Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/55

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39
THE MAKING OF EUROPE

sixth century, and Mohammed gave them a better organization than they had ever had before, but the whole population of Arabia was less than that of many imperial provinces. Once more the Empire was to lose wide territories because there was no real interest in preserving its authority, no common loyalty to hold its people together.

Mohammed was a man of great ability and it was only through his efforts that the Arabs were able to take advantage of the opportunities on their northern frontiers. Like many of his countrymen, he was dissatisfied with the rather crude religion of Arabia, which often was no better than fetish-worship. He had heard fragments of the Christian story; he had met Arabic-speaking Jews who told him some of their traditions; he was familiar with Arabic legends which were not unlike the stories of the Hebrew prophets. Brooding over this material, he became convinced that God had chosen him as the last and greatest of the prophets, as the bearer of the final revelation to man. The new doctrine, as it finally emerged in Mohammed's sermons and conversation, had enough familiar elements in it to be acceptable to many of the peoples of the East. He taught that there was one all-powerful God, the creator of the world, the protector and judge of mankind; that God had revealed His will to men through a series of prophets, of whom the greatest were Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed; that those who believed His prophets and obeyed His commandments would enjoy Paradise whereas the wicked were to suffer endlessly. After a discouraging start, Mohammed began to gain followers and eventually converted most of the tribes of northern and central Arabia. His original concept of his role seems to have been that of a purely religious leader, but he soon learned that he could spread his faith only by becoming head of a political organization which would protect his followers from the unenlightened, and suppress family and tribal feuds among the faithful. At his death in 632 he was ruler of a large part of the