulties of his prophetic office, which were so great that God gave him a compensation in sexual enjoyment, and endowed him with greater capacity than thirty ordinary men. For twenty-four years he had but one wife, his beloved Chadijah, who died in 619, aged sixty-five, but only two months after her death he married a widow named Sawda (April 619), and gradually increased his harem, especially during the last two years of his life. When he heard of a pretty woman, says Sprenger, he asked her hand, but was occasionally refused. He had at least fourteen legal wives, and a number of slave concubines besides. At his death he left nine widows. He claimed special revelations which gave him greater liberty of sexual indulgence than ordinary Moslems (who are restricted to four wives), and exempted him from the prohibition of marrying near relatives. He married by divine command, as he alleged, Zeynab, the wife of Zayd, his adopted son and bosom-friend. His wives were all widows except Ayesha. One of them was a beautiful and rich Jewess; she was despised by her sisters, who sneeringly said: “Pshaw, a Jewess!” He told her to reply: “Aaron is my father and Moses my uncle!” Ayesha, the daughter of Abû Bakr, was his especial favorite. He married her when she was a girl of nine years, and he fifty-three years old. She brought her doll-babies with her, and amused and charmed the prophet by her playfulness, vivacity and wit. She could read, had a copy of the Koran, and knew more about theology, genealogy and poetry than all the other widows of Mohammed. He announced that she would be his wife also in Paradise. Yet she was not free from suspicion of unfaithfulness until he received a revelation of her innocence. After his death she was the most sacred person among the Moslems and the highest authority on religious and legal questions. She survived her husband forty-seven years and died at Medina, July 13, 678, aged sixty-seven years.

In his ambition for a hereditary dynasty, Mohammed was sadly disappointed: he lost his two sons by Chadijah, and a third one by Mary the Egyptian, his favorite concubine.

To compare such a man with Jesus, is preposterous and even blasphemous. Jesus was the sinless Saviour of sinners; Mohammed was a sinner, and he knew and confessed it. He falls far below Moses, or Elijah, or any of the prophets and apostles in moral purity. But outside of the sphere of revelation, he ranks with Confucius, and Cakya Muni the Buddha, among the greatest founders of religions and lawgivers of nations.