MOHAMMED AND THE EARLY CALIPHS
NOW where did authority
rest when Islam, under the first four caliphs, sprang from its cradle in Medina?
Who instituted the masjid (mosque) and the minbar (pulpit)? Who
appointed the first muezzins to call to prayer? khatibs, to preach? imams,
and qadhis, to exercise authority? What is the origin of the Islamic hierarchy
and of its monastic orders of darwishes? when did the royal Quraish family first
assert its pre- rogative of hereditary prestige, perpetuated to this very day
in ten thousands of seyyids and sheriffs?
of these questions are related to the spiritual functions and claims of Mohammed and the early caliphs.
Priesthood is not a matter of etymology (priest, presbyter, sheikh, elder; all
have the same significance) but of actual spiritual or temporal power over those
who acknowledge its function. The religious and political development in Islam
went hand and hand. In the course of the first century, the Koran readers (qaris)
arose, and these were succeeded by the men of tradition (ahl-al-hadith),
by canonists (faqihs) and other learned men who held office. "They laid
claim to an interpretative authority concerning the divine law which bordered
upon supreme legislative power; their ijma (agreement) was that of the
infallible community 9."
four earliest caliphs," says Macdonald, were
very happily called ein Manchischen Imperium, by Sachau. After this original
'monkish empire' the first Abbasid Caliph appointed his first vizier or helper;
as Aaron, the priest in the Koran is called the vizier of Moses" (Mohammedan
Institutions in Ency. Brit., 14th edition).
We have seen that the pre-Islamic kahins had certain prerogatives and functions.
Now each of these find place in the life of Mohammed after he had proclaimed
his message as the apostle of Allah.
1. The kahin was custodian of the sacred shrine, and when Mohammed entered Mecca as conqueror,
the central Arabian shrine was cleansed of idolatry with the exception of the
Black-Stone put m place by Mohammed himself in his pagan
days. Now as prophet-priest Mohammed directed the ritual
of the Islamic pilgrimage for all time by his observance of its as conqueror.
kahin in pagan days gave out oracles in rhymed prose. The earliest chapters
of the Koran are very similar in form and content (Wellhausen).
3. The kahin was a soothsayer whose imprecations and benedictions were
supernaturally effective. It was Mohammed's curse on an Arab tribe
guilty of injuring his camels, that was the origin of the qanut or brief
imprecatory prayer used by every Moslem at the close of the regular prayer (salat)
(Zwemer, Influence of Animism on Islam, p. 57). Margoliouth tells of a
late convert to Islam in Mohammed's day "who remembered
seeing him on a high place at Taif leaning like a kahin on a staff or bow
and reciting Surah 86"
in whkh there are strange oaths of asservation (Mohammed, p.179).
4. The kahin could offer special prayer for rain and bring it down from
heaven in dry and thirsty Arabia. Here again Mohammed exercised his priestly
power. He taught a special prayer and ritual for rain-making (istisqa)
by turning his garment inside out and lifting his hands, etc. (Wensinck, Handbook
of Mohammedan Tradition. pp.201-202).
5. As in the case of pagan kahins, his garments, hair, saliva and touch
had healing power. There are many traditions to this effect. One may also find
numerous references to Mohammed as physician in popular
books called Tub-an-nabawi. There are many orthodox traditions that tell
how he could heal by blowing, by his saliva, by the water he used in ablution
and how he healed men and cattle by the stroke of his hand. One man whom he stroked
lived one hundred and twenty years (see Wensinck who gives the references to each
of these Traditions. pp. 166-168).
But Mohammed and his successors claimed
far higher powers and authority than those exercised by the priests and soothsayers
of pagan Arabia. Mohammed called himself the Apostle
of God, the final messenger in the long line of apostles and prophets.
After Mohammed's flight to Medina,
he began to associate his own name with that of deity in a way not used by him
in the earlier revelations. He now dares to say "Obey God and his apostle." The
actor and the drama change from this time on. The kahin of Mecca who was
a preacher and warner, now becomes an
autocratic legislator and leader of a band of warriors. He who suffered persecution
at Mecca, now persecutes his Jewish neighbors. He builds a new mosque with huts
for his numerous wives, sends out expeditions, and finally, after two celebrated
battles, enters his birthplace, Mecca, as a conqueror. He writes letters to foreign
kings and princes inviting them to embrace Islam-that is, to submit to
Allah and to Mohammed his apostle.
Margoliouth's Life of Mohammed is based on original
Moslem sources, and he describes how the demoralizing of Mohammed's own character by his
assumed prophet-priest-apostleship took place. "When he was at the head of a robber
community (in Medina) it is probable that the demoralizing influence began to
be felt; it was then that men who had never broken an oath learned that they might
evade their obligations, and that men to whom the blood of the clansmen had been
as their own began to shed it with impunity in the cause of God; and that lying
and treachery, in the cause of Islam, received divine approval, hesitation to
perjure oneself in that cause being represented as a weakness. It was then, too,
that Moslems became distinguished by the obscenity of their language. It was then,
too, that the coveting of goods and wives (possessed by unbelievers) was avowed
without discouragement from the prophet 10."
all his faults, which are not at all concealed or even apologized for in the Moslem
sources, Mohammed's genius
for leadership and his message won their way. Before his death, his word was law
in all Arabia and the sword and book of the prophet began their world-conquest.
caliphs, who took leadership after Mohammed's death, succeeded to
his power in temporal affairs and added to his prestige in the spiritual realm.
Slowly but surely his apotheosis began and a new ideal apostle of God became the
head of a world-wide theocracy.
In the Koran and in the earliest sources Mohammed is thoroughly human
and liable to error. Later tradition has changed all that, and made him sinless
and almost divine. The two hundred and one titles of honor given him proclaim
his apotheosis, and orthodox tradition establishes the claim. He is called Light
of God, Peace of the World, Glory of the Ages, First of All Creatures, and names
yet more lofty and blasphemous. Tradition makes him both the sealer and abrogator
of all former prophets and revelations, which have not only been succeeded, but
also supplanted by Mohammed. No Moslem prays to
him, but every Moslem daily prays for him or seeks his intercession in endless
repetition. To them he is the only powerful intercessor on the day of judgment.
that surrounds a Persian portrait of Mohammed with lance and sword
and surmounted by a nimbus of cherubs, reads as follows: "Oh, Allah, bless and
prosper the illiterate prophet, the Arabian, the Hashimite, the Quraishite, the
man of Mecca and Medina, the Hero in battle of Tihama, the Pearly Star, the Possessor
of dignity and gravity, the One buried.
ancient Arabic script known as Kufic is found in some manuscripts but more especially
in architecture and mono- ments. The above is the famous
of the Throne" taken from the Mueyyad Mosque in Cairo. Those who know ordinary
Arabic can easily decipher this intaglio. The text begins in the lower right hand
corner: Alla la ilaha illa huwa, al-hayy al-quayyum... and then reads clock-wise
to the center and the end of the verse (2:256). in
the soil of Al Medina, the Servant aided (with miracles), and the rightly guided
messenger, and the elect one, the most glorious, the praised, the most praiseworthy,
the father of Qasim, Mohammed son of Abdullah, the
blessing and peace of God be upon him."
"Mohammed during his lifetime,
ruled his people as a divinely inspired and guided prophet. He led the public
prayers; he acted as judge; he controlled the army. Upon his death a leader was
put in his place of similar authority, though without the divine prophetic guidance."
successor, Abu Bekr, was the first khalifah. He was absolute ruler of the
Islamic theocracy, altho elected, as were Arab chiefs at that time. What were
the prerogatives and duties of the caliphs? Let
Macdonald tell us.
were to maintain the divine ordinance; to enforce legal decisions; guard the frontiers
and equip armies; receive the alms; put down highwaymen; maintain the Friday services
and the festivals; decide disputes and receive evidence on legal claims; marry
minors, male and female, who have no guardian; divide booty" (Islamic Institutions,
Encyc. Brit., Vol.12, p.713).
With such a complex of martial, legal, spiritual, and social prerogatives claimed
at the outset, it is no wonder that the caliphate became a powerful and mysterious
force in the history of Islam. Is it surprising that this institution which perpetuated
and emphasized such prerogatives, grew more and more religiously totalitarian?
It was not, as Lord Curzon remarks, "a state-church but a church-state." In this
church, religious endowments,
waqf (mortmain) waxed larger and larger and tended to absorb the greater
part of the national wealth. The power of the caliphate went further in its religious
control and domination, until even an inquisition (mihna) existed for nearly
two decades under Al Ma'mun in Baghdad, with torture and capital punishment for those
who denied the creation of the Koran! (W. M. Patton: Ahmad b. Hanbat and
the Mihna. Leyden, 1897.)
On the power of the 'ulema (clergy) in general, D. B. Macdonald says,
is plain that their organization was the solid framework of permanent government
behind the changing dynasties (in the history of Islam). They had the ultimate
decision on all questions of constitution, law and theology" (Art. 'Ulema
in Encyc. of Islam).
Now even as Arabia is the cradle of Islam, the mosque is the cradle of the clergy.
It was that in the first century of Islam at Mecca, Medina, and Damascus. It is
that today in Cairo, Kerbela, and Bokhara. The first chair of the 'ulema
was the minbar or pulpit.
Not only was the mosque the place of prayer but in the old days of Islam the mosque
was the fitting scene for all the chief concerns of Arab life.
remarks S. H. Leeder, "an important journey had its start and finish; in those
days a man's camel knelt by instinct at the door of the mosque
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