Sources for the Biography of Mahomet. The Coran, and Tradition- Chapter-1
THE LIFE OF MAHOMET.
WITH INTRODUCTORY CHAPTERS ON THE ORIGINAL SOURCES FOR THE BIOGRAPHY OF MAHOMET, AND ON THE PRE-ISLAMITE HISTORY OF ARABIA
WILLIAM MUIR, ESQ.,
Bengal Civil Service.
[Smith, Elder, & Co., London, 1861]
- Ancient story is either legendary, traditional, or contemporary
- The evidence of the early history of Islam belongs to all three classes
- Sources specified
- Subject of this chapter – value of those sources
- The CORAN, In what manner preserved in writing during Mahomet’s lifetime
- Committed also to memory by the early Moslems; but not in any fixed order of parts
- The fragments from which the Coran was compiled, are exactly as Mahomet composed them
- Ability to write common among the early Moslems both of Mecca and Medina
- Transcripts of portions of the Coran common among the early Moslems; but incomplete and fragmentary
- State of the Coran up to a year after Mahomet’s death
- The Coran collected, A.H. 11, by Zeid; whose text was authoritative during the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Omar
- Recension during the Caliphate of Othman, (some time after A.H. 33;) which remains unaltered to the present day
- Was the text of Othman a faithful reproduction of the edition of Abu Bakr?
- Reasons for believing that It was so.
- II. Was the edition or Abu Bakr a faithful copy of the revelations of Mahomet?
- Reason for believing that it was so. First.–The sincerity and faith of Abu Bakr and the early Moslems
- Second, -The Coran as delivered by Mahomet, was yet fresh in the memory of his followers
- Third– It must have corresponded with the numerous transcripts in the hands of the Moslems
- Fourth-There is internal evidence of the simplicity and faithfulness of the compilers
- A recension of Abu Bakr’s edition, when required
- The Coran may not contain some passages once revealed, but subsequently cancelled or altered; nor some obsolete, suppressed, or ephemeral passages
- CONCLUSION. The Coran is an authentic record of Mahomet’s revelations
- Importance of the Coran as furnishing contemporary evidence of Mahomet’s own words and character
- TRADITION, the chief material of early Moslem history, described
- The habits of the early Moslems favoured growth of tradition, which in the lapse of time invested Mahomet with supernatural attributes
- Superstitious reverence with which the traditions of the Companions were regarded by the succeeding generation
- The Successors belong to the latter half of the first century
- The wants of the expanding empire required an enlargement of the administrative code of the Coran
- Yet the Coran was at first the sole authoritative rule of conduct
- The deficiency supplied by the SUNNAT, or sayings and practice of Mahomet
- Incentive created thereby to the fabrication and propagation of Tradition: the Collectors
- General Collections of biographical tradition
- Tradition not recorded till the latter part of the 1st century.
- Even if recorded memoranda were kept in Mahomet’s lifetime, none of them can be connected with any traditions now extant
- Mahometan tradition, being at first purely oral is not only uncertain, but affected by bias and prejudice
- In order to estimate these influences, historical review necessary
- During the two first Caliphates, faction unknown
- A.H. 23-35. Effect on tradition of the divisions following the murder of Othman;- not unfavourable
- A.H. 35-40. The Caliphates of the Ommeyad Dynasty favourable to the truthfulness of Tradition
- The type cast in this period never after materially altered
- Alyite and Abasside parties conspire to supplant the Ommeyad line, and for that object fabricate and pervert tradition
- Accession of the Abbassides, 136, A H.; under whom the biography by Ibn Ishac (the earliest of which any thing is extant,) was compiled
- A.H. 198-218. The intolerant Caliphate of Al Mamun was the era when the great traditional and biographical authorities now extant flourished baneful influences then at work
- The general collections or tradition made under similar influences
- Two Schools; Sunni, and the Shia
- Service rendered by the Collectors
- Immense proportion of fictitious matter in the current tradition, rejected even by the Mohametan Collectors; Illustrated by an anecdote from Bokhari
- The Collectors, though unsparing in the rejection or un-trustworthy traditions, did not discriminate those that were trustworthy by any intelligent canon; for the political element of Islam had extinguished free enquiry and real criticism
- But they were honest in accomplishing what they professed
- Guarantees and evidence of their honesty
- How far do the Collections of tradition contain elements of truth?
- The fragmentary and isolated character of each tradition prevents application of the ordinary checks on a continuous narrative
- Each tradition was regarded as a unit, to be, without investigation of its parts, accepted or rejected as a whole
- Coincidence of separate traditions a possible, but practically unknown, proof of faithful transmission
- The exclusively oral character of early tradition deprives it of every check against the license of error and fabrication
- Tradition tested by its correspondence with the Coran
- The main historical and biographical outlines agree
- Disagreement in certain important points, as the power to work miracles
- Perplexing alternative
- Opinion of Dr. Sprenger, too favorable to tradition
- An attempt to lay down tests for discriminating what is reliable in tradition
- Traditional evidence ex parte. Our tests must depend on internal examination
- Two divisions; Period and Subject of event narrated
- I. Period. First-Up to entrance of Mahomet on public life. All our witnesses younger, and most of them much younger than Mahomet; their personal knowledge cannot therefore go farther back than his youth at the earliest
- Attention not excited till Mahomet had publicly assumed the prophetic office
- For events prior to Mahomet’s public life, circumstantiality a ground of suspicion
- Exception in favour of the leading outlines of Mahomets life; public events; and national history
- Second Period – From entrance on public life to taking of Mecca i.e. B.H. 10 to A.H. 8
- No surviving evidence on the side or the Meccans; or against Mahomet and his party
- To what degree the Meccan party, as finally incorporated with the Moslems, proved a check upon misrepresentation
- Evidence against the opponents of Mahomet to be received with suspicion
- So also with evidence regarding the Jewish, Christian and Pagan, Tribes or Arabia
- Similar considerations apply to the Hypocrites, or disaffected inhabitants of Medina
- II. SUBJECT MATTER as affected by personal party, or national bias
- 1. Personal ambition of being associated with Mahomet
- Exaggeration of personal merit in the case of Islam
- Small chance of such exaggerations and fictions being checked
- 2. Party – Likelihood of party traditions coming into general currency
- Prejudicial influence or the lesser associations of Tribe, Family, Patron, &c.
- 3. National bias; common to the whole of Islam, and therefore the most fatal
- Tendency to exalt Mahomet, and ascribe to him supernatural attributes
- Difficulty of discriminating what originated with Mahomet himself, In supernatural tales
- That it contains the recital of a miracle does not necessarily discredit an entire tradition or story
- Tales and legends how far ascribable to Mahomet
- Supposed anticipations of Mahomet by Jewish and Christian priests
- Anticipations of Islam
- History of the Prophet’s ancestors, and of early Arabia, borrowed from, or conformed to, Jewish scripture and tradition.
- Traditions of the Jewish and Christian scriptures being mutilated and interpolated
- Why such extravagant and unfounded traditions were not contradicted
- Tradition’s unfavourable to Mahomet became obsolete
- Pious frauds allowable in Islam
- Difficulty of distinguishing conscientious witnesses from amongst the originators of tradition
- Examples of capricious fabrication
- Unsupported tradition is insufficient evidence
- III. What considerations confirm Individual traditions?
- Agreement between Independent traditions?
- Agreement between portions only of independent traditions
- Verbal coincidence may point to a common written original
- Correspondence with the Coran a valuable confirmation
- Disparagement of Mahomet a ground of credibility
- Treaties contemporaneously recorded
- Their authority far superior to that of ordinary tradition; especially in regard to Jewish and Christian tribes
- Written details of embassies preserved in the several tribes which sent them
- Poetical remains carry a special authority. – 1. Such as are ascribed to a period before the rise of Mahomet not of very great practical value
- These remarks not applicable to the national poetry of Arabia
- Two Poets who survived Mahomet
- Their poetry simply confirmatory of tradition
- EARLY BIOGRAPHIES
- Zohri, and other compilers of biographical collections
- Biographies not extant, compiled in the second century A.H.
- Extant biographies
- Difference between biographies and ordinary traditional collections
- First : – confined to biographical matter chronologically arranged
- Second: -The traditions are Sometimes formed into a connected narrative
- Third: – a measure of critical collation
- MUHAMMED IBN ISHAQ; – testimonies to his authority
- One of the chief Sources of subsequent biographies
- Though not extant, his materials are largely available in Ibn Hisham’s biography
- IBN HISHAM: – his character
- Suspicions of his candour and fidelity
- Arrangement and composition
- Abridgement to which reference is made throughout this work
- WACKIDI – character and writings
- His “Maghazi” the only one of his works extant in its original form
- But the most important results of his labours preserved in the writings of his Secretary MUHAMMAD IBN SAAD; known as Katib al Wackidi
- His works
- Discovery of a M.S. of the Kitab al Wackidi’s volume containing the biography of Mahomet and his Companions
- The title, composed mainly of detached traditions
- Authority of Wackidi and his Secretary
- The volume containing his biography of Mahomet discovered lately by Dr. Sprenger
- Importance of the discovery
- Especially as proving the completeness of our authorities, Ibn Ishac and Wackidi
- Historical Sources recounted
- No subsequent works carry any historical weight
- Opinion of Sprenger
- Early writers alone authoritative
Sources for the Biography of Mahomet. – The Coran, and Tradition,
Ancient story legendary, traditional or contemporary
The confidence reposed in the stories of former times varies with the medium through which they have been handed down. The true exploits of Hercules carry less conviction than the feats of Troy while, again, the wanderings of Ulysses, and the adventures of the early founders of Rome, are regarded with Incomparably less trust than the history of the Peloponessian war, or the fortunes of Julius Caesar. Thus there are three great divisions of ancient narrative. Legendary tales are based upon evanescent materials, and it is often doubtful whether they shadow forth abstract principles or real facts. Tradition, and the rhapsodies of bards, have for their object actual or supported events; but the Impression of these events is liable to become distorted, from the imperfection of the vehicle which conveys them to posterity. It is to the contemporary historian alone, or to history deriving its facts from contemporary records, that the mind accords a reliance which, proportioned to the means and the fidelity of the writer, may rise to absolute certainty.
The evidence of early Islam belongs to all three classes
The narrative which we now possess of the origin of Islam does not belong exclusively to any one of these classes. It is legendary, for it contains multitudes of wild myths, such as the the “Light of Mahomet”, and the Cleansing of his Heart. It is traditional since the main material of the story is oral recitation, not recorded until Islam had attained to a full growth. But it possesses also some of the elements of History, because there are contemporary records of undoubted authenticity, to which we can still refer. Moreover, Moslem Tradition is of a peculiar and systematic character, and in some respects carries an authority not claimable by common tradition.
From these heterogeneous and incoherent materials it might be supposed difficult, and often impossible, to extract a uniform and consistent account of the Arabian Prophet, the various points of which shall be supported by sufficient evidence or probability. It will be my attempt, in the present chapter, to elucidate this topic; to enquire into the available sources for such a narrative; and the degree of credit to which they are severally entitled.
We have two main treasuries from which may be drawn materials for tracing the life of Mahomet and the first rise of Islam. These are the CORAN, and the TRADITIONS of the two first centuries. Two minor classes may be added, namely, contemporary documents, and Arab poetry; but these have been, for the most part, transmitted by Tradition, and may with propriety be treated as coming under the same head.
Subject of this chapters — their absolute and comparative value
What dependence, then, can be placed on these sources? What is their individual merit as furnishing historical evidence? and what their comparative value, in relation to each other? To the solution of these questions, we shall now address ourselves.
The CORAN, In what manner preserved writing during Mohamet’s lifetime
The CORAN consists exclusively of the revelations or commands which Mahomet professed, from time to time, to receive through Gabriel, as a message direct from God; and which, under an alleged divine direction, he delivered to those about him1. At the time of pretended Inspiration, or shortly after, each passage was recited by Mahomet before the Companions or followers who happened to be present, and was generally Committed to writing by some one amongst them2, upon palm leaves, leather, stones, or such other rude material as conveniently came to hand. These divine messages Continued throughout the three-and-twenty years of his prophetical life, so that the last portion did not appear till the year of his death. The canon was then closed; but the contents were never, during the Prophet’s life-time, systematically arranged, or even collected together. We have no certain knowledge how the originals were preserved. That there did not exist any special depository for them, is evident from the mode in which, after Mahomet’s death, the various fragments had to be sought for. Much of the Coran possessed only a temporary interest, arising out of circumstances which soon ceased to be important; and it Seems to be doubtful whether the Prophet intended passages of this nature for public worship, or even for eventual currency3. Such portions it is little likely he would take any pains to preserve. Whether he retained under his own eye and custody the more important parts, we have no indication; perhaps he regarded them an sufficiently safe in the current copies, guarded by the almost miraculous tenacity or the Arab memory. ‘I’he later, and the more important, revelations were probably left with the scribes who recorded them, or laid up in the habitation of some one of the Prophet’s wives. However this may have been, it is very certain that, when Mahomet died, there was nowhere any deposit of the complete series of original transcripts, and it seeing doubtful whether the original transcripts themselves were then generally in existence.
Committed also to memory by some early Moslems
But the preservation of the Coran during the lifetime of Mahomet was not dependent on any such uncertain archives. The divine revelation was the corner-stone of Islam. The recital of a passage formed an essential part of every celebration of public worship; and its private perusal and repetition was enforced as a duty and a privilege, fraught with the richest religious merit. This is the universal voice of early tradition, and may be gathered from the revelation itself. The Coran was accordingly committed to memory more or less by every adherent of Islam, and the extent to which it could be recited was reckoned one of the chief distinctions of nobility in the early Moslem empire5. The custom of Arabia favored the task. Passionately fond of poetry, yet possessed of but limited means and skill in committing to writing the effusions of their bards, the Arabs had long been habituated to imprint them on the living tablets of their hearts. The recollective faculty was thus cultivated to the highest pitch; and it was applied, with all the ardour of an awakened Arab spirit, to the Coran. Such was the tenacity of their memory, and so great their power of application, that several of Mahomet’s followers, according to early tradition, could, during his life-time, repeat with scrupulous accuracy the entire revelation6.
but not in any fixed order
We are not, however, to assume that the entire Coran was at this period repeated in a fixed order. The present compilation, indeed, is held by the Moslems to follow the arrangement prescribed by Mahomet; and early tradition might appear to imply some known sequence7. But this cannot be admitted; for had any fixed order been observed or sanctioned by the Prophet, it would unquestionably have been preserved in the subsequent collection. Now the Coran, as handed down to our time, follows in the disposition of its several parts no intelligible arrangement whatever, either of subject or time; and it is inconceivable that Mahomet should have enjoined its recital invariably in this concatenation. We must even doubt whether the number of the Suras, or chapters, was determined by Mahomet as we now have them8. The internal sequence at any rate of the contents of the several Suras cannot, in most cases, have been that which was enforced by the Prophet. The chaotic mingling of subjects, ever and anon disjoined as well by chronology as by the sense ; – a portion preceding at Medina sometimes immediately preceding a passage revealed long before at Mecca; a command placed directly after a later on which cancels or modifies it; or an argument suddenly disturbed by the interjection of a sentence utterly foreign to its purport; all this forbids us to believe that the present, or indeed any complete, arrangement was in use during Mahomet’s life-time.
The fragments from which the Coran was collected are exactly as Mahomet composed them
On the other hand, there does not appear reason to doubt that several at least of the Suras are precisely the same, both in matter and order, as Mahomet left them9 ; and that the remainder, though often resembling a mosaic of various material, rudely dove-tailed together, is yet composed of genuine fragments, generally of considerable size, and each for the most part, following the connection in which it was recited at the public prayers, and committed to memory or to paper from the mouth of the Prophet by the earliest Moslems10. The irregular interposition and orderless disposal of the smaller fragments have indeed frequently destroyed the sequence, and produced a perplexing confusion. Still, the fact remains, that the fragments themselves were Mahomet’s own composition, and were learned or recorded under his instructions; and this fact stamps the Coran, not merely as formed out of the Prophet’s words and sentences, but to a large extent as his in relation to the context likewise.
Ability to write common among the early Moslems both of Mecca and Medina
However retentive the Arab memory, we should still have regarded with distrust a transcript made entirely from that source. But there is good reason for believing that many fragmentary copies, embracing amongst them the whole Coran, or nearly the whole, were made by Mahomet’s followers during his life. Even if we admit that writing had been but lately introduced into Mecca11 it was without doubt generally known there long before Mahomet assumed his prophetical office. Many of his followers are expressly mentioned as employed by the Prophet at Medina in writing his letters or dispatches. And, though himself delighting in the title of the ” Illiterate Prophet,” and abstaining by necessity or design from the use or penmanship, he by no means looked with a jealous eye upon the art. Some of the poorest Meccan captives taken at Badr were offered their release on condition that they would teach a certain number of the ignorant citizens of Medina to write12. And although the people of Medina were not so generally educated as the Meccans, yet many of them also are distinctly noticed as having been able to write before Islam13. The ability being thus possessed, it may be safely inferred that what was so indefatigably committed to memory, would be likewise committed carefully to writing.
Transcripts of portions of the Coran common among the early Moslems;but incomplete and fragmentary
We also know that when a tribe first joined Islam, Mahomet was in the habit of deputing one or more of his followers to teach them the Coran and the requirements of his religion. We are frequently informed that they carried written instructions with them on the latter point, and it is natural to conclude that they would provide themselves also with transcripts of the more important parts of the Revelation, especially those upon which the ceremonies of Islam were founded, and such as were usually recited at the public prayers14. Besides the references in the Coran itself to its own existence in a written form, we have express mention made, in the authentic traditions of Omar’s conversion, of a copy of the twentieth Sura being used by his sister’s family for social and private devotional reading15. This refers to a period preceding, by three or four years, the emigration to Medina. If transcripts of the revelation were made, and in common use, at that early time, when the followers of Islam were few and oppressed, it seems a sure deduction that they multiplied exceedingly when the Prophet came to power, and his Book formed the law of the greater part of Arabia.
It is perhaps hardly necessary to add that the limitations already applied to the Coran as committed to memory, must be equally understood here. The transcripts were mere fragmentary copies compiled, if compiled at all, with little or no reference to concatenation of subject and date. The Suras chiefly used in public worship, or the most favourite and meritorious for private perusal and recitation, would be those of which the greatest number of copies existed. Transcripts of the earlier Sura, and of those of evanescent interest, even if extant, would be few in number16.
State of the Coran up to a year after Mahomet’s death
Such was the condition of the text of the Coran during State of the Coran up to Mahomet’s life, and such it remained for about a year after his death, imprinted upon the hearts of his people, and fragmentary copies of it increasing daily. These sources would correspond closely with each other; for the Coran, even in the Prophet’s life-time, was regarded with a superstitious awe as containing the very words of God himself; so that any variations would be reconciled by a direct reference to Mahomet17, and after his death to the originals where they existed, or to the transcripts and the memory of the Prophet’s confidential friends and amanuenses.
The Coran collected A.H. 11, by Zeid: whose text was authoritative during the Caliphates of Abu Bakr and Omar
It was not till the overthrow of Moseilama, when a great carnage took place amongst the Moslems at Yemama18, and large numbers of the best reciters of the Coran were slain, that a misgiving first arose in Omar’s mind as to the uncertainty and embarrassment which would be experienced regarding the text, when all those who had received it from the original source, and thence stored it in their memories, should have passed away. “I fear,” said he, addressing the Caliph Abu Bacr, “that the slaughter may again wax hot amongst the repeaters of the Coran, in other fields of battle; and that much may be lost therefrom19. Now, therefore, my advice is, that thou shouldest give speedy orders for the collection of the Coran.” Abu Bacr agreed, and thus made known his wishes to Zeid ibn Thabit, an Adjustor or convert of Medina, and one of the Prophet’s amanuenses,- Thou art a young man, and wise; against whom no one amongst its can cast an imputation; and thou wert wont to write down the inspired revelations of the Prophet of the Lord. Wherefore now search out the Coran, and bring it all together.” So new and unexpected was the enterprise, that Zeid at first shrank from it, and doubted the propriety, or even lawfulness, of attempting that which Mahomet had neither himself done nor commanded to be done. At last he yielded to the joint entreaties of Abu Bacr and Omar, and seeking out the fragments of the Coran from every quarter, “gathered it together, from date-leaves, and tablets of white stone, and from the breasts of men20.” By the labours of Zeid, these scattered and confused materials were reduced to the order and sequence in which we now find them, and in which it is pretended that Zeid used to repeat the Coran in the presence of Mahomet. The original copy prepared by Zeid appears to have been kept by Abu Bacr during the short remainder of his reign. It then came unto the possession of Omar, who committed it to the custody of his daughter Haphsa, one of the Prophet’s widows. The compilation of Zeid, as copied out in this exemplar continued during the ten years caliphate of Omar to be the standard and authoritative text21.
Recension in the Caliphate of Othman (some time after A.H. 39:)
But variety of expression either originally prevailed in the previous transcripts and modes of recitation, or soon crept into the copies which were made from Zeid’s edition. Mussulmans were scandalized. The Coran sent down by the Lord was ONE, but if there were several varying texts, where was its unity? Hodzeifa, who had warred both in Armenia and Adzerbaijan, and had observed the different readings of the Syrians and of the men of Irac, was alarmed at the number and extent of the variations, and warned Othman to interpose, and “stop the people, before they should differ regarding their scriptures, as did the Jews and Christians22”. The Caliph was persuaded, and to remedy the evil had recourse again to Zeid, with whom he associated a jury of three Coreishites23.: The original copy of the first edition was obtained from Haphsa’s depository, and a careful recension of the whole set on foot. in case of difference between Zeid and his coadjutors, the voice of the latter, its demonstrative of the Coreishite idiom, was to preponderate; and the new collation was thus assimilated to the Meccan dialect, in which the Prophet had given utterance to his inspiration24. Transcripts were multiplied and forwarded to the chief cities in the empire, and all the previously existing copies were, by the Caliph’s command, committed to the flames25. The old original was returned to Haphsa’s custody.
which remains unaltered to the present day
The recension of Othman has been handed down to us unaltered. So carefully, indeed, has it been preserved, that there are no variations of importance,- we might almost say no variations at all, – amongst the innumerable copies of the Coran scattered throughout the vast bounds of the empire of Islam. Contending and embittered factions, taking their rise in the murder of Othman himself within a quarter of a century from the death of Mahomet, have ever since rent the Mahometan world. Yet but ONE CORAN has always been current amongst them; and the consentaneous use by all to the present day of the same scripture, is an irrefragable proof that we have now before us the very text prepared by the commands of the unfortunate Caliph26. There is probably in the world no other work which has remained twelve centuries with so pure a text. The various readings are wonderfully few in number, and are chiefly confined to differences in the vowel points and diacritical signs. But these marks were invented at a later date. They did not exist at all in the early copies, and can hardly be said to affect the text of Othman 27 .
Was the text of Othman a faithful reproduction of the edition of Abu Bacr?
Since, then’, we possess the undoubted text of Othman’s recension, it remains to be inquired whether that text was an honest reproduction of Abu Bacr’s edition, with the simple reconcilement or unimportant variations. There is the fullest ground for believing that it was so. No early or trustworthy traditions throw suspicion of unfair dealing upon Othman28. The Shiahs indeed, of later times, pretend that Othman left out certain Suras or passages which favored Ali. But this is incredible. He could not possibly have done so without being observed at the time; and it cannot be imagined that Ali and his followers – not to mention the whole body of the Mussulmans who fondly regarded the Coran as the word of God – – would have permitted such a proceeding.
Reasons for believing that it was so
In support of title position, the following arguments may be adduced. First. When Othman’s edition was prepared, no open breach had yet taken place between the Omeyads and the Alyites. The unity of Islam was still complete and unthreatened. Ali’s pretensions were undeveloped. No sufficient object can, therefore, be assigned for the perpetration by Othman of an offence which Moslems even then regarded as one of the blackest dye. Second. – On the other hand, Ali, from the very commencement of Othman’s reign, had an influential party of adherents, strong enough in the end to depose the Caliph, to storm his palace in the heart of Medina, and to put an end to his life. Can we conceive that these men would have remained quiet, when the very evidence of their leader’s superior claims was being openly expunged from the book of God? Third. – At the time of the recension, there were still multitudes alive who had the Coran, as originally delivered, by heart; and of the supposed passages favouring Ali – had any ever existed -there would have been numerous transcripts in the hands of his family and followers. Both of these sources must have proved an effectual check upon any attempt at suppression29. Fourth. – The party of Ali shortly after assumed an independent attitude, and he himself succeeded to the Caliphate. Is it possible that either Ali, or his party, when thus arrived at power, would have tolerated a mutilated Coran – mutilated expressly to destroy his claims? Yet we find that they followed one and the same Coran with their opponents, and raised not even the shadow of an objection against it suppression30. The insurgents are indeed said to have made it one of their complaints against Othman that he had caused a new edition to be made of the Coran, and had committed all the old copies to the flames; but these proceedings were objected to simply as unauthorized and sacreligious. No hint was dropped of any alteration or omission. Such a supposition, palpably absurd at the time, is altogether an after-thought of the modern Shias.
II. Was the citation of Abu Bakr a faithful copy of the revelations of Mahomet?
We may then safely conclude that Othman’s recension was, what it professed to be, a reproduction of Abu Bacr’s edition, with a more perfect conformity to the Meccan dialect, and possibly a more uniform arrangement of its parts, – but still a faithful reproduction. The most important question yet remains, viz., Whether Abu Bacr.’s edition was an authentic and complete collection of Mahomet’s revelations. The following considerations warrant the belief that it was authentic and, in the main, as complete as at the time was possible.
Reasons for believing that it was so. First. – The sincerity and faith of Abu Bacr and the Moslems
First. – We have no reason to doubt that Abu Baer was a sincere follower of Mahomet, and an earnest believer in the divine origin of the Coran. his faithful attachment to the Prophet’s person, conspicuous for the last twenty years of his life, and his simple, consistent, and unambitious deportment as Caliph, seem to admit no other supposition. Firmly believing the revelations of his clear friend to be the revelations of God himself; his natural object would be to secure a pure and complete transcript of them. A similar argument applies with almost equal force to Omar and the other agents in the revision. The great mass of Mussulmans were undoubtedly sincere, nay fanatical, in their belief. From the scribes themselves, employed in the compilation, down to the humblest believer who brought his little store of writing on stones or palm-leaves, all would be influenced by the same earnest desire to reproduce the very words which their Prophet had declared as his message from the Lord. And a similar guarantee existed in the feelings of the people at large, in whose soul no principle was more deeply rooted than an awful reverence for the supposed word of God. The Coran itself contains frequent denunciations against those who should presume “to fabricate anything in the name of the Lord,” as well as conceal any part of that which he had revealed. Such an action, represented as the worst description of crime, we cannot believe that the first Moslems, in the early ardour of their faith and love, ever dared to contemplate31.
Second. – The Coran as delivered by Mahomet, was yet fresh in the memory of his followers
Second. – The compilation was made within two years of Mahomet’s death 32. We have seen that several of his had the entire revelation (excepting perhaps some obsolete fragment) by heart; that every Moslem treasured it up more or less in his memory; and that there were official reciters of it, for public worship and tuition, in all countries to which Islam extended. These formed an unbroken link, a living stereotype, between the revelation, fresh from Mahomet’s lips, and the edition of it by Zeid. Thus the people were not only sincere and fervent in their desire for a faithful copy of the Coran; they were also in possession of ample means for realizing their wish, and for testing the accuracy and completeness of the volume placed by Abu Bacr in their hands.
Third. – It must have corresponded with the numerous transcripts in the hands of Moslems
Third. – A still greater security would be obtained from the fragmentary transcripts, which existed in Mahomet’s life-time, and must have greatly multiplied before the Coran was thrown together. These were in the possession, probably, of all who could read. And as we know that the compilation of Abu Bacr came into immediate and unquestioned use, it is reasonable to conclude that it embraced and corresponded with every extant fragment; and therefore, by common consent, superseded them all. We hear of no fragments intentionally omitted by the compilers, nor of any that differed from the received edition. Had any such been discoverable, they would undoubtedly have been preserved and noticed in those traditional repositories, which treasured up the minutest and most trivial acts and sayings attributed to the Prophet.
Fourth. – There is internal evidence of the simplicity and faithfulness of the compilers
Fourth. – The contents and the arrangement of the Coran speak forcibly for its authenticity. All the fragments that could possibly be obtained have evidently, with the most artless simplicity, been joined together. The patchwork bears no marks of a designing genius or a moulding hand. It clearly testifies to the faith and reverence of the compilers, and proves that they dared not do more than simply collect the sacred fragments and place them in juxta-position. Hence the interminable repetitions; the palling reiteration of the same ideas, the same truths, the same doctrines; hence the scripture stories and Arab legends, told over and over again with little verbal variation; hence the pervading want of connection, and the startling chasms between adjacent passages. Again, the confessions of Mahomet, and his frailties which it was sometimes expedient to represent as having been noticed by the Deity, are all with evident faithfulness entered in the Coran. Not less undisguised are the frequent verses which are contradicted or abrogated by later revelations33. The editor plainly contented himself with simply bringing together, and copying out in a continuous form with scrupulous accuracy, the fragmentary materials within his reach. He neither ventured to select from repeated versions of the same incident, nor to reconcile differences, nor by the alteration of a single letter to dove-tail abrupt transitions of context, nor by tampering with the text to soften discreditable appearances. Thus we possess every internal guarantee of confidence.
A recension of Abu Bakr’s edition, why required
But it may be objected, — If the text of Abu Bacr’s Coran was pure and universally received, how came it to be so soon corrupted; – and to require, in consequence of its variations, an extensive recension? The traditions do not afford us sufficient light to determine decisively the cause of these discrepancies. They may have been owing to various readings in the older fragmentary transcripts, which remained in the possession of the people; they may have originated in the diverse dialects of Arabia, and the different modes of pronunciation and orthography; or they may have sprung up naturally, before a strict uniformity in all private manuscripts was officially enforced. It is sufficient for us to know that in Othman’s revision recourse was had to the original exemplar of the first compilation, and that we have otherwise every guarantee, internal and external, of possessing a test the same as that which Mahomet himself gave forth and used34.
The Coran may contain some passages once revealed but subsequently canceled or altered
While, however, it is maintained that we now have the Coran as it was left by Mahomet, there is no ground for asserting that passages, once given forth as inspired, may not at some subsequent period have been changed or withdrawn by the Prophet himself. On the contrary, repeated examples of such withdrawal are noticed in the traditions; and alterations (although no express instances are given) seem to be clearly implied in the following early tradition. : –
Omar praised Obey ibn Kab, and said that he was the most perfect repeater of the Coran. “We, indeed,” he added, “are in the habit of omitting some portions included by Obey in his recitation. For Obey is wont to affirm, – “I heard the Prophet saying so, and I omit not a single word entered in the Coran by the Prophet: ‘ whereas the fact is that parts of the book were revealed in the absence of Obey,” (which cancel or alter some of the verses which he repeats.)35
Again,–Ibn Abbas stated that he preferred the reading of Abdallan ibn Masud ; — “for Mahomet used to have the Coran repeated to him (by Gabriel) once every Ramazan; and in the year of his death it was twice repeated, and Abdallah was present (on both occasions) AND WITNESSED WHAT WAS REPEALED THEREOF, AND WHAT WAS CHANGED.”36
The Coran itself recognizes the withdrawal of certain passages, after they had been given forth as a part of the Revelation ;— “Whatever verses we cancel, or cause thee to forget, we give thee better in their stead, or the like thereof.”37
Any passages which Mahomet, thus finding to be inconvenient, or otherwise inexpedient for publication, altered or withdrew from the original transcripts before they went into circulation, will, of course, not be found in our present Coran. But this does not in any measure affect the value of the Coran as an exponent of Mahomet’s opinions, or rather of the opinions he finally professed to hold; since what we now have, though possibly corrected and modified by himself, is still his own38.
Nor some obsolete, suppressed, or ephemeral passages
It is, moreover, not impossible that verses which had been allowed to fall into abeyance and become obsolete, or the suppression. of which Mahomet may himself have desired were sought out by the blind zeal of his followers and, with pious veneration for everything believed to be the word or God, entered in Zeid’s collection. On the other hand, many early passages of ephemeral interest may, without any design on the part of Mahomet, have entirely disappeared in the lapse of time; and no trace being left, they must necessarily have been omitted from the compilation. But both of these are hypothetical positions, unsupported by actual evidence or tradition39.
CONCLUSION. The Coran is an authentic record of Mahomet’s revelations
The conclusion, which we may now with confidence draw, is that the editions both of Abu Bacr and of Othman were, not only faithful, but complete as far as the materials went; and that whatever omissions there may have been, they were not on the part of the compilers intentional. The real drawback to the inestimable value of the Coran, as a contemporary and authentic record of Mahomet’s character and actions, is the want of arrangement and connection which pervades it; so that, in inquiring into the meaning and force of a passage, no infallible dependence can be placed upon the adjacent sentences as being the true context. But bating this serious defect, we may upon the strongest presumption affirm that every verse in the Coran is the genuine and unaltered composition of Mahomet himself, and conclude with at least a close approximation to the verdict of Von Hammer – That we hold the Coran to be as surely Mahomet’s word, as the Mahometans hold it to be the word of God40.
Importance of the Coran as furnishing contemporary evidence of Mahomet’s own words and character
The importance of this deduction can hardly be over-estimated. The Coran becomes the ground-work and the test of all inquires into the origin of Islam and the character of its founder. Here we have a store-house of Mahomet’s own words recorded during his life, extending over the whole course of his public career, and illustrating his religious views, his public acts, and his domestic character. By this standard of his own making we may safely judge his life and actions, for it must represent either what he actually thought, or that which he desired to appear as thinking. And so true a mirror is the Coran of Mahomet’s character, that the saying became proverbial among the early Moslems, His character is the Coran41. “Tell me,” — was the curious inquiry often put to Ayesha, as well as to Mahomet’s other widows, “tell me something about the Prophet’s disposition.”- “Thou hast the Coran,” replied Ayesha, “art thou not an Arab, and readest the Arabic tongue?”-” Yea, verily.” – then,” answered she, “why takest thou the trouble to inquire of me? For the Prophet’s disposition is no other than the Coran.” Of Mahomet’s biography the Coran indeed is the key-stone.
TRADITION. The chief material of early Moslem history
Having gained this firm position, we proceed to inquire into the credibility and authority bf the other source of early Mahamoten history, viz., TRADITION. This must always form the chief material for the biography of the Prophet. It may be possible to establish from the Coran the salient events or his life, but tradition alone enables us to determine their relative position, and to weave them together with the tissue of intermediate affairs.
Mahometan tradition consists of the sayings of the friends and followers of the Prophet, handed down by a real or supposed chain of narrators to the period when they were collected, recorded, and classified. The process of transmission was for the most part oral. It may be sketched as follows.
The habits of the early Moslems favoured growth of tradition
After the death of Mahomet, the main employment of his followers was arms. The pursuit of pleasure, and the formal round of religious observances, filled up the interstices of active life, but afforded scanty exercise for the higher faculties of the mind. The tedium of long and irksome marches, and the lazy intervals from one campaign to another, fell listlessly upon a simple and semi-barbarous race. These intervals were occupied, and that tedium beguiled, chiefly by calling up the past in familiar conversation or more formal discourse. On what topic, then, would the early Moslems more enthusiastically descant than on the acts and sayings of that wonderful man who had called them into existence as a conquering nation, and had placed in their hands “the keys both of this World and of Paradise ?’
which in the lapse of time invested Mahomet with supernatural attributes
Thus the converse of Mahomet’s followers would be much about him. The majesty of his character gained greatness by contemplation; and, as time removed him farther and farther from them, the lineaments of the mysterious mortal who was wont to hold familiar intercourse with the messengers of heaven, rose in dimmer, but in more gigantic proportions. The mind was unconsciously led on to think of him as endowed with supernatural power, and ever surrounded by supernatural agency. Here was the material out of which Tradition grew luxuriantly. Whenever there was at hand no standard of fact whereby these recitals might be tested, the Memory was aided by the unchecked efforts of the imagination; and as days rolled on the latter element gained complete ascendancy.
Superstitious reverence with which the traditions of the Companions were regarded by succeeding generations
Such is the result which the lapse of time would naturally have upon the minds and the narratives of the As-hib or COMPANIONS of Mahomet – more especially of those who were young when me died. And then another race sprang up who had never seen the Prophet, who looked up to his contemporaries with a superstitious reverence, and who listened to their stories of him as to the tidings of a messenger from the other world. “Is it possible, father of Abdallah, that, thou hast been with Mahomet?” was the question addressed by a pious Moslem to Hodzeifa, in the mosque of Kufa “didst thou really see the Prophet, and wert thou on familiar terms with him ?” — ” Son of my uncle it is indeed as thou sayest.”- “And how wert thou wont to behave towards the Prophet?” -” Verily, we used to labour hard to please him.”-” Well, by the Lord!” exclaimed the ardent listener,” had I been but alive in his time, I would not have followed him to put his blessed foot upon the earth, but would have borne him on my shoulders wherever he listed42.” — Upon another occasion, the youthful Obeida listened to a Companion who was reciting before an assembly how the Prophet’s head was shaved at the Pilgrimage, and the hair distributed amongst his followers; the eyes of the young man glistened as the speaker proceeded, and lie interrupted him with the impatient exclamation, -” Would that I had even a single one of those blessed hairs, ‘I would cherish it for ever, and prize it beyond all the gold and silver in the world 43.” Such were the natural feelings of fond devotion with which the Prophet came to be regarded by the followers of the “Companions.’
The Successors belong to the latter half of the first century
As the tale of the Companions was thus taken up by their latter followers, distance began to invest it with an increasing charm, while the products of a living faith and warm imagination were being fast delated by superstitious credulity. This second generation are termed in the language of the patriotic lore of Arabia, Tabiun, or Successors. Here and there a Companion survived till near the end of the first century; but, for all practical purposes, they had passed off the stage before the commencement of its last quarter. Their first Successors, who were in some measure also their contemporaries, flourished in the latter half of the same century, though some of the oldest may have survived for a time in the second 44.
Meanwhile a new cause was at work, which gave to the tales of Mahomet’s companions a fresh and an adventitious importance.
The wants of the expanding empire required an enlargement of the administrative code of the Coran
The Arabs, a simple and unsophisticated race, found in the Coran ample provisions for the regulation of all their affairs, religious, social, and political. But the aspect of Islam soon underwent a mighty change. Scarcely was the Prophet dead when his followers issued forth from their barren peninsula, armed with the warrant of the Coran to impose the faith of Mahomet upon all the nations of the earth. Within a century they had, as a first step to this universal subjugation, conquered every land that intervened between the banks of the Oxus and the farthest shores of Northern Africa and of Spain; and had enrolled the great majority or their peoples under the standard of the Coran. This vast empire differed widely indeed from the Arabia of Mahomet’s time; and that which well sufficed for the patriarchal simplicity and limited social system of the early Arabs, became utterly inadequate for the hourly multiplying wants of their descendants. Crowded cities, like Fostat, Kufa, and Damascus, required an elaborate compilation of laws for the guidance of their courts of justice: new political relations demanded a system of international equity: the speculations of a people before whom literature was preparing to throw open her arena, and the controversies of eager factions upon nice points of Mahometan faith, were impatient of the narrow limits which confined them -all called loudly for the enlargement of the scanty and naked dogmas of the Coran; and for the development of its defective code of ethics.
Yet the Coran was at first the sole authoritative rule of conduct
And yet it was the cardinal principle of early Islam, that the standard of Law, of Theology, and of Politics, was the Coran and the Coran alone. By it Mahomet himself ruled; to it in his teaching he always referred; from it he professed to derive his opinions, and upon it to ground his decisions. If he, the Messenger of the Lord, and the Founder of the faith, was thus bound by the Coran, much more were the Caliphs, his uninspired substitutes. New and unforeseen circumstances were continually arising, for which the Coran contained no provision. It no longer sufficed for its original object. How then were its deficiencies to be supplied?
The deficiency supplied by the SUNNAT, or the sayings of Mahomet
The difficulty was resolved by adopting the CUSTOM or “SUNNAT” of Mahomet – that is, his sayings and his practice, as a supplement to the Coran. The recitals regarding the life of the Prophet now acquired an unlooked-for value. He had never held himself to be infallible, except when directly inspired of God; but this new doctrine assumed that a heavenly and unerring guidance pervaded every word and action of his prophetic life. Tradition was thus invested with the force of law, and with some of the authority of inspiration. It was in great measure owing to the rise of this theory, that, during the first century of Islam, the cumbrous recitals of tradition so far outstripped the dimensions of reality. The perogative now claimed for Tradition stimulated the growth of fabricated evidence, and led to the preservation of every kind
Incentive created thereby to the fabrication and propagation of Tradition: The Collectors
of story, spurious or real, touching the Prophet. Before the close of the century it had imparted an almost incredible impulse to the search for tradition, and had in fact given birth to the new profession of Collectors. Men devoted their lives to the business. They traveled from city to city, and from tribe to tribe, over the whole Mahometan world; sought out by personal inquiry every vestige of Mahomet’s biography yet lingering among the Companions, the Successors, and their descendants; and committed to writing the tales and reminiscences with which they used to edify their wondering and admiring auditors.
General collections of biographical tradition.
The work, however, too closely affected the public interests, and the political aspect of the empire, to be left entirely to private and individual zeal. About a hundred years after Mamomet, the Caliph Omar II. issued circular orders for the formal collection of all extant traditions45. The task thus begun continued to be vigorously prosecuted, but we possess no authentic remains of any compilation of an earlier date than the middle or end of the second century. Then, indeed, ample materials had been amassed, and they have been handed down to us both in the shape, of Biographies and of general Collections, which bear upon every imaginable point of Mahomet’s character, and detail the minutest incidents of his life.
Tradition not recorded till the latter part of the 1st century
It thus appears that the traditions we now possess remained generally in an unrecorded form for at least the greater part of a part of a century. It is not indeed denied that some of Mahomet’s sayings may possibly have been noted down in writing during his lifetime, and from that source copied and propagated afterwards. We say possibly, for the evidence in favour of any such record is meagre, suspicious, and contradictory. The few and uncertain statements of this nature may have owed their origin to the authority which a habit of the kind would impart to the name of a Companion, supposed to have practised it. All the original references which I have been able to trace bearing upon this question have been thrown together in the subjoined note46. It is hardly possible that, if the custom had prevailed of writing down Mahomet’s sayings during his life, we should not have had frequent intimation of the fact, with notices of the writers, and special references to the nature, contents, and peculiar authority of their records. But no such references or quotations are anywhere to be found. It cannot be objected that the Arabs trusted so implicitly to their memory that they regarded oral to be as authoritative as recorded narratives, and therefore would take no note of the latter; for we see that Omar was afraid lest even the Coran, believed by him to be divine and itself the subject of heavenly care, should become defective, if left to the memory of man. Just as little weight, on the other hand, should be allowed to the tradition that Mahomet prohibited his followers from noting down his words; though it is not easy to see how that tradition could have gained currency at all, had it been the regular and constant practice of any persons to record his sayings. The truth appears to be that there was in reality no such practice; and that the story of the prohibition, though spurious, embodies the after-thought of serious Mahometans as to what Mahomet would have said, had he foreseen the loose and fabricated stories that sprang up, and the real danger his people would fall into of allowing Tradition to supersede the Coran. The evils of Tradition were, in truth, as little thought or as its value was perceived, till many years after Mahomet’s death.
Even if recorded memoranda were kept in Mahomet’s lifetime, none of them can be connected with any traditions now extant
But even were we to admit all that has been advanced, it would prove no more than that some of the Companions used to keep memoranda of the Prophet’s sayings. Now, unless it be possible to connect such memoranda with extant Tradition, the concession would be useless. But it is not, as far as I know, demonstrable of any single tradition or class of traditions now in existence, that they were copied from such memoranda, or have been derived in any way from them. To prove, therefore, that some traditions were at first recorded, will not help us to a knowledge of whether any of these still exist, or to a discrimination of them from others resting on a purely oral basis. The very most that could be urged from the premises is, that our present collections may contain some traditions unfounded upon a recorded original, and handed down in writing; but we are unable to single out any individual tradition and make such affirmation regarding it. The entire mass of extant tradition rests in this respect on the same uncertain ground, and the uncertainty of any one portion (apart from internal evidence of probability) attaches equally to the whole. We cannot with confidence, or even with the least show of likelihood, affirm of any tradition that it was recorded till nearly the end of the first century of the Hegira.
Mahometan tradition being at first purely oral is not only uncertain, but affected by bias and prejudice
We see, then, how entirely Tradition, as now possessed by us, rests its authority on the memory of those who handed it down; and how dependent therefore it must have been upon their convictions and their prejudices. For, in addition to the common frailty of human recollection which renders traditional evidence notoriously infirm, and to the errors or exaggerations which always distort a narrative transmitted orally through many witnesses, there exist throughout Mahometan Tradition abundant indications of actual fabrication; and there may every where be traced the indirect but not less powerful and dangerous influence of a silently working bias, which insensibly gave its colour and its shape to all the stories of their Prophet treasured up in the memories of the believers.
For estimating these influences, historical review necessary
To form an adequate conception of the value and defects of Tradition, it is absolutely necessary that the nature and extent of this influence should be thoroughly understood; and it is therefore essential that the reader should possess an outline of the political aspect of the empire from the death of Mahomet to the period at which our written authorities commence. Such an outline I will now endeavour briefly to trace.
During the first two Caliphates, faction unknown
Mahomet survived for ten years the era of his Hegira or emigration from Mecca to Medina. The caliphates of Abu Bacr and of Omar occupied the thirteen succeeding years, during which the new-born empire, animated by the one ruling passion of enforcing an universal submission to Islam, was still unbroken by division. The distorting medium of FACTION had not yet interposed betwixt us and Mahomet. The chief tendency to be dreaded in the Tradition transmitted through this period, or originating in it, is one which was then perhaps even stronger and more busy than in the approaching days of civil broil, namely, the disposition to exalt the character of Mahomet, and to endow it with superhuman attributes.
A.H. 23-35. Effects on tradition of the divisions following the murder of Othman; – not unfavourable
The weak and vacillating reign of Otman nourished or gave birth to the discontent and conspiracy of Ali and his party, who, by the murder of the aged prince, caused a fatal rent in the unity of the empire, and left it a prey to the contending factions of the new competitors for the caliphate. The immediate effect of this disunion was not umfavourable to the historical value of Tradition. For although each party would be tempted to colour their recollections by their own factious bias, they would still be conscious that a hostile criticism was opposed to them. And, while as yet there were alive on either side eye-witnesses of the Prophet’s actions, both would be cautious in advancing what might be liable to dispute, and eager to denounce and expose every false statement of their opponents47.
A.H. 35-40. The Caliphates of the Ommeyad Dynasty favourable to the truthfulness of tradition
The caliphate of Ali, after a troubled and doubtful existence of four-and-a-half years, was terminated by assassination, and the opposing faction of the Ommeyads then gained undisputed supremacy. During the protracted sovereignty of this Dynasty, that is for nearly one hundred years, the influence of the ruling power directly opposed the superstitious dogmas of the adherents of Mahomet’s more immediate family. The authority of a line which derived its descent from Abu Sofian, long the grand opponent of the Prophet, may naturally have softened the asperity of Tradition regarding the conduct of their progenitor, while it aided with perhaps the loudest note in swelling the chorus of glory to Mahomet. But it would be tempted to none of the distorting fabrications of those whose object was to make out a divine right of succession in favour of the uncle or the descendants of the Founder of Islam; and who, for that end, invested them with virtues, and attributed to them actions, which never had existence. Such in the process of time were the motives, and such was the practice, of the partizans of the houses of Ali and Abbas, the son-in-law and the uncle of Mahomet. In the early part, however, of the Ommeyad succession, these insidious tendencies had but little room for play. The fiction of divine right, even had it been thought of, contradicted too directly the knowledge and convictions of the early Moslems to have met with any support. The unqualified opposition of a large section of Mahomet’s most intimate friends to Ali himself shows how little ground there then was for regarding him as the peculiar favourite of heaven. The Kharijites, or sectarians of the theocratic principle and the extreme opponents of the Ommeyads, went the length of condemning and rejecting Ali for the scandalous crime of parleying with Muavia 48 and submitting his claims to arbitration. It is hence evident that the extravagant pretensions of the Alyites and Abbassides were not entertained, or even dreamt of; in the early part of the Ommeyad caliphate.
The type cast in this period never materially altered
During this century the main fabric of Tradition grew up, and assumed permanent shape. Towards its close, the extant traditions began to be systematically sought out, and publicly put upon record. The type then moulded could not but be maintained, in its chief features at least, ever after. Subsequent sectaries might strive to re-cast it;. their efforts could secure but a very partial success, because the only standard they possessed was formed under the influence of the Ommeyad princes. In the traditional impress of this period, although the features of Mahomet himself were magnified into majestic and supernatural dimensions yet the character of his friends and followers, and the general events of early Islam, were undoubtedly preserved with tolerable accuracy, and thus a broad basis of historical truth has been maintained.
Alyite and Abbasside parties conspire to supplant the Ommayad line
But in the latter part of the period now before us, an under-current of great volume and intensity commenced to flow. The adherents of the house of Ali, beaten in the field and in all their rebellious attempts to dethrone the Ommeyads, were driven to other expedients; and the key-stone of their new machinations was the divine right of the family of the Prophet to both temporal and spiritual rule. They established secret associations, and sent forth emissaries in every direction, to decry the Ommeyads as godless usurpers, and to canvass for the Alyite pretender of the day. These claims were ever and anon strengthened by the mysterious report that the divine Imam of Ali’s race was about to step forth from his hidden recess, and stand confessed the Conqueror of the world. Such attempts, however, issued in no more permanent results than a succession of rebellions, massacres, and fruitless civil wars, until another party leagued themselves in the struggle. These were the Abbassides, who desired to raise to the throne some descendant of the Prophet’s uncle, Abbas. They combined with the Alyites in denouncing as usurpers the present dynasty, which, though sprung from the Coreish, was but distantly related to Mahomet. By their united endeavours they at length succeeded in supplanting the Ommeyads; when the Alyites found themselves over-reached, and an Abbasside Caliph was raised to the throne.
and for that object fabricate and pervert tradition
It is not difficult to perceive how much Tradition must have been affected by these unwearied conspirators. Perverted tradition was, in fact, the chief instrument employed to accomplish their ends. By it they blackened the memory of the forefathers of the Ommeyads, and exalted the progenitors of the Abbassides. By it they were enabled almost to deify Ali, and to assert their principle that the right of empire vested solely in the near relatives of the Prophet, and in their descendants. For these ends no device was spared. The Coran was misinterpreted, and tradition falsely colored, distorted, and fabricated. Their operations were concealed; studiously avoiding the eye of any one likely to oppose them, they canvassed in the dark. Thus they were safe from criticism; and the stories and glosses of their traditional schools unobtrusively acquired the character of prescriptive evidence.
Accession of the Abbasides 136 A.H.
In the 136th year of the Hegira, the Abbassides were installed in the imperial caliphate; and the factious teaching, which had hitherto flourished only in the distant satrapies of Persia or, when it ventured near the throne, lurked in the purlieus of crowded cities, now stalked forth with the prestige of sovereignty. The Ommeyads, regarded as the mortal foes of the new dynasty, were persecuted even to extirpation, and their names and descent overwhelmed with obloquy49.
under whom the biography by Ibn Ishac (the earliest of which anything is extant) was compiled
It was under the auspices of the two first of the Abbassides that the earliest biography of which we have any remains was completed, that namely of IBN ISHAC. It is cause for little wonder, then, that following in the steps of his patrons; and that, while lauding their ancestors, he seeks to stigmatize the Ommeyads, and to denounce as miscreants those of their forefathers who acted a prominent part in the first scenes of Islamite history.
A.H. 198-218, The intolerant Caliphate of Al Mamun
The fifth Caliph from this period was the famous Al Mamun, who, during a reign of twenty years, countenanced with a princely support the pursuits of literature. He affected a combination with the followers of Ali50, and adopted with enthusiasm the peculiar teaching of the Motazelites ; – a sect whom the learned Weil applauds as the Rationalists of Islam. But however freely this Caliph may have derided the doctrine of the eternity of the Coran, and in opposition to orthodox believers asserted the freedom of the human will, he was not a whit less bigoted or intolerant than his predecessors. He not only declared Ali to be the noblest of mortals, and Muavia tlne basest, but he denounced the most severe punishment against any one who – should venture to speak evil of the one, or attribute good to the other.51 He made strenuous efforts to impose his theological views upon all. He went so far as to establish even a species of inquisition, and visited with penalties those who dared to differ from him 52.
was the era when the great traditional and biographical authorities now extant flourished. Baneful influences then at work
Unhappily for us, this very reign was the busiest age of the traditional writers, and the period at which (with the exception of that of Ibn Ishac) the earliest extant biographies of Mahomet were composed. It was under Al Mamun that Wackidi, Ibn Hisham, and Madaini, lived and wrote. Justly, indeed, may Dr. Weil sorrow over this as a coincidence fraught with evil to the interests of historical truth. “We look upon it,” says he, “as a great misfortune, that the very three oldest Arabic histories, which are nearly the only sources of authority for the first period of Islam, were written under the Government of Mamun. At a period when every word favour of Muavia rendered the speaker liable to death, and when all were declared outlaws who would not acknowledge Ali to be the most distinguished of mankind, it was not possible to compose, with even the smallest degree of impartiality, a history of the Companions of Mahomet and of his Successors; because, as we have before seen, the personal interests of Ali and his descendants, and their pretensions to the Caliphate, are connected in the closest manner with the most important political events of the first two centuries53.
The general collections of tradition made under similar influences
But besides the biographers of Mahomet and the historians of early Islam, the Collectors of general tradition, who likewise flourished at this period, came within the circle of Abbasside influence, and some of them under the direct persuasion of Al Mamun. This class of men, as shown above, travelled over the whole empire, and searched after every kind of tradition which bore the slightest relation to their Prophet. The mass of narrations gathered by this laborious process was sifted by a pseudo-critical canon, founded on the general repute of the narrators who formed the chain from Mahomet downwards; and the approved residuum was published under the authority of the Collector’s name. Such collections were more popular than the biographical or historical treatises. They formed, in fact, and still form the groundwork of the different theological schools of Islam; and, having been used universally and studied continuously from the period of their appearance, exist to the present day in an authentic and genuine shape. Copies of them abound in all Moslem countries; whereas the early biographies are either not extant at all, or can only be procured with great difficulty.
Two schools: the Sunni and the Shia
The six standard Sunni collections were compiled exclusively under the Abbasside Caliphs, and the earliest of them partly during the reign of Al Mamun 54. The four canonical collections of the Shias were prepared somewhat later 55, and are incomparably less trustworthy than the former, because their paramount object is to build up the divine Imamate or headship of Ali and his descendants.
Service rendered by the collectors
That the Collectors of Tradition rendered an important service to Islam, and even to history, cannot be doubted. The vast flood of tradition, poured forth from every quarter of the Moslem empire, and daily gathering volume from innumerable tributaries, was composed of the most heterogeneous elements; without the labours of the traditionists it must soon have formed a chaotic sea, in which truth and error, fact and fable, would have mingled together in undistinguishable confusion. It is a legitimate inference from the foregoing sketch, that Tradition, in the second century, embraced a large element of truth. That even respectably derived traditions often contained much that was exaggerated and fabulous, is an equally fair conclusion. It is proved by the testimony of the Collectors themselves, that thousands and tens of thousands were current in their times, which possessed not even a shadow of authority. The mass may be likened to the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, formed by the unnatural union of gold, of silver, of the baser metals, and of clay; and here the more valuable parts were fast commingling hopelessly with the bad.
Immense proportion of fictitious matter in the current tradition
The prodigious amount of base and fictitious material may be gathered from the estimate even of Mahometan criticism. Upon this topic the opinion of Dr. Weil may be received with confidence and approbation: – “Reliance,” he writes, “upon oral traditions, at a time when they were transmitted by memory alone, and every day produced new divisions among the professors of Islam, opened up a wide field for fabrication and distortion. There was nothing easier, when required to defend any religious or political system, than to appeal to an oral tradition of the Prophet. The nature of these so-called traditions, and the manner in which the name of Mahomet was abused to support all possible
rejected even by the Mahometan Collectors
lies and absurdities, may be gathered most clearly from the fact that Bokhari, who travelled from land to land to gather from the learned the traditions they had received, came to the conclusion, after many years’ sifting, that out of 600,000 traditions ascertained by him to be then current, only 4,000 were authentic! And of this selected number, the European critic is compelled, without hesitation, to reject at least one-half 56. Similar appears to have been the experience of the other intelligent compilers of the day. Thus Abu Daud, out of 500,000 traditions which he is said to have amassed, threw aside 496,000, and retained as trustworthy only 4,000 57.
Illustrated by an anecdote from Bokhari
The heavenly vision which induced Bokhari to commence his pious and herculean task, is sufficiently significant of the urgent necessity that then existed for searching out and preserving the grains of truth scattered here and there amid the chaff. These are his words: “In a dream I beheld the Messenger of the Lord (Mahomet), from whom I seemed to be driving off the flies. When I awoke I inquired of an interpreter of dreams the meaning of my vision. It is, he replied, that thou shalt drive away LIES far from him. This it was which induced me to compile the Sahih.” And well, indeed, in the eyes of Mahometans, did he fulfil the heavenly behest; for, to this day, the SAHIH BOKHARI is regarded by them as one of the most authentic treasuries of Tradition58.
The Collectors though unsparing in the rejection of un-trustworthy traditions did not discriminate those that were trustworthy by any intelligent canon
It is evident, then, that some species of criticism was practised by the Compilers; and that, too, so unsparingly that out of a hundred traditions not more than one was accepted, and the remaining ninety-nine entirely rejected. But the European reader will be grievously deceived if he at all regards such criticism, rigorous as it was, in the light of a sound and discriminating investigation into the credibility of the traditional elements. It was not the subject-matter of a tradition, but simply the names attached thereto, which decided the question of credit. Its authority must rest on some Companion of the Prophet, and on the character of each individual in the long chain of witnesses through whom it was handed down59. If these were unimpeachable, the tradition must be received. No inherent improbability, however glaring, could exclude a narration thus attested from its place in the authentic collections. The compilers would not venture upon the open sea of criticism, but steered slavishly by this single miserable canon along the shallows of a mere formal system. They dared not inquire into internal evidence. To have arraigned the motives of the first author or subsequent rehearsers of a story, discussed its probability, and brought it to the test or historical evidence, would have been a strange and uncongenial task. The spirit of Islam would not brook the spirit of free inquiry and real criticism. The blind faith of Mahomet and his followers spurned the aids of investigation and of evidence. Thus saith the Prophet of the Lord, and every doubt must vanish, every rising question be smothered. If doubts did arise, and questions were entertained, by any rash philosopher, the temporal authority was at hand to dispel and to silence them.
for the political element of Islam had extinguished free enquiry and real criticism
The dogmas of Islam were so closely welded with the principles upon which the Moslem government was reared, that it had no option but to enforce with a stern front and iron hand an implicit acquiescence in those dogmas on which its existence hung. Upon the apostate Moslem the sentence of death; – an award resting on the Prophet’s authority, – was rigorously executed by the civil power; and between the heterodoxy of the free-thinker, and the lapse of the renegade, there never existed any well-defined boundary. To the combination, or rather the unity, of the spiritual and political elements in the unvarying type of Mahometan Government, must be attributed that utter absence of candid and free investigation into the origin and truth of Islam, which so painfully characterizes the Moslem mind even in the present day. The faculty of criticism was annihilated by the sword.
for the political element of Islam had extinguished free enquiry and real criticism
Upon the other hand, there is no reason to doubt that the Collectors were sincere and honest in doing that which they professed to do. It may well be admitted that they sought out in good faith all traditions actually current, inquired carefully the authorities on which they rested, and recorded them with the most scrupulous accuracy. The sanctions of religion were at hand to enforce diligence and caution. Thus Bokhari, who, as we have just seen, commenced his work at a supposed divine monition, was heard to say “that he never inserted a tradition in his Sahih, until he had made an ablution, and offered up a prayer of two rakas.”60 The prepossessions of the several Collectors would undoubtedly influence them in accepting or rejecting the chain of witnesses to any traditions; but there is no reason to suppose that they at all tampered with the traditions themselves. Thus a Shia collector would cast aside a tradition received from Ayesha through an Ommeyad channel; whilst one of Ommeyad predilections would discard every traditional chain in the links of which he discovered an emissary of the house of Ali. But neither the one nor the other was likely to fabricate a tradition, or interpolate a narration, whatever its purport or bearing might be, which they had once received on an unexceptionable array of names as credible.
Guarantees and evidence of their honesty
The honesty of the compilers is warranted by the style and contents of their works. The complete series of witnesses, by which every tradition is traced up through each stage of transmission to one of the Prophet’s Companions, is invariably prefixed; and we cannot but admit the authority which even the names of at least the later witnesses in such a chain would impart61. These were not feigned names, but the names of real characters, many of whom were personages of note. The traditional collections were openly published, and the credit of the compilers would have been endangered by the fabrication of such evidence62. The Collector was likewise, in general, the centre of a school of traditional learning which, as it were, challenged the public to test its authorities. So far, then, as this kind of attestation can give weight to hearsay, that weight may be readily conceded. Again, the simple manner in which the most contradictory traditions are accepted, and placed side by side, is a guarantee of sincerity. All that could be collected seem to have been thrown together with scrupulous simplicity. Each tradition, though it be a bare repetition, or possibly the direct opposite, of a dozen preceding it, is noted down unquestioned, with its special chain of witnesses; whilst no account whatever is made of the most violent improbabilities, of incidents plainly fabulous, or even of patent contradictions63. Now this appears evidence at least of an honest design. Pains would otherwise have been taken to exclude or to soften down opposing statements; and we should not have found so much allowed to be credible Tradition, which either on the one hand or on the other must have crossed the views and prejudices of the compiler. If we suppose design, we must suppose at the same time a less even-handed admission of contrary traditions.
How far do the collections of tradition contain elements of truth?
Conceding, then, the general honesty of the collectors in making their selection, upon an absurd principle indeed, yet bona fide from existing materials, let us now turn to their selected compilations, and inquire whether they contain any authentic elements of the biography of Mahomet; and if so, how and to what extent these have become commingled with adventitious or erroneous matter.
The fragmentary and isolated character of each tradition prevents application of the ordinary checks on a continuous narrative
In the first place, how far does the present text afford us ground for confidence that its contents are identical with the supposed evidence originally given forth by contemporary witnesses? To place the case in the strongest point of view, we shall suppose a class of traditions purporting to have been written by the Companions, and to have been recorded at each successive stage of transmission. There is a peculiarity in traditional composition which, even upon this supposition, would render it always of doubtful authority; namely, that each tradition is short and abrupt, and completely isolated from every other. The isolation extends not simply to the traditions themselves as finally compiled by the collector, but to their whole history and descent throughout the two centuries preceding their collection. At every point they are each completely detached and independent; and this, coupled with the generally, brief and fragmentary character of the statements made in them, deprives us of the checks and critical appliances which may be brought to bear on an extended and continuous narration. From the disconnected character of the composition, the common tests of authenticity are generally impossible. There is no context whereby to judge the soundness of the text. Each witness in the chain, though professing simply to repeat the original tradition, is in effect an independent authority; and we cannot tell how far, and at what stages, variations may or may not have been allowed, or fresh matter interpolated by any of them. Even were we satisfied of the integrity of all, we are unacquainted with their views as to the liberty with which Tradition might be treated. The style of the narrations marks them for the most part as communicated at the first with all the Informality of social conversation, and with much of the looseness of hearsay; and a similar informality and looseness may have attached to any of the steps of their subsequent transmission.
Each tradition was regarded as a unit, to be without investigation of its parts, accepted or rejected as a whole
Again, each tradition was not only isolated, but was held by the collectors to be an indivisible unit, and as such received or rejected. If the traditional links were unexceptionable, the tradition must be accepted as it stood, whole and entire. There could be no sifting of component parts. Whatever in each tradition might be true, and whatever might be fictitious, – the probable and the fabulous, — composed an indissoluble whole; so that the acceptance or rejection of one portion involved the acceptance or rejection of every portion, as equally credible or undeserving of credit. The power of eradicating interpolated statements, or of excluding such parts of a tradition as were evidently unfounded or erroneous, was thus renounced. The good seed and the tares were reaped together, and the latter vastly predominated.
Coincidence of separate traditions a possible, but practically unknown, proof of faithful transmission.
It may be possible, indeed, to derive some confirmation from the verbal correspondence of separate traditions regarding the same event; for, if such traditions sprang at the first from a common source (i.e. some Companion of Mahomet), and if they were really handed down through independent channel. unconnected with one another, the coincidence of expression would argue faithfulness of transmission. But the conditions here required, it would be difficult, even in a single instance, to prove to the satisfaction of a critical mind. The earlier links of tradition are removed far back in the obscurity of an imperfect dawn. It is impossible to say whether the lines of transmission supposed to have been entirely separate, may not have come into contact, and how often; and whether the matter common to them may not have been thus obtained, or previously existing variations thus reconciled Many traditions, though supported by unexceptionable names, and corresponding with others even to minute verbal coincidence, abound in stories so fabulous, and statements so erroneous, as to render it impossible that they could ever have formed part of any contemporary record, and to shake our confidence in the whole system of “respectable names”. There is also reason for believing (as will be seen farther below) that much of the coincidence of narrative is derived from those traditionists who, at the close of the first and beginning of the second centuries, reduced to writing, and harmonized the traditions extant in their day.
The exclusively oral character of early tradition deprives it of every check against the license of error or fabrication
Such is the uncertainty which would attach to Tradition, even if we should concede that it had been recorded from the first. But we have shown that there is no ground whatever for believing that the practice of committing traditions to writing was observed in the first days of Islam, or became general until the greater part of a century had elapsed. The existence of an early record would have afforded some check; but, as the facts stand, there is absolutely no check at all. The record would have at the least induced a fixed cast of expression and an element of invariableness; whereas Tradition purely oral is as wavering and changeful as the character and habits, the associations and the prejudices, of each witness in the chain of repetition. No possible precaution could hinder the commingling in oral tradition of mistake or fabrication with what at the first may have been real fact and trustworthy representation. The flood-gates of error, extravagance, fiction, are thrown wide open; and we need only look to human nature similarly situated in any part of the globe, and in every age, to be satisfied that little dependence can be placed on otherwise unsupported details of ordinary historical incident; and none whatever upon the recital of supernatural wonders, conveyed for any length of time through such a channel64. That Mahometan experience proves no exception to the general principle, the puerile extravagancies and splendid fabrications of oriental imagination which adorn or darken the pages of early Islam, amply demonstrate. The critical test applied by the collectors had, as we have just seen, no reference whatever to these pregnant sources of error; and, though it may have exposed and excluded multitudes of modern fabrications, it failed to place the earlier traditions upon a certain basis, or to supply any means of judging, between the actual and the fictitious, between the offspring of the imagination and the sober evidence of fact.
Tradition tested by its correspondence with the Coran
It remains to examine the traditional books, with reference to their contents and internal probability. And here we are fortunate in having at hand, as a standard of comparison, the Coran, which has been already proved a genuine and contemporary document.
The main historical and biographical outlines agree
In bringing Tradition to this test, we find that in its main historical points the Coran is at one with the standard traditional collections. It notices, sometimes directly, sometimes incidentally, the topics which, from time to time, most interested Mahomet; and with these salient points the mass of tradition is found upon the whole to tally. The statements and allusions of this description in the, Coran, though themselves comparatively few, are linked more or less with a vast variety of important incidents which refer, as well to the Prophet individually and his domestic relations, as to public events and the progress of Islam. A just confidence is thus imparted that a large element of historical truth has been conveyed by tradition.
Disagreement in certain important points as the power to work miracles
Upon the other hand, there are subjects in which the Coran is directly at variance with Tradition. For example, there is no position more satisfactorily established by the Coran than that Mahomet did not in any part of his career perform miracles, or pretend to perform them. Yet tradition abounds with miraculous acts, which belie the plain declarations of the Coran; and which, moreover, if ever attempted, would undoubtedly have been mentioned in those pretended revelations which omitted nothing, however trivial, that could strengthen the prophetical claim. Here, then, in matters of simple narration and historical fact, we find Tradition discredited by the Coran.
The result of the comparison, then, is precisely that which we have already arrived at, a priori, from the foregoing historical review. But though it strengthens this conclusion, the comparison does not afford us much help in the practical treatment of Tradition itself. Excepting in a limited number of events, it furnishes us with no rule for eliminating truth from falsehood. Facts which we know from the Coran to be well founded, and tales which we know to be fabricated, are indiscriminately woven together; the whole tissue of Tradition, it may reasonably be concluded, is formed or this double class of heterogeneous materials; and of both the fabric and colour are so unvaryingly uniform, that we are at a loss for any means of distinguishing the one from the other. The biographer of Mahomet continually runs the risk of substituting for the realities of history some puerile fancy or extravagant invention. In striving to avoid this danger he is exposed to the opposite peril of rejecting, as pious fabrications, what may in reality be important historical fact, or at the least contain its substance65.
Opinion of Dr. Sprenger to favorable to Traditions
It is, indeed, the opinion of Dr. Sprenger that “although the nearest view of the Prophet which we can obtain is at a distance of one hundred years”, and although this long vista is formed of a medium exclusively Mahometan, yet our knowledge of the bias of the narrators “enables us to correct the media, and to make them almost achromatic66.” The remark is true to some extent; but its full and absolute application would carry us, I think, much beyond the truth. The difficulties of the task cannot without danger be underrated. To bring to a right focus the various lights of Tradition, to reject those that are fictitious, to restore to a proper direction the rays reflected by a false and deceptive surface, to calculate the extent of aberration, and make due allowance for a thousand disturbing influences ; – this is indeed a work of entanglement and complication, which would require for its perfect accomplishment a finer discernment, and a machinery of nicer construction, than human nature can boast of. Nevertheless, it is right that an attempt should be made, however imperfect the success that may attend it.
An attempt to lay down tests for discriminating what is reliable in Tradition
It is possible that, by a comprehensive consideration of the subject, and a careful discrimination of the several sources of error, we may reach, at the least, an approximation to the truth. With this view I will now endeavour to lay down some principles which may prove useful to the historical inquirer in separating the true from the false in Mahometan Tradition.
Traditional evidence ex-parte. Our tests must depend on internal examination
The grand defect in the traditional evidence regarding Mahomet consists in its being wholly ex parte. It is the statement of a witness regarding himself, in which the license of partiality and self-interest is unchecked by any opposing party, and the sanction even of a neutral audience is wanting. What was thus defective or erroneous in the process by which the testimony was obtained, may in some measure be corrected or repaired by a close scrutiny of the record itself. By analysing the deposition, we may find internal evidence affording grounda for credit or for doubt; while in reference to some classes of statements, it may even appear that a Mahometan public would itself supply the place of an impartial censor. In this view, the points on which the probability of a tradition will mainly depend, appear to be first, whether there existed a bias among the Mahometans generally respecting the subject narrated; second, whether there are traces of any special interest, prejudice, or design, on the part of the narrator; and third, whether the narrator had opportunity for personally knowing the facts.
Two divisions : period and subject of the narrated
These topics will perhaps best be discussed by considering the Period to which a narration relates, and then the Subject of which it treats.
I. PERIOD First. – Up to entrance of Mahomet on public life. All our witnesses younger, and most of them much younger than Mahomet
I. A.-The PERIOD to which a tradition purports to refer, is a point of vital importance. The original authors of all reliable entrance of Tradition were, as has been shown, the Companions of Mahomet himself; and the era of its first propagation was subsequent to the Prophet’s decease. But Mahomet was above threescore years old when he died; and few of his Companions, who were instrumental in giving rise to Tradition, were of equal age, – hardly any of them older. In inverse proportion to their years, the number of aged men was small, and the period short during which they survived Mahomet; and these are precisely the considerations by which their influence, in the formation of Tradition, must be limited also. The great majority were young; and in proportion to their youth was the number that survived longest, and gave the deepest impress to Tradition67. We may, then, fix the term of Mahomet’s own life as the extreme backward limit within which our witnesses range themselves. In other words, we have virtually no original witnesses who lived at a period anterior to Mahomet; few, if any, were born before him; the great majority, very many years after him.
their personal knowledge cannot therefore go farther back than his youth at the earliest
They are not, therefore, trustworthy witnesses for events preceding Mahomet’s birth, or for the details of his childhood; few of them, even, for the incidents of his youth. They could not by any possibility possess a personal knowledge of these things; and to admit that they gained their information at second-hand, is to introduce an element of uncertainty which entirely impairs the value of their testimony as that of contemporary witnesses.
Attention not excited till Mahomet had publicly assumed the prophetic office
B. – But, again, the value of evidence depends upon the degree in which the facts are noticed by the witness at the time of their occurrence. If the attention was not specially attracted by the event, it would be in vain to expect a full and careful report; and, after the lapse of many years, the utmost that could be looked for from such a witness, would be the bare general outline of important facts. This principle applies forcibly to the biography of Mahomet up to the time when he became the prominent leader of a party. Before, there was nothing remarkable about him. A poor orphan, a quiet inoffensive citizen, he was perhaps of all the inhabitants of Mecca the least likely to have the eyes of his neighbours turned upon him, and their memory and imagination busy in noting the events of his life, and conjuring up anticipations of coming greatness. The remark may be extended, not merely to the era when he first made pretensions to inspiration (for that excited the regard of a few only among his earliest adherents); but to the entire interval preceding the period when he stood forth publicly to assume the prophetic rank, opposed polytheism, and came into open collision with the chiefs of Mecca. Then, indeed, he began to be narrowly watched; and thence-forward the Companions of the Prophet are not to be distrusted on the score at least of insufficient attention.
For events prior to Mahomet’s public life, circumstantially a ground of suspicion
C. – It follows necessarily that, in all cases affected by either of the foregoing rules, circumstantiality will be a strong token of fabrication. And we shall do well to adopt the analogous canon of Christian criticism, that any tradition, the origin of which is not strictly contemporary with the facts related, is worthless exactly in proportion to the particularity of detail68. This will relieve us of a vast number of extravagant stories, in which the minutia of close narrative and sustained colloquy are preserved with the pseudo-freshness of yesterday.
Exception in favour of the leading outlines of Mahomet’s life
D. – It will, however, be just to admit an exception for the main outlines of Mahomet’s life, which under ordinary circurnstances his friends and acquaintances would naturally remember or might learn from himself, and would thus be able in after days to call up with tolerable accuracy. Such, for instance, are the death of his father, his nurture as an infant by the Bani Sad, his mother’s journey with him to Medina, and the expedition with his uncle to Syria while yet a boy. A still wider exception must be allowed in favor of public personages and national events, even preceding Mahomet’s birth; because the attention of the people at large would be actively directed to these topics, while the patriarchal habits of the Arabs and their spirit of clanship, would be propitious for their tenacious recollection.
Thus the conversation of Abd al Muttalib, Mahomet’s grandfather, with Abraha, the Abyssinian invader, is far more likely to be founded in fact than any of the much later conversations which Mahomet himself is said to have had with the monks on either of his journeys to Syria; and yet the leading facts regarding these journeys there is no reason to doubt.
and national history
Ranged under the same exception will fall those genealogical and historical facts, the preservation of which for five or six centuries by the memory alone, is so wonderfnl a phenomenon in the story of Arabia. Here poetry, no doubt, aided the retentive faculty. The glowing rhapsodies of the bard were at once caught up by his admiring clan, and soon passed into the mouths even of the children. In such poetry were preserved the names of the chieftains, their feats of bravery, their glorious liberality, the unparalleled nobility of their breeds of the camel and the horse. Many of these odes became national, and carried with them the testimony, not of the tribe only, but of the whole Arab family. Thus poetry, superadded to the passion for genealogical and tribal reminiscences, and the singular capacity of imprinting them indelibly on the memory of generations, have secured to us the interwoven details of many centuries with a minuteness and particularity that would excite suspicion were not their reality in many instances established by other evidence and by internal coincidence69.
Second Period. – From entrance on public life to taking of Mecca, i.e. B.H. 10 to A.H. 8.
E.- A second marked section of time is that which intervenes between Mahomet’s entrance on public life, and the taking of Mecca. Here indeed we have two opposing parties, marshalled against each other in mortal strife, whose statements might have been a check one upon the other. But during this interval, or very shortly after its close, one of the parties was wholly extirpated. Its chief leaders were nearly all killed in battle, and the remainder amalgamated with the victors.
No surviving evidence on the side of the Meccans; or against Mahomet and his party
Wherefore, we have no surviving evidence whatever on the side of Mahomet’s enemies. Not a single advocate was left to explain their actions, often misrepresented by hatred; or to rebut the unfounded and exaggerated charges imputed by Mahomet and his followers. – On the other hand, we have no witnesses of any kind against Mahomet and his party, whose one-sided assertions of their innocence and justice might perhaps otherwise have been often successfully impugned. The intemperate and unguarded language of Mahomet and the Companions is sufficient proof that, in speaking of their adversaries their opinion was seldom impartial, and their judgment not always unerring.
To what degree the Meccan party, as finally incorporated with the Moslems, proved a check upon misrepresentation
F. – It may be urged in reply, that the great body of the hostile Meccans who eventually went over to Islam, would still form a check upon any material misrepresentation of their party. It may be readily admitted that they did form some check on the perversion of public opinion in mutters not vitally connected with the credit of Islam and of its Founder. Their influence would also tend to preserve the reports or their own individual actions, and those of their friends and relatives, in as favourable a light as possible. But this influence at best was partial. It must ever be borne in mind that the enemies of the Prophet who now joined his ranks acquired, at the same time or very shortly after, all the esprit de corps of Islam70. And, long before the stream of Tradition commenced its course, these very men had begun to look back upon the heathenism of their own Meccan career with the same horror or contempt as the early converts did. The stains of the Moslem’s unbelieving life were, on his conversion, washed away, and imparted no tarnish to his subsequent character. He had sinned “ignorantly in unbelief;” but now, both in his own view and in the eyes of his comrades, he was another man. He might therefore well speak of his mad opposition to “the Prophet of the Lord” and the divine message, with as hearty a reprobation as other men; nay, the violence of reaction might make his language even stronger. Such are the witnesses who constitute our only check upon the ex parte story told by Mahometans of their long struggle with the idolators of Mecca.
G. – Wherefore, it is incumbent upon us, in estimating the folly, injustice, and cruelty, attributed to the opponents of the Prophet, to make much allowance for the exclusively hostile character of the evidence.
Evidence against the opponents of Mahomet to be received with suspicion
We may, also, suspect exaggeration in the statements of hardship and persecution suffered by the Moslems at their hands. Above all, the history of those who died in unbelief before the conquest of Mecca, and under the ban of Mahomet, must be subjected to a rigid criticism. For such men as Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab, hated and cursed by their Prophet, what Mahometan dared to be the advocate? To the present day, the hearty ejaculation, May the Lord curse him! is linked by every Moslem with the mention of such “enemies of the Lord, and of his Prophet.” What voice would be raised to correct the pious exaggerations of the faithful in the stories of their execrable deeds, or to point out the just causes of provocation which they might have received? Impious attempt, and mad perversity! Again and again was the bare sword of Omar brandished over the neck of the luckless offender, for conduct far more excusable, and far less dangerous to Islam.
So also with the Jewish, Christian and Pagan tribes of Arabia
H. – Precisely similar limitations must be brought to bear on the evidence against the Jewish settlements in the vicinity of Medina, as the Bani Nadhir and Bani Coreitza, whom Mahomet either expatriated, brought over to his faith, or utterly extirpated. The various Arab tribes also, whether Christian or Pagan, whom Mahomet at different times of his life attacked, come more or less under the same category.
Similar considerations apply to the Hypocrites or disaffected inhabitants of Mecca
I. – The same considerations apply also, though in a greatly modified form, to the “hypocrites,” or disaffected population of Medina, who covertly opposed the claim of Mahomet to temporal authority over that city. The Prophet did not wage the same war of defiance with these as he did with his Meccan opponents, but sought to counteract their influence by his own skillful tactics. Neither was this class so suddenly rooted out as the idolaters of Mecca; they rather vanished gradually before the increasing authority of Islam. Still its chiefs, such as Abdallah ibn Obey, are held in abhorrence by the traditionists, and the historian must keep a jealous eye on the character of the testimony against them.
II. SUBJECT MATTER as affected by personal, party, or national bias.
H – The SUBJECT-MATTER of the traditions themselves, considered both as regards the motives of their author and the views of early Mahometan society generally, will help us to an estimate of their credibility. The chief aspects in which this argument may be treated refer to personal, party, and national bias.
Personal ambition of being associated with Mahomet.
A.- Individual prepossession and self-interested motives would cause exaggeration, false colouring, and even invention. Besides the more obvious cases falling under this head, there is a fertile class which originates in the ambition of the narrator to be associated with Mahomet. The name of the Prophet threw nobility and veneration around every object immediately connected with it. The friendship of Mahomet imparted a rank and a dignity acknowledged by the universal voice of Islam. It is difficult to conceive the excessive reverence and court enjoyed by his widows, his friends, and his servants. Interminable inquiries were put to them; and their responses were received with the most implicit deference. All who possessed any personal knowledge of the Prophet, and especially those who had been much with him and been honoured by his familiar acquaintance, were admitted by common consent into the envied circle of Moslem aristocracy; and many a picturesque scene is incidentally sketched by the traditionists of the listening crowds which hung upon the lips of these men while they delivered their testimony in the mosques of Kufa or of Damascus. The sterling value of such qualifications would induce a counterfeit imitation. Some who may have had but a distant and superficial knowledge of Mahomet could be tempted, by the consideration it imparted, to venture on the assumption of a more perfect intimacy; and the endeavour to support their equivocal position by particularity of detail, would lead the way to loose and unfounded narratives of the life and character of the Prophet.71. Analogous with such misleading influences is the ambition, traceable throughout the traditions of the Companions, of being closely connected with any of the supposed mysterious visitations or supernatural actions of Mahomet. To be noticed in the Revelation was deemed the highest honour that could be aspired to; and in any, way to be linked with the heavenly phases of the Prophet’s life, reflected back a portion of the divine lustre on the fortunate aspirant72. Thus a premium was put upon the invention or exaggeration of superhuman incidents.
Exaggeration of personal merit in the cause of Islam.
B. – Under the same head are to be classed the attempts of narrators to exaggerate their labours and exploits, and to multiply their losses and perils, in the service of the Prophet and of Islam. The tendency thus to appropriate a superior, and often a clearly unwarrantable, degree of merit is obvious on the part of many of the Companions of Mahomet 73. A reference to it may be even occasionally employed by the critic towards the exculpation of the Prophet from questionable actions. For example, Amr ibn Omeya, in narrating his mission by Mahomet to assassinate Abu Sofian, so magnifies the dangers and exploits of his adventure as might have involved that dark mission itself in suspicion, were there not collateral proof to support it74.
Small chance of such exaggerations and fictions being checked.
It may be here objected, – Would not untrue or exaggerated tales like these receive a check from other parties, free from the interested motives of the narrator? They would to some extent. But to prove a negative position is generally a matter of difficulty and would not often be attempted without some strong impelling cause, especially in the early spread of Islam when the public mind was in the highest degree impressible and credulous. Such traditions, then, were likely to be opposed only when they interfered with the private claims of others, or ran counter to public opinion in which case they would fall into discredit and oblivion. Otherwise, they would have every chance of being carried down upon the traditional stream of mingled legend and truth, and with it of finding a place in the unquestioning record of the second century.
2. Party – Likelihood of party traditions coming into general currency
C. – We have unquestionable evidence that the bias of PARTY effected a deep and abiding impress upon Tradition. Where this spirit tended to produce or adorn a tale adverse to the interests another party, and the denial of the facts involved nothing prejudicial to the honour of Islam, endeavours might be made to rebut the fabrication or embellishment, and the discussion so produced would subserve the purity of Tradition. But this could only occasionally occur. The tradition would often affect that section alone in whose favour it originated, and therefore not to be controverted at all. Where it might be otherwise, the story would probably at the first be confined within the limits of its own party, and no opportunity would be afforded for its contradiction, until it had taken root and acquired a prescriptive claim. Under any circumstances, the considerations advanced in the preceding paragraph are equally applicable in the present instance; so that without doubt a vast collection of exaggerated tales have come down to us, which owe their existence to party spirit.
Prejudicial influence of the lessor associations of Tribe, Family, Patron, &C
By the bias of party is not to be understood simply the influence of faction, but likewise the partiality and prejudice of the lesser circles which formed the ramifications of Mussulman society. The former we are less in danger of overlooking. where the full development of faction, as in the case of the Abbassides and Ommeyads, has laid bare the passions and excesses to which it may give rise, the reader is on his guard against misrepresentation ;- he receives with caution the unnaturally dark or resplendent phases of such characters as those of Ali and Abbas, of Muavia and Abu Sofian. But, though on a less gigantic scale, the influences of tribe, of family, and of the smaller association of party clustering around the several heroes of Islam, were equally real and effective The spirit of clanship, which ran so high among the Arabs that Mahomet endeavoured in vain to supplant it by the brotherhood of the faith, perpetuated the confederacies and antipathies of ante-mahometan Arabia far down into the annals of Islam, and often exerted a potent influence upon the destinies even of the Caliphate. It cannot be doubted that these combinations and prejudices imparted a strong and often deceptive hue to the sources of tradition. As an example, may be specified the rivalry which led the several families or parties to compete with each other for the earliest converts to Islam, until they arrived at the conclusion, and consequently propagated the tradition, that some of their patrons or ancestors were Mahometans before Mahomet himself75.
3. National bias : common to the whole of Islam, and therefore, the most fatal
D. – We now come to the class of motives incomparably the most dangerous to the purity of Tradition, namely, those which were common to the whole Moslem body. In the previous cases the bias was confined to a fragment, arid the remainder of the nation might form a check upon the fractional aberration. But here the bias was universal, pervading the entire medium through which we have received Tradition; and leaving us for the correction of its divergencies, no check whatever.
Tendency to exalt Mahomet, and ascribe to him supernatural attribute
To this class must be assigned all Tradition the object of which is to glorify Mahomet, and to invest him with supernatural attributes. Although in the Coran the Prophet disclaims the power of working miracles, yet he implies that there existed a continuous intercourse between himself and the agents of the other world. The whole Coran, indeed, assumes to be a message from the Almighty, communicated through Gabriel. Besides being the medium of revelation, that favoured angel is often referred to as bringing directions from the Lord for the guidance of his Prophet in the common concerns of life. The supposed communication with heavenly messengers, thus countenanced by Mahomet himself, was implicitly believed by his followers, and led them even during his lifetime to regard him with a superstitious awe. On a subject so impalpable to sense, so readily apprehended by imagination, it may be fairly assumed that reason had little share in controlling the fertile productions of fancy; that the conclusions of his susceptible and credulous followers far exceeded the premises granted by Mahomet; that even simple facts were construed by their excited faith as pregnant with marks of supernatural power and unearthly companionship; and that, after the object of their veneration had passed from their sight, fond devotion perpetuated and enhanced the fascinating legends. If the Prophet gazed into the heavens, or looked wistfully to the right hand or to the left, it was Gabriel with whom lie was holding mysterious converse76. Passing gusts raise a cloud from the sandy track; the pious believer exults in the conviction that it is the dust of Gabriel and his mounted squadrons scouring the plain, and going before them to shake the foundations of the doomed fortress 77. On the field of Badr, three stormy blasts sweep over the marshalled army; again, it is Gabriel with a thousand horse flying to the succour of Mahomet, while Michael and Serafil each with a like angelic troop wheel to the right and to the left of the Moslem front 78. Nay, the very dress and martial uniform of these helmed angels are detailed by the earliest and most trustworthy biographers with as much naivete as if they had been veritable warriors of flesh and blood! Such is a specimen of the vein of legend and extravagance which pervades even the purest sources of tradition.
Difficulty of discriminating what originated with Mahomet himself, in super-natural trance
It will frequently be a question, extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to decide, what portions of these supernatural originated stories either originated in Mahomet himself, or received his countenance; and what portion owed its birth, after he was gone, to the excited imagination of his followers. No doubt real facts have not seldom been thus adorned or distorted by the colouring of a superstitious fancy. The subjective conceptions of the fond believer have been reflected back upon the biography of the Prophet, and have encircled even the objective realities of his life, as in the pictures of our saints, with a lustrous halo. The false colouring and fictitious light so intermingle with the picture, as to place its details beyond the reach of analytical criticism 79.
E.-To the same universal desire of Mahomet’s glorification must be ascribed the unquestioned miracles with which even the earliest biographies abound. They are such as the following: – A tree from a distance moves towards die Prophet ploughing up the earth as it advances, and then similarly retires; oft-repeated attempts to murder him are miraculously averted; distant occurrences are instantaneously revealed, and future events foretold; a large company is fed from victuals hardly adequate for the supply of a single person; prayer draws down immediate showers from heaven, or causes an equally sudden cessation. A frequent and favourite class of miracles is for the Prophet, by his simple touch, to make the udders of dry goats distend with milk; so by his command he caused floods of water to well up from parched fountains, and to gush forth from empty vessels, or issue from betwixt his fingers 80. With respect to all such stories, it is sufficient to refer to what has been already said, that they are opposed to the clear declarations and pervading sense of the Coran.
That it contains the recital of a miracle does not necessarily discredit the entire tradition or story
It by no means however follows that, because a tradition relates a miracle, the collateral incidents are thereby discredited. It may be that the facts were fabricated to illustrate or embellish a current miracle; but it is also possible that the miracle was invented to adorn or account for well-founded facts. In the former case, the supposed facts are worthless; in the latter, they may be true and valuable. In the absence of other evidence, the main drift and apparent design of the narrative is all that can guide the critic between these alternatives.
Tales and legends how far attributable to Mahomet
F.- The same propensity to fabricate the marvellous must be borne in mind when we peruse the childish tales and extravagant legends put by tradition into the mouth of Mahomet. The Coran, it is true, imparts a far wider basis of likelihood to the narration by Mahomet of such tales, than to his assumption of miraculous powers. When the Prophet ventured to place such fanciful and unworthy fictions as those of “Solomon and the Genii,” of “the seven Sleepers,” or “the Adventures of Dzul Carnein,” in the pages of a Divine Revelation, to what puerilities might he not stoop in the familiarity of social conversation? It must, on the other hand, be remembered that Mahomet was taciturn, laconic, and reserved; and is therefore not likely to have given forth more than an infinitesimal part of the masses of legend and fable which Tradition represents as gathered from his lips. These are probably the growth of successive ages, each of which deposited its accretion around the nucleus of the Prophet’s pregnant words, if indeed there ever was any such nucleus at all. For example, the germ of the elaborate pictures and gorgeous scenery of the Prophet’s heavenly journey lies in a very short and simple recital in the Coran. That he subsequently expanded this germ, and amused or edified his companions with the mintutiae which have been brought down to us by tradition, is perhaps possible. But it is also possible, and (by the analogy of Mahomet’s miracles) incomparably more probable, that the vast majority of these fancies have no other origin than the heated imagination of the early Mussalmans 81.
Supposed anticipations of Mahomet by Jewish and Christian Priests
G. – Indirectly connected with Mahomet’s life, but connected immediately with the credit and the evidences of Islam, is another class of narrations which would conjure up on all sides prophecies regarding the Founder of the faith and anticipations of his approach. These were probably, for the most part, suspended upon some general declaration or incidental remark of the Prophet himself, which his enthusiastic followers deemed themselves bound to prove and illustrate. For example, the Jews are often accused in the Coran of wilfully rejecting Mahomet, “although they recognized him as they did one of their own sons.” Tradition provides us, accordingly, with a host of Jewish rabbins and Christian monks, who found it written in their books that the last of the Prophets was at this time about to arise at Mecca: they asserted that not only his name, but his personal appearance, manners, and character, were therein depicted to the life, so that recognition could not but be instantaneous; and, among other absurd particulars, the very city of Medina is pointed out by name as the place where he would take refuge from the persecution of his people! Again, the Jews are accused by Mahomet of grudging that a Prophet had arisen among the Arabs, and that their nation had thus been robbed of its prophetic dignity. Wherefore, in fit illustration we have innumerable stories of Mahomet having been recognized by the rabbins, and of attempts made by them to kill him; and this, too, long before he had any suspicion himself that he was to be a Prophet, nay during his very infancy ! It is enough to have alluded to this class of fabrications82.
Anticipations of Islam
H. – Such unblushing inventions will lead us to receive with suspicion the whole series of tales in which it is pretended that Mahomet and his religion were foreshadowed, so that pious men anticipated, long before the Prophet, many of the peculiar rites and doctrines of Islam. It was a fond conceit of Mahomet that Islam is as old as Adam, and has from the beginning been the faith of all good men who looked forward to himself as the great Prophet charged with winding up the previous dispensations. It was therefore natural for his credulous followers to carry out this idea, and to invest any serious-minded man or earnest inquirer who preceded Mahomet, with some of the dawning rays of the divine effulgence about to burst upon the world83.
History of the Prophet’s ancestors, and of early Arabia, borrowed from, or conformed to, Jewish scripture and tradition.
1.- To the same spirit we may attribute the continual and palpable endeavour to make Mahometan tradition and the legends of Arabia tally with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and with Jewish tradition. This canon has little application to the biography of Mahomet himself, but it has a wide aud most effective range in reference to the legendary history of his ancestors and of early Arabia. The desire to regard, and possibly the endeavour to prove, the Prophet of Islam a descendant of Ishmael, began even in his life-time. Many Jews, versed in the Scriptures, and won over by the inducements of Islam, were false to their own creed, and pandered their knowledge to the service of Mahomet and his followers. Jewish tradition had been long well-known in Medina and in the countries over which Islam early spread, and the Mahometan system was now made to fit upon it; for Islam did not ignore, but merely superseded, Judaism and Christianity, as the whole does a part, or rather as that which is complete swallows up an imperfect commencement. hence arose such absurd anachronisms as the attempts to identify Cahtan with Joktan (between whom, at the most moderate estimate, fifteen centuries intervene); thus were forged the earlier links of the Abrahamic genealogy of Mahomet, and numberless tales of Ishmael and the Israelites, cast in a semi-Jewish semi-Arab mould. These, though pretending to be original traditions, can generally be recognized as plagiarisms from Scripture and rabbinical lore, or as Arabian legends forced into accommodation with them. Abundant illustration of this important position will be met with in the two following chapters.
Traditions of the Jewish and Christian scriptures being mutilated and interpolated
J. – Of analogous nature may be classed the traditions which affirm that the Jews and Christians mutilated or interpolated their Scriptures. After a careful and repeated examination of the whole Coran, I have been able to discover no grounds for believing that Mahomet himself ever expressed the smallest doubt at any period of his life in regard either to the authority or the genuineness of the Old and New Testaments, as extant in his time84. He was profuse in assurances that his system entirely corresponded with both, and that he had been foretold by former prophets; and, as perverted Jews and Christians were at hand to confirm his words, and as the Bible was little known among the generality of his followers, those assurances were implicitly believed. But as Islam spread abroad, and began to include countries where the holy Scriptures were familiarly read, the discrepancies between them and the Coran became patent to all. The sturdy believer, with an easy conscience, laid the entire blame at the door of the dishonest Jews and Christians (the former of whom their Prophet had accused in the Coran of hiding and “dislocating” the prophecies of himself); and according to the Moslem wont, a host of stories with all the necessary details of Jewish fabrication and excision soon grew up, exactly sulted to the necessities of Islam85.
Why such extravagant and unfounded traditions were not contradicted
If it appears strange that extravagant and unreasonable stories of the kind alluded to in the few last paragraphs should not have been contradicted by the more upright and sensible Mahometans of the first age, and thus nipped in the bud, it must be kept in view that criticism and freedom of opinion were completely stifled under the crushing dogmas of Islam. Any simpleton might fancy, every designing man could with ease invent, such tales; when once in currency, the attempt to disprove them would be difficult and dangerous. Supposing that no well-known fact or received dogma were contradicted by them, upon what general considerations were they to be rebutted? If any one, for instance, had contended that all human experience was contradicted by the marvellous foreknowledge of the Jews regarding Mahomet, he would have been scouted as an infidel. Honest inquiry into the genuineness of holy Scripture would have sapped the foundations of Islam, and was therefore out of the question. Who would dare to argue against a miraculous tale that did honour to Mahomet, on the ground that it was in itself improbable, that the narrator might have imbibed a false impression, or that even in the Coran miraculous powers were never arrogated by the Prophet? The argument would have jeoparded the neck of the logician; for it has been already shown that the faith and the polity of Islam were one ;—-that free opinions and heresy were synonymous with conspiracy, treason, and rebellion86. Wherefore it came to pass that, under the shelter of tite civil arm and of the fanatical credulity of the nation at large, these marvellous legends grew up in perfect security from the attacks of doubt and of honest inquiry.
Tradition’s unfavourable to Mahomet became obsolete
K.—-The converse principle is likewise true; that is to say, traditions, founded upon good evidence, and undisputed because notorious in the first days of Islam, gradually fell into disrepute, or were entirely rejected, because they appeared to dishonour Mahomet, or countenance some heretical opinion. The nature of the case renders it impossible to prove this position so fully as the preceding ones, since we can now have no trace of such traditions as were early dropped. But we discover vestiges of a spirit that would necessarily produce such results, working even in the second and third centuries. There is an apparently well-supported story which attributes to Mahomet a momentary lapse and compromise with the idolatry of Mecca; and traditions on the subject from various sources are related by the earliest and the best historians. But theologians began to deem the opinion dangerous or heretical that Mahomet should have thus degraded himself “after he had received the truth,” and the occurrence is therefore denied, or entirely omitted, by some of the earliest and by most of the later biographers of the Prophet, though the facts are so patent that the more candid fully admit them87. The principle thus found in existence in the second and third centuries, may be presumed to have been at work also in the first.
Pious frauds allowable in Islam
L.- The system pious fraud not abhorrent from the axioms of Islam. Deception, by the current theology of Mahometans, is allowable in certain circumstances. The Prophet himself, by precept as well as by example, encouraged the notion that to tell an untruth is on some occasions allowable; and what occasion would approve itself as more justifiable, nay meritorious, than that of furthering the interests of Islam?88 The early Moslems would suppose it to be fitting and right that a divine religion should be supported by the evidence of miracles, and they no doubt believed that they were doing God service by building up testimony in accordance with so laudable a supposition. The case of our own religion, whose purer morality renders the attempt incomparably less excusable, shows that pious fabrications of this description easily commend themselves to the conscience, where there is the inclination and the opportunity for their perpetration.
Difficulty of distinguishing conscientious witnesses from amongst the originators of tradition
There were indeed conscientious persons among the early Moslems, who would probably have scrupled at such open fraud; but these are the very individuals from whom we have the fewest traditions. We read of some cautious men among the Companions who, perceiving the difficulty of reciting accounts of their Prophet with perfect accuracy, and perhaps disgusted with the barefaced effrontery of the ordinary propagators of garbled and unfounded traditions, abstained entirely from repeating the sayings of Mahomet89. But regarding those Companions from whom the great mass of tradition is drawn, and their immediate successors, it does not appear that we are now in possession of any satisfactory means for dividing them into into separate classes, of which the trustworthiness would vary to any great extent. With respect, indeed, to some it is known that they were more constantly than others with Mahomet, and had therefore better opportunities for acquiring information; some, like the garrulous Ayesha, were specially given to gossiping tales and trifling frivolities; but none of them, as far as we can judge, was free from the tendency to glorify Mahomet at the expense of truth, or could be withheld from the marvellous, by the most glaring violations of probability or of reason. Such at least is the impression derived from their evidence in the shape in which it has reached us90.
Examples of capricious fabrication
M. —- The aberrations from the truth hitherto noticed are presumed to have proceeded from some species of bias, the nature of which I have been endeavouring to trace. But the testimony of the Companions, as delivered to us is so unaccountably fickle and capricious that, even where no motive whatever can be guessed at, and where there were the fullest opportunities of observation, the traditions often flatly contradict one another. For instance, a score of witnesses affirm that Mahomet dyed his hair; they mention the substances used; some not only maintain that they were eye-witnesses of the fact during the Prophet’s life, but produce after his death relics of hair on which the dye was visible. A score of others, possessing equally good means of information, assert that he never dyed his hair, and that moreover he had no need to do so, as his grey-hairs were so few that they might be counted91. Again, with respect to his Signet ring—a matter involving no faction, family interest, or dogma—the traditions are most discordant. One party relate that, feeling the want of a seal for his despatches, the Prophet had a signet ring prepared for that purpose, of pure silver. Another party assert that Khalid ibn Said made for himself an iron ring plated with silver; and that Mahomet, taking a fancy to the ring, appropriated it to his own use. A third tradition states, that the ring was brought by Amr bin Said from Abyssinia; and a fourth, that Muadz ibn Jabal had it engraved for himself in Yemen. One set of traditions hold that Mahomet wore this ring on his right hand, another on his left; one that he wore the seal inside, others that he wore it outside; one that the inscription upon it was while the rest declare that it was 92. Now all these traditions refer to one and the same ring; because it is repeatedly added that, after Mahomet’s death, it was worn by Abu Bacr, by Omar, and by Othman, and was lost by the latter in the well Aris. There is yet another tradition that neither the Prophet nor any of his immediate successors ever wore a ring at all93. Now all these varying narratives are not given doubtfully, as conjectures which might either be right or wrong, but they are told with the full assurance of apparent certainty, and with such minute particulars and circumstantiality of detail as leave the impression on the simple reader’s mind that each of the narrators had the most intimate acquaintance with the subject.
Unsupported tradition is insufficient evidence
In these instances, which might be indefinitely multiplied, what tendency or habit of mind, but the sheer love of story-telling, are we to attribute such gratuitous and wholesale fabrications? And from this we may fairly deduce the principle that tradition cannot in general be received with too much caution, or exposed to too rigorous a criticism; and that no important statement should be received as securely proved by tradition only, unless there be some further ground of probability, analogy, or collateral evidence in its favour.
III. What considerations confirm Individual traditions?
III. I will now proceed to mention the considerations which should be regarded as confirming the credit of a tradition, as well as the caution to be observed in their application.
Agreement between Independent traditions?
A. —- Unanimous consent, or general agreement, between traditions independent of one another, or which, though traceable to a common origin, have descended by different chains or witnesses, may generally be regarded as a presumption of credibility. We know that the first sources of tradition were numerous; and, as already stated, the stream often flows through separate channels. Evidence of this description may therefore afford a cumulative presumption that the circumstances common to so many separate traditions were currently reported or believed at the point of divergence, that is, in the era immediately succeeding Mahomet’s death. But there is a danger to be here guarded against; for, in traditions apparently of the nature contemplated, close agreement may be even a ground of distrust. It may argue that, though attributed to different sources, the traditions really belong to one and the same family, perhaps of spurious origin, long subsequent to the time of Mahomet. If the uniformity be so great as to exclude circumstantial variety, it will be strong ground for believing that either the common source is not of old date, or that the channels of conveyance have not been kept distinct. Some degree of incidental discrepancy must be looked for, and it will improve rather than injure the character of the evidence. Thus the frequent variations in the day of the week on which remarkable events are stated to have occurred, are just what we should expect in independent traditions having their origin in hearsay; and the simplicity with which these are placed in juxtaposition, speaks strongly for the honesty of the Collectors in having gathered them bona fide from various and independent sources, as well as in having refrained from any attempt to blend or harmonize the differing accounts.
Agreement between portions only of independent traditions
The same argument may be applied to the several parts of a tradition. Certain portions of distinct versions regarding the same subject-matter may agree almost verbally together, while other portions may contain circumstantial variations; and it is possible that the latter may have a bona fide independent origin, which the former could not pretend to. The intimate union, in separate but corresponding traditions, of fabulous narrations characterized by a suspicious uniformity, and of well-grounded facts circumstantially varying, receives an excellent illustration from the story of Mahomet’s infantile days, which professes to have been derived from his nurse Halima, and handed down to us in three distinct traditions. “These three accounts,” says Dr. Sprenger, – agree almost literally in the marvellous, but they differ in the facts94.” The marvellous was derived from one common source of fabrication, but the facts from original authorities. Hence the uniformity of the one, and the variation in the other.
Verbal coincidence may point to a common written original
Entire verbal coincidence may sometimes involve a species of evidence peculiar to itself; it may point to a common recorded original, of date antecedent to that probably at which most of the other traditions were reduced to writing. There is no reason for believing that any such records were made till long after the era of Mahomet, and they can therefore assume none of the merit of contemporaneous remains. But they may claim the advantage of a greater antiquity of record than the mass of ordinary tradition, as in the case of the history by Zohri of the Prophet’s military conquests, which was probably recorded about the close of the first century95.
Correspondence with the Coran a valuable confirmation
B. – Correspondence at any point with facts mentioned or alluded to in the Coran will generally impart credit in whole or in part to the traditional narrative. Some of the most important incidents connected with Mahomet’s battles and campaigns, as well as with a variety of domestic and political matters, are thus attested. Such apparent confirmation may however be deceptive, for the allusion in the Coran may have given rise to the tradition. The story, if not from the first an actual fraud, may have originated in some illustrative supposition or paraphrastic comment on the text; and, gradually changing its character, been transmitted to posterity as a confident recital of fact. Take for example the following verse in the Coran : – Remember the favorer of thy Lord unto thee, when certain men designed to stretch forth their hands upon thee, and the Lord held back from thee their hands96. By some this passage is supposed to refer to Mahomet’s escape from Mecca; but, the craving after the circumstantial and the marvellous not being satisfied with this tame and reasonable interpretation, several different occasions have been invented on which the hand of the enemy, in the every act of brandishing a sword over Mahomet’s head, was miraculously stayed by Gabriel97. Again, the discomfiture of the army of Abraha shortly before the birth of Mahomet, is thus poetically celebrated in Sura cv ; – And did not the Lord send against them flocks of little birds, which cast upon then small clay stones, and made than like unto the stubble of which the cattle have eaten? This appears to be only a highly coloured metaphor for the general destruction of the army by the ravages of small-pox or some similar pestilential calamity98. But it has afforded a starting point for the extravagances of tradition, which gives a detailed statement of the species of bird, the size and material of the stones, the precise mode in which they struck the enemy, the exact kind of wound inflicted, &c., as if the portent had but just occurred within sight of the narrators; – and yet the whole has evidently no other foundation than the verse above quoted, which the credulous Moslems interpreting literally, deemed it necessary to clothe with ample illustration. These are types of the numberless puerile or romantic legends which have been fabricated out of nothing; and which, though purely imaginary, have been reared upon the authority of a Coranic basis99.
Disparagement of Mahomet a ground of credibility
C. – When a tradition contains statements in disparagement of Mahomet, such as an indignity shown to him by his followers; or an insult from his enemies after his emigration (for then the period of his humiliation had passed, and that of his exaltation arrived) ; his failure in any enterprise or laudable endeavour; or, in fine, anything at variance either in fact or doctrine with the principles and tendencies of Islam, there will be strong reason for admitting it as authentic: because, otherwise, it seems hardly credible that such a tradition could be fabricated, or having been fabricated, that it could obtain currency among the followers of Mahomet. At the same time we must be careful not to apply the rule to all that is considered by ourselves discreditable or opposed to morality. Cruelty however inhuman, and revenge the most implacable, when practised against infidels, were regarded by the first followers of Islam as highly meritorious; and the rude civilization of Arabia admitted with complacency a coarseness of language and behaviour, which we should look upon as reprehensible indecency. These and similar exceptions must be made from this otherwise universal and effective canon.
Treaties contemporaneously recorded
D. – There is embodied in tradition a source of information far more authentic than any yet alluded to, though unfortunately of very limited extent, – I mean the transcripts of treaties purporting to have been dictated by Mahomet, and recorded in his presence.
Their authority far superior to that of ordinary tradition; especially in regard to Jewish and Christian tribes
It has been before shown that ordinary traditions were not recorded in the time of Mahomet; and that, even were we to admit an occasional resort to such early notes or memoranda, there is no evidence regarding their subsequent fate, nor any
criteria for distinguishing out of our present stores the traditions possibly founded upon them, from those that originated and were for a long time sustained by purely oral means. To a very different category belong the treaties of Mahomet. They consist of compacts entered into with the surrounding tribes of Arabia, Jewish and Christian, as well as Pagan and Moslem; these were at the time reduced to writing, and attested by one or more of his followers. They are of course confined to the period succeeding the Prophet’s flight to Medina and acquisition of political influence, and from their nature are limited to the recital of a few simple facts. But these facts again form valuable supports to the traditional outline; and, especially where they detail the relations of Islam with the neighbouring Jewish and Christian tribes, are possessed of the highest interest.
In the Katib al Wackidi’s biography there is a section expressly devoted to the transcription of such treaties, and it contains two or three scores of them. Over and again, the author (in the end of the second or beginning of the third century) states that he had copied these from the original documents, or recorded their purport from the testimony of those who had seen them. “They were still in force,” writes Dr. Sprenger, “in the time of Harun Al Rashid (A.ll. 170-193), and were then collected.100” This is quite conceivable, for they were often recorded upon leather101, and would invariably be preserved with care as their charters of privilege by those in whose favour they were concluded. Some of the most interesting, as the terms allowed to the Jews of Kheibar and to the Christians of Najran, formed the basis of political events in the calipliates of Abu Bacr and Omar; the concessions made in others to Jewish and Christian tribes, are satisfactory proof that they were not fabricated by Mahometans; while it is equally clear that they would never have been acknowledged or made current by them if counterfeited by a Jewish or a Christian hand.
Whenever, then, there is fair evidence in favour of such treaties, they may be placed, as to historical authority, almost on a par with the Coran102.
Written details of embassies preserved in the several tribes which sent them
The narrative of official deputations to Mahomet is sometimes stated to have been derived from the family, or tribe which sent the embassy, and which had preserved a written memorial of the circumstances. Accounits so obtained may undoubtedly be viewed as founded on fact, for the family or clan would naturally treasure up in the most careful way any memorials of the manner in which the Prophet had received and honoured them, although there would be a tendency in a” such statements to self-aggrandizement103.
Poetical remains carry a special authority. – 1. Such as are ascribed to a period before the rise of Mahomet not of very great practical value
E. – All other traditionary source, supported by authority peculiar to itself, takes rise in the verses and poetical fragments attributed to the time of Mahomet. Some of these profess to be the composition of persons who died before the Prophet, as Abu Talib his uncle; others, of those who survived him, as Hassan ibn Thabit, a poet of Medina. There can be no question as to the great antiquity of these remains, though we may not always be able to fix with exactness the period of their composition. With respect to those which purport to be of date preceding the rise to power of Mahomet, when we consider the poetical habits of the nation, their faculty of preserving poetry by memory104, the ancient style and language of the pieces themselves, the fair likelihood that carefully composed verses were at the first committed for greater security to writing, it cannot certainly be deemed improbable that such poems or fragments should in reality have been composed by the parties to whom they are ascribed. It is, on the other hand, possible that poetry of date long after the death of Mahomet, but descriptive of passages in his life or connected with it, may gradually have come to be regarded as composed upon the occasion by some contemporary poet, or as the actual effusion of personages in the scene to whom the real author attributed them by poetical fiction alonie. As a general rule, it may be laid down that wherever there is betrayed an anticipation of Mahomet’s prophetical dignity or victories, – the premonitory dawn of approaching glory, – the poetry may at once be concluded a. an after-thought, triumphant Islam having reflected some rays of its refulgence upon the bare points of its earlier career. Tried by this rule, there are fragments which may be ascribed, as more or less genuine, to the men whose name they bear; but there is also much which from patent anachronism either in fact or spirit, is evidently the composition of a later age105. The question however ever is one of literary curiosity rather than of historical evidence; for this species of poetry is seldom of use in confirming any important point in the biography of Mahomet.
These remarks not applicable to the national poetry of Arabia
I do not here refer to the national poets of Arabia, whose verses, preserved in the Kitab al Aghani and other works, possess without doubt the elements or authenticity, and form trustworthy archives of Arabia, before Islam. It is only necessary to peruse the elaborate “Essai” of M. Caussin de Perceval to be satisfied of the general authority of these poetical fragments.
Two Poets who survived Mahomet
Pieces said to have been recited by poets who survived Mahomet, there is every reason for believing to be the composition ordinarily of the persons to whom they are ascribed. But whether they were composed before the Prophet’s death, even when they are said to be so, is a more difficult question; and their value as historical documents will in some measure be regulated by that consideration. Under any circumstances, however, they cannot but be regarded as of great value, from their being the work of Mahomet’s contemporaries. Wherever they bear upon historical events, they are of much use as adding confirmation to the corresponding traditions; for, whether handed down by writing, or by memory alone, their poetical form is a material safeguard against change or interpolation. As examples, may be specified the odes of Hasan ibn Thabit on the “Battle of the Ditch,” and on “the taking of Mecca;” and the poem of Kab ibn Malik, descriptive of the oath of fealty by the Medina converts at the “second pledge of Acaba,” in which he mentions by name the twelve leaders chosen by the Prophet106 . Besides such apecific facts, this early poetry is often instructive, from its exhibition of the spirit of the first Moslems towards their unconverted brethren, and the biting satire and virulent abuse employed against the enemies of Islam.
Their poetry simply confirmatory of tradition
There is probably, however, no biographical fact, the proof of which depended solely upon these poetical remains. They are able because confirmatory of tradition; but their practical bearing upon the biography of Mahomet is not of so much interest as might have been expected. They deserve indeed deep attention, as the earliest literary remains of a period which contained the germ of such mighty events; but they give us little new insight into the history or character of the Prophet. While they attest many facts we are already acquainted with, they reveal none which, without them, we should not have known.
Such, then, are the criteria which should be applied to Mahometan Tradition. It is obvious that the technical rule of “respectable names” used by the Collectors can carry no authority with us; that every tradition, separately subjected to close examination, must stand or fall upon its own merits; and that, even after its reception as generally credible, the component parts are still severally liable, upon a close scrutiny of internal evidence, to suspicion and rejection. The sure and steady light of the Coran will always be preferred by the judicious historian of the rise of Islam, to the more pretending glare of Tradition. Where the latter is alone available, his eye will maintain a constant guard against its dazzling but deceptive lustre, and will seek cautiously to discriminate and carefully to concentrate the fitful and scattered gleams of truth, which mingle with its fictitious illumination. By the prudent and uniform observance of the precautions which have been pointed out, while he shuns the misdirection of the traditionists, he will to the utmost of his ability preserve the elements of truth which have been handed down in their writings.
I now proceed to notice briefly the EARLY HISTORIANS OF MAHOMET, the character of their works, and the nature aud value of the materials which they contain for a faithful biography.
Zohri, and other compilers of biographical collections
We have seen that towards the end of the first century of the Hegira, there is ground for believing that the general practice first commenced of recording Mahometan tradition. One of the persons known to have been employed in this task was Zohri, who died A.H. 124, aged 72107. It has been even stated that both be and his master Orwa (who died as early as A.H. 94,) composed regular biographies of Mahomet, but the grounds are uncertain108. Be this as it may, there is no doubt that Zohri at least threw together traditions bearing on certain periods of the Prophet’s life, certainly on that relating to his military career. It is conjectured by Dr. Sprenger, that this compilation was the source whence arose the uniformity of narrative and coincidence of expression observable in many parts of the various biographies or Mahomet, and especially in the narratives of his expeditions and battles. The hypothesis is probable; at all events Zohri was one of such sources. He lived at the court of several princes of the Ommeyad dynasty, and there is hence every reason to believe that his accounts are as unbiassed as could be expected from any Mussulman author. There is no work by Zohri extant, but he is largely quoted by subsequent biographers; and, if Dr. Sprenger’s hypothesis be correct, their statements of Mahomet’s military operations must be in great part the reproduction of materials composed by him.
Biographies not extant, compiled in the second century A.H.
Two other authors are mentioned as having written biographies of Mahomet early in the second century, namely MUSA IBN OCKBA and ABU MASHAR. Neither of their works is extant; but the latter is extensivety referred to by Taban109. To these may be added, as no longer available, the histories or ABU ISHAC, who (died A.H. 188, and MADAINI, who lived to the beginning of the third century. Though the latter published many works on Mahomet, not one of them is now known to exist110.
The earliest biographical writers, whose works are extant more or less in their original state, are:- I. Ibn Ishac; II. Ibn Hisham; III. Wackidi, and his Secretary; IV. Tabari.
Difference between biographies and ordinary traditional collections
These works, though professing, like the traditional collections, to be composed only of traditions, differ from them in the following particulars111. First :-The traditional matter is confined to biographical subjects, and is arranged in chronological order.
First : – confined to biographical matter chronologically arranged
Commencing with anticipatory and genealogical notices, the work generally advances to the birth of Mahomet, and traces him, with some degree of method, through every stage of his eventful life. To each step a separate chapter is devoted; and all traditions, which have any bearing on the special subject, are thrown together in that chapter, and arranged with more or less of intelligible sequence. But the example of the traditionist Collectors as to the quotation of their authorities is, with some exceptions, observed; namely, that each separate tradition must be supported by its original witness, and the chain of evidence specified which connects the biographer with that authority. This induces the same motley and fragmentary appearance, which distinguishes the traditional collections. The biographies may be compared to mosaics, the several traditions being adjusted and dovetailed so as to form one uniform history. The work resembles more a collection of “table talk,” than a life. It is a compilation rather than an original composition.
Second: -The traditions are Sometimes formed into a connected narrative
Secondly – Traditions are sometimes fused together; or they are broken up and re-formed into a uniform narrative, by an adjustment of the various pieces. This is more particularly the case in descriptions of Mahomet’s military; life, where the expeditions are often detailed in unbroken narratives, the authorities for which are generally thrown together at the beginning112.
Third: – a measure of critical collation
Thirdly :-This process at times induces some degree of critical collation between the purport or the expressions of the several traditions brought together. Where the authorities differ, we find the biographer occasionally stating his opinion as to which is the correct exposition of the facts. Verbal differences are sometimes mentioned, and various readings noted. Such minuteness of examination affords satisfactory evidence of the labour bestowed by the biographers in bringing together all authentic tradition which could possibly illustrate their subject, and, of the scrupulous accuracy with which they recorded it.
The following detailed account of the four authors whose works are more or less extant, will enable the reader to form an estimate of their value as biographical authorities.
MUHAMMED IBN ISHAQ ; – testimonies to his authority
I. MUHHAMAD IBN ISHAC is the earliest biographer of whom any extensive remains, the authorship of which can certainly be distinguished, have reached us. He died in the year of Hegira 151113, fifteen years after the overthrow of the Ommeyad dynasty. His work was published under the auspices and influence of the Abbasside Princes, and was in fact composed “for the use” of the Caliph Al Mansur, the second of that line114. Its accuracy has been impugned. But from the portions of his biography which have come down to us, there seems no ground for believing that he was less careful than other traditionists; while the high character generally ascribed to him, and the fact of his being uniformly quoted with confidence by later authors, leave little doubt that the aspersions cast upon him have no good foundation115.
In Ibn Khallican we find the following testimonies in his favour: – “Muhammad ibn Ishac is held by the majority of the learned as a sure authority in the traditions, and none can be ignorant of the high character borne by his work – the Maghazi116. Whoever wishes to know the early Moslem conquests,’ says Zohri, let him refer to Ibn Ishac,’ and Al Bokhari himself cites him in his history. Al Shafi said, ‘Whoever wishes to obtain a complete acquaintance with the early Moslem conquests, must borrow his information from Ibn Ishac.’ Safyan ibn Oyaina declared that he never met any one who cast suspicions on Ibn Ishac’s recitals, and Shoba ibn al Hajjaj was heard to say, ‘Muhammad ibn Ishac is the Commander of the Faithful,’ meaning that he held that rank as a traditionist. Al Saji mentions that Zohri’s pupils had recourse to Muhammad Ibn Ishac, whenever they had doubts respecting the exactness or any of the traditions delivered by their master; such was the confidence they placed in his excellent memory. It is stated that Yahya ibn Main, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and Yahya Said al Kattan, considered Muhammad ibn Ishac as a trustworthy authority, and quoted his traditions in proof of their legal doctrines. It was from ibn Ishac’s works that ibn Hisham extracted the materials of his biography of the Prophet, and every person who has treated on this subject has been obliged to take Ibn Ishac for his authority and guide.117”
One of the chief sources of subsequent biographies
These testimonies are conclusive as to die popularity of Ibn Ishac in the Moslem world, and of his general respectability as a writer. But the surest proof of his character and authority lies in the fact that his statements have been embodied in all subsequent biographies of Mahomet, excepting that of Wackidi, who in comparison with others quotes sparingly from him; and that the two works of ibn Ishac and Wackidi form the chief material out of which the only authentic narrative of the Prophet’s actions has been framed.
Though not extant, its materials are largely available in Ibn Hisham’s biography
No copy of Ibm Ishac’s biography, in the form of its original composition, is now available. But the materials have been so extensively adopted by Ibn Hisham, and wrought into his history in so complete and unaltered a form, that we have probably not lost much by the absence of the work itself.
II. IBN HISHAM, who died A.H. 213 118, made the labours of ibn Ishac the basis of his biography of Mahomet. Copies of this work are extant in its original form, and are known to the European historians of the Prophet 119.
The following extract from Ibn Khallican will place before the reader all that it is necessary to know regarding the life of this author :- “Abu Muhammad, Abd al Malik, Ibn Hisham, the author of the Sirat al Rasul, or Biography of the Prophet, is spoken of in these terms by Abu’l-Casim-al-Suhaili, in his work entitled Al Raued at Unuf, which is a commentary on the Sirat. He was celebrated for his learning, and possessed superior information in genealogy anti grammar. His native place was Old Cairo, but his family were of Basra. He composed a genealogical work on the tribe of Himyar and its princes; and I have been told that he wrote another work, in which he explained the obscure passages of poetry cited in (Ibn Ishac’s) biography of the Prophet. His death occurred at Old Cairo A.H. 213 (A.D. 828-9). This Ibn Hisham is the person who extracted and drew up the ‘History of the Prophet’ from Iba Ishac’s work, Al Maghazi was al Siar (‘The Wars and Life of Mahomet.’) Al Suhaili explained its difficulties in a commentary, and it is now found in the hands of the public under the title of Sirat ibn Hisham, i.e. ‘The Biography of Mahomet, by Ibn Hisham 120.’
Suspicions of his candour and fidelity
There is reason to suspect that Ibn Hisham was not so honest as his great authority Ibn Ishac. Certainly one instance throws suspicion upon him as a witness, disinclined at the least to tell the whole truth. We find in a subsequent biographer, Tabari, a quotation from Ibn Ishac, in which is described the temporary lapse of Mahomet towards idolatry; and the same incidents are also given by Wackidi from other original sources. But no notice whatever of the remarkable fact appears in the biography of Ibn Hisham, though it is professedly based upon the work of Ibn Ishac 121. His having thus studiously omitted all reference to so important a narrative, for no other reason apparently than because he fancied it to be discreditable to the Prophet, cannot but lessen our confidence generally in his book. Still, it is evident from a comparison of his text with the quotations in Tabari from the same passages of Ibn Ishac, (the two ordinarily tallying word for word with each other,) that whatever he did except from his author was faithfully and accurately copied 122.
Arrangement and composition
The arrangement and composition of Ibn Hisham are careful, if not elaborate. The traditions are well classified; and the narrative proceeds with much of the regularity of an ordinary European biography. The frequent fusing of traditions, however, renders it sometimes difficult to single out the separate authorities, and to judge of them on their individual merits.
Abridgement to which reference is made throughout this work
An abridgment of Ibn Hisham’s work was made at Damascus A.H. 707 (A.D. 1307), by one Abmad ibn Ibrahim. A beautiful manuscript, in the handwriting of the abbreviator himself is in possession of Muhammad Sadr-ood-Deen, the Principal Sudder Ameen of Delhi. It is the copy which had been used by Dr. Sprenger 123, and the same to which, (the author also having had access to it,) reference is made throughout this work 124. A valuable manuscript of the entire work is in the library of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta.
III. WACKIDI, – or as his full name runs Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Omar al Wackidi – was born at Medina about the year of the Hegira 120 or 130, and died A.H. 207 125. He studied and wrote exclusively under the Abbassides. He enjoyed their patronage, and passed a part of his life at their court, having in his later days be en appointed a Cazi of Baghdad. In judging therefore of his learning and prejudices, we must always bear in mind that the influence of the Abbasside dynasty bore strongly and incessantly upon him. His traditional researches were vast, and his works voluminous 126.
character and writings.
Al Wackidi was a man eminent for learning, and the author of some well-known works on the conquests of the Moslems, and other subjects. His Kitab al Radda, a work of no inferior merit, contains an account of the apostacy of the Arabs on the death of the Prophet, and of the wars between his followers and Tuleiha ai Aswad and Museilama, the false prophet 127. He received traditional information from Ibn abi Dib, Mamar ibn Rishid, Malik ibn Aqas, Al Thauri, and others. His Secretary, Muhammad ibn Saad, and a number of other distinguished men, delivered traditional information on his authority. He held the post of Kadi in the eastern quarter of Baghdad, and was appointed by the Caliph Al Mamun to fill the same office at Askar al Mahdi. The traditions received from him are considered of feeble authority, and doubts have been expressed on the subject of his veracity. Al Mamun testified a high respect for him and treated him with marked honour 128.
His “Maghazi” the only one of his works in the original form.
Notwithstanding the extraordinary fertility of his pen, none of works of Wackidi have reached us in their original form with the exception of Maghazi or the “History of the Wars of the Prophet,” a copy of which was very recently discovered in Syria 129.
But the most important results of his labours preserved in the writings of his Secretary Muhammad ibn Saad
Happily, however, his Secretary, MUHAMMAD IBN SAAD, profited by the labours of his master, and through him we enjoy largely the benefit of their results. The Secretary is thus described by Ibn Khallican. “Abu Abdallah Mohammed ibn Saad ibn Mani was a man of the highest talents, merit, and eminence. He lived for some time with Al Wackidi in the character of a secretary, and for this reason became known by the appellation Datib al Wakidi. He composed an excellent work in fifteen volumes on the different classes (Tabacat) of Mahomet’s Companions and the Tabies (Successors:) it contains also a history of the caliphs, brought down to his own time. Ire left also a smaller Tabacat. His character as a veracious and trustworthy historian is universally admitted. It is said that the complete Collection of Al Wackidi’s works remained in the possession of four persons, the first of whom was his secretary, Muhammad ibn Saad. This distinguished writer displayed great acquirements in the sciences, the traditions, and traditional literature; most of his books treat of the Traditions and Law. The Khatib Abu Bacr, author of the history of Baghdad, speaks of him in these terms : – ‘We consider Muhammad ibn Saad as a man of unimpeached integrity, and the traditions which he delivered are a proof of his veracity, for in the greater part of the information handed down by him, we find him discussing it passage by passage.’ At the age of sixty-two he died at Baghdad, A.H. 230 (A.D. 844),130 and was interred in the cemetery outside the Damascus gate (Bab al Sham).”131
In the fifteen volumes hero noticed, the Secretary is supposed to have embodied the researches of his master, Al Wackidi, together with the fruits of his own independent labour. The first volume has, fortunately for the interests of literature and of truth, been preserved to us in an undoubtedly genuine form. It contains the Sirat or “Biography of Mahomet,” with detailed accounts of the early learned men of Medina, and of all the Companions of the Prophet who were present at Badr. For a copy of this invaluable volume we are indebted to the indefatigable research of Dr. Sprenger, who discovered it in the library of Mozuffer Husain Khan at Cawnpore.
Discovery of M.S. of the Katib al Wackidi’s volume containing the biography of Mahomet and his Companions
This manuscript is written in an ancient but very distinct character, and is in excellent preservation 132. It was executed at Damascus, A.H. 718 (A.D. 1318), by a scholar named Al Hakkari, who traces up, link by link, from the pupil to the master (by whom it was successively taught, or by whom copied), the guarantee of the authenticity of the volume, till the chain reaches to the Secretary, Muhammad ibn Saad himself 133.
The title of the work, though pasted over, can by a little care be decyphered, and purports to be – The first volume of the (larger history of Mahomet and the several classes of his Companions), composed by the Imam and Hafiz, Abu Muhammad ibn Saad, the Secretary of Wackidi134. I shall quote this work always as that of the Katib al Wackidi or “Wackidi’s Secretary.”
Composed mainly of detached traditions
This treatise (if we except some special narratives, as portions of the military expeditions,) is composed entirely of detached traditions, which are arranged in chapters according to subject, and in fair chronological order. The chain of authority is generally traced in detail to the fountain-head for each tradition, separately; andi so carefully is every fragment of a tradition bearing on each subject treasured up and gathered together, that we often find a dozen or more traditions reiterated in detail one after another, though they are all couched perhaps in precisely the same words, or in expressions closely resembling one another. We likewise meet continually with the most contradictory authorities placed side by side without any remark; and sometimes (but the occasion is comparatively rare) the author gives his opinion as to their relative credibility.
Authority of Wackidi and his Secretary
Wackidi is said to have been a follower of the Alyite sect 135. Like others, he probably yielded to the prevailing influences of the day, which tended to exalt the Prophet’s son-in-law and all the progenitors of the Abbasside race. But there is not the slightest ground for doubting that his character is equal, if not superior, to that of any other historian of his time 136. Of the biography compiled by his Secretary, at all events, Dr. Sprenger has well vindicated the authority and faithfulness. “There is no trace,” says he, “of a sacrifice of truth to design, or of pious fraud, in his work. It contains few miracles; and even those which are recorded in it admit of an easy explanation.” Concurring to a certain extent in this praise, I do not hesitate to designate the compilation as the fruit of an honest endeavour to bring together the most credible authorities current at the end of the second century, and to depict the life of Mahomet with as much truth as from mich sources was possible. It is marked by at least as great sincerity as we may expect to find in any extant Mahometan author. But Dr. Sprenger’s admiration of the work carries him beyond the reality, when he affirms that the miracles it contains are either few in number or of easy explanation. They are on the contrary nearly, if not quite, as numerous as those we find in Ibn Hisham. It is very evident that the criticism of Wackidi and his Secretary extended little, if at all, beyond that of their contemporaries. They were mere compilers of current traditions; and where these were attested by reputable names, they were received, however fabulous or extravagant, with a blind and implicit credulity.
IV. TABARI, or Abu Jafar ibn Jarir al Tabari; flourished in the latter part of the third century of the Moslem era. The following account of him is extracted from Ibn Khallican :-“Al Tabari was an Imam (master of the highest authority) in many various branches of knowledge, such as Coranic interpretation, traditions, jurisprudence, history, &C. He composed some fine works on various subjects, and these productions are a testimony of his extensive information and great abilities. He was one of the Mujtahid Imams, as he judged for himself and) adopted the opinions of no particular doctor. He is held to merit the highest confidence as a transmitter of traditional information, and his history is the moat authentic and the most exact of any. He was born A.H. 224 (A.D. 838-9) at Amul in Tabarestan, and he died at Baghdad A.H. 810 (A.D. 923). He was buried the next day in (the court of) his own house. I saw in the Lesser Karafa cemetery, at the foot of Mount Mokattam, near Old Cairo, a tomb which is often visited, and at the head of which is a stone bearing this inscription – This is the tomb of Ibn Jariral Tabari. The public imagine it to belong to the author of the history; but this opinion is erroneous, the fact being that he was buried at Baghdad.”137
The volume containing his biography of Muhammad discovered lately by Dr. Sprenger
Tabari, who is happily styled by Gibbon “the Livy of the Arabians “138, composed annals, not only of Mahomet’s life, but of the progress of Islam. The Arabic original of the latter has long been known, and a part was published with a Latin translation by Kosegarten so long ago as 1831. This volume, which contains the earliest portion then discovered, commenced only with the Prophet’s death. Of the previous chapters, hitherto known alone through an untrustworthy Persian translation, no trace could, until a very few years ago, anywhere be found 139.
Here again the literary world is indebted to Dr. Sprenger, who, having been deputed by the enlightened policy of the Indian Government to examine the Native libraries of Lucknow, succeeded in tracing from amongst heaps of neglected manuscripts, a portion of the long lost volume. It begins with the birth of Mahomet; but it terminates with the siege of Medina, that is, five years before the Prophet’s death140. The remainder of the work is in all probability extant in India, and may yet reward the search of some future collector of manuscripts. The fortunate discovery is described below in the ‘words of Sprenger himself.
“One of the most important books, which it was my good luck to find during my late mission to Lucknow, is the fourth volume of the history of Tabari (who died in A.H. 310), of which I believe no other copy is known to exist.
“It is a volume in a small quarto of 451 pages, fifteen lines in a page. Ten pages are wanting. The writing is ancient and bold, and though not without errors, generally very correct. I should say, from the appearance, the copy is five hundred years old.
“The intrinsic merits of the work are not so great as might be expected. Two-thirds of the book consists of extracts from Ibn Ishac and Wackidi, and only one-third or thereabouts contains original traditions. Some of these are very valuable, in as muich as they contain information not to be found anywhere else 141.”
Importance of the discovery.
The discovery of this portion of Tabari in its original language is, after that of Wackidi and his Secretary, the most important event affecting the biography of Mahomet which has occurred for many years. It has a marked bearing on the sufficiency and completeness of our other early authorities, Ibn Ishac (as known to us through Ibn Hisham) and Wackidi.
The estimate given by Dr. Sprenger (not an exaggerated one), that two thirds of the work of Tabari are composed of literal extracts quoted formally from Ibn Ishac and Wackidi, proves not only that these two biographers were in his day held as trust worthy, but likewise that they were the standard writers and the chief authorities on the subject, up to at least the close of the third century.
Especially as proving the completeness of our authorities, Ibn Ishac and Wackidi
The remaining materials of Tabari, derived from a variety of sources, possess, as observed by Sprenger, a peculiar interest, because they are accessible in no other quarter. Yet these sources in no case assume the character of a complete and authoritative biography, but only that of occasional or miscellaneous fragments, nor do any of them bring to light new and important features in Mahomet’s life. Quoted in Tabari, they are sometimes valuable as supplementary to the accounts we already possess from Ibn Ishac and Wackidi, or confirmatory of them 142; but they are oftener symptomatic of the growth of a less honest and scrupulous selection than that of the earlier collectors 143. Now as Tabari was an intelligent and diligent historian, and evidently neglected no useful and reliable sources within his reach, it follows as a reasonable conclusion that, beside Ibn Ishac and Wacekidi, there were available in Tabari’s time no other material works or sources of essential importance, relating to the biography of Mahomet. had any existed, they must have been within his reach; and, if within his reach, he would unquestionably have made ample use of them in his annals.
Historical sources recounted
To the three biographies by IBN HISHAM, by WACKIDI and his Secretary, and by TABARI, the judicious historian of Mahomet will, as his original authorities, confine himself. He will also receive, with a similar respect, such traditions in the general Collections of the earliest traditionists, -Bokhari, Muslim, Tirmidzi, &c, as may bear upon his subject. But he will reject as evidence all later authors, to whose so-called traditions he will not allow any historical weight whatever.
No subsequent works carry any historical weight
It is evident that, in the absence of any History or Collection of Traditions, compiled before the accession of the Abbassides, works above specified present us, with all the credible information regarding the Arabian Prophet which mankind are ever likely to obtain. It is clear that our authorities sought out, with a commendable zeal and an untiring assiduity, all traditions which could illustrate their subject. They were contemporary with those tradition-gatherers who, as we have seen, compassed land and sea in the enthusiastic pursuit after any trace of Mahomet yet lingering in the memories, or in the family archives, of his followers. Whatever authentic information really existed must already have become public and available. It cannot be imagined that, in the unwearied search of the second century, any reliable tradition could have escaped the Collectors; or, supposing this possible, that it could have survived that age in an unrecorded shape. Every day diminished the chance of any stray traditions still floating downward on the swift and troubled current of time. Later historians could not by any possibility add a single source of real information to what these authors have given us. What they did add, and that abundantly, consisted solely of worthless and fictitious matter, gathered from tlne spurious traditions and fabricated stories of later times. After the era of our three biographers, the springs of fresh authority absolutely fail.
Opinion of Sprenger
The verdict of Sprenger is therefore just, and of the deepest importance : -“To consider 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; and if such a mistake is committed by an orientalist, we must accuse him of culpable ignorance in the history of Arabic literature 144.’
Early writers alone authoritative
Our early autlnors were, besides, in an incomparably better position than men in later days for judging of the character and authenticity of each tradition. However blind their reception of the supposed authorities that lay far back close to the fountainhead, they must have possessed the ability, as we are bound to concede that they had the intention and desire, to test the credit and honesty of the tradition-mongers of their age, and of that immediately preceding. An intimate acquaintance with the character and circumstances of those persons would often afford them grounds for distinguishing recently fabricated or mistaken narratives from ancient and bond fide tradition; and for rejecting many infirm and worthless traditions which later historians, with the indiscriminate appetite so pitifully generated by Moslem credulity, have greedily devoured 145.
Review of the Chapter
I have thus, as proposed, endeavoured to sketch the original sources for the biography of Mahomet. I have examined the Coran, and have admitted its authority as an authentic and contemporary record. I have inquired into the origin and history of Mahometan Tradition generally; acknowledged that it contains the elements of truth; and endeavoured to indicate some canons, by which that truth may be eliminated from the legend and fiction so closely commingled with it. I have enumerated the biographical compilations which can alone be regarded as worthy bf attention, and have shown that no later authors are possessed of any original and independent authority. The principles thus laid down, if followed with sagacity, perseverance, and impartiality, will enable the inquirer to arrive at a fair approximation to historical fact. Many Gordian knots regarding the Prophet of Arabia will remain unsolved, many paradoxes will still vainly excite curiosity and baffle explanation; but the groundwork of hi. life will be laid down with certainty, and the chief features of his character will be fully and accuracy developed 146.
1 According to the strict Mahometan doctrine every syllable of the Coran is of a directly divine origin. The wild rhapsodical Suras first composed by Mahomet (as the xci, c, cii, ciii) do not at all bear marks of such an assumption, and were not probably intended to be clothed in the dress of a message from the Most High, which characterizes the rest or the Coran. But when Mahomet’s die was cast (the turning point in his career) of assuming that great name as the Speaker of his revelations, then these earlier Suras also came to be regarded as emanating directly from the Deity. Hence it arises that Mahometans rigidly include every word of the Coran, at whatever stage delivered, in the category of Cal’allahu, or “Thus saith the Lord.” And it is one of their arguments against our Scriptures, that they are not entirely cast In the same mould ; – not exclusively oracles from the mouth, and spoken in the person, of God.
2 In the latter part of his career, the Prophet had many Arabic amanuenses; some or them occasional, as Ali and Othman; others official as Zeid ibn Thabit, who learned Hebrew expressly to conduct such business at Medina, as Mahomet had, in that language. In the Katib al Wackidi’s collection of despatches, the writers of the original documents are mentioned, and they amount to fourteen. Some say there were four-and-twenty of his followers whom Mahomet used more or less as scribes; others, as many as forty-two. Weil’s Mohammed, p. 350. In his early Meccan life, he could not have had these facilities; but even then his wife Khadija, Waraca, Ali, or Abu Bacr, who could all read, might have recorded his revelations. At Medina, Obey ibn Kab is mentioned as one who used to record the inspired recitations of Mahomet. Katib al Wackidi p. 277. Another, Abdallah Ibn Sad, was excepted from the Meccan amnesty, because he had falsified the revelation dictated to him by the Prophet. Weil’s Mohammed, p.348.
It is also evident that the revelations were recorded, because they are called frequently throughout the Coran itself, Kitab, i.e. the “Writing”, “Scriptures.”
3 Weil holds the opinion that Mahomet either destroyed or gave away these parts of his revelations (Mohammed, p.349, note 549); and that great portions have thus been lost (p. 351). He farther holds, that the Prophet did not intend that the abrogated passages should continue to be inserted in the Coran. Einleitung, p.46. But this, (except possibly in a few isolated cases) cannot be admitted; for Mahomet lost no opportunity of impressing on his people that every passage of his revelation, whether superseded or not, was a direct message from God, to be reverentially preserved and repeated. The cancelled passages are so frequent, and so inwrought into the substance and context of the Coran, that we cannot doubt that it was the practice of Mahomet and of his followers during his life-time to repeat the whole, including the abrogated passages, as at present. Had he excluded them in his recitation, we may he sure that his followers also would have done so. It is to be remembered that Mahomet, who always, when present, led the public devotions, repeated a portion of the Coran at each celebration of public worship.
4 The later revelations are much more uniform than the earlier, and their connection less broken and fragmentary. This may have resulted in part from the greater care taken of them as supposed in the text, though no doubt in part also from the style of composition being more regular and less rhapsodical.
There is a tradition that Abdallah Ibn Masud wrote down a verse from Mahomet’s mouth, and next morning found it erased from the paper; which the prophet explained by saying, that it had been recalled to heaven. Maracci ii. 42 ; Weil’s Mohammed, p. 382. The presumption from this is that the leaves remained with Mahomet. In later traditions, the incident is told with the miraculous addition that the erasure occurred simultaneously. In the copies of a number of Mahomet’s followers. Geschichte der Chalifan, 1. 168. This, of course, is a fabrication; and we must believe that (if there be any truth in the tradition at all) the erasure occurred in the original whilst in Mahomet’s own keeping.
If the originals were retained by Mahomet, they must needs have been in the custody of one of his wives; since at Medina the prophet had no special house of his own, but dwelt by turns in the abode of each of his wives. As Omar committed his exemplar to the keeping of his daughter Haphsa, one of the widows of Mahomet, may it not have been in imitation of the prophet’s own practice? Tine statement made by Sale (Prelim. Disc. p.77,) that the fragmentary revelations were cast promiscuously into a chest, does not seem to be bourne out by any good authority.
5 Thus among a heap or warrior martyrs, he who had been the most versed in the Coran was honoured with the first burial The person who in any company could most faithfully repeat the Coran was or right entitled to be the Imam, or conductor of the public prayers (a post closely connected with that or government.) and to pecuniary rewards. Thus, after the usual distribution of the spoils taken on the field of Cadesia, A. H.14, the residue was divided among those who knew most of the Coran. Caussin de Perc. Hist des Arabes iii. p. 486.
6 The Katib al Wackidi mentions four or five such persons. Several others are specified who were very nearly able to repeat the whole, before Mahomet’s death. pp.172, 270.
In speaking according to Mahometan idiom of “the entire revelation,” I mean of course that which was preserved and current in Mahomet’s later days, exclusive of what may possibly have been lost, destroyed, or become obsolete.
7 Thus, the secretary or Wackidi mentions a few of the companions who could repeat the whole Coran in a given time, which would seem to imply some usual connection of the parts; but the original tradition may have referred to the portions only which were commonly used by Mahomet in public worship, and these may have followed, both in copying and repetition from memory, some understood order; or more likely the tradition refers to a later period when the order had been fixed by Omar’s compilation, and by a common error has been referred to an earlier date. There was no fixed order observed (as in the regular course of “Lessons” in Christian churches) in the portions of the Coran recited at tine public prayers. The selection of a passage was dependent on the will and choice of the Imam. Thus Abu Hureira one day took credit to himself for remembering which Sura the Prophet had read the day before. Katib al Wackidi, p.173 ½. On urgent occasions (as on that of Omar’s assassination), a short Sura used to be read. It is only in private recitals that the whole, or large portions of the Coran, are said to have been recited consecutively.
The common idea of the Mahometans that the Coran was fixed by Mahomet as we have it, originates in the traditions that Gabriel had an annual recitation of the whole Coran with their Prophet, as well as in the desire to augment the authority of their present edition.
8 But there is reason to believe that the chief of the Suras, including all the passages in most common use, were so fixed and known by some name or distinctive mark. Some of them are spoken of, in early and well authenticated traditions as referred to by Mahomet himself. Thus he recalled his followers from Medina, at the discomfiture of Honein, by shouting to them as “the men of the Sura Bacr “, (“the cow.”)
Several persons are stated in the traditions to have learnt by heart a certain number of Suras in Mahomet’s life-time. Thus Abdallah ibn Masud learned seventy Suras from the Prophet’s own mouth, Kitab al Wackidi p. l69 1/2; and Mahomet on his death bed repeated seventy Suras, “among which were the seven long ones.” Id. p. 124 ½ . These appear to be good traditions, and signify a recognized division of at least a part of the revelation into Suras, if not a usual order in repeating the Suras themselves.
Weil has a learned note (Mohammed, p.361) on the meaning of the word as used by Mahomet. It was probably at first employed to designate any portion of his revelation, or a string of verses; but it soon afterwards, even during Mahomet’s life-time, acquired its present technical meaning.
9 Where whole Suras were revealed at once, this would naturally be the case; but short passages in driblets, and often single verses, were given forth at a time, as occasion required. With regard to these, it is asserted in some traditions that Mahomet used to direct his amanuensis to enter them in such and such a Sure, or rather “In the Sura which treated of such and such a subject,” Mishcat i p. 526; see also the Persian Commentary. This, if an authentic tradition (and it is probably founded on fact), would indicate that Mahomet wished the Coran to be arranged according to its matter, and not chronologically.
The traditions cited above as to the number of Suras which some of the Companions could repeat, and which Mahomet himself repeated on his death bed, imply the existence of such Suras in a complete sad finished form.
10 Anecdotes are told of some, who in reciting tho Coran used, especially when tired, to pass over passages from the similar termination of the verses; and of others, who having been guilty of the omission, could spontaneously correct themselves. Such homoioteluta are of very frequent recurrence, from the rhythm of the verses being formed by the repetition of common place phrases at their close, such as the attributes of God, &c. The anecdotes certainly suppose a settled order or the parts repeated; and though the period referred to is subsequent to Mahomet’s death, yet the habit of such connected repetition was most probably formed during his life-time, and before the collection Into one volume.
11 De Sacy and Caussin de Perceval concur in fixing the date of the introduction of Arabic writing into Mecca at A.D. 560. Mém. de l’Acad. vol.1. p. 306; C. de Perc. 1. p. 294. The chief authority is contained in a tradition given by Ibn Khallican, that the Arabic system was invented by Moramir at Anbar whence it spread to Hira. It was thence, shortly after its invention, introduced into Mecca by Harb, father of Abu Sofian the great opponent of Mahomet. Ibn Khallican, by Slane, vol. ii. p.254 . Other traditions give a later date; but M. C. de Perceval reconciles the discrepancy by referring them rather to the subsequent arrival of some zealous and successful teacher than to the first introduction of the art. Vol.1 p. 295.
I would observe that either the above traditions are erroneous, or that some sort of writing other than Arabic must have been known long before the date specified, i.e. A.D. 560. Abd al Muttalib is described as writing from Mecca to his maternal relatives at Medina for help, In his younger days i.e. about A.D. 520. And still farther back, in the middle of the fifth century, Cussei addressed a written demand of a similar tenor to his brother in Arabia Petraea Katib al Wackidi l~; Tabari 18 & ½; Tabari 18 & 28.
The Himyar or Musnad writing is said by Ibn Khallican to have been confined to Yemen; but the verses quoted by C. de Perceval (vol.1. p. 295) would seem to imply that it bad at the period been known and used by the Meccans, and was in fact supplanted by the Arabic. The Syriac and Hebrew were also known, and probably extensively used in Medina and the northern parts of Arabia from a remote period.
In fine, whatever the system employed may have been, it is evident that writing of some sort was known and practised at Mecca long before A.D. 560. At all events, tine frequent notices of written papers leave no room to doubt that Arabic writing was well known, and not uncommonly practised, there in Mahomet’s early clays. I cannot think with Weil, that any great “want of writing materials” could have been felt, even “by the poorer Moslems in the early days or Islam,” Mohammed, p. 350. Reeds and palm-leaves would never be wanting.
12 Thus the Katib al Wasckidi p. 101 ½, relates ;- “Now the people of Mecca were able to write, but those in Medina were unaccustomed to the art. Wherefore, when the captives could not pay any ransom, the Prophet made over to each of them ten of the lads of Medina and when these lads became expert in writing, they stood for the ransom of the captives.”
13 Thus, to cite one of a score or instances “Abu Abbas used to write Arabic before the rise of Islam, while as yet writing was rare among the Arabs.” Katib a1 Wackidi, p. 269.
14 A curious illustration of this is given it the case of the despatch and embassy to the Himyarites; – the Prophet’s ambassador, Harith ibn Abi Rabia, among other things was told to direct them to “translate,” (perhaps “explain”) the Coran, when they recited it in a foreign tongue or dialect. Katib al Wackidi p.55.
Abdallah ibn Abbas is mentioned as a good “translator” (perhaps “explainer”) of the Coran. Ib. p. 174
15 I have before alluded to the evidence conveyed by the name “Katib.” Other passages involve the existence of copies in common use. The Coran, none shall touch the same, excepting such as are clean.” Sura lvi, 80. This is an early Meccan Sura, and the passage was referred to by the sister of Omar when at his conversion he desired to take her copy of Sura xx. into his hands. Such passages are not only evidence of the extreme care, if not awe, with which all transcripts of the Coran were treated, but they themselves served as an important safeguard against corruption. The account of this transaction may be referred to below, in the 5th Chapter of this work.
16 Those revelations, however must be excepted which related to individuals. Such passages as praised or exculpated specified persons, would be most carefully treasured up by the persons to whom they referred and by their families, however little interest they might possess for any one else; – e.g. the verses in Sura xxiv. regarding Ayesha; and Sura ix. 120, respecting Kab ibn Malik and others, who were pardoned for not accompanying the Tabuk expedition.
17 See instances of such references made to Mahomet by Omar, Abdallah ibn Masud, and Obey ibn Kab, at pp. 521 & 522, vol i of the Mishcat, Eng. Translation.
18 The exact date of the battle of Yemama is uncertain. Wackidi makes it to fall in Rabi I. A.H. 12, or one year after Mahomet’s death, and abu Mashar follows him. Tabari mentions the 11th year of the Hegira, and others give the end of that year. The latter opinion is the likeliest, as Khalid set out for Irak after the battle, and in the beginning of A.H. 12. Weil would mince it in Shaban of A.H. 11, or only about five months after Mahomet’s death, which apparently leaves too little time for the intervening transactions. Weil’s Gesch. der Chalifan i. p.27; Katib al Wackidi. p.195.
19 Vide Mishcat, vol. I p.524, Eng. Translation; Bk. VIIL ch. iii. pt. 3.
20 properly signifies branches of the date-tree, on which there are no leaves; it appears, however; here to mean date leaves. signifies thin white stones. The commentary on this passage adds traditions to the effect that Zeid gathered the Coran also from “fragments of parchment or paper” and “pieces of “leather”; and “the shoulder and rib bones of camels and goats,” Miscat, as above.
Leather was frequently used for writing. Many of Mahomet’s treaties and letters are mentioned as recorded on It. Sometimes red leather is specified. Kitib al Wackidi p.59. There is a curious tradition regrading a man who used a leather letter received. from Mahomet, for the purpose of mending his bucket, and whose family were thence called the Bani Racki – “children of the mender,” or “cobbler;” Ibid, p.54.
21 This consistent account Is derived from the traditions in the Mishcat. The authorities in the Katib al Wackidi vary. Aba Bacr is said to have been “the first who collected the Coma Into one book,” p.216. “He died before he had collected the Coran” (probably it is meant “finished the collection”)p. 219.
Again, in regard to Omar it is said :- “Omar was the first to collect the Coran into one volume.” This must refer to Abn Bacr’s collection, here ascribed to Omar, because made at his suggestion, p.234 ½. Again, at page 237, we read, that “he died before he had collected the Coran.” This may probably be a loose mode of intimating that his was not the final collection.
23Zeid, it will be remembered, was a native of Medina.
24 It is one or the maxims of the Moslem world, supported perhaps by the revelation itself (see Sura xi. 2), that the Coran is incorruptible, and preserved from error and variety of reading, by the miraculous interposition of God himself. In order, therefore, to escape the scandal and inconsistencies of the transaction here detailed, it Is held that the Coran, as to its external dress, was revealed in seven dialects of the Arabic tongue. See traditions at p.520, vol.1. of the Mishcat; and Weil’s Mohammed p. 349, note 551. It is not improbable that Muhamet himself may hare originated or countenanced some ides or this kind, to avoid the embarrassment of differing versions of the same passages or revelation. See also Weil’s Einleitung, p.48.
25Mishcat, vol. I. p.525. Wackidi, however, mentions that twelve persons were employed by Othman in this work, among whom were Obey ibn Kab and Zeid. The three Coreish noticed in the text were probably umpires from among the twelve. Kitab al Wackidi, p. 278 ½.
26The Moslems would have us believe that some of the self-same copies, penned by Othman or by his order, are still in existence. M. Quatremére has collected a number of facts hearing on this head. Journal Asiatique. Juillet pp. 41, et seq. The very copy which the Caliph held in his hand when he was murdered is said to have been preserved in the village of Antarus. Others hold that leaves or it were treasured up in the grand mosque of Cordova; and Edrisi describes in detail the ceremonies with which they were treated: they were finally transferred to Fez or Telemsan. Ibn Batuta, when in the fourteenth century he visited Basra, declares that this Coran was then in its mosque, and that the marks of the Caliph’s blood were still visible at the words (Sura ii. v.138), “God shall avenge thee against them.” Lee’s translation, p.35. [The Katib al Wackidi, p.193, states that the unfortunate Caliph’s ‘blood ran down to these words. Other of 0thman’s originals are said to be preserved in Egypt, Morocco, and Damascus; as well as at Mecca and Medina. The Medina copy, it is said, has a note at the end, relating that it was compiled by the injunctions of Othman; and the compilers’ names are also given: Cnf Gayangos Spain, vol.1. pp.222-224, and 497, 498; and Weil’s Einleit, p.51. In Quatremére’s conclusion that though the preservation of such copies is not impossible, yet the accounts on the subject are of doubtful authority, I am disposed to concur. It appears very unlikely that any of Othman’s copies can have escaped the innumerable changes of dynasty and party to which every part or the Moslem world has been subjected. Any very ancient copy would come, however unfounded the claim, to be called that of Othman.
27 There are, however, instances of variation in the letters themselves, and these are not confined to difference in the dots, as for (Sura vii. 58, anti xxv. 49), for (iv. 83). They extend sometimes to the form or the letters also, as for (lxxi. 23), for (xxii. 37.)
This almost incredible purity of text, in a book so widely scattered over the world, and continually copied by people of different tongues and lands, is without doubt owing mainly to Othman’s recension, and the official enforcement of his one edition. To countenance a various reading was an offence against the State, and punished as such. An instance may be found in Weil’s History of the Caliphs, vol. ii p.676. Yet the various readings for which the learned Abul Hasan was persecuted, appear to have been very innocent and harmless to the government. We need not wonder that, when such means were resorted to, a perfect uniformity of text has been maintained. To compare (as the Moslems are fond of doing) their pure text, with the various readings of our Scriptures, is to compare things between the history and essential points of which there is no analogy.
28 Weil, indeed, impugns Othman’s honesty, by saying that he committed the task not to the most learned men, but to those most devoted to himself; Chalif. i. p.167. But he seems been mistaken; for Wackidi, as we have seen, holds that Othman selected twelve men for the work, among whom was Obey ibn Kab as well as Zeid, the two best authorities living. Abdallah ibn Masud, it is true, was vexed at Zeid being entrusted wills the revision, and casts suspicions upon him, but this, as will be shown In the next note, was simple jealousy. Zeid was selected for the first compilation by Abu Bacr and Omar, and Othman cannot be blamed for fixing upon the same person to revise it. The traditions regarding Zeid assign to him a high and unexceptionable character; vide Katib al Wackidi, p. l72 ½, 173. He is spoken of as, the first man In Medina for his judgment, decision, reading of the Coran, and legal knowledge, during the caliphates of Omar, Othman, Ali, and until he died in Muavia’s reign?’
The only tradition which Imputes to Othman any change is one in the Mishcat (i. p. 526), where the Caliph, being asked why he had joined Suras viii. and ix. without interposing the usual formula, “In the name of God, &c.~” Is said to have answered that “the Prophet, when dictating a passage, used to direct the scribe to write it in the Sura relating to such and such a subject; that Mahomet died before explaining the position of Sura ix. which was the last revealed; and that, as it resembled in subject Sura viii. he (Othman) had joined them together without the intervening formula.” Here certainly is no charge of corruption, or even of changing the position of any portion or the Coran, but simply a direction as to the form and heading with which one of the chapters should be entered. There is also a tradition from Dzahaby given by Weil (Chalif i p. 168, note), which apparently implies that, previous to Othman’s collection, the Coran, though arranged into Suras, was not brought together into one volume or series. “The Coran,” it says, “was composed of books,- -but Othman left it one book.”
This would correspond with the principle regarding the two editions laid down in the commentary on the Mishcat; – “The difference between the collection of Abu Bacr and that of Othman, is that the object of the former was to gather up everything, so that no portion should be lost; the object of the latter, to prevent any discrepancy In the copies.” The former object might have been attained without arranging the Suras into a volume. Still, I incline to think that Abu Bacr did so arrange them.
29 Weil supposes that Othman threatened the severest punishments against those who did not burn all the old manuscripts. Gesch der Chalifen, i. p. 169, note. But we find in reality no trace of any such severity, or indeed of any inquisitorial proceedings at all. The new edition, and the destruction of former copies (though subsequently forming a convenient accusation against 0thman,) do not appear to have excited at the time any surprise or opposition.
The opposition and imprisonment of Abdallah Ibn Masud originated in his discontent and jealousy. That his Coran was burnt for its supposed errors (Chalif. 1. p.169.) is not supported by any good tradition; it was probably burnt with all the others on the new edition being promulgated. The following is all that Wackidi has upon it. A tradition runs thus:-” Abdallah ibn Masud addressed us when the command was received regarding (the compilation or recension of) the Coran; and referring to the verse in the Coran reprobating robbery (of the booty, Sura iii. 162,) he added, “And they have made secret robbery in the Coran; and certainly in were to recite the Coran according to the reading of any other person whatever whom I might chance to select, it would be better In my opinion than the reading of Zeid. For, by the Lord! I received seventy Suras from the mouth of the Prophet himself, at a time when Zeid was but a curly-headed urchin playing with the children. Verily, If I knew any one more learned than myself in the book of the Lord, I would travel to him, were it never so far.’ Katib at Wackidi, p.169. These are the words evidently of a piqued and discontented man. had there been any foundation for his calumny, we should undoubtedly have heard of it from other quarters.
30 So far from objecting to Othman’s revision, Ali multiplied copies of his version. Quatremére, in the paper cited in a former note, among other MSS. supposed to have been written by Ali, mentions one which was preserved at Mesched Ali up to the fourteenth century, and which bore his signature. Some leaves of the Coran, said to have been copied by him, are now in the Lahore Tosha-Khana; others in the same repository are ascribed to the pen of his son, Husein. Without leaning upon such uncertain evidence, it is abundantly sufficient for our argument that copies of Othman’s Coran were notoriously used and multiplied by Ali’s partisans, and have been so uninterruptedly to the present day.
There is a curious tradition Wackidi to the following effect : – “Ali delayed long to do homage to Abu Bacr; who happening to meet him asked, ‘Art thou displeased with my being elected chief ? ‘ – ‘ Nay,’ replied Ali, ‘but I have sworn with an oath that I shall not put on my mantle, except for prayers, until I have collected the Coran.’ And it is thought that he wrote it (chronologically) according to its revelation.” But it is at the same time admitted that nobody ever knew anything of such a collection; the traditionists add : – “had that book reached us, verily there had been knowledge for theein.” Katib al Wackidi, p. to 168 1/2. A similar tradition appears to be referred to by Weil (Chalif. i. p.169, note). But the idea is preposterous and is simply an invention to exculpate Ali from the charge of having done homage to Abu Bacr tardily. Had he really compiled a Coran of his own, we should have had multitudes of traditions about it. Besides, the notion, as already observed, is incompatible with his subsequent reception of Othman’s version. Ali was moreover deeply versed in the Coran, and his memory (if tradition be true) would amply have sufficed to detect, if not to restore, any passage that had been tampered with. Ali said of himself, “there is not a verse in the Coran, of which I do not know the matter, the parties to whom it refers, and the place and time of its revelation, whether by night or by day, whether in the plains or upon the mountains.” Katib al Wackidi, 168 1/2.
31 Vide Coran Sura vi. a. 21. nearly the same words, is repeated in eleven other places. The considerations above detailed seem sufficient to rebut the supposition advanced by Dr. Weil (Mohammed, p.350,) that Abu Bacr might have colluded with Zeld, or some other of the Prophet’s scribes, and made them produce at pleasure scraps which Mahomet never gave forth as portions of the Coran. The ONLY passage brought forward, as favouring this view, is that regarding the mortality of Mahomet, quoted (or as Weil holds, fabricated) by Abu Bacr immediately after his death. The people were at the time frantic with grief; and refused to believe that their Prophet and their Ruler, whom a few hours before they had seen in the mosque apparently convalescent, and upon whom they hung fbr temporal guidance and for spiritual direction, was really dead. They persuaded themselves that he was only in a swoon, and would soon again return to consciousness, as from some heavenly journey. It was thus that when Abu Baer sounded in their ears Mahomet’s own words, in which (with reference to his perilous position in a field of battle) he had announced his mortality, they were bewildered, and “it was as if they had not known that this verse had been revealed, until Abu Bacr recited it; and the people took it up from him, and forthwith it was in all their mouths.” Another relates – “By the Lord! It was so that when I heard Abu Bacr repeating this, I was horror-struck, my limbs shook, I fell to the earth, and I knew of a certainty that Mahomet was indeed dead.” Katib al Wickidi, p. 155 ½; Hishami, p.462. The whole circumstances appear natural and readily explainable by the highly excited feelings and wild grief of Omar and those who were with him. The traditions are throughout consistent with the Coran. Mahomet always contemplated death as awaiting him, and spoke of it as such. The tradition of his having declared that the choice of both worlds, (i.e. the option of death and transfer to paradise, or of continuance in this world,) was offered him is a fiction, or a highly-coloured exaggeration. Whatever expectations of a miraculous interference and resuscitation Mahomet’s sudden decease may have excited, they were certainly warranted neither by the Coran nor by any speech of Mahomet. I entirely dissent from Weil, that there is any suspicion whatever of the verse repeated by Abu Bacr having been fabricated for the occasion. To me such suspicion appears to be gratuitous incredulity. Cnf Weil’s Mohammed, pp. 333, 350; his Einleitung p.43; and his Gesch. der Chalifen, vol. i. pp. 4 & 15.
32 The battle of Yemama, as before mentioned, occurred within a year after Mahomet’s death. Abu Bacr’s caliphate lasted little more than two years and two months. The compilation was certainly in progress, if not completed, between the former date and Abu Bacr’s death.
33 Though the convenient doctrine of abrogation is acknowledged in the Coran, yet the Mussulmans endeavour an far as possible to explain away such contradictions. Still they are obliged to confess that the Coran contains no fewer than 225 verses canceled by later ones.
34 I have already referred to the Mahometan theory of the seven dialects, as possibly founded in part on some explanation given by Mahomet to account for two or more varying versions of the same text, both given forth by himself as Divine. The idea, however, was probably not fully developed or worked into a systematic form till after his death, when it was required to account for the various readings.
Variety of readings in the originals might arise from two causes. First. – Passages actually distinct and revealed at different times might be so similar as to appear really the same with insignificant variations; and it is possible they might thus come to be confounded togethe; the differences being regarded as various readings. This, however, is opposed to the tautological character of the present Coran, which renders it likely that such passages were always inserted as separate and distinct revelations, without any attempt at collation or combination with other passage which they might closely resemble.
Second. – Different transcripts of one and the same passage might have variations of reading. It is possible that such transcripts might be each coined in extenso in Zcid’s compilation as separate passages, and that hence may arise some part of the repetitions of the Coran. But from the care with which the times and occasions of the several revelations are said to have been noted and remembered, it seems more likely that such passages were unseated but once. How, then, were the various readings in the different transcripts of the same passage treated? Some, leaning on the dogma of the ” seven dialects,” suppose that they were all exhibited in Zeid’s first collection. But this is very improbable. Zeid evidently made one version out of the whole. The various readings would thus remain with the possessors of the original transcripts.
We have then the following sources from which various readings may have crept into the subsequent copies of Abu Bacr’s version. I. The variations in the private transcripts just referred to might have been gradually transferred to such copies. II. Differences, in the mode of repetition from memory, and peculiarities of dialect, might have been similarly transferred; or III. The manuscripts not being checked, as was afterwards done by 0thman’s standard copy, would naturally soon begin to differ.
Variations, once introduced into what was regarded as the Word of God, acquired an authority, which could only he superseded by a general revision such as Othman’s, and by the authoritative decision of the Successor and Representative of the Prophet of the Lord.
35 Katib al Wackidi, p.169.
36 Ibid., p. 169 ½.
37 Sura II v.100.
38 The following are, I believe, the only instances of withdrawal or omission referred to in the traditions : – First. – Upon the slaughter of the seventy Moslems at Bir Mauna, Mahomet pretended to have received a message from them through the Deity, which is given by different traditionists (with slight variations) as follows:-
Convey to our people this intelligence regarding us, that we have met our Lord, and that He is well pleased with us, and we are well pleased with Him.” Katib al Wackidi, pp. 108 1/2; and 280 1/2; Tabari, p.415. After this had been repeated by all the believers for some time as a verse or the Coran, it was canceled and withdrawn. No adequate reason is recognizable for this cancelment. That supposed Weil, viz., that the message is from the slain Moslems and not like the rest of the Coran, from God himself; is hardly sufficient, because in other places also the formula of the divine message has to be supplied. Here the insertion of some such expression as – ” SAY, thus saith thy Lord,-thy companions say unto me, convey to our people,” &C, would reduce the passage to the Mahometan rule of coming from the mouth of God himself.
Second – Omar is said thus to have addressed his subjects at Medina: – “Take heed, ye people, that ye abandon not the verse which command stoning for adultery; and if any one say, we do not find two punishments (it one for adultery and another for fornication) in the book of the Lord, I reply that verily [have seen the Prophet of the Lord executing the punishment of stoning for adultery, and we have put in force the same after him. And, by the Lord I if it were not that men would say” Omar hath introduced something new into the Coran,” I would have inserted the same in the Coran, for truly I have read the verse –
“The married man and the married woman when they commit adultery stone them both without doubt.” Katib al Wackidi, p.2454; Weil’s Mohammed, p. 351. That this command should have been omitted, after being once entered in the Coran, appear’s strangely unaccountable when we remember its great importance as a civil rule, and the prominent part it occupied in the controversy with the Jews, who were accused of hiding the similar command alleged to be in the Old Testament. There must, however be some foundation for Omar’s speech, because stoning is still by Mahometan law the punishment for adultery, and the only authority for the practice is the withdrawn verse.
Third. – A tradition is quoted by Maracci (ii. p.42), to the effect that a verse about a valley of gold has been omitted from Sura x. at v. 26, but the authority seems doubtful.
Fourth. – I have already noticed the tale by Abdallah ibn Masud, of his discovering that a verse had disappeared during the night from his leaves, it having bean canceled from heaven. Vide. above, p. iv.
There Is a fifth passage regarding the goddesses of Mecca, which Mahomet is said to have repented at the suggestion of Satan as a verse of the Coran, and which is held to have been expunged under divine direction by Mahomet himself. Katib al Wackidi, p.59; Tabari, p.140; Note by Dr. Sprenger; p. 128; Asiatic Journal, No. xii. See also below in Chapter v. But according to Moslem ideas,.these words never formed an actual portion of the Revelation.
The Mahometans divide the abrogated passages into three classes: I. Where the writing is canceled and removed, but the purport or command remains, as in the first and second instances given above. II. Where the command is canceled, but the writing or passage itself remains, as in the abrogated verses regarding Jerusalem being the Kibalh, &C III. Where the writing and purport are both canceled, as in the third and fourth instances, quoted in this note. See Maracci, ii. p.42.
39 The possibility of unintentional omissions from the Coran before its fragments were collected unto one volume, is admitted in the very reason urged by Omar for its collection ; – he feared, if there was farther slaughter among those who had it by heart, that much might be lost from the Coran. Mishcat, I. 525. There is also a tradition from Zeid himself that the last verse of Sura ix. (or, as others say, a section of Sura xxiii.) was found with Khuzeima, after all the rest of the Coran had been collected. The tradition, however, is suspicious. It seems impossible that any portion of either of those Suras should have been so Imperfectly preserved, seeing that both are Medina ones, and the former, (Sura ix.) the very last revealed. Possibly the recovered verse had been revealed so lately, that sufficient time had not elapsed for copies to get abroad.
40″ Der Koran eben so sicher für Mohammeds Wort, als den Moslimen für das Gottes gilt.” Weil, though dissenting from this opinion, allows “that no important alterations, additions, or omissions have been made:” -” so glauben wir auch nicht an bedeutende Veränderungen, Zusätze odor Auslassungen.” Mohammed, p.352; But Cnf: Pref p. xv.
So Dr. Sprenger: “Though the Coran may not be free from interpolations, yet there seems to be no reason for doubting its authenticity.” Life of Mohammed, p.63.
Even on this ground, the Coran would still form the grand basis of Mahomet’s biography.
41 Katib al Wackidi, p.70 1/2. This tradition is repeated by the Katib al Wackidi from different authorities, many times, and in the same words. It would appear to have become proverbial.
42 Hishami p. 295.
43Katib al Wackidi p.279.
44 Sprenger gives the names or tire companions of the Prophet who survived the latest. He mentions the last six, who died between the years A.H. 86 and 100. Among these is the famous traditionist, Anas ibn Malik. Mohammed, p.67, note 3.
But those who lived to that advanced period must either have been very young when they knew Mahomet, or have by this time become decrepit and superannuated. In the former case, their evidence as the contemporaries of the Prophet is of little value; in the latter, their prime as narrators must have passed away. Hence, for practical purposes, we would limit generally the age of the Companions to the first half or three-quarters of the seventh century. Thus, supposing a Companion to have reached his sixty-fifth year in A.D. 675, he would have been only twenty-two years of age at the Prophet’s death, and but twelve years of age at the time of the flight. A possible margin of ten or twelve additional years may be left for cases of greet age end unusual strength of memory.
45 He committed to Abu Bacr ibn Muhammad the task of compiling all the traditions he could meet with. This traditionist died A.H. 120, aged 84. Sprenger’s Mohammed, p. 67.
46 From certain early traditions it may he concluded that it was not cutomary before the time of the Caliph Omar II (A.H. 100), to reduce to writing the current traditions. “Omar II, son of Abd al Aziz; wrote to Abu Bacr ibn Muhammad thus; – ‘Look out (at Medina), for whatever traditions there are of Mahomet, or or the by-gone Sunnat, or for any traditions of Amarah daughter of Abd al Rahman, and commit them to writing, for verily I fear the obliteration of knowledge (tradition) and the departure (death) of the people possessing it.” Katib al Wackidi, p. 178.
Again – “Salih ibn Keisan related as follows : – Zohri (died A.H.124) and I joined each other and sought after knowledge (traditions); and we spake one to another saying-‘ Let us write down the Sunnat ‘ – (traditions regarding Mahomet;) so we recorded the traditions which came down from the Prophet. Then said Zohri – ‘Let us now record that also which doth emanate from the Companions of the Prophet, for it too is Sunnat.’ I replied, ‘it is not Sunnat:’ and I recorded none of it. So he wrote (the latter,) but I did not; and thus he obtained his object, but I lost the opportunity of obtaining this knowledge.” Ibid. p.178 ½.
And again, the secretary of Wackidi relates the following speech by Zohri : – “I used to be greatly averse to writing down knowledge (traditions) until these rulers (the Caliphs & c.) forced me to do so. Then I saw it (to be right) that none of the Moslems should be hindered from it” ( i.e. from readily acquiring traditional knowledge in a recorded form.) –
This important tradition seems to he decisive against the previous practice, at any rate as a general one, of recording traditions. The other authorities I have met with on the point are very weak. They are as follows: –
Miarwan (when Governor of Medina, in Muavia’s reign) secreted scribes behind a curtain; then he called Zeid ibn Thabit, (one of Mahomet’s Companions, and the collector of the Coran,) and began to question him, the men meanwhile writing he, answers down. But Zeid turning round saw them writing and called out, “Treachery, Marwan! My words are those of my own opinion only” (ie. not authoritative tradition.) Ibid. p. 173.
Again:-Abdallah ibn Amr asked permission of Mahomet, to take down in writing what he heard from him, and Mahomet gave him permission. So he wrote it down, and he used to call that book Al Sudica (“The True.”) Mujahid (born A.H. 11, died A.H. 100) says he saw a book Abdallah had, and he asked him regarding it, and he replied, “This is Al Sadica; therein is what I heard from the Prophet; there is not in it between him and me any one” (i.e. its contents are derived immediately from him.) Ibid. p. 175 ½.
Again : – “Omar (the successor of Abu Bacr) intended to write down the Sunnat, and prayed to the Lord regarding it for a month: when at last he was ready to commence the work, he desisted, saying -‘ I remember a people who recorded a writing similar thereunto, and then followed after it, leaving the Book of the Lord” Ibid. p.235 ½.
Dr. Sprenger has carefully collected several traditions, both for and against the opinion that Mahomet’s sayings were recorded during his life-time. At p. 67 of his Life of Mohammed, notes 1 and 2, will be found a few traditions in which the above-mentioned Abdallah, and one or two others, are said to have written down such memoranda. On the other hand, at p. 64, note I, are transcribed three or four traditions to the effect that Mahomet forbad his followers to record any of his sayings, and stopped them when they had begun to do so, “lest they should fall into the confusion of the Jews and the Christians.” Both sets of traditions seem to be equally balanced, and for reasons given in the text I would reject both as untrustworthy. See also some traditions in Dr. Sprenger’s note on Zohri; Asiatic Journal for 1851, p. 396.
The phrase “such a one informed me” – the technical link in the traditional chain-does not necessarily imply that the traditional matter was conveyed orally and not in a recorded form. With the later traditionists it certainly came to be applied likewise to relation already preserved in writing by the party on whose authority they are delivered. This is very clearly shown by Dr. Sprenger, in his notice of Tabari; Asiatic Journal, No. ccxii, p. 1090. Tabari constantly introduces traditions, with this formula, from Ibn Ishaq and Wackidi; and on turning to these authors, we find the same matter word for word, as quoted by Tabari. The fair conclusion is that it may be the same with some of the authorities earlier than ibn Ishac; and we shall see reason below for believing that it was so in the case of Orwa and Zohri.
After the above was in type, I have been favoured by Dr Sprenger with his Second Notice on A. von Kremer’s Wackidi, in the Cal. As. Journal for 1856. The subject of the earliest biographers of Mahomet, and their authorities, is there discussed with his usual learning and research. He establishes it as at least highly probable that Orwa (born A.H. 23, died 94) wrote a biography of the Prophet; ” but unfortunately the prejudice that it was not proper to have any other book than the Coran induced him to efface all his traditions.” No farther light is thrown on the reconciling of events, or traditions, contemporaneously with Mahomet, or shortly alter his death; and that is the point on which the argument in the text turns.
47 The following tradition seems to illustrate this position: – Othman (when Caliph) commanded, saying; – “It is not permitted to any one to relate a tradition as from the Prophet. which he hath not already heard in the time of Abu Bacr or Omar. And verily nothing hinders me from repeating traditions of the Prophet’s sayings, (although I be one of those endowed with the most retentive memory amongst all his Companions,) but that I have heard him say, Whoever shall repeat of me that which I have not said, his resting-place shall be in Hell.” Katib al Wackidi, p. 168 ½.
This tradition, if well founded, gives pretty clear intimation that even before Othman’s murder, fabricated traditions were propagated by his opponents to shake his authority, and that the unfortunate Caliph endeavoured to check the practice by forbidding the repetition of any fresh recitals which had not already been made known in the caliphates of his two predecessors.
48 The first of the Ommeyad line.
49 Weil’s Gesch. Der Chalifen, vol.ii. p. 7.
50 When the Abbassides reached the throne, they cast aside the Alyite platform from which they had made the fortunate ascent. They were then obliged in self defence to crush with an iron hand every rising or the Alyites who found to their cost that, after an their wiles and machinations, they had at last become the unconscious tools for raising to power a party with whom they had in reality as little fellow-feeling as with the Ommeyads. They deserved their fate.
51 Gesch. Chalifen, vol. ii., p. 258.
52 Ibid. p. 265.
53 Gesch. Chalifen, vol. ii. p.267.
54 The names of the authors of the six collections, with those of the other popular traditional compilations, are noted by Dr. Sprenger (Life of Mohammed, p.68, note 2,) together with the date of each author’s death. Dr. Sprenger has, however, omitted the earliest collection of all, viz. that of Imam Malik Al Muatta-born A.H. 95, died A.H. 179. This work was lithographed at Delhi in 1849. It is held in very great esteem, and although not generally included among the standard six, it is yet believed by many to be the source whence a great portion of their materials are derived. “It is, as it were, the origin and mother of the two Sahih,” i.e, of the collections of Bokhari and of Muslim.
55 Sprenger’s Mohammed, p. 68, note 3.
56 Gesch. Chalifen, vol. ii. p. 290; Ibn Khallican, by Slane, vol. ii. p. 595.
57 Gesch. Chalifen, vol ii. p.291; Ibn Khallican, vol. i. p.589. The latter authority makes the number selected 4,800; but the selected number is still spoken of as doubtful. “I wrote down,” says Abu Daud, “five hundred thousand traditions respecting the Prophet, from which I selected those, to the number of four thousand eight hundred, which are contained in this book (the Sunan). I have mentioned herein the authentic, those which seem to be authentic and those which are nearly so.”
58 Abu Abdallah Muhammad, surnamed from his country, Al Bokhari, was born A.H. 194; but, with rare precocity, he had in his eighteenth year already commenced the labour of his life in collecting and sifting traditions. We may therefore conclude that the full influence of the Caliph Mamun was brought to bear upon his works. Ibn Khallican says of him ; – “Animated with the desire of collecting traditions, he went to see most or the traditionists in all the great cities; he wrote down in Khorasan, in the cities of Irak, in the Hijaz:, In Syria, and in Egypt, the information he thus acquired.” Ibn Khallican, vol.ii p. 595.
59 This may be illustrated by the practice of Bokhari and Muslim. Out of 40,000 men, who are said to have been instrumental in handing down Tradition, they acknowledged the authority of only 2,000 by receiving their traditions. A later writer states that, of these 40,000 persons, only 226 should be excepted as undeserving of credit. This may throw light upon one cause at least of the vast store of fabulous narratives in the works of the more modern biographers, viz., that they were less careful about their authorities. See Sprenger’s Mohammed, p. 65, note 1.
60 Ibn: Khallican, vol. ii. p. 596.
61 A tradition is always given in the direct form of speech in which it is supposed to have been originally uttered. Thus: – “A informed me, saying that B had spoken to the effect that C had told him, saying D mentioned that he heard E relate that he had listened to F, who said; – I heard G enquiring of Ayesha ‘What food did the Prophet of the Lord like?’ and she replied, Verily, he loved sweetmeats and honey, and greatly relished a pumpkin.”
The technical links in these narrations are generally I have heard from such a one, or such a one informed me; and “quoth he,” “quoth she.”
62 Even the omission, or disguising the names, or any authorities in a traditional chain, destroyed the credit of a traditionist. It was called – tadlis. See Sprenger’s Second Notice of Wackidi; As. Journal, 1856.
63 No Mahometan is of course expected to believe implicitly in two contradictory traditions. All properly attested traditions are recorded; but many or them are acknowledged weak or doubtful; and when they contradict one another, the choice is left to the student. The historians of Mahomet and of early Islam, when they relate contradictory or varying narratives, sometimes add an expression of their own opinion as to which is preferable. They also sometimes mark doubtful stories by the addition; – “But the Lord (only) knows whether this be false or true.”
64 This subject has been well discussed In the Treatise on Politics by Lewes, vol. 1. pp. 187-188.
65 This is well expressed by Dr. Weil:-“Ich durfte daher nicht bloss die Quelle übertragen oder je nach Gütdunken excerpiren, sondern musste ihren Angaben vorher einer strengen Kritik unterwerfen; denn wenn man überhaupt gegen alle orientalischen Schriftsteller misstrauisch seyn muss, so hat man hier doppelten Grand dazu, weil sie nicht nur von ihrer Leidenschaft und ihrer Phantasie, sondern auch von ihrer religiösen Schwärmerei geleitet waren. Schon im zweiten Jahrhundert, als die ersten Biographen Mohammeds aufraten, die ihre Erzählungen noch auf Aussage seiner Zeitgenossen Zurückzuführen wagen, war sein ganzes Leben, nicht nur von seiner Geburt, sondern schon von seiner Zeugung an, bis zu seinem Tode, von einem Gewebe von Märchen und Legenden umsponnen, das auch das nürchternste europäische Auge niche immer ganz zu durchschauen und ahzulösen vermag, ohne Gefahr zu laufen, aus allzu grosser Aengstlichkeit auch wirkliche historische Facta als fromme Dichtung anzusehen.” Weils Mohammed, pp. xiv, xv.
66 Sprenger’s Mohammed, p. 68.
67 Abu Bacr, for instance, was within two years or Mahomet’s age; but then he survived him only two-and a-half years. Most of the elderly Companions either died a natural death, or were killed in action before Tradition came into vogue. Thus Katibal Wackidi writes; – “The reason why many of the chief men or the Companions have left few traditions, is that they died before there was any necessity of referring to them.” He adds – “The chiefest among the Companions, Abu Bacr, Othman Talha, &c., gave forth fewer traditions than others. There did not issue from them, anything like the number of traditions that did from the younger Companions.” p. 176.
68 Adapted from Alford. Greek Test. Proleg.. p. 56. His remarks are strikingly illustrative of Mahometan tradition. “As usual in traditional matter, on our advance to later writers, we find more and more particular accounts given; the year of John’s life, the reigning Emperor, &C, under which the Gospel was written.” But Christian traditionalists were mere tyros in the art of discovering such “particular accounts,” in comparison with the Mahometans, at the talisman of whose pen distance vanishes, and even centuries deliver up the minutest details which they had engulphed.
69 M. A. P. Caussin do Perceval who, with incredible labour and proportionate success, has sought out and arranged these facts into an uniform history, thus justly expresses his estimate Of the Arab genealogical traditions: –
J’ai dit quo toutes les généalogies Arabes n’étaient point certaines; on en trouve en effet un grand nombre d’évidenimment incompletes. Mais il en est aussi beaucoup d’authentiques, et qui remontent, sans lacune probable. jusqu’à environ six siècles avant Mahomet. C’est un phénoméne vraiment singulier chez: un people inculte et en général étranger a l’art de l’écriture, comme l’étaient les Arabes, quo cette fidélité à garder le souvenir des ancétres. Elle prennit sa source dans un sentiment de fierté, dans 1’estime faisaient de leur noblesse. Les noms des a ïeux, gravés dans la memoire des enfants, étaient les archives des familles. A ces noms se rattachaient nécessairement quelques notions sur in vie des intividus, sur les événements dans lesquels ils avaient figure; et c’est ainsi que les traditions so perpétuaient d’âge en âge. Essai Sur L’Histoire des Arabes, vol 1. pref. p. 9.
70 Thus Abu Sofian, himself the leader in the last stage of the opposition against Mahomet, became a zealous Moslem, and fought under the banners of his own son in the first Syrian campaign.
“Le vieil Abu-Sofyan, qui autrefois avait souvent combattu contra Mahomet, devenu alors un des plus zélés sectateurs de l’Islamisme, avait voulu servir sous son fils, et l’aider les conseils de son experience’ Caus. de Perc. L’Histoire des Arabes, vol. lii. p.429.
71 In after days, traditionists were even bribed to fabricate stories regarding the ancestors or persons, who desired tins honour of having their families thus ennobled by the supposed intimacy or favour of the Prophet. See the notice of Shovahbil who was thus accused, in Sprenger’s Second Notice of Wackidi, As. Soc. Jour. 1856.
72 The following example will illustrate this position : – Ayesha’s party having been delayed on an expeditions, the verse permitting Tayammum or substitution or sand for lustration with water, was in consequence revealed in the Coran. The honor conferred by this indirect connection with a divine revelation is thus eulogized by Useid : – “This is not the least of the divine favours poured out upon you, ye house of Abu Bacr,!” Katib al Wackidi, p. 111 1/2. To have been the Companion of Mahomet during the season of inspiration, at the supposed reception of a heavenly visitor, or at the performance of any wonderful work, conferred more or less distinction of a similar nature.
73 We have many examples of the glory and honour lavished upon those who mad suffered persecution at Mecca for Islam. Thus when Omar was Cailiph, Khobab ibn al Aratt showed him the scars of the stripes he had received from the unbelieving Meccans twenty or thirty years before. Omar seated him upon his masnad, saying that there was but one man who was more worthy of this favour than Khobab, namely, Balal (who had also been sorely persecuted by the unbelievers.) But Khobab replied, – “Why is he more worthy than I am? He had his friends among the idolators whom the Lord raised up to help him. But I had none to help me. And I well remember one day they took me and kindled a fire for me, and threw me therein upon my back; and a man stamped with his foot upon my chest, my back being towards the ground. And when they uncovered my back, lo! it was blistered and white.” Katib al Wackidi, p. 210 ½.
The same principle led the Moslems to magnify the hardships which Mahomet himself endured. It appears to lie at the bottom of Ayesha’s strange exaggerations of the Prophet’s poverty and frequent starvation, which she carries so far as to say that she had not even oil to burn in her chamber while Mahomet lay dying there! The subsequent affluence and luxuries of the conquering nation, also, led them by reaction to contrast with fond regret their present state with their former simplicity and want, and even to weep at the remembrance.
Thus of the same Khobaba, it is recorded : – He had a winding – sheet ready for himself of fine Coptic cloth; and he compared it with the wretched pall of Hamza (killed at Ohod); and he contrasted his own poverty when he possessed not a dinar; with his present condition : – “and now I have in my chest by me in the house 40,000 owekeas (of gold or silver.) Verily, I fear that the sweets of the present world have hastened upon us. Our companions (who died in the first days of Islam) hare received their reward in Paradise; but truly I dread lest my reward consist in these benefits I have obtained after their departure.” Katib a1 Wackidi, p.211.
74 See Ibid. p. 118; and Hishami, p. 450.
75 See Sprenger’s Mohammed, pp.158, 162, &c.; and his notice in No. cxii. of the Asiatic Journal, p.123. “There is a great deal of sectarian spirit mired up in the disputes ‘who were the first believers?’ The Sunnies say Abu Bacr, and the Shiahs say Ali. “Tabari also starts another candidate, Zeid ibn Haritha (p.111). One of the traditions, to strengthen the case against Abu Bacr, says that fifty persons were believers before him! Ibid. Well then may Dr. Sprenger style them “childish disputes on the seniority of their saints in the Islam.’ Mohammed, p. 158. Yet he himself builds too much upon them.
76 Vide Katib at Wackidi p.33; See also Sprenger’s Mohammed, p.112, note 5.
77 How absurd soever the idea may seem, it is taken literally from the biographers or Mahomet, and relates to the expedition against the unfortunate Bani Coreitza. Katib al Wackidi, p.114. Mahomet countenanced, if he did not originate the notion.
78 Vide Katib at Wackidi, p.114. and p.100 1/2. Similar statements are made regarding the battle or Honein. Ibid. p. 130 1/2. At p.198, the angelic host is represented in the uniform of Zobeir, one of Mahomet’s Companions, namely, with yellow turbans, on piebaid hones. Hishami (p. 227,) and Tabari (p.290,) give their dress at the battles of Badr and Kheibar. The Meccans on their return vanquished from Badr, are introduced as describing the warrior angels against whom they had to contend. Hishami, p. 238; Tabari, p.501; Caus. de Perc. vol. iii pp. 66 & 73. Various traditionists assert that the heads of the unbelievers dropped off before the Moslem swords come near them, because the invisible scimitars of the angels did the work with greater rapidity and effect than the grosser steel of Medina. Hishami, p. 227; Tabari, p. 289. Gabriel fought by Abu Bacr, Michael by Ali, and Israfil looked on. Katib al Wackidi, p. 212 1/2. Gabriel, after the battle of Badr was concluded, asked leave of Mahomet, without which he could not retire! ibid. p.102 1/2. Mahomet had a conversation with Gabriel; and the particulars are related by Haritha, who actually say the angel. ibid. p.276. These are only samples of what recurs in almost every page of tradition, and they are quoted to bear out what might otherwise have appeared over-statement in the text.
The following may be viewed as the type of a large class of miraculous stories. Othman, when attacked in the last fatal struggle by the conspirators, made no resistance, and being asked the cause replied that “Mahomet had made with him a covenant, and he patiently abided thereby.” The Moslems (concluding, no doubt, that it was impossible their Prophet should not have foreseen so important an event as the assassination of his beloved son-in-law) referred this saying to a supposed prophecy by Mahomet, when he said to Othman “that the Lord would clothe him with a garment which he was not to divest himself of at the call or the disaffected.” Ibid. p. 191. The garment was the caliphate, which the conspirators would summon him to abdicate. Ayesha too was not at a loss for a scene to give a farther meaning to the mysterious words. “When Mahomet,” she said, “lay on his death. bed, he summoned Othman, and desired me to depart out of the chamber; and Othman sat down by the dying Prophet; and as he spake with him, I beheld and lo, the colour of Othman changed.” Without doubt, say the credulous believers, it was Mahomet foretelling to his son-in-law the violent death that awaited him. Ibid. p. 191 ½ Such suppositions and explanations were in the course or time repented as facts.
79 The following tradition is illustrative or this. The corpse of Saad lay in an empty room. Mahomet entered alone, picking his steps carefully, as if he walked in the midst of men seated closely on the ground. On being asked the cause of so strange a proceeding, he replied, -“True, there were no men in the room, but it was so filled with angels, all seated on the ground, that I founti nowhere to sit, until one of the angels spread out his wing for me on the ground, and I sat down thereon.” Ibid. p. 264 1/2. It is almost impossible to say what in this is Mahomet’s own, and what has been concocted for him.
80 All these and scores of like incidents adorn the pages of the “honest” Secretary of Wackidi, as well as of every other biographer and traditionist. Sprenger has over-praised the discrimination and sense of the Secretary. Mohammed, p. 72.
81 See Sprenger, pp. 123-137, where these principles are admitted. That learned writer, at the same time, gives a clue to the real facts of line case. We must never forget,” he well writes, “that when his religion was victorious, he was surrounded by the most enthusiastic admirers, whose craving faith could be satiated only by the most extravagant stories. Their heated imagination would invent them by itself; he only needed to give the key, and to nod assent, to augment the number of his miracles to the infinite.” His theory however appears to attribute too much to Mahomet in the construction of the legend.
It is curious, as illustrating the barrenness of the Mahametan canon of criticism, to observe that this wild legend is according to its rules risks one of the best established in tradition, not only in the main features, but in all its marvellous details. Sprenger, who is too much guided by the canon, writes here from the Mahometan stand-point. “Though the accounts which we find in Arabic and Persian authors are not free from later additions, the numerous records of Mahomet’s own words give us the assurance that the narrative, in its main features, emanated from himself. There is no event in his life, on which we have more numerous and genuine traditions than on his nightly journey.” p. 126.
82 As specimens, the Arabic scholar may consult the Katib al Wackidi, pp. 29, 30, 30 ½ ,31 , 35 1/2, 79 1/2, and the whole chapter, Description of Mahomet in the Old Testament and Gospel p. 69 1/2. The key to the assertions of Mahomet alluded to in the text, lies simply in these two facts; 1st. that the Jews did look for a Prophet to come, which expectation Mahomet affected to appropriate to himself; 2nd. that they held this Prophet would be of the seed of David, which assertion Mahomet believed, or pretended to believe, was founded in mere envy and grudge against himself.
83 Such are the tales regarding Zeid, (Hishami, pp. 55-59; and Katib al Wackidi, p.30 1/2) who, it is said, spent his life in searching “for the religion or Abraham,” till at last a monk, meeting him at Balca, sent him back to Mecca to await the Prophet about to arise there! Sentences of the Coran, and prayers in the exact expressions of Mahomet, are put into the lips of Zeid by the traditionists. The discreditable nature of these narratives is palpable from their very style and contents. Vide Sprenger’s Mohammed p.43, note 4. Still I am far from denying that Zeid’s enquiries and doctrines may have constituted one of the causes which prompted Mahomet to enquiry and religious thought. But whatever grounds may exist for regarding Zeid as a philosophical or a religious enquire; one would only have smiled at the clumsiness of the structure erected by the traditionists on so slender a base, had it not been that Dr. Sprenger appears himself to recognise it, and even builds thereon in part his own theory that Mahomet “did nothing more than gather the floating elements which had been imported or originated by others;” and, instead of carrying Arabia along with him, was himself carried away “by the irresistible force of the spirit of the time” Vide Life of Mohammed pp. 39-49.
Arabia was no doubt prepared for a religious change. Judaism and Christianity had sown the seeds of divine knowledge every here and there, and many enqiniring minds may have groped the way to truth, and paved the road for Mahomet’s investigations and convictions. But to none of these is Islam directly attributable. Its peculiarities are all the Prophet’s own. Mahomet alone is responsible for its faults, as well as entitled to all the credit (whatever it may be) of its sole founder. It is the workmanship of his wonderful mind, and bears in every part the impress of his individuality. Such passages as the following are in this view strangely mistaken : -“The Islam it not the work of Mahomet; if is not the doctrine of the Impostor.” Sprenger’s Mohammed, p.175. Yet the learned writer charges him with its faults: “There is however no doubt that the impostor has defiled it by his immorality and perverseness of mind, and that most of the objectionable doctrines are his.” Ibid. This is hardly the even-handed justice we might have expected from the philosophical principles of Sprenger.
Since the above note was in type, I am glad to find that some of its views receive confirmation from a learned and judicious writer, T. Noeldeke, in his treatise De origine et compositione Qorani. Gottingae, 1856, p.15.
84 See a Treatise by the Author, entitled “The testimony, borne by the Coran to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.” Agra; 1856. The subject will be farther alluded to in the concluding chapter of this volume.
85An instance of this very numerous class of stories will be found in the Katib al Wackidi p.70. A Copt, reading his uncle’s Bible, is struck by finding two leaves closely glued together. On opening them, he discovers the most copious details regarding Mahomet, as a Prophet immediately about to appear. His uncle was displeased at his curiosity and beat him, saying the Prophet had not yet arisen. Cnf Sprenger’s Mohammed, p. 140.
The following is an example of the puerile tales of later days growing out of the same spirit: – “A narrator relates that there was, in the kingdom of Syria, a Jew, who while busied on the Sabbath perusing the Old Testament, perceived on one of the leaves the name of the blessed Prophet in four places; and out of spite he cast that leaf into the fire. On the following day, he found the same name written in eight places: again he burnt the pages. On the third, he found it written in twelve places. The man marvelled exceedingly. He said within himself; ‘the more I cut this name from the Scripture, the more do I find it written therein. I shall soon have the whole Bible filled with the name.’ At last he resolved to proceed to Medina to see tine Prophet.” The story goes on to say that he reached there after Mahomet’s death, embraced his garments, “and expired in the arms of his love.” See Calcutta Review, vol. xvii. p.408, in an article on the Mauhid Sharif ; or “Nativity” of Mahomet, p. 46, published at Cawnpore and at Agra, 1267-8; Hegira.
86The Arabic student will find this well illustrated by the treatment which the “hypocrites” or “disaffected” are represented as receiving even during Mahomet’s life-time. On the expedition to Tabuk, Mahomet prayed for rain, which accordingly descended. A perverse doubter; however, said, “It was but a chance cloud that happened to pass.” Shortly after, the Prophet’s camel strayed; again the doubter said, “Doth not Mahomet deem himself a Prophet? He protesseth to bring intelligence to you from the heavens, yet is he unable to tell where his own camel IS!” “Ye servants of the Lord!” exclaimed his comrade, “there is a plague in this place, and I knew it not. Get out from my tent, enemy or the Lord! Wretch, remain not in my presence!” Mahomet had or course, in due time, supernatural intimation conveyed to him not only of the doubter’s speech, but of the spot where the camel was; and the doubter afterwards repented, and was confirmed in the faith. Hishami, p.391.
Omar’s sword was readily unsheathed to punish such sceptical temerity, and Mahomet himself frequently visited it in the early part of his Medina career with assassination, and on the conquest of Mecca by open execution.
87Dr. Sprenger has some valuable remarks on this subject. In his notice of Tabari; Asiatic Journal, No. ccxii. p.19, et seq. The story of the lapse is honestly told by Wackidi and Tabari, and (as we find by a quotation in the latter) by Ibn Ishac; but it is entirely and tacitly omitted by Ibn Hisham, although his book professes to embrace that or Ibn Ishac. Vide Katib al Wackidi, p 29; Tabari, p.10; and Sprenger’s Mohammed, p.184.
The author of the Mawahib Alladoniya, in an interesting passage in elucidation of the authenticity of the story, traces the objections and doubts to fear of heresy and injury to Islam; thus; –
“It is said that this story is or a heretical character and has no foundation. But it is not so; it is really well founded.” And again, –
- “Again (another author) rejects it on the ground that if it had really happened, many or those who had believed would have become apostates, which was not the case.”
88 The common Moslem belief is that it is allowable to tell a falsehood on four occasions: 1st, to save one’s life; 2nd, to effect a peace or reconciliation; 3rd, to persuade a woman; 4th, on the occasion of a journey or expedition.
The first is borne out by Mahomet’s express sanction. Ammar ibn Yasir was sorely persecuted by the pagans of Mecca, and denied the faith for his deliverance. The Prophet approved of his conduct:- “If they do this again, then repeat the same recantation to them again.” Katib al Wackidi; p. 227 ½.. Another tradition preserved in the family of Yasir, is as follows:- “The idolators seized Ammar, and they let him not go until he had abused Mahomet and spoken well of their gods. He then repaired to the Prophet, who asked of him what had happened.” – “Evil, oh Prophet of the Lord! I was not let go until I had abused thee, and spoken well of their gods.” – “But how,” replied Mahomet, “dost thou find thine own heart?” – “Secure and steadfast in the faith.” – “Then,” said Mahomet, “if they repeat the same, do thou’ too repeat the same.” Ibid. Mahomet also said that Ammar’s lie was better than Abu Jahl’s truth.
The second is directly sanctioned by the following tradition:- “That person is not a liar who makes peace between two people, and speaks good words to do away their quarrel, although they should be lies. Mishcat, vol ii. p.427.
As to the third, we have a melancholy instance that Mahomet did not think it wrong to make false promises to his wives, in the matter of Mary his Egyptian maid. And regarding the fourth, it was his constant habit in projecting expeditions (excepting only that to Tabuk) to conceal his intentions, and to give out that he was about to proceed in another direction from the true one. Hishami, p.392; Katib al Wackidi, p.133 ½..
89 Thus Omar declined to give certain information, saying, “If it were not that I feared lest I should add to the facts in relating them, or take there-from, verily I would tell you.” Katib al Wackidi, p. 236 ½.. Similar traditions conditions are given regarding Othman. Ibid. p. l68 ½ , 189 ½.. See one of these quoted above at p 28, note.
Abdallah ibn Masud was so afraid in repeating Mahomet’s words, that he always guarded his relation by the conditional clause, “he spake something like this, or near unto it;” but one day, a. he repeated a tradition, the unconditional formula of repetition, –
“thus spoke the Prophet of the Lord” escaped his lip., and he became oppressed with anguish, so that the sweat dropped from his forehead. Then he said, “if the Lord so will, the Prophet may have snid more than that, or less, or near unto it.” Ibid. p. 209. This is no doubt greatly exaggerated.
“Saad ibn Abi Wacekkas was asked a question and he kept silence, saying I fear that it I tell you one thing, ye will go and add thereto, as from me, a hundred.” Ibid. p. 206 1/2. Thus also one enquired of Abdallah ibn Zobeir, “Why do we not hear thee telling anecdotes regarding the Prophet, as such and such persons tell?” He replied, “It is very true that I kept close by the Prophet from the time I first believed, (and therefore am intimately acquainted with his words); but I heard him say, ‘Whosoever shall repeat a lie concerning me, his resting place shell be in hell-fire” Ibid. p. 199. So in explaining why several of the principal Companions have left no traditions, Wackidi writes, “From some there are no remains of tradition regarding the Prophet, although they were more in his company, sitting and hearing him, than others who have left us many traditions, and this we attribute to their fear” (of giving forth erroneous traditions,) &c. Ibid. p.176 ½.
90 It is possible that farther investigation may bring to light facts on which principle of classification of the early traditionists, as trustworthy or otherwise, may be based. Thus Dr. Sprenger writes; – “As it is of great importance to know the character of the witnesses, I intend to embrace the first opportunity which I may have to publish the notes which I have collected on the inventors or miracles and of legends regarding Mohammed.” Second Notice of Waqidy, p.19. But after all there is not much prospect of material advantage from such enquiries, since the worst description of bias that – namely, which tends to glorify Mahomet — pervades the whole of Mohametan tradition.
91 Vide Katib al Wackidi pp.83 ½ -85. Even the exact number of his white hairs is given by different authorities variously, as 17, 18, 20, or 30. Some say that when he oiled his head they appeared; others that the process of oiling concealed them. As to the color used, the accounts also differ. One says he employed henna and Katam which gave a reddish tinge, but that he liked yellow best. One traditionist approves of a jet black dye, while others say the Prophet forbade this. The following traditions on the subject are curious – Mahomet said, “Those who dye their hair black like the crops of pigeons, shall never smell the smell of Paradise.” “In the day of judgment, the Lord will not look upon him who dyes his hair black.”
A grey-headed man one day approached the Prophet with his hair dyed black. Mahomet not recognizing him, asked who he was. The man gave his name. “Nay,” replied the Prophet, “but thou art the Devil!” The only supposition (apart from wanton and gratuitous fabrication,) which one can imagine to account for these contrary traditions, is that they were invented by grey-headed men to countenance and sanction the several modes of dyeing practised by themselves!
92 See the interesting paper by M. Belin in the Journal Asiatique, regarding the seal of Mahomet upon his letter to the Egyptian governor, Macoucas, the supposed original of which was discovered by M. Barthelemy in a Coptic Monastery. It seems desirable that the genuineness of this singularly discovered document should be farther discussed by the scholars of Europe.
93 All these traditions will be found in Katib al Wackidi pp. 91 ½-92 ½..
94 Vide Sprenger’s Life of Mahommed, p.78, note 3.
95 This will be farther noticed below, p. lxxxviii.
96 Sura, v.12.
97 In the attack upon the Bani Ghatfan, we learn from Wackidi that whilst Mahomet was resting under a tree, the enemy’s leader came stealthily up and snatching his sword, exclaimed -“Who is there to defend thee against me this day?” “The Lord;” replied the Prophet, Thereupon Gabriel struck the man upon his chest, and the sword falling from his hand, Mahomet in his turn seized it and retorted the question on his adversary, who immediately became a convert; “and with reference to this,” it is added, “was Sura v.12 revealed” Katib al Wackidi, p.104 ½. Vide also Weil’s Mohammed, p.121, where the story is related; but in a subsequent passage that author (on account of the numerous attempts at assassination and marvellous escapes his biographers tell or Mahomet,) not without reason regrets the respect with which he had treated it; p.257, note 39.
The tale is a second time clumsily repeated by the biographers almost in the same terms, on the occasion of his expedition to Dzat al Rica; and here Hishami adds, – “With special reference to this event, Sura v.12 was revealed, but others attribute the passage to the attempt of Amr ibn Jahsh, one of the Bani Nadhir,” who it is pretended tried to roll down a stone upon the Prophet from the roof of a house. Hishami, p. 283; Katib al Wackidi p.110 ½ ; compare also Sale’s note on the verse.
Thus we have three or four different incidents to which the passage is applied, some of which are evidently fabricated to suit the passage itself
98 The metaphor was probably suggested (as we shall see below) by the name for small-pox signifying also “small stones.” The name is probably connected with the hard and gravelly feeling of the pustules See Hishami, p.19.
99 As illustrative of similarly fabricated stories in the early history of our Church, the legend of St. Paul’s battle with the wild beasts (Niceph. H.E. ii. 25) may ho referred to as growing out of I Cor. xv. 31. See Stanley on the Corinthians in loco.
100 Sprenger’s Mohammed, p.63.
101 Instances have been given above; p. xii. note 2.
102 The following are the chief references in the Katib al Wackidi to the originals of such treaties its extant in his time: –
- Hisham ibn Mohammed relates that a man of the Tai tribe told him that Walid ibn Jabir sent an embassy to Mahomet, who wrote to them a letter then extant and in the possession of his tribe at Jabalein. Katib al Wackidi, p. 54.
- Wackidi gives a copy of the treaty Mahomet entered into with the chief of Damat al Jandal, the original of which an old man of the people of Duma showed him. Ibid. p. 56 ½.
- Wackidi took the copy or a letter (apparently original) addressed by Mahomet to the people of Adzruh (a Jewish settlement on the Aelanitic gulph) and gives the words of it. Ibid. p. 57.
- Mahomet gave to Rufad Ibn Amr ibn Jadan al Fulj, a written treaty, which that family now possesses.” Ibid. p. 59 ½.
- Zoheir, who came from Mahrah to Mahomet, got from him a written treaty “which is with the family to this day.” Ibid. p. 69.
Wackidi read the original document in which Arcam, one of the Companions, devoted his house (famous in the Prophet’s Meccan history) to sacred purposes, Ibid. p.226.
Besides these, there are a great number of treaties and letters to the various chiefs and tribes in Arabia, introduced in extenso, into the biographical writings; and, although it is not expressly so stated, it is extremely probable that these were in many eases copied from the originals; or from transcripts of them, which though perhaps removed several steps from the original, are still likely to have been geninine. Counterfeits there may be amongst them, but the wonder is that, considering their value, fabricated documents of this nature are not more numerous. The reason of their limited number appears to have been the difficulty of counterfeiting such written relics in the early age of Islam with any chance of success.
103 Thus the secretary of Wackidi details such a narrative with the preface – “My informant, Muhammad lbn Yahya relates, that he found it in the writings of his father;” and again “Amr the Odzirite says, he found it written in the papers of his father.” The story that follows relates to a deputation from the Bani Odzara. Katib al Wackidi, pp. 64 ½ & 12.
104 Burkhardt’s testimony shows that the faculty still remains. “Throughout every part of the Arabian desert, poetry is equally esteemed. Many persons are found who make verses of true measure, although they cannot either read or write; yet as they employ on such occasions chosen terms only, and as the purity of their vernacular language is such as to preclude any grammatical errors, these verses, after passing from mouth to mouth, may at last be committed to paper, and will most commonly be found regular and correct. I presume that the greater part of the regular poetry of the Arabs, which has descended to us, is derived from similar compositions” Burkhardt’s Notes on the Bedouins, vol i. p. 251; see also p. 373.
105 As an example I may refer to the poetry which Abu Talib, Mahomet’s uncle, is said to have recited when the Coreish took decisive measures against the Prophet, and sought to warn the pilgrims of other tribes not to give heed to him. Abu Talib, in plaintive verse, expresses his fears lest the whole of the Arabs should join the Coreish against him. Hishami, p. 75. There is in these verses something perhaps too plainly anticipative of the future national struggle; still the language from Abu Talib’s standpoint is possible. At the close there is a couplet with a reference to “the clouds giving rain before him,” i.e. Mahomet: and it is added in explanation by the biographer that when the Prophet in after days miraculously procured rain in answer to his prayer at Medina, he called to mind this prediction by his uncle. Thus, the doubt is cast upon the whole piece of its being an after-composition. At the same time it is not impossible that the suspicious words may have been used metaphorically by Abu Talib in laudation of his nephew, or that the couplet containing them may hare been interpolated.
I will instance another glaring anachronism which shows with what caution poetry of this class must be received. When Mahomet with his followers performed the pilgrimage to Mecca under the treaty of Hodeibia, the leader of his camel, as he encircled the Kabba, shouted verses of hostile defiance against the Coreish, who had retired by compact to the over-hanging rocks and thence viewed the Prophet and his people. Among these verses was the couplet, “We shall slay you on the score of the interpretation of it (the Coran), as we slew you on the score of its revelation (i.e. for rejecting it);
Now this evidently belongs to a period long subsequent, when Islam was broken up into parties, and men fought against each other for their several “interpretations” of the Coran, and looked back to the struggle with the idolators of Mecca as to a bygone era. Yet the verses are ascribed both by Wackidi and Hishami to the Hodeibia armistice, i.e. a period anterior even to the conquest of Mecca. Katib al Wackidi p.124 and 282 ½ ; Hishami, p.347. Ibn Hisham, however, seeing probably the clumsiness of the tradition, adds that it is a mistake, the poetry being referable to another person.
As a farther example, the Arabic scholar may peruse the rhetorical contest before Mahomet held between his own followers and the embassy of the Bani Tamim. Hishami, p. 416-419. The anticipations of universal conquest are there too prematurely developed in the orations of the Mahometan party. Thus the threat is used by Thabit ibn Keis that the Moslems “would fight against all the world till they were converted” (p.416). This was language appropriate only to the time when the Arabs had begun to fight and conquer beyond Arabia. The speeches and poems may have been composed afterwards as suitable to the occasion, and, like the orations of classical history, attributed to the speakers of the original scene.
106 Kab survived Mahomet, and wrote an elegy on his death. Katib al Wackidi, p.166 ½. Hassan ibn Thabit was an inhabitant of Medina; he was converted during the Prophet’s life-time, and survived him about half a century. A good instance of the incidental manner in which his verses corroborate tradition, is that of his elegy on Mutun, in whose praise he notices that he received the Prophet under his protection when he returned to Mecca from Nakhla and Taif, dispirited and friendless. Hishami, p.139. A quotation will be given from the elegy in chap. vi.
A curious anecdote occurs of the mode in which Hassan’s poetry is said to have originated an erroneous tradition. In his piece upon Mahomet’s expedition to Al Ghaba (or Dzul Carada) against a party of marauders, he speaks or the horsemen of Al Makdad, as if he had been the chief or this expedition. In reality, however Sand ibn Zeid was chief, having been put in the command by Mahomet. On hearing the poetry recited, the latter repaired in great wrath to Hassan, and required amends for the misrepresentation. The poet quietly replied, that his name did not suit the rhythm, and therefore he had chosen Mikdad’s. Nevertheless; says Wackidi, the verses gave currency to the tradition in favour of the latter. Katib al Wackidi, p. 115 ½.
107 Vide Ibn Khallican, ii. 583.
108 See an interesting note in the Journal of the Asiatic Society, by Dr. Sprenger, on this subject, No. V. of 1851, p.395; see also his Second Notice of Waqidy p.15.
The authority regarding Orwa has been already quoted in a note at p. xxxiv.
Of Zobri Sprenger writes, In his Second Notice ;-” Haji Khalifa and otbers say that Zohri left a work on the biography of Mohammad; and Sohayly several times quotes it. There is no doubt that he collected an immense number of notes on the subject, and Ibn lshaq refers to them in almost every chapter; but I doubt whether lie left them arranged and in the shape of a book on his death, and think that like the Commentary on the Qoran ascribed to Ibn Abbas, they were collected and arranged by a later hand.”
In the Second Notice Sprenger traces another stereotyping hand in Shorahbil ibn Saad, who died A.H. 123, and was a celebrated authority for the “Campaigns and Life of the Prophet.”
Sprenger adds – “To suppose that a written record (beyond memoranda) has reached the authors” of the 2nd century “would be an assertion which cannot be proved. The similarity of the earliest accounts can be sufficiently accounted for by assuming that they all come from the same place, and from the same school, and that some eminent persons took the lead in that school,” p.5.Still it is highly probable that there were regular compilations, of the nature referred to, as early at least as the time of Orwa.
109 See the note, and Second Notice (p.20) just referred to. Musa died A.H. 141; Abu Mashar, A.H. 175.
110 Sprenger’s Mohammed, p.70.
111 The biographical works are called Siyar or Sirat, – while the general collections are termed ,- Hadith.
112 Thus after recounting a number of separate series, of rehearsers’ names, each of which runs up to the time of Mahomet, the traditionist will go on to a uniform narrative framed from the whole, with such preface as the following: – “The traditions from these sources are intermixed and (used together in the following account,”
113 Ibn Khallican gives several dates from A.H. 150 to 154; but mentions A.H. 151 as the likeliest Slane, vol.ii. p.678.
114 Vide Weil’s Gesch. Chalifen. vol.ii. p.81. Ibn Cuteiba says, that Ibn Ishic came to Abu Jafar (Mansur) to Hira, and wrote for him “the Book of the Campaigns.” Ibn Kahllican relates that “he put his Maghazi in writing for the Caliph’s use at Hira; and thus the learned men of Kufa had the advantage of hearing him read and explain it himself.” Slane, vol. ii, p. 678.
115 The unfavourable testimonies have been carefully collected, (and as it appears to me unduly magnified) by Dr. Sprenger, (p.69,) who brings the following charges against Iba Ishac:-