The system of religion formed and propagated by Mahomet, and still adhered to by his followers. It is professed by the Turks and Persians, by several nations among the Africans, and many among the East Indians.
Mahomet was born in the reign of Anushirwan the Just, emperor of Persia, about the end of the sixth century of the Christian era. He came into the world under some disadvantages. His father Abd’allah was a younger son of Abd’almotalleb, and dying very young, and in his father’s life-time, left his widow and an infant son in very mean circumstances, his whole subsistence consisting but of five camels and one Ethiopian she slave. Abd’almotalleb was therefore obliged to take care 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 Abd’allah by the same mother, to provide for him for the future; which he very affectionately did, and instructed him in the business of a merchant, which he followed; and to that end he took him into Syria, when he was but thirteen. He afterwards recommended him to Khadijah, a noble and rich widow, for her factor; in whose service he behaved himself so well, that by making him her husband, she soon raised him to an equality with the richest in Mecca.
After he began by this advantageous match to live at his ease, it was, 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 God.
Before he made any attempt abroad, he rightly judged that it was necessary for him to begin with the conversion of his own household. Having, therefore, retired with his family, as he had done several times before, to a cave in mount Hara, he there opened the secret of his mission to his wife Khadijah; and acquainted her, that the angel Gabriel had just before appeared to him, and told him that he was appointed the apostle of God: he also repeated to her a passage which he pretended had been revealed to him by the ministry of the angel, with those other circumstances of this first appearance which are related by the Mahometan writers. Khadijah received the news with great joy, swearing by Him in whose hands her soul was, that she trusted he would be the prophet of his nation; and immediately communicated what she had heard to her cousin Warakah Ebn Nawfal, who, being a Christian, could write in the Hebrew character, and was tolerably well versed in the Scriptures; and he readily came into her opinion, assuring her that the same angel who had formerly appeared unto Moses was now sent to Mahomet. The first overture the prophet made was in the month of Ramadan, in the fortieth year of his age, which is therefore usually called the year of his mission.
Encouraged by so goof a beginning, he resolved to proceed, and try for some time what he could do by private persuasion, not daring to hazard the whole affair by exposing it too suddenly to the public. He soon made proselytes of those under his own roof, viz. his wife Khadijah, his servant Zeid Ebn Haretha, to whom he gave his freedom on that occasion (which afterwards became a rule to his followers,) and his cousin and pupil Ali, the son of Abu Taleb, though then very young: but this last, making no account of the other two, used to style himself the first of believers. The next person Mahomet applied to was Abd’allah Ebn Abi Kohafa, surnamed Abu Beer, a man of great authority among the Koreish, and one whose interest he well knew would be of great service to him; as it soon appeared; for Abu Beer, being gained over, prevailed also on Othman Ebn Affan. Abd’alraham Ebn Awf. Saad Ebn Abbi Wakkus, AtZobeir al Awam, and Telha Ebn Obeid’allah, all principal men of Mecca, to follow his example. These men were six chief companions, who, with a few more, were converted in the space of three years: at the end of which Mahomet having as he hoped, a sufficient interest to support him, made his mission no longer a secret, but gave out that God had commanded him to admonish his near relations; and in order to do it with more convenience and prospect of success, he directed Ali to prepare an entertainment and invited the sons and descendants of Abd’almotalleb, intending then to open his mind to them.–This was done, and about forty of them came; but Abu Leheb, one of his uncles, making the company break up before Mahomet had an opportunity of speaking, obliged him to give them a second invitation the next day; and when they were come, he made them the following speech: “I know no man in all Arabia who can offer his kindred a more excellent thing than I now do to you; I offer you happiness both in this life, and in that which is to come: God Almighty hath commanded me to call you unto him. Who, therefore, among you will be assistant to me herein, and become my brother and my vicegerent?” All of them hesitating and declining the matter, Ali at length rose up, and declared that he would be his assistant, and vehemently threatened those who should oppose him. Mahomet upon this embraced Ali with great demonstrations of Affection, and desired all who were present to hearken to and obey him as his deputy; at which the company broke out into a great laughter, telling Abu Taleb that he must now pay obedience to his son.
This repulse, however, was so far from discouraging Mahomet, that he began to preach in public to the people, who heard him with some patience, till he came to upbraid them with the idolatry, obstinacy, and perverseness of themselves and their fathers; which so highly provoked them, that they declared themselves his enemies; and would soon have procured his ruin, had he not been protected by Abu Taleb. The chief of the Koreish warmly solicited this person to desert his nephew, making frequent remonstrances against the innovations he was attempting: which proving ineffectual, they at length threatened him with an open rupture if he did not prevail on Mahomet to desist. At this Abu Taleb was so far moved, that he earnestly dissuaded his nephew from pursuing the affair any farther, representing the great danger that he and his friends must otherwise run. But Mahomet was not to be intimidated; telling his uncle plainly, that if they set the sun against him on his right hand, and the moon on his left, he would not leave his enterprise: and Abu Taleb, seeing him so firmly resolved to proceed, used no farther arguments, but promised to stand by him against all his enemies.
The Koreish, finding they could prevail neither by fair words nor menaces, tried what they could do by force and ill treatment; using Mahomet’s followers so very injuriously, that it was not safe for them to continue at Mecca any longer; whereupon Mahomet gave leave to such of them as had no friends to protect them to seek for refuge elsewhere. And accordingly, in the fifth year of the prophet’s mission, sixteen of them, four of whom were women, fled into Ethiopia; and among them Othman Ebn Affan, and his wife Rakiah, Mahomet’s daughter. This was the first flight; but afterwards several others followed them, retiring one after another, to the number of eighty-three men, and eighteen women, besides children. These refugees were kindly received by the Najashi, or king of Ethiopia, who refused to deliver them up to those whom the Koreish sent to demand them, and, as the Arab writers unanimously attest, even professed the Mahometan religion.
In the sixth year of his mission, Mahomet had the pleasure of seeing his party strengthened by the conversion of his uncle Hamza, a man of great valour and merit; and of Omar Ebn al Kattab, a person highly esteemed, and once a violent opposer of the prophet. As persecution generally advances rather than obstructs the spreading of a religion, Islamism made so great a progress among the Arab tribes, that the Koreish, to suppress it effectually if possible, in the seventh year of Mahomet’s mission, made a solemn league or covenant against the Hashemites, and the family of Abd’slmotalleb, engaging themselves to contract no marriages with any of them, and to have no communication with them; and to give it the greater sanction, reduced it into writing, and laid it up in the Caaba. Upon this the tribe became divided into two factions; and the family of Hasham all repaired to Abu Taleb, as their head; except only Abd’al Uzza, surnamed Abu Laheb, who, out of inveterate hatred to his nephew and his doctrine, went over to the opposite party, whose chief was Abu Sosian Ebn Harb, of the family of Omneya.
The families continued thus at variance for three years; but in the tenth year of his mission, Mahomet told his uncle Abu Taleb, that God had manifestly showed his disapprobation of the league which the Koreish had made against them by sending a worm to eat out every word of the instrument except the name of God. Of this accident Mahomet had probably some private notice; for Abu Taleb went immediately to the Koreish, and acquainted them with it; offering, if it proved false, to deliver his nephew up to them; but, in case it were true, he insisted that they ought to lay aside their animosity, and annul the league they had made against the Hashemites. To this they acquitesced; and, going to inspect the writing, to their great astonishment found it to be as Abu Taleb had said; and the league was thereupon declared void.
In the same year Abu Taleb died at the age of above fourscore; and it is the general opinion that he died an infidel; though others say, that when he was at the point of death he embraced Mahometanism, and produce some passages out of his poetical compositions to confirm their assertion. About a month, or, as some write, three days after the death of this great benefactor and patron, Mahomet had the additional mortification to lose his wife Khadijah, who had so generously made his fortune. For which reason this year is called the year of mourning.
On the death of these two persons, the Koreish began to be more troublesome than ever to their prophet, and especially some who had formerly been his intimate friends; insomuch that he found himself obliged to seek for shelter elsewhere, and first pitched upon Tayef, about sixty miles east from Mecca, for the place of his retreat. Thither, therefore, he went, accompanied by his servant Zeid, and applied himself to two of the chief of the tribe of Thakif, who were the inhabitants of that place; but they received him very coldly. However, he staid there a month; and some of the more considerate and better sort of men treated him with little respect; but the slaves and inferior people at length rose against him; and bringing him to the wall of the city, obliged him to depart, and return to Mecca, while he put himself under the protection of Al Motaam Ebn Adi.
This repulse greatly discouraged his followers. However, Mahomet was not wanting to himself; but boldly continued to preach to the public assemblies at the pilgrimage, and gained several proselytes; and among them six of the inhabitants of Yathreb, of the Jewish tribe of Khazraj; who, on their return home, failed not to speak much in recommendation of their new religion, and exhorted their fellow-citizens to embrace the same.
In the twelfth year of his mission it was that Mahomet gave out that he had made his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and thence to heaven, so much spoken of by all that write of him. Dr. Prideaux thinks he invented it either to answer the expectations of those who demanded some miracles as a proof of his mission; or else, by pretending to have conversed with God, to establish the authority of whatever he should think fit to leave behind by way of oral tradition, and make his sayings to serve the same purpose as the oral law of the Jews. But it does not appear that Mahomet himself ever expected so great a regard should be paid to his sayings as his followers have since done; and, seeing he all along disclaimed any power of performing miracles, it seems rather to have been a fetch of policy to raise his reputation, by pretending to have actually conversed with God in heaven, as Moses had heretofore done in the Mount, and to have received several institutions immediately from him, whereas, before, he contented himself with persuading them that he had all by the ministry of Gabriel.
However, this story seemed so absurd and incredible, that several of his followers left him upon it; and had probably ruined the whole design, had not Abu Beer 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 this fiction, notwithstanding its extravagance, was one of the most artful contrivances Mahomet ever put in practice, and what chiefly contributed to the raising of his reputation to that great height to which if afterwards arrived.
In the year, called by the Mahometans the accepted year, twelve men of Yathreb or Medina, of whom ten were of the tribe of Khazraj, and the other two of that of the Aws, came to Mecca, and took an oath of fidelity to Mahomet at Al Akaba, a hill on the north of that city. This oath was called the women’s oath; not that any omen were present at this time, but because a man was not thereby obliged to take up arms in defence of Mahomet or his religion; it being the same oath that was afterwards exacted of the women, the form of which we have in the Koran, and is to this effect, viz. That they should renounce all idolatry; and that they should not steal, nor commit fornication, nor kill their children (as the pagan Arabs used to do when they apprehended they should not be able to maintain them,) nor forge calumnies; and that they should obey the prophet in all things that were reasonable. When they had solemnly engaged to all this, Mahomet sent one of his disciples named Masab Ebn Omair home with them, to instruct them more fully in the grounds and ceremonies of his new religion.
Masab, being arrived at Medina, by the assistance of those who had been formerly converted, gained several proselytes, particularly Osed Ebn Hodeira, a chief man of the city, and Saad Ebn Moadh, prince of the tribe of Aws; Mahometanism spreading so fast, that there was scarce a house wherein there were not some who had embraced it.
The next year, being the thirteenth of Mahomet’s mission, Masab returned to Mecca, accompanied by seventy-three men and two women of Medina who had professed Islamism, besides some others who were as yet unbelievers. On their arrival they immediately sent to Mahomet and offered him their assistance, of which he was now in great need; for his adversaries were by this time grown so powerful in Mecca, that he could not stay there much longer without imminent danger. Wherefore he accepted their proposal, and met them one night, by appointment, at Al Akaba above-mentioned, attended by his uncle Al Abbas; who, though he was not then a believer, wished his nephew well, and made a speech to those of Medina; wherein he told them, that, as Mahomet was obliged to quit his native city, and seek an asylum elsewhere, and they had offered him their protection, they would do well not to deceive him: that if they were not firmly resolved to defend, and not betray him, they had better declare their minds, and let him provide for his safety in some other manner. Upon their protesting their sincerity, Mahomet swore to be faithful to them, on condition that they should protect him against all insults as heartily as they would their own wives and families. They then asked him, what recompence they were to expect, if they should happen to be killed in his quarrel? he answered, Paradise. Whereupon they pledged their faith to him, and so returned home, after Mahomet had chosen twelve out of their number, who were to have the same authority among them as the twelve apostles of Christ had among his disciples.
Hitherto Mahomet had propagated his religion by fair means; so that the whole success of his enterprise, before his flight to Medina, must be attributed to persuasion only, and not to compulsion. For before this second oath of fealty or inauguration at Al Akaba, he had no permission to use any force at all; and in several places of the Koran, which he pretended were revealed during his stay at Mecca, he declares his business was only to preach and admonish; that he had no authority to compel any person to embrace his religion; and that, whether people believe or not, was none of his concern, but belonged solely unto God. And he was so far from allowing his followers to use force, that he exhorted them to bear patiently those injuries which were offered them on account of their faith; and, when persecuted himself, chose rather to quit the place of his birth, and retire to Medina, than to make any resistance. But this great passiveness and moderation seem entirely owing to his want of power, and the great superiority of his opposers, for the first twelve years of his mission; for no sooner was he enabled, by the assistance of those of Medina, to make head against his enemies, than he gave out, that God had allowed him and his followers to defend themselves against the infidels: and at length, as his forces increased, he pretended to have the divine leave even to attack them, and destroy idolatry, and set up the true faith by the sword; finding by experience, that his designs would otherwise proceed very slowly, if they were not utterly overthrown; and knowing, on the other hand, that innovators, when they depend solely on their own strength, and can compel, seldom run any risk; from whence, says Machiavel, it follows, that all the armed prophets have succeeded, and the unarmed ones have failed. Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus, would not have been able to establish the observance of their institutions for any length of time, had they not been armed. The first passage of the Koran which gave Mahomet the permission of defending himself by arms is said to have been that in the twenty-second chapter; after which, a great number to the same purpose were revealed.
Mahomet having provided for the security of his companions, as well as his own, by the league offensive and defensive which he had now concluded with those of Medina, directed them to repair thither, which they accordingly did; but himself, with Abu Beer and Ali, staid behind, having not yet received the divine permission as he pretended, to leave Mecca. The Koreish, fearing the consequence of this new alliance, began to think it absolutely necessary to prevent Mahomet’s escape to Medina; and having held a council thereon, after several milder expedients had been rejected, they came to a resolution that he should be killed; and agreed that a man should be chosen out of every tribe for the execution of this design; and that each man should have a blow at him with his sword, that the guilt of his blood might fall equally on all the tribes, to whose united power the Hashemites were much inferior, and therefore durst not attempt to revenge their kinsman’s death.
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 Abu Beer’s house, unperceived by the conspirators, who had already assembled at the prophet’s door. They, in the mean time, 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.
From Abu Beer’s house Mahomet and he went to a cave in mount Thur, to the south-east of Mecca, accompanied only by Amor Ebn Foheirah, Abu Beer’s servant, and Abd’allah Ebn Oreitah, an idolater whom they had hired for a guide. In this cave they lay hid three days, to avoid the search of their enemies, which they very narrowly escaped, and not without the assistance of more miracles than one; for some say that the Koreish were struck with blindness, so that they could not find the cave; others, that, after Mahomet and his companions were got in, two pigeons laid their eggs at the entrance, and a spider covered the mouth of the cave with her web, which made them look no farther. Abu Beer seeing the prophet in such imminent danger, became very sorrowful; whereupon Mahomet comforted him with these words, recorded in the Koran; Be not grieved, for God is with us. Their enemies being retired, they left the cave, and set out for Medina by a bye-road; and having fortunately, or, as the Mahometans tell us, miraculously, escaped some who were sent to pursue them, arrived safely at that city; whither Ali followed them in three days, after he had settled some affairs at Mecca.
Mahomet being securely settled at Medina, and able not only to defend himself against the insults of his enemies, but to attack them, began to send out small parties to make reprisals on the Koreish; the first party consisting of no more than nine men, who intercepted and plundered a caravan belonging to that tribe, and in the action took two prisoners. But what established his affairs very much, and was the foundation on which he built all his succeeding greatness, was the gaining of the battle of Bedr. which was fought in the second year of the Hegira, and is so famous in the Mahometan history. Some reckon no less than twenty-seven expeditions, wherein Mahomet was personally present, in nine of which he gave battle, besides several other expeditions in which he was not present. His forces he maintained partly by the contributions of his followers for this purpose, which he called by the name of zacat, or alms, and the paying of which he very artfully made one main article of his religion; and partly by ordering a fifth part of the plunder to be brought into the public treasury for that purpose, in which matter he likewise pretended to act by the divine direction.
In a few years, by the success of his arms, notwithstanding he sometimes came off with the worst, he considerably raised his credit and power. In the sixth year of the Hegira he set out with 1400 men to visit the temple of Mecca, not with any intent of committing hostilities, but in a peaceable manner. However, when he came to Al Hodeibiya, which is situated partly within and partly without the sacred territory, the Koreish sent to let him know that they would not permit him to enter Mecca, unless he forced his way: whereupon, he called his troops about him, and they all took a solemn oath of fealty or homage to him, and he resolved to attack the city: but those of Mecca sending Arwa Ebn Masun, prince of the tribe of Thakif, as their ambassador, to desire peace, a truce was concluded between them for ten years, by which any person was allowed to enter into league either with Mahomet, or with the Koreish as he thought fit.
In the seventh year of the Hegira, Mahomet began to think of propagating his religion, beyond the bounds of Arabia, and sent messengers to the neighbouring princes, with letters to invite them to Mahometanism. Nor was this project without some success; Khosru Parviz, then king of Persia, received his letter with great disdain, and tore it in a passion, sending away the messenger very abruptly; which, when Mahomet heard, he said, God shall tear his kingdom. And soon after a messenger came to Mahomet from Badhan, king of Yaman, who was a dependent on the Persians, to acquaint him that he had received orders to sent him to Khosru. Mahomet put off his answer till the next morning, and then told the messenger it had been revealed to him that night that Khosru was slain by his son Shiruyeh; adding, that he was well assured his new religion and empire should rise to as great a height as that as Khosru; and therefore bid him advise his master to embrace Mahometanism. The messenger being returned, Badhan in a few days received a letter from Shiruyeh, informing him of his father’s death, and ordering him to give the prophet no further disturbance. Whereupon Bashan, and the Persians with him, turned Mahometans.
The emperor Heraclius, as the Arabian historians assure us, received Mahomet’s letter with great respect, laying it on his pillow, and dismissed the bearer honourably. And some pretend that he would have professed this new faith, had he not been afraid of losing his crown.
Mahhomet wrote to the same effect to the king of Ethiopia, though he had been converted before, according to the Arab writers; and to Molawkas, governor of Egypt, who gave the messenger a very favourable reception, and sent several valuable presents to Mahomet, and among the rest two girls, one of which, named Mary, became a great favourite with him. He also sent letters of the like purport to several Arab princes; particularly one to Al Hareth Ebn Abi Shamer, king of Ghassan, who returning for answer that he would go to Mahomet himself, the prophet said, May his kingdom perish; another to Hawdha Ebn Ali, king of Yamama, who was a Christian, and, having sometime before professed Islamism, had lately returned to his former faith: this prince sent back a very rough answer, upon which Mahomet cursing him, he died soon after; and a third to Al Mondar Ebn Sawa, king of Bahrein, who embraced Mahometanism, and all the Arabs of that country followed his example.
The eighth year of the Hegira was a very fortunate year to Mahomet. In the beginning of it Khaled Ebn al Walid and Amru Ebn al As, both excellent soldiers, the first of whom afterwards conquered Syria and other countries, and the latter Egypt, became proselytes to Mahometanism. And soon after the prophet sent 3000 men against the Grecian forces, to revenge the death of one of his ambassadors who, being sent to the governor of Bosra on the same errand as those who went to the above-mentioned princes, was slain by an Arab of the tribe of Ghassan, at Muta, a town in the territory of Balka, in Syria, about three days journey eastward from Jerusalem, near which town they encountered. The Grecians being vastly superior in number (for, including the auxillary Arabs, they had an army of 100,000 men,) the Mahometans were repulsed in the first attack, and lost successively three of their generals, viz. Zeib Ebn Haretha, Mahomet’s freedman; Jaasar, the son of Abu Taleb; and Abdaliah Ebn Rawalia: but Khalid Ebn al Walid, succeeding to the command, overthrew the Greeks with great slaughter, and brought away abundance of rich spoil; on occasion, of which action Mahomet gave him the title of Seif min soyuf Allah, “one of the swords of God.”
In this year also Mahomet took the city of Mecca, the inhabitants whereof had broken the truce concluded on two years before; for the tribe of Beer, who were confederates with the Koreish, attacking those of Kozah, who were allies of Mahomet, killed several of them, being supported in the action by a party of the Koreish themselves. The consequence of this violation was soon apprehended, and Abu Sosian himself made a journey to Medina on purpose to heal the breach and renew the truce but in vain; for Mahomet, glad of this opportunity, refused to see him: whereupon he applied to Abu Beer and Ali; but they giving him no answer, he was obliged to return to Mecca as he came.
Mahomet immediately gave orders for preparations to be made that he might surprise the Meccans while they were unprovided to receive him; in a little time he began his march thither; and by the time he came near the city, his forces were increased to ten thousand men. Those of Mecca not being in a condition to defend themselves against so formidable an array, surrendered at discretion, and Abu Sosian saved his life by turning Mahometan . About twenty-eight of the idolaters were killed by a party under the command of Khaled; but this happened contrary to Mahomet’s orders, who, when he entered the town, pardoned all the Koreish on their submission, except only six men and four women, who were more obnoxious than ordinary, (some of them having apostatized,) and were solemnly prescribed by the prophet himself: but of these no more than one man and one woman were put to death, the rest obtaining pardon on their embracing Mahometanism, and one of the women making her escape.
The remainder of this year Mahomet employed in destroying the idols in and round Mecca, sending several of the generals on expeditions for that purpose, and to invite the Arabs to Islamism; wherein it is no wonder if they now met with success.
The next year being the ninth of the Hegira, the Mahometans call the year of embassies; for the Arabs had been hitherto expecting the issue of the war between Mahomet and the Koreish: but, so soon as that tribe, the principal of the whole nation, and the genuine descendants of Ishmael, whose prerogatives none offered to dispute, had submitted, they were satisfied that it was not in their power to oppose Mahomet; and therefore began to come in to him in great numbers, and to send embassies to make their submission to him, both to Mecca, while he staid there, and also to Medina, whither he returned this year. Among the rest, five kings of the tribe of Hamyar professed Mahometanism, and sent ambassadors to notify the same.
In the tenth year Ali was sent into Yaman to propagate the Mahometan faith there; and, as it is said, converted the whole tribe of Hamdan in one day. Their example was quickly followed by all the inhabitants of that province, except only those of Najran, who, being Christians, chose rather to pay tribute.
Thus was Mahometanism established, and idolatry rooted out, even in Mahomet’s life-time, (for he died the next year,) throughout all Arabia, except only Yamama, where Moseilama, who set up also as a prophet as Mahomet’s competitor, had a great party, and was not reduced till the kalifat of Abu Beer: and the Arabs being then united in one faith, and under one prince, found themselves in a condition of making those conquests which extended the Mahometan faith over so great a part of the world.
1. Mahometans, tenets of the. The Mahometans divide their religion into two general parts, faith and practice, of which the first is divided into six distinct branches: Belief in God, in his angels, in his Scriptures, in his prophets, in the resurrection and final judgment, and in God’s absolute Decrees. The points relating to practice are, prayer, with washings, &c. alms, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca, and circumcision.
Of the Mahometan faith. 1. That both Mahomet, and those among his followers who are reckoned orthodox, had and continued to have just and true notions of God and his attributes, appears so plain from the Koran itself, and all the Mahometan divines, that it would be loss of time to refute those who suppose the God of Mahomet to be different from the true God, and only a fictitious deity or idol of his own creation.
2. The existence of angels and their purity, are absolutely required to be believed in the Koran; and he is reckoned an infidel who denies there are such beings, or hates any of them, or asserts any distinction of sexes among them. They believe them to have pure and subtle bodies, created of fire; that they neither eat nor drink, nor propagate their species; that they have various forms and offices, some adoring God in different postures, others singing praises to him, or interceding for mankind. They hold, that some of them are employed in writing down the actions of men; others in carrying the throne of God, and other services.
3. As to the Scriptures, the Mahometans are taught by the Koran, that God, in divers ages of the world, gave revelations of his will in writing to several prophets, the whole and every one of which it is absolutely necessary for a good Moslem to believe. The number of these sacred books were, according to them, one hundred and four; of which ten were given to Adam, fifty to Seth, thirty to Edris or Enoch, ten to Abraham; and the other four, being the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Gospel, and the Koran, were successively delivered to Moses, David, Jesus, and Mahomet: which last being the seal of the prophets, those revelations are now closed, and no more are to be expected. All these divine books, except the four last, they agree now to be entirely lost, and their contents unknown; though the Sabians have several books which they attribute to some of the antedilavian prophets. And, of those four, they say, have undergone so many alterations and corruptions, that, though there may possibly be some part of the true word of God therein, yet no credit is to be given to the present copies in the hands of the Jews and Christians.
4. The number of the prophets which have been from time to time sent by God into the world, amounts to no less than 224,000, according to one Mahometan tradition; or to 124,000, according to another; among whom 313 were apostles, sent with special commissions to reclaim mankind from infidelity and superstition; and six of them brought new laws or dispensations, which successively abrogated the preceding: these were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet. All the prophets in general, the Mahometans believe to have been freed from great sins and errors of consequence, and professors of one and the same religion, that is, Islamism, notwithstanding the different laws and institutions which they observed. They allow of degrees among them, and hold some of them to be more excellent and honourable than others. The first place they give to the revealers and establishers of new dispensations, and the next to the apostles.
In this great number of prophets they not only reckon divers patriarchs and persons named in Scripture, but not recorded to have been prophets (wherein the Jewish and Christian writers have sometimes led the way,) as Adam, Seth, Lot, Ishmael, Nun, Joshua, &c. and introduced some of them under different names, as Enoch, Heber, and Jethro, who are called in the Koran, Edris, Hud, and Shoab: but several others whose very names do not appear in Scripture (though they endeavor to find some persons there to fix them on,) as Selah, Khedr, Dhu’lkefi, &c.
5. The belief of a general resurrection and a future judgment.
The time of the resurrection the Mahometans allow to be a perfect secret to all but God alone; the angel Gabriel himself aknowledging his ignorance in this point, when Mahomet asked him about it. However, they say, the approach of that day may be known from certain signs which are to precede it.
After examination is past, (the account of which is too long and tedious for this place,) and every one’s work weighed in a just balance, they say, that mutual retaliation will follow, according to which every creature will take vengeance one of another, or have satisfaction made them for the injuries which they have suffered. And, since there will then be no other way of returning like for like, the manner of giving this satisfaction will be by taking away a proportional part of the good works of him who offered the injury, and adding it to those of him who suffered it. Which being done, if the angels (by whose ministry this is to be performed) say, Lord, we have given to every one his due, and there remaineth of this person’s good works so much as equalleth the weight of an ant, God will of his mercy, cause it to be doubled unto him, that he may be admitted into Paradise; but if, on the contrary, his good works be exhausted, and there remain evil works only, and there be any who have not yet received satisfaction from him, God will order that an equal weight of their sins be added unto his, that he may be punished for them in their stead, and he will be sent to hell laden with both. This will be the method of God’s dealing with mankind. As to brutes, after they shall have likewise taken vengeance of one another, he will command them to be changed into dust; wicked men being reserved to more grievous punishment, so that they shall cry out, on hearing this sentence passed on the brutes, Would to God that we were dust also! As to the genii, many Mahometans are of opinion that such of them as are true believers, will undergo the same fate as the irrational animals, and have no other reward than the favour of being converted into dust; and for this they quote the authority of their prophet.
The trials being over, and the assembly dissolved, the Mahometans hold, that those who are to be admitted into Paradise will take the right hand way, and those who are destined into hell-fire will take the left: but both of them must first pass the bridge called in Arabic Al Sirat, which, they say, is laid over the midst of hell, and describe to be finer than the hair, and sharper than the edge of a sword; so that it seems very difficult to conceive how any one shall be able to stand upon it; for which reason most of the sect of the Motazalites reject it as a fable; though the orthodox think it a sufficient proof of the truth of this article, that it was seriously affirmed by him who never asserted a falsehood, meaning their prophet; who, to add to the difficulty of the passage, has likewise declared, that this bridge is beset on each side with briers and hooked thorns, which will, however, be no impediment to the good; for they shall pass with wonderful ease and swiftness, like lightning, or the wind, Mahomet and his Moslems leading the way; whereas the wicked, what with the slipperiness and extreme narrowness of the path, the entangling of the thorns, and the extinction of the light which directed the former to Paradise, will soon miss their footing, and fall down headlong into hell, which is gaping beneath them.
As to the punishment of the wicked, the Mahometans are taught, that hell is divided into seven stories or apartments, one below another, designed for the reception of as many distinct classes of the damned.
The first, which they call Jehenan, they say, will be the receptacle of those who acknowledged one God, that is, the wicked Mahometans; who, after having been punished according to their demerits, will at length be released; the second, named Ladha, they assign to the Jews; the third, named al Hotama, to the Christians; the fourth, named al Sair, to the Sabians; the fifth, named Sakar, to the Magians; the sixth, named al Jahin, to the idolaters; and the seventh, which is the lowest and worst of all, and is called al Hawyat, to the hypocrites, or those who outwardly professed some religion, but in their hearts were of none. Over each of these apartments they believe there will be set a guard of angels, nineteen in number: to whom the damned will confess the just judgment of God, and beg them to intercede with him for some alleviation of their pain, or that they may be delivered by being annihilated.
Mahomet has, in his Koran and traditions, been very exact in describing the various torments of hell, which, according to him, the wicked will suffer both from intense heat and excessive cold. We shall, however, enter into no detail of them here; but only observe, that the degrees of these pains will also vary in proportion to the crimes of the sufferer, and the apartment he is condemned to; and that he who is punished the most lightly of all will be shod with shoes of fire, the fervour of which will cause his skull to boil like a cauldron. The condition of these unhappy wretches, as the same prophet teaches, cannot be properly called either life or death; and their misery will be greatly increased by their despair of being ever delivered from that place, since, according to that frequent expression in the Koran, they must remain therein for ever. It must be remarked, however, that the infidels alone will be liable to eternity of damnation; for the Moslems, or those who have embraced the true religion, and have been guilty of heinous sins, will be delivered thence after they shall have expiated their crimes by their sufferings. The time which these believers shall be detained there, according to a tradition handed down from their prophet, will not be less than nine hundred years, nor more than seven thousand. And, as to the manner of their delivery, they say that they shall be distinguished by the marks of prostration on those parts of their bodies with which they used to touch the ground in prayer, and over which the fire will therefore have no power; and that, being known by this characteristic, they will be released by the mercy of God, at the intercession of Mahomet and the blessed: whereupon those who shall have been dead will be restored to life, as has been said: and those whose bodies shall have contracted any sootiness or filth from the flames and smoke of hell, will be immersed in one of the rivers of Paradise, called the River of life, which will wash them whiter than pearls.
The righteous, as the Mahometans are taught to believe, having surmounted the difficulties, and passed the sharp bridge above-mentioned, before they enter Paradise, will be refreshed by drinking at the pond of their prophet, who describes it to be an exact square, of a month’s journey in compass; its water, which is supplied by two pipes from al Cawthay, one of the rivers of Paradise, being whiter than milk or silver, and more odoriferous than musk, with as many cups set around it as there are stars in the firmament; of which water whoever drinks will thirst no more for ever. This is the first taste which the blessed will have of their future and now near approaching felicity.
Though Paradise be so very frequently mentioned in the Koran, yet it is a dispute among the Mahometans, whether it be already created or to be created hereafter; the Motazalites and some other sectaries asserting, that there is not at present any such place in nature, and that the Paradise which the righteous will inhabit in the next life will be different from that from which Adam was expelled. However, the orthodox profess the contrary, maintaining that it was created even before the world, and describe it from their prophet’s traditions in the following manner:
They say it is situated above the seven heavens, (or in the seventh heaven,) and next under the throne of God; and, to express the amenity of the place, tell us, that the earth of it is of the finest wheat-flour, or of the purest musk, or as others will have it, of saffron; that its stones are pearls and jacinths, the walls of its building enriched with gold and silver, and that the trunks of all its trees are of gold; among which the most remarkable is the tree called tuba, or the tree of happiness. Concerning this tree, they fable, that it stands in the palace of Mahomet, though a branch of it will reach to the house of every true believer; that it will be laden with pomegranates, grapes, dates, and other fruits, of suprising bigness, and of tastes unknown to mortals. So that, if a man desire to eat of any particular kind of fruit, it will immediately be presented him; or, if he choose flesh, birds ready dressed will be set before him, according to his wish. They add, that the boughs of this tree will spontaneously bend down to the hand of the person who would gather of its fruits, and that it will supply the blessed not only with food, but also with silken garments, and beasts to ride on ready saddled and bridled, and adorned with rich trappings, which will burst forth from its fruits; and that this tree is so large, that a person mounted on the fleetest horse, would not be able to gallop from one end of its shade to the other in one hundred years.
As plenty of water is one of the greatest additions to the pleasantness of any place, the Koran often speaks of the rivers of Paradise as a principal ornament thereof: some of these rivers, they say, flow with water, some with milk, some with wine, and others with honey; all taking their rise from the root of the tree tuba.
But all these glories will be eclipsed by the resplendent and ravishing girls of Paradise, called, from their large black eyes, Hur al oyun, the enjoyment of whose company will be a principal felicity of the faithful. These, they say, are created not of clay, as mortal women are, but of pure musk; being, as their prophet often affirms in his Koran, free from all natural impurities, defects, and inconveniences incident to the sex; of the strictest modesty, and secluded from public view in pavillions of hollow pearls, so large, that, as some traditions have it, one of them will be no less than four parasangs (or, as others say, sixty miles) long, and as many broad.
The name which the Mahometans usually give to this happy mansion is al Jannat, or, “the Garden;” and sometimes they call it, with an addition, Jannat al Ferdaws, “the Garden of Paradise;” Jannat Adan, “the Garden of Eden,” (though they generally interpret the word Eden not according to its acceptation in Hebrew, but according to its meaning in their own tongue, wherein it signifies “a settled or perpetual habitation;”) Jannat al Mawa, “the Garden of Abode; Jannat al Maim, “the Garden of Pleasure;” and the like: by which several appellations some understand so many different gardens, or at least places of different degrees of felicity (for they reckon no less than one hundred such in all,) the very meanest whereof will afford its inhabitants so many pleasures and delights, that one would conclude they must even sink under them, had not Mahomet declared that, in order to qualify the blessed for a full enjoyment of them, God will give to every one the abilities of one hundred men.
6. God’s absolute decree and predestination both of good and evil. The orthodox doctrine is, that whatever hath or shall come to pass in this world, whether it be good, or whether it be bad, proceedeth entirely from the divine will, and is irrevocably fixed and recorded from all eternity in the preserved table; God having secretly predetermined not only the adverse and prosperous fortune of every person in this world, in the most minute particulars, but also his faith or infidelity, his obedience or disobedience, and consequently his everlasting happiness or misery after death; which fate or predestination it is not possible by any foresight or wisdom to avoid.
II. Religious practice. 1. The first point is prayer, under which are also comprehended those legal washings or purifications which are necessary preparations thereto.
For the regular performance of the duty of prayer among the Mahometans, it is requisite, while they pray, to turn their faces towards the temple of Mecca; the quarter where the same is situated being, for that reason, pointed out within their mosques by a niche, which they call al Mehrab; and without, by the situation of the doors opening into the galleries of the steeples: there are also tables calculated for the ready finding out their Keblah, a part towards which they ought to pray, in places where they have no other direction.
2. Alms are of two sorts, legal and voluntary. The legal alms are of indispensable obligation, being commanded by the law, which directs and determines both the portion which is to be given, and of what things it ought to consist; but the voluntary alms are left to every one’s liberty, to give more or less as he shall see fit. The former kind of alms some think to be properly called zacat, and the latter sadacat, though this name be also frequently given to the legal alms. They are called zacat, either because they increase a man’s store by drawing down a blessing thereon, and produce in his soul the virtue of liberality; or because they purify the remaining part of one’s substance from pollution, and the soul from the filth of avarice; and sadacat, because they are a proof of a man’s sincerity in the worship of God. Some writers have called the legal alms tithes; but improperly, since in some cases they fall short, and in others exceed that proportion.
3. Fasting is a duty of so great moment, that Mahomet used to say it was the gate of religion; and that the odour of the mouth of him who fasteth is more grateful to God than that of musk; and Al Ghazali reckons fasting one fourth part of the faith. According to the Mahometan divines, there are three degrees of fasting: 1. The restraining the belly and other parts of the body from satisfying their lusts.–2. The restraining the ears, eyes, tongue, hands, feet, and other members, from sin.–3. The fasting of the heart from worldly cares, and restraining the thought from every thing besides God.
4. The pilgrimage to Mecca is so necessary a point of practice, that, according to a tradition of Mahomet, he who dies without performing it, may as well die a Jew of a Christian; and the same is expressly commanded in the Koran.
III. Mahometanism, causes of the success of. The rapid success which attended the propagation of this new religion was owing to causes that are plain and evident, and must remove, or rather prevent our surprise, when they are attentively considered. The terror of Mahomet’s arms, and the repeated victories which were gained by him and his successors, were, no doubt, the irresistible arguments that persuaded such multitudes to embrace his religion, and submit to his dominion. Besides, his law was artfully and marvellously adapted to the corrupt nature of man; and, in a most particular manner, to the manners and opinions of the Eastern nations, and the vices to which they were naturally addicted: for the articles of faith which it proposed were few in number, and extremely simple; and the duties it required were neither many nor difficult, nor such as were incompatible with the empire of appetites and passions. It is to be observed farther, that the gross ignorance under which the Arabians, Syrians, Persians, and the greatest part of the Eastern nations, laboured at this time, rendered many an easy prey to the artifice and eloquence of this bold adventurer. To these causes of the progress of Mahometanism we may add the bitter dissensions and cruel animosities that reigned among the Christian sects, particularly the Greeks, Nestorians, Eutychians, and Monophysites; dissensions that filled a great part of the East with carnage, assassinations, and such detestable enormities, as rendered the very name of Christianity odious to many. We might add here, that the Monophysites and Nestorians, full of resentment against the Greeks, from whom they had suffered the bitterest and most injurious treatment, assisted the Arabians in the conquest of several provinces, into which, of consequence, the religion of Mahomet was afterwards introduced. Other causes of the sudden progress of that religion will naturally occur to such as consider attentively its spirit and genius, and the state of the world at this time.
IV. Mahometanism, subversion of. Of things yet to come it is difficult to say any thing with precision. We have, however, some reason to believe, from the aspect of Scripture prophecy, that, triumphant as this sect has been, it shall at last come to nought. as it arose as a scourge to Christendom about the time that Antichrist obtained a temporal dominion, so it is not improbable but they will have their downfall nearly at the same period. The ninth chapter of Revelations seems to refer wholly to this imposture: “The four angels were loosed,” says the prediction, 15th verse, “which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.” This period, in the language of prophecy, makes 391 years, which being added to the year when the four angels were loosed, will bring us down to 1844, or thereabouts, for the final destruction of the Mahometan empire. It must be confessed, however, that though the event is certain, the exact time cannot be easily ascertained.
Or ALCORAN, the Scripture or Bible of the Mahometans, containing the revelations and doctrines of their pretended prophet.
1. Koram, division of the. The Koran is divided into one hundred and fourteen larger portions of very unequal length, which we call chapters, but the Arabians Sowar, in the singular Sura; a word rarely used on any other occasion, and properly signifying a row, or in building, or a rank of soldiers in an army, and is the same in use and import with the Sura, or Tora, of the Jews; who also call the fifty three sections of the Pentateuch Sedarim, a word of the same signification. These chapters are not, in the manuscript copies, distinguished by their numerical order, but by particular titles, which are taken sometimes from a peculiar subject treated of, or person mentioned therein; usually from the first word of note, exactly in the same manner as the Jews have named their Sedarim, though the word from which some chapters are denominated be very distant towards the middle, or perhaps the end, of the chapter; which seems ridiculous. But the occasion of this appears to have been, that the verse or passage wherein such word occurs, was, in point of time, revealed and committed to writing before the other verses of the same chapter which precede it in order, the verse from whence such title was taken did not always happen to begin the chapter. Some chapters have two or more titles, occasioned by the difference of the copies. Some of them being pretended to have been revealed at Mecca, and others at Medina, the noting this difference makes a part of the title. Every chapter is divided into smaller portions, of very unequal length also, which we customarily call verses; but the Arabic word is Ayat, the same with the Hebrew Ototh, and signifies signs or wonders; such as the secrets of God, his attributes, works, judgments, and ordinances, delivered in those verses; many of which have their particular titles, also, imposed in the same manner as those of the chapters. Besides these unequal divisions, the Mahometans have also divided their Koran into sixty equal portions, which they call Anzab, in the singular Hizb, each subdivided into four equal parts; which is likewise an imitation of the Jews, who have an ancient division of their Mishma into sixty portions, called Massictoth. But the Koran is more usually divided into thirty sections only, named Ajaza, from the singular Joz, each of twice the length of the former, and in like manner subdivided into four parts. These divisions are for the use of the readers of the Koran in the royal temples, or in the adjoining chapels where the emperors and great men are interred; of whom there are thirty belonging to every chapel, and each reads his section every day; so that the whole Koran is read over once a day. Next after the title, at the name of every chapter except only the ninth, is prefixed the following solemn form, by the Mahometans, called the Bismallah.–“In the name of the most merciful God;” which form they constantly place at the beginning of all their hooks and writings in general, as a peculiar mark and distinguishing characteristic of their religion, it being counted a sort of impiety to omit it. the Jews, and eastern Christians, for the same purpose, make use of similar forms. But Mahomet probably took this form from the Persian Magi, who began their books in these words, Benam Yezdam, bakshaishgher dadar; that is, In the name of the most merciful just God. There are twenty-nine chapters of the Koran which have this peculiarity, that they begin with certain letters of the alphabet, some with single ones, others with more. These letters the Mahometans believe to be the peculiar marks of the Koran, and to conceal several profound mysteries; the certain understanding of which, the more intelligent confess, has not been communicated to any mortal, their prophet only excepted: notwithstanding which, some take the liberty of guessing at their meaning by that species of cabala called by the Jews, Notarikon.
2. Koran, general design of the. The general design of the Koran was to unite the professors of the three different religions, than followed in the populous country of Arabia, (who, for the most part, wandered without guides, the far greater number being idolaters, and the rest Jews and Christians, mostly of erroneous opinion,) in the knowledge and worship of one God, under the sanction of certain laws and ceremonies, partly of ancient, and partly of novel institution, enforced by the consideration of rewards and punishments both temporal and eternal; and to bring them all to the obedience of Mahomet, as the prophet and ambassador of God; who, after the repeated admonitions, promises, and threats of former ages, was sent at last to establish and propagate God’s religion on earth; and to be acknowledged chief pontiff in spiritual matters, as well as supreme prince in temporal. The great doctrine, then, of the Koran is the unity of God, to restore which, Mahomet pretended, was the chief end of his mission; it being laid down by him as a fundamental truth, That there never was, nor ever can be, more than one true orthodox religion: that, though the particular laws or ceremonies are only temporary and subject to alteration, according to the divine direction; yet the substance of it, being eternal truth, is not liable to change, but continues immutably the same; and that, whenever this religion became neglected or corrupted in essentials, God had the goodness to re-inform and re-admonish mankind thereof by several prophets, of whom Moses and Jesus were the most distinguished, till the appearance of Mahomet, who is their seal, and no other to be expected after him. The more effectually to engage people to hearken to him, great part of the Koran is employed in relating examples of dreadful punishments formerly inflicted by God on those who rejected and abused his messengers; several of which stories, or some circumstances of them, are taken from the Old and New Testaments, but many more from the apocryphal books and traditions of the Jews and Christians of those ages, set up in the Koran as truths, in opposition to the Scriptures, which the Jews and Christians are charged with having altered; and, indeed, few or none of the relations of circumstances in the Koran were invented by Mahomet, as is generally supposed; it being easy to trace the greatest part of them much higher, as the rest might be, were more of these books extant, and were it worth while to make the inquiry. The rest of the Alcoran is taken up in prescribing necessary laws and directions, frequent admonitions to moral and divine virtues, the worship and reverence of the Supreme Being, and resignation to his will. One of their most learned commentators distinguishes the contents of the Alcoran into allegorical and literal: under the former are comprehended all the obscure, parabolical, and enigmatical passages, with such laws as are repealed or abrogated; the latter, such as are clear, and in full force. The most excellent moral in the whole Alcoran, interpreters say, is that in the chapter Al alraf, viz. “Show mercy, do good to all, and dispute not with the ignorant;” or, as Mr. Sale renders it, Use indulgence, command that which is just, and withdraw far from the ignorant. Mahomet, according to the authors of the Keschaf, having begged of the angel Gabriel a more ample explication of this passage, received it in the following terms: “Seek him who turns thee out, give to him who takes from thee, pardon him who injures thee; for God will have you plant in your souls the roots of his chief perfections.” It is easy to see that this commentary is borrowed from the Gospel. In reality, the necessity of forgiving enemies, though frequently inculcated in the Alcoran, is of a later date among the Mahometans, than among the Christians; among those later than among the heathens; and to be traced originally among the Jews, (See Exodus, xxxiii. 4,5.) But it matters not so much who had it first as who observes it best. The caliph Hassan, son of Hali, being at table, a slave let fall a dish of meat reeking hot, which scalded him severely. The slave fell on his knees, rehearsing these words of the Alcoran; “Paradise is for those who restrain their anger.” “I am not angry with thee,” answered the caliph. “And for those who forgive offences against them,” continues the slave, “I forgive thee thine,” replies the caliph. “But, above all, for those who return good for evil,” adds the slave. “I set thee at liberty,” rejoined the caliph; “and I give thee ten dinars” There are also a great number of occasional passages in the Alcoran relating only to particular emergencies. For this advantage Mahomet had, by his piecemeal method of receiving and delivering his revelations, that, whenever he happened to be perplexed with any thing, he had a certain resource in some new morsel of revelation. It was an admirable contrivance to bring down the whole Alcoran only to the lowest heaven, not to earth; since, had the whole been published at once, innumerable objections would have been made, which it would have been impossible for him to have solved; but as he received it by parcels, as God saw fit they should be published for the conversion and instruction of the people, he had a sure way to answer all emergencies, and to extricate himself with honour from any difficulty which might occur.
3. Koran, history of the. It is the common opinion, that Mahomet, assisted by one Sergius, a monk, composed this book; but the Mussulmans believe it as an article of their faith, that the prophet, who, they say, was an illiterate man, had no concern in inditing it; but that it was given him by God, who, to that end, made use of the ministry of the angel Gabriel; that, however, it was communicated to him by little and little, a verse at a time, and in different places, during the course of 23 years.–“And hence,” say they, “proceed that disorder and confusion visible in the work;” which, in truth, are so great, that all their doctors have never been able to adjust them; for Mahomet, or rather his copyist, having put all the loose verses promiscuously in a book together, it was impossible ever to retrieve the order wherein they were delivered. These 23 years which the angel employed in conveying the Alcoran to Mahomet, are of wonderful service to his followers; inasmuch as they furnish them with an answer to such as tax them with those glaring contradictions of which the book is full, and which they piously father upon God himself; alleging that, in the course of so long a time, he repealed and altered several doctrines and precepts which the prophet had before received of him. M. D’Herbelot thinks it probable, that when the heresies of the Nestorians, Eutychians, &c. had been condemned by aecumenical councils, many bishops, priests, monks, &c. being driven into the deserts of Arabia and Egypt, furnished the impostor with passages, and crude ill-conceived doctrines, out of the Scriptures; and that it was hence that the Alcoran became so full of the wild and erroneous opinions of those heretics. The Jews also, who were very numerous in Arabia, furnished materials, for the Alcoran; nor is it without some reason that they boast twelve of their chief doctors to have been the authors of this work. The Alcoran, while Mahomet lived, was only kept in loose sheets: his successor, Abubeker, first collected them into a volume, and committed the keeping of it to Haphsa, the widow of Mahomet, in order to be consulted as an original; and there being a good deal of diversity between the several copies already dispersed throughout the provinces, Ottoman, successor of Abubeker, procured a great number of copies to be taken from that of Haphsa, at the same time suppressing all the others not conformable to the original. The chief differences in the present copies of this book consist in the points, which were not in use in the time of Mahomet and his immediate successors; but were added since, to ascertain the reading, after the example of the Massorettes, who added the like points to the Hebrew texts of Scripture. There are seven principal editions of the Alcoran, two at Medina, one at Mecca, one at Cufa, one at Bassora, one in Syria, and the common, or vulgate edition. The first contains 6000 verses, the others surpassing this number by 200 or 236 verses; but the number of words and letters is the same in all; viz. 77,639 words, and 323,015 letters. The number of commentaries on the Alcoran is so large, that the bare titles would make a huge volume. Ben Oschair has written the history of them, entitled, Tarikh Ben Oschair. The principal among them are, Reidhaori, Thaalebi, Zamalchschari, and Bacai. The Mahometans have a positive theology built on the Alcoran and tradition, as well as a scholastical one built on reason. They have likewise their casuists, and a kind of canon law, wherein they distinguish between what is of divine and what of positive right. They have their beneficiaries, too, chaplains, almoners, and canons, who read a chapter every day out of the Alcoran in their mosques, and have prebends annexed to their office. The hatib of the mosque is what we call the parson of the parish; and the schelks are the preachers, who take their texts out of the Alcoran.
4. Koran, Mahometan faith concerning. It is the general belief among the Mahometans that the Koran is of divine original; nay, that it is eternal and uncreated; remaining, as some express it, in the very essence of God: and the first transcript has been from everlasting, by God’s throne, written on a table of vast bigness, called the preserved table, in which are also recorded the divine decrees, past and future; that a copy from this table, in one volume upon paper, was by the ministry of the angel Gabriel sent down to the lowest heaven, in the month of Ramadan, on the night of power, from whence Gabriel revealed it to Mahomet in parcels, some at Mecca, and some at Medina, at different times, during the space of twenty-three years, as the exigency of affairs required; giving him, however, the consolation to show him the whole (which they tell us was bound in silk, and adorned with gold and precious stones of paradise) once a year; but in the last year of his life he had the favour to see it twice. They say, that only ten chapters were delivered entire, the rest being revealed piecemeal, and written down from time to time by the prophet’s amanuensis, in such a part of such and such a chapter, till they were completed, according to the directions of the angel. The first parcel that was revealed is generally agreed to have been the first five verses of the ninety-sixth chapter. In fine, the book of the Alcoran is held in the highest esteem and reverence among the Mussulmans. They dare not so much as touch the Alcoran without being first washed, or legally purified; to prevent which an inscription is put on the cover or label,–Let none touch but they who are clean. It is read with great care and respect, being never held below the girdle. They swear by it; take omens from it on all weighty occasions; carry it with them to war; write sentences of it on their banners; adorn it with gold and precious stones; and knowingly not suffer it to be in the possession of any of a different religion. Some say that it is punishable even with death, in a Christian, to touch it; others, that the veneration of the Mussulmans leads them to condemn the translating it into any other language, as a profanation: but these seem to be exaggerations. The Mahometans have taken care to have their Scripture translated into the Persian, the Javan, the Malayan, and other languages; though, out of respect to the original, these versions are generally, if not always, interlineated.
5. Koran, success of the, accounted for. The author of the “View of Christianity and Mahometanism” observes, that, “by the advocates of Mahometanism, the Koran has always been held forth as the greatest of miracles, and equally stupendous with the act of raising the dead. The miracles of Moses and Jesus, they say, were transient and temporary: but that of the Koran is permanent and perpetual, and therefore far surpassed all the miraculous events of preceding ages. We will not detract from the real merits of the Koran; we allow it to be generally elegant and often sublime; but at the same time we reject with disdain its arrogant pretence to any thing supernatural, all the real excellence of the work being easily referable to natural and visible causes. In the language of Arabia, a language extremely loved and diligently cultivated by the people to whom it was vernacular, Mahomet found advantages which were never enjoyed by any former or succeeding impostor. It requires not the eye of a philosopher to discover in every soil and country a principle of national pride: and if we look back for many ages on the history of the Arabians, we shall easily perceive that pride among them invariably to have consisted in the knowledge and improvement of their native language. The Arabic, which has been justly esteemed the most copious of the eastern tongues, which had existed from the remotest antiquity, which had been embellished by numberless poets, and refined by the constant exercise of the natives, was the most successful instrument which Mahomet employed in planting his new religion among them. Admirably adapted by its unrivalled harmony, and by its endless variety, to add painting to expression, and to pursue the imagination in its unbounded flight, it became in the hands of Mahomet an irresistible charm to blind the judgment and to captivate the fancy of his followers. Of that description of men who first composed the adherents of Mahomet, and to whom the Koran was addressed, few, probably, were able to pass a very accurate judgment on the propriety of the sentiments, or on the beauty of the diction: but all could judge of the military abilities of their leader; and in the midst of their admiration, it is not difficult to conceive that they would ascribe to his compositions every imaginary beauty of inspired language. The shepherd and the soldier, though awake to the charms of those wild but beautiful compositions in which were celebrated their favourite occupations of love or war, were yet little able to criticise any other works than those which were addressed to their imagination or their heart. To abstract reasonings on the attributes and the dispensations of the Deity, to the comparative excellencies of rival religions, to the consistency of any one religious system in all its parts, and to the force of its various proofs, they were quite inattentive. In such a situation, the appearance of a work which possessed something like wisdom and consistence; which prescribed the rules and illustrated the duties of life; and which contained the principles of a new and comparatively sublime theology, independently of its real and permanent merit, was likely to excite their astonishment, and to become the standard of future composition. In the first periods of the literature of every country, something of this kind has happened. The father of Grecian poetry very obviously influenced the taste and imitation of his country. The modern nations of Europe all possess some original author, who, rising from the darkness of former ages, has begun the career of composition, and tinctured with the character of his own imagination the stream which has flowed through his posterity. But the prophet of Arabia had in this respect advantages peculiar to himself. His compositions were not to his followers the works of man, but the genuine language of Heaven which had sent him. They were not confined, therefore, to that admiration which is so liberally bestowed on the earliest productions of genius, or to that fond attachment with which men every where regard the original compositions of their country; but with their admiration they blended their piety. To know and to feel the beauties of the Koran, was in some respect to share in the temper of heaven; and he who was most affected with admiration in the perusal of its beauties, seemed fitly the object of that mercy which had given it to ignorant man. The Koran, therefore, became naturally and necessarily the standard of taste. With a language thus hallowed in their imaginations, they were too well satisfied either to dispute its elegance, or improve its structure. In succeeding ages, the additional sanction of antiquity or prescription, was given to those compositions which their fathers had admired; and while the belief of its divine original continues, that admiration which has thus become the test and the duty of the faithful, can neither be altered nor diminished. When, therefore, we consider these peculiar advantages of the Koran, we have no reason to be surprised at the admiration in which it is held. But, if descending to a more minute investigation of it, we consider its perpetual inconsistence and absurdity, we shall indeed have cause for astonishment at that weakness of humanity which could ever have received such compositions as the work of the Deity.”
6. Koran, style and merits of the, examined. “The first praise of all the productions of genius (continues this author) is invention; that quality of the mind, which, by the extent and quickness of its views, is capable of the largest conceptions, and of forming new combinations of objects the most distant and unusual. But the Koran bears little impression of this transcendant character. Its materials are wholly borrowed from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, from the Talmudical legends and apocryphal gospels than current in the east, and from the traditions and fables which abounded in Arabia. The materials collected from these several sources are here heaped together with perpetual and heedless repetitions, without any settled principle or visible connection. When a great part of the life of Mahomet had been spent in preparatory meditation on the system he was about to establish, its chapters were dealt out slowly and separately during the long period of twenty-three years. Yet, thus defective in its structure, and no less objectionable in its doctrines, was the work which Mahomet delivered to his followers as the oracles of God. The most prominent feature of the Koran, that point of excellence in which the partiality of its admirers has ever delighted to view it, is the sublime notion it generally impresses of the nature and attributes of God. If its author had really derived these just conceptions from the inspiration of that Being whom they attempt to describe, they would not have been surrounded, as they now are on every side, with error and absurdity. But it might be easily proved, that whatever it justly defines of the divine attributes was borrowed from our Holy Scripture; which even from its first promulgation, but especially from the completion of the New Testament, has extended the views and enlightened the understandings of mankind: and thus furnished them to arms which have too often been effectually turned against itself by its ungenerous enemies. In this instance, particularly, the copy is far below the great original, both in the propriety of its images and the force of its descriptions.”
7. Koran, the sublimity of the, contrasted. “Our Holy Scriptures are the only compositions that can enable the dim sight of mortality to penetrate into the invisible world, and to behold a glimpse of the divine perfections. Accordingly, when they would represent to us the happiness of heaven, they describe it, not by any thing minute and particular, but by something general and great; something that, without descending to any determinate object, may at once by its beauty and immensity excite our wishes, and elevate our affections. Though in the prophetical and evangelical writings, the joys that shall attend us in a divine state, are often mentioned with ardent admiration, they are expressed rather by allusion than by similitude; rather by indefinite and figurative terms, than by any thing fixed and determinate. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,’ 1 Cor. ii. 9. What a reverence and astonishment does this passage excite in every hearer of taste and piety! What energy, and at the same time what simplicity in the expression! How sublime, and at the same time how obscure, is the imagery! Different was the conduct of Mahomet in his descriptions of heaven and paradise. Unassisted by the necessary influence of virtuous intentions and divine inspiration, he was neither desirous, nor indeed able to exalt the minds of men to sublime conceptions, or to rational expections. By attempting to explain what is inconceivable, to describe what is ineffable, and to materialize what in itself is spiritual, he absurdly and impiously aimed to sensualize the purity of the divine essence. Thus he fabricated a system of incoherence, a religion of depravity, totally repugnant to the nature of that Being, who, as he pretended, was its object; but therefore more likely to accord with the appetites and conceptions of a corrupt and sensual age. That we may not appear to exalt our Scriptures thus far above the Koran by an unreasonable preference, we shall produce a part of the second chapter of the latter, which is deservedly admired by the Mahometans, who wear it engraved on their ornaments, and recite it in their prayers. “God! there is no God but he; the living, the self-subsisting; neither slumber nor sleep seizeth him: to him belongeth whatsoever is in heaven, and on earth. Who is he that can intercede with him but through his good pleasure? He knoweth that which is past, and that which is to come. His throne is extended over heaven and earth, and the preservation of both is to him no burden. He is the high, the mighty.’ Sale’s Koran, vol. ii. p. 30. To this description who can refuse the praise of magnificence? Part of that magnificence, however, is to be referred to that verse of the psalmist whence it was borrowed: ‘He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,’ Psal. cxxi. 4. But if we compare it with that other passage of the inspired psalmist, (Psal. cii. 24-27.) all its boasted grandeur is at once obscured, and lost in the blaze of a greater light! ‘O, my god, take me not away in the midst of my days; thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.’ The Koran, therefore, upon a fair examination, far from supporting its arrogant claim to a supernatural work, sinks below the level of many compositions confessedly of human original; and still lower does it fall in our estimation, when compared with that pure and perfect pattern which we justly admire in the Scriptures of truth. It is, therefore, abundantly apparent, that no miracle was either externally performed for the support, or is internally involved in the composition of the Mahometan revelation.”
A temple or place of religious worship among the Mahometans. All mosques are square buildings, generally constructed of stone. Before the chief gate there is a square court paved with white marble, and low galleries round it, whose roof is supported by marble pillars. In these galleries the Turks wash themselves before they go into mosque. In each mosque there is a great number of lamps: and between these hang many crystal rings, ostrich’s eggs, and other curiosities, which, when the lamps are lighted make a fine show. As it is not lawful to enter the mosque with stockings or shoes on, the pavements are covered with pieces of stuff sewed together, each being wide enough to hold a row of men kneeling, sitting, or prostrate. The women are not allowed to enter the mosque, but stay in the porches without. About every mosque there are six high towers, called minarets, each of which has three little open galleries one above another: these towers as well as the mosques are covered with lead, and adorned with gilding and other ornaments; and from thence, instead of a bell, the people are called to prayers by certain officers appointed for that purpose. Most of the mosques have a kind of hospital, in which travellers of what religion soever are entertained three days. Each mosque has also a place called tarbe, which is the burying-place of its founders; within which is a tomb six or seven feet long, covered with green velvet or satin; at the ends of several seats for those who read the Koran, and pray for the souls of the deceased.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.