The Melchizedek teachings of the one God became established in the Arabian desert at a comparatively recent date. As in Greece, so in Arabia the Salem missionaries failed because of their misunderstanding of Machiventa’s instructions regarding overorganization. But they were not thus hindered by their interpretation of his admonition against all efforts to extend the gospel through military force or civil compulsion.
Not even in China or Rome did the Melchizedek teachings fail more completely than in this desert region so very near Salem itself. Long after the majority of the peoples of the Orient and Occident had become respectively Buddhist and Christian, the desert of Arabia continued as it had for thousands of years. Each tribe worshiped its olden fetish, and many individual families had their own household gods. Long the struggle continued between Babylonian Ishtar, Hebrew Yahweh, Iranian Ahura, and Christian Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Never was one concept able fully to displace the others.
Here and there throughout Arabia were families and clans that held on to the hazy idea of the one God. Such groups treasured the traditions of Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, and Zoroaster. There were numerous centers that might have responded to the Jesusonian gospel, but the Christian missionaries of the desert lands were an austere and unyielding group in contrast with the compromisers and innovators who functioned as missionaries in the Mediterranean countries. Had the followers of Jesus taken more seriously his injunction to “go into all the world and preach the gospel,” and had they been more gracious in that preaching, less stringent in collateral social requirements of their own devising, then many lands would gladly have received the simple gospel of the carpenter’s son, Arabia among them.
Despite the fact that the great Levantine monotheisms failed to take root in Arabia, this desert land was capable of producing a faith which, though less demanding in its social requirements, was nonetheless monotheistic.
There was only one factor of a tribal, racial, or national nature about the primitive and unorganized beliefs of the desert, and that was the peculiar and general respect which almost all Arabian tribes were willing to pay to a certain black stone fetish in a certain temple at Mecca. This point of common contact and reverence subsequently led to the establishment of the Islamic religion. What Yahweh, the volcano spirit, was to the Jewish Semites, the Kaaba stone became to their Arabic cousins.
The strength of Islam has been its clear-cut and well-defined presentation of Allah as the one and only Deity; its weakness, the association of military force with its promulgation, together with its degradation of woman. But it has steadfastly held to its presentation of the One Universal Deity of all, “who knows the invisible and the visible. He is the merciful and the compassionate.” “Truly God is plenteous in goodness to all men.” “And when I am sick, it is he who heals me.” “For whenever as many as three speak together,· God is present as a fourth,” for is he not “the first and the last, also the seen and the hidden”?