Day 1129 – Ken here (M)(10-15-2012)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50,51, pp.230-240)(pages read: 2270)
What if the U.S. government cut taxes and allowed retailers to organize their own armies and city states on foreign soil? Gibbon (in 1780’s) comments on governmental expenditures today, voicing the majority opinion of the time that a small government with broad privatization was best – a failed policy that exploded in the collective face of Imperial Britain in India in the 1860’s. J C Penney store photo (Wikip)
A short(er) day – we finish Chapter 50 with a rolling, thunderous summation of Mohammed and his life – which, of course, is actually to us a summation of Gibbon’s view of an entirely antagonistic and alien culture – that of Islam (the Turks mostly to Gibbon) in the late Eighteenth Century.
Then on to Chapter 51 – a long tale of the Islamic Empire – today, we re-hash the first decades of glorious, unstoppable expansion, and bloody civil war. And, of course, mostly Gibbons 1780’s viewpoint of early Islamic history.
As even remotely factual histories of the Middle East were only being written in the previous century or so, and all in France and in French, Gibbon is once again on the cutting historical edge, when he tackles Islam – and he does so with his usual contrarian, rebellious stance. If he were to rank religious feeling (and he does in these 10 pages) they rank: Anglican Church, Protestants in general, Muslims, and finally, Catholics.
And, Gibbon pauses a second to throw in a few Gentlemanly Observations about Low Taxes and Government Economy. How did the British Government lower expenditures as the empire expanded? They privatized the government – example: The East India Company on the Indian Subcontinent. A little like the U.S. allowing J.C. Penneys to organize a private army and take over Northern Mexico to consolidate their hold on the Maquiladora factories there. Privatization saves money, but it leaves huge sectors of the economy and politics beyond the control of the citizens of the country that sponsors the corporation in the first place. Uncontrolled monopoly is never a good idea. The British learned that in the Great Rebellion of 1867 in India when the British were almost kicked out because the government had little say in the conduct of its “privatized” armies. They rapidly DE-PRIVATIZED India after that.
Rational Historiagraphy – Gibbon notes that Arabic historians – in his opinion, the Asiatic Historian – are much less likely to report facts as to Praise the current Regime – this is an image of the Greek (1180s) historian Michael Psellos (left) with his student, Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Michael VII Doukas. From a manuscript from Mount Athos Pantokrator Monastery, 12th – 13th cent. Which would make it a possible contemporary portrait of Psellos.
Gibbon on Mohammed and the Islamic Faith
Gibbon waxes Contrarian – praises the Muslims for 3 pages
Islam – miracle isnt its growth, it is its permanence and unchangingness – which of course, is entirely wrong, as Islam fractured into dozens of separate sects within the first century after 632, as Gibbon himself has already related, but hes being Contrarian and expects to be listened to when hes poking fun at the complacent moral majority of the 1780’s
Mohammed had a salutary, healthful effect on the Arabian peninsula –
Ended idolatry, promoted *social virtues* of law, suppression of vendetta, oppression of widows and orphans
Gibbon then makes the interesting point – if Arabs had NOT conquered so swiftly and quickly, maybe the Arab Bedouin would still be ruling in Arabia, but in Gibbon’s Arabia, the Bedouins hadn’t ruled Islam for a thousand years – of course, our experience with Arab Oil since 1973 has been a little different, as the metaphorical shoe is now on the other metaphorical foot and the Saudis, Arab sheikhs have the ascendancy once again
And we end Chapter 50 (FINALLY!)
Political History of Islam
We start the conquests of Persia, Egypt, Syria, Africa, Spain and the empire of the Caliphs
Union of the Arabs (632) – Arabs have mandatory new requirements 1) submit to Koran (the word Islam=submission) and to 2) No wine 3) Fasting at Ramadan 4) 5 daily prayers 5) tithes and alms
They are thus, a separate people now
The First Caliphs – Union of the Tribes, False Prophets, Doctrinal Splits, Murder
Gibbon relates the interesting story of the false prophet of Yemanah – Moseilama – who offered to share the Arabian peninsula with Mohammed – Mohammed sends out army for battle to decide who will stand for God – wins
Courageous 1st Caliphs Abubekr, Omar, Othman – yet do not lead in battle, but lead from the rear
Abubekr noted for his economy – he was extraordinarily cheap when it came to himself, giving when it came to others – Gibbon LOVES this
Political History – The Beginning of the Conquests
Gibbon notes that there is no proper historians (say in the sense of Thucydides or Tacitus) in the Early Arab world – Gibbon would say even down to his day (1780’s)
This is an old argument – history as PRAISE (of men), history as EDUCATION (in virtue), history as Blank Telling of Events (facts and truth)
Those that come down on the side of PRAISE and EDUCATION say with Pontius Pilate that truth is an illusion – Gibbon being a rational man of the Eminently Reasonable Enlightenment hastens to disagree
I have to say I agree with Gibbon – History as Blank Telling requires a lot more work on the part of historians – self-observation, scrupulous honesty, a willingness to weaken or destroy your case/historical position/narrative – lazy historians HATE to do that EXTRA PERSONAL WORK who notices anyways? – but if you’ve read Monastic Chronicles of Byzantium (Greek Middle Ages) and stumbled happily upon the warped yet reasonable historian Micheal Psellus (1080’s) you already know what I mean
Political History – Conquests – I – Persia
Invasion of Persia (632)
Persia and Syria (Rome) invaded simultaneously
Persia falls very quickly – it was already a destitute country – like Europe just after WWII – no fight left after it lost completely and utterly to Rome and Heraclius
What everyone loves to hate, including Gibbon
More Quoteable Gibbon: British Prot’s are Best, Taxes are of the Anti-Christ, Asiatics Can’t Write History
On the Extremely Desirable and Obvious Reasonableness of the British Protestant Anglican Church
Gibbon cannot help, even in a chapter given over entirely to Islam, not extending his hands and painfully poking the Catholic church repeatedly in its kidneys. He has the easy Late Eighteenth Century Assurance that all-things-British automatically represent the highest good, with a brief congratulatory nod to Protestant Calvinists in Geneva (since he is, after all, en ex-pat living in Switzerland). But the in Gibbon’s eyes, the rational man’s pecking order remains (from best to worst): British Protestant Anglicanism, Certain Other Protestants, Islam, and finally in a limping, peevish, desultory last place, Catholicism.
It is not the propagation, but the permanency, of his religion, that deserves our wonder: the same pure and perfect impression which he engraved at Mecca and Medina, is preserved, after the revolutions of twelve centuries, by the Indian, the African, and the Turkish proselytes of the Koran. If the Christian apostles, St. Peter or St. Paul, could return to the Vatican, they might possibly inquire the name of the Deity who is worshipped with such mysterious rites in that magnificent temple: at Oxford or Geneva, they would experience less surprise; but it might still be incumbent on them to peruse the catechism of the church, and to study the orthodox commentators on their own writings and the words of their Master.
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, p.230)
Someone is paying their taxes – Largest Interstate System on Earth – The Chinese Interstate (Trunk Roads) System – this is G106-Jingkai Expressway, Southern Beijing (2004) (Wikip).
On the Obvious Maxim that the Best Monarchy is a Cheap Monarchy
Gibbon, like any upper-class Englishman, wants a strong central government that provides reliable services – army, post office, taxes, duties, manage internal/external politics, policing, etc – he wants all that, but doesn’t want to pay for it. Since the Magna Carta, Brits have been telling their king and their central government to “live on your own, and leave us and our money alone.” It’s the whole reason there was a British Parliament in the first place – a venue for the King to plead and wheedle money out of his subjects, and a place for the King/Queen’s subjects to dig their heels in and “just say no”.
That apparent contradiction – wanting services, but not wanting to pay for them lives on unfortunately today in the U.S. where whole generations of Americans want to save $100 a year in taxes and let rot (for example) 4 decades of work on the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. Sometimes you can’t spend money on a new pair of jet skies or an ATV and still have a highway to get to the lake/sand with.
There are countries (see China), where the idea of building for tomorrow instead of only pleasuring yourself today is rising – an example is the Interstate System of China which surpassed the U.S. as the largest Interstate System in the world in early 2011 – starting from nothing in 1993. There is a difference between yelling “me, me, me” and “us, us us”. But, again, unfortunately, people usually don’t see that until they’ve trashed the hard work of a century and trillions of man-hours in a decade or two of outrageous self-pleasuring.
But what does that have to do with Gibbon and the rise of the Islamic state?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Gibbon praises (again being contrarian for the 1780’s) Muslim rulers, in particular, AbuBekr and his noted FRUGALITY. This is the primary virtue (in Gibbon’s account) of AbuBekr (besides Courage) – his PARSIMONY.
Yet the abstinence and humility of Omar were not inferior to the virtues of Abubeker: his food consisted of barley bread or dates; his drink was water; he preached in a gown that was torn or tattered in twelve places; and the Persian satrap, who paid his homage to the conqueror, found him asleep among the beggars on the steps of the mosch of Medina. Oeeconomy is the source of liberality, and the increase of the revenue enabled Omar to establish a just and perpetual reward for the past and present services of the faithful.
Careless of his own emolument, he assigned to Abbas, the uncle of the prophet, the first and most ample allowance of twenty-five thousand drachms or pieces of silver. Five thousand were allotted to each of the aged warriors, the relics of the field of Beder; and the last and meanest of the companions of Mahomet was distinguished by the annual reward of three thousand pieces.
One thousand was the stipend of the veterans who had fought in the first battles against the Greeks and Persians; and the decreasing pay, as low as fifty pieces of silver, was adapted to the respective merit and seniority of the soldiers of Omar. Under his reign, and that of his predecessor, the conquerors of the East were the trusty servants of God and the people; the mass of the public treasure was consecrated to the expenses of peace and war; a prudent mixture of justice and bounty maintained the discipline of the Saracens, and they united, by a rare felicity, the despatch and execution of despotism with the equal and frugal maxims of a republican government. The heroic courage of Ali, (7) the consummate prudence of Moawiyah, excited the emulation of their subjects; and the talents which had been exercised in the school of civil discord were more usefully applied… etc etc etc
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.51, p.236)
Gibbon just slides this one into his narrative. You know, sometimes writers of Histories were known to have been rewarded by Kings with generous lifetime pensions. The truly enlightened Kings did that sort of thing. And the noble Muslim Caliphs were known to do that sort of thing. Gibbon’s just sayin’…
And, perhaps, it wasn’t the ECONOMY of AbuBekr that allowed him to grant generous pensions (something an English gentleman, desirous of Royal Pensions to live off of, would be particularly observant of, as we have noted above). PERHAPS, rather than the ECONOMY of the Central Government, it was the fact that the Muslims were PILLAGING TWO OF THE WEALTHIEST and LARGEST EMPIRES on EARTH at the time (Rome and Persia) and had spoils, tribute, booty, plunder, men, money, cities, roads, land, slaves, ships, gold and silver, etc. etc. coming out the yin-yang and to spare. Perhaps it was that.
Or maybe AbuBekr just kept taxes low and spending lower. Yeah, that makes more sense.
On the Absence of History Among Asiatics
Gibbon bemoans his fate as a historian of Arabs. It’s a thankless job. You’re not thanking him. No one’s thanking him. And no one’s helping. Least of all the Arabs. Because, let’s face it, no ASIATIC can write or has written what any Englishman would call a proper history. Hasn’t been done. Thus, the huge, thankless job facing Gibbon.
It’s interesting to note he allows himself to use the faintly derogatory Christian word “Musselmans” in referring to Muslims in this passage, rather than the “faithful”, “Adherents of Mohammed”, “Mahometans” etc, he has obstinately used before – in his contrarian way, to irritate the more conservative among his subscribers and readers.
Gibbon, I hope you’ll note, even takes this opportunity to throw in a disdainful reference to monks and monasticism. Tow things Gibbon can never hate too much.
Yet I must excuse my own defects by a just complaint of the blindness and insufficiency of my guides. The Greeks, so loquacious in controversy, have not been anxious to celebrate the triumphs of their enemies. After a century of ignorance, the first annals of the Mussulmans were collected in a great measure from the voice of tradition.
Among the numerous productions of Arabic and Persian literature, our interpreters have selected the imperfect sketches of a more recent age. The art and genius of history have ever been unknown to the Asiatics; they are ignorant of the laws of criticism; and our monkish chronicle of the same period may be compared to their most popular works, which are never vivified by the spirit of philosophy and freedom.
The Oriental library of a Frenchman would instruct the most learned mufti of the East; and perhaps the Arabs might not find in a single historian so clear and comprehensive a narrative of their own exploits as that which will be deduced in the ensuing sheets.
There were other men who claimed leadership from God and tried unsuccessfully to lead the Arabic tribes after Mohammed’s rise. I’d never heard of subsequent false prophets in Islam before. Although, technically, I guess a false prophet is outside Islam by definition. But, still its interesting. Whats even more interesting to me is that there isnt even a Wikipedia page for Moseilama in English Wikipedia. Guess the West is still somewhat ignorant of Muslim history. This image is NOT a muslim prophet – it is the False Prophet Card from the AeGen4 game
The Subsequent (False) Prophets from within Islamic Tradition
Gibbon makes a short note of a man who challenged Mohammed for leadership of the Arab tribes as the chief of Monotheism, something you don’t hear much about. It is from a quick reference in the Koran Chapter 47 “The Victory.” Apparently he was one of many, many men who tried to follow in Mohammed’s footsteps and claim a higher and subsequent divine revelation as a prophet of God and leader of the Monotheists of Islam. I’d never heard of this before.
These were Banu Honeifa, who inhabited al Yamâma, and were the
followers of Moseilama, Mohammed’s competitor; or any other of those tribes
which apostatized from Mohammedism,5 or, as others rather suppose, the
Persians or the Greeks.
Koran, Ch. 47, The Victory (Gutenberg.Org 1891 Annotated Edition of Koran)
And here is Gibbon’s 1780’s take on it:
At the head of the fugitives and auxiliaries, the first caliph was reduced to the cities of Mecca, Medina, and Tayef; and perhaps the Koreish would have restored the idols of the Caaba, if their levity had not been checked by a seasonable reproof.
“Ye men of Mecca, will ye be the last to embrace, and the first to abandon, the religion of Islam?”
After exhorting the Moslems to confide in the aid of God and his apostle, Abubeker resolved, by a vigorous attack, to prevent the junction of the rebels. The women and children were safely lodged in the cavities of the mountains: the warriors, marching under eleven banners, diffused the terror of their arms; and the appearance of a military force revived and confirmed the loyalty of the faithful.
The inconstant tribes accepted, with humble repentance, the duties of prayer, and fasting, and alms; and, after some examples of success and severity, the most daring apostates fell prostrate before the sword of the Lord and of Caled. In the fertile province of Yemanah, between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Persia, in a city not inferior to Medina itself, a powerful chief (his name was Moseilama) had assumed the character of a prophet, and the tribe of Hanifa listened to his voice. A female prophetess was attracted by his reputation; the decencies of words and actions were spurned by these favourites of Heaven; and they employed several days in mystic and amorous converse.
An obscure sentence of his Koran, or book, is yet extant; and in the pride of his mission, Moseilama condescended to offer a partition of the earth. The proposal was answered by Mahomet with contempt; but the rapid progress of the impostor awakened the fears of his successor: forty thousand Moslems were assembled under the standard of Caled; and the existence of their faith was resigned to the event of a decisive battle.
In the first action they were repulsed by the loss of twelve hundred men; but the skill and perseverance of their general prevailed; their defeat was avenged by the slaughter of ten thousand infidels; and Moseilama himself was pierced by an Aethiopian slave with the same javelin which had mortally wounded the uncle of Mahomet. The various rebels of Arabia without a chief or a cause, were speedily suppressed by the power and discipline of the rising monarchy; and the whole nation again professed, and more steadfastly held, the religion of the Koran.
The ambition of the caliphs provided an immediate exercise for the restless spirit of the Saracens: their valour was united in the prosecution of a holy war; and their enthusiasm was equally confirmed by opposition and victory.
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.51, p.234)
It’s obvious in retrospect, but there have been (as with Christianity) many false prophets in Islam. Here is a brief history of two from an Annotated Koran from 1891 – the annotated history of Koranic events being taken from Arabic sources (I include the sources and footnotes
As success in any project seldom fails to draw in imitators, Mohammed’s
having raised himself to such a degree of power and reputation by acting the
prophet, induced others to imagine they might arrive at the same height by the
same means. His most considerable competitors in the prophetic office were
Moseilama and al Aswad, whom the Mohammedans usually call the two liars.
The former was of the tribe of Honeifa, who inhabited the province of
Yamâma, and a principal man among them. He headed an embassy sent by his
tribe to Mohammed in the ninth year of the Hejra, and professed himself a
Moslem:1 but on his return home, considering that he might possibly share with
Mohammed in his power, the next year he set up for a prophet also, pretending
to be joined with him the commission to recall mankind from idolatry to the
worship of the true GOD;2 and he published written revelations, in imitation
of the Korân, of which Abulfargius3 has preserved the following passage, viz.:
“now hath GOD been gracious unto her that was with child, and hath brought
forth from her the soul, which runneth between the peritonæum and the bowels.”
Moseilama, having formed a considerable party among those of Honeifa, began to
think himself upon equal terms with Mohammed, and sent him a letter, offering
to go halves with him,4 in these words: “From Moseilama the apostle of GOD, to
Mohammed the apostle of GOD. Now let the earth be half mine, and half thine.”
But Mohammed, thinking himself too well established to need a partner, wrote
him this answer:
“From Mohammed the apostle of GOD, to Moseilama the liar.
The earth is GOD’S: he giveth the same for inheritance unto such of his
servants as he pleaseth; and the happy issue shall attend those who fear
During the few months which Mohammed lived after this revolt,
Moseilama rather gained than lost ground, and grew very formidable; but Abu
Becr, his successor, in the eleventh year of the Hejra, sent a great army
against him, under the command of that consummate general, Khâled Ebn al
Walîd, who engaged Moseilama in a bloody battle, wherein the false prophet,
happening to be slain by Wahsha, the negro slave who had killed Hamza at Ohod,
and by the same lance,6 the Moslems gained an entire victory, ten thousand of
the apostates being left dead on the spot, and the rest returning to
1 Abulfed. p.160.
2 Idem, Elmac. p. 9.
3 Hist. Dynast. p. 164.
4 Abulfed. ubi sup.
5 Al Beidâwi, in Kor. c. 5.
6 Abulfed. ubi sup.
7 Idem, ibid. Abulfarag, p. 173. Elmac. p. 16, &c. See Ockley’s Hist. of the
Saracens, vol. i. p. 15, &c.
Al Aswad, whose name was Aihala, was of the tribe of Ans, and governed that
and the other tribes of Arabs descended from Madhhaj.1 This man was likewise
an apostate from Mohammedism, and set up for himself the very year that
Mohammed died.2 He was surnamed Dhu’lhemâr, or the master of the ass, because
he used frequently to say,
“The master of the ass is coming unto me;”3
and pretended to receive his revelations from two angels, named Sohaik and
Shoraik.4 Having a good hand at legerdemain, and a smooth tongue, he gained
mightily on the multitude by the strange feats which he showed them,
and the eloquence of his discourse:5 by these means he greatly increased his
power, and having made himself master of Najrân, and the territory of al
Tâyef,6 on the death of Badhân, the governor of Yaman for Mohammed, he seized
that province also, killing Shahr, the son of Badhân, and taking to wife his
widow, whose father, the uncle of Firûz the Deilamite, he had also slain.7
These news being brought to Mohammed, he sent to his friends, and to those of
Hamdân, a party of whom, conspiring with Kais Ebn Abd’al Yaghûth, who bore Al
Aswad a grudge, and with Firûz, and al Aswad’s wife, broke by night into his
house, where Firûz surprised him and cut off his head. While he was
dispatching he roared like a bull; at which his guards came to the chamber
door, but were sent away by his wife, who told them the prophet was only
agitated by the divine inspiration.
This was done the very night before Mohammed died. The next morning the conspirators caused the following
proclamation to be made, viz.:
“I bear witness that Mohammed is the apostle of GOD, and that Aihala is a liar;”
and letters were immediately sent away to Mohammed, with an account of what had been done: but a messenger from heaven
outstripped them, and acquainted the prophet with the news, which he imparted
to his companions but a little before his death; the letters themselves not
arriving till Abu Becr was chosen Khalîf.
It is said that Mohammed, on this
occasion, told those who attended him that before the day of judgment thirty
more impostors, besides Moseilama and al Aswad, should appear, and every one
of them set up for a prophet. The whole time, from the beginning of al
Aswad’s rebellion to his death, was about four months.8
1 Al Soheili, apud Gagnier. in not. ad Abulf. Vit. Moh. p. 158.
2 Elmac. p. 9.
3 Abulfed ubi sup.
4 Al Soheili, ubi sup.
5 Abulfed. ubi sup.
6 Idem, et Elmac. ubi sup.
7 Idem, al Jannâbi, ubi sup.
8 Idem, ibid.
In the same eleventh year of the Hejra, but after the death of Mohammed, as
seems most probable, Toleiha Ebn Khowailed set up for a prophet, and Sejâj
Bint al Mondar1 for a prophetess.
Toleiha was of the tribe of Asad, which adhered to him, together with great
numbers of the tribes of Ghatfân and Tay. Against them likewise was Khâled
sent, who engaged and put them to flight, obliging Toleiha, with his shattered
troops, to retire into Syria, where he stayed till the death of Abu Becr: then
he went to Omar and embraced Mohammedism in his presence, and, having taken
the oath of fidelity to him, returned to his own country and people.2
Sejâj, surnamed Omm Sâder, was of the tribe of Tamîm, and the wife of Abu
Cahdala, a soothsayer of Yamâma. She was followed not only by those of her
own tribe, but by several others. Thinking a prophet the most proper husband
for her, she went to Moseilama, and married him; but after she had stayed with
him three days, she left him and returned home.3 What became of her
afterwards I do not find. Ebn Shohnah has given us part of the conversation
which passed at the interview between those two pretenders to inspiration; but
the same is a little too immodest to be translated.
In succeeding ages several impostors from time to time started up most of
whom quickly came to nothing: but some made a considerable figure, and
propagated sects which continued long after their decease.
1 Ebn Shohnah and Elmacinus call her the daughter of al Hareth.
2 Elmac, p. 16, al Beidâwi, in Kor. c. 5.
3 Ebn Shohnah. Vide Elmac. p. 16.
from (Gutenberg.Org 1891 Annotated Edition of Koran)
Map of Muslim Conquests