« ForrigeFortsett »
might aspire to march before them in this world and in the next; and if some were of a graver and more rigid cast, the zeal and virtue of Ali were never outstripped by any recent proselyte. He united the qualifications of a poet, a soldier, and a saint: his wisdom still breathes in a collection of moral and religious sayings;" and every antagonist, in the combats of the tongue or of the sword, was subdued by his eloquence and valour. From the first hour of his mission to the last rites of his funeral, the apostle was never forsaken by a generous friend, whom he delighted to name his brother, his vicegerent, and the faithful Aaron of a second Moses. The son of Abu Taleb was afterwards reproached for neglecting to secure his interest by a solemn declaration of his right, which would have silenced all competition, and sealed his succession by the decrees of heaven. But the unsuspecting hero confided in himself: the jealousy of empire, and perhaps the fear of opposition, might suspend the resolutions of Mahomet; and the bed of sickness was besieged by the artful Ayesha, the daughter of Abubeker, and the enemy of Ali. The silence and death of the prophet restored the liberty of the people; and his companions convened an assembly to deliberate on the choice of his successor. The hereditary claim and lofty spirit of Ali were offensive to an aristocracy of elders, desirous of bestowing and resuming the sceptre by a free and frequent election: the Koreish could never be reconciled to the proud pre-eminence of the line of Hashem: the ancient discord of the tribes was rekindled; the fugitives of Mecca and the auxiliaries of Medina asserted their respective merits; and the rash pro
k Ockley (at the end of his second volume) has given an English version of 169 sentences, which he ascribes, with some hesitation, to Ali, the son of Abu Taleb. His preface is coloured by the enthusiasm of a translator; yet these sentences delineate a characteristic, though dark, picture of human life.
posal of choosing two independent caliphs would have CHAP.
crushed in their infancy the religion and empire of the Saracens. The tumult was appeased by the disinterested resolution of Omar, who, suddenly renouncing his own pretensions, stretched forth his hand, and declared himself the first subject of the mild and venerable Abubeker. The urgency of the moment, and the acquiescence of the people, might excuse this illegal and precipitate measure; but Omar himself confessed from the pulpit, that if any Musulman should hereafter presume to anticipate the suffrage of his brethren, both the elector and the elected would be worthy of death." After the simple inauguration of Abubeker, he was obeyed in Medina, Mecca, and the provinces of Arabia: the Hashemites alone declined the oath of fidelity; and their chief, in his own house, maintained, above six months, a sullen and independent reserve; without listening to the threats of Omar, who attempted to consume with fire the habitation of the daughter of the apostle. The death of Fatima, and the decline of his party, subdued the indignant spirit of Ali: he condescended to salute the commander of the faithful, accepted his excuse of the necessity of preventing their common enemies, and wisely rejected his courteous offer of abdicating the government of the Arabians. After a reign of two years, the aged caliph was summoned by the angel of death. In his testament, with the tacit approbation of his companions, he bequeathed the sceptre to the firm and intrepid virtue of Omar. “I have no occasion,” said the modest candidate,
“for the place.” “But the place has occasion for of Omar;
you,” replied Abubeker; who expired with a fervent * prayer, that the God of Mahomet would ratify his choice, and direct the Musulmans in the way of concord and obedience. The prayer was not inef. fectual, since Ali himself, in a life of privacy and prayer, professed to revere the superior worth and dignity of his rival; who comforted him for the loss of empire, by the most flattering marks of confidence and esteem. In the twelfth year of his reign, Omar received a mortal wound from the hand of an assassin: he rejected with equal impartiality the names of his son and of Ali, refused to load his conscience with the sins of his successor, and devolved on six of the most respectable companions the arduous task of electing a commander of the faithful. On this occasion, Ali was again blamed by his friends" for submitting his right to the judgment of men, for recognising their jurisdiction by accepting a place among the six electors. He might have obtained their suffrage, had he deigned to promise a strict and servile conformity, not only to the Koran and tradition, but likewise to the determinations of two seniors." With these limitations, Othman, the secretary of Mahomet, accepted the government; nor was it till after the third caliph, twenty-four years after the death of the prophet, that Ali was invested, by the popular choice, with the regal and sacerdotal office. The manners of the Arabians retained their primitive simplicity, and the son of Abu Taleb despised the pomp and vanity of this world. At the hour of prayer, he repaired to the mosch of Medina, clothed in a thin cotton gown, a coarse turban on his head, his slippers in one hand, CHAP. and his bow in the other, instead of a walking-staff. L. The companions of the prophet and the chiefs of the tribes saluted their new sovereign, and gave him their right hands as a sign of fealty and allegiance. The mischiefs that flow from the contests of am- Discord of bition are usually confined to the times and countries o:s in which they have been agitated. But the religious * discord of the friends and enemies of Ali has been renewed in every age of the Hegira, and is still maintained in the immortal hatred of the Persians and Turks.” The former, who are branded with the appellation of Shiites or sectaries, have enriched the Mahometan creed with a new article of faith; and if Mahomet be the apostle, his companion Ali is the vicar, of God. In their private converse, in their public worship, they bitterly execrate the three usurpers who intercepted his indefeasible right to the dignity of Imam and Caliph; and the name of Omar expresses in their tongue the perfect accomplishment of wickedness and impiety.” The Sonnites, who are supported by the general consent and orthodox tradition of the Musulmans, entertain a more impartial, or at least a more decent, opinion. They respect the memory of Abubeker, Omar, Othman, and Ali, the holy and legitimate successors of the prophet. But they assign the last and most humble place to the husband of Fatima, in the persuasion that the order of succession was determined by the degrees
* Ockley (Hist.' of the Saracens, vol. i. p. 5, 6) from an Arabian MS. represents Ayesha as adverse to the substitution of her father in the place of the apostle. This fact, so improbable in itself, is unnoticed by Abulfeda, Al Jannabi, and Al Bochari, the last of whom quotes the tradition of Ayesha herself (Vit. Mohammed, p. 136. Vie de Mahomet, tom. iii. p. 236).
* Particularly by his friend and cousin Abdallah, the son of Abbas, who died A. D. 687, with the title of grand doctor of the Moslems. In Abulfeda he recapitulated the important occasions in which Ali had neglected his salutary advice (p. 76. vers. Reiske); and concludes (p. 85), O princeps fidelium, absolue controversia tu quidem were fortises, at inops boni consilii, et rerum gerendarum parum callens.
" I suspect that the two seniors (Abulpharagius, p. 115. Ockley, tom. i. p. 371) may signify not two actual counsellors, but his two predecessors, Abubeker and Omar.
• The schism of the Persians is explained by all our travellers of the last century, especially in the iid and ivth volumes of their master, Chardin. Niebuhr, though of inferior merit, has the advantage of writing so late as the year 1764 (Voyages en Arabie, &c. tom. ii. p. 208–233), since the ineffectual attempt of Nadir Shah to change the religion of the nation (see his Persian History translated into French by Sir William Jones, tom. ii. p. 5, 6.47, 48. 144—155). o
P Omar is the name of the devil; his murderer is a saint. When the Persians shoot with the bow, they frequently cry, “ May this arrow go to the heart of Omar !” (Voyages de Chardin, tom. ii. p. 239, 240. 259, &c.)
cHAP. of sanctity." A historian who balances the four
caliphs with a hand unshaken by superstition, will calmly pronounce, that their manners were alike pure and exemplary; that their zeal was fervent, and probably sincere; and that, in the midst of riches and
power, their lives were devoted to the practice of
moral and religious duties. But the public virtues of Abubeker and Omar, the prudence of the first, the severity of the second, maintained the peace and prosperity of their reigns. The feeble temper and declining age of Othman were incapable of sustaining the weight of conquest and empire. He chose, and he was deceived; he trusted, and he was betrayed: the most deserving of the faithful became useless or hostile to his government, and his lavish bounty was productive only of ingratitude and discontent. The spirit of discord went forth in the provinces, their deputies assembled at Medina, and the Charegites, the desperate fanatics who disclaimed the yoke of subordination and reason, were confounded among the free-born Arabs, who demanded the redress of their wrongs, and the punishment of their oppressors. From Cufa, from Bassora, from Egypt, foom the tribes of the desert, they rose in arms, encamped about a league from Medina, and despatched a haughty mandate to their sovereign, requiring him to execute justice, or to descend from the throne. His repentance began to disarm and disperse the insurgents; but their fury was rekindled by the arts of his enemies; and the forgery of a perfidious secretary was contrived to blast his reputation and pre
cipitate his fall. The caliph had lost the only guard
* This gradation of merit is distinctly marked in a creed illustrated by Reland (de Relig. Mohamm. l. i. p. 37); and a Sonnite argument inserted by Ockley (Hist. of the Saracens, tom. ii. p. 230). The practice of cursing the memory of Ali was abolished, after forty years, by the Ommiades themselves (D'Herbelot, p. 690); and there are few among the Turks who presume to revile him as an infidel (Voyages de Chardin, tom. iv. p. 46).