Next to bread and woman, in the hierarchy of desire, comes eternal salvation; when the stomach is satisfied, and lust is spent, man spares a little time for God. Despite polygamy, the Moslem found considerable time for Allah, and based his morals, his laws, and his government upon his religion.
Theoretically the Moslem faith was the simplest of all creeds: “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet.” (La ilaha il-Allah, Muhammad-un Rasulu-llah.) The simplicity of the formula is only apparent, for its second clause involves the acceptance of the Koran and all its teachings. Consequently the orthodox Moslem also believed in heaven and hell, angels and demons, the resurrection of body and soul, the divine predestination of all events, the Last Judgment, the four duties of Moslem practice—prayer, alms, fasting, and pilgrimage—and the divine inspiration of various prophets who led up to Mohammed. “For every nation,” said the Koran, “there is a messenger and prophet” (x, 48); some Moslems reckon such messengers at 224,000;21 but apparently only Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were considered by Mohammed as having spoken the word of God. Hence the Moslem was required to accept the Old Testament and the Gospels as inspired scriptures; where these contradicted the Koran it was because their divine text had been willfully or unwittingly corrupted by men; in any case the Koran superseded all previous revelations, and Mohammed excelled all the other messengers of God. Moslems proclaimed his mere humanity, but revered him almost as intensely as Christians worshiped Christ. “If I had been alive in his time,” said a typical Moslem, “I would not have allowed the Apostle of God to put his blessed foot upon the earth, but would have borne him upon my shoulders wherever he wished to go.”22
Making their faith still more complex, good Moslems accepted and obeyed, besides the Koran, the traditions (Hadith) preserved by their learned men of their Prophet’s customs (Sunna) and conversation. Time brought forward questions of creed, ritual, morals, and law to which the holy book gave no clear answer; sometimes the words of the Koran were obscure, and needed elucidation; it was useful to know what, on such points, the Prophet or his Companions had done or said. Certain Moslems devoted themselves to gathering such traditions. During the first century of their era they refrained from writing them down; they formed schools of Hadith in divers cities, and gave public discourses reciting them; it was not unusual for Moslems to travel from Spain to Persia to hear a Hadith from one who claimed to have it in direct succession from Mohammed. In this way a body of oral teaching grew up alongside the Koran, as the Mishna and Gemara grew up beside the Old Testament. And as Jehuda ha-Nasi gathered the oral law of the Jews into written form in 189, so in 870, al-Bukhari, after researches which led him from Egypt to Turkestan, critically examined 600,000 Mohammedan traditions, and published 7275 of them in his Sahih—“Correct Book.” Each chosen tradition was traced through a long chain (isnad) of named transmitters to one of the Companions, or to the Prophet himself.
Many of the traditions put a new color upon the Moslem creed. Mohammed had not claimed the power of miracles, but hundreds of pretty traditions told of his wonder-working; how he fed a multitude from food hardly adequate for one man; exorcised demons; drew rain from heaven by one prayer, and stopped it by another; how he touched the udders of dry goats and they gave milk; how the sick were healed by contact with his clothes or his shorn hair. Christian influences seem to have molded many of the traditions; love toward one’s enemies was inculcated, though Mohammed had sterner views; the Lord’s Prayer was adopted from the Gospels; the parables of the sower, the wedding guests, and the laborers in the vineyard were put into Mohammed’s mouth;23 all in all, he was transformed into an excellent Christian, despite his nine wives. Moslem critics complained that much of the Hadith had been concocted as Umayyad, Abbasid, or other propaganda;24 Ibn Abi al-Awja, executed at Kufa in 772, confessed to having fabricated 4000 traditions.25 A few skeptics laughed at the Hadith collections, and composed indecent stories in solemn Hadith form.26 Nevertheless the acceptance of the Hadith, in one or the other of the approved collections, as binding in faith and morals, became a distinguishing mark of orthodox Moslems, who therefore received the name of Sunni, or traditionalists.
One tradition represented the angel Gabriel as asking Mohammed, “What is Islam?”—and made Mohammed reply: “Islam is to believe in Allah and His Prophet, to recite the prescribed prayers, to give alms, to observe the fast of Ramadan, and to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.”27 Prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage constitute the “Four Duties” of Moslem religion. These, with belief in Allah and Mohammed, are the “Five Pillars of Islam.”
Prayer had to be preceded by purification; and as prayer was required of the Moslem five times a day, cleanliness came literally next to godliness. Mohammed, like Moses, used religion as a means to hygiene as well as to morality, on the general principle that the rational can secure popular acceptance only in the form of the mystical. He warned that the prayer of an unclean person would not be heard by God; he even thought of making the brushing of the teeth a prerequisite to prayer; but finally he compromised on the washing of the face, the hands, and the feet (v, 6). A man who had had sexual relations, a woman who had menstruated, or given birth, since the last purification, must bathe before prayer. At dawn, shortly after midday, in late afternoon, at sunset, and at bedtime the muezzin mounted a minaret to sound the adhan, or call to prayer:
Allahu Akbar (God is most great)! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. I bear witness that Mohammed is the Apostle of Allah. I bear witness that Mohammed is the Apostle of Allah. I bear witness that Mohammed is the Apostle of Allah. Come to prayer! Come to prayer! Come to prayer! Come to success! Come to success! Come to success! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! There is no God but Allah!
It is a powerful appeal, a noble summons to rise with the sun, a welcome interruption in the hot work of the day, a solemn message of divine majesty in the stillness of the night; grateful even to alien ears is this strange shrill chant of many muezzins from divers mosques calling the earthbound soul to a moment’s communion with the mysterious source of life and mind. On those five occasions all Moslems everywhere must leave off whatever else they may be doing, must cleanse themselves, turn toward Mecca and the Kaaba and recite the same brief prayers, in the same successive postures, in an impressive simultaneity moving with the sun across the earth.
Those who had the time and will would go to the mosque to say their prayers. Usually the mosque was open all day; any Moslem, orthodox or heretic, might enter to make his ablutions, to rest, or to pray. There, too, in the cloistered shade, teachers taught their pupils, judges tried cases, caliphs announced their policies or decrees; people gathered to chat, hear the news, even to negotiate business; the mosque, like the synagogue and the church, was the center of daily life, the home and hearth of the community. Half an hour before Friday noon the muezzin chanted from the minarets the salutation or salaam—a blessing on Allah, Mohammed, his family, and the great Companions; and called the congregation to the mosque. The worshipers were expected to have bathed and put on clean clothes, and to have perfumed themselves; or they might perform minor ablutions in the tank or fountain that stood in the courtyard of the mosque. The women usually stayed at home when the men went to the mosque, and vice versa; it was feared that the presence of women, even veiled, would distract the excitable male. The worshipers removed their shoes at the door of the mosque proper, and entered in slippers or stocking feet. There or in the court (if they were numerous) they stood shoulder to shoulder in one or more rows, facing the mihrab or prayer niche in the wall, which indicated the qibla or direction of Mecca. An imam or prayer leader read a passage from the Koran and preached a short sermon. Each worshiper recited several prayers, and in the prescribed postures of bowing, kneeling, and prostration; mosque meant a place of prostration in prayer.* Then the imam recited a complex series of salutations, benedictions, and orisons, in which the congregation silently joined. There were no hymns, processions, or sacraments; no collections or pew rents; religion, being one with the state, was financed from public funds. The imam was not a priest but a layman, who continued to earn his living by a secular occupation, and was appointed by the mosque warden for a specified period, and a small salary, to lead the congregation in prayer; there was no priesthood in Islam. After the Friday prayers the Moslems were free, if they wished, to engage in work as on any other day; meanwhile, however, they had known a cleansing hour of elevation above economic and social strife, and had unconsciously cemented their community by common ritual.
The second duty of Moslem practice was the giving of alms. Mohammed was almost as critical of the rich as Jesus had been; some have thought that he began as a social reformer revolted by the contrast between the luxury of the merchant nobles and the poverty of the masses;28 and apparently his early followers were mostly of humble origin. One of his first activities in Medina was to establish an annual tax of two and a half per cent on the movable wealth of all citizens for the relief of the poor. Regular officials collected and distributed this revenue. Part of the proceeds was used to build mosques and defray the expenses of government and war; but war in return brought booty that swelled the gifts to the poor. “Prayer,” said Omar II, “carries us halfway to God, fasting brings us to the door of His palace, almsgiving lets us in.”29 The traditions abound in stories of generous Moslems; Hasan, for example, was said to have three times in his life divided his substance with the poor, and twice given away all that he had.
The third duty was fasting. In general the Moslem was commanded to avoid wine, carrion, blood, and the flesh of swine or dogs. But Mohammed was more lenient than Moses; forbidden foods might be eaten in cases of necessity; of a tasty cheese containing some prohibited meat he only asked, with his sly humor, “Mention the name of Allah over it.”30 He frowned on asceticism, and condemned monasticism (vii, 27); Mohammedans were to enjoy the pleasures of life with a good conscience, but in moderation. Nevertheless, Islam, like most religions, required certain fasts, partly as a discipline of the will, partly, we may presume, as hygiene. A few months after settling in Medina he saw the Jews keeping their annual fast of Yom Kippur; he adopted it for his followers, hoping to win the Jews to Islam; when this hope faded he transferred the fast to the month of Ramadan. For twenty-nine days the Moslem was to abstain, during the daylight hours, from eating, drinking, smoking, or contact with the other sex; exceptions were made for the sick, the weary traveler, the very young or old, and women with child or giving suck. When first decreed, the month of fasting fell in winter, when daylight came late and ended soon. But as the lunar calendar of the Moslems made the year shorter than the four seasons, Ramadan, every thirty-three years, fell in midsummer, when the days are long and the Eastern heat makes thirst a torture; yet the good Moslem bore the fast. Each night, however, the fast was broken, and the Moslem might eat, drink, smoke, and make love till the dawn; stores and shops remained open all those nights, inviting the populace to feasting and merriment. The poor worked as usual during the month of fast; the well-to-do could ease their way through it by sleeping during the day. Very pious persons spent the last ten nights of Ramadan in the mosque; on one of those nights, it was believed, Allah began to reveal the Koran to Mohammed; that night was accounted “better than a thousand months”; and simple devotees, uncertain which of the ten was the “Night of the Divine Decree,” kept all ten with dire solemnity. On the first day after Ramadan the Moslems celebrated the festival of Id al-Fitr, or “Breaking of the Fast.” They bathed, put on new clothes, saluted one another with an embrace, gave alms and presents, and visited the graves of their dead.
Pilgrimage to Mecca was the fourth duty of Moslem faith. Pilgrimage to holy places was traditional in the East; the Jew lived in hopes of one day seeing Zion; and pious pagan Arabs, long before Mohammed, had trekked to the Kaaba. Mohammed accepted the old custom because he knew that ritual is less easily changed than belief; and perhaps because he himself hankered after the Black Stone; by yielding to the old rite he opened a wide door to the acceptance of Islam by all Arabia. The Kaaba, purified of its idols, became for all Moslems the house of God; and upon every Mohammedan the obligation was laid (with considerate exceptions for the ailing and the poor) to make the Mecca pilgrimage “as often as he can”—which was soon interpreted as meaning once in a lifetime. As Islam spread to distant lands, only a minority of Moslems performed the pilgrimage; even in Mecca there are Moslems who have never made a ritual visit to the Kaaba.31
Doughty has described, beyond all rivalry, the panorama of the pilgrimage caravan moving with fantastic patience across the desert, caught between the hot fury of the sun and the swirling fire of the sands; some 7000 believers, less or more, on foot or horse or donkey or mule or lordly palanquin, but most tossed along between the humps of camels, “bowing at each long stalking pace . . . making fifty prostrations in every minute, whether we would or no, toward Mecca,”32 covering thirty miles in a weary day, sometimes fifty to reach an oasis; many pilgrims sickening and left behind; some dying and abandoned to lurking hyenas or a slower death. At Medina the pilgrims halted to view the tombs of Mohammed, Abu Bekr, and Omar I in the mosque of the Prophet; near those sepulchers, says a popular tradition, a space is reserved for Jesus the son of Miriam.33
Sighting Mecca, the caravan pitched its camp outside the walls, for the whole city was haram, sacred; the pilgrims bathed, dressed in seamless robes of white, and rode or walked in a line many miles long, over dusty roads, to seek living quarters in the town. During their stay in Mecca they were required to abstain from all disputes, from sexual relations, and from any sinful act.34 In the months specially ordained for pilgrimage the Holy City became a babbling concourse of tribes and races suddenly doffing nationality and rank in the unanimity of ritual and prayer. Into the great enclosure called the Mosque of Mecca these thousands hurried in tense anticipation of a supreme experience; they hardly noted the elegant minarets of the wall, or the arcades and colonnades of the cloistered interior; but all stopped in awe at the well of Zemzem, whose water, said tradition, had slaked the thirst of Ishmael; every pilgrim drank of it, however bitter its taste, however urgent its effects; some bottled it to take home, to sip its saving sanctity daily, and in the hour of death.35 At last the worshipers, all eyes and no breath, came, near the center of the enclosure, to the Kaaba itself, a miniature temple illuminated within by silver hanging lamps, its outer wall half draped with a curtain of rich and delicate cloth; and in a corner of it the ineffable Black Stone. Seven times the pilgrims walked around the Kaaba and kissed or touched or bowed to the Stone. (Such circumambulation of a sacred object—a fire, a tree, a maypole, an altar of the Temple at Jerusalem—was an old religious ritual.) Many pilgrims, exhausted and yet sleepless with devotion, passed the night in the enclosure, squatting on their rugs, conversing and praying, and contemplating in wonder and ecstasy the goal of their pilgrimage.
On the second day the pilgrims, to commemorate Hagar’s frantic search for water for her son, ran seven times between the hills, Safa and Marwa, that lay outside the city…. On the seventh day those who wished to make the “major pilgrimage” streamed out to Mt. Ararat—six hours’ journey distant—and heard a three-hour sermon; returning halfway, they spent a night in prayer at the oratory of Muzdalifa; on the eighth day they rushed to the valley of Mina and threw seven stones at three marks or pillars, for so, they believed, Abraham had cast stones at Satan when the Devil interrupted his preparations for slaying his son…. On the tenth day they sacrificed a sheep, a camel, and some other horned animal, ate the meat and distributed alms; this ceremony, commemorating similar sacrifices by Mohammed, was the central rite of the pilgrimage; and this “Festival of Sacrifice” was celebrated with like offerings to Allah by Moslems all over the world on the tenth day of the pilgrimage period. The pilgrims now shaved their heads, pared their nails, and buried the cuttings. This completed the Major Pilgrimage; but usually the worshiper paid another visit to the Kaaba before he returned to the caravan camp. There he resumed his profane condition and clothing, and began with proud and comforted spirit the long march back home.
This famous pilgrimage served many purposes. Like that of the Jews to Jerusalem, of the Christians to Jerusalem or Rome, it intensified the worshiper’s faith, and bound him by a collective emotional experience to his creed and to his fellow believers. In the pilgrin age a fusing piety brought together poor Bedouins from the desert, rich merchants from the towns, Berbers, African Negroes, Syrians, Persians, Turks, Tatars, Moslem Indians, Chinese—all wearing the same simple garb, reciting the same prayers in the same Arabic tongue; hence, perhaps, the moderation of racial distinctions in Islam. The circling of the Kaaba seems superstitious to the non-Moslem; but the Moslem smiles at similar customs in other faiths, is disturbed by the Christian rite of eating the god, and can understand it only as an external symbol of spiritual communion and sustenance. All religions are superstitions to other faiths.
And all religions, however noble in origin, soon carry an accretion of superstitions rising naturally out of minds harassed and stupefied by the fatigue of the body and the terror of the soul in the struggle for continuance. Most Moslems believed in magic, and rarely doubted the ability of sorcerers to divine the future, to reveal hidden treasures, compel affection, afflict an enemy, cure disease, or ward off the evil eye. Many believed in magic metamorphoses of men into animals or plants, or in miraculous transits through space; this is almost the framework of the Arabian Nights. Spirits were everywhere, performing every manner of trick and enchantment upon mortals, and begetting unwanted children upon careless women. Most Moslems, like half the Christian world, wore amulets as protection against evil influences, considered some days lucky, other days unlucky, and believed that dreams might reveal the future, and that God sometimes spoke to man in dreams. Everyone in Islam, as in Christendom, accepted astrology; the skies were charted not only to fix the orientation of mosques and the calendar of religious feasts, but to select a celestially propitious moment for any important enterprise, and to determine the genethlialogy of each individual—i.e., his character and fate as set by the position of the stars at his birth.
Seeming to the outer world so indiscriminately one in ritual and belief, Islam was early divided into sects as numerous and furious as in Christendom. There were the martial, puritanic, democratic Kharijites; Murji’ites who held that no Moslem would be everlastingly damned; Jabrites who denied free will and upheld absolute predestination; Qadarites who defended the freedom of the will; and many others; we pay our respects to their sincerity and omniscience, and pass on. But the Shi‘ites belong inescapably to history. They overthrew the Umayyads, captured Persian, Egyptian, and Indian Islam, and deeply affected literature and philosophy. The Shia (i.e., group, sect) had its origin in two murders—the assassination of Ali, and the slaughter of Husein and his family. A large minority of Moslems argued that since Mohammed was the chosen Apostle of Allah, it must have been Allah’s intent that the Prophet’s descendants, inheriting some measure of his divine spirit and purpose, should inherit his leadership in Islam. All caliphs except Ali seemed to them usurpers. They rejoiced when Ali became caliph, mourned when he was murdered, and were profoundly shocked by Husein’s death. Ali and Husein became saints in Shia worship; their shrines were held second in holiness only to the Kaaba and the Prophet’s tomb. Perhaps influenced by Persian, Jewish, and Christian ideas of a Messiah, and the Buddhist conception of Bodhisattvas—repeatedly incarnated saints—the Shi’ites considered the descendants of Ali to be Imams (“exemplars”), i.e., infallible incarnations of divine wisdom. The eighth Imam was Riza, whose tomb at Mashhad, in northeastern Persia, is accounted the “Glory of the Shia World.” In 873 the twelfth Imam—Muhammad ibn Hasan—disappeared in the twelfth year of his age; in Shia belief he did not die, but bides his time to reappear and lead the Shia Moslems to universal supremacy and bliss.
As in most religions, the various sects of Islam felt toward one another an animosity more intense than that with which they viewed the “infidels” in their midst. To these Dhimmi—Christians, Zoroastrians, Sabaeans, Jews—the Umayyad caliphate offered a degree of toleration hardly equaled in contemporary Christian lands. They were allowed the free practice of their faiths, and the retention of their churches, on condition that they wear a distinctive honey-colored dress, and pay a poll tax of from one to four dinars ($4.75 to $19.00) per year according to their income. This tax fell only upon non-Moslems capable of military service; it was not levied upon monks, women, adolescents, slaves, the old, crippled, blind, or very poor. In return the Dhimmi were excused (or excluded) from military service, were exempt from the two and a half per cent tax for community charity, and received the protection of the government. Their testimony was not admitted in Moslem courts, but they were allowed self-government under their own leaders, judges, and laws. The degree of toleration varied with dynasties; the Successors were spasmodically severe, the Umayyads generally lenient, the Abbasids alternately lenient and severe. Omar I ejected all Jews and Christians from Arabia as Islam’s Holy Land, and a questionable tradition ascribes to him a “Covenant of Omar” restraining their rights in general; but this edict, if it ever existed, was in practice ignored,36 and Omar himself continued in Egypt the allowances formerly made to the Christian churches by the Byzantine government.
The Jews of the Near East had welcomed the Arabs as liberators. They suffered now divers disabilities and occasional persecutions; but they stood on equal terms with Christians, were free once more to live and worship in Jerusalem, and prospered under Islam in Asia, Egypt, and Spain as never under Christian rule. Outside of Arabia the Christians of western Asia usually practiced their religion unhindered; Syria remained predominantly Christian until the third Moslem century; in the reign of Mamun (813–33) we hear of 11,000 Christian churches in Islam—as well as hundreds of synagogues and fire temples. Christian festivals were freely and openly celebrated; Christian pilgrims came in safety to visit Christian shrines in Palestine;37 the Crusaders found large numbers of Christians in the Near East in the twelfth century; and Christian communities have survived there to this day. Christian heretics persecuted by the patriarchs of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, or Antioch were now free and safe under a Moslem rule that found their disputes quite unintelligible. In the ninth century the Moslem governor of Antioch appointed a special guard to keep Christian sects from massacring one another at church.38 Monasteries and nunneries flourished under the skeptical Umayyads; the Arabs admired the work of the monks in agriculture and reclamation, acclaimed the wines of monastic vintage, and enjoyed, in traveling, the shade and hospitality of Christian cloisters. For a time relations between the two religions were so genial that Christians wearing crosses on their breasts conversed in mosques with Moslem friends.39 The Mohammedan administrative bureaucracy had hundreds of Christian employees; Christians rose so frequently to high office as to provoke Moslem complaints. Sergius, father of St. John of Damascus, was chief finance minister to Abd-al-Malik, and John himself, last of the Greek Fathers of the Church, headed the council that governed Damascus.40 The Christians of the East in general regarded Islamic rule as a lesser evil than that of the Byzantine government and church.41
Despite or because of this policy of tolerance in early Islam, the new faith won over to itself in time most of the Christians, nearly all the Zoroastrians and pagans, and many of the Jews, of Asia, Egypt, and North Africa. It was a fiscal advantage to share the faith of the ruling race; captives in war could escape slavery by accepting Allah, Mohammed, and circumcision. Gradually the non-Moslem populations adopted the Arabic language and dress, the laws and faith of the Koran. Where Hellenism, after a thousand years of mastery, had failed to take root, and Roman arms had left the native gods unconquered, and Byzantine orthodoxy had raised rebellious heresies, Mohammedanism had secured, almost without proselytism, not only belief and worship, but a tenacious fidelity that quite forgot the superseded gods. From China, Indonesia, and India through Persia, Syria, Arabia, and Egypt to Morocco and Spain, the Mohammedan faith touched the hearts and fancies of a hundred peoples, governed their morals and molded their lives, gave them consoling hopes and a strengthening pride, until today it owns the passionate allegiance of 350,000,000 souls, and through all political divisions makes them one.