Unlike most theological systems to which men, in all ages, have rendered their obedient and pious homage, no mystery obscures the origin and foundation of Islam. The purity and simplicity of its principles have undergone no change. Its history has been preserved by the diligence of innumerable writers. The life and characteristics of its Prophet, even to the smallest detail, are accessible to the curiosity of every enterprising scholar.
The austere character of a faith which, at its inception, exacts a rigid compliance with the minutest formalities of its ritual, naturally becomes relaxed and modified after that system has attained to worldly importance and imperial authority; or, in the language of one of the greatest of modern writers, ‘a dominant religion is never ascetic.’ It is strange that Islam, which, in this respect, as in many others, has conformed to the general law of humanity, and now acknowledges tenets and allows practices that would have struck the subjects of Abu-Bekr and Omar with amazement, has been able to preserve in such perfection the observance of its ceremonial; especially when it had no organized sacerdotal power to sustain it. The absence of an ecclesiastical order which could dictate the policy of the throne, and humble the pride of the ermine and purple with the dust in the presence of some audacious zealot, also left untrammelled the way for scientific investigation and research, and, more than all else, contributed to dispel the darkness of mediaeval times. The doctrine of toleration enunciated by Mohammed gave no encouragement to that system of repression whose activity has exhausted every means of checking the growth of philosophical knowledge, by imposing the most direful spiritual and temporal penalties upon every teacher who ventures to publicly explain its principles; and it is a matter of far deeper import to the civilization of the twentieth century, than is implied by the mere performance of an act of devotion, when the Temple of Mecca—the seat of a time-honored faith, from whose shrine emanated the spirit of learning that redeemed degraded Europe—is saluted five times every day by the reverent homage of concentric circles of believers, one hundred and fifty million in number, from Tangier to Pekin, from the borders of Siberia to the Equinoctial Line.
We may well consider with admiration the rapid progress and enduring effects of this extraordinary religion which everywhere brought order, wealth, and happiness in its train; which, in destroying the deities of the Kaaba, swept away the traditions of thirty centuries; which adopted those pagan rites that it could not abolish; which seized and retained the birthplace of Christianity; which dispersed over so wide a territory alike the theocracy of the Jews and the ritual of Rome; which drove the Magi from the blazing altars of Persia; which usurped the throne and sceptre of the Byzantine Church; which supplanted the fetichism of the African desert; which trampled upon the mysteries of Isis, Osiris, and Horus, and revealed to the wondering Egyptians the secret of the Most High God; which invaded the Councils of Catholicism, and suggested a fundamental article of its belief; which fashioned the graceful arches of our most famous cathedrals; which placed its seal upon the earth in the measurement of a degree, and inscribed its characters in living light amidst the glittering constellations of the heavens; which has left its traces in the most familiar terms of the languages of Europe; which affords daily proof of its beneficent offices in the garments that we wear, in the books that we read, in the grains of our harvests, in the fruits of our orchards, in the flowers of our gardens; and which gave rise to successive dynasties of sovereigns, whose supreme ambition seemed to be to exalt the character of their subjects, to transmit unimpaired to posterity the inestimable treasures of knowledge, and to extend and perpetuate the intellectual empire of man. These signal and unparallelled results were effected by the inflexible constancy, the lofty genius, the political sagacity, of an Arabian shepherd, deficient in the very rudiments of learning, reared among a barbarous people divided into tribes whose mutual hostility had been intensified by centuries of warfare, who had no organized system of government, who considered the mechanical and mercantile arts degrading, who recognized no law but that of force, and knew no gods but a herd of grotesque and monstrous idols. Robbery was their profession, murder their pastime. Except within the precincts of their camp, no friend, unless connected by the sacred ties of blood, was secure. They devoured the flesh of enemies slain in battle. Deceit always excepted, cruelty was their most prominent national characteristic. Their offensive arrogance, relentless enmity, and obstinate tenacity of purpose were, in a direct ratio to their ignorance and their brutalizing superstition, confirmed by the prodigies, the omens, and the legends of ages.
To undertake the radical amelioration of such political and social conditions was a task of appalling, of apparently insuperable difficulty. Its fortunate accomplishment may not indicate the active interposition of Divine authority. The glories which invest the history of Islam may be entirely derived from the valor, the virtue, the intelligence, the genius, of man. If this be conceded, the largest measure of credit is due to him who conceived its plan, promoted its impulse, and formulated the rules which insured its success. In any event, if the object of religion be the inculcation of morals, the diminution of evil, the promotion of human happiness, the expansion of the human intellect; if the performance of good works will avail in that great day when mankind shall be summoned to its final reckoning, it is neither irreverent nor unreasonable to admit that Mohammed was indeed an Apostle of God.”
The pictures are of the Church of Seville in Spain. The minaret of the Church originally belonged to a Mosque a few centuries back!
As we were flying from Newark to Madrid, I could recall several details from this longish excerpt by one of my favorite writers, Samuel Parsons Scott, a lawyer from Hillsboro Ohio, from History of the Moorish Empire in Europe (Vol I), where he is attributing all the success of Europe, in the 16th to the nineteenth century to the Prophet Muhammad:
It will take me sometime to develop my personal travel and story. In the mean while here is an excellent documentary on this theme:
Sometimes the Christian apologist accuse that the Holy Quran is copied from the Bible. I have refuted that allegation else where. But, what may make a legitimate forensic case is the observation in this documentary that the famous Christian theologian or philosopher Thomas Aquinas is nothing more than a Christianized Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Aristotle combined. What in a slang language we may call a copy-cat. More to follow …