Mahomet eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 250 pages of information about Mahomet.

Together with despotism and inextricably mingled with it is the second great Islamic enthusiasm—­the belief in the supremacy of force.  With violence the Muslim kingdom was to be attained.  Mahomet gave to the battle lust of Arabia the approval of his puissant deity, bidding his followers put their supreme faith in the arbitrament of the sword.  He knew, too, the value of diplomacy and the use of well-calculated treachery, but chief of all he bade his followers arm themselves to seize by force what they could not obtain by cunning.  In the insistence upon these two factors, complete obedience to his will as the revelation of Allah’s decrees and the justification of violence to proclaim the merits of his faith, we gain the nearest approach to his character and beliefs; for these, together with his conception of fate, are perhaps the most personal of all his institutions.

Mahomet has suffered not a little at the hands of his immediate successors.  They have sought to record the full sum of his personality, and finding the subject elude them, as the translation of actions into words must ever fall short of finality, they have overloaded their narrative with minutest and almost always apocryphal details which leave the main outlines blurred.  Only two biographies can be said to be in the nature of sources, that of Muhammad ibn Hischam, written on the model of an earlier biography, undertaken about 760 for the Abbasside Caliph Mansur, and of Wakidi, written about 820, which is important as containing the text of many treaties made by Mahomet with various tribes.  Al-Tabari, too, included the life of Mahomet in his extensive history of Arabia, but his work serves only as a check, consisting, as it does, mainly of extracts from Wakidi.  By far the more valuable is the Kuran and the Sunna of tradition.  But even these are fragmentary and confused, bearing upon them the ineradicable stamp of alien writers and much second-hand thought.

In the dim, pregnant dawn of religions, by the transfusing power of a great idea, seized upon and made living by a single personality, the world of imagination mingles with the world of fact as we perceive it.  The real is felt to be merely the frail shell of forces more powerful and permanent.  Legend and myth crowd in upon actual life as imperfect vehicles for the compelling demand made by that new idea for expression.  Moreover, personality, that subtle essence, exercises a kind of centripetal force, attracting not only the devotion but the imaginations of those who come within its influence.

Mahomet, together with all the men of action in history, possessed an energy of will so vast as to bring forth the creative faculties of his adherents, and the legends that cluster round him have a special significance as the measure of his personality and influence.  The story, for instance, of his midnight journey into the seven heavens is the symbol of an intense spiritual experience that, following the mental temper of the

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Mahomet from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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