ORIGIN OF ISLAM
with its desert spaces and nomad population, while
secure from political domination, was not shut off entirely
from communication with the outside world. Arabs wandered
far afield. Imru'ul-Qais, the famous poet, is known
to have visited Constantinople. Most of the poets whom
we know about were frequent visitors at the courts of
Hira and Ghassan, where they gained reward by their
eulogies upon the reigning chiefs. No doubt, too, as
at the present day, camel riders and caravans continually
visited centres of population. Political influences
also affected, as we have seen, the religious atmosphere
of Arabia. Rome favoured Christianity. Persian influence
was against it, except in the form of Nestorianism.
The hostility of the Nestorians to the Monophysites,
Persia would be quite ready to make use of. Judaism
may have been more actively favoured (as Glaser contends).
But if so it was only as a means of counteracting Rome.
But against both influences there operated the strong
feeling of independence which has always characterised
From the south, Christianity does not seem to have
made much headway; from the northeast it spread down
the shores of the Persian Gulf. From the north-west
it spread into the northern centre of the peninsula
and southward to the shores of the Red Sea, but—and
this is important—in spite of traditions to the effect
that the picture of Jesus was found on one of the pillars
of the Ka'ba, there is no good evidence of any seats
of Christianity in the Hijaz or in the near neighbourhood
of Mecca or even of Medina.
It is late in his Medinan period when Muhammad comes
into negotiation with Christian chiefs and tribes. That
shows that they were at a distance from Medina itself.
Nor can we assume that even among the tribes which were
nominally Christian, any deep grasp of, or attachment
to that religion, had been implanted. The Christian
dealer, with his supplies of wine, penetrated far into
Arabia. He may have done something to spread a knowledge
of Christianity, but it is probably also true, as Ali,
the son-in-law of the prophet, is said to have remarked,
that many professing Christians had learned nothing
but the wine-drinking.
If we ask for evidence of the influence of Christianity
upon Arab thought and life, the results appear at first
sight discouraging. One naturally turns first to the
pre-Islamic poets. In their verses one finds indications
enough that they knew something about Christianity.
They speak often enough of the wine-seller, and sometimes
designate him as a Christian.1 They refer
to the externals of Christianity, its churches and places
of worship, the wooden gongs or bells which were used
to summon worshippers to them, as for instance in the
following verses of al-A'sha, a contemporary of Muhammad:
Many an early cup (glistening) like the eye of
a cock have I drunk with trusty youths in its curtained
chamber while the church-bells rang—