Most of our readers, even the youngest, must have heard of Mahomet, the founder of the Mahometan religion ; a kind of faith which has occupied the largest and fairest portion of the Old WorM for nearly 1200 years, and is at present professed by not less than 150,000,000 of human beings! A fair record of the actions of such a man, of his opinions, his sayings, his sufferings, and his successes—in his various capacities as a trader, a pretended prophet, a negotiator, a warrior, and an emperor—might be considered as furnishing one of the must interesting pieces of biography that could be wished.
Towards the commencement of the seventh century of the Christian era, the eastern churches were overrun with many heresies and vices of various kinds. They were engaged in perpetual controversies, and torn to pieces by the disputes of the Arians, Snbellians, Nestoriitns, and Eutychians ; whilst the t&imonv, the incontinence, and general barbarism and ignorance which were to he found amongst the clergy, caused great scandal to the Christian religion, and introduced universal profligacy of manners amongst the people. A rabia was of old famous for heresies, which might be in some measure attributed to the liberty and independency of the triltes. Some of the Christians of that nation believed the soul died with the body, and «-;:s to be raised again with it at the last day. These Origen is s;iid to have convinced. Among the Arabs it was that the heresies of Ebion, Beryllus, and the Nazara>ans, and also that of the Collyridians, were broached, or at least pnjpagated: the latter introduced
the Virgin Mary for God, or worshipped her as such, offering her a sort of twisted cake called eollyris, whence the sect had its name. Other sects there were of many deuominations within the borders of Arabia, which took refuge there from the proscriptions of the imperial edicts; several of whose notions Mahomet incorporated with his religion.
Though the Jews were an inconsiderable and despised people in other parts of the world, yet in A > ;.liia, whither many of them fled from the destruction of Jerusalem, they grew very powerful, several tribes and princesembracing their religion; which made Mahomet at first show great regard to them ; adopting many of their opinions, doctrines, and customs; thereby to draw them, if possible, into his interest. But that people were so far from becoming his proselytes, that they were some of the bitterest enemies he hud, waging continual war with him, so that their reduction cost him infinite trouble and danger, and at last his life. This aversion of theirs created, at length, as great a one in him to them; so that ho used them, during the latter part of his life, much worse than he did the Christians, and frequently exclaims against them in his Koran: his followers, to this day, observe the same difference between them and the Christians; treating the Jews always as the most abject and contemptible people on earth.
As the Roman and Grecian empires, and also the kingdom of the Persians, were weak and declining, so Arabia, at the time of Mahomet's setting up, was strong and flourishing, having been peopled at the expense of the Grecian empire, whence the violent proceedings of the domineering sects forced many to seek refuge in a free country, as Arabia then was, where they who could not enjoy tranquillity and their conscience at home found a secure retreat. The Arabians were not only a populous nation, but unacquainted with the luxury and delicacies of the Greeks and Persians, and inured to hardships of all sortsliving in a most parsimonious manner, seldom eating any flesh, drinking no wine, aud sitting on the ground. Their political government was also such as favoured the designs of such an impostor as Mahomet; for the division and independency of their tribes was so necessary to the propagation of his religion, and the foundation of his power, that it would have been scarcely possible for him to have effected either, had the Arabs been united in one society. But when they had embraced his religion, the consequent union of their tribes was no less necessary and conducive to their future conquests and grandeur.
Such was the posture of public affairs in the eastern world, both as to its religious and political state, at | the time of Mahomet's appearance ; and as he was a man of extraordinary parts and address, he Kue« m. rf to make the best use of every incident, and turn what might seem dangerous to another to his own advantage.
Mahomet was born at Mecca, the capital city of Yemen, or Arabia the Happy, A. D. 560, during the reign of Noosheervan, surnamed the Just, King of Persia. He was of the family of Haschem, and of the tribe of the Koreish, the noblest in Arabia. His father Abdallah was a younger son of Abdul, motalleb, and dying very young, and in his father's lifetime, left his widow and infant son in very mean circumstances, his whole substance consisting but of five camels and one Ethiopian she-slave. Abdalmotalleb was therefore obliircd to take charge of his grandchild Mahomet, which he not only did during his life, but at his death enjoined his eldest son Abu Taleb, who was brother to Abdallah by the punf mother, to provide for him for the future. This was very affectionately performed by Abu Taleb, who instructed him in the business of a merchant, which he followed ; and to that end he took him with him into Syria when he was hut thirteen years old, and afterwards recommended him to Khadijah, a noble and rich widow, for her factor, in whose service he behaved so well, that by making him her husband, she soon raised him to an equality with the richest in Mecca.
It was after he began, by this advantageous match, to live at his ease, that he formed the scheme of establishing a new religion, or, as he expressed it, of replanting the only true and ancient one professed by Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all the prophets, by destroying the gross idolatry into which the generality of his countrymen had fallen, and weeding out the corruptions and superstitions which the latter Jews and Christians had, as he thought, introduced into their religion, and reducing it to its original purity, which consisted chiefly in the worship of one only God. He hereupon began to affect solitude, usually retiring for a month in the year to a cave in Mount Hara, near Mecca. He had indisputably a very piercing and sagacious wit, and was thoroughly versed in all the arts of insinuation. The eastern historians describe him to have been a man of an excellent judgment, and a happy memory; and these natural parts were improved by a great experience and knowledge of mankind, and the observations he had made in his travels. They say he w»» a person of few words, of an equal, cheerful temper, pleasant and familiar in conversation, of inoffensive behaviour towards his friends and acquaintances, and of great condescension towards his inferiors; to all which were joined a comely agreeable person, and a polite address—accomplishments of no small service t anticipating those in his favour whon: he attempted to persuade As to acquired learning, it is generally confessed that Mahomet bad none at all; having had no other education than what was customary in his tribe, who neglected and probably despised wiiat we call literature ; esteeming no language in comparison with their own, their skill in which they gained by use, and not by books, and contenting themselves with improving their private experience by committing to memory Kich passages of their poets as they judged might be of use to them in life. This defect was so far from being prejudicial or putting a stop to his design, that he made the greatest use of it; insisting that the writings which he produced as revelations ft> . God, could not possibly be a torgery of his own; because it was not conceivable that a person who could neither write nor read should be able to compose a book of mich excellent doctrine, and in so elegant a style, and thereby obviating an objection that might have been considered as possessing a great deal of weight: and, for this reason, his followers, instead of being ashamed of their master's ignorance, glory in it, as an evident proof of his divine mission, and scruple not to call him (as he is denominated indeed in the Koran itself) " the illiterate prophet."
" When the Prophet was about four years old,* says Mahmut the Arabian,* " accompanying the sons of'his nurse into the field, the blessed'child retired into a cave, at the foot of the mountain Uriel, to pray, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him, and said, Jiismillar rahmanir rahimi, i. e. ' In the name of God, compassionate and merciful, O child greatly beloved, I am sent to displant from thy heart the root of evil; for thy ejaculations made the gates of Paradise to fly open!' The young resigned one said, ' The will of thy Lord and mine be done.' Then the angel opened his breast with a razor of adamant, and, taking out his heart, squeezed from it the black contagion which was derived from Adam; and having put the child's heart in its place again, he blessed him, and retired to the invisibles. From that time the young favourite of Heaven grew up and prospered in afl things, having the smiles of God and man. He was under the tuition of his uncle Abu Taleb, who, discerning the mark of an immense soul in his young nephew, was more solicitous for his welfare than if he hail bean his ssn. His fortune being low in the world, he had no other way to provide for his illustrious charge, than by placing him as a factor to Khadijah, a widow of the same tribe with Mahomet, which was the noblest among the Arabians."
Mahomet's marriage with the rich and affectionate widow- Khadijah took place when they were respectively twenty-five years of a^e; and it was not till twelve years after this marriage that he began to fabricate his imposture, in the cave of Mount Hara, ai>out three miles from Mecca, to which he usually retired during the month of Ramazan, being the time of Lent. At length, A. D. 009, when he was fully forty years old, he disclosed his prophetic mission, at first only to his own wife Khadijah. He told her that the Angel Gabriel, or the Holy Spirit, had appeared to him in glory, and declared that God had commissioned him as an apostle to reform the world; that he then delivered to him the Koran for a dieine law, which should complete all antecedent revelations. Khadijah gainorl fur her husband an important proselyte in her nncle Wkraka, a Christian, who was well read in the Old and New Testaments. He pronounced Mahomet " to be t!ic great 1'rophet forctoli by Moses the son of Ami-am." Waraka was a far more probable assistant t.i Mahomet in composing the Koran than Sergius the monk, or any other person, in a matter of such tA:st and delicacy.
The next proselyte was Abubeker, a rich and respectable inhabitant of Mecca ; whose example being followed by many others, Mahomet ventured on a bolder demonstration of his mission. At a numerous assemblage of the Korcisiiites, at a public entertainment to which he had invited them, he demanded who would become his vizier, or prime minister, assuring them that both happiness in this world and in that to come would accrue to his followers. The guests remained silent in surprise, when Ali, the son of Abu Taleb, a boy about fourteen years of Rge, started up enthusiastically, and said, " I will be thy vizier, O Prophet of God! I will break the teeth, pluck out t:ie eyes, rip up the belly, cut off the legs of thine enemies." The jov and approval testified by Mahomet to the zeal of his youthful disciple, was an apt and early specimen what manner of spirit he and his deputy were of. The hostile proceedings and denunciations of the Prophet against their idolatry, at length aroused the enmity of the Koreishites; but their threats were despised by him, and, in reply to the prudent remonstrances of his uncle Abu Taleb, he exclaimed, " though the Koreishites should arm against me the gur> and the moon (alluding to the divinities whom they ignorantly worshipped), the one on my right hand, and the other on mv left, I would not be shaken from my resolution." He, however, retired for a while to a castle in Mount Safa, and his followers were banished from the city of Mecca. After this persecution, which lasted five years, in the tenth year of his mission (a. D. 610), he sustained a serious loss in the death of his uncle Abu Taleb; and this was followed a short time after by the death of his affectionate wife Khadijah, who had so generously made tun fortune. On account of these misfortunes, this year was called the Year of Mourning. Instead of sinking under these adversities, upon being violently urged by the Koreishites, who still derided his pretensions, to exhibit some miracle, Mahomet ventured, in the twelfth year of his mission, to publish the revelation of his night visit or journey to the seven heavens.
This event formed a striking epoch in his mission, and displayed in the strongest manner the dexterity as well as boldness of his measures. The question so forcibly put to him of establishing his mission by mi. racles, is therein artfully parried, and replied to, by an appeal to the wonders wrought by Moses, which did not cause the reformation of Pharaoh, and to those of Jesus, which failed with the Jews: he also incidentally remarked, that miracles were designed rather to strike terror and to punish than to convince.
In describing this famous journey he says, That while he was in the Caabr. or sacred square building at Mecca, reclining on the sacred stone, the Angel Gabriel came to him; he opened his breast, took out his heart, and washed it in a golden basin full of the water of faith, and then restored it to its place. The angel had seventy pairs of wings, and had the beast Alboriik with him, on which the prophets used to ride; it was white, and partly horse, ass, and mule, or a middle between the two last, and went as fast as the lightning, which the name Alborak, in Arabic, signifies. When he was brought to Jerusalem by the angel, all the prophets met him, and owned his superiority. He ascended to Heaven with the angel on a ladder of divine light, and left the beast Alborak at Jerusalem till he descended again. He went through seven heavens before he came to the throne of God, which was in the hist one, and Gabriel left him at the entrance of it, and waited till he returned from conversing with God, who gave him the offer to be next himself; but he rather chose to descend again to the earth to propagate his religion. His heavens were all 500 years' journey distant from one another. One was of silver, another of gold, another of emeralds, &c., and the last of light. He met some one of the patriarchs, or prophets, in each of them. In the first he met and discoursed with Adam; in the second, with John the Baptist and Jesus; in the third, with the patriarch Joseph; in the fourth, with Edris or Enoch; in the fifth, with Aaron ; in the sixth, with Moses; in the seventh, with Abraham. Thence he was carried up to Sedrat, the lotus tree, whence were the sources of the four rivers of Paradise. He saw angels in the likenesses of all creatures in these heavens. He saw a great bull bearing the earth on his horns, and when he shook his head there was an earthquake. There was also a cock, which stood on one heaven, and his head reached another ; his voice was heard through heaven and earth, and set all the cocks on earth a-crowing. He saw an angel of such stature that there was 70,000 days' journey between his eyes. The proportion of a man's height to the distance between his eyes is as seventy-two to one; so that his stature must then have been 14,000 years' journey, four times the height of all his heavens together, In which he was quite out of his mathematics. In the seventh heaven, where God and Christ were, was an angel with 70,000 heads ; and in each head 70,000 tongues, with which he praised God. Gabriel accompanied him down from heaven to Jerusalem, and from thence conveved him, with the beast Alborak, to Mecca; and all thfs was done in the tenth part of a night. In the conclusion of this extraordinary fabrication, he skilfully adds, that when he was enjoined to repeat fifty prayers each day, he entreated for his nation, and they were finally reduced at his intercession to five. To finish the wonder, he was returned back to the Caaba ere the crier called him to prayers; and " thus," concluded Mahomet, " did I bring with me the prescribed number of prayers, and lessened the burden for my nation."
This story seemed so absurd and incredible, that several of his followers left him upon it; and it had probably ruined the whole design, had not his fatherin-law Abubeker vouched for his veracity, and declared, that, if Mahomet affirmed it to be true, he verily believed the whole; which happy incident not only retrieved the Prophet's credit, but increased it to such a degree, that he was secure of being able to make his disciples swallow whatever he pleased to impose on them for the future. " And I am apt to think," says Sale, " this fiction, notwithstanding its extravagance, was one of the most artful contrivances Mohammed erer put in practice, and what chiefly contributed to the raising of his reputation to that great height to which it afterwards attained."
In this memorable vear twelve citizens of Medina swore allegiance and obedience to the Prophet, whence they were styled, by way of dignity, Al Amor, i. e. " The Defenders;" and the year A. D. G20 was denominated the " accepted year." On Mount AkSba, near Mecca, seventy-three proselytes were soon after added to their number, and swore to defend the Prophet from all Insult, as they defended their own wives and children. " If," said they to the Apostle of God, " we be slain in thy cause, what shall be our reward ?" He answered, " Paradise." Then, said they, "Stretch forth thy right hand," and he did so; then they took the oath of obedience, promising rather to dig than be perjured. He now established twelve apostles of Islamism, which was the name he gave to his religion, himself being the- prime instructor and chief of all the
true believers; and he then sent away the Ansars, his followers, and his family, to Medina, for security, and remained behind at Mecca, attended only by Abubeker and his son-in-law Ali.
By the protection which his uncle Abu Taleb bad extended to Mahomet, he had been preserved thus far from his enemies ; but the charge and dignity of the priest and guardian of the Caaba, having now, by the death of Abu Taleb, become the post of a member of the family of Ommiyah, a declared enemy to the family of Haschem, to which Mahomet belonged, th« Koreishites, irritated and alarmed at the progress making by the new doctrine at Medina, resolved to destroy its author and chief support. This conspiracy was scarce formed, when, by some means or other, it came to Mahomet's knowledge; and he gave out that it was revealed to him by the Angel Gabriel, who had now ordered him to retire to Medina. Whereupon, to amuse his enemies, he directed Ali to lie down in his place, and wrap himself up in his green cloak, which he did; and Mahomet escaped miraculously, as they pretend, to Abubeker's house, unperceived by the conspirators, who had already assembled at the Prophet's door. They, in the meantime, looking through the crevice, and seeing Ali, whom they took to be Mahomet himself, asleep, continued watching there till morning, when Ali arose, and they found themselves deceived.
In the recesses of a cave near Mecca, Mahomet and Abubeker eluded for three days the pursuit of their enemies. " There are only two of us," said the apprehensive disciple, when he expected the pursuers to penetrate their retreat. " There is a third, even God himself," said his intrepid chief; " he will defend us." According to tradition, Mahomet afterwards asserted that a miracle was here wrought in his behalf; fur that his enemies, approaching the cave, found that its entrance was covered by spiders' webs hanging from the trees, which convinced them that no person bad entered it for a long time. After a perilous journey, Mahomet entered Medina in triumph, being enthusiastically received by the AnsSrs, who disputed for the honour of entertaining the Prophet, and took hold of the bridle of his cameL Mahomet then desired them to let her take her own way, for she was a stubborn beast; which she took, accordingly, and stopped at the stable of two rich orphans, Sahali and Sobaili, where the Prophet dismounted. This spot he purchased from the orphans, after refusing their offer to bestow it upon him, and Abubeker paid the money. He erected thereon a mosque, and a habitation for him. self, on which he laboured with his own hands. Medina henceforth received the august title of Medinat AInabi, or the " City of the Prophet