The Inroads of Mahometanism

[Sidenote: Arianism prepares the way for Mahometanism.]

The various heresies, and especially the heresy of Arius, which had so widely troubled the peace of the Eastern Church, though they were not suffered by God's Mercy to cause a lasting schism, yet left behind them a certain weakness resulting in the decay of many of the Churches of the East, and finally in their overthrow by the false faith of the impostor Mahomet. The present state of the Churches of Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea, if viewed in the light shed upon it by the prophetic Epistles of St. John the Divine, may serve to show us how God withdraws His Blessing from a Church no less surely than from an individual Christian, when His Grace is obstinately rejected and despised.

Section 1. Mahomet.

[Sidenote: Mahomet's birth,]

The false prophet Mahomet was born A.D.569, of the chief family in the Arabian tribe of the Koreish; but it was not till after he had amassed a large fortune, partly by diligence in trade {89} and partly by a wealthy marriage, that, at the age of forty, A.D.609, he declared himself to be a prophet. [Sidenote: and claim to be a prophet and reformer.] This announcement was at first confined to the members of his own immediate family, till, at the end of four years, Mahomet proclaimed that he had a mission from God to reform the state of religion in his native city, Mecca, and to put down the idolatry which prevailed there. [Sidenote: Flight to Medina.] The opposition which the false prophet encountered from his fellow-citizens did not hinder him from making many converts to the religion he was beginning to invent for himself and for them, until at length (A.D.622) an insurrection, caused by the preaching and success of Mahomet, obliged him to fly for his life from Mecca, and take refuge at Yatreb or Medina[1].

[Sidenote: Founds a new religion.]

Here he was gladly received both by Jews and Arabs, rival races, who divided the city between them. The Jews were ready to welcome him as their expected Messiah, whilst the Arabs had heard of his fame from their brethren at Mecca; and Mahomet seems from this time to have entirely laid aside the character of a mere reformer, for that of the founder of a new revelation. The Koran and the Sword were now called in to aid in their respective ways in extending the power of the ambitious adventurer. [Sidenote: Cruelty.] Violence and bloodshed enforced the pretended inspiration by which Mahomet claimed to be acknowledged as the Prophet of God, and the civil and religious head of the nation; and the last ten years of his life present an almost unbroken {90} course of warfare, which too often degenerated into simple robbery and murder. [Sidenote: and conquests of Mahomet.] He made himself master of the whole of Arabia, including the city of Mecca, where he destroyed the idols against which he had in earlier days protested, and then made an ineffectual attempt to take possession of Palestine. [Sidenote: His death.] Mahomet died on June 8th, A.D.632, partly from the effects of poison, which had been given to him some years before, and partly from the consequences of a life of excess and self-indulgence.

Section 2. The Religion of Mahomet.

The false faith of which Mahomet was at once the prophet and the founder, seems to have taken for its basis the traditionary religion then prevalent amongst the Arab tribes. These traditions were probably compounded of dim remnants of the Truth which had been revealed to Abraham and handed down through his son Ishmael, and of a very corrupt form of Sabaeanism, which included the worship of the heavenly bodies, as well as of idols, and which had been the religion of Terah and his fellow-countrymen. [Sidenote: Mixture of truth and error in Mahometanism.] Upon this foundation was engrafted a mixture of Persian philosophy, and of such perversions of Christianity and of Scriptural doctrine as Mahomet could gather from a Persian Jew and a Nestorian monk. [Sidenote: Opposition of the Koran to Christianity.] The Koran, which Mahomet pretended to have received from heaven by the mouth of the archangel Gabriel, makes mention of our Blessed Lord and of many of the facts of Old Testament History, but its teaching is essentially {91} anti-Christian and blasphemous, inasmuch as it denies the Divinity of Christ, and represents Him as a Teacher and Prophet far inferior to Mahomet himself. An intended contradiction of the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity is also conveyed in its opening sentence, which is the Mahometan confession of faith, -- "There is but one God, and Mahomet is His prophet."

[Sidenote: Mahomet's Iconoclastic tendencies.]

Mahomet's energetic opposition to idolatry was, no doubt, a good feature in his religious system, though, like that of the Iconoclasts[2], it was carried to an extravagant extent, and this agreement, with their undue fears and prejudices on this head, seems to have been a sufficient inducement to many unstable Christians to deny the Lord, for Whose Honour they professed such deep concern, and to give themselves up to an impostor who was perhaps the nearest approach to Anti-Christ which the world has yet seen.

Christian people are found even in these days who do not hesitate to speak with some degree of favour of the great apostasy of which Mahomet was the founder, because of its opposition to idolatry, its recognition of our Blessed Lord as a Prophet, the certain admixture of truth contained in its grievous error, and the alleged moral teaching and beauty of language of particular passages in the Koran. [Sidenote: Moral effects of Mahometanism.] Any such favour or tenderness is, however, altogether out of place in professed worshippers of Him Whom Mahomet so grievously blasphemed, whilst the grossly sensual and immoral lives led by the false prophet and the large proportion of his followers down to {92} the present time, serve to show us that wrong belief and wrong practice go hand in hand, and that whatever show of morality there may be in some few of the precepts of the Koran, it has no influence on the conduct of those who profess to be guided by it.

Section 3. The Spread of Mahometanism.

[Sidenote: Mahometan conquests]

The work of conquest which Mahomet had begun was continued by his successors. Abu Bekr, the father of Mahomet's favourite wife, was the first of the four Caliphs who pushed the power of the Mahometan arms beyond the confines of Arabia, and laid the foundations of the future empire. [Sidenote: of the Holy Land,] Jerusalem was taken by Omar, the next Caliph, in A.D.637, and, with the exception of a short interval during the Crusades, the Holy City has ever since remained in the hands of the unbelievers. [Sidenote: Egypt,] Omar made himself master of Egypt as well as of Syria, and showed his savage contempt for learning by burning the famous and valuable collection of MSS. contained in the Alexandrian library. [Sidenote: Persia, and North Africa.] Under Othman, Persia and the North of Africa were added to the empire, and after the death of Ali, son-in-law to Mahomet and fourth Caliph, the seat of government was removed to Damascus.

[Sidenote: Other portions of Asia and part of Europe.]

The Caliphs of Damascus carried on the same system of warfare and bloodshed, took possession of Asia Minor, of the Northern parts of India, of Spain, and overran the South of France, where, however, A.D.732, the Mahometan troops received such a check at Tours from the hands of {93} Charles Martel, as hindered them from extending their conquests any farther in Western Europe.

[Sidenote: Present extent of Mahometanism.]

At the present day Mahometanism is the professed faith of the inhabitants of the Northern half of Africa, of Turkey in Europe, of Arabia, Persia, the Holy Land, Asia Minor, and some parts of India, and its adherents number ninety-six millions. We shall perhaps realize still more strongly the havoc which this soul-destroying apostasy has been suffered to work, if we remember that some of the countries where it now reigns unchecked were formerly the seats of flourishing Christian Churches, the Church in Africa boasting of such great Saints as St. Cyprian and St. Augustine, whilst Palestine and Asia Minor witnessed the first foundation of the Church, as well as its earliest settlement in the form it was permanently to retain.

[1] It is from this Hegira (or Flight) of Mahomet, July 16th, A.D.622, that Mahometans compute their time.

[2] See Chap. VIII.


chapter vii the early history
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