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CHAP. prophet." The policy of Moawiyah eluded the valour * of his rival; and, after the death of Ali, he negotiated the abdication of his son Hassan, whose mind was either above or below the government of the world, and who retired without a sigh from the palace of Cufa to a humble cell near the tomb of his grandfather. The aspiring wishes of the caliph were finally crowned by the important change of an elective to an hereditary kingdom. Some murmurs of freedom or fanaticism attested the reluctance of the Arabs, and four citizens of Medina refused the oath of fidelity; but the designs of Moawiyah were conducted with vigour and address; and his son Yezid, a feeble and dissolute youth, was proclaimed as the commander of the faithful and the successor of the apostle of God. Death of A familiar story is related of the benevolence of o one of the sons of Ali. In serving at table, a slave *" had inadvertently dropt a dish of scalding broth on his master: the heedless wretch fell prostrate to deprecate his punishment, and repeated a verse of the Koran: “Paradise is for those who command their anger:”—“I am not angry:”—“ and for those who pardon offences:”—“I pardon your offence:”—“and for those who return good for evil:”—“I give you your liberty, and four hundred pieces of silver.” With an equal measure of piety, Hosein, the younger brother of Hassan, inherited a remnant of his father’s spirit, and served with honour against the Christians in the siege of Constantinople. The primogeniture of the line of Hashem, and the holy character of grandson of the apostle, had centered in his person, and he was at liberty to prosecute his claim against Yezid, the tyrant of Damascus, whose vices he despised, and whose title he had never deigned to acknowledge. A list was secretly transmitted from Cufa to Medina, of one hundred and forty thousand chor.
* I borrow, on this occasion, the strong sense and expression of Tacitus (Hist. i. 4): Evulgato imperii arcano posse imperatorem alibi quam Roma fieri.
Moslems, who professed their attachment to his cause, and who were eager to draw their swords so soon as he should appear on the banks of the Euphrates. Against the advice of his wisest friends, he resolved to trust his person and family in the hands of a perfidious people. He traversed the desert of Arabia with a timorous retinue of women and children; but as he approached the confines of Irak, he was alarmed by the solitary or hostile face of the country, and suspected either the defection or ruin of his party. His fears were just; Obeidollah, the governor of Cufa, had extinguished the first sparks of an insurrection; and Hosein, in the plain of Kerbela, was encompassed by a body of five thousand horse, who intercepted his communication with the city and the river. He might still have escaped to a fortress in the desert, that had defied the power of Caesar and Chosroes, and confided in the fidelity of the tribe of Tai, which would have armed ten thousand warriors in his defence. In a conference with the chief of the enemy, he proposed the option of three honourable conditions; that he should be allowed to return to Medina, or be stationed in a frontier garrison against the Turks, or safely conducted to the presence of Yezid. But the commands of the caliph, or his lieutenant, were stern and absolute; and Hosein was informed that he must either submit as a captive and a criminal to the commander of the faithful, or ex
pect the consequences of his rebellion. “Do you
think,” replied he, “to terrify me with death?” And, during the short respite of a night, he prepared with calm and solemn resignation to encounter his fate. He checked the lamentations of his sister Fatima, who deplored the impending ruin of his house. “Our trust,” said Hosein, “is in God alone. All things,
both in heaven and earth, must perish and return to
CHAP, their Creator. My brother, my father, my mother,
were better than me, and every Musulman has an example in the prophet.” He pressed his friends to consult their safety by a timely flight: they unanimously refused to desert or survive their beloved master; and their courage was fortified by a fervent prayer and the assurance of paradise. On the morning of the fatal day, he mounted on horseback, with his sword in one hand and the Koran in the other: his generous band of martyrs consisted only of thirty-two horse and forty foot; but their flanks and rear were secured by the tent-ropes, and by a deep trench which they had filled with lighted faggots, according to the practice of the Arabs. The enemy advanced with reluctance; and one of their chiefs deserted, with thirty followers, to claim the partnership of inevitable death. In every close onset, or single combat, the despair of the Fatimites was invincible; but the surrounding multitudes galled them from a distance with a cloud of arrows, and the horses and men were successively slain: a truce was allowed on both sides for the hour of prayer; and the battle at length expired by the death of the last of the companions of Hosein. Alone, weary, and wounded, he seated himself at the door of his tent. As he tasted a drop of water, he was pierced in the mouth with a dart; and his son and nephew, two beautiful youths, were killed in his arms. He lifted his hands to heaven, they were full of blood, and he uttered a funeral prayer for the living and the dead. In a transport of despair his sister issued from the tent, and adjured the general of the Cufians, that he would not suffer Hosein to be murdered before his eyes: a tear trickled down his venerable beard; and the boldest of his soldiers fell back on every side as the dying hero threw himself among them. The remorseless Shamer, a name detested by the faithful, reproached their
cowardice; and the grandson of Mahomet was slain char.
with three and thirty strokes of lances and swords. After they had trampled on his body, they carried his head to the castle of Cufa, and the inhuman
Obeidollah struck him on the mouth with a cane:
“Alas!” exclaimed an aged Musulman, “on these lips have I seen the lips of the apostle of God!” In a distant age and climate the tragic scene of the death of Hosein will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader." On the annual festival of his martyrdom, in the devout pilgrimage to his sepulchre, his Persian votaries abandon their souls to the religious frenzy of sorrow and indignation.*
When the sisters and children of Ali were brought osterity of
in chains to the throne of Damascus, the caliph was and Åli.
advised to extirpate the enmity of a popular and hostile race, whom he had injured beyond the hope of reconciliation. But Yezid preferred the counsels of mercy; and the mourning family was honourably dismissed to mingle their tears with their kindred at Medina. The glory of martyrdom superseded the right of primogeniture; and the twelve IMAMs,” or pontiffs, of the Persian creed are Ali, Hassan, Hosein, and the lineal descendants of Hosein to the ninth generation. Without arms, or treasures, or subjects, they successively enjoyed the veneration of the people, and provoked the jealousy of the reigning caliphs: their tombs at Mecca or Medina, on the banks of the Euphrates, or in the province of Chorasan, are still w I have abridged the interesting narrative of Ockley (tom. ii. p. 170–231). It is long and minute; but the pathetic, almost always, consists in the detail of little circumstances. * Niebuhr the Dane (Voyages en Arabie, &c. tom. ii. p. 208, &c.) is perhaps the only European traveller who has dared to visit Meshed Ali and Meshed Hosein. The two sepulchres are in the hands of the Turks, who tolerate and tax the devotion of the Persian heretics. The festival of the death of Hosein is amply described by Sir John Chardin, a traveller whom I have often praised. y The general article of Imam, in D'Herbelot's Bibliothèque, will indicate
the succession; and the lives of the twelve are given under their respective nameS.
chap. visited by the devotion of their sect. Their names L.
were often the pretence of sedition and civil war; but these royal saints despised the pomp of the world, submitted to the will of God and the injustice of man, and devoted their innocent lives to the study and practice of religion. The twelfth and last of the Imams, conspicuous by the title of Mahadi, or the Guide, surpassed the solitude and sanctity of his predecessors. He concealed himself in a cavern near Bagdad: the time and place of his death are unknown; and his votaries pretend, that he still lives, and will appear before the day of judgment to overthrow the tyranny of Dejal, or the Antichrist.” In the lapse of two or three centuries the posterity of Abbas, the uncle of Mahomet, had multiplied to the number of thirty-three thousand:* the race of Ali might be equally prolific; the meanest individual was above the first and greatest of princes; and the most eminent were supposed to excel the perfection of angels. But their adverse fortune, and the wide extent of the Musulman empire, allowed an ample scope for every bold and artful impostor, who claimed affinity with the holy seed: the sceptre of the Almohades in Spain and Africa, of the Fatimites in Egypt and Syria," of the Sultans of Yemen, and of the Sophis of Persia,” has been consecrated by this vague
* The name of Antichrist may seem ridiculous, but the Mahometans have liberally borrowed the fables of every religion (Sale's Preliminary Discourse, P. 80. 82). In the royal stable of Ispahan, two horses were always kept saddled, one for the Mahadi himself, the other for his lieutenant, Jesus the son of Mary.
* In the year of the Hegira 200 (A. D. 815). See D'Herbelot, p. 546.
b D'Herbelot, p. 342. The enemies of the Fatimites disgraced them by a Jewish origin. Yet they accurately deduced their genealogy from Jaafar, the sixth Imam ; and the impartial Abulfeda allows (Annal. Moslem. p. 230), that they were owned by many, qui absque controversia genuini sunt Alidarum, homines propaginum suae gentis exacte callentes. He quotes some lines from the celebrated Scherifor Rahdi, Egone humilitatem induan in terris hostium ? (I suspect him to be an Edrissite of Sicily) cum in AEgypto sit Chalifa de gente Alii, quocum ego communem habeo patrem et vindicem.
c The kings of Persia of the last dynasty are descended from Sheik Sefi, a saint of the xivth century, and through him from Moussa Cassem, the son of Hosein, o