Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 6.djvu/56

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the qurʼân

idolatry of the time, the idea as presented was so grand, so simple, and so true, that reason could scarcely hesitate between the two systems, unless, as in the case of the Qurâis, self-interest were thrown into the scale. Side by side with the religion of the Jews and Christians, as practised in Arabia at least, it appeared more spiritual and more divine, and presented the truths of both religions without the blemishes. It harmonized with the traditional Semitic belief, Arab as well as Jewish, of the coming of a Messiah, or at least of a prophet, who should reveal the truth at last, and set right the order of things which had spiritually and temporally gone so wrong. And lastly, it made no call on their credulity; it only asked them to believe what they might well accept as self-evident, and it only laid claim to one miracle, that of the marvellous eloquence of its delivery, and this neither friends nor foes could deny. It must not be forgotten that this claim of the Qurʼân to miraculous eloquence, however absurd it may sound to Western ears, was and is to the Arab incontrovertible.

In order to understand the immense influence which the Qurʼân has always exercised upon the Arab mind, it is necessary to remember that it consists not merely of the enthusiastic utterances of an individual, but of the popular sayings, choice pieces of eloquence, and favourite legends current among the desert tribes for ages before his time. Arabic authors speak frequently of the celebrity attained by the ancient Arabic orators, such as Shâibân Wâil, but unfortunately no specimen of their works have come down to us. The Qurʼân, however, enables us to judge of the nature of the speeches which took so strong a hold upon their countrymen.

The essence of Mohammedanism is its assertion of the unity of God, as opposed to polytheism and even to trinitarianism. And this central truth was, we repeat, nothing new; it was, as Mohammed said of it, the ancient faith of Abraham, and it was upon that faith that the greatness of the Jewish nation was founded; nay, it was the truth which Christ himself made more fully known and understood.