Chapter XI. Mohammed and Islam
Prophet, Mohammedan, History, Sprenger, Life, Time
§ 1. Recent Works on the Life of Mohammed
Dr. Samuel Johnson once declared, "There are two objects of curiosity, the Christian world and the Mohammedan world; all the rest may be considered as barbarous." Since Dr. Johnson's time we have learned to be curious about other forms of human thought, and regard the famous line of Terence as expressing more accurately the proper frame of mind for a Christian philosopher. Nevertheless, Mohammedanism still claims a special interest and excites a peculiar curiosity. It is the only religion which has threatened Christianity with a dangerous rivalry. It is the only other religion, whose origin is in the broad daylight of history. Its author is the only one among the great men of the world who has at the same time founded a religion, formed a people, and established an empire. The marvellous spread of this religion is a mystery which never ceases to stimulate the mind to new inquiry. How was it that in the short space of a century the Arab tribes, before always at war among themselves, should have been united into an irresistible power, and have conquered Syria, Persia, the whole of Northern Africa and Spain? And with this religious outbreak, this great revival of monotheism in Asia, there came also as remarkable a renaissance of learning, which made the Arabs the teachers of philosophy and art to Europe during a long period. Arab Spain was a focus of light while Christian Europe lay in mediæval darkness. And still more interesting and perplexing is the character of Mohammed himself. What was he,—an impostor or a prophet? Did his work advance or retard human progress? What is his position in history? Such are some of the questions on which we shall endeavor to throw light in the present chapter.
Within a few years new materials for this study have been made accessible by the labors of Weil, Caussin de Perceval, Muir, Sprenger, Döllinger, and Arnold. Dr. Gustav Weil published his work in 1843. It was drawn from Arabic manuscripts and the Koran. When Weil began his studies on Mohammed in 1837, he found no book except that of Gagnier, published in 1732, from which he could derive substantial aid. But Gagnier had only collected, without any attempt at criticism, the traditions and statements concerning Mohammed believed by orthodox Moslems. Satisfied that a literary want existed at this point, Dr. Weil devoted himself to such studies as should enable him to supply it; and the result was a work concerning which Milman says that "nothing has escaped" the diligence of its author. But four years after appeared the book of M. Caussin de Perceval, a work of which M. Saint-Hilaire says that it marks a new era in these studies, on account of the abundance and novelty of its details, and the light thrown on the period which in Arabia preceded the coming of Mohammed. Dr. A. Sprenger, an eminent German scholar, early determined to devote himself to the study of Oriental literature in the East. He spent a long time in India, and was for twelve years principal of a Mohammedan school in Delhi, where he established, in 1845, an illustrated penny magazine in the Hindoo language. After returning to Europe with a vast number of Oriental manuscripts, he composed his Life of Mohammed, the result of extensive studies. Among the preparations for this work we will cite only one. Dr. Sprenger edited in Calcutta the first volume of the Içâba, which contains the names and biographies of eight thousand persons who were personally acquainted with Mohammed. But, as if to embarrass us with riches, comes also Mr. Muir and presents us with another life of the prophet, likewise drawn from original sources, and written with learning and candor. This work, in four volumes, goes over the whole ground of the history of Arabia before the coming of the prophet, and then, from Arabic sources, narrates the life of Mohammed himself, up to the era of the Hegira. The result of these researches is that we know accurately what Mr. Hallam in his time despaired of knowing,—all the main points of the history of Mohammed. There is no legend, no myth, to trouble us. M. Saint-Hilaire says that the French are far less acquainted with Charlemagne than the Moslems are with their prophet, who came two centuries earlier.
A Mohammedan writer, Syed Ahmed Khan Bahador, has lately published, in English, a series of Essays on the life of Mohammed, Arabia, the Arabs, Mohammedan traditions, and kindred topics, written from the stand-point of a believer in Islam. He is dissatisfied with all the recent works on Mohammed, including those of Dr. Sprenger and Mr. Muir. He believes that the Arabic sources from which these biographies are derived are not the most authentic. The special objections, however, which this able Mohammedan urges against these European biographies by Sprenger and Muir do not affect any of the important points in the history, but only details of small moment. Notwithstanding his criticisms, therefore, we may safely assume that we are in a condition to understand the actual life and character of Mohammed. All that the Syed says concerning the duty of an impartial and friendly judgment of Islam and its author is, of course, true. We shall endeavor in our treatment of Mohammed to follow this exhortation.
Something, however, is always gained by hearing what the believers in a system have to say in its behalf, and these essays of the Mohammedan scholar may help us in this way. One of the most curious parts of the volume is that in which he treats of the prophecies concerning Mohammed in the Old and New Testament. Most of our readers will be surprised at learning that any such prophecies exist; and yet some of them are quite as striking as many of those commonly adduced by writers on prophecy as referring to Jesus Christ. For example (Deut. xviii. 15, 18), when Moses predicts that the Lord will raise up a prophet for the Jews, from among their brethren; by emphasizing this latter clause, and arguing that the Jews had no brethren except the Ishmaelites, from whom Mohammed was born, an argument is derived that the latter was referred to. This is strengthened by the declaration of Moses, that this prophet should be "like unto me," since Deuteronomy xxxiv. 10 declares that "there arose no prophet in Israel like unto Moses."
Habakkuk iii. 3 says: "The Holy One came from Mount Paran." But Mount Paran, argues our friend, is the mountain of Mecca.
The Hebrew word translated "desire" in Haggai ii. 7, "The desire of all nations shall come," is said by Bahador to be the same word as the name Mohammed. He is therefore predicted by his name in this passage.
When Isaiah says (xxi. 7), according to the Septuagint translation, that he "saw two riders, one on an ass and one on a camel," Bahador argues that the rider on the ass is Jesus, who so entered Jerusalem, and that the rider on the camel is Mohammed.
When John the Baptist was asked if he were the Christ, or Elijah, or "that prophet," Mohammedans say that "that prophet," so anticipated, was their own.
|Written By James Freeman Clarke|
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