Mohammed and the Rise of Islam/Preface

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THE biographers of the Prophet Mohammed[1] form a long series which it is impossible to end, but in which it would be honourable to find a place. The most famous of them is probably Sir Walter Raleigh,[2] while the palm for eloquence and historical insight may well be awarded to Gibbon.[3]

During the time when Gibbon wrote, and for long after, historians mainly relied for their knowledge of the life of Mohammed on the Biography of Abu'l-Fidā, who died in the year 722 A.H., 1322 A.D., of whose work Gagnier produced an indifferent edition.[4] The scholars of the nineteenth century were naturally not satisfied with so late an authority; and they succeeded in bringing to light all the earliest documents preserved by the Mohammedans. The merit of discovering and utilising these ancient works is shared by G. Weil, Caussin de Perceval, F. Wüstenfeld, A. Sprenger, and Sir William Muir; and the Lives of Mohammed by the last two of these writers[5] are likely to be regarded as classical so long as there are students of Oriental history in Europe; notwithstanding the fact that Muir's Life is written with a confessedly Christian bias, and that Sprenger's is defaced by some slipshod scholarship and untrustworthy archæology.[6]

Since these works were composed, knowledge of Mohammed and his time has been increased by the publication of many Arabic texts, and the labours of European scholars on Mohammedan antiquities.[7] The works of I. Goldziher, J. Wellhausen, and Th. Nöldeke have elucidated much that was obscure, and facilitated the understanding of Arabian history both before and after the Prophet. And from the following Arabic works, most of which have been published since Sprenger and Muir wrote, many fresh details of interest and even of importance occasionally have been furnished.

  1. The Musnad, or collection of traditions of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, who died in 241 A.H., (855 A.D.: Cairo, 1890, in six volumes, fol.). In this work the sayings of the Prophet recorded by different individuals are given in separate collections for each individual. The same tradition is sometimes given ten, twenty, or even a hundred times. Much of the matter is scarcely to be found elsewhere, and is likely to be genuine. The account of this work given by Goldziher, Z. D. M. G., 1. 463–599, is of course excellent.
  2. The gigantic Commentary on the Koran by the historian Tabari, who died 310 A.H., (922 A.D.: Cairo, 1902–1904, in thirty volumes, fol.). This commentary is for the historian of far greater value than the popular commentaries of Zamakhshari and Baidawi, who lived many centuries later, and were influenced by later controversies.
  3. The Isabah or Dictionary of Persons who knew Mohammed, by Ibn Hajar (Calcutta, 1853–1894, four volumes). In spite of the late date of the author of this great dictionary, his work is historically valuable, owing to the fact that it embodies matter taken from sources which are no longer accessible. Ibn Hajar was possessed of an extraordinary library.
  4. The works of early Arabic writers, especially the polygraph Amr, son of Bahr, called Al-Jahiz, who died in 255 A.H. (868 A.D.). Of his works there are now accessible three edited by the late Van Vloten, and the treatise on rhetoric published in Cairo. Though not dealing directly with Mohammed, they contain many an allusion which it is possible to utilise.

The present writer has gone through, in addition to these (so far as they were accessible to him), the authorities utilised already by his predecessors, of which the chief are enumerated in the Bibliography. One of these, the Class Book of Ibn Sa'd (ob. 230 A.H., 845 A.D.) is in course of publication.

Since the authors of books in this series have the number of their pages limited, it has been found necessary to abbreviate, and this has been done by omitting three kinds of matter:

  1. Translations of the Koran (except in the rarest cases).
  2. All anecdotes that are obviously or most probably fabulous.
  3. Such incidents as are of little consequence either in themselves or for the development of the narrative.

Some principles for estimating the credibility of traditions are given by Muir in his Introduction, and by Goldziher in his Muhammadanische Studien. A few important observations bearing on this subject are also made by Nöldeke, Z. D. M. G., lii., 16, foll. The number of motives leading to the fabrication of traditions was so great that the historian is in constant danger of employing as veracious records what were deliberate fictions. I can only hope that I have not displayed greater credulity than my predecessors. In condemning traditions as unhistorical I have ordinarily considered the obelus of Goldziher, Nöldeke, or Wellhausen as sufficient.

The standpoint from which this book is written is suggested by the title of the series. I regard Mohammed as a great man, who solved a political problem of appalling difficulty,—the construction of a state and an empire out of the Arab tribes. I have endeavoured, in recounting the mode in which he accomplished this, to do justice to his intellectual ability and to observe towards him the respectful attitude which his greatness deserves; but otherwise this book does not aim at being either an apology or an indictment. Indeed neither sort of work is now required. The charming and eloquent treatise of Syed Ameer Ali[8] is probably the best achievement in the way of an apology for Mohammed that is ever likely to be composed in a European language whereas indictments are very numerous—some dignified and moderate, as is the work of Sir William Muir; others fanatical and virulent.[9] These works are ordinarily designed to show the superiority or inferiority of Mohammed's religion to some other system; an endeavour from which it is hoped that this book will be found to be absolutely free.

There are two forms of literature to which I should especially wish to acknowledge obligations. One of these consists of works in which we have authentic biographies of persons who have convinced many of their fellows that they were in receipt of divine communications; in particular I may mention the history of modern Spiritualism, by F. Podmore,[10] and the study on the founder of Mormonism, by I. W. Riley.[11] For the employment of "revelations" Page:Mohammed and the Rise of Islam.djvu/18 Page:Mohammed and the Rise of Islam.djvu/19

  1. Of the sources of the biography of the Prophet a valuable account is given by E. Sachau, Ibn Sa'd III., i., Preface.
  2. The Life and Death of Mahomet, London, 1637.
  3. Among eloquent accounts of Mohammed, that in Mr. Reade's Martyrdom of Man, 14th ed., 260 foll., deserves mention. That by Wellhausen in the introduction to Das Arabische Reich und sein Sturz is masterly in the extreme.
  4. Oxford, 1723. Abu'l-Fidā is referred to as the chief authority perhaps for the last time by T. Wright, Christianity in Arabia.
  5. Muir's, London, 1857-1861; Sprenger's (2d ed.), Berlin, 1869.
  6. Wellhausen's judgment of it (Wakidi, pp. 24-26) is absolutely fair and sound.
  7. The most important Lives of Mohammed which have appeared in Europe are those by L. Krehl (Leipzig, 1884), H. Grimme (Münster, 1892-1895), F. Buhl (Copenhagen, 1903). The new editions of Grimme's work and of Wollaston's Half-hours with Mohammed, and the magnificent work of Prince Caetani were published too late for the present writer to utilise.
  8. The Spirit of Islam, London, 1896, Calcutta, 1902.
  9. Bottom is probably touched by the New but True Life of the Carpenter, including a New Life of Mohammed, by Amos; Bristol, 1903.
  10. Modern Spiritualism, London, Macmillan, 1902.
  11. A Psychological Study of Joseph Smith, Jr., London, Heinemann, 1903.