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IS ISLAM ORIGINAL?

II

But there was no such national movement in Greece, and therefore no opportunity either for the birth of a new religion, or a revival of the old one. In Greek Polytheism we see historically nothing but decay. Mythology thus early had overgrown Religion, and the gross stories of Homer and of Hesiod which so scandalised Socrates and Plato, had, even in their time, concealed from all but the highest minds the vague primitive belief, common probably to the whole Indo-Germanic race, in one Father who is in Heaven.

To what extent the principle I have laid down as to the origin of the three great historical religions, is also true of that of Mohammed, will develope itself gradually in the sequel.

It has been remarked, indeed, by writer after writer, that Islam is less interesting than other religions, inasmuch as it is less original. And this is one of the favourite charges brought against it by Christian apologists. In the first place, I am inclined to think that the charge of want of originality, though it cannot be denied, has been overdone by recent writers; most conspicuously so by M. Renan, who, ingenious and beautiful as his Essay is, seems disposed to explain the whole fabric of Islam by the ideas that existed before Mohammed; and the political direction given to it by his successors, most notably by Omar;

in fact, it seems to me that the only element left out, or not accounted for, in his analysis of Mohammedanism, is Mohammed himself. His Mohammedanism resembles a Hamlet with not only the Prince of Denmark, but with Shakespeare himself cut out. The disjointed members and some few elements of the fabric remain; about as much as we should have of the Hamlet of Shakespeare in the Amlettus of SaxoGrammaticus; but the informing, animating, inspiring soul is wanting.

It is undeniable that a vague and hearsay acquaintance with the Old Testament, the Talmud, and the New Testament, and the undefined religious cravings of a few of his immediate predecessors, or contemporaries, influenced Mohammed much, and traces of them at second hand may be found in every other page of the Koran; but then, in the second place, it may be asked whether want of originality is any reproach to a religion; for what is religion?

It is that something, which, whether it is a collection of shadows projected by the mind itself upon the mirror of the external world, explaining the Macrocosm by the Microcosm, and invested with a reality which belongs only to the mind that casts them, if indeed even to that, or whether it is indeed an insight of the soul into realities which exist independently of it, and which underlie alike the world of sense and the

WHAT IS RELIGION?

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world of reason; it is something, at all events, which satisfies the spiritual wants of man. Man's spiritual wants, whatever their origin, are his truest wants; and the something which satisfies those wants is the most real of all realities to him.

The founder, therefore, of a religion which is to last must read the spiritual needs of a nation correctly, or, at all events, must be capable of seeing the direction in which they lead, and the development they will one day take. If he read them correctly, he need not care about any originality beyond that which such insight implies; he will rather do well to avoid it. The religious world was startled a few years ago by the revelations of an Oriental scholar that much supposed to be exclusively the doctrine of the New Testament is to be found in the Talmud, as though some reflection was thereby cast upon the Founder of our religion! Positivists, again, have laid great stress on the fact that some of the moral precepts supposed to be exclusively Christian are to be found in the sacred writings of Confucius and the Buddhists. But what then? Is a religion less true because it recognises itself in other garbs, because it incorporates in itself all that is best in the system which it expands or supplants? What if we found the whole Sermon on the Mount dispersed about the writings of the Jewish Rabbis, as we unquestionably find some part of it?

Christ Himself was always the first to assert that He came, not to destroy, but to fulfil. But it is strange that the avowed relation of Christianity to Judaism has not protected Islam from the assaults of Christian apologists, grounded on its no less explicitly avowed relation to the two together!

But what of interest, I am ready to admit, the religion of Mohammed loses on the score of originality, it gains in the greater fulness of our knowledge of its origin. It is the latest and most historical of the great religions of the world.

Renan has remarked that the origin of nearly all the leading phenomena of life and history is obscure. What, for instance, can Max Müller tell us of the origin of language? What well-authenticated facts can political philosophers like Hobbes or Locke, or even scientific antiquaries like Sir Charles Lyell or Sir John Lubbock, tell us of the origin of society? What can Darwin tell us of the origin of life? Trace the genealogy of all existing languages into the three great groups of Aryan, Semitic, and Turanian; find, if you can, the parent language from which even these three families have originally diverged; are we any nearer an explanation of what language really is? Our hopes, indeed, are aroused by hints dropped throughout Professor Max Müller's fascinating book that he has a secret to divulge to those who have gone through an adequate

ELEMENTS OF RELIGION.

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process of initiation. But to our disappointment we find that the explanation of Phonetic Types' is only a roundabout way of saying what, no doubt, is true, that language is instinctive, and that we know nothing whatever of its origin. That sound expresses thought we knew before; but how does it express it? That is the question. Trace elaborately through Geological Periods, if you can, the steps by which the Monad has been developed into Man, and show that there is no link wanting, and that Nature, so far as we can trace, never makes a leap. Perhaps not; but there is a leap somewhere, and who can say how vast the leap before the Protoplasm can have received the something that is not Protoplasm but Life, and which has all the dignity of life, even though it be a Monad's?

So, too, if the Science of Religion lasts long enough, we may one day be able to trace a continuity of growth from the very dawn of man's belief till, as in history so in religion,

'We doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs

And the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns.'

We shall find, however, that, even in the dimmest dawn of history, the essence of religion was already there, not forming, but already formed; a feeling of mystery which, as it is the beginning of philosophy, so, perhaps, it is the very first beginning of religion; the distinction between right and wrong; the idea of

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