Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

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 soul, 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 thereby produced the springing buds of all things, and have thereout produced the green things, from which we produce the grain, growing in rows, and palm trees, from whose branches proceed clusters of dates, hanging close together; and gardens of grapes, and olives, and pomegranates, both like and unlike to one another. Look on their fruits, when they have fruit, and their growing to maturity: verily herein are signs unto people who believe. **** This is God, your Lord ! there is no God but he, the Creator of all things—therefore serve him, for he taketh care of all things—the sight comprehendeth him not, but he comprehendeth the sight,he is the gracious, the wise.”— chap. 6.

“ Say, who provideth you food from heaven and earth ? or who hath the absolute power over the hearing and the sight? and who bringeth forth the living from the dead, and bringeth forth the dead from the living, and who governeth all things?

“ They will surely answer-God. Say, will ye not therefore fear him? This is therefore God, your true God, and what remaineth there after truth, except error? How therefore are ye turned aside from the truth? Thus is the word of thy Lord verified upon them who do wickedness; that they believe not. ****

“ Say, is there any of your companions, who directeth unto the truth?

6 Say, God directeth unto the truth.

“ Whether is he, therefore, who directeth unto the truth, more worthy to be followed, or he who directeth not, unless he be directed ? What aileth you, therefore, that ye judge as ye do?”chap. 10.

66 Whatsoever is in heaven and earth singeth praise unto God; he is mighty and wise-his is the kingdom of heaven and earth—he giveth life, and he putteth to death, and he is Almighty-he is the first and the last; the manifest and the hidden; and he knoweth all things—it is he who created the heavens and earth in six days, and then ascended the throne. He knoweth that which entereth into the earth, and that which issueth out of the same; and that which descendeth from heaven, and that which ascendeth thereto; and he is with you wheresoever ye be ; for God seeth that which ye do : his is the kingdom of heaven and earth; and unto God shall all things return. He causeth the night to succeed the day, and he causeth the day to succeed the night, and he knoweth the innermost parts of men's hearts.-chap. 57.

The following chapter has always appeared to us peculiarly interesting, for the beauty and truth of the moral feeling, and for its expressing strongly those emotions which we may suppose to have influenced the mind of the author in the early period of his career, when Providence had called him into a more prosperous station than the dawn of his existence had promised, and when his projects of religious reform were ripening into maturity.

“By the brightness of the morning, and by the night when it groweth dark, thy Lord hath not forsaken thee, neither doth he hate thee. Verily the life to come shall be better for thee than this present life, and thy Lord shall give thee a reward, wherewith thou shalt be well pleased. Did he not find thee an orphan, and hath he not taken care of thee? and did he not find thee wandering in error, and hath he not guided thee into the truth? and did he not find thee needy, and hath he not enriched thee? wherefore, oppress not the orphan, neither repulse the beggar; but declare the goodness of thy Lord.”chap. 93.

We have ventured to arrange the following passage in a rhythmical form, as a specimen of the poetic parts of the Koran.

By the sun, and its rising brightness;
By the moon, when she followeth him ;
By the day, when it sheweth his splendor:
By the night, when it covereth him with darkness;
By the heaven, and him who built it;
By the earth, and him who spread it forth; .
By the soul, and him who completely formed it,
And inspired into the same its faculty of distinguishing,
And power of choosing wickedness and piety;
Now is he, who hath purified the same, happy; .
But he, who hath corrupted the same, miserable.

chap. 91. We may not think very highly of this extract, but there are some ornamental passages which will less stand the test of criticism, particularly such figures as the following, very fit to be associated with some more modern concetti.

“ If the sea were ink to write the words of my Lord, verily the sea would fail, before the words of my Lord would fail; although we added another sea like unto it as a further supply."--chap. 18.

The certainty of a future state of retributive justice is powerfully announced in several impressive passages.

“ Who fulfil the covenant of God, and break not their contracts, and who join that which God hath commanded to be joined (belief with practice) and who fear their Lord, and dread an ill account; and who persevere out of a sincere desire to please their Lord, and observe the stated times of prayer, and give alms out of what we have bestowed on them, in secret and openly, and who turn away evil with good; the reward of these shall be Paradise, gardens of eternal abode ; which they shall enter, and also whoever shall have acted uprightly, of their fathers, of their wives, and their posterity: and the angels shall go in unto them by every gate, saying, Peace be unto you, because ye have endured with patience! How excellent a reward is Paradise !"--chap. 13.

« AnteriorContinuar »