Syed Ameer Ali.

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preserved intact the property dedicated to the Christian
churches and continued the allowances made by the former
government for the support of the priests. 3

The best testimony to the toleration of the early Moslem
government is furnished by the Christians themselves. In
the reign of Osman (the third Caliph), the Christian Patriarch
of Merv addressed the Bishop of Fars, named Simeon, in the
following terms : " The Arabs who have been given by God the
kingdom (of the earth) do not attack the Christian faith ; on
the contrary they help us in our religion ; they respect our
God and our Saints, and bestow gifts on our churches and

In order to avoid the least semblance of high-handedness,
no Moslem was allowed to acquire the land of a zimmi even
by purchase. " Neither the Imam nor the Sultan could dis-
possess a zimmi of his property."

The Moslems and the zimmis were absolutely equal in the
eye of the law. " Their blood," said Ali the Caliph, " was
like our blood." Many modern governments, not excepting

1 A cousin of the Prophet and a jurist of recognised authority.
1 Kitab nl-Khardj, p. 88. 3 Makrizi, pp. 492, 499.


some of the most civilised, may take the Moslem administration
for their model. In the punishment of crimes there was no
difference between the rulers and the ruled. Islam's law is
that if a zimmi is killed by a Moslem, the latter is liable to the
same penalty as in the reverse case. 1

In their anxiety for the welfare of the non-Moslem subjects,
the Caliphs of Bagdad, like their rivals of Cordova, created a
special department charged with the protection of the zimmis
and the safeguarding of their interests. The head of this
department was called, in Bagdad, Kdtib-ul-Jihbdzeh ; in
Spain, Kdtib-uz-Zimdm. 2

Mutawakkil, who rased to the ground the mausoleum of the
martyr Husain and forbade pilgrimages to the consecrated
spot, excluded non-Moslems, as he excluded the Moslem
Rationalists, from the employment of the State and subjected
them to many disabilities. In the later works of law, written
whilst the great struggle was proceeding between Islam and
Christendom, on one side for life, on the other for brute
mastery, there occur no doubt passages which give colour to
the allegation that in Islam zimmis are subject to humiliation.
But no warrant for this statement will be found in the rules
inculcated by the Teacher, or his immediate disciples or suc-
cessors. It must be added, however, that the bigoted views
of the later canonists were never carried into practice ; and
the toleration and generosity with which the non-Moslems were
treated are evidenced by the fact that zimmis could be
nominated as executors to the wills of Moslems ; that they
often filled the office of rectors of Moslem universities and
educational institutions, and of curators of Moslem endow-
ments so long as they did not perform any religious functions.
And when a non-Moslem of worth and merit died, the Moslems
attended his funeral in a body.

In the beginning military commands, for obvious reasons,

1 Zail'i in his T akhrlj-ul-Heddya mentions a case which occurred in the
Caliphate of Omar. A Moslem of the name of Bakr bin Wail killed a Christian
named Hairut. The Caliph ordered that " the killer should be surrendered to
the heirs of the killed." The culprit was made over to Honain, Hairut's heir,
who put him to death, p. 338, Delhi edition. A similar case is reported in the
reign of Omar bin Abdul Aziz.

8 With a Zal ; see The Short History of the Saracens, p. 573.


were not entrusted to non-Moslems, but all other posts of
emolument and trust were open to them equally with Moslems.
This equality was not merely theoretical, for from the first
century of the Hegira we find important offices of state held
by Christians, Jews and Magians. The Abbasides, with rare
exceptions, recognised no distinction among their subjects on
the score of religion. And the dynasties that succeeded them
in power scrupulously followed their example.

If the treatment of non-Moslems in Islamic countries is
compared with that of non-Christians under European Govern-
ments, it would be found that the balance of humanity and
generosity, generally speaking, inclines in favour of Islam.
Under the Mogul Emperors of Delhi, Hindus commanded
armies, administered provinces and sat in the councils of the
sovereign. Even at the present time can it be said that in no
European empire, ruling over mixed nationalities and faiths,
is any distinction made of creed, colour or race ?

That which Islam had almost exclusively in view was to
inculcate among mankind the principle of divine unity and
human equality preached by the Prophet. So long as the
central doctrine of the unity of God and the message of the
Prophet is recognised and accepted, Islam allows the widest
latitude to the human conscience. Consequently, wherever the
Moslem missionary-soldier made his appearance, he was hailed
by the down-trodden masses and the persecuted heretics as
the harbinger of freedom and emancipation from a galling
bondage. Islam brought to them practical equality in the
eye of the law, and fixity of taxation.

The battle of Kadesia, which threw Persia into the hands
of the Moslems, was the signal of deliverance to the bulk of
the Persians, as the battles of Yermuk and Ajnadin were to the
Syrians, the Greeks, and the Egyptians. The Jews, whom the
Zoroastrians had massacred from time to time, the Christians,
whom they hunted from place to place, breathed freely under
the authority of the Prophet, the watchword of whose faith
was the brotherhood of man. The people everywhere received
the Moslems as their liberators. Wherever any resistance
was offered, it was by the priesthood and the aristocracy.
The masses and the working classes in general, who were


under the ban of Zoroastrianism, ranged themselves with the
conquerors. A simple confession of an everlasting truth placed
them on the same footing as their Moslem emancipators.

The feudal chiefs of the tribes and villages retained all their
privileges, honours, and local influence, — " more than we
believe," says Gobineau, " for the oppressions and persecutions
of the Musulmans have been greatly exaggerated."

The conquest of Africa and Spain was attended with the
same result. The Arians, the Pelagians, and other heretics
hitherto the victims of orthodox fury and hatred, — the people
at large, who had been terribly oppressed by a lawless soldiery
and a still more lawless priesthood, — found peace and security
under Islam. By an irony of fate, which almost induces a
belief in the Nemesis of the ancients, the Jews, whose animosity
towards the Prophet very nearly wrought the destruction of
the Islamic commonwealth, found in the Moslems their best
protectors. " Insulted, plundered, hated and despised by all
Christian nations," they found that refuge in Islam, that
protection from inhumanity, which was ruthlessly denied to
them in Christendom.

Islam gave to the people a code which, however archaic
in its simplicity, was capable of the greatest development in
accordance with the progress of material civilisation. It
conferred on the State a flexible constitution, based on a just
appreciation of human rights and human duty. It limited
taxation, it made men equal in the eye of the law, it consecrated
the principles of self-government. It established a control
over the sovereign power by rendering the executive authority
subordinate to the law, — a law based upon religious sanction
and moral obligations. " The excellence and effectiveness of
each of these principles," says Urquhart " (each capable of
immortalising its founder), gave value to the rest ; and all
combined, endowed the system which they formed with a
force and energy exceeding those of any other political system.
Within the lifetime of a man, though in the hands of a popula-
tion, wild, ignorant, and insignificant, it spread over a greater
extent than the dominions of Rome. While it retained its
primitive character, it was irresistible." *

1 Urquhart, Spirit of the East, vol. i. Introd. p. xxviii.


The short government of Abu Bakr was too fully occupied
with the labour of pacifying the desert tribes to afford time for
any systematic regulation of the provinces. But with the
reign of Omar — a truly great man — commenced that sleepless
care for the welfare of the subject nations which characterised
the early Moslem governments.

An examination of the political condition of the Moslems
under the early Caliphs brings into view a popular government
administered by an elective chief with limited powers. The
prerogatives of the head of the State were confined to admini-
strative and executive matters, such as the regulation of the
police, control of the army, transaction of foreign affairs,
disbursement of the finances, etc. But he could never act in
contravention of the recognised law.

The tribunals were not dependent on the government. Their
decisions were supreme ; and the early Caliphs could not
assume the power of pardoning those whom the regular
tribunals had condemned. The law was the same for the poor
as for the rich, for the man in power as for the labourer in the

As time advances the stringency of the system is relaxed
but the form is always maintained. Even the usurpers, who,
without right, by treachery and murder seized the reins of
government, and who in their persons represented the pagan
oligarchy which had been displaced by the teachings of Islam,
observed more or less the outward semblance of law-abiding
executive heads of a representative government. And the
rulers of the later dynasties, when they overstepped the bounds,
often unlimited, of arbitrary power, were restrained by the
sentence of the general body of jurisconsults, which in all
Musulman States serves as a constitutional check on the
sovereign. In the early times, however, the " Companions "
of the Master formed as it were an effective Council of State.
The consideration attached to the title of " Companion of the
Prophet ' ' was as great in the camp as in the city. The power-
ful influence which they possessed increased with the conquests
of the Moslems. The quality of ashdb carried with it a
character of sanctity and nobleness. When a person bearing
this title was in an action, the crowd flocked to his side and


followed his lead. In the first degree were those who had
accompanied the Prophet from Mecca — the Exiles, and the
Ansar who had received him with devotion, and who had
battled in defence of the Faith at Badr and Ohod ; those who
were charged with any work by him and those who had talked
with him, seen him, or heard him. In the last rank came
those who had served under any of the sahdba, and thus came
indirectly within the magic influence of the Master.

An incident which occurred during the Caliphate of Omar
shows the absolute equality of all men in Islam. Jabala, king
of the Ghassanides, having embraced the Faith, had proceeded
to Medina to pay his homage to the Commander of the Faithful.
He had entered the city with great pomp and ceremony, and
been received with much consideration. Whilst performing
the tawdf, or circumambulation of the Kaaba, a humble pilgrim
engaged in the same sacred duties accidentally dropped a piece
of his pilgrim's dress over the royal shoulders. Jabala turned
round furiously and struck him a blow which knocked out the
poor man's teeth. The rest of this episode must be told in
the memorable words of Omar himself to Abu Obaidah, com-
manding the Moslem troops in Syria. " The poor man came
to me," writes the Caliph, " and prayed for redress ; I sent
for Jabala, and when he came before me I asked him why he
had so ill-treated a brother-Moslem. He answered that the
man had insulted him, and that were it not for the sanctity of
the place he would have killed him on the spot. I answered
that his words added to the gravity of his offence, and that
unless he obtained the pardon of the injured man he would
have to submit to the usual penalty of the law. Jabala
replied, ' I am a king, and the other is only a common man.'
" King or no king, both of you are Musulmans and both of
you are equal in the eye of the law.' He asked that the penalty
might be delayed until the next day ; and, on the consent of
the injured, I accorded the delay. In the night Jabala escaped,
and has now joined the Christian dog. 1 But God will grant
thee victory over him and the like of them ..."

This letter was read by Abu Obaidah at the head of his

1 Such was the designation usually given to the Byzantine emperors by the
early Moslems.


troops. These communications appear to have been frequent
under the early Caliphate. No person in the. camp or in the
city was a stranger to public affairs. Every Friday after
divine service, the Commander of the Faithful mentioned to
the assembly the important nominations and events of the day.
The prefects in their provinces followed the example. No one
was excluded from these general assemblies of the public. It
was the reign of democracy in its best form. The Pontiff of
Islam, the Commander of the Faithful, was not hedged round
by any divinity. He was responsible for the administration of
the State to his subjects. The stern devotion of the early
Caliphs to the well-being of the people, and the austere
simplicity of their lives, were in strict accordance with the
example of the Master. They preached and prayed in the
mosque like the Prophet ; received in their homes the poor
and oppressed, and failed not to give a hearing to the meanest.
Without cortege, without pomp or ceremony, they ruled the
hearts of men by the force of their character. Omar travelled
to Syria to receive the capitulation of Jerusalem, accompanied
by a single slave. Abu Bakr on his death-bed left only a suit
of clothes, a camel, and a slave to his heir. Every Friday, Ali
distributed his own allowance from the public treasury among
the distressed and suffering ; and set an example to the people
by his respect for the ordinary tribunals. Whilst the Republic
lasted none of the Caliphs could alter, or act contrary to, the
judgment of the constituted courts of justice. 1

Naturally, it is difficult for a new government, introduced by
force of arms, to conciliate the affection of the people at once.
But the early Saracens offered to the conquered nations motives
for the greatest confidence and attachment. Headed by chiefs
of the moderation and gentleness of Abu Obaidah, who
tempered and held in check the ferocity of soldiers like Khalid,
they maintained intact the civil rights of their subjects. They
accorded to all the conquered nations the completest religious
toleration. Their conduct might furnish to many of the
civilised governments of modern times the noblest example of

1 The first sentence of a court of justice which was not carried into execution
was under Mu'awiyah, who pardoned a man found guilty by the judge upon
the criminal reciting a poem in praise of the usurper.


civil and religious liberty. They did not lash women to death.
They did not condemn innocent females to Siberian mines
and the outrages of their guards. They had the sagacity not
to interfere with any beneficent civil institution, existing in
the conquered countries, which did not militate with their

The measures taken by Omar to secure the agricultural
prosperity of the people evince an ever-present solicitude to
promote their well-being and interests. Taxation on land was
fixed upon an equable and moderate basis ; aqueducts and
canals were ordered to be made in every part of the empire.
The feudal burdens, which had afflicted the cultivators of the
soil, were absolutely withdrawn, and the peasantry were
emancipated from the bondage of centuries. The death of
this remarkable man at the hands of an assassin was an un-
doubted loss to the government. His character, stern and yet
just, his practical commonsense and knowledge of men, had
eminently fitted him to repress and hold in check the ambitious
designs of the children of Ommeyya. On his death-bed Omar
entrusted to six electors the task of nominating a successor to
the office. The Caliphate was offered to the son of Abu Talib,
but Ommeyyade intrigue had annexed to the proposal a
condition which they knew Ali would not accept. He was
required to govern, not only in accordance with the laws and
precedents of the Prophet, but also with those established by
his two predecessors. With characteristic independence Ali
refused to allow his judgment to be so fettered. The Caliphate
was then offered, as it was expected by the Ommeyyades, to
their kinsman Osman. The accession of this venerable chief
to the vicegerency of the Prophet proved in the sequel an
unqualified disaster to the commonwealth of Islam. He was
a member of that family which had always borne a deep-rooted
animosity towards the children of Hashim. They had per-
secuted the Teacher with rancorous hatred, and had driven
him from his home. They had struggled hard to crush the
Faith in its infancy, and had battled against it to the last.
Strongly united among themselves, and exercising great
influence among all the tribes of Mozar, 1 of which they were
1 With a ZM.


the prominent members, the Ommeyyades had watched with
ill-concealed jealousy the old power and prestige slip away
from their hands. After the fall of Mecca they had accepted
the inevitable, but never forgave the house of Hashim or
Islam for the ruin which the son of Abdullah had wrought to
them. Whilst the Prophet lived, his commanding personality
overawed all these traitors. Many of them had made a
nominal profession of the Faith from self-interest 1 and a
greed to secure a part of the worldly goods which the success
of the Moslems brought to the Islamic commonwealth. But
they never ceased to hate the democracy proclaimed by
Mohammed. Libertines and profligates, unscrupulous and
cruel, pagans at heart, they chafed at a religion of equal rights,
a religion which exacted strict observance of moral duties and
personal chastity. They set themselves, from the commence-
ment, to undermine the government to which they had sworn
allegiance, and to destroy the men upon whom the Republic
depended. The first two successors of the Prophet had kept
their ambition within bounds, and repressed their intrigues
and treacherous designs. With the election of Osman, they
flocked to Medina like vultures scenting the prey. His acces-
sion was the signal for that outburst of hatred, that pent-up
profligacy on the part of the Ommeyyades, which convulsed
the Islamic world to its innermost core, and destroyed its
noblest and most precious lives.

Under Osman there was a complete reversal of the policy
and administration of his two predecessors, whose decisions he
had engaged to follow. All the old governors and commanders
taken from among the immediate disciples of the Prophet and
his Companions were displaced. Merit and faithful service
were wholly disregarded. All offices of trust and emolument
were seized by the Ommeyyades. The governorships of the
provinces were bestowed on men who had proved themselves
most inimical to Islam, and the treasury was emptied in their
favour. We shall have to describe the subsequent events in
some detail when dealing with the divisions in the Church of
Mohammed ; suffice it for us to say, that the corruptness of the
administration, the total disregard of all precedent, the gross

1 They were, therefore, called the Muallafat ul-kuldb.


favouritism displayed by the old Caliph towards his kinsmen,
and his refusal to listen to any complaint, gave rise to serious
disaffection among the old companions of the Prophet and the
general body of the Moslems, ending in revolt in which Osman
lost his life. On Osman's tragical death, Ali was elected to
the vacant Caliphate by the consensus of the people. The
rebellions which followed are matters of history. " Had Ali
been allowed to reign in peace," says Oelsner, " his virtues,
his firmness, and his ascendancy of character would have
perpetuated the old republic and its simple manners." x The
dagger of an assassin destroyed the hope of Islam. " With
him," says Major Osborn, " perished the truest-hearted and
best Moslem of whom Mohammedan history has preserved the
remembrance." Seven centuries before, this wonderful man
would have been apotheosised ; thirteen centuries later his
genius and talents, his virtues and his valour, would have
extorted the admiration of the civilised world. As a ruler, he
came before his time. He was almost unfitted by his uncom-
promising love of truth, his gentleness, and his merciful nature,
to cope with the Ommeyyades' treachery and falsehood.

With the establishment of an autocracy under Mu'awiyah
the political spirit of Islam underwent a great change. The
sovereigns were no more the heads of a commonwealth, elected
by the suffrage of the people, and governing solely for the
welfare of their subjects and the glory of the Faith. From the
time of Mu'awiyah the reigning Caliph nominated his successor ;
and the oath of fealty taken by the people in his presence, or
in that of his proxy, confirmed his nomination. This system
combined the vices of democracy and despotism without the
advantages of either. Under the Republic not only were
the Caliphs assisted by a council of the Companions of the
Prophet, but the provincial governors had similar advisory
bodies. During the Ommeyyade rule the government was a
pure autocracy tempered by the freedom of speech possessed
by the desert Arabs and the learned or holy, which enabled
them, often by a phrase or verse from the Koran or from the
poets, to change the mood of the sovereign. Under the first
five Caliphs of the Abbaside dynasty also the government

1 Oelsner, Des Effets de la religion de Mohammed.


continued to be more or less autocratic, although the
departmental ministers and prominent members of the family
formed a body of unauthorised councillors. A regular Council
composed of the leading representatives of communities owning
allegiance to the Caliph was for the first time established in
the reign of Mamun the Great. The Buyides, the Samanides,
the Seljukides, and the Ayyiibides all had their councils in
which the people were more or less represented.

But absolutism in the hands of the early Abbasides helped
in the intellectual development and material prosperity of the
Islamic nations. In the vigour of their rule and the firmness
with which they held the reins of government they may be
compared with the Tudors of England. The political and
administrative machinery of the Abbaside Caliphate, which
was afterwards adopted by the succeeding dynasties, owes its
origin to the genius of Mansur, the founder of Bagdad. In
its effective distribution of work and its control of details it
ranks with the most perfectly organised systems of modern

At the very commencement of their rule, which lasted for
several centuries, they established a Chamber of Finance and
a Chancellery of State, the first being charged with the duty of
receiving the taxes and disbursing the expenses of the empire,
the second with the duty of impressing a character of authen-
ticity on the mandates of the sovereigns. Later, for the better
subdivision of work, other departments of state (called diwdns)
were created, of which the following are the principal : — the
Diwdn-ul-Khardj (Central Office of Taxes) or Department of
Finance ; the Diwan-ud-Dia (Office of the Crown Property) ;
the Diwdn-uz-zimdm (Audit or Accounts Office) ; the Diwdn-
ul-Jund (War Office) ; the Diwdn-ul-Mawdli wal Ghilmdn
(Office for the Protection of Clients and Slaves), where a
register was kept of the freedmen and slaves of the Caliph, and
arrangements made for their maintenance ; the Diwdn-ul-
Barid (the Post Office) ; Diwdn-uz-Zimdm an-Nafakdt (House-
hold Expense Office) ; the Diwdn-ur-Rasdil (Board of Corre-
spondence or Chancery Office) ; the Diwdn-at-Toukia (Board of
Requests) ; the Diwdn un nazr ft' I Mazdlim (Board for the
Inspection of Grievances) ; the Diwdn-ul-Ahdds w'ash-Shurta


(Militia and Police Office) ; and the Diwdn-itl-'Atd (Donation

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 32 of 55)