Syed Ameer Ali.

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be a mercy to mankind."

He visited the sick, followed every bier he met, accepted the
invitation of a slave to dinner, mended his own clothes, milked
his goats, and waited upon himself, relates summarily another
tradition. 3 He never first withdrew his hand from another's
palm, and turned not before the other had turned. His hand
was the most generous, his breast the most courageous, his
tongue the most truthful ; he was the most faithful protector
of those he protected ; the sweetest and most agreeable in

1 Ibid. Bk. xxiv. chap. 4, pt. 1.

- Ibid. Bk. xxiv. chap. 4, pt. 1.

Mr. Poole's estimate of Mohammed is so beautiful and yet so truthful that
I cannot resist the temptation to quote it here : " There is something so
tender and womanly, and withal so heroic, about the man, that one is in peril
of finding the judgment unconsciously blinded by the feeling of reverence and
well-nigh love that such a nature inspires. He who, standing alone braved
for years the hatred of his people, is the same who was never the first to with-
draw his hand from another's clasp ; the beloved of children, who never passed
a group of little ones without a smile from his wonderful eyes and a kind word
for them, sounding all the kinder in that sweet-toned voice. The frank friend-
ship, the noble generosity, the dauntless courage and hope of the man, all
tend to melt criticism into admiration."

" He was an enthusiast in that noblest sense when enthusiasm becomes the
salt of the earth, the one thing that keeps men from rotting whilst they live.
Enthusiasm is often used despitefully, because it is joined to an unworthy
cause, or falls upon barren ground and bears no fruit. So was it not with
Mohammed. He was an enthusiast when enthusiasm was the one thing
needed to set the world aflame, and his enthusiasm was noble for a noble cause.
He was one of those happy few who have attained the supreme joy of making
one great truth their very life-spring. He was the messenger of the one God ;
and never to his life's end did he forget who he was, or the message which was
the marrow of his being. He brought his tidings to his people with a grand
dignity sprung from the consciousness of his high office, together with a most
sweet humility, whose roots lay in the knowledge of his own weakness."

3 Mishkat, Bk. xxiv. chap. 4, pt. 2.


conversation ; those who saw him were suddenly filled with
reverence ; those who came near him loved him ; they who
described him would say, " I have never seen his like, either
before or after." He was of great taciturnity ; and when he
spoke, he spoke with emphasis and deliberation, and no one
could ever forget what he said. " Modesty and kindness,
patience, self-denial, and generosity pervaded his conduct, and
riveted the affections of all around him. With the bereaved
and afflicted he sympathised tenderly ... He shared his food
even in times of scarcity with others, and was sedulously
solicitous for the personal comfort of every one about him."
He would stop in the streets listening to the sorrows of the
humblest. He would go to the houses of the lowliest to
console the afflicted and to comfort the heart-broken. The
meanest slaves would take hold of his hand and drag him to
their masters to obtain redress for ill-treatment or release from
bondage. 1 He never sat down to a meal without first invoking
a blessing, and never rose without uttering a thanks-giving.
His time was regularly apportioned. During the day, when
not engaged in prayers, he received visitors and transacted
public affairs. At night he slept little, spending most of the
hours in devotion. He loved the poor and respected them,
and many who had no home or shelter of their own slept at
night in the mosque contiguous to his house. Each evening it
was his custom to invite some of them to partake of his humble
fare. The others became the guests of his principal disciples. 2
His conduct towards the bitterest of his enemies was marked
by a noble clemency and forbearance. Stern, almost to
severity, to the enemies of the State, mockings, affronts,
outrages, and persecutions towards himself were, in the hour
of triumph — synonymous with the hour of trial to the human
heart — all buried in oblivion, and forgiveness was extended to
the worst criminal.

Mohammed was extremely simple in his habits. His mode
of life, his dress and his belongings, retained to the very last a
character of patriarchal simplicity. Many a time, Abu Huraira
reports, had the Prophet to go without a meal. Dates and

1 Hayat-ul-Kulub (Shiah) and the Rouzat-ul-Ahbab (Sunni).

2 Abulfeda, p. 99; al-Halabi, Insan ul-'Uytin, vol. iii. p. 362.


water frequently formed his only nourishment. Often, for
months together, no fire could be lighted in his house from
scantiness of means. God, say the Moslem historians, had
indeed put before him the key to the treasures of this world,
but he refused it !

The mind of this remarkable Teacher was, in its in-
tellectualism and progressive ideals, essentially modern.
Eternal " striving " was in his teachings a necessity of human
existence : " Man cannot exist without constant effort " ; 1
" The effort is from me, its fulfilment comes from God." 2
The world, he taught, was a well-ordered Creation, regulated
and guided by a Supreme Intelligence overshadowing the
Universe — " Everything is pledged to its own time," 3 he
declared. And yet human will was free to work for its own
salvation. His sympathy was universal ; it was he who
invoked the mercy of the Creator on all living beings. 4 It
was he who pronounced the saving of one human life as
tantamount to the saving of humanity.

His social conception was constructive not disintegrating.
In his most exalted mood he never overlooked the sanctity of
family life. To him the service of humanity was the highest
act of devotion. His call to his faithful was not to forsake
those to whom they owed a duty ; but in the performance of
that duty to earn " merit " and reward. Children were a
trust from God, to be brought up in tenderness and affection ;
parents were to be respected and loved. The circle of duty
embraced in its fold kindred, neighbour, and the humble being
" whose mouth was in the dust."

Fourteen centuries have passed since he delivered his
message, but time has made no difference in the devotion
he inspired, and to-day as then the Faithful have in their
hearts and on their lips those memorable words : —

" May my life be thy sacrifice, O Prophet of God."

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THE spiritual life the Prophet had infused into his
people did not end with his life. From the first it was
an article of faith that he was present in spirit with the
worshippers at their prayers, and that his successors in
the ministry were his representatives. The immanence of the
Master's spirit during the devotions establishes the harmony
between the soul of man and the Divine Essence. Amongst
all the dynastic rivalries and schismatic strife this mystical
conception of his spiritual presence at the prayers has imparted
a force to the Faith which cannot be over-estimated.

The two great sects into which Islam became divided at an
early stage are agreed that the religious efficacy of the rites
and duties prescribed by the Law (the Shari'at) depends on
the existence of the vice-gerent and representative of the
Prophet, who, as such, is the religious Head (Imam) of the
Faith and the Faithful.

The adherents of the Apostolical Imams have a development
and philosophy of their own quite distinct from " the followers
of the traditions." According to them the spiritual heritage
bequeathed by the Prophet devolved on Ali and his descend-
ants by Fatima, the Prophet's daughter. They hold that the
Imamate descends by Divine appointment in the apostolic
line. They do not regard the Pontificate of Abu Bakr, Omar
and Osman as rightful ; they consider that Ali, who. was
indicated by the Prophet as his successor, was the first rightful


Caliph and Imam of the Faithful, and that after his assassina-
tion the spiritual headship descended in succession to his
and Fatima's posterity in " the direct male line " until it came
to Imam Hasan al-'Askari, eleventh in descent from Ali,
who died in the year 874 A.c. or 260 of the Hegira in the reign
of the Abbaside Caliph Mu'tamid. Upon his death the
Imamate devolved upon his son Mohammed, surnamed al-
Mahdi (the " Guide "), the last Imam. The story of these
Imams of the House of Mohammed is intensely pathetic.
The father of Hasan was deported from Medina to Samarra
by the tyrant Mutawakkil, and detained there until his death.
Similarly, Hasan was kept a prisoner by the jealousy of
Mutawakkil's successors. His infant son, barely five years
of age, pining for his father, entered in search of him a cavern
not far from their house. From that cavern the child never
returned. The pathos of this calamity culminated in the
hope, the expectation, which fills the hearts of all Shiahs,
that the child may return to relieve a sorrowing and sinful
world of its burden of sin and oppression. So late as the
fourteenth century of the Christian era, when Ibni Khaldun x
was writing his great work, the Shiahs were wont to assemble
at eventide at the entrance of the cavern and supplicate the
missing child to return to them. After a long and wistful
waiting, they dispersed to their homes, disappointed and sorrow-
ful. This, says Ibn Khaldun, was a daily occurrence. " When
they were told it was hardly possible the child could be alive,"
they answered that, "as the Prophet Khizr 2 was alive why
should not their Imam be alive also?" This Imam bears
among the Shiahs the titles, the Muntazar, the Expected —
the Hujja or the Proof (of the Truth), and the Kdim, the

The philosophical student of religions will not fail to observe
the strange similarity of the Shiah and the Sunni beliefs
to older ideas. Among the Zoroastrians the persecution
of the Seleucidae engendered the belief that a divinely appointed
Saviour, whose name was Sosiosch, would issue from Khorasan
to release them from the hated bondage of the foreigner.
The same causes gave birth to that burning anticipation

1 See post, p. 126. 2 See Appendix III.


among the Jews in the advent of the Messiah. The Jew
believes that the Messiah is yet to come ; the Sunni, like him,
believes that the Saviour of Islam is still unborn. The
Christian believes that the Messiah has come and gone, and
will come again ; the Asna-'asharia, 1 like the Christian, awaits
the reappearance of the Mahdi, the Guide, who is to save the
world from evil and oppression. The origin of these conceptions
and the reasons of their diversity are traceable to like causes.
The phenomena of the age in which the idea of the Mahdi
took shape in its two distinct forms were similar to those
visible in the history of the older faiths. Every eventide
the prayer goes up to heaven in Islam, as in Judaism and
Christianity, for the advent of the divinely-appointed Guide,
to redeem the world from sorrow and sin.

The Shiah believes that the Imam though ghdib (absent),
is always present in spirit at the devotions of his fold. The
expounders of the law and the ministers of religion are his
representatives on earth ; and even the secular chiefs represent
him in the temporal affairs of the world. Another point of
difference between them and the Sunnis consists in the qualities
required for the Imamate. According to the Shiahs the
Imam must be sinless or immaculate {m'asum), a quality which
their Imams alone possess, and that he must be the most ex-
cellent (afzal) of mankind.

The Sunni doctrines which govern the lives, thoughts, and
conduct of the bulk of the Moslem world are diametrically
opposed to the Shiah conception. The Sunni religious law
insists that the Imam must be actually present in person to
impart religious efficacy to the devotions of the Faithful ;
and that, where it is not possible for him to lead the prayers,
he should be represented by persons possessing the necessary

These doctrines are enunciated in detail in most works on
jurisprudence and scholastic theology. The Khildfat, it is
explained, is the Vice-gerency of the Prophet ; it is ordained
by Divine Law for the perpetuation of Islam and the continued
observance of its laws and rules. For the existence of Islam,
therefore, there must always be a Caliph, an actual and direct

1 See post, p. 344.


representative of the Master. The Imamate is the spiritual
leadership ; but the two dignities are inseparable ; the Vice-
gerent of the Prophet is the only person entitled to lead the
prayers when he can himself be present. No one else can
assume his functions unless directly or indirectly " deputed "
by him. Between the Imam and the mdmum x or congregation,
there is a spiritual tie which binds the one to the other in the
fealty to the Faith. There is no inconsistency between this
dogma and the rule that there is no priesthood in Islam.
Each man pleads for himself before his Lord, and each soul
holds communion with God without the intermediation of any
other human being. The Imam is the link between the
individual worshipper and the evangel of Islam. This mystical
element in the religion of Islam forms the foundation of its
remarkable solidarity.

The above remarks serve to emphasise the statement in the
Durr-ul-Mukhtdr that Imamate is of two kinds, the Imdmat-
al-Kubrd and the Imdmat-as-Sughrd, the supreme spiritual
Headship and the minor derivative right to officiate at the
devotions of the Faithful. The Imam al-Kabir, the supreme
Pontiff, is the Caliph of the Sunni world. He combines in his
person the spiritual and temporal authority which devolves
on him as the vicegerent of the Master. Secular affairs are
conducted by him in consultation with councillors as under
the first four Caliphs, or, as in later times, by delegates, collect-
ively or individually. Similarly with religious and spiritual
matters. But in the matter of public prayers, unless physically
prostrate, he is bound to conduct the congregational service
in person.

Among the Shiahs, even Friday prayers and prayers offered
at the well-known festivals, may validly be performed indi-
vidually and in private. According to the Sunni doctrines
congregational prayers, where mosques or other places of
public worship are accessible, are obligatory ; abstention from
attendance without valid reason is a sin, and the defaulters
incur even temporal penalties. In Najd, under the rule of
the Wahabis, who have been called the Covenanters of Islam,

1 This is the term used in the Fatawai-A lamgiri . The individual follower
is usually called the Muktadi.


laggards were whipped into the mosque. And to-day under
Ibni S'aud, his followers who designate themselves Ikhwdn, or
" Brothers in faith," pursue the same method for enforcing
the observance of religious rites. Prayers bi'l jama at being
obligatory (farz'ain) naturally made the presence of the Imam
absolutely obligatory. 1

The Sunnis affirm that when stricken by his last illness the
Prophet deputed Abu Bakr to lead the prayers. On his
death, but before he was consigned to his grave, the Master's
nomination was accepted by the " congregation " and Abu
Bakr was installed as his vicegerent by the unanimous suffrage
of the Moslems. And this has ever since been the universal
practice in all regular lines.

Amongst the qualifications necessary for occupying the
pontifical seat, the first and most essential is that he must
be a Moslem belonging to the Sunni communion, capable of
exercising supreme temporal authority, free of all outside
control. The Sunnis do not require that the Imam should
be via' sum, or that he should be " the most excellent
of mankind," nor do they insist on his descent from the
Prophet. According to them he should be an independent
ruler, without any personal defects, a man of good character,
possessed of the capacity to conduct the affairs of State, and to
lead at prayers. The early doctors, on the authority of a saying
of the Prophet, have included a condition which comes at the
end of the passage relating to the qualities necessary for the
Imamate — viz., that the Caliph-Imam should be a Koreish by
birth . The avowed ob j ect of inserting this condition , as is stated
both in the Durr-ul-Mukhtdr and the Radd-ul-Muhtdr, was to
nullify the Shiah contention that the Imamate was restricted
to the House of Mohammed, the descendants of Ali and Fatima,
and to bring in the first three Caliphs, and the Ommeyyade
and the Abbaside Caliphs, into the circle of legitimate Imams.
The great jurist and historian, Ibn Khaldun, 2 a contemporary
of Tamerlane, who died in the year 1406 A.c, long before the

1 There is absolute consensus on these points among the different Sunni
schools. The Jurist Khalil ibn Ishak, the author of the monumental work
on Maliki Law, enunciates the rules in the same terms as the Hanafis and
the Shafei's.

- For many years Malikite Chief Kazi of Cairo.


House of Othman attained the Caliphate, has dealt at great
length with this condition in his Mukaddamdt (Prolegomena).
He does not dispute the genuineness of the saying on which
it is based, but explains that it was a mere recommendation
which was due to the circumstances of the times. He points
out that when the Islamic Dispensation was given to the world
the tribe of Koreish were the most advanced and most powerful
in Arabia ; and in recommending or desiring that the temporal
and spiritual guardianship of the Moslems should be confined
to a member of his own tribe, the Prophet was thinking of the
immediate future rather than of laying down a hard and fast
rule of succession. At that time a qualified and capable ruler
of Islam could only be found among the Koreish ; hence the
recommendation that the Caliph and Imam should be chosen
from among them. This view eloquently expressed by one of
the most learned of Sunni Jurisconsults is universally accepted
by the modern doctors (the Mutdkherin), that subject to the
fulfilment of all other conditions the law imposes no tribal or
racial restriction in the choice of an Imam. Abu Bakr before
his death had nominated Omar his successor in the Vice-
gerency, and the appointment was accepted by the " univer-
sality " of the people, including the House of Mohammed.
Omar died from the effects of a mortal wound inflicted on
him by a Christian or Magian fanatic who considered himself
aggrieved by the acts of this great Caliph. To avoid all
imputation of favouritism Omar had, before his death,
appointed an electoral committee consisting of six eminent
members of the Moslem congregation to choose his successor.
Their choice fell on Osman, a descendant of Ommeyya, who
was installed as Caliph with the suffrage of the people. On
Osman's unhappy death, Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet,
who, according to the Shiahs, was entitled by right to the
Imamate in direct succession to the Prophet, was proclaimed
Caliph and Imam. The husband of Fatima united in his
person the hereditary right with that of election. But his
endeavour to remedy the evils which had crept into the
administration under his aged predecessor raised against him
a host of enemies. Mu'awiyah, an Ommeyyade by descent,
who held the governorship of Syria under Osman, raised the


standard of revolt. Ali proceeded to crush the rebellion
but, after an indecisive battle, was struck down by the hand
of an assassin whilst at his devotions in the public Mosque of
Kufa in 'Irak. With 'Ali ended what is called by the early
Sunni doctors of law and theologians, the Khildfat-al-Kdmila,
" the Perfect Caliphate," for in each case their title to the
rulership of Islam was perfected by the universal suffrage of
the Moslem nation.

On Ali's death Mu'awiyah obtained an assignment of the
Caliphate from Hasan, the eldest son of Ali, who had been
elected to the office by the unanimous voice of the people of
Kufa and its dependencies ; and received the suffrage of the
people of Syria to his assumption of the high office. This
happened in 661 a.c.

It should be noted here that the Ommeyyades and
Hashimides were two offshoots from one common stock, that
of Koreish. Bitter rivalry existed between these families
which it was the great aim of the Prophet throughout his
ministry to remove or reconcile. The Hashimides owe their
designation to Hashim, the great grandfather of the Prophet.
His son Abdul Muttalib had several sons ; one of them,
x\bbas, was the progenitor of the Abbaside Caliphs. Abu
Talib, another son, was the father of Ali the Caliph, whilst
the youngest, Abdullah, was the Prophet's father.

Mu'awiyah was the first Caliph of the House of Ommeyya.
On the death of Mu'awiyah's grandson, another member of
the same family belonging to the Hakamite branch, named
Merwan, assumed the Caliphate. Under his son 'Abdul Malik
and grandson Walid, the Sunni Caliphate attained its widest
expansion ; it extended from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean
and from the Tagus to the sands of the Sahara and the confines
of Abyssinia. In 749 a.c. Abu'l Abbas, surnamed Saffah, a
descendant of Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, overthrew the
Ommeyyade dynasty and was installed as Caliph, in place of
Merwan II., the last Pontiff of that House, in the Cathedral
Mosque of Kufa, where he received the Bai'at x of the people.
He then ascended the pulpit, recited the public sermon which
the Imam or his representative delivers at the public prayers.

1 The sacramental oath of fealty.


This notable address, religiously preserved by his successors,
is to be found in the pages of the Arab historian Ibn-ul-Athir.
It is in effect a long vindication of the rights of the children
of Abbas to the Caliphate. Abu'l Abbas was henceforth
the legitimate ruler of the Sunni world and the rightful
spiritual Head of the Sunni Church. His first six successors
were men of remarkable ability ; those who followed were of
varying capacity, but a few possessed uncommon talent and
learning. Mansiir, the brother of Saffah, who succeeded him
in the Caliphate, founded Bagdad, which became their capital
and seat of Government, and was usually called the Ddr-ul-
Khildfat and the Ddr-us-saldm, " The Abode of the Caliphate "
and ' ' The Abode of Peace. ' ' Here the house of Abbas exercised
undisputed spiritual and temporal authority for centuries.
Their great rivals of Cairo became extinct in Saladin's time ;
the brilliant Ommeyyade dynasty of Cordova disappeared
in the first decade of the eleventh century. The Almohades,
the Almoravides, and the many Berber and Arab dynasties
which, on the decline of the Almoravides, followed each other
in succession in Morocco, had no valid title to the headship
of the Sunni Church. The right of the Abbasides to the
Sunni Imamate stood unchallenged from the Atlantic to the
Ganges, from the Black Sea and the Jaxartes to the Indian
Ocean. In 493 of the Hegira (1099 a.c.) Yusuf bin Tashfin,
the Almohade conqueror after the epoch-making battle of
az-Zallaka, where the Christian hordes were decisively beaten,
obtained from the Abbaside Caliph al-Muktadi, a formal
investiture with the title of Ameer-al-Muslimin ; and this was
confirmed to him by the Caliph al-Mustazhir. It should be
borne in mind that neither the " Caliphs " of Cordova nor any
of the Moslem sovereigns in after ages assumed the dignity of the
representative of the Prophet (Khalifat-ar-Rasul) or arrogated
the title of Ameer-ul-Mominin.

For full five centuries Bagdad was the centre of all intel-
lectual activity in Islam ; and here the rules and regulations
appertaining to the Caliphate, as also to other matters, secular
and religious, were systematised. And the conception that the
Caliph-Imam was the divinely-appointed Vice-gerent of the
Prophet became, as it is to-day, welded into the religious life of


the people. It will thus be seen that according to the Sunni
doctrines the Caliph is not merely a secular sovereign ; he is
the religious head of a Church and a commonwealth, the
actual representative of Divine government. 1

The Abbaside Caliphate lasted for five centuries from its
first establishment until the destruction of Bagdad by the

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 18 of 55)