[blocks in formation]

MOHAMMED, the great impostor, and founder of the Saracenic empire, died at Medina, on Monday the 6th of June,* A.D. 632, being the twenty-second year of the reign of Heraclius the Grecian emperor. After he was dead, the next care was to appoint a successor; and it was indeed very necessary that one should be provided as soon as possible. Their government and religion being both in their infancy, and a great many of Mohammed's followers no great bigots, not having yet forgotten their ancient rites and customs, but rather forced to leave them for fear, than upon any conviction, affairs were in such a posture as could by no means admit of an interregnum. Wherefore the same day f that he expired the Mussulmans met together in order to elect a caliph or successor. In that assembly there had

* Elmakin, chap. i. In Milman's Gibbon, this date is shown to be a mistake of Ockley's. The 6th of June of this year fell on a Saturday, and not on a Monday; we should therefore read the 8th of June. Ockley appears to have confounded the lunar with the solar year in his calculations.

+ Elmakin. Abulfaragius.


Caliph, or properly khalifah, signifies a successor or vicar, and was originally given to the universal sovereigns of the Mussulman Arabs, as signifying successor of the prophets," but afterwards, in a more exalted sense, as "vicar of God." This title has since been used for Mohammedan sovereigns, as the caliphs of Spain, of Africa, and Egypt, and the caliphs of Bagdad.-See Lane's Arab. Nights.

like to have been such a fray, as might, in all probability, have greatly endangered, if not utterly ruined this new religion and polity, had not Omar and Abubeker timely interposed. For this false prophet of theirs having left no positive directions concerning a successor, or at least none that were known to any but his wives, who, in all probability might conceal them out of their partiality in favour of Omar, a hot dispute arose between the inhabitants of Mecca and Medina. Those of Mecca claimed most right in the prophet, as being his countrymen and relations, and as having embraced his religion first, and accompanied him in his flight to Medina, when persecuted at Mecca he was forced to make his escape with manifest hazard of his life. They urged that nothing could be of so great use to his person and cause, as this service of theirs, and consequently none could pretend to have so great a right of naming a successor. The inhabitants of Medina, with no less vehemency, urged that the prophet and their religion were as much obliged to them as to the others, because they had received him in his flight, and by their help and assistance put him in a capacity of making head against his powerful enemies; and that they had as much right in the prophet as any others whatsoever, for protecting him in the time of his adversity, and upon that score insisted upon the right of electing a caliph. In short, they came to daggers' drawing, and were just upon falling from words to blows, when one of the Ansars* or inhabitants of Medina, a man something more moderate than the rest, fearing the consequences of this disturbance, called out in the midst of the company, that they would have two caliphs, that is, one for each party. But Abubeker and the rest of the Mohajerins or inhabitants of Mecca, by no means approved of such an accommodation, being desirous that the whole government should remain in the hands of their own party. Abubeker then stepped forth and told them, that he would name two persons, and they should choose which of them both parties could agree upon the one was Omar, the other Abu Obeidah. Upon which motion the company was again divided, and the contention renewed afresh, one party still crying out for the one, and

Arabic," The heipers," because they helped Mohammed when he fled

to Medina.

the other for the other. At last Omar being wearied out, and seeing no likelihood of deciding the matter, was willing to give over, and bade Abubeker give him his hand, which he had no sooner done than Omar promised him fealty. The rest followed his example, and by the consent of both parties Abubeker was at last saluted caliph, and being acknowledged the rightful successor of their prophet Mohammed, became the absolute judge of all causes both sacred and civil. Thus, after much ado, that difference was at last composed, which had like to have proved fatal to Mohammedanism. And certainly it was a very great oversight in Mohammed, in all the time of his sickness, never to have named a successor positively and publicly. If he had done so, without question, his authority would have determined the business, and prevented that disturbance which had like to have endangered the religion he had planted with so much difficulty and hazard.


One author tells us, that Mohammed, when he was sick, commanded those about him to bid Abubeker say prayers publicly in the congregation. This desire to have Abubeker officiate in his place, looks very much as if he designed he should succeed him. And it was so understood by his wives Ayesha and Hafsa, who were both present when Mohammed gave this order, and tried every means to get it revoked. For as soon as Mohammed had spoken, Ayesha told him that if Abubeker went into his place (meaning the pulpit from which he used to speak to the people) the congregation would not be able to listen to him for weeping, and entreated him to order Omar to go up instead. Upon his refusing, Ayesha spoke to Hafsa to second her. The importunity of both put the prophet into such a violent passion, that he told them they were as bad as Joseph's mistress, and again commanded them to send to Abubeker. To which Hafsa answered, "O apostle of God, now thou art sick, and hast preferred Abubeker." He answered, "It is not I that have given him the preference, but God."


Ahmed Ebn Mohammed Ebn Abdi Rabbihi, M.S. Arab. Huntington. No. 554.

+ "This account of Ayesha's opposing the substitution of her father in the place of the apostle seems improbable in itself, and is unnoticed by Abulfeda, Al Jannabi, and Al Bochari."-Gibbon.


The contest, however, which happened immediately after his decease, makes it evident that these words of the dying prophet had no influence in the election of Abubeker, but that the latter chiefly owed it to Omar's resignation; for notwithstanding that Omar was the first to propose Abubeker to the assembly, and to acknowledge him as caliph, he did not afterwards approve of that choice which necessity had suggested at that critical juncture. This appears from what he said, namely, "That he prayed to God to avert the ill consequences which it was to be feared would follow upon such an indiscreet choice. That the man who should do such a thing would deserve death; and if any one should ever swear fealty to another without the consent of the rest of the Mussulmans, both he that took the government upon him, and he that swore to him, ought to be put to death."* These and similar expressions were evident signs of his dislike; but the thing being done and past, there was no remedy but to sit down and rest contented.

Now though the government was actually settled upon Abubeker, all parties were not equally satisfied, for a great many were of opinion that the right of succession belonged to Ali, the son of Abu Taleb. Upon which account the Mohammedans have ever since been divided; some maintaining that Abubeker, and Omar and Othman, that came after him, were the rightful and lawful successors of the prophet; and others disclaiming them altogether as usurpers, and constantly asserting the right of Ali.† Of the former opinion are the Turks at this day; of the latter, the Persians. And such consequently is the difference between those two nations, that notwithstanding their agreement in all other points of their superstition, yet upon this account they treat one another as most damnable heretics. Ali had this to recommend him, that he was Mohammed's cousin-german, and was the first that embraced his religion, except his wife Kadija and his slave Zaid, and was besides Mohammed's son-in-law, having married his daughter Fatima. Abubeker was Mohammed's

* Abulfaragius.

Those who assert the rights of Ali are called Shiites or Sectaries, whilst those who consider the caliphs preceding Ali as the rightful successors of Mohammed, are called Sonnites or Traditionists.

+ Elmakin

« VorigeDoorgaan »