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titude of wyves with the Nicolaites.—He borrowed of the Jewes circumcision, and of the Gentiles much superstition, and somewhat he took of the Christian veritie, beside many devilishe phantasies, invented of his owne braine.—Those who obeyed his lawe he called Saracens, &c.”
: Even in much later times the spirit of ignorant or bigoted misrepresentation had little subsided; and of such writers as Prideaux, Marracci, and many others, who have no excuse for their misrepresentation, Mr. Mill truly says, that “they lose their candour, and often their love of truth, when the subject is a Mussulman's religion.—They stand round a cauldron, throw into it all the elements of vice and evil, and the production is a Mahomet.”
Now that the blind fury which precipitated Europe against the Moslem faith and its professors has been softened by time and the progress of knowledge and candid inquiry, we may be allowed to turn a retrospective glance of impartiality upon the merits and fortunes of the rival powers, which brought the eastern and western worlds into collision, and to admit that science and the arts, the sacred cause of liberty itself, owes much to these eastern devotees, and that their annals are bright with some examples worthy of esteem and imitation. Not to mention that, to the struggles during the Crusades, we mainly owe the abolition of the onerous parts of the feudal system, and the destruction of those aristocratic despotisms, on the ruins of which arose the proudest bulwark of our liberties; we must remind Europe that she is indebted to the followers of Mahomet, as “the link which connects ancient and modern literature;” for the preservation, during a long period of western darkness, of the works of many of the Greek philosophers, and the cultivation of some of the most important branches of science. Mathematics, astronomy, medicine, &c. are highly indebted to their labors.-Spain, Cassino, and Salernum, were the nurseries of the literature of the age; and the works of Avicenna, Averroes, Beithar, Algazel, &c. gave new vigor and direction to the studies of those who were emerging from a state of barbarism. Their zeal in the pursuit of geographical knowledge impelled them to explore and found kingdoms even in those desert regions of Africa, which are, at the present day, impervious to European enterprize.—Through its brightest periods, nay, even from its origin, Mahometanism was comparatively favorable to literature. — “Mahomet, himself, said, that a mind without erudition was like a body without a soul; that glory consists not in wealth but knowledge; and his followers were charged to search for learning even in the remotest part of the globe.” “ The caliphate was held, during several ages, by a race of monarchs who rank among the most accomplished by whom any sceptre has been swayed.”- Religious differences were forgotten; “I chose this learned man,” said the Caliph Almamon, speaking of Messul, a Christian, whom he was blamed for making president of a college at Damascus, “not to be my guide in religious affairs, but to be my teacher of science.”
Who has not mourned too over the fate of the last remnant of chivalry, the fall of the mussulman empire in Spain? Who has not felt his bosom swell with admiration towards that brave and generous nation, of whose reign for eight centuries it is observed, that, even by the historians of their enemies, not a single instance of cold blooded cruelty is recorded ? Who has not blushed to see a Christian priesthood goading on the civil power to treat with unexampled bigotry a people from whom they had always received humanity and protection; and to record the political fanaticism of Ximenes, in consigning to the flames the labors of the philosophers, mathematicians, and poets of Cordova, the literature of a splendid dynasty of seven hundred years ? Alas! “les Maures vainqueurs des Espagnols, ne persecuterent point les vaincus; les Espagnols vainqueurs des Maures, les ont persecutés et chassés.”
Sale reduced into order, and brought within the compass of general readers, the confused mass of historical and traditional information, which exists as to the life, character, and actions of Mahomet.The subject is one attended with numberless difficulties, and has accordingly been, and probably will ever continue to be, a very unsatisfactory one to those who desire to trace the springs of action, and the first workings of the principles which, in the event, have had an incalculable influence on society. The materials for accurate information are scanty enough ; Gibbon, as Mr. Hallam observes, “has hardly apprized the reader sufficiently of the crumbling foundation upon which his narrative of Mahomet's life and actions depends." Authentic history has furnished a bare outline, which every author has filled up as suited his own fancy and prejudices,-a rough sketch, of which the shading, the coloring, the very form and figure, have been left to the whim of the artist.-It has been often handled, but rather because it furnished exercise for the imagination than opportunity for the developement of truth. Boutainvilliers has elevated his subject into a hero, Prideaux sunk him into a devil; but both were often able to defy contradiction if they could not produce proof.
If Sale's memoir is not the most interesting as a literary performance, it has undoubtedly the merit of laying before us in a condensed form the greatest mass of facts and information, bearing upon the subject as well as upon cotemporary history; and though he cautiously abstains from the obtrusion of hypo
thesis, he readily applauds the candor of the pious and learned Spanhemius, “who acknowledged Mahomet to have been richly furnished with natural endowments, beautiful in his person, of a subtle wit, agreeable behaviour, shewing liberality to the poor, courtesy to every one, fortitude against his enemies, and above all a high reverence for the name of God; severe against the perjured, adulterers, prodigals, covetous, false witnesses, &c.; a great preacher of patience, charity, mercy, beneficence, gratitude, honoring of parents and superiors, and a frequent celebrator of the divine praises.”
Reviewing what has been said and written by so many different partizans on one side or the other of this interesting subject, and considering it as undoubtedly one which requires rather the exercise of our reasoning faculties on what is known than the exertion of industry to increase the stock of materials; perhaps we too may be indulged in something like speculation on that part of them which is within our reach, and in hazarding a few reflections on what may be allowed to be at least possibilities (we think probabilities) in the case :-we too may be reproached in so doing, with being “half mussulmans ;" but we shall receive the imputation in the same sense as we apply it to our author; and we trust that we shall be excused with our readers, even for the avowal of a wish to find some bright spots in a system deeply dyed, we may be obliged to admit in the result, with imposture--that we may humbly “vindicate the ways of God to man,” in doubting whether such an immense dispensation is so purely evil as is commonly assumed,--and may be allowed to indulge in that charity which hopeth all things of the motives of men, where it is impossible to trace them with certainty. Nor shall we surely have any necessity to repel the suspicion of insensibility to the pure spirit and benignant influence of genuine Christianity, if we should sometimes be compelled to bring into disadvantageous contrast the principles and conduct of some of its professors.—It may have a more doubtful friend than the historian, who exposes its corruptions, as a warning to future ages, to avoid errors similar to those which sowed the seeds of the decay and eventual extinction of the once-flourishing churches of the east.
We are much inclined to think, that a very plausible case might be made out, by one who saw nothing, in the scanty materials which exist, under the name of history, of the early life of Mahomet, to contradict, but rather much to support the opinion, that the original project of restoring a purer system of theology and morals was founded on a generous feeling of abhorrence of the prevailing degeneracy and superstition of both Jew and Christian, and the degrading idolatry of the heathen by whom he was surrounded.-It would not be for such a person to 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, 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