An Historical Reconstruction
The Islamic civilization in Spain, of which an account was given in the previous chapter, formed a significant part of what was, perhaps, the most remarkable reconstruction of mankind in history. An outline of it can best be given, if it is divided into three periods, that of its initiation, that of its institution, and that of its achievement.
The period of initiation was that of the life of its founder, the prophet Mohammed.
Mohammed was born in Mecca in A.D. 570 as a member of the leading tribe of Mecca, the Koraish. His father dying before he was born and his mother when he was six, he came under the tutelage of his grandfather, Abd-al-Muttalib. His grandfather died when he was thirteen, and he was then confided to the family of a poor but affectionate uncle, Abu Talib.
Mohammed grew up to be a quiet, meditative man, taking little or no part in public affairs, but by his humanity and justness earning for himself the name of The Trusty. Then, when over forty, upon a night of meditation, he heard a Voice commanding him: 'Cry: in the name of the Lord.' He obeyed and henceforth became a Messenger crying in the name of the Lord. In Mecca his message was to denounce the idolatry which constituted the religion of the people, and in its place to teach the worship of Allah, the one and only God. This aroused the fury of the Koraish against him and his disciples. The latter escaped to Yathreb, or Medina, the City of the Prophet, as it became named. Mohammed remained behind amongst his enemies. Discovering a joint plan to murder him, he also fled from Mecca to Medina. This Hegira or Flight took place in A.D. 622 and from it dates the Mohammedan calendar.
In Medina the religion he taught was simple. He preached that there was but one God, the unity of living things, the brotherhood of man, kindness to women and children, gentleness to animals, alms for the poor, and the value of prayer.
His preaching and person won the hearts of the people of Medina. He was made the Chief Magistrate, with power to carry into practice what he taught. At that time, writes Ameer Ali Syed, in A Short History of the Saracens, 1900, 'there was no law or order in any city of Arabia'. Medina itself was torn by a feud between two principal tribes. Mohammed reconciled the two tribes, abolished all tribal distinctions, and grouped the inhabitants of Medina under one generic name, Ansar or Helpers. He issued a Charter, by which all blood-feud was abolished and lawlessness repressed. Equal rights were granted to the Jews, of whom there were many in and about Medina, and who, on their part, bound themselves to help the Moslems in defending the city if attacked.
The next step in his mission was to unite the peoples of Arabia, but in this he was hindered by the bitter enmity of his own tribe, the Koraish of Mecca. The Meccans, in the first year of the Hegira, attacked the Moslems and were defeated. In the third year, the Meccans, under the command of Abu Sufian, the son of Ommeya, whose descendants were to become the Ommeyade Caliphs of the early Arabic Empire, were successful, but their losses were so great that they did not venture to attack Medina itself. In the fifth year of the Hegira the Meccans with an army of 10,000 besieged Medina, but, in spite of the treachery of the Jews, who took the side of the Meccans in the siege, the Moslems, owing to the defensive skill of Mohammed, were victorious. This victory freed Mohammed for his work; its fame and the prestige, which Mohammed gained, both as teacher and as general, led to his acknowledgement by tribe after tribe throughout Arabia. In the seventh year of the Hegira, the Meccans attacked one of these tribes. Mohammed gathered together an army of 10,000 men and entered Mecca as a conqueror. Nevertheless, at the sight of the city and of familiar but hostile faces, he treated the Meccans as brothers. Excepting four criminals, all were forgiven and accepted Islam. Mohammed himself shattered the idols of Mecca with the cry: 'Truth is come, darkness departeth'.
The ninth year of the Hegira, known as the Year of Deputations, witnessed the general acceptance of Islam by the tribes of Arabia. Mohammed dealt with them in the same liberal spirit as he had shown to the Meccans. 'A written treaty guaranteeing the privileges of the tribe was often granted,' writes Ameer Ali, but in order to promote the change of heart that was Mohammed's especial mission, 'a teacher invariably accompanied the departing guests to instruct the newly converted people in the duties of Islam, and to see that every evil practice was obliterated in their midst'.
Mohammed had now fulfilled his mission by uniting all Arabia. He died on 8 June A.D. 632, at the age of sixty-two.
The actions, character and teaching of Mohammed made so profound an impression upon his contemporaries that the total effect of his personality formed the basis of the Islamic law and civilization. The chief source of that law was the Koran, but the Koran did not cover all the growing needs of the Arabic Empire that so swiftly followed upon the death of Mohammed. Hence, in addition to the Koran, every detail that could be recalled by contemporaries and especially by those most near and dear to him and with whom it was his habit to consult in questions not actually revealed to him was carefully recorded. In Medina, he had been the final judge, the spiritual leader of religion, and the temporal leader, with the duties and powers of an essential sovereign, given to him, in complete trust in The Trusty, by the people. Hence, in the formation of the Islamic law, his inspired utterances in the Koran, his discourses, his decisions after consultations, his expressed approvals, his tacit agreements by gesture, his judgments, his actions, were all brought into service as guides of conduct for pious Moslems by the Islamic legalists and religious Caliphs. From them were derived the fundamental or fixed laws, fundamental and fixed because they were derived from the Prophet of God.
Islamic law controlled every aspect of the life of a Moslem, but for simplification of this vast subject it was divided into categories, ranging from the few obligatory or prohibited things as determined by the Koran and the Hadith or the traditions of the Prophet, to the limited number of the approved or disliked, and the unlimited number, which were left to everybody's common sense. By-laws were made by the legalists to adjust changes and circumstances, which time brought about, but they were kept within the orbit of the fundamental laws. Only in cases of extreme emergency could a fundamental law be abrogated, and then only for the duration of the emergency.
Never, therefore, in history has any man been so intimately identified with a civilization as was Mohammed with that of Islam, which endured as an empire until the sacking of Baghdad by the Tartars six and a quarter centuries after the death of Mohammed. As this civilization produced a truly remarkable reconstruction of mankind in agriculture, manufacture, trade, knowledge, art and other departments of human society, the spirit of Mohammed's precepts become peculiarly important at a time such as the present, when a further reconstruction is so urgently needed.
This spirit has been admirably told for readers of English by Ameer Ali Syed, in The Spirit of Islam, 1922. Its chief character, to my mind, can be put in homely language: Mohammed was the first statesman to introduce decency of human conduct in every department of society. He left no class of human beings out of his thought. He was, I feel, unquestionably the greatest humane, constructive statesman in history.
Ameer Ali, however, does not give a very explicit account of Mohammed's attitude to war, which is of such vital concern to men in these days. So, before taking up his review, it will be well first briefly to consider Mohammed's attitude to war. It has been admirably told by Mr. Marmaduke Pickthall in an article entitled 'War and Religion' in the Islamic Review Book Series.
Firstly, Mohammed recognized the necessity of war in the collective life of mankind, for the reason that: 'If it had not been for Allah's repelling some men by others, the world would have gone to badness; but Allah is a lord of kindness in creation' (Koran). To repel bad men was, therefore, the reason for going to war and it was for this reason that every capable Moslem must be prepared to go to war, if called upon to do so. It was not conscription, but a sacred duty, provided that the war was a holy war or Jihad. Then 'fighting is enjoined upon you, and it is a thing hateful to you. But it may be that you hate a thing which is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing which is bad for you; God knows best and you do not know,' said the Koran.
War was enjoined against grave injustice, 'to defend the weak man, and for women and for children, those who say: "Our Lord, take us out of this city whose people are oppressors. Oh, send us from Thy presence a befriender; oh, send us one who can help us!"' (Koran). Retaliation against aggressors was commanded. 'Kill them wherever you find them and drive them out of the places from which they drove you out. Persecution is more cruel than killing. And do not fight them round the sacred mosque, unless they attack you there. And if they do attack you, kill them. Such is the reward of graceless people' are the words of the Koran. But on no account were the Moslems to be the aggressors. 'Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not originate hostility. Truly Allah loves not the aggressor.' By the spread of Islam, therefore, Mohammed hoped to abolish the brutality or even existence of war.
Throughout the Koran, writes Mr. Pickthall, 'the word "treaty" means a sacred compact, a solemn covenant, which to break is impious,' and he adds, from a wide knowledge of Islam not possessed by any other Englishman: 'With Islamic nations, treaties have always had this sacred character. I cannot recall a single instance of a Muslim power ever consciously breaking a treaty, though they have the right to throw the treaty back if they fear treachery.' Actual treachery was to be treated with the severest punishment, such as was inflicted upon the Jewish traitors of Medina.
Lastly, Moslem soldiers were forced to observe correct or decent conduct. The sanctity of the soil was to be respected. Moslems, invading a country, were forbidden to destroy fields of corn, or palms, or any fruit trees, or to slaughter cattle except in case of urgent need. 'Destroy not the means of subsistence,' was Mohammed's command. Similarly 'the quiet people', as the old Moslem jurists called the unarmed inhabitants, were to be respected. They were not to be killed; they were not even to be molested; neither they nor their houses were to be plundered. 'Plunder is no better than carrion,' said the Prophet. That, however, which was left on the field of battle, was lawful booty. Finally, enemy combatants were to be respected. 'If they desist (from fighting), then (there should be) no hostility except to evil-doers' (Koran). For the evil-doers, there was the law of retaliation. As they had done, so should it be done to them.
Now, under the guidance of Ameer Ali, we will review Mohammed's relation to conquest. In this no statesman ever used the quality of clemency to those forced to acknowledge his authority with more effectiveness. To those who accepted Islam, he ordained all the privileges and freedom associated with that sacred name, meaning as it does Surrender to Allah or God. To those who submitted, but wished to keep their own faith other than that of idolatry, he presented the utmost tolerance. They were allowed to pursue their own customs and their religious faith, provided they paid the not onerous taxes and obeyed the other civic duties imposed upon them by their Arabic rulers. They were exempted from military service, paying an especial tax in lieu of it. Their lands were not taken from them. The precedent of this tolerance was set by the Charter, which the Prophet granted to all Christians in the sixth year of the Hegira. The spirit of it was Christian in its best sense, since Mohammed always regarded Jesus as the Teacher most akin to him in time and teaching. 'In this Charter', writes Ameer Ali in his History of the Saracens, 1900, 'the Prophet undertook himself, and enjoined on his followers, to protect the Christians, to guard them from all injuries, and to defend their churches, and the residences of their priests. They were not to be unfairly taxed; no bishop was to be driven out of his bishopric; no Christian was to be forced to reject his religion; no monk was to be expelled from his monastery; no pilgrim was to be detained from his pilgrimage; nor were the Christian churches to be pulled down for the sake of building mosques or houses for the Moslems. Christian women married to Moslems were to enjoy their own religion and not be subjected to compulsion or annoyance of any kind on that account. If the Christians should stand in need of assistance for the repair of their churches or monasteries, or any other matter pertaining to their religion, the Moslems were to assist them.'
In pre-Mohammedan Arabia, the women were the chattels of the men. 'In both the Empires, the Persian and the Byzantine', writes Ameer Ali in The Spirit of Islam, 'women occupied a very low position in the social scale. Fanatical enthusiasts, whom Christendom in later time canonized as saints, preached against them and denounced their enormities.' Then, when the family, and with it the whole social fabric, was falling to pieces on all sides, Mohammed introduced his reforms and 'enforced, as one of the essential teachings of his creed, "respect for women".'
Mohammed raised women to a legal and economic equality with the stronger sex. His precepts and the eventual fixed laws on divorce were strikingly just to women, though he himself expressed his strong disapproval of divorce, in that it brought evil and hardships upon the children. So also, as regards property, the rights which he gave to woman, in spite of the later deterioration of their status under Persian and Byzantine influence, were and are such as even now have not been fully attained in most Western countries. Mohammed's aim was to enable women to become individuals in the State, and this independence he gave them by allowing them to own property, to possess that which they earned by their own efforts, to have their share in the widely spread inheritances left by their fathers, husbands and other near kinsfolk, to be given marriage settlements from their prospective husbands in their favour, and to possess the right to act in any legal matters concerned with these rights without any intervention on the part of their fathers or their husbands. To the best of his power -- and his power was great in spite of the opposition of the times -- he was the emancipator of women.
Following his precept of the brotherhood of men, Mohammed strove for the betterment of the slaves. Slaves formed a large part of every society of the time. 'The, Church itself held slaves', writes Ameer Ali of the Christian attitude to slavery, 'and recognized in explicit terms the lawfulness of this baneful institution.' Though Mohammed himself abhorred slavery and taught that no action was more acceptable to Allah than the freeing of a slave, he did not attempt the total abolition of a custom so deeply rooted in the economic life of society. What he did do was to infuse the whole question with the spirit of brotherhood and thereby he entirely altered the character of slavery. He provided funds out of the public treasury to enable slaves to purchase their freedom without interference from their masters; he ordered that they could purchase their liberty by the wages of their service; in many ways he opened up the path of liberty. He ordained decency of conduct to slaves, who were to be treated by their owners with the same kindness that they showed to kindred and neighbours. The slave mother was not to be separated from her child, nor the father from the son, the husband from the wife, the relative from the relative. There was to be equality of food between slaves and their owners, and equality of dress. They were only to be addressed in terms of affection and not with words implying a.degraded position. 'The whole tenor of Mohammed's teaching', says Ameer Ali, 'made "permanent chattelhood" or caste impossible; and it is simply "an abuse of words" to apply the word slavery, in the English sense, to any status known to the legislation of Islam.' By abolishing all distinctions of race and colour, black and white, citizens and soldiers, subjects and rulers, Mohammed gave an equal humanity to slaves. 'In the field or in the guest-chamber, in the tent or in the palace, in the mosque or in the market, they mingled without reserve and without contempt.' In so far then as slavery continued, Mohammed made it a social condition within the brotherhood of man. Moslem slaves could rise to high positions in a state. Many were to become kings; others became governors of provinces, generals, famous men of learning and religion.
Dealing with the chief of economic difficulties, that of the distribution of wealth so as to avoid the extremes of the very rich and the degraded poor, Mohammed displayed the rarest wisdom of statesmanship. This was evidenced in the Zakat, the rules of inheritance, and the abolition of usury. The story of that great economic work has recently been retold by Mr. M. Hamidullah, in the second number for 1926 of the quarterly, Islamic Culture, in an article entitled 'Islam's Solution of the Basic Economic Problems.'
Mohammed, in the Koran, frequently declared that it is for God to provide a livelihood to every creature: 'We have given you power in the earth and appointed you therein a livelihood.' It was the duty of the State, by means of the Zakat, or Growth-tax, to ensure this livelihood. Zakat was a tax on all property owned beyond a certain maximum and was meant, as Mohammed said: 'To be taken from the rich among them in order to be given to the poor.' And if the treasury was not sufficient to supply the needs of the poor, the ruler could compel the rich to do so. The poor man he defined as one 'who finds not the wherewithal to make himself independent'.
Zakat was of two kinds, Sadaqah, or the tax on the growth of capital goods and the Tithe or tax on the surplus produce of the soil. 'The Zakat is only for the poor and needy' was the command of the Koran, 'for those whose hearts are to be reconciled' (men who had become impoverished by accepting Islam) 'and to free the captives and debtors, and for the cause of God, and for the wayfarer; a duty imposed by God.'
Mr. M. Hamidullah points out some of the particular virtues of this tax and the balance it effected between rich and poor. It gave the workers a certain security and thereby increased their productive efficiency, and it justified the prohibition of begging, stealing, and indolence by the Koran. As all superfluous wealth was regarded as productive and was, therefore, taxed, whether it was put to use or left unused, it prevented employers taking unfair advantage of labourers, for, if the latter went on strike, the idle money and property of the employers continued to be taxed. It prevented deliberate or careless hoarding, for the hoard was taxed. 'Let not those who hoard up that which God has bestowed upon them of His bounty think that it is better for them. Nay, it is worse for them,' were the words of the Koran. Hoarding for the sake of the family was likewise forbidden, for the Koran declared: 'Among your wives and your children are enemies for you, therefore beware of them. Let not your wealth nor your children distract you from the remembrance of God.' 'Establish worship and pay the Zakat,' are the constantly repeated dicta of the Koran. No rich man could be a Moslem without paying the Zakat. Finally the Prophet believed that so great would be the prosperity resulting from a greater equalization of wealth that a time would come when people offer Sadaqah and there will be none to take it'.
The second of Mohammed's measures to prevent the large accumulation of wealth in a few hands lay in the principles of inheritance. Private property could be accumulated in a man's lifetime within due restrictions, but at his death it was widely distributed amongst his offspring and kindred, and thus large individual fortunes were dispersed amongst many individuals.
The third measure was the forbiddance of usury or 'interest on money', as the dictionary defines it. So the money of Islam did not come into existence with interest attached to it, which would load the sacred duties of farming and trade with debt at the outset. Only the original sum of a money loan was to be repaid, otherwise the interest on a loan would make it destructive. In one of his most searching and prophetic sayings, Mohammed seized upon this truth: 'Although interest brings increase, yet its end tends to scarcity.'
Money was to assist trade by the method of partnership. It was not to be hoarded nor lent out at interest. It must be used for trade or spent in alms, said the Koran, 'so that the Zakat due on it do not swallow it up'. By means of partnership the ender or partner took his share of the success or failure of the enterprise. 'They say trade is just like interest-taking, whereas God permitteth trading and forbiddeth interest.' Genuine partnerships were encouraged to further trade, manufacture and farming, but debenture-holders and commercial loans were ruled out as destructive. The imposition of the Zakat and the prohibition of interest forced money into use and into the promotion of a general prosperity which resulted from its use.
Economic ranks and occupations did not affect the general freedom of the individual. Islam destroyed money as a standard of social distinction. A man was wealthy according to the good he did to others. Money-wealth had only a limited value, whereas virtue could not be measured but by the good to mankind that followed from it.
Three taxes were attached to the products of the crust of the earth, the tithe, the rikaz, which assigned one-fifth of the products of mines exclusively, like the tithe, to the poor, and the kharaj, a levy for the general welfare of about 2-1/2 per cent on the output of the land due irrespective of whether the owner cultivated the land or not. According to Islam, land is a gift to all men, and all men are united by the bond of their terrenity in their dependence for sustenance upon the soil. Yet all could not own land. So the land was not socialized, but its products were socialized by these taxes. Through them the poor were given their measure of independence, and the general welfare was given an economic basis in the land. As the soil depended upon the use of everything that nourished it, so the soil, in its turn, was made to give nourishment to all, and to produce the social balance that belonged to it as an integral factor of the life-cycles of man.
Based on the limitation of the soil's products, the economics of Islam dictated a limitation to the acquisitiveness of individual men. As an outgrowth of this, Mohammed's instructions on leisure were also directed so that people's attention was diverted to other things than the making of individual fortunes. Through learning, service, and the call to prayer five times in the day, people's leisure was directed to self-cultivation, whereas their working hours were directed to the cultivation and distribution of material goods. This was possible, sums up Mr. Hamidullah, because Islam was a religion and not an economic organization.
With this independence that Islam gave to the individual, labour was elevated as a general duty and both commerce and farming were announced to be meritorious in the eyes of the Lord. The pursuit of the cultivation of the soil was regarded by labourers and rulers alike as a sacred duty; Mohammed himself ploughed his own land. The contemptuous sneer, which turned the Latin paganus or villager into pagan, and the man of the heath or field (Anglo-Saxon haeth or heath, Gothic haithi or field) into heathen, was utterly foreign to the sanctity, with which Mohammed and Islam endowed the duties of both.
Having freed women from their traditional subordination to the stronger sex, slaves from their ignominy, the poor from their destitution, and farming and labour from their subordination, Mohammed turned to the liberation of men's minds from ignorance.
He made education incumbent upon every Moslem, male and female, and sought thereby to influence the minds of all men by the passionate emphasis he laid upon the value of knowledge to humanity. Ameer Ali describes this passion in these noble sayings of the Prophet: 'Acquire knowledge, because he who acquires it in the way of the Lord performs an act of piety; who speaks of it, praises God; who seeks it, adores God; who dispenses instruction in it, bestows alms; and who imparts it to its fitting objects, performs an act of devotion to God. Knowledge enables its possessor to distinguish what is forbidden from what is not; it lights the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our guide to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is our ornament in the company of friends; it serves us as an armour against our enemies. With knowledge, the servant of God rises to the heights of goodness and to a noble position, associates with sovereigns in this world, and attains to the perfection of happiness in the next.' He would often say, 'The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr', and he repeatedly impressed on his disciples the necessity of seeking for knowledge 'even unto China'. 'He who leaves his home in search of knowledge walks in the path of God. He who travels in search of knowledge to him God shows the way to paradise.'
Our scholar, Ameer Ali Syed, finally gives this summary of the teaching of Mohammed in Medina: 'Islam gave to the people a code which however archaic in its simplicity, was capable of the greatest development in accordance with the progress of material civilization. It conferred on the State a flexible constitution, based on a just appreciation of human rights and human duty. It limited taxation, it made men equal in the eye of the law, it consecrated the principles of self-government. It established a control over the sovereign power by rendering the executive authority subordinate to the law -- a law based upon religious sanctions and moral obligations. "The excellence and effectiveness of each of these principles", says Urquhart, "(each capable of immortalizing its founder) gave value to the rest; and all combined, endowed the system which they formed with a force and energy exceeding those of any other political system. Within the lifetime of a man, though in the hands of a population wild, ignorant and insignificant, it spread over a greater extent than the dominions of Rome. While it retained its primitive character, it was irresistible!"'
With their personal experience of these and other Islamic precepts in action in the microcosm of Medina, the Arab leaders went forth upon their great reconstruction of many millions of oppressed men.
Before telling the story of the institution of this reconstruction, it is, however, essential to give a brief description of the conditions of the masses, in what Ameer Ali, whose words I choose as better than my own, names the West and the East. His East does not include the great farming country of China, which, since it seems mankind tends to be similarly affected at any one period, was also engaged in a reconstruction of the Tsing Tien system under the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-905) after a long period of divided States and Tartar conquests.
'In the West as in the East', writes Ameer Ali, 'the condition of the masses was so miserable as to defy description. They possessed no civil rights or political privileges. They were the monopoly of the rich and the powerful, or of the sacerdotal classes. The law was not the same for the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, the great and the lowly. In Sassanide Persia, the priests and the landed proprietors, the Dehkans, enjoyed all the power and influence, and the wealth of the country was centred in these hands. The peasantry and the poorer classes generally were ground to the earth under a lawless despotism. In the Byzantine Empire, the clergy and great magnates, courtesans and other nameless ministrants to the vices of Caesar and proconsul, were the happy possessors of wealth, influence and power. The people grovelled in the most abject misery. In the barbaric kingdoms -- in fact, wherever feudalism had established itself -- by far the largest proportion were either serfs or slaves. Villeinage or serfdom was the ordinary status of the peasantry.'
The first thirty years of the story from A.H. 11 to A.H. 40 of the Mohammedan calendar, were occupied with the settlement of Persia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Under Omar, the second Caliph, in A.H. 21, occurred the Victory of Victories at Nehawand, in which the Persians, who outnumbered the Arabs by six to one, were totally defeated. Egypt, too, was conquered. Owing to these victories, the precepts of Mohammed affected the fate of many millions of people. By the fire which Mohammed lighted, masses of lowly and oppressed men, as well as men of power and wealth, were warmed and enlightened to a new life.
Convinced that the stability of the Empire and its material development depended upon the prosperity of the agricultural classes, writes Ameer Ali in A Short History of the Saracens, Omar 'took immediate steps to settle the peasantry securely in their possessions. "They were released from the galling oppression of the large land-owners; their assessments were revised and placed on a stable basis; the broken aqueducts were restored and new ones built ... Egypt, Syria, Irak, and Southern Persia were measured field by field, and the assessment fixed on a uniform basis. The record of this magnificent cadastral survey forms a veritable "catalogue", which, beside giving the area of the lands, describes in detail the quality of the soil, the nature of the produce, the character of the holdings.' The Zakat gave independence to the poor, but the rich were not oppressed, though shorn of their excesses to promote a greater equalization of wealth. There was no communistic division of their lands nor were they taken by the Arabs. The land-holders kept their estates, subject to a fixed tax. 'Liberty of conscience was allowed to everyone, and the Moslems were ordered not to interfere with the religion of the people. Those who adhered to the old faith received the designation of Zimmis (the protected people or liege men). The sole inducement to proselytism, if inducement it could be called, consisted in the fact that whereas the Moslems,, who were liable to be called at any time to serve in the army, contributed only a tithe to the State, the Zimmis paid a higher tax in consideration of being exempted from military service.' Nevertheless this Jazia, or poll-tax, was in no way onerous.
When Omar died in A.H. 23, after a reign of ten years, Othman was elected Caliph. Othman was a member of the Ommeyade family of Mecca, of the clan of the Koraish that had shown itself most active in its hatred of Mohammed. The aged Othman was elected to the Caliphate by the intrigues of the Ommeyades. They then got themselves appointed as governors of the provinces; seized the land; subverted the precepts and actions of Mohammed and the first two Caliphs of the Republic, Abu Bakr (A.H. 11-13) and Omar (A.H. 13-23), both the early converts and devoted companions of Mohammed, treated the conquered peoples as satellites and slaves, and enriched themselves by oppression. This aroused the intense hatred of the true Moslems and led to an insurrection in which Othman, at the age of eighty-two, was slain in A.H. 34.
Ali, the beloved adopted son and later son-in-law of Mohammed, was elected as the fourth and last Caliph of the Republic. No man was more revered or trusted by the Moslems than he, not only because of his intimate association with the Prophet, but because he was 'the truest-hearted and best Moslem of whom Mohammedan history has preserved the remembrance' (Major Osborn), and, because both before and during his Caliphate he so stoutly upheld the doctrines of Mohammed and, in Othman's reign, upheld and extended the practical improvements of Omar through his energy and prestige. Then, wrote the French historian Sédillot: 'One would have thought that all would have bowed before this glory so pure and grand; but it was not to be.'
The Ommeyades were the chief cause of the failure of Ali and it was through their intrigues that he was assassinated after a brief reign (A.H. 34-40). They, the Ommeyades, were supported by tribal chiefs, who had been largely weakened in authority by Mohammed's reliance on the assured and faithful Moslems of Medina.
The all-too-human hatred of these reactionaries may seem to have its justification in their deposition from free and arbitrary authority. But their fury and tenacity, of which the modern reader can scarcely form a conception, all students are agreed, had their origin in the very roots of the pre-Mohammed conditions of the Arabian people. From the very earliest times blood-feud had been bitterly active amongst the tribes and consummated in the hatred that existed between the nomadic Arabs of the desert and the farming people of the more fertile south of Arabia bordered by the Arabian Gulf and known as Yemen. 'This blood-feud', wrote the Dutchman, Reinhart Dozy, in his Histoire des Mussulmans d'Espagne, translated into English by Mr. F. G. Stokes, 1913, 'has endured for twenty-five centuries; it can be traced back to the earliest historical times, and is far from extinct to-day.'
To the question why it preserved its bitterness with such extraordinary tenacity for so many centuries, Dozy wrote: 'Handed down from generation to generation in spite of community of language, laws, customs, modes of thought, religion, and, to some extent, of, origin -- since both races were Semitic -- we can only say that its causes are inexplicable, but that it is "in the blood".' Nevertheless, it may be, as we have seen in Chapter 6, that the hostility lay in the ultimate relation of the two peoples to the soil, farming and trade on the one hand and nomadism on the other, and in the tenacity that characterizes the Semitic peoples. Whatever the true explanation is, this passion for feud and tribal independence runs, as a rebellious and anarchical spirit, through the pages of Arab history. It brought about the failure of Ali's courageous attempt in Othman's and in his own short reign to uphold and re-establish the precepts of Mohammed; it led to his assassination by Ommeyade intrigue; it brought the Ommeyades to the headship of the Moslem world, the cruel persecution of the family of Mohammed and the sack of the sacred city of Medina; it foiled the Period of Conquest of the Ommeyades and brought about the defeat of the Moslems by the Christians at Tours on the bank of the River Loire; it took its part in the disintegration of the Kingdom of Spain; it promoted the disintegration of the Saracenic Empire of the Abbasides and caused it to fall to pieces before the assault of the nomadic Mongols. 'It led', says Ameer Ali, 'not only to the end of the Republic, but also to the downfall of the Saracenic Empire.' To-day, it seems to the Europeans, that the Arabs are prevalently nomadic.
The Ommeyade Dynasty, which followed the assassination of Ali, with its capital at Damascus, endured for ninety years. Only one Caliph of the dynasty, Omar II, strove to re-enact the precepts of Mohammed. He, like Ali, was assassinated. The Ommeyades were themselves destroyed by the Abbasides, the descendants of Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet. One, Abd-al-Rahman, escaped to Spain and there founded the great Spanish Dynasty of the Ommeyades.
The Abbasides ruled from A.D. 750 to A.D. 1258, when their capital, Baghdad, was seized by the nomadic Mongols under Hulagn, the Caliph, and 800,000 inhabitants butchered within a week, and the great system of irrigation destroyed.
It was under the Abbasides that the great task of reconstruction was accomplished. Mansur, their second Caliph, was the first of a series of brilliant Caliphs, equal to that of the contemporaneous dynasty of the Ommeyades of Spain. The story of the development of the civilization of the Moors has many resemblances to that of the Abbasides, for both carried out the statesmanship of the fixed Islamic laws.
The Abbasides brought the era of conquests to an end. They renounced further warlike enterprises, and devoted themselves to the development of the land, the prosperity of the peasants, the promotion of commerce, the construction of roads and caravanserai, the establishment of charitable institutions, the spread of education, and the stimulation of literature and the arts.
The system of irrigation, which the Abbasides extended and amplified, was one of the most wonderful in the world. Only time-honoured China and Islamic Spain had anything to compare with it; in actual fact, the Abbaside irrigation was superior to that of the Chinese, for it had control of the whole of the two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, whereas the Chinese had no control over the sources of their great rivers.
The spirit and practice of the great riverine civilization of Babylon were revived. Throughout the whole Abbaside Empire the work of promoting agriculture was regarded as a religious duty, and the art of cultivation was developed and maintained with religious zeal. Mansur first abolished the payment of the Ommeyade money-tax upon grains and replaced it by a payment in kind. He extended this principle to other crops, and, in the case of the most fertile of lands, the produce-rates were fixed at two-fifths of the whole. Remission of taxes were frequent at times of stress even in the reigns of his most severe successors. By thus following the true economics of the soil, the prosperity of the peasants was at once implanted and the soil itself conserved as the basis of the State.
The method of land taxation was, however, not uniform throughout the Empire. 'In Babylonia, Chaldea, Irak, Mesopotamia and Persia there were numerous landowners and peasant free holders', writes Ameer Ali in his History, 'whose rents were permanently fixed upon the basis of agreements entered into at the time of the Conquest. No variation could be made in the tax leviable from them, and they were thus protected from all harassment. The same boon was enjoyed by the village communities of Northern Persia and Khorasan.' In a brief time, under this just care, the countryside of Irak and Southern Persia had the appearance of a veritable garden. Between Baghdad and Kufa especially, it made a setting of verdure for a number of prosperous towns, flourishing villages and fine villas. There was a teeming population. According to the writer of the article 'Irak-Arabi', in the 11th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, quoted by Mohammed Fadhel Jamali, Director of Education, Ministry of Education, Baghdad, in his book, The New Iraq, 1934, it was perhaps five hundred times as great as what 'it usually contains', in its present decadence.
A further feature of the greatest value to farming, with its essential character of locality, was the principle of self-government, that freedom for local customs and traditions on which Mohammed laid such stress. The Abbasides spread this precept throughout their dominions. 'The government carried its policy of non-interference with the separate communities sometimes to the extremest verge, to the detriment of its own interests. Each village, each town administered its own affairs, and the government only interfered when disturbances arose, or the taxes were not paid.' But so vital was the land, and so stupendous the system of irrigation which nourished it, that the construction of new canals and the cleansing and repair of old ones were entirely in governmental hands, as also was the maintenance of an efficient river police. The cost of the new canals was borne by the State, that of cleansing and repair was shared by the State and the recipients of the water. The workers on the land opened up by the new canals, consequently started their work without the shackles of a debt that had to be paid off. The benefit to the new farmers was primary, and, from their produce, they paid the usual taxes for the maintenance of the State, which itself repaid them with so many benefits. In this way the soil was dominant and money the adjuvant.
With the same magnanimity as they bestowed on the soil, the Abbasides developed the precepts of Mohammed on knowledge. Academies, colleges and schools were everywhere established; education was opened to all, urban and rural; the education of the women proceeded on parallel lines with that of the men. This zeal for knowledge was developed to the highest pitch, as Ameer Ali, in The Spirit of Islam, writes: 'Under the Abbasides we find them (the Moslems) the repositories of the knowledge of the world. Every part of the globe is ransacked by the agents of the Caliphs for the hoarded wealth of antiquity; these were brought to the capital, and laid before an admiring and appreciating public. Schools and academies spring up in every direction; public libraries are established in every city for every comer; the great philosophers of the world are studied side by side with the Koran. Galen, Dioscorides, Themistius, Aristotle, Plato, Euclid, Ptolemy and Apollonius receive their due meed of appreciation. The sovereigns assist at literary meetings and philosophical disquisitions. For the first time in the history of humanity a religious and autocratic government is observed to ally itself with philosophy, preparing and participating in its triumphs.' What this zeal for knowledge meant for farming, we have already seen in Chapter 21.
This great reconstruction was to be witnessed in every country, where Islamic culture was implanted. It was the same story in Persia, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Mauritania, Sicily and Spain. It seemed as if there was something magical, something beyond all previous conceptions of man, in the arrival of Islam. Spain, Mauritania, Sicily and other countries, previously stagnant or in decay, blossomed into active life. Idris of Medina, for example, escaped from a false charge of drunkenness. He won the adhesion of the Berbers of Mauritania and founded the Idriside dynasty. He built Fez and made it his capital. Under the new spirit Fez became a famous seat of learning, and the country, of which it was the capital, leapt into wealth and prosperity. Musa, Abd-al-Rahman and their successors in Spain, Majorca, Minorca, Sardinia, Corsica and a part of Sicily, in a very short time established a new culture and prosperity. There is nothing exactly like this in all history. The early Roman Empire and the Scientific Era are no parallels, because they both progressed, as we have seen, at the expense of humble peasantries and the exploitation of the soil. On the other hand, growth in prosperity in these Islamic countries occurred in all branches of social life. Farming, manufacture, trade, art, education, knowledge, all attained a very high level. They increased in power and capacity equally; they attained a balance amongst themselves, because they based themselves on a highly developed and conserved life-cycle, of which the Spirit of Islam was the creator.
Table of Contents
3. The Roman Foods
4. The Roman Family
5. Roman Soil Erosion
6. Farmers and Nomads
I. The Land
II. The Nomads
III. The Farmers
IV. Nomadic Migrations and Farmers
7. Contrasting Pictures
8. Banks for the Soil
9. Economics of the Soil
10. The English Peasant and Agricultural Labourer
11. Primitive Farmers
14. 'Earth Thou Art'
15. Sind and Egypt
17. East and West Indies
18. German Colonies: The Mandates
19. Russia, South Africa, Australia
20. The United States of America
21. A Kingdom of Agricultural Art in Europe
22. An Historical Reconstruction
Back to the Small Farms Library Index
Community development | Rural development
City farms | Organic gardening | Composting | Small farms | Biofuel | Solar box cookers
Trees, soil and water | Seeds of the world | Appropriate technology | Project vehicles
Home | What people are saying about us | About Handmade Projects
Projects | Internet | Schools projects | Sitemap | Site Search | Donations |