Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

different persons, who at once acknowledged his claim to the prophetic office; and it speaks not a little for the purity of the previous life of the new Prophet, that he could venture to claim the faith of those who were most intimately acquainted with bim. The voice of wisdom has assured us that a prophet has no honour in his own country and among his own kindred, and the example of Mohammed testified the truth of the declaration. During thirteen years the new religion made but slow and painful progress in the town of Mecca ; but the people of Yathreb, a town afterwards dignified with the appellation of the City of the Prophet (Medinat-en-Nabi), were more susceptive of faith; and when, on the death of Aboo Talib, who protected his nephew, though he rejected his claims, his celebrated Flight (Hejra) brought him to Yathreb, the people of that town took arms in his defence against the Koreish. It was probably now that new views opened to the mind of the Prophet. Prince of Yathreb, he might hope to extend his sway over the ungrateful Mecca; and those who had scoffed at his arguments and persuasions might be taught lessons of wisdom by the sword. These anticipations were correct, and in less than ten years after the battle of Bedr (the first he fought) he saw his temporal power and his prophetic character acknowledged by the whole of the Arabian peninsula.

It commonly happens that, when a new form of religion is proposed for the acceptance of mankind, it surpasses in purity that which it is intended to supersede. The Arabs of the days of Mohammed were idolaters; 300 is said to have been the number of the images which claimed their adoration in the Caaba. A gross licentiousness prevailed among them; their polygamy had no limits assigned to it*.

*See, in Sir J. Malcolm's History of Persia, the dialogue

For this the Prophet substituted the worship of One God, and placed a check on the sensual propensities of his people. His religion contained descriptions of the future state of rewards and punishments, by which he allured to obedience and terrified from contumacy or opposition. The pains of hell which he menaced were such as were most offensive to the body and its organs; the joys of Paradise were verdant meads, shady trees, murmuring brooks, gentle airs, precious wines in cups of gold and silver, stately tents, and splendid sofas; the melody of the songs of angels was to ravish the souls of the blessed; the black-eyed Hoories were to be the everblooming brides of the faithful servants of God. Yet, though sensual bliss was to be his ultimate reward, the votary was taught that its attainment demanded self-denial on earth; and it has been justly observed that “ a devout Mussulman exhibits more of the Stoical than of the Epicurean character*" As the Prophet had resolved that the sword should be unsparingly employed for the diffusion of the truth, the highest degree of the future bliss was pronounced to be the portion of the martyrs, i. e., of those who fell in the holy wars waged for the dissemination of the faith. "Paradise," says the Prophet, "is beneath the shadow of swords." At the between the Persian king Yezdijird and the Arab envoy. "Whatever," said the latter, "thou hast said regarding the former condition of the Arabs is true. Their food was green lizards; they buried their infant daughters alive; nay, some of them feasted on dead carcasses and drank blood, while others slew their relations, and thought themselves great and valiant when, by such an act, they became possessed of more property. They were clothed with hair garments, knew not good from evil, and made no distinction between that which is lawful and that which is unlawful. Such was our state. But God in his mercy has sent us by a holy prophet a sacred volume, which teaches us the true faith," &c.

* Hallam, Middle Ages, ii. 165.

day of judgment the wounds of the fallen warrior were to be resplendent as vermilion, and odoriferous as musk; and the wings of angels were to supply the loss of limbs. The religion of Mohammed was entitled Islam (resignation), whence its votaries were called by the Arabs Moslems, and in Persian Mussulmans. Its articles of belief were five-belief in God, in his angels, in his Prophet, in the last day, and in predestination. Its positive duties were also fivepurification, prayer, fasting, alms, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Various rites and observances which the Arabs had hitherto practised were retained by the Prophet, either out of regard for the prejudices of his followers, or because he did not, or could not, divest his own mind of respect for usages in which he had been reared up from infancy.

Such is a slight sketch of the religion which Mohammed substituted for the idolatry of Arabia. It contained little that was original; all its details of the future state were borrowed from Judaism or from the Magian system of Persia. The book which contains it, entitled the Koran (reading), was composed in detached pieces, during a long series of years, by the illiterate Prophet, and taken down from his lips by his scribes. His own account of its origin was that each Sura, or revelation, was brought to him from heaven by the angel Gabriel. It is regarded by the Mohammedan East, and by most European Orientalists, as the masterpiece of Arabian literature ; and when we make due allowance for the difference of European and Arabian models and taste, and consider that the rhyme* which in prose is insufferable to the former, may to the latter sound grateful, we may allow that the praises lavished on it are not

* The Hebrews, as appears from the poetic parts of the Scriptures, had the same delight in the clang of rhyme as the Arabs. See particularly Isaiah in the original.

unmerited. Though tedious and often childish legends, and long and tiresome civil regulations, occupy the greater part of it, it is pervaded by a fine strain of fervid piety and humble resignation to the will of God, not unworthy of the inspired seers of Israel; and the sublime doctrine of the Unity of God runs like a vein of pure gold through each portion of the mass, giving lustre and dignity to all. Might we not venture to say that Christianity itself has derived advantage from the imposture of Mohammed, and that the clear and open profession of the Divine Unity by their Mohammedan enemies kept the Christians of the dark ages from smothering it beneath the mass of superstition and fable by which they corrupted and deformed so much of the majestic simplicity of the Gospel? No one, certainly, would dream of comparing the son of Abd-Allah with the Son of God, of setting darkness by the side of light; but still we may confess him to have been an agent in the hands of the Almighty, and admit that his assumption of the prophetic office was productive of good as well as of evil.

The Mohammedan religion is so intimately connected with history, law, manners, and opinions, in the part of the East of which we are about to write, that this brief view of its origin and nature was indispensable. We now proceed to our history.

CHAPTER II.

Origin of the Khalifat-The first Khalifs-Extent of the Arabian Empire-Schism among the Mohammedans— Soonees and Sheähs-Sects of the latter-The KeissaneeThe Zeidites-The Ghoollat-The Imamee-Sects of the Imamee-Their political Character-The CarmathitesOrigin of the Fatimite Khalifs-Secret Society at CairoDoctrines taught in it-Its Decline.

THE Civil and ecclesiastical dignities were united in the person of Mohammed. As Emir (prince) he administered justice and led his followers to battle; as Imam (director) he on every Friday (the Mohammedan sabbath) taught the principles and duties of religion from his pulpit. Though his wives were numerous, the Prophet had no male issue surviving at the time when he felt the approaches of death ; but his daughter Fatima was married to his cousin Ali, his early and faithful disciple, and it was naturally to be expected that the expiring voice of the Prophet would nominate him as his Khalif (successor) over the followers of his faith. But Ayesha, the daughter of Aboo Bekr, Mohammed's youthful and best beloved wife, was vehemently hostile to the son of Aboo Talib, and she may have exerted all the influence of a revengeful woman over the mind of the dying Prophet. Or perhaps Mohammed, like Alexander, perplexed with the extent of dominion to which he had attained, and aware that only a vigour of character similar to his own would avail to retain and enlarge it, and, it may be, thinking himself an

« AnteriorContinuar »