The death of Muhammad and the problem of the succession; the parties; families of Hashimids, Umayyads and Abbasids; election of Abu Bakr; nomination of Umar; his constitution; election of Uthman; Umayyads in power; murder of Uthman; origin of Shi‘ites; election of Ali; civil war; Mu‘awiya first Umayyad; origin of Kharijites; their revolts; Ibadites; development of Shi‘ites; al-Husayn at Karbala; different Shi‘ite constitutional theories; doctrine of the hidden Imam; revolts against Umayyads; rise of Abbasids; Umayyads of Cordova.
WITH the death of Muhammad at al-Madina in the year 11 of the Hijra (A.D. 632), the community of Islam stood face to face with three great questions. Of the existence of one they were conscious, at least in its immediate form; the others lay still for their consciousness in the future. The necessity was upon them to choose a leader to take the place of the Prophet of God, and thus to fix for all time what was to be the nature of the Muslim state. Muhammad had appointed no Joshua; unlike Moses he had died and given no guidance as to the man who should take up and carry on his work. If we can imagine the people of Israel left thus helpless on the other
side of the Jordan with the course of conquest that they must pursue opening before them, we shall have a tolerably exact idea of the situation in Islam when Muhammad dropped the reins. Certainly, the people of Islam had little conception of what was involved in the great precedent that they were about to establish, but, nevertheless, there lies here, in the first elective council which they called, the beginning of all the confusions, rivalries, and uncertainties that were to limit and finally to destroy the succession of the Commanders of the Faithful.
Muhammad had ruled as an absolute monarch--a Prophet of God in his own right. He had no son; though had he left such issue it is not probable that it would have affected the direct result. Of Moses's son we hear nothing till long afterward, and then under very suspicious circumstances. The old free spirit of the Arabs was too strong, and as in the Ignorance (al-jalailiya), as they called the pre-Muslim age, the tribes had chosen from time to time their chiefs, so it was now fixed that in Islam the leader was to be elected by the people. But wherever there is an election, there there are parties; and this was no exception. Of such parties we may reckon roughly four. There were the Early Believers, who had suffered with Muhammad at Mecca, accompanied him to al-Madina and had fought at his side through all the Muslim campaigns. These were called Muhajirs, because they had made with him the Hijra or migration to al-Madina. Then there was the party of the citizens of al-Madina, who had invited him to come to them and had promised
him allegiance. These were called Ansar or Helpers. Eventually we shall find these two factions growing together and forming the one party of the old original believers and Companions of Muhammad (sahibs, i.e., all those who came in contact with the Prophet as believers and who died in Islam), but at the first they stood apart and there was much jealousy between them. Then, in the third place, there was the party of recent converts who had only embraced Islam at the latest moment when Mecca was captured by Muhammad, and no other way of escape for them was open. They were the aristocratic party of Mecca and had fought the new faith to the last. Thus they were but indifferent believers and were regarded by the others with more than suspicion. Their principal family was descended from a certain Umayya, and was therefore called Umayyad. There will be much about this family in the sequel. Then, fourth, there was growing up a party that might be best described as legitimists; their theory was that the leadership belonged to the leader, not because he was elected to it by the Muslim community, but because it was his right. He was appointed to it by God as completely as Muhammad had been. This idea developed, it is true, somewhat later, but it developed very rapidly. The times were such as to force it on.
These, then, were the parties of which account must be taken, but before proceeding to individuals in these parties, it will be well to fix some genealogical relationships, so as to be able to trace the family and tribal jealousies and intrigues that were
so soon to transfer themselves from the little circle of Mecca and al-Madina and to fight themselves out on the broad field of Muslim history. For, in truth, in the development of no other state have little causes produced such great effects as here. For example, it may be said, broadly and yet truly, that the seclusion of Muslim women, with all its disastrous effects at the present day for a population of two hundred millions, runs back to the fact that A’isha, the fourteen-year-old wife of Muhammad, once lost a necklace under what the gossips of the time thought were suspicious circumstances. As to the point now in hand, it is quite certain that Muslim history for several hundred years was conditioned and motived by the quarrels of Meccan families. The accompanying genealogy will give the necessary starting-point. The mythical ancestor is Quraysh; hence "the Quraysh," or "Quraysh" as a name for the tribe. Within the tribe, the two most important families are those of Hashim and Umayya; their rivalries for the succession of the Prophet fill the first century and a half of Muslim history, and the immediately pre-Islamic history of Mecca is similarly filled with a contest between them as to the guardianship of the Ka‘ba and the care of the pilgrims to that sanctuary. Whether this earlier history is real, or a reflection from the later Muslim times, we need not here consider. The next important division is that between the families of al-Abbas and Abu Talib, the uncles of the Prophet. From the one were descended the Abbasids, as whose heir-at-law the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire now claims the Khalifate, and from
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GENEALOGICAL CHART FOR EARLIEST HISTORY OF ISLAM
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CHRONOLOGICAL CHART OF ALIDS
the other the different conflicting lines of Shi‘ites, whose intricacies we shall soon have to face.
To return: in this first elective council the choice fell upon Abu Bakr. He was a man distinguished by his piety and his affection for and close intimacy with Muhammad. He was the father of Muhammad's favorite wife, A’isha, and was some two years younger than his son-in-law. He was, also, one of the earliest believers and it is evident that this, with his advanced age, always respected in Arabia, went far to secure his election. Yet his election did not pass off without a struggle in which the elements that later came to absolute schism and revolution are plainly visible. The scene, as it can be put together from Arabic historians, is curiously suggestive of the methods of modern politics. As soon as it was assured that the Prophet, the hand which had held together all those clashing interests, was really dead, a convention was called of the leaders of the people. There the strife ran so high between the Ansar, the Muhajirs and the Muslim aristocrats of the house of Umayya, that they almost came to blows. Suddenly in the tumult, Umar, a man of character and decision, "rushed the convention" by solemnly giving to Abu Bakr the hand-grasp of fealty. The accomplished fact was recognized--as it has always been in Islam--and on the next day the general mass of the people swore allegiance to the first Khalifa, literally Successor, of Muhammad.
On his death, in A.H. 13 (A.D. 634), there followed Umar. His election passed off quietly. He had been nominated by Abu Bakr and nothing remained
but for the people to confirm that nomination. There thus entered a second principle--or rather precedent--beside that of simple election. A certain right was recognized in the Khalifa to nominate his successor, provided he chose one suitable and eligible in other respects. Unlike Cromwell in a similar case, Abu Bakr did not nominate one of his own sons, but the man who had been his right hand and who, he knew, could best build up the state. His foresight was proved by the event, and Umar proved the second founder of Islam by his genius as a ruler and organizer and his self-devotion as a man. Through his generals, Damascus and Jerusalem were taken, Persia crushed in the great battles of al-Qadisiya and Nahawand, and Egypt conquered. He was also the organizer of the Muslim state, and it will be advisable to describe part of his system, both for its own sake and in order to point the contrast with that of his successors. He saw clearly what were the conditions under which the Muslims must work, and devised a plan, evidently based on Persian methods of government, which, for the time at least, was perfect in its way.
The elements in the problem were simple. There was the flood of Arabs pouring out of Arabia and bearing everything down in their course. These must be retained as a conquering instrument if Islam were to exist. Thus they must be prevented from settling down on the rich lands they had seized,--from becoming agriculturists, merchants, and so on, and so losing their identity among other peoples. The whole Arab stock must be preserved as a warrior
caste to fight the battles of God. This was secured by a regulation that no new lands should be held by a Muslim. When a country was conquered, the land was left to its previous possessors with the duty of paying a high rent to the Muslim state and, besides, of furnishing fodder and food, clothing and everything necessary to the Muslim camp that guarded them. These camps, or rather camp-cities, were scattered over the conquered countries and were practically settlements of Muslims in partibus infidelium. The duty of these Muslims was to be soldiers only. They were fed and clothed by the state, and the money raid into the public treasury, consisting of plunder or rents of conquered lands (kharaj), or the head-tax on all non-Muslims (jizya), was regularly divided among them and the other believers. If a non-Muslim embraced Islam, then he no longer paid the head-tax, but the land which he had previously held was divided among his former co-religionists, and they became responsible to the state. He, on the other hand, received his share of the public moneys as regularly distributed. Within Arabia itself, no non-Muslim was permitted to live. It was preserved, if we may use the expression, as a breeding-ground for defenders of the faith and as a sacred soil not to be polluted by the foot of an unbeliever. It will readily be seen what the results of such a system must have been. The entire Muslim people was retained as a gigantic fighting machine, and the conquered peoples were machines again to furnish it with what was needed. The system was communistic, but in favor of one special caste. The others--the
conquered peoples--were crushed to the ground beneath their burdens. Yet they could not sell their land and leave the country; there was no one to buy it. The Muslims would not, and their fellow-coreligionists could not, for with it went the land-tax.
Such was, in its essence, the constitution of Umar, forever famous in Muslim tradition. It stood for a short time, and could not have stood for a long time; but the cause of its overthrow was political and not social-economic. With the next Khalifa and the changes which came with him, it went, in great part, to the ground. The choice of Umar to the Khalifate had evidently been dictated by a consideration of his position as one of the earliest believers and as son-in-law of the Prophet. The party of Early Believers had thus succeeded twice in electing their candidate. But with the death of Umar in A.H. 23 (A.D. 644) the Meccan aristocratic party of the family of Umayya that had so long struggled against Muhammad and had only accepted Islam when their cause was hopelessly lost, had at last a chance. Umar left no directions as to his successor. He seems to have felt no certainty as to the man best fitted to take up the burden, and when his son sought to urge him to name a Khalifa, he is reported to have said, "If I appoint a Khalifa, Abu Bakr appointed a Khalifa; and if I leave the people without guidance, so did the Apostle of God." But there is also a story that after a vain attempt to persuade one of the Companions to permit himself to be nominated, he appointed an elective council of six to make the choice after his death under stringent conditions, which went all to wreck
through the pressure of circumstances. The Umayyads succeeded in carrying the election of Uthman, one of their family, an old man and also a son-in-law of Muhammad, who by rare luck for them was an Early Believer. After his election it was soon evident that he was going to rule as an Umayyad and not as a Muslim. For generations back in Mecca, as has already been said, there had been, according to tradition, a continual struggle for pre-eminence between the families of Umayya and of Hashim. In the victory of Muhammad and the election of the first two Khalifas, the house of Hashim had conquered, but it had been the constant labor of the conquerors to remove all tribal and family distinctions and frictions and to bring the whole body of the Arabs to regard one another as brother Muslims. Now, with a Khalifa of the house of Umayya, all that was swept away, and it was evident that Uthman--a pious, weak man, in the hands of his energetic kinsfolk--was drifting to a point where the state would not exist for the Muslims but for the Umayyads. His evil spirit was his cousin Marwan ibn al-Hakam, whom he had appointed as his secretary and who eventually became fourth Umayyad Khalifa. The father of this man, al-Hakam ibn al-As, accepted Islam at the last moment when Mecca was captured, and, thereafter, was banished by Muhammad for treachery. Not till the reign of Uthman was he permitted to return, and his son, born after the Hijra, was the most active assertor of Umayyad claims. Under steady family pressure, Uthman removed the governors of provinces who had suffered with Muhammad and fought in the
[paragraph continues] Path of God (sabil Allah), and put in their places his own relations, late embracers of the faith. He broke through the Constitution of Umar and gifted away great tracts of state lands. The feeling spread abroad that in the eyes of the Khalifa an Umayyad could do no wrong, and the Umayyads themselves were not backward in affording examples. To the Muhajirs and Ansar they were godless heathen, and probably the Muhajirs and Ansar were right. Finally, the indignation could no longer be restrained. Insurrections broke out in the camp-cities of al-Kufa and al-Basra, and in those of Egypt and at last in al-Madina itself. There, in A.H. 35 (A.D. 655), Uthman fell under the daggers of conspirators led by a Muhammad, a son of Abu Bakr, but a religious fanatic strangely different from his father, and the train was laid for a long civil war. In the confusion that followed the deed the chance of the legitimist party had come, and Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, was chosen.
Fortunately this is not a history of Islam, but of Muslim political institutions, and it is, therefore, unnecessary to go into the manifold and contradictory stories told of the events of this time. These have evidently been carefully redacted in the interests of later orthodoxy, and to protect the character of men whose descendants later came to power. The Alids built up in favor of Ali a highly ingenious but flatly fictitious narrative, embracing the whole early history and exhibiting him as the true Khalifa kept from his rights by one after the other of the first three, and suffering it all with angelic patience. This
varies from the extreme Shi‘ite position, which damns all the three at a sweep as usurpers, through a more moderate one which contents itself with cursing Umar and Uthman, to a rejection of Uthman only, and even, at the other extreme, satisfies itself with anathematizing the later Umayyads. At this point the Shi‘ites join hands with the body of orthodox believers, who are all sectaries of Ali to a certain degree. Yet this tendency has been counteracted to some extent by a strongly catholic and irenic spirit which manifests itself in Islam. After a controversy is over and the figures in it have faded into the past, Islam casts a still deeper veil over the controversy itself and glorifies the actors on both sides into fathers and doctors of the Church. An attempt is made to forget that they had fought one another so bitterly, and to hold to the fact only that they were brother Muslims. The Shi‘ites well so-called, for Shi‘a means sect, have never accepted this; but it is the usage of orthodox, commonly called Sunnite, Islam. A concrete expression of any result reached by the body of the believers then often takes the form of a tradition assigned to Muhammad. In this case, it is a saying of his that ten men, specified by name and prominent leaders in these early squabbles, were certain of Paradise. It has further become an article in Muslim creeds, that the Companions of the Prophet are not to be mentioned save with praise; and one school of theologians, in their zeal for the historic Khalifate, even forbade the cursing of Yazid, the slayer of al-Husayn (p. 28 below), and reckoned as the worst of all the Umayyads, because he had been
a Khalifa in full and regular standing. This catholic recognition of the unity of Islam we shall meet again and again.
Abandoning, then, any attempt to trace the details and to adjust the rights and wrongs of this story, we return to the fixed fact of the election of Ali and the accession to power of the legitimist party. This legitimist party, or parties, had been gradually developing, and their peculiar and mutually discordant views deserve attention. Those views all glorified Ali, the full cousin of Muhammad and husband of his daughter Fatima, but upon very different grounds. There could not but exist the feeling that a descendant of the Prophet should be his successor, and the children of All, al-Hasan and al-Husayn were his only grandchildren and only surviving male descendants. This, of course, reflected a dignity upon Ali, their father, and gave him a claim to the Khalifate. Again, Ali himself seems to have made a great and hardly comprehensible impression upon his contemporaries. The proverb ran with the people, "There is no sword save Dhu-l-faqar, and no youth save Ali." He was not, perhaps, so great a general as one or two others of his time, but he stood alone as a warrior in single combat; he was a poet and an orator, but no statesman. As one of the earliest of the Early Believers, it might be expected that the Muhajirs would support him, and so they did; but the matter went much farther, and he seems to have excited a feeling of personal attachment and devotion different from that rendered to the preceding Khalifas. Strange and mystical doctrines were afloat
as to his claim. The idea of election was thrown aside, and his adherents proclaimed his right by the will and appointment of God to the successorship of the Prophet. As God had appointed Muhammad as Prophet, so He had appointed Ali as his helper in life and his successor in death. This was preached in Egypt as early as the year 32.
It will easily be seen that with such a following, uniting so many elements, his election could be brought about. Thus it was; but an evil suspicion rested upon him. Men thought, and probably rightly, that he could have saved the aged Uthman if he had willed, and they even went the length of accusing him of being art and part in the murder itself. The ground was hollow beneath his feet. Further, there were two other old Companions of the Prophet, Talha and az-Zubayr, who thought they had a still better claim to the Khalifate; and they were joined by A’isha, the favorite wife of Muhammad, now, as a finished intrigante, the evil genius of Islam. Ali had reaped all the advantage of the conspiracy and murder, and it was easy to raise against him the cry of revenge for Uthman. Then the civil war began. In the struggle with Talha and az-Zubayr, Ali was victorious. Both fell at the battle of the Camel (A.H. 36), so called from the presence bf A’isha mounted on a camel like a chieftainess of the old days. But a new element was to enter. The governorship of Syria had been held for a long time by Mu‘awiya, an Umayyad, and there the Umayyad influence was supreme. There, too, had grown up a spirit of religious indifference, combined with a preservation
of all the forms of the faith. Mu‘awiya was a statesman by nature, and had moulded his province into an almost independent kingdom. The Syrian army was devoted to him, and could be depended upon to have no other interests than his. From the beginning of Ali's reign, he had been biding his time; had not given his allegiance, but had waited for the hour to strike for revenge for Uthman and power for himself. The time came and Mu‘awiya won. We here pass over lightly a long and contradictory story. It is enough to note how the irony of history wrought itself out, and a son of the Abu Sufyan who had done so much to persecute and oppose Muhammad in his early and dark days and had been the last to acknowledge his mission, became his successor and the ruler of his people. But with Ali ends the revered series of the four "Khalifas who followed a right course" (al-khulafa ar-rashidun), reverenced now by all orthodox Muslims, and there begins the division of Islam into sects, religious and political--it comes to the same thing.
The Umayyads themselves clearly recognized that with their accession to power a change had come in the nature of the Muslim state. Mu‘awiya said openly that he was the first king in Islam, though he retained and used officially the title of Khalifa and Commander of the Faithful. Yet such a change could not be complete nor could it carry with it the whole people--that is clear of itself. For more than one hundred years the house of Umayya held its own. Syria was solid with it and it was supported by many statesmen and soldiers; but outside of
[paragraph continues] Syria and north Arabia it could count on no part of the population. An anti-Khalifa, Abd Allah, son of the az-Zubayr of whom we have already heard, long held the sacred cities against them. Only in A.H. 75 (A.D. 692) was he killed after Mecca had been stormed and taken by their armies. Southern Arabia and Mesopotamia, with its camp-cities al-Kufa and al-Basra, Persia and Egypt, were, from time to time, more or less in revolt. These risings went in one or other of two directions. There were two great anti-Umayyad sects. At one time in Mu‘awiya's contest with Ali, he trapped All into the fatal step of arbitrating his claim to the Khalifate. It was fatal, for by it Ali alienated some of his own party and gained less than nothing on the other side. Part of Ali's army seceded in protest and rebellion, because he--the duly elected Khalifa--submitted his claim to any shadow of doubt. ` On the other hand, they could not accept Mu‘awiya, for him they regarded as un-duly elected and a mere usurper. Thus they drifted and split into innumerable sub-sects. They were called Kharijites--goers out--because they went out from among the other Muslims, refused to regard them as Muslims and held themselves apart. For centuries they continued a thorn in the side of all established authority. Their principles were absolutely democratic. Their idea of the Khalifate was the old one of the time of Abu Bakr and Umar. The Khalifa was to be elected by the whole Muslim community and could be deposed again at need. He need be of no special family or tribe; he might be a slave, provided he was a good Muslim ruler.
[paragraph continues] Some admitted that a woman might be Khalifa, and others denied the need of any Khalifa at all; the Muslim congregation could rule itself. Their religious views were of a similarly unyielding and antique cast, but with that we have nothing now to do.
It cannot be doubted that these men were the true representatives of the old Islam. They claimed for themselves the heirship to Abu Bakr and Umar, and their claim was just. Islam had been secularized; worldly ambition, fratricidal strife, luxury, and sin had destroyed the old bond of brotherhood. So they drew themselves apart and went their own way, a way which their descendants still follow in Uman, in east Africa, and in Algeria. To them the orthodox Muslims--meaning by that the general body of Muslims--were antipathetic more than even Christians or Jews. These were "people of a book" (ahl kitab), i.e., followers of a revealed religion, and kindly treatment of them was commanded in the Qur’an. They had never embraced Islam, and were to be judged and treated on their own merits. The non-Kharijite Muslims, on the other hand, were renegades (murtadds) and were to be killed at sight. It is easy to understand to what such a view as this led. Numberless revolts, assassinations, plunderings marked their history. Crushed to the ground again and again, again and again they recovered. They were Arabs of the desert; and the desert was always there as a refuge. It is probable, but as yet unproved, that mingled with the political reasons for their existence as a sect went tribal jealousies and frictions; of such there have ever been enough and
to spare in Arabia. Naturally, under varying conditions, their views and attitudes varied. In the, wild mountains of Khuzistan, one of their centres and strongholds, the primitive barbarism of their faith had full sway. It drew its legitimate consequence, lived out its life, and vanished from the scene. The more moderate section of the Kharijites centred round al-Basra. Their leader there was Abd Allah ibn Ibad, and from about the year 60 on the schism between his followers and the more absolute of these "come-outers" can be traced. It is characteristic of the latter that they aided for a time Abd Allah ibn az-Zubayr when he was besieged in Mecca by the Umayyads, but deserted him finally because he refused to join the names of Talha and his own father, az-Zubayr, with those of Uthman and Ali in a general commination. The Kharijites were all good at cursing, and the later history of this section of them shows a process of disintegration by successive secessions, each departing in protest and cursing those left behind as heathen and unbelievers. Characteristic, too, for the difference between the two sections, were their respective attitudes toward the children of their opponents. The more absolute party held that the children of unbelievers were to be killed with their parents; the followers of Abd Allah ibn Ibad, that they were to be allowed to grow up and then given their choice. Again, there was a difference of opinion as to the standing of those who held with the Kharijites but remained at home and did not actually fight in the Path of God. These the one party rejected and the other accepted. Again,
were the non-Kharijites Muslims to the extent that the Kharijites might live amongst them and mix with them? This the severely logical party denied, but Abd Allah ibn Ibad affirmed.
From this it will be abundantly clear that the only party with a possible future was that of Ibn Ibad. His sect survives to the present day under the name of Ibadites. Very early it spread to Uman, and, according to their traditions, their first Imam, or president, was elected about A.H. 134. He was of a family which had reigned there before Islam,. and from the time of his election on, the Ibadites have succeeded in holding Uman against the rest of the Muslim world. Naturally, the election of the Imam by the community has turned into the rule of a series of dynasties; but the theory of election has always held fast. They were sailors, merchants, and colonizers already by the tenth century A.D., and carried their state with its theology and law to Zanzibar and the coast of East Africa generally. Still earlier Ibadite fugitives passed into North Africa, and there they still maintain the simplicity of their republican ideal and their primitive theological and legal views. Their home is in the Mzab in the south of Algeria, and, though as traders and capitalists they may travel far, yet they always return thither. Any mingling in marriage with other Muslims is forbidden them.
At the opposite extreme from these in political matters stands the sect that is called the Shi‘a. It, as we have seen, is the name given to the party that glorifies Ali and his descendants and regards the Khalifate as belonging to them by right divine. How
early this feeling arose we have already seen, but the extremes to which in time the idea was carried, the innumerable differing views that developed, the maze of conspiracies, tortuous and underground in their methods, some in good faith and some in bad, to which it gave rise, render the history of the Shi‘a the most difficult side of a knowledge of the Muslim East. Yet some attempt at it must be made. If there was ever a romance in history, it is the story of the founding of the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt; if there was ever the survival of a petrifaction in history, it is the survival to the present day of the Assassins and the Druses; if there was ever the persistence of an idea, it is in the present Shi‘ite government in Persia and in the faith in that Mahdi for whom the whole world of Islam still looks to appear and bring in the reign of justice and the truth upon the earth. All these have sprung from the devotion to Ali and his children on the part of their followers twelve centuries ago.
In A.H. 40 (A.D. 660) Ali fell by the dagger of a Kharijite. These being at the opposite pole from the Shi‘ites, are the only Muslim sect that curses and abhors Ali, his family and all their works. Orthodox Islam reveres Ali and accepts his Khalifate; his family it also reverences, but rejects their pretensions. The instinct of Islam is to respect the accomplished fact, and so even the Umayyads, one and all, stand in the list of the successors of the Prophet, much as Alexander VI and his immediate predecessors do in that of the Popes.
To Ali succeeded his son, al-Hasan, but his name
does not stand on the roll of the Khalifate as usually reckoned. It shows some Shi‘ite tinge when the historian says, "In the Khalifate of al-Hasan," and, thereafter, proceeds with, "In the days of Mu‘awiya," the Umayyad Khalifa who followed him. Mu‘awiya had received the allegiance of the Syrian Muslims and when he advanced on al-Kufa, where al-Hasan was, al-Hasan met him and gave over into his hands all his supposed rights. That was in A.H. 41; in A.H. 49 he was dead by poison. Twelve years later al-Husayn, his brother, and many of his house fell at Karbala in battle against hopeless odds. It is this last tragedy that has left the deepest mark of all on the Muslim imagination. Yearly when the fatal day, the day of Ashura, the tenth of the month Muharram, comes round, the story is rehearsed again at Karbala and throughout, indeed, all the Shi‘ite world in what is a veritable Passion Play. No Muslim, especially no Persian, can read of the death of al-Husayn, or see it acted before his eyes, without quivering and invoking the curse of God upon all those who had aught to do with it or gained aught by it. That curse has clung fast through all the centuries to the name of Yazid, the Umayyad Khalifa of the time, and only the stiffest theologians of the traditional school have labored to save his memory through the merits of the historical Khalifate. But even after this tragedy it was not out with the blood of Muhammad. Many descendants were left and their party lived on in strange, half underground fashion, as sects do in the East, occasionally coming to the surface and bursting out in wild and, for long, useless rebellion.
In these revolts the Shi‘a was worthy of its name, and split into many separate divisions, according to the individuals of the house of Ali to whom allegiance was rendered and who were regarded as leaders, titular or real. These subdivisions differed, also, in the principle governing the choice of a leader and in the attitude of the people toward him. Shi‘ism, from being a political question, became theological. The position of the Shi‘ite was and is that there must be a law (nass) regulating the choice of the Imam, or leader of the Muslim community; that that law is one of the most important dogmas of the faith and cannot have been left by the Prophet to develop itself under the pressure of circumstances; that there is such an Imam clearly pointed out and that it is the duty of the Muslim to seek him out and follow him. Thus there was a party who regarded the leadership as belonging to Ali himself, and then to any of his descendants by any of his wives. These attached themselves especially to his son Muhammad, known from his mother as Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya, who died in 81, and to his descendants and successors. It was in this sect that the most characteristic Shi‘ite views first developed. This Muhammad seems to have been the first concerning whom it was taught, after his death, that he was being preserved by God alive in retirement and would come forth at his appointed time to bring in the rule of righteousness upon the earth. In some of the innumerable sub-sects the doctrine of the deity, even, of Ali was early held, in others a doctrine of metempsychosis, generally among men and especially from one Imam to
his successor others, again, advanced the duty of seeking the rightful Imam and rendering allegiance to him till it covered the whole field of faith and morals--no more was required of the believer. To one of these sects, al-Mukanna, "the Veiled Prophet of Khorasan," adhered before he started on his own account.
We have seen already that so early as 32 the doctrine had been preached in Egypt that Ali was the God-appointed successor of the Prophet. Here we have its legitimate development, which was all the quicker as it had, or assumed, a theological basis, and did not simply urge the claims to leadership of the family of the Prophet after the fashion in which inheritance runs among earthly kings. That was the position at first of the other and far more important Shi‘ite wing. It regarded the leadership as being in the blood of Muhammad and therefore limited to the children of Ali by his wife Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad. Again, the attitude toward the person of the leader varied, as we have already seen. One party held that the leadership was by the right of the appointment of God, but that the leader himself was simply a man as other men. These would add to "the two words" (al-kalimalani) of the creed, "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Apostle of God," a third clause, "and Ali is the representative of God." Others regarded him as an incarnation of divinity; a continuing divine revelation in human form. His soul passed, when he died, to his next successor. He was, therefore, infallible and sinless, and was to be treated with absolute, blind obedience.
[paragraph continues] Here there is a mingling of the most strangely varied ideas. In Persia the people had been too long accustomed to looking upon their rulers as divine for them to be capable of taking up any other position. A story is told of the governor of a Persian province who wrote to the Khalifa of his time that he was not able to prevent his people from giving him the style and treatment of a god; they did not understand any other kind of ruler; it was as much as his authority was worth to attempt to make them desist. From this attitude, combined with the idea of the transmigration of souls, the extreme Shi‘ite doctrine was derived.
But though the party of Ali might regard the descendants of Ali as semi-divine, yet their conspiracies and revolts were uniformly unsuccessful, and it became a very dangerous thing to head one. The party was willing to get up a rising at any time, but the leader was apt to hang back. In fact, one of the most curious features of the whole movement was the uselessness of the family of Ali and the extent to which they were utilized by others. They have been, in a sense, the cat's-paws of history. Gradually they themselves drew back into retirement and vanished from the stage, and, with their vanishing, a new doctrine arose. It was that of the hidden Imam. We have already seen the case of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiya, whom Muslims reckon as the first of these concealed ones. Another descendant of Ali, on another line of descent, vanished in the same way in the latter part of the second century of the Hijra, and another about A.H. 260. Their respective followers
held that they were being kept in concealment by God and would be brought back at the appointed time to rule over the world and bring in a kind of Muslim millennium. This is the oriental version of the story of Arthur in Avalon and of Frederick Barbarossa in Kyffhaiiser.
But that has led us far away and we must go back to the fall of the Umayyads and the again disappointed hopes of the Alids. By the time of the last Khalifa of the Umayyad house, Marwan II, A.H. 127-132 (A.D. 744-750), the whole empire was more or less in rebellion, partly Shi‘ite and partly Kharijite. The Shi‘ites themselves had, as usual, no man strong enough to act as leader; that part was taken by as-Saffah, a descendant of al-Abbas, an uncle of Muhammad. The rebellion was ostensibly to bring again into power the family of the Prophet, but under that the Abbasids understood the family of Hashim, while the Alids took it in the more exact sense of themselves. They were made a cat's-paw, the Abbasid dynasty was founded, and they were thrown over. Thus, the Khalifate remained persistently in the hands of those who, up to the last, had been hostile to the Prophet. This al-Abbas had embraced the faith only when Mecca was taken by the Muslims. Later historians, jealous for the good name of the ancestor of the longest line of all the Successors, have labored to build up a legend that al-Abbas stayed in Mecca only because he could there be more useful in the cause of his nephew. This is one of the perversions of early history of which the Muslim chronicles are full.
But the story of the Umayyads is not yet out. From the ruin that overwhelmed them, one escaped and fled to North Africa. There, he vainly tried to draw together a power. At last, seeing in Spain some better prospect of success, he crossed thither, and by courage, statesmanship, and patience, carved out a new Umayyad empire that lasted for 300 years. One of his descendants in A.H. 317 (A.D. 929) took the title of Khalifa and claimed the homage due to the Commander of the Faithful. There is story that al-Mansur, the second Abbasid, once asked his courtiers, "Who is the Falcon of Quraysh?" They named one after another of the great men of the tribe, beginning, naturally, with his majesty himself, but to no purpose. "No," he said, "the Falcon of Quraysh is Abd ar-Rahman, the Umayyad, who found his way over deserts and seas, flung himself alone into a strange country, and there, without any helper but himself, built up a realm. There has been none like him of the blood of Quraysh."