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§ 47. Christian Polemics against Mohammedanism. Note on Mormonism.

See the modern Lit. in § 38.

For a list of earlier works against Mohammedanism, see J. Alb. Fabricius: Delectus argumentorum et syllabus scriptorum, qui veritatem Christ. Adv. Atheos, ... Judaeos et Muhammedanos ... asseruerunt. Hamb., 1725, pp. 119 sqq., 735 sqq. J. G. Walch: Bibliotheca Theolog. Selecta (Jenae, 1757), Tom. I. 611 sqq. Appendix to Prideaux’s Life of Mahomet.

Theod. Bibliander, edited at Basle, in 1543, and again in 1550, with the Latin version of the Koran, a collection of the more important works against Mohammed under the title: Machumetis Saracenorum principis ejusque successorum vitae, doctrinae, ac ipse Alcoran., I vol. fol.

Richardus (about 1300): Confutatio Alcorani, first publ. in Paris, 1511.

Joh. de Turrecremata: Tractatus contra principales errores perfidi Mahometis et Turcorum. Rom., 1606.

Lud. Maraccius (Maracci): Prodromus ad refutationem Alcorani; in quo, per IV. praecipuas verae religionis notas, mahumetanae sectae falsitas ostenditur, christianae religionis veritas comprobatur. Rom. (typis Congreg. de Propaganda Fide), 1691. 4 vols., small oct.; also Pref. to his Alcorani textus universus, Petav., 1698, 2 vols. fol.

Hadr. Reland: De Religione Mohammedica. Utrecht, 1705; 2nd ed. 1717; French transl., Hague, 1721.

W. Gass: Gennadius und Pletho. Breslau, 1844, Part I., pp. 106–181. (Die Bestreitung des Islâm im Mittelalter.)

The argument of Mohammedanism against other religions was the sword. Christian Europe replied with the sword in the crusades, but failed. Greek and Latin divines refuted the false prophet with superior learning, but without rising to a higher providential view, and without any perceptible effect. Christian polemics against Mohammed and the Koran began in the eighth century, and continued with interruptions to the sixteenth and seventeenth.

John of Damascus, who lived among the Saracens (about a.d. 750), headed the line of champions of the cross against the crescent. He was followed, in the Greek Church, by Theodor of Abukara, who debated a good deal with Mohammedans in Mesopotamia, by Samonas, bishop of Gaza, Bartholomew of Edessa, John Kantakuzenus (or rather a monk Meletius, formerly a Mohammedan, who justified his conversion, with the aid of the emperor, in four apologies and four orations), Euthymius Zigabenus, Gennadius, patriarch of Constantinople. Prominent in the Latin church were Peter, Abbot of Clugny (twelfth century), Thomas Aquinas, Alanus ab Insulis, Raimundus LulIus, Nicolaus of Cusa, Ricold or Richard (a Dominican monk who lived long in the East), Savonarola, Joh. de Turrecremata.

The mediaeval writers, both Greek and Latin, represent Mohammed as an impostor and arch-heretic, who wove his false religion chiefly from Jewish (Talmudic) fables and Christian heresies. They find him foretold in the Little Horn of Daniel, and the False Prophet of the Apocalypse. They bring him in connection with a Nestorian monk, Sergius, or according to others, with the Jacobite Bahira, who instructed Mohammed, and might have converted him to the Christian religion, if malignant Jews had not interposed with their slanders. Thus he became the shrewd and selfish prophet of a pseudo-gospel, which is a mixture of apostate Judaism and apostate Christianity with a considerable remnant of his native Arabian heathenism. Dante places him, disgustingly torn and mutilated, among the chief heretics and schismatics in the ninth gulf of Hell,

“Where is paid the fee

By those who sowing discord win their burden.”204204    Inferno, Canto XXVIII. 22 sqq. (Longfellow’s translation):
   “A cask by losing centre-piece or cant

   Was never shattered so, as I saw one

   Rent from the chin to where one breaketh wind.

   Between his legs were hanging down his entrails;

   His heart was visible, and the dismal sack

   That maketh excrement of what is eaten.

   While I was all absorbed in seeing him,

   He looked at me, and opened with his hands

   His bosom, saying: ’See now how I rend me;

   How mutilated, am, is Mahomet;

   In front of me doth Ali weeping go,

   Cleft in the face from forelock unto chin;

   And all the others whom thou here beholdest

   Sowers of scandal and of schism have been

   While living, and therefore are thus cleft asunder.’ ”

This mediaeval view was based in part upon an entire ignorance or perversion of facts. It was then believed that Mohammedans were pagans and idolaters, and cursed the name of Christ, while it is now known, that they abhor idolatry, and esteem Christ as the highest prophet next to Mohammed.

The Reformers and older Protestant divines took substantially the same view, and condemn the Koran and its author without qualification. We must remember that down to the latter part of the seventeenth century the Turks were the most dangerous enemies of the peace of Europe. Luther published, at Wittenberg, 1540, a German translation of Richard’s Confutatio Alcorani, with racy notes, to show “what a shameful, lying, abominable book the Alcoran is.” He calls Mohammed “a devil and the first-born child of Satan.” He goes into the question, whether the Pope or Mohammed be worse, and comes to the conclusion, that after all the pope is worse, and the real Anti-Christ (Endechrist). “Wohlan,” he winds up his epilogue, “God grant us his grace and punish both the Pope and Mohammed, together with their devils. I have done my part as a true prophet and teacher. Those who won’t listen may leave it alone.” Even the mild and scholarly Melanchthon identifies Mohammed with the Little Horn of Daniel, or rather with the Gog and Magog of the Apocalypse, and charges his sect with being a compound of “blasphemy, robbery, and sensuality.” It is not very strange. that in the heat of that polemical age the Romanists charged the Lutherans, and the Lutherans the Calvinists, and both in turn the Romanists, with holding Mohammedan heresies.205205    Maracci, Vivaldus, and other Roman writers point out thirteen or more heresies in which Mohammedanism and Lutheranism agree, such as iconoclasm, the rejection of the worship of saints, polygamy (in the case of Philip of Hesse), etc. A fanatical Lutheran wrote a book to prove that “the damned Calvinists hold six hundred and sixty-six theses (the apocalyptic number) in common with the Turks!” The Calvinist Reland, on the other hand, finds analogies to Romish errors in the Mohammedan prayers for the dead, visiting the graves of prophets, pilgrimages to Mecca, intercession of angels, fixed fasts, meritorious almsgiving, etc.

In the eighteenth century this view was gradually corrected. The learned Dean Prideaux still represented Mohammed as a vulgar impostor, but at the same time as a scourge of God in just punishment of the sins of the Oriental churches who turned our holy religion “into a firebrand of hell for contention, strife and violence.” He undertook his “Life of Mahomet” as a part of a “History of the Eastern Church,” though he did not carry out his design.

Voltaire and other Deists likewise still viewed Mohammed as an impostor, but from a disposition to trace all religion to priestcraft and deception. Spanheim, Sale, and Gagnier began to take a broader and more favorable view. Gibbon gives a calm historical narrative; and in summing up his judgment, he hesitates whether “the title of enthusiast or impostor more properly belongs to that extraordinary man .... From enthusiasm to imposture the step is perilous and slippery; the daemon of Socrates affords a memorable instance how a wise man may deceive himself, how a good man may deceive others, how the conscience may slumber in a mixed and middle state between self-illusion and voluntary fraud.”

Dean Milman suspends his judgment, saying: “To the question whether Mohammed was hero, sage, impostor, or fanatic, or blended, and blended in what proportions, these conflicting elements in his character? the best reply is the reverential phrase of Islâm: God knows.’ ”206206    Lat. Christianity, II. 120.

Goethe and Carlyle swung from the orthodox abuse to the opposite extreme of a pantheistic hero-worshiping over-estimate of Mohammed and the Koran by extending the sphere of revelation and inspiration, and obliterating the line which separates Christianity from all other religions. Stanley, R. Bosworth Smith, Emanuel Deutsch, and others follow more or less in the track of this broad and charitable liberalism. Many errors and prejudices have been dispelled, and the favorable traits of Islâm and its followers, their habits of devotion, temperance, and resignation, were held up to the shame and admiration of the Christian world. Mohammed himself, it is now generally conceded, began as an honest reformer, suffered much persecution for his faith, effectually destroyed idolatry, was free from sordid motives, lived in strict monogamy during twenty-four years of his youth and manhood, and in great simplicity to his death. The polygamy which disfigured the last twelve years of his life was more moderate than that of many other Oriental despots, Califs and Sultans, and prompted in part by motives of benevolence towards the widows of his followers, who had suffered in the service of his religion.207207    The Mohammedan apologist, Syed Ameer Ali (The Life and Teachings of Mohammed, London, 1873, pp. 228 sqq.), makes much account of this fact, and entirely justifies Mohammed’s polygamy. But the motive of benevolence and generosity can certainly not be shown in the marriage of Ayesha (the virgin-daughter of Abu-Bakr), nor of Zeynab (the lawful wife of his freedman Zeyd), nor of Safiya (the Jewess). Ali himself must admit that “some of Mohammed’s marriages may possibly have arisen from a desire for male offspring.” The motive of sensuality he entirely ignores.

But the enthusiasm kindled by Carlyle for the prophet of Mecca has been considerably checked by fuller information from the original sources as brought out in the learned biographies of Weil, Nöldeke, Sprenger and Muir. They furnish the authentic material for a calm, discriminating and impartial judgment, which, however, is modified more or less by the religious standpoint and sympathies of the historian. Sprenger represents Mohammed as the child of his age, and mixes praise and censure, without aiming at a psychological analysis or philosophical view. Sir William Muir concedes his original honesty and zeal as a reformer and warner, but assumes a gradual deterioration to the judicial blindness of a self-deceived heart, and even a kind of Satanic inspiration in his later revelations. “We may readily admit,” he says, “that at the first Mahomet did believe, or persuaded himself to believe, that his revelations were dictated by a divine agency. In the Meccan period of his life, there certainly can be traced no personal ends or unworthy motives to belie this conclusion. The Prophet was there, what he professed to be, ’a simple Preacher and a Warner;’ he was the despised and rejected teacher of a gainsaying people; and he had apparently no ulterior object but their reformation .... But the scene altogether changes at Medina. There the acquisition of temporal power, aggrandizement, and self-glorification mingled with the grand object of the Prophet’s previous life; and they were sought after and attained by precisely the same instrumentality. Messages from heaven were freely brought forward to justify his political conduct, equally with his religious precepts. Battles were fought, wholesale executions inflicted, and territories annexed, under pretext of the Almighty’s sanction. Nay, even baser actions were not only excused but encouraged, by the pretended divine approval or command .... The student of history will trace for himself how the pure and lofty aspirations of Mahomet were first tinged, and then gradually debased by a half unconscious self-deception, and how in this process truth merged into falsehood, sincerity into guile,—these opposite principles often co-existing even as active agencies in his conduct. The reader will observe that simultaneously with the anxious desire to extinguish idolatry and to promote religion and virtue in the world, there was nurtured by the Prophet in his own heart a licentious self-indulgence; till in the end, assuming to be the favorite of Heaven, he justified himself by ’revelations’ from God in the most flagrant breaches of morality. He will remark that while Mahomet cherished a kind and tender disposition, ’Weeping with them that wept,’ and binding to his person the hearts of his followers by the ready and self-denying offices of love and friendship, he could yet take pleasure in cruel and perfidious assassination, could gloat over the massacre of entire tribes, and savagely consign the innocent babe to the fires of hell. Inconsistencies such as these continually present themselves from the period of Mahomet’s arrival at Medina; and it is by, the study of these inconsistencies that his character must be rightly comprehended. The key, to many difficulties of this description may be found, I believe, in the chapter ’on the belief of Mahomet in his own inspiration.’ When once he had dared to forge the name of the Most High God as the seal and authority of his own words and actions, the germ was laid from which the errors of his after life freely and fatally developed themselves.”208208    Life of Mah., IV. 317, 322.

Note on Mormonism.


The Book of Mormon. First printed at Palmyra, N. Y., 1830. Written by the Prophet Mormon, three hundred years after Christ, upon plates of gold in the “Reformed Egyptian” (?) language, and translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jun., with the aid of Urim and Thummim, into English. As large as the Old Testament. A tedious historical romance on the ancient inhabitants of the American Continent, whose ancestors emigrated from Jerusalem b.c. 600, and whose degenerate descendants are the red Indians. Said to have been written as a book of fiction by a Presbyterian minister, Samuel Spalding.

The Doctrines and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. Contains the special revelations given to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young at different times. Written in similar style and equally insipid as the Book of Mormon.

A Catechism for Children by Elder John Jaques. Salt Lake City. 25th thousand, 1877.

We cannot close this chapter on Oriental Mohammedanism without some remarks on the abnormal American phenomenon of Mormonism, which arose in the nineteenth century, and presents an instructive analogy to the former. Joseph Smith (born at Sharon, Vt., 1805; shot dead at Nauvoo, in Illinois, 1844), the first founder, or rather Brigham Young (d. 1877), the organizer of the sect, may be called the American Mohammed, although far beneath the prophet of Arabia in genius and power.

The points of resemblance are numerous and striking: the claim to a supernatural revelation mediated by an angel; the abrogation of previous revelations by later and more convenient ones; the embodiment of the revelations in an inspired book; the eclectic character of the system, which is compounded of Jewish, heathenish, and all sorts of sectarian Christian elements; the intense fanaticism and heroic endurance of the early Mormons amidst violent abuse and persecution from state to state, till they found a refuge in the desert of Utah Territory, which they turned into a garden; the missionary zeal in sending apostles to distant lands and importing proselytes to their Eldorado of saints from the ignorant population of England, Wales, Norway, Germany, and Switzerland; the union of religion with civil government, in direct opposition to the American separation of church and state; the institution of polygamy in defiance of the social order of Christian civilization. In sensuality and avarice Brigham Young surpassed Mohammed; for he left at his death in Salt Lake City seventeen wives, sixteen sons, and twenty-eight daughters (having had in all fifty-six or more children), and property estimated at two millions of dollars.209209    As stated in the New York Tribune for Sept. 3, 1877.

The government of the United States cannot touch the Mormon religion; but it can regulate the social institutions connected therewith, as long as Utah is a Territory under the immediate jurisdiction of Congress. Polygamy has been prohibited by law in the Territories under its control, and President Hayes has given warning to foreign governments (in 1879) that Mormon converts emigrating to the United States run the risk of punishment for violating the laws of the land. President Garfield (in his inaugural address, March 4, 1881) took the same decided ground on the Mormon question, saying: “The Mormon church not only offends the moral sense of mankind by sanctioning polygamy, but prevents the administration of justice through the ordinary instrumentalities of law. In my judgment it is the duty of Congress, while respecting to the uttermost the conscientious convictions and religious scruples of every citizen, to prohibit within its jurisdiction all criminal practices, especially of that class which destroy the family relations and endanger social order. Nor can any ecclesiastical organization be safely permitted to usurp in the smallest degree the functions and powers of the National Government.”

His successor, President Arthur, in his last message to Congress, Dec. 1884, again recommends that Congress “assume absolute political control of the Territory of Utah,” and says: “I still believe that if that abominable practice [polygamy] can be suppressed by law it can only be by the most radical legislation consistent with the restraints of the Constitution.” The secular and religious press of America, with few exceptions, supports these sentiments of the chief magistrate.

Since the annexation of Utah to the United States, after the Mexican war, “Gentiles” as the Christians are called, have entered the Mormon settlement, and half a dozen churches of different denominations have been organized in Salt Lake City. But the “Latter Day Saints” are vastly in the majority, and are spreading in the adjoining Territories. Time will show whether the Mormon problem can be solved without resort to arms, or a new emigration of the Mormons.

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