Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Book Review: Mohammedanism by Hurgronje 1916


C Snouck Hurgronje (Hur-KHRON-yuh) (Dutch Islamic scholar - Leiden, born 1857, death after 1930 but no date located by Google search) published Mohammedanism in 1916 . It was part of a series of religious studies or lectures published as books by the Crown Theological Library. Hurgronje tends to be clinical in his analysis of Mohammedanism, and tries to avoid injecting personal opinion into his subject. It’s about 175 pages and a very quick read.

The initial chapter reviews the early Western publications about Mohammad and Islam. Many of these were wildly inaccurate, varying from praise to ‘damnation of the false prophet.’ Gee, that sounds just like today! Hurgronje believes Muir, Sprenger and Noldeke (Western Islamic ‘scholars’ of the late 19th century) published the first works that rapidly advanced understanding of Mohammedanism. In any case, by the turn of the century, there were a growing number of publications about Mohammadanism available but Snouck considered many of them incomplete since they did not consider in depth, if at all, the events and circumstances of Mohammed’s life.

Hurgronje also traveled to Mecca for an 8 month stay in 1906 and provides fascinating insight into the atmosphere of Mecca at that time. He mentions the interest in profiteering off the pilgrims but it was a relatively small enterprise at that time. Surely he would be in awe of the lucrative pilgrimage trade Mecca enjoys today and the enormous changes that Mecca, that sleepy town of Islamic scholars, has become. I don’t think it would be so easy today to be an infidel observer in Mecca. He also visited Al Azhar in Egypt which he was more impressed. At that time, Al Azhar was much more forward thinking than the Meccan scholars. We know that is no longer the case at all today.

It is important to understand where Islam stood in 1916. At that point, the West seemingly had triumphed. More Muslims were under colonial rule than independent. The Turkish Caliphate was collapsing, and oil was not the ‘manna from heaven’ it is today. It was clearly a time of ‘weak’ jihad.

Some Muslim websites today have actually referenced some of Hurgronje’s writings, which they consider positive towards Islam. One quote I have seen is “The league of nations founded by the Prophet of Islam put the principle of international unity and human brotherhood on such universal foundations as to show candle to other nations… The fact is that no nation of the world can show a parallel to what Islam has done towards the realization of the idea of the League of Nations.” This is not from Mohammedanism, and the Muslim webauthors or bloggers parading that verse would definitely, after reading Mohammedanism, not consider Hurgronje the John Esposito of his day, but more the Bernard Lewis. In fact, I think Bernard Lewis, in his approach and attitude to Islam, is very similar to Hurgronje. As with any redacted statement with a ‘…’ in the middle (like the taqiyya favorite 5:32), I am suspicious. I do not know it’s entirety or context. They probably don’t either. Then again, we all know what a basketcase the League of Nations turned out to be. I am sure at the time he wrote this, Hurgronje had great aspirations for the idea. LoN, UN, what’s the difference? My how the world has changed, or is that, stays the same?

Hurgronje describes the turmoil following Mohammed’s death and the split of the Shiites. You can gain the same understanding from Prophet of Doom, although harsher in its condemnation of Mohammed. He also explains the initial compilation of the Qur’an, which had remained oral only for over 150 years after Mohammed’s death, and how even at that time, there was a lot of pressure to include and exclude verses to serve certain Muslim elites. The same could be said about the Hadiths, since each of the Hadith scholars had to weed through over 600,000 sayings to keep only about 3,000 to 10,000 as ‘acceptable.’ (Note: the 3,000 is if you eliminate repetition, very common in the Qur’an and the Hadiths) By the year 1000 A.D., and after much turmoil (jihad, conquests, civil conflict, and establishment of ‘institutes’ to preserve and interpret Islamic doctrine), the Qur’an and the prinicples of Islam had become fixed. Hurgronje describes this ‘final agreement’ the Ijma of the Community. The Qur’an and the Hadiths were infallible and could not be altered.

“In our valuation of Mohammed’s sayings we cannot lay too much stress upon his incapability of looking far ahead. The final aims which Mohammed set himself were considered by sane persons as unattainable. His firm belief in the realization of the vague picture of the future which he had conceived, nay, which Allah held before him, drove him to the uttermost exertion of his mental power in order to surmount the innumberable unexpected obstacles which he encountered. Hence the variability of the practical directions contained in the Qur’an; they are constantly altered according to circumstances. Allah’s words during the last part of Mohammed’s life: “This day have I perfected your religion for you, and have I filled up the measure of my favours towards you, and chosen Islam for you as your religion,” have in no way the meaning of the exclamation : “It is finished,” of the dying Christ. They are only a cry of jubilation over the degradation of the heathern Arabs by the triumph of Allah’s weapons. At Mohammed’s death everything was still unstable; and the vital questions for Islam were subjects of contention between the leaders even before the Prophet had been buried.”



Hurgronje is very much aware that the Islam of his day is relatively subdued, but the jihad spirit is not dormant:

“The extensive political program of Islam, develped during the first centuries of astounding expansion, has yet not prevented millions of Mohammedans from resigning themselves to reversed condition in which at the present time many more Mohammedans live under foreign authority than under their own. The acceptance of this change was facilitated by the historical pessimism of Islam, which makes the mind prepared for every sort of decay, and by the true Moslim habit of resignation to painful experiences, not through fatalism, but through reverence for Allah's inscrutable will. At the same time, it would be a gross mistake to imagine that the idea of universal con-quest may be considered as obliterated. This is the case with the intellectuals and with many practical commercial or industrial men; but the canonists and the vulgar still live in the illusion of the days of Islam's greatness.

The legists continue to ground their apprecia-tion of every actual political condition on the law of the holy war, which war ought never to be allowed to cease entirely until all mankind is re-duced to the authority of Islam-the heathen by conversion, the adherents of acknowledged Scripture by submission. Even if they admit the improbability of this at present, they are comforted and encouraged by the recollection of the lengthy period of humiliation that the Prophet himself had to suffer before Allah bestowed victory upon his arms; and they fervently join with the Friday preacher, when he pronounces the prayer, taken from the Qur’an: “And lay not on us, O our Lord, that for which we have not strength, but blot out our signs and forgive us and have pity upon us. Thou are our Master; grant us then to conquest the unbelievers!” And the common people are willingly taught by the canonists and feed their hope of better days upon the innumerable legends of the olden time and the equally innumerable apocalyptic prophecies about the future. The political blows that fall upon Islam makes less impression upon their simple minds that the seneseless stories about the power of the Sultan of Stambul, that would instantly be revealed if he were not surrounded by treacherous servants, and the fantastic tidings of the miracles that Allah works in the Holy Cities of Arabia which are inaccessible to the unfaithful....”


Hurgronje then goes into a discussion of the ‘caliphate fantasy’ that persisted in his time (as well as ours) and how the early Caliphs are now the equivalent of saints in Islam. Since the Caliphate was the only ‘originally conceived within Islam’ government structure, there is this conviction by the Muslims that it is the only government structure for Islam. That sounds familiar too doesn’t it?

“The conception of the Khalifate still exercises a fascinating influence, regarded in the light of a central point of union against the unfaithful. Apart from the 'amils, Mohammed's agents amongst the Arabian tribes, the Khalifate was the only political institution which arose out of the necessity of the Moslim community, without foreign influence. It rescued Islam from threatening destruction, and it led the Faithful to conquest. No wonder that in historic legend the first four occupiers of that leadership, who, from Medina, accomplished such great things, have been glorified into saints, and are held up to all the following generations as examples to put them to shame. In the Omayyads the ancient aristocracy of Mecca came to the helm, and under them, the Mohammedan state was above all, as Wellhausen styled it, "the Arabian Empire." The best khalifs of this house had the political wisdom to give the governors of the provinces sufficient independence to prevent schism, and to secure to themselves the authority in important matters. The reaction of the non-Arabian converts against the suppression of their own culture by the Arabian conquerors found support in the opposition parties, above all with the Shi'ah. The Abbasids, cleverer politicians than the notoriously unskilful Alids, made use of the Alid propaganda to secure the booty to themselves at the right moment”


He discusses the current relation of Mohammedan to the government in the ‘native’ states heavily influenced by the Colonials: …[in] governed "native states" the relation of Mo-hammedan "Church and State" may much more resemble that in Turkey, and this is sometimes to the advantage of the sovereign ruler. Under the direct government of a modern state, the Mohammedan group is treated as a religious community, whose particular life has just the same claim to independence as that of other denominations. The only justifiable limitation is that the program of the forcible reduction of the world to Moham-medan authority be kept within the scholastic walls as a point of eschatology, and not considered as a body of prescriptions, the execution of which must be prepared." [and even that limitation is no longer mandated in the West today. What wussys we have become.]

The final Chapter IV, Islam and Modern Thought, discusses Islam’s current situation in a rapidly changing world.

“Among all conservative factors of human life religion must necessarily be the most conservative, were it only because its aim is precisely to store up and keep under its guardianship the treasures destined for eternity to which we have alluded. Now, every new period in the history of civilization obliges a religious community to undertake a general revision of the contents of its treasury. It is unavoidable that the guardians on such occa-sions should be in a certain measure disappointed, for they find that some of the goods under their care have given way to the wasting influence of time, whilst others are in a state which gives rise to serious doubt as to their right of being classified with lasting treasures. In reality the loss is only an apparent one; far from impoverishing the community, it enhances the solidity of its possessions. What remains after the sifting process may be less imposing to the inexperienced mind; gradually the consideration gains ground that what has been rejected was nothing but useless rubbish which had been wrongly valued. Sometimes it may happen that the general movement of spiritual progress goes almost too fast, so that another imme-diately follows one revision of the stores of religion. Then dissension is likely to arise among the adherents of a religion; some of them come to the conclusion that there must be an end of sifting and think it better to lock up the treasuries once for all and to stop the dangerous enquiries; whereas others begin to en-tertain doubt concerning the value even of such goods as do not yet show any trace of decay.

The treasuries of Islam are excessively full of rubbish that has become entirely useless; and for nine or ten centuries they have not been submitted to a revision deserving that name. If we wish to understand the whole or any important part of the system of Islam, we must always begin by trans-porting ourselves into the third or fourth century of the Hijrah, and we must constantly bear in mind that from the Medina period downwards Islam has always been considered by its adherents as bound to regulate all the details of their life by means of prescriptions emanating directly or indirectly, from God, and therefore incapable of being reformed. At the time when these prescriptions acquired their definite form, Islam ruled an important portion of the world. It considered the conquest of the rest as being only a question of time and, therefore, felt itself quite independent in the development of its law. There was little reason indeed for the Moslim canonists to take into serious account the interests of men not subject to Mo-hammedan authority or to care for the opinion of devotees of other religions. Islam might act, and did almost act, as if it were the only power in the world; it did so in the way of a grand seigneur, showing a great amount of generosity towards its subjugated enemies. The adherents of other religions were or would become subjects of the Com-mander of the Faithful; those subjects were given a full claim on Mohammedan protection and justice while the independent unbelievers were in general to be treated as enemies until in submission. Their spiritual life deserved not even so much attention as that of Islam received from Abbe Maracci or Doctor Prideaux. The false doc-trines of other peoples were of no interest whatever in themselves; and, since there was no fear of Mohammedans being tainted by them, polemics against the abrogated religions were more of a pastime than an indispensable part of theology. The Mohammedan community being in a sense Allah's army, with the conquest of the world as its object, apostasy deserved the punishment of death in no lesser degree than desertion in the holy war, nay more so; for the latter might be the effect of cowardice, whereas the former was an act of inexcusable treachery. [Clearly, Hurgronje did not have access to the works referenced in Andrew Bostom’s book The Legacy of Jihad or Bat Ye’or Dhimmitude or the The Decline of Christianity Under Islam as these statements regarding the dhimmis are dead wrong.]

In the attitude of Islam towards other religions there is hardly one feature that has not its counter-part in the practice of Christian states during the Middle Ages. The great difference is that the Mohammedan community erected this mediaeval custom into a system unalterable like all prescriptions based on its infallible" Agreement" (Ijma'). Here lay the great difficulty when the nineteenth and twentieth centuries placed the Moslim world face to face with a civilization that had sprung up outside its borders and without its collaboration, that was from a spiritual point of view by far its superior and at the same time possessed of sufficient material power to thrust the Mohammedans aside wherever they seemed to be an impediment in its way. [My comment: Boy, how times have changed. It is now the Western nations that are the impediment in its way. The weapons are immigration, demographics, taqiyya and the West’s naivety with some ‘sword’ thrown in to keep the West scared.]


Hurgronje is very critical of Islam’s treatment of women, the relentless need to pray five times a day, fast for long periods, and the cruelty of its punishments. Again, for those who have studied Islam, his descriptions are not shocking but certainly must have been pageturners in its day.

“The facility with which a man can divorce his wife at his pleasure, contrasted with her rights against him, is a still more serious impediment to the development of family life than the institution of polygamy; more serious, also, than veiling and seclusion of women. Where the general opinion is favourable to the improvement of the position of women in society, there is always found a way to secure it to them without conflicting with the divine law; but a radical reform will remain most difficult so long as that law which allows the man to repudiate his wife without any reason, whereas it delivers the woman almost unarmed into the power of her husband, is considered to be one of the permanent treasures of Islam.

It is a pity indeed that thus far women vigorously striving for liberation from those mediaeval institutions are rare exceptions in Mohammedan countries. Were Mohammedan women capable of the violent tactics of suffragettes, they would rather try to blow up the houses of feminists than those of the patrons of the old regime. The or-dinary Mohammedan woman looks upon the endeavour of her husband to induce her to partake freely in public life as a want of consideration; it makes on her about the same impression as that which a respectable woman in our society would receive from her husband encouraging her to visit places generally frequented by people of bad reputation.” [This seemingly contradictory viewpoint, for those who do not understand Islam, has been discussed at JihadWatch several times.]


While there are many other insights regarding Muslims in Mohammedanism, Horgronje attempts to close his ‘lecture’ on a positive note. I would call it ‘wimping out’, but that’s just me:

“There is no lack of pessimists, whose wisdom has found its poetic form in the words of Kipling:

East is East and West is West,
And never the twain shall meet.

To me, with regard to the Moslim world, these words seem almost a blasphemy. … To Kipling’s poetical despair I think we have a right to prefer the words of a broadminded modern Hindu writer [S.M. Mitra]; “The pity is that men, led astray by adventitious differences, miss the essential resemblances.”

It would be a great satisfaction to me if my lectures might cause some of my hearers to consider the problem of Islam as one of the most important of our time, and its solution worthy of their interest and of a claim on their exertion.”


Mohammedanism is an interesting read from a historical viewpoint. What is not surprising for those who have studied Islam is the relentlessness of Islam in its drive for a world for Islam, and only Islam. 1916, 2005, what’s the difference?

11 comments:

Renaissance Scientist said...

If Islam is such a pathetic religion as this book would want it to be, why is it such a "problem" for you guys?

dag said...

"My blog, of course, is only a kind of diary for me, where I can record my deepest thoughts for a worldwide audience...."

R.S.'s blog requires that one wear slippers to keep ones feet dry tip-toeing through the depths. One of his deepest thoughts is that above. I'll continue to use an umbrella if he shows up again.

patrickafir said...

His name is familiar... maybe I've heard it from Robert Spencer. Thanks for review—it definitely looks worth checking out. I'll look on Amzaon for an English translation.

dag said...

Hi Patrick! Small world. Will drop in to say hello soon.

John Sobieski said...

Patrick, the book is out of print. It is in English. I got it through the ILL (Interlibrary Loan) from a major university at no cost.

That is how you get many of these historic books. All free of course.

I have obtained and read several historic our of print books through this library service.

American Crusader said...

Renaissance Scientist said...
If Islam is such a pathetic religion as this book would want it to be, why is it such a "problem" for you guys?

It becomes a problem when the president of country like Iran (soon to be nuclear) says that its goal is to wipe Israel off the map. It becomes a problem when wherever Muslims interact with other religions,suicide bombing and genocide are the outcomes. It's also a problem when people like you are still blind to what's going on in the world.

PI...wasn't it you who gave me that quote by John Adams regarding Mohammedism? Winston Churchill also identified Islam (Mohammedism) as a growing problem that one day the Western world would have to confront.

dag said...

And my other thoughts turned to modern classical scholarship on Islam, the brilliance of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I wonder if anyone has thoughts on Sale's translation of the Koran? I have one that I compare to five modernish versions, and I can't find anything outrageously wrong with it. Some do.

Also, if there's any word on Gibb and Carr, I'd be happy to know that as well. The critique of Hurgranje hits the spot. Like these reviews.

The deepest thoughts of a world-class diarist, well,....

John Sobieski said...

I've posted Churchill and Adams here and there, but they are not original to me as for discovering them. Someone else had posted them and I had saved them into a historical quote doc I maintain and post from when I feel it is appropriate.

John Sobieski said...

I have done a cursory comparison among several Qur'ans, and honestly there is not that much difference. The newer ones intended for Westerners tend to choose less shocking adjectives or nouns. I have The Meaning of The Holy Qur'an by Ali and he doesn't mince words about Islam's intent.

Renaissance Scientist said...

It becomes a problem when the president of country like Iran (soon to be nuclear) says that its goal is to wipe Israel off the map.

This may be the position of Iran but it is not the position of the other 55 Muslim countries. The Islamic position regarding Israel (or for that matter, any other country) is, "Live, and let live". However, Israel must return back the portion of land that it has occupied illegally for over 50 years.

Also, if Iran is making an error by becoming nuclear, you might as well do some research into how long it has been since America is nuclear, how long it has been since China is nuclear, and how long it has been since Russia is nuclear (to name only a few countries). Also please count the number of nuclear weapons these countries have, and try counting them on your fingers.

It becomes a problem when wherever Muslims interact with other religions,suicide bombing and genocide are the outcomes.

Firstly, there are millions of Muslims in America, millions in Europe, millions in Africa, and millions still in Australia; there is no suicide bombing or genocide there. Secondly, Muslims have been victims, not perpetrators, of genocide in Yugoslavia, in Palestine, and in Kashmir. Thirdly, suicide bombing is haram (prohibited) in Islam.

It's also a problem when people like you are still blind to what's going on in the world.

I am still blind? Or is it your media that has blinded you?

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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