A. D. 570-632.
The most extraordinary man who arose after the fall of the Roman Empire was doubtless Mohammed;* and his posthumous influence has been greater than that of any man since Christianity was declared, if we take into account the number of those who have received his doctrines. Even Christianity never had so rapid a spread. More than a sixth part of the human race are the professed followers of the Arabian prophet.
* Spelled also Mahomet, Mahommed; but I prefer Mohammed.
In regard to Mohammed himself, a great change has taken place in the opinions of critics within fifty years. It was the fashion half a century ago to speak of this man as a hypocrite, an impostor, even as Antichrist. Now he is generally regarded as a reformer; that is, as a man who introduced into Arabia a religion and a morality superior to what previously existed, and he is regarded as an impostor only so far as he was visionary. Few critics doubt his sincerity. He was no hypocrite, since he himself believed in his mission; and his mission was benevolent,—to turn his countrymen from a gross polytheism to the worship of one God. Although his religion cannot compare with Christianity in purity and loftiness, yet it enforced a higher morality than the old Arabian religions, and assimilated to Christianity in many important respects. The chief fault we have to find in Mohammed was, the propagation of his doctrines by the sword, and the use of wicked means to bring about a good end. The truths he declared have had an immense influence on Asiatic nations, and these have given vitality to his system, if we accept the position that truth alone has vitality.
One remarkable fact stands out for the world to ponder,—that, for more than fourteen hundred years, one hundred and eighty millions (more than a sixth part of the human race) have adopted and cherished the religion of Mohammed; that Christianity never had so astonishing a triumph; and that even the adherents of Christianity, in many countries, have not manifested the zeal of the Mohammedans in most of the countries where it has been acknowledged. Now these startling facts can be explained only on the ground that Mohammedanism has great vital religious and moral truths underlying its system which appeal to the consciousness of mankind, or else that these truths are so blended with dangerous errors which appeal to depraved passions and interests, that the religion spread in consequence of these errors rather than of the truth itself.
The question to be considered, then, is whether Mohammedanism spread in consequence of its truths or in consequence of its errors.