THE ARAB PERIOD – De Lacy O’lery

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Islam in its earlier form was entirely an Arab religion. The temporal side of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission shows him engaged in an effort to unite the tribes of the Hijaz in a fraternal union, to limit the custom of the razzia (ghazza) or marauding foray, and to form an orderly community. These temporal aims were due to the influence of Madina on the Prophet and to the conviction that it was only in such a community that his religious teaching could obtain a serious attention. In Mecca he had been faced with constant opposition chiefly due to the tribal jealousies and strife which formed the normal condition of a Bedwin community. Madina was a city in a sense quite different from that in which the term could be applied to Mecca. It had developed a civic life, rudimentary no doubt but very far in advance of the Meccan conditions, and had inherited a constitutional tradition from Aramaean and Jewish colonists. At Madina the Prophet began to perceive the difference produced by the association of men in an ordered communal life as contrasted with the incoherence of the older tribal conditions, and the accompanying difference of attitude towards religion.
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This last was not really due to civic life but more directly to Jewish influence, although no doubt the conditions of city life were more favourable to the evolution of speculative theology than those of the wilder tribes. The older Arabs seem to have accepted the idea of one supreme God, but speculated little about him: they did not regard the supreme deity as at all entering into their personal interests, which were concerned only with the minor tribal deities who were expected to attend diligently to tribal affairs and were sharply censured when they appeared to be negligent about the interests of their clients. The desert man had no tendency to the sublime thoughts about God with which he is sometimes credited, nor had he any great reverence towards the minor members of his pantheon. The Prophet found it one of his most difficult tasks to introduce the observance of prayer amongst the Arabs, and they do not appear very much attached to it at the present day. In Madina the Prophet was in contact with men whose attitude towards religion was very different and who were more in sympathy with the principles which he had learned from very much the same sources as themselves.
In Madina, therefore, the Prophet added a temporal side to the spiritual work in which he had been previously engaged. It was not consciously a change of attitude, but simply the adoption of a subsidiary task which seemed to provide a most useful accessory to the work which he had already been doing. Its
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keynote is given in the Madinian Sura 49.10, “Only the faithful are brethren, wherefore make peace between your brethren.” It was a call to his fellow Arabs of the Hijaz to cease their strife and to unite in the bonds of brotherhood. Such a union on the part of those whose habits and ideals were warlike and who were disinclined to the arts of peace, necessarily produced an attitude of hostility towards persons outside their community. Was this militant attitude any part of Muhammad’s plans? The answer must certainly be in the negative. The military enterprises of early Islam were no part of its original programme. In those enterprises the Prophet and his immediate successors show a hesitating and dubious attitude; obviously their hands were forced and they take the lead reluctantly. As Fr. Lammens says:—

Le Qoran travailla à réunir les tribus du Higaz. La prédication de Mahomet réussit à mettre sur pied une armée, la plus nombreuse, la plus disciplinée qu’on êut vue jusque-là dans la Péninsule. Cette force ne pouvait longtemps demeurer sans emploi. Par ailleurs l-islam, en imposant la paix entre les tribus, ralliées à la nouvelle religion ou simplement à l’état médinois en formation,—le ta’līf al-qoloūb poursuivait ce dernier objectif—l’islam allait fermer tout issue à l’inquiète activité des nomades. Il prétendait supprimer à tout le moins limiter, le droit de razzia, placé à la base de cette société patriarcalement anarchique. Il fallait s’attendre

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à voir le torrent; momentanément endigué, déborder sur les régions frontiéres.

“Que Mahomet ait assigné ce but à leurs efforts? Il devient difficile de défendre cette thèse, trop facilement acceptée jusqu’ici.”
(Lammens: Le berceau de l’islam. Rome, 1914, i. p. 175.)

In the expedition against Mecca a militant attitude was the inevitable result of compelling circumstances. The Meccans were actively hostile and had adopted a persecuting attitude towards those who accepted the new religion. At the time the Quraysh tribe, to which Muhammad belonged, was so far in the ascendant that its adhesion was necessary for the progress of Islam in the Hijaz: the championship of some prominent tribe was essential, and Muhammad himself was deeply attached to the traditional “House of God” at Mecca, to which his own family was bound by many associations; besides he desired the adherence of his own tribe as his mission was to it in the first place. Had the Meccan opposition not been broken down the Muslim religion could have been no more than the local cult of Madina, and even as such would have had to be perpetually on the defensive. No doubt the “holy war” as an institution was based on the traditions of this expedition, but such a war is related to the later enterprises for the conquest of non-Arab nations by a line of development which the Prophet himself could hardly have anticipated. The challenge to Heraclius is on a
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similar footing. Although we may not be disposed to accept the traditional account given by Bukhari, there no doubt was some such challenge. But Heraclius had only recently re-conquered Syria for the Byzantine Empire, the land he had acquired included a considerable portion of the Syrian desert which formed a geographical unity with Arabia, and amongst his subjects were Arab tribes closely akin to those of the Hijaz.
Islam became a militant religion because it spread amongst the Arabs at a time when they were beginning to enter upon a career of expansion and conquest, and this career had already commenced before Muhammad had got beyond the first—the purely spiritual—stage of his work. The only reason why the earlier Arab efforts were not followed up immediately seems to have been that the Arabs were so surprised at their success that they were unprepared to take advantage of it. For some time previously Arab settlements had been formed in the debateable land where the Persian and Byzantine Empires met, but this encroachment had been more or less veiled by the nominal suzerainty of one or other of the great states. The Quda, a tribe of Himyaritic Arabs, had settled in Syria and become Christian, and was charged by the Byzantine Emperor with the general control of the Arabs of Syria (Masudi: iii., 214-5); that tribe was superseded by the tribe of Salih (id. 216), and that by the Arab kingdom of Ghasan which acknowledged the Emperor of Byzantium as
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its overlord, whilst the Arab kingdom of Hira acknowledged the Persian king. Somewhere between A.D. 604 and 610, when the first beginnings of persecution were falling on the Prophet in Mecca, the Arabs led by al-Mondir inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Persian army under King Khusraw Parwiz, who, a few years before, had led a victorious force to the invasion of the Byzantine province of Syria. This victory showed the Arabs that, in spite of its imposing appearance, the Persian Empire, and presumably the Byzantine also, were vulnerable, and a determined effort might easily place the wealth of both at the disposal of the Arabs.
The Muslim conquests of the 7th century A.D. form the last of a series of great Semitic outspreads of which the earliest recorded in history resulted in the formation of the empire of Babylon some 2225 years before the Christian era. In all these the motive power lay in the Arabs who represent the parent Semitic stock, the more or less nomadic inhabitants of the barren highlands of Western Asia, who have always tended to prey upon the more cultured and settled dwellers in the river valleys and on the lower slopes of the hills.
“The belts between mountain and desert, the banks of the great rivers, the lower hills near the sea, these are the lines of civilization (actual or potential) in Western Asia. The consequence of these conditions is that through all the history of Western Asia there runs the eternal distinction between the civilized
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cultivators of the plains and lower hills and the wild peoples of mountain and desert. The great monarchies which have arisen here have rarely been effective beyond the limits of cultivation; mountain and desert are another world in which they can get, at best, only precarious footing. And to the monarchical settled peoples the near neighbourhood of this unsubjugated world has been a continual menace. It is a chaotic region out of which may pour upon them at any weakening of the dam hordes of devastators. At the best of times it hampers the government by offering a refuge and recruiting ground to all the enemies of order.” (Bevan: House of Seleucus, i., p. 22.)
Scornful of agriculture and with a strong distaste for settled and especially for urban life, the Bedwin are those who have remained nomads by preference, and like all races at that stage of evolution, find the most congenial outlet for their vigour in tribal warfare and plundering expeditions. From the earliest dawn of history they have always been strongly tempted by the wealth of the settled communities within reach, and appear in the oldest records as robber bands. Sometimes predatory excursions were followed by settlement, and the invading tribes learned the culture of those amongst whom they settled: all the Semitic groups other than the Arabs had formed such settlements before the 7th century A.D., and these groups are distinguished one from another, and all from the parent stock, simply by
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the cultural influences due to the earlier inhabitants of the lands they entered; the Arab stock itself remained high and dry, the stranded relic of more primitive conditions, though itself not absolutely free from a reacting influence. The only thing that ever has restrained the incursions of these nomadic tribes into such neighbouring lands as offer hope of plunder is the military power of those who endeavour to place a barrier for the protection of the settled community of the cultivated area, and every Arab outspread has been due, not to the pressure of hunger resulting from the desiccation of Arabia, nor to religious enthusiasm, but simply to the weakness of the power which tried to maintain a dam against them.
In the 7th century A.D. the two powers bordering on the Arab area were the Byzantine and Persian empires. Both of these were, to all appearance, flourishing and stable, but both alike were in reality greatly weakened by external and internal causes which were closely parallel in the two. Externally, both had been severely shaken by some centuries of warfare in which they had disputed the supremacy of Western Asia, and both had suffered from rear attacks by more barbarous foes. Internally, both alike had a thoroughly unsatisfactory social structure, though the details differ: in the Byzantine Empire almost the whole burden of a very heavy taxation fell upon the middle classes, the curiales, and the armies were mainly composed of foreign mercenaries, whilst in the Persian Empire a rigid caste system
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stifled natural development. In both we see a state church engaged in active persecution and thereby alienating a large section of the subject population.
The career of Muslim conquest came with great suddenness. Between the years 14 and 21 A.H. (A.D. 635-641) the Arabs obtained possession of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Persia. They owed to Islam the united action which made these conquests possible, but the older Muslims who had shared the ideals and labours of the Prophet, though put at the head, were carried forward reluctantly and yet irresistibly by the expanding force behind them. Many of them viewed these large accessions with very real anxiety. When the second Khalif Umar saw the large number of prisoners and captives from Jalûlâ (Persia) flocking into Arabia, he exclaimed, “O, God, I take refuge with thee from the children of these captives of Jalûlâ.”
Already the community of Islam contained three distinct strata. (i) The “old believers,” i.e., the sahibs or companions of the Prophet and the early converts who placed the religion of Islam first and desired that religion to produce a real brotherhood of all believers, whether Arab or not. Important by their prestige they were numerically in the minority. (ii) The Arab party, consisting of those who had embraced Islam only when Muhammad had shown his power by the capture of Mecca. They accepted Muslim leadership because Muhammad and the first two Khalifs were at the moment in the ascendancy,
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but they had no attachment to the religion of Islam. They were those who would have gone forward to conquest under any efficient leader as soon as it was clear that Persia and the Greek Empire were vulnerable, and to them it was a detriment that union under a leader incidentally involved adherence to a new religion. At the head of these purely secular Arabs was the Umayyad clan of the tribe of Quraysh, and the main thing which gained their continued adherence to Islam was that the Prophet himself had belonged to that tribe and so the prestige of Islam involved that of the Quraysh who thereby became a kind of aristocracy. Although the Umayyads were thus able to gratify their personal pride, always a strong factor in semi-civilised psychology, and even to obtain a considerable measure of control over the other tribes, this only served to perpetuate the pre-Islamic conditions of tribal jealousy, for the primacy of the Quraysh was bitterly resented by many rivals. For the most part the true Arab party was, and still is, indifferent towards religion.
“The genuine Arab of the desert is, and remains at heart, a sceptic and a materialist; his hard, clear, keen, but somewhat narrow intelligence, ever alert in its own domain, was neither curious nor credulous in respect to immaterial and supra-sensual things; his egotistical and self-reliant nature found no place and felt no need for a God who, if powerful to protect, was exacting of service and self-denial.” (Browne: Literary Hist. of Persia, i., pp. 189-190.)
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The Arab certainly was not disposed to regard the conquered alien, even if he embraced Islam, as a brother. To him the conquest of foreign lands meant only the acquisition of vast estates, of great wealth and unlimited power: to him the conquered were simply serfs to be used as a means of rendering the conquered lands more productive. The conquered were allowed the choice either to embrace Islam or to pay the poll tax, but the ‘Umayyads discouraged conversion as damaging to the revenue, although the cruel and hated Hajjaj b. Yusuf (d. 95) forced even converts to pay the tax from which they were legally exempt. (iii) The third stratum consisted of the “clients” (mawla, plur. mawâli), the non-Arab converts, theoretically received as brethren and actually so treated by the “old believers,” but regarded as serfs by Arabs of the Umayyad type. Owing to the wide expansion of Islam these rapidly increased in number until, in the 2nd century of the Hijra, they formed the vast majority of the Muslim world.
The two first Khalifs were “old believers” who had been companions of the Prophet in his flight from Mecca. The third, ‘Uthman, had also been one of the Prophet’s companions, but he was a weak man and moreover, belonged to the ‘Umayyad clan, which, as the aristocratic element in Mecca, was then in the ascendant and, unable to free himself from the nepotism which is an Arab failing, allowed the rich conquests of Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Persia to become the prey of ambitious members of the clan and thus
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suffered the complete secularising of the Islamic state. When, in 35 A.H., he fell a victim to the assassin, he was succeeded by ‘Ali, one of the older Muslims and the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. But at ‘Ali’s accession the internal division appears as an accomplished fact. The purely secular Arabs, led by the ‘Umayyad Mu‘awiya, who was governor of Syria, entirely refused to recognise ‘Ali, affecting to regard him as implicated in the murder of ‘Uthman, or at least as protecting his murderers. On the other hand, the Kharijite sect, claiming to represent the older Muslim type, but in reality mainly composed of the Arabs of Arabia and of the military colonies, who were envious of the power and wealth of the Umayyad faction, at first supported him, then turned against him, and in 41 were responsible for his assassination.
At ‘Ali’s death Mu‘awiya became Khalif and founded the Umayyad dynasty which ruled from 41 to 132 A.H. During the whole of this period the official Khalifate was Arab first and Muslim only in the second place. This forms the second period of the history of Islam when the religion of the Prophet was allowed to sink into the background and the Arab regarded himself as the conqueror ruling over a subject population. There was no forcible conversion of a subject population, indeed, save in the reign of ‘Umar II (A.H. 99-101) conversions were rather discouraged as detrimental to the poll tax levied on non-Muslims. There was no attempt to force the Arabic language: until the reign of ‘Abdu l-Mâlik
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(65-86), who started an Arabic coinage, the public records were kept and official business transacted in Greek, Persian, or Coptic, as local requirements demanded, and the change to Arabic seems to have been suggested by the non-Muslim clerks. When Arabic became the official medium of public business then, of course, motives of convenience and self-interest caused its general adoption. Hitherto it had been used in prayer by those who had become Muslim, but now it had to be learned more accurately by all who had to do with the collection of the revenue or the administration of justice. Incidentally this became a matter of great importance, as it provided a common medium for the exchange of thought throughout the whole Muslim world.
As rulers in Syria, the Arabs were in contact with a fully developed culture which was brought to bear upon them in various ways, in the structure of society and in social order generally, in the arts and crafts, and in intellectual life. The Greek influence was nearest at hand, but there was also a very strong Persian element in close contact with them. The provincial officials of Syria, all trained in the methods of the Byzantine Empire, continued in their employ, and, as Syria was the seat of the ‘Umayyad government, the state came under Greek influence. Yet, for all this, even in ‘Umayyad times, the Persian influence seems to have been very strong in political organization. The governments already existing in Egypt and Syria were provincial, dependent upon
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and subordinate to, the central government at Byzantium, and constantly recruited by Byzantine officials, at least in their upper grades. The Persian government, on the other hand, was a self-contained one, fully organised throughout and including the supreme and central authority. Until the fall of the ‘Umayyads, after which Persian influence became supreme, the political structure of the Muslim state was somewhat experimental; apparently the rulers left the details altogether to the subordinate officials who adapted to the needs of the state such elements as they could use from the old provincial administration.
In the matter of taxation the early Khalifate continued the system already in vogue and employed existing methods for the collection of the newly imposed poll tax. It was on this side that the ‘Umayyad rule was most unsatisfactory. Like many who have been bred in poverty and have afterwards suddenly come into great wealth, the Arabs behaved as though their wealth was inexhaustible: each governor bought his appointment from the state and it became a recognised custom for him to exact a cash payment from the outgoing governor, and then he was free to raise what he could from his defenceless subjects to prepare for the day when his opportunities of exaction came to an end. The thoroughly unsatisfactory condition of the ‘Umayyad financial system was one of the leading causes of their fall. One of the ‘Umayyad sheikhs, named Minkari, when asked the reason of their fall, replied:—
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“We gave to pleasure the time which should have been devoted to business. Our subjects, harshly treated by us and despairing of obtaining justice, longed to be delivered from us: the tax payers, overburdened with exactions, were estranged from us: our lands were neglected, our resources wasted. We left business to our ministers who sacrificed our interests to their own advantage, and transacted our affairs as they pleased and without our knowledge. The army, with its pay always in arrear, ceased to obey us. And so the small number of our supporters left us without defence against our enemies, and the ignorance of how we stood was one of the chief causes of our fall.” (Masudi: vi., 35-36.)
It will not be unfair to say, therefore, that during the ‘Umayyad period the Arabs learned practically nothing of the art of government and of the work of administration. They were in the position of prodigal young heirs who leave all details to their men of business and content themselves with squandering the proceeds.
In the case of civil law matters were rather different. The civil law is necessarily based on the social and economic structure of the community, and in the acquired provinces this was so different from that prevailing in Arabia that it was necessarily forced on the attention of the Arabs. Moreover, in primitive Islam, the line was not clearly drawn between the canon law and the civil law. Inheritance, the taking of pledges, and such like matters, were to the Arabs
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subject to the direction and sanction of the law of God as revealed by his Prophet. Thus, for example, Sura 4, one of the later Madinian revelations, contains a statement of the law relating to guardianship, inheritance, marriage, and kindred topics, according to the social conditions prevailing at Madina. But in the Greek and Persian dominions the conquering Arab had to deal with more complex conditions for which the revealed law made no provision, although what it did contain so far touched the subject that it could not be treated regardless of revelation. It seemed impossible to disregard the revealed precepts and substitute an alien legislation, although this has been done in the modern Ottoman Empire, but not without many and grave protests; in the first century it would have been intolerable, for every disaffected faction would have used it to break up the Muslim state which was only held together by the prestige of the Prophetical tradition. We may well suppose that the ‘Umayyads would have had no reluctance to try the experiment, but it was too dangerous. The only alternative was to expand the sacred law so as to include new requirements, and in the ‘Umayyad period this was done by the addition of a vast number of fictitious traditions professing to relate what the Prophet had said and done in conditions in which he had never been placed. In describing these traditions as “fictitious,” it is not necessarily implied that they were fraudulent, although many were so, showing an obvious motive in increasing the privileges
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and rights of the dominant faction or asserting the tribal pre-eminence of the Quraysh, etc. But more often they are “fictitious” in the sense of legal fictions rightly correcting the actual law in the interests of equity. When entirely new conditions arose, the question would be asked, “How would the Prophet have acted in this case?” The early companions of the Prophet, educated in the same environment as he had been educated, and confident that their outlook was essentially the same as his, had no hesitation in stating what he would have done or said, and their statement was almost certainly correct: but they worded their evidence, or it was afterwards worded for them, as a statement of what the Prophet actually had done or said. And, later again, in a subsequent generation, when new problems arose, no difficulty was felt in accepting the supposition that the Prophet would have admitted the reasonable and just solution which the Roman jurists proposed. Thus it finally came to pass that a considerable portion of the Roman civil law was embodied in the traditions of Islam (cf. Santillana: Code civil et commerciel tunisien. Tunis, 1899, etc.) It is not to be supposed that Arab governors and judges studied the Roman code, they simply accepted its provisions as they found them in force in Syria and Egypt, and thus learned its general principles from the usage of the civil courts already existing. In many places material is found in the traditions which can be traced to Zoroastrian, Jewish, and even Buddhist sources,
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though these deal rather with ritual and the description of the unseen world and serve to show how readily Islam absorbed elements with which it was in contact. So far as the actual needs of the civil law are concerned, the chief source was the Roman law, and these needs fill a very large part of the traditions.
It was not until the close of the ‘Umayyad period that the Muslims began to develop a scientific jurisprudence and to make a critical examination and codification of the traditions. In the case of jurisprudence there were at first two schools, a Syrian and a Persian. The Syrian school formulated its system under the leadership of al-Awza‘i (d. 157), and for some time it prevailed over all parts of the Muslim world which had been parts of the Byzantine Empire. The Persian school owed its origin to Abu Hanifa (d. 150) and, as the seat of government was removed to Iraq by the ‘Abbasids and Abu Hanifa’s system was enforced by his pupil Abu Yusuf (d. 182) who was chief Qadi under the Khalif Harunu r-Rashid, it had a tremendous advantage over the Syrian school. It became the official system of the ‘Abbasid courts and still holds its own through Central Asia, North India, and wherever the Turkish element prevails, whilst the Syrian system has become extinct. Abu Hanifa’s system represents a serious and moderate revision of the methods which had already come into use as extending the discipline of Islam to the needs of a complex and advanced civilization. Under the ‘Umayyads the jurists had
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supplemented any deficiencies in the law by their own opinion (ra’y) which meant the application of the judgment of a man trained under the Roman law as to what was just and fair. In that early period no derogatory sense was attached to “opinion” which rested on the theory that the intellect could intuitively perceive what is right and just, thus assuming that there is an objective standard of right and wrong capable of apprehension by philosophical enquiry, a theory which shows the influence of Greek ideas embodied in the Civil Code. But the ‘Abbasid period experienced an orthodox reaction which tended to limit freedom in using speculative opinion, and Abu Hanifa shows this limitation. In his system weight was attached to every positive statement of the Qur’an which could be taken as bearing upon the civil law, only to a slight extent did he avail himself of the evidence of tradition, to a much larger extent he employs qiyas or “analogy,” which means that a new condition is judged by comparison with some older one already treated in the Qur’an, and he also employed what he called istihsan, “the preferable,” that is to say, what seemed to be equitable and right even when it diverged from the logical conclusion which could be deduced from the revealed law. Only in this latter case did he admit what can be described as “opinion,” and this is strictly limited to the adoption of a course necessary to avoid an obvious injustice. As thus stated, Abu Hanifa’s system was broader, milder, and more reasonable than any other
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treatment of the Islamic law: but it is a mistake to suppose that it still is mild and reasonable, for in the course of time the decisions pronounced as to “the preferable” have become hardened into precedents and the Hanifite code expresses only those fixed decisions of early mediæval Islam without flexibility. The case is parallel with the English treatment of equity. In older times equity shows us the philosophical principles of justice correcting the defects of common law; but modern practice displays these principles fossilized as precedents and as rigid and formal in their application as the common law itself. As first conceived, “the preferable” shows the influence of Roman law and Greek philosophy, both of which contemplated an objective standard of right and wrong which could be discovered by investigation, the Stoic teaching, predominant in Roman law, tending to treat this discovery as intuitive. Unsupported by other evidence, we might hesitate to suggest that istihsan necessarily had a Hellenistic basis, but when we compare the ideas of Abu Hanifa with the contemporary teaching of Wasil b. ‘Ata (d. 131) in theology, we are forced to the conclusion that the same influences are at work in both, and in Wasil these are certainly derived from Greek philosophy. We are not justified in supposing that Abu Hanifa ever read the Greek philosophers or the Roman law, but he lived at a period when the general principles deduced from these sources were beginning to permeate Muslim thought, though in fact his teaching
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tends to limit and define the application of the general principles according to a system. The older Muslims supposed that good and evil depend simply on the arbitrary will of God, who commands and forbids as be sees fit: it was the influence of the Greek philosophy which brought in the idea that these distinctions are not arbitrary but due to some natural difference existing in nature between good and evil and that God is just in that his decrees conform to this standard.
In orthodox Islam there are now four schools of jurisprudence showing allowable differences in the treatment of the canon law. Most absurdly they are sometimes described as “sects”: this they are not as the differences of opinion are fully recognised as all equally orthodox. The followers of Abu Hanifa form the most numerous of these schools, the other three being all more or less reactionary as compared with it. The contemporary Malik b. Anas (d. 179) was openly actuated by dislike of the admission of istihsan and the recognition thereby given to “opinion” for this he substituted what he called istislah or “public expediency,” allowing analogy to be set aside only when its logical conclusion would be detrimental to the community. The difference seems to be more a verbal correction than a material change, but the underlying motive is clear and indicates an orthodox reaction. At the same time he attached much greater weight to the evidence of tradition, adding to it also the principle of ijma or “consensus,”
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which in his system meant the common usage of Madina. Undoubtedly Ibn Malik’s position was theoretically sound: the Islamic state had taken form at Madina and nothing could give so clear light on the policy of the Prophet and his companions as the local customary law of the mother city. At the same time Ibn Malik took tradition quite seriously, indeed, the critical and scientific treatment of tradition begins with his manual known as the Muwatta. To-day Ibn Malik’s school prevails in Upper Egypt and North Africa west of Egypt. The third authority ash-Shafi‘i (d. 204) takes an intermediate position between Abu Hanifa and Ibn Malik, interpreting ijma as the general usage of Islam, and not of the city of Madina alone. The fourth authority, Ahmad b. Han-bal (d. 241), shows an entirely reactionary position which reverted to a close adherence to Qur’an and tradition; it carried great weight amongst the orthodox, especially in Baghdad, but now survives only in remote parts of Arabia.
In the sphere of the arts and crafts, our best evidence lies in architecture and engineering. In these the Arabs had no skill and were conscious of their incapacity. The earliest mosques were simply enclosures surrounded by a plain wall, but a new type was developed under the first ‘Umayyad Khalif Mu‘awiya, who employed Persian non-Muslim builders in the construction of the mosque at Kufa, and they worked on the lines of the architecture already used by the Sasanid kings. In this mosque the traditional square
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enclosure was retained, but the quadrangle was surrounded by a cloister in the form of a collonade with pillars 30 cubits high of stone drums held together by iron clamps and lead beddings. From this the cloistered quadrangle became the general type of the congregational mosque and remained so until late Turkish times, when it was partly superseded by the Byzantine domed church. The dome had been used in earlier times only as the covering of a tomb, standing alone or attached to a mosque.
The same Khalif Mu‘awiya employed bricks and mortar in restorations which he made at Mecca, and introduced Persian workmen to execute the repairs. In 124 A.H. (A.D. 700) the fifth ‘Umayyad Khalif found it necessary to repair the damage caused at Mecca by flood, and for this purpose employed a Christian architect from Syria.
In the time of the next Khalif al-Walid, the “Old Mosque” of Fustat (Cairo), that now known as the “Mosque of ‘Amr,” was rebuilt by the architect Yahya b. Hanzala, who probably was a Persian. The earlier mosque had been a simple enclosure. The next oldest mosque of Cairo, that of Ibn Tulun (A.H. 283) also had a non-Muslim architect, the Christian Ibn Katib al-Fargani.
Not only in the earlier period, but also in the days of the Abbasids, the Muslims relied exclusively upon Greek and Persian, to a less degree on Coptic, architects, engineers, and craftsmen for building and decoration. In Spain of the 2nd century (8th century A.D.)
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we find the Byzantine Emperor sending a mosaic worker and 320 quintals of tessarae for the adorning of the great mosque at Cordova.
In origin all Muslim art had a Byzantine beginning, but the traditions of Byzantine art received a peculiar direction by passing through a Persian medium, and this medium colours all work done after the close of the ‘Umayyad period. Only in the west, in Spain, and to a less degree in North Africa, do we find traces of direct Byzantine influence in later times. But Persian art, as developed under the later Sasanids, was itself derived from Byzantine models, and mainly from models and by craftsmen introduced by Khusraw I. (circ. A.D. 528); but even at that early stage there were also some Indian influences apparent in Persian and East-Byzantine work, as, for example, in the use of the horse-shoe arch which first appears in Western Asia in the church of Dana on the Euphrates, circ. A.D. 540. But the horse-shoe arch in pre-Muslim times, as in India, is purely decorative and is not employed in construction.
Thus it appears that the real work of Islam in art and architecture lay in connecting the various portions of the Muslim world in one common life, so that Syria, Persia, Iraq, North Africa, and Spain shared the same influences, which were ultimately Greek or Graeco-Persian, the Indian element, of quite secondary importance, entering directly through Persia. Already before the outspread of Islam, Byzantine art had entirely replaced native models in Egypt, and
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this was largely the case in Persia as well. At most we can say that Islam evolved a quasi-Byzantine style which owed its distinctive features to the limitations of the Persian artists, but which occasionally attained a better level by the importation of Byzantine craftsmen. Exactly the same general conclusions hold good in the history of the ceramic arts and in the illumination of manuscripts, though here the observance of the Qur’anic prohibition of the portrayal of animal figures, strictly observed only in some quarters and least regarded in Persia and Spain, caused a greater emphasis to be laid on vegetable forms in decoration, and on geometrical patterns.
In the field of science and philosophy, where we get such abundant evidence in the ‘Abbasid period, we are left with very little material under the ‘Umayyads. We know that the medical school at Alexandria continued to flourish, and we read of one Adfar, a Christian, who was distinguished as a student of the books of Hermes, the occult authority which did most to divert Egyptian science into a magical direction, and we are informed that he was sought out by a young Roman named Morienus (Marianos) who became his pupil and at his master’s death retired to a hermitage near Jerusalem. Later on the prince Khalid b. Yazid, of the ‘Umayyad family (d. 85 A.H.—704 A.D.) is said to have become the pupil of Marianos and to have studied with him chemistry, medicine, and astronomy. He was the author of three epistles, in one of which he narrated his conversations with
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Marianos, another relates the manner in which he studied chemistry, and a third explains the enigmatical allusions employed by his teachers. Long before this medical and scientific studies had passed over to Persia, but Alexandria retained its reputation as the chief centre of such work throughout the ‘Umayyad period.
Towards the end of the ‘Umayyad age the influence of Hellenistic thought begins to appear in the nature of criticism upon accepted views of Muslim theology. As in jurisprudence, we have no ground for supposing that Muslims at this stage were directly acquainted with Greek material, but general ideas were obtained by intercourse with those who had been long under Hellenistic influences, and especially by intercourse with Christians amongst whom the premises of psychology, metaphysics, and logic had encroached very largely upon the field of theology by the nature of the subjects debated in the Arian, Nestorian, and Monophysite controversies which turned mainly upon psychological and metaphysical problems. The ideas with which the Muslims were brought into contact suggested difficulties in their own theology, as yet only partially formulated, and in religious theories which had taken form in a community entirely ignorant of philosophy. Some of the older fashioned believers met these questions with a plain negative, simply refusing to admit that there was a difficulty or any question for consideration: reason (‘aql), they said, could not be applied to the revelation
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of God, and it was alike an innovation to dispute that revelation or to defend it. But others felt the pressure of the questions proposed and, whilst strictly faithful to the statements of the Qur’an, endeavoured to bring their expression into conformity with the principles of philosophy.
The questions first proposed were concerned with (a) the revelation of the Word of God, and (b) the problem of free will.
(a) The Prophet speaks of revelation as “coming down” (nazala) from God and refers to the “mother of the book” which seems to designate the unrevealed source from which the revealed words are derived. It may be that this refers to the idea of which the word is the expression, and that in this the Prophet was influenced by Christian or Jewish theories which had originally a Platonic colouring, but it seems probable that he had no very clear theory as to the “mother of the book.” At an early date the view arose that the Qur’an had existed, though not expressed in words, that the substance and meaning were eternal as part of the wisdom of God, though it had been put into words in time and then communicated to the Prophet, which is now the orthodox teaching on the basis of Qur. 80. 15. that it was written “by the hands of scribes honoured and righteous,” this being taken to mean that it was written at God’s dictation by supernatural beings in paradise and afterwards sent down to the Prophet. That is not the necessary meaning of the verse,
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which may refer to the previous revelations made to the Jews and Christians which the Prophet regarded as true but afterwards corrupted, so that the Qur’an is simply the pure transcription of Divine Truth imperfectly represented by those earlier revelations. Under the ‘Umayyads, when a rigid orthodoxy was taking form in quarters not sympathetic towards the official Khalif, a view arose that the actual words expressed in the Qur’an were co-eternal with God, and it was only the writing down of these words which had taken place in time. It seems probable that this theory of an eternal “word” was suggested by the Christian doctrine of the “Logos.” It can be traced primarily to the teaching of St. John Damascene (d. circ. 160 A.H. = A.D. 776) who served as secretary of state under one of the ‘Umayyads, either Yazid II. or Hijam, and his pupil Theodore Abucara (d. 217 = 832), who express the relation of the Christian Logos to the Eternal Father in terms very closely resembling those employed in Muslim theology to denote the relation between the Qur’an or revealed word and God. (cf. Von Kremer: Streifzuege. pp. 7-9). We know from the extant works of these two Christian writers that theological discussions between Muslims and Christians were by no means uncommon at the time.
The Mu‘tazilites of whom Wasil b. ‘Ata (d. 131) is generally regarded as the founder, were a sect of rationalistic tendencies, and they were opposed to the doctrine of the eternity of the Qur’an and the
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claim that it was untreated because the conclusions to be drawn seemed to them to introduce distinct personalities corresponding to the persons of the Christian Trinity, and in these views they were undoubtedly influenced by the form in which St. John Damascene presented the doctrine of the Trinity. As it was implied that there was an attribute of wisdom possessed by God which was not a thing created by God but eternally with him, and this wisdom may be conceived as not absolutely identical with God but possessed by him, the Mu‘tazilites argued that it was something co-eternal with God but other than God, and so an eternal Qur’an was a second person of the Godhead and God was not absolutely one. Al-Muzdar, a Mu‘tazilite greatly revered as an ascetic, expressly denounces those who believe in an eternal Qur’an as ditheists. The Mu‘tazilites called themselves Ahlu t-Tawhid wa-l-‘Adl “the people of unity and justice,” the first part of this title implying that they alone were consistent defenders of the doctrine of the Divine Unity.
(b) As to the freedom or otherwise of the human will, the Qur’an is perfectly definite in its assertion of God’s omnipotence and omniscience: all things are known to him and ruled by him, and so human acts and the rewards and punishments due to men must be included: “no misfortune happens either on earth or in yourselves but we made it,—it was in the book” (Qur. 57. 22); “everything have We set down in the clear book of our decrees” (Qur. 36);
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“had We pleased We had certainly given to every soul its guidance, but true is the word which hath gone forth from me,—I shall surely fill hell with jinn and men together.” (Qur. 32. 13). Yet the appeal for moral conduct implies a certain responsibility, and consequently freedom, on man’s part. In the mind of the Prophet, no doubt, the inconsistency between moral obligations and responsibility on the one hand, and the unlimited power of God on the other, had not been perceived, but towards the end of the ‘Umayyad period these were pressed to their logical conclusions. On the one side were the Qadarites (qadr “power”), the advocates of free will. This doctrine first appears in the teaching of Ma’bad al-Yuhani (d. 80 A.H.) who is said to have been the pupil of the Persian Sinbuya and taught in Damascus. Very little is known of the early Qadarites, but it is stated that Sinbuya was put to death by the Khalif ’Abdu l-Malik, and that the Khalif Yazid II. (102-106 A.H.) favoured their views. On the other side were the Jabarites (jabr, “compulsion”) who preached strict determinism and were founded by the Persian Jahm b. Safwan (d. circ. 130). It is baseless to argue that either free will or determinism were necessarily due to Persian pre-Islamic beliefs, it is evident that the logical deduction of doctrinal theology in either direction was done by Persians; they were, indeed, the theologians of early Islam. It must be noted that the full development of fatalism was not reached until a full century after the foundation of Islam and that
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its first exponent was put to death as a heretic.
The earlier Qadarites had a Persian origin, but the reaction against the Jabarites was led by Wasil b. ’Ata whose teaching clearly shows the solvent force of Hellenistic philosophy acting on Muslim theology. Wasil was the pupil of the Qadarite Hasan ibn Abi l-Hasan (d. 110) but he “seceded” from his teacher and this is given as the traditional reason for calling him and his followers the Mu’tazila or “secession,” and did so on the ground of the apparent injustice imputed to God in his apportionment of rewards and penalties. The details of the controversy are quite secondary, the important point is that the Mu‘tazilites claimed to be “the people of Unity and Justice,” this latter meaning that God conformed to an objective standard of just and right action so that he could not be conceived as acting arbitrarily and in disregard of justice, an idea borrowed from Hellenistic philosophy for the older Muslim conception regarded God as acting as he willed and the standard of right and wrong merely a dependent on his will.
Throughout the whole ‘Umayyad period we see the conquering Arabs, so far the rulers of the Muslim world, in contact with those who, though treated with arrogant contempt as serfs, were really in possession of a much fuller culture than their rulers. In spite of the haughty attitude of the Arab there was a considerable exchange of thought, and the community of Islam began to absorb Hellenistic influences in several directions, and so the canon law and theology
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of the Muslims was beginning, at the end of the ‘Umayyad period, to be leavened by Greek thought. It was, however, a period of indirect influence; there is no indication, save in a few instances in the study of natural science and medicine, of Muslim teachers or students availing themselves directly of Greek material, but only that they were in contact with those who were familiar with the work of Greek philosophers and jurists. It was a period of suspended animation, to some extent, during which a new language and a new religion were being assimilated by the very diverse elements now comprised in the Khalifate, and those elements were being welded together in a common life. However great were the sectarian and political differences of later times, the church of Islam long remained, and to a great extent still remains, possessed with a common life in the sense that there is a mutual understanding between the several parts and that thus an intellectual or religious influence has been able to pass rapidly from one extreme to the other, and the religious duty of pilgrimage to Mecca has done much to foster this community of life and to promote intercourse between the several parts. Such an understanding has by no means always produced sympathy or friendliness, and the various movements as they have passed from one part to the other have often been considerably modified in the passage; but the motive power behind a movement in Persia has been intelligible in Muslim Spain—though perhaps intensely disliked
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there—and most often a movement beginning in any one district has sooner or later had some contact with every other district. There is no such division in Islam as that which prevents the average English churchman from knowing about and appreciating a religious movement at work in the Coptic or Serbian church. The common life of Islam is largely based on the use of the Arabic language as the medium of daily life, or at least of prayer and the medium of scholarship, and this was extremely effective before the inclusion of large Turkish and Indian elements which have never really become Arabic speaking. It was this which made the Arabic speaking community of Islam so favourable a medium of cultural transmission. The ‘Umayyad period was a marking time during which this common life was being evolved, and with it was evolved necessarily the bitterness of sectarian and faction divisions which always result when divergent types are in too close contact with one another.

Next: Chapter III. The Coming of the ‘Abbasids