THE first to enter the apartments of Ayisha, after the death of Muhammad, was Omar, who, glancing at the calm, placid countenance of his departed friend, could scarce bring himself to believe that the hand of death had robbed Arabia of its Prophet. "Verily, by the Lord, he shall return," was the honest, but self-deceiving exclamation of the fervent Muslim, as he rushed into the Mosque and harangued the assembled awe-stricken multitude. The chamber of death then received another entrant-the faithful Abu Bakr, who, hastening from his home, rushed to the apartment where the Prophet lay stretched a stiffened corpse; gently removing the coverlet, he stooped down and kissed the cheeks of the scarce cold frame-the kiss of devotion at once dissipated all doubt. "Yes, thou art dead! Alas! my friend, my chosen one-dearer than father or mother to me! Thou hast tasted the bitter pains of death, and thou art too precious in the sight of the Lord that he should give thee this cup a second time to drink." Repairing to the Mosque, he bid the excited Omar cease his frenzied exhortations. "Let him know," so taught the calmer of the two preachers in the temple, "whosoever worshippeth Muhammad, that Muhammad indeed is dead; but whoso worshippeth God, let him know that the Lord liveth, and doth not die." The familiar voice of Abu Bakr recalled his companion to his senses.
By the Lord," he used to exclaim in after years, "it was so, that when I heard Abu Bakr reciting those verses, I was horror-struck, my limbs trembled, I dropped down, and I knew of a certainty that Muhammad indeed was dead.
"A contention now arose between the people of Mecca and Madina as to the succession to the chief command-the crisis was serious-the fate of Islam depended on the issue; Abu Bakr pleaded that the Arabs would not recognize a successor save he belonged to the tribe of Quraish; but the indignant citizens of Madina rejected the idea with scorn, claiming their right to choose their own leader, even should the command be divided. "That can never be," was the stern rejoinder; "so choose ye whom ye will of these two," saying which he led forward Omar, and a bystander, by name Abu Obaida, "and do allegiance to him." But the generous-minded Omar refused the proffered honour. "Did not the Prophet himself command that thou, O Abu Bakr, shouldest lead the prayers? Thou art our Master, and to thee we pledge our allegiance, thou whom the Prophet loved the best amongst us all!" The clear, powerful voice of Omar disarmed opposition, and Abu Bakr was saluted as the "Khalif" or successor of the deceased Prophet.
On the morrow, the quondam rivals repaired to the Mosque, where Omar, addressing the great assemblage, bid them swear allegiance to the companion of the Prophet, "the second of the two when they were in the cave alone." The people flocked around the new Khalif, and one by one paid homage to the chosen of God. Abu Bakr then delivered himself of an inaugural address, the words of which were well chosen, and the sentiments therein no less noble.
"Ye people! now, verily, I have become the chief over you, although I am not the best amongst you. If I do well, support me; if I err, then set me right. In sincerity is faithfulness, and in falsehood perfidy. The weak and oppressed among you in my sight shall be strong, until I restore his
right unto him, if the Lord will; and the strong oppressor among you shall be weak until I wrest from him that which he bath usurped. Now hearken to me: when a people leaveth off to fight in the ways of the Lord, He casteth them away in disgrace; know also that wickedness never aboundeth in any nation, but the Lord visiteth it with calamity. Wherefore, obey ye me, even as I obey the Lord and his Apostle. Whensoever I disobey, then obedience is no longer obligatory upon you. Arise to prayers and the Lord have mercy on you."
Scarce had Abu Bakr been installed as Leader of the Faithful, than the Arabs in various regions, seized the opportunity which the death of the Prophet afforded, of refusing to pay alms to the Khalif, as enjoined by the Muhammadan law. Chief amongst the offenders was Malek ibn Nuwaira. To bring the recusant to submission, Khalid, "the sword of God," as he is designated by Greek and Arab historians- was sent "to talk with him" about "the matter." The refractory chief at once avowed that "he could say his prayers without paying that," a remark which so incensed the zealous Muslim warrior, that he at once resolved upon the death of the outspoken opponent of Islam. Seeing that escape was hopeless, Malek turned round and looking upon his wife, a woman of surpassing beauty, exclaimed, "This woman has killed me. "Nay," said Khalid, "God has killed thee, because of thy apostacy from the true religion." "I profess the true Religion," was the ready rejoinder-but the headless trunk of the victim told in language which could not be misunderstood, that backsliding held no place in the faith of the early followers of Muhammad.
A more serious matter however, soon engaged the attention of the "Defender of the Faith." During the last year of Muhammad's life, a person of the name of Mosailam set up as a Prophet of Islam, and gave forth a book in imitation of the Quran. His power was not at first considerable, but the events of the year had added to the number of his followers, and now (A.D. 632) he began to be so formidable an opponent,
that it became necessary to despatch a body of troops to Yamama, a province of Arabia, where he had established himself. Accordingly Khalid and other commanders were sent forth at the head of an army of upwards of 40,000 Muslims; the combatants met at a place called Aqraba, where a furious battle ensued, but at length Mosailam was pierced with a javelin, and the loss of their leader was soon followed by the defeat of his adherents, ten thousand of whose corpses testified to the zeal with which they fought in defence of their religion.
Abu Bakr having thus set matters at home in order bethought himself of the injunctions of the Prophet that "true Muslims must fight till all people were of the true religion;" accordingly, summoning together his followers and pointing out the success which had already attended their arms, he enquired whether it was their wish to carry the war into the region of Syria. Meeting with a ready response to a proposal so much in accordance with the4'pious zeal of the enthusiastic converts to the religion of the Prophet, Abu Bakr at once sent a circular letter to all the leading men in Arabia acquainting them with his design, and bidding them remember that "fighting for Religion is an act of obedience to God.” A large array of warriors was the response to this exhortation appointing as general of the forces Yazid, -Abu Sufiyan, for many a lengthened year the bitter enemy of Muhammad, he sent them forth to conquer or to die." It soon became evident that the troops of the decaying Empire of Rome were no match for the hardy and inspirited soldiers enrolled under the banner of Islam, and victory bestowed her favours upon those who most deserved them. Encouraged by the success which attended these efforts, Abu Bakr found no difficulty in inducing the inhabitants of Mecca to emulate the deeds of their brethren of Madina, and another army under the command originally of Said ibn Khalid, but subsequently of Amru, famous in after years as the conqueror of Egypt, was despatched to swell the ranks
of the Faithful in the regions of Syria. The command of the united forces was placed in the hands of Abu Obaida, whose piety did not unfortunately counter-balance his want of military experience; so after a while he was replaced by the valiant and courageous Khalid. City after city was now compelled to open its gates to the all-conquering Saracens-the name by which the Muslim warriors are known to history. One town alone had the courage to resist. Bostra, a populous and wealthy mart, where the commerce of Syria, Iraq and the Hijaz, poured riches into the lap of luxury, was rash enough to refuse to listen to the overtures of the Muslims that she should surrender her faith and her liberty. Trusting to the solid walls which encompassed the town, the inhabitants prepared to resist; at the first, success attended them, and encouraged by the reverses which befell the Saracens, they were emboldened to sally forth and encamp in the plain. But the goddess of victory, fickle in her favours, deserted the Bostra standard, and the ramparts of the town ere long towered down upon the mangled corpses of her faithful citizens. A religion of peace could ill contend with a creed in which fighting was an article of faith ; the cross of Christianity had been vanquished by the crescent of Islam. Still the people, though defeated, were not subdued; but the perfidy of the governor, Romanus by name, completed what the zeal of Khalid and his soldiers had commenced. Wrapped in a coat wrought with gold, the faithless traitor proceeded in the dead of night to the camp of the Muslims, and offered to deliver up the town, which he had sworn to defend; his overtures were accepted, and a hundred intrepid warriors returned with him to his house, whence they emerged disguised as Christians to wreak vengeance upon the unsuspecting defenders of the city. The issue could not be doubtful, but the verdict of mankind has branded with infamy and disgrace the name of an apostate, who was a traitor to his sovereign, his subjects, and his God.
The redoubtable Saracens now turned their steps towards Damascus, the rich and flourishing capital of Syria, to which city they laid siege. The Roman Emperor Heraclius, beginning to get alarmed at the success which befell the Muslim arms, despatched a band of 5,000 men under a general of the name of Calous, to the assistance of the beleagured town. At the onset the Christians despised their enemies, and did not hesitate to sally forth in the plain ; but the trunkless heads of their general, and of the governor, which were thrown over the wall by the victorious Muslims, soon caused the trembling followers of the Cross to realize that their only chance of safety lay within the ramparts which towered above them. They contrived, however, to despatch a messenger at night to apprize the Emperor of the fate of his general, whereupon an army of 100,000 men under the command of Wardan, was sent to relieve Damascus. For a while success inclined towards the Saracens, and the famous Dirar, one of the boldest and most intrepid warriors that ever did battle for the crescent of Islam, was wounded by the son of the Grecian general; but his Saracen antagonist incensed at the outrage, drove his lance through the hapless youth with such violence that the point was left sticking in the bone, and the Roman hero tumbled a lifeless corpse on the plain. The Muslim, however, was weakened with loss of blood, and fell into the hands of his enemies. The Saracens now made the most strenuous efforts to turn the tide of fortune, and the valour of Khalid compensated for the captivity of Dirar. At length the Grecian army, no longer able to withstand the furious onslaughts of their intrepid antagonists, began to waver. The Muslims pursued them for a while till having rescued Dirar from the hands of his enemies they ceased from further efforts, and returned to Damascus.
The Emperor Heraclius had no disposition to part with his possessions in Syria, and the capture of Damascus could of necessity mean nothing less than the loss of the region of which it was the capital; so he for a The Successors of Muhammad.
second time despatched Wardan at the head of an army of 70,000 soldiers to raise the siege of the city. Matters now began to assume a serious aspect for the Saracens, whose forces were not only diminished by war but scattered over the country, some at Balka, on the confines of Syria; others in Palestine, while a third body of men was in Iraq. It became necessary, therefore, to concentrate the troops thus distributed over a large expanse of territory, and accordingly Khalid penned a letter to the various commanders, apprising them that a vast army had come forth "that they might extinguish the light of God with their mouths," and bidding all friends of the Faithful to repair without delay to a certain spot. The letter met with a ready response, and 45,000 Muslims joined the hand of fellowship in the appointed locality on the appointed day, the 13th July, AD. 633, an occasion memorable in the annals of Islam.
Meanwhile, news had reached the inhabitants of Damascus that succour was at hand; this intelligence encouraged the citizens to sally forth in the hope of overpowering their enemies. Falling upon the rear of the Saracens the Christian soldiers seized a rich spoil of wealth and baggage, while numerous captives were taken back as prizes to the victors. Amongst the number was Qaula, the sister of Dirar, a woman endowed with a vigour of frame and energy of mind which would not have disgraced her scarce more valiant brother. Summoning her sister captives, she bade them "die honourably rather than live scandalously;" whereupon, forming themselves into a circle, they armed themselves with tent-poles, and the shattered skull of many a noble of Damascus, who with amorous step had ventured to approach the noble-minded Saracen heroines, betokened that to a maiden of Arabia honour was no less precious than life. Thus were they defending themselves from the p6lluted touch of the Christian debauchees, when the victorious swords of their Saracen brethren completed the work which the tent-poles, in the hands of their
maidens, had so heroically commenced; and in an incredibly short space of time three thousand lifeless frames bit the dust, under the lance of Khalid and his avenging band.
Hastening to the field of Aiznadin, where the scattered forces of the Saracens were now united to give battle to the troops of Imperial Rome, the Muslim leader rode through the ranks of his men, bidding them "Fight in good earnest and take religious part." Nor was Wardan less zealous amongst the cohorts under his charge. "Call upon Christ and he will help you," was the encouraging exhortation to soldiers to whom it was pointed out" for their comfort" that they mustered three to one as compared with the army of the Infidels. Before the battle commenced Dirar, ever ready to undertake an enterprise of hazard and danger, was sent to gain tidings of the enemy; he was surprised by Wardan as the latter was riding on a white mule decorated with the gold which embellished the purple of Imperial Rome. Seeing a "fierce and naked " warrior scouring the plain the Christian General bid some of the Emperor's soldiers fall upon him. But of the thirty who ventured upon the errand, seventeen soon lay in the dust, some unhorsed, some in the agonies of death, while Dirar returned in safety to receive the censures of his General. "Did not I warn you not to fight without order," was the hesitating rebuke of the more sober-minded Khalid. "Nay," said Dirar, "I did not begin first, but they came out to take me, and I was afraid that God should see me turn my back." A venerable Greek now offered to purchase the departure of the Saracens by a gift to each soldier of a turban, a robe, and a piece of gold, while their leaders were to receive ten robes and a hundred pieces of the precious metal; one hundred robes, and a thousand coins being reserved for the Khalif. "Ye Christian dogs," was the scornful reply, "you know your option, the Quran, the tribute, or the sword. We are a people whose delight is in war, rather than in peace, and we despise your
pitiful alms, since we shall be speedily masters of your wealth, your families and your persons." But in good truth, the Muslim Commander was deeply conscious of the danger which impended. "You see before you," said he to his impatient troops, "the united force of the Romans; you cannot hope to escape, but you may conquer Syria in a single day."
The General of the Roman army now bethought himself to gain by stratagem what he had not as yet achieved by force of arms, and endeavoured to entrap the leader of the Saracens, so as the more easily to bring destruction upon his followers. The device which was planned was revealed by a traitor, and punishment recoiled upon the plotting Wardan, whose head was destined to grace the spear of the honest-minded and valiant Khalid. "There is no security where there is no faith kept," was the laconic exclamation of the Muslim, as he cast in the dust the lifeless trunk of the Christian dog. The death of their leader was as usual, the signal of defeat, and the corpses of 50,000 followers of the Cross, which lay strewn on the field of battle, testified that the apathy of the Imperial Rome was no match for the enthusiastic fervour of the newly-founded faith of Mecca.
The Saracens were now at liberty to resume the siege of Damascus. Despair would have induced the citizens to capitulate, but the valour of the Emperor's son-in-law, a noble of the name of Thomas, infused new life into the Christian defenders of the town, and it was determined to make a sally. Innumerable lights placed upon the turrets betokened that something unusual was at hand, and the morning found both the followers of the Cross and the Crescent engaged in invoking the help of the Powers on High. Thomas, an incomparable archer, was ever in the thickest of the fight, and many a son of the Faithful closed his eyes in death, pierced with an arrow from the unerring bow of the lion-hearted Christian marksman. Among the rest a bridegroom from amongst the leaders of the Saracen Army, lay on the field of battle, mortally wounded by a dart from the
same hand. Vowing vengeance, the incensed and desolate bride, scarcely waiting to bury her husband, hastily seized a bow and quiver; her first arrow pierced the hand of the standard-bearer, while the second shot out the eye of the "Christian dog" who had slain her husband, so that the hapless Thomas was thereupon forced to withdraw into the city. The fight was continued till the evening, when the Arabians rested for a while ; but the intrepid soul of the Emperor's son-in-law thirsted for the destruction of his enemies, and at his instigation, at a given signal, in the dead of the night, all the gates of Damascus were thrown open and a general attack was made upon the Saracen camp. But the activity of Khalid-the sword of God-counterbalanced the impetuosity of his scarcely less illustrious Christian brother-in-arms. Ejaculating a short prayer to "the God who never sleepeth," the Meccan General seizing his arms, led his troops to the front. The battle waged furious but at length fortune deserted the unfortunate Damascenes, and once again they were compelled to betake themselves within the ramparts. The siege had now lasted for seventy days, and it became more and more evident that the city could not hope much longer to hold out against the insatiate fury of the followers of the Prophet. So a party of deputies, at the hour of midnight, sought the protection of Abu Obaida - a leader whose mild and gentle character had inspired the beleaguered garrison with respect and admiration. Their request was granted, and the city was spared; but meanwhile the impetuous Khalid had been conducted into Damascus by a renegade priest, who professed to have read in the book of Daniel the impending doom of the town; the relentless warrior put to the sword all who came across his path, and the blood of the Christians streamed like water down the streets of proud Syria's prouder capital. Thus fell Damascus on 6th August, A.D. 634.
The Muslim Khalif, however, was not destined to receive these tidings of great joy, for on the very day
on which the black eagle of the Saracenic troops waved over the ramparts of the doomed city, Abu Bakr was seized with a serious illness, occasioned as some suppose by the imprudent use of a bath on a cold day. Fever ensued, and the successor of Muhammad feeling that his end was at hand, called his secretary and gave written directions that "Omar should sit on the throne of power;” for fifteen days he battled with death, but the issue was never doubtful. On the 6th August, A.D. 634, Islam was called upon to mourn the loss of the leader of the Faithful, whose death occurred at the age of sixty-three. For more than two years he had held the sword of dominion, yet such was the simplicity and uprightness of his disposition that the lord of the Saracen monarchy at his decease was possessed of but five gold coins-the savings of a lifetime! As to the rest he had distributed amongst the public, what the public had acquired. Well may Omar have exclaimed that "he had left his successor a hard pattern." Such was Abu Bakr whose pious zeal gained for him a niche in the temple of fame, far more honourable and renowned than attached to his rank as Khalif, in that he was the first who gathered together the scattered chapters of the Quran, a work consecrated by the devotions of untold myriads, who regard it with a veneration and esteem which command admiration and deserve respect; a work which is the prized heritage of every follower of the Prophet, who penned its sacred pages and indited its holy ordinances.
The same day (6th August, A.D. 634) that Abu Bakr died, Omar was invested with regal dignity, and saluted by universal consent as "Amiru'l Momanin" the Emperor of the Believers - a title first used on his accession, but afterwards universally adopted by succeeding Khalifs. The lust of conquest had at this time
seized the minds of the Saracens, and an invasion of the lands of Persia around the Euphrates was the field selected to give vent to the aspirations of the warriors of Islam; but matters did not prosper, and it became necessary to raise new levies to succour their brethren in adversity. At this juncture things took a turn for the better; and the Persians in these circumstances, attributing their defeat to the Monarch who ruled over them, deposed Queen Arzamidakht, and raised Yazdagird to the throne of the Chosroes; the newly elected king made a vigorous effort to disperse the Saracens, then overrunning his dominions, but in vain, and the loss of two armies betokend that some more vigorous measures were needed than a change of dynasty.
Meanwhile the conquerors of Damascus were not idle. In the region around Tripoli, about 30 miles from the Syrian capital, was a holy spot known as Dair Abi'l Qudus, or "Monastery of the Holy Father," tenanted by a priest eminent for his singular learning, piety, and austerity of life; thither persons of all degrees used to resort to receive the blessings of this earthly saint. It happened at this time that the Prefect of Tripoli had married his daughter to a grandee, and had sent the young lady to receive the communion at the hands of the revered priest. The occasion was great, and the assemblage large. Moved by the rich harvest of plunder, a body of five hundred Saracens bore down suddenly upon the astonished penitents; in a few moments the standard of Islam waved proudly amongst the unresisting multitude of Christians; but the audacity of surprise had but a short-lived glory, and after a few moments of victory the small but enthusiastic band of Muslims was hemmed in on every side like "a white spot in the skin of a black camel." In this crisis Khalid came to the rescue; after the siege of Damascus and the pursuit of its inhabitants for many miles into the territories of the Emperor of Rome, the "Sword of God" had been censured for his rashness, and deprived
of his command, which was made over to Abu Obaida; but the occasion was now serious, so swearing with an oath that if the command of the army had been given to a "child he would have obeyed him," Khalid buckled on his armour, and flew to the rescue of his comrades in arms. His presence turned the tide in favour of the Arabians.
"The Christians," says the historian of the Roman Empire; "were broken by his attack, and slaughtered in their flight as far as the river of Tripoli. They left behind them the various riches of the fair; the merchandises that were exposed for sale, the money that was brought for purchase, the gay decorations of the nuptials, and the governor's daughter, with forty of her female attendants. The fruits, provisions, and furniture, the money, plate, and jewels were diligently laden on the backs of horses, asses, and mules; and the holy robbers returned in triumph to Damascus. The hermit, after a short and angry controversy with Khalid, declined the crown of martyrdom, and was left alive in the solitary scene of blood and devastation."
Town after town now fell into the hands of the followers of the Prophet. Heliopolis the capital of the valley, and Hems the metropolis of the plain, alike threw open their gates to the conquerors of the Cross. Of minor cities, some were taken by treachery, while others endeavoured by a speedy capitulation to secure the protection which their valour had not the means of attaining. Heraclius, wearied with the constant and uninterrupted succession of messengers bringing ill news, and alarmed lest the Roman Empire should become the scorn of barbarian insolence, resolved to make a vigorous effort to regain his authority; so collecting troops from all parts he gathered together a mighty army consisting of upwards of fourscore thousand soldiers; while on the principle that "there is nothing like a diamond to cut diamond," the cavalcade of warriors was swelled by the presence of 60,000 light troops composed of Christian Arabs. The command of this, the mightiest army which had ever been
gathered in the regions of Syria, was placed in the hands of a general named Mahan. Both sides now prepared for the fight which was to determine the fate of the land. On this momentous occasion Khalid assumed his station in the front, while Abu Obaida was posted in the rear, under the shade of the yellow banner which the Prophet of Arabia had displayed beneath the walls of Khaibar. The last line was occupied by a phalanx of female warriors, whose presence lent to the weak-hearted amongst the Saracen hosts the enthusiasm of shame. The exhortation of Muslim generals was brief and characteristic: "Paradise is before you; the devil and hell-fire in your rear." The Christians fought furiously, and thrice the shattered ranks of the Arabs were broken ; but the reproaches of the women drove back the wavering soldiers to the charge. It was the hardest and the most doubtftil of the days which the veterans of the Muslim army had yet witnessed, and it is related that apart from those which were slain, no less than 700 testified by the loss of an eye that the dogs of Christians were no mean handlers of the bow. At length Mahan's vast army gave way before their enemies, and thousands upon thousands thereupon fell by the swords of the Arabs, so that the waters of the river became stained with the blood of the Christians ruthlessly slaughtered by a relentless foe, who neither sought nor gave quarter on the field of battle. Such was the memorable battle (Nov. A.D. 636) which broke the power of Imperial Rome, and made the Saracens masters of the regions of Syria.
The Muslim leaders now turned the eye of conquest towards Jerusalem, a city sacred alike to the followers of the Cross and the Crescent; sanctified to each by the memory of the Prophet in whom they trusted. Yazid, the Muhammadan general, was accordingly directed to "sit down” before the town; but at the lapse of ten days he had made no impression against its stout walls and massive ramparts. How
ever, on the eleventh morning Abu Obaida came up with the remainder of the army, and at once sent a summons to the inhabitants to embrace tbe religion of Islam, else, said the zealous warrior "I shall bring men against you who love death better than you do the drinking of wine, or eating hog's flesh." But Jerusalem was strongly situated, amidst deep valleys and steep ascents, and the people having added to the defences of nature the fortifications of art, determined upon resistance. For four weary months the besiegers endured the sallies and assaults of the "Christian dogs," while the inclemency of the season added to the hardships suffered by the Saracen troops; yet not a murmur escaped the lips of the faithful veterans, and it became evident to the Patriarch who ruled within the city, that with such determined foes, the capture of Jerusalem could be but a matter of time: persuaded of this, Sempronius betook himself to the wall and tried, but in vain, to dissuade the Muslims from their purpose. In his extremity he agreed to capitulate on the condition that the Khalif himself should be present on the occasion-the Holy City of the Cross would submit to none but the noblest and most sacred representative of the Crescent. The council at Madina decided to gratify the whim of the infidel, and the mighty "Emperor of the Faithful," whose wish was law, whose nod was death, started on his journey with but a handful of attendants, the greater part of whom moreover, eventually, on the way returned back to their own homes. The successor of the Prophet of Arabia rode upon a red camel on which were slung a couple of sacks, containing corn and fruit for the way, while a leathern bottle and a large wooden platter completed the modest equipment of the conqueror of Syria and Persia. Whenever he halted, his scanty band of fellow travellers joined without distinction in the frugal repast; and the power attaching to the position of Khalif was only discernible by the circumstance that, as opportunities presented themselves, Omar took occasion to reform the errors and
correct the vices of the people amongst whom he journeyed. On arriving at the city, he met several Muslims clad in the rich silks which had fallen into their hands as booty of war; but the plain simplicity of the zealot could ill brook the pride of his sumptuously arrayed followers, whom he indignantly caused to be dragged in the mire, their cloths being at the same time rent in pieces before their eyes. Seated in a tent constructed of a material woven from coarse camels' hair, the Lord of the Saracen world received the submission of the sacred city of Jerusalem, and the year (A.D. 637) was not destined to expire ere a mosque dedicated to the worship of the God of Arabia stood on the spot where the temple of Solomon, since then unknown, even in its ruins, was hallowed in the memories of the pious Israelites by the glories and traditions of the national greatness of which it was an emblem. Good reason had the Muslim in the arrogance of conquest to exclaim, as he pointed with the finger of pride, to the edifice which his zeal and piety had erected "Behold a greater than Solomon is here."
The next city to feel the weight of the Saracen might was Aleppo: but the town was situated in a position of great strength and defended by a governor Youkinna by name-of determination and courage. For five months in the year 638 of the Christian era, the fortress resisted all the attacks of the Muslim soldiers; the loss on the part of the garrison was, it is true, immense, but still the resolute defenders held out, and it was reserved for the enterprise of a single soldier to accomplish what was denied to the courage of an army of veteran warriors. It chanced that amongst the Arabs who were sent by the Khalif to reinforce the Saracen army was a certain slave called Dames, a man of gigantic stature and indomitable energy-accompanied by thirty dauntless comrades. This prodigy of valour and daring planted himself, in the dead of the night, beneath the ramparts of the castle; standing with his back against the wall the huge frame of the
herculean slave formed a support for his companions, who mounted on his shoulders, each one climbing above his fellow, till the human ladder reached the top of the tower; stabbing the watchman, the Muslims linked their turbans, and one after another the whole of the band was drawn up. This daring feat successfully accomplished, the guard was at once overpowered, the bolts of the drawbridge were undrawn, and at dawn of day the Saracen standard waved proudly above the towers of Christian Aleppo. But the cup of bitterness had further to be quaffed by the people who ate hog's flesh and drank wine. Discouraged by the success which everywhere attended the arms of the warriors from Arabia, the luxurious city of Antioch was, in turn, glad to purchase her ransom for 300,000 pieces of gold, and on the 21st day of August in the year of grace 638, the glory of Caesar passed under the yoke of victorious Islam.
Matters were now becoming serious for the Roman Empire; to such an extent indeed did the danger press, that finding himself encompassed by traitors, neither the sense of shame nor the importunities of his people could inspire with zeal the indolently disposed Emperor Heraclius, who, secretly embarking with a few attendants bid an eternal farewell to the land of Syria, leaving his eldest son Constantine as an unequal champion against the forces of the ever-victorious Arabian hordes. The newly acceded monarch endeavoured to act with vigour, and encamping at Caesarea, made a show of preparing for the defence of the town; but shortly after he had reached the city, hearing of the loss of Tripoli and Tyre, both of which had been betrayed into the hands of the enemy, his heart failed him, and, embarking in the night, the Roman Prince followed the example of his father; and quitting the land he had been left to defend, sought refuge and security in the luxurious and effeminate palaces of Constantinople. The hapless citizens of Caesarea thus deserted by their sovereign, at once surrendered,
and sought to propitiate their stern conquerors with an offering of 200 pieces of gold. The contagion of submission thereupon spread rapidly throughout the regions of the land, and the year of our Lord 639 witnessed the entire subjugation of the populous and wealthy plains of Syria.
For a lengthened period the insatiate Saracens had thirsted for the conquest of the rich and noble cities of Egypt, but their national architecture was solid, and the Nile with its innumerable branches formed an insuperable barrier to the progress of the Mussulman warriors. After a while, however, the ardour of the famous Amru, famous alike owing to the baseness of his birth and the prowess of his sword, could brook no restraint. After a siege of thirty days he captured Farma, a key which unlocked the entrance of the country to his faithful followers. He then proceeded to invest Memphis, the ancient capital of the Ptolemies and Caesars. For seven months the Arabian engines of war battered in vain the walls of the devoted town, and the delay had been so great that the time was now nigh at hand when the rising of the Nile would encompass the invaders with destruction. Even the hardy daring and unconquerable energy of the heroes of Islam could not resist the attacks of nature, the only foe to whom they bowed the knee of submission and defeat. At this critical juncture, Omar's lieutenant resolved to "do or die"; so making a bold and vigorous assault, he drove the Greeks to their boats, and the Pyramids of Egypt were destined to look down upon the Mosque which the pious zeal of the Muslim conquerer erected to consecrate the victory, and hallow the capture in the eyes of his fiery followers.
The Saracens at this time found in the heart of the country an alliance as unexpected as it was valuable. The Coptic Christians, a sect whom the persecutions of the Emperors of Rome had converted into a nation, welcomed the Muslim conquerers as their deliverers, and swore allegiance to the Khalif. This important
defection from the ranks of the Cross enabled Amru to concentrate all his energies upon the siege of Alexandria, at that time the emporium of the world. The Arabs behaved like lions, but the besieged were fighting for the dearest of human blessings-religion, property, and life-and a siege of fourteen months, during which the Muslims lost upwards of three.andtwenty thousand men, betokened the valour and courage of the defenders of the city. Still the finger of destiny had decreed that the Crescent of Islam should supplant the Eagle of Imperial Rome, and on the 22nd December A.D. 640, Amru was enabled to send to his master a missive, simple in expression but portentous with meaning, "I have taken the gre at city of the West." The capital of Egypt had, indeed, passed into the posses sion of the followers of the Prophet, with its palaces, its baths, its theatres, its shops, its houses. Alone amongst all the spoils of Alexandria the royal library had not been appropriated by the zeal of the conqueror. The boon was inestimable, and with earnest entreaties Philoponus, the learned custodian of these priceless treasures, pleaded against their destruction. Amru was in a measure inclined to gratify the wish of the man of letters, but refused to act otherwise than according to the mandate of the Khalif, his master. The answer of Omar is historical; it tarnished with infamy the escutcheon of a conqueror unwilling or unable to appreciate the precious trophy, the preservation of which would have lent glory to his reign and immortality to his moderation: "If these writings of the Greeks agree with the book of God, they are useless and need not be preserved: if they disagree they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed." So the incomparable collection which reflected the glory of the Ptolemies was used to light the fires of the baths of the city, and for six months the smouldering ashes of 700,000 volumes bore witness to the withering influence of bigotry and fanaticism.
The genius of Amru who united in his person the
qualities of warrior and administrator, turned his newly conquered territory into the granary of the Saracen world, and, when some time after his sway had commenced, a dearth overtook the land of Arabia, he was enabled to supply his famished brethren in the Peninsula with corn from Egypt: indeed native historians, whose zeal probably outran their veracity, would have it believed that the trains of camels laden with grain stretched in an unbroken line from Alexandria to Madina, a distance of some hundreds of miles! It will not occasion surprise that in these circumstances the Khalif, to whom the land was known only from the voice of fame and legend, became anxious to learn somewhat as to the kingdom of the Pharaohs ; the reply of the conqueror of the country to the inquiries of his master is too singular to pass unnoticed.
"O Commander of the Faithful! Egypt is a compound of black earth and green plants, between a pulverized mountain and a red sand. The distance from Syene to the sea is a month's journey for a horseman. Along the valley descends a river, on which the blessing of the Most High reposes both in the evening and the morning, and which rises and falls with the revolutions of the sun and moon. When the annual dispensation of Providence unlocks the springs and fountains earth the Nile rolls his swelling and sounding waters through the realm of Egypt; the fields are over- salutary flood; and the villagers communicate with each other in their painted barks. The retreat deposits a fertilizing mud for the revarious seeds; the crowds of husbandmen who may be compared to a swarm of industrious native indolence is quickened by the lash of the task-master, and the promise of the flowers and fruits of a plentiful increase. Their hope is seldom deceived; but the riches which they extract from the wheat, the barley and the rice, the legumes, the fruit trees, and the cattle, are unequally shared between those who labour and those who possess. According to the vicissitudes of the seasons the face of the country is adorned with a silver wave, a verdant emerald, or the deep yellow of a golden harvest."
Omar now ruled over a mighty Empire; his administration was impartial, his ears were open to the complaints of the meanest of his subjects, while in no case could the rank of any offender exempt him from punishment. Pious, grave, and abstinent, he commanded unbounded respect, and in the quaint words of a pious Muslim historian, "His walking stick struck more terror into those that were present than another man's sword." His veneration for the faith of which he was the head, may be gathered from the circumstance that he was the first to introduce the "Hijra," or flight from Mecca to Madina, as the era from which Muhammadan chronology is computed. But his inflexible sternness had given offence to a Persian, by name Firuz, who, belonging to the sect of Magi, had as such been compelled to pay to his Muslim masters a daily tribute of two pieces of silver. Thinking to obtain relief at least in part from the hateful impost, the man appealed to Omar; but the latter refused to listen to a suppliant who could well afford to expend what was demanded of him. Firuz, filled with resentment waited his opportunity, and whilst the Khalif was saying morning prayer in the mosque, the Persian stabbed the leader of the faithful thrice in the stomach with a dagger. The Saracens present on the occasion at once rushed upon the assassin; but thirteen of them soon lay low in the dust, seven of the number in the pangs of death, while the remaining six carried in their bodies to the end of their lives the marks of the Persian s revengeful weapon. At length one of the Muslims threw a vest over the murderer, who, finding himself at the mercy of his enemies, stabbed himself and fell at their feet a lifeless, quivering corpse. Omar lingered for three days and died (Nov. A.D. 644), after a reign of a little more than ten years, during which period the Empire over which he held sway had become enlarged by the powers of his generals, and the zeal and determination of his troops, to an extent that must have caused anxiety and alarm to the surrounding potentates3 who, a few short years
in the past, had rejected as the aberrations of a madman the overtures which the Prophet of Arabia had made to princes and kings who mocked his messengers, and laughed to scorn the babblings of their master. Islam -had now become a powerful factor in the history of the world.
While Omar lay on his deathbed, those around him endeavoured to persuade the dying Emperor of the Faithful to name a successor; but of the many names suggested to him, not one pleased the austere Khalif -.though eventually he was induced to mention six persons from amongst whom a selection was to be made within three days of his decease. This choice fell upon Othman, who succeeded to the Khalifat on the 6 Nov A.D. 644. Following the example of his predecessors, as soon as he had assumed the reins of power he sought to enlarge the dominions which owned the sway of Islam, and after a succession of minor expeditions, extending over a period of two or three years, an army of 40,000 warriors advanced towards Africa, under the command of Abdullah, the son of Said, which latter, in the time of Muhammad, had been entrusted with the important offlce of transcribing the sheets of the Quran; but the faithless scribe corrupting the text, fled to Mecca, where, thinking himself secure, he was imprudent enough to ridicule the work which he had been commissioned to engross; the capture, however, of the sacred city convinced him of his folly, and he fell at the feet of the Prophet, whose ignorance he had so imprudently endea voured to expose. His life was spared at the entreaty of Othman, and he repaid the kindness by serving with fidelity the religion which he had at one time laboured to subvert. After crossing the parched sands of the desert, the Arabs (A.D.647) pitched their tents before the walls of Tripoli ; but the fortifications were strong, and enabled the town to hold out till the arrival of the prefect
Gregory, at the head of a disorderly host of no less than 120,000 troops, most of whom were Africans and Moors. Relying on the numerical superiority of his followers, the Roman general thought fit to reject with scorn the option of the Quran, or payment of tribute; so the struggle commenced, and for two whole days the armies were engaged in combat, the fierceness of which was only abated at times by the necessity of seeking shelter during the heat of the day from the burning glare of the African sun. It chanced that the daughter of Gregory, a maiden of incomparable grace and beauty, wielded a scimitar amongst the ranks of the Grecian troops, and the fond father, in the pride of enthusiasm, was led to offer her hand, and 100,000 pieces of gold to the fortunate aspirant who could give as a dowry the head of the Arabian general. But Abdullah was too prudent to be entrapped, and withdrew his person from the field, a proceeding which had the effect of dejecting his friends, and encouraging his enemies; the taunts, however, of a noble Arabian aroused the leader of the Muslims from his lethargy, and emulating the pattern of his rival, he proclaimed that the head of Gregory should be repaid with the hand of his captive daughter, and a sum of 100,000 pieces of gold. For a long while the balance of superiority swayed to and fro, neither Greek nor Saracen being able to claim the victory; at length, however, the Muslims were induced to adopt a stratagem-simple in conception, but effective in result. Instead of engaging all their troops in the daily onslaught, the Saracen general kept a reserve of intrepid warriors, who, when the sun was high in the heavens, rushing upon the Greeks after the latter had prepared for the usual refreshment of the camp, surprised the Christian levies already fatigued with the toil of the morning fight. The prefect fell in the thick of the battle, his daughter was surrounded and made prisoner, and the plains of Barbary echoed with the prayers of the Faithful, as they knelt to return thanks to the Lord of heaven and earth for the recent victory
vouchsafed to their arms. After a campaign of fifteen months the Saracen army returned to Madina laden with spoils and wealth, and covered with honour and distinction.
While the sunny plains of Africa were thus the scene of Islam's glory, matters in Egypt had become somewhat serious. Amru, though he had done such service to the cause of the Khalif, had incurred the displeasure of his fickle master, who deposed his trusty lieutenant; with the result that Alexandria was recaptured by the troops of the Grecian Emperor, and once again the standard of the Cross waved over the imperial city of the plain. In this crisis it became necessary to restore the disgraced leader; but the latter, on resuming the command, found the Greeks in a good posture of defence, and for days they held out bravely. Their obstinacy provoked him to a degree that he took an oath that should God grant him the victory he would raze the walls of the town. He was as good as his word, and, ere long, the desolate houses and overturned buildings of the noblest city in Egypt testified to the ruthless barbarism of the warriors who founded an Empire on the ruins of the towns which their intemperate zeal would not permit them to preserve.
The same year (A.D. 647) which witnessed the capture of Tripoli, was signalized by the subjugation of the Island of Cyprus, and the invasion of Khorassan, one of the kingdoms of the Persian Monarchy The circumstances of this last mentioned expedition were these :-Yazdagird, the Sovereign of Iran, finding him-self unable to cope with the hardy warriors who had seized his lands and plundered his cities, invited Tarchan the Turk to his assistance; the jealousy, however, of the occupant of the throne of Alexander the Great soon led him to quarrel with his new ally, whom he sent back to his own dominions; but only to return after a while to vent his fury and indignation on the hapless Yazdagird by leaguing with the enemies who were plundering the fair lands of Persia. His army shattered,
and his followers dispersed, the king of the dominions of the Chosroes was compelled to take to flight, and coming to a mill he proffered his belt, his bracelets, and his ring for protection and food; but the churlish miller, ignorant of the rank and position of the suppliant before him, rejoined in tones of displeasure that "he earned four pieces of silver with his mill every day, and if he would give him so much money he would let it stand still upon his account, if not he would not." While they were debating the matter, a party of horse came up, and in a few moments the lifeless corpse of the murdered sovereign revealed to the awe stricken miller the rank of the suppliant, and the cause of his importunity. Thus in the year of our Lord 651 the kingdom of the Medes and Persians passed under the yoke of the Khalif of Arabia.
Matters were now prospering abroad, beyond the dreams of expectation, but a storm was in turn arising at home. Othman, though a man of piety and of good disposition, was not fitted for Government, and numerous acts of impolicy alienated the hearts of not a few of his subjects. Murmurings were frequent, and accusations incessant. Lavish of treasure to his friends his enemies took occasion to tax him with improvidence; whereupon in a public assembly he told the people from the pulpit that "the money which was in the treasury was sacred and belonged to God, and that he would dispose of it to whomsoever he thought fit, in spite of them." Not content with this vehement language, he threatened and cursed whomsoever showed any dislike of what he had said. A hapless bystander on one occasion inconsiderately announced his sentiments; but he had reason to repent of his temerity, for he was at once beaten till he swooned. Such arrogant conduct on the part of Othman deeply incensed the Arabs, who, gathering themselves together, and raising their standard of rebellion, took up arms and encamped within a league of Madina. Alarmed at the disaffection of his subjects, the poor Khalif ascended the
pulpit in the Mosque, and solemnly before the whole congregation called God to witness that he was truly sorry for what was past, and that he heartily repented him of his misdeeds. But to no purpose. The outbreak gathered strength daily, till at length 200 men from Kufa, 150 from Bussora, and 1,000 from Egypt, leagued together to depose Othman. In this juncture the leader of the Faithful contrived to enlist the sympathies of Ah, the son-in-law of the Prophet, whose influence, coupled with the promise of redress, for a while allayed the storm of discontent, and the rebels returned every man to his own land. The treachery, however, of his own secretary brought ruin and destruction upon the successor of the Prophet. This unscrupulous intriguer, by name Marwan, coutrived that as the Egyptians journeyed homewards, they should intercept a messenger bearing letters sealed with the signet of the Emperor of the Faithful at Madina, to the effect that an individual of note whom the Egyptians desired as their Prefect should be impaled and put to death. Such barefaced treachery and perfidiousness on the part of the Ruler of the Saracens now became the one theme of conversation throughout the length and breadth of the peninsula; none questioned the authenticity of the fatal document, which the crafty and insidious secretary had in good truth penned with his own hands. Feelings of revenge soon displaced the better dictates of the inflammable sons of the desert, and ere long a crowd besieged the door of the venerable Othman, clamoring for the blood of the tyrant, whose cruelty, in good truth, existed but in their own heated imaginations. In vain he offered every satisfaction, avowing that he never intended them any injury; in vain did Ali send his two sons, Hasan and Husain to protect the aged Khalif from violence. Forcing open the door the infuriated malcontents found Othman with the Quran in his lap; falling upon him, one wounded him in the throat, while a second stabbed him with a sword. The hapless Patriarch then fell to the
ground, whereupon one of the murderers sat upon his bosom, and with savage viudictiveness gashed the defenceless successor of the Prophet till death released the quivering frame from its pains and sufferings. Thus died (July 10th, A.D. 655) the aged Othman; bowed down with the weight of more than eighty years, his feeble limbs and tottering steps might have pleaded for mercy; but the assassins were implacable, and for three days the murdered corpse lay unheeded and unburied, festering in the heat of an Eastern sun; in the end necessity compelled what decency failed to secure, and the blood-stained body was cast into a hole, unwashed, unhonoured, and unsung. Strange destiny! that the proud ruler, whose will was law, he at whose command the mighty Empire of Rome shook to its base, while the Monarchy of Iran lay humbled in the dust, should have been denied the sacred rites which accompany the burial of the meanest, the vilest of God's creatures on earth below. Well may the pious historian of the Saracen Empire have moralyzed as to the "vanity of human greatness and the uncertainty of all earthly felicity."
Muhammad - His Life and Doctrines with Accounts of his Immediate Successors
Answering Islam Home Page