The Project Gutenberg ebook of The Koran



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opposition met with by Muhammad from his townsmen of Mecca at the outset of

his public career. This remark applies to what Nöldeke terms "the Suras of

the First Period."
The contrast between the earlier, middle, and later Suras is very striking

and interesting, and will be at once apparent from the arrangement here

adopted. In the Suras as far as the 54th, p. 76, we cannot but notice the

entire predominance of the poetical element, a deep appreciation (as in Sura

xci. p. 38) of the beauty of natural objects, brief fragmentary and

impassioned utterances, denunciations of woe and punishment, expressed for

the most part in lines of extreme brevity. With a change, however, in the

position of Muhammad when he openly assumes the office of "public warner,"

the Suras begin to assume a more prosaic and didactic tone, though the

poetical ornament of rhyme is preserved throughout. We gradually lose the

Poet in the missionary aiming to convert, the warm asserter of dogmatic

truths; the descriptions of natural objects, of the judgment, of Heaven and

Hell, make way for gradually increasing historical statements, first from

Jewish, and subsequently from Christian histories; while, in the 29 Suras

revealed at Medina, we no longer listen to vague words, often as it would

seem without positive aim, but to the earnest disputant with the enemies of

his faith, the Apostle pleading the cause of what he believes to be the Truth

of God. He who at Mecca is the admonisher and persuader, at Medina is the

legislator and the warrior, who dictates obedience, and uses other weapons

than the pen of the Poet and the Scribe. When business pressed, as at Medina,

Poetry makes way for Prose, and although touches of the Poetical element

occasionally break forth, and he has to defend himself up to a very late

period against the charge of being merely a Poet, yet this is rarely the case

in the Medina Suras; and we are startled by finding obedience to God and the

Apostle, God's gifts and the Apostle's, God's pleasure and the Apostle's,

spoken of in the same breath, and epithets and attributes elsewhere applied

to Allah openly applied to himself as in Sura ix., 118, 129.
The Suras, viewed as a whole, strike me as being the work of one who began

his career as a thoughtful enquirer after truth, and an earnest asserter of

it in such rhetorical and poetical forms as he deemed most likely to win and

attract his countrymen, and who gradually proceeded from the dogmatic teacher

to the politic founder of a system for which laws and regulations had to be

provided as occasions arose. And of all the Suras it must be remarked that

they were intended not for readers but for hearers�that they were all

promulgated by public recital�and that much was left, as the imperfect

sentences shew, to the manner and suggestive action of the reciter. It would

be impossible, and indeed it is unnecessary, to attempt a detailed life of

Muhammad within the narrow limits of a Preface. The main events thereof with

which the Suras of the Koran stand in connection, are�The visions of Gabriel,

seen, or said to have been seen, at the outset of his career in his 40th

year, during one of his seasons of annual monthly retirement, for devotion

and meditation to Mount Hirâ, near Mecca,�the period of mental depression and

re-assurance previous to the assumption of the office of public teacher�the

Fatrah or pause (see n. p. 20) during which he probably waited for a

repetition of the angelic vision�his labours in comparative privacy for three

years, issuing in about 40 converts, of whom his wife Chadijah was the first,

and Abu Bekr the most important: (for it is to him and to Abu Jahl the Sura

xcii. p. 32, refers)�struggles with Meccan unbelief and idolatry followed by

a period during which probably he had the second vision, Sura liii. p. 69,

and was listened to and respected as a person "possessed" (Sura lxix. 42, p.

60, lii. 29, p. 64)�the first emigration to Abyssinia in A.D. 616, in

consequence of the Meccan persecutions brought on by his now open attacks

upon idolatry (Taghout)�increasing reference to Jewish and Christian

histories, shewing that much time had been devoted to their study the

conversion of Omar in 617�the journey to the Thaquifites at Taief in A.D.

620�the intercourse with pilgrims from Medina, who believed in Islam, and

spread the knowledge thereof in their native town, in the same year�the

vision of the midnight journey to Jerusalem and the Heavens�the meetings by

night at Acaba, a mountain near Mecca, in the 11th year of his mission, and

the pledges of fealty there given to him�the command given to the believers

to emigrate to Yathrib, henceforth Medinat-en-nabi (the city of the Prophet)

or El-Medina (the city), in April of A.D. 622�the escape of Muhammad and Abu

Bekr from Mecca to the cave of Thaur�the FLIGHT to Medina in June 20, A.D.

622�treaties made with Christian tribes�increasing, but still very imperfect

acquaintance with Christian doctrines�the Battle of Bedr in Hej. 2, and of

Ohod�the coalition formed against Muhammad by the Jews and idolatrous

Arabians, issuing in the siege of Medina, Hej. 5 (A.D. 627)�the convention,

with reference to the liberty of making the pilgrimage, of Hudaibiya, Hej. 6�

the embassy to Chosroes King of Persia in the same year, to the Governor of

Egypt and to the King of Abyssinia, desiring them to embrace Islam�the

conquest of several Jewish tribes, the most important of which was that of

Chaibar in Hej. 7, a year marked by the embassy sent to Heraclius, then in

Syria, on his return from the Persian campaign, and by a solemn and peaceful

pilgrimage to Mecca�the triumphant entry into Mecca in Hej. 8 (A.D. 630), and

the demolition of the idols of the Caaba�the submission of the Christians of

Nedjran, of Aila on the Red Sea, and of Taief, etc., in Hej. 9, called "the

year of embassies or deputations," from the numerous deputations which

flocked to Mecca proffering submission�and lastly in Hej. 10, the submission

of Hadramont, Yemen, the greater part of the southern and eastern provinces

of Arabia�and the final solemn pilgrimage to Mecca.
While, however, there is no great difficulty in ascertaining the Suras which

stand in connection with the more salient features of Muhammad's life, it is

a much more arduous, and often impracticable task, to point out the precise

events to which individual verses refer, and out of which they sprung. It is

quite possible that Muhammad himself, in a later period of his career,

designedly mixed up later with earlier revelations in the same Suras not for

the sake of producing that mysterious style which seems so pleasing to the

mind of those who value truth least when it is most clear and obvious but for

the purpose of softening down some of the earlier statements which represent

the last hour and awful judgment as imminent; and thus leading his followers

to continue still in the attitude of expectation, and to see in his later

successes the truth of his earlier predictions. If after-thoughts of this

kind are to be traced, and they will often strike the attentive reader, it

then follows that the perplexed state of the text in individual Suras is to

be considered as due to Muhammad himself, and we are furnished with a series

of constant hints for attaining to chronological accuracy. And it may be

remarked in passing, that a belief that the end of all things was at hand,

may have tended to promote the earlier successes of Islam at Mecca, as it

unquestionably was an argument with the Apostles, to flee from "the wrath to

come." It must be borne in mind that the allusions to contemporary minor

events, and to the local efforts made by the new religion to gain the

ascendant are very few, and often couched in terms so vague and general, that

we are forced to interpret the Koran solely by the Koran itself. And for

this, the frequent repetitions of the same histories and the same sentiments,

afford much facility: and the peculiar manner in which the details of each

history are increased by fresh traits at each recurrence, enables us to trace

their growth in the author's mind, and to ascertain the manner in which a

part of the Koran was composed. The absence of the historical element from

the Koran as regards the details of Muhammad's daily life, may be judged of

by the fact, that only two of his contemporaries are mentioned in the entire

volume, and that Muhammad's name occurs but five times, although he is all

the way through addressed by the Angel Gabriel as the recipient of the divine

revelations, with the word SAY. Perhaps such passages as Sura ii. 15, p. 339,

and v. 246, p. 365, and the constant mention of guidance, direction,

wandering, may have been suggested by reminiscences of his mercantile

journeys in his earlier years.


It may be considered quite certain that it was not customary to reduce to

writing any traditions concerning Muhammad himself for at least the greater

part of a century. They rested entirely on the memory of those who have

handed them down, and must necessarily have been coloured by their prejudices

and convictions, to say nothing of the tendency to the formation of myths and

to actual fabrication, which early shews itself, especially in

interpretations of the Koran, to subserve the purposes of the contending

factions of the Ommeyads and Abbâsides. It was under the 5th Caliph, Al-

Mâműn, that three writers (mentioned below) on whom we mainly depend for all

really reliable information, flourished: and even their writings are

necessarily coloured by the theological tendencies of their master and

patron, who was a decided partizan of the divine right of Ali and of his

descendants. The incidents mentioned in the Koran itself, for the

interpretation of which early tradition is available, are comparatively few,

and there are many passages with which it is totally at variance; as, for

instance, that Muhammad worked miracles, which the Koran expressly disclaims.

Traditions can never be considered as at all reliable, unless they are

traceable to some common origin, have descended to us by independent

witnesses, and correspond with the statements of the Koran itself�always of

course deducting such texts as (which is not unfrequently the case) have

themselves given rise to the tradition. It soon becomes obvious to the reader

of Muslim traditions and commentators that both miracles and historical

events have been invented for the sake of expounding a dark and perplexing

text; and that even the earlier traditions are largely tinged with the

mythical element.
The first biographer of Muhammad of whom we have any information was Zohri,

who died A.H. 124, aged 72; but his works, though abundantly quoted by later

writers, are no longer extant. Much of his information was derived from Orwa,

who died A.H. 94, and was a near relative of Ayesha, the prophet's favourite

wife.
Ibn Ishaq, who died in A.H. 151, and who had been a hearer of Zohri, composed

a Biography of Muhammad for the use of the Caliph Al Mánsűr. On this work,

considerable remains of which have come down to us, Ibn Hisham, who died A.H.

213, based his Life of Muhammad.


Waquidi of Medina, who died A.H. 207, composed a biographical work, which has

reached us in an abbreviated form through his secretary (Katib). It is

composed entirely of traditions.
Tabari, "the Livy of the Arabians" (Gibbon, 51, n. 1), who died at Baghdad

A.H. 310, composed annals of Muhammad's life and of the progress of Islam.


These ancient writers are the principal sources whence anything like

authentic information as to the life of Muhammad has been derived. And it may

be safely concluded that after the diligent investigations carried on by the

professed collectors of traditions in the second century after the Hejira,

that little or nothing remains to be added to our stores of information

relative to the details of Muhammad's life, or to facts which may further

illustrate the text of the Koran. But however this may be, no records which

are posterior in date to these authorities can be considered as at all

deserving of dependance. "To consider," says Dr. Sprenger, "late historians

like Abulfeda as authorities, and to suppose that an account gains in

certainty because it is mentioned by several of them, is highly uncritical."

Life of Mohammad, p. 73.


The sources whence Muhammad derived the materials of his Koran are, over and

above the more poetical parts, which are his own creation, the legends of his

time and country, Jewish traditions based upon the Talmud, or perverted to

suit his own purposes, and the floating Christian traditions of Arabia and of

S. Syria. At a later period of his career no one would venture to doubt the

divine origin of the entire book. But at its commencement the case was

different. The people of Mecca spoke openly and tauntingly of it as the work

of a poet, as a collection of antiquated or fabulous legends, or as palpable

sorcery.4 They accused him of having confederates, and even specified

foreigners who had been his coadjutors. Such were Salman the Persian, to whom

he may have owed the descriptions of Heaven and Hell, which are analogous to

those of the Zendavesta; and the Christian monk Sergius, or as the

Muhammadans term him, Boheira. From the latter, and perhaps from other

Christians, especially slaves naturalised at Mecca, Muhammad obtained access

to the teaching of the Apocryphal Gospels, and to many popular traditions of

which those Gospels are the concrete expression. His wife Chadijah, as well

as her cousin Waraka, a reputed convert to Christianity, and Muhammad's

intimate friend, are said to have been well acquainted with the doctrines and

sacred books both of Jews and Christians. And not only were several Arab

tribes in the neighbourhood of Mecca converts to the Christian faith, but on

two occasions Muhammad had travelled with his uncle, Abu Talib, as far as

Bostra, where he must have had opportunities of learning the general outlines

of Oriental Christian doctrine, and perhaps of witnessing the ceremonial of

their worship. And it appears tolerably certain that previous to and at the

period of his entering into public life, there was a large number of

enquirers at Mecca, who like Zaid, Omayah of Taief, Waraka, etc., were

dissatisfied equally with the religion of their fathers, the Judaism and the

Christianity which they saw around them, and were anxiously enquiring for

some better way. The names and details of the lives of twelve of the

"companions" of Muhammad who lived in Mecca, Medina, and Taief, are recorded,

who previous to his assumption of the Prophetic office, called themselves

Hanyfs, i.e., converts, puritans, and were believers in one God, and regarded

Abraham as the founder of their religion. Muhammad publicly acknowledged that

he was a Hanyf�and this sect of the Hanyfites (who are in no way to be

confounded with the later sect of the same name) were among his Meccan

precursors. See n. pp. 209, 387. Their history is to be found in the Fihrist�

MS. Paris, anc. fonds, nr. 874 (and in other treatises)�which Dr. Sprenger

believes to have been in the library of the Caliph El-Mâműn. In this

treatise, the Hanyfs are termed Sabeites, and said to have received the

Volumes (Sohof) or Books of Abraham, mentioned in Sura lxxxvii. 19, p. 40,

41, which most commentators affirm to have been borrowed from them, as is

also the case with the latter part of Sura liii. 37, ad f. p. 71; so that

from these "Books" Muhammad derived the legends of Ad and Themoud, whose

downfall, recent as it was (see note p. 300), he throws back to a period

previous to that of Moses, who is made to ask (Sura xiv. 9, p. 226) "whether

their history had reached his hearers." Muhammad is said to have discovered

these "Books" to be a recent forgery, and that this is the reason why no

mention of them occurs after the fourth year of his Prophetic function, A.D.

616. Hence too, possibly, the title Hanyf was so soon dropped and exchanged

for that of Muslim, one who surrenders or resigns himself to God. The Waraka

above mentioned, and cousin of Chadijah, is said to have believed on Muhammad

as long as he continued true to the principles of the Hanyfs, but to have

quitted him in disgust at his subsequent proceedings, and to have died an

orthodox Christian.


It has been supposed that Muhammad derived many of his notions concerning

Christianity from Gnosticism, and that it is to the numerous gnostic sects

the Koran alludes when it reproaches the Christians with having "split up

their religion into parties." But for Muhammad thus to have confounded

Gnosticism with Christianity itself, its prevalence in Arabia must have been

far more universal than we have any reason to believe it really was. In fact,

we have no historical authority for supposing that the doctrines of these

heretics were taught or professed in Arabia at all. It is certain, on the

other hand, that the Basilidans, Valentinians, and other gnostic sects had

either died out, or been reabsorbed into the orthodox Church, towards the

middle of the fifth century, and had disappeared from Egypt before the sixth.

It is nevertheless possible that the gnostic doctrine concerning the

Crucifixion was adopted by Muhammad as likely to reconcile the Jews to Islam,

as a religion embracing both Judaism and Christianity, if they might believe

that Jesus had not been put to death, and thus find the stumbling-block of

the atonement removed out of their path. The Jews would in this case have

simply been called upon to believe in Jesus as being what the Koran

represents him, a holy teacher, who, like the patriarch Enoch or the prophet

Elijah, had been miraculously taken from the earth. But, in all other

respects, the sober and matter-of-fact statements of the Koran relative to

the family and history of Jesus, are altogether opposed to the wild and

fantastic doctrines of Gnostic emanations, and especially to the manner in

which they supposed Jesus, at his Baptism, to have been brought into union

with a higher nature. It is quite clear that Muhammad borrowed in several

points from the doctrines of the Ebionites, Essenes, and Sabeites. Epiphanius

(H�r. x.) describes the notions of the Ebionites of Nabath�a, Moabitis, and

Basanitis with regard to Adam and Jesus, almost in the very words of Sura

iii. 52. He tells us that they observed circumcision, were opposed to

celibacy, forbad turning to the sunrise, but enjoined Jerusalem as their

Kebla (as did Muhammad during twelve years), that they prescribed (as did the

Sabeites), washings, very similar to those enjoined in the Koran, and allowed

oaths (by certain natural objects, as clouds, signs of the Zodiac, oil, the

winds, etc.), which we find adopted in the Koran. These points of contact

with Islam, knowing as we do Muhammad's eclecticism, can hardly be

accidental.
We have no evidence that Muhammad had access to the Christian Scriptures,

though it is just possible that fragments of the Old or New Testament may

have reached him through Chadijah or Waraka, or other Meccan Christians,

possessing MSS. of the sacred volume. There is but one direct quotation (Sura

xxi. 105) in the whole Koran from the Scriptures; and though there are a few

passages, as where alms are said to be given to be seen of men, and as, none

forgiveth sins but God only, which might seem to be identical with texts of

the New Testament, yet this similarity is probably merely accidental. It is,

however, curious to compare such passages as Deut. xxvi. 14, 17; 1 Peter v.

2, with Sura xxiv. 50, p. 448, and x. 73, p. 281 John vii. 15, with the

"illiterate" Prophet�Matt. xxiv. 36, and John xii. 27, with the use of the

word hour as meaning any judgment or crisis, and The last judgment�the voice

of the Son of God which the dead are to hear, with the exterminating or

awakening cry of Gabriel, etc. The passages of this kind, with which the

Koran abounds, result from Muhammad's general acquaintance with Scriptural

phraseology, partly through the popular legends, partly from personal

intercourse with Jews and Christians. And we may be quite certain that

whatever materials Muhammad may have derived from our Scriptures, directly or

indirectly, were carefully recast. He did not even use its words without due

consideration. For instance, except in the phrase "the Lord of the worlds,"

he seems carefully to have avoided the expression the Lord, probably because

it was applied by the Christians to Christ, or to God the Father.


It should also be borne in mind that we have no traces of the existence of

Arabic versions of the Old or New Testament previous to the time of Muhammad.

The passage of St. Jerome�"Hćc autem translatio nullum de veteribus sequitur

interpretem; sed ex ipso Hebraico, Arabicoque sermone, et interdum Syro, nunc

verba, nunc sensum, nunc simul utrumque resonabit," (Prol. Gal.) obviously

does not refer to versions, but to idiom. The earliest Ar. version of the Old

Testament, of which we have any knowledge, is that of R. Saadias Gaon, A.D.

900; and the oldest Ar. version of the New Testament, is that published by

Erpenius in 1616, and transcribed in the Thebais, in the year 1171, by a

Coptic Bishop, from a copy made by a person whose name is known, but whose

date is uncertain. Michaelis thinks that the Arabic versions of the New

Testament were made between the Saracen conquests in the seventh century, and

the Crusades in the eleventh century�an opinion in which he follows, or

coincides with, Walton (Prol. in Polygl. § xiv.) who remarks�"Plane constat

versionem Arabicam apud eas (ecclesias orientales) factam esse postquam

lingua Arabica per victorias et religionem Muhammedanicam per Orientem

propagata fuerat, et in multis locis facta esset vernacula." If, indeed, in

these comparatively late versions, the general phraseology, especially in the

histories common to the Scriptures and to the Koran, bore any similarity to

each other, and if the orthography of the proper names had been the same in

each, it might have been fair to suppose that such versions had been made,

more or less, upon the basis of others, which, though now lost, existed in

the ages prior to Muhammad, and influenced, if they did not directly form,

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