page 289





THE second great division of the Muslim faith is known as the "Shia" creed, which, supplanting the religion founded by Zoroaster, who is generally supposed to have

flourished from B.C. 521 to B.C. 485, became the national doctrine of the Persian Monarchy. The main tenets of the faith thus banished from Iran's shores are a belief in the All-Good, whose habitation is the Kingdom of Light, and in an evil Being, who dwells in a region of darkness. The names of these two powers are respectively Ormazd and Ahriman, and the true believer is instructed so to conduct himself that he may be eternally happy hereafter with the Prince of Light, instead of inhabiting the Kingdom of the Ruler of Darkness. Fire-light, and the sun are reverenced, if not worshipped as symbols of the Divine nature, hence the term "fire-

page 290

worshippers" by which this sect are not infrequently designated. Prayer is also a duty most strongly en-joined, it being the prerogative of the priest to intercede alike for himself, and the whole of his brethren.

At death the materials of the body are supposed by the Zoroastrians to rejoin their respective elements, earth to earth, water to water, fire to fire, and the life to the viewless air. For three days after dissolution the soul is supposed to flit round its tenement of clay in hopes of a reunion. On the fourth an angel appears who conducts it to a structure connecting heaven and earth, whereon sits the angel of Justice to weigh the actions of mortals: according to his decision the heavenly dog either permits the departed spirit to cross and join the souls of its ancestors in heaven, or precipitates it into the gulf of torment which yawns below. When the good deeds prevail, the soul is met on the bridge in question by a dazzling figure which says: "I am thy good angel: I was pure originally, but thy good deeds have rendered me purer;" thereupon passing its hand over the neck of the blessed soul, it leads the latter to Paradise. If on the other hand iniquities preponderate, the doomed spirit is met by a hideous spectre, which howls out, "I am thy evil angel: impure myself, thy sins have rendered me more foul. Through thee shall we become miserable until the resurrection;" on which it drags the sinning spirit to hell, where Ahriman is waiting to taunt it with its folly and crimes. The judgment and resurrection of mankind occupy, according to the tenets of this faith, a space of fifty-seven years; at the expiration of which the elements, which have received in deposit the various substances of the body, must render up their trust, the soul will recognize its earthly companion and re-enter it, while life will be restored to man, who then becomes immortal. Then takes place the final separation of the good and the evil. Sinners who have not in the intermediate state expiated their faults, are again sent to Hades but not for eternal punishment. The tortures of three

page 291

awful days and nights, equal to an agony of 3,000 years, suffice for the purification of the most wicked. The voice of the Lost ascending to heaven, finding mercy in the soul of Ormazd, he will withdraw them from the place of torment. The world will melt with fervent heat, and the liquid and glossy metals will purify the universe, and fit all beings for everlasting felicity. To the just this ordeal is destined to prove pleasant and agreeable, while the wicked on the other hand are doomed to suffer excruciating agonies, after which they will be freed from their troubles. The abode of misery itself and all its demons will be cleansed, Ahriman no longer irreclaimable, will be converted to goodness and become a ministering spirit to the Most High God The whole fabric of this belief is based upon the three virtues of purity of speech, purity of action and purity of thought. Truth is deemed the basis of ill excellence, while virtue alone is happiness in this world and its path the way of peace. Good actions are considered most acceptable sacrifices to God: industry is deemed a guard to innocence and a bar to temptation Hospitality, philanthropy and benevolence are strongly inculcated, while untruth is paraded as the worst of sins, wickedness as the garment of shame, and idleness as the parent of want.

King Darius (B.C. 518-485) adopted the Zoroastrian religion with great ardour, and caused 12,000 cowhides to be tanned, upon which he had the doctrines of the new faith written. This collection, which bore the name of "Zandavesta," was then deposited in a rock hewn chamber at Persepolis, and to keep alive the faith, a priest was ordered to read the volume to the people, and expound its precepts. The followers of Zoroaster profess to suppose that the soul of the founder of their religion was created by God, and placed upon the tree from which all that is celestial has been produced. They would also have it believed that Zoroaster was permitted to visit the realms of bliss, on which occasion the good spirit gave him the "Zandavesta" for the direction

page 292

of mankind; commanding him at the same time not "to soil the earth with carcases;" for this reason it is enjoined that the corpses of the dead shall be placed on the top of towers, in such a manner, that when the flesh has been eaten by birds, the bones will fall into the interior of the building. The priests of this religion were called "Magi," and hence the votaries are sometimes, even to this day, styled "Magians." During the rule of the Parthian kings of Persia the Zoroastrians were held in little respect; but in A.D. 226, on the commencement of the Sassanian dynasty, the Magian faith became firmly established as the national religion of the country, a state of things which continued till the time of the Saracens, when after the battle of Qadisiya (A.H. 15-AD. 636) the Muhammadans ruthlessly, but effectually, stamped out the Zoroastrian creed, leaving isolated individuals to follow the belief of their ancestors, but at the risk or rather the certainty, of having to endure persecutions and suffer hardships, if not cruelties of every description the flame of discord then created, continues to the present day, with scarce abated violence, and the Sunnis exclude fire-worshippers from the list of the "people of the book," which honour is confined to Jesus, Christians and Muslims; in this respect other sects amongst the Muhammadans are more liberal-minded, in that they include the Zoroastrians in the privileged category of those who will inherit Eternal Salvation.

The Shias, who are computed by Mr. Blunt to amount to 15,000,000 souls, derive their name from a word which signifies a "party" or "sect," though some are of opinion that the term takes its origin from an Arabic root indicating "disgraceful;" the epithet having in the first instance been given as a mark of reproach. These sectaries maintain that Ali was the earliest convert to Islam, and consequently the eldest in the faith; while his nearness of kin to Muhammad, of whom he was the cousin, and his marriage with Fatima, the Prophet's only daughter, gave him, they consider, an

page 293

indefeasible right to succeed to the Khalifat; added to which, the same temporal and spiritual powers which they conceive should have descended to him on the death of the Lawgiver of Arabia, ought, in their opinion, to have been transmitted to his lineal descendants, and not to have formed the subject of election or choice, depending on the will of the populace, or the caprice of the people; hence they reject as usurpers the three first Khalifs, Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman, and consider Ali and his eleven descendants to be the true successors of the Prophet. To such an extent indeed do the Shias carry their veneration for the twelve Imams, that it is an article of their faith that no one can be saved who does not admit that, after Muhammad, the most excellent of men was Ali, then Hasan, &c., and that the former of these two is endowed with the power of creation in the same manner as if he were the Almighty himself! Strange as it may seem, this doctrine is most implicitly carried into practice, for not only do the Shias assign to the Hierarchy in question the attributes of the Divine Being, deeming it blasphemy to utter a word against the holy men of which it is composed, but they exalt Ali to a pitch of glory, little, if any, less, than that assigned to the Prophet of Arabia ; the beloved "II and of God" is not only their idol but their Deity; "Muhammad is a city of learning, Ali is the gate thereof," is a comparison which accurately gauges the comparative merits of these two pillars of faith. The traditions regarding the husband of Fatima are, as might be expected in such circumstances, innumerable, all tending to glorify the hero of the Shia doctrines. Thus it is said that he never died, but was taken up alive into heaven, whence he will return in the fulness of time to fill the earth with his tenets ; to some he will appear in the shape of an angel, to others in the likeness of Satan, according as the individual's actions in this world may have been good or evil. Again, as it is undeniable, so run the traditions, that there never has been a human creature more perfect than Ali, so it

page 294

may be believed God has revealed Himself to mankind in the shape of his faithful servant, through whose agency He conducts the affairs of the world, which the latter had called into existence. Such a belief naturally involves the supposition that Ali existed before the creation of the world, so that by degrees the Shia sectaries have exalted their beloved Imam to the dignity of a God, and clothed him with the attributes of divinity.

It is even said that when Muhammad made his well known ascension to Heaven he was surprised, and truth to tell, somewhat mortified, to find that the name of his son-in-law seemed more familiar to the denizens of the abode of bliss than that of the Prophet of Arabia. So it has happened that amongst the Shias the pen of the writer fails to describe the glory of such a hero, and the brush of the painter dares not attempt to delineate the features of a being so sacred, upon whom man, indeed is not worthy so much as to cast a glance, and the unfinished headless trunk which is left on the canvas betokens at once the transcendent excellency of the first Imam, and the zeal of the followers who rely upon him for intercession at that great day when,

The dead shall live, the living die,
And music shall untune the sky.

There is a tradition amongst the Muslims, that long before the creation of the world God took a ray of light from the splendour of his own glory, and united it to the body of Muhammad, proclaiming at the same time, "Thou art the elect, the chosen; I will make the members of thy family the guides to salvation," The body of the Prophet was then in some mysterious way hidden. In due time the world was created, but not until the birth of Muhammad did this ray of glory appear. This light descended to Ali, and from him passed to the true Imams, who alone can be considered the lawful successors of the Prophet-hence these sacred beings are free from original sin, their bodies being so pure and delicate that they cast no shadow

page 295

they are, indeed, the beginning and the end of all things; their commands and prohibitions, their very actions, the Almighty recognizes as His own. As mediums between God and man, they hold a far higher position than the prophets, for the Grace of God, without the intervention of the holy successors of the Prophet of Islam, reaches to no created beings. The Imam is the superior Pontiff, the Vicar of God on earth; the possessor of an infallible book is not sufficient, the infallible guide is needed. The wisdom and discernment which this latter would require, could only be found- thus it is contended amongst the descendants of the Prophet. Moreover, in the early days of the faith the possession of the Imamat conveyed the right of conducting the public services in the Mosque, a sacred privilege, which, belonging in the first instance to the Prophet, was by him bequeathed to his successors. In these circumstances it will not occasion surprise that a belief that Ali received this important office direct from the hands of the Prophet of Arabia underlies the whole fabric of the Shia faith, and as a consequence it seems natural that the sober simplicity of the narrative which proclaims how this came to pass should be adorned with a halo of miraculousness and spirituality. The tradition narrates, that on the last occasion when Muhammad appeared in the Mosque at Mecca, the Angel Gabriel appeared to him with a message from the Almighty, bidding him publicly to proclaim his son-in-law as his successor on the first occasion when the latter should meet him. After delivering the message the Angel hastened to Ah, who happened at the time to be at Madina, and enjoined him to repair to Mecca, there to receive the sacred office at the hands of his father-in-law. It chanced that the pair met at a caravan station, midway between the two sacred cities; whereupon, at once falling round each other's neck they kissed one another, the embrace being so close, that by a supernatural union they were but one being. Next day the Prophet erected a throne, and taking Ali

page 296

by the hand placed him thereon, holding him on his bosom such a length of time that for several minutes the two once again became but one soul, identical in feeling and aspiration; during this period of ecstacy the virtues and powers of the founder of Islam passed, so Persian theologians would have it believed, into the possession of the "Hand of God." Lest, however, any should entertain feelings of doubt, a voice which none could gainsay, proclaimed to the assembled multitudes, "Behold your King, the Sovereign of the whole earth, my Vicar, the Lieutenant of God, the true Pontiff and Imam whom He has chosen to succeed me; I make over to him all my power, and constitute him my general Heir and my Testamentary Executor." It might have been supposed that in these circumstances every knee would bow in allegiance to the Lord's anointed; but it was not so, for when Muhammad lay sick in his house, having bade Ali repair to the Mosque to perform the prayers, Abu Bakr himself took possession of the pulpit, and refused to make way for the son-in-law of the Prophet; a circumstance which so excited and vexed the Messenger of God, that if we would believe the traditions which are handed down, he took his daughter's husband by the hand, and rising from a bed of sickness, tottered to the sacred edifice, and then and there placed his son-in-law in possession of the public functions which made him a Sovereign in things temporal no less than a guide in affairs spiritual.

The earliest reference to the Shias in the history of Muhammadanism occurs in the instance of the Kharijites, the nonconformists of Islam, as they have been termed, who arising in the earliest days of the Muslim religion, enjoy the unenviable notoriety of having killed Othman because he was supposed to have departed from the traditions of the Companions of the Prophet; nor does the record of their misdeeds end there, for to them attaches also the stigma that they originated the first dispute about the Imamat, on the occasion when 12,000 of their number revolted from Ali after the

page 297

battle of Saffain (A.H. 37 - A.D. 637), and compelled him to submit to arbitration the dispute between himself and Muawiya. Some years afterwards, however, they were nearly all destroyed by the victorious Lion of God. Of the survivors, however, two fled to Oman, in the Persian Gulf, and there preached the doctrine that the Imamat was elective not hereditary, and that in the event of misconduct the Imam might be deposed. Abdu'llah-ibn-Ibadh (AH. 127 - AD. 744) was a vigorous preacher of the doctrine, and from him the sect known as the "Ibadhiya" takes its rise. The doctrines of this people differ from those of the orthodox Muslims on three cardinal points. (1.) The Imamat, respecting which not only do they hold the opinion that it is elective, but they do not confine the choice to any particular class or people, and even deny that there is any absolute necessity for an Imam at all. (2.) Predestination and free-will: on these points they maintain that God is alike the author of evil as of good, man being altogether helpless as to what happens. (3.) Human actions: in this matter it is held by them that a good intention is not necessary to render an act meritorious; that a man may deny the sect to which he belongs without incurring the guilt of infidelity, but that the commission of one of the greater sins places him beyond the pale of salvation. They are computed by Mr. Blunt to amount to about 7,000,000 souls.

After the death of Ali, his descendants made several attempts to gain for themselves temporal as well as spiritual power, but save in a few isolated instances, they were not successful. Indeed, for a lengthened period the whole race was publicly cursed and excommunicated in all the Mosques of the kingdom, and even deprived of the possessions which Muhammad had given to his daughter Fatima as a dowry on her marriage.

But as is generally the case, persecution did not quench the reverence of the people for the family, and from the earliest days of Islam there have been votaries who, disagreeing in various points of belief and

page 298

practice, all unite in rendering homage to the son-in-law of the Prophet of Arabia. Thus, shortly after the dismal events on the fatal field of Karbala, there arose the Kaissanites, who took their origin from Kaissan, a freed slave of Ah. These votaries held that their founder derived his knowledge from the Sayyids Hasan and Husain, the sons of his former master; hence they attached an exaggerated importance to his universal science and learning, more particularly as regarded the hidden meaning of obscure parts of the Quran. Another peculiarity which characterized this sect, was the belief in the union of the Creator with a created being, and in the return to life after death.

Contemporary with this last mentioned sect, were the Zaidites or partisans of Zaid, son of the Imam Zainu'l Abidin, and great-grandson of Ali, who maintained that the Imamat appertained exclusively to the family of the children of Fatima, provided they be wise, pious, courageous and generous. They allowed of two Imams should they appear in different countries, and held that obedience to such is obligatory, provided they possess the requisite qualifications. They further taught that the Imamat of one who has been chosen is valid, even though there should exist a more worthy candidate for the sacred office, and instanced the case of Ali who was set aside in favour of Abu Bakr. Holding these doctrines, it will not occasion surprise that the more zealous Shias refused to acquiesce in such teaching, it being one of the fundamental points of their religion that the first three Khalifs were usurpers. In the year AH. 122 (AD. 739), Zaid took up arms against the reigning Khalif, but his troops were vanquished, and he himself, having been pierced in the face with an arrow, expired on the field of battle: his head was thereupon placed on a gibbet and exposed to the insults of the populace for a period of five years. His son Yahia continued his father's mission, and on his death the religion which had thus been taught became an established institution, and has continued up to the

page 299

present day. The sect flourishes chiefly, if not entirely, in Yaman, and numbers, according to Mr. Blunt, about 2,000,000 souls: their chief importance arises from their geographical proximity to Mecca.

The Ghair-i-Mahdi ("literally without Mahdi") are a small sect who believe that the Mahdi will not reappear. They maintain that one Saiyyid Muhammad of Jaipur, was the twelfth Imam, and that he has gone never more to return. They venerate this latter personage as highly as they do the Prophet, and consider all other Musulmans to be unbelievers. On the night called "Lailatu 'l Qadr," in the month of Ramazan, they meet together and repeat two prayers, after which they say, "God is Almighty, Muhammad is our Prophet, the Quran and Mahdi are just and true. Imam Mahdi is come and gone. Whosoever disbelieves this is an infidel." A small branch of this community is settled at Mysore, where they are known as the Dairi.

Mahmud, the founder of the sect to which he gave his name, lived in the reign of Taimur (A.D. 1369 to 1405); he professed to be the Mahdi, and used to call himself the Shakhs-i-Wahid, i.e., the Individual One. In the Quran there is a verse which runs thus - "It may be that thy Lord will raise thee up to a glorious (Mahmud) station." From this he argued that the body of man had been advancing in purity since the creation, and that on its reaching to a certain degree the Mahmud would arise, and that then the dispensation of Muhammad would come to an end. He claimed to be this Mahmud. He also held the doctrine of transmigration, and taught that the beginning of everything was the "Nuqta-i-khak," an atom of earth, on which account his followers are sometimes called the "Nuqtawiya" sect: they are also known by the names of "Mahmudiya" and "Wahidiya." Shah Abbas, King of Persia, expelled them from his dominions about the end of the 16th century, but Akbar (AD. 1556-1605), received the fugitives kindly, and promoted some of their number to high offices of State.

page 300

A mere allusion will suffice for the smaller sects of minor importance known as (1.) The Imamites, who attach the utmost importance to the succession of Ali on the death of the Prophet ; (2.) The Ismaillans, founded in A.H. 148 (A.D. 765), by one Ismail, who hold that every revealed book must have an allegorical interpretation; (3.) The Gholaites, who deify the imams; (4.) The Idrisites, who take their name from Idris, a descendant of the Founder of Islam. This sect possessed sovereign power for the space of about one hundred years, in the regions of Tangiers, Bombay, &c.; but in the year A.H. 296 (A.D. 908), they were exterminated by the Fatimites, sometimes known as the Aliides, a dynasty established at that time by one Abu Muhammad Obaidu'llah, who, claiming to be a Prophet, overran some provinces in Africa, expelled the Idrisites from Bombay, and finally conquered Egypt, where he established himself as Khalif: he then took the title of "Mahdi," though, as has been previously stated, that term is strictly speaking applied only to the twelfth and last Imam, who will not appear till the end of the world. The dynasty thus founded existed 272 years, and contained a succession of fourteen princes, all of whom added to their names the distinctive title of Ladinu'llah (to the faith of God), which is the distinctive mark of this sect.

Their extinction was attended with a peculiar circumstance which merits recital. Adhad the last Khalif, shortly before his deposal saw in a dream that a scorpion came forth from the mosque and stung him. The vision was explained as indicating that a man from the sacred edifice in question would deprive him of his dignity. Whereupon the Khalif summoning to his presence the person in charge, inquired of him who dwelt there. The latter replied that the sole occupant was an aged person, who made great profession of his zeal and piety. The Khalif directed that this votary should be brought before him; but no sooner had the man appeared than the latter at once avowed that

page 301

he had come to the sacred edifice for the express purpose of deposing the Khalif of the Fatimites. Adhad, seeing the fellow to be a poor miserable wretch deemed him incapable of such an enterprise. So giving the intruder some money, the ruler of the Faithful dismissed him with a request that he would pray to God on behalf of the man he would dethrone. It happened that some time afterwards Saladin, wishing to render himself master of Egypt formed the resolution of suppressing the Aliide Khalifat. With this object he summoned the principal chiefs and doctors of the law to decide upon the propriety or otherwise of carrying his project into execution. The old man of the mosque hearing of this, appeared before the assembly, and spoke so strongly as to the vices and errors of the dynasty in question, that the Synod proclaimed them infidels and abolished their Khalifat.

Amongst the Shias there are a numerous class known as "Sufis," a name the origin of which has never been authoritatively settled, some are of opinion that it is derived from an Arabic word signifying pure others incline to the view that the "Suf" or coarse woollen cloak in which lazy ascetics were clothed, gave the name to these devotees. While a third party have conjectured that the term is derived from the Greek word "sophos," signifying wise.

The doctrines of Sufiism are briefly these. The Almighty God is diffused throughout creation, while the essence of his divinity, emanating from him continually, as rays from the sun, vivifies all nature; which done it is reabsorbed. The souls of men are imbued with this essence, and therefore on an equality with the Lord of Heaven. In these circumstances it is the duty of mankind to be constantly engaged in searching after truth, and admiring the perfection of the Deity. An ardent but mystical love of the Creator, which frequently breaks forth in the most extravagant manner, and towards the most extraordinary objects, in which they fancy the divine image to be reflected, is the basis

page 302

of their creed, and reunion with this their ultimate object; they yearn to have the corporeal veil removed, when the emancipated soul will mix again with the glorious essence from which it has been separated, but not divided. To attain this desirable consummation the aspirant must pass through four stages. First, "humanity," which requires perfect obedience to all the observances of the established religion, as a useful discipline to prepare for advancing to the second stage ; this latter is termed "the path," in the course to which the votary gains strength to acquire more exalted eminence and is admitted within the pale of Sufiism. The disciple may now abandon practical for spiritual worship; but at this point he has also reached a more laborious and thorny part of his journey, which can only be safely trodden by those who are distinguished for their piety, virtue, and fortitude. Led by a suitable teacher, the young Sufi in due time attains the third stage, when he is held to be inspired and equal to the angels. The fourth implies his perfect union with the Deity. It is calculated that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 professed members of this creed in Persia; but probably this falls far short of the number of those who are secretly inclined to infidelity, in this or some cognate shape.

"Owing to their strongly centralized form of government," writes Sir George Birdwood; "the empire of the Sassanides succumbed at once before the onslaught of the Saracens; still Persia was never really converted to Islam, and when Muhammad, the son of Ali, the son of Abdu'llah, the son of Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, proclaimed the Imamat as inherent of divine right in the descendants of the Khalif Ali, the vanquished Persians rose as one man against their Arab conquerors. The sons of Abbas had all espoused the cause of their cousin Ali against Muawiya, and when Yazid succeeded to the Khalifat Abdu'llah refused to acknowledge him and retired to Mecca. It was he who tried to dissuade Husain from going to Kufa. His son was Ali, who, by order of the Khalif Walid, was flogged and paraded through the

page 303

streets of Damascus, mounted on a camel with his face to its tail; and it was to avenge this insult on his father that Muhammad resolved to overthrow the dynasty of the Ommiyades.

"The Persians, in their hatred of the Arabs, had from the first accepted the rights of the sons of Ali and Fatima to the Imamat; and Muhammad cunningly represented to them that the Imamat had been transmitted to him by Abu Hashim, the son of Muhammad, another son of the Khalif Ali, whose mother was a daughter of the tribe of Hanifa. This was a gross fraud on the descendants of Fatima, but the Persians cared not, so long as they threw off the Arab yoke. When Muhammad died, A.H. 124 (A.D. 742), they at once acknowledged his son Ibrahim as Imam, and on the latter being taken prisoner by the Khalif Marwan, he transmitted the Imamat to his brother Abdu'llah, who overthrew his Ommiyade antagonist in the battle of Zab, and was proclaimed Khalif at Kufa, A.H. 132 (A.D. 749). Thus fell the last eastern Khalif of the house of Ommiya, on the ruins of which was established the dynasty of the house of Abbas, which reigned at Baghdad until A.D. 1258.

"The Persians were oppressed by the Abbasides as intolerably as they had been by the Ommiyades, but as the vigour of the Khalifat began to abate they again rose in rebellion. In 808 Yaqub, the son of a brazier (saffar), of Sistan, subdued Kabul, Balk, and Fars, and threatened Baghdad itself. His brother, who succeeded him, was overthrown by Ismail Saman, the founder of the Samanian dynasty of Khorassan and Bukhara. At the same time the Dailami or Buyide dynasty, so called after Abu'l Luya, a fisherman of Dailam, on the Caspian, established themselves in Fars and Iraq. In the contentions which began to distract and undermine the Khalifat at Baghdad during the tenth century the Sunnis all ranged themselves under the Turks, while the Shias adopted the cause of the Buides It was Asadu'd Daula (reigned A.D. 977-982). the grandson of the fisherman of Dailam, who restored the sacred buildings at Karbala. The native Safawi dynasty of Persia which succeeded to the Mongol dynasties, derived its descent direct from the Khalif Ali through Ismail Safi, the son of Sultan Haidar, the founder of the Haidari sect of Shias."

page 304

This last mentioned monarch, who ascended the throne in A.H. 904 (A.D. 1499) introduced the Shia faith as the national religion of Persia, and for two centuries and a half the priests of that sect exerted an overwhelming influence in directing the destinies of the nation; but in A.H. 1149 (AD 1736), when the victorious general Nahdir Shah, consequent on the splendid successes which attended his arms, was asked to accept the throne of Persia, he told the assembled multitude that if he took the crown they must give up the Shia for the Sunni faith. This they agreed to do, though it soon became evident that the measure was so unpopular throughout the country that it would never be possible to carry it into effect. But Nadir Shah was inexorable, and issued an edict stating with reference to the Shia custom of adding to the Muhammadan formula, "There is but one God, and Muhammad is His Prophet," the words, "Ali is the friend of God," - "This is repugnant to religion, and contrary to the agreement and covenant entered into. Besides, it is evident to the world that, as the prince of the faithful the Lion of God, the victorious is elect, praised and acceptable to the Lord of Glory, his rank and interest at the event of unity will not be increased by vulgar testimony, nor the full moon of his power be diminished by omitting these words. The ill-consequence of this form is, that both sects who equally acknowledge the chief and prophet of both worlds, will by this difference be provoked to animosities, which are disagreeable both to the Prophet, and to the Prince of the Faithful." Holding these views, he not unnaturally took every opportunity of insulting the Shia priesthood, and depriving them of their income. Indeed immediately after he had been crowned he assembled a number of the principal priests and demanded of them in what manner the immense reserves were appropriated. They replied "In supporting priests, colleges, and mosques. In the latter we continually offer up prayers to God for the success for our Sovereign." "Your prayers," said Nadir, "are

page 305

evidently not acceptable to the Almighty, for the empire suffered its greatest decline when your order was most encouraged. It has been rescued from destruction by my brave soldiers, who are, therefore, to be deemed God's chosen instruments, and your wealth must hence-forward be applied to their support."

On the death of this mighty warrior in A.D. 1747, the country was so rent asunder with factions, consequent on the many aspirants for the throne, that religion for a while filled but a secondary place in the history of the empire; but towards the close of the eighteenth century Agha Muhammad, the founder of the present dynasty in Persia, pledged himself to the advancement of the Shia faith, by wearing a sword consecrated at the tomb of the monarch who established that belief in Iraq; and at the present day the worship of Ali and his descendants is the fixed national creed of the Persian Empire.

"Though the personal history of Ali and his sons was Empire. The exciting cause of the Shia schism, its predisposing cause lies far deeper, in the impassable ethnological gulf which separates the Aryan and Semitic races."

Thus writes Sir George Birdwood; the remark exhibits a deep insight into human nature as regards the races of the East, and will probably commend itself to every reflecting reader; none the less, pride was a powerful factor in the antagonism which has always existed between the Arab and the Persian; the case is ably and succinctly argued by Osborn in his "Islam under th Khalifs of Baghdad."

"In the Quran," so writes that intellectual and thoughtful author, "it is repeatedly laid down that all believers are to regard each other as brethren and that there are to be no distinctions of rank among them. This the Arabs could not bring themselves to concede. They were, in their own eyes, the most glorious and magnificent beings to be found on the surface of the earth, and in comparison with them all other nations were as the dust beneath their feet. The advanced state of civilization attained by Persia and Byzantium, as

page 306

compared with their own ignorance and barbarism, in no way diminished this exalted estimate of themselves. They had a theory which accounted for it. Their forefathers, so they affirmed, endowed by God with sublime aspirations, and sedulous to preserve themselves untainted from shame of every description, had seriously weighed the question as to where and how they should live. After mature deliberation, they had arrived at the conviction that the sedentary life of men in cities was adverse to the nobility of human nature. Only in the freedom and pure air of the desert could that nature be brought to its highest perfection. They had, therefore, chosen the latter, and the matchless excellences of the Arab testified to the wisdom of their choice. In virtue of the elevating power of this desert life the Arabs surpassed all other nations in the vigour of their character, the power of their thoughts, and the strength and beauty of their bodies. They were the ‘travellers of the night, the lions of the battle, the genii of the desert, and the hosts of the solitudes.' It was a further proof of this manifest superiority that God had selected from among them the greatest and last of all his Prophets, that the Arabic language was spoken in Heaven, and that the temple at Mecca had been declared to be a centre of worship and holiness for all the nations of the universe.

"The Persians, in whom the pride of ancestry and the sense of their personal excellence was hardly less extreme than in the Arabs, bitterly resented this assumption of superiority. They invented a genealogy for themselves, for the express purpose of confounding the arrogance of their conquerors. They asserted themselves to be descended from Isaac the son of Abraham. They taunted the Arabs as the children of a mere concubine, whereas they were the true and legitimate representatives of Abraham and Sarah. They denied that Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, had ever been thought worthy of being offered up as a sacrifice to God, as the Arabs supposed. It was Isaac to whom this privilege had been accorded. Isaac, and not Ishmael, had built the Kaba, and the former monarchs of Persia had made yearly pilgrimages to the Hijaz long ere the Quraish had become guardians of the Holy Places. This rivalry between the two races was the main cause of the incessant insurrections which shook to pieces the power of

page 307

the Ommiyades. Every pretender to power could make appeal to it with the certainty of a hearty response. The Persians recruited the ranks of the Separatists, impelled thereto by the levelling character of their creed, and the merciless war they levelled against the Khalifs and their officials. They flocked over more readily to the banner of the Aliides, for here they were taught that the Arabs were a people peculiarly hateful in the eyes of God, on account of the barbarous murder of the son of the Khalif Ali on the plain of Karbala. But hatred of the Arab was the predominant motive which guided their actions, and any cause was good which held out a hope of retaliation on the victors of Qadisiya."

The fundamental texts of the Shia sects are five in number: (1) a belief in the unity of God; (2) an admission that He is just; (3) a belief in the Divine Mission of all the Prophets, Muhammad being the chief; (4) an avowal that Ali was Khalif next in order after Muhammad; (5) a belief that Ali's descendants, from Hasan to Mahdi, the twelfth Imam, were his true successors, and as such raised far above all other Muslims as regards character, position, and dignity. In addition to this, the Shias claim the right of free judgment in regard to the dicta of individual doctors on matters of religion, while there is a general tendency amongst them to superstitious beliefs unwarranted by the Quran, or by the written testimony of the Prophet's companions.

As the Shias reject the three first Khalifs as usurpers, it follows that this belief is hostile to the whole fabric of the Sunni school of thought, which rests on the authority of the immediate successors of the Prophet, whose very names are held in abhorrence by the former sect as being guilty of disobedience in rejecting the superior right of Ali to succeed to the Imamat.

More particularly the Khalif Omar has been singled out as a mark of the deepest aversion; and even to this day, when a Persian discharges his bow, not uncommonly a muttered execration may be heard, "may this arrow go to the heart of Omar." Lest, indeed, this spirit of hatred should gradually die away, a custom

page 308

has been established of celebrating annually the death of the execrated Khalif. On this occasion a large platform is erected on which is fixed an image, disfigured and deformed as much as possible. Addressing themselves to this effigy, the assembled multitude begin to revile it for supplanting Ali, the lawful successor of Muhammad; at length, having exhausted all their expressions of abuse, they suddenly attack the image with stones and sticks, until they shatter it in pieces, when the inside being hollow and full of sweetmeats, the latter tumble out, and are greedily devoured by the mob attendant at a ceremony which pleases their minds and gratifies their palates.

The Shias admit to some extent the legality of the "Sunna," except where its source is contaminated, but their leading principal is an obedience to the relations and descendants of Muhammad, whom they deem to have partaken in a lesser degree of the Prophet's sacred nature ; and the title by which this sect love to be distinguished is that of the "friends of the family." By a strange anomaly, however, though, as just explained, they reject the "Sunna" as unworthy of that implicit faith which is placed therein by the Sunnis, yet they have substituted five works of their own, oblivious apparently of the circumstance that the same arguments which would undermine the value of the one set of books as a guide in matters of faith, would preclude the possibility of attaching weight to any other productions which are merely the "work of men's hands."

It may well be supposed that as the Shias discard the traditions on which the Sunni school of theology is based, so in like manner they refuse to pay homage to the four great exponents thereof, the leaders of thought who are received as the Imams of the Faith. These learned doctors, they affirm, have propagated many erroneous and impious opinions, both in matters of faith and practice; and it is contended that the worldly policy which has led to the monstrous compound of

page 309

their contradictory tenets into one faith, must involve all who adopt it in inextricable difficulties. In support of this opinion, they argue that, as it is acknowledged there is only one path of truth, it becomes evident that if the followers of Hanifa or any other Sunni saint be right, those of the remaining three must be wrong; and they ask, "After all, is it not better to trust to what we have received from God, and his Prophet, and from those who lived during his mission, and have transmitted his sayings, than to give our minds over to these pretended doctors of divinity and law, and thus to constitute their fallible works the standard of faith and the rule of our lives?" An amusing instance is recorded of this feeling of antipathy: -A Shia doctor of laws was once summoned to a meeting to discuss with four representatives of the orthodox sects an abstruse point of matrimonial usage. The learned follower of Ali, with a pretended clownish manner, instead of leaving his slippers at the door, secured them under his arm. This action produced much mirth, and the reason of so strange a proceeding was demanded. "We have a record in my family," said the man, "that one of our ancestors, who lived in the days of the Prophet, had his slippers stolen by a follower of Hanifa." All burst into laughter, and he was informed that the latter did not propagate his doctrine till a century after Muhammad's death. "It must have been a follower then of Malik." The mirth became louder; the ignorant doctor was instructed that Malik came after Hanifa. "Then it was Shafii." "But this man was still later." "It must have been Hambal," said the Shia, affecting anger. This holy man, he was apprized, did not publish his works till the second century of the Hijra. The doctor started back with pretended surprise at this information, and exclaimed, "Why, if all you say be true, these holy saints, whose opinions you wish to make our laws, lived so long after the Prophet, that they could know no more than you or I, gentlemen, except as they might happen to be more or less learned." It will

page 310

scarce occasion surprise that the Shias acknowledge no head temporal or spiritual, each congregation representing a separate unit of authority in itself. Every doctor of the sect who has taken his degree at Karbala, or Ispahan, may deliver his "fatwa" or opinion on points of doctrine, and the only test of his authority to preach or lead the prayer in mosques is his power of attracting a congregation. In theory, it is true, these votaries hold that there is an Imam or Khalif, but in practice they leave the title in abeyance; the advent of the Mabdi must, in the opinion of the Persians, be awaited to reunite Islam and restore its fortunes. It is somewhat singular, too, that the Shah, though absolute monarch to an extent which the more civilized nations of the West can hardly realize, is neither Imam nor Khalif - in fact, from a religous point of view, His Majesty is considered an usurper; nay more, he himself acknowledges that this is the case by the circumstance that he leases in legal form his palaces from a supposed representative of the Mahdi, with a view of enabling prayers to be offered up in their precincts to the spiritual profit of himself and other v6taries; for it is a maxim amongst Muslims of all sects that prayer is not valid if made in another man's house without his permission. It is but natural that under such conditions, and in the absence of all restraining influence, the tendency to pander to popular prejudice is too great to be resisted, hence the Shias revel in the most wonder ful tales of miracle and superstition. "You Christians," - a Persian once said to Mr. Blunt, when the latter was travelling in Iran, "talk of your Christ as the Son of God, and think it strange; but with us the occurrence is a common one. Believe me, we have 'Sons of God' in nearly all our villages."

It will not have escaped notice that the religion of Muhammad involves the observance of a vast array of outward duties, such as fasting, praying, ablution, and many other obligations, some at least of which must of necessity be irksome and tedious. Hence the intense

page 311

longing which exists amongst the Shias for the advent of their Mahdi, on whose appearance all the wearisome ceremonial of the Muslim faith will, they suppose, be swept away, and mankind will have free license to indulge in unrestrained enjoyment of the passions and desires.

That wild, strange ideas of religious latitude are in harmony with the feelings which animate the sect at large is evidenced by the circumstance, that the Persians not only teach but practise the doctrine that, in order to avoid persecution, a person may publicly profess any opinions he pleases, may deny any, or all, of the special doctrines of his sect ; he may even avow himself to be an orthodox Muhammadan. And at the time of the pilgrimage to Mecca pious votaries from Iran, whose zeal for their religion has taught them to endure with-out a murmur all the toils, the hardships, the dangers of a visit to the sacred city, may be heard cursing the twelve Imams whom their faith teaches them to deem as little less than God; and yet the scene of this falsehood and deceit is, as they consider, the temple of the Almighty Creator whom they have assembled together to worship and adore!

The mass, however, of the Persian population do not repair to Mecca or Madina, but are satisfied with a pilgrimage to certain spots hallowed with the sacred traditions of their faith; these are (1.) the tomb of Ali at Najaf near Kufa; this was formerly elaborately bedecked, but early in the present century the Pasha of Baghdad, on the pretence that he feared the Arabs, despoiled the shrine of its treasures, which however, alas be it told, he subsequently omitted to return. (2.) The shrine of Husain at Karbala near the ruins of Babylon. A magnificent mosque has been erected over this tomb, richly decorated with enamelled tiles, and surmounted by a gilded dome and arabesque minarets. By payment of an enormous sum a wealthy Persian can be buried in the interior of the mosque, near the tomb of the Imam; but less favoured individuals are perforce

page 312

content with a resting-place in an outer court, a minor privilege for which, none the less, large sums are paid.

The corpses of the poorer classes are brought into the mosque, laid for a short time on the tomb of Husain, and then buried in some neighbouring cemetery. It is popularly supposed that according to the position of the place of burial in relation to Husain's tomb will be the position of the occupant of the grave on the day of resurrection;- hence the desire to be near the Imam in his last resting-place in this world, so as to stand in proximity to him in the regions above. For which reason bodies are brought to Karbala from all parts of Persia, sometimes even in an advanced state of decomposition. In 1801 the Shrine was despoiled by the Wahhabis, but eighteen years later a pious Indian prince made good, at an expense of £21,000, the ravages of his bigoted co-religionists and decorated the shrine with a canopy studded with emeralds, the pillars being of gold, interspersed with diamonds. (3.) The Mausoleum near Baghdad of Kazim the 7th Imam. (4.) The cavern near the latter city, where the twelfth and last Imam is supposed to be concealed. (5.) The tomb of Imam Riza the eighth Imam, a visit to which place entitles the votary to the appellation of Mashhadi," and (6.) The mosque at Kum containing the tomb of Fatima, the daughter of the said Imam Riza, the interior of which latter mosque is covered with gold and precious stones; 700 servants are attached thereto, and an array of candles are continually burning; so much is this sacred spot held in reverence, that many Persians pay large sums to be allowed to select a place proximate thereto where they may draw their last breath.

But in addition to these spots of recognized purity and sacredness, there are an immense number of inferior saints and martyrs at whose tombs the Persians offer up their prayers, while well-nigh every village can boast of some Shaikh, or holy person, whose character

page 314

bottomless pit: feelings of compassion filled his heart; and he inquired as to the hapless beings about to be consigned to everlasting perdition : great was his astonishment, and it may well be conceived greater his mortification, to find that amongst the number were some of his own followers. But - and this was the cause of their condemnation - they were Sunnis!

It will thus be seen that the divergence between Shias and Sunnis is not confined to matters of faith, but affects the routine of daily life. Scarce, indeed, a ceremony but marks the rivalry of the respective votaries: marriage, divorce, slavery, all possess their distinctive features, and at every turn the faithful follower of Ali is reminded that he is "not as other men are." The hatred, therefore, of the sectaries needs nothing to intensify its bitterness, or add to its violence; but lest the breach should at any time be healed, and the schism of Islam be consigned to oblivion, tradition has founded the annual celebration of a religious drama, depicting the pains and anguish which the martyrs of the faith underwent on the fatal field of Karbala.

At the time of the Muharram, preparations are made in the various cities of Persia for the celebration of the Miracle play, and large tents, called "takyas," are erected in the streets and open places: these are fitted up with black linen, and furnished with objects emblematical of the events connected with the massacre of Husain and his family on the field of Karbala, the expense being not infrequently borne by some rich man, anxious to conciliate his Creator by such an act of piety and devotion. The ceremonies commence on the 8th of the month, on which day "the Grand Vizier," says Mr. Morier, who himself personally witnessed this strange scene-"invited the whole of the Embassy to attend his takya. On entering the room, we found a large assembly of Persians clad in dark-coloured clothes, which, accompanied with their black caps, their black beards, and their dismal faces, really looked

page 315

as if they were afflicting their souls. We observed that no man did put on his ornaments. They neither wore their daggers, nor any parts of their dress which they look upon as ornamental. A Mulla of high consideration sat next to the Grand Vizier, and kept him in serious conversation, whilst the remaining part of the society communicated with each other in whispers. After he had sat some time, the windows of the room in which we were seated were thrown open, and we then discovered a priest placed on a high chair, under the covering of a tent, surrounded by a crowd of the populace: the whole of the scene being 4ighted up with candles. He commenced by an exordium, in which he reminded them of the great value of each tear shed for the sake of Imani Husain, which would be an atonement for a past life of wickedness; and also informed them with much solemnity, that whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted on the same day, it shall be cut off from among the people (Lev. xxiii. 29). He then began to read from a book with a sort of nasal chant, that part of the tragic history of Husain appointed for the day, which soon produced its effect upon his audience, for he scarcely had turned over three leaves, before the Grand Vizier commenced to shake his head to and fro, to utter in a most piteous voice the usual Persian exclamation of grief, 'Vahi vahi! vahi!' both of which acts were followed in a more or less violent manner by the rest of the audience. The chanting of the priest lasted nearly an hour, and some parts of his story were indeed pathetic, and well calculated to rouse the feelings of a superstitious and lively people. In one part of it, all the company stood up, and I observed the Grand Vizier himself towards the wall, with his hand extended before him, while he prayed. After the priest had finished, a company of actors appeared, some dressed as women who chanted forth their parts from slips of paper, in a sort of recitative that was not unpleasing even to our ears. In the very tragical parts, most of the audience appeared to cry very unaffectedly: and as I sat near the Grand Vizier, and to his neighbour the priest, I was witness to many real tears that fell from them. In some of these mournful assemblies it is the custom for a priest to go about to each person at the height of his grief, with a piece of cotton in his hand, with which he carefully collects the falling tears, and which he then squeezes into a bottle, preserving them with the greatest

page 316

caution. This practically illustrates that passage in the 56th Psalm, 8th verse, Put thou my tears into thy bottle. Some Persians believe that in the agony of death, when all medicines have failed, a drop of tears so collected, put into the mouth of a dying man, has been known to revive him: and it is for such use that they are collected.

On the 'Ruz-i-Qatl,' or 'Day of Slaughter,' the tenth day, the Ambassador was invited by the King to be present at the termination of the ceremonies, in which the death of Husain was to be represented. We set off after breakfast, and placed ourselves in a small tent that was pitched for our accommodation over an arched gateway, which was situated close to the room in which His Majesty was to be seated.

"We looked upon the great maidan, or square, which is in front of the palace, at the entrance of which we perceived a circle of Kajars, or people of the king's own tribe, who were standing barefooted, and beating their breasts in cadence to the chanting of one who stood in the centre, and with whom they now and then joined their voices in chorus. Smiting the breast (St. Luke xviii. 13), is an universal act throughout the mourning: and the breast is made bare for that purpose, by unbuttoning the top of the shirt. The king, in order to show his humility, ordered the Kajars, among whom were many of his own relations, to walk about without either shoes or stockings, to superintend the order of the different ceremonies about to be performed: and they were to be seen stepping tenderly over the stones, with sticks in their hands, doing the duties of menials,-now keeping back a crowd, then dealing out blows with their sticks, and settling the order of the processions.

"Part of the square was partitioned off by an enclosure, which was to represent the town of Karbala, near which Husain was put to death: and close to this were two small tents, which were to represent his encampment in the desert with his family. A wooden platform, covered with carpets, upon which the actors were to perform, completed all the scenery on the occasion.

"A short time after we had reached our tent, the king appeared, and although we could not see him, yet we were soon apprised of his presence by all the people standing up, and by the bowing of his officers.

"The procession then commenced as follows -First came

page 317

a stout man, naked from the waist upwards, balancing in his girdle a long, thick pole, surmounted by an ornament made of tin, curiously wrought with devices from the Quran, in height altogether about thirty feet. Then another, naked like the former, balanced an ornamented pole in his girdle still more ponderous, though not so high, upon which a young darvish, resting his feet upon the hearer's girdle, had placed himself, chanting verses with all his might in praise of the King. After him a person of more strength, and more nakedness, a water-carrier, walked forward, bearing an immense leather sack, filled with water, slung over his back, on which, by way of bravado, four boys were piled one over the other. This personage, we were told, was emblematical of the great thirst which Husain suffered in the desert. A litter in the shade of a sarcophagus, which was called 'the Qabr-i-paighambar,' or 'tomb of the Prophet,' succeeded, horn on the shoulders of eight men. On its front was a large, oval ornament, entirely covered with precious stones, and just above it, a great diamond star. On a small projection were two tapers placed on candlesticks enriched with jewels. The top and sides rested a turban, intended to represent the headdress of the were covered with Kashmerian shawls, and on the summit Prophet. On each side walked two men bearing poles, from which a variety of beautiful shawls were suspended and at the top of which were representations of Muhammad's hand, studded with jewellery.

After this came four led horses, caparisoned in the richest manner. The fronts of their heads were ornamented with plates, entirely covered with diamonds, that emitted a thousand beautiful rays. Their bodies were dressed with shawls and gold stuffs, and on their saddles were placed some object emblematical of the death of Husain. When all these had passed, they arranged themselves in a row to the right of the king's apartment.

"After a short pause, a body of fierce-looking men, with only a loose white sheet thrown over their naked bodies, marched forward. They were all begrimed with blood; and each brandishing a sword, they sang a sort of hymn, the tones of which were very wild. These represented the sixty-two relations, or the martyrs, as the Persians call them, who accompanied Husain, and were slain in defending him. Close after them was a led white horse, covered with artificial

page 318

wounds, with arrows stuck all about him, and caparisoned in black, representing the horse upon which Husain was mounted when he was killed. A band of about fifty men, sticking two pieces of wood in their hands, completed the procession. They arranged themselves in rows before the King, and, marshalled by a matre de ballet, who stood in the middle to regulate their movements, they performed a dance, clapping their hands in the best possible time. The maitre de ballet all this time sang in recitative, to which the dancers joined at different intervals with loud shouts and clapping of their pieces of wood.

"The processions were succeeded by tragedians. Husain came forward, followed by his wives, sisters and relatives. They performed many long and tedious acts: but as our distance from the stage was too great to hear the many affecting things which no doubt they said to each other, we will proceed at once to where the unfortunate Husain lay extended on the ground, ready to receive the death stroke from a ruffian dressed in armour, who acted the part of executioner. At this moment a burst of lamentation issued from the multitude, and sobs and real tears came from almost every one of those who were near enough to come under our inspection. The indignation of the populace wanted some object upon which to vent itself, and it fell upon those of the actors who had performed the parts of Yazid's soldiers. No sooner was Husain killed, than they were driven off the ground by a volley of stones, followed by shouts of abuse. We were informed that it is so difficult to procure performers to fill these characters, that on the present occasion a party of Russians were pressed into the army of Yazid, and they made as speedy an exit after the catastrophe as was in their power.

"The scene terminated by the burning of Karbala. Several reed huts had been constructed behind the inclosure before mentioned which of a sudden were set on fire. The tomb of Husain was seen covered with black cloth, and upon it sat a figure disguised in a tiger's skin, which was intended to represent the miraculous lion recorded to have kept watch over his remains after he had been buried. The most extraordinary part of the whole exhibition was the representation of the dead bodies of the martyrs, who, having been decapitated, were all placed in a row, each body with a head close to it. To effect this, several Persians buried themselves alive, leaving

page 319

the head out just above ground; whilst others put their heads under ground, leaving out the body. The heads and bodies were placed in such relative positions to each other, as to make it appear they had been severed. This is done by way of penance: but in hot weather the violence of the exertion has been known to produce death. The whole ceremony was terminated by the 'Khutba,' which is an action of prayer for Muhammad, his descendants, and for the property of the King, and was delivered in a loud voice by a man the best crier of hiS time (as Xenophon calls Tolmides) who is celebrated for his strong voice, and, indeed, deservedly so, for at about 50 yards distance from us we heard every word he said, notwithstanding the noise of the multitude which surrounded us."

To this description it is necessary to add that one of the principal personages in this singular drama is a fictitious European Ambassador, probably Greek, who is present when the head of Husain is exhibited to Yazid, and who loudly protests against the massacre; an act of indiscretion for which he is rewarded with the crown of martyrdom. There is always great anxiety that the costume of his Excellency should be European, and, if possible, military; but above all a cocked hat and feathers are highly prized; and it is not unfrequently the case that an uniform which has decked the breast of a valiant British son of Mars is made to do duty on the back of a stalwart actor of Iran.

The more fanatical Shias yearly hold a sort of Guy

page 320

Fawkes day, when a comic "tazia" commemorative of Omar is held, and the usurper is finally conducted to the infernal regions by the Arch Fiend in person. On the other hand, the less devout make amends for the extra piety of their faithful brethren by ogling the ladies on the occasion of an interval in the performance, and sometimes, alas be it said, during the most touching and pathetic parts of the ceremonies; while the sane and sober of the assembly are compelled at times to smile at the contests of the fair dames in their struggles to secure an eligible seat; indeed, it would be difficult to avoid being amused at the blows and scratches with which the pugnacious devotees endeavour to assert their rights. There is, truth to tell, a story current that on one occasion a stripling, destined in after years to become a high functionary of State, threw amongst the throng of tightly-packed pushing and tearing daughters of Eve, a basin of young frogs; the confusion and distress of the fair devotees may well be imagined, but their shrieks and screams, followed by the laughter of the sterner sex, must have contrasted somewhat strangely with the sad and dismal scene of woe, which the assembly had met together to celebrate.

In considering this subject, it must not be overlooked, as has been pointed out by M. Gobineau, that Husain is not only the son of Ali, he is the husband of a princess of royal blood - he, his father, all the Imams, taken collectively, represent the Persian nation, overthrown, vexed, dispirited, depopulated by their Arab conquerors: hence the emotion displayed at the performance of the Miracle play is sacred. If any one were to remain cold and unappreciative he would be less than a man to be insensible to cruelty and injustice. Nor would he be a Muslim, inasmuch as he would not in that case dare to despise the family of the Prophet; lastly, and above all, he would not be a Persian in so far as he had failed to recognize what he, who is the personification of his country, had suffered, and what the land itself had undergone.

page 321

The scenes, in every instance, depict some thrilling events connected with the story of" Hasan and Husain" the martyrs of Karbala, but they vary from time to time: in fact the "Shabia Sazi" or, as he would be termed in the \Vest "impresario," of whom there are about five or six scattered throughout Persia, turns his steps at the time of the approach of the Muharram towards the great cities of the land, such as Teheran, Ispahan, Shiraz, &c., and produces out of his collection, which usually numbers 100 scenes, such of them as arc most suited to the occasion, being guided in his choice by numerous considerations of the moment. So that the miracle play varies in each city and in every year. The representation lasts ten days, on each of which the audience is harassed with a fresh tale of woe.

There are no acts or scenes, properly so called, nor is there a curtain, but as each subject terminates the actors leave the stage; these latter are mostly well up in their roles, though they carry a small scroll from which, when memory fails, they calmly read their part. In addition, however, to the professional actors there are numerous supernumeraries, mostly volunteers eager to" compound for the sins they have a mind to," by assisting in an act of devotion, which they consider expiates for many a deed of ill and wickedness committed during the other months of the year.

Piety, too, prompts the orthodox to contribute to the performance articles to deck the stage; and the miscellaneous array of cups, saucers, dishes, plates, and other worldly possessions, which meet the eye, would gladden the heart of a dealer in curiosities.

The strangeness of a strange scene, too, is considerably heightened by the circumstance that it is not deemed incumbent upon the actors to shave their faces; so that a sweet angelic cherub, supposed to have alighted on earth from the regions of bliss, appears in some instances before the audience with a huge dark grizzly beard, entirely inconsistent with the notion of a heavenly messenger, who is universally depicted in the

page 322

West with a sweet innocent face of youthful simplicity.

The pay assigned to the professional actor varies according to the talent of the individual, and the estimation in which he is held by the public; in some cases it amounts to as much as 100 pounds or 150 pounds; the recipient of such a sum is treated with immense respect when he appears in the street, more especially by the troops of children, who are petrified at the appearance of so august a personage; amongst his companions, too, it is etiquette that he should give himself airs - so that at times he is pleasant and affable, while at others he is cross and peevish-if flattery fail in amount or quality, he will refuse to play; he is, forsooth, a star in the firmament of religious art.

The more important, however, of all those who take part in the performance is the "Ruza-khan" - a reciter of the traditions concerning the martyrdom of the Imams - the life and soul of the piece. He must be eloquent, fascinating and learned, and, as the office is both lucrative and honourable, its possessors are not unfrequently Sayyids or descendants of an Imam, in which case the turban and girdle are either green or black, in place of white the ordinary colour.

Sir Lewis Pelly has published a translation of a collection of scenes in this strange "Miracle Play;" but for the information of the unenlightened it may be stated, that in addition to the slaughter and destruction of the martyrs and their families, who are murdered amidst the wails and lamentations of an appreciative audience, the angel Gabriel descends from the skies attended by his ministering angels, all radiant in spangle wings, not alas to assist the band of heroes in their sore and dismal plight, but merely to deprecate the hard lot of the Prophet's offspring. The king, too, of the "Jinns," with his army appears, but, again, not to help but only to mourn; the example of the angelic band has, it would seem, proved fatal. Moses, attired as an Arab Shaikh, Jesus Christ in rags and tatters,

page 323

and even Muhammad himself gorgeously apparelled in silver silk and raiment of Kashmir - one and all revisit the earth, and are stricken with the general contagion of grief; not a soul however raises a finger in defence of the slaughtered heroes-till at length the murderer does his work amidst an universal out-burst of sorrow and indignation!

The sadness of the scenes which are witnessed is in some measure counterbalanced by the comforts for the inner man which abound. Here there is to be seen the lowest of the low, for the admission is free to all irrespective of position, resting in a seat, the elegant fittings of which but ill accord with the poverty of his garments, while he sips coffee from a cup handed to him perchance by the proudest son of the proudest nation of earth; there a cut-throat from Shiraz is perfuming his moustaches with rose water, from an ewer borne by the flower of Persian nobility; while the pipe, on this occasion the pipe of peace, sends its fragrance through an assembly, the most motley the most varied, the most inconceivable which imagination can depict. While all this is taking place, others are to be seen refreshing their parched lips with iced water, a remembrance of the thirst which the martyrs of Karbala suffered ere their spirits fled to the mansions of bliss. Lest, however there should be any failure in weeping, cakes are handed round, composed of peas, melon seeds, and millet, ground into a paste, a concoction which is said to possess the charm of producing a copious flow of tears; lastly, but more important than all, the weaker sex eat freely of gum mastic, for the singular reason that not only does it clean the teeth, sweeten the breath, and strengthen the gums, but it predisposes them not to talk much, a virtue which at such a time it may well be imagined is of inestimable value.

Such is the history of Islam, with its quaint ceremonies, its fatiguing devotions, and its trying hardships. It forms a remarkable chapter in the history of the world, for it teaches the lesson that, whether the

page 324

doctrine of Muhammad be the religion of a false messenger from on high, as some assert; or the divinely inspired faith delivered by the Almighty to his Apostle, the Prophet of Arabia, as is the belief of the Muslim world, it is, at any rate, a creed which has taken deep root in the minds of the nation. When indeed, we find, as is the case in regard to the rites of the "Hajj," that the high and mighty of the land abandon all the luxuries of life to undergo the toil, the troubles, the dangers of a journey to the Holy Cities of Arabia, is it not a striking testimony to the power of the teachings of the Quran, telling forth throughout the length and breadth of the habitable world the faith which millions upon millions of mankind feel in the doctrines they profess; should not such earnestness, such zeal, aye, and it must be added such piety, shame the weak-hearted devotion of modern Christians (?) Humiliating indeed, as is the confession, it must be avowed that the simple trust and confidence of the Musulmans in their God proclaim, in language which is unmistakeable, that as regards fervour and honesty of purpose the devotees of the West must give place to the worshippers in the East! Does not the prayer of each votary in the Mosque of Mecca, when imploring the aid, and seeking to avert the wrath of the Creator in whom the pilgrim is taught to believe, seem to resound through the vault of Heaven, bidding the indifferent and half-hearted people of Christendom follow the example of zeal which the Muhammadan worship affords? May we one and all read the writing on the wall, and bow the head in humble submission, as the voice of conscience utters the words of gentle reproof - "Go thou and do likewise."

Woodfall and Kinder, Printers, Milford Lane, Strand, London, W. C.

Muhammad - His Life and Doctrines with Accounts of his Immediate Successors
Answering Islam Home Page