C. Snouck Hurgronje
THERE are more than two hundred million people who call themselves after the name of Mohammed, would not relinquish that name at any price, and cannot imagine a greater blessing for the remainder of humanity than to be incorporated into their communion. Their ideal is no less than that the whole earth should join in the faith that there is no god but Allah and that Mohammed is Allah's last and most perfect messenger, who brought the latest and final revelation of Allah to humanity in Allah's own words. This alone is enough to claim our special interest for the Prophet, who in the seventh century stirred all Arabia into agitation and whose followers soon after his death founded an empire extending from Morocco to China.
Even those who - to my mind, not without gross exaggeration - would seek the explanation of the mighty stream of humanity poured out by the Arabian peninsula since 630 over Western and Middle Asia, Northern Africa, and Southern Europe principally in geographic and economic causes do not ignore the fact that it was Mohammed who opened the sluice gates. It would indeed be difficult to maintain that without his preaching the Arabs of the seventh century would have been induced by circumstances to swallow up the empire of the Sasanids and to rob the Byzantine Empire of some of its richest provinces. However great a weight one may give to political and economic factors, it was religion, Islam, which in a certain sense united the hitherto hopelessly divided Arabs, Islam which enabled them to found an enormous international community; it was Islam which bound the speedily converted nations together even after the shattering of its political power, and which still binds them today when only a miserable remnant of that power remains.
The aggressive manner in which young Islam immediately put itself in opposition to the rest of the world had the natural consequence of awakening an interest which was far from being of a friendly nature. Moreover men were still very far from such a striving towards universal peace as would have induced a patient study of the means of bringing the different peoples into close spiritual relationship, and therefore from an endeavour to understand the spiritual life of races different to their own. The Christianity of that time was itself by no means averse to the forcible extension of its faith, and in the community of Mohammedans which systematically attempted to reduce the world to its authority by force of arms, it saw only an enemy whose annihilation was, to its regret, beyond its power. Such an enemy it could no more observe impartially than one modern nation can another upon which it considers it necessary to make war. Everything maintained or invented to the disadvantage of Islam was greedily absorbed by Europe; the picture which our forefathers in the Middle Ages formed of Mohammed's religion appears to us a malignant caricature. The rare theologians1 who, before attacking the false faith, tried to form a clear notion of it, were not listened to, and their merits have only become appreciated in our own time. A vigorous combating of the prevalent fictions concerning Islam would have exposed a scholar to a similar treatment to that which, fifteen years ago, fell to the lot of any Englishman who maintained the cause of the Boers; he would have been as much of an outcast as a modern inhabitant of Mecca who tried to convince his compatriots of the virtues of European policy and social order.
Two and a half centuries ago, a prominent Orientalist2, who wrote an exposition of Mohammed's teaching, felt himself obliged to give an elaborate justification of his undertaking in his "Dedicatio." He appeals to one or two celebrated predecessors and to learned colleagues, who have expressly instigated him to this work. Amongst other things he quotes a letter from the Leiden professor, L'Empereur, in which he conjures Breitinger by the bowels of Jesus Christ ("per viscera Jesu Christi") to give the young man every opportunity to complete his study of the religion of Mohammed, "which so far has only been treated in a senseless way." As a fruit of this study L'Empereur thinks it necessary to mention in the first place the better understanding of the (Christian) Holy Scriptures by the extension of our knowledge of Oriental manners and customs. Besides such promotion of Christian exegesis and apologetics and the improvement of the works on general history, Hottinger himself contemplated a double purpose in his Historia Orientalis. The Roman Catholics often vilified Protestantism by comparing the Reformed doctrine to that of Mohammedanism; this reproach of Cryptomohammedanism Hottinger wished "talionis lege" to fling back at the Catholics; and he devotes a whole chapter (Chap. 6) of his book to the demonstration that Bellarminius' proofs of the truth of the Church doctrine might have been copied from the Moslem dogma. In the second place, conforming to the spirit of the his times, he wished, just as Bibliander had done in his refutation of the Qoran, to combine the combat against Mohammedan unbelief with that against the Turkish Empire ("in oppugnationem Mahometanć perfidić et Turcici regni").
The Turks were feared by the Europe of that time, and the significance of their religion for their worldly power was well known; thus the political side of the question gave Hottinger's work a special claim to consideration. Yet, in spite of all this, Hottinger feared that his labour would be regarded as useless, or even wicked. Especially when he is obliged to say anything favourable of Mohammed and his followers, he thinks it necessary to protect himself against misconstruction by the addition of some selected terms of abuse. When mentioning Mohammed's name, he says: "at the mention of whom the mind shudders" ("ad cujus profecto mentionem inhorrescere nobis debet animus").
The learned Abbé Maracci, who in 1698 produced a Latin translation of the Qoran accompanied by an elaborate refutation, was no less than Hottinger imbued with the necessity of shuddering at every mention of the "false" Prophet, and Dr. Prideaux, whose Vie de Mahomet appeared in the same year in Amsterdam, abused and shuddered with them, and held up his biography of Mohammed as a mirror to "unbelievers, atheists, deists, and libertines."
It was a Dutch scholar, H. Reland, the Utrecht professor of theology, who in the beginning of the eighteenth century frankly and warmly recommended the application of historical justice even towards the Mohammedan religion; in his short Latin sketch of Islam3 he allowed the Mohammedan authorities to speak for themselves. In his "Dedicatio" to his brother and in his extensive preface he explains his then new method. Is it to be supposed, he asks, that a religion as ridiculous as the Islam described by Christian authors should have found millions of devotees? Let the Moslims themselves describe their own religion for us; just as the Jewish and Christian religions are falsely represented by the heathen and Protestantism by Catholics, so every religion is misrepresented by its antagonists. "We are mortals, subject to error; especially where religious matters are concerned, we often allow ourselves to be grossly misled by passion." Although it may cause evil-minded readers to doubt the writer's orthodoxy he continues to maintain that truth can only be served by combating her opponents in an honourable way.
"No religion," says Reland, "has been more calumniated than Islam," although the Abbe' Maracci himself could give no better explanation of the turning of many Jews and Christians to this religion than the fact that it contains many elements of natural truth, evidently borrowed from the Christian religion, "which seem to be in accordance with the law and the light of nature" ("quć naturć legi ac lumini consentanca videntur"). "More will be gained for Christianity by friendly intercourse with Mohammedans than by slander; above all Christians who live in the East must not, as is too often the case, give cause to one Turk to say to another who suspects him of lying or deceit: 'Do you take me for a Christian?' ('putasne me Christianum esse'). In truth, the Mohammedans often put us to shame by their virtues; and a better knowledge of Islam can only help to make our irrational pride give place to gratitude to God for the undeserved mercy which He bestowed upon us in Christianity." Reland has no illusions that his scientific justice will find acceptance in a wide circle "as he becomes daily more and more convinced that the world wishes to be deceived and is governed by prejudice" ("qui quotidie magis magisque experior mundum decipi velle et prćconceptis opinionibus regi").
It was not long before the scale was turned in the opposite direction, and Islam was made by some people the object of panegyrics as devoid of scientific foundation as the former calumnies. In 1730 appeared in London the incomplete posthumous work of Count de Boulainvilliers, Vie de Mahomet, in which, amongst other things, he says of the Arabian Prophet that "all that he has said concerning the essential religious dogmas is true, but he has not said all that is true, and it is only therein that his religion differs from ours." De Boulainvilliers tells us with particular satisfaction that Mohammed, who respected the devotion of hermits and monks, proceeded with the utmost severity against the official clergy, condemning its members either to death or to the abjuration of their faith. This Vie de Mahomet was as a matter of fact an anti-clerical romance, the material of which was supplied by a superficial knowledge of Islam drawn from secondary sources. That a work with such a tendency was sure to arouse interest at that time, is shown by a letter from the publisher, Coderc, to Professor Gagnier at Oxford, in which he writes: "He [de Boulainvilliers] mixes up his history with many political reflections, which by their newness and boldness are sure to be well received" ("Il męle son Histoire de plusieurs reflexions politiques, et qui par leur hardiesse ne man queront pas d'ętre trčs bien reçues").
Jean Gagnier however considered these bold novelties very dangerous and endeavoured to combat them in another Vie de Mahomet, which appeared from his hand in 1748 at Amsterdam. He strives after a "juste milieu" between the too violent partisanship of Maracci and Prideaux and the ridiculous acclamations of de Boulainvilliers. Yet this does not prevent him in his preface from calling Mohammed the greatest villain of mankind and the most mortal enemy of God ("le plus scélérat de tous les hommes et le plus mortel ennemi de Dieu"). His desire to make his contemporaries proof against the poison of de Boulainvilliers' dangerous book gains the mastery over the pure love of truth for which Reland had so bravely striven.
Although Sale in his "Preliminary Discourse" to his translation of the Qoran endeavours to contribute to a fair estimation of Mohammed and his work, of which his motto borrowed from Augustine, "There is no false doctrine that does not contain some truth" ("nulla falsa doctrina est quć non aliquid veri permisceat"), is proof, still the prejudicial view remained for a considerable time the prevalent one. Mohammed was branded as imposteur even in circles where Christian fanaticism was out of the question. Voltaire did not write his tragedy Mahomet ou le fanatisme as a historical study; he was aware that his fiction was in many respects at variance with history. In writing this work he was, as he himself expresses it, inspired by "l'amour du genre humain et l'horreur du fanatisme." He wanted to put before the public an armed Tartufe and thought he might lay the part upon Mohammed, for, says he, "is not the man, who makes war against his own country and dares to do it in the name of God, capable of any ill?" The dislike that Voltaire had conceived for the Qoran from a superficial acquaintance with it, "ce livre infatelligible qui fait frémir le sens commun ŕ chaque page," probably increased his unfavourable opinion, but the principal motive of his choice of a representative must have been that the general public still regarded Mohammed as the incarnation of fanaticism and priestcraft.
Almost a century lies between Gagnier's biography of Mohammed and that of the Heidelberg professor Weil (Mohammed der Prophet, sein Leben und seine Lehre, Stuttgart, 1843); and yet Weil did well to call Gagnier his last independent predecessor. Weil's great merit is, that he is the first in his field who instituted an extensive historico-critical investigation without any preconceived opinion. His final opinion of Mohammed is, with the necessary reservations: "In so far as he brought the most beautiful teachings of the Old and the New Testament to a people which was not illuminated by one ray of faith, he may be regarded, even by those who are not Mohammedans, as a messenger of God." Four years later Caussin de Perceval in his Essai sur l'histoire des Arabes, written quite independently of Weil, expresses the same idea in these words: "It would be an injustice to Mohammed to consider him as no more than a clever impostor, an ambitious man of genius; he was in the first place a man convinced of his vocation to deliver his nation from error and to regenerate it."
About twenty years later the biography of Mohammed made an enormous advance through the works of Muir, Sprenger, and Nöldeke. On the ground of much wider and at the same time deeper study of the sources than had been possible for Weil and Caussin de Perceval, each of these three scholars gave in his own way an account of the origin of Islam. Nöldeke was much sharper and more cautious in his historical criticism than Muir or Sprenger. While the biographies written by these two men have now only historical value, Nöldeke's History of the Qoran is still an indispensable instrument of study more than half a century after its first appearance.
Numbers of more or less successful efforts to make Mohammed's life understood by the nineteenth century intellect have followed these without much permanent gain. Mohammed, who was represented to the public in turn as deceiver, as a centre from which all biographers started and to which they always returned, was the Qoran; the collection of words of Allah spoken by Mohammed in those twenty-two years. Hardly anyone, amongst the "faithful" and the "unfaithful," doubts the generally authentic character of its contents except the Parisian professor Casanova.4 He tried to prove a little while ago that Mohammed's revelations originally contained the announcement that the HOUR, the final catastrophe, the Last Judgment would come during his life. When his death had therefore falsified this prophecy, according to Casanova, the leaders of the young community found themselves obliged to submit the revelations preserved in writing or memory to a thorough revision, to add some which announced the mortality even of the last prophet, and, finally to console the disappointed faithful with the hope of Mohammed's return before the end of the world. This doctrine of the return, mentioned neither in the Qoran nor in the eschatological tradition of later times, according to Casanova was afterwards changed again into the expectation of the Mahdi, the last of Mohammed's deputies, "a Guided of God," who shall be descended from Mohammed, bear his name, resemble him in appearance, and who shall fill the world once more before its end with justice, as it is now filled with injustice and tyranny.
In our sceptical times there is very little that is above criticism, and one day or other we may expect to hear that Mohammed never existed. The arguments for this can hardly be weaker than those of Casanova against the authenticity of the Qoran. Here we may acknowledge the great power of what has been believed in all times, in all places, by all the members of the community ("quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est"). For, after the death of Mohammed there immediately arose a division which none of the leading personalities were able to escape, and the opponents spared each other no possible kind of insult, scorn, or calumny. The enemies of the first leaders of the community could have wished for no more powerful weapon for their attack than a well-founded accusation of falsifying the word of God. Yet this accusation was never brought against the first collectors of the scattered revelations; the only reproach that was made against them in connexion with this labour being that verses in which the Holy Family (Ali and Fatimah) were mentioned with honour, and which, therefore, would have served to support the claims of the Alids to the succession of Mohammed, were suppressed by them. This was maintained by the Shi'ites, who are unsurpassed in Islam as falsifiers of history; and the passages which, according to them, are omitted from the official Qoran would involve precisely an account of their reference to the succession, the mortality of Mohammed.
All sects and parties have the same text of the Qoran. This may have its errors and defects, but intentional alterations or mutilations of real importance are not to blame for this.
Now this rich authentic source -- this collection of wild, poetic representations of the Day of Judgment; of striving against idolatry; of stories from Sacred History; of exhortation to the practice of the cardinal virtues of the Old and New Testament; of precepts to reform the individual, domestic, and tribal life in the spirit of these virtues; of incantations and forms of prayer and a hundred things besides is not always comprehensible to us. Even for the parts which we do understand, we are not able to make out the chronological arrangement which is necessary to gain an insight into Mohammed's personality and work. This is not only due to the form of the oracles, which purposely differs from the usual tone of mortals by its unctuousness and rhymed prose, but even more to the circumstance that all that the hearers could know, is assumed to be known. So the Qoran is full of references that are enigmatical to us. We therefore need additional explanation, and this can only be derived from tradition concerning the circumstances under which each revelation was delivered.
And, truly, the sacred tradition of Islam is not deficient in data of this sort. In the canonical and half-canonical collections concerning what the Prophet has said, done, and omitted to do, in biographical works, an answer is given to every question which may arise in the mind of the reader of the Qoran; and there are many Qoran-commentaries, in which these answers are appended to the verses which they are supposed to elucidate. Sometimes the explanations appear to us, even at first sight, improbable and unacceptable; sometimes they contradict each other; a good many seem quite reasonable.
The critical biographers of Mohammed have therefore begun their work of sifting by eliminating the improbable and by choosing between contradictory data by means of critical comparison. Here the gradually increasing knowledge of the spirit of the different parties in Islam was an important aid, as of course each group represented the facts in the way which best served their own purposes.
However cautiously and acutely Weil and his successors have proceeded, the continual progress of the analysis of the legislative as well as of the historical tradition of Islam since 1870 has necessitated a renewed investigation. In the first place it has become ever more evident that the thousands of traditions about Mohammed, which, together with the Qoran, form the foundation upon which the doctrine and life of the community are based, are for the most part the conventional expression of all the opinions which prevailed amongst his followers during the first three centuries after the Hijrah. The fiction originated a long time after Mohammed's death; during the turbulent period of the great conquests there was no leisure for such work. Our own conventional insincerities differ so much - externally at least - from those of that date, that it is difficult for us to realize a spiritual atmosphere where "pious fraud" was practised on such a scale. Yet this is literally true: in the first centuries of Islam no one could have dreamt of any other way of gaining acceptance for a doctrine or a precept than by circulating a tradition, according to which Mohammed had preached the doctrine or dictated it or had lived according to the precept. The whole individual, domestic, social, and political life as it developed in the three centuries during which the simple Arabian religion was adjusted to the complicated civilization of the great nations of that time, that all life was theoretically justified by representing it as the application of minute laws supposed to have been elaborated by Mohammed by precept and example.
Thus tradition gives invaluable material for the knowledge of the conflict of opinions in the first centuries, a strife the sharpness of which has been blunted in later times by a most resourceful harmonistic method. But, it is vain to endeavour to construct the life and teaching of Mohammed from such spurious accounts; they cannot even afford us a reliable illustration of his life in the form of "table talk," as an English scholar rather naively tried to derive from them. In a collection of this sort, supported by good external evidence, there would be attributed to the Prophet of Mecca sayings from the Old and New Testament, wise sayings from classical and Arabian antiquity, prescriptions of Roman law and many other things, each text of which was as authentic as its fellows.
Anyone who, warned by Goldziher and others, has realized how matters stand in this respect, will be careful not to take the legislative tradition as a direct instrument for the explanation of the Qoran. When, after a most careful investigation of thousands of traditions which all appear equally old, we have selected the oldest, then we shall see that we have before us only witnesses of the first century of the Hijrah. The connecting threads with the time of Mohammed must be supplied for a great part by imagination.
The historical or biographical tradition in the proper sense of the word has only lately been submitted to a keener examination. It was known for a long time that here too, besides theological and legendary elements, there were traditious originating from party motive, intended to give an appearance of historical foundation to the particular interests of certain persons or families; but it was thought that after some sifting there yet remained enough to enable us to form a much clearer sketch of Mohammed's life than that of any other of the founders of a universal religion.
It is especially Prince Caetani and Father Lammens who have disturbed this illusion. According to them, even the data which had been pretty generally regarded as objective, rest chiefly upon tendentious fiction. The generations that worked at the biography of the Prophet were too far removed from his time to have true data or notions; and, moreover, it was not their aim to know the past as it was, but to construct a picture of it as it ought to have been according to their opinion. Upon the bare canvas of verses to the Qoran that need explanation, the traditionists have embroidered with great boldness scenes suitable to the desires or ideals of their particular group; or, to use a favourite metaphor of Lammens, they fill the empty spaces by a process of stereotyping which permits the critical observer to recognize the origin of each picture. In the Sirah (biography), the distance of the first describers from their object is the same as in the Hadith (legislative tradition); in both we get images of very distant things, perceived by means of fancy rather than by sight and taking different shapes according to the inclinations of each circle of describers.
Now, it may be true that the latest judges have here and there examined the Mohammedan traditions too sceptically and too suspiciously; nevertheless, it remains certain that in the light of their research, the method of examination cannot remain unchanged. We must endeavour to make our explanations of the Qoran independent of tradition, and in respect to portions where this is impossible, we must be suspicious of explanations, however apparently plausible.
During the last few years the accessible sources of information have considerably increased, the study of them has become much deeper and more methodical, and the result is that we can tell much less about the teaching and the life of Mohammed than could our predecessors half a century ago. This apparent loss is of course in reality nothing but gain.
Those who do not take part in new discoveries, nevertheless, wish to know now and then the results of the observations made with constantly improved instruments. Let me endeavour, very briefly, to satisfy this curiosity. That the report of the bookkeeping might make a somewhat different impression if another accountant had examined it, goes without saying, and sometimes I shall draw particular attention to my personal responsibility in this respect.
Of Mohammed's life before his appearance as the messenger of God, we know extremely little; compared to the legendary biography as treasured by the Faithful practically, nothing. Not mention his pre-existence as a Light, which was with God, and for the sake of which God created the world, the Light, which as the principle of revelation, lived in all prophets from Adam onwards, and the final revelation of which in Mohammed was prophesied in the Scriptures of the Jews and the Christians; not to mention the wonderful and mysterious signs which announced the birth of the Seal of the Prophets, and many other features which the later Sirahs (biographies) and Maulids (pious histories of his birth, most in rhymed prose or in poetic metre) produce in imitation of the Gospels; even the elaborate discourses of the older biographies on occurrences, which in themselves might quite well come within, the limits of sublunary possibility, do not belong to history. Fiction plays such a great part in these stories, that we are never sure of being on historical ground unless the Qoran gives us a firm footing.
The question, whether the family to which Mohammed belonged, was regarded as noble amongst the Qoraishites, the ruling tribe in Mecca, is answered in the affirmative by many; but by others this answer is questioned not without good grounds. The matter is not of prime importance, as there is no doubt that Mohammed grew up as a poor orphan and belonged to the needy and the neglected. Even a long time after his first appearance the unbelievers reproached him, according to the Qoran, with his insignificant worldly position, which fitted ill with a heavenly message; the same scornful reproach according to the Qoran was hurled at Mohammed's predecessors by sceptics of earlier generations; and it is well known than the stories of older times in the Qoran are principally reflections of what Mohammed himself experienced. The legends of Mohammed's relation to various members of his family are too closely connected with the pretensions of their descendants to have any value for biographic purposes. He married late an elderly woman, who it is said, was able to lighten his material cares; she gave him the only daughter by whom he had descendants; descendants, who, from the Arabian point of view, do not count as such, as according to their genealogical theories the line of descent cannot pass through a woman. They have made an exception for the Prophet, as male offspring, the only blessing of marriage appreciated by Arabs, was withheld from him.
In the materialistic commercial town of Mecca, where lust of gain and usury reigned supreme, where women, wine, and gambling filled up the leisure time, where might was right, and widows, orphans, and the feeble were treated as superfluous ballast, an unfortunate being like Mohammed, if his constitution were sensitive, must have experienced most painful emotions, in the intellectual advantages that the place offered he could find no solace; the highly developed Arabian art of words, poetry with its fictitious amourettes, its polished descriptions of portions of Arabian nature, its venal vain praise and satire, might serve as dessert to a well-filled dish; they were unable to compensate for the lack of material prosperity. Mohammed felt his misery as a pain too great to be endured; in some way or other he must be delivered from it. He desired to be more than the greatest in his surroundings, and he knew that in that which they counted for happiness he could never even equal them. Rather than envy them regretfully, he preferred to despise their values of life, but on that very account he had to oppose these values with better ones.
It was not unknown in Mecca that elsewhere communities existed acquainted with such high ideals of life, spiritual goods accessible to the poor, even to them in particular. Apart from commerce, which brought the inhabitants of Mecca into contact with Abyssinians, Syrians, and others, there were far to the south and less far to the north and north-east of Mecca, Arabian tribes who had embraced the Jewish or the Christian religion. Perhaps this circumstance had helped to make the inhabitants of Mecca familiar with the idea of a creator, Allah, but this had little significance in their lives, as in the Maker of the Universe they did not see their Lawgiver their Judge, but held themselves dependent for good and evil fortune upon all manner of beings, which they rendered favourable or harmless by animistic practices. Thoroughly Conservative, they did not take great interest in the conceptions of the "People of the Scripture," as they called the Jews, Christians, and perhaps some other sects arisen from these communities.
But Mohammed's deeply felt misery awakened his interest in them. Whether this had been the case with a few others before him in the milieu of Mecca, we need not consider, as it does not help to explain his actions. If wide circles had been anxious to know more about the contents of the "Scripture" Mohammed would not have felt in the dark in the way that he did. We shall probably never know, by intercourse with whom it really was that Mohammed at last gained some knowledge of the contents of the sacred books of Judaism and Christianity; probably through various people, and over a considerable length of time. It was not lettered men who satisfied his awakened curiosity; otherwise the quite confused ideas, especially in the beginning of the revelation, concerning the mutual relations between Jews and Christians could not be explained. Confusions between Miryam, the sister of Moses, and Mary the mother of Jesus, between Saul and Gideon, mistakes about the relationship of Abraham to Isaac, Ishmael, and Jacob, might be put down to misconceptions of Mohammed himself, who could not all at once master the strange material. But his representation of Judaism and Christianity and a number of other forms of revelation, as almost identical in their contents, differing only in the place where, the time wherein, and the messenger of God by whom they came to man; this idea, which runs like a crimson thread through all the revelations of the first twelve years of Mohammed's prophecy, could not have existed if he had had an intimate acquaintance with Jewish or Christian men of letters. Moreover, the many post-biblical features and stories which the Qoran contains concerning the past of mankind, indicate a vulgar origin, and especially as regards the Christian legends, communications from people who lived outside the communion of the great Christian churches; this is sufficiently proved by the docetical representation of the death of Jesus and the many stories about his life, taken from apocryphal sources or from popular oral legends.
Mohammed's unlearned imagination worked all such material together into a religious history of mankind, in which Adam's descendants had become divided into innumerable groups of peoples differing in speech and place of abode, whose aim in life at one period or another came to resemble wonderfully that of the inhabitants of West- and Central-Arabia in the seventh century A.D.. Hereby they strayed from the true path, in strife with the commands given by Allah. The whole of history, therefore, was for him a long series of repetitions of the antithesis between the foolishness of men, as this was now embodied in the social state of Mecca, and the wisdom of God, as known to the "People of the Scripture." To bring the erring ones back to the true path, it was Allah's plan to send them messengers from out of their midst, who delivered His ritual and His moral directions to them in His own words, who demanded the acknowledgment of Allah's omnipotence, and if they refused to follow the true guidance, threatened them with Allah's temporary or, even more, with His eternal punishment.
The antithesis is always the same, from Adam to Jesus, and the enumeration of the scenes is therefore rather monotonous; the only variety is in the detail, borrowed from biblical and apocryphal legends. In all the thousands of years the messengers of Allah play the same part as Mohammed finally saw himself called upon to play towards his people.
Mohammed's account of the past contains more elements of Jewish than of Christian origin, and he ignores the principal dogmas of the Christian Church. In spite of his supernatural birth, Jesus is only a prophet like Moses and others; and although his miracles surpass those of other messengers, Mohammed at a later period of his life is inclined to place Abraham above Jesus in certain respects. Yet the influence of Christianity upon Mohammed's vocation was very great; without the Christian idea of the final scene of human history, of the Resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment, Mohammed's mission would have no meaning. It is true, monotheism in the Jewish sense, and after the contrast had become clear to Mohammed, accompanied by an express rejection of the Son of God and of the Trinity, has become one of the principal dogmas of Islam. But in Mohammed's first preaching, the announcement of the Day of Judgment is much more prominent than the Unity of God; and it was against his revelations concerning Doomsday that his opponents directed their satire during the first twelve years. It was not love of their half-dead gods but anger at the wretch who was never tired of telling them, in the name of Allah, that all their life was idle and despicable, that in the other world they would be outcasts, which opened the floodgates of irony and scorn against Mohammed. And it was Mohammed's anxiety for his own lot and that of those who were dear to him in that future life, that forced him to seek a solution of the question who shall bring my people out of the darkness of antithesis into the light of obedience to Allah?
We should, a posteriori, be inclined to imagine a simpler answer to the question than that which Mohammed found; he might have become a missionary of Judaism or of Christianity to the Meccans. However natural such a conclusion may appear to us, from the premises with which we are acquainted, it did not occur to Mohammed. He began -- the Qoran tells us expressly -- by regarding the Arabs, or at all events his Arabs, as heretofore destitute of divine message5 : "to whom We have sent no warner before you." Moses and Jesus - not to mention any others - had not been sent for the Arabs; and as Allah would not leave any section of mankind without a revelation, their prophet must still be to come. Apparently Mohammed regarded the Jewish and Christian tribes in Arabia as exceptions to the rule that an ethnical group (ummah) was at the same time a religious unity. He did not imagine that it could be in Allah's plan that the Arabs were to conform to a revelation given in a foreign Ianguage. No; God must speak to them in Arabic6. Through whose mouth?
A long and severe crisis preceded Mohammed's call. He was convinced that, if he were the man, mighty signs from Heaven must be revealed to him, for his conception of revelation was mechanical; Allah Himself, or at least angels, must speak to him. The time of waiting, the process of objectifying the subjective, lived through by the help of an overstrained imagination, all this laid great demands upon the psychical and physical constitution of Mohammed. At length he saw and heard that which he thought he ought to hear and see. In feverish dreams he found the form for the revelation, and he did not in the least realize that the contents of his inspiration from Heaven were nothing but the result of what he had himself absorbed. He realized it so little, that the identity of what was revealed to him with what he held to be the contents of the Scriptures of Jews and Christians was a miracle to him, the only miracle upon which he relied for the support of his mission.
In the course of the twenty-three years of Mohammed's work as God's messenger, the over-excited state, or inspiration, or whatever we may call the peculiar spiritual condition in which his revelation was born, gradually gave place to quiet reflection. Especially after the Hijrah, when the Prophet had to provide the state established by him at Medina with inspired regulations, the words of God became in almost every respect different from what they had been at first. Only the form was retained. In connection with this evolution some of our biographers of Mohammed, even where they do not deny the obvious honesty of his first visions, represent him in the second half of his work, as a sort of actor, who played with that which had been most sacred to him. This accusation is, in my opinion, unjust.
Mohammed, who twelve years long, in spite of derision and contempt, continued to inveigh in the name of Allah against the frivolous conservatism of the heathens in Mecca, to preach Allah's omnipotence to them, to hold up to them Allah's commands and His promises and threats regarding the future life, "without asking any reward" for such exhausting work, is really not another than the acknowledged "Messenger of Allah" in Medina, who saw his power gradually increase, who was taught by experience the value and the use of the material means of extending it, and who, finally, by the force of arms compelled all Arabs to "obedience to Allah and His messenger."
In our own society, real enthusiasm in the propagation of an idea generally considered as absurd if crowned by success may, in the course of time, end in cold, prosaic calculation without a trace of hypocrisy. Nowhere in the life of Mohammed can a point of turning be shown; there is a gradual changing of aims and a readjustment of the means of attaining them. From the first the outcast felt himself superior to the well-to-do people who looked down upon him; and with all his power he sought for a position from which he could force them to acknowledge his superiority. This he found in the next and better world, of which the Jews and Christians knew. After a crisis, which some consider as psychopathologic, he knew himself to be sent by Allah to call the materialistic community, which he hated and despised, to the alternative, either in following him to find eternal blessedness, or in denying him to be doomed to eternal fire.
Powerless against the scepticism of his hearers, after twelve years of preaching followed only by a few dozen, most of them outcasts like himself, he hoped now and then that Allah would strike the recalcitrant multitude with an earthly doom as he knew from revelations had happened before. This hope was also unfulfilled. As other messengers of God had done in similar circumstances, he sought for a more fruitful field than that of his birthplace; he set out on the Hijrah, i.e., emigration to Medina. Here circumstances were more favourable to him: in a short time he became the head of a considerable community.
Allah, who had given him power, soon allowed him to use it for the protection of the interests of the Faithful against the unbelievers. Once become militant, Mohammed turned from the purely defensive to the aggressive attitude, with such success that a great part of the Arab tribes were compelled to accept Islam, "obedience to Allah and His Messenger." The rule formerly insisted upon: "No compulsion in religion," was sacrificed, since experience taught him, that the truth was more easily forced upon men by violence than by threats which would be fulfilled only after the resurrection. Naturally, the religious value of the conversions sank in proportion as their number increased. The Prophet of world renouncement in Mecca wished to win souls for his faith; the Prophet-Prince in Medina needed subjects and fighters for his army. Yet he was still the same Mohammed.
Parallel with his altered position towards the heathen Arabs went a readjustment of his point of view towards the followers of Scripture. Mohammed never pretended to preach a new religion; he demanded in the name of Allah the same Islam (submission) that Moses, Jesus, and former prophets had demanded of their nations. In his earlier revelations he always points out the identity of his "Qorans" with the contents of the sacred books of Jews and Christians, in the sure conviction that these will confirm his assertion if asked. In Medina he was disillusioned by finding neither Jews nor Christians prepared to acknowledge an Arabian prophet, not even for the Arabs only; so he was led to distinguish between the true contents of the Bible and that which had been made of it by the falsification of later Jews and Christians. He preferred now to connect, his own revelations more immediately with those of Abraham, no books of whom could be cited against him, and who was acknowledged by Jews and Christians without being himself either a Jew or a Christian.
This turn, this particular connection of Islam with Abraham, made it possible for him, by means of an adaptation of the biblical legends concerning Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael, to include in his religion a set of religious customs of the Meccans, especially the hajj.7 Thus Islam became more Arabian, and at the same time more independent of the other revealed religions, whose degeneracy was demonstrated by their refusal to acknowledge Mohammed.
All this is to be explained without the supposition of conscious trickery or dishonesty on the part of Mohammed. There was no other way for the unlettered Prophet, whose belief in his mission was unshaken, to overcome the difficulties entailed by his closer acquaintance with the tenets of other religions.
How, then, are we to explaim the starting-point of it all - Mohammed's sense of vocation? Was it a disease of the spirit, a kind of madness? At all events, the data are insufficient upon which to form a serious diagnosis. Some have called it epilepsy. Sprenger, with an exaggerated display of certainty based upon his former medical studies, gave Mohammed's disorder the name of hysteria. Others try to find a connection between Mohammed's extraordinary interest in the fair sex and his prophetic consciousness. But, after all, is it explaining the spiritual life of a man, who was certainly unique, if we put a label upon him, and thus class him with others, who at the most shared with him certain abnormalities? A normal man Mohammed certainly was not. But as soon as we try to give a positive name to this negative quality, then we do the same as the heathens of Mecca, who were violently awakened by his thundering prophecies: "He is nothing but one possessed, a poet, a soothsayer, a sorcerer," they said. Whether we say with the old European biographers "impostor," or with the modern ones put "epileptic," or "hysteric" in its place, makes little difference. The Meccans ended by submitting to him, and conquering a world under the banner of his faith. We, with the diffidence which true science implies, feel obliged merely to call him Mohammed, and to seek in the Qoran, and with great cautiousness in the Tradition, a few principal points of his life and work, in order to see how in his mind the intense feeling of discontent during the misery of his youth, together with a great self-reliance, a feeling of spiritual superiority to his surroundings, developed into a call, the form of which was largely decided by Jewish and Christian influence.
While being struck by various weaknesses which disfigured this great personality and which he himself freely confessed, we must admire the perseverance with which he retained his faith in his divine mission, not discouraged by twelve years of humiliation, nor by the repudiation of the "People of Scripture," upon whom he had relied as his principal witnesses, nor yet by numbers of temporary rebuffs during his struggle for the dominion of Allah and His Messenger, which he carried on through the whole of Arabia.
Was Mohammed conscious of the universality of his mission? In the beginning he certainly conceived his work as merely the Arabian part of a universal task, which, for other parts of the world, was laid upon other messengers. In the Medina period he ever more decidedly chose the direction of "forcing to comply." He was content only when the heathens perceived that further resistance to Allah's hosts was useless, their understanding of his "clear Arabic Qoran" was no longer the principal object of his striving. Such an Islam could equally well be forced upon non-Arabian heathens. And, as regards the "People of Scripture," since Mohammed's endeavour to be recognized by them had failed, he had taken up his position opposed to them, even above them. With the rise of his power he became hard and cruel to the Jews in North-Arabia, and from Jews and Christians alike in Arabia he demanded submission to his authority, since it had proved impossible to make them recognize his divine mission. This demand could quite logically be extended to all Christians; in the first place to those of the Byzantine Empire. But did Mohammed himself come to these conclusions in the last part of his life? Are the words in which Allah spoke to him: "We have sent thee to men in general,8" and a few expressions of the same sort, to be taken in that sense, or does "humanity" here, as in many other places in the Qoran, mean those with whom Mohammed had especially to do? Nöldeke is strongly of opinion that the principal lines of the program of conquest carried out after Mohammed's death, had been drawn by the Prophet himself. Lammens and others deny with equal vigour, that Mohammed ever looked upon the whole world as the field of his mission. This shows that the solution is not evident9.
In our valuation of Mohammed's sayings we cannot lay too much stress upon his incapability of looking far ahead. The final aims which Mohammed set himself were considered by sane persons as unattainable. His firm belief in the realization of the vague picture of the future which he had conceived, nay, which Allah held before him, drove him to the uttermost exertion of his mental power in order to surmount the innumerable unexpected obstacles which he encountered. Hence the variability of the practical directions contained in the Qoran; they are constantly altered according to circumstances. Allah's words during the last part of Mohammed's life: "This day have I perfected your religion for you, and have I filled up the measure of my favours towards you, and chosen Islam for you as your religion," have in no way the meaning of the exclamation: "It is finished," of the dying Christ. They are only a cry of jubilation over the degradation of the heathen Arabs by the triumph of Allah's weapons. At Mohammed's death everything was still unstable; and the vital questions for Islam were subjects of contention between the leaders even before the Prophet had been buried.
The expedient of new revelations completing, altering, or abrogating former ones had played an important part in the legislative work of Mohammed. Now, he had never considered that by his death the spring would be stopped, although completion was wanted in every respect. For, without doubt, Mohammed felt his weakness in systematizing and his absence of clearness of vision into the future, and therefore he postponed the promulgation of divine decrees as long as possible, and he solved only such questions of law as frequently recurred, when further hesitation would have been dangerous to his authority and to the peace of the community.
At Mohammed's death, all Arabs were not yet subdued to his authority. The expeditions which he had undertaken or arranged beyond the northern boundaries of Arabia, were directed against Arabs, although they were likely to rouse conflict with the Byzantine and Persian empires. It would have been contrary to Mohammed's usual methods if this had led him to form a general definition of his attitude towards the world outside Arabia.
As little as Mohammed, when he invoked the Meccans in wild poetic inspirations to array themselves behind him to seek the blessedness of future life, had dreamt of the possibility that twenty years later the whole of Arabia would acknowledge his authority in this world, as little, nay, much less, could he at the close of his life have had the faintest premonition of the fabulous development which his state would reach half a century later. The subjugation of the mighty Persia and of some of the richest provinces of the Byzantine Empire, only to mention these, was never a part of his program, although legend has it that he sent out written challenges to the six princes of the world best known to him. Yet we may say that Mohammed's successors in the guidance of his community, by continuing their expansion towards the north, after the suppression of the apostasy that followed his death, returned to Mohammed's line of action. There is even more evident continuity in the development of the empire of the Omayyads out of the state of Mohammed, than in the series of events by which we see the dreaded Prince-Prophet of Medina grow out of the "possessed one" of Mecca. But if Mohammed had been able to foresee how the unity of Arabia, which he nearly accomplished, was to bring into being a formidable international empire, we should expect some indubitable traces of this in the Qoran; not a few verses of dubious interpretation, but some certain sign that the Revelation, which had repeatedly, and with the greatest emphasis, called itself a "plain Arabic Qoran," yet intended for those "to whom no warner had yet been sent," should in future be valid for the 'Ajam, the Barbarians, as well as for the Arabs.
Even if we ascribe to Mohammed something of the universal program, which the later tradition makes him to have
drawn up, he certainly could not foresee the success of it. For this, in the first place, the economic and political
factors to which some scholars of our day would attribute the entire explanation of the Islam movement, must be
taken into consideration. Mohammed did to some extent prepare the universality of his religion and make it possible.
But that Islam, which came into the world as the Arabian form of the one, true religion, has actually become a universal
religion, is due to circumstances which had little to do with its origin10.
This extension of the domain to be subdued to its spiritual rule entailed upon Islam about three centuries of development
and accommodation, of a different sort, to be sure, but not less drastic in character than that of the Christian Church.
1 See for instance the reference to the exposition of the Paderborn bishop Olovers (1227)
in the Paderborn review Theologie und Glaube, Jahrg. iv., p. 535, etc. (Islam, iv., p. 186); also some of the
accounts mentioned in Güterbock, Der Islam im Lichte der byzantinischen Polemik, etc.
2 J.H. Hottinger, Historia Orientalis, Zürich, 1651 (2d edition 1660).
3 H. Relandi de religione Mohammedica libri duo, Utrecht, 1704, (2nd ed. 1717).
4 A complete explanation of the gradual development of the Abraham legend in the Qoran
can be found in my book Het Mekaansche Feest (The Feast of Mecca), Leiden, 1880.
5 Paul Cannon, Mohammed et la fin du monde, Paris, 1911. His hypotheses are
founded upon Weil's doubts of the authenticity of a few verses of the Qoran. (iii. 138; xxxix., 31, etc.), which doubts
were sufficiently refuted half a century ago by Nöldeke in his Geschichtes des Qorans, 1st edition, p 197, etc.
6 Qoran, xxxii, xxxiv.,43; xxxvi.,5, etc.
7 Ibid., xii., 2; xiii., 37; xx., 112; xxvi., 195; xli., 44, etc.
8Qoran, xxxiv 27. The translation of this verse has always been a subject of great
difference of opinion. At the time of its revelation - as fixed by Mohammedan as well as by Westen authorities the universal
conception of Mohammed's mission was quite out of question.
9 Professor T. W. Arnold in the 2d edition (London, 1913) of his valuable work The
Preaching of Islam (especially pp. 28-31), warmly endeavours to prove that Mohammed from the beginning considered
his mission as universal. He weakens his argument more than is necessary by placing the Tradition upon an almost equal
footing with the Qoran as a source, and by ignoring the historical development which is obvious in the Qoran itself. In this
way he does not perceive the great importance of the history of the Abraham legend in Mohammed's conception. Moreover,
the translation of the verses of the Qoran on p. 29 sometimes says more than the original. Lil-nas is not "to mankind"
but "to men," in the sense of "to everybody." Qoran, xvi., 86, does not say "One day we will raise up a witness
out of every nation," but: "On the day (i.e. the day of resurrection) when we will raise up, etc.," which would seem
to refer to the theme so constantly repeated in the Qoran, that each nation will be confronted on the Day of Judgment with
the prophet sent to it. When the Qoran is called an "admonition to the world ('alamin)" and Mohammed's mission
a "mercy to the world ('alamin)," then we must remember that 'alamin is one of the most misused rhymewords
in the Qoran (e.g., Qoran, xv., 70); and we should not therefore translate it emphatically as "all created beings," unless
the universality of Mohammed's mission is firmly established by other proofs. And this is far from being the case.
10 Sir William Muir was not wrong when he said: "From first to last the summons was to
Arabs and to none other... The seed of a universal creed had indeed been sown; but that it ever germinated was due circumstances
rather than design."
1 See for instance the reference to the exposition of the Paderborn bishop Olovers (1227) in the Paderborn review Theologie und Glaube, Jahrg. iv., p. 535, etc. (Islam, iv., p. 186); also some of the accounts mentioned in Güterbock, Der Islam im Lichte der byzantinischen Polemik, etc.
2 J.H. Hottinger, Historia Orientalis, Zürich, 1651 (2d edition 1660).
3 H. Relandi de religione Mohammedica libri duo, Utrecht, 1704, (2nd ed. 1717).
4 A complete explanation of the gradual development of the Abraham legend in the Qoran can be found in my book Het Mekaansche Feest (The Feast of Mecca), Leiden, 1880.
5 Paul Cannon, Mohammed et la fin du monde, Paris, 1911. His hypotheses are founded upon Weil's doubts of the authenticity of a few verses of the Qoran. (iii. 138; xxxix., 31, etc.), which doubts were sufficiently refuted half a century ago by Nöldeke in his Geschichtes des Qorans, 1st edition, p 197, etc.
6 Qoran, xxxii, xxxiv.,43; xxxvi.,5, etc.
7 Ibid., xii., 2; xiii., 37; xx., 112; xxvi., 195; xli., 44, etc.
8Qoran, xxxiv 27. The translation of this verse has always been a subject of great difference of opinion. At the time of its revelation - as fixed by Mohammedan as well as by Westen authorities the universal conception of Mohammed's mission was quite out of question.
9 Professor T. W. Arnold in the 2d edition (London, 1913) of his valuable work The Preaching of Islam (especially pp. 28-31), warmly endeavours to prove that Mohammed from the beginning considered his mission as universal. He weakens his argument more than is necessary by placing the Tradition upon an almost equal footing with the Qoran as a source, and by ignoring the historical development which is obvious in the Qoran itself. In this way he does not perceive the great importance of the history of the Abraham legend in Mohammed's conception. Moreover, the translation of the verses of the Qoran on p. 29 sometimes says more than the original. Lil-nas is not "to mankind" but "to men," in the sense of "to everybody." Qoran, xvi., 86, does not say "One day we will raise up a witness out of every nation," but: "On the day (i.e. the day of resurrection) when we will raise up, etc.," which would seem to refer to the theme so constantly repeated in the Qoran, that each nation will be confronted on the Day of Judgment with the prophet sent to it. When the Qoran is called an "admonition to the world ('alamin)" and Mohammed's mission a "mercy to the world ('alamin)," then we must remember that 'alamin is one of the most misused rhymewords in the Qoran (e.g., Qoran, xv., 70); and we should not therefore translate it emphatically as "all created beings," unless the universality of Mohammed's mission is firmly established by other proofs. And this is far from being the case.
10 Sir William Muir was not wrong when he said: "From first to last the summons was to Arabs and to none other... The seed of a universal creed had indeed been sown; but that it ever germinated was due circumstances rather than design."
Essays by C. Snouck Hurgronje
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