D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The early development of Mohammedanism; lectures delivered in the University of London, May and June 1913 online

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he fills his offices with Armenians, and according to
the historian oppresses and humiliates the Moslems.
Popular discontent finds expression in an organised
revolt; the vizier is compelled to flee from Cairo,
and finally enters a monastery ; vengeance is dealt
to the Armenians whom he had favoured. We are
not ordinarily in a position to assess the rights and
wrongs in these cases ; sometimes, as in the last case,
the Moslem historians assert that there was provoca-
tion for the attack, sometimes they make no such
suggestion. What we infer is that the Ordinance of
Omar was frequently enforced, and was at any time
likely to be.

A story is told at length by Makrizi in his history
of the year 700 (1301 a.d.), made accessible by M.
Quatremere in his French translation. A vizier of
the Maghribi Sultan arrives in Egypt, and sees a man
on horseback, surrounded by numerous mendicants,
whom he asks his attendants to remove from his path.
The vizier, learning that this horseman was a Christian,
was deeply wounded. He went to find the Emirs
Baibars and Selar, told them what he had seen, ex-
pressed his displeasure, shed copious tears, and spoke
of the Christians with extreme contempt. " How,"
said he, " can you hope for the favour of heaven, when


Christians in your country ride on horseback, wear
white turbans, humihate the Moslems, and make
them walk in their trains ? " He expressed his dis-
approval in strong terms, dilated on the obligation
imposed on the members of the government to keep
these tributaries down and compel them to adopt
another costume.

The Emirs bring the matter before the Sultan, and
an edict is promulgated enforcing the '' Ordinance of
Omar." The Christians and Jews were summarily
dismissed from all government offices ; they were for-
bidden to ride horses or even mules. The Christians
tried hard to bribe the officials to get some relaxation
of these orders ; but the Emir Baibars " displayed
laudable zeal and extreme firmness in maintaining
what had been resolved." The populace, encouraged
by a legal decision, rushed upon the churches and
synagogues and demolished them. All houses
occupied by Jews or Christians in Alexandria which
outtopped Moslem houses were pulled down.

The theory that no new churches might be built
and no old ones repaired, and the ordinance that no
church might be higher than a mosque, were perpetual
sources of chicanery. In the chronicles of Egypt
under the Mamlukes references to this matter are
exceedingly common. In 846 a.h. it is discovered
that a Melkite church and certain other churches in
Cairo had been repaired ; the authorities close them
in order that the licence for their repair should be
exhibited. An order bearing date 734 is produced,
and the matter is referred to the Shafi'ite and Malikite


Kadis. In the meantime some trouble occurs with
the Jews and a council of state is held, after which it
is decided that the old contract of Omar is to be re-
newed according to which no church, synagogue, or
convent is to be repaired or renewed. If any attempt
at repairing one be made, the whole building is to be
destroyed. In 851 it is discovered that in spite of
this ordinance repairs have been effected in a JNlelkite
church, and the Sultan in consequence orders its

Clearly it was useless to allow them the churches
at all unless repairs were permitted. It would, more-
over, appear that in this case permission for modest
restoration had been obtained from one of the deputies
of the Shafi'ite Kadi. Some praying at the tomb of a
saint was required before the order could be procured
for the destruction of the church, which was carried
out by the high officers of the state deputed for that
purpose by the Sultan.

In the year 849 a charge is brought before the
Sultan that on JNlount Sinai there are six churches
which exceed in height the old mosque that is con-
tinuous with the convent. The question whether
these churches are not also posterior to the capitula-
tions is also raised. A commission is sent to inquire,
and in consequence the churches are destroyed.
Similarly, in 850 a complaint is brought that a
Melkite church is higher than a neighbouring
mosque, and the Sultan in consequence orders its

Nor do we find that Christians have any fixity of


tenure. Ibn lyas records that in the year 759 it
was discovered that there were in Egypt 25,000
feddans appropriated to churches and monasteries :
doubtless the gifts of a long series of benefactors.
The finance minister before whom this matter was
brought was deeply chagrined ; he consulted the
Sultan, who issued an order that all this land should
be withdrawn from the possession of the Christians
and distributed among the military chiefs as additional
fiefs. He then issued a further order for a general
destruction of churches and monasteries. The
historian does not even suggest that there was any
provocation justifying this measure, except the fact
that the Christians were discovered to be in posses-
sion of the property. Similarly, in recording the life
of the Sultan Chakmak, the historian records that he
once grew angry with the Christians and ordered a
number of their churches to be destroyed.

It is, of course, possible to assert that the series of
massacres and plunderings which have marked Moslem
rule over Christians had always some occasion which
was not merely the difference of belief. In the
history of Egypt under the Mamlukes we find the
Christians constantly charged with incendiarism ; and,
in consequence, during the reign of Baibars the whole
community ran the risk of being committed to the
flames. But, indeed, to suppose that in Moslem
countries Christians would not undergo persecution
for their faith is to take a view of human nature
which is incompatible with facts. The governments
were ordinarily tyrannical and extortionate ; there


was constant misery caused by usurpers and invaders ;
in such cases the resentment which cannot with safety
be directed against the government finds its vent, with
the approval of the government, in attacks upon the
defenceless alien.

Mr Pickthall speaks of poor Moslems and Christians
chaffing each other on the subject of their religions,
but that has at all times been a dangerous game ; for
the poor are those who care most. The poor in
Egypt or Syria are the scrupulous worshippers, who
fast throughout Ramadan and say their five daily
orisons ; comfort brings indifference. When in the
year 284 a.h. there was a rumour that a Christian
servant of the Sultan's Christian physician had abused
the Prophet, the mob of a whole quarter of Baghdad
was in an uproar ; the object of the authorities appears
to have been to quiet them.^

It certainly appears from Arabic literature that the
Moslems regularly were invited to take part in
the Christian festivals and habitually enjoyed this
privilege ; " we do not — to the best of my belief —
read often of return invitations ; and, indeed, the chief
festivals of Islam are too definitely connected with
the system, too exclusively Islamic, to render the
presence of one who was not of the fold any more
welcome on these occasions than at the service of the
mosque. And although the Christian festivals were
on the whole an occasion for the establishment or

1 Tabari iii. 2l62.

2 Masari' al-'Usshak 382. Ibn Athir x. 1 66. Sibt Ibn al-Ta^awldhi,


maintenance of friendly relations between the com-
munities, the Moslem government occasionally went
to the length of forcibly suppressing them on the
ground that they led to riot and debauchery. In the
year 759 a. h., under Sultan Hasan, the feast of the 8th
of Bashans, called the feast of the Martyr, whereon
a ceremony connected with the rising of the Nile was
celebrated and had been from time immemorial, was
forcibly suppressed ; the church which contained the
relic which was employed was demolished and the
relic itself burned. The excuse was that the feast,
which was celebrated by the erection of booths along
the Nile, and wherein the whole Egyptian population
took part, led to drunkenness and debauchery. In
the year 787 a.h. Sultan Barkuk suppressed the Coptic
New Year's Day ; this apparently was a feast which
bore some resemblance to our Boxing Day, in that
bakhshish could be demanded with threats, and the
persons who refused to bestow were liable to insult ;
the bazaars and markets were closed, and anyone
walking in the streets, however eminent, might be
squirted or pelted with rotten eggs. The festival
resembled a Bank Holiday in various ways ; among
them, that there was often much drunkenness and
brawling. In the main, however, according to the
description which the historian gives, it was more
likely to lead to good feeling between the different
classes of the population than anything else.

The history of Christian communities under Moslem
rule cannot be adequately written ; the members of
those communities had no opportunity of describing


their condition safely, and the Moslems naturally
devote little space to their concerns. Generally
speaking, they seem to have been regarded as certain
old Greek and Roman sages regarded women : as a
necessary annoyance. Owing to their being unarmed
their prosperity was always hazardous ; and though it
is true that this was the case with all the subjects of
a despotic state under an irresponsible ruler, the non-
Moslem population was at the mercy of the mob as
well as of the sovereign ; they were likely scapegoats
whenever there was distress, and even in the best
governed countries periods of distress frequently arise.
Owing to the unequal assessment of their rights as
compared with those of the Moslems, wrongs com-
mitted by them against Moslems wxre likely to meet
with terrible punishment, whereas wrongs committed
upon them were likely to go unpunished. The
terrible reprisals occasionally taken by the Christians
when they momentarily got the upper hand, as when
the Mongols obtained possession of Damascus, show
that the relations between the lower classes of the
two communities were constantly strained. Writers
of whom better things might be expected often
report with evident delight excesses committed
against them, and the name '* enemy of Allah " is
applied to them indiscriminately without any sense of
impropriety in the expression.

It is probable that the attitude of the sovereigns
and of the educated classes was on the whole friendly
and respectful. It is rather interesting that in the

records which we have of discussions in the fourth



century of Islam, to which period the best Arabic
literature on the whole belongs, the audience, who
naturally belong to a superior class, do not approve of
fanatical vituperation ; they treat the Christian repre-
sentatives of science and philosophy as deserving of
esteem. And it would seem that the sovereigns had
good grounds for preferring to employ them in various
offices of trust in lieu of employing their own co-
religionists. A Fatimid Caliph wishes to poison his
son ; he applies to his Jewish physician ; the man
replies that this does not come within the range of
his science, which extends no further than the very
mildest of potions and lotions ; the Moslem physician
when summoned immediately does what is required.
The Christian or Jewish minister was aware that any
exercise of power on his part would be fiercely
resented by the Moslems who were under his control ;
the paraphernalia of office would, in his case, be
regarded as intolerable arrogance, and impious pre-
sumption, likely to bring down the wrath of the
Divine Being on the whole community ; any severe
measure against a delinquent Moslem would be
treated as intentional humiliation of Islam. The
culprit would have the sympathy of the religious
world, and his cause might be pleaded in the
mosques. Indeed this fact was discovered very early
in Moslem history, and is stated by the Umayyad
governor 'Ubaidallah b. Ziyad quite naively. He
employed Persian tax-collectors because if an Arab
tax-collector defalcated, he had the sympathy of his
clan ; if a Persian did, the governor could punish him


without danger.^ Hence the Christian or Jewish
minister had the very strongest reasons for displaying
loyalty to his chief ; for his safety depended entirely
on his doing so, since the highest place would never
be given to one of his persuasion. It is true that
loyalty to a sovereign might incur the vengeance of
the next usurper who displaced him ; but at times
these persons could be got to see that such loyalty
was a valuable quality which would be of service to
them, when the permanent official came into their
employ, and were disposed to reward it even when it
had been used against themselves.

The literature, which is not, like the Arabian Nights,
pure fiction, is full of tales of terrible oppression. A
form of passion which is nameless would appear at
one time to have been as familiar among Moslems as
of old among Hellenes. Christian lads seem often to
have been the unhappy objects of this passion. A
story is told us by the biographer Yakut of a young
monk of Edessa or Urfah who had the misfortune to
attract the fancy of one Sa'd the copyist. The visits
and attentions of this Moslem became so offensive
that the monks had to put a stop to them. There-
upon this personage pined away, and was finally found
dead outside the monastery wall. The Moslem
population declared that the monks had killed him,
and the governor proposed to execute and burn the
young monk who had occasioned the disaster, and
scourge his colleagues. They finally got off by paying
a sum of 100,000 dirhems.^

^ Tabari ii. 458. ^ Dictionary oj Learned Men, ii. 26.


Forcible conversions to Islam appear to be against
the express orders of the Prophet, who in a letter
ascribed to him by his biographer insisted that neither
Jew nor Christian should be disturbed in his religion
so long as he paid the tax. Such events, however,
have taken place, and indeed wholesale on certain
occasions ; the tolerated cults were not only penalised
by the mad Hakim, but the Al-mohades in Africa
at one time destroyed all places of worship belonging
to Jews and Christians, and those members of these
cults who declined to change had to escape by exile
if they wished to preserve their lives. At certain
periods conversion was actually discouraged by the
maintenance of the poll-tax upon the converts ; in
express defiance of the spirit of Islam, but the loss to
the revenue could not otherwise be met. The dis-
abilities which attached to the tolerated cults, how-
ever, had their natural result in bringing over to the
dominant community those who were either careless
about the faith which they had inherited, or whose
career lay in the service of the state, and who found
themselves unable to discharge that service efficiently
so long as their religious profession excluded them
from all those functions for which the profession of
Islam was required. Hence the chronicles record
numerous cases of men who had obtained some pro-
motion in the service of the state by their talents
yielding to persuasion on the part of the sovereign to
accept Islam in order to win their way to yet higher
honours. Persons who quarrelled with their co-
religionists, or who regarded themselves as the


victims of oppression among them, had in conversion
to Islam a fairly easy mode of obtaining redress. It
would seem, however, that the relations between
such converts and their former associates at times
remained friendly, the imperious necessity of the
step taken being often, or at any rate sometimes,

Moslem authorities delight in recording conversions
effected by other causes than imperial influence or
command or the prospect of promotion ; nor need we
doubt that cases of conversion out of conviction or
temporary enthusiasm at times occurred. A writer
who takes great pains to give chains of authorities
for even trivial incidents records how a Christian,
whose name he gives, heard a pious Moslem at night
reciting the text of the Koran wherein it is asserted
that all who are in heaven and earth offer Islam to
God ; the words thrilled the hearer so powerfully
that he fainted, and presently came to be admitted
into the Moslem fold.^ We read of a bookseller who
adopted Islam because he found that the copies of
their sacred books made by Jews and Christians were
careless and contained many various readings, whereas
those made by Moslems were absolutely identical and
scrupulously correct. At times Jews or Christians
who wished to pursue studies qualifying them for the
medical profession joined Islam because the leading
teacher happened to be a Moslem and declined to
admit any but co-religionists to his courses.

Since in all these cases the motive could only work

^ Masari^ al-^Usshak 144.


one way, i.e. in the direction of bringing proselytes
over to Islam, whereas no proselytism could take
place in the opposite direction, it is a marvel to all
who have considered Eastern Christianity and its
circumstances since the Islamic conquests that it
should have survived at all ; and the experimental
study of religion is compelled to acknowledge and
encouraged to find reasons for this vitality which is
in such striking contrast to the weakness of classical
paganism, to which there was said Die ! and it died.



Although the Moslems were frequently invited to
sacrifice life and goods in the cause of their religion,
asceticism is scarcely a Koranic aspiration ; since its
Paradise offers among other delights pure water,
clarified honey, milk that has not turned sour, and
wine that is a pleasure to drink, administered by fair
cupbearers,^ it evidently does not despise these good
things ; and there are texts showing a proper appre-
ciation for all forms of wealth, including jewellery
and fine clothes, which indeed are to form part of the
joys of Paradise, where the blest are to wear silk
garments and be adorned with gold bracelets and
pearls.^ Hence, when in the Prophet's biography we
find persons of acknowledged sanctity anxious to
possess themselves of such treasures, and disputes
arising over the allotment of booty, there was nothing
in such conduct at all contrary to the INIoslems' pro-
fession. And this appreciation of the value of wealth
rendered the mission far less disastrous than it might
otherwise have been ; the wanton destructiveness
which often accompanies such enterprises was kept

1 xxxvii. 43; xlvii. 17. ^ xxxv. 34; xliv. 33.



in check. It is highly creditable to the Prophet
himself that he devised a system whereby the
Moslems should be able to live by a tax on other
communities, whom therefore they would have an
interest in preserving. And it was afterwards found
that his practice in the matter of destroying the
property of enemies was regulated by economical
doctrine. Where he felt sure of ultimate victory,
he spared the property as much as possible, since
it would ultimately become the possession of the
Moslems, its owners being either slaughtered or
enslaved ; the latter name being employed in this
context of the tolerated communities. The later
legislation therefore recommended the same course
where there was a reasonable prospect of success.^

The Companions of the Prophet, then, for the
most part amassed wealth, and the transformation of
Meccah and Medinah from obscure settlements into
the religious and political capitals of a mighty empire
was sufficient of itself to enrich those who possessed
land or houses in either, owing to what is now called
unearned increment. A Meccan house which had
been purchased in pagan days for a skin of wine was
afterwards sold for 60,000 dirhems — and this was far
below its value.^ The value of the estates possessed
by the Prophet's cousin Zubair was found to be
50,200,000 dirhems,^ and fabulous figures are quoted
for other Companions of the Prophet.* Huge
fortunes were built up out of the plunder which

1 Shafi% Umm vii. 324. 2 Jahiz, Bayan ii. 108.

3 Bokhari, ed. Krehl, ii. 281. ^ Jamharat al-Amthal 58.


reached JNledinah in camel-loads from Persia, Syria,
and Egypt. We are told, and may well believe,
that the Arabs had at first little knowledge of the
value attaching to the objects which they looted so
easily ; but better knowledge was speedily acquired,
and the mere size of the establishments maintained
by the Islamic heroes indicates the magnitude of the
fortunes which they amassed. In the year 68 we
read of a noble Moslem possessing a thousand slaves ;^
and a son of the pious Omar, himself reverenced for
his sanctity, manumitted the same number^ before
his death.

Among the persons with whom the Prophet had
from the first to deal were those who had no aspira-
tion after wealthy respectability, or who at least were
not satisfied with this ideal. Their voices were
silenced for the most part during the Prophet's
lifetime, after his role of world-conqueror had begun,
and during the stormy times which preceded the
establishment of the Umayyad dynasty they could
not easily make themselves heard. The distinction
that is sometimes drawn by Islamic writers between
the various dynasties as respectively spiritual and
temporal, religious and worldly; had no existence in
fact ; no empire can be anything other than worldly ;
the pious Caliphs were as anxious about the revenue
as were the impious ; the practice of assigning annual
pensions to the Moslems in order of enrolment was
introduced by the second Caliph, and would doubtless
have been approved by the Prophet. The Prophet's

1 Tabari ii. 789. ^ Jbn Khallikan.


cousin, celebrated on the one hand as the "inter-
preter of the Koran," and on the other as the ancestor
of the Abbasid sovereigns, 'Abdallah Ibn 'Abbas,
when compelled to quit his governorship of Basrah,
secured for himself the public treasure. The Prophet's
grandson, Hasan, son of Ali and Fatimah, and one
of the personages held in highest reverence by both
the chief Islamic sects, sold his claims to the sovereignty
for a handsome sum. The unpopularity of the third
Caliph, who, however, as the husband of two of the
Prophet's daughters, was one of the most highly
esteemed among the Moslems, and from an early
time was called the possessor of the two lights, was
said to be due to his unduly distributing the public
treasure among his relations.

The tradition makes the Meccan precursors of
Mohammed ascetics, and suggests that many of his
followers would have been better pleased had he
estabhshed a more definitely ascetic system. Doubt-
less, then, such concessions as he made to this taste
were welcome to many of his followers, and certain
prohibitions which apply to all Moslems are evidently
ascetic in character. The most notable among pro-
hibited enjoyments are those of wine and sport.
The sentiment, especially among the humbler
Moslems, on these subjects appears to have been
regularly in favour of strictness, and though the
Umayyad sovereigns are frequently represented by
their successors as evil-livers, a fair number among
them were against any sort of laxity, while those
who were lax thereby rendered their thrones in-


secure. The fact of a Moslem being given wine in
lieu of vinegar by a shopman, who then declined to
refund the money, led to a revolt in the year 119.^
Still, when the world has been found worth winning,
it is usually found worth enjoying, and the fortunes
amassed by those who took part in the successful
wars with Unbelievers were ordinarily consumed in
the enjoyment of luxuries of various sorts, though
the pleasures particularly forbidden may have often
been avoided. The third Caliph, according to the
chronicle, confessed his inability to emulate the
coarse diet maintained by his two predecessors,
even when mounted on the throne. And the first
Umayyad Caliph is represented as stating like
Solomon that he had enjoyed all that it was possible

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Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe early development of Mohammedanism; lectures delivered in the University of London, May and June 1913 → online text (page 9 of 18)