The Umeiyad better than the 'Abbasid dynasty.

IN gathering up the more important points of this history, it is to me clear that the palmiest days of Islam, after those of Abu Bekr and 'Omar, were the Umeiyad. Mu'awiya and Al-­Welid are not eclipsed by either Harun or Al-Ma'mun. The tendency of the annals on which we are dependent, written as they were under the influence of 'Abbasid supremacy, is to exalt that dynasty at the expense of the Umeiyad. Even with all its adventitious colouring, the 'Abbasid reign pales before the glory of the Umeiyad which, by its conquests, laid broad the foundations of Islam in the East and in the West. Moreover, the wholesale butcheries cold-blooded murders, and treacherous assassinations, which cast a lurid light on the court of As-Saffah and his successors, find, as a whole, no counterpart among the Umeiyads. And if we regard the environment of the throne, although some of the Umeiyads were dissolute to the last degree, and some­times cruel also, I should incline to strike the balance, even as regards morality, in favour altogether of Damascus. The history of the 'Abbasids can bring nothing to compare with the exemplary lives of 'Omar II., or of Hisham; and, whether from the point of natural law, or of Muslim obligation, the scandals of Bagdad without doubt cast into the shade anything that can be charged against Damascus.

Arab support the secret of Umeiyad greatness.

The chief reason for the superiority of the Umeiyads was the manly, frugal, and hardy habit of the Arab nation on whom they leant. These formed the main staple of their court, their ministers, their generals, and associates. Conquest and spoil of war had already heated them, long before their fall, to luxurious living and voluptuous indulgence.


But even so, the love of desert life, indigenous in the Arab, was to some extent corrective of the laxity and demoralisa­tion now creeping over the Muslim world Under the 'Abbasids all was changed. Chief commands, both civil and military, fell rapidly into the hands of Turkish and Persian adventurers. The Arabs, too, in rank and file, were as a rule disbanded; and the Imperial forces recruited from the tribes of Central Asia or from the Berbers of the West. And so the Arabs — those that yet maintained their simplicity and vigour uncontaminated by city life — retired to the desert; ready, instead of as heretofore the prop and pillar of the Caliphate, to follow any outlaw, Zenji or Carmathian, appealing to their innate love of rapine, lawlessness, and plunder.

Influence of Persia.

The influence of Persia affected the spiritual, intellectual, and philosophical development of the nation. While, on the one hand it enervated and tended to demoralise the "City of Peace," on the other with the help of Greece it introduced the era of science, philosophy, and art, which formed the glory of Al-Ma'mun and his immediate successors and overshadowed the more substantial, though less lustrous grandeur of the Umeiyad line.

Shi’a and orthodoxy,

Persian influence was also strongly in favour of Shi'a doctrine and transcendental philosophy. The countries in which Arabs mostly spread and settled, and where consequently Arab sentiment most prevailed, are still those devoted to the Orthodox faith as set forth by its four great Doctors. Where there has been inclination to diverge, it has been, not in the direction of 'Alid doctrine, but of the Khariji schism, — that namely which takes its stand on the simplicity of the faith as first delivered by the Prophet. Revivals follow a corresponding course. Amongst the Orthodox, the quickened spirit shows itself in implicit return to the letter of the Kor'an; in the protest against forms and superstitions inconsistent with the sacred text; in outbursts of zeal to "fight in the ways of the Lord"; and generally, in a tendency (as amongst the Wahhabis) towards the ancient tenets of Khariji theocracy. Among the Shi'a, on the other hand, the spirit of revival breaks out in a wild and mystical devotion, Sufi or Mo'tazili; and in the profane extravagances of the divine Imamate or other emanation of the Deity. Persia remains the only


important nation devoted to the Shi'a faith. In India, the Emperors, being of Turkish blood, were generally of the Sunni faith. They encouraged the immigration of vast crowds of Arabs from their native soil, especially from the Holy Cities, who were strictly orthodox; and so throughout Hindustan the Sunna has always overshadowed the Shi'a.1

Bitter feeling between the two.

Between Turkey and Persia there is also a broad distinction in respect of tolerance. The Osmanlis, notwith­standing close contact with enlightened nations, are, in virtue of their orthodoxy, intolerant of the least divergence from the faith; while Persia, following in the wake of the Mo'tazili Caliphs, is less impatient of other creeds, and more amenable to outer influence.2 In other respects, too, the ancient sentiment dividing Sunni and Shi'a is as bitter now as at the time when 'Ali cursed Mu'awiya, and Mu'awiya cursed 'Ali, in the daily public service.3 The hopeless schism has tended to slacken the progress of Islam, and abate its aggressive force. Thus recently when a deadly blow was aimed at the head of the Muslim empire on this side the Bosphorus, the sectarians of Persia, through hate and jealousy of the Sunni creed, declined to rally round the banner of the Crescent; and, indeed, so far as any help or sympathy from the Shi'a went, Islam might have been blotted out of Europe altogether. The Sunnis scorns the Shi'a; and the follower of the Shi'a in his turn spits on the graves of those great Caliphs, 'Omar and Abu Bekr, to whom he owes it that Islam spread thus marvellously, nay, even that it survived the birth.

Islam stationary.

The Islam of today is substantially the Islam we have seen throughout this history. Swathed in the bands of the Kor'an, the Muslim faith, unlike the Christian, is powerless to adapt itself to varying time and place, keep pace with the

1 Sunnis are those who hold by the Sunnas, or precedent, established by the practice of Mohammad, as handed down by tradition. They also recognise the title of the first three Caliphs, which the Shi'a deny.

2 The bigotry of the Persians appears mostly in matters of purification, remnants perhaps of their ancient faith. Baths and Mosques are polluted by the presence of an infidel. Curious, also, that the Persians to this day curse Al-Ma'mun as the poisoner of 'Ali ar-Rida, his son-in-law, and use his name as a term of abuse. See above, p. 500.

3 P. 271.


march of humanity, direct and purify the social life, or elevate mankind. Freedom, in the proper sense of the word, is unknown; and this apparently, because in the body politic, the spiritual and the secular are hopelessly confounded. Hence we fail of finding anywhere the germ of popular government or approach to free and liberal institutions. The nearest thing to such was the brotherhood of Islam; but that, as a controlling power, was confined to the Arab race, and, with its dominancy, disappeared. The type and exemplar of Muslim rule is the absolute and autocratic monarch alternating at times with the licence of lawless soldiery. The only check upon the despot is the law of the Kor'an, expounded by the learned, and enforced by the sentiment, or it may be by the uprising, of the nation.

Domestic institutions.

Nor has there been any change in the conditions of social life. Polgamy1 and servile concubinage are still as ever the curse and blight of Islam. By these may the unity of the household at any time be broken; the purity and virtue of the family tie weakened; the vigour of the upper classes sapped; and the throne itself liable to doubtful or contested succession. As to female slavery, the Muslim will not readily abandon an indulgence recognised by his scripture. Its influence on the master is really more to be deprecated than on the wretched subject of the institution. However much domestic slavery is ameliorated by the kindly influences which in Muslim lands surround it, still the licence of servile concubinage fixes its withering grasp with more damaging effect on the owner of the slave than on the slave herself.


Hardly less evil is the one-sided power of divorce, at the mere word and will of the husband. Hanging over every household like the sword of Damocles, it must affect the tone of society at large; for, even if seldom put in force, it cannot fail, as a potential influence, to weaken the marriage bond and to lower the dignity and self-respect of woman.

The veil.

Nor is it otherwise with the Veil, and such domestic injunctions of the Kor'an as exclude woman from her

1 The most enlightened Muslims, however, admit the desirability of monogamy. Several of the most eminent Egyptians of late years have had only one wife.


legitimate place and function in social life.1 The exclusion may, indeed, be little loss to her. But by this unreasonable law, mankind at large, beyond the threshold of the harim, loses the grace and brightness of the sex, and the purifying influence of their presence Hence the cheerless aspect of Muslim outdoor life, and the drear austerity of their social gatherings. Opinion may differ as to the interdict on games of chance, and even the moderate use of wine. The double prohibition has no doubt tended to aggravate the gloom and gravity we speak of; but it may gladly be admitted that the absence of intemperance, — though with too frequent exception (as in this history we have seen) in the upper classes, — is a spectacle in Mohammadan lands much to be commended.

Immobility of Islam.

The institutions just noticed form an integral part of the teaching of Islam. They are bound up in the charter of its existence. A reformed faith that should question the divine authority on which they rest, or attempt by rationalistic selection or abatement to effect a change, would be Islam no longer. That they tend to keep the Muslim nations in a backward and, in some respects barbarous, state cannot be doubted. It is still true that, as at Damascus, Bagdad, and Cordova, an era of great prosperity has at times prevailed. Commerce and specu­lation (the law of usury notwithstanding) were at such times advanced; the arts of peace were cultivated; national prejudice was to some extent lessened, and liberality of sentiment promoted, by travel and intercourse with other peoples; while literature, science, and philosophy were prosecuted with marvellous success. But it was all short-lived, because civilisation, not penetrating the family, was superficial. It failed to leaven domestic life. The canker­worm of polygamy, divorce, servile concubinage, and the veil, lay at the root. And society, withering under the influence of these, relapsed into semi-barbarism again.

Throughout this work we have often met with virtue

1 A movement has been going on for some years in the direction of the emancipation of woman, and especially abolition of the veil. At the opening of the Turkish Parliament by the Sultan in December 1908, the Turkish women who viewed the procession through the streets were unveiled.


How far the Creed is responsible for the dark spots in this history.

and nobility, and acknowledged them gladly, whether in places high or low. But it has also been a duty, especially in the latter half of the volume, to thread our painful way in labyrinths of bloodshed and iniquity, and through purlieus of Courts, the sink of profligacy, treachery, and vice. It may be difficult to say how far the tree is here to be judged by the fruit; in other words, what of all this is due to the creed, and what to other causes, and even in spite of the creed. But, this difficulty notwithstanding, the conclusion can scarcely fail to force itself upon the impartial reader, that much of the dark retrospect is the legitimate result of the laws and institutions just described. In one respect, indeed, there is no room for doubt; and that is in respect of intolerance and religious warfare. It is by direct command of his Master that the Muslim fights against the Jew and Christian "until they pay tribute with the hand, and are humbled"; and it is by a like command that he attacks the Heathen even to the bitter end. "Fight against the Idolaters," is the command which the Muslim holds divine, — "Wheresoever ye find them; take them captive, besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush." If Christian nations have too often drawn the sword in propagation of their faith, it was in direct contravention of their Master's word, — "If My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight; ... but now is My kingdom not from hence." Far different is the Muslim's case. Tribes and peoples for ages rushed into the battlefield, fulfiling what they believed their Maker's law, "to fight in the ways of the Lord"; and as its immediate effect, the world was drenched in blood from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, and multitudes of men and women taken captive, and as such held in slavery. Yet with all this, how true has come the Saviour's other word, — "All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." At last the Crescent wanes before the Cross.

Decline of political status.

For now the political ascendency of the faith is doomed. Every year witnesses a sensible degree of subsidence. In the close connection of the spiritual with the civil power, this cannot but affect the prestige of the religion itself; but nevertheless the religion maintains, and will no doubt long continue to maintain, its hold upon the people


singularly unimpaired by the decline of its political supremacy.

The Muslim world stationary.

As regards the spiritual, social, and dogmatic aspect of Islam, there has been neither progress nor material change. Such as we found it in the days of the Caliphate, such is it also at the present day. Christian nations may advance in civilisation, freedom, and morality, in philo­sophy, science, and the arts, but Islam stands still. And thus stationary, so far as the lessons of the history avail, it will remain.

These closing sentences of Sir William Muir's work have been left standing because they express what at the time, and even up to a few years ago was the opinion universally held by Western peoples regarding the condition and prospects of the East, especially of Mohammadan countries. But within the last few years a change came over the Asiatic world. The echoes of the Russo-Japanese war had awaked the East from its long sleep. Turkey and Persia, China and India were stirring with new life. The war in the far East had shown that Asia no longer lay at the mercy of the Western nations, and that the Mongol and the Semite were as capable of developing the material side of civilisation as the Aryan. With the aspiration after national freedom were joined the claims of personal and constitutional liberty. In the autumn of 1906 the late Shah of Persia, Muzaffar ed-Din, summoned a Mejlis, or national assembly, which, after many struggles, including the deposition of his son and successor, through the courage mainly of the Bakhtiari chiefs of Ispahan, appeared to be firmly estab­lished in the capital under the present Shah Ahmed Mirza. In 1906 the Sultan of Turkey, the personification of all that was worst in Oriental despotism, was compelled by the demands of the Army, to restore the constitution of 1876. His breach of faith led to his deposition and the establish­ment, by an almost bloodless revolution, of parliamentary representation in that country; and, in spite of differences of race, language, and religion, this youngest House of Commons was doing its work well, under the Sultan Mohammad V. Thus the two countries where absolute despotism reigned supreme had become as free as any nation in Europe.


But the most remarkable thing about the revolution, in Turkey especially, was that it was not a religious, but a national and patriotic movement, in which all classes of subjects took part. The parliament which was opened by the late Sultan in December 1908 included among its members, Turks, Arabs, Druses, Jews, Armenians, and Greeks. Men of all religions recognised that they were united by the tie of a common country. The Committee of Union and Progress did not restrict their choice of candidates for seats in the first parliament to those who professed the Muslim faith. Their nominees for Smyrna and Salonika were Jews. Yet they were strong enough to compel the resignation of the Grand Wazir Kiamil Pasha, when he opposed their wishes. Their relations with the Liberal Union, the organisation representative of the non-Muslim electorate, was on the whole friendly. Moreover, the ancient hostility of Turkey and Persia had given way before the common struggle for liberty.

But the moment of renaissance, with its inevitable weak­ness, was the opportunity of their enemies. Austria had already, without attempting to justify her action, taken permanent possession of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tripoli was an easy prey, and fell to Italy. In the Balkan Peninsula the tide which flowed three and a half centuries ago has almost touched low-water mark again. The alarming state of affairs in Europe made it impossible to preserve the independence of Persia, and Turkey also was drawn into the vortex of European war.

These changes foreshadow others yet to come, and it is always possible that in the end, as in the case of Spain, present loss may turn to future gain, and that the nations of the East after their long sleep may awake to a new life, which will surpass even the splendours of the early Caliphate.

But the Sultan of Turkey is no longer Caliph. The silence with which his call to arms has been answered all over the Mohammadan world shows that his claims, based as they were upon force, and latterly, when force was lacking, upon fraud, are no longer acknowledged; and it will be a fortunate day for Islam when the chieftainship of the Faith is restored to one whose native tongue is the language of the Prophet.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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