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Page:Early Christianity in Arabia.djvu/176

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EARLY CHRISTIANITY

The Arabian writers have improved upon the asserted ignorance of Muhammed; and it has become a fundamental principle of belief that he could neither read nor write a single letter.[1] This, combined with the pure and elegant language in which they agree that the Koran is not only unequalled, but that it is utterly impossible to equal it, is one of their great arguments for its divine extraction. But those who have most obstinately defended the ignorance of Muhammed, contrasted with the elegance of the Koran, with a view of depriving him of the credit of its composition, have not contemplated the state of literature in Arabia at the time of his appearance, or considered what might, under his peculiar circumstances, bear such a denomination. The time of his birth was the golden age of Arabian literature, for it was during the reign of Amru ben Hind at Hirah, who was contemporary with the greatest of the Arabian poets.[2] Under the despotic government of the khalifs the Arabs might be more celebrated for their learning, for their skill in astrology, in grammar, in geography, or in the more abstruse science of geometry and numbers, but taste and purity of language belonged only to

  1. Chardin, Voyages on Perse, tom. iv. p. 33. A Persian poet cited by d'Herbelot in Mohammed, speaking of the prophet, says —"Mon bien-aimé n'a jamais été a l'écôle et n'a jamais sçu écrire une seule ligne, et cependant il sçait resoudre, d'un seul clin d'œil, toutes les plus grandes difficultés." p. 649.
  2. Maracci, Vit. Muham. p. 10.