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DR. WEIL has stated, in his Introduction to these Legends, that he chiefly extracted them from original Arabic records, which are still received by Mohammedans as the inspired biographies of the ancient patriarchs and prophets.
It must still farther be added that the leading ideas of these Mohammedan legends, i. e., their prominent historical narratives, and the doctrines and precepts which they either state expressly or imply, are contained in the Koran. In some instances it gives their minutest particulars. Indeed, it would seem as if these legends formed part, at least, of what the founder of the Mohammedan faith terms "the mother of the book," indicating that they preceded his Koran in order of time, and embodied the germ of that faith which he subsequently developed.
This idea is suggested by the learned German compiler, and is corroborated by the fact that p. iv the legends were unknown to the Arabs before Mohammed began to preach, while in the Koran he refers to them as already familiar to his hearers.
But, be this as it may, it is certain that the fact of their leading ideas being found in the Koran invests them with divine authority to the faithful Moslem, for it is a primary article of his creed that every thing contained in the Koran is of Allah. On first reading these legends, it therefore occurred to the writer that they might be a valuable acquisition, as an epitome of Mohammedan theology and morals. And their peculiar character, their constant allusion to scriptural facts, with which most Bible readers strongly identify themselves, their novel, and gorgeous, and often sublime inventions, investing them at once with the fidelity of historical detail, and the freshness and fascination of Oriental fiction, seem to fit them especially for popular instruction. If it be asked what benefit may be derived from promulgating the tenets of a professedly erroneous system, it is replied that a distinction ought to be observed between the false systems that have ceased to be believed, p. v and those which are still maintained as divine truths by any portion of mankind.
It may be questioned whether the former ought at all to be taught, although there are reasons why even the exploded mythology of the ancients should be known; but respecting the second class, to which the religion of Mohammed belongs, there should be but one opinion.
Our Redeemer has committed to us, in part, the propagation of his holy faith, by which alone he declares that mankind shall attain to that holiness, peace, and glory for which they have been created. The exhibition, therefore, in the stewards of the Gospel, of a false religion, in which, as in the case before us, one hundred and twenty millions of our immortal race are at this moment staking their all, can not but be important, at once to awaken within us feelings of deep and active charity for these benighted multitudes, and to furnish us with the requisite intelligence for effectually combating their grievous errors with the weapons of truth.
Should the public feel any interest in this work, the translator proposes, in a future volume, p. vi to discuss the legendary principle at some length, and to show the analogy of its practical working in the Jewish, the Mohammedan, and Roman Catholic systems of religion.