Mind of the Musulman: Mohammed's Doctrine
Mohammed's doctrine — Islam is Christianity adapted to Arab mentality — The practical essentials of Islam — The Koran is the work not of a sectarian but of a politician — Mohammed seeks to recruit his followers by every possible means — He deals tactfully with forces he, cannot beat down, and with customs that he cannot abolish — Muslim morality — Fatalism — The essential principles of the reform brought about by the Prophet — Extension to all Muslims of family solidarity — Prohibition of martyrdom — The Muslim bows to force, but keeps his own ideas — The Koran is animated by the spirit of tolerance, Islam is not; the fault rests with the commentators of the second century, who by stereotyping the doctrine and forbidding all subsequent modification, have rendered all progress impossible.
ISLAM is Christianity adapted to Arab mentality, or, more exactly, it is all that the unimaginative brain of a Bedouin, obstinately faithful to ancestral practices, has been able to assimilate of the Christian doctrines. Lacking the gift of imagination, the Bedouin copies, and in copying he distorts the original. Thus Muslim law is only the Roman Code revised and corrected by Arabs; in the same way Muslim science is nothing but Greek science interpreted by the Arab brain; and again, Muslim architecture is merely a distorted imitation of the Byzantine style.
It may be asked how it was that Christianity, which had its adherents in Arabia, did not develop there as it did elsewhere. First, because the Arabs, protected by their deserts, had never been the objective of propaganda supported by force; also because its dogmas were too complicated for the Bedouin understanding; and finally, because it refused unswervingly any compromise with traditions, customs or local superstitions: such as polygamy, pilgrimages to the temple of the Kaaba, the sacred month, circumcision, etc. Mohammed simplified Christianity, or rather, — for he did not go about it consciously with any preconceived plan —, he distorted it without meaning to do so, by interpreting it so far as it was possible for an Arab brain to interpret it. He has borrowed from it all that did not clash with the ideas and customs of the Bedouins: the unity of God, the mission of the Prophet, the immortality of the soul.
The Arabs had long been prepared for the conception of a one and only God, an ancient Sabean belief. It appears, moreover, that the temple of the Kaaba counted among its numerous idols one more powerful or more celebrated than the others — IIlah, which might be compared to the Hebrew Eloah. They were also prepared for the notion of a prophet by the Messianic traditions of the Jews and Christians. As to the idea of the immortality of the soul, the worship of ancestors leads logically to it. Mohammed rejected as abominable errors what he himself could not understand, or what would have been incomprehensible to the Arab brain, or would have clashed with the customs of the Bedouins. The result was a strange medley of beliefs.
The general doctrine of Islam is simple: one supreme God, like that of the Jews and Christians; no Trinity, no Son of God, the place of the Holy Ghost, as intermediary between the Prophet and the Divinity, is taken by the angel Gabriel.
The angels are divine messengers, but they are mortal and will come to life again, like other creatures, at the last day of judgment. The Jews, by denying the heavenly mission of Christ, have incurred the malediction of the Almighty. The Christians have gone astray in inventing dogmas that have not been revealed; but the faithful of both religions can attain salvation, since they admit the two cardinal principles: the unity of God and the last judgment. Jesus Christ is a prophet, but not the son of God; he is the spirit of God, "Rohou Illahi"; he was miraculously conceived by the Virgin Mary. At the end of time he will come down to earth again to exterminate the infidels and to inaugurate the reign of happiness and justice.
After death, punishments or rewards will be allotted to those who have followed or transgressed the divine precepts. The pains of Hell are eternal or not, according to the will of the Almighty. There is a Purgatory. Paradise is reserved for those true believers who have done good and led virtuous lives. Religion alone does not insure salvation, good works are needful, but this point is doubtful.
God rules the world absolutely, and in the humblest details; he has regulated everything in advance, but is able to modify his decisions.
The use of fermented liquors is forbidden, and of certain foods considered injurious to health: dead animals, or those that have not been bled, blood, and the flesh of the pig. Mohammed did not concern himself specially with nature or of person in the Supreme Being, but it also indicates that God is the sole agent, the sole force, the sole action that exists, and that all creatures, matter or spirit, instinct or intelligence, are purely passive; whence the conclusion: all things are as God pleases.
This incommensurable Being, before whom all creatures are reduced to the same level of inertia and passivity, knows no other rule, no other restraint but his sole and absolute will.
We find in the Commentaries of Beydaoui and in the Miskat el Mesabih, a tradition that leaves no doubt as to the conception that Mohammed and his contemporaries formed of the divinity. When Allah resolved to create man, he took into his hands the clay that was to serve in forming humanity, and in which every man pre-existed; dividing it into two equal portions, he threw one into Hell, saying: "Those for everlasting fire"; then, with equal indifference, he threw the other into the sky, adding: " Those for Paradise."
Is there any need to point out the misleading influence of such a doctrine? Acts regarded by man as good or bad become in reality all the same; they have no other value than that attributed to them by the arbitrary will of the Almighty. This is the annihilation of all morality. And as the Muslims find themselves in that half of the Creator's clay destined for the delights of Paradise, it makes little or no difference whether they are good or bad: it is enough for them if they practise the outward observances that distinguish a good Muslim from the unbeliever.
The outward worship comprised five essential practices:
— First, prayer, five times a day, preceded each time by an ablution. This was a practice borrowed from the Sabeans. Note that, with the Muslims, prayer is rather an act of adoration and of devotion than a request addressed to the Almighty, Who knows our legitimate needs without our pointing them out to Him.
— Second, fasting during the sacred month of Rhamadan; this again is a Sabean custom.
— Third, giving alms, which consists in giving to the poor the tenth part of one's income. This almsgiving, or Zekkat, is levied by the Government, acting on the principle that this institution having in view the general utility, it behooves the Government, as representing the community, to regulate the use to which it is put.
— Fourth, the pilgrimage to Mecca, a custom of the idolatrous tribes.
— Fifth, the Holy War, or religious propaganda (Djihad). The Djihad is a duty; the world being divided into two parts, Muslims and non-Muslims, the Dar-el-Islam, or land of Islam, and the Dar-el-Harb, or land of war. "Complete my work," said the Prophet, "extend the house of Islam to all parts. The house of war is God's, God gives it to you. Fight the infidels until there shall be none left."
It follows from this precept that war is the normal state of Islam. The orthodox interpreters have, moreover, settled this point with particular care: The true believer must never cease to fight those who do not think as he does, except when he is not the stronger party. "There can be no peace with the infidel, but, when the Muslims are not in sufficient force, there is no harm in their giving up the Djihad for a certain time."
This last recommendation explains the attitude of Muslims temporarily subject to a foreign power. Reduced to impotency, they conceal their impatience while they are waiting for the advent of "Moul-es-Saa," the Master of the hour, the man of genius who will be able, with divine protection, to bring together all the forces of Islam for the deliverance of the believers from the unbelievers’ yoke.
This mixture of pagan customs, Sabean practices, and doctrines borrowed from Christianity shows the eclectic character of Islam, or rather of the Koran; for it is desirable to establish a distinction between the Koran and Islam. The Koran is animated by a certain spirit of tolerance; Islam, on the contrary, has become an intolerant religion that admits no idea from the outer world, not even such as are outside the purely denominational sphere.
The Koran is not the work of a sectarian blinded by narrow prejudice; it is the work of a politician anxious to draw to himself by all possible means the greatest number of adherents. According to the circumstances, Mohammed flatters, promises or threatens; but the flattery and the promises are more frequent than the threats.
The reason is obvious: he is striving to establish his doctrine; he therefore does his best to make it seductive by accepting now the prejudices of one party, and now the customs of another. He makes no frontal attacks upon received ideas or inveterate habits; he includes them bodily in his doctrine, softening them down when they do not please him. In the same way he does not fight openly powers too firmly established; he compromises with some of them and gives way to others, ready to stand up to them when circumstances permit.
It was thus that he handled the Christians, the Jews, and the Sabeans because they were numerous in Arabia. "The Christians," he says, " will be judged by their Gospels; those who judged them otherwise would be prevaricators. . . . Only enter into discussion with Jews and Christians in sincere and moderate terms. . . of a truth Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Sabeans, all those who believe in God and in the last judgment and who do good will be rewarded at His hands; they will be exempt from fear and from punishment." Later on he attacks them, but with prudence.
In the same way, he seeks to make himself the champion of women, of whom he speaks always with benevolence, and whose position he tried to ameliorate. Before his reform, women and children could not inherit; and, what was even worse, the nearest relation of the defunct took possession of his women and their property, in the same way as he took over his slaves together with their savings. Mohammed gave women the right to inherit and often insisted in their favor. His last sermon at Mecca contained these memorable words: "Treat your wives well; they are your helpers and can do nothing by themselves." He well knew that if a woman is a slave by day, by night she is a queen, and her influence is at all times worthy of consideration.
He also tried to win over the slaves by making their enfranchisement easier and by recommending it as a meritorious action. He laid down that a slave who conceives to her master thereby acquires her freedom, and that the son of a slave by a freeman is free.
If we would explain the attitude of the Prophet by an illustration taken from modern life, we could find no better comparison than to a parliamentary candidate during his electoral campaign. Like him, Mohammed does not trouble about the quality of his supporters, but their number; and to secure their votes he is ready to make any concessions; he shuts his eyes to divergences of opinion, and moderates his requirements.
So, in order not to clash with Arab customs, he accepts polygamy, but he tempers it by limiting the number of wives to four, and by improving the position of the wife and of the children. In the same way he accepts circumcision, slavery, the sacred month of fasting, the pilgrimage to Mecca, the worship paid to the stone at the Kaaba, all of them rites of Arab paganism.
The same desire to please is found in the picture he paints of the paradise promised to the elect; it is such an ideal as a Bedouin would form in his mind: shade, cool springs, charming women who do not grow old; it is a catalogue of what the nomad finds in an oasis on returning from his wanderings in the desert. The singing-girls do not grow old, or at least one does not see them aging, because they abandon their profession as soon as age renders them less desirable.
As an able politician, Mohammed handles all with tact and tries to please everybody. He only imposes one condition: acceptance of Islam and the recognition of his divine mission. The majority of his personal conceptions, those that he seems to have evolved from his inner consciousness, are inspired by this desire of recruiting followers, and, above all, of keeping them in the Muslim faith and preventing them from forsaking it.
There are two of these conceptions that dominate all Islam and which have exercised considerable influence over Muslim peoples. The first is the extension to all true believers of the spirit of solidarity which animates the members of the same tribe. Among the Bedouins the social horizon stops at the tribe; his neighbour is a man of the same tribe, a relation, a cousin in some degree. Outside the tribe he has no neighbor, and therefore no social obligations. In proclaiming the brotherhood of all his adherents, Mohammed succeeded in making of Islam a closely united family, and of creating between the individual members sentiments of clanship of which we can observe the power at the present day. The tribe, it is true, did not always forget their ancient rivalries, especially during the first centuries of Islam; and Muslim history abounds in incidents provoked by family antagonism; but, with time, hatreds and misunderstandings were toned down, and if at certain periods of the splendor of the Empire of the Caliphs the tribes, having no outside enemy to combat, gave free rein to their independent spirit, it is no less true that, as soon as Islam was menaced, they remembered their religious brotherhood and formed a united front against the common enemy. (And we see how at the present time every blow struck against the freedom of any Muslim people sends a tremor at once through the whole of Islam.)
This solidarity was a great attraction for the conquered nations, and it was the desire to profit by it that brought over most of the recruits to Islam.
Every convert at once enjoyed all the privileges of a Muslim: a foreigner and an enemy the day before, he became by simple conversion an equal and a brother. "Know," said Mohammed, in his last sermon at Mecca, "know that you are all equal among yourselves, and that you form a family of brothers." This spirit of solidarity is kept up by the custom of the pilgrimage to Mecca. The peremptory duty imposed upon the Believer to visit the Holy City at least once in his life has contributed in the greatest measure to maintain the unity of belief throughout Islam, as well as the sentiment of religious brotherhood. Every year, around the temple of the Kaaba, representatives of every portion of the Muslim world, from India to Morocco, meet, mix together, live in intimate association, performing side by side the same rites, the same practices, and communicating in the same ideal. All divergence of opinion, all nascent heresy, are immediately swept away by the great breath of unity that passes over these people prostrate in adoration of the same idea. No other religion offers anything comparable to this pilgrimage to the city which is, according to the Arab expression, the “ Navel of the Islamic faith.”
The second original conception of the Prophet is his prohibition of martyrdom. He frequently insists upon this point: the Muslim should not suffer for his beliefs. If he is the stronger, he ought to impose them, but if he finds himself too weak to resist with any prospect of success, he must submit for the time being to every foreign law that is forced upon him by violence. According to a fundamental precept of Islamic law, the dogma of constraint, his powerlessness takes from his conduct all blameable character.
For him to obey a non-Muslim power, or even one hostile to Islam, is not to abjure his religion, but simply to avoid useless suffering. He makes a semblance of yielding, but preserves intact in his heart his faith and his ideas. Whatever his attitude, the Muslim never ceases to be a Muslim; but as soon as the power that renders the constraint effective ceases, he must immediately throw off the law imposed upon him, under penalty of incurring eternal punishment.
By the dogma of constraint, the Muslim is protected from all violence. Whatever the circumstances and the vicissitudes, his conscience remains intact. Under the threat of force he can bind himself by the most solemn oaths, but they are mere empty words. This is an example of the theory of the" scrap of paper" that the Germans have made famous. The merit of martyrdom disappears, but abjuration becomes impossible. The result is that the brain of the true believer is unassailable, impenetrable, irremediably closed to outside ideas; and it is this that explains why for centuries past the Muslims have not made any concession to progress, and have abandoned none of their beliefs.
It is this, that explains also the return to ancestral practices of so many of the French Algerian subjects, officers or officials, who, after a career loyally accomplished, to all appearance, under foreign rule, go back, when circumstances permit, to their old habits.
They have been able to live in our midst and to give the illusion that they have adopted our manners and our conceptions, without being in the very least affected by our ideas. In spite of outward concessions to the manners of the time, they preserve intact their robust faith that admits neither compromise nor argument, and naIvely delights in its "credo quia absurdum."
Mohammed certainly never anticipated an intransigence carried to this extreme, as he himself never scrupled to borrow from other religions whatever he thought would be useful. How then, has Islam, contrary to the spirit of the Koran, become intolerant? The answer is that the Koran no longer influences individuals; it is no longer the Koran that directs and regulates the conduct of the faithful. The Koran is not, as is generally believed, the civil and religious code of the Muslims. It contains potentially the whole of Islamic legislation; it constitutes a sort of quintessence of the laws, but it cannot replace them. It is the law of the Muslims, just as the Pentateuch is the law of the Jews, and the Gospel that of the Christians. The same causes have produced the same effects in the three religions. In the early centuries of the Church, the Christian councils forbade the interpretation of the Gospels and substituted for them as a code the body of the canon law; in the same way the Jews substituted the Talmud for the Pentateuch; so the Caliphs, the successors of Mohammed, in accordance with the doctors of the Faith, forbade all exposition of the Koran outside of the four orthodox commentaries, which from that time down to the present have formed the Corpus Juris of Muslim nations. This body of law, sanctioned by the unanimous accordance of peoples and princes, is the law, of divine authority, according to their belief, like the Koran of which it is the expansion.
This work was accomplished in the second century of the Hegira, at a period when Islam, triumphant and commanding irresistible material force, had no longer any need to use tact in dealing with authority; but dictated its will and pleasure to all nations, and enforced them by violence.
The leaders of the Muslim armies confronted the infidel with this formula: "Abjure or die; abjure or be a slave." Thus, to gain a knowledge of the real doctrine of Islam, of that which has influenced the Muslim nations, recourse must be had not to the Koran but to the interpretations of the Koran made by learned doctors of the Faith. They have fixed the doctrine and have rendered it definitive, unchangeable and in consequence imperfectible [can never lose its perfection]. And as among the Muslims it is the law of religious inspiration that regulates every act, it has been impossible for them to accept any progress, even in matters that do not affect the Faith, as for example matters of an economic or scientific nature.
The spirit of the orthodox interpreters of the Koran is utterly different from that of Mohammed. The Prophet's intention was to appropriate from other nations everything that seemed capable of strengthening his doctrine and attracting disciples. It was a liberal conception that might have made Islam the universal religion. Unfortunately, the doctors of the Faith have made any accommodation or any addition impossible. By their action a blind fanaticism has replaced the liberal spirit of the Koran, and has killed any germ of progress in Islam. The immutability of its institutions has ended in molding individuals and the whole nation. It is this that explains how the Muslim nations have remained and still remain insensible and even hostile to Western civilization.
The Believer cannot accept, without abjuring, any truth of whatever nature if it is not Islamized, that is to say, unless it is proved to him that it is supported by one of the sacred foundations laid by God and his Prophet. But it is not permissible for anyone in Islam to establish this proof; it is, therefore, impossible to introduce into the Law, and consequently into society, the modifications dictated by the evolution of ideas and the progress of science.
To understand this "immobilization" of the Muslim nations one would have to imagine what the Christian world would have become if, no distinction having been established between the spiritual and the temporal, it had remained under the discipline of the canon law of the earlier centuries. The autonomy accorded to each of these two powers has allowed the temporal to develop in accordance with the progress of the times, without having to rebel against the spiritual. Among Muslims this distinction does not exist; the religious law is at the same time the civil law, God is the legislator; every act of a Believer, whatever it may be, depends upon His will, and is submitted to His judgment. This conception has made of Islam a society under theocratic government, like the vanished societies of Egypt and the Orient; and it is abundantly clear that any such society, obstinately hostile to all evolution, i.e., to all progress, can only stagnate outside the civilizing currents that are bearing humanity towards the future. To rise out of its immobility it would have to deny its faith; but no Muslim in any part of the world has ever thought of such a thing without horror.
Islam stands in this modern world like a mournful statue of the past.