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HASAN THE SON OF ALI, THE FIFTH CALIPH AFTER MOHAMMED.

Hejirah 40, 41. a.d. 660, 661.

After Ali had received his mortal wound, and there was no room left for any hopes of recovery; his friends inquired his wishes as to his successor. He told them, that with regard to that affair, he intended to follow the example of the apostle of God, who did not nominate any successor. That if it did please God to favour the people, he would undoubtedly unite their judgments, and enable them to make a good choice. So the election fell of course without any scruple upon Ali’s eldest son Hasan, a man who inherited more of his father’s piety than his courage; and was reverenced not only upon the account of his near relationship to Ali, but also because he was very studious of the practical part of religion, and accounted by all a very good man.

As soon as his father Ali was dead, Hasan performed the office which belonged properly to him as the eldest son. Standing up he pronounced his father’s eulogy, and said to the people; “You have killed a man (meaning his father) on that same night in which the Koran came down from heaven, and Isa (Jesus), upon whom be peace, was lifted up to heaven, and in which Joshua the son of Nun was killed; by God, none of his predecessors exceeded him, nor will any of his successors ever be equal to him.”[1] After this they proceeded to Hasan’s inauguration, which was begun by Kais, addressing him in this form:—“Stretch out your hand, as a token that you will stand by the book of God and the tradition of the apostle, and make war against all opposers.”[2] Hasan answered, “As to the book of God and the tradition of the apostle, they will stand.” Then the rest came in, with whom he stipulated, that they should be subject and obedient to him, and be at peace with his friends, and at war with his enemies. This they generally did, but some of the Irakians, who were quite weary of the Syrian war, hesitated at that condition, and said, “This man will never serve us for a master; we are for no more fighting.”

Notwithstanding the remissness and insubordination of the greater party of Ali’s men, forty (and some say sixty) thousand had, it is said, before he was murdered, bound themselves in an association, to stand by him to death, and that he was making preparation to march against his rival at the head of them. With this trusty body of his father’s troops, Hasan was persuaded, contrary to his own inclination, to insist upon his right, and renew the dispute with Moawiyah, who held possession of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, and was proclaimed caliph in those countries, even before Ali was killed, and refused to acknowledge Hasan’s title, because he accused him of having been an accomplice in the murder of Othman.

Hasan was totally unqualified for such an undertaking, being naturally of a peaceable disposition, and looking upon the effusion of Mussulmans’ blood with the greatest horror imaginable. Over-persuaded however, by others, he set forwards on his march, having sent Kais before him with twelve thousand men. Moawiyah was already on his route to meet them, and after a skirmish between Kais and the Syrians, he halted and determined to await Hasan’s arrival. When the latter came to Madayan, a disturbance broke out in his camp, occasioned by the sudden murder of one of his men, which was no sooner known, but the whole host was in such an uproar, that no regard was paid to his dignity or presence, but in the tumult he was not only jostled from his seat, but received a wound.[3] Upon this he retired into Madayan castle, where the governor’s nephew proposed to his uncle to put him in irons, and make a present of him to Moawiyah: his uncle gave him a hearty curse, and said, “What! would you betray the son of the daughter of the apostle of God?” Hasan perceiving the people divided, and himself ill used and almost deserted by the Irakians, weary of the fatigue and disorders of the government, wrote to Moawiyah, proffering to resign the caliphate to him upon certain terms.

Hosein his younger brother was utterly against Hasan’s abdication, as being a reflection upon, and disparagement to the memory of their father Ali;[4] but Hasan, well apprised of Moawiyah’s resolution on the one side, and the fickleness of his own Irakians on the other, persisted in his determination.[5] It is said that before the last battle he wrote to Moawiyah, proposing certain conditions; but that Moawiyah, before he received his letter, had sent him a blank paper signed at the bottom, bidding Hasan write what terms he pleased in it, and he would take care to see them punctually performed. Hasan took the paper and doubled the conditions which he had demanded in his letter; and when he and Moawiyah came together, he insisted upon the terms written in the blank paper: which Moawiyah refused, and told him, that it was reasonable he should be contented with those that he had expressed in his letter, since it was his own proposition. The articles that Hasan then stipulated for were these. First, that Moawiyah should give him all the money in the treasury of Cufah. Secondly, the revenues of a vast estate in Persia. Thirdly, that Moawiyah should make no reproachful reflection upon his father Ali.[6] Moawiyah would not consent to the last article. Then Hasan requested that he would at least forbear doing it in his hearing; which Moawiyah promised him, but did not keep to his engagement.[7]

The conditions agreed upon, Hasan and Moawiyah went into Cufah together, when Amrou Ebn Al Aas gave Moawiyah a hint, that he thought it proper for him to order Hasan to stand up and testify his abdication.[8] Moawiyah did not approve of that motion, for he knew very well that it was superfluous for Hasan to acquaint the people with what they were all eye-witnesses of, and that if he did speak at all, it was more than probable that he would leave a sting behind him; but, overcome with Amrou’s importunity, he at length commanded Hasan to do it. Then Hasan stood up, and having first praised God, said, “O people! God, whose name be magnified and glorified, directed you the right way by the help of the first of our family, and hath prevented the effusion of your blood by the means of the last of us. Moawiyah contended with me concerning a matter, to which I had a better pretension than he; but I chose rather to surrender it to him, than to shed the blood of the people. But even this affair also hath a time prefixed for its duration, and the world is liable to changes.”[9] Which last words, as presaging a revolution, Moawiyah so disrelished, that he immediately commanded Hasan to sit down, and chid Amrou severely for his advice. Some authors, moreover, go so far as to say, that he was so exasperated against Amrou, as never to be heartily reconciled to him as long as he lived.[10] Hasan, before his departure, stood up and told the Irakians, that he had three things to lay to their charge:—The murder of his father, the affronts offered to his own person, and the robbing him of his goods. For, though Moawiyah had promised him the treasury of Cufah, they refused to let him have it, insisting that it was their property, and could not, therefore, be alienated without their consent.

However, it was no great loss to him, for Moawiyah, once possessed of the caliphate, which was the only thing he aimed at, never grudged him any amount of revenue he might require. He assigned him about a hundred and fifty thousand pounds a year, besides large presents. He and his brother Hosein retired and lived privately at Medina.[11] He spent most of his vast revenue in deeds of charity. So little was he attached to the things of this world, that twice in his life-time he stripped himself of all that he had; and three other several times he divided half his substance among the poor. His seal or motto during his caliphate was, “There is no God but God, the true and manifest King.”

Authors differ as to the precise time of his reign; but most assign him about six months, or a little over. Upon his coming to Medina,[12] Hasan was blamed by some of his friends there for having so tamely and easily resigned; but the followers of Ali, Hasan, and Hosein to this very day look upon it as a singular demonstration of his excellent disposition, and tender care of the people, upon account of which he had been before commended by the prophet himself. To those that asked him what induced him to resign so easily, he answered, that he was weary of the world. Besides that, the Cufians were such a faithless people, that among them never a man ever trusted another but he was a sufferer by it; that never two of them concurred in their opinion and desire of the same thing; nor had they any regard either to good or evil. Moreover, that their behaviour towards his father had quite turned his thoughts from entertaining any the least hopes of rectifying, by their assistance, anything that was amiss; and, to sum up their character, they were the most thievish, mischievous people in the world.

Though this is the true character of the Cufians they yet expressed a great reverence and affection for Hasan. For when, having made up his mind to resign, he began his speech to them with these words: “We are your commanders and your chiefs, and we are of the family of the house of your prophet, from which God hath removed pollution, and whom he hath purified;” there was not a man present in the congregation but wept so loud that you might hear him sob. At his departure, too, from Cufah to Medina, they evinced their love and sorrow with tears.

Whilst Hasan was living at Medina, some of the Karegites, those heretics that had given his father so much disturbance, made an insurrection against Moawiyah, who wrote to Hasan, calling upon him to take the field against them. Hasan desired to be excused; and told him that he had relinquished the chief care of public affairs on purpose to avoid it; and that if he had cared for fighting at all, it should have been against him.

At last, in the forty-ninth year of their date, which falls in with the six hundred and sixty-ninth of ours, Hasan died at Medina, of poison, administered to him by one of his wives,[13] whom Yezid, the son of Moawiyah, suborned to commit that wickedness, on the promise of marrying her afterwards. But instead of a new husband, she was forced to be contented with a good sum of money, which Moawiyah gave her for her pains; for Yezid was not so mad as to trust himself to her embraces.

Some writers say, that Moawiyah himself suborned some of Hasan’s servants, and not his wife, to poison him. However that may be, when the time of his death drew near, his physician, as he was walking backwards and forwards about the room, and, eyeing him narrowly, had said that his bowels were eaten up with poison, his brother Hosein begged of him to tell who had given him the fatal draught, and swore to avenge his death on the murderer with his own hand before his burial, if he could reach him; if not, to send somebody that should. But Hasan answered, “O brother! the life of this world is made up of nights which vanish away; let him alone till he and I meet together before God:” and refused to mention the person.

Hasan was born at Medina, in the middle of the month Ramadan, in the third year of the Hejirah. There is an infinity of traditions concerning him and his brother Hosein; and no wonder, considering they were the grandchildren of one reputed to be an inspired prophet by his only daughter. Hasan is said to have been in person very like his grandfather Mohammed, who, when he was born, spit in his mouth and named him Hasan. Mohammed was used to express his fondness for his grandchild in his infancy after the strangest manner possible. And after he was a little older, when he was kneeling at prayers, he would elbow the little Hasan to come and clamber upon him; and, to humour him, Mohammed would hold him on, and prolong the prayers on purpose.[14] Nay, sometimes in the midst of a discourse to the people, if he saw Hasan and Hosein running towards him, he would come down to them and embrace them, and take them up with him into the pulpit; then, making a short apology in behalf of their innocency and tender age, proceed in his discourse.

One of my authors[15] says, “That the Syrians indeed set up Moawiyah at Jerusalem, because there was none to oppose them, and that the Irakians set up Hasan against him, and would undoubtedly have succeeded in their attempt, but for their mismanagement and divisions among themselves. Had they but understood aright, they would have magnified the mercy of God in giving them the apostle’s grandson. What we find in the book entitled, ‘The Demonstrations of Prophecy,’ from the tradition of Sephinah, who was a servant or freedman of the apostle of God, is a proof that he was the right successor. Here Mohammed is recorded to have said, ‘The caliphate shall continue after me thirty years, and after that shall be a kingdom.’ Now Mohammed died in the eleventh year of the Hejirah, and Hasan’s abdication was in the fortieth. From whence it is plain, not only that Mohammed is a prophet, but that Hasan is his rightful successor. Mohammed, too, had prophetically praised Hasan, for thus relinquishing the present perishable world, and desiring that other which is permanent, and on this account sparing to shed the blood of this people; for Mohammed having one day mounted the pulpit, while Hasan sat by him (which he frequently used to do), after looking sometimes upon him, and sometimes upon the people, called out, ‘O people! this son of mine is lord, and God shall unite by his means two great contending parties of the Mussulmans.’” The last anecdote is from Al Bokhari, the great collector of the traditions of Mohammed.[16]

A woman once having presented Hasan with a bunch of fine herbs, he asked her if she was a free woman; the woman told him she was a slave, but that the present she had made was rare and curious. Hasan gave her her liberty, saying to those that were present, “We have received this instruction from God himself, that we ought to give to those that make us presents something of more value than that which they give us.”[17] Meaning, that this moral instruction is couched in the Koran, which the Mussulmans, blind as they are, yet as they look upon it as the word of God, are careful to obey.

A wonderful instance is related of the moderation of the caliph. A slave having spilled upon him, as he sat at table, a dish of scalding broth, instantly threw himself down at his knees, repeating these words of the Koran, “Paradise is open to those that govern their passion;” Hasan answered him, “I am not at all in a passion.” Encouraged by this mildness, the slave went on, “And to those who pardon offences.” “I pardon you yours,” said Hasan. And when the slave continued to the end of the verse, which says, “God loves those above all who do good to them that have offended them;” .Hasan concluded too, with these generous words, “Since it is so, I give you your liberty and four hundred drachms of silver.”

Among my authorities I find one who, treating of Hasan’s death, asserted that in the treaties between him and Moawiyah, it had been stipulated that Moawiyah should never declare a successor so long as Hasan lived, but should leave, as Omar had done before, the election in the hands of a certain number of persons, to be nominated by Hasan. Moawiyah therefore being desirous of leaving the caliphate to his son Yezid, and thinking he could not bring his design about so long as Hasan was alive, determined to get rid of him.

Hasan had twenty children, fifteen sons and five daughters. Though his wives were all of them remarkably fond of him, yet he was apt very frequently to divorce them and marry new ones.[18] Among the sectaries of Ali some draw the line or descent of the true Imams from Abdallah, one of Hasan’s children, who had a son named Yahya; while, according to the Persians, the succession passed from Hasan to his younger brother Hosein.

The Mussulmans are fond of quoting the following sentence of Hasan’s: “The tears which are let fall through devotion should not be wiped off, nor the water which remains upon the body after legal washing; because this water makes the face of the faithful to shine, when they present themselves before God.”

He died at the age of forty-seven years, in the month Sefer of the forty-ninth year of the Hejirah.[19] He left directions in his will that he should be buried near his grandfather Mohammed: but to prevent any disturbance, and lest his body should be forcibly carried to the common burial-place, he thought it proper to ask Ayesha’s leave, which she granted. Notwithstanding this, when he was dead, Saïd who was governor of the town, and Merwan the son of Hakem, and all the whole family of the house of Ommiyah that were then at Medinah, opposed it. Upon which the heats between the two families arose to a great height. At last Ayesha said, “that it was her house, and that she would not allow him to be buried there.” Wherefore they laid him in the common burying-place. When Moawiyah heard of Hasan’s death, he fell down and worshipped.

Original footnotesEdit

  1. Ebn Al Athir.
  2. Abulfeda.
  3. Ebn Al Athir.
  4. Abulfaragius.
  5. Tabari. Elmakin.
  6. Abulfeda.
  7. Darajerd.
  8. Tabari. Elmakin.
  9. Abulfaragius.
  10. MS. Hunt. No. 495.
  11. D’Herbelot.
  12. MS. Hunt. No. 495.
  13. “The woman’s name was Jaidah, the daughter of Ashaath. The method which she adopted for the accomplishment of her design was not less remarkable than its consummate perfidy. Upon an occasion of anointing her husband’s person after the bath, she used a napkin which she had previously impregnated with poison. The subtle preparation soon pervaded the frame of Hasan, and speedy and inevitable death was the consequence. It is stated, on respectable authority, that she had made five [footnote continues on p. 351] successive attempts without effect, but his constitution yielded to the sixth. The sum which Jaidah is said to have received was 50,000 dirhems, about £1,146.” —Price.
  14. The Mohammedans say their prayers prostrated, so that their foreheads touch the ground, though not all the while. And so we are to understand it in the Old Testament, when it is said of any one, “he fell down and worshipped;” for the same word that signifies worship is used for a Mohammedan’s saying his prayers.
  15. MS. Hunt. No. 495.
  16. I have not yet been able to find out who this author is from whom I have taken this last argument, because the book is imperfect both at the beginning and the end, and I could never find any other copy of him. But he hath been of singular use to me throughout the whole course of this history to the life of Merwan, the son of Hakem, where the copy fails. I find in another passage, that he was himself the author of the book of the ‘Demonstrations of Prophecy which he mentions. He also affirms, that he wrote another treatise to prove that it was impracticable for Mohammed to marry Abu Sofian’s daughter, of which more afterwards. Whoever he was, it is certain he was a great Imam.
  17. D’Herbelot.
  18. MS. Hunt. ubi supra. D’Herbelot.
  19. Ebn Al Athir.