Skip to main content

Full text of "The Holy Sword The Story Of Islam From Muhammad To The Present"

See other formats


956 P34h 59-1321*9 * 
Payne^ Pierre Stephen Robert, 


The holy the story of 
Islam from Muhammad to the 
present* N*Y*, Harper [1959] 



^L, ..^-^v.. 

Vienna V Budapest 


Conquesfs of the Caliphs circo 750 A.D. 


The moment of mystery 

is as the flashing of a sword in the air. 
Jalalu'1-Din Rumi 



The Story of Islam from 
Muhammad to the Present 






Copyright 1959 by Robert Payne 

Printed in the United States of America 

All rights in this boo\ are reserved. 
No part of the boo\ may be used or reproduced 
in any manner whatsoever without written per- 
mission except in the case of brief quotations 
embodied in critical articles and reviews. For 

information address Harper & Brothers 

49 East tfrd Street, New Yorf( 16, N. Y. 


Library of Congress catalog card number: 59-7/57 


Introduction 1X 












Glossary 313 

Chronological Table 317 

Bibliography 321 

Index yrj 

A i6-page section o] photographs follows page 112 


<*-~&tJy/sc//*fy /YlsiV 


Conquesfs of ffte Cafipfis circa 750 A.D. 


the splendour and the glory 


remember coming in the evening through the high 
fortress gates of the city of Rhodes, and while the fountains played and 
the shadows swirled I wandered through the Street of the Knights 
and out into the Turkish quarter where the minarets stood against the 
sunset. It was very quiet that evening, though the starlings were racing 
like black clouds across the sky. I do not know how I found myself in 
the Turkish cemetery in the shadow of a mosque, the grass overgrow- 
ing the stone turbans on the tombs of long-dead governors and civil 
servants, who once ruled the island by order of the Sultan in Con- 
stantinople. If it was quiet in the streets, it was still quieter in the 
cemetery. Soon an imam appeared, wearing the green turban of a 
hajji and a shapeless white gown, an old man bent by age, with a face 
of remarkable sweetness and dignity. We spoke in French for a while., 
and when I was leaving and it was very dark, he said, shaking his 
head: "Every inch of this island has its drop of blood, and now the 
wars are over they were all unnecessary!" Then he waved his hands 
toward the assembled ghosts of the conquerors, and we went out into 
the streets laden with incense, and he gave me a small blue tile from 
a ruined fountain, and said: "Peace be upon you." 

I remember the nobility of the hajji, the look of settled composure on 
his face. He was like the Arabs I had imagined in my childhood. In my 
day there were no histories of the Arab conquests: one learned by bits 
and pieces; the child made up his own history. There was Baghdad in 
flames, the horsemen riding over the desert sands, the endless wars 
across the length and breadth of Asia the Veiled Prophet, Shah Jehan, 
Akbar, the Alhambra, the dhows laden with slaves, and always the 
mosques in the setting sun. I thought all Arabs were dark-featured,, 
bearded and of beautiful carriage, the most enviable of mortals; and I 
still think they are enviable* I was sixteen when I saw real Muhamadans 
for the first time. They were not peaceful they were hacking at them- 
selves with swords. 


In those days I lived in the naval base at Simonstown in South 
Africa, overlooking the blue waters of False Bay and the golden hills 
of the Hottentot Hollands. Some Malay workmen invited me to attend 
the \edifah ceremony in the local school hall. For weeks they had pre- 
pared for the ceremony. As they sat about the stage there was nothing 
to suggest that anything extraordinary was about to happen. Someone 
was beating on a metal drum. Someone else was pouring incense in the 
flames. I knew these men well, and they invited me on the stage, so I 
sat with them in the smoke of incense, listening to the drumbeats, 
admiring the strange medley of weapons they had brought with them 
curving swords, knives, daggers, skewers, even steel knitting needles. 
I asked Ibrahim about the heavy sword he was cradling in his arms. 
"It is a holy sword," he said, grasping it by the handle. "It is many 
hundreds of years old. 5 ' And in truth the sword quivering in his hand 
looked holy: so old and grey and mottled; and I knew it was razor- 
sharp, because I drew my finger along the blade. 

So perhaps half an hour passed, until they fell into a trance, their 
eyes closed, their lips moving. Suddenly Ibrahim threw off his coat and 
stood there naked to the waist, a strange smile of contentment on his 
lips. Then the sword flashed above his head and he brought it with a 
sickening crash against his outstretched left arm. The sword shivered, 
as though it had struck iron; but there was no wound. Later, with 
the same force, he stabbed himself in the stomach with the sword and 
the blade penetrated about four inches, and once again there was no 
blood. He inserted the sword between his ribs and drove it right into 
his chest; and he did not die. He was smiling when he drew the 
blade out again. Then he handed the sword to me there was no trace 
of blood on it and said: "Strike! It will not harm you! We shall see 
that no harm comes to you!" But I did not take the sword. 

For the rest of the evening the Malays stabbed, hacked and cut 
themselves, drove spikes and knitting needles through their tongues, 
necks and cheeks, and came to no harm. There was no blood, or only 
a little trickle. Swords flashed, drums were beating, the sweet-smelling 
incense made us all drowsy, but not so drowsy that we were unable to 
recognize that something miraculous was happening. Swords went 
through them as through butter. What was astonishing above every- 
thing else was the strength employed to drive the swords home and 
the way the flesh opened to the sword-points. "You have to say the 
name of God over and over again," Ibrahim said later. "Then every- 
thing is possible." 


I saw all the workmen again the next day; they were working in the 
naval base as though nothing had happened. They joked about the 
\haltfah, and some of them had small wounds which they painted with 

Never before or since have I witnessed such command of spirit over 
matter. I have seen men walking through fire, but this was a small 
matter in comparison with the great driving swords which tore through 
the flesh of these Malays and left them unscathed; and though I shall 
never know how such a display adds to the glory of God, I know they 
performed these rites in complete innocence, proving only that if a 
man has faith in his God, nothing is impossible to him. 

Since then, wandering through Malaya, Java, Persia and India, I have 
envied their serenity, their delighted absorption in their prayers, their 
sense of the world as a place to be enjoyed. Few Muhamadans have 
ever committed suicide. Western man's burden of guilt is unknown to 
them. They are a people who have acquired happiness and a sense of 
community with their brethren through the ritual they perform five 
times daily; and if the validity of a religion can be measured by the 
contentment it brings to men, then Muhamadanism possesses a validity 
above the ordinary. Yet the contentment of the Muhamadan arises 
from the precarious balance of forces. Like Christianity, Muhamadan- 
ism is dogged by a vast series of unresolved theological problems, and 
like the Christians the Muhamadans are the willing servants of an 
ideal which few can ever hope to approach. 

As the breach between East and West widens, we tend to think of 
Muhamadans as members of an opposing camp. But in fact they 
belong to the West. They are, whether we like it or not, indissolubly 
linked with our own culture; are a part of us; have roots which are 
the same as ours; share the same portion of the energy of God. We tend 
to forget that Jesus is the Messiah of the Muhamadans, as He is ours. 
According to a famous hadith, one of the traditional sayings of 
Muhammad was: "There is no Mahdi save Jesus son of Mary." And 
at the coming of the Last Day Jesus will descend triumphantly from 
the skies, wage war on Antichrist and die for the second time, and His 
body will be buried in a tomb beside Muhammad before he rises once 
more to rule over a Paradise of youth and freshness. 

Such promises may give little comfort to Christians, who see the 
world in the light of other dispensations. Muhamadanism has no 
priesthood, no rounded tradition of scholarship, none of those elements 
of sensuous ceremonial which go with western worship. Our worship 


derives from the Jewish and Byzantine courts, our God an imperial 
figure elevated beyond all empires; theirs is the harsher God of the 
deserts, blazing like the sun over the abysmal lives of the desert 
dwellers, giving little comfort to men except the knowledge that they 
will enter Paradise if they obey His iron laws. Muhamadanism is a 
religion which is still raw, still bleeding. It is a religion without 
tenderness, without a Virgin, without love in the sense by which we 
understand love: the face of Muhammad is wholly masculine. So it has 
remained, and it is unthinkable that it will ever change. 

But the harsh law of Muhammad, binding men with heavy fetters, 
has had the effect of producing another kind of freedom. In their 
ascent toward the Unknown, they move with a similar motion of 
wings; from a distance those hawks and eagles might be Christians 
winging their way to the blue vaults of Heaven. If the sources are 
remote from one another, if the fierce language of the Quran, written 
in letters of fire, seems remote from the gentler message of the New 
Testament (as rock-bound Mecca is remote from the Sea of Galilee), 
yet there is a meeting place of the spirit among the mystics. The 
Muhamadan mystic recognizes Jesus as his exemplar. The great Persian 
poet Jalalu'1-Din Rumi is brother to St. John of the Cross, and St. 
Teresa of Avila would have understood the words which fell so simply 
from the lips of the saintly Rabi'a al-Adawiyya. The greatest of all 
Muhamadan mystics, who went by the name of al-Hallaj, "the corder," 
offered himself as a sacrificial victim for the sins of men and spoke in 
a language so full of Christian overtones that many regarded him as 
a heretic. The history of Islam is a long dialogue with Christianity. 

In the Middle Ages Muhammad became "the accurst Mahound," 
and Dante placed him in Hell, his body split down the middle in 
punishment for heresy, while his adopted son AH, as the lesser 
heresiarch, was punished only by having his face torn apart, and so 
together the two heretics were left wandering down the doleful road 
la dolente strada. In the Middle Ages it was believed that Muhamadan- 
ism was no more than a Christian heresy; it was only later that men 
realized that Muhamadanism sprang from original roots. The mind 
of Muhammad was saturated with Jewish and Christian legends and 
histories, but he stripped the Old and New Testaments of all that was 
not native to Arabia. His heroes therefore were Adam, Abraham, 
Moses, Jesus, all those who could be imagined as living on Arabian 
soil, tribal chieftains of gaunt and commanding aspect, men who stood 
at the gates of revelation. He saw them against the golden sands and 
shuddering skies, and being transmuted into Arabs, with Arab casts 


of mind, they came to possess a peculiar Arab relevance. He had 
imagined them anew, so that they came to him with great force and 
vividness. In much the same way Virgil transformed the Trojans into 
Romans, and the Chinese transformed the grave features of the con- 
templative Buddha into the smiling Goddess of Mercy. 

Such transformations have occurred at all periods in human history, 
and the effect is often surprising. There is nearly always a leap, a 
strangeness, the sense of a deliberate distortion. The Christian, seeing 
his heroes in their Muhamadan disguise, is baffled by their sudden 
remoteness, for they give the appearance of improvisations constructed 
out of a chance assembling of odd legends and scraps of history. It 
is only later that we become aware how deeply rooted they are in the 
Arab environment, possessing a perfect validity of their own. The gulf 
that separates the Christian from the Muhamadan is a very narrow 
one, but it is centuries deep; and it is too late to build a bridge across it. 

From the very beginning there were differences so vast that no 
human mind has been able to reconcile them. It is not only that 
Muhamadans are incapable of understanding a God who is expressed 
in terms of the Trinity and cannot bring themselves to believe He was 
crucified in the flesh, but their normal habits of mind, their aims and 
preoccupations, are at variance with ours. Though schooled in Greek 
philosophy, Arabs have never completely accepted the fundamental 
tenets of western logic: to them an inquiry into the nature of virtue 
and goodness is meaningless, since all virtue and all goodness come 
from God. As our minds move by slow progressive steps up a rational 
ladder, as the Chinese mind moves in great sweeping circles, so the 
mind of the Muhamadan moves in sudden short-paced spurts of re- 
markable power and energy, illuminating the darkness with a quick 
and blinding light, then retiring into the dark again to prepare for 
another explosive outburst. The greatest of Muhamadan thinkers have 
been freebooters and raiders of the spirit, who did not take easily to 
established laws, even the laws of their religion. They had the failings 
of guerrillas, They moved like lightning, but often found themselves in 
unmapped territory where they were at a loss to recognize the castles 
they were attacking, and so attacked all of them indiscriminately; and 
sometimes they hurled their most potent weapons at shadows. They 
were men without patience. They must know #11, or give up the game. 
To read al-Ghazzali or Ibn Arabi is to see men making war on heaven 
nakedly, having thrown their weapons away as unworthy encum- 
brances in the contest. 

Nakedness indeed was the weapon they prized above all others as 


being the most dependable, since it is the ultimate weapon, shared by 
all alike. They insisted upon giving a place to the human body and 
human passions; Plato's bloodless categories were therefore foreign to 
them, and they moved more easily in the less rarefied world of Aristotle. 
Only an Arab philosopher and that the greatest would dare to say 
that man comes closest to God in the embrace of a woman. 

Today with the Arab world awakening at last after centuries of 
sleep, it is more than ever necessary to come to grips with the Arab 
mind. There is a sense in which they are more dangerous to our peace 
than the Russians, To the uncommitted nations they speak with the 
authority which comes from naked conquest. They speak as man to 
man, proudly, contemptuous of our mechanical marvels even when 
they enjoy them, for to them God is so much greater than all our foolish 
strivings that they regard the power of the bomb as insignificant in 
comparison with the power of God, and they have no illusions about 
material progress. Their strength lies in their humanness. They are 
ruthless and at ease in a world where we are increasingly restless and 
incapable of decision. Hamlet still walks our fortress walls, but an 
Arab Hamlet is unthinkable. 

We have good reason to study the Arabs and probe into their ways 
of thought, for they have conquered the world before, and may do it 
again. The fire lit by Muhammad still burns strongly, and there is 
every reason to believe that the flame is unquenchable. 

So I have written this book in the hope that men will look closer at 
Arab origins, and I have called it after the strange two-pointed sword 
which Muhammad won as a trophy at the battle of Badr, because the 
sword became the symbol of his imperial pretensions. As far as I know, 
it is the first attempt to write a reasonably complete cultural history 
of the Arab conquests from the beginnings to the present day. I have 
concluded the book with seven portraits of Arab leaders who lived 
through the last 150 years because this seemed the simpler way to 
present the vast changes which have brought about the Arab 

I hope something of the sweep and roar and fury of Arab history 
has come clear through these pages. Out of Arabia there came a proud 
and august people who in their time conquered most of the known 
world, and there is still too little about them in our history books. 
Sooner or later we shall have to learn to live with them. 


Samafra-^'^-^ ^/Ravy* 
Hulv/^mc- lK T 


Scale of Miles 
100 200 300 400 500 

The Sands of the Desert 

far as the eye can see there is only yellow sand, 
black pebbles, small outcrops of flinty rock and the dim footprints of 
the sand foxes. Under the asphalt-blue sky of noonday the rippling 
sand seems to quiver and change color from bronze to gold and then 
to a strange yellowish purple. The heat is staggering. It seems to ex- 
plode out of the earth in blinding waves; and the horizon, like a thick 
black line scrawled on the rim of the world, seems to dance. When 
the wind comes over the desert, the heat grows thicker, juicier, an 
intolerable uproar of heat, striking between the eyes. The never-end- 
ing desert is never silent. At noon you hear it moaning and rustling; 
at night when the temperature falls to zero you can hear the shatter- 
ing of the desert rocks. 

In the gold emptiness of the sprawling desert, life flows to a 
rhythm unknown to our climate. There are no cycles of vegetation. 
Centuries pass; there is no change except that the rocks are a little 
smoother. But deep below the sheets of sand a minute, secret life ex- 
ists nevertheless. One rainfall, and the desert becomes a fiery carpet of 
purple and scarlet flowers whose frail roots, thinner than threads, lie 
deep in the subsoil, resting on rock. For a few days the flowers wither 
on their stems, till the petals turn black and shrivel and are whirled 
away in gusts of hot wind. Then there is only sand again, and the 
crumbling knife-sided rocks, and the rare oases. 

In all this desolation of Arabia there are only a few towns. Even 
today there are places where no one has ever penetrated, virgin still, 
though the seacoast is encumbered with names. The visitor wandering 
across the desert may come upon caravans such as the Romans saw, 
for the Arabs wear the same clothes, eat and drink from the same 
utensils and equip their camels with the same accouterments as they 
did centuries ago. Leopards and hyenas prowl, an occasional ostrich 
hops across the desert sand, and fat yellow lizards with thick tails sun 
themselves on the rocks, and time stands still. Eternity is very close to 
Arabia even in this age of oil wells. 


Not all of Arabia is desert: there are lava fields, and mountains 
Bine thousand feet high in southern Asir, and fertile fields in the up- 
lands of Najd, and rivers wind along the coastal plains. Yet the des- 
ert colors the life of the Arabs; it is inescapable. Here "heaven is as 
iron and the earth is as brass," and insecurity is bred into the very 
roots of life. 

No one knows where the Arabs come from, or whether they were 
there from the beginning. A stern, unyielding people, with little taste 
for civilization until they ventured abroad, they were and are a hand- 
some race with close-knit loyalties, agile, querulous, proud of their 
capacity to survive in an inhospitable land, sullen and secretive, quick 
to anger and quick to begin a friendship, ferociously brave in battle 
and very sensual. They live in the flesh, lacking the sense of guilt and 
shame which comes in more temperate climates. 

There is majesty in their harsh landscape, and there is majesty in 
their speech. They are perfectly aware of the infinite complexities and 
magnificence of their language. "God gave three great things to the 
world," says the Arab proverb. "The brain of the Frank, the hands 
of the Chinese, and the tongue of the Arab." In Arabic there are only 
three long vowels and the consonants have all the importance; never- 
theless there is a natural richness and a superb delicacy in the spoken 
language. So many Arabic words have entered our own language that 
even those who know no Arabic can guess at the sounds spoken in 
Arabia. Here are sixty words in common use which we have taken 
from them: 

admiral caliber ginger orange 

albatross camphor giraffe ream 

alchemy carmine guitar saffron 

alcove caraway jasmine satin 

alfalfa chemistry jasper sequin 

algebra chemise J u l e P sherbet 

alkali cipher lute sirop 

almanac coffee mattress sloop 

amber cotton mohair sofa 

arsenal crimson monsoon sumac 

artichoke cupola mufti talc 

atlas elixir mummy tambour 

benzine garble muslin tariff 

cable ghoul myrrh traffic 


It would be comparatively easy to compile a much longer list: alto- 
gether about 1,000 words with Arabic origins have entered the Eng- 
lish language. If you will recite some of these words softly, with a 
slight singsong intonation, you will have some idea of the sound of 
Arabic, a language marvelously equipped to deal with the most com- 
plex aspects of philosophical speculation and the most subtle poetry. 
In the Quran, which is at once poetic, speculative and fiercely moral- 
istic, the language reaches its greatest heights. Muhammad, who de- 
tested poetry, was the greatest poet to come out of Arabia. 

Of the beginnings of this language we know almost nothing, and 
we know hardly more about the early history of the Arabs. All we 
know derives from travelers' tales, the reports of Roman expeditions, 
and the stone relics found in the sand. Much of our knowledge de- 
rives from Herodotus, who was rarely wrong when he reported on 
things he saw with his own eyes, but who showed demonstrable ig- 
norance when he turned his attention to Arabia. "It is," he says, "a 
place which exhales the most delicious perfume, being the only coun- 
try in the world which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia, cinnamon 
and labdanum." He says frankincense trees were always surrounded 
by a swarm of winged and brightly colored serpents. As for their re- 
ligion, he says they worshiped Orotal and Alilat, the first, he explains, 
being Bacchus and the second Urania. In this he was wrong, for 
Orotal is evidently Allah taalah, the name by which the Arabs to this 
day address the Almighty, and Alilat is the goddess Allat, who was 
worshiped in the shape of a square stone at Taif on the edge of the 
plateau, not far east of Mecca. They had other gods. There was al- 
Uzza, the morning star, who had her cult at Nakhlah; the great 
explorer, Charles Doughty, saw her one night by lantern light- 
she was an untrimmed mass of scaly gray granite, shaped like a 
thighbone. There was also Manah, the goddess of destiny, who was 
worshiped as a black stone in Qudayd on the road between Mecca 
and Yathrib. 

But while Herodotus tells us little about their religion, he does 
provide us with our first glimpse into the nature of Arab loyalties. 
He is describing a solemn ceremony of oath taking: 

When two men desire to swear an oath of friendship, a third 
stands between them, and he cuts the palms of their hands near 
the base of the thumb with a sharp stone; then he takes a little 
tuft of wool from their clothes, dips it in their blood and 


smears the blood on seven stones lying between them, all the 
while invoking the names o Bacchus and Urania. 1 

The tuft of wool, the blood, the stones, the covenant between men 
we shall meet them again and again as this histor^ unfolds. 

When the Arabs made oaths, they kept them: Herodotus says there 
was no people on earth who respected their pledges more religiously. 
Because they were bred in the raw heat of the desert and were sur- 
rounded by forces which seemed determined to put an end to their 
lives, they regarded themselves as pathetic creatures, who must con- 
tinually prove themselves. In the desert a man is stripped clean of 
pretensions: he is what he is. So they relied largely on their own 
strength, the strength which comes from the covenants they made 
with one another, and the power which came to them from their gods, 
who were represented by the strangely shaped stones they found in 
their wanderings. 

To this day the Arabs worship stones, and so do all the followers 
of Muhammad. There is nothing particularly surprising in stone wor- 
ship. If it is believed that a stone has fallen from the sun, the moon, 
a planet or a bright star, then the stone becomes the physical embodi- 
ment of the mysterious forces which move the universe; and by stand- 
ing completely naked before such a stone and offering a blood sacri- 
fice, the worshiper places himself within the circle of divine power 
emanating from the stone, and some portion of this power is com- 
municated to him. 

Today all the holy stones of Arabia save one have been swept away. 
The one remaining stone, known as the Black Stone, though it is a 
dark reddish-brown, was worshiped in Mecca long before the time of 
Muhammad. No one knows its history, and no one has ever tried to 
determine what kind of stone it is. In pre-Muhamadan times it was 
believed that the stone had fallen from the moon and was sacred to 
the old moon god Hubal. The stone was enclosed in a small square 
temple known as the Kaaba, which also contained many lesser idols 
and included at one time a Byzantine icon of the Virgin. Here at the 
time of the new moon following the summer solstice, at the hottest 
time of the year, the ancient pilgrims came to worship the moon god, 
stripping off all covering in token of their humility. Naked, they 
touched the stone with their right hands and then reverently kissed 
it, and afterward they walked round the Kaaba seven times, making 
the first three circuits with quick steps and the last four more slowly, 

1 Histories, III, 8. 


each circuit representing the procession of one of the planets. By day 
this office was performed in silence, and by night with clapping hands 
and whistling through the fingers, for the new moon was rising and 
they welcomed its presence. 

Worship at Mecca was not limited to the sevenfold circuit of the 
Kaaba. Next came the drinking of the waters of Zamzam, a holy well 
which lay nearby, very brackish and lukewarm, followed by running 
seven times between the two low hills of Marwa and Al Safa, less 
than a thousand feet apart across the center of Mecca. No one re- 
members what blessings were originally conferred on pilgrims drink- 
ing the waters, while Muhamadans declare that running between the 
hills recapitulates Hagar's frantic search for water for her son Ish- 
mael, but this was evidently a later gloss; these small hills were stones 
representing ancient gods, and therefore to be worshiped. The pil- 
grimage to the holy well and the hills is known as the Lesser Pilgrim- 

There followed the Larger Pilgrimage, involving a journey of some 
twenty miles to a holy mountain, a granite shoulder about 200 feet 
high, on the plain of Arafat. From noon to sunset the pilgrims lin- 
gered on the hill in meditation, then gathered themselves with all 
speed to reach the neighboring town of Muzdalifah, where they 
bought or picked up from the ground twenty-one small stones. Re- 
turning to Mecca, they paused at a place called Mina, where they 
sacrificed sheep and camels, strewing the entrails over the earth, and 
after praying over the stones brought from Muzdalifah and breath- 
ing on them, they threw them at three pillars representing the evil 
spirits. The climactic ceremony took place not at Arafat, the sacred 
mountain, nor at Mecca, the sacred city, but on the obscure plain of 
Mina in the shadow of granite mountains. 

To this day no one knows why the plain of Mina was chosen as 
the place of sacrifice. Later Muhamadan tradition asserts that the 
stone pillars are located at the spot where Satan tried three times to 
tempt Abraham to rebel against the order of Allah to kill his own 
son. Of all the places which Muslims are enjoined to visit in their 
pilgrimage, or Hajj, only one is intimately connected with the 
Prophet; all the other places, and all the sacrifices performed at them, 
derive from the age when Arabs worshiped stones, 

Today every Muhamadan who makes the pilgrimage to Mecca per- 
forms the sevenfold circumambulation of the Kaaba, and the Lesser 
and the Greater Pilgrimage. For him the drinking of the waters of 


Zamzam is only one, and perhaps the least important, of the many 
rites he must perform to obtain merit from the pilgrimage. Yet it is 
this spring of unpalatable water which lies closest to the mystery of 

During a time of drought about 530 A.D. a certain Abd al-Muttalib 
of the powerful tribe of Quraysh decided to dig for water. He was 
known for his interest in legends and traditions. Among these tradi- 
tions was one which spoke of a sacred well near the Kaaba which had 
stopped flowing three hundred years before. Abd al-Muttalib dug 
for the well on the traditional site, found the coping stones and 
cleared out the debris of centuries. He was near the bottom of the 
well when he discovered unexpected treasure. The treasure consisted 
of two golden gazelles, some swords and several complete suits of 
armor, forming the regalia of the last Jurhamite king, who had evi- 
dently ordered it to be thrown down the well before taking to flight. 

Stunned by the discovery of so much treasure, Abd al-Muttalib 
kept it secret for some days. When the tribal leaders heard of the dis- 
covery, they claimed it on the grounds that they were the guardians 
of the sacred places and the legal inheritors of the property of the 
former kings. Abd al-Muttalib suggested that he possessed the treas- 
ure by right of discovery and offered to allow the moon god Hubal, 
whose emblems were contained in the Kaaba, to adjudicate the case. 
The tribal leaders agreed. Accordingly six arrows were chosen two 
yellow arrows representing the claims of the Kaaba, two black ones 
for Abd al-Muttalib and two white ones for the Quraysh tribe. Lots 
were then cast with the arrows, and so it happened that the golden 
gazelles fell to the Kaaba, the swords and suits of armor fell to Abd 
al-Muttalib, and none of the treasure fell to the Quraysh. 

Abd al-Muttalib possessed complete power over the treasure, to do 
with it as he thought fit. He decided to hammer the gazelles into 
golden plates to decorate the gates of the Kaaba, and some of the 
gold was used to make a lock and key. He hung the swords over the 
door to protect the holy place, and kept the armor for himself. The 
waters of Zamzam soon acquired a reputation for sanctity, and their 
discoverer, from being an obscure member of a powerful tribe, be- 
came rich and famous as the guardian of the well. 

Some forty years later, when Abd al-Muttalib was an old man, the 
father of many children, the Abyssinian Viceroy of Yaman in south 
Arabia threatened to attack Mecca unless the Kaaba was destroyed 
by the Meccans themselves. He was a Christian, determined to raise 


the Cross on the sanctuary of the pagan rnoon god. The Meccans 
held fast to their beliefs, refused to destroy their most cherished pos- 
session, and sent out an expedition to meet the army of the Abyssin- 
ian Viceroy. Poorly equipped, the Meccans were no match for the 
Abyssinians, who advanced under cover of armored elephants: they 
were the first elephants ever seen by the unhappy Meccans, who 
panicked and began to make overtures to the enemy, even offering 
to destroy the Kaaba if their lives were spared. A messenger was sent 
to the camp of the Viceroy, but the messenger died during the jour- 
ney and his death was regarded as a sign from Heaven that the 
Kaaba must be preserved. Some time later, when the Abyssinians 
were only three days march away, the elders of Mecca, among them 
Abd al-Muttalib, were summoned to a parley. Once more they were 
threatened with extinction unless the Kaaba was destroyed. The elders 
offered a third of the wealth of the region of Tihama if the Viceroy 
would call off his crusade, but the offer was refused. Still threatening, 
the Viceroy sent the elders on their way. He treated them with great 
dignity, and when he heard that some of Abd al-Muttalib's camels 
had been captured by his army, he ordered them returned to their 

In despair the elders made their way back to Mecca and prepared 
to abandon the town. They made no effort to take the Kaaba with 
them: so holy an object belonged to its holy site, and would have lost 
its power once it was uprooted. According to tradition Abd al-Mutta- 
lib offered a last prayer to the moon god to preserve the Kaaba, 
leaning on the gates he had plated with gold. Then he hurried away 
to the hills. 

The Meccans expected the Abyssinians to advance but Hubal had 
heard their prayers. Overnight an epidemic, perhaps an aggravated 
form of smallpox, swept through the army, which suffered so many 
losses that the Viceroy decided to return to Yaman. Arabic tradition 
pictures the Abyssinians reeling back to the Yamanite capital of Sana 
afflicted by plagues, floods and the treachery of their guides. Hardly a 
soldier survived, and the Viceroy himself died of a malignant disease 
shortly afterward. No one could doubt the power of the moon god 
who had kept an army of elephants at bay. 

For a few more years the Kaaba proclaimed the power and mercy 
of a pagan god, but the sacred reddish-brown stone was not immune 
from sacrilege, even after Muhammad had established his Kingdom. 
On January 12, 930 A.D., a powerful army of Qarmatians, followers 


of a strange mystical sect originating in Iraq, descended upon Mecca 
at the time of pilgrimage after a forced march across the uplands of 
Najd. They took the town by storm, slaughtered 30,000 pilgrims, filled 
the well of Zamzam with corpses, and set about desecrating the holy 
places. One of the more daring Quarmatians tore the stone from the 
wall and smashed it, and the fragments were later removed to al-Hasa 
in the Bahrayn region of the Persian Gulf on the opposite side of 
Arabia, where Abu Tahir, the leader of the Qarrnatians, had his 
headquarters. There the scattered fragments of the stone remained for 
twenty-two years in spite of the continual appeals of the Meccans, 
who offered to pay 5,000 pieces of gold for the restoration of the 
fragments; and when at last the Qarmatians decided to return them in 
obedience to an order from the Fatimid Caliph, it amused them to 
hint that they were returning some pebbles they had picked up at 
random. The Meccans, however, recognized the true stone, now 
broken into some fourteen or fifteen fragments. These fragments 
were restored to their place in the wall of the Kaaba, and there is no 
record of any further damage until the beginning of the eleventh 
century, when the half-mad Fatimid Caliph Hakim, appalled by the 
continued worship of a stone, sent an emissary to Mecca to destroy 
it. The emissary was armed with an iron bar, and succeeded in chip- 
ping off three small pieces before he was himself torn to pieces by a 
howling mob. 

The stone remains, and millions of worshipers who owe no alle- 
giance to the moon god Hubal have kissed and caressed it over the 
years. Today the fragments are embedded in pitch and held together 
by silver wires there are three large fragments and perhaps eighteen 
smaller ones and all of them together can be covered by the out- 
spread fingers of one hand, for the width of the stone is no more than 
ten inches. Once it was milky white, a proper color for a stone be- 
lieved to have fallen from the moon, but age has discolored it, and 
already it is losing its reddish luster and turning black. In all of his- 
tory there is no object of veneration which has been worshiped for 
so long a time. 

The Kaaba too has suffered its vicissitudes. Once it was no more 
than a square of wall open to the sky, but it was already roofed in 
the time of Abd al-Muttalib. The swords which he hung over the 
golden gates have long since vanished, and so have the golden gates 
the present gates are of hammered silver presented by a Turkish 
Sultan of the sixteenth century. Legend says that Abraham built the 


original Kaaba, and Ishmael is buried close by, but these legends 
seem to be comparatively recent additions to an enormous corpus of 
legends invented to explain the significance of the site. Today the 
shrine is empty. Of the Kaaba known to Abd al-Muttalib nothing 
remains except a shattered stone. 

All of Arabia is haunted by these mysterious fragments, which are 
so small that a man could put them in his pocket and forget them. 
All over the world the influence of the stone can be felt, continually 
radiating like the ripples of water when a stone is flung into a pool. 
It speaks of a time when men lived in direct communion with the 
heavenly presences, when the rising of the new moon was still a 
mystery and each worshiper stretched out his hands for its beneficent 
influences. In primitive societies power belonged, not to the golden 
sun, but to the white moon, who tended the crops and the fruit 
trees and guided the rivers from their sources in the mountains. 

But the power of the moon was already waning. In the year fol- 
lowing the attack on Mecca there was born to the youngest son of 
Abd al-Muttalib at a place not far from the well of Zamzam a male 
child who was solemnly held up to the flashing gates of the Kaaba 
when only a few days old. It was probably Abd al-Muttalib who gave 
the child the name by which he was always known Muhammad, 
meaning "the praised one." With his coming the ancient gods were 
swept away, to give place to Allah, "the supreme and only God, from 
whom there flows the eternal radiance, the source of all things in 
the universe." And within a generation Arabia emerged from its long 
sleep and hurled itself upon die world. 

The Messenger of God 


-uhammad ibn-Abdullah never knew his father, 
who died before he was born. His mother Amina seems to have been 
a beautiful and sickly woman, unable to care for her only son, who 
was so often ill that it was thought best to remove him from the 
unhealthy air of Mecca and send him to the highlands. So at the age 
of two he was placed in the hands of a foster mother, the wife of a 
poor shepherd of the Banu Sa'd living at Taif, a hill town southeast 
of Mecca. The boy grew up in poverty, despised by his rich relatives, 
his inheritance from his father being no more than five camels, a few 
sheep and an Abyssinian slave girl called Baraka. 

The boy's first memories were of flowering orchards, for Taif then 
as now was a wonderfully fruitful oasis on the edge of the desert, 
full of apple trees, peach trees and vineyards. Gradually the boy's 
health improved: his cheeks took on the warm rosy- white color 
which they retained to the end of his life; and though short for his 
age, he was stocky and well-muscled. According to a fairly authentic 
tradition Halima, his foster mother, observed that even as a boy he 
was given to fits of abstraction, and there were some who said he 
bore the seal of God from the beginning. When he was four or five 
he tended sheep. Occasionally he was brought to Mecca on visits, 
where he attended the pagan ceremonies at the Kaaba and knelt at 
the feet of his grandfather, now well past seventy and married to a 
young bride, a man with little time to spare for his innumerable 

Muhammad was about five years old when he suffered the first of 
the strange visitations which came to him at intervals throughout 
his life. There seems to be no doubt about the authenticity of the 
visitation, for similar stories are reported of many saints. He was 
walking in a field with one of Halima's sons when he suddenly fell 
down, shouting as he sprawled on the ground that two men in white 
garments were splitting open his belly and stirring it up. His com- 



panion could make nothing of what was happening and ran back to 
the shepherd's house to summon assistance. Halima and her husband 
came running to the field, to find Muhammad no longer sprawling 
on the ground, but standing up, all the blood drained from his face. 
Asked what had happened, he spoke of the two angels who had cut 
open his belly, searching for something, though he did not know 
what it was. The shepherd was afraid he was possessed by a devil 
and said he should be returned to Mecca before his malady became 
the talk of the town. But when Halima brought the boy to Mecca, 
Amina said quietly that it was something she had expected and they 
should pay no attention to these attacks. 

For a few more months Muhammad remained at Taif, and then, 
perhaps at the insistence of the shepherd, he came to live with his 
mother in Mecca. A year later, returning from a visit to her relatives 
in Madinah, she died suddenly in the village of Abwa, where she was 
buried. Muhammad was heartbroken. He had lost his mother, and his 
foster mother refused to let him live at Taif. At the age of six he 
was an orphan, completely destitute, his only remaining possession 
being the faithful Abyssinian slave girl Baraka, who took her cour- 
age in her hands and led the boy to the house of Abd al-Muttalib, 
who took pity on him. For two years Muhammad remained in this 
house overlooking the Kaaba, while the old man taught him the 
ceremonies attached to the worship of the moon god and told him 
the legends of the place. Then when Abd al-Muttalib died, Muham- 
mad was placed in the care of his uncle, Abu Talib, a kindly man 
who dealt in cloths and perfumes and owned some sheepfolds in the 
hills. Abu Talib was concerned that children should earn their keep, 
and so for the second time Muhammad became a shepherd, but now 
there were no flowering orchards to gaze upon: only the flinty hills 
of Mecca flashing in the sun. 

Already at the age of eight the pattern of his life was being de- 
termined long days of contemplation, swift journeys, the sense of 
being abandoned, visitation of spirits, and always the dream of Para- 
dise in the orchards of Taif. Twice he had suffered the deaths of those 
close to him, but perhaps the death that most affected him occurred 
before he was bora. From the beginning he was a man in search of 
his father. 

The restless childhood was followed by a restless youth. He was 
about ten when his uncle first allowed him to accompany caravans to 
the north, hiring him out as camelman and guard. Tradition asserts 


that he was traveling with his uncle in Syria at the age of twelve 
when he met a Nestorian monk called Bahira, who hailed him as 
God's messenger. What is certain is that at an early impressionable 
age Muhammad showed a predilection for conversing with priests 
and rabbis when the caravans stopped at the trading posts, and he 
stored these conversations in his capacious memory. He could not 
read or write, but he had the Arab's memory for detail and the 
Arab's enjoyment in fluent argument. He seems to have been con- 
stantly traveling, his journeys extending from Yaman in the south to 
Damascus and Bostra in the north, Syria especially pleased him, and 
long afterward he said: "Truly God has maintained guardians of the 
word in Syria; they are forty in number, and when one dies another 
takes his place; and through them the land is blessed." 

It was a time of unrest in Mecca and the surrounding districts. 
The death of Abd al-Muttalib had left the Quraysh without a strong 
leader, and there were many contenders for power among the tribes- 
men. There was trouble too with the Bani Hawazin, a Bedouin tribe 
owning great areas of land in the Najd. A war, known as the "impious 
war," broke out when the Bani Hawazin violated the oath against 
fighting during the sacred months. The Quraysh took to arms, and 
Muhammad took part in an obscure skirmish with his uncle Zubayr, 
though he did little more than gather up the arrows shot by the 
enemy and hand them to his uncle, and act as shield-bearer. He was 
a man who had no great liking for war, and avoided it whenever 

The troubles within the Quraysh came to an end with a solemn 
declaration of friendship among the rival clans, followed by brilliant 
celebrations of brotherhood. It was agreed to form a confederacy to 
punish wrongdoing and secure jusice among the different branches of 
the family. Muhammad was present at the celebrations, and years 
later he remembered them with pleasure, saying: "I would not ex- 
change for the choicest camel in Arabia the remembrance of being 
present at the oath which we took in the house of Abdullah when 
the Bani Hashim, Zuhra ibn Kilab and Teim ibn Murra swore that 
they would stand by the oppressed." The Bani Hashim was the 
branch of the Quraysh to which Muhammad belonged, deriving its 
name from the father of Abd al-Muttalib, a man who in his time 
had been guardian of the Kaaba, keeper of the battle flag, mayor of 
the town and the most generous supporter of widows and orphans, 

At the age of twenty Muhammad had little hope of being able to 


follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather. He was a hired 
hand with no prospect of making a fortune or sitting in a place o 
authority. At intervals he tended his uncle's sheep and goats; for the 
rest he followed his uncle's caravans and sometimes sold small quan- 
tities of merchandiese. Before him there stretched a life indistin- 
guishable from the lives of countless other Arabs, and he seems to 
have been perfectly content. 

He was about twenty-five when he attracted the attention of a 
forty-year-old widow, Khadija, who had lost two husbands and ac- 
quired an impressive fortune. She was a warmhearted, handsome 
woman, who had heard from one of her agents of Muhammad's skill 
as a camel driver and manager of caravans. She asked to see him, 
and seems to have fallen in love with him the moment she set eyes 
on him. She had good reason to admire him, for he was a vigorous 
and handsome fellow with an air of authority about him. Her hus- 
bands had all been sickly, and this camel driver of noble descent 
looked as though he could manage her estates, give her many more 
children and satisfy all her desires. 

In later years Muhammad enjoined that no portraits of people 
should ever be made, since every portrait was an act of worship re- 
moving the contemplation of the observer from the worship of God, 
but Arab chroniclers continually portrayed him in words. Of his ap- 
pearance we know innumerable intimate details, and if he entered a 
room we would recognize him instantly. We would recognize him by 
the timbre of his voice, the way he walked, the way he gestured, the 
way he sat upon die ground, even the way he slept. Of no other 
founder of a great religion do we know so much; and what is strange 
and a little disturbing about the portrait is its very humanness. He 
is of the earth, earthy; only the great glowing eyes speak of heaven 
and the angels. 

The man who entered the household of Khadija was sturdy and 
thickset, of medium height, with heavy shoulders and a thick black 
curling beard. He was beetle-browed, and long black silken lashes, 
which he painted with kohl, fell over eyes which were very large, 
dark and piercing, and often bloodshot. His skin was rosy, "soft as 
a woman's/' and he had a Roman nose, thin and aristocratic, with 
flaring nostrils. He had dazzling white teeth, but was gap-toothed 
toward the end of his life. When he laughed, which was often, he 
opened his mouth wide, so that the gums were visible, and when he 
spoke, he turned his whole body, not only the head. It was a good 


head, with a high forehead and a little too large for the body, and 
his thick hair glistened and fell in waves to his shoulders. What 
people remembered most was the sweetness of his expression, and the 
sudden opening of the enormous eyes. 

The chroniclers have gone to great pains to record every detail of 
his physical appearance. They speak for example of his chest "From 
the chest down to the navel then was drawn a thin line of hair, 
while the other parts of the chest and stomach were hairless, al- 
though there was hair on his blessed arms and shoulders and the 
upper part of his chest." They speak of his strange lurching walk 
"as if he were ascending a steep and invisible hill," and how he 
ate, sitting on the ground with one leg extended and the other posted, 
and how he slept always on his right side with the palm of his right 
hand under his right cheek. They speak too of the mole, the size of 
a pigeon's egg, which lay between his shoulders. Of his voice they 
say it was very low and deep, but when he shouted, it was like a 
blare of trumpets, frightening everyone in sight. As he grew older, 
he became round-shouldered, and with that strange quick walk of his 
he resembled more than ever a bull about to charge. His hair never 
turned gray, but was as thick and lustrous at the end as in his youth. 

We know his likes and dislikes: he hated dogs, lizards, people 
with yellow teeth, painters and sculptors, costly silks and embroider- 
ies, the smell of garlic and onions. He loved children, honey, cucum- 
bers, dates, pumpkins, and every kind of perfume. He liked to go 
about the house mending furniture, cobbling shoes, and patching his 
own clothes; and he milked his own goats. He had a sweet tooth, 
and there was some softness in him. 

He was entirely happy with Khadija, who adored him and gave 
him six children, four girls and two boys. The boys, Qasim and 
Abdallah, died in childhood: it was one of his greater griefs that in 
all his life he fathered no male child who grew to maturity. So he 
continued to live out his life in the placid backwaters, caring for his 
own children and Khadija's three children by a former marriage, 
supervising the estate, attending fairs, and sometimes engaging in 
earnest conversation with his wife's cousin Waraqa, a learned man, 
the first to translate parts of the Old and New Testaments into Ara- 
bic. There was a seed of restlessness in Waraqa, who at different 
times embraced Judaism and Christianity, only to return to his ancient 
primitive faith. It was perhaps from Waraqa that Muhammad im- 
bibed his strange and sometimes inaccurate knowledge of the Mishna 
and the Talmud. 


At thirty-five he was a man o substance, a good husband and a 
good father, handsome above the average, given to occasional fits of 
abstraction, remarkable only for being unremarkable. He was not a 
particularly good steward of Khadija's estate, and much of their 
wealth evaporated over the years. His friends were wealthy merchants 
like Abu Bakr, who shared his passion for helping widows, orphans 
and strangers. Abu Bakr was a cloth merchant who had grown rich 
through his own efforts, but he seems to have felt his wealth was a 
burden almost too great to be borne. He had a long thin face with 
sunken cheeks and deep-set eyes, and was very lean, and walked with 
a stoop. Muhammad had known him since they were youths together 
on the caravan trails, and often sought his advice. 

So the years passed quietly with a growing family, a handful of 
friends, the faithful Khadija at his side. Every night he worshiped 
at the Kaaba, and every morning he attended to his business affairs. 
He was a man who had no need to fortify himself with ambition. 
Wealth had come to him effortlessly, and just as effortlessly he could 
end his days surrounded by his grandchildren. But it was the quiet 
before the storm. 

The storm came suddenly one night, at the hottest time of the year, 
after a long period of meditating alone in a cave outside of Mecca. 
No one knows what brought him to the cave. It may have been the 
memory of the ascetic monks in the Syrian desert who also wor- 
shiped their God in caves, alone with the Alone. Or perhaps he was 
influenced by the wandering hermits called Hanifs, meaning "those 
who have turned away from idol worship," who emerged about this 
time from the Najd, to proclaim the virtues of solitude and the 
worship of the One God. It may have been the seed of restlessness 
communicated to him by the old visionary Waraqa which sent him 
out into the desert to live for weeks on end in silent contemplation. 
What is certain is that the storm broke over his head, and the world 
was never to be the same again. 

As Muhammad told the story of his first great revelation, he was 
lying asleep or in a trance, wrapped in his cloak, when he heard a 
voice saying: "Read!" He answered: "I cannot read." The voice said 
again: "Read!" He answered: "I do not know how to read," Once 
more, this time with terrible force, the voice said: "Read!" He an- 
swered: "What can I read?" The voice thundered: 

Read in the name of your Lord, the Creator, 
Who created man from a clot of blood! 


Read! Your Lord is most merdjul, 
For he has taught men by the fen 
And revealed the mysteries to them! 

He was shown a scroll, which seemed to be of silk with letters of fire 
written on it. He read the words, though he had never read before, 
and when he awoke, he remembered them, for they were "as though 
written upon his heart." Trembling, he went out of the cave onto the 
hillside, not knowing what had happened to him, and afraid he must 
be a shair or possessed. Angels had come to him before, leaving him 
weak and dispirited, but that was long ago in his childhood. He was 
in such agony of mind that he thought of throwing himself off a 
precipice, and then he heard a voice from heaven saying: "O Muham- 
mad! You are Allah's messenger, and I am Gabriel!" Lifting up his 
eyes he saw "about two bowshots away" the figure of an angel stand- 
ing in the sky. He was rooted to the spot, dazzled by the brightness 
of the angelic eyes, and once more he heard the voice. He turned 
away, but everywhere he turned he saw the angel standing before 
him, until at last the angel vanished, and he was alone with the 
beating of his heart. 

Later in the morning, terrified by the visitation, he hurried back to 
Mecca and told Khadija what he had seen. He was afraid he was 
going mad, but she reassured him. There is a tradition that she tested 
the genuineness of the visitation by making Muhammad sit first on 
her right knee, and then on her left: there was no thunderclap from 
heaven, and Muhammad was aware of angelic presences hovering 
close by. When she began to remove her garments and sit Muhammad 
on her lap, he thought he saw the angelic presences departing in 
great haste. Khadija explained that if it had been a visitation of 
devils they would have remained around the bed, to watch what 
happened. "Rejoice," she said, "for truly you have seen a visitor 
from heaven, and no harm can come to you!" Some time later she 
asked Waraqa, now close to death and quite blind, about the strange 
meeting in a cave. The old man answered that the angel who appeared 
to Muhammad was the same who came to Moses, the son of Amram: 
there was no doubt that a revelation was at hand. 

Khadija and Waraqa were his first disciples. After them came Abu 
Bakr, who seems to have believed in the revelations at first more out 
of friendship and the desire to please an old friend than because he 
felt there had been a true revelation; he always deferred to Muham- 
mad. Then there was Ali, Abu Bakr's handsome ten-year-old son, who 


lived in Muhammad's house. Finally there was Muhammad's slave, 
Zayd, who was short and dark with a depressed nose, and was so 
much in love with his master that he refused his freedom when it was 
offered to him. In the beginning these were his only followers. 

At first Muhammad seems to have been unsure o himself, of his 
power to communicate his visions. He was in an agony of apprehen- 
sion, for the angel foretold the end of the world, the terrible punish- 
ments in store for those who refused to worship the One God, the 
blaze of eternal flame. There is a compulsive violence in those early 
proclamations which Muhammad heard, or said he heard, during his 
frequent visits to the cave. The verses move to the rhythm of hammer 
beats. They proclaim the end of man and the beginning of a new 
dispensation, in images that leap at breakneck pace from earth to- 
Heaven and back again, and in the original Arabic they can make 
the hair stand on end. Here, for example, is the proclamation known, 
as The Overthrowing: 

When the sun is overthrown, 

And when the stars jail, 

And when the mountains are moved, 

And when the camels big with young are left by the wayside? 

And when the wild beasts are herded together, 

And when the seas rise up, 

And when the souls and bodies come together 

And when the girl-child, buried alive, 

As\s why she has been filled, 

And when the boo\ of fate is opened wide, 

And when the heavens are stripped bare, 

And when Hell is set ablaze, 

And when Paradise comes near, 

Each soul shall J(now what it has done! 

Oh, but I call to witness the planets, 

And the stars as they rise and fall, 

And the night when it closeth, 

And the morning when it giveth forth breath* 

Truly, this is the speech of a noble messenger, 

Mighty and honored by the Throne of the Lord, 

Obeyed in heaven, and very faithful. 

No, your companion is not mad, 

Who saw the angel on the clear horizon! 

(Sura Ixxxi) 


In a strict sense these verses there are others like them are not 
visionary. They do not, like the Book of Revelation, describe an event 
in Heaven or the unfolding of an Apocalypse; there is no attempt 
to depict the process by which the threatened dissolution of the 
world and all the cosmic spaces will be brought about. What Muham- 
mad (or the Angel) was doing with tremendous effect was to declare 
with simple imagery that mankind was doomed, almost past hoping 
for, unless it followed the ways of God; and in those early days he 
was less concerned to demonstrate the ways of God than to insist upon 
doom. Doom was in the air he breathed, and he could almost feel the 
scorching flames on his face. Again and again he reverts to this theme, 
as in the chapter known as That Which Stri%eth: 

That which stri^eth! 

What is this which stril^eth? 

Ah f who will convey to thee what the Striding is? 

The day mankind shall become li^e scattered moths, 

And the mountains li\e tufts of carded wool, 

Then as for him whose scales are heavy, 

He shall enter into Paradise; 

But as for him whose scales are light, 

The Abyss shall be his dwelling-place! 

And who shall convey to thee what the Abyss is? 

A raging fire! 

(Sura ci) 

What shall a man do when he knows the world is coming to an 
end? Muhammad was in a quandary. He listened to the Angel, 
remembered the words that came to him, informed his immediate 
family, and suffered in silence. He was like a man involved in a con- 
spiracy, who dares tell no one except his immediate family. There 
seems to be no other explanation for the fact that in the early years 
he attempted to make no converts. He did not publicly announce his 
mission; he devised no rules for the followers of the One God; he 
did not storm the Kaaba. Tradition asserts that at the end of three 
years he had no more than forty followers, who may have been the 
members of his own household, relatives, and close friends. He was 
not yet a missionary committed to the overthrow of the ancient 

But about 614 AJ>. ? in the fourth year after the visitation in the cave, 


he began to assert himself, wandering through the streets of Mecca 
and intoning the messages he had received from the Angel. Young 
people, strangers and slaves listened to him, and some accepted his 
claim to be the Apostle of God. The Meccans were amused, then 
angered. They had a simple punishment for heretics. They took them 
into the desert, stripped them naked, and left them to lie in the 
devouring sun until they howled for mercy. Some of Muhammad's 
followers recanted, while others, the hardier ones, continued to wor- 
ship the One God in secret. Their meeting place was a house on the 
hill of Safa belonging to the convert al-Arqam, or a cave outside 
Mecca. The Quraysh showed no sympathy to the new faith, and when 
Muhammad at last spoke against idol worship before the Kaaba 
and was nearly strangled to death he was rescued just in time by the 
faithful Abu Bakr they realized they were dealing with a lunatic or a 
man determined to risk his life for his beliefs, and decided to destroy 
him. The number of his followers was growing. Slaves and women 
flocked to the secret meetings, but there was also a sprinkling of rich 
merchants. Among them was Uthman ibn-Affan, the friend of Abu 
Bakr, a rich merchant with a passion for good works and a degree 
of piety toward Muhammad that was sometimes galling on the nerves 
of the members of the secret community. Muhammad's daughter Ru- 
qayya was married to the son of his uncle Abu Lahab, who detested 
the new faith and did everything he could to stamp it out. Disgusted 
with Muhammad, he announced that the marriage between the two 
young people was void. Thereupon Muhammad arranged a marriage 
between Ruqayya and the rich merchant. Uthman gloried in pos- 
sessing the daughter of the Apostle of God, and placed his fortune 
and not inconsiderable knowledge of conspiracy at the service o the 
new faith. 

Three merchants Muhammad, Abu Bakr and Uthman were in 
command of a strange conspiratorial movement against the pagan 
gods. They moved stealthily and silently about the town, held meet- 
ings, prayed, and waited expectantly for each new pronouncement 
from the One God. The Quraysh were up in arms. They could 
threaten Muhammad, but they could not kill him for fear of the 
blood vengeance of his clan. They could, however, kill his followers, 
and at the season of pilgrimage they posted men on all the roads to 
warn the pilgrims against the madman who was attempting to turn 
them away from the worship of Hubal. The followers of Muhammad 
were in no position to fight back; and like many other persecuted 


sects their thoughts turned to emigration. Abyssinia, a day's sail 
across the Red Sea, provided a haven of safety. Accordingly a small 
group of the poorer converts, numbering eleven men and four women, 
under the leadership of Ja'far ibn Abu Talib, a cousin of Muhammad, 
set sail from Jiddah and took refuge in the country of the Negus. It 
was no more than an exploratory expedition. Others might follow in 
large numbers if the persecution grew more violent. 

And in fact the persecution was growing so violent that Muham- 
mad himself quailed before the power of the idol worshipers. He an- 
nounced that the One God was not altogether averse to the innumer- 
able gods of clay and stone: there was some merit in them, and wor- 
shipers who sought the intercession of Hubal were not thereby ex- 
cluded from Paradise. He was prepared to compromise, if only to 
gain time. The Quraysh decided that Muhammad was behaving more 
reasonably, and for a brief while the persecution was lifted. A mes- 
sage was sent to the exiles in Abyssinia, recalling them to Mecca. 

One of the most determined opponents of the new faith was a cer- 
tain Umar ibn al-Khattab, a young giant of fearful aspect they said 
of him that his scowl could kill, and his walking staff was more terri- 
ble than most men's swords. Umar was highborn, related to the most 
powerful families in Mecca, and like many young aristocrats he was 
disposed to seek easy solutions to his problems. He came to the con- 
clusion that the best way to put an end to the new faith was by kill- 
ing Muhammad. One day he decided to put his resolve into effect, 
and marched, sword in hand, to the house of al-Arqam, where he 
knew Muhammad was hiding. On the way he met a friend who asked 
what he was doing. "I am going to kill Muhammad!" Umar declared, 
and he was a little puzzled when the friend, a secret convert, sug- 
gested that there might be better things to do, and less dangerous 
ones. "Are you not afraid they will take vengeance on you?" the 
friend said. "Why kill a man who is so much beloved by your favorite 
sister?" For the first time Umar learned that his sister had become a 
convert. He went straight to her house. He paused outside to listen 
to the chanting of one of the verses of the sacred book containing the 
messages received by Muhammad it was the verse describing the 
miracles of Moses and the glory reserved for those who accepted the 
revelation of the One God and when he could bear the sound of 
chanting no more, Umar burst into the house and attacked his sister 
and her husband with his sword. His sister's face was covered with 
blood, and he was about to kill her when she said: "We are followers 


of Muhammad, believing in the One God and in His messenger, and 
you may do with us as you please!" Umar was impressed by her pas- 
sionate sincerity and let the sword fall from his hand. She showed 
him the palm leaf on which the verses were written. He studied it 
with care, and asked if he could take it home with him. "No/' said 
his sister. "You are unclean from long worshiping of idols, and you 
may not touch it until you have been cleansed!" Umar went out and 
washed himself, and took the leaf home. The next day he went sword- 
less to the house of al-Arqam and paid homage to Muhammad as the 
messenger of God. 

The conversion of the young aristocrat alarmed the Quraysh, who 
now determined upon stronger measures. Disturbed and alarmed, 
Muhammad made plans for another emigration to Abyssinia. This 
time he sent not a handful of poor converts, but many of his most 
important supporters, numbering eighty-three men and eighteen 
women, under the leadership of Uthman ibn-Affan, who possessed 
sufficient authority to guide the faithful if Muhammad should be 
killed. This flight to Abyssinia was a reconnaissance in strength de- 
signed to ensure that the faith should continue in the event that it 
was proscribed in Mecca. They were dark days, and no one knew 
what lay in store. 

Outraged by the growth of the faith, its enemies were determined 
to use the sternest measures. Muhammad was hiding in a castle be- 
longing to his uncle Abu Talib, high up in a gorge east of Mecca. 
They demanded his surrender. In exchange they offered Abu Talib 
the fairest of their young men in place of Muhammad and a vast 
fortune in money; all they asked was that they should be allowed to 
kill Muhammad and have done with him. Abu Talib refused. He was 
indifferent to the new faith, but his family loyalty was strong. Unable 
to get their hands on Muhammad, they blockaded the castle, refused 
to allow food to reach it, and even attacked it without success. Fi- 
nally, in 617 A.D. they issued a decree of excommunication against 
the whole clan to which Muhammad belonged. No one belonging to 
this clan was allowed to marry Meccans belonging to other clans, 
nor were they allowed to have business dealings with them. Muham- 
mad's followers could be attacked with impunity. The decree of ex- 
communication, written on parchment, was solemnly hung up within 
the Kaaba. 

There were bad days to come, but the faithful remembered these 
as the worst. In effect, they were outlaws with every man's hand 


against them. For three years Muhammad was compelled to remain 
in the stronghold, emerging only during the annual season of pil- 
grimage when all hostilities were suspended. At such times, in his 
defiant way, he went about the town preaching and praying, pro- 
claiming his revelations. He could not be attacked, but he could be 
hindered and annoyed, and the wife of Abu Lahab, his inveterate 
enemy, amused herself by strewing thorn bushes in the sand where 
she knew he would walk barefoot. Muhammad cursed her and her 
husband in a sura of quite extraordinary vehemence: 

Cursed be the hands of Abu Lahab: he shall perish! 
His wealth and gains shall avail him nothing! 
He shall be burned in the -flaming fire! 
Faggots shall be headed on his wife, 
On her nec\ a rope of palm-fibre! 

(Sura cxi) 

The curse, however, was not immediately effective, and Abu Lahab 
survived for some years to wage an increasingly bitter war against his 
nephew. According to tradition, he died of a broken heart on receiv- 
ing news of one of Muhammad's more spectacular victories. 

Beleaguered in the fortress, Muhammad was a force to be reckoned 
with. Somehow he continued to exert his influence on his followers 
who were still hidden in the town; and the messages of God, which 
came to him with increasing frequency, were written down by 
scribes and distributed to the faithful. The messages told the faithful 
to hold on; the enemy was bound to fail; did not deliverance come 
to Abraham? With a wealth of imagery and a spate of rabbinical 
learning, he demonstrated that defeat was only the prelude to in- 
evitable triumph. As for the idol worshipers, they were like the spider 
"who taketh unto herself a house, and lo! the frailest of all houses is 
the spider's house, if they but knew." His temper, always stern since 
the visitation in the cave, grew sterner. More and more he demanded 
complete surrender to the purposes of God. More and more his mind 
turned to the harsh antitheses: peace and abundance for the faithful, 
hell-fire for the enemies of God. Life itself was of no value, for "the 
life of the world is but a sport and pastime, and the only true life 
lies in the life to come." Everything was to be gained by dying in the 
faith: honor, merit in the eyes of God, and the rewards of Paradise, 
which he painted in brilliant colors. Paradise was a garden where 


immortal youths and virgins attended to the comforts of the blessed 
spirits as they reclined in everlasting shade. Added to these comforts 
was the satisfaction of looking down at the contortions of sinners 
clothed in pitch, flames covering their faces. This simple creed, all 
the more effective for being simple, spurred the faithful to renewed 
efforts; and the enemies of the faith gradually abandoned their at- 
tempts to destroy Muhammad by decree. As for the decree itself, a 
not altogether reliable tradition asserts that it had been eaten away 
by white ants until only the words Bismifa Allahumma ("In thy 
name, O Allah") remained. Muhammad is said to have seen a vindica- 
tion of his mission in the penetrating action of the white ants. 

Whatever the reason for this failure to strangle Muhamadanism at 
birth, there is no doubt that Muhammad was shaken by his long im- 
prisonment in his fortress-stronghold. The Meccans were still sul- 
lenly opposed to any faith which interfered with the annual pilgrim- 
age to the Kaaba and all the other holy places surrounding Mecca. 
They made it clear that they would continue to make Muhammad's 
life intolerable. For him it was doubly intolerable, for about this time 
he lost within a few days of one another both his beloved wife 
Khadija and his uncle Abu Talib, who had always aided him gen- 
erously without ever believing in his mission. In a mood of resigna- 
tion and despair, accompanied only by his slave Zayd, Muhammad 
made his way to Taif, where he had spent the happiest days of his 
childhood. He expected to be welcomed. Instead he was sneered at 
and stoned, and finally thrown out of the city. When last seen, he 
was being pursued by a rabble of children and slaves, and there was 
blood running down his legs. 

Chastened, he returned to Mecca, and when the holy days came 
around and he was allowed to wander unharmed, he found himself 
among a small group of pilgrims from Yathrib, an oasis some two 
hundred miles north of Mecca. To them he proclaimed his mission, 
and he may have been a little surprised to find them listening to him 
attentively. Yathrib had been founded by Jews, had an abundance of 
date palms and goldsmiths, and was something of a commercial rival 
to Mecca. The rabbis in the town were continually proclaiming the 
coming of the Messiah, and the men from Yathrib were disposed to 
believe that Muhammad was indeed the promised Messiah. They were 
not so sure that he would be welcomed in Yathrib and asked for a 
year in which to prepare for his reception. Perhaps they were tem- 
porizing; perhaps they were simply wise men who knew what diffir 


culties lay in the way of welcoming a Messiah and wanted to ensure 
that all Yathrib would come out and greet him. They left, promising 
to send twelve men with their answer the following year. For another 
year Muhammad was compelled to live out his shadowy life in Mecca, 
smarting from his wounds. 

It was perhaps in this year that he received a truly terrifying visita- 
tion from the Angel. No one knows exactly what happened, for the 
Quran contains only a brief and passing reference to the event. Ac- 
cording to tradition Muhammad was awakened in the depth of night 
by the Angel Gabriel, who thundered: "Awake, thou sleeper!" He 
was dazzled by the brightness of the Angel, and by the shining of a 
strange winged horse which had a human face. This horse was rest- 
less, but grew calm when Muhammad mounted it. Then in a flash the 
winged horse soared into the heavens in the direction of Jerusalem, 
plunging to earth at Mount Sinai and Bethlehem, where Muhammad 
offered prayers, and then continuing its progress. At the Temple in 
Jerusalem the horse alighted, and Muhammad simply fastened it to 
the rings and entered into the Holy of Holies to find Abraham, 
Moses and Jesus praying together. He joined them for a space, but a 
ladder came down from heaven and he soared again toward the 
Seventh Heaven and entered the house of the Creator, where the 
light was blinding with an indescribable glory. There he was em- 
braced by God, whose face remained invisible in the annihilating 
brightness, yet he was made aware of the face as a presence, and he 
felt God's touch on his breast and shoulder, a touch which froze him 
to the heart and to the marrow of his bones. Blinded and dazzled, he 
.stumbled from the divine presence; the celestial ladder brought him 
with the speed of lightning to Jerusalem, and with the same speed 
the winged horse returned him to the house of one of his converts in 

Such was the story he told later, and generations of Muhamadan 
scholars have hotly debated the meaning to be attached to the vision. 
They have debated whether Muhammad was transported in the body 
or in the spirit, and what precisely were the words spoken to him 
-when he was embraced by God. Those who believe he was trans- 
ported bodily point to the footprint in the Dome of the Rock in 
Jerusalem where he leaped upon his winged horse; those who believe 
he was transported in the spirit support their belief with the tradi- 
tion derived from Ayesha, the young wife he had married after the 
death of Khadija, who declared that on this very night he was 


sleeping soundly by her side. Many disputed Muhammad's claim to 
have entered the Seventh Heaven, and for a while only Abu Bakr and 
a few intimates were completely convinced. Abu Bakr was the father 
of Ayesha, and he had long ago resolved to believe everything 
Muhammad told him. 

Meanwhile the faith was fighting to survive. The horror of pro- 
scription was exchanged for the horror of indifference, as the Mec- 
cans, now accustomed to the presence of the Apostle of God in their 
midst, hoped that the faith would die a natural death. They had good 
reason to hope in the eventual disintegration of the movement, for 
Muhammad's account of his supernatural journey to Heaven aroused 
a shocked incredulity among some of the believers. The early days of 
martyrdom were over; and Muhammad, locked in his fortress, was 
far more dangerous than Muhammad walking free in the market 

To survive, the faith needed a base of operations, preferably a city 
on one of the trade routes of Arabia, where Muhammad in his own 
person could exercise spiritual and earthly dominion. Such a base 
might be provided by Yathrib, and more and more his thoughts were 
directed to that northern city. He was overjoyed when, exactly a 
year following his meeting with six men of Yathrib, there arrived in 
Mecca five of the original six together with seven converts, who wel- 
comed him as the appointed Messiah and at the Pass of Aqabah be- 
tween Mecca and Mina swore an oath of allegiance to him. "We shall 
worship only the One God," they declared. "We shall not steal, nor 
commit adultery, nor kill our children; we shall not commit acts of 
slander; and we shall not disobey the Apostle of God in anything 
that is proper." It was a strange oath, for it left many things unsaid, 
and seems to have been designed as a statement of the minimum be- 
liefs necessary for adherance to the Muhamadan cause. And having 
declared their allegiance, the twelve returned to Yathrib accom- 
panied by a teacher selected by Muhammad. Soon, according to the 
chroniclers, there was not a house in Yathrib where men were not 
eagerly discussing the Quran. 

But while Yathrib was being converted, affairs in Mecca remained 
stationary, and for another year Muhammad was compelled to re- 
main in a town where he was generally detested. News of the secret 
oath at the Pass had got about, and the authorities were in a quan- 
dary. It was bad enough to have Muhammad in their midst, but what 
if he entered Yathrib in triumph? They foresaw that he might exact 


vengeance. With Yathrib in his power, there was nothing to prevent 
him from attacking Mecca and trampling down the gods. 

Many efforts had been made to destroy Muhammad. They had 
blockaded the fortress, attempted to starve him out, killed his fol- 
lowers and placed a ban of interdiction on his clan. They had not 
dared to attack him physically. Now someone perhaps it was Abu 
Lahab suggested a wonderfully simple solution to the problem: from 
each clan one member should be chosen by lot to murder Muhammad, 
and if they all attacked him simultaneously, then the blood guilt 
would be on all of them, and the family of Muhammad would be in- 
capable of taking revenge on all the clans. The suggestion, however, 
was not carried out, but the great historian Ibn Khaldun dates the 
hardening of Muhammad's heart to that bleak year when his own 
death seemed so close and his followers seemed about to melt before 
his eyes. There came to him a revelation ordering him to make war 
upon his enemies "until there is no more persecution and all men 
follow the way of the One God." Henceforward he would use the 
sword, if all else failed. 

But there was no need to use the sword: only to wait patiently for 
the time when Yathrib would welcome him as the Messiah. Waiting 
was intolerable, but better than death without the fulfillment of God's 
word. Finally, two years after the meeting with the men of Yathrib, 
at the holy season, there came a second deputation from Yathrib con- 
sisting of seventy-five men and two women. It was March, 622 A.B., 
on a moonless night when Muhammad journeyed to the Pass to re- 
ceive the final verdict from Yathrib. He was at once the plaintiff and 
the defendant, the suppliant and the conqueror. They told him that 
Yathrib was preparing to receive him with open arms. "Our lives," 
they said, "are at the service of the Apostle of God." Muhammad 
chanted some verses from the Quran and might have departed im- 
mediately for Yathrib if his uncle al-Abbas, who felt for his nephew 
the same kindly sympathy shown by Abu Talib, had not interposed 
with a question. He asked what guarantees there were for Muham- 
mad's safety. Did they realize that all Arabia might arise against the 
city which had chosen the messenger of God? He suggested they 
should make a solemn compact to defend Muhammad. The men of 
Yathrib swore to defend Muhammad and his followers to the death, 
and when they asked what would be their reward if they perished in 
the cause, Muhammad answered simply: "Paradise!" 

With this second oath at the Pass of Aqabah, Muhammad was free 


of all the chains that bound him to Mecca. He would leave the town, 
and when he returned he would come, not as some beggarly preacher 
in the market place, but as a conqueror. 

He decided to act warily, for he had not yet received divine au- 
thority for the journey, and every inch of the way must be prepared. 
During that spring and early summer, 150 of his followers made 
their way to Yathrib. They went by ones and twos, in secret, follow- 
ing rarely used pathways, so that the authorities in Mecca should not 
know they were escaping. But reports of strange movements on the 
roads to Yathrib kept coming in, and one night in June guards ham- 
mered at Muhammad's house. There was just time for Muhammad 
and the faithful Abu Bakr to wrap AH in a green mantle as he lay 
on a couch, and slip away. When the guards broke in, they pounced 
on AH, who was fat and heavy and could be taken for Muhammad 
m the flickering light of torches. They thought they had Muhammad 
in their grasp, and were enraged when Ali said he knew nothing 
about the whereabouts of Muhammad. Abu Bakr's house was then 
searched. His daughter Amina was asked: "Where is your father?" 
and answered quite truthfully: "I do not know"; whereupon she was 
slapped so hard that one of her earrings fell off. 

Meanwhile Muhammad and Abu Bakr were making their way 
through the streets of Mecca to the bare and flinty hills, where they 
had already selected a hiding place in a cave and arranged for a 
guide and two fast riding-camels. When morning came, the Quraysh 
were engaged in a desperate attempt to catch up with him. They 
scoured the city, sent armed guards through the gorges, and posted a 
reward of 100 camels to anyone who captured Muhammad. One 
party even paused outside the cave where they were hiding, and Abu 
Bakr in the dark interior saw them standing about the open mouth. 
He warned Muhammad that they were about to be captured, and 
burst out weeping at the thought of victory so tardily stolen from 
their hands, but Muhammad said quietly: "Do not grieve, for God is 
with us!" The guards moved away, and at nightfall Abu Bakr's son 
and daughter and his herdsman brought them food. Finally, after 
three days, came the guide and the fast camels, and they set out for 
Yathrib, riding mostly at night, using unfrequented pathways. Even 
then they were pursued. Four days out from Mecca, a troop of armed 
horsemen from Mecca led by an old soldier named Suraqa, famous 
for his iron-gray helmet of hair and the roughness of his furry arms, 
came up with him. Once again Abu Bakr thought all was lost, and 


once again Muhammad had to tell him: "God is with us." Suraqa's 
horse reared up and fell when it came near to Muhammad, and 
Suraqa seems to have been profoundly moved by this evidence of 
Muhammad's spiritual power. There was a brief conversation be- 
tween the warrior and the messenger of God, and Suraqa thought it 
the better part of virtue to pretend there had been no meeting in 
the desert and returned without his prisoner to Mecca. 

There were no further setbacks. At last, after a journey of a little 
over two hundred miles they rode mostly at night to avoid being 
overtaken they came in sight of Yathrib, which had heard of their 
coming and was in a state of excited expectation. Still unsure of the 
welcome he would receive, Muhammad decided to delay his triumphal 
entry and for five days stayed in the suburb of Qubah some three- 
quarters of a mile south of the city. There envoys came to greet him 
with peace offerings and the promise of full security. Then at last on 
September 20, 622 A.D., with thirteen years of humiliation behind 
him, he entered Yathrib like a king with an escort of seventy warriors. 

For his followers this day marked the beginning of a new era, and 
during the reign of the Caliph Umar it was decreed that the Mu- 
hamadan calendar should start with the year of the triumph. In fact 
the Muhamadan calendar starts a little before, beginning on New 
Year's Day, which occurred on July 16. It was the year of the Hijra, 
which means "the breaking of bonds." In those days perhaps only 
Muhammad knew how well and truly they had been broken. 

The Holy Sword 


^n the first year of his reign at Yathrib, Muhammad 
showed himself at his best. He received revelations, issued decrees, 
signed treaties, but always humbly; and there was something about 
his manner which suggested more the dedicated devotee in the cave 
than the conspirator in his fortress. Quietly, confidently, he was put- 
ting his house in order. He was living modestly with his second wife 
Sauda, a widow whom he seems to have married out of pity, and his 
court consisted of his young secretary Zayd ibn Zabit, who was a na- 
tive of Yathrib, his faithful black slave Bilal, and his servant Abdal- 
lah ibn Masud, "he of the slippers, the cushions and the dunghill/' a 
fiery thin-legged man with flaming red hair and a passion for scented 
garments, whose chief claim to fame was that he was the first to re- 
cite the Quran openly in the streets of Mecca. No king ever lived less 
ostentatiously. For seven months his palace was the lower floor of a 
house overlooking an ancient burial ground which he had chosen as 
the site of his mosque; his furniture consisted of a coarse matting of 
palm leaves and an earthen jug. 

The mosque, too, was small and unprepossessing, no more than a 
rough enclosure with earthen walls, pillars made from the date palms 
which grew in the burial ground, and a roof of palm leaves daubed 
with mud. There were three doors cut in the walls, one facing Jerusa- 
lem, one for Gabriel and one in the name of mercy, which led to Mu- 
hammad's private quarters. The courtyard was used for prayer, for 
meetings, and for sheltering the homeless. The mosque was quickly 
built. Muhammad himself helped to build it, enjoying the labor and 
encouraging the workmen with a hymn composed in their honor. 
None of the amenities we are accustomed to see in mosques were 
present: there was no pulpit, no niche facing in the sacred direction, 
no hanging lamps, and instead of tiles and carpets on the floors there 
was only beaten earth and sand, Muhammad delivered his sermons 
while leaning casually against a palm trunk. In those days only one 



thing disturbed him: the damp climate with its poisonous exhalations, 
cold by night and unbearably hot during the day. Accustomed to the 
dry climate of Mecca, he prayed: "O God, make Yathrib dear to us, 
even as Mecca is, or even dearer. Bless its produce, and banish far 
from us the pestilence." Many of his followers died; many sickened; 
many begged to be allowed to return to Mecca. Surprisingly, Mu- 
hammad was unaffected, and seemed to grow stronger as the days 

All through those early months he showed an air of settled con- 
tentment. He was gentle and kind. He listened attentively to the ad- 
vice of the Jewish rabbis, and resolved the quarrels of the Aus and 
Khazraj, the two dominant tribes of Yathrib, each possessing its own 
fortress. He drew up a solemn charter with the Jews, granting them 
equal rights of citizenship, full religious liberty and military protec- 
tion on condition that they take part in the defense of the city; and 
he ordered that the Muhajirun (refugees from Mecca) seek the 
friendship of the Ansar (the helpers, people of Yathrib) by swearing 
oaths of loyalty to one another. Wanting to please the Jews, or to pla- 
cate them, he gave instructions to his followers to pray three times 
daily, following Jewish practice, instead of twice daily, which had 
been their custom in Mecca. The faithful were ordered to be circum- 
cised. He chose Friday as the Sabbath, differing from the Jews only in 
allowing his followers to continue working on this day. The Chris- 
tians used wooden clappers and bells to summon the faithful to di- 
vine service; the Jews used trumpets; Muhammad decided to use the 
human voice. The first prayer caller was the Negro slave Bilal, whose 
thunderous voice echoed across the rooftops the words revealed by 
the Angel: "La ilaha ill' Muhammad rasul Allah!" ("There is 
no God at all but God, and Muhammad is His messenger! Come to 
prayer! Come to security!") Sometimes at the dawn call, Bilal would 
add the salutory recommendation: "Prayer is better than sleep!" 
Muhammad was so pleased with his slave's addition to the divine 
text that he allowed it to become part of the ritual. When Bilal had 
summoned the city to awake, he would descend from his rooftop and 
hurry to Muhammad's door, saying: "To prayer, O Messenger of 
God! To salvation!" 

So the months passed in a strange quietness, as though Muhammad 
were slowly withdrawing from the world of action, settling disputes 
and the affairs of a small predominantly Jewish city, and receiving 
the homage of the tribesmen of the desert. The revelations continued, 
notable for their toleration and forbearance. Benignity flowed from 


him. He spoke often of the need for charity. "He who is not affec- 
tionate to God's creatures," he declared, "that man will not receive 
the affection of God. Those who clothe the naked of the faith will be 
clothed by God in the green robes of Paradise/' The most beautiful 
of the traditional sermons seems to date from this time. Muhammad 
opened the sermon by declaring that when the world was formed, it 
trembled so violently that God set mountains upon it to strengthen it. 
He continued: 

The angels asked, "O God! Is there anything in Thy creation 
stronger than mountains?" God said: "Yes, iron is stronger than 
mountains, for it breaketh them." The angels said: "O God! Is 
there anything in Thy creation stronger than iron?" God said: 
"Yes, fire is stronger than iron, for it melteth it." The angels 
said: "O our defender! Is there anything in Thy creation 
stronger than fire?" God said: "Yes, water overcometh fire: it 
killeth it and maketh it cold." Then the angels said: "O God! 
Is there anything in Thy creation stronger than water?" God 
said: "Yes, wind overcometh water, for it putteth it in motion." 
The angels said: "O our cherisher! Is there anything in Thy 
creation stronger than wind?" God said: "Yes, the children of 
Adam when they give alms with their right hands and conceal it 
from the left, they overcome all!" 

There were perhaps other reasons for Muhammad's gentleness and 
benevolence at this time, among them his approaching marriage to 
Ayesha, the nine-year-old daughter of Abu Bakr, to whom he had 
been betrothed for some time. 1 There was also the approaching mar- 

1 Bukhari, in his collection of traditional sayings, gives Ayesha's wonder- 
fully vivid description o her preparations for the marriage. "I was six 
years old when the Prophet betrothed himself to rne in Mecca," she said. 
"Three years later in Madinah, I being nine years old, had a fever and 
lost my hair, but it had all grown again long and thick. One day I was 
on a swing surrounded by children friends. My mother came and called 
me, I did not know what for. I went to her. I was out of breath, and she 
made me stop at the door until I got my breath back. She then washed 
my head and face with some water, and took me to a room where there 
were some Ansar women, who cried out: "Happiness and blessing and 
best fortune be upon thee!" My mother handed me over to them and 
they dressed me up. They had scarcely finished when the Prophet entered 
suddenly. They gave me over to him." 


riage of his daughter Fatima with his adopted son, Ali. Fatima was 
fifteen, Ali about twenty-three. Tradition asserts that Muhammad's 
wedding to the lively Ayesha was a model of simplicity, her dowry- 
being only a few ounces of silver and the wedding supper consisting 
only of milk. The marriage between Fatima and Ali was considerably 
more elaborate. Dates and olives were provided for the wedding feast, 
and Ali, by selling a number of his best camels and coats of chain 
mail, provided his bride with two skirts, a headband, two silver 
bracelets, a leather pillow stuffed with palm leaves, a drinking cup, a 
hand mill, two large earthen jars and a pitcher. Ayesha was small and 
plump, Fatima tall and slender, sloe-eyed, with a gift for singing. 
She was accounted the most beautiful among Arabian women, as Ali 
was accounted the most handsome among Arabian men. At this time 
he was in the full flower of his manhood, broad-shouldered and well- 
muscled, with soft gray eyes, a ruddy complexion, and a thick black 
beard. Like his father-in-law he lived simply in one of the huts which 
lay beside the mosque. 

As he surveyed his small kingdom Muhammad seems to have be- 
come increasingly aware of his precarious hold on the affections of 
men. There was still only a handful of followers; how few they were 
was demonstrated when he ordered the oath of brotherhood: only 
fifty-four refugees from Mecca responded. Perhaps a hundred Mec- 
cans joined him in Yathrib; there was a small colony in Abyssinia; a 
few secret sympathizers remained behind in Mecca, and there was a 
scattering of tribesmen prepared to obey his orders; and this was all. 
He maintained his power in Yathrib by virtue of his personal ascend- 
ancy. Soon the Jews who had looked upon him as the promised Mes- 
siah began to see the error of their ways. He was no Messiah; he was 
a man whose revelations came from a God infinitely remote from 
Jahweh. Quarrels arose. Muhammad hardened his heart. Quite sud- 
denly he received the revelation that his followers should turn when 
they prayed not toward Jerusalem but toward Mecca. Soon there came 
another revelation: it was right and proper for the faithful to kill the 

No one knows why Muhammad changed so abruptly from a benevo- 
lent despot, the devoted servant of the Merciful and Compassionate 
God, into a ruthless conqueror. Perhaps power corrupted him; per- 
haps he knew the faith would never survive without unsheathing 
the sword. What is certain is that his character changed. Where he had 
been soft he became hard. 


It began with small raiding parties sent out to intercept the cara- 
vans driving northward from Mecca, between Yathrib and the Red 
Sea, to Syria. Six separate raiding parties were sent out with orders to 
plunder the caravans, without success, though once at least the raid- 
ers waylaid a rich caravan, only to be warned off by local tribesmen. 
With the coming of the holy month of Rajab in December 623 AJ>. 
the exasperated raiders under Muhammad's command saw their op- 
portunity. They decided to take advantage of the general peace. Two 
days before the end of the holy month Muhammad sent eight raiders 
under sealed orders to the south in the hope of cutting off a rich 
Quraysh caravan known to be proceeding to Mecca. The text of the 
sealed orders, which has survived, reads: "Go forward to Nakhlah 
in the name of the Lord, and with His blessing! Yet do not force any 
of the followers against his inclination. Proceed with those who ac- 
company you willingly; and when you have arrived at the valley of 
Nakhlah, then lie in wait for the caravans of the Quraysh." 

By coincidence or design this strange document was opened on the 
last day of the holy month. By the time the first caravan came in sight, 
two of the raiding party had fallen back to search for a stray carnel; 
there were therefore only six raiders preparing to attack a caravan 
laden with wine, raisins and leather, guarded by four Quraysh sol- 
diers. It was an unequal combat. One of the raiders was disguised 
as a pilgrim, with shaven head and white linen gown. He advanced 
under cover of his disguise, asked some simple questions and suddenly 
shot an arrow at the guard he had speaking to, who happened to 
be a man of Hadramaut under protection of the Quraysh. Within a 
few moments the treasure was in the hands of the raiders, and the 
caravan turned toward Yathrib. It was the first time a man had been 
killed at Muhammad's orders. Yet Muhammad received the news of 
the capture in a towering rage, upbraiding the raiders and telling 
them he had never commanded them to fight during the sacred 
month: they had in fact misinterpreted their orders. Soon afterward 
he received the appropriate revelation: 

They ask you about making war in the sacred month. Say: 
Warfare in this month is a great offence, but to obstruct the way 
of God and to deny Him, to hinder men from the holy temple, 
and to expel his people thence, that is more grievous to God. 
For idolatry is worse than killing. 

They will not cease from fighting against you until they have 


made renegades from your faith, if they are able. And whoso- 
ever becometh a renegade and dieth an unbeliever, his works 
shall come to nothing in this world or in the world to come. Such 
are the rightful owners of the Fire, and they shall abide there 
for ever. 

(Sura ii) 

In slightly different terms, and with different emphases, the same 
revelation was to be repeated at intervals, uplifting his warriors when 
they were weary and inciting them to ferocious acts of bravery in 
battle. To those who fell in battle a vast reward was promised; the 
martyrs would "live in the presence of their Lord, their wants sup- 
plied, rejoicing in the bounty which God has given them." Muhammad 
hinted that those who died in battle would enter the souls of green 
birds and feed forever on the fruits of Paradise. A late haditk 
reads: "Know that Paradise lies beneath the shadow of swords." 

After this first obscure engagement Muhammad searched for an 
opportunity to make war on the Quraysh. It came in January, 624 
A.D., when Abu Sufyan, a leading Meccan merchant, returned from 
Syria at the head of the most important caravan of the year, with 
50,000 pieces of gold. His route lay through the country of Yathrib, 
between the mountains and the sea. When rumors of Muhammad's 
design reached him, he sent a camel driver to Mecca with a frantic 
appeal for help. The camel driver arrived at the Kaaba out of breath, 
sick and weary, so distraught that he was almost unintelligible. A 
certain Abu Jahl mounted a roof and sounded the alarm; and soon 
there were a thousand armed men hurrying from Mecca, most of 
them believing the caravan was already lost; at best they hoped to 
punish the raiders. This army, led by the nobility of Mecca, was the 
best they could put into the field; Muhammad's army numbered no 
more than 313 men, ill-armed and roughly equipped; most of them 
belonged to the Ansar. 

Muhammad sent out two scouts to watch the movements of the 
caravan, and learned that it was approaching Badr, a small town 
where a famous fair was held every year on a sandy plain. His small 
tattered army therefore made its way cautiously toward Badr, hoping 
to come upon the caravan by surprise. He knew the Meccan army 
was approaching, but he seems to have been in no hurry. "Go for- 
ward in good heart," he told his men, "for God has promised me 
either the caravan or the soldiers, and by God it is as though I now 


saw the enemy lying prostrate." With the Meccan forces destroyed, he 
could drive south and occupy Mecca. Then all of Arabia would fall 
into his hands. 

When Abu Sufyan realized that Muhammad was bent on conquest, 
and that the army was in danger, he sent a hurried dispatch to the 
Meccan forces, urging them to return to Mecca. Abu Jahl, however, 
was determined upon a show of force. "We will not go back," he 
exclaimed. "We shall spend three days in Badr, slaughter camels, 
feast and drink wine. We shall have girls to play for us, and the 
Arabs will hear that we have gathered together and show respect for 
us." But when the army reached Badr, there was no feasting. 

Muhammad's army was in fighting trim, eager for conquest. The 
Ansar in particular rejoiced in the prospect of booty, and they swore 
to follow Muhammad even if he ordered them to plunge into the 
sea. When night fell, the two armies were divided only by a low 
chain of hills. Muhammad saw them coming down into the valley 
while standing before a little hut made of palm branches, where he 
had spent the night with Abu Bakr. He prayed to God for a quick 
victory, saying: "O God, here come the Quraysh in their vanity and 
pride, contending with thee and calling Thy apostle a liar! O God, 
grant the help Thou didst promise me! Destroy them this morning!" 
As usual, Muhammad's prayers were like commands uttered to the 
Most High, and as usual they were answered. The enemy seems to 
have been alarmed by the small numbers of the Muhamadans, and 
one of their spies is reported to have returned to the camp with the 
eerie knowledge that they were contending with principalities and 
powers. The spy was asked how many Muhamadans he had seen. 
He answered: "Three hundred men, more or less, but with them are 
the caravans of Yathrib laden with Death. These men have no refuge 
except their swords!" It was a complaint to be heard many times 
during the days of Muhammad's climb to power. 

During the night a providential rain had fallen, softening the 
ground where the Quraysh were forced to pass, while paradoxically 
hardening the ground where the Muhamadans were standing. Every- 
thing worked in favor of Muhammad. The enemy came down the 
hill with the sun in their eyes, and at first they could not even make 
out the positions of the Muhamadans, concealed among the small 
sandy ridges. All Arab battles opened with single combats, and in all 
these preliminary engagements the Muhamadans won victories. Mu- 
hammad with Abu Bakr retired to his command post, his final instruc- 


tions to his army being an order not to engage immediately, but to 
keep the enemy at a distance by means o showers of arrows; and he 
hinted that angelic hosts would come to their assistance. So he re- 
mained in the hut, guarded by a single soldier with a drawn sword, 
praying and sometimes sleeping, while the battle continued into the 
morning. Among his prayers were many calling upon the Lord not 
to forget His promises, reminding Him that if the enemy won, there 
would be none left to sing His praises. Abu Bakr was afraid these 
constant entreaties and recriminations would only annoy the Lord, but 
Muhammad silenced him. "Be of good cheer, Abu Bakr," Muhammad 
said. "I have seen Gabriel holding the rein of a horse, and there is 
dust on his teeth!" In the valley many of the Muhamadans believed 
the angelic hosts were fighting for them. 

At the height of the battle a storm rose, and some thought they 
saw the white turbans of the angels floating above the storm. When 
the Muhamadans were hard-pressed, Muhammad darted out of the 
hut, picked up a handful of small stones and threw them in the 
direction of the Quraysh, shouting: "Confusion seize them!" Then 
he ordered a charge, and the hard-pressed Meccans fled in a disor- 
derly rout, leaving seventy dead on the field. Among the dead was 
Abu Jahl, whose head was struck off by Abdallah ibn Masud, Mu- 
hammad's secretary; and when the head was presented to Muhammad, 
he exclaimed exultantly: "It is more acceptable to me than the 
choicest camel in Arabia." The Muhamadans who were killed in the 
battle were honorably buried; the enemy dead were thrown into a 
pit, while Muhammad addressed them, saying: "O people of the pit, 
have you found that which God threatened is true?" His companions 
were a little surprised to see him speaking to the dead, until he said 
quietly: "They know." It had been a strange morning, with the 
neighing of horses heard high overhead, the storm coming just at 
the time when it was needed by the beleaguered Muhamadans, but 
nothing surprised them more than this sad colloquy with the dead. 

Altogether the Muhamadans had lost fourteen dead, the majority 
being Ansar, and therefore expendable. About seventy of the enemy 
were captured. Some of the companions wanted to kill the captives, 
but Muhammad reminded them that there were wives and children 
of his followers still in Mecca, and no good would come of a general 
butchery. Two of the captives were killed al-Nadr, who had ridiculed 
the revelations of Muhammad, saying they were a collection of Per- 
sian tales, and Uqba, who had once attacked Muhammad in the 


Kaaba and the rest were ransomed. Among the most important pris- 
oners was al-Abbas, the Apostle's uncle, destined to be the eponymous 
founder of a long line of reigning Caliphs, a man of towering build 
who was captured by a man only a little bigger than a dwarf; and 
to explain his capture al-Abbas liked to say he had surrendered to 
an angelic horseman of gigantic size. 

The battle won, Muhammad returned to Yathrib to superintend 
the division of the spoils. Those who had fought most vigorously 
claimed that the greater share should go to them; they saw no reason 
to divide the spoils with the old men who guarded the camp or those 
who stood aloof from the actual fighting. A new revelation came to 
Muhammad, known as The Spoils of War. In this Gabriel made clear 
that the Muhamadans had not of themselves won the victory: that 
honor was God's alone. "They slew them not, but God slew them; 
and thou [Muhammad] threwest not when thou didst throw, but God 
threw, that he might richly reward the faithful." To God, too, the 
Archangel ascribed the sleep that fell upon Muhammad in the middle 
of the battle, and it was God who revealed that no mercy need be 
shown, for had not God said: "I will cast terror into the hearts of 
the infidels! Strike oft their heads, maim their fingers!" God was 
weary of "the whistling and the clapping of hands" at the Kaaba; 
it was time the unbelievers devoted themselves to the one True God. 
There was to be war to the death between the faithful and the infi- 
dels, and as for the spoils, one-fifth was to be reserved for God and 
His messenger. The iron, which glowed white-hot during the battle, 
was now tempered with victory, and there was divine authority for 
using it ruthlessly. At Badr the holy sword was raised, to remain 
in Muhammad's hands until death took it away from him. 

Nothing in the revelations following the battle at Badr suggested 
the least mercy. On the contrary, mercy was to be regarded as a sign 
of weakness. "The Messenger of God may take no captives until there 
has been slaughter in the land," says the Quran. "Though you desire 
the lure of the world, God desires for you the Hereafter." Martyrdom 
in battle was to be regarded as the highest prize, the quickest means 
of entering Paradise. In a little while Muhammad was to say: "I 
testify that all those who are wounded for God's sake God will raise 
on the Day of Judgment, and their wounds shall be resplendent 
as vermilion, and as odoriferous as musk." 

Meanwhile there was the booty to be attended to: a great treasure 
consisting of 150 camels and horses together with vast quantities 


of vestment and armor. A number of swords were captured, among 
them a strange double-pointed sword which came to be known as 
Dhu'1-Faqar, or "Cleaver of Vertebrae." Muhammad wore it during 
all his subsequent battles, and seems to have believed that the posses- 
sion of this sword was the demonstrable sign of inevitable victory. 
In time the sword was inherited by AH, and many copies were made 
engraved with the words "No sword can match the Cleaver, and no 
young knight can compare with AIL" Subsequently the sword be- 
came a holy relic, passing into the hands of the Abbasid Caliphs, 
who regarded their possession of the sword and mantle of the Apostle 
as proofs of their legitimacy. When the Abbasid Caliphate came to 
an end, the sword vanished; and there is no sign of it among the 
holy relics inherited by the Osmanli Turks. 

Emboldened by the possession of the sword, and certain of even- 
tual victory, Muhammad occupied the following year in consolidating 
his gains. He had failed to capture the caravan, which succeeded in 
slipping away during the fighting, but he had gained in prizes and 
ransom money an amount far greater than the worth of the caravan; 
and he had put terror in the hearts of the Quraysh. He was in no 
mood for half measures: he would attack when the proper time 
came. Better still, he would taunt the Quraysh into attacking him, 
far from their base, and watch their slow bloodletting at the gates 
of Yathrib. 

A year passed before the Quraysh dared to attack in force. There 
had, it is true, been occasional skirmishes during the interval. Once 
Abu Sufyan, who had been in charge of the Meccan caravan at 
Badr, led two hundred of his horsemen nearly up to the walls of 
Yathrib. He killed two of Muhammad's followers, ravaged the fields, 
burned the date palms, and fled in such a hurry when Muhammad 
organized a sortie that he was forced to throw away the meal sack 
he carried over his saddle bow; and since all his followers did the safne 
the short battle came to be known as "the battle of the meal sacks." 
There were skirmishes, brief encounters, sudden raids, but the major 
battle was still to come. 

One day toward the end of January, 625 A.D., Muhammad was 
praying in the mosque when a sealed letter was handed to him. The 
letter contained the information that 3,000 Quraysh, including 700 
warriors in armor and 200 cavalry, with a huge baggage train, were 
making their way slowly toward Yathrib. Muhammad continued his 
prayers, and then summoned a council of war. Some of his advisers 


urged him to stay within Yathrib, others that he should make a sortie 
and attack the enemy on the march. Abruptly, Muhammad made his 
own decision. He marched to his own house, put on his armor, an- 
nounced that it would not be fitting for a Messenger o God to lay 
aside his armor until he had fought against his enemies, and led a 
thousand men out of Yathrib; of these about a third defected and 
decided to return home. Muhammad was left with 700 men. They 
were not picked troops, but a rabble under arms, with only two 
hundred wearing armor. Mostly they were archers, and Muhammad 
himself was provided with a bow. 

The armies met at the foot of Mount Uhud, three miles to the north 
of Yathrib, in a barren region of scrub and low granite hills. 

Muhammad seems to have entered the battle in a mood of profound 
weariness, without the exhilarating knowledge that God was fight- 
ing on his. side. He had grown fat and heavy; he was alarmed by 
the defections; he suspected treachery in the ranks; and he was cer- 
tain that within Yathrib itself there were many who would regard 
his defeat as a blessing. At the battle of Badr he had resigned him- 
self to God's will, never giving orders, certain that the angels would 
come to his assistance. This time he took an active part in the engage- 
ment, and issued three imperative orders to his troops. He ordered 
a detachment of some fifty archers to remain at all costs on a small 
foothill at the base of Mount Uhud, to protect his left "Do not move 
from this place; if you see us pursuing and plundering the enemy, 
do not join us; and if we are ourselves pursued, do not attempt to 
rescue us." He commanded his troops to maintain their close-knit 
formation, and he forbade them to advance until he had given the 
order. He knew his men well. He was afraid the battle would de- 
velop into a wild melee, in which all the advantages would accrue 
to the enemy. 

And so it happened, although at first God's favors were showered 
on the Muhamadans. As usual, the battle opened with individual 
combats, with the women in both camps urging on their favorites 
with taunts and the clanging of tambourines. Muhammad, wearing 
two coats of mail, retired to his command post. His troops were on 
higher ground, and the enemy came up the slope with banners fly- 
ing, with Abu Sufyan leading the center and a hundred horsemen 
on each wing. The Muhamadan square held firm. There were more 
attacks, with the Meccans attempting to carry the left wing, but there 
was no faltering on the part of the Muhamadans. The Meccans were 


recoiling from a third, or fourth, unsuccessful attempt to break the 
square when Muhammad gave the order for a general advance; 
and when the Meccan center fled in a disorderly rout, the Muhama- 
dans, who had been held back so long, were themselves thrown into 
confusion while they attempted to catch up with the enemy. Worse 
still, the fifty archers ordered to remain on the foothill rushed down 
in the plain, unable to control themselves at the sight of so much 
booty. The battle became a melee. Khalid ibn al-Walid, the slender 
and handsome captain of the Meccan cavalry, saw his opportunity, 
galloped his horsemen round the flank, occupied the foothill which 
Muhammad had chosen as the pivot of the battle, and fell upon the 
Muhamadan rear, saving the day for the Quraysh. The Muhatnadans 
found themselves sandwiched between an enemy gradually recover- 
ing from a rout and a detachment of cavalry determined to cut them 
down like grass. They panicked, and might have been slaughtered to 
a man if it had not been for a handful of stalwarts who kept their 

None of the surviving accounts of the battle of Uhud reflect credit 
on Muhammad's strategy. From the moment when he gave the order 
to charge to the moment when the Meccans abandoned the field, 
there seems to have been only a wild confusion. Muhammad himself 
was wounded. One blow struck him in the face, knocking out one of 
his teeth, and another drove his helmet rings into his cheek. He was 
not alone among the leaders in being wounded: AH, Abu Bakr and 
Umar were all wounded, and for long periods reported dead. Mu- 
hammad hid in a ditch, his face covered with blood and one eye 
hanging out of its socket. Once, as he lay there, he looked up and 
saw his wife Ayesha tucking up her skirts while carrying waterskins 
and pouring water into the mouths of the wounded soldiers; and 
the sight of her anklets gleaming on that hot day gave him courage. 
A soldier saw him hiding and shouted: "Take heart, the Messenger 
of God is alive!" Muhammad silenced him, and it was some time 
before he had recovered sufficiently to be moved: an old man, heavy 
with fat, burdened by two heavy coats of chain mail, in a roaring 

Meanwhile the Meccans were carrying all before them. They had 
killed Hamza, the Apostle's favorite uncle, and the wife of Abu 
Sufyan raced to the place where Hamza was lying, cut out his liver 
and attempted to eat it. The Meccans in their triumph amused them- 
selves by plundering and mutilating the dead, cutting off ears and 


noses, and stringing them together into necklaces; and they went on 
to massacre the wounded. Once Abu Sufyan was heard crying out 
that all the leaders of the Muhamadans were dead, but Umar could 
not contain himself, and shouted: "Thou liest! They are all alive, 
thou enemy of God, and will requite you yet!" Abu Sufyan seems to 
have thought the Muhamadans were boasting, and returned to Mecca 
with the conviction that Muhammad had been killed and the Muham- 
adans as a fighting force were no longer to be reckoned as serious 
contenders for power. At nightfall he rode off toward Mecca, leav- 
ing seventy of his dead on the field. The Muhamadans lost seventy- 
four dead, and most of them were mutilated. 

The shock to Muhammad was such as to make him question his 
most profound beliefs. He was no longer the impassive leader of men, 
but a man humbled to the ground, who wept openly and consoled 
himself with the thought that defeat was meant to try his faith in 
himself. The Meccans had abandoned the field, when they could have 
attacked Yathrib and taken all before diem; but he warned his fol- 
lowers against ascribing this to God's intervention, though he was 
pleased when some of the survivors spoke of seeing red-turbaned 
angels flying high above the battlefield. No; the fault had been in 
the hearts of the believers, for not believing. Too many of them had 
their minds on booty; too few had been aware that God was watching 
them. He, too, had been at fault, for not dealing sternly enough 
with traitors and defaulters. As one might expect, the revelation 
which came a few days later underscored the need for the sternest 
possible measures and a fierce endurance. "Endure! Endure to the 
utmost! Stand firm in the faith and fear God, so that you may 

For Muhammad the triumph was still inevitable: a temporary de- 
feat might be no more than the sign of the coming victory; and in 
this faith, but with haunting doubts, he looked to the future to 
avenge the horror at Uhud. 

Now more than ever he was convinced that ultimate victory de- 
pended upon the sword. The intoxication of defeat was followed by 
the intoxication of vengeance; and every page of the Quran during 
this period is filled with oaths and maledictions against his enemies, 
not only in Mecca, but among the Jews and "hypocrites" in Yathrib. 
Always suspicious of the Jews, he became more suspicious. The Jew- 
ish tribe of the Bani al-Nadir owned rich possessions within three 
miles of Yathrib. Invited to attend a feast to be held below their 


fortress walls, Muhammad went to visit them, accompanied by Ali, 
Abu Bakr and Umar. While there, he heard rumors of a plot to 
kill him by hurling a millstone from the top of the fortress wall on 
the feasters below. It was no more than a rumor, and the tribesmen 
indignantly denied they had ever had such an intention. Muhammad, 
however, was convinced that they were plotting his death and, return- 
ing to Yathrib, he summoned a large force to punish the infidels. 
The Jews took refuge in their fort. Muhammad attempted to attack 
the fort, but failed, and had to content himself with burning their 
date palms, on which they depended for their supplies. He had more 
troops than the tribesmen, and was perfectly prepared to embark on 
a long siege. The Jews suggested a compromise: they would abandon 
their village and offer it as a free offering to Muhammad provided 
they were allowed to leave, retaining all their property including their 
weapons and whatever they could carry on their camels, Muhammad 
agreed, and the tribesmen wandered away "to the sound of tambour- 
ines and pipes, with singing-girls playing behind them." It was an 
easy victory, and there were many more easy victories that year. 

There were raids against Bedouin tribes in the south, and at least 
one raid against the tribesmen on the Syrian frontier, who had been 
plundering caravans destined for Yathrib. Most of these raids pro- 
duced satisfactory booty: only one was completely unsatisfactory. This 
was a raid on the Ghatafan tribe in the Najd; there was no fighting 
because a sudden wave of panic fear seized the soldiers on both sides. 
Tradition relates a strange incident which occurred during the pro- 
longed lull as the armies faced each other. A Ghatafan called 
Gaurath offered to kill Muhammad. Asked how he would do so, he 
answered that he would take Muhammad by surprise. It was very sim- 
ple: he would saunter across the battle lines, ask permission to exam- 
ine Muhammad's sword and then kill the Apostle with it. Gaurath 
had no difficulty crossing the battle lines. He found Muhammad sit- 
ting with his sword on his lap, examined the sword and asked per- 
mission to hold it. Muhammad gave it to him, whereupon Gaurath 
unsheathed it and brandished it over his head, saying: "Aren't you 
afraid of me, Muhammad?" Muhammad answered: "No, why should 
I be?" Gaurath said: "Can't you see I am holding your sword in my 
hand?" Saying this, he made a gesture as though about to strike 
off Muhammad's head, but the sword fell from his hand when Mu- 
hammad answered calmly: "God will protect me." This incident is 
supposed to have been referred to by the Archangel in the revelation 


known as The Table Spread: "O you who believe, remember God's 
favor to you when a people were minded to stretch out their hands 
against you, but the blow was deflected." 

Such stories, of course, were legion; and already Muhammad was 
assuming the stature of a living legend, a man of superhuman 
strength who sometimes appeared veiled so that men would not be 
blinded by the radiance streaming from his face. They spoke of his 
prowess in battle, and how he shivered and trembled at the approach 
of his revelations; and they collected his nail parings. To touch his 
garments, to hold something which once belonged to him, to be 
permitted into the presence these were the signs of blessedness, the 
promise of Paradise. Muhammad himself appears to have been per- 
fectly conscious of the legend he had created, and he was not 
averse from using it to his own advantage. 

But while the public portrait suggested a man of godlike powers, 
he showed to his intimates all the frailties of his very human nature. 
It was his custom to take his favorite wife Ayesha on his campaigns. 
One day, returning from a campaign, they passed the night in camp 
not far from Yathrib. Muhammad was in a hurry to return, and the 
order to continue the march was given unusually early. The main 
body of troops had already moved off when Ayesha discovered that 
she had lost her favorite necklace. She decided to search for it, and 
after she had been searching for some time she discovered that she 
was alone in the desert, for her camel had moved oft the cameleer 
had thought she had entered the howdah and was safe behind the 
heavily embroidered curtains. She was not perturbed. "I wrapped 
myself in my smock and then lay down where I was, knowing that 
if I were missed they would come back for me." She had been lying 
there for only a few minutes when a soldier called Safwan ibn al- 
Muattal came up to her. He recognized her instantly, and offered to 
let her ride on his camel, and together they went in search of the 
army. Failing to find it, they rode to Yathrib, where Ayesha took to 
her bed. She was ill, and knew nothing about the frenzied rumors 
until some days later when Muhammad, after a conversation with 
AH, openly accused her of misconduct. Ali was in favor of divorce. 
"Women are plentiful," he said. "You can easily change her for an- 
other." He suggested that Ayesha's conduct deserved harsh measures, 
adding that her slave girl would be able to throw light on the matter. 
But the slave girl found no fault in Ayesha except that she was 
sometimes neglectful when preparing dough and would fall asleep, 


and then her pet lambs would come and eat the dough she was 
kneading. Muhammad was in a dilemma. He trusted Ali's judgment, 
and relied heavily on the judgment of Abu Bakr, Ayesha's father. At 
his wit's end, he entered Ayesha's hut and begged her, if she had 
committed any sin, to repent, for God had the power to accept re- 
pentance from His slaves. For days Ayesha had been weeping, but 
now there were no more tears. In her extremity she remembered a 
phrase from one of Muhammad's revelations: "My duty is to show 
a comely patience." Muhammad was deeply moved. He began to 
shiver and tremble; a leather cushion was placed by his head; the 
moment of revelation was at hand. At last there fell from him "as 
it were drops of water on a winter day," and he was heard saying: 
"Good news, Ayesha! God has sent down word about your inno- 
cence!" Together with the proof of her innocence, the revelations 
defined the punishments to be meted to those who had slandered 
her. Ayesha herself was a little surprised by the divine intervention. 
"I thought myself too insignificant," she said later, "for God to send 
down a special message concerning me, to be read in the mosques 
and used in prayers." 

So the days passed amid intrigues and recriminations, and occa- 
sional forays into the hinterland, while in Mecca preparations were 
continuing for a massive onslaught against Yathrib. Muhammad was 
forewarned. Learning that ten thousand men of the Quraysh, together 
with the Ghatafan, were marching on Yathrib, he held a council of 
war to determine how the city could be put in a state of defense. A 
former slave, Salman al-Farisi (the Persian) suggested that they should 
dig a trench on the southeastern quarter of the city, which was 
entirely defenseless. For six days the work of digging went on, with 
Muhammad himself encouraging the workmen with the hope of 
reward in Heaven. There was some malingering. To prevent this, 
Muhammad informed his followers that he had received a special 
revelation: "The only true believers are those who beg the Apostle's 
leave before absenting themselves from work. Allah is forgiving and 
merciful!" Occasionally the Apostle performed small miracles, as 
when a heavy rock refused to budge: he spat on it, and the rock be- 
came sand. And once, when someone gave him a handful of dates, 
he spread them on a cloak and watched them miraculously increase 
until there were enough to feed all the men working on the trench. 

When Abu Sufyan came up to the walls of Yathrib at the head 
of the tribes, his scouts reported the presence of the ditch. He was 


surprised. Nothing like this had ever been employed in Arabian 
warfare before. He sent his men against the ditch, and watched them 
fall back; and then sent a letter to Muhammad taunting him for 
using a strategem of such baffling novelty. Muhammad had his own 
problems. His army of three thousand men were already disaffected, 
trembling before the ten thousand who faced them on the other side 
of the ditch, knowing that the Jews in Yathrib were in secret com- 
munication with the enemy. For nearly a month of chill spring 
weather the armies faced each other,, while Abu Sufyan pondered 
how to breach the ditch and the Muhamadans spoke bitterly about 
the course of the war. "Muhammad promised us we would receive the 
treasures of Chosroes and Caesar," they complained, glancing up 
at the rain of arrows and stones which fell on their camp, "but today 
not one of us feels safe going to the privy." Idleness corrupted 
them; so did waiting; so did the knowledge that the enemy was 
expecting an uprising in the city. 

There were brief engagements, occasional forays and assaults, but 
no pitched battles. Once a small party of Quraysh horsemen, includ- 
ing Amr ibn Abdu Wudd, the uncle of Muhammad's first wife Khad- 
ija, discovered a place where the ditch was narrow and succeeded 
in leaping across to challenge the bravest of the Muhamadans. Ali 
fought with Amr on horseback and on foot, until they were lost in 
a cloud of dust; and when the dust settled, Ali was seen wiping his 
sword on Amr's garments. 

While the siege lasted, Muhammad spent much of his time in 
prayer, and some part of every day was spent in attempting through 
spies to buy off the enemy. An attempt to buy off the Ghatafans by 
offering them one third of the produce of the date palms of Yathrib 
failed when one of Muhammad's followers asked bluntly whether he 
was acting on his own behalf or on behalf of the One God: where- 
upon Muhammad cancelled the agreement with the Ghatafans. In- 
trigue followed intrigue. The Jewish tribe of the Bani Quraiza, with 
its strongholds southeast of Yathrib, was found to be in direct com- 
munication with the enemy. Time was running out. Muhammad 
prayed for a miracle. One stormy night he stood at the trench, sur- 
rounded by his cold and starving men, and he was heard saying: "Who 
will go and see what the enemy is doing that man shall be my com- 
panion in Paradise." There was no answer. No one dared to go out, 
until at last a man called Hudhayfa decided to make the journey into 
enemy territory. Hudhayfa stole up to Abu Sufyan's command post, 


and returned with the news that the Quraysh were already preparing 
to raise the siege. The storm had chilled them to their marrows, 
upset their cooking pots and overthrown their tents; their camels 
and horses were being thrown into confusion; the men had no heart 
to continue an endless siege and they were beginning to believe that 
Muhammad had raised the storm by enchantment. Hudhayfa reported 
he had actually seen Abu Sufyan mounting his camel so hurriedly 
that he did not realize its foreleg was still hobbled. Muhammad re- 
ceived the news gratefully, throwing his mantle over Hudhayfa, and 
then together they bowed and prostrated themselves. Long before 
dawn the Quraysh were on their way back to Mecca, and in the 
morning Muhammad left the trench and returned to Yathrib. 

There had been almost no fighting in the battle of the ditch, but 
there was fighting to come. On the very day the Quraysh raised the 
siege, Muhammad ordered an attack on the treacherous Bani Quraiza 
in their towers of refuge. He was in no mood to show mercy. His 
army had been terrified when it became known that the Bani Quraiza 
were in league with the enemy: something of that terror can be 
glimpsed in the words of the revelation received shortly after the 
departure of the Quraysh: "When they came at you from above and 
below, and when your eyes grew wild and your hearts reached to 
your throats, and you thought vain things about God." For twenty- 
five days the fortresses were besieged, while Muhammad debated with 
himself what he would do to the traitors. He would deal with them 
sternly and implacably, but exactly how he would deal with them was 
not revealed to him until the last moment. 

When the starved defenders in their fortresses were seeking peace 
at any cost, Muhammad offered to allow them to surrender on condi- 
tion that the Aus, their supposed allies, should decide their fate. 
The Bani Quraiza agreed to these simple terms, and the Aus signi- 
fied their willingness to make the decision, suggesting only that the 
final decision should be made by their chief. Everyone seemed to 
believe that the Bani Quraiza would share the fate of the Bani al- 
Nadir: they would simply be exiled, and all the property they could 
not carry with them would fall into the hands of Muhammad. 

It did not happen like this. The chief of the Aus, a huge and corpu- 
lent man called Sa'd ibn Muadh, had been wounded by an arrow 
during the course of the battle of the ditch, and was being cared for 
in the mosque. He had become a convinced Muhamadan, believed 
that hell-fire awaited all traitors, and was in agony from the wound. 


Mounted on a donkey, and propped up with a leather cushion, he 
was brought to the tribunal. On the way, when asked to deal kindly 
with his former allies, he replied bitterly: "I shall speak according 
to the will o God, and care not whether they will hate me." When at 
last Sa'd saw the Jews who had agreed to abide by the judgment he 
pronounced, he raised his hand and said: "I condemn the men to 
death, their property to be divided by the victors, their women and 
children to be slaves!" There was a long silence followed by a tor- 
rent of objections, and then Muhammad said: "Truly Sa'd has de- 
clared the judgment of God from beyond the Seventh Heaven!" 

The terrible judgment was carried out to the last detail, with Mu- 
hammad himself superintending the general massacre, even helping 
to dig the trenches in the market place. The next morning the Jews, 
with their hands tied behind their backs, were taken out in batches of 
five or six at a time and forced to sit on the edge of the trench; 
then they were beheaded, and their bodies were tumbled into the 
trench. Among those who were beheaded was the Jewish prince 
Huyayy ibn Akhtab, who tore holes in his flowered ceremonial gown 
so that it would not be worn after him. Muhammad was watching 
the executions when Huyayy was led across the market place with 
his hands tied to his neck by a rope. As he confronted Muhammad, 
the Jewish prince said proudly: "I do not blame myself for opposing 
you. It appears however that a massacre has been written against the 
sons of Israel." Then he sat down on the edge of the trench and his 
head was struck off. 

Only one woman was beheaded. She was arrested and removed for 
safe custody to Ayesha's hut, and was talking to Ayesha when the 
order for her death was given. Years later Ayesha recalled how the 
woman had burst out laughing. "It was very strange," Ayesha said. 
"She was in such good spirits, and she kept on laughing even though 
she knew she would be killed!" Ayesha was not the only one sur- 
prised by Muhammad's vindictiveness. A wave of fear ran through the 
ranks of the Muhamadans as well as the remaining Jews and Bed- 
ouin tribesmen as they contemplated the fury of the Apostle of God, 
now more determined than ever to wield power by the sword. 

Imperceptibly his character was changing. He was still warm and 
human toward his intimates, still laughed hugely, still demonstrated 
a kind of gentle amusement in the world around him; but toward 
those of his followers who were not included within the charmed cir- 
cle of his friendship, he showed a kind of defiant tolerance. They were 


the rabble he would hurl against his enemies. When he appeared 
among them., they fell into stunned silence, prostrated themselves on 
the ground, in terrified reverence o the man who had been lifted up 
to the heavens and spoken with God. Had not God ordered the 
massacre, and had not Muhammad carried it out without the batting 
of an eyelid? 

For six long years Muhammad had waged war from his base at 
Yathrib, now renamed Madinat Nabi Allah, "the City of the Prophet 
of God," in his honor, and never for a moment had he lost sight of 
his main object: the conquest of Mecca. Determined to use every 
strategem, every threat, to accomplish this purpose, he sent a stream 
of spies into the city to spread the terror of his name and to discover 
the weaknesses of its defenders, while at the same time he attempted 
to block the Meccan caravan routes and assume control over them. 
He hoped to surround the city with enemies and to destroy it from 
within, and already his power extended almost to the gates of the 

Accordingly he decided to take the city by storm, disguising his. 
army as pilgrims. He made known to the authorities at Mecca that 
1400 pilgrims with himself at the head proposed to enter Mecca 
peacefully, armed only with the sheathed swords allowed to all pil* 
grims. He sent messages to neighboring Bedouin tribes, asking them 
to accompany him, but only a handful joined the expedition. In Feb- 
ruary, 627 A.D., during the holy month when all fighting was for- 
bidden, he set out with seventy camels. He was within ten miles of 
Mecca when he learned that a large number of troops were camped 
outside the north gate, to bar his progress. Worse still, a detachment 
of cavalry under the command of the brilliant Khalid ibn al-Walid 
was hurrying up the road, and it was reported that the Meccan sol- 
diers were wearing leopard skins, a sure sign that they intended to 
offer battle. Muhammad decided to continue his progress, but to avoid 
giving battle as long as possible; and when a tribesman revealed to 
him a scarcely known track winding among the hills, he listened 
eagerly. It was a rough and dangerous track; the Muhamadans 
complained bitterly; and Muhammad was able to silence their com- 
plaints by pointing out that the Children of Israel had also traveled 
dangerously along unknown pathways among forbidding hills. At last 
he came to the oasis of Hudaibiyah, at the boundary of the holy area, 
and, learning that Khalid ibn al-Walid had wheeled back to help 
the defenders of Mecca, he decided to wait upon events. Emissaries. 


were sent to the Quraysh, to explain his peaceful intentions. Spies 
came and reported that the city was not yet prepared for an uprising, 
The Quraysh sent ambassadors, who noted that Muhammad was 
treated with the reverence due to emperors: when he washed his 
hands, his followers rushed to gather the holy water he had touched, 
and when he spat they collected his spittle and treasured it. "I have 
seen Chosroes and Caesar and the Negus of Abyssinia," reported one 
ambassador, "but never did I behold a sovereign so revered as Mu- 
hammad. Whatever happens, his followers will never desert him." 

The Meccans however were wary. They hinted, and sometimes said 
aloud, that Muhammad's purpose was conquest, and they may have 
known that Muhammad had announced only a few days before: "I 
shall not cease from fighting until God gives me victory or I perish!" 
For several days negotiations continued, while Muhammad protested 
his innocent intentions and the Quraysh assiduously temporized, hop- 
ing to find some way of preventing his entry. At last Muhammad 
decided to send his son-in-law Uthman as his personal ambassador 
to the chiefs of the Quraysh, Uthman was an Umayyad and possessed 
great influence. For three days he was closeted with Abu Sufyan at 
a secret rendezvous inside the city. On the third day, when no news 
had come from him, Muhammad concluded that his son-in-law had 
been murdered, summoned his troops, ordered them to take "the 
oath unto death" to fight until they had taken possession of the city* 
and prepared to attack immediately. He was on the verge of a battle 
which would have been the bloodiest of all 

At the last moment, when Muhammad was already preparing to 
attack, Uthman appeared in his camp unharmed, accompanied by the 
Quraysh ambassador, Suhayl ibn. Amr, who was eager for a settle- 
ment but determined to prevent Muhammad from making his tri- 
umphal entry. Suhayl suggested a truce. If Muhammad would agree 
to abandon his entry this year, the Meccans promised in return to 
clear the city for three days every year so that the Muhamadans could 
make the pilgrimage undistrubed. Furthermore, no young Quraysh 
would be allowed to enter the ranks of the Muhamadans without 
the permission of their guardians: they must be sent back. On the 
other hand, turncoats from Islam would be allowed to remain in 
Mecca. This unequal agreement, intended to last for ten years, ap- 
palled many of Muhammad's followers, who saw in it an abject 
surrender to Quraysh power. Muhammad, more farseeing, saw it as 
the wedge which would destroy them* 


When the peace treaty was being drawn up, Muhammad summoned 
All and dictated the words : "In the name of God, the Compassionate, 
the Merciful " At this point Suhayl interrupted: "Stop! Say, as we 
have always said, In thy name, God!" Muhammad decided not to 
quibble over the invocation, and continued: "These are the condi- 
tions of peace between Muhammad, the Apostle of God, and Suhayl 
ibn Amr " Once more Suhayl objected firmly, saying: "If I believed 
you were the Apostle of God, I would not have fought you. Write 
instead your own name and the name of your father." Thereupon, 
obeying Suhayl, Muhammad drew up the text of the Truce of Hudai- 
biyah, by which a ten-year peace was proclaimed "without reserva- 
tions or bad faith." The document was solemnly signed and wit- 
nessed; Muhammad shaved his head and slaughtered the seventy 
camels he had promised, and with difficulty prevented a rebellion 
among his own troops who had hoped to plunder Mecca. On the 
return journey a strange revelation was handed down, proclaiming 
that Muhammad had won a great victory. It was not a victory, but 
defeat; yet it showed the way to victory. Soon, much sooner than 
most of his followers can have dared to hope, Mecca fell to them like 
a ripe plum. 

Most of the Muhamadans were baffled by Muhammad's easy ac- 
ceptance of the truce. They did not know, and could not guess, that 
simply by agreeing to the truce Muhammad had inevitably weakened 
the power of Quraysh. They had been compelled to treat with him, 
and he had shown himself magnanimous: throughout the proceed- 
ings he had behaved with the careless eflfrontory of a man who could 
afford to wait because he knew that power would fall into his hands. 
When his followers objected that in the treaty he was not recognized 
as the Apostle of God, he answered simply: "God knows." 

If Mecca was not yet ripe, there remained a hundred other towns 
which could be raided with impunity. To provide booty for his sol- 
diers, he decided to raid the rich Jewish colony of Khaybar, three 
long days' camel ride to the northeast, on the edge of the Najd. 
Khaybar was famous for its date palms, grazing lands and wheat 
fields; also for its strong fortresses. Muhammad advanced against the 
city at the head of 1,400 men, while the two war banners, one rep- 
resenting the sun and the other a black eagle, fluttered before him. 
The outposts were easily reduced, but the main citadel for a long time 
refused to submit. Trenches were dug round the powerful fortress, 
battering rams were brought up, and one after another the captains 


of the Muhamadan army led the assault, only to be hurled back. At 
last Muhammad decided it was time to let All demonstrate his 
prowess. Ali had held back, suffering from an inflamation of the eyes, 
which cleared up when Muhammad spat in them. Wearing a scarlet 
vest and a cuirass of steel, holding the celebrated sword Dhul-Faqar 
in one hand and a sacred banner in the other, Ali showed that he 
was still the first soldier of Islam, "the Lion o God." Arabic historians 
vie with one another in enlarging on his fanatical courage. Nothing 
daunted him. When his shield was struck from his hand, Ali wrenched 
the fortress gate from its hinges and used it as a buckler for the 
rest of the fight. Abu Rafi, one of Muhammad's slaves, said: "He 
held it in his hands until God gave him victory, then he tossed it away. 
Afterwards with seven others I examined the gate, and none of us 
could turn it over." 

When the Jews surrendered Muhammad gave orders that the treas- 
ure be handed over to him. At first Kinana ibn al-Rabi, the prince 
of Khaybar, refused to reveal where it was hidden, but when a fire 
was lit on his chest and he was already dying, he revealed the se- 
cret. He was then executed. Not long afterward his wife, the princess 
Safiya, was led past his headless body and presented to Muhammad, 
who fell in love with her and threw his mantle over her as a sign 
that she now belonged to him. The young and beautiful princess 
became one of his favorite wives and survived him by forty years. 

Muhamadan historians have never attempted to minimize the cru- 
elty of their heroes. The battle of Khaybar was fought mercilessly, 
and most of the leading citizens were killed in the fighting or exe- 
cuted out of hand in the heat of the triumph. Muhammad was ap- 
palled by the behavior of his victorious troops, and his last order of 
the day condemned the soldiers who raped pregnant women, ate the 
flesh of donkeys and stole the booty before it was properly appor- 

The Jews surrendered, but not all of them lost hope. One of those 
who went on fighting was Zainab, the wife of a Khaybar chieftain, 
who had lost her husband and all her male relatives. She offered to 
provide a meal of roast lamb for the victors, and when the offer 
was accepted, she made enquiries about which parts of the lamb Mu- 
hammad preferred. Learning that he particularly liked a shoulder 
of lamb, she prepared the roast and drenched the shoulder in poison. 
Muhammad bit into the shoulder and exclaimed: "This bone tells me 
it is poisoned!" One of his followers named Bishr, who had swal- 


lowed some o the lamb, died in agony. There was a long silence 
until Muhammad summoned the woman who had served the feast 
and accused her of deliberately poisoning the lamb. She confessed 
eagerly. "If you had been only a king," she said, "then you would 
have died of poison, but since you are the Apostle of God I knew you 
would be unharmed." He was pleased with her answer, and forgave 
her, but to the end of his days he suffered from the effects of the 

Such acts of mercy occurred only rarely, and were usually reserved 
for beautiful young women, whom he added to his harem. Yet it was 
noted that he showed no desire to massacre or enslave the survivors 
at Khaybar, who were allowed to continue working their land on 
condition that they paid him the value of half their yield. The spoils 
were divided according to a complicated system of shares, the greater 
part going to the men who had accompanied him on the ill-fated ex- 
pedition to Mecca. More spoils and more treasure came from the 
Jewish colonies in Fadak, Wadi al-Qura and Tayma, a city a hundred 
miles north of Madinah, which capitulated soon after the fall of 

About this time Muhammad began to send messages to all the 
neighboring princes and kings, suggesting the advantages of submis- 
sion to the faith of the One God. Such messages were received by the 
princes of Yaman in the far south of the Arabian peninsula and by 
the princes of Ghassan, on the borders of Syria, and by a multitude of 
feudal chieftains in the outlying areas of Arabia. Another message 
was sent to Cyrus, the Byzantine governor of Egypt, who wanted no 
trouble on his eastern border and therefore returned a civil reply with 
some presents, including two beautiful slave girls. Muhammad pre- 
sented one to his court poet Hassan ibn-Thabit, and kept the other, 
Mary the Copt, for himself. She was the prettiest of his concubines 
and the only one to give him a son, who was named Ibrahim. When 
the son died in childhood, Muhammad was overwhelmed with grief, 
sobbing bitterly until he was reminded that he often proclaimed 
against the outward expression of grief. Why was he sobbing when 
the child was so soon to enter Paradise? He answered softly: "It 
eases the afflicted heart. It does no harm to the dead, and does not 
profit him, but it is a comfort for the living." 

At such moments Muhammad, dead for so many centuries, comes 
to life again. His tenderness, his cruelty, his strength and his frailties 
were inextricably commingled; and he seems to have been obscurely 


puzzled by the sharpness and range of his own emotions. Grief laid 
him low so often that it became a habit with him, and he was con- 
tinually intoxicated with joyful knowledge of an avenging God who 
fought by his side. To women he was nearly always gentle, but to 
men, even to his intimates, he was always hard and demanding. 

In the chequered career of the Apostle of God there are strange 
interludes, and nothing is stranger than his decision to enter Mecca 
peacefully, following the agreement made at Hudaibiyah. The year 
before he had intended to storm the city; he still intended to take it 
by storm; but this year, the seventh since the Hijra, he went through 
all the motions of the pilgrim determined to show his devotion to 
the Kaaba. With two hundred of his followers armed against treach- 
ery, and twelve hundred unarmed, he rode to Mecca to find that the 
Quraysh had abandoned the city to him, according to the treaty. Evi- 
dently they had no fear of him. They noted that the pilgrims were 
poorly dressed, probably destitute, and it was an act of mercy to al- 
low them to make their offerings. Muhammad ran round the Kaaba, 
embraced the black stone and kissed it, and stood aside to watch his 
followers performing the same service. He was allowed to stay in 
Mecca for three days, but asked for a postponement on the grounds 
that he was about to marry for the ninth time, this time to a fifty- 
year-old widow, and he could not bring himself to believe the 
Quraysh would refuse his invitation to the wedding feast. But the 
Quraysh were determined to be rid of him. "Get out!" they said 
harshly. "We don't need your food!" To delay was to invite war. 
Accompanied by his followers he left Mecca peacefully and made his 
way to the oasis of Sarif, where the marriage was consummated. 

Peace toward Mecca, war against the rest of the world! So in the 
intervals of prayer and revelation he planned his final conquests, 
which brought his armies almost to the Dead Sea and almost to 
Yaman. He was aging rapidly, but his spirit and determination were 
unchanged. When he heard that a messenger he had sent to the com- 
mander of the fortress at Bostra in Transjordan had been killed, he 
sent an expedition under his foster son Zayd ibn-Harithah with three 
thousand troops, among them Khalid ibn al-Walid, who had aban- 
doned the worship of idols, to avenge the murder. At Ma'an, at the 
head of the Gulf of Aqabah, they learned that the Byzantine frontier 
force, amounting, according to Arab tradition, to 200,000 Greeks 
and tribesmen, was waiting for them. They debated for two days 
whether to continue the journey or to return, but finally decided to 


attack their vastly superior opponents when the poet Abdallah ibn- 
Rawaha reminded them that they were not fighting with strength of 
numbers but with the all-powerful strength of the One God; and vic- 
tory or martyrdom was equally desirable. At the village of Mutah 
near the southern tip of the Dead Sea they faced a Christian army for 
the first time. Zayd fell before the enemy's spears, and the command 
of the army was then given to Ja'far, Ali's brother, who fought on 
until he was surrounded, holding up the standard of Muhammad 
with his bleeding stumps when his hands were cut off. Abdallah ibn- 
Rawaha was the next to command the army, and he too fell. Then it 
happened that Khalid ibn al-Walid, who only a year before had been 
a captain in the army of the Quraysh, was promoted from the ranks 
to command the wavering Muhamadans. Singlehanded, he had very 
nearly defeated the Muhamadans at Uhud. Now he turned the defeat 
of the Muhamadans into a half-triumph, disengaging them from the 
enemy, then at night attacking their outposts, marching and counter- 
marching so that they were completely deceived into believing he had 
received reinforcements, and obtaining so much booty that when he 
returned to Madinah, laden with spoils, he was treated as a con- 
queror until the people of Madinah remembered the loss of Zayd and 
Ja'far, and then once more they gave way to their grief. 

Muhammad was appalled by the deaths of the two leaders who had 
been so close to him. He wept openly, and spoke of how on the day 
when Ja'far died, he had seen him in a vision with a company of 
angels: he had two wings whose forefeathers were stained with blood. 
Asked why he wept, he answered: "They are tears of yearning for 
the death of my brother." 

The violent deaths of those who were near to him often had the 
result of precipitating violent action. In despair of punishing the 
Greeks, Muhammad turned his attention to Mecca. A brawl between 
a Bedouin tribe converted to Islam and some partisans of the Quraysh 
gave him a suitable pretext to threaten the city. He spread the rumor 
that he would attack in force, and was surprised to learn that the 
Quraysh were visibly frightened. Ambassadors came, to remind him 
about the ten-year truce, which had eight more years to run. He dis- 
missed them with the reminder that they permitted brawls and other- 
wise disturbed the peace. At the head of the largest army he had ever 
mustered there were at least ten thousand well-armed troops he set 
out for Mecca on January i, 630 A.D. On the way he was met by his 
old enemy, Abu Sufyan, who came in the guise of a penitent, begging 
to be admitted into the presence and threatening to wander abroad 


like a beggar to die of hunger and thirst if he was not received. Mu- 
hammad received him kindly., and accepted his conversion to Islam; 
and when reminded that Abu Sufyan was a man who liked to have 
some cause for pride, Muhammad announced that anyone who en- 
tered Abu Sufyan's house would be granted safety. To ensure that 
Abu Sufyan would not change his mind., Muhammad directed that he 
should be taken to a high place overlooking a pass, from which he 
could see the endless armored columns marching toward Mecca; and 
to ensure that the Meccans would be suitably impressed, he com- 
manded his followers to light watch fires on the hills overlooking the 
city. That night all Mecca trembled, waiting for the threatened as- 
sault, but when morning came there was no fighting except for a 
short skirmish at the south gate. Muhammad's forces advanced from 
two sides simultaneously, and Mecca surrendered. Only twelve or 
thirteen Meccans were killed. By sabotage, by deceit, by the terror of 
Muhammad's name, the city had been weakened; and it fell into his 
hands, as he had long ago suspected it would fall, like a ripe plum. 

The sun was rising when he entered the city on camelback, a lone 
figure dressed in the white garments of a pilgrim. In the hush which 
descended on the city he was seen to ride seven times round the 
Kaaba and whenever he passed the black stone he touched it with his 
camel stick. On the previous occasion he had made the circuit on 
foot, running with his strange loping stride and heaving shoulders; he 
had fondled the black stone with his hands and kissed it with his 
lips. But those times were passed. Now, as Emperor of Arabia, he 
rode slowly, and he seems to have been a little frightened by his new 
eminence. When someone approached him in fear and trembling, he 
said: "Why are you trembling? I am no Emperor, but the son of a 
Quraysh woman, who ate flesh dried in the sun!" 

As the herald of the new dispensation, he knew exactly what to do. 
The triumph did not lie in ceremonies; it lay in the establishment of 
the new order. In all his life there was no more solemn moment than 
when he entered the Kaaba and surveyed the 365 idols standing 
against the walls. There was the moon god Hubal darkened with age, 
statues of Abraham and Ishmael with divining arrows in their hands, 
a wooden dove, painted angels, pictures of Jesus and the Virgin. Mu- 
hammad ordered them to be destroyed, and there is a tradition that 
they turned to powder when he pointed his stick at them. There is 
another tradition that he allowed the pictures of Jesus and the Virgin 
to remain. 

When he had destroyed the idols, he came to the door of the 


Kaaba. and pronounced what was at once a benediction and a sum- 
mons to the new dispensation. "There is no God but God; there is 
none with him," he began. "God has made good His promise and 
helped His servant. From this day every claim of privilege or blood or 
property is abolished by me, except the custody of the Kaaba and the 
watering of the pilgrims. O Quraysh, God has taken from you the pride 
of idols and the veneration of ancestors. Know that man springs from 
Adam> and Adam springs from dust. Know that God created you 
male and female and made you into peoples and tribes that you 
may know one another; the most noble of you are those who wor- 
ship God most." On that note, as of one withdrawing from the com- 
bat, he concluded his sermon, and for the rest of his two-week stay in 
Mecca he lived quietly and unostentatiously, spending his days in 
conversation with his old companions. Long ago he had received the 
revelation: "Truth hath come; darkness hath vanished away." Against 
all odds he had succeeded in capturing Mecca; for twenty years his 
life had been the wildest and most improbable of adventure stories; 
and now at last in a profound sense his life was over, and it was time 
to rest. 

But there was no rest. He had hardly installed himself in Mecca 
when he heard that the Hawazin tribesmen of the Najd had allied 
themselves to the Thaqif tribe at Taif, prepared to fight to the death 
in defense of theix idols against the conqueror of Mecca. Desperate, 
they had assembled an army of 30,000 near Hunayn on the western 
pilgrim road some two hundred miles north of Mecca and within 
seventy of Madinah. As Muhammad had done so often in the past, 
they were attempting to cut the main roads joining Mecca and Madi- 
nah. They were disciplined troops, and offered a deadly threat to the 
survival of Muhamadan power. There was nothing to be done ex- 
cept to march against them promptly. On February i, 630 A.D., early 
in the morning when it was still dark, Muhammad was leading his 
troops down a narrow valley near Hunayn when he was ambushed. 
There had been no warning. The enemy lay well-hidden in the under- 
bush and in the small paths leading along the valley. Arrows, spears 
and stones fell among the unsuspecting Muhamadans, who panicked 
and fled. Muhammad shouted: "Where are you going? Come back! I 
am the Apostle of God!" No one paid any attention until the cry was 
carried up by the Apostle's uncle, al-Abbas, a man with a stentorian 
voice, whose shouts summoning the men of Hudaibiyah to form ranks 
around Muhammad echoed and re-echoed through the narrow val- 
ley. There was so much confusion that men on camelba,ck had to dis- 


mount to join the close-knit square around Muhammad. Finally a 
hundred men gathered around the standard, fighting with the courage 
of despair; and when the tide turned, Muhammad was seen standing 
in his stirrups and gloating happily over the victory, saying: "Now is 
the furnace heated!" Then he stooped from the saddle, gathered a 
handful of dust and flung it in the direction of the retreating enemy. 
"Confusion on their faces!" he shouted. "May the dust blind them!" 
The enemy fled, and for many months afterward Muhammad remem- 
bered that a hundred men had saved the day. 

With the Hawazin in full flight, Muhammad ordered his troops to 
press on with the attack until they had destroyed the enemy camp. An 
immense booty was secured, not easily, for the Hawazin fought nobly; 
arid one of the saddest stories of Muhammad's campaigns is told 
about the confused fighting around the tents. An old warrior, once 
the leader of the Hawazin, was attempting to escape, hidden behind 
the hangings of his howdah. A young Muhamadan named Rabi'a ibn 
Rufay thought a woman was hiding there and made the camel kneel, 
and when he saw the old man, he struck out with his sword, but the 
sword broke in his hand. "Your mother," said the old man quietly, 
"has given you a poor weapon, but there is a better hanging behind 
my saddle. Take it, and strike me above the spine and below the head, 
as I once used to do, and then tell your mother you have killed 
Durayd ibn al-Simma, for many times have I protected the women of 
your tribe!" The boy took the sword and killed the old warrior. Re- 
turning home, he told his mother what he had done. "By God," she 
said, "you have killed a man who set free three mothers and grand- 
mothers of yours!" 

Similar incidents are recorded through all these hard-fought cam- 
paigns, and there were more to come. The Thaqif tribesmen escaped 
to Taif, where Muhammad had spent his childhood, with the Mu- 
hamadans in hot pursuit. They shut themselves up in their strong- 
holds, and for twenty days fought off the besiegers. For the first time 
Muhammad countenanced the use of Byzantine weapons catapults, 
battering rams and testudos. The defenders hurled molten iron from 
the walls, and in retaliation Muhammad ordered that their vineyards 
should be put to the flames. Attempts to enter Taif by treachery 
failed; and when one night Muhammad dreamed that a cock was 
pecking at a bowl of butter, he interpreted it as a sign that the ven- 
ture was doomed to failure. The siege was lifted, and the disconsolate 
Muhamadans returned to Madinah. 

Taif was no more than an incident in a general war: Muhammad 


could afford to be patient. From all over Arabia ambassadors were 
flocking to his court, offering tribute, demanding to be allowed to 
worship the One God. In the past he had been implacable against his 
enemies, and especially against the satiric poets who poured scorn on 
his high purpose. When he entered Mecca in triumph he ordered the 
execution of two singing girls for singing ribald songs about him; 
and for a long time the famous poet Ka'b ibn Zuhayr had enjoyed 
the distinction of being on the list of enemies to be killed out of hand 
by the faithful. One day, shortly after Muhammad's return to Madi- 
nah, Ka'b received a message from his brother, a convert, saying that 
Muhammad was inclined to be merciful to those who sought repent- 
ance. Ka'b made his way secretly to Madinah and slipped up to Mu- 
hammad during morning prayers. When the prayers were over, Ka'b 
put his hand in Muhammad's and began to recite the great ode for 
which he is chiefly remembered. 

Poetry was a commonplace of Arabia, and the historians of Islam re- 
late in great detail the poems which were recited in the midst of battle. 
Most of these poems are lame and imitative, but Ka'b's poem, written 
in despair, breathes a new fire, an astonishing freshness. Beginning 
with a lament for his lost mistress, whose inconstancy saddened his 
heart and whose beauty inflamed his desire, he goes on to describe with 
even greater affection the she-camel that bore his mistress away: 

Her eyes, li\e those of the lonely white oryx, gazed across the 
stony wilderness, 

Her necT^ was heavy, her forehead high as a millstone, her flanks 

Male-lifye, full in the cheeT^, no tic\ ever -penetrated her hide, 

foaled by a noble dam, long-necked, smooth-breasted and nim- 

Well-bred with her eagle nose, heavy ears, muzzlt liJ^e a picfy- 
ax . . , 

So he goes on, describing a legendary camel who is only Muham- 
mad disguised, while the mistress he laments is himself in his legend- 
ary past, grief -stricken now because he is in the presence of the Mes- 
senger of God, "noble as the racing camels with tawny hocks, fearful 
as the lions in the thickets of Aththar." It is heroic poetry raised to a 
pitch of intense excitement by the awareness of danger. The great 
camel fades into the glare of noonday, and suddenly Ka'b introduces 
the figure of the mother bewailing the death o her firstborn, plead- 


ing as all men plead for some surcease against death, some light 
against darkness: 

But the Messenger is the torch who has lighted up the world, a 

brilliant fire; 
He is the sword of God for destroying ungodliness; his men 

have no weakness. 
Li\e shining camels they march and parry the deadly blows of 

the enemy. 
Warriors with high, straight noses, clad in coats of mail woven 

by David, 2 

They do not exult when they hurl their spears against the enemy, 
And are not caste down by failure: they never shrin\ from the 

gates of death! 

At this point Ka'b concluded his recital of the great ode known as 
the Qasida-i-Banat-Su'ad, and in the long silence that followed it was 
seen that Muhammad was strangely moved. Suddenly he threw his 
striped Yaman cloak, the burda, over the poet, as a sign that all his 
former errors were forgiven. Ka'b preserved the cloak to the end of 
his life, refusing all offers for it. Years later, in the time of the Caliph 
Muawiya, his descendants sold it to the royal treasury for 10,000 
dirhems. For nearly six hundred years, until the Abbasid Caliph al- 
Mu'tasim was murdered by order of Hulagu during the sack of 
Baghdad, this cloak was worn by the Caliph in processions and sol- 
emn ceremonies. Then it vanished. It seems to have been burned to 
ashes during the conflagration of the city. 

With the battle in the valley of Hunayn all regular warfare be- 
tween the Muhamadans and pagans in Arabia came to an end. Con- 
templating his long series of rapid victories, Muhammad conceived 
the idea of a universal empire: "One Messenger, one faith, for all 
the world!" Once more he sent dispatches to the countries bordering 
upon Arabia, requesting them to cease worshiping idols, to reverence 
the One God and to recognize his mission. According to the tradi- 
tionist Bukhari, he wrote to the Emperor Heraclius in Byzantium: 

In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Compassionate! From 
Muhammad, the servant of God and His Messenger, to Hera- 
clius, the chief of the Romans! 

Peace be with him who follows the guidance. I invite thee into 

. 2 In the Quran (xii, 80) David is described as a maker of coats of mail. 


the faith. Become a follower of Islam, and thou wilt be at peace 
God will give thee a double reward. If thou turnest away, on 
thee will be the sin of thy subjects. O Followers of the Book, 
come to an equitable agreement with us. Serve none but God, as- 
sociate none with Him, and take unto thyselves no other masters. 
Proclaim thyself followers of the faith, and all shall be well be- 
tween us. 

It is unlikely that Heraclius received the message, and it is still 
more unlikely that a similar message was ever received by Chosroes 
II, Emperor of Persia, who is said to have seized the letter in a rage 
and torn it to pieces. When the news was brought to Muhammad, he 
is supposed to have proclaimed prophetically: "Even so shall God 
rend his empire to pieces!" But though these messages are perhaps 
never delivered, there was no doubt about Muhammad's intentions. 
As old age came over him, as he penetrated more and more deeply 
into the mystery of the pure and transcendent God he worshiped, and 
whose Messenger he proclaimed hmself to be, the more certain he 
was of the need to carry his message to all quarters of the earth. The 
holy sword, raised at Madinah, would not be sheathed until the 
whole world had acknowledged the faith. He had always fought 
against the strongest. He would send his armies against Heraclius 
first, and then perhaps against Persia. Once more he took the field, at 
the head of an army of 30,000. It was the height of summer, but he 
had chosen the season deliberately, saying that he intended to set 
out in the worst season of the year on a long and arduous march 
against overwhelming odds; it was in this way that victories were 
won, To those who complained of the heat, he answered: "Hell is 
hotter," And when AH protested at being left behind in Madinah ? 
Muhammad answered; "Are you not content to stand to me as Aaron 
stood to Moses?" Many believed that with these words he had al- 
ready proclaimed his successor, 

Muhammad's battles were not always victories, and the expedition 
against Heraclius was as inconclusive as his defeats. Reaching Tabuk, 
halfway between Madinah and Damascus on the frontiers of the 
Byzantine Empire, he seems to have realized that nothing would be 
gained by the venture, and after receiving tribute from a few obscure 
Christian tribes he decided to return. In the interval Taif had fallen. 
In an unusually gentle mood he pardoned the inhabitants, and asked 
no more of them than confession of the faith and the rejection of 


idols, They begged to be allowed to keep their idols for a few more 
weeks, so that the people would grow accustomed to worshiping 
without them, but Muhammad said: "They must be destroyed now!" 
Then they asked that Muhamadans should do the work of destruc- 
tion, because they were afraid, and Muhammad said: "We shall do so 

In those last days the immense power which had fallen to him 
seemed to make him more gentle. At the time of the pilgrimage of 631 
AJ>. he was ill, and sent Abu Bakr as his representative. Not till the 
following spring did he decide to go in person, with all his wives 
and a great company of the faithful, said to amount altogether to 
124,000 people. He rode round the Kaaba, shaved his head and dis- 
tributed portions of his hair among the companions, explained the 
ceremonial duties of the pilgrims and then climbed Mount Arafat, 
where he delivered his farewell sermon. There was no trace of rancor, 
no cruelty, no heavy and demanding burden on the people. He asked 
that all his followers should be brothers, abolished usury, proclaimed 
the rights of women and of slaves, and put an end to blood feuds. He 

O people! Hearken to my words, for I know not whether after 
this year I shall ever be among you again. 

Your lives, your property and your honor are sacred and in- 
violable, until you appear before your Lord, as this day and 
month are sacred. Remember, you will soon meet your Lord, and 
He will call you to account for your deeds. . . . 

O people! Satan despairs of ever being worshiped in your 
land. But should you obey him even in trifling matters, it will 
be a source of pleasure for him. So you must beware of him in 
matters of the faith. . . . 

O my people! You have certain rights over your wives, and 
they have rights over you. You have the right that they should 
not defile your bed and that they should not behave with open 
unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in sepa- 
rate rooms and to beat them, but not with severity. If they re- 
frain from these things they have a right to food and clothing, 
given with kindness. . . , 

And your slaves! See that you feed them with such food as you 
eat yourselves, and clothe them with what you clothe your- 
selves; and if they commit a crime you cannot forgive, then 


part from them, for they are the servants of the Lord, and are 
not to be harshly treated. 

O people, listen to my words, and understand them! Know 
that all the faithful are brothers unto one another. You are all 
one brotherhood. It is forbidden to take from a brother save 
what he gives willingly: so guard yourselves from committing 
evil. And may those who are present tell these words to those 
who are absent. 

Verily, I have concluded my mission! I have left among you a 
plain command, the Book of God, and manifest ordinances. If 
you hold fast to them, none of you shall go astray. 

When he had finished speaking, he cried out at the top of his voice: 
"O Lord! I have delivered thy message!" From all over the valley 
came the answering cry: "O Lord, thou hast!" Once more Muhammad 
raised his eyes to heaven and said: "O Lord, bear witness for what I 
have done!" Then he came down the mountain and made his way to 
Mecca, where he remained for three days before returning by slow 
stages to Madinah. 

He was already ill when he reached Madinah. He was listless, with 
burning pains in his back, a heavy fever. On May 27, he was well 
enough to present a banner to Usamah, the son of his foster son 
Zayd who had fallen at Mutah, and there was a small ceremony as 
the army went off to avenge that strange defeat. One night, accom- 
panied only by a servant, Muhammad stole out to the cemetery on 
the edge of Madinah and for a long time gave himself up to melan- 
choly reflections. Standing there, a little apart from the servant, he 
addressed the dead companions of his earlier days: "Peace be unto 
you, O people of the graves! Happy are you, for your lot is better 
than ours! Trials and tribulations fall upon me like waves of dark- 
ness following one upon another, each darker than the rest." Then 
he turned to his servant and said: "The choice is given to me either 
the keys and the treasuries of this world with a long life followed by 
Paradise, or to meet my Lord and enter Paradise at once." The serv- 
ant asked him to remain in the world, but Muhammad said he had 
already chosen to enter Paradise immediately. 

When Muhammad returned from the cemetery, he heard Ayesha 
calling out: "My head! My head!" Entering, Muhammad reproved 
her gently: "Nay, Ayesha, it is my head thou shouldst be complain- 
ing about!" And then, because she was suffering from fever and he 


wanted to amuse her, he said: "Would it distress thee if thou wert to 
die before me? For then, Ayesha, I would pray over thee and wrap 
thee in thy winding-sheet and myself commit thee to the grave!" 
Ayesha answered quickly: "And then come back to my house and en- 
joy a new wife?" Muhammad smiled, but she saw he was ill and cared 
for him tenderly. 

Though in great pain, he could still walk a little, and appeared at 
the mosque, supported by Ali, with his head bound in a towel He 
prayed for the men who had fallen at Uhud, and later issued final 
orders for the expedition against the Syrians. His companions thought 
he was suffering from pleurisy and gave him the appropriate remedy: 
an ill-tasting mixture of Abyssinian herbs. After tasting the remedy, 
and learning that it was intended to cure him of pleurisy, he said 
angrily: "God would never afflict me with pleurisy!" Then, to punish 
them for their ill-considered choice, he ordered them all to take the 
medicine. Ayesha asked him a little later who should take the prayers 
in the mosque. He said: "Abu Bakr will superintend the prayers." 
Then Ayesha reminded him that her father was a delicate man with a 
weak voice who always wept when he recited the Quran. "Still, he 
will take the prayers," Muhammad answered, adding that his wife 
was behaving like Joseph's companions. Afterward Ayesha explained 
that she had wanted to spare her father the responsibility of follow- 
ing in Muhammad's footsteps: if everything went wrong, then the 
blame would fall on him. 

On the morning of his death, Muhammad seemed to have recov- 
ered; and when the believers had gathered in the mosque and Abu 
Bakr was leading the prayers, he appeared at the door of his hut, 
smiling approvingly. Abu Bakr noticed that the attention of the faith- 
ful was wavering, and when he saw Muhammad, he stepped down 
from the minbar and begged Muhammad to take his place. "No," 
said Muhammad, "lead the men in prayers." Then he sat down on the 
right of Abu Bakr, and prayed. At the end of the prayer he turned 
for the last time to the men gathered in the mosque; and the same 
fears which tormented him in the cemetery returned to plague the 
last moments of his life. "O men," he said, "the fire is kindled! Re- 
bellions come like the darkness of the night! By God, you cannot 
lay these things to my charge! I allow what the Quran allows, and 
forbid what the Quran forbids!" Then he stumbled back to the dark 
hut and Ayesha's welcoming arms. 

Strangely, hardly anyone thought the end was near, perhaps be- 


cause when he spoke in the mosque his voice had been wonderfully 
resonant and clear. Abu Bakr returned to his house some miles away, 
and All visited the bedside and stayed only long enough to surmise 
that Muhammad was well on the road to recovery. Only al-Abbas, 
Muhammad's uncle, saw the look of death on the aging face. He 
implored AH to return to the hut and secure the succession. "If you 
do not, you will be a slave three nights hence," al-Abbas warned him. 
But All was too proud, or too loyal to his adopted father, or too fear- 
ful of being refused, to enter the hut again while Muhammad was 

Toward noon, as he lay with his head against Ayesha's breast, his 
wandering eye fixed upon a green tooth stick. He asked for it, and 
Ayesha gave it to him, and was a little surprised to observe him rub- 
bing his teeth with it more energetically than she had ever seen him 
rub before. Then he laid the tooth stick down, and soon she felt his 
head growing heavier on her breast and his hand growing limp in 
her own. He began to breathe very hard, but suddenly there was no 
more breath in him. Ayesha thought his last words were: "The most 
exalted has entered Paradise." Others thought he said: "God for- 
give me, have compassion on me, and take me to the highest heav- 

He died about noon, on June 8, 632 A.D., in a small and crowded 
hut, surrounded by his servants and his wives. Muhammad himself 
explained his illness by the weakness and shock which came as a re- 
sult of his revelations : no man could live happily with the fire of God 
pouring through his body. Others contend that he died of malaria. 
Muhammadan historians proclaim that he died in blessedness and 
peace, confident in the knowledge that he had fulfilled his mission, 
but the words he uttered in the mosque suggest that he was aware of 
failure. "O men, the fire is kindled! Rebellions come like the darkness 
in the night!" 

There were to be many dark nights, many rebellions, much kin- 
dling of the fires. Muhamadanism after Muhammad is the story of a 
decline, of man's inability to continue in the paths of holiness pro- 
claimed by an authentic visionary. In the short time that was given 
him, Muhammad built up a powerful religious movement directed to- 
ward the welcoming of the Kingdom of God. He had seen the earth 
opening beneath him; known shuddering awe; felt the scorching 
flames on his face. With pathetic certainty he came to the knowledge 
that the world must be changed by force of arms, yet the ruthlessness, 


which he did nothing to conceal, hides a kind of savage tenderness. 
Of all the great visionaries who at various times have come to tor- 
ment an evil world with visions of Paradise, he was perhaps the most 
human, the most like ourselves. 

With his coming the imagination of the world changed. He left an 
impress which cannot be argued away, if only because he spoke not 
always, but sufficiently often with an authentic majesty. Yet to the 
end there was something dreamlike in his progress through the 
world. Perhaps the best of all judgments on him was spoken by the 
great Andalusian philosopher, Ibn Arabi, who said: "All of Muham- 
mad's life passed before him like a dream within a dream." 

The Holy Word 


.uhammad was dead, but the memory of the 
man lived on in his recorded sayings and in the obscure book o 
poems dictated to him by the Archangel Gabriel. Dead, he was more 
powerful than when he was living. The earthly man with his wives 
and concubines, his blazing visions and sudden bloodthirsty pas- 
sions, was not forgotten; but the image which impressed itself upon 
his followers was of a man who lived his life strangely alone, un- 
touched by mortal sin, possessed of excessive tenderness toward liv- 
ing things, powerful and robust, dominating Arabia by the force of 
his character and by his formidable energy, a man of impulse about 
whom innumerable anecdotes were told, and most of them proclaimed 
his essential humanity. For the Arabs Muhammad was a man like 
themselves, but raised above them by his visionary gifts; and they 
found only his tenderness strange. 

The modern student of the Quran is baffled by this tenderness, 
which is perhaps his greatest strength. It comes when least expected, 
suddenly, and often on the wings of violence. He roars and splutters; 
the whole world is breaking asunder; the flames are already pouring 
out of the earth like breath from the nostrils; heaven is shuddering; 
and suddenly in the midst of all this upheaval, all these threats of the 
Last Judgment awaiting sinful man, there comes the caressing note, a 
sweet diapason. In place of majestic uproar there is the vision of cool 
gardens and fountains, the promise of eternal life. 

It is worth while to pause for a moment before the quite astonish- 
ing polarity of Muhammad's mind. Violence and gentleness were 
at war within him. Sometimes he gives the appearance of living simul- 
taneously in two worlds, at one and the same moment seeing the world 
about to be destroyed by the flames of God and in a state of divine 
peace; and he seems to hold these opposing visions only at the cost 
of an overwhelming sense of strain. Sometimes the spring snaps, and 
we see him gazing with a look of bafflement at the world around him, 



which is neither the world in flames nor the world in a state of 
blessedness, but the ordinary day-to-day world in which he was rarely 
at home. 

Living in this way in a strange imaginative quarrel with himself, 
believing himself to be appointed by God and in communion with 
angels, he could hardly have acted otherwise than he did. When the 
judgment of God failed to visit the heathen, he determined to carve 
out a principality which would be obedient to God's commands. He 
exchanged spiritual violence for physical violence, and gloried in it, 
and perhaps saw very little difference between them. The sword cleans- 
eth. And in all this he was not very far removed from Jesus, who 
said he came not to bring peace but the sword and whose darker 
sayings suggest an unfathomable knowledge of the violence of 
Heaven and the violence of the human soul. 

We shall not understand Muhammad unless we come to grips with 
those extremes of temperament and imagination which he sometimes 
manifested simultaneously. Outwardly calm, he was a man in perpet- 
ual conflict with himself. His ideas and visions were continually chang- 
ing at the mercy of events, yet strangely to the Arabs he appeared 
as a man of single-minded purpose, who never veered from his one 
announced aim of bringing all men to the worship of the One God. 
The Arabs saw simplicity in the vast confusion of the Quran; and 
being, like Muhammad, quick and intricate in establishing relations 
between distantly related objects, they were not perturbed by incon- 
sistencies. They saw Muhammad plain. He had said simple things in 
a rich and sonorous language, and they held fast to his simplicities, 
leaving to the scholars the task of examining his more complex state- 
ments. He had lived and died, and at the Last Judgment he would 
intercede for all sinners who accepted the faith; and in this belief 
millions of Muhamadans were to pursue their obscure lives, certain 
that if they obeyed his commands they would enter Paradise. In ex- 
actly the same way millions of Christians have lived out their lives 
without disturbing themselves about the complex problems of Chris- 
tology. There is the simple Christ and the infinitely complex Christ; 
in the same way there is the simple Muhammad and the infinitely 
complex Muhammad, who baffles the imagination and sometimes seems 
to vanish altogether as the scholar probes through layers of legend 
in search of the man beneath. 

Though we have abundant testimony about Muhammad's earthly 
life, most of our knowledge of him comes from second or third 


hand: the earliest surviving biography was written nearly a hundred 
and fifty years after his death. But i completely authentic details of 
his life are often lacking, there is no doubt about the authenticity of 
the greater part of the Quran, which was first compiled only a few 
years after his death, perhaps during the reign of the Caliph Umar, 
who ordered that every word uttered by Muhammad by way of reve- 
lation should be collected "whether inscribed on date-leaves, shreds 
of leather, shoulder-blades, stone tablets or the hearts of man." The 
Quran, as it has been handed down to us, is Muhammad's testament 
assembled by men who knew him well and who could vouch for the 
accuracy of most of the revelations. There are gaps; many suras 
were lost; a few may have been fraudulently invented for political 
reasons; but it is indisputable that the Quran provides a portrait 
of the whole man. Dimly in the distance we see the face of God; 
in the middle distance stands the Archangel Gabriel; in the fore- 
ground, large as life, stands Muhammad himself, red-faced and shud- 
dering with the excitement of the knowledge that he is indeed God's 

It is a portrait unlike any portrait painted before or since, com- 
posed like a mosaic of thousands of small pieces fusing together. 
The Quran impresses for the same reason that the prophetical books 
of the Old Testament impress: the violence of the imagery, the 
sense of tremendous battles being fought within the soul, the inti- 
mations of impending doom. There is no continuous story, noth- 
ing comparable with the Gospels, nor even with the Book of Revela- 
tion, where the visions appear in their inevitable and natural se- 
quence. Here everything is fragmentary, bursting like hot shrapnel. 
Ideas, visions, laws, opinions, fragments of myth and legend, follow 
one another pell-mell. Everywhere there are confusions, inconsis- 
tencies, improvisations, passages where the meaning seems to be de- 
liberately obscured and others where the sentences are left in mid-air. 
There are interminable passages of dull dialogue in which God re- 
lates His own speech and the tiresome replies, Scraps of myth and 
legend are introduced, only to be abandoned before their relevance 
has become clear, while Muhammad or the Archangel run after wilder 
hares. Carlyle's statement: "It is as toilsome reading as I ever under- 
took, a wearisome confused jumble, crude, incondite" puts succinctly 
what readers often feel on their first reading, but many, like Carlyle 
himself, have learned to change their mind on a second and a third 
reading. Crude and incondite it is, but it blazes with life and passion. 


The very incoherence of so many passages gives stature to the pas- 
sages where there is a blinding clarity. There are not many of these 
passages, but they have the effect of holding the inchoate mass to- 
gether, of giving form to the formless. These passages are like beacons 
which light up the surrounding deserts. 

No single idea runs through the Quran except the terrible majesty 
of the One God. Again and again, until the mind reels at the constant 
repetition, Muhammad insists upon the one essential cornerstone of 
his belief; God uncreated, undivided, immanent in all things, Light of 
Lights, the eternal Creator to whom all things in time will return. 
So in the sura known as The Cow, amid brief disquisitions on a 
multitude of subjects, including pilgrimages, divorce, menstruation, 
the rights of women, proposals of marriage and the need for killing 
the adversaries of Islam, there appears quite unexpectedly the Throne 

is no God save Him, the Living, the Eternal. 
Slumber overtafyeth Him not, nor doth sleep weary Him. 
Unto Him bdongeth all things in Heaven and on the earth. 
Who shall intercede with Him save by His will? 
He fynoweth what is before and what cometh after, 
And no man can comprehend whatsoever save by His will. 
His Throne is as vast as the Heavens and the earthy 
And the \eeping of them wearieth Hirn not. 
He is the exalted, the Mighty One. 

(Sura ii) 

So again after a long and complicated rendition of the story of 
Moses, his early struggles and ultimate triumph, the Quran declares: 
"Call not upon any other god but Him, for there is no other God. 
All things shall perish save His face. n The decrees of God are ines- 
capable: He is ever-present, watching all things, and "closer to man 
than his neck-vein." He is a stern and unyielding God, but at the 
same time filled with gentleness and loving-kindness, disposed to re- 
ward those who are faithful to Him. He has neither height nor 
weight; nor any kind of form: He is the power of the Heavens and 
the power that moves the seed in the womb, and He is the lamp guid- 
mg the wayfarer, In the most magical of all the verses in the Quran, 
He is compared to a small lamp set in a niche, lighted with the oil 
from the bles$ed tree on Mcmnt Sinai: 


God is the Light of the Heavens and the earth. 

The similitude of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp, 

And the lamp is within a glass, 

And the glass as it were a pearly star. 

This lamp is lit from a blessed tree, 

An olive' neither of the East nor of the West: 

Almost this oil would shine, though no fire touched it. 

Light upon Light, God guideth whom He will to His Light. 

And He speafyeth in parables to men, for He fyioweth all 


This Light is revealed in the temples 
Which God hath permitted to be raised in His name: 
Therefore men praise Him in the morning and in the evening, 
Whom neither trade nor traffic divert from the remembrance of 

His name, 

As they offer prayers and makf payment of alms 
Through fear of the day when hearts and eyeballs shall roll, 
In hope of reward for their most excellent deeds. 
God giveth His blessings without stint to whom He pleaseth. 
As for the unbelievers, their wor\$ are lifye a mirage in the desert, 
And the thirsty dream of water, but find nothing there. 
But God is present. He payeth them their due with swift reckon- 


Or li%e the darkness of the ocean in a time of tempest, 
Wave riding upon wave, the clouds hovering over them: 
Layer upon layer of darkness, 

So that a man putting forth his hand scarcely sees it: 
For him there is no light when God refuses His Light. 
Hast thou not seen how all things in Heaven and Earth praise 


The very birds as they spread their wings praise Him: 
Every creature fyioweth the worship and the praise, 
And God J^noweth all their deeds. 

To God belongeth the Kingdom of Heaven and the Earth, 
And unto Him all things shall return. 

(Sura xxiv) 

There is nothing in the whole Quran to equal this long passage 
uttered with the full breath and with an overwhelming sense of 
assurance. Terror lurks in the Quran, but here terror is kept at bay, 


and the passion is spent. One imagines him in old age glancing up 
and seeing the lamps being lit, and then very quietly composing 
this hymn in honor of the Light of Lights. To these verses and es- 
pecially the beautiful opening verse the Muhamadan mystics returned 
again and again, never tiring of that mysterious lamp whose rays 
bathed the whole universe. 

Muhammad did not often talk in similitudes: there are few moments 
when the voice is not urgent and demanding. Even when he is de- 
scribing the fruitfulness of the earth, the vision fades into the terror 
of harvest when all the gold fields are shorn by the sickle of God: 

The similitude of the earth is as a golden robe 

Such as the earth wears when watered by the rain, 

And the harvest ripens for men and beast together: 

Beautiful is the earth with her adornments! 

Woefully do men believe themselves her master: 

Then cometh Our commandment stealthily in the night, 

Or in broad daylight We utter the command, 

And ma\e her barren, laying her waste, 

As though she had never blossomed in her day. 

(Sura x) 

He portrays, then, a stern and unrelenting God, suspicious of men, 
an all-knowing and all-powerful Arbiter, demanding the absolute 
submission of men and only occasionally tempering His justice with 
mercy. Submission (Islam), under its various aspects, is the continuaj 
study of Muhammad. Before a God so majestic only the most perfect 
submission is worthy of man; and for those who despair of God's 
mercy he has only contempt. It is a contempt which sometimes 
flares into a strained and murderous violence, but it is still contempt. 

Nearly always when Muhammad contemplates "the submissive 
man," he finds himself inevitably contemplating the patriarchal 
figure of Abraham, on whom he had modeled himself. For him Abra- 
ham is the archetype, the vast and portentous figure standing in the 
sun, throwing his long shadow over the whole of Arabia. As Mu- 
hammad developed, so too did his portrait of Abraham. In the earlier 
revelations Abraham is an apostle of God, whose task is to admonish 
the people and lead them into the way of righteousness. In those early 
suras he stands alone, with neither Ishmael nor Isaac to comfort him. 
In the suras written at Madinah, perhaps under the influence of the 


Jewish rabbis, the portrait takes on depth and color. Suddenly Abra- 
ham appears as the founder o the Kaaba, led there by a heavenly 
light, building on the place chosen for him and hearing a voice 
from the clouds, saying: "Surrender!" In the story of Isaac, as retold 
by Muhammad, we meet "the submissive man" in his most exemplary 

Muhammad does not follow the classic account of the A\edah> as 
told in Genesis XXIL Significantly there is no painting of the scenery, 
no Mount Moriah, no journeying to the altar of sacrifice and no 
angelic voice to interrupt the sacrifice at the last moment. "Take now 
thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the 
land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering tipon one 
of the mountains that I shall tell thee of." All this is absent. Instead 
Muhammad tells the story in a kind of shorthand, as though he were 
too moved altogether to describe the event in detail, and so he pro- 
vides only a bare recital of what happened. Here is the story of the 
A\edah as told by Muhammad: 

When the boy had reached the age when they could walk to- 
gether, Abraham said: "My son, I have seen in a vision that I 
must sacrifice thee! What thinkest thou?" 

The boy answered: "My father, do what thou art commanded. 
God willing, thou shalt find me patient." 

They both surrendered to God's will, and the boy was flung 
down on his face. 

God said: "Abraham, the vision is fulfilled. In this way we re- 
ward the righteous, when they are put to a bitter test. Thy son 
shall be ransomed with a noble sacrifice and he will be praised by 
all generations to come." 

(Sura xxxvii) 

That is all; and it is enough. Arabic tradition has embroidered on 
the bare outline, telling how Abraham went up the mountain with a 
knife and a rope, and how a ram appeared, the very same ram whose 
horns for centuries decorated the Kaaba. But here tradition is un- 
convincing. Muhammad portrayed the incident in the starkest possi- 
ble terms "the boy was flung down on his face" and beyond that it 
was impossible for him to go. 

But the figure of Abraham was still incomplete. At some later date 
Muhammad concluded that his mission was to revive the forgotten 


religion of Abraham, to give it strength and purpose, and so he 
placed in the mouth of Abraham the prayer which contains in em- 
bryo the whole thesis of Muhamadanism: 

Lord, accept our service! 
For Thou hearest all and \nowest alL 
Mafye us submissive unto Thee, 
And mafye our seed submissive unto Thee. 
Show us the ways of worship and turn to us in mercy: 
For Thou art forgiving and merciful. 
And raise up in our midst a Messenger 
Who shall declare unto us. Thy revelations* 
, And shall instruct us in the Scriptures, 
And in wisdom and in purification from sin, 
For Thou art wise and mighty beyond all others. 
Who but the foolish would forsake the religion of Abraham? 
We surely have chosen him in the world, 
And in the hereafter he is among the upright. 
When the Lord said unto him; "Surrender" 
He answered; "I have surrendered unto the Lord of the Worlds!' 
He enjoined this faith on his children, and so did Jacob, saying: 
"My children, God has chosen this faith for you. 
Therefore submit yourselves to the Lord before you dit" 

(Sura ii) 

Long after Muhammad's death a hadith puts into his mouth the 
words: "Die before you die," Initiates in the Sufi mystical orders, ac- 
cording to the philosopher al-Ghazzali, are supposed to have obeyed 
the injunction: "Be like the corpse in the hands of the washer." * But 
at no time did Muhammad encourage a deathly submission. He asked 
that men should submit to God's will and prostrate themselves in the 
full knowledge of God's glory as living and sentient beings, conscious 
of the beauty of the earth and its impermanence. 

While the portrait of God as the Creator and Sustainer of the uni- 

* According to the Jesuit theologian Alphonsus Rodriguez (1526-1616), 
the injunction: "Submit like a corpse" goes back through St. Francis of 
Assisi and the early Fathers of the Church to its source in St. Paul (CoL 
111:3), who saw in Abraham's blind obedience to God in the sacrifice of 
Isaac the model of the Christian's submission to Divine Providence (Rod- 
riguez, Christian and Religious Perfection, II, v, 6). 


verse, demanding from men their perfect submission, is rounded out 
in a profusion of utterances, the Quran is less successful in depict- 
ing man and his place in the universe. Once again there are hesita- 
tions and ambiguities. Men are God's creatures, and only by living in 
terror of His power will they escape "the fire whose fuel is flesh and 
stones." Nevertheless all of creation was made for the enjoyment of 
man, who stands higher than the angels.f Of all the creations of God 
man is supreme, for he alone possesses the knowledge of God's in- 
finite blessedness; and though the Quran nowhere explicitly states 
that man was created in the image of God, it constantly hints at the 
majesty of man even when insisting upon his abject dependence on 
God. Man is a humble slave, but he is also God's viceregent on earth, 
and the angels bow down before him: 

The Lord said to the angels: "I am placing on earth one who 
shall rule as my viceregent," and the angels answered: "Wilt 
Thou put one who will do evil and shed blood, while we have 
for so long sung Thy praises and sanctified Thy name?" 

The Lord said: "I know what you do not know." 

Then He taught Adam all the names of things, and showed 
them to the angels, saying: "Tell me the names of these things, 
if you are truthful." 

The angels answered: "Great is Thy glory! We have no knowl- 
edge save that which Thou hast taught us. Thou alone art wise 
and all-knowing." 

Then the Lord said to Adam: "Tell them their names!" And 
when Adam had named them, He said: "Did I not tell you I 
know the secrets of Heaven and earth? And I know what you 
reveal and what you hide." 

The Lord spoke to the angels: "Prostrate yourselves before 
Adam," and they all prostrated themselves save Iblis alone, who 
refused from pride and joined the ranks of the unbelievers. 

(Sura ii) 

For Muhammad the angels are divine messengers, guardians of 

t The Eastern Church long believed, and then forgot, that man is higher 
than the angels. "Man is more valuable than all creatures, and I dare to 
say that he is more valuable than any creature, visible or invisible, more 
valuable than the ministering angels," wrote St. Macarius (Fifty Spiritual 
Homilies, XV, 22) This concept, long dormant, was revived by St. 
Gregory Palamas in die fourteenth century. 


Heaven and of men, whose service is to sing the praises o God. They 
are winged, and terrible to look upon. The greatest o them is Ga- 
briel, who spoke to Muhammad "on the uppermost horizon at a dis- 
tance of two bows' lengths or even nearer" and who is evidently not 
included among those who bowed down to men. He is "the terrible 
one," whose eyes flash fire and who can descend in an hour from 
heaven, overturning a mountain with a single feather. According to a 
tradition reported by Ayesha, Muhammad said: "The angels are 
formed of light, and the jinn of fire." In time a vast collection of 
hadiths concerning angels was put together, and one of the most 
firmly held beliefs of the Muhamadans proclaims that there are sev- 
enty curtains of light, shadow, and fire separating the angels from 
the Throne of God. Though Muhammad enjoyed the idea of the an- 
gels bowing before men so much that he repeated the story five times 
in as many suras, he gave no precise description of them, perhaps 
because he had encountered an Angel and felt an understandable 
reluctance to remember Gabriel's appearance. 

But if there is little about angels, there is much about the joys of 
Paradise and the pains of Hell. For Muhammad, Hell (Jahannain) is 
an abyss filled with fiery flames. Here there are hot and evil-smelling 
salt wells, which the thirsty drink without comfort. There are tor- 
ture chambers with neck irons and chains manipulated by nineteen 
infernal guards under the command of treacherous superiors. There 
is a tree Zaqqum "which springeth up from the bottom of hell and 
its fruit is as it were the heads of devils." There is no explanation as 
to why this tree should be particularly frightening, nor does Muham- 
mad explain why Hell should have seven gates with each gate "hav- 
ing its own portion." His clearest and most revealing statements 
come when he speaks of Hell as something portable. "Bring hell!" 
God says on the last day: thereupon the angels will form ranks and 
"hell shall be brought nigh." One imagines a flaming cart being 
wheeled into position, but it is possible that he intended to suggest 
the presence of some gigantic beast with gaping jaws which would be 
let loose among the sinners, scorching them with its incandescent 

For Muhammad, Hell is all fire and flame and the anguish of re- 
pentance. "Hell," he says in one place, "almost bursts with fury": 

When they are flung into this burning. 

Surely they shall hear the roaring of the flames, 

Hell almost bursting with fury. 


And whensoever anyone is cast among the flames, 
The wardens shall say: "Were you not warned?" 
They reply: "Yea, but we rejected the warner. 
God has revealed nothing: you are in error!' 
And they will say further: "If only we had listened, 
We would not be burning" So they confess their sins. 
Far from God's mercy are the dwellers in the flames, 
But those who fear God without seeing Him, 
To them shall come forgiveness and great rewards. 

(Sura Ixvii) 

How great were those rewards we see when Muhammad comes to 
discuss the joys o Paradise, which he conceives as an oasis on the 
cool uplands far from the burning heat of the desert. It is a very 
practical Paradise. The blessed sit on cushions, robed in green silk 
with silver buckles, drinking spring water mingled with spices or 
great draughts of wine sprinkled with musk. They sit in the shade of 
trees, in rows facing one another, enjoying the company of the hurts, 
"the white ones," who gaze at them with retiring glances; neither 
man nor jinn has touched them; they have the purity of pearls or 

These paradisaical joys are purely masculine: there is never a hint 
about the joys reserved for women, though they were promised en- 
try into the garden. In Paradise women are freed from the infirmities 
of their sex. It is never made clear whether they join their husbands, 
who are ministered to by the huris, "the fair ones, close-guarded in 
pavilions." There are no angels in Paradise. There is only the infinite 
afternoon of dalliance beside the heavenly streams, the endless sweet- 
meats offered on trays of gold, and the eternal pouring of wine. Mu- 
hammad failed like many other religious leaders to describe a credi- 
ble Paradise. 

His genius lay in other directions. When he speaks of Hell and 
Paradise, we are made aware of his own wrath against the infidels 
and his own anxiety for the peace he had known in the oases of the 
Arabian uplands. But when he speaks of the practical regulation of 
the religious life on earth, he speaks with the authority of one who 
understands the forces which move men and give them comfort. He 
laid down very simple rules to enable men to live at peace with them- 
selves. These rules changed during the course of his life, for he ap- 
proached them experimentally, testing them against the endurance of 


his followers, never satisfied with them until those last days when he 
addressed the faithful on Mount Arafat and saw that his work was 

There are five rules, each with its distinct purpose: the profession 
of faith, prayer, alms, fasting and pilgrimage. The profession of faith 
involves no complex creed; to be included among the Muhamadan 
community a man has only to repeat the simple creed: "I testify 
there is no god but God, and Muhammad is His messenger." Prayer 
is more complicated. Five times a day just after dawn, just after 
noon, in the midafternoon, just after sunset, and at nightfall the be- 
liever recites the appropriate prayers and performs the appropriate 
prostrations, which are strictly regulated. The order of prayers in- 
variably follows a pattern which derives from the earliest days of 
Islam, and has continued unchanged to the present day. The prayer 
opens with the words "Allahu Af(barGod is greater than all." 
There follows a short recitation in praise of God: "Glory to Thee, 
O God, and Thine be the praise, blessed be Thy name, exalted be Thy 
majesty, and there is none to be worshiped save thee. I seek refuge 
in Thee from, the cursed Shaitan." Then the believer utters the fatihah 
("the opener"), the first and most popular sura in the Quran, which 
seems to have been written toward the end of Muhammad's life: 

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. 
Glory be to God, Lord of the worlds, fyng of the 

Judgment Day, 

Thee only do we worship: to Thee we cry for help. 
Guide us on the right path, 

The path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed favors, 
Not those who incur Thy wrath nor those who have 

gone astray* 

After this verse the believer says: f< Amin" ("So be it"), and recites 
one of the short chapters of the Quran. At this point he lowers his 
head and lets the palms of his hands reach down to his knees and 
says: "Glory to the great Lord," only to resume the upright position 
whefl he says : 

God listens to him who praises Him. 
Lord, to Thee is due all praise! 

1 According to tradition, "those who incur Thy wrath" refers to the Jews, 
and "those who have gone astray" to the Christians. 


Here comes the act of complete submission with the believer pros- 
trating himself, toes, knees, hands and forehead touching the ground. 
In this position he says: "God is the greatest of all. Glory to my 
Lord, the Highest." The last words are uttered at least three times. 
For a moment the prostration is over. The believer sits up with his 
hands resting on his knees, and utters a concluding prayer: 

God, grant me Thy protection, 

Guide me to safety and grant me sustenance, 

Set my affairs in order and exalt me! 

One raJ(a } or cycle, is over: the prayer then begins afresh. There are 
two rak^as at dawn, four at noon, four in midafternoon, three at 
sunset, and four at nightfall. Gestures are prescribed at every point of 
the ritual, and they can never be changed. Throughout the prayer 
there comes the solemn repetition of the name of God, joined to a 
complicated ritual of gesture and posture, which is like a dance around 
a single point. In the mosques the worship remains strangely in- 
dividual. Each man removes his shoes as he enters the mosque, spreads 
his prayer rug, turns toward Mecca and is ready for prayer. 

Muhammad said that he favored two of the rules especially: the 
rule of prayer, and the rule of alms. These alms are in fact a tax 
levied on the Muhamadan to be spent either for humanitarian 
purposes the redemption of slaves, aid to members of the community, 
debtors and travelers or for those whom, in conformity with the 
Quran, it is important to win over. After the conquest of Mecca, 
money from the alms fund was given to important members of the 
Umayyad family as a bribe; to those who objected, Muhammad 
answered that the money was being spent "for God's purposes." 
Alms money may also be used in preparation for a jihad, or "holy 

The fourth rule, fasting, applies only to the month of Ramadan. 
Fasting is observed every day from sunrise to sunset, beginning as 
soon as a white thread can be distinguished from a black one. The 
believer must abstain from food, drink, perfumes, tobacco and con- 
jugal relations during the day, and must hear or recite the whole 
Quran at least once during the month. During Ramadan the faithful 
spend as much time as possible in the mosque, "glorifying God for 
His goodness." Lanterns are hung from the tops of the minarets and 
lamps inside the mosques are lit for the evening prayers. 

At least once in his lifetime the believer is enjoined to take part 


in the Hajj, or pilgrimage, which includes the circumarnbulation of 
the Kaaba, the course between Al Safa and Marwa, and halts at the 
outlying sanctuaries at Mount Arafat, Muzdalifah, and the valley of 
Mina. The pilgrim wears the proscribed dress known as ihram (mor- 
tification), consisting of two lengths of toweling, one round the waist, 
the other over the back, leaving the right arm exposed. For the pil- 
grim the Quran prescribes: "Let him have neither commerce with 
women, nor fornication, nor a quarrel on the pilgrimage." He must 
not destroy plant or animal life, except the five nuisances a crow, a 
kite, a rat, a scorpion and a biting dog. He must abstain from per- 
fumes, oils, dyes and cosmetics, the paring of nails, the cutting or 
plucking of hair, and the tying of knots in his garments. Each infrac- 
tion of these rules requires the sacrifice of a sheep or a goat. 

The pilgrimage is a survival of the ancient Arabian pilgrimages to 
the holy stones. Almost none of the customs attendant upon the pil- 
grimage derive from Muhammad's time. Even the wearing of the 
ihram is known to derive from the costume worn by the ancient 
Arabs when visiting holy places and consulting oracles. Muhammad 
changed the sevenfold tawaf or circumambulation of the Kaaba only 
in one respect: before his time it was performed naked. Mount Arafat 
was a holy mountain before Muhammad spoke from it, Muzdalifah 
was the seat of the thunder god, and the seven idols in the valley of 
Mina are said by the historian Masudi to have represented the seven 
planets. Muhammad called on the faithful to perform the pilgrimage, 
but never explained why; and many of his followers doubted its ef- 
ficacy. The Caliph Umar is reported to have expressed himself on 
the Black Stone: "I know that thou art a stone, that neither helps 
nor hurts, and if the Messenger of God had not kissed thee, I would 
not kiss thee." But the Caliph did kiss the stone, and he seems to have 
felt, like countless Muhamadans who came after him, that a kind of 
divinity reposed in it for being worshiped so long. 

Above all, the Kaaba and the stone, like a jewel set on a tabernacle, 
serve as objects of devout contemplation, intimately connected with 
Muhammad if only because he ordered that the ancient tradition be 
continued. If the Kaaba was the House of God, then the stone illumi- 
nated it, like a lamp or a gateway: the worshiper was nearest to God 
when he touched the stone. The ritual circumambulation of the Kaaba 
often produces a state of trance, and many devout Muhamadans have 
spoken about the overwhelming sense of reverence which accompanies 
them as they perform the traditional ceremony. "The heads are low- 


ered, the tongue is humbled^ and the voices are raised in prayer," 
says al-Batanuni. "Those who confront the Kaaba find themselves 
weeping, and their hearts are weeping also, and they are filled with 
pure thoughts of intercession." No one else explained the secret of 
the Kaaba so well as the great Sufi philosopher Bayazid when he said: 
"On my first pilgrimage I saw only the Kaaba; on my second pil- 
grimage I saw the Kaaba and God; the third time I saw God alone." 
Since in Muhamadan art it is not permissible to reproduce the fea- 
tures of any living man or living god, we can assume that the 
Kaaba is an abstract portrait of the god worshiped by Muhamadans. 
The Kaaba and the Black Stone correspond, as objects of worship and 
adoration, to the crucifixes in the western churches. 

To the Muhamadan the crucified Christ inspires loathing and ter- 
ror. It is inconceivable to the Muhamadan imagination that God 
should become flesh, and give His beloved Son to the world to be cru- 
cified. Muhammad knew, and was deeply impressed by, the story of 
Jesus, whom he calls "the word of God," but he could not accept 
that God was crucified. Again and again he returns to the study of 
Jesus, like someone fascinated by an insoluble riddle. He tells many 
anecdotes about Jesus, based upon his reading of the Apocryphal 
Gospels. He teaches that Jesus is the greatest of prophets, but still 
only a prophet, and he eliminates the Trinity altogether, because it 
is inconceivable to him that God should share His glory with His 
Son or with the Holy Ghost. "He who ascribes partners unto God, 
that man is as though fallen from the sky and the birds have snatched 
him away and he is blown by the wind to a far-off place." Muhammad 
came to the belief that there was indeed a crucifixion, but at the last 
moment another body was substituted for Jesus, or perhaps it was 
only a ghostly body. "They did not slay Jesus, nor crucify him, only 
a likeness of it appeared to them." The Quran describes at length the 
birth, the annunciation, and the making of clay birds, but it never 
depicts a Jesus recognizable to Christians. We are made aware of 
reservations, ambiguities, a sense of bemused perplexity. He tells 
more about Jesus than about any other religious figure, but to little 
advantage, for the portrait is dim and the pieces do not fit together. 

In the early suras Muhammad describes Jesus as a miracle worker, 
who could raise the dead and who was beloved by God. Jesus was a 
Messenger, one of those brought near to God, a sign, a mercy, even a 
ndbi or prophet, which Muhammad himself, though universally called 
the Prophet, rarely claimed to be. Toward the end Muhammad seems 
to have regarded him as an angel of vast and unlimited powers, who 


for a brief while wore a human dress. He possessed great reverence 
for Jesus, but seems to have been puzzled by a figure so remote from 
the Arabs. It is inconceivable that Muhammad would ever have said: 
"Learn of me, for I am lowly in heart." 

Muhammad showed the same baffled incomprehension toward Chris- 
tians. There are moments when he rages against them. There are 
other moments when he says they are the closest of all to Muhamad- 
ans: "The nearest in affection are those who say: "We are Christians. 
That is because there are priests and monks among them, and because 
they are free from pride." He disliked monkery and proclaimed that 
there should be no monks in Islam, but he seems to have been pro- 
foundly affected by the real humility of the Nestorian monks and 
anchorites he met in his travels. To the Christian the most astonish- 
ing of his statements on Jesus is one reported in Muhammad ibn- 
Ishaq's vast Life of the Messenger of God. One day Muhammad was 
asked about the appearance of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, whom he 
had seen during his ascent to heaven. Muhammad replied that there 
was no man more like himself than Abraham, while Moses was 
ruddy-faced, tall, curly-haired, with a hooked nose. Jesus had a red- 
dish coloring, was of medium height, and his face was covered with 
freckles, but the most extraordinary thing about him was that his hair 
hung lank "as though dripping with water, but there was no water 
on it." 

Many descriptions of Jesus as visualised by the early Muhamadans 
have survived. Some of them can be traced to the Apocryphal Gos- 
pels, and others may have been based on surviving legends. The most 
perturbing, because the most complete and rounded, is given by ath- 
Thalabi in his Stories of the Prophets: 

Jesus, son of Mary, was a ruddy man, inclined to white. He did 
not have long hair, and he never anointed his head. Jesus used to 
walk barefoot, and he took no house, or adornment, or goods, or 
clothes, or provision except for his day's food. Wherever the sun 
set he arranged his feet in prayer till the morning came. He was 
curing the blind from birth and the leper and raising the dead by 
God's permission and was telling his people what they were eat- 
ing in their houses and what they were storing up for the mor- 
row. He was walking on the surface of the water in the sea. His 
head was dishevelled, and his face was small. He was an ascetic 
in the world, longing for the next world and eager for the wor- 
ship of God. He was a pilgrim on the earth until the Jews sought 


him and desired to kill him. Then God raised him up to heaven; 
and God knows best. 2 

There briefly, but with astonishing clarity and detail, is Jesus as 
seen by the Muhamadan imagination. They were fascinated by him, 
wrote about him continually, and invented a host o stories about 
him, many of which are included among the hadiths or collected say- 
ings o Muhammad, Nearly all of them are colored by purely Mu- 
hamadan preoccupations, and only a very few preserve a recognizable 
Christian spirit. Here is a brief selection of stories and sayings at- 
tributed to Jesus: 

The world is a bridge; therefore pass over it lightly, and do 
not pause on the way. 

Be like the dove concerning God : for when the two young are 
removed from its nest and killed, she returns to the same place 
and brings forth others. 

Though you should worship Me like the people of the heavens 
and the earth and have not love in God and hate in God, it will 
avail you nothing. 

It is related that Jesus in his wanderings came upon a man fast 
asleep, wrapped in his cloak. Then Jesus wakened him and said: 
"O sleeper, arise and glorify God." Then the man said: "What 
do you want of me? I have abandoned the world to its own peo- 
ple." And Jesus said: "Sleep on, my friend." 

Jesus and the disciples came upon the carcase of a dog. The 
disciples said: "What a stench it makes!" Jesus answered: "How 
white are its teeth!" 

There came to Jesus some unbelievers who said: "You have 
raised people who died recently, and perhaps they were not dead; 
so raise for us one who died in the earliest times." He said to 
them: "Choose whom you will." They said: "Raise for us Shem, 
son of Noah." Then he came to his grave and prayed two raJ(as 
and called on God, and God raised Shem, son of Noah, and lo! 
his head and beard had become quite white. But someone said: 
"What is this? There were no white hairs in your day." He re- 

2 James Robson, Christ in Islam, New York, E. P. Dutton & Co., 1930, 
p. 29, 


plied: "I heard the summons, and I thought the Resurrection had 
come, so the hair of my beard and head became white with ter- 
ror." Someone asked: "How long have you been dead?" He re- 
plied: "For four thousand years, but the agony of death has not 
left me yet." 3 

What is remarkable about these sayings is how deeply they affected 
the Muhamadan imagination while remaining outside the normal 
ambiance of the Muhamadan mind. There is something foreign in 
them. They do not correspond to any of the apocryphal sayings of 
Jesus, yet they have an authentically Christian flavor, sharpened a 
little by the sands of the desert and the intense brilliance of an Ara- 
bian sky. Jesus has become an Arab. The most familiar to Muhamad- 
ans is the first saying, which the Emperor Akbar inscribed on the 
gateway of the palace at Fatehpur Sikri which he abandoned soon 
after building it. The most beautiful, and the most mysterious, is the 
second, with its insistence upon the supreme virtue of sacrifice, an idea 
which has no place in Muhamadan theology except in the sense that 
a devout Muhamadan should sacrifice himself in war against the 

The Sufis, of course, accepted Jesus as one of themselves, and when- 
ever they read in the Quran the words "sword" and "holy war" they 
accepted them in a metaphorical sense. Like Ibn Arabi, they re- 
garded Jesus as the last and greatest of the saints. "Surely," says 
Ibn Arabi, "the seal of the saints is a Messenger; and in the world 
He has no equal. He is the Spirit and the Son of the Spirit, and Mary 
is His mother." In one of his poems Jalalul-Din Rumi tells the story 
of the parrot who pretended to be dead, and was accordingly thrown 
out of its cage and flew away into freedom. The poet points the moral: 
"The parrot died into self-abasement. Therefore make thyself dead in 
prayer and poverty of spirit that the breath of Jesus may revive thee 
and make thee fair and blessed as His breath." But though Jalalul- 
Din Rumi could speak in praise of Jesus, he could also speak in con- 
tempt of Christians. He laughed at them for confessing their sins to 
priests, and he could not understand why they should pray to the 
Crucified for protection, when He could not protect Himself from 
tshe Jews. Of all the differences which divided Muhamadans from 
Christians, the greatest is their different attitudes toward the Cruci- 

*IKd. pp. 71, 57, 78, 71, 45, 109. 

8 4 


Though Christians have rarely shown a remarkable talent for be- 
having peaceably, they have never doubted that peacemakers are 
blessed. Muhammad never doubted that war was a blessed thing 
when fought on behalf of the faith. Again and again in the Quran he 
urges his followers to implacable war: 

Slay them wherever you find them, and drive them out of the 
places they drove you from. Idolatry is worse than war. But do 
not fight them within the precincts of the Mosque unless they 
first attack you there; but if they attack you there, then slay them. 
Such is the reward of unbelievers. 

If they mend their ways, know that God is forgiving and 

Fight them until idolatry is no more, and God's religion is 

(Sura ii) 

Such brutal encouragements to war are repeated ad nauseam in the 
Quran, and there is not the least doubt that he meant exactly what 
he said. By precept and example he sanctified the sword. No other 
religious leader of comparable stature has ever urged such unpitying 
wars against his enemies. The saying attributed to Muhammad, "Know 
that paradise lies under the shadow of swords," is one which Mu- 
hamadans have always taken to heart. To this argument the classic 
Christian reply in our day was given by Pope Pius XII in 1951 in 
Ingruentium malorum ("The Advancing Evils"), when he offered the 
Catholic doctrine in the struggle against the Church's enemies: 

Strong, like David with his sling shot, the Church will face 
fearlessly the infernal enemy, repeating against him the words 
of the young shepherd: "Thou comest to me with a sword, and 
with a spear, and with a shield. But I come to thee in the name of 
the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies . . . and all this assem- 
bly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear" 
(I Samuel XVII: 45-47). 

For the Muhamadan the jihad, or "holy war," has become an es- 
sential element of the faith; all of Islam would have to be turned up- 
side down if the doctrine were eliminated. It only just escaped be- 
coming one of the five rules: not that Muhamadans have ever doubted 
that the commandment was given by Muhammad, but they have some- 
times doubted the need to broadcast warlike purposes. We shall see, 


as this history advances, how often and with what appalling lust for 
loot they have embarked on wars against the infidels and the faithful 
alike. When Timurlane led his armies into India, he announced that 
his purpose was to give booty to his soldiers and bring all Indians 
under the Muhamadan yoke; but among the great heaps of skulls 
which decorated his triumph at Delhi were many Muhamadan skulls. 
Again and again we shall find Muhamadans mercilessly destroying 
the living descendants of Muhammad. 

Yet Muhammad could be gentle on occasion with a disarming 
gentleness. Among his recorded sayings are many which testify to 
his almost feminine sensibility. Passionately fond of women and chil- 
dren, he forbade his followers to treat their wives brutally and he 
insisted that slaves should be treated humanely. According to one of 
his traditional sayings: "Heaven lieth at the feet of mothers." Ac- 
cording to another he said: "Whoever doeth good to girls, it will be 
a curtain to him from hell-fire." Still another hadith declares: "God 
is gentle and loveth gentleness." 

After Muhammad's death, when the memory of the man was still 
fresh, and for centuries afterward, his remembered sayings were writ- 
ten down and collected and assembled. To these there was appended 
the names of the companions who reputedly heard them from Mu- 
hammad's lips and the names of all those who had handed down 
the tradition. Six great collections of these sayings were compiled, the 
most important being one by Ahmad ibn-Hanbal (780-855) which 
was edited by his son. It contains nearly 30,000 sayings grouped un- 
der the names of 700 companions of Muhammad. These traditions 
are of varying worth, and by far the greater number of them are 
patently worthless, having been written down by inventors who hoped 
to profit by their inventions. But occasionally amid so much dross the 
authentic words can be heard, as we hear them in the Quran, winging 
through space and time as though they had just left his lips. Here are 
a few of his traditional sayings: 

Verily my heart is veiled with melancholy and sadness for my 
followers; and verily I ask pardon of God one hundred times 

One hour's meditation on the work of the Creator is better 
than seventy years of prayer. 

The world is sweet to the heart, and green to the eye; and 
verily God hath brought you, after those that went before you. 


Therfore look to your actions, and abstain from the world and 
its wickedness. 

What business have I with the world? I am like a man on 
horseback, who standeth under the shade of a tree, then leaveth 

God hath treasuries beneath the Throne, the keys whereof are 
the tongues of poets. 

Go in quest of knowledge even unto China. 

Acquire knowledge. It enableth its possessor to distinguish 
right from wrong; it lighteth the way to Heaven; it is our friend 
in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friend- 
less; it guideth us to happiness; it sustaineth us in misery; it is 
an ornament among friends, and an armor against enemies. 

Paradise is nearer to you than the thongs of your sandals; and 
the Fire likewise. 

God said: I was a hidden treasure and desired to be known; 
and therefore I made the Creation that I might be known. 4 

Such were the words of a man who spoke sometimes with a fierce 
compassion about the evils of the world. The strong, stark outline of 
Islam as we know it now was absent in its founder; and like the 
rocky deserts with red pinnacles among which he lived, he changed 
with the changing colors of the sky. His service was ascetic, his aim 
was to conquer the world; and between asceticism and conquest his 
mind, filled with brilliant contradictions, moved helplessly from pole 
to pole. He despised the world as "play, and idle talk, and pag- 
eantry," and at the same time he was so much a creature of the world 
that his love for it, and the people in it, is manifest in his works. He 
saw God as the absolute transcendent power, as white-hot majesty and 
omnipotence; and like a man who has stared long at the sun, he 
seemed to be blinded by what he had seen, and almost his spirit evap- 
orates in the burning heat of God. There was about him none of the 
angelic quality he saw in Jesus. He saw himself as a new Abraham or 
a new Moses, but he resembled most of all Jacob, who wrestled with 
an angle and saw the angels ascending and descending, and marked 
the place with a stone, which he called the House of God. 

4 Allama Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun al-Suhrawardy, The Sayings of 
Muhammad, London, John Murray, 1949, pp. 98, 94, 50, 100, 94, 92, 94, 
85, 82. 

The Arabian Caliphs 


*n that hot summer afternoon when the body o 
Muhammad lay in the arms o Ayesha and the wives were lamenting 
and the companions were preparing to wash the body and clothe it 
in a shroud, the ferocious old warrior Umar ibn-Khattab blundered 
into the hut. He took one look at Muhammad, so still and calm in 
death, and refused to believe what he saw. He was heard muttering: 
"Verily, by the Lord, he shall return!" and then he ran off to the 
nearby mosque and began shouting that Muhammad was not dead, 
he would return accompanied by his angels, and was even now pre- 
paring to take his place in the mosque. He was dead, but in the 
twinkling of an eye he would arise again! Saying this, Umar un- 
sheathed his sword, prepared to drive it into the heart of the first 
believer who refused to believe in the immortality of the Messenger 
of God. And while he spoke he heard the lamenting of the women. 

So the afternoon went on until another visitor entered the hut, a 
man who was prematurely old and himself close to death. This was 
Abu Bakr, the closest after Ali of all the friends of Muhammad. He 
had been told, probably by Ayesha, that Muhammad was recovering, 
and he obtained permission to retire to his house in the country until 
he was summoned by his daughter to see the body of the man he 
loved most in the world. He was trembling when he saw the body. 
Gently removing the coverlet, he stooped down and kissed his friend 
on the forehead, murmuring: "Sweet wert thou in life and sweet art 
thou in death. Yea, thou art dead! Alas, my friend, my chosen 
one!" Then he kissed the face for a second time and stumbled out 
into the bright sunlight and hurried to the mosque, where the wor- 
shipers were waiting expectantly for the Second Coming. At the sight 
of Abu Bakr they fell silent. Abu Bakr told them what he had seen. 
Never again would anyone set eyes on the Messenger of God walk- 
ing among them as of old. "Those of you who worshiped Muham- 
mad," he declared, "know that he is dead; and those of you that 



worship God, know that the Lord liveth forever and never dieth." 
He went on to quote the words of the Quran: "Muhammad is no 
more than a messenger: all messengers before him have passed away. 
If he dieth or is slain, will ye turn back on your heels? He who 
turneth back will do no harm to God, but God rewards those who 
are grateful." Long afterward Umar ibn-Khattab recalled this mo- 
ment. "By the Lord," he said, "it was so, that when I heard Abu Bakr 
recite these verses, I was horror-stricken, my limbs trembled, I dropped 
down, and I knew of a certainty that Muhammad was dead!" 

For the rest of the afternoon the women prepared the body for 
the grave, while the stunned followers of Muhammad gave themselves 
to their grief, milling about aimlessly in the mosque. No one knew 
what the future would bring. Almost alone and singlehanded Mu- 
hammad had brought the Islamic state into being, and as far as any- 
one knew he had made no recommendation for a successor. He had 
announced the law on all manner of subjects relating to daily life, 
but there was no law which related how the state should be ruled 
after his death, or how he should be buried, or what honors should 
be paid to him. In this crisis Abu Bakr remembered that Muhammad 
had once told him: "A prophet should be laid in the earth in the 
place where he dies." And so it was arranged to bury him in 
Ayesha's hut, and all that night the gravediggers were heard dig- 
ging the hard flinty earth with pickaxes. The next day the mourners 
came to look for the last time on the beloved face, which was 
strangely white and already withered. Then at night the red mantle 
he wore in battle was lowered into the deep grave, and his body, 
wrapped in three shrouds, two of white linen and a third of striped 
Yaman cloth, was laid on the mantle. Over him they built an arch 
of unbaked brick, and then the earth was shoveled over the tomb. 
There, below Ayesha's hut, he has remained ever since. 

If Muhammad had not died in the hut of his favorite wife, the 
history of Islam might have been very different. Many of his follow- 
ers believed AH would be elected to the vacant kingship, for AH 
was his adopted son, married to his daughter Fatima, proud and hand- 
some and possessed of demonic energy when aroused, but careless of 
his great gifts. He seems to have been more than usually careless on 
the day of Muhammad's death. Ayesha detested him, and her father 
distrusted him. Accordingly, when Abu Bakr and Umar were still in 
the mosque and there came a rumor that the Ansar were already con- 
gregating in the council hall at Madinah to discuss the election of a 
new king, they hurried to the meeting place and by virtue of their 


closeness to Muhammad they were able to dominate the proceedings. 
Only a few of the Companions were present. Abu Bakr took Umar 
and Abu Ubaydah by the hands and suggested that one of them be 
raised to the kingship. Both refused the honor, and Umar declared 
that the kingship belonged properly to Abu Bakr, "the second of the 
two when they were in the cave alone." Was he not the man whom 
Muhammad loved most? Was he not wise above the generations of 
men, and did he not belong to the tribe of the Quraysh, which held 
the sacred Kaaba in its possession? Muhammad, too, had belonged to 
the Quraysh, and it was unthinkable that Arabians would swear alle- 
giance to anyone from other tribes. At last, late in the evening, Abu 
Bakr was elected king by acclamation and granted the title of Kalifa, 
or "Successor," becoming the first of the four Caliphs who ruled from 
Madinah. The next morning he took his seat at the minbar in the 
mosque, occupying the place so long occupied by Muhammad. Umar 
called for the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr. The Ansar protested, 
but they were outnumbered and overawed, and Ali took what comfort 
he could in silence. It was six months before he took the oath of 
allegiance to the Caliph. 

Abu Bakr was a man of genuine humility and strength of charac- 
ter, and started his reign auspiciously by declaring that he derived 
his power from the people and expected to be removed from office 
if he disobeyed the laws of God, His famous inaugural sermon sug- 
gests the quality of the man: 

Verily I have become the chief among you, though I am not 
the best among you. If I do well, help me; set me right, if I am 
in the wrong. You shall show faithfulness to me by telling me 
the truth to conceal the truth from me is treachery. The weak 
and oppressed among you shall be strong in my eyes, until I 
have vindicated their just rights, if the Lord wills; and the strong 
among you shall be weak in my eyes, until I have made them 
fulfill the obligations due from them. Now hearken to me: when 
the people abandoneth the fight [jihad} in the ways of the 
Lord, He casteth them away in disgrace. Know also that wicked- 
ness never aboundeth in any nation, but the Lord visiteth it 
with calamity. As I obey God and His Messenger, obey me; but 
if I neglect the laws of God and His Messenger, then refuse me 
obedience. Arise to prayer, and the Lord have mercy on you! 

So, very calmly, Abu Bakr started his reign, conscious of his own 


power and determined to extend the sway of Islam by whatever 
means were available. He needed to be calm, for the country was in 
revolt. From south, north and east came information that the tribes 
which had accepted Islam from the hands of Muhammad were refus- 
ing to accept it from the hands of his successor, and they were refus- 
ing to pay taxes. False prophets were arising, among them a certain 
Musaylimah of the Bani Hanifah, who composed a book of prophe- 
cies modeled on the Quran, and a Christian woman called Sajah, 
who later led an army from the Persian frontier almost to the gates 
of Madinah. As if this were not enough, Abu Bakr was plagued 
with the problem of what to do with the army led by Usamah, which 
Muhammad had ordered dispatched to the Syrian frontier a few 
days before his death, to avenge the Byzantine victory at Mutah. 
The best troops of Madinah were in the army, which was encamped 
outside the city. Usamah was a young man, only twenty years old, 
and Abu Bakr's advisers were suggesting that the army be retained 
for the defense of the city and placed in the hands of a more experi- 
enced man. Abu Bakr decided otherwise. Muhammad himself had 
ordered the advance, and who was he to delay it? "Madinah may 
stand or fall," he declared. "The Caliph may live or die, but the 
words of Muhammad must be fulfilled." When the army set out, he 
walked for some miles beside Usamah, who was on horseback, as a 
sign of his faith in the missionary powers of the army. 

Madinah was now without its best soldiers, but Islam was never 
so powerful as when it was defenseless. Less than two months later an 
insurgent army appeared at the gates of the city. Abu Bakr ordered 
a night attack with all available men under arms. The insurgents 
were repulsed, and there was a short breathing space, until Usamah 
returned from the Syrian frontier, having accomplished little except 
to confirm the Caliph's advisers in his inexperience. Command of the 
army was placed in the hands of Khalid ibn al-Walid, the victor of 

Khalid was a born guerrilla leader, high-strung, shrewd, ruthless, 
possessing the fanaticism of the convert. He was one of those generals 
who glory in the greatest risks and by their very recklessness turn 
defeat into victory. Inevitably, when the tribespeople revolted, Khalid 
employed strong measures. "The taste of blood is pleasant on my 
mouth," he said once, and all through the campaigns against the 
tribes which filled the first year of Abu Bakr's reign Khalid was in 
the forefront, whetting his appetite for blood. 


The hardest fought of these campaigns ended in the ancient city 
of Yamamah in the southern Najd, where Musaylimah with an army 
of 60,000 was solidly entrenched. At the head of three flying col- 
umns Khalid rushed against the enemy, only to be hurled back under 
the impact of his first violent charge. As usual he had underestimated 
the strength of the enemy. He regrouped quickly, stung by the 
taunts they flung at him. He charged again and again with a reckless 
disregard of his own safety and the safety of his men. Arabic histori- 
ans never tired of telling stories of the courage of the Muhamadans 
in this battle. They tell of Qais ibn Thabit, whose leg was hacked 
off by a sword: in his last moments he hurled the leg at the enemy. 
Then there was the heroic Bara' ibn Malik whose brother had been 
a servant in Muhammad's household and who was known for the 
strange shivering fits which he suffered on the eve of battle. At last 
the shivering fits would come to an end, and he would hurl himself 
with the speed of an arrow at the enemy, having generated so much 
strength and speed that he was well-nigh invulnerable. When Musay- 
limah's followers retreated behind the walls of a vast orchard, Bara 1 
ibn Malik begged his companions to toss him over the wall. They 
refused, fearing he would be killed immediately. He insisted on being 
allowed the privilege of dying for the faith. Lifted on top of the 
wall, he jumped down into the orchard, fought his way against all 
odds to the gate and flung it wide open, and then the Muhamadans 
poured in. There was such a massacre in the orchard that forever 
afterward it was called "the Garden of Death." Musaylimah, a small 
parchment-faced man with a long nose, suffered the indignity of being 
killed by an Abyssinian slave called Wahshi, a convert to the faith, 
famous as the killer of Muhammad's uncle Hamza at the battle of 
Uhud he slew Musaylimah with the same javelin with which he slew 
Hamza. Khalid disliked half measures. With Musaylimah slain, he 
ordered his men to continue killing. The historian Tabari says that 
more than 10,000 infidels were killed that day, for the loss of 700 
Muhamadans, including a large number of those who had committed 
the Quran to memory. The loss of so many of Muhammad's com- 
panions appalled Abu Bakr, for no final edition of the Quran had 
been prepared and many of the suras were not yet written down. He 
gave orders to Muhammad's secretary Zayd ibn Thabit to collect as 
many suras as possible, and the work of compiling the Quran con- 
tinued slowly during the following years. To Zayd's carelessness 
and incompetence must be attributed the curious state of the Quran, 


with revelations clearly received in Mecca inserted haphazardly 
among revelations received in Madinah. 

Meanwhile the work of pacification was continuing. All through 
the first year of Abu Bakr's reign the flying columns reached out across 
Arabia. Bahrayn, Uman and Yaman submitted to Madinah, and their 
troops were incorporated in the Muhamadan army. Inevitably the 
character of the revolution was changing. The oldest companions of 
Muhammad were dying out, to be replaced by converts, with the 
result that the army and many of the Caliph's chief advisers were 
being recruited from the ranks of recent enemies. Christians, Jews 
and Bedouins flocked to the standards, inspired by hopes of booty, 
announcing their conversion only because they felt the neeed to iden- 
tify themselves with the winning side. Such an army, closely disci- 
plined, lacking any common morality or a common faith, soon be- 
came the instrument of self-seeking generals. Within a year of Mu- 
hammad's death the Quraysh, who had fought so bitterly against 
Muhammad, were in the ascendancy. 

Ironically Abu Bakr seems to have been unaware of the change 
coming over the movement which Muhammad had brought into being. 
Gentle and trusting, his deep-set eyes lighted with the fires of con- 
templation, careless of his appearance he usually wore two sheets of 
reddish-brown cloth, one folded round his shoulders, the other round 
his waist and legs, and because he was bent a little this one was 
always slipping down he behaved as Caliph exactly as he had be- 
haved when he was the trusted adviser of Muhammad. For the first 
six months of his reign he continued to sell cloth in the market 
place of Madinah, saying he saw no reason why he should not earn 
his living. He kept the treasury of the empire in an unlocked box in 
his house. Half the night he prayed to God, and half the days of the 
week he fasted. He had fought beside Muhammad during the battles 
of Badr, Uhud and Hunayn, but as old age came on he seems to have 
allowed his lieutenants full control of the army. Stern only when 
the power and majesty of Islam were directly involved, he was espe- 
cially gentle to widows and orphans, and it is unlikely that he knew 
or cared what the army, moving with its own momentum, was doing. 

He did, of course, make some appointments and he allowed com- 
mands to be issued over his name. He appointed Abu Sufyan, once 
Muhammad's most relentless enemy, governor of Nadj and Hijaz. Abu 
Sufyan's sons, Yazid and Muawiya, were given leading posts in the 
army. Amr ibn al-'As, who had defected from Mecca at the same time 


as Khalid, was also put in command of a column. And when Abu 
Bakr summoned the faithful to take part in a jihad, or holy war, 
against Syria, most of the commands were in the hands of men who 
had only recently fought against Muhammad, thus arousing the sus- 
picion that the holy war was brought about by men who were less 
interested in propagating the faith than in acquiring booty. Abu Suf- 
yan and his sons belonged to the Umayyad tribe, the aristocracy of the 
Quraysh; and soon the vast treasure of the empire was to fall into 
their hands. 1 

At first, when the expedition set out for the north, there was no 
indication that the Umayyads were preparing for their triumph. Over- 
all command was placed in the hands of Abu Ubaydah, the eminence 
grist of whom little is known except that he was the treasurer of the 
kingdom and a close companion of Muhammad, a man who kept 
severely to the background, for few stories were ever told of him. 
In the autumn of 633 AJ>., the three columns, each consisting of about 
3,000 men, made their way toward the Dead Sea. Yazid commanded 
one column, his brother Muawiya acting as standard-bearer. Another 
column was commanded by Amr ibn al-'As, and the third was com- 
manded by Shurahbil ibn-Hasanah, who had assisted Khalid in the 
bloody battle of Yamanah. These columns met the weak levies 
of Sergius, the patrician of Palestine, at Wadi Arabah south of the 
Dead Sea, and overwhelmed them by surprise. A series of raids and 
razzias followed, with the remnants of the Byzantine frontier forces 
in orderly retreat. The Emperor Heraclius, a man of simple dignity 
and quiet courage who had fought the Persians through Syria and 
Egypt, had for some time been expecting the Muhamadan forces, but 
his troops were weakened by six years of continuous campaigning 
and he was in no mood for joining battle except on his own terms. 
Hurrying from Edessa, he recruited a fresh army and placed it under 
the command of his brother Theodore. Then he prepared a defense in 
depth, and, realizing that he would eventually be forced into a major 
battle, he hoped to select his own battleground. He was already 
threatening the Muhamadans and preparing to drive them out of 
Palestine when news was brought to him that an Arab army, which 

1 The historian al-Baladhuri says that in the late summer of 633 A.D. 
Abu Bakr "wrote to the people of Mecca, Taif, Yaman and all the Arabs 
in Nadj and Hijaz summoning them to a jihad and reminding them of 
the booty to be got from the Greeks." But it is unlikely that Abu Bakr 
would ever have written these words. 


seemed to have arisen out of the earth, was gathered around the walls 
of Damascus in his rear. This army was under the command of 
Khalid, "the Sword of God." 

After the battle of Yamanah, Khalid had been sent on a maraud- 
ing expedition against the frontier posts of Persia on the Euphrates. 
He conquered al-Hirah in June, 633 A.D., and went on to conquer 
a host of small towns and villages, his raids taking him almost to 
the Tigris. Abu Bakr had proclaimed him governor of Iraq. Sud- 
denly, when news that Muhamadan troops in Palestine were being 
hard pressed reached Madinah, Abu Bakr or one of his lieutenants is- 
sued die order that Khalid was to race immediately to their rescue. Kha- 
lid was a close friend of Ali and an enemy of Umar ibn-Khattab, who 
perhaps was Abu Bakr's chief adviser. He seems to have believed the 
order was a punishment for a recent swift and unauthorized pilgrim- 
age to Mecca, but he made haste to obey. With six or seven hundred 
troops he led a forced march across the desert from the Euphrates 
to Damascus in eighteen days, a feat of unparalleled daring. Then 
he marched southward through Transjordan to join forces with the 
harassed columns under Abu Ubaydah. His coming was so swift that 
Heraclius had no time to prepare for a war on two fronts; and on 
July 30, 634 A.D., on the plain of Ajnadayn west of Jerusalem, the 
combined Muhamadan armies routed the army of Heraclius, who 
fled with the survivors to Antioch. The whole of Palestine was now 
open to the Arab raiders. 

No one knows whether Abu Bakr ever heard that a new province 
had been added to his empire. That summer he was already ailing. 
He was suffering from fever, and like Muhammad he liked to take 
cold baths, but the baths only made the fever worse. For fifteen days 
he lay in bed, while the strength slowly drained from him. It is 
possible that he made arrangements for the succession, but many 
competent historians maintain that the carefully written testament in 
which he named Umar ibn-Khattab as the second Caliph is a forgery. 
Tabari, in The Boo\ of Religion and Empire, tells the story of how, 
as he lay dying, Abu Bakr was asked how much had been added to his 
private fortune during the Caliphate, and answered: "I have ac- 
quired nothing but a young camel, an Abyssinian slave to look after 
my children and polish swords, and a mantle." Then he spurned the 
mantle with his foot and said: "I have given back all that, and I am 
well and happy." He asked what day Muhammad had died. Told it 
was on Monday, he said: "I hope I shall die on that day." He died 


on August 23, 634 A.D., in the modest house where he had long 
lived, and was buried beside Muhammad. He was sixty-three, and his 
Caliphate had lasted for no more than two years and three months. 

He was the greatest of the Caliphs, the most generous, the most 
devout, the most learned. Of his manner and appearance we know 
more than we know of most of his successors. He was tall and slender, 
with a f air complexion, with a narrow face, deep-sunken eyes and a 
bulging forehead. He walked with a kind of shuffling gait, and was 
stooped, and his clothes hung loosely on him. He had long thin hands 
"with almost no skin on his fingertips," but there were knotted swol- 
len veins on them. He dyed his hair with henna and wore a ring 
inscribed with the words: "How good is Almighty God!" None o his 
successors believed so firmly in the goodness of God, and none was so 

Umar, the second Caliph, was made of sterner stuff. There was no 
aristocratic blood in him, but he behaved like an aristocrat. Calm, 
unyielding, demanding and receiving instant obedience, he sometimes 
gave way to ferocious bursts of temper. No one loved him, but every- 
one respected him. The story is told that Umar once visited Mu- 
hammad and found the womenfolk chattering excitedly, but the mo- 
ment Umar appeared they ran behind the curtains and fell into a 
strange silence. Umar asked angrily why the women were showing 
less respect to Muhammad than to himself. Muhammad laughed and 
answered: "Umar, if the devil himself were to meet you in the street, 
he would dodge into a side alley!" 

Umar was hard, but he had need to be. He lived strictly, almost 
ascetically. They said he lived only on bread and olive oil, and his 
clothes were always patched in a dozen places he patched them him- 
self with strips of leather. His role the role which he assigned to 
himself was that of the strict teacher and legislator, the organizer of 
victory. He alone possessed the authority to marshal the many Mu- 
hamadan armies surging across North Africa, Syria and Persia, and 
to complete the transformation of Arabia and the conquered lands 
into a theocratic state. The tangled threads of conquest passed through 
his hands, and no one else could straighten them out. 

When Umar entered upon his Caliphate, there was only one Mu- 
hamadan army outside Arabia, and it was still in difficulties. The 
victory of Ajnadayn was followed by a long series of indecisive 
raids. Theodore remained in Galilee, HeracUus was massing his 
troops in the Orontes valley, preparing to deal with the Arabs as 


he had dealt with the Persians. He had lost battles before. Even when 
Damascus fell the following year, betrayed to Khalid by malcontent 
Christians among them the grandfather of St. John Damascene he 
had hopes of eventual victory. Umar sent up reinforcements to aid 
the hard-pressed Muhamadans, and then at last, after two years of 
skirmishes, the two armies met in force in the hottest month of the 
year in one of the hottest places on earth: the mouth of the Yarmuk 
in the Jordan valley. It was August 20, 636 A.D., and the battle had 
hardly begun before a thick dust storm darkened the sky. The im- 
perial infantry stood firm, but the Arabs scouted round them, protected 
from the dust and sand by their burnooses, making continual sallies 
against the massed ranks of the regulars, challenging them to indi- 
vidual combat. Tabari tells the not improbable story of Khalid chal- 
lenging George, the son of Theodore. As usual, the challenge began 
with taunts. "I hear," said George, "that you are known as the 
Sword of God, and therefore always win victories." The irony was 
lost on Khalid, who answered in the accepted manner of an Arabian 
moralist: "God sent Muhammad (peace be upon him) among us to 
preach the faith, but at first no one paid any attention to him, and I 
was one of those who fought against him; and when at last I bowed 
before him and accepted the faith, Muhammad said to me : 'Q Khalid, 
you are a sword from the swords of God, which have been drawn 
from their scabbards to fight the infidel!" Tabari adds that George 
(Jarja) was so impressed with Khalid's words that he instantly ac- 
cepted Islam and fought with the Muhamadans. 

While Arab historians are inclined to see the hand of God hovering 
benignly over the standards of Khalid, others are more inclined to 
blame the Byzantine defeat on the storm. Blinded by the sand and 
maddened by the thrusts of the Muhamadans, the imperial infantry 
panicked, some to be slaughtered on the spot, others to be driven 
relentlessly into the river, while those who deserted were summarily 
executed. Theodore was killed, and the Emperor Heraclius abandoned 
the field. He made no further effort to prevent Syria from being over- 
run, but withdrew across the mountains. As he departed for Constan- 
tinople, he is supposed to have said: "Farewell, Syria! Oh, that so 
fair a country should belong to my enemies!" 

The swift conquest of Syria has puzzled historians and military 
strategists, for the same reasons. No one knows the exact details of 
these campaigns: we do not even know the exact sites of the battles, 
or when they took place, and we can only guess at how they were 
fought, for there are wide differences even in the accounts of the 


Arab historians, who tend to describe the adventures o their heroes 
as though they were describing legendary warriors, drawing them ten 
times larger than life, so that their behavior becomes increasingly un- 
real, and their motives improbable. What is certain is that Syria, 
then as now, belonged to the uncommitted frontier, where a hundred 
sects were at war with one another. For centuries there had been no 
peace, as the Persians and the Greeks fought for mastery over their 
common border. Heraclius wrested Syria from the Persians only ten 
years before the Arab conquest, but he had neither the time nor the 
energy to drive deep stakes in the country. An air of improvisation 
hangs over his attempts to keep the Arabs at bay. 

The Arabs, too, were showing a talent for improvisation. More con- 
genial than the Greeks, less tyrannical than the Persians, their victory 
had overwhelmed them with its speed; and since they had no experi- 
ence with foreign conquests, they were compelled to rely on the 
existing bureaucracy in order to keep control over the people. Mur- 
derous in battle, the Arabs could be, and often were, surprisingly 
gentle to the inhabitants of the conquered cities. The terms for the 
capitulation of Damascus, which served as a model for future capitu- 
lations, suggest that the Arabs were chiefly interested in acquiring a 
proper share of the tax money: 

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful! I, Kha- 
lid ibn-Walid, grant to the people of Damascus the following 
terms. I promise them security for their lives, property and 
churches. The city wall shall not be laid low, nor shall any 
Muhamadan be quartered in their houses. So we give them the 
peace of God and the protection of His Messenger, and of the 
Caliph, and of the believers. So long as they pay the poll tax, 
nothing but good shall come to them. 2 

That the Muhamadans could on occasion behave with an almost 
forbidding gentleness was demonstrated when at last Jerusalem, which 
had fought stubbornly against the invaders long after Heraclius had 
left the country, offered to capitulate only on condition that the 
Caliph in person came to sign the treaty. Since Jerusalem possessed a 
special importance in the eyes of believers, Umar permitted himself 
the luxury of a private triumph. He entered Jerusalem on a camel, 
accompanied by only a few attendants, his clothes dust-stained, giv- 

2 Philip K. Hitti, History of Syria, New Yor%, The Macrnillan Company f 
P- 415- 


ing an impression o ostentatious simplicity. Sophronius, Patriarch of 
Jerusalem, was dressed in his glittering robes, and he seems to have 
been a little surprised by the strangeness of the occasion, for he 
remarked in a whisper to one of the priests by his side: "So this is 
the abomination of desolation spoken by Daniel the Prophet as 
standing in the Holy Place!" There was an amicable exchange of 
gifts, and the treaty was drawn up by the Caliph and his advisers, 
and signed by Khalid, Muawiya, Amr ibn al-'As, and Abdal Rahman 
ibn 'Auf, who had been one of Muhammad's closest companions, an 
old man who had lost all his teeth in the wars. The treaty resembles 
the earlier treaty with Damascus, but with important differences: 

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful! This 
is the covenant of peace which Umar, the servant of God and 
commander of the faithful, has made with the people of Jerusa- 

This peace which is vouchsafed to them guarantees them secur- 
ity for their lives, property, churches, and the crucifixes belonging 
to those who display and honor them. Their churches shall not 
be used as dwelling houses, nor shall their walls be laid low, nor 
shall they be damaged in any way: likewise the houses attached 
to the churches, the crucifixes and any other belongings what- 
soever. There shall be no compulsion in matters of faith, nor 
shall they be in any way molested. Nor shall Jews reside with 
them in Jerusalem. 

It is incumbent on the people of Jerusalem that they pay the 
poll-tax, as other towns do. They must also rid themselves of 
Greeks and other robbers. Whoever of the Greeks leaves the 
city, his life and property shall be protected till he reach a place 
of safety; and whoever shall stay in Jerusalem, he shall be pro- 
tected, but he must pay the poll-tax like the rest of the inhabi- 
tants. And whoever wishes to depart with the Greeks, leaving 
their churches and crucifixes behind, there is protection for them 
as well. Their lives, property, churches and crucifixes shall be 
protected till they reach a place of safety. 

All that is contained in this treaty is under the covenant of God 
and His Messenger, and under the protection of the Caliph, and 
of the believers, so long as the people pay the poll-tax. 3 

3 Malauna Muhammad AH, Early Caliphate, Lahore, Ahmadiyyah 
Anjuman Ishaat Islam, 1951, pp. 135-36. 


This document, with its precise accounting of the rights of Chris- 
tians, its legalisms, its peculiar references to crucifixes, so often 
repeated, its threats uttered in the formal language of conquerors and 
the menaces concealed in circumlocutions, suggests like nothing 
else the temper of the Arab mind during the early months of conquest. 
Almost we can hear the grave voice of the Caliph as he announces 
himself as the Protector of the Christians. It was a role which he 
played with considerable unction, for Eutychius records that he vis- 
ited the Basilica of Constantine and prayed at the top of the stairs 
leading to the entrance, remarking that if he entered the Basilica 
the Christians would believe he intended to convert it into a mosque, 
but afterward he made the journey to Bethlehem and prayed in the 
Church of the Nativity. It is possible that he ordered the construction 
of a mosque in Jerusalem, but Arab historians are silent on the mat- 
ter and Christian historians describe the mosque with so many 
legendary details that they remain unconvincing. It is likely that in 
their first brush with Christianity the Arabs were content to leave 
well enough alone. 

For the first time in his life Umar had left Arabia and entered a 
foreign country. The experience, however, did not broaden him. He 
had been stern before; he became sterner. The gentle Abu Bakr 
was followed by the revolutionary dictator, a man of inflexible will, 
who in the course of time rode roughshod over the wishes of his 
people, introduced harsh punishments, placed the whole nation on a 
war footing, regimented whatever could be regimented, and dealt 
remorselessly with any generals suspected of undermining his posi- 
tion. In so doing he followed one by one the tenets which have been 
proclaimed by revolutionary dictators throughout history; and he 
met the fate which is usually reserved for revolutionary dictators. 

Khalid had been the first to sign the Treaty of Jerusalem, and he 
was the man most responsible for the victories in Syria and Palestine. 
Thin and eager, with a beaked nose and a gay manner, he was 
worshiped by his troops and envied by his fellow generals. He was 
inclined to flaunt his power, wear fine clothes and grant generous 
gifts out of the treasuries of conquered cities to his companions-at- 
arms without reference to the treasury in Madinah. Umar was in- 
censed by the rich costume worn by Khalid when the young general 
came to meet him at al-Jabiyah on the way to Jerusalem; and when 
Khalid remarked that it was unworthy of the Caliph to appear in such 
somber and simple garments, there was a moment of terrible tension 


before the Caliph replied that he was the best judge of the clothes 
he would wear. Closefisted, the Caliph disliked Khalid's extravagance 
almost as much as he disliked his popularity. Soon after the capture 
of Jerusalem, Khalid was ordered to resign all his posts and return 
to Madinah. One day, when it became known that Khalid had tossed 
a thousand dinars to a poet who had celebrated his prowess, Umar 
called for an explanation. At first Khalid refused, suspecting there 
were other reasons for the summons. Umar was incensed. He ordered 
Bilal to remove Khalid's turban and then tie it round his hands the 
sign that he was found guilty. Khalid exploded, and asked what 
harm he had done in rewarding a poet from his own private purse. 
Umar, who had heard that Khalid was using money from the treas- 
ury, relented and gave him his freedom, though he was never again 
allowed to command an army. There were murmurings among the 
soldiers. Umar wrote an order of the day, explaining that Khalid 
had been removed for reasons of state which in no way reflected on 
his honor: he had been removed simply because the Caliph was 
afraid the people would attribute the conquests of Islam to Khalid's 
prowess on the battlefield. Not Khalid, but God, had won the war. 

Some years later, visitors to the town of Hims in northern Syria 
were accustomed to see a gaunt and wizened beggar in the streets, 
who sometimes spoke of the days when he was known all over the 
empire as "the Sword of God." There, or perhaps in Madinah, he 
died in 641 A.D., forgotten by everyone. 

Other generals were luckier, or more cautious, in their dealings 
with the Caliph. When Umar was in Jerusalem, Amr ibn al-'As, one 
of the signatories to the treaty, asked permission to invade Egypt. 
Characteristically Umar neither consented nor refused, thus suggest- 
ing by his silence that if the venture was successful, he would be re- 
warded; if unsuccessful discredited. Amr was at the height of his 
powers: he was forty-five, as hard as steel, as resourceful as a fox. 
With 5,000 men he rode out of Caesarea in December, 639, and 
made his way toward the Egyptian frontier, following the route 
which Alexander had taken before him. At the frontier a letter from 
the Caliph awaited him. A small gulley traditionally divided Pales- 
tine from Egypt, and Amr decided to walk across it before opening 
the letter, which read: "If my letter ordering thee to turn back from 
Egypt overtakes thee before thou hast entered any part of the country, 
then turn back; but if thou hast invaded the land before receiving 
my letter, then proceed, and may God help thee!" Amr had already 


crossed the frontier, and felt that the auspices were in his favor. 
He struck at Pelusium, captured it, and marched on to Babylon on 
the Nile, which was so strongly defended by Cyrus that he was 
forced to pitch camp at Heliopolis and await reinforcements from 
Umar, who sent al-Zubayr, the cousin of Muhammad, with 5,000 
troops to his rescue. Babylon was taken at the end of a seven months' 
siege, and the road was open for the attack on Alexandria, after 
Constantinople the most splendid city in the world. 

Alexandria was a prize worth dying for. As seaport and naval 
base, center of learning and the arts, with its racetrack and theaters 
and well-equipped library, with the noble Cathedral of St. Mark 
overlooking the two harbors, it had remained Greek through all the 
nine hundred years of its existence. There followed a long siege, 
which did not unduly alarm the Alexandrians, who continued to re- 
ceive supplies by sea; and the city fell only through the treachery of 
Cyrus, who hoped to administer the city as an independent enclave 
within the Arab empire. 

While the siege was in progress Umar asked Amr to describe the 
sea for him, and Amr answered with that typical sobriety which char- 
acterizes the Arab when he confronts something he cannot under- 
stand: "The sea is a great creature upon which weak creatures ride 
like worms upon a piece of wood." 4 For Amr, all western civilization 
took on the aspect of "worms upon a piece of wood." When Alexan- 
dria fell at last, he rode in triumph through the Gate of the Sun 
and along the Canopic Way, past the great Pharos and the glitter- 
ing tomb of Alexander, which has since disappeared as completely 
as though it had never been. And with his coming, Alexandria fell 
into a long decline. In the words of E. M. Forster: "Though they 
had no intention of destroying her, they destroyed her, as a child 
might a watch. She never functioned again for over a thousand years." 

When the treaty was signed, Amr wrote jubilantly to Madinah: 
"I have captured the city, but I shall forbear describing it. Suffice 
to say that I have taken therein four thousand villas, four thousand 
baths, forty thousand Jews liable to poll-tax, and four hundred pleas- 
ure palaces fit for kings." The Caliph rewarded the bearer of the 
letter with a meal of bread and dates, and held a brief service in 

4 Nearly all Amr's recorded words have a wonderful pithiness. As he lay 
dying, someone asked him how he felt. He answered: "I feel as if heaven 
lay close upon the earth and I between the two, breathing through the 
eye of a needle." 


the mosque to celebrate the addition of imperial Egypt to his empire. 

Egypt was not the only empire to fall into his hands. When Khalid 
left the Euphrates front, command of the Arab guerrillas was placed 
in the hands of the Bedouin tribesman Muthana, who fought a series 
of brilliant campaigns from his headquarters at al-Hirah. Umar dis- 
trusted the Bedouins, and sent Sa'd ibn-abi-Waqqas, one of the oldest 
companions of Muhammad, perhaps the fourth to accept the faith, 
to take the command. Al-Hirah was occupied by the Sasanian general 
Rustam, and the Arabs camped in the nearby village of Qadisiyah; 
there the two armies remained, facing each other and waiting for 
reinforcements. Months passed. Neither side was prepared to begin 
the inevitable battle, and both sought for advantages. Tabari, who is 
generally accurate in essentials, tells how fourteen Arabs made their 
way to the palace at Ctesiphon and demanded of the young Persian 
Emperor, Yazdagird III, that he accept Islam and pay tribute to Ma- 
dinah. The Emperor, surprised by their effrontery, exclaimed that he 
had never in his life seen such pitiable creatures as these ambassadors, 
whose food was mice and lizards and whose clothing consisted of 
camel's hair and wool. He ordered them to return to their lands, and 
out of pity promised them provisions for the journey. He also prom- 
ised to name a governor over Arabia. At this the leader of the Mu- 
hamadan ambassadors leaped up and exclaimed: "By God, he is right! 
Hunger and nakedness were our lot in the past, but God gave us a 
Messenger and through him we have grown strong. The Caliph has 
sent us to demand that you pay tribute and accept our faith or fight." 
The Emperor said: "I will give you some earth to carry on your 
heads, and you will return with this earth to your own country." 
The fourteen ambassadors thereupon left the city, each carrying a 
sackful of earth on his head, and promising revenge. 

Revenge came in the hot summer of 637 A.D., when the imperial 
field marshal Rustam finally decided that the time had come to stamp 
out the small Muhamadan army camped at Qadisiyah, and ordered 
that the canal separating the two armies be filled up to allow the 
progress of the Persian elephants. Sa'd was ill, and directed opera- 
tions from his bed. The battle lasted three days, and most of it was 
fought during a blinding sandstorm. Arab chroniclers have divided 
the battle into three periods: the day of confusion, the day of succor, 
and the day of distress. On the first day a Syrian division stationed in 
Mesopotamia came to the relief of the hard-pressed Muhamadans, but 
did little to effect a decision. The fighting continued through the 


night, and through the night of the next day, with the Persian ele- 
phants standing like a wall against the Muhamadan cavalry, and 
Rustam in complete command o the situation, superintending the at- 
tack from his high thronelike command post. 

On the morning of the third day, about noon, when the air was 
dark with driven sand, a small band of dedicated Muhamadans 
fought their way to Rustam's command post and toppled him from 
the throne. Wounded, he was able to reach the baggage train and 
was about to drive away with the treasure when he was discovered 
and killed. The holy standards of Persia were seized; and the Per- 
sian army dissolved in panic, while all the fertile lowlands of Iraq 
lay open to the Muhamadans. 

Sa'd recovered from his illness and pushed on toward Ctesiphon, 
the fortified capital of the Sassanian empire, where Yazdagird III lived 
in a more splendid state than any emperor or king before him. In his 
White Palace there lay a great carpet made to represent a garden, 
with a border of emeralds and a centerpiece of pearls. A crown of 
solid gold set with jewels hung on chains from the roof above the 
Emperor's head. Beside the throne stood a golden horse with teeth 
of emeralds and a ruby mane. Protected by the Tigris, the city 
might have held out indefinitely, but Yazdagird, fearing assassination, 
withdrew to Hulwan at the foot of the Zagros Pass with the imperial 
treasury; and while he was escaping, six hundred Arabs hurled their 
horses across the raging river and surprised the garrison. Ctesiphon 
fell into their hands. The next day Sa'd marched through the city in 
triumph, so elated that he could not prevent himself from shouting 
the prophetic verses of the Quran: "How many the gardens they 
abandoned, and springs and rich fields and magnificent mansions 
where they lived! Even so, we gave them as a heritage to another 

Even in Alexandria there had not been such a heritage of treasure 
to be packed off to Madinah. The spoils included the solid gold 
breastplate and helmet of the Emperor, innumerable jeweled diadems 
and necklaces, and the great banner of the empire. For days the 
great maidan outside the White Palace became a market place where 
the conquerors rivaled one another in bargaining over their treasure. 
The story is told of an Arab warrior from al-Hirah who sold a 
nobleman's daughter for a thousand dirhams, and when he was 
blamed for selling her so cheaply, he replied: "I never thought 
there was a number above a thousand!" It was remembered that 


when Muhammad was escaping from Mecca, he was overtaken by a 
certain Suraqa, whose horse stumbled; and believing the stumbling 
o his horse was a sign that heaven protected the fugitive, Suraqa 
had simply begged Muhammad's pardon and allowed him to go free. 
Pleased, Muhammad replied: "I see the gold bracelets of Chosroes on 
thy wrists." When the spoils reached Madinah, Suraqa was sum- 
moned by the Caliph and the golden bracelets of Chosroes were 
placed on his wrists, so that the prophecy might be fulfilled. Other 
prophecies were remembered. At the time when the people of Madinah 
were digging a ditch to defend themselves against the Quraysh, Mu- 
hammad had dropped down into the ditch, and when he struck at 
the rocks with a pick, three times the lightning flashed from the 
tip of the pick, Salman al-Farisi had asked the meaning of the light- 
ning, and Muhammad answereed: "Did you really see that, Salman? 
The first means that God has opened up to me the Yaman; the sec- 
ond Syria and the west; and the third the east." Now the east had 
fallen into the hands of the successor of Muhammad, and no one 
knew how many hostages to fortune were being prepared. 

Umar never knew, but he may have guessed. When the spoils of 
Persia were laid at his feet, he wept and said: "I fear all this wealth 
arid luxury will in the end ruin my people." And when Ziyad, who 
had escorted the treasure to the capital, asked the Caliph's permission 
to march against Khurasan, he answered: "I would prefer to see in- 
surmountable mountains between Iraq and those other lands, so that 
they could neither attack us, nor could we attack them." But as the 
army gathered strength and speed, the momentum of victory carried 
it beyond the mountains into regions where the Caliph had little con- 
trol, and the governors of the new provinces often acted as independ- 
ent satraps, paying only lip service to Madinah. 

Umar was not always able to control his governors, but at least he 
could impose his views on social order and establish a constitution 
for the Islamic Empire. Tax moneys poured into Madinah, and from 
a hundred cities came gifts and tribute; the wealth so gathered could 
be employed in supporting a vast bureaucracy to supervise the actions 
of the conquerors, and report on them. The Caliph was assiduous 
in sending teachers of the Quran to all the provinces, and these 
teachers sometimes performed the function of political commissars. He 
built jails, organized a police force, established a census for the pur- 
pose of acquiring accurate muster rolls, and saw that the conquered 
lands were accurately surveyed so that the proper taxes could be as- 


sessed. He introduced a new code of laws based upon the legislative 
precepts in the Quran, but harsher adultery was punished by ston- 
ing, and drunkenness by eighty lashes of the whip. When his own 
son was found guilty of drunkenness, the Caliph scourged him to 

Proud and imperious, remote from the people while at the same 
time capable of acts of astonishing humility and selflessness toward 
the very poor and the sick, he laid down the law with a heavy hand. 
Muhammad had ordered that the Jews in Khaybar and the Chris- 
tians in Najran should be allowed full protection. Umar simply dis- 
regarded the treaties signed by Muhammad and expelled them to 
Syria, having come to the conclusion that only Muhamadans should 
be permitted to live in Arabia. As for the Muhamadans beyond the 
frontiers of Arabia, they were to form an embattled aristocracy whose 
sole purpose was to keep the conquered peoples in a state of perma- 
nent subjection. No Muhamadan was allowed to cultivate land out- 
side the peninsula, own property, or marry an infidel. Muhamadans 
were to be armed at all times, while infidels were never permitted to 
bear arms. An infidel must never wear the clothes of a Muhamadan, 
and must dismount whenever a Muhamadan passed him by. He 
must not pray aloud, or ring bells in church, and he must not expect 
his word to be believed against the word of a Muhamadan. In general 
the fate of the infidel was to be the silent and undemonstrative slave 
of the warrior caste, forever at the mercy of the conqueror. It was a 
simple division of the world, not unlike that envisaged by Hitler; 
and it failed because such simplicities bear in them the seeds of their 
own corruption. 

Umar himself seems to have been aware of the corruptions of 
power. Once he asked Salman al-Farisi whether he was Caliph or 
Emperor. Salman replied diplomatically that he could be called Em- 
peror only if he misappropriated money from the state treasury for 
his own use. "By God!" said Umar. "I know not whether I am Caliph 
or Emperor. And if I am Emperor, it is a fearful thing!" It was a 
strange and revealing remark from a man who lived in ostentatious 
poverty, possessing at his death when he was Emperor of half the 
known world even less than Abu Bakr possessed his total posses- 
sions amounted to one patched shirt and a mantle. 

He died as the result of an obscure quarrel over a few pennies. A 
Persian slave, a convert to Christianity, stabbed him one morning 
when he was entering the mosque, believing he had received an un- 


just verdict from the Caliph. The weapon was a double-bladed dag- 
ger, which the Persian afterward turned upon himself. The Caliph 
knew he was dying: the wounds were deep and the bowels were cut. 
He asked who had struck him, learned that it was a certain Abu 
Lu'lu'ah Firoz, a Persian, and gave thanks that he had not been 
killed by a believer. Then he summoned Ayesha and asked to be 
buried beside Muhammad, a request which Ayesha granted immedi- 
ately. A man of towering height and imposing physique, he survived 
for four more days, dying on November 23, 644 A.D. He had reigned 
for ten years, and in his reign the boundaries of Islam reached across 
North Africa and far into Asia. 

No one ever accused Urnar of being niggardly or given to nepot- 
ism, but Uthman, his successor, suffered from all the minor vices, and 
was consumed with pride. He had no flair for government, and al- 
most no understanding of the forces which Muhammad had brought 
into being. He was seventy when he came to power: old and feeble, 
with a reputation for running away from battle, rich and sanctimoni- 
ous, acutely conscious of his Umayyad ancestry, generous only to his 
innumerable relatives. 

With all his faults Umar had shown a steady hand at the helm, but 
Uthman was one of those men whose opinions were based on the 
latest voice to reach his ear; and only the voices of the Umayyad 
clan were permitted to reach him. There was something awe-inspiring 
in the extent of his nepotism. Within a decade nearly all the gover- 
norships and all the high offices of state were in the hands of his 
close relatives. The once detested Umayyads were in the seat of 

Perhaps it was not entirely his fault. Quite early he became the 
captive of the Umayyad conspiracy, which seems to have been organ- 
ized immediately after the fall of Mecca, with Abu Sufyan playing the 
role of chief conspirator while successfully ingratiating himself with 
Muhammad. Uthman began by deposing Sa'd ibn-abi-Waqqas, the 
conqueror of Persia, in favor of a near kinsman on his mother's side, 
who proved to be a drunkard and a profligate and was therefore 
flogged within an inch of his life in the public square of his own 
capital at al-Kufah, only to be succeeded by another relative, an in- 
experienced youth, who was so incompetent that he allowed the 
street rowdies to take control, and so he too had to be dismissed. 
Amr ibn-al-'As, the conqueror of Egypt, was deposed and replaced 
by Abdallah ibn-Sa'd, Uthman's foster brother. Sa'd ibn-abi-Waqqas 


disappeared into private life, tending his vast estates until the day he 
died and refusing all offers to take part in government, while Amr 
ibn-al-'As made his way to Syria, becoming the chief lieutenant of 
Muawiya, another Umayyad nobleman, who regarded Syria as his own 
private fief. 

But this was only the beginning. Umayyads were in control of the 
imperial treasury, of the police, of the annual pilgrimage, of the 
inspectorate, of the armed forces all over Arabia and beyond. Umay- 
yad influence pervaded all branches of government: nearly all the 
wealth of the empire was concentrated in their hands. Moreover, 
some of Uthman's appointments gave the impression of being delib- 
erate affronts to the memory of Muhammad. Abdallah ibn-Sa'd, the 
new governor of Egypt, was one of the ten men proscribed by 
Muhammad at the time of the conquest of Egypt, and he had been 
saved from death only by the intervention of Uthman. For a long 
time Muhammad had deliberated whether to allow the man to go 
free. Afterward one of the Companions asked him why he had delib- 
erated so long, and he answered: "I was hoping one of you would 
strike off his head!" All the wealth of Egypt belonged to this man 
who escaped death by a miracle. One of Uthman's half brothers, who 
became governor of Persia, had spat on Muhammad's face. 

Though Uthman was incompetent, the Muhamadan armies, surg- 
ing forward with the momentum acquired in the last years of Muham- 
mad's life, continued to gain victories. From Syria, Muawiya had long 
hoped to launch an expedition against Cyprus, saying that the island 
was so close that he was being kept awake at night by the barking 
of Cypriote dogs. Umar, who feared the sea, had refused his per- 
mission, but Uthman was more tolerant of naval adventures; and 
then for the first time a Muhamadan navy sailed out against a 
Byzantine naval base. Cyprus fell, and then it was the turn of Rhodes, 
which fought off the invaders, but not before losing to the Muham- 
adans the remnants of the great statue of the Sun-god designed by 
Chares of Lindos, one of the seven wonders of the world. The statue, 
which had fallen in an earthquake hundreds of years before, was 
cut up and shipped to Syria, and nothing more was ever heard of it 
except that a junk dealer was reported to have employed 900 camels 
to carry the immense bronze fragments away- 

Meanwhile the relentless expansion of Muhamadan power con- 
tinued in the east and west. Abdallah ibn-Sa'd advanced along the 
Mediterranean coast almost to Carthage, which was forced to pay 


tribute. He brought the Berbers into the Islamic fold, and fought the 
Christian Nubians in the south. In the east, Afghanistan, Turkestan 
and Khurasan were added to the empire; and the flag of Islam 
fluttered on the coast of the Black Sea. 

But while these conquests increased the power and prestige of the 
Caliph and the far-flung family of Umayyads, they were a source of 
constant quarrels in the army, where it was felt that too great a share 
of the wealth was pouring into the state treasury. Baggage trains 
filled with treasure sometimes disappeared on their way to Madinah. 
The army was disturbed, too, by the inflexible nature of the theo- 
cratic state: the revolution had stopped in mid-flight, with no at- 
tempt on the part of Uthman or his lieutenants to understand the 
new social forces at work. Uthman seems to have been conscious of 
the ever-present danger of a military coup d'etat, but he was too old 
and feeble to take proper precautions. A vast new empire had come 
into being, and a shadow governed it. 

A vigorous and gifted man might have saved the day, but Uthman 
was no Augustus Caesar throwing the mantle of his imagination over 
an entire empire. The military were in the saddle, and the best of 
them were disheartened by the evidence of constant nepotism. Uth- 
man added nothing new. The military organization of the conquered 
territories in his reign followed exactly the principles laid down by 
Abu Bakr and Umar. Taxes, pensions, public works, chains of com- 
mand, methods of communication, all these remained unchanged. 
Even Uthman's revision of the Quran, his chief claim to fame, was 
derived from a decision made by Umar, with the important difference 
that Uthman took care that Muhammad's violent attacks against the 
Umayyads were expunged, and there was much tampering of the text. 
Abdallah ibn-Masud, Muhammad's secretary, announced publicly that 
the canonical version of the Quran as revised by Uthman was a 
monstrous falsification. Unfortunately, since Uthman gave orders that 
all the copies of the Quran in the provincial libraries should be 
publicly burned, and since he took possession of the copies belonging 
to Muhammad's family and destroyed them, his version is the only 
one that has survived. 

Inevitably there were murmurings of discontent. Some, like Abu 
Dharr, raised their voices against the vast wealth of the Umayyads, 
quoting the Quran: "Ye who hoard up gold and silver and spend 
it not in the way of God, know that ye shall receive a fearful punish- 
ment." Abu Dharr was one of Muhammad's closest companions, and 


his bitter complaints were regarded so seriously that Muawiya seat 
him for trial to Madinah, where he continued to proclaim his own 
views until he was banished to an obscure town in the provinces. Ali 
remained quiet, but all over the empire, and especially in Iraq, small 
groups of his followers were proclaiming that Uthman was a usurper 
and Ali was the rightful emperor. According to them, Ali alone was 
in the direct line of apostolic succession, and he alone was worthy 
of the high position. 

The revolt, when it came, bore all the hallmarks of being hastily 
prepared by plotters who were uncertain of their aims and appalled 
by the responsibility they had assumed. The conspiracy, which seems 
to have begun in Iraq, had at first no particular aim except the 
removal of the Caliph and the Umayyad governors. Ali, who held 
himself remote from the conspirators, seems to have warned the con- 
spirators in Iraq against immediate action, but his warnings failed to 
reach Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, the son of the first Caliph, who 
was in Egypt. At the head of 500 men, Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr 
marched on Madinah, pretending to be taking part in the pilgrimage. 
Once in Madinah, they entered the mosque and demanded the resig- 
nation of the Caliph, who stoutly maintained that he had no power 
to resign, but would listen to their grievances. "I will not abdicate," 
Uthman said. "How can I throw off the mantle which God has placed 
about my shoulders?" The conspirators decided upon sterner meas- 
ures. They would prevent the Caliph from exerting his authority; 
they would prevent him from speaking; they would reduce him to 
insignificance by making him the laughingstock of the people of 
Madinah. They heckled him in the mosque and threw dust in his 
face. When these tactics failed, they threw stones at him. Covered 
with blood, the Caliph was borne unconscious out of the mosque, 
which he never entered again. 

The conspirators were divided among themselves. Some hoped the 
Caliph would resign, others that he would accept their demands and 
while retaining his title surrender his power to someone outside the 
Umayyad aristocracy. Ali, who cared nothing for the Caliph and 
little for the rebel leaders, maintained a malevolent neutrality. Ayesha, 
who detested Ali and the Caliph equally, set off for Mecca on pil- 
grimage. Her role in the conspiracy was never made clear, but her 
sudden departure at this time suggests that she was deeply impli- 
cated. As the days passed, and the Caliph remained in his house 
recovering from his wounds, the conspirators determined upon ex- 


treme measures: they would take the house by assault, kill the Caliph 
and leave the election of a new Caliph to the future. If All refused 
to become Caliph he showed every sign of refusing to come to power 
as the result of a coup d'etat they proposed to choose between 
Zubayr and Talhah, two veteran companions of Muhammad. They 
had already decided to attack the house when they observed that 
All, Zubayr and Talhah had all sent their sons to guard it. The sons 
were armed,, and prepared to fight. Undaunted, the conspirators 
determined upon a ruse. They sent some men against the youthful 
guards to distract their attention, while the armed ringleaders went 
to the house next door, climbed onto the roof, jumped across the 
gap between the two houses and let themselves down into the inner 
courtyard of the Caliph's house. Uthman was reading the Quran 
surrounded by his family. Watching him there, his assailants hesitated 
for a moment, until Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr sprang forward and 
held him by the beard, preparing to strike at his throat. Uthman was 
not alarmed. He was nearly eighty-three, and he had been expecting 
death for some time. He said quietly: "Son of my brother, if thy 
father were alive, he would know better how to treat these white 
hairs." Someone else stabbed him in the throat, and soon all the 
conspirators were stabbing wildly. Nailah, the Caliph's wife, threw 
herself on the body, and three of her fingers were cut off by a sword. 
The blood of the Caliph flowed over the page of the Quran he was 
reading. The house was pillaged. Some time later Ali entered the 
house, found Uthman dead, summoned Hasan and Husayn, asked 
them what they had done to defend the Caliph, and when their re- 
plies proved unsatisfactory Ali struck them. From Nailah he learned 
that the murderer was Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, but he seems not 
to have believed her. That night the body of the Caliph was buried 
secretly by his wife and a few friends, while the rebels celebrated 
their triumph. It was June 17, 656 AJ>. The Caliph had ruled for 
twelve years over an empire he had never seen. 

For the first time a Caliph had been murdered by members of his 
own faith, and all Madinah trembled. For five days Ali deliberated 
whether he would allow himself to become Caliph, at last accepting 
the high office only because he felt the empire would disintegrate if 
he refused. He had held aloof from the conspiracy; he knew he had 
little gift for ruling an empire; he was aging rapidly. He entered 
upon his Caliphate with foreboding, and from the very beginning he 


seems to have guessed it would end in tragedy for himself and for 
all those who were close to him. 

The election passed without incident. Leaning on his longbow, he 
received the oath of allegiance from the people of Madinah. Talhah 
and Zubayr swore to be loyal to him, and soon left for Mecca, 
where Ayesha was already secretly urging revolt. Three months later 
the town criers of Mecca were proclaiming that "the Mother of the 
Faithful and Talhah and Zubayr are riding to Basrah whoever there- 
fore desires to strengthen the faith and fight to avenge the death of 
Uthman, if he has any conveyance for riding let him come!" Talhah 
and Zubayr had fallen under Ayesha's spell, and with 3,000 Meccans, 
always hostile to Madinah, they marched toward Basrah and took 
the town by storm. 

Ali was walking through quicksands: wherever he looked, there 
was treachery and conspiracy. He appointed new governors to the 
provinces, only to discover that his appointees were enemies, and the 
old governors refused to obey his orders. He demanded the allegiance 
of Muawiya, the governor of Syria, and received in reply a letter 
which bore only the words: "In the name of God, the Merciful, the 
Compassionate " Startled, Ali asked the messenger what the words 
meant. The messenger replied: "I have seen sixty thousand men at 
the mosque at Damascus, weeping at the sight of Uthman's bloody 
shirt and cursing the murderers!" Ali was innocent, but he must have 
known that his silence at the time of the murder was regarded by 
many of the believers, especially among the still-powerful Umayyads 
as complicity in the crime. Puzzled and angry, he decided to fight. 
When his son Hasan attempted to dissuade him from leaving Madinah 
he answered: "Would you have me lurk in a hole like a wild beast 
till she is dug out?" With 900 men he marched north to save the 
empire. His evil genius, Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, the murderer of 
Uthman, rode by his side. 

When Ali set out in the hope of establishing a new capital at 
al-Kufah on the banks of the Euphrates, he was no longer the well- 
knit, muscular and clear-sighted warrior who had fought through all 
the battles which brought his father-in-law to power. At fifty-six he 
was enormously fat, completely bald, with a thick white beard reach- 
ing to his waist, and he walked slowly and ponderously. All his life 
he had been a contemplative who would arouse himself from con- 
templation to perform fantastic feats of valor; but as he grew older 


he seems to have lost his genius for war. He was still a living legend, 
but he was a legend fighting against a ghost the ghost of Uthman, 
whose bloody shirt hung in the mosque at Damascus with the three 
severed fingers of his wife pinned to it and the bloody page of the 
Quran below it. Because he refused to punish the murderers, or was 
unable to punish them, the ghost of Uthman haunted him to the end 
of his life, 

Ayesha, too, was haunted by a ghost the ghost or her husband 
Muhammad. On her way to Basrah, she came to a place called the 
Valley of Hawab, and suddenly she heard dogs howling. There were 
some Bedouins in an encampment nearby, and the dogs belonged to 
them. She screamed: "Take me away! I remember Muhammad saying 
once when he was among his wives : I wonder which one of you the 
dogs of Hawab will bark at.*' "Hawab" means "crime." Guilt plagued 
her, as it plagued AH, and she remembered the barking of the dogs 
to the end of her life. 

Ali caught up with Ayesha at Basrah, and after an abortive at- 
tempt to make peace, he joined battle with her. By this time both 
their armies had swollen, and there were about 30,000 on each side. 
At dawn on December 9, 656 AD., Ayesha took her place in the 
howdah of her camel after removing the curtains so that her soldiers 
could see her and derive what courage they could from seeing the 
wife of Muhammad leading them into battle. She fought like a tiger; 
Ali fought like a lion. Neither side gave any quarter. At the sight 
of the slaughter, Zubayr had qualms of conscience and rode off in 
the direction of Mecca, only to be discovered by one of All's fol- 
lowers, who cut off his head. Talhah, wounded in the leg, was thrown 
from his horse as he was trying to escape from the battlefield, and 
died of his wound. As the day progressed, the fiercest fighting was 
waged around Ayesha's camel, the basketwork litter, which was 
painted scarlet, bristling with arrows like the back of a porcupine. 
Seventy men were killed one after another while trying to defend 
her, until the camel was hamstrung. Then the battle came to an end, 
with 13,000 lying dead on the field. Taken prisoner, Ayesha offered 
her support to Ali, but the offer was refused. He sent her back to 
Madinah in the guard of his two sons, Hasan and Husayn, ordering 
her to meddle no more in affairs of state. So she passes out of history, 
a strange querulous woman with a passion for intrigue, dying twelve 
years later. Ali was recognized as Caliph throughout Iraq. 

There remained Muawiya, whose genius for intrigue rivaled that of 

Arab Information Center 


Arab Information Center 


Information Center 


Jordan Information Agency 


K. A. C. Creswell 


de Lorey 

Arab Information Center 



Arab Information Center 


^ o 


Arthur Upham Pope 


Arthur Upham Pope 






Encyclopaedia of Islam 


Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund 



Arthur Upham Pope 

Government oj India Tourist Office 




Government of India Tourist Office 



his father. He had a brain which moved like lightning, and he could 
wither people with a glance. Fleshy and handsome, with remarkably 
large buttocks, he was one of those who had embraced the faith only 
to increase the Umayyad name. On him there devolved the duty of 
avenging Uthman's death. 

Ali's duties were more complex, for his task was to preserve the 
empire and to ensure the continuity of the faith. Of all the surviving 
companions he alone possessed the authority to speak in the name 
of Muhammad. As he grew older his fault was that he despised the 
world and wished himself rid of all the tormenting problems which 
went with the Caliphate. "The world is carrion," he said once. "Who- 
ever wants a part of it must be satisfied to live with dogs." The most 
dangerous of the dogs he ever encountered was Muawiya, whose 
strange name means "a barking bitch." 

Months passed in futile negotiations, while Ali and Muawiya con- 
fronted one another across the Syrian desert. At last, in the spring 
of 657 A.D., Ali marched northwest to meet Muawiya's army on the 
plain of Siffin on the west bank of the Euphrates. The armies were 
well-matched, with Ali's 50,000 Iraqis confronting an equal number 
of Syrians. Neither side was anxious to begin fighting, and for some 
days the negotiations were renewed. Ambassadors were exchanged. 
There was an almost festive air about the two great encampments 
facing one another. But whenever Ali insisted on the unity of the 
empire under one Caliph, Muawiya answered : "There can be no unity 
until Uthman's murderers are punished. The sword divides us." The 
fighting when it started was halfhearted, with Ali dividing his army 
into eight divisions and making a show of fighting with only one of 
these divisions each day. They had been fighting in this indecisive 
manner for about a week when the sacred month of Muharram came 
along, and then there were more negotiations, more attempts to 
bridge the unbridgeable gap between them. The sacred month came 
to an end. There were skirmishes for a few days; then outright war, 
with the battle raging for three days and nights, and no quarter 
shown. Ali's forces were on the point of victory when the wily Amr 
ibn-al-'As, the conqueror of Egypt, decided upon a ruse. He ordered 
his spearmen to tie pages of the Quran to their spears and hold 
them aloft. This gesture was interpreted as an appeal for arbitration 
by holy men: God must be the arbiter. From the soldiers there came 
a great cry of relief, but Ali remarked bitterly that victory had been 
dashed from his hands. 


Once more there was an exchange of ambassadors, as Ali sought 
to discover exactly what was meant by this strange appeal to the 
Quran. Muawiya explained that the time had come for arbitration 
"according to the book of God": each side would choose a represent- 
ative; they would meet in some distant place; and meanwhile the 
armies would return to their bases, Muawiya's to Damascus and Ali's 
to al-Kufah. 

Within the armies weariness had set in, and both Ali and Muawiya 
seem to have been glad of the respite. Yet Ali had most to lose, for 
time had been fighting on his side. He returned to al-Kufah in a 
mood of baffled indecision, leaving to his lieutenants the work of 
arranging the arbitration conference. 

Months passed, and it was not until January, 659, that the arbiters 
met at Adhruh, halfway between Madinah and Damascus. Against his 
will Ali had been persuaded to select as representative Abu Musa, a 
man of extreme piety but no political experience. Muawiya selected 
Amr ibn-al-'As, who had spent the intervening months in Egypt 
fighting against Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, whom Ali had appointed 
to the governorship. Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr was killed, 5 and all 
of Egypt had fallen once again under the control of Muawiya. Strid- 
ing into the tent at Adhruh, Amr ibn-al-'As came as a conqueror with 
no intention of abiding by the book of God. He tricked Abu Musa 
into proclaiming that both Ali and Muawiya should be deposed from 
the Caliphate; but since Muawiya was only the governor of a pro- 
vince and had never been Caliph, and by Abu Musa's declaration was 
now placed on an equal footing with Ali, the advantages all turned 
on Muawiya. The strange conference ended with a brawl, neither 
arbiter accepting the judgment of the other. But the damage was 
done. Muawiya was master of Syria and Egypt, and time was fighting 
on his side. 

From his headquarters in al-Kufah, Ali was preparing to invade 
Syria when he learned of Amr ibn-al-'As's victory at the conference. 
Others heard of it, including some disaffected elements in the army, 
fanatics who proclaimed that Muhamadanism should return to its 

5 Muawiya's vengeance against the murderer of the Caliph Uthman was 
complete. When Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr was captured, Muawiya vowed 
he would dress him in an ass's skin and burn him alive, but he was so 
overcome by hatred and horror that he stabbed his prisoner. Aghast at 
what he had done, he then had the dead Muhammad dressed in an ass's 
skin and burned. 


primitive roots, with the Caliph elected by the votes of the faithful. 
They hated Ali as much as they hated Muawiya, for the same reasons. 
They wanted no government that was not elective; they rejected the 
doctrine of justification by faith without works; and they placed the 
seal of their approval on religious murder. Democratic, puritanical, 
hostile to nearly all forms of authority, they represented a force 
which all succeeding Caliphs had to reckon with. When 4,000 of 
these dissenters pitched camp outside al-Kufah, and then marched on 
Ctesiphon, which they sacked until the streets ran with blood, Ali 
knew that the invasion of Syria would have to be postponed. At the 
obscure village of Baghdad, later to become the capital of the Ab- 
basid empire, Ali caught up with them. The dissenters' camp lay 
along the Nahrawan Canal, and there the battle was fought which 
put an end for a while to armed resistance by the dissenters. Ali re- 
turned in triumph to al-Kufah only to discover that his whole army 
was disaffected, and the invasion of Syria had to be indefinitely post- 

He had only a few more months to live. Almost he was a prisoner 
in a town given over to treachery and conspiracy. At the end of 
May, 660, Muawiya proclaimed himself Caliph in Jerusalem, and Ali 
could only watch the emergence of his rival from a distance. At dawn 
on January 24, 661, Ali was leaving his house when he heard the 
sudden honking of geese belonging to some children. One of his 
servants wanted to chase the geese away. "Let them cry," AH said. 
"They are weeping for my funeral." He was making his way down a 
narrow passageway leading to the mosque when he was attacked with 
a poisoned sword by a certain Abdal Rahman ibn-Muljam, who had 
sworn to pay a bride-price for his wife of 3,000 drachmas of silver, 
a slave, a maid and Ali's head. The sword penetrated Ali's brain, but 
he lingered for three more days in great pain. Carried to his own 
house, he summoned his assassin and ordered Hasan to keep guard 
over him. Almost his last request was to instruct his followers to 
treat the assassin mercifully: there must be no torture; he must be 
well-fed and comfortably accommodated; and if the Caliph died, then 
Abdul Rahman must be executed with a single clean stroke of the 
sword. 6 

So died Ali after a troubled reign of a little more than five years. 

6 Masudi says the clean death was not given to him. His hands and 
feet were cut off, then red-hot nails were thrust into his eyes, and he was 
finally roasted to death. 


He was the last Arabian Caliph, the last of the companions of 
Muhammad to rule over the empire. Many titles and many great of- 
fices of state had fallen to him, but the title he preferred most was 
"Abu Turab," meaning "Father of the dust," which Muhammad had 
given him after seeing him stretched out at full length on the dusty 
floor of the mosque, and the greatest of his offices of state was to 
act as Muhammad's perpetual champion. Like Abu Bakr and Umar 
he died in poverty, his personal estate amounting to only 600 
dirhems. On the night of his death Hasan went to the mosque and 
addressed the people of al-Kufah. He said: "You have killed a man 
on the same night as the Quran descended from Heaven, and Jesus 
(upon whom be peace) was lifted up to Heaven, and Joshua the 
son of Nun was laid low. By God, none of his predecessors ex- 
ceeded him, and none of his successors will ever equal him!" It was 
no more than the truth. 

Dead, Ali was more alive than ever, recovering in a day everything 
he had lost. He became a canonized martyr and saint, the mediator 
between God and man, the divine exemplar and the perfect knight of 
the faith. Among the Shi'a Muhamadans he assumed a place even 
higher than Muhammad as the guardian of the gates of Heaven and 
the closest of God's companions. Some saw divinity incarnate in his 
person, and said that blessings flowed from him. His defects of in- 
dolence and political immaturity, his stubbornness and senseless de- 
votion to treacherous friends, were forgotten, or regarded as virtues. 
They remembered him as a man whose supreme achievements on 
earth were only equaled by his supreme achievements in Heaven. The 
Persians especially demanded in their religious heroes the blaze of 
glory, a divine radiance; and in the etherealized figure of the martyred 
Ali they found their savior. 

At the time of his death none of his followers had any conception 
of the heights he would attain. He was buried obscurely outside the 
town, close by the dyke which protected the town walls from the 
inundations of the Euphrates; and for many decades the site of his 
tomb was unmarked. In 977 A.D. the Persians erected a sumptuous 
mosque above the place where they believed he was buried. For mil- 
lions of Shi'a Muhamadans this place is more sacred than the tomb 
of Muhammad in Madinah or the Kaaba in Mecca. 

The Caliphs of Damascus 


_n those days Damascus was still a Hellenistic city 
filled with Greek statues and Christian churches and wide avenues 
divided by rows of Corinthian columns. From their marble arcades 
shopkeepers sold damask cloth and damascene blades, and along the 
roads paved with amber-colored limestone passed all the caravans of 
the East. No city in Syria was wealthier, or more licentious, or so 
given to trade; and no other city in the world was so well-favored 
with running streams and canals. The gardens were a riot of color 
with so many flowers that the Arab chroniclers grew weary of listing 
them, and the air tasted like wine. From the southwest the snow- 
capped heights of Mount Hermon looked down upon a city so un- 
believably beautiful that many, including Muhammad, are reported 
to have hesitated before entering it, afraid of entering Paradise too 

As he sat in his palace a stone's throw from the great Church of 
St. John the Baptist, Muawiya may have reflected on the strange turn 
of events which had brought him, the son of Abu Sufyan, to power. 
The Umayyads had hoped to kill Muhammad and strangle the faith 
of birth; instead, without exerting themselves, employing patience 
and cunning as their weapons, they had acquired the title deeds of 
the faith and the worship of the faithful. Those who had fought 
Muhammad had inherited the empire which Muhammad had built. 
It had all happened so effortlessly, in so brief a time, that he might 
have been excused if he had trembled at the thought of the appalling 
responsibilities he had assumed. But there was no reason to tremble. 
The empire was at peace. There were no rivals in sight. Ali was dead; 
his sons Hasan and Husayn possessed only a handful of followers; 
and most of the surviving companions of Muhammad were hurrying 
to Damascus to pay tribute in the name of the Messenger of God to 
a prince who believed only in his own magnificence. 

Muawiya was the perfect type of the Machiavellian condottiere. 



Handsome, elegant and suave, delighting in luxury and power, amused 
by his own behavior and capable of surprising acts of toleration, 
outwardly warm but possessed of an inner core of cold steel, he was 
in every way the opposite of Muhammad, whose secretary for a 
short time he had once been. There was no fanaticism in him. He 
was cruel with the casual cruelty of a snake which strikes at every- 
thing in his path, but on occasion he could be gentle as a woman. 
There was a streak of femininity in him. He was the same age as 
Ali, and therefore about sixty when he became Caliph, but he looked 
younger. From the beginning of his Caliphate he decided that the 
empire was to be enjoyed. 

Surprisingly, he was a good ruler, quick to reward the deserving, 
always listening carefully to his advisers before making up his own 
mind, his brilliance never at war with his judgment. Sitting cross- 
legged on a throne covered with richly embroidered cushions, he 
sometimes gave the impression of being asleep when he was wide 
awake. He had few vices. He liked women, wine and song, but in 
moderation. Of all the Caliphs of the dynasty he founded, he was the 
one who suffered least from his conscience, though he committed the 
most crimes. His forbearance was famous, and he was the first 
Caliph known to crack jokes with his subjects. When a certain 
Khuraym came to audience with his lower garments tucked up, show- 
ing well-turned legs, Muawiya said: "By God, if only those legs were 
on a woman!" "The same for your buttocks, Prince of the True 
Believers," replied Khuraym, and went unpunished. 

Though Muawiya shows an astonishing modern temper in his 
mingling of indolent ease and efficient ruthlessness, he remained a man 
of his own time. Beneath the silks and damasks he remained essen- 
tially an Arab at war with the incomprehensible civilized world, 
hating Byzantium with an inextinguishable passion, employing Chris- 
tians in his service only because he needed them as scribes and teach- 
ers and government officials, and because he could himself learn from 
them. His aim, like Muhammad's, was to conquer the whole world. 

During the twenty years of his reign he waged war, often simulta- 
neously, on three immense battlefronts against the East, against 
Byzantium and against Africa. His first task when he came to the 
throne was to destroy Ali's son Hasan, who had assumed the Cali- 
phate at al-Kufah in the place of his martyred father. Hasan, a man 
without convictions who had spent his life making and unmaking in- 
numerable marriages a hundred are recorded, and some two hun- 


dred others are suspected was an easy prey, especially after being 
wounded by malcontents in his own capital. Muawiya disposed of 
him by bribery, sending him a letter acknowledging that the grand- 
son of Muhammad had claims to the Caliphate, but pointing out that 
he, Muawiya, possessed greater skill in managing men. Enclosed with 
the letter was a blank sheet bearing Muawiya's signature, on which 
Hasan was invited to write out the details of the bribe. Hasan asked 
for himself a pension of five million dirhems and the revenues of a 
district in Persia, and for his brother Husayn, whom he detested, a 
pension of two million dirhems. In the agreement finally drawn up 
between Muawiya and Hasan, it was explicitly stated that the Cal- 
iphate should revert to the family of Muhammad on Hasan's death. 
And when Hasan died ten years later of consumption in the obscurity 
of his small palace in Madinah, Muawiya, who had never intended to 
abide by the agreement, simply disregarded it. He had already decided 
to found a dynasty, with his son Yazid as his successor. 

Hasan dead was more dangerous to Muawiya than he had ever 
been alive. There grew up the legend that he had been killed by one 
of his wives, who washed his body one night with a poisoned napkin. 
The woman was said to be in the pay of Muawiya. In time the easy- 
living Hasan, who was said to bear an extraordinary resemblance to 
his grandfather, came ,to be known as "the saiyid [prince] of all 

With Hasan no longer a contender for power, Muawiya was free to 
launch the series of great campaigns which brought his armies to the 
frontiers of China, along the whole coast of northern Africa and to 
the walls of Constantinople. Only four years after he came to the 
throne his ships, sailing from Tyre, raided Sicily. He established a 
naval base at Cyzicus on the Sea of Marmora. In 669, and again in 
674, Muhamadan armies fought against the Byzantines in sight of 
Constantinople, only to be thrown back by the mysterious weapon 
known as "Greek fire," of which the secret is still unknown. From 
Basrah his armies advanced through Khurasan and deep into Trans- 
oxiana, where the ancient cities of Balkh and Herat, later to become 
brilliant centers of Islamic culture, were first introduced to the faith. 
The most resourceful of these campaigns led his armies to the At- 

Under Uthman the Arabs had already advanced as far as Carthage, 
but when Amr ibn-al-'As was forced to withdraw as a result of the 
civil wars the small Arab garrisons were soon overwhelmed by the 


Byzantines, who retained command of the seas and could bring up 
forces along the African coast without warning. Muawiya was deter- 
mined to secure if possible the whole of north Africa. Uqbah ibn- 
Nafi, the nephew of Amr, the conqueror of Egypt, was given the task 
of consolidating the African empire. By 670 he controlled most of 
modern Tunisia, and in that year he founded the fortified military 
colony at Qayrawan, later to become a great and important city. He 
leveled the surrounding forests and set up a chain of military posts, 
to prevent the marauding Berbers from infiltrating into northern 
Tunisia and to keep the Byzantines at bay. He was recalled, but 
twelve years later, when Berbers and Byzantines were again attempt- 
ing to overrun his military posts, he was sent out once more as gov- 
ernor of Africa. This time he decided to make a show of force, and 
advanced into Morocco. It was a dangerous journey, for the Greeks 
hung about his flanks and cut off stragglers, and the Berbers threat- 
ened to cut off his retreat. When he reached the Atlantic, Uqbah was 
disturbed by the thought that he could go no further. He spurred 
his horse into the sea, raised his hands to heaven and exclaimed: 
"Almighty God, but for this sea I would have gone into still remoter 
regions, spreading the glory of Thy name and smiting Thine en- 

The brilliant march of Uqbah and the crushing blows he inflicted 
on the Byzantines and the Berbers had the effect of keeping the coun- 
try quiet for no more than a few months. In the following year, when 
he was encamped at Tahudah on the edge of the Sahara, a horde of 
Berbers, issuing from the mountains and valleys of the Atlas, poured 
upon the camp and massacred nearly everyone in it. Uqbah fought 
to the end. He broke the scabbard of his sword as a sign that he ex- 
pected no quarter, and charged into his enemies. A handful of sur- 
vivors made their way to Egypt. 

In all his campaigns Muawiya and his lieutenants showed an aston- 
ishing resilience. They dared what no one had dared before, fighting 
offensive campaigns on three widely separated fronts. The old forms 
of Arab warfare were abandoned in favor of formations which fol- 
lowed the Byzantine model; the solid square gave way to the phalanx, 
protected by cavalry on the wings. Arab and Byzantine armor were so 
alike that it was hard to distinguish between them in battle, and they 
employed the same weapons. The armies of Muawiya had little in 
common with the armies that moved across Arabia in the time of 
Muhammad. So, too, with the naval forces. In shipyards abandoned 


by tie Byzantines, Muawiya found the models for the ships which he 
sent against Constantinople. He adapted and transformed whatever 
he found at hand in a ceaseless experiment with novelty. Unlike 
Uthman, he did not view society in terms of an unchangeable divi- 
sion between believers and infidels, but permitted and encouraged 
infidels to hold high posts in the government. The family of the 
Sarjunids, from which St. John of Damascus was descended, was 
placed in charge of the treasury, and all its members were Christians. 
The court poet Akhtal was a Christian; and in this tolerant age it 
was not thought remarkable that he should be led in a robe of 
honor through the streets of Damascus while a herald proclaimed: 
"Behold the poet of the Commander of the Faithful! Behold the 
greatest of all Arabian poets!" Akhtal would appear at court dressed 
in sumptuous silks with a gold cross hanging round his neck from a 
gold chain, wine drops trickling down his beard. Muawiya delighted 
in the poet who proclaimed in magnificent verse that everlasting glory 
attended the Umayyad dynasty. "I am the first of the kings," Muawiya 
said once. He was also the first of the innovators. 

As a king he felt it his duty to live in a state rivaling the Emperors 
of Byzantium, and his glittering court followed the Byzantine model, 
with one important difference. Where the Byzantine Emperor re- 
mained remote from the people behind an impregnable barrier of 
officials, Muawiya threw the doors wide open. He held his first audi- 
ence, attended by his ministers, at breakfast. Then he proceeded to 
the mosque, where anyone who wanted to see him could approach 
him with petitions the poor, the destitute, women, children, wander- 
ing Arabs from the desert. He would enquire into their needs, order 
gifts of money to be given to the deserving and send officials to make 
enquiries in cases where summary justice was not desirable. Then he 
returned to the palace and held court, with more petitioners entering 
while lunch was being served. The historian Masudi says as many as 
forty petitioners came to the throne during lunch and they shared 
the Caliph's meal. Lunch was followed by noonday prayers at the 
mosque. Afterward the Caliph returned to the palace for another 
audience with his ministers, serving them with pastries and sugared 
curd tarts. This audience went on to the middle of the afternoon, 
when the Caliph recited the afternoon prayer and retired. No peti- 
tioners were admitted at the evening audience, when supper was 
served. These evening audiences sometimes continued long into the 
night; and when at last the Caliph went to bed, he was often sleep- 


less and spent the night listening to poets and secretaries who had 
memorized whole chapters of historical books. He especially liked 
the chapters which dealt with the secret stratagems of kings. 

It is a pity that no portraits of Muawiya have survived. This 
amused, tolerant, infinitely gentle and infinitely treacherous king 
seems to gaze at us across the pages o history with an air of mockery. 
He was the supreme realist. He said once: "I do not use my sword 
when my whip will do; nor my whip when my tongue will do. Let a 
single hair still bind me to my people, I will not let it break. When 
they pull, I loosen; and if they loosen, I pull." When he lay dying at 
the age of eighty, he asked that he should be buried with some hairs 
of Muhammad and a paring of his nail. "And when you have done 
that," he said, "leave me alone with the Most Merciful of the merci- 
ful." It was perhaps no more than an amused tribute to the God who 
had given him so much unexpected magnificence. 

His successor was Yazid, his son by his Christian wife Maysun, 
who was a gifted poetess. Yazid was an amiable prince with a talent 
for music and poetry which he inherited from his mother, and a 
strange awkward ruthlessness, unlike the cultivated ruthlessness of 
his father. A contemporary Christian chronicler, Isidore of Hispalis, 
said that he had an extremely happy nature jucundissimus and 
wished to live peacefully with all men. Except for a brief appearance 
at the siege of Constantinople, where he distinguished himself by his 
reckless bravery, he spent most of his life among the royal hunting 
lodges. He was the first Caliph to employ cheetahs at the hunt, and 
the only Caliph of whom it was related that he was drunk every day. 
The three-year reign of the jocund prince was an unrelieved tragedy. 

The deft hand of Muawiya had kept the empire at peace, but with 
his death there was hardly anyone in Damascus who could not fore- 
see the coming storm. On his deathbed Muawiya had foreseen the 
danger that would come from Arabia. He summoned Yazid to his 
bedside and said: "The restless people of Iraq will encourage Husayn 
to attempt the empire. Defeat him, but afterward deal gently with 
him, for truly the blood of the Messenger of God runs through his 
veins. It is Abdallah ibn-Zubayr I fear most. He is fierce as a lion and 
crafty as a fox, and must be destroyed root and branch!" Muawiya's 
fear of Abdallah ibn-Zubayr was justified. Son of Zubayr and grand- 
son of Abu Bakr, he was a determined warrior, an undying enemy of 
the Umayyads and the one man after Husayn whom the people of 
Madinah wanted to elevate to the Caliphate. 

When Yazid came to the throne, he sent ambassadors to Madinah 


to demand the allegiance of Husayn and Abdallah. Allegiance was re- 
fused. In al-Kufah, where Ali and Hasan had proclaimed themselves 
Caliphs, there arose a movement to install Husayn as the legitimate 
Caliph in opposition to Yazid. For weeks Husayn debated with 
himself and with his family whether to accept the offer of the Kufans, 
who promised to place an army at his disposal. He sent a messenger 
to al-Kufah to sound out the people, and learned too late that the 
messenger had been murdered. By September he was already on his 
way, riding at the head of a pathetic group of relatives and family 
retainers across the desert. Some soldiers joined him on the road, 
until his small force numbered perhaps two hundred men and boys, 
and another hundred women and girls. He seems to have known he 
was doomed, but he marched straight to the walls of al-Kufah, and 
there outside the walls he received news for the first time that his mes- 
senger had been decapitated, and the headless body had been thrown 
from the roof of the palace. The head was sent to Yazid. 

Ubaydallah ibn-Ziyad, a nephew of Muawiya, was governor of Iraq 
with orders to take Husayn dead or alive. He had established out' 
posts on the roads leading to the city; there was a reward for the 
head of Husayn, and the cavalry patroled the roads ceaselessly. 
Thinking to avoid the patrols, and to put them off the scent, Husayn 
skirted al-Kufah and marched northwest. One night a ghostly horse- 
man rode up to him and said: "Men travel by night, and their des- 
tinies travel by night towards them." It was a dream, but a strangely 
convincing one. And when destiny finally caught up with him, it was 
not at night but in broad daylight, the fires burning, a river flowing 
nearby, and his men dying of thirst. 

On October i, Husayn's small column reached the plain of Kar- 
bala, on the western bank of the Euphrates about twenty-five miles 
northwest of al-Kufah, on the edge of the desert. Here he pitched 
his tents beside the reeds and tamarisks, to await the arrival of the 
cavalry patrol he had seen in the distance. It was led by a man who 
had sworn to kill Husayn with his own hands. He rode up to the 
camp and, speaking in the name of Yazid, demanded Husayn's im- 
mediate surrender and promised the protection of the Caliph. If 
Husayn did not surrender, the army had orders to destroy him and 
everyone in his camp. Husayn asked permission to give his decision 
the next day. This was granted to him. Most of the patrol kept watch 
on the camp during the night, while a messenger was sent to 

That night Husayn gave orders to cord the tents close together so 


that the enemy would not be able to pass between them. The next 
morning Ubaydallah rode up to accept Husayn's surrender; but 
Husayn still retained some o his old authority. He made a speech 
and suggested that there were alternatives to surrender. There were 
three alternatives: he could return quietly to Madinah, or he could 
be sent to Damascus under safe-conduct, or since these two alterna- 
tives might be regarded as favoring his own interests he could go 
into exile in some obscure frontier post on the Turkish border. He 
refused to surrender without a guarantee of safety for his women, and 
while the negotiations went on during the day, he spent the nights 
debating with his followers how they could escape from the trap. 
By the tenth day Ubaydallah had sent up his entire army of 4,000 
men under the command of Urnar, the son of Sa'd ibn-abi-Waqqas. 
Husayn was surrounded on all sides. He had made the mistake of 
pitching his tents some distance from the river, and now Ubaydallah's 
archers stood between the river and the tents. 

There had been skirmishes, sudden flares of anger which resulted 
in brief engagements, but there was no battle until the tenth day, 
when Husayn rejected Ubaydallah's final ultimatum. As usual the 
battle began with single combats : in these Husayn's men were victori- 
ous. Emboldened by the success of his champions, dazed by the heat 
and suffering from thirst, Husayn ordered a charge after first putting 
fire to a barricade of tamarisk branches and so safeguarding his rear. 
For about an hour there was confused fighting, with Husayn's men 
fighting with the courage of despair; and when Umar ibn-Sa'd or- 
dered his men to pull down the tents, Husayn wheeled on these foot 
soldiers who dared to come near his women and slaughtered them to 
a man. But if Husayn could use fire, so could the enemy. Flaming 
brands were tossed at the tents, and javelins were hurled into them. 
The women ran out screaming. Above the roar of the conflagration, 
Husayn was heard shouting: "You shall burn in hotter flames than 
these you shall burn in hell fire!" 

Then it was noon and the time of prayer, while everyone knelt and 
proclaimed the greatness of God, whose only Messenger was the 
grandfather of Husayn. The remnants of Husayn's shattered column 
were gathered together, to implore the aid of Heaven. Husayn recited 
"the prayer of fear," which is never used except in cases of extreme 
danger. A moment later the fighting was renewed, with all the ad- 
vantages of number and position belonging to the enemy. From a 
safe distance Umar ibn-Sa'd's archers picked off the few survivors one 


by one. Husayn was covered with wounds, but still fighting. When a 
sword thrust split his helmet, he threw the helmet away, bound his 
head in a turban and continued fighting. During a lull he sat at the 
door of his tent, taking his son Abdallah on his knees. He was fon- 
dling the boy, who was only one year old, when an arrow from one 
of the distant archers pierced the boy's ear and penetrated the brain, 
killing him instantly. Husayn was half mad with grief. He filled his 
hands with blood from the boy's wound and flung it to the heavens, 
praying for aid. He was suffering from thirst, and called out to his 
women for water. A little water was brought to him. He was drinking 
when an arrow buried itself in his mouth. He fell to the ground, and 
while he was groaning one of his nephews ran out of the tent to con- 
sole him. The boy was very handsome, with jewels in his ears, and 
the favorite among all his nephews. A horseman rode up, cut off the 
boy's arm with a swinging saber, and then rode away to safety. 

Husayn was now alone on the field, for all the men and boys who 
had fought with him were by now dead or wounded. The enemy was 
making sport with him. For them it was a sweet victory, to be savored 
as long as possible. He was entirely at their mercy as he stood there 
at the door of his tent, while the women sobbed and the tamarisks 

Suddenly, as though hurled forward by the impetus of despair, 
Husayn rushed at the enemy, determined to kill as many as possible 
before he was himself killed. He broke through their lines as though 
they were chaff. He was bleeding from a deep head wound and from 
the mouth and from many other wounds, but no one could stop him. 
At last one of the enemy soldiers thrust at his shoulder, almost sever- 
ing an arm. Husayn continued fighting for a little while longer. A 
sword blow at the neck knocked him to the ground. He fell on his 
face, and as he lay there a spear was driven into his back, and a mo- 
ment later his head was cut off. From the time when he dashed from 
the tent to the time when his head was cut off, only a few minutes 
passed. "It was very short," one of the enemy soldiers said later. "Just 
time to slay and dress a camel, or take a short nap." 

Guilty men attempt to obliterate the evidence of their crimes. So 
Ubaydallah gave orders that the headless trunk should be stripped, 
and the dead Caliph's shirt and underclothes, his corselet, turban 
and sword, were divided among the soldiers who had helped to kill 
him. Then Ubaydallah ordered his horsemen to ride over the naked 
body, trampling it underfoot until it was unrecognizable. But before 


this was done one of his men took careful note of the wounds. Ac- 
cording to Masudi, there were twenty-three wounds from spears and 
thirty-four from swords. The body was left on the field for the daws 
to peck at. 

The head, however, was carefully preserved according to Arab 
custom, to be shown to Yazid. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, 
that when Yazid saw it, he brought his fist against the dead mouth, 
bruising it with his heavy rings. A certain Abu Barzah standing 
nearby was heard to say: "Gently, O Caliph! Have I not seen those 
very lips kissed by the Messenger of God?" 

The subsequent history of the head has puzzled historians. Ac- 
cording to one report it was given to Husayn's sister, who carried it 
with her to Madinah and buried it in the grave of her mother Fatima, 
the daughter of Muhammad. Others say that it was placed in the 
tomb at Karbala which later became his shrine, and has remained 
there to the present day. In the most sacred mosque in Cairo, known 
as the Mosque of Hasan and Husayn, a head deep below the 
pavement under the dome is said to be Husayn's. It is said that the 
head was brought to Cairo in 1153 A.D. from Ascalon, and for some 
years was kept in the Caliph's palace. Contemporary travelers speak 
of the great treasures of gold and silver squandered on embellishing 
the mosque. Damascus also claims the head, for in the eastern end 
of the great Umayyad Mosque there is a small chamber where the 
head is supposed to lie, concealed by a black silk curtain and enclosed 
in a silver niche. Not far away lies the Shrine of St. John Baptist, 
which perhaps contains the head of the Baptist. 

Yazid had defeated Husayn, but he had still to defeat Abdallah 
ibn-Zubayr, who defied the Caliph from his sacred asylum at Mecca. 
Abdallah ibn-Zubayr had encouraged Husayn to take the dangerous 
journey to al-Kufah. He was a man of violent temper and great de- 
termination, and he saw that the time was ripe for destroying the 
Caliphate at Damascus. By stirring up the people of Mecca and Madi- 
nah against the local governor appointed by Muawiya, he was able 
to bring about the recall of the governor and the appointment of 
another more sympathetic to his claims. Yazid, however, recognized 
the signs of the coming rebellion and to forestall it sent an army of 
12,000 Syrians under the command of the one-eyed general Muslim 
ibn-Uqbah, the son of the conqueror of Africa. In August, 683, Mus- 
lim, an old man and close to death, camped on the Harrah, the lava 
fields north of the city, and a few days later met the Madinese army 


and defeated it. He showed no mercy. For three days his soldiers were 
permitted to rape and pillage and destroy. The mosque of Muham- 
mad was turned into a stable; colleges, hospitals and public buildings 
were destroyed. Abdallah ibn-Zubayr escaped to Mecca, but those 
who fought with him and failed to escape in time were either exe- 
cuted or branded on the neck. Madinah, which had been the capital 
of the empire until 660 A.D., in less than twenty-five years became a 

Madinah destroyed, the Syrians marched on to Mecca, where Ab- 
dallah ibn-Zubayr had already proclaimed himself Caliph and Com- 
mander of the Faithful. The Syrians took the heights overlooking 
Mecca, set up ballistas and mangonels, and hurled stones and pots 
filled with flaming pitch into the city. During the bombardment the 
Kaaba was burned to the ground, and the Black Stone split into 
three pieces. The Kaaba resembled "the torn bosoms of mourning 
women," says Tabari, meaning perhaps that the ruins were thick with 
the blood of the Meccans who had pitched their tents around it in 
the hope of being able to defend it. Abdallah wrapped the three 
pieces of the Black Stone in brocade and kept it in his house. The 
siege was raised when runners brought the news that Yazid had died, 
apparently of consumption, on November 10. He was succeeded by 
his young son, Muawiya II, who died of the plague less than two 
months later. 

In its plight Damascus turned to another branch of the Umayyad 
family for a Caliph to set against the anti-Caliph Abdallah ibn- 
Zubayr. They chose the venerable Marwan ibn-Hakam, who had been 
Uthman's secretary and who had been severely wounded during the 
attack on Uthman's house, but whose principal claim to the affections 
of Damascus was that he was the head of the Umayyad house. He 
was a short and ponderous man with a high color, and he had mod- 
eled himself on Uthman; and no one knows whether he would have 
made a good Caliph, for he died nine months later. In a single 
year three Caliphs had died, and all of them brought ruin on their 

Abd-al-Malik, the son of Marwan, was made of sterner stuff. News 
of his elevation to the Caliphate came to him when he was reading 
the Quran. He immediately closed the book, whispered, "This is our 
last time together," and went to the palace for his inauguration. For 
the next twenty-one years he fought tenaciously to preserve the em- 


He was a man without affability, precise, murderous, dedicated only 
to the preservation of the empire. They called him "the sweat o a 
stone/* because he was avaricious, and "the father of flies," because 
his bad breath was reputed to kill the flies that settled on his lips. 
One day he announced from the throne: "I am weary of being told 
to fear God. I shall smite the neck of the next person who warns me 
against God's punishments on Caliphs." He was the first of the Cal- 
iphs to rule with absolute power, the first to prohibit talking in his 
presence, the first who was never known to smile. 

When he came to the throne, half the empire acknowledged the 
anti-Caliph Abdallah ibn-Zubayr, the Byzantines were attacking from 
the west, Africa was in revolt, Damascus was seething with unrest, 
and even in Syria there were armies moving against him. Ruthlessly 
Abd-al-Malik set about restoring order. He threw back the Byzan- 
tines; crushed the uprising in Syria; stormed Iraq; sent a punitive 
expedition to Mecca; destroyed the power of Abdallah ibn-Zubayr, 
who was killed while defending the Kaaba for the second time after 
thirteen years of independence; and by a series of brilliant campaigns 
in north Africa fought against a mysterious sorceress known to Arab 
chroniclers only as "the woman who makes spells," he recaptured 
Africa. His armies penetrated into Afghanistan and deep into the 
Sahara. He was a conqueror who possessed no other virtue than his 
truthfulness. Asked why he waged war so mercilessly, he replied: "I 
enjoy it!" 

His chief lieutenant in the wars against Arabia and Iraq was a 
former schoolmaster from Taif called Hajjaj ibn-Yusuf, who also en- 
joyed making war. He was only thirty-one when he quelled a rebellion 
in al-Kuf ah with no more assistance than that provided by the twelve 
cameleers who accompanied him on a secret journey to the city. 
Hajjaj rode straight to the mosque, disguising himself by allowing 
his turban to fall over his face. No one knew he was coming. He was 
the most feared man in the empire. He rode straight to the mosque, 
tore the turban from his face and made a speech which terrified the 
people standing in the mosque and which even in translation can send 
shivers down the spine. He began by quoting two verses by the poet 
Suhaym ibn Wathil, and then launched into a ferocious judgment on 
his enemies: 

"I am he that scattereth the darkness and climbeth the heights: 
As I lift the turban from my face, ye shall know me!" 


O people of al-Kufah! I see before me heads ripe for the har- 
vest and the reaper; and verily I am the man to do it. Already I 
see the blood between the turbans and the beards. 

The Prince of the True Believers has spread before him the ar- 
rows of his quiver and found in me the cruellest of all arrows, 
of sharpest steel and strongest wood. I warn you, if you depart 
from the paths of righteousness, I shall not brook your careless- 
ness, nor listen to your excuses. You Iraquis are rebels and trai- 
tors, the dregs of dregs! I am not a man to be frightened by an 
inflated bag of skin, nor need anyone think to squeeze me like 
dry figs! I have been chosen because I know how to act. There- 
fore beware, for it is in my power to strip you like bark from 
the tree, to pull off your branches as easily as one pulls off the 
branches of the selamah tree, to beat you as we beat the camels 
which wander away from the caravans, and grind you to powder 
as one grinds wheat between mill-stones! For too long you have 
marched along the road of error. I am Hajjaj ibn-Yusuf, a man 
who keeps his promises, and when I shave I cut the skin! So let 
there be no more meetings, no more useless talk, no more ask- 
ing: "What is happening? What shall we do?" 

Sons of prostitutes, learn to look after your own affairs. . . . 
Learn that when my sword once issues from its scabbard, it will 
not be sheathed, come winter, come summer, till the Prince of 
the True Believers with God's help has straightened every man 
of you that walks in error, and felled every man of you that lifts 
his head! 1 

In such terms had Muhammad spoken in the days of his rage, but 
never with such concentrated venom, such glory in destruction, such 
power to kill by words alone. Hajjaj belongs to the small band of 
destructive conquerors, glorying in bloodshed, who have descended 
at intervals to haunt the world. That he was the pure nihilist, a man 
who believed in nothing, is suggested by his famous phrase: "God 

1 There are minor variants in the speech, and I have here followed 
Masudi. It is possible that none of the recorded versions represent ex- 
actly what Hajjaj said. The speech, for all its violence, has the air of a 
set piece carefully revised by a scholar who may have heard the speech 
and recast it in literary form. Whoever wrote it shared Hajjaj's peculiar 
nihilism, his contempt for the world and all who live in it. The speech 
has become an Arabic classic and is eagerly studied by schoolboys. 


wrote upon this world the word annihilation, and on the world to 
come He wrote eternity" Once, when someone accused him of being 
an infidel, he laughed and for a long time debated with himself 
whether it was worth while executing a man who had spoken so 
truthfully. Masudi says his whole life was like a trail of blood, and 
among his victims, not counting the innumerable soldiers who died 
in his wars, were 120,000 innocent men and women. At his death 
his prisons were choked with 80,000 prisoners, and Masudi notes 
as a sign of his especial inhumanity that "six thousand of these pris- 
oners were completely naked and made to shift for themselves." As 
he lay dying at the age of fifty-four of cancer of the stomach, having 
been virtual ruler of the empire for nearly twenty years, the former 
schoolmaster from Taif is supposed to have said: "Pardon my sins, O 
God, and grant me a kingdom such as none will enjoy after me." 

Reading the chroniclers of the Umayyad empire, one is continually 
being reminded of Elizabethan England or the age of the Italian 
despots. Horsemen robed in splendid silk ride out to massacre de- 
fenseless villagers. Luxury, almost too great to be borne, sits cheek 
by jowl with intolerable poverty. Blood flows; heads are impaled on 
gibbets; there is treachery everywhere. While murderous intrigues oc- 
cupy the attention of the court and empires rise and fall, the Em- 
peror himself is writing the most exquisite poetry and ordering the 
construction of buildings of unearthly beauty. 

The Caliph Abd-al-Malik himself may have been responsible for 
the design of the greatest building erected during his reign the ex- 
quisitely beautiful Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-SatyraK), built on 
the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. According to con- 
temporary chroniclers, Abd-al-Malik himself designed the small 
treasurehouse known as the Dome of the Chain (Qubbat al-Silsilah) , 
which lies close to the Dome of the Rock, and this design, immensely 
magnified, was employed by the architects in building the great shrine- 
temple which rises high above Jerusalem. 

Here on the summit of Mount Moriah, where the Jews built the 
Altar of Burnt Offering, destroyed by the Romans during the sack of 
70 A.D., and where Justinian later built a church dedicated to Mary, 
Abd-al-Malik built a monument to himself bearing a famous Kufic 
inscription in yellow and blue mosaic around the base of the dome: 
The Servant of God Abd-alMali\, Commander of the Faithful, built 
this dome in the year Seventy-two. May God find favor in him and 
bless him. Amen. He had reason to be proud of his handiwork. It is 


one of the four or five truly noble buildings in the world, to be com- 
pared with the Parthenon, the Masjid-i-Shah in Isfahan and the Taj 

In its origins, however, the Dome on the Rock was a political 
device. Mecca was in the hands of the anti-Caliph Abdallah ibn-Zu- 
bayr, and Abd-al-Malik was concerned that the faithful should possess 
in the territory he ruled an object of veneration as important as 
the Kaaba. Such an object lay ready at hand in the huge mass of black 
rock, its surface scored like a breaking wave, which for untold cen- 
turies had reposed on top of the highest hill in Jerusalem. Legends had 
accumulated around this rock. Here Abraham, the father of the Arabs, 
had almost sacrificed Isaac. Here Muhammad ascended to Heaven, and 
here too all the prophets of God up to the time of Muhammad came 
to pray. Beneath the rock, invisible to human eyes, lay the fountain 
from which there came all the sweet water which ever poured over 
the earth. Abd-al-Malik sent out feelers to his people, and came to 
the conclusion that a shrine-temple over the rock would answer his 
purposes. In every possible way he would follow the existing example 
of the Kaaba. There would be ambulatories around the rock, so that 
the pilgrims could perform the tawaf. Here, too, he would exhibit 
his most costly and most ancient treasures. When the Dome of the 
Rock was built, the rock itself was surrounded by a lattice of ebony 
and curtains of brocade. Suspended over the rock, hanging on a 
chain, were the very horns of the ram which Abraham had sacrificed, 
together with a pearl of immense size and the jeweled crown of the 
Persian Emperor Chosroes. In 680 A.D., Bishop Arculf visited Jeru- 
salem and saw on this spot an old mosque, perhaps the same which 
was built by the Caliph Umar when he came to accept the surrender 
of the city. Arculf says the mosque was "built very roughly of beams 
and planks raised over some ancient ruins." Eleven years later, 
Abd-al-Malik had built a shrine so brilliant and colorful it took 
men's breath away. 

The Dome of the Rock, as we see it today, has not changed very 
much since the time when Abd-al-Malik built it. The roofing of cop- 
per gilt has gone, and so have some of the mosaics of angels and 
earthly palaces which decorated the interior, and the palisade around 
the rock itself was added in the twelfth century. In his time the 
whole of the exterior wall, including the drum, was covered with 
gold and polychrome mosaic, which survived until the middle of 
the sixteenth century, to be replaced by the most delicate blue and 


green and yellow tiles. Today the pilgrim gazing at the mosque at 
sunset, when the dome turns to gold, can recapture almost without 
effort the splendor and the freshness which merged for the first 
time when Abd-al-Malik attempted to build a shrine as superb as 
the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; and perhaps it was inevitable that 
the Dome of the Rock should resemble a pleasure palace, but of such 
noble proportions that it becomes worthy of its object. 

There are mysteries here. Nothing we know about Abd-al-Malik 
suggests that he was a man of taste in architecture, capable of sketch- 
ing the wonderful Dome of the Chain on the drawing board. Stern 
and pitiless., capable of murdering men with his bare hands, he glo- 
ried in his conquests and allowed the insufferable Hajjaj free rein 
in all his sanguinary exploits. He placed his own relatives in command 
of all the provinces except Iraq, where Hajjaj assumed complete con- 
trol, acting more like a viceroy than like a governor. He was the 
first to mint an Arabic coinage, and the first to insist that treasury 
accounts should be kept in Arabic, with the result that the coinage 
was soon debased and the treasury, formerly placed in the hands of 
the Christian Sarjunids, who behaved with the admirable discretion of 
civil servants, became a hotbed of intrigue. Taxes were farmed out to 
the provincial governors, with the result that the peasants despaired 
and throughout the whole course of his reign there were uprisings. 
The civil wars were complicated by outbreaks of war between sects. 
There were families split between loyalty to the Caliph, the anti- 
Caliph, and obscure revolutionaries who called themselves Messengers 
of God. 

The followers of the martyred Husayn cried out for vengeance. 
They found their leader in the resourceful guerrilla chieftain Mukhtar 
ibn-abi-Ubayd, who had known Ali as a youth and whose uncle 
when governor of Ctesiphon had introduced him to the world of 
conspiracy. Mukhtar raged through Iraq like an avenging flame. He 
possessed prophetic gifts, hinted that he had been sent by direct 
command of tie Archangel Gabriel to punish the Umayyads, preached 
in an obscure rhymed prose modeled on the Quran, and spoke of the 
coming of the mahdi, the divine deliverer and restorer, who would 
bring peace and justice to earth. Armed bands of Iranians and 
Iraqis under Mukhtar's leadership found themselves fighting an 
Umayyad army commanded by the hated Ubaydallah ibn-Ziyad, the 
man most responsible for killing Husayn. Mukhtar won the bat- 
tle, and in a solemn ceremony in the palace at al-Kufah the head o 


Ubaydallah was presented to him. The followers of Husayn rejoiced, 
but not for long. Mukhtar incurred the enmity of the anti-Caliph, 
who sent his brother Musab ibn-Zubayr against the heretic. Mukhtar 
shut himself up in the fortress at al-Kufah, and was killed when mak- 
ing a sortie in the hope of breaking the four months' siege, he 
head of Mukhtar was solemnly presented to Musab. Abd-al-Malik, 
incensed by the growing power of the anti-Caliph, led an expedition 
against al-Kufah, and for the fourth time in living memory the head 
o a saint or a general was solemnly laid at the foot of the throne. 
An old Arab who was present when the Caliph received the head 
of Musab complained: "There is no end to it! First I see the head 
of Husayn lying there, and Ubaydallah ibn-Ziyad takes it in his 
hands. Then I see the head of Ubaydallah ibn-Ziyad, and Mukhtar 
takes it in his hands. Then I see the head of Mukhtar, and Musab 
takes it in his hands. And now I see the head of Musab, and the 
Caliph takes it in his hands." 

It was like a dream drenched in blood, with no end to the wars, 
no end to tears. Abd-al-Malik, who loved war, died peacefully in 
bed. On his deathbed he is supposed to have summoned his son 
Walid and said: "Why are you mourning? When I am dead, put 
on your leopard-skin, gird yourself with your sword, and cut off 
the head of everyone who gets in your way!" Abd-al-Malik seems to 
have had little hope for his son, but in this he was wrong. In the 
reign of Walid I, the Islamic empire reached its greatest extent, 
stretching from Spain to the borders of China. 

Walid was Muawiya all over again, ruthless and gentle by turns, 
a terror to his enemies, a great benefactor to the Syrians, who never 
tired of singing his praises. He established orphanages for poor chil- 
dren, founded schools and hospitals, granted pensions to the old 
and impoverished, built roads and canals and frontier posts, and 
took careful note of the cost of living by visiting the market places. 
Abd-al-Malik was unapproachable; Walid could be approached by 
anyone. He built the first lunatic asylums and the first hospices for the 
blind. He was especially gentle to women and never known to lose 
his temper, yet he kept Hajjaj in his employment against the advice 
of his wife, who was permitted to berate the bloodthirsty general 
and call him a murderer to his face. His armies overran Transoxiana, 
penetrated deep into India, and in three short years conquered all 
of Spain. 

Almost his first act when he came to the throne was to order the 


rebuilding of the mosque at Madinah where Muhammad lay buried. 
Hundreds of Greeks and Egyptians were employed in the work. Mu- 
hammad's mosque was changed beyond recognition; the huts where 
he had lived with his wives were swept away; mosaics glittered on 
the walls. Having saluted the Messenger of God, Walid turned his 
attention to a memorial worthy of himself and ordered the con- 
struction of a great mosque at Damascus, choosing as his site the 
Church of St. John Baptist, which itself had been raised on the site 
of a temple to Jupiter Damascenus. Known as the Great Umayyad 
Mosque, it survives to this day, altered by time and fire, but still 
recognizably the mosque he built with its wide-sweeping court, its 
pavilions and sanctuaries, and walls thick with mosaics. If the Dome 
of the Rock was an act of pure mercy, a sudden spring of beauty is- 
suing above a rock which had seen too many sacrifices, the Great 
Umayyad Mosque was an act of the purest beneficence. We learn 
nothing about Abd-al-Malik by gazing at the Dome of the Rock, but 
we can learn all we want to know about Walid by gazing at the 
Great Mosque, where the courtyard resembles a great barrack square 
and the interior with its marble floor and wooden roof and delicate 
traceries resembles nothing so much as a queen's palace. Luxe, calme 
et volupte are its guardian angels, and there is more than a hint of 
Byzantine magnificence, yet without stiffness. 

Byzantium, indeed, contributed greatly to the mosque. According 
to Arabic chroniclers, Walid summoned a fabulous army of Byzan- 
tine craftsmen (one writer says 1,200, another says 12,000) to 
decorate it with mosaics. Six hundred lamps hung on golden chains 
from the roof. The whole of the floor was glittering white marble, all 
the capitals were gilt, and the dome was covered with a sheeting of 
gold. For seven years the entire revenue of Syria was spent on 
building the mosque, not counting eighteen shiploads of gold and 
silver from Cyprus. From the Church of St. Mary at Antioch 
and from a hundred other churches columns were looted to decorate 
the interior and the colonnades. Precise figures and details of the 
construction have been handed down. We know, for example, that the 
cost of the cabbages eaten by the workmen amounted to 6,000 dinars. 
When the building was completed, Walid refused to look at the 
account books which were brought to him on eighteen laden mules, 
but ordered that they should be burned. And at the ceremonial open- 
ing of the mosque he made it clear that the mosque was a present 
to Damascus, To the crowd gathered in the mosque he said: "O peo- 


pie of Damascus, five great gifts have been given to you! The first is 
the sweetness of your water, the second the sweetness of your air, 
the third the succulence of your fruits, the fourth the number of 
your bath-houses, the fifth is this mosque!" 

Three times the mosque has been destroyed by fire almost to the 
foundation walls in 1069, when it was set on fire during riots be- 
tween the Fatimids and the Shi'as; in 1400, when Damascus was 
sacked by Timurlane; and most recently in 1893 but each time it 
has arisen phoenix-like from the flames. According to the Syrian geo- 
grapher Muqaddasi, who wrote at the end of the tenth century, the 
whole mosque inside and outside gleamed with mosaics depicting all 
the cities of the known world, and all these mosaics were a present 
from the Byzantine Emperor. Muqaddasi added that all these cities 
were uninhabited, in deference to Muhamadan distaste for making 
portraits of people. We may doubt whether the Byzantine Emperor 
was so generous, and until recently it was permissible to doubt 
whether the Great Mosque once contained an immense mosaic picture 
gallery of cities. In 1928, when whitewash was cleared from the 
walls, remnants of Walid's mosaics were found in a perfect state of 
preservation. They glittered brilliantly. They depicted cities. They 
showed clearly the influence of Byzantine craftsmen. The French ar- 
chaeologist De Lorey, who uncovered the mosaics, found an immense 
strip of mosaic 115 feet long and nearly 24 feet high depicting Da- 
mascus itself as it was 1,300 years ago, with the details of summer 
palaces and kiosks and highways readily identifiable from the de- 
scriptions left by the geographer Istakhri. We recognize the bridge, 
surprisingly like the Rialto at Venice, soaring over the golden flood 
of the Barada River, the palaces amid the cypresses, the minarets of 
the innumerable mosques. Houses pile on houses, as they always do 
in Byzantine mosaics, and there is nothing in the least singular in 
the absence of people wandering in that landscape at the first touch 
of dawn, when the air is freshest and the eye sees farthest. It is almost 
a relief to see mosaics which are not filled with saints in postures of 
hieratic prowess. Byzantine churches are filled with so many blazing 
and accusing eyes, so many muscular folds of draperies, that we turn 
with relief to these mosaics where nothing is being proved and where 
the aim of the artist is to demonstrate only the greatness of man's 
creations under the sun. Here there are no Pantocrators summoning 
men to judgment, only quiet cities gleaming in a summer light. 

Accustomed to tracing Biblical legends in mosaics, we forget that 


mosaics have a life of their own, continually quivering; and to set 
people wandering in them is to invite a reduplication of life. There is 
a perfection in these mosaics equaled nowhere else except perhaps in 
those rare architectural details which appear in the mosaics of Mon- 
reale and in the great tumbling fountain of the Prayer of St, Anne at 
Daphni, where the waters of life are held in continual motion by 
the refraction of the ever-changing light on them; but these mosaics 
belong to another age. They lack the essential gentleness, as they lack 
the formal abstract quality, of the mosaics in Damascus. Here and 
there among the scraps of mosaic preserved in the Great Umayyad 
Mosque, other cities can be recognized Jerusalem, Mecca, perhaps 
Antioch, all of them represented with an exquisite refinement in 
subtly shaded green, blue and gold. In these mosaics we are made 
aware of Byzantine technique operating within the formal limits of 
the Muhamadan imagination. The Christian, pausing in the galleries 
of the Great Umayyad Mosque or standing on the terrace which 
surrounds the Dome o the Rock, cannot but observe a quality con- 
spicuously lacking in most of Christian art the quality of an extreme 
serenity. Within three generations of Muhammad we are already 
far removed from the preoccupations of the desert dwellers and from 
Muhammad's fiery and reckless imagination as he contemplated the 
flames of the Last Day. This extreme serenity, if it comes from any- 
where, must come from islam, the complete submission to the will of 

The Umayyads settled the course of Muhamadan art for centuries 
to come. Nothing greater than the Dome of the Rock or the Great 
Umayyad Mosque was ever conceived. The marriage of Byzantine and 
Hellenistic techniques to the driving force of the Muhamadan imagin- 
ation was long enduring. There were to be subtle changes later. The 
Damascene spring was to ripen into a Persian summer: in time the 
colors and shapes of Persia were to overlay the simpler contours of 
Damascus and Jerusalem, adding always an element of restlessness. 
But in remote provinces of central Asia, in Spain and Africa, wher- 
ever the Muhamadan artists were at work, we shall be continually 
reminded of the early beauty. 

Serenity was the aim^ but there were many restless paths to it. 
Surviving Umayyad art reflects the path of contemplation, but every 
religious movement involves a variety of different approaches to God. 
There is the way of faith, the way of illumination, the way of ritual, 
the way of the sword. Muhammad envisaged a time when the whole 


world would be conquered by the sword for Islam, and Walid very 
nearly did conquer the world. 

In the east the Arab armies under Qutaybah ibn-Muslim captured 
Ferghana and reached the frontiers of China. In Africa Musa ibn- 
Nusayr, the son of Muawiya's chief of police, dominated the lands 
from Egypt to the Atlantic. Muhammad ibn-Qasim, the son-in-law 
of Hajjaj, drove out of southern Persia and Baluchistan until he 
reached the sea near the modern Karachi, conquering most of the 
area represented by present-day Pakistan and so drawing northwestern 
India forever into the Muhamadan fold. Preparations for the conquest 
of China had advanced to the stage where a governor and adminis- 
trators were being appointed. The most dramatic of these conquests 
was provided by an obscure Berber freedman called Tariq ibn-Ziyad 
who crossed the narrow straits between Africa and Spain, took pos- 
session of the Rock of Gilbraltar, which has ever since borne his 
name (Jabal Tariq) , and then with 7000 men, mostly Berbers, de- 
scended upon the province of Algeciras and routed an army of 25,000 
under Roderick, the last of the Visigothic kings. With the remnants 
of Roderick's army in full flight, the gates of Spain were thrown wide 
open. In three years there were Arab armies on the Pyrenees. 

When the first reports of Tariq's victory were received, Musa ibn- 
Nusayr wrote to the Caliph in Damascus: "O Commander of the 
Faithful, these are not common conquests: they are like the meeting 
of nations on the Day of Judgement." Similar reports could have been 
sent from all the embattled frontiers of the empire. The earth 
trembled. Panic seized the enemies of Islam as they watched the ap- 
proach of small and relentless columns which marched by night and 
fought during the day, and carried everything before them. Cordova 
fell by a ruse; Malaga surrendered; Elvira was taken by storm; so 
it was throughout the peninsula as the Visigoths, divided among 
themselves, fell back toward the mountains of the Asturias. The 
Visigothic capital Toledo was found to be undefended, and when 
Tariq entered it in triumph most of its treasure, including a jew- 
eled table said to have belonged to King Solomon, was intact. 

The speed of Tariq's march brought Musa ibn-Nusayr, Viceroy o 
Africa, out of his fortress city of Qayrawan to inspect this new addi- 
tion to the empire. In the summer of 712, a year after Tariq's 
columns began their march across Spain, he sailed with 10,000 Ara- 
bians and Syrians across the straits and amused himself by attacking 
the cities which Tariq had by-passed. He caught up with Tariq in 


Toledo, and there is a story that he ordered the conqueror o Spain 
to be whipped and held in chains. But some months later we hear 
of further conquests by Tariq, and though there seem to have been 
disagreements between them, it is unlikely that they were serious. In 
the autumn of 713, both generals were recalled to Damascus. The 
Caliph appears to have been mildly disapproving, but permitted them 
to return in triumph at the head of an army of prisoners, which 
included 400 of the Visigothic nobility wearing their coronets and 
massive gold belts of office, with the treasure of the captured cities. 
A thousand Spanish virgins took part in the triumphal march of 
Musa ibn-Nusayr across North Africa, and the Arab poets delighted 
to dilate on the beauty of these fair-haired prisoners, the number of 
the slaves, the wealth of gold plate and jewels in the baggage trains. 
Nothing quite like this brilliant cavalcade had ever taken place be- 
fore since the Roman triumphators marched through the streets of 
Rome to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. At last in February, 715, 
after more than a year of marching, the prisoners were assembled in 
the vast courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque, recently com- 
pleted, and presented to the Caliph. All the treasure of Spain lay at 
the Caliph's feet, and never in the history of Damascus had there 
been so great a triumph. 

Walid was already ailing when the Spanish captives were brought 
to him. He died a few weeks later at the age of forty, having reigned 
for nearly ten years. The Syrians still remember him as the most 
beloved of their kings. 

The Umayyads never reached these heights again. For thirty-five 
more years they ruled over their empire, fought battles, vigorously pur- 
sued their aim of conquering the whole world, and watched the tide 
rolling back. A succession of brilliant Caliphs attempted to organize 
a seemingly perpetual victory which God had granted to the Umay- 
yads. They were cultivated men, scholars and poets, and most of 
them inherited the great gifts of Abd-al-Malik, who gave four sons, 
two nephews and three grandchildren to the Caliphate. 

Arab chroniclers delight in describing the private lives of rulers: 
so it happens that we know the numbers of their mistresses, their 
behavior during drinking parties and in the boudoir, and what ani- 
mals they pursued as they rode out of their hunting lodges in Syria 
and Palestine. We know, for example, that Walid's successor, his 
brother Sulayman, was a fat voluptuary with a passion for the soft 
Yamanite silks known as wachi^ which he wore on all occasions, even 


demanding that he should be buried in them, and we are told that 
he kept plump cooked chickens in his sleeves and would suddenly 
gnaw at them in the middle of an audience. No doubt these stories 
are true, but it is also true that during his brief reign he organized the 
greatest of the Umayyad expeditions against Constantinople, He con- 
quered Pergamum and Sardis, crossed the Dardanelles at Abydos and 
blockaded Constantinople by land and sea, throwing a chain across 
the Golden Horn, so preventing the Byzantine fleet from sailing out 
of the harbor. Of all the Arab assaults on Constantinople this was 
the most threatening, the closest to success. It failed only because the 
pestilence broke out on his ships. 

Sulayman possessed the resilience of Muawiya, and much of Mua- 
wiya's ruthlessness. He had always detested the excesses of Hajjaj, 
who had died during the reign of Walid, and his first act on coming 
to the throne was to open the prison doors and set free the prisoners 
thrown by Hajjaj into the countless prisons of the East. For this he 
was granted among the people the title of "the Key of Blessing"; 
and for long afterward it was remembered that he not only freed 
the prisoners, but gave them gifts and asked for their pardon. His 
rages were as sudden as his acts of generosity. For some unexplained 
reason the weight of his hatred .fell on Musa ibn-Nusayr, the con- 
queror of Spain. Hot words were exchanged, and suddenly the Vice- 
roy of Africa was deprived of his rank and titles, and reduced to 
penury. He shared the fate of Khalid, "the Sword of God," and when 
last heard of he was a wandering beggar in a remote village of the 

Sulayman, the fat voluptuary, belongs to the great tradition of 
Umayyad monarchs: he possessed, like many enormously fat people, 
a steady, driving intelligence. He died of the plague in 717, and 
was succeded by his saintly brother Umar, a gentle ascetic, of whom 
it was said that he was always praying and most of the things he prayed 
for came true. Umar had been kicked by a mule when a child, and 
bore the marks of the mule's hoof on his face for the rest of his life, 
but no one thought the worse of him for his strange appearance. 
Brilliant, gentle and unassuming, he liked to wander among his sub- 
jects wearing such old patched clothes that it was difficult to recognize 
him, and petitioners complained of how they had spent days in 
search of him even when he was known to be in the streets of Damas- 
cus. He had a fondness for discussing theology, but he was no 
unworldly theologian, and allowed the Arab troops on the borders 


of France to penetrate deep into the interior, conquering Septimania 
and setting up their headquarters at Narbonne, apparently with the 
intention of colonizing all southern France and pushing on to Italy. 
He restored to the Christians and Jews the churches which had 
been taken from them, and attempted to conciliate the followers of 
Ali by restoring to them the oasis at Fardak, which Muhammad had 
claimed as his private property. When he came to the throne he 
ordered the horses of the royal stables to be sold in public auction 
and deposited the proceeds in the state treasury; and wherever 
possible, he remitted and reduced taxes. 

Such evident goodness had its penalties. He was sometimes greeted 
in the streets with the reverence reserved for divinities. During his 
life a cult arose around his name, and he was believed by some to 
be the mahdi, "the guided one/' the one who will lead the world 
into the paths of peace. On his mother's side he was descended from 
the first Caliph Umar, whom he resembled. He was completely bald, 
wore a heavy black beard and was so thin that his ribs could be 
counted by the naked eye. 

Innumerable stories were told concerning his piety, his fastings, 
his nightlong prayers, his terror of death, the sweetness of his smile. 
One day his seventeen-year-old son spoke to him half-reproachfully 
about the evils in the society of his time. According to the son, these 
evils should be rooted out by a stern Caliph. "Stern measures?" the 
Caliph exlaimed. "That means the sword, and there are no good 
reforms which can be accomplished by the sword." He died after a 
xeign of two years, perhaps as a result of his austerities, and his grave 
became a place of pilgrimage. Arab historians rank him among the 
small group of "righteous" Caliphs, which includes Abu Bakr, Umar 
and Ali. The Umayyad Caliph Umar was the gentlest of them all, 
and no more gentle Caliphs came after him. 

Umar was a nephew of Abd-al-Malik, and was succeeded on the 
throne by two more of Abd-al-Malik's sons. Of Yazid II, who was 
married to the niece of Hajjaj, little is known for certainty, though 
legends have proliferated around him. He is described as the per- 
fect type of the aesthete, in love with music and poetry, content to 
waste his days among his singing girls instead of ruling his empire. 
It is related that when he playfully threw a grape into the mouth of 
his favorite singing girl Hababah, she choked to death and the Cal- 
iph died a few days later of a broken heart. It may have happened, 
but it is unlikely. A more pleasant story related about him concerns 


Fatima, the daughter of the martyred Husayn, who was living in 
retirement in Madinah. The governor of Madinah was pestering her 
with his attentions, threatening her with ill treatment. Fatima ap- 
pealed to the Caliph, who deposed the governor and severely pun- 
ished him. 

With Hisham (724-743) the Umayyad dynasty comes virtually to 
an end. Strong, proud, relentless in his determination to wield power 
over the empire, Hisham lacked the quality of resilience which had 
maintained so many of his predecessors in office. He had all the 
virtues: he was thrifty, generous, devoted to handicrafts. He encour- 
aged weaving, improved the art of the armorer, and was especially 
interested in drainage works, but his virtues were equaled only by his 
vices. He was suspicious, bigoted and utterly unforgiving. When Zayd 
ibn-Ali, the grandson of Husayn, and still only a boy, raised the 
standard of revolt in al-Kufah, Hisham gave orders that the revolt 
should be put down mercilessly. Zayd was wounded by an arrow 
lodged in his forehead, and taken to a doctor who removed the arrow 
so carelessly that he bled to death. The doctor feared the conse- 
quences of having treated an enemy and secretly buried the body 
near a canal and then diverted the canal to flow over the body. He 
left a marker near the place, and vowed everyone who knew about 
the burial of the boy to secrecy, but Hisham heard of it his spy 
system was accounted the best among the Umayyad Caliphs. In a rage 
Hisham ordered the body dug up and demanded that the head be 
sent to Damascus. "As for the rest of his accursed body," he wrote, 
"let it be hung on a gibbet until nothing is left of it." For weeks the 
people of Damascus were forced to look on the head of a descendant 
of Muhammad fixed to a palm tree. 

A bitter man, who had lost one eye in his youth, Hisham raged 
remorselessly against his enemies. He had enemies everywhere. There 
were uprisings in Africa and Iraq; corruption was rampant in the 
government of the provinces; the Byzantine armies were surging 
across Asia Minor. He was always building castles on the frontiers, 
but the tide was already turning, threatening to engulf him and his 

It is possible that he paid very little attention to an event that 
occurred on the borders of his empire in the west, near an old 
Roman paved road, among the forests overlooking the Loire. No 
doubt some reports of this obscure skirmish with the Austrasian 
Franks must have reached him, but it is unlikely that he did more than 


glance at them there were more important battles being fought in 
other parts of the empire. 

In October, 732 it was a hundred years after Muhammad's death 
a scouting party belonging to the army of Abd ar-Rahman ibn- 
Abdallah, the governor of Spain, made contact with the Prankish 
army of Charles of Heristal, the mayor of the palace of the Meroving- 
ian court, along the road between Poitiers and Tours. The Arab 
commander did not know that a trap had been set for him. Eudo, 
Duke of Aquitaine, had been besieged between the Garonne and the 
Dordogne and fled in the direction of the Loire with the Arabs in 
hot pursuit. Unexpectedly the Prankish commander, thought to be in 
some other part of France altogether, stood across the Arab line of 
march. Abd ar-Rahman called a halt. He wanted to discover the 
strength of the enemy, and he hoped the Franks, if not too numer- 
ous, would attack. What frightened him most of all was the possi- 
bility of losing his army among the forests and the streams. 

For seven days Charles of Heristal remained on the edge of the 
forest, waiting for the attack. It was bitterly cold weather, with the 
Arabs still dressed for their summer campaigns. The wolf pelts of the 
Franks helped them in the icy cold. At last on the morning of the 
seventh day Abd ar-Rahman decided to attack. Charles held firm, 
forming his men in a hollow square to take the main charge of the 
Arabs while dispatching raiders along unfrequented forest pathways 
to attack the Arabs in the rear. The Arabs, once guerrillas, had re- 
verted to a classical mode of warfare, and were no match for the 
Franks, who numbered many more well-equipped soldiers than the 
Arab spies had indicated. Also, the Franks were fighting with the 
river at their back, and could not retreat even if they had wanted to. 
The Arabs marching through France had acquired immense booty, 
and this too worked in the favor of the Franks, who were not weighed 
down with the task of guarding their treasure, nor did they possess 
baggage trains of any kind. Most of them were foot soldiers, but 
there were some companies of cavalry. 

As the battle progressed, the Franks began to waver. Not in vain 
had Hisham ordered his best metalsmiths to study the problems of 
armor. Behind their coats of mail, their pointed helmets, their horses 
clothed in chain mail, the Arabs were almost impregnable. They 
were on the verge of victory when the Franks fought their way 
toward the treasure carts. Instead of fighting in column, the Arabs 
flew to the defense of the treasure, and panicked when they saw 


the carts being driven away by enemies. Abd ar-Rahman ordered his 
troops back into line, but he was too late. A lance killed him. Then, 
while the armies were still fighting confusedly, night fell. Both arm- 
ies retired to lick their wounds. 

All through the night the spies of Charles heard the clash of 
arms as the lieutenants of Abd-ar-Rahman quarreled bitterly over 
the election of a new leader. A small-scale civil war was being fought 
by the Arabs over the treasure carts. Toward dawn the sounds of 
fighting ceased, and when the sun came through the clouds on that 
cold October Sunday, Charles saw that the enemy had vanished. They 
were hurrying south, away from the northern winter and smell of 
defeat in the marshes of the Loire. 

To the Arabs the battle is known as balat al-shuhada, meaning 
"the pavement of martyrs," after the paved Roman road which ran 
along the edge of the forest. It was the turning point of the un- 
declared war against western Europe which had become inevitable 
once Tariq had captured Gibraltar. At the time, however, neither the 
Arabs nor the Franks were aware there had been a turning point. 
Checked near Tours, the Arabs continued to send expeditions across 
France. They crossed the Rhone, captured St.-Remi, and marched 
against Avignon, which surrendered after a short siege. They ad- 
vanced on Valence and Lyons, spread into Burgundy and threatened 
Paris. Charles, who assumed the title of Martel, or "the Hammer," 
meaning that he regarded himself as the hammer appointed by God 
to punish the Arabs, summoned the assistance of the Lombards, 
instigated a revolt by the Basques and Gascons in the south, and 
harried the enemy unmercifully. Avignon was recaptured for the 
Franks, and Nimes, long occupied by the Arabs, was put to flames. 
Terror in France led to terror in Spain, where the governor was taken 
prisoner and killed by rebels. Narbonne was abandoned by its com- 
mander, and one by one the captured cities of France were recon- 
quered by the Franks. 

In another age, under happier auspices, Hisham might have been 
able to hold back the tide. He held off the threatened collapse of his 
empire, but he was unable to pour into it any revivifying strength. 
The Berbers in Africa, the Persians and the Turks in Transoxiana, 
were in a state of constant revolt; and everywhere he looked he could 
see the disintegrating frontiers. Much sooner than he expected a small 
band of determined men would attack the empire at its heart and 
destroy it utterly. 


During the last years of his long reign he ruled for nearly twenty 
years Hisham gives the appearance of a sleepwalker. He seems not 
to have known or cared what was happening, as he amused himself 
with his horses on his estate at Rusafah on the Euphrates. He liked 
horses more than he liked men, and no other king ever had such a 
vast stable: he was reputed to have 4,000 horses. Arab chroniclers 
credit him with being the inventor of horse racing. He died at the 
age of fifty-three at his beloved Rusafah, far from the capital, having 
in one of his rare moments of imprudence assigned the succession 
to his nephew Walid, the son of Yazid II. Under Hisham the fruit 
had ripened; under Walid it rotted. 

At first Damascus greeted the arrival of the new Caliph with jubila- 
tion. Of all the Umayyad princes he was the most handsome, the 
keenest-witted, the most generous. He was a reckless horseman, an 
exceptional poet, a gifted musician. He came to the throne with all 
the talents, and was immediately corrupted by power. We know o 
countless rulers who suffered on themselves the processes of corrup- 
tion, but few were corrupted so easily or rejoiced in it with so much 
grace and ease. There was something almost heroic in his acceptance 
of the role of a corrupt emperor at a time when the empire was 
shuddering at the foundations. From his uncle he had inherited an 
empire which stretched from the steppes of Mongolia to Morocco, 
included Arabia, Egypt, Spain and North Africa, and most of the 
islands of the Mediterranean Majorca, Minorca, Corsica, Sardinia, 
Crete, Rhodes, Cyprus, a part of Sicily and nearly all the islands of 
the Aegean. There was hardly another man in the empire less fitted to 
rule than this Caliph who possessed to such an exaggerated degree 
the typical virtues and vices of the Umayyads ruthlessness, artistic 
sensibility, physical beauty, charm, gentleness, furious impatience. 

None of the histories written by the Umayyads have survived, and 
we see them now through the eyes of the historians who came later 
and who owed allegiance to another dynasty. We do not have to 
believe everything they say about his profligacy, his wine-bibbing, his 
atheism. He said once: "I wish all women were lionesses so that only 
the strong and courageous would dare to approach them," and the 
phrase, which would have pleased the poet William Butler Yeats, rings 
true. He thought more of poets than of politicians, and that is no 
crime except in emperors. He summoned to his court all the best 
singers and dancers of the empire, and rewarded them with an open 
hand. He raised the pay of the soldiers, and increased the allowances 


of tie poor, the blind and the insane, following the example of 
Walid I. He followed the Umayyad custom o hounding the descend- 
ants of Ali. Yahya, the son of the murdered Zayd, raised the flag of re- 
volt, and Walid gave orders that he should be hunted down. Yahya 
was determined to die fighting, rather than to be killed like vermin. 
He died in the way he had sought, and his head was sent to Walid 
and his body impaled on a cross. Such ruthlessness was common- 
place; and in this, as in so many other tilings, Walid was only 
obeying the traditions of his house. But to these typical virtues and 
vices there was added after he came to power a ferocious and un- 
tamable pride, a sense of magnificence which went far beyond the self- 
regarding splendors of Muawiya. Masudi tells the story of how he 
was one day reading the Quran when he came upon die verses de- 
manding of all men their complete submission to the will of God. 
Walid was enraged. He set up the Quran on the other side of the 
room and shot arrow after arrow at it, until the pages were reduced 
to tatters, and then this accomplished poet, who must be accounted 
among the best of his time, wrote the terrible verses: 

Dare you threaten me in my frond rebellion? 
I am Walid the most rebellious of men! 
O Quran, when you appear at the Judgment Seat, 
Tell God who it was who tore you to shreds! 

We do not have to believe Masudi's story entirely to know that Walid 
was corrupted by power and pride, and was tempted to wrestle with 
God. He comes to us like one of those emperors in the plays of 
Christopher Marlowe who are not content with making war against 
earthly princes, but must measure themselves with angels, and like 
those tragic heroes he must suffer for his sins. He had been ruling for 
only a year when Yazid, the son of Walid I by a Soghdian princess,, 
entered Damascus in disguise and, after discovering a store of wea- 
pons hidden in a mosque, announced publicly that he was prepar- 
ing to destroy the most profligate of Caliphs. The Damascenes flocked 
to his standards and marched toward Bakhra, south of Palmyra^ 
where Walid was at that time living in a fortress castle. Walid tried 
to parlay with the insurgents, and then with his small company of 
guards fought them. At last, knowing he was outnumbered, he re- 
tired to an inner room of the castle, opened the Quran, and waited 
for the death blow. His head was cut off and paraded through the 


streets of Damascus on a spear, and the son of the Soghdian princess, 
under the title of Yazid III, came to die throne. 

Yazid was known as "the retrencher" because he reduced the 
pay of his soldiers. He was the first Caliph to be born of a slave 
mother, and gave promise of strong leadership. In his inaugural 
speech from the throne he explained why he was compelled to revolt 
against his cousin, promised to fortify the frontiers, to place the 
cities in a proper state of defense, to remove the heavy burdens of 
taxation on the common people, and to rid the empire of dishonest 
officials. These plans were admirable, but time was running out; and 
when he died mysteriously in 744 after a reign of five months and 
two days, to be succeeded by his brother Ibrahim, who reigned for 
only two months and is therefore not included among the list of 
Umayyad Caliphs, everyone knew the empire was disintegrating for 
lack of a central authority. A slight blow, coming from some un- 
expected direction, might reduce the whole empire to fragments, un- 
less a dictator could be found. 

A dictator was found in the person of Marwan ibn-Muhammad, 
a grandson of the Caliph Marwan ibn-al-Hakam, a professional sol- 
dier with a stern sense of duty and an undying distaste for amateur 
Caliphs. He was known as Marwan al-Himar, meaning Marwan the 
Ass, not in derision, but in acknowledgment of his noble appearance 
and his powers of endurance. He lived with his soldiers, and ate 
their fare: the army was passionately loyal to him. If the problems of 
a failing empire could be solved by a sixty-year-old soldier who 
was genuinely worshiped by the people, the Umayyad dynasty 
might have been preserved. But around the real and imagined des- 
cendants of Ali explosive forces congregated. Sanctity was theirs; they 
could do no evil; to them had been entrusted spiritual powers 
which outweighed the temporal powers of the Caliphs of Damascus. 
In the Persian province of Khurasan especially there existed a deep- 
lying bitterness against the Umayyads for having murdered so many 
of All's descendants. A saddler called Abd ar-Rahman, who assumed 
the name of Abu Muslim, raised the black flag of rebellion in 747. 
Then within a few months the whole patiently acquired empire which 
had endured for ninety years toppled over and went to its death. 

Like so many of those strange revolutionaries who emerged out of 
Khurasan at regular intervals in the history of Persia, Abu Muslim was 
a figure of mystery. Part of the mystery was of his own making. He 
was originally a Persian slave sold in the markets of Mecca to the 


head of the branch of the Quraysh clan which was descended from 
the Prophet's uncle al-Abbas. The slave soon Identified himself with 
the claims of the Abbasids, who believed that the sacred blood of 
Muhammad in some mysterious fashion flowed through their veins. 
They were unlikely claimants to the Caliph's throne, but they could 
truthfully call themselves Ahl al-bait, or "People of the House/' and 
these words became the watchword of the people of Khurasan as they 
sought for some way to put an end to the accursed Umayyads. 

On June 17, 747, Abu Muslim summoned the people by lighting 
large bonfires on the hilltops, and explained the purpose of the re- 
volt. It was a very simple purpose the destruction of the Umayyads to 
the last man by bands of dedicated and remorseless men. They flew 
the black banners of the Abbasids and wore black clothes, and saluted 
the banners known as "the Cloud" and "the Shadow." The symbol- 
ism was deliberate: like clouds and shadows the armies of the Abba- 
sids would pour out of Persia onto the plains of Iraq, and so to the 
coasts of Syria. Soon the Arab garrisons in Khurasan were disaffected, 
and the provincial governor Nasr ibn-Sayyar wrote a desperate appeal 
to Marwan for assistance. In the fashion of the day he wrote in 

/ see the red coals glowing among the embers, about to blaze: 
Fire springs from the rubbing of sticks, and out of words 

comes war. 
I cry in dismay: Are the Umayyads asleep, or will they ever 

The message reached the Caliph when he was busy with rebels in 
Jordan and Syria; no help reached Khurasan. Merv fell, then Niha- 
wand, and the road was open to Iraq. Abu-1-Abbas Abdallah was at 
that time the head of the Abbasid house, and when the army under 
Abu Muslim reached al-Kufah he emerged from hiding, marched to 
the cathedral mosque, pronounced a sermon on the virtues of his 
family and was elected Caliph by acclamation. War between the 
Umayyads and the Abbasids had become inevitable. 

With an army 120,000 strong, Abu Muslim and Abu-1-Abbas 
Abdallah forded the Tigris and pitched camp between Mosul and 
Arbela on the river Zab. The two armies met in January, 750, and 
the battle raged for nine days. The legions of the Abbasids were 
clothed from head to foot in black, in mourning for the martyrs, 


with camels, horses and standards all draped in black, and in their 
solemn appearance they looked, said one Arab chronicler, like 
deaf-mutes. They moved silently. They behaved like automatons. 
Like Abu Muslim, who was famous for his impassivity, they delib- 
erately assumed the air of people who did not belong to this 
earth; they resembled avenging angels. Marwan was a professional 
soldier and not unduly impressed. He led the charge, and the Abba- 
sids gave way. The turning point came, as it came so often, when 
the commanding general was thrown from his horse; at the sight of 
Marwan's riderless horse plunging through the battlelines, the Umay- 
yads panicked. Marwan fled to Mosul and then to Harran, and so 
to Damascus, with the Abbasids in hot pursuit. For a few weeks 
Marwan held off the Abbasids, but in April they stormed the city and 
stabled their horses in the courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque; 
and Marwan was in flight again. The black flag of the Abbasids waved 
over Damascus while Marwan hurried south, hoping to gather 
enough troops to make a stand, running like a frightened hare 
through Palestine and across the desert until he came to Egypt. One 
night in August he was resting in a Christian church at Busir in 
Lower Eygpt when he heard a voice shouting in Persian. He had 
thought he was safe, but the Persian voice told him that the Abba- 
sids were gathered round his hiding place. Suddenly there was a roll 
of kettledrums, and the air was full of black flags waving in the 
wind. Marwan put on his cuirass and rushed out of the church sword 
in hand. There was a brief battle, and then Marwan fell with a 
javelin in his stomach. Some time later one of Marwan's followers 
revealed where the sacred emblems were hidden. They had been bur- 
ied a little way from the church. So it happened that the mantle 
of Muhammad, his finger ring and staff, fell into the possession of 
Abu-1-Abbas Abdallah, who called himself as-Saffah, or "the Shed- 
der of Blood," and a new dynasty which was to last for five hun- 
dred years was founded. 

The Umayyads had attempted to destroy all the descendants of 
AIL The Abbasids even more ruthlessly attempted to destroy the last 
vestiges of Umayyad rule. They exterminated all but one of the en- 
tire caliphal family. Eighty Umayyad princes were invited to a ban- 
quet near Jaffa on the promise of an amnesty; the banquet had hardly 
started when the executioners entered, strangled the princes one by 
one, and covered the bodies with leather cushions while the ban- 
queters went on feasting. With unheard-of ferocity they hounded 


down their enemies. Princess Abdah, the daughter of Caliph Hisham, 
refused to divulge the place where she had hidden her jewels, and 
was cut down with a sword. Sometimes they murdered by mockery. 
Prince Aban, a grandson of the same Caliph, with one hand and 
one foot cut off, was led on an ass through the villages of Syria while 
a herald cried: "Behold Aban, son of Muawiya, the most renowned 
cavalier of the Umayyad house!" The Abbasids were not content to 
kill the living, but wreaked vengeance on the dead. They dug up 
the graves of the Caliphs and amused themselves by whipping the 
poor remnants of their bodies, and then throwing them to the 
flames. They found the long-dead Caliph Hisham in his robes of state, 
well-preserved except for his nose, which had gone he received 
eighty strokes of the whip as a posthumous punishment. Fat Sulay- 
man had become a skeleton, but they burned it The tomb of Walid 
I was empty, and in the tomb of Abd-al-Malik there was only a skull, 
and in the tomb of Yazid I only a single bone and a little black 
dust. Thus in the first days of the new dynasty the ceremonies of puri- 
fication were performed by men weighed down by a sense of outrage: 
the past must be purified by being put to the flames. Significantly, 
the rebellion had its origins in Khurasan, where until the Arab con- 
quest men worshiped, not the One God, but the living flame of the 

Henceforward the influence of Persia was to be felt increasingly 
in the Muhamadan world. The Umayyad Caliphs, emerging from 
Arabia, descendants of the obscure nobility of Mecca, had gradually 
assumed the temper and the panoply of Byzantine emperors. Inevi- 
tably the Caliphs of the House of Abbas, emerging from Khurasan, 
assumed many of the habits, the rituals and the brilliant coloring of 
the great Sassanian emperors, whose dynasty was destroyed by the 
Arab conquerors. The Arabs began to lose their influence, not only 
in the army and at court, but in society. The highest positions were 
given to Persians, who were never able to divorce themselves com- 
pletely from the tenets of Zoroaster, with the result that Muhamadan- 
ism began to lose its rough-hewn character, and survived as a deli- 
cate balance of forces, a compromise between incompatible passions. 
In every Persian breast Zoroaster and Muhammad were at war with 
one another; and only the Persian genius for mysticism and his 
unrivaled sense of the delicate and often contrary patterns running 
through the universe permitted this war to be fought without too 
much bloodshed. Muhammad, seen through Persian eyes, resembled 


one of the great kings of the Achaemenian dynasty, another Cyrus. 
They made Muhammad over in their own image; and, possessing an 
instinct for martyrdom, they gave to AH, Hasan and Husayn an es- 
pecial place of honor equal to that of the Messenger of God. It is one 
of the greater ironies of history that within a little more than a 
hundred years of Muhammad's death, Islam was conquered by the 
Persians whom Muhammad regarded as the mo3t effete nation on 

In their efforts to stamp out the influence of the Umayyads the 
Persians were not completely successful. One of the few who escaped 
was Abd-ar-Rahman ibn-Muawiya, the brother of the mutilated Prince 
Aban, grandson of the tenth Umayyad Caliph Hisham. Red-haired, 
handsome and superbly well-equipped to be a soldier, he was nineteen 
years old when the Abbasid Caliph Abu-1-Abbas ordered the pro- 
scription of the entire Umayyad family. One night he fled to the 
safety of a Bedouin camp on the left bank of the Euphrates River. 
He was not alone: with him went his thirteen-year-old brother Yahya, 
two sisters and his four-year-old son Sulayman. Abd-ar-Rahman was 
ill in bed, suffering from inflammation of the eyes, when he was 
startled by the sudden cries of Sulayman, who shouted that horsemen 
with black banners were approaching. There was little he could do 
for his sisters except to provide them with money and commend them 
to the mercy of the enemy. With Yahya and his son he fled along 
the riverbank, hotly pursued by the cavalry patrol; and when the 
cavalry had almost caught up with him he jumped into the river with 
his son in his arms, while Yahya, terror-stricken, followed him, only 
to turn back when the captain of the patrol shouted: "Return! We 
mean no harm!" Yahya swam back to the shore, and was immediately 
seized and beheaded, while Abd-ar-Rahman continued his flight, mak- 
ing his way slowly toward Morocco, perhaps because his mother was 
a Berber princess and he knew he would find relatives there. After 
five years of wandering in disguise, he landed in Spain at Almufiecar 
on the coast between Malaga and Almeria. Within eight months he 
had gathered a small army and was ready to attack the governor of 
Spain; and at the battle of Musarah, west of Cordova on the banks 
of the Guadalquivir, on May 14, 756, he defeated Yusuf al-Fihri, 
a descendent of Uqbah, the conqueror of Africa, and immediately 
afterward established his capital at Cordova. The Umayyads had lost 
the world and acquired Spain, 

Abd-ar-Rahman was the exception. Tall and lean, hawk-faced, with 
enormous eyes and a winning smile, he possessed the characteristic 


virtues of the Umayyads and none o their vices. He ruled like a 
benevolent despot, built canals, introduced peaches and palm trees 
to Spain, wrote excellent poetry, and delighted in embellishing the 
cities he had conquered. He did not assume the title of Caliph "out 
of respect for the seat of the Caliphate, which is still the abode of 
Islam and the meeting-place of the Arabian tribes." Instead he called 
himself "emir of Spain." He founded a dynasty which ruled for 
nearly three hundred years. 

One day shortly after the conquest of Damascus, the new Caliph's 
brother Abu Ja'far, known to history as al-Mansur, was discussing 
with a group of friends the reasons for the fall of the Umayyads. 
They were, after all, very simple reasons. None of the Caliphs 
there were a few exceptions were men who possessed the gift of 
rulership. There was Abd-al-Malik, a man of such violent temper that 
he scarcely knew what he was doing at any given moment; there was 
Sulayman, who thought only of his stomach; there was the pious 
Umar, "a blind man among blind men"; the only real ruler among 
them had been Hisham. These verdicts were caustic, and modern 
historians would have difficulty in substantiating them, yet they pointed 
to the defects in the Umayyad character violence, ruthlessness, in- 
sensitivity, too great a love of luxury. At that time Abu Ja'far was 
in Nubia, taking part in the mopping-up campaign which was the 
inevitable consequence of the conquest of Egypt after the death of 
Marwan. It happened that Abdullah, the son of Marwan, had been 
taken prisoner a few days earlier. The friends decided to ask Abdul- 
lah, a man who had occupied high positions of state, for his own 
verdict on his family. He answered: 

These were our faults we gave to pleasure the time we should 
have devoted to government. We laid heavy burdens on our 
people, and so alienated them from our rule. We taxed them so 
heavily, and gave them so little opportunity for redress that they 
prayed for deliverance from us. We left our fields uncultivated, 
and our treasury was empty. We trusted our ministers, but they 
pursued their own selfish interests and governed the country ia 
their own right and left us in ignorance. The pay of the army 
was always in arrears, and so in the hour of danger they sided 
with the enemy; and our allies failed us when we needed them 
most. But the chief causes of the fall of our empire lay in our 
ignorance in government and our innocence, for we never knew 
what was happening. 


We never T^new what was happening. . . . There is a sense in 
which none o the Umayyads had ever known. They had stolen the 
sword of Islam and the thunder of Muhammad without ever knowing 
how they could be put to use in the service of mankind. Muhammad 
had spoken of "the brotherhood of the faithful/' but the Caliphs of 
Damascus had destroyed that brotherhood by elevating themselves to 
the ranks of earthly emperors. In time the House of Abbas, ruling 
from Baghdad, was to fall by the same defects, the same presumptu- 
ous innocence. 

The Caliphs of Baghdad 

.here is a glow in the Persian imagination, as o 
softly burning coals: and sometimes the flames leap with startling 
brilliance only to die down again into a troubled darkness, but at the 
moment when all hope is lost, when there are no more flames and 
the embers are cold, there will emerge a great flare of flame, dazzling 
like the dawn. Again and again in the history of Persia there have 
been these sudden explosions of flame, and when the Persians cap- 
tured Muhamadanism they drenched it in their own colors and gave 
it their own vivid intensity. 

In nearly everything the Persian temperament differed from the 
Arab temperament, and had little enough in common with the strange 
mixture of oriental craft and western formality which characterized 
the Syrians. The Persians were of the east, eastern, not rootless like 
the Syrians, who were at the mercy of every wind that blew across 
the deserts of Judaea and the mountains of Lebanon. They were a 
settled people, who liked bright colors, luxury after hard riding and 
hunting, the majesty of kings. Muhammad said all men were brothers, 
Muhammad himself being brother to the meanest Negro slave, while 
the Persians wondered how a slave could be the brother of a noble- 
man. They were feudal and caste-ridden and believed deeply in the 
portentous God-given power of kings, visible or invisible. They were 
both gay and disputatious by instinct, and did not take easily to 
dogma. For more than a thousand years they had worshipped fire and 
regarded the summer and winter palaces of their Kings as the centers 
from which the beneficent influences of Ahura-mazda spread out like 
the rings on the surface of a pool when a stone is flung. They were 
passionately fond of women, flowers and animals; they saw no reason 
to dissemble their passions. The stern morality of Muhammad met 
the fierce Persian delight in luxury, their love of the splendor in all 
created things. It was inevitable that Muhamadanism under the in- 
fluence of the Persians would become in time profoundly different 



from the Muhamadanism practiced by the Arabs in Madinah and 

Yet in the early years o the Abbasid Caliphate there was little to 
suggest the splendor to come. The Caliph as-Saffah, "the Shedder of 
Blood," the undisputed master of Asia and Egypt, was feared as 
much by his subjects as by those he had conquered. A morose, heavily 
built man, whose face sometimes lighted up with a fleeting smile, he 
surrounded himself with theologians and jurists, and, like Muawiya 
before him, amused himself by collecting hadiths. Harshly puritanical, 
he introduced many of the worst features of Sassanian rule. Beside 
the throne stood the executioner with the leather mat ready for the 
head of the victim. The Caliph regarded himself as the incarnation 
of the vengeance of God, a man more than half divine, and brother 
to Muhammad, whose striped mantle he sometimes wore at audiences. 
He wrote poetry filled with his lust for blood: 

Our swords are dripping with blood, and they have 

brought vengeance: 

The great princes of the past brandished them on the battlefield: 
And the heads of our enemies are bro\en to fragments, li\e 

smashed ostrich eggs. 

Such men found dynasties, but leave little trace of themselves. As- 
Saffah built his capital at Hashimiyah in northern Iraq, and em- 
bellished it with the treasure of Damascus, but the capital was soon 
abandoned. He left no monuments to himself, and when he died of 
smallpox in his early thirties he gave orders that his body should be 
buried in a secret place, because he feared the same treatment he had 
meted out to his fallen rivals. 

His successor, his brother Abu Ja'far, called al-Mansur, "the Vic- 
torious," was a man of a wholly different stamp. There was a fierce 
rage in him, but he liked to keep it under control. He was harsh, 
gloomy and austere, and they called him "the Father of Farthings" 
because he was avaricious, but he was not obsessed with the need for 
bloodshed and possessed a brilliant knowledge of the social and 
political forces at work. As-Saffah was a tribal chieftain suffering 
from blood lust; al-Mansur was an emperor. 

The proud boast of the Abbasids was that they introduced a dawlah, 
or new era. Al-Mansur brought peace and security to wide areas of 
his empire, and set out the laws which were to be followed in varying 


degrees by his successors those thirty-five Caliphs who were de- 
scended from him. Tall and lean and very graceful, with a rosy 
complexion, he concealed his passions under a mask of austerity, and 
relied heavily upon his Persian advisers, his bodyguard from Khura- 
san and his astrologers, who were often the descendants of Zoroast- 
rian priests. His chief adviser was Khalid ibn-Barmak, who had been 
as-Saffah's secretary and companion-at-arms, a man of prodigious 
talent. His father was the chief priest of the fire temple at Balkh, or 
perhaps for accounts differ the abbot of a Buddhist monastery at 
the same place. Whether Buddhist or Zoroastrian, he was a Persian 
and the man most responsible for bringing Persian customs and atti- 
tudes to the court. He was so close to as-Saffah that his daughter 
was nursed by the Caliph's wife, whose daughter in turn was nursed 
by Khalid's wife. Men said there was never any difference of opinion 
between the Caliph and his secretary: they could read each other's 
thoughts and behaved like one man. 

When al-Mansur came to the throne, he inherited Khalid and de- 
pended upon him as his brother had done. Together they fought 
their wars and worked out the principles of government, and it is 
almost certainly due to Khalid that al-Mansur continued to rule like 
his brother with all the trappings of a Sassanian king, wrapped in 
the inaccessible mantle of kingship. The weapons of the new Caliph 
were tyranny and terror, more violent and in their effects more sud- 
den than die sporadic ruthlessness of "the Shedder of Blood." He hit 
hard, and then relaxed, to enjoy the peace he acquired at the price 
of violence. 

In the early years of his reign there was no end to violence. The 
mysterious and capable Abu Muslim had almost singlehandedly 
brought the Abbasids to power, and now demanded a position equal 
to his talents. In Khurasan a secret army waited to do his bidding. 
Offered the governorship of Egypt, he rejected it, preferring to re- 
main among his own soldiers. In February, 755, when al-Mansur had 
been on the throne only a little more than six months, he lured 
Abu Muslim to his camp outside the walls of Ctesiphon on the plea 
that he needed advice and would not detain the great general for 
more than a little while. Abu Muslim came with his Khurasanian 
guards, and all the pomp at his command. Honors were heaped on 
him; he was permitted to ride on horseback right up to the Caliph's 
tent; the greatest friendliness was shown to him. Suddenly al-Mansur 
showed his true hand. He began to upbraid the general. He recalled 


one by one the crimes committed by Abu Muslim, who had once 
placed his own name before the Caliph's, and at another time de- 
manded the Caliph's aunt in marriage, and even claimed to be a 
descendant of Abbas. The Caliph clapped his hands. The guards 
rushed in. Abu Muslim was armed, and fought off the guards for a 
few moments, but when his foot was sliced off, he knew the end had 
come, and fought no more. His body was wrapped in a mat and 
tossed into a corner of the tent. The Caliph called in one of his 
generals, Ja'far ibn-Hanzala, and asked him what he thought of Abu 
Muslim. The general, who knew or suspected that Abu Muslim was 
in disfavor, answered: "If you have plucked as much as a single 
hair from his head, then you must kill, and kill again, and kill again." 
"Look under the mat/' the Caliph said, and when Ja'far had looked, 
he turned to the Caliph with a pleased smile and said: "This day 
must be counted the first of your Caliphate." "Yes," said al-Mansur, 
and he quoted the verses: 

The traveler threw away his staff at last: 

At the end of the journey he lay down to rest. 

Some time later that day the body of Abu Muslim was thrown into 
the Tigris, and for the rest of his reign al-Mansur went without fear 
of a rival. 

Abu Muslim represented the dissidents connected with the House 
of Abbas; there were others who were followers of the descendants 
of Ali. Against these al-Mansur fought remorselessly. Among them 
was Muhammad, a great-grandson of Hasan living in Madinah. He 
dug a ditch on the model of the famous ditch which had been dug 
by his great ancestor, and invited the Caliph to attack him. An army 
was sent to Arabia, the ditch was crossed, and Muhammad was killed. 
Within a year al-Mansur had killed so many of the followers and 
descendants of Ali that popular imagination pictured the Caliph as a 
nightly visitor to an immense chamber filled with their bodies: in the 
ear of each there was a label with his name and genealogy neatly 
written. Afterward, when the Caliph's son Muhammad came to the 
throne, it was whispered that he was so horrified by the bodies he 
found in the chamber that he caused them to be buried. 

It was a time of feverish excitement, of intense planning, of strange 
forms of worship. The Rawandiyah, a sect of Persian extremists, 
flocked to the court and paid the same tribute to the Caliph they 


would have paid to God. They worshiped him openly, hurled them- 
selves before him when he was out riding, and became such a nuis- 
ance that the Caliph ordered them exterminated. It was counted in 
the Caliph's favor that he ruthlessly destroyed those who paid him 
divine honors. 

Al-Mansur's aim, above all others, was to secure his dynasty, and 
as soon as the domestic situation was well in hand, he set about 
building a great capital from which he could rule his vast empire 
and where his safety could be assured. He chose the district called 
Baghdad, which may be a Persian name meaning "the gift of God," 
on the lower west bank of the Tigris, as the site. In this district, 
once the summer camp of Sassanian emperors, sixty small villages 
largely inhabited by Christians had grown up. The villagers were 
indemnified, the ground was leveled, and in the spring of 762, with 
Sagittarius rising, the Caliph attended the solemn ceremony of mark- 
ing the bounds of the new city. An immense circle 3,000 yards in 
diameter was cut into the sand, and along the cut cotton soaked in 
naphtha was set alight. At the beginning the city was a circle of 
fire; and so it was again five hundred years later, when a Mongolian 
emperor put it to the flames. 

No great city has ever been built as quickly as Baghdad. In four 
years the city was virtually completed. A hundred thousand laborers 
in forced levies were employed to bring immense blocks of stone 
from Jabal Hamrin, eighty miles distant. About a third of the fortress 
city of Ctesiphon was demolished and brought to Baghdad. There 
was a double surrounding wall of brick, a deep moat, and a third 
inner wall ninety feet high surrounding the royal palace. The top of 
the main wall was provided with a roadway forty-two feet wide. 
There were four main gates named after Khurasan, Damascus, al- 
Kufah and Basrah, with an audience chamber above the archways. 
In the palace, known as the Palace of the Golden Gate, was the 
famous Green Dome surmounted by a gilded horseman whose lance 
was said to point in the direction of the Caliph's enemies. The 
Round City took its water supply not from the Tigris, which it over- 
looked, but from the far more dependable Euphrates, which was only 
thirty-five miles away. When the city was completed it was given the 
name of Madinat al-Salam, "the City of Peace," but the people con- 
tinued to use the old name, which had fewer ironical overtones. 

To this city, built so close to the ancient cities of Akkad, Babylon, 
Seleucia and Ctesiphon, there flocked all the talents of the empire: 


no court on earth excelled the splendor of the Abbasid court in 
Baghdad. For seventy years it remained the glory of Islam, and for 
four hundred more it continued to be, in name if not in fact, the 
capital of the empire. Artists, poets, philosophers, philanderers and 
soldiers flocked to the city in increasing numbers, until Baghdad 
could no longer hold them and spilled out beyond its own walls. 

Al-Mansur had little taste for the arts, but did nothing to prevent 
others from enjoying them. Soon Baghdad was famous for its musi- 
cians and dancing girls, its taverns and market places, its water carni- 
vals and gaudy processions through the streets, its colleges and hospi- 
tals and hotels. For the first time translations from Persian, Syriac 
and Greek were made into Arabic, and the Caliph handsomely re- 
warded the translators. The tall, dark, slender man with the thin 
beard and the look of a hungry hawk had a penchant for hard work, 
read voluminously, spent whole days supervising the accounts, took 
little interest in his harem and drank no wine. Occasionally he per- 
mitted himself to be amused by the antics of the court poet Abu 
Dulama, who was nearly always drunk, but such occasions became 
increasingly rare as the Caliph grew older. More and more the 
Caliph devoted himself to the raising of money "the Father of 
Farthings" was also "the Father of Millions." He took from his 
friends and especially from the governors of provinces, who were in 
positions to raise vast sums of money, whatever he needed. One day 
he called upon the aged Khalid to disgorge 3,000,000 dirhems, and 
when Khalid complained the amount was reduced to 2,700,000. 
The Caliph's brother Abbas was compelled to surrender all the 
money he had squeezed out of the people when governor of Mesopo- 
tamia. At Basrah there lived a small colony of descendants of Abu 
Bakr who had made fortunes; the Caliph ordered nine-tenths of these 
fortunes to be handed over to the treasury of the empire. "Never 
sleep," he told his son, "for your father has never slept since he 
came to the Caliphate; and even when sleep overcame him, his spirit 
was wide awake." 

The unsleeping Caliph prepared the way for that great explosion 
of intellectual energy which followed upon his death. He inaugu- 
rated a postal service which brought news from the most distant 
provinces in a matter of days; he built roads, constructed canals, 
designed cities and superintended the making of maps. None of the 
Umayyad Caliphs possessed his complete devotion to the art of 
government. In the forenoon and evening and late into the night he 


gave orders and listened to reports; only a few hours in the after- 
noon were spent with his family. 

He enjoyed his family, but could be relentless with his relatives. 
As-Saffah had nominated Isa ibn-Musa, al-Mansur's cousin, as the 
successor to the throne. Isa ibn-Musa, a saintly man, deeply religious 
and much loved, had distinguished himself on the battlefield and also 
as a canal builder, and he seems to have accepted al-Mansur's Caliphate 
with good grace, demanding only that he should become the next 
Caliph. Accordingly there was a solemn ceremony at which al-Mansur 
promised on the Quran that the succession should go to his cousin. 
A few weeks later al-Mansur was plotting to get rid of his cousin, 
who was given poison, but though he fell ill and lost his hair and 
beard, he recovered and appeared at court to warn the Caliph against 
breaking agreements signed on the Quran. In this extremity the 
Caliph called upon the services of his vizier, who suggested that 
witnesses be brought to swear that there had been no solemn 
agreement between the Caliph and his cousin. This was done, but 
Isa ibn-Musa brought more witnesses to prove the contrary. In 
despair the Caliph decided upon a ruse of his own. He summoned 
Isa ibn-Musa to appear at court with his young son. From the throne 
the Caliph ordered the boy to be executed. The executioner stepped 
forward. The leather thong was drawn tight round the boy's neck 
and he was half-strangled. Isa ibn-Musa protested no more. Taking 
his son with him, he lived out the rest of his life on his country 
estate near al-Kufah as a millionaire recluse, for during the last act 
of this atrocious drama the Caliph gave his cousin a vast fortune. 
The succession was reserved for his own son Muhammad. 

Al-Mansur's greatest claim to the affections of Muhamadans de- 
rives from the peace he brought to the empire. There were, of course, 
the usual border incidents. The tribes on the southern borders of the 
Caspian Sea remained unsubdued, but Tabaristan (Mazanderan), 
where descendants of Sassanian rulers maintained an independent 
dynasty and kept up the Zoroastrian religion, was conquered and 
added to the empire. There was the usual trouble in Merv, the 
capital of Khurasan, when al-Muqanna, "the veiled one" he wore a 
gold-embroidered veil supposed to obscure the radiance of his divinity 
from profane eyes revolted and for a while held the whole province 
at his mercy. There were brief rebellions in Egypt; and when in 767 
al-Mansur received reports that the rebels were threatening to use 
the ancient Pharaonic Canal, he immediately ordered the canal to be 


filled in, and so it remained, a barren and waterless waste, until De 
Lesseps carved it out again. 

His greatest failure was in Spain, where Abd ar-Rahman, the last 
survivor of the Umayyad princes, had entrenched himself. Al-Mansur, 
underestimating Abd ar-Rahman's power, ordered al-Ala ibn-Mughith, 
the governor of North Africa, to attack Spain and bring it back to 
the Abbasid fold. In a series of sharply fought campaigns Abd ar- 
Rahman succeeded in destroying the enemy at Badajoz; and the heads 
of al-Mansur's governor and his lieutenants were embalmed in salt 
and camphor and wrapped in a black Abbasid flag, and entrusted to 
a merchant of Cordova making a pilgrimage to Mecca. One day when 
al-Mansur was on pilgrimage to Mecca, the head came rolling over 
the carpet while he was holding court. Attached to the ears were 
tags written by Abd ar-Rahman giving the full name, titles and 
honors of the dead governor. "This man is the devil himself!" al- 
Mansur exclaimed. "Thanks to God for putting the sea between me 
and such a foe!" At that time Abd ar-Rahman was busy building a 
fleet and contemplating the capture of the Islamic empire from the 
ports of Spain. 

Al-Mansur made many pilgrimages to Mecca, his last taking place 
in 775. On the journey he complained of illness and a sickness of 
the bowels. It had been a very hot summer, and he was exhausted and 
close to deadi when he reached Bir Maimun, an hour's journey from 
Mecca. Only his freedman Rabi and a few servants were present when 
he died. At his orders a hundred graves were dug for him, and he 
was buried surreptitiously in one of them, so that no one should 
ever know where he was buried. He was seventy years old, and he 
had ruled the empire for twenty years. He was the real founder of 
his dynasty, and those who came after him were lesser men. 

Shortly before he died, al-Mansur summoned his son Muhammad 
to the presence. As so often before, the Caliph spoke about Baghdad. 
"The city is a treasure," he said. "Beware of exchanging it for an- 
other, for it is your home and your strength. In it I have gathered 
so much wealth that even if the land revenues were cut off for 
fifteen years you will have sufficient for the supplies of your army 
and for every kind of expenditure." Muhammad, who came to the 
throne with the title of al-Mahdi, "the guided one," showed himself 
to be as solidly rooted as his father, without his father's vices of 
acquisitiveness and cruelty. He was thirty-three, tall and well built, 
with an amiable expression. He opened the prisons of all except the 


worst offenders and returned to the few living descendents of Ali the 
properties confiscated from them. He gave pensions to lepers and to 
the poor, and built resthouses along the road to Mecca. When one 
of Marwan's sons rose in rebellion in Syria, al-Mahdi defeated him 
in battle, took him prisoner, and later gave him a substantial pension; 
and his wife Khayzuran, a princess from Tabaristan, protected and 
favored the widow of Marwan. It was a time of consolidation, and 
the gathering of the harvest. 

With the vast wealth inherited from al-Mansur, al-Mahdi was able 
to renew the "holy war" against Byzantium. In 782, he marched by 
way of Mosul and Aleppo almost to the gates of Constantinople, 
leaving his elder son Musa (Moses) as regent of Baghdad. His 
younger son Harun, who had already distinguished himself in war in 
Asia Minor he had led expeditions to Ephesus and Ankara fifteen 
years earlier advanced as far as the ancient Chrysopolis (Scutari), 
thus forcing the Empress Irene to sue for peace under a humiliating 
treaty involving the payment of an annual tribute of 90,000 dinars. 
Harun so distinguished himself that he was granted by his father the 
title al-Rashid, "the Upright," and designated his elder brother's 
successor to the throne. 

Al-Mahdi died while out hunting. He was pursuing a stag, with 
the hunting dogs barking at its heels, when he lost control of his 
horse and was thrown against the gate of a ruined palace; the con- 
cussion broke his spine. He died later that day in the presence of 
his son Harun. He was forty-three and had ruled for ten years, and 
some said afterward that those were the best years enjoyed by the 
Abbasid Caliphs and the people they ruled over. 

Harun might have seized the Caliphate, but refused, even though 
he had little liking for his elder brother Musa. Accordingly he took 
the ring from his father's finger and sent it with the Prophet's staff 
and mantle to his brother, together with his oath of fealty. Musa 
became Caliph under the title al-Hadi, meaning "the guide." He was 
twenty-four, a headstrong and thickset man, obstinate and generous, 
with a passion for poetry and no particular talent for ruling. In his 
reign Idris ibn-Abdallah, a grandson of Hasan, made his way to 
Morocco and founded the Idrisid dynasty; Morocco was henceforth 
lost to the empire. 

The loss of Morocco passed almost unnoticed in Baghdad, the 
capital of an unwieldy empire. Revolts on the frontiers were common- 
places of the time: there were continual wars in Transoxiana, con- 


tinual uprisings in Khurasan and Arabia, and these were put down 
with a heavy hand. Most of al-Hadi's reign was spent in attempting 
to secure the succession for his young son Ja'far, against the advice 
of Yahya ibn-Khalid, who became vizier on the death of his father. 
For demanding that the succession pass into the hands of Harun 
al-Rashid, Yahya was thrown into prison; and Harun, suspecting that 
he would be poisoned if he remained at court, hurried out of the 
capital and spent the remaining months of his brother's reign in a 
prolonged tour of the distant provinces. In September, 786, al-Hadi 
died of a lingering disease at Isabad, a day's journey from Baghdad; 
there were rumors that the disease took the form of slow suffocation. 
Two slaves in the pay of his mother are said to have smothered him 
with pillows when he was lying in bed in his harem. 

Young, elegant, superbly handsome, with his father's ruddy com- 
plexion and his mother's dark and deep-set eyes, Harun possessed the 
virtues of his grandfather and the graces of a woman. There was 
something feverish and feminine in him from the beginning. He 
looked upon the world as though it were there for his enjoyment, to 
be continually caressed. He adored his own majestic presence, and he 
adored Baghdad; and since the man and the city were conceived in 
the same year, he came to represent its failings and its splendors like 
no other Caliph before or after him. We think of him as the hero of 
the Arabian Nights, wandering in disguise through the taverns of 
Baghdad, forgetting that he was deeply religious, a brilliant soldier, 
an exceptional administrator. "He used to weep over his own ex- 
travagance/' wrote an Arab chronicler, "and he wept for his sins." 
Indeed, he was counted among the weepers, of whom Abu Bakr was 
the most renowned. It is related of him that when he heard for the 
first time the hadith: "I would I might do battle for God's sake and 
be slain, and then be quickened again, and so slain again," he 
sobbed as though his heart would break. 

Harun's abundant virtues even startled his contemporaries. To a 
precocious intelligence he added an exquisite sensibility and an al- 
most morbid refinement. He saw himself in the endless mirrors of his 
own magnificence; and if sometimes he gave the impression of a man 
too much in love with his own image, he also possessed a becoming 
humility and a gift, rare among the Abbasid Caliphs, of putting 
people at their ease. Proud and imperious, he was the most human of 
Caliphs, and at times the gentlest. 

In Harun's time Baghdad reached the height of its glory. Along 


the wharves, to a length o nearly twenty miles, were moored hun- 
dreds of vessels ranging from warships to pleasure boats, from im- 
mense high-pro wed Chinese junks to rafts floating on inflated sheep- 
skins and the little gondolas called zoura\ } decked with flags, which 
carried the Baghdadis from one part of the city to another. Baghdad 
was more than the Round City; it had spilled over onto the opposite 
shore of the Tigris until it reached Karkh, the military camp built 
by al-Mahdi, which had become a full-fledged town. Into the suks 
came rice from Egypt, glass from Syria, silks, perfumes and fruits 
from Persia, lapis lazuli from Khurasan, gold and rubies from Trans- 
oxiana, dyes and spices from India, porcelain and silks from China, 
furs and slaves from Russia, ebony and more slaves from Africa. All 
the provinces of the empire sent their products by sea or river, or 
along the highways to Baghdad, which had become the center of the 
world and the greatest trading port in history. Of this period people 
said: "it was one long wedding-day and an everlasting feast." It was 
so glorious a time that people doubted their good fortune and 
wondered whether they were dreaming. 

Harun was perfectly aware of his good fortune, and of the bril- 
liance of his city, which seemed to be no more than the reflection of 
his own brilliance. At dusk, when a grateful coolness rose from the 
river, the Caliph's palace was lighted up. This was the hour when he 
received guests, sitting in state on his divan, sometimes beckoning to 
a distinguished visitor to sit beside him. Usually, not far from the 
presence, there would be the sons of his tutor, Yahya ibn-Barmak. 
There were four sons, Ja'far, Fadhl, Musa and Muhammad, all of 
whom received high administrative posts. Ja'far was the handsomest, 
remembered for his long and graceful neck and his dark glowing 
eyes. Sometimes at these evening audiences the Caliph's wife Zubayda 
the name means "little creamy one'' and was given to her by her 
grandfather al-Mansur was present in all her finery, wearing her rich 
brocades which sometimes cost 50,000 dinars, with jewel-studded 
slippers on her feet, and with ropes of heavy pearls around her neck. 
Zubayda set the fashions. She dressed her handmaidens as page boys, 
and organized a body of mounted palace servants to run her errands, 
and rode about Baghdad in a palanquin of silver, ebony and sandal- 
wood. She reveled in luxury. Harun enjoyed luxury, but sometimes 
regarded it as a necessary evil, to be viewed with an air of cultivated 

At these evening audiences Harun was in his element, surrounding 


himself with theologians and alchemists, astronomers and jugglers, 
judges and poets, soldiers and administrators. Poets were especially 
rewarded, and he was appreciative of dancing girls. So the evenings 
passed with drinking and songs and long arguments, while the in- 
cense burned and sometimes the Caliph would hold his robe up to his 
eyes to prevent them from smarting from the fumes of the incense 
which clouded the air, making everything appear strangely blue or 
purple. Just before dawn there were morning prayers with the guests 
standing rigid as statues, and afterward the Caliph would wander 
away to his harem or with Ja'far, his favorite, he would wander out 
in disguise through his city. 

For Ja'far the Caliph possessed an affection which he showed to no 
one else. When Yahya ibn-Khalid grew too old for the task, his 
eldest son Fadhl was made Vizier of the empire, but the appointment 
lasted only a few months. Fadhl was abrupt in his manner, and 
strangely reserved. Ja'far was gay, affectionate, brilliant, impulsive, 
quick to share the Caliph's moods. For nearly seventeen years they 
were inseparable, and it was rumored that the Caliph loved Ja'far so 
dearly that he ordered a robe with two collar openings, so that they 
could wear it together. There were rumors, too, of a homosexual 
affection between the light-skinned Caliph and the darker-skinned 
Vizier whose mother was a mulatto from Madinah with Abyssinian 
or Negro blood in her. 

Inevitably there were complaints. Ja'far, loaded with honors, the 
wealthiest man in the empire after the Caliph, became the target of 
influential scandalmongers. Perhaps the Caliph wearied of his long 
friendship, but it is more likely that he gave way to a sudden uncon- 
trollable rage, like those bloodthirsty rages which accompanied as- 
Saffah through all his campaigns. On January 29, 803, shortly 
after returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Caliph gave orders 
for Ja'far's execution. The head was placed on the central bridge of 
Baghdad and the two halves o his body on the other two bridges. 
Immediately afterward the Caliph abandoned Baghdad for his sum- 
mer palace at al-Raqqa, and rarely returned to his capital. It was as 
though he was haunted by the presence of his dead friend. 

Arab chroniclers have delighted in telling the story of Ja'far's fall 
from grace. For them the story has some of the elements which ap- 
pear in the story of the martyred Husayn the murder so purposeless, 
and yet inevitable, the bloodshed somehow redeeming the time. They 
have embroidered upon it until there is hardly a single detail which 
remains entirely credible, but the whole remains vivid and true. 


According to the chroniclers Ja'far was murdered for having fa- 
thered two sons on his own wife. His wife was Harun's favorite sister 
Abbasa, and the marriage was arranged because Harun loved Ja'far 
and his sister equally, and wanted to be with them at all hours of the 
day and night. It was agreed, however, that Ja'far would never be 
alone with his wife, and he would never be in the same house with 
her unless the Caliph was present. Ja'far, who felt highly honored by 
this marriage into the caliphal family, was prepared to abide by the 
strange agreement, but had not counted on the princess' capacity for 
intrigue. One night, returning drunk from an audience in the palace, 
he went to his mother's house. Too befuddled to know what he was 
doing, and mistaking the princess for a pretty serving maid, he slept 
with her: the child she bore was called Husayn and spirited secretly 
to Mecca. Some time later another child called Hasan was born to 
them, and this too was sent secretly to Mecca. 

The Caliph was kept in ignorance of the affair until the end of 802, 
when he was on pilgrimage in Mecca. Vague rumors had reached him 
during the journey, and as soon as he reached Mecca he set about 
discovering the children* They were brought to him. They were very 
handsome, and he gazed at them for a long time, speaking to them 
very gently, inquiring about their health and their schooling, as 
though he wanted to delay the inevitable moment of decision. They 
were strangled shortly after he had dismissed them with presents. 
Returning to Baghdad, the Caliph was overwhelmed by the knowl- 
edge of treachery in his own family. He had changed remarkably. 
There were heavy lines on his face. He had killed the children to pre- 
vent them from obtaining the succession, and now he determined to 
kill both his favorite and his sister. 

The princess was killed first. To Masrur, his bodyguard and execu- 
tioner, he said: "When it is dark, bring me ten masons and two serv- 
ants." In the dark they went to the princess' palace. She was standing 
in the middle of the room, welcoming them, when the Caliph gave the 
order for her death, Masrur was a bladk eunuch, very strong, and 
she was soon killed. When Masrur asked where she should be buried, 
the Caliph answered: "Bury her where she is," and the masons went 
to work, digging through the floors of the palace until they reached 
water level, while the Caliph looked on, sitting in a chair. At last 
he gave orders for the body to be thrown into the water and the 
grave filled in. When the work was finished, he turned to Masrur and 
said: "Give the workmen their due," The ten masons were sewn into 
sacks and thrown into the Tigris. 


himself with theologians and alchemists, astronomers and jugglers, 
judges and poets, soldiers and administrators. Poets were especially 
rewarded, and he was appreciative o dancing girls. So the evenings 
passed with drinking and songs and long arguments, while the in- 
cense burned and sometimes the Caliph would hold his robe up to his 
eyes to prevent them from smarting from the fumes of the incense 
which clouded the air, making everything appear strangely blue or 
purple. Just before dawn there were morning prayers with the guests 
standing rigid as statues, and afterward the Caliph would wander 
away to his harem or with Ja'far, his favorite, he would wander out 
in disguise through his city. 

For Ja'far the Caliph possessed an affection which he showed to no 
one else. When Yahya ibn-Khalid grew too old for the task, his 
eldest son Fadhl was made Vizier of the empire, but the appointment 
lasted only a few months. Fadhl was abrupt in his manner, and 
strangely reserved. Ja'far was gay, affectionate, brilliant, impulsive, 
quick to share the Caliph's moods. For nearly seventeen years they 
were inseparable, and it was rumored that the Caliph loved Ja'far so 
dearly that he ordered a robe with two collar openings, so that they 
could wear it' together. There were rumors, too, of a homosexual 
affection between the light-skinned Caliph and the darker-skinned 
Vizier whose mother was a mulatto from Madinah with Abyssinian 
or Negro blood in her. 

Inevitably there were complaints. Ja'far, loaded with honors, the 
wealthiest man in the empire after the Caliph, became the target of 
influential scandalmongers. Perhaps the Caliph wearied of his long 
friendship, but it is more likely that he gave way to a sudden uncon- 
trollable rage, like those bloodthirsty rages which accompanied as- 
Saffah through all his campaigns. On January 29, 803, shortly 
after returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Caliph gave orders 
for Ja'far's execution. The head was placed on the central bridge o 
Baghdad and the two halves of his body on the other two bridges. 
Immediately afterward the Caliph abandoned Baghdad for his sum- 
mer palace at al-Raqqa, and rarely returned to his capital. It was as 
though he was hauated by the presence of his dead friend. 

Arab chroniclers have delighted in telling the story of Ja'far's fall 
from grace. For them the story has some of the elements which ap- 
pear in the story of the martyred Husayn the murder so purposeless, 
and yet inevitable, the bloodshed somehow redeeming the time. They 
have embroidered upon it until there is hardly a single detail which 
remains entirely credible, but the whole remains vivid and true. 


According to the chroniclers Ja'far was murdered for having fa- 
thered two sons on his own wife. His wife was Harun's favorite sister 
Abbasa, and the marriage was arranged because Harun loved Ja'far 
and his sister equally, and wanted to be with them at all hours of the 
day and night. It was agreed,, however, that Ja'far would never be 
alone with his wife, and he would never be in the same house with 
her unless the Caliph was present. Ja'far, who felt highly honored by 
this marriage into the caliphal family, was prepared to abide by the 
strange agreement, but had not counted on the princess' capacity for 
intrigue. One night, returning drunk from an audience in the palace, 
he went to his mother's house. Too befuddled to know what he was 
doing, and mistaking the princess for a pretty serving maid, he slept 
with her: the child she bore was called Husayn and spirited secretly 
to Mecca. Some time later another child called Hasan was bom to 
them, and this too was sent secretly to Mecca. 

The Caliph was kept in ignorance of the affair until the end o 802, 
when he was on pilgrimage in Mecca. Vague rumors had reached him 
during the journey, and as soon as he reached Mecca he set about 
discovering the children. They were brought to him. They were very 
handsome, and he gazed at them for a long time, speaking to them 
very gently, inquiring about their health and their schooling, as 
though he wanted to delay the inevitable moment of decision. They 
were strangled shortly after he had dismissed them with presents. 
Returning to Baghdad, the Caliph was overwhelmed by the knowl- 
edge of treachery in his own family. He had changed remarkably. 
There were heavy lines on his face. He had killed the children to pre- 
vent them from obtaining the succession, and now he determined to 
kill both his favorite and his sister. 

The princess was killed first. To Masrur, his bodyguard and execu- 
tioner, he said: "When it is dark, bring me ten masons and two serv- 
ants." In the dark they went to the princess' palace. She was standing 
in the middle of the room, welcoming them, when the Caliph gave the 
order for her death. Masrur was a blade eunuch, very strong, and 
she was soon killed. When Masrur asked where she should be buried, 
the Caliph answered: "Bury her where she is," and the masons went 
to work, digging through the floors of the palace until they reached 
water level, while the Caliph looked on, sitting in a chair. At last 
he gave orders for the body to be thrown into the water and the 
grave filled in. When the work was finished, he turned to Masrur and 
said: "Give the workmen their due," The ten masons were sewn into 
sacks and thrown into the Tigris. 


The next day was Thursday, the day on which Ja'far was accus- 
tomed to lead the parade in front o the palace. At the audience fol- 
lowing the parade, Ja'far was allowed to sit close to the Caliph. It is 
possible that he knew his life was in danger, for he asked permission 
to leave for his estates in Khurasan. Harun answered: "We must ask 
the astrologers," and set about consulting the astronomical tables. 
Finally he said: "No, Ja'far, I believe it is an evil day for you. Better 
stay for the Friday prayers, when the stars will be more propitious." 
Ja'far was puzzled. He had taken the precaution of consulting the 
stars and the almanacs, and he had been assured he had chosen a 
propitious day for the journey. When he left, the Caliph accompanied 
him to his horse and helped him to mount a sure sign that he was 
still in favor. 

That night he was summoned to return to the palace by a mes- 
senger who said that letters had come from Khurasan, and the Caliph 
wanted him to open them. Terrified, and suspecting the worst, he 
rode to the palace with Masrur and his own escort. Soldiers at the 
palace headed off his escort, and he went Into the inner apartments 
alone with Masrur. Harun had put up a Turkish tent within his own 
apartments. He was waiting there with his stick in his hand and the 
sweat streaming down his face, and from time to time he would bite 
at the handle of the stick. 

When Ja'far knew that his end had come, he was so paralyzed with 
fear that he threw himself on the ground and implored Masrur for 
mercy, reminding him of the many gifts he had given him, and the 
many more that would be his if he would spare the Vizier's life. 
Masrur may have been half tempted by the great wealth that would 
come to him, but he feared Harun's vengeance if he let Ja'far free. 

"Then do not kill me here," Ja'far cried. "Let me into the presence. 
He will not kill me if he sees me." 

"I dare not face the Caliph without your head," Masrur said. "I 
know there is no chance for thee!" 

"Then give me a little time," Ja'far replied. "Go to the presence 
and say: I have done your bidding. See what he says, and after that 
do whatever has to be done. If you do that, then God and the angels 
are my witness I will give you half of what I have." 

Masrur was tempted, and after removing Ja'far's sword and put- 
ting him in charge of forty black slaves, he went to where the Caliph 
was sitting in his Turkish tent. 

"I have done your bidding," Masrur told the Caliph. 


"Then where is the head?" 

"It is outside." 

"Bring it to me." 

There was nothing left for Masrur to do but obey the order. He 
returned, cut off Ja'far's head, and, taking it by the beard, he threw 
it at the Caliph's feet. There was a moment of silence, as the Caliph 
gazed at the familiar head, and then there burst from him a strange 
animal-like sob, and he began to scream and shout at the head as 
though he expected it to answer him, and all the time he was digging 
the stick deeper into the ground. A little later he gave orders to have 
Ja'far's brother Fadhl, and his venerable old father Yahya, impris- 

That night one of the officers of the guard, al-Sindi ibn Shakik, was 
awakened from a bad dream: 

I was sleeping in the upper room of the guard-house which is 
on the west side of Baghdad when I saw Ja'far in a dream. He 
stood before me in a robe dyed with saffron and inscribed with 
strange terrifying verses. I awoke in horror, and told what I had 
seen to one of my friends, who said: "Not all that a man sees in 
sleep can be interpreted." I then returned to my couch, but I had 
scarcely closed my eyes when I heard the challenge of the sen- 
tries, the ringing of the bridles of the post-horses and a loud 
knocking at the door of my chamber. I ordered it to be opened, 
and the eunuch Salam al-Abrash (whom Harun never sent out ex- 
cept on important business) came upstairs. I shuddered at the 
sight of him, and my joints trembled, for I imagined he had 
some orders for me. The eunuch handed me a letter telling me 
to seize and imprison Yahya and all his relatives. 1 

So Ibn Khallikan tells the story in his Boo\ of Names, that enor- 
mous biographical dictionary which corresponds to an Arabic Who's 
Who; and of all the accounts written about that night, this is the one 
with the most authentic frisson, perhaps because it only hints at the 
atrocities to come. 

When Yahya and his three remaining sons, and their families, were 
thrown into prison, an inventory was made of their estates, which 
amounted to 36,676,000 dinars ($160,000,000). Harun was still not 

1 Ibn Khallikan, Biographical Dictionary, tr. Baron MacGuckin de 
Slane, Paris, 1843, I, 310. 


satisfied, and ordered Fadhl tortured, to reveal where he had hidden 
the treasures not included in the inventories. One evening Masrur 
arrived at the prison accompanied by several slaves, each holding 
folded napkins in their hands. Such napkins usually concealed pres- 
ents, but this time they concealed whips with knotted lashes. Fadhl 
proclaimed his innocence: he had revealed everything, and hoped 
only to spend his last days in peace. Masrur told the slaves to give 
Fadhl two hundred lashes. He was whipped within an inch of his 
life and afterward his body was drawn repeatedly over coarse mat- 
ting until most of the skin of his back was removed. Fadhl recovered, 
to die of cancer of the mouth five years later. When Harun heard of 
his death, he said: "My fate is near to his," and in fact he died a few 
months later, having surrendered to one last feverish bout of brutal 

Harun was thirty-nine when he gave orders for the execution of 
Ja'far. He looked like an old man, was slow in his movements, and 
his hands trembled. One day his half-sister Ulayya, famous for her 
poetry and her singing, said: "I never saw you enjoying a single day 
of happiness since you put JVfar to death. Then why did you kill 
him?" "If I thought even my inmost garments knew the reason," 
Harun replied, "I would tear them apart!" His reply seems to pause 
on the edge of a revelation of almost unbearable intimacy with the 
dead man. When Ja'far died, a part of Harun died with him. 

The most succinct account of the tragedy was given by a visitor to 
the Treasury who found in one of the ledgers the entry: "For a robe 
of honor for Ja'far ibn-Yahya 400,000 dinars." A few days later he 
noted another entry: "For naphtha and shavings for burning the 
body of Ja'far ibn-Yahya 10 kirats." A kirat was one twenty-fourth 
of a dinar. 

Six years of life remained to Harun after the murder of Ja'far, but 
during most of those years he gave the impression of a man going 
through the processes of kingship like a sleepwalker, barely conscious 
of what he was doing, fearful of what would happen after his death 
and still more fearful about the present. In the past he had always 
treated the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus with contempt, sending 
him insulting messages "From Harun, the Commander of the Faith- 
ful, to Nicephorus, the dog of a Roman" but as the years passed, the 
tide of war began to turn in favor of the Byzantines in Asia Minor. 
Revolts in the provinces were suppressed ruthlessly, but rarely ef- 
fectively: they would spring up again the moment the pressure was 


removed. In Syria, North Africa and Khurasan there were continual 
revolts which were only put down at the cost of enormous losses in 
men and treasure. 

The empire of Harun could well afford such losses. Not since the 
time of Augustus Caesar had so much wealth and power been at the 
disposal of one man. Harun, says Ibn Khaldun, followed in the foot- 
steps of his grandfather except in parsimony, for no Caliph exceeded 
him in the magnificence of his gifts. He was especially liberal to poets, 
and himself wrote verses to his Greek concubine Helen, for whom he 
built on the shores of the Euphrates a palace called Heraclea in honor 
of her birthplace. During his reign, and largely at his own expense, 
there was constructed a large number of academies and universities 
where scholars were given the task of translating Greek scientific 
works captured from the libraries of Ancyra (Ankara). The historian 
Waqidi, the protege of Yahya ibn-Khalid, wrote during his reign the 
classic account of the campaigns of Muhammad and the wars of con- 
quest. Jabir ibn-Hayyan, the alchemist known to the west as Geber, 
was another protege of Yahya, and for a while a confidant of the 
Caliph, who showed an unusual interest in alchemical experiments. 
Jabir was forced to flee from Baghdad when Yahya was arrested. Ibn 
Khaldun says that it was in Harun's time that the first commentaries 
on the Quran were written. It is clear that Harun paved the way for 
the great flowering of cultural activity which came during the reign 
of al-Mamun. 

Harun's fame reached the courts of China and of Charlemagne. 
Eginhard, the chronicler of Charlemagne, speaks of envoys sent to 
Baghdad and returning home with a number of elephants and a cun- 
ningly contrived water clock of bronze that marked the time by means 
of little figures on horseback which paraded through little doors, one 
horseman for every chime. Curiously, the Arab chroniclers have left 
no record of this embassy from the holy Roman Emperor. 

Toward the end Harun's spirit failed him completely. He slept 
badly. He suspected everyone of harboring secret plans against him. 
He believed his sons Muhammad and Abdallah were plotting against 
him and against each other, and would inevitably lead the empire to 
ruin. Muhammad was his favorite, and accordingly the succession was 
granted to him, but he was aware of the superior talents of Abdallah, 
his son by a Persian slave girl, and did his utmost to prevent him 
from seizing power. When in 808 there occurred one more of the in- 
numerable revolts which plagued Khurasan, Harun gathered an 


army and marched against the rebels, leaving Muhammad as regent 
in Baghdad and taking care that Abdallah should go with him. He 
reached Sanabad, then a small village, when he heard of the capture 
of the rebel leader Rafi ibn-Layth. He was already dying, but he had 
strength enough to order that Rafi be brought into his presence. Rest- 
ing from the sun in a garden tent, he examined the rebel attentively, 
and then, remembering how he had been exhausted by the long 
journey, he decided upon an exemplary punishment. "You have 
brought me here, and you must pay for it," he said. "You shall be 
killed as no man was ever killed before." Rafi was hacked to pieces, 
slowly, and one by one the pieces were thrown at the Caliph's feet. 
He died a few hours later, still gazing at the remnants of the defeated 
rebel. He had reigned for twenty-three years, and during the last six 
of them he knew no happiness at all. 

When the news of Harun's death reached Baghdad the following 
week, Muhammad assumed the Caliphate. Harun's fears seemed to be 
unfounded. Abdallah was in Khurasan, far from the sources of 
power, unable and perhaps unwilling to dispute his elder brother's 
authority. Muhammad became Caliph under the name al-Amin, and 
immediately set about enjoying his new-found powers. He was big- 
boned, broad-shouldered, very tall, with a hooked nose and small 
eyes, and gave the impression of a man completely in command of 
himself. He possessed immense physical courage. Once a caged lion 
was brought to him, and everyone in the audience chamber fled when 
the lion broke through the door. The Caliph was drinking, and he 
continued to drink while the lion approached the throne. When the 
lion sprang, he simply held up a cushion as a shield and quietly dis- 
patched it with his short dagger. He had a pleasant manner, laughed 
easily and possessed a keen intelligence, but once in power he aban- 
doned himself to dissipation and luxury. We hear of immense sums 
spent on dancing girls who were trained to perform in ballets, wear- 
ing ropes of pearls and rivers of diamonds. He spent money prodi- 
giously on soothsayers and jugglers, and on the building of palaces 
which were abandoned after he had lived in them for a single night. 

The empire could perhaps afford such prodigality Harun al-Rashid 
had left a hundred million dinars in the state treasury but it could 
not afford al-Amin's ignorance of political realities. Abdallah was 
governor of Khurasan, and the best army was under his command. 
Al-Amin decided to destroy the army of Khurasan and sent a picked 
force of 40,000 troops against his brother. At Rayy, near Teheran, 


his entire army was wiped out by 4,000 men under Abdallah's gen- 
eral Tahir, who reported after his victory: "The general's head lies 
before me; his ring is on my finger; his army is under me." The story 
is told that when news o the defeat was brought to the Caliph al- 
Amin, he was fishing on the Tigris. "It is a small matter," he said, 
and went on fishing. 

It was not a small matter. The defeat at Rayy was the prelude to a 
series of catastrophic defeats, culminating in the siege of Baghdad. 
Abdallah had decided to wrest the Caliphate from his brother by 
force. Half of the Caliph's generals went over to the enemy. With his 
capital encircled al-Amin continued to live as though he had no care 
in the world. Masudi describes the strange army which helped to de- 
fend Baghdad after the siege had lasted more than a year. Few of the 
defenders had any sound garments. They went to battle naked to the 
waist, but wearing on their heads sham helmets of palm fiber, and 
their shields were made of palm leaves, and their clubs were no more 
than matted rushes covered with tar and stuffed with gravel and sand. 
The half-naked officers directed operations from the backs of half- 
naked soldiers. While al-Amin amused himself in his harem, his 
soldiers fought with the courage of despair. Baghdad was in ruins; 
food prices rocketed sky-high; the corpses choked the streets; the 
mosques were closed and there were no more public prayers. Abdal- 
lah had only to wait, and the fruit would fall to his hands. 

After the siege had lasted fourteen months and more than half 
the population of Baghdad had been killed, al-Amin seems to have 
decided that a state of emergency existed, and began to negotiate 
with the generals attacking the city. He dismissed as unprofitable a 
plan to slip out of the besieged city at night with 7,000 loyal troops 
and make his way to Egypt, where there was the possibility of build- 
ing up a huge army. Tahir, who was one-eyed but made up for the 
defect by being ambidextrous, heard of al-Amin 's negotiations, asked 
permission to kill the Caliph on his surrender, and received from 
Abdallah a shirt with no opening for the head the sign that permis- 
sion was granted. Another general, Harthama, was inclined to accept 
al-Amin's surrender and arranged a secret meeting with the Caliph, 
who was ordered to cross the Tigris at night in a boat sent for him. 
The boat was being rowed away from Baghdad when some skin div- 
ers sent by Tahir succeeded in rocking it, thus throwing the Caliph 
into the river. He swam ashore, hid in a house on the Street of the 
Anbar Gate, and was discovered by some Persians, who recognized 


him by the scent of musk and perfumes which still clung to his naked 
body. Some time later the Caliph, wearing only drawers and some 
scraps of cloth over his shoulders, was cut to pieces by Tahir's guards, 
and his head, wrapped in cloth soaked in resin, was sent to Abdal- 
lah in Khurasan. 

Of all the Abbasid Caliphs, Abdallah, the son of Harun al-Rashid 3 
was the most brilliant, the least corrupted by power, the most solicit- 
ous of the welfare of others. To him, rather than to his father, be- 
longs the credit of inaugurating the golden age of Baghdad. His 
mind moved cautiously toward vast conclusions. Among those con- 
clusions was one which outweighed all the others his rejection of the 
legitimacy of his own house. Half-Persian, he possessed the Persian 
affection for the descendants of Ali, and the most distinguished living 
member of this house was a certain Ali ibn-Musa, great-great-great- 
grandson of Husayn, a man of saintly character and magnetic per- 
sonality, believed by many to be the living representative of God on 
earth. Abdallah, who assumed the title al-Mamun, fell under the spell 
of Ali and announced that the succession would pass from the house 
of Abbas to the house of Ali on his own death. In the year 823, Ali 
was publicly acknowledged as the heir apparent to the Caliphate un- 
der the title ar-Rida, meaning "the acceptable one," Al-Mamun and 
Ali became inseparable companions, ruling the empire jointly. 

Such a profound change in the nature of the Abbasid state inevit- 
ably alienated many of the governing officials in Baghdad. Al-Mamun's 
right to dispose of the empire to a hereditary enemy of the Abbasids 
was questioned. The Iraqis rebelled, and sought to put one of the 
sons of al-Mahdi on the throne. For a brief while civil war flared 
across the empire. The enemies of Ali were being won over when al- 
Mamun and Ali visited Sanabad to arrange for the building of a 
splendid tomb over the grave of Harun al-Rashid. Rumor, legend 
or deliberate malice spread the story that the young heir apparent 
was given a bunch of poisoned grapes by the Caliph. All we know for 
certain is that al-Mamun was inconsolable and immediately set about 
building a great shrine worthy of the young saint who had accom- 
panied him on all his travels. The name of Sanabad was changed to 
Mashad, meaning "the place of martyrdom." Today this small city in 
northeastern Persia, close to the borders of Afghanistan, is accounted 
by the Persians the most sacred spot on earth after Karbala, where 
Husayn met a martyr's death. The shrine at Mashad, lovingly and 
exquisitely designed, contains the bodies of Harun al-Rashid and Ali 


ar-Rida, known as the Imam Rida. Harun al-Rashid lies somewhere 
beneath the pavement in an unmarked grave, while the Imam Rida 
lies in a sumptuous tomb covered with a carpet of emeralds. Pilgrims 
to Mashad spit when they think they are in the presence of Harun, 
while to the Imam Rida they show the utmost adoration. 

By the fourteenth century Mashad had become the richest, the most 
splendid and the most highly endowed of Persian shrines. In 1601, 
the Emperor Shah Abbas did not think it beneath his dignity to walk 
the entire distance between Isfahan and Mashad in order to trim 
the thousands of candles in the sacred courts and to acquire at im- 
mense cost the Quran said to have been inscribed in the Imam's own 
hand. The gravest claims were made for the pilgrimage to Mashad. A 
hadith of dubious authenticity quoted Muhammad as saying: "A part 
of my body is to be buried in Khurasan, and whoever goes there on 
pilgrimage, God will surely destine for Paradise, and his body will be 
haram, forbidden, to the flames of Hell: and whoever goes there with 
sorrow, God will take his sorrow away." Ali is supposed to have said 
of pilgrims to Mashad: "Though their sins be as many as the stars, as 
the leaves of trees, they will all be forgiven." 

Al-Mamun waited until 819 before entering Baghdad, and then 
there began the long and fruitful renaissance of the sciences and arts 
which is the chief glory of his age. Culture flowered, as never before. 
For the first time in Islamic history a ruler identified himself with the 
cultural aspirations of his people and celebrated the native genius of 
the people he ruled. He established a great Hall of Science at Bagh- 
dad with a library and astronomical laboratory; organized a college 
of translators who were set to work on a regular salary to translate 
from Greek, Syriac, Persian and Sanskrit; and showered artists and 
poets with his munificence. Believing that knowledge should not de- 
pend upon the occasional acts o munificence by Caliphs and nobles, 
he created permanent endowments for the support of colleges; and at 
his Tuesday audiences he encouraged theologians and scholars to dis- 
cuss with him the most dangerous and heretical doctrines, saying that 
he wanted only to discover the truth and that everyone must be free 
to speak openly. For a brief while he endowed Islam with the orna- 
ment of freedom; and though this freedom was never granted again 
with so much largess or greatness of mind, Islam herself never re- 
covered completely from the shock. 

Al-Mamun was more than the symbol of the times; he was the 
man who brought a new civilization into being. The shadow of the 



apostolic Imam Rida lay over him; his keen intelligence, sharpened 
by debate, refused to be limited by orthodoxy, even by the orthodoxy 
represented by the Imam Rida. In a hundred different ways he opened 
the floodgates and attempted to emancipate men from their fears, 
their dogmas, the servility of their minds. He modified the absolute 
autocracy of the Caliphate by bringing into existence a Council of 
State with representatives from Jewish, Christian, Sabaean and Zoro- 
astrian communities sitting in equality with Muhamadans. He modi- 
fied justice by continual acts of clemency, and went on to modify Islam 
by maintaining, in a crucial edict issued in 827, the doctrine of "the 
creation of the Quran" against the fundamentalists who believed 
that the Quran was uncreated, being the eternal word of God tran- 
scribed for everlasting on golden plates in Heaven. Following the 
philosophy of the Mutazila sect, the Caliph insisted that man was en- 
dowed with free will; that God could not be seen with mortal eyes, 
for otherwise He would be comparable to any of His creatures; and 
that the divine ordinances which regulate the conduct of men are the 
results of growth and development: there were no supreme, perma- 
nent, irrevocable laws of the universe. All things were subject to 
change; and by implication he suggested that the Quran itself was 
far from being the final verdict on human progress. God was just, 
not responsible for the crimes of men. Before God man was free to do 
as he pleased, and his burden of freedom was also a delight. 

Such liberating doctrines were not to the taste of the stern moral- 
ists who professed to believe that the Quran must be read literally, 
with every word divinely appointed in its exact setting on the page. 
They objected strenuously against an interpretation which permitted 
the human mind to adventure boldly in uncharted regions; and 
around the sternest moralist of them all, Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn 
Hanbal, there gathered a group of fanatics who rejected the middle 
path and prepared to fight to the death on behalf of traditional inter- 
pretations. Al-Mamun was so convinced of the justice of his cause 
that he felt compelled to punish the traditionalists, and Baghdad was 
presented with the strange spectacle of the most liberal of Caliphs 
holding inquisitions at which the traditionalists were forced either to 
admit the error of their ways or to accept brutal punishment. Doctors 
and jurists were ordered to acknowledge "the creation of the Quran," 
or lose their jobs. The traditionalists, who were continually causing 
street riots, were hounded down. Al-Mamun was learning the hard 
lesson of the liberators who discover to their surprise that the great- 
est freedom merges insensibly into the greatest tyranny. 


The trap was sprung, but it was not entirely of the Caliph's mak- 
ing. Himself half Persian, he tended to view the world through Per- 
sian eyes, clearly and without any great liking for dogmatics. The 
followers of AH, of whom the Imam Rida had been the living em- 
bodiment, were traditionally opposed to the harsh and threatening 
philosophy of the early Caliphs, whose judgment of the world was 
based upon the sterner edicts of the Quran. Finally, there was the 
liberating influence of Greek philosophy with its gentle insistence 
upon man as a creature living in his own light, with no nightmares of 
Judgment Day to cloud his imagination. Al-Mamun had embraced 
Greek philosophy with a full heart, until he was almost more Greek 
then the Greeks. 

Something of the temper of the man can be seen in a story told by 
the contemporary historian, Masudi. Al-Mamun was sitting in his 
throne room when a man in a coarse white gown stood at the gate, 
begging to come in. The Caliph gave orders that the man should be 
allowed to enter the presence, and soon he came shuffling in with his 
shoes in his hand, stopping only when he reached the edge of the 
carpet in front of the Caliph. 

"Am I permitted to speak?" the man said, and the Caliph answered 
that he could speak as he pleased, as long as his words were pleasing 
to God. 

"I have this question," the man went on. "Tell me about your 
throne do you sit on it by common agreement and consent, or by 
violence and force?" 

The Caliph replied in words which showed the fairness of his 
character and the sincerity of his belief in his own right to rule. He 

I am on the throne neither by the consent of the True Be- 
lievers nor by my own violence. Before my time there was one 
who governed the affairs of the faithful, and they bore with him, 
perhaps willingly, perhaps unwillingly; and he appointed me and 
another to succeed him, calling upon the faithful to witness the 
deed of succession, and so at the holy place in Mecca he took an 
oath of allegiance from all those on pilgrimage to me and to my 
brother; and they gave their oaths, perhaps willingly, perhaps 

Then it happened that my brother followed his own way, and 
there came a time when I succeeded to the throne, and I knew I 
needed the common consent of the people, of east and west. I 


pondered the matter, and I saw that if I abandoned the govern- 
ment, the security of Islam would suffer,, the highways would be 
infested with robbers, and public affairs would fall into con- 
fusion, while God's commands would no longer be obeyed. I saw 
there would be strife and disorder, and Muhamadans would be 
prevented from going on pilgrimage and doing their duty in 
war, and so I arose in defence of the people until they should be 
of accord upon one man whom they should approve. To that 
man I propose to resign my authority. I shall become his subject. 
Take this message from me to the people, and tell them the mo- 
ment they have selected a chief I will abdicate to him. 

The man in the coarse white gown moved away and vanished in 
the crowd outside the palace. The Caliph sent someone to find what 
he was doing, and at last he was tracked down to a mosque where he 
Was quietly reciting the Caliph's words to fifteen men garbed like 
himself in coarse white cotton. Such men were often leaders of the 
riots, but they were unusually quiet as they listened to al-Mamun's 
declaration of conscience. 

"What did they do after they listened?" the Caliph asked. 

"Oh, they all went quietly about their way," he was told. "They 
wandered of? in different directions." 

If the story is true, and there is no reason to doubt it, this was 
perhaps the supreme moment of al-Mamun's career as the Prince o 
the True Believers. 

While he worshiped justice, al-Mamun also possessed the Persian 
gift for magnificence. His marriage in 825 to the beautiful eight- 
een-year-old daughter of his Vizier, al-Hasan ibn-Sahl, was celebrated 
with more pomp and luxury than any marriage known to history. 
At the nuptials the bride's grandmother showered upon the Caliph 
and his bride, as they sat on a golden mat studded with pearls and 
rubies, a thousand pearls, which were afterward gathered and 
formed into a necklace for the queen. At the banquet balls of musk 
were showered on the guests each ball was wrapped in a ticket 
naming an estate, a slave, a blood horse, or some such gift, to be 
redeetned by the princes and nobles who attended. For the lesser 
guests there were showers of money, balls of musk, eggs made of 
ambergris. When night fell, the bride received a gift of a thousand 
rubies to match the thousand pearls she had already received, and 
the bride chamber was lighted with candles of ambergris weighting 


a hundred pounds, Ibn Khaldun, who tells the story of the nuptials 
in wide-eyed amazement, adds that 140 mule loads of wood were 
brought for a whole year to feed the kitchen furnaces, so great was 
the amount of food that had to be cooked for the guests, and all 
the wood was consumed on the wedding night. Rather less convinc- 
ingly he adds that 30,000 boats were employed to take the guests 
to the palace on the further side of the river. 

The Caliph's munificence to scholars and artists, and his displays 
of magnificence, depended upon a thriving economy and a state of 
peace within the empire, but the frontier wars continued. The Byzan- 
tines overran large parts of Asia Minor, and were thrown back 
during a series of summer campaigns. The most dangerous revolts 
came from the southern shores of the Caspian, where the schismatic 
Barbak had resuscitated the doctrines of al-Muqanna, "the Veiled 
Prophet of Khurasan." Barbak formed an alliance with the Emperor 
Theophilus and threatened to cut off the approaches to the west: 
his guerrilla armies continued to plague the armies of the empire for 
many years. So, too, did the armies of Theophilus, whose frontier 
post at Tarsus had become a huge fortress and supply dump, only 
to be captured during a campaign in the last year of al-Mamun's life. 
In 833 the Caliph was camping beside the river Budendun, not far 
from Tarsus, when a huge fish was brought to him, still alive. The 
fish wriggled out of the servant's hands and fell into the water with 
such a splash that the Caliph's neck, shoulders and chest were 
drenched; and he is said to have died a few days later as the result 
of a fever brought on by the drenching. He was forty-nine, and he 
had ruled for twenty-one years. Abu Bakr was the most saintly of 
the Caliphs, Ali the most gifted, Husayn the most heroic, Muawiya 
the cleverest; but of al-Mamun alone could it be said that he was 
truly magnificent. 

Al-Mamun was a heavy man, broad-shouldered, with a great beard 
and an imposing manner. His brother Muhammad, who came to 
the throne under the title of al-Mutasim ("the steadfast"), was al- 
together weaker, completely devoid of moral character, famous for 
his fresh complexion, beautiful eyes, square blond beard and im- 
mense physical strength he had muscles like iron and could carry 
enormous weights on his head while walking a straight line. His mother 
was a Turkish slave, he spoke Turkish in preference to any other 
language, and distrusted Persians. As a prince his passion had been 
for Turkish slaves bought in the markets o Samarqand; he had 


collected 3,000 of them before he became Caliph. These youths became 
his bodyguard, and were free to commit whatever enormities they 
pleased in the streets of Baghdad. The Arab historian Yaqubi says 
that the guards "used to gallop about and collide with people right 
and left," and soon they were inspiring so much terror that gangs of 
Baghdadis went out to waylay them; and if one of the Turkish 
bodyguard was killed, no one ever gave evidence against the perpe- 
trators of the crime and everyone was secretly delighted. 

Al-Mutasim decided on extreme measures to punish the people of 
Baghdad: he would move his capital elsewhere. In 836 he estab- 
lished his entire court in a new capital built on the cliffs overlooking 
the Tigris some seventy miles above Baghdad. A great complex of 
buildings was erected at fabulous cost, with the palace of the Caliph 
facing the river, reached by an immense flight of steps two hundred 
feet wide. The Christian churches of Egypt were plundered for col- 
umns and pavings to decorate the new city, known as Samarra the 
name is said to have meant "He who beholds rejoices." Soon the 
people of Baghdad were regretting their treatment of the Turkish 
guards, for Samarra was paid for out of their taxes. 

Built on the site of a Christian monastery, Samarra was occupied 
by eight Caliphs over a period of fifty-eight years. Today the traveler 
in an airplane can see the outline of the city, the avenues and parks, 
houses, palaces and mosques, very much as it must have looked 
from the air eleven hundred years ago. But those who enter on foot 
see only ruins. 

By leaving Bagdad, al-Mutasim placed himself at the mercy of his 
Turkish praetorian guard. As long as he satisfied them with booty 
and honors, as long as he was able to direct successful wars from his 
new capital, they permitted him to do as he pleased. Determined to 
bring the schismatic Barbak to heel, he sent out an army under the 
great general Haydar ibn-Ka'us, known as Afshin, a descendant of 
the Turkish princes of Usrushana in central Asia. After a series of 
quick campaigns Afshin captured the rebel stronghold and brought 
Barbak in chains to Samarra. Like Harun al-Rashid on another oc- 
casion, al-Mutasim decided upon an exemplary punishment: Barbak 
was forced to wear imperial robes of red brocade and a tall Persian 
hat as he rode on an elephant between rows of soldiers in full armor 
stretching for five hours' march from Afshin's camp to the palace. Af- 
shin was given the place of honor in the throne room, while 
Barbak was paraded up and down before the Caliph. When the 


Caliph said: "So this is really Barbak?" there was no answer, only 
a dreadful silence broken by the hissing o Afshin 3 who leaned for- 
ward, saying: "The Commander of the Faithful has spoken, and thou 
sayest nothing?" At last Barbak said: "I am Barbak!" and soon 
afterward the Caliph prostrated himself in prayer, and when he 
arose he ordered that Barbak should be stripped naked. The execu- 
tioner sliced ofl: one of Barbak's hands and flung it in the man's face, 
and did the same with the other hand. Then Barbak's feet were cut 
off, and he twisted and kicked in his own blood on the leather 
carpet, shouting for mercy and beating against his face with his stumps. 
Al-Mutasim, a hardened warrior, delighted in torture and prolonged 
Barbak's agony as long as possible. Finally Barbak's head was cut 
off, to be displayed on the bridge at Baghdad as a warning to the 
rebellious Baghdadis, until the Caliph decided to send it to Khura- 
san, where Barbak had enjoyed fame among the people. To Afshin 
went a jeweled crown, a gold tiara set with emeralds and rubies, 
and two jeweled girdles set with pearls. 

The fame of Afshin rivaled the Caliph's, especially after a victorious 
campaign against Theophilus in the west. It was rumored that he 
had failed to make the Emperor prisoner, when the Emperor fell in 
his power, saying: "One does not capture kings." Later he put down 
a rebellion instigated by Abbas, the son of al-Mamun, as mercilessly 
as he put down the rebellion of Barbak, and he might have gone 
on to further honors if he had not made a private peace with Mazi- 
yar, the prince of Tabaristan, a Persian rebel who believed in Zoro- 
astrianism as much as Afshin believed in the tribal gods of the Turks. 
When Maziyar was captured by another general and brought to Sa- 
marra, the story of Afshin's apostasy came out. Afshin was forced to 
admit that he possessed a library of books "written in strange char- 
acters," and secretly kept idols in his house. He was a prince of the 
empire, and therefore once again an exemplary punishment was 
needed. The proper punishment for apostasy was crucifixion. Instead 
Afshin was permitted to starve himself to death. 

Ungrateful and ungracious, strong as a horse, glorying only in 
his army and especially in his regiments of light cavalry equipped 
with sword, lance and bow, al-Mutasim represented the sword of Is- 
lam in its most naked form. No principles drove him, and his religion 
meant no more to him than it meant to his unruly Turkish guards. 
He died at the age of forty-six after a reign of eight years, and his 
last words are supposed to have been: "If I had known it would be 


so short a reign, I would have done differently/' He meant perhaps 
that he would have been even more brutal, more demanding, more 
determined to wield a naked sword. 

With his death, convulsively, the Abbasid empire began to break 

There followed in quick succession a series of incompetent Caliphs, 
many of them insane, all of them at the mercy of their Turkish 
guards, or of their own sons. A few died in bed; most of them 
were murdered in their own palaces or along the road between Bagh- 
dad and Samarra. They lived in a delirium of fear, not knowing 
whether their enemies would spring out of the sky or from beneath 
their feet. Only the ceremonies remained. The real power was in the 
hands of whatever freebooter had become mayor of the palace or 
whatever doctor possessed a poisoned lance. 

The Coming of al-Hallaj 


-n the fourteenth century an Arab philosopher, Ibn 
Khaldun, from his castle in the Little Atlas, looked out upon the 
desolate prospects confronting the civilization which had begun when 
Muhammad first announced himself as the Messenger of God. He 
saw that the civilization around him was sick unto death, and that it 
had been sick many times, and very often in the same way. He was a 
cultivated aristocrat with little sympathy for the nomadic tribes- 
men who set out from Arabia and conquered large areas of the known 
world, but he nevertheless recognized their primitive force. He saw 
that they possessed a quality which he called asabiyya, an instinc- 
tive social cohesion, which enabled them to move like a knife through 
all obstacles to create an empire; but this quality, generated in the 
desert, lacked staying power, and was soon dissolved by luxury, by 
all the temptations of city life, and by the very nature of conquest 
itself. Of all men, he said, the nomadic Arabs were perhaps the 
least capable of rule, if only because they were naturally ferocious, 
and were happiest wandering from one grazing ground to another: 
they possessed none of the patterns of behavior which go with a set- 
tled urban existence. The empire would never have come into being 
without the tremendous shock supplied by the revelations of Muham- 
mad, who had harnessed the natural asabiyya of the Arabs to divine 
ends. Suddenly, but only for a brief while, the Arabs saw themselves 
as godlike, daring the impossible, hurling themselves against the pow- 
erful enemies surrounding them with the sense of inevitable victory. 
But what happens when the drunkenness wears off? 

No one has ever studied the processes of corruption inside civiliza- 
tions with so much art as this fourteenth-century Berber, who wan- 
dered over North Africa in search of the laws by which civilizations 
are born to flourish and then to perish. He examined minutely the 
reasons which led to the decay of the Abbasid empire. His conclusions, 
as true then as they are now, can be stated simply. Corruption is a 



complex process, following clearly defined stages, which can be charted 
almost mathematically. The process is irreversible and strangely in- 
human, for it rides roughshod over the individual courage of men. 
Once the disease has set in, no man or group of men can prevent it, 
and only the divine spirit possessed with the desire to rekindle the 
fire in men's hearts has the power to cure the disease. What is 
needed in times when civilization fails is neither military strength 
nor a brilliant political program, but a divine revelation. 

As Ibn Khaldun made his way from one court to another, studying 
the various dynasties of the past and the other dynasties which had 
grown up more recently in North Africa, he found no reason to alter 
his somber conclusions. He noted the strange contortions and spasms 
of civilizations as they go down to their deaths. Toward the very 
end, for example, a civilization will usually show an extraordinary 
regeneration, a sudden awakening of all its vital energies, but this 
is only the last flicker of the candle before going out. He noted the 
deadly similarity of the men who preside over a culture in decay. 
He showed how rising prices, vast expenditures in buildings, lax- 
ity of morals, more and more dazzling uniforms, and a curious 
heightening of consciousness are all involved in the decay of a culture. 
He worked out a complete philosophy of corruption, demonstrating 
how the process is invariable, infallible, predictable. According to 
the theory, there was no hope, no hope at all. And yet he was not 
completely convinced by the theory. The civilizations of Persia 
and Iraq, Syria and Egypt, declined, showed all the symptoms of ne- 
crosis, and yet somehow, by some unidentifiable miracle, they sur- 
vived. They did not, of course, survive entire. The Umayyad civiliza- 
tion collapsed, but it did not perish completely, for many elements 
of it were incorporated in the new civilization of the Abbasids. It 
seemed that civilizations could sometimes survive their own deaths 
by a strange process of parthenogenesis and the divine revelations 
were not always needed. But confronted by the miracle of civiliza- 
tions prolonging their existences long after they had lost all reason 
to exist, Ibn Khaldun remained silent. There were, as he pro- 
claimed often, mysteries which only God could explain. 

Only God could explain how the Abbasid Caliphate endured for 
four more centuries. The reckless and drunken al-Mutasim, the first 
Caliph to surround himself with Turkish guards and to become their 
prisoner, and the first to remove his capital outside Baghdad, died in 
842, and was succeeded by his reckless and drunken son al-Wathiq, 


on whom William Beckford modeled the character of Vathek, the 
sensual Caliph who made a pact with the devil and who possessed 
an eye so terrible that no one could bear to behold it "for the 
wretch upon whom it was fixed instantly fell backward, and some- 
times expired. For fear, however, of depopulating his dominions, and 
making hs palace desolate, he but rarely gave way to his anger." 

According to Ibn Khaldun, the asabiyya of the Arabs had come to 
an end about the time of al-Mutasim and al-Wathiq, and it was for 
this reason that the Caliphs found themselves dependent upon their 
Turkish guards. Henceforth they ruled without divine sanction and 
with no popular support, but by "royal power" (by which Ibn Khal- 
dun means "naked strength") alone. In a sense they did not even 
rule, but were themselves ruled by their guards or by the tribesmen, 
Persian, Turkish, Seljuk, Daylamite, or others, whom they called to 
their assistance. "The influence of the dynasty," said Ibn Khaldun, 
"grew so small that it hardly extended beyond the environs of Bagh- 

In fact Ibn Khaldun underestimated the influence of the Caliphs: 
if their power had extended only over the capital, it is unlikely that 
they would have endured for so long. The Caliphate answered a deeply 
felt need. Like the British monarchs the Caliphs symbolized the tra- 
ditional virtues of the empire and were attended by ceremonies in 
which they occupied the central place accorded to half-divine charac- 
ters. They were the successors of Muhammad, and therefore media- 
tors between earth and Heaven. It was not necessary that they should 
be good, or even that they should be sane: for many millions of 
believers it was enough that they existed. 

Al-Wathiq was almost certainly insane, and made no pretensions 
toward goodness. He was fair-haired, and half Greek, and famous 
as a lute player and as the composer of a hundred melodies, but he 
showed no gift for ruling, and he was murderous to those who 
refused to believe in the created Quran. The traditionalist Ahmad 
ibn Nasr Khuzai was brought before him and interrogated. The 
Caliph was displeased and shouted for a sword, saying: "I put the 
burden of my sins on this unbeliever! Headsman, bring the mat!" 
Then he calmly strode across the throne room and cut off the man's 
head. The body was gibbeted at Samarra, and the head impaled in 
Baghdad with a guard set over it to see whether it would turn in the 
direction of Mecca. According to popular report, it turned one night 
and recited a whole sura of the Quran. 


Al-Wathiq died mysteriously one hot summer day in 847, and the 
court attendants were In such a hurry to swear allegiance to his 
brother Ja'far that his corpse was left unattended and a lizard came 
and pecked out his eyes. Ja'far, who took the title al-Mutawakkil, 
meaning "He that putteth his trust in the Lord," was made of sterner 
stuff. He fought in secret against the Turkish guards; he fought the 
doctrines introduced by al-Mamun; and he fought the Greeks. He 
was successful in changing the state religion: henceforth the Quran 
was uncreated. Hating the memory of the martyred Husayn, he ord- 
ered that the mosque at Karbala be destroyed. But though the mosque 
was razed to the ground and a watercourse was turned over it, the 
bones were carefully removed before al-MutawakkiTs agents reached 
the place, and he was never able to punish the offender. 

For himself he built a mosque so grandiose that it rivals the works 
of the Pharaohs. The Great Mosque at Samarra has walls nearly 
ten feet thick, and is 800 feet long and 500 feet wide, a floor 
space nearly three times as large as that of St. Peter's in Rome. 
Forty-four towers once decorated the walls, and the minaret, unlike 
any other minaret in any existing mosque, was shaped like an ancient 
Babylonian ziggurat with a winding ramp on the outside, which the 
Caliph was accustomed to mount on a donkey. The ruins of this 
incredible mosque remain to this day to testify to the Caliph's megalo- 
mania, his contempt for his people, and his strange affection for an- 
cient Babylon. 

Not content with building the Great Mosque and a vast number 
of palaces at Samarra, al-Mutawakkil built a new city a few miles 
to the north, which he called after himself Ja'fariy a. On the day 
when he first sat in audience in the new city, he declared: "Now I 
know I am indeed a king, for I have built myself a city and live in 
it!" He did not live in it for long. Nine months later he bought an 
Indian sword of beautiful workmanship and presented it to the 
trusted Turkish guard who customarily stood behind him. In the 
early hours of the morning of December n, 861, during a drun- 
ken orgy, the Caliph was hacked to pieces with this Indian sword. 
According to the Abbasid tradition, his body was buried secretly in 
a remote region, where no one would ever find it. 

For fifteen years al-Mutawakkil had reigned without ever ruling, 
pouring money without stint into the creation of his two cities, car- 
ing little for his army, which suffered devastating defeats at the 
hands o the Greeks, and thinking only of his own glory. Yet the glory 


had departed. None were so servile or so helpless as these Caliphs 
who reigned for a brief space and then sank into obscurity. 

In the space of ten years, from 861 to 871, four Caliphs reigned 
in Samarra, and all were killed by the Turkish guards al-Muntasir by 
a surgeon's poisoned lance, al-Mustain by the sword, al-Mutazz by the 
rope, and al-Muhtadi by being pressed between boards. They had 
become the playthings of the soldiers, to be murdered at leisure. 

With the accession of al-Mutarnid, the son of al-Mutawakkil, in 
871, there occurred a pause in the long process of decay which 
was afflicting the empire. Al-Mutamid, an exquisite poet and incompe- 
tent ruler, was kept a prisoner by his brother, Abu Ahmad, who be- 
came the real ruler of the empire. Abu Ahmad was a man of consid- 
erable military talent. He reorganized the army, and put his chosen 
companions in charge of the government. Almost his first task was to 
deal with a revolt of the Negroes working in the saltpeter mines of 
the lower Euphrates, who had gathered round the standard of Ali 
ibn-Muhammad, who claimed to be descended from Ali. On Septem- 
ber 7, 871, the Negroes poured into Basrah during the Friday 
services and put nearly everyone in the city to the sword. A quarter 
of a million people perished in a single day. More perished as the 
Negroes went on to capture city after city. At last, in 882, this 
strange rebellion came to an end when the citadel of al-Mukhtarah 
was stormed and the rebel leader killed. 

The rebellion owed its strength to the mysterious power of Mu- 
hammad's name. By claiming descent from Muhammad, a hundred 
rebels had sprung up and gathered armies around them. For the 
most part these rebels were pretenders, whose claims were disputed 
and whose aims were strangely at variance with the principles of Is- 
lam. Here and there the true descendants of the flesh lived out their 
lives quietly, studying the Quran and practicing good works. Those 
who were most highly honored by the faithful, the Imams, who were 
believed to be the vice-regents of Muhammad on earth, were usually 
kept close to the court, watched over by the Caliphs, who feared their 
spiritual power. Usually the Imams suffered violent deaths. Hasan 
al-Askari, the eleventh Imam, died in 873 of a draught of poison 
administered by the order of the Caliph al-Mutamid, leaving his 
young son Muhammad to become the twelfth Imam. Five years later 
the boy, then aged about seven years, wandered down a flight of steps 
leading to the cellar of his house within the walls of the Great Mosque 
at Samarra, and was never seen again. He may have been murdered 


by the Caliph. Millions of Muhamadans, however, believe that he van- 
ished only in order to gain immortal life, and will appear again as 
the Mahdi to bring righteousness to an evil world and to restore 
the golden age. He is "the hidden one," "the awaked one," alive but 
withdrawn from human sight in a temporary state of occultation, 
blessing the earth and guiding the fortunes of his people, the Mu- 
hamadan equivalent of Jesus at the Second Coming. Ibn Khaldun, 
writing five hundred years later, tells how the followers of the Mahdi 
would come every night after evening prayers to the entrance of the 
cellar, bringing a horse for the Mahdi to ride on. They would call 
his name and beg him to come forth, and when the stars came out 
they would go on their way, only to return the next evening with the 
same hopefulness. 

Nothing in the age of the "mad Caliphs" so impressed the Per- 
sians as the disappearance of this boy. They held firmly to the belief 
that "the Man of the Hour" was the invisible mediator between God 
and man, who continued while absent to communicate with his chosen 
ones among the faithful. In the midst of darkness and uncertainty 
they continued to appeal to him as the future deliverer and restorer 
and the source of all blessings. 

About the time that the twelfth Imam vanished in the Great 
Mosque at Samarra, an Iraqi peasant called Hamdan Qarmat, be- 
longing to a sect that believed in the divinity of the seventh Imam, 
Ismail ibn-Ja'far, read in the stars that the Abbasids were about to 
Eall in favor of a purely Persian empire. Qarmat possessed astonish- 
ing gifts of organization, and carefully prepared an uprising of 
dedicated followers. The movement showed its Persian origin from 
the beginning it was at once theocratic and communistic, aristocratic 
and plebian. The genius of Qarmat, who gave his name to the Qar- 
matian movement, was revealed in his capacity to weld so many con- 
trary ideas together. His followers, like the ancient Zoroastrians, wor- 
shiped "the Supreme Light," but they also worshiped the seventh 
Imam. They were admitted into the movement only after passing 
through complicated initiation ceremonies, and each man was given 
a rank corresponding to one of seven degrees, but they aimed for 
justice based on social equality and encouraged the community of 
wives. Such a movement, well-led and well-organized, with its secret - 
rituals, its promises of immediate revolution under the banner of the 
mysterious sahib an-naqah y "the Man with the She-Camel," and its 
cultivation of immeasurable ruthlessness, was calculated to attract 


followers from the poorest and the richest. After proving their 
strength during the Negro revolt, the Qarmatians marched to Bah- 
rayn on the Persian Gulf, which became a strongly fortified base of 
operations against the Abbasid empire. The movement grew rapidly. 
They raided Basrah, which they occupied for seventeen days, and 
they went on to attack Damascus. By 929 almost the whole of 
Arabia had fallen into their possession, and they were able to hold 
up the trains of imperial pilgrims for ransom. On January 12, 930, 
they occupied Mecca itself, after a rapid march across the uplands of 
Najd. The swords of the Qarmatians struck mercilessly at the unre- 
sisting crowds of Meccans who thronged the narrow streets, and 
the slaughter did not cease until 30,000 corpses were littered over the 
sacred city. The holy well of Zamzam was choked with the bodies of 
the dead. They removed the f^iswa, the cloth covering the Kaaba, 
and smashed the Black Stone, removing the pieces to their capital at 
al-Ahsa. The terrified Abbasids were powerless to prevent the Qarma- 
tians from destroying whatever they desired to destroy. 

Again and again in the history of the Abbasid empire there had 
sprung up, usually in Khurasan, revolutionary movements by leaders 
who claimed descent from Ali or who looked forward to the coming 
of an Imam from the seed of the martyrs. Of all these movements the 
Qarmatian was the longest-lived, and the most successful. From them 
sprang the great Fatimid dynasties which conquered North Africa, 
and many years later they were represented by "the old Man of the 
Mountains," who organized his legions of Assassins from Mount 
Alamut. Today the influence of the Qarmatian movement survives 
among the Ismailis, a sect numbering twenty million Muhamadans 
who follow the Aga Khan. 

During the last years of the ninth century the entire Abbasid em- 
pire seemed about to break apart. Vast areas of Khurasan had fallen 
under the control of Yaqub ibn-Layth, a former coppersmith (saf- 
far), who established an independent dynasty with the help of his 
brother Amr, a former donkey driver: the dynasty came to be known 
as the Saffarid. A Samanid dynasty its name is derived from Saman, 
a Zoroastrian nobleman of Balkh ruled over Transoxiana. Egypt 
had fallen to the power of the governor, Ahmad ibn Tulun, whose 
father had been presented as a slave to the Caliph al-Mamun. The 
Qarmatians roamed where they pleased, and the Greeks were threat- 
ening to drive against Baghdad. In this extremity there was need for a 
powerful and resourceful Caliph with sufficient authority to prevent 


the further collapse of the empire. Such a Caliph appeared in al- 
Mutadid, the nephew of al-Mutamid. He was the son of a Greek 
slave mother, a stern, thin man with a white mole on his head which 
he dyed black, forceful and energetic, and when occasion demanded 
completely ruthless. He restored the capital at Baghdad, reconquered 
Egypt from Ibn Tulun's son Khumarawayh, hurled his armies against 
the Qarmatians, and succeeded in being both a forceful Caliph and 
a complete libertine. He built dungeons and torture chambers with 
the same careless ease as he built palaces his Pleiades Palace, the 
most beautiful of all the Abbasid palaces, cost 400,000 dinars. He 
was pitiless, energetic and bloody, and would leave the arms of one 
of his concubines in the middle of the night to attend the execution 
of one of his prisoners he particularly liked to watch the death agonies 
of prisoners who were blown up with bellows. Inevitably he suffered 
from sleeplessness, nightmares, hauntings and the last years of his 
life were somber, with intimations of the Caliph's terror and be- 
wilderment, as he continued to commit more and more crimes 
upon the palace servants to drown the memory of the crimes he had 
already committed. Characteristically, his last act as he lay dying of 
fever was to kick his doctor across the palace bedroom. A few mo- 
ments later both the Caliph and the doctor were dead. 

His successor, al-Muktafi, proved to be the exception to the general 
rule. Quiet, confident, remarkably handsome, he had none of his 
father's ferocity. His first act on his arrival in Baghdad was to open 
the prisons, his second to destroy the underground dungeons. No 
other Caliph since al-Mamun had been received with such wild ac- 
clamations by the people, and none deserved the honor so well. Al- 
Muktafi fought aginst the Qarmatians, inflicted heavy punishment on 
the Byzantines, brought Egypt under his direct control, and seemed 
about to bring the Abbasid empire back into its former state of glory 
when he died after a short reign of five years, leaving the empire to 
his son Ja'far, who was thirteen years old. 

There is a sense in which Ja'far, who reigned under the title al- 
Muqtadir, "the powerful in the Lord," was the last of the Caliphs. 
From time to time this short and stunted man with the little black 
eyes and pink cheeks would arouse himself and perform acts of 
startling courage. There were fifteen million dinars in the treasury 
when he came to the throne. He chose, or had chosen for him, 
viziers of remarkable quality, among them the "wise vizier" Ali ibn- 
Isa, a Persian who ruled the empire "as though he were nursing a 


baby." For twenty-five o the most dangerous and exhausting years 
of the Caliphate, al-Muqtadir watched and prayed and looked out 
from the palace windows at the creeping decay sweeping over the em- 
pire, completely unable to understand what was happening, drown- 
ing his fears in wine, growing impossibly fat and careless, until in the 
end the power of the Caliph passed into the hands of his former 
chief of bodyguard Munis al-Muzaffar, a eunuch upon whom he be- 
stowed the title amir al-umara ("the commander of the command- 
ers"), and of his mother Shaghab, a woman of remarkable strength 
of will, who held court and received petitions as though she were 
herself the Caliph. Ali ibn-Isa once remarked of al-Muqtadir that if 
he had been five days sober, he would have shown himself as 
sagacious as his father. 

Al-Muqtadir had all the talents, and threw them away. He set 
himself against Muhamadan tradition by striking coins in his own 
honor, which showed him sitting in state with a wine bottle in his 
hand. He was so much under the sway of his mother that he would 
defer to her during audiences and murmur a spate of childish en- 
dearments in her honor. During his reign he was twice deposed, 
both times for brief periods. The Qarmatians sacked Mecca, while 
their allies the Fatimids succeeded for a brief while in occupying 
Alexandria and the Fayyum, and the Hanbalites rioted in the streets 
of Baghdad. Al-Muqtadir showed neither dignity nor astonishment, 
and the best that can be said about him is that he rarely lost his 
temper and showed no particular interest in the palace torture cham- 
bers. Only on the very last day of his life did he show any spirit. 
Munis, the commander of his armies, had decided to depose him, 
and brought up an army against him. A sober Caliph marched out to 
the camp of his enemy at the head of his palace guards. He donned 
over his silver kaftan the black band of the Abbasids, and over that 
the mantle of Muhammad, and girded around Muhammad's sword 
with the red sword belt. He mounted his richly caparisoned horse, 
and held his son Abu Ali on the saddle before him. Beside him 
walked readers who intoned verses of the Quran, and lancers rode 
with copies of the Quran roped to their lances. In full armor came 
his escort of Hujari guards, and all the princes of the court. His 
progress through the streets of Baghdad was cheered by the people 
glad to set eyes at last on the strange fat Caliph with the thick 
brown beard who had never in living memory passed through the 
streets in such panoply. 



Munis's camp was established on the shores of the Tigris a few 
miles from Baghdad. The Caliph took a position on high ground, 
surrounded by his escort, and threw his guards into battle. Neither 
side gave any quarter. So the battle continued for some hours on a 
hot October day, until a message came to the Caliph begging him to 
show himself to the troops to give them courage. The Caliph refused. 
Finally, he was assured there would be no danger, and he cantered 
down the hill A young officer in Munis's army saw him as he rode 
through some open ground, and immediately sprang from his horse 
and kissed the Caliph's knee, saying: "My Lord, Prince of the True 
Believers " The Caliph smiled, pleased to receive the salute, and 
never smiled again. The kiss had been the signal to some Berber 
horsemen hidden nearby. They sprang upon the Caliph. One struck 
him with a sword on the shoulder so that his armor broke in pieces. 
They tore the sword which had belonged to Muhammad from his 
hands, and the signet from his finger. One blow from a sword cut 
his forehead in two, another cut off his left thumb, a third fell across 
his throat. When the body fell to the ground, the Berbers leaped 
upon him, cut off his head and fixed it on a spear; and while some of 
the Berbers stripped the body of its scented clothes and under- 
garments, others raced off to inform Munis that the Caliph was dead. 

That night a man with a load of thorns drove his donkey 
across the battlefield and saw a headless body lying among the dead. 
In pity for the man's nakedness the laboring man covered the body 
with thorns, and then hurried to Baghdad to tell what he had seen. 

Nineteen more Caliphs, each wearing the mantle of Muhammad 
and girding themselves with the sword, went through the pretense 
of ruling from Baghdad, but all of them were ciphers. The terrible 
game of kings had been played until it lost all meaning. Historians 
of a later age would amuse themselves by attempting to discover at 
what precise moment the Abbasid dynasty had become extinct as a 
living force, and perhaps the historian Hamza of Isfahan was right 
when he declared that it died in 921, the thirteenth year of al- 
Mustansir's reign. Previously there had been catastrophes, vast up- 
heavals, the sense of things splitting asunder on the frontiers, but 
these periods had been rare and of short duration, and always a great 
soldier, a capable Vizier or a stern Caliph had emerged in time to 
prevent the destruction of the empire. According to Hamzah of Isfa- 
han, the Abbasid empire died in 921, never to arise again. For 
more than two hundred years the pages of history were to be lit- 
tered with the twitching fragments of its corpse. 


The empire died, or was dying, but men went on living. Strangely, 
they lived better and reached greater heights of civilization during 
those decaying years when the empire was falling apart. Since the 
time of al-Mamun, no Caliph had shown any great discernment in 
the arts or any affection for the sciences, but the chieftains of the 
small principalities which arose on the frontiers of the empire were 
men who prized the arts and sciences. It was the time of Tabari, the 
great historian, famous for his bushy beard and exquisite table man- 
ners and for his practice during a long life of writing forty pages a 
day. It was the time, too, of the great doctor Abu Bakr Muhammad 
ibn-Zakariya, known to the West as Rhazes, meaning that he was a 
citizen of Rayy, who worshiped Plato almost as much as he worshiped 
Muhammad, and wrote voluminously about medicine and philosophy 
with a quiet detachment. He believed in a reasonable God, regarded 
Socrates as his master, and wrote with a dry wit: a man who seems 
to belong to an age far removed from the treacheries and miseries 
of the caliphal courts. 

Something of that sense of embattled calm in the midst of dis- 
order can be seen in the one great architectural monument of that 
age which has survived. This is the Mosque of al-Maydan, built by 
Ahmad ibn Tulun in 876-879, when he became an independent 
ruler of Egypt. This red-brick mosque is all simplicity and nobility. 
Nothing simpler can be imagined: a great square like a parade ground, 
500 feet long and 500 feet broad, surrounded by cloistered arcades 
and ornamented with a delicate tracery of windows. In the center of 
the great courtyard was a marble basin covered by a dome, and just 
outside the mosque there rose a strange minaret, not unlike the cork- 
screw minaret at Samarra. The story is told that Ibn Tulun designed 
the minaret himself after toying with some paper, which he rolled 
round his finger; and then he ordered the minaret to be constructed 
on the model of the little roll of paper. But it is more likely that the 
minaret was derived from Samarra and modified by Ibn Tulun to 
suggest an even greater appearance of strength. The mosque imposes 
upon the imagination by its calm strength and casual nobility, at 
once fortress, place of worship and monument to its founder, who 
was particularly concerned that it should possess "holiness and felic- 
ity," and takes care to mention these requirements in the dedicatory 
inscription he carved on marble. The dedicatory inscription should 
be quoted at some length, for it suggests the Augustan qualities in 
the worship of the time, of which there is no hint in the court 
annals of the Caliphs: 


In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate! 

The Emir Abul-Abbas, Ahmad ibn-Tulun, client of the Com- 
mander of the Faithful, whose might, honour and perfect fav- 
our God prolong in this world and the next, commanded that 
this holy, happy mosque be built for the Muhamadan commun- 
ity, out of the legitimate and well-gotten wealth granted him by 
God. 1 

Desiring thereby the favour of God and the future world, and 
seeking that which will conduce to the glory of religion and the 
unity of believers, and aspiring to build a house for God and to 
pay His due and to read His book, and to make perpetual men- 
tion of Him; since God Almighty says: In houses which God has 
permitted to be raised, wherein His name is mentioned, and 
wherein praise is rendered unto Him morning and evening by 
men who are distracted neither by merchandise nor by selling from 
making mention of God, reciting prayers and giving alms, fear- 
ing a day wherein the hearts and eyes shall be troubled, that 
God may reward them for the good that they have wrought, 
and may give them yet more out of His bounty. 

In the month Ramadan of the year 265. 

Exalt the Lord, the Lord of might, over that which they as- 
cribe to Him. And peace be on the messengers and praise unto 
God the Lord of the worlds. O God, be gracious unto Muham- 
mad, and Muhammad's family, and bless Muhammad and his 
family even according to the best of Thy favour and grace and 
blessing upon Abraham and his family. 

Verily Thou art glorious and to be praised. 2 

Like the mosque itself, this strangely moving dedication speaks 
with a kind of calculated austerity about the things of the spirit, 
reflecting its time. We are made aware of a man uttering words of 
devotion with the full breath. The inscription composed by the Umay- 
yad Caliph Abd-al-Malik for the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is 
far shorter, but its brevity conceals the implacable pride of a man 
who built a mosque of grave and serene beauty in order to turn 

1 Accused of using ill-gained money for the construction of the Mosque, 
Ibn Tulun was able to point out that the total cost came from treasure- 

2 D. S. Margoliouth, Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus, New York, Dodd, 
Mead and Company, 1907, pp. 19-20. 


men's minds away from Mecca. Here there is no parti pris only the 
continuing act of devotion, the name of God perpetually on men's 

Islam survived its rulers. For 350 years die descendants of Abu 
Sufyan and those who claimed descent from al-Abbas had made war 
on the descendants of Muhammad's flesh, and shown themselves for 
the most part incompetent and incapable of understanding the roles 
they were required to play. The Islamic empire had come into exis- 
tence as a result of the momentum given to it by Muhammad: it was 
built on the bones of the faithful. The faith remained, growing 
deeper and more assured as the years passed, changing course slightly 
as it received other influences, blazing with the iridescent colors of 
Syria when the capital was in Damascus, lit by the colors of the 
golden deserts of Iraq and Persia when the capital was in Baghdad, 
but never changing in its fundamental beliefs. High above the Cal- 
iphs and the Emperors there was the stern, full-blooded and visionary 
figure of Muhammad, to be remembered in dreams and during the 
daily acts of worship, warning men about the littleness of the earth 
and the splendors of the life to come. 

Devotional life continued untouched by the continual wars. It was 
a simple thing, based upon the daily reading of the Quran and 
men's wonderment before some of the more startling utterances of 
Muhammad. From the beginning there had been a mystical element 
in Islam, which found nourishment in the famous Throne verse, in 
the beautiful description of the niche for the lamps, and in such 
texts as "Wheresoever you turn there is the face of God," and "A 
people whom He loveth and who love Him." Among the followers 
of Ali and among those who held themselves aloof from the struggle 
there appeared people who came to be known as Sufis, from the 
simple woolen robe (suf) B worn by these spiritual wanderers as they 
meditated upon the nature of God. And if the Caliphs with their 
raised swords represented one aspect of Muhammad, another and 
perhaps more enduring aspect was represented by the Sufis with their 
downcast eyes. 

We know very little about the early development of Sufism, or 
whether indeed there was any development. During Umayyad times, 

3 Ibn Khaldun suggested three other possible derivations: from soffa 
(sofa), sof (rank), and safa (purity); but he preferred the derivation 
from suf (wool). At this late date it is no longer possible to be sure of 
the exact derivation. 


and especially during the short reign of Umar II, we hear of monkish 
ascetics who despised the world and sang the praises of poverty 
and mortification, but the true Sufis rejoiced in the world as evidence 
of God's greatness and they sang the praises of the God who seemed 
to be very close to them in the calm of contemplation. Just as we 
recognize the authentic voice of Muhammad in the Quran, so we 
recognize the authentic voice of the Sufis in the utterances of the 
saintly woman Rabi'a al-Adawiyya (717-801), who lived through 
the period of savage wars which followed the collapse of the Umay- 
yad dynasty. Born in Basrah to poverty, and sold into slavery, she 
won her freedom by her evident sanctity, and soon gathered a small 
group of disciples around her, at first in the desert and then at 
Basrah. Among her prayers is one she was accustomed to say at 
night when standing on the roof: 

O Lord, the stars are shining and the eyes of men are closed 
and kings have shut their doors, and every lover is alone with 
his beloved, and I am alone with Thee. 

Throughout her long life she wrote passionate verses concerning 
her overwhelming love for God and her indifference to all things 
that were not God. One day at springtime she entered her house and 
bowed her head. "Come out," said a woman servant, "and behold 
what God hath made." Rabi'a answered: "Come in, and behold 
the Maker." She never married, saying that she lived permanently 
in the shadow of God and the contract for marriage would have to 
be asked of Him. For her it was always enough to be in the company 
of God: 

Dear God, give to Thine enemies whatever Thou hast assigned 
to me of this world's goods, and to Thy friends whatever Thou 
hast assigned to me in the world to come; for Thou Thyself art 
sufficient to me. 

It was the same astonishing woman who wrote in a mood of fierce 

O God, if I worship Thee in fear of Hell, burn me in Hell; 
and if I worship Thee in hope of Paradise, exclude me from 
Paradise; but if I worship Thee for Thine own sake, withhold 
not Thine everlasting Beauty. 


A contemporary of Rabi'a was the famous ascetic Ibrahim ibn Ad- 
ham, descended from one of the princes of Khurasan. He is said to 
have died during a naval expedition against the Greeks, and to have 
spent his happiest years as a beggar in Syria. Once he was asked why 
he left Khurasan, and answered: "I find no joy in life except in 
Syria, where I flee with my religion from peak to peak and from hill to 
hill, and those who see me think I am a madman or a camel-driver." 
Like St. Francis he believed that poverty was a gift of God, and he 
said once that one of the few moments of pure joy he ever experienced 
occurred when he looked at his fur garment and could not distinguish 
the fur from the lice. There was more of the ascetic in him than the 
mystic, but he belongs to the Sufis if only for his indifference to 
Paradise and the sweetness of his prayers: 

O God, Thou knowest that Paradise weighs not with me so 
much as the wing of a gnat. If Thou befriendest me by Thy 
recollection, and sustainest me with Thy love, and make it easy 
for me to obey Thee, then give Thou Paradise to whomsoever 
Thou wilt, 4 

Strange tales were told about the early Sufis. There was the saintly 
Bayazid (Abu Yazid), the first of the "God-intoxicated" Sufis, who 
was transported on the wings of mystical fervor and suddenly an- 
nounced to his disciples: "Behold, I myself am become God! There is 
no other God but Me! Glory to Me! How great is My Majesty!" 
The story is told that his disciples refused to be embarrassed by these 
ecstatic utterances, interpreting them as innocent of blasphemy; but 
when Bayazid was told what he had said, he answered: "If you hear 
me speaking like this again, then kill me instantly!" The disciples 
sharpened their swords, and when they heard him saying: "God is 
beneath my garments!" they struck at him, only to have their swords 
curl back in their hands. Such at any rate is the story which was 
believed by the Sufis, who worshiped Bayazid this side of idolatry. 

The stories about Bayazid are legion, and it would be easy to dis- 
believe them if his own writings did not confirm them. He is among 
the best, and most authoritative, of Sufi theologians. He declared 
that he had seen God many times, and, reading his own account of 
his ascent toward God's shining face, it is hardly possible to dis- 
credit him. He speaks quietly and calmly about things one would 

4 A. J. Arberry, Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam, London 
George Allen and Unwin, 1956, p. 37. 


have thought impossible to describe. It was to him that the Sufis 
owed the doctrine o the annihilation of the self (fana), which from 
this time assumed a central position in Sufi thought. To Bayazid, too, 
belong the famous words: "I am become the wine-drinker and the 
wine and the cup-bearer." 

A little later than Bayazid, who died in 909, came Junayd, a native 
of Baghdad, who lived obscurely and of whom few stories were told, 
though he was more deeply revered than any other Sufi of his age. 
Of his own mystical experiences he wrote once that it was like "a con- 
tinual burning, a continual shaking to the foundations, a continual 
emptiness in which nothing familiar is ever seen, unimaginable and 
unbearable in its fierce onslaughts." Around the year 880 there 
came to his school in Baghdad a young mystic who was to become 
the most famous of them all, at once the most reckless, the most 
superbly intelligent and the most tragic. 

Husayn ibn-Mansur was a Persian, the grandson of a fire wor- 
shiper and the son of a wool carder, from whom he derived the name 
by which he is known al-Hallaj, "the wool carder." When he first 
appeared in Junayd's school, it was noted that he was unusually 
handsome, wore two gowns and seemed to be lost in his own dreams. 
It is related that after their first meeting Junayd said of him: "His 
blood will stain the gibbet." He spent about six years in the company 
of Junayd and broke with his master, believing that he could obtain 
greater mastery over himself and approach closer to the Vision of 
God by wandering alone on pilgrimage to Mecca. He spent a year 
in the shadow of the Kaaba without moving except for the pre- 
scribed ablutions and the ritual circlings round the Kaaba. He never 
slept, but sometimes dozed, and he seemed not to care whether it 
was day or night, or whether the sun was shining, or whether it 
was raining. 

After a year of meditation he broke his silence and became a 
wandering preacher, traveling across Iraq and Persia to Kashmir and 
down into India, and later to the frontiers of China. In India he 
is reported to have seen the famous rope trick performed by a wo- 
man, and from the Chinese he was able to buy paper, which was 
then very rare : afterward this Chinese paper was used by his students, 
who copied his sermons in gold ink. One day shortly after his jour- 
ney to India he stretched forth an empty hand in the air and produced 
an apple from an invisible tree, saying he had plucked it from the 
tree of Paradise. One of the disciples pointed out that the apple 
was full of maggot holes, and al-Hallaj laughed, saying: "How 


could it be otherwise? I plucked the apple from a tree in the Mansion 
o Eternity and brought it into the House of Decay, and that is why 
it is touched with corruption!" 

His strange sermons and poems, written with fire, were filled with 
such paradoxes. He could say the simplest things in the simplest 
words, and terrify his friends because what he said possessed a blind- 
ing clarity. One day when he was wandering through the market 
place, a scribe took down the words he uttered in an ecstasy of weep- 

O hide me from God! God has ravished me from myself, and 
will not give me back to myself, and so I cannot praise Him I am 
fearful of being abandoned by Him! 

For God made men out of simple charity, and if He shines 
before men and sometimes wears a veil before men, it is always 
so that men may be helped. And if He did not shine, all would 
deny His existence, and if He did not veil Himself, all would be 
spellbound! And that is why He changes from one to the other. 
As for me there is now no longer any veil, not so much as a wink, 
between me and God! And now is the time of my peace, when 
my humanity will perish in His divinity, my body consumed in 
the raging flames of His Omnipotence and then there will be no 
trace of me on earth, no relic of me, no face, no word. 5 

More and more as he grew older he desired to lose himself com- 
pletely in God, to become wholly man and wholly God. He was 
nearly fifty when he went into the Mosque of al-Mansur and sought 
out his friend Shibli, a Turkish nobleman, and a well-known poet, 
and announced simply: "I am the Truth" ("ana f l-Haqq"} At the 
time Shibli was surrounded by his disciples, and many people heard 
the words with a shudder, for al-Hallaj was announcing in the sim- 
plest possible terms that he had become God or that God had so 
penetrated him that there was no difference between them. Men 
feared that al-Hallaj would be arrested for blasphemy. 6 

5 Louis Massignon, Al-Hallaj, martyre mystique de I'lslam, Paris, Paul 
Geuthner, 1922, II, 123. 

6 Jalalul-Din Rumi, the great mystical poet of Persia, pointed out in a 
poem dedicated to al-Hallaj that it is less presumptuous to say, "I am the 
Truth" or "I am God" than to say, as Muhamadans continually do, 
"I am the slave of God." By saying, "I am God" the mystic has sur- 
rendered to God unequivocally, assuming for himself no stature, not even 
the stature of a slave, in an extremity of humility and tenderness. 


Ecstatic, al-Hallaj continued to wander through the streets of Bagh- 
dad, delivering sermons, speaking quietly and authoritatively about 
the nature of God. No one dared touch him, for the Queen Mother 
and many of the high officials at court favored him. But his long 
meditations had led him into the belief that it was necessary to "die 
into God," to offer himself as a sacrifice, following the example of 
Jesus, and so entering into the Godhead at a moment of the highest 
ecstasy. Once again he entered the Mosque of al-Mansur and said to 
the people: "God has made my blood lawful unto you, therefore kill 
me!" When they asked him why he wanted to die, he answered: "So 
that you may be rewarded and so that I may have peace, and so that 
you may be fighters for the faith and I a martyr!" But no one desired 
to kill him, except the Hanbalites, those followers of the fundamen- 
talist Ahmad ibn-Hanbal, who regarded the doctrine of ittihad, the 
identification of God with man, as the highest form of blasphemy. 

In those last years the faith of al-Hallaj took on the colors of his 
Persian character. It was not only that he was an ecstatic, but he was 
ecstatic in the Persian manner, in love with fire and flame, seeing all 
life as a continual "dancing into God." He made a model of the 
Kaaba and walked round it, saying that the model was as good as the 
original in bringing one to God; and though he had made three pil- 
grimages to Mecca, he spoke of Mount Sinai, where Moses vanished 
into the Light, as a holier place. Step by step he seemed to be moving 
toward the inevitable crisis, looking forward to the time when God's 
finger would be "stained with the lover's blood." 

There is a sense in which the whole Abbasid epoch culminates in 
the figure of the handsome and superbly gifted ascetic as he appears 
to run dancing to his death, protesting the glory of God and the 
worthlessness of his age. He asked for no forgiveness. "The perfume 
of Thy coming," he wrote, "suffices to make me despise all creation, 
and Hell is nothing to the void within me when Thou desertest me: 
forgive others, do not forgive me." At another time he wrote: "The 
way to God is two steps: one step out of this world, and then one 
step out of the next, and then thou art in God's holy presence." And 
when he spoke about his desire to die for the sake of God, he sug- 
gested not one but many motives, as though all his senses and his in- 
telligence had separately fused into a single shattering desire: 

Kill me, my zealous comrades, -for my death is a coming into life, 
My life is a dying, my death an awakening, 


My greatest gift the annihilation of my being. 
To live a little while longer is the worst of crimes. 
Among these crumbling ruins I despair over my life: 
Therefore J^ill me and burn me in the fire until my bones perish. 
And then if it should happen that you pass close by my remains, 
You will find the secret of my Friend in my ghostly spirit. 
1 became a Patriarch of the highest ranf^, 
And then I became a child wandering in the shirts of his nurse. 
And all the time 1 lay on my tomb in the salty earth. 
My mother gave birth to her father: such is the miracle! 
And the daughters of my loins have become my own sisters, 
Nor were my ways adulterous, nor did these events occur in time. 
And all the scattered fragments of my being shall become air, fire 

and pure water, 

To be thrown by the seedman into the dry soil, 
And let the dancing girls pour wine and water on my fields. 
In the space of seven days a perfect flower will come to birth! 7 

So in a mood of paradox, hinting at rebirth, al-Hallaj announced 
his coming end with no thought of how it would be brought about. 
He seems to have hoped that someone would strike him down with a 
knife, but this mercy was refused to him. Suddenly, in 908, orders 
were given for his arrest, and he escaped to Susa. Some of his fol- 
lowers were arrested, but no serious effort was made to discover his 
hiding place until 911, when the police pounced upon him, brought 
him to Baghdad in chains and threw him into prison without bring- 
ing any charges against him. At last in 913 "the good vizier" Ali ibn- 
Isa was ordered to inquire into the charges of heresy brought against 
al-Hallaj by the Hanbalites. Ali ibn-Isa was a man of high principles, 
judicious and unimaginative, perfectly capable of condemning al- 
Hallaj if he felt that the crime of blasphemy had in fact been com- 
mitted, but he refused to have the blood of the saintly ascetic on his 
hands. To satisfy the Hanbalites, Ali ibn-Isa concluded that a token 
punishment was required, and accordingly al-Hallaj was condemned 
not as a heretic but as a charlatan, and he was ordered to have his 
beard cut off, to be beaten with the flat of the sword, to be exposed 
for four days on the pillory and to be kept in prison in chains. Al- 
Hallaj was as far removed as ever from the death he desired. 

7 Hocein Mansur Hallaj, Diwan, tr. Louis Massignon, Paris, Editions des 
Cahiers du Sud, 1955, P- 2 7' 


In prison he was treated with every mark of respect. A special 
building was erected for him just outside the prison wall, with a gate 
leading to a courtyard where al-Hallaj could preach to the prisoners. 
The walls of his new house were covered with carpets; he was al- 
lowed to receive visitors, and to keep servants. Two years later, when 
the Caliph al-Muqtadir seemed to be dying of a fever, al-Hallaj was 
brought to the palace and lodged in a room next to the Caliph's; and 
it was widely believed that the Caliph's recovery was due to his inter- 
cession. The Queen Mother visited him, to learn from his lips the 
secrets of hulul, by which al-Hallaj meant the incarnation of God in 
the human body. A host of visitors came to marvel or listen to the 
sermons he preached quietly, with downcast eyes, while sitting cross- 
legged on the floor, or in moments of ecstatic excitement, leaping 
about the room. Strange stories were told of how he swelled out un- 
til he filled the whole room; of how a handkerchief he had dropped 
walked back to his sleeve; of how he was able to foretell the future 
and knew all the secrets of the past. 

In the court he was feared. So many legends gathered about his 
name that he seemed to be larger than life, and there were many who 
believed he was the representative of the hidden Lord of the Age. 
But the Caliph, his Vizier, and Munis, the Greek eunuch who had 
risen to the command of the armies, feared the growing power of the 
Hanbalites, who were threatening revolution, and quite suddenly, at 
the end of a feast given in honor of Munis, the drunken Caliph 
signed the order of execution. 

On the night before the death he desired above everything else, al- 
Hallaj went through his customary ritual of prayers, performing the 
two prostrations in the direction of Mecca. Afterward he was silent. 
Some who were present heard him repeating the word "illusion" half 
the night with a look of despair written over his face, as though he 
felt that his sacrifice were in vain, but toward dawn he bounded to his 
feet and shouted: "The Truth! The Truth!" He put on his turban, 
donned his cloak, stretched out his arms, and, while facing Mecca, 
he fell into an ecstasy and talked with God. 

He spoke of the splendors awaiting him, and how his human body 
had been made in the shining image of God, and how at last he was 
being tested in the furnace of his desire. He gave thanks to God for 
having permitted him to utter the sacred words by which he had en- 
tered creation. "Surely," he said, "I who have been Thine incense 
shall rise again," and then he went on to speak in verse: 


I cry to God: Sorrow over thy witness who now departs into the 

Beyond to welcome the Witness of Eternity. 
I cry to God: Sorrow over the hearts bedewed in vain with the 

waters of revelation and the oceans of wisdom. 
I cry to God: Sorrow over the Word which is lost and whose 

meaning is a void in the mind. 
I cry to God: Sorrow over Thy love and for the goodness of Thy 

servants, whose mounts were continually ready to obey: 
For all have passed away across the deserts, leaving no footprints 

nor any watering places, 
And the abandoned herd runs behind, blinder than the beasts, 

blinder than a flocf^ of sheep. 8 

When his servant Ibrahim asked him for a keepsake, he answered: 
"I give you yourself." When morning came, all his bitterness against 
"the blind beasts" had gone, and he went laughing to the execution 
ground, not far from the prison, on the right bank of the Tigris. 
Asked why he was laughing, he answered: "From the caresses of In- 
finite Beauty." When he saw the gibbet he laughed still louder: he 
was like a man running to his beloved. 

The news that he was about to be executed was known throughout 
Baghdad, and a huge crowd had gathered. To some people in the 
crowd he announced calmly: "I shall return in thirty days." Standing 
below the gibbet, he saw his friend Shibli and asked whether he had 
brought a prayer rug, and when this was given to him he prostrated 
himself and performed the offices which are performed by all those 
about to be executed, and then he said very calmly: 

Those who adore Thee, O God, have assembled here to kill me 
out of their love for Thee, so that they may come closer unto 
Thee. Pardon them, O Lord! If Thou hast revealed to them what 
Thou hast revealed to rne, they would not have done what they 
have done; and if Thou hadst concealed from me what Thou 
hast concealed from them, I should not have suffered this tribu- 
lation. Power and glory unto Thee in whatsoever Thou doest, 
and power and glory unto Thee in whatsoever Thou wiliest! 9 

Such was his last prayer, the most beautiful he ever uttered and 
perhaps the most beautiful ever uttered by a Muhamadan, and a mo- 

8 Ibid., p. 14. 

9 Massignon, Al-Hallaj, I, p. 303. 


ment later he rose to face the executioner, who dealt him a blow be- 
tween the eyes which smashed his forehead and sent the blood 
streaming out of his nose. Shibli cried out, tore at his clothes, and 
fell in a dead faint; and the crowd howled at the sight of the martyr's 

Punishment in medieval times was complex, prolonged, formed of 
many diverse passions. A criminal sentenced to death must die many 
deaths. First, his skull was smashed; then he was scourged; then his 
hands and feet were cut off; then the body was roped to the gibbet 
and tar was applied to the bleeding stumps to prevent him from 
bleeding to death. All day he hung there, saying nothing, and it was 
observed that his face was still ruddy. When night fell, a messenger 
came from the Caliph giving permission for his head to be struck off, 
but one of the officers present said that it was already too late and the 
final act could wait until morning. At sunrise the next day, March 26, 
922, al-Hallaj was lifted barely conscious from the gibbet and de- 
posited on a leather mat a few feet away. Someone heard him saying 
"All I have longed for ... The loneliness of God . . ." It must have 
been at this time that Shibli threw him the red rose which was men- 
tioned in many poems written later. Then the sword descended, and 
his head was struck off. The body was thereupon rolled up in a strip 
of reed matting, soaked in naphtha and burned. Later the head was 
exposed on the bridge at Baghdad, and the ashes were taken up to a 
minaret and scattered to the winds. 

Afterward they remembered many strange things that happened 
during the long execution: how there had almost been a riot when 
the executioner, Abu al-Harith, struck the martyr, and how the body 
had writhed and twisted in the flames, and how his words seemed to 
echo on the air long after he was incapable of speech. Some of his 
followers believed, as Muhamadans believe of Jesus, that he was not 
crucified, but a semblance or image of him was crucified instead. And 
all> for different reasons, remembered him. The Caliph remembered 
the curse that lay upon him; Munis, too, remembered, and was to die 
only a few years later in the palace prison, held over the gutters while 
his throat was slit; the Queen Mother remembered, and she kept the 
embalmed head of the saint in that special treasury in the palace 
which was reserved for the heads of great saints and great criminals. 
The Sufis wrote about him endlessly, and the great poet Jalalul-Din 
Rumi celebrated him in many poems. The philosophers al-Ghazzali 
and Ibn Arabi wrote about him at length as though he were another 


Muhammad come to earth. In lands which al-Hallaj had never 
known, in Java and Bengal and Ottoman Turkey, his devotees built 
temples in honor of the man who declared quietly and confidently, 
"I am the Truth," and who wrote once in words which seem to be an 
invitation to a perpetual feast: "If the sun should rise at night, the 
dawn of hearts will have no setting." 

The Rage of Kingdoms 



-he death of al-Hallaj marked the end o an era. 
Almost alone he had hoped to bring men into a direct awareness of 
the divine, that sense of a luminous divinity which had been present 
in the time of Muhammad; but it was already too late. Henceforward, 
as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said of the years following the First 
World War, "affairs were no longer in the hands of God, but in the 
hands of men." Soon the Abbasid empire would split asunder; a thou- 
sand sects and a hundred contending kingdoms would arise; but such 
was the genius of Islam that it produced some of its greatest artists 
and philosophers in its time of troubles. Men were to learn that 
Islam could survive the Muhamadan empire. 

In Baghdad the wide-eyed Caliphs, their Arab blood watered by 
the mingled strains of their slave mothers, still sat on their thrones 
in robes stiff with gold, crept about their palaces like glittering ghosts, 
and on state occasions held in their hands the holy sword of Muham- 
mad, but they were no more than shadows. 

The four successors of the Caliph al-Muqtadir died without honor. 
Al-Qahir, the half-brother of al-Muqtadir, reigned for two years un- 
til his soldiers wearied of him, and when he refused to abdicate they 
put out his eyes with hot needles. Al-Qahir was luckier than his suc- 
cessor, al-Radi, who was smothered to death at the end of a six-year 
reign, and al-Muttaqi and al-Mustakfi, who were both blinded. At one 
period three former Caliphs, all blind, were wandering like beggars 
through the streets of Baghdad. 

Since the Caliph was the repository of both spiritual and temporal 
power, directly related to the family of Muhammad, there were ad- 
vantages in painting the corpse and pretending there was life in him. 
These advantages were employed by Ahmad ibn-Buwayh, the chieftain 
of a rebellious tribe of Daylamites from the southern shores of the 
Caspian, who in December, 945, conquered Baghdad, put the Turkish 
guards to flight, and assumed full power, granting himself the title of 



Sultan, inscribing his own name on the coinage and ordering that 
his title of Muizz ad-Dawlah, meaning "He who gives power to the 
state/ 5 be mentioned along with the Caliph's in the Cathedral serv- 
ices. Henceforth for a hundred years the Buwayhids ruled over the 
empire, giving high positions to their sons, marrying into the caliphal 
family, making and unmaking Caliphs at will. They destroyed the last 
vestiges of rule by the Turkish guards, instituted public mourning on 
the anniversary of Husayn's death, and abandoned Baghdad for 
their own capital in Shiraz, at the heart of the ancient Achaemenian 
empire, not far from Persepolis. For centuries Persian influence had 
been in the ascendancy; now for the first time the real rulers of the 
empire were Persians. 

The Buwayhids ruled wisely, endowed hospitals, created libraries. 
They had the Persian love for splendor, and the Persian carelessness 
with money, with the result that the treasury was often empty and 
there were periods when the economy broke down. They were culti- 
vated men with an instinct for the good things of life, and they chose 
good viziers. Shiraz became a city as beautiful as Baghdad. Under 
Adud al-Dawlah, the nephew of Ahmad ibn-Buwayh, Shiraz became 
"the sweetest fruit of the empire," a city of blue-tiled mosques and 
great rose gardens and many parks, with libraries, academies and 
hospitals for the welfare of the people, who were said to be so proud 
of their city "that they looked down their noses at Baghdad, saying 
it was but a small village in the provinces." It was not true; for the 
Buwayhids took care to embellish the capital city of the empire with 
as many great buildings as they built in Shiraz, and the first great uni- 
versity hospital, in which all diseases were examined, as distinguished 
from the small private hospitals, was built by them in Baghdad. 

Under Adud al-Dawlah the real ruler of the empire was Abu Fadhl 
ibn-Amid, who seemed to revive in himself all the glories of al- 
Mamun's reign. People with bated breath spoke of his knowledge of 
languages, his skill at war, his understanding of the arts and sciences. 
He could remember every poem he ever set eyes on. He was as 
learned in Aristotelian philosophy as in the commentaries on the 
Quran. He was one of those rare universal geniuses who appear on 
earth from time to time, filling lesser men with inextinguishable envy. 
He was gentle and unassuming, and the Buwayhid prince sat at his 
feet and marveled and thanked God daily that the affairs of state 
were in the hands of the wisest man in Islam. 

Abu Fadhl needed to be wise, for already the empire was crumbling. 


The historian Miskawayh, who was Adud al-Dawlah's treasurer, has 
left a strange picture of the empire during those years when Shiraz 
and Baghdad were great centers o learning, crowded with gleaming 
buildings tiled with faience, with trade coming from all the ends of 
the earth. Men spoke of their presentiment that this prosperity could 
not last: somewhere beyond the frontiers lay an invisible enemy, hid- 
ing in clouds of darkness, but where he was or what face he would 
show remained unknown to them. 

The edges of the empire were breaking off, new principalities were 
coming into existence, rival Caliphs were proclaiming their independ- 
ence, but the empire continued to flourish in an uneasy balance with 
all the hostile forces gathering on its frontiers. What is astonishing 
to the modern historian is that this slow disintegration produced so 
much exquisite art. 

A minor princeling who called himself Sayf al-Dawlah ("the sword 
of the state") carved out for himself a principality in the northwest- 
ern corner of Syria, with Aleppo as his capital He fought brilliantly 
against the Byzantines, and surrounded himself during the twenty- 
three years of his reign with a court almost as brilliant as that which 
surrounded al-Mamun, distinguished especially by the poet al-Mu- 
tanabbi, who is still considered by the Arabs to be the greatest of all 
Arab poets. Al-Mutanabbi described the wars of his sovereign with 
astonishing relish. The son of a poor water-carrier in al-Kufah, he 
was completely at home in the court, and was treated with so much 
tolerance by the prince that he sang his poems before the throne 
while sitting comfortably and without making any prostrations, one 
hand on the hilt of his sword, as though he was determined to pro- 
claim the primacy of poetry. His poems are full of conceits: the teeth 
of lovers melt in the embrace, the king's sword hews through a hun- 
dred bodies in an instant, and a single pearl cast by a prince will put 
his enemies to flight. He writes best of the desert, with his portraits 
of the Bedouin women in scarlet robes riding their camels over the 
desert toward the darkness and the hills, and even to our modern 
ears, weary of warlike conceits, his descriptions of battle are exhila- 
rating. In the end al-Mutannabi broke with his patron and visited 
Egypt, but he was too hot-tempered to take kindly to the treatment 
he received; he was making his way toward Persia in search of a new 
patron when he was set upon by a marauding band of Bedouins and 

Al-Mutannabi had a rival in the prince's cousin, Abu Firas, who 


also wrote of war, but with greater tenderness, perhaps because he 
knew war only too well, having fought against the Byzantines and 
been taken prisoner. He was one of the few great poets who have 
died on the battlefield, for on the death of Sayf al-Dawlah he de- 
clared himself Prince of Hims and fell fighting against his cousin's 

Poets and historians and philosophers flocked to Sayf al-Dawlah *s 
court. Among them was al-Farabi, a Turk from Farab in Transoxiana, 
who devoted himself to the study of Aristotle and whose writings on 
the nature of God influenced St. Thomas Aquinas. His ambition was 
to harmonize the different Greek systems and then harmonize these 
with the Quran; and it is to him that we owe the classic statement on 
the nature of time: "Time is the movement which holds all things 
together." No other sovereign of a small principality ever sur- 
rounded himself with so many talents. 

Sayf al-Dawlah's principality was a wedge introduced between the 
Byzantine and Abbasid empires, and could be left safely to its own 
devices. It was another matter when Egypt was conquered by the 
Fatimids, who claimed descent from Fatima, the daughter of Mu- 
hammad, and assumed the title and spiritual prerogatives of the 
Caliphate, which they asserted to be theirs by divine right. The con- 
quest had been planned during the previous century by Abdallah ibn- 
Maymun, a Persian oculist with visions of imperial grandeur, who 
established himself in Tunisia with the help of the Qarmatians and 
inaugurated a widespread secret society with the aim of destroying 
the Abbasid empire. He died in 875, but the movement he had 
brought into being continued under the leadership of his descend- 
ants. In 970 the Fatimid armies under Jawhar al-Katib, formerly a 
Christian slave from Sicily, conquered Egypt and Syria, founded the 
city of Cairo (al-Qahirah, "the triumphant"), and obtained the sub- 
mission of the Hijaz; and prayers were recited in the name of the 
new Fatimid Caliph al-Muizz in the holy cities of Madinah and Mecca. 
There were now three Muhamadan empires: the Umayyad Caliphs 
ruled over Spain, Iraq and Persia remained in the hands of the Ab- 
basids, and North Africa, Egypt, Syria and Arabia were in the hands 
of the Fatimids. 

The Fatimids inherited all the panoply which accompanies Arab 
conquerors in their progress. With startling suddenness they intro- 
duced an era of widespread peace in lands which had known only 
perpetual war. In a ferocious battle outside the gates of Cairo, they 


destroyed the armies of the Qarmatians, and settled down to enjoy 
the power which had come to them with so little effort. Artists and 
poets flocked to their courts. A new art colored by the climate of 
Africa emerged in their workshops. Under the second Caliph al- 
Aziz the Fatimid empire reached its furthest limits, extending from 
the Atlantic to the Red Sea. 

The third of the Fatimid Caliphs who reigned from Egypt ap- 
peared to have modeled himself on the character of Nero. Tall, fair- 
haired, with blue eyes his mother was the sister of the orthodox 
Patriarch of Jerusalem he raged like a whirlwind through his trem- 
bling court. From the time when he came to the throne at the age of 
eleven in 996, he performed one atrocity after another. He issued 
strange and contradictory orders. He would have a Vizier executed 
for omitting to address him with all his titles. He suffered from bouts 
of intense melancholia, and at such times he wandered alone through 
the countryside, gazing at the stars and howling like a wolf. In his 
lucid moments he was intelligent and charming, and was a generous 
patron of the arts, but as he grew older the lucid moments became 
rarer. He invented stringent laws for the pleasure of punishing of- 
fenders. In 1009 he forbade pilgrimages and ordered the destruction 
of all churches and synagogues throughout the empire, except the 
Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, but including the Church of 
the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. He ordered all the vineyards of 
Egypt to be uprooted; prohibited banquets, music and chess, and even 
promenades along the banks of the Nile. He made Christians and 
Jews wear black clothes as a sign of their inferior status in compari- 
son with Muhamadans. He set older women to spy on young women, 
and they were empowered to report on all love affairs. He invited 
the famous mathematician and physicist al-Hasan ibn-al-Haytham, 
known to the west as Alhazen, to his court. Alhazen was the author 
of a vast and compendious work on optics, which influenced medical 
treatment of the eyes throughout the Middle Ages, and he was the 
first to employ a magnifying glass. He was an engineer, geometrician 
and surgeon as well as a mathematician and a physicist, and when he 
came to Egypt he was asked to regulate the Nile's floods, from which 
the entire economy of Egypt derived. Unhappily, his theoretical cal- 
culations were at fault, he was unable to regulate the floods, and the 
Caliph ordered his arrest. For the rest of al-Hakim's life the greatest 
scientist of the time remained in hiding or in flight. 

The unlimited power at the disposal of the weak Caliph sapped 


his strength. He became completely mad. Fearing the darkness, he 
ordered that no one should go out at night; and being in love with 
the grey ass which took him on his solitary wanderings, he ordered 
that anyone found beating an ass should be beaten almost to death. 
Toward the end of his life missionaries sprang up in Cairo teaching 
a strange new religion, the divinity of the Caliph. The submissive 
people of Cairo, alarmed by this new and terrifying claim, murdered 
several of the missionaries, and al-Hakim, who was disposed to be- 
lieve in his own divinity, avenged himself by taking the Jews and 
Christians into favor and permitting their churches and synagogues 
to be rebuilt. At more bloodthirsty moments he set his Sudanese 
mercenaries, who performed the same function as the Turkish guards 
of the rival Caliph, against the Muhamadan population. Civil war 
flared up, to break the long midnight silences in which the Caliph 
communed with the stars. 

He was communing with the stars when he was killed one February 
evening in 1021. With two attendants, riding his gray ass, he had 
ridden out to his observatory on the hill of Muqattam. They said 
afterward that ten tribesmen approached him threateningly, saying 
they had often waited in vain outside his palace door, but had re- 
ceived no money from him. The Caliph laughed, ordered them to be 
paid 10,000 pieces of silver from the treasury, and offered to send 
one of the attendants back with them. The tribesmen suspected treach- 
ery, and asked for a safe-conduct, which the Caliph gave them. Then 
the tribesmen went away, only to return a little later when they 
learned that the Caliph had given orders for them to be murdered 
when they arrived in Cairo. They killed the Caliph, and then van- 
ished. A search party was sent out. They found the ass on top of the 
hill with its forelegs hacked off. Blood marks on the ground led to a 
hollow, where they found the Caliph's clothes pierced by daggers 
and carefully buttoned up. There was no sign of his body. 

Many Caliphs had died mysterious deaths, but no one had left his 
clothes so neatly behind. He seemed to have dematerialized himself, 
and some said he had become a Christian monk at Sketis in Egypt. 
A Persian, Muhammad ibn-Ismail al-Darazi ("the tailor"), announced 
that al-Hakim would return in good time, more godlike than ever, to 
destroy Jerusalem and Mecca, being absolute God and therefore 
to be worshiped with complex rites and secret initiations. At the last 
trumpet the veil covering his divinity would fall away, and all men 
would set eyes on that strange long-haired and blue-eyed Caliph who 


died near his observatory. 1 The Druses, who take their name from al- 
Darazi, still live in Lebanon and in the neighborhood of Damascus 
and continue to believe in the second coming of al-Hakim. 2 

The mad Caliph was followed by a sane fourteen-year-old boy, 
who took the name al-Zahir. During the fifteen years of his reign he 
fought a series of successful wars in Syria, which had been the 
prey of usurpers, but his most notable act, one most often forgotten 
by historians of the Crusades, was to allow the rebuilding of the 
Holy Sepulcher. He died of the plague in 1036, and was succeeded 
by al-Mustansir, who was only seven years old at the time of his ac- 
cession. Power accordingly fell into the hands of his mother, once a 
Negro slave, and her former master, a Jewish curiosity dealer. Such 
an unlikely beginning might have presaged ill fortune on the dynasty, 
but al-Mustansir lived to be the longest reigning Caliph of all time- 
he survived through sixty years of war, famine and plague. During 
his reign Baghdad was briefly conquered, and so it happened that the 
treasury of the Abbasid Caliphs, which included the mantle of Mu- 
hammad and the two-pointed sword Dhu'l-Faqar won at the battle of 
Badr together with the cuirass of Husayn and the shield of the great 
warrior Hamza, fell into the hands of the Fatimid Caliphs, remaining 
with them until Saladin returned them to the Caliph of Baghdad. 

In the intervals of war al-Mustansir gave himself up to unexampled 
luxury. Fatimid Egypt in the eleventh century possessed the gift of 
luxury, and the means to satisfy it. The handsome clean-shaven 
Caliph, who dressed simply in a white silk kaftan with a white 
turban, concealed under the mask of reserve an intoxicated delight in 
the splendor of his power. He was continually building palaces and 
pavilions. One of his palaces contained a jeweled reproduction of the 
Kaaba, and he liked to amuse himself by drinking in front of it, 

1 The claim of divinity had already been made by al-Muizz, who de- 
clared that his ancestors and his own person were "the eternal world of 
God, His perfect names, His dazzling lights, His brilliant signs and the 
ineluctable decrees of fate." See H. Lammens, S. J., Islam: Beliefs and 
Institutions, New York, E. P. Dutton and Company, n.d., p. 162. 

2 Benjamin of Tudela, who visited the Druses in 1163, says: "Their 
dwellings are on the summits of the mountains and in the ridges of the 
rocks, and they are subject to no king or prince. This people live in- 
cestuously; a father cohabits with his own daughter, and once every year 
all men and women assemble to celebrate a festival, upon which occasion, 
after eating and drinking, they hold promiscuous intercourse." 


while slave girls and dancing girls attended him. He is said to have 
remarked: "It is more pleasant sitting here than looking at the Black 
Stone, listening to the ugly voice of the muezzin and drinking rank 
water." He commissioned pictures of dancers from Persian artists, 
built mosques and saw to it that the streets of Cairo should be lighted 
by oil lamps at night; and he ordered that the main streets should 
be roofed against the sun, a sensible device which has rarely been 
followed. The island of Sicily had fallen to the Fatimids, and 30,000 
pieces of fine Sicilian embroidery were found in the wardrobes of 
one Fatimid princess. 

The exquisite art of the Fatimids is still too little known, perhaps 
because the greater part of it has remained in Egypt. It is the art 
of a people who have learned how to enjoy luxury and are not 
afraid to express their enjoyment. The austere Kufic inscriptions in 
the Fatimid mosques suggest that luxury never imperiled the core of 
their religion; and their delicate ceramic bowls suggest an impas- 
sioned delight in color and texture for their own sake. The most 
revealing of the surviving Fatimid works of art is the bronze griffin 
forty inches high, now in the Campo Santo at Pisa, with its superb 
mingling of delicacy and strength. The griffin's haunches and legs, 
the full expanded chest and the powerful upflung wings which would 
slice the air with short and savage thrusts have about them the im- 
perious strength we associate with conquerors. Neither Persian nor 
Coptic influence can be felt. The bronze griffin represents Fatimid 
power in all its luxury and glory, foursquare, with feet planted firmly 
in the earth, pausing for a few moments to regard the world with 
an imperial gesture before soaring into the dark Egyptian night. 

While the Fatimids showed a superb sense of their mastery in 
bronze, in weaving and in ceramics, they demonstrated little taste for 
literature. The one great poet of the period, Abu al-Ala al-Ma'arri, 
was a blind Syrian with a bitter tongue who concealed his horror of 
the world and fears of coming disaster under a mask of perfect 
orthodoxy until toward the end of his life he was overwhelmed by 
the inanity of things and lashed out against the pilgrims and com- 
mentators of the Quran indifferently, reserving his most bitter blasts 
for the sacred Kaaba itself. Rage filled him, but it was like the rage 
of the elder Yeats, blowing like an autumn gale. "I live in a cursed 
time," he wrote once, but he seems to have enjoyed life in spite of 
his bitterness and he lived to be eighty-four. 

In Spain, too, Islam had passed the zenith of its power, falling into 


that state of decay which Ibn Khaldun detected as the inevitable 
consequence of luxury. Abd-ar-Rahman I, the Umayyad prince who 
conquered Spain and defied the Abbasid Caliph, was a man of simple 
tastes who waited until the end of his life before deciding to build 
the mosque which came to be known as the Great Mosque of Cordova. 
Luxury came in with his grandson Abd-ar-Rahman II, who made his 
Spanish eunuch his Vizier and spent his time with his Persian music 
master, Ziryab, who had wandered into Spain from the court of 
Harun al-Rashid. The Umayyad Caliph was so delighted with the 
talents of the young and handsome Ziryab that he would seat him 
beside him and share meals with him, and listen for hours to his 
songs. Ziryab was said to know a thousand songs, each with a dif- 
ferent tune. Ja'far ibn-Yahya was an exquisite, but Ziryab was more 
exquisite still He was Beau Brumrnell, the artificer of court cere- 
monies, the amused spectator of a thousand follies, many of which 
he introduced. He taught people at court how to wear their hair, 
how to prostrate themselves before the Caliph, how they should ride 
their horses during parades. He taught them to eat asparagus, sug- 
gested the advantages of crystal over metal drinking cups, of sleeping 
on leather beds, dining off leather mats and of wearing clothes ac- 
cording to the gradations of the seasons: a courtier was expected to 
wear the lightest of silks in summer and the heaviest furs in winter. 
Ziryab was the very symbol of exhausted effeminacy; and he appeared 
at a time when the Christians of Cordova, exasperated by the feckless- 
ness of the Arabs, were taunting their conquerors with demands for 
martyrdom, denying the flesh as the Arabs satiated themselves with 
the refinements of luxury. An ascetic priest, Eulogius, led the move- 
ment against Muhamadanism, and was decapitated at the orders of 
the Caliph for having entered a mosque and denied Muhammad. 
There were many others. In Paris men trembled with the hope of a 
new age of martyrdom, and the priests of St. Germain-des-Pres be- 
came the willing servants of the martyrs, stealing secretly into Spain 
to bear witness that the martyrs had not died in vain and returning 
to Paris with their bones. 

Not all the Christians were prepared to die for their faith. In 850, 
during the last years of the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman II, the priest 
Alvarez of Cordova reproached the Christians for their preference 
for Arab speech and Arab books. "They neglect the Bible for the 
Muhamadan scriptures," he said. Arab eloquence, Arab refinement, 
Arab luxury had conquered Spanish hearts, and they were never to 
free themselves completely from these toils. 


Under the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman III (912-961), who came to 
the throne at the age of twenty-three, Cordova reached its greatest 
heights. Tall, handsome, ruddy-faced and blue-eyed, his mother a 
Christian slave, Abd-ar-Rahman set about imposing his will upon 
the country as soon as he came to the throne. There had been con- 
stant rebellions; he gave orders that rebellion should cease, and when 
the orders were disobeyed he marched at the head of his army and 
demanded the immediate surrender of the rebel fortresses, saying that 
he was not interested in tribute, only in complete submission, and he 
would pardon all who would submit freely. He subdued the 
Christians of Leon and Castille; destroyed an uprising of the Basques; 
occupied Toledo, which had enjoyed its freedom for eighty years; 
took Ceuta from the Fatimids; and built in the shipyards of Almeria 
a fleet of two hundred ships to ward off the threatened blows from 
the east. In all these military adventures he was assisted by mercen- 
aries known as the Saqalibah, or Slavs, captives and slaves from all 
parts of Europe. Many were captives from the German marches 
bought in the great slave market at Verdun. Others came from 
Byzantium, whence the slave ships sailed along the northern coast 
of the Black Sea; Spanish privateers raided the coasts of Italy and 
southern France. These mercenaries, like the Turkish guards em- 
ployed by the Abbasid Caliphs, were a potential danger to the state, 
but while he was alive he dealt with them firmly. One of these Slavs 
was placed in command of the army in a campaign against Leon and 

For eighteen years Abd-ar-Rahman III waged a series of wars 
through the length and breadth of Spain, and then he rested. He 
was powerful enough to fear no one. In 929, defying the Fatimid 
Caliph al-Muizz, he proclaimed himself Caliph, taking the title of 
al-Nasir, "the Defender of the Faith." He had good reason to rest. 
Andalusia was now the most civilied province on earth, with annual 
revenues of more than 6,000,000 dinars. The Caliph decided upon a 
simple division of expenditure: a third was spent on current ex- 
penses, a third was deposited in the treasury, a third was spent on 

All the Umayyad princes had helped to build the Great Mosque 
at Cordova, which had been built on the grounds of the Visigothic 
church of San Vicenzo, overlooking the river. This immense and 
battlemented mosque remains today the chief glory of western Islam, 
though no Muhamadan prayers are ever uttered there. With its hun- 
dreds of columns, its strange horseshoe arches painted with red and 


white bands surmounted by a higher register of similar arches, its 
infinitely complicated perspectives along jeweled arcades, it somehow 
suggests an orange orchard in full bloom: not such an orchard as 
one might see with human eyes, but as it would appear in Paradise. 
Today, shorn of its magnificence, it is still magnificent. Once the 
sanctuary was paved with silver and inlaid with mosaics, and the 
minbar (pulpit), which Muhamadans liked to decorate with woods 
of many colors arranged in complex patterns, consisted of strips of 
ivory interspersed with 36,000 separate strips of wood; and the 
forest of columns, which in the end numbered altogether 1,293, was 
set with gold and lapis lazuli. The hanging lanterns were made from 
the bronze bells of Christian churches, and every chandelier, accord- 
ing to the chronicler, held a thousand lamps. All round the walls 
there were, and are, mosaics designed by craftsmen from Byzantium. 
Gone was the essential simplicity of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun. 
Once more at Cordova we are back again in the Great Umayyad 
Mosque, with its suggestion of almost feminine luxury. Quite delib- 
erately the designers intend to suggest the vision of Paradise in all 
its fullness and in all its finery. There was no attempt at height, 
for the ceilings are low height would come later when the Turkish 
architect Sinan designed his mosques in the soaring image of Santa 
Sophia. It was, after all, a very human Paradise which they wanted 
men to enter; and they deliberately planted orange trees in the 
courtyard to prolong the vista of the columns. 

Not content with embellishing the mosque and adding a magnifi- 
cent new minaret which became the model for the Giralda in Seville, 
Abd-ar-Rahman decided to build a royal city of his own, which he 
called az-Zahra, "the shining one," after a favorite concubine. The 
new city was built on the spurs of the Sierra Morena overlooking the 
Guadalquiver. For the twenty-five remaining years of his reign, and 
fifteen years of the reign of his son, 10,000 workmen with 1,500 
beasts of burden labored on it. The chroniclers say that 6,000 blocks 
of stone were cut and polished every day. There were 15,000 doors, 
all coated with iron or polished brass. The city was built on three 
terraces, with gardens below, the houses of the court functionaries 
in the middle, and the Caliph's palace, with 400 rooms and apart- 
ments, standing high above them all. The throne room had a roof 
and walls of marble and gold; the eight doors rested on pillars of 
marble and crystal, under gilded arches of ebony and ivory set with 
jewels. Altogether 4,300 columns imported from Africa and France 


were employed in building the palace, and the rarest of them deco- 
rated the throne room. In the middle of the hall was a marble 
fountain, and above it, resting in a golden cup, was a solitary pearl. 
It was the largest pearl anyone had ever seen, a present from the 
Byzantine Emperor. In the fountain there was no water, only quick- 
silver. When the sun shone on the quicksilver, the whole throne 
room blazed with sudden silvery lights. 

From the accounts of the chroniclers it is impossible to discover 
the slightest element of the grotesque in az-Zahra. Abd-ar-Rahman 
was consciously employing his wealth to create deliberate splendor, 
a palace worthy of a living king, as the Taj Mahal is worthy of a 
dead queen. The Great Mosque of Cordova resembled an orange 
orchard, sanctified and infinitely more desirable than any orchard, 
while the royal city flowing down the hillside suggested a waterfall, 
flashing in the sun, blinding the onlooker. Today on the slopes of 
the Sierra Morena there is only rubble. 

While the Caliph spent money royally on az-Zahra, he was also 
spending huge sums on Cordova itself. It was a large city with half 
a million inhabitants, with 113,000 houses, 3,000 mosques, 70 libraries 
and 900 public baths. Travelers said you could walk ten miles 
through the streets of Cordova at night, and always there would be a 
lamp from one of the houses to light the way. The nun Hroswitha, 
in her Saxon convent at Gandersheim, told of the martyrdom of St. 
Eulogius, but could not prevent herself from exclaiming upon the 
beauty of Cordova, calling it "the jewel of the world." The arts 
flourished; the lecture rooms were crowded; embassies came flocking 
from the four corners of the earth to see the wonderful city; there 
was more trade than men had ever known before; and there was 
peace in the land. The Caliph however was not satisfied. As he lay 
dying at the age of seventy-three, he wrote out in a shaking hand a 
list of the days in his long reign which had been free from sorrow: 
he could count only fourteen. "O man of understanding," he added, 
"observe how small a portion of unclouded happiness the world gives 
even to the most fortunate!" 

None of the Arab chroniclers have disputed that he was the most 
fortunate of Caliphs. His son Hakam II, known as the Caliph al- 
Mustansir, was perhaps almost as fortunate. He is said to have col- 
lected a library of 400,000 books, and this at a time when there 
were probably not more than 10,000 books in England, France and 
Germany. He was a gentle scholar who was never more pleased than 


when one of his agents in Cairo, Damascus or Baghdad sent him a 
book he wanted. He founded free schools, paid the salaries of the 
professors of the University of Cordova, founded by his father, and 
ordered the mosque which housed the university to be decorated with 
Byzantine mosaics. He led his armies against the Christians of Leon, 
but showed no particular delight in war; during the last years of his 
reign he seems to have surrendered his power to his mother, a beauti- 
ful Basque princess, and to her lover, Muhammad ibn-abi-Amir, who 
began life as a professional letter writer at court. In time Muhammad 
ibn-abi-Amir became the virtual ruler of the Cordova Caliphate. 
When Hakam II died and was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son 
Hisham II, the letter writer assumed all the privileges of a reigning 
emperor, issuing rescripts and proclamations in his own name, in- 
scribing his name and titles on coins, ordering prayers to be said 
on his behalf in the mosques, and he even wore the imperial gar- 
ments of gold tissue, with his name woven into the borders the 
privilege reserved for the Caliph alone. 

Muhammad ibn-abi-Amir rose from being an insignificant student 
at the University of Cordova to the highest office in the land. There 
was nothing unusual in his rise to power such usurpers have arisen 
in all the ages of Islam. But he possessed qualities which were needed 
to replenish the vigor of the Caliphate. He was harsh, puritanical, 
and generous to his soldiers. He suppressed a conspiracy of palace 
"Slavs" and went on to destroy the Christian armies on the northern 
marches, always taking care to give donatives to his soldiers and to 
stage splendid triumphs. He sacked Barcelona, and razed to the 
ground the famous shrine-cathedral of Santiago de Compostela; and 
when he died in 1002 after partaking in fifty campaigns, a monkish 
chronicler who knew him by the name of Almanzor (Al-Mansur, 
"the victorious'*), wrote: "In this year died Almanzor, and was 
buried in Hell." 

The brilliant letter writer had been the kingpin; without him all 
Andalusia was in danger of falling apart. For a brief while the 
Caliph Hisham emerged from the harem where he had hidden for 
thirty years, but he soon abdicated, escaping at last to Asia or Mecca 
or an underground dungeon, no one knew where. An imposter who 
closely resembled him set himself up as Caliph in Seville, but was 
soon dethroned. The unhappy Umayyads suffered the fate of the 
Abbasids: they lived or died at the whim of their guards. Hisham 
III was thrown into a dungeon attached to the Great Mosque at 


Cordova, and the wretched Caliph sat there in total darkness, sur- 
rounded by his wives, clutching his only child, a girl, to his breast. 
The guards had forgotten to bring him food, while they debated 
what should be done with him;" and when at last one of the jailors 
came in to inform him that the council of regency, which was in 
effect a council of jailors, would soon come to a conclusion on the 
matter, the Caliph was heard to say: "Let them decide as they 
please, but bring me a little bread, for my daughter is dying of 
hunger." They brought the bread, and a little later another deputa- 
tion appeared in the dungeon to inform him that a castle had been 
selected for his imprisonment and he would be taken there at day- 
break. The Caliph seemed not to be listening. He said: "Please give 
me a lantern, for it is very dark here." The spiritual and temporal 
ruler of Andalusia was begging for bread and a candle. 

It was dark in the dungeon, but it was dark all over Islam. From 
Spain to Persia a general disintegration was taking place. In Spain 
the process was quickened by the sense of failure which followed 
the easy victories of Almanzor. There was no one strong enough to 
weld Moslem Spain into a united power. In the first half of the 
eleventh century, twenty independent dynasties arose, ruling over as 
many cities; and soon every city in Andalusia became a state in itself. 

An exactly similar process of fragmentation was coming about in 
the Near East, where the Abbasid Caliphs were incapable of prevent- 
ing the local governors from exercising their autonomy. The Seljuk 
Turks had conquered Khurasan in 1040, and this ruthless tribe under 
its leader Toghrul ("the falcon") seemed determined to assume the 
power once possessed by the Abbasids. Two alternatives confronted 
the Seljuks: they could destroy the power of the Caliphate, or they 
could inherit it by peaceful means. They chose the latter. One day in 
1055 the Seljuk army appeared outside the walls of Baghdad. The 
Caliph al-Qaim had been warned, and knew exactly what was ex- 
pected of him. He received the Seljuk prince in his palace, and there 
followed one of the strangest of all acts of abdication. 

The Caliph sat on his golden throne, wore the famous black mantle 
of the Abbasids and grasped the staff of Muhammad in his right 
hand. Following the pattern which existed in Sassanian times, and 
perhaps went back to the Achaemenian period, the Caliph was hidden 
from the court by a hanging curtain, but this was lifted when the 
Turkish prince appeared. Toghrul sat on a throne directly facing the 
throne of the Caliph. An interpreter stood between them. At great 


length Toghrul explained his undying loyalty to the Caliph, and at 
equally great length the Caliph explained his undying friendship for 
the prince. Thereupon Toghrul was invested with seven robes of 
honor, and presented with seven slaves, representing the seven prov- 
inces of the empire. Over his head was placed a golden musk- 
scented veil and two fillets were bound around it, to represent the 
Arabic and Persian crowns. He was girt about with two swords as 
ruler of the East and the West, and at this moment he attempted to 
prostrate himself before the Caliph, as though he felt unworthy of 
the honor he had received; but servants and ministers hurried for- 
ward to prevent him. Then he kissed the hand of the Caliph, and his 
name and titles were publicly proclaimed by the heralds. 

The Seljuk Turks, who only a hundred years before had been a 
tribe of horsemen fighting their way through central Asia, had in- 
herited the empire. 

Toghrul died shortly after coming to power, and was succeeded by 
the brilliant and handsome Alp Arslan ("heroic lion"), his nephew. 
Alp Arslan was famous for his mustaches, which were so long that 
they had to be tied up when he went out hunting, for his skill at 
archery and for his devotion to the arts. He enjoyed the distinction 
of capturing the Byzantine Emperor, Diogenes Romanus IV, who fell 
into his hands at the battle of Manzikert. According to Persian 
historians, the Byzantine Emperor had taunted the Seljuk monarch, 
saying: "If this barbarian really desires peace, let him come over to 
my camp and solemnly surrender his palace at Rayy as a pledge of 
security." Alp Arslan was enraged; and some time later, remember- 
ing the efficacy of prayer, he fell to his knees and prayed for victory. 
Afterward he donned a white gown, perfumed himself with musk, 
surrendered sword and spear for mace and scimitar, and promised 
he would not leave the field alive until he had destroyed the enemy. 
There was a hard-fought battle, and by nightfall the Emperor Roma- 
nus, his horse dead, himself wounded, his army destroyed, waited 
for whatever might befall him. He was seen by a slave and by a 
deformed soldier, who led him to Alp Arslan's tent, where he pros- 
trated himself before his conqueror. Alp Arslan seems to have been 

"I would like to know what you would do, if you were in my 
place," he said. 

"I would beat you to death with whips," Romanus answered. 

The honest answer pleased Alp Arslan, who had the satisfaction of 


being able to remind the Christian Emperor about the quality of 
mercy. At the cost of an enormous bribe, the surrender of all Moslems 
in Greek hands, and an annual tribute of 360,000 pieces of gold, 
Romanus was allowed to go free. 

Alp Arslan was not always so generous. He was leading a punitive 
expedition against some tribes in Transoxiana when he met his death. 
The captain of a captured fortress addressed him insolently. Alp 
Arslan ordered the man to be impaled, and the captain suddenly 
began shouting curses which continued even when Alp Arslan drew 
his bow and fired an arrow at the unfortunate man. The arrows went 
wide. The captain sprang forward and struck at the prince with a 
dagger, fatally wounding him. Four days later Alp Arslan died. The 
captain was cut to pieces by the guard. 

It was a time of splendor, of wide-ranging conquests, of a curious 
marriage between Persia and Turkestan. Alp Arslan had succeeded in 
regaining Mecca and Madinah for the empire. He recovered Aleppo. 
Above all he cherished artists and poets, and the pottery and archi- 
tecture of his time have a wonderful glowing spontaneity. From the 
kilns of Rayy came the delicate pottery painted with Persian princesses 
riding on horseback, with feathers in their hair, holding bridles of 
silk, their faces lit with a serene sweetness; the horses are drawn 
with power, but the riders are filled with a subtle enjoyment of life. 
The Seljuks had come just in time. Out of their enjoyment in life 
came the amazing development of the arts which characterized the 
comparatively brief period of their rule in Persia. Their mosques 
and memorial towers suggest the same qualities which appear in 
their pottery: strength, a dancing gaiety, an absorbed wonder at all 
the passing events of life. 

Alp Arslan reigned for only nine years. When he died, he asked 
that he should be buried in Merv. He had already written his 
epitaph: "O ye who have seen the glory of Alp Arslan exalted to 
the skies, repair to Merv and behold it buried in the dust." 

He was succeeded by his son Malik Shah, who extended the bound- 
aries of the empire as far as the mountains of Georgia and the 
walls of Constantinople, Jerusalem, and all Arabia. Austere and 
tolerant, he ruled benevolently, patronized Omar Khayyam and built 
hospitals for the poor and spent immense sums on caravanserais. 
"During his reign," says Ibn Khallikan, "all the roads were safe, and 
places of danger no longer inspired terror." 

To safeguard his dynasty Malik Shah married the daughter of the 


Caliph, and for a while thought seriously of abolishing the Caliphate, 
which had long since outlived its usefulness. In his reign the Seljuks 
entered their golden age, and in this same reign the forces which 
began to emerge from obscurity to destroy the Seljuks were preparing 
their engines of destruction. These forces were the Assassins, the 
murderous Mongol horde and the Crusaders. 

In any study of the Arab empires the Crusaders can have little 
place. Those waves of Prankish and German armies which descended 
upon the coast of Palestine changed little. They quarreled ceaselessly 
among themselves and possessed no pronounced gifts of government. 
Their chosen battlefield lay on the frontier between Seljuk and 
Fatimid power, in a no man's land ruled by semi-independent local 
governors who were often only too content to watch their neighbors 
fall before the crusading armies. If it had not been for a poisoned 
toothstick there might have been no successful crusades at all. 

The greatest contributing cause to the success of the early crusades 
was the death of Malik Shah in 1092 of poison administered in a 
toothstick. Following his death, the empire was divided between his 
three sons, Bartyaruk, Sinjar and Muhammad. By this division the 
strength of the Abbasid empire was broken. No Abbasid army ever 
went to assist the hard-pressed local governors, and none of Malik 
Shah's sons was worthy of the father. 

Western historians have always felt uncomfortable when contem- 
plating the strange half-savage man who is responsible for the First 
Crusade, but Arab historians would have understood him perfectly. 
Throughout Arab history "the man on a donkey" has created revolu- 
tions and ordered men into battle. Peter the Hermit was short and 
swarthy, with a long lean face and lantern jaws, and they said of 
him that he resembled the donkey he was always riding. He believed 
he heard voices from Heaven, and there was an air of compelling 
sanctity about him. "Whatever he said or did," wrote a contemporary, 
"it looked like something half-divine." 

When Peter forsook the service of his feudal lord, Eustace de 
Bouillon, and set out from Picardy to arouse the nobility of the 
Rhenish provinces against the Arabs, he set in motion a long chain 
of events from which the world is still suffering. The first Crusade 
produced the greatest effect upon the Arabs. With stunned amazement 
they learned that the Crusaders had fought the Seljuk Sultan of 
Iconium and completely defeated him, and then some 40,000 of them 
passed through Asia Minor and along the coast of Syria, with noth- 


ing more than a few skirmishes to delay thir progress. In the 
summer of 1099 they were outside the walls of Jerusalem. They were 
unprepared to take the city by assault, but a hermit on the Mount 
of Olives promised them that God was fighting on their side "If 
God wills, he will storm the walls even if there is only one scaling- 
ladder." The Crusaders had little faith in the hermit, and spent 
some weeks building siege engines; then they marched in procession 
round the city, prayed, fasted, gave alms, and attacked with all their 
strength, only to be driven back. A second assault three days later 
proved more successful. Firebrands were shot into the city. Treachery, 
or stupidity, permitted the Franks to seize the citadel and the great 
courtyard of the Dome of the Rock. The Crusaders were merciless. 
They rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins, and amused 
themselves by butchering everyone in sight, Jews and Moslems alike. 
Raymond, the venerable chaplain of Count Raymond of Toulouse, 
described the scene. "When our men had possession of the walls 
and towers, wonderful sights rewarded our eyes," he wrote. "Some 
of our men, and they the more merciful, cut off the heads of the 
enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the 
towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. 
Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the 
city." The acknowledged ruler of Jerusalem was now Godfrey of 
Bouillon, the thirty-nine-year old Duke of Lower Lorraine, a de- 
scendant of Charlemagne. He refused the crown, and called himself 
simply "Baron of Jerusalem and Defender of the Holy Sepulcher." 
When he died a year later, he was succeeded by his younger brother 
Baldwin, who was crowned king in Bethlehem. Godfrey was tall and 
yellow-haired, and looked like a Viking. Baldwin was short, dark- 
haired, with a strange pallor of the skin and a ferocious haughtiness 
of manner. Unchaste, rebellious, driven by an inner fury, he ruled 
over a thin sliver of land which stretched from Aqabah to Beirut. 
The Arabs hated him. 

They had reason to hate him. It was not only that Baldwin repre- 
sented to an almost exaggerated degree the peculiar cold vindictive- 
ness of the Crusaders at their worst, but he lacked nobility. There 
was something disquieting in his mere presence. He seemed to attract 
evil to himself: he had a magician's power of terrifying at a distance. 
His unchastity might be pardoned, his ruthlessness might be for- 
given, but the Arabs feared the gleam of insanity in his eyes and 
recognized in him an enemy almost impossible to destroy. Ekkehard 


speaks of the "delirium" o the Crusaders. Baldwin was delirium in 
the seat of power. 

To the Arabs Baldwin represented a threat o vast magnitude, but 
with his death in 1118 the danger of a great explosion of Christian 
energy in the Holy Land vanished. The Christians settled down to 
live amicably with the Arabs, in the small sea-girt kingdoms of 
Jerusalem, Tripoli and Antioch. The Franks took to wearing Arab 
dress; they learned Arabic, intermarried with the Arabs and joined 
forces with their former enemies against marauding tribes. In the 
long history of the Crusades the periods of peace were longer than 
the periods of war. 

But the memory of the massacre at Jerusalem rankled. It rankled 
especially in the hearts of the Persians, who owed allegiance to the 
Abbasid Caliph. Salah-al-Din Yusuf ibn Aiyub, known to the western 
chroniclers as Saladin, came from a Kurdish family long resident in 
Azerbaijan in northwest Persia. He had spent his youth in Baalbek, 
where his father was governor. Graced with a commanding presence, 
with liquid dark eyes and a thick black beard, he enjoyed theology 
almost as much as he enjoyed fighting; and his theology was of the 
strictest and most puritanical kind. He detested Sufis, and he particu- 
larly detested the inventors of hadiths. But this greatest detestation 
was reserved for the Franks, who broke their oaths at will and whose 
presence in the Holy Land he regarded as an affront to the Caliph, 
the descendant of the house of Muhammad. 

During the time when Saladin was rising to power the Assassins 
were waging war against the orthodox Moslems. They derived their 
name from the hashish which they smoked or drank to make them 
reckless in war. They formed a heretical sect, holding that the suc- 
cession belonged to the descendants of Ali, and the last of those 
descendants worthy of reverence was the seventh Imam, whose name 
was Ismail. Several mountain strongholds in Persia had fallen into 
their hands, the most important being Alamut, "the Eagle's Nest," 
north of Kazvin. Their terror was felt throughout the empire, and 
reached into Syria: and among the enemies they hoped to assassinate 
were Saladin, the Fatimid King of Egypt and the leaders of the 
Prankish principalities. Saladin laid siege to the stronghold of "the 
Old Man of the Mountains" at Masyad, and lifted the siege only 
when he received a promise of immunity from attack. He had con- 
quered Egypt and received from the Abbasid Caliph a diploma of 
investiture over Egypt, Nubia, Palestine, most of Syria, and the 


western part of Arabia. The way was now open for a concerted at- 
tack against the Franks. 

On July i, 1187, Saladin captured the Crusader base at Tiberias, 
and a few days later the Crusaders suffered a decisive defeat near the 
Horns of Hattin, a few miles away from Magdala and Mahanayimi, 
where David defeated Absalom. On the night before the battle the sol- 
diers of both sides slept on the ground, for both were afraid of night 
attacks. Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, fought with the cour- 
age of despair, but he was no match for his adversary on an ill- 
chosen battleground: Saladin with his back to the lake, and the 
Franks on the parched uplands. The battle was soon over. Among 
the captives was the King of Jerusalem and Raynald de Chatillon, the 
lord of the Kerak fortress in ancient Moab to the east of the Dead 
Sea, which dominated the caravan highway from Damascus. Raynald 
de Chatillon had sent raiding parties against the caravans, murdered 
many pilgrims and held others for ransom; and Saladin, who re- 
garded the pilgrimage as a sanctified rite, was determined to make an 
example of his prisoner. In a calm rage he prepared to murder his 

The scene has been brilliantly described in Ibn Sheddad's account 
of Saladin 's life. Raynald and the King of Jerusalem were brought 
into Saladin's tent. The King was suffering from thirst, and so 
Saladin offered him a bowl of sherbet made with iced rose water. 
The King drank a little, and then handed the bowl to Raynald. 
Saladin was watching closely, and observed quietly that he was being 
placed at a disadvantage. By immemorial custom he could not kill a 
man who was his guest and who had accepted food from him. He had 
not himself given the sherbet to Raynald, and was therefore free to 
kill. He ordered the interpreter to explain to Guy de Lusignan that 
the sherbet was a gift of the Sultan to the King, and this gift must 
not be interpreted as a pardon for Raynald. And when this legal 
interpretation had been conveyed, Saladin dismissed his prisoners and 
they were taken to a place prepared for them: there, outside the 
Sultan's tent, they were permitted to eat and drink to their heart's 
content, before being summoned once more into the presence of the 
Sultan. Here is Ibn Sheddad's account of the interview: 

At this time there were only a few servants in the tent. The 
King was ordered to stand at the tent-gate, but the prince (Ray- 
nald) was summoned into the presence, and thereupon Saladin 


reminded him of what he had previously said, adding: "Behold, 
I will support Muhammad against thee!" He then called upon 
the prince to embrace Islam, and when the prince refused, he 
drew a sword and struck him a blow which severed the arm from 
the shoulder. This was the signal for the servants to despatch 
the prisoner, and God hurled his soul into hell. And when the 
corpse was dragged away and thrown out of the tent-gate, the 
King saw how his companion had been treated and thought he 
would be the next victim, but the Sultan brought him into the 
tent and calmed his fears. 

"It is not the habit of kings," said Saladin, "to kill kings. That 
man transgressed all bounds, and that is why he was killed," 

And all that night the conquerors rejoiced and chanted the 
praises of God until the dawn came, and then the Sultan went 
down to Tiberias. 3 

For Saladin the victory was complete: from this disaster the Cru- 
saders never completely recovered. The tide was running against the 
Franks. In the following weeks one fortress after another fell Acre, 
Nablus, Haifa, Caesarea, Sephoriya, Nazareth, Beirut. Failing to cap- 
ture Tyre, Saladin marched on Ascalon, which the Franks had con- 
quered thirty-five years before, and after a brief siege Ascalon fell. 
Saladin at once turned his attention to Jerusalem, receiving the capitu- 
lation of the defenceless city on October 2. The Christians expected 
to receive the same treatment which was meted out to the Jews and 
Moslems when the Crusaders conquered it, but Saladin was unex- 
pectedly lenient and allowed them to ransom their lives each man 
paid ten Tyrian dinars, each woman five dinars, and each child one 
dinar. The penniless Saladin allowed to go free. The huge gilded 
cross which surmounted the Dome of the Rock was hurled down, and 
in its place there rose the crescent of Islam. 

The wars continued. Though they had lost most of their towns 
and fortresses in Syria and Palestine, the Franks still held to a scatter- 
ing of isolated forts, while Antioch, Tripoli and Tyre were still de- 
fended by their garrisons. Acre, in particular, became the point 
d'appui by which the Crusaders hoped to regain their lost territories. 
The Pope urged the Christian nations to regain the Holy Sepulcher, 
and the largest of all the Crusades set out under the magnificent 
auspices of three kings, Philip o France, Frederick of Germany, and 

3 Beha Ed-din ibn Sheddad, The Life of Saladin , London, Palestine 
Exploration Fund, 1897, p. 115. 


Richard of England. Acre was invested and captured: once again the 
Christians permitted themselves the pleasure of a general massacre of 
Moslems. By this time Saladin was too weak and too sick to maneuver 
his forces successfully, and a few months later, in February, 1193, he 
died of fever in Damascus and was buried in an ornate tomb near 
the Great Umayyad Mosque, 

History has dealt kindly with Saladin. It is remembered of him that 
he was often chivalrous, gentle and kind. On one occasion he sent 
snow from the mountains around Damascus to cool the tent of 
Richard the Lionhearted, who was stricken with fever. The Franks 
who met him reported on his superb dignity and imperial presence, 
which did not in the least conflict with his natural warmth. The Arab 
chroniclers were even louder in their praises, and his friend Ousama 
said he was "the Sultan who restored the tradition of the righteous 
Caliphs." It is forgotten that he was a soldier of limited skill whose 
passion for orthodox theology led him to execute all those he re- 
garded as heretics, and his rage against the heretics, as recounted 
by Ibn Sheddad, is not pleasant to watch. When he died, the sword 
he carried in the wars was placed beside his body and buried with 
him. "His sword," says the pious chronicler, "accompanied him to 

For a brief while Saladin had united the western borders of the 
Abbasid empire under a single ruler, but with his death the ir- 
reversible process of fragmentation was resumed. His brothers, his 
eldest son and an uncle inherited the territory he had conquered, and 
were soon fighting among themselves, while the Crusaders rejoiced. 
One after another the towns captured by Saladin were reconquered by 
the Franks, who retained their small strip of coast for another cen- 

In theory there was still an Abbasid empire ruling from Transox- 
iana to the Mediterranean. Saladin's devotion to the ghostly Caliph 
who reigned in Baghdad was undisguised. It happens that we possess 
a contemporary account of this Caliph written by a Jewish rabbi 
from Navarre, Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Baghdad about the 
year 1170. He describes the palace with its parks and menageries 
and ornamental pools, a place provided with every imaginable luxury; 
and through these enchanted gardens walked the pious and gentle 
Caliph, who earned his living by making bedcovers with his own 
hands and stamping them with the caliphal seal before selling them 
to the nobles in the land. He lived in mysterious isolation, appearing 


in public only once a year at Ramadan, when he rode in procession 
through the city on a mule, wearing robes of gold and silver cloth, 
a turban ornamented with precious stones, and a black veil, which 
hid the brilliance of his face from the sight of the crowd. Benjamin 
o Tudela goes on to describe the strange procession and its stranger 

As he rides in procession, the Caliph is accompanied by a nu- 
merous retinue of Muhamadan nobles, arrayed in rich gar- 
ments and riding on horseback, princes of Arabia, of Media, of 
Persia, even of Tibet, a country distant three months journey 
from Arabia. The procession goes from the palace to the mosque 
at the Basrah gate, which is the metropolitan mosque. All who 
walk in the procession, both men and women, are dressed in silk 
and purple. The streets and squares are enlivened with singing 
and rejoicing, and by parties who dance before the great king, 
called Caliph. He is saluted loudly by the assembled crowd, who 
cry: "Blessed art thou, our lord and king." Thereupon he kisses 
his garment and by holding it in his hand acknowledges and re- 
turns the compliment. 

When the procession enters the court of the mosque, the 
Caliph mounts a wooden pulpit and expounds their law unto 
them. The learned Muhamadans rise, pray for him, and praise 
his great kindness and piety; upon which the whole assembly 
answer, "Amen!" The Caliph then pronounces his blessing, and 
kills a camel, which is led thither for that purpose, and this is 
their offering. It is distributed to the nobles, who send portions 
of it to their friends, who are eager to taste of the meat killed by 
the hands of their holy king, and are much rejoiced therewith. 

After the ceremony the Caliph leaves the mosque and returns 
alone, along the banks of the Tigris, to his palace, the noble 
Muhamadans accompanying him in boats, until he enters this 
building. He never returns by the way he came: and the path on 
the bank of the river is carefully guarded all the year round, so 
as to prevent anyone treading in his footsteps. 

The Caliph never leaves his palace again for a whole year. 4 

Benjamin of Tudela provides another glimpse of the Caliph at the 

4 Thomas Wright, Early Travels in Palestine, London, Henry Bohn, 
1848, p. 95-96. 


time o the pilgrimage. The faithful crowded outside the palace, 
calling him by name and asking for blessings, imploring him to grant 
them the honor of letting them gaze on him. In reply, the Caliph 
permitted a part of his garment to be thrust out of a window, and 
the faithful were permitted to kiss it. Then one of the palace servants 
was heard saying; "Go in peace., for our Lord, the Light of the 
Muhamadans, is well pleased and gives you this blessing," It was, 
however, a light that shone rarely, and then only with a flickering 

The prodigious death of the Caliphate, delayed over so many 
centuries, is frightening to contemplate. That a symbol could have 
survived so long without any fresh accretions of strength, that it 
could have maintained itself by its own dying momentum against all 
reason and continually prolonged its existence by recourse to its own 
weakness and the very insignificance of the person who wore the 
sumptuous robes of office, suggests a fact which is often hidden from 
historians: robes of office possess the power to command. The Cal- 
iphate died many deaths, but the robes of office survived. In the history 
of Islam there are few moments stranger than the moment when we 
see the Caliph, weighed down by his heavy garments, while he totters 
alone along the towpath to his palace in full view of the nobles 
lying at their ease in boats. In that moment we are made aware of 
the loneliness and misery of the caliphal existence. Beyond that lone- 
liness, beyond that misery, it was impossible to go. 

Yet in spite of the Crusades and the fragmentation of the empire 
under the perpetually dying Caliphate, these were times of magnifi- 
cent achievement. The spiritual life survived, growing greater as 
earthly life lost its significance. Al-Hallaj had not lived and died in 
vain. Others came after him who fed at the springs, to be revived by 
the freshness flowing from his memory. Gradually and imperceptibly 
it became clear that al-Hallaj, like Muhammad, had been a Messenger 
of God. In the eyes of the great philosopher al-Ghazzali three men 
had walked the earth bathed in the light of divinity. They were 
Jesus, Muhammad and al-Hallaj; and the last was not the least. 

Abu-Hamid al-Ghazzali was born in 1058 at Tus in Khurasan, the 
son of a spinner o wool, who died when he was young, and he 
was brought up by a Sufi. Though living in a Sufi environment and 
practicing spiritual exercises, he seems to have had no taste for 
mysticism. He had a quick brain and a longing for fame. He was 
about sixteen when he decided that the quickest route to preferment 


lay in the law, and accordingly he set out to be the most learned 
exponent of canon law in his time. In religious matters he remained 
a skeptic, but it delighted him to improvise on the subject of the 
religious laws of Islam before admiring students : he became the most 
brilliant theologian of his age without the least belief in theology. 
At thirty-three he was professor of theology at Baghdad, with 300 
students. He enjoyed his growing fame, and he enjoyed the exercise 
of his mind, and he might have continued indefinitely increasing his 
vast knowledge of canon law if he had not suddenly felt a profound 
revulsion against himself and everything he stood for. 

Exactly what happened to make him change his life is unknown. 
As reported by his friend and biographer Abd-al-Ghafir al-Farisi, "a 
door of fear was opened to him, which diverted him from everything 
else and compelled him to ignore all but God." For six months, from 
the summer to the winter of 1095, he fought a losing battle with 
himself. He was ill, and shut himself up alone in his rooms, uncer- 
tain of everything except his uncertainty. He lost his power of 
speech, and could no longer give lectures. For a while he was unable 
to eat, and the doctors despaired of his life, and when he asked 
them what had happened, they answered: "The trouble arises from 
the heart, and from there it has spread through the whole system: 
the only cure lies in allaying the anxieties of the heart." His friends, 
observing the strangeness of his manner, said he had "clothed him- 
self in a garment of pretense." But it was no pretense. Suddenly he 
gave out that he intended to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, although 
he had already resolved to become a wandering dervish in Syria. 
These precautions were taken because the Caliph and the high offi- 
cials in Baghdad would probably have prevented him from leaving 
the city if they knew he never intended to return. No one knew he 
was about to enter the religious life and to abandon the law for ever. 

He went to Damascus and stayed there for two years in complete 
retirement and solitude, sometimes climbing the minaret of a mosque 
and remaining there alone. Then he went to Jerusalem, where he 
spent his days within the Dome of the Rock, and afterward journeyed 
to Mecca, only to return to the solitudes of Damascus, living on dried 
bread and dressed in rags. He wrote voluminously, but did not pub- 
lish his writings. His days were spent in the endless contemplation 
of the glory of God, as he followed the Sufi practices he had learned 
as a child and then abandoned. 

What he had discovered was something very simple. He had learned 


with certainty that the mystics walk the road of God; their life was 
the best life, their character the purest. The learning of scholars was 
as nothing compared with those "who bring illumination from the 
lamp of prophetic revelation." The mystics alone can speak with 
angels and behold the spirits of the prophets; to them come the 
miraculous graces, and the knowledge of God. Unlike most of the 
Sufis, he respected the religious ordinances and commented upon 
them at length. 

He had spent eleven years in tranquil seclusion in Damascus when 
he was summoned by "the Sultan of my time" to teach at Nishapur. 
It was a summons he could hardly disobey, and so for a few months 
he was to be found teaching again in a style so unlike his previous 
style that his friends could no longer recognize him. When his 
strength failed, he returned to Tus, where he lived quietly, sur- 
rounded by his disciples. He was only fifty-three when he died. Dying, 
he performed his ablutions and prayers; then he turned to his 
brother, and said: "Bring me my shroud." He kissed the shroud, laid 
it over his eyes, and said: "Most gladly do I enter into the presence 
of the King." A little while later he stretched out his feet and lay 
still. He was buried at Tus close to the grave of the poet Firdausi. 

It was not perhaps the death that al-Ghazzali had hoped for. He 
had half-hoped for martyrdom. He had Origen's fierce intensity, and 
Origen's desire to lay down his life for others, and Origen's vast 
scholarship, and Origen's gift of style, and like Origen he was to be 
known as "the father of the church," the only father that the Islamic 
church has ever had. During those eleven years of seclusion in 
Damascus he changed the course of Muhamadanism by compelling 
Islam to come to terms with the Sufis. Mysticism became orthodox, 
at the behest of an orthodox believer who became a mystic. 

Al-Ghazzali's greatness lay in his power to see Islam whole, un- 
fragmented, filled with the energy of God. For him Muhammad and 
the early Caliphs were living presences, and al-Hallaj was like a 
neighbor to whom he talked on familiar terms even when the subject 
of conversation was that extraordinary statement: "ana f l-Haqq" 
("I am the Truth"). Indeed, he speaks interminably about this state- 
ment, analyzing it from all possible angles, suggesting all possible 
interpretations, and always coming at last to the conclusion that al- 
Hallaj meant precisely what he said, though sometimes he will raise 
a warning finger and suggest that it were better for some things to 
be left unsaid. 



For al-Ghazzali the task of man was to know God and to live fully. 
He had no aversion to the human condition, and some doubt about 
whether theologians go to Heaven. In his famous Ihya he tells the 
story of the Israelite who wrote 360 books on all subjects which 
might commend themselves to God, only to receive the admonition: 
"Thou hast filled the world with hypocrisy. I will have none of it!" 
Then the Israelite went into a cave and mortified himself, and God 
again cast him out. Finally the Israelite went among men and feasted 
with them, and God said: "Now thou hast attained to my good 
pleasure." He thought marriage eminently desirable, and liked to 
recall Muhammad's well-known saying: "I have loved three things in 
the world: perfumes, and women, and refreshment in prayer." He 
enjoyed telling stories, and his works are full of stories told for no 
particular reason except his own delight in them. His attitude toward 
all human preoccupations is one of intense understanding and delight 
in them, while realizing the deceitful character of the world, "which 
pretends she will always be with you and continually bids you fare- 

But though knowledge of this world was desirable, the knowledge 
of God was still more desirable, since it was for the purpose of 
knowing God that man was created. So he wrote in his introduction 
to The Alchemy of Happiness: 

Know, O beloved, that man was not created in jest or at ran- 
dom, but marvellously made and for some great end. Although 
he is not from everlasting, he lives for ever; and though his body 
is mean and earthly, yet his spirit is lofty and divine. When in 
the crucible of abstinence he is purged from carnal passions he 
attains to the highest, and in place of being a slave to lust and 
anger becomes endued with angelic qualities. Attaining that 
state, he finds his heaven in the contemplation of Eternal 
Beauty. 5 

Such was the aim, but how was this desirable state to be brought 
about? Al-Ghazzali begins his examination of the mystic's ultimate 
experience of God by developing an idea already present in the 
famous verse, The Niche for Lights. Man sees a light which is like 
unto God, but is not God. There is a patch of light on the floor 
which is reflected down from a wall, and the light on the wall comes 

5 Al-Ghazzali, The Alchemy of Happiness, tr. Claud Field, Lahore, 
Muhammad Ashraf, n.d., p. 17. 


from a mirror reflecting the moon, which itself reflects the light of 
the sun. So there are four lights ranged one above the other, each 
one more perfect than the other. The task of man is to reach out 
beyond all the reflected lights toward God, "the source of all 

But this is only the beginning of the strange odyssey upon which 
al-Ghazzali embarks with limitless courage. The "ascent of the soul" 
is a commonplace of mystical belief: saints of all periods have winged 
their way upward to God, and some have described God's face. But 
al-Ghazzali seems to have been the first to suggest that this is in itself 
not a sufficient goal. It is more wonderful to descend from God than 
to rise into the Presence. Some indeed, like al-Hallaj, seem to have 
made "the Descent into the Lower Heaven," to have moved from 
rapture in God to the sharing of divine powers. Muhammad, too, 
according to some of the more mysterious hadiths, had partaken of 
the divine splendor during his descent and had become one with the 
angels, not those angels of whom it was said in the Quran that they 
bowed before men, but the great guardian angels like Gabriel who 
hold the keys to Heaven and Paradise. God descends, moves among 
the 70,000 veils which surround his throne, and becomes man, and 
the saints also descend, becoming God. In this mysterious and blind- 
ing landscape there are no signposts, no pathways: here the mind 
reels at the edge of the precipice, and only a few men have ever 
described that landscape convincingly. Among Christian theologians 
perhaps only St. Gregory of Nyssa spoke about it with complete 
authority in the Vita Moysis. Al-Ghazzali speaks about it with no 
less authority in a passage of amazing complexity, putting the words 
in the mouth of al-Hallaj: 

Immersed in the divine Oneness, he spoke of God as "de- 
scending into the lowest heavens," and said that this descent was 
His descent, in order to use physical senses and to set in motion 
bodily limbs; and that He is the one indicated in the tradition in 
which the Prophet says: "I have become His hearing whereby He 
heareth, His vision whereby He seeth, His tongue whereby He 

Now if the Prophet was God's hearing and vision and tongue, 
then God and He alone is the hearer, the seer, the speaker; and 
He is the one indicated in His own word to Moses: "I was sick, 
and thou visitedst me not." 6 And so it follows that the bodily 

6 A hadith, which echoes Matthew XXV: 46 


movements of this Confessor of the Divine Unity are from the 
lowest heaven; his sensations from the heaven next above; and 
his intelligence from a heaven next above that. From that heaven 
of the intelligence he fares upwards to the limit of the Ascen- 
sion of created things, the Kingdom of Absolute Unity, the 
sevenfold way. Thereafter he "settleth himself on the Throne" 
of the Divine Unity, and therefrom "taketh command" through- 
out his storied heavens. And looking upon such a one, well 
might we apply to him the saying: "God created Adam in the 
image of the Merciful One"; and so at last, contemplating these 
words more deeply, we become aware that these words mean the 
same as: "I am the Truth" and "Glory be to Me!" and also those 
sayings of the Prophet, that God said: "I was sick and thou 
visitedst me not," and "I am His hearing, and His vision, and 
His tongue." 7 

Al-Ghazzali's purposes in this passage are manifold. He is describ- 
ing, as succinctly as words permit, the downward passage of the soul 
after being embraced by God, but he is also attempting the task of 
reconciling the Quran and the traditions with the words of the God- 
intoxicated Sufis, and at the same time he is suggesting that the 
wildest leap of the human spirit might be the most orthodox of all 
spiritual movements. For many years it had been an article of faith 
among the Sufis that a mysterious vice-regent of God existed on 
earth. He was al-Mutah, "the administrator," "he who commands the 
whole universe." The Caliphs, who thought themselves invested with 
divine powers as successors of Muhammad, did not share this belief, 
for good reason. But what if al-Mutah were a man like al-Hallaj, in 
full possession of the transcendent flame of God? And what if al- 
Hallaj possessed in himself the archetypal image of Muhammad, the 
Heavenly Man created in the image of God? All these things are 
hinted at, without ever being concretely expressed, and sometimes 
al-Ghazzali will suggest that all these suppositions are no more than 
the ravings of lovers: 

For those who returned from their Ascent into the Heaven of 
Reality confess with one voice that they saw nought existent 
there save the One Real. Some, however, arrived at this scientifi- 

7 Al-Ghazzali, MishJ^at al- Anwar, tr. W. H. T. Gairdner, London, Royal 
Asiatic Society Monograph, XIX, pp. 114-15. 


cally, and others experimentally and subjectively. From these last 
the plurality of things fell away in its entirety. They were 
drowned in the Absolute Unitude, and their intelligences were 
lost in Its Abyss. Therein they became as dumbfounded things. 
No capacity remained within them save to recall God; yea, not 
so much as the capacity to recall their own selves. So there re- 
mained nothing with them save God. They became drunken with 
a drunkenness wherein the sway of their own intelligence disap- 
peared, so that one exclaimed: "I am the Truth" and another, 
"Glory be to Me! How great is My glory!" and another, "Within 
this robe is nought but God!" But the words of passionate lovers 
in their intoxication must be hidden away and not spoken of. 8 

But in fact al-Ghazzali had spoken of those words at length, and 
with grave understanding, without ever completely identifying him- 
self with them, leaving always a loophole by which he might escape 
into orthodoxy. But the damage was done. Henceforward the wildest 
claims of the Sufis were to be listened to with attention. Al-Mutah, 
"the Descent to the Lowest Heavens," the mysterious qualities of the 
great saints who quietly concealed their divine powers, all these 
were matters which were to engage the attention of the most orthodox 
theologians. Al-Ghazzali's greatest contribution, at a time when the 
empire had already fallen into decay, was to redefine man. Man was 
no longer the abject slave of an all-powerful God, but a being imbued 
with divinity, capable of assuming a divinity within himself. Man 
was divine. 

Al-Hallaj had opened the way; al-Ghazzali had explored the possi- 
bilities of taking Heaven by storm and returning with a fragment of 
it in one's hands, and it was left to Ibn Arabi to enquire at length 
into the nature of man seen as a divinity walking the earth. 

Muhiyuddin Muhammad ibn-Ali ibn-al-Arabi, known as Ibn Arabi, 
was born in Murcia in Andalusia in 1165. His father seems to have 
been a man in affluent circumstances, who spared no pains to give the 
boy a sound education. At the age of eight he was taken to Seville, 
where he attended the theological seminary and became a teacher. 
Men observed a strangeness about him from the beginning. He liked 
to sing, and often fell into a trance while singing. He seemed to ac- 
quire knowledge through sources not available to ordinary mortals, 
and stories were told of his powers of clairvoyance and telepathy. He 

p. 106-7. 


for they were the food by which the universe maintained its existence. 
He had Blake's way of looking at the world, and sometimes Blake 
seems to echo him; and he would say very simple and mysterious 
things as though he possessed some secret knowledge denied to those 
who came after him, as when he said: "The Throne of God is on wa- 
ter, and water guards it from below and from within." 

But it was with his doctrines on the nature of man that Ibn Arabi 
made his most startling discoveries. God worships man. God and man 
are necessary to each other: without man, God cannot exist. God's 
dependence on man is so great that He is like a beggar continually 
seeking man's mercy. On behalf of God the whole universe is pre- 
served by the existence of man. When Ibn Arabi first announced these 
claims in Egypt, they were regarded as so heretical that attempts 
were made to assassinate him. 

His most complete statements on the nature of man appear in his 
Fusus al-Hityim, or "Bezels of Philosophy," which he completed in 
Damascus in 1230. In the opening chapter he asserts that man is 
quite simply the successor (J^alifaK) of God: 

Man is to God as the pupil is to the eye, since sight is effected 
through the pupil, and so it is through man that God is able 
to contemplate his creation and dispense His justice. Man is at once 
ephemeral and eternal, created in perpetuity and graced with 
immortality, the Word distinguishing and uniting all things to- 

Through man the world came into existence. He is to the world 
as the bezel to the ring, for the bezel bears the seal which the 
King uses to guard his treasure-chests; and therefore men are 
called the successors and representatives of God, preserving the 
safety of His creation. 

As long as the King's seal remains on the treasure-chests, none 
will dare to open them without His permission. Thus man is en- 
trusted with the safety of creation, and as long as man remains 
in the universe, so long will it be preserved. 9 

Ibn Arabi refers often to the seal, that badge of honor which is 
worn most visibly by the prophets and the saints, and sometimes he 
will use the word exclusively to refer to the greatest among them: 

9 Muhyi-d-din Ibn Arabi, La Sagesse des ProphZtes, tr. Titus Burck- 
hardt, Paris, Editions Albin Michel, 1955, P- 2 5- 


thus Muhammad becomes the Seal of the Prophets; and the Seal of 
the Saints, the most perfect manifestation of sanctity, was worn by 
one who was "born in my time, and I have encountered him and ob- 
served the signs upon him." There is little doubt that Ibn Arabi re- 
garded himself as the Seal of the Saints. 

It is possible to love al-Hallaj to distraction as one loves St. Francis, 
and for the same reasons, but it is not possible to love Ibn Arabi. He 
hides from us behind that secret smile of savage superiority. The 
close-wrought pages of Fusus al-Hifyam give the impression of be- 
ing hammered out of rock. Here, he seems to be saying, is the ulti- 
mate answer to all the questions which have ever perplexed the human 
spirit. Would you know whence Jesus derived his power? Would you 
know the true meaning of the floor of Solomon's palace, which shone 
like a sea of glass? Are the stars the names of God, and is the face 
of God perceived by human eyes? He knows all the answers, and 
only occasonally does he descend to human levels. His tenderness is 
reserved for his love poetry, which was always admirable, deeply 
felt and intensely metaphysical; and though he wrote endless com- 
mentaries to show that his love poems were expressions of his love 
of God, there is altogether too much passion in the verses to suggest 
that he was always thinking about God when he wrote about love. 

According to Ibn Arabi, man is the mirror in which God contem- 
plates himself, and woman the mirror in which man contemplates 
God. He believed that the most perfect vision of God is enjoyed by 
those who contemplate Him in woman. Between human love and di- 
vine love there was only a hairbreadth of difference: 

For when a man loves a woman, he finds the most complete 
union in the act of love when all his senses are pervaded by de- 
sire. Therefore the holy law demands that he should perform 
the ablution of his whole body after love, and this purifica- 
tion of the body corresponds to the annihilation of the man 
within the woman at the moment of his most intense enjoyment. 
For God is jealous of his servant, and He will not permit man 
to enjoy anything save Himself, Therefore God purifies man 
so that he returns in vision to Him in whom he was annihilated, 
for there is only Him. 

So it comes about that the contemplation of God in woman is 
the most perfect there is, for in woman man sees God in His 
active and passive principles, while when a man contemplates 


God in himself, he sees God only in his passive principle. It is 
for this reason that Muhammad loved women, seeing in them 
the most perfect means to contemplate God. 10 

With such views it was no wonder that Ibn Arabi was regarded as 
a heretic by some, and as "the saint of saints" by others. There was 
nothing essentially new in his attitude toward human and divine 
love, for such statements had been hinted at before; but no one until 
his time had spoken with such authority. His influence was vast, and 
not least among esoteric Christian circles; and the fierce explosion of 
spiritual energy in Damascus was felt by a Christian poet who was 
born only a few years after Ibn Arabi's death. The enormous debt of 
Dante to Ibn Arabi has been proved conclusively by Miguel Asm y 
Palacios in his work, El Islam christianizado. To the surprise of Chris- 
tians, the Divine Comedy is seen to have its roots in the visions of a 
Spaniard in Mecca. 

There is a sense in which all Ibn Arabi's works are a commentary 
on the famous hadith which states that when David expressed to God 
his intense desire to know Him, God answered: "How much greater 
is my intense desire to know man," No one ever expressed so bril- 
liantly God's dependence upon man or the strange burden of that 
singular love affair in which it is man, not God, who is pursued. For 
him God, man and woman formed a trinity, and if one member of 
the trinity had been lacking, all of creation would have perished. 

Ibn Arabi celebrated the divinity of man at a time when Islam was 
preparing to receive one of the most terrible of all the blows ever 
inflicted on it. Sixteen years after Ibn Arabi's death, on January i, 
1256, Hulagu, the grandson of Genghiz Khan, crossed the Amu- 
Darya and received the allegiance of the petty princes of Persia and 
the Caucasus. Hulagu had intended to march straight on Baghdad, 
but was delayed by a campaign against the Assassins. For two years 
he waged war across the length and breadth of Persia, and then he 
sent envoys to the Caliph, demanding his surrender. The incautious 
Caliph sent a haughty reply, and permitted the rabble to insult the 
envoys. Hulagu decided to delay no more. In January, 1258, all 
the heights dominating the city and all the towers and palaces com- 
manding it were fitted out with mangonels and flame throwers, and 
the long siege began, to the surprise of the Caliph al-Mustasim, who 
seems to have believed that the city would be protected by the sane- 

10 Ibid., pp. 186-87. 


tity of his presence. Baghdad was already in flames when the Caliph 
sent 300 high dignitaries from his court to negotiate with Hulagu, 
whose answer was to massacre them. At last on the fortieth day of 
the siege the Caliph himself, attended by his brother and his two 
sons, and all the remaining officials of the court, left Baghdad and 
proceeded to the tents of Hulagu. 

Among Muhamadans it was believed that if the blood of the Caliph 
was shed the world would be overspread with darkness and all his 
enemies would be swallowed up in an earthquake. But in fact many 
Caliphs had been killed, and their enemies had usually survived. 
Hulagu had long ago determined to destroy the Caliph. He treated 
the Caliph with honor, fed him well, spoke of peace, and suggested 
that the people of Baghdad should throw away their arms and as- 
semble before the gates so that a general census might be taken. The 
Caliph agreed. The people of Baghdad flocked through the gates, to 
be plundered, raped and massacred by Hulagu's warriors. For ten 
more days Hulagu permitted the Caliph to remain alive, and then he 
ordered him to be beaten to death. More than three-quarters of the 
inhabitants of the city, which previously numbered two million peo- 
ple, were massacred, and only a few buildings were left standing. 
Baghdad perished, its libraries and schools destroyed, its great history 
as the cultural center of Islam at an end. So strong was the smell of 
decaying corpses that Hulagu ordered his soldiers to retire from the 
city, for fear they would be destroyed by the pestilential vapors. 

It was perhaps a fitting end for the proudest and greatest city on 
earth. The death of Baghdad was quick and terrible, coming like the 
whirlwind; and for a month the smoke hung about the city. After- 
ward men remembered that there had been many warnings, many 
portents. A furious rushing wind had torn away the curtain from 
the Kaaba, an earthquake had shaken Muhammad's pulpit in the 
mosque at Madinah, and fire issued unaccountably from a hill in Aden. 
Fire, flood and plague had swept through the Muhamadan countries 
to mark the approach of the Mongolian hordes. 

On the Friday following the death of the Caliph, the remnants of 
the faithful gathered in the great mosque at Baghdad to lament the 
fate which had come over them. They prayed for the soul of the 
Caliph: "Praise be to God who has caused such exalted personages 
to perish, and with them so many people of this city. O God, help 
us in our misery, for assuredly Islam has never witnessed such misery 
as this. Woe to Islam and her children . . ." And then they added the 


cry which all good Moslems whisper at the moment of death: "We 
are God's and unto God do we return." 

Islam was dead. For three and a half years there was to be no 
Caliph on the throne. To Muhamadans everywhere it was as though 
the sun had gone out and there was no moon. The next great upsurge 
of Islamic energy came from a quarter which no one expectedfrom 
a handful of slaves on the banks of the Nile. These slaves saved 
Islam; and in saving Islam they saved Christendom. 

The Fall of Empires 

Hulagu set fire to Baghdad and went on 
to ravage all the surrounding territory, he put an end to medieval 
Islam. The shock was an enduring one, felt throughout all the lands 
conquered by the Arabs, even those lands which had been spared the 
Mongol invasions. Arab savagery had broken against the greater sav- 
agery of Hulagu, and the sword of Islam bowed before the more 
merciless sword of the Mongol conqueror. Henceforward Islam was 
to change direction. Never again would Muhamadans regard them- 
selves with complete conviction as the possessors of the God-given 
right to rule the world, for the evidence of their failure was all 
around them in the ruins of three empires. 

Around the year 1260 an observer in Cairo would have seen 
very little to suggest that Islam had the strength to survive. Arabia 
had become a backwater, remembered only because it contained the 
Black Stone and the mortal remains of Muhammad, and because the 
whole splendid drama had its origins among the desert wastes. The 
Crusaders were still entrenched along the coast of Syria and Pales- 
tine. Persia, Iraq and parts of Asia Minor were under the rule of 
Hulagu, whose religion was a form of shamanism common among 
the wandering tribesmen of the Asiatic plains. Byzantium was still 
powerful, capable of putting to sea a fleet of a thousand ships. The 
Muhamadan princes of Spain were at one another's throats; Cor- 
dova, Seville and the larger part of Andalusia were in the hands of 
the Christians, and Sicily had long since been abandoned by its 
Muhamadan overlords. But while the Christians were victorious in 
Spain, Pope Alexander IV, trembling before the power of the Mon- 
gols, was addressing to all the princes of Christendom a desperate 
appeal for unity against the common danger. In the bull Clamat in 
auribus, issued from Rome, he urged a general crusade against the 
Mongols : 



There rings in the ears of all the terrible trumpet of dire warn- 
ing, rousing to vigilance all those whose minds are not completely 
befuddled. We observe every day the evidence of events which 
proclaim with unmistakable voice the coming of wars of universal 
destruction. The scourge of Heaven's fury in the hands of the 
merciless Tartars arises, as it were, from the secret depths of Hell, 
to oppress and crush the people. No longer is it the task of Chris- 
tians to listen for surer tidings of these events, as though there 
was still any doubt about them. No: the need is to forewarn against 
the impending peril so clearly approaching. . . . 

Both Christians and Muhamadans saw the year 1260 as one of 
impending disaster. Only the Polos, setting out that year on their 
great journey which was to take them across the whole of Asia, 
seem to have felt no fear at the approach of the Tartars. 

For Muhamadans and Christians alike the fear was real, palpable, 
mysteriously present like a cloud of doom. Hulagu was depicted as 
a monster of unparalleled cruelty, a man with enormous eyes and 
scaly skin whose greatest pleasure was to toss children into the flames : 
the portrait was not far from the truth. Men searched for a ray of 
hope, and very few of them could have guessed that salvation would 
come from Egypt. 

At that time Egypt was in the first years of that perpetual palace 
revolution which was to endure for two hundred and fifty years. The 
dynasty founded by Saladin had come to an end; in its place there 
was the rule of any local bandit or army commander with the 
strength to seize the throne. These usurpers, rarely related to one 
another, often sprang from the ranks of former slaves, and it pleased 
them to call themselves members of the Mamluk ("Slave") dynasty. 
In 1260 the ruler of Egypt was a former slave and military adven- 
turer who had seized the throne by force. He was the third Sultan 
of his dynasty, and was called al-Muzaffar Qutuz. It was this Sultan, 
who ruled for only one year and of whom almost nothing is known, 
who saved Europe and North Africa from the Tartars. 

At a moment in history fraught with terror and uncertainty the 
Sultan made a decision of such magnitude that we are still deeply 
indebted to him. The Tartars were driving everything before them. 
They had massacred the people of Aleppo, Nisibin and Edessa, and 
were preparing to destroy Jerusalem and Cairo. An ambassador from 
Hulagu arrived in Cairo to demand the surrender of all Egypt. In- 


furiated, Qutuz killed the envoy out of hand, and then summoned a 
council of state to decide on the proper course of action now that 
he had invoked the wrath of the most murderous prince on earth. 
There was nothing else to do but to equip an army hurriedly and 
send it against Hulagu. Money for the army was raised by ruthless 
extortions, and the command was given to Baybars al-Bunduqdari, a 
former Turkish slave. Baybars was a native of Kipchak, a district 
between the Caspian and the Ural Mountains, magnificently built, 
tall and broad-shouldered, with a resonant voice and a swarthy com- 
plexion. He had been sold in the market place at Damascus for 800 
dirhems, a sum which was later returned when his new owner dis- 
covered that he had a cataract in one of his eyes. His eyes were blue, 
very bright and steely. It was this fanatically brave soldier who led 
the vanguard of the Egyptian army against the Tartars in a furious 
battle at Ayn Jalut ("the Pool of Goliath") near Jerusalem on Sep- 
tember 3, 1260. The Tartars fought well, but they were no match 
for the Egyptians, who were far more numerous and who were able 
to conceal their numbers until the time came for the last devastating 
charge. The Tartars were pursued beyond Aleppo, and swept out of 
Syria. Baybars seems to have hoped that Aleppo would be given to 
him as a reward, but no reward was given to him. He decided to 
kill the Sultan, and gathered together a small band of conspirators. 
One day, when the Sultan's attention was distracted, a conspirator 
begged for the honor of kissing his hand. At that moment Baybars 
leaped behind the Sultan and stabbed him in the neck. 

It was the beginning of one of the longest reigns ever enjoyed by 
a Mamluk sovereign. Baybars assumed the title al-Malik al-Zahir ("the 
conquering king"), and for seventeen years acted with commendable 
forthrightness in ruling the kingdom. He had nerves of steel; he was 
always on the move; and he worked tirelessly through the night. 
The story is told of how Baybars arrived before Tyre one evening; 
a tent was immediately pitched by torchlight, and seven secretaries 
and the commander-in-chief of the army were summoned into the 
presence. For hours the secretaries wrote down orders as they were 
dictated by the king: letters, diplomas of rank, instructions to minor 
officials followed one another in a steady stream, all of them beginning 
with the proper invocations to God and concluding with the seal, 
which the King affixed with his own hand. One of these letters has 
been preserved. It is addressed to Bohemond, Prince of Antioch, who 
had been absent from the city when Baybars took it by assault. The 


letter gently commiserates with the Prince on his loss, ironically com- 
pliments him on his change of title from Prince to Count, as a result 
of losing his city, and then goes on to describe the siege and capture 
of Antioch, sparing no horrors. It concludes with a happy comment- 
ary on the delights of absence: "This letter holds happy tidings for 
thee! It tells thee that God watches over thee, inasmuch as in these 
latter days thou wast not in Antioch! As not a man has escaped to 
tell thee the tale, we tell it thee: as no soul could apprize thee 
that thou art safe, while all the rest have perished, we apprise thee!" 
Nothing else that has survived from the time of Baybars gives us so 
well the flavor of that remorseless man. 

Baybars was more than a military figure: he was also a superb 
administrator and a consummate politician. In the intervals of mak- 
ing war against the Crusaders, the Armenians, the Seljuks and the 
Assassins, he built mosques, dug canals, improved harbors, and ar- 
ranged a fast postal service between Egypt and Syria. Letters dis- 
patched from Cairo were delivered in Damascus four days later. The 
roads were so good that the King was able to play polo in Damascus 
and Cairo in a single week. He built an enormous bridge over the 
Great Canal and decorated it with stone lions, because there were 
lions on his coat of arms. He invited Turkish colonists into Egypt, 
and when he discoverd a pocket of Mongolian horsemen among the 
Syrian hills, abandoned in the retreat, he invited them to Cairo, par- 
doned them for any crimes they might have committed, and ordered 
houses built for them and for their families, thus adding three or 
four thousand good workmen to the labor force of Cairo. He was a 
firm believer in the jihad, or "holy war," and he never lost a battle. 

When the last Abbasid Caliph was murdered, Islam lost its spiritual 
head. However incompetent the Caliph had been, he represented in 
his living person the tradition which went back in a straight line to 
Muhammad. For three years Muhamadans had lamented the absence 
of a spiritual ruler who could legitimately wear the mantle of Mu- 
hammad. Baybars decided to remedy the situation. In June, 1261, an 
uncle of the murdered Caliph who had escaped the massacre was 
brought from Damascus to Cairo in great state, escorted by the royal 
guard and accompanied by Jews bearing the Torah and Christians 
bearing the Gospels. After his genealogy had been formally approved 
by the qadis, he was acknowledged as Caliph under the name al- 
Mustansir; and playing his comic role to the end, Baybars solemnly 
swore allegiance to the Caliph, who would never be allowed to 
rule and who was shortly afterward put to death. From the new 


Caliph, who was remarkably dark in color and suspected of being 
no descendant of Muhammad, Baybars received a robe of honor 
and a diploma of investiture giving him authority over Egypt, Syria, 
Diyar Bakr, Hijaz, Yaman and the land of the Euphrates. The di- 
ploma should be quoted at some length and compared with the me- 
morial inscription by Ibn Tulun: 

Praise be to God who has displayed upon Islam the robes of 
glory, and has made the brightness of its pearls shine forth, that 
aforetime were hidden under a thick veil; and has so firmly es- 
tablished the edifice of its prosperity that thereby He has caused all 
record of all that went before to be forgotten . . . 

There has come a ruler who sets his hand to generous deeds 
with might and main, and, sword in hand, never destroys the 
hiding-place of error, without giving it over to the flames and 
drenching it in blood. Since all these noble qualities are the 
special characteristics of His Sublime Highness, Sultan al-Malik 
al-Zahir Rukn-al-Din l (may God ennoble and exalt him!), the 
High Chancellery of the descendant of Muhammad, the Imam 
Mustansir (may God exalt his power!) has been pleased to extol 
the lofty merit of this prince and to proclaim his good offices, 
which even the most eloquent language would fail adequately to 
express or fittingly commend, for it is he who has raised up against 
the Abbasid dynasty after it had been crippled by the blows of ill- 
fortune and robbed of all its welfare and blessings. . . . 

Therefore the Commander of the Faithful gives you thanks for 
such kindness, and makes known to all, that but for your watchful 
care, the ruin would have been beyond repair. He therefore 
confers on you authority over Egypt, Syria, Diyar Bakr, the Hijaz, 
the Yaman, the land of the Euphrates and whatever fresh con- 
quests you may achieve, on plain or mountain. He entrusts to 
you the government of them and the control of their troops and 
their population, so that you may become for them a paragon 
of generosity, and he makes no exception of any single city or 
fortress or any object, great or small. Then keep a watch over 
the interests of the whole body of the faithful, since this burden 
has been laid upon you. 2 

1 Rukn-al-Din means "pillar of the faithful." Rulers had quite naturally 
taken over such titles since the time of the Buwayhids. 

2 Sir Thomas W. Arnold, The Caliphate, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1924, 
pp. 90-92. 


It is in the nature of things that in a time of decadence the lan- 
guage should become sterile, the words as meaningless as the emotions 
they are intended to convey. The pompous proclamation gave Bay- 
bars rule over lands which he had not conquered and which were to 
remain forever outside the jurisdiction of the Mamluk sultans. But 
the formalities had to be observed, and the Caliph who went on to 
speak of the Caliphate regaining "its ancient glory" and "the need to 
be ever watchful that the victory of Islam is secure" was so evidently 
a puppet that it is surprising that Baybars, with his acute sense of 
reality, permitted the imposture. When the ceremony was over, there 
was a solemn procession through the streets of Cairo, with one of 
the officers of state holding the diploma of investiture aloft, exactly 
as the Torah and the Gospels had been held aloft during the journey 
from Damascus. 

The Sultan soon wearied of his Caliph. A few weeks after the inves- 
titure, Baybars suggested that the Caliph should lead a jihad against 
th& enemies of Islam in Baghdad. The Caliph seems to have been over- 
joyed and set out with a small army provided by the Sultan for 
Damascus, which was to become his base. Here Baybars was warned 
that the re-establishment of the Caliphate in Baghdad would inevi- 
tably endanger his own independence, and he therefore abandoned 
the Caliph to his fate. He was killed when making his way across 
the desert by a small force sent out by the governor of Baghdad; 
and nothing more was ever heard of the handful of troops who 
accompanied him. 

The experiment, however, was successful. Caliphs being expendable, 
there was nothing to prevent Baybars from attending the inaugura- 
tion of a new Caliph whenever he pleased. In the following year 
another prince of the Abbasid house, Abul Abbas Ahmad, made his 
way to Cairo and was installed in the Caliphate with pomp and 
ceremony, taking the name al-Hakim. Once again there was the care- 
ful examination of his genealogy, with the learned qadis sitting in 
judgment and pronouncing on the legitimacy of the new incumbent; 
once again there were gifts; once again Sultan and Caliph marched 
through the city in triumph. By this time the Caliphate had become 
no more than a meaningless title, the shadow of a shadow of a shadow. 
A long succession of Caliphs continued to be proclaimed in Egypt, 
until the Turks conquered the Marnluks and carried back to Con- 
stantinople the supposed relics of Muhammad. The Turks saw no 
reason to subscribe to the devious ways of the Mamluks; the Sultan 


himself assumed all the rights and responsibilities of the Caliphate. 

Baybars had hoped to found a dynasty, but on his death he is said 
to have died from drinking out of a poisoned cup intended for 
one of his enemies his two young sons were quickly deposed by an- 
other Turkish slave who had risen to military power. The new Sultan 
came from Kipchak, and had been sold in the market place of Da- 
mascus. Having two good eyes, he was sold for a thousand dinars. 
His Turkish name, Qalawun, was exchanged readily for the more 
high sounding al-Mansur, whom he resembled only in his passion 
for building. The new Sultan was as ruthless as Baybars in attacking 
the Crusaders and the Mongols. An excellent diplomat, he maintained 
friendly relations with Michael VIII Palaeologus, the Emperor of By- 
zantium, and he had so little respect for Muharnadan opinion that he 
dispensed with the ceremony of investiture by the Caliph. When he 
came to the throne the Crusaders, who had once controlled the 
whole length of coast from Gaza to Cilicia, were reduced to their 
citadels at Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Tripoli, Jebayl, Tortosa and the isolated 
town of Latakiyeh; and he proceeded to prepare the ground for their 
final eviction. When he died at the age of seventy in 1290, and 
was succeeded by his son al-Ashraf, the Crusaders may have known 
they had only a few more months to enjoy their possessions. Under 
a sovereign of a "Slave" dynasty, whose mother was a Mongol, the 
last remnants of the Prankish power in the Holy Land were destroyed. 

The Crusaders died in pools of blood, betrayed by their conquerors, 
alone in a land where they had never struck deep roots. The last 
act of the drama took place in the spring and summer of 1291, as 
the Mamluk army swept along the coast of Syria. In May, after a 
siege of forty-three days, Acre surrendered: the survivors were of- 
fered a safe-conduct, only to be massacred when they came out of the 
fort. Acre itself was reduced to smoking ruins. There followed a brief 
campaign in which all the cities held by the Crusaders fell one by 
one to the invaders until nothing was left except the obscure island 
of Arwad off the Syrian coast, and this too fell eleven years later. 

Al-Ashraf returned in triumph to Cairo. A jeweled parasol was 
held over his head; trumpeters filled the air with songs of victory. 
In front of the Sultan rode the Mamluk cavalry, bearing on their 
lances the bloody heads of dead Crusaders, while behind him in fet- 
ters came the living remnants of the once-great army which had 
hoped to make the Holy Land a part of Christendom, The conqueror 
carried the banner of the Cross reversed, as a sign of his triumph 


over the West. And when the triumphal march through the city was 
over, al-Ashraf visited his father's grave, and for a long time pros- 
trated himself, before returning to the citadel to give rewards to his 
soldiers. For two hundred years his predecessors had vainly striven 
to defeat the Crusaders; the knowledge of so great a triumph drove 
him almost insane. 

His triumph was brief. On December 12, 1293, while out hunt- 
ing without an escort, some soldiers in the pay of the Viceroy Bay- 
dara fell on him and hacked him to pieces. Baydara had already 
made plans to assume power, and was making his way to Cairo when 
the aroused guards and ministers of the dead Sultan met him on the 
left bank of the Nile. There was a short battle, most of al-Ashraf's 
assassins were slain, and Baydara was cut to pieces. As an added 
refinement, his liver was cut out of his body and eaten by those 
who were loyal to al-Ashraf, and for three days the body of Baydara 
was left in the desert, to be gnawed by wolves. Finally the body was 
removed to a mausoleum which the Viceroy had built and completed 
only a few months before. 

The savagery of the Mamluks did not prevent them from creating 
exquisite art. It is an art without character, yet never decadent; filled 
with intelligence, yet lacking in directed passion. In such an age it 
could hardly be otherwise. They were conquerors without responsibil- 
ity, men of immense daring, who saw that life was brief and therefore 
to be enjoyed to the uttermost. In their wars against the Mongols 
they were as successful as they were against the Crusaders. In some 
strange way they seemed to retain their primitive asabiyya; and so 
for 250 more years the Mamluks remained in power. The individual 
sultans nearly always died miserably: they were thrown down wells, 
poisoned, cut in two, or smothered in their beds. Plagues swarmed 
over Egypt, famine raged, earthquakes shook Cairo to its roots; but 
this dynasty of usurpers, which began shortly after the death of 
Saladin, continued uninterruptedly until 1517, when the Ottoman 
Sultan, Salim I, conquered Egypt. 

The Mamluks destroyed the Crusaders, but they saved the West. 
The last great battle between Mamluks and Mongols took place at 
Marj al-Suffar south of Damascus in 1303, but by this time the 
Mongols themselves had been weakened. The leader of this expedi- 
tion was Ghazan Khan, the great-grandson of Hulagir, a small, with- 
ered, tireless man who had embraced Buddhism and discovered Islam 
on the eve of his succession to the Persian throne. Under the pressure 
of Islam even the Mongols had become civilized. 


No one could have recognized in Ghazan Khan the ferocity of his 
forebears. He was stern in battle, but gentle in time of peace. "Among 
his soldiers," wrote a chronicler, "scarcely one could be found as 
small and ugly as he is, but he surpasses them all in virtue and integ- 
rity." Ghazan Khan decorated his capital at Tabriz with a magnificent 
mosque, two colleges, a hospital, a library and an observatory. He 
encouraged poets and scientists, and he was especially concerned with 
reviving the economy of his small and powerful empire. He encour- 
aged settlements in the lands through which the Mongols had swept 
like a whirlwind, and decreed that taxes should be announced pub- 
licly "on wood or on stone or written in chalk." He listened to 
the complaints of poor peasants, and spoke gravely about the need 
for good government. Persian became the language of his court. 
Once more the Persians had tamed their barbarian invaders. 

Those years when the Crusaders were fighting a battle for sur- 
vival and the Mongols were roaring like a whirlwind toward the 
Mediterranean seem in retrospect to be years of confusion and dis- 
aster. But in fact confusion and disaster were localized. Cities in the 
path of the Mongol invaders were put to the flames, but life went 
on in the villages, which were rarely worth setting on fire. Here 
and there, in the broad swath cut by the Mongols, we find com- 
munities untouched by the wars. The farmers continued to till their 
fields, the maids went to the wells, and the poets sang their songs. 

The poet Sa'di of Shiraz (1184-1291) lived out his long life in 
the shadow of the wars. The painting over his tomb shows him as a 
small wiry man, with a fraying mustache, and an air of gentle be- 
wilderment. He tells the story that when he was a child he was given 
to long vigils at night and earnest prayers on behalf of erring human- 
ity, but one night, when his father found him on his knees, he was 
asked what he was doing. "I am praying for the sins of mankind," he 
answered. "You had better think of your own sins first/' his father 
answered, and packed him oflf to bed. Sa'di spent the rest of his life 
thinking of his own sins only at rare intervals. He delighted in erring 
humanity, and traveled over the known world to contemplate ordi- 
nary human beings at their toils. He wandered to India, settling down 
long enough in Delhi to learn the language. He wandered to Arabia 
and seems to have had a child by an Arabian girl. When the child 
died, he decided to drown his grief by undertaking an expedition to 
Abyssinia. He traveled over North Africa, and for a while lived in 
Damascus and Baalbek, where he became a famous pulpit orator. 
Growing weary of civilization, he withdrew into the desert near 


Jerusalem, enjoying, like John the Baptist, the company o wild beasts 
until, as he says, "the time came when some Franks took me prisoner 
and kept me with Jews in a trench at Tripoli, digging clay." A lead- 
ing citizen of Aleppo chanced to see him working at the fortifica- 
tions, took a fancy to him, ransomed him for ten dinars, and offered 
a further hundred dinars if Sa'di would marry his daughter, Sa'di 
agreed, but soon wearied of his shrewish wife, divorced her, and 
went wandering again. He traveled all over North Africa and Asia 
Minor, and he was fifty when he finally returned to his native Shiraz. 
Baghdad was in ruins, but the south of Persia had been left more or 
less untouched by the Mongols, and he lived quietly and contentedly 
in this city famous for its roses, and not far from Persepolis, the heart 
of ancient Persia. 

In Shiraz he wrote his famous Gulistan, or Rose Garden, partly in 
prose, partly in verse, and filled with innumerable wry stories con- 
cerning the fate of kings (usually bad) and of gentle peasants (usu- 
ally good). He compiled his long storybook lightheartedly and with- 
out heroics; and if it never achieved the fame of Firdausi's Shahnamch 
it nevertheless represented an important aspect of the Persian char- 
acter, for he told of their laughter, their quick wits, their lightly held 
loyalties, their love of majesty. 

Where Sa'di is of the earth, earthy, Jalalul-Din Rumi (1207-1273) 
is of the spirit, and so deeply immersed in the spirit that for him the 
earth hardly exists. He was born at Balkh, the son of a well-known 
teacher and theologian, and he was twelve when his father, fearing 
the onrush of the Mongols, moved with his family to Konya, at that 
time the capital of the Western Seljuk empire. For the rest of his life 
he remained at Konya, becoming a religious teacher; surrounding 
himself with disciples, who called him Matvlana, or "master"; writ- 
ing poetry on the theme of mystical love; and introducing certain 
techniques into the worship of God, apparently never used before, 
among them a dance performed by the devotees wheeling in circles 
corresponding to the orbits of the heavenly bodies, at a pace so 
dizzy that the dancers lost consciousness and came to believe they 
were in the presence of God. In time these dancers were known as 
the "whirling dervishes," and were considered by foreigners to be 
members of a strange and ludicrous sect, but in fact the dance of the 
dervishes was an inevitable development of Sufi beliefs. For them 
God was a holy dance, and how better to imitate God than to dance 
in holiness? So they danced barefoot, wearing their high camel's-hair 


hats and their long blue plaited robes which perhaps represented the 
skies, at first dancing gravely round their leader, then spinning like a 
top in one place with eyes closed and arms outstretched, the right 
palm turned up, the left down, until their skirts ballooned out, giving 
them so much momentum that they could whirl uninterruptedly for 
half an hour to the music of flutes from the musicians' gallery until at 
last, streaming with sweat, they gradually slowed down, and an at- 
tendant threw a robe over their shoulders; and then after a short in- 
terval they would resume the dance. 

JaJalu'1-Din Rumi sometimes led the dance and composed music for 
it; but he was more famous for his poetry. He wrote voluminously, 
composing a flood of mystical odes and the huge compendium of 
mystical lore known as the Mathnawi in six books. Like Blake he 
wrote unevenly: the most authentic descriptions of the joys of Heaven 
are followed by rigmarole. Yet he remains the greatest of Muhamadan 
mystical pots. 

He was thirty-seven when there arrived in Konya a strange sixty- 
year-old dervish, said to be the son of a cloth merchant and known 
by the name Shamsi Tabriz. Infatuated by his utterances, Jalalul-Din 
Rurni took the old man into his house, and for two years they were 
inseparable. The disciples complained that their teacher was paying 
no attention to them. They resented the intruder and threatened 
violence against the favorite, who always wore a gown of coarse black 
felt and was known as "the far-flying one" because he had journeyed 
widely. At last Shamsi Tabriz fled to Damascus. Jalalul-Din sent his 
own son to bring the old man back. There was peace again, but only 
for a short while. Suddenly Shamsi Tabriz vanished. According to a 
story told several years later, he was set upon one night by seven 
conspirators, all heavily armed. Though without weapons, Shamsi 
Tabriz fought them off and escaped, leaving a few drops of blood 
on the earth as a sign of his victory; then he vanished from the 
world. Jalalu'1-Din, overcome by grief, wrote in his honor the huge 
collection of lyrical poems known as the Diwani Shamsi Tabriz. 
Among them are the verses which the poet Sa'di regarded as the 
greatest written in Persian: 

Forever and ever the voice of love is calling. 

Our ship sails for Heaven: who are the voyagers 

Who do not share our desire for the journey? 

We have been to Heaven: we are companions of angels. 


So let us journey together, there is our country. 

We are even higher than angels and closer to Heaven. 

The end of our journey is a most perfect majesty. 

It is a note we hear again and again in the poetry of Jalalul-Din 
Rumi. Heaven is close, almost we can breathe the scents flowing from 
it, almost we can rest in its shade: 

Lovers, O lovers, it is time to abandon the world: 
The drum of departing is heard on my spiritual ears. 
Behold, the camel-driver is surely preparing his train: 
And shall we blame him when the travelers are asleep? 
Listen! The clanging of the camel-bells can be heard. 
And every moment a soul is setting out to the Frontier. 
From these inverted awnings, from these blue candles 
There comes a marvelous people, to share in the mysteries. 
A heavy sleep falls from the circling spheres. 
Alas, that life should be li\e a feather and slumber so heavy! 
Dear one, see\ the beloved: he is close by your side. 
Watchman, awakfl Never should a watchman sleep! 

No poet ever spoke of the heavenly mysteries with more assurance 
or more grace. Like the great Andalusian poet, Ibn Arabi, he speaks 
of Heaven as though he had been there and mapped out its pathways. 
So he says in one of the poems of the immense Diwan: 

I have circled with the Nine Fathers in the Heavens, 

For years I have followed the stars in their revolutions, 

And always I was secret, dwelling in Him. 

I touched the walls of the Kingdom, and my eyes were open. 

I received nourishment from God, as a child in the womb. 

Men are born once: I was born many times. 

And wearing a coat of flesh, I have gone about spiritual affairs, 

But often I have slit my coat wide open with my own hands. 

Long nights have I passed with the priests, 

And I have slept with pagans in the market-places. 

I am the green eyes of jealousy, the fever of sickness. 

I am cloud and rain, I have swept down over the meadows, 

never did the dust of mortality touch the hem of my gar- 


I have gathered a treasure of roses in the Field of Eternity. 

I am not water nor fire: there is no pride in me. 

I am not fashioned in clay: I am the voice of mockery. 

I am not Shamsi Tabriz: I am the pure Light! 

Beware, if thou seest me! Tell no one I am here! 

In this poem, where humility fights with pride, and the most as- 
sured wisdom is concealed in a cry of pain, Jalalu'1-Din Rumi seems 
to be attempting to describe the heart of the mystery. Death was 
never far from his thoughts, and he was half in love with it. He wrote 

Illness is a treasure, for it contains mercies: 
The \ernal is soft when the rind is scraped away. 
O brother, the place of darkness and cold 
Is the fountain of life and the cup of ecstasy! 

Once, when he ordered music and dancing to accompany the fu- 
neral of one of his disciples, he was told he was behaving improperly. 
"How should I do otherwise?" he asked. "Surely when at last the 
spirit is free from the dungeon of the body and wings its way to the 
source from which all things come, it is an occasion for rejoicing." 
Like al-Hallaj, he could tell stories which make the head whirl. He 
believed that even evil contributes to the glory of God. He wrote 
once: "I die as a stone and become a plant. I die as a plant and am 
raised to the rank of an animal. I die as an animal, and am reborn as 
man. I die as a man, and come to birth as an angel I shall die as an 
angel and become something that no man has seen, and then I shall 
be the Nothing, the Nothing!" It was as though in a few lines he 
was attempting to suggest the entire cosmology of the Sufis. 

His greatest work was the Mathnau/i, which he wrote at intervals 
over a period of forty-three years. He called it "the path of the as- 
cetics and the garden of the initiated," "the river of divine love," and 
"the mirror held up to the face of God." At once epic and textbook, 
the book claims to cover the entire field of love in all its multitudi- 
nous and divine aspects, and if it can be compared with any poem at 
all, it must be compared with Dante's Paradiso. 

He died amid his beloved dervishes and was buried close to the 
dancing floor, not far from the musicians* gallery, in a tomb shrouded 
in green embroidered velvet, crowned with the long dervish cap 


shaped like the vase of light which contained Muhammad's soul. 
Here too his successors, the hereditary heads o the order of Mawlawi 
dervishes, known as Chelebi, were also buried. In time the authority 
of the order grew so great that the Chelebi had the right to gird the 
sword of Osman on the Sultan at the time of his coronation. 

When Jalalul-Din Rumi died in 1273, the Seljuk princes of Asia 
Minor were already suffering from the weaknesses which come with 
luxury. So it happened that the wise old sultan of Iconium, Jalalu'l- 
Din's friend and protector, Ala-ad-Din II, found himself at war with 
an army of marauding Mongols and sought the help of some fierce 
Turkish tribesmen camped near the battlefield under their leader 
Ertoghrul. The tribesmen offered to fight if they were given land; the 
battle was won; and the Turks were allowed as a reward for their 
assistance to occupy the border marches in the Karasu valley, where 
their only neighbors were Byzantine Christians. Only four hundred 
families of Turks took part in the battle, but they began to see them- 
selves as the inevitable inheritors of the crumbling Seljuk empire. 
Ertoghrul died in 1288, and was succeeded by his son Osman, who 
in a reign of thirty-eight years succeeded in extending his dominions 
until they reached the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. In the next two 
centuries the Osmanli Turks were to spread their conquests into the 
heart of Europe, through southwest Asia and across North Africa, 
nearly to the Atlantic Ocean; and the dynasty founded by Osman 
ruled for six centuries, twice as long as the longest Greek or Roman 
dynasty, longer than the Abbasid dynasty and therefore longer than 
any other dynasty which has ever ruled on earth. 

In the beginning the Osmanli Turks possessed all the virtues which, 
according to Ibn Khaldun, were necessary to the founders of em- 
pires. Embracing Islam with the fervor of converts, merciless to their 
enemies, persistent in their desire for conquest, puritanical and de- 
spising luxury, they won every battle they fought, and fought con- 
tinuously. When Osman propounded to his ministers a scheme for 
further aggression against his enemies, his ninety-year-old uncle, who 
had taken part in all his campaigns, objected: the uncle was immedi- 
ately murdered. In all its long and checkered history the Osmanli 
dynasty continued to reserve the harshest treatment for those close 
to the throne. 

When Osman died at the age of sixty-eight, he had already estab- 
lished most of the rules by which his successors were to reign. He 


was a heavy-set man, with a thick black beard, dark features and the 
look of an emperor, though he called himself amir. He dressed simply 
and despised luxury: at his death his wealth consisted of a wooden 
spoon, a salt bowl, a braided coat, a white linen turban, his battle 
flags, a yoke of oxen and a few droves of sheep. With rare exceptions 
the Turkish sultans of the next three centuries lived just as simply. 

As time passed, there was less and less Turkish blood flowing in 
the veins of the sultans. Osman married his younger son and succes- 
sor to the daughter of the Greek lord of Yar Hissar in Bithynia, the 
celebrated Nilaufer ("Lotus Flower"), renowned for her beauty. The 
elder of Nilaufer's sons was Sultan Murad I, from whom all subse- 
quent sultans were descended. Yet the characteristic Turkish features 
persisted: the hawk nose, the heavily lidded eyes, the curling lips 
and the perpetual look of hurt surprise can be seen on the portraits 
of the sultans up to the time of the last Sultan Muhammad VI, exiled 
by Kemal Ataturk. 

Urkhon, who inherited the throne from Osman, was deeply at- 
tached to his brother Ala-ad-Din, and at one time suggested they 
should share the throne. Ala-ad-Din refused, but became Grand 
Vizier, devoting himself to the reorganization of the army. It is 
largely due to the gentle and saintly Ala-ad-Din that the Ottoman 
Empire owes the introduction of the Janissaries, Christian mercenaries 
trained from childhood to guard the Sultan and protect the imperial 

The first detachment of Janissaries, numbering a thousand youths, 
was raised about 1330 and immediately put into training. Thereafter, 
every fourth year one-fifth of the young Greek youths were rounded 
up by the local inspectors and sent off for training. They were the 
physical property of the Sultan. They were given the traditional uni- 
form of green and yellow cloaks with high plumed bonnets and 
taught the traditional marching steps three paces forward, then a 
pause, then three paces forward again. They were affiliated into the 
Bekhtashi order of dervishes, and could therefore be regarded as a 
priestly army. According to a legend, the first recruits were led by 
Urkhon himself into the presence of a famous dervish, Hajji Bekh- 
tash of Khurasan, for his blessing. The dervish stretched his arm 
over the nearest boy so that his long white sleeve trailed down, and 
he said: "Let them be called Yeni Cheri, the "new strength," and 
may their countenances ever be bright, their swords keen and their 
hands victorious." The loose sleeve of the dervish was remembered 


in the flowing white pendants worn by the Janissaries from their gray 
woolen caps. 

In theory the Janissaries were attached to the royal household, and 
the titles of their officers, Chorbaji and Kahwaji (Soup-maker and 
Coffee-maker), bore witness to the fact that they were privileged mem- 
bers o the Sultan's household. In fact their privileges were minimal. 
They drew no pay, they were not allowed to marry, and they slept in 
long dormitories with a watchman continually walking up and down, 
making a vast amount of noise. They were allowed to carry a long 
slender reed as a mark of rank, and their standard was a flag of pure 
white silk ornamented with horsetails. Their chief object of affection 
was the soup kettle, which they employed as a drum, beating it with 
wooden spoons hence "kettledrum." When the Janissaries overturned 
their soup kettles it meant revolution. But revolution was rare, and 
the Sultan usually took care to be on good terms with them. The first 
act of each Sultan on his accession was to go to the Janissary barracks 
and drink to their health "and to our merry meeting at the Red Ap- 
ple" (Constantinople.) 

The Red Apple was already ripening on the stem. In 1341 the 
Emperor Andronicus III died, and with him died the hope of a united 
Byzantine empire free of doctrinal quarrels under a single ruler. He 
was succeeded by the nine-year-old John V Palaeologus, his son by 
his second wife, Anne of Savoy, who became the regent. The boy had 
been entrusted to the care of the Grand Domestic, John Cantacuzene, 
who had always feared the Empress for her undisguised meddling in 
the affairs of the Byzantine Church. John Cantacuzene decided to 
raise the banner of revolt against the Empress, escaped to Thrace, 
gathered an army and proclaimed himself Emperor. Shortly afterward 
the boy Emperor was crowned in Constantinople. Then there were 
two emperors, and the country was plunged in civil war. By this sin- 
gle act John Cantacuzene, a deeply religious man of great resource- 
fulness, signed the death warrant of the thousand-year-old empire 
founded by Constantine. 

To survive, it was necessary for him to seek help wherever it could 
be found. In 1346, when the civil war was going in favor of the 
Palaeologi, John Cantacuzene offered Urkhon the hand of his daugh- 
ter Theodora in return for military assistance 6,000 Ottoman troops 
entered Thrace. For the first time the Turks poured into Europe. 
They were to increase in numbers with every passing year, and were 
to become a European power long before the fall of Constantinople. 


In the following year the Byzantine Empire enjoyed a brief mo- 
ment of peace when the civil war carne to an end, with the coronation 
of both emperors in Santa Sophia followed a week later by the mar- 
riage of the fifteen-year-old John V Palaeologus with Helena, the 
daughter of John Cantacuzene. For a few more years the Byzantine 
emperors went through the motions of government, signed treaties, 
and attempted to conceal their weaknesses from their enemies; but 
their thrones were tottering, and they had little heart for empire. 

When the Turks crossed over into Europe, they came casually, 
almost carelessly, with the effrontory of a people who knew their 
own strength. Urkhon's eldest son Sulayman simply crossed the Hel- 
lespont one night with eighty followers on three rafts, and attacked 
the castle of Tzympe. The castle fell. During the following days rein- 
forcements arrived and the castle was put in a state of defense. The 
Byzantine army was still powerful, and when the Byzantines offered a 
ransom for the castle, Urkhon was prepared to withdraw. When an 
earthquake destroyed the neighboring town of Kallipolis (Gallipoli), 
the Turks decided that Kallipolis had been destroyed by the hand of 
God and all the auspices were favorable. Afterward no inducement 
would lead the Turks to surrender this strategic site at the mouth of 
the Sea of Marmora. It was the first European town occupied by the 
Turks: there were to be many more. 

Three years later Sulayman died after falling from his horse, and 
when the news reached Urkhon he died of a broken heart. He was 
seventy-two. During a reign of thirty-three years he had enormously 
increased the Ottoman dominions and driven the Byzantines from 
their remaining possessions in Asia Minor. He had secured a foot- 
hold in Europe, and reduced the Byzantine Emperor almost to vas- 
salage. Few of the Ottoman sultans who came after him had his pres- 
ence. He was tall and thickset, with bright eyes and beetling eye- 
brows, a reddish face and thick mustaches and beard. He looked like 
an Emperor; his successors, even the great conqueror Muhammad II 
and Sulayman the Magnificent, looked like imitators. 

Urkhon's second son Murad, who followed him to the throne in 
1359, strove to enlarge his empire at the expense of the Byzantines 
and the Balkan princes. Adrianople fell; and this city, so close to 
Constantinople, became the capital of the Ottoman empire. In vain 
did Pope Urban V summon Christians to the defense of Constanti- 
nople. An army of knights under Amadeus of Savoy occupied Kalli- 
polis for a brief space, but nothing came of their intervention. The 


Turks were on the march, relentlessly hammering at the frontiers of 

From Thrace, Murad set out to conquer Bulgaria, Macedonia and 
Serbia, until in time they all fell to his power. The defeated armies 
melted into the mountains, to resume their campaigns when the Turk- 
ish army had passed; there were constant rebellions. He fought his 
last battle on the Field of Blackbirds (Kossovo Polye) against Lazar, 
the Serbian King, on June 15, 1389. The battle was fiercely con- 
tested, with the decision wavering backward and forward, now in 
favor of the Turks, now of the Christians. For the first time cannon, 
recently invented in Europe, were being used by the Turks. Murad 
was in his tent when a nobleman, Milosh Kobilich, who proclaimed 
himself a deserter from the Serbs, was introduced into his presence. 
Kobilich offered to reveal important secrets to the Sultan, and he was 
kneeling in homage when he was asked what the secrets were. In 
answer Kobilich drew a dagger, killing Murad with a single blow. 

They said of Murad that he was "a man of few words, and he dis- 
sembled deeply." For twenty-four years he had led his armies in the 
field, increasing fivefold the extent of his empire, bringing his armies 
to the Danube. Henceforth 'Thrace, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia and 
almost the whole of Asia Minor were to belong to the Turkish em- 
pire; already the greater part of the empire, which was to last for 
nearly five and a half centuries, had been won. 

His son Bayazid, married to a Greek princess, sent a shudder 
through the heart of Europe. He was feared as the Mongols had been 
feared. Pope Boniface IX granted plenary indulgence on all those 
who would join the Crusade against the Turks, and a vast army set 
out under the command of Sigismund, King of Hungary. The flower 
of the French and German chivalry met at Buda, and marched down 
the Danube to Nicopolis. The Turks were accustomed to throw their 
irregulars into battle at the beginning. These irregulars were expend- 
able, and the purpose of sending them into battle was to weaken the 
enemy and slow down his advance. The army of King Sigismund had 
no difficulty in dispersing the irregulars, but when confronted by the 
main body of the Ottomans, 60,000 strong, together with the Serbian 
troops who had joined the Turks as allies, they were defeated with 
great slaughter. The battle lasted only three hours. When it was over, 
the captives, wearing only their shirts, were led before the Sultan 
with the Ottoman army drawn around him in the form of a great 
semicircle. There were 10,000 captives. Roped together in small 


groups, they were brought before the Sultan, who examined them 
briefly, decided on the spot whether they were worth a ransom, and 
gave permission to his Janissaries to pound to death those who 
could not be ransomed. For a whole day, from daybreak to four 
o'clock in the afternoon, Bayazid watched the procession with the ex- 
pression of a man enjoying the visible evidence of his triumph. It 
especially delighted him that the very greatest lords of France and 
Germany were brought stark naked before him. He spared the lives 
of the most handsome Christian youths and later enrolled them in his 
bodyguard. Not since the time of the Mamluk Sultan al-Ashraf had a 
Muhamadan monarch enjoyed so great a victory over the West. 

To repeat the triumph Bayazid determined on the conquest of Con- 
stantinople. For this purpose he erected on the Asiatic coast of the 
Bosphorus, six miles from Constantinople, a fortress which came to be 
known as the Anadolu Hissar, "the Anatolian fortress," which still 
exists. He was preparing to besiege the city when great events in Asia 
compelled him to turn eastward against an enemy far more powerful 
and far more merciless than any he had yet confronted. 

Timurlane the name comes from Mongol root-words meaning 
"iron" and "lame" was threatening the West, employing the same 
tactics which Hulagu had used before him. Born in 1336, he had 
been a shoemaker until he led a small raiding party against the 
Jaghatai amir of Khurasan and Transoxiana. He overthrew the amir 
and inherited the least distinguished of the dynasties founded by 
Genghiz Khan, from whom he was descended on his mother's side. 
He made his capital at Samarqand and invited Persian artists and 
architects to his court. He was an obscure prince of a remote territory 
in the heart of Asia, and nothing about that dark-featured, spade- 
bearded man suggested that he was to become a world conqueror. 
At the age of forty-four he set out to conquer the world. 

His first conquests were in Afghanistan and Persia, where he cap- 
tured Isfahan and feasted his eyes on the spectacle of a pyramid of 
70,000 skulls. He sacked Baghdad, massacred most of the inhabitants 
and took what treasure he could not very much treasure, for Bagh- 
dad had never recovered from the wounds inflicted by Hulagu. He 
overran Mesopotamia, swung north to Moscow, which he held for 
over a year, and three years later he was outside the walls of Delhi, 
admiring a still more extravagant pyramid of skulls. In 1401 he 
swept through Syria, pausing three days at Aleppo to build a com- 
paratively small tower of skulls: according to the Arab chronicler it 


was thirty feet high, and all the faces were turned outward. Hims and 
Baalbek fell, and then it was the turn of Damascus, which held out 
for a month. The city was sacked, and the Great Umayyad Mosque 
was left an empty shell. From Damascus he returned to Baghdad to 
avenge the deaths of his officers murdered by an enraged populace- 
he built 120 towers of skulls in their memory. During the following 
year he prepared an invasion of Asia Minor. It was this threat which 
drew Bayazid from the walls of Constantinople. With 120,000 men 
he marched to meet the enemy. Timurlane had an army of 800,000 
men. The battle, which lasted a day and a night, was fought on the 
plain of Angora (Ankara) on July 20, 1402, It was a broiling hot 
day. Bayazid's army was cut off from water. Some 18,000 Tartars in 
his employ went over to the enemy, and the Janissaries and the Ser- 
bian auxiliaries were no match for the invaders. Trying to fly from 
the battlefield, Bayazid was captured, brought before Timurlane, and 
for the remaining eight months of his life he was transported from 
place to place in a cage slung between two horses. The Tartars went 
on to destroy Brusa and Smyrna, and might have gone on to destroy 
all of Europe, but Timurlane had already decided to march on China, 
Europe was saved, but the Ottoman empire was in turmoil; for 
eleven years a succession of Sultans attempted to sieze power. Civil 
war flared up. At last in 1413 there came to the throne the first of 
the two Ottoman sultans who possessed any mildness of manner. This 
was Muhammad I, known as Chelebi, "the gentleman," who said to 
the ambassadors of Hungary, Serbia, Wallachia, Venice, Ragusa and 
Epirus who came to congratulate him at Adrianople: "Tell your mas- 
ters that I send peace to all and accept it from all, and may God 
punish the violators!" It was a strange statement to come from the 
lips of a Sultan. 

Everything one knows about Muhammad I suggests a man of great 
moral dignity and religious feeling. He was the first to send an annual 
expedition bearing imperial gifts to Mecca. He was on friendly terms 
with the Byzantine Emperor, whom he visited during a royal pro- 
gress, and he treated his Christian subjects well. He built superb 
mosques and wrote excellent poetry, and set the intellectual tone of 
his reign. Almost saintly and incapable of deceit, his death was at- 
tended by a strange and deceitful ruse which was to be imitated many 
times in the future. He suffered a stroke while riding through Kalli- 
polis, fell from his horse, and died a few days later, after begging 
his Vizier to place his two minor sons under the protection of the 


Byzantine Emperor. The heir to the throne, Prince Murad, made it 
his first task after his accession to kill off his brothers. But while the 
Sultan lay dead and before Murad could reach Kallipolis, the Janis- 
saries threatened to take matters in their own hands. To appease 
them, and to prevent them from coming out in open revolt, it was 
arranged to prop up the Sultan's body near the windows of a dark- 
ened kiosk; and while a page hidden behind the corpse passed his 
arms through the Sultan's cloak, the Sultan was seen to be waving his 
arms. A few days later the body of Muhammad I was transported to 
the Green Mosque at Brusa; the pantomime was over; and in the 
place of the gentle Muhammad came the conquering Murad. 

Murad II was all fire and venom, happiest with the sword, treach- 
erous and vindictive. He was eighteen when he came to the throne, 
but he had an old man's cunning and a mature man's delight in con- 
quest. The Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus made the mis- 
take of advancing the cause of a certain Mustapha, who claimed to 
be the son of Sultan Bayazid and the rightful successor to the throne 
of the Ottoman Turks. Mustapha raised an army, crossed the Hel- 
lespont, and was about to attack the young Murad when his soldiers 
arrested him and summarily committed him into the hands of his 
enemy: he was tortured and hanged. Murad concluded that there 
was no safety in Constantinople and vowed its destruction. 

From that moment the fate of Constantinople was sealed. Murad 
was nineteen, and he had been on the throne less than a year when he 
brought his army up against the walls of Constantinople. Wave upon 
wave of Turks was hurled against the ramparts of the greatest city in 
Christendom, and the Byzantines had almost given up their cause in 
despair when they observed that the Turks had vanished Murad had 
called of? the assault to put down the rebellion of his thirteen-year- 
old brother in the rear. For a few more years Constantinople was 
spared, but her days were numbered. 

Murad never again felt himself sufficiently strong for a frontal as- 
sault on Constantinople, but he devised other plans to reduce the 
hated city to insignificance. He would conquer all eastern Europe, 
capture all the outlying bastions of Constantinople, isolate it com- 
pletely. He marched against Hungary, captured Salonica from the 
Venetians, invaded Macedonia and engaged in constant raids across 
the Danube. He was not always successful. When invading Transyl- 
vania in 14393 his armies were met by the Hungarians under John 
Hunyadi, the natural son of King Sigismund. At the battle of Her- 


mannstadt, north of the Danube, 20,000 Ottoman Turks were killed, 
and the heads of the defeated generals were thrown like cabbages 
into wagons, which were then sent to the neighboring allies as an 
inducement to them to join in the battle. In the following year, with 
reinforcements from Serbia, Wallachia, Poland and Germany, John 
Hunyadi brought about more victories against the Turks, who pan- 
icked and fled, with Hunyadi in pursuit. For twenty years the fear- 
less and handsome Hunyadi was the terror of the Turks. 

Murad bided his time. Most of the advantages were on his side. 
He had a greater army than any that could be mustered in Europe, 
and it was not commanded by rival princelings who contended among 
themselves. His opportunity came when King Ladislaus led a com- 
bined army of Poles and Hungarians across Bulgaria to Varna on the 
Black Sea. Murad hurriedly organized an army in Asia Minor and 
arrived in front of Varna unexpectedly, before the Christians knew 
he was on his way. In the ensuing battle the forces of King Ladislaus 
were routed, and the King's head was struck off by an aged Janissary; 
John Hunyadi fled, to fight again, but the tide was now working in 
favor of the Turks. 

There was no mercy in Murad. His aim was to destroy eastern 
Europe; and when he had disengaged his forces from the Hungarians 
and the Poles, he set about reducing Greece. He conquered the Pelo- 
ponnese, sacked Corinth and took all the captured young Greeks into 
slavery. The Peloponnese never recovered from that fatal invasion. 
Then he resumed his attacks on the combined forces of Hungary, 
Serbia and Bosnia, led by Hunyadi, and defeated them at the battle 
of Kossovo; and so Serbia fell finally into the power of the Ottoman 
Turks. At his death he died of apoplexy as the result of drinking too 
much wine during a feast the Turkish empire reached toward the 
Adriatic and northward along the coast of the Black Sea. The heavy, 
dark wedge of Ottoman power was aimed toward the heart of Europe. 

Murad had prepared the ground for the capture of Constantino- 
ple; his son Muhammad II, "the Conqueror," merely consolidated 
the conquest. Muhammad was twenty-one when he came to the throne, 
a stern, severely intellectual monarch who spoke five languages flu- 
ently and behaved at all times with cruelty and studied arrogance. 
His first task when he came to the throne was to capture Constanti- 
nople, and he set about it with characteristic caution. He knew he 
had only to shake the tree, and the ripe plum would fall into his 
hands. A few heavy cannon, another fortress overlooking the city, 


bribery, infiltration into the enemy ranks this would be enough. He 
began the siege on April 6, 1453, with 160,000 men, among them 
12,000 Janissaries, and a fleet of 150 ships. The defenders were out- 
manned and outgunned. When the Emperor Constantine XI ordered 
a census of the males of military age in the city, he learned that 
there were only 4,973 men with military experience. Muhammad II 
had brought up a sledgehammer to squash a fly. 

The Byzantines defended themselves brilliantly and with honor 
under the dual command of the Emperor and Giovanni Giustiniani, 
who broke through the Turkish blockade with 700 well-equipped 
Genoese soldiers. Constantinople itself was so well-fortified that in 
spite of the vast disparity in numbers it is possible that it would have 
beaten back the Turkish attacks if there had not been treachery in 
high places. John Hunyadi, so long the terror of the Turks, sent a 
messenger to the Sultan with detailed instructions on how to breach 
the walls; a Serbian hermit had prophesied that there would be no 
peace in Christendom until the Greek Church and Santa Sophia were 
destroyed. There were turncoats among the condottieri paid to de- 
fend the city. The orders of the Emperor were often disobeyed. A 
handful of men fought off the massive Turkish attacks. On March 20, 
when the siege had already lasted a month and a half, four Genoese 
warships again broke the blockade, pushing their way through the en- 
tire Turkish fleet and entering the Golden Horn in full view of the 
Sultan, who raged like a maniac, summoned his admiral, had him 
spread-eagled on the ground and beat him unmercifully with a cane; 
and he would have had the man impaled if his generals had permitted 

While the Sultan roared like a madman, the Emperor Constantine 
went about his affairs quietly and impassively. He showed emotion 
only when he was begged to flee. He answered: "How can I leave 
the churches of our Lord, and His servants the clergy, and the throne, 
and my people?" He superintended every detail of the defense, re- 
fused all offers of surrender, and very nearly succeeded in making the 
Sultan raise the siege. The Turks stormed the walls under the protec- 
tion of huge wooden towers, from which they poured a murderous 
fire into the city, but Giustiniani succeeded in blowing up the towers 
with gunpowder. The Turks thereupon resorted to the use of mines, 
but a German engineer, Johann Grant, who constructed counter- 
mines, blew up the Turkish miners with gunpowder or smoked them 
out with stinkpots or drowned them by letting water in. There were 


battles in the mines fought with knife, ax and spear. A good deal of 
the battle for Constantinople was fought underground. 

Constantine had no illusions about being able to hold out. Every 
day the Sultan threw fresh troops against the walls until the defend- 
ers were weary beyond endurance. Without sleep, with little equip- 
ment, and with their food running out, they could hope only for a 
miracle or the intervention of a vast European army; and neither was 
forthcoming. The Sultan ordered 2,000 scaling ladders to be brought 
up. He held a review of his troops, inspected his fleet, ordered bon- 
fires to be lit, and behaved as though he was about to launch a vast 
expedition against a powerful enemy, at a time when the defenders of 
Constantinople numbered no more than three or four thousand men. 
On the night of May 28 the Emperor attended divine service for 
the last time in Santa Sophia, promising the defenders honor and 
glory in Heaven and a martyr's death on earth; then he went out to 
inspect the defenses. Toward midnight he observed from the ramparts 
that all the Turkish fires had suddenly been put out. It was a dark 
night, with patches of mist in the fields, and a few heavy drops of rain 
were falling. He knew the Turks were about to attack. The first mas- 
sive assault came at half past one in the morning, but was beaten 
back. But all night the attacks went on, wave upon wave without 
pause, and when dawn came the walls were already breached in 
places. At nine o'clock in the morning the Emperor galloped toward 
the Roman Gate, through which the Turks were pouring. He shouted: 
"God forbid I should live an Emperor without an empire! If my city 
falls, I shall fall with it!" A moment later he was cut down. 

For the rest of the morning the Turks ravished and murdered and 
desecrated to their hearts* content. Santa Sophia was crowded with 
refugees who hoped for asylum within its walls, but the Turkish sol- 
diers burst through the gates and plundered at will. At noon the 
Sultan entered by the Adrianople Gate and ordered an end to the 
massacres, and he killed with his own hand a drunken soldier who 
was attempting to break up the marble floor of Santa Sophia; for was 
not the church his own possession? He ordered the capture and ar- 
rest of the Byzantine officials who had taken part in the defense of 
the city, and offered a reward to the discoverer of the body of the 
dead Emperor. When at last the body of Constantine XI was found 
under a heap of dead near the Roman Gate he was recognized only 
by the double-headed eagles embroidered on his buskins Muhammad 
II ordered the head to be cut off and placed between the feet of the 


bronze horse which bore the bronze figure of Justinian. Such deeds of 
traditional piety continued throughout the early days of the occupa- 
tion, for the Sultan was perfectly aware how such actions would be 
interpreted. He dipped his hand in blood and left his imprint on one 
of the marble columns of Santa Sophia, as a sign of his perpetual 
ownership of the great cathedral, and afterward he ordered an imam 
to ascend the pulpit and proclaim that the church was dedicated to 
Allah, and he was heard to mutter the famous elegy of the Persian 
poet Firdausi: 

The spider's curtain hangs before the gate of Caesar's palace; 
And the owl stands sentinel on the towers of Afrasiab. 

But though the blood streamed, and Constantinople was reduced 
to desolation, the young Sultan was in a mood to enjoy his conquest 
to the last drop. There were small imperial massacres to be added at 
the appropriate moment to the general massacres. The Grand Duke 
Notaras, the highest surviving functionary of the Byzantine court, 
was executed together with his whole family; and the Sultan cele- 
brated the occasion by ordering the heads to be placed like oranges 
on his dining table. The Venetian and Spanish consuls, who had ac- 
tively assisted in the defense of the city, were also executed. 

The Sultan, however, could show mercy when it suited his pur- 
pose. Tolerant in religious matters, he had no intention of proscrib- 
ing Christianity. Having heard that the scholarly George Scholarios 
was universally respected by the Christians, he gave orders that a 
search should be made for the man, who was found in a small village 
near Adrianople, the slave of a Muhamadan merchant. Scholarios 
was ordered to appear in Constantinople. In the Church of the Holy 
Apostles he was at once invested with the rank of Patriarch in the 
presence of the Sultan and the assembled bishops, the ceremony fol- 
lowing the lines of the ceremony performed by the Byzantine em- 
perors. After the election Scholarios accepted an invitation to dine 
with the Sultan, who entertained him royally and presented him with 
a pastoral staff studded with diamonds, and conferred on him in 
token of his temporal dignity the rank of Beyler Bey, which meant 
that the Patriarch was henceforth preceded by a standard-bearer 
holding a pole from which three horsetails hung. The Sultan is 
supposed to have declared during the investiture; "The Holy Trinity, 
which has bestowed upon me the Empire, promoteth thee to be the 


Patriarch of the new Rome." It was a strange alteration in the Mu~ 
hamadan character of the monarch that he should display so great an 
interest in Christianity, but there were stranger things to come. 

Muhammad II claimed descent from the Comneni through John, 
the elder brother of Andronicus I, and he possessed the peculiar By- 
zantine flair for ruling with imperious irresponsibility. The conqueror 
was soon conquered. All that was perverse, otiose and evil in the 
Byzantine court was imitated by this weak Emperor, who laid down 
the traditions that were to continue during the surviving years of the 
Ottoman Empire. Yet with him the empire reached its greatest heights, 
and thereafter there was only the long road downhill. 

The attempt to conquer Europe went on unabated. In 1456 the 
Sultan marched against Belgrade with 150,000 men and 300 can- 
non, together with some 200 galleys which were rowed up the Dan- 
ube and moored outside the city walls. Muhammad boasted that he 
would reduce the city in fifteen days, but the Franciscan friar John 
Capistrano and the aging John Hunyadi were determined to put an 
end to the invasion. The Turkish fleet was destroyed. The friar led a 
thousand Crusaders against the Turkish batteries, captured them 
and turned the guns against the Turks, who fled. Muhammad fought 
with his troops, but could not stem the advance of the people of 
Belgrade. In the rout the Sultan was carried off by his attendants, and 
24,000 of his army were left dead on the battlefield. A few weeks 
later John Hunyadi died, leaving to his son Mathias Corvinus the 
task of keeping Islam at bay. 

Muhammad had been wounded in the battle for Belgrade, and was 
more than ever determined to inflict punishment on the Europeans. 
He sent armies into Greece, to put down the constant rebellions in 
the Peloponnese, and against Trebizond on the Black Sea coast, 
where the vast library of King David Comnenus was put to the 
flames. In a single year he engaged in wars against the Venetians, the 
Princes of Caramania and the Bosnians. Treacherous always, he prom- 
ised to "spare the head" of the Venetian governor of Euboea, when 
he attacked the island; and when the governor surrendered his head 
was untouched, but he was sawed in half. With such pastimes did the 
conqueror of Constantinople amuse himself. 

Merciless as he was, Muhammad II concentrated in his own person 
the entire intellectual range of his own period. As a poet who mod- 
eled his verses on the heroic odes of Persia, he was not to be despised; 
and he was aware of the intellectual renaissance in Italy, and anxious 


to borrow from it. He built magnificently, employing the Greek archi- 
tect Christodulos to design the great mosque, the Mehmediye, which 
bears his name, and he was responsible for the erection of nine other 
mosques. In the intervals of bouts of drunkenness and vanity he was 
capable of exercising intelligence and self-restraint. He was very 
short, and called "the Parrot" from his beaked nose, but he was 
every inch an Ottoman Sultan. It was characteristic of him that he 
should die while preparing a campaign against Egypt, in the midst 
of his soldiers, at the moment when he was about to give orders for 
the expedition to start. 

He was succeeded by a saint, a lunatic warrior, an epicurean and a 

The saint was Bayazid II, who followed in the gentle footsteps of 
Muhammad L With little taste for war, he concluded peace with 
Mathias Corvinus, withdrew his troops from Otranto in Italy, and 
maintained excellent relations with the Pope. A fat man who moved 
lethargically, he spent his years superintending the building of mosques. 
Toward the end of his reign civil war flared up, with the Janis- 
saries demanding his abdication in favor of his son Selim. The Sultan 
gracefully assented to the request and asked his son for permission 
to go into exile. Selim accompanied his father on foot to the gates of 
the capital, made a long speech praising his father's virtues and gave 
orders that he should be poisoned during the journey. Then he 
mounted the throne, and for eight years ruled as though he were an- 
other Timurlane. 

Selim I, "the Grim," rarely belied the title that was given to him, 
His instinct was to murder everyone who crossed his path. He 
strangled his brothers and nephews, carefully considered the advan- 
tages and disadvantages of strangling his own son, and beheaded 
his grand viziers so frequently that for centuries anyone wishing the 
death of another would say: "May you be as the Grand Vizier of 
Sultan Selim." He had thick black eyebrows, protruding eyes, a shaven 
chin and a look of placid imbecility; and he liked to wear a jeweled 
crown on his thick turban. 

Selim had hardly mounted the throne when he' decided to make 
war on Persia, then ruled by the young Shah Ismail, the founder of 
the Safavid dynasty, who claimed descent from Muhammad and the 
Sassanian King Yazdagird. Shah Ismail had the instincts of gentle- 
ness, and was in every way the opposite of Selim. "He is fair, hand- 
some and pleasing," said the Venetian Angiolello, who visited him. 


"He has a light and well-built appearance, his hair is reddish and he 
wears mustachios. He is as brave as a gamecock, and stronger than 
any of his lords." 

Selim and Ismail were well-matched, but the Turk had the advan- 
tage in fire power. Selim advanced on Baghdad, massacred the in- 
habitants, and went on to Tabriz, leading his army across the desert. 
Shah Ismail confronted the largest army of the time, composed of 
cavalry and artillery divisions and the famous Janissaries, on the 
plain of Chaldiran outside Tabriz on August 14, 1514. The Persians 
attacked on both flanks of the Turkish forces, hoping to win by sur- 
prise; but were beaten back. The Shah killed the commander of the 
Janissaries, but was himself seriously wounded and forced to leave 
the battlefield. A rout followed, with the Turks employing muskets 
for the first time in history. The Turkish victory was complete: so 
complete indeed that the Persians, recognizing their own weakness 
in the face of the foreign adversary, set their house in order and for 
the first time in centuries united behind their ruler. 

With Persia defeated, Sultan Selim advanced into Syria, defeated 
the Mamluks at Aleppo and carried the war into Egypt as a punish- 
ment for Mamluk incursions into Palestine and some small Mamluk 
assistance to the Persians. In Aleppo the captured Caliph was brought 
into the presence of the Sultan. Selim asked where he had come from. 
"From Baghdad," answered the Caliph. "Then I shall see that you re- 
turn to Baghdad," Selim said; and to the long list of his own titles 
"Sultan, Son of the Sultan, King of the Two Lands and the Two 
Seas, Destroyer of the Two Armies, Sultan of the Two Iraqs, Servant 
of the Two Holy Sanctuaries, Victorious King, Sultan Selim Shah" 
he added that of Caliph. 3 For the first time since the end of the Ab- 
basid empire the spiritual power of the Caliphate reposed in the 
hands of a terrestial Emperor. Like Muawiya, Selim assumed the 
Caliphate by right of conquest. 

Together with the Caliphate went the outward symbols of spiritual 
p 0wer Muhammad's signet ring, his cloak, his staff, and a host of 
minor objects which may or may not have come down from the 
ancient treasuries of the Umayyad Caliphs who scrupulously preserved 

3 There is some doubt about the date upon which Sultan Selim assumed 
the Caliphate. Sir Thomas Arnold in The Caliphate, Oxford, Clarendon 
Press, 1924, pp. 139-158, argues that the Sultan refused the honor, while 
bringing forward convincing evidence that he accepted it. Selim's official 
historian called him "Kalifah of God upon Earth." 


the relics of the Prophet. 4 By this time the famous two-pronged sword 
Dhu'l-Faqar seems to have vanished, and the most important relics 
were the signet ring and the mantle. The jeweler Ta vernier reported 
that the signet ring was kept in "a little Ebony box, about half a foot 
square, enchas'd with Crystal with a Bordure of Ivory," and every three 
months the ring was solemnly raised from the box and held in the 
smoke of incense rising from a blinding goblet of gold sparkling with 
diamonds and blue sapphires. When Tavernier asked about the nature 
of the ring, he was told that no one had ever been able to see it clearly, 
so thick was the smoke pouring around it; and though some letters 
were thought to be engraved on the ring, no one had ever been able to 
see them. 

Tavernier tells an equally strange story about the mantle, which 
was supposed to be the one given to Ka'b ibn Zuhayr for reciting 
his famous poem, the Qasida-i-Banat Su'ad. The mantle was kept in a 
chest in the same room as the signet ring: the chest was opened 
once a year by the Sultan. The mantle was of white mohair with 
large sleeves. Removed from the chest, the mantle was "placed in a 
golden caldron, soaked there, then wrung out hard, and the water 
from the caldron fills a great number of Venice-crystal bottles." 
On the next day the bottles were solemnly presented to the high 
officials of the empire, and the very highest were permitted to touch 
the mantle with their foreheads, while the Sultan himself, according 
to some reports, donned the mantle on the fifteenth day of Ramadan. 
Accounts of the mantle are confused. It has been described vari- 
ously as green, black, cream-colored, and striped. There seems to be 
little doubt that a mantle belonging to Muhammad survived into 
Abbasid times, but it is unlikely that it survived the nine hundred 
years which separated Muhammad from Selim the Grim. 

One other relic of doubtful authenticity is also said to have sur- 
vivedthe sacred standard. The original standard was the curtain over 
Ayesha's door, and appears to have been purchased by Muawiya from 
Ayesha and kept in a special enclosure within the Great Umayyad 

4 The relics still preserved in the Topkapee at Istanbul are said to in- 
clude a tooth of the Prophet, his clogs, his shirt, his prayer rug, his banner 
and the hilt of his sword, the turbans and swords of Hasan and Husayn, 
some water in which the Prophet had washed, the prayer rug of Abu 
Bakr, the Quran which Uthman was reading at the time of his assassina- 
tion, the sword of King David, Noah's cooking pot and Abraham's 


Mosque in Damascus. This, too, fell into the hands of the conquering 
Abbasids. When the Turks acquired the sacred standard, they re- 
garded it with a special veneration, exhibiting it only at moments 
of national crisis. It accompanied the armies to Hungary in a special 
tent with a guard of a thousand Janissaries; it was unfurled again 
when the Sultan Mahmud II ordered the massacre of 100,000 Janis- 
saries on June 10, 1826; and was seen briefly for the last time in 
1915 when the Ottoman empire declared a jihad against the West. 

Selim's brief reignhe ruled for only eight years was characterized 
by the crudest violence: a long series of causeless murders and massa- 
cres. At the same time there arose a mysterious flowering of the arts; 
and while the looms of Shah Ismail were producing the most mag- 
nificent carpets that the world has ever seen, the Sultan's architect 
Sinan built the most magnificent mosques. Of Sinan almost nothing 
Is known. We do not know whether he was Greek, or Albanian, or 
Armenian. This mysterious personage appears to have been at one 
time a Janissary, and later a military engineer. Between his fiftieth 
and ninetieth year he built more than a hundred mosques in different 
parts of Turkey, and the greatest of them is the Mosque of Sultan 
Selini in Damascus with its quiet enclosures and brooding peace among 
the cypresses. The ferocious Sultan died on his way to Adrianople, 
close to the place where his father had been poisoned by his orders, 
and was buried in the Mosque of Sultan Selim near the Edirne Gate 
in Constantinople. He lies among translucent tiles of springlike greens 
and yellows. A Turkish inscription over his tomb compares his reign 
to "the afternoon sun which, though it casteth long shadows, is but 

The reign of his son, Sulayman I, the Magnificent, lasted forty- 
six years. He was the last of the great Sultans, the tenth of the House 
of Osman, called to rule at the dawn of the tenth century of Islam; 
and throughout his long reign he showed by every gesture that he 
enjoyed himself. He had Muawiya's gift of finding prolonged pleasure 
in the art of government. He enjoyed the pleasures of the table, of 
the harem, of the hunt. He liked to compose poetry, and he liked to 
pore over books of mathematics. He especially liked war. 

It was the custom of the Sultans to embark on great military cam- 
paigns shortly after reaching the throne; Sulayman was no excep- 
tion. He decided to conquer the island of Rhodes, which under 
Pierre d'Aubusson had successfully resisted the fleet and army of 
Muhammad II in 1480. He aimed to destroy the power of the 


Knights of St. John, who were openly aiding the Christian corsairs 
raiding the coasts of Asia Minor. The siege of Rhodes, which began 
in June, 1522, continued for more than six months. Under the 
Knights the huge fortifications of Rhodes had been designed for just 
such an emergency, with the result that the siege became an endurance 
contest, and the Turks were never able to penetrate far beyond the 
huge outer walls and glacis. The Grand Master of the Knights, Philip 
de Villiers de lisle-Adam, proved himself a cautious and willing de- 
fender, but when winter came, with food and ammunition running 
out, he was forced to accept an honorable surrender; and the Knights 
marched out of Rhodes to the amazement of the Sultan, in good 
order, with their flags flying. 

In 1526, Sulayman resumed the war against the Hungarians, who 
had hitherto prevented the Turks from driving into the heartland of 
Europe. He set out at the head of a quarter of a million men, and 
at the battle of Mohacs on August 29, 1526, the Hungarians were 
finally routed. The twenty-year-old King of the Hungarians was 
killed, a hundred thousand Christians were taken into captivity and 
the treasures of the palace of Mathias Corvinus went to decorate the 
Seraglio in Constantinople. The floodgates were opened; and there 
was nothing now to prevent the Turks from invading Europe in 

Three years later Sulayman marched on Vienna, fixing his head- 
quarters near the village of Simmering. From the top of St. Stephen's 
Tower the white tents of the Turkish army resembled a white sea 
stretching for miles, and the Danube was crowded with Turkish 
ships. The defenders could command no more than 20,000 infantry- 
men and perhaps 2,000 cavalry; they had altogether 76 small can- 
non against the 300 powerful guns of the enemy. The Viennese, 
however, were determined to resist. Men and women constructed earth- 
works behind the walls. After three weeks of fruitless assaults Sulay- 
man decided to raise the siege, and returned to Constantinople. He 
possessed Hungary; Austria could wait 

The typical pattern of Turkish conquest had long since been worked 
out: an invasion of the West would be followed by an invasion of 
the East, and then of the South. Sulayman hurled his armies at the 
Persians, hoping by a show of force to bring about the surrender 
of Shah Tamasp. The Persians simply withdrew. It was November, 
and the rain falling in the passes was freezing into ice, Sulayman 
led his armies through the defiles of the Zagros Mountains, Swollen 


streams swept part o his artillery away. Gun carriages had to be 
burned to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy. 
Cannon were spiked and buried underground. In despair of overtak- 
ing the Persians, Sulayman ordered his army to turn west, and when 
the hills of Luristan fell away and the plains of Mesopotamia lay 
before him, he sighed with relief. He had been defeated, not by the 
Persian army, but by the misery of a Persian winter. The rains were 
his perpetual enemy: it was the rain falling on the plains of Vienna 
which had forced him to raise the siege. 

Once again in 1532 Sulayman marched into Austria, sending his 
fleet up the Danube as far as Pressburg, and devastating the province 
of Styria. But the western powers were beginning to strike back. 
Admiral Andrea Doria led his fleet against Greece, capturing Patras 
and Nauplia. Malta held out against a Turkish fleet. The Hungarians, 
subdued so often, rose in revolt, and once again Sulayman had to 
lead an expedition against them; and Buda, sacked twice before in 
living memory, was sacked a third time. And while Barbarossa plun- 
dered the Neapolitan coast, Italian pirates raided the Greek islands 
and advanced close to Constantinople. 

It was a time of strange alliances: Sulayman at war with all Europe, 
the Europeans at war among themselves. Charles V, Emperor of 
Austria, Spain, the Netherlands and great parts of Italy, fought against 
Frangois I; and so it happened on one occasion that a combined 
Ottoman and French fleet attacked the Italian coastal town of Nice. 
The celebrated Turkish corsair Torghut (Dragout) found shelter in 
the harbor of Marseilles after his raiding expeditions, until the French 
grew weary of his habit of sending raiding parties into France. Over 
all Europe there hung the threat of a Turkish victory which would 
bring the power of the Ottoman Sultan beyond the Brenner Pass. 
Yet strangely there was no concerted plan to rid Europe of the 
Turks: the main burden rested upon the indomitable Hungarians. 
The days had long since passed when John Hunyadi could lead a cru- 
sade composed of armies from five nations against a common enemy. 

Sulayman continued to hammer against Europe to his last breath. 
He died at the age of seventy-four, in the town of Szigetvar in 
Hungary, having only the previous day mined its fortress and seen 
the defenders blown sky-high. He had reigned for forty-six years, 
and the Turks could not bring themselves to believe he was dead. 
For more than seven weeks, while his armies made their way slowly 
back to Constantinople, it was rumored that the man who was swathed 


in linen garments and carried in a litter was suffering from fever 
and the fatigues of the journey. In fact he had died before the 
army set out on its homeward march, and all the orders given in 
his name were forgeries. There is a sense in which all the Sultans 
who followed him were dead men sitting on thrones: drunkards and 
murderers, perverts, fear-ridden maniacs, who spent the greater part 
of their lives in the dubious security of their seraglios. 

No one like Sulayman came after him. Henceforward the tortuous 
history of the Ottoman Empire moves faltering to its decline. Islam, 
imposed upon eastern Europe, failed to dig deep roots. Turkish 
armies conquered the plains of Hungary and their fleets dominated 
the eastern Mediterranean, but from the beginning the Turks on Euro- 
pean soil gave the impression of being interlopers. They were free- 
booters, and those massive armies composed of hundreds of thou- 
sands of men were no more than raiding parties. They brought no 
new ideas; even their faith was weak. They were not a united people 
moved by the passionate desire to conquer for the sake of saving 
souls. They were not even a nation, but a host of peoples, an imperial 
family, and a system. The Sultan's subjects belonged to many diverse 
races, and his invincible Janissaries were all originally Christians, and 
most of his sea captains were renegades from the Christian faith. 
His military advisers, technicians, financiers, merchants were Chris- 
tians or Jews. Muhammad Sokolli, his Grand Vizier, the father of 
another Grand Vizier, was descended from a Christian slave. The 
Sultan, descended from the Comneni, cared for neither Christianity 
nor Islam: all he desired was the enjoyment of the chase in its most 
elementary form the military expedition. 

The Turks brought no new wealth to Europe; and as they failed 
to impose their religion on the conquered races, so they failed to 
impose a workable social system on the conquered territories. In the 
end the Europeans, who had failed to unite against a merciless enemy, 
observed with horror the decay of the Turkish empire; and then 
for the first time they united in support of the tyrant who had become 
"the sick man of Europe." 

While the sun was setting over the Ottoman empire, it rose again 
over Persia. The fearful Shah Tamasp was succeeded by Shah Abbas 
the Great, whose handsome clear-cut features have been preserved 
in a hundred miniatures. Sir Anthony Sherley, who equipped his 
army with cannon, described him as "excellently well-shaped, of a 
most well-proportioned stature, strong and active; his colour some- 


what inclined to a man-like blacknesse, is also more blacke by the 
Smrnes burning; his furniture of mind infinitely royal, wise, valiant, 
liberall, temperate, merciful, and an exceeding lover of Justice, em- 
bracing royally other virtues, as farre from pride and vanitie as from 
all unprincely signs or acts." 

In 1598 Shah Abbas moved his capital to Isfahan, and at once 
set about making it worthy of a man who claimed descent both 
from Muhammad and from the Sassanian emperors. During his reign 
Isfahan was at the height of its prestige and importance, and it 
was larger than Paris. It was said to have 600,000 people, 162 
mosques, 48 religious colleges, 1,802 caravanserais, and 273 pub- 
lic baths. It was so magnificent that the Persians coined the saying 
"Isfahan is half the world" Isfahan msf-i~jahan. Though much of the 
glory has departed, enough remains to take the breath away. 

No one ever constructed a more splendid paradeground than the 
maidan-i-shah in Isfahan, with its royal palace on one side facing 
the delicate blue mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah, while between them 
there stands the most beautiful of all Persian mosques, known simply 
as the Masjid-i-shah, the mosque of the Shah. Here at last the Persian 
imagination came to terms with Islam. Dignity and grace, gentleness 
and tranquillity are all reflected in this building which glows in blue 
magnificence: to the Persians alone was given the gift of depicting 
magnificence in a state of peace. There is no reaching out, no strain, 
no sense of pride. All that the Umayyad Caliphs accomplished in 
building the Dome of the Rock is repeated here, but with the addi- 
tion of a new and unexpected element of towering glory. To come 
upon the Mosque of the Shah on a cloudless summer day is to know 
Paradise. Here, unequivocally, in a building which gives the impres- 
sion of having risen effortlessly at the bidding of a magician, a 
Persian Emperor stated the utmost limits of the Persian dream. 

There is no end to the treasures around the parade-ground. The 
royal palace, known as Ali Qapu, combines delicacy and strength in 
exquisite proportions. Above the heavy brick archway, slender wooden 
columns arise, forming a kind of roof patio, but the columns are so 
wonderfully shaped and so intimately related to the surrounding 
minarets of the mosques that everything about the palace appears 
inevitable and at the same time it seems about to float away into 
thin air. On the patio the Emperor held audiences, and from the bal- 
cony looked down on the games and processions and markets below. 
Here, sitting cross-legged on a low-lying couch of gold, he received 


ambassadors and administered his empire. Here the dancing girls 
danced at night with oil-lamps in their hands., the harpists played, and 
the wine flowed freely. Thomas Herbert speaks of "the Gammed 
boys in vests of cloth of gold, rich spangled Turbants, and em- 
broidered sandals, curled hair dangling over their shoulders, with 
rolling eyes and vermilion cheeks, carrying in their hands flagons 
of best Metal; and they went up and down, prof erring the delight of 
Bacchus to such as were disposed to take it." 

The AH Qapu is full of small rooms and alcoves, bright with 
tiles and painted hunting scenes and lovers wandering in haunted 
gardens. There is hardly a square inch on the walls which does not 
suggest a vision of Pardise. But it is important to observe that the 
palace was not given over to the utmost license : it is no more than a 
toy for the occasional amusement of a deeply religious Emperor. The 
Mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah, facing the palace, gleams with the color 
of blue grapes when the sun's shadow falls on them, but the calm 
austerity of the interior speaks of an assured faith. In the dome 
chamber, the words of the Quran decorate the walls in characters which 
gleam and tremble like spring leaves when the wind touches 
them; but the decoration is deliberately designed to lead the onlooker 
into contemplation of the peace of God. Shah Abbas built superbly, 
but his faith was far removed from the puritanical faith of Muham- 
nad. Persia transformed Islam, and in the process of transformation 
was herself transformed. The word "Paradise'* is a Persian word, 
and the entire history of Persian art during the time of Shah Abbas 
is a commentary on the possibilities of Paradise on earth. 

So it is with the Persian carpets fashioned on the imperial looms 
during the reigns of the early Safavid emperors. These carpets are 
nearly always deliberate portraits of Paradise, with running streams 
and singing birds and shady trees, always stylized and deliberately 
removed from the world of the senses to a mysterious other world, 
where there is no passing of time and no sun ever sets. The same 
resourcefulness which permitted the Persian artist to fill the interior 
of a mosque with a delicate arabesque of abstract designs permitted 
him to design carpets filled to overflowing with symbols representing 
the glory of God leaves, flowers, animals, trees, all caught in the 
timeless wind of God. The great Ardebil carpet, which hangs in 
the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, paints a garden in spring- 
time with huge sprays of blossom lit by the great yellow sun in the 
center, which symbolizes the majesty of God. The sun is flanked 


by two delicately fashioned mosque lamps, and in a corner of the 
carpet are the words: 

I have no refuge in the world other than Thy threshold, 
My head has no protection other than Thy porchway. 

A deep religious feeling swept over Persia during the time o the 
Safavid emperors: it was as though once again the Persians were 
enjoying the religious dominance they exercised during the early years 
of the Abbasid dynasty. Outside the Mosque of the Shah in Isfa- 
han there used to hang, on ceremonial occasions, the bloodstained 
shirt reputed to have been worn by the martyred Husayn, grandson 
of the Prophet, and within the mosque was the Quran supposed to 
have been written by the hand of the sainted Imam Rida, whose 
shrine was at Mashad. Shah Abbas did not think it beneath his 
dignity to walk the entire distance of 800 miles from Isfahan to 
Mashad to light candles for Imam Rida in the sacred courts, and he 
deposited the great bow, which had helped him win his victories, in 
the same mosque. He swept out the tomb of his ancestor AH at Najaf. 
He surrounded himself with philosophers and poets, and talked learn- 
edly about religion. When he died at a ripe age, the Persians re- 
membered him with the saying: "When the great Prince died, all 
prosperity died with him." 

With the death of Shah Abbas in 1629, Persia went into a de- 
cline. The arts still flourished, but the life had gone out of them. 
A new dynasty arose, led by a tribal chieftain, Nadir Quli, born 
in Mashad, and for a few brief years it seemed that the days of 
imperial glory had returned. The armies of Nadir Shah raged 
across Afghanistan and India, and once again Delhi was sacked and 
robbed of its treasures, including the famous Peacock Throne, re- 
moved to decorate a Persian palace. But by this time the great days 
of the Mughal emperors were over, and the British were already pre- 
paring to inherit the crown of Hindustan. 

For century after century Islamic warriors had swept into India. 
Shortly after the death of Muhammad, traders from Arabia reached 
the Makran coast and sent raiding parties against the army of the 
Hindu ruler of Sind. These trials of strength were inconclusive. More 
massive raids came later, usually from the north and through the 
Khyber Pass. The first invasion of magnitude came when Mahmud 


o Ghazni, after conquering Rayy, Hamadan and Isfahan, swept 
through northern India and captured Muttra, the birthplace of Krish- 
na, and bore away the great gates of Somnath to decorate his capital 
in the Afghanistan highlands. He hated the Hindus, and massacred 
them at his leisure. A slight man with slanting eyes and a scant 
beard, which betrayed his Turcoman ancestry, he ruled for a brief 
space over an empire which included Persia, Afghanistan and north- 
ern India, but died too soon to consolidate his gains. A second 
and more successful invasion occurred in 1193, when Muhammad 
Ghuri defeated Prithviraj, King of Delhi, at the battle of Tarain. 
Prithviraj was captured and put to death; his queen, accompanied 
by her handmaidens, mounted the funeral pyre. It was a battle to be 
remembered ever afterward in the annals of the Hindus, who had 
never been defeated so decisively. For mile upon empty mile the battle- 
field was strewn with discarded banners, spears and shields, plumed 
casques and jeweled swords, exquisitely molded and damascened 
gauntlets, and gaily colored scarves. The flower of Hindustan had 
fallen, and the Moslems were henceforward in the ascendant. 

Muhammad Ghuri consolidated his Indian empire by destroying 
everything in his path. Benares fell in 1194, Bihar fell four years 
later, and the last flicker of Indian Buddhism expired when he de- 
stroyed the great university of Nalanda. The Rajputs did not lack 
valor, but they were untrained in fighting massive wars of maneuver. 
By 1203 all of upper India lay in the hands of the conqueror, who 
died like so many conquerors before him by an assassin's knife. 

With the Rajputs in perpetual revolt, the Sultans of Delhi ruled 
complaisantly over their Indian empire, rarely attempting to extend 
their hold over the subcontinent. For some ninety years there was 
peace interrupted only by minor skirmishes. Then in 1294, with 
some 8,000 dedicated followers, Ala-ad-Din Khilji, the nephew of 
the reigning Sultan, set off on a private expedition to the Deccan 
far to the south, conquered Deogiri, which he renamed Daulata- 
bad," "the place of victory, 55 and returned to Delhi in triumph, his 
first act being to cut off the head of his seventy-year-old uncle, the 
Sultan. Ala-ad-Din, who never learned to read or write, became the 
undisputed master of northern India and the first to send armies into 
the Tamil and Telinga countries in the south. He conquered Guzerat, 
routed a Mongolian invasion by trampling the Mongols under the 
feet of his elephants, and died in 1316 when about to embark on 
the conquest of the whole of India. 


Ala-ad-Din was the first of the great Muhamadan emperors of In- 
dia to show a peculiar intolerance of Islam. He married a Hindu 
princess, and seems to have been secretly converted for a while to 
Hinduism, which he abandoned only to preside over a new religion, 
of which he was the founder. He regarded himself as a prophet, 
and drew up a long list of religous ordinances. Like Hakim, the ruler 
of Fatimid Egypt, he demonstrated a ruthless intolerance by pro- 
scribing the majority of human joys. His new religion was harshly 
puritanical. He forbade all visiting, feasting and meetings of any 
kinds, and punished anyone found drinking wine or beer, or playing 
with dice. He especially frowned on dancing. 

India was no better served by his successor, Muhammad ibn Tugh- 
lak, who was civilized, learned, well-versed in Arabic and Persian 
literature, but suffered from the defect of believing that he was a 
god. On a whim he debased the currency, with the result that the 
entire merchant class was ruined. On another whim he sent off an 
expedition to conquer China the entire expeditionary army was an- 
nihilated in the Himalayan passes. A more dangerous whim occurred 
when he discovered that the people of Delhi were writing scurrilous 
verses on the walls against his government: he decided to abandon 
Delhi and to remove all its inhabitants to Daulatabad 600 miles to 
the south. Accordingly, the population was given three days to 
move out of the city, and when the capital was completely evacuated, 
and no fire or smoke could be seen, he was heard to say: "Now my 
soul is content, and my heart at peace." Ibn Battuta, the great 
traveler, who stayed at his court for five years, described him as a 
pure sadist. "He delights most," he wrote, "in giving presents and 
shedding blood. At his door there is always some pauper on his way 
to wealth and some corpse which has just been executed." 

The rule of the intolerable Muhammad ibn Tughlak was followed 
by the reign of his cousin Firoz Shah (1351-1388), who for nearly 
forty years administered the conquered territories of India with justice 
and gentleness. He dug a series of great canals and surrounded Delhi 
with gardens; and when he died at the age of seventy-nine, they said 
of him, as the Persians said of Shah Abbas, that "prosperity ended with 
him." After the gentle Firoz Khan came Timurlane: instead of the 
saint came the savage, and all of northern India trembled at his coming. 

There were moments when Timurlane saw himself as a Muhamadan 
prince. He declared that he had two objects in mind when he attacked 
Hindustan. "My aim," he wrote, "is to make war upon the infidels, 


who are the enemies of the Muhamadan religion, and by waging 
religious war I hope to achieve some merit in the life to come." His 
second aim was simpler: "I believe plunder in war to be lawful as 
mothers' milk to Muhamadans fighting for their faith." In the autumn 
of 1398 he crossed the Indus with 90,000 cavalry, plundered un- 
mercifully, massacred to his heart's content, and might have gone on to 
destroy the whole subcontinent if it had not occurred to him that 
there were richer fields in the west. He called off the invasion of India 
and swept into Syria. 

He was the fourth of the great Muhamadan invaders. The fifth 
was an obscure Jaghatai Turcoman named Zahir-ud-din Muhammad, 
who employed the nom de guerre of Babur, meaning "tiger." He was 
a distant descendant of Timurlane, and the chieftain of a small tribe 
near Ferghana. At the age of twenty-two, with 250 of his follow- 
ers, most of them armed only with clubs, he attacked and captured 
the important city of Kabul. Then he determined upon the conquest 
of India. He wrote in his famous diary: "On Friday, the first of Safar 
932 [November 7, 1525], when the sun was in Sagittarius, I set out on 
my march into Hindustan." 

The conquest of India took him only a little more than a year, 
for on February n, 1527, the Rajputs under Rana Sanga were 
decisively defeated. For the remaining three years of his life Babur 
consolidated his empire and demonstrated a remarkable taste for 
painting, continued to write a diary which from the beginning had 
shown an exquisite sensitivity to nature, and cultivated scholars. From 
him descended the great Mughal dynasty of India, which did not 
end completely until the Mutiny of 1857. 

Babur represented an attitude of mind which was perpetuated 
throughout his dynasty: a harsh warrior, he was also a just adminis- 
trator and dedicated aesthete. He possessed a Persian sense of color 
and a Persian delight in life, and his Muhamadanism was only 
skin-deep. Akbar, his grandson, who called himself on his gold coins 
"the great Sultan, the exalted Caliph," was even less inclined to in- 
sist upon the overwhelming supremacy of Islam, and studied Brah- 
manism from learned Hindu priests, gave close and admiring atten- 
tion to the arguments o Roman Catholics and acquired a special 
sympathy for the sun worship of the Parsis, those modern descend- 
ants of Zoroastrians. He was a heavy man, broad-shouldered, with 
very bright eyes, and was bandy-legged from much riding; he looked 
like a general. But his overriding passion was the pursuit of the 


truth, wherever it could be found. Married to a Rajput princess, he 
refused to regard Hinduism as the belief of a deluded people and 
he detested the rancor of the orthodox believers as they disputed 
among themselves. It was a time of intense intellectual striving. A 
contemporary of Elizabeth of England, Shah Abbas of Persia and 
Henry IV of France, Akbar saw himself as the destined leader of a 
religious movement which would somehow embrace a synthesis of all 
existing religions. 

As always, India was conquering her conquerors. Throughout the 
history of Muhamadan rule in India, there had been a peculiar 
slackening of the Islamic fiber, for the Indian imagination, bred 
among mountains and tropical valleys, did not take easily to the 
stern commands of an Arab teacher, who spoke of the One God, 
when they demanded an infinitude of gods; who spoke of God as the 
masculine principle, when they saw their greatest gods always as 
Mothers; and who insisted that death led to a final paradise, when 
they believed in endless cycles of rebirth. The Aryan invaders had 
failed to impose their religion on India. Buddha, too, arising from 
the foothills of the Himalayas, had failed to impose his beliefs on 
more than a scattering of Hindus. So the Muhamadans remained in 
India as strangers to the Hindus, and the great poet Kabir, who 
wrote: "God is one whether we worship him as Allah or as 
Rama," remained to the end of his days essentially a Hindu. The 
story is told that when he died, his Muharnadan and Hindu disciples 
were discussing where to bury him when they lifted his shroud and 
discovered only rose petals. 

On one level only could there be a marriage between Muhamadan- 
ism and Hinduism. The mysterious rose petals which descend from 
Heaven on all mystics, whether Christian, Muhamadan or Hindu, 
suggested that there was a realm where the quarrels of the faithful 
could be laid at rest. A strange paasion united the mystics of all 
lands. They spoke, and still speak, a common language. Here, for 
example, is Kabir speaking in a language which would have been im- 
mediately understood by al-Hallaj, Jalalu'1-Din Rumi or Ibn Arabi: 

/ hear the melody of His flute, and I cannot contain myself. 
The flower blooms, though it is not spring; and already the bee 

has received the invitation. 
The sky roars and the lightning flashes; the waves rise in my 



The rain jails, and my heart longs for my Lord. 

Where the rhythm of the world rises and jails thither my heart 

has reached: 
There the hidden banners are fluttering in the air! 5 

In this spirit of lucid mysticism Akbar pronounced his own faith 
to be "the search for the divine in all things," and to the end of his 
days surrounded himself with Sufis and Hindu sunyasis. 

So it was with his successors Jehangir and Shah Jehan, who retained 
the outward forms of Muhamadanism while filling them with the 
sense of the sanctity indwelling in all things; and these emperors, 
who were also mystics, saw no reason to despise the world, but 
instead created monuments to the divine spirit wherever they trav- 
eled. Their palaces were temples. No one who has traveled through 
Delhi, Agra and Lahore can fail to perceive that these superbly 
decorated palaces of the Mughal emperors are attempts to portray 
Paradise, as the Taj Mahal is an attempt to portray a moment of illu- 

The saintly Shah Jehan had hoped his eldest son, Muhammad 
Dara Shikoh, would inherit the throne. Prince Dara grew up to be 
one of those rare creatures gifted with all the talents. A superb 
soldier and excellent administrator, he devoted his days to the earthly 
empire and his nights to the heavenly kingdoms. He practiced aus- 
terities, read widely, translated the Bhagavad Gita and fifty chapters 
of the Upanishads into Persian, and was constantly visiting the 
shrines of the Muhamadan saints in the company of his father. He 
was twenty-four when an angel cried out to him in a dream that he 
would receive from God a reward which had not been bestowed on 
any previous prince, and a year later he was introduced by a famous 
mystic, Miyan Mir, into an order of Sufis which claimed to have 
direct correspondence with God through visions. The Prince had 
reached the height of his ambitions. But he did not retire from the 
world. He continued in his offices, and in the intervals of wars and 
journeys through the empire he read the whole of the Old and New 
Testaments and became the devoted commentator of Ibn Arabi's 
Fusus al-HiJ^am. Continually smiling, splendidly handsome, he seemed 
to pass through life like someone graced with angelic qualities. He 
said once that he had succeeded in spending his nights "in the calm 

5 One Hundred Poems by Kabir, tr. Rabindranath Tagore, London* 
Macmillan and Co., 1926, p. 71. 


o two breaths, one breath to ascend to God and one to return." At 
the age of forty-two he wrote his most famous work. The Mingling 
of the Two Oceans, in which he attempted a synthesis of Muham- 
adanism and Hinduism. Here is Dara speaking on the nature of the 
heavenly light: 

This light is of three kinds, for when it is seen with the attri- 
bute of Majesty, then it is sun-colored, ruby-colored, or fire- 
colored; and when it is seen with the attribute of Beauty, it is 
moon-colored, pearl-colored, or water-colored; but when it is 
seen as the Light of the Essence, then it is devoid of all these 
attributes, and is visible only to the eyes of the holy men in 
whose favor God (the Most High and Holy) has declared; 
"Allah guides to His light whom He pleases." 

This is a light which appears to a man in sleep or with his eyes 
closed, who neither sees with his eyes nor hears with his ears nor 
speaks with his tongue nor smells with his nose nor feels with his 
sense of touch, but performs all these functions in sleep with 
only ont faculty and does not require the aid of his limbs, nor 
the use of his faculties, nor the light of a lamp; and the senses 
of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch become one sense such 
is the Light of the Essence, which is the Light of God. 6 

In his determination to bring about a synthesis between Muham- 
adanism and Hinduism, Dara was forced to rely heavily on the 
hadlths. When he came to discuss \arma and the endless cycles of 
existence, he remembered a hadith tranditionally connected with 
Muhammad's Night of Ascent It appears that the Prophet saw an 
endless line of camels passing before him, and each camel had two 
saddlebags, and in each of them there was an entire world. Muham- 
mad asked Gabriel the meaning of the procession of camels. "O 
Prophet of God," replied Gabriel, "since my creation I have been 
witnessing this line of camels with their saddlebags, and I also am 
unaware of their significance." On this note, believing that he had 
discovered a correspondence between karma and Muhamadan belief, 
he brings his work to an end, signing it, as he signed all his works: 
'"the unafflicted and unsorrowing iatyr, Muhammad Dara Shikoh." 

6 Prince Muhammad Dara Shikoh, The Mingling of the Two Oceans, 
tr. M. Mahfuz-ul-Haq, Calcutta, The Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1929, 
pp. 48-49. 


He was not left unsorrowing for long. In the war of succession 
which followed his younger brother Aurangzeb's rise to power, Dara 
was arrested, brought before the court of the ulamas and sentenced 
to death for heresy. With his death and the passing of Shah Jehan 
the Mughal dynasty went into its decline. 

For two more centuries Mughal emperors sat on their thrones in 
Delhi. When the Mutiny of 1857 broke out, the mutineers swore 
allegiance at Patna to Bahadur Shah II, the last of the Mughal em- 
perors. The rebels unfurled the green flag of the Prophet and pro- 
claimed a jihad 9 led by Mughal princes, against the British. But the 
old order had already perished, and with the victory of the British 
over the rebels there died the last hope of establishing Moslem 
sovereignty over India. 

While it lasted, the Mughal empire had shown a way by which 
Muhamadanism might have been placed at the service of all the 
people of India. Especially under the early rulers Islam had demon- 
strated a brilliant tolerance. Beauty and majesty had been the con- 
cern of those emperors who consorted with saints and lived more 
splendidly than the Caliphs of Baghdad. In the end they failed, be- 
cause the strength of Islam lay in its uncompromising logic. As al- 
ways, strength came from the savage puritans, not from the mystics 
who saw the fullness of the earth as a foretaste of Paradise. 

The Awakening 


more Islam was slowly dying. All through 
the Middle East the springs were drying up. The muezzins still cried 
from the minarets that Muhammad was the Prophet of the One God, 
but Islam itself seemed to have lost its savor. There was no art, no 
religious feeling, only the interminable and empty recitation of the 
Quran. The great thinkers of the past were no longer read, their 
books gathering dust in the libraries. The greatest Islamic power was 
Turkey, which maintained a remote suzerainty over Egypt, Arabia 
and Iraq, but the Ottoman Turks had failed to fertilize the Arab 
genius. The sun had gone down, and there seemed no hope of a 

The shock which revived Islam came from an unexpected quarter 
from the armies of Napoleon. On July i, 1798, the people o Alexan- 
dria saw 300 ships standing out to sea, preparing to invade Egypt 
and cut the British lifeline to India. Napoleon had no illusions about 
the nature of his task. The whole of the East lay before him, and he 
was already drawing up plans for marching on Mecca, Delhi and 
even Peking. 

Napoleon arrived in Egypt with a staff of expert geographers, 
surveyors, architects and archaeologists. To the Egyptians he pro- 
claimed that he was a Muhamadan. "There is only one God," he 
declared, "and He is the God of victory." He destroyed the Mamluks 
within sight of the Pyramids, to discover that Nelson had destroyed 
his fleet at the Battle of the Nile: only two men of war and two 
frigates escaped to France. He had an army, no ships, an invincible 
faith in his destiny; and when the Ottoman Sultan Selim III sent a 
small army to wrest Egypt from the conqueror, Napoleon had no 
difficulty driving the Turks into the sea. Among the Turkish troops 
sent to Egypt was an obscure pockmarked Albanian, the son of a 
tobacco merchant, a small, illiterate, brutal officer with a bulging 
forehead and quick bright eyes. He called himself Muhammad AH, 



and he was to become the greatest ruler of Egypt since the time o 
Baybars. Napoleon had awakened the sleeping lion; Muhammad All 
set it on the path o conquest. 

He was born in Kavalla, a small town in Macedonia, about the 
year 1769. His father died when he was young, and he entered the 
service of the local governor as a ruthless tax collector. On one oc- 
casion, when some villagers revolted against paying taxes, he invited 
them into a mosque, closed the doors, suggested that they should pay 
their taxes on the spot, and when they refused he beckoned to some 
cutthroats he had previously hidden in the mosque and had the vil- 
lagers trussed up and carried off to the governor's palace. It was a 
trick he was to use many times in the future: the gentle invitation 
followed by swift threats, and these in turn followed by the appear- 
ance of his private army of cutthroats. The governor was pleased, 
married him to a rich niece, gave him a post in the local militia, and 
advised Constantinople about his abilities. When Napoleon invaded 
Egypt, Muhammad Ali was given command of a troop of irregulars, 
and served so conspicuously that he was raised to the rank of colonel. 
He fought again with the Turkish irregulars who served under Aber- 
crombie, and when the French were finally evacuated from Egypt, he 
was an obscure officer on the staff of the Turkish governor of Egypt, 
Khosrev Pasha, who was recalled in 1803. Muhammad Ali saw his 
opportunity. With a regiment of highly disciplined Albanian guards 
under his command, he held the balance of power in the struggle 
between the Turks and the Mamluks, siding now with one, now with 
the other, and playing his hand so well that by 1805 he was the un- 
disputed master of the country. In the following year the Sultan 
bowed to the inevitable and raised him to the rank of viceroy. 

There remained the Mamluk officers, who had ruled Egypt as their 
private preserve for centuries and were seething with discontent 
against the obscure Albanian, who modeled himself on Napoleon 
and introduced French officers into his army. Muhammad Ali was in 
no hurry to destroy the Mamluks. He waited until 1811 before put- 
ting into effect a long-prepared plan for annihilating them. On March 
ii he invited the Mamluk officers to a reception at the citadel in 
honor of the approaching campaign against the Wahhabis, a puritani- 
cal sect in Arabia which had proclaimed its independence of the 
Sublime Porte. The officers came in their most brilliant uniforms. 
There were speeches; immense supplies 'of food were served; and 
Muhammad Ali behaved like a discreet, generous and convivial host. 


But when the reception came to an end and the officers were riding 
down the avenue cut in the solid rock which leads away from the 
citadel, Albanian guards mounted on the walls opened fire with 
cannon and musket shot. It was a massacre. None escaped; and the 
bodies of nearly five hundred officers with their dead horses were left 
for some days beneath the high walls, and the people of Cairo were 
allowed to witness the fate of the Mamluks, who had ruled Egypt 
for nearly seven centuries. The heads of the principal officers were 
carefully embalmed and sent to the Sultan in Constantinople. 

Muhammad Ali had shown himself capable of treachery, but this 
was the least of his vices. He was avaricious, sensual, mean, and 
incompetent to rule except by the sword. He introduced a permanent 
reign of terror into Egypt, while showing to the West only the 
affable side of his character; and foreigners flocked to Egypt, as later 
they were to flock to the Soviet Union, to see a primitive country 
being modernized by decree. He imported education, architecture and 
military sciences from the West, built canals, established schools and 
public works, created a civil service, fostered native industries, and 
behaved in his dealings with his French advisers like an enlightened 
monarch. Cairo and Alexandria became modern cities. The price was 
high. The Egyptians were reduced to servitude. In 1815 the Viceroy 
was claiming as his exclusive property the yield of all the cotton, 
hemp and flax produced in Egypt, and two years later he was claim- 
ing all the indigo. Because cotton got better prices on the London 
market, he ordered that large areas which had been producing flax 
and sugar cane should be transformed into cotton fields; and since 
most of the land was soon producing cotton, the economy of Egypt 
was dependent on the whims of the London stock exchange. The 
whole of Egypt became his private farm. When he dug canals, he 
simply ordered the fellahin to go to work, and forgot to pay them 
or give them medical services, with the result that thousands died of 
malaria. He fought the Wahhabis and freed the holy places of Arabia 
from the heretic sect, and then, more daring, when Turkey was 
weakened by the Greek War of Independence, he sent his son Ibrahim 
Pasha to overrun Syria and Asia Minor; and he was threatening 
Constantinople itself when Russia intervened to prevent him from 
dealing with the Sultan as the Seljuks had dealt with the Caliph of 
Baghdad. Russia sent warships to the Bosphorus. Ibrahim Pasha re- 
tired to Syria, where a peace treaty was concluded with the new 
Sultan, Mahmud II, later to be known as "the Reformer." By this 


treaty Muhammad Ali was confirmed in the government of Egypt 
and Crete, and in addition was given Jerusalem, Tripoli, Aleppo, 
Damascus and Adana, while still remaining in theory a vassal o the 
Sultan. He had conquered for Egypt very nearly the same territory 
which had been conquered by Saladin. 

For forty years Muhammad Ali consolidated his power as the un- 
challenged ruler of Egypt. He could not read Arabic until late in 
life, but he knew how to impress his own energy on the country he 
had adopted and ruled. Significantly, the first institute of learning 
opened during his reign was a school of mathematics. He built a 
fleet, employed an army of foreign engineers and attempted to make 
Egypt a manufacturing nation, taking the fellahin off the land and 
putting them to work in factories: Egypt became a vast military 
camp and a great factory, so that the energies of the people were 
strained to breaking point. Before he died in 1848, Muhammad Ali 
had singlehandedly changed the face of Egypt. It was no longer an 
ancient and somnolent land at the mercy of the army, but had be- 
come the most progressive of the Muhamadan states. Though ruined 
by his exactions, the people were wide awake and in touch with the 
blessings of civilization. 

What Muhammad Ali had done was something of incalculable 
importance to the Muhamadan world. It was not only that he shook 
the tottering throne of the Sultan, conquered the greater part of the 
Sudan, forced the Wahhabis to surrender the cities they had captured, 
transformed Egypt into a vast cottonfield dotted with factories; but 
he had shown that there were springs of energy which could be 
tapped. He was not an Arab, but more than anyone else he was 
responsible for the Arab renaissance. He had no thought of Arab 
nationalism, and never regarded himself as the ruler of an Arab 
empire. His greatest service was to throw the gates wide open to 
western learning, with the result that the Egyptians until the time of 
Kemal Ataturk were the acknowledged leaders in the fight to trans- 
form the ancient Middle Eastern states into modern nations. 

There were to be other leaders of the revolution later, whose rise 
was less quixotic. Muhammad Ali was squat, ugly, brutal and insanely 
avaricious: he brought about the Egyptian renascence by the accident 
of his greed. He accepted help from the West, never fought against 
a European power, and employed all his resources to transform Egypt 
into a crude imitation of a western state. 

Abd-al-Qadir, who was bora in 1807, was in every respect the 


contrary of Muhammad All. This rapier-thin, nervous and handsome 
warrior with the luminous dark eyes and the gift o bringing the 
best out of everyone he met was closer to Saladin than anyone of his 
time. He was more scholar than warrior. Son of a famous ascetic 
teacher, he could read and write at the age of five and graduated in 
theology at the age of twelve. In his youth he made two pilgrimages 
to Mecca, and on his return from the second pilgrimage it was as- 
sumed that he would enter the religious life. It was said of him that 
he walked with a grave nobility and most of his thoughts were con- 
cerned with God. 

In April, 1827, Pierre Deval, the French consul in Algiers, quar- 
reled with the Dey of Algiers over some financial matters, and the 
fiery-tempered Dey burst into the consulate, charged Deval with being 
"a wicked, faithless, idol-worshiping idiot," and struck him three 
times with a peacock-feathered fly whisk. The consequences of that 
blow were disastrous. The story of the meeting between the Dey and 
the consul spread rapidly through Algeria, and Abd al-Qadir was one 
of those who foresaw the trouble ahead. In 1829, when he was 
twenty-two, two important tribes, the Hashim and the Amir, weary 
of their perpetual feuds, placed themselves under his command. The 
following year, after brooding over the insult for three years, the 
French sent a fleet across the Mediterranean to conquer Algiers, Al- 
together there were 600 ships in the fleet, twice as many as Napoleon 
needed for the conquest of Egypt. 

On June 14, 1830, the French landed off Algiers, and within a 
month the Dey had capitulated, and the French began to push south- 
ward toward the Lesser Atlas. The Algerian tribal chieftains were 
unconcerned with the capture of Algiers, whose Dey they had de- 
tested, but Abd al-Qadir knew enough about western history to know 
that the French were in earnest in their attempts to conquer the 
whole of Algeria. Frantically he rode from village to village, calling 
for an end to feuding and a united stand against the invaders. The 
chieftains laughed at him, and one of them, Abu ibn-Duri, told him 
to "go back to your books, teacher." 

The French wasted their strength on skirmishes with the tribesmen, 
never coming into open battle, but proving themselves to be ruthless 
and hard-bitten. The army fighting against the Arabs consisted of the 
first units of the newly created Foreign Legion, specially created by 
King Louis Philippe for the conquest of Algeria. They were the dregs 
of Europe, who thought nothing of wiping out a tribal settlement to 


the last child. In a single lightning swoop the Legion destroyed the 
settlement of the Ouffiya tribe until none were left alive. In a later 
razzia the Legionaries found nearly 500 Algerian men, women and 
children hiding in a cave: they simply lit fires at the mouth of the 
cave until everyone inside was asphyxiated. The western tribesmen 
proclaimed Abd al-Qadir their commander in chief and give him the 
title Amir al-Muminin, "the Commander of the Faithful": it was a 
title first borne by Abu Bakr and by most of the Caliphs after him. 
Soon all Algeria was united behind Abd al-Qadir. 

Plans were made for an all-out counterattack, but at the last minute 
Abd al-Qadir refused to allow his chief forces to march against the 
Legionaries. The French remained close to their ships and their lines 
of supply. The harbor cities of Oran and Bougie fell, but Abd al- 
Qadir waited. The tribesmen accused him of being timid, but instead 
he was being cautious, waiting for the opportunity to strike to the 
best advantage. Such an opportunity came in October, 1837, when 
12,000 Legionaries marched inland and stormed the fortified city of 
Constantine in a surprise attack. In revenge Abd al-Qadir proclaimed 
the jihad, and all Algeria was up in arms. The Legionaries were 
merciless; Abd al-Qadir could be equally merciless. The white-robed 
desert horsemen struck against the enemy wherever they could be 
found. At Guelma he surprised a camp of enemy engineers. Without 
a sound the tribesmen slit the throats of the sentries, and were in the 
camp before a single bugle could sound the alarm. Within twenty 
minutes 150 Frenchmen died. When the relief column arrived next 
morning, it found a camp of corpses. 

No one could have recognized Abd al-Qadir as the religious scholar 
he was. He was in the saddle for forty-eight hours at a stretch, living 
on a handful of boiled rice and a bowl of milk a day. He seemed 
to have a charmed life. Once he led 2,000 horsemen to attack a 
French regiment marching on Setif. Five times the French hurled 
back the assault, killing two horses under Abd al-Qadir, riddling his 
flowing cloak with their bullets. The sixth charge broke the Legion 
square, and the desert was suddenly full of fleeing soldiers. Only 
fifteen thirst-maddened Legionnaires reached the safety o an en- 
campment two days later. 

Step by step the French were being forced back to the coast, where 
they barely managed to control a thin strip of territory, and were 
twice in danger of losing Algiers. Two-thirds of Algeria was now in 
the hands of the tribesmen. In 1838, when both sides were exhausted, 


Abd al-Qadir signed a peace treaty at Tafnah. For a few months 
there was peace. Abd al-Qadir rode among his tribesmen, warning 
them that there was worse to come, and with stern severity he banned 
wine and prostitution, and even discouraged smoking. His task was 
to prepare the tribesmen against the coming invasion. He drank only 
milk and lived on boiled rice. 

The French were arming rapidly. They had assembled 58,000 men 
on the coastal strip and equipped them with the finest artillery of the 
time. Against them Abd al-Qadir could bring only four ancient can- 
non, one of them a Dutch field-piece cast in 1620. 

Among his warriors was a renegade young Frenchman named Leon 
Roches, who had been converted to Muhamadanism, married an 
Algerian girl, and adopted native ways. When news came that the 
French had broken the treaty and were marching into Algerian ter- 
ritory, Roches denounced the new faith and shouted at Abd al-Qadir: 
"Kill me if you like, but while there is life in me I shall do my utmost 
to return to my own people and fight against you." For a moment 
there was silence, then Abd al-Qadir wrote out the orders to allow 
Roches to return to the French. 

There was, however, little chivalry shown by either side in the re- 
maining years of the campaign. Abd al-Qadir swept down on the 
advancing French in the Mitijah plain, and hurled them back almost 
to the gates of Algiers. Louis Philippe dispatched 108,000 men a 
third of his army to put an end to the revolt. These troops were 
placed under the command of General Thomas-Robert Bugeaud, a 
veteran of Napoleon's Spanish campaign, where the word guerrilla 
was invented: he decided to throw guerrillas against guerrillas. He 
was the most ruthless of army commanders, and his motto was: "I 
know no civilians." Soon his troops were shooting on sight virtually 
every male Arab or Kabyle they encountered. 

In the spring of 1842 Bugeaud occupied Tlemsen, and early the 
next year he took the fortress of Sebhu, which had been Abd at 
Qadir's supply base. While Abd al-Qadir roved the country with his 
followers, 50,000 strong, Bugeaud's flying cavalry columns were 
stabbing deep into Arab territory, killing every head of cattle, burn- 
ing every patch of corn in their path. This meant slow starvation for 
the tribesmen. They retaliated by butchering French prisoners, and 
the French butchered their Arab prisoners. Once the Due d'Aumale 
surprised Abd al-Qadir's camp, capturing 4,000 Arabs and seizing the 
treasury, but Abd al-Qadir himself escaped with a handful of fot 


lowers into Morocco. Bugeaud followed him across the frontier, 
fought the army of the Sultan of Morocco, who refused to surrender 
the leader of the Algerian forces. Secretly, Abd al-Qadir slipped back 
into Algeria, to collect his scattered tribesmen. Through the winter 
of 1845-1846, eighteen flying columns were pursuing him, and he 
evaded them all He had put his trust in the Moroccans, who were 
themselves hard-pressed. Toward the end of 1847, Abd al-Qadir was 
in Morocco when he learned that orders had been given by the 
Sultan to expel him by force. He crossed the frontier under Moroccan 
fire, to find himself encircled by French troops. After a campaign 
which had lasted more than fifteen years, on December 23, he sur- 
rendered to General Lamoriciere, after receiving the promise that he 
would be allowed to go to Acre or Alexandria. Instead he was taken 
to the fortress of Toulon, and later held captive at Amboise. In the 
following year Algeria became formally a part of France. 

Abd al-Qadir's conduct during the war had aroused the sympathy 
of the British, but though the French Foreign Office received repeated 
requests to free him, he was kept in captivity for five years. Napoleon 
III ordered his release after he signed a promise never to set foot 
on Algerian soil again. He settled quietly in Brusa, the old Turkish 
capital, and later in Istanbul. The scholar who had fought the French 
returned to scholarship, and set about editing the works of the great 
mystical philosopher Ibn Arabi, who was buried in Damascus. Ac- 
cordingly he went to live in Damascus to further his studies. There 
one day in the spring of 1860 some Muhamadan and Christian 
children were playing in the street, when one of the Muhamadan 
boys drew a cross on the sand and ordered a Christian to trample 
on it. The children began fighting. Soon Muhamadans and Christians 
everywhere in the city were at one another's throats. The Druses came 
down from the mountains, to cut the throats of the Christians. The 
massacre went on until 30,000 Christians had lost their lives, and 
many thousands more would have been killed if Abd al-Qadir had 
not invited as many as possible into his house and, with the help 
of his two sons and 300 Algerians who had followed him into exile, 
with a naked sword in his hand, drove off the mob. 

When the massacres were over and Damascus was at peace again, 
Abd al-Qadir was the most unpopular Muhamadan in the city; But 
he hardly cared. He was content to work on his edition of Ibn Arabi 
and wrote a treatise on Sufism. He received some strange rewards 
for his courage, including the cross of the Legion of Honor encircled 


with emeralds and diamonds and surmounted with a gold crown, but 
liked best of all a brace of revolvers, a present from the United 
States. As he grew older, he put on weight: a tall man with a soar- 
ing forehead and large black eyes and a wisp of beard, who cared 
very little for the things of the world. He died in May, 1883, and 
was buried in the Mosque of Sultan Selim at Damascus, close by the 
tomb of Ibn Arabi, whom he had loved almost to distraction. 

The story of the renascence of Islam in the nineteenth century is 
the story of failure of many kinds of failure. The quick and brilliant 
Muhamadan mind seemed incapable of dealing with the problems of 
the modern age. Their roots were in the ancient past, and they were 
baffled by the vast forces in the service of the western powers. 

Two years before the death of Abd al-Qadir, Colonel Ahmad Arabi 
became the acknowledged leader of the Egyptian Nationalist party. 
He was forty years old, a thickset, broad-shouldered man with a 
bulging forehead and thick curling mustaches. He was the son of 
peasants and in his youth he had studied at al-Azhar University, but 
he had little formal education and spoke only Arabic. Like Abd 
al-Qadir he was to throw his Muhamadan army against the invader, 
but where Abd al-Qadir fought a continual battle over a period of 
fifteen years, Ahmad Arabi, with even deeper roots among the people 
and with every prospect of victory, fought a battle which lasted only 
twenty minutes and retired defeated. 

By the eighties of the last century Egypt had lost the important 
position acquired during the reign of Muhammad AH. A succession 
of incompetent khedives had reduced the country to a state of near 
anarchy. Egypt was being ruled by a governing body composed al- 
most entirely of Turks. Ahmad Arabi's rise to power, first as leader 
of the Egyptian Nationalist party, then as minister of war, and finally 
as dictator, reflected the growing determination of the Egyptians to 
be ruled by one of themselves; and when in the early part of 1882 
Great Britain sent a fleet to maneuver outside Alexandria with a 
show of force, Ahmad Arabi took the part of the fellahin who re- 
belled against the foreigners. 

The massacre in Damascus arose as a result of a quarrel between 
children in the street. The massacre at Alexandria began at one 
o'clock on November n, 1882, as the result of an argument between 
an Arab donkey boy and a Maltese, who was a British subject. It 
was a bitter argument; blows were exchanged; hundreds of specta- 
tors gathered; passions were aroused; and soon knives were flashing. 


By five o'clock in the afternoon the massacre had spread through the 
city and 200 Europeans had lost their lives. Toward evening ar- 
rangements were made to evacuate the European population. Then 
for many months there was an uneasy truce. On July 5, after making 
careful enquiries about the situation, Sir Charles Dilke announced in 
the House of Commons that the British Government could not toler- 
ate the possibility of renewed massacres in Egypt, and the fleet had 
accordingly been given orders "under certain circumstances to act in 
a certain way." In fact an ultimatum had been delivered to Colonel 
Arabi demanding that he abandon his forts, or the guns of the 
Royal Navy would open fire. 

Colonel Arabi refused to capitulate. On July n the British naval 
guns bombarded Alexandria. It was expected that the Egyptians 
would be brought to their knees, but nothing of the sort happened. 
Colonel Arabi rallied his followers. He proclaimed that any landing 
by foreign troops would be resisted. The Khedive, who allied himself 
with the British, was ignored. The Marines went ashore at Alexan- 
dria, and almost simultaneously there came ominous reports that tribes- 
men, under orders from Colonel Arabi, were beginning to make their 
way toward the Suez Canal, presumably to cut the canal if any at- 
tempt was made by British troops to disembark at Ismailia. He argued 
that the British would attempt to safeguard the canal, and to use it 
as the base for the conquest of Egypt. 

In his interpretation of British intentions Colonel Arabi showed con- 
siderable acumen. He had not, however, counted on Mr. Gladstone's 
determination to suppress what he called "a military revolt" in Egypt. 
The British, angered by the massacre, were up in arms. Toward the 
end of July the reserves were called to the colors, and a cheering 
House of Commons was voting ^2,300,000 for the expedition. 
At once 15,000 men were ordered to Malta and Cyprus in prepara- 
tion for the campaign, and Sir Garnet Wolseley W. S. Gilbert's 
"model of a modern major-general" was placed in command. At the 
War Office he had studied the war maps and concluded that every- 
thing depended upon reaching Ismailia before the Egyptians cut the 

Though perfectly aware of British intentions, Colonel Arabi made 
two miscalculations. It had not occurred to him that the British 
would reach Egypt so quickly, and he had not counted on the influence 
of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal, who sent 
him a stream of telegrams insisting that the British would never dare 


to use the canal for warlike purposes. "Make no attempt to cut 
my canal," De Lesseps wrote. "I am here. Not a single English 
soldier shall disembark." Fatally for Colonel Arabi, no attempt was 
made to cut the canal until it was too late. 

On the night of August 19, thirty-two British warships and troop- 
ers steamed silently and with doused lights past Port Said and down 
the canal. At every strategic point small landing parties went ashore 
to secure the barges and dredgers. Realizing what had happened, 
Colonel Arabi sent telegrams to his forces on the banks of the canal, 
ordering them to scuttle all available ships to prevent the passage 
of the warships; but the telegrams arrived fifteen hours too late. The 
British were in Ismailia; they had secured the canal banks; it re- 
mained to be seen whether they could be dislodged. 

Long before he left England, Sir Garnet Wolseley had made two 
prophecies. Pointing to a map of Egypt, he placed his finger on 
Tell al-Kabir, and said: "The decisive battle of my campaign will be 
fought here." He added that he intended to arrive in Cairo on Sep- 
tember 16. Only the second prophecy proved inaccurate: he did in 
fact arrive in Cairo a day earlier. 

The Egyptian troops were no match for the British. Once they 
were in possession of the canal, Colonel Arabics only hope lay in 
cutting the sweet-water canal which brought fresh water to the banks 
of the Suez Canal. Without fresh water the British would die of 
thirst. He dammed the sweet-water canal at a place called Tell al- 
Mashuta: the dam was made of piled sand and reeds bound with tele- 
graph wire. He went on to make another dam, but Sir Garnet Wolse- 
ley sent raiding parties, and both darns were destroyed. Then for a 
brief while both sides rested, seeking out each other's strength, wait- 
ing for the inevitable moment when they would be locked together, 
quietly disposing their forces. 

In the early days of September spies and prisoners brought infor- 
mation that Colonel Arabi had arrayed some seventy guns, 18,000 
infantry and three regiments of cavalry at Tell al-Kabir. The colonel 
himself was in command. 

Sir Garnet Wolseley advanced to Kassassin, five miles from Tell 
al-Kabir, where Colonel Arabi's forces were entrenched. Between them 
there was only flat, open ground. On the night of September 12 the 
British, leaving their campfires burning as a blind, made their way 
in the dark, guided only by the stars, until they were within a mile 
of the enemy. The army moved without lights and in absolute si- 


lence, except for a drunken soldier who started shouting and had to 
be silenced with chloroform. The attack was timed for the first light. 
Just before dawn the British hurled themselves against the enemy 
lines. The battle was all over in twenty minutes, with 1,500 Egyp- 
tians killed against 75 British, and the rest in full flight. That 
morning Colonel Arabi was a refugee in a train taking him to Cairo. 

The battle was over, and the occupation of Egypt had begun. The 
cavalary division arrived at the gates of Cairo the next afternoon, 
worn out after riding eighty miles through die heat of the day. 
There was no opposition. They entered Cairo to find that the sol- 
diers in the garrison had thrown down their arms and melted into 
the surrounding countryside, resuming their long blue shirts and 
skullcaps. Colonel Arabi made no effort to escape. He handed over 
his sword and awaited the vengeance of the conquerors. 

The conquerors were in a quandary. They could, of course, execute 
him out of hand; they could send him into exile without troubling 
themselves with anything more than a drumhead court-martial; or 
they could put him on trial on charges of rebellion and complicity 
in the masacres. The Khedive refused to allow Colonel Arabi to go 
free, and the British military refused to permit him to be executed. 
It was therefore arranged to put him on trial, and the best lawyers 
from London were sent out to Cairo to defend him, their fees being paid 
for out of a defense fund, to which half the members of the House of 
Commons subscribed. The farcical trial ended with the prisoner 
being sentenced to death, pardoned and exiled to Ceylon, where he 
remained until 1901, when he was allowed to return to Egypt. 
When the death sentence was passed, an Englishwoman, the wife of 
a junior counsel, thrust a bouquet of white roses in his arms. The 
enemy of England had become the favorite of the English. 

Colonel Arabi's rebellion was the last for half a century. The 
British assumed virtual control of Egyptian finances, foreign affairs 
and the command of the Egyptian army; and the real ruler was the 
consul general who stood beside the throne of the Khedive and 
whispered orders which were then announced with khedival authority. 
By the historic decree of December 1882 "The Egyptian Army is 
disbanded" Britain assumed the responsibility for creating a new 
army, whose task was to defend the Suez Canal. So matters remained 
until another colonel, Gamal Abdal Nasser, came to power. 

Colonel Arabi's failure was one of nerve, indecision, a strange 
lack of caution. He possessed in himself all the resources which make 


for a popular leader. He had roots among the fellahin; his officers 
were fanatically loyal to him; he was clever and unscrupulous. If he 
had not failed at Tell al-Kabir, the history of the Middle East would 
have been vastly different. 

Colonel Arabi never saw himself as the destined leader of an Arab 
renaissance and a new striving toward the Arab empires of the past. 
He regarded himself as a nationalist leader, and was without any 
exalted opinion of himself or any mystique. He lacked the strength 
which comes to a man who makes overwhelming demands on history 
and who sees himself as the destined triurnphator, clothed with 
religious and moral sanctions. 

Such a man was Muhammad ibn-Abdallah, born in the middle of 
the last century, the son of a poor carpenter, who proclaimed that 
he was a descendant of Muhammad and had come on earth to bring 
righteousness to Sudan and to the world. The governor of the Sudan, 
appointed by the Khedive, heard that a man who called himself the 
Mahdi was living quietly on the island of Abba on the White Nile, 
about 200 miles south of Khartum; but his quietness was delusory. 
The whole country was being flooded with the agents of the self- 
styled Mahdi. The governor made enquiries. He learned that Muham- 
mad ibn-Abdallah came from Dongola, the riverine province in the 
north, and that some rich merchants supported him. Nothing else 
of importance could be discovered about this obscure Sudanese who 
on June 29, 1881, suddenly proclaimed himself as the Mahdi at Abba. 

Quite sensibly, knowing the explosive power of those obscure men 
who from time to time have claimed divine status, gathered armies 
and changed the course of history, the governor decided to nip the 
rebellion in the bud. Accordingly, he sent a small detachment of 200 
men by steamer to the island. The attack failed. The Mahdi and his 
followers hid in the tall grass, waited until darkness fell, and then 
with only their long knives they threw themselves on the Egyptians, 
killing nearly all of them and capturing their rifles. The few survivors 
swam to the steamer. The victory was so complete that thousands 
flocked to the Mahdi's banner, believing him to be the divinely com- 
missioned deliverer of Islam. 

The first engagement possessed all the characteristics of a classic 
encounter between unarmed rebels and a well-armed army, and the 
Mahdi might have remained on the island of Abba indefinitely if it 
had not been that he possessed an instinctive knowledge of strategy. 
Near Abba there were nomad tribesmen who were resentful of any 


government interference and who could be counted on for assistance, 
and there were wealthy Sudanese merchants who could be trusted to 
provide financial help, but the Mahdi was already determined to 
capture the whole of the Sudan. He therefore decided to march to 
Kordofan and to establish his base at Qadir, a hill in the south of 
the province. Egyptian troops attempted to head off his march, but 
were routed when they failed to take the elementary precaution of 
protecting their night encampment with a barricade of thornbushes. 
The Mahdi's forces swept down on the camp and killed nearly all of 

The Mahdi's strength came from his fanatical belief in his own 
destiny, and his speeches to his followers were couched in the langu- 
age of Islamic mysticism. To them he was Muhammad redivivus, an 
august and godlike person who resembled the popular image of 
Muhammad, full-bearded and heavy set, attired simply in jubbah 
and linen trousers, with a cord round his waist, humble in manner 
except when anyone suggested doubts about his divine role; then, 
like Muhammad, the Mahdi was merciless, and ordered the culprit 
to be put to death. He shared with Muhammad a great passion for 
women and a determined opposition to those who refused to pay 
their taxes. He called his followers the Ansar, or "helpers," and dis- 
covered in most of his battles correspondences with the battles fought 
in the early years of Islam. He punished drinking, smoking and theft 
with a heavy hand, and forbade the reading of any books except 
the Quran and a selection, carefully chosen by himself, of the hadith. 

On January 19, 1883, his forces surrounded al-Ubayd, the capital 
of Kordofan, and compelled it to capitulate. He now possessed a 
strong base some 200 miles southwest of Khartum, and when in 
November 10,000 Egyptian troops under Hicks Pasha attempted to 
invade Kordofan, the Mahdi was able to choose his battlefield and 
hurl his fanatical warriors at the Egyptians at a time convenient to 
himself. The Egyptians, who comprised the remnants of Arabi's army, 
panicked and fled, and all of the Sudan now lay at the mercy of the 

When Gladstone heard of the defeat at Shaykan in Kordofan, he 
sent General Gordon on an ill-defined mission to save the Sudan for 
Britain. Egypt was a British colonial possession, and British public 
opinion demanded that the Sudan be safeguarded from the Mahdi, 
who had spoken of sending his warriors to Cairo and Alexandria. 
Gordon, fresh from his victories against the Taiping rebels in China 


and a sojourn in the Holy Land, where he had discovered the exact 
sites of Golgotha, Gibeon and the Garden of Eden, arrived in Khar- 
tum with the knowledge that he was facing almost certain defeat. He 
had never underestimated the Mahdi's fanatic power, for he was 
himself a fanatic and understood only too well the nature of the 
enemy. Reinforcements and relief supplies failed to reach him in 
time, and when the Mahdi's army approached Khartum, food was 
already low and ammunition was running out. Gordon was com- 
pletely brave and completely dedicated. Urged to sandbag the palace 
windows, he refused. Instead he ordered a lantern with twenty-four 
candles to be placed in one of the windows, and declared: "When 
God was portioning out fear, it came to my turn, and there was no 
fear left to give me. Go, tell all the people of Khartum that Gordon 
fears nothing!" But the Mahdi was just as fearless, and he could call 
upon all the Sudanese to help him. 

On the night of February 3, 1885, the Mahdi and his dervishes 
approached Khartum. By sunrise they were pouring through the city, 
Gordon was waiting for them on the palace steps. Sword in hand, he 
fought magnificently, and died amid a heap of corpses at the foot of 
the palace steps. His head was cut off, wrapped in a cloth and pre- 
sented to the pitiless Mahdi, who gave orders for the head to be 
hung from a tree for the hawks to peck at. 

For the next few years the British were forced to abandon the 
Sudan to the Mahdi and his successors. Muhammad ibn-Abdallah 
survived his victory by only a few months, dying of typhus in the 
following June. Once, shortly after the victory at al-Ubayd ? he had 
foreseen in a vision the conquest of the Muhamadan world. The 
vision was not fulfilled, but he had shown during the few years of 
his rule that all the vast reaches of the Muhamadan world were ripe 
for conquest by a dedicated warrior. 

All the advantages were on the side of the Mahdi, whose power 
arose from popular belief in his status as one who receives special 
guidance from God. Such men had arisen before, but they had 
rarely possessed his skill in strategy or his deep sense of a divinely 
appointed mission. He died at the height of his victorious career; his 
successor was less fortunate. 

As his successor the Mahdi had appointed his leading follower 
Abdallahi ibn-Muhammad under the name of Abu Bakr. The dead 
Mahdi was to be followed by a Caliph, and the Mahdi appears to 
have seen a complete repetition o the Islamic odyssey with himself 


as the eponymous founder of the new dynasty. Abdallahi was plagued 
with civil war, famine, continual quarrels among his closest support- 
ers. He raided Egypt and Abyssinia, but, possessing none of the 
personal authority of the Mahdi and little of his military genius, he 
failed to unite the country behind him. Yet the Sudan remained a 
theocratic Moslem state for thirteen more years. Then at last 
Kitchener, with a military railway and machine guns enabling him to 
extend his long supply lines from Wadi Haifa, confronted the Caliph's 
army at Kerreri, a few miles north of Omdurman, on September 2, 
1898. When evening fell, the flower of the Mahdists had fallen to 
the machine guns and Abdallahi was in full flight. For twelve months 
he held out on the western bank of the White Nile with the remnants 
of his forces, not far from the place where the Mahdi had begun 
the movement which brought him to power. The final battle was 
fought at Umm Diwaykarat on November 24, 1899, south of the 
island of Abba. When the battle was over and a search was made 
among the dead, his body was found lying on the sheepskin which 
served as his prayer rug, with the bodies of his devoted followers 
all round him. 

The Mahdist movement in the Sudan, carefully prepared and some- 
times brilliantly led, had failed. It was their misfortune that they 
began their movement at a time when the European powers were in 
the full tide of their expansionist policies in Africa. If the British 
had not been in occupation of Egypt, nothing could have prevented 
them from extending their power over North Africa, and perhaps 
over Arabia. In time their program bore fruit. Gamal Abdal Nasser 
studied the campaigns of the Mahdi and the Caliph Abdallahi, and 
the vision at al-Ubayd was vividly remembered by him when he in 
turn put forward his expansionist policies in Africa. There had been 
many Mahdis in the past, but none gave so much promise as the 
obscure son of a boat carpenter in the Sudan, and no Egyptian or 
Sudanese ever possessed a tithe of the power which Nasser employed 
in his attempt to institute an Arab empire. 

The visionary element remained, when all others had failed. The 
strength of Islam throughout its history has lain with the visionaries 
who could summon out of the people the latent vigor and disciplined 
fervor which alone brings new nations into existence. Sometimes the 
visionaries occupied thrones; at other times they fell by the wayside. 
But all of them in their various ways have added to the white-hot 
core of Islam something of their own peculiar fire. 


Sometimes, too, the very fervor o the visionary becomes self-de- 
feating. A certain All Muhammad, the son of a grocer, born in 
Shiraz in 1821, announced that he was the long-promised Bab or 
"Gate," by which mankind would be united with the twelfth Imam, 
He appeared at Shiraz on May 23, 1844, exactly one thousand years 
after the disappearance of the twelfth Irnam. He claimed to be even 
greater than Muhammad: he called himself "the Highest" and "He 
who arises from the House of the Prophet at the end of time*" He 
described himself as the mirror in which men might see God. With 
astonishing astuteness he combined elements of Zoroastrianism with 
elements of Islam. He issued edicts as though he were King, Emperor 
and Archpriest. All Persia trembled before the power of this man 
who seemed possessed of supernatural gifts. Women flocked to him. 
His followers spread over every city in Persia, announcing the new 
law of equality between men and women, the efficacy of the mystical 
number 19, and the need to blow a kiss to the sun every Friday 
morning. His power came precisely from his encouragement of an- 
cient Persian customs which Islam had sometimes attempted to de- 
stroy. So he ordained that burial should be in stone coffins and the 
great New Year celebration of Nauruz should be regarded as the 
principal festival of the new cult; and both of these derived from 
Zoroastrian sources. The Shah feared for his throne and issued or- 
ders to stamp out the movement. Jailed, the Bab succeeded in escap- 
ing, and the governor of Isfahan offered him hospitality. There were 
battles near Mashad. By August, 1849, the Shah realized that the 
movement was so strong that he possessed no physical means of put- 
ting an end to it. Accordingly, he induced the followers of the Bab 
to surrender on the promise of an amnesty, then massacred them. 
The Bab was captured. In the great square of Tabriz the man who 
claimed to be God was blindfolded, bound hand and foot, and set up 
against a wall. When the smoke cleared after the first volley of the 
firing party, there was no sign of him the shots had cut his ropes 
and he had fled. The miracle of his disappearance was explained a 
few days later when he was found in a guardroom by one of his own 
followers, who shot him out of hand. 

For two years after the Bab's death the movement went under- 
ground and little was heard of his followers; then in 1852 three of 
them made an attempt on the life of the Shah. There followed a wave 
of persecution such as Persia has rarely seen. Captured Babis were 
put to death by being buried upside down or immolated within stone 


pillars where they suffocated to death. Martyrdom only increased the 
number of the Bab's followers. Before his death he had assigned the 
succession to a youth called Mirza Yahya, upon whom he conferred 
the title "the Dawn of Eternity." Gradually the movement began to 
lose its impetus within the borders of Persia; the surviving Babis 
escaped to Baghdad, where they remained until 1864, when the Per- 
sian Government, alarmed by their proximity to the Persian frontier 
and the shrine at Karbala, put pressure on the Sublime Porte to have 
them removed. Accordingly they were transferred as political prison- 
ers to Constantinople and then to Adrianople, where the half-brother 
of Mirza Yahya, who had slowly been displacing the appointed 
leader of the movement, declared that he was the Mahdi and even as- 
serted that the Bab was merely the herald of his advent. The new 
leader called himself Baha Allah, or "Glory of God." The Babi com- 
munity was now rent in twain; violent quarrels broke out; there were 
threats and counterthreats; finally the Turkish Government stepped 
in to separate the antagonists. Baha Allah and his followers were sent 
to Acre, while Mirza Yahya was exiled to Famagusta in Cyprus, dy- 
ing in austere poverty in 1912 at the age of eighty-two, having 
survived his half-brother by twenty years. 

The Babist movement, with its headquarters on Mount Carmel, 
survives to this day, still powerful and aggressive, though the last 
descendant of Baha Allah is dead and the church is governed by a 
board of directors. Originally an expression of a characteristically 
Persian desire to revive elements of Zoroastrianism within Islam, the 
movement later embraced a new form of religion without ritual, with- 
out priests, and without laws. Universal peace was to be brought 
about by universal humility. Austerities were forbidden. People were 
to be taught to do good and to devote themselves to healing the sick. 
Finally all trace of Islam and Zoroastrianism vanished, and in their 
place there was only a general benevolence. 

The Babists represented the centrifugal tendency which had been 
present in Islam from the beginning. But the contrary tendency to- 
ward a hardening of the Islamic fiber had also been present, and this 
was represented during the last century by the growth of the puritani- 
cal Wahhabi movement, a revival of the strict Hanbalite movement 
which first appeared under the Abbasid dynasty. A certain Muham- 
mad ibn-Abdal Wahhab preached against the veneration of Muham- 
mad and the saints, forbade the use of rosaries and silken clothes, 
ordered the destruction of the minarets of mosques, and frowned on 


all singing and music. He refused to accept any laws except those 
prescribed by the Quran and the earliest hadiths. His followers al- 
lowed their dislike of the cult of saints to lead them on strange er- 
rands: they plundered the tomb of Muhammad at Madinah. After a 
period of warlike successes they were curbed by the Egyptians and re- 
tired to their desert homes in the Najd. But the tradition continued. 
In the heart of Arabia there remained throughout the last century a 
solid core of fervent puritans. Their leaders were the amirs of Najd, 
and from their ranks came Abdal Aziz ibn-Abdal Rahman al-Faysal 
ibn al-Saud, known to the world by the name of King Ibn Saud. 

When Ibn Saud was born in November, 1880, the family fortunes 
were in decline. His father Abdal Rahman bore the title of amir of 
Najd, but his three brothers were attempting to undermine his posi- 
tion in his capital at Riyadh. While the Najd was in a perpetual state 
of civil war, Muhammad ibn-Rashid, the amir of Hail, 1 waited for a 
favorable opportunity to attack Riyadh, which fell in 1884. Abdal 
Rahman escaped with his family to Kuwait, planning vengeance on 
the house of Rashid, and hating the Turks, who claimed suzerainty 
over the whole of Arabia, until at last, disgusted by Kuwait, he rode 
off to join the Bedouin in the desert called al-Rab al-Khali, the Empty 
Quarter, which stretches across five hundred miles of sand and empty 
desolation to the Indian Ocean. There Ibn Saud grew up, his com- 
panions being the wild Murra tribesmen, unkempt and murderous 
men who hated all those who did not live in the wilderness. With 
them he learned how to read the tracks on the desert sand, how to 
cure camel mange, how to travel for a week on a handful of dates 
and a skin of curdled milk. Above all he learned how to plunder and 

Ibn Saud belonged to the desert; was of the desert. His loyalties 
were to the desert and his memories of the stories he had heard of the 
time when his uncles were kings. He grew up tall and straight, big- 
boned, his handsome hawklike head perched on heavy shoulders, his 
enormous sinewy hands, twice the size of normal hands, never at 
rest. He had an easy magnificence of manner, and the tribesmen 
looked to him as their leader. His closest companion was his cousin, 

1 Charles Doughty gives a wonderful portrait of this murderous scoun- 
drel in Travels in Arabia Deserta. He was lean and yellow-skinned, with 
enormous feminine eyes, and he had a habit of jerking his head when 
talking. His birdlike looks, said Doughty, were "like the looks of one 
survived out of much disease of the world." 


Abdallah ibn Jiluwi, a dark, saturnine youth, who rarely spoke and 
was always falling into fits of melancholy, but who possessed all the 
instincts of a guerrilla chieftain. 

With Abdallah ibn Jiluwi and sixty tribesmen Ibn Saud decided to 
attack Riyadh. He had no carefully conceived plan; he would simply 
arrive there in the night and somehow seize the governor and the 
garrison. It was to be like those raids he had led before, but with 
one difference : he would plunder the entire town and take permanent 
possession of it. 

In January, 1901, he arrived at an oasis two hours' walking dis- 
tance from the town. Here he left twenty of his men with the camels, 
saying that if he did not return in twenty-four hours they were to 
report to his father that he was either dead or a prisoner of the 
governor. Then with his chosen companions he made his way secretly 
through the gardens to the walls, arriving there about midnight. 
They uprooted palm trees, laid them against the walls, and climbed 
into the town. There were now only eight or nine men, for the rest 
of the raiding party was waiting outside the walls. With the help of 
those eight or nine men he hoped to take over all of desert Arabia. 

From the beginning the plan worked well. They made their way 
through the dark streets to the home of the governor, a man named 
Ajlan, only to learn that he was sleeping at the fort under the pro- 
tection of his troops. This did not disturb them. They spent the night 
at their prayers in the house next door to the governor's, facing the 
fort. Ibn Saud called for the men he had left outside the walls, 
climbed onto the roof of the governor's house and captured everyone 
in it, and when dawn broke he looked through the slit windows and 
saw the governor sauntering out of the fort with a bodyguard of 
eight men. Calling to his men to follow him, Ibn Saud raced across 
the square and hurled himself at the governor. When Ajlan struck at 
him with a sword, Ibn Saud parried with his rifle butt, and soon they 
were struggling on the ground. The bodyguard scattered. Ajlan 
jumped up. He had almost reached the safety of the fort when Ibn 
Saud caught him by the legs, bringing him down. Then they were all 
fighting confusedly. Ajlan had been wounded by a rifle shot in the 
arm, and Ibn Saud was suffering from a savage kick in the groin. At 
last the guards succeeded in dragging the governor into the fort and 
they were about to close the gate when Abdallah ibn Jiluwi with 
three men succeeded in keeping the gate open. The governor had 
been wounded by a knife which tore open his stomach. He succeeded 


in reaching the parade-ground, and there Abdallah ibn Jiluwl shot 
him in the head. For the next two hours Ibn Saud's men grappled 
with the garrison. He had less than thirty men, and there were more 
than eighty soldiers on the parapets, but victory was already in his 
hands. A few weeks later Abdal Rahman rode to Riyadh from Kuwait 
and proclaimed his son Amir of Najd and Imam of the Wahhabis, 
giving him at the same time the gold-handled damascene sword 
which had belonged to his ancestor known as Saud the Great. Ibn 
Saud was twenty-one, and master of desert Arabia. 

The years passed, and Ibn Saud remained quietly at Riyadh, biding 
his time. During the First World War he took no part in the guerrilla 
actions led by T. E. Lawrence against the Turks. Events, however, 
were working in his favor. Events had in fact always worked in his 
favor, and he possessed an uncanny faculty for striking only when the 
enemy was completely oblivious that an attack was impending. In later 
years they called Ibn Saud "the lion of Arabia," but he resembled a 
panther, a more calculating beast. 

The tides of war, moving from Arabia to Syria, left him untouched. 
Since none of his fanatical Wahhabis had taken part in the march on 
Damascus, the British saw no reason to reward him, but instead 
championed the claims of Husayn, Sharif of Mecca, and his four 
sons, Ali, Abdallah, Faysal and Zayd. Already in the spring of 1918, 
Husayn had proclaimed himself "King of the Arab countries," claim- 
ing an empire which extended from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf 
and from the Indian Ocean to the borders of defeated Turkey. Ibn 
Saud raged in his desert fastness. He raged still more when Iraq was 
given to Faysal and Transjordan to Abdallah, Faysal and Abdallah 
being the most talented of the Sharif's sons. Faysal in particular pos- 
sessed a natural grace and dignity, tall and slender with the air of a 
man removed from human preoccupations, his dagger-sharp mind at 
war with his instinct for perpetual contemplation. Abdallah had lit- 
tle natural grace, but much charm, and forthrightness. Zayd was 
half-Turkish, and therefore unacceptable to many Arabs, and Ali 
was too much the scholar to be a ruler, a man of moods, subject to 
sudden passionate outbursts which were caused by tuberculosis. 

From his palace in Riyadh, Ibn Saud viewed the rise of Husayn 
with considerable detachment. He was ready to spring, but had not 
chosen the time or place. When the Wahhabis flocked to his court 
and demanded that he should proclaim a holy war against the British 
and drive them and Husayn into the sea, and if necessary assume the 


position of Caliph or at the very least call himself the Mahdi, "the 
guided one 5 >? he answered sternly: "With Mahdis and suchlike super- 
stitions and sorceries I will have no dealings. As to the Caliph, the 
question does not arise. I am a simple preacher. My mission is to 
spread the faith, if possible by persuasion and if not by the sword." 
He meant he would attack when the time was ripe, preferably at a 
moment when Husayn was weakest or showed himself least responsi- 
ble for his actions. 

Such a moment came on March 6, 1924, when Husayn proclaimed 
himself Caliph of Islam three days after the Turks abolished the Otto- 
man Caliphate. He made the claim reluctantly, largely under pressure 
from his son Abdallah, and he seems to have known from the begin- 
ning that he would incur the hostility of Ibn Saud. For more than 
three months Ibn Saud prepared his campaign. In the last week of 
August his armies struck at Taif, where Muhammad, the Messenger 
of God and ancestor of King Husayn, had once been a goatherd. 
Taif was a pleasant town in the uplands, where the notables of Mecca 
built their summer palaces. It represented the luxury and refinement 
which the Wahhabis despised. Some five hundred of the inhabitants 
were massacred, not because Ibn Saud had any particular feeling 
against those who were murdered; his task was to create panic in 
Mecca. In this he was eminently successful. Mecca suffered a panic 
such as it had rarely known before. Husayn hoped the British would 
intervene, but the British were in no mood for further adventures in 
Arabia: St. John Philby, long a close friend and adviser of Ibn Saud, 
had made it clear in his reports that the armies of Ibn Saud would 
carry everything before them. For a few more weeks Husayn clung 
to his throne in Mecca. Finally, on October 5, he abdicated, and a 
week later the advance forces of the Wahhabis entered the Holy City. 
Husayn was conveyed by a British warship to Cyprus, spending the 
remaining years of his life in exile in Nicosia. So ended the chapter 
of Arab history which began when Lawrence armed the tribesmen of 
the Hijaz and sent them under a cruel banner against the Turks. 

Once more the theory of Ibn Khaldun, which says that kings and 
empires will always fall before small groups of fanatics armed with 
asabiyya, was proved accurate. It remained to discover whether the 
rest of the theory would also be proved true. In fact, the rise and 
decline of the Saudi dynasty took place with amazing rapidity, for 
with the discovery of oil in Arabia unimaginable wealth poured into 
the treasuries of the King, who in his youth had slept under the stars, 


hungry and penniless. This wealth, largely divided between the King 
and his sons, did little to increase the native strength of the state. 
Private airplanes were purchased for the Saudi princes; millions of 
dollars were spent on building palaces provided with modern re- 
frigeration, and while the social fabric of the state remained un- 
changed, the wandering tribesmen were only a little richer than they 
were before. Decadence set in before there had been any visible 
culture, and neither poets nor artists graced the court of the richest 
of Arabian kings. As a youth Ibn Saud had been "the sleuth of all 
the sleuths on earth, swifter than the lightning in the sky." He had 
been a figure of portentous legend, brother to the Mahdis and the 
Veiled Prophets who in the past had emerged from Arabia and 
Khurasan. When he died in 1953 he had outlived his own legend. 

Throughout all the centuries of Islam a strange fate had hovered 
over the descendants of Muhammad. It was as though that part of 
the world which eagerly accepted the Messenger of God had turned 
forever against his living descendants. The Hashimite King Husayn 
died in misery in Nicosia, his son King Abdallah of Jordan was as- 
sassinated while entering the Dome of the Rock in July, 1951, his 
grandson King Ghazi of Iraq was killed in a motor accident, and his 
great-grandson King Faysal II was shot to death by usurpers in July, 
1958. On the day of his death the Baghdad radio urged the people 
to go out in the streets and see the body of Crown Prince Abdal Ilah, 
who had acted as regent during the minority of the King. "Go out 
into the streets," said the radio. "See the body of the tyrant who was 
the enemy of God and the people, being spat on by the people and 
kicked by their feet!" It was the voice of medieval Islam, a voice im- 
pelled neither by hunger nor by despair of God, but by the memory 
of tribal feuds engendered centuries ago. 

Everywhere one looks in the Muhamadan world the past impinges 
on the present. For the Muhamadan the past is more real than the 
present: the home of his imagination is still the camp, the raiding 
party, the worship of the Black Stone, the symbol of an ageless an- 
tiquity as old as earth. From these naked beginnings his mind can 
soar to the most exquisite perfection of architectural design and to 
the most luminous poetry, but the very nature of his religion makes 
him incapable of understanding the social forces which move the 
modern world, and he remains intolerant of all forms of government 
except feudalism. Only among the Shi'as of Persia, with their annual 
miracle play in honor of the martyred Husayn, is there a sense of the 


tragedy of man, and only in modern Turkey is there any understand- 
ing of democracy. For the Muhamadan life is a harsh and brittle 
thing under the sun, to be thrown away at a whim, unworthy of the 
dignity which the western world proclaims to be man's greatest pos- 

The Muhamadans lack a democratic tradition. When at the end of 
World War II the Muhamadan states one after another obtained 
their freedom from the colonial powers and set about governing 
themselves, they found themselves in a quandary. It was not only 
that the colonial powers had prevented the development of a demo- 
cratic tradition, but the Muhamadans themselves had no experience 
of thinking in democratic terms, and were by nature perhaps incap- 
able of doing so. Almost simultaneously Egypt, Pakistan and Indo- 
nesia became free states, with houses of representatives and all the 
complex appurtenances of modern government. On paper there ex- 
isted a free electorate; in fact, there was the feudal ruler, armed with 
the same despotic powers wielded by caliphs and sultans. Nothing 
corresponding to the French Revolution had ever shaken the unin- 
terrupted calm of Islam, which proclaims that all believers are broth- 
ers and the lowliest slave is the equal to the king in the eyes of God. 
But the king remains, and the slave is still a slave. 

Not all the kings remain. When King Farouk of Egypt abdicated 
in July, 1952, as the result of a military coup d'hat organized by 
Colonel Gamal Abdal Nasser, a tolerant world assumed that the re- 
moval of a sybaritic King was long overdue, and a military govern- 
ment was a small price to pay for a much-needed revolution. Colonel 
Nasser himself, when he emerged from behind the figurehead he had 
installed in office, proved to be a singularly gifted ruler, audacious 
and intelligent, determined to put a stop to corruption, tolerant in 
religious matters, realistic and practical in his approach to political 
problems. He had schooled himself in the hardest school of all: the 
school of conspiracy. He had spent years organizing and maintaining 
the secret conspiratorial group known as the Free Officers Movement. 
He had no plans for managing the country when he came to power, 
but relied on his instincts, his knowledge of men and his wide reading 
in history. From a distance he seemed to be superbly equipped for the 
task he had given himself. 

In 1952 he was thirty-four, a good age for a man embarking on a 
backbreaking career. He had other advantages. He was handsome 
and strongly built, with great physical stamina. He had no vices, 


worked long hours and had few relaxations apart from reading. He 
enjoyed simplicity, and lived in comparative obscurity in a suburban 
villa. He believed passionately in the cause of Egypt, and in the 
Palestine War of 1948-1949 he had fought bravely and was wounded. 
During the war, when mortars and shells were dropping round him, 
one of his closest friends had said just before being killed: "Listen, 
the greatest battlefield is in Egypt," and he had never forgotten it. 
He was a man of fire and immense daring, in danger of being 
burnt by his own fire, but otherwise not dissimilar to thousands of 
Egyptian officers determined to put an end to corruption and to give 
Egypt a place in the sun. 

Some time in 1953, with the memory of the coup d'itat still fresh 
in his mind, Colonel Nasser put together some notes he had written 
on his impressions of the "revolution." There had not in fact been a 
revolution at all, but this was a matter of little importance; there had 
been vast changes in the system of government, and in time those 
changes might be expected to percolate among the fellahin. These 
notes were not originally intended for publication. He was con- 
cerned, he said, to allow his ideas to explore themselves, and he 
liked to regard the exploration as in the nature of a reconnaissance 
patrol. This short book is at least as important as Mcin Kampf, and 
perhaps as important as the Communist Manifesto, for in it he an- 
nounced quietly and with conviction three theses of vast magnitude. 
First he announced the revival of the idea of al Umma al Arabiya: a 
united Arab nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from 
Morocco to Indonesia. There was nothing particularly new in the 
idea, which had been first expressed by Lebanese students of the 
American University of Beirut about the year 1880: what was new 
was that he was in a position to employ all the resources of govern- 
ment propaganda to broadcast the idea wherever Arabic was spoken 
or understood. Secondly he announced that Africa, the whole of 
Africa, was ripe for conquest. This, too, was an idea which had been 
maintained for many centuries by Muhamadans who traveled across 
the length and breadth of northern Africa, establishing outposts as 
far west as Ghana on the plain between the Senegal and Niger 
rivers. One such outpost was visited by the Arab geographer al-Baqri 
in the eleventh century. He reported that Arab colonists controlled 
the treasury and all the political affairs of the idol-worshiping king 
of Ghana, and had built a town for themselves with twelve mosques. 
In the thirteenth century the larger part of North Africa was con- 
trolled by the Mandingo people, whose empire extended from the 


Sudan across the wastes of the Sahara. Under the great fourteenth- 
century Emperor Mansa Musa, all the tribes were at peace with one 
another, and the Emperor made his annual pilgrimage to Mecca in 
magnificent state. Ibn Battuta, that most enterprising of Arab travel- 
ers, said that even white men could travel about this country without 
fear of robbers, and if they died with treasure in their hands, no one 
would steal it. During the sixteenth century, Goa and Timbuktu on 
the Niger were the centers of flourishing Muhamadan civilizations. 
Leo Africanus, who traveled from Morocco to the court of King 
Askia the Great, the ablest of the West African sovereigns, reported 
that Timbuktu was the headquarters of a vast trade in books, and 
the King was deeply respectful to men of learning. There had been 
great Muhamadan empires in Africa. Colonel Nasser announced that 
Africa was terra irredenta, to be returned to the Islamic fold. 

His argument was simple and needed no elaboration. He did, how- 
ever, elaborate on the reasons which brought him to this conclusion. 
Egypt had always been the protector of Africa ever since the Mam- 
luks checked the onslaught of the Mongols at Ayn Jalut. She had 
exhausted herself by holding the barbarians at bay. He added justly 
that "the rule of the Mamluks in Egypt was characterized by tyranny, 
oppression and ruin, which continued for many dark centuries. Dur- 
ing that period our country was transformed into a jungle ruled by 
wild beasts." With one hand he paid tribute to the Mamluk con- 
querors, and with the other he took it back. He had fallen into the 
dilemma which confronts all dictators, without being aware there 
was any dilemma at all. 

Colonel Nasser made no attempt to hide his determination to bring 
Africa within the fold. He wrote; 

We cannot in any way stand aside, even if we wish to, from the 
sanguinary and dreadful struggle now raging in the heart of 
Africa between 5 million Whites and 200 million Africans. We 
cannot for one principal and clear reason, namely that we are in 

The people in Africa will continue to look up at us, who 
guard the northern gate of the continent and who are its con- 
necting link with the outside world. We cannot under any condi- 
tion relinquish our responsibility in helping, in every way pos- 
sible, to diffuse the light of civilization into the furthest parts of 
that virgin jungle. 

There is another important reason. The Nile is the artery of 


the life of our country. It draws its supply of water from the 
heart of the continent. 

There remained the third thesis: the need to bring within the fold 
the Muhamadans "beyond the continents and oceans,," all the unnum- 
bered millions of believers living in Indonesia, China, Malaya, Siam, 
Burma, Pakistan, and the Soviet Union. In some unexplained way 
they were to be brought into the union "in a cooperation going not 
beyond the bounds of their natural loyalty to their own countries." 
Yet even as he names the sovereign states there is an air of unreality 
in his recital of them. The third thesis is the most far-reaching and 
difficult to achieve, and therefore he dismisses it in a few words at the 
end of his book. He tells of standing beside the Kaaba at Mecca, 
seeing in his mind's eye all the regions of the world which Islam has 
reached, and how the Kaaba might become the providential symbol 
of the awakened unity of the Arab world. 

When he asked himself how these three theses would become real- 
ities, he spoke characteristically of the role wandering in search of a 
hero. He had read Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, 
and it occurred to him that there was an actor living "somewhere 
near the borders of our country" who might play the role of the 
Great Unifier. He wrote: 

The pages of history are full of heroes who created for them- 
selves roles of glorious valor which they played at decisive mo- 
ments. And in the pages of history we find, too, heroic and 
glorious roles which never found heroes to perform them. I do 
not know why it always seems to me that this role, exhausted by 
its wanderings, has at last settled down, tired and weary, near 
the borders of our country and is beckoning us to walk onto the 
stage, recite the lines, put on the proper costumes, since no one 
else is qualified to play it. 

At this point, for fear that anyone might suggest that Colonel Nas- 
ser was depicting his own role, he stepped back, and in the next sen- 
tence explained that he was not referring to Egyptian leadership, but 
to a nebulous "interplay of reactions and experiments with all these 
factors, aiming at exploding the tremendous latent energy in all the 
areas around us." 

By the nature of things Nasser was treading on dangerous ground, 
awakening forces over which he must have known he would have lit- 


tie control. He saw himself as another Saladin, capable of uniting 
Syria and Egypt as Saladin had done before him; but he lacked 
Saladin's nobility of purpose as he lacked the great paladin's deep 
religious faith. Nasser's impulses were fundamentally honest no one 
can read his Philosophy of the Revolution without admiring his re- 
lentless efforts to understand the springs of his own actions but the 
man as he reveals himself in his speeches is the child of frenzied 
dreams who will play the game of empire on those frontiers of the 
imagination which open into nightmare. Muhammad, too, had his 
frenzies, his dreams of empire, and the greatest of his enemies had 
inherited the empire he did so much to found. The knowledge of 
treachery is very close to the Arab mind. Wherever Nasser looks he 
is aware of traitors in the shadows. As the years pass, if he escapes 
assassination, he will inevitably grow harsher, more imperious, in- 
creasingly at the mercy of his limitless dreams; and it is unlikely that 
he can survive for long the pressure of his fears. Where an Augustus 
was needed, the world has been presented with a Caligula. 

"The duty of Egypt," Nasser wrote, "is to create an immense power 
which will be able to drive the African countries into revolution." 
The art of creating revolutions is well known. Trotsky and Hitler 
have elaborated upon the simple elements of that destructive art, and 
Nasser has sat abundantly at their feet. He was wiser when he was 
younger. He wrote in The Philosophy of the Revolution that what he 
wanted most from the endless crowds who cheered him was to hear 
"but one Egyptian uttering one word of justice about another." He 
rarely heard the words he desired to hear, and soon became too em- 
broiled in conspiracy to care. Today, in full possession of his destruc- 
tive art, he stands with the sword of Islam in his hand, more dread- 
fully imperious than any emperor before him. 

To understand the danger of Nasser, one has only to compare him 
with Muhammad. What Muhammad tapped were elements of human 
consciousness which are timeless, changeless, quite without historic 
answer the human need for submission, the heart's hunger for God, 
man's thirst for dominion over himself, over his own passions and 
the aimless wanderings of his mind. An ultimate and relentless faith 
illuminated his spirit. He was no hero searching for a role to play, 
but a stern taskmaster who would shape heroism to the ends of God. 
Nasser, employing the weapons of subversion, must subvert Islam to 
his own ends, becoming Caliph and Sultan, creating and ruling over 
an empire which in the nature of things must split apart at the mo- 


ment of his death. His legions lack the asabiyya, the cohesiveness, 
which is the firm requisite of conquerors. He must trust to instinct 
where in the past the great sultans and caliphs trusted in their faith. 
And he must work alone, without f riends, always with the knowledge 
that his most powerful adversaries in the Soviet Union are working 
toward his destruction. None ever walked such a tightrope before, or 
pretended so convincingly that he was walking on air. 

With the figure of Gamal Abdal Nasser the story of Islam comes to 
its present end. All the forces of historic Islam beat against this 
strange dictator in a modern business suit. He represents the awak- 
ened fury of aroused Islam, which sees itself surrounded by enemies 
beyond its understanding. He must fight the "war of the desert" in 
an age given over to wars which are not fought according to the law 
of Islamic warfare. Inevitably he makes war against those who might 
have been his closest allies: a shadowy war fought among shadows. 

There is a sense in which the story of Islam is already over. There 
was a time when the power of Islam was poured into great monu- 
ments and the building of great cities, when the Masjid-i-Shah, the 
blue mosque at Isfahan, and the great Maidan were regarded as su- 
preme examples of the grace of God; when a Caliph would devote 
his life and fortune to the creation of his library; when poets and 
philosophers were rewarded. With flawless taste the artisans built 
prayer chambers filled with the magnificence of tiles of lapis lazuli, 
to represent the blue meadows of Paradise in flower. But as the ages 
passed the glory departed. Today we see only the husk of Islam, 
shorn of its ancient grandeur. Always the Muhamadans were faced 
with a dilemma. Since "all things are passing save His Face/' what 
was to be gained by building earthly empires by the sword? All that 
was best in Islam came, not from the sword, but from the contempla- 
tion of God's peace. 



Ahl al-bait. 


Allahu AJ^bar 




Ana *l-Haqq 



Bismil$ct Allahummah 



Dervish (Darwish) 








Hijra (Hegira) 





Father of 

People of the House (of the Prophet), as dis- 
tinguished from ahl al~\itab, the People of the 
Book, i.e., Christians and Jews. 
The supreme Being of the Moslems, from the 
Aramaic aloha, 'the god/ 
God is the greatest of all. 
So be it. 
Leader, chieftain. 

Helpers. The first converts from Madinah. 
"I am the Truth." The famous cry of al-Halla). 
Group feeling; instinctive social cohesion. Used 
by Ibn Khaldun in his study of corruption. 

"In Thy name, O God." A common invocation. 
A new era. 

Member of a religious fraternity. 
Splitter of Vertebrae. The famous two-pointed 
sword won at the battle of Badr. 
Annihilation of the self. A technical term used by 

Mendicant dervish. 
The opening chapter of the Quran. 
Originally a story, then one of the sayings of the 

One who has performed the hajj, or pilgrimage. 
Forbidden, sacred. 

Abandonment, emigration. Used of Muhammad's 
flight to Madinah. 

The loosening: hence the incarnation of God in 

The white ones, the maidens of Paradise. 
Son of. Corresponds to Hebrew ben. 
Mortification. Especially refers to the major and 
minor pilgrimages. 










La ilaha ilia Allah. 







Quran (Koran, 


Qubbat al-Sa\hrah 
Qubbat al-Silsilah 
Sahib an-naqah 






Leader in the widest sense. Leader of prayer in 
the mosque, or any spiritual leader in authority. 
Submission. The faith of the Muhamadans. 
Becoming one. Used of the coalescence of divine 
and human creatures. 

Holy war. 

Intelligent creatures of air and fire. 
A loose cloak. 

The gray stone cube in the center of Mecca. 
Successor, vicegerent. Caliph. The term is also 
used by Malays to describe a mystical rite. 
Black curtain covering the four walls of the 

There is no God save Allah. 
The guided one, hence the deliverer. 
Parade ground. 
Mosque of the Shah. 

Niche at east end of mosque giving direction of 

Administrator: hence the secret ruler of the uni- 
The discourse. 

Dome of the Rock. 
Dome of the Chain. 
Bending the body in prayer. 
Messenger, apostle. 

Man on a she-camel. Said of some founders of 

Literally "knowers." Applied to poets, sooth- 
sayers and possessed people. 
Title of respect: used for leader of a tribe, holy 
men, anyone regarded with veneration. 
Party, especially the Party of AIL The form of 
Muhamadanism common throughout Persia. 

Probably from Suf, wool. Denotes the mystics 
whose doctrines emerged during the third cen- 
tury after the Hijra. 

Custom, tradition, especially the traditions as- 
sociated with Muhammad. 


Sunni Traditional Muhamadanism, as distinguished from 

the Shi'a sectarian movement, 

Sura The chapters of the Quran. 

Tawaf The running round or circumambulation of any 

sacred object, used especially of running round 
or circumambulating the Kaaba. 

Chronological Table 

c. 570 
c. 610 





632 634 





644 656 






661 750 






691 694 





Muhammad born. 
The Vision in the Cave. 
Flight of his followers to Abyssinia. 
Migration to Madinah, Beginning of Islamic era. 
Battle of Badr. 
Battle of Uhud, 
Battle of the Ditch. 
Conquest of Mecca. Battle of Hunayn. 
Farewell Pilgrimage. Death of Muhammad (June 8) 
Caliphate of Abu Bakr. 
Battle of Ajnadayn. 
Caliphate of Umar. 
Conquest of Damascus. 
Moslems take Jerusalem and Ctesiphon, 
Conquest of Persia and Egypt. 
Caliphate of Uthman. 

Yazdagird, last Sasanian Emperor, assassinated in Khura- 

Caliphate of AH. 
Battle of the CameL 
Batde of Siffin. 
Arbitration at Adhruh. 
Umayyad Caliphate. 
Caliphate of Muawiya I. 
Constantinople besieged. 
Second siege of Constantinople. 
Death of Husayn at Karbala. 
Caliphate of Abd-al-Malik. 
Dome of the Rock built. 

Moslems enter Spain. Conquest of Sind and Transoxiam. 
Arabs in Narbonne. 

Battle against Charles Martel near Tours. 
All Persia in hands of the Abbasids. 
Caliphate of As-Saffah. Umayyads destroyed. 











858 922 






912 961 


961 976 

996 I 02 I 
1027 - 1031 

1061 1091 

1063 1072 

1058 i ii i 




1138 1193 


1165 1240 


1182 1226 

1184 1291 


1189 1192 


1207 1273 



Caliphate of al-Mansur. 

Abd-ar-Rahman, amir of Cordova. 

Baghdad founded. 

Charlemagne enters Spain. 

Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid. 

Execution of Ja'far. 

Palermo seized by Arabs. 

Death of Caliph al-Mamun, 

Samarra founded. 

Caliphate of al-Mutawakkil. 


Basrah destroyed. 

Tulunids as hereditary governors of Egypt. 

Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun. 

Death of Bayazid. 

Death of al-Junayd. 

Abd-ar-Rahman III. Cordova at its greatest glory, 

Death of historian Tabari. 

Qarmatians sack Mecca. 


Hakam I in Cordova. 

The Fatimid al-Hakim in Egypt, Rise of the Druses, 

Hisham III, last Umayyad ruler of Cordova. 

Toghrul Beg seizes Khurasan. 

Seljuks capture Baghdad. 

Normans settle in Sicily. 

Alp Arslan. 


Normans conquer England. 

Battle of Manzikert. 

Crusaders capture Jerusalem. 


Second Crusade. 

Ibn Arabi. 

Saladin overthrows Fatimlds in Egypt, 

St. Francis of Assisi. 

Sa'di of Shiraz. 

Saladin defeats Franks at Horns of Hattin and captures 


Third Crusade. 

Muhammad Ghuri conquers northern India* 

Jalalu'1-Din RurnL 

Death of Genghiz Khan, 

Mamluk rule in Egypt. 

Hulagu captures Baghdad. 


1260 Mamluks defeat Mongols at Ayn Jalut. 

I2 6o 1267 Baybars. 

1294 Ala-ad-DIn conquers Daulatabad 

1291 Crusaders ousted from Syria. 

1303 Battle of Marj al-Suffah. 

1330 Janissaries first appointed. 

1331 Death of Emperor Andronicus III. 
1336 1405 Timurlane. 

J 337 Urkhon attacks Constantinople. 

1389 Battle of Kossovo Polye. 

1389 1402 Sultan Bayazid. 

1400 Damascus sacked by Tim-urlane. 

1402 Battle of Ankara. Defeat of Bayazid. 

1439 Battle of Hermannstadt. 

1453 Fall of Constantinople. 

1456 Siege of Belgrade. 

1481 Death of Muhammad II, the Conqueror. 

1492 Fall of Granada. Moors expelled from Spain. 

1514 Selim I defeats Shah Ismail at Chaldiran. 

1517 Selim I conquers Egypt. 

1520 1566 Sulayman I, the Magnificent. 

1522 Siege of Rhodes. 

1525 Babur sets out to conquer India. 

1526 Battle of Mohacs. 
1556 1605 Akbar. 

1638 Murad IV storms Baghdad. 

16281658 Shah Jehan. 

1 68 1 Turks cede Kiev to Russia. 

1687 Turks defeated at Mohacs. 

1699 Peace of Karlowicz. 

1736 1747 Nadir Shah. 

r 739 Nadir Shah captures Delhi. 

1769 1848 Muhammad Ali. 

1789 Napoleon in Egypt. Battle of the Pyramids. 

1801 Wahhabis raid Karbala. 

1803 1804 Wahhabis capture Mecca and Madinah. 

1 81 1 Muhammad Ali destroys Mamluks. 

1821 1829 Mahmud II massacres Janissaries. 

1830 Algiers occupied by French. 

1835 Abd-al-Qadir defeats French. 

1839 Aden occupied by British. 

1842 Revolt of Druses. 

1843 Abd al-Qadir passes into Morocco. 
1853 Crimean War. 

1857 Indian Mutiny. 



1860 Construction of Suez Canal begins. 

1869 Suez Canal completed. 

1870 The Mahdi in the Sudan. 
jSgo 1892 Tewfiq, Khedive of Egypt. 

1 88 1 French occupy Tunisia. 

1882 Battle of Tell al-Kabir. Mahdi drives Egyptians from 
Sudan. British occupation of Egypt. 

1883 Death of Abd al-Qadir. 

1885 Khartum attacked. Gordon killed. Death of the Mahdi, 

1894 French capture Timbuktu. 

1898 Battle of Omdurman. 

1901 Ibn Saud captures Riyadh. 

1908 Revolution of Young Turks. Sharif Husayn becomes 

guardian of Mecca. 

1911 1912 Italy conquers Tripolitania. 

1914 1918 First World War. 

1916 Arab revolt begins. 

1917 British capture Baghdad. 

1918 T.E. Lawrence occupies Damascus, 

1919 Revolution in Egypt. 

1920 Allies occupy Istanbul. 

1921 Revolt of Abd el-Krim in the Rif. Kingdoms o Iraq 
and Transjordan proclaimed. 

1923 Turkish Republic proclaimed. 

1924 Caliphate abolished. Ibn Saud conquers Hijaz. 

1925 Riza Khan Pahlavi, Shah of Iran. 

1932 Ibn Saud proclaims Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

1 933 Death of Fay sal I of Iraq. 

1936 King Farouk comes to the throne. 

1938 Death of Ataturk. 

1939 1945 Second World War. 

1941 Revolt of Rashid Ali in Iraq. 

1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. 

1948 Israel proclaims independence. Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, 
Syria and Jordan invade Isreal. 

1951 King Abdallah assassinated. 

1952 King Farouk exiled. Libya proclaims independence. 

1953 Egypt proclaimed a republic, with General Naguib as 

1954 Gamal Abdal Nasser becomes dictator of Egypt. 

2956 Sudan and Tunisia become independent. Pakistan be- 

comes Islamic Republic. Egypt nationalises Suez Canal. 
Israel, Britain and France invade Egypt. 

1958 United Arab Republic proclaimed. 

Selective Bibliography 

There are in English five indispensable works for the study o Muham- 
adan theology, history and art. They are Alfred Guillaume's translation 
of Ibn Ishaq's Life of Muhamad, A. J. Arberry's translations of the Quran, 
Arthur Upham Pope's Survey of Persian Art, K. A, C. Creswell's Early 
Muslim Architecture and Charles Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta. 
These are all full and meaty books written with scholarly genius, and must 
stand apart in any list of books dealing with Islamic studies. The only 
other comparable work in a European language known to me is Louis 
Massignon's Al-Hallaj f Martyre mystique de I'lslam. 

Unhappily, there are no collections of works devoted to translations of 
Islamic texts comparable with the great series of translations of Christian 
theologians. The E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Translations are numerous and 
excellent., but do not form a co-ordinated series. The American Council of 
Learned Societies published a group of ten translations of modern Arabic 
books, but the translations are of unequal value. Whole areas of Islamic 
knowledge remain closed to us. We lack a good history of the Seljuk Turks 
or of Fatimid Egypt; there is no dependable survey of Islamic art in Spain. 
Dozy's monumental study of Islamic Spain needs to be brought up to date. 
Only Creswell has had the patience and scholarship to knit together all 
the threads of early Muslim architecture, but much work remains to be 
done on the early origins of Muhamadan art. Monographs abound, but 
we are still only at the beginning of Islamic studies in this country. 

Of recent works the most impressive studies made in England have been 
devoted to the Sufis, and those of Margaret Smith and A. J. Arberry de- 
serve special mention. In America there is Franz Rosenthal's translation of 
Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah in three handsome volumes. It is a work of 
impressive scholarship, but does not materially add to the translation pub- 
lished by de Slane in Paris more than a hundred years ago. 

The great standby of all those who work on Islamic studies is the monu- 
mental Encyclopaedia of Islam, scholarly and humane, but curiously lack- 
ing on the subject of the Islamic arts. The Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam 
is, of course, invaluable, though limited to articles dealing with Islamic re- 
ligion and law. A completely rewritten Encyclopaedia of Islam is now being 
prepared by Islamic scholars from all over the world, but unfortunately it is 



to be published only in Urdu. It seems a pity that the work of so many 
talents should be published in a language which can be read by very few 
scholars in the West. 

For the present there is a great need for a standard collection of authori- 
tative Islamic texts in translation. Until that time conies the task of under- 
standing Islam will remain almost intolerably difficult. It is not only that 
Muhamadan patterns of thought are foreign to us, but we have the added 
disadvantage of knowing so little about the most elementary facts of Mu- 
hamadan history, which have rarely been analyzed with the same scrupulous 
care that we devote to western history. Background and foreground are 
both legendary. So it will remain until another inspired Gibbon surveys 
the whole field of Islamic history and gives us the facts interpreted with 
Imaginative truth. 


BROCKELMANN, CARL, History of the Islamic Peoples (London: Routledge and 

Kegan Paul, 1949). 

GUILLAUME, ALFRED, Islam (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1956). 
HOGARTH, D. G., Arabia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922). 
PHILBY, H. ST. J. } The Heart of Arabia (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1923). 
SCHRQEDER, ERIC, Muhammad's People (Portland: The Bond Wheelright 

Company, 1954). 


ALI, MUHAMMAD, The Prophet Muhammad (London: Cassell & Co., 1947). 
ANDRAE, TOR, Mohammed, the Man and his Faith (London: George Allen & 

Unwin, 1936). 
DERMENGHEM, SMILE, Mahomet et la Tradition islamiquc (Paris: Aux editions 

du scuil, n.d.). 
, Muhammad and the Islamic Tradition (New York: Harper & Brothers, 


DIBBLE, R. F., Mohammed (New York: The Viking Press, 1926). 
GUILLAUME, ALFRED, The Life of Muhammad: a translation of Ibn Ishaq's 

Sirat Rasul Allah (London: Oxford University Press, 1955). 
IRVING, WASHINGTON, Life of Mahomet (London: f. M. Dent and Sons, 1949). 
MARGOLIOUTH, D. S., Mohammad and the Rise of Islam (London: G. P. Putnam's 

Sons, 1927). 
PIRENNE, HENRI, Mohammad and Charlemagne (New York: Meridian Books, 


WATT, W. M,, Muhammad at Mecca (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953). 
, Muhammad at Medina (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956). 


ALI, MUHAMMAD, The Muslim Prayer Boo% (Lahore: Dar-ul-Kutub, Islamia, 


AL-SUHRAWARDY, Miami Sir Abdullah al-Mamun, The Sayings of Muhammad 

(London: John Murray, 1949). 

ARBERRY, A. J,, The Koran Interpreted (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1955). 
ARNOLD, T. W., The Preaching of Islam (Westminster: Archibald Constable 

& Co., 1896). 

DAWOOD, N, J. (tr.), The Koran (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1956). 
LAMMENS, H., Islam: Beliefs and Institutions (New York: E. P. Button & Co., 

PZCKTHALL, MOHAMMAD MARMADUKE (tr.), The Meaning of the Glorious Koran 

(New York: New American Library, 1953). 

ROBSON, JAMES, Christ in Islam (New York: E. P. Button & Co., 1930). 
RODWELL, J. M., The Koran: the Suras arranged in Chronological Order 

(London: J. M. Bent, 1918). 
TRITTON, A. $., Islam: Beliefs and Practices (London: Hutchinson's University 

Library, 1954). 


ALI, MAULANA MUHAMMAD, Early Caliphate (Lahore: Ahmadiyyah Anjuman 

Ishaat Islam, 1951). 
FORSTER, E. M., Alexandria: A History and a Guide (Alexandria: Whitehead 

Morris, 1902). 

SHERWANI KHAN, Hadrat Abu Baftr (Lahore: Muhammad Ashraf, 1947). 
TRITTON, A. $., The Caliphs and their Non-Moslem Subjects (London: Humphrey 

Milford, 1930). 


BRIGGS, MARTIN S., Muhamadan Architecture in Egypt and Palestine (Oxford: 
Clarendon Press, 1924). 

CRESWELL, K. A. C., A Short Account of Early Muslim Architecture (Harmonds- 
worth: Penguin Books, 1958). 

, Early Muslim Architecture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 10,32, 1940), 2 vols. 

RICHMOND, ERNEST TATHAM, The Dome of the Roc^ in Jerusalem (Oxford: 
Clarendon Press, 1924). 


AMEDROZ, H. E., and MARGOLIOUTH, D. S., The Eclipse of the Abbasid Caliphate 

(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1920-21), 7 vols. 
ARNOLD, T. W., The Caliphate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924). 
BECKFORD, WILLIAM, Vathe\ (New York: Brentano's, n.d.). 
LEVY, REUBEN, A Baghdad Chronicle (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 


LLOYD, SETON, Ruined Cities of Iraq (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1942). 
SLANE, BARON MacGuckin de (tr,), tin Khallifan's Biographical Dictionary 

(Paris: 1843), 4 vo ^ s - 
TABARI, MUHAMMAD IBN JARIR, The Reign of al-Mutasim, tr. Elma Marin 

(American Oriental Series, vol 35). 



ARBERRY, A. J., Sttfism (London; George Allen & Unwin, 1956). 

- , The Doctrine of the Sufis (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 

MASSIGNON, Louis, Hocein Mansitr Hallaj: Ditvan (Paris: Cahiers du Sud, 1955). 

- , Al-Hallajt Martyre Mystique de ?l$lam (Paris: Paul Gcuthner, 1922), 
SMITH, MARGARET, Readings from the Mystics of Islam (London: Luzac and Co., 

, Rub? a the Mystic and her Fellow Saints in Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1928). 
, Al-Ghazsali the Mystic (London: Lu?,ac and Co., 1944). 


AFFIFI, A. E., The Mystical Phihosphy of Muhy id-Din Ibntd- Arabi (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1939). 

ALI, SYED NAWAB, Some Religious Teachings of d-Ghassali (Lahore: Muhammad 
Ashra, 1946). 

BEHA ED-DIN IBN SHEDDAD, The Life of Saladin (London: Palestine Exploration 
Fund, 1897). 

BURCKHARDT, TITUS (tr.), La Sagesse des Prophetcs, de Mtthyi-d-din Ibn Arabi 
(Paris: Albin Michel, 1955). 

FIELD, CLAUD (tr.), The Alchemy of Happiness by al-Ghazzali (Lahore: Muham- 
mad Ashraf, n.d). 

GAIRDNER, W. H. T. (tr.), Al-Ghassali's Mishfyzt dl-Antvar (Lahore: Muham- 
mad Ashraf, n.d.). 

RREY, AUGUST G. The Pirst Crusade: the Accounts of Eye-witnesses (Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1921). 

MARZIALS, SIR FRANK T. (tr.), Memoirs of the Crusades: Villehardouin and 
Joinmlk (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1958). 

MOULAVI, S. A. Q. HUSAINI, Ibn al * Arabi (Lahore: Muhammad Ashraf, n.d.). 

O^LEARY, DE LACY, A Short History of the Patimid Khali fate (London: Kegan, 
Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1923). 

POTTER, GEORGE RICHARD (tr.) The Autobiography of Otesama (New York; 
Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1929) . 

WATT, W. MONTGOMERY, The Faith and Practice of al-Ghazzali (London: 
George Allen and Unwin, 1953). 

WRIGHT, THOMAS (ed.), Early Travels in Palestine (London: Henry G. Bonn, 


ARBERRY, A. J., Classical Persian Literature (New York: The Macmillan Co., 

DARAH, PRINCE MUHAMMAD, The Mingling of the Two Oceans, tr, M, Mahfuz-ul- 

Huq (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1929). 


DAVIS, F. HADLAND, The Persian Mystics: Jalalu-d-din Rumi (Lahore: Muhammad 

Ashraf, n.d). 

GREY, BASIL, Persian Painting (London: Ernest Benn, Ltd., 1930). 
HIDDEN, ALEXANDER W., The Ottoman Dynasty (New York: Nicholas W. Hidden, 


LEVY, REUBEN, Persian Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1948). 
LUKE, SIR HARRY, The Old Turkey and the New (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955). 
MUIR, SIR WILLIAM, The Mameluke or Slave Dynasty of Egypt (1260-1517 A.D.), 

(London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1896). 
NICHOLSON, R. A., Rumi: Poet and Mystic (London: George Allen and Unwin, 


PAYNE, ROBERT, The Splendor of Persia (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957). 
POPE, ARTHUR UPHAM, An Introduction to Persian Art (London: Peter Davies, 

- , Masterpieces of Persian Art (New York: The Dry den Press, 1945). 

- , Survey of Persian Art (London: Oxford University Press, 1938-39), 
6 vols. 

PRICE, M. PHILIPS, A History of Turkey (London: George Allen and Unwin, 

TAGORE, SIR RABINDRANATH (tr.), The Songs of Kabir (New York: The Mac- 

millan Co., 1915). 
TOBIN, CHESTER M., Turkey: Key to the East (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 

WILBER, DONALD N., Iran: Past and Present (Princeton: Princeton University 

Press, 1955). 


ARMSTRONG, H. C., Lord of Arabia: Ibn Saud (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 

DOUGHTY, CHARLES MONTAGU, Travels in Arabia Deserta (London: P. L. Warner, 


ELLIS, HARRY B., The Heritage of the Desert (New York: Ronald Press Co., 1956). 
GAURY, GERALD DE, Arabian Journey (London: George G. Harrup and Co., 1950). 
HASLIP, JOAN, The Sultan: The Life of Abdul Hamid 11 (London: Cassell and 

Co., 1958). 

IZZEDDIN, NEJLA, The Arab World (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1953). 
LANE, EDWARD WILLIAM, Cairo Fifty years Ago (London: John Murray, 1896). 
LAWRENCE, T. E., The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (Garden City, N.Y., 

Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1935). 
LUKASH., HARRY CHARLES, The Fringe of the East (London: Macmillan & Co., 

MEULEN, D VAN DER, The Wells of Ibn Saud (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 

NASSER, GAMAL ABDUL, Egypt's Liberation: The Philosophy of the Revolution 

(Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1955). 
TWITCHELL, K. S. Saudi Arabia (Princton: Princeton University Press, 1947). 



ALI, AMEER, A Short History of the Saracens (London: Macmillan & Co., 1899). 
ARNOLD, T. W., Painting in Islam (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928). 
ATIYAH, EDWARD, The Arabs (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1955)- 
BOUQUET,, A. C., Comparative Religion (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1950). 
BROWNE, LAURENCE E., The Prospects of Islam (London: S. C. M. Press, 1944). 
CHEW, S. C., The Crescent and the Rose (New York: Oxford University Press, 

DIMAND, M. S., A Handbook of Muhammadan Art (New York: Metropolitan 

Museum of Art, 1958), 
DOZY, REINHART, Spanish Islam: A History of the Moslems in Spain (London: 

Chatto and Windus, 1913). 
PARIS, NABIH AMIN (ed.), The Arab Heritage (Princeton: Princeton University 

Press, 1946). 
GIBB, H. A. R., Mohammedanism: A Historical Survey (New York: New 

American Library, 1955). 
Him, PHILIP K., Histoy of the Arabs (London: Macmillan & Co., 1946). 

j History of Syria (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1951). 

, Lebanon in History (London: Macmillan & Co., 1957). 

KIRK, GEORGE E., A Short History of the Middle East (New York: Frederick A. 

Praeger, 1958). 
LANE-POOL, STANLEY, The Story of the Moors in Spain (New York: G. P. 

Putnam's Sons, 1891). 
MAHDI, MUHSIN, Ibn Khaldun's Philosophy of History (London: George Allen 

and Unwin, 1957). 

MARC.AIS, GEORGES, UArt de I'Islam (Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1946). 
MARGOLIOUTH, D. S., Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus (New York: Dodd, Mead 

& Co., 1907). 
MASUDI, ABU AL-HASSAN, L'Abreg$ des Merveittes, tr. Baron Carra de Vaux 

(Paris: C. Klincksiech, 1898). 
NICHOLSON, REYNOLD A, A Literary History of the Arabs (New York: Charles 

Scribner's Sons, 1907). 
ROSENTHAL, FRANZ (tr.), Ibn Khaldun: The Muqaddimak (New York: Pantheon 

Books, 1958), 3 vols. 
PARKES, JAMES, A History of Palestine from 155 AD. to Modern Times (New) 

York: Oxford University Press, 1949), 
WOLLASTQN, ARTHUR N., The Sword of Islam (London: John Murray, 1905). 


Aaron, 60 

Aban ibn-Muawiya, 149 

Abba, 296, 299 

Abbas, brother of al-Mansur, 158 

Abbas, son of al-Mansur, 179 

Abbas, al-, uncle of Muhammad, 26, 37, 

55, 64, 147 

Abbasa, sister of Harun, 165 ,, 
Abbasid dynasty, 38, 147,*151/ 152 
Abdah, Princess, 149 
Abdal Rahman, 302 
Abdal Rahman ibn-'Auf, 98 
Abdal Rahman ibn Muljam, 115 
Abdallah, son of Muhammad, 14 
Abdallah ibn Husayn, 125 
Abdallah ibn Jiluwi, 303, 304 
Abdallah ibn Marwan, 151 
Abdallah ibn Masud, 29, 35, 108 
Abdallah ibn Maymun, 207 
Abdallah ibn Muhammad, 298, 299 
Abdallah ibn Rawaha, 154 
Abdallah ibn Sa'd, 106, 107 
Abdallah ibn Zubayr, 122, 123, 126, 127, 

128, 131 

Abd al-Ghafir al-Farisi, 228 
Abd al-Malik, 127, 128, 130, 131, 132, 133, 

138, 149, 151, 192 
Abd al-Muttalib, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12 
Abd al-Qadir, 287, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292 
Abd ar-Rahman I, 212 
Abd ar-Rahman II, 212 
Abd ar-Rahman III, 213, 214, 215 
Abd ar-Rahman ibn Abdallah, 142, 143, 


Abd ar-Rahman ibn Muawiya, 150 
Abu'l Abbas Abdallah, 147, 148 
Abul Abbas Ahmad, 246 
Abraham, 8, 22, 24, 55, 71, 72, 73, 81, 

86, 131 
Asolom, 223 
Abydos, 139 
Abyssinia, 6, 7, 20, 31 
Achaernenians, 150 
Acre, 224, 225, 247, 291, 301 
Adam, 74 
Adana, 287 
Aden, 239 
Adrianople, 265, 270 
Adud ad-Dawlah, 205 
Aegean Sea, 144 
Afghanistan, 108, 172, 259 
Afshin, 178, 179 
Aga Khan, 187 
Agra, 281 
Ahl al-bait, 147 

Ahmad, Abu, 185 

Ahmad Arabi, Col. 292, 293, 294, 295 

Ahmad ibn Buwayh, 204 

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, 85, 174, 198 

Ahmad ibn Muhammad, 185 

Ahmad ibn Nasr Khuzai, 183 

Ahmad ibn Tulun, 187, 191, 192 

Ahura-Mazda, 153 

Ajlan, a governor, 303 

Ajnadayn, 94, 95 

Akbar, Emperor, ix, 83, 279, 281 

Akedah, 72 

Akhtal, 121 

Akkad, 157 

Ala ad-Din II, 253, 255 

Ala ad-Din Khilii, 277, 278 

Alamut, 187, 222 

Alchemy of Happiness, 230 

Aleppo, 161, 206, 219, 242, 243, 250, 259, 

268, 287 

Alexander IV, Pope, 241 
Alexander the Great, 101 
Alexandria, 101, 103, 189, 286, 291, 292 
Algiers, 288, 289 
Alhambra, ix 
Alhazen, 208 
Ali, 16, 27, 31, 38, 40, 42, 44, 45, 51, 60, 

63, 64, 87, 88, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 

114, 123, 140, 150, 156, 177, 276 
Ali ibn Isa, 188, 189 
Ali ibn Musa, 172 
Ali Muhammad, 300 
Ali Qapu, 274, 275 
Alilat, 3 
Allah taalah, 3 
Almanzor, 216, 217 
Almeria, 150 
Almunecar, 150 
Alp Arslan, 218, 219 
Alvarez of Cordova, 212 
Amadeus of Savoy, 257 
Amboise, 291 

American University, Bierut, 308 
Amin, al-, Caliph, 170, 171 
Amina, 11, 27 
Amir, a tribe, 288 
Amr ibn Abdu Wudd, 45 
Amr ibn al-'As, 92, 93, 98, 100, 101, 106, 

107, 113, 114, 119 
Amram, 16 
Amu Darya, 238 
ana 'l-Haqq, 197, 229 
Anadolu Hissar, 259 
Anbar Gate, 171 
Andalusia, 216, 217, 233, 241 


Andronicus I, Emperor, 266 

Andronicus III, 256 

AngiolcHo. 267 

Ankara, 161, 169, 260 

Anne of Savoy, 256 

Ansar, 30. 34* 35, 36, 297 

Antioch, 94, 134, 222, 224, 243, 244 

Aqabah, 221 

Aqabah, Gulf of, 53 

Aqabah, Pass of, 25, 26 

Arabian lights, 162 

Arafat, 5. 61, 77, 79 

Arculf, Bishop, 131 

Ardebil carpet, 275 

Aristotle, 205, 207 

Arqam, al-, 19, 21 

Arwad, 24 

asabiyya, 181, 183, 248, 305, 312 

Ascalon, 126, 224 

Ashraf, al-, Mamluk Sultan, 247, 248, 259 

Asin y Palados, Miguel, 238 

Asir, 1 

Assassins, 238, 244 

Atlas mountains, 120 

Augustus Caesar, 167 

Aurungzcb, Emperor, 283 

Aus, 30 

Australian Franks, 141 

Austria, 271 

Avignon, 143 

Aycsha, 25, 31, 40, 43, 44, 47, 62, 63, 64, 

75, 87, 88, 106, 109, 111, 112 
Ayn Jalut, 243, 309 
Azerbaijan, 222 
Atfhar University, al-, 292 
Aziz, al-, Patimid Caliph, 208 

Baalbek, 222, 260 

Bab, 300 

Babur, 279 

Babylon, 101, 157 

Bacchus, 3, 4 

Badajoz, 160 

Badr, Battle of, xiv, 34-39, 92, 210 

Baghdad, 115, 157, 158, 161, 162, 165, 167, 
169, 171, 173, 183, 190, 201, 204, 206, 
216, 228, 238, 239, 250, 259, 268 

Baha Allah, 301 

Bahadur Shah II, 283 

Bahrayn, 8 

Bahira, a monk, 12 

Bakhra, 145 

Bakr, Abu, Caliph, 15, 16, 19, 25, 27, 31, 
35, 36, 40, 64, 87, 88, 89, 90, 92, 94, 95, 
99, 108, 116, 122, 140, 158, 177, 269. 

Bakr Muhammad ibn-Zakariya, Abu, 191 

Baladhuri, al-, 93 

Balat al-shuhada, 143 

Baldwin I, 221, 222 

Balkh, 119, 187 

Baluchistan, 137 

Bani al-Nadir, 41, 46 

Bani Hashim, 12 

Bani Hanifah, 90 

Bani Hawazin, 12 

Bani Quraiza, 45, 46 

Banu Sa'd, 10 

Bara' ibn Malik, 91 


Barada, a river, 135 
Baraka, 10, 11 
Barbak, 177, 178, 179 
Barbarossa, 270 

Barcelona, 216 

Bartyaruk, 220 

Basques, 213 

Basrah, III, 112, 158, 185, 187 

Batammi, al-, 80 

Bayazid, 80, 195, 196 

Bayiuid I, Sultan, 258, 259, 260, 261 

Ba valid II, 267 

Baybars al-Bunduqdari, 243-246, 285 

Baydara, 248 

Beau Brummell, 212 

Bcckford, William, 183 

Bedouins, 42, 48, 102, 112 

Beirut, 221, 224 

Bektaslri Dervishes, 255 

Belgrade, 2(56 

Benares, 277 

Bengal, 203 

Benjamin of Tmlela, 210, 225, 226 

Berbers, 120, 143, 150, 190 

Bethlehem, 24, 221 

Rhagavad Gita, 281 

Bilal, 29, 100 

Bir Malmun, 160 

Bishr, 51 

Bithynia, 255 

Black Sea, 108, 213, 262 

Black Stone, 4, 79, 80, 127, 131, 211, 254, 


Blake, William, 236, 251 
Bohcmoml, Prince of Antioch, 243, 244 
Boniface IX, Pojw, 25H 
Rook of Religion and Empire, 94 
Rook of Revelations, 18 
Bosnia, i>f>2, 263 
Bosphorus, 254 
Bostra, 12, 53 
Bougie, 289 
Brenner Pass, 272 
Brusa, 2(50, 261, 291 
Biida, 258, 272 

Bugeaud, Ckn, Thomas-Robert, 290, 291 
Bukhari, 31 
Bulgaria, 258, 262 
Burgundy, 143 
Busir, 148 
Buwayhids, 205 
Byzantium, 118, 121, 215 

Caesar, 45, 49 

Caesarea, 100, 224 

Cairo, 126, 207, 211, 216, 242, 244, 246, 

2Bf>, 295 

Campo Santo, 211 
Canopic Way, 101 
Caramania, Princes of, 266 
Carlyle, Thomas, 68 
Carmcl, Mount, 301 
Carthage, 107, 119 
Caspian Sea, 159, 177, 204, 243 
Castille, 213 
Caucasus, 238 
Ceuta, 213, 234 
Chaldiran, 268 


Charlemagne, 169, 221 

Charles Martel, 142, 14S 

Charles V, Emperor, 272 

China, 86, 119, 196, 260, 278 

Chorbaji, 256 

Chosroes, 45, 49, 60, 131 

Chris todoulos, 267 

Chrysopolis, 161 

Church of the Holy Apostles, 265 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 132, 208* 


Church of the Nativity, 208 
Church of St. John the Baptist, 117, 134 
Cilicia, 247 

Clamat in auribus, 241, 242 
Comncni, 266, 275 
Communist Manifesto f 308 
Constantino, 289 
Constantinople, 119, 121, 139, 161, 219, 

256, 260, 261, 270 
Cordova, 137, 150, 160, 212, 213, 215, 216, 


Corsica, 144 

Corvinus, Mathias, 267, 271 
Crete, 144 
Crusades, 220 

Ctcsiphon, 102, 103, 115, 132, 155, 157 
Cyprus, 107, 134, 144, 301, 305 
Cyrus, Emperor, 52, 150 
Cyrus, a governor, 101 
Cyzicus, 119 

Dalautabad, 277, 278 

Damascus, 12, 60, 94, 96, 111, 112, 114, 
117, 122, 124, 126, 134, 135, 136, 137, 
138, 139, 141, 145, 151, 154, 187, 210, 216, 
225, 228, 244, 247, 248, 251, 260, 287, 

Daniel, 98 

Dante, 238 

Danube, 258, 262, 266 

Daphni, 136 

Dara Shikoh, Prince, 281, 282 

Dardanelles, 139 

D'Aubusson, Pierre, 270 

D'Aumale, Due, 290 

David, 238, 269 

David Gomnenus, King, 266 

Dawlah, 154 

Day of Judgment, 37 

Daylamites, 183, 204 

Dead Sea, 53, 54, 93, 223 

Delhi, 85, 249, 259, 277, 278, 281, 283, 

De Lorey, 135 

Deogiri, 277 

Deval, Pierre, 288 

Dey of Algiers, 288 

Dharr, Abu, 108 

Dhul-Faqar, 38, 51, 210, 269 

Dilke, Sir Charles, 293 

Diogenes Romanus IV, 218 

Divine Comedy, 238 

Diwani Shamsi Tabriz, 251 

Diyar Bakr, 245 

Dome of the Chain, 130, 132 

Dome of the Rock, 24, 130, 131, 132, 134, 
136, 192, 221, 228, 274 


Dongola, 296 
Dordogne, a river, 142, 
Doria, Andrea, 272 
Doughty, Charles, 3, 302 
Dragout, 272 
Druses, 210, 291 
Dulama, Abu, 158 
Durayd ibn al-Simma, 57 
Duri, Abu ibn, 288 

Eagle's Nest, 222 

Edessa, 93, 242 

Eginhard, 169 

Egypt, 100, 102, 107, 113, 120, 144, 148, 

151, 154, 159, 171, 187, 222, 234, 236, 

244, 284 

El Islam christianizado, 238 
Elizabeth I, Queen, 280 
Elvira, 137 
Ephesus, 161 
Epirus, 260 
Ertoghrul, 254 
Euboea, 266 

Eudo, Duke of Aquitaine, 141 
Eulogius, St., 212, 215 
Euphrates, 102, 111, 113, 123, 144, 150, 

157, 169 
Eustace of Bouillon, 220 

Fadak, 51 

Fadhl ibn Amid, Abu, 205 

Fadhl ibn Yahya, 163, 168 

Famagusta, 301 

fana, 196 

Farab, 207 

Farouk, King, 307 

Fatehpur Sikri, 83 

fatihah, 77 

Fatima, daughter of Husayn, 141 

Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, 31, 126, 


Fatima bint al-Waliyya, 234 
Fatimids, 207, 208, 210 
Faysal I, King, 304 
Faysal II, King, 306 
Fayyum, 189 
Ferghana, 279 
Firas, Abu, 206 
Firclausi, 229, 250, 265 
Firoz Shah, 278 
Foreign Legion, 288. 
Forster, E.M., 101 
Francis of Assisi, St., 73, 237 
Francois I, King, 272 
Free Officers Movement, 307 
French Revolution, 307 
Fusus al-Hikam, 236, 281 
Futuhat al-Makkiya f 234 

Gabriel, 16, 24, 29, 36, 66, 68, 75, 132 1 

Galilee, 95 

Gandersheim, 215 

Garonne, a river, 142 

Gate of the Sun, 101 

Gaurath, 42 

Gaza, 247 

Geber, 169 

Genesis, 72 



Genghiz Khan, 238, 259 

George (Jarja), 96 

Georgia, 219 

Germany, 262 

Ghana, 308 

Ghassan, 52 

Ghatafan, 42, 44 

Ghazam Khan, 248, 249 

Ghazzali, al, xiii, 73, 202, 227-233, 235 

Gibraltar, 137, 143 

Gilbert, W.S., 293 

Giralda, 214 

Giustiniani, Giovanni, 263 

Gladstone, W.E., 293 

Goa, 308 

Godfrey of Bouillon, 221 

Golden Horn, 139, 263 

Gordon, Gen., 297, 298 

Gospels, 68, 244, 246 

Grand Canal, 244 

Grant, Johann, 263 

Great Mosque of Samarra, 184, 185 

"Greek fire," 119 

Greek war of independence, 286 

Gregory of Nyssa, St., 231 

Gregory Palamas, St., 74 

Guacialquiver, a river, 150, 214 

Guelma, 289 

Gulistan, 250 

Guy of Lusignan, 223 

Guzerat, 277 

Hababah, 140 

Hadi, al-, Abbasid Caliph, 161, 162 

Hadhramaut, 33 

hadith, 34, 73, 82, 85, 154, 173, 222, 231 , 

297, 302 
Hagar, 5 
Haifa, 224 
Hail, 302 
Hajj, 5, 79 
Hajjaj ibn-Yusuf, 128, 129, 132, 133, 139, 

140, 269 

Hakam II, Umayyad Caliph, 215, 216 
Hakin, al-, Fatimfd Caliph, 208, 209, 246, 


Halima, 10, 11 

Hallaj, al-; see Husayn ibn-Mansur 
Hamadan, 277 
Hamza, 40, 91, 210 
Haraza of Isfahan, 190 
Hanbalites, 189, 198, 199, 200, 301 
Hanifs, 15 
Harith, Abu al-, 202 
Harran, 148 
Harun al-Rashid, 161-167, 169, 170, 172, 


Hasa, al-, 8 
Hasan, 110, 111, 112, 115, 117, 118, 119, 

123, 150, 269 
Hasan al-Askari, 185 
Hasan ibn-al-Haytham, 208 
Hasan ibn Ja'far, 165 
Hasan ibn-Sahl, 176 
Hashim, a tribe, 288 
Hashimiya, 154 
Hassan ibn Thabit, 52 
Hawab, valley of, 112 

Hawazin, 56, 57 

Haydar ibn Ka'us, 178 

Helen, a concubine, 169 

Helena Cantacuzene, 257 

Heliopolis, 101 

Hell, 75 

Hellespont, 261 

Henry IV, King, 280 

Hcraclca, a palace, 169 

Hcraclius, Emperor, 59, 60, 93, 95, 96, 97 

Herat, 119 

Herbert, Thomas, 275 

Hcrmon, Mount, 116 

Herodotus, 3, 4 

Hicks Pasha, 297 

Hijaz, 92, 207, 234, 245, 305 

Hijra, 28, 53 

Hims, 100, 207, 260 

Hindus, 277, 278 

Hirah, al-, 94, 102 

Hxsham, Caliph, 141, 142, 143, 144, 149, 

150, 151 

Hishara, II, Caliph, 216 
Hitler, Adolf, 105, 311 
Holy Ghost, 80 
Horns of Hattin, 223 
Hroswitha, 215 
Hubal, 4, 6, 7, 8, 19, 20, 55 
Hudaihiyah, 48, 50, 53, 56 
Hudhayfa, 45, 46 
Hulagu, Emperor, 59, 238, 239, 241, 242, 

243, 248, 259 
Hulul, 200 
Hul wan, 103 
Hunayn, 56, 59, 92 
Hungary, 260, 261, 270, 271, 272 
Huns, 76,, 
Husayn, 110, 112, 117, 119, 122, 123, 124, 

125, 126, 132, 133, 141, 150, 164, 177, 

205, 210, 276. 
Husavn ibn-Mansur (al-HaUaj), 196-203, 

204, 227, 229, 231, 232, 233, 237, 254, 280 
Husayn, Sharif of Mecca, 304, 305 
Huyayy ibn Akhtab, 47 

Iblis, 74 

Ibn Arabi, xiii, 65, 83, 202, 233-238, 

280, 281, 291, 292 
Ibn Battuta, 278, 309 
Ibn Khaldun, 26, 169, 177, 181, 182, 186, 

193, 212, 254 
Ibn Khallikan, 167, 219 
Ibn Saud, King, 302-300 
Ibn Sheddacl, 223, 224, 225 
Ibn Tulun, 245 
Ibrahim, Caliph, 146 
Ibrahim, a servant, 201 
Ibrahim, son of Muhammad, 52 
Ibrahim ibn Aclham, 195 
Ibrahim Pasha, 286 
Iconium (Konya), 220 
Idris ibn-Abdallah, 161 
Ihram, 79 
Ihya, a book, 230 
Imam Rida, 172, 173, 174, 276 
India, 85, 279 
Iraq, 8, 94, 103, 109, 112, 122, 128, 132, 

154, 196, 207 


Irene, Empress, 161 

Isaac, 71, 72 

Isa ibn-Muta, 159 

Isfahan, 131. 259. 274, 277, 300 

Ishmacl, 9, 55, 71 

Isidore of Hispalis, 122 

Islam, 13*5 

Ismail ibn- Ja'far, 186, 222 

Ismail ia, 294 

Ismailis, 187 

Istakhri, 1S5 

Istanbul, 291 

in i had, 198 

Jabal Hamrin, 157 
jabal Tariq, 137 
Jabir ibn-Hayyan, 169 
Jabiyah, al-, 99 
Jacob, 73, 86 
Ja'far, Abu, 151, 154 
Ja'far, brother of Ali, 54 
Ja'far ibn Abu Talib, 20 

"a'far ibn Han/ala, 156 

a'far ibn Yah) a, 163-168 

'a'fariya, 184 

affa, '148 

'aghatai, 259, 279 

ahannam, 75 

ahl, Abu, 34, 36 

ahweh, 32 

alalu '1-Din Rumi, xii, 83, 197, 202, 
250-254, 280 
Janissaries, 255, 256, 259, 260, 263, 267, 


Java, 203 

Jawhar al-Katib, 207 
Jebayl, 247 

lehangir, Emperor, 281 
Jerusalem, 24, 29, 97, 98, 99, 115, 130, 

131, 136, 209, 219, 221, 243, 287 
Jesus, 24, 55, 67, 80, 81, 82, 83 
Jews, 30, 41, 47, 50, 77 
Jiddah, 20 

Jihad, 78, 84, 89, 93, 244, 246, 270, 289 
/inn, 75, 76 

John the Baptist, 250 
ohn Gantacuzene, Emperor, 256, 257 
John Capistrano, 266 
John Damascene, St., 96, 121 
John Hunyadi, 261, 262, 263, 266, 272 
Vohn of the Cross, St., xii 
John V Palaeologus, Emperor, 256 
Jordan, 96, 147 
Joseph, 63 
Tudaea, 153 

Iunayd, 196 
upiter Capitolinus, 138 
urhamites, 6 
ustinian, Emperor, 130, 265 

Kaaba, 4, 5, 6, 10, 15, 18, 21, 23 

Ka'b ibn Zuhayr, 58, 59, 269 

Kabir, 280 

Kabul, 279 

Kahwaji, 256 

Kalifa, 89, 236 

Kallipolis (gallipoli) 257, 260, 261 

Karachi, 137 


Karasu valley, 254 

Karbala, 123, 126, 172, 184, 301 

Karkh, 163 

karma, 282 

Kashmir, 196 

Kassassin, 294 

Kavalla, 285 

Kazvin, 222 

Kemal Ataturk, 255, 287 

Kerak, 223 

Kereri, 299 

Khadijah, 13, 14, 15, 16, 23, 45 

Khalid ibn-Barmak, 155, 158 

Khalid ibn-al-Walid, 40, 48, 53, 54, 90, 91, 

93, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 139 
Khartum, 298 
Khaybar, 50, 51, 105 
Khayzuran, Princess, 161 
Khazraj, 30 
Khosrev Pasha, 285 
Khumarawayh, 188 
Khurasan, 104, 108, 119, 146, 147, 149, 

155, 159, 162, 166, 169, 170, 187, 195, 

217, 227, 259 
Khuraym, 118 
Khyber Pass, 276 
Kinana ibn-al-Rabi, 276 
Kipchak, 243, 247 
kiswa, 187 

Knights of St. John, 271 
Konya (Iconium), 250, 251, 254 
Kordofan, 297 
Kossovo Polye, 258, 262 
Krishna, 277 
Kufah, 106, 111, 114, 115, 116, 118, 123, 

126, 132, 141, 159, 206 
Kuwait, 302, 304 

Ladislaus, King, 262 

Lahab, Abu, 19, 22, 26 

Lahore, 281 

Lamoriciere, Gen., 291 

Larger Pilgrimage, 5 

Last Judgment, 66 

Latakiyeh, 247 

Lawrence, T.E., 304, 305 

Lazar, King, 258 

Lebanon, 210 

Leo Africanus, 309 

Leon, 213 

Lesseps, Ferdinand de, 294 

Lesser Pilgrimage, 5 

Life of the Messenger of God f 81 

Loire, a river, 141, 142 

Lombards, 143 

Louis-Philippe, King, 288, 290 

Lu'lu'ah Firoz, al-, 106 

Luristan, 272 

Lyons, 143 

Ma'an, 54, 62, 90 

Ma'arri, al-, abu al-Ala, 211 

Macarius, St., 74 

Macedonia, 258, 261, 285 

Madinat al-Salam, 157 

Madinat Nabi Allah (Madinah) 48, 51, 

54, 57, 60, 62, 88, 101, 104, 108, 109, 

111, 122, 127 



Magdala, 225 

Mahanayami, 22S 

Mahdi, 132, 186, 296, 297 

Mahdi, al-, Caliph, 151, 154, 155, 156, 

158, 159, 160, 163 
Mahmud of Ghazni, 277 
Mahmud, H, Sultan, 270, 286 
Majorca, 144 
Makran, 276 
Malaga, 137, 150 
Malik Shah, 219 
Malta, 272 
Mamluks, 242, 246, 268, 284, 285, 286, 

Mamun, al-, Caliph, 169, 170, 171, 173, 

174, 175, 176, 177, 184, 187, 188, 191, 


Mandingo, 308 
Munsa Musa, Emperor, 308 
Mansur, al-, Caliph, 151, 154, 155, 156, 

158, 159, 160, 163 
Mansur, al-, Sultan, 247 
Manuel II Palaeologus, Emperor, 261 
Manzikert, 218 
Mari al-Suffar, 248 
Marlowe, Christopher, 145 
Marseilles, 272 
Marwa, 5, 79 
Marwan ibn-Hakam, 127 
Marwan ibn-Himar, Caliph, 146, 147, 148, 

151, 161 

Mary the Copt, 52 
Mashad, 172, 173, 276, 300 
Masjid-i-Shah, 131 
Masrar, 165, 166, 167, 168 
Masudi, 79, 115, 126, 129, 130, 145, 171, 


Masyad, 222 
Mathnawi, 251, 253 
Mawlawi Dervishes, 254 
Maysun, Queen, 122 
Mazandcran. 159 
Maziyar, 179 
Mecca, 3, 9, 16 passim 
Media, 226 
Mchmediye, 267 
Mein Kampf, 308 
Merv, 147, 159, 219 
Mesopotamia, 102, 158, 259, 272 
Michael VIII Palaeologus, Emperor, 247 
Milosh Kobilich, 258 
Mina, 5, 25, 79 
Minorca, 144 
Mirza Yahya, 301 
Miskawayh, 206 
Mitijah Plain, 290 
Miyan Mir, 281 
Moab, 223 
Mohacs, 271 

Mangling of the Two Oceans, 282 
Mongolia, 144 

Mongols, 239, 250, 254, 277 
Monreale, 136 
Moriah, Mount, 72, 130 
Morocco, 120, 144, 150, 161, 291 
Moscow, 259 

Moses, 16, 20, 60, 81, 86 
Mosque of al-Mansur, 198 

Mosque of al-Maydan 191 
Mosque o Hasan and Husavn, 126 

Mosque of the Shah, 274, 275 

Mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah, 274, 275 

Mosque of Sultan Selim, 235, 270, 290 

Mosul, 147, 148, 161, 234 

Mount of Olives, 221 

Mxiawiya, Caliph, 59, 93, 98, 107, 108, 

111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 117, 118, 119, 120, 

121, 123, 126, 133, 139, 145, 154, 177, 

268, 270 

Muawiya II, 127 
Mughal dynasty, 279 
Muhajiran, 30 
Muhammad passim 
Muhammad, a great-grandson o Hasn, 


Muhammad I, Sultan, 260 
Muhammad H, Sultan, 255, 262, 263, 

264, 265, 266 

Muhammad AH, 284-288, 292 
Muhammad Ghuri, 277 
Muhammad ibn Abdallah, 295, 297, 298 
Muhammad Ibn-abi-Amir, 216 
Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab, 301 
Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, 109, 110, 111, 


Muhammad ibn Ishaq, 81 
Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Oarazi, 209 
Muhammad ibn Qasim, 137 
Muhammad ibn Rashid, 302 
Muhammad ibn Tughluk, 27ft 
Muharran, 113 
Muizz ad*l)awlah, 205 
Mukhtar ibn-abi-Ubayd, 132, 133 
Munis al-Muzaffar, 189, 190, 200, 202 
Muqada&si, 135 
Muqanna, al-, 159, 177 
Muqattam, 209 

Murad I, Sultan, 255, 257, 258 
Murad II, Sultan, 261 
Murcia, 233 
Murra, a tribe, 302 
Musa, Abti, 114 

Musa ibn Nusayr, 137, 138, ISO 
Musab ibn Zubayr, I3S 
Musayllmah, 90, '91 
Muslim, Abu, 146, 147, 148, 155, 156 
Muslim ibn Uqbah, 126 
Mustapha, 261 
mutak, &1-, 232, 23S 
Mutah, a village, 54, 62, &0 
Mutazila, a sect, 174 
Muthana, 102 
Muttra, 277 

Nabi, 80 

Nablus, 224 

Nadir Shah, 276 

Nadr, al-, 36 

Nahrawan canal, 115 

Nailah, 110 

Najaf, 276 

Najd, 2, 8, 12, 15, 42, 50, 91, 92, 186, $02 

Najran, 105 

Nakhlah, S, 33 

Napoleon I, 284, 285, 290 


Narbonne, 140 

Nasr ibn-Sayyar, 147 

Nasser, Carnal Abdal, 295, 299, 307-312 

Nauplia, 272 

Navarre, 225 

Nazareth, 224 

Negro Revolt, 185, 187 

Negus, 20, 49 

Nero, 208 

Netherlands, 272 

Nicephorus, Emperor, 168 

Niche for Lights, 70, 230 

Nicopolis, 258 

Nicosia, 305 

Niger, a river, 308 

Nilaufer, 255 

Nile, 208, 240, 284, 309 

Nimes, 143 

Nishapur, 229 

Nisibin, 242 

Noah, 82, 269 

Notaras, Grand Duke, 265 

Nubia, 151, 222 

Nubians, 108 

Old Testament, 68 

Omar Khayyam, 219 

Omdurman, 299 

Oran, 289 

Origen, 229 

Orontes, a river/ 95 

Orotal, 3 

Osman, Sultan, 254, 255 

Osmanli Turks, 38, 254 

Otranto, 267 

Ouffiya, a tribe, 289 

Pakistan, 1S7 

Palace of the Golden Gate, 157 

Palestine, 94, 100, 138, 148, 222 

Palmyra, 145 

Paradise, 67, 75, 76, 117, 196, 214, 275 

Paradiso, 253 

Paris, 143, 274 

Parthenon, 131 

Patras, 272 

Paul, St., 73 

Peacock Throne, 276 

Peking, 284 

Pelusium, 101 

Pergamum, 139 

Persepolis, 205, 250 

Persia, 153, 186, 219 passim 

Persian Gulf, 8, 186 

Peter the Hermit, 220 

Pharaohs, 184 

Pharaonic canal, 159 

Philby, St. John, 305 

Philosophy of the Revolution, 310 

Pirandello, Luigi, 309 

Pisa, 211 

Pius XII, Pope, 84 

Plato, 191 

Pleiades Palace, 188 

Poitiers, 142 

Poland, 262 

Port Said, 294 

Pressburg, 272 


Prithviraj, 277 
Pyrenees, 137 

Qadir, 297 

Qadisiyah, 102 

Qahir, al-, Abbasid Caliph, 204 

Qahirah, al- (Cairo), 207 

Qaim, al-, Fatimid Caliph, 217 

Qais ibn Thabit, 91 

Qalawun, 247 

Qarmatians, 7, 8, 186, 187, 188, 189, 207, 


Qasim, son of Muhammad, 14 
Qubah, 28 

Qubbat al-Sakhrah, 130 
Qubbat al-Silsilah, 130 
Qudayd, 3 

Quran, 3, 66, 67, passim 
Quraysh, 6, 12, 19, 20, 33, 34, 35, 38, 40 
Qutaybah ibn Muslim, 137 

Rab al-Khali, al-, 302 

Rabi, a freedman, 160 

Rabi'a al-Adawiyya, xii, 194 

Rabi'a ibn Rufay, 57 

Radi, al-, Abbasid Caliph, 204 

Rafi, Abu, 51 

Rafi ibn Layth, 170 

Ragusa, 260 

Rajab, 33 

Rajputs, 277, 279 

Rak'a, 78, 82 

Ramadan, 78, 192 

Rana Sangha, 279 

Raqqa, al-, 164 

Raymond of Toulouse, 221 

Raynald de Chatillon, 223, 224 

Rawandiyah, 156, 157 

Rayy, 170, 191, 219, 277 

"Red Apple," 256 

Red Sea, 20, 33, 304 

Revelations, Book of, 68 

Rhages (rayy), 191 

Rhodes, ix, 107, 144, 270, 271 

Rhone, a river, 143 

Rialto, 135 

Richard I, King, 225 

Rilke, Rainer Maria, 204 

Riyadh, 302, 303, 304 .- 

Roches, Leon, 290 

Roderick, King, 137 

Rodriguez, Alphonsus, 73 

Rusafah, 144 

Rustam, 102, 103 

Ruqayya, 19 

Sabbath, 30 

Sa'd ibn-abi-Waqqas, 102, 103, 106 

Sa'd ibn Muadh, 46, 47 

Sa'di of Shiraz, 249, 250, 251 

Safa, al-, 5, 79 

Safavids, 276 

Saffah, as-, Abbasid Caliph, 148, 150, 154, 

155, 159, 164 
Saffarids, 187 
Safiya, Princess, 51 
Sahara, 120 
Sahib an-naqah, 186 



Sajah, 90 

Saladin, Sultan, 222-225, 248, 311 

Salam al-Abrush, 167 

Salman al-Farisi, 44, 104, 105 

Salonica, 261 

Samanids, 187 

Samarkand, 177, 250 

Samaxra, 178, 183, 191 

Sana, 7 

Sana bad, 172 

Santa Sophia, 214, 264, 265 

San Vicenzo, church of, 213 

Saqabilah, 213 

Sardinia, 144 

Sardis, 139 

Sarif, art oasis, 53 

Sarjunids, 121, 132 

Sassanians, 149, 154, 157 

Sayf al-Dawlah, 206, 207 

Scholarios, George, 265 

Scutari, 161 

Sea of Marmora, 119 

Seleucia, 157 

Sclim I, Sultan, 248, 267, 268, 269 

Selim III, Sultan, 284 

Seljuks, 183, 217, 219, 220, 244, 286 

Senegal, a river, 308 

Sephoriya, 224 

Seraglio, 271 

Serbia, 258, 260, 262 

Sergius, a patrician, 93 

Serif, 289 

Seventh Heaven, 24 

Seville, 214, 234, 241 

Shaghab, 189 

Shah Abbas, 173, 273, 274, 275, 278, 280 

Shah Ismail, 267, 270 

Shah Tehan, ix, 281, 285 

Shah Tamasp, 271, 275 

Shahnameh, 250 

Shamsi Tabriz, 251 

Shaykan, 297 

Shaykh al-Akbar, 235 

Shem, 82 

Sherley, Sir Anthony, 273 

Shi'as, 116, 1S5, 306 

Shibli, 197, 201 

Shiraz, 205, 206, 250, 300 

Shurahbil ibn-Hasanah, 9$ 

Sicily, 119, 144, 207, 211 

Sidon, 247 

Sierra Morena, 214, 215 

Siffin, IIS 

Sigismund, King, 258, 261 

Simmering, 271 

Simonstown, x 

Sinai, Mount, 24, 69, 198 

Sinan, 270 

Sind, 276 

Sindo, al-, 167 

Sinjar, 220 

Six Characters in Search of an Author, 309 

Smyrna, 260 

Socrates, 191 

Sokolli, Muhammad, 273 

Solomon, 137 

Somnath, 277 

Sophronius, 98 

Soviet Union, 2H6 

Spain, 137, I3K, 144, 150 

St. Germain-ties- Pres, 212 

St. Re" mi, 143 

St. Peter's, 184 

Stories of the Prophets, 8! 

Stvria, 272 

Sudan, 287, 290. 29ft 

Suez Canal, 293, 294 

Sufis, SO, 83, 193, 194, 195, 196, 202, 222, 

227, 2S2, 255, 28L 291 
Sufvan. Abu, 34, 35, 38, 31), 40, 41, 44, 45, 

4 f 54, 55, 92, 93, 106, 117, 193 
Suhayl ibn Amr, 49, 50 
Suhaym ibn Wathil, 128 
Sulayman I, the Magnificent, 257, 270, 

271, 275 

Sulayman, Caliph, 138, 139, 149 
Sulayman, son of Abd-arRahxnan, 150, 


sunyasis, 281 
"Supreme Light/' 186 
Suraqa, 27, 28, 104 
Susa, 199 
Syria, 12, 33, 34, 95, 97, J07 111, 128, 

134, 138, 147, 161, 109, 206, 207, 228, 

244, 2<5 

Syrian desert, 113 
Szigetvar, 272 

Tabari, 91, 94, 96, 127 

Tabarzstan, 159, 161, 179 

Tabriz, 268 

Tabuk, 60 

Tafnah, 290 

Tagore, Rabindranath, 281 

Tahir, Aba, 8 

Tahir, a general, 171 

Tahudah, 120 

Taif, 3, 10, II, 25, 55, 57, 60, 93, 128, 305 

Taiping rebellion, 297 

Taj Mahal. 131, 215 

Talhah, 110, III, 112 

Talib, Abu, uncle of Muhammad, II, 21, 


Talmud, 14 
Tamils, 277 
Tarain, 277 

Tariq ibn-Ziyad, 137, 138, 143 
Tarsus, 177 
Tartars, 242, 243 
Tavernier, 209 
tawaf, 79, 131 
Tayma, 52 
Teheran, 170 
Teim ibn Murra, 12 
Telinga, 277 

Tell al-Kabir, 294, 295, 296 
Tell al-Mashuta, 294 
Temple of Solomon, 24, 130 
Teresa o! Avila, St., xii 
Thalabi, Ath-, 81 
Thaqif, a tribe, 56, 57 
Theodora Cantacuzcne, 256 
Theodore, 9S, 95, 96 
Theophilus, 177 
Thomas Aquinas, St., 207 
Thrace, 256, 258 


Throne Verse, 69 

Tiberias, 223 , 224 

Tibet, 226 

Tigris, a river, 94, 147, 156, 157, 163, 

165, 171, 178, 190, 201, 226 
Timbuktu, 308 
Timurlane, Emperor, 85, 135, 259, 260, 278, 


TIemsen, 290 
Toghrul, 217, 218 
Toledo, 137, 138, 213 
Topkapee, 269 
Torah, 244, 246 
Torghtit, 272 
Tortosa, 247 
Toulon, 291 
Tours, 142 
Transjordan, 94 

Transoxiana, 133, 143, 187, 207, 219, 259 
Transylvania, 261 
Trebizond, 266 
Trinity, 80 

Tripoli, 222, 224, 247, 287 
Trotsky, 311 
Tunisia, 120, 207 
Turab, Abu, 116 
Turkestan, 108, 219 
Turks, 143, 177, 178, 246 
Tus, 227, 229 
Tyre, 119, 224, 247 
Tzympe, 257 

Ubayd, al-, 297, 298 

Ubaydah, Abu, 89, 94 

Ubaydallah ibn-Ziyad, 123, 124, 125 

Uhud, Mount, 39, 40, 63, 91, 92 

Ulayya, sister of Harun, 168 

Umar ibn al-Khattab, Caliph, 20, 21, 40, 

41, 42, 68, 79, 87, 88, 89, 94, 95, 97, 

99, 100, 101, 105, 106, 108, 116, 131 
Umar ibn Sa'd, 124 

Umar II, Umayyad Caliph, 139, 151, 193 
Umayyad art, 135, 136, 137 
Umayyad dynasty, 93, 106, 108, 132, 158 
Umayyad Mosque, 126, 134, 135, 136, 148, 

214, 225, 260, 269, 270 
Umm Dikaykarat, 299 
Upanishads, 281 
Uqba, 36 

Uqbah ibn-Nafi, 120, 150 
Ural mountains, 243 
Urania, 3, 4 
Urban V, Pope, 257 
Urkhon, 255, 256, 257 
Usamah, 62, 90 
Usrushana, 178 
Uthman ibn-Affan, Caliph, 19, 21, 49, 106, 

107, 108, 109, 111, 112, 113, 114, 119, 140, 

Uzza, 3 

Valence, 143 
Varna, 262 
Vathek, 183 
Venice, 135, 260 


Verdun, 213 

Victoria and Albert Museum, 275 

Vienna, 271, 272 

Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, 271 

Vita Moysis, 231 

wachi, 138 

Wadi al-Oura, 52 

Wadi Arabah, 52 

Wadi Haifa, 299 

Wahhabis, 285, 286, 287, 304, 305 

Wahshi, a slave, 91 

Walid I, Umayyad Caliph, 133, 134, 135, 

138, 145, 149 
Walid II, 144, 145 
Wallachia, 260 
Waqidi, 169 
Waraqa, 169 
Wathiq, al-, Abbasid Caliph, 182, 183, 


"Whirling Dervishes," 250 
White Nile, 269, 299 
White Palace, 103 
Wolseley, Sir Garnet, 293, 294 

Yahya ibn-Khalid, 162, 164, 167, 169 

Yahya ibn-Zayd, 145 

Yahya, Prince, 150 

Yamamah, 91, 93 

Yaman, 6, 12, 52, 53, 93, 245 

Yaqub ibn-Layth, 187 

Yaqubi, 178 

Yar Hissar, 255 

Yarmuk, 96 

Yathrib, 4, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 

33, 35, 37, 38, 39, 41 
Yazdagird III, Emperor, 102, 103 
Yazid I, Umayyad Caliph, 92, 119, 122, 

123, 126, 127, 149 
Yazid II, 140, 144 
Yazid III, 146 
Yazid, Abu (Bayazid), 195 
Yeats, William Butler, 144, 211 
Yeni Cheri, 255 
Yusuf al-Fihri, 150 

Zab, a river, 147 

Zagros mountains, 103, 271 

Zahir, al-, Fatimid Caliph, 210 

Zahir ud-Din Muhammad, 279 

Zahra, az-, 214, 215 

Zaiiiab, 51 

Zamzam, 5, 6, 9, 187 

Zaqqum, 75 

Zayd, 17, 23 

Zayd ibn-Ali, 141, 145 

Zayd ibn- Harithah, 53, 54- 

Zayd ibn-Thabit, 91 

Zayd ibn-Zabit, 29 

ziggurat, 184 

Ziryab, 212 

Ziyad, 104 

Zoroastrians, 149, 155, 279, 301 

Zubayda, 163 

Zubayr, 12, 110, 111, 112 

Zuhra ibn-Kilab, 12 

j [..";*' ^ MOROCCO 

...J \ 



Conquesfs of ffie circa 750 A.D. 

Scale of Miles 
500 1000