Montesquieu

Hagi1 Ibbi2 to the Jew Ben Joshua, a Muhammadan pro­se­lyte in Smyrna


It seems to me, Ben Joshua, that there are always won­drous signs that anti­ci­pate the birth of extra­or­di­nary men, as if nature were under­going a sort of cri­sis, and the celes­tial power could pro­duce only with effort.

There is nothing so mar­ve­lous as the birth of Muhammad. God, who by the decrees of his pro­vi­dence had deter­mi­ned from the begin­ning to send that great Prophet to men to chain Satan, crea­ted a light two thou­sand years before Adam, which pas­sing from one of the elect to ano­ther, from one ances­tor of Muhammad to ano­ther, finally came down to him as an authen­tic tes­ti­mony that he was des­cen­ded from the patriarchs.

It was also because of that same Prophet that God did not wish for any child to be concei­ved until the nature of the woman had cea­sed to be unclean, and the virile mem­ber was had been sub­jec­ted to cir­cum­ci­sion. He came into the world cir­cum­ci­sed,3 and joy appea­red on his face from the moment of his birth. The earth shud­de­red three times, as if it had itself given birth ; every idol bowed down ; the thro­nes of kings were over­thrown. Lucifer was cast into the depths of the sea, and it was only after swim­ming for forty days that he emer­ged from the abyss, and fled to Mount Cabes, whence with thun­de­ring voice he cal­led the angels.

That night God set a limit bet­ween man and woman which nei­ther could cross ; the art of the magi­cians and necro­man­cers was without effect. A voice was heard from hea­ven which utte­red these words : I have sent my fai­th­ful friend into the world.4

According to the tes­ti­mony of Isben Aben, an Arab his­to­rian, the gene­ra­tions of birds, of clouds, of winds, and of all the bat­ta­lions of angels joi­ned toge­ther to raise that child, and argued over the pri­vi­lege. The birds said war­bling that it was more conve­nient for them to raise him because they could more easily gather dif­fe­rent fruits from various pla­ces. The winds mur­mu­red, saying : It is rather for us because we can bring him from every place the most agreea­ble odors. No, said the clouds, no, it is to our care that he shall be entrus­ted, because we will impart to him at every moment the cool­ness of the waters. Thereupon the angry angels cried out : Then what will remain for us to do ? But a voice from hea­ven was heard, which ended all the dis­pu­tes : He shall not be taken from the hands of mor­tals, for happy are the breasts that will suckle him, and the hands that will touch him ; and the house where he will live, and the bed on which he shall rest.

After so many won­drous tes­ti­mo­nies,5 my dear Joshua, it would take a heart of iron not to believe his holy law. What more could hea­ven do to autho­rize his divine mis­sion, unless it be to over­turn nature, and bring death upon the very men it wished to per­suade ?

Paris this 20th day of the moon of Rhegeb 1713

A Hagi is a man who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca [author’s note].

Sole mention of this character.

A traditional detail (Chardin, III, 207 ; Bayle, DHC (1734), article “Mahomet,” remarque I).

These last two paragraphs are directly translated from Hermannus Dalmata, De generatione Machumetis (p. 207-208), but evidently also recall the Gospel : “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

The Qur’an (3:43-44) asserts that evident signs had accompanied the mission of Jesus as well as that of Muhammad.