Page images
PDF
EPUB

nothing is afforded but vague and indefinite assurances of the divine clemency; and with respect to the latter, such a conception never seems to have entered into the mind of the Arabian impostor. In both these respects man is left in the same state in which he is placed by mere nature and by paganism, and from which Judaism typified and Christianity realized his deliverance. How necessary these two grand articles are in any scheme of pure religion, has been shown in the first chapter of the first part of this treatise.a

The fundamental principle of Mohammedism is, as has been stated, the unity of the divine nature. The imposture of its author is clearly established by internal evidence itself. From the observations formerly made on religious hypocrisy," one might be led to conclude that Mohammed was in reality an atheist, and employed the pretext of religion solely as a mean of advancing his power. His success, concerning

which I shall make some remarks before I conclude this chapter, is a most striking proof of the immense power of religious principle, in some form or other, over the human mind. It will also appear that this instrument was particularly adapted to his purposes. If the impostor entertained any firm belief in the existence

[blocks in formation]

and providence of that all-perfect being whom he held up to his followers as the sole object of worship, he must have been convinced that nothing could be more repugnant to the nature and will of that being, than fraud and falsehood, and that to assume God's authority as sanctioning fabricated tenets and institutions, to the abrogation of a system of religion acknowledged to proceed from heaven, constituted a crime of the blackest die, a sacrilege of the most atrocious description.

a

To say with Mr. Sale, that with regard to his imposture, Mohammed deserves equal respect with Numa and Minos, is to place on the same footing the reverence due to the only true God, and that afforded to imaginary deities. Numa might call in the aid of the nymph Egeria, and Minos that of Jupiter, to sanction their respective institutions, because pious frauds were tolerated, and were even held to be meritorious among those who knew no other religion than polytheism. But no person acknowledging one only God, and entertaining just notions of his nature and perfections, can, strictly speaking, falsely pretend to a commission from him, without feeling that he outrages the Deity. At the same time it must be granted that many professors of Christianity have practised pious frauds,

a Dedication to Lord Cartaret.

without being aware of the extent and weight of the inference now made. Mohammed, it is also certain, knew the grossly corrupt forms of Judaism and Christianity. As the apostle Paul thought that, under the influence of ignorant zeal, he was serving religion by persecuting the church of Christ; so might Mohammed conceive that he was rendering an acceptable service to God and benefiting man, by sweeping away both Jewish and Christian corruptions, and bringing idolaters to the acknowledgment and worship of one God. He might flatter himself that his imposture, directed at first to this purpose, would obtain forgiveness from heaven. His zeal kindled as he advanced, and when success inflamed his ambition, enthusiasm was mixed with it, and interpreted success as a mark of divine support and assistance. The impostor himself frequently catches the enthusiastic spirit which he has infused into others, and becomes at last the dupe of his own deceit." That this was partly the case with Mohammed appears from the detail of his history.

He was certainly endued with great talents, and with peculiar dexterity in influencing the minds of those whom he addressed, and in bending them to his purposes. Nor was he entirely destitute of moral qualities. Mohammedan au

a See chap. ii. of Part i. under the head Imposture.

thors are profuse in their commendations of their prophet's veracity, piety, justice, liberality, clemency, humility, and abstinence. It has been already shown that most of these virtues, particularly veracity, piety, humility, and abstinence in the most extensive sense of the term, are falsely ascribed to him. After all, it is hardly possible that a wretch of so profligate a character in all respects, as Christian zeal has assigned to him, could have succeeded in so vast and extensive an enterprise. He was undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary men whose actions history has recorded.

The success, the rapid progress, and prodigious extension of Mohammedism, exhibit one of those irregular historical phenomena that seem to bid defiance to rational solution. It would be foreign to my purpose to attempt an explanation of the causes which produced such an astonishing revolution, both in the civil and the religious circumstances of so considerable a part of the human race. Some observations, however, may be neither useless nor improperly introduced.

Before Mohammed's appearance in the world, polytheism had become perfectly ridiculous to civilized nations. Judaism and Christianity, though both were, at this period, horribly cor

a Sale's Prelim. Disc. sect, ii. p. 55.

rupted, and the former had been so even before our Saviour's advent, had spread over Europe and Asia the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Supreme Being, as the only creator and governor of the world, and as the only object of religious worship. Numbers of Jews resided in almost every part of Arabia. The native Arabs were, at the time of Mohammed's appearance on the stage, idolaters; but the religion of their remote ancestors, the descendants of Ishmael, was theism, or the worship of one God, which was gradually obscured and perverted into idolatrous opinions and practices, which had debased all nations, with the exception of the Jews.

a

The grossest corruptions in doctrine, worship, and practice, had, by this time, been introduced over the whole Christian world; and both the western and eastern churches had abandoned themselves to the most degrading laxity of morals, while, placing all religion in foolish and unprofitable superstitious ceremonies, they were agitated and convulsed with the most virulent and rancorous controversies, which extinguished the soul and essence of piety, and substituted in its place demoniacal fury and vengeance. Mutual persecutions followed in constant succession, as the contending parties obtained in turn

a Boulainvilliers, Vie de Mahomet, pp. 145, 146.

« PreviousContinue »