ACCORDING to the Koran, Paradise is graced by a Garden of Delight in which every Muslim martyr is cherished by seventy deep-bosomed houris who recline on cool green mats beneath dates and pomegranates and refresh their lords with draughts from a brimming river of wine.
It seems unlikely, therefore, that the Prophet Mahomet, a lover of women above all other elixirs, will satisfy the anticipation of some Muslim sects by returning now, after thirteen centuries, to the bleaker felicities of this troubled earth.
Yet if he did he could choose no more propitious moment for stimulating Islam, the fanatical faith he founded, to a new apex of power.
Today four hundred and fifty million Sons of the Prophet are raising their scimitars in revolt against their colonial condition. In the past three years there have been a dozen assassinations of Muslim leaders. The victims had all shown too much friendship for the Infidel a term used by Muslim extremists to define as enemy all who reject their creed. Among the most; notable slain were King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan and prime ministers Liaquat Ali Khan of Pakistan, Ali Razmara of Iran and Fahmy Nokrashy of Egypt.
Disputes over Iranian oil fields, air bases in Iraq, occupation of the Suez Canal and the future of French Morocco have been in the headlines for months. Each case can be attributed at least in part to the imperialistic inspiration of Mahomet. The simultaneous nature of many Muslim pressures suggests a Pan-Islamic plot to undermine the prestige, financial holdings and strategic interests of Occidental powers in the Orient.
A peculiar cynicism glitters in Muslim policy. The gluttonous and licentious King Farouk of Egypt, for example, who has everything to lose from Marxist economy, tolerates demonstrations against the British by Communist agitators. The Syrian Army, which owes its national freedom to the defeat by the British of Rommel’s Afrika Korps, is now being trained by Nazi officers who escaped from the Nile Delta POW camps during World War II. White Muslims from Communist Yugoslavia, Albania and Rumania are aiding Arab forces still in conflict with the fledgling Jewish state of Israel, which is not without its Muscovite disciples. Last year Saleh Harb Pasha, former Egyptian Defense Minister, told John Roy Carlson, author of Cairo to Damascus: “We will fight, with the devil next time if necessary. We will fight with Russia against both England and the United States. We will be Communists. We will be anything. But we will be independent.”
This code of belligerent expedience echoes the martial philosophy of Mahomet who forged and snapped alliances with impunity so long as the expansion of Islam was served.
One hundred years after his death in 632 A.D. the impetus of his ruthless command had carried the frontiers of Islam as far as China in the east and France in the west. But for the soldiers of Charles Martel the Muslims would have reached England in the eighth century, obliterated Christianity, shackled all Europe and left progress to an economy based on the camel, the ass and the herd of goats.
Mahomet’s imperishable achievement was to convert, from idolatry to belief in the true God all those Semitic peoples who for centuries had been insulated from the impact of Christianity and Judaism by the great deserts, which stood between them and the cradle of civilization in the Mediterranean basin.
But he omitted from his gospel the gentleness of Jesus and the ethics of Moses, preferring instead to win followers by the sword, promising the richest rewards to the warrior, ignoring the values of scholarship and limiting women to the function of sexual congress and domestic service.
Although he was an indifferent swordsman—his critics say he was cowardly and his supporters say he was meek he led his cohorts to victory over enemies greatly superior in numbers and in one manifestation of his foxy military genius originated trench warfare.
He could neither read nor write, yet he dictated with all the lyrical passion of an Oriental poet the entire contents of the Koran, the Muslim bible, declaring that every word of its many thousands -—it is almost as long as the Bible— reached him directly from God through the medium of the Angel Gabriel who appeared in visions.
He was faithful to one old wife, fifteen years his senior, for twenty-five years; but after she died he built up a harem of twelve spouses and many concubines.
The crudest of homes and the coarsest of cloths sufficed for his bodily comfort, and he delighted in menial chores. Yet he dyed his beard, used cosmetics, and burned sweet herbs for their erotic scent.
With tenderness he patted the heads of little children, introduced humane laws for the care of animals, and once he forgave a prostitute her sins merely because she provided water for a thirsting dog; but he gloated over the decapitation of eight hundred Jewish clansmen and took several of their widows to his bed.
He was forty and an obscurity when he began his crusade, yet at his death twenty-two years later the Roman Empire trembled at mention of his name.
Islam is the only religion that has grown up in the full knowledge of historians. Its origins are indisputably anchored in recorded fact. In Christian or Jewish eyes it is a bizarre faith, an odd mingling of nobility, cruelty and lechery. Islam is rooted deep in the Arabian desert. It springs from days of fortitude and frugality amid the blistering sands, from dusks when the sun slips down over the rim of the world like a luminous bowl of blood and from blessedly cool nights when the crescent moon, soaring in its purple dome, turns men’s thoughts to women’s tents.
Many of Mahomet’s precepts were copied from Christianity and Judaism. He sets forth in the Koran that there is only one God, Allah, a name formerly given to a stone image. The Muslim soul, like that of the Christian or Jew, is destined for eternal damnation or bliss as penalty or reward for earthly conduct. Prayers, fasting and charity are obligations.
But from here Islam deviates widely from the older creeds. Polygamy is permitted, slavery is still tolerated in some remote regions, pilgrimage to a pagan shrine is a duty, and expansion of Islam by warfare is a command.
The Arabs however, who form the racial bedrock of the Muslim faith, have one great weakness: they are impatient of organization. Before Mahomet's birth, and one hundred years after his death, they were rent by antagonisms.
They were split into seething warring fragmental communities, each dominated by a sheik whose wealth in wives, concubines, slaves, bodyguards, camels, horses, goats, tents, rugs and cooking pots depended on quality of his aggressive leadership, which hung in turn upon the perpetuation of dissension.
In the Sunset Mecca Beckons
In consequence Muslims inhabit backward states that rest uneasily on the halfway line of social achievement, brown feudal states standing between the progressive white Christian nations and the savage black dependencies.
History shows that when opportunity promised rich prizes for combined action, Islam was quick to close its ranks. But as soon as the fruits of victory were hogged by despotic overlords Islam degenerated once more into fractious wandering clans.
So from Algiers in North Africa to Jakarta in Indonesia, from Sarajevo in Yugoslavia to Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanganyika, from Samarkand in Soviet Russia to Karachi in Pakistan, Muslims are turning at sundown to Mecca, their spiritual Arabian home, and praying for a revival of that unity and inspiration which under Mahomet made them masters of the world.
T. E. Lawrence wrote of the Arabs: “They were as unstable as water and like water would finally, perhaps, prevail. Since the dawn of life they had been dashing themselves against the coasts of the flesh. Each wave was broken but, like the sea, wore away ever so little of the granite on which it failed. The wash of each wave, thrown back by the resistance of vested things, will provide the matter for the following wave.”
Another wave is surging up the beach, threatening the positions of the Western powers in strategic Africa and Asia. It is owing between the drawn-up armies of Christianity and Communism seemingly to shape itself into a third force, if there is to be a World War III the battered hosts of Islam will be there, for them it would be a Jehad, or Holy War. But if they are to gain their lands they will need the solidarity and leadership which only Mahomet ever gave them.
The true nature of Mahomet has confounded psychological diagnosis for more than a thousand years. Edward Gibbon wrote: “At a distance of twelve centuries I darkly contemplate his shade through a cloud of religious incense.”
The Arabian peninsula is shaped like a boot, its toe pointed to India, and bounded in the north by the Mediterranean, in the east by the Persian Gulf, in the south by the Indian Ocean and in the west by the Red Sea. Since prehistoric times it has been the bridge between East and West. Mecca stands on the Red Sea fiank.
Mahomet was born in Mecca in the year 570 of our era.
As it was when Mahomet was born, so it is today—-a staging post for the camel caravans which shamble through the scorched and stony deserts freighting cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, gums, leather, coffee, ivory, ebony, precious gems and that scourge of polygamous peoples the aphrodisiac drug hashish.
Mecca grew around an oasis. Long before the birth of Jesus the wandering Bedouins endowed it with a pagan sanctity. A pool of brackish water became the Holy Well of Zemzem. The Kaba, an adjacent temple, housed six heathen images of which Allah was the favorite. Built into the walls of the Kaba was the Black Stone, a meteorite, and the object of fetish.
Today when Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca they visit the Kaba and kiss that same Black Stone which was already polished smooth by the lips of a million transients before Mahomet uttered his first cry.
The Prophet belonged to a tribe called the Koreish, who dominated Mecca. Though they were urbanized, their manners and morals were identical with those of the hinterland tribes. They were a lofty contemptuous people. Every man looked on himself as a king. Families were perpetually locked in vendetta. The blood of any man was avenged by his kin unto the fourth generation. Thus polygamy became an economic necessity.
To Syria For Fair Khadija
The Koreish tribe was made up of two clans, one of which was headed by Mahomet’s grandfather. Mahomet’s father died when the Prophet was a few weeks old. He was reared by an uncle, Abu Talib, a dealer in cloths and perfumes who was poor but benign.
When he was twelve Mahomet had an experience which probably shaped his destiny. His uncle took him to Syria where he encountered Christians and Jews. He noted that they had but one God Who was not made of wood or stone; that many of them could read and write, and that they led more peaceful profitable lives than the Koreish.
A virtuous youth, he tended flocks in his teens on the hills around Mecca. Once he remarked on the similarity between his occupation and that of Moses and other seers whose records were extolled by itinerant poets at the Mecca fairs. “Verily,” said Mahomet, “there hath been no prophet raised up who performed not the work of a shepherd.”
In his early twenties Abu Talib got Mahomet leadership of a caravan bound for Syria with merchandise belonging to a forty-year-old widow called Khadija. The trip was a great financial success, and on his return Mahomet delivered the good news to Khadija in person.
Khadija, mother of three children, was wealthy. She had rejected the proposals of many ardent Koreish suitors. Now, as she listened to Mahomet she was elated not so much by the story of his caravan as by his personality.
Mahomet was twenty-five. His forehead was broad and intellectual, his hair black and curling, his eyes were made up with antimony and kohl to enhance their lustre, and his heavy beard was dyed red with henna. Khadija approved of his clean brightly colored linen robes and learned that he abhorred silks, which, he said, were invented “so that women could go naked in clothes.”
He Was a Home-Town Booster
His mirth was volcanic. He would throw back his head in laughter so that all his splendid teeth were revealed. She noticed he had a curious nervous gait “as if he were descending a steep and invisible hill,” and when he walked in company others had to jog trot to keep up with him. These things pleased and stirred her. Later she sent a handmaiden to propose to Mahomet and he accepted her.
Mahomet’s family, as hereditary keepers of Zemzem, the Holy Well, had now fallen on hard times. The Egyptian merchant navy plying between Ethiopia and India had begun to throttle the Arabian caravan trade. Many desert cities fell into ruin. Mecca and Medina, two hundred miles to the north, struggled on.
Although Mahomet was now comfortably ensconced in Khadija’s big house his thoughts dwelled on Mecca’s plight. He hung around the street corners with groups of local leaders discussing remedies for the decline. They were unanimous on the necessity for replacing lost business traffic with religious pilgrimages.
Owing to a flood, part of the Kaba — the ancient temple—had collapsed. Trading interests prompted the Meccans to rebuild it. During the reconstruction Mahomet won a reputation for sagacity. The time came to reseal the Black Stone, and each of four clans claimed the honor.
They agreed to entrust the decision to the first man who entered the square. This chanced to be Mahomet. He took off his robe and laid it on the ground. On it he placed the Black Stone and kissed it. Then he asked the chief of each of the four clans to step forward. They were instructed to take one corner each of the robe and lift the stone to its proper height. Mahomet himself then guided it into place. Mecca hummed with approval.
It was probably this incident which cast Mahomet into the role of a Messiah. He began to walk alone, beat the air with his hands, and sweat over secret thoughts. The late William Bolitho, author of Twelve Against The Gods, pictures Mahomet at this time as “a home-town booster” who was “racking his brains for a world-beating slogan” to bring visitors to Mecca. Christian critics ascribe his deportment to nothing more than epileptic symptoms. But the Muslim faithful say that God was entering his soul.
Fifteen years after their marriage Mahomet confided to Khadija his conviction that there was but one god. Neighbors soon became mystified by his behavior. He would retire for days on end to a cave in Mount Hira, a conical hill, several miles north of Mecca.
Sometimes Khadija accompanied him. Then it was noticed that members of his family began to follow him too.
It seemed that some sort of cult was developing. Mahomet began to see the Angel Gabriel frequently. The angel came to him carrying a tablet inscribed with a message and commanded Mahomet to read from it. “I cannot read,” said Mahomet. Again the celestial voice uttered the command : “READ!” Impelled by supernatural power Mahomet began to chant.
Smooth Black-Eyed Damsels
Whenever Gabriel appeared he caused Mahomet to read what he saw on the tablets. Each message began with the injunction: “Say!” or “Speak !” Mahomet’s mouthings became the one hundred and fourteen numbered Suras or chapters of the Koran.
Say: He is God alone! God the Eternal!
He begetteth not, nor is He begotten!
And there is not any like Him.
Thus the divinity of Jesus is repudiated.
The trances which signified the presence of Gabriel were remarkably like epileptic fits. Sometimes Mahomet would lie rolled in a blanket, his face bathed in sweat. His utterances were taken down by hired or volunteer scribes on palm leaves, leather, stones, the shoulder blades of camels and goats and many were even tattooed on the breasts of men.
Poetry and oratory were the only forms of literature known to the Arabs. Like all his kind Mahomet had spouted traditional songs since infancy. These had a crude rhythm and usually a heroic or sensuous motif. Hence the luscious rhapsody of one Sura describing Paradise.
Besides these there shall be two gardens,
Of a dark green,
In each two fountains of welling water,
In each fruit; dates and pomegranates:
In them women, smooth, lovely.
Black-eyed damsels kept in pavilions
Whom no man has yet enjoyed, nor even a Djin.
The believers shall lie with them on green rugs
And lovely soft carpets.
He blended a selection of convenient Jewish and Christian precepts with the cherished pagan notions of the Kaba and produced a purple hotchpotch of oracular and lyrical literature.
“Toilsome reading,” wrote Thomas Carlyle. . . . “Just a wearisome, confused jumble.” Yet its message spread through Islam: “There is no God but Allah! And Mahomet is his Prophet!”
Christianity and Judaism had weakened faith in the old gods, yet the jealous Arabs were reluctant to embrace either theology. Nor was any great effort made to convert them. Arabs smarted under a sense of inferiority and felt themselves to be outcasts. The once bountiful plains of Babylon had withered and a sinewy leanness marked the Arab’s frame. He was hungry enough to be angry. And here was Mahomet with a challenge.
Mahomet offered them a compromise between the religion of ancestors they revered and the faith of Christians and Jews they envied. Yet he did not either jeopardize the Arabs’ acute sense of dignity or trammel them with too many awkward articles of faith. Indeed Mahomet promised them a paradise that might have been drawn from any one of their concupiscent reveries.
In making death attractive he charged the warrior with fanatical courage. Expansion of Islam by force spelled coincidental plunder and this would silence the perpetual nagging of an empty belly. Perhaps by accident, perhaps by design he devised a spiritual, physical and material crusade that was in the classic tradition of the demagogue. Like many demagogues he was first laughed at, later cursed, and finally worshipped.
At forty he began rooting around for more followers. Four years later he had fewer than fifty. Foremost among them was Khadija, his wife. Then came his faithful lieutenant, Abu Bekr, a cloth merchant who occasionally swelled the ranks by buying slaves and freeing them on condition they accepted Islam. Another was Ali, his cousin, son of that uncle Abu Talib who reared Mahomet.
Then there was Zeid, his servant, and a former Christian slave.
To the Meccans Mahomet’s early flock seemed of poor quality: slaves, women, boys and broken-down relatives. One, however, was of better stuff. He was an Ethiopian negro named Bilal, a convert from Christianity whose plangent baritone voice is still echoed at sunrise and sunset when the muezzins mount the minarets and call the faithful to prayer. It was Bilal who first smote the disbelievers of Mecca with the force of Islam.
The idolatrous loungers round the Kaba condemned him to the stocks where he was locked without water under the blazing sun. Other Muslims had cracked under this punishment and denied Mahomet. But Bilal sat there and roasted and all day shouted: “Akhad! Akhad!” (One! One!). Thus he summed up Islam with symbolic simplicity and rallied onlookers to the cause.
A Mighty Man in Wine
Why Mahomet settled on the name Allah, an idol, for the All High is not clear. But it could have been a concession to worshippers at the Kaba, whose support he wanted. For probably the same reason he retained the Black Stone as a symbol of the Islamic creed. The rest of the demonic college he banished.
Two notable converts were made. One was Human, uncle of Mahomet, a mighty man in hunting, wine and war whose valor in later battles earned him the title Lion of God. Another was Omar, a gigantic bully who became the movement’s strong-arm man. Omar soon ranked next to Abu Bekr. One of Mahomet’s pet sayings was “I, Abu Bekr and Omar.” Abu Bekr and Omar were the first two caliphs of Islam in succession to the Prophet.
Converts began to flock in. But as their strength increased so did the hostility of the pagan Koreish. Young bloods frequently called for a march on the Prophet’s house. Curiously Mahomet was protected by the blood feud. Uncle Abu Talib, though never a convert to Islam, swore the family would take revenge if Mahomet were hurt.
Even so the Muslims took to secret meetings. A group of the most fanatic emigrated to Christian Ethiopia in fear of their lives. This was called the First Flight.
In 619 A.D. Khadija, with whom Mahomet begat four daughters, and his uncle and benefactor, Abu Talib, both died. Most of Khadija’s money had gone into the cause. Even Abu Bekr, the buyer of slave followers, was now running short of funds. Mahomet, poor and insecure, began to extend his preachings to visitors. The Koreish continued to heckle him. But a number of Jewish traders from Medina were impressed by his gospel.
In 621 A.D. twelve took the oath of blood alliance with the Prophet. And this in Muslim annals is called the Pledge of Akaba.
Mahomet decided to transfer his crusade to Medina the following year. This act marked Islam’s emergence from an obscure cult to a powerful continental creed. Mahomet had looked beyond Mecca to the distant horizons. “Ye will gain the rule of all Arabia and all foreign lands,” he told his faithful, “and when ye die ye will live like kings in paradise.”
According to plan his followers began drifting by night to Medina, where they were welcomed by the Jews. Street after street emptied in Mecca. The number of locked houses filled the Koreish with foreboding. There was a hint of the occult in these stealthy departures. Finally Mahomet and his steadfast Abu Bekr were the only Muslims left in the brooding city. At a clandestine meeting a group of Koreish, one from each of four clans, was delegated to plunge a knife into Mahomet’s and Abu’s chests. Murmurings of the plot carried from the bazaar to the intended victims. They escaped by holing up in a nearby cave and waiting until the hunt cooled off, then headed for Medina. Mahomet rode his famous camel Al Kaswa. The flight of 622 A.D. is called the Hejira.
Rejoicing Muslims met the fugitives in Medina. Mahomet said that wherever his camel halted he would build his first temple. Al Kaswa settled in the yard of a deserted villa which was bought for twelve pieces of gold. On its site rose the first mosque of Islam. Mahomet inhabited it for the rest of his life.
Muslims and Jews signed a mutual defense pact. Some Jews even hailed Mahomet as their long-awaited Messiah, and Mahomet was eager to assume this role. But now his theology was taking its own distinct shape and his fellow Muslims no longer felt it necessary to defer to their Hebrew hosts. The two faiths quarreled. One night Mahomet made two prostrations toward Jerusalem, as was his custom, then suddenly turned to Mecca. At once the Muslim congregation imitated him. He dispensed with the Jewish ram’s horn for calling the faithful to prayer and rejected the Christian bell. Then he remembered Bilal, the black Ethiopian. The next dawn Bilal ascended a minaret and cried: “Prayer is better than sleep. There is no God but Allah, and Mahomet is his Prophet.” At this summons of the first muezzin the Muslims tumbled out of their beds to worship, as they have done ever since.
Judaism and Islam broke their brief engagement. Had there been a marriage the possible course of consequent history whets the most vivid imagination.
Muslim men, accustomed to rigid fasts, could go longer without food and water in the desert than any others. Their daily prayers involving many obeisances amounted to gymnastics. The myriad minuscular rules of the faith instilled in them a quick obedience. Here, ready-made, were the fundamentals of military discipline.
“The sword,” Mahomet declared, “is the key of heaven and hell. Whosoever falls in battle his sins are forgiven. At the day of judgment his wounds shall be resplendent as vermilion and odiferous as musk. And the loss of his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubims.”
The Koran bristles with maledictions against the Koreish. “Kill them wheresoever ye find them,” said Mahomet.
Archers Broke the Charge
In 623 A.D. Mahomet was in the desert with three hundred and fifty men hunting down a Koreish caravan. The Koreish camel legion marched out of Mecca, nine hundred strong, to protect it. Though outnumbered the Muslims were exalted. “Prophet of the Lord!” shouted one of the faithful to Mahomet, “If thou wert to march till our camels fell dead we should go forward with thee to the world’s end.” Mahomet swung himself up on to Al Kaswa’s hump and gave the signal to advance.
According to custom the fray opened with individual combat. Three Koreish stepped forth. They were met by three Muslims who dispatched them in seconds. The great voice of Bilal rose: “Ye conquerors strike!” The Muslims hurled themselves on the Koreish, and routed them. During the fight Mahomet prayed in the rear. The three hundred who survived became the Muslim peerage in Medina.
In 625 Mecca sent a force of three thousand men to attack Medina. Only seven hundred Muslims could be raised to engage them. Many Jews volunteered to help but Mahomet would recruit no unbeliever.
The conflict took place in front of Medina. This time Mahomet cunningly placed fifty archers on a hill and ordered them to shoot from there, but not to stir at any cost. The archers broke up the Koreish charge but when the Muslims gave chase, forgot their orders and joined in. The Koreish turned on their pursuers and this time, unhampered by arrows, seemed to reach the point of victory.
Mahomet himself shot arrows until his bow broke. Finally he was surrounded and felled by a sword blow. Thinking him dead and their mission thus accomplished, the Koreish disengaged. Seven hundred Muslims had fought three thousand to a draw. And Mahomet lived to meet them again.
In 627 the Koreish in alliance with Bedouins and Jews fielded ten thousand men against him.
The invaders were amazed to find the Muslims waiting in trenches around Medina. They regarded it as unsporting. “This ditch is the artifice of strangers,” they yelled, but the Muslims held fast. The Koreish vainly tried to rush the earthworks. Disaffected Jews tried to attack the Muslims from inside the city. They too were repelled. A long siege set in and the Koreish ran short of water. Mahomet’s spies spread dissension among them. Soon the enemy folded their tents and crept silently away.
This was not enough for Mahomet. He sought out and defeated a Jewish tribe which had taken part in the siege. He lined up its eight hundred male survivors and had them decapitated. The Prophet watched for a while, then went off to possess a number of the widows.
Seven years after he fled from Mecca the Koreish sued for peace. At the head of two thousand Muslims Mahomet returned home in triumph on a three-day pilgrimage.
Two years later Mahomet once more led at pilgrimage to Mecca. The Koreish now greeted him reverently. Each of the idols was brought out from the Kaba and stood on a wall. Mahomet walked round them seven times and then pointed to each in turn with his staff. As he did so he said: “Truth is come!” Then a giant Negro lopped off the idol’s head.
Two months after Khadija’s death Mahomet had married Sauda, a mature widow. When he fled to Medina at the age of fifty-two, he had taken as a second wife Aisha, the twelve-year-old daughter of his good friend Abu Bekr. These two disparate females awakened in the Prophet a greater taste for variety. Now, at fifty-nine, he had twelve wives. Mahomet at first visited each in turn. But Aisha, who still played with toys, pleased him most. He began to neglect the others. After Aisha had been suspected of infidelity Mahomet decreed that none should look upon his wives nor talk with them except through a screen. This marked the beginning of the Muslim veil and Purdah. Long after Mahomet’s death Aisha told his biographers: “He liked women, perfume and food, in that order; but he preferred women above all else.”
Within fifteen years of his establishment in Medina Mahomet was the master of Arabia. Islam swept across the deserts like smoke from the camel-dung fires. Nervous warlords in Syria, Persia, Egypt and beyond sent ambassadors to pay their respects.
On arrival in Medina they would look into a crude house and say: “Which of you is Mahomet?” For the Prophet remained an ascetic. In winter his mud hut was often without a fire, its only furnishings a sleeping mat and a cooking pot. He shared his meals with passing strangers. He cobbled his own shoes, carried water for his wives and patched his own clothes.
He brought about reforms. Alcohol and gambling became taboo. Slaves were to be treated kindly. He brought to an end such barbaric customs as using live birds for shooting practice, and affixing flaming torches to the tails of horses so that the devils of drought might be chased away.
He almost wiped out the clan blood feud by proving the benefits of corporate action. The political state of Islam was influenced by theological laws, many of which were progressive for their day. Clan chiefs were to be elected and fitness to rule was the only criterion. Racial discrimination was abolished. Even so, all infidels were enemies and at the slightest threat to their creed Muslims unsheathed their scimitars.
A Challenge to the Cross
Mahomet died in the arms of Aisha at sixty-two, handing on his responsibilities to Abu Bekr. Three years after his death Islam conquered Damascus. Six years more and Egypt and Syria were in Islam’s power. In less than a century the hosts of the Crescent were challenging the Cross in the Pyrenees and Buddhist idols on the Great Wall of China.
The threat of Islam stimulated Christianity out of ignorance in the Middle Ages. Had not the Crusaders inspired Western mankind with their efforts to rescue the Holy Land from the Saracen the revival of learning which produced the Renaissance would never have occurred.
During the Crusades Islam reached its peak. Then it declined. Disillusioned by imperialist tyranny Arabs turned once more for security to the tribal unit.
And that is how Lawrence of Arabia found them when he helped the Arabian sheiks throw off the Turkish yoke in 1918. Lawrence’s dreams for an association of seven Arab states were shattered by the jealousies of the sheiks and the tide of Islam fell back to its fullest ebb.
Who then is leading the new resurgence? Among the mists of intrigue drifting from Gibraltar via the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, can be seen a mysterious flitting figure in a turban and a flowing garment which Arabs call the gallabiyah. He is Haj Amin Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, cousin of one of King Abdullah’s assassins.
He is the head of the Islam Church and since secular and spiritual Muslim affairs have never been divorced, more powerful than any single nationalist leader.
During World War II the Mufti saw a chance for Islam to be rid of the British and French mandates in the Middle East. Such was his guile that he accepted the shelter of Hitler in Germany and conducted his campaign by radio from Berlin.
After the war he escaped from France and exhorted Arabs to throw the new Jews of Israel into the sea.
The Mufti envisages an Islamic bloc-comprising Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Trans - Jordan, Palestine, Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers and Morocco. It is the cause that Mahomet espoused. If ever it is won it will be under Mahomet’s battle cry: “Allah Akbar!” Then doubtless Mahomet will look over the bar of the Seventh Heaven, smile upon the Mufti, and order seventy sirens to ready themselves for the ascension of a worthy son of Islam. ★