REVIEW. SULLENNESS OF RECLAIMED TRIBES. CAMPAIGNS IN SYRIA AND CHALDIA. DESPATCH OF TROOPS REKINDLES ENTHUSIASM. DOMESTIC EVENTS.
11 A.H. / 632 A.D.
THUS, within a year of the death of the Prophet, the sway of Islam, which for a time had clean gone, was re-established throughout the Peninsula. The circle of victory was now complete. Begun, with the avenging expedition of Usama in the north, it was followed up by Khalid's brilliant achievements in the east and centre of Arabia. But while in the "Garden of Death" the flower of the faithful were deciding the fate of Islam, then trembling in the balance, operations for a season languished elsewhere. Eventually, the campaign was carried vigorously over the other provinces, though in some quarters with limited resource and varying fortune; till, in the end, 'Ikrima sweeping down the eastern coast, and joined by Al-Muhajir in the south, stamped out as we have seen the last embers of apostasy.
The rebellion was suppressed, but the Arab tribes remained sullen, and averse. The Bedawi, wont to wander wild and free over his pathless deserts, chafed at the demand of tithe, and spurned obedience to Medina. Simply force and fear as yet attached him to the Caliph. The question occurs, what would have been the fortune of Islam had no great impulse arisen from without? The prospect was not encouraging. Convictions so shallow, and aspirations so low, as those of the Bedawin would soon have disappeared; force and fear would not long have availed to hold together such disintegrated materials as go to form the Arab nation. The South was jealous of the North; Bedawin of the desert
scorned the settled population; each tribe had cause of rivalry with its neighbour, and feuds were ever arising out of the law of blood. Now as well as later on there was also the mutual jealousy of the two cities of Mecca with its southern Arab population, and Medina with its northern. Even in Medina, cradle of the Faith, the Aus were impatient of the Khazraj and both were jealous of the Ansar. The only authority recognised by a Bedawi is that of his tribal chief, and even that sits lightly. To him freedom is life and dependence on a central power most hateful. If nothing external had supervened, he would soon have shaken off the yoke of Islam, and Arabia would have returned to its primeval state. But fortunately for Islam, a new idea electrified the nation. No sooner was apostasy put down than, first in Chaldaea and then in Syria) collision with wild border tribes kindled the fire of foreign war and forthwith the whole Arabian people, both town and Bedawi, were riveted to Islam by a common bondthe love of rapine and the lust of spoil.
That the heritage of Islam is the world, was an afterthought. The idea, spite of much proleptic tradition, had been conceived but dimly, if at all, by Mohammad himself. His world was Arabia, and for it the new Dispensation was ordained. The Revelation ran in "simple Arabic" for the teaching of its people1. From first to last the summons was to Arabs and to them alone. It is true that some years before his death, Mohammad sent embassies to the Kings and Princes around him, calling on them to confess the faith of Islam; but the step was not in any way followed up. Nor was it otherwise with the command to fight against Jews, Christians, and Idolaters; that command as announced to the Arab tribes assembled at the Farewell pilgrimage2, had reference to Arabia alone, and had no immediate bearing on warfare beyond its bounds. The Prophet's dying legacy was to the same effect:"See", said he, "that there be but this one Faith throughout Arabia." The seed of a universal creed had indeed been sown; but that it ever germinated was due to circumstance rather than design. Even 'Omar after splendid conquest everywhere, dreaded lest his armies should proceed too far, and be cut off
1 Kor'an, XLII 5; et passim.
2 Life, p. 463 ff.
1 Kor'an, XLII 5; et passim.
2 Life, p. 463 ff.
from succour Therefore he set barriers (as we shall see) to the ambition of his arms beyond which they should not pass.
Still, though nowhere in the Kor'an distinctly commanded, universal empire was altogether in accord with the spirit of the Faith. "When a people leaveth off to fight in the ways of the Lord," said Abu Bekr in his inaugural address (and so saying struck the keynote of militant Islam) "the Lord casteth off that people." Thus, when the Rubicon once was crossed, the horizon enlarged in ever-widening circles till it embraced the World. It was the scent of war that now turned the sullen temper of the Arab tribes into eager loyalty: for thus the brigand spirit of the Bedawi was brought into unison with the new-born fire of Islam. The call to battle reverberated throughout the land, and was answered eagerly. The exodus began with the tribes in the north, those first reclaimed from their apostasy. Later, in the second year of the Caliphate, the war-cry spread to the south, and grew in magnitude year by year. At first the Caliph forbade that help should be received from any that had backslidden, the privilege being reserved for such only as had remained steadfast in the Faith. But, step by step, as new spheres opened out, and appeal ran from shore to shore for fresh levies to fill the "Martyr" gaps, the ban was put aside and all were bidden.
Warrior after warrior, column after column, whole tribes in endless succession with their women and children, issued forth to fight. And ever, at the marvellous tale of cities conquered; of rapine rich beyond compute; of maidens parted on the very field of battle "to every man a damsel or two"; and at the sight of the royal fifth set forth in splendour as it reached Medina;fresh tribes arose and went. Onward and still onward, like swarms from the hive, or flights of locusts darkening the land, tribe after tribe issued forth and hastening northward, spread in great masses to the East and to the West.
It must not, however, be overlooked that though apostasy was thus condoned, and in the blaze of victory almost lost sight of; a certain discredit still clung to the repentant backslider. His guilt was not like that of other men who had sinned before conversion. The apostate, once enlightened, had cast by his fall a deliberate slur upon Islam. Therefore
no leader who had joined the great Apostasy was ever promoted to a chief command. He might fight, and welcome, in the ranks; was allowed even to head small parties of fifty or a hundred; but to the last, high post of honour was denied.
The Arabs, thus emerging from their desert-home, became the aristocracy of Islam. Conquered nations, even of much higher civilisation, when they embraced the Faith fell into an altogether lower caste. Arabians were the dominant class, and they alone wheresoever they might go. It was only as "Clients," or dependants, that the people of other lands might share their privileges,crumbs, as it were, from off the master's table. Yet great numbers of the Arabs themselves were at this early period slaves, captured during the Apostasy or in previous intertribal war, and held in bondage by their fellow-countrymen. 'Omar saw the inconsistency. It was not fit that any of the noble race should remain in slavery. Therefore, when succeeding to the Caliphate, he decreed their freedom. "The Lord," he said, "hath given to us of Arab blood the victory and great conquests from without. It is not meet that any one of us, taken captive in the days of Ignorance or in the recent wars, should be holden in captivity."
Slaves of Arab descent were therefore all allowed their liberty on payment of a slender ransom, excepting only bondmaids who, having borne children to their owners, already held, as such, a place of privilege. Men that had lost their wives or children, now set out in search, if haply they might find and reclaim them. Strange tales are told of these disconsolate journeys. But some of the women captive at Medina preferred remaining with their masters.
This ascendency, social, military, and political, the Arab nation maintained for upwards of two centuries. Then they were gradually supplanted (as we shall see) throughout the East by Turks and Persians. Such as had settled in cities mingled with the people; the rest returned to their desert wilds, and with them departed the glory of the Caliphate. This, however, was not the case in the West and so in Spain and Africa the prestige of Arab blood survived.
The domestic history of Medina is at this early period
barren of incident. As Judge in civil causes, the Caliph nominated 'Omar; but warlike operations, first in the Peninsula and then in foreign lands, so occupied men's minds, that for the time the office was a sinecure.
The Presidency at the Mecca Pilgrimage is carefully recorded yearly by the annalists of Islam. The Caliph was now too much engrossed with the commotion throughout Arabia to proceed thither himself; and so the Governor of the Holy City presided in his stead.
Thus ended the first year of the Caliphate.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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