We stop in spite of ourselves, and listen, in the midst of the silence of midday. And in this so venerable place, where dilapidation and the usury of centuries are revealed on every side—even on the marble columns worn by the constant friction of hands—this voice of gold that rises alone seems as if it were intoning the last lament over the death-pang of Old Islam and the end of time, the elegy, as it were, of the universal death of faith in the heart of man.
“Science is one religion; prayer is another. Study is better than worship. Go; seek knowledge everywhere, if needs be, even into China.”
Verses from the Hadith.
Amongst us Europeans it is commonly accepted as a proven fact that Islam is merely a religion of obscurantism, bringing in its train the stagnation of nations, and hampering them in that march to the unknown which we call “progress.” But such an attitude shows not only an absolute ignorance of the teaching of the Prophet, but a blind forgetfulness of the evidence of history. The Islam of the earlier centuries evolved and progressed with the nations, and the stimulus it gave to men in the reign of the ancient caliphs is beyond all question. To impute to it the present decadence of the Moslem world is altogether too puerile. The truth is that nations have their day; and to a period of glorious splendour succeeds a time of lassitude and slumber. It is a law of nature. And then one day some danger threatens them, stirs them from their torpor and they awake.
This immobility of the countries of the Crescent was once dear to me. If the end is to pass through life with the minimum of suffering, disdaining all vain striving, and to die entranced by radiant hopes, the Orientals are the only wise men. But now that greedy nations beset them on all sides their dreaming is no longer possible. They must awake, alas.