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Mohammed and Mohammedanism
I. THE FOUNDER
Mohammed, "the Praised One", the prophet of Islam and the founder of Mohammedanism, was born at Mecca (20 August?) A.D. 570. Arabia was then torn by warring factions. The tribe of Fihr, or Quarish, to which Mohammed belonged, had established itself in the south of Hijas (Hedjaz), near Mecca, which was, even then, the principal religious and commercial centre of Arabia. The power of the tribe was continually increasing; they had become the masters and the acknowledged guardians of the sacred Kaaba, within the town of Mecca — then visited in annual pilgrimage by the heathen Arabs with their offerings and tributes — and had thereby gained such preeminence that it was comparatively easy for Mohammed to inaugurate his religious reform and his political campaign, which ended with the conquest of all Arabia and the fusion of the numerous Arab tribes into one nation, with one religion, one code, and one sanctuary.
Mohammed's father was Abdallah, of the family of Hashim, who died soon after his son's birth. At the age of six the boy lost his mother and was thereafter taken care of by his uncle Abu-Talib. He spent his early life as a shepherd and an attendant of caravans, and at the age of twenty-five married a rich widow, Khadeejah, fifteen years his senior. She bore him six children, all of whom died very young except Fatima, his beloved daughter.
On his commercial journeys to Syria and Palestine he became acquainted with Jews and Christians, and acquired an imperfect knowledge of their religion and traditions. He was a man of retiring disposition, addicted to prayer and fasting, and was subject to epileptic fits. In his fortieth year (A.D. 612), he claimed to have received a call from the Angel Gabriel, and thus began his active career as the prophet of Allah and the apostle of Arabia. His converts were about forty in all, including his wife, his daughter, his father-in-law Abu Bakr, his adopted son Ali Omar, and his slave Zayd. By his preaching and his attack on heathenism, Mohammed provoked persecution which drove him from Mecca to Medina in 622, the year of the Hejira (Flight) and the beginning of the Mohammedan Era. At Medina he was recognized as the prophet of God, and his followers increased. He took the field against his enemies, conquered several Arabian, Jewish, and Christian tribes, entered Mecca in triumph in 630, demolished the idols of the Kaaba, became master of Arabia, and finally united all the tribes under one emblem and one religion. In 632 he made his last pilgrimage to Mecca at the head of forty thousand followers, and soon after his return died of a violent fever in the sixty-third year of his age, the eleventh of the Hejira, and the year 633 of the Christian era.
The sources of Mohammed's biography are numerous, but on the whole untrustworthy, being crowded with fictitious details, legends, and stories. None of his biographies were compiled during his lifetime, and the earliest was written a century and a half after his death. The Koran is perhaps the only reliable source for the leading events in his career. His earliest and chief biographers are Ibn Ishaq (A.H. 151=A.D. 768), Wakidi (207=822), Ibn Hisham (213=828), Ibn Sa'd (230=845), Tirmidhi (279=892), Tabari (310-929), the "Lives of the Companions of Mohammed", the numerous Koranic commentators [especially Tabari, quoted above, Zamakhshari 538=1144), and Baidawi (691=1292)], the "Musnad", or collection of traditions of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (241=855), the collections of Bokhari (256=870), the "Isabah", or "Dictionary of Persons who knew Mohammed", by Ibn Hajar, etc. All these collections and biographies are based on the so-called Hadiths, or "traditions", the historical value of which is more than doubtful.
These traditions, in fact, represent a gradual, and more or less artificial, legendary development, rather than supplementary historical information. According to them, Mohammed was simple in his habits, but most careful of his personal appearance. He loved perfumes and hated strong drink. Of a highly nervous temperament, he shrank from bodily pain. Though gifted with great powers of imagination, he was taciturn. He was affectionate and magnanimous, pious and austere in the practice of his religion, brave, zealous, and above reproach in his personal and family conduct. Palgrave, however, wisely remarks that "the ideals of Arab virtue were first conceived and then attributed to him". Nevertheless, with every allowance for exaggeration, Mohammed is shown by his life and deeds to have been a man of dauntless courage, great generalship, strong patriotism, merciful by nature, and quick to forgive. And yet he was ruthless in his dealings with the Jews, when once he had ceased to hope for their submission. He approved of assassination, when it furthered his cause; however barbarous or treacherous the means, the end justified it in his eyes; and in more than one case he not only approved, but also instigated the crime.
Concerning his moral character and sincerity contradictory opinions have been expressed by scholars in the last three centuries. Many of these opinions are biased either by an extreme hatred of Islam and its founder or by an exaggerated admiration, coupled with a hatred of Christianity. Luther looked upon him as "a devil and first-born child of Satan". Maracci held that Mohammed and Mohammedanism were not very dissimilar to Luther and Protestantism. Spanheim and D'Herbelot characterize him as a "wicked impostor", and a "dastardly liar", while Prideaux stamps him as a wilful deceiver. Such indiscriminate abuse is unsupported by facts. Modern scholars, such as Sprenger, Noldeke, Weil, Muir, Koelle, Grimme, Margoliouth, give us a more correct and unbiased estimate of Mohammed's life and character, and substantially agree as to his motives, prophetic call, personal qualifications, and sincerity. The various estimates of several recent critics have been ably collected and summarized by Zwemer, in his "Islam, a Challenge to Faith" (New York, 1907). According to Sir William Muir, Marcus Dods, and some others, Mohammed was at first sincere, but later, carried away by success, he practised deception wherever it would gain his end. Koelle "finds the key to the first period of Mohammed's life in Khadija, his first wife", after whose death he became a prey to his evil passions. Sprenger attributes the alleged revelations to epileptic fits, or to "a paroxysm of cataleptic insanity". Zwemer himself goes on to criticize the life of Mohammed by the standards, first, of the Old and New Testaments, both of which Mohammed acknowledged as Divine revelation; second, by the pagan morality of his Arabian compatriots; lastly, by the new law of which he pretended to be the "divinely appointed medium and custodian". According to this author, the prophet was false even to the ethical traditions of the idolatrous brigands among whom he lived, and grossly violated the easy sexual morality of his own system. After this, it is hardly necessary to say that, in Zwemer's opinion, Mohammed fell very far short of the most elementary requirements of Scriptural morality. Quoting Johnstone, Zwemer concludes by remarking that the judgment of these modern scholars, however harsh, rests on evidence which "comes all from the lips and the pens of his own devoted adherents. . .And the followers of the prophet can scarcely complain if, even on such evidence, the verdict of history goes against him".
II. THE SYSTEM
A. Geographical Extent, Divisions, and Distribution of Mohammedans
After Mohammed's death Mohammedanism aspired to become a world power and a universal religion. The weakness of the Byzantine Empire, the unfortunate rivalry between the Greek and Latin Churches, the schisms of Nestorius and Eutyches, the failing power of the Sassanian dynasty of Persia, the lax moral code of the new religion, the power of the sword and of fanaticism, the hope of plunder and the love of conquest — all these factors combined with the genius of the caliphs, the successors of Mohammed, to effect the conquest, in considerably less than a century, of Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, North Africa, and the South of Spain. The Moslems even crossed the Pyrenees, threatening to stable their horses in St. Peter's at Rome, but were at last defeated by Charles Martel at Tours, in 732, just one hundred years from the death of Mohammed. This defeat arrested their western conquests and saved Europe. In the eighth and ninth centuries they conquered Persia, Afghanistan, and a large part of India, and in the twelfth century they had already become the absolute masters of all Western Asia, Spain and North Africa, Sicily, etc. They were finally conquered by the Mongols and Turks, in the thirteenth century, but the new conquerors adopted Mohammed's religion and, in the fifteenth century, overthrew the tottering Byzantine Empire (1453). From that stronghold (Constantinople) they even threatened the German Empire, but were successfully defeated at the gates of Vienna, and driven back across the Danube, in 1683.
Mohammedanism now comprises various theological schools and political factions. The Orthodox (Sunni) uphold the legitimacy of the succession of the first three caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar, and Uthman, while the Schismatics (Shiah) champion the Divine right of Ali as against the successions of these caliphs whom they call "usurpers", and whose names, tombs, and memorials they insult and detest. The Shiah number at present about twelve million adherents, or about one-twentieth of the whole Mohammedan world, and are scattered over Persia and India. The Sunni are subdivided into four principal theological schools, or sects, viz., the Hanifites, found mostly in Turkey, Central Asia, and Northern India; the Shafites in Southern India and Egypt; the Malikites, in Morocco, Barbary, and parts of Arabia; and the Hanbalites in Central and Eastern Arabia and in some parts of Africa. The Shiah are also subdivided into various, but less important, sects. Of the proverbial seventy-three sects of Islam, thirty-two are assigned to the Shiah. The principal differences between the two are:
There are also minor sects, the principal of which are the Aliites, or Fatimites, the Asharians, Azaragites, Babakites, Babbis, Idrisites, Ismailians and Assassins, Jabrians, Kaissanites, Karmathians, Kharjites, followers of the Mahdi, Mu'tazilites, Qadrains, Safrians, Sifatians, Sufis, Wahabis, and Zaidites. The distinctive features of these various sects are political as well as religious; only three or four of them now possess any influence.
In spite of these divisions, however, the principal articles of faith and morality, and the ritual, are substantially uniform.
According to the latest and most reliable accounts (1907), the number of Mohammedans in the world is about 233 millions, although some estimate the number as high as 300 millions, others, again, as low as 175 millions. Nearly 60 millions are in Africa, 170 millions in Asia, and about 5 millions in Europe. Their total number amounts to about one-fourth of the population of Asia, and one-seventh that of the whole world. Their geographical distribution is as follows:
India, 62 millions; other British possessions (such as Aden, Bahrein, Ceylon, and Cyprus), about one million and a half; Russia (Asiatic and European), the Caucasus, Russian Turkestan, and the Amur region, about 13 millions; Philippine Islands, 350,000; Dutch East Indies (including Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Celebes, etc.) about 30 millions; French possessions in Asia (Pondicherry, Annam, Cambodia, Cochin-China, Tonking, Laos), about one million and a half; Bokhara, 1,200,000; Khiva, 800,000; Persia, 8,800,000; Afghanistan, 4,000,000; China and Chinese Turkestan, 30,000,000; Japan and Formosa, 30,000; Korea, 10,000; Siam, 1,000,000; Asia Minor; Armenia and Kurdistan, 1,795,000; Mesopotamia, 1,200,000; Syria, 1,100,000; Arabia, 4,500,000. Total, 170,000,000.
Egypt, 9,000,000; Tripoli, 1,250,000; Tunis, 1,700,000; Algeria, 4,000,000; Morocco, 5,600,000; Eritrea, 150,000; Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1,000,000; Senegambia-Niger, 18,000,000; Abyssinia, 350,000; Kamerun, 2,000,000; Nigeria, 6,000,000; Dahomey, 350,000; Ivory Coast, 800,000; Liberia, 600,000; Sierra Leone, 333,000; French Guinea, 1,500,000; French, British, and Italian Somaliland, British East African Protectorate, Uganda, Togoland, Gambia and Senegal, about 2,000,000; Zanzibar, German East Africa, Portuguese East Africa, Rhodesia, Congo Free State, and French Congo, about 4,000,000; South Africa and adjacent island, about 235,000.-Approximate total, 60,000,000.
Turkey in Europe, 2,100,000; Greece, Servia, Rumania, and Bulgaria, about 1,369,000. Total, about 3,500,000.
America and Australia
About 7,000,000 (i.e., four-fifths) of the Persian Mohammedans and about 5,000,000 of the Indian Mohammedans are Shiahs; the rest of the Mohammedan world — about 221,000,000 — are almost all Sunnites.
The principal tents of Mohammedanism are laid down in the Koran. As aids in interpreting the religious system of the Koran we have: first, the so-called "Traditions", which are supposed to contain supplementary teachings and doctrine of Mohammed, a very considerable part of which, however, is decidedly spurious; second, the consensus of the doctors of Islam represented by the most celebrated imâms, the founders of the various Islamic sects, the Koranic commentators and the masters of Mohammedans jurisprudence; third, the analogy, or deduction form recognized principles admitted in the Koran and in the Traditions. Mohammed's religion, known among its adherents as Islam, contains practically nothing original; it is a confused combination of native Arabian heathenism, Judaism, Christianity, Sabiism (Mandoeanism), Hanifism, and Zoroastrianism.
The system may be divided into two parts: dogma, or theory; and morals, or practice. The whole fabric is built on five fundamental points, one belonging to faith, or theory, and the other four to morals, or practice. All Mohammedan dogma is supposed to be expressed in the one formula: "there is no God but the true God; and Mohammed is His prophet." But this one confession implies for Mohammedans six distinct articles: (a) belief in the unity of God; (b) in His angels; (c) in His Scripture; (d) in His prophets; (e) in the Resurrection and Day of Judgment; and (f) in God's absolute and irrevocable decree and predetermination both of good and of evil. The four points relating to morals, or practice, are: (a) prayer, ablutions, and purifications; (b) alms: (c) fasting; and (d) pilgrimage to Mecca.
The doctrines of Islam concerning God — His unity and Divine attributes — are essentially those of the Bible; but to the doctrines of the Trinity and of the Divine Sonship of Christ Mohammed had the strongest antipathy. As Noldeke remarks, Mohammed's acquaintance with those two dogmas was superficial; even the clauses of the Creed that referred to them were not properly known to him, and thus he felt that it was quite impossible to bring them into harmony with the simple Semitic Monotheism; probably, too, it was this consideration alone that hindered him from embracing Christianity (Sketches from Eastern History, 62).
The number of prophets sent by God is said to have been about 124,000, and of apostles, 315. Of the former, 22 are mentioned by name in the Koran — such as Adam, Noe, Abraham, Moses, Jesus.
According to the Sunni, the Prophets and Apostles were sinless and superior to the angels, and they had the power of performing miracles. Mohammedan angelology and demonology are almost wholly based on later Jewish and early Christian traditions. The angels are believed to be free from all sin; they neither eat nor drink; there is no distinction of sex among them. They are, as a rule, invisible, save to animals, although, at times, they appear in human form. The principal angels are: Gabriel, the guardian and communicator of God's revelation to man; Michael, the guardian of men; Azrail, the angel of death, whose duty is to receive men's souls when they die; and Israfil, the angel of the Resurrection.
In addition to these there are the Seraphim, who surround the throne of God, constantly chanting His praises; the Secretaries, who record the actions of men; the Observers, who spy on every word and deed of mankind; the Travelers, whose duty it is to traverse the whole earth in order to know whether, and when, men utter the name of God; the Angels of the Seven Planets; the Angels who have charge of hell; and a countless multitude of heavenly beings who fill all space. The chief devil is Iblis, who, like his numerous companions, was once the nearest to God, but was cast out for refusing to pay homage to Adam at the command of God. These devils are harmful both to the souls and to the bodies of men, although their evil influence is constantly checked by Divine interference.
Besides angels and devils, there are also jinns, or genii, creatures of fire, able to eat, drink, propagate, and die; some good, others bad, but all capable of future salvation and damnation.
God rewards good and punishes evil deeds. He is merciful and is easily propitiated by repentance. The punishment of the impenitent wicked will be fearful, and the reward of the faithful great. All men will have to rise from the dead and submit to the universal judgment. The Day of Resurrection and of Judgment will be preceded and accompanied by seventeen fearful, or greater, signs in heaven and on earth, and eight lesser ones, some of which are identical with those mentioned in the New Testament. The Resurrection will be general and will extend to all creatures — angels, jinns, men, and brutes. The torments of hell and the pleasures of Paradise, but especially the latter, are proverbially crass and sensual. Hell is divided into seven regions: Jahannam, reserved for faithless Mohammedans; Laza, for the Jews; Al-Hutama, for the Christians; Al-Sair, for the Sabians; Al-Saqar, for the Magians; Al-Jahim, for idolaters; Al-Hawiyat, for hypocrites. As to the torments of hell, it is believed that the damned will dwell amid pestilential winds and in scalding water, and in the shadow of a black smoke. Draughts of boiling water will be forced down their throats. They will be dragged by the scalp, flung into the fire, wrapped in garments of flame, and beaten with iron maces. When their skins are well burned, other skins will be given them for their greater torture. While the damnation of all infidels will be hopeless and eternal, the Moslems, who, though holding the true religion, have been guilty of heinous sins, will be delivered from hell after expiating their crimes.
The joys and glories of Paradise are as fantastic and sensual as the lascivious Arabian mind could possibly imagine. "As plenty of water is one of the greatest additions to the delights of the Bedouin Arab, the Koran often speaks of the rivers of Paradise as a principal ornament thereof; some of these streams flow with water, some with wine and others with honey, besides many other lesser springs and fountains, whose pebbles are rubies and emeralds, while their earth consists of camphor, their beds of musk, and their sides of saffron. But all these glories will be eclipsed by the resplendent and ravishing girls, or houris, of Paradise, the enjoyment of whose company will be the principal felicity ofthe faithful. These maidens are created not of clay, as in the case of mortal women, but of pure musk, and free from all natural impurities, defects, and inconveniences. They will be beautiful and modest and secluded from public view in pavilions of hollow pearls. The pleasures of Paradise will be so overwhelming that God will give to everyone the potentialities of a hundred individuals. To each individuals a large mansion will be assigned, and the very meanest will have at his disposal at least 80,000 servants and seventy-two wives of the girls of Paradise. While eating they will be waited on by 300 attendants, the food being served in dishes of gold, whereof 300 shall be set before him at once, containing each a different kind of food, and an inexhaustible supply of wine and liquors. The magnificence of the garments and gems is conformable to the delicacy of their diet. For they will be clothed in the richest silks and brocades, and adorned with bracelets of gold and silver, and crowns set with pearls, and will make use of silken carpets, couches, pillows, etc., and in order that they may enjoy all these pleasures, God will grant them perpetual youth, beauty, and vigor. Music and singing will also be ravishing and everlasting" (Wollaston, "Muhammed, His Life and Doctrines").
The Mohammedan doctrine of predestination is equivalent to fatalism. They believe in God's absolute decree and predetermination both of good and of evil; viz., whatever has been or shall be in the world, whether good or bad, proceeds entirely from the Divine will, and is irrevocably fixed and recorded from all eternity. The possession and the exercise of our own free will is, accordingly, futile and useless. The absurdity of this doctrine was felt by later Mohammedan theologians, who sought in vain by various subtile distinctions to minimize it.
The five pillars of the practical and of the ritualistic side of Islam are the recital of the Creed and prayers, fasting, almsgiving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. The formula of the Creed has been given above, and its recital is necessary for salvation. The daily prayers are five in number: before sunrise, at midday, at four in the afternoon, at sunset, and shortly before midnight. The forms of prayer and the postures are prescribed in a very limited Koranic liturgy. All prayers must be made looking towards Mecca, and must be preceded by washing, neglect of which renders the prayers of no effect. Public prayer is made on Friday in the mosque, and is led by an imâm. Only men attend the public prayers, as women seldom pray even at home. Prayers for the dead are meritorious and commended. Fasting is commended at all seasons, but prescribed only in the month of Ramadan. It begins at sunrise and ends at sunset, and is very rigorous, especially when the fasting season falls in summer. At the end of Ramadan comes the great feast-day, generally called Bairam, or Fitr, i.e., "Breaking of the Fast". The other great festival is that of Azha, borrowed with modifications from the Jewish Day of Atonement. Almsgiving is highly commended: on the feast-day after Ramadan it is obligatory, and is to be directed to the "faithful" (Mohammedans) only. Pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime is a duty incumbent on every free Moslem of sufficient means and bodily strength; the merit of it cannot be obtained by deputy, and the ceremonies are strictly similar to those performed by the Prophet himself . Pilgrimages to the tombs of saints are very common nowadays, especially in Persia and India, although they were absolutely forbidden by Mohammed.
It is hardly necessary here to emphasize the fact that the ethics of Islam are far inferior to those of Judaism and even more inferior to those of the New Testament. Furthermore, we cannot agree with Noldeke when he maintains that, although in many respects the ethics of Islam are not to be compared even with such Christianity as prevailed, and still prevails, in the East, nevertheless, in other points, the new faith — simple, robust, in the vigor of its youth — far surpassed the religion of the Syrian and Egyptian Christians, which was in a stagnating condition, and steadily sinking lower and lower into the depths of barbarism (op. cit., Wollaston, 71, 72). The history and the development, as well as the past and present religious, social, and ethical condition of all the Christian nations and countries, no matter of what sect or school they may be, as compared with these of the various Mohammedan countries, in all ages, is a sufficient refutation of Noldeke's assertion. That in the ethics of Islam there is a great deal to admire and to approve, is beyond dispute; but of originality or superiority, there is non. What is really good in Mohammedan ethics is either commonplace or borrowed from some other religions, whereas what is characteristic is nearly always imperfect or wicked.
The principal sins forbidden by Mohammed are idolatry and apostasy, adultery, false witness against a brother Moslem, games of chance, the drinking of wine or other intoxicants, usury, and divination by arrows. Brotherly love is confined in Islam to Mohammedans. Any form of idolatry or apostasy is severely punished in Islam, but the violation of any of the other ordinances is generally allowed to go unpunished, unless it seriously conflicts with the social welfare or the political order of the State. Among other prohibitions mention must be made of the eating of blood, of swine's flesh, of whatever dies of itself, or is slain in honour of any idol, or is strangled, or killed by a blow, or a fall, or by another beast. In case of dire necessity, however, these restrictions may be dispensed with. Infanticide, extensively practiced by the pre-Islamic Arabs, is strictly forbidden by Mohammed, as is also the sacrificing of children to idols in fulfilment of vows, etc. The crime of infanticide commonly took the form of burying newborn females, lest the parents should be reduced to poverty by providing for them, or else that they might avoid the sorrow and disgrace which would follow, if their daughters should be made captives or become scandalous by their behaviour.
Religion and the State are not separated in Islam. Hence Mohammedan jurisprudence, civil and criminal, is mainly based on the Koran and on the "Traditions". Thousands of judicial decisions are attributed to Mohammed and incorporated in the various collections of Hadith. Mohammed commanded reverence and obedience to parents, and kindness to wives and slaves. Slander and backbiting are strongly denounced, although false evidence is allowed to hide a Moslem's crime and to save his reputation or life. As regards marriage, polygamy, and divorce, the Koran explicitly (sura iv, v. 3) allows four lawful wives at a time, whom the husband may divorce whenever he pleases. Slave-mistresses and concubines are permitted in any number. At present, however, owing to economic reasons, concubinage is not as commonly practiced as Western popular opinion seems to hold. Seclusion of wives is commanded, and in case of unfaithfulness, the wife's evidence, either in her own defense or against her husband, is not admitted, while that of the husband invariably is. In this, as in there judicial cases, the evidence of two women, if admitted, is sometimes allowed to be worth that of one man. The man is allowed to repudiate his wife on the slightest pretext, but the woman is not permitted even to separate herself from her husband unless it be for ill-usage, want of proper maintenance, or neglect of conjugal duty; and even then she generally loses her dowry, when she does not if divorced by her husband, unless she has been guilty of immodesty or notorious disobedience. Both husband and wife are explicitly forbidden by Mohammed to seek divorce on any slight occasion or the prompting of a whim, but this warning was not heeded either by Mohammed himself or by his followers. A divorced wife, in order to ascertain the paternity of a possible or probable offspring, must wait three months before she marries again. A widow, on the other hand, must wait four months and ten days. Immorality in general is severely condemned and punished by the Koran, but the moral laxity and depraved sensualism of the Mohammedans at large have practically nullified its effects.
Slavery is not only tolerated in the Koran, but is looked upon as a practical necessity, while the manumission of slaves is regarded as a meritorious deed. It must be observed, however, that among Mohammedans, the children of slaves and of concubines are generally considered equally legitimate with those of legal wives, none being accounted bastards except such as are born of public prostitutes, and whose fathers are unknown. The accusation often brought against the Koran that it teaches that women have no souls is without foundation. The Koranic law concerning inheritance insists that women and orphans be treated with justice and kindness. Generally speaking, however, males are entitled to twice as much as females. Contracts are to be conscientiously drawn up in the presence of witnesses. Murder, manslaughter, and suicide are explicitly forbidden, although blood revenge is allowed. In case of personal injury, the law of retaliation is approved.
In conclusion, reference must be made here to the sacred months, and to the weekly holy day. The Arabs had a year of twelve lunar months, and this, as often as seemed necessary, they brought roughly into accordance with the solar year by the intercalation of a thirteenth month. The Mohammedan year, however, has a mean duration of 354 days, and is ten or eleven days shorter than the solar year, and Mohammedan festivals, accordingly, move in succession through all the seasons. The Mohammedan Era begins with the Hegira, which is assumed to have taken place on the 16th day of July, A.D. 622. To find what year of the Christian Era (A.D.) is represented by a given year of the Mohammedan Era (A.H.), the rule is: Subtract from the Mohammedan date the product of three times the last completed number of centuries, and add 621 to the remainder. (This rule, however, gives an exact result only for the first day of a Mohammedan century. Thus, e.g., the first day of the fourteenth century came in the course of the year of Our Lord 1883.) The first, seven, eleventh and twelfth months of the Mohammedan year are sacred; during these months it is not lawful to wage war. The twelfth month is consecrated to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and, in order to protect pilgrims, the preceding (eleventh) month and the following (first of the new year) are also inviolable. The seventh month is reserved for the fast which Mohammed substituted for a month (the ninth) devoted by the Arabs in pre-Islamic times to excessive eating and drinking. Mohammed selected Friday as the sacred day of the week, and several fanciful reason are adduced by the Prophet himself and by his followers for the selection; the most probable motive was the desire to have a holy day different from that of the Jews and that of the Christians. It is certain, however, that Friday was a day of solemn gatherings and public festivities among the pre-Islamic Arabs. Abstinence from work is not enjoined on Friday, but it is commanded that public prayers and worship must be performed on that day. Another custom dating from antiquity and still universally observed by all Mohammedans, although not explicitly enjoined in the Koran, is circumcision. It is looked upon as a semi-religious practice, and its performance is preceded and accompanied by great festivities.
In matters political Islam is a system of despotism at home and aggression abroad. The Prophet commanded absolute submission to the imâm. In no case was the sword to be raised against him. The rights of non-Moslem subjects are of the vaguest and most limited kind, and a religious war is a sacred duty whenever there is a chance of success against the "Infidel". Medieval and modern Mohammedan, especially Turkish, persecutions of both Jews and Christians are perhaps the best illustration of this fanatical religious and political spirit.
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Encyclopedia, Volume X