S INCE the days of Carthage and Hannibal we have said nothing of the Semitic people. You will remember how they filled all the chapters devoted to the story of the Ancient World. The Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Phoenicians, the Jews, the Arameans, the Chaldeans, all of them Semites, had been the rulers of western Asia for thirty or forty centuries. They had been conquered by the Indo-European Persians who had come from the east and by the Indo-European Greeks who had come from the west. A hundred years after the death of Alexander the Great, Carthage, a colony of Semitic Phoenicians, had fought the Indo-European Romans for the mastery of the Mediterranean. Carthage had been defeated and destroyed and for eight hundred years the Romans had been masters of the world. In the seventh century, however, another Semitic tribe appeared upon the scene and challenged the power of the west. They were the Arabs, peaceful shepherds who had roamed through the desert since the beginning of time without showing any signs of imperial ambitions.
Then they listened to Mohammed, mounted their horses and in less than a century they had pushed to the heart of Europe and proclaimed the glories of Allah, "the only God," and Mohammed, "the prophet of the only God," to the frightened peasants of France.
The story of Ahmed, the son of Abdallah and Aminah (usually known as Mohammed, or "he who will be praised,") reads like a chapter in the "Thousand and One Nights." He was a camel-driver, born in Mecca. He seems to have been an epileptic and he suffered from spells of unconsciousness when he dreamed strange dreams and heard the voice of the angel Gabriel, whose words were afterwards written down in a book called the Koran. His work as a caravan leader carried him all over Arabia and he was constantly falling in with Jewish merchants and with Christian traders, and he came to see that the worship of a single God was a very excellent thing. His own people, the Arabs, still revered queer stones and trunks of trees as their ancestors had done, tens of thousands of years before. In Mecca, their holy city, stood a little square building, the Kaaba, full of idols and strange odds and ends of Hoo-doo worship.
Mohammed decided to be the Moses of the Arab people. He could not well be a prophet and a camel-driver at the same time. So he made himself independent by marrying his employer, the rich widow Chadija. Then he told his neighbours in Mecca that he was the long-expected prophet sent by Allah to save the world. The neighbours laughed most heartily and when Mohammed continued to annoy them with his speeches they decided to kill him. They regarded him as a lunatic and a public bore who deserved no mercy. Mohammed heard of the plot and in the dark of night he fled to Medina together with Abu Bekr, his trusted pupil. This happened in the year 622. It is the most important date in Mohammedan history and is known as the Hegira—the year of the Great Flight.
The Flight of Mohammed
In Medina, Mohammed, who was a stranger, found it easier to proclaim himself a prophet than in his home city, where every one had known him as a simple camel-driver. Soon he was surrounded by an increasing number of followers, or Moslems, who accepted the Islam, "the submission to the will of God," which Mohammed praised as the highest of all virtues. For seven years he preached to the people of Medina. Then he believed himself strong enough to begin a campaign against his former neighbours who had dared to sneer at him and his Holy Mission in his old camel-driving days. At the head of an army of Medinese he marched across the desert. His followers took Mecca without great difficulty, and having slaughtered a number of the inhabitants, they found it quite easy to convince the others that Mohammed was really a great prophet.
From that time on until the year of his death, Mohammed was fortunate in everything he undertook.
There are two reasons for the success of Islam. In the first place, the creed which Mohammed taught to his followers was very simple. The disciples were told that they must love Allah, the Ruler of the World, the Merciful and Compassionate. They must honour and obey their parents. They were warned against dishonesty in dealing with their neighbours and were admonished to be humble and charitable, to the poor and to the sick. Finally they were ordered to abstain from strong drink and to be very frugal in what they ate. That was all. There were no priests, who acted as shepherds of their flocks and asked that they be supported at the common expense. The Mohammedan churches or mosques were merely large stone halls without benches or pictures, where the faithful could gather (if they felt so inclined) to read and discuss chapters from the Koran, the Holy Book. But the average Mohammedan carried his religion with him and never felt himself hemmed in by the restrictions and regulations of an established church. Five times a day he turned his face towards Mecca, the Holy City, and said a simple prayer. For the rest of the time he let Allah rule the world as he saw fit and accepted whatever fate brought him with patient resignation.
Of course such an attitude towards life did not encourage the Faithful to go forth and invent electrical machinery or bother about railroads and steamship lines. But it gave every Mohammedan a certain amount of contentment. It bade him be at peace with himself and with the world in which he lived and that was a very good thing.
The second reason which explains the success of the Moslems
in their warfare upon the Christians, had to do with the
conduct of those Mohammedan soldiers who went forth to do
battle for the true faith. The Prophet promised that those
who fell, facing the enemy, would go directly to Heaven.
This made sudden death in the field preferable to a long but
dreary existence upon this earth. It gave the Mohammedans
an enormous advantage over the Crusaders who were in constant
dread of a dark hereafter, and who stuck to the good
things of this world as long as they possibly could. Incidentally
it explains why even
Having put his religious house in order, Mohammed now began to enjoy his power as the undisputed ruler of a large number of Arab tribes. But success has been the undoing of a large number of men who were great in the days of adversity. He tried to gain the good will of the rich people by a number of regulations which could appeal to those of wealth. He allowed the Faithful to have four wives. As one wife was a costly investment in those olden days when brides were bought directly from the parents, four wives became a positive luxury except to those who possessed camels and dromedaries and date orchards beyond the dreams of avarice. A religion which at first had been meant for the hardy hunters of the high-skied desert was gradually transformed to suit the needs of the smug merchants who lived in the bazaars of the cities. It was a regrettable change from the original program and it did very little good to the cause of Mohammedanism. As for the prophet himself, he went on preaching the truth of Allah and proclaiming new rules of conduct until he died, quite suddenly, of a fever on June the seventh of the year 632.
His successor as Caliph (or leader) of the Moslems was his father-in-law, Abu-Bekr, who had shared the early dangers of the prophet's life. Two years later, Abu-Bekr died and Omar ibn Al-Khattab followed him. In less than ten years he conquered Egypt, Persia, Phoenicia, Syria and Palestine and made Damascus the capital of the first Mohammedan world empire.
Omar was succeeded by Ali, the husband of Mohammed's daughter, Fatima, but a quarrel broke out upon a point of Moslem doctrine and Ali was murdered. After his death, the caliphate was made hereditary and the leaders of the faithful who had begun their career as the spiritual head of a religious sect became the rulers of a vast empire. They built a new city on the shores of the Euphrates, near the ruins of Babylon and called it Bagdad, and organising the Arab horsemen into regiments of cavalry, they set forth to bring the happiness of their Moslem faith to all unbelievers. In the year 700 A.D. a Mohammedan general by the name of Tarik crossed the old gates of Hercules and reached the high rock on the European side which he called the Gibel-al-tarik, the Hill of Tarik or Gibraltar.
Eleven years later in the battle of Xeres de la Frontera, he defeated the king of the Visigoths and then the Moslem army moved northward and following the route of Hannibal, they crossed the passes of the Pyrenees. They defeated the Duke of Aquitania, who tried to halt them near Bordeaux, and marched upon Paris. But in the year 732 (one hundred years after the death of the prophet,) they were beaten in a battle between Tours and Poitiers. On that day, Charles Martel (Charles with the Hammer) the Frankish chieftain, saved Europe from a Mohammedan conquest. He drove the Moslems out of France, but they maintained themselves in Spain where Abd-ar-Rahman founded the Caliphate of Cordova, which became the greatest centre of science and art of mediaeval Europe.
This Moorish kingdom, so-called because the people came
from Mauretania in Morocco, lasted seven centuries. It was
only after the capture of Granada, the last Moslem stronghold,
in the year 1492, that Columbus received the royal grant which
allowed him to go upon a voyage of discovery. The Mohammedans
soon regained their strength in the new conquests
which they made in Asia and Africa and
The Struggle Between the Cross and the Crescent