BLTC Press Titles


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The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner


Vanity Fair

William Thackery


Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour


Islam, a challenge to faith

by Samuel Marinus Zwemer

Excerpt:

It is not surprising that Moslem writers chose to paint the picture of pagan Arabia as dark as possible, in order that "the light of God," as the Prophet is called, might appear more bright in contrast. Following these authorities Sale and others have given a somewhat wrong impression of the state of Arabia in the sixth and seventh centuries. The commonly accepted idea that Mohammed preached entirely new truth as a prophet of monotheism, and uplifted the Arabs to a higher plane of civilization, is only half true. No part of Arabia has ever reached as high a stage of material civilization under the rule of Islam as Yemen enjoyed under its Christian, Jewish or Pagan dynasties of the Himyarites, as is proved by the monuments of South Arabia. ( No less an authority than Fresnel has shown that the pre-Islamic Arabs were on a higher moral plane than the Arabs after their conversion to Islam;1 and Perron contrasts the freedom and the legal status of woman prior to Mohammed, with her servile condition under Islam.2

1William A. Shedd, "Islam and the Oriental Churches," 4.

2Acts 17:30. •I. Goldziher, "Mohammedanische Studien," Vol. I, 220-228.

Pagan Arabia.—During many centuries before Mohammed, the Arabs throughout the Peninsula, except in Yemen, were divided into numerous tribes and clans, bound together by no political tie, but only by a traditional sentiment of unity, which they believed (or feigned to believe) a unity of blood. Each group was a unit and was largely in competition with all the other clans.

The Arabs took delight in endless genealogies, and boasted of nothing so much as noble ancestors. In habits some were pastoral and some nomadic; others, like the clans of Mecca and Taif, were traders, and had monopolies of the caravan traffic. The immense caravan trade, which brought all the wealth of Ormuz and Ind to Egypt and the Roman Empire, crossed Arabia and left its influ

'Fresnel, "Lettres M1r l'Histoire des Arabes avant l'lslamisme" in Journal Asiat. (1849), 533. *Perron, "Femmes Arabes avant et depuis l'islamisme" (Paris, 1858).

ence. A. Sprenger adds this interesting fact at the close of his account of the great caravan routes: "The history of the earliest commerce is the history of incense, and the land of incense was Arabia."1 The three great routes were the following: from the Persian Gulf through the heart of Arabia to the Jauf and Damascus, with a branch to Mecca; from the Tigris southward along Wady er Rumma to the Jewish settlement in Khaibar; and, the most important of all, the road from Sanaa along the west coast through Mecca, Yathrib, Medina, and Maan to Syria.2 The importance of Mecca was first commercial and then religious; together with Taif it was the haltingplace for the caravans from the south, and the depot of the trade from the East.

The Arabs had enjoyed, for several thousand years before the Christian era, an almost absolute freedom from foreign dominion or occupation. Neither the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the ancient Persians, nor the Macedonians, in their march of conquest, ever subjugated or held any part of Arabia. But before the coming of the Prophet the proud freemen of the desert were compelled to bend their necks repeatedly to the yoke of Roman, Abyssinian, and Persian rulers. In A. D. 105 Trajan sent his general, Cornelius Palma, and subdued the Nabathean kingdom of North Arabia. Mesopotamia was conquered, and the eastern coast of the peninsula was completely devastated by the Romans in A. D. 116. Hira yielded to the monarchs of Persia, as Ghassan did to the generals of Rome. "It is remarked, even by a Mohammedan writer," says Sir William Muir, "that the decadence of the race of Ghassan was preparing the way

1A. Sprenger, "Die Alte Geographic Arabiens," last chapter (Berne, 1875). 2See Map, Hubert Grimme, "Mohammed," (Munich, 1904).


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