The prophets were the upright ones of the faith, who showed to the people the path of rectitude; the self-opinionated were bewildered
when they disappeared in the sunset of annihilation. The darkness of the night of polytheism drew close its curtains: infidelity placed kisses on the lips of idolatry; one bore a cross in his hand as it were a rose-branch, another like a waterlily worshipped the sun; one worshipped idols continually, and another had no aims whatever; this one in his senseless folly deeming evil from the devil, good from God; some strewers of dust, eaters of fire,–others beaters of the water, calmers of the wind; here one scouring all sense out of his brain, as it were done by wine,–there another dashing the turban from his head, as if it were carried off by the gale; this one calling an image his god, and that one like the priest of an idol-temple wrecking all religion; one practising magic, another astrology,–one living in hope, another in fear; all were leading unlovely lives, all were blind of understanding.
The masses were suppliants to an impostor in the faith,–the magnates occupying the high places of religion; the religion of the Truth concealed its face, and everyone published a false faith; false doctrine and polytheism began to fly abroad, and every kind of heresy reared its head. Here one in bondage to the teachings of folly, there another satisfied with an empty deception; their ears listening to the devil’s promptings of desire, their ravings displaying the devil’s guidance. Folly and slander and idle chatter appeared wisdom alike to the crowd and to the wise; the great were the slaves of their lusts and pleasures, the populace of their jests and follies; the knowledge of God’s religion was blotted out, all alike triflers, babbling folly; under pretence of knowledge each sought his own glory, and under cover of such knowledge each hid his reason. From fear of imposture and magic the virtues hid themselves, like the alif in bism, when the great withdrew to their houses, the people returned to their impieties. One followed the path of Moses, Jesus the leader of another; the faith of Zoroaster proclaimed itself, the veil of mercy was torn to pieces.
The land of Tûrân and kingdom of Irân were each laid waste by the other’s violence; the Ethiopians advanced towards Yathrib, the elephant and Abraha were routed by the birds. The house of the Ka`ba, seized by the stranger, became an idol-temple; the world was full of stupidity and fraud, the man of wisdom found the path of religion difficult. In this world of the lost ones dog and ass raised their voices every morning; it was a world full of the vile and worthless, `Utba and Shaiba and the cursed Bû Jahl; a world full of devil-like beasts of prey,–a hundred thousand paths with pits in the way, and all men blind; ghouls on either hand, in front a monster,–the guide blind, his companion lame; disabled by their ignorance, in the heaviness of sleep, the scorpion of their folly wards off from them the knowledge of their danger.
Since somewhat has been said of the Unity, I will now speak of the glory of the prophets; especially the praise of the last of the apostles, the best and choicest of God’s messengers.