ISMAILIANS, CARMATHIANS, AND FATIMIDS
EVER since the tragedy of Kerbala, the Muslim world was exposed, as we have seen, to outbursts of fanaticism in favour of the house of 'Ali. The Persian Shi'a, with its mystic tendencies, stimulated the sentiment, while the decline of the Caliphate, and the disorder prevailing in consequence, offered ready advantage to pretenders. Hence the growing frequency of 'Alid risings. The feelings thus abroad were now to assume concrete and permanent form.
The numerous sects and schisms which developed at this time were all based on the sanctity of the line of 'Ali, and the survival in it of a divine authority. Some held to twelve of the line; others to seven, these being numbers to which singular virtues were ascribed.1 Schools multiplied all over
1 The accompanying table shows the descent of
the Shi'ite Imams:
1 The accompanying table shows the descent of the Shi'ite Imams:
Those who accept seven Imams make the seventh Isma'il or his son
the land in which the mystic faith was quietly and cautiously taught, embracing such recondite doctrines as the formation of the universe by the divine Reason, trausmigration of souls, immanence of Divinity in the Mehdi,1 and the early expectation of his coming. The novice was initiated in such esoteric doctrines, under oath of secrecy, and became henceforward, soul and body, his leader's devotee. The teaching of the Mehdi, it was held, might supersede the Kor'an, the tenets of which were allegorically rendered; and the changes both of dogma and ritual were so strange and sweeping that the Prophet himself would hardly have recognised the system thus evolved as in any respect his own. The superstition spread with marvellous rapidity over the whole East, and along the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
In the latter half of the third century A.H. 873-874 A.D., there arose an enthusiast of this school, 'Abdallah ibn Meimun al-Kaddah of Jerusalem, who propagated a system designed to weld all religions into a universal faith. It was to be the seventh and last religion of the world, under the Seventh in succession from 'Ali the divine Mehdi, Mohammad son of Isma'il. From his patronymic the faith is named the Isma'ili. During the reign of Al-Mo'tadid, a leader of this persuasion opened canvass in Al-'Irak, and gained a great following both there and in surrounding lands.
He was nicknamed Karmat (the dwarf), and after him the sectaries are called Karamita or Carmathians; and for a hundred years (about 890-990 A.D.) they spread consternation throughout south-western Asia. He appeared while the Zenj were yet in the field, and offered to join Al-Khabith with 100,000 swords; but unable to adjust the tenets of a common faith, they parted. For some ten years the 'Abbasid government managed to hold its own. Then a leader arose, Zikraweih by name. The Caliph's troops were annihilated near Al-Basra in 900 A.D., and only their
Mohammad. From the former the sect of the Isma'iliya are named; from him the Fatimids
claim descent. The twelfth Imamn disappeared about 260 A.H. (873 A.D.), and is looked
for to return. Hence he is also called Al-Muntazar (the Watched for).
1 "Mehdi," that is the "Guide" or divine Leader of
the day, as being in direct descent from 'Ali.
1 "Mehdi," that is the "Guide" or divine Leader of the day, as being in direct descent from 'Ali.
general escaped. His sons, one of whom was called "the Owner of the She-camel" and his brother "the Owner of the Mole" (from a mole on his face which he called his "sign") invaded Syria. The former was killed by naphtha in an attempt to storm Damascus; the latter ravaged Syria, murdering and pillaging wherever he went; and yet, strange to say, he was prayed for in the pulpits of the wretched province as "Commander of the Faithful"; and with him also was a cousin named Muddaththir, "the Wrapped up," an epithet of Mohammad.1 The alarm was so great at Bagdad that, as we have seen, Al-Muktafi sent the Egyptian general Mohammad to attack the fanatic host, himself accompanying the army as far as Ar-Rakka.
The Carmathians, after ravaging northern Syria nearly as far as Antioch, were totally beaten, the "Owner of the Mole" with his cousin and some followers escaping into the desert. Discovered there, they were carried to the Caliph at Ar-Rakka, and thence sent to Bagdad, where, paraded on an elephant and camels, they were made a spectacle to the city. Kept in prison till the return of Mohammad with more Carmathian captives, they were all beheaded after their legs and arms had been cut off. For the "Owner of the Mole," a death was reserved of exquisite cruelty. Scourged with two hundred stripes, his hands were cut off; then he was scorched and, when in the agonies of the fire his head was struck off and raised aloft on a pole, amidst the shouts of the multitude, Allahu Akbar, God is most Great! There were other scenes of the kind, but this may suffice.
One marvels at the tenacity of this noxious heresy. Beaten here it suddenly reappears there, scattering havoc and outrage in its track. Men were everywhere in expectation, and mused in their hearts whether this pretender or that were the coming Mehdi. The leaders too often acted from low and corrupt motives, and were followed by marauding Bedawin who, no longer enlisted in the Imperial forces, lusted after rapine and plunder. But apart from unworthy aims of the kind, there must have been some spiritual force behind to hold together such vast masses and nerve them for the dangers, as well as for the spoils, of rebellion.
1 Sura lxxiv. 1.
1 Sura lxxiv. 1.
And so another year had hardly passed when the Imperial arms being engaged in Egypt outrages were renewed with even greater barbarity than before. Zikraweih, who had for years lain hid in a subterranean dwelling, now wrote to his people that a heavenly messenger had revealed to him the death of his sons, and that the Mehdi was on the point of appearing. They were to go forth to war, and on the day of Sacrifice (10th Dhu'l-Hijja) enter Al-Kufa, where thousands would rise and join them.1 Thereupon Syria, from one end to the other, was subjected to fire and sword and every kind of licence. Urgent appeal was made to Al-Muktafi, who sent his best generals without success against them.
Just then Zikraweih emerged from his hiding. He was received with divine honours by the deluded throng and carried veiled upon their shoulders as the Vicegerent of the Almighty. The Carmathians were now filled with such wild enthusiasm that they routed the Caliph's hosts, slaying 1500, and striking terror into the heart of Bagdad.
Zikraweih at last formed the diabolical design of lying in wait between Al-Basra and Al-Kufa for the caravans just then returning from pilgrimage. The first escaped, but the village which connived at their deliverance was utterly destroyed. The second was overtaken, and few lived to tell the tale: even the women were slain, excepting those kept for a worse fate. The third was warned to hold on till Imperial succour should come; but the Carmathians choked the wells, arrested help, and fell upon the multitude dying of thirst. Another butchery ensued; the Carmathian women carried water round to see if life was left in any yet; and if anyone gasped for a draught, the coup de grâce was given.2 Twenty thousand were left dead on the fatal camping-ground; and twenty million pieces seized as plunder, part of the Tulunid treasure carried by way of Mecca with the pilgrim caravan for safety. But the days
1 He quoted as a command from the Mehdi, Sura xx. 61,
where Moses appointed the feast-day for his meeting with Pharaoh.
2 We met with the same savagery on the part of the women
in the battle of Al-Kadisiya, but then against the infidels. What adds point, if that
were possible, to the inhumanity on the present occasion, is that the victims were of
their own faith, and were returning from performance of the highest function of the
1 He quoted as a command from the Mehdi, Sura xx. 61,
where Moses appointed the feast-day for his meeting with Pharaoh.
2 We met with the same savagery on the part of the women in the battle of Al-Kadisiya, but then against the infidels. What adds point, if that were possible, to the inhumanity on the present occasion, is that the victims were of their own faith, and were returning from performance of the highest function of the Muslim worship.
of this reprobate were drawing to an end. A Turkish general, Wasif, sent by the Caliph Al-Muktafi with a great army, after two days' desperate fighting, discomfited the fanatic host and dispersed it with great slaughter. Zikraweih, taken prisoner, died of his wounds before reaching Bagdad, and the populace, eager for a cruel spectacle, had to be satisfied with the sight of his lifeless body. The fragments of the rebel army were pursued into Syria, where they were dispersed by Al-Hosein ibn Hamdan.
In the following reign we come upon even more fearful outbreaks of the savage fanatics who still held the province of Al-Bahrein. Early in the fourth century, their chief Suleiman was induced to make a diversion in favour of the Fatimid ruler in Africa (of whom more below); and thereupon stormed and sacked Al-Basra.
A few years after, in 311 AH. (923 AD.), he surprised that unfortunate city again by night, and for seventeen days made it the scene of fire, and blood, and rapine. It was not till the approach of troops from Bagdad, that the Carmathians retired laden with spoil and multitudes of captives whom they sold as slaves. The pilgrim caravans were again the object of savage attack; successive companies treated with brutal cruelty as before; thousands plundered, slain, or taken captive.
One caravan of 7000 was pursued and scattered close to Al-Kufa; the city was stormed, and for six days subjected to like treatment as Al-Basra. Suleiman had then the insolence to demand the government of Al-Ahwaz, and being refused, spread his followers over Mesopotamia and Al-'Irak. The divine promise of victory inscribed on his white banner1 waving over the fanatics, nerved them to beat back over and over again the Caliph's armies led by his best generals, and even to threaten the Capital itself. The affrighted inhabitants fled across the river to the eastern quarter, and on one occasion to the hills beyond. Rapine and terror were thus the fate of the unhappy land for three or four years. At last suffering defeat, the fanatic host withdrew into Arabia; but only to renew their horrid outrages at Mecca. The Holy City was given up to plunder; and so little
1 It had this text as its legend; WE (the Most High)
desire to show Our favour unto those who are weak in the land, and make them
leaders and heirs (of the kingdom). Sura xxviii. 4.
1 It had this text as its legend; WE (the Most High) desire to show Our favour unto those who are weak in the land, and make them leaders and heirs (of the kingdom). Sura xxviii. 4.
regard shown to the sacred places, that bodies of the slain were cast into the sacred well Zemzem The Ka'ba itself was robbed of its precious things, and to crown the sacrilege the Black Stone was, in 929 A.D., carried off to Hejer, and not restored for above twenty years. The Fatimid Caliph, whose authority they recognised, now interfered from the West to stay the scandal and ravages of the Carmathians, which hitherto had been of service to turn against the Caliphate of Bagdad. Suleiman returned to Hejer, and we hear little more of him. But the Carmathians still survived. Some years afterwards they again attacked the pilgrims, and plundered Al-Kufa.
After this they fell into dissensions; but they must long have retained a strong hold of Syria, for in 360 A.H. we find them joining in a league with the Caliph to oust the Fatimids from that province; and the Fatimids were obliged to appease them by a yearly tribute. Some fifteen or twenty years later they are again mentioned in connection with the struggles that were prolonged for many years in Asia Minor and Egypt; and, strangely enough, it was a Carmathian who ruled in Al-Multan when, in 396 A.H., it was taken by Mahmud.1
It will be convenient here to notice another branch of the Isma'ilis from which sprang the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt. The new transcendental doctrine was widely spread in Southern Arabia, and its votaries so grew in power that their leader gained possession of the Yemen and San'a. A propaganda was started amongst the Berbers of North Africa, for which the Idrisid success had prepared the way. One of the missionaries (da'i, pl. du'ah) was Abu 'Abdallah, who had been sent out by Mohammad, son of 'Abdallah ibn Meimun, founder of the Isma'ilis. There, following up the canvass of previous missionaries, this emissary played a rôle of unexampled and romantic success. He found the Berbers so ready for the call, that he drew vast crowds after him, by their help defeated the Aghlabid dynasty, and after much fighting gained possession of their capital and kingdom. He preached the impending advent of the Mehdi, and to meet the expectation so raised, summoned Sa'id the son of his deceased master Mohammad. Sa'id came, but
1 On the whole subject see De Goeje,
Carmathes du Bahrain.
1 On the whole subject see De Goeje, Carmathes du Bahrain.
not under his real name. He claimed to be descended from the Imam Isma'il, and called himself 'Obeidallah. The adventures of this Mehdi in his flight through Egypt and wanderings as a merchant with a caravan to Tripoli, form quite a romance of themselves. Suspected by the Aghlabis, he was cast into prison, and so remained till released by the victorious Abu 'Abdallah, who for a time professed to be in doubt whether 'Obeidallah were the veritable Mehdi or not.
At last, however, he placed him on the throne, and himself reaped the not unfrequent fruit of disinterested labours in the founding of a dynasty; for he was assassinated by command of the Monarch who owed to him his throne, but had now become jealous of his influence.
Assuming the title, Commander of the Faithful, 'Obeidallah, in virtue of his alleged descent from the Prophet's daughter Fatima, became the Fatimid Caliph of a kingdom which embraced both the dominions heretofore held by the Aghlabid dynasty, and the nearer districts of the Caliphate bordering on the Mediterranean. Its capital was Al-Mehdiya near Tunis the "Africa" of Froissart. The name means "belonging to the Mehdi."
He made repeated attempts to gain Egypt also, but was repulsed by Munis, Al-Muktadir's commander there. Some fifty years later, however, both Syria and Egypt were conquered by his followers, and the foundations laid firm on the Fatimid anti-Caliphate. A literary duel then opened between Fustat and Bagdad on the purity of 'Obeidallah's descent from 'Ali and Fatima, on which the claims of the Egyptian dynasty rested. The heated debate was maintained long after its political moment had ceased The Fatimid anti-Caliphate lasted from 909 to 1171 A.D.
When the Fatimid dynasty had passed away, the Isma'ili faith was banished from Egypt by Saladin, who was strictly orthodox in his profession. Another branch of the superstition, however, still curiously survives, that namely of the Druses.1 This strange sect was established, early in the fifth century, by the impious Fatimid, Al-Hakim, whom the Druses were encouraged to worship as an incarnation of the Deity. Driven from Egypt by his successor, they retired to
1 Cf. De Sacy, Chrestomathie Arabe,
vol. ii. pp. 191 ff. and Expose de la Religion des Druzes.
1 Cf. De Sacy, Chrestomathie Arabe, vol. ii. pp. 191 ff. and Expose de la Religion des Druzes.
the heights of the Lebanon, where they still look for the return of their Caliph, the divine Hakim.
About the same time another offset of the faith was established by a Persian fanatic, which, under the title of Assassins,1 long held in check the princes of the East and earned for themselves an unenviable fame in the days of the Crusaders. They retired on the invasion of the Mongols, but still survive a small and now an inoffensive sect in the Lebanon and elsewhere.
In the midst of all this strife of parties the orthodox Muslim faith was reasserted about the year 300 A.H. by Abu'l-Hasan al-Ash'ari, who made use of the scholasticism of the Mo'tazila against themselves. The latter gradually disappeared from history, while the teaching of Al-Ash'ari won always wider acknowledgment. The Arabic word for "scholasticism" is kalam, the scholastics being the Mutakallimin.
On the other hand the Mo'tazili freethought seemed to spring to life again in the Society of the Ikhwan as-Safa ("Brothers of Purity"), or Encyclopædists, who under the protection of the Shi'a Buweihids, published about the year 970 A.D. some fifty tracts, intended to reconcile Science with Religion, and Islam with Greek philosophy. They followed up the work of Al-Farabi and led up to that of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), and, transported to the West, they gave rise to the famous disputation of the Nominalists and Realists of the Christian schoolmen.
1 Hashishin, the same that arose from the drug
Hashish to which they were addicted. They were long the terror of the East for
the treacherous use of the dagger, both for the fanatical ends of their sect, and also
as hired assassins. The Assassins of Syria have never entirely disappeared. Even at
this day they are to he found in the Lebanon. Some representatives of the sect also
exist in Persia, and even in Zanzibar; but since the thirteenth century they have
become inoffensive. Enc. Britt. 9th ed. vol. xvi. p.594.
1 Hashishin, the same that arose from the drug Hashish to which they were addicted. They were long the terror of the East for the treacherous use of the dagger, both for the fanatical ends of their sect, and also as hired assassins. The Assassins of Syria have never entirely disappeared. Even at this day they are to he found in the Lebanon. Some representatives of the sect also exist in Persia, and even in Zanzibar; but since the thirteenth century they have become inoffensive. Enc. Britt. 9th ed. vol. xvi. p.594.
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