THERE is much truth in the dictum of the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus that "Nothing has sprung from nothing." Islam, as the Religion of Muhammad is called by its adherents, is certainly no exception to that rule. The important part which that religion has played for good or ill in the history of the human race and the widespread influence which it still continues to exert in many Eastern lands render an investigation of its origin of interest to everyone who, whether from a religious, a historical, or a merely philosophical standpoint, desires to investigate one of the most important movements in the history of the human race. The labours of such writers as Sprenger and Weil in Germany and of Sir W. Muir in England enable us to know all that need be known regarding the life and character of Muhammad and the history of the Muhammadan world. With these matters therefore it is unnecessary for us here to deal. It is also a matter of common knowledge that Muhammadans profess to derive their religion directly from Muhammad himself. They assert that he was the last and greatest of the Prophets, and that their faith rests upon the Qur'an which contains the Divine Revelation which he was commissioned to deliver to men. In addition to this they attach great importance to the authoritative Traditions (Ahadith) handed down orally from the lips of their Prophet through a long series of his followers, and only in much later times committed to writing. These two, the Qur'an and the Traditions, taken together, form the foundation of Islam. Much importance is also attached to early commentators on the Qur'an, and to the deductions from it made by early jurists and doctors of the law. But in our investigation of the origin of Islamic beliefs and practices we are but little concerned with these latter, except in so far as they throw light on what is really believed by Muslims. Even the Traditions themselves play but a subordinate part in our inquiry, since their authorityfrom the European point of view at leastis so very uncertain. Different sects of Muhammadans, too, accept different collections of Traditions1: and even the collectors of these Traditions themselves confess that many of those which they record are of doubtful accuracy. As the Traditions deal for the most part, moreover, with the sayings and doings of Muhammad, we shall have occasion to refer to them only in cases in which they amplify or explain the teaching of the Qur'an on certain points. The latter book contains some obscure and difficult passages, the meaning of which requires to be explained by reference to Tradition. For example, the fiftieth Surah or chapter of the Qur'an is entitled "Qaf," and is denoted by the Arabic letter of that name. It is not possible to be quite certain what is meant by this until we consult the Traditions, which tell us what is to be believed concerning Mount Qaf2, to which the name of the Surah is held to contain a reference. Again, when in the Surah entitled "The Night Journey" (Surah XVII.), we read in the first verse the words, "Praise be unto Him who caused His servant to journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the More Distant Mosque," we must naturally refer to Tradition to understand the meaning of the verse. We thus learn all that the 'Ulama of Islam know for certain regarding the journey in question, generally styled the "Ascent" (al Mi'raj) of Muhammad.
In dealing with the tenets and religious rites of Muslims, we shall make it our rule not to concern ourselves with any doctrine or practice which is not implicitly or explicitly taught or enjoined in the Qur'an itself, or in those Traditions which are universally accepted by all Muhammadan sects, with the partial exceptions of the Neo-Muhammadans of India, who are not recognized as Muslims by the rest of the Muhammadan world.
It may be well to point out the fact that, though a measure of inspiration is supposed to belong to the genuine and authoritative Traditions, yet their authority is very different from that of the Qur'an, to which, however, they stand in the second place. This is indicated by the difference in the manner of speaking of these different forms of revelation. The Qur'an is styled "Recited Revelation," and the Traditions "Unrecited Revelation", because the Qur'an and it alone is considered to constitute the very utterance of God Himself. Hence the rule has been laid down that any Tradition however well authenticated it may be, that is clearly contrary to a single verse of the Qur'an must be rejected. This rule is an important one for us to observe in dealing with matters of Muhammadan belief. It renders it unnecessary for us to involve ourselves in the mazes of the labyrinth of the controversy as to which traditions are genuine, which doubtful, and which unreliable. It is sufficient for our present purpose to note that in their written form Traditions are considerably later in date than the text of the Qur'an.
Regarding the history of the latter, accepted as it is by all Muslims everywhere, we have fairly full and satisfactory information. Some of the Surahs may have been written down on any materials that came to hand by some of Muhammad's amanuenses, of which we are told he had a considerable number, as soon as they were first recited by him. The knowledge of writing was not uncommon in his time among the Meccans, for we are informed that some of the latter, when taken captive, obtained their liberty by instructing certain of the people of Medina in the art. Whether written down at once or not, they were instantly committed to memory, and were recited at the time of public worship and on other occasions. During Muhammad's lifetime frequent reference was made to him when any doubt arose with regard to the proper wording of a passage. Tradition mentions certain Surahs or verses which were preserved in a written form in the houses of Muhammad's wives during his life, and we are even told that some verses thus written were lost and never recovered. From time to time the Prophet directed newly revealed verses to be inserted in certain Surahs, which must therefore have already assumed form and have even received the names which they still retain. There seems, however, to have been no fixed order prescribed in which these Surahs should be arranged. Each formed a more or less independent whole. The task of learning the Surahs by heart was not only a labour of love to Muhammad's devoted followers, but it also became a source of dignity and profit, since not only were those who could recite the largest number of verses entitled in very early times to assume the position of Imam or leader in public worship, but they were also considered to have a claim to a larger share of the spoils than were other Muslims.
About a year after Muhammad's death, as we learn from Bukhari, the Qur'an was first put together in a collected whole. This was done by Zaid ibn Thabit, one of Muhammad's friend and amanuenses, at the command of Abu Bakr. The reason for this step was that 'Umar bnu'l Khattab, perceiving that many of the reciters of the Qur'an had fallen in the fatal battle of Yamamah (A.H. 12) saw reason to fear lest the Revelation should thus in whole or in part be lost. He therefore strongly urged the Khalifah3 to give orders that the scattered Surahs should be collected together and preserved in an authoritative written form. Zaid at first felt great reluctance to do what the Prophet himself had not thought fit to do, but he at last yielded to the command of the Khalifah. The story4 as told in his own words runs thus: "Abu Bakr said to me, Thou art a learned young man: we do not distrust thee: and thou wast wont to write out the Divine Revelation for the Apostle of God. Seek out the Qur'an therefore and collect it. If they had imposed upon me the duty of moving a mountain, it would not have weighed more heavily upon me than what he commanded me to do in the way of collecting the Qur'an. Abu Bakr did not desist from urging me to collect it, until God enlightened my breast to perceive what 'Umar and Abu Bakr's own breast had made clear to the latter. Accordingly I searched out the whole of the Qur'an from leafless palm-branches and from white stones and from the breasts of men, until I found the conclusion of Suratu't Taubah (Surah IX., v. 129) with Abu Khuzaimah the Ansari. I found it not with anyone else."
From the phrase "to collect the Qur'an " it is evident that the book had not previously been formed into one united whole. His reverence for his master would naturally prevent Zaid from either adding to or omitting anything from the Surahs which were recited to him by many persons from memory, and in some cases found in writing upon the various writing materials which were then in use. The fact that certain circumstances most derogatory to Muhammad's claim to be a Divinely commissioned prophet are still to be found in the Qur'an is a conclusive proof of the scrupulous accuracy with which Zaid discharged the task entrusted to him. Nor would it have been possible at that time to have in any way tampered with the text. Within a year or two he had completed the work and had written down all the Surahs, each apparently on a separate sheet. It seems that there is some reason to believe that the present arrangement of the Surahs dates from that time. On what system it rests it is hard to say, except that the Suratu'l Fatihah was placed first as a sort of introduction to the book, partly no doubt because it was even then universally used as a prayer, and so was better known than any other. The other Surahs were arranged on the principle of putting the longest first. Thus the shortest come at the end of the book. This is almost the direct converse of their chronological order. Tradition enables us to know in what order and on what occasion most of the Surahs, and in certain cases some of their verses, were "revealed," but in our present inquiry it is not necessary to deal with this matter5 at all fully, important as it doubtless is for the study of the steady development of the Faith, as it gradually took shape in Muhammad's own mind.
Zaid on the conclusion of his work handed over the manuscript, written doubtless in the so-called Cufic character, to Abu Bakr. The latter preserved it carefully until his death, when it was committed to the custody of 'Umar, after whose decease it passed into the charge of Hafsah, his daughter, one of Muhammad's widows. Copies of separate Surahs were afterwards made either from this or from the original authorities which Zaid had used.
Errors, or at least variations, gradually crept into the text of the Qur'an as it was recited, and possibly also into these fragmentary copies. Abu Bakr does not seem to have caused authoritative transcripts of the single manuscript which Zaid had written to be made, and hence it could not counteract the very natural tendency to alteration, mostly or wholly unintentional, to which the Qur'an, like every other work handed down orally, was liable. There were different dialects of Arabic then in use, and there must have been a tendency in the first place to explain certain words, and in the second to permit these dialectic paraphrases to find an entrance into the recited verses. This caused no little confusion and perplexity in the minds of pious Muslims. At last 'Uthman, when engaged in the task of conquering Armenia and Azarbaijan, was warned by Hudhaifah ibnu'l Yaman of the danger which there was lest the original should be very seriously corrupted in this way. Bukhari6 tells us that Hudhaifah said to 'Uthman, "O Commander of the Faithful, restrain this people, before they differ among themselves about the Book as much as the Jews and the Christians do." The Khalifah therefore sent to bid Hafsah forward to him the original manuscript to be copied, promising to return it to her when this had been done. He then commissioned Zaid, in conjunction with three members of Muhammad's own tribe, the Quraish, to produce a recension of the work. At least this is what his language seems to imply, for he said to the three Quraishites, "Whenever ye differ, ye and Zaid ibn Thabit, in reference to any part of the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of the Quraish, for it was revealed in their language." We are told that the new recension was copied from the original manuscript, and so doubtless it was for the most part. Yet the words we have quoted prove that certain alterations must have been made, though no doubt in good faith, and principally to preserve the purity of the Meccan dialect of the book. Another proof that some change was made is afforded by the statement that on this occasion Zaid recollected a verse which was not in the first copy, and which he had himself heard Muhammad recite. He did not, however, venture to insert it merely on his own authority, but searched until he found another man who could recite it from memory. When this was done, the verse was entered in Suratu'l Ahzab. Then "'Uthman7 returned the sheets to Hafsah, and sent to every region an exemplar of what they had copied out, and with reference to every sheet and volume of the Qur'an besides this he commanded that it should be burned."
This last proceeding may seem to us arbitrary8, but it has succeeded in preserving the text of the Qur'an from that day to this in practically one and the same form in Muhammadan lands. Even Hafsah's copy, the only one which in any important respect differed from the revised edition after the execution of 'Uthman's command, was on that account burned in Marwan's time. The very few differences of reading which diligent search has revealed in various copies of the Qur'an now extant consist almost wholly in the position of the dots which distinguish from one another9 the letters and these letters have no such diacritical marks in the old Cufic alphabet.
We are therefore led to the conclusion that we still have the Qur'an as Muhammad left it, and hence we may, with almost perfect certainty as to the correctness of the text, proceed to study the book in order to ascertain what he taught and whence he derived the various statements and doctrines which, contained in the Qur'an and explained and amplified in the Traditions, constitute the Religion of Islam.
In discussing the origin of Islam it is right in the first place to consider the statements on the subject which are made by the leading teachers and Doctors of the Law among the Muslims, and to inquire whether their opinions on this point are supported by the assertions of the Qur'an itself. We shall then proceed to investigate the question whether it is possible for us to accept these statements as the correct explanation of the facts of the case.
It is well known that the 'Ulama of Islam assert and have always asserted that the Qur'an is the Word of God Himself, which the Most High caused to be inscribed upon "the Preserved Tablet" in Heaven, long ages before the creation of the world. Although in the reign of the Khalifah Al Ma'mun (A.H. 198-218 = A.D. 813-33) and afterwards there occurred many fierce disputes between those who held that the Qur'an was eternal and those who believed that it was created, into which discussion it is not necessary for us to enter, yet all Muslims have always agreed in holding that the book is not the composition of Muhammad or of any other human author. On the contrary, they believe that it is entirely the work of God Himself, and that Muhammad was merely His messenger in this respect, whose duty it was to receive the Divine book and communicate it to men. Tradition tells us that the book was brought down on one particular night10 from the highest to the lowest heaven by the Archangel Gabriel, who afterwards gradually conveyed the verses and chapters to the mind and tongue of Muhammad. Accordingly there is nothing whatever that is human about the Qur'an: it is wholly and entirely of Divine origin.
That our readers may perceive that this is really the orthodox Muhammadan view of the matter, we here quote two passages on the subject from the well-known Arabic writer Ibn Khaldun. "Know therefore," he says11, "that the Qur'an descended in the language of the Arabs and in accordance with their style of eloquence, and all of them understood it and knew its various meanings in its several parts and in their relation to one another. And it continued to descend, section by section and in groups of verses, in order to explain the doctrine of the Unity of God and religious obligations, according as circumstances required. Some of these verses consist of articles of faith, and some of them of commandments for the regulation of conduct." In another passage the same writer says, "All this12 is a proof to thee that, amid the Divine Books, it was verily the Qur'an with which our Prophet (may God's blessings and His peace be upon him!) was inspired, in the form of something recited just as it is in its words and in its sections; whereas the Law and the Gospel on the other hand, and all the other Heavenly Books, were revealed to the Prophets in the form of ideas when they were in a state of ecstasy, and they explained them, after their return to man's ordinary condition, in their own customary language: and therefore there is nothing miraculous in them." That is to say, the 'Ulama of Islam, while acknowledging that other prophets came before Muhammad and brought Divine messages to man, yet hold that the inspiration of the Qur'an differs not only in degree but in kind from that to which other sacred books, as for instance the Law and the Gospel, are due. The writers of these books received certain ideas from God in some way but the language which they afterwards used to express these conceptions was their own, and cannot therefore claim any origin higher than the human. Muhammad, on the contrary, heard Gabriel reading aloud or reciting in a voice distinctly audible to him every single word of the Qur'an, according as it was inscribed on the "Preserved Tablet" in heaven. Arabic is held to be the language of heaven and of the angels, and hence in the Qur'an we have the very words, as well as the Word, of God Himself. Words, metaphors, reflections, narratives, style, all are wholly and entirely of Divine origin.
There can be no doubt that this view is in complete accordance with the statements of the Qur'an itself. The Divine original is styled "the Mother of the Book" (Surah XIII., Ar Ra'd, 39). Again and again in varied forms are such assertions as the following to be found in the Qur'an: "Nay, it is a glorious Qur'an in a "Preserved Tablet" (Surah LXXXV., Al Buruj, 21, 22). The word Qur'an itself denotes this, meaning "that which is recited." In another place we read that God Most High commanded Muhammad to say, "God is witness between me and you, and this Qur'an was given me by inspiration that I might warn you therewith" (Surah VI., Al An'am, 19). So also in Surah XCVII., Al Qadr, 1, God is represented as saying with reference to the Qur'an, "Verily We caused it to descend on the Night of Power." Such quotations might be almost indefinitely multiplied13.
The Muhammadan explanation of the origin of Islam therefore, based as it ultimately is upon the Qur'an, is that the sole Source and Fountain-head of the Religion of Islam is God Himself. It had accordingly no human source, and no single part of it was derived directly or indirectly from earlier revelations or from other religions, though it was revealed to confirm the Law and the Gospel, and claims to agree with their original and uncorrupted teaching (cf. Surah LVII., Al Hadid, 26, sqq.).
European readers hardly require proof that such an opinion of the origin of Islam in general and of the Qur'an in particular is untenable. Those who cannot read the book in the original Arabic are enabled to examine its teaching by consulting the various translations of the Qur'an which have been made into various European languages, the best known of the English versions being those by Sale, Rodwell, and Palmer. To an intelligent mind the assertion which we are considering refutes itself. Moreover, the morality of the Qur'an, its view of the Divine Nature, its anachronisms, and its many defects make it impossible for us to doubt that it is Muhammad's own composition. When the Surahs are arranged in the chronological order of their composition and compared with the events in Muhammad's life, we see that there is much truth in the statement that the passages werenot, as Muslims say, revealed, butcomposed from time to time, as occasion required, to sanction each new departure made by Muhammad14. The Qur'an is a faithful mirror of the life and character of its author. It breathes the air of the desert, it enables us to hear the battle-cries of the Prophet's followers as they rushed to the onset, it reveals the working of Muhammad's own mind, and shows the gradual declension of his character as he passed from the earnest and sincere though visionary enthusiast into the conscious impostor and open sensualist. All this is clear to every unprejudiced reader the book.
At the same time the question presents itself, Whence did Muhammad borrow the ideas, narratives, the precepts, which he has incorporated into the religion which he founded? Which of these were his own invention, which of them were derived from earlier systems? To what extent had he the means of learning the teachings of those who professed other religions than his own? If he borrowed from other systems, what particular parts of the Qur'an, what religious rites, what conceptions and narratives, what injunctions can be traced to each such source? How much of the result is due to the character of Muhammad himself and to the circumstances of his time? Such are some of the problems which it is our object in this book to solve as clearly and as succinctly as we may. From whatever point of view we may regard the inquiry, it can hardly fail to be interesting. Such an investigation, if honestly pursued, will enable a Muslim to appreciate his ancestral faith at its real and proper value. The student of Comparative Religion will learn from such an analysis how one Ethnic Faith arose in recent historical times, though, if he is wise, he will not be led to formulate rash conclusions from a single instance. The Christian Missionary may so find it important to follow out our investigations, in order to discover in them a new method of leading Muslim inquirers to perceive the untenable nature of their position. Setting aside, however, all such considerations, we proceed to inquire what the Original Sources of the Qur'an really were.