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JUL 24 1914

tiiosim sivk^








A/l righls rexerred


I THINK the purpose of this book will be explained most
easily by stating how it came to be written.

Any officer who has served in India with native
troops must have perceived how genial and cordial are
the relations among all ranks, from the commanding
officer dow^n to the private, so long as a regiment is on
active service. The dangers and hardships which have
to be endured by all, keep alive and strengthen the feel-
ing of comradeship. But when the regiment returns
into quarters this feeling dies away. It is not that the
Enghsh officer is, at heart, less interested in the well-
being of his men, but that there is no longer any object
of interest common to both, outside of the mere routine
of their profession. They have nothing to talk about.
The native soldier knows nothing of Enghsh history or of
anything that interests Englishmen ; and very few English
officers know more of the men they command than that
they are called Sikhs, Afghans, Ghoorkhas, or Mahrattas.
What these names signify — what was the history of
those who bear them, in the past : what are the memories


which still thrill them witli pleasure or pride— these
are matters of which the officers in our native army
have small knowledge. And what a potent magnet for
winning the hearts of our native soldiers is, from this
ignorance, permitted to rust unused, is known only to
those who do possess this knowledge, and have watched

its effects.

Eight or nine years ago, being in England upon
medical certificate, it occurred to me that I might use-
fully employ my leisure in drawing up brief historical
sketches of the races from which our native army is
chiefly recruited. A work of this kind, it seemed to
me, was just what young officers needed to put them in
the way of understanding the men they had to command
in the field and in quarters. I had collected a large
quantity of matter concerning the Mahrattas, the Sikhs,
and the Afghans ; but when I commenced to deal with
Muhammadanism in India, I found myself at fault. The
(so called) Mogul empire was a mystery for which I
could find no satisfactory explanation. Under the stress.
of what impulse had these invaders abandoned the up-
lands of Central Asia to erect an empire at Delhi and
Agra? They styled themselves Muhammadans, but it
was clear that the religion they professed, and which they
affirmed to be identical with that in the Koran, had
passed through a number of transforming influences
before it assumed the form it exhibited in India. What
w^as the history of these transformations ? Elphinstone


told me notliing of them. I found no light in the Persian
historians of the Muhammadan empire.

I resolved to follow Baber and his hardy adventurers
over the summits of the Hindoo Khosh. In his paternal
kingdom of Fergliana, I should surely discover the clue
to guide me through the labyrinth. But there was only
confusion worse confounded. Over the whole extent of
Central Asia there was nothing to be heard or seen but
a confused noise of battle and garments rolled in blood.
The dim outhnes of fleeting dynasties rose and disap-
peared in the confusion ; conquerors emerging apparently
from the Inane ' hasted stormfully across the astonished
earth, then plunged again into the Inane.' And what
was strangest of all, the Muhammadan historians who
recorded this anarchy seemed to find nothing strange or
anomalous in it. The Faithful had always managed their
affairs in this way, and no one appeared to entertain a
thought that the work of existence coidd be carried on
in a less bloody and riotous fashion. All that was done
was being done strictly according to the Book and the
Traditions, and the interpretations of orthodox doctors —
and what more would you have ? God was great and
Muhammad was His Prophet ; of what use was it to
strive against destiny P

I perceived, then, that to understand the events of
Muhammadan history I must trace them upwards from
their source, in the teaching of Muhammad at Mekka
and Medina. I was encouraged to undertake this enquiry


by the fact that there does not exist any Enghsli book
which treats of the growth of the Muhammadan rehgion.
The present vohnne is the first fruits of this enquiry,
which has occupied me during the past seven years. It
constitutes a whole in itself, and is the first of a series
of works which will trace the progress of Islam from
Mekka to Delhi. The second work will be entitled ' The
Khalifs of Baghdad,' and the third, ' Islam in India.'

The period of Muhammadan history which extends
from the first preaching of Muliammad to the destruction
of Baghdad by the Mongols, foils naturally into three
divisions :

The rule of the Arabs ;

The rule of the Persians ;

The rule of the Turks.
Tlie present volume deals with the first of these. This
period terminated in a.h. 132 with the overthrow of the
House of 0mm aya and the accession to power of the
khalifs of the House of Abbas. As the arrangement of
my subject is somewhat novel and peculiar, a few words
in explanation of it are necessary. First, then, I would
ask my readers to keep in mind that I am not writing a
history of Muhammad or of the khalifs of the House of
Ommaya, but of the Muhammadan religion. In dealing,
therefore, with the life of Muhammad, I have touched
upon those incidents only which had an influence in the
building up of the religion he taugiit. And so also with
the events in the after-liistory. I 1iave passed over in


silence, or willi onl)- passing mention, the conquests of
the Arabs and tlieir interminable wars with the Byzan-
tine empire, because, important as these are historically,
they had no influence on Muhammadan theology. Mu-
hammadan theology was the product of internal discords ;
it was the result of jarring political ambitions investing
themselves with a religious sanction, in order to harden
the hearts and inflame the fanaticism of the partisans
on either side. These civil wars, consequently, I have
treated in detail.

The first part, entitled ' Islam,' follows the history
of the Muhammadan religion from its origin at Mekka,
until the body of the Faithful was rent into two irrecon-
cileable factions, the Sannis and the Shias.

The second part, entitled ' The Fatimides,' traces the
growth of the Shia heresy. It endeavours to show that
the central tenets of this sect grew directly out of the
circumstances in which it was placed. It gives an ac-
count, first, of its unsuccessful contest with orthodoxy,
under the designation of ' the Karmathians ; ' then of the
empire it founded in Northern Africa ; and lastly, it re-
lates how, using this empire as a base for further opera-
tions, it obtained possession of the rich province of Egypt,
whence it planted, like a wasting cancer, in the very
centre of the dominions of the Bagdad khalifate, that
terrible organisation known in history as ' The As-


The third part, entitled ' The Khalifs of the House


of Ominaya,' resumes the history of the orthodox party
at the point where the close of the first part left it.
The object of this section is to exhibit the events whicli
enabled the vanquished Persians to rise against tlieir Aral)
conquerors, and place a khalif of their choice at the
liead of Islam. These events were due to the want of
fusing and uniting power in the religion of Muhammad.
Accordingly in the first chapter I have given a sketch of
what the Arabs were previous to their conversion ; and
in those which follow I show how, when they became
masters of Asia, the old feuds and the old passions con-
tinued to occupy them, to the complete exclusion of other
and higher interests, until the weakness engendered by
these discords enabled the subject populations to unite and
drive them from power.

In the ' Khalifs of Baghdad ' (whicli I hope to have
ready for publication in about a year from this time), I
carry on the history to the destruction of Baghdad. This
volume is chiefly takoi up with an account of the ex-
pansion of Islam into a theological and pohtical system,
and the unsuccessful attempt of the khalif Mamun to
subject the Koran itself to critical tests sanctioned by the
reason and the conscience.

The third volume will, as I have already said, bear
the title of ' Islam in India.' The political fortunes of
Muhammadanism in India have been followed, down
almost to the present day, in the writings of Elphinstone,
Erskine, Grant Duff, Briggs, and other less known


authors, but no eudeuvour lias as yet l)cen made to
depict ' Islam iu India ' as a spiritual force acting upon
and being influenced by the indigenous religions. This
is what I purpose to attempt in this part of my work,
obtaining my materials from the abundant Persian lite-
rature of the past Muhammadan period, and from the
Oordoo which has sprung up so luxuriantly since the
advent of British rule, and the introduction of the print-
ing press.

In the present volume I have given no references at
the foot of the page, but at the end of the volume the
reader will find a list of the authorities which have been
used in the composition of each chapter. Among these,
however, there do not occur the names of two writers to
whose works I am, nevertheless, greatly indebted, though
not exactly in such a way as admits of particular specifi-
cation. They are Weil, the author of the ' Geschichte
der Chahfen,' and R. Dozy, the author of ' Histoire des
Musulmans d'Espagne.' It was my misfortune — one in-
separable from writing history in a remote coimtry like
India — not to read this last work imtil the greater part
of this volume had been written, and when time was
lacking to me to make all the use of it I should liked to
have done. It is in my judgment the ablest and most
brilliant work on Muhannnadan history with which I am
acquainted, and those who desire to find a truthful and
vivid picture of Arab character and Arab rule cannot do
better than read this learned and delightful book.


Muliaiiiniadan names are, I know from experience, a
constant puzzle and difficulty to English readers. I think
a few words of explanation will, to a great extent, render
them at once intelligible. A Muhammadan may be de-
signated by any one of three titles. Thus, for example,
the Prophet may be called ' Muhammad,' which is his
own name ; or ' Abou Kasim,' which signifies ' the fiither
of Kasim,' a son of his who died when young ; or he
may be called after his father, ' Ibn Abdallah,' which
means ' the son of Abdallah.' The word ' Abd,' which
appears continually in Muhammadan names, signifies
' servant ' or ' slave ; ' thus Abdallah ' means ' the servant
of God;' 'Abd al Eahman,' 'the servant of the Com-

11 Maelbouo' Road, St. John's Wood :
March 1876.





I. Muhammad at Mekka

II. Muhammad at Medina .39

III. The Pilgrimage oi' Farewell 71

IV. Ali and His Sons . . . 96

V. The Struggle for Empire 129

PART 11.


I. The Shia 151

II. The Arab and the Berber ' . 185

III. The Rise op the Fatimides 215

IV. The Conquest of Egypt 2.36



I. Tin; Arabs before Islam 271

II. The Revolt of Yezid Ibn Mouhalleb 304

III. The Decline of the Ommayas 335

IV. The Abbasides 3G2

V. The Fall of the Ommavas 391





A.D. C12-G22.

There is one remarkable assumption that runs through
all the warnings, denunciations, and appeals of the Koran.
The God of whom the Prophet speaks is not an unknown
God. The guilt of his fellow-tribesmen, the justification
of thek impending doom, are deduced from the fact
that they did know this God, while they honoured dumb
idols, ' Whose is the earth and all that is therein, if ye
know? ' asks Muhammad ; and he anticipates their reply :
' They will answer, " God's." ' ' Who is the Lord of the
Seven Heavens and the Lord of the Glorious Throne?'
' They will say, " They are God's." ' ' Li whose hand is the
empire of all things, who protecteth, but is not protected? '
' They will answer, " In God's." ' ' How, then,' he asks, ' can
ye be so spellbound? ' Sprung from the seed of Abraham,
the memory of their august parentage was fondly
cherished by the tribes dwelHng in and around Mekka,
to whom specially these words were addressed. A per-
sistent, though confused, apprehension of a Divine unity
imderlying the multiplicity of idol gods had remained of
that spiritual heritage which the Father of the Jewish
nation had bequeathed to them. And, since the ruin of




Jerusalem and the spread of Christianity, that apprehen-
sion had been quickened into a comparative clearness liy
intercourse with Jews and Christians. Jewish tribes were
intermingled with Arab at Medina. In Syria more than
one tril^e of kindred origin with themselves professed
Christianity. In Yemen a Christian dynasty had existed
for nearly a century. Tlie Aral3s who dwelt in Mekka
w^cre the great traders among their countrymen. Tlieir
karavans were continually passing to and fro between
Yemen and Syria ; and it was due, doubtless, to the play
of these various religious influences that we find towards
the end of the sixth century of our era, scattered throuo-h
Arabic poetry, numerous traces of a deep sense of the
nnity of God, His unapjDroachable supremacy, and a lively
consciousness of the moral responsibility of man. ' All
things,' says one poet, ' without God are vanity.' ' God,'
says another, ' is alone the True and the Eighteous, and
sin is the attribute of man alone.'

The people who professed this Theism were termed
Hanyfs. The Arabic writers give tlie names of several
men contemporary witli the Propliet who were thus
designated. Muhammad considered himself in his early
days to be one among them. The chief of their tenets
appears to have been that the pure worship of God had
been revealed to Abraham in a book sent down from
Heaven ; this book had either been lost or subjected to
so many interpolations, that its primary significance Avas
forgotten ; and the spiritual well-being of mankind de-
pended upon its re-discovery.

In the pre-Islamite times of Arabia the chief man
among these wistful and anxious spirits is undoubtedly


Zaid, the Inquirer. lie rejected the worship of idols, pro-
tested vehemently against the murder of female infants,
and refused to eat meat offered in sacrifice to idols. ' I
seek,' he said, ' for the God of Abraham alone.' Day
after day he would repair to the Kaaba and pray for
enlightenment. He used to be seen leaning his back
against the wall of the temple, absorbed in meditation,
his silence broken at intervals by passionate appeals to
Heaven. ' Lord,' he would cry, ' if I knew in what man-
ner Thou oughtest to be worshipped, I would obey Thy
will, but I am in darkness.' Tiien he would throw liim-
self down with his face to the earth. His soul could find
no rest so long as he dwelt at Mekka amid a people wholly
given up to superstition. He determined to travel
throu<2;]i the Avorld, searchino; after the knowledge of God ;
but for many years his wishes were successfully opposed
by his family. At last he effected his escape. He tra-
versed Mesopotamia and Syria ; he conversed with Christian
monks and Jewish Eabbis ; but the satisfaction his soul
craved after lie could nowhere find, and he returned to
die in his native land.

Anotlicr of the lieralds of tlie Prophet, and tlie one
who stands in closest connection with him, is Waraka, tlie
cousin of Muliammad's first wife, Kadija. He Avas the
most learned Arab of his time ; had all his life main-
tained intimate relations with Jews and Christians ;
had studied Hebrew, and read tlie books of the Old Testa-
ment in the original. Like Zaid, he was utterlv dis-
satisfied with the gross and incredible idolatry of liis
compatriots. * Our countrymen,' he said, ' walk in a
wrong way; they have departed from the religion of


Abraham. What is this pretended divinity to which they
sacrifice victims and round which they make solemn pro-
cessions? A block of stone, dumb and insensible, power-
less either for good or evil. All this is wholly wrong.
We ought to seek the pm'e religion of Abraham.' When
the Prophet commenced his preaching, Waraka was at first
inclined to concede his claims ; but when Muhammad
strove to strengthen his position by means of wild legends,
which he affirmed to exist in the Books of Moses and
elsewhere, Waraka's knowledge of the Hebrew Scrip-
tures convinced him of the hollowness of Muhammad's
pretensions. Waraka denounced him as an impostor, and
Avithdrew to Abyssinia, where he became a Christian.
It is even said that he translated a part of the Four
Gospels into Arabic.

The influence of this Theism necessarily extended
beyond the immediate circle of the few who explicitly
professed it. It awakened a spirit of inquiry, and
broke through the callous crust of conventionalism in
many minds. Muhammad entered upon a field the soil
of which had been broken up to receive the seed he cast
upon it. Wherein he differed from his predecessors
was the voice of authority with which he spoke. He
transformed the Hanyfite Theism from a tenet of specula-
tive minds into a Divine revelation. There w^as no god
but God, and Muhammad was His prophet. It was this
second dosfma, ' forced as a Divine revelation into the
belief of so large a part of mankind, wdiich was the power,
the influence, the all-subduing energy of Islam; the prin-
ciple of its unity, of its irresistible fixnaticism, its propa-
gation, its victories, its enipires, its duration.'-^

* IMilman's Latin Christianity.^ vol. i. p. 455.


Muhammad was approacliiug liis fortieth year before
that inward cliange became apparent Avliicli converted
liini into the Prophet of Arabia. WJiat had first inspired
him with his contempt and hatred of idolatry is a matter
of speculation. Doubtless his kara van journeys to Syria,
by bringing him into intercourse with Jews and Christians,
did much to reveal to him that there were worthier
objects for man's adoration than the trees and shapeless
stones worshipped by his countrymen. But, judging from
the Koran, I shoidd be inclined to think that the beauty,
the order, the all-pervading life in Nature, first carried
him above idolatry to the apprehension of a one God.
Like all men of poetic temperament, he was deeply
moved by this spectacle. And the noblest passages in the
Koran are those where he makes appeal to this testimony
to establish the wisdom and beneficence of the Creator :

^The dead earth is a sign to men ; we quicken it and bring fortli
grain from it, and they eat thereof:

And we make in it gardens of the date and vine ; and we cause
springs to gush forth in it ;

A sign to them also is the night. We withdraw the day from it,
and lo ! they are phmged in darlcness ;

And the sun hasteneth to her place of rest. This is the ordinance
of the Mighty, the Knowing !

And as ibr the moon, wc have decreed stations for it, till it change
like an old and crooked palm branch.

To the sun it is not given to overtake the moon ; nor doth the night
outstrip the day ; but each in its own sphere doth journey on.

Sura xxxvi. v. o 1— iO.

That the Being who created all these marvels could
reside in idols of wood and stone was to him altogether
incredible ; but not less so was the notion that these idols
symbolised a plurality of gods in the regions beyond the


sky. A number of gods involved a number of wills, a
variety of characters and conflicting purposes. Such a
belief introduced into the invisible world all the strife
and disorder which prevailed in this, and which could
not co-exist with that calm and majestic harmony whereby
the earth renewed her life with each returning Spring,
and day and night followed in ever recurring succession.
The hatred of idolatry naturally increased, as a life of
meditative solitude nourished this belief in a Divine unity,
to o-reater streno-th and clearness. Men seemed to be
wantonly rushing down into abysses of falsehood with
the light of truth shining all around them. There are
a few fragments of verse preserved in the Koran which
are supposed to belong to this period. They are full of a
profound emotion — broken, almost inarticulate utterances
— the heart bowed down beneath the weidit of its own
thoughts and unable to give tliem fitting expression.

Tlie scene of these musings was in keeping Avitli their
tenor. The spot whither Muhammad repaired during
these trances of thought was a cave at the foot of Mount
Hira, about two or three miles north of Mekka. The
country round is bleak and rugged — bare, desolate hills
and sandy valleys destitute of vegetation, and near at
hand the last resting place of the ' Inquirer ' Zaid — a
silent warning to the future prophet of the vanity of his
thoughts and the futility of his hopes. For he, too, had
expended his life in the search after God, and died here
broken in heart from hope too long deferred. One day,
amid the silent rocks, Muhannnad had a dream. An
angel appeared before him and said, ' Eead ! ' 'I cannot
read ' was the response. The angel repeated the com-


maiid and received the same reply. Then the heavenly-
messenger spoke as follows :

Kecite thou in the name of the Lord wlio created —

Created man from clots of blood —

Recite thou ! for thy Lord is the most beneficent

Who hath taught thee the use o£ the jjen ;

Ilath taught man that which he knoweth not.

Sura xcvi.

A flash of joy shot through Muhammad's heart. But
the darkness of doubt orathered more heavilv after
this momentary break. There was no return of the
celestial visitant. He wandered among the bleak rocks
as before, but no angel forms rose against the sky, no
angel voices broke the terrible silence. The Prop-hct
thought himself the sport of evil spirits ; he is said even
" to have meditated suicide, when again the angel appeared,
though he heard no voice. Later he enjoyed a tliud
visitation, which he has described in the fifty-third Sura.
He saw the angel, and heard him speak, and received the
joyful assurance that he (Muhammad) was the chosen of
God. The angel then vanished. Muhanunad fell sense-
less to the earth. On recovering his senses he liurried
back to his flimily. ' Enshroud me, enshroud me ! ' were
the fii'st words he uttered. They wrapped a cloak round
him and sprinkled water on his face ; and again the voice
of the angel came to him, saying :

O ! thou enwrapped in thy mantle !

Arise and warn !

Thy Lord — magnify him !

Thy raiment — purify it !

The Abomination — flee it !

And bestow not favours that thou maycst receive again with increase,

And for thy Lord wait thou patiently !


It was, then, no dream of his imagination that beyond the
bkie vault above, there was a Being who had regard to
tlie children of men, and that He had chosen Muhammad
as His messenger to an unbelieving generation. The
heart of the Prophet was now at rest, and his joy and
gratitude flowed forth in what appears to me as the most
touching passage in the Koran :

By tlie noonday brightness

And by the night ^vllen it darkeneth !
Thy Lord hath not forsaken thee, neither hath He been displeased,
And surely the Future shall be bettor for thee than the Past,
And in the end shall thy Lord be bounteous to thee, and thou be satisfied.
Did He not find thee an orphan, and gave thee a home?
And found thee erring and guided thee ?
And found thee needy and enriched thee ?
As to the orphan, therefore, wrong him not ;
And as for iiim that asketh of thee chide him not away ;
And as for the favours of thy Lord tell them abroad.

Online LibraryRobert Durie OsbornIslam und the Arabs → online text (page 1 of 32)