Mahometanism – 1842 Article


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The religion of Mahomet, or Mahomed, and called Mahometanism, partakes of a much more exalted character than any of the mythological superstitions already adverted to, inasmuch as it approaches a pure theism, or a belief in the one true God. This famed religion, which now prevails in Arabia, Egypt, the Moorish states, Turkey, Persia, and is extended in a scattered manner over south-eastern Asia, and numbers 100,000,000 of followers, originated in Arabia at the beginning of the seventh century of the Christian era. At this period, eastern countries were in a condition to receive a new and vigorously conducted form of religious belief. The scattered branches of the Christian church in Asia and Africa were at variance with each other, and had adopted the wildest heresies and superstitions. They were engaged in perpetual controversies, and torn to pieces by the disputes of the Ariana, Sabellians, Nestorians, and Eutychians; whilst the simony, the incontinence, and general barbarism and ignorance which were to be found amongst the clergy, caused great scandal to the Christian religion, and introduced universal profligacy of manners amongst the people.

While Christianity, in the manner it was abused by unenlightened followers, was of little avail in civilising the Asiatics, while the religion of the Jews was sunk into comparative insignificance, and while paganism still flourished in the east, Mahometanism was introduced upon the scene, and in a wonderfully short period of time, gave an entirely new cast to manners and form of belief. Arabia being the country in which this new religion was first promulgated, it is considered desirable to mention the nature of the religion which the people previously professed and now abandoned. “The ancient Arabs are supposed to have been what are termed pure theists; that is, they are supposed to have believed in and worshipped one sole, omnipotent, and everlasting God. Historians, however, have seldom correctly appreciated the meaning of these magnificent expressions in the mouth of a savage. In his mind such language is connected with ideas and feelings rather than those which a civilised man would express by it. These splendid epithets are the mere expressions of flattery and fear. The Deity, now addressed, and whose favour is the object of present desire, is for the time the sole object of adoration. The very same savage, who believes in a host of gods, will address each of them by the term of THE ONE.

If among many deities one is thought more powerful than the rest, he will be the oftenest addressed, the oftenest soothed by flattery. No epithet is so flattering as that which asserts his single existence. It exalts him above all beings, and leaves him without a rival. No epithet, therefore, will be so frequently employed. Being the most constantly adored, this more powerful divinity will have this epithet expressive of his sole existence will have this epithet expressive of his sole existence at length be regularly attached to, and form part of, that name. This was precisely the case with the Arabian objects of worship. It is strange that, when complete evidence of this fact exists, really intelligent and circumspect historians should have believed in the pure theism of the Arabians. Sale, like many others, was deceived by pompous expressions: “That they acknowledge one supreme God, appears (to omit other proof) from their usual form of addressing themselves to him, which was this: “I dedicate myself to thy service, O God! I dedicate myself to thy service, O God! Thou hast no companion, except thy companion of whom thou art absolute master, and of whatever is his.” ‘In the very next passage, however,’ Sale adds, ‘They offered sacrifices and other offerings to idols, as well as to God who was also often put off with the least portion, as Mahomet upbraids them.’ Their scheme of divine government was simple, and like most others formed in the same state of civilisation. One god was supposed to be the supreme ruler; and subject to his sway was a vast multitude of inferior deities. The Arabs acknowledged one supreme God, the ‘creator and lord of the universe, whom they called Allah Taala, the most high god; and their other deities, who were subordinate to him, they called simply Al Ilahat, that is, goddesses.’* Idols were set up and worshipped; every field, every rivulet, had its divinities. The fixed stars and planets were also exalted into gods, and as such received adoration. Heaven, moreover, was peopled with angels, who, with the wooden, stone, and clay idols on earth, were regularly worshipped. How the Arabians can be supposed believers in a single godhead, under such circumstances, appears extraordinary.

The manner in which these various divinities were rendered propitious, at once marks that no very exalted conception of a divinity existed in the minds of these barbarians. Fasts, pilgrimages, sacrifices, long and unmeaning prayers, were the means employed to obtain the divine favour.

They are obliged to pray three times a day (some say seven times a day): the first, half an hour or less before sunrise, ordering it so, that they may, just as the sun rises, finish eight adorations, each containing three prostrations; the second prayer they end at noon, when the sun begins to decline, in saying which they perform five such adorations as the former; and the present hour, by a sacrifice of sheep and camels, and the burial of their hair and nails in the consecrated grounds.” The Arabians had many other superstitious practices; they held their women in a degraded condition; and, though refined in some points of manners. They had no written law, were governed despotically by chiefs and were really barbarians and idolaters. It was the debased religion of this people which Mahomet designed to improve, and we now see who this singularly bold and ingenious man was, and how he carried his plans into execution.

Mahomet was born at Mecca, the capital city of Arabia Felix, A.D. 569, during the reign of Noosheervan, surnamed the Just, King of Persia. He was of the family of Haschem, and of the tribe of Koreish, the noblest in Arabia. His father Abdallah was a younger son of Abdalmotalleb, and dying very young, and in his father’s lifetime, left his widow and infant son in very mean circumstances, his whole substance consisting but of five camels and Ethiopian slave. Abdalmotalleb was therefore obliged to take charge of his grandchild Mahomet, which be not only did during his life, but at his death enjoined his eldest son, Abu Taleb, who was brother to Abdallah by the same mother, to provide for him for the future. This was very affectionately performed by Abu Taleb, who instructed him| in the business of a merchant, which he followed; and to that end he took young Mahomet into Syria when he was but thirteen years old, and afterwards recommended him to Khadijah, a noble and rich widow, for her factor, in whose service he behaved so well, that, by making him her husband, she soon raised him to an equality with the richest in Mecca.

It was after he began, by this advantageous match, to live at his ease, 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 only God.

He hereupon began to affect solitude, usually retiring for a month in the year to a cave in Mount Hara, near Mecca. He had indisputably a very piercing and sagacious intellect, and was thoroughly versed in all the arts of insinuation. The eastern historians describe him to have been a man of an excellent judgment and a happy memory; and these natural parts were improved by a great experience and knowledge of mankind, and the observations he had made in his travels. He is represented as a man of few words, of an equal, cheerful temper, pleasant and familiar in conversation, of inoffensive behaviour towards his friends and acquaintances, and of great condescension towards his inferiors; to all which were joined a comely agreeable person, and a polite address-qualities of no small service in prepossessing those in his favour whom he attempted to persuade.

“When the prophet was about four years old,” says Mahmut the Arabian, “accompanying the sons of his nurse into the field, the blessed child retired into a cave, at the foot of the mountain Uriel, to pray, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him and said, Bismillar rahmanir rahimi; that is, ‘In the name of God, compassionate and merciful, O child greatly beloved, I am sent to displant from thy heart the root of evil; for thy ejaculations made the gates of Paradise to fly open!’ The young resigned one said, ‘The will of the Lord and mine be done.’ Then the angel opened his breast with a razor of adamant, and taking out his heart, squeezed from it the black contagion which was derived from Adam; and having put the child’s heart in its place again, he blessed him, and retired to the invisibles.

From that time the young favourite of Heaven grew up and prospered in all things, having the smiles of God and man. He was under the tuition of his uncle Abu Taleb, who, discerning the mark of an immense soul in his young nephew, was more solicitous for his welfare than if he had been his son. His fortune being low in the world, be bad no other way to provide for his illustrious charge than by placing him as a factor to Khadijah, a widow of the same tribe with Mahomet, which was the noblest among the Arabians.”

Mahomet’s marriage with Khadijah took place when they were respectively twenty five years of age; and it was not till twelve years after this marriage that be began to fabricate his imposture, in the cave of Mount Hara, about three miles from Mecca, to which he usually retired during the month of Ramazan, being the time of Lent. At length, A.D. 609, when he was fully forty years old, he disclosed his prophetic mission, at first only to his own wife Khadijah. He told her that the Angel Gabriel bad appeared `to him in glory, and declared that God bad commissioned him as an apostle to reform the world ; that he then delivered to him the Koran for a divine law, which should complete all antecedent revelations. Khadijah gained for her husband an important proselyte in her uncle Waraka, a Christian, who was well read in the Old and New Testaments. He pronounced Mahomet “to be the real prophet foretold by Moses the son of Amram.” It is much more probable that Waraka was the assistant of Mahomet in composing the Koran than Sergius the monk, or any other person.

The next proselyte was Abubeker, a rich and respectable inhabitant of Mecca; and his example being followed by many others, Mahomet ventured on a bolder demonstration of his mission. At a numerous assemblage of the Koreishites, at a public entertainment to which he had invited them, he demanded who would become his vizier, or prime minister, assuring them that both happiness in this world and in that to come, would accrue to his followers. The guests remained silent in surprise, when Ali, the son of Abu Taleb, a boy about fourteen years of age, started up enthusiastically, and said, “I will be thy vizier, oh Prophet of God! I will break the teeth, pluck out the eyes, rip up the belly, cut off the legs of thine enemies.” The joy and approval testified by Mahomet to the zeal of his youthful disciple, was an apt and early specimen what manner of spirit be and his deputy were of. The hostile proceedings and denunciations of the prophet against their idolatry, at length aroused the enmity of the Koreishites; but their threats were despised by him, and, in reply to the prudent remonstrance’s of his uncle Abu Taleb, he exclaimed, “Though the Koreishites should arm against me the sun and the moon (alluding to the divinities whom they ignorantly worshipped), the one on my right band, and the other on my left, I would not be shaken from my resolution.” He, however, retired for a while to a castle in Mount Safa, and his followers were banished from the city of Mecca. After this persecution, which lasted five years, in the tenth year of his mission (A.D. 618) he sustained a serious loss in the death of his uncle Abu Taleb; and this was followed `a short time after by the death of his affectionate wife Khadijah, who had so generously made his fortune. On account of these misfortunes, this year was called the Year of Mourning. Instead of sinking under these adversities, however, upon being violently urged by the Koreishites, who still derided his pretensions, to exhibit some miracle, Mahomet ventured, in the twelfth year of his mission, to publish the revelation of his night visit or journey to the seven heavens.

This event formed a striking epoch in his mission, and displayed in the strongest manner the dexterity as well as boldness of his measures. The questions so forcibly put to him of establishing his mission by miracles, is therein parried, and replied to by an appeal to the wonders wrought by Moses, which did not cause the reformation of Pharaoh, and to those of Jesus, which failed with the Jews; he also incidentally remarked, that miracles were designed rather to strike terror and to punish than to convince.

This famous journey is thus described by Mahomet: While he was in the Caaba, or sacred square building at Mecca, reclining on the sacred stone, the Angel Gabriel came to him; he opened his breast, took out his heart, and washed it in a golden basin full of the water of faith, and then restored it to its place. The angel bad seventy pairs of wings, and had the beast Alborak with him, on which the prophets used to ride; it was white, and partly horse, ass, and mule, or a middle between the two last, and went as fast as the lightning, which the name Alborak, in Arabic, signifies. When he was brought to Jerusalem by the angel, all the prophets met him, and owned his superiority. He ascended to heaven with the angel, on a ladder of divine light, and left the beast Alborak at Jerusalem till he descended again. He went through seven heavens before he came to the throne of God, which was in the last one, and Gabriel left him at the entrance of it, and waited till he returned from conversing with God, who gave him the offer to be next himself; but he rather chose to descend again to the earth to propagate his religion. His heavens were all 500 years’ journey distant from one another. One was of silver, another of gold, another of emeralds &c., and the last of light. He met some one of the patriarchs or prophets in each of them. In the first he met and discoursed with Adam; in the second, with John the Baptist and Jesus; in the third, with the patriarch Joseph; in the fourth, with Edris or Enoch; in the fifth, with Aaron; in the sixth, with Moses; in the seventh, with Abraham. Thence he was carried up to Sedrat, the lotus tree, whence were the sources of the four rivers of Paradise. He saw angels in the likenesses of all creatures in these heavens. He saw a great bull bearing the earth on his horns, and when he shook his head there was an earthquake. There was also a cock, which stood on one heaven, and his head reached another; his voice was hear through heaven and earth, and set the cocks on earth a crowing. He saw and angel of such stature that there was 70,000 days’ journey between his eyes. The proportion of a man’s height to the distance between his eyes is as seventy-two to one; so that his stature must then have been 14,000 years’ journey, four times the height of all his heavens together, in which he was quite out of his mathematics. In the seventh heaven, where God and Christ were, was an angel with 70,000 heads and in each head were 70,000 tongues, with which he praised God. Gabriel accompanied him down from heaven to Jerusalem, and from thence conveyed him, with the beast Alborak, to Mecca; and all this was done in the tenth part of a night. In the conclusion of this extraordinary fabrication, he skilfully adds, that when he was enjoined to repeat fifty prayers each day, he entreated for his nation, they were finally induced at his intercession to five. To finish the wonder, he was returned back to the Caabaere the crier called him to prayers; and “thus,” concluded Mahomet, “did I bring with me the prescribed number of prayers; and lessened the burden for my nation.”

This story seemed so absurd and incredible, that several of his followers left him on account of it; and it had probably ruined the whole design, had not Abubeker 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 be was secure of being able to make his disciples to swallow whatever he pleased to impose on them for the future. “And I am apt to think,” says Sale, “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 the great height to which is afterwards attained.”

In the memorable year twelve citizens of Medina swore allegiance and obedience to the Prophet, whence they were styled, by way of dignity, Al Ansar, that is, “The Defenders;” and the year A. D. 620 was denominated the “accepted year.” On Mount Akaba, near Mecca, seventy-three proselytes were soon after added to their number, and swore to defend the prophet from all insult, as they defended their own wives and children. “If,” said they to the apostle of God, “we be slain in thy cause, what shall be our reward!” He answered, “Paradise” Then said they, “Stretch forth thy right band,” and he did so; then they took the oath of obedience, promising rather to die than be perjured. He now established twelve apostles of Islamism, which was the name he gave to his religion, himself being the prime instructor and chief of all the true believers; and be then sent away the Ansars, his followers, and his family, to Medina, for security, and remained behind at Mecca, attended only by Abubeker and his son-in-law Ali.

By the protection which his uncle Abu Taleb had extended to Mahomet, he had been preserved thus far from his enemies; but the charge and dignity of the priest and guardian of the Kaaba, having now, by the death of Abu Taleb, become the post of a member of the family of Ommiyah, a declared enemy to the family of Hasehem, to which Mahomet belonged, the Koreishites, irritated and alarmed at the progress making by the new doctrine at Medina, resolved to destroy its author and chief support. This conspiracy was scarce formed, when, by some means or other, it came to Mahomet’s knowledge, and be gave out that it was revealed to him by the Angel Gabriel, who bad now ordered him to retire to Medina. Whereupon, to amuse his enemies, he directed Ali to lie down in his place, and wrap himself in his green cloak, which he did; and Mahomet escaped miraculously, as they pretend, to Abubeker’s house, unperceived by the conspirators, who had already assembled at the prophet’s door. They, in the meantime, 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.

In the recesses of a cave near Mecca, Mahomet and Abubeker eluded for three days the pursuit of their enemies. “There are only two of us,” said the apprehensive disciple, when he expected the pursuers to penetrate their retreat. “There is a third, even God himself,” said his intrepid chief; “he will defend us.” According to tradition, Mahomet afterwards asserted that a miracle was here wrought in his behalf; for that his enemies, approaching the cave, found that its entrance was covered by spiders’ webs hanging from the trees, which convinced them that no person had entered it for a long time. After a perilous journey, Mahomet entered Medina in triumph, being enthusiastically received by the Ansars, who disputed for the honour of entertaining the prophet, and took hold of the bridle of his camel. Mahomet then desired them to let her take her own way, for she was a stubborn beast; which she took, accordingly, and stopped at the stable of two rich orphans, Sahali and Sohaili, where the prophet dismounted. This spot be purchased from the orphans, after refusing their offer to bestow it upon him, and Abubeker paid the money. He erected thereon a mosque and a habitation for himself, on which he laboured with his own hands. Medina henceforth received the august title of Medinat al Nabi, or the “City of the Prophet,”

The Mahometan era, called the Hejira, takes its commencement from the date of Mahomet’s flight from Mecca to Medina. The generality of writers place this epoch on Friday the l6th of July, A. D. 622. It is this event which has rendered Friday the solemn day of the week for his followers; this choice also agreeing with the customs of the Arabians, who held their assemblies usually on the Fridays. The word Hejira is derived from the Arabic verb Hajara, to abandon one’s native country, to emigrate on account of persecution; which from the Hebrew Hagar, the stranger or emigrant; the name of Ishmael’s mother.

It was from this period that Mahomet, having fully ascertained the Hate of his enemies and the extent of his own power, proceeded to lay aside the arts of persuasion and patient endurance, whereby be bad hitherto sought to propagate his tenets; and, elated by the devotion of his disciples and his reception at Medina, he framed henceforth the revelations of the Koran in a tone which proclaimed him a persecutor, and empowered his followers to make war against all opposers. The successful battle of Beder followed soon after; and he then made known those doctrines which have rendered the arms of the Mussulmans so formidable, namely, “that no one can escape his destiny; inasmuch as the man whose days are not complete will escape unhurt from a shower of arrows, when he whose fatal term has arrived cannot escape death by any precaution whatsoever.” The second incitative is that which the present occasion furnished him with: “The sword,” exclaimed the prophet, “is the key of heaven and of hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of God, a night spent under arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting and prayer. Whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven: at the Day of Judgment his wounds shall be resplendent as vermilion and odoriferous as musk; the loss of his limbs shall be replaced by the wings of angels and of cherubim.”

This victory, the first of Mahomet’s battles, was gained, in the second year of the Hejira, over the idolatrous Meccans, headed by Abu Sohan, in the valley of Beder, which is situated near the sea, between Mecca and Medina. Mahomet’s forces consisted of no more than 319 men, and the enemy’s army of near 1000; notwithstanding which odds, he put them to flight, having killed seventy of the principal Koreish, and taken as many prisoners, with the loss of only fourteen of his own men. This first victory, although it may seem no very considerable action, was yet of great advantage to Him, and the foundation of all his future power and success; for which reason it is very famous in Mahometan history, and is frequently vaunted of in the Koran as an effect of the divine assistance, through the miraculous interposition of the Angel Gabriel. The gaining of the battle was, however, wholly attributable to the extraordinary stratagem of Mahomet, by his expedient, at the critical moment, of scattering a handful of dust against his enemies, at the same time exclaiming, “Let their faces be confounded!” Which action so invigorated his fainting followers, that. they charged and overthrew their foes. Mahomet captured the whole caravan, which consisted of 1000 camels, richly laden, fr6m Syria; and this afforded him the means of rewarding his followers, and inciting them to further exertion by the allurements of wealth and the hope of plunder.

Some reckon as many as twenty-seven expeditions wherein Mahomet was personally present, in nine of which he gave battle; besides several other expeditions, undertaken by his orders, 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, he considerably raised his prophetic character and power. In the sixth year of the Hejira, he set out with 1400 men to visit the temple of Mecca, not with any intention 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 be forced his way; whereupon he called his troops around him, and they took a solemn oath of fealty or homage to him, sending Arwa Ebn Masud, prince of the tribe on Thakif, 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.

Having subdued the chief part of the pagan tribes, and by his relentless severity exterminated the Jewish classes who dwelt peaceably in Arabia, in the seventh year of the Hejira (A. D. 628), he assumed the state of a sovereign, and sent embassies to the neighbouring monarchs, exhorting them to embrace Islamism.

In the eighth year of the Hejira, a quarrel, real or feigned, gave him the opportunity of possessing himself of Mecca, and of the sacred square edifice called the Caaba. Mahomet appearing suddenly at their gates with 10,000 men, before the troops of Mecca had even been apprised of his departure from Medina, they bad no choice left but an immediate surrender or destruction. Thus pressed, and menaced with instant death, the Koreish submitted to the superior power of Mahomet. Their final submission to him, and their acceptance of his faith, were ratified subsequently, “On the hill El Safa. Having visited the holy building of the Caaba, and broken in pieces the idols wherewith it was encircled, Mahomet went in procession seven times round the building, and touched respectfully the black stone which was held sacred by the Arabs; then entering the edifice, he repeated the formulary, “God is Great.” Afterwards he went to the well Zemzem – which is believed by them to be the same that the angel showed to Hagar – drank of the water, and performed the required ablution. Artfully blending attention to exterior observances with zeal, and pursuing a mixed system of mercy and rigour, he subdued the hearts of his high-minded countrymen, and soon superadded to his claims of power the more imposing and indissoluble bonds of superstitious reverence and awe. The capture of Mecca, and the submission of the powerful race of the Koreish, was soon followed by the conversion to Islamism of most of the remoter pagan tribes, until all Arabia bowed the neck beneath his yoke.

Mahomet, having thus become master of all Arabia, made great preparations for the conquest of Syria; but this vast enterprise was reserved for his successors. He gradually, however, paved the way for their successes, and brought the celebrated region of Arabia into one complete and powerful union. He established the law which still obtains in all the Mussulman states, of imposing a personal tax on such subjects as do not embrace Islamism. By this custom, still subsisting among all the sovereigns who acknowledge the Koran, every reputed infidel pays a kharaj, or capitation-tax, over and above the imposts which he supports equally with the rest of the subjects. He absolutely prohibited all idolaters from making the pilgrimage to Mecca, or any foreigner from entering the Caaba, under pain of death. These were strokes of profound policy. He retained the pilgrimage to Mecca, which bad been of ancient standing among the descendants of Abraham and Ishmael. Though he destroyed the images used at Mecca as objects of idolatrous worship, he carefully retained the holy relics of the black stone and the supposed impression of Abraham’s foot. The black stone had been immemorially venerated there; the angels, it was said, had brought it white to the Caaba, and the sins of mankind had transformed it to black. Hence, in allusion to this stone, the Orientals use the compliments, “May God whiten thy face;” “May the shah make thy face white,” & c. make thy face white,” &c.

These practices no less forwarded the progress of Islamism than did the sword of ‘Mahomet. Everywhere the petty Arabian tribes overthrew their idols and submitted themselves to the new faith. Thus was Thus was Mahometanism established, and idolatry rooted out, even in Mahomet’s lifetime, throughout all Arabia; and the Arabs, being then united in one faith and under one prince, found themselves in a condition for making those conquests which extended the Mahometan faith ever so great a part of the world.

In the tenth year of the Hejira (A.D. 631), Mahomet set forth on a solemn and pompous embassy to Mecca, accompanied by all his wives, and by at least 90,000 pilgrims. He sacrificed with his own hands sixty-three victims, and liberated sixty-three slaves, in thanksgiving for each year of his life; he shaved his head, and scattered the hair amongst the multitude, who eagerly seized portions of it as sacred relics. He closed the solemnity with the following apostrophe, which, as if pronounced from heaven, concludes the Koran: “Henceforth, wretched and miserable shall they be who deny your religion. Fear not them, but fear me; this day I have perfected your religion, and completed my grace toward you. I have willed that Islamism be your religion. “He established the lunar moveable year, still in use with the Mahometans; and, finally, as supreme Pontiff or Imam, dismissed the people with a farewell, the last, as he declared that he should give them; whence this pilgrimage derived its name of the Farewell.

Mahomet, having returned to Medina, now drew near the close of his extraordinary and fortunate career. His health had been for three years on the decline; but he had neither relaxed his duties nor his labours. Being at length affected with a mortal malady, he was conveyed to the house of his favourite wife, Ayesha, where he expired, in the eleventh year of Hejira (A.D. 632) in the sixty-first year of his age. Of all his wives, the first alone bore him any children, of whom only his daughter Fatima, wife of Ali, survived him. Having thus presented a sketch of the life of this remarkable man, we proceed to a notice of the religion which he founded. As already mentioned, Mahomet must be viewed chiefly in the light of an improver on the old modes of belief and practice of the Arabians; and his merit (if we may so call it) in this respect appears to have been the combining of a variety of religious opinions into one form of faith, superadding an implicit belief in his own prophetical character, and enunciating the whole of his code in the writings of the Koran. At the period of his death, he bore the character both of a divinely appointed vicegerent (sic)and of a secular prince, the latter being gained by his conquests; and his successors claimed the same double qualification. After the prophet’s decease, the election of a successor occasioned considerable excitement, his father-in-law Abubeker, and his son-in-law and cousin Ali, each claiming the office of caliph. Abubeker was finally successful in the competition, and he, as is known to the readers of history, was succeeded by the ferocious Omar. Ali became the fourth caliph, but he was summarily cut off by poison; and from the long contests which afterwards occurred, it is difficult to say in what line the caliphate was ultimately settled.

The Koran or prescribed record of the Mahometan faith, consists of 114 chapters, each with a distinct title, but varying in length from a few sentences to several pages No continuous subject can be said to run through the work, each chapter being in the form either of a separate revelation, or treating of a peculiar matter in faith, morals, or law. Among the titles to the various chapters, we find the following: The Cow; the Family of Imran; Women; the Spoils; Jonas; Joseph; Abraham; The Night Journey; The Cave; The Assembly; The News; Divorce; The Fig; The Resurrection, &c. The whole is a singular jumble of highly poetical passages, narratives characterised by great simplicity and beauty of style, garbled extracts from the Old Testament, and pious exclamations. The praise of the Almighty is a prevailing theme in all parts of the work, along with a deep inculcation of the principle that Mahomet is the greatest of all prophets who ever appeared on earth. The work certainly contains much that is excellent as respects moral admonition, but also a great deal that is incomprehensible and ludicrous. Mahomet did not live to complete his Koran in the shape we now see it. With the assistance, unquestionably, of a person versant in the Jewish Scriptures, he from time to time, as was suggested by passing circumstances, composed his fragments, which he declared to have been revealed to him from God by the Angel Gabriel; and these having been collected by his followers, were, by succeeding caliphs, formed into a volume entitled Al Koran (pronounced Kooraan), or The Book.

Whatever we may advance against the authority of the Koran, it is has been received by Mahometans with a degree of reverence rarely witnessed among Christians towards the Holy Scriptures. In it they view the whole code of religious belief, civil law and moral obligation. The belief which they generally profess, as drawn from the Koran, consists in the following leading points: Religion is divided into two branches – faith and practice. Faith includes belief in God, in his angels, his revelations in the Koran, his prophets, the resurrection and Day of Judgment, and God’s absolute decrees. Practice includes prayer, comprehending under this head the purifications necessary before prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. The religion, as a whole, is called the religion of Islam, or Islamism. “The word islam signifies an entire submission to the will of God, and thence the attaining of security, peace, and salvation. This act is performed, and these blessings are obtained, according to the doctrine of the Koran, by acknowledging the unity of God and the apostleship of Mahomet. Every man who makes this profession (aslama) is a Moslem, that is, one who has entirely given himself up to the will of God, and is, on that account, in a state of salvation (salam). As it happens that Musilmani, the dual of Muslim, is commonly substituted for the singular by the Persians and Turks, the words Mussulman or Mussulmans, has in those, as well as in European languages, now nearly superseded the shorter and more correct term.” (Encyclopaedia Americana).

The notions of God and his attributes appear from the Koran to be just, and favourable to devotion. The belief in angels is, however, mingled with many singular fancies. They are believed to have been created of fire, to have pure and subtle bodies requiring no support, and that there is no distinction of sexes among them. The angels are supposed to have various forms and offices assigned to them; some adoring God, singing praises to him, or interceding for mankind, while others are engaged in writing down the actions of men, carrying the throne of God, and performing other services. The Mahometans also believe that there are two guardian angels appointed to attend upon every human being, who observe and write down his actions, and who are changed every day. There are four angels whom the Mahometans believe to be more in the favour of God than any of the others. These are Gabriel, who is sometimes called the Holy Spirit and the Angel of Revelations, from his being employed in writing down the decrees of God; Michael, the friend and protector of the Jews; Azrael, the angel of death; and Israsil, who is to sound the trumpet at the resurrection. The devil, called in the Koran Eblis, is supposed to have been one of those favoured angels, but he fell, because he refused to worship Adam, with the other angels, at his creation. In the eighteenth chapter of the Koran, however, he is said to have been one of the genii, a species of beings whom the Mahometans believe to be intermediate between angels and devils. The genii are said to have been created, like the angels, of fire, free from smoke; but, unlike the angels, they eat and drink, propagate their species, and are subject to death. Some are supposed to be good and others bad. In the seventy-second chapter of the Koran, a company of the genii are described as believing in the doctrine of Mahomet, on hearing him read it.

With respect to the belief in prophets, the Koran inculcates the doctrine that God has at various-times given revelations of his will to several prophets, whose books originally amounted to one hundred and four. Of these, ten were given to Adam, fifty to Seth, thirty to Enoch, ten to Abraham, and the other four to Moses, David, Jesus, and Mahomet. All these, except the four last, they believe to be lost; and that, after Mahomet, no other revelation may be expected. It appears that they have some prayers of Moses, Jonas, and others, a book called the Psalms, which consists of extracts from our version mixed up with other matter, and a history of Christ, said to be written by St Barnabas. In this book, Christ is made to predict the coming of Mahomet under the title of “Famous,” that being the signification of his name in Arabic. According to tradition, there have been from time to time no fewer than 224,000 prophets sent into the world; and of these, 313 were apostles, charged with commissions to reclaim mankind from the infidelity into which they had fallen. Six of them, namely, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet, were sent especially to promulgate new laws or dispensations. The Mahometans believe some of these apostles to have been superior to the others; to the last six, for instance, they give the first place. They believe them to have been free from great sins, although not perfectly pure, and that they all professed the same religion. In this list of prophets they introduce many whose names are mentioned in scripture as patriarchs, such as Adam, Seth, Lot, &c., and also many others who are not mentioned in the sacred writings. But of all the prophets of God, the Koran enforces the leading doctrine that Mahomet is the greatest, and that his mission is to be believed in, under the most severe penalties. “God will render of non-effect the works of those who believe not, and who turn away men from the way of God: but as to those who believe and work righteousness, and believe in the revelation which hath been sent down unto Mahomet (for it is the truth from their Lord), he will expiate their evil deeds from them, and will dispose their heart aright. When ye encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads, until ye have made a great slaughter among them; and bind them in bonds: and either give them a free dismission afterwards, or exact a ransom, until the warriors shall have laid down their arms. This shall ye do.” Chap. xlvii. From numerous passages of this kind, the Mahometans have framed the brief enunciation of their belief: “There is no God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet” a saying which is ever in their mouths, and may be called their popular creed.`

Regarding the resurrection, the Mahometans believe that, when a dead person is laid in the grave, he is received by an angel, who gives him notice of the coming of the two Examiners. These are two black angels, of a terrible appearance, named Mouker and Nakir. They order the dead person to sit upright, and examine him concerning his faith in the unity of God and the mission of Mahomet. If he answers correctly, his body is allowed to lie at rest, and is refreshed with the air of paradise; but if he appears sceptical, they beat him on the temples with iron rods, till he cries with anguish so loud as to be heard by all except men and genii. As to where the soul dwells after death, the Mahometans seem to have a variety of opinions, which need not be particularised. Mahometans are also divided as to the nature of the resurrection, some believing that it will be merely spiritual, others that the body only will be raised; but it is believed that all who have ever lived will appear for judgment. It is likewise believed that the irrational animals will be judged at the resurrection, and weak animals will take vengeance on the strong until satisfaction is given to the injured. The Koran enjoins kindness to all animals whatsoever, although it pronounces some to be unclean; and it is allowed that the conduct of Mahometans in this respect far excels that of the generality of Christians.

It is supposed by the more orthodox Mahometans, that the books wherein the bad actions of a man are registered will be put into one scale, and the good into another, and according as these preponderate, sentence will be given. After this will follow the satisfaction which everyone takes of his fellow, or the retaliation made by them for the injuries they have received. The manner of giving this satisfaction will be to take away from one man a portion of his good works and give it to one whom he has injured. “Which being done,” says Mr Sale, “if the angels say, Lord, we have given to everyone 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 to him, that he may be admitted into paradise. lf, on the contrary, his good works be exhausted, and there still be some to receive satisfaction from him, God will order an equal amount of their sins to be heaped upon him, that he may be punished in their stead. 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 for hellfire 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 a hair and sharper than the edge of a sword.”

The Mahometans believe hell to be divided into seven apartments, designed for the reception of different degrees of sinners. The first is destined to receive the wicked Mahometans, the second for the Jews, the third for the Christians, and the rest for other sects and unbelievers. Over these will be placed nineteen angels, to whom the condemned will confess the justness of God’s sentence, and beg them to intercede with him in their behalf. The punishment of infidels will be continued for ever, but wicked Mahometans will be released after a certain period of suffering.

Before entering paradise, the righteous will drink at the pond of Mahomet, which is supplied with water from the rivers of paradise. It is described as a month’s journey in compass, and whoever drinks of the water will thirst no more. It is a matter of keen dispute whether paradise is already created, many supposing that it will be different from the paradise in which Adam was placed. The more orthodox opinion, however, is, that it is the same, and that it was created before the world. It is supposed to be situated above the seven heavens, immediately under the throne of God, and is described as a place of great beauty. The trunks of the trees are of gold, one of which, the tree of happiness, will yield all sorts of fruit for the consumption of true believers. God’s absolute decree and predestination of both good and evil, is a doctrine which Mahomet always took occasion to impress upon his followers. He said that God had not only predetermined the adverse or prosperous fortune of every person in the world, but also his faith or infidelity, which fate it is impossible by any foresight to avoid. By this doctrine, Mahomet taught his followers to have the greatest contempt for danger, which was of material service to him in the propagation of his creed. Of the four points of religious practice required by the Koran, prayer is the first. Mahomet included under this act purifications of the body, by total immersion at certain periods, and by washing the face, hands, and feet, at others. To make his followers punctual in the observance of these purifications, Mahomet declared that the practice of religion is founded on cleanliness, without which prayer would not be heard by God.

A Mahometan is obliged to pray five times in the twenty-four hours, at stated periods – before sunrise in the morning, when noon is past, in the afternoon before sunset, in the evening after sunset, and before the first watch of the night. Public notice is given of these periods by the muezzins, or criers, and every Mahometan prepares himself for prayer. This he performs either in the mosque, or any other place, providing it be clean, after a prescribed form, and with a certain number of ejaculations, which he is on no occasion to abridge, unless when on a journey or preparing for battle. It is also necessary that he should kneel in a humble posture, turn his face towards Mecca, as expressed in the second chapter of the Koran: “Turn, therefore, thy face towards the holy temple of Mecca, and wherever ye be, turn your faces towards that place.” The direction of Mecca is pointed out within the mosque by a niche on the outside, by the situation of the doors and the steeple; and tables have been calculated for finding this out when they have no other guide. A Mahometan is also obliged to lay off all costly parts of his dress before prayers, that he may not appear proud. Females are not allowed to enter the mosques along with the men, but they may visit them at other periods.

The prayers of the Mahometans consist chiefly of pious exclamations, praising the greatness and goodness of God; and one of the more common of these prayers consists in a repetition of the first chapter of the Koran, called the Fathat, or Belief. It is in these words: “Praise be to God, the Lord of all creatures; the most merciful, the King of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and of Thee do we beg assistance. Direct us in the right way, in the way of those to whom Thou hast been gracious; not of those against whom Thou art incensed, nor of those who go astray.”

Alms-giving is a necessary part of the religious practice of Mahometans. These consist of cattle, money, corn, fruits, and wares which can be sold. At the end of the fast of the Ramadan, every Mahometan is obliged to give in alms, for himself and for every one of his family, a measure of wheat, barley, dates, raisins, rice, or other provisions. “The legal alms,” says Mr Sale, “were at first collected by Mahomet himself, who employed them as he thought fit in the relief of his poor relations and followers, but chiefly applied them to the maintenance of those who served in his wars, and fought, as he termed it, in the way of God. His successors continued to do the same, till, in process of time, other taxes and tributes being imposed for the support of the government, they seem to have been weary of acting as almoners to their subjects, and to have left the paying of them to their consciences.”

Fasting is the third point of religious practice amongst the Mahometans. It consists in abstaining from satisfying the appetites ; in restraining the ears, eyes, tongue, hands, feet, and other members, from sin, and the fasting of the heart from worldly cares, and thinking of nothing but God. During the month of the Ramadan, Mahometans are obliged to fast from the time the new moon first appears till the appearance of the next new moon. In this month they abstain from eating and drinking from daybreak till sunset; and this injunction they observe so strictly, that while they fast, they suffer nothing to enter their mouths or the other parts of the body, esteeming the fast broken if they smell perfumes, bathe, or even purposely swallow their spittle. The old and the sick are exempted from this fast; but in the case of the latter, when they recover, they must fast the same number of days. After sunset the people are allowed to refresh themselves – to eat, drink, and enjoy the company of their wives till daybreak. The more rigid, however, commence the fast again at midnight.

According to the injunctions of the Koran, every man is to perform a pilgrimage to Mecca once in his life, except prevented by poverty or ill health. It is clear that such an observance is altogether inapplicable to the condition and situation of the great bulk of the human race; and what is impossible in human practice, can never have been enjoined by the Creator. Mahomet, it is evident, only thought of Arabia and its neighbourhood, when he planned this idle ceremonial observance. Aware that, even within that limited district, his followers would have a difficulty in performing such a pilgrimage, he allows anyone who is wealthy enough, to hire and send a deputy; many, we are informed, neglect this duty who cannot plead a lawful excuse. The temple of Mecca stands in the midst of the city, and is called the sacred or inviolable temple. Within it are said to be the tomb of Ishmael, and a remarkable black stone, which bears the mark of Abraham’s foot. This temple was held in great veneration by the Arabians long before the time of Mahomet; some even say that it was built by Adam immediately after his expulsion from paradise. To this place pilgrimages are made from all parts where the Mahometan religion is professed. A number having collected from any particular district, form themselves into a caravan for the purpose of mutual protection, which is very necessary from the number of robbers who infest the route. The pilgrims meet at different places around Mecca, according to the direction in which they have come, and are obliged to be thereby the beginning of the first month, called, Dhulhajja.

“It is not,” says Mr Lane, “by the visit to Mecca, and the performance of the ceremonies of circuiting the temple seven times, and kissing the black stone in each round, and other rites in the holy city, that the Moslem acquires the title of the hadji (pilgrim). The final object of the pilgrimage is Mount Arafat, six hours journey from Mecca. During his performance of the required ceremonies at Mecca, and also during his sojourn at Arafat, and until his completion of the pilgrimage, the Moslem wears a peculiar dress called ehhmm, generally consisting of two simple pieces of cotton, or linen, or woollen cloth, without seam or ornament, one of which is wrapped round the loins, and the other over the shoulders; the instep and heel of each foot, and the head must be bare; but umbrellas are now used by many of the pilgrims. It is necessary that the pilgrim should be present on the occasion of a Khootbeh, which is recited on Mount Arafat in the afternoon of the 9th of the month Dhulhajji. In the ensuing evening, after sunset, the pilgrims commence their return to Mecca. Halting the following day in the valley of Mina, or Moona, they complete the ceremonies of the pilgrimage by a sacrifice (of one or more male sheep, he-goats, cows, or she-camels, part of the flesh of which they eat, and part give to the poor), and by shaving the head and clipping the nails. Every one after this resumes his dress, or puts on a new one, if provided with such. The sacrifice is called el fida (or the ransom), as it is performed in commemoration of the ransom of Ishmael by the sacrifice of the ram, when he was himself about to have been offered up by his father; for it is the general opinion of Mahometans, that it was this son and not Isaac who was to have been sacrificed by his father.”

The laws by which Mahometans are governed are in a great measure derived from the Koran. Where this sacred book is silent, reference is made to the traditions of the prophet to direct the decisions of the judge. Regarding the Koran as a book of jurisprudence, we quote the following from the Library of Useful Knowledge: “Nothing but the prejudices of education could make a reasonable man look upon the Koran as a book of jurisprudence capable of conveying instruction to any but a nation of savages. Deficient in form, deficient in clearness, incomplete, it possesses not one single quality requisite to a body of law. In the midst of a vast farrago of nonsense, hidden amidst unmeaning explanations and dark mysterious prophecies, there sometimes appears a command respecting the distribution of property or the punishment of offenders. But no explanations are given – no regular description of the means by which property may be acquired; no enumeration of those by which the rights to it may be lost, is even attempted. The rights of individuals, in their several capacities, to the services of others, are nowhere distinctly mentioned; nor is there any the most distant approximation to a systematic view of the several obligations to which it was intended to subject the members of the community. As occasion prompted, or when a dispute happened, Mahomet was accustomed to issue a revelation, which answered for the immediate purpose. But the original unwritten customs of the Arabs remained in full force, receiving little modification from the decrees of the prophet. One advantage, and one alone, he may be supposed to have originated – his were written decrees; it was a commencement for a body of laws, though a rude and imperfect one. This benefit, however, is more than counterbalanced by the evil of their being irrevocable. What the ignorant barbarian instituted, succeeding generations have been obliged to retain. No matter how absurd, how injurious the decree, religion commands the faithful Moslem to abide by it. The Almighty was its author, and he is all-wise; and, moreover, is as wise at one time as another. How, then, shall we pretend to amend the, divine ordination, or fancy that he himself need amend it? The conclusion is irresistible, provided the premises be allowed. The nations who have assumed the Moslem faith have consequently remained, and, while professing it, will remain, barbarians.”

One of the worst features of the Mahometan faith is the degraded position which it assigns to women. This, indeed, forms a radical error in the constitution of society in Mahometan countries, and must be removed before there can be a steady advance in rational improvement. Women are considered in every respect inferior to men. Few of them, even among the highest classes, receive any instruction; they are carefully secluded from public observation; assigned in marriage without their own consent, on payment of a trifling sum in form of dowry; and are divorced at pleasure – which tends “to debase their minds, and to produce the worst kind of social vices. Polygamy and legal concubinage add to the evils caused by such practices. The Koran allows a man to marry four wives, and to maintain as many concubine slaves as he may choose. He may divorce any of his wives at any instant which caprice or passion may suggest, merely by uttering the emphatic words, “Thou art divorced!” and she must return to her parents or friends accordingly. He may take her again as a wife, and again divorce her; and even divorce her a third time, provided she has in the interval been married to and divorced from another man. Mr Lane, in his work on Egypt, says, that he has known cases in which men have, in the course of a few years, married as many as twenty or thirty wives; and also cases of women who had been married to a dozen or more men successively. In most instances, we are told, a man marries no more than one wife; but as these practices are common, we can easily judge of the depravity of manners which prevails in those countries professing the Mahometan creed.

From the manner in which females are treated, it has been generally supposed by Christians that the Mahometans believe that women have no souls. But this is a mistake. Women are believed to have souls, and are not to be excluded from paradise, though they are there to perform offices of a subservient in nature. The meanest person in paradise, it is believed, “is to have eighty thousand servants, and seventy-two wives of the girls of paradise, besides the wives he had in this world; that he is to inhabit a tent composed of pearls, iacinths (sic – jacinth?), and emeralds; at meals he will be served in dishes of gold; and he is to be at liberty to drink freely of the wine of paradise, which will not intoxicate.” In such promises of felicity, we have a striking proof of the mean ideas of eternal happiness formed by the prophet, as well as of his knowledge of mankind.

The Koran forbids the use of wine or any intoxicating liquors; and this is among the best injunctions which it contains. Opium and other inebriating drugs are understood to fall within the line of prohibition, though not mentioned. The use, therefore, of either intoxicating drinks or drugs, is considered immoral in all Mahometan countries. Mussulmans of all ranks are remarkable for their sobriety and temperance in food. The eating of swine’s flesh is strictly prohibited; and, indeed, most animals forbidden to be eaten by the Mosaic Law are alike forbidden by that of Mahomet. All animals used for food must be killed by cutting their throat; and, in performing the operation, the butcher must say, “In the name of God! God is most great!” Gambling is also prohibited; also usury, and the making of any images or pictorial resemblances of anything that has life. Perhaps the desire to extinguish idolatry influenced the prophet in laying down the last-mentioned law. Apostasy from Islamism is deemed a most heinous sin, and must be punished with death.

The Mahometan creed enjoins no Sabbath, like that of either the Jews or Christians, but selects Friday as a day in the week to be distinguished by more than usual solemnity of devotion. Friday has been pitched upon, because it is said Adam was created on that day, and because the resurrection is prophesied to be on that day of the week. Perhaps a desire to avoid Saturday or Sunday, the days reverenced respectively by Jews and Christians, may also have influenced its adoption. Friday is called El-Goomah, or The Assembly; and on the forenoon of that day large congregations assemble in the mosques, when, in addition to the usual prayers, a sermon or address is delivered, and lessons read from the Koran, by the officiating imams. After, prayers, all kinds of work go on as usual.

All religions, above the meanest paganism, have possessed a body of priests, or functionaries to whom the knowledge of’ the faith was confided, and by whom its precepts were enforced. Considering that Mahomet must have been conversant with the constitution and import of the Jewish priesthood, as laid down in the Levitical law, and also acquainted with the arrangements of the Christian church, it is remarkable that he instituted no order of clergy, but, on the contrary, left his religion to be professed by the people at large, without any distinction as to rank or qualification. On this account, Mahometanism has no priesthood, and cannot be said to constitute in any country what we understand by the term church. Wherever it is established as the religion of the community, mosques or chapels have been erected, generally by endowments from wealthy individuals; and these are individually under the charge of a warden, who is custodian of the revenues, and appoints the ministers of religion and inferior servants. “Two imams are employed to officiate in each of the larger mosques: one of them, called the khateeb, preaches and prays before the congregation on the Friday; the other is an imam ratib, or ordinary imam, who recites the five prayers of every day in the mosque, at the head of those persons who may be there at the exact times of those prayers: but in most of the smaller mosques both these offices are performed by one imam. There are also to each mosque one or more muezzins (to chant the call to prayer) and bowwabs (or doorkeepers); and several other servants are employed to sweep the mosque, spread the mats, light the lamps, and attend the water-wheel by which the tank or fountain, and other receptacles for water, necessary to the performance of ablutions, are supplied.

The imams, and those persons who perform the lower offices, are all paid from the funds of the mosque, and not by any contributions exacted from the people. The condition of the imams is very different, in most respects, from that of Christian priests. They have no authority above other persons, and do not enjoy any respect but what their reputed piety and learning may obtain them: nor are they a distinct order of men set apart for religious offices, like our clergy, and composing an indissoluble fraternity; for a man who has acted as imam to a mosque may be displaced by the warden of that mosque, and, with his employment and salary, loses the title of imam, and has no better chance of being again chosen for a religious minister than any other person competent to perform the office. The imams obtain their livelihood chiefly by other means than the service of the mosque, as their salaries are very small, that of a khateeb being generally about a piastre (nearly 2 ½d. of our money) per month.” – (Lane’s Egypt.)

“The Mahometans,” continues the same authority, “observe the utmost decorum in their public worship. Their looks and behaviour in the mosque are not those of enthusiastic devotion, but of calm and modest piety. Never are they guilty of a designedly irregular word or action during their prayers. The pride and fanaticism which they exhibit in common life, in intercourse with persons of their own or of a different faith, seem to be dropped on their entering the mosque, and they appear wholly absorbed in the adoration of their Creator.” Mahometans have an extreme reverence for a green colour, which is used exclusively as the hue of turbans or other garments by those who claim hereditary descent from the family of the’ prophet. Europeans generally imagine the crescent to be a common symbol of Mahometanism, as the cross is of Christianity; but we believe this is founded on mistake. The crescent, from a very early period of history, was a heraldic ensign of Byzantium or Constantinople, and has been appropriated by the Turks since their capture of’ that city.

The Mahometans are generally affected with the most superstitious reverence for imaginary saints and “favourites of God.” They imagine that idiots and lunatics are under the immediate inspiration of Heaven; and unless these be dangerously mischievous, they are permitted all sorts of license. “Most of the reputed saints of Egypt,” says Mr Lane, “are either lunatics idiots, or impostors.” Anyone who is deranged by religious excitement becomes a welee, or an especial favourite of the Almighty, and is supposed to be gifted with supernatural powers. Almost every celebrated saint, deceased, is honoured by an anniversary birthday festival; and on occasion of these festivals, many persons visit the tomb of the saint, both as a duty and as a supposed means of obtaining a special blessing. Besides the various classes of saints, there are different orders of durweeshes, or dervishes, some of whom subsist by begging, and others by performing at religious festivals; a few devote themselves to religious seclusion, and gain a character for exalted piety.

Mahometanism, from shortly after the death of its founder, has been divided into two great parties or sects, who split upon the disputes concerning the Caliphate, or spiritual and civil supremacy, and received the name of Sunnites and Shiites. The Sunnites take their appellation from the Sunna, or collections of traditions relating to Islamism, which they believe to be of equal importance with the Koran. The term Shiites signifies heretics, which they are called by the opposite party from their misbelief. The adherents of the doctrine that Ali, son-in-law of Mahomet, (believe he) was properly his successor, reject the Sunna. The Turks are Sunnites, and the Persians are Shiites, and each hates the other with implacable animosity. The Sunnites, we believe, are reckoned the orthodox sect, and acknowledge the reigning sultan as the true successor of Mahomet.

Besides differing as to the credibility of the Sunna and the successorship of the prophet, the Mahometan world is divided into four minor sects, the Hhanafees, Shafees, Malikees, and Hhambelees, being so called from the respective doctors whose tenets they have adopted. “The Turks,” says Mr Lane, “are of the first sect, which is the most reasonable.” About the middle of last century a great schism, or attempt at reformation, broke out in Arabia, headed by Mohamed, son of Abdel Wahab, a pious and learned sheikh. Young Mohamed claimed divine inspiration, and taught, like the Koran, (the doctrines of which he but partially received), the existence of an only God, the Creator of the world, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the bad; but he rejected all the stories contained in the Koran, especially those concerning Mahomet, whom he considered merely a man beloved of God, but branded the worship of him as a crime directly opposed to the true adoration of the Deity. He also condemned the ornaments and splendour which are found in the mosques and the sepulchres of pretended saints. In short, he stripped Mahometanism of all its trappings, and reduced it to little else than a pure Theism. All who should oppose this new doctrine were to be destroyed by-fire and sword. His doctrines, being adopted by some influential chiefs, spread with wonderful celerity, and the Wahabees, as his followers were called, shook the stability of the empire of the Turks in Asia. After a hot war of many years, the Wahabees were suppressed by Mehemet Ali, the present Pasha of Egypt; but their doctrines are still far from being exterminated.

1. Sale, Pre. Disc p.20
2. Ibid p.19
3. Life of Mahomet – Library of Useful Knowledge
4. Turkish Spy, vol. v. p.199.

Printed and published by W. and R. CHAMBERS, Edinburgh. Also by W. S. Orr & Co., London.

Note: This article was sourced and copied by Mandate Ministries 2012

About Fred Grigg