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25
CALIPHATE

with the laws.” After the administration of justice he directed his organizing activity, as the circumstances demanded, chiefly towards financial questions—the incidence of taxation in the conquered territories,[1] and the application of the vast resources which poured into the treasury at Medina. It must not be brought against him as a personal reproach, that in dealing with these he acted on the principle that the Moslems were the chartered plunderers of all the rest of the world. But he had to atone by his death for the fault of his system. In the mosque at Medina he was stabbed by a Kufan workman and died in November 644.

3. Reign of Othman.—Before his death Omar had nominated six of the leading Mohajir (Emigrants) who should choose the caliph from among themselves—Othman, Ali, Zobair, Ṭalḥa, Sa‛d b. Abi Waqqāṣ, and Abdarraḥmān b. Auf. The last-named declinedl to be a candidate, and decided the election in favour of Othman. Under this weak sovereign the government of Islam fell entirely into the hands of the Koreish nobility. We have already seen that Mahomet himself prepared the way for this transference; Abu Bekr and Omar likewise helped it; the Emigrants were unanimous among themselves in thinking that the precedence and leadership belonged to them as of right. Thanks to the energy of Omar, they were successful in appropriating to themselves the succession to the Prophet. They indeed rested their claims on the undeniable priority of their services to the faith, but they also appealed to their blood relationship with the Prophet as a corroboration of their right to the inheritance; and the ties of blood connected them with the Koreish in general. In point of fact they felt a closer connexion with these than, for example, with the natives of Medina; nature had not been expelled by faith.[2] The supremacy of the Emigrants naturally furnished the means of transition to the supremacy of the Meccan aristocracy. Othman did all in his power to press forward this development of affairs. He belonged to the foremost family of Mecca, the Omayyads, and that he should favour his relations and the Koreish as a whole, in every possible way, seemed to him a matter of course. Every position of influence and emolument was assigned to them; they themselves boastingly called the important province of Irak the garden of Koreish. In truth, the entire empire had become that garden. Nor was it unreasonable that from the secularization of Islam the chief advantage should be reaped by those who best knew the world. Such were beyond all doubt the patricians of Mecca, and after them those of Tāif, people like Khālid b. al-Walīd, Amr-ibn-el-Ass, ‛Abdallah b. abī Sarḥ, Moghīra b. Sho‛ba, and, above all, old Abu Sofiān with his son Moawiya.

Against the rising tide of worldliness an opposition, however, now began to appear. It was led by what may be called the spiritual noblesse of Islam, which, as distinguished from the hereditary nobility of Mecca, might also be designated as the nobility of merit, consisting of the “Defenders” (Ansar), and especially of the Emigrants who had lent themselves to the elevation of the Koreish, but by no means with the intention of allowing themselves thereby to be effaced. The opposition was headed by Ali, Zobair, Ṭalḥa, both as leading men among the Emigrants and as disappointed candidates for the Caliphate. Their motives were purely selfish; not God's cause but their own, not religion but power and preferment, were what they sought.[3] Their party was a mixed one. To it belonged the men of real piety, who saw with displeasure the promotion to the first places in the commonwealth of the great lords who had actually done nothing for Islam, and had joined themselves to it only at the last moment. But the majority were merely a band of men without views, whose aim was a change not of system, but of persons in their own interest. Everywhere in the provinces there was agitation against the caliph and his governors, except in Syria, where Othman's cousin, Moawiya, son of Abu Sofiān (see below), carried on a wise and strong administration. The movement was most energetic in Irak and in Egypt. Its ultimate aim was the deposition of Othman in favour of Ali, whose own services as well as his close relationship to the Prophet seemed to give him the best claim to the Caliphate. Even then, there were enthusiasts who held him to be a sort of Messiah.

The malcontents sought to gain their end by force. In bands they came from the provinces to Medina to wring concessions from Othman, who, though his armies were spreading terror from the Indus and Oxus to the Atlantic, had no troops at hand in Medina. He propitiated the mutineers by concessions, but as soon as they had gone, he let matters resume their old course. Thus things went on from bad to worse. In the following year (656) the leaders of the rebels came once more from Egypt and Irak to Medina with a more numerous following; and the caliph again tried the plan of making promises which he did not intend to keep. But the rebels caught him in a flagrant breach of his word,[4] and now demanded his abdication, besieging him in his own house, where he was defended by a few faithful subjects. As he would not yield, they at last took the building by storm and put him to death, an old man of eighty. His death in the act of maintaining his rights was of the greatest service to his house and of corresponding disadvantage to the enemy.

4. Reign of Ali.—Controversy as to the inheritance at once arose among the leaders of the opposition. The mass of the mutineers summoned Ali to the Caliphate, and compelled even Ṭalḥa and Zobair to do him homage. But soon these two, along with Ayesha, the mother of the faithful, who had an old grudge against Ali, succeeded in making their escape to Irak, where at Baṣra they raised the standard of rebellion. Ali in point of fact had no real right to the succession, and moreover was apparently actuated not by piety but by ambition and the desire of power, so that men of penetration, even although they condemned Othman's method of government, yet refused to recognize his successor. The new caliph, however, found means of disposing of their opposition, and at the battle of the Camel fought at Baṣra in November 656, Ṭalḥa and Zobair were slain, and Ayesha was taken prisoner.

But even so Ali had not secured peace. With the murder of Othman the dynastic principle gained the twofold advantage of a legitimate cry—that of vengeance for the blood of the grey-haired caliph and a distinguished champion, the governor Moawiya, whose position in Syria was impregnable. The kernel of his subjects consisted of genuine Arabs, not only recent immigrants along with Islam, but also old settlers who, through contact with the Roman empire and the Christian church, had become to some extent civilized. Through the Ghassanids these latter had become habituated to monarchical government and loyal obedience, and for a long time much better order had prevailed amongst them than elsewhere in Arabia. Syria was the proper soil for the rise of an Arabian kingdom, and Moawiya was just the man to make use of the situation. He exhibited Othman's blood-stained garment in the mosque at Damascus, and incited his Syrians to vengeance.

Ali's position in Kufa was much less advantageous. The population of Irak was already mixed up with Persian elements; it fluctuated greatly, and was largely composed of fresh immigrants. Islam had its headquarters here; Kufa and Baṣra were the home of the pious and of the adventurer, the centres of religious and political movement. This movement it was that had raised Ali to the Caliphate, but yet it did not really take any personal interest in him. Religion proved for him a less trustworthy and more dangerous support than did the conservative and secular feeling of Syria for the Omayyads. Moawiya could either act or refrain from acting as he chose, secure in either case

  1. Nöldeke, Tabari, 246. To Omar is due also the establishment of the Era of the Flight (Hegira).
  2. Even in the list of the slain at the battle of Honain the Emirants are enumerated along with the Meccans and Koreish, and distinguished from the men of Medina.
  3. It was the same opposition of the spiritual to the secular nobility that afterwards showed itself in the revolt of the sacred cities against the Omayyads. The movement triumphed with the elevation of the Abbasids to the throne. But, that the spiritual nobility was fighting not for principle but for personal advantage was as apparent in Ali's hostitilies against Zobair and Ṭalḥa as in that of the Abbasids against the followers of Ali.
  4. Or, at least, so they thought. The history of the letter to ‛Abdallah b. abī Sarḥ seems to have been a trick played on the caliph, who suspected Ali of having had a hand in it.