Chronicle of the Cid

Communicated by Mr Porden

On Mahommed and the effects of Islamism on the Nations who embraced it

The Mahommedans made many proselytes in Spain as well as every where else where they established themselves. But the growth and decline of all Mahommedan empires are necessarily connected with the civil and religious institutions of Islamism, and may be traced to them.

In forming a new religion, Mahommed aimed at making its ritual less burthensome, its morality more indulgent, and its creed more rational than those of other nations. It was not however enough to appeal to the reason, nor even to the passions of mankind, without at the same time profiting by their credulity. To the Jews he announced himself as the Messiah, the conqueror in whom their prophecies centred; to the Christians as the Paraclete who was to accomplish the yet unfulfilled system of revelation. The mere robber would soon have been crushed, the mere philosopher would have been neglected, and he who had attempted to preach the incommunicable nature of Deity either among Pagan or Christian Idolaters, would hardly have escaped death as a blasphemer. God is God, was a tenet to which none would have listened without the daring addition that a Mahommed was his prophet. The impiety of one reasonable doubt would have shocked and terrified those who believed the impudence of an asserted mission. Reason was too weak to stand alone, and clung to fanaticism for support.

No traces of a disordered mind are discoverable either in the life or in the doctrines of Mahommed. The pure theism which he preached he probably believed: but his own claims proceeded from ambition, not from self-deceit. Perservering in his object, he varied the means, and never scrupled at accommodating his institutions to the established prejudices of the people. At first Jerusalem was chosen to be the metropolis of his religion, and the point toward which all the faithful should turn their faces in prayer. This privilege he transferred to Mecca, and though he destroyed the Idols of the Caaba, he suffered the black stone which was the great object of idolatrous worship, to retain its honours. These founders or reformers of religion who were inspired, and those who believed themselves to be so, have spared neither the prejudices, nor passions, nor feelings, nor instincts, which opposed them. Mahommed attempted no such conquest over human nature. His conduct displayed the versatility of a statesman, not the inflexibility of an honest fanatic.

The Moslem, in proof of their religion, appeal to the plenary and manifest inspiration of the Koran. They rest the divinity of their holy Book upon its inimitable excellence; but instead of holding it to be divine because it is excellent, they believe its excellence because they admit its divinity. There is nothing in the Koran that [which] affects the feelings, nothing which elevates the imagination, nothing which enlightens the understanding, nothing which ameliorates the heart: it contains no beautiful narrative, no proverbs of wisdom or axioms of morality; it is a chaos of detached sentences, or mass of dull tautology. Not a solitary passage to indicate the genius of a poet can be found in the whole volume. Inspired by no fanaticism, of a meagre mind, and with morals of open and impudent profligacy, Mahommed has affected a revolution which in its ruinous consequences still keeps in barbarism the greatest and finest part of the old world. His were common talents, and it is by common talents that great revolutions have most frequently been affected; when the train is ready, there needs no lightning to kindle it, any spark suffices. That his character was not generally mistaken, is evident from the number of imitators that started up: there is also reason to suspect that it was as well understood by many of his friends as by his enemies. Ali indeed believed in him with all the ardour of youth and affection; but they who were convinced by the sword are suspicious converts, and among these are Abbas and Amrou and Caled, the holiest heroes of Islamism. Ambition and the hope of plunder soon filled his armies, and they who followed him for these motives could teach their children what they did not believe themselves.

The political and moral system of the Impostor, if system it may be called, is such as might by expected from one who aimed only at his own aggrandisement, and had no generous views or hopes beyond it. That his language and his institutions have spread together is not to be attributed to him: this great political advantage necessarily arises when nations are either civilized or converted by force, and it is only by force that this religion has been propagated; its missionaries have marched in armies, and its only martyrs are those who have fallen in the field of battle. Mahommed attempted nothing like a fabric of society: he took abuses as he found them. The continuance of polygamy was his great and ruinous error; where this pernicious custom is established, there will be neither connubial, nor paternal, nor brotherly affection and hence the unnatural murders with which Asiatic history abounds. The Mahommedan imprisons his wives, and sometimes knows not the faces of his own children; he believes that despotism must be necessary in the state, because he knows it to be necessary at home: thus the domestic tyrant becomes the contented slave, and the atrocity of the ruler against the patience of the people proceed from the same cause.

It is the inevitable tendency of polygamy to degrade both sexes; wherever it prevails, the intercourse between them is merely sexual. Women are only instructed in wantonness, sensuality becomes the characteristic of whole nations, and humanity is disgraced by crimes the most loathsome and detestable. This is the primary and general cause of that despotism an degradation which are universal throughout the East: not climate, or the mountaineers would be free and virtuous; not religion, for through all the changes of belief which the East has undergone, the evil and the effect have remained the same.

Mahommed inculcated the doctrine of fatalism because it is the most useful creed for a conqueror. The blind passiveness which it causes has completed the degradation, and for ever impeded the improvement of all Mahommedan nations. They will not struggle against oppression, for the same reason that they will not avoid the infection of the plague. If from this state of stupid patience they are provoked into a paroxysm of brutal fury, they destroy the tyrant; but the tyranny remains unaltered. Oriental revolutions are like the casting of a stone into a stagnant pool; the surface is broken for a moment, and then the green weeds close over it again.

Such a system can produce only tyrants and slaves, those who are watchful to commit any crime for power, and whose who are ready to endure any oppression for tranquility. A barbarous and desolating ambition has been the sole motive of their conquering chiefs; the wisdom of their wisest sovereigns has produced nothing of public benefit: it has ended in idle moralizings, and the late discovery that all is vanity. One tyrant at the hour of death asserts the equality of mankind; another, who had attained empire by his crimes, exposes his shroud at last, and proclaims that now nothing but that is left him. I have slain the Princes of men, said Azzud and Dowlah, and have laid waste the palaces of Kings. I have dispersed them to the East and scattered them to the West, and now the Grave calls me, and I must go! and he died with the frequent exclamation, “What avails my wealth? My empire is departing from me!” When Mahmoud, the great Gasnevide, was dying of consumption in his Palace of Happiness, he ordered that all his treasures should be brought out to amuse him. They were laid before him, silk and tapestry & jewels, vessels of silver and gold, coffers of money, the spoils of nations whom he had plundered, it was the spectacle of a whole day, but pride yielded to the stronger feeling of nature; Mahmoud recollected that he was in his mortal sickness, and wept and moralized upon the vanity of “the world”.

It were wearing to dwell upon the habitual crimes of which their history is composed: we may estimate their guilt by that is said of their virtues. Of all the Abbassides, none but Mutated equalled Almanzor in goodness. A slave one day, when fanning away the flies from him, struck off his turban, upon which Mutaded only remarked that the boy was sleepy but the Vizir who was present fell down and kissed the ground and exclaimed, O Commander of the Faithful, I never heard of such a thing! I did not think such clemency had been possible for it was the custom of this Caliph, when a slave displeased him, to have the offender buried alive.

The Mahommedan sovereigns have suffered their just punishment; they have been miserable as well as wicked. For others they can feel no sympathy, and have learnt to take no interest: for themselves there is nothing but fear; their situation excludes them from hope, and they have the perpetual sense of danger, and the dread of that inevitable hour wherein there shall be no distinctions of persons. This fear they have felt and confessed: in youth it has embittered enjoyment, and it has made age dreadful. A dream, or the chance words of a song, or the figures of the tapestry, have terrified them into tears. Haroun Al Raschid opened a volume of poems, and read, Where are the Kings, and where are the rest of the world? They are gone the way which thou shalt go. O thou who choosest a perishable world, and callest him happy whom it glorifies, take what the world can give thee, but death is at the end! And at these words, he who had murdered Yahia and the Barmecides, wept aloud.

In these barbarous monarchies the people are indolent, because if they acquire wealth they dare not enjoy it. Punishment produceth no Shame, for it is inflicted by caprice not by justice. They who are rich and powerful become the victims of rapacity or fear. If a battle or fortress be lost, the Commander is punished for his misfortune; if he become popular by his victories, he incurs the jealousy and hatred of the ruler. Nor is it enough that wealth, and honour, and existence are at the Despot’s mercy; the feelings and instincts must yield at his command. If he take the son for his eunuch, and the daughter for his concubine; if he order the father to execute the child, it is what Destiny has appointed, and the Mahommedan says, God’s will be done. But insulted humanity has not unfrequently been provoked to take vengeance; the Monarch is always in danger, because the subject is never secure; these are the consequences of that absolute power and passive obedience which have resulted from the doctrines of a Mohammed; and this is the state of society wherever his religion has been established.