THE conversion to the religion of the Prophet Mohammed of Alexander Russell Webb, F.T.S., and his establishing in New York a paper devoted to Islamism,together with his lectures on the subject, have caused a great deal of attention to be given to Mohammedanism. Bro. Webb is still a member of the Society,with an interest in its progress, and this is another illustration of the broadness of our platform. But he says that it has surprised him to find the members in general paying slight regard to the life of the Prophet,his sayings and his religion, as one of our objects calls for the study of all religions. In India he found many followers of the Prophet in our Branches, and among them much knowledge of formerly so-called esoteric doctrines,which are common to all religions. That such would be the case must have long ago been evident to those who have read the admirable articles which were printed some years ago in the PATH upon Sufi poetry, as the Sufis really preserve the inner doctrines of Islam. But it is natural that the religion of Mohammed has not received from Western people very great consideration. They judge it in the mass, and not from some of its teachings. The West has developed its social system and its religious belief on its own lines, and having seen that many of the followers of the Prophet are polygamists, which is contrary to Western notions, the entire Islamic system has been condemned on that ground, both in a social and religious sense.
The best Mohammedans say that the Prophet did not teach polygamy, but only permitted it in case a man could treat many wives in exactly the same way in every respect that he could one. Although over against this the Prophet himself had but one wife, and was in fact a celibate, it was quite natural that his followers should liberally construe what he said on the subject and take unto themselves as many wives as their means permitted. This is human nature, and would probably be the result today in the West if our people placed reliance on the words of a Teacher who had made a similar statement.
The words of the Koran upon the subject of polygamy, as given by Mr. Webb, are:
The next prominent conception held by Western people about the Mohammedans is that they have forced an acceptance of their doctrines. We have such stories as that they carried sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, compelling people to accept the book under threat of the sword; that they burned books containing matter other than that in the Koran, on the ground that if it was in the Koran the books were unnecessary, and if it was not in the Koran the books were wrong and should be burned. But the disciples of the Prophet assert that he never taught any such thing, and point to much learning on the part of the Mohammedans in the past. Doubtless these disciples are right, but we know that many Mohammedans tried to coerce people, and that there is some foundation for the story in respect to destruction of that which was not found in the Koran. For these reasons the West has been opposed to Islamism without really knowing much about it. The religion has been judged by the proceedings of its followers. Similar charges might be made against Christian peoples, who notoriously both individually and as nations are in the habit of going directly contrary to the commands of their Founder.
In the latest English publication on the subject, Mr. Webb says:
The religion of the Prophet contains, in common with all other religions, a secret doctrine which is the same as that found in those differently named. As referred to above, the Sufis taught a very high kind of mysticism, but not any higher than that of the Hindus, nor any different from the mysticism of the Christians, both of early and later times. They taught union with God; so do the Hindu and the Christian. They spoke of their wife and their mistress and their concubines or houris; so do mediaeval alchemists, and many of the Indian Yogis speak in a similar strain; so that in whatever direction we turn it is found that there is no substantial difference between Islamism and any other religion except in respect to age, and it is really the youngest of all, excepting perhaps the later Christian development found among the Mormons of America or Latter-day Saints. In fact, some Western Theosophists have said that it would be just as well to accept Mormonism as Islamism, since the teachings are identical and the practices are also. The Mormons say that polygamy is not taught, but they practice it; they have their mysticism, their prophecy, their various kinds of frenzy, and among them are many extraordinary examples of prevision, notably with Brig-ham Young, the second prophet.
Americans might be inclined, if they were about to make a change, to accept their own natural product in preference to an Arabian one. Certainly in regard to morality, honesty, thrift, temperance, and such virtues, the Mormons stand as well as the followers of the Prophet Mohammed. But as we know little about true Islamism, a careful consideration of it will no doubt add to our knowledge and broaden our conceptions, since it must end in our seeing once more that none of the religions of the day are true ones, but that a single body of truth underlying them all must be the religion of the future.