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In the beginning of the seventh century, when the Jews had very generally departed from the worship and service of the true God, and when the Christians of the east had almost universally forsaken the simple doctrines, and discipline of their Divine Teacher, there sprung up, in the city of Mecca, in Arabia, one of the most extraordinary and enterprising pretenders to prophecy that the world ever witnessed. This man's name was MAHOMET, or MOHAMMED : he was born in the year 571, of poor parents, hut of rich and respectable connexions. His father died before he was two years old, and all the power and wealth of his family devolved to his uncles ; especially to Abu Taleb, who afterwards became possessed of the chief sway in the city, and surrounding country of Mecca.
After the death of his father, his uncle Abu Taleb, undertook the care of his education ; and ever after, although he refused to listen to his nephew's pretensions as a prophet, manifested great affection for him, and more than once protected him against the fury of his enemies.
He continued in the employment of his uncle, who was a merchant, trading principally to Syria with camels, until he had attained his twenty-fifth year. About that time died one of the chief men of the city, leaving a widow of the name of Cadiga ; who requiring a factor to manage her stock, Mahomet entered her service, and traded for her some years, to Damascus and other places. In this service Mahomet conducted himself with so much propriety, that he not only merited the respect, but actually won the affections of his mistress, who was. twelve years older than himself; he being then only twentyeight years of age. Cadiga having married him, he became suddenly exalted to an equality with some of the richest men of the city.
Whether this unlooked-for elevation had imspired Mahomet with an extraordinary ambition, or whatever other motive prompted him, he soon began to manifest symptoms of wishing to appear a man of no common character; and as one divinely commissioned to reform the world by the introduction of a new system of religion. He proceeded, however, with much caution and care ; and it was not till he had attained his thirty
eighth year, that he retired from the business of the world, to commence hermit in the cave of Hira, in which, as he said, he continued all day, exercising himself in prayer, fastings, and holy meditations. This course of piety having been pursued for he space of two years, his wife began to look upon him in the light of an apostle, and actually became converted to his new faith and mode of life.
Mahomet was in his fortieth year, when he first took upon himself the style and title of an apostle of God. This, however, he did only to a very few who gradually attached themselves to his cause. But, about four years afterwards, he openly declared himself, in the city of Mecca, a prophet sent by God, to convert the people from the errors of Paganism to the true religion. This declaration was, at first, greatly derided; but as his disciples continued to increase, it was at length thought necessary by some to arrest his career by putting him to death. A combination to effect this was accordingly formed ; but the plot having come to the knowledge of his uncle Abu Taleb, the prophet was saved from destruction through his means.
The inain arguments, which Mahomet used to delude men into a belief of this imposture, were promises and threats, which he knew would work most strongly on the affections of the vulgar. His promises were chiefly of Paradise, which with great art he framed agreeably to the taste of the Arabians : for they, lying within the torrid zone, were, through the nature of their climate, as well as the corruption of their manners, exceedingly given to the love of women ; and the scorching heat and dryness of the country, making rivers of water, cooling drinks, shaded gardens, and pleasant fruits, most refreshing and delightful to them, they were from hence apt to place their highest enjoyment in things of this nature. For this reason, he made the joys of his Paradise to consist totally in these particulars ; which he promises them abundantly in many places of the Koran. On the contrary, he described the punishments of hell, which he threatened to all who would not believe in him, to consist of such torments as would appear to them the most afflicting and grievous to be borne ; as, “ that they should drink nothing but boiling and stinking water, nor breathe any thing but exceedingly hot winds, things most terrible in Arabia ; that they should dwell for ever in continual fire, excessively burning, and be surrounded with a black hot salt smoke, as with a coverlid, &c.”
Mahomet pretended to receive all his revelations from the angel Gabriel, who, be said, was sent from God, on purpose to deliver them unto him. He was subject, it is said, to the falling-sickness ; so that whenever the fit was upon him, he pretended it to be a trance, and that then the Angel Gabriel was come from God with some new revelations. His pretended revelations be put into several chapters ; the collection of which makes up the Koran, which is the Bible of the Mahom. etans. The original of this book was laid up, as he taught his followers, in the archives of heaven; and the angel Gabriel brought him the copy of it, chapter by chapter, as occasion required, that they should be published to the people : that is, as often as any new thing was to be set on foot, any objection against him or his religion to be answered, any difficulty to be solved, any discontent among his people to be quieted, any offence to be removed, or any thing else done for the furtherance of his grand scheme, his constant recourse was to the angel Gabriel for a new revelation ; and then appeared some addition to the Koran, to serve his purpose. But what perplexed him most was, that bis opposers demanded to see a miracle from him ; “ for," said they, "Moses, and Jesus, and the rest of the prophets, according to thy own doctrine, worked miracles to prove their mission from God; and therefore, if thou be a prophet, and greater than any that were sent before thee, as thou boasteth thyself to be, do thou work the like miracles to manifest it unto us.” This objection he endeavoured to evade by several answers ; all of which amount only to this, "" that God had sent Moses and Jesus with miracles, and yet men would not be obedient to their word ; and therefore he had now sent him, in the last place, without miracles, to force them by the power of the sword to do his will." Hence it has become the universal doctrine of the Mahometans, that their religion is to be propagated by the sword, and that all true Mussulmen are bound to fight for it. It has even been said to be a custom among them for their preachers, while they deliver their sermons, to have a drawn sword placed by them, to denote, that the doctrines they teach are to be defended and propagated by the sword. Some miracles, at the same time, are told, wbich Mahomet is said to have wrought; as, “That he clave the moon in two ; that trees went forth to meet him, &c. &c. ;" but those who relate them are only such as are ranked among their fabulous and legendary writers; their learned doctors renounce them all ; and when they are questioned, how without miracles they can prove his mission, their common answer is, that the Koran itself is the greatest of all miracles ; for that Mahomet, who was an illiterate person, who could neither write nor read, or that any man else, by human wisdom alone, should be able to compose such a book, is, they think, impossible. On this Mahomet himself also frequently insists, challenging in several places of the Koran, both men and devils, by their united skill, to compose any thing equal to it, or to any part of it. From all which they conclude, and as they think, infallibly, that this book could come from none other but God himself; and that Mahomet, from whom they received it, was his messenger to bring it unto then them.
In the eighth year of his pretended mission, his party growing formidable at Mecca, the city passed a decree, by which they torbade any more to join themselves with him. This, however, did not much affect him, while his uncle Abu Taleb lived to protect him : but he dying two years after, and the government of the city then falling into the hands of his enemies, a fresh opposition was renewed against him, and a stop soon put to the further progress of his designs at Mecca. His wife Cadiga being now dead, after living with him two and twenty years, he took two other wives in her stead, Ayesha, the daughter of Abubeker, and Lewda, the daughter of Zama; adding a while after to them a third, named Haphsa, the daughter of Omar ; and by thus making himself son-in-law to three of the principal men of his party, he strengthened his interest considerably. Ayesha is said to have been then only six years old ; on which account the completion of that marriage was deferred, though not for many years, the eastern women being very early marriageable.
In the twelfth year of his mission is placed the mesra, that is, his famous night-journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and thence to heaven; of which he tells us, in the seventeenth chapter of the Koran : for the people calling on him for miracles to prove his mission, and finding himself unable, or being unwilling, to feign any, to solve the matter, he invented this story of his journey to heaven. The story, as related in the Koran, and believed by the Mahometans, is this : At night as he lay in his bed with his best beloved wife Ayesha, he heard a knocking at his door ; upon which, arising, he found there the angel Gabriel, with seventy pair of wings, expanded from his sides, wbiter than snow, and clearer than crystal, and the beast Alborak standing by him ; which, they say, is the beast on which the prophets used to ride, when they were carried from one place to another, upon the execution of any divine command.
As soon as Mahomet appeared at the door, the angel Gabriel kindly embraced him, saluted him in the name of God, and told him, that he was sent to bring him unto God into heaven; where he should see strange mysteries, which were not lawful to be seen by any other man. He prayed him then to get upon Alborak ; but the beast having lain idle and unemployed from the time of Christ to Mahomet, was grown so mettlesome and skittish, that he would not stand still for Mahomet to mount him, till at length he was forced to bribe him to it, by promising him a place in Paradise. When he was firmly seated on him, the angel Gabriel led the way with the bridle of the beast in his hand, and carried the prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem in the twinkling of an eye. "On his coming thither, all the de. parted prophets and saints appeared at the gate of the temple to salute him ; and, thence attending him into the chief oratory, desired him to pray for them, and then withdrew. After this, Mahomet went out of the temple with the angel Gabriel, and found a ladder of light ready fixed for them, when they immediately ascended, leaving Alborak tied to a rock till their return.
On their arrival at the first heaven, the angel knocked at the gate ; and informing the porter who he was, and that he had
brought Mahomet, the friend of God, he was immediately ad: mitted. This first heaven, he tells us, was all of pure silver ; froin whence he saw the stars hanging from it by chains of gold, each as big as mount Nobo, near Mecca, in Arabia. On his entrance he met a decrepid old man, who it seems was our first father Adam ; and, as he advanced, he saw a multitude of angels in all manner of shapes ; in the shape of birds, beasts, and men. We must not forget to observe, that Adam had the piety immediately to embrace the prophet, giving God thanks for so great a son ; and then recommended himself to his prayers. From this first heaven, he tells us, that he ascended into the second, which was at the distance of five hundred years' journey above it ; and this he makes to be the distance of erery one of the seven heavens, each above the other. Here the gates being opened to him as before, at his entrance he met Noah, who, rejoicing much at the sight of him, recommended himself to his prayers. This heaven was all of pure gold, and there were twice as many angels in it as in the former; for he tells us that the number of angels in every heaven increased as he advanced. From this second heaven he ascended into the third, which was made of precious stones, where he met Abraham, who also recommended himself to his prayers ; Joseph, the son of Jacob, did the same in the fourth heaven, which was all of emerald ; Moses in the fifth, which was all of adamant; and John the Baptist in the sixth, which was all of carbuncle : whence he ascended into the seventh, which was all of divine light, and here he found Jesus Christ. However it is observed, that bere he alters his style ; for he does not say that Jesus Christ recommended himself to his prayers, but that he recommended himself to the prayers of Jesus Christ.
The angel Gabriel, having brought him thus far, told him that he was not permitted to attend him any further ; and therefore directed him to ascend the rest of the way to the throne of God by himielf. This he performed with great difficulty, passing through rough and dangerous places, till he came where he heard a voice, saying unto him, "O Mahomet, salute thy Creator;" whence ascending higher, he came into a place where he saw a vast expansion of light, so exceedingly bright, that his eyes could not bear it. This, it seems, was the habitation of the Almighty, where his throne was placed ; on the right side of which, he says, God's name and his own were written in these Arabic words; “La ellah ellallah Mahomet reful ollah ;'' that is, “ THERE IS NO GOD BUT GOD, AND MAHOMET IS HIS PROPHET,” which is at this day the creed of the Mahometans. Being approached to the divine presence, he tells us, that God entered into a familiar converse with him, revealed to him many hidden mysteries, made him understand the whole of his law, gave him many things in charge concerning his instructing men in the knowledge of it; and, in conclusion, bestowed on him several privileges above the rest of mankind. He then returned, and found the angel Gabriel waiting for him in the place