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Page:EB1911 - Volume 17.djvu/422

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MAHOMET

Although the central portions of the peninsula in Mahomet's time were practically independent, large portions of the north-west and south-east were provinces of the Byzantine and Persian empires respectively,Plan of World-conquest. whence any scheme for the conquest of Arabia would necessarily involve the conqueror in war with these great powers. The conquest of Persia is said to have been contemplated by the Prophet as early as A.H. 5, when the famous Trench was being dug; but it was not till the year A.H. 7, on the eve of the taking of Mecca, that the Prophet conceived the idea of sending missives to all known sovereigns and potentates, promising them safety if, but only if, they embraced Islam. The text of these letters, which only varied in the name of the person addressed, is preserved (doubtless faithfully) by the Moslem Oral Tradition; in the middle of the last century a French explorer professed to discover in Egypt the original of one of them—addressed to the mysterious personage called the Muqauqis (Muḳauḳis) of Egypt—and this, it appears, is still preserved amid other supposed relics of the Prophet in Constantinople, though there is little reason for believing it to be genuine. The anecdotes dealing with the reception of these letters by their addressees are all fabulous in character. Two appear to have sent favourable replies: the king of Axum, who now could send the exiles whom he had so long harboured to their successful master; and the Egyptian governor, who sent Mahomet a valuable present, including two Coptic women for his harem. The emperor Heraclius is claimed as a secret convert to Islam, on whom pressure had to be put by his advisers to conceal his convictions. The Persian king is said to have sent orders to have Mahomet arrested; his messengers arrived in Medina, but were unable to carry out the commands of their master, who died while they were there. Two of the letters are said to have had important results. One was addressed to the Himyarite chiefs (called by the south Arabian appellation qail) in Yemen, and effected their conversion; another to the governor of Bostra in Roman Arabia, who put the bearer of this insolent message to death; a force was dispatched by Mahomet immediately afterwards (beginning of A.H. 8) to avenge this outrage; and though the Moslems were defeated in their first encounter with the Byzantine forces at Mutah, they appear to have given a good account of themselves; it was here that Ja'far, cousin of the Prophet, met his death. In A.H. 9 a successful expedition was led by the Prophet himself northward, in which, though no Byzantine force was encountered, a considerable region was withdrawn from the Byzantine sphere of influence, and made either Islamic or tributary to Islam. At the time of his death (of fever, after a short illness) he was organizing an expedition for the conquest of Syria.

The Prophet claimed throughout that his revelation confirmed the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and this claim is on the whole reasonable,Jewish and Christian Communities. though his acquaintance with both was in the highest degree vague and inaccurate. Still he reproduced the Old Testament as faithfully as he could, and though he patriotically endeavours to shed some lustre on his supposed ancestor Ishmael, he does not appear to have questioned the Biblical theory according to which the founder of the north Arabian nations was the son of a slave girl. On neither the truth of the Biblical history and miracles nor the validity of the Mosaic legislation does he appear to have cast any doubt. He even allows that Israel was the chosen people. The Gospel was known to him chiefly through apocryphal and heretical sources, which cannot certainly be identified; but he accepted the doctrine of the Virgin-birth, the miracles of healing the sick and raising the dead, and the ascension; the crucifixion and resurrection were clearly denied by the sect from whom he had received his information, and rejected by him, though certainly not because of any miracle which the latter involved; His quarrel with the Jews at Medina appears to have been by no means of his own seeking, but to have arisen unavoidably, owing to his particular view of his office being such as they could not accept; and his attempt to discredit, not the Mosaic Law, but the form in which they presented it, was an expedient to which he resorted in self-defence. An attempt was made shortly after his arrival at Medina to settle the relations between the two communities by a treaty, according to which, while their equality was guaranteed there should be little interference between the two; this, however, was found unworkable, and each victory of Mahomet over the Meccans was followed by violent measures against the Medinese Israelites. When experience had shown him their military incompetence he appears to have been unable to resist the temptation to appropriate their goods for the benefit of his followers; and his attack on the flourishing Jewish settlement of Khaibar, after the affair of Ḥodaibiyah, appears to have been practically unprovoked, and designed to satisfy his discontented adherents by an accession of plunder. Yet the consciousness that this process was economically wasteful suggested to him an idea which Islamic states are only now abandoning, viz. that of a tolerated caste, who should till the soil and provide sustenance for the Believers who were to be the fighting caste. Whereas then his former plan in dealing with Israelites had been to banish or massacre, he now left the former owners of Khaibar (who had survived the capture of the place) in possession of the soil, of whose produce they were to pay a fixed proportion to the Islamic state. The same principle was adopted in the case of later conquests of Jewish settlements.

Disputes with Christians occur somewhat later in the Prophet's career than those with Jews, for neither at Mecca nor Medina were the former to be found in any numbers; individuals are likely to have been found in both cities, and we hear of one Medinese “Abu'Amir the Monk,” who after Mahomet's arrival at Medina branded him as an impostor, and, going himself into exile, made many an abortive attempt to discredit and injure Mahomet's cause. The notices of him are meagre and obscure. Mahomet's manifesto to the world, about the time of the taking of Khaibar, appears to represent his definite breach with Christianity; and when in the “year of the embassies” the Christians of Najran sent a deputation to him, they found that the breach between the two systems was not to be healed. Of the three alternatives open to them—conversion, internecine war, and tribute, they chose the last. The Christian tribes of north Arabia showed greater inclination towards the first. The Prophet's policy was to give Christians lighter terms than Jews, and though the Koran reflects the gradual adoption by the Prophet of an attitude of extreme hostility to both systems, its tone is on the whole far more friendly to the former than to the latter. Some other communities are mentioned in the Koran, but merely in casual allusions: thus we know that Mahomet's sympathy was with the Byzantines in their struggle with Persia, but in his most tolerant utterance the Magians or Mazdians as well as the Sabians (with whom his followers were identified by the Meccans) are mentioned with respect.

The financial requirements of Mahomet's state were of the simplest kind, for there is no trace of any form of governmental department having been instituted by him,Mahomet's Administration. even when he was master of the peninsula; nor can we name any permanent officials in his employ except his muaddhin Bilal, and perhaps his court-poet Hassān. A staff of scribes was finally required both to take down his revelations and to conduct correspondence; but although he encouraged the acquisition of penmanship (indeed some of the prisoners at Badr are said to have been allowed to ransom themselves by teaching it to the Medinese), we know of no regular secretaries in his employ. As despot of Medina he combined the functions of legislator, administrator, general and judge; his duties in the last three capacities were occasionally delegated to others, as when he appointed a governor of Medina during his absence, or leaders for expeditions, with provision for successors in case of their falling, but we hear of no permanent or regular delegation of them. Till near the end of his career at Medina he maintained the principle that migration to that city was a condition of conversion; but when, owing to the extension of his power, this was no longer practicable, his plan was in the main to leave the newly converted communities to manage their internal affairs as before, only sending occasional envoys to discharge special duties, especially instruction in the Koran and