It aims to present all that is most enduring and memorable in the public orations private sayings of the Holy Prophet in such a form that the general reader may be tempted to learn a little of what a great man he was and of what made him great.
The aim of this little volume is to present all that is most enduring and memorable in the public orations and Private sayings of the Prophet Muhammad in such a form that the general reader may be tempted to learn a little of what a great man was and of what made him great. Things are constantly being said, written, and preached about the Arabian Prophet and the religion he taught, of which an elementary acquaintance with him would show the importance. No one would dare to treat the ordinary classics of European literature in this fashion; or, he did, his exposure would immediately ensure. What I wish to do is to enable anyone, at the cost of the least possible exertion, to put himself into a position to judge of popular fallacies about Muhammad and his creed as surely and certainly as he can judge of errors in ordinary education and scholarship. I do not wish to mention in the Qur'an by name more than can be helped, for I have observed that the word has a deterrent effect upon readers who like their literary food, light and easy of digestion. I cannot, however, be disguised that a great deal of this book consists of the Qur'an, and it may therefore be as well to explain away as far as possible the prejudice which the name is apt to excite. It is not easy to say for how much of this prejudice the standard English translator is responsible. The patient and meritorious George Sale put the Qur'an into tangled English and heavy quarto,--people read quartos then and did not call them editions de luxe, --his version then appeared in a clumsy octavo, with most undesirable type and paper; finally It has come out in a cheap edition, of which it need only be said that utility rather than taste has been consulted. One can hardly blame anyone for refusing to look even at the outsides of these volumes. And the inside,--not the mere outward inside, if I may so say, the type and paper,--but the heart of hearts, the matter itself, is by no means calculated to tempt a reluctant reader. The Qur'an is there arranged according to the orthodox form, instead of in chronological order,--it must be allowed that the chronological order was not discovered in Sale's time,--and the result is that impression of chaotic indefiniteness which impressed Carstyle so strongly, and which Carstyle has impressed upon most of the present generation.
The attitude of the multitude towards Sale's translation of the Qur'an was on the whole reasonable. But if the faults that were found there are shown to belong to Sale and not to the Qur'an or only partly to it, the attitude should change. In the first place, the Qur'an is not a large book, and in the second, it is by no means so disorderly an anarchic as is commonly supposed. Reckoned by the number of verses, the Qur'an is only two-thirds of the length of the New Testament. But the real permanent contents of the Qur'an may be taken at far less even than this estimate. There is also a considerable portion of the Qur'an which is devoted, to the exposure and confutation of those who, from political, commercial, or religious motives, made in their business to thwart Muhammad in his effort to reform his people, These personal, one might say partly, speeches are valuable only to the biographer and historian of the times, They throw but little light on the character of the man Muhammad himself. They show him indeed, to be-what we knew him before--a sensitive man. But for this purpose one instance is sufficient. We do not form our estimate of a great statesman from his moments of sensitivity, but from those larger utterances which reveal the results of a life's study of men and government. So with Muhammad, we may abandon the personal and temporary element in the Qur'an, and base our judgement upon those utternaces which stand for all times, and deal not with individuals or classes, but with man as he is, in Arabia or England, or where we will. This position is not taken with the object of saving Muhammad from himself. His attacks upon his opponents will bear comparison with those of other statesmen. They are doubtless couched in more vigorous language than we are accustomed to, and where we insinuate, Muhammad curses outright. But in the face of a treacherous and malignant opposition, the Arabian Prophet comported himself with singular self-restraint. Leaving out the Jewish stories, needless repetitions, and temporary exhortations or personal vindications, the speeches of Muhammad may be set forth in very moderate compass. One speech--Sura, or chapter, as it is generally called--follows another so much to the same effect, that a limited number will be found to contain all the ideas which a minute study of the whole Qur'an could collect. I believe there is nothing important, either in doctrine or style, which is not contained in the twenty-eight speeches which fill the first part (containing the Quranic suras) of this small volume, If I Were a Mohammadan, I think I could accept the present Collection as a sufficient representation of what the Qur'an teaches.
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