Click to View




14-15 A.H.   /   635-636 A.D.

Domestic events. 14-15 A.H. Expulsion of Jews and Christians from Arabia

WE must now revert to one or two matters of domestic interest.

Arabia, the nursery of legions devoted to fight for Islam, must be purged of strange religions. So soon therefore as victory was secured in Syria and Chaldĉa, 'Omar proceeded to execute an act of harshness, as well as of breach of faith.

Christian inhabitants removed from Nejran.

In the centre of Arabia lies the province of Nejran, inhabited from of old by a Christian people. Mohammad concluded a treaty with their Chiefs and Bishops, which on payment of a tribute of 2000 pieces of cloth, valued at 40 dirhems each, secured them in the undisturbed profession of their ancestral faith. Throughout the rebellion they remained loyal to their engagements, and Abu Bekr renewed the treaty. Worthy descendants of a persecuted race, they resisted the blandishments of Islam; and as a penalty they must now quit their native soil, consecrated by the ashes of their martyred forefathers.1 They were ordered to depart and take land in exchange elsewhere, or accept a money payment. Some migrated to Syria; but the greater part settled in the vicinity of Al-Kufa, where the colony of Nejrania long maintained the memory of their expatriation. The rights conferred by the Prophet, so far as the altered circumstances

1 See Life of Mohammad, p. xcvii. For the treaty of Mohammad, p. 458.


and Jews from Kheibar.

might admit, were respected by successive Rulers; and the tribute, with decreasing numbers, lightened from time to time. Some years after, the Jews of Kheibar, a rich vale two or three days north of Medina, met a similar fate. Their claim was not so strong; for, conquered by Mohammad, they had been left on sufferance with their fields at a rent of half the produce. In lieu of this partial right, they received a money payment, and were sent away to Syria. Various pretexts are urged for the expatriation in either case. But underlying is the dogma, founded on the supposed dying behest of Mohammad—In Arabia there shall be no faith but the faith of Islam. The recruiting field of Islam must be sacred ground.1

Arabs share in spoil of war and revenues of conquered lands.

The Arabian nation was the champion of Islam; and to fight its battles every Arab was jealously reserved. He must be a soldier, and nothing else. He might not settle down in any conquered lands as owner of the soil; while for merchandise or other labour, a warlike life offered little leisure. Neither was there any need. The Arabs lived on the fat of conquered provinces, and subject peoples served them. Of booty taken in war, four-fifths were distributed to the army on the field, the remaining fifth reserved for the State; and even that, after public obligations were discharged, shared among the Arabian people. In the reign of Abu Bekr this was a simple matter. But under 'Omar the spoil of Syria and of Persia, in ever-increasing volume, poured into the treasury of Medina, where it was distributed almost as soon as received. What was easy in small beginnings, by equal sharing or discretionary preference, became now a heavy task. And there arose, also, new sources of revenue in the land assessment and poll-tax of conquered countries, the surplus of which, after defraying civil and military charges, became equally with spoil of war, patrimony of the Arab nation.

New rule of distribution.

At length, in the second or third year of his Caliphate, 'Omar determined that the distribution should be regulated on a fixed and systematic scale. The income of the Commonwealth was to be divided, as heretofore, amongst the Faithful as their heritage, but upon rules of precedence befitting the

1 Life of Mohammad, p. 490


military and theocratic groundwork of Islam. For this end three points were considered:—priority of conversion relationship to the Prophet, and military service. The widows of Mohammad,—"Mothers of the Faithful"—took precedence with an annual allowance of 10,000 pieces each;1 and so also all his kinsmen on a scale corresponding with their affinity. The famous three hundred of Bedr had 5000 each;2 presence at Al-Hodeibiya and the Pledge of the Tree3 gave a claim to 4000; those engaged in quelling the Rebellion had 3000; those who had fought in the great battles of Syria and Chaldĉa, and also sons of "the men of Bedr," had 2000; and such as took the field after the actions of Al-Kadisiya and the Yarmuk, 1000. Warriors of distinction received an extra grant of 500. And so they graduated downwards to 200 pieces for the latest levies. Nor were the households forgotten. Women had the tenth of a man's share. Wives, widows, and children had each their proper stipend; and in the register, every new-born infant had a title to be entered with an allowance of ten pieces, rising with its age. Even Arab slaves (so long as any of the blood remained in slavery) had their portion.

All other races form a lower caste.

Thus every soul was rated at its worth. But the privilege was confined to those of Arab blood. A very few exceptions there were of distinguished Persian chiefs; but their mention only proves the stringency of the rule. The whole nation, man, woman, and child, of the militant Arab race, was subsidised. In theory, the rights of all Believers of what blood soever are the same. "Ye are one brotherhood," said Mohammad at the Farewell pilgrimage; and as he spoke, he placed his two forefingers one upon the other, to enforce the absolute equality ruling in Islam.4 But in point of fact, the equality was limited to the Arab nation. The right of any brother of alien race was but a dole of food sufficient for subsistence, and no more.

'Omar's rule disarms Arab jealousies.

A people dividing amongst them the whole revenues, spoil, and conquests of the State, on the basis of an equal

1 'Aisha was allotted 2000 extra, "for the love the Prophet bare her," but some say she declined it. Mohammad's two slave-concubines were at first rated only at 6000; but at the desire of the other widows were placed on an equality with them. The grandsons had 5000 each.

2 Life of Mohammad, p. 234.

3 Ibid. pp. 358, 416.

4 Ibid. p. 473.


brotherhood, is a spectacle probably without parallel in the world. The distinction also of early conversion was well conceived. In no other way could the susceptibilities of tribal rivalry have been reconciled. The proud chiefs of Koreish, who did not join the Prophet till after the fall of Mecca, refused any allowance but the highest: "We know of none nobler than ourselves," they said; "and less than other we will not take." "Not so," answered 'Omar; "I give it by priority of faith, and not for noble birth." "It is well," they replied; and no reason but this would have satisfied them. There were two further sources of danger: first, the rivalry between the Bedawi tribes and the "Companions" or men of Mecca and Medina; and, second, the jealousies that sprang up between the house of Hashim (the Prophet's kinsman) on the one hand, and the Umeiyads and other branches of Koreish on the other;—jealousies which by and by developed into larger proportions, and threatened the very existence of the Caliphate; but which, held in check by 'Omar, were now for a time allayed by assuming an acknowledged test as the ground of precedence.

Arabs the aristocracy of the Muslim world.

The blue blood of Arabia was universally recognised as the aristocracy of the Muslim world. Rank and stipend now assigned, and even rewards for special gallantry in the field, descended by inheritance. Implied in this inheritance was the continuing obligation to fight for the Faith: by it martial genius was maintained, and employment perpetuated for the standing army of the Caliphate. A nation composed thus of ennobled soldiery, pampered, factious and turbulent, formed too often a dangerous element of sedition and intrigue. But, nevertheless, it was the real backbone of Islam, the secret of conquest, the stay of the Caliphate. Crowded harims multiplied the race with marvellous rapidity. The progeny of the Arab sire (whatever the mother) was kept sedulously distinct, so as never to mingle with the conquered races. Wherever Arabs went they formed a class apart and dominant,—the nobles and rulers of the land. Subject peoples, even if they embraced Islam, were of a lower caste; they could aspire to nothing higher than, as "clients" of some Arab chief or tribe, to court patronage and protection. Thus the Arabians set themselves apart, as a nation militant, for the sacred task of propagating Islam. Even after the


new-born zeal of the Faith had evaporated, the chivalry of the Arabs as a race wholly devoted to arms, was, owing mainly to 'Omar's foresight, maintained in full for two centuries and a half. The Nation was, and continued to be, an army mobilised; the camp, and not the city, their home; their business, arms;—a people whose calling it was to be ready for warlike expedition at a moment's notice.

Register of all Arabs entitled to stipend.

To carry out this vast design, a Register was kept of every man, woman, and child entitled to a stipend from the State—in other words, of the whole Arab race employed in the interests of Islam. This was easy enough for the upper ranks, but a herculean task for the hundreds of thousands of ordinary families which kept streaming forth to war from the Peninsula, and which, by free indulgence in polygamy, were multiplying rapidly. The task, however, was simplified by the strictly tribal disposition of the forces. Men of a tribe fought together; and the several Corps and Brigades being thus territorially arranged in clans, the register assumed the same form. Every soul was entered under the tribe and clan whose lineage it claimed. And to this exhaustive classification we owe the elaborate, and to some extent artificial, genealogies and tribal traditions of Arabia before Islam.

The Diwan of 'Omar.

The roll itself, as well as the office for its maintenance and for pensionary account, was called the Diwan or Exchequer. The State had by this time an income swollen by tribute of conquered cities, poll-tax of subjugated peoples, land assessments, spoil of war, and tithes. The first charge was for the revenue and civil administration; the next for military requirements, which soon assumed a sustained and permanent form; the surplus was for the support of the Nation. The entire revenues of Islam were thus expended as soon almost as received; and 'Omar took special pride in seeing the treasury emptied to the last dirhem. The accounts of the various provinces were at the first kept by natives of the country in the character to which they were accustomed—in Syria by Greeks, and in Chaldĉa by Persians. At Al-Kufa this lasted till the time of Al-Hajjaj, when, an Arab assistant having learnt the art, the Arabic system of record and notation was introduced.


Vastness of Arab exodus.

We are not told the number enrolled on the Diwan of 'Omar, but the population of Al-Kufa and Al-Basra may give us some idea of the vast exodus in progress from Arabia, and the rapid strides by which the crowded harims, multiplied the race. Arab ladies, as a rule, married only Arab husbands; but the other sex, besides unlimited concubinage with slave-girls, were free to contract marriage with the women of conquered lands, whether converts or "People of the Book." And although wives of Arab blood took precedence in virtue of rank and birth, the children of every Arab father, whether the mother were slave or free, Muslim, Jew, or Christian, were equal in legitimacy. And so the nation multiplied. Looking also to the further drain upon Arabia to meet continuing war, we shall not greatly err if we assume that before 'Omar's death the Arabs beyond the limits of Arabia proper numbered half a million, and before long were doubled, and perhaps quadrupled.

Provincial administration.

Civil administration followed close on conquest. In Chaldĉa, the great network of canals was early taken in hand. The long-neglected embankments of the Tigris and Euphrates were placed under special officers; Syria and Al-'Irak were measured field by field; and the assessment established on a uniform basis. In AI-'Irak, the agency of the great landholders was taken advantage of as under the previous dynasty, for the maintenance of order and collection of the revenue.

Reserves of cavalry.

In addition to the armies in the field, a reserve of cavalry was maintained at the headquarters of the several provinces, ready for emergency. The corps at Al-Kufa numbered 4000 lances, and there were eight such centres. Reserves for forage were also set apart. The cost of these measures formed a first charge upon provincial revenue.

Kor'an, how collected.

The "Collection" of the Kor'an—that is, gathering into one the various "Revelations" of Mohammad—belongs to the early years of this reign. The task was already begun by Abu Bekr, at the instance of 'Omar himself, who, seeing that many of the "Readers" (those who had the Kor'an by heart) had perished at the "Garden of Death," feared lest otherwise "much of the sacred text might be lost." The duty was assigned to Zeid ibn Thabit, who, as well as others, had from time to time taken down passages direct from


Mohammad's dictation. Many of the "Suras," or chapters, were already used privately, and for the public services, in a complete and settled form. In addition, Zeid now sought out from every possible quarter whatever had at any time emanated from the Prophet, in the way of revelation, from the earliest period of his ministry—"whether inscribed on date-leaves, shreds of leather, shoulder blades, stony tablets, or the hearts of men." Having gathered exhaustively the diverse and often fugitive materials, he carefully and with reverent hand dovetailed them together, just as they were found, in continuous form. A certain regard to time and subject was no doubt observed in the pious task; but still evidently with a good deal of haphazard collocation; and to this may be ascribed much of the obscurity and incoherence that occasionally pervade the sacred text. The original manuscript thus completed was committed to Hafsa, 'Omar's daughter, one of the Prophet's widows, and continued to be the standard text until the time of 'Othman.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]

Click to View