The Ruins HTML version
Part I, Chapter 20
THE SEARCH OF TRUTH
The people expressed their applause, and the legislator continued: To proceed with order,
and avoid all confusion, let a spacious semicircle be left vacant in front of the altar of
peace and union; let each system of religion, and each particular sect, erect its proper
distinctive standard on the line of this semicircle; let its chiefs and doctors place
themselves around the standard, and their followers form a column behind them.
The semicircle being traced, and the order published, there instantly rose an innumerable
multitude of standards, of all colors and of every form, like what we see in a great
commercial port, when, on a day of rejoicing, a thousand different flags and streamers are
floating from a forest of masts.
At the sight of this prodigious diversity, I turned towards the Genius and said:
I thought that the earth was divided only into eight or ten systems of faith, and I then
despaired of a reconciliation; I now behold thousands of different sects, and how can I
hope for concord?
But these, replied the Genius, are not all; and yet they will be intolerant!
Then, as the groups advanced to take their stations, he pointed out to me their distinctive
marks, and thus began to explain their characters:
That first group, said he, with a green banner bearing a crescent, a bandage, and a sabre,
are the followers of the Arabian prophet. To say there is a God, without knowing what he
is; to believe the words of a man, without understanding his language; to go into the
desert to pray to God, who is everywhere; to wash the hands with water, and not abstain
from blood; to fast all day, and eat all night; to give alms of their own goods, and to
plunder those of others; such are the means of perfection instituted by Mahomet-- such
are the symbols of his followers; and whoever does not bear them is a reprobate, stricken
with anathema, and devoted to the sword.
A God of clemency, the author of life, has instituted these laws of oppression and
murder: he made them for all the world, but has revealed them only to one man; he
established them from all eternity, though he made them known but yesterday. These
laws are abundantly sufficient for all purposes, and yet a volume is added to them. This
volume was to diffuse light, to exhibit evidence, to lead men to perfection and happiness;
and yet every page was so full of obscurities, ambiguities, and contradictions, that
commentaries and explanations became necessary, even in the life- time of its apostle. Its
interpreters, differing in opinion, divided into opposite and hostile sects. One maintains
that Ali is the true successor; the other contends for Omar and Aboubekre. This denies
the eternity of the Koran; that the necessity of ablutions and prayers. The Carmite forbids