Syed Ameer Ali.

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Azdrika, in denouncing and anathematising the chief com-
panions of the Prophet (the Ashdb-i-Kabdr).

The Ibddhias have held Oman until now. Sore pressed by
the Wahabis, they have succeeded in maintaining their power
on the coast of Eastern Arabia, but they seem to be fast merging
into the general body of Sunnis.

The Wahabis have been depicted in rather favourable colours
by Mr. Palgrave, in his Travels in Central Arabia, but, in fact,
they are the direct descendants of the Azdrika, who, after
their defeat by Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, had taken refuge in the
recesses of Central Arabia. Abdul Wahab's doctrines bear the
closest resemblance to those held so fiercely by the followers of
Nafe ibn al-Azrak. Like them, the Wahabis designate all
other Moslems as unbelievers, and permit their despoilment
and enslavement. However commendable their revolt against
the anthropolatrous usages in vogue among the modern
Moslems, their views of religion and divine government, like
those of the Ikhwdn of the present day in Nejd, are intensely
morose and Calvinistic, and in absolute conflict with progress
and development.

Babism, which made its appearance in Persia in the early
part of the nineteenth century, has been represented in widely
divergent colours. According to the Moslem authorities, it is
nothing but a new form of Mazdakism, an Eastern socialistic
communism. Its mixed gatherings of men and women are
regarded in the same light as the ancient Agape?- of the primitive
Christians were considered by the followers of the older faiths.
On the other hand, a European scholar x of great research and
learning, who has studied the religious literature of the Babis,
and mixed familiarly with them, represents Babism as the
latest expression of an eclectic evolution growing out of the
innate pantheism of the Iranian mind.

During the reign of Mohammed Shah, 2 the hypocrisy and
vices of the national clergy, says this writer, had reached
such a pitch that a change was inevitable. The political
and social condition of the people was deplorable. In this

2 The third Kajar King of Persia, who ascended the throne on the death
of his grandfather, Fathi Ali Shah.


state of affairs a young Mullah of Shiraz, Mirza Ali Mo-
hammed, supposed to be a Fatimide by descent, who had
studied much, had travelled a great deal and made the
pilgrimage to the holy cities, and had for many years resided
in Arabia and Syria, began to preach a social and moral
reform. He denounced the hypocrisy of the ordinary mullahs,
and their reception of the most doubtful traditions to justify
practices condemned by Islam. His words struck a sym-
pathetic chord in minds already prepared for the reception of
his views, and evoked extraordinary enthusiasm. He obtained
numerous disciples, among them a young lady of Kazwin,
whose learning and eloquence supplied a powerful support to
his cause. She is venerated now as Kurrat-ul-'Ayn, " Light of
the Eyes." Mirza Ali Mohammed, either carried away by the
enthusiasm of his followers, or unhinged by his own exaltation,
in a fit of pantheistical insanity, assumed the title of Bab
Hazrat-i-a'ala, and styled himself a part of the Divinity. His
followers rose in arms against the constituted authorities and
failed. The fanaticism of the clergy and political expediency
gave rise to a persecution, for which even Gobineau thinks the
Babis were primarily responsible. The Bab was killed with
most of his prominent disciples. But his teachings have
survived. His social precepts are said by Gobineau to be
much in advance of the received doctrines. He attached great
importance to the marriage-relations, and during the con-
tinuance of the first marriage he allowed the taking of a second
wife only under certain conditions. He absolutely interdicted
concubinage, forbade divorce, and allowed the appearance of
women in public. The custom of seclusion, as Gobineau justly
observes, creates infinite disorders, and exercises a pernicious
influence on the early education of children. The usage itself
does not depend on any religious prescription, it is simply a
convenience. The ancient kings of Persia observed it as a sign
of grandeur, and the Moslem sovereigns and chiefs imitated
their example, and adopted the custom. Among the Arabs
the women of the tribes are perfectly free to move about as
they wish. The ladies of the Prophet's family conversed with
the disciples, received their visits, and often shared in the
repasts of the men. Mirza Ali Mohammed therefore, says


Gobineau, made no innovation in endeavouring to free women
from the bondage of a mischievous custom. His religious
doctrines are essentially pantheistic, and his code of morals,
far from being lax, is strict and rigid. 1

Some Moslem writers have divided the religious sects into
two comprehensive groups, viz. the Ahl-ul-bdtin, the Intui-
tionalists, and the Ahl-uz-zdhir , those who look into the meaning of
precepts, and those who look only to the literal sense. The Ahl-ul-
bdtin, however, must not be confounded with the Batinis.
The Ahl-ul-bdtin include the mystical Sufis, the philosophical
mutakallimin, and the Idealists in general, " all those," to use
the words of Zamakhshari's comment, " who strive to implant
in their hearts the roots of divine perfection," who strive and
struggle to attain the highest standard of human excellence,
and who, whilst conforming to the prescriptions of the law,
perceive in them the divine intent to promote concord and
harmony among the races of the earth, peace and goodwill
among mankind. 2

1 The most recent account of this remarkable religious movement, from
the Babi point of view, is to be found in Professor E. G. Browne's New History
of the Bab, which purports to be a translation of a Babi work called Tdrtkh-i-
Jadid. Professor Browne's Introduction is extremely interesting. From the
Tarikh one can picture the fascinating personality of Knrrat-ul-'Ayn ; see
Appendix III. This great scholar has given to the world in his new work,
called Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion, considerable additional
information regarding its development and diffusion. Bahaism, its latest
phase, which flourishes chiefly in the United States of America, appears to
have largely assimilated the doctrines of Christian Science.

2 See post, chap. xi.


L,i' tltt'i sJSj' } I't'S-c A*xUJ ; Js'oUx 4Ui.k j jl^o. I

WE have already referred to the Arabian Prophet's
devotion to knowledge and science as distinguishing
him from all other Teachers, and bringing him into
the closest affinity with the modern world of thought. Medina,
the seat of the theocratic commonwealth of Islam, had, after
the fall of Mecca, become the centre of attraction, not to the
hosts of Arabia only, but also to inquirers from abroad. Here
nocked the Persian, the Greek, the Syrian, the Irakian, and
African of diverse hues and nationalities from the north and
the west. Some, no doubt, came from curiosity, but most
came to seek knowledge and to listen to the words of the Prophet
of Islam. He preached of the value of knowledge : " Acquire
knowledge, because he who acquires it in the way of the Lord
performs an act of piety ; who speaks of it, praises the Lord ;
who seeks it, adores God ; who dispenses instruction in it,
bestows alms ; and who imparts it to its fitting objects, per-
forms an act of devotion to God. Knowledge enables its
possessor to distinguish what is forbidden from what is not ;
it lights the way to Heaven ; it is our friend in the desert, our
society in solitude, our companion when bereft of friends ; it
guides us to happiness ; it sustains us in misery ; it is our
ornament in the company of friends ; it serves as an armour

1 The translation of this Hadis is given in the text : " Acquire knowledge,


against our enemies. With knowledge, the servant of God
rises to the heights of goodness and to a noble position,
associates with sovereigns in this world, and attains to the
perfection of happiness in the next." 1

He would often say, " the ink of the scholar is more holy
than the blood of the martyr " ; and repeatedly impress on his
disciples the necessity of seeking for knowledge " even unto
China." 2 "He who leaves his home in search of knowledge,
walks in the path of God." " He who travels in search of
knowledge, to him God shows the way to paradise." 3

The Koran itself bears testimony to the supreme value of
learning and science. Commenting on the Surat-ul-'alak*
Zamakhshari thus explains the meaning of the Koranic words :
" God taught human beings that which they did not know, and
this testineth to the greatness of His beneficence, for He has
given to His servants knowledge of that which they did not
know. And He has brought them out of the darkness of
ignorance to the light of knowledge, and made them aware of
the inestimable blessings of the knowledge of writing, for great
benefits accrue therefrom which God alone compasseth ; and
without the knowledge of writing no other knowledge ('ulum)
could be comprehended, nor the sciences placed within bounds,
nor the history of the ancients be acquired and their sayings
be recorded, nor the revealed books be written ; and if that
knowledge did not exist, the affairs of religion and the world,
UjjJi j ^j^i^t, could not be regulated."

Up to the time of the Islamic Dispensation, the Arab world,
properly so called, restricted within the Peninsula of Arabia
and some outlying tracts to the north-west and the north-east,
had shown no signs of intellectual growth. Poetry, oratory,
and judicial astrology formed the favourite objects of pursuit
among the pre-Islamic Arabs. Science and literature pos-
sessed no votaries. But the words of the Prophet gave a new
impulse to the awakened energies of the race. Even within

1 Tradition from the Bihdr-ul-Anwdr of Mulla Bakir ibn Mohammed Taki
al-majlisi, vol. i. chap, on Knowledge, handed down by the Imam Ja'far
as-Sadik, also quoted from Mu'az ibn-Jabal in the Mustatraf, chap. iv. ; also
in the Kashf nz-Zunun of Haji Khalifa, Fluegel's ed. p. 44.

2 Misbdh ttsh-Shartat. 3 J ami' nl-Akhbdr.
4 Koran, sura xcvi. ; see also other suras.


his lifetime was formed the nucleus of an educational institution,
which in after years grew into universities at Bagdad and
Salerno, at Cairo and Cordova. Here preached the Master
himself on the cultivation of a holy spirit : " One hour's
meditation on the work of the Creator [in a devout spirit] is
better than seventy years of prayer." * "To listen to the
instructions of science and learning for one hour is more meri-
torious than attending the funerals of a thousand martyrs, —
more meritorious than standing up in prayer for a thousand
nights ; " "To the student who goes forth in quest of know-
ledge, God will allot a high place in the mansions of bliss ; every
step he takes is blessed, and every lesson he receives has its
reward ; " " The seeker of knowledge will be greeted in Heaven
with a welcome from the angels ; " "to listen to the words of
the learned, and to instil into the heart the lessons of science,
is better than religious exercises, . . . better than emancipating
a hundred slaves ; " " Him who favours learning and the
learned, God will favour in the next world ; " " He who honours
the learned honours me." Ali lectured on branches of learning
most suited to the wants of the infant commonwealth. Among
his recorded sayings are the following : " Eminence in science
is the highest of honours ; " "He dies not who gives life to
learning ; " " The greatest ornament of a man is erudition."

Naturally such sentiments on the part of the Master and the
chief of the Disciples gave rise to a liberal policy, and animated
all classes with a desire for learning. The art of Kuric writing,
which had just been acquired by a disciple at Hira, furthered
the primitive development of the Moslems. It was, however,
pre-eminently an age of earnestness and faith, marked by the
uprise of the soul against the domination of aimless, lifeless
philosophy. The practice of religion, the conservation of a
devotional spirit, and the special cultivation of those branches
of learning which were of practical value in the battle of every-
day life, were the primary objects of the Moslem's attention.

The age of speculation was soon to commence ; its germs were
contained in the positive precepts of the Master ; and even
whilst he was working, the scholarly Disciple was thinking.
The Master had himself declared that whosoever desired to

1 J ami' ul-AhhbaY.


realise the spirit of his teachings must listen to the words of the
Scholar. 1 Who more able to grasp the meaning of the Master's
words than Ali, the beloved friend, the trusted Disciple, the
devoted cousin and son ? The gentle, calm teachings instilled
in early life into the young mind bore their fruit.

In spite of the upheaval of the Arab race under the early
Caliphs, literature and arts were by no means neglected in the
metropolis of primitive Islam. Ali and Ibn Abbas, his cousin,
gave public lectures on poetry, grammar, history, and mathe-
matics ; others taught the art of recitation or elocution ;
whilst some gave lessons in caligraphy, — in ancient times an
invaluable branch of knowledge.

On Osman's tragical death the Scholar was called by the
voice of the people to the helm of the State. During his retire-
ment Ali had devoted himself to the study of the Master's
precepts by the light of reason. " But for his assassination,"
to quote the language of a French historian, " the Moslem
world might have witnessed the realisation of the Prophet's
teachings, in the actual amalgamation of Reason with Law,
and in the impersonation of the first principles of true philosophy
in positive action." The same passionate devotion to know-
ledge and learning which distinguished Mohammed, breathed
in every word of his Disciple. With a liberality of mind — far
beyond that of the age in which he lived — was joined a sincere
devoutness of spirit and earnestness of faith. His sermons,
faithfully preserved by one of his descendants, and his litanies
or psalms, portray a devout uplooking toward the Source of
All Good, and an unbounded faith in humanity. The accession
of the Ommeyyades to the rulership of Islam was a blow to
the progress of knowledge and liberalism in the Moslem world.
Their stormy reigns left the nation little leisure to devote to
the gentler pursuits of science ; and to this, among the
sovereigns, was joined a characteristic idolatry of the past.
Their thoughts were engrossed by war and politics. During
the comparatively long rule of a century, the House of

1 ^ J c fl*JI Hjj." Ul

" I am the city of learning, Ali is its gate."


Ommeyya produced only one man devoted to the cultivation
of letters ; and this man was Abu Hashim Khalid ibn Yezid,
" the philosopher of the Merwanian family," x as he has been
called, who was set aside from the succession on account of his

The jealous suspicion and the untiring animosity of the
children of Abu Siriian and Hind had obliged the descendants
of the Prophet to live a life of humble retirement. " In the
night of misery and unhappiness " they followed truly and
faithfully the precepts of their ancestor, and found consolation
in intellectual pursuits. Their ardent love of knowledge, their
passionate devotion to the cause of humanity, — their spirit
looking upwards far above the literalness of common interpreta-
tions of the law, — show the spirituality and expansiveness of
Islam. 2 The definition by the Imam Ja'far as-Sadik of sciences
or knowledge gives some idea of their faith in the progress of
man : " The enlightenment of the heart is its essence ; Truth
its principal object ; Inspiration, its guide ; Reason, its
accepter ; God, its inspirer ; and the words of man its utterer." 3

Surrounded by men whom love, devotion, and sympathy
with their patience had gathered around them, the early
descendants of the Prophet were naturally more or less in-
fluenced by the varied ideas of their followers. Yet their
philosophy never sinks to that war of words without life and
without earnestness which characterised the schools of Athens
or Alexandria under the Ptolemies.

But though literature and philosophy were at a discount
among the rulers, the example of the Imams naturally exercised
no small influence on the intellectual activity of the Arabs and
the subject races. Whilst the Ommeyyades discouraged the
peaceful pursuits of the mind, the children of Fatima, with
remarkable liberalism, favoured learning. They were not

1 M&khaz-i-'ulAm of Moulvi Syed Keramat Ali. This learned scholar was
nearly forty years curator of the Imambara at Houghly.

2 See the Hadis-i-Ihlilaj, from the Imam Ali bin-Musa ar-Raza, reported
by Mufazal bin-Omar Joufi, Bihar ul- Anwar.

3 Tarikh ul-Hukama, by Jamal ud-din al-Kifti, founded upon another work
bearing the same name, by Shihab ud-din Suhrwardi ; Shihab ud-din was a
Platonist — an Ishraki — an idealist, and was condemned and put to death by
the orthodox synod in the reign of Saladin's son. Compare the first Khutba
of the Nahj-ul-Balaghat, and the traditions on knowledge in the Bihar ul- Anwar.


devoted to the past, — the salaf was not their guide. With
the Master's precepts to light their path, they kept in view the
development of humanity, and devoted themselves to the
cultivation of science and learning in all its branches. Like
the Master and the early Caliphs, the " Philosophers of the
House of Mohammed " x received with distinction the learned
men whom the fanatical persecution of Justinian's successors
drove for refuge into foreign lands. The academies of philo-
sophy and medicine, founded by the Nestorians at Edessa and
Nisibis, had been broken up ; its professors and students were
refugees in Persia and Arabia. Many betook themselves— as
their predecessors had done before, in the time of the Prophet
and the Caliph Abu Bakr— to Medina, which, after its sack by
the Ommeyyades, had again gathered round Ja'far as-Sadik
a galaxy of talented scholars. The concourse of many and
varied minds in the City of the Prophet gave an impetus to the
cultivation of science and literature among the Moslems. From
Medina a stream of unusual intellectual activity flowed towards
Damascus. Situated on the northern confines of the Arabian
Desert, along the trade-route from Mecca and Medina to Syria,
Damascus had been associated from ancient times with the
Ommeyyades ; and the Syrian Arabs were closely allied by
interest and kinship to the family whom they had assisted to
elevate to the rulership of Islam. The Ommeyyades had
naturally fixed upon this city as the seat of their empire ; and
though shunned with horror by the devout Moslems, it formed
the gathering place for the representatives of the many races
who had come under the sway of Islam. The controversies of
Greek and Saracen furnished a strong incentive to the study of
dialectics and Greek philosophy ; and the invention of the
diacritical and vowel points furthered the cultivation of
grammar and philology. At this time flourished two Christian
writers of note, who, fleeing before their orthodox persecutors,
had taken shelter in Damascus. These were Johannes Damas-
cenus and Theodorus Abucara. Their polemical writings
against the Moslems, their rationalistic and philosophical
disputes with their own orthodox brethren, joined to the
influence of the Medinite school, which flourished under

1 Makhaz-i-'Ulwn.


Mohammed al-Bakir andja'far as-Sadik, soon led to the growth
of philosophical tendencies among the Saracens. For centuries
Greek philosophy had been known to the Persians and the
Arabs ; the Nestorians had spread themselves in the dominions
of the Chosroes since the beginning of Justinian's reign, but it
was not until all the varied elements had been fused into an
organic whole by Islam that Greek science and culture exercised
any real effect on the intellectual development of Western Asia.
It was towards the close of the Ommeyyade rule that several
Moslem thinkers came into prominence, whose lectures on
subjects then uppermost in the minds of the people attracted
great attention. And their ideas and conceptions materially
moulded the thoughts of succeeding generations.

It was in the second century, however, that the literary and
scientific activity of the Moslems commenced in earnest, and
the chief impulse to this was given by the settlement of the
Arabs in towns. Hitherto they had lived in camps isolated
from the races they had subjugated. Osman had laid a pro-
hibition on their acquiring lands in the conquered countries,
or contracting marriages with the subject nations. The object
of this policy was apparent ; it has its parallel in the history
of all nations, ancient and modern. In British India and in
French Algeria it is still in force. During the whole period of
the Ommeyyade rule the Arabs had constituted the dominant
element, — the aristocratic military caste amongst their subjects.
The majority of them were occupied in warlike pursuits. The
gentler avocations of learning and science were left to the
suspected Hashimis and the children of the Ansar, — to the
descendants of Ali, Abu Bakr, and Omar. The Arabs had
carried with them into distant regions the system of clientage
which had existed in Arabia, as it had existed among the
Romans, from ancient times. Clientage afforded to the
subjects protection and consideration ; to the conquerors,
the additional strength gained by numbers. Thus, both in the
East and in the West, the leading families allied themselves with
members of the prominent desert clans, and became the manias
or clients, not freedmen, as has been incorrectly supposed, of
their conquerors. To these clients, besides the Hashimites
and the children of the Ansar and Muhajirin, such as had


survived the sack of Medina, was left scholarship and the
cultivation of arts and sciences during the Ommeyyade rule.
With the rise of the Abbasides commenced a new era. They
rose to power with the assistance of the Persians ; and they
relied for the maintenance of their rule more upon the attach-
ment of the general body of their subjects, than the fickle
affection of the military colonists of Arabia. Abu'l Abbas
Saffah held the reins of government for but two years. His
brother and successor, al-Mansur, though cruel in his treatment
of the Fatimides, was a statesman of the first rank. He
organised the State, established a standing army and a corps
of police, and gave firmness and consistency to the system of
administration. The Arabs had hitherto devoted themselves
almost exclusively to the profession of arms ; the method of
government adopted by al-Mansur gave a new bent to their
genius. They settled in cities, acquired landed properties, and
devoted themselves to the cultivation of letters with the same
ardour which they had displayed in the pursuit of war.

The rich and fertile valley of the Euphrates, watered by the
two great rivers of Western Asia, has, from the most ancient
times, been the seat of empire and the centre of civilisation.
It was in this region that Babylon, Ctesiphon, and Seleucia
had risen successively. Here existed at this epoch Basra and
Kufa, with their unruly and volatile inhabitants. Basra
and Kufa had, from the first conquest of the Moslems,
formed important centres of commercial activity. The latter
city was at one time the seat of government. To Basra
and Kufa had come all the active spirits of the East, who
either could not or would not go to the depraved capital
of the Ommeyyades. For the Abbasides, Damascus had not
only no attraction, but was a place of peril ; and the uncertain
and fickle temperament of the people of Basra and Kufa
made those cities undesirable as the seat of government. Al-
Mansur cast about for a site for his capital, and at last fixed
upon the locality where Bagdad now stands — a six days' journey
by river from Basra.

Bagdad is said to have been a summer retreat of Kesra
Anushirvan, the famous monarch of Persia, and derived from
his reputation as a just ruler the name it bears, — the " Garden


Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 40 of 55)