Syed Ameer Ali.

The spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm online

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quently quoting verses from the ancient poets to explain and
illustrate the difficult and obscure passages of the Koran. He
was wont to say, " When you meet with a difficulty in the
Koran, look for its solution in the poems of the Arabs, for these
are the registers of the Arab nation." 2 The steady and unvarying
devotion of Ibn Abbas and his brothers to Ali was proverbial.
All four brothers were present at " the Battle of the Camel,"
and at Siffin, Ibn Abbas, who was no less an accomplished
soldier than a scholar, commanded the cavalry of Ali. He
acted frequently as the envoy of the Caliph, and it was he
whom Ali desired to nominate as the representative of the
House of Mohammed when forced by the refractory troops
to refer the dispute between himself and Mu'awiyah to
arbitration. 3 Ibn Abbas died at Tayef of a broken heart,
after the murder of Husain, in a.h. 67, in the seventieth
year of his age. His son, who was named Ali after the great
Caliph, walked in the footsteps of his father in his zealous
attachment to the children of Fatima. He died in a.h. 117,

1 Abbas may be called the John of Gaunt of Moslem history.

2 Once he was asked how he had acquired his extensive knowledge : his
reply was, " By means of an inquiring tongue and an intelligent heart."

3 Shahristani, pt. i. p. 86.


and was succeeded in the headship of his family by his son

At this time, Persia, Irak, and Hijaz, which had suffered
most from the atrocities of the Bani-Ommeyya, were honey-
combed by secret organisations for the overthrow of the hated
family. The Bani-Abbas were the most active in the move-
ment to subvert the Ommeyyade rule, at first, perhaps, from
a sincere desire to restore to the Fatimides their just rights,
but afterwards in their own interests. Mohammed, the son of
Ali ibn Abdullah, was the first to conceive the project of seizing
the Caliphate for himself. He was a man of great ability and
unbounded ambition. Whilst working ostensibly for the Fati-
mides, he contrived gradually to establish the pretensions of
his own family. He started a new doctrine to justify the
claims of his house to the Imamate : that on the murder of
Husain at Kerbela, the spiritual headship of Islam was not
transmitted to his surviving son Ali (Zain ul-'Abidin), but to
Mohammed ibn al-Hanafiya, a son of the Caliph Ali by a
different mother, whom he had married after the death of
Fatima, belonging to the tribe of Hanifa ; that upon his death
the office descended upon his son Hashim, who had assigned
it formally to the Abbaside Mohammed. This story received
credence in some quarters ; but for the bulk of the people, who
clung to the descendants of the Prophet, the da' is l of the
Abbasides affirmed that they were working for the Ahl-id-bait.
Hitherto, the Abbasides had professed great devotion to the
House of Fatima, and had ascribed to all their movements and
plans the object of securing justice for the descendants of
Mohammed. The representatives and adherents of the Ahl-
id-bait, little suspecting the treachery which lay behind their
professions, extended to Mohammed bin Ali and to his party
the favour and protection which was needed to impress upon
his action the sanction of a recognised authority. The attach-
ment of the Persians to the Fatimide cause was due to historical
and national associations. The Fatimides represented in their
persons, through the daughter of Yezdjard, the right to the
throne of Iran. From the first commencement of the Islamic
preachings, Ali had extended the utmost consideration and

1 Missionaries or political agents.


friendship to the Persian converts. Salman the Persian, one
of the most notable disciples of the Prophet, was long the
associate and friend of the Caliph. After the battle of Kadesia,
Ali used to devote his share of the prize-money to the redemp-
tion of the captives, and repeatedly by his counsel induced
Omar to lighten the burden of the subjects. The devotion of
the Persians to his descendants was intelligible. Mohammed
bin Ali beguiled the Persians by preaching to them their
approaching deliverance from the hated rule of their Arab
oppressors. To the Yemenites settled in Khorasan, Fars, and
other provinces of Iran, who were equally attached to the
Ahl-ul-bait, and whose animosity against their old enemies, the
descendants of Mozar, was inflamed by many recent injuries,
he proclaimed he was acting solely on behalf of the Imams of
the House of Mohammed. He succeeded in winning over to
his side Abu Muslim, the ablest general of his time, and hitherto
a devoted partisan of the children of Ali. Before his death,
which took place in 125 a.h., he named his sons Ibrahim,
Abdullah Abu'l Abbas (surnamed Saffdh), Abdullah Abu Ja'far
(surnamed al-Mansur) as his successors, one after the other.

The furious struggle which broke out about the middle of the
eighth century between the Yemenites and Mozarites in
Khorasan served as a signal to apply the torch to the well-laid
mine. Abu Muslim sent word to his partisans in every city
and village of the Province to raise at once the standard of
revolt. The cause proclaimed was " the rights of the Ahl-ul-
bait " against the usurping Bani-Ommeyya. A short time
previously, Yahya, a grandson of the Imam Ali Zain-ul-'Abidin,
had revolted and been killed, and his body was exposed, by the
order of Merwan, upon a gibbet. Abu Muslim ordered the
remains of the young chief to be taken down and buried with
every mark of respect ; and his followers clothed themselves
in black in token of their sorrow, and their determination to
avenge the death of Yahya. From that day black became the
distinguishing symbol of the Abbaside cause. And when
the order went forth summoning the people to arms against the
usurpers, the crowd, clothed in black, which flocked to the
trysting-places showed the widespread character and strength
of the revolt. The gathering was to take place on the night


of the 25th of Ramazan a.h. 127, and the people were to be
summoned by large bonfires lighted on the tops of the hills.
Vast multitudes poured from every quarter into Merv, where
Abu Muslim was dwelling at the time. Ibrahim, who had
succeeded Mohammed bin Ali as the head of the Abbasides,
was seized by Merwan and killed ; but before his death he
contrived to pass to his second brother, Abu'l Abbas, a docu-
ment assigning him the authority in accordance with the
testament of their father. Abu Muslim soon made himself
master of the whole of Khorasan, and marched his victorious
troops towards Irak. Nothing as yet was divulged as to the
ultimate purpose of the movement. The Ahl-ul-bait was the
watchword which rallied all classes of people round the black
standard. Kufa surrendered at once. Hasan ibn Kahtaba,
the lieutenant of Abu Muslim, entered the city at the head of
his troops, and was joined at once by Abu Salma Ja'ar ibn
Sulaiman al-Khallal, " who," says the author of the Rouzat-us-
Safd, " was designated the vizier of the descendants of Moham-
med." Apparently this man acted as the agent of the head of
the family. He was received with the greatest consideration
by the Abbaside general, " who kissed his hand, and seated
him in the place of honour," x and told him that it was Abu
Muslim's orders that he should be obeyed in all things. Abu
Salma's vanity was flattered, but as yet he was wholly unaware
of the Abbaside design. A proclamation was issued in the
joint names of Abu Salma and Hasan ibn Kahtaba, inviting
the inhabitants of Kufa to assemble the next day at the Masjid-
al-Jdmi' (the public mosque). The people flocked to the
mosque expecting some announcement ; but the plot had not
yet thickened, and Hasan and the other Abbaside partisans
considered the moment inopportune for the proclamation of
their design. In the meantime, Abu'l Abbas, with his brother
Abu Ja'far, had successfully evaded the Ommeyyade guards,
and had arrived at Kufa, where they kept themselves con-
cealed, waiting for the next event of the drama. Abu Salma,
who was still faithful to the masters he purported to serve,
sent a message secretly to the Imam (Ja'far as-Sadik) to come
and take up his right. The Imam, knowing well the nature of

1 Rouzat-us-Safd ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. v. p. 312 et seq.


Irakian communications, burnt the missive unopened. But
before any answer could reach Abu Salma, he had already
accepted Abu'l Abbas as the Caliph. He then issued a pro-
clamation, still acting ostensibly in the name of the Ahl-ul-bait,
inviting the inhabitants, one and all, to assemble on the follow-
ing day, which was a Friday, to elect a Caliph. On that day
Kufa presented a strange aspect. Large crowds of people,
clothed in the sable garments of the Bani-Abbas, were hastening
from every quarter to the Masjid-al-jdmi' to hear the long-
deferred announcement. In due time Abu Salma appeared on
the scene, and, strangely, dressed in the same sombre black.
Few, excepting the partisans of Abu'l Abbas, knew how he
had come to sell himself to the Abbaside cause. He preferred
his head to the interests of his masters. After leading the
prayers he explained to the assemblage the object of the
meeting. Abu Muslim, he said, the defender of the Faith and
the upholder of the right of the House, had hurled the Ommey-
yades from the height of their iniquity ; it was now necessary
to elect an Imam and Caliph ; there was none so eminent for
piety, ability, and all the virtues requisite for the office as
Abu'l Abbas ; and him he offered to the Faithful for election.
Up to this Abu Salma and the Abbasides were dubious of the
impression on the people. They were afraid that even the
Kufians might not view their treachery to the house of Ah
with approbation. But the proverbial fickleness of the Irakians
was now proved. They had again and again risen in arms in
support of the Fatimide cause, and as often betrayed those
whom they had pledged themselves to help or whose help they
had invoked. Swayed by the passing whim of the moment,
they had as often shown themselves to be traitors, as the
defenders of truth. After the massacre of Kerbela they had
been so struck with remorse that twenty thousand of them,
after spending a night over the tomb of Husain praying for
forgiveness, had hurled themselves against the serried legions
of Yezid. But the remorse did not last long ; fickle and
turbulent, faithless and unreliable, Hajjaj ibn-Yusuf, the
veritable " Scourge of God," had alone kept them in order.
And now, no sooner had the words passed from the lips of
Abu Salma, proposing Abu'l Abbas as the Caliph, than they


burst forth with loud acclamations of the takbir l signifying
their approval. A messenger was sent in haste to fetch Abu'l
Abbas from his concealment, and when he arrived at the
mosque there was a frantic rush on the part of the multitude
to take his hand and swear fealty. The election was complete.
He ascended the pulpit, recited the khutba, and was henceforth
the Imam and Caliph of the Moslems. 2 Thus rose the Abbas-
ides to power on the popularity of the children of Fatima,
whom they repaid afterwards in a different coin. The greed
of earthly power is the worst form of ambition. It has caused
greater disasters to humanity than any other manifestation of
human passion. It never hesitates as to the choice of means
to attain its object ; it uses indiscriminately both crime and
virtue, the one to disguise its design, the other to achieve its
ends. It has even pressed religion into its service. Ambition
disguised in the cloak of religion has been productive of fearful
calamities to mankind. The popes of Rome, in their incessant
endeavour to maintain unimpaired their temporal power,
deluged the civilised world with human blood. The pontiffs
of Islam, Abbaside, Egyptian Fatimide, and Ommeyyade,
seized with avidity upon the claim prepared by willing minions
to supreme spiritual and temporal rule, and in their desire to
maintain the undivided allegiance of their subjects, caused
equal bloodshed and strife in the bosom of Islam.

The early Abbaside Caliphs were men of great ability, and
possessed of vast foresight and statesmanship. From the
moment they were raised to the Caliphate by the acclamation
of the people of Kufa, they directed their whole energy towards
consolidating the spiritual and temporal power in their hands,
and to give shape and consistency to the doctrine of divine
sanction to popular election. Henceforth it became a point
of vital importance to disavow the principle of apostolical
succession by descent, and to make the election by the people
almost sacramental.

During Saffah's 3 reign, Abu Muslim enjoyed some considera-

1 I.e. Alldho-Akbar, God is great.

2 For a full account, see The Short History of the Saracens (Macmillan) .

3 Abu'l Abbas Abdullah received the title of Saffah, " blood-spiller," or
"sanguinary," on account of his unsparing use of the sword against his


tion, but the king-maker was hated and suspected for his ill-
concealed Fatimide proclivities. Under Saff all's successor he
was accused of heresy — stigmatised with the opprobrious epithet
of Zendik l — and killed. The pure and unsullied lives of the
leading representatives of the House of Mohammed, the extreme
veneration in which they were held by the people, frequently
evoked the jealousy of the Abbasides, and exposed the children
of Fatima to periodic outbursts of persecution. Harun de-
stroyed the Barmekides, who were the bulwarks of his empire
and had made for him the fame which he so largely appropriated,
solely on suspicion of conspiracy with the Fatimides. This
state of affairs lasted until the reign of Abdullah al-Mamun,
the noblest Caliph of the house of Abbas, who, on his accession
to the Caliphate, resolved to restore to the children of Fatima
their just rights. He accordingly named Ali ibn Musa, sur-
named Riza (" the acceptable or agreeable "), the eighth Imam
of the Fatimides, as his successor, and gave his sister Umm
ul-Fazl in marriage to this prince. He also abandoned the
black, the Abbaside colour, in favour of the green, which was
the recognised standard of the Fatimides. 2 Ali ibn Musa
ar-Riza was poisoned by the infuriated Abbasides, and Mamun
was forced to resume the black as the colour of his house. The
tolerance shown by him to the Fatimides was continued by his
two immediate successors (Mu'tasim and Wasik). 3 The acces-
sion of Mutawakkil was the signal for a new and fierce per-
secution, which lasted during the whole fifteen years of a reign
signalised by gross cruelty and debauchery. He was succeeded
by his son Muntasir, whose first care was to restore the tombs
of Ali and Husain, destroyed by Mutawakkil, and to re-
establish the sacredness of their memory so wantonly outraged
by his father. The sagacity of this Caliph was imitated by his
successors, and some degree of toleration was thenceforward
extended to the Shiahs. In the year 334 a.h. (a.c. 945) Muizz
ud-dowla (the Deilemite), of the House of Buwaih, became the

enemies ; one of his successors (Mu'tazid b'illah) received the title of Saffah
as-Sani (Saffah II.), and the Ottoman, Selim I., bore the same designation.

1 I.e. a Magian, Guebre, from Zend.

2 The Fatimides had adopted green, the colour of the Prophet, as the symbol
of their cause ; the Bani-Ommeyya, the white ; and the Bani-Abbas, black.

3 Mu'tasim-b'illah (Mohammed) and Wasik b'illah (Harun).


Mayor of the Palace at Bagdad. An enthusiastic partisan of
the Fatimides, he entertained at one time the design of deposing
the Abbaside Caliph Muti'ullah, and placing in his stead some
scion of the house of Ali, but was restrained by motives of
policy from carrying this project into effect. Muizz ud-dowla
also instituted the Yanm-i-'dshura, the day of mourning, in
commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussain and his family
on the plains of Kerbela. In the year a.h. 645 (a.c. 1247),
under Musta'sim b'illah, another fierce persecution of the
Shiahs broke out, the consequences of which proved in the end
disastrous to Saracenic civilisation, engulfing in one common
ruin the Western Asians. Impelled by the perfidious counsels
of the fanatics who surrounded him, this imbecile pontiff of
the Sunni Church doomed the entire male population of the
Shiahs to massacre. By a terrible edict, which reminds us of
the fate of the Albigenses and the Huguenots, he permitted the
orthodox to plunder the goods, demolish the houses, ravage
the fields, and reduce to slavery the women and children of
the Shiahs. This atrocious conduct brought upon the ill-fated
city of Bagdad the arms of the avenging Hulaku, the grandson
of Chengiz. For three days the Tartar chief gave up the town
to rapine and slaughter. On the third day the thirty-seventh
Caliph of the house of Abbas was put to death with every
circumstance of ignominy ; and so ended the Abbaside
dynasty ! *

Until the time of Mu'awiyah the adherents of the Ahl-ul-bait 2
had not assumed or adopted any distinctive appellation. They

1 A scion of the house of Abbas escaped into Egypt, and the titular Caliphate
flourished there until the Ottoman Selim obtained a renunciation in his favour
from the last of the Abbasides ; see ante, p. 130.

2 The Ahl-ul-bait, " People of the House " (of Mohammed), is the designa-
tion usually given to Fatima and Ali and their children and descendants.
This is the name by which Ibn-Khaldun invariably designates them, and
their followers and disciples, — the Shiahs or adherents of the " People of the
House." Sanai represents the general feeling with which the descendants
of Mohammed were regarded in the following verse : —

" Excepting the Book of God and his family (descendants) nothing has
been left by Ahmed the Prophet, memorials such as these can never be obtained
till the Day of Judgment."


were known simply as the Bani-Hashim. There was no differ-
ence between the Bani-Fatima and the Bani- Abbas ; they were
all connected with each other by the closest ties of blood. After
Mu'awiyah's seizure of the sovereign power the followers of the
House of Mohammed began to call themselves Shiahs (adherents
and their enemies either Nawdsib (rebels) or Khawdrij (insur-
gents or deserters). 1 The Ommeyyades called themselves
Amawis (children of Ommeyya). As yet the name of Ahl-us-
Sunnat wal Jama' at was wholly unknown. Under Mansur and
Harun this designation first came into existence. In the tenth
century, a member of the house of Ali wrested Egypt from the
Abbasides, and established a dynasty which ruled over that
country and Syria until the rise of Saladin. The anathemas
which the Caliphs of Bagdad and Cairo hurled at each other,
the multitudinous traditions which were unearthed to demolish
the claims of the one and the other, and the fatwas emanating
from the doctors of the two Caliphates, accentuated the strife
and bitterness of partisans. Saladin overthrew the Fatimide
dynasty in Egypt, and restored the predominance of the Sunni
Church in Eastern Africa. Various other branches of the
Bani-Fatima, however, succeeded in establishing the supremacy
of their family in different parts of the two continents. 2 The
Isnd-'asharias 3 alone, the followers of the saintly Imams, who
reprehended the use of force, and who claimed and exercised
only a spiritual dominion, maintained an attitude of complete
withdrawal from temporal interests, until Shah Ismail the
great Safawi monarch made I snd-' ashariaism the State religion
of Persia. Himself a philosopher and a Sufi, he perceived in
the sympathy and devotion of the people to the House of
Mohammed, whose descendant he was, a means of national
awakening and consolidation. Since then I snd-' ashariaism is
the national church of Persia.

1 The name of Khawarij was especially given to the troops who deserted
Ah at Dumat ul-Jandal and formed a confederacy hostile to Islam, and was
afterwards applied to those who adopted their pernicious doctrines ; see post.

2 Besides the Bani-Fatima of Egypt, other branches of Fatimides have
ruled under the different denominations of Ameer, Imam, Sharif, and Caliph
in different parts of the Musulman world, such as the Bani-Ukhaydur, the
Bani-Musa, the Bani-Kitadah at Mecca, the Bani-Taba-Taba in Northern
Yemen, the Bani-Ziyad in Southern Yemen, and the Bani-Idris in Morocco.

3 Isnd with a O ; see post.


The Bahmani and 'Adil Shahi dynasties of Southern India
which Aurungzeb overthrew, thus paving the way for the rise
of the Mahratta marauders whom the Bahmani sovereigns had
kept in check with an iron hand, were attached to the doctrines
of the Imams. Such has been the political fate of the Fatimides,
which has left its impress on their doctrines.

The title of the Bani-Abbas to the spiritual and temporal
headship of Islam was founded on bai'at or nominal election.
Since Saffah's accession, the Abbaside Caliphs had taken the
precaution of obtaining during their lifetime the fealty of the
chiefs for their intended successors. And it became necessary
to impress on the doctrine of election a sanctity derived from
precedent and ancient practice. The rise of the Fatimides in
Egypt, their persistent endeavour to wrest the dominion of the
East from the Caliphs of Bagdad, made it doubly necessary
to controvert the pretensions of the children of Fatima,
and to give form and consistency to the orthodox doctrines
recognising the Abbaside Pontiffs as the spiritual chiefs
of Islam. 1

Every corner of Irak and Hijaz was ransacked for traditions
in support of the right of the house of Abbas. The doctors of
law were required to formulate the principles of orthodoxy in
explicit terms : and gradually the grand superstructure of the
Sunni church was raised on the narrow foundations of Abbaside
self-interest. Much of the success of the doctors and legists
who assisted in the growth and development of Sunnism was
due to the Manichaeism of the Egyptian Fatimides. The nature
of their doctrines, which were at variance with the teachings

1 Arslan al-Basasiri, a general in the service of the Abbasides, but an
adherent of the Egyptian Fatimides, drove al-Kaim-ba-amr illah, the then
Caliph of Bagdad, from the city, and compelled him to take refuge with
the phylarch of the Arabs (the Ameer-ul-Arab, a title analogous to the
Il-Khani of Persia), until restored by Tughril, the father of Alp Arslan and
the founder of the Seljukide dynasty. During the whole of this period the
Khutba was read in Bagdad itself in the name of the Fatimide Caliph. The
Khutba is the name given to the sermon pronounced on Fridays from the
pulpits of the great mosques in all Moslem countries ; it begins by a declara-
tion of God's attributes and unity, and an invocation of His blessings upon
the Prophet, his family, and successors; then follows a prayer for the
reigning Caliph and for the prince who exercises civil power in the State.
The right of being named in the Khutba and that of coining money are two
of the principal privileges possessed by the temporal sovereign, and the
special marks of his legitimacy.


of both the Shiah Imams and the Sunni doctors ; the assassi-
nations of the best men committed at the instance of Hasan
Sabbah (" the Old Man of the Mountain ") ; the disintegrating
character of the heresies, which under the influence of the
ancient Chaldaeo-Magism had sprung up in various quarters,
and which were subversive of all order and morality, — added
greatly to the strength of a system which formed, in the opinion
of the masses, a bulwark against the enemies of Islam. The
Shiah Imams strongly condemned the impious or communistic
doctrines of the antitypes of Mani and Mazdak, but they lacked
the power, even if willing to use it, to suppress heresy or enforce
uniformity. Sunnism, associated with the temporal power of
the Abbaside Caliphs, possessed the means and used it, and
thereby won the sympathy and acceptance of all who cared
little about the disputes on the abstract question of apostolical

Until the rise of the House of Abbas there was little or no
difference between the assertors of the right of the Ahl-ul-bait
to the pontificate and the upholders of the right of the people
to elect their own spiritual and temporal chiefs. The people
of Hijaz and the Medinite Ansar especially, who were so ruth-

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 35 of 55)