The history of Arabia

Among the Greeks and Latins, Arabia was divided into the three divisions of the sandy, the stony, and the happy. Though these ancient divisions are no longer preserved, the kingdom of Yemen, displays the limits of Happy Arabia, and, situated on the highlands that border the Indian Ocean, seems to justify the designation from its possession of a superior plenty of wood, water, fruits and animals. Here were situated the most ancient and populous cities of Arabia, but their profane lustre was eclipsed by the prophetic glories of Medina and Mecca, near the Red Sea and at a distance from each other of two hundred and seventy miles. Mecca, by means of the port of Jedda, forty miles distant, was the market for the treasures of Africa which the caravans carried to Yemen and Syria.

Many ages before Muhammed, the intrepid valour of the Arabs had been severely felt by their neighbours in offensive and defensive war. Skilled in the use of the bow, the javelin and the scimitar, the conflicting tribes of the desert suspended their domestic feuds on the approach of the common enemy; but this confederacy dissolved in the distribution of the plunder, and the union of the nation consisted only in a vague resemblance of language and manners.

The spirit of rapine and revenge which characterised the Arabian tribes, or Saracens, to give them the general appellation employed by the Greeks and Latins, was tempered by the milder influence of trade and literature. In Arabia, as well as in Greece, the perfection of language outstripped the refinement of manners, and at a time when her language was entrusted simply to the memory of an illiterate people, her speech could diversify the five hundred names of a lion and the thousand of a sword.

The religion of the Saracens consisted in the worship of the sun, the moon and the fixed stars, but each tribe, each family, each independent warrior created and changed the rites and the object of his fantastic worship. They united, however, in common worship at the Ka'aba, or temple, of Mecca, and in the last months of each year the city and the temple were crowded with pilgrims, who presented their vows and offerings in the House of God.

The same rites which are now accomplished by the faithful Mussulman were then invented and practised by the superstitions of the idolaters. At an awful distance they cast away their garments; seven times with hasty steps they encircled the Ka'aba and kissed the black stone; seven times they visted and adored the adjacent mountain; seven times they threw stones into the valley of Mina; and the pilgrimage was achieved as at the present hour by a sacrifice of sheep and camels, and the burial of their hair and nails in consecrated ground.

The introduction of the Sabians, the Magians, the Jews and the Christians, served to confuse the religious worship of the tribes. Each Arab was free to elect or to compose his own private religion, and the rude superstition of his house was mingled with the sublime theology of saints and philosophers. Despite their practice of idolatry they consented to the belief in the existence of one supreme God, and accepted the Hebrew scriptures which had already been translated into Arabic.

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