Amazing articles on just about every subject...




World's Famous Foreign Statesmen:
 Moses

 Solon

 Confucius

 Zoroaster

 Themistocles

 Pericles

 Cato

 Augustus Caesar

 Justinian

 Mahomet

 Read More Articles About: World's Famous Foreign Statesmen

Mahomet

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

570-632

THE RISE OF MOHAMMEDANISM

The rocky, sandy, and generally desolate peninsula of Arabia preserved its political independence through all historical time, for the simple reason that it was not deemed worth the cost of conquering. Yet out of this land, which had been despised and neglected successively by Assyria, by Persia, by Rome, and Greece, at a time when danger in this quarter seemed the most remote of possibilities, a band of conquerors, organized and inspired by an illiterate religious fanatic, issued forth, who in the short space of a single generation had overturned the monarchies of the East, and whose successors within less than a century ruled over an Empire more extensive than that of Rome in her palmiest days.

Before we take up the story of this fanatic prophet or impostor the founder of Mohammedanism, or Islam, as the religion of Mahomet is styled by his followers, a few words should be said regarding the condition of Arabia at the time of the prophet's birth.

Arabia was then, as now, occupied by independent tribes, acknowledging no national government, but each tribe or family being ruled by its own chief. Some of these tribes were wanderers of the desert; others were located in towns. But even in these cases there was no general, municipal government, but each family maintained its independence, their peaceful association being simply a matter of mutual interest, and harmony being preserved so long as no family interfered with the affairs of another. In religion there was the same lack of nationality as in government. The worship was idolatrous. Each family or tribe had its own ancestral gods, which were regarded as its special patrons, and to whom alone its devotions were paid. All, however, acknowledged the existence of a supreme, presiding Deity, Allah; but this being was never the object of worship, though it was by Allah, as a Deity common to all the tribes, that solemn oaths were sworn, and in his name treaties and covenants were sealed.

The Arabian heathenism was a traditional form of worship concentrated in feasts at holy places. The most important of these holy places was at Mecca. Here around a mysterious black stone, the greatest of the Arabian fetiches, had been built the Kaba; and here pilgrims from all the surrounding country were wont to assemble annually, in the days before the full moon of the month Dhu, for a solemn religious festival. The town of Mecca had grown up around the sacred Kaba. In this town and in its immediate neighborhood were settled the tribe Koraish. The great festival of the Kaba presented strong attractions for the inhabitants of the western coast of Arabia, and grew into a great fair, at which the Meccans sold to the Bedouins of the desert the goods they imported from Syria. Feast and fair gave the city a prosperity which it shared with Medina and other cities which, like Mecca, lay near the meeting place of the two great roads to Yemen that from the northwest along the Red Sea coast, and that from the northeast, along the line of mountains that traverse central Arabia.

But the great fair of Mecca was not restricted to the Arabs. Arabia was a land of religious freedom, and hither fled the persecuted of all creeds. The religion of the Sabians, and Magians, of the Jews and Christians, were disseminated from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea. The fair, if not the festival, was open to all who had goods to sell or who wished to buy, and during the month of its continuance it was thronged with merchants of every variety of religious creed.

Such was Mecca at the time of the birth of the future prophet. Mahomet, or Mohammed, as the name is sometimes written, belonged to the family of Hashem, one of the subdivisions of the tribe Koraish. In his early infancy he was deprived of both his father and his mother Abdallah and Amina and his uncles being numerous, his orphan's share in the division of the inheritance was reduced to five camels and an Ethiopian maid servant. Abu-Taleb, the most respectable of his uncles, became the guardian of his youth. At the age of twenty-five he entered the service of a rich widow, Kadijah, who soon rewarded his faithful service with the gift of her hand in marriage. The marriage was happy and was blest with children, one of whom was his daughter Fatima, whom he gave in marriage to his cousin Ali.

Mahomet appears to have made two journeys into Syria once, when but thirteen years of age, to Bosra with the caravan of his uncle, and a second, to Damascus, in the service of Kadijah. Except for these two journeys, the sphere of his early experience was confined to the limits of his own city.

But even in this city there was much to be learned and much to excite thought. Mahomet was of a contemplative nature. In the superficial forms of worship and the entire lack of true religious feeling, which he saw on all sides, it seemed to him that the religion of the Arabs had become degenerate and effete. There seemed to be need for a substitute for a lost religion; nor was Mahomet the only one nor the first to whom this thought had occurred. So many, indeed, were they who at this time were giving thought to the subject of revival of religion that they had been given a distinctive name haniffs, which seems to mean "penitents." The haniffs did not constitute a regular sect and had, in fact, no fixed and organized views. They were not a close society, though they, no doubt, held intercourse with one another and an interchange of thought, and they seem to have been more numerous in Medina even than in Mecca. Upon one point, however, they were agreed; they rejected polytheism and acknowledged Allah; and their monotheism seems, too, to have been closely allied to a conviction of responsibility to the Deity and of a coming judgment. They believed, too, in the efficacy of fasting and penance; they were ascetics.

That Mahomet began early to associate with this class of religionists, there can be no doubt. He found in them congenial companions; he became himself a haniff. He withdrew himself frequently to a cave in Mount Hira, and meditated there with prayer and ascetic exercise, and finally he was rewarded with visions.

As to these visions of Mahomet, which became an essential feature of his mission as a prophet, whether they were real the effect of an ecstatic state of mind into which he was thrown by fasting and prayer, or more strictly by brooding on a single idea, or were fabrications, it may not be possible to say. It rests, however, upon testimony which seems unquestionable that he was subject to fits, or stupors, which threw him for a time into a swoon, without loss of inner consciousness, and it is quite possible that he may himself have believed that at these times his soul was actually relieved of its corporal incumbrance, and went forth into the spiritual world. There is so much chance for self deception, as well as for fraud, in phenomena of this sort, which are still not infrequent, that in his case we must suspend our judgment. But his visions came in his later years so frequently at moments opportune for serving his political or private purposes, that we cannot acquit him of the charge in some instances, at least, of pure imposture.

Mahomet had already reached the fortieth year of his age before he received his first vision and his divine mission was forced upon him. It was in the month Ramadan. He was in the cave of Hira, engaged in his pious meditations, when the angel Gabriel came to him by night, as he slept, held before him an open volume bound in silk and gems, and compelled him, though he could not read, to recite a text which was written therein. The words which Gabriel thus taught him remained deeply graven upon his heart. They were the first of a long series of revelations, brought down from heaven by the angel Gabriel, and delivered in the same way. Mahomet himself could not write; but the words of the divine revelation, repeated by him, were recorded by his disciples on palm-leaves and shoulder bones of mutton, and the pages, without order or connection, were cast into a chest in the custody of one of his wives. Two years after his death, the sacred volume the Koran was collected and published by his friend and successor, Abubeker, and was subsequently revised by the Caliph Osman. A volume thus composed and thus edited must necessarily consist of disconnected passages. Each revelation had been adapted to some particular occasion, as policy or passion dictated; but all inconsistencies are avoided by a saving maxim that any passage of Scripture is abrogated or modified by any subsequent passage.

The first converts of Mahomet were his wife, Kadijah, his servant, Zaid, his cousin, Ali, and his devoted friend, who became. his successor, Abubeker. By the persuasion of Abubeker ten of the most respectable citizens of Mecca were introduced to the private teachings of Mahomet. These fourteen disciples were the sole fruits of the first three years of his mission.

The creed taught by Mahomet in these first years was a simple one. "There is but one God, and Mahomet is the apostle of God," to which was added the truth of a resurrection, and a final judgment. Mahomet laid no claim to being the sole apostle of God, however. He allowed to his predecessors the same credit which he claimed for himself. He recognized a chain of inspiration from the fall of Adam to the promulgation of the Koran. In that period 313 apostles had been sent to recall their country from idolatry and vice, among whom were six of transcendent merit Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, and Mahomet. Who-ever hated or rejected one of these was to be numbered with the infidels. As the views of Mahomet expanded, or as the exigencies of his situation became more pressing, he enlarged upon this simple creed. He repressed sin or encouraged virtue by revealing the conditions of the future life. The unbelieving and the wicked were, at the final judgment, condemned, according to their guilt, to one of the seven hells, not, however, for eternity, but until they had become purified by terms of expiation, which varied in length from 900 to 7,000 years. All would be finally saved. In his picture of the joys of paradise it has been justly charged against Mahomet that he sought to bind to him his followers by the prospect of sensual delights. In the Paradise of Mahomet were to be found all luxuries which might appeal to the ardent wishes of his rude and sensual followers from the desert groves of palms, with never failing springs of water, robes of silk, palaces of marble, dishes of gold, rich wines, numerous attendants, in a word, all for which the poor in this life are accustomed to envy the rich. And most seductive of all, seventy-two Houris, or black-eyed girls of resplendent beauty, and blooming with youth, would be created for the service of the meanest believer; a moment of pleasure would be prolonged to a thousand years, and his faculties would be increased a hundred fold to render him worthy of his felicity.

But if Mahomet pictured to the believer the future in alluring colors he cannot be charged with having won followers by granting them indulgence in this life. He forbade the use of wine; he put a ban upon incontinence in others, while he granted himself a scandalous dispensation from this salutary moral law. The imposition upon the followers of Islam of frequent prayers, with which no employment nor circumstance must be permitted to interfere, can hardly have been an allurement to his earliest converts. Mahomet forbade the use of images, and he taught that all places are equally suited for the performance of this act of devotion. But since it was desirable that the thoughts of the worshiper should be fixed at that moment upon something sacred, he was instructed while in prayer to turn his face toward a particular point in the horizon. The point first selected by Mahomet as the kebla of prayer was Jerusalem. But when later he found the Jews obstinately set against the new faith he offered them, he changed his preference for the long established shrine of Arabia. Five times daily at morning, at noon, in the afternoon, at night-fall, and in the evening the true Moslem, wherever he may be, in whatever land or situation, desists from his work or his pleasure, on a given signal, if he is within a city, and turns his face in a formal prayer toward Mecca. The old Arab fetich enclosed in the Kaba was chosen by Mahomet as the only visible object which might supply the want of an image of Allah.

After three years had been passed in teaching in the privacy of his own household, Mahomet decided that the time had come for entering publicly upon his prophetic mission. He prepared a banquet, to which he invited forty guests of the family of Hashem. "Friends and kinsmen," he said, "I offer you, and I alone can offer, the most precious of gifts, the treasures of this world and of the world to come. God has commanded me to call you to His service. Who among you will support my burden; who will be my companion and my vizier?" And when no one answered, the silence of astonishment was at length broken by Ali, then a youth in the fourteenth year of his age. "Oh, Prophet, I am the man; I will be thy vizier." Mahomet accepted his offer with transport, and when Abu Taleb, the father of Ali, advised his nephew to relinquish his impracticable design, he replied, "Spare your remonstrances, for though they should place the sun on my right hand, the moon on my left, they should not divert me from my course."

For ten years Mahomet labored in Mecca and its neighborhood in a vain effort to convert the tribe Koraish. Though his infant congregation was soon swelled by the addition of hundreds of new adherents, they were mostly among the poor and the slaves. The great men of the city turned from him or worked against him. But in the seventh year of his mission his cause was strengthened by the conversion of Hamza, an uncle, and Omar, one of those who had the most violently opposed him. His practice was to make public exhortations, particularly on the days of the great festival, denouncing idolatry, and calling the Arabs to repentance and to the worship of Allah. These continual assaults upon irreligion and superstition raised violent clamors against him. Even Aber Taleb openly opposed him and urged the people not to listen to the tempter, but to stand for their idols; still the tie of kinship is strong among the Arabs, and though Abu Taleb detested the teaching of his nephew he protected his person against the assaults of the Koraish; it was a matter of family honor.

At length the outcry against Mahomet, who was openly charged with the guilt of deserting and denying the national deities, became so violent that many of his followers sought safety in flight. Some went to Medina; some crossed the sea to Abyssina. But the prophet himself remained undaunted at his post. There was no way in which the Koraish could reach the criminal save through the authority of his family; and since that continued to shelter him, they determined on the extreme measure of renouncing all intercourse with the children of Hashem, and a decree to that effect was suspended in the Kaba. A truce restored, however, an appearance of concord, until the death of Abu Taleb abandoned Mahomet to the power of his enemies, at the moment when he was deprived of his domestic comforts by the loss of his faithful Kadijah. At the same time Abu Soptian, a zealous votary of the idols and a mortal enemy of the house of Hashem, succeeded to the headship of the Koraish and the doom of Mahomet was sealed. His death was resolved upon; and, to baffle the vengeance of the Hashemites, it was agreed that a sword from every member of the tribe should be buried in his heart. Mahomet fled from the city in the night, accompanied by his faithful friend Abubeker, and took refuge in a cave. Here they remained three days, while Ali, who had stayed behind, secretly kept them informed of the movements of the Koraish. When at length they were told that the search for them had ended, the two fugitives came out of their place of concealment, mounted their camels and took the road to Medina. The flight of the prophet from Mecca has fixed the Mohammed era of the Hegira. It occurred in the thirteenth year after the prophet received his divine commission in the cave of Hira, and in the year A. D. 622.

The flight to Medina had already been contemplated and provided for. The faith of Islam had taken deeper root there than in the prophet's own city. Carried thither first by the refugees from Mecca, it was afterward introduced by several of the noblest citizens of Medina, who were converted by Mahomet in a pilgrimage to the Kaba. On their return they diffused the belief of God and his prophet, and an alliance between him and the city was ratified by their deputies in two secret nocturnal interviews on a hill in the suburbs of Mecca. In the first was effected simply a union in faith and love. The second was an alliance of a political nature, and laid the foundation of the Empire of the Saracens. Seventy-three men and two women of Medina, in this secret conference with Mahomet and his disciples pledged them-selves by an oath of fidelity, and promised in the name of their city that, should he be banished, they would receive him as a confederate, obey him as a leader, and defend him to the last extremity, like their wives and children. The time had come now when their pledge should be redeemed. In sixteen. days after leaving Mecca, Mahomet arrived at Koba, two miles distant from Medina. Five hundred citizens came out to meet him, and escorted him into the city with acclamations of loyalty and devotion. Mahomet was mounted upon a camel, an umbrella shaded his head, and a turban was unfurled before him the prototype of the white standard of the Moslems.

Mahomet was at once installed in the office of both temporal and spiritual ruler; and it was held impious to appeal from the decisions of a judge whose decrees were inspired by divine wisdom. One of his first acts was to build a small mosque, where he weekly preached and prayed to the assembly of his voluntary subjects.

Medina was then divided between two tribes, the Aus and the Khazraj, who were embittered against each other by an hereditary feud, which broke out upon the slightest provocation. Only the year before the arrival of Mahomet a bloody conflict had occurred between them within the walls of the city. This occurrence seems to have had much to do with the reception of Mahomet, both parties recognizing the desirability of having an arbiter in whose wisdom and justice they could confide, to keep peace between them. There were besides in Medina three colonies of Jews. Mahomet was predisposed in favor of this people, whom he hoped to draw to his standard. But his attempts to convert the Jews of Medina failed completely, and from this time the race became the object of his peculiar aversion, which ere long fell with heavy weight on their Arab colonies.

Mahomet spent his first year at Medina in consolidating his power. Once placed in a position to command, he changed his policy as a prophet. Hitherto he had used persuasion only; he determined now that what mild means had not been able to accomplish should be effected by force. If the idolators would not repent they should be compelled to repent; Islam should be spread by the sword.

He began his career of conquest his holy war, if such he regarded it with robbery, a profession not, however, wholly dishonorable from the point of view of an Arab. From all sides the roving Arabs were allured to the standard of religion and plunder. The distribution of the spoil was regulated by a divine law. One-fifth of it was reserved by the prophet for pious and charitable purposes. The remainder was shared by the soldiers who had obtained the victory or guarded the camp; and that no inducement might be lacking, the usual license of brutal soldiers was granted in the treatment of captives.

His most famous enterprise of this kind was directed against his old enemy, Abu Sophian. This wealthy and powerful citizen of Mecca, with only thirty or forty followers, conducted a valuable caravan of a thousand camels. By good fortune he escaped the vigilance of Mahomet. But he learned that the holy robber would lay in wait for him on his return. He dispatched a messenger to Mecca, and his Koraishite brethren hastened to his relief with the military force of the city. The band of Mahomet was formed of 313 men, of whom a part were his followers, a part auxiliaries. He met the advancing enemy, 900 strong, in the vale of Beder, a favorite camping and watering place northward from Medina. The Moslems entrenched themselves; the Koraish attacked. The faithful were hard pressed and were weakening, when the prophet suddenly mounted his horse and cast a handful of sand into the air : "Let their faces be covered with confusion." Both armies heard the thunder of his voice, and their fancy beheld angelic warriors. The Koraish fled, leaving seventy dead on the field and seventy captives. The. victor dispatched a company of Moslems in pursuit of Abu Sophian, who was attempting to reach Mecca by a circuitous route. He was overtaken and his caravan was plundered. Twenty thousand drams were set apart from the plunder for the use of the apostle.

This affair of Beder was of particular importance, since it greatly strengthened the power of Mahomet, which henceforward was absolute at Medina.

Mahomet was in a position now to break up the colonies of the Jews. His operations against these unfortunates, who were too weak to offer much resistance and who would not surrender their faith, may be disposed of here once for all, though they extended over a series of years. He addressed himself first to the. weak colony of the Bann Kainoka, settled in Medina, demanding their acceptance of Islam. They refused, were besieged, and, after a short defense, surrendered at discretion. They were fortunate in finding a powerful intercessor. Mahomet spared their lives and contented himself with their banishment from the city. Two years later the Banu Nadir were expelled from Medina in the same way, with the additional penalty of the confiscation of their lands. There was still another colony of Jews in Medina, the Koraiza. During the siege of Medina, to be presently related, these unfortunates fell under the displeasure of Mahomet, for real or alleged correspondence with the enemy, and no sooner was the siege raised than he wreaked upon them a terrible vengeance. Bound in chains, they were brought one by one to the market place and were there executed. They numbered six or seven hundred, and to carry out the barbarous sentence was the work of a whole day. Some accounts say that they were buried alive. No more magnificent martyrdom is known in history, for these men could have saved their lives by embracing Islam. Other Jewish colonies in this region of Arabia, outside of Medina, were successively attacked and all were driven beyond the border of Arabia into Syria. No Jew ever accepted the religion of Mahomet.

In the year following the victory of Beder the Koraish mustered the resolution to avenge their defeat and the loss of the caravan. Led by Abu Sophian, they marched upon Medina. Mahomet led his little army out to oppose them and posted it skillfully on a declivity of Mount Ohud, six miles north of the city. The Koraish advanced in the form of a crescent, their right wing of cavalry led by Kaled, the fiercest and most successful of the Arabian warriors. The Moslems charged and broke the center of the idolaters; but no sooner had they gained this success than, tempted by the sight of booty, they disobeyed their general and broke their ranks. Kaled was quick to take advantage of their disorder and charged upon them in the flank and the rear. In the mle which followed Mahomet himself was wounded in the face with a javelin; two of his teeth were shattered with a stone, and for some time he lay for dead upon the ground. But the Moslems finally rallied and remained masters of the field. Seventy of their number had fallen, among them Hamza, the uncle of Mahomet. His liver was cut out and carried to the wife of Abu Sophian. After this fight the Koraish gave up their design upon Medina and turned homeward.

In the following year they returned to the attack, again led by Abu Sophian, with a force which, including allies, amounted to 10,000 men. Mahomet decided not to risk an engagement, but to stand a siege. The war lasted but twenty days. It was brought to a close partly by the withdrawal of the confederates of the Koraish and partly by a violent storm of wind, rain, and hail which spread devastation and dismay through their camp. The Koraish, deserted by their allies, no longer hoped to subvert the throne of their invincible exile, and again returned to Mecca.

It was the turn of Mahomet now to assume the offensive. His successes had gathered about him a considerable military force. He longed to return as a conqueror to the city from which he had been expelled. His expedition was given, however, the character of a pilgrimage to the ancient shrine. But the Koraish had no disposition to admit within their walls a pilgrim backed by a formidable army, and they prepared to oppose him. The result was a parley and a treaty, whereby Mahomet obtained permission to enter the city in the following year, as a friend, and to remain there three days to accomplish the rites of the pilgrim-age, but in return for this concession he waived his title of apostle of God. A cloud of shame and dejection hung on the retreat of the Moslem after this doubtful success. But the faith and hopes of the pilgrims were rekindled when at the stipulated time they entered Mecca, with swords sheathed, and seven times, in the footsteps of the prophet, marched around the Kaba. The Koraish had prudently retired from the city to the neighboring hills. After the customary sacrifice, Ma-hornet evacuated the city on the fourth day.

This ostentatious act of devotion had a powerful effect upon the enemies as well as upon the followers of Mahomet. Both Kaled and Amrou, the future conquerors of Syria and Egypt, deserted the sinking cause of idolatry to follow the fortunes of the prophet. His power was further increased by the submission of several of the Arab tribes. The truce with the Koraish had been made for ten years; but Mahomet easily found a pretext for charging them with its violation, and with an army of 10,000 men he marched to the conquest of Mecca. The Koraish, unprepared and in dismay, admitted him to the city, with no attempt at resistance. Abu Sophian presented the keys, observed that the son of Abdallah had acquired a mighty Kingdom, and confessed, under the scimiter of Omar, that he was the apostle of God.

Mahomet had no intention of wreaking vengeance upon the city of his birth. Twenty-eight of its people were slain by the sword of Kaled; and eleven men and six women were proscribed by the sentence of Mahomet. There his severity ended. The Koraish were prostrate at his feet. They earned their pardon by the profession of Islam; and after an exile of seven years the fugitive missionary was enthroned as prince and prophet of his native country. The three hundred and sixty idols of the Kaba were destroyed. The prophet again performed the duties of a pilgrim; and a perpetual law was enacted that no unbeliever should dare to set his foot within the precincts of the holy city.

The fame and power of Mahomet now brought to him the allegiance of the greater number of the Arab tribes. They had only to renounce their idols and to accept Islam to be admitted on an equal footing with his old adherents to a participation in the spoils of a war of conquest. The few tribes which ventured upon resistance were speedily reduced by arms, and the creed which they would not accept willingly was imposed upon them by force. In vain they pleaded for a compromise, for some concession. Ten ambassadors from the besieged city of Taif proceeded to Medina to make terms of sub-mission. They asked that fornication, usury, and wine-drinking should be permitted to their people. But Ma-hornet was inflexible, and they consented reluctantly to surrender the point when they were told that, indispensable as these three practices might seem, other Moslems had learned to give them up. There was more difficulty about the goddess of Taif, al-Lat. The ambassadors begged that as a concession to the foolish multitude, they might retain her for three years. When they found Mahomet resolute, they came down successively to two years, one year, a month. Even this was refused. Mahomet's sole concession was that they should not be obliged to destroy the goddess with their own hands. The city surrendered. The emissaries of Mahomet entered and destroyed the idol, and there-after the people of Taif were worshipers of Allah.

Within three years after his conquest of Mecca all Arabia, apart from the vassals of Greece and Persia, was at the feet of the prophet. His lieutenants on the shores of the Red Sea, the ocean, and Gulf of Persia were saluted by the acclamations of a faithful people; and the ambassadors who knelt before the throne of Medina were "as numerous as the dates that fall from the maturity of a palm tree." The tribute which poured in upon the sovereign of Arabia from his grateful or submissive subjects was applied to the service of religion. In the tenth year of the Hegira he paid another visit to Mecca, which was like a very triumph. One hundred and four-teen thousand Moslems accompanied this, which was to be the last pilgrimage of the prophet.

The aims of Mahomet had already begun to widen. The conquest of Arabia no longer sufficed him, and he prepared to extend the holy war to the Greeks. Even before his truce with the Koraishites, he had sent envoys to foreign potentates, demanding their adhesion to Islam. One of these envoys had been seized and beheaded at Belka, in Palestine. This outrage afforded him a pretext, as soon as he felt himself strong enough, for sending an expedition into that country. An army of 3,000 soldiers was intrusted to the command of Zaid, and such was the discipline of the rising sect that the noblest chiefs served without reluctance under the former slave of the prophet. Jaafer was made second in command and Abdallah third. All three were killed in the battle of Muta. The day was saved, and victory or, at least, a safe retreat, was secured by the fierce and intrepid Kaled, who, for his valiant action on this hotly contested field, became known thereafter as the "Sword of God."

In the summer following this unsuccessful invasion of Palestine, the Nabataeans who visited the fair of Medina spread a rumor that the Emperor Heraclius was collecting troops for the purpose of invading Arabia. At the head of an army of 10,000 horse and 20,000 foot Mahomet set forth to prevent the intended invasion. After a distressing march, in which thirst and fatigue were aggravated by the scorching and pestilential winds of the desert, the Moslems finally reached Tabuk, midway between Medina and Damascus. Beyond that point Mahomet declined to prosecute the war, either convinced of the peaceful intentions of the Emperor or more probably daunted by his martial preparation. But this expedition was not without results. His lieutenant, Kaled, spread the terror of his name, and the prophet received the submission of the tribes and cities bordering on Arabia from the Euphrates to the head of the Red Sea.

After the return of Mahomet from his last pilgrimage to Mecca, he began preparations for a more formidable invasion of Palestine. He had now reached the age of sixty-three. During the last four years his health had gradually failed. He had been poisoned, he believed, out of revenge by a Jewish woman. His mortal illness, however, was a fever of fourteen days, which deprived him at intervals of the use of his reason. The scenes which took place about his death bed form a favorite theme with his Mussulman biographers. They expatiate upon his humility, the tranquil firmness with which he met his end, his expressed desire to right any wrong he might have done to anyone, the consolation offered to his weeping friends, on whom he bestowed the benediction of peace. Mahomet had never laid a claim to be exempted from the common lot of mortals, though he had asserted, as his especial prerogative, that the angel of death was not allowed to take his soul until he had obtained the express permission of the prophet. The permission was granted at the proper time; and Mahomet breathed his last, with his head resting in the lap of Ayesha,* the daughter of Abubeker, the best beloved of his wives.

The death of Mahomet stopped the preparation for the expedition for the conquest of Syria, and filled the city with gloom and lamentation. Many of his followers refused to believe him dead, in spite of the testimony of their own senses. The fiery Omar unsheathed his scimiter and threatened to strike off the head of the infidel who should affirm that the prophet was no more.

But the tumult was appeased by the more rational Abubeker. "Is it Mahomet," he said to Omar and the multitude, "or the God of Mahomet whom you worship? The God of Mahomet liveth forever; but the apostle himself was a mortal man like ourselves, and ac-cording to his own prediction he has experienced the common fate of mortality." He was piously buried by the hands of his nearest kinsmen in the same spot in which he had expired, in Medina. Innumerable pilgrims of Mecca turn aside from their journey to bow, in involuntary devotion, before the simple tomb of the prophet.

Tradition describes Mahomet as unsurpassable in manly beauty. His physique was majestic, his aspect noble. A flowing beard, a piercing eye, a gracious smile set off a countenance which reflected every sensation of the soul; and to these physical advantages, which won for him admiration in public or private even before he began to speak, was added an earnest eloquence, whose persuasiveness was irresistible. In his social relations he adhered scrupulously to the ceremonious politeness of his countrymen, was respectful in his attention to the rich and powerful, yet affable with the poorest citizen of Mecca. His judgment was clear, rapid, and decisive; his imagination sublime.

While aspiring to the power of royalty, Mahomet cared nothing for its pomp and ceremonial. It is recorded of him that when at the height of his authority he adhered to the domestic habits of his earlier life kindled the fire, milked the ewes, and mended with his own hands his shoes and woolen garments. On solemn occasions he feasted his companions with rustic hospitality and abundance; but in his private life many weeks would elapse without the fire being kindled on the hearth of the prophet. The interdiction of wine was confirmed by his own example; but the case was otherwise with that which regarded the conjugal relation. The Koran permitted polygamy, but the number of wives which the faithful might cherish was limited to four. Mahomet released himself from this provision. His wives numbered fifteen or seventeen; his amours were without restriction or limit.

That Mahomet was not an impostor, nor even a fanatic, in the stricter sense, at least in the earlier part of his career, but was simply a conscientious religious enthusiast, is the judgment now rendered by historians, with scarcely a dissentient voice. It is impossible that in the beginning he should have foreseen the outcome of his teaching. Clearly his view was limited at first to his fellow citizens at Mecca. He labored earnestly for what he believed to be their spiritual welfare; and that in time he should have come to believe himself intrusted with a divine mission is not merely conceivable, but upon no other assumption can we explain his earlier successes. It was the earnestness of his own conviction that secured to him his first fourteen converts among his most intimate associates. But his view widened as his success increased. His career as a judge and a ruler at Medina was in a manner forced upon him; and when once he had entered upon the path which led to power, when once his ambition had become aroused, his character as a prophet was subordinated to that of a politician. In this new character he lies open to the charge of gross hypocrisy, for it is hardly conceivable that he should himself have believed in pretended revelations which had no other purpose than to further his ambitious ends. Religion became subordinate to his thirst for power, and in the pursuit of this object he was guilty at times of the grossest deeds of cruelty and vindictiveness, which can be excused by no plea of necessity and which have left an indelible stain upon his memory.

The question has often been discussed whence Ma-hornet obtained the various ideas which he worked into his own peculiar system of religion. His mono-theism he found already existing in Arabia, though over-shadowed by idolatry. The great fair of Mecca brought annually to that city representatives of all creeds, and the philosophical enthusiast would naturally inform him-self of the peculiarities of each. He adopted the patriarchal history of the Jews. His ideas regarding a resurrection and a final judgment may have come from a Christian source, while from the Sabians, the representatives of the old Chaldaeans, he obtained his conception of seven Heavens and seven Hells. In two particulars, at least, his views display originality, in both instances apparently with an eye to their effect upon his adherents. The seventy Houris of Paradise were plainly invented as an allurement to the Arabs, and by limiting the duration of future punishment, he left assurance of final salvation to even the most sinful of his followers.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com