Syed Ameer Ali.

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Mongols in 1258 of the Christian era. At that time Musta'sim
b'lllah was the Caliph, and he, together with his sons and the
principal members of his family, perished in the general
massacre ; only those scions of the House of Abbas escaped
the slaughter who were absent from the capital, or succeeded
in avoiding detection.

For two years after the murder of Musta'sim b'lllah the
Sunni world felt acutely the need of an Imam and Caliph ;
both the poignancy of the grief at the absence of a spiritual
Head of the Faith, and the keenness of the necessity for a
representative of the Prophet to bring solace and religious
merit to the Faithful, are pathetically voiced by the Arab
historian of the Caliphs. 2 The devotions of the living were
devoid of that religious efficacy which is imparted to them by
the presence in the world of an acknowledged Imam ; the
prayers for the dead were equally without merit. Sultan
Baibars felt with the whole Sunni world the need of a Caliph
and Imam. The right to the Caliphate had become vested
by five centuries of undisputed acknowledgment in the
House of Abbas ; and a member of this family, Abu'l Kasim
Ahmed, who had succeeded in making his escape from the
massacre by the Mongols, was invited to Cairo for installation
in the pontifical seat. On his arrival in the environs of
Cairo, the Sultan, accompanied by the judges and great officers
of State, went forth to greet him. The ceremony of installa-
tion is described as imposing and sacred. His descent had to
be proved first before the Chief Kazi or Judge. After this was
done, he was installed in the chair and acknowledged as Caliph,
under the title of al-Mustansir b'lllah, " Seeking the help of
the Lord." The first to take the oath of Bai'at was the Sultan
Baibars himself ; next came the Chief Kazi Taj-ud-din, the
principal sheikhs and the ministers of State, and lastly the

1 Suyuti. * Ibid.


nobles, according to their rank. This occurred on May 12th,
1261, and the new Caliph's name was impressed on the coinage
and recited in the Khutba. On the following Friday he rode
to the mosque in procession, wearing the black mantle of the
Abbasides, 1 and delivered the pontifical sermon. As his
installation as the Caliph of the Faithful was now complete,
he proceeded to invest the Sultan with the robe and diploma
so essential in the eyes of the orthodox for legitimate

The Abbaside Caliphate thus established in Cairo lasted for
over two centuries and a-half. During this period Egypt was
ruled by sovereigns who are designated in history as the
Mameluke Sultans. Each Sultan on his accession to power
received his investiture from the Caliph and " Imam of his
time " (I mdm-ul-W akt) and he professed to exercise his
authority as the lieutenant and delegate of the Pontiff. The
appointment of ministers of religion and administrators of
justice was subject to the formal sanction of the Caliph.
Though shorn of all its temporal powers, the religious prestige
of the Caliphate was so great, and the conviction of its necessity
as a factor in the life of the people so deep-rooted in the
religious sentiments of the Sunni world, that twice after the
fall of Bagdad the Musulman sovereigns of India received
their investiture from the Abbaside Caliphs. The account
of the reception in 1343 a.c. of the Caliph's envoy by Sultan
Mohammed Juna Khan Tughlak, the founder of the gigantic
unfinished city of Tughlakabad, gives us an idea of the venera-
tion in which the Pontiffs were held even in Hindustan, in
those days said to be full six months' journey from Egypt.
On the approach of the envoy the King, accompanied by the
Syeds and the nobles, went out of the capital to greet him ;
and when the Pontiff's missive was handed to the Sultan he
received it with the greatest reverence. The formal diploma
of investiture l egitimised the authority of the King. The
whole of this incident is celebrated in a poem still extant
in India by the poet laureate, the famous Badr-ud-din

1 Black was the colour of the Abbasides, white of the Ommeyyades and
green of the Fatimides, the descendants of Mohammed.


About the end of the fifteenth century the star of Selim I.,
also surnamed Saffah, of the House of Othman, rose in the
horizon. His victories over the enemies of Islam had won for
him the title of " Champion of the Faith " ; and no other
Moslem sovereign — not even his great rival Shah Isma'il,
the founder of the Sufi dynasty in Persia and the creator of
the first orthodox Shiah State, — equalled the Osmanli monarch
in greatness and power.

The closing decades of that century had witnessed a vast
change in the condition of Egypt, and the anarchy that had set
in under the later Mameluke Sultans reached its climax some
years later. Invited by a section of the Egyptian people to
restore order and peace in the distracted country, Selim easily
overthrew the incompetent Mamelukes, and incorporated
Egypt with his already vast dominions. At this period the
Caliph who held the Vice-gerency of the Prophet bore the
pontifical name of Al-Mutawakkil 'ala- Allah (" Contented
in the grace of the Lord "). According to the Sunni records,
he perceived that the only Moslem sovereign who could com-
bine in his own person the double functions of Caliph and
Imam, and restore the Caliphate of Islam in theory and in
fact, and discharge effectively the duties attached to that
office, was Selim. He accordingly, in 1517, by a formal deed
of assignment, transferred the Caliphate to the Ottoman
conqueror, and, with his officials and dignitaries, " made the
Bai'at on the hand of the Sultan." In the same year Selim
received the homage of the Sharif of Mecca, Mohammed
Abu'l Barakat, a descendant of Ali, who presented by his son
Abu Noumy on a silver salver the keys of the Kaaba and took
the oath by the same proxy. The combination in Selim of the
Abbaside right by assignment and by Bai'at, and the adhesion
of the representative of the Prophet's House who held at the
time the guardianship of the Holy Cities, perfected the Ottoman
Sultan's title to the Caliphate, "just as the adhesion of (the
Caliph) Ali had completed the title of the first three Caliphs."
The solemn prayers. with the usual Khutbas offered in Mecca
and Medina. for the Sultan gave the necessary finality to the
right of Selim. Henceforth Constantinople, his seat of govern-
ment, became the Ddr-ul-Khildfat, and began to be called


" Islambol," " The City of Islam." Before long envoys arrived
in Selim's Court and that of his son, Solyman the Magnificent,
from the rulers of the Sunni States to offer their homage ;
and thus, according to the Sunnis, the Caliphate became the
heritage of the House of Othman, which they have enjoyed
for four centuries without challenge or dispute.



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THE religion of Jesus bears the name of Christianity,
derived from his designation of Christ ; that of Moses
and of Buddha are known by the respective names
of their teachers. The religion of Mohammed alone has a
distinctive appellation. It is Islam.

In order to form a just appreciation of the religion of
Mohammed it is necessary to understand aright the true
significance of the word Islam. Salam (salama), in its primary
sense, means, to be tranquil, at rest, to have done one's duty,
to have paid up, to be at perfect peace ; in its secondary sense,

1 For translation, see Appendix.


to surrender oneself to Him with whom peace is made. The
noun derived from it means peace, greeting, safety, salvation.
The word does not imply, as is commonly supposed, absolute
submission to God's will, but means, on the contrary, striving
after righteousness.

The essence of the ethical principles involved and embodied
in Islam is thus summarised in the second chapter of the
Koran : " There is no doubt in this book — a guidance to the
pious, who believe in the Unseen, who observe the prayers,
and distribute (charity) out of what We have bestowed on
them ; and who believe in that which We have commissioned
thee with, and in that We commissioned others with before thee,
and who have assurance in the life to come ; — these have
received the direction of their Lord." 1

The principal bases on which the Islamic system is founded
are (i) a belief in the unity, immateriality, power, mercy, and
supreme love of the Creator ; (2) charity and brotherhood
among mankind ; (3) subjugation of the passions ; (4) the
outpouring of a grateful heart to the Giver of all good ; and
(5) accountability for human actions in another existence.
The grand and noble conceptions expressed in the Koran of
the power and love of the Deity surpass everything of their
kind in any other language. The unity of God, His immateri-
ality, His majesty, His mercy, form the constant and never-
ending theme of the most eloquent and soul-stirring passages.
The flow of life, light, and spirituality never ceases. But
throughout there is no trace of dogmatism. Appeal is made to
the inner consciousness of man, to his intuitive reason alone.

Let us now take a brief retrospect of the religious conceptions
of the peoples of the world when the Prophet of Islam com-
menced his preachings. Among the heathen Arabs the idea
of Godhead varied according to the culture of the individual
or of the clan. With some it rose, comparatively speaking,
to the " divinisation " or deification of nature ; among others
it fell to simple fetishism, the adoration of a piece of dough,
a stick, or a stone. Some believed in a future life ; others
had no idea of it whatever. The pre-Islamite Arabs had their
groves, their oracle-trees, their priestesses, like the Syro-

1 Koran, sura ii. 1-6.


Phoenicians. Phallic worship was not unknown to them ;
and the generative powers received adoration, like the hosts
of heaven, under monuments of stone and wood. The wild
denizens of the desert, then as now, could not be impervious
to the idea of some unseen hand driving the blasts which swept
over whole tracts, or forming the beautiful visions which rose
before the traveller to lure him to destruction. And thus there
floated in the Arab world an intangible, unrealised conception
of a superior deity, the Lord of all. 1

The Jews, those great conservators of the monotheistic
idea, as they have been generally regarded in history, probably
might have assisted in the formation of this conception. But
they themselves showed what strange metamorphoses can take
place in the thoughts of a nation when not aided by a historical
and rationalistic element in their religious code.

The Jews had entered Arabia at various times, and under
the pressure of various circumstances. Naturally, the con-
ceptions of the different bodies of emigrants, refugees, or
colonists would vary much. The ideas of the men driven out
by the Assyrians or Babylonians would be more anthropo-
morphic, more anthropopathic, than of those who fled before
Vespasian, Trajan, or Hadrian. The characteristics which
had led the Israelites repeatedly to lapse into idolatry in their
original homes, when seers were in their midst to denounce
their backslidings, would hardly preserve them from the
heathenism of their Arab brothers. With an idea of " the
God of Abraham " they would naturally combine a material-
istic conception of the deity, and hence we find them rearing
" a statue representing Abraham, with the ram beside him
ready for sacrifice," in the interior of the Kaaba.

Amongst the later comers the Shammaites and the Zealots
formed by far the largest proportion. Among them the
worship of the law verged upon idolatry, and the Scribes and
Rabbins claimed a respect almost approaching adoration.
They believed themselves to be the guardians of the people,
the preservers of law and tradition, " living exemplars and
mirrors, in which the true mode of life, according to the law,

1 Shahristani ; Tiele calls the religion of the pre-Islamite Arabs " animistic
polydae monism."


was preserved." x They looked upon themselves as the
" flower of the nation," and they were considered, through
their intercourse with God, to possess the gift of prophecy.
In fact, by their people as well as by themselves they were
regarded as the prime favourites of God. 2 The veneration of
the Jews for Moses went so far, says Josephus, that they
reverenced his name next to that of God ; and this veneration
they transferred to Ezra, the restorer of national life and law
under the Kyanian dynasty. 3

Besides, the mass of the Jews had never, probably, thoroughly
abandoned the worship of the Teraphim, a sort of household
gods made in the shape of human beings, and consulted on all
occasions as domestic oracles, or regarded perhaps more as
guardian penates. 4 This worship must have been strengthened
by contact with the heathen Arabs.

When Jesus made his appearance in Judaea, the doctrine of
divine unity and of a supreme Personal Will, overshadowing the
universe with its might and grace, received acceptance only
among one race — the worshippers of Jehovah. And even
among them, despite all efforts to the contrary, the conception
of the divinity had either deteriorated by contact with heathen
nations, or become modified by the influence of pagan phil-
osophies. On the one hand, Chaldaeo-Magian philosophy
had left its finger-mark indelibly impressed on the Jewish
traditions ; on the other, their best minds, whilst introducing
among the Greek and Roman philosophers the conception of a
great Primal Cause, had imbibed, in the schools of Alexandria,
notions hardly reconcilable with their monotheistic creed.

The Hindus, with their multitudinous hordes of gods and
goddesses ; the Mago-Zoroastrians, with their two divinities
struggling for mastery ; the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians,
with their pantheons full of deities whose morality was below
that of the worshippers, — such was the condition of the civilised
world when Jesus commenced his preachings. With all his
dreams and aspirations, his mind was absolutely exempt from

1 Dollinger, The Gentile and the Jew, vol. ii. p. 308.

* Josephus, Antiquities, xvii. 24. They were, so to speak, the Brahmans of

3 Ezra vii. 10 el seq. ♦ Judges xviii. 14.


those pretensions which have been fixed on him by his over-
zealous followers. He never claimed to be a " complement
of God," or to be a " hypostasis of the Divinity."

Even modern idealistic Christianity has not been able yet to
shake itself free from the old legacy bequeathed by the anthro-
pomorphism of bygone ages. Age after age everything human
has been eliminated from the history of the great Teacher,
until his personality is lost in a mass of legends. The New
Testament itself, with " its incubation of a century," leaves
the revered figure clothed in a mist. And each day the old
idea of " an ^Eon born in the bosom of eternity," gathers force
until the Council of Nice gives it a shape and consistency, and
formulates it into a dogma.

Many minds, bewildered by the far-ofmess of the universal
Father, seek a resting-place midway in a human personality
which they call divine. It is this need of a nearer object of
adoration which leads modern Christianity to give a name to
an ideal, clothe it with flesh and blood, and worship it as a

The gifted author of the Defects of Modem Christianity con-
siders the frequency with which the Nazarene Prophet asserted
that he was " the Son of God," and demanded the same worship
as God Himself, a proof of his Divinity. That Jesus ever
maintained he was the Son of God, in the sense in which it has
been construed by Christian divines and apologists, we totally
deny. Matthew Arnold has shown conclusively that the New
Testament records are in many respects wholly unreliable.
So far as the divinity of Christ is concerned, one can almost
see the legend growing. But assuming that he made use of
the expressions attributed to him, do they prove that he claimed
to be " the only-begotten of the Father " ? Has the apologist
not heard of the Eastern dervish, famous now as al-Hallaj,
who claimed to be God Himself ? " An-al-Hakk," " I am
God — I am the Truth," said he ; and the Musulman divines,
like the Jewish Sanhedrim, pronounced him guilty of blas-
phemy, and condemned him to death ? A poor simple heart,
kindling with an exalted mysticism, was thus removed from
earth. The Babi still believes that his master, " the Gate "
to eternal life, was not killed, but miraculously removed to


heaven. Can it be said that when Abu Mughis al-Hallaj 1
and the Bab called themselves " Truth " and the " Gate to
heaven," they meant to imply that they were part of the
Divinity, or, if they did, that their " claim " is tantamount to
proof ? But, as we said before, we deny that Jesus, whose
conceptions, when divested of the Aberglaube of his followers,
were singularly free from exaggeration as to his own character
or personality, ever used any expression to justify the demand
attempted to be fixed upon him. His conception of the
" Fatherhood " of God embraced all humanity. All mankind
were the children of God, and he was their Teacher sent by the
Eternal Father. 2 The Christian had thus a nobler exemplar
before him. The teachings of the Prophet of Nazareth should
have elevated him to a purer conception of the Deity. But six
centuries had surrounded the figure of Jesus with those myths
which, in opposition to his own words, resolved him into a
manifestation of the Godhead. The " Servant " took the
place of the Master in the adoration of the world. The vulgar
masses, unable to comprehend or realise this wonderful
mixture of Neo-Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Judaeo-Hellen-
istic philosophy, and the teachings of Jesus, adored him as
God incarnate, or reverted to the primitive worship of relics
and of a tinselled goddess who represented the pure mother
of Jesus. 3 The Collyridians, who were by no means an un-
important sect, went so far as to introduce in the Christian
pantheon the Virgin Mary for God, and worship her as such,
offering her a sort of twisted cake called collyris, whence the
sect had its name. At the Council of Nice which definitely
settled the nature of Jesus, there were men who held that
besides " God the Father," there were two other gods—

1 Abu Mughis ibn Mansur, al-Hallaj, died in the prime of life. He was a
man of pure morals, great simplicity, a friend of the poor, but a dreamer and
an enthusiast. For an account of the Bab and Babism, see Gobineau, Les
Religions et les Philosophies dans I'Asie Centrale and the History of the Bab
by Professor E. G. Browne.

2 The use of the word " Father " in relation to God was cut out from Islam
owing to the perversion of the idea among the then Christians.

3 The Isaurian sovereigns, indirectly inspired by Islam, for over a century
battled against the growing degradation of Christianity, strived with all their
might to make it run back in the channel pointed out by the great Teacher,
but to no purpose.


Christ and the Virgin Mary. 1 And the Romanists even now,
it is said, call the mother of Jesus the complement of the Trinity.

In the long night of superstition the Christians had wandered
far away from the simplicity of the Nazarene teachings. The
worship of images, saints, and relics had become inseparably
blended with the religion of Jesus. The practices which he
had denounced, the evils which he had reprehended, were,
one by one, incorporated with his faith. The holy ground
where the revered Teacher had lived and walked was involved
in a cloud of miracles and visions, and " the nerves of the mind
were benumbed by the habits of obedience and belief." 2

Against all the absurdities we have described above, the
life-aim of Mohammed was directed. Addressing, with the
voice of truth, inspired by deep communion with the God of
the Universe, the fetish-worshippers of the Arabian tribes on
one side and the followers of degraded Christianity and Judaism
on the other, Mohammed, that " master of speech," as he has
been truly called, never travelled out of the province of reason,
and made them all blush at the monstrousness of their beliefs.
Mohammed, the grand apostle of the unity of God, thus stands
forth in history in noble conflict with the retrogressive tendency
of man to associate other beings with the Creator of the
universe. Ever and anon in the Koran occur passages, fervid
and burning, like the following : " Your God is one God ;
there is no God but He, the Most Merciful. In the creation of
the heaven and earth, and the alternation of night and day,
and in the ship which saileth on the sea, laden with what is
profitable to mankind ; and in the rain-water which God
sendeth from heaven, quickening again the dead earth, and the
animals of all sorts which cover its surface ; and in the change
of winds, and the clouds balanced between heaven and earth, —

1 Mosheim, vol. i. p. 432.

- Mosheim's Ecclesiastical Hist. vol. i. p. 432 ; comp. also Hallam, Const.
Hist, of England, chap. ii. p. 75. From the text it will be seen how much
truth there is in the assertion that Islam derived " everything good it contains "
from Judaism or Christianity. " It has been the fashion," says Deutsch,
" to ascribe whatever is good in Mohammedanism to Christianity. We fear
this theory is not compatible with the results of honest investigation. For
of Arabian Christianity at the time of Mohammed, the less said, perhaps, the
better ... By the side of it . . . even modern Amharic Christianity, of which
we possess such astounding accounts, appears pure and exalted." — Quarterly
Review, No. 954, p. 315.


are signs to people of understanding ; yet some men take idols
beside God, and love them as with the love due to God." 1
What a depth of sympathy towards those benighted people
do these words convey ! Again : " It is He who causeth the
lightning to appear unto you (to strike) fear and (to raise)
hope ; and formeth the pregnant clouds. The thunder
celebrateth His praise, and the angels also. ... He launcheth
His thunderbolts, and striketh therewith whom He pleaseth
while they dispute concerning Him. ... It is He who of right
ought to be invoked, and those (the idols) whom they invoke
besides Him shall not respond to them at all ; otherwise than
as he who stretched forth his hands to the water that it may
ascend to his mouth when it cannot ascend (thither). 2 He
hath created the heavens and the earth to (manifest His)
justice ; far be that from Him which they associate with Him.
He hath created man . . . and behold he is a professed disputer.
He hath likewise created the cattle for you, and they are a
credit unto you when they come trooping home at evening-
time, or are led forth to pasture in the morn. . . . And He
hath subjected the night and day to your service ; and the sun
and the moon and the stars are all bound by His laws. ... It
is He who hath subjected the sea unto you, and thou seest the
ships ploughing the deep . . . and that ye might render thanks.
. . . Shall He therefore who createth be as he who createth
not ? Do ye not therefore take heed ? If ye were to reckon
up the blessings of God, ye shall not be able to compute their
number ; God is surely gracious and merciful. He knoweth
that which ye conceal and that which ye publish. But those
[the idols] whom ye invoke, besides the Lord, create nothing,
but are themselves created. They are dead and not
living." 3

" God ! there is no God but He — the Living, the Eternal.
No slumber seizeth Him. Whatsoever is in heaven or in earth
is His. Who can intercede with Him but by His own permis-
sion ? He knows what has been before, and what shall be
after them ; yet nought of His knowledge shall they grasp
but He willeth. His Throne reacheth over the heavens and

1 Sura ii. 158-160. 2 Sura xiii. 13-15.

8 Sura xvi. 3-21.


the earth, and the upholding of them both burdeneth Him
not, . . . l He throweth the veil of night over the day, pursuing
it quickly. He created the sun, moon, and stars subjected to
laws by His behest. Is not all creation and all empire His ?
Blessed be the Lord of the worlds. 2 Say, He alone is God :

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 19 of 55)