Monday, 30 November 2015

A RELIGIOUS DISCUSSION IN ARABIA.

Knowing the variety of opinion among ordinary Mahometans regarding the bipartition of sins, I was desirous to learn where Wabbabees thought fit to draw the contested line. My readers cannot fail to understand that the answer to this query must throw considerable light on the moral character of the sect, the most important point, perhaps, where national creeds are concerned. Accordingly, I expressed to my learned friend the great anxiety which I lay under, and how uneasy my conscience was, from the fear of committing "great" sins, while deeming them only "little" ones; that I had found the doctors of the north diffident and unsatisfactory in their replies; but that now, in the most pious and orthodox of towns, and in the society of the most learned of friends, (modestly looking towards him), I hoped to set my mind at rest, and settle once for all a matter of such high importance. 'Abd-el-Kereem doubted not that he had a sincere scholar before him, nor would refuse his hand to a drowning man.
 So, putting on a profound air, and with a voice of first class solemnity, he uttered his oracle, that "the first of the great sins is the giving the Divine honours to a creature." A hit, I may observe, at ordinary Mahometans, whose whole doctrine of intercession, whether vested in Mahomet or in 'Alee, is classed by Wahabees along with direct and downright idolatry. A Damascus Sheykh would have avoided the equivocation by answering "infidelity." Of course," I replied, "the enormity of such a man is beyond all doubt. But if this be the first, there must be a second ; what is it ?" "Drinking the shameful" in English, " smoking tobacco," was the unhesitating answer, " And murder, and adultery, and false witness !" I suggested, "God is merciful and forgiving," rejoined my friend, that is, these are merely little sins. " Hence two sins alone are great, polytheism and smoking." I continued, though hardly able to keep countenance any longer. And 'Abd-el-Kereem, with the most serious asseveration, replied that, such was really the case.
 Before quitting this topic, I must add a word of explanation. As to the answer given respecting the first of these two deadly crimes, "Shork," (literally "association;" or putting the Creature on a level with the Creator,) Wahhabee doctrine, which is none other than the genuine spirit of the Coran, renders all plain. I have, in a former chapter explained at length the genuine notion of the Deity conveyed by the text book of Islam, and that all-absorbing theocracy which would render God the most tyrannical of tyrants, and His creatures the most debased of slaves. A portentous conclusion, yet the unavoidable result of a pantheistic merging of all act, all responsibility, in God alone.
 Now, in this system, what the creature may do, how he may pass his time, whether he kills, steals, perjures himself, or the contrary, matters little to the Great Autocrat, so long as the sacred right of His supreme monarchy is left untouched and duly acknowledged. The tyrant is content with the slave, if the slave but avow himself for such, and He asks no more. In accordance with this theory is the practice. A sort of compromise is made between God and man: " I," says man, " will acknowledge You, and You alone, with undivided reverence and allegiance, for my Creator, Preserver, Master, Lord, everything." And in quittance of this obligation, I will make You five prayers a-day, consisting of thirty-four prostrations, seventeen chapters of the Coran, and an equal number of inclinations, not forgetting previous ablutions, partial or total, with frequent ' La Ilah illa Allah's,' and the like. On Your side You will in consequence let me do what I like for the rest of the twenty-four hours, nor be over inquisitive about my private and personal conduct; and, after this You cannot do less than admit me into Paradise, and there provide me with 'the flesh of birds, exactly what men relish,' (the words are from the Coran,) shady trees, rivers of nectar, and goblets of wine, in return for my life-long adorations; and even should they have been now and then defective, my belief in You and You alone, with a good 'La Ilah illa Allah' on my death bed, ought to be quite sufficient." This is the abridgment, the compendium of orthodox Islam, when rendered in plain English. And of the ratification of this pact by the Deity himself, the Muslim is assured by the Heaven-sent promise conveyed in the Coran, "God will assuredly not pardon the association of others with Him, but He will pardon, whatsoever else to whom He wills ;" that is, to those whom His will has directed on the " straight path", of the true faith. But ordinary Mahometans might well be surprised to find here, alongside of the first, a second deadly sin, the sister and the rival of the former.
 And why smoking in particular?  The more so, since (in this system of the universe) whatever man does, it is God that does it, and consequently smoking is no less the result of Divine decree and irresistible impulse than theft or murder. Here, again, a summary, if not a satisfactory answer, might be supplied by, "God has willed it so." And who shall deny the right of the Autocrat to place guilt where He chooses, and then to punish it as He chooses? Some other reason must, however, be given in ordinary inquiry, above all when the question is proposed by one not fully imbued with the doctrines of the sect. On this ground I proceed humbly to entreat 'Abd-eh-Kereem to explain to me the especial wickedness inherent in tobacco leaves, that I might the more detest and eschew them hereafter.
 I shall repeat his arguments, and then add what I myself consider to be a reason more conclusive of this point in the Wahhabee theory, than any suggested by 'Abd el-Kereem himself. He how proceeded to instruct me, saying that firstly, all intoxicating substances are prohibited by the Coran ; but tobacco is an intoxicating substance; ergo, tobacco is prohibited.  I insinuated that it was not intoxicating, and appealed to experience. But, to my surprise, my friend had experience, too, on his side, and had ready at hand the most appalling tales of men falling down dead drunk after a single whiff of smoke, and of others in a state of bestial and habitual ebriety from its use. Nor were his stories so purely gratuitous as many might at first imagine. The only tobacco known, when known, in Southern Nejed, is that of 'Oman, a very powerful species. I was myself astonished, and almost "taken in," more than once, by its extraordinary narcotic effects, when I experienced them, in the coffee-houses of Bahreyn and the K'hawahs of Sohar. It were no exaggeration to represent its strength by the analogous symbols of XX, or even XXX. However, I would not subscribe to his argument; besides, I had not yet tried the sort of tobacco which he had in mind. So I rejoined that, without questioning in the least the accuracy of the facts he stated, they were after all to be looked on as exceptions, or unfortunate idiosyncrasies ; and that, in a general way, the depraved wretches whom we Damascenes, in the less enlightened regions of the north, daily saw with deep regret indulging in the use of the "shameful," did not exhibit any notable symptoms of ebriety, or incur such tragic catastrophes, at least in their outward man. But my preceptor turned the tables on me by boldly asserting intoxication to be the rule, and non- intoxication the exception. " Just so," added he," some men will drink wine without being sensibly affected by it, yet their example nohow, exempts the liquor from the absolute prohibition, founded on its natural and ordinary effect;" whereto I thought it wisest to make no reply, for fear of a too comprehensive major in my syllogism, which might have brought me under suspicion of advocating wine also, and so made bad worse.  Still 'Ab'd-el-Kereem, like most sophists, felt inwardly that his first reason was not entirely conclusive, and now brought forward a second, founded on tradition. That authority teaches us that Mahomet, why or when I do not remember, declared to his followers the unlawfulness of employing in food whatever had been burned or singed with fire. Perhaps this is one reason for the universality of boiled meat in Nejed, to the total exclusion of roasted, grilled, or fried; unless ignorance of cookery be the only practical cause. Any way, there stands the prohibition, and it only remained to show that tobacco smoke was included in it. The Arab equivocation between "drinking" and "smoking" —for the word "shareba" is applied to either—sufficed for this. To this argument opposed the use of fumigations, so common in Nejed, and so dear to the Prophet. But in vain, for the word "shareba" was inapplicable here. Whereon I sought refuge in the "Mellah," or bread baked, or rather burnt, under the glowing cinders, of which comestible a former stage of our narrative has afforded frequent example, and which is equally in use throughout Nejed. This was really to the point; and Abd el-Kareem fell back on the intoxicating properties of the herb.
 But what my readers may well ask, is in truth the real motive for the seemingly arbitrary ban laid by Wahhabeeism on tobacco ? We need not go far to seek it ; the passion for sectarian discrepancy fully explains all. The early history of the Wahbabee sect, narrated in my first volume, may have, I think, sufficiently shown my readers that the idea of aggression and conquest was no less present to Mohammed-abn-'Abd el Wahhab and his disciple the Chief Safood, than that of dogma or proselytism ; both of these men, and the latter perhaps even more the former, had in view, not only to found a sect, but an empire ; not only to convert their neighbours, but to subdue them. The Wahhabee and Safood were the joint apostles of Islam, and with Islam is necessarily associated the sword.

Empire 6 September 1865

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