MAHOMET AND HIS SUCCESSORS

by

Maurice W. Bralley, IV*

This is a book by Washington Irving, written in 1849. As we all know, Mahomet was the founder of the religion of Islam. However, he did not start out to create or found a new religion. His original intent was to restore that which was derived in earliest times from God Himself. His sayings were later taken down or written down by his followers in a book called the Koran. That book says, "We follow the religion of Abraham the orthodox, who was no idolater. We believe in God and that which hath been sent down to us, and that which hath been sent down unto Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was delivered unto Moses and Jesus, and that which was delivered unto the prophets from the Lord; we make no distinction between any of them, and to God we are resigned."

The Koran, which is the great book of the faith, was delivered in portions from time to time throughout Mahomet's life. It was not given as his own work but as a divine revelation--as the very words of God. The Deity was supposed to speak in every instance. The Law of Moses had for a time been the guide and ruler over human conduct. At the corning of Jesus Christ, it was superseded by the Gospel. Both were now to give place to the Koran and it was intended to reform the abuses which had crept into the others through the negligence or corruption of their professors. It was the completion of the law and after it, there would be no more divine revelations. Mahomet was the last, as he was the greatest of the line of the prophets sent to make known the will of God.

The word Koran is derived from the Arabic word Kora, meaning to read or to teach. The word Islam is thought by some to derive from Salem or Aslama, which signifies salvation. The Christians form from it the term Islamism, and the Jews have varied it into Ismailism, which they intend as a reproach, and an allusion to the origin of the Arabs as descendants of Ishmael. From Islam, the Arabians drew the terms Moslem or Muslem, and Musulman, a professor of the faith of Islam.

Prior to Mahomet, the religion of Arabia and the Arabs had preserved in the depths of its deserts its primitive character and independence, unaffected by the dynasties and kingdoms which rose and fell in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. The Arabs in their tradition believe that the area was peopled soon after the deluge by the progeny of Shem, the son of Noah. The primitive population was developed into two tribes which eventually were lost and were known as the Lost Tribes. The primitive population is ascribed to Joctan, a descendent of the fourth generation from Shem. That tribe spread over the southern part of the peninsula and along the Red Sea. His son Yarab founded the kingdom of Yemen, and Jurham, another son, founded the kingdom of Hedjaz. Among his descendants it is said that Hagar and her son Ishmael were kindly received when exiled from their home by the patriarch Abraham. Ishmael took a wife of the line of Jurham and she bore him twelve sons who acquired dominion over the country. They were divided into twelve tribes and they overran and obliterated the primitive stock of Joctan.

Over the centuries a strong distinction grew between the Arabs who held towns and castles and those who dwelt in tents.

The agricultural and trading Arabs, the dwellers in towns and cities, have never been considered the true type of the race. They became softened by settled and peaceful occupations. Among the other class of Arabs, the rovers of the desert and the "dwellers in tents," by far the most numerous of the two, is where the national character is preserved with all its primitive force and freshness. They were nomadic and pastoral and acquainted with all the hidden resources of the desert, leading a wandering life, roaming from place to place. These nomadic Arabs divided and subdivided into innumerable petty tribes.

The Arab of the desert, the "dweller in tents," though a restless and predatory warrior, was generous and hospitable. He delighted in giving gifts, his door was always open to the wayfarer, and he was ready to share his last morsel. In religion the Arabs, in what they term the Days of Ignorance, partook largely of two faiths, the Sabean and the Magian, which at that time prevailed over the eastern world. The Sabean pretended to derive from Sabi, the son of Seth, who, with his father and his brother Enoch, they supposed to be buried in the pyramids. Some claim that this was the religion of the antediluvian world. It survived, they say, the deluge and continued among the patriarchs. It was taught by Abraham, adopted by his descendants, the children of Israel, sanctified and confirmed in the tablets of the law, and delivered unto Moses on Mount Sinai.

In its original state the Sabean faith was pure and spiritual; inculcating a belief in the unity of God, the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, and the necessity of a virtuous and holy life to obtain a happy immortality. There was a great reverence for the Supreme Being. They never mentioned his name, nor did they venture to approach him except through intermediate intelligences or angels. These were supposed to inhabit the heavenly bodies in the same way as the human body is inhabited by the soul. They were placed there to supervise and govern the universe in subservience to the Most High. The Sabeans did not worship them as deities but sought only to propitiate their angelic occupants as intercessors with the Supreme Being.

By degrees this religion lost its original simplicity and purity and became obscured and degraded by idolatries. The heavenly bodies were then worshiped as deities. Graven images were set up in honor of them in sacred groves and in the gloom of the forests and, at length, enshrined as idols in temples and worshipped as if they were divine.

The rival sect of Magians, or fire worshippers, divided the religious empire of the East, took its rise in Persia, and was reduced to writing by the great prophet and teacher, Zoroaster. The creed, like that of the Sabeans, was originally simple and spiritual, inculcating a belief in one supreme and eternal God who had produced, through his creating word, two active principles-- Ormusd, the principle or angel of light or good, and Ahriman, the principle or angel of darkness or evil. The world was formed as a mixture of those opposite elements which were engaged in a perpetual contest in the regulation of its affairs. The contest was won with first one having the upper hand and then the other, and would continue until the end of the world when there would be a general resurrection and a day of judgment. The angel of darkness and his disciples would then be banished to an abode of woeful gloom and their opponents would enter the blissful realms of ever-during light.

Originally, the Magians had neither temples, altars, nor religious symbols ot any kind. Zoroaster first introduced the use of temples wherein sacred fire pretended to be derived from heaven and was kept perpetually alive through the guardianship of the priests who maintained a watch over it day and night.

In the process of time, this sect, like that of the Sabeans, lost sight of the divine principle in the symbol and came to worship light or fire as the real deity and to abhor darkness as Satan or the devil.

Of these two faiths, the Sabean was the most prevalent among the Arabs, but in an extremely degraded form, mingled with all kinds of abuses and varying among the various tribes. The Magian faith had also come to include superstitions and idolatries of the nations surrounding the Arabians.

Judaism to some extent had entered Arabia as also the Christian religion. St. Paul himself declares in his epistle to the Galatians that soon after he had been called to preach Christianity among the heathens, he "went into Arabia."

The time at length arrived when the discordant tribes were to be united in one creed and animated by one common cause when a mighty genius was to arise who should bring together these scattered limbs, animate them with his own spirit and lead them forth to shake and overturn the empires of the earth.

Mahomet was born in Mecca in April in the year 569 of the Christian era. He was of the leading tribe of Koreish. His family was the guardian of the Caaba, the great shrine of Arabian pilgrimage and worship. The birth of Mahomet, according to tradition, was accompanied by signs and portents announcing a child of wonder. His mother suffered none of the pangs of travail. At the moment of his coming into the world, a celestial light illumined the surrounding country and the new born child, raising his eyes to heaven, exclaimed "God is great! There is no God but God, and I am his prophet."

Heaven ana earth were agitated at this event. Lake Sawa shrank back to its secret springs leaving its borders dry. The Tigris burst its bounds, overflowing in the neighboring lands. The palace of Khosru the King of Persia shook to its foundations. Kadhi, the Judge of Persia, had a dream in which a ferocious camel was conquered by an Arabian courser, interpreted to portend danger from Arabia. The sacred fire of Zoroaster, guarded by the Magi, which had burned without interruption for upward to a thousand years, was suddenly extinguished and all the idols of the world fell down. The demons or evil genii which lurk in the stars and the signs of the zodiac and exert a malignant influence over the children of men, were cast forth by the pure angels and hurled with their arch leader Lucifer into the depths of the sea.

There are other marvelous and fantastic events that were said to have accompanied the birth of Mahomet.

The traditions concerning Mecca and the Caaba are very interesting. When Adam and Eve were cast forth from paradise, they fell in different parts of the earth. For two hundred years they wandered their separate ways about the earth until they were permitted to come together again on Mount Ararat, not far from the present city of Mecca. Adam implored the clemency of God and entreated for a shrine similar to that at which he had worshipped when in Paradise and round which the angels used to move in adoring processions.

God responded and a tabernacle or temple formed of radiant clouds was lowered down by the hands of angels and placed immediately below its prototype in the celestial paradise. Adam thenceforth turned to this shrine when in prayer and round it he daily made seven circuits in imitation of the rites of the adoring angels.

At the death of Adam, the tabernacle of clouds passed away, or was drawn up into heaven; but another of the same form and in the same place was built of stone and clay by Seth, the son of Adam. This was swept away by the deluge. Many generations afterwards when Hagar and her child Ishmael were near perishing with thirst in the desert, an angel revealed to them a spring or well of water near to the ancient site of the tabernacle. This was the well of Zen Zem. Hagar and Ishmael remained and Ishmael took a wife of the local inhabitants and they became the ancestors of the Arabian people. In the process of time, by God's command he undertook to rebuild the Caaba on the precise site of the original tabernacle of clouds. He was assisted by his father Abraham and a miraculous stone served Abraham as a scaffold as he built the walls of the sacred edifice. It still remains there as a relic.

While Abraham and Ishmael were thus occupied, the angel Gabriel brought them a stone about which traditional accounts are at variance. Some say it is one of the precious stones of Paradise which fell to the earth with Adam. Others say it was originally the guardian angel appointed to watch over Adam in Paradise but changed into a stone and was ejected with Adam at his fall as a punishment for not having been more vigilant. Abraham and Ishmael inserted this stone in the corner of the exterior wall of the Caaba and it remains there to the present day, devoutly kissed by worshippers each time they make a circuit of the temple. When first inserted, it was a single jacinth of dazzling whiteness but became gradually blackened by the kisses of sinful mortals.

When Mahomet was twelve years old, he had an intelligence far beyond his years. He travelled with his uncle who was one of the guardians of the Caaba and a successful merchant on caravans to distant places. On one trip, the caravan arrived at Bosra in Syria, in the country of the tribe of Manasseh, now inhabited by Nestorian Christians. One of the monks, it is believed, influenced Mahomet against the idolatry in which he had been raised and educated. The Nestorian Christians were strenuous in condemning not merely the worship of images but even the casual exhibition of them. Even the cross, that general emblem of Christianity, was included in this prohibition. The knowledge of the principles and traditions of the Christian faith displayed by Mahomet later were attributed to these early conversations with this monk, on this and subsequent visits to Syria.

After his marriage to a wealthy woman who was his senior, he continued in his religious interests and he gradually absented himself from society and sought the solitude of a cavern on Mount Hara just north of Mecca. He would remain days and nights together engaged in prayer and meditation. He became subject to dreams, to ecstasies and trances. When he was 40 years old, a famous revelation took place. He was passing the month of Ramadhan, tha holy season, in the cavern of Mount Hara. In the silent watches of the night as he lay wrapped in his mantle, he beheld an angel in human form displaying a silken cloth covered with written characters and heard him say, "Read!"

"I know not how to read!" replied Mahomet.

"Read!" repeated the angel, "in the name of the Lord who has created all things...".

Mahomet instantly felt his understanding illumined by celestial light and read what was written on the cloth, containing the decrees of God and afterward promulgated in the Koran. The heavenly messenger announced, "Oh, Mahomet, of a verity, thou art the prophet of God! And I am his angel Gabriel!"

Mahomet was concerned and anxious about this vision, but he confided it to his wife who encouraged him and believed him. She was actually the first convert to Islam. He inculcated his doctrine secretly and slowly, first with his immediate family and kindred and then with close friends, and eventually, of course, to the general population.

As I mentioned a moment ago, Mahomet did not intend to found or create a new religion but merely to reform and re-establish the old which he believed had been corrupted. The unity of God was the cornerstone. "There is no God but God" was its leading dogma. To this was added, "Mahomet is the prophet of God."

Next was a belief in angels or ministering spirits, in the prophets, in the resurrection of the body, in the last judgment and a future state of rewards and punishments, and in predestination. Much of the Koran may be traced to the Bible, to the Mishna and the Talmud of the Jews. The system laid down in the Koran, however, was essentially founded on the Christian doctrines inculcated in the New Testament. Our Savior was to be held in the highest reverence as an inspired prophet, the greatest that had been sent before the time of Mahomet, but all ideas of his divinity were rejected as impious, and the doctrine of the Trinity was denounced as an outrage on the unity of God. The worship of saints and the introduction of images and paintings were condemned as idolatrous lapses from the pure faith of Christ.

Mahomet inculcated a noble fairness and sincerity in dealings, preaching against falsehood and deception and preaching "do unto another as thou wouldst he should do unto thee."

The Islam faith was divided into two parts--faith and practice. Faith included faith in God, faith in angels, faith in the Koran as a book of divine revelation and the written law, faith relating to the prophets, six of which are supereminent (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet), and fifth the resurrection and final judgment which was a blend of some Christian beliefs and some beliefs among the Arabian Jews. The faithful will ascend to Paradise and the infidels will fall into Jehennam or Hell. It is described as consisting of seven stages, one below the other. The first stage is allotted to the atheists. The second to the Manicheans and others that admit two divine principles, and for the Arabian idolaters. The third for the Brahmins of India. Fourth for the Jews. Fifth for Christians. Sixth for the Magians of Persia. The seventh for the hypocrites who profess without believing in religion.

The Paradise is one of great delight and all pleasures here on earth beyond measure. The true believer may be fully competent to the enjoyment of this blissful region and he will rise from the grave in the prime of manhood at the age of thirty of the stature of Adam, which was thirty cubits, with all his faculties improved to a state of preternatural perfection, with the abilities of a hundred men, and with desires and appetites quickened rather than sated by enjoyment.

The last and sixth article of faith was predestination which greatly contributed to the success of his military enterprises. The warrior believed that he would be victorious or, if not, it was his time predetermined to die and he would immediately be transported to Paradise. It is said that Napoleon also used this doctrine to advantage among his troops.

The second part of the Islamic faith is religious practice. The practices were fourfold: prayer, including ablution, alms, fasting, and pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was to the city of Mecca which had been considered a holy city for many centuries where the Caaba was located. Every true believer was bound to make one pilgrimage to Mecca in the course of his life.

According to Indries Shah in his book, The Sufis, Mahomet also figures in the legends of the Sufis. The Sufis are a group maintaining and teaching the "secret tradition." The Sufis do not erect systems as one would build an edifice for succeeding generations to examine and learn from. Sufism is transmitted by means of the human exemplar, the teacher. Because he is an unfamiliar figure to the world at large, it does not mean that he does not exist.

One of the most widespread of the Sufi Orders is the Naqshbandi. They trace their spiritual pedigree to Mahomet through most of the early classical teachers; also to Mahomet's companion, Abu Bakr, and others.

The Sufis are an ancient spiritual freemasonry whose origins have never been traced or dated; nor do they themselves take much interest in such researches, being content to point out the occurrence of their own way of thought in different regions and periods. Though commonly mistaken for a Moslem sect, the Sufis are at home in all religions: just as the "Free and Accepted Masons" lay before them in their Lodge whatever sacred book--whether Bible, Koran, or Torah--is accepted by the temporal State. It is reported that the Prophet Mohammed himself said: "He who hears the voice of the Sufi people and does not say 'aamin' [Amen] is recorded in God's presence as one of the heedless." Numerous other traditions link him with the Sufis, and it was in Sufi style that he ordered his followers to respect all People of a Book, meaning those who respected their own sacred scriptures--a term later taken to include Zoroastrians.

Indeed, Freemasonry itself began as a Sufi society. It first reached England in the reign of King Aethelstan (924-939) and was introduced into Scotland disguised as a craft guild at the beginning of the 14th Century, doubtless by the Knights Templar. Its reformation in early 18th century London, by a group of Protestant sages who mistook its Saracen terms for Hebrew, has obscured many of its early traditions.

It is said to be a metaphor for the "reedification" or rebuilding of spiritual man from his ruined state; and that the three working instruments displayed on modern Masonic lodges represent three postures of prayer. It is said that those who are honored by Freemasons as builders at King Solomon's temple at Jerusalem, were not Solomon's Israelite subjects or Phoenician allies as is supposed, but Sufi architects who built the Dome of the Rock on the ruins of Solomon's temple, and their successors. The architectural measurements chosen for this Temple, as for the Caaba building at Mecca, were numerical equivalents of certain Arabic roots conveying holy messages, every part of the building being related to every other in definite proportion.

One of the most profound metaphysical influences upon both the Moslem and the Christian worlds is Ibn El-Arabi, the Sufi, called in Arabic "the Greatest Master." For Ibn El-Arabi, as for all Sufis, Mohammed represents the perfected Man. At the same time, it is necessary to know what is meant by "Mohammed" in this context. Ibn El-Arabi is more explicit than most on this point. There are two versions of Mohammed--the man who lived in Mecca and Medina, and the eternal Mohammed. It is this latter one of whom he speaks. This Mohammed is identified with all the prophets, including Jesus. This idea has caused people with a Christian background to claim that Ibn El-Arabi or the Sufis or both were secret Christians. The Sufi claim is that all the individuals who have performed certain functions are in a sense one. This oneness they call in its origin haqiqat-el-Mohammedia, the Reality of Mohammed.

SOURCES:

1. Washington Irving, Mahomet and His Successors, 1849.
2. Indries Shah, (Introduction by Robert Graves), The Sufis, 1964.