« PreviousContinue »
will bring him to his knees, and then, settling back upon his heels, he will mumble over various small petitions, with sundry grunts and exclamations, according to taste and habit. He has now gone through one regular Rek’āh; and, standing up as at the first, and on exactly the same spot, he will perform a second, and even a third, if specially devout, with precisely the same genuflections.
They seem to be wholly absorbed in their devotions, and manifest a power of isolation and abstraction quite surprising
That is the result of habit and education; small children imitate it to perfection. There is certainly an air of great solemnity in their mode of worship, and, when performed by a large assembly in the mosques, or by a detachment of soldiers in concert, guided in their genuflections by an imaum or dervish, who sings the service, it is quite impressive. I have seen it admirably enacted by moonlight, on the wild banks of the Orontes, in the plain of Hamath, and the scene was something more than romantic. But,
alas! it was by as villainous a set of robbers as could be found, even in that lawless region.
You think, then, that this solemn ceremony is mere hollow-hearted hypocrisy ? Not exactly that; at least not necesarily so, nor in all
I would be glad to believe there was ordinarily any corresponding moral and religious feeling connected with this exterior manifestation of devotion. The Moslems themselves, however, have no such idea. They are rather afraid of any one who is especially given to prayer—their prayers, I mean. They have a proverb to this effect: "If your neighbor has made the pilgrimage to Mecca once, watch him; if twice, avoid his society; if three times, move into another street.” And, certainly, no one acquainted with the people will feel his confidence in an individual increased by the fact that he is particularly devout.
What opposite conclusions different persons can and do draw from the same premises! One who looks merely at the surface, or who is very charitable, or very indifferent, may connect this out-of-door, formal praying toward Mecca with the venerable custom of the pious Israelite turning toward the temple in Jerusalem, when, like Daniel in Babylon, he made his supplications unto his God.' I think it probable that Mohammed, or the Arabs before him, borrowed this custom from the Jews; and, to this extent, there is a relation between them. But the enlightened Christian, who has learned that neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, shall men worship the Father, who is a spirit, and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth?—such a one,
will be reminded rather of those who loved to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they might be seen of men. And they will remember with solemnity the admonition of our Lord, When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are3—either as to place, attitude, motive, or form—in public to be seen of men, using vain repetitions as these men i Dan. vi. 10, 11.
3 John iv. 21, 24.
3 Matt. vi. 5.
4 Matt. vi. 7.
before us do. They are obliged to repeat some expressions thirty times; others many hundred times.
hundred times. Would that these remarks did not apply to nominal Christians in this land as well as to Moslems! But here we are at the gate of the city.
Stop a moment. A city gate is a novelty to me, and I must examine in detail an apparatus so often mentioned in the Bible.
Well, what is there in a mere gate to attract attention?
Very little, perhaps, to one who has passed in and out daily for twenty years; but a hundred Biblical incidents connect themselves in my mind with gates. Almost every city and town of ancient celebrity had them, and they were places of very great importance.
They were, indeed; and, although customs have changed in this respect, there is still enough remaining in this country to remind one of those olden times when nearly every public transaction took place at or near the city gates. Beirût has burst her shell by the force of sudden expansion, and will soon have neither wall nor gates; but nearly every other city in Syria and Palestine is still protected by these venerable safeguards.
And thus it was in ancient days. I remember that righteous Lot, intent on deeds of hospitality, sat in the gate of Sodom toward the close of day, somewhat as these Arabs are now seated, I suppose, and thereby he obtained the privilege of entertaining unawares those angels who saved him from the destruction of that wicked city. It was at the gate of Kirjath Arba (which is Hebron) that Abraham completed the contract for the cave of Machpelah, in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of the city. It was at the same place that Hamor and Shechem negotiated that fatal treaty with all that went in at the gate of the city,' which gave opportunity to those fierce and treacherous brethren, Simeon and Levi, with instruments of cruelty to work out their revenge. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel.*
Since this very unpretending entrance to Beirût is leading into a long discussion, let us prepare ourselves a seat, as Job did when he went out to the gate, and then we can talk at our leisure, and our ease as well. You observe that the gateway is vaulted, shady, and cool. This is one reason why people delight to assemble about it. Again, the curious and vain resort thither to see and be seen. Some go to meet their associates; others, to watch for returning friends, or to accompany those about to depart; while many gather there to hear the news, and to engage in trade and traffic. I have seen in certain places—Joppa, for example 1 Gen. xix. 1, and Heb. xiii. 2.
2 Gen. xxiii. 18. 3 Gen. xxxiv. 20, 24.
4 Gen. xlix. 5, 7. 5 Job xxix. 7.
-the kâdy and his court sitting at the entrance of the gate, hearing and adjudicating all sorts of causes in the audience of all that went in and out thereat. Throughout sacred history, prophecy, and poetry, the gate is celebrated by numberless interesting incidents and allusions. It would require a little volume to notice and explain them all; but here we have the thing itself, with the void place about it,' like that where Boaz made the elders of Bethlehem sit while he contracted for Ruth, the fair Moabitess;2 where Eli sat trembling for the ark of God, and fell back and broke his neck when tidings of its capture came. And here are the two leaves of the gate, and the bars, and the bolts, like those of Gaza, which Sampson tore from their sockets, and on his shoulders carried up to the top of a hill that is before Hebron. And over this gate is a chamber, like that to which David went and wept; and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom!
my son, my son Absalom! would to God I had died for thee, O Absalom! my son, my son.
It is not difficult to comprehend why public proclamations were made in the gates, and why prophets so often pronounced their messages there. We read of the gates of righteousness, because justice and judgment were there decreed and executed ; 6 and so, likewise, the prophets denounced the oppression of the poor in the gate, where corrupt judges sell justice to the highest bidder. They afflict the just, they take a bribe, they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right; and to this refers the exhortation to hate the evil, love the good, and establish judgment in the gate.? Again, gates were fortified in the strongest possible man
In them the people trusted for safety, and they naturally became the synonym for strength and power. Thou shalt call thy walls salvation, and thy gates praise. the prophets delighted to personify them. In times of calamity they languish and lament, mourn and howl; they
1 1 Kings xxii. 10. 2 Ruth iv. 1, 2. 4 Judges xvi. 3.
6 Deut. xxi. 19, and xxii. 24. - Amos v. 12, 15.
8 Isaiah lx. 18.
3 1 Sam. iv. 18.
5 2 Sam. xviii. 33.