Mind of the Musulman: The Muslim Community is Theocratic
The Muslim community is theocratic — Religious law, inflexible and immutable, regulates its institutions as well as individual conduct — Legislation-Education-Government — The position of women — Commerce — Property — No originality in Muslim institutions — The Arab has imitated and distorted — In his manifestations of intellectual activity he appears to be paralytic, and since he has impregnated Islam with his inertia, the nations who have adopted this religion are stricken with the same sterility — All Muslims, whatever their ethnic origin, think and act like a Bedouin barbarian of the time of Mohammed.
HAVING studied the history of the Arab Empire and penetrated the causes of its decline and fall, we are in a better position to understand the psychology of the Muslim or rather that deformation that has come about through Arab influence, with Islam as its instrument, in every individual who has adopted this religion.
The Muslim community is theocratic; everything in it is regulated by religious law, the most trivial actions of the individual as well as its institutions. God is the supreme master. Knowledge is not considered to be a means of knowing Him better, or of serving Him more intelligently. Human intelligence and human activity have no other object than to glorify Him. The individual is brought to this conception by a whole network of measures and enactments woven by the doctors of the faith in the second century of the Hegira.
Ibn-Khaldoun says in his Prolegomena that one of the distinctive marks of Muslim civilization is the practice of teaching the Koran to young children. He might have added that the teaching of the Holy Book, to the exclusion of all else, constitutes the curriculum of primary, secondary, and higher studies. God being the dispenser of all good things, everything is brought back to Him — science, the arts, and all manifestations of human activity. To know His word is the sole preoccupation of the faithful; but the Koran is written in a dead language that a Muslim cannot understand without special study; and so, to simplify the task, he has had to be content with reading the sacred text without seeking to understand it, To read well, to pronounce the words correctly, there you have the whole scibile [sibyl? scylla?] of the nations of Islam.
Moreover, it would be of no service to a believer to be able to understand the divine word, since he is not allowed to interpret it, nor to take it as his rule of conduct by applying it to current events. The interpretation of the Koran has been fixed once for all by the orthodox commentators; this interpretation is final, and no Muslim may modify it under penalty of apostasy. This formal and irrevocable prohibition shuts the Mohammedan nations off from all progress.
Executed at a barbarous epoch, the orthodox interpretation has for a long time past fallen short of the progress in every domain realized by civilized nations; the world has evolved, but the true believer, entangled in a net of obsolete texts, cannot follow this evolution. In the midst of modern States he remains a man of the Middle Ages.
To convince oneself of this it is only necessary to make a cursory examination of the various institutions of the Islamic community.
Legislation — The Koran is, in principle, the source from which the Muslims have drawn their inspiration; but Mohammed had neither the time, nor possibly even the intention of establishing an exact doctrine settled in all its details.
In his anxiety to attract followers, he tried his best to please everybody. He was a diplomat and a tribune rather than a legislator. According to circumstances, he expressed an opinion or a theory which he had no hesitation in repealing on the following day, if the interest of the moment demanded it.
Again, the Koran contains commandments so contradictory that it would be difficult to extract any precise rules of conduct from it, beyond the recognition of the unity of God and the mission of His Messenger. In this way Mohammed at one time declared that Christians and Jews, people of the Book, were to be respected for the same reason as Muslims; and at another time that they were to be exterminated without mercy. This is but one example of his contradictions; many others might be quoted.
The consequence is that the Koran is a singularly confused code, and that the successors of the Prophet, charged with its application, were sometimes very much embarrassed. The more scrupulous of them surrounded themselves with counselors chosen from among those who had lived on intimate terms with the Messenger of God and were supposed to know his mind. Others acted on the inspiration of the moment, often enough according to their own good will and pleasure. But when the tide of Arab conquest had extended the Empire, the Caliph, finding it a physical impossibility to dispense justice by himself unaided, had to delegate his powers, and as it would be dangerous to leave each of these delegates at liberty to interpret the sacred texts for himself, the necessity of drawing up a code sufficiently precise for their use was recognized.
The work roughly drafted by the earlier Caliphs and continued after them in different parts of the Empire, was finished by certain jurisconsults [councillors in law] who were the founders of the four orthodox rites: Malekite, Hanefite, Chafeite, and Hanbalite. The work of each of the four interpreters of the Koran, conceived on the same principles, is a sort of compilation of very diverse texts. These are:
— 1. The commandments of the Koran.
— 2. The sayings of the Prophet, recorded by his early companions. The word of God (Koran), and the conduct of his Envoy (Sounnet), are the chief sources of Muslim law. The divine word was communicated by the angel of the Lord to Mohammed, and by him transmitted to men, in terms identical with those the angel had used and which the Elect of the Most High (Moustafa) had faithfully preserved in his memory. The conduct of the Prophet is similarly the result of divine inspiration, direct and immediate; it comprises the sayings, the actions, and the approbations, explicit or tacit, of the founder of Islam. God and the Prophet are the Muslim legislators; their legislation is, according to the sanctioned phrase, a precious gift of Heaven.
But the commandments of God (Koran) and those of the Prophet (Sounnet) were not sufficient to meet all cases; it was, therefore, necessary to complete them.
The jurisconsults [religious lawyers], incapable of accomplishing this work by drawing from their own inner consciousness, sought elsewhere the inspiration they lacked. The sources from which they drew are known: -
— 3. Roman Law, which was in force in the majority of the newly conquered countries — Syria, Egypt, and Maghreb. But in adopting these laws, the Arabs distorted them to such an extent that their original signification was lost;
— 4. Pre-Islamic customs which, while not condemned by the Koran, were considered as approved; and others which had been modified by the Prophet without having been abolished;
— 5. The Old Testament, for the commandments relating to murder and adultery;
— 6. Judgments delivered by the Caliphs in accordance with the Koran.
According to the orthodox commentators who fixed the doctrine, legislation is the acquaintance of man with his rights and duties. This knowledge is obtained by study of the science of law which comprises both philosophy and morals.
Philosophy lays down the relations of man to other beings, and between man and the Legislator par excellence, who is God. Morality teaches the relations which ought to exist between the individual members of a community, or between the individual and the community. It forms the conscience of the man and that of the Judge, and strengthens it to the point of enabling the one and the other to distinguish beauty (legality) from ugliness (illegality).
The four interpretations of the Koran represent four different texts. Wherever Muslim law is in force every believer may choose one or other of these interpretations; but his choice once made, he must see that his conduct conforms to it.
The works of the commentators have replaced the Koran itself to such an extent that the Koran can no longer be quoted in support of a judgment. A legal decision stated as being based upon a text directly derived from the revealed Book would be null and void, and might entail a penalty upon its author. Such a mode of proceeding would constitute, in effect, a heresy, and would be regarded as an attempted insubordination to the orthodox interpretations. These are final and unchangeable. No one has any right to modify them by extension or restriction.
But, as they were drawn up in the second century of the Hegira, at a barbarous period, they have immobilized the Muslim community, and now they hinder its evolution. They have afflicted the brains of all believers with irremediable stagnation; and so long as they are in force, those believers will remain incapable of progress and civilization.
Education — According to the Muslim doctors, human knowledge is derived from two principal sources: - reason and faith. Again, the sciences form two classes: the rational (Aklia) and the imposed or positive (Ouadiya).
The rational comprise those that man can acquire by his own reason, without the help of revelation: such are geography, mathematics, chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc.; they are considered as secondary, and in the programs of teaching, or curricula, they yield the first place to the sciences of revelation that man owes to the divine generosity. These comprise two categories:
The sciences of language, or instrumental sciences — reading and writing, which allow one to approach the study of the Koran.
The sciences of law which treat of the reading of the revealed Book and of the legislative application of the divine words, made by the orthodox interpreters.
The sciences of law are subdivided into sciences of origin and sciences deduced from these original sources. The sciences of origin concern the study of the sources of religion and of law, that is to say the Koran and the conduct of the Prophet. This study comprises first the reading of the Koran and of the Hadith, or collected sayings of Mohammed; it is the application to the sacred texts of the principles taught by the sciences of language. As soon as one has acquired the perfect reading of the Koran, one proceeds to the explanation of the words which together make up the revealed Book; this is called the annotation.
When the student possesses a complete knowledge of the origins or sources, he passes on to the study of the deduced sciences, that is to say, those that flow from the sources properly so-called: viz., the Koran and the Hadith. They comprise the study of religious doctrine and of the beliefs connected with it, and of the theory of law and of the applications of the law.
Law forms part of the theological sciences because it enables one to distinguish the licit from the illicit, good from evil, according to the commandments of the Koran and of the Hadith., "The theory of law forms the first subdivision of legislative sciences. The applications of law are divided into three distinct groups. The first refers to human actions having a religious character: prayer, fasting, the obligation of giving alms, the pilgrimage, the holy war; the second refers to legal dispositions concerning human actions of a purely social and contractual character.”
Such is Muslim education: it is pure scholasticism [tradition]. It may be well to add that this education is given in the mosques, that each professor takes the course that suits him, and each student follows the lectures of his favourite professor. Neither matriculation nor diplomas limit the entire liberty enjoyed by the professors and their pupils. There exists, however, one form of recognition of the studies pursued. Each professor delivers to the most meritorious of his pupils an authorization to teach in their turn (Idjaza). The Idjaza is delivered either in writing or it is given orally by the professor, not for one science or for a group of sciences, but just for one book read or learned, for one definite branch of a science; for instance for one reading of the Koran, for several of these readings, or for all the readings; for the Hadith, for grammar, for caligraphy, or for one or several of the commentaries.
Such an education is almost fruitless, since the scientific part is suppressed in favor of the theological part. It benumbs the brain and renders knowledge stationary.
A nation might read the Koran and explain minutely every word for centuries without advancing one step on the road to progress. By marking time, as it were, in the tedious repetition of a tiresome lesson, the mind loses its elasticity, its sagacity, and its curiosity; the intellect becomes atrophied and incapable of an original effort. It is here that we must seek for the cause of the intellectual torpor of Muslim nations.
The Muslim Community: The Government. — In studying any Muslim institution, we must never lose sight of the fact that the laws governing it are of a religious order. The Muslim community is steeped in a religious atmosphere. The language and the legislation are the gifts of God; everything in Islam is contained in religion. Public and private instruction, administration, justice, finance, the assessment of taxes, international relations, peace, war, commerce, the arts, trades, and professions, the exercise of charity, public security, public works, all have a religious character. Nothing can be maintained, nothing will work except through religion and through its ordinances. A learned Asiatic calls the peoples of Islam "Corpora ecclesiae.”
The government, like the other institutions, is of religious inspiration. The Caliphate, a mode of government that succeeded to the patriarchal administration of the Prophet, was a religious institution fraternal and popular. Muslim authors give the following definition of it: "Muslims should be ruled by an Imam (Caliph) having the right and authority to watch over the observance of the precepts of the law, to see that legal penalties are enforced, to defend the frontiers, to raise armies, to levy the fiscal tithes, to suppress rebels and brigands, to celebrate public prayer on Fridays and the feasts of Beyram, to judge the citizens, to admit juridical proofs in contested cases, to marry children under the legal age, of either sex, who have no natural guardians, to proceed finally to the division of legal booty."
In its origin, in conformity with the institutions of the Prophet, the Caliphate was not a despotic government.
"The theocratic law of Islam forbids any individual to act capriciously, solely according to his personal leanings; it ordains and protects the rights of private persons; it imposes on the sovereign the duty of taking counsel before action. This law has been imposed by God upon his impeccable Prophet, although, as such, he had no need to consult anybody, since he was acting under divine inspiration and was endowed with all perfections. But that injunction was only laid upon the Prophet for a high reason, which was to establish an obligatory rule for all who should come after him.”
This theory fell into disuse when the Arabs, extending their conquests, found themselves in the midst of people accustomed to despotic rule, like the Syrians, the Persians, the Egyptians, etc. The Caliph then became an absolute sovereign and the Caliphate a sort of military despotism which had its apogee about the second century of the Hegira, with the dynasty of the Abbassids. As it was at this period that the foundations of the different institutions were fixed by law, it followed that the doctrine relating to government was naturally inspired by that which then existed, and that the principle of the absolute power of the Caliph became a dogma. The doctors of the faith who drew up the legislative texts intended to reserve to themselves a share in the government by specifying that the prince could not decide upon any matter without first consulting them; but as they were at the mercy of his will and pleasure, it was he who, in reality, exercised power without control.
In fact, the Muslim sovereign is an absolute monarch, a military war-lord and a religious ruler in one. He has the power of life and death over his subjects.
The best proof of this is that they pay a capitation tax, a sort of ransom or permission to live, for which the official receipt bears these significant words:
"Ransom from being beheaded." Whoever owns property is only the usufructuary of his estate; on his death, the sovereign can claim the whole or part of his heritage.
The role of the prince would be a crushing burden for one man; but in the East, where one soon becomes a believer in the minimum of effort, the Caliphs were not long in finding a means of lightening their task by delegating their powers to a Vizier. The latter passed his own on to the Pasha; the Pasha shuffled off his duties on to the Bey; the Bey on to the Caid, and the Caid on to the Sheikh.
Such a division of authority augments the number of oppressors, favors bribery and corruption, and hands over the population to an innumerable rabble of parasites.
The Vizier takes the sovereign's place in the administration of affairs, the command of the army, and the supervision of the officials. His office is a dangerous one; the holder serves as a buffer between prince and people; he must endure the caprices of the one and incur the hatred of the other; but the position is so lucrative, it admits of so much extortion, that candidates have never been wanting.
Administrative decisions are taken by a divan or Council of State, composed of high personages; but they, chiefly concerned to carry favor with the prince or with his Vizier, are but servile creatures, ready for any compromising actions.
The Ulemas, or doctors of theology and jurisprudence, form a special body whose duty is to watch over the observance of the fundamental laws to register as religious dogmas the decrees issued by the Council of State. This control is purely theoretical, since the Ulemas depend upon the goodwill and pleasure of the sovereign. They are, in addition, charged with the dispensation of justice.
Their supreme head is the Sheikh-El-Islam, who must be consulted when a law is to be decreed, a tax imposed, or a war undertaken; he has under his orders the Cadis [caids] who dispense justice without appeal.
The purely civil authority is wielded by the Pashas or governors, whose business it is to see to the maintenance of order and the payment of taxes.
In principle, there can only be one sovereign in Islam — the Commander of the Faithful. According to the Hadith, he should be of Koreich origin; but, in the absence of a suitable member of that family, it is the man who at the moment has the disposal of the material force that guards the interests of the Empire. His nationality matters little; for the Muslim has only one country — Islam. He does not die for his country but for his faith. He is neither a Turk, an Egyptian, nor an Arab; he is simply a Believer.
To conclude, Caliphate government is a barbarous government, that of a conquering minority, occupying countries subdued by force of arms, and solely concerned with exploiting them to its profit. It is a government of parasites, indifferent to the needs and the interests of the community. The Arab, incapable of devising anything new, has retained his primitive conception of government, necessitated by circumstances, at the time when he was rushing to the conquest of the world.
The Position of Women — If we were to go by the commandments of the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet, the Muslim woman might be regarded as enjoying favorable treatment. As an able diplomat, Mohammed tried to win over woman to his cause and to make an ally of her at a time when he was struggling with his own people. This desire shows itself in all his sermons, and indeed the Bedouin woman does owe a great deal to him. Before his time, she was a sort of inferior being, without legal position, a slave to the good pleasure of the male. Mohammed tried to tone down the extreme egoism of the barbarous customs of which she was the victim.
Exhortations to kindness abound in the Koran:
"Fear the Lord, and honour the womb that bore thee. . . Oh Believers! it is not lawful for you to make yourselves the heirs of your wives against their will, nor to hinder them from marrying again when you have put them away, so that you may take away from them a portion of what you have given them. Be kind in your behavior towards them. If you wish to change one woman for another, and you have given one of them a hundred dinars, let her keep it all.”
"Are you keeping your wife? treat her properly: are you divorcing her? do it generously."
There is the same spirit of benevolence in the sayings of the Prophet collected in the Hadith: "God commandeth you to be kind to your women; they are your mothers, your daughters, your aunts."
In his own actions Mohammed set the example of kindness. He used often to amuse himself among his women; and the story is told that one day he was running races with Aisha, and she beat him; but the second time it was the Prophet who won. Then Mohammed said to her: "The game is equal, O Aisha."
One day he invited some Abyssinians to come and play at his house, and asked his wife to be present at their games; but, in order that she should not be seen by the audience, he placed her between the two doors of the house and stood in front of her, remaining in this position until she had finished watching the players. Then, when his wife had returned to her own apartments, the Prophet, addressing the company, said: "The best of Believers is he who shows the most gentleness and delicacy towards women. The first among you is he who is most amiable with his women, and I am better than you as regards my own."
Before his death, Mohammed again insisted in favor of a cause that was dear to him:
"Treat women well; they are your helpers and they can do nothing by themselves; you have taken them as a property that God has entrusted to you and you have taken possession of them with divine words."
It must at the same time be admitted that the Prophet has also made certain concessions to male jealousy, and that he has recognized certain Arab customs:
"Virtuous women are obedient and submissive, those who disobey you will banish to a separate bed and you will beat them."
"Bid the women who believe to lower their eyes, to observe continence, to allow none but their outward charms to be seen, to cover their bosom with a veil, to let none but their husband, their father, or their husband's father see their charms. . or children who cannot distinguish the difference of sex. Women must not wave their feet about in a way to display their hidden charms.”
One day a woman asked the Prophet what were the duties of a wife towards her husband: to her he replied: "A wife should not leave her home without her husband's leave; it is this consideration that justifies the use of the veil."
In their intimacy, she should comply with all the desires of the male. "Go to your field as you like"; which the commentators explain as follows: "Venite ad agrum vestrum quomodocumque volueritis, id est stando, sedendo, jacendo, a parte anteriori, seu posteriori."
Mohammed has not spoken of the education of women. The majority of the commentators hold that she ought to be forbidden to learn writing, poetry, and composition, because these studies contain a pernicious element that might spoil her mind and character.
If account be taken of the usual customs of his day, it cannot be denied that the Prophet sensibly ameliorated the position of women; but there happened to her what happens in the Muslim community in every direction of thought.
Mohammed was of his time; it was impossible for him to foresee the evolution in ideas and in manners that would be accomplished after him. His words were applicable to the present and not to the future. If he could have foreseen this future, it is probable, given his temperament, that he would have accepted its progress. Unfortunately, the orthodox interpreters of the Koran and of the Hadith, in the narrowness of their minds and in the blindness of their fanaticism holding to the letter rather than to the spirit of the sacred texts, fixed for all time the position of the Muslim woman; and as they took for their basis the customs of the period, they rendered any ulterior improvement impossible.
Humanity has made some progress since the second century of the Hegira; the Muslim community has been unable to follow this evolution.
The consequence is that women are treated today, throughout Islam, as their female ancestors were treated in the time of the Prophet. But what was then progress is nowadays retrogression.
The Muslim woman thinks and behaves as did the ladies of Mohammed's harem. Isolated from the life beyond her threshold, she remains in the barbarism of ancestral custom. Her present position, compared with that of the women of other religions, is that of a slave. A magnificently got up animal, a beast of pleasure in the rich man's house; a beast of burden among the poor; she is nothing but a poor creature handed over to the good pleasure of the male.
Condemned to ignorance by the egoism of man, she cannot even build in hope upon the future. She is the eternal cloistered captive, the eternal slave. Her ignorance and her barbarism have their weight upon the children she rears and to whom she transmits her opinions and prejudices. Ignorant herself she creates others like her; a barbarian, she spreads barbarism around her; a slave, she gives her children slaves' souls, together with all the vices of a servile nature — dissimulation, lying, and deceit.
Commerce — It has already been said, but it cannot be too often repeated, that everything, in the Muslim community, assumes a religious character.
All manifestations of human activity are subjected to dogma, and can only be developed within the limits fixed and sanctioned by the rules of the faith. Commerce does not escape this tutelage, the laws that regulate it are inspired by religious considerations.
"The object of every contract," says Khalil, " should be: first, free from defilement; second, useful; third, lawful; fourth, possible. So the following cannot be the object of a contract: manure, damaged oil, forbidden meat, an animal on the point of death, a sporting-dog, a stray camel, anything detained by violence in the hands of a third party."
The Koran having forbidden usury, the interpreters have " gone one better" on this prohibition. Muslim law qualifies as usury not only illicit gain, as we understand it, but " all profit or advantage discounted or allowed in the exchange of gold and silver or in the exchange of foodstuffs. . . the wages taken in kind by the goldsmith from the weight of metal given to him to work up, or by the master of the oil-press on the weight of olives to be crushed; every combination suspected of concealing a loan under the form of a sale or amounting to a usurious profit."
In his desire to hinder usury, the Muslim legislator has fallen into subtleties that verge upon the absurd. As an example, the following clause: " One cannot buy for gold what has been sold on credit for silver, nor for one currency that which has been sold in another." Lending at interest is forbidden in principle, but as it was difficult to suppress it altogether, it was replaced by sleeping partnership and by real pact or contract.
"Sleeping partnership is a contract under which one entrusts money to a merchant, for him to trade with, on condition of participation in the profits thereof." This form of loan was in existence among the ancient Arabs long before Islam; it was by a contract of this nature that Mohammed became the partner of Khadija.
"A real pact is a contract for a consideration, unilateral, creating a personal obligation to give a certain corporeal object, of a different nature from the thing received and not consisting of cash." It is a form of barter.
The attraction of gain being in reality the principal element in all commercial activity, the legislator has not been able to abolish the loan at interest. He fights with energy against usury; he solemnly declares that the exchange of produce or of objects ought not to give rise to any gain, but he immediately adds this subtle restriction: "unless these things do not differ in the use to which they are destined. Thus, one may demand for a donkey of the Cairo breed two Arab donkeys; for a race-horse two pack-horses; more young animals in exchange for a full-grown one; a sword of good make for several ordinary swords. There you have the loan at interest not only tolerated, but authorized. Who is going to interfere with the lender and compel him to swear that he has given a race-horse to the borrower, who pledges himself to repay two pack-horses, when in reality the horse lent may be identical in kind with the horses repaid, one of these representing the interest on the capital advanced?
Property — In that which concerns property there is the same desire and the same impossibility of preventing usury. Mortgage is forbidden, but its place is taken by pledging, or rahnia. "By rahnia is meant that which is handed over as the security for a debt.” Muslim law distinguishes the pledging or pawning of a movable possession from the hypothecation of revenue, or nantissement, of an immovable possession. This sort of contract, far from hindering usury, favors it. The creditor is authorized to enjoy the pledged possession; but this enjoyment, which represents the interest on his capital, often exceeds in value what our legislation considers as a lawful rate of interest. In the majority of cases, the borrower being unable to pay his debt, the lender keeps the pledged possession and disposes of it, as the real owner, for a ridiculous price.
Property among a barbarous people is threatened by manifold dangers, and notably from spoliation. Muslim law tries to protect it, and it is with this object that it has instituted habous, the idea of which was inspired by the Novellae and the Institutes of Justinian. The habous is an institution according to which the owner of a property renders it inalienable by making over the enjoyment of it to some pious object or work of public utility, either immediately or on the extinction of the intermediate inheritors whom he names. The head of a family thus protects his possessions from the extravagance of his heirs or from the covetousness and encroachment of influential personages.
There are also two liabilities to be noticed which encumber Muslim property, and which were, and still are, the cause of numerous quarrels between Europeans and natives — the rights of sport and of pasture. "No man may forbid hunting and fishing, even on his own land. No man may forbid common rights of pasture on his waste lands or on land from which the crops have been reaped."
Landed property among the Arabs is subjected to a communistic regime. The land belongs to God, represented by the Caliph, who leaves the use of it to the Muslim community. This regime which is suitable to nomadism is fatal to the development of agricultural labour.