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The Oases Mohammedanism in

desert, steppe, arabia, conditions, history, geographical, affected and nomads

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THE OASES: MOHAMMEDANISM IN the last chapter we have seen how the great plain has affected the course of history. There is another steppeland, not so great but still of large size. This also has affected the course of history, but because of the differences of the geographical conditions it has affected history differently. Comparatively little of the great plain is desert, while considerable stretches are somewhat better than steppe. Arabia, on the other hand, has great stretches of desert, and almost all the rest is steppe.

Arabia is about 1500 miles in length, the distance from London to the Caucasus : it is about half as broad.

It is not all desert, a great part is dry steppeland. Within it are patches of oases more or less fertile, While in places it gradually passes into utter desert.

The dry steppe-oases land is the real• Arabia, the land of the Arabs. In consequence of the geographical conditions several results follow.

As it is a steppe, its peoples tend to be nomads, but (i) As it is drier than the steppe of Asia, it can support fewer people even in the same area.

(ii) As it has oases-patches in it, some of the people tend to become settled.

(iii) There are, then, two distinct classes—the nomads and oases-dwellers : the latter are not anywhere numer ous enough to have any effect by themselves, and the power tends to fall into the hands of the nomads who dominate the steppeland between oases. Because they are even slightly dependent on certain oases, the steppe dwellers of Arabia are somewhat more tied to one spot than are pure nomads. Small powers tend to arise for a time with dominion over a few oases and the intervening steppe.

(iv) Further, as the steppeland is practically sur rounded by desert and sea, both impassable in early times, the inhabitants of Arabia form a people apart, on the one hand protected from conquest, and on the other little able to have any great effect on outside peoples. They are the less able to interfere in external affairs, as such steppe powers as arise are small and possess little cohesion.

Thus it is not wonderful that while the inhabitants of the great plain made their influence felt continuously for many centuries, yet the inhabitants of Arabia, near as they are to Egypt and Palestine, Babylonia and Greece, did not till late in historic time greatly affect the history of the world. Though there was the same tendency to spread over neighbouring lands, yet the emigration was fitful and by no means so well marked.

But the question now arises, " Why then did the Arabs affect history at all ? " To answer this we must consider another way in which geographical conditions act. We

have seen that men may advance or fall behind because the geographical conditions affecting their bodies react on their minds. We have seen that the protection which the desert afforded to the material prosperity of the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians eventually induced the state of mind which trusted to protection. The geographical condition of the Greeks, with their numbers of city states independent of each other, reacted on their minds to make them politicians.

In the same way the material conditions have affected directly the minds of the Arabs. Passing slowly from oasis to oasis over steppe and desert, the sameness of the landscape, where nothing attracts the eye for miles together, has driven men to meditation. In the presence of the desert they are insensibly forced to feel their own impotence : oases may be improved; they respond to labour spent on them in a greater production : the desert responds to no labour; it cannot be subdued. Here man feels there is a great silent something greater than the greatest. All circumstances of life, in varying degrees, force men to see that they are not free to do as they wish, and all kinds of men have their religion by which they attempt to explain more or less vaguely the things they do not understand in the world around, and especially for what purpose they themselves are in the world. Most races and tribes feel themselves exposed to many influences ; they have many different things to explain, many things which have apparently no con nection, and they have in consequence many gods. On the desert-dwellers, however, the influence of the desert is overwhelming; even when they recognized many deities the almost universal tendency was to recognize one supreme God. Thus it is not to be wondered at that from the land of Arabia or from its borders there should have come three of the great monotheistic re ligions of the world—Judaism, Christianity and Moham medanism—nor that the distinctive teaching of one of them should have been summed up in the phrases " Thou shalt " and " Thou shalt not." They found out that in some directions 'advance is not possible ; they saw that there is some key to the mystery of life ; they saw that man's energies are lost unless they are directed in certain ways, and that the mind, which directs the use of energy, must be educated to this conception of life.

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