Mahomet bears closer resemblance to the ancient Hebrew prophets than to any Christian leader or saint. His mind was akin to theirs in its denunciatory fury, its prostration before the might and majesty of a single God. The evolution of the tribal deity from the local wonderworker, whose shrine enclosed his image, to the impersonal and distant but awful power who held the earth beneath his sway, was Mahomet’s contribution to the mental development of his country, and the achievement within those confines was wonderful. But to the sum of the world’s thought he gave little. His central tenet had already gained its votaries in other lands, and, moreover, their form of belief in one God was such that further development of thought was still possible to them. The philosophy of Islam blocks the way of evolution for itself, because its system leaves no room for such pregnant ideas as divine incarnation, divine immanence, the fatherhood of God. It has been content to formulate one article of faith: “There is no God but God,” the corollary as to Mahomet’s divine appointment to the office of Prophet being merely an affirmation of loyalty to the particular mode of faith he imposed. Therefore the part taken by Islam in the reading of the world’s mystery ceased with the acceptance of that previously conceived central tenet.
In the sphere of ideas, indeed, Mahomet gave his people nothing original, for his power did not lie in intellect, but in action. His mind had not passed the stage that has just exchanged many fetishes for one spiritual God, still to be propitiated, not alone by sacrifices, but by prayers, ceremonies, and praise. In the world of action lay the strength of Islam and the genius of its founder; it is therefore in the impress it made upon events and not in its theology and philosophy that its secret is to be found. But besides the acceptance of one God as Lord, Islam forced upon its devotees a still more potent idea, whose influence is felt both in the spheres of thought and action.
As an outcome of its political and military needs Mahomet created and established its unassailable belief in fatality—not the fatalism of cause and effect, bearing within itself the essence of a reason too vast for humanity to comprehend, but the fatalism of an omnipotent and capricious power inherent in the Mahomedan conception of God. With this mighty and irresponsible being nothing can prevail. Before every event the result of it is irrevocably decreed. Mankind can alter no tiniest detail of his destined lot. The idea corresponds with Mahomet’s vision of God—an awful, incomprehensible deity, who dwells perpetually in the terrors of earth, not in its gentleness and compassion. The doctrine of fatalism proved Islam’s greatest asset during its first hard years of struggle, for it gave to its battlefields the glory of God’s surveillance: “Death is a favour to a Muslim.” But with prosperity and conquest came inaction; then fatalism, out of the weakening of endurance, created the pessimism of Islam’s later years. Being philosophically uncreative, it descended into the sloth of those who believe, without exercise of reason or will, in the uselessness of effort.