This text is copied from ‘The New Illustrated Universal Reference Book [Odhams Press]’ or ‘The Book of a Million Facts’, seemingly published in 1933. (Authors/editors unknown).
I will give more precise details of the reference book I am copying from in future parts of this series of posts. And I will try to discover who was involved in compiling this book I am studying:
“MAHOMET AND THE RISE OF ISLAM
The Coming of Mahomet.— Long before the founder of Mohammedanism was born there (in the year 570 AD), Mecca was a holy city. From the very early times a temple had existed there, in which stood the black stone which was one of the gods the Arabs worshipped. Mahomet was the child of very poor parents, and it was not until he was forty years old that he made any mark, or attempted to proclaim his new religion, which he declared the archangel Gabriel had revealed to him. Some of his disciples went to Medina and preached the new religion there, and in 622 Mahomet himself fled from Mecca and sought refuge in Medina, where he was greeted with acclamations. The flight of Mahomet is known as the Hijira, and from this date Mohammedans reckon their time as from the Year One.
Soon, his disciples won a victory over Mecca, and Mahomet entered as a master of the city which had cast him out. Mahomet’s religion spread like wildfire through the East, and when he died in 632 he was master of all Arabia. Mohammedanism owes much to the Jewish and Christian monotheistic beliefs, and like them it is the worship of the One True God. Honour and justice and obedience and charity were the foremost qualities taught by Mahomet, and the true Mohammedan is obliged to make his pilgrimage to Mecca, to fast during the month of Ramadanm to give alms, and to recite daily “There is no god but Allah, and Mahomet is his prophet.”
In common with Christianity, Mohammedanism enjoins belief in life after death, and Moses, Abraham and Jesus are recognised as “Prophets.” The Koran, or Mohammedan Bible is a collection of the sayings and teachings of Mahomet, written down shortly after his death. It is read in the Mohammedan mosques, and passages from its pages adorn the walls. There is no provision in the Mohammedan creed for a priesthood to expound the doctrines of the creed, for it is a simple religion framed to appeal to simple men, and is not hedged about with ceremony. The muezzin from his tower, or minaret, above the mosque, merely calls the faithful to prayer five times a day; there is no elaborate ritual to be observed.
The Rule of the Caliphs.—When Mahomet died in 632, his conquests were continued by his successors, known as “Caliphs.” By 643 (when the Caliph Omar died. He was Mahomet’s brother-in-law,) the whole of Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, Assyia and Egypt were all under Mohammedan (or Moslem) rule. The Moslems offered their enemies their choice between “Koran, tribute, or sword,” and it was seldom that the third course was necessary. The Christians in Jerusalem were given special toleration, and allowed the custody of their churches.
Under the successors of Omar, Moslem conquests spread yet further; eastwards to India and the River Oxus, westwards along the whole of North Africa. In the early years of the eighth century the Moslems crossed into Spain, and it is highly probable that they would have over-run France as well, had it not been for a stunning defeat at the hands of Charles Martel, Mayor of the Palace to the Frankish king. He overcame the Moslems as Tours in 732, and all Christendom hailed his victory, although the Moslems were very different from the Barbarian hordes Europe had learned to dread, and from the savage Northmen who soon began to harry the coasts.
By this time, the Mohammedan Empire, or Islam, had grown so great and unwieldy that a certain amount of internal disunion was inevitable. About 760 the capital was shifted to Bagdad, and although the Caliph of Bagdad was recognised as chief, he could not control Africa and Spain from a capital so far away, and they grew almost independent. At last, in the tenth century, Caliphates were established at Cairo in Egypt and at Cordova in Spain.
The most famous of all Caliphs of Bagdad was Haroun-al-Raschid (786-809). Under his rule Bagdad reached its greatest height of prosperity and luxury. It was the centre of commerce for the whole of the Orient, and philosophers and poets thronged Haroun’s court. The Caliph entered into communication with Charlemagne and sent him presents of spices and silks and jewels, an elephant, and a water-clock.
This Caliph is known to all readers of the stories of the Arabian Nights, which give a vivid picture of this, the golden age of Bagdad. “Sinbad the Sailor” too, belongs to this time, or a little later; his adventures are modelled on the career of one Suleiman the Merchant, who made his remarkable voyages through the seas round India and Malaya and the Spice Islands. Sinbad’s “old man of the sea” was perhaps a Borneo ape. (**Broadhurst notes: this seems to be a rather unusual end to this paragraph. I have found a similar reference to Sinbad’s “old man of the sea” here , it may be a lead in my quest to find the origins of these writings I am copying for educational purposes.)
The Turks.—Soon after the death of Haroun-al-Raschid, the Moslem Empire began to decline in power and importance. In the eleventh century the Seljuk Turks pushed their way into the Eastern provinces of the Empire, and in 1058 the Caliph of Bagdad was obliged to hand over to them his temporal power and to recognise their leader as Sultan. He himself retained only his religious primacy. Finally, in 1258, the last Caliph was put to death at the order of the Mongolian leader, the son of Jenghiz Khan.
The Turks were a very different type of people, ignorant, fierce and cruel, and they became a menace to the whole of western civilisation. All through the Middle Ages they remained a constant danger and in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Ottoman Turks—who had been driven from their homes by the conquests of Jenghiz Khan—crept slowly westwards, and at last, in 1453, succeeded in capturing Byzantium and establishing themselves in Europe. The only debt of gratitude that civilization owes to the Mongolian Tamerlane is that he delayed this event by some fifty years, by defeating the Turks at the Battle of Angora in 1402.
Mohammedan Civilization.—Although Christendom had every reason to fear the savagery of the Turks, there were a multitude of things Christians could learn from the Moors in Spain and the Arabs of North Africa. The wisdom of the East, of Persia, and India, was the inheritance of these Moslems, and to it they added a constructive skill and an appreciation of art and of learning peculiarly their own.
The Caliphs ruled their dominions with ability and enlightenment; their roads and their postal system could even compare favourably with those of ancient Rome, and they carried out great irrigation schemes, digging canals and building aqueducts to carry water to parched ground, making what had been stony or sandy waste land into fertile soil.
In architecture the Moors developed a graceful style of their own; many of their mosques and their cloisters and their minarets, encrusted with rich and effective ornament. The famous Alhambra, or red palace of Granada, is the greatest of all monuments to Moorish power in Spain.
The Moors had a great love for gardens, for flowers and sweetly-scented shrubs and fountains of ingenious construction. Oranges and palms and almond trees and vines flourished exceedingly and the Moors grew crops of corn and flax and rice, and fruit of all descriptions for export to all other European countries.
It was the description he heard of the beauties and fertility of the Balearic Islands that induced James, King of Aragon (1213-1276) to undertake their conquest, and he was so delighted with the islands that he proceeded to conquer the Moors of Spain as well, leaving them only the province of Granada, which they retained until 1492.
In scholarship, too the Moors were preeminent. Their universities of Cordova, of Cairo and Bagdad, were better equipped than any Christendom could at that time show. At Cairo there were 12,000 students, and many Christians went to study at Cordova and carried back to their northern homes Moorish science and culture. The great philosopher and mathematician, Gerbert, who afterwards became Pope as Sylvester II (999-1001), as a young man studied at Cordova.
The Moors made great advances in mathematics and kindred sciences, and their knowledge of medicine was deep and varied, far ahead of the fabulous and superstitious quasi-science of Christian doctors. The name of Avicenna (d.1037) is second to none in the history of mediaeval medicine, nor that of Averroes (d. 1198) in scholarship. The latter translated Aristotle, and wrote a commentary on the great philosopher’s works which became classic.
Geographical science, too, made great strides under the direction of the Moors. The Arab Edrisi wrote a description of his travels all over the known world, and presented it together with a map and a globe to the Norman King Roger II of Sicily in 1154. At the Sicilian court the Moslems were appreciated at their true value, and poets and philosophers found there a congenial home. Here, too, their beautiful craftsmanship had an opportunity to develop, but elsewhere in Christendom, although Christians might make use of Moslem skill and knowledge, any skirmish might be dignified by the name of a “Crusade,” like the conquests of James of Aragon.”