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409
MAHOMET

render the use to which No. 3 can be put very limited. Thus the lengthy description of the journey to heaven which Sprenger was inclined to accept as genuine is regarded by most critics as a later fabrication. It is very much to be regretted that the number of pieces justificatives (No. 2) quoted by the biographers is so small, and that for these oral tradition was preferred to a search for the actual documents, some of which may well have been in existence when the earliest biographies were written. Their style appears to have been plain and straightforward, though the allusions which they contain are not always intelligible.

In his personal relations with men Mahomet appears to have been able to charm and impress in an extraordinary degree, whence we find him able to control persons like Omar and Khalid, who appear to have been self-willed and masterful, and a single interview seems to have been sufficient to turn many an enemy into a devoted adherent. Cases (perhaps legendary) are quoted of his being able by a look or a word to disarm intending assassins.

Although the titles which he took were religious in character, and his office might not be described as sovereignty, his interests appear to have lain far more in the building up and maintenance of empire than in ecclesiastical matters. Thus only can we account for the violent and sudden changes which he introduced into his system, for his temporary lapse into paganism, and for his ultimate adoption of the cult of the Black Stone, which, it is said, gave offence to some of his sincere adherents (e.g. Omar), and seems hard to reconcile with his tirades against fetish-worship. The same is indicated by his remarkable doctrine that the utterance of the creed constituted a Moslem and not its cordial acceptance, and his practice of at times buying adhesion. Even an historian so favourable to the Prophet as Prince Caetani recognizes that ultimately what he regarded as most important was that his subjects should pay their taxes. And in general his system was not favourable to fanaticism (al-ghulū fi'l-dīn); he repeatedly gave permission for concealment of faith when the profession of it was dangerous; he took care to avoid institutions which, like the Jewish Sabbath, interfered seriously with military expeditions and the conduct of business, and permitted considerable irregularity in the matters of prayer and fasting when circumstances rendered it desirable. In his theory that Koranic texts could be abrogated he made wise provision against the danger of hasty legislation, though some of its usefulness was frustrated by his failure to provide for such abrogation after his death.

As has been seen, Mahomet claimed to introduce a wholly new dispensation, and a maxim of his law is that Islam cancels all that preceded it,Mahomet's Reforms. except, indeed, pecuniary debts; it is not certain that even this exception always held good. Hence his system swept away a number of practices (chiefly connected with the camel) that were associated with pagan superstitions. The most celebrated of these is the arrow game, a form of gambling for shares in slaughtered camels, to which poetic allusions are very frequent. More important than this was his attitude towards the blood-feud, or system of tribal responsibility for homicide (whether intentional or accidental), whereby one death regularly led to protracted wars, it being considered dishonourable to take blood-money (usually in the form of camels) or to be satisfied with one death in exchange. This system he endeavoured to break down, chiefly by sinking all earlier tribal distinctions in the new brotherhood of Islam; but also by limiting the vengeance to be demanded to such as was no more than the equivalent of the offence committed, and by urging the acceptance of money-compensation instead, or complete forgiveness of the offence. The remembrance of pre-Islamic quarrels was visited by him with condign punishment on those who had embraced Islam; and though it was long before the tribal system quite broke down, even in the great cities which rose in the new provinces, and the old state of things seems to have quickly been resumed in the desert, his legislation on this subject rendered orderly government among Arabs possible.

Next in importance to this is the abolition of infanticide, which is condemned even in early Suras of the Koran. The scanty notices which we have of the practice are not altogether consistent; at times we are told that it was confined to certain tribes, and consisted in the burying alive of infant daughters; at other times it is extended to a wider area, and said to have been carried out on males as well as females. After the taking of Mecca this prohibition was included among the conditions of Islam.

In the laws relating to women it seems likely that he regulated current practice rather than introduced much that was actually new, though, as has been seen, he is credited with giving them the right to inherit property; the most precise legislation in the Koran deals with this subject, of which the main principle is that the share of the male equals that of two females. Our ignorance of the precise nature of the marriage customs prevalent in Arabia at the rise of Islam renders it difficult to estimate the extent to which his laws on this subject were an improvement on what had been before. The pre-Islamic family, unless our records are wholly misleading, did not differ materially from the Islamic; in both polygamy and concubinage were recognized and normal; and it is uncertain that the text which is supposed to limit the number of wives to four was intended to have that meaning. The “condition of Islam” whereby adultery was forbidden is said to have been ridiculed at the time, on the ground that this practice had never been approved. Yet it would seem that certain forms of promiscuity had been tolerated, though the subject is obscure. Against these services we must set the abrogation of some valuable practices. His unfortunate essay in astronomy, whereby a calendar of twelve lunar months, bearing no relation to the seasons, was introduced, was in any case a retrograde step; but it appears to have been connected with the abrogation of the sanctity of the four months during which raiding had been forbidden in Arabia, which, as has been seen, he was the first to violate. He also, as has been noticed, permitted himself a slight amount of bloodshed in Mecca itself, and that city perhaps never quite recovered its sacrosanct character. Of more serious consequences for the development of the community was his encouragement of the shedding of kindred blood in the cause of Islam; the consequences of the abrogation of this taboo seem to have been felt for a great length of time. His assassinations of enemies were afterwards quoted as precedents in books of Tradition. No less unfortunate was the recognition of the principle whereby atonement could be made for oaths. On the question how far the seclusion of women was enjoined or countenanced by him different views have been held.

Besides the contemporary documents enumerated above (Koranic texts, rescripts and authentic traditions) many of the events were celebrated by poets, whose verses were ostensibly incorporated in the standard biography of Ibn Isḥāq; in the abridgment of that biography which we possess many of these are obelized as spurious, and, indeed, what we know of the procedure of those who professed to collect early poetry gives us little confidence in the genuineness of such odes. A few, however, seem to stand criticism, and the diwan (or collection of poems) attributed to Ḥassan b. Thābit is ordinarily regarded as his. Though they rarely give detailed descriptions of events, their attestation is at times of value, e.g. for the story that the bodies of the slain at Badr were cast by the Prophet into a pit. Besides this, the narratives of eyewitnesses of important events, or of those who had actually taken part in them, were eagerly sought by the second generation, and some of these were committed to writing well before the end of the 1st century. The practice instituted by the second Caliph, of assigning pensions proportioned to the length of time in which the recipient had been a member of the Islamic community, led to the compilation of certain rolls, and to the accurate preservation of the main sequence of events from the commencement of the mission, and for the detailed sequence after the Flight, which presently became an era (beginning with the first month of the year in which the Flight took place). The procedure whereby the original dates of the events (so far as they were remembered) were translated into the Moslem calendar—for something of this sort must have been done—is unknown, and is unlikely to have been scientific.

Mahomet's conduct being made the standard of right and wrong, there was little temptation to “whitewash” him, although the original biography by Ibn Isḥāq appears to have contained details which the author of the abridgment omitted as scandalous. The preservation of so much that was historical left little room for the introduction of miraculous narrations; these therefore either belong to the obscure period of his life or can be easily eliminated; thus the narratives of the Meccan council at which the assassination of Mahomet was decided, of the battles of Badr, Uḥud and Ḥonain, and the death of Sa'd b. Mu'adh, would lose nothing by the omission of the angels and the devil, though a certain part is assigned the one or the other on all these occasions. We should have expected biographies which were published when the 'Abbasids were reigning to have falsified history for the purpose of glorifying 'Abbās, their progenitor; the very small extent to which this expectation is justified is a remarkable testimony to their general trustworthiness.

Relatives of the Prophet[1]

1. Family of 'Abd al-Moṭṭalib, Mahomet's maternal grandfather:—*Abbās (d. A.H. 32 or 34), *Ḥamza (d. A.H. 3), 'Abdallāh, father of the


  1. * is prefixed to names which figure on occasions which seem to be historical. Female names are in italics.