A tent for the ignorant.
Archive for the 'Islam' Category
Two pieces at qunfuz.com on Palmyra and more:
News timeline on Palmyra (Reuters).
Daesh tortured and on August 18 publicly beheaded Palmyra’s head of antiquities, the 81-year-old Khaled al-Asaad, perhaps because he had refused to reveal the location of hidden treasures.
Guardian, August 25:
“Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, after the destruction of the Baal Shamin temple: ‘All of my memories were torn to shreds; I lost a part of my being. […]’
“Abdulkarim, a university professor in Damascus who has worked pro bono for three years as director of antiquities and museums to preserve Syrian heritage through the war, described the day of the temple’s destruction as ‘dark, sad and frightening’, saying the loss of Palmyra was robbing his work of meaning.”
The Quilliam Foundation, founded by Maajid Nawaz, Rashad Zaman Ali and Ed Husain, critiqued by Robin Yassin-Kassab. This is an old piece (2009), but Quilliam has been in the background of the news again in the past week with the ANZAC plot.
It’s a UK foundation dedicated to “countering extremism”. Many British Muslims will find the piece profoundly irritating, but surely there is gritty truth in it. “A past as a simple-minded extremist is apparently a CV asset.”
Wikipedia on Abdullah, or William Henry, Quilliam.
Tacitus attributes “They make a desert and call it peace” – Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant – to the Scottish chief Calgacus, whom Agricola, Tacitus’s father-in-law, defeated at Mons Graupius.
The ʿAbbasids’ Turkish bodyguard at Baghdad [in the ninth and tenth centuries CE] had its counterpart, at the court of the ʿAbbasids’ Umayyad contemporaries and rivals at Cordova, in a bodyguard of European barbarians who were purchased by the Spanish Caliphs from their Frankish neighbours. The Franks supplied the Cordovan slave-markets by making slave-raids across the opposite frontier of the Frankish dominions [roughly the Iron Curtain]. The barbarians who were thus captured by the Franks in order to be sold to the Spanish Umayyads happened to be Slavs; and this is the origin of the word “slave” in the English language.
Were they already Christian? Did they all become Muslim in Spain? The Arabic word for their Slavic slaves was Saqaliba, a corruption of the Greek Sklavinoi, meaning Slavs. Their presence in the Islamic world was not confined to Spain.
Some Saqaliba became rulers of Muslim taifas after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba (1031). Muyahid ibn Yusuf ibn Ali freed the Saqaliba of Dénia and established a taifa which extended its reach as far as Majorca.
Hitler conceived of Slavs as a slave population for an eastward-expanding German Reich.
A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1939 (footnote)
While a Medieval Western vernacular poetry adopted from a contemporary Arabic poetry the device of rhyme, which could be applied to accentual verse as readily as to quantitative, it is noteworthy that the Medieval Western vernacular poets were not inveigled by their admiration for their Arabic models into doing violence to the genius of their own mother tongues by going on to borrow from the Arabic a quantitative basis of versification which was common to the Arabic school and the Hellenic.
Rhyme entered European poetry in the High Middle Ages, in part under the influence of the Arabic language in Al Andalus. Arabic language poets used rhyme extensively from the first development of literary Arabic in the sixth century, as in their long, rhyming qasidas.
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)
Islam: A tent for the ignorant.
Though the status [of Jews] was not recognized de jure in the canon law of the Christian Church, it was no more possible for Christianity than it was for Islam to cut the ground of its own moral claims to theological validity from under its own feet by proscribing another higher religion which was not only older than it was, but was its forerunner according to its own contention. [Footnote: The historical relation of Christianity to Judaism explains why the Christian Church never extended its tacit toleration of Judaism to an Islam which was in one aspect a post-Christian reversion to Judaism from Christianity. In the Christian view the tolerance morally due to a truly though imperfectly inspired pre-Christian approximation towards Christianity could not properly be extended to a perverse backsliding from the Christian summit of religious attainment.]
Christians did not treat Jews better than Muslims. They had higher regard for Jewish theology, but where Jews had no civil rights, religious toleration had no meaning.
Islam’s traditional respect for the older religions is disappearing in some quarters.
A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954
Ismail I and the Safaviyya order of Sufis were Shiite long before he took power: I have corrected the last post but one.
The Safavi were descended from Safi al-Din (1253-1334) of Ardabil in Azeri-dominated north-western Iran, the head and founder of the Safaviyya. About 1399 the order exchanged its Sunni affiliation for Shia.
Qizilbash anti-Ottoman Shiite militant groups, named after their red headgear, flourished in Azerbaijan, Anatolia and Kurdistan (from when?) and, as members of the order (were all Qizilbash members?), contributed to the foundation of the Safavid dynasty.
Ismail’s father was their leader. He died in battle against Sunni forces when Ismail was a year old.
Ismail emerged to take his father’s position as head of the Qizilbash. In 1501 he took Tabriz and proclaimed himself Shah. He brought all of modern Iran and parts of Iraq and Turkey under his rule.
The non-Osmanli Türkmen tribes in Asia Minor had resented being conquered by the Osmanlis in the fourteenth century and being reconquered by them after having been temporarily liberated by Timur. In 1511 the Ottoman Empire was nearly overthrown once again by a widespread revolt in Asia Minor of Twelve-Imam Shiʿi Türkmen partisans of Shah Ismaʿil, the founder of the Safavi Empire. This revolt was repressed savagely by Selim I in 1512-13. The original Safavi army was composed of corps of Shiʿi emigres from the Türkmen principalities in Asia Minor that had fallen under Ottoman rule. After Shah Ismaʿil’s death in 1524, the turbulence of these Qizilbash (“Red-heads”, so-called from the colour of their headgear) became a plague for Ismaʿil’s successors, though the Shahs of the Safavi Empire were ex officio the spiritual heads of the Sufi religious order in which the tribal regiments of Qizilbash soldiers were enrolled.
So Iranian Shiism was forged partly in opposition to the Ottoman Turks. Turkish, Mongol and Persian ethnicities, languages, cultures and polities meet and overlap: it is easy to distort matters when one applies labels. Toynbee, below, in an early book, calls the Timurids Turkish, but Timur is usually described as Turco-Mongol. He is a successor of the Mongols, but came from a Turkicised Mongol federation, the Barlas.
The “native Persian” Shah Ismail unified Persia through the intolerant imposition of Shiism and a renaissance of Persian culture followed, but, coming from Azerbaijan, he is usually described as being of Turkic stock (though the point is disputed). “Native Persian” is the kind of imprecise nationalistic term Toynbee would have dropped in later books.
“Turco-Mongol” can also be used in a broader sense, to describe the hypothetical common origin of both the Turkic and Mongol peoples which can be found in their common Altaic languages, culture and, to a lesser degree, ethnic and genetic origins.
In the sixteenth century A.D. a native Persian dynasty, the Sufi, which adhered to [the Shiite] sect, swept away the Turkish [Timurid and sub-Timurid] princelings who had divided Iran between them since the Mongol [Il Khan] era. The plateau was united once more in a national state, and once more again the renaissance of Iran expressed itself in religion. The heresy of its kings became the belief of the nation, and under the banner of “Shiism,” Persia kept at bay the hated Turkish powers which hemmed her in on every side and uniformly professed the orthodox “Sunni” faith: Ottoman Turks on the West, Uzbeg Khans upon the Oxus in the North, and the Uzbegs’ Mogul [sic] cousins, who had carved themselves a mighty empire in India upon Persia’s Eastern flank.
I assume that there is an etymological connection between Sufi and Safaviyya or Safavid.
Toynbee does have throughout this book, and with a respectable publisher in 1915, “century A.D.”.
Old post: Osmanli, Safavi, Timurid.
Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous
Nationality and the War, with maps, Dent, 1915
or, Sasanians, Safavis and Sikhs
The history of the Safawis is one example of the historical phenomenon of a would-be universal church becoming militant and paying the penalty of military success by turning into a local state. Other examples are the transformation of the Zoroastrian Church into the Sasanian Empire, and the history of the Sikhs.
The Sufi mystical orders of Islam are mainly Sunni, but some have been influenced by, and adopted by, Ismailis and Twelvers (and Zaidis?). The founder of the Safavid dynasty in Persia, Shah Ismail I, came out of the Iranian Shiite Sufi order of Safaviyya. When he took power, Twelver Shiism became the Persian state religion.
But did Iranian Shiism carry any signs of its founder’s background? Sufism is not popular with the religious authorities in Iran today. For how long did the original order, which had become militant, survive Ismail?
The Sufi challenge to Iran’s clergy, at al-monitor.com.
Posts on Sufism at On an Overgrown Path, sorted by date and not only about music.
Perhaps Sufis will be leaders in the coming reform of Islam.
A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934 (footnote)
The survival of relatively good relations between the Sunnīs and Shīʿīis of India [which he takes as a fact], in contrast to the violent recrudescence of the feud between the two sects throughout the rest of the Iranic World since the generation of Ismāʿīl Shāh Safawī and the Ottoman Sultan Selīm I, is probably due to a combination of factors. For one thing, the subversive effect of Shāh Ismaʿīl’s career upon the life of the other Iranic countries did not extend to Hindustan; for although Ismāʿīl’s career affected Indian history indirectly by leading […] to the invasion of India by Bābur, Bābur […] was a Laodicean in his attitude towards the Sunnī-Shīʿī quarrel. Another manifest ground for the relative tolerance shown by Shīʿīs and Sunnīs towards each other in India is the common consciousness of being members of an Islamic diaspora among a numerically overwhelming majority of Hindus to whom both forms of Islam are equally anathema. Though Bābur reverted to Sunnism after his final expulsion [by Uzbeks] from Transoxania […] [he had flirted with Shiism during his partnership with Safavid Iran], and though his descendants in India remained Sunnīs thereafter, the paramount concern of the Mughals, as of all other Islamic Powers in India, was to maintain as large as possible an inflow of Muslim recruits from Dār-al-Islām to sustain the Islamic ascendancy in Hindustan; and they did not inquire too narrowly into the religious views of the Muslims who responded to their call. Since Iran was the nearest part of Dār-al-Islām to India, and since Iran had become an exclusively Shīʿī country in consequence of the Safawī conquests and the Safawī policy, the Shīʿī contingent in the Muslim immigration into India was considerable. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that although the Muslim masters of Orthodox Christendom were likewise a small minority dispersed among a numerically stronger non-Muslim subject population, this state of affairs did not here deter the Sunnīs from extirpating their Shīʿī coreligionists. The reason for this Ottoman ruthlessness towards the Shīʿah in Anatolia was that Anatolia was far more dangerously exposed than India was to attack by Shāh Ismāʿīl and his successors.
Though Muslims were surely not a minority in Anatolia in 1500.
Post on the arrival of Islam in India (in a wider historical context).
There have been some Indian Shiite dynasties.
A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934 (footnote)
[The] “die-hard” spirit had asserted itself in the course of the nineteenth century of the Christian Era. In the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church it had found expression in the decrees of the Vatican Council of A.D. 1869-70 and in the anathema pronounced against Modernism in A.D. 1907; in the domain of the Protestant Churches of North America it had entrenched itself in “the Bible Belt”; and this reaction had not been confined to […] the Western World; for by this time the wave of Westernization was sweeping over the whole face of the planet, and Western Science – which was both the force behind the wave and the rider on its crest – was impinging upon all branches of all the higher religions. Under this ubiquitous pressure the “Zealot” mood was manifesting itself in Orthodox as well as in Western Christendom, and it was simultaneously on the war-path in the Islamic World, where the first stirrings of a Westernizing movement under the stimulus of the disastrous ending of the Great Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74 had provoked, in retort, the militantly archaistic movements of Wahhabism, Idrisism, Sanusism, and Mahdism in the fastnesses of the Arabian and North African deserts.
Diehards (old post).
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
… and the heart of Robert the Bruce
In taking up arms under the impulse of this homesickness for their pristine holy land, the Crusaders not only made for Christendom’s oldest and most sacred pilgrimage-resort as their ultimate objective; they also set themselves intermediate goals to draw their flagging feet forward along the intervening stages of their long war-path by throwing out, en route, new pilgrimage-resorts in advanced posts just beyond an expanding Western Christendom’s previous borders. Norman pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Michael the Archangel on Monte Gargano, in the Apulian dominions of the East Roman Empire, were reconnaissances that became preludes to a Norman conquest of the bridgeheads of Orthodox Christendom and Dār-al-Islām in Southern Italy and Sicily, and French pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint James the Apostle at Compostela, in a Galician no-man’s-land between a Western Christian fastness in Asturia and the former domain of a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate, provided successive new drafts of military manpower for the progressive conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the joint efforts of Cispyrenean and Transpyrenean Frankish aggressors.
The perilous exposure of the shrine at Compostela on the fringe of a Medieval Western Christendom’s dār-al-harb [he uses a different style from the other Dār] had the same effect in spurring the Crusaders into making superhuman exertions as the desperate deed of a Scottish knight who, on an Andalusian battlefield where he had broken his pilgrimage in order to fight under a Castilian banner, turned the fortunes of a day which had been going against the Franks by flinging into the midst of the all-but-victorious Muslims a silver casket containing Robert the Bruce’s heart, and rushing forward after it to conquer or die for the sake of rescuing a treasure, entrusted to his safekeeping, which he had thus deliberately thrown into jeopardy as a last resort for calling out his own supreme reserves of vigour and valour. [Footnote: The tale is told by the writer’s mother, Edith Toynbee, in True Stories from Scottish History (London 1896, Griffith Farran Browne), pp. 90-91.] This incident was an omen; for the mission which the Bruce on his death-bed had charged his companion in arms, James Douglas, to fulfil had been to carry his heart to Jerusalem in order to bury it there in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the attainment of this Palestinian objective was sacrificed for the sake of a Frankish victory on Andalusian ground which was won by Douglas at the cost of the martial pilgrim’s own life; and this personal story repeated itself on an oecumenical scale. While the last of the Crusaders’ bridgeheads on the coast of Syria was lost within less than two hundred years of the Frankish invaders’ first descent upon Palestine [Jerusalem 1099 to Acre 1291], their conquests in the Iberian Peninsula, Southern Italy, and Sicily under the auspices of the far-flung shrines at Compostela and Gargano were the two abiding gains of territory that were made by Western Christendom in the Crusades at Dār-al-Islām’s and Orthodox Christendom’s expense.
Douglas died at the siege of Teba. His body and the casket containing the embalmed heart were found on the field. They were both conveyed back to Scotland by Sir William Keith of Galston. Bruce had been buried in Dunfermline Abbey. Douglas’s remains were interred at St Bride’s church in Douglas, Lanarkshire; Bruce’s heart in Melrose Abbey.
Sir James Douglas Taking Bruce’s Heart to the Holy Land Is Diverted to Fight the Moors near Granada, what Victorian source?
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
Guardian obituary. “Historian of medieval Rome and the Middle East who attacked the simplistic contrasts drawn between the west and Islam.”
I haven’t read him, but enjoyed his opponent Walter Ullmann’s drily formidable The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages, A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power in my sixth form.
Many Muslims are now idolators, because they worship not God but their religion.
Tender-hearted Muhammad, who art also one of the weaker vessels of God’s grace, pray that His grace may inspire us, like thee, to rise above our infirmity in our zeal for His service.
From the prayer that concludes the main part of the Study.
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
In Xanadu (1989), following the path taken by Marco Polo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the site of Shangdu, Xanadu, in Inner Mongolia, the summer seat of Kublai Khan. Posts here: Xanadu and Jehol, The Silk Road and Summer capitals, summer palaces.
City of Djinns (1994), about Delhi, where he lives.
From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997), about eastern Christianity. Posts here: Indian churches, Christians and Yazidi, and work back from links in latter.
The Age of Kali (1998), about trouble in modern India. Kali Yuga is the fourth age in Hindu cosmology.
Editor, Lonely Planet Sacred India (1999).
Begums, Thugs and White Mughals – The Journals of Fanny Parkes (2002), an edition of the travel journals of Fanny Parkes, who travelled in India from 1822 to ’46 and wrote Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque.
Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan (2012), about the first Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-42.
TV, radio, journalism.
Links to podcasts this year in the BBC Radio 4 Point of View series, with my comments:
A Lenten reflection, April 4. About the discovery, by a British hunting party in 1819, of the painted caves at Ajanta, in the western Ghats in central Maharashtra. “Along with the frescoes of Pompeii, […] the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world.” The caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks, but show the sensual life of the court in which the Buddha grew up, not the austerities of the religious life. They were probably painted in the 2nd century BC, with a later group from the 5th century CE. There was no conflict between the sacred and the sensual in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, says Dalrymple; he does not dwell on Hindu traditions of mortifying the flesh.
Later: Buddhist, Jain and Hindu carvings and fragments of paintings in caves at Ellora in Maharashtra. Buddhist and Hindu carvings in caves on Elephanta Island in Mumbai harbour. Erotic Jain and Hindu carvings at temples in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.
The puritanical break in India, he suggests, came not with Islam, but with the British, with effects still felt today in a false reinterpretation of their history by Hindus. Africans and Muslims are doing the same thing with theirs. What is rejected as unMuslim and unAfrican is often nineteenth-century unWestern.
A classic instance in modern Western art of wild eroticism united with religious sensibility is Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. Its original inspiration wasn’t Indian, but its title is a composite of two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which, apparently, roughly mean “love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death”. How odd that Bernstein, who conducted the premiere in Boston, never returned to it or recorded it. Or is it kitsch?
A tale of two elections, April 11. About the 2014 elections in India and Afghanistan.
Travel-writing giants, April 18. About Peter Matthieson, who had just died, and Patrick Leigh Fermor.
Last year in the same series, we had Islamo-Christian heritage, December 20 2013, about the old sharing of sacred space in Egpyt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, India by Christians, Muslims and Jews. I quoted from it here.
Islam did not tolerate Christianity: it showed great tenderness towards it. Dalrymple quotes examples from Akbar’s abortive capital at Fatehpur Sikri. Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the Gospels. Many apocryphal sayings of Jesus were and are current in Islam.
Contested sites and the failure to share: Jerusalem and Ayodhya, the Temple Mount and Ram Janmabhoomi. Though the Israeli occupiers of the Temple Mount do enforce a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at its Umayyad structures, a ban which some orthodox Zionists would like to defy and nearly all Muslims demand.
Some German commentary on world affairs seems worthy and provincial to Brits, but much of it is more serious and responsible than ours. This is only a short note, but it does not show the defects. But his reports are not deep, or wholly clear or consistent. There is an understandably hasty air to them. The full account, one assumes, will come.
Do German history and over-sensitivity to certain matters make a German analyst a more or a less reliable interpreter of events such as are unfolding in Iraq and Syria? On the whole, I think more.
Todenhöfer was brave to enter ISIS territory, and he has returned to tell the tale.
Whoever it was that said that the Bush-Blair invasion would produce a thousand Bin Ladens was right.
Eddie Mair’s moving 36-minute interview, for any who missed it, with David Nott, a British doctor who has worked in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. And in other countries at war. PM Programme, BBC Radio 4, December 23. Nott’s political forecast for Syria was bleak in the extreme.
Gautama Buddha and the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, both lived in a period of wars between local states in northern India in the 6th century BC. Gautama was born in what is now Nepal, Mahavira in Bihar.
What was the extent of Buddhism’s early influence in the Afghan or other domains of Achaemenid Persia?
In 326 BC Alexander the Great crossed the Indus (which the Persians had never done) and then the Jhelum or Hydaspes, the most western of the five rivers of the Punjab. At the Hydaspes Alexander defeated King Porus of Pauravas, an ancient country that soon afterwards fell to the Mauryans.
Another ruler, King Ambhi of Taxila, surrendered his city, already a Buddhist centre.
Alexander’s troops refused to advance further than the Beas, a tributary of the Sutlej, the easternmost of the five rivers.
A Buddhist great power, the Mauryan Empire, emerged in India as the Achaemenid Empire fell.
After Alexander’s death in 323, Chandragupta Maurya (ruled 322-298) conquered Alexander’s briefly-held east-of-Indus satrapies with the help of a largely Persian army. Bactria, between the Hindu Kush and the Oxus, and Transoxiana, remained Greek. Both had belonged to the Achaemenids.
Chandragupta’s capital: Pataliputra (Patna).
Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian satrap of Alexander, established his authority as far as Bactria and the Indus and in 305 BC he fought Chandragupta. Seleucus appears to have fared poorly, ceding large territories west of the Indus to Chandragupta: Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan), the Paropamisadae (Hindu Kush), but not Bactria or Transoxiana. Post here on the Paropamisadae.
Chandragupta then sold Seleucus 500 war-elephants (who used them to fight Antigonus I) and married Seleucus’s daughter to formalise an alliance. Seleucus sent an ambassador, Megasthenes, to Chandragupta’s court. Relations continued between their successors.
Chandragupta was Jain. His successor Bindusara belonged to the Ajivika sect.
Bindusara’s successor, Ashoka (reigned 269-32), embraced Buddhism and became a proselytiser of the traditional Theravada Pali canon.
V Greek Bactrians
Meanwhile, the Seleucids were losing control of Bactria. It became the centre of an independent Greco-Bactrian kingdom c 256 BC, which extended into Transoxiana.
Capitals: Bactra (Balkh), Alexandria-on-the-Oxus (possibly Ai-Khanoum).
After the Brahmanical Sunga dynasty overthrew the Mauryans in 185 BC, the Greco-Bactrians invaded and conquered northwestern India with an army led by Demetrius.
The resulting Indo-Greek Kingdom lasted until AD 10 and was opposed in the east for its first century by the Sunga. Buddhism prospered, and it has been suggested that the Greek invasion of India was intended to protect the Buddhist faith from the persecutions of the Sunga.
Capitals: Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus (Kapisa or Bagram, Hindu Kush, north of Kabul), Sirkap (Taxila, Punjab), Sagala (Sialkot, Punjab), Pushkalavati (Charsadda, NWFP).
King Menander (reigned c 160-130 BC) became a student and patron of Buddhism. Were any Greco-Bactrian or Indo-Greek kings before him personally sympathetic to Buddhism?
VII Greeks and Buddhism
The philosophers Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus are said to have accompanied Alexander. During the eighteen months they were in India, they were able to interact with Indian ascetics, described as Gymnosophists, naked philosophers.
At Sirkap, Buddhist stupas stand side-by-side with Hindu and Greek temples, suggesting religious tolerance and syncretism.
Early Mahayana theories of reality and knowledge may be related to Greek philosophical schools of thought.
The Mahavamsa records that during Menander’s reign, a Greek Buddhist abbot named Mahadharmaraksita led 30,000 monks from Alexandria (possibly in-the-Caucasus) to Sri Lanka for the dedication of a stupa.
There are Buddhist inscriptions by Greeks in India, such as that of the provincial governor Theodorus, describing in the Kharoshti script (and Pali language?) how he enshrined relics of the Buddha.
Coins of Menander and some of his successors show Buddhist symbols.
Buddhist tradition recognises Menander as one of the benefactors of the faith, together with Ashoka and Kanishka (below).
The first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha are often considered a result of Greco-Buddhist interaction. The earliest Buddhist art was aniconic: the Buddha was only represented through his symbols (an empty throne, the Bodhi tree, his footprints, the Dharma wheel, the triratna).
It was natural for the Greeks also to create a single common divinity by combining the image of a Greek God-King (Apollo, or possibly the deified founder of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, Demetrius) with the attributes of the Buddha.
Stylistic elements in these representations point to Greek influence: the Greco-Roman toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders (more exactly, its lighter version, the Greek himation), the contrapposto stance of the upright figures, the stylised curly hair and topknot (ushnisha) apparently derived from the Apollo of the Belvedere (c 335 BC), the measured quality of the faces.
During the following centuries, this anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha evolved to incorporate more Indian and Asian elements.
Several Buddhist deities may have been influenced by Greek gods. There are links between Greco-Persian and Buddhist cosmology.
The Buddha was known to the Church fathers. Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have been found in Alexandria in Egypt, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel. The presence of Buddhists in Alexandria at this time is important, since it was to be an intellectual centre of Christianity.
VIII Successors of the Indo-Greeks
Greek rule in Bactria was extinguished c 125 BC by southward-migrating Sakas or Scythians and Yuezhi, both Indo-European speaking. The Yuezhi are later called Kushan.
At the beginning of the first century, the Yuezhi invaded the northern parts of Pakistan and India and founded the Kushan Empire, a contemporary of the Roman Empire.
The Kushan rulers (30-375) displaced the Indo-Greek kings, but their culture was Greek-influenced. They used the Greek script to write their Indo-European language. Their absorption of Greek historical and mythological culture is suggested by Kushan sculptures representing Dionysiac scenes and even the story of the Trojan horse and it is likely that Greek communities remained in India under Kushan rule. Capitals: Purushpura (Peshawar, main capital), Bagram, Taxila, Mathura.
The Greek-influenced Indo-European-speaking successors of the Indo-Greeks:
Indo-Scythian/Saka kingdoms, 110 BC-400 (final extinction)
Indo-Parthian Kingdom, 12 BC-before 100
Yuezhi/Kushan Empire, 30-375
Indo-Sasanians, 3rd century-410
Ephthalite or White Hun Empire, 5th-7th century; they belonged to the Central Asian Xionite hordes and were enemies of the Gupta and of the Sasanians
The Ephthalites controlled present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and territories to the north and are probably the ancestors of modern Pashtuns. Their power was broken by the Sasanians (Khosrau I) in and after 557 and by the Turkic steppe-dwellers.
The full religious mix before Islam has to take account of Buddhism, Greek paganism, Hinduism, Jainism, Manichaeism, Shamanism, Zoroastrianism. Even Judaism and Nestorianism.
IX The Mahayana
The Kushan king Kanishka was famous for his religious syncretism and honoured Zoroastrian, Greek and Brahmanic deities as well as the Buddha. He convened the Fourth Buddhist Council c AD 100 in Kashmir. His reign sees the earliest representations of the Buddha on a coin (c AD 120), and in a Hellenistic style. Kanishka also had the earliest Gandhari vernacular, or Prakrit, Mahayana Buddhist texts translated into the literary language of Sanskrit.
The sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism are written in Pali, a Prakrit or vernacular which is closely related to Sanskrit and to the language the Buddha spoke. The sacred texts of the Mahayana were translated from Sanskrit into local languages.
Buddhism expanded into East Asia soon after this. The Kushan monk Lokaksema visited the Han Chinese court at Luoyang in AD 178, and worked there for ten years to make the first known translations of Mahayana texts into Chinese. This was also the great age of Gandharan art (area around Taxila, northern Pakistan): subjects Buddhist, motifs Hellenistic. (Gandhara was originally the name of an ancient Vedic kingdom.)
Buddhism probably reached China from the Kushan Empire in the first century CE: from north India via the Punjab, Gandhara, the Hindu Kush, Bactria, Transoxiana/Sogdiana, and the Fergana valley (Kokand, Anijan). Then across the Tien Shan and into the Tarim basin (Kashgar, Khotan, Turfan). In other words, by linking to the Silk Road. A minority view is that it came to China by sea, entering by the Yellow and Huai rivers.
It entered by land via a region which had been partly hellenised. The interaction of Greek culture with Buddhism may have helped to determine the forms which Buddhism took in China. The Mahayana was eventually adopted in China, Siberia, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Mahayana goes beyond (or does it retreat from?) the ideal of the release from suffering, and the Nirvaṇa of the arhats, to elevate the Buddha to a God-like status and to create a pantheon of quasi-divine bodhisattvas devoting themselves to the salvation of their fellow human beings.
X Decline of Buddhism
The interaction of Greek and Buddhist cultures operated over several centuries until it ended in the 5th century with the invasions of the anti-Buddhist Ephthalite or White Huns and later the expansion of Islam. In the Ephthalite empire Buddhism and Hinduism were still widespread, over a layer of Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism.
In India proper, the decline of Buddhism is usually attributed to a steady Brahmanical reaction, which gathered pace late in the Gupta era. Invasions by Ephthalites and later by Muslims must have hastened it.
Has the Greek influence been exaggerated by western historians? Have they shown undue interest in it because it is easier for them to understand than complicated autochthonous Buddhist movements and schools?
XI Arrival of Islam
The Arabs completed their conquest of Persia in 651. In Persia and up to the Indus, the Caliphs’ power was gradually lost to local rulers, mainly Sunni, who distantly acknowledged the Caliphate until the fall of Baghdad.
In 661-71 the Arab armies conquered Bactria (by now called Tokharistan), which had passed from the Greeks to the Scythians, Yuezhi (Kushans), Sasanians, Ephthalite Huns and Sasanians again (or had the post-Ephthalite settlement there been Turkish rather than Persian?).
Transoxiana, where the post-Ephthalite settlement had been Turkish, followed in 706-15; here they suffered a setback, but in 739-41 they conquered Transoxiana definitively.
This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.
The Arabs conquered, further
Baluchistan after Persia
Sindh and the Indus valley in 711 (Muhammad bin Qasim); capital: Mansura; Sindh later came under local dynasties (Habbari, then Soomro)
Southern Punjab from a base in Sindh, occupying Multan in 712.
They failed to occupy the Kandahar-Ghazni-Kabul route to the Khyber Pass. Two small Hindu states in southern Afghanistan, mentioned below, stubbornly defended the approach to the Hindu Kush.
Their foothold even in the Punjab was precarious. A number of Hindu powers resisted them there. The area was eventually controlled by the Turkic Mamluk Ghaznavids and Persian Ghorids.
They tried to invade India, but were defeated by a coalition of post-Gupta Rajput dynasties in 738.
At the Talas River in 751 the newly-installed Abbasids came head to head with the Tang Chinese. If the Chinese had won the battle, they might have captured the Oxus-Jaxartes basin and reclaimed it from Islam or Zoroastrianism for Buddhism. But they lost, and their influence this far west subsided. They did not return to the Tarim basin until the Qing or Manchu; not even the Yuan governed it.
Before the Islamic conquest, Afghanistan was a religious mixture of Zoroastrianism, paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism (near Kabul) and others. There is no reliable information on when Hinduism began in Afghanistan, but the territory south of the Hindu Kush was probably culturally connected with the Indus Valley civilisation in ancient times.
Herat province, near Persia, was Islamised early on, but the Arabs dealt with a number of post-Sasanian, post-Ephthalite rulers who resisted them. South of the Hindu Kush were the Hindu Zunbil and Buddhist (later Hindu) Kabul Shahi dynasties.
We don’t know how much of the Afghan population accepted Islam immediately, but the Shahi rulers remained non-Muslim until they lost Kabul in 870 to the Persianate (old post) Saffarid Muslims of Sistan, capital: Zaranj. Later, the Persian Samanids (old post) from Bukhara in Transoxiana extended their Islamic influence into Afghanistan. Muslims and non-Muslims still lived side by side in Kabul before the arrival of Ghaznavids from Ghazni in the late 10th century.
The Persian Samanids (819-999) presided over a revival of Persian civilisation in Samarkand and later Bukhara. They sponsored the first complete translation of the Quran into Persian.
The Persian Saffarids ruled in Persia and Afghanistan from 891 to 1003. Capital: Zaranj in Sistan, Persia/Afghanistan. They were eventually reduced to vassals of the Samanids.
By the 11th century, the entire population of Afghanistan was Muslim, except in Kafiristan, or Nuristan, in the east, whose inhabitants continued to practise an ancient form of Hinduism until Nuristan was conquered by the Emirate of Afghanistan in 1895.
The Turkic Ghaznavids controlled large parts of Persia, much of Transoxania, and the northern parts of India from 977 to 1186. Capitals: Ghazni in Afghanistan, Lahore in Pakistan. Their most famous ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni (reigned 998-1002), invaded and plundered India east of the Indus seventeen times. Capitals: Ghazni in Afghanistan, then Lahore.
They and the Muslim rulers in India mentioned in the rest of this note were mostly Sunni.
The Tajik Ghorids (before 879-1215), originally central Afghanistan pagan, Sunni from 1011, were later the first Muslim power in Delhi and further east as far as Bengal: Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic plain in 1194, conquering in succession Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, Delhi. Ghorid capitals: Firozkoh, Herat, Ghazni, those three now in Afghanistan, Lahore as winter capital.
In 1206 a former slave of Muhammad established the Sultanate of Delhi. His Mamluk (slave) dynasty was the first there. The Sultanate ended with the accession of the Timurid Babur, the first Mughal, in 1526. When the Mughals first arrived in India, they spoke a Turkic language. In adopting Persian, they inherited the language of the Perso-Turkic Delhi Sultanate.
Genghis Khan invaded Transoxiana and Bactria in 1219-20. Before his death in 1227, he assigned the lands of western central Asia to his second son Chagatai, and this region became known as the Chagatai Khanate. In 1369 Timur, of the Barlas tribe, became the effective ruler while continuing the ceremonial authority of Chagatai Khan’s dynasty, and made Samarkand the capital of his empire (1370-1507).
The first independent Islamic Kingdom in South India was the Bahmanid Sultanate (1347-1527). It broke up into five states known as the Deccan Sultanates.
The Arab conquests brought the demise of Buddhism in eastern Persia and greater Afghanistan, but in some places in Afghanistan, such as Bamiyan (Bamiyan province) and Hadda (site near Jalalabad), it survived until the 8th or 9th century. The Taliban dynamited two monumental Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley (6th and 7th centuries) in March 2001.
XII Old posts:
Picture credit: AfghaniDan; near Jalalabad
Picture credit: Luciana Di Floriano; Silk Road, probably Tien Shan mountains
Telegraph obituary of NJ Dawood, the translator of the Quran for EV Rieu’s Penguin Classics in 1956. “When [the volume] appeared in the bookshops, few people in the English-speaking world had even heard of The Koran.” It is still in print.
Also of two selections from the Arabian Nights for Penguin in 1954 and 1957. And of the Muqaddimah for Princeton in 1967.
He was an Iraqi Jew, born in Baghdad, who came to England in 1945.
An old post about English translations (interpretations, many Muslims would prefer to say) of the Quran is here. It contains a link to a New Statesman article which criticises Dawood and praises MAS Abdel Haleem (Oxford World’s Classics, 2004). It also has a link to a piece by Robin Yassin-Kassab, whose judgment I trust, which praises Muhammad Asad (Dar al-Andalus, 1980) without mentioning Dawood.
In a mosque, in which the possibilities of an educational use of Visual Art were restricted by the Prophet Muhammad’s faithfulness to the second of the Mosiac Commandments, the qiblah, towards which the lines of the architecture skilfully drew the worshipper’s eye, pointed, through the eloquent symbolism of an impressively empty niche, not only inwards in the Space dimension towards the Kaʿbah at Mecca, but also backwards in the Time-dimension towards the Prophet of Allah who had been the human Founder of the Faith.
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
This is worth visiting. Architecture good (Raymond Moriyama), museology good. And I like dioramas. There are historical films too, and what must be the only cinema in the Kingdom outside a royal palace.
A visit reminds you, who are conscious of hotel lobbies and shopping malls, that Arabs of the subcontinent used to live in a vast, beautiful and varied landscape. They have lost the macrocosm and are imprisoned in a microcosm. The night sky is gone, too. Perhaps some tours can bring you back to them. Driving from Riyad to Bahrain, as I have done, does not. Plastic bags blow over the desert, which looks as beautiful as one of their ubiquitous dusty spaces between buildings with empty PET bottles rolling around them.
Out of that macrocosm the Arabs wrested, to paraphrase Toynbee, their conception of the unity and omnipotence of God. That seems a small affair, too, now, as reflected in the Islam we usually see, though the call to prayer can remind you of it.
Apart from the museum, there isn’t much to do in Riyad. You can go to a Friday morning public beheading by the sword in Deira Square if you really want to. It is easy to meet locals, which is not the case in some of the smaller Gulf states. They are often charming.
Don’t ignore the King Abdulaziz Memorial Hall just because it sounds boring: there are wonderful photographs of 20th-century Arabia.
Other Gulf museums: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. Dubai Museum. The Louvre and the Guggenheim on Abu Dhabi’s Museeninsel, Saadiyat Island, have yet to open.
When did the Arabs ride into history? According to the museum, in 853 BC at the Battle of Qarqar, in which Assyria, conquering Syria, fought Aram-Damascus and Israel. A camel cavalry under King Gindibu fought on the side of Damascus.
After some cosmic and anthropological material (Man and the Universe), the museum has a section on the Old Testament of Arab history which, if it ended at the Hijra, lasted 1475 years, a few years longer than the New Testament has lasted so far.
It places the kingdoms, towns and religions of that period in a regional context. The rest of this is based on notes (nothing more) made during two visits, with some fact checking.
Tarout Island. Off the Eastern Province in the Gulf. A very early settlement.
Dilmun. The early civilisation of Bahrain.
Qurayyah. Location of the earliest Midianite pottery, 13th century BC. Cities of Midian: northeast edge of the subcontinent near the Gulf of Aqaba and northern Hejaz.
Tayma. Same area. In 2010, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of a rock near the oasis bearing an inscription of Ramesses III (early 12th century BC): the first confirmed discovery of a hieroglyphic inscription on Saudi Arabian soil. Tayma must have been on a land route between the Arabia and the Nile valley. The earliest mention of it is in Assyrian inscriptions of the 8th century BC. From the 1st century CE (earlier?), it had a significant Jewish population.
Gerrha. Persian Gulf coast. To the Greeks, East Arabia (present al-Hasa province), or its capital city, was known as Gerrha, a corruption of the Arabic Hagar (present Hofuf). Hagar/Gerrha was destroyed by the Ismaili Shiite Qarmatians, rebels against the Abbasid Caliphate, at the end of the 9th century CE.
Al-ʿUla, southwest of Tayma on the incense road from Yemen to Damascus. The Dedanite kingdom flourished in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Nabonidus, king of Babylon, conquered Tayma, Dedan and Yathrib, the old Medina, in 552 BC or later. The next few hundred years, until around 100 BC, were the time of the Kingdom of Lihyan. Then Nabataean Arab frontiersmen controlled the region, until at least AD 106, when Trajan conquered their capital Petra. They made Madaʿin Saleh or Hegra, 22 km to the north of Al-ʿUla, their second capital. In 2008 Madaʿin Saleh became Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage Site.
Thaj. Northwest. Perhaps Seleucid-era.
Qaryat al-Faw. Between Mecca and Yemen, but further inland than Mecca, at a pass overlooking the northwestern edge of the Empty Quarter. Capital of the Kindah Kingdom from the 1st century BC to the 4th century CE.
Dumat Al-Jandal. Nabatean, with a pre- and post-Nabatean history.
Ain Jawan. Pre-Islamic necropolis in eastern Arabia.
Al-Uyoon, eastern Arabia.
Najran. Oasis near Yemeni border. Now mainly Ismaili Shiite. On the incense route. Conquered c 685 BC by the Sabean King Karibʿil Watar I of Yemen. Najran was under Yemeni – Minaean or Sabean – rule at different times during the next centuries and remained part of Yemen. Aelius Gallus, Roman prefect of Egypt, led an unsuccessful expedition to conquer Arabia Felix and won a battle near Najran in 25 BC. He used it as a base from which to attack the Sabaean capital at Maʿrib. When the Ḥimyarites conquered the Sabeans in AD 280 they probably also took control of Najran. The north Arabian Lakhmids attacked Najran in 328. There was a Christian community from the 5th century CE under the influence of Axum. Under the Caliph Umar, the Christian community of Najran was deported to Mesopotamia, on the ground that no non-Muslims were to live in the Arabian peninsula. Najran had a pre-Islamic Jewish community as well, historically affiliated with the Yemenite Banim Chorath. Saudi Arabia conquered Najran in 1934. Two hundred Jews fled from persecution to Aden in September and October 1949. They were later airlifted to Israel.
Khaybar. Oasis 153 km north of Medina (Yathrib). Before the rise of Islam, a fortress town inhabited by Jewish tribes. It fell to Muslim forces in 629. Soon afterwards Umar expelled the Jews.
Lakhmids. Arab power on the frontier of Iraq, c AD 300 until their conquest by the Sasanids of Persia in 602.
Ghassanids. Similar client state of the East Roman Empire. Both were swept away by the Muslim invaders in the 7th century.
Al-Qullays, a pre-Islamic pilgrimage site.
The first mention of Jews in the area of modern-day Saudi Arabia dates, by some accounts, to the time of the First Temple. Immigration to the peninsula began in earnest in the 2nd century CE, and by the 6th and 7th centuries there was a considerable Jewish population in the Hejaz, mostly in and around Medina. They were expelled in the early days of Islam.
The rest (upstairs) deals with the Prophet; the wars of Islam; Caliphs, Mamluks, Turks; calligraphy; the Haj; the unification by King Abdulaziz. In the middle of the 18th century, Wahhabi reformers brought a strict version of Islam to the Nejd, which had sunk into irreligion – and it was the Nejd under the Saud family which unified the peninsula, or most of it, between the wars.
There had been two Saudi states before that. The First Saudi State or Emirate of Diriyah lasted from 1744 to 1818. The Ottomans, who had controlled the Holy Cities since 1517 (through the Hashemite sharifs of Mecca), felt threatened. In the winter of 1818 Diriyah fell after a siege (of which the museum makes much) to Ibrahim Pasha, the son of their Egyptian viceroy.
Since the domestication of the Arabian camel, nearly 2,000 years before Muhammad’s day, Arabia had been traversible, and ideas and institutions had been seeping into the peninsula from the Fertile Crescent that adjoins it on the north. The effect of this infiltration had been cumulative, and, by Muhammad’s time, the accumulated charge of spiritual force in Arabia was ready to explode.
Old posts here:
Roads to Mecca (including the grotesque part about the Makkah Hilton in a comment)
Historical regions of Arabia, early 20th century
Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous
Many Muslims in Dar al-Islam feel that things have drifted off course since the pristine days of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs. Many citizens of the US look back to the Founding Fathers and feel that they have lost something.
In the Islamic world the nostalgia for lost unity and virtue isn’t confined to Shiites, and it has been present for centuries. In the US it isn’t confined to conservative sentimentalists.
Perhaps it is to do with a feeling of powerlessness among ordinary people.
Both societies are, in different ways, paralysed and tortured by their fundamentalist obsession with a text associated with their founders: the Quran and the Constitution.
… A rough geography
What is sub-Saharan Africa? According to the UN, everything except Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt – and Sudan, too, though it is south of all these. But the statistics of UN institutions do normally count Sudan as sub-Saharan.
So Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad are considered sub-Saharan. If you add Sudan, they form another chain from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. They contain most of the Sahel.
All these countries are Muslim (or Moslem, as we used to say), but two of them, Egypt and Chad, have substantial Christian minorities.
Further south, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Djibouti, Somalia are Muslim. Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso are predominantly Muslim, but have substantial Christian minorities of various denominations.
More evenly balanced are Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria. Guinea-Bissau is half-Muslim, 10% Christian and the rest animist or traditional – but when we talk about traditional, we are sometimes including localised versions of Islam and Christianity, and when people declare as Muslims or Christians, they may still bring in elements of a local religion: figures or estimates for one country are not necessarily comparable with figures for another. Côte d’Ivoire is half-Muslim, half-Christian, apart from a small traditional element. Togo is 30% Christian, 20% Muslim, with the rest traditional. Benin is 43% Christian, 25% Muslim. Nigeria is roughly half-Muslim, half-Christian, with the Muslims in the north.
Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, both Congos, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland have large Christian majorities. (Malawi, in this group, has the largest Islamic minority. [Postscript: See comment below.])
Eritrea, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique have smaller Christian majorities. Eritrea has a large Islamic minority. South Sudan has a large traditional minority and a small Islamic one. Ethiopia and Tanzania have large Islamic minorities. Mozambique has a smaller Islamic minority, but still only a small Christian majority, according to official figures, with many undeclared. (Madagascar is half-Christian, with the rest mainly traditional; there is a small Islamic minority.)
Most African Islam is Sunni, but there are Shiite communities in Egypt, Senegal and Nigeria and Ismaili Shia communities, established by immigrants from South Asia, in East and Central Africa and in South Africa. Cairo, of course, though the population is overwhelmingly Sunni, was an Ismaili Shiite foundation.
The dominant churches in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia are Oriental Orthodox. The Christians in Chad are Catholic and Protestant.
Christians outnumber Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa (including Sudan?) by two to one. Under half are Catholic. Many are renewalists (Pentecostals and Charismatics), Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
One of the incidental and undesigned effects of the overthrow of the ʿAbbasids and devastation of ʿIrāq was, as we have noticed already in an earlier context, the birth, in a ci-devant Syriac World’s now derelict north-eastern provinces, of an Iranic Muslim Civilization, affiliated to the Syriac, in which, for most purposes other than the exposition of Islamic theology, a New Persian language and literature were to supplant the Arabic language and literature that had been dominant in all provinces of Dār-al-Islām during the six centuries intervening between the overthrow of the Sasanids by the Primitive Muslim Arab ghāzis and the overthrow of the ʿAbbasids by the pagan Mongols. When a previously oecumenical Arabic culture retreated westwards before the face of the oncoming Mongols into a fastness in Egypt with a glacis in Syria and an eastern frontier at the western elbow of the River Euphrates, a New Persian literature that, by this time, had been on the rise for some three hundred years now at last came fully into its own; and this was perhaps the only creative cultural activity in the conquered and devastated half of Dār-al-Islām that benefited from the disaster on the very morrow of it. During the lifetime of the survivors of a generation in Dār-al-Islām that was old enough to have completed its education in a classical Arabic language and literature before the catastrophe of A.D. 1258, the cultivation of the New Persian language and literature was already relieved of the incubus of the cultural ascendancy of Arabic without being yet impoverished by being cut off from the living sources of Arabic literary inspiration. The period of Mongol domination in Iran and ʿIrāq (currebat A.D. 1258-1337) was an age in which the leading Persian men of letters were still bilingual in the full sense of still being able not merely to read Arabic but also to write in it, as well as in their native Persian tongue; [footnote] and it was also an age which produced incomparably eminent Persian historians, in contrast to both the previous and the subsequent age, in which the brightest stars in the firmament of a New Persian literature were, not historians, but poets. [Footnote.]
[First footnote in last paragraph: This point is made by Browne in op. cit. [Browne, E. G.: A Literary History of Persia […] (Cambridge 1928, University Press)], vol. iii, pp. 62-65. The historian Rashīd-ad-Dīn (vivebat circa A.D. 1247-1318), for example, made it his practice to arrange for the translation of his Persian works into Arabic and the translation of his Arabic works into Persian. Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s own account of these arrangements of his is quoted verbatim, from man. arabe No. 356, foll. 1 et seqq. in the Bibliothèque Nationale [ci-devant Royale] in Paris, by E. M. Quatremère in his life of Rashīd-ad-Dīn prefixed to his edition of part of Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s Jāmiʿ-al-Tawārīkh (“A Comprehensive Collection of Histories”), Histoire des Mongols de la Perse, vol. i (Paris 1836, Imprimerie Royale), pp. cxxxiv-cxxxvi. A student of History will be reminded of the cultural situation in Italy under an Ostrogoth domination (durabat A.D. 493-535), when the leading Italian men of letters were still conversant with Greek as well as with their native Latin.]
[Second footnote: The pre-Mongol age of New Persian literary history had been made illustrious by Firdawsī (vivebat circa A.D. 932-1020/1) and by Saʿdi (vivebat circa A.D. 1184-1292); the post-Mongol [Timurid] age was to be made illustrious by Hāfiz (obiit A.D. 1389) and by Jāmi (vivebat A.D. 1414-92). […]]
Saadi was probably born a little later than Toynbee states and was surely not pre-Mongol: “the unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Khwarezm and Iran led him to wander for thirty years abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt and Iraq” (Wikipedia). And if he mentions Saadi, why not his contemporary Rumi, the most famous of all Persian poets in the West, who settled in Anatolia?
Later in the same volume he calls a Time of Troubles “an historian’s golden age”.
The ascendancy of the historians in the intervening Il-Khānī Age is significant; and it is no less significant that the two greatest members of this pleiad – ʿAlā-ad-Dīn ʿAtā Malik-i-Juwaynī (vivebat A.D. 1226-83) and Rashīd-ad-Dīn Fadlallāh Tabīb al-Hamadāni (vivebat circa A.D. 1247-1318) – were also eminent civil servants in the Mongol Il-Khāns’ service, and that two of the lesser lights, Wassāf-i-Hadrat ʿAbdallāh b. Fadlallāh of Shirāz and Hamdallāh Mustawfī of Qazwīn, both of whom were protégés of Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s, were officials of the Il-Khānī Government’s Internal Revenue Department.
The pagan barbarian conquerors of Iran and ʿIrāq, who held out for thirty-seven years (A.D. 1258-95) after their conquest of Baghdad before succumbing to Islam themselves, had found themselves from the outset unable to dispense with the services of their newly acquired Muslim subjects; for the conquerors’ purpose in invading Dār-al-Islām and overthrowing the Caliphate had been to step into the Caliph’s shoes; and the only means by which these interloping barbarians could ensure that, after they had extinguished the Caliphate, the Caliph’s government should be carried on for their benefit was by drawing upon an existing panel of native Persian Muslim professional administrators. The historian ʿAlā-ad-Dīn ʿAtā Malik-i-Juwaynī’s brother, Shams-ad-Dīn Muhammad Juwaynī, managed the administration of Hūlāgū’s appanage for the conqueror and for his first two successors during twenty-one years (A.D. 1263-84) of the Il-Khānī regime as their sāhib-dīwān, and the two brothers were the sons of a mustawfi’l-mamālik (minister of finance) and the grandsons of a prime minister of a by then already fainéant ʿAbbasid Caliphate’s Khwārizmian successor-state in the north-eastern marches of Dār-al-Islām, over against the Eurasian Steppe, on which the Mongol storm had broken in its full fury in A.D. 1220 at the fiat of a world-conquering Chingis.
A discussion of Rashid-al-Din and Juvayni follows.
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
Would anyone go to a blockbuster still life exhibition? I would, even if by the end I longed to escape and hungered for a landscape or figure. It’s hard to find a book on still life, but it might be soothing to indulge oneself in something so limited. Still life, or it could equally be Roman Britain, the history of Australia, French tapestries or the Palliser novels.
Small differences would become important. And there’s a lost language of allegory and symbols to learn.
And seventeenth-century lemons, pomegranates, loaves and fish have more DNA, more layers of reality, than their etiolated supermarket descendants.
We rarely see a butcher (or butchery, as they call them in Africa), never mind abattoir. In the middle east, even urban families are about to start slaughtering animals in their own bathrooms for Eid al-Adha.
Jacopo da Empoli (1551-1640), Still Life (c 1625)
Luis Meléndez (1716-80), Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Flowers (1903)
George Clausen (1852-1944), Michaelmas Daisies and Cornflowers in a Jug (1940), exuberant piece painted at the age of 88
The Chinese Pot (still life by Clausen, old post).
The joy of dawn is the emotional charge in some of the most famous scenes in Western history – the Latin Christian warriors’ shout of “Deus le volt” in response to Pope Urban II’s preaching of the First Crusade, the ministry of Saint Francis of Assisi seen through Giotto’s and through Saint Thomas of Celano’s eyes, the landfalls of the Pinta [footnote: Though the first member of Columbus’s first expedition to sight land was a sailor on board the Pinta, this vessel’s name had not won equal renown with the Santa Maria, which was the Admiral’s flagship.] and the Mayflower, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the taking of the Tennis Court Oath – and the poetry in some, at least, of these historic events has been uttered in lines that speak more eloquently than volumes. The poetry in the American Revolutionary War has been distilled by Emerson into one quatrain:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the World.
[Footnote: Emerson: Concord Hymn, stanza 1.]
The poetry in the French Revolution has been distilled by Wordsworth into two lines:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven.
[Footnote: Wordsworth: The Prelude, Book XI, ll. 108-9, incorporating The French Revolution as it appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement.]
It is no wonder that, in these rejoicings at a dawn, the historians should have had to let the poets be their spokesmen; for the joy awakened by the dawn of a new era of History is the Soul’s response to an epiphany that is something more than a merely temporal event. The dawns that awaken such joy as this are irruptions into Time out of Eternity. What has happened on these historic occasions likewise happens at the birth of every child:
“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but, as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the World.”
[Footnote: John xvi. 21.]
In a mother’s joy the Soul hails an incarnation; and, since “alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis”, [footnote: Goethe: Faust, ll. 12104-5.] the dawns of mundane eras that have this poetry in them are antitypes of cosmic dawns in which a Divine Light breaks into This World. A radiance which shines in upon us through Botticelli’s picture, in the National Gallery in London, of the birth in the stable at Bethlehem is likewise manifest in the enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, in the descent of the Dove at the baptism in Jordan, in the transfiguration on the mountain, in the vision on the road to Damascus, and in the imprinting of the stigmata in the wilderness; and, as Milton’s voice strikes up in a Franciscan ode on the morning of Christ’s nativity, Gibbon’s voice dies away.
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
A city can […] become holy through having been the scene of a transcendent spiritual experience, whether authentic or legendary. For instance, Jerusalem is a holy city for Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad believed that this was the place where, on “the Night of Power”, he had ascended into Heaven and re-descended to Earth. The most tragic of all possible events in a prophet’s life is martyrdom, and the holiness of the scene of a martyrdom is enhanced if the martyr has been buried in the same place. The crucifixion and burial of Jesus in Jerusalem are the two events in Jesus’s history that have made Jerusalem a holy city for Christians.
Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Muslims today? Because it was a holy city for the Prophet Muhammad; and it was holy for him because of its long-established holiness for Christians and Jews – “the People of the Book” who enjoyed religious prestige in Muhammad’s eyes in virtue of their having been previous recipients of divine revelation. This is why Muhammad originally instructed his followers to face towards Jerusalem when they were saying their prayers, and it is also why, in his mind, Jerusalem was the place from which he ascended to Heaven and to which he re-descended on “the Night of Power”.
Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Christians today? Because it was a holy city for Jesus. It was holy for him because he was an orthodox Jew, and he was observing the Jewish Law, as this stood in his day, when he went from his native Galilee to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there in the year in which he was crucified and was buried outside Jerusalem’s city-wall.
Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Jews? Because King Josiah of Judah (circa 640-610 B.C.) [meaning reigned] centralized in Jerusalem all acts of worship in his kingdom and put all other places of worship there out of commission.
Moses and Joshua conquered Canaan, the Promised Land. The Hebrews were often subject to the coastal Philistines and were ruled by Judges until c 1000 B.C.
The prophet Samuel, florebat from c 1050 BC, was the last judge of Israel and the first of the prophets after Moses. His judgeship was dominated by war with the Philistines, who captured Moses’ Ark of the Covenant. In his old age he agreed, at divine request, to the establishment of a king; he thus anointed Saul and remained chief prophet during Saul’s reign. In this role he also anointed David, a shepherd, who was from the Jewish tribe of Judah.
Saul was succeeded by David and then by Solomon. After the expansionist reign of Solomon (c 970-928 BC), the kingdom broke up into two states: Israel in the north, established by Jeroboam, with its capital at Shechem, then Tirzah, then Samaria, and Judah in the south, under the house of David, with its capital at Jerusalem. Josiah was of the house of David.
When the “eternal” Davidic dynasty failed after four centuries, it formed the basis for the Jewish belief in the Messiah.
Why did Josiah carry out this act of cultural synoecism (to use an Hellenic term of constitutional art)? Because Jerusalem was the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah in Josiah’s day. Why was Jerusalem the capital of Judah? Because, at an early date in the tenth century B.C., David [of the united Israelite kingdom] had conquered and annexed the Canaanite city-state of Jerusalem and had made this city the capital of his kingdom, which included not only Judah but Israel. After the irruption of the Israelites and Judahites into Palestine circa 1200 B.C., this Canaanite city-state had maintained its independence for about two hundred years in between the Israelite invaders to the north of it and the Judahite invaders to the south.
The Judahites were one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites: he must be referring to the split that led to the formation of the two states. How did each of the twelve tribes align themselves in this?
It will be seen that the holiness of Jerusalem is paradoxical. It was the last piece of Canaanite territory to be acquired by the Judahite worshippers of Yahweh, yet it became the only place in Judah where the worship of Yahweh was allowed, and it acquired this cultural monopoly because, after its annexation to Judah, it had been made the capital of the Judahite state.
The two kingdoms were later conquered by expanding Mesopotamian states, Israel by Assyria (c 720 BC) and Judah by Babylonia (586 BC). The Babylonians destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem and held the Jews captive in Babylon.
Why is modern Israel called Israel, not Judah (House of David), when Jerusalem gained so much more prestige than Samaria?
The history of the City of Jerusalem since the liquidation of the Kingdom of Judah has been as kaleidoscopic as the history of Rome since the disintegration of the Roman Empire. When, in 538 B.C., the Babylonian Empire was liquidated in its turn by the Persians, Jerusalem became a non-sovereign temple-state [the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity and the temple was rebuilt], and it retained this status under the successive Persian, Ptolemaic, and Seleucid regimes till the second quarter of the second century B.C. A Hellenizing party among the Judaean Jews then attempted to transform the Jerusalem temple-state into a city-state on the Hellenic pattern. This led to a domestic Judaean Jewish conflict between Hellenizers and conservatives, and to a consequent collision between conservative Jewish religious and political nationalists and the Seleucid Imperial Government. The break-up of the Seleucid Empire enabled the [anti-Greek] Hasmonaean leaders of the Jewish nationalist movement to turn the Jerusalem temple-state into a Palestinian Jewish miniature empire of the kind that Pope Martin V and his successors carved out in Central Italy in and after the fifteenth century of the Christian Era. The Hasmonaean Empire was cut back to the dimensions of its nucleus, the Jerusalem temple-state, by the intervention of the Roman war-lord Pompey in 63 B.C. The sequel was a head-on collision between the Palestinian Jewish community and the Roman Empire; the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70; the foundation, on the vacant site, of a Graeco-Roman city, Aelia Capitolina; and the eviction of the Jews from all parts of Palestine except Galilee.
Pompey conquered Palestine in 63 BC, but the state survived until 37 BC with a loss of autonomy. From 37 BC to AD 92 the Roman province of Judaea (Judea) was ruled by puppet kings of the Romans, the Herodian Dynasty, a Jewish dynasty from Idumea.
When the Jews revolted in AD 66, the Romans destroyed the Temple (AD 70). The foundation of Aelia Capitolina led to another revolt between AD 132 and 135, led by Bar Kokhba, which was also suppressed. Jericho and Bethlehem were destroyed, and the Jews were barred from most of Palestine.
At the moment of writing, in October 1969, a new Jerusalem, outside Aelia Capitolina’s western wall, was the capital of the post-Second-World-War state of Israel, while the Old City which contains the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy places was a piece of Jordanian territory under the Israelis’ military occupation. Since 1929 it has looked as if the relations between the Vatican City, the rest of the City of Rome, and the Italian national state have become stabilized; but in 1969 the future of the two parts of the City of Jerusalem was still unpredictable.
The Muslim Dome of the Rock stands on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, territory which Israel re-occupied in 1967; it is the site where any Third Temple would be built
Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970
I have referred to a US edition.
Thanks to the intuition of the discordant oligarchs of an oasis-state in the Hijāz, who had invited the rejected prophet of a rival community to make himself at home with them and try his hand at being their ruler, in the hope that he would bring them the concord which they had failed to attain by themselves, Yathrib became, within thirty years of the Hijrah, the capital of an empire embracing not only the former Roman dominions in Syria and Egypt but the entire domain of the former Sasanian Empire. [Footnote: Ibn Khaldūn suggests that the Primitive Muslim Arabs’ success in conquering the whole of the Sasanian Empire was a consequence of their conquest of the Sasanian imperial capital Ctesiphon, and that their contemporary failure to conquer more than a portion of the Roman Empire was a consequence of their inability to conquer the Roman imperial capital Constantinople (see the Muqaddamāt, translated by de Slane, Baron McG, (Paris 1863-8, Imprimerie Impériale, 3 vols.), vol. i, p. 333).] Yathrib’s title to remain the seat of government for this vast realm was indisputable on its juridical merits. This remote oasis-state was the territorial nucleus out of which the Muslim Arab world-empire had burgeoned in its miraculously rapid growth, and it was now also hallowed as Madīnat-an-Nabī, the City of the Prophet which had recognized his mission and had furnished him with home, throne, and sepulchre. This title was so impressive that de jure Medina remained the capital of the Caliphate at any rate until the foundation of Baghdad by the ʿAbbasid Caliph Mansūr in A.D. 762. Yet de facto the swiftly expanding dominions of the Prophet Muhammad and his successors were governed from Medina for no longer than thirty-four years; for the fact was that this oasis hidden away in the interior of the Arabian Plateau – a vaster, wilder, barer, emptier counterpart of the Plateau of Iran – had condemned itself to political nullity by the immensity of its political success.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750
The dynasty starts with Muawiya (ruled 661-80), who had been governor of Syria. Uthman had also been an Umayyad, but is classed as one of the four Rightly-Guided caliphs. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have gone through Ali.
Muawiya had fought against Byzantium and had a well-trained army to set against the anarchic Bedouin who had followed Ali.
The Shia vilify Muawiya. They believe that his conversion to Islam was superficial, that he was motivated by lust for power and that he secured it by force. They point out that he is the only Sahaba Caliph (companion of the Prophet) who was not regarded as righteously guided by the Sunni. (He was related to the Prophet, like the others.)
His son and heir Yazid I is hated for his actions towards the house of Ali, in particular for sending forces against Ali’s son Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.
The great administrators of the dynasty, Muawiya I, Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) and Hisham (ruled 724-43) took over many of the systems of the Greeks and Persians.
In 661-71 the Arabs conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.
They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.
In 706-15 they conquered Transoxiana and Khwarezm, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. They consolidated their position there in subsequent decades.
In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.
In 711 they conquered Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.
On four fronts, they were defeated.
In order to conquer Asia Minor and take Constantinople, they needed naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Muawiya built a fleet. In 674-8 and in 717-18 the Arabs besieged Constantinople by sea and land and were defeated.
In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range in southern Turkey. They did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus.
In 732 they failed to conquer Carolingian France. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.
In 737-38 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga (which flows into the Caspian) and the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov).
The Umayyad caliphs faced the opposition of Shiite Arab tribesmen of Iraq and that of pious elements in Medina who favoured the claims of Ali’s descendants, the Imams of the Shia (Shiʿat Ali or party of Ali).
The masses of non-Arab peoples in the conquered territories, the Mawali, began to stir and to resent their position as second-class citizens.
In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution which began in Khurasan in eastern Persia, led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. One of the few members of the Umayyad family to survive was Hisham’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to North Africa and continued the Umayyad line in Spain.
See Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I am partly following it in this series, but leaving out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.
Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture: studyblue.com
The age of the pristine Islamic virtues.
Abu Bakr (Abdullah ibn Abi Quhafa)
Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab)
Uthman (Uthman ibn Affan)
Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib)
Mnemonic: Arab uniters underestimate adversity
Capitals: Medina, Kufa
The leaders of the Muslim umma or community, all related to the Prophet by blood or through marriage. I won’t go into relationships. Muslim Arabs had not yet moved outside the Arabian peninsula when Muhammad died. He himself had fought in military campaigns within Arabia.
But by 641 they had conquered Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt from the East Roman Empire. The southern part of Iraq was conquered from Persia.
By 651 they had conquered Persia, as far north-eastward as Merv inclusive, extinguishing the Sasanian Persian Empire. Merv is now in Turkmenistan (one of Iran’s three eastern neighbours, along with Afghanistan in the middle, and Pakistan in the south).
In 653 the Armenians and Georgians (both ex-Roman and ex-Persian Armenian and Georgian subjects) had surrendered.
Between 647 and 698 they conquered north west Africa from the East Romans – who under Justinian had reconquered it from the barbarians.
Khalifa means “he who follows behind”. The Orthodox Caliphs ruled from Medina, the city previously called Yathrib which Muhammad had renamed.
Abu Bakr imposed the authority of Medina over outlying parts of the peninsula after the Bedouin tribes had renounced their personal allegiance to Muhammad (the Ridda Wars, ridda meaning apostasy).
Umar attacked the Byzantine territories of Syria, Palestine and Egypt and the Sasanid territories of Persia and Iraq. He adopted the title Amir al-Muʿminin, Commander of the Faithful, implying a spiritual as well as political element in his leadership.
Uthman was assassinated.
Ali moved his capital to Kufa in Iraq in order to confront Muawiya, the recalcitrant governor of Syria, in battle at Siffin on the Upper Euphrates. He was later killed, and his son, al-Hasan, was persuaded by Muawiya to renounce all rights to the Caliphate. Ali had been the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have continued through him. The martyrdom of one of Ali’s other sons, Husayn, in 680 is taken as the beginning of the Shiite split.
See Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I will follow it in this series, but will leave out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.
Kufa Great Mosque, 1915
Pan-Islamism is dormant – yet we have to reckon with the possibility that the sleeper may awake if ever the cosmopolitan proletariat of a “Westernized” world revolts against Western domination and cries out for anti-Western leadership. That call might have incalculable psychological effects in evoking the militant spirit of Islam – even if it had slumbered as long as the Seven Sleepers – because it might awaken echoes of a heroic age. On two historic occasions in the past, Islam has been the sign [under] which an Oriental society has risen up victoriously against an Occidental intruder. Under the first successors of the Prophet, Islam liberated Syria and Egypt from a Hellenic domination which had weighed on them for nearly a thousand years. Under Zangi and Nur-ad-Din and Saladin and the Mamluks, Islam held the fort against the assaults of Crusaders and Mongols. [In] the present situation of mankind […] Islam might be moved to play her historic role once again. Absit omen.
Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948
“There used to be widespread sharing of sacred space. I have seen Syrian Christians coming to sacrifice sheep at the Muslim [Sufi] shrine of Nebi Uri. While at the nearby Christian convent of Seidnaya, I found the congregation in the church consisted not principally of Christians but instead of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives. As the priest circled the altar with his thurible, the men prayed as if in the middle of Friday prayers at a great mosque. Their women, some dressed in full black chador, mouthed prayers from the shadows of the narthex. A few, closely watching the Christian women, went up to the icons and kissed them. They had come, so they told me, to Our Lady of Seidnaya, to ask her for children. Now that precious multi-ethnic and multi-religious patchwork is in danger of being destroyed forever.”
My links. (Is Nebi Uri near Seidnaya?) Similar patchworks have been destroyed, or seriously damaged, in the Balkans.
In India, sacred space is still sometimes shared. I have been with a young Hindu in Chennai who took me into the San Thome Basilica and said a prayer there. He said he went into mosques too. This isn’t rare in India.
Some Palestinian Christians give their children names like Omar. Old post [and see comment below]. It would be nice if European Christians did, too, but it might sound rather pretentious and Beckhamish.
I love Malaysia, but it contains some peculiarly small-minded Muslims. Last October, a court there ruled that non-Muslims would be prohibited from using the word Allah, even though Christians and Hindus had been using it for centuries to refer to their gods.
One should speak of christianities, not Christianity:
Ottoman people and Orthodox churches (old post).
The Assassins were a militant branch of the Ismāʿīlīs [Shiites who seceded from the main group in the eighth century because of their belief that Ismail, the son of the sixth Shiite imam, should have become the seventh imam, hence Seveners] who were organized by Hasan-i-Sabbāh about A.D. 1090. Their method of action was the assassination of princes; and they did their work impartially, for the list of their victims includes their fellow-Ismāʿīlī the Fātimid Caliph al-Āmir [the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphs ruled from the Atlantic to the Red Sea 909-1171], whom they assassinated in A.D. 1130, as well as a host of Sunnīs and Christians. The word “assassinate” itself is derived from the name of the Assassins, and their name is derived in turn from the hashīsh or hemp-fumes with which their desperadoes used to intoxicate themselves before making their attentats. For Hasan-i-Sabbāh and the Assassins, see Browne, E. G.: A Literary History of Persia, vol. ii (London 1906, Fisher Unwin), pp. 201-11, and Yule, Sir Henry: The Book of Ser Marco Polo, 3rd edition (London 1903, Murray, 2 vols.), vol. i, pp. 139-48.)
A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934 (footnote)
The stations on the two pilgrimage routes of the ʿAbbasid Age from ʿIrāq to the Hijāz – one route taking off into the Arabian steppe from Kūfah and the other from Basrah – are plotted out in Spruner-Menke Hand-Atlas für die Geschichte des Mittelalters und der Neueren Zeit, 3rd. ed. (Gotha 1880, Perthes), Map 81.
Here is that map: the two long, lonely roads with their stations and wells are clearly marked.
Kufa was an Arab cantonment on the border between the Arabian desert and Iraq. The fourth of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, Ali, had moved his capital there from Medina in order to confront Muawiya, the governor of Syria, in battle at Siffin on the Upper Euphrates (657). This was the end of the great age of Medina which had begun in 622 with the Hijra. Ali was later assassinated (661).
Muawiya persuaded his son, Hasan, to renounce rights to the Caliphate. Ali had been the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have continued through him. Kufa is one of their holy cities in Iraq, along with Kadhimiya, Karbala, Najaf, Samarra.
Muawiya (Muhammad had married his sister, but he was not otherwise closely related to the Prophet), established the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus.
The Abbasid caliphs moved the capital to Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyads everywhere except in Iberia (al-Andalus), where they survived, until 1031, in the Caliphate of Cordoba.
Basra had been founded by the second Rightly-Guided Caliph, Umar, while confronting the Sasanids.
A more northerly route from the Euphrates to Damascus and then south, “the King’s Highway”, is described here (old post). At the Gulf of Aqaba, the Highway would branch westwards across Sinai and south-eastwards into Arabia.
The road from Damascus to the Hejaz and beyond to Yemen was an ancient one.
Muhammad himself conducted caravans from Mecca to Damascus and back as the employee of his future wife, Khadijah. The most probable dates of his journeys [into Roman territory] are the peace-years between 591 and 604.
“Until the 19th century there were three main caravans to Mecca. The Egyptian caravan set out from Cairo, crossed the Sinai Peninsula and then followed the coastal plain of western Arabia to Mecca, a journey which took from 35 to 40 days. It included pilgrims from North Africa, who crossed the deserts of Libya and joined the caravan in Cairo. The other great caravan assembled in Damascus, Syria, and moved south via Medina, reaching Mecca in about 30 days. After the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, this caravan began in Istanbul, gathered pilgrims from throughout Asia Minor along the way, and then proceeded to Mecca from Damascus. The third major caravan crossed the Peninsula from Baghdad.”
The Baghdad caravan went via Kufa. The Hejaz Railway (map), part of the Ottoman railway network, followed the route of the Damascus caravan and was an extension of the line from the Haydarpaşa Terminal in Istanbul (Asian side) beyond Damascus. Work began in 1900 under Abdul Hamid II, with German help. The intention was to go as far as Mecca. The line reached Medina on September 1 1908, the anniversary of the Sultan’s accession, but had got no further than this – four hundred kilometres short of its goal – when war broke out. In 1913 the Hejaz Railway Station was opened in central Damascus. There was a branch line to Haifa.
The Emir Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, viewed it as a threat to the Arabs, since it provided the Turks with easy access to their garrisons in the Hejaz, Asir and Yemen. A section of it was blown up by TE Lawrence during the Arab Revolt. After the fall of the Empire the railway did not reopen south of the Jordanian-Saudi Arabian border. There is talk of reopening it now.
The Berlin to Baghdad Railway (post here) was being built at the same time. It, too, was incomplete in 1914.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)
Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous
When the news [of the abolition of the Caliphate] reached Delhi – where […] the Caliphate had been revered for seven hundred years [since the formation of the Delhi Sultanate] with a naïveté seldom corrected by first-hand acquaintance – the shock declared itself in a dramatic incident at a Red Crescent tea-party which offers a burlesque counterpart to the tragic scene in Saint Jerome’s cell at Bethlehem when the Christian scholar received the news of the fall of Rome.
“A mission from the Turkish Red Crescent Society, which was collecting funds in India at the moment when the news of the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate arrived, found it advisable to cut short its activities and return home. (The Times, 5th March, 1924; Oriente Moderno, IV, 3, p. 181). The news was actually received during a tea-party at Delhi, where the members of the Turkish mission were being entertained by their Indian co-religionists. Upon the recital of the telegram containing the text of the Turkish Law of the 3rd March, [1924,] [his bracket] all but two of the Indians present immediately left the room.”
A footnote gives the source of this as the previously cited
Toynbee, A. J.: Survey of International Affairs, 1925, vol. i (Oxford 1927, University Press), “The Islamic World since the Peace Settlement” […].
Jerome died near Bethlehem in 420. What is the source for the scene in his cell?
The shock felt by those hearing of the destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad in 1258 is also compared with the shock of hearing of the fall of Rome in 410.
The Indian telegram service will close on July 15.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)
The main line of Sunni Caliphs – Rightly Guided, then Umayyad, then Abbasid – came to an end when the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258.
A surviving member of the Abbasid house was installed at Cairo under the patronage of the newly formed Mamluk Sultanate three years later.
In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took the last nominal Abbasid Caliph at Cairo into custody and transported him to Constantinople.
When he died, the Caliphate was virtually in abeyance. The first time Caliph was used as a political instead of symbolic religious title by the Ottoman Sultans was in the peace treaty with Russia at the end of the war of 1768-74, as a way of allowing the Turks to retain moral authority in territory they had ceded, notably the Crimea.
Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reasserted the title as Russia expanded into Central Asia. His claim was fervently accepted by the Muslims of British India.
The Khilafat movement (1919-24) was a vain pan-Islamic protest campaign launched by Muslims in India to persuade the British government to protect the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate. The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922, the Caliphate in 1924.
At the time when the present chapter was being written, it looked as if this had really been the end of the Caliphate, for an immediate attempt on the part of the Hāshimī King Husayn of the Hijāz to assume the office (on the eve, as it turned out, of his own ejection from his ancestral patrimony by Ibn Saʿūd) was – in spite of the Sharīf’s unimpeachable Qurayshī lineage and his sovereignty, at the moment, over the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina – as dismal a failure as most of his other enterprises. Nor did any practical action result from a Caliphate Congress held at Cairo on the 13th-19th May, 1926.
Yet, even if this forecast were to prove correct – though, in the light of previous history, it would not be safe to sign a death certificate for so resilient an institution as the Caliphate until it had been in abeyance for at least a quarter of a millennium [footnote: Its latest interregnum had lasted from the death of the last Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in A.D. 1543 to the drafting of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of Küchuk Qaynārja in A.D. 1774.] – the marvel would be, not that the Caliphate should have petered out at last, but that, on the strength of having been an effective sovereignty over a span of less than two hundred years, [footnote: From the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632 to the death of the ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn (imperabat A.D. 809-13), in a civil war with his brother and supplanter Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33) over the heritage of their father Hārūn-ar-Rashīd (imperabat A.D. 786-809).] it should have been able within that time to acquire a prestige sufficient to keep it alive, and twice revive it, [footnote: i.e. at Cairo in A.D. 1261 and at Constantinople in A.D. 1774.] for another eleven hundred years [footnote: Reckoning from the death of the Baghdādi ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn in A.D. 813 to the deposition of the Constantinopolitan ʿOsmanli Caliph ʿAbd-al-Mejīd in A.D. 1924.] during which it never emerged from the state of political impotence into which it had begun to decline in the reign of Hārūn-ar-Rashīd’s son Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33).
The revival of the Caliphate is often predicted today, in Brummie, Indonesian and other accents.
Ma’mūn is written thus in the OUP text, not as Maʿmūn.
At times in Muslim history there have been rival caliphs, notably those of the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa, 909-1171.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954