If we take Mohammed’s own account of the composition of the volume, we must believe that the completed “Koran” existed from all eternity, on a tablet preserved in the upper heavens. Once a year, during the period of the prophet’s active work, fragments of this tablet were brought down by the angel Gabriel to the lower heavens of the moon, and imparted to the prophet, who was periodically transported to that celestial sphere. The words were recited by the angel, and dictated by the prophet to his scribe. These detached scraps were written on the ribs of palm leaves, or the shoulder-blades of sheep, or parchment, and were stored in a chest, in which they were kept until the caliphat of Abu Bekr, in the seventh century, when they were collected in one volume. Such marvels of revelation were made at different periods to the prophet, and were called Surahs, and formed separate chapters in the Koran as we have it to-day. Some of these Surahs contradict what had previously been uttered by the prophet, but this discrepancy is obviated by the expedient of what is called “abrogation,” and the more recent utterances were held to supersede and rescind those which were contradictory to it in the earlier revelation.
It may well be believed that these sibylline leaves of Mohammedanism make up a heterogeneous jumble of varied elements. Some of the chapters are long, others are short; now the prophet seems to be caught up by a whirlwind, and is brought face to face with ineffable mysteries, of which he speaks in the language of rhapsody. At other times he is dry and prosaic, indulging in wearisome iterations, and childish trivialities. Now he assumes the plain, clear voice of the law-giver, or raises his accents into the angry threatenings of the relentless and bloodthirsty fanatic. Yet throughout the whole volume there is a strain of religious resignation, of trust in God, of hopefulness under adversity, of kindliness towards men, which reveal a nobility of ideal, a simplicity and purity in the conception of the Divine Being, and the relations of human life, which make the work not without inspiration, even to the thoughtful man of the nineteenth century. The Koran must always be considered one of the most potent of religious books, one of the greatest documents which reveal the struggle of the human heart after a knowledge of God, and of faithful accomplishment of the Divine will. Perhaps the essence of the work as furnishing a philosophy of life, is contained in the axioms of Abu Bekr, one of the most exalted in character of Mohammed’s successors. “Good actions,” he says, “are a guard against the blows of adversity.” And again, “Death is the easiest of all things after it, and the hardest of all things before it.” To which we may add the sentence of Ali, “Riches without God are the greatest poverty and misery.”