Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 6.djvu/21

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introduction.

country after the repression of the revolt against the emperor Adrian, and had made numerous converts. Their creed, however, being based on the idea that they alone are the chosen people, was too exclusive for the majority of the Arabs, while the numerous and vexatious restrictions of its ritual and regulations for every-day life were but ill suited to the free and restless spirit of the sons of the desert.

At the time of Mohammed’s appearance the national religion of the Arabs had so far degenerated as to have scarcely any believers. The primeval Sabæanism was all but lost, and even the worship of the powers of nature had become little more than a gross fetishism; as one of Mohammed′s contemporaries said, when they found a fine stone they adored it, or, failing that, milked a camel over a heap of sand and worshipped that.

But by far the greater number had ceased to believe in anything at all; the pilgrimages, sacrifices, and worship of the tribal idols were still kept up, but rather for political and commercial reasons than as a matter of faith or conviction. Some, indeed, did consult the oracles, or vow an offering to their god in case of some desired event coming to pass; but, if their hopes were disappointed, the deity was assailed with childish abuse, while, if they succeeded, the vow was evaded by some less expensive sacrifice.

Yet the mere existence amongst them of Christians and of Jews caused the monotheistic idea to attract the attention of some of the more earnest and enquiring minds.

Amongst those who had endeavoured to search for the truth among the mass of conflicting dogmas and superstitions of the religions that surrounded them were Waraqah, the prophet′s cousin, and Zeid ibn ʿAmr, surnamed ‘ the Enquirer.’

These enquirers were known as ʿHanîfs, a word which originally meant ‘ inclining one’s steps towards anything,’ and therefore signified either convert or pervert.

They did not constitute a united party, but each for himself investigated the truth. There was, however, another