Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
402
MAHOMET

by wrapping himself in a blanket. Trusty followers were instructed to take these utterances down, but the phenomena which accompanied their delivery at least in one case suggested imposture to the scribe, who apostatized in consequence. It is extraordinary that there is no reason to suppose that any official record was ever kept of these revelations; the Prophet treated them somewhat as the Sibyl did her leaves. This carelessness is equally astounding whether the Prophet was sincere or insincere.

If the matter afterwards collected in the Koran be genuine, the early revelations must have been miscellaneous in content, magical, historical and homiletic. To some strange oaths are prefixed. Apparently the purpose to be compassed was to convince the audience of their miraculous origin. The formulation of doctrines belongs to a later period and that of jurisprudence to the latest of all. In that last period also, when Mahomet was despot of Medina, the Koran served as an official chronicle, well compared by Sprenger to the leading articles on current events in a ministerial organ. Where the continuous paragraph is substituted for the ejaculation, the divine author apologizes for the style.

Certain doctrines and practices (e.g. washing of the person and the garments) must have been enjoined from the first, but our authorities scarcely give us any clear notion what they were. The doctrines to which the Prophet himself throughout assigned most value seem to have been the unity of God and the future life, or resurrection of the body. The former necessitated the abandonment of the idolatrous worship which formed part of the daily life of Mecca, and in which Mahomet and Khadija had been accustomed to take their part. Yet it seems to have been due to the initiative of the proselytes themselves rather than to the Prophet's orders that the Meccan worship was actually flouted by them; for the anecdote which represents the Prophet and his young cousin attempting to pull down the images in or about the Ka'ba appears to be apocryphal. The first Moslem ceremony would appear to have been the religious meeting for the purpose of hearing the delivery of revelations, of which after the Prophet's death the sermon (khuṭbah) took the place. After various provisional meeting-places, the house of one al-Arqam on Mt. Safa was adopted for this purpose; and here proselytes were initiated.

The names which the new community received from its founder are both philological puzzles; for the natural sense of Moslem (Muslim) appear to be “traitors,”Growth of the Early Community. and to this a contemporary war-song of Mahomet's enemies alludes; while Ḥanīf (especially applied in the Koran to Abraham) seems to be the Hebrew word for “hypocrite.” The former is explained in the Koran to mean “one who hands over his face or person to God,” and is said to have been invented by Abraham; of the latter no explanation is given, but it seems to signify from the context “devotee.” Since the divine name Raḥmān was at one time favoured by Mahomet, and this was connected with one Maslama of the tribe Ḥanīfa, who figures in politics at the end of Mahomet's career but must have been a religious leader far earlier, it has been suggested that the names originally belonged to Maslama's community. The honour of having been Mahomet's first convert is claimed for three persons: his wife Khadīja, his cousin Ali, who must have been a lad at the commencement of the mission, and Abū Bekr, son of Abū Quḥāfah, afterwards Mahomet's first successor. This last person became Mahomet's alter ego, and is usually known as the Ṣiddiq (Heb. word signifying “the saint,” but to the Arabs meaning “faithful friend)”. His loyalty from first to last was absolutely unswerving; he was selected to accompany Mahomet on the most critical occasion of his life, the Flight from Mecca; Mahomet is said to have declared that had he ever made a confidant of any one, that person would have been Abū Bekr; implying that there were things which were not confided even to him. The success of the Prophet's enterprise seems to have been very largely due to the part played by this adherent, who possessed a variety of attainments which he put at Mahomet's service; who when an intermediary was required was always ready to represent him, and who placed the commendation of the Prophet above every other consideration, private or public. The two appear to have regularly laid siege to those persons in Mecca whose adherence was desirable; and the ability which many of the earlier converts afterwards displayed, whether as statesmen or generals, is a remarkable testimony to their power of gauging men. It seems clear that the growth of wealth in Mecca had led to the accentuation of the difference between persons of different station, and that many were discontented with the oligarchy which governed the city. Converts could, therefore, be won without serious difficulty among the aliens and in general those who suffered under various disqualifications. Some members of the Jewish community seem also to have joined; and some relics of the Abyssinian expedition (i.e. descendants of the invaders). Among the most important converts of the Meccan period were Mahomet's uncle Ḥamza, afterwards for his valour called “the Lion of God”; 'Abd al-Raḥman (Abdarraḥman) son of 'Auf; Othman, son of 'Affān, who married two of the Prophet's daughters successively, and was Mahomet's third successor; and, more important than any save Abū Bekr, Omar, son of al-Khattāb, a man of extraordinary force of character, to whom siege seems to have been laid with extraordinary skill. At some time he received the honourable title Fārūq (“Deliverer”); he is represented as regularly favouring force, where Abū Bekr favoured gentle methods; unlike Abū Bekr, his loyalty was not always above suspicion. His adherence is ascribed to the period of publicity.

The secrecy which marked its early years was of the greatest value for the eventual success of the mission; for when Mahomet came forward publicly he was already the head of a band of united followers. His own family appear to have been either firm adherents, or violent enemies, or lukewarm and temporizing—this is the best which can be said for 'Abbās, eponymus of the Abbasid dynasty; or finally espousers of his cause, on family grounds, but not as believers.

Rejecting accounts of Mahomet's first appearance as a public preacher, which are evidently comments on a text of the Koran,First Period of Publicity. we have reason for supposing that his hand was forced by ardent followers, who many times in his career compelled him to advance. The astute rulers of community perceived that the claim made by Mahomet was to be dictator or autocrat; and while this was naturally ridiculed by them, some appear to have been devoted adherents of the gods or goddesses whom he attacked. The absence of dated documents for the period between this open proclamation (which in any case commenced before 616) and the Flight to Medina in 622 renders the course of events somewhat conjectural, though certain details appear to be well established. Apparently there was a war of words, followed by a resort to diplomacy and then to force; and then a period in which Mahomet's attention was directed to foreign conversions, resulting in his being offered and accepting the dictatorship of Yathrib.

Of the war of words we have an imperfect record in the Meccan suras of the Koran, which occasionally state the objections urged by the opponents. In the course of the debate the theological position of both parties seems to have shifted, and the knowledge of both was probably increased in various ways. The miracle of the Koran, which at first consisted in its mode of production, was transformed into a marvel connected with its contents; first by Mahomet's claiming to tell historical narratives which had previously been unknown to him; afterwards by the assertion that the united efforts of mankind and Jinn would be unable to match the smallest passage of the Koran in sublimity. Probably the first of these claims could not be long maintained, though A. J. Davis, “the Seer of Poughkeepsie,” in our own time brought a similar one in regard to his Principles of Nature. Indeed both parties evidently resorted to external aid. To those who undertook to name the man who dictated stories of the ancients to Mahomet day and night, he replied that the individual whom they had in mind was a foreigner, whereas the Koran was in pure Arabic. This was obviously a quibble, for it was scarcely asserted that he delivered the matter dictated to him without