LECTURE VI. MOHAMMEDANISM PAST AND PRESENT
Mohammed, Islam, Christian, Time, Christianity, Africa
It has been the fate of every great religious teacher to have his memory enveloped in a haze of posthumous myths. Even the Gospel history was embellished with marvellous apocryphal legends of the childhood of Christ. Buddhism very soon began to be overgrown with a truly Indian luxuriance of fables, miracles, and pre-existent histories extending through five hundred past transmigrations. In like manner, the followers of Mohammed traced the history of their prophet and of their sacred city back to the time of Adam. And Mohammedan legends were not a slow and natural growth, as in the case of most other faiths. There was a set purpose in producing them without much delay. The conquests of Islam over the Eastern empires had been very rapid. The success of Mohammed's cause and creed had exceeded the expectations of his most sanguine followers. In the first half of the seventh century—nay, between the years 630 and 638 A.D.—Jerusalem, Damascus, and Aleppo had fallen before the arms of Omar and his lieutenant "Khaled the Invincible," and in 639 Egypt was added to the realm of the Khalifs. Persia was conquered in A.D. 640.
It seemed scarcely possible that achievements so brilliant could have been the work of a mere unlettered Arab and his brave but unpretentious successors. The personnel of the prophet must be raised to an adequate proportion to such a history. Special requisition was made therefore for incidents. The devout fancy of the faithful was taxed for the picturesque and marvellous; and the system which Mohammed taught, and the very place in which he was born, must needs be raised to a supernatural dignity and importance. Accordingly, the history of the prophet was traced back to the creation of the world, when God was said to have imparted to a certain small portion of earthy dust a mysterious spark of light. When Adam was formed this particular luminous dust appeared in his forehead, and from him it passed in a direct line to Abraham. From Abraham it descended, not to Isaac, but to Ishmael; and this was the cause of Sarah's jealousy and the secret of all Abraham's domestic troubles. Of course, this bright spark of heavenly effulgence reappearing on the brow of each lineal progenitor, was designed ultimately for Mohammed, in whom it shone forth with tenfold brightness.
There is real historic evidence of the fact that the Vale of Mecca had for a long time been regarded as sacred ground. It was a sort of forest or extensive grove, a place for holding treaties among the tribes, a common ground of truce and a refuge from the avenger. It was also a place for holding annual fairs, for public harangues, and the competitive recitation of ballads and other poems. But all this, however creditable to the culture of the Arab tribes, was not sufficient for the purposes of Islam. The Kaaba, which had been a rude heathen temple, was raised to the dignity of a shrine of the true God, or rather it was restored, for it was said to have been built by Adam after a divine pattern. The story was this: At the time of the Fall, Adam and Eve had somehow become separated. Adam had wandered away to Ceylon, where a mountain peak still bears his name. But having been divinely summoned to Mecca to erect this first of earthly temples, he unexpectedly found Eve residing upon a hill near the city, and thenceforward the Valley of Mecca became their paradise regained. At the time of the Deluge the Kaaba was buried in mud, and for centuries afterward it was overgrown with trees.
When Hagar and her son Ishmael were driven out from the household of Abraham, they wandered by chance to this very spot, desolate and forsaken. While Hagar was diligently searching for water, more anxious to save the life of her son than her own, Ishmael, boy-like, sat poking the sand with his heel; when, behold, a spring of water bubbled up in his footprint. And this was none other than the sacred well Zemzem, whose brackish waters are still eagerly sought by every Moslem pilgrim. As Ishmael grew to manhood and established his home in the sacred city, Abraham was summoned to join him, that they together might rebuild the Kaaba. But in the succeeding generations apostacy again brought ruin upon the place, although the heathen Koreish still performed sacred rites there—especially that of sevenfold processions around the sacred stone. This blackened object, supposed to be an aërolite which fell ages ago, is still regarded as sacred, and the sevenfold circuits of Mohammedan pilgrims take the place of the ancient heathen rites.
Laying aside these crude legends, and confining our attention to probable history, I can only hope, in the compass of a single lecture, to barely touch upon a series of prominent points without any very careful regard to logical order. This will perhaps insure the greatest clearness as well as the best economy of time. And first, we will glance at the personal history of Mohammed—a history, it should be remembered, which was not committed to writing till two hundred years after the prophet's death, and which depends wholly on the enthusiastic traditions of his followers. Born in the year 561 A.D., of a recently widowed mother, he appears to have been from the first a victim of epilepsy, or some kindred affection whose paroxysms had much to do with his subsequent experiences and his success. The various tribes of Arabia were mostly given to a form of polytheistic idolatry in which, however, the conception of a monotheistic supremacy was still recognized. Most scholars, including Renan, insist on ascribing to the Arabians, in common with all other Shemitic races, a worship of one God as Supreme, though the Arabian Allah, like the Baal of Canaan and Phoenicia, was supposed to be attended by numerous inferior deities. Though Islam undoubtedly borrowed the staple of its truths from the Old Testament, yet there was a short confession strikingly resembling the modern creed of to-day, which had been upon the lips of many generations of Arabians before Mohammed's time. Thus it ran: "I dedicate myself to thy service, O Allah. Thou hast no companion except the companion of whom thou art master and of whatever is his."
A society known as the "Hanifs" existed at the time of Mohammed's early manhood, and we know not how long before, whose aim was to bring back their countrymen from the degrading worship and cruel practices of heathenism to the purity of monotheistic worship. The old faith had been reinforced in the minds of the more intelligent Arabs by the truths learned from Jewish exiles, who, as early as the Babylonish captivity, had found refuge in Arabia; and it is a striking fact that the four Hanif leaders whom the young Mohammed found on joining their society, were pleading for the restoration of the faith of Abraham. All these leaders refused to follow his standard when he began to claim supremacy as a prophet; three of them were finally led to Christianity, and the fourth died in a sort of quandary between the Christian faith and Islam. The first two, Waraka and Othman, were cousins of Mohammed's wife, and the third, Obadulla, was his own cousin. Zaid, the last of the four, presents to us a very pathetic picture. He lived and died in perplexity. Banished from Mecca by those who feared his conscientious censorship, he lived by himself on a neighboring hillside, an earnest seeker after truth to the last; and he died with the prayer on his lips, "O God, if I knew what form of worship is most pleasing to thee, so would I serve thee, but I know it not." It is to the credit of Mohammed that he cherished a profound respect for this man. "I will pray for him," he said; "in the Resurrection he also will gather a church around him."
In spite of his maladies and the general delicacy of his nervous organization, Mohammed evinced in early youth a degree of energy and intellectual capacity which augured well for his future success in some important sphere. Fortune also favored him in many ways. His success as manager of the commercial caravans of a wealthy widow led to his acceptance as her husband. She was fourteen years his senior, but she seems to have entirely won his affections and to have proved indispensable, not only as a patroness, but as a wise and faithful counsellor. So long as she lived she was the good spirit who called forth his better nature, and kept him from those low impulses which subsequently wrought the ruin of his character, even in the midst of his successes. On the one hand, it is an argument in favor of the sincerity of Mohammed's prophetic claims, that this good and true woman was the first to believe in him as a prophet of God; but, on the other hand, we must remember that she was a loving wife, and that that charity which thinketh no evil is sometimes utterly blind to evil when found in this tender relation.
We have no reason to doubt that Mohammed was a sincere "Hanif." Having means and leisure for study, and being of a bright and thoughtful mind, he doubtless entered with enthusiasm into the work of reforming the idolatrous customs of his countrymen. From this high standpoint, and free from superstitious fear of a heathen priesthood, he was prepared to estimate in their true enormity the degrading rites which he everywhere witnessed under the abused name of religion. That hatred of idolatry which became the main spring of his subsequent success, was thus nourished and strengthened as an honest and abiding sentiment. He was, moreover, of a contemplative—we may say, of a religious—turn of mind. His maladies gave him a tinge of melancholy, and, like the Buddha, he showed a characteristic thoughtfulness bordering upon the morbid. Becoming more and more a reformer, he followed the example of many other reformers by withdrawing at stated times to a place of solitude for meditation; at least such is the statement of his followers, though there are evidences that he took his family with him, and that he may have been seeking refuge from the heat. However this may have been, the place chosen was a neighboring cave, in whose cool shade he not only spent the heated hours of the day, but sometimes a succession of days and nights.
Perhaps the confinement increased the violence of his convulsions, and the vividness and power of the strange phantasmagorias which during his paroxysms passed through his mind. It was from one of these terrible attacks that his alleged call to the prophetic office was dated. The prevailing theories of his time ascribed all such experiences to the influence of supernatural spirits, either good or evil, and the sufferer was left to the alternative of assuming either that he had received messages from heaven, or that he had been a victim of the devil. After a night of greater suffering and more thrilling visions than he had ever experienced before, Mohammed chose the more favorable interpretation, and announced to his sympathizing wife Kadijah that he had received from Gabriel a solemn call to become the Prophet of God.
There has been endless discussion as to how far he may have been self-deceived in making this claim, and how far he may have been guilty of conscious imposture. Speculation is useless, since on the one hand we cannot judge a man of that age and that race by the rigid standards of our own times; and on the other, we are forbidden to form a too favorable judgment by the subsequent developments of Mohammed's character and life, in regard to which no other interpretation than that of conscious fraud seems possible.
Aside from the previous development and influence of a monotheistic reform, and the favoring circumstance of a fortunate marriage, he found his way prepared by the truths which had been made known in Arabia by both Jews and Christians. The Jews had fled to the Arabian Peninsula from the various conquerors who had laid waste Jerusalem and overrun the territories of the Ten Tribes. At a later day, many Christians had also found an asylum there from the persecutions of hostile bishops and emperors. Sir William Muir has shown how largely the teachings of the Koran are grounded upon those of the Old and New Testaments. All that is best in Mohammedanism is clearly borrowed from Judaism and Christianity. Mohammed was illiterate and never claimed originality. Indeed, he plead his illiteracy as a proof of direct inspiration. A far better explanation would be found in the knowledge derived from inspired records, penned long before and under different names.
The prophet was fortunate not only in the possession of truths thus indirectly received, but in the fact that both Jews and Christians had lapsed from a fair representation of the creeds which they professed. The Jews in Arabia had lost the true spirit of their sacred scriptures, and were following their own perverted traditions rather than the oracles of God. They had lost the vitality and power of the truths revealed to their fathers, and were destitute of moral earnestness and all spiritual life. On the other hand, the Christian sects had fallen into low superstitions and virtual idolatry. The Trinity, as they represented it, gave to Mohammed the impression that the Virgin Mary, "Mother of God," was one of the three persons of the Trinity, and that the promise of the coming Paraclete might very plausibly be appropriated by himself. The prevailing worship of pictures, images, and relics appeared in his vision as truly idolatrous as the polytheism of the heathen Koreish. It was clear to him that there was a call for some zealous iconoclast to rise up and deliver his country from idolatry. The whole situation seemed auspicious. Arabia was ripe for a sweeping reformation. It appears strange to us, at this late day, that the churches of Christendom, even down to the seventh century, should have failed to christianize Arabia, though they had carried the Gospel even to Spain and to Britain on the west, and to India and China on the east. If they had imagined that the deserts of the Peninsula were not sufficiently important to demand attention, they certainly learned their mistake; for now the sad day of reckoning had come, when swarms of fanatics should issue from those deserts like locusts, and overrun their Christian communities, humble their bishops, appropriate their sacred temples, and reduce their despairing people to the alternatives of apostacy, tribute, slavery, or the sword.
It seems equally strange that the great empires which had carried their conquests so far on every hand had neglected to conquer Arabia. It was, indeed, comparatively isolated; it certainly did not lie in the common paths of the conquerors; doubtless it appeared barren, and by no means a tempting prize; and withal it was a difficult field for a successful campaign. But from whatever reason, the tribes of Arabia had never been conquered. Various expeditions had won temporary successes, but the proud Arab could boast that his country had never been brought into permanent subjection. Meanwhile the heredity of a thousand years had strengthened the valor of the Arab warrior. He was accustomed to the saddle from his very infancy; he was almost a part of his horse. He was trained to the use of arms as a robber, when not engaged in tribal wars. His whole activity, his all-absorbing interest, was in hostile forays. He knew no fear; he had no scruples. He had been taught to feel that, as a son of Ishmael every man's hand was turned against him, and of simple right his hand might be turned against every man.
Nor was this all. The surrounding nations, east and west, had long been accustomed to employ these sons of the desert as mercenary soldiers. They had all had a hand in training them for their terrible work, by imparting to them a knowledge of their respective countries, their resources, their modes of warfare, and their points of weakness. How many nations have thus paved the way to their own destruction by calling in allies, who finally became their masters!
On Mohammed's part, there is no evidence that at the outset he contemplated a military career. At first a reformer, then a prophet, he was driven to arms in self-defence against his persecutors, and he was fortunate in being able to profit by a certain jealousy which existed between the rival cities of Mecca and Medina. Fleeing from Mecca with only one follower, Abu Bekr, leaving the faithful Ali to arrange his affairs while he and his companion were hidden in a cave, he found on reaching Medina a more favorable reception. He soon gathered a following, which enabled him to gain a truce from the Meccans for ten years; and when they on their part violated the truce, he was able to march upon their city with a force which defied all possible resistance, and he entered Mecca in triumph. Medina had been won partly by the supposed credentials of the prophet, but mainly by jealousy of the rival city. Mecca yielded to a superior force of arms, but in the end became the honored capital and shrine of Islam.
From this time the career of Mohammed was wholly changed. He was now an ambitious conqueror, and here as before, the question how far he may have sincerely interpreted his remarkable fortune as a call of God to subdue the idolatrous nations, must remain for the present unsettled. Possibly further light may be thrown upon it as we proceed. Let us consider some of the changes which appear in the development of this man's character. If we set out with that high ideal which would seem to be demanded as a characteristic of a great religious teacher, and certainly of one claiming to be a prophet of God, we ought to expect that his character would steadily improve in all purity, humanity, truthfulness, charity, and godlikeness. The test of character lies in its trend. If the founder of a religion has not grown nobler and better under the operation of his own system, that fact is the strongest possible condemnation of the system. A good man generally feels that he can afford to be magnanimous and pitiful in proportion to his victories and his success. But Mohammed became relentless as his power increased. He had at first endeavored to win the Arabian Jews to his standard. He had adopted their prophets and much of the Old Testament teachings; he had insisted upon the virtual identity of the two religions. But having failed in his overtures, and meanwhile having gained superior power, he waged against them the most savage persecution. On one occasion he ordered the massacre of a surrendered garrison of six hundred Jewish soldiers. At another time he put to the most inhuman torture a leader who had opposed his cause; in repeated instances he instigated the crime of assassination. In early life he had been engaged in a peaceful caravan trade, and all his influence had been cast in favor of universal security as against the predatory habits of the heathen Arabs; but on coming to power he himself resorted to robbery to enrich his exchequer. Sales mentions twenty-seven of these predatory expeditions against caravans, in which Mohammed was personally present.
The biographers of his early life represent him as a man of a natural kindness of disposition, and a sensitive temperament almost bordering on timidity. Though not particularly genial, he was fond of children, and had at first, as his recorded utterances show, frequent impulses of pity and magnanimity. But he became hardened as success crowned his career. The temperateness which characterized his early pleadings and remonstrances with those who differed from him, gave place to bitter anathemas; and there was rooted in his personal character that relentless bigotry which has been the key-note of the most intolerant system known upon the earth.
A still more marked change occurred in the increasing sensuality of Mohammed. Such lenient apologists as E. Bosworth Smith and Canon Taylor have applied their most skilful upholstery to the defects of his scandalous morals. Mr. Smith has even undertaken to palliate his appropriation of another man's wife, and the blasphemy of his pretended revelation in which he made God justify his passion. These authors base their chief apologies upon comparisons between Mohammed and the worse depravity of the heathen Arabs, or they balance accounts with some of his acknowledged virtues.
But the case baffles all such advocacy. The real question is, what was the drift of the prophet's character? What was the influence of his professed principles on his own life? It cannot be denied that his moral trend was downward. If we credit the traditions of his own followers, he had lived a virtuous life as the husband of one wife, and that for many years. But after the death of Kadijah he entered upon a career of polygamy in violation of his own law. He had fixed the limit for all Moslems at four lawful wives; and in spite of the arguments of R. Bosworth Smith, we must regard it as a most damning after-thought that made the first and only exception to accommodate his own weakness. By that act he placed himself beyond the help of all sophistry, and took his true place in the sober judgment of mankind. And by a law which is as unerring as the law of gravitation, he became more and more sensual as age advanced. At the time of his death he was the husband of eleven wives. We are not favored with a list of his concubines: we only know that his system placed no limit upon the number. Now, if a prophet claiming direct inspiration could break his own inspired laws for his personal accommodation; if, when found guilty of adultery, he could compel his friend and follower to divorce his wife that he might take her; if upon each violation of purity and decency he did not shrink from the blasphemy of claiming a special revelation which made God the abettor of his vices, and even represented Him as reproving and threatening his wives for their just complaints—if all this does not stamp a man as a reckless impostor, what further turpitude is required?
At the same time it is evident that constant discrimination is demanded in judging of the character of Mohammed. It is not necessary to assume that he was wholly depraved at first, or to deny that for a time he was the good husband that he is represented to have been, or that he was a sincere and enthusiastic reformer, or even that he may have interpreted some of his early hallucinations as mysterious messages from heaven. At various times in his life he doubtless displayed noble sentiments and performed generous acts. But when we find him dictating divine communications with deliberate purpose for the most villainous objects, when we find the messages of Gabriel timed and graded to suit the exigencies of his growing ambition, or the demands of his worst passions, we are forced to a preponderating condemnation. The Mohammed of the later years is a remorseless tyrant when occasion requires, and at all times the slave of unbridled lust. Refined and cultivated Mohammedan ladies—I speak from testimony that is very direct—do not hesitate to condemn the degrading morals of their prophet, and to contrast him with the spotless purity of Jesus; "but then," they add, "God used him for a great purpose, and gave him the most exalted honor among men." Alas! it is the old argument so often employed in many lands. Success, great intellect, grand achievements gild all moral deformity, and win the connivance of dazzled minds. In this case, however, it is not a hero or a statesman, but an alleged prophet of God, that is on trial.
It is a question difficult to decide, how far Mohammed made Mohammedanism, and how far the system moulded him. The action of cause and effect was mutual, and under this interaction both the character and the system were slow growths. The Koran was composed in detached fragments suited to different stages of development, different degrees and kinds of success, different demands of personal impulse or changes of conduct. The Suras, without any claim to logical connection, were written down by an amanuensis on bits of parchment, or pieces of wood or leather, and even on the shoulder-bones of sheep. And they were each the expression of Mohammed's particular mood at the time, and each entered in some degree into his character from that time forth. The man and the book grew together, the system, through all its history, fairly represents the example of the man and the teaching of the book.
Let us next consider the historic character and influence of the system of Islam. In forming just conclusions as to the real influence of Mohammedanism, a judicial fairness is necessary. In the first place, we must guard against the hasty and sweeping judgments which are too often indulged in by zealous Christians; and on the other hand, we must certainly challenge the exaggerated statements of enthusiastic apologists. It is erroneous to assert that Islam has never encouraged education, that it has invariably been adverse to all progress, that it knows nothing but the Koran, or that Omar, in ordering the destruction of the Alexandrian library, is the only historical exponent of the system. Such statements are full of partial truths, but they are also mingled with patent errors.
The Arab races in their original home were naturally inclined to the encouragement of letters, particularly of poetry, and Mohammed himself, though he had never been taught even to read, much less to write, took special pains to encourage learning. "Teach your children poetry," he said; "it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom, and makes the heroic virtues hereditary." According to Sprenger, he gave liberty to every prisoner who taught twelve boys of Mecca to write. The Abbasside princes of a later day offered most generous prizes for superior excellence in poetry, and Bagdad, Damascus, Alexandria, Bassora, and Samarcand were noted for their universities. Cordova and Seville were able to lend their light to the infant university of Oxford. The fine arts of sculpture and painting were condemned by the early caliphs, doubtless on account of the idolatrous tendencies which they were supposed to foster; but medicine, philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy were especially developed, and that at a time when the nations of Europe were mostly in darkness. Yet it cannot be denied that on the whole the influence of Islam has been hostile to learning and to civilization. The world will never forget that by the burning of the great library of Alexandria the rich legacy which the old world had bequeathed to the new was destroyed. By its occupation of Egypt and Constantinople, and thus cutting off the most important channels of communication, the Mohammedan power became largely responsible for the long eclipse of Europe during the Middle Ages.
Moreover, when zealous advocates of the system contrast the barbarism of Richard Coeur de Lion with the culture and humanity of Saladin, they seem to forget that the race of Richard had but just emerged from the savagery of the Northmen, while Saladin and his race had not only inherited the high moral culture of Judaism and Christianity, but had virtually monopolized it. It was chiefly by the wars of the Crusaders that Western Europe became acquainted with the civilization of the Orient.
Instead of ignoring the advantages which the East had over the West at that period, it would be more just to inquire what comparative improvements of their respective opportunities have been made by Western Christianity and Eastern Mohammedanism since that time. It would be an interesting task, for example, to start with the period of Saladin and Coeur de Lion, and impartially trace on the one hand the influence of Christianity as it moulded the savage conquerors of the Roman Empire, and from such rude materials built up the great Christian nations of the nineteenth century; and on the other hand, follow the banner of the Crescent through all the lands where it has borne sway: Persia, Arabia, Northern India, Egypt, the Barbary States, East Africa, and the Soudan, and then draw an unbiased conclusion as to which system, as a system, has done more to spread general enlightenment, foster the sentiments of kindness and philanthropy, promote human liberty, advance civilization, increase and elevate populations, promote the purity and happiness of the family and the home, and raise the standards of ethics and true religion among mankind.
One of the brilliant dynasties of Mohammedan history was that of the Moors of Spain. We can never cease to admire their encouragement of arts and their beautiful architecture, but is it quite certain that all this was a direct fruit of Islam? The suggestion that it may have been partly due to contact with the Gothic elements which the Moors vanquished, finds support in the fact that nothing of the kind appeared on the opposite coast of Africa. And while the Mohammedan Empire in India has left the most exquisite architectural structures in the world, it is well known that they were the work of European architects.
But in considering the influence which Islam has exerted on the whole, lack of time compels me to limit our survey to Africa, except as other lands may be referred to incidentally. That the first African conquests, extending from Egypt to Morocco, were simple warlike invasions in which the sword was the only instrument of propagandism, no one will deny. But it is contended that in later centuries a great work has been accomplished in Western Soudan, and is still being accomplished, by missionary effort and the general advance of a wholesome civilization.
Any fair estimate of Mohammedan influence must take account of the elements which it found in Northern Africa at the time of its conquests. The states which border on the Mediterranean had once been powerful and comparatively enlightened. They had been populous and prosperous. The Phoenician colony in Carthage had grown to be no mean rival of Rome's military power. Egypt had been a great centre of learning, not only in the most ancient times, but especially after the building of Alexandria. More western lands, like Numidia and Mauritania, had been peopled by noble races.
After the introduction of Christianity, Alexandria became the bright focus into which the religions and philosophies of the world poured their concentrated light. Some of the greatest of the Christian fathers, like Augustine, Tertullian, and Cyprian, were Africans. The foundations of Latin Christianity were laid by these men. The Bishopric of Hippo was a model for all time in deep and intelligent devotion. The grace and strength, the sublime and all-conquering faith of Monica, and others like her, furnished a pattern for all Christian womanhood and motherhood.
I do not forget that before the time of the Mohammedan invasion the Vandals had done their work of devastation, or that the African Church had been woefully weakened and rent by wild heresies and schisms, or that the defection of the Monophysite or Coptic Church of Egypt was one of the influences which facilitated the Mohammedan success. But making due allowance for all this, vandalism and schism could not have destroyed so soon the ancient civilization or sapped the strength of the North African races. The process which has permanently reduced so many once populous cities and villages to deserts, and left large portions of the Barbary States with only the moldering ruins of their former greatness, has been a gradual one. For centuries after the Arab conquest those states were virtually shut off from communication with Europe, and for at least three centuries more, say from 1500 down to the generation which immediately preceded our own, they were known chiefly by the piracies which they carried on against the commerce of all maritime nations. Even the Government of the United States was compelled to pay a million of dollars for the ransom of captured American seamen, and it paid it not to private corsairs, but to the Mohammedan governments by which those piracies were subsidized, as a means of supplying the public exchequer. These large amounts were recovered only when our navy, in co-operation with that of England, extirpated the Riff piracies by bombarding the Moslem ports. The vaunted civilizations of the North African states would have been supported by wholesale marauding to this day, had not their piratical fleets been thus summarily swept from the seas by other powers.
If Egypt has shown a higher degree of advancement it has been due to her peculiar geographical position, to the inexhaustible fertility of the Delta, and, most of all, to the infusion of foreign life and energy into the management of her affairs. Ambitious adventurers, like the Albanian Mehamet Ali, have risen to power and have made Egypt what she is, or rather what she was before the more recent intervention of the European powers. Even Canon Taylor admits that for centuries it has been necessary to import more vigorous foreign blood for the administration of Egyptian affairs.
It will be admitted that Mohammedan conquests have been made in mediæval times, and down to our own age, in Central Africa, and that along the southern borders of Sahara a cordon of more or less prosperous states has been established; also, that the civilization of those states contrasts favorably with the savagery of the cannibal tribes with which they have come in contact. Probably the best—that is to say, the least objectionable—exemplifications of Islam now to be found in the world are seen in some of the older states of Western Soudan. The Mandingo of the central uplands furnished a better material than the "unspeakable Turk," and it would not be quite fair to ascribe all his present virtues to the Moslem rule.
But how have these conquests in Central Africa been made? The contention of the apologists for Islam is that recently, at least, and probably more or less in the past, a quiet missionary work has greatly extended monotheism, temperance, education, and general comfort, and that it has done more than all other influences for the permanent extinction of the slave trade! Dr. E.W. Blyden, in answer to the charge that Mohammedan Arabs are now, and long have been, chiefly responsible for the horrors of that trade, and that even when Americans bought slaves for their plantations, Moslem raiders in the interior instigated the tribal quarrels which supplied the markets on the coast, contends that the Moslem conquests do most effectually destroy the trade, since tribes which have become Moslem can no longer be enslaved by Moslems. It is a curious argument, especially as it seems to ignore the fact that at the present time both the supply and the demand depend on Mohammedan influence.
As to the means by which the Soudanese States are now extending their power we may content ourselves with a mere reference to the operations of the late "El Mahdi" in the East and the notorious Samadu in the West. Their methods may be accepted as illustrations of a kind of tactics which have been employed for ages. The career of El Mahdi is already well known. Samadu was originally a prisoner, captured while yet a boy in one of the tribal wars near the headwaters of the Niger. Partly by intrigue and partly by the aid of his religious fanaticism he at length became sufficiently powerful to enslave his master. Soon afterward he proclaimed his divine mission, and declared a Jehad or holy war against all infidels. Thousands flocked to his banner, influenced largely by the hope of booty; and ere long, to quote the language of a lay correspondent of the London Standard, written in Sierra Leone September 18, 1888, "he became the scourge of all the peaceable states on the right bank of the Upper Niger." Since 1882 he has attempted to dispute the territorial claims of the French on the upper, and of the English on the lower Niger, though without success. But he has seemed to avenge his disappointment the more terribly on the native tribes.
The letter published in the Standard gives an account of an official commission sent by the Governor of Sierra Leone to the headquarters of Samadu in 1888, and in describing the track of this Western Mahdi in his approaches to the French territories it says: "The messengers report that every town and village through which they passed was in ruins, and that the road, from the borders of Sulimania to Herimakono, was lined with human skeletons, the remains of unfortunates who had been slain by Samadu's fanatical soldiery, or had perished from starvation through the devastation of the surrounding country. Some of these poor wretches, to judge from the horrible contortions of the skeletons, had been attacked by vultures and beasts of prey while yet alive, and when too near their lingering death to have sufficient strength to beat them off. Around the ruined towns were hundreds of doubled-up skeletons, the remains of prisoners who, bound hand and foot, had been forced upon their knees, and their heads struck off. Keba, the heroic Bambara king, is still resisting bravely, but he has only one stronghold (Siaso) left, and the end cannot now be far off."
Samadu's career in this direction having been arrested, he next turned his attention toward the tribes under English protection on the southeast, "where, unfortunately, there was no power to take up the cause of humanity and arrest his progress. Before long he entirely overran and subjected Kouranko, Limbah, Sulimania, Kono, and Kissi. The most horrible atrocities were committed; peaceable agriculturists were slaughted in thousands, and their women and children carried off into slavery. Falaba, the celebrated capital of Sulimania, and the great emporium for trade between Sierra Leone and the Niger, was captured and destroyed; and all the inhabitants of that district, whom every traveller, from Winwood Reade down to Dr. Blyden, has mentioned with praise for their industry and docility, have been exterminated or carried off. Sulimania, which was the garden of West Africa, has now become a howling wilderness."
And the writer adds: "The people of the States to the south of Futa Djallon are pagans, and Samadu makes their religion a pretext for his outrages. He is desirous, he says, of converting them to the 'True Faith,' and his modes of persuasion are murder and slavery. What could be more horrible than the story just brought down by the messengers who were with Major Festing? Miles of road strewn with human bones; blackened ruins where were peaceful hamlets; desolation and emptiness where were smiling plantations. What has become of the tens of thousands of peaceful agriculturists, their wives and their innocent children? Gone; converted, after Samadu's manner, to the 'True Faith.' And thus the conversion of West Africa to Islamism goes merrily on, while dilettante scholars at home complacently discuss the question as to whether that faith or Christianity is the more suitable for the Negro; and the British people, dead to their generous instincts of old, make no demand that such deeds of cruelty and horror shall be arrested with a strong hand."
Similar accounts of the African propagandism of Islam might be given in the very words of numerous travellers and explorers, but one or two witnesses only shall be summoned to speak of the Mohammedan dominion and civilization in East Africa. Professor Drummond, in giving his impressions of Zanzibar, says: "Oriental in its appearance, Mohammedan in its religion, Arabian in its morals, a cesspool of wickedness, it is a fit capital to the Dark Continent." And it is the great emporium—not an obscure settlement, but the consummate flower of East African civilization and boasting in the late Sultan Bargash, an unusually enlightened Moslem ruler. Of the interior and the ivory-slave trade pursued under the auspices of Arab dominion the same author says: "Arab encampments for carrying on a wholesale trade in this terrible commodity are now established all over the heart of Africa. They are usually connected with wealthy Arab traders at Zanzibar and other places on the coast, and communication is kept up by caravans, which pass at long intervals from one to the other. Being always large and well-supplied with the material of war, these caravans have at their mercy the feeble and divided native tribes through which they pass, and their trail across the continent is darkened with every aggravation of tyranny and crime. They come upon the scene suddenly; they stay only long enough to secure their end, and disappear only to return when a new crop has arisen which is worth the reaping. Sometimes these Arab traders will actually settle for a year or two in the heart of some quiet community in the remote interior. They pretend perfect friendship; they molest no one; they barter honestly. They plant the seeds of their favorite vegetables and fruits—the Arab always carries seeds with him—as if they meant to stay forever. Meantime they buy ivory, tusk after tusk, until great piles of it are buried beneath their huts, and all their barter goods are gone. Then one day suddenly the inevitable quarrel is picked. And then follows a wholesale massacre. Enough only are spared from the slaughter to carry the ivory to the coast; the grass huts of the village are set on fire; the Arabs strike camp; and the slave march, worse than death, begins. The last act in the drama, the slave march, is the aspect of slavery which in the past has chiefly aroused the passions and the sympathy of the outside world, but the greater evil is the demoralization and disintegration of communities by which it is necessarily preceded. It is essential to the traffic that the region drained by the slaver should be kept in perpetual political ferment; that, in order to prevent combination, chief should be pitted against chief, and that the moment any tribe threatens to assume a dominating strength it should either be broken up by the instigation of rebellion among its dependencies or made a tool of at their expense. The inter-relation of tribes is so intricate that it is impossible to exaggerate the effect of disturbing the equilibrium at even a single centre. But, like a river, a slave caravan has to be fed by innumerable tributaries all along its course, at first in order to gather a sufficient volume of human bodies for the start, and afterward to replace the frightful loss by desertion, disablement, and death."
Next to Livingstone, whose last pathetic appeal to the civilized world to "heal the open sore of Africa" stands engraved in marble in Westminster Abbey, no better witness can be summoned in regard to the slave trade and the influence of Islam generally in Eastern and Central Africa than Henry M. Stanley. From the time when he encountered the Mohammedan propagandists at the Court of Uganda he has seen how intimately and vitally the faith and the traffic are everywhere united. I give but a single passage from his "Congo Free State," page 144.
"We discovered that this horde of banditti—for in reality and without disguise they were nothing else—was under the leadership of several chiefs, but principally under Karema and Kibunga. They had started sixteen months previously from Wane-Kirundu, about thirty miles below Vinya Njara. For eleven months the band had been raiding successfully between the Congo and the Lubiranzi, on the left bank. They had then undertaken to perform the same cruel work between the Biyerré and Wane-Kirundu. On looking at my map I find that such a territory within the area described would cover superficially 16,200 square geographical miles on the left bank, and 10,500 miles on the right, all of which in statute mileage would be equal to 34,700 square miles, just 2,000 square miles greater than the island of Ireland, inhabited by about 1,000,000 people.
"The band when it set out from Kirundu numbered 300 fighting men, armed with flint-locks, double-barrelled percussion guns, and a few breech-loaders; their followers, or domestic slaves and women, doubled this force…. Within the enclosure was a series of low sheds extending many lines deep from the immediate edge of the clay bank inland, 100 yards; in length the camp was about 300 yards. At the landing-place below were 54 long canoes, varying in carrying capacity. Each might convey from 10 to 100 people…. The first general impressions are that the camp is much too densely peopled for comfort. There are rows upon rows of dark nakedness, relieved here and there by the white dresses of the captors. There are lines or groups of naked forms—upright, standing, or moving about listlessly; naked bodies are stretched under the sheds in all positions; naked legs innumerable are seen in the perspective of prostrate sleepers; there are countless naked children—many mere infants—forms of boyhood and girlhood, and occasionally a drove of absolutely naked old women bending under a basket of fuel, or cassava tubers, or bananas, who are driven through the moving groups by two or three musketeers. On paying more attention to details, I observe that mostly all are fettered; youths with iron rings around their necks, through which a chain, like one of our boat anchor-chains, is rove, securing the captives by twenties. The children over ten are secured by these copper rings, each ringed leg brought together by the central ring."
By a careful examination of statistics Mr. Stanley estimates that counting the men killed in the raids and those who perish on the march or are slain because supposed to be worthless, every 5,000 slaves actually sold cost over 30,000 lives.
But there are Arabs and Arabs we are told. The slave-dealers of East Africa and the barbarous chieftains who push their bloody conquests in Western Soudan are bad enough, it is admitted, but they are "exceptions." Yet we insist that they illustrate the very spirit of Mohammed himself, who authorized the taking of prisoners of war as slaves. Their plea is that they save the souls of those they capture; many of these traders are Mollahs—Pharisees of the Pharisees. Canon Taylor, Dr. Blyden, and others have given us glowing accounts of "Arab missionaries going about without purse or scrip, and disseminating their religion by quietly teaching the Koran;" but the venerable Bishop Crowther, who has spent his whole life in that part of Africa where these conquests are supposed to be made, declares that the real vocation of the quiet apostles of the Koran is that of fetish peddlers. If it be objected that this is the biased testimony of a Christian missionary, it may be backed by the explorer Lander, who, in speaking of this same class of men, says: "These Mollahs procure an easy subsistence by making fetishes or writing charms on bits of wood which are washed off carefully into a basin of water, and drank with avidity by the credulous multitude." And he adds: "Those who profess the Mohammedan faith among the negroes are as ignorant and superstitious as their idolatrous brethren; nor does it appear that their having adopted a new creed has either improved their manners or bettered their condition in life." Dr. Schweinfurth also describes the Mohammedan missionaries whom he found at Khartoum as "polluted with every abominable vice which the imagination of man can conceive of." In answer to various statements which had been published in regard to the rapid missionary progress made by Mohammedans in West Central Africa, Bishop Crowther wrote a letter to the Church Missionary Society at the beginning of 1888, giving the results of his own prolonged observation. He describes the methods used as:
1. War upon the heathen tribes. "If the Chief of a heathen tribe accepts the Koran his people are at once counted as converts and he is received into favor, and is thus prepared to become an instrument in conquering other tribes. But on the refusal to accept the Koran war is declared, the destruction of their country is the consequence, and horrible bloodshed. The aged, male and female, are massacred, while the salable are led away as slaves. One half of the slaves are reserved by the chief, the other half is divided among the soldiers to encourage them to future raids."
2. Another cause of large increase is polygamy. "For although but four lawful wives are allowed, there is unlimited license for concubinage."
3. The sale of charms is so conducted as to prove not only a means of profit but a shrewd propaganda. "When childless women are furnished with these, they are pledged, if successful, to dedicate their children to Islam."
And Bishop Crowther verifies the statement made by others in reference to East Africa, that the priests "besides being charm-makers are traders both in general articles and more largely in slaves."
We have only time to consider one question more, viz., What is the character of Islam as we find it to-day, and what are its prospects of development? It is a characteristic of our age that no religion stands wholly alone and uninfluenced by others. It is especially true that the systems of the East are all deeply affected by the higher ethics and purer religious conceptions borrowed from Christianity. Thus many Mohammedans of our day, and especially those living in close contact with our Christian civilization, are rising to higher conceptions of God and of religious truth than have been entertained by Moslems hitherto. Canon Taylor, in a little volume entitled "Leaves from an Egyptian Note-Book," has drawn a picture of Islam which Omar and Othman would hardly have recognized. In the first place it should be remembered that, as he confesses, his reputation as a defender of Mohammed and his system had gone before him to Cairo, and that he was understood to be a seeker after facts favorable to his known views. This opened the hearts of friendly Pashas and served to bring out all the praises that they could bestow upon their own faith. It appears accordingly that he was assured by them that polygamy is widely discarded and condemned by prominent Moslems in such cities as Cairo and Alexandria, that many leading men are highly intelligent and widely read, that they profess belief in most of the doctrines held by the Christian Church, that they receive the inspired testimony of the Old and New Testaments—except in so far as they have been corrupted by Christian manipulation. This exception, however, includes all that is at variance with the Koran. They advocate temperance and condemn the slave trade. They encourage the general promotion of education, and what seems to the credulous Canon most remarkable of all is that they express deep regret that Christians do not feel the same charity and fellowship toward Moslems that they feel toward Christians!
Now, making all due abatement for the couleur de rose which these easy-going and politic Pashas may have employed with their English champion, it is undoubtedly true that a class of Mohammedans are found in the great cosmopolitan cities of the Levant who have come to recognize the spirit of the age in which they live. Many of them have been educated in Europe; they speak several languages; they read the current literature; they are ashamed of the old fanatical Mohammedanism. Though they cherish a partisan interest in the recognized religion of their country, their faith is really eclectic; it comes not from Old Mecca, but is in part a product of the awakened thought of the nineteenth century. But Canon Taylor's great fallacy lies in trying to persuade himself and an intelligent Christian public that this is Islam. He wearies himself in his attempts to square the modern Cairo with the old, and to trace the modern gentlemanly Pasha, whose faith at least sits lightly upon his soul, as a legitimate descendant of the fanatical and licentious prophet of Arabia. When he strives to convince the world that because these courteous Pashas feel kindly enough toward the Canon of York and others like him, therefore Islam is and always has been a charitable and highly tolerant system, he simply stultifies the whole testimony of history. He tells us that his Egyptian friends complain that "whereas they regard us as brother-believers and accept our scriptures, they are nevertheless denounced as infidels. And they ask why should an eternal coldness reign in our hearts."
Probably they are not acquainted with Samadu of Western Soudan and his methods of propagandism. They have forgotten the career of El Mahdi; they are not familiar with the terrible oppression of the Jews in Morocco—with which even that in Russia cannot compare; they have not read the dark accounts of the extortion practised by the Wahábees of Arabia, even upon Moslems of another sect on their pilgrimages to Mecca, nor do they seem to know that Syrian converts from Islam are now hiding in Egypt from the bloodthirsty Moslems of Beyrut. Finally, he forgets that the very "children are taught formulas of prayer in which they may compendiously curse Jews and Christians and all unbelievers."
A more plausible case is made out by Canon Taylor, Dr. Blyden, and others on the question of temperance. It is true that Moslems, as a rule, are not hard drinkers. Men and races of men have their besetting sins. Drinking was not the special vice of the Arabs. Their country was too arid; but they had another vice of which Mohammed was the chief exemplar. Canon Taylor is doubtless correct also in the statement that the English protectorate in Egypt has greatly increased the degree of intemperance, and that in this respect the presence of European races generally has been a curse. Certainly too much cannot be said in condemnation of the wholesale liquor trade carried on in Africa by unscrupulous subjects of Christian nations. But it should be remembered that the whiskey of Cairo and of the West Coast does not represent Christianity any more than the Greek assassin or the Italian pickpocket in Cairo represents Islam. Christian philanthropists in Europe and America are seeking to suppress the evil. If Christian missionaries in West Africa were selling rum as Moslem Mollahs are buying and selling slaves in Uganda, if the Bible authorized the system as the Koran encourages slavery and concubinage, as means of propagandism, a parallel might be presented; but the very reverse is true.
As a rule Nomadic races are not as greatly inclined to the use of ardent spirits as are the descendants of the ancient tribes of Northern Europe. The difference is due to climate, temperament, heredity, and the amount of supply. The Koran discourages intemperance and so does the Bible; both are disregarded when the means of gratification are abundant.
The Moguls of India were sots almost as a rule. Wealthy Persian Moslems are the chief purchasers of the native wines. Lander, Schweinfurth, and even Mungo Parke all speak of communities in Central Africa as wholly given to intemperance. Egyptians even, according to Canon Taylor, find the abundant supplies afforded by Europeans too tempting for the restraints of the Koran.
One of the most significant indications that the sober judgment of all enlightened men favors the immense superiority of the Christian faith over all ethnic systems is the fact that even those zealous apologists who have most plausibly defended the non-Christian religions have subsequently evinced some misgivings and have even become advocates of the superior light of Christianity. Sir Edwin Arnold, seeing how seriously some ill-grounded Christian people had interpreted "The Light of Asia," has since made amends by writing "The Light of the World." And E. Bosworth Smith, on reading the extravagant glorification given to Islam by Canon Isaac Taylor, whom he accuses of plagiarism and absurd exaggeration, has come to the stand as a witness against his extreme views. Without acknowledging any important modification of his own former views he has greatly changed the place of emphasis. He has not only recorded his condemnation of Canon Taylor's extravagance but he has made a strong appeal for the transcendent superiority of the Christian faith as that alone which must finally regenerate Africa and the world. He has called public attention to the following pointed criticism of Canon Taylor's plea for Islam, made by a gentleman long resident in Algeria, and he has given it his own endorsement: "Canon Isaac Taylor," says the writer, "has constructed at the expense of Christianity a rose-colored picture of Islam, by a process of comparison in which Christianity is arraigned for failures in practice, of which Christendom is deeply and penitently conscious, no account being taken of Christian precept; while Islam is judged by its better precepts only, no account being taken of the frightful shortcomings in Mohammedan practice, even from the standard of the Koran." No indictment ever carried its proofs more conspicuously on its face than this.
E. Bosworth Smith's subsequent tribute to the relative superiority of the Christian faith was given in an address before the Fellows of Zion's College, February 21, 1888. I give his closing comparison entire; also his eloquent appeal for Christian Missions in Africa. "The resemblances between the two Creeds are indeed many and striking, as I have implied throughout; but, if I may, once more, quote a few words which I have used elsewhere in dealing with this question, the contrasts are even more striking than the resemblances. The religion of Christ contains whole fields of morality and whole realms of thought which are all but outside the religion of Mohammed. It opens humility, purity of heart, forgiveness of injuries, sacrifice of self, to man's moral nature; it gives scope for toleration, development, boundless progress to his mind; its motive power is stronger even as a friend is better than a king, and love higher than obedience. Its realized ideals in the various paths of human greatness have been more commanding, more many-sided, more holy, as Averroes is below Newton, Harun below Alfred, and Ali below St. Paul. Finally, the ideal life of all is far more elevating, far more majestic, far more inspiring, even as the life of the founder of Mohammedanism is below the life of the Founder of Christianity.
"If, then, we believe Christianity to be truer and purer in itself than Islam, and than any other religion, we must needs wish others to be partakers of it; and the effort to propagate it is thrice blessed—it blesses him that offers, no less than him who accepts it; nay, it often blesses him who accepts it not. The last words of a dying friend are apt to linger in the chambers of the heart till the heart itself has ceased to beat; and the last recorded words of the Founder of Christianity are not likely to pass from the memory of His Church till that Church has done its work. They are the marching orders of the Christian army; the consolation for every past and present failure; the earnest and the warrant, in some shape or other, of ultimate success. The value of a Christian mission is not, therefore, to be measured by the number of its converts. The presence in a heathen or a Muslim district of a single man who, filled with the missionary spirit, exhibits in his preaching and, so far as may be, in his life, the self-denying and the Christian virtues, who is charged with sympathy for those among whom his lot is cast, who is patient of disappointment and of failure, and of the sneers of the ignorant or the irreligious, and who works steadily on with a single eye to the glory of God and the good of his fellow-men, is, of itself, an influence for good, and a centre from which it radiates, wholly independent of the number of converts he is able to enlist. There is a vast number of such men engaged in mission work all over the world, and our best Indian statesmen, some of whom, for obvious reasons, have been hostile to direct proselytizing efforts, are unanimous as to the quantity and quality of the services they render.
"Nothing, therefore, can be more shallow, or more disingenuous, or more misleading, than to attempt to disparage Christian missions by pitting the bare number of converts whom they claim against the number of converts claimed by Islam. The numbers are, of course, enormously in favor of Islam. But does conversion mean the same, or anything like the same, thing in each? Is it in pari materia, and if not, is the comparison worth the paper on which it is written? The submission to the rite of circumcision and the repetition of a confession of faith, however noble and however elevating in its ultimate effect, do not necessitate, they do not even necessarily tend toward what a Christian means by a change of heart. It is the characteristic of Mohammedanism to deal with batches and with masses. It is the characteristic of Christianity to speak straight to the individual conscience.
"The conversion of a whole Pagan community to Islam need not imply more effort, more sincerity, or more vital change, than the conversion of a single individual to Christianity. The Christianity accepted wholesale by Clovis and his fierce warriors, in the flush of victory, on the field of battle, or by the Russian peasants, when they were driven by the Cossack whips into the Dnieper, and baptized there by force—these are truer parallels to the tribal conversions to Mohammedanism in Africa at the present day. And, whatever may have been their beneficial effects in the march of the centuries, they are not the Christianity of Christ, nor are they the methods or the objects at which a Christian missionary of the present day would dream of aiming.
"A Christian missionary could not thus bring over a Pagan or a Muslim tribe to Christianity, even if he would; he ought not to try thus to bring them over, even if he could. 'Missionary work,' as remarked by an able writer in the Spectator the other day, 'is sowing, not reaping, and the sowing of a plant which is slow to bear.' At times, the difficulties and discouragements may daunt the stoutest heart and the most living faith. But God is greater than our hearts and wider than our thoughts, and, if we are able to believe in Him at all, we must also believe that the ultimate triumph of Christianity—and by Christianity I mean not the comparatively narrow creed of this or that particular Church, but the Divine Spirit of its Founder, that Spirit which, exactly in proportion as they are true to their name, informs, and animates, and underlies, and overlies them all—is not problematical, but certain, and in His good time, across the lapse of ages, will prove to be, not local but universal, not partial but complete, not evanescent but eternal."
|Written By Frank F. Ellinwood|
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