|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
AHMED, THE CAMEL-DRIVER, WHO BECAME THE PROPHET OF THE ARABIAN DESERT AND WHOSE FOLLOWERS ALMOST CONQUERED THE ENTIRE KNOWN WORLD FOR THE GREATER GLORY OF ALLAH, THE ONLY TRUE GOD
 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 France.
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.
THE FLIGHT OF MOHAMMED
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 prophet.
From that time on until the year of his death, Mohammed
was fortunate in everything he undertook.
There are two reasons for the success of Islam. In the
first place, the creed which Mohammed taught to his followers
was very simple. The disciples were told that they must love
Allah, the Ruler of the World, the Merciful and Compassionate.
They must honour and obey their parents. They
were warned against dishonesty in dealing with their neighbours
and were admonished to be humble and charitable, to the
poor and to the sick. Finally they were ordered to abstain
from strong drink and to be very frugal in what they ate. That
was all. There were no priests, who acted as shepherds of
their flocks and asked that they be supported at the common
expense. The Mohammedan churches or mosques were merely
large stone halls without benches or pictures, where the faithful
could gather (if they felt so inclined) to read and discuss
chapters from the Koran, the Holy Book. But the average
Mohammedan carried his religion with him and never felt
himself hemmed in by the restrictions and regulations of an
 established church. Five times a day he turned his face towards
Mecca, the Holy City, and said a simple prayer. For the
rest of the time he let Allah rule the world as he saw fit and
accepted whatever fate brought him with patient resignation.
Of course such an attitude towards life did not encourage
the Faithful to go forth and invent electrical machinery or
bother about railroads and steamship lines. But it gave every
Mohammedan a certain amount of contentment. It bade
him be at peace with himself and with the world in which he
lived and that was a very good thing.
The second reason which explains the success of the Moslems
in their warfare upon the Christians, had to do with the
conduct of those Mohammedan soldiers who went forth to do
battle for the true faith. The Prophet promised that those
who fell, facing the enemy, would go directly to Heaven.
This made sudden death in the field preferable to a long but
dreary existence upon this earth. It gave the Mohammedans
an enormous advantage over the Crusaders who were in constant
dread of a dark hereafter, and who stuck to the good
things of this world as long as they possibly could. Incidentally
it explains why even to-day Moslem soldiers will charge
into the fire of European machine guns quite indifferent to
the fate that awaits them and why they are such dangerous
and persistent enemies.
Having put his religious house in order, Mohammed now
began to enjoy his power as the undisputed ruler of a large
number of Arab tribes. But success has been the undoing of
a large number of men who were great in the days of adversity.
He tried to gain the good will of the rich people by a number
of regulations which could appeal to those of wealth.
He allowed the Faithful to have four wives. As one wife
was a costly investment in those olden days when brides were
bought directly from the parents, four wives became a positive
luxury except to those who possessed camels and dromedaries
and date orchards beyond the dreams of avarice. A religion
which at first had been meant for the hardy hunters of the
high-skied desert was gradually transformed to suit the needs
 of the smug merchants who lived in the bazaars of the cities.
It was a regrettable change from the original program and it
did very little good to the cause of Mohammedanism. As for
the prophet himself, he went on preaching the truth of Allah
and proclaiming new rules of conduct until he died, quite
suddenly, of a fever on June the seventh of the year 632.
His successor as Caliph (or leader) of the Moslems was
his father-in-law, Abu-Bekr, who had shared the early dangers
of the prophet's life. Two years later, Abu-Bekr died and
Omar ibn Al-Khattab followed him. In less than ten years
he conquered Egypt, Persia, Phoenicia, Syria and Palestine
and made Damascus the capital of the first Mohammedan world
Omar was succeeded by Ali, the husband of Mohammed's
daughter, Fatima, but a quarrel broke out upon a point of
Moslem doctrine and Ali was murdered. After his death,
the caliphate was made hereditary and the leaders of the faithful
who had begun their career as the spiritual head of a religious
sect became the rulers of a vast empire. They built
a new city on the shores of the Euphrates, near the ruins of
Babylon and called it Bagdad, and organising the Arab horsemen
into regiments of cavalry, they set forth to bring the
happiness of their Moslem faith to all unbelievers. In the
year 700 A.D. a Mohammedan general by the name of Tarik
crossed the old gates of Hercules and reached the high rock
on the European side which he called the Gibel-al-tarik, the
Hill of Tarik or Gibraltar.
Eleven years later in the battle of Xeres de la Frontera,
he defeated the king of the Visigoths and then the Moslem
army moved northward and following the route of Hannibal,
they crossed the passes of the Pyrenees. They defeated the
Duke of Aquitania, who tried to halt them near Bordeaux,
and marched upon Paris. But in the year 732 (one
hundred years after the death of the prophet,) they were
beaten in a battle between Tours and Poitiers. On that
day, Charles Martel (Charles with the Hammer) the Frankish
chieftain, saved Europe from a Mohammedan
con-  quest. He drove the Moslems out of France, but they maintained
themselves in Spain where Abd-ar-Rahman founded the
Caliphate of Cordova, which became the greatest centre of
science and art of mediaeval Europe.
This Moorish kingdom, so-called because the people came
from Mauretania in Morocco, lasted seven centuries. It was
only after the capture of Granada, the last Moslem stronghold,
in the year 1492, that Columbus received the royal grant which
allowed him to go upon a voyage of discovery. The Mohammedans
soon regained their strength in the new conquests
which they made in Asia and Africa and to-day there are as
many followers of Mohammed as there are of Christ.
THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN THE CROSS AND THE CRESCENT
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