Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

even their commerce, which absorbed the activity of the more enterprising, might appear to coop within itself this peculiar people, as neither destined nor qualified to burst the limits of their own peninsula, or to endanger the peace,

the liberties, or the religion of the world.

On a sudden, when probably only vague rumours had reached the courts of Persia or of Constantinople of the religious revolution which had taken place in Medina and Mecca, Arabia appeared in arms against mankind. A religious fanaticism, almost unexampled in its depth and intensity, had silenced all the fierce feuds of centuries ; the tribes and kingdoms had become one ; armies seemingly inexhaustible, with all the wild courage of marauding adventure, and the formidable discipline of stubborn unity of purpose, poured forth, one after another, from the desert

; and at their head appeared, not indeed the apostle himself (he had discharged his mission in organizing this terrible confederacy), but a military sovereign who united in himself the civil and spiritual supremacy, whose authority rested on the ardent attachment of a clan towards its chief, and the blind and passive obedience of a sect to a religious leader. The reigning Caliph was king and pontiff, according to the oriental theory of sovereignty, the father of his people, but likewise the successor of the Prophet, the delegate of God.

Mohammedanism appeared before the world as a stern and austere monotheism, but it was a practical, not a speculative monotheism. It had nothing abstract, indistinct, intellectual in its primary notion of the Godhead.

Allah was philosophic first cause, regulating the universe by established law, which itself stood aloof in remote and unapproachable majesty. It was an ever present, ever working energy, accomplishing its own purposes. Its predestinarianism was not a fixed and predetermined law, wrought out by the obedient elements of the human world, but the actual, immediate operation of the Deity, governing all things by his sole will, and through his passive ministers. It threw aside

no

with implacable and disdainful aversion all those gradations, as it were, of divinity which approximated man to God and God to man. Nothing existed but the Creator and the Creation ; the Creator, one in undistinguished, undivided unity ; the Creation, which comprehended every being intermediate between God and man: angels, devils, genii, all owed their being to almighty power, and were liable to death or extinction.

Mohammedanism, in more respects than one, was a republication of Mosaic Judaism, with the strong principle of national and religious unity, with its law simplified to a few rigid and unswerving observances, and the world for its land of Canaan ; the world which it was commissioned to subdue to the faith of Islam, and to possess in the right of conquest.

Yet nothing was less simple than the popular Mohammedanism. It had its poetic element, its imaginative excitement, adapted to the youthful barbarianism of the state of society, and to the Oriental character. It created, or rather acknowledged, an intermediate world, it dealt prodigally in angelic appearances, and believed in another incorporeal or rather subtly-corporeal race, between angels and men,—the genii, created out of a finer substance, but more nearly akin to man in their weaknesses and trials. The whole life of man was passed under the influence of, sometimes in indirect communion with, these half-spiritual beings. Mohammedanism borrowed its poetic machinery from all the existing religions—from Magianism, Orientalism, Judaism, Christianity. No religion was less original. Its assertion of the divine unity was a return to Judaism, a stern negation at once of the vulgar polytheism which prevailed among the ruder Arab tribes, and of the mysterious doctrines of Trinitarian Christianity. As to the intermediate world, it only popularized still further the popular belief. Its angels were those already familiar to the general mind through Talmudic Judaism and Christianity ; its genii were those of the common Eastern superstition. The creation, as

affirmed in Islam, was strictly Biblical ; the history of man was that of the Old Testament, recognised in the New, though not without a large admixture of Jewish legend. The forefathers of the Mohammedan, as of the Jewish and Christian religions, were Adam, Noah, Abraham; and to the older prophets of God, among whom were included Moses and Jesus, were only added two local prophets sent on special missions to certain of the Arab tribes. Even Mohammedan fable had none of the inventive originality of fiction. There is scarcely a legend which is not either from the Talmud, or rather the source of most of the Talmud, the religious tradition of the Jews, or the spurious (not the genuine) gospel of Christianity.

In the rites and ceremonial of Islam there was nothing which required any violent disruption of religious habits : its four great precepts only gave a new impulse and a new direction to established religious observances. The six great articles in the faith of Islam were in like manner the elemental truths of all religions : though peculiarly expressed, they were neither repugnant to human reason, nor to prevalent habits of thought.

The one new and startling article in the creed of Islam was the divine mission of the prophet Mohammed, the apostle of God. Yet Mohammed was but the successor of other prophets; the last of the long and unfailing line of divine messengers to man.

Mankind in general might demand miraculous and supernatural proofs of a prophetic mission. The Jew might sullenly disclaim a prophet sprung from the bastard race of Ishmael ; the Christian might assume the gospel to be the final and conclusive message to man : but Mohammed averred that his mission was vouched by the one great miracle, the Korân; that he was foreshown both in the law and in the gospel, though these prophecies had been obscured or falsified by the jealousy of the dominant party among the Jews and Christians. Mohammed himself remains, and must remain, a historic problem ; his character, his motives, his designs, are all equally obscure. Was the prophet possessed with a lofty indignation at the grovelling idolatry of his countrymen ? Had he contrasted the sublime simplicity of the Mosaic unity of God with the polytheism of the Arabs ; or that which appeared to him only the more subtle and disputatious polytheism of the Christians ? Had he the lofty political ambition of uniting the fierce and hostile tribes into one confederacy, of forming Arabia into a nation, and so of becoming the founder of a dynasty and an empire? and did he imagine his simple religion as the bond of the confederacy? Did he contemplate from the first foreign conquest, or foreign proselytism ? or did his more pliant ambition grow out of and accommodate itself to the circumstances of the time, submit to change and modification, and only fully develop itself according to existing exigencies? At this distance of time, and through the haze of adoring and of hostile tradition, it is difficult to trace clearly the outward actions of the prophet, how much more the inward impulses, the thoughts and aspirations of his secret spirit. To the question whether Mohammed was hero, sage, impostor, or fanatic, or blended, and blended in what proportions, these elements in his character ? the best reply is the favourite reverential phrase of Islam, ‘God knows.'

H. H. MILMAN.

THE CRESCENT AND THE CROSS.

In the year 630 an expedition, which at first bore the appearance of a peaceful pilgrimage and encountered but feeble resistance, made Mohammed master of Mecca. The Caaba opened its unresisting gates ; the three hundred and sixty idols fell without resistance on the part of their worshippers. “The truth hath come, let lies disappear.' They were dashed to pieces. The Mouedhin proclaimed from the roof, “There is one God, and Mohammed is his prophet.' No contumacious voice is heard in denial. The conquest was almost without bloodshed, except that of a few from old hereditary hostility. The most powerful of the Prophet's adversaries became proselytes to the faith ; the whole population swore allegiance. From that time Mecca becomes again the capital city of Islam; the divine edict in favour of Jerusalem is abrogated; the Prophet is sternly and exclusively Arabian; pilgrimages to the Caaba, now purified of its idols, becomes an essential part of the religion; the whole energy of Mohammedanism flows from and circulates back to the centre of the system.

Lord of Mecca, Mohammed stands supreme and alone; the Arabian mind and heart are his; the old idolatry has sunk at once before the fear of his arms and the sublimity of his new creed. He can disdain the alliance of those whom before he might stoop to conciliate ; he can express hatred and contempt for the Jew and for the Christian, at least within the Arabian peninsula ; he may pursue them with fierce and implacable hostility. But more than this,—and herein is the great debt of gratitude which Arabia owes to Mohammed, the old hereditary feuds of the tribes and races are hushed in awe, or turned into one impetuous current against the infidels. What on the whole was the influence of Mohammedanism on the world, we pause not now to inquire, or whether human happiness paid dear for the aggrandisement of the Arab race. But Arabia is now a nation ; it takes its place among the nations of the earth ; it threatens to become the ruling nation of the world.

It was the policy of Mohammed first to secure the absolute religious unity of Arabia. In Arabia, Islam at once declares irreconcilable war with all forms of unbelief: they are swept away or retire into ignominious obscurity. The only dangerous antagonists of Mohammedanism after the death of Mohammed are rival prophets. But even the religious unity of Arabia, much less that of the conquered world, dawns but by degrees upon the mind of Mohammed ; his religious ambition

« ZurückWeiter »