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SINCE the days of Carthage and Hannibal we have said nothing of the Semitic
people. You will remember how they filled all the chapters devoted to the story of the
Ancient World. The Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Phoenicians, the Jews, the
Arameans, the Chaldeans, all of them Semites, had been the rulers of western Asia for
thirty or forty centuries. They had been conquered by the Indo-European Persians who
had come from the east and by the Indo-European Greeks who had come from the west.
A hundred years after the death of Alexander the Great, Carthage, a colony of Semitic
Phoenicians, had fought the Indo-European Romans for the mastery of the
Mediterranean. Carthage had been defeated and destroyed and for eight hundred years
the Romans had been masters of the world. In the seventh century, however, another
Semitic tribe appeared upon the scene and challenged the power of the west. They were
the Arabs, peaceful shepherds who had roamed through the desert since the beginning
of time without showing any signs of imperial ambitions.
Then they listened to Mohammed, mounted their horses and in less than a century
they had pushed to the heart of Europe and proclaimed the glories of Allah, "the only
God," and Mohammed, "the prophet of the only God," to the frightened peasants of
The story of Ahmed, the son of Abdallah and Aminah (usually known as Mohammed,
or "he who will be praised,"); reads like a chapter in the "Thousand and One Nights."
He was a camel-driver, born in Mecca. He seems to have been an epileptic and he
suffered from spells of unconsciousness when he dreamed strange dreams and heard
the voice of the angel Gabriel, whose words were afterwards written down in a book
called the Koran. His work as a caravan leader carried him all over Arabia and he was
constantly falling in with Jewish merchants and with Christian traders, and he came to
see that the worship of a single God was a very excellent thing. His own people, the
Arabs, still revered queer stones and trunks of trees as their ancestors had done, tens of
thousands of years before. In Mecca, their holy city, stood a little square building, the
Kaaba, full of idols and strange odds and ends of Hoo-doo worship.
Mohammed decided to be the Moses of the Arab people. He could not well be a
prophet and a camel-driver at the same time. So he made himself independent by
marrying his employer, the rich widow Chadija. Then he told his neighbours in Mecca
that he was the long-expected prophet sent by Allah to save the world. The neighbours
laughed most heartily and when Mohammed continued to annoy them with his speeches
they decided to kill him. They regarded him as a lunatic and a public bore who deserved
no mercy. Mohammed heard of the plot and in the dark of night he fled to Medina
together with Abu Bekr, his trusted pupil. This happened in the year 622. It is the most
important date in Mohammedan history and is known as the Hegira—the year of the
Great Flight.
In Medina, Mohammed, who was a stranger, found it easier to proclaim himself a
prophet than in his home city, where every one had known him as a simple camel-
driver. Soon he was surrounded by an increasing number of followers, or Moslems,
who accepted the Islam, "the submission to the will of God," which Mohammed praised
as the highest of all virtues. For seven years he preached to the people of Medina. Then
he believed himself strong enough to begin a campaign against his former neighbours
who had dared to sneer at him and his Holy Mission in his old camel-driving days. At
the head of an army of Medinese he marched across the desert. His followers took
Mecca without great difficulty, and having slaughtered a number of the inhabitants,
they found it quite easy to convince the others that Mohammed was really a great