17-23 A.H.   /   638-644 A.D.

17-23 A.H., 638-44 A.D. Quiet in Syria, Arabia, and Egypt.

WHILE Muslim arms were thus rapidly reducing the East under their sway, the wave of conquest which had swept over Syria, and broken threateningly on the southern border of Asia Minor, now for the time relaxed into a calm. After the death of Heraclius there was no longer spirit left in the Empire to continue the struggle by either land or sea. Desultory attempts there were at intervals upon the coast, but followed by no lasting success. Mu'awiya was busy meanwhile consolidating the administration of Syria, and, with sagacious foresight, strengthening his hold against the chances of the future. Elsewhere peace prevailed. 'Amr maintained firm rule in Egypt; and, waging chronic warfare against the Native tribes and Roman settlements on the coast, gradually extended westward the boundaries of Islam. Arabia, still pouring forth its restless spirits to fight abroad, was tranquil at home.

'Omar visits Mecca; enlarges court of Ka'ba.

Besides the journeys in Syria already mentioned, 'Omar quitted his residence at Medina only for the annual Pilgrimage. The governors of the various provinces used to visit Mecca for the same purpose; and the Caliph was wont to improve the opportunity for conferring with them as they returned by way of Medina, on matters of provincial interest. Several years before his death, he spent three weeks at Mecca, and enlarged the space around the Ka'ba. Dwellings that approached too closely to the Holy House were pulled down, and the first step taken to form a grand Square and piazza such as became the place of worship for all mankind. Some owners refused to sell their patrimony; but the houses were demolished nevertheless, and the price in compensation


deposited in the treasury. The boundary pillars of the Haram, or sacred precincts around the City, were renewed; and convenient halting-places constructed at the pilgrim stations, for custody of which and care of the adjoining springs, the local tribes were held responsible.

Disaster in Red Sea, 19 A.H., 640 A.D.

In the seventh year of 'Omar's reign volcanic fires burst from a hill in the neighbourhood of Medina. The Caliph gave command to distribute alms amongst the poor, a pious work in which the people joined; "and so the volcano stopped." In the same year a naval expedition was sent across the Red Sea, to check attacks upon the Muslims on the Abyssinian coast. The vessels were wrecked, and the expedition suffered great privation. The disaster led 'Omar to vow that he would never again permit troops to embark upon an element so treacherous. It was not till some years after his death that the Muslims gathered courage to brave the risks of a naval encounter.

Moghira arraigned on charge of adultery, 17 A.H., 638 A.D.

In the governors appointed to control the turbulent cities of Al-Kufa and Al-Basra, 'Omar was not altogether fortunate. 'Otba, governor of Al-Basra, died, as we have seen, shortly after rescuing the unfortunate expedition to Persepolis. The choice of a successor in Al-Moghira was ill-advised. Of rude and repulsive aspect, he had committed murder in his youth at At-Taif, and Islam had not softened his nature or improved his morals. A harim of fourscore wives and concubines failed to satisfy his vagrant passion. At Al-Basra his movements were watched by enemies, who through an intervening window were witness to an intrigue with a Bedawi lady visiting his house. When he came forth to lead the public prayer, they shouted him down as an adulterer; and 'Omar summoned him to answer the accusation. By any reasonable law of evidence, the crime had been established beyond a doubt; but, under the strange conditions promulgated by Mohammad on the misadventure of his favourite wife, there was a flaw in the testimony of Ziyad, the fourth witness.1 The Caliph, with an ill-concealed groan at the

1 The autoptic witness of four persons is necessary for conviction, the penalty being death; but if the evidence fail of full proof, the witnesses instead are scourged (Life of Mohammad, p. 302 f.). Conviction therefore is, under ordinary circumstances, practically impossible. Al-Moghira felt beholden to Ziyad for his evidence in this matter, as we shall in the sequel see.


miscarriage of justice, ordered the witnesses to be scourged according to the ordinance, and the accused set free. "Strike hard," cried the barefaced Al-Moghira, addressing the unwilling minister of the law;—"strike hard, and comfort my heart thereby!" "Hold thy peace," said 'Omar; "it wanted but little to convict thee; and then thou shouldst have been stoned to death as an adulterer." The culprit was silenced, but not abashed. He continued to reside in Medina, a crafty courtier at the Caliph's gate.

Abu Musa governor of Basra

As successor, 'Omar appointed Abu Musa to the government of Al-Basra, a man of very different stamp. Small of stature, smooth in face, and of little presence, he had yet distinguished himself at Honein, and had been employed as an envoy by the Prophet. He wanted strength and firmness for the stormy times that were coming, but was wise and sufficiently able to hold the restless Bedawin of Al-Basra in check. Belonging to a Bedawi tribe himself, it was perhaps an advantage, in the jealousies now growing up, to be outside the clique of Mecca and Medina citizens. But feeling still the need of such support, he said to 'Omar as he was leaving:"Thou must strengthen my hands with a company of the Companions of the Prophet, for verily they are as salt in the midst of the people"; and his request was granted, for he took nine-and-twenty men of mark along with him. But even Abu Musa was near losing his command, and that in a way which curiously illustrates 'Omar's government. After a successful campaign against the Kurds, he sent, as usual, a deputation to Medina with report of the victory, and the royal fifth. Dabba, a discontented citizen, being refused a place upon it, set out alone to Medina, and there laid charges against Abu Musa, who was summoned by 'Omar to clear himself. After some days of confinement, he was brought before the Caliph, face to face with his accuser.

Accused of malversation 23 A.H., 644 A.D.

The first charge was that a band of youths taken in the expedition were used by him as attendants. "True," said Abu Musa; "they did me good service as guides; therefore I paid their ransom, and now, being free, they serve me." "He speaketh the truth," answered Dabba, "but what I said was also true." The second was that he held two landed properties. "I do," explained Abu Musa; "one for the subsistence of my family, the other for the sustenance of the people." Dabba answered


as before. The third was that the governor had in his household a girl that fared too sumptuously. Abu Musa was silent. Again, he was charged with making over the seals of office to Ziyad; which was admitted by Abu Musa, "because he found the youth to be wise and fit for office." The last charge was that he had given the largess of a thousand dirhems to a poet; and this Abu Musa admitted,—to preserve, as he said, his authority from scurrilous attack. The Caliph was satisfied, and permitted Abu Musa to resume his government, but desired him to send Ziyad and the girl to Medina. On their arrival, 'Omar was so pleased with Ziyad, already foreshadowing his administrative talent, that he sent him back with approval of his employment in the affairs of state; but the girl was detained, perhaps because of her undue influence, in confinement at Medina. With Dabba the Caliph was very angry. Out of malice he had sought to ruin Abu Musa by one-sided allegations. "Truth perverted is no better," said 'Omar, "than a lie; and a lie leadeth to hell-fire."

Sa'd governor of Kufa deposed, 21 A.H., 642 A.D.

Al-Kufa remained several years under its founder Sa'd, the conqueror of Chaldæa At length, in the ninth year of 'Omar's reign, a faction sprang up against him. The Bedawi jealousy of Koreish had already begun to work; and Sa'd was accused of unfairness in distributing the booty. There was imputed also lack of martial spirit and backwardness in the field, a revival of the slanderous charge at Al-Kadisiya. He was summoned, with his accusers, to Medina; but the main offence proved against him was one of little concern to them. In his public ministrations he had cut short the customary prayers; and 'Omar, deeming the misdemeanour to be unpardonable, deposed him. To fill a vacancy requiring unusual skill, experience, and power 'Omar unwisely appointed 'Ammar, who, as a persecuted slave and confessor in the first days of Islam, was second to none in the faith; but a man of no ability, and now advanced in years.1 The citizens of Al-Kufa were not long in finding out his incapacity; and, at their desire, 'Omar transferred Abu Musa from Al-Basra to rule over them. But it was no easy work for him to curb the factious populace. They took offence at his slave for undue influence in buying fodder

1 Life of Mohammad, p. 67 f.


before it crossed the bridge; and for so slight a cause, after he had been Governor but for a year, the Caliph sent him back again to Al-Basra.

Moghira appointed in his room.

'Omar was on the point of making another nomination, when the artful Al-Moghira wormed the secret from him; and, dwelling on the burden of a hundred thousand turbulent citizens, suggested that the candidate in view was not fit to bear it. "But," said 'Omar, "the men of Al-Kufa have pressed me to send them neither a headstrong tyrant, nor a weak and impotent believer." As for a weak believer," answered Al-Moghira, his faith is for himself, his weakness thine; as for a strong tyrant, his tyranny injureth himself, his strength is for thee." 'Omar, caught in the snare, was weak enough to confer on Al-Moghira, his former scandal notwithstanding, the government of Al-Kufa. With all his defects, Al-Moghira was, without doubt, the strong man needed for that stiff-necked city; and he held his position during the two remaining years of 'Omar's reign.

’Abdallah ibn Mas'ud.

About the same time, 'Omar appointed another early convert of singular religious merit, 'Abdallah ibn Mas'ud, who had in early days, like 'Ammar, been a slave at Mecca to a post at Al-Kufa, for which, however, he was better fitted,—the charge of the treasury. He had been the body-servant of the Prophet, who was used to call him "light in body, but weighty in faith."1 He was learned in the Kor'an, and had a "reading" of his own, to which as the best text, he held persistently against all recessions.

Basra additional endowment.

There was still considerable jealousy between Al-Basra and its richer rival. The armies of both had contributed towards the conquest of Khuzistan, and had shared accordingly. But Al-Basra, with its teeming thousands, was comparatively poor; and 'Omar, to equalise the benefits of all who had served in the earlier campaigns, assigned to them increased allowances, to be met from the surplus revenues of the territories administered at Al-Kufa.

Provincial officers civil, military, and religious.

In the more important governments, the judicial office was discharged by a functionary who held his commission as Kadi immediately from the Caliph. The control of other departments remained with the Governor, who, in virtue of his office, led the daily Prayers and, especially on Friday,

1 Life of Mohammad pp. 59, 201.


added an address which had often an important political bearing. Military and fiscal functions, vested at the first, like other powers, in the Governor's hands, came eventually to be discharged by officers specially appointed to the duty. Teachers of religion were commissioned by the State. From the rapidity with which whole peoples were brought within the scope of Islam, risk arose of error in respect both of creed and ritual, to the vast multitude of "New-muslims," as they were called. To obviate the danger, 'Omar appointed masters in every country, whose business it should be to instruct the people—men and women separately—in the Kor'an and its requirements. Early also in his reign, he imposed it, as a legal obligation, that the people, both small and great, should all attend the public services, especially on Friday; and notably that in the month of Fast, the whole body of Muslims should be constant in the assembling of themselves together in the Mosques.

Era of the Hijra 17 A.H.

To 'Omar is popularly ascribed, not only the establishment of the Diwan or Exchequer, and offices of systematic account, but also the regulation of the Arabian year. He introduced for this purpose the Mohammadan Era, commencing with the new moon of the first month (Moharram) of the year in which the Prophet fled from Mecca. Hence the Mohammadan year was named the Hijra, sometimes written Hegira, or "Era of the Flight."1

Deterioration of social and domestic life.

Of the state of Mohammadan society at this period we have not the material for judging closely. Constant employment in the field, no doubt, tended to check the depraving influences which, in times of ease and luxury, relaxed the sanctions and tainted the purity of Bedawi life. But there is ample indication that the relations between the sexes were already deteriorating. The baneful influence of polygamy, divorce, and servile concubinage, was quickened by the multitude of captive women distributed or sold among the soldiers and the community at large. The

1 The calendar was already strictly lunar, as announced by the Prophet at the farewell pilgrimage. But the era, and consequent numbering of the years, was introduced only now. The lunar year is eleven days shorter than the solar, and so loses three years in every century of ours. There is this convenience in the lunar reckoning, that, if the date be given, you can tell the age of the moon; but also this serious want, that the month is no indication of the season of the year.


wife of noble blood held, under the old and chivalrous code of the Bedawin, a position of honour and supremacy in the household, from which she could be ousted by no base-born rival, however fair or fruitful. She was now to be, in the estimation of her husband, but one amongst many. A slave-girl bearing children, became at once, as Um Weled,1 free; and in point of legitimacy her offspring ranked with the children of the free and noble wife. Beauty and blandishment thus too often outshone birth and breeding, and the favourite of the hour displaced her noble mistress.

Story of Leila.

With the coarse sensualist, revelling like Al-Moghira in a harim stocked with Greek and Persian bond-maids, this might have been expected. But it was not less the case in many a house of greater refinement and repute. Some lady, ravished, it may have been, from a noble home, and endowed with the charms and graces of a courtly life, would captivate her master, and for the moment rule supreme. The story of Leila affords a sample That beautiful Ghassanid princess was bought at Duma by Khalid from the common prize. The fame of her charms reached Medina, and kindled a romantic flame in the breast of 'Abd ar-Rahman, son of Abu Bekr. The disconsolate lover ceased not singing his mistress's praises, and his own unhappiness, in verses still preserved. At last he became her master, and she was despatched from the camp to his home. At once he took her to wife. His love was so great that, forsaking all other, he kept only to her, so long as her beauty lasted. She was the queen of his household. After a time she fell sick and began to waste away. The beauty went, and with it the master's love, and her turn came to be forsaken. His comrades said to him: "Why keep her forsaken and neglected thus? Suffer her to go back to her people and her home." So he suffered her. Leila's fate was happy compared with that of most. Tired of his toy, the owner would sell her, if still young and beautiful, to be the plaything of another; or if disease or years had fretted her beauty, leave her to eke out the forlorn, weary, hopeless, lot of a household slave.

1 i.e. "Mother of a child."


Use of wine.

Relaxation of manners is significantly marked by frequent notices of drunkenness. There are not wanting instances even of Governors deposed because of it. 'Omar was rigorous in imposing the legal penalty. He did not shrink from commanding stripes to be inflicted, even on his own son and his boon companions, for the use or wine. At Damascus, the scandal grew to such a height that Abu 'Obeida had to summon a band of citizens, with the hero Dirar at their head, for the offence. Hesitating to enforce the law, he begged of 'Omar that the penitent offenders might be forgiven. An angry answer came:"Gather an assembly," he wrote in the stern language of his early days, and bring them forth. Then ask, Is wine lawful or forbidden? If they shall say forbidden, lay eighty stripes on each; if lawful behead them every one. They confessed that it was forbidden, and submitted to the ignominious punishment.

Influence of concubinage on the family.

Weakness for wine may have been a relic of the days when the poet sang, "Bury me under the roots of the juicy vine." But there were domestic influences altogether new at work in the vast accession of captive women, Greek, Persian, and Egyptian, to the Muslim harims. The Jews and Christians might retain their ancestral faith, whether as concubines, or married to their masters. With their ancestral faith they, no doubt, retained much also of the habits of their fatherland; and the same may be said both of them and of the Heathen and Parsee slave-girls, even when adopting outwardly the Muslim faith. The countless progeny of these alliances, though ostensibly bred in the creed and practice of Islam, must have inherited much of the mother's life and nationality who nursed and brought them up. The crowded harim, with its sanction of servile concubinage, was also an evil school for the rising generation. Wealth, luxury, and idleness were under such circumstances provocative of licence and indulgence, which too often degenerated into intemperance and debauchery.

Prevailing laxity of manners.

For, apart from war and faction, Muslim life was idle and inactive. There was little else to relieve its sanctimonious voluptuousness. The hours not spent in the harim were divided between listless converse in the City


clubs. and prayer at Mosque five times a day. Ladies no longer appeared in public excepting as they flitted along shrouded beneath "the veil." The light and grace, the charm and delicacy, hitherto imparted by their presence to Arab society were gone; the softness, brightness, and warmth of nature, so beautifully portrayed in ancient Arab song, were chilled and overcast. Games of chance, and suchlike amusements, were forbidden; even speculation was checked by the ban on interest for money lent. And so, Muslim life, cut off; beyond the threshold of the harim, from the ameliorating influences of the gentler sex, began to assume outside the dreary, morose, and cheerless aspect ever since retained. But nature is not to be for ever thus pent up; the rebound too often comes; and in casting off its shackles, humanity not seldom bursts likewise through the barriers of the Faith. The gay youth of Islam, cloyed with the dull delights of the sequestered harim, were tempted thus when abroad to evade the restrictions of their creed, and seek in the cup, in music, games, and dissipation, the excitement which the young and lighthearted will demand. In the greater cities, intemperance and libertinism were rife. The canker spread, oftentimes the worse because concealed. The more serious classes were scandalised not only by amusements, luxuries, and voluptuous living, inconsistent with their creed, but even with immoralities which cannot here be named. Development of this evil came later on, but tares were already sown even under the strict regime of 'Omar1.

Simplicty of 'Omar's domestic life.

For the present such excesses prevailed only in foreign parts. At home, the Caliphs, fortified by the hallowed associations of Medina, preserved the simplicity of ancient Arab life. Severe simplicity, indeed, was not incompatible (as in the case of Mohammad himself) with the indulgences of the harim. But even in this respect, the first three Caliphs, judged by the standard of Islam, were temperate and modest. 'Omar, they say, had no passion for the sex. Before the Hijra, he contracted marriage with four wives,

1 For a description of the shameless demoralization that prevailed in Damascus and Bagdad, I must refer to the learned and elaborate work of H. von Kremer, Culturgeschichte des Orients unter dem Chalifen.


but two of these, preferring to remain at Mecca, separated from him. At Medina, he married five more, one of whom, however, he divorced. The last marriage was in the eighth year of his reign, when near sixty years of age. Three years previously he had married a granddaughter of the Prophet, under circumstances casting a curious light on his domestic ways. He conceived a liking for Um Kulthum, the maiden daughter of Abu Bekr, and sister of 'Aisha through whom a betrothal was arranged. But 'Aisha found the light-hearted damsel with no desire to wed the aged Caliph. In this dilemma she had recourse to the astute 'Amr, who readily undertook to break the marriage off. He broached the subject to 'Omar, who thereupon imagined that 'Amr wished the maiden for himself. "Nay," said 'Amr, "that I do not; but she hath been bred softly in the family of her father Abu Bekr, and I fear she may ill brook thine austere manners, and the gravity of thy house." "But," replied 'Omar, "I have already engaged to marry her; how can I break it off?" "Leave that to me" said 'Amr; "thou hast indeed a duty to provide for Abu Bekr's family, but the heart of this maiden is not with thee. Let her alone, and I will show thee a better than she, another Um Kulthum, even the daughter of 'Ali and of Fatima." So 'Omar married this other maiden, and she bore him a son and a daughter.

Death of many familiar personages.

Many of those names we have been familiar with were now dropping off the scene;—Fatima, the daughter, and Safiya the aunt of Mohammad, Zeinab one of his wives, and Mary his Coptic bond-maid; Abu 'Obeida, Khalid, and the Muezzin Bilal. Many others who also bore a conspicuous part in the great rôle of the Prophet's life had now passed away, and a new race was springing up in their place.

Abu Sufyan and Hind.

Abu Sufyan survived till 32 A.H., and died 88 years of age. One eye he lost at the siege of At-Taif, and the other at the battle on the Yarmuk, so that he had long been blind. He divorced Hind, the mother of Mu'awiya—she who "chewed the liver" of Hamza at the battle of Ohod!1 The reason for the divorce does not appear.

1 Life of Mohammad, p. 263.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
Answering Islam Home Page