Syed Ameer Ali.

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

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all Christian countries. Let us hope that the like will be the case for
Islam. Naturally on that day the Shaikh and I will be at one, and
ready to applaud heartily. ... I did not assert that all Musulmans,
without distinction of race, are and always will be sunk in ignorance.
I said that Islamism puts great difficulties in the way of science, and
unfortunately has succeeded for five or six hundred years in almost
suppressing it in the countries under its sway ; and that this is for these
countries a cause of extreme weakness. I believe, in point of fact, that
the regeneration of the Mohammedan countries will not be the work of
Islam ; it will come to pass through the enfeeblement of Islam, as indeed
the great advance of the countries called Christian commenced with the
destruction of the tyrannical church of the Middle Ages. Some persons
have seen in my lecture a thought hostile to the individuals who profess
the Mohammedan religion. That is by no means true ; Musulmans
are themselves the first victims of Islam. More than once in my
Eastern travels I have been in a position to notice how fanaticism
proceeds from a small number of dangerous men who keep the others
in the practice of religion by terror. To emancipate the Musulman
from his religion would be the greatest service that one could render
him. In wishing these populations, in which so many good elements
exist, a deliverance from the yoke that weighs them down, I do not
believe that I have any unkindly thought for them. And, let me say
also, since the Shaikh Jamal ud-din desires me to hold the balance
equally between different faiths, I should not any the more believe that


I was wishing evil of certain European countries if I expressed a hope
that Christianity should have a less dominant influence upon them."

It is a matter of regret that European scholars, generally speaking,
should persist in comparing the lowest form of Islam with the highest
form of Christianity. All religions have different phases ; they vary
according to the climatic and economic conditions of the country, the
environments and education of the people, their national characteristics
and a multitude of other causes. To compare modern idealistic
Christianity with a debased form of Islam is an insult to common sense
and intelligence. In this work I have endeavoured to show how Islam
furthered the intellectual movement of the world, how it brought to life
a dying world, how it promoted culture and civilisation. It was not the
Islam which is professed to-day by the ignorant bigot, the intriguing
self-seeker, but it was nevertheless Islam — Islam in its truest, highest
and noblest sense. I have tried to show the cause of the blight that
has fallen on Moslem nations. It is more than probable that my views
will not satisfy the critic of Islam who has started with a preconceived
bias, or who judges of the Faith by its latter-day professors. All the
same I venture to assert that my statements are founded on historical

One assertion of M. Renan requires a categorical refutation. He
has alleged in his lecture " as a very remarkable thing that among the
philosophers and learned men called Arabic, there was but one alone,
Alkindi, who was of Arabic origin : all the others were Persians, Trans-
oxians, Spaniards, natives of Bokhara, of Samarcand, of Cordova, of
Seville. Not only were those men not Arabs by blood, but they were
in nowise Arabs in mind." The memory of this great French scholar,
whose acquaintance I had the privilege of making, deserves every
respect. But surely this sweeping observation is very wide of the truth.
A glance at the Wafidt til-Ay dn (Ibn Khallikan's great Biographical
Dictionary), the Tdrikh ul-Hukama and other works of the like nature,
will show how utterly unfounded the assertion is. From the genealogy
of the eminent men whose lives are contained in these books, it will be
seen that a vast number of the great scholars, doctors and savants,
although born in places outside Arabia, were Arabs by descent.

Probably M. Renan would not have admitted that Ali (the Caliph)
was a philosopher, but his descendants Ja'far as-Sadik and Ali ar-Riza
were unquestionably entitled to be included in that designation. And
Ja'far as-Sadik was a scientist besides. Jabir ibn Haiyyan (Geber),
the father of modern chemistry, worked in fact with the materials
gathered by Ja'far. It is admitted that Al Kindi, " the Philosopher
of the Arabs," was descended from the royal family of Kinda and was
an Arab of the Arabs. But it is not known that Yahya ibn Ali Mansur
(see ante, p. 374) was a pure Arab. Nor is it known that Ali ibn Yunus
{ante, p. 377) belonged to the tribe of as-Sadaf — " a great branch," says
Ibn Khallikan, " of the tribe of Himyar which settled in Egypt."
Al-Jahiz, Abu Osman Amr al-Kindni al-Laisi, the celebrated Mutazilite


philosopher, who died at Basra in a.h. 255 (868-9 A. a), was a pure
Arab, a member of the tribe of Kinana. Avenpace (ante, p. 428) was a
Tujibite by descent. " Tujibi pronounced also Tajibi," says Ibn
Khallikan, " means descended from Tujib the mother of 'Adi and
Sa'd, the sons of Ashras ibn us-Sakun. She herself was the daughter
of Sauban bin Sulaim ibn Mazis, and her sons were surnamed after her."

The Avenzoars (ante, p. 386) belonged to the Arabian tribe of Iyaz
ibn Nizar, and hence bore the title of al-Iyazi.

The great grammarian al-Khalil ibn Ahmed was a member of the
tribe of Azd. The Spanish historian and philosopher Ibn Bash-kuwal
was a descendant of one of the Medinite Ansar who had settled in Spain.
Mas'udi (ante, p. 390) was a direct descendant of one of the Prophet's
immediate companions and disciples, Ibn Masud, hence the title ;
whilst Ibn ul-Athir was a member of the celebrated tribe of Shaiban.

The political economist and jurisconsult, al-Mawardi, a native of
Basra, was a pure Arab. 1

The soldier, statesman, philosopher and poet, Osama was a member
of the tribe of Kinana.

Sharif al-Murtaza, the author of the Ghurar wa'd Durar, one of the
greatest scholars of his time, was descended from Imam Ali ar-Riza.

Ibn Tufail (ante, pp. 386, 429) was a member of the tribe of Kais, and
hence the title of al-Kaisi.

Ibn Khaldun was descended from an Yemenite family which had
settled in Spain. They came from Hazramaut and were therefore called

I have given only a few names picked out at random, but the curious
reader will find numberless instances in the books I have mentioned. 2

To say that these men were not Arabs and had no Arab blood in
them is surely a bold assertion. I might with equal effrontery assert
that, because Longfellow, Channing, Emerson, Draper were born in
America, they were not Anglo-Saxons.

Ibn Khallikan calls al-Farabi " the greatest philosopher of the
Moslems," and speaks of him in the following terms : —

U*»xi y ^ttXwjJf ) J^aiJl^i i«JuJl.ajJ| v» r s^U» .y x i^t>)\ ^fCsJ|

*#; & &*- r** s ^ r 3 cj**^ 1 4*-^^' ^*-5 c^* J, e/ / *

1 Two of his most important works are the Ahkdm us-Saltdniyyah and
as-Sidsat ul-Mudan, both spoken of highly by Von Hammer.

* See also Wustenf eld's Geschichte der Arabischer Aerzte, Tdrikh ul-Isldm
of Zahabl, and Casiri's Bibliotheca Arabica.


" Abu Nasr Mohammed bin Mohammed bin Turkhan bin Auslagh
al-Farabi at-Turki (the Turk), a celebrated philosopher, author of many-
works in logic, music, and other sciences. He was the greatest of
philosophers among the Moslems, and no one among them attained a
rank equal to his in the sciences. And the chief (of philosophers) Abu
Ali Ibn Sina, whom I have mentioned before, derived benefit from his
writings." (p. 382)

Abu'l Kasim Kinderski was a famous poet and Avicennistic philo-
sopher of Persia in the eighteenth century

Hayy ibn Yakzdn was translated into English and published in
London so long ago as 1686. (p. 429)

Sanai has given expression to his admiration for Ibn Sina and his
devotion to philosophy in the following lines :


" I do not seek for any reward in this world or the next.

" Every moment I pray, whether in prosperity or in adversity.

" O my Lord, bestow on Sanai the proficiency in philosophy and

" Such as would make even the soul of Bu Ali Sina jealous."

The position of Sanai in the world of Islam can be gathered from the
following lines of Jala.1 ud-din Ruml, revered nowadays by educated
Musulmans throughout Asia and Egypt :

(**J ft* > J i{x ~ ji )) u

" 'Attar was its soul [of the philosophy of mysticism], Sanai was its
eyes ; I only walked in the footsteps of 'Attar and Sanai." (p 457)

The reactionary character of the influence exercised by Abu'l Hasan
Ali al-Asha'ri and Ahmed al-Ghazzali can hardly be over-estimated.
It has been happily summed up in a few words by the learned editor of
al-Beiruni's al-Asdr ul-B&kieh — " but for al-Asha'ri and al-Ghazzali the
Arabs might have been a nation of Galileos, Keplers and Newtons."
By their denunciations of science and philosophy, by their exhortations


that besides theology and law no other knowledge was worth acquiring,
they did more to stop the progress of the Moslem world than most other
Moslem scholiasts. And up to this day their example is held forth as a
reason for ignorance and stagnation.

Al-Asha'ri was born at Basra in 883-4 a.c. (270 a.h.), and died at
Bagdad ; but the year of his death is not certain ; it occurred probably
some time between 941 and 952 a.c. (300 and 340 a.h.). He was
originally a Mu'tazili and publicly taught the rationalistic doctrines.
A clever, ambitious man he saw no opportunity of power or influence
among the Rationalists ; an alliance with the party of retrogression
meant fame and tangible reward. He, accordingly, made a public
renunciation of his former creed in man's free will and " of his opinion
that the Koran was created." This happened on a Friday at the
Cathedral mosque of Basra. Whilst seated on his chair lecturing to
his pupils, he suddenly sprang up, and cried aloud to the assembled
multitude : — " They who know me, know who I am, as for those who
do not know me, I shall tell them : I am Ali ibn Isma'il al-Asha'ri,
and I used to hold that the Koran was created, that the eyes {of men)
shall not see God, and that we ourselves are the authors of our evil
deeds ; now I have returned to the truth, I renounce these opinions
and I take the engagement to refute the Mu'tazilites and expose their
infamy and turpitude." And with the recantation of each doctrine
that he formerly professed, he tore off from his person some garment
saying, " I repudiate this belief as I repudiate this dress." First went
the turban, then the mantle and so on. The effect of this theatrical
display was immense among the impressionable inhabitants of Basra,
and the fame of al-Asha'ri spread so rapidly among the people that he
soon became their recognised leader. Ibn Khallikan calls him "a
great upholder of the orthodox doctrines."

Upon the death of the last Fatimide Caliph al-Azid li-din Illah,
Saladin, who was Commander-in-chief and Prime Minister, proclaimed
the Abbaside Mustazii and thus restored Egypt to the spiritual
sovereignty of Bagdad. Asha'rism henceforth became dominant in
that country.

The theological students, who were chiefly the followers of Ibn Hanbal,
under the weaker Abbaside Caliphs became a source of great trouble
in Bagdad. They constituted themselves into a body of irresponsible
censors ; they used forcibly to enter houses, break musical instruments,
and commit similar acts of vandalism.


P. 17. The word Ikra might be rendered also as " recite."

P. 106. The incident to which reference is made in the footnote
at p. 106 has been immortalised by the Persian Poet Sa'di. The poem
opens with the following lines, which are difficult to render properly
into another language :

P. 264. The following lines evince the estimation in which Meshed
is held by the Shiahs

Mash-had afzal tari rui Zamin ast.

Ke dn-jd nur-i Rabb ul-'dlamin ast.
" Mashhad is the most excellent spot on the face of the earth, for there is
to be found the light of the Lord of the Creation (God)."

P. 279. Moslem toleration. — " In the first century of Arab rule,"
says Sir Thomas Arnold in his Preaching of Isldm, " the various
Christian churches enjoyed a toleration and a freedom of religious life,
such as had been unknown for generations under the Byzantine Govern-
ment." And he adds, " In the course of the long struggles with the
Byzantine Empire, the Caliphs had had occasion to distrust the loyalty
of their Christian subjects, and the treachery of Nikophoros was not
improbably one of the reasons for Harun's order that the Christians
should wear a distinctive dress and give up the good posts they held."

Abu Yusuf 's appeal to Harun ar-Rashid on behalf of the non-Moslem
subjects is noteworthy.

" It is incumbent on the Commander of the Faithful (May God grant
thee His aid !) that thou deal gently with those that have a covenant
with thy Prophet and thy cousin Mohammed (the peace and blessing
of God be upon him), and that thou take care that they be not wronged
or ill-treated and that no burden be laid upon them beyond their strength



and that no part of their belongings be taken from them beyond what
they are in duty bound to pay, for it is related of the Apostle of God
(the peace and blessing of God be upon him !) that he said whosoever
wrongs a zimmi or imposes a burden upon him beyond his strength I
shall be his accuser on the Day of Judgment " ; (Arnold).

P. 279. The Zimmis. — The following was the charter granted by
the Caliph Omar at the capitulation of Jerusalem surrendered in 638
a.h. " In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is
the security which Omar the Servant of God, the Commander of the
Faithful, grants to the people of Aelia. He grants to all, whether sick
or sound, security for their lives, their possessions, their churches and
their crosses, and for all that concerns their religion. Their churches
shall not be changed into dwelling places nor destroyed, neither shall
they nor their appurtenances be in any way diminished, nor the crosses
of the inhabitants, nor aught of their possessions, nor shall any con-
straint be put upon them in the matter of their faith, nor shall anyone
of them be harmed " ; Baldzuri, p. 132 ; Kitdb ul-Khardj, p. 54 ; Al-
Makin, Historia Saracenica, p. 11.

Prophet's declaration : — " Whoever wrongs a Zimmi and lays on
him a burden beyond his strength I shall be his accuser."

" Whoever torments the Zimmis torments me."

Omar's injunction to Osman : — " I commend to your care the
Zimmis of the apostle of God ; see that the agreement with them is
kept, and they be defended against their enemies, and that no burden
is laid on them beyond their strength," Abu Yusuf, p. 71.

In similar terms is Ali's injunction to Mohammed Ibn Abu Bakr,
Governor of Egypt in 36 a.h. Tabari, in loco. See also D'Ohsson, p. 44.

P. 285. In the times of the later Abbaside Caliphs three more
Diwdns or departments came into existence, viz., the Diwdn-ul-Kazd
(the Ministry of Justice), the Diwdn ul-'Arz (the Paymaster General's
office), and the Diwdn ut-Tughra ) where the imperial seals were kept
and the documents checked.

P. 288. In my former edition of the book I had said as follows :

" 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 oppres-
sion of their rulers is shown in a remarkable work by the celebrated
publicist Imam Fakhruddin Razi (i.e. of Rhages) on " the Reciprocal
Rights of Sovereigns and Subjects," edited and enlarged afterwards
by Mohammed bin Ali bin Taba Taba, commonly known as Ibn

This statement represents the view commonly entertained by the
Moulvis of India. In his work on the history of Arabic literature
(Weimar and Berlin, 1898-1902), Brockelmann apparently entertained


the same opinion. And he was not singular among the scholars of
Europe on this point. Noel Devergers and apparently de Sacy and
several others were in agreement with him. Hartwig Derenbourg,
however, strongly challenged this view ; and Brockelmann in his later
work {the Nachtrdge, Vol. II. p. 708) altered his opinion. What has
influenced me, however, to cut out the attribution of the authorship
of the Tdrikh ud-duwal to Imam Fakhr ud din Razi is the fact that in
his enumeration of the works of this great scholar Ibn Khallikan does
not include the Tdrikh-ud-duwal. His omission is by no means con-
clusive, for he often leaves out important works, as in the case of Ibn
Ab'il Hadid, to whose great commentary on the Nahj-ul-Baldghat he
does not make the slightest reference. It has, however, been a deter-
mining factor in my omission of the passage in the new edition.

I am indebted to Mr. C. A. Storey of the India Office for the following
passage from Brockelmann's works bearing on this point :

C. Brockelmann in his Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur (Weimar
and Berlin, 1898-1902), Vol. I. p. 506, has the following entry under
Fahraddin Abu 'Abdallah M. b. 'Omar b. al-Hosain b. al Ha$ib ar-

"2. ta'rih adduwal in 2 Teilen : (a) Staatswissenschaft, (b) Gesch.
der 4 ersten Chalifen, der Bujiden, Selguqen und Fatimiden, Paris, 895,
Ausziige von Jourdain, Fundgruben d. Or., V. 23. D. R. Henzius,
Fragmenta Arabica e. Codd. mss. nunc primum ed. (Fachraddini
Razii hist. Chal. prim.) Petrop. 1828."

In the Nachtrdge (Vol. II. p. 705) he has the following entry :

" 506, 6, 2. zu streichen, = al Fahri von b. at Tiqtaqa."

The entry relating to Ibn al Tiqtaqa (Vol. II. p. 161) is as follows :

" M. b. 'Ali b. Tabataba b. aj: Tiqtaqa, geb. um 660/1261, schrieb
701/ 130 1 wahrend eines Aufenthaltes in M6sul fur den dortigen Statt-
halter Fahraddin 'Isa b. Ibrahim :

Al k. al Fahri fi'l adab as Sultanija wad duwal al islamija, Paris 2441,
Fiirstenspiegel und Geschichte der islamischen Reiche von Anfang bis
zu Ende des Chalifats, hrsg. v. W. Ahlwardt, Goth, i860, v. H. Deren-
bourg, Paris, 1895, Bibl. de l'ecole des hautes etudes, fs. 105. Auszug
vom Verf. Paris 2442 ; vgl. Cherbonneau JAP. s. 4 t.7.8.9. a "

A footnote to this page says :

" a Damit identisch ist der ta'HJi^ ad duwal, Bd. I. p. 506 mit Wieder-
holung eines alten Irrtums dem Fahraddin ar Razi zugeschrieben."

P. 288. Justice. — In the Kitdb-ul-Mizdn ul-Hikma (" The Balance
of Wisdom "), written in the 12th century, occurs the following definition
of justice : — " Justice is the stay of all virtues and the support of all
excellences. In order to place justice on the pinnacle of perfection,
the Supreme Creator {al-Bdri Ta'dla) made himself known to the


choicest of His Servants under the name of the Just ; and it was
by the light of justice that the world became complete and perfected
and was brought to perfect order — to which there is allusion in the words
of him on whom there be blessings : *' By Justice were the Heavens
and the Earth established."

P. 340. Although some Western scholars have doubted the accuracy
of the story that Nizam-ul-Mulk, Omar Khayyam and Hasan bin
Sabbah were fellow students, the latest biographer of " The Old Man of
the Mountain " reaffirms that all three were at one time pupils of Imam
Musik ud-din (Muwaffak ud-din) (?). This new life of Hasan Sabbah
is by the pen of a learned Moulvi of Lucknow (Moulvi Abdul Halim
surnamed Shay at), and gives in a short compass an exhaustive and
well-balanced summary of Hasan Sabbah's life and objects, and of the
pernicious character of his propaganda.

P. 340. Hasan Sabbdh. — Moulvi Abdul Halim points out how Hasan
Sabbah's followers worked with hashish in carrying out their pernicious
propaganda ; how they drugged the minds of their proselytes for the
furtherance of their designs against the existing order. He also de-
scribes the hydra-headed character of the occult doctrine professed by
these enemies of society ; how on the destruction of the Kardmita
the Isma'ilias sprang into existence.

P- 359- Bdbis. — The Babis, who have now split up into several
sections, are to be found chiefly in foreign countries. They are said
to abound in the United States ; many of them are settled in Beyrout
and not a few in Bombay and Calcutta. The greatest authority in
England on Babism, Professor E. G. Browne, says that the Babi cult
has nothing in common with Sufism. One fundamental difference
between the two cults lies in their mentality ; whilst Sufism shows
great charity towards differing systems, Babism is intensely exclusive,
not to say fanatical.

P. 400. Safawi. — A new theory appears to have been recently
started attributing the derivation of the term " Safawi," the designation
of the dynasty founded by Shah Isma'il in Persia, to the word Safi
which forms part of the name of Safi-ud-din, the ancestor of Shah
Isma'il ; and not to " Sufi," the title borne by Safi ud-din. To this
theory I venture to enter a respectful protest. For several centuries
after the foundation of the Persian Empire the Shahs of Persia were
styled by European travellers, merchants, and chroniclers " The
Grand Sophi," in contradistinction to " The Grand Mogul " and " The
Grand Turk." The reason is obvious. Among oriental writers the
word " safawi " has always been recognised as derived from Sufi, just
as the other designation of this dynasty, " Musawi," is derived from the
Imam Musa al-Kazim. The Rizawi Syeds trace their descent from
Imam Ali, son of the Imam Musa.

P. 402. The sack of Bagdad. — In the following couplet Sa'di has


expressed his horror at the terrible scenes he witnessed at the sack of
Bagdad :

" It is meet that Heaven should rain tears of blood on earth
At the destruction that has befallen
The Empire of Musta'sim, Commander of the Faithful.
O Mohammed ! If in the Day of Judgment you will raise your

head above the earth
Raise your head and see the tribulation of the people now."
The effect of the picture drawn by the poet is lost in the translation.

£?. J^- O^ jj ^»»Li t Jf'uss j-

P. 406. Predestination. — The following tradition reported by
'Ubayy ibn Ka'b throws considerable light on the view held by the
Prophet on the subject of predestination : — " the most prosperous man
is he who becomes prosperous by his own exertions ; and the most
wretched man is he who becomes wretched by his own actions."

The great Caliph Omar is reported to have inflicted double punish-
ment on a man who was caught in the act of committing an evil deed
and had said in exculpation that he was led to do it by the decree
of God.

Ameer-ul-Mominln Ali (The Caliph), in answer to one of his men who
had fought at Simn, and had enquired whether it was the decree of God
that had led them to Syria, is reported to have said as follows :

" Perhaps you consider predestination to be necessary and the
particular decree to be irreversible ; if it were so, then would reward
and punishment be vain, and the promise and the threat would be of
no account ; and surely blame would not have come from God for the
sinner nor praise for the righteous, nor would the righteous be more
worthy of the reward of his good deeds than the wicked, nor the wicked
be more deserving of the punishment of his sin than the righteous.
Such a remark (savours) of the brethren of devils and the worshippers of
idols and of the enemies of the Merciful and of those who bear witness
to falsehood and of those that are blind to the right in their concerns —
such as the fatalists and the Magians of this church. God hath ordained
the giving of choice (to men) and forbidden the putting (of them) in
fear ; and He hath not laid duties upon men by force, nor sent His
Prophets in sport. This is the notion of unbelievers, and woe unto the
unbelievers in hell ! " Then asked the old man : " What is this pre-
destination and particular decree which drove us ? " He answered :
" The command of God therein and His purpose." Then he repeated
(the verse) : " The Lord hath ordained (predestined) that ye worship
none but Him, and kindness to your parents."



The second apostolical Imam's letter to the people of Basra also
contains the following passage which is worthy of note : " Whoever
makes his Lord responsible for his sin is a transgressor ; God does not

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 52 of 55)