Page images


MUHAMMADANISM. The home of the Arabs is the peninsula of Arabia, which is about 1,450 miles long and 700 wide ; the greater part of the country is desert and mountain, and only in the south-west portion of it are perennial streams found. The Arabs are Semites, and the modern descendants of them trace their origin to the Hebrews through Kâhtân, who is identified with Joktan, the son of Eber, and to Adnân, the direct descendant of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar. The kingdoms of Yaman and Hijâz were founded by Yârab and Yorhom, sons of Kâhtân. The provinces of Såba and Hadhramaut were ruled by princes of the tribe of Himyar, whose kingdoms lasted two or three thousand years. In the third century before Christ a terrible calamity befell the Arabs, for the great dam which Sâba, the builder of Saba and Mareb, built to hold up the rain water and mountain springs, suddenly burst, and the widespread ruin brought by the flood which was thus let loose on the plains caused eight great Arab tribes to leave their country. The water is said to have been held up to a height of about 180 feet, and the people felt so sure of the security of the dam that they built their houses upon it.

In the second century after Christ the Arabs migrated northwards and established petty kingdonis at Palmyra* and al-ħira, † and came at times into conflict with the Roman authorities in Syria and with the Persian powers in Eastern Mesopotamia. The Arabs of Palmyra embraced Christianity in the time of Constantine, but those of al-Hîra did not accept it until after A.D. 550 ; the Arabs of the desert, however, continued to be for the * The Arabs of Palmyra were descended from the tribe of Azd. + The Arabs of al-Hira were descended from Kâhtân.

most part idolaters. The rule of the Himyar princes came to an end in the first half of the VIth century of our era, when the king of Ethiopia overthrew a base usurper called Dhu-Nuwâs, who inflicted tortures of the worst description on the Christians, and who is said to have destroyed 20,000 of them ; the Ethiopian rule was of short duration, for before the end of the century the Persians were masters of the country. Strictly speaking, the Arabs, as a nation, have never been conquered, and no ruler has ever been able to make his authority effective in all parts of their dominions.

In pre-Muhammadan times, which the Arabs call Jâhiliyah,” ünilala, ie, the "epoch of ignorance,” their religion was the grossest idolatry, and the dominant phase of it was the religion of Sabaism. They believed in One God, but worshipped the stars, planets, and angels. They prayed three times a day, and fasted three times a year, they offered up sacrifices, they went on a pilgrimage to a place near Harran, and they held in great honour the temple at Mecca, and the Pyramids of Egypt, believing these last to be the tombs of Seth and of his sons Enoch and Sabi. Three great powers worshipped by the whole nation were Låt, Al-Uzza, and Manât ; the Kur'an (Koran) mentions five very ancient idols, viz., Wadd, Sawâ à, Yaghuth, Ya'uk, and Nasra. The first of these had the form of a man, the second that of a woman, the third that of a lion, the fourth that of a horse, and the fifth that of an eagle. Sabaism taught that the souls of the wicked will be punished for 9,000 ages, but that after that period they will obtain mercy. Many Arabs, however, believed neither in the creation nor in the resurrection, and attributed all things to the operations of nature. Magianism, of Persian origin, found many followers in Arabia, but Judaism and Christianity exerted a profound influence upon the religion of the Arabs. The Arabs prided themselves upon their skill in oratory and in making poetry, and in the arts of

war, and they made a boast of their hospitality; but they always had the character of being fierce, cruel, and vindictive, generous to friends, but implacable to foes, and addicted to robbery and rapine.

Muḥammad, commonly known as the “Prophet,” was born at Mecca on August 20, A.D. 570; his mother was called Âmina, and his father ‘Abd-Allah, and his ancestors were men of high rank in the city of Mecca, many of them holding offices in connection with the temple there. His parents were poor, and Muḥammad's inheritance consisted of five camels, a flock of goats, and a slave girl. He was suckled by Thuêba and Halima, and reared by his grandfather 'Abd al-Muttalib, and was instructed in the trade of merchant by his uncle Abu Talib. At the age of six his mother took him to Medîna, but on the way home she died; at the age of twelve (A.D. 582), Abû Țâlib took him to Syria. At the age of twenty he visited the Fair at Okas, three days to the east of Mecca, where he heard the great Arab poets declaim their compositions, and met numbers of Christians and Jews. In 595 he began to do business as a merchant on behalf of Khadijah, a wealthy lady of the Korësh tribe, and his trafficking was successful; soon after his return from Syria, this lady, who was about forty years of age, determined to marry him, and the ceremony was performed by Khadijah's father, whom she had made drunk for the purpose. By this marriage he had two sons and four daughters.

In 605 the great Kaʻaba was built, and the lot fell upon Muḥammad to build the famous Black Stone into its eastern corner, where it may be kissed by all who visit it. When he arrived at the age of 40 he began to formulate a system for the reform of the religion of the Arabs, and he became convinced that he was destined by God to carry out that reform ; at times, however, he was very despondent, and he often meditated suicide, from which Khadijah dissuaded him. About this time he declared that Gabriel appeared to him and entrusted to him the divine mission of reforming the religion of the Arabs. When Muḥammad was 45 years old he had collected a sufficiently large number of influential converts about him to provoke great opposition and persecution in and about Mecca, and in 615 the first Hijra, or "flight," to Abyssinia took place. At this time Muḥammad relaxed his exertions somewhat, for he became doubtful about the value of his mission, and seemed to be willing to tolerate the worship of idols. In December, 619, his beloved wife Khadijah died, aged 65, and about a month later Abu Talib, his uncle, also died, and in the midst of these afflictions Muḥammad had the vexation of seeing that his converts were not increasing in number. In 620 he set out to call Taif to repentance, but he was expelled from the city; a few weeks later he married a widow called Sawda, and betrothed himself to ‘Aisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, a child of six or seven years


age. In the same year Muḥammad made converts at Madina, a city which lies about 250 miles to the north of Mecca, and on June 20,* A.D. 622, the year on which the Arabs base their chronology, the Second Hijra, or “Flight," to Madina took place. He arrived in that city on June 28, and at once began to build a mosque on the spot where his camel Al-Kaswa had knelt down. At the age of 53 he married 'Aisha, aged 10, and it is said that the bride carried her toys to her husband's house, and that at times he joined in her games. In 623 he ceased to pray towards Jerusalem, and ordered his followers to pray towards the Ka'aba at Mecca; in this year the battle of Badr was fought, in which he vanquished his opponents in Mecca. In 624 his power and influence continued to grow, and he married Hafsa, the daughter of 'Omar.

* This is the true date as calculated by Caussin de Perceval, but modern Muḥammadans say the “Flight” took place on July 16.

In 625 was fought the battle of Uhud, in which Muḥammad was wounded, and a number of powerful Jews were expelled from Madina. In January, 626, he married Zenab, the daughter of Khuzema, and a month later Umm-Salma, the widow of Abu-Salma ; in June he married Zênab bint-Jahsh, who was divorced by her husband Zêd, the adopted son of Muḥammad, and later in the year he married a seventh wife, called Juwêrya.

In 627 Madina was besieged, and the Beni-Kurèba were massacred, and Muḥammad's power and influence continued to increase; the people of Mecca then began to come to terms with him. In 628 he despatched letters to Heraclius, and to the king of Persia, and to the governors of Yaman, Egypt, and Abyssinia, calling upon them to acknowledge the divine mission of Muḥammad. In the same year he betrothed himself to Umm-Habûba, and conquered Khêbar, where "he married Safia, the bride of Kinâna; and the Jews bribed a sorcerer to bewitch Muḥummad by tying knots of his hairs upon a palm branch, which was sunk in a well, and he is said to have begun to waste away. But the archangel Gabriel revealed the matter to him, and when the branch had been taken out of the well and the hairs untied he recovered his health.

Soon after this he went to Mecca and married Mêmûna, and his power increased in the city ; in 630 he conquered the city and destroyed the idols, and was successful in many raids which he made upon the tribes who had not acknowledged his divine mission. At this time George the Muķawkis sent to him from Egypt two sisters called Shirin and Maryam (Mary); the latter Muhammad married, and she bore him a son called Ibrahim, who, however, died in June or July, 631. In this year many tribes sent envoys to Muḥammad tendering their submission, and among them were men who represented the Christian Arabs; the answer given to the latter proves

« PreviousContinue »