Syed Ameer Ali.

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Office), analogous to the paymaster-general's department,
charged with the payment of the regular troops. The protec-
tion of the interests of non-Moslems was entrusted to a special
office, the head of which was called the Kdtib-ul-jihbdzeh.

Each Government office was presided over by a director
who was designated the Rats, or Sadr, and the practical work
of control and supervision was carried on by inspectors, called
Mushrifs, or Ndzirs. 1

To this organisation the Abbaside Caliphs added the
appointment of an officer with the designation of Hdjib, who
introduced the foreign ambassadors, and also formed a Court
of Appeal from the decrees of the Kazis. They instituted the
office of Vizier, or Prime Minister, whose duty it was to submit
for the consideration of the sovereign the various matters
requiring his decision. They gave regularity to the provincial
administration, and fixed definitely the contributions due from
the provinces. They constructed caravanserais, built cisterns
and aqueducts along the road from Bagdad to Mecca, planted
trees along the route, and everywhere founded wayside resting-
places for the travellers and pilgrims. They made a route
between Mecca and Medina, and laid relays of horses and
camels between Hijaz and Yemen to facilitate communication
between these two provinces. They established couriers in
every city for the despatch of the post. They formed a central
office in the metropolis for the custody and preservation of the
archives of the empire, and created an efficient police in every
part of their dominions. They formed a syndicate of mer-
chants, charged with the supervision of commercial transactions,
the decision of disputes between mercantile men, and the duty
of suppressing fraud. Not only did each centre of commerce
possess its corporation of merchants but most cities of
importance had their town councils. They created the office
of Muhtesib, or intendant of the market, who went round daily
to examine the weights and measures of the tradespeople.
They fostered self-government and protected and encouraged
municipal institutions. Agriculture was promoted by advances

1 For a full account of the political and administrative machinery of the
Abbasides, see The Short History of the Saracens, pp. 402-443.


to the peasantry, and periodical reports were required from the
provincial officers respecting the prosperity of the people and
the state of the country. Many of them, in the midst of their
pomp and circumstance, tried to maintain a semblance of
republican virtue. Books written by them, baskets woven by
them, used to be sold in the market, and the proceeds were
supposed to supply the personal expenses of the Caliphs.
Their zeal to promote the well-being of their subjects may
perhaps be taken into the great Account against their cruelties
towards the Alides. Under Mamun and his two immediate
successors the Abbaside empire attained the zenith of

Spain furnishes one of the most instructive examples of the
political character of Islam and its adaptability to all forms
and conditions of society. This country had suffered fright-
fully under the barbarian hordes which had swept over the
land, destroying and levelling every institution they found
existing. The kingdoms they had formed over the ruins of
the Roman administration had effaced the germs of political
development. Their subjects were weighted down with feudal
burdens, and all the terrible consequences flowing therefrom.
Vast areas were completely denuded of population. The
introduction of the Islamic Code enfranchised the people as
well as the land from feudal bondage. The desert became
fruitful, thriving cities sprang into existence on all sides, and
order took the place of anarchy. Immediately on their arrival
on the soil of Spain, the Saracens published an edict assuring
to the subject races, without any difference of race or creed,
the most ample liberty, Suevi, Goth, Vandal, Roman, and Jew
were all placed on an equal footing with the Moslem. They
guaranteed to both Christian and Jew the full exercise of their
religions, the free use of their places of worship, and perfect
security of person and property. They even allowed them to
be governed, within prescribed limits, by their own laws, to
fill all civil offices and serve in the army. Their women were
invited to intermarry with the conquerors. Does not the conduct
of the Arabs in Spain offer an astonishing contrast to that of
many European nations, even in modern times, in their treat-
ment of conquered nationalities ? Whilst to compare the Arab


rule with that of the Normans in England, or of the Christians
in Syria during the Crusades, would be an insult to common-
sense and humanity. The fidelity of the Arabs in maintaining
their promises, the equal-handed justice which they administered
to all classes, without distinction of any kind, secured them the
confidence of the people. And not only in these particulars,
but also in generosity of mind and in amenity of manner, and
in the hospitality of their customs, the Arabians were dis-
tinguished above all other people of those times. 1 The Jews
had, owing to the influence of the Christian priesthood, suffered
bitterly under the barbarians, and they profited most by the
change of government. Spanish ladies of the highest rank,
among them the sister of Pelagius and the daughter of Roderick,
contracted marriages with " the Infidels," as the orthodox Jean
Mariana calls the Moslems. They enjoyed all the rights and
privileges which their rank gave them with full liberty of
conscience. The Moslems invited all the landed proprietors,
whom the violence of Roderick had driven into the mountains,
to abandon their retreats. Unhappily the depopulation was so
great that this measure had no effect in supplying inhabitants
to the soil. They, accordingly, held forth the most generous
advantages to foreign cultivators who wished to establish them-
selves in the Peninsula. These offers brought large and
industrious colonies from Africa and Asia. Fifty thousand
Jews at one time, accompanied by their women and children,
settled in Andalusia.

For seven centuries the Moslems held Spain, and the bene-
ficence of their rule, in spite of intestine quarrels and dynastic
disputes, is testified to and acknowledged even by their
enemies. The high culture attained by the Spanish Arabs has
been sometimes considered as due principally to frequent
marriages between Moslems and Christians. This circumstance
undoubtedly exercised a great influence on the development of
the Spanish Moslems and the growth of that wonderful civilisa-
tion to which modern Europe owes so much of its advance in
the arts of peace. 2 What happened in Spain happened also
in other places. Wherever the Moslems entered a change came

1 Conde's History of the Spanish Moors.
8 Renan, Averroes et Averroisme.


over the countries ; order took the place of lawlessness, and
peace and plenty smiled on the land. As war was not the
privileged profession of one caste, so labour was not the mark
of degradation to another. The pursuit of agriculture was as
popular with all classes as the pursuit of arms. 1

The importance which Islam attaches to the duties of
sovereigns towards their subjects, and the manner in which it
promotes the freedom and equality of the people and protects
them against the oppression of their rulers, is shown in a
remarkable work 2 on the reciprocal rights of sovereigns and
subjects, by Safi-ud-din Mohammed bin Ali bin Taba Taba,
commonly known as Ibn ut-Tiktaka. 3 The book was com-
posed in 701 a.h. (1301-2), and is dedicated to Fakhr ud-din
Tsa bin Ibrahim, Ameer of Mosul.

The first part deals with the duties of sovereigns to
their subjects, and the rules for the administration of public
affairs and political economy. The author describes the
qualities essential for a sovereign, — wisdom, justice, know-
ledge of the wants and wishes of his people, and the fear
of God ; and adds emphatically that this latter quality is
the root of all good, and the key to all blessings, " for
when the king is conscious of the presence of God, His
servants will enjoy the blessings of peace and security." The

all 1 oUc *JUl aIII *_J(.a* ( i.«

sovereign must also possess the quality of mercy, w^^l ^ j**h
and " this is the greatest of all good qualities." He must have
an ever-present desire to benefit his subjects, and consult with
them on their wants ; for the Prophet consulted always with
his Companions, and God hath said, 4 " Consult with them 5 on
every affair." In the administration of public affairs, it is the

1 Oelsner.

2 This work is generally known as the Kitdb-i-Tdrikh-ud-Ditwal Hist, of
Dynasties ; but its proper title is Kitdb-id-fakhri fi'l dddb-ul-Sidtaniyat wa'd
duwal nl-Islamia, " the book of Fakhri, concerning the conduct of sovereigns
and the Islamic dynasties " ; Derenbourg's Edition ; see Appendix.

3 With a hard kdf. 4 In the Koran, 6 I.e. The people.


sovereign's duty to superintend the public income, guard the
lives and property of his subjects, maintain peace, check
the evil-doer, prevent injuries. He must always keep his word,
and then, adds the author significantly, " the duty of the
subject is obedience, but no subject is bound to obey a tyrant."
Ibn Rushd (the great Averroes) says, " the tyrant is he who
governs for himself, and not for his people."

The laws of the Moslems, based on equitable principles, and
remarkable for their simplicity and precision, did not demand
an obedience either difficult to render or incompatible with the
intelligence of mankind. The countries where the Moslems
established themselves remained exempt from the disastrous
consequences of the feudal system and the feudal code. 1
" Admitting no privilege, no caste, their legislation produced
two grand results, — that of freeing the soil from factitious
burdens imposed by barbarian laws, and of assuring to
individuals perfect equality of rights." 2

1 In Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and Lower Italy, the feudal system was
introduced after the expulsion of the Arabs.

2 Oelsner.



TO every philosophical student of the history of religion
the heading of this chapter must cause surprise, if
not pain ; to every Islamist devoted to the Founder
of his Faith it must cause sorrow and shame. Alas ! that
the religion of humanity and universal brotherhood should not
have escaped the curse of internecine strife and discord ; that
the Faith which was to bring peace and rest to the distracted
world should itself be torn to pieces by angry passions
and the lust of power. The evils, which we deplored in
Christianity arose from the incompleteness of the system, and
its incompatibility with human needs ; in Islam, the evils
that we shall have to describe arose from the greed of earthly
advancement, and the revolutionary instincts of individuals
and classes impatient of moral law and order.

Nothing evinces so clearly the extraordinary genius of the
Arabian Teacher, his wonderful personality, and the impressive-
ness of his call to religious unity and universal citizenship, as
the world-movement of which he was the cause, and which, in
spite of internal dynastic wars, carried his people on a tidal
wave of conquest from one end of the globe to the other. Arabia,
hitherto the home of warring tribes and clans, each with its
blood-feud of centuries, was suddenly animated with a common
purpose. Until now the wars of the Arabs and their alliances,
their virtues and their vices, their love of independence and


their clannish feeling, had alike prevented community of action.
Suddenly a nation of shepherds is turned into a nation of kings,
a race of semi-nomades transformed into masters of " a world-
faith and law." With unexampled energy and self-mastering
devotion the congeries of wandering clans planted between
three continents take up the banner of the Faith and bear it
aloft to every quarter of the earth. " You have been elected
to carry to all mankind the message of mercy, the announcement
of divine unity," is the call addressed to them, and they respond
to it with a determination which acknowledges no obstacle.
The intensity of conviction, which alone could carry them
through the barriers of hostile creeds and races, explains the
mystery of the revolution !

Truth is eternal : Mohammed's message was not new. It
had been delivered before, but had not reached the heart of
man. His voice quickened the dead into life, revived the
dying, and made the pulse of humanity beat with the accumu-
lated force of ages. The exodus of the Saracens under this
mighty impulse, its magnitude and its far-reaching effects,
form the most marvellous phenomenon of modern times. They
issued from their desert-fastnesses as the preceptors of
humanity. Within thirty years — the term prophesied for the
true Caliphate — they were knocking at the gate of every nation,
from the Hindu Kush to the shores of the Atlantic, to deliver
their message. In the short space of time which elapsed from
the death of the Prophet to the subversion of the Republic,
they built up an empire, which, in its vastness, exceeded that
achieved by the Romans after thirteen centuries of continuous
expansion. Turn over the pages of Ibn ul-Athir, Tabari, or
Abulfeda, you will find a continuous record of the wave rolling
onward, fertilising every soil over which it passes, assimilating
in its way all that is good.

The same causes, however, which, until the advent of the
Prophet, had prevented the growth of the Arabs into a nation,
— the same tribal jealousies, the same division of clan and clan,
the marks of which are still visible throughout the Moslem
world, — led eventually, not only to the ruin of the Republic,
but also to the downfall of the Saracenic empire. " Had the
followers of Mohammed marched on the lines of the Master


and adopted the character of the early Caliphs," says d'Ohsson,
" their empire would have been still more vast and more durable
than that of the Romans." But the greed of the Ommeyyade,
the unruliness of the Arab, and his spirit of individualism,
which showed itself even when arrayed against a common foe,
caused the overthrow of the stupendous fabric which the
heroism and devotion of the early Moslems had raised. Owing
to this, they lost Tours, even whilst victory was within their
grasp ; they were driven out of Spain because they could not
forget the old jealousies of the desert, and make common cause
against the enemy.

But though the Republic fell, and the imperial sceptre passed
from the hands of the Saracens, the Faith lived. It was the
outcome of ages of evolution. It represented the latest phase
in the religious development of man ; it did not depend for its
existence or its growth on the life of empires or men. And as
it spread and fructified, each race and each age profited by its
teachings according to their own spiritual necessities and
intellectual comprehension !

The Church of Mohammed, like the Church of Christ, has
been rent by intestine divisions and strifes. Difference of
opinion on abstract subjects, about which there cannot be any
certitude in a finite existence, has always given rise to greater
bitterness and a fiercer hostility than ordinary differences on
matters within the range of human cognition. The disputes
respecting the nature of Christ deluged the earth with the
blood of millions ; the question of Free-will in man caused, if
not the same amount of bloodshed, equal trouble in Islam.
The claim to infallibility on the part of the Pontiffs of Rome
convulsed Christendom to its core ; the infallibility of the
people and of the Fathers became in Islam the instrument for
the destruction of precious lives.

Most of the divisions in the Church of Mohammed owe their
origin primarily to political and dynastic causes, — to the old
tribal quarrels, and the strong feeling of jealousy which
animated the other Koreishites against the family of Hashim.
It is generally supposed that the Prophet had not expressly
designated any one as his [successor in the spiritual and tem-
poral Government of Islam ; but this notion is founded on a


mistaken apprehension of facts, for there is abundant evidence
that many a time the Prophet had indicated Ali for the vice-
gerency. Notably on the occasion of the return journey from
the performance of " the Farewell Pilgrimage," during a halt
at a place called Khumm, he had convoked an assembly of the
people accompanying him, and used words which could leave
little doubt as to his intention regarding a successor. " Ali,"
said he, " is to me what Aaron was to Moses. Almighty God !
be a friend to his friends and a foe to his foes ; help those who
help him, and frustrate the hopes of those who betray him ! " l
On the other hand, the nomination of Abu Bakr to lead prayers
during the Prophet's illness might point to a different choice.
The question came up for discussion and settlement on his
decease, when it became necessary to elect a leader for Islam.
The Hashimites maintained that the office had devolved by
appointment as well as by succession upon Ali. The other
Koreishites insisted upon proceeding by election. Whilst the
kinsmen of Mohammed were engaged in his obsequies, Abu
Bakr was elected to the Caliphate by the votes of the Koreish
and some of the Medinite Ansar. The urgency of an immediate
selection for the headship of the State might explain the haste.
With his usual magnanimity and devotion to the Faith,
scrupulously anxious to avoid the least discord among the
disciples of the Master, Ali at once gave in his adhesion to
Abu Bakr. Three times was he set aside, and on every occasion
he accepted the choice of the electors without demur. He
himself had never stood forth as a candidate for the suffrages
of the electors, and whatever might have been the feeling of
his partisans, he had never refrained from giving to the first
two Caliphs his help and advice in the governance of the
Commonwealth : and they on their side had always deferred
to his counsel and his exposition of the Master's teachings.
We have already referred to the circumstances connected with
the elevation of Osman to the Caliphate. We will here trace

1 Ibn Khallikan, vol. i. p. 383. " According to Al-Hazimi," says Ibn-
Khallikan, " Khumm is the name of a valley lying between Mecca and Medina,
and in the neighbourhood of at-Tuhfa. It contains a pond (Ghadir) near
which the Prophet pronounced his invocation." This took place on the 18th
of Zu'1-Hijja, for Ibn-Khallikan says the 18th of that month " is the
anniversary of the Feast of Ghadir (Id nl-Ghadir), which is the same as that
of Ghadir i-Khumm."


the events which followed upon his accession to elucidate the
history of the deplorable schism which has for so long divided
the Moslem world into two sects. Osman possessed neither
the shrewdness of Abu Bakr nor the intellectual vigour or the
moral fibre of Omar. His amiability and easy good nature
made him a pliable tool in the hands of his kinsfolk. The
venerable Caliph surrounded by his hungry kinsmen, the
provinces crying for redress, and the general body of Moslems
sullenly watching the proceedings of the head of the State,
form an instructive though sad picture of the times. The
character of the deluded Pontiff has been graphically portrayed
by Dozy. " The personality of Osman did not justify his
election to the Caliphate. It is true he was rich and generous,
had assisted Mohammed and the religion by pecuniary sacrifices,
and that he prayed and fasted often, and was a man of amiable
and soft manners. He was, however, not a man of spirit, and
was greatly enfeebled by old age. His timidity was such that
when placed on the pulpit he knew not how to commence his
sermon . Unhappily for this old man, he possessed an inordinate
fondness for his kinsmen, who formed the Meccan aristocracy,
and who, for twenty years, had insulted, persecuted, and fought
against Mohammed. Soon they dominated over him com-
pletely. His uncle, Hisham, and especially Hisham's son,
Merwan, in reality governed the country, only allowing the
title of Caliph to Osman, and the responsibility of the most
compromising measures, of which he was often wholly ignorant.
The orthodoxy of these two men, especially of the father, was
strongly suspected. Hisham had been converted only when
Mecca was taken. Having betrayed state-secrets, he had been
disgraced and exiled. Abu Bakr and Omar had maintained
the order passed (by the Prophet). Osman, on the contrary,
not only recalled him from his exile, but gave him on his arrival
a hundred thousand pieces of silver from the public treasury,
and a piece of land belonging to the State. He made Merwan
his secretary and vizier, and married him to one of his daughters,
and enriched him with the spoils of Africa." x . . . He con-
firmed Mu'awiyah, the son of Abu Sufian and Hind, who had
fought against Mohammed with such ferocity at Ohod, in the

1 Dozy, Hist, des Mussulmans dans VEspagne, vol. i. p. 44.


governorship of Syria ; and his foster-brother, Abdullah ibn
Sa'd ibn Surrah, to the satrapy of Egypt. This Abdullah was
at one time a secretary to the Prophet, and when the Master
dictated his revelations, he used to change the words and
" denaturalise " their meaning. His sacrilege being discovered,
he had fled, and had relapsed into idolatry. Walid, an uterine
brother of the old Caliph, was made governor of Kufa. His
father had often ill-treated Mohammed, and once nearly
strangled him. An abandoned debauchee, a profligate
drunkard, his life was a scandal to the Moslems. He appeared
in the mosque at the time of morning-prayers helpless from
intoxication, falling prostrate on the ground as he attempted
to perform the duties of an Imam, or leader of prayer ; and
when the by-standers hurried up to assist him to his feet,
shocked them by demanding more wine, in a husky and stam-
mering voice. These were the men whom the Caliph favoured !
They fastened upon the provinces like famished leeches, heaping
up wealth by means of pitiless extortion. Complaints poured
into Medina from all parts of the empire. But the complaints
were invariably dismissed with abuses and hard words. 1 A
deputation, consisting of twelve thousand men, headed by
Mohammed, the son of the Caliph Abu Bakr, came to the
capital to lay before Osman the grievances of the people, and
to seek redress. Sore pressed at their demands for justice, he
had recourse to the intervention of the son-in-law of the Prophet
whose advice he had hitherto persistently refused to heed. Ali
persuaded the deputation to depart to their homes, by giving
them a pledge that their complaints should be redressed. On
their way back, and hardly at a day's journey from Medina,
they intercepted a letter written by Osman's secretary, which
bore the Caliph's own seal, containing a mandate to the un-
scrupulous Mu'awiyah to massacre them in a body. Enraged
at this treachery, they returned to Medina, entered the old
Caliph's house, and killed him. His death furnished to the
Ommeyyades what they were long thirsting for, a plea for a
revolt against Islam, — against its democracy, its equal rights,
and its stern rules of morality. It furnished to the Meccans
and their allies an excuse for organising a conspiracy against

1 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. iii. p. 125.


Medinite dominance, which they hated so bitterly. Ali had
tried hard to save Osman, at first by wise counsels not to
abandon himself absolutely into the hands of his unprincipled
kinsmen, and at the last crisis by placing himself before the
infuriated soldiery, and asking for consideration for the vener-
able though misguided pontiff. He had nearly sacrificed his
own sons in his endeavours to protect Osman. On Osman 's
death he was raised to the Caliphate by the unanimous voice
of the people. Since the death of the Prophet, Ali, though he
had never failed to attend the councils of State, had always
maintained a dignified reserve and a noble independence of
character. In his retirement he had chiefly devoted himself
to study and the peaceable occupations of domestic life. Called
to the helm of the State, he received the oath of fealty with his

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 33 of 55)