“By the Sun and his noonday brightness,
By the Moon when she followeth him,
By Day when it revealeth his glory,
By the night when it enshroudeth him,
By the Heaven and Him who built it,
By the Earth and Him who spread it forth,
By the Soul and Him who balanced it,
Breathed into its good, yea, and its evil—
Verily man’s lot is cast amid destruction
Save those who believe and deal justly,
And enjoin upon each other steadfastness and truth.”
STRIFE AND MEDITATION
“God hath treasuries beneath the throne, the keys whereof are the tongues of poets.”—Mahomet.
The Arabian calendar has always been in a distinctive manner subject to the religion of the people. Before Mahomet imposed his faith upon Mecca, there were four sacred months following each other, in which no war might be waged. For four months, therefore, the tumultuous Arab spirit was restrained from that most precious to it; pilgrimages to holy places were undertaken, and there was a little leisure for the cultivation of art and learning.
The Greater Pilgrimage to Mecca, comprising the sevenfold circuit of the Kaaba and the kissing of the sacred Black Stone, and culminating in a procession to the holy places of Mina and Arafat, could only be undertaken in Dzul-Higg, corresponding in the time of Mahomet to our March. The month preceding, Dzul-Cada, was occupied in a kind of preparation and rejoicing, which took the form of a fair at Ocatz, three days’ journey east of Mecca, when representatives of all the surrounding nations used to assemble to exchange merchandise, to take part in the games, to listen to the contests in poetry and rhetoric, and sometimes to be roused into sinister excitement at the proximity of so many tribes differing from them in nationality, and often in their religion and moral code.
Into this vast concourse came Mahomet, a lad of fifteen, eager to see, hear, and know. He was present at the poetic contests, and caught from the protagonists a reflection of their vivid, fitful eloquence, with its ceaseless undercurrent of monotony.
Romance, in so far as it represents the love of the strange, is a product of the West. There is a rigidity in the Eastern mind that does not allow of much change or seeking after new things. Wild and beautiful as this poetry of Arabia is, its themes and their manner of treatment seldom vary; as the desert is changeless in contour, filled with a brilliant sameness, whirling at times into sombre fury and as suddenly subsiding, so is the literature which it fostered. The monotony is expressed in a reiteration of subject, barbarous to the intellect of the West; endurance is born of that monotony, and strength, and the acquiescence in things as they are, but not the discovery and development of ideas. Arabia does not flash forth a new presentment of beauty,