The Speeches & Table-Talk of the Prophet Mohammad
SPEECHES & TABLE-TALK
Chosen and Translated, with Introduction and Notes,
MACMILLAN AND CO.
GOD! THERE IS NO GOD BUT HE, THE LIVING, THESTEADFAST! SLUMBER SEIZETH HIM NOT, NOR SLEEP.WHATSOEVER IS IN THE HEAVENS, AND WHATSOEVER ISIN THE EARTH, IS HIS. WHO IS THERE THAT SHALLPLEAD WITH HIM SAVE BY HIS LEAVE? HE KNOWETHWHAT WAS BEFORE THEM AND WHAT SHALL COMEAFTER THEM, AND THEY COMPASS NOT AUGHT OF HISKNOWLEDGE, BUT WHAT HE WILLETH. HIS THRONEOVERSPREADETH THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH, ANDTHE KEEPING OF BOTH IS NO BURDEN TO HIM: AND HEIS THE HIGH, THE GREAT!
THE THRONE VERSE, ii. 256.
The aim of this little volume is to present all thatis most enduring and memorable in the publicorations and private sayings of the prophetMohammad in such a form that the generalreader may be tempted to learn a little of what agreat man was and of what made him great. Atpresent, it must be allowed that although “AuldMahound” is a household word, he is very littlemore than a word. Things are constantly beingsaid, written, and preached about the Arab prophetand the religion he taught, of which an elementaryacquaintance with him would show the absurdity.No one would dare to treat the ordinary classicsof European literature in this fashion; or, if hedid, his exposure would immediately ensue. WhatI wish to do is to enable any one, at the cost ofthe least possible exertion, to put himself into aposition to judge of popular fallacies about[Pg vi]Mohammad and his creed as surely and certainlyas he can judge of errors in ordinary educationand scholarship. I do not wish to mention theKorān by name more than can be helped, for I haveobserved that the word has a deterrent effect uponreaders who like their literary food light and easyof digestion. It cannot, however, be disguisedthat a great deal of this book consists of theKorān, and it may therefore be as well to explainaway as far as possible the prejudice which theill-fated name is apt to excite. It is not easy tosay for how much of this prejudice the standardEnglish translator is responsible. The patientand meritorious George Sale put the Korān intotangled English and heavy quarto,—people readquartos then and did not call them éditions deluxe,—his version then appeared in a clumsyoctavo, with most undesirable type and paper;finally it has come out in a cheap edition, of whichit need only be said that utility rather than tastehas been consulted. One can hardly blame anyone for refusing to look even at the outsides ofthese volumes. And the inside,—not the mere outwardinside, if I may so say, the type and paper,—butthe heart of hearts, the matter itself, is by nomeans calculated to tempt a reluctant reader.The Korān is there arranged according to the[Pg vii]orthodox form, instead of in chronological order,—itmust be allowed that the chronological orderwas not discovered in Sale’s time,—and the resultis that impression of chaotic indefiniteness whichimpressed Carlyle so strongly, and which Carlylehas impressed upon most of the present generation.A large disorderly collection of prophetic rhapsodydid not prove inviting, as the state of popularknowledge about Mohammad very clearly shows.
The attitude of the multitude towards Sale’sKorān was on the whole reasonable. But if thefaults that were found there are shown to belongto Sale and not to the Korān, or only partly to it,the attitude should change. In the first place, theKorān is not a large book, and in the second, it isby no means so disorderly and anarchic as iscommonly supposed. Reckoned by the numberof verses, the Korān is only two-thirds of thelength of the New Testament, or, if the wearisomestories of the Jewish patriarchs which Mohammadtold and retold are omitted, it is no more than theGospels and Acts. It has been remarked that theSunday edition of the New York Herald is threetimes as long. But the real permanent contentsof the Korān may be taken at far less even thanthis estimate. The book is full—I will not say ofvain repetitions, for in teaching and preaching re[Pg viii]petitionis necessary—but of reiterations of certaincardinal articles of faith, and certain standard demonstrationsof these articles by the analogy ofnature. Like the numerous stories borrowed byMohammad from the Talmud, which have littlebut an antiquarian interest, many of these reiteratedarguments and illustrations may with advantagebe passed over. There is also a considerableportion of the Korān which is devoted tothe exposure and confutation of those who, frompolitical, commercial, or religious motives, madeit their business to thwart Mohammad in his effortsto reform his people. These personal, one mightsay party, speeches are valuable only to thebiographer and historian of the times. Theythrow but little light on the character of the manMohammad himself. They show him, indeed, tobe—what we knew him before—a sensitive,irritable man, keenly alive to ridicule and scorn.But for this purpose one instance is sufficient.We do not form our estimate of a great statesmanfrom his moments of irritation, but from thoselarger utterances which reveal the results of alife’s study of men and government. So withMohammad, we may abandon the personal andtemporary element in the Korān, and base ourjudgment upon those utterances which stand for[Pg ix]all time, and deal not with individuals or classes,but with man as he is, in Arabia or England, orwhere we will. This position is not taken withthe object of saving Mohammad from himself.His attacks upon his opponents will bear comparisonwith those of other statesmen. They aredoubtless couched in more barbaric language thanwe are accustomed to, and where we insinuate,Mohammad curses outright. But in the face of atreacherous and malignant opposition, the Arabianprophet comported himself with singular self-restraint.He only threatened hell-fire, andpeople of all denominations are still threatenedwith that every Sunday, to say nothing of Lent.Leaving out the Jewish stories, needless repetitions,and temporary exhortations or personal vindications,the speeches of Mohammad may be set forthin very moderate compass. One speech—sura, orchapter, as it is generally called—follows anotherso much to the same effect, that a limited numberwill be found to contain all the ideas which aminute study of the whole Korān could collect.I believe there is nothing important, either indoctrine or style, which is not contained in thetwenty-eight speeches which fill the first hundredand thirty pages of this small volume. If I werea Mohammadan, I think I could accept the present[Pg x]collection as a sufficient representation of what theKorān teaches.
The obscurity of the Korān is largely due to itsordinary arrangement. This consists merely inputting the longest chapters first and the shortestlast. The Mohammadans appear to be contentedwith this curious order, which after all is notmore remarkable than that of some other sacredbooks. German criticism, however, has discoveredthe method of arranging the Korān in approximatelychronological sequence. To explain howthis is established would carry me too far, but theresults are certain. We can state positively thatthe chapters of the Korān—or, as I prefer to callthem, the speeches of Mohammad—fall into certaindefinite chronological groups, and if wecannot arrange each individual speech in itsprecise place, we can at least tell to which group,extending over but few years, it belongs. Theeffect of this critical arrangement is to throw aperfectly clear light on the development of Mohammad’steaching, and the changes in his style andmethod. When the Korān is thus arranged—asit is in Mr. Rodwell’s charming version, whichdeserves to be better read than it is—the impressionof anarchy disappears, and we see only thegrowth of a remarkable mind, the alternations of[Pg xi]weakness and strength in a gifted soul, the inevitableinconsistencies of a great man. I do notbelieve any one who reads the speeches ofMohammad as I have arranged them in ProfessorNöldeke’s chronological order will say that theyhave no definite aim or coherence. They maybe monotonous, and often they are rambling,but their intention and sequence of thought areto me clear as noonday.
It is something more, however, than anysupposed length or obscurity that has hithertoscared people from the Koran. The truth is thatthe atmosphere of our Arabian prophet’s thoughtsis so different from what we breathe ourselves, that itneeds a certain effort to transplant ourselves into it.That it can be done, and done triumphantly, maybe proved by Mr. Browning’s Saul, as Semitic apoem as ever came from the desert itself. Wesee the whole life and character of the Bedawy inthese lines:—
It is not easy to catch the Arab spirit as Mr.Browning has caught it. Arab poetry is a sealedbook to most, even among special Orientalists;they construe it, but it does not move them. Thecause is to be found in the abrupt transition ofthought which is required if we would enter intothe spirit of desert song. The Arab stands indirect contrast to ourselves of the north. He isnot in the least like an Englishman. His mindtravels by entirely different routes from ours, andhis body is built up of much more inflammablematerials. His free desert air makes him impatientof control in a degree which we canscarcely understand in an organised community. Itis difficult now to conceive a nation without cabinetsand secretaries of State and policemen, yet tothe Arab these things were not only unknown butinconceivable. He lived the free aimless satisfiedlife of a child. He was supremely content withthe exquisite sense of simple existence, and washappy because he lived. Throughout a life thatwas full of energy, of passion, of strong endeavourafter his ideal of desert perfectness, there was yeta restful sense of satisfied enjoyment, a feeling that[Pg xiii]life was of a surety well worth living. What hisideal was, and how different from any of the idealsof to-day, we know from his own poetry. It was,not in the gentler virtues that he prided himself:—
The ideal warrior, however, is not always sofierce as this, as may be seen in the followinglament for a departed hero, where a gentler touchmingles in its warlike manliness:—