[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)


C H A P T E R   V I I.


§ I.


      AMONG the Moslem inhabitants of Palestine a system of education can scarcely be said to exist. The Bed'awin have no school-teachers at all of their own nation, and their children are never taught to read, except a few of them that receive instruction from missionaries. Some of the stationed missionaries occasionally visit their camps and spend a short time in teaching their children. The author met an Italian priest at Es Salt who claimed to be devoting his entire time in this way among the Beni Sukr tribe, who dwell in the land of Moab. Such teachers must live as the Bed'awin do, and move about with them as their camps are moved from place to place. Their labors must be entirely gratuitous, for the Bed'awin are so far from paying for such services that they barely tolerate them, and few will allow [132] their children to be educated at all. They think that learning makes boys effeminate.

      The Fel'lahîn, as a general rule, are equally void of education, but missionary schools are taught in many of the larger towns, and the town people make no opposition to the education of their children. Some, indeed, are willing to pay a small fee to the teachers, but the mass are indifferent on the subject, and some inducements of a pecuniary kind are often given by teachers to secure a regular attendance of their pupils. At the best, however, the boys are put to work at so early an age, and the girls are married so young, that the education which they receive extends very little beyond reading and writing in the Ar'abic tongue. In the smaller villages there is seldom more than one man who can write, and he is the marvel of the community. He does all the village writing, and his word settles all learned controversies. Letter-writing is practiced but little, and newspapers are unknown. There is not a printing-press in Palestine, and there are only three cities that can boast of a post-office, namely, Jerusalem, Joppa, and Haifa. There would be none at even these places but for the European residents and the European steamers that carry the mails. It appears singular to an American to visit cities of from 5000 to 15,000 inhabitants in which he cannot mail a letter.

      In the cities, such as Jerusalem, Hebron, and others, a few native Moslem teachers are found. They sit on the floor, with their pupils in a like position around them. Their compensation is very meagre, but fully equal to their deserts, for their pupils seldom learn to do more than read in an imperfect way certain favorite chapters in the Koran. Still there are some intended for the sacerdotal order whose education is more extended.

      The foundation of all missionary work among the people is usually laid in the education of the children, and until this can be accomplished more successfully the Christian faith can make but little headway. The Moslem who allow their children to attend the missionary schools make no objection to their reading the gospels, and consequently the gospel narratives are used as a text-book in all of them. The result will be that a generation will eventually be brought into existence many of whom--and the most intelligent of them--will be better acquainted with the New Testament than with the Koran, and that the leaven will work from them through the entire mass. This is the hope of the few patient toilers who are cultivating this unpromising portion of the Lord's vineyard. [133]

§ II.


      In every community that contains any considerable amount of Christian population, whether Latin or Greek, there is some attempt at education. Teachers are found in many of the villages. They are chiefly of the Greek Church, because nearly all the Christians in the country are of this faith. The Greeks, however, pay less attention to education than do the Latins. Connected with nearly all the churches and convents of the latter are schools for the native children, in which all the education is imparted that the children can be induced to receive. In Jerusalem the Franciscan friars have recently erected a large two-story building of hewed stone, with ample grounds about it, which they call a college. It is supplied with a well-qualified corps of teachers, and it is largely patronized. There were probably one hundred boys and young men in attendance in the spring of 1879, principally of Ar'ab parentage, though among them were a few of the sons of European residents.

      The Protestant missionary schools depend chiefly on the native Christian population for their pupils, though they also gather in some of the Ar'ab children. The Church of England has cultivated this field more than any other Protestant community. Bishop Gobât, who was for many years English bishop of Jerusalem, having oversight of all the English missions in Palestine, established a school on Mount Zion, which has been more successful than any other in the country. It has a boarding department for the accommodation of about forty boys, and it generally succeeds in keeping together about this number, chiefly orphans. It receives considerable patronage also from the city, and many of the young men of the country are indebted to it for a moderate education, including a slight knowledge of English. The bishop died at a very advanced age, in May, 1879, having lived in Jerusalem for many years. He was a native of Prussia. The school is supported by contributions raised in England. Its pupils are instructed in the creed of the Church of England, and the boarders are required to attend the English church in the city, and to take part in the recitation of the liturgy. There is an English church with schools attached, at Nazareth, and also a boarding-school for girls with accommodations for two hundred pupils; and at Es Salt, the most important town east of the Jordan, there is another school. Joppa, Gaza, and some other towns are seats of similar institutions. There is a Baptist [134] mission at Nab'lus, supported by Baptists in Great Britain, with a school for boys and a separate one for girls.

      The chief obstacle in the way of education where missionary schools exist is the almost total indifference of parents on the subject, and, next to this, the fear that their children may be led to adopt the religious faith of their teachers. Mohammedans and native Christians are alike in respect to the latter point, and are not far apart in regard to the former. Time and patience, however, will eventually overcome these obstacles, especially if peace and consequent security of life and property shall be maintained in the country.

§ III.


      The traveler who visits Palestine, or any other portion of the Turkish empire, with the expectation of seeing the Mohammedan religion as he has read of it in its earlier history, will be greatly disappointed. Instead of seeing men stop everywhere on the street, or in the highway, to go through the manual of prayer at the prescribed hours, he will see but few engaged in prayer at all; and when he sees one he will see many others round about him as indifferent as if they were adherents of a different religion. Wherever there is a mosque the muezzins call from the minaret is still heard at the five regular hours of prayer,1 provided the noise of the street does not drown it; but you look around in vain to see any giving heed to it. When you visit the mosques you find some old men now and then going through their genuflexions and mutterings, but the number is exceedingly small; and of young men there are none. Even on Friday, their Sabbath-day, though their houses of business are usually closed, but few of them go to the mosque to pray. They prefer to spend the day loitering about the streets, or seeking recreation in the groves of olive-trees outside the city. As for the Fel'lahîn, in whose villages there are no mosques, their religion brings them no rest. They are equally idle or equally busy on Friday as on other days of the week. The mosques are not only to a large extent destitute of worshipers, but they are neglected by their custodians. Dust and decay are seen both within and without the sacred buildings, and the breaches made by time in the walls and minarets are but seldom repaired. Even the platform of the Har'âm es Sherîff [135] (the noble sanctuary), in Jerusalem, the holiest place in Moslem estimation in the world next to the temple at Mecca, is allowed to grow up in weeds, except where pavement-slabs and the tramping of feet keep them down, and an air of neglect broods over the entire place. There is scarcely a Moslem sanctuary of any kind in all Palestine which shows marks of careful preservation, much less of recent decoration or improvement. This is partly due, no doubt, to the extreme poverty of
the people, which has gone on increasing for generations back, and partly to the impoverishment of the Turkish government. But it is chiefly due to the decay of the religion itself. None of those peculiarities of Mohammedanism which imparted some admirable virtues to the Ar'ab character a thousand years ago are now discovered in the practical workings of the system, and the ideal Mussulman is a thing of the past, never to be known again in real life.

      The decline in the reverence for mosques is seen not only in the prevalent neglect of these buildings, but in the greater freedom with which Christians (infidels, as they call us) are admitted within them. Twenty years ago no Christian was allowed to enter the Har'âm at Jerusalem, except under extraordinary circumstances,2 but now all are freely admitted on the payment of a fee of five francs; yet it is customary to go under the escort of the cavasse of your consul (his body-guard), and of a [136] couple of soldiers from the garrison. The attendance of these officers is necessary only to protect a stranger from attack by fanatical Moslem who might be enraged by seeing him there. In order to enter the sacred buildings one must pull off his boots or shoes; but he is allowed to walk in slippers. In former years it was only with bare feet that one could enter any mosque; but now you can enter in your own slippers, and in Constantinople the author was allowed to enter with his boots on; but they were slipped into a very large pair of heelless slippers. The Moslem themselves go in barefooted, but they saunter about these sacred buildings with an air of total indifference, and sometimes men are seen in them sound asleep on the floor, while the venders of cakes and lemonade and trinkets of various kinds are sometimes allowed to traffic with the visitor as he passes through.3

      The ancient forms of prayer are still preserved by those who pray at all; but it is easy to see, in many instances, that the heart is not engaged. The wandering eye and the listless expression of the countenance are not easily misinterpreted by the looker-on. The forms of prayer are themselves, from the very fullness of outward demonstration, calculated to divert the attention of the really devout, and to prevent the cultivation of piety among the careless and hypocritical. The figures in the cut represent the six attitudes assumed in the progress of every prayer.

Engraving Engraving

      In the posture of figure No. 1 the prayer is begun, with the expression "Allah hû akbar" (God is great) and a few mental petitions. [137] Then the hands are brought down, as in figure No. 2, when he recites the first chapter of the Koran and some other brief passages. Next he assumes the attitude of No. 3, and repeats some formulas of praise. Then standing erect with hands down, as in No. 4, he exclaims, as in the beginning, "God is great!" Then he drops upon his knees, plants his open palms upon the ground before him, and touches the ground between them three times with his forehead, as in No. 5, repeating short petitions and praises. Last he throws himself back on his knees, with his body resting on his heels and his hands on his thighs, as in No. 6. In this attitude he completes the round of his prayers and exclamations. This round is called a rekâh', and he generally goes through with it three times, unless he is in a hurry, when once will suffice. Before he begins he washes his hands and feet, and spreads a mat or rug, or, in the absence of these, his outer garment, on the ground, to stand and kneel upon. The floors of the mosques are usually spread with mats for this purpose.

      There is no clearer evidence of the decay of Mohammedanism than the substitution of a degrading superstition, which abounds in Palestine, for the ancient simple worship of the one only God. Lieutenant Conder seems to have obtained more intimate knowledge of this superstition than any other explorer, and he furnishes the fullest account of it.4 After remarking that though the professed religion of the country is Islam, you may live for months in the out-of-the-way parts of Palestine without seeing a mosque or hearing the call of the "muedhen" to prayer, he says that the people are not without a religion which shapes every action of their daily life. The mûkâm' represents this religion. We have already given a description of these buildings and of the sites chosen for them in the last section of Chapter V. of this work. It is the central point from which the influence of the saint in whose memory it is erected is supposed to radiate. If propitious, the saint or sheikh, as he is called, bestows good luck, health, and other blessings upon his worshipers; and if not, he inflicts blows, distraction of mind, and even death. If a man is at all queer in his manner, his fellow-villagers will say, "Oh, the sheikh has struck him." The greatest respect is paid to the place. The peasant removes his shoes upon entering, and takes care not to tread on the threshold. He says as he enters, "Your leave, O blessed one." Ploughs or other objects of value are left in the building with perfect safety, no thief being daring enough to remove them. When sickness prevails in a [138] village, votive offerings are brought to the mûkâm', consisting of earthenware lamps and similar articles, which are left at the tomb. The author saw a number of these in the tomb of Joseph, near She'chem. Sometimes sheep are killed near the mûkâm' and eaten in honor of the sheikh. The lower limbs of trees standing near are often almost covered with bits of rags which have been tied around them as tokens of gratitude or as means of propitiation. Some of these mûkâms' are dedicated to Scriptural characters, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Seth, Shem, Noah, and Jonah. The last two are thus honored more frequently than any of the others. Some are dedicated to Christian saints and some to famous robbers, but most of them to men noted for their devotion to the people or their religion.

      Sometimes pilgrimages are made to these shrines, and Conder saw hundreds of persons gathered around them on special occasions. In many places throughout the rocky portions of the country piles of small stones are seen, sometimes consisting of three laid together with a fourth on top of them, and sometimes of a pile of small, flat stones a foot or more in height, which mark the spots where these pilgrims first come in sight of a holy place. These piles are built on the large rocks, and in some places they are scattered over an acre or more of space.

      The villagers believe in charms, divination, and incantations, and they believe profoundly in the existence and power of evil spirits.

      Conder points out the connection of this superstitious veneration for dead saints and sheikhs with the ancient superstition of the Canaanites, which was so often imbibed by the Israelites. But it has a still closer connection with the saint worship which prevailed in the country just previous to the Mohammedan invasion, and which was temporarily restored during the Crusading period. The apostate Mussulman is in this instance an imitator of the apostate Christian.

§ IV.


      As a missionary field Palestine has been but very slightly cultivated. The Greek Church has existed so long in the Turkish empire, side by side with Mohammedanism, and has sunk so low in point of piety and missionary zeal, that she has accepted the situation and makes no effort anywhere to proselyte from the adherents of that faith. These causes [139] of inactivity are promoted in Palestine by the fact that this Church feels secure in her own existence there only because she is under the powerful protection of Russia, without which she might at any moment be expelled from the country. Furthermore, she suffers so much from proselytism at the hands of other more zealous Churches, that she has acquired an abhorrence for the very thought of proselyting from one religion to another. Through the grasping power and wealth of Russia this Church has acquired very valuable possessions at Jerusalem, and has erected convents, chapels, and hospices for her pilgrims at many other sacred localities; but all of this is rather for the purpose of holding her own adherents and securing their safety while visiting the country than for the purpose of making converts to her faith. She does not preach to the native Mohammedans, nor even establish schools for the education of their children. Her convents are abodes of idleness and ignorance. That of Mar Sab'a, which has existed from the fifth century in the midst of all the vicissitudes through which the country has passed, has never, perhaps, been the means of converting one Mohammedan sinner from the error of his way.

      The Latins, or Roman Catholics, are far more aggressive. They have schools at various places in connection with their churches and monasteries, and they make vigorous efforts to convert the children of both Greeks and Mohammedans to their faith. They have convents at Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Joppa, Ramleh, Mount Tabor, Mount Carmel, Nazareth, and Es Salt; and they have chapels at Tiberias, Kefr Kenna, Haifa, and many other towns and cities. What progress they have made in the way of conversions from the native population we are not able to state with any approach to accuracy.

      As we intimated in § II. of this chapter, the Church of England has almost monopolized this country, so far as Protestant missions are concerned. Jerusalem is the seat of a bishopric of that Church. The bishop's residence and the church adjoining it, both handsome buildings, occupy an eligible site on Mount Zion, fronting westward towards the Tower of David, and only a short distance from the Joppa gate. The church is capable of seating about three hundred persons, and services in English are held there every Lord's day. It is frequented by nearly all the European residents of the city, and all English-speaking visitors. The same church owns a still handsomer chapel, with parsonage attached, in the midst of the new settlement north of the city, where services are conducted in Arabic for the especial benefit of the natives. This property was erected at a cost of about $30,000. We have already mentioned the large boarding-school [140] for boys, under the control of this church, outside the wall and on the southwestern part of Mount Zion. See page 134. It was intended as an auxiliary to the church, but the number of converts from among its pupils is small. This school was first established in 1843, the mission itself having been established in 1838. Bishop Gobât entered upon his official duties there in 1846, and continued at his post until his death in 1879, a period of nearly thirty-three years. The annual expenditure for this mission in 1854 was £5328, or nearly $26,640.5

      Next to Jerusalem Nazareth is the chief seat of the missionary operations of the Church of England. There she has a chapel equal in style and finish to that in Jerusalem, and it is frequented chiefly by a congregation of natives. Here also is the large school for girls mentioned above (page 134), which adds greatly to the influence and prestige of this church in the community. The mission was established in 1857. Other missions of less importance exist at Gaza, Joppa, She'chem, and Es Salt.

      There is a German medical mission at Jerusalem, and one supported by the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Nazareth. In both of these efforts are made to indoctrinate the people religiously while they are receiving medical treatment. Medicine is gratuitously supplied to those unable to pay for it, and at Nazareth there is a hospital in connection with the dispensary. This is a very benevolent work in itself, and it is wisely adapted to its purpose. A Baptist mission exists at She'chem, under a native preacher, El Kârey by name, who was educated in England. He conducts two schools already mentioned (page 134), and also holds religious meetings for the instruction of adults in his own dwelling.

      The success of these missions, so far as the Ar'ab population is concerned, has been meagre; but it is greater than outward manifestations would indicate, for it is hazardous to the lives of Mohammedans to change their religion, and many are fully convinced of the truth of the Christian religion who dare not say so. Many also are largely indoctrinated with Christian ideas, who are not fully committed to Christ even in their convictions. The seeds of truth are being sown in unpromising soil, but some will yet come to a harvest.

      In the present state of profound ignorance and of undeveloped moral sensibilities which prevails among the adult population, there can be little doubt that the most effective way to Christianize the country is to work upon the children by improving their minds and imparting [141] to them a Christian education. If the author of this volume were allowed to direct missionary labors there, he would settle in every important village a Christian family, composed of plain American farming people, with moderate education, and practical experience in all the details of good farming and good housekeeping. They should reside in one of the better class of village houses, but should make it a model of neatness, and supply it with an outfit of the simplest and cheapest articles of household comfort, such as the natives would soon learn to admire and be able to procure. The housewife should be supplied with a few extra wash-tubs, wash-boards, tables, chairs, table ware, brooms, toilet articles, etc., and it should be her part of the mission work to teach the women of the village how to use these, and how to keep their persons, their children, and their houses clean. The man should be supplied with a few hoes, rakes, wheat-cradles, wheat-fans, ploughs, and harrows, and it should be his first work to teach the use of these, and thereby enable the people to make more money and buy these things for themselves. He should also act as an agent to import for the villagers at cost all articles of improved agriculture and housekeeping. While prosecuting this work the family should be learning the language of the people, and as fast as possible imparting to them Christian truth. One other adult in the family should be the school-teacher for the village, and should commence teaching as soon as a sufficient knowledge of the language could be acquired, previous to which he should assist in the work above mentioned. Within a few years it might be practicable to have meetings of the people for public preaching, and within the lifetime of a single missionary the entire village of a thousand souls might be on the highway to financial prosperity and Christian enlightenment. Every such village would be from the beginning of its improvement a radiating centre for the diffusion of the light which it was receiving. In this way a few humble families, whose influence in the church at home is scarcely felt, might be instrumental in evangelizing a nation. [142]

      1 At daylight, at sunrise, at noon, at sunset, and at the end of twilight. [135]
      2 See, for an account of this by Dr. Barclay, City of the Great King, p. 470. [136]
      3 The author saw all this in the great mosque at Damascus. [137]
      4 II. 218-235. [138]
      5 City of the Great King, 588-91. [141]


[LOB 132-142]

[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)

Back to BibleStudyGuide.org.

These files are public domain. This electronic edition was downloaded from the Restoration Movement Texts.