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Harper's Library of Living Thought



The subject from different points of view : limits of treatment I

The nature of the subject : the historical points of connection between Christianity and Islam . . 2

A. Christianity and the rise of Islam :

1. Muhammed and his contemporaries . . 9

2. The influence of Christianity upon the de velopment of Muhammed . . .11

3. Muhammed's knowledge of Christianity • 14

4. The position of Christians under Muham-

medanism 28

B. The similarity of Christian and Muhammedan metaphysics during the middle ages :

1. The means and direction by which Christian influence affected Islam . . • «34

2. The penetration of daily life by the spirit of religion ; asceticism, contradictions and influences affecting the development of a clerical class and the theory of marriage 39

3. The theory of life in general with reference to the doctrine of immortality . . -55

4. The attitude of religion towards the State, economic life, society, etc. . . .64

5. The permanent importance to Islam of these influences : the doctrine of duties • • 77



7. Mysticism and the worship of saints . . 83

8. Dogma and the development of scholasticism 89

C. The influence of Islam upon Christianity :

The manner in which this influence operated, and the explanation of the superiority of Islam 94

The influence of Muhammedan philosophy . 98 The new world of European Christendom and the modern East ro4

Conclusion. The historical growth of religion . . 105 Bibliography . . . . ♦ . . .110


COMPARISON of Christianity with

Muhammedanism or with any other religion must be preceded by a statement of the objects with which such comparison is undertaken, for the possibilities which lie in this direction are numerous. The missionary, for instance, may consider that a knowledge of the similarities of these religions would increase the efficacy of his proselytising work: his purpose would thus be wholly practical. The ecclesiastically minded Christian, already convinced of the superiority of his own religion, will be chiefly anxious to secure scientific proof of the fact: the study of comparative religion from this point of view was once a popular branch of apologetics and is by no means out of favour at the present

day. Again, the inquirer whose historical perspective is undisturbed by ecclesiastical considerations, will approach the subject with somewhat different interests. He will expect the comparison to provide him with a clear view of the influence which Christianity has exerted upon other religions or has itself received from them : or he may hope by comparing the general development of special religious systems to gain a clearer insight into the growth of Christianity. Hence the object of such comparisons is to trace the course of analogous developments and the interaction of influence and so to increase the knowledge of religion in general or of our own religion in particular.

A world-religion, such as Christianity, is a highly complex structure and the evolution of such a system of belief is best understood by examining a religion to which we have not been bound by a thousand ties from the earliest days of our lives. If we take an alien religion as our subject of

investigation, we shall not shrink from the consequences of the historical method: whereas, when we criticise Christianity, we are often unable to see the falsity of the pre-suppositions which we necessarily bring to the task of inquiry : our minds follow the doctrines of Christianity, even as our bodies perform their functions—in complete unconsciousness. At the same time we possess a very considerable knowledge of the development of Christianity, and this we owe largely to the help of analogy. Especially instructive is the comparison between Christianity and Buddhism. No less interesting are the discoveries to be attained by an inquiry into the development of Muhammedanism : here we can see the growth of tradition proceeding in the full light of historical criticism. We see the plain man, Muhammed, expressly declaring in the Qoran that he cannot perform miracles, yet gradually becoming a miracle worker and indeed the greatest of

his class : he professes to be nothing more than a mortal man : he becomes the chief mediator between man and God. The scanty memorials of the man become voluminous biographies of the saint and increase from generation to generation.

Yet more remarkable is the fact that his utterances, his logia, if we may use the term, some few of which are certainly genuine, increase from year to year and form a large collection which is critically sifted and expounded. The aspirations of mankind attribute to him such words of the New Testament and of Greek philosophers as were especially popular or seemed worthy of Muhammed; the teaching also of the new ecclesiastical schools was invariably expressed in the form of proverbial utterances attributed to Muhammed, and these are now without exception regarded as authentic by the modern Moslem. In this way opinions often contradictory are covered by Muhammed's authority.

The traditions concerning Jesus offer an analogy. Our Gospels, for instance, relate the beautiful story of the plucking of the ears of corn on the Sabbath, with its famous moral application, " The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath/' A Christian papyrus has been discovered which represents Jesus as explaining the sanctity of the Sabbath from the Judceo-Christian point of view. " If ye keep not the Sabbath holy, ye shall not see the Father," is the statement in an un-canonical Gospel. In early Christian literature, contradictory sayings of Jesus are also to be found. Doubtless here, as in Muham-medan tradition, the problem originally was, what is to be my action in this or that question of practical life: answer is given in accordance with the religious attitude of the inquirer and Jesus and Muhammed are made to lend their authority to the teaching. Traditional literary form is then regarded as historical by later believers.

Examples of this kind might be multiplied, but enough has been said to show that much and, to some extent, new light may be thrown upon the development of Christian tradition, by an examination of Muhammedanism which rose from similar soil but a few centuries later, while its traditional developments have been much more completely preserved.

Such analogies as these can be found, however, in any of the world-religions, and we propose to devote our attention more particularly to the influences which Christianity and Islam exerted directly upon one another. While Muhammedanism has borrowed from its hereditary foe, it has also repaid part of the debt. By the very fact of its historical position Islam was at first indebted to Christianity ; but in the department of Christian philosophy, it has also exerted its own influence. This influence cannot be compared with that of Greek or Jewish thought upon Christian

speculation: Christian philosophy, as a metaphysical theory of existence, was however strongly influenced by Arabian thought before the outset of the Reformation. On the other hand the influence of Christianity upon Islam—and also upon Muhammed, though he owed more to Jewish thought— was so extensive that the coincidence of ideas upon the most important metaphysical questions is positively amazing.

There is a widespread belief even at the present day that Islam was a complete novelty and that the religion and culture of the Muhammedan world were wholly alien to Western mediaevalism. Such views are entirely false ; during the Middle Ages Muhammedanism and Western culture were inspired by the same spirit. The fact has been obscured by the contrast between the two religions whose differences have been constantly exaggerated and by dissimilarities of language and nationality. To retrace in full detail the close connection which unites Christianity and Islam would be the work of years. Within the scope of the present volume, all that can be done is to explain the points of contact between Christian and Muhammedan theories of life and religion. Such is the object of the following pages. We shall first treat of Muhammed personally, because his rise as a religious force will explain the possibility of later developments.

This statement also explains the sense in which we shall use the term Christianity. Muhammedanism has no connection with post-Reformation Christianity and meets it only in the mission field. Practical questions there arise which lie beyond the limits of our subject, as we have already indicated. Our interests are concerned with the mediaeval Church, when Christianity first imposed its ideas upon Muhammedanism at the time of its rise in the East, and afterwards received a material extension of its own horizon through the rapid progress

of its protégé. Our task is to analyse and explain these special relations between the two systems of thought.

The religion now known as Islam is as near to the preaching of Muhammed or as remote from it, as modern Catholicism or Protestant Christianity is at variance or in harmony with the teaching of Jesus. The simple beliefs of the prophet and his contemporaries are separated by a long course of development from the complicated religious system in its unity and diversity which Islam now presents to us. The course of this development was greatly influenced by Christianity, but Christian ideas had been operative upon Muhammed's eager intellectual life at an even earlier date. We must attempt to realise the working of his mind, if we are to gain a comprehension of the original position of Islam with regard to Christianity. The task is not so difficult in Muhammed's case as in that of others who have founded religious systems : we have records of. his philosophical views, important even though fragmentary, while vivid descriptions of his experiences have been transmitted to us in his own words, which have escaped the modifying influence of tradition at second hand- Muhammed had an indefinite idea of the word of God as known to him from other religions. He was unable to realise this idea effectively except as an immediate revelation ; hence throughout the Qoran he represents God as speaking in the first person and himself appears as the interlocutor. Even direct commands to the congregation are introduced by the stereotyped " speak " ; it was of primary importance that the Qoran should be regarded as God's word and not as man's. This fact largely contributed to secure an uncontaminated transmission of the text, which seems also to have been left by Muhammed himself in definite form. Its intentional obscurity of expression does

not facilitate the task of the inquirer, but it provides, none the less, considerable information concerning the religious progress of its author. Here we are upon firmer ground than when we attempt to describe Muham-med's outward life, the first half of which is wrapped in obscurity no less profound than that which veils the youth of the Founder of Christianity.

Muhammed's contemporaries lived amid religious indifference. The majority of the Arabs were heathen and their religious aspirations were satisfied by local cults of the Old Semitic character. They may have preserved the religious institutions of the great South Arabian civilisation, which was then in a state of decadence; the beginnings of Islam may also have been influenced by the ideas of this civilisation, which research is only now revealing to us : but these points must remain undecided for the time being. South Arabian civilisation was certainly not confined to the ii

South, nor could an organised township such as Mecca remain outside its sphere of influence: but the scanty information which has reached us concerning the religious life of the Arabs anterior to Islam might also be explained by supposing them to have followed a similar course of development- In any case, it is advisable to reserve judgment until documentary proof can replace ingenious conjecture. The difficulty of the problem is increased by the fact that Jewish and especially Christian ideas penetrated from the South and that their influence cannot be estimated. The important point for us to consider is the existence of Christianity in Southern Arabia before the Muhammedan period. Nor was the South its only starting-point: Christian doctrine came to Arabia from the North, from Syria and Babylonia, and numerous conversions, for the most part of whole tribes, were made. On the frontiers also Arabian merchants came into continual

contact with Christianity and foreign merchants of the Christian faith could be found throughout Arabia, But for the Arabian migration and the simultaneous foundation of a new Arabian religion, there is no doubt that the whole peninsula would have been speedily converted to Christianity.

The chief rival of Christianity was Judaism, which was represented in Northern as in Southern Arabia by strong colonies of Jews, who made proselytes, although their strict ritualism was uncongenial to the Arab temperament which preferred conversion to Christianity (naturally only as a matter of form). In addition to Jewish, Christian, and Old Semitic influences, Zoroastrian ideas and customs were also known in Arabia, as is likely enough in view of the proximity of the Persian empire.

These various elements aroused in Mu-hammed's mind a vague idea of religion. His experience was that of the eighteenth-century theologians who suddenly observed that Christianity was but one of many very similar and intelligible religions, and thus inevitably conceived the idea of a pure and natural religious system fundamental to all others. Judaism and Christianity were the only religions which forced themselves upon Muhammed's consciousness and with the general characteristics of which he was acquainted. He never read any part of the Old or New Testament: his references to Christianity show that his knowledge of the Bible was derived from hearsay and that his informants were not representative of the great religious sects : Muhammed's account of Jesus and His work, as given in the Qoran, is based upon the apocryphal accretions which grew round the Christian doctrine.

When Muhammed proceeded to compare the great religions of the Old and New Testaments with the superficial pietism of his own compatriots, he was especially im-

pressed with the seriousness of the Hebrews and Christians which contrasted strongly with the indifference of the heathen Arabs. The Arab was familiar with the conception of an almighty God, and this idea had not been obscured by the worship of trees, stones, fire and the heavenly bodies : but his reverence for this God was somewhat im- j personal and he felt no instinct to approach Him, unless he had some hopes or fears to satisfy. The idea of a reckoning between man and God was alien to the Arab mind. Christian and Jewish influence became operative upon Muhammed with reference to this special point. The idea of the day of judgment, when an account of earthly deeds and misdeeds will be required, when the joys of Paradise will be opened to the good and the bad will be cast into the fiery abyss, such was the great idea, which suddenly filled Muhammed's mind and dispelled the indifference begotten of routine and stirred his mental powers.

Polytheism was incompatible with the idea of God as a judge supreme and righteous, but yet merciful. Thus monotheism was indissolubly connected with Muham-med's first religious impulses, though the dogma had not assumed the polemical form in which it afterwards confronted the old Arabian and Christian beliefs. But a mind stirred by religious emotion only rose to the height of prophetic power after a long course of development which human knowledge can but dimly surmise. Christianity and Judaism had their sacred books which the founders of these religions had produced. In them were the words of God, transmitted through Moses to the Jews and through Jesus to the Christians. Jesus and Moses had been God's ambassadors to their peoples. Who then could bring to the Arabs the glad tidings which should guide them to the happy fields of Paradise ? Among primitive peoples God is regarded as very near to man. The Arabs had their

fortune-tellers and augurs who cast lots before God and explained His will in mysterious rhythmical utterances. Muham-med was at first more intimately connected with this class of Arab fortune-tellers than is usually supposed. The best proof of the fact is the vehemence with which he repudiates all comparison between these fortune-tellers and himself, even as early Christian apologetics and polemics attacked the rival cults of the later classical world, which possessed forms of ritual akin to those observed by Christianity. The existence of a fortune-telling class among the Arabs shows that Muhammed may well have been endowed with psychological tendencies which only awaited the vivifying influence of Judaism and Christianity to emerge as the prophetic impulse forcing him to stand forth in public and to stir the people from their indifference: " Be ye converted, for the day of judgment is at hand : God has declared it unto me, as he declared it unto Moses and Jesus. I am c 17

the apostle of God to you, Arabs. Salvation is yours only if ye submit to the will of God preached by me.55 This act of submission Muhammed calls Islam. Thus at the hour of Islam's birth, before its founder had proclaimed his ideas, the influence of Christianity is indisputable. It was this influence which made of the Arab seer and inspired prophet, the apostle of God.

Muhammed regarded Judaism and Christianity as religious movements purely national in character. God in His mercy had announced His will to different nations through His prophets. As God's word had been interpreted for the Jews and for the Christians, so there was to be a special interpretation for the benefit of the Arabs. These interpretations were naturally identical in manner and differed only as regards place and time. Muhammed had heard of the Jewish Messiah and of the Christian Paraclete, whom, however, he failed to

identify with the Holy Ghost and he applied to himself the allusions to one who should come after Moses and Jesus. Thus in the Qoran 61. 6 we read, " Jesus, the Son of Mary, said : Children of Israel, I am God's apostle to you. I confirm in your hands the Thora (the law) and I announce the coming of another apostle after me whose name is Ahmed." Ahmed is the equivalent of Muhammed. The verse has been variously interpreted and even rejected as an interpolation : but its authenticity is attested by its perfect correspondence with what we know of Muhammed's pretensions.

To trace in detail the development of his attitude towards Christianity is a more difficult task than to discover the growth of his views upon Judaism ; probably he pursued a similar course in either case. At first he assumed the identity of the two religions with one another and with his own doctrine ; afterwards he regarded them as

advancing by gradations. Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammed, these in his opinion were the chief stages in the divine scheme of salvation. Each was respectively confirmed or abolished by the revelation which followed it, nor is this theory of Muhammed's shaken by the fact that each revelation was given to a different nation. He regards all preceding prophets in the light of his own personality. They were all sent to people who refused them a hearing at the moment. Punishment follows and the prophet finds a body of believers elsewhere. Thèse temporary punishments are confused with the final Judgment ; in fact Muhammed's system was not clearly thought out. The several prophets were but men, whose earthly careers were necessarily crowned with triumph : hence the crucifixion of Jesus is a malicious invention of the Jews, who in reality crucified some other sufferer, while Jesus entered the divine glory. Thus Muhammed has no idea of the importance

of the Crucifixion to the Christian Church, as is shown by his treatment of it as a Jewish falsehood. In fact, he develops the habit of characterising as false any statement in contradiction with his ideas, and this tendency is especially obvious in his dealings with Judaism, of which he gained a more intimate knowledge. At first he would refer sceptics to Christian and Jewish doctrine for confirmation of his own teaching. The fact that with no knowledge of the Old or New Testament, he had proclaimed doctrines materially similar and the fact that these Scriptures referred to himself, were proofs of his inspired power, let doubters say what they would. A closer acquaintance with these Scriptures showed him that the divergencies which he stigmatised as falsifications denoted in reality vast doctrinal differences.

<In order to understand Muhammed's attitude towards Christianity, we will ex-

amine in greater detail his view of this religion, the portions of it which he accepted or which he rejected as unauthentic. In the first place he must have regarded the Trinity as repugnant to reason : he considered the Christian Trinity as consisting of God the Father, Mary the Mother of God, and Jesus the Son of God. In the Qoran, God says, " Hast thou, Jesus, said to men, Regard me and my mother as Gods by the side of God ? " Jesus replies, " I will say nothing but the truth. I have but preached, Pray to God, who is my Lord and your Lord 55 (5.116, f). Hence it has been inferred that Muhammed's knowledge of Christianity was derived from some particular Christian sect, such as the Tritheists or the Arab female sect of the Collyridians who worshipped the Virgin Mary with exaggerated reverence and assigned divine honours to her. It is also possible that we have here a development of some Gnostic conception which regarded the Holy Ghost as of femi-

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