THE RANK OF MUHAMMADANISM AMONG
THE RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD
A GREAT philosopher in days of yore informs us that we may search the world throughout, and that in no region where man has lived can we find a city without the knowledge of a god or the practice of a religion (Plutarch).
This apophthegm embodies a dogma somewhat too rash and sweeping. The necessity of a Demiurgos—a Creator—so familiar to our minds is generally strange to savages. The wilder tribes of Singhalese Veddahs, for instance, have no superstition; these savages have not even attained the fear of demons. It has but scant hold upon the imagination of barbarous men. The Buddhists and Jains ascribed after Sakya‑Muni the phenomena of the universe to Swabháva, or force inherent in matter, Matra, and independent of an Ishwara‑Karta, or Manufacturing
God. Aristotle and Spinoza believed with Pythagoras the world to be eternal, and that a God cannot exist without the world, as height without breadth. Hence Hegel’s “eternal nihilum”—creation being everything for created beings—in direct opposition to Calvin, who opined that creation is not a transfusion of essence, but a commencement of it out of nothing. In the present day, the Kafirs of the Cape, the ancient Egyptians, and African races generally, barbarians and semi‑barbarians, by no means deficient in intellect and acuteness, have never been able to comprehend the existence or the necessity of a One God. With them, as with a multitude of civilized philosophers—the Indian Charvakas, for instance—Nature is self‑existent, Matter is beginningless and endless; in fact, the world is their God. Ex nihilo nihil fit is the first article of their creed. Absolute ignorance of any God, then, was the earliest spiritual condition of the human family.
But veneration is inherent in the human breast. Presently mankind, emerging from intellectual infancy, began to detect absurdity in creation without a Creator, in effects without causes. As yet, however, they did not dare to throw upon a Single Being the whole onus of the world of matter, creation, preservation, and destruction. Man, instinctively impressed by a sense of his own unworthiness, would hopelessly have attempted to conceive the idea of a purely Spiritual Being, omnipotent and omnipresent.
Awestruck by the admirable phenomena and the stupendous powers or Nature, filled with a sentiment of individual weakness, he abandoned himself to a flood of superstitious fears, and prostrated himself before natural objects, inanimate as well as animate. Thus comforted by the sun and fire, benefited by wind and rain, improved by hero and sage, destroyed by wild beasts, dispersed by convulsions of Nature, he fell into a rude, degrading, and cowardly Fetissism, the faith of fear, and the transition state from utter savagery to barbarism.
In support of this opinion it may be observed that this religion—if indeed Fetissism merit that sacred name—in its earliest form contains no traces of a Godhead or a Creator.1 It is a systematic worship of the personified elements, productions, and powers of Nature, male and female, and supported by a host of associates and subordinates. Its triad is Indra, the Æther‑god; Varuna, (ούρανός), the Sun-god; and Agni, the Fire-god. The polytheistic
1 Existence of God is not “the common and almost universal belief of mankind.” The truth that there is a God is usually thus demonstrated:
1. Physical argument, in which effects and events are traced to causes, till arrival at a First Cause, uncaused.
2. Argument from final causes and design, of which innumerable evidences in physical and mental worlds point to a Great Original Designer.
3. Moral argument, based upon innate feeling of obligation and responsibility.
4. Historical argument and the consensus of mankind.
triad of the Puranas, being then unknown, the Creator, Brahma, appears in the Vedas; the Preserver, Vishnu, inferior to Indra, represents the firmament; and Siwa is proved by Lassen to have been a local god, subsequently admitted by the Brahmans into their vast Pantheon. Still further from man’s belief in those early days is the bold and original thought of the Upanashids and Vedantas, destined so soon to fall before the formulæ of the schools and law‑books, the Puranas and other traditions. There Brahm, or the One Almighty, is made the pinnacle of the gorgeous pagoda of belief; the whole universe, matter and spirit, is represented to be the very substance and development of the Demiurgos. In support of their grand Pantheism the Brahma‑Sutra declares the human soul to be a portion of the Deity—divinæ particula auræ— “the relation not being that of master and servant, but that of the whole and part.” Creation was assumed to be the extension of the Creator’s essence, as the mathematical point produces by its increase length, depth, and breadth by endowing empty space with the properties of figure. From this refined and metaphysical dogma, this theoretical emanation of being from, and its corollary, refusion into, the Soul of the World, springs the doctrine of Metempsychosis, “implying belief in an after‑state of rewards and punishments and a moral government of creation.” The votary of Hinduism has now progressed so far as to symbolize the vulgar
idolatry of the people. Beneficent animals are explained as symbols of Brahma’s creative and Vishnu’s preserving functions; wild and ferocious beasts are typified as the Deity’s destroying power. They revere men of splendid abilities and glorious actions as having more of the divine essence and a directer emanation than the vulgar herd. Hence the senseless idol worship of the unlearned. Select forms also, as the cleft of a tree, are chosen to represent materially—oculis subjecta fidelibus—the passive power of generation, an upright rock expressing the active.
semi‑civilized man explains away the follies of his childhood, and
excuses himself for leaving the ignorant in the outer glooms of a symbolical
faith. But does knowledge precede ignorance—the explanation the fable? Or is
it reasonable to suppose that a symbol, a type, a myth, was ever worshipped, or
that men were ever ashamed of their gods? The Hindu, and indeed many a
Christian, still adores the bull and cow, the rock, the river, the idol, the
relic, and the actual image; they do not kneel before its metaphysics. The
learned explain them into mere deifications. They are, however, still deities
to the layman and the esoteric; and any attempt to allegorize them would be
held, as in ancient
—man in his infancy.1 The wisdom of
The ancient Persians, according to Herodotus, who conversed with them, ignored Dualism, their later scheme. Rejecting the images of gods and angels, they worshipped without personification or allegory æthereal fire drawn from the Sun. The universe was their temple, their altars Pyrætheia, or circles of stones, in the centre of which stood the kiblah of their simple ignicolism. The very Puritans of heathenry, they hated the grandiose fanes of the Egyptians, they plundered their magnificent tombs, slew their bestial deities, and devoured their garden gods. Presently symbolism began to intrude upon the simple and primitive faith of Iran. Light and
1 The idea that man is a compound being, consisting partly of spirit and partly of matter, mysteriously linked together, and acting and reacting upon each other, is a neocosmic dream. Savages hold mind to be a property of matter, like philosophers.
fire, according to Strabo, were worshipped as the fittest emblems of spirit and subtile intelligence. Zoroaster was made to believe in a God, “the Best, Incorruptible, Eternal, Unmade, Indivisible, and most Unlike everything”; in fact, an abstraction, a negative. Yet Hyde, Anquetil du Perron, and other moderns make the Parsee sect to represent with their complicated system of rites and ceremonies, their legion of supernatural beings, powers, and influences, and abstruse Dualism, the pure ignicolism of the old Guebre.
But the dark epoch of savage Atheism leaving fulfilled its time, already in the Fetissism, the Polytheism, the Pantheism, the Metempsychosis dogma, and the Idolatry of the early East may be descried the dawning of an enlightened Theism. Like the dogma of a future state of rewards and punishments in Moses’ day, it was not unknown though unexplored. The Hindus had their Vedas Shashwata, and the Guebres their Akarana Zarwána. The former ruled the triads; the latter was superior to Hormuzd, the Sun, and Ahriman Ahura‑mana, the Evil Principle personified. So the Greeks had a Θεός, and the Romans a Deus, ignored except as a theory. The Arabs and the Mexicans in their vast Polytheism still distinguished Al, the Supreme Being, from the crowd of subaltern gods, angels and devils, mediators, subordinate intelligences, incarnations, transmigrations, emanations, manifestations, and
similar earthly representatives. Here, then, was the thought‑germ of an eternal, unmade, incorruptible, and creative Deity. Enveloped in the mists and shades of priestly fraud and popular ignorance, still the dogma did exist; and so comforting has been its light to the soul of man, that no earthly power has ever availed to extinguish it.
The Vedas Shashwata has been interpreted by philologists to signify the Sun. Akarana Zarwána (boundless time) is clearly synonymous with venerable Chronos. So the Mulungu of East Africa and the Uhlungu of the Kafirs mean equally a spirit, the sun, or the firmament. Amongst the Masai race, near Kilimanjaro, Engai, the Creator, is feminine, God and rain being confounded.
The similarity of belief, of manners and customs, and even of the coincidence of lawful and unlawful food, between India and Egypt is too striking to be accounted for by mere chance. The Fetissism of the one exactly resembled that of the other. Both worshipped personified Nature, or Manushya‑Ohakta; they exalted into godhead and adored the objects of gratitude and reverence, of hope and fear. The “great holy family” of India became, on the banks of the Nile, Osiris, Isis, and Horus. Osiris, afterwards typified as the “incarnate Goodness of the Supreme,” perished to overcome Evil, was raised to life once more, and became the Judge of the quick and the dead. Isis again is the giver of Death, and
Horus, or Hor, the entrance or re‑entrance into Life. Every male deity in both systems had his Sakti, or passive energy, symbolized by a woman. Both mythologies had sacred cattle. Eggs, onions, and beans—favourite articles of diet among the present Muslims—were forbidden to both for mystical reasons. The lotus flower, an aboriginal of India, and connected with the superstitions of either country, has perished out of Egypt with the Muslims, who have no object in preserving the exotic. In Indian mythology was the Trisiras, in Egypt the Tevnon, in Greece and Rome the Cerberus, that three-headed dog in Hades, whose existence must have been communicated from one people to another. India worships the Sacred Serpent, the modern Muslim of Egypt adores that of Jebel Shaykh Haridi. Hindu Yogis and Saunyasis still wander to the banks of the Nile, and prostrate themselves before its ruined fanes. Society in India was divided into four great separate bodies—priests, soldiers, tradesmen, and serviles. The Egyptians numbered a sacerdotal order, a military caste, husbandmen, tradesmen and artificers, and, lastly, the shepherds, their abomination. Diodorus Siculus enumerates five castes. The fifth, however, or shepherds, probably did not belong to society; they were outcasts, corresponding with the Hindu mixed bloods. In ancient Persia the rigid castes were also four in number. And as the Aryas or Hindus of Aryavarrta, the Land
of Men, are aborigines of Ariana and cognates of the Arian race, perhaps this system of artificial and unnatural distinctions arose in the regions of Mid-Asia. Indeed, Sir W. Jones came to a broader conclusion; namely, that the three primitive races of mankind must originally have migrated from a vast central region of earth, and that that region was Iran.
As time wore on, Pantheism, which sees a deity everywhere, even within ourselves, regarded the terrestrial gods as earthly vessels animated with a spark of the Universal Soul. The subaltern deities, the objects of Sabæan worship, as the sun, the moon, and the fixed stars, were held to be superior mediating powers with the Almighty Power. A thousand interpretations, physical, symbolical, mystical, and astronomical, were framed by the wise of Memphis. And as amongst the Hindus, so the Deity of Egypt was, though revealed to the initiated, sedulously obscured to the vulgar by a host of Avatars and incarnations, of transmigrations and subordinate intelligences.
History is silent upon that most interesting subject, the early connexion of India and Egypt. There are, however, still traces of its existence through Arabia, although Wilford greatly exaggerated the subject. Throughout Oman and Eastern Arabia there are traces to the present day of castish prejudice. No Kabílí, or man of noble tribe, however
poor, will become a Haddâd (blacksmith), a Shámmár (shoemaker, in Hindustani Chamár), a Dabbagh (tanner), and a Nayyál (dyer). The Hindus of Maskat have an Avatar. Every Pandit knows that Shiva and his wife, under the names of Kapot-Eshwara and Kapot‑Eshwari, visited Mecca, and were there worshipped under the form of male and female pigeons. This notes a direct communication along the coast of the Shepherd Kings. Again, it is possible that in ages now forgotten the Æthiopians may have received from the Hindus their arts, sciences, and civilization, which would naturally float northwards with the Nile.
From Egypt these dogmas passed over to Greece, from Greece to the Rasenian people of ancient Etruria. This diffusion, proved by the similarity of their belief, is supported by old tradition. Herodotus explains the fable of the black pigeon that fled to Dodona, and there established the oracle on the ground that it was founded by a female captive from the Thebaïd. The manifest resemblance of the rites and ceremonies, the processions and mysteries, together with the historic fact that the greatest minds in Greece had studied with the priest‑philosophers of Helispotes and Memphis, are the main points of circumstantial evidence whence rose Warburton’s luminous theory that the knowledge of the “Secret One” was preserved by the esoteric, but concealed for fear of the profane. He was an atheist who believed in a Single
Deity because he thus degraded and dishonoured the vulgar gods; and the ancients, most pious men, solemnly tore to pieces all guilty of similar impiety. The Arcana, however, were sacred; under their shadow any dogma might flourish.
Some ethnologists have wondered at the remarkable coincidences between the Etruscan cosmogony and that of Moses. The marvel is easily explained. Both systems were borrowed from the Egyptians “skilled in ancient learning” (Apuleius).
India and Persia, we have seen, left their Deity an abstruse and philosophical doctrine, a mere abstraction, “infinite and eternal Nothings.” Simple efforts of the mind and intellect, they were probably added by after‑thought to perfect and complete the Pantheon. They were involved in the deepest gloom, whilst man’s vision was engrossed by the stars and other objective creations familiar to his eyes, and through them to his sensuous mind. The most ancient philosophers then theorized concerning an Almighty Creator, believed in him by stealth and theory, but in practice left him to oblivion and neglect. The vulgar bowed, not to a deity, but to deifications of his attributes, which they had rendered material and congenial.
It is to be presumed that Egypt advanced a step beyond India and Persia, otherwise so many of her dogmas would not have been incorporated with the Mosaic Code. Doubtless Egyptian priestly seers made their Demiurgos not a mere being of the
intellect, but a dominant idea in religious theory, whilst the grovelling Fetissism of the people received from them a mystic and abstruse interpretation. But herein lay their fatal error. The priests were not only ministers of religion, they were the repositories of every branch of useful knowledge, from medicine to philosophy. The king was by law a priest. If a member of the second or military caste was raised to the throne, he was at once initiated; for the “sons of God,” as the sovereigns were called, could belong to none but the holy order. The learned respected and revered as types and symbols what the vulgar worshipped and adored with heart and soul. But they kept to themselves the benefits of their reason, and invented mysteries and gnostic ceremonies—the purple robe of religion—to veil that Holy Truth the contemplation of whose unadorned charms belongs to mankind. They left their fellow‑creatures, “the most religious of men,” utterly ignorant of divine knowledge, the abject worshippers of the Nile and the desert, of the ichneumon and the cat. True they secured to a caste the knowledge which is power amongst semi-civilized races. But an ecclesiastical order, even in the most extensive hierarchies, is only the fraction of a people; they divided therefore their brother‑men into priests and slaves. Woe to him who thus bids the human mind go into darkness!
We have seen, then, that Fetissism supplanted
Atheism in the developing mind of man. Even as alchemy preceded chemistry, magic physics, and astrology astronomy, in fact as ignorance and error have ever paved the way for true learning, so was the worship of Nature the fit preliminary to the worship of Nature’s God. The fulness of time now came for the revelation of Theism, the religion of Love, and the only dogma that has taken firm root in the hearts and minds of the nobler types of man. It matters little what was the modus operandi of this inspiration. Any information above the common understanding of the age is justly called a revelation, and every nation has received some by which the human family has benefited (Dabistan). We may leave Zealots and Thaumaturgists, Sceptics and Atheists to dispute ad libitum a point unsolvable, and which, if solved, would be of little advantage to mankind.
Moses, whose mighty mind drew from obscurity Theism, or a belief in the One God, to become the corner‑stone of the creed, not of a few initiated sages and esoteric students, but of a whole people—who shared out to mankind their birthright, a knowledge of divine truth—fully understood the fatal error of his preceptors, the priestly sages of Egypt. His history, elaborately dressed in the garb of fable by after‑ages, appears to be this. Circumstances of an accidental nature drove him from the banks of the Nile into the eastern deserts. Whilst feeding the
flocks of his Bedawin father‑in‑law amid the awful scenery and the silent, solemn wolds of Shur, he nerved his mind to the patriotic task, the gigantic scheme of converting into a great nation and a Chosen People a mere handful of degraded slaves. There, too, he made those local observations which, seen through the mists of antiquity and exaggerated by the additions and traditions of subsequent ages, became the groundwork of what is never wanting in the East—wonders and signs and miracles from heaven. His powers and energies concentrated by solitude—and there is no such strengthener of the soul when the soul is strong—he returned to Egypt for the purpose of carrying into execution his stupendous scheme.
But Moses found it impossible, with no stronger hold upon his people than certain obsolete tenets almost forgotten by the unworthy descendants of patriarchal ancestors, in the atmosphere of superstition around him and under the baneful shadow of a hostile and priestly rule, to elevate to the dignity of manhood the spirits of an enthralled, despised, and therefore a degraded race. What better proof of their degeneracy than their demanding to know the name of a God?
This is the spiritual state of the Indian Pariah, who has his idols, but no idea of an Almighty Godhead, and who deems his dead deities inferior in dignity to a live Brahman. What more indicative of their
mental subjection to the superstitions of Egypt than their imaging the One Supreme by a calf or young bull, the emblem of Priapus all over the ancient world? They were equally inferior in physical force. Manetho numbers them at 80,000—a prodigious rate of increase, considering their circumstances and social state, for the descendants from seventy persons in the short space of 430 years. The compilers of the Book of Numbers* give 603,550 fighting men from twenty years old and upwards; this, with women and children, would amount to nearly three millions of human beings—an extravagant estimate.
From this state of degradation the thousands of Israel must be raised—must return to the condition of their ancestors the bold free chiefs of the Bedawin. They must therefore depart from Egypt, and must prepare themselves, morally as well as physically by the discipline of the vast and terrible wilderness, to enter as conquerors the holy Promised Land. Many must perish under the hardships, privations, and fatigues of desert‑travelling. According to Ibn Khaldun, the Hebrews, debased by slavery, were unable to oppose the Philistines or Arabs of Canaan until the old generation had died off and a new one had grown up in the hardy life of the wilderness.
The great Lawgiver, a man of angry temper, as are all who accomplish wonderful actions, and master of the learning of Egypt, displayed in effecting the
[* Chap i. 46.]
deliverance of his compatriots a work of itself wonderful, a strength of will, a power of contrivance, a might of words and deeds, which, seen by after‑ages through the dim atmosphere of tradition and the mists of national vanity, has caused him to stand forth in the eyes of later ages a giant amongst his kind. He has been made the subject of fable, physically as well as spiritually. Josephus speaks of his divine form and vast stature. To the present day the Arabs of Sinai show traces of gigantic feet and indentations made by a rod which must have been taller than a mast. The monuments of Egypt, so full of minute information, allude neither to Moses nor to the Exodus. The migration of a few brick-making slaves was, amongst a people surrounded by nomadic tribes, an event too common, too unconsequential, to claim a line of hieroglyph. But the people of old, in this point reversing our modern style of national genealogy, ever strove to dignify and to adorn their birth; and the Hebrews, who claimed the most ancient as well as the noblest of pedigrees, could not tell the tale of their origin as a nation without elevating its simple estate by a hundred fables, and embellishing it with signs and marvels and wonders tending to the honour of the Chosen People and of their great leader.
In one main point the Lawgiver miscalculated his powers. He had proposed making of his Hebrew followers a race of pure Theists, a kingdom of
priests, a holy nation, reverencing nothing but the One Supreme, worshipping him without medium or mediator, and therefore independent of temples and sacerdotal castes and the long list of ceremonies and sacred paraphernalia by which hierarchies strengthen and perpetuate their sway. But the Hebrew mind was thoroughly unfitted to receive pure truth. Amid the awful preternatural scenes which, according to their own accounts, heralded the proclamation of the God of Israel, with battle and destruction, miraculous plagues and fire and openings of the earth ever ready to punish those who denied their Deity or disobeyed his servants, this wonderful people were in a perpetual state of useless gainsaying and impotent revolt. Deeply imbued with the tenacious superstitions of the Nile, the stiff-necked race had become irritable rather than strong under the painful training of the desert, they longed and begged for a return to slavery, and none had eyes to look steadfastly upon the unveiled light of Revelation emanating from their leader and lawgiver.
Finding, after his return from temporary seclusion and retirement,1 his chosen people worshipping a molten calf, the god Apis, and playing—in other
1 Deuteronomy ix. 9. The term was forty days and nights. Amongst Muslims this has become the recognized period of isolation for those who are being initiated in mystical and magical practices. It is, however, directly opposed to the spirit and letter of El Islam.
words, a scene of Egyptian debauchery—Moses broke in wrath the first Tables of the Law (Exod. xxxii. 19). These consisted simply of the Ten Commandments, a forbiddal to make gods of gold and silver, easy directions for building an earthen altar of sacrifice, and a brief civil and criminal code embodied in three chapters. After another term of forty days and nights spent in solitude amongst the awful and impressive scenes which had witnessed his meditations when feeding Jethro’s flocks, and now saw the disappointment of his early aspirations, Moses returned with a code (Exod. xxxiv.) better fitted to the sickly and diseased condition of the Hebrew soul. Of this the proportion of the ritual to the moral precepts is as ten to two. It is a priestly system, a faith of feasts and sacrifices, of holy days and ceremonies purposely assimilated to those idolatries of Egypt with which the minds of the people were familiar but secured to the worship of Jehovah their God. The Lawgiver no longer disdained to borrow from symbolical religion, especially in the ceremonial worship, which at first he appears to have avoided. The ark and the tabernacle were old types amongst the Egyptians, memorials of their Northern migration. The Urim and Thummim (Ra and Thenei) were the Sun and personified Justice—Light and Truth. The Elohim were Kneph and Pthah, the presiding spirit and the creative intellect of the Supreme. The Spirit of God
that moved upon the face of the waters is again the Deity Kneph. The silence with which Jehovah was to be adored appears to be an idea borrowed from Amun Ra, the Unutterable Word, similar to the Hindu “Aum,” which never must be spoken of man. The Tree of Life, whose fruit made gods of those who tasted it, was a mere symbol, long before the day of Moses incorporated in the Indian and Egyptian mythologies. It survived in the Christian’s early belief, and has even left its traces in the Tuba or Paradisiacal tree of El Islam.
The cosmogony of Moses may be traced to the same origin. The formation of the globe, so different from modern theory; the separating of matter into four elements, fiery firmament, air, sea, and earth; and the derivation of animals from dust, were Egyptian dogmas. The Hebrew historian held to the eternity of matter, the theory of ancient philosophy in general.
The creation of man (Gen. i.), which we take figuratively, referring divine resemblance to the soul, to righteousness, and to true holiness, the Hebrews believed in literally and physically. As the Lord formed man in his own image, so man in return anthropomorphized the Deity. Theirs was a personal God with mortal shape and human passions, who hated the Canaanites for no sin of their own, and loved the Hebrews for no merit of their own, but for the sake of their ancestors. The “angry God”
and the “jealous God of Moses” stand for the orthodox opinion of even the modern Jews.1
In proportion as we return to the ignorance of antiquity and seek out the metaphysics of savage races, so we find the personality of a God, a description of his form, and an account of his actions and passions most prominently brought forward. Savages and barbarians cannot believe without anthropomorphizing their Great Spirit. On the other hand, Muslims reject the tenet. Amongst them some sects, as the Bayzawi, deny, and hold it impiety to assert, that even in a future state the eyes of the beatified shall see Allah.
Again, the Hebrew Paradise is the vestige of an old legend current throughout the Eastern world. The Hindus had their Satya Yug, the Persians Eriene Vigo, and the Greeks their Golden Age. It must be observed, however, that, though we place the Garden upon earth, learned Rabbis locate it in the first or lowest heaven, which is the exact reflection of this nether world. Sakya Buddha taught that human beings first appeared by apparitional birth. They were glorious and happy, pure and passionless, till one of them tasted a savoury substance produced by the earth.
1 A modern philosopher was accustomed to say: “And as for that Christianity which is such, according to the fashion of modern philosophers and pantheists, without a personal God, without immortality, without an individuality of man, without historical faith—it may be a very ingenious and subtle philosophy, but it is no Christianity at all” (Niebuhr).
The example was followed by the rest; thus purity decayed, the empire of sense gained the ascendency, excess followed indulgence, and degeneracy excess. The same legend has been preserved in grosser form by El Islam. Adam is made to eat wheat, and thus became subject to human infirmities. The Magian Scriptures contain traditions of a migratory march of the people of Hormuzd, under their patriarch Jamshid, from Eriene Vigo or pure Iran, supposed by the Guebres to be the primeval seat of their race, and located near Balkh, the ancient Bactria. It was the region of all delights till Ahriman the Evil One made in its river the Serpent of Winter. With respect to the inhabitants of Paradise, our first parents, it may be mentioned that many Eastern as well as Western learned men have supposed that Adam prior to the creation of Eve was androgynous; that is to say, at once male and female (Mirabeau).
The promulgation of Moses’ new code was not popular among the Hebrews. Checked in his patriotic intentions, the Lawgiver, however, bravely persisted in the course of preparation which he had commenced. Long and long years the Chosen People wandered in danger and difficulty round and round a region ever and in every way fitted to produce a hardy, rugged, and warlike race. And when all was prepared for the work of conquest, the great Leader would not head the expedition to the Land
of Promise. In his latest act he displayed the magnanimity which had supported him through a life of labour and disappointment, the real vigour and grandeur of his mind. Casting away the superstitions concerning man’s body which Egypt taught, and resisting the temptation that might have seduced a softer soul, namely, a train of mourners and a mausoleum as a last home, he did for himself what he had done for his followers: he wandered over the desert till his hour approached, he chose as leader of the expedition a younger and more energetic man, and finally he died and left the place of his tomb to this day unknown. He bequeathed, however, to the world a cosmogony, history, and ethnography the essence of old Oriental learning, and to the present day perhaps the most interesting document of the kind ever penned by man. He gave to his followers a code in which the highest intellect is blended with experience and thought in the most trivial things; the cantonment orders, for instance, cannot be improved in the present century. He left men where he had found slaves, a successor trained to carry out the favourite scheme and hope of his life, and finally a name that will float down the stream of time till merged into the ocean of eternal oblivion.
But Moses left his dispensation imperfect. He feared the relapse of his followers into the dark idolatries of the Nile. He therefore dealt only in
obscure allusions to a resurrection, to another life, to a futurity of rewards and punishments—the mighty lever with which religion moves the moral world of man. That such was the case is proved by this fact: the prophets and others who succeeded Moses, viewing the future practically and not with philosophical indifference, made in all their schemes the hereafter of man a prominent feature. The dogma, moreover, as we have seen, was known, and well known, to all the semi‑civilized races of men. In the creed of Moses, however, a purely temporal system of rewards and punishments supplied the place of that future retribution so elaborated in the Hindu, the Guebre, and the Egyptian systems. This was the great defect in his grand scheme. The hope and fear of a life to come, of a world in which the apparent inconsistencies of the transient mundane state shall be explained and remedied, where suffering virtue shall triumph and triumphant vice shall suffer—a proclivity for this belief is implanted by nature in the very soul and heart of man. Like veneration, it is instinctive rather than reasoning, an exertion of sentiment rather than an effect of intellect. Against a dogma based upon such foundations it is vain to contend. And in the moral government of the world it presents such vantage‑ground to all who would discipline and elevate mankind, that it has been cultivated in every system, proscribed by none. The Hebrews, however, were left to learn
this essential article of faith, during the Babylonish captivity, from the Assyrians, the Guebres, and other Pagans.
The Jehovah of Moses, moreover, was in other points than personality an imperfect conception. The Deity, it is true, was drawn forth from the thick veil of mystery with which the learned of India and Egypt had invested him. His existence was proclaimed not to a caste or a class; it was published to a whole people. Still, he was the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, not the God of Eternity—the God of all men. A local deity, his cult and knowledge were confined to one people, to a mere fraction of the human kind. Moses, then, was essentially a benefactor to the Hebrews, but he was not a benefactor to man.
Presently a new Reformer appeared upon the worldly stage. The Hebrew code had long before his day begun to decline; for forms of faith, being but earthly things, are subject to that eternal law which to every beginning pre‑creates and ordains an end. Its decay was hastened by political convulsions. The captivity of the Jews had supplied them with a multitude of new and strange articles of belief derived from their Pagan masters. Hence arose heresies and schisms, which further weakened the ancient edifice, tottering as it was from the effects of age, from the new creed‑wants of the people, and from the shocks of the passing events.
The Sadducees, adhering to the letter, rejected the spirit of the Books of Moses. Pharisaic superstition founded upon tradition—that earthy alloy ever added to the pure ores of heavenly revelation—was fast undermining the temple of Judaism. Idolatry had perished by slow degrees out of the land; but the contrary extreme, bibliolatry, to use a modern word, sown upon the wide ground of priestly pride and castish prejudice, had spread rankly over the world of Judaism. To clear away this poison growth, to reform the people of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry.
A man of humble fortune, but of proud birth, the Founder of Christianity preached a creed in conformity with his circumstances. His tenets were the Essene, the third sect of philosophizing Jews. “While the Pharisees were heaping traditions upon the original structure of the Mosaic system, and the Sadducees were rigidly preserving and adhering to the simplicity of that structure, the Essene gave their whole mind to the ascertainment and realization of its moral import.” They were thus the Sufis, the Spiritualists, and the Gnostics of Judaism. They abounded most at Alexandria, then the grand centre where the Greek and the Roman, the Indian and the Persian, met the Arab and the Egyptian. A species of anchorite philosophers, they called themselves physicians of souls and bodies; they lived in voluntary poverty, rigid chastity, and implicit obedience
to the civil power; they were purists in language, non‑resistants, and haters of political action.
Such tenets, publicly announced as a voice from heaven, were of course offensive to the ruling factions at Jerusalem. The people also that flocked to the preaching of the new Prophet were disappointed by his proclaiming to them a spiritual kingdom not the heritage of wealth, splendour, and glory, so distinctly promised to them by the seers of former generations. They were but poorly put off with a type or symbol. A reformer is rarely popular, and reform is a dangerous work among a people so hasty and headstrong as the Jews. But Christ’s teaching was not for the Jews only; he was preparing to spread abroad amongst mankind a knowledge of the One Supreme, when, falling a victim to priestly wiles, the Prophet of Nazareth suffered an ignominious death. But he had given an impetus to the progress of mankind by systematizing a religion of the highest moral loveliness, showing what an imperfect race can and may become; and by the labour of a devoted life he had instituted a college of successors who after him might preach the glad tidings to all the nations of the earth.
The Prophet of Nazareth had declared his mission to be for the purpose of establishing and confirming the Law of Moses. As it first appeared, Christianity was rather strong in the weakness around it than strong in its own strength. It was a system for anchorites
and ascetics. The reformed faith abounded also in a matter usually consigned in the East to bards and mystics; namely, principles of almost superhuman beauty often couched in highly poetical language, principles not the creation of one mind, but the current coinage of philanthropy from time immemorial. Islam all over the East has left its principles as a heritage to poets, and right well have they performed their duty to mankind. From the literature of the Hindus and Persians, the Egyptians and the Arabs, it would be easy to collect a code of morality and a law of benevolence as pure and amiable as ever entered the heart of man. The whole practice of the Sufi consists in seeking the Divinity, not as the “popular prudential and mercenary devotee,” but from fervency of love to God and man. He “proclaims the invisible truth above the visible comfort”; his entire resignation can face the horrors of eternal death inflicted by divine Will; “he has something higher even than everlasting gain.”
Eventually, however, this almost supernatural morality, incorporated with a creed to the detriment of its practical tendency; this substitution of love for justice, of mercy for retribution, of forgiveness for punishment; this purely spiritual system, that first neglected all the most necessary material details of ablution, dietetics, and even formulæ and positions of prayer, could never endure in the sensuous and passionate populations of the
East. From its further hold upon the instincts, the affections, and the prepossessions of the Jews, this reformation had neither extension nor continuance. The Ceremonial Law of Moses, adapted to an idle and unoccupied race in a temperate climate and a land of plenty with its operose and time‑wasting system of prayer and purification, of festivals and processions, was it is true at first not abolished but confirmed. But a simple and far more catholic system was required for the wants of the universe. Amongst the inspired followers of the Founder of Christianity one was found capable of executing the task. With a daring hand Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, rent asunder the tie connecting Christianity with Judaism. His efforts were crowned with success. He offered to the great family of man a Church with a Deity at its head and a religion peculiarly of principles. He left the moral code of Christianity untouched in its loveliness. But he abolished the civil and criminal law of Moses. And he boldly did away with the long‑cherished customs and the ordinances of food and diet which in olden times were used as the means of segregating the Israelites from the races around them. Circumcision was no longer necessary, although his divine Master had submitted to the rite; the distinction between beings pure and impure, one of the strongholds of Judaism, was broken down; and finally, as neophytes began to multiply, the Gentile was raised to the level of the Jew.
The last step taken by the stern Apostle suggests the possibility of his having determined to disconnect totally the reformed religion with Judæa. A Roman himself, and therefore well acquainted with that ruling race, and convinced of their physical and psychical superiority over the Asiatic family, he courted conveyance to Rome, and there energetically carried on the work of propagandism. He died a martyr; but not in vain was his blood shed. From the grain of faith implanted by him in the little dungeon below the Capitol sprang a goodly tree, under whose comfortable shade half the civilized world have found repose. In process of time the offshoots spread amongst the noble barbarians of the North, then beginning to occupy the stage of the world. Christianity, which in Judæa and confined to the East would have been the faith of a few hermits and visionaries, acquired in Europe a depth and fervency of popular belief which shortly overthrew all opposition. It is not wonderful that in this course of events the Christian distinguishes the finger of God!
When the master‑minds had vanished from the scene, their successors in the East introduced other and less defensible changes. Christianity in the East was surrounded by the impurest of influences. Its latitude of belief and absence of ceremonial allowed it to be worked upon by the theurgic incarnations of the Buddhists, the demiurgic theories of the Eastern and Western Gnostics, the Triad
of the Brahmans, the Dualism of the Persians, the Pharisaic doctrine of the first Son of the Supreme—Osiris in a new shape—together with the metaphysics of the Ebionites, the Speculatists, and other sects of Grecian or rather of Egyptian origin. From the Straits of Hercules to the coast of Coromandel, it was split up into a legion of heresies and schisms. Syria and Arabia seem to have been the grand central focus. The Church was distracted by the frowardness of her children, and the Religion of Love was dishonoured by malice and hate, persecution and bloodshed.
Still the reformed religion throve—and what tenets do not?—under the influence of a moderate persecution. When, however, under the rule of Constantine, the sun of prosperity poured its splendours full upon the favoured faith, an ascetic enthusiasm, gloomy ideas of seclusion, celibacy, and self‑immolation, and a censure on wealth and industry pronounced by religious hallucination, in fact the poisonous portions of the Essene School, spread subtilely through the whole body of Christianity. Everywhere in the East these practices require to be suppressed, not to be encouraged. Where the face of Nature is gay and riant, to impressionize mankind gloom and horror in the World of Spirit are contrasted with the glory and the brilliancy of the scenes of sense. This is the stronghold of the Demonolatry and Witchcraft of the Fetissist,
the abominable paganisms of the Hindu, the superstitious follies of the Guebre, and the terrible Sabaism of the ancient Mexican. All are perfectly suitable to the genius of the people, to the climate, and to the scenery around them.
Thus in Syria and Egypt Christianity became degraded. It sank into a species of idolatry. The acme of absurdity was attained by the Stylites, who conceived that mankind had no nobler end than to live and die upon the capital of a column. Thus nations were weakened. Self‑mortification and religious penances soon degenerate a race, especially in hot climates, where a moderate indulgence in the comforts, the luxuries, and the pleasures of life strengthens the body and with it the mind of man. The founders of Christianity had neglected to insist upon daily prayer at stated times, and ceremonial cleanliness, which is next to godliness. They forgot those dietetic directions and prescriptions so necessary in the East, and allowed the use of inebrients, together with impure and unwholesome meats as pork and rabbit’s flesh. Man’s physique suffered from their improvidence. Thus, whilst Christianity increased in numbers and powers, some once populous and flourishing countries—Egypt for instance—declined, and fell to the lowest depths of degradation. It is the race of man that exalts the faith in proportion to man’s moral and material excellence. The faith fails, on the other hand, to raise a degraded race.
The Armenians and Abyssinians have derived little from the specific virtues of Christianity. Inferior in mind and body to the Turks and Arabs, they have degenerated into a semi‑idolatry at once ridiculous and contemptible. With respect to moral conduct, a modern traveller (Curzon, Armenia) has had the courage openly to state that in Turkey not one‑tenth part of the crime exists which is annually committed in Christendom. Sectarians are fond of citing in favour of their Reformation the superiority of the Protestant over the Catholic cantons of Switzerland. They forget that the former belong to the hardy and industrious nations of the North, and that the latter are in climate and population indolent Southrons.
To return eastward. About the sixth century of its era the Christian world called loudly for reform. When things were at their worst, Muhammad first appeared upon the stage of life. It is here proposed to touch briefly upon the points wherein due measure of justice has not yet been dealt by philosophic and learned Europe to the merits and value of El Islam. The Western nations were so long taught to look upon the forcible propagandism of Muhammad as a creed personally hostile to them, they were so deeply offended by the intolerant Deism and Monotheism of the scheme, and finally so rancoured by their fierce wars and deadly collisions with the Muslim, that certain false views have long been, and still continue to be, part or rather essence of the subject.
And though in this our modern day a wiser and more catholic spirit of inquiry and judgment has not been deterred from manifesting itself, still even in the writings of those who pride themselves most upon candour and freedom from prejudice not a little of the bad old leaven offends the taste. Men do not now, it is true, fear the imputation of “turning Turk”1—an expression since become common, and coupled by old writers (Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy) with “betraying father, prince, and country, forsaking religion, and abjuring God.” Nor does there survive in Europe the former rancorous hate for the founder and creed, for the apostles and followers of El Islam. Still, it is to be repeated the Saving Faith has not yet been allowed to assume its proper rank and position amongst the religions of the world. And the moderns rather busy themselves in philosophizing over and in detecting flaws and falsehood rather than in seeking out the truth, the merits, and the beauties of a religion which for thirteen centuries has been the light and “life guidance” of one‑fifth of mankind (Carlyle, Hero Worship).
These four are briefly the most popular errors of the present day upon the subject of El Islam:
In the first place, it is determined to be merely a perceptive faith, and therefore adapted only to that portion of mankind whose minds, still undeveloped and uncultivated, are unripe for a religion of prin-
1 Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III., scene ii.
ciples. This is partly correct of the corrupted, untrue of the pure, belief; it will somewhat apply to the tenets of the Turks and Persians, but not to those of the first Muslims and the modern Wahhabis. The spirit of the religion, its sentiments, and its æsthetics were committed to the poets of El Islam, and right worthily have they fulfilled their task. It is not too much to assert that almost every celebrated metrical composition amongst Muslims is either directly or indirectly devotional. Even the licentious Anacreons of Persia and India, Hafiz and Jafar i Zatalli, disguise their grossness under a garb of mystical double entente.
But even in their purely spiritual songs and hymns the poets of El Islam do not betray that poverty of invention and puerility of imagination that distinguish the religious rhymesters of Christianity. In the great and noble literature of England, for instance, there is but one poem founded upon the base of revelation—Paradise Lost. Who can arise from its perusal without the conviction that a splendid genius has so fettered himself with his theme that many ballad‑mongers have produced more poetical effects upon the reader? Who rises without disgust at the dialogues of the Father and the Son in which is discussed at length Calvinistic sectarianism? And what Christian, who deems his Holy Trinity a sacred mystery of the Spirit beyond, not contrary to, material reason, would not blush to
see his Divinity thus degraded in the eyes of the stern deistical Muslim?
The Koran—the only standard of divine Truth universally admitted by El Islam—consists of threefold matter: of historical and legendary lore, of principles moral and psychical, and of materials for a loose and scattered code of laws. And here, it may be observed, that, with perhaps the exception of the Pentateuch, which we have seen required its tradition, no code embodied in the sacred writings of any race has sufficed to govern it. What Christian nation has ever been ruled by Christian law? Even its codes are either of its own invention or borrowed from ancient custom or translated from Pagan legislation. No divine system yet promulgated to mankind has sufficed for the civil and criminal wants of future and more civilized generations. And thus it was with the Koran. The precepts of the Saving Faith were not fixed and definite enough for the sensuous and objective spirit of the East. In religion, as in politics, wherever public opinion is lax and impotent, law is, and must be, a mass of stringent ordinances so disposed as to provide for every contingency. Such codes cannot deal in principles and spirit; these must be extracted—by the few that require them—from a well‑organized system of practical precepts. Thus the Muslim in the earliest ages sought to supply the imperfections of the code bequeathed to him. A remedy was at
hand. The deceased Prophet’s sayings were still fresh in the minds of his wives and immediate descendants, of his companions, and his early successors. All lent their best endeavours to the pious task. The earliest traditions were of sensible and useful import. Presently the most trivial precepts and the most puerile practices were either forged or remembered by so‑called saints who made this collection the business of their lives. Thus in course of time and by slow degrees appeared that bulky mass of traditional lore popularly known as the Ahadis or Sayings and the Sunnat or Doings of the Prophet.
By such arts were subtle practices and silly legends grafted by scholasticism upon the primitive annals and laws of El Islam. In that faith almost every tenet or practice to which the philosopher could object may be traced to the Sunnat and Ahadis; the Koran is wholly free from them. Amongst others, upon these, and upon these solely, must be charged the defect of making the system eminently perceptive. Muhammad, like all other Eastern lawgivers, had suited his ordinances to the genius of his people by addressing them as semi‑civilized men. The schools degraded their Muslims to the intellectual rank of babes and sucklings.
Regarding these Sunnat and Ahadis, however, it must be borne in mind that they are purely sectarian. The four self‑called orthodox schools hold to one tradition. The principal heresies, as the Shiahs and
the Bayzawi, have their own recognized collections, whence all emanations from impure, that is to say, from other sources, have been carefully removed. But El Islam has existed, and can exist, independently of them. Had the Wahhabis, those Puritans or rather Reformers of the Saving Faith, succeeded in restoring to the Arabs their simple primitive belief, little of the Ahadis and the Sunnat would have been left to misguide and offend mankind.
Secondly, men object that the Saving Faith is one of pure sensuality. It is difficult to divine how this most erroneous estimate could have been formed except by the grossest ignorance. Possibly it was a vicious conclusion thus drawn: that as the Muslim’s Paradise is one of sense, consequently there is no limit to his sensuality in this world. But El Jannat, or the Heavenly Garden, has many mansions; the ignorant and savage, the hungry and sensual Bedawin will taste the flesh of birds, live in a golden house, command any number of angelic wives, and drink the nectars of Kafur and Zingibil. But, as in Christianity so in El Islam, eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard, nor hath fancy conceived the spiritual joys of those who in mundane life have qualified themselves for heavenly futurity. The popular error that the Muslim Prophet denied immortal souls to women, and therefore degraded them to the mere instruments of man’s comfort and passions, might also have tended to represent El Islam as a scheme of sense. Possibly,
again, the monogamic races of a Northern clime—for monogamy, polygamy, and polyandry are an affair of geography—shocked by the permission to marry four wives and to maintain an indefinite number of concubines, overlooked in characterizing Muhammad’s ordinances the strict limits therein laid down for luxury and pleasure. The Muslim may not take to himself a single spouse, unless able to make a settlement upon her, to support, clothe, and satisfy her. He must act with the most rigid impartiality towards the whole household, and strictly avoid showing undue preference. He is allowed four wives with a view of increasing and multiplying his tribe. Man in hot and enervating climates coming to maturity early, and soon losing the powers which he is tempted by moral as well as physical agencies to abuse, would never raise up a large family as the husband of only one wife. Like the Patriarchs, he must have handmaids. Like the Jews, he must be allowed polygamy and power of divorce. These, forbidden by the ascetic Essene, are necessary to the increase of mankind in the East, and no religion can consecrate an ordinance which, directly opposed to the first law given by the Creator to his creatures (Genesis), tends to check that natural increase of population which is the foundation of all progress and civilization.
Laying aside these considerations as too shallow for discussion, can we call that faith sensual which
forbids a man to look upon a statue or a picture? Which condemns even the most moderate use of inebrients, and indeed is not certain upon the subject of coffee and tobacco? Which will not allow even the most harmless game of chance or skill? Which rigorously prohibits music, dancing, and even poetry and works of fiction upon any but strictly religious subjects? Above all things, which debars man from the charms of female society, making sinful a glance at a strange woman’s unveiled face? A religion whose votaries must pray five times a day at all seasons, in joy as in sorrow, in sickness as in health? A system which demands regular almsgiving and forbids all manner of interest upon money to those who would be saved? Whose yearly fast often becomes one of the severest trials to which the human frame can be exposed? To whom distant pilgrimage with all its trials and hardships is obligatory at least once in life? Whose Prophet exclaimed, like the Founder of Christianity, (Poverty is my pride), and who taught his followers that two things ruin men, “much wealth and many words”?
Those who best know El Islam, instead of charging it with sensuality, lament its leaven of asceticism. They regret to see men investing these fair nether scenes with mourning hues; “the world is the Muslim’s prison, the tomb his stronghold, and Paradise his journey’s end.” But this could not be otherwise.
Asceticism and celibacy are the wonted growth of hot and Southern climates, where man appears liable to a manner of religious monomania. The Brahman householder, after doing his duty to mankind by becoming a husband and the father of a family, ought by the law of Menu to leave the world and to end life a Sanyasi amongst the beasts of the jungle. No religion is more monastic than Buddhism; yet it is atheistic. Thus the votaries of this organized system of selfishness, this vast scheme of profits and losses, reduced to regularity, are deprived of all hope in death, and yet live the most comfortless and unnatural of lives. “The world knows nothing of its greatest men,” is true in more views than one. To the Muslim, time is but a point in illimitable eternity, life is but a step from the womb to the tomb. He passes from this world directly into the other, but not into a new existence; its every aspect and circumstance is as familiar to his mind as is the routine of earthly existence. He has no great secret to learn. The Valley of Death has no shadow for him;1 no darkness of uncertainty and doubt horrifies his fancy. So it came to pass that, although Muhammad expressly and repeatedly declared, “There is no monkery in El Islam,” few schemes have produced a
1 “I think,” said Captain Wyatt, “the Red Indians die better than white men; perhaps from having less fear about the future.” An acute conjecture!
more systematic or rigid asceticism. Even before his death monasticism began to appear; and now the Muslim world is overrun with Sufis and Kalandars, with Fakirs and Derwayshes, with Santons and recluses.
The third error is that the Founder of the Saving Faith began his ministry as an enthusiast and ended as an impostor. This is the improved modern fashion of treating the “perjuryose lying Machomete” of our forefathers. We are less gross and dogmatical than they were, though scarcely more charitable or philosophical. The recognized proofs of “imposition” seem to be:
Firstly, the convenient appearance of the Ayát, or inspired Versets. But what would have been their use had they not descended when wanted to solve a difficulty or convey a precept? Do we doubt the Books of Moses because Revelation is conducted upon precisely the same principle? And who will deny that enthusiasm would have produced them more effectually than fraud? It is a general rule that to deceive others well we must first deceive ourselves. He that would be believed in by others must thoroughly believe in himself. Is it likely that such men as Abubekr and Umar would become the victims of a mere fraud, so palpable to every petty annalist and compiler in this our modern day? Neither they nor Muhammad even at his dying hour seem to have doubted his inspiration. The Prophet’s
last words were, “Prayer! Prayer!” And, according to the Shiahs, a few minutes before breathing his last he called for an inkholder and a pen to write the name of his successor. Is this the death‑bed scene of a hypocrite or an impostor?
Secondly, the delivery of the inspiration by the Archangel Gabriel, and the frequent visions of heaven and heavenly beings recorded by the Muslim Prophet. Without having recourse to any other explanation, are not instances of the kind perpetually recorded in the history of mankind? And granting that such apparitions are purely subjective, shall we charge with fraud all those subject to them? How often has the Founder of Christianity appeared to the highly imaginative races of Southern Europe? How frequently have fervent Muslims been favoured with “a call” by Muhammad and Ali? Physicians and men of science have accounted for these seemingly marvellous apparitions by natural causes. Why then, unless by the action of mere prejudice, should we determine the same thing to be imposture in one man and yet regard it with reverence in another? Who also has even ventured to decide what the modus inspirandi or the divine afflatus really is? The most ancient theory apparently is that angels (άγγελοι) were used as messengers between God and man; and thus the Muslims, whose tenets are identical in this point with the Jews, rank angelic below human nature.
Thirdly, the change from peaceful to warlike language, from the arts of eloquence and persuasion to the propagandism of fire and steel. But did not the Founder of Christianity declare, “I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. x. 34)? And did Moses disdain to place carnal weapons in the hands of his people? The great Lawgiver of Israel sanctioned the murder in cold blood of women and childish captives. Even kings were hewed in pieces before the Lord. These atrocities were strictly forbidden by Muhammad. Even forcible proselytism was not allowed. The protégé of El Islam paid a small capitation tax, and was allowed to practise his faith and to worship his God as his law directed. Had, moreover, the Prophet forged the fresh order to propagate his scheme by the sword, surely he was not so shallow an impostor as to leave behind him those peaceful revelations which might so easily have been cast into the fire. No; the man honestly believed, like Moses, that the voice of Allah spoke within him.
The fourth error is that Muhammad, unable to abolish certain superstitious rites and customs of the ancient and Pagan Arabs, incorporated them into his scheme, and thus propitiated many that before avoided him. We have seen that the same might be objected to Moses. But Muhammad may surely have believed in the defilement of Allah’s holy places by Pagans, and have restored them to their pure original
purposes. Thus the Kaabah, that Pantheon of the
idolater, was given to El Islam as the house built by Abraham and Ishmael. And
what antiquary so wise as to declare that the Friend of God did not visit
1 Some geographers identify Massa, the town and castle of the seventh son of Ishmael (Gen. xxv. 14), with Mecca.
with the strange objects revered in foreign lands.
The Muslims in Sindh, as an instance, have occupied in force most of the sacred
places of the Hindus; often, too, both Monotheist and Polytheist worship at the
same shrine. The original Yoni becomes a Da’asah, or footprint of Hazrat Ali;
and the sacred alligator of the Hindus is revered as the creation of a Muslim
saint. Thus in
To rank the Saving Faith amongst
the religions of the world, it is necessary briefly to relate what its founder
did for mankind. A youth of noble origin, but fallen fortunes, as was the
Prophet of Nazareth, he was strengthened like the Jewish Lawgiver Moses by
travel, solitude, and meditation. Jebel Hira was his
surname of El Amin, or the Trusty, and his noble qualities enabled him to marry the wealthy widow in whose service he had lived a hireling.
After a long course of meditation, fired with anger by the absurd fanaticism of the Jews, the superstitions of the Syrian and Arabian Christians, and the horrid idolatries of his unbelieving countrymen, an enthusiast too—and what great soul has not been an enthusiast?—he determined to reform those abuses which rendered revelation contemptible to the learned and prejudicial to the vulgar. He introduced himself as one inspired to a body of his relations and fellow‑clansmen. The step was a failure, except that it won for him a proselyte worth a thousand sabres in the person of Ali, son of Abu Talib. With an uncommon mixture of prudence and energy he pursued his task till he overcame the hate, the ridicule, and the persecution of such men as Abubekr, Umar, and Usman. Expelled by the violence of his enemies, he fled his native city—a wonderful contrast to the fierceness and the impatience of his race. But after a long course of meekness and longsuffering in the work of proselytizing, his spirit, like that of Moses, rose high against violence and oppression, and at last—for he was an Arab—abrogating his peaceful precepts he appealed to the God of Battles in his combat for a righteous cause. Heroes and mighty men like Hamzah Khalid and Amru el Ays flocked
to his standard, and his personal valour and high qualities as a guerilla soldier soon led him on to fortune. After several years’ exile, he re‑entered as a visitor the walls of his native city, whence he had fled persecuted and proscribed. And he lived long enough to witness the splendid success of his early projects.
Abolishing all belief in a local or personal God, he announced to his Arabs the One Supreme, now in terms as terrible as man could bear, then in words so lofty and majestic that they sank for ever into the heart‑core of his followers. He broke to pieces with his own hand the images of the Kaabah, and he witnessed the total extinction of a gigantic idolatry—a work of itself sufficient to immortalize the memory of one reformer. He said of the Deity, “He is not enclosed by the bonds of space or by the limits of time; he hath no form which requireth a former from whom he is free; and whatever concerning him entereth thy mind to that he is the contrary.” He preached Allah, the God unapprehensible, incomprehensible, omnipotent, all‑beneficent, spiritual, and eternal.
He revived the earliest scheme of Mosaicism and the pristine simplicity of Christianity by making every man priest and patriarch of his own household. Preceding faiths had attempted to elevate human nature above itself, and had, as might be expected,
degraded the object of their endeavours. He inculcated the dignity of man instead of perpetually preaching human degradation, he respected mortal nature, and therefore he made his scheme eminently practical with something of a higher flight. He did away with the incestuous marriage with a father’s widow; he abolished the Wad el Banat, or the murderous inhumation of female children. He corrected the laxity and immorality of the age by making drinking and gambling penal offences, and by forbidding modest women to appear in public unveiled. Finally, to mention no other great and good works, by the enunciation of a modified Fatalism—they greatly err who confound it with an absolute Predestination—he attempted to check that tendency of self‑mortification which he could not wholly expel from the affections of his countrymen. He died, not like an enthusiast or an impostor, but as one true to the tenets and practices of his life; and he bequeathed to the world a Law and a Faith than which none has been more firmly or more fervently believed in by mankind, whose wide prevalence—wider indeed than that of any other creed—alone suffices to prove its extrinsic value to the human family. This much did Muhammad for his fellow‑creatures.
Can we wonder that the Arabian Prophet, finding himself, despite the accidents of fortune, of time, and place, so much in advance of his age, so solitary
a being amongst the fanatic, the superstitious, and the debased, fondly believed himself Allah’s Apostle, and the chosen instrument of man’s regeneration? Considering the ardent temperament of the Arab, his high development of veneration, and his discerning the divine hand in every human work and change, can we marvel that he attributed the fire of his soul and the strong workings of his mind to a something preternatural—an inspiration or a revelation? The celebrated mystic Mansur el Hallaj was stoned by the crowd for using the words, “I am Truth” (i.e. the Lord). But his Sufi confraternity still explain away the apparent irreverence of the saying, and believe him to have been, as was said of Spinoza, a God‑intoxicated man.
Muhammad’s mission, then, was one purely of reform. He held that four dispensations had preceded. his own, and that his object was to restore their pristine purity. But the Adamical had been obsoletized by the Noachian scheme; and this by the Mosaic, which, in its turn becoming defunct, had left all its powers and prerogatives to Christianity; thus also the latter dispensation in the fulness of time had been superseded by the revelations of El Islam, the Saving Faith. All the past was now effete and abrogated. All the future would be mere imposture; for his was the latest of religions, he the Soul of the Prophets. He accused the Jews and Christians of entire corruption, of spiritual death,
and preached to them with fervour a new faith, a doctrine of life. He openly charged them with having altered and remodelled their sacred writings.1 Nor could this charge be denied. It is now, and was then, impossible to discover what Moses wrote or what was written for him by Ezra the scribe and other compilers. The difference of style and language, the frequent changes from the first person to the third, and finally the account of the Law‑
1 Muhammad probably little thought how much more directly this charge was to be brought against his own revelations. The Ayát, or inspired versets, were jotted down without order or time in the Musnad character, which admitted no “vowel points,” upon palm leaves, shoulder blades of sheep, and similar wild substitutes for paper. In this state they were cast into a box, and consigned to the keeping of Hafsah, one of the “Mothers of the Muslims.” After the Prophet’s death they were drawn from their concealment in a state of disorder, which explains their present confusion. An edition of the Ayát was first published by Abubekr, who called it the Koran, or “What shall be read.” This work was full of errors. The second issue was from the hands of Usman, one of whose modern titles is “Scribe of the Koran.” His subjects, however, put him to death, though he had surrounded himself with a rampart of sacred writings, for his impiety in meddling with inspiration. Finally, Ali the Khalif, who was more of a scholar than most Arabs, who wrote poetry, indited proverbs, and according to some improved the syllabarium by the invention of vowel points, recalled all others, and issued his own. The Shiah schism to the present day declare that a whole Juz, or section, of which the Koran now contains thirty, was omitted and destroyed by the Khalifs hostile to Ali as it was in his praise. Some passages from the lost revelation are actually quoted in their theological works. It is true that nothing in the sacred writings of the Muslims, not a jot or tittle, can be altered, added, or omitted. Like the Jews, they have numbered and recorded every letter and vowel point. Unfortunately they have taken this wise step too late; as the Eastern proverb is, they have looked to halter and heel‑ropes after the horse is stolen.
giver’s death and burial conclusively prove that the Pentateuch had in its present state more than one author. Probably the original draught was concise and short.
Even the Koran contained little that was new. With the exception of some legends, the addition of some regulations touching the daily prayers and the purification of property, with a few ordinances as that of Diyat or blood‑money, disallowed by the Pentateuch (Numb. xxxv. and Deut. xix.), but rendered necessary by the state of Arab society, and some dietetic modifications—the camel for instance and the horse were recognized as pure food,—the Koran might almost be extracted from the Mosaic and Rabbinical writings, from the Evangelists and apocryphalists of the Christian era. There is also but little to commend in it, except its fiery and commanding eloquence. As a code of laws it is eminently defective. He who could write such a work could have written much better. Muhammad, however, relied for the success of his mission upon far higher claims than any book.
Muhammad laid no claims to prophecy or to miracles. He called himself El Rasúl, and El Nabbi, the announcer of good tidings from Allah to the Adamites. He did not give his name to a new system of belief; his ordinances were designated in a mass as El Islam, the Salvation or the Saving Faith. His night journey to heaven,
the subject of so much opprobrious declamation, was either a vision or a dream. The splitting of the moon, a tale so monstrously told by his posterity, rests upon no broader basis than a line in the Koran which might properly be translated: “The hour [of Judgment] shall come, and the moon shall cleave asunder.” Probably this absurdity was the invention of followers who determined to dispute for their lawgiver with Joshua’s command over the host of heaven. An ignorant Afghan is said to have boasted that his Pir, or spiritual pastor, the celebrated poet Abd el Kahman, was in the habit of making night journeys like Muhammad to Paradise, and to have bastinadoed the holy man severely when, taxed with impiety, he denied the irreverent assertion. Such a Muhaddis, or relater of the Prophet’s sayings, as Abu Hurayrah, the Father of the Kitten, may fairly, to judge him by his recognized writings, be suspected of such a forgery. Muhammad the more especially disdained the claim to miraculous powers which, as those who know Eastern lands, belong to every petty saint and village santon. The “most extraordinary of ordinary men,” the historian Hume, inferred that, because he himself had never seen a miracle, no one else ever saw a miracle. The Oriental traveller will disbelieve in miracles for the opposite reason—because he has seen so many.
The rapid and extensive spread of El Islam,
considered by the Faithful a remarkable instance of
divine aid, is to be accounted for without the intervention of a Deity. The
Arabs poured forth from their great centre, till the whole surplus population
was exhausted. Everywhere they appeared as liberators of slaves, especially in
But this I claim for El Islam.
The recurring purpose which runs through the world is chiefly manifested by the higher esteem in which man holds man. David made him little lower than the angels. Christianity, a system of asceticism, confirmed this estimate: we are fallen beings, fallen not
through our own fault; condemned to eternal death, not by our own demerits; ransomed by a Divine Being, not through our own merits. El Islam, on the contrary, raised man from this debased status, and with the sound good sense which characterizes the creed inspired and raised him in the scale of creation by teaching him the dignity of human nature. Thus modern Spiritualism is giving a shock to Christianity, whereas El Islam has power to resist it.
But, however El Islam prospered amongst the kindred races,
it fell flat elsewhere. No power of propagandism availed in
Again, what reconciled the ancient Muslim and endears the modern to his creed is its noble simplicity. The votary has little or nothing comparatively speaking to pay for his moral and spiritual necessary—religion. He has no tithes, and few fees. His places of worship are built and maintained by religious
bequests, carefully guarded by law and custom.
Muhammad Ali, it is true, confiscated the “Wakf” left to many of the Cairene
mosques and tombs. He also, following the example of
It is generally believed in
fall of Christianity by the heresies and schisms
that distract the Church, from the wide spread of visionary Swedenborgians and of
the shallow imposture Mormonism.* Turkey and Egypt may show traces of
latitudinarianism, even as France and Germany have done; no Muslim people,
however, has yet ventured to abolish El Islam by law. But
[* In his City of the Saints, written after his visit to Salt Lake City, and published in 1861, Burton takes a different view of Mormonism.]
Christianity, as it has often threatened, ever meet the Saving Faith in mortal conflict, and the Cross assail the Crescent in the latest of crusades, the Muslim scimitar, rusty as it is with the rust of ages, will prove the good metal of which it was in the beginning forged.
Supposing, however, El Islam abolished by civilization, underminded by the slow action of the Christian Powers closing around it, or become decrepit from old age, what would be the result? Some renewal essentially the same, formally different; some revival of its eternal principle, Monotheism, disguised under a fresh garb of those outward accidents that constitute a religion. Such has ever been the history of the world’s creeds. At all times
emerging from the storm,
Primeval faith uplifts her changeful form,
Mounts from her funeral pile on wings of flame,
And soars and shines another and the same.