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palliate the arts of imposition and tyranny, by which (from all the accounts we possess) it certainly appears, that his plans, after they had become prostituted to the advancement of temporal power, were matured and supported; but it might be powerfully argued, that the unvarying testimony to his talents and possession of the kindest and most generous affections, the common consent which constituted and continued him the guardian of the existing religion of his country, the nobleness of his birth, and his descent from princes who had long ruled their country by the sole title of approved wisdom and integrity, are entitled to considerable weight, as raising a strong presumption that his first design was that of raising himself an honorable name, by striking at the root of the corruptions which surrounded him, and restoring those strict notions of the absolute unity and perfections of the deity, which have ever formed, as it were, the birthright and inheritance of the outcast children of Ishmael.-- And were there not plausible grounds, at any rate, for protesting against the votaries of the most prevalent religious systems of the day, as encouraging principles and practices notoriously at variance with the dictates of true and rational devotion as well as of sound morals? The intrigues, the cruelty, and tyranny, of the various sects, whose disputes had so long agitated the east, are correctly though strongly asserted by Mosheim, to have filled it “with carnage, assassination, and such detestable enormities, as rendered the very name of Christian odious to many." The Jewish and heathen tribes exhibited a still more melancholy picture—and in such circumstances we need not wonder that the prophet should exclaim in a moment of enthusiasm, and that his countrymen echo the sentiment,
“ Whatever is in heaven and earth praiseth God-the King, the Holy, the Mighty, the Wise.—It is he who hath raised up amidst the illiterate Arabians an apostle from among themselves, to rehearse his signs unto them, and to purify them, and to teach them the scriptures and wisdom; whereas before they were in a manifest error.”— Koran, chap. 62.
There were many circumstances concurring to render the state of religious opinion in the east favorable to the prosecution of a plan of reform, and all were embraced by Mahomet, and turned to account in forming the basis of his scheme. Indeed, if we consider every part of the new system, even to the minutest details in which it was eventually developed, we shall be always met with the conviction, that the talent, whatever it may be, which is displayed by its founder, is less that of a projector than of a skilful politician, taking advantage of favorable circumstances and feelings to turn them to his purpose. The grand principle on which the whole was built, the unity of God,
the; The Perstood. derstood
was one which had for ages formed the creed of the better part of the population of the eastern nations, and had been strengthened by their intercourse first with the Jews on their captivity and dispersion, and next with the Christians, in the early ages, before they had been divided and distracted by speculative discussions which impaired the simplicity of their faith, and rendered them the objects of suspicion and distrust.—This principle only required a mind of energy to rouse and lead it on to action against any body of religious professors, whose tenets or practices tended, in the smallest degree, towards polytheism or idolatry ; in which charges it is evident, from numberless passages in the Koran as well as other sources, that Christianity had begun to be considered as deeply implicated, particularly in the worship of images and the doctrine of the trinity, as it was very likely to be understood, or, perhaps, more properly speaking, misunderstood, by unlettered believers.
The Parthic, the Persian, the Arabian, the Hebrew Monotheists had eagerly received its precepts, and admitted its divine origin, while considered by them as zealously advocating their favorite doctrines of the unity of God, and confirming mankind in a devout veneration for the Jewish scriptures; and to their faith, they readily added a belief in the divine mission of Jesus Christ to ratify the truths, which previous revelations of the divine will had announced or enforced, and to crown all, with the distinct announcement of a future state of retribution; but as soon as the practices of those who used Christianity only as an engine of tyranny,—the worship of images, and the exclusive promulgation of points of speculative doctrine obviously open to misinterpretation, gave an opportunity for the charge of hostility to their grand principle, it is plain that the alarm could be easily spread by a skilful partizan, and that he had only to strike a chord, which was sure to vibrate with the acutest sensibility.
The faith which was most ready of adoption among these tribes, and which, in fact, Mahomet did establish, was one formed on opinions and usages which ages of ages had consecrated in the minds of those on whom he had to make his impression.—Above all, he insisted on the absolute unity of the Divine Being-he encouraged the profoundest veneration for the Jewish scriptures-he acknowledged the divine mission of Jesus Christ, and he met the prejudices of his followers, by preserving the rite of circumcision and allowing them the practice of polygamy.
But to whatever source we may be inclined to trace his first efforts in favor of a religious reform, it is clear that ambition and the desire of temporal authority became, as might be expected, the absorbent of spiritual feelings. When self-defence
had driven him to the sword, it was too tempting an instrument of conversion to be laid aside, and reason was neglected for the more convenient weapons of superior force; but here too the practice of the age supported him-no one had questioned the right to support a creed by the weight of civil authority. What Theologian, with a sword in his hand, was accustomed to tolerate an inquiry into the orthodoxy of his faith, its moral tendency, or the sincerity with which he professed it? “ The human code," as Mr. Mill observes, “ was mingled with the divine, and thenceforth the ideas of change and profanation were inseparable.” The eighth and ninth chapters of the Koran, which are said to have been delivered at this stage of his progress, illustrate the feelings which now became predominant.
The workings of the same principle of ambition, to which enthusiasm was now only secondary, may be easily recognized as the inducement to Mahomet to swerve from the original simplicity of his creed. Many of the religious superstitions of his countrymen were too firmly rooted for him to hope to eradicate them, he therefore moulded them into his system; and the hope of conciliating a considerable portion of the Jews and Christians induced him to admit, from their apocryphal books and traditions, many tenets and fabulous narrations, which ill accord with the general spirit of his reform, but which (even when we make all necessary allowances for much misrepresentation and exaggeration) are certainly sufficiently numerous to throw no inconsiderable share of discredit either upon his honesty or his understanding, as the adopter, although not the inventor, of absurdity.
Viewing all the circumstances to which Mahometanism owed its rise and progress, we confess we do not see any great cause for astonishment that such a system, when enforced by the power of natural eloquence, the dignity of considerable moral truth, and the persuasive energy of manners which conciliated while they commanded, should make its way rapidly—“ They are greatly deceived,” to repeat Sale's words, “ who imagine it to have been propagated by the sword alone;" and it cannot be denied that it has been subservient to great and important ends in the dispensations of Providence. The just and elevated notions of the divine nature and perfections, the rigorous inculcation of most branches of moral duty, the doctrine perpetually enforced of a future state of rewards and punishments, “ the gold ore that pervades the dross” of that book in which, however imperfectly, we must read the system, could not but strike with useful impressions a serious and reflecting, though uninformed people. -“The devout mussulman has always exhibited more of the stoic than the epicurean;" and his zealous and undeviating maintenance of the unity and supremacy of the
divine Being has acted every where as a barrier against idolatry and polytheism.
If Sale's labors had been merely confined to a correct version and elucidation of the text of the Koran, that portion of his work would alone have done much in dispelling the cloud of ignorance and misrepresentation that hung around the subject. It laid open the best source from which it is likely the historian will ever be enabled to form satisfactory conclusions as to the character, design, and first progress of this singular faith, though even here, much imperfection and uncertainty must ever exist. Taking it however as it stands, with the light thrown upon it by this excellent commentator, it certainly repels many of the popular charges of invention and imposture against the author, whoever he was. Too easy credulity and acquiescence in the mystifications and prejudices of the age would be imputations more easily supported." Few or none,” it has been truly observed,“ of the relations or circumstances contained in it were invented by Mahomet, as is generally supposed ; it being easy to trace the origin of them much higher, were more of those books (the apocryphal books of the Jews and Christians) extant, and it were worth while to make the inquiry.” It should always be remembered, too, that most of the absurd stories, which form part of the creed of many of the mussulman believers, and are popularly talked of as forming fundamental portions of the system, are in no wise identified with the Koran, and not even noticed in it in the remotest manner, but have their origin in the collection of . traditions, formed two hundred years after Mahomet's death, under the title of the Sonna, at a time when any artifice might safely be resorted to, to prop up the temporal power of his successors. But it would hardly be doing justice to his memory to assume, altogether, that the Koran, as it now exists, is to be taken as a correct image of his thoughts, or even of his system, as originally promulgated. No one can fix, with much precision, either its date or author. It is still doubtful whether a considerable portion, at least, was not the work of a Christian or Jew, and whether important additions and variations have not been made, in the earlier periods of its existence, to meet the necessity for giving the broadest sanction to the title of this new dynasty of princes. There seems no doubt, at any rate, that Abu Beker performed . the office of editor (how faithfully, no one can tell) to the whole work, and that Osman, his successor, twenty-one years after the death of the reputed author, gave it a second and complete revision, as it is called, when the interest and temporal policy of the parties would certainly not tend towards the rejection of whatever placed their authority upon high ground.
The literary character of this curious compilation has attracted more attention than perhaps it would otherwise have deserved,
from the avowed author having ventured to arrogate the highest excellence to his composition, and to rest upon that assumption his claim to divine inspiration. This was rather a bold step, and authorises little ceremony in the discussion of a point on which an author gives so broad a challenge : but really it is not very easy (at least for one not perfectly skilled in the Arabic tongue) to form very precise ideas on the subject. Every one knows that the beauty of the diction, and the melody of the verse or rhyme (for so most of the concluding parts of the sentences are written) are untranslatable, and it would be extreme arrogance to deny that the universal feeling of those who are most competent to judge, is strong evidence of no ordinary merit in those particulars at least; but judging as well as we can, we should place the work, considered as a mere literary composition, considerably above the Vedas, the Zend Avesta, or the Edda, and rank its most boasted periods immeasurably below the beauty, the grandeur, the transcendant magnificence of what might be called parallel passages in the books of the Old Testament. The best portions are undoubtedly those which breathe a spirit of strong devotion, or an awful feeling of the majesty of the divine Being, and enforce the arguments for his existence and attributes drawn from the appearances of nature. We quote two or three passages of this sort, which we do without ceremony, because there are not many who have patience to wade, as they must doubtless do, through a great mass of tedious matter, before they arrive at them.
“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 to them, and they shall not comprehend anything of his knowledge, but so far as he pleaseth. His throne is extended over heaven and earth, and the preservation of both is no burthen unto him :-He is the high-the mighty !”-chap. 2.
“ God causeth the grain, and the date stone to put forth; he bringeth forth the living from the dead, and he bringeth forth the dead from the living. This is God. Why therefore are ye turned away from him ? he causeth the morning to appear, and hath ordained the night for rest, and the sun and the moon for the computing of time; this is the disposition of the mighty, the wise God. It is he who hath ordained the stars for ye, that ye may be directed thereby in the darkness of the land and of the sea. We have clearly shewn forth our signs unto a people who understand. It is he who hath produced you from one squl, and hath provided for you a sure receptacle and a repository. We have already shown forth our signs unto people that are wise. It is he who sendeth down water from heaven; and we have