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If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain

If you are unable to get your own way, you must bow to the inevitable.

‘I know I refused to do it, but somebody’s got to, so if no one else will take it on, I suppose I shall have to do it myself. It’s the old, old story of Muhammad and the mountain.’

The earliest appearance of the phrase is from Chapter 12 of the Essays of Francis Bacon, published in 1625:

Mahomet made the people believe that he would call an hill to him, and from the top of it offer up his prayers, for the observers of his law. The people assembled; Mahomet called the hill to come to him, again and again; and when the hill stood still, he was never a whit abashed, but said, If the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.

This proverb has not the same meaning as the story from which it is drawn. Muhammad did not bow to the inevitable; he snatched victory from defeat. The story runs that the Arabs were reluctant to accept his teaching until he had performed a miracle. He ordered Mount Safa, outside the holy city of Mecca, to come to him. When it did not move he said : ‘God is merciful. Had it obeyed me it would have fallen on us and destroyed us. I will therefore go to the mountain and thank God that He has had mercy on us.’

It was published in John Ray‘s 1670 book of English proverbs. Though widely attributed to Muhammed, the prophet of Islam who lived in Arabia in 6th century, there is no written or oral tradition that traces this phrase back to him.