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This book governs with despotic sway the whole of northern Africa, from Mount Atlas to the desert of Barca, the whole of Egypt, the coasts of the Ethiopian Sea to the extent of six hundred leagues, Syria, Asia Minor, all the countries round the Black and the Caspian Seas (excepting the kingdom of Astracan) the whole empire of Hindostan, all Persia, a great part of Tartary; and in Europe, Thrace, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Servia, Bosnia, Greece, Epirus, and nearly all the islands as far as the little strait of Otranto, which terminates these immense possessions.
In this prodigious extent of country there is not a single Mahometan who has the happiness of reading our sacred books; and very few of our literati are acquainted with the Koran, of which we almost always form a ridiculous idea, notwithstanding the researches of our really learned men.
The first lines of this book are as follow:- “ Praise to God, the sovereign of all worlds—to the God of mercy, the sovereign of the day of justice! Thee we adore! to thee only do we look for protection. Lead us in the right way—in the way of those whom thou hast loaded with thy graces, and not in the way of the objects of thy wrath of them who have gone astray.
Such is the introduction, Then come three letters, A, L, M, which, according to the learned Sale, are not understood, for each commentator explains themi in his own way; but the most common opinion is, that they signify Ali, Latif, Magid-God, Grace, Glory.
God himself then speaks to Mahomet in these words:
“ This book admitteth not of doubt. It is for the direction of the just, who believe in the depths of the faith, who observe the times of prayer, who distribute
in alms what it hath pleased me to give them, who believe in the revelation which hath descended to thee, and was delivered to the prophets before thee. Let the faithful have a firm assurance in the life to come ; let them be directed by their Lord; and they shall be happy."
“ As for unbelievers, it mattereth not whether thou. callest them or no: they do not believe; the seal of unbelief is on their hearts and on their ears; a terrible punishment awaiteth them.
“ There are some who say, “ We believe in God and in the Last Day, but in their hearts they are unbelievers. They think to deceive the Eternal; they deceive themselves without knowing it. Infirmity is in their hearts, and God himself increaseth this infirmity," &c.
These words are said to have incomparably more energy in Arabic. Indeed, the Koran still passes for the most elegant and most sublime book which has been written in that language.
We have imputed to the Koran a great number of foolish things which it never contained. It was chiefly against the Turks, who had become Mahometans, that our monks wrote so many books, at a time when no other opposition was of much service ayainst the conquerors of Constantinople. Our authors, much more numerous than the Janissaries, had no great difficulty in ranging our women on their side ; they persuaded them that Mahomet looked upon them merely as ina telligent animals; that, by the laws of the Koran, they were all slaves, having no property in this world, nor any share in the Paradise of the next. The false hood of all this is evident; yet it has all been firmlý believed.
It was, however, only necessary, in order to discover the deception, to have read the fourth sura or chapter of the Koran, in which would have been found the following laws, translated in the same manner by Du Ryer, who resided for a long time at Constantinople; by Maracci, who never went there; and by Sale, who lived twenty-five years among the Arabs.
Mahomet's Regulations with respect to Wives.
1. Never marry idolatrous women, unless they will become believers. A Mussulman servant is better than an idolatrous woman, though of the highest rank.
2. They who, having wives, wish to make a vow of chastity, shall wait four months before they decide.
Wives shall conduct themselves towards their husbands as their husbands conduct themselves towards them.
3. You may separate yourself from your wife twice; but if you divorce her á third time, it must be for ever; you must either keep her humanely or put her away kindly. You are not permitted to keep anything from her which you have given to her.
4. Good wives are obedient and attentive, even in the absence of their husbands. If your wife is prudent, be careful not to have any quarrel with her; but if one should happen, let an arbiter be chosen from your own family, and one from hers.
5. Take one wife, or two, or three, or four, but never
But if you doubt your ability to act equitably towards several, take only one. Give them a suitable dowry, take care of them, and speak to them always like a friend.
6. You are not permitted to inherit from your wife against her will; nor to prevent her from marrying another after her divorce, in order to possess yourself of her dower, unless she has been declared guilty of some crime.
When -you choose to separate yourself from your wife and take another, you must not, though you have
even given her a talent at your marriage, take any thing from her.
You are permitted to marry a slave, but it is better that you
should not do so.
8. A repudiated wife is obliged to suckle her child until it is two years old, during which time the father is obliged to maintain them, according to his condition. If the infant is weaned at an earlier period, it must be with the consent of both father and mother. If you are obliged to entrust it to a strange nurse, you shall make her a reasonable allowance.
Here, then, is sufficient to reconcile the women to Mahomet, who has not used them so hardly he is said to have done. We do not pretend to justify either his ignorance or his imposture; but we cannot condemn his doctrine of one only God. These words of his 122nd sura, “God is one, eternal, neither begetting nor begotten; no one is like to him.” These words had more effect than even his sword in subjugating the East.
Still his Koran is a collection of ridiculous revelations and vague and incoherent predictions, combined with laws which were very good for the country in which he lived, and all which continue to be followed, without having been changed or weakened, either by Mahometan interpreters or by new decrees. The poets of Mecca were hostile to Mahomet, but above all the doctors. These raised the magistracy against him; and a warrant was issued for his apprehension as one duly accused and convicted of having said that God must be adored, and not the stars. This, it is known, was the source of his greatness. When it was seen that he could not be put down, and that his writings were becoming popular, it was given out in the city that he was not the author of them, or that at least he was assisted in their composition by a learned
Jew, and sometimes by a learned Christian,--suppos. ing that there were at that time learned Jews and learned Christians.
So, in our days, more thin one prelate has been reproached with having set monks to compose his sermons and funeral orations. There was one Father Hercules (Pere Hercule) who made sermons for a certain bishop, and when people went to hear him preach, they used to say, “Let us go and hear the labours of Hercules.”
To this charge Mahomet gives an answer in his 16th chapter, occasioned by a gross blunder he had made in the pulpit, about which a great deal had been said. He gets out of the scrape thus :
“ When thou readest the Koran, address thyself to God, that he may preserve thee from the machinations of Satan. He has power only over those who have chosen him for their master, and who give associates unto God.
“ When I substitute one verse for another in the Koran (the reason for which changes is known to God) some unbelievers cry out, Thou hast forged those verses; but they know not how to distinguish truth from falsehood. Say rather, that the Holy Spirit brought those verses of truth to me from God. Others say, still more malignantly, there is a certain man who labours with him in composing the Koran. But how can this man, to whom they attribute my works, have taught me, speaking, as he does, a foreign language, while the Koran is written in the purest Arabic?”
He who, it was pretended, assisted Mahomet, was a Jew named Bensalen or Bensalon. It is not very likely that a Jew should have lent his assistance to Mahomet in writing against the Jews; yet the thing is not impossible. The monk, who was said to have contributed to the Koran, was by some called Bohaira, by others Sergius. There is something pleasant in this monk's having had both a Latin and an Arabic
As for the fine theological disputes which have arisen amongst the Mussulmen, I have no concern with them; I leave them to the decision of the mufti.