Sacred-Texts Islam
Index Previous Next

p. vii


   MOHAMMED has been frequently reproached with having altered and added most arbitrarily to the religious history of the Jews and Christians, two important considerations not being sufficiently borne in mind. In the first place, it is probable that Mohammed learned only late in life to write, or even to read the Arabic, and he was unquestionably ignorant of every other apoken or written language, as is sufficiently apparent from historical testimony: hence he was unable to draw from the Old and New Testaments for himself, and was entirely restricted to oral instruction from Jews and Christians.

   Sccondly, Mohammed himself declared both the Old and New Testaments, as possessed by the Jews and Christians of his time, to have been falsified; and, consequently, his own divine mission could be expected to agree with those writings only in part. But the turning-point on which the greater portion of the Koran hinges—the doctrine of the unity of God, a doctrine which he embraced with the utmost consistency, and armed with which he appeared as a prophet before the pagan Arabs, who were addicted to p. viii the most diversified Polytheism—appeared to him much obscured in the Gospels, and he was therefore forced to protest against their genuineness.

   But with regard to the writings of the Jews of the Old Testament, which he had received from the mouth of his Jewish contemporaries, he was induced to believe, or, at least, pretended to believe, that they too had undergone many changes, inasmuch as Ismael, from whom he was sprung, was evidently treated therein as a step-child, or as the son of a discarded slave; whereas Abraham's paternal love and solicitude, as well as the special favor of the Lord, were the exclusive portion of Isaac and his descendants. The predictions respecting the Messiah, too, as declared in the writings of the Prophets, appeared to him incompatible with the faith in himself as the seal of the Prophets. Moreover, Mohammed was probably indebted for his religious education to a man who, abandoning the religion of Arabia, his native country, had sought refuge first in Judaism, and then in Christianity, though even in the latter he does not seem to have found perfect satisfaction. This man, a cousin of his wife Kadidja, urged forward by an irresistible desire after the knowledge of truth, but, as his repeated apostasies would serve to show, being of a skeptical nature, may have discovered p. ix the errors that had crept into all the religious system of his time; and having extracted from them that which was purely Divine, and freed it from the inventions of men, may have propounded it to his disciple, who, deeply affected by its repeated inculcation, at length felt within himself a call to become the restorer of the old and pure religion. A Judaism without the many ritual and ceremonial laws, which, according to Mohammed's declaration, even Christ had been called to abolish, or a Christianity without the Trinity, crucifixion, and salvation connected therewith—this was the creed which, in the early period of his mission, Mohammed preached with unfeigned enthusiasm.

   It would be out of place here to exhibit in detail the rapidly-changing character both of Mohammed and his doctrines; but what has been said appeared indispensable by way of introduction to the legends in this work. With the exception of a few later additions, these legends are derived from Mohammed himself. Their essential features are found even in the Koran, and what is merely alluded to there is carried out and completed by oral traditions. Hence these legends occupy a twofold place in Arabic literature. The whole circle of the traditions, from Adam to Christ, containing, as they do in the view of Mussulmans, real and undisputed p. x matters of fact, which are connected with the fate of all nations, for this the foundation of the universal history of mankind; while, on the other hand, they are especially made use of as the biography of the Prophets who lived before Mohammed. It is therefore highly important to ascertain the ground from which the source of these legends has sprung, and to show the transformation which they underwent in order to serve as the fulcrum for the propagation of the faith in Mohammed.

   Respecting the origin of these legends, it will appear, from what has been said, that, with the exception of that of Christ, it is to be found in Jewish traditions, where, as will appear by the numerous citations from the Midrash, they are yet to be seen. Many traditions respecting the Prophets of the Old Testament are found in the Talmud, which was then already closed, so that there can be no doubt that Mohammed heard them from Jews, to whom they were known, either by Scripture or tradition. For that these legends were the common property both of Jews and Arabs can not be presumed, inasmuch as Mohammed communicated them to the Arabs as something new, and specially revealed to himself; and inasmuch as the latter actually accused him of having received instruction from foreigners. Besides Warraka, who died soon p. xi after Mohammed's first appearance as a prophet, we know of two other individuals, who were well versed in the Jewish writings, and with whom he lived on intimate terms, viz., Abd Allah Ibn Salam, a learned Jew, and Salman the Persian, who had long lived among Jews and Christians, and who, before he became a Mussulman, was successively a Magian, Jew, and Christian. The monk Bahira, too, whom, however, according to Arabic sources, he only met once, on his journey to Bozra, was a baptized Jew. All these legends must have made a deep impression on a religious disposition like that of Mohammed, and have roused within him the conviction that at various times, when the depravity of the human race required it, GOD selected some pious individuals to restore them once more to the path of truth and goodness. And thus it might come to pass that, having no other object than to instruct his contemporaries in the nature of the Deity, and to promote their moral and spiritual improvement, he might desire to close the line of the Prophets with himself.

   But these legends the more especially furthered his object, inasmuch as in all of them the Prophets are more or less misunderstood and persecuted by the infidels, but, with the aid of God, are made to triumph in the end. They p. xii were therefore intended by him to serve as a warning to his opponents, and to edify and comfort his adherents. But the legend of Abraham he must have seized and appropriated with peculiar avidity, on account of its special use as a weapon both against Jews and Christians, while, at the same time, it imparted a certain luster to all the nations of Arabia descending through Ismael from Abraham.

   It is difficult to find out with precision how much of this last legend was known in Arabia before Mohammed; but it is probable, that as soon as the Arabs became acquainted with the Scriptures and traditions of the Jews, they employed them in tracing down to Mohammed the origin both of their race and of their temple. But that they possessed no historical information respecting it will appear from the fact that, notwithstanding their genealogical skill, they confess themselves unable to trace Mohammed's ancestry beyond the twentieth generation. It is, however, quite evident, not only that the legends of Abraham and Ismael, which related much that was favorable to the latter, concerning which the Bible was silent, but that all the others in like manner were more or less changed and amplified by Mohammed, and adapted to his own purposes. We are, however, inclined to ascribe these modifications to the men by p. xiii whom he was surrounded rather than to himself; for we consider him, at least during the period of his mission, as the mere tool of certain Arabian reformers rather than an independent prophet, or, at all events, more as a dupe than a deceiver. Yet to him unquestionably belongs the highly poetical garb in which we find these legends, and which was calculated to attract and captivate the imaginative minds of the Arabs much more than the dull Persian fables narrated by his opponents.

   In the legend of Christ, it is not difficult to discover the views of a baptized Jew. He acknowledges in Christ the living Word, and the Spirit of GOD, in contradistinction to the dead letter and the empty ceremonial into which Judaism had then fallen. In the miraculous birth of Christ there is nothing incredible to him, for was not Adam, too, created by the word of the Lord? He admits all the miracles of the Gospel, for had not the earlier prophets also worked miracles? Even in the Ascension he finds nothing strange, for Enoch and Elias were also translated to heaven. But that a true prophet should place himself and his mother on a level with the Most High God is repugnant to his views, and he therefore rejects this doctrine as the blasphemous invention of the priests. He refuses also, in like manner, to believe the Crucifixion, p. xiv because it appears to him to reflect upon the justice of GOD, and to conflict with the history of former prophets, whom He had delivered out of every danger.* "No man shall suffer for the sins of his neighbor," says the Koran: hence, though Christ might have followed out his designs without the fear of death, it seemed to him impossible that the Lord should have permitted Christ, the innocent, to die in so shameful a manner for the sins of other men. But he regards as a Savior every prophet who by divine revelation, and an exemplary and pious life, restores man to the way of salvation which Adam had abandoned at his fall; and such a savior he believed himself to be.

   Now, as the, legend of Abraham was valuable to Mohammed on account of the pure and simple lesson which it inculcated, as well as for its connection with the sacred things of Mecca, so he valued the legend of Christ especially for its promise of the Paraclete, which he believed, or at least proclaimed himself to be, and to which appellation the meaning of his own name at least furnished him with a better claim than some others who had arrogated it to themselves p. xv before him. Here, again, we perceive that Mohammed was probably misinformed both by Jews and Christians, though perhaps from no sordid motive. Some one, for instance, as Maccavia has already observed, may have told him that Christ had spoken of a peryclete—a word which is synonymous with Ahmed (the much-praised one). At all events, in all the legends of the Mussulmans, Mohammed is declared even by the oldest prophets to be the greatest of all that were to come (although there are fewer traces of this found in the Koran); and wherever, in the Jewish legends, Moses, Israel, and the Thora are prominently brought forward, there the Mussulmans place Mohammed, the Arabs, and the Koran. The name to which they most frequently appeal as their voucher is Kaab Alahbar, a Jew, who embraced Islamism during the caliphate of Omar. As translations of the Koran abound in the German language, it can not be difficult for the reader to separate those portions of these legends composed by Mohammed from those which were afterward interpolated, but which were ascribed to him, and descended to posterity as sacred traditions.

   The oral traditions respecting the ancient prophets, which are put into Mohammed's mouth, are so numerous, and some of them so contradictory, that no historian or biographer has been p. xvi able to admit them all. It was therefore necessary to select; and in order to make them in some degree complete, we were obliged to draw from various sources, as it was only in this way that the unity and roundness could be obtained in which they are here presented to the reader.

   Besides the Koran and the commentaries upon it, the following MSS. have been made use of for this little work:

   1. The book Chamis, by Husein Ibn Mohammed, Ibn Ahasur Addiarbekri (No. 279 of the Arabian MSS. in the library of the Duke of Gotha), which, as the introduction to the biography of Mohammed, contains many legends respecting the ancient prophets, especially Adam, Abraham, and Solomon.

   2. The book Dsachirat Alulum wanatidjal Alfuhum (storehouse of wisdom and fruits of knowledge), by Ahmed Ibn Zein Alabidin Al-bekri (No. 285 of the above-mentioned MSS.) in which also the ancient legends from Adam to Christ are prefixed to the History of Islam and more especially the lives of Moses and Aaron minutely narrated.

   3. A collection of legends by anonymous authors. (No. 909 of the same collection.)

   4. The Legends of the Prophets (Kissat Alan-bija), by Muhammed Ibn Ahmed Alkissai. (No. 764 of the Arabic MSS. of the Royal Library at Paris.)



p. xiv

   * The reader is reminded of what our Savior says of all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, the son of Barachias, who perished between the temple and the altar.—E. T.