Chapters from the Koran. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE ANCIENT religion of the Arabs was the worship of the stars, but long before the birth of Mohammed, it had become greatly corrupted, and a multifarious idolatry had come to prevail. By the sixth century even this had become perfunctory, and most of the population had ceased to believe in anything, though pilgrimages and sacrifices were to some extent kept up. The chief seat of this degraded worship was the city of Mecca, where was situated the Kaabah, the most ancient shrine of the country; and it was from the family of the princes of Mecca and guardians of the Kaabah that the prophet was descended.
Mohammed was born in 571 A. D. His father died before he was born, and his mother when he was only six. In his youth he tended sheep and goats, and at twenty-four he was employed to drive caravans of camels by a rich widow, Hadïgah, whom he married.
When he was forty, while wandering alone on a desolate mountain near Mecca, he had a vision. An angel appeared to him and told him to read, and recited certain verses. From youth he had suffered from a kind of hysteria, and this vision seems to have increased his tendency to hallucinations and ecstasy. There was an intermission of two or three years before the vision reappeared, after which revelations came rapidly. He became convinced of his prophetic mission, and began to make converts, the first being the women of his own family.
For years, however, the new religion made little progress, and the prophet underwent great hardships, finally having to flee from Mecca to Medinah. From this Flight, which took place in 622 A. D., the Mohammedan era dates. Two years later began the Holy War, and from this time on Mohammedanism was extended largely by the sword. When its founder died in 632, it was firmly established as a great political power as well as a religion; and it is now said to be the belief of about a hundred and seventy millions of people.