The Arabs

With this event the biography of ancient Africa is closed, and the history of Asiatic Africa begins. But I have in this work a twofold story to unfold. I have to describe the Dark Continent: to show in what way it is connected with universal history; what it has received and what it has contributed to the development of man. And I have also to sketch in broad outline the human history itself. This task has been forced upon me in the course of my inquiries. It is impossible to measure a tributary and to estimate its value with precision except by comparing it with the other affluents, and by carefully mapping the main stream. In writing a history of Africa I am compelled to write the history of the world, in order that Africa’s true position may be defined.

And now, passing to the general questions discussed in this chapter, it will be observed that war is the chief agent of civilisation in the period which I have attempted to portray. It was war which drove the Egyptians into those frightful deserts in the midst of which their Happy Valley was discovered. It was war which under the Persians opened lands which had been either closed against foreigners or jealously held ajar. It was war which colonised Syria and Asia Minor with Greek ideas, and which planted in Alexandria the experimental philosophy which will win for us in time the dominion of the earth. It was war which united the Greek and Latin worlds into a splendid harmony of empire. And when that ancient world had been overcome by languor and had fallen into Oriental sleep; when nothing was taught in the schools which had not been taught a hundred years before; when the rapacity of tyrants had extinguished the ambition of the rich and the industry of the poor; when the Church also had become inert, and roused itself only to be cruel—then again came war across the Rhine and the Danube and the Alps, and laid the foundations of European life among the ruins of the Latin world. In the same manner Asia awoke as if by magic, and won back from Europe the lands which she had lost. But this latter conquest, though effected by means of war, was preserved by means of religion, an element of history which must be analysed with scientific care. In the next chapter I shall explain the origin of the religious sentiment and theory in savage life. I shall sketch the early career of the three great Semitic creeds and the characters of three men—Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed—who, whatever may have been their faults, are entitled to the eternal gratitude of the human race. Then, resuming the history of Africa, I shall follow the course of Islam over the Great Desert into the Sudan, and shall describe its progress in that country by means of the sword and of the school, something of which I have seen and studied under both forms.


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