1. Three things to admire – intellectual power, dignity, gracefulness.
2. It is better to go with truth into the wilderness than to follow falsehood into a palace.
3. The true love of God is to love beauty, truth, and goodness.
4. Whoso feeleth Islam to have filled his heart is half-way towards heaven.
5. Courage and conviction are two good warriors. When they fight shoulder to shoulder victory oft crowns their efforts.
6. There is music in the sound of the words of the man who practices that which he teaches.
7. Alive or dead still we are in the presence of the eternal All-Wise.
8. The best preacher is the conscience, the best teachers are time and experience, the best book is the world, the best friend is God.
9. Do your best, God will do the rest.
10. None of us is too old to learn. When a man ceases to desire to acquire knowledge his intellectual death has commenced, and his funeral had better be arranged for.
11. The whipped cur always yelps the loudest.
12. The difference between life and death is nothing more than the difference between to-day and to-morrow. What will happen to us to-morrow is as uncertain and unknown to us as what may occur after the happening of the event called death, and yet there are many who look forward to the coming of to-morrow with joyful anticipation and to death with dismay.
13. It is natural for us to die, as it is for us to be born. It is only the passing of another milestone on our journey.
14. Harness your chariot with truth and honesty, and the devil will come a very bad second in the race.
15. You have no more right to use abusive or insolent words to a person than you have to smack him across the face.
16. Brave men do not hesitate to recognise bravery in others, even though they may be or may have been antagonists in the field.
17. A great lie is like a great fish on dry land: it may fret and fling and make a frightful bother, but it cannot hurt you. You have only to keep still, and it will die of itself.
18. Those who most distrust others are generally those who know that others have good reason to distrust them.
19. The quarrelsome person is always the one who professes to be the easiest individual in the world to get on with.
20. Some people preach more religion in one hour than they practice during the whole of their life.
21. Meanness is the evidence of a defect of intellect as well as of heart. Even the cleverness of greed and avarice is but the extreme cunning of imbecility.
22. A good man desires nothing but that which just laws will permit him to enjoy.
23. Men love women for what they think they are; women love men for what they promise to become.
24. Cold is the absence of heat, darkness the absence of light, and spite and malignity the absence of love and right-heartedness.
25. Forget yourself, know yourself, that is the secret of both happiness and success.
26. The quintessence of knowledge is applying it when you have got it, or confessing your ignorance when you have not knowledge.
27. The person who is confident he or she could manage things better than everyone else, generally lives in a garret, and is not above borrowing a shilling.
28. Just as rain finds its way through the roof of a badly-thatched house, so passion breaks through the badly-regulated, unreflecting, or shallow mind; so as rain cannot percolate through the perfect roof, so passion will not percolate through the well-regulated and reflecting mind.
29. If you live up to your highest aspirations to-day, new glories will wait for you to-morrow.
30. The big drum makes a loud noise, but it is hollow inside.
31. He is not very good who is not better than his friends imagine him to be.
32. A lie trembles all over when it discovers that truth is on its track.
33. The poorest man in the world is the one who gets rich by selling intoxicating liquor or amassing wealth by usury.
34. I notice that the ‘new woman’ is no more proficient in alighting from a tram-car, while it is in motion, than her old-fashioned sisters.
35. A fool will be all his life learning what the wise man can see at a glance.
36. In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; in passing over it, he is superior.
37. There never was a man who did anything worth doing, that did not receive more in return than he gave.
38. When we review our lives, the follies stand out boldly; the good we have done seems very insignificant.
39. When prosperity comes we are prone to forget the lessons of adversity.
40. Keep your eyes on the goal, and remember that thousands of others are trying to get there first.
41. A small mind is about the only little thing that does not accomplish something.
42. The fool in his haste says things which the wise man dare not think.
43. Show me a person who loves to slander the absent, and I will show you a sneak, a coward and a liar.
44. The intuitive thought of conscience is the whispering of the voice of Truth.
45. The more one learns, the more ignorant he discovers he is.
46. Don’t wait for something extraordinary to happen in order to distinguish yourself, work away at the ordinary events of everyday and you will find distinction will come to you at the right time.
47. What appears to be a misfortune may become good fortune if borne with fortitude and resignation.
48. Too much pleasure becomes pain.
49. There are some persons in this world who, if they were in heaven, would find fault with the arrangement of the feathers on an angel’s wing.
50. Don’t spoil a good action by talking about it.
51. As foul gas escapes from a sewer, so doth bad language and evil thoughts emerge from a foul mind.
52. Spite is the meanest revenge of the meanest mind.
53. Work kills few, worry slays thousands.
54. Slander is like mud; throw it against a mud wall and it will adhere, but cast it against marble and it falls off as it grows older, and even the stains wash away.
55. Slander is the favourite weapon of cowards.
56. The stars sprinkled over the sky are the favourite handwriting of the Creator, and the sentence they spell is “There is only One God.’
57. Kindness is the oil which causes the hinge of the gate of Paradise to open easily.
58. Small sorrows worry us, great ones prove us.
59. The jackass who brays loudest is not always the best worker.
60. Do you want to be good? Then do good.
61. What the mother does the child thinks.
62. Misfortune tests, prosperity often spoils the man.
63. Bad habits are as contageous as the measles, and young people are the most liable to catch both.
64. Beneficence spreads its roots deep and its branches far.
65. Money and water are both good things when used properly, but they are both apt to become stagnant and useless, even poisonous, when kept too long.
66. Luxury begets effeminacy, and the off-spring of effeminacy is ruin.
67. Slander would soon die of starvation if nobody fed it.
68. Which is the strangest: eternal life, or life at all?
69. The richest man is the one who is contented with what he has got.
70. One kiss is worth more than a thousand kicks.
71. Evil thoughts like birds may alight anywhere, but that is no reason why they should not be driven away.
72. Foolish elders make foolish juniors.
73. Some people give gifts like blows.
74. It is unfair to say that a man does good deeds only for effect because he does them with effect.
75. Show me a lazy man, and I will show you a miserable one.
76. Genius is another name for a combination of energy, industry and patience.
77. It is better to bear injustice than to do it.
78. Learning is useful, but the knowledge of how to use it is wisdom.
79. Learn to bear little trials with patience, so that you can endure greater ones with complaisance.
80. Your time and your mind is your garden and your field; let them lie fallow and you will get a good crop of weeds, cultivate them both and you will have a rich harvest of flowers, fruit, and good grain.
81. The first real step towards heaven is to say farewell to evil.
82. Little minds always carp at the deeds of greater men.
83. Ingratitude is the most contemptible trait in a person’s character.
84. Never despise instruction even if you have to receive it at the hands of an enemy.
85. The first step towards happiness is self-control, the second, self-denial, the final one, persistent effort.
86. Beware of the person who professes to betray confidences to you in secret.
87. Did you ever hear of a lion who was disturbed by the braying of jackasses?
88. The first turning from the path of duty and honour lies to the crooked lane of adversity.
89. A man never gains anything by exhibiting his annoyance by his face, much less by bursting into a passion.
90. There are two sorts of patience: the one, by which we bear up in adversity, which is fine and beautiful; but the other, that by which we withstand the commission of evil, is better.
91. Perfection consists in three things: patience in affliction, moderation in our pursuits, and assisting him that asketh.
92. Liberality consists less in giving much than in giving at the right moment.
93. Nothing is more apt to remove all good thoughts than want of trust, whereas trust in a person inspires him to do right; we are touched by the good opinion of others, and will not lose it easily.
94. The present hour is all we have.
95. It is now we must be penitent, now we must be holy. This hour has its duty, which cannot be done the next. To-morrow may bring its own opportunities, but will not restore to-day’s.
96. Self-reliance and self-denial will teach a man to drink out of his own cistern and eat his own sweet bread, and to learn and labour truly to get his living and carefully expend the good things committed to his trust.
97. It is far easier to ask for what is impossible than to do that which is possible.
98. All you have to do in any individual heart is to kindle the higher life and set it to work; and that higher life will conquer all that is lower, because God is in the higher life, and you cannot defeat God.
99. Knowledge and timber shouldn’t be much used until they are seasoned.
100. If you will consider and try and reckon up all the blessings you have
enjoyed in life, you will find that although you are a polyglot you will
not have language enough to be able to thoroughly describe them all.
In 1913, Pickthall spent several months in Turkey, where he sought to counteract the anti-Muslim agitation of the British press by collecting first-hand information about the massacres of Muslims which had taken place in Macedonia in the previous year. The result was a series of lectures to the Anglo-Ottoman Friendship Society, and a book, With the Turk in Wartime (London: J.M. Dent). The following is a chapter.
In Misket Hanum’s garden I found visitors. Three bare-headed, bare-faced, black-haired, comely maidens were with my hostess on a seat beneath the deodars. Misket had talked to me about them previously. They were Greeks from a village up the Bosphorus – fearless, self-respecting girls who earned a modest living by their work as dressmakers, journeying from house to house. At one time they had gone to Christian houses only; but latterly, by Misket Hanum’s recommendation, had worked for Turks as well. As they themselves informed me they were petted by all the Turkish ladies, and treated by the men with all respect. Yet they dared not let their parents know that they had ever been employed in Muslim houses. Had the fact been but suspected in their village they would have been ostracised, perhaps stoned; for ignorant Christians are as fanatical as ignorant Muslims. A native Christian girl who marries a Mohammedan is killed as a sacred duty by her nearest relatives if they can get at her. On the steamer on which my wife and I travelled to Marseilles at the end of July, there was such a girl among the steerage passengers. Her brothers had beguiled her into accompanying them to America where her Muslim husband was already trying to make money. At Marseilles they performed her murder in a curiously open manner, seeming to think the deed would be applauded in a Christian country.
These Greek dressmakers, therefore, gave it out, at seasons when they were employed in Turkish houses, that they were working for a European, Misket Hanum, who thus acquired a reputation for extravagance and love of finery. They gave her house as their address in case of letters, and generally came to stay there in the intervals of work; Misket Hanum, like the Turkish ladies, keeping open house for women. Yet, though they owned to being much indebted to the Turks for kindness, they hated them, as I discovered presently; and did not see how any Muslim could really be regarded by a Christian as a fellow-creature.
Seeing me in a fez, they took me for a Turk at first, and were going to withdraw when Misket Hanum introduced me, with a touch of malice, as an Englishman who much preferred the Turks to ‘Greeks, etcetera.’ At that they all broke out:
It was impossible! A European could not really like the Turks! What was there in them to inspire a liking? They were good-natured, truly; so were many animals. But were they not barbarians, and cruelly fanatical? Did they not keep their women in seclusion? In a word, they were not Christians. How could anyone prefer them? As a return for Misket Hanum’s little thrust, all three declared their firm belief that if I wore that hateful head-dress and pretended to love Turks, it was simply from terror of my hostess, who might otherwise have turned me out of doors.
‘Why, what have you against the Turks?’ cried Misket Hanum. ‘Is it not true that when your father’s house was burnt one night, the Turks, and not your precious Christian brethren, took you in, and got up a subscription for you?’
That was true, the girls admitted; the Muslims often did kind actions, which, however, could not blind a Christian to their utter and essential wickedness, the product of a false religion. It was known that they esteemed it holiness to kill a Christian when they got the chance. As for this poor, wandering Englishman, how should he know anything about them, having just arrived! It was evident that he took his cue from present company, for peace.
At this point I was moved to say that I knew something of Mohammedans, having spent a great part of my life with them. I asked these girls to give a single instance of Mohammedan fanaticism, not hearsay, but their own experience. The two elder appeared disconcerted by the point-blank question; but the youngest, nothing daunted, answered hotly:-
‘I have heard them call out “ghiaour” behind me in the public street.’ The horror of this accusation hardly reached me. It resembled that made by the Christians of San Stefano to M. Lausanne when he was inquiring of the conduct of raw Turkish troops from Asia who had encamped there by the thousand during many weeks: ‘Shocking! One of them kissed a girl the other day.’ I had to struggle with a strong desire to laugh before replying: ‘That is nothing. I have been stoned by Muslims more than once.’
Their astonishment at that remark was very great.
‘And yet you like them? It is hardly possible. You are joking, certainly. Why should they have stoned you? And, if they stoned you seriously, how did you escape?’
I assured them I was very far from joking. The thing had happened to me once in Hebron, once in a village northward from Jerusalem, and three or four times in the Muslim quarter of Beyrout, which eighteen years ago was very rough indeed. My only crime had been to wear an ugly English hat.
‘So that is why you wear a fez at present, is it?’ sneered the eldest of the girls; nevertheless she begged me to proceed with my narration and say how I escaped from these fanatics.
Not being a native Christian, I informed her, and therefore not having fanaticism on the brain, I on each occasion had looked upon the stoning merely as a piece of impudence involving danger to my horse and me. I simply rode my horse at the assailants, desiring to know what they meant by throwing stones at us, and invariably I was supported by the sense of justice of the crowd. Once in the outskirts of Beyrout, a friend who was with me had just thrashed the ringleader – a boy about fifteen – within an inch of his life, when the father of that boy, with other elders, came upon the scene. The men were fully armed. We looked for trouble. But no sooner had I told our tale to the newcomers than the father pounced upon his son and administered a second hiding, still more awful than the first. When they discerned the moral of my tale, the three girls bridled highly and disdained it, observing that Muslims were not Christians so could not be tolerated. She then turned to Misket Hanum and in the same chill tone congratulated her on having found a guest after her own heart.
I had many subsequent opportunities of studying the point of view of ordinary Greeks, for these girls were often in the house and our cook was also Greek and fond of argument. I never ceased to marvel at its pure fanaticism. They really liked the Turks of their acquaintance; that is to say, their own experience would have made them tolerant, but for the instruction which they had received from priest and parents, in which they hurriedly took refuge if accused of such a liking. They were gentle girls, incapable of harming anyone; yet I have heard them earnestly maintain that the great persecution of Mohammedans at that time going on in Macedonia was justified upon religious grounds; though they changed their tune directly it was known that the Greeks had suffered too. Some Turkish men, who visited our house habitually, took delight in teasing them until they showed fanaticism. Then they would turn to me and say: ‘Amazing, is it not? In this century! But all Greeks, without exception, are like that.’
The Greeks of Turkey were not always like that. Of old, when their women veiled like the Turkish women, when their men wore fez and turban like the Turkish men, there was no such bitterness between the two religions. If they are ‘like that’ today it is the outcome of a century and more of anti-Turkish propaganda, first Russian, then Hellenic. How many Turkish subjects have thus cunningly and patiently been trained to be a barrier to Turkish progress, to prevent the realisation of my Muslim khôja’s dream of peace and goodwill!
There is an aspect of this Christian question which has not been touched upon by any writer that I know of. It is the utter helplessness of the Christian subjects of the Porte before the Muslims, as compared with their immense pretensions. Their pride is not in what they have achieved themselves, but in what their co-religionists have done for them. They have seen province after province taken by the Powers from Turkey, and made into an independent Christian State, and they glory in each loss to Turkey as their victory; forgetting that, but for the interference of the Powers, Turkey would have lost no territory in Europe, or if she lost it for a moment, would have soon regained it. All the achievements of the Western world, in every field, they claim as theirs upon the score of Christianity. They have assimilated themselves in dress and manners to the Europeans, who have established privileges in the Ottoman dominions, and incline to claim those privileges on the strength of mere resemblance. When one remembers that these people are the conquered race, and that they constantly announce themselves as future conquerors, with talk of turnng Aya Sofia into a church again, and crowning a new Constantine before its altar, it is a wonder that the hatred should appear on one side only. Yet so it is. The Turks dislike the Greeks – chiefly, I believe, on grounds of roguery – but laugh at them; they do not hate them.
‘Oh,’ said the friend, who, for his quiet judgments, I had chosen for my mentor, when we broached this subject; ‘the hatred that they have for us is imposed on them, a kind of dogma. They hate the Armenians, Bulgars, Catholics with another, much more lively kind of hatred, I assure you. If Europe would but say decidedly that Greece shall never have Constantinople, that no more territory shall be taken from us, those people might become good subjects.’
Among the cultured, cosmopolitan Greeks of Constantinople one occasionally finds a cordial liking for the Turks. A Greek of this sort who was interested in my studies invited us to his island villa towards the end of my stay in Turkey. One evening, as we smoked together, looking out upon the sea and the many distant lights which marked the entrance to the Bosphorus, he let fall this strange saying: ‘You cannot say much for the Turks that would appeal to English people, for they are unbusinesslike – a fault for which commercial Europe will never forgive them. But you can say with truth that they are generally good and kindly while the Christians of this country are – well, “wicked”; I can find no other word for it.’
I cannot honestly endorse that judgment, in so far as it concerns the poorer peasant Christians, whom I know and like. It may be true of the rich Levantines; I cannot say. But the poorer Christians are not wicked; only they have been misled, and schooled to great intolerance, at a time when Muslim education tends the other way. After I had been two months in Misket Hanum’s house the Greek cook asked me: ‘Do you truly like the Muslims? Surely it is only a pretence. We have watched you and feel sure you are a Christian. Why, then, do you like them?’
She seemed really worried. I gave some reason which occurred to me. She thought it good, and quite agreed with me – on natural ground.
‘But still they are not Christians,’ she suspired. ‘It is so surprising.’
It was the supernatural aspects of the case, at war with facts, which worried her.
The circumstances which gave birth to Pickthall’s travelogue Oriental Encounters are described in the Introduction below. His manservant Rashid later joined the Suez Canal Police, and met Pickthall again during one of the latter’s passages to India, in 1922.
Early in the year 1894 I was a candidate for one of two vacancies in the Consular Service for Turkey, Persia, and the Levant, but failed to gain the necessary place in the competitive examination. I was in despair. All my hopes for months had been turned towards sunny countries and old civilisations, away from the drab monotone of London fog, which seemed a nightmare when the prospect of escape eluded me. I was eighteen years old, and, having failed in one or two adventures, I thought myself an al-round failure, and was much depressed. I dreamed of Eastern sunshine, palm trees, camels, desert sand, as of a Paradise which I had lost by my shortcomings. What was my rapture when my mother one fine day suggested that it might be good for me to travel in the East, because my longing for it seemed to indicate a natural instinct, with which she herself, possessing Eastern memories, was in full sympathy!
I fancy there was some idea at the time that if I learnt the languages and studied life upon the spot I might eventually find some backstairs way into the service of Foreign Office; but that idea, though cherished by my elders as some excuse for the expenses of my expedition, had never, from the first, appealed to me; and from the moment when I got to Egypt, my first destination, it lost whatever lustre it had had at home. For then the European ceased to interest me, appearing somehow inappropriate and false in those surroundings. At first I tried to overcome this feeling or perception which, while I lived with English people, seemed unlawful. All my education until then had tended to impose on me the cult of the thing done habitually upon a certain plane of our society. To seek to miux on an equality with Orientals, of whatever breeding, was one of those things which were never done, nor even contemplated, by the kind of person who had always been my model.
My sneaking wish to know the natives of the country intimately, like other unconventional desires I had at times experienced, might have remained a sneaking wish until this day, but for an accident which freed me for a time from English supervision. My people had provided me with introductions to several influential English residents in Syria, among others to family of good position in Jerusalem; and it was understood that, on arrival in that country, I should go directly to that family for information and advice. But, as it chanced, on board the ship which took me to Port Said from Naples I met a man who knew those people intimately -–had been, indeed, for years an inmate of their house – and he assumed the office of my mentor. I stayed in Cairo, merely because he did, for some weeks, and went with him on the same boat to Jaffa. He, for some unknown reason – I suspect insanity – did not want me in Jerusalem just then; and, when we landed, spun me a strange yarn of how the people I had thought to visit were exceedingly eccentric and uncertain in their moods; and how it would be best for me to stop in Jaffa until he sent me word that I was sure of welcome. His story was entirely false, I found out later, a libel on a very hospitable house. But I believed it at the time, as I did all his statements, having no other means of information on the subject.
So I remained at Jaffa, in a little gasthaus in the German colony, which had the charms of cleanliness and cheapness, and there I might have stayed till now had I awaited the tidings promised by my counsellor. There for the first two weeks I found life very dull. Then Mr. Hanauer, the English chaplain, and a famous antiquarian, took pity on my solitary state, walked me about, and taught me words of Arabic. He was a native of Jerusalem, and loved the country. My sneaking wish to fraternise with Orientals, when I avowed it after hesitations, appeared good to him. And then I made acquaintance with a clever dragoman and one of the most famous jokers in all Syria, who happened to be lodging at my little hostelry, with nothing in the world to do but stare about him. He helped me to throw off the European ad plunge into the native way of living. With him I rode about the plain of Sharon, sojourning among the fellâhîn and sitting in the coffee-shops of Ramleh, Lydda, Gaza, meeting all sorts of people, and acquiring the vernacular without an effort, in the manner of amusement. From dawn to sunset we were in the saddle. We went on pilgrimage to Nabî Rubîn, the mosque upon the edge of marshes by the sea, half-way to Gaza; we rode up northward to the foot of Carmel; explored the gorges of the mountains of Judaea; frequented Turkish baths; ate native meals and slept in native houses – following the customs of the people of the land in all respects. And I was amazed at the immense relief I found in such a life. In all my previous years I had not seen happy people. These were happy. Poor they might be, but they had no dream of wealth; the very thought of competition was unknown to them, and rivalry was still a matter of the horse and spear. Wages and rent were troubles they had never heard of. Class distinctions, as we understand them, were not. Everybody talked to everybody. With inequality they had a true fraternity. People complained that they were badly governed, which merely mean that they were left to their devices save on great occasions. A Government which touches every individual and interferes with him to some extent in daily life, though much esteemed by Europeans, seems intolerable to the Oriental. I had a vision of the tortured peoples of the earth impelled by their own misery to desolate the happy peoples, a vision which grew clearer in the after years. But in that easy-going Easter life there is a power of resistance, as everybody knows who tries to change it, which may yet defeat the hosts of joyless drudgery.
My Syrian friend –the Suleymân of the following sketches – introduced me to the only Europeans who espoused that life – a French Alsatian family, the Baldenspergers, renowned as pioneers of scientific bee-keeping in Palestine, who hospitably took a share in my initiation. They had innumerable hives in different parts of the country – I have seen them near the Jaffa gardens and among the mountains south of Hebron – which they transported in due season, on the backs of camels, seking a new growth of flowers. For a long while the Government ignored their industry, until the rumour grew that it was very profitable. Then a high tax was imposed. The Balden spergers would not pay it. They said the Government might take the hives if it desired to do so. Soldiers were sent to carry out the seizure. But the bee-keepers had taken out the bottom of each hive, and when the soldiers lifted them, out swarmed the angry bees. The soldiers fled; and after that experience the Government agreed to compromise. I remember well a long day’s ride with Emile and Samuel Baldensperger, round by Askelon and Ekron, and the luncheon which a village headman had prepared for us, consisting of a whole sheep, roast and stuffed with nuts and vegetables; and a day with Henri Baldensperger in the Hebron region. The friendships of those days were made for life. Hanauer, the Baldenspergers, Suleymân, and other natives of the country – those of them who are alive – remain my friends to-day.
In short, I ran completely wild for months, in a manner unbecoming to an Englishman; and when at length, upon a pressing invitation, I turned up in Jerusalem and used m introductions, it was in semi-native garb and with a love for Arabis which, I was made to understand, was hardly decent. My native friends were objects of suspicion. I was told that they were undesirable, and, when I stood up for them, was soon put down by the retort that I was very young. I could not obviously claim as much experience as my mature advisers, whose frequent warnings to me to distrust the people of the country thus acquired the force of moral precepts, which it is the secret joy of youth to disobey.
That is the reason why the respectable English residents in Syria figure in these pages as censorious and hostile, with but few exceptions. They were hostile to my point of view, which was not then avowed, but not to me. Indeed, so many of them showed me kindness – particularly in my times of illness – that I cannot think of them without a glow of friendliness. But the attitude of most of them was never mine, and the fact that at the time I still admired that attitude as the correct one, and thought myself at intervals a sad backslider, made it seem forbidding. In my Oriental life they really were, as here depicted, a disapproving shadow in the background. With one – referred to often in these tales – I was in full agreement. We lived together for some months in a small mountain village, and our friendship then established has remained unbroken. But, he, though not alone, was an exception.
Owing to the general verdict on my Arab friends, I led what might be called a double life during the months of my first sojourn in Jerusalem; until Suleymân, the tourist season being ended, came with promise of adventure, when I flung discretion to the winds. We hired two horses and a muleteer, and rode away into the north together. A fortnight later, at the foot of the Ladder of Tyre, Suleymân was forced to leave me, being summoned to his village. I still rode on towards the north, alone with one hired muleteer, a simple soul. A notion of my subsequent adventures may, perhaps, be gathered from the following pages, in which I have embodied fictionally some impressions still remaining clear after the lapse of more than twenty years. A record of small things, no doubt; yet it seems possible that something human may be learnt from such a comic sketch-book of experience which would never be derived from more imposing works.
The brown plain, swimming in a haze of heat, stretched far away into the distance, where a chain of mountains trenched upon the cloudless sky. Six months of drought had withered all the herbage. Only thistles, blue and yellow, and some thorny bushes, had survived; but after the torrential winter rains the whole expanse would blossom like the rose. I traversed the plain afterwards in spring, when cornfields waved for miles around its three mud villages, wild flowers in mad profusion covered its waste places, and scarlet tulips flamed amid its wheat.
Now all was desert. After riding for four days in such a landscape, it was sweet to think upon the journey’s end, the city of perennial waters, shady gardens, and the song of birds. I was picturing the scene of our arrival – the shade and the repose, the long, cool drinks, the friendly hum of the bazaars – and wondering what letters I should find awaiting me, all to the tune of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ – for the clip-clap of a horse’s hoofs invariably beats out in my brain some tune, the most incongruous, against my will – when a sudden outcry roused me. It came from my companion, a hired muleteer and sounded angry. The fellow had been riding on, ahead. I now saw that he had overtaken other travellers – two men astride of one donkey – and had entered into conversation with them. One of the two, the hindmost, was a Turkish soldier. Except the little group they made together, and a vulture, a mere speck above them in the blue, no other living creature was in sight. Something had happened, for the soldier seemed amused, while my poor man was making gestures of despairing protest. He repeated the loud cry which had disturbed my reverie then turned his mule and hurried back to meet me.
‘My knife!’ he bellowed. ‘My knife! – that grand steel blade which was my honour! – so finely tempered and inlaid! – an heirloom in the family! That miscreant, may Allah cut his life! – I mean the soldier – stole it. He asked to look at it a minute, seeming to admire. I gave it, like the innocent I am. He stuck it in his belt, and asked to see the passport which permitted me to carry weapons. Who ever heard of such a thing in this wild region? He will not give it back, though I entreated. I am your Honour’s servant, speak for me and make him give it back! It is an heirloom!’ That grey-headed man was crying like a baby.
Now, I was very young, and his implicit trust in my authority enthralled me. I valued his dependence on my manhood more than gold and precious stones. Summoning all the courage I possessed, I clapped spurs to my horse and galloped after the marauder.
‘Give back that knife!’ I roared. ‘O soldier! it is thou to whom I speak.’
The soldier turned a studiously guileless face – a handsome face, with fair moustache and a week’s beard. He had a roguish eye.
‘What knife? I do not understand,’ he said indulgently.
‘The knife thou stolest from the muleteer here present.’
‘Oh, that!’ replied the soldier, with a deprecating laugh: ‘That is a thing unworthy of your Honour’s notice. The rogue in question is a well-known malefactor. He and I are old acquaintance.’
‘By the beard of the Prophet, by the August Coran, I never saw his devil’s face until this minute!’ bawled the muleteer, who had come up behind me.
‘Give back the knife,’ I ordered for the second time.
‘By Allah, never!’ was the cool reply.
‘Give it back, I say!’
‘No, it cannot be – not even to oblige your Honour, for whose pleasure, Allah knows, I would do almost anything,’ murmured the soldier, with a charming smile. ‘Demand it not. Be pleased to understand that if it were your Honour’s knife I would return it instantly. But that man, as I tell thee, is a wretch. It grieves me to behold a person of consideration in such an unbecoming temper upon his account – a dog, no more.’
‘If he is a dog, he is my dog for the present; so give back the knife!’
‘Alas, beloved, that is quite impossible.’
With a wave of the hand dismissing the whole subject the soldier turned away. He plucked a cigarette out of his girdle and prepared to light it. His companion on the donkey had not turned his head nor shown the slightest interest in the discussion. This had lasted long enough. I knew that in another minute I should have to laugh. If anything remained for me to do it must be done immediately. Whipping my revolver from the holster, I held it close against the rascal’s head, yelling: ‘Give back the knife this minute, or I kill thee!’
The man went limp. The knife came back as quick as lightning. I gave it to the muleteer, who blubbered praise to Allah and made off with it. Equally relieved, I was about to follow when the utterly forlorn appearance of the soldier moved me to open the revolver, showing that it was not loaded. Then my adversary was transfigured. His back straightened, his mouth closed, his eyes regained their old intelligence. He stared at me a moment, half incredulous, and then he laughed. Ah, how that soldier laughed! The owner of the donkey turned and shared his glee. They literally hugged each other, roaring with delight, while the donkey underneath them both jogged dutifully on.
Before a caravanserai in a small valley green with fruit-trees, beside a slender stream whose banks were fringed with oleander, I was sitting waiting for some luncheon when the donkey and its riders came again in sight. The soldier tumbled off on spying me and ran into the inn like one possessed. A minute later he brought out the food which I had ordered and set the table for me in the shade of trees.
‘I would not let another serve thee,’ he informed me, ‘for the love of that vile joke that thou didst put upon me. It was not loaded. After all my fright! … It is a nice revolver. Let me look at it.’
‘Aye, look thy fill, thou shalt not touch it,’ was my answer; at which he laughed anew, pronouncing me the merriest of Adam’s race.
‘But tell me, what wouldst thou have done had I refused? It was not loaded. What wouldst thou have done?’
His hand was resting at that moment on a stool. I rapped his knuckles gently with the butt of the revolver to let him know its weight.
‘Wallahi!’ he cried out in admiration. ‘I believe thou wouldst have smashed my head with it. All for the sake of a poor man of no account, whom thou employest for a week, and after that wilt see no more. Efendim, take me as thy servant always!’ Of a sudden he spoke very earnestly. ‘Pay the money to release me from the army. It is a largish sum – five Turkish pounds. And Allah knows I will repay it to thee by my service. For the love of righteousness accept me, for my soul is thine.
I ridiculed the notion. He persisted. When the muleteer and I set forth again, he rode beside us, mounted on another donkey this time – ‘borrowed,’ as he put it – which showed he was a person of resource. ‘By Allah, I can shoe a horse and cook a fowl; I can mend garments with a thread and shoot a bird upon the wing,’ he told me. ‘I would take care of the stable and the house. I would do everything your Honour wanted. My nickname is Rashîd the Fair; my garrison is Karameyn, just two days’ journey from the city. Come in a day or two and buy me out. No matter for the wages. Only try me!’
At the khan, a pretty rough one, where we spent the night, he waited on me deftly and enforced respect, making me really wish for such a servant. On the morrow, after an hour’s riding, our ways parted.
‘In sh’Allah, I shall see thee before many days,’ he murmured. ‘My nickname is Rashîd the Fair, forget not. I shall tell our captain thou art coming with the money.’
I said that I might think about it possibly.
‘Come,’ he entreated. ‘Thou wouldst never shame a man who puts his trust in thee. I say that I shall tell our captain thou art coming. Ah, shame me not before the Commandant and all my comrades! Thou thinkest me a thief, a lawbreaker, because I took that fellow’s knife?’ he asked, with an indulgent smile. ‘Let me tell thee, O my lord, that I was in my right and duty as a soldier of the Sultan in this province. It is that muleteer who, truly speaking, breaks the law by carrying the knife without a permit. And thou, hast thou a passport for that fine revolver? At the place where we had luncheon yesterday were other soldiers. By merely calling on them to support me I could have had his knife and thy revolver with ease and honesty in strict accordance with the law. Why did I not do so? Because I love thee! Say thou wilt come to Karameyn and buy me out.’
I watched him jogging on his donkey towards a gulley of the hills along which lay the bridle-path to Karameyn. On all the evidence he was a rogue, and yet my intimate conviction was that he was honest. All the Europeans in the land would lift up hands of horror and exclaim: ‘Beware!’ on hearing such a story. Yet, as I rode across the parched brown land towards the city of green trees and rushing waters, I knew that I should go to Karameyn.
THE long day’s ride was uneventful, but not so the night. I spent it in a village of the mountains at a very curious hostelry, kept by a fat native Christian, named Elias, who laid claim, upon the signboard, to furnish food and lodging ‘alafranga’ – that is, in the modern European manner. There was one large guest-room, and an adjoining bedroom of the same dimensions, for some thirty travellers. I had to find a stable for my horse elsewhere. A dining-table was provided, and we sat on chairs around it; but the food was in no wise European, and the cooking was degraded Greek. A knife, fork, and spoon were laid for every guest, but several cast these on the floor and used their fingers. In the long bedroom were a dozen beds on bedsteads. By offering a trifle extra I secured one to myself. In others there were two, three, even four together. An elderly Armenian gentleman, who had a wife with him, stood guard with pistols over her all night. He was so foolish as to threaten loudly anyone who dared approach her. After he had done so several times a man arose from the bed next to mine and strolling to him seized him by the throat.
‘O man,’ he chided. ‘Art thou mad or what, thus to arouse our passions by thy talk of women? Be silent, or we honest men here present will wring thy neck and take thy woman from thee. Dost thou understand?’ He shook that jealous husband as a terrier would shake a rat. ‘Be silent, hearest thou? Men wish to sleep.’
‘Said I not well, O brother?’ said the monitor to me, as he got back to bed.
‘By Allah, well,’ was my reply. The jealous one was silent after that. But there were other noises. Some men still lingered in the guest-room playing cards. The host, devoted to things European, had a musical-box – it was happily before the day of gramophones – which the card-players kept going all night long. I had a touch of fever. There were insects. Sleep was hopeless. I rose while it was yet night, went out without paying, since the host was nowhere to be seen, and, in some danger from the fierce attacks of pariah dogs, found out the vault in which my horse was stabled. Ten minutes later I was clear of the village, riding along a mountain side but dimly visible beneath the stars. The path descended to a deep ravine, and rose again, up, up, interminably. At length, upon the summit of a ridge, I felt the dawn. The mountain tops were whitened like the crests of waves, while all the clefts and hollows remained full of night. Behind me, in the east, there was a long white streak making the mountain outlines bleak and keen. The stars looked strange; a fresh breeze fanned my cheek and rustled in the grass and shrubs. Before me, on an isolated bluff, appeared my destination, a large village, square-built like a fortress. Its buildings presently took on a wild-rose blush, which deepened to the red of fire – a splendid sight against a dark blue sky, still full of stars. A window flashed up there. The sun had risen.
Some English people, when informed of my intention to buy a man out of the Turkish Army, had pronounced it madness. I did not know the people of the land as they did. I should be pillaged, brought to destitution, perhaps murdered. They, who had lived in the country twenty, thirty years, were better qualified to judge than I was. For peace and quiet I pretended acquiescence, and my purpose thus acquired a taste of stealth. It was with the feelings of a kind of truant that I had set out at length without a word to anyone, and with the same adventurous feelings that I now drew near to Karameyn. Two soldiers, basking in the sunshine on a dust-heap, sprang up at my approach. One was the man I sought, the rogue Rashîd. They led me to their captain’s house – a modest dwelling, consisting of a single room with hardly any furrniture. A score of soldiers followed after us.
The Captain – Hasan Agha – an old man, with face scarred and heavy white moustache, was in full uniform, and, as I entered, was engaged in putting on a pair of cotton gloves. He was one of the old ‘alaïli,’ Turkish officers – those whose whole knowledge of their business was derived from service in a regiment or ‘alaï,’ instead of from instruction at a military school; and his manner towards the men had nothing of the martinet. He addressed them as ‘my children,’ with affection; and they, though quite respectful, conversed freely in his presence. Hasan Agha paid me many compliments, and repeatedly inquired after my health. He would not hear about my business till I had had breakfast. Luncheon had been arranged for me, he said, but that could not be ready for some hours. Would I be so kind as to excuse a makeshift? Even as he spoke, a soldier entered with a tray on which were slabs of Arab bread, a pitcher of sour milk, and heaps of grapes. Another soldier began pounding coffee, while yet another blew upon the charcoal in a brazier. I refused to eat unless my host ate with me, which he did only after much polite resistance. After the meal, we sat and talked, the soldiers joining in the conversation. They told me of old wars and deeds of valour. Hasan Agha was, it seemed, a famous fighter; and the men did all they could to make him tell me of his battles. They brought an old man in out of the town to see me because he had fought in the Crimean war, and knew the English. Before it grew too hot, they took me out to see the barracks and a ramshackle old fieldpiece which they seemed to idolise. Then followed luncheon with its long array of Arab dishes, of which the soldiers had their share eventually. Rashîd assured me afterwards that all the food on this occasion had been ‘borrowed.’ That was in Abdul Hamid’s golden days. After luncheon, there was coffee with more compliments; and then at last we got to business.
A public writer was brought in. He wrote out a receipt for me, and also the discharge Rashîd required. Hasan Agha stamped both documents with an official seal, and handed them to me, who gave him in exchange the money.
‘Bismillah!’ he exclaimed. ‘I call all here to witness that Rashîd, the son of Alî, called the Fair, is free henceforth to go what way he chooses.’
To me he said: ‘Rashîd is a good lad, and you will find him useful. The chief fault I have found in him is this: that, when obeying orders, he is apt to think, and so invent a method of his own, not always good. Also, he is too susceptible to female charms, a failing which has placed him in some strange positions.’
The last remark evoked much laughter, relating, evidently to some standing joke unknown to me. Rashîd looked rather sheepish. Hasan Agha turned to him, and said:
‘My son, praise Allah for thy great good fortune in finding favour in the sight of one so noble and benevolent as our beloved guest, who is henceforth thy master. Remember, he is not as I am – one who has been what thou art, and so knows the tricks. Serve him freely with thy mind and soul and conscience, not waiting for commands as in the Army. Come hither, O my son, grasp hands with me. I say, may God be with thee now and always. Forget not all the good instruction of thy soldier days. Be sure that we shall pray for thy good master and for thee.’
The old man’s eyes were wet, so were Rashîd’s, so were the eyes of all the soldiers squatting round.
Rashîd, dismissed, went off to change his uniform for an old suit of mine which I had brought for him, while Hasan Agha talking of him as a father might, explained to me his character and little failings.
At last I took my leave. Rashîd was waiting in my cast-off clothes, a new fez of civilian shape upon his head. He held my stirrup, and then jumped on to a raw-boned beast which had been ‘borrowed’ for him by his friends, so he informed me. It might be worth my while to buy it for him, he suggested later – the price was only eight pounds Turk, the merest trifle. The whole garrison escorted us to the last houses, where they stood a long while, waving their farewells. Two hours later, on the mountain-ridge, beyond the wady, we turned to look our last on Karameyn. It stood amid the flames of sunset like a castle of the clouds.
We returned, then, to the ‘alafranga’ hostelry; but Rashîd, having heard the story of my sleepless night, would not allow me to put up there. I paid my debt to the proprietor, and then he found for me an empty house to which he brought a mattress and a coverlet, a lot of cushions, a brazier, and the things required for making coffee, also a tray of supper – all of them borrowed from the neighbouring houses. I might be pillaged, brought to destitution, and eventually murdered by him, as my friends had warned me. At least, the operation promised to be comfortable.
THE moon began to shine upon the gardens of Damascus, casting pale shadows, though the daylight had not quite departed, and the sky behind the trees to westward was still green. We were sitting out on stools under the walnut trees, beside a strem which made a pleasant murmur. The air was laden with the scent of unseen roses. Behind us was a little tavern with a lantern lighted in its entrance arch, a solitary yellow eye amid the twilight.
We were the centre of a crowd, as usual when Suleymân was with us. His voice attracted people like a drum, and the matter of his talk had power to hold them. It was a weighty voice of studied modulations, which promised wisdom on the brink of laughter. He generally chose some moral or religious subject for discourse, and illustrated it by what we call ‘nawâdir’ (rare things) selected from his vast experience of life. By his own account he had journeyed to the world’s rim, and had associated not alone with men, but also with jinn and ghouls. On the other hand, he had been to Europe several times, and knew the streets of Paris and of London. Somehow, one never doubted any of his stories while he was telling them, the accents of his voice had such conviction. One was conscious that his tales – even the most extravagant – were true in some mysterious, intrinsic way. This time he chose to speak to us of guilt and innocence, of good and evil works, and their effect on man’s salvation. He aired the theory, which roused approving murmuers in the listening circle, that to have a good intention was the chief desideratum for every son of Adam on his journey through the world, no matter though his works might turn out bad or unsuccessful.
‘To lie with good intention is better than to tell the truth with bad intention,’ he declared.
‘To lie is the salt of a man; the shame is to him who believes,’ put in Rashîd, my servant, who was great at proverbs.
Suleymân paid no heed to the interruption.
‘A sin committed thoughtlessly,’ said he, ‘is light compared with one which thou hast hatched and planned.’
‘Nay, O belover, a sin is a sin, appointed so by the Most High; and the duty of a man is to avoid it. The hurt to man’s salvation is the same, however he approach it,’ said an old man in the audience. ‘If I cut my hand, is the wound less, is it not rather likely to be more – for being thoughtless?’
There was a murmur of applause as all eyes turned on this objector, whose likeness could not be distinguished in the gloaming.
I spoke in approbation of the view expressed, and the old man, emboldened, laughed:
‘To lie is bad, to kill is bad, to steal is bad. Our Lord destroy this rogue of an Intention, which plain men cannot catch nor understand!’
‘Nay, listen!’ Suleymân became persuasive and profoundly earnest, as was his manner always under opposition. ‘Thou hast not altogether caught my meaning. I say a man should trust in the Most High, not think too much beforehand of his ways. By thinking beforehand, he may form a bad intention, since man’s thoughts are naturally fallible. Let him think afterwards, thus he will learn to shun such snares in future, and by repentance place a good work to his credit. Men learn wisdom from their sins, not from their righteous deeds. And the consciousness of sin, the knowledge that they may at any moment fall into it, preserves them from the arrogance of goodness.’
‘There may be some small grain of sense in what thou sayest,’ chuckled the objector, ‘but not enough to make sin righteous, nor yet to abrogate the sacred law.’
Suleymân pursued unheeding: ‘I have a rare thing, which will show you what I mean.
‘A new judge had been appointed to the Holy City. He was departing from Stambûl by ship to take up his appointment. On the quay, a Jew of his acquaintance came to him with reverence, and begged him kindly to convey a basket of bastirma to his (the Jew’s) son at the Holy City, which the Jews in their own language call Jerusalem. You all know what bastirma is. It is dried and salted mutton – very tasty – a dish of which the Turks are most inordinately fond. The Cadi graciously consented, bidding his major-domo take the basket, and bestow it carefully among the things. The Jew departed. The Cadi and his party journeyed till they reached their destination, where, upon arrival, they discovered a young Jew inquiring earnestly about a basket of bastirma. The Cadi had forgotten its existence. ‘Ah, to be sure!’ he cried. ‘I gave it to my major-domo for safe keeping.’
‘He called the servant, and commanded him to give the basket of bastirma to the Jew there waiting. The major-domo bowed his head, folded his hands upon his breast, and said: ‘I ask forgiveness, O my lord. The basket still remains, but the bastirma was so excellent that, having tasted all but a piece of it, I wanted more, so that, in fact, I ate it all upon the journey. I wish to pay the price of it to this young Jew.’’
‘The Cadi thought his servant’s offer fair enough, but the young Jew went mad. Flying at the throat of the major-domo, he flung him to the ground, and tried to tear the soul out of his body with his teeth and nails. The Cadi called upon the bystanders for held. The Jew was dragged with difficulty from his victim. Then the Cadi asked:
‘‘Why, pray, did you attack my servant in that savage manner?’
‘’That man,’ said the Jew, still white with rage, and pointing with his tallow finger at the major domo, who had risen from the ground – ‘that man contains my grandfather.’
‘‘What words are these? Explain yourself!’ the Cadi cried.
‘‘Three weeks ago, O gracious Excellency, my grandfather died in Stambûl. It had ever been his dearest wish to be buried in the Holy City, near the scene of Judgment; and that wish of his was law on us his offspring. But how could we fulfil it? How, I ask? No skipper, whether Nazarene or Muslim, would receive a dead Jew on his ship for less than the corpse-weight in gold. And we are poor. To take him overland was quite impossible. And so my father and my mother in Stambûl cured his dead limbs, and made of them bastirma, and sent him hither in the way thou knowest. It follows that thy servant has committed a most dreadful crime. Let him be killed, I pray, and buried in the tomb we have prepared, so that my grandfather’s great wish may be fulfilled.’
‘The major-domo was more dead than living as he heard that story. He rent his clothes and fell down on the ground insensible.
‘The Cadi answered the young Jew with wisdom, saying: ‘Thou art entitled to the price of one basket of bastirma, and no more, from this my servant; but he, on his side, has a right to all thou ownest. What wealth can ever compensate him for the haunting fear that on the Last Day he may rise inextricably mingled with thy worthy grandfather? Go, I say, and never venture to approach him any more, or I shall surely act upon this judgment and denude thee quite.’ The major-domo – ’
Cries of ‘Miskîn! Miskîn!’ (poor fellow!) interrupted the narrative.
One said: ‘I once ate pig’s flesh by mistake, but this man’s plight is much more horrible.’
Suleymân’s opponent cried: ‘It was a judgment on him, evidently, for his theft of the bastirma. Say, what became of his thereafter, O narrator?’
‘The major-domo, who, till then, had been a precious rogue – I knew him intimately from a child, and so can vouch for it – became from that day forth the saintliest of men. He thought about his crime and mourned for it, and deemed himself an unclean beast until he died – may God have mercy on him – and was buried in the Holy City as the Jew desired. He thought of nothing but good deeds, yet without seeking merit, knowing that nothing he could do would ever cleanse him. He became the humblest and the best of men, who had beforebeen arrogant and very wicked. Therefore I say that it is well for men to think of their sins after rather than before committing them.’
‘But the intention! What of the intention, O my master? His intention was not good. He stole!’
‘His intention went no further than a basket of bastirma. The Jew was only an unpleasant accident, in respect whereof no guilt attached to him. The case is clear, and yet, although I used to argue with him on the subject, I never could contrive to make him see it. One thing is certain, and will prove to you the worth of good intentions. He only meant to eat a basket of bastirma; therefore he felt great remorse when he devoured a Jew, and so became a saint for Paradise. Had he intended to devour a Jew he could not possibly have felt such great remorse. What say you?’
And everyone agreed that it was so.
Though I had known Suleymân for nealry two years, and had had him with me for some six months of that time, I had never seen him in his function of a dragoman, by which he earned enough in two months of the year to keep a wife and children in a village of the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, of which he spoke with heart-moving affection, though he seldom went there. It was only after much insistence that he allowed us to conduct him thither on one memorable occasion, when I could not but admire his perfect manners as a despot. When first I met him he had been a gentleman at large, and it was as that, and a familiar friend, that he repaired to me whenever he had nothing else to do. Judging from his gifts of conversation, which we all admired, and his unbounded knowledge of the country, I thought that, as a guide for tourists, he would be invaluable. So, when I heard that English friends of mine were coming out to Palestine, I wrote advising them to ask for him, him, only; and I was glad to hear soon afterwards that he was with them. When they came north, I joined the party at Damascus and travelled with them for their last fortnight.
It did not take me many minutes in the camp to see that Suleymân was not himself, and that my friends were not so charmed with him as I had thought they would be. On the first evening in their tent I heard complaints. They told me he was most unconscionably lazy, and would not take them to the places they desired to visit. The trouble was, as I soon learnt, that they possessed a map and guidebook which they studied reverently every night, finding out places said therein to be of interest. Suleymân, on his side, had, at setting out, possessed a plan to make their tour the most delightful one imaginable. He hoped by visiting selected spots and people to give it sequence and significance. In a word, he was an artist in travel, wishing to provide them with delicious memories, while they were English and omnivorous of facts and scenes. When he learnt from various rebuffs that they would not confide themselves to him, he lost all pleasure in the tour. It was a listless and disgusted upper servant, most unlike the man I knew, whom I found in glorious raiment sitting by the cook’s fire in the gardens of Damascus, which were then a wilderness of roses.
He did not explain matters to me all at once. When I reproached him for neglecting friends of mine, he answered only: ‘It is the will of Allah, who made men of different kinds, some sweet, some loathsome.’ But my arrival mended things a little. At least, my English friends professed to see a great improvement in the conduct of Suleymân and all the servants. I think it was because the poor souls knew that they had someone now to whom they could express their grievances, someone who would condescend to talk with them; for nothing is more foreign to the Oriental scheme of life than the distance at which English people keep their servants. In the democratic East all men are equal, as far as rights of conversation are concerned. It is a hardship for the Oriental to serve Europeans, and only the much higher and more certain wages bring him to it.
My English friends had few good words to say for any of their Arab servants; but I found they had conceived a perfect hatred for the cook, who had undoubtedly a villainous appearance. He was a one-eyed man with a strong cast in his surviving eye. A skull-cap, which had once been white, concealed his shaven poll, and his long pointed ears stood out upon it.. he wore a shirt of indigo impaired by time, over which, when riding, he would throw an ancient Frankish coat, or, if it chanced to rain, a piece of sacking. His legs were bare, and he wore scarlet slippers. To see him riding on an ass hung round with cooking tins, at the head of the procession of the beasts of burden, suggested to the uninformed spectator that those beasts of burden and their loads had all been stolen.
I spoke about him to Suleymân one day when in my company he had regained his wonted spirits, telling him of the extreme dislike my friends had taken to the man.
‘They are foolish,’ he replied, ‘to grumble at the figure of a mill which grinds good flour. They profit by his cooking, which is excellent. Indeed, he is the best cook in the world, and most particular. I took great trouble to secure him for this expedition, knowing that the Khawâjât were friends of yours.’ The tone of grievance in his voice became acute.
I feared that he was going to cry, so answered quickly:
‘It is not that. They like his cooking. But his manners – ’
‘What know they of his manners? Has he ever entered the saloon or bed-tent to defile them? Has he ever spoken insult in their hearing? Inform me of his crime, and I will beat him bloody. But well I know he has done nothing wrong, for I have kept him in the strictest order all these days. It is only his appearance they object to; and that is God’s affair, not theirs. The Lord repay them!’
‘You say that you have kept him in strict order? Is that necessary?’
‘Of course it is, for the poor man is mad. I thought his madness would amuse them; it is very funny. But Allah knows that there is not a laugh in all their bodies. So I have kept him from approaching them.’
The word ‘majnûn,’ which I have here translated ‘mad,’ has often, as I knew, a complimentary value; and I gathered from Suleymân’s way of speaking that the cook was not a raving maniac, but rather what in English country-places we should call ‘a character.’
I cultivated his acquaintance after that, and was astonished by his powers of story-telling and of mimicry; still more, perhaps, by a curious dry scepticism, expressed facetiously and sometimes with profanity, which was evident in almost everything he said. This it was which chiefly pleased the waiter and the muleteers, who were his usual listeners, since they were together on the road. They would laugh and curse him in religious terms for a blasphemer and a wicked atheist, reproofs which he received as high applause. It was his custom to salute his friends with insults, which they took kindly from him, being what he was. They told me in low tones of awe, yet with a chuckle, that he had even sold his father’s grave in a facetious way. But I could never get them to relate that story clearly.
I could understand then why Suleymân had kept him in strict order on the journey; for my English friends were quite incapable of seeing any fun in such a character. Nor did I ever tell them of the great adventure of that journey, in which their cook was very nearly done to death.
It happened near the village of Mejdel-esh-Shems, down in the valley underneath Mount Hermon. We remained in camp there over Sunday, and on Sunday afternoon my friends were resting in the tent. Suleymân and I had seized that opportunity to go off for a ramble by ourselves, which did us good. We were returning to the camp in time for tea, when a crowd of fellâhîn came hurrying from the direction of our tents, waving their arms and shouting, seeming very angry. Suleymân called out to them to learn the matter.
‘Zandîq!’ (an atheist) they cried. ‘Zandîq! Zandîq!’
‘Where?’ I asked eagerly.
‘There, in yonder tent,’ an old white-bearded man informed me, with wide eyes of horror. He pointed to the canvas windscreen against which our famous cook sat gazing at the kettle he had set to boil for tea. ‘We go to fetch the wherewithal to kill him properly.’
‘Stop!’ said Suleymân peremptorily. ‘You are mistaken. That is our cook – a good, religious man, but mad occasionally.’
‘No, there is no mistake, O lords of honour,’ cried a score of voices; while the old man who had pointed out the cook to me, explained:
‘He said – may God protect us from the blame of it! – He said: “You see that mountain! It is I who made it. Prostrate yourselves before me for I made the world.” We had been standing round him inoffensively, asking him questions, as the custom is, about his parentage, his trade, and so forth. But when we heard that awful blasphemy, we rent our clothes, and ran in haste to fetch our weapons, as thou seest. Delay us not, for he must surely die.’
‘Commit not such a wickedness! The man is mad!’
‘No; he is sane.’
‘Quite mad, I do assure you. Return with us, and I will prove it to your understanding,’ cried Suleymân.
I added my assurance. They came back with us, but murmuring, and in two minds. I could not but admire the simple piety which prompted them at once to kill a man whose speech betrayed him as an atheist. But I was very much afraid of what might happen, and of the sad impression it would make upon my English friends. And everything depended on the cook’s behaviour.
‘I tell you he is mad,’ said Suleymân, advancing towards the fire. ‘It were a sin for you to slay a fellow-creature thus afflicted. Come hither, O Mansûr,’ he cried as to a dog.
The cook rose up and came towards us with a foolish air.
‘Lie down before my horse. I would ride over thee.’
The cook fell prostrate, then turned over on his back. His mouth hug open idiotically; his tongue lolled out.
‘Now rise and kiss my boot.’
The cook obeyed. By that time there were murmurs of compassion from the would-be slayers.
‘Spake I not truly?’ asked Suleymân.
‘Aye, O sun of verity! He is quite mad, the poor one,’ said the old man who had acted spokesman. ‘It were a sin for us to kill him, being in that state. His manner at the first deceived us. Allah heal him! How came the dreadful malady upon him?’
‘It came upon him through the pangs of unrequited love.’
‘Alas, the poor one! Ah, the misery of men! May Allah heal him!’ cried the women, as the group of villagers moved off, contented. Just when the last of them passed out of sight the longest tongue I ever saw in man emerged from the cook’s mouth, and the rascal put his finger to his nose in a derisive gesture. Those portents were succeeded by a realistic cock-crow.
‘What makes the cook like that, devoid of reverence?’ I asked of Suleymân.
‘It is because he was born in Jerusalem,’ was the astonishing reply. ‘He is a Christian, and was born poor; and the quarrels of the missionaries over him, each striving to obtain his patronage for some absurd belief, have made him what he is – a kind of atheist.’
Selîm, the waiter, who was near and overheard this ending, burst out laughing.
‘An atheist!’ he cried. ‘Your Honour understands? It means a man who thinks there is no God. Just like a beetle!’ and he held his quaking sides.
Both he and Suleymân appeared to think that atheism was a subject to make angels laugh. And yet they were as staunch believers as those fellâhîn.
The novel concerns an English governess who converts to Islam and marries Yûsuf Bey, a young aristocrat from Cairo’s Turkish elite in the 1870s.
WITH the return of reason a new spirit came to Barakah. At the moment of her seizure she had been exasperated with her Eastern life. She awoke to rapture in it, to impatience of the European nurse and doctor. The smell of them, as they leaned over her, was an offence; their voices jarred so that often she would hide her head beneath the bed-clothes to shut out the sound.
On the other hand, she listened eagerly to noises out of doors – the creak of the shadûf which tipped up water on the garden, the camel-bells, the chant of passing funerals; she watched the sunlight stud with gems the inky lacework of her lattice, and eagerly inhaled the breeze which entered; and Yûsuf’s daily visits were her joy. In the forest of distorted memories through which her soul had wandered friendless like a ragged child, the Europeans she encountered had reviled her; the love of Yûsuf and his people had been all her hope.
In the hunger which distressed her convalescence, the growing disaffection for a diet all of milk, her fancy pictured feasts of Eastern dishes, English cookery appearing loathsome in the memory. Strangest of all, she could now think in Arabic, of which, before her illness, she had scarce a sentence.
As soon as she had licence to see visitors, the Pasha’s harîm came in force to greet her. The lady Fitnah fell upon her in a transport of affection, and she responded with entire abandonment, thankful to have at last the love of Yûsuf’s mother. The elderly princess, Amînah Khânum, and other ladies of importance, paid her visits and, as her health improved, carried her off to their own houses – not for an hour, but for whole days together. There, in the perfumed shade, she was enthroned with cushions, fanned and sprinkled, nourished delicately, and sung to sleep when she showed signs of weariness. The sense of frailty and of worth was exquisite. She was content to be the guarded pet, and let them plan; regarding them as beings of a higher race, with whom it would be vanity to try to cope. Their freedom from the sentimental mists of Europe helped this feeling, and so did their bold vision of existence, blinking nothing. The potential cruelty which lurked beneath their gentleness subdued her; the way they talked of death habitually made her feel a timid child.
Thus, with the body pampered and the mind enslaved, she studied and observed their life, completely fascinated. The world of women was, she found, a great republic, with liberties extending to the meanest slave, and something of the strength which comes of solidarity. Unless in jealous fury, no woman would inform against another, bond or free; nor fail to help her in the hour of need. They had their shibboleths, their customs, rites, and ceremonies, even their courts of justice, independent of the world of men. Each lady owning slaves controlled them absolutely. Her husband never saw their faces, hardly knew them. The law against his making love among them, except by her command, was very drastic. The child of such a union would have been her slave. If her required a concubine, he had to buy, not steal one. So sacred with the Muslims was the married woman’s right to property – a right which was not recognized at all in England. Occasionally Barakah heard talk of cruelties which chilled her blood; but her friends excused them on the ground of anger, which was for them a visitation from on high. The very victims, they assured her, never felt as she did.
One feature of the harîm life which shocked her was the equalling of black with white. The Muslim faith disowning all race prejudice, a strain of negro blood appeared in the best families; and any negro having fortune was esteemed as marriageable as the fairest Turk. Then the black slaves, though less regarded because they cost less than the white Circassians, possessed great influence, particularly in the article of superstition, which they quite controlled. Weeds from the heathen Soudan, brought to Cairo in the convoy of the slave-dealer, luxuriated in that tank of guarded ignorance; and many an enlightened Muslim would have died of horror had he known the works of darkness countenanced by his harîm – the sacrifices to malignant beings; the veneration paid to hoary negresses for demoniacal possession; the use to which the name of God was sometimes put. To Barakah, however, in those early days, such fancies – what she heard of them – seemed merely comic. She ranked them with the women’s playfulness, their funny stories. She was enamoured of their life as she conceived it, enslaved and thrilled by its unblushing candour. This was the season of her real conversion, which reached its climax on a certain morning, when she was carried in a guarded litter to the citadel to witness the departure of the yearly pilgrimage. From a place reserved for ladies on the ramparts, she beheld the troops, the guilds of dervishes, defile before the Khedive’s tent, and then the great procession wind away. Fanfares sounded, cannons roared, and from the multitude which hid the square and covered every roof and balcony in sight, beading with heads the very summits of the citadel, a sigh went up.
Barakah was in an ecstasy. When her eyes wearied of the flash and movement, she surveyed the vast blue sky, the coloured, sun-lit walls, the minarets where doves were circling. She pictured the long journey of the pilgrims, on the shining sea, across the burning sands, to the eternal sanctuary. What scene in Christian Europe could be matched with this? Religion, but a mummy there, here lived and moved.
Returning home, she felt a craving to unbosom, and bethought her of a girl in England, once her friend. She called for ink and pens, and wrote forthwith to Julia Long, recounting her changed fortunes, and extolling Egypt. She described the scene she had that morning witnessed, and concluded:
“Julia darling, you with think it strange, but I am sure that this religion is the true one. Here every woman has a chance to marry, and the accidents of wealth and birth are not the barriers they are at home. Polygamy is not at all what people think. The Moslems are as strict as Puritans about morality; and the women here are happier than those at home. Europe has gone all wrong, and so has Christianity. Here we believe in Jesus just as you do: we know that his religion is the true one; but St. Paul and others after him corrupted it. Do think of this, and learn about Mahometanism. I would give anything that you might find the happiness that I have found. My husband will be taking me to Paris at the end of June. Do try and join us there. We will pay all expenses.
“With true affection from your old friend
“MARY, Madame Yousouf Bey Mohamed, c/o Mohamed Pasha Sâlih, Cairo, Egypt.”
This letter was read out to Yûsuf in the evening. He applauded it, and vowed she had a natural gift of eloquence. He asked for a minute description of her friend, seeming much pleased to think that they would meet in Paris; and when Barakah had satisfied him to the best of her remembrance, chuckled:
“And you love her? Then you would not object to have her for your durrah!”
She warned him archly that she could be jealous.
Barakah called often on the lady Fitnah, who just now was in high feather, having been commissioned by Murjânah Khânum to find out a husband for the latter’s slave, Gulbeyzah. At once she sent out go-betweens in all directions, threads of a gigantic web, in which she sat and waited. Flies soon came – ladies with eligible sons or husbands needing matrimony – whose claims the shrewd Egyptian sifted, smelling out the slightest fraud. Barakah was interested in these doings, naturally, seeing they concerned the welfare of her closest friend.
Murjânah Khânum wished to emancipate a charming slave and place her in a good position, at the same time seeking some remuneration for her previous outlay. She appointed Fitnah Khânum her intendant. Those were the naked facts. But the word ‘price’ was never mentioned in discussions of the subject; it was always ‘dowry,’ of which a third part would be paid, of course, to the bride’s people. Gulbeyzah was referred to as a cherished daughter of the house; her wishes were consulted with regard to each proposal; and no-one was annoyed when she seemed hard to please.
‘Thou art like Leylah Khânum,’ whispered Barakah. ‘Thou wilt choose and choose away till none are left.’
‘By no means,’ was the laughing answer. ‘I am a young maid. Moreover, it is not the man I stickle for, it is society.’
Whenever ladies whom she did not choose came to inspect her, Gulbeyzah donned a rustic air and talked to shock them. Barakah had no idea of what she meant when saying she required society, until one day she told her:
‘Praise to Allah! Only think, beloved! Three Circassians, young like me, from the same district! Their lord – a Pasha of the richest – wants another like them. They are gratified. I have been recommended. They come to-day for my inspection. Thou shalt see them presently, as also a Gulbeyzah no one ever saw before. O day of milk! O wave-crest of all days!’
Barakah had been summoned by the ladies and a carriage sent for her. Gulbeyzah had waylaid her on the way to the reception-room.
‘But what of the man – the husband?’ she inquired.
‘Splendid! Rich and generous; impartial as the prophet in division of his favours. If God wills, I shall bear him children. What more could girl require? Think – four of us, like sisters! Four pearls strung together, and inseparable! Thou wilt visit us, and we shall all four love thee dearly. O joy! Now go! I will rejoin thee presently.’
The clack of tongues was heard from the reception-room. Before the door stood rows of coloured slippers. All the dependants of the household, all the go-betweens, had rallied to support the ladies on a great occasion. Hardly had Barakah concluded greetings ere the three Circassians were announced. They were all charming, and all bore, she fancied, some resemblance to Gulbeyzah in their child-like faces and huge eyes. They had pretty, deferential manners, seeming to speak by pre-arrangement and to think in concert, obedient to some rule which bound them, just like nuns. They were still amid the storm of formal compliments when Gulbeyzah entered clad in soft apparel, and paused as if in awe at finding strangers. Then, blushingly, she went and kissed their hands, going on to kiss the hands of all the ladies present. In so doing she gave Barakah a little bite, and when her tour was ended sank down humbly at her feet.
‘They will unmask thee. Thou canst never keep this up for life,’ the Englishwoman whispered.
‘By Allah! only look!’ was the reply. ‘They too are acting.’ See now, the plump one: there is inward mirth.’
The visitors, impressed by her demeanour, put certain questions, which she answered to the point. It appeared that she could dance and sing; spoke Turkish, Arabic, and some Armenian. At mention of French also, they raised hands and eyes, declaring her a perfect prodigy. They then addressed her in their native dialect, when sudden smiles broke up their shy decorum. Turning to the hostesses, they asked forgiveness for employing private speech. They had but asked the dear one of her native village, and smiled to hear that it adjoined their own. They begged for leave to call again, which meant the bargain was acceptable; and then withdrew with every blessing on the house.
No sooner had they vanished than Gulbeyzah threw off her demureness and performed with energy a naughty dance which terminated in a sudden swoop to clasp Murjânah Khânum’s feet. Her mistress bent and kissed her forehead tenderly; the lady Fitnah was convulsed with glee; the humbler women gave forth wedding-cries. And the cause of all this joy, the object of that motherly consideration, was a slave! In Europe, people thought of slaves as miserable. Here was a story to be told to Julia Long.
‘O disappointment! Thou wilt be in Paris! Thou wilt miss my wedding!’ cried Gulbeyzah suddenly. ‘Yûsuf Bey should take some low girl with him since he needs must go. It is sinful to expose thy worth to the risks of travel.’
‘Have I not told him?’ cried the lady Fitnah. ‘The world will be quite black when she is gone. A girl for whom his father paid three thousand pounds. It is absurd to fling her into boats and filthy trains.’
Barakah smiled at their desire to keep her, thinking with rapture of the coming talks with Julia. She had not then had Julia’s answer to her letter. It arrived within a fortnight of the time of starting.
‘ … How can you write such wickedness? … I heard that you had married a Turk, but thought of course he was converted … I do not envy you your riches nor your rank at such a price! … No, I will not join you in Paris, and abet you in your infamy. I banish your most impious suggestions from my thoughts for ever.’
She crumpled up the closely written sheets, then flung them on the ground and stamped upon them. Yûsuf found her weeping uncontrollably, and asked the cause.
‘Then their women are fanatical like ours!’ he sighed when told. ‘Take heart, O fountain of my life! By Allah, such a friend is not worth weeping. We will none the less enjoy ourselves in Paris.’
‘I have no wish to go at all,’ sobbed Barakah.
GHANDÛR attended Yûsuf in the train to Alexandria, and accompanied the pair on board the steamer. Kissing hands at parting he wept uncontrollably, and in that condition was propelled by sailors to the boat awaiting him. Barakah would have liked to stand and watch the harbour, which offered charming pictures in the evening glow; but Yûsuf drew her down into a stuffy cabin, where he left her, bidding her secure the door against intrusion. He told her she must take her meals down there, since there was no separate dining-room assigned to women. Directly afterwards his voice resounded in the corridor, with others talking Arabic, by which she knew that he had friends on board.
A stewardess knocked at her door, bringing her supper, which consisted of a single dish of meat and vegetables. By then the pulse of engines could be felt; there was a noise of running overhead, shouts, and the clank of chains; the ship was moving. Having made an end of eating, she retired to bed and, being tired, went to sleep immediately. The slamming of the door by Yûsuf partly roused her. She could hear him swearing, asking Allah to be put on shore, and knew that he was sea-sick; but it seemed no matter. Next morning, as the sea was rather rough, she kept her bunk until eleven o’clock, when she got up and put on English clothes she had brought with her Yûsuf, more dead than living, asked what for.
‘I go to smell the air.’
He sobbed. ‘With face exposed! Behold me dead, while dogs defile my grave.’
Supposing his mind wandered – for she wore the English veil which he himself had said would be sufficient after leaving Egypt – she found her way on to the deck and spent an hour there, pacing up and down, enjoying the strong wind. When she returned to Yûsuf he was inarticulate. She stayed with him until the evening, when she went on deck again for a few minutes before turning in. It was five days before the gale abated.
At length, one morning they awoke to ease of movement, and Yûsuf rose. His smile was tentative at first, but soon grew confident. ‘I could not tell thee for my sickness,’ he informed her, ‘but there are common people of our faith on board. I would not have their talk asperse my wife. It mattered less while I myself made no appearance. No doubt they took thee for some Frankish woman. But now keep close in here. Wait till we get to Fransa.’
Without waiting for her answer, he went out. But in a minute he was back again, exclaiming:
‘The wife of Hâfiz Bey, my friend, lies near to death! Come thou and see what can be done for her, and God reward thee! Put on thy habbarah. My friend will guide thee.’
It was the first time he had spoken of his friends to her. She followed him and was presented to a fat, good-tempered-looking youth, exceeding swarthy, clad in a European suit too tight for him, who apologized in baby French for thus ‘deranging’ her. He opened the door of an adjacent cabin, bowed her in, and then retreated arm in arm with Yûsuf.
It was a two-berth cabin. In the lower bunk a buxom girl of eighteen years or less – a perfect blonde – lay with her eyes closed, making moan with every breath. The childish face was flushed, discoloured round the eyes with weeping; the hands clenched. Whatever her complaint, it was not sea-sickness.
‘How is thy health?’ the visitor asked softly.
‘O Lord! I die! I perish! O fresh air! O sun!” gasped out the sufferer. ‘O Allah! Was I born a fish to be thus thrown upon the sea – a snake, to be imprisoned in this box?’
‘Be brave! The voyage is now almost ended. In two days or three, at most, we are released. Tell me thy pains! What ails thee?’
The prostrate beauty opened great blue eyes of injured innocence and asked: ‘Who art thou?’
‘I am the wife of Yûsuf Bey, thy husband’s friend.’
‘The Englishwoman!’ She sat up and clung to Barakah. ‘How cans’t thou bear it, thou, an honoured wife! Will not thy parents take account for the indignity? Oh, end my life, I pray thee; it is unendurable!’
Slowly, by force of patience, Barakah elicited that the girl, by name Bedr-ul-Budûr, a pet slave of the mother of young Hâfiz Bey, had been presented to him for his comfort on this journey, since his bride, of high ideas, refused to travel. She had been a little frightened in the train, a new experience, but much elated till she came aboard this ship and felt the sea. Then she realized that she had been beguiled, defrauded, enticed to an undignified and hideous death. Hiccuping sobs broke in upon her narrative, which ended in a storm of tears.
Barakah tried to soothe her mind with cheerful talk, depicting all the charms of life in Paris.
‘Thy voice is sweetness,’ she entreated. ‘Stay with me! Turn out my consort: let him house with thine. What does one want with men when one is dying?’
Going out on that injunction, Barakah found Hâfiz and her husband waiting close at hand. The former, greatly scared by his companion’s illness, was prepared for any sacrifice to save her life; and Yûsuf raising no objection, Barakah’s effects were moved into the other cabin, while Hâfiz took his baggage to the ‘house of Yûsuf,’ as he called it, jesting.
Bedr-ul-Budûr gave praise to Allah. The presence of a lady of acknowledged standing relieved her of the sense of singular and base ill-treatment, which was all her illness.
At length, the ship stood still and filled with voices. It was night. The men called from the corridor to warn them that the landing would take place at the third hour next morning. Thus bidden, they took out their Frankish garments and compared them.
Barakah’s were old, of sober hue. Bedr-ul-Budûr’s brand-new and something garish. They slept but little, talking through the night.
When Barakah had finished dressing in the early morning, her companion, waking, screamed in horror at the English veil.
‘Merciful Allah! It is dreadful. It hides nothing. It is what the wantons wear. Wait but a minute! I have more than one. I will provide thee. My kind princess advised me what was right to wear.’
Tumbling out of her berth, Bedr-ul-Budûr found in her box a fold of thick white gauze, which she proceeded to throw round the face of Barakah, attaching it to the bonnet with two little brooches.
‘By Allah, that is better,’ she remarked, and then gave all her mind to her own dressing.
When this was finished, her appearance smote the eye. Her bonnet was sky-blue, the thick white veil depending from it like a curtain, her dress a lively pink, her stockings white, her boots and gloves bright yellow, shining in their newness; she had a pale blue parasol adorned with frills of lace.
‘The Franks wear many colours,’ she remarked to Barakah, adding with childish wonder, ‘Why are yours so dull? … By Allah, I feel naked in the middle.’
So did Barakah. To one accustomed to go shrouded, a dress which emphasises the hips and bust seemed vile at first.
Yûsuf and Hâfiz fetched them up on deck, where they found two more ladies garishly arrayed, and two more men in French-made suits and fezes.
After the introduction all stood awkwardly, gaping like children who have lost remembrance of their part. Barakah, to ease the strain, remarked to Hâfiz Bey upon the beauty of the morning, the bustle of the harbour of Marseilles; but his response was marred by evident embarrassment; his eyes kept veering round to look at Yûsuf, whom he soon rejoined. The ladies formed a group apart, in titters at each other’s odd appearance. Presently a man, clad as a Frank, approached with Arab greetings. He kissed the hand of Hâfiz Bey, who welcomed him. It seemed he had been warned by letter to prepare the way for them.
‘All is ready, lords of bounty!’ he exclaimed. ‘Deign but to follow me, the ladies with you.’
The drive along the quays through noisy streets to the hotel, the breakfast which their guide assured them had been cooked and chosen in accordance with religious law, were trammelled by constraint, and went off sadly. Only in the train, where they were separated, each sex enjoying a reserved compartment, did conversation flow. Among the women it was soon uproarious. They talked and laughed half through the night, appealing constantly to Barakah, a European born, for information. The appearance of the men at every station, to ascertain that they were well, produced a hush; but no sooner were the despots gone again than the mad talk and laughter raged anew.
At length they tired and tried to rest. They cursed the narrowness of the divans, the work of devils. When morning came, Bedr-ul-Budûr was at the point of death once more, asking her Maker what she had done to deserve such disrespectful treatment; while Barakah, looking out at European villages, was haunted by remembrance and grew sad.
The sun had long been up when they reached Paris. Yûsuf and Hâfiz, Bedr-ul-Budûr and Barakah, packed in one cab, were driven with a rattle through tumultuous streets to the hotel where rooms had been engaged for them. The hostess, a stout woman elegantly dressed in black, and the entire staff stood out to welcome them. The woman bowed incessantly, addressing Yûsuf and his friend as ‘Monseigneur.’ Finding that Barakah knew French she drew to her and poured a smooth flow of amenities into her ear.
‘Madame has only to command – all that she desires. Should madame require conversation, I am always at her service. The princes come to Paris for diversion, that is understood. Young men so rich! They must amuse themselves! But then their ladies must not find the life too sad.’
Thus prattling, she conducted them upstairs and flung open a door, exclaiming, ‘Voila!’ Crossing the landing to another door, she flung that open also. ‘Voila!’ she cried again. Bedr-ul-Budûr, so tired that she could hardly drag her feet up, chose the left-hand room, which happened to be nearest. Yûsuf and Barakah proceeded to the other. Both parties ordered coffee and some light refreshment, and after breakfasting went straight to bed. They rested until evening, when the men went out to find their friends, whose lodging was close by. They returned with sundry purchases, hats, gloves and scarves, which they declared they needed for complete disguise.
On the next morning the whole party, in two carriages, went out to smell the air and view the city. It was a cloudless day and the streets sparkled, the trees along the boulevards were like fat green posies. They were feeling happy when, in an important thoroughfare, they discovered people pointing at them, drivers shouting. Yûsuf and his seat companion Hâfiz grew uncomfortable. Cries of amazement reached them from the other carriage. Their cabman turned round with a grin and told them:
‘“Place aux dames,” messieurs! – That is what they cry. These ladies are not slaves with us, que diable!’
The two men had been lounging in the roomy seat which faced the horse. They at once resigned it, addressing bows and smiles of deference to the angry multitude; and called out to their friends to do the like. But the incident destroyed their pleasure in the drive; nor were the ladies happy in the seat of honour, a gazing-stock for infidels who might possess the evil eye.
‘Saw one ever such fanaticism?’ groaned Yûsuf. ‘And they call this country free – a place where every one does what he likes!’
That afternoon was spent in the hotel in a strange manner; Barakah, at the demand of Yûsuf, instructing the four men in foreign customs. They posed and pirouetted in her salon, rehearsing bows, the flourish of a hat, the proper compliments; while the three girls looked on with saucer eyes. After dinner they again appeared before her, this time without their fezes, wearing hats which gave them a very villainous and sleek appearance. Required to criticize their dress and bearing from a Frankish standpoint, she suggested some improvements which were hailed with gratitude. Yûsuf returned home after midnight, tired but garrulous. It seemed that they had lighted on a charming Frenchman, who undertook to show them all the sights. Next day the men rose late and then went out together, leaving the women to their own devices; returned to dinner, then went off again, remaining out this time till nearly morning.
The programme did not vary on succeeding days. The girls, deserted, clung to Barakah. They wailed and prayed to God, and dreamed of Cairo. At length one of them – it was Bedr-ul-Budûr – took courage to reproach her lord; when all four men were stricken with amazement. They had thought the ladies would be gay indoors without them, as they were at home. To cheer them up, a trip to Versailles was arranged. It passed off gaily, with less shyness than usually appeared when they all mixed together. As they strolled about the park, a youth named Izz-ud-dîn made up to Barakah, and with the greatest diffidence implored her to confide to him the secret how to win the love of Frankish ladies. When she smilingly assured him there was none, he cried:
‘O Lord of Heaven! Then thou wilt not tell it. They are so easy to their own men, as we know from books; to us so difficult. It cannot be fanaticism, since we seem as Franks.’
‘But what need hast thou of women, with a pearl of beauty here beside thee?’ questioned Barakah.
‘One who has beheld thy loveliness must evermore desire the like of it! Oh, that thou hadst a sister for me!’ he made answer glibly.
He moved away, but presently another came and made the same preposterous request, retreating with the same forced compliment; and on the journey home, when Yûsuf closed his eyes and seemed to sleep, Hâfiz Bey, whom she had thought more sensible, approached her in his turn. When she denied all knowledge of the matter he answered in low tones:
‘There is a secret, that is known, by Allah. Thou hast it, and hast given hints to Yûsuf; else why should he be more successful than the rest of us?’
‘Because he is better looking,’ it was on the tip of her tongue to say, as she surveyed the fat, good-tempered face of Hâfiz with its Chinese eyes. It was all that she could do to keep from screams of laughter.
‘It is my dream,’ he whispered. ‘By Allah it disturbs my nights with cruel pain – to take a lady just like thee in all respects – a Frank and noble, of extreme refinement – back with me to Masr.’
She derided him. He still continued pleading, supporting his petition with the grossest flattery, till they reached home, when Yûsuf suddenly sprang up and glowered at Hâfiz. He had been feigning sleep. It was a thunderbolt. Bedr-ul-Budûr screamed warning to her lord, who took but a single look and fled indoors, the jealous one pursuing like a madman. In the hall the harmless youth was overtaken and turned round to plead. With a howl of ‘Dog!’ Yûsuf sprang at his throat and bore him to the ground. Like dogs in very truth they fought until parted by the hotel servants with the help of broomsticks; while Barakah strove in vain to make her explanation heard. Bedr-ul-Budûr appealed to Allah and the prophet; and the landlady from the third step of the stairs, with hands and eyes thrown up, exclaimed repeatedly:
‘O ciel! C’est monseigneur!
(London: Evelyn Nash, 1913.)
After the success of his Saïd the Fisherman, Pickthall was emboldened to attempt a novel set entirely in the Middle East. The plot is set during the reign of Sultan Abd al-Majid, and concerns a saintly scholar, Shems-ud-dín, who comes to Jerusalem to find a European doctor for Alia, his desperately-ill daughter. This entails both a tussle with his own religious pride, and a difficult encounter with his son, who has risen to high office in the local Ottoman administration.
The sun rode high above the Holy City, but a freshness of the dawn still lurked in the shade of her rough walls, in the gloom of her covered ways, which swarmed with people in all kinds of raiment representative of every nation under heaven. To any one threading that crowded labyrinth of whitish stone, ancient and coherent, glimpses of the pure blue sky became welcome as a flower on rocks. For Shems-ud-dín, accustomed through so many years to wide horizons and an open road, the overshadowing walls made a prison. The hubbub of the bazaars dazed him, and he felt hurt by the careless shouldering of other wayfarers.
He had been to visit Alia, and was making his way, under guidance of the faithful Zeyd, to the Sacred Area, when he met Shibli walking with Hassan Agha and his attendant Circassians amid the throng in a long, dim market.
‘How is the health of our dove this morning?’ cried Hassan, speaking for them all. ‘In sh’ Allah, the poor one is much better/‘
‘If not better, her frame has rest – for which Allah be praised!’ returned Shems-ud-dín. ‘The people of the house are very kind, as I learn from the mouth of Mâs. The Lord reward them! … O Shibli, son of my hope, unless thou hast some grave business, come with me to the Dome of the Rock, whither I go to pray. It is long since I spoke with thee in private. Come and let thy voice comfort me, O my dear.’
Shibli obeyed, as in duty bound; but his face often turned to gaze wistfully after the Cricassians, and the lines of his mouth expressed grievance.
‘Is the health of the beloved indeed no better?’ he felt it incumbent on him to ask.
‘I know not how to answer thee, O my son. I fear hope as a friend untried. It is enough to desire. Notwithstanding, if Allah wills that she be made whole, there appears to my mind a possibility which yesterday I could not discern.’
‘Praise be to Allah!’ murmured Shibli, very properly.
The quiet of the Muslim quarter brought refreshment to Shems-ud-dín, after the clamour of the motley throng in the bazaars. Old walls rose high on either hand. Jutting lattices, with here and there an arch, encroached on the jewel sky. In the shade of one ancient portal, ornate but crumbling to decay, sat a breadseller asleep behind two tiers of flat, brown loaves. A man with a water-skin on his back turned in at the doorway of a house before them. A grave notable, in apparel sober but rich, passed them without a glance, one hand in his breast. Everything in that dim, once splendid quarter told of a proud reserve, of a dignity that needs no trump for its assertion. The air was sad with the sadness of great things past.
They entered what seemed a disused bazaar of rare magnificence, a huge corridor with a lofty vaulted roof, which got light from the far end where its tall arch framed the sky. The place was deserted and ruinous, its floor uneven and strewn with the brash of masonry. Shems-ud-dín quickened step instinctively to gain the light which picked out the faces of his companions from the shades wherein they had walked so long.
The outer sunshine crashed on their sight with the splinter of a thousand lances. The great mouth of the passage yawned black as night behind them. On either side of it ran a high irregular wall, bearing here and there a lattice, the end of the houses in this direction. They stood on a strip of clear ground, on which a few old trees cast blots of shadow; a place waste save for patches of wrought pavement and certain small, domed shrines as delicate as toys of ivory.
Before them, at no great distance, rose a flight of wide steps leading up on to a terraced plateau, and at a point further off up sprang a sister flight exactly similar. On the top of either stairway, in the gate of the Haram, stood three slender columns, light and graceful as flower-stems, supporting arches. At one end of the plateau, seen through cypress trees, crouched a mosque of many aisles; and numberless small, domed buildings – shrines and cells and pulpits – capped the terrace walls. But what drew and absorbed their gaze to the forgetting of all else, the sun and centre of all, was a mighty dome, in form and colour somewhat resembling a ripe fig, springing from the roof of an octagon of two kinds of marble, wrought together into cunning patterns. Not a foot of the great building but had been treated minutely, curiously, by the hands of forgotten craftsmen. In the full light of morning, there in that sand-hued place, it bloomed a wondrous iris of the hills, a thing to wring a shout from the dying.
Even Shibli forgot his dudgeon, and joined reverently with Zeyd ebn Abbâs in reciting the prayer of first approach, after Shems-ud-dín.
Then, having gazed all about them, they crossed the waste ground and mounted the steps. Discarding slippers, they passed along a time-worn pavement to the place of washing. With the exception of two middle-aged men in dark robes and white turbans, who sat disputing gravely beneath a tree and gave but one look to the pilgrims, they seemed alone in the vast enclosure.
When, having purified their bodies, they ventured to approach the Noble Sanctuary, Shems-ud-dín thought well to remind them of its claims to reverence.
‘Within, beneath this admirable dome,’ he said, ‘we shall behold the rock whereon Neby Ibrahim, the Friend of God, prepared to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail, at the bidding of the Most High. Hither also, in an after age, was our lord Muhammed, the Apostle of God, borne by night on the celestial beast, Burac; and from that same rock was he transported to the seventh heaven, being yet mortal. Surely there is no stone in all the world save only that of Mekka, more worthy of our reverence than this rock, which God has hallowed from of old. And the Khalif, Omar El Khattab (peace to him!), did well to raise this splendid dome above it.’
Zeyd ebn Abbâs devoured those high words greedily. Shibli heard them with respect. At the entrance to the Dome of the Rock Shems-ud-dín ceased speaking, and they passed into the tinted gloom of the sanctuary.
While Shibli and Zeyd ebn Abbâs paced the ring of pavement, studying the texts worked in mosaic upon the walls and above the arches looking on the natural rock so gloriously enshrined, Shems-ud-dín knelt and made prostration, praying –
‘O Allah, pardon! Grant to thy servant faith on the pattern of El Khalil, who in this place offered his dearest freely unto thee. Am I not the very opposite of Neby Ibrahim El Khalil? When all reasonable means failed to restore my child, and prayer had been made in vain, Thy Will was manifest to me. Yet I presumed to seek other aid, I sought to procure her health by man’s exertion. I followed the contrivance of my own mind. Am I not impious, therefore? Am I not abominable? What am I that Thou shouldst hear me, or my deeds upon the earth to make a claim upon Thee? Nevertheless, Thou deignest to give ear to the prayers of men, and hast ordained prayer unto us as an offering pleasing in Thy sight. Hear me, O Lord, in this my extremity! Oh, have mercy on my daughter, the innocent; and smite me rather, for I am sinful! And whatever Thy Will concerning her, teach me to resign myself to it utterly. Subdue my mind and my soul, and lead me in the way of the upright.’
He rose at length from off the pavement, and went and sat cross-legged, his back against the wall. Tears blinded him. The footsteps of Shibli and Zeyd echoed in the vast dome, and their whispering made a hollow murmur. But Shems-ud-dín heard nothing save the clamour of his inward strife.
All at once a voice near his ear said, ‘Why weepest thou, O my brother?’
With a start, as one awakes out of sleep, he looked and beheld one in flowing raiment standing before him, a very old man who leaned upon a staff. His face was deeply furrowed where the white hair grew not, and his lips were shrivelled and sucked inward as when the gums beneath have shrunken, being toothless. Shems-ud-dín sat amazed by the apparition, for he had not heard the old man’s steps approaching nor the tap of his staff along the stones. He saw the forms of Zeyd and Shibli afar off, standing watching as men smitten with dismay.
‘What ails thee, O my brother? Wherefore weepest thou? I cannot discern thy likeness, for my eyes grow dim; but I see thy beard white as my own, and I hear thy sobs. What dire distress is thine, an old man inured to human griefs, that thou so lamentest?’
‘A long story, O my brother.’
‘A long story is the best of stories, and I like it none the worse for promising to be sad. At my age one is impatient only of abruptness, the inconsequence of the merry and light-minded. Lend me the help of thy hand, O my brother, that I may compose my limbs to sit beside thee.’
Shems-ud-dín reached forth his hand and the old man grasped it, steadying himself therewith while he tucked his staff beneath his left elbow. He was about to subside upon the bare stones, when Zeyd ebn Abbâs darted forward and spread his ragged cloak upon the ground beneath him. The old man smiled vaguely, exposing his toothless gums.
‘May Allah requite thee, O my son! May this thy courtesy be counted to thee for righteousness! Thy cloak is old and of poor material, as my hands perceive. May a rich mantle fall upon thee from the hands of Allah!’
Zeyd bowed his head to the blessing, and rejoined Shibli with a face of great elation.
‘Now deign to impart thy story, O my brother!’ said the old man, when fairly seated.
Shems-ud-dín complied straightway. He abated nothing of his own frowardness, but confessed it throughout the story, speaking much of his soul’s uneasiness on that account.
At the end, there was silence for a little space. Then that old man spoke.
‘During all the years that I have been Chief of the Learned in this place, never – Allah witness! – never heard I such a tale as this thou hast related. Beloved, I see not with thy eyes; I see goodness everywhere in thy conduct, save only in the one point of thy recourse to the unbeliever, of which thou madest nought in the telling. This Frank is not an infidel like another infidel. He is of those who openly oppose the faith. Is there not a corân concerning such an one: “The worst beasts in God’s sight are those who are obstinate unbelievers”?’
‘But, on the other hand, there is also this corân: “Allah is our Lord and your Lord; unto us our works, and unto you your works; no quarrelling between us and you; for Allah will gather in us both, and unto Him we shall return.”’
‘Good. But that word is abrogated in the judgement of all the learned!’
‘Not of all, by thy leave! There be many who assert that no word from Allah can be rendered null, that this has its season, and that its season, but all are eternally valid. I was ever of the party of these last. As to the degree of intercourse permissible with unbelievers, and more especially with the People of the Book, it is nowhere fixed for us. I could quote a hundred traditions in support of either argument, and the best precedents are in like manner at variance. For instance, if we refer to the Sûnna – ’
‘Stay! Hast thou studied the Sûnna?’
‘Assuredly; and all our commentators and, I verily believe, every scripture relevant to the subject.’
‘O happy day for me! Welcome, and again welcome, O my soul! Deign now to dispute a little! It is seldom I can exercise my learning; very seldom I am able to confer with a man like thee. The lamp of knowledge does but smoke nowadays.’
It was long since Shems-ud-dín had enjoyed conversation with his equal in learning. The two sheykhs held long conference, while Zeyd sat on his heels watching them, and Shibli wandered to and fro, yawning frequently and viewing the wonders about him with a growing disenchantment.
At last the old man rose by the help of Shems-ud-dín and the attentive Zeyd. He said –
‘My peace on thee! Thou art a prince of scholars, and a man most righteous. If I perceive any fault in thee, it is that thy mind exalts small matters, and overlooks or belittles points of real importance – a common failing among us learned in the Law, professed quibblers. This matter of thy going to the Frank is, to my thinking, no trifle. I hope to convince thee of the wrong in it at some other time. Come hither whenever thou art so minded, it is a boon I crave of thee. Ask for Mahmûd Ali, which is my name. And if ever thou desirest to pray alone, there stand cells enough within our precincts, empty, for the most part, save in Ramadân, which is not yet. They and all I dispose of are thine to use, O my soul’s brother!’
With a parting benison the old man hobbled away, bowed upon his staff.
Shems-ud-dín said one last prayer, then went out with his companions into the blinding sunlight.
Zeyd, the son of Abbâs, raised his hands on high, towards that sapphire dome which has the world for pavement. In a loud voice he praised Allah, and blessed the day on which it had been given him to witness the meeting of two most holy men, and garner in his imagination a drop of two of the celestial wisdom that had gushed in rivers from their mouths.
Shibli drew breath of relief, and looked upon the heaped-up, whitish city with a lover’s eyes.
(London: Methuen, 1906).
‘Or do you calculate that you will enter Paradise when there has not come to you the like of that which came to those who passed away before you? Tribulation and calamity afflicted them, they were shaken as by earthquake, so that the Prophet and those who believed with him said: ‘When comes Allah’s help?’ Now truly Allah’s help is very nigh.’ – Al-Qur-án.
This verse in its context has a close connection with the revelation which first told the Prophet and the early Muslims that they must fight in self-defence. They had suffered cruel persecution for twelve years in Mecca. At last they had escaped by flight to Yathrib – the city which we now call El Medînah – among friendly people, and they had thought their troubles were all over. Then came the news that the idolatrous Coreysh in Mecca, not content with their voluntary exile from that city, were raising a great army, for those days, with intent to follow them to their place of refuge and destroy them utterly. They saw themselves already overwhelmed, they were thinking of a further flight; and the Ansâr, their faithful helpers in Medînah, were preparing to fly with them rather than abjure the Faith, when word from Allah came that they were not to flee away at all, but to go out and fight.
They were dismayed at the command; for they possessed no fighting force to bear comparison with that of their pursuers. Some of them grumbled and complained about it in the simple fashion of those days when every Muslim spoke his mind before the Holy Prophet freely. They said that they would all be dead in a short while. And the word of Allah came:
‘Call not those who are killed in the way of Allah dead, but rather living, only you do not perceive.’
They complained that they had hoped, after all they had already suffered, that they would be allowed to live out the remainder of their pious lives in peace, and enter Paradise without more tribulation. And the word of Allah came:
‘Or do you calculate that you will enter Paradise when there has not come to you the like of that which came to those who passed away before you? Tribulation and calamity afflicted them, they were shaken as by earthquake, so that the Prophet and those who believed with him said: “When comes Allah’s help?” Now truly Allah’s help is very nigh.’
It took a long while to make the simpler companions understand that they were no longer ordinary people, but companions of a wonder-working Prophet like those of old of whom the story had come down to them. They did not know the future. They could not foresee the miraculous success which would attend their fighting. They did not realize that they were called by God Himself to play the part of saints and heroes in the holy war which liberated human destiny from all the earthborn superstitions and restrictions which till then had held it bound, and broke the walls which foolish people had erected, shutting out the light of Heaven and barring the approach to God which should be free to all. It was hard for them to realize that they were highly favoured when they found themselves subjected to great hardships and unheard-of dangers, things they disliked as heartily as you and I do. Some of them even thought, comparing all this tribulation with the quiet life which they had led before conversion, that Allah was angry with them for becoming Muslims. For we find in the Qur-án a verse warning believers not to mistake the persecution of the heathen for the wrath of God, and assuring them of Allah’s favour if they persevered. They persevered, and they found Allah’s favour, and they entered Paradise.
If they had disobeyed the Divine command to fight, if they had fled before the danger threatening them, only intent to lead their harmless lives in peace, they would have missed the happiness which was, in fact, in store for them – the glorious peace, the wonderful prosperity, the triumph of good over evil which gave new life to the world. And they would not have entered Paradise hereafter. And their enemies also would have been the losers, for they would not have known the peace which comes from resignation to Allah; Arabia would have remained idolatrous, disgraced by drunkenness and senseless bloodshed and every kind of vicious and degrading orgy.
It is obvious that those who strive and suffer and endure the most in Allah’s service are the most notable, if not necessarily always the best of Allah’s servants. But some of you may be astonished when I say that they are the happiest of Allah’s servants in this world, provided always that they persevere. For Allah’s help is always near to them, and that is no mere figure of speech or poetical expression. It is a promise of Allah, who never breaks His promise. I need not tell you that for every one who has endured some persecution for the Faith – and few British Muslims, I imagine, can have quite escaped it – must have experienced the curious serenity of mind, the flood of happiness coming at the very moment when the greatest shame, the greatest suffering, or the greatest fear was to be expected. It is just as if a powerful protecting friend had clasped your hand and said: ‘Fear nothing. You are not alone. Leave all to me.’ I am not at all the type of person who is naturally addicted to seeing visions and to dreaming dreams, yet I have had that experience sometimes for days together, not once nor twice, but many times in the past year. So evidently other and more spiritually gifted people must have had it too in the like circumstances. I have no doubt but that some perfect Muslims enjoy that serene communion at all times, and that it is the condition mentioned in the Qur-án when it is said:
‘And there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve.’
But I have only known it in its fullness at moments which would have been moments of despair for anybody who did not hold himself subservient to Allah’s purpose. And looking back upon those moments I would not exchange them for as many years of quiet, comfortable life. So I say that we, the Muslims of to-day, are fortunate in a religious sense because we live in a time of trial and misfortune for the Faith. The touch of persecution we have to endure, the fight we have to wage against an overwhelming foe, is nothing when compared with ‘that which came to those who passed away before us’ – the Holy Prophet and his blest companions – for the world has grown in toleration since those days! But it is sufficient to awake in us new spiritual life through the assurance which each one of us receives of Allah’s help – ‘Now truly Allah’s help is very nigh’ – and to draw us all more close together in affection and comradeship. When I think of all the dangers and the temptations of the past four years, of the furious way in which the Muslim world has been assailed, with threats and bribes and war-time propaganda from both sides incessantly, it is with a glow of pride that I look round upon the Muslim world to-day and see that it stands firm; it has not flinched nor moved the fraction of an inch from the correct position defined for it by the Holy Prophet and the Sacred Book; it is with a thrill of pride that I see Sunni and Shî‘a standing side by side as brothers in the firm demand for what is just and right. Thank God for that.
But we must not now sit down to comfort and a life of laziness, thinking that our work is done and we shall enter Paradise. Our work, perhaps, is only just beginning. We must stand prepared for a yet greater ordeal, if it be Allah’s will that it should come to us. We have been passive until now; we must henceforth be active in defending the essentials of our Faith. There comes a time when further yielding, a further flight, on our part would mean incalculable loss and ruin to ourselves and our opponents, because the essentials of Islam are essential to the welfare of the world. But if the ordeal comes, we need not fear it; because the end, we know, is peace and the great victory, and because we known now, from our own experience, that in the darkest hour we shall find help from Allah, transforming enemies into friends and deserts into flowering fields.
We, the little band of English Muslims, have a most important part to play at present – a very honourable part. We, indeed, probably more than any other Muslim community to-day, are in the position of the early Muslims in Mecca in the days when they were looked upon as weak and negligible. Alas, you say, we are without the Prophet. We are without the person of the Prophet (may God bless and keep him), but we have his teaching with us, and we have the Qur-án. And He in whose hand was the life of Muhammad (may God bless and keep him), in whose hand is my life and the life of every one of you, my hearers, is with us. His help is as near to-day, and as effective, as it was to the early Muslims in Mecca and Medînah. We have our part in the great struggle which is going on between two parties in the world, one seeking to enthrone man’s handiwork as Lord and King – these are the idolators; the other striving for the recognition of Allah by every nation as the only Lord and King of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of all the Worlds, whom some men do not know because they never seek Him. Seek Him; you will surely find Him. Strive in His way, be constant and sincere in prayer, be kind and charitable, and you will be conscious of His active help; you will know true happiness in the consciousness of God’s kingdom upon earth. Do all that is in your power to spread true knowledge of Islam among our English people, dispelling the false notions and the prejudices which still prevail among so many English Christians. Make your Islam respected and beloved in your own circles, and give the lie to those who say false things about the Faith. And if, in the course of your striving, you should meet with persecution, do not fear it. It is good that ‘there should come to you the like of that which came to those who passed away before you.’ Then you will know that Allah’s help is coming to you.
‘Now truly Allah’s help is very nigh.’
‘O people, listen to my words, and understand the same. Know that all Muslims are brothers one to another. You are one fraternity. Nothing which belongs to one of you is lawful to his brother unless given out of free goodwill. Guard yourselves from committing injustice.’
Those words are from the solemn admonition which our lord Muhammad (God bless him!) addressed to the whole Muslim community from Mount ‘Arafat on the occasion of his last pilgrimage to Mecca – The Pilgrimage of Farewell, as it is called. And no one can say that the injunction has been fruitless. For where in the world to-day can we find a real fraternity of rich and poor, of black and white and brown and yellow people, except in El Islam?
‘Liberty, equality, fraternity!’ has been, and is the cry or revolutionaries here in Europe. Well, liberty is a fine thing, but in a civilized community it must be always relative, for ever bounded by the liberties of others. Equality of opportunity is an ideal to be aimed at, rather than a law which can be practised rigidly. Still every one will admit that it is desirable. Equality of persons and of personalities is contrary to natural law, and so impossible. These two ideals are abstract and entirely relative. Fraternity, upon the other hand, is positive, and can be practised wherever men of like opinions and goodwill consort together. In the political body of Islam, which was at first a model to free peoples, there has of late years been too little liberty. There has been of late years less equality of opportunity than there was formerly, though more than you could find in modern Europe. But fraternity there is, and always has been, in that body.
The prejudices both of race and class which taint the atmosphere of Christendom seem a strange growth of Christianity when we reflect that Jesus of Nazareth was the apostle of meekness and of love, and himself adorned a modest station in society. Many Christians would protest that these developments have nothing to do with Christianity. That they have nothing to do with Christ, we all agree. But what has Christianity to do with Christ? If these prejudices of class and race are not in any sense a growth of Christianity, how comes it that we find them flourishing in Christian lands, and altogether absent from the Muslim brotherhood? Class distinctions are not absent from the Muslim brotherhood, but class prejudices are. There is free speech and free intercourse between all sorts and conditions of men, and between all sorts and conditions of women. Those prejudices mar the outlook of most English people, even of those who rail against them and denounce them – I should say, especially of those who rail against them and denounce them; for where will you find a revolutionary who has a brotherly regard for individual aristocrats? One of the great blessings which Islam brings to an Englishman is deliverance from this insanity. His vision grows serene, enabling him to smile at the pretensions of all parties, to accept men on their merits, with a brotherly regard for men whose conduct pleases him irrespective of class or race or colour. I have just been in the British army in the ranks – pitchforked, so to speak, at forty-three, among all sorts of men – and I have found this Muslim point of view a very godsend, making me content where I should once have been extremely miserable.
The feeling of fraternity inherent in Islam has sometimes struck me as miraculous, such comfort does it bring to one in circumstances which by every standard would be called uncomfortable. Why, I have asked myself occasionally, did I never know such happiness while I was a Christian? Well, it may seem a strange answer to give, it may appear far-fetched to some of you, but I believe the reason is that Christianity – the Christianity that I was taught in childhood – practically does away with the Last Judgment.
You know the words of the Qur-án:
‘Verily those who believe (i.e. the Muslims) and those who obey the Jew’s religious rule, and the Christians and the Sabaeans – whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and does good works, their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve.’
Christians did once believe in the Last Day – that is, the Day of Judgment for all mankind. It was part of the teaching of Christ. But by proclaiming that salvation can be obtained by a belief in such and such dogmas, and the observance of such and such ceremonies, the Church, while still formally maintaining the doctrine of the Last Judgment, has made the judgment a foregone conclusion for its own adherents. Certain people thus appear before their Lord in a privileged position. Where then is fraternity? And how can any Christian man, brought up in that belief, be happy, with the consciousness of all the people in the world who are not Christian in belief, who consequently are condemned to everlasting torment? Another foregone conclusion, you perceive. The judgment of God is reduced to a mere ceremony, a formal confirmation of the Church’s judgment. And if a Christian can be found who does find happiness in thinking that he himself is certain to be saved through certain doctrines and observances, while countless millions of mankind are no less certain to be damned; can such a man be suspected of any sense or spirit of fraternity? And yet these people have been taught to say ‘Our Father, which art in heaven.’
God is metaphorically the Father – since He is the primal Author of the being – of all mankind. That was, I think, unquestionably, the meaning of the Prophet Jesus when he gave that prayer to his disciples. But see what they have made of it. An earthly father, the partisan of his own family against all who differ from them. A father to the Christians – it amounts to that – with angry feelings for all other people in the world. The first meaning – that of Christ himself – is in accord with nature, the second, that of Christendom, is against nature, since Allah’s blessings in the world of nature are bestowed on all alike.
Our Prophet saw that error among Christians in his day, and for that reason, to avoid a similar misguidance of his followers, he never used the words Our Father when speaking of Allah. We Muslims shun those words, for the same reason, though there can be not the least objection in the mind of any Muslim to the words of the Lord’s prayer, which is a Muslim prayer, without a trace of all those doctrines which later turned the Christians from Islam. We believe that Jesus was a Muslim Prophet. The religion which he preached, the life he wished that men should lead, is not to be found to-day in Christendom, but in Islam. And Muslims have a better right than Christians to pray ‘Our Father, which art in heaven,’ for they have kept the true ideal of human brotherhood which Christians have discarded; and that brotherhood is based on the idea of Allah’s universal fatherhood. We never use the word, but the idea is with us always. Allah has given certain laws which we know, and strive always to obey. We naturally have a sentiment of brotherhood for all who recognize those laws, and try to conform to them. All who love the Father of us all, the Source of all Existence, and look only for His judgment on their actions, are our brothers. ‘And there shall no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve.’
I do not know whether you, my audience, prefer an autocratic or a democratic form of government. Where theocracy is acknowledged, it matters little whether earthly sovereignty is held by one man or a crowd of men. For, in the presence of the Mighty Sovereign of the universe, fearing His judgment, the autocrat becomes in fact the brother of his poorest subject. And as for democracy, compare the French Revolution, or that Russian Revolution which took place only the other day, with the greatest revolution which the world has ever known – the advent of Islam in consequence of our Prophet’s preaching. In all three cases you have multitudes of people suddenly released from old restraints and discipline, and confronted with an altogether new idea of life. In all three cases you have the demand for brotherhood. Why were the first two characterized by cruelty, bloodshed, and disorder, and why was the Islamic Revolution free from all these things? The Russian and the French revolutionaries established governments which had to use harsh measures to maintain their sway. The Muslims were without any of the machinery of government, and yet they were perfectly orderly and, what is more, entirely happy. Why? Simply because they had a common ground of brotherhood, a common standard of morality which all accepted. Simply because they had a true fraternity in complete dependence on the will of the Universal Father. Simply because they believed in the Day of Judgment.
Some people seem to think that a belief in a Day of Judgment is an antiquated belief. Some people even seem to think it horrible. Well, I personally do not care a fig for any man or woman who does not, consciously or unconsciously, believe in a Day of Reckoning. Every man or woman who accepts a life of service or of suffering sooner than get success by evil doing; every man or woman who does his or her best without reward rather than gain the applause of the multitude, whatever motive they themselves would give for their behaving in that way, and most of them would find it difficult to give a reason for their behaviour, are looking to a judgment higher and purer than the judgment of men, a judgment quite impersonal, which God alone is capable of giving. I do not care if they are Muslims, or Christians, or agnostics. I say that they all, after a fashion, believe in the Last Day.
And as for the belief in the Last Judgment being in any way horrible or terrifying – why, ladies and gentlemen, it seems to me the most radiantly hopeful of all the doctrines which have ever been accepted among men. If any man were to be the judge, if any being at all resembling man in limitation were to be the judge, then indeed we might be terrified, for we should fear injustice. No man could make all due allowance for inherited tendencies in determining the criminal’s career of crime. No man could know all the extenuating circumstances which in every case appear to the All-knowing God. Has any son of earth to fear injustice before the throne of Him who made the heavens and the earth, who knows all their temptations and their disabilities, who knows His creatures infinitely better than they know themselves? And when we know, as every Muslim knows, that the All-wise is also the All-Merciful! Surely this doctrine, which has been so much maligned, really holds out a hope for all mankind.
I think the horror and dislike which it inspires in some intelligent people comes from misapprehension. They associate the judgment with the threats of dreadful punishment denounced against the wicked in all Scripture, as if those threats were levelled against individuals. They are not; they cannot be, since we are not the judges. They merely mean that if we do certain things against our spiritual and moral welfare, or against the welfare of our neighbour, we have to fear the condemnation of the Lord of heaven and earth, even though the wrongs which we commit according to human laws may be no crime. But we are not the judges. Every one of us has to await the judgment of his Lord, and if we are quite honest in our self-examination, we shall admit that it is only by the grace of God we have escaped great crimes. Are we then any better than the actual criminals? Have we not equal need with them to ask for mercy before a Judge who reads the secrets of men’s hearts?
King and beggar, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, all will appear before their Lord on equal terms. The ruler will have no advantage of his power, the savant no advantage of his education, unless that power, that education has been used for good. That is the true foundation of Islamic brotherhood. We shall be judged not by accidents of class, or race, or wealth, but by that which we have done, whether it be good or whether it be evil. Acknowledging this common destination, this equality, how can we hold aloof from one another, or despise one another?
There is another aspect of Islamic fraternity, of particular importance at the present time. Islam abolished nationality, as we understand it; and patriotism, as we understand it, it denounced as a crime. A Muslim of India is the brother of a Muslim of Egypt or West Africa. If any one of another religion asked him of his nationality, he would not say: ‘I am an Indian,’ but ‘I am a Musulman.’ Only if a fellow Muslim from another country were to ask him the same question, would he answer ‘I am of India,’ since his faith was understood already by the other. I have heard Englishmen exclaim concerning Muslim peoples that ‘they have no patriotism, only religious fanaticism’ By fanaticism such people mean no more than a passionate regard for a religion and obedience to its precepts. Well, which has done most, which is capable of doing most, for the great cause of human progress, human brotherhood: the unbridled nationalism which appears to-day to be the chief political ideal of Christians, a nationalism which makes big states avaricious and little states ridiculously self-assertive, a cause of wars, past, present, or to come; or the religion of Islam, which wipes away all that as worthless, and in its place sets universal brotherhood? The backward state of many Muslim peoples in respect of modern sanitation and mechanical contrivances blinds Europeans to the fact that the Muslim world is thirteen centuries ahead of Europe in political and social science. It also blinds young Muslims, who have been educated here in Europe to admire things European indiscriminately, to this most important fact of Muslim progress. But only for a time, in youth. They shake off the illusion with a little thought. Let them remember that, as Muslims, they are representatives of an ideal more advanced than any that prevails in Europe. If they forsake that high ideal of brotherhood for the lower one of national pride, they (in the words of the Qur’án) ‘barter the higher for the lower,’ as certainly as did the Children of Israel when they turned from worshipping Allah, and bowed themselves before a calf of gold, the work of men’s hands.
A Christian can say: ‘I am an Englishman, or a Frenchman, or a German first, and a Christian afterwards’; for it is the truth. The development of Christianity has produced this nationalism. But that is not the case in El Islam. Whatever nationalism has appeared in Muslim countries has been purely imitative and artificial, the work of foreign influences, foreign money. I speak of nationalism in the European sense. Pan-islamism – which is true Islamic patriotism – has been misnamed ‘nationalism’ in the Press of Europe more than once; and a pan-Islamic movement in some Eastern country has been wrongly represented as a nationalist movement. A pan-Islamic movement would, of course, if left alone, be a peaceful and progressive movement, aiming at the raising of the Muslim brotherhood in every land by education. A nationalist movement, on the other hand, is an aggressive movement, jealous of all other nationalities and heedless of religion. It is therefore foreign to the spirit of Islam.
There is nothing that we Muslims ought to guard more zealously than this brotherhood of all believers. I dare say that some of you English Muslims are occasionally impatient at some of the customs of the Muslim world. Well, if you have in you the true Islamic spirit, you will be careful of those little matters for your brother’s sake, who loves them. They may be little in themselves. A nail or rivet is a little thing. And these small matters hold us all together.
(Based on a lecture given to a conference of British converts on September 17 1997)
It is said that the 19th century French poet Mallarmé can only be fully understood by those who are not French, because they read him more slowly. Converts to Islam, the subject of this essay, can perhaps claim the same ambiguous advantage in their reading of the Islamic narrative. Several consequent questions impose themselves: can the clarity of vision brought by novelty outweigh the absence of a Muslim upbringing? Is adoption a more culturally fertile condition than simple sonship? Has the dynamism of Islamic culture after the initial Arab era owed everything to the energy of recent converts, with their own ethnic genius: the Persians, and then, pre-eminently, the Turks; and if so, might the appearance of converts in the West presage a larger revival of the fortunes of an aged and tired Islamic umma?
I hope to return to these interesting queries at a later date. Here, I shall confine myself to the issue that presents itself most sharply to those British people who, like myself, have boarded the lifeboat of Islam. The issue is the question of British Muslim identity.
Who is a British Muslim is an easy question: it is anyone who follows Islam and holds a U.K. passport. This is at once the easiest and probably the only workable definition. The more teasing question, which I wish to raise in this article is: what is a British Muslim? The query raises two problems related to belonging. What does it mean to be a British person who belongs to Islam? And, what does it mean to be a Muslim person who belongs to Britain? How do we map the overlap zone in a way that makes sense, and is legitimate, in terms of the co-ordinates of both of these terms?
Clearly, by virtue of the first definition, the British Muslim population, all 1.5 million of it, divides into three groups. Firstly, and least problematically, there are men and women whose cultural formation was not British, but who have migrated to this country. This essay will not touch centrally on their own particular struggle for self-definition, which is quite different to that addressed by converts.
Secondly, there are the children of the first group, and occasionally now their grandchildren. These people are usually seen to be torn between two worlds, but in reality, the British world has shaped their souls far more profoundly then they often recognise. Modern schooling is designed for a culture that puts an increasing share of acculturation and upbringing, as opposed to the simple inculcation of facts, on the shoulders of schoolteachers rather than of parents. Muslims who have moved to this country have done so at precisely the time when British education is also going into the business of parenting; most Muslim parents do not recognise the fact, but Muslim children in this country always have a third parent: the Education Secretary. Even those second-generation Muslims here who claim to have angrily rejected Britishness are in fact doing so in terms of types of radicalism which are deeply influenced by Western styles of dissent. Most noticeably, they locate their radicalism not primarily in a spiritual, but in social and political rejection of the oppressive order around them. Their unsettled and agitated mood is not always congenial to the recent convert, who may, despite the cultural distance, feel more comfortable with the first rather than the second generation of migrants, preferring their God-centred religion to what is often the troubled, identity-seeking Islam of the young.
Thirdly, we have the smallest group of all: the convert or so-called ‘revert’ community. This group is highly disparate, and it is not clear that one can make any meaningful generalisations about it at all. Almost by definition, a British person who is guided to Islam is an eccentric of some kind: one of the virtues, perhaps, of the British is that eccentrics have always been nurtured or at least more or less tolerated here. But the overall pattern is confusing. One can offer certain sociological generalisations about British people who become Buddhists, or evangelical Christians, or Marxists. But the present writer’s experience with new Muslims is that no discernable patterns exist which might shed light on the routes by which people awaken to the truth of Islam. This failure to discern patterns can only be described as lamentable, for were we to discern such patterns, they could immediately be exploited for da‘wa purposes. The most we can say is that a clear majority of converts to Islam in Britain are from Catholic rather than Protestant or Jewish backgrounds. Within this group, in my experience the only clergy that convert are Jesuits; I am not aware of a single member of another religious order that has become Muslim.
Other than this very general and not terribly helpful observation, few patterns are discernable, and our missionary efforts, never very coordinated, flounder accordingly.
But whatever the processes, and we may be wise to accept traditional invocations of divine providence and guidance which transcend and make irrelevant any sociological pattern-finding, this third group among British Muslims confronts certain sharp problems of self-definition. Egyptian, or Indonesian, or Indian Muslims becoming British do so slowly, perhaps over two or three generations. The identity problems can be sharp: in particular, there can be painful challenges to the hopes and expectations of parents. But the process is gentle in comparison with the abrupt jolt, which typically welcomes the convert. The signposts of the universe are not adjusted slowly, but all at once.
The initial and quite understandable response of many newcomers is to become an absolutist. Everything going on among pious Muslims is angelic; everything outside the circle of the faith is demonic. The appeal of this outlook lies in its simplicity. The newly rearranged landscape upon which the convert looks is seen in satisfying black and white terms of Them versus Us, good against evil.
This mindset is sometimes called ‘convertitis’. It is a common illness, which can make those who have caught it rather difficult to deal with. Fortunately, it almost always wears off. The only exceptions are those weak souls who imagine that the buzz of excitement caused by their absolutist, Manichean division of the world was a necessary part of Islamic piety, or even that it has some spiritual significance. Such people are often condemned to wander from faction to faction, always joining something new, in an attempt to regain the initial excitement engendered by their conversion.
Most new Muslims, however, soon see through this. A majority of people come to Islam for real spiritual or intellectual reasons, and will continue with their quest once they are inside Islam. Becoming Muslim is, after all, only the first step to felicity. Those individuals who adopt Islam because they need an identity will be condemned to wander the sectarian and factional hall of mirrors, constantly looking for the perfect group that will give them their desperately needed sense of specialness and superiority.
But actions are by intentions. A hundred years ago the founder of the Anglo-Muslim movement, Imam Abdallah Quilliam in Liverpool, was writing that those British people who convert for Allah and His Messenger, will, by the grace of God, be rightly guided. Those who convert for any other reason are in serious spiritual trouble. Just as the namaz [salaat] prayer is invisibly invalidated if the niyya [intention] at its outset is not correct, similarly, Islam will not work for us unless we have entered it in faith, out of a sincere questing for God’s good pleasure. If things are not going right for us, if we find no delight in our prayers, if Ramadan simply makes us hungry, if we cannot seem to find the right mosque or the right company to take us forward, then we would do well to start by examining our intentions. Did we become Muslims only, and purely, to bring our souls to God? Other reasons: solidarity with the oppressed, admiration for Muslims we know, desire to join a group, the love of a woman – none of these are adequate foundations for our lives as Muslims deserving of Allah’s grace and guidance. Imam al-Qushayri says that spiritual aspirants ‘are only deprived of attainment when they neglect the foundations.’ So we need to look within, and if necessary, renew our faith, following the Prophetic sunna. ‘Renew your iman’, a celebrated hadith enjoins.
So what are we? Statistically, perhaps fifty thousand people. But once we have taken the plunge, and enjoyed the feel of Islam, and come to know through experience, rather than through reading books, that Islam is a way of sobriety, dignity, poise and rewarding spirituality, what exactly is our self-definition? When we meet family and friends who are not Muslim, how do we carry ourselves? Do we treat Islam as a great secret? A discreet eccentricity that we hope people will not be so crude as to mention? Or, on the contrary, something we wear on our sleeves, feeling that it is our duty constantly to steer the conversation back into sacred quarters, confronting people with Islam, that they might have no argument against us at the Resurrection?
More generally, what is our view of the wider world of unbelief, which, despite the breathless predictions of some of our co-religionists, continues to grow more powerful and more prosperous? How much of it can we affirm, and how much of it must we publicly or privately disown?
We can, of course, take the easy way out, and avoid engaging with these questions, by retreating from the mainstream of society, and consorting only with Muslims. But this is not so easy. We need to be employed, since this is pleasing to God; and we need to maintain good ties with our relations, since this is also enjoined in the Sunna. Wa-sahibhuma fi’l-dunya ma‘rufan – ‘Keep company with them both in the world in keeping with good custom’, says the Qur’an to converts who have unbelieving parents. And the Sunna explains that non-Muslim parents have significant rights over their Muslim children.
But more significantly even than this, to solve the problems thrown at us and at our identity by the real world outside the mosque gates, we need to engage regularly with non-Muslim society. But for this, there would be no effective da‘wa. People do not hear the word of Islam, generally, by being shouted at by some demagogue at Speakers Corner, or by reading some angry little pamphlet pushed into their hand by a wandering distributor of tracts. They convert through personal experience of Muslims. And this takes place, overwhelmingly, at the workplace. Other social contexts are closed to us: the pub, the beach, the office party. But work is a prime environment for being noticed, and judged, as Muslims.
There is nothing remotely new in this. Islam has always spread primarily through social interactions connected with work. The early Muslims who conquered half the world did not set up soapboxes in the town squares of Alexandria, Cordoba or Fez, in the hope that Christians would flock to them and hear their preaching. They did business with the Christians; and their nobility and integrity of conduct won the Christians over. That is the model followed by Muslims, particularly the Sufis, down the ages; and it is the one that we must retain today, by interacting honourably and respectfully with non-Muslims in our places of work, as much as we can.
If this is clear, then my initial question still begs a response. What is a British Muslim? What manner of creature is he, or she? The public consensus has clear ideas about other British identities: British Anglican, British Jew, British Asian Muslim or Hindu: all these are recognised categories and a certain community of expected response governs interactions between the majority and these groups. The Anglo-Muslim, however, is not a generally recognised type.
My own belief is that the future prosperity of the Anglo-Muslim movement will be determined largely by our ability to answer this question of identity. It is a question mainly for converts, but which many of whose dimensions will come to apply also to second-generation immigrant Muslims here, who have their own questions to ask themselves and this culture about what, exactly, they are.
To frame a response, I think it is useful to step back a little, and consider the larger picture of Islamic history of which we form a very small part. I mentioned earlier that Islam usually spread through the utilisation of commercial opportunities as opportunities for da‘wa. That picture is one of the most extraordinary success stories in religious history. Compare, for instance, the way in which the Muslim world was Islamised to the way in which the Americas were Christianised. Islamisation proceeded with remarkable gentleness, at the hands of Sufis and merchants. Christianisation used mass extermination of the native Americans, the baptism of uncomprehending survivors, and the baleful scrutiny by the Inquisition of any signs of backsliding. A more extreme contrast would be impossible to find.
Perhaps no less extraordinary than this contrast is its interesting concomitant: Christianisation brought Europeanisation. Islamisation did not bring Arabisation. The churches built by the Puritans or the Conquistadors in the New World were deliberate replicas of churches in Europe. The mosques constructed in the areas gradually won for Islam are endlessly diverse, and reflect and indeed celebrate local particularities. Christianity is a universal religion that has historically sought to impose a universal metropolitan culture. Islam is a universal religion that has consistently nurtured a particularist provincial culture. A church in Mexico City resembles a church in Salamanca. A mosque in Nigeria, or Istanbul, or Djakarta, resembles in key respects the patterns, now purified and uplifted by monotheism, of the indigenous regional patrimony.
No less remarkable is the ability of the Muslim liberators to accommodate those aspects of local, pre-Islamic tradition which did not clash absolutely with the truths of revelation. In entering new lands, Muslims were armed with the generous Qur’anic doctrine of Universal Apostleship; as the Qur’an says, ‘To every nation there has been sent a guide’. This conflicts sharply with the classical Christian view of salvation as hinging uniquely on one historical intervention of the divine in history: the salvific sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Non-Christian religions were, in classical Christianity, seen as demonic and under the sign of original sin. But classical Islam has always been able and willing to see at least fragments of an authentic divine message in the faiths and cultures of non-Muslim peoples. If God has assured us that every nation has received divine guidance, then we can look with some favour on the Other. Hence, for instance, we find popular Muslim poets in India, such as Sayid Sultan, writing poems about Krishna as a Prophet. There is no final theological proof that he was one, but the assumption is nonetheless not in violation of the Qur’an.
Even among Muslim ulema who had not been to India, we find interestingly positive appraisals of Hinduism. For instance, the great Baghdad theologian al-Shahrastani, in his Book of Religions and Sects, had access to enough reliable information about India to develop a very sophisticated theological reaction to Indian religion. He accepts that the higher forms of Hinduism are not polytheistic. He notes that that although the Hindus have no notion of prophecy, they do have what he calls ashab al-ruhaniyat: quasi-divine beings who call mankind to love the Real and to practice the virtues. He names Vishnu and Shiva as examples, and speaks positively of them. He focuses particularly on the veneration of celestial bodies: the sun, the moon, and the planets. The reason why he fixes on these practices is that they seem to situate Hinduism within a recognisably Qur’anic paradigm. The Qur’an mentions quite favourably a group known as the Sabeans, who were by the second century identified with various star-worshipping but still vaguely monotheistic sects in Mesopotamia. The Sabeans are tolerated in Islamic law, although they are less privileged than the Jews and Christians, a position reflected in the ruling in Shari‘a that a Muslim may not marry their women or eat their meat.
Shahrastani explicitly assimilates many Hindus to this category of Sabeans. They are to be tolerated as believers in One God; and will only be punished by God if, having been properly exposed to Islam, they reject it.
Another example is supplied by the great Muslim epic in China. Those who believe that Muslim communities can only flourish if they ghettoise themselves and refuse to interact with majority communities would do well to look at Chinese history. Many of the leading mandarins of Ming China were in fact Muslims. Wang Dai-Yu, for instance, who died in 1660, was a Muslim scholar who received the title of ‘Master of the Four Religions’ because of his complete knowledge of China’s four religions: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Many of the leading admirals in the navy of the Ming Empire were practising Muslims.
In China, mosques look very like traditional Chinese garden-temples, except that there is a prayer hall without idols, and the calligraphy is Qur’anic. In some of the most beautiful, you will find, as you enter, the following words in Chinese inscribed on a tablet:
Sages have one mind and the same truth. In all parts of the world, sages arise who possess this uniformity of mind and truth. Muhammad, the Great Sage of the West, lived in Arabia long after Confucius, the Sage of China. Though separated by ages and countries, they had the same mind and Truth.
In these examples from India and China, we see a practical confirmation of Islam’s proclamation of itself as the final, and hence universal, message from God. In a hadith we learn: ‘Other prophets were sent only to their own peoples, while I am sent to all mankind.’ It is not that the Qur’anic worldview affirms other religions as fully adequate paths to salvation. In fact, it clearly does not. But it allows the Muslim, as he encounters new worlds, to sift the wheat from the chaff in non-Muslim cultures, rejecting some things, to be sure, but maintaining others. In Islamic law, too, we find that shara‘i man qablana, the revealed laws of those who came before us, can under certain conditions be accepted as valid legal precedent, if they are not demonstrably abrogated by an Islamic revealed source. And Islamic law also recognises the authority of urf, local customary law, so that a law or custom is acceptable, and may be carried over into an Islamic culture or jurisdiction, if no Islamic revealed principle is thereby violated. Hence, we find the administration of Islamic law varying from country to country. If a wife complains of receiving insufficient dower from her husband, the qadi [judge] will make reference to what is considered normal in their culture and social group, and adjudge accordingly.
All of these historical observations have, I hope, served to make quite a simple point: Islam, as a universal religion, in fact as the only legitimately universal religion, also makes room for the particularities of the peoples who come into it. The traditional Muslim world is a rainbow, an extraordinary patchwork of different cultures, all united by a common adherence to the doctrinal and moral patterns set down in Revelation. Put differently, Revelation supplies parameters, hudud, rather than a complete blueprint for the details of cultural life. Local mindsets are Islamised, but remain distinct.
This point is obvious to anyone who has studied Islamic thought or Islamic history. I reiterate it today only because some Muslims nowadays reject it fiercely. Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable. People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions. And today, many young Muslims feel so threatened by the diversity of calls on their allegiance, and by the sheer complexity of modernity, that the only form of Islam they can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one. That there should be four schools of Islamic law is to them unbearable. That Muslim cultures should legitimately differ is a species of blasphemy.
These young people, who haunt our mosques and shout at any sign of disagreement, are either ignorant of Muslim history, or dismiss it as a gigantic mistake. For them, the grace and rahma of Allah has for some reason been withheld from all but a tiny fraction of the Umma. These people are the elect; and all disagreement with them is a blasphemy against God.
We cannot hope easily to cure such people. Simple proofs from our history or our scholarship will not suffice. What they need is a sense of security, and that, given the deteriorating conditions of both the Muslim world and of the ghettos in Western cities, may not come readily. For now, it is best to ignore their shouts and their melodramatic but always ill-fated activities. Our psychic problems are not theirs; and theirs can never be ours.
Islam is, and will continue to be, even amid the miserable globalisation of modern culture, a faith that celebrates diversity. Our thinking about our own position as British Muslims should focus on that fact, and quietly but firmly ignore the protests both of the totalitarian fringe, and of the importers of other regional cultures, such as that of Pakistan, which they regard as the only legitimate Islamic ideal.
So far, however, we have been too busy restating the initial question with which this chapter opened, and defending its legitimacy, to propose any substantive answer. It is time now to attempt a brief sketch of what I construe our cultural position and prospects to be.
As I have tried to emphasise, Islam’s presence in Britain is not an Islamic problem. Islam is universal, and can operate everywhere. It is not an Islamic problem, but it may be a British problem. Europe, alone among the continents, does not have a longstanding tradition of plurality. In medieval Asia or Africa, in China or the Songhai Empire, or Egypt, or almost everywhere, one could usually practice one’s own religion in peace, whatever it happened to be. Only in Europe was there a consistent policy of enforcing religious uniformity. The reason for this lay of course in the Church’s theology: unless you had some part in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, you were in the grip of original sin, and hence were an instrument of the devil. Medieval Catholics were even expected to believe that unbaptised infants would be tormented in Hell forever. Given that absolute view, it was only natural that Europe constantly strove for religious uniformity.
Britain, as part of the European world, has traditionally suffered the same totalitarian entailments in its history. Hence, although it has always been possible to be a Christian in a Muslim country, it was against the law to be a Muslim in Britain until 1812, with the passage through parliament of the Trinitarian Act. Nonetheless, three centuries before that, with Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy, England cut itself off from formal submission to Vatican doctrines; and from that time a type of religious diversity has been, within severe constraints, at least a possibility. In fact, Britain was the first major European country to break with the medieval European tradition of absolute religious conformity. Perhaps it is because of this fact that exclusivist and xenophobic political manifestations are less common in Britain today than in most Continental countries. The National Front is a lunatic fringe party in the U.K., whereas its equivalents regularly scoop twenty percent of the votes in some regions of France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Austria.
When England threw off the Papist yoke, opportunities arose for questioning ancient errors of understanding which had been introduced into Christianity by the Church Fathers. These opportunities, however, were not properly grasped. The English Reformation was an attempt not to extirpate bid‘a in the Muslim sense, and return to the religion of Jesus of Nazareth, which had been distorted by the Church on the basis of the Hellenising agendas of the anonymous gospel authors, but to reform the doctrines and liturgy of the medieval church. Hence the reformers did not attempt to return to the simple monotheistic worship of the Apostles, but, in the Book of Common Prayer published in 1549, created a new vernacular liturgy based largely on medieval trinitarian and incarnationist precedents.
This English willingness to challenge tradition, however, was to have immense repercussions. Despite the lack of awareness of the instability of the gospel texts, as revealed by 20th century scholarship, for the first time Europeans, and notably Britons, were questioning the innovations of the Church magisterium, and attempting to grope back towards the faith revealed by God to His prophet Jesus, upon whom be peace.
One repercussion of the Reformation on our ancestors was the revival of a mystical tradition, whose most obvious manifestation was the Cambridge Platonists. English mysticism has usually been of a moderate type: one thinks of the Cloud of Unknowing, or Julian of Norwich. Extreme feats of asceticism, or extravagant and obsessive preoccupations with visions and miraculous happenings, have never been part of the English style of spirituality. The Cambridge Platonists drew on this moderate mysticism, but insisted that mystical inspiration must work hand in hand with rational judgement, and with sound doctrine derived from the Scriptures. This position, which influenced John Locke in particular, again evinces the English style of religion: profound but not verbose, rational but not rationalistic, and scriptural but not literalistic.
This very English approach to religion in due course led to serious questions being asked about the centrepiece of medieval Christian dogma: the Trinity. Milton, and later John Locke himself, are known to have held discreetly Unitarian beliefs, having been unable to find convincing justification for trinitarian and incarnationist views in the Scriptures. Locke’s close friend Newton was even more frank, writing
of the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity … Let them make good sense of it who are able. For my part, I can make none.
The period around the Civil War threw up many Englishmen who were likewise concerned about the distortion of the teachings of Jesus by the Church; and the term Unitarian comes into being sometime during this period. But side by side with this tradition of dissent, and in often obscure ways interacting with it, went an even more revolutionary change: improved information about the Blessed Prophet of Islam.
The medievals chose to remain in ignorance about Islam. For them, Muslims were summa culpabilis: the sum of everything blameworthy. Knights from Britain had been at the forefront of the Crusades. The sack of the Muslim city of Lisbon in 1147 during which perhaps 150,000 Muslims were massacred, was largely the work of soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk. But the same quest for simplicity and honesty which made the Reformation possible, also made of England the first country in Europe where medieval images of Islam could be challenged.
To an extent which we cannot now determine, largely because an excess of sympathy with either Islam or Unitarianism could result in the dissenter being hung, drawn and quartered, new perspectives on Islam informed and reinforced the discreet Unitarian movement. This is implied by the title of Humphrey Prideaux’s hate-filled book of 1697, which he called, The true nature of Imposture, fully displayed in the life of Mahomet … offered to the consideration of the Deists of the present age.
Prideaux is clearly implying that some radical Dissenters were being drawn towards Islam, and he is writing his polemic to hold back that tide. But a far clearer insight into this process is supplied by another author, a certain Henry Stubbe.
Stubbe is the first European Christian to write favourably of Islam. In fact, he writes so favourably that we can only conclude that he had thrown off the heritage of Christianity, and privately adopted it. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, and worked as a physician in Warwick, and as personal physician to King James. His biographer Anthony Wood described him as ‘the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced.’ He died in 1676, after being accused of heresy, and spending some time in prison.
Stubbe was a child of the Civil War, and the spiritual chaos of the Interregnum prompted him to question the official tenets of his inherited Anglicanism. He was also a scholar, who had mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and was fully conversant with the new critical scholarship on the Bible. Putting all these gifts together, and thanks to his friendship with Pococke, the Laudian Professor of Arabic in Oxford, he wrote a book, which for the nineteenth century would have been advanced, but which for the seventeenth is positively astounding. Just the title alone gives some hint of this: ‘An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians.’
The book begins with a chapter demonstrating how the message of Jesus Christ has been perverted by the Church. He stresses the fact that Jesus, upon him be peace, had remained faithful to the Mosaic Law, and would have been horrified by the idea that later generations might use his name to justify the eating of pork, for instance. He says, of the Disciples:
They did never believe Christ to be the natural Son of God, by eternal Generation, or any tenet depending thereon, or prayed unto him, or believed the Holy Ghost, or the Trinity of persons in one Deity … The whole constitution of the primitive Church Government relates to the Jewish Synagogue, not to the Hierarchy. The presbyters were not Priests, but Laymen set apart to their office by imposition of hands . . . Nor was the name of Priest then ever heard of’.
He concludes that the sacraments of the Church, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, are pagan rituals introduced into Christianity several decades after Christ’s death.
Stubbe then provides a chapter on ‘a brief History of Arabia and the Saracens’, followed by four on the Prophet. Chapter Eight is a vindication of the Prophet; chapter 9 is a vindication of Islam, and chapter 10 explains the moral necessity of the doctrine of Jihad.
His polemical intentions throughout are clear: he constantly shows Islam to be a purer and more rational form of religion than Christianity. Here is Stubbe, for instance, summarising the Prophet’s teaching:
This is the sum of Mahometan Religion, on the one hand not clogging Men’s Faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of Reason and common Sense; nor on the other hand loading them with the performance of many troublesome, expensive and superstitious Ceremonies, yet enjoining a due observance of Religious Worship, as the surest Method to keep Men in the bounds of their Duty both to God and Man.
And a little further on he adds:
Let us now lay aside our prejudices … Their Articles of Faith are few and plain, whereby they are preserved from Schisms and Heresies, for altho’ they have great diversity of opinions in the explication of their Law, yet, agreeing in the fundamentals, their differences in opinion do not reach to that breach of Charity so common among the Christians, who thereby become a scandal to all other Religions in the world. Their Notions of God are great and noble, their opinions of the Future State are consonant to those of the Jews and Christians. As to the moral part of their Religion . . . we shall see that it is not inferior to that of the Christians. And lastly, their religious Duties are plainly laid down, which is the cause that they are duly observed, and are in themselves very rational.
He allocates an entire chapter to show the moral significance of the Jihad. This chapter is perhaps the most remarkable in the entire book, since it had long been a Christian idée fixe that Islam could only spread by the sword. He goes to some length, quoting travellers to the Ottoman Empire, to show that Christian minorities are usually protected better under Muslim rule than under the rule of their fellow Christians. He observes, for instance:
It is manifest that the Mahometans did propagate their Empire, but not their Religion, by force of arms . . . Christians and other Religions might peaceably subsist under their Protection . . . it is an assured truth, that the vulgar Greeks live in a better Condition under the Turk at present then they did under their own Emperors, when there were perpetual murders practised on their Princes, and tyranny over the People; but they are now secure from Injury if they pay their Taxes. And it is indeed more the Interest of the Princes & Nobles, than of the People, which at present keeps all Europe from submitting to the Turks.
Having sung Islam’s praises in these terms, Stubbe could hardly expect to publish his book. He published several others, but this one languished discreetly in manuscript form until 1911, when a group of Ottoman Muslims in London rescued it from obscurity and published it.
At least six manuscripts did, however, circulate in a more or less clandestine fashion. No fewer than three of them were preserved in the private library of the Revd John Disney, who at the beginning of the 19th century shocked the established church by publicly converting to Unitarianism. Some historians have suggested also that Gibbon was familiar with the work. For instance, Stubbe observes:
When Christianity became generally received, it introduced with it a general inundation of Barbarism and Ignorance, which over-run all places where it prevailed.
And Gibbon, several decades later, closes his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the words: ‘I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.’ Gibbon himself was known for his private scepticism about Trinitarian dogma.
Stubbe’s book, as I have said, is the work of a brave pioneer. But it is also a considered reflection upon the religious instabilities of the interregnum period which generated it. It shows a sensitive and immensely cultivated English mind shaking off the complications of old dogma, using modern scholarship to reconstruct the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and of the Prophet Muhammad. Instead of something exotic, we see here a very English kind of religion expressing itself. Stubbe is spiritual, but not superstitious. He likes simplicity: the blank, Puritan wall of the mosque rather than the elaborate stone metaphors of Catholicism or of the dizzyingly high Anglicanism of Charles. He values wholesome morality that is pragmatic rather than irresponsibly idealistic: so he commends polygamy, and shows the moral dangers of legally imposed monogamy. He regards with distaste traditional Christian strictures on ‘the flesh’ – a century beforehand, Englishmen had rejected the arguments for a celibate clergy and had firmly quashed monkery as both unnatural and parasitic. For Stubbe, the Prophet’s approach was in accord with nature: the love of woman is as natural as the love of God. The Prophet, like the great Hebrew patriarchs, showed that sacred and profane love can and indeed must go together.
A generation earlier, John Donne had suffered passions for both woman and for God; and found his religion finally unable to reconcile the two. His early poems are among some of the most touching, and also sensual, love poems in the English language. Later, as Dean of St Paul’s, he realised that he must renounce the flesh as the instrument of the Fall and the perpetrator of original sin. Hence his agonising, tragic spiritual career, renouncing the flesh to serve God, composing poems wrapped in his winding sheet: Donne’s great Muslim soul caught in the flawed dialectic of a theology that regarded spirit and body as eternally at war.
Stubbe is also drawing on a particularly English pragmatism in his treatment of the Jihad. Far from regarding the Islamic institution of the just war as a reproach, he extols it, contrasting it with what he regarded as the insipid and irresponsible pacifism of the unknown New Testament authors. Stubbe is an English gentleman of a generation that had known war, and knew that there are some injustices in the world that cannot be dissolved through passive suffering, through turning the other cheek. He had sided with Parliament during the civil war, holding, with Cromwell, that the righteous man may sometimes justly bear the burden of the sword. An admirer of Cromwell, he became an admirer of the Prophet. For him, the Prophet was not a foreign, exotic figure: his genial vision of human life under God exactly conformed to what a civilised Englishman of the seventeenth century thought necessary and proper. In Stubbe’s work, in other words, we find a vindication of Muhammad as an English prophet.
There is more that can be said about the convergence of Islamic moderation and good sense with the English temper. Tragically, the rise of Dissent in England coincided also with the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, which reached its intoxicating heights with the empire of Queen Victoria and the Edwardians. Under such Anglocentric and frankly racist banners, sympathy with Islam became once more a receding possibility. But there were exceptions. Perhaps the most celebrated was that most English of intellectuals, Carlyle. Carlyle, like Stubbe two centuries before, was a free spirit, unhampered either by obsessions with Trinity, or modern delusions about the ability of material progress to secure human happiness.
On May the 8th 1840, in a stuffy lecture room in Portman Square, London’s intellectual elite were hearing Carlyle speak about the Prophet. They had anticipated the usual invective; and they were astonished to watch him holding up the Prophet as a heroic, adventurous figure, whose sacrifices had brought a natural theism to his people, and had much to teach a materialistic Victorian England. The climax came when the lecturer cried:
Benthamee Utility, virtue by Profit and Loss; reducing this God’s world to a dead brute Steam-engine . . . if you ask me which gives, Mahomet or they, the beggarlier and falser view of Man and his Destinies in this Universe, I will answer, it is not Mahomet.
Stung to the quick, John Stuart Mill leaped to his feet, and cried out: ‘No!’
Carlyle was lecturing on ‘The Hero as Prophet’; and again we see the English realism towards the use of force, which had made possible the creation of the British Empire, inspiring a more positive appreciation of the Prophet of Islam. The great Christian blindness towards Islam has always been the belief that there can be only one type of perfection, namely the pacifist Jesus, who taught men to turn the other cheek, and who said, ‘Resist not him that is evil.’ For minds nurtured on such an image, the hero-Prophet is a difficult figure to comprehend. In the Far East, of course, there is no such mental block. Spirituality and the cultivation of the martial arts there went hand in hand. The love of women was also seen as a necessary part of this ethos. The samurai tradition in particular, of the righteous swordsman, a meditator who was also a great lover of women, ensures that a Japanese, for instance, will have few difficulties with the specific genius and greatness of the Prophet of Islam. But for Christians, there is no such model, although knightly ethics in the early Middle Ages, learned from Muslims in Spain and Palestine, dimly suggested it. But even for the Crusader knights, the ideal of celibacy was often accepted: the Knights Templar, for instance, a monastic warrior order, who were influenced enough by Islam to comprehend the importance of a sacred warriorhood, but who never quite got the point about celibacy.
With Carlyle, the Hero as Prophet, or the Prophet as Hero, reveals itself as a credible type for the English mind. And Carlyle’s insistence on the moral exaltation of the Prophet who transcended pacifism to take up arms to fight for his people was understood by at least one later British writer: George Bernard Shaw. For Shaw, as for Carlyle, there was no doubt about the correct answer to Hamlet’s question
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.
Edmund Burke had already pointed out that ‘for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing.’ Shaw, like Carlyle, recognised that this principle calls into question the Gospel ethic of passivity in the face of suffering and injustice. Let me read to you a few words from Hesketh Pearson’s biography of the generally post-Christian Shaw:
For many years (this was 1927), Shaw had been meditating a play on a prophet. The militant saint was a type more congenial to his nature than any other, a type he thoroughly sympathised with and could therefore portray with unfailing insight. In all history the one person who exactly answered his requirements, who would have made the perfect Shavian hero, was Mahomet.
In his diary for 1913, Shaw himself wrote: ‘I had long desired to dramatise the life of Mahomet. But the possibility of a protest from the Turkish Ambassador – or the fear of it – causing the Lord Chamberlain to refuse to license such a play, deterred me.’ And so, as Pearson records, he wrote Saint Joan instead.
Perhaps we can close this brief parenthetic summary of the convergence between British martial theory and traditions and Islam, with a final insight; this time offered by Colin Morris, former head of the BBC in Northern Ireland: ‘The false prophet is a moralist, he tells the world how things ought to be; the real prophet is a realist, he tells the world how things really are.’
Let us try to sum up the above arguments. Firstly, Islam is a universal religion. Despite its origins in 7th century Arabia, it works everywhere, and this is itself a sign of its miraculous and divine origin. Secondly, the British Isles have for several hundred years been the home of individuals whose religious and moral temper is very close to that of Islam. To move from Christianity to Islam is hence, for an English man or woman, not the giant leap that outsiders might assume. It is, rather, simply the logical next step in the epic story of our people. Christianity, formerly a Greek mystery religion advocating a moral code against the natural law, is in fact foreign to our national temperament. It is an exotic creed, and it is now fatally compromised by its positive view of secular modernity. Islam, once we have become familiar with it, and settled into it comfortably, is the most suitable faith for the British. Its values are our values. Its moderate, undemonstrative style of piety, still waters running deep; its insistence on modesty and a certain reserve, and its insistence on common sense and on pragmatism, combine to furnish the most natural and easy religious option for our people.
I should close by saying that nothing in what I have said is intended in a jingoistic sense. That the British have a convergence with Islam is to the credit of our people, certainly. But I am not commending any smug ethnocentrism; precisely because Islam itself came to abolish a tribal mentality. Islam is the true consanguinity of believers in the One True God, the common bond of those who seek to remain focussed on the divine Source of our being in this diffuse, ignorant and tragic age. But it is generous and inclusive. It allows us to celebrate our particularity, the genius of our heritage; within, rather than in tension with, the greater and more lasting fellowship of faith.
Hedley Churchward the first British Muslim to carry out the rites of Hajj
History has not recorded the name of the first British Muslim to carry out the rites of Hajj. Rumours abound of converted Crusaders who made the trip in medieval times, and of British Muslims in Ottoman naval service who visited the hallowed precincts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But the first detailed account of the Hajj by an English Muslim had to wait until the Edwardian era, when the artist Hedley Churchward became the first recorded British ‘Guest of God.’
Like many Anglo-Muslims of his day, Churchward was the conservative, gentlemanly scion of an ancient family; indeed, his ancestors possessed the second oldest house in Britain. His father ran a successful business in Aldershot, and was well-received in regimental circles, enabling the young Churchward to meet Queen Victoria and the philanthropist Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Showing an early artistic talent, Churchward studied art and became a recognised painter, specialising in the then highly prestigious field of theatrical scene painting. A familiar figure in London’s West End in the 1880s, he worked closely with celebrities as varied as Tennyson, Millais, Lord Leighton, and the most famous of all Victorian ‘supermodels’, Lily Langtry.
A leisurely trip through Spain opened the young scene-painter’s eyes to the glories of Moorish architecture, and he was tempted to venture across the Straits to Morocco. Here, in a world still untouched by Western influence, he quickly fell in love with the gentle and beautiful lifestyle of Islam. After several visits, he gravely announced to his startled family that he had become a Muslim.
Churchward travelled on to Cairo, where he studied for several years at Al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s highest seat of learning. His scholarship developed apace, enabling him to preach Friday sermons at a small mosque, and even landing him an appointment to the prestigious post of lecturer in Sira (the Prophet’s biography) at the Qadis’ Academy – no small achievement for a convert.
In need of more lucrative work, Churchward then sailed for South Africa, where his art and his elegant drawing-room manner soon won him the favour of Cecil Rhodes, who made him the gift of a rare pink diamond. Moving effortlessly between the Muslim community and the Transvaal’s white elite, it was thanks to Churchward’s earnest intercession that President Paul Kruger granted permission for the erection of the first mosque in the Witwatersrand goldfields.
On his return to Cairo, Mahmoud Churchward married the daughter of a prominent Shafi‘i jurist of Al-Azhar, and continued his Arabic lecturing. But both his head and his heart told him that his Islam was not yet complete: the magnetic pull of the Fifth Pillar was becoming impossible to resist. As he later recorded: ‘One evening, as I strode along the looming Pyramid in the sunset, and saw the jagged skyline of Cairo behind the dreamy African dusk, I decided to carry through what I had intended to do ever since I turned a Moslem – I would go to the Kaaba at Mecca.’
As an Englishman he realised that this ambition might prove hard to fulfil: there was a danger that the Caliphal authorities at Jeddah might distrust the sincerity of his claims to be a Muslim, and unceremoniously turn him away. He therefore petitioned the senior Ulema for a letter of recommendation. In the awe-inspiring presence of the Chief Qadi of Egypt, together with Shaykh al-Islam Mehmet Jemaluddin Efendi (the Ottoman Empire’s highest religious authority, who happened to be on a visit to Cairo), he submitted to a three-hour examination on difficult points of faith. Passing with flying colours, he received a beautifully-calligraphed testimonial signed by the scholars present. This religious passport was to serve him well in overcoming the bureaucratic obstacles which lay ahead.
In 1910, after a further year in South Africa, the would-be Hajji packed his trunks and set out from Johannesburg for the Holy Land. Steamers in those days were slow, and Churchward faced the added impediment of having to travel via Bombay, where he spent weeks in frustrating negotiations with shipping-clerks, officials, and an urbane Lebanese Christian who was the Ottoman consul. At last he found an elderly pilgrim ship, the SS Islamic, and this vessel, captained by an irascible Scotsman and armed with cannon against the threat of pirates, chugged slowly across the shimmering heat of the Indian Ocean, visiting the poverty-stricken Arabian Gulf before wending its leisurely way up the Red Sea.
The days passed slowly, and the time for Hajj was fast approaching. Steaming at six knots, halting at small ports to deliver sacks of mail, which had to be handed over with six-foot tongs because of the fear of plague, there was little to do except watch the dolphins, eat curry, and pray on deck with the Indian pilgrims.
Landing briefly at the Sudanese port of Suakin, Churchward dropped in on the British Consul, who airily told him that his plans to visit Makka were doomed. ‘My dear chap,’ he told him, sipping an iced drink on the Consular veranda, ‘to begin with you will not be allowed to land at Jeddah.’
But two days later, the Islamic steamed into the roadstead of the Arabian port. ‘On the Indian deck,’ he recorded, ‘there started a great packing of pots, portable stoves, babies and sacks of rice.’ It proved necessary to row ashore in a small dinghy, plunging through the hot spray past a Turkish battleship that had been moored for so long that the coral had grown up around it, immobilising it forever. Once his little boat was beached on the sands, a short conversation with the Ottoman officials established that all was well, and Churchward went into the town to make contact with the local representative (wakil) of Sharifa Zain Wali, a rich businesswoman of Makka who ran a large organisation of ‘mutawwifs’ – pilgrim guides. Naturally, she could not attend him here in person – as Churchward later observed: ‘Owing to the immense numbers of pilgrims, hundreds of thousands, who reach Jeddah each year, it is as impossible for these much-respected dignitaries to escort their customers personally as it would be for Mr. Thomas Cook to chaperone every Cockney globe-trotter through Europe. Like all her colleagues, she employed a considerable staff, who saw that the Hajis carried through the ritual prescribed by the Prophet.’
The Wakil took Churchward to his beautiful Arab house, and explained how to don his Ihram clothing before letting him settle down for the night. ‘Finding a level place on the irregular stones I lay down anew’, he wrote. ‘This time a thousand million mosquitoes hovered over me.’ The following day, he telegraphed most of his money through to Makka, and entrusted, as was the custom, the remainder of his funds to the Mutawwif. That evening, ‘while the lamps of Jeddah glowed in a tropic sunset, two donkeys arrived.’ The road beyond Jeddah was little more than a camel track, but the Wakil confidently led the small party towards the nocturnal east, with Halley’s Comet hanging splendidly among the stars above. ‘Against the stars I saw rock faces; we seemed to be trotting through a kind of canyon. Saving the fall of our donkeys’ feet there was nothing to be heard, not even a jackal. … Bang! Explosions suddenly rang from some place high in the dark hills. No mistake, those were rifle shots … The growing brightness showed a very picturesque old building, a kind of tower several hundred feet above the road. From the steep path serving the structure some fez-adorned figures ran down. They wore uniforms and held guns in their hands.’
An Ottoman officer came up, and politely explained that his men had successfully chased off a band of robbers. In those days, attacks by desert Arabs on pilgrims were distressingly common; but Churchward and his party rode on, trusting in Allah. In the oven-like heat of the early afternoon, after several stops at roadside coffee-houses, they passed the stone pillars which indicated the beginning of the sacred territory into which no non-Muslim may intrude.
‘On entering here my guide signed to me that we should say the proper prayer. Touching his heart and forehead he muttered the Fatiha and held his hands together as if to receive Heaven’s blessing. Then he said, Hena al-Haram (Here is the Holy Ground).’
‘Some pigeons, wild doves and other birds were the first specimens of desert fauna I came on. They appeared perfectly tame, and fluttered a few inches from our faces. Some sat on the hard stones and allowed the donkeys to go right upon them. Very carefully the Wakeel led his beast around the little creatures, for no man will dare to kill a living thing here.’
In the Holy City at last, after almost two days on the road, Churchward and his companions entered the tall mansion-cum-hotel of the Sharifa. This pious and aristocratic lady, a direct descendent of the Holy Prophet, had family connections in Cape Town, where her company of pilgrim guides had been recommended to Churchward. Unpacking his goods, he sent her a gift of a Gouda cheese, which was borne up to her unseen presence by excited servants. The Sharifa herself shortly called to him from behind a wooden mashrabiya screen: ‘Mubarak! Welcome to my house.’ ‘I replied that I felt proud to live in her house, whereat she answered that she was proud of me. ‘The Kafirs make good cheese,’ declared the lady, ‘they must have many cows.’’
The English pilgrim struggled up seven flights of stairs, bathed, and slept on the roof. He was awoken before dawn by the strange lilting sound of Ottoman bugles, and after prayers and a breakfast of melons he set off behind the Mutawwif towards the Sacred Mosque. Taking care to scuff their feet disdainfully on some well-worn flagstones, which the Mutawwif declared were some former idols of Quraish which had been cast down there by the Prophet to be humiliated, Churchward and his companion finally entered the House of God. The first stage of a five-month journey had finally come to an end.
The Anglo-Muslim community has produced many stormy petrels over the centuries. Religious dissidents, adventurers, romancers, scholar-pilgrims – all have enriched the diverse and colourful story that is British Islam. Peter Lyall, the Scotsman who became an admiral in the Ottoman navy; Abdullah Quilliam, the Liverpool solicitor who founded a mosque and orphanage in which Christian waifs were raised as Muslims; Benjamin Bishop, His Majesty’s consul in Cairo who turned Muslim and mysteriously disappeared; Lord Headley the peer; Lady Evelyn Cobbold the explorer and pilgrim to Mecca; Mubarak Churchward, the stage-painter and friend of Lily Langtry; the anonymous Scotsman who became governor of Madina; and many more. Few, however, lived such adventurous lives as the celebrated Hajji Abdullah Fadhil al-Zubayr, born William Williamson, remembered even today in the Gulf and Iraq, where his many descendants still retell his exploits.
Williamson was born in Bristol in 1872, and when still a boy demonstrated a rebellious nature that sat easily with a passionate hatred of injustice. While a pupil at Clifton School he repeatedly courted both danger and the ire of headmasters by climbing the famous Clifton suspension bridge which soars over the Avon gorge. Beaten regularly by his father, he was overjoyed when an uncle found him a place on a tea-clipper bound for Australia. The family’s hope was that the rigours of shipboard life would soon cause the thirteen-year old to pine for the comparative comforts of a boarding school. But although the new ship’s boy was flogged and regularly ‘mastheaded’ for his lubber’s clumsiness in Biscay gales, he resolved never to return.
The barque landed its cargo in New South Wales, and set course for Bristol via San Diego. Ashore in the Californian port, the ship’s mates scattered in the traditional quest for beer and beauty. Williamson, however, clutching two dollars, took ‘French leave’, and ran inland, praying that he would not be spotted by his shipmates, who were likely to force him back on board. He found work on a farm just south of Los Angeles, and then worked for his Aunt Amy, who had married a local homesteader. A devout Seventh Day Adventist, she would regularly dress in white robes and sing on nearby hilltops; but she came to admire her nephew, who soon mastered all the usual cowboy skills, including gunslinging and bronco-breaking, but refused to accompany the other ranch-hands on their regular ‘busts’ in the vice-dens of neighbouring towns. Receptive to California’s natural beauty, he had developed a strong belief in God, and a dislike for throwing away what slender financial means he possessed.
Although gifted with a natural aptitude for the cowboy life, Williamson’s imagination was soon fired by tales of gold; and once he had acquired an old mule, an even older Mexican shotgun, and a handful of dollars, he joined another cowboy, Jim Cook, and took the gold trail to the Nevadas. They had covered only a hundred miles before they were robbed while sleeping innocently beneath the stars. The silent thieves had taken their mule, the money in their pockets, and even their shoes. Cook turned back, disheartened, but the barefoot Williamson was not beaten so easily. He pressed on, pausing to work for a while as assistant to a quack doctor in a ten-gallon hat. At last he reached the Nevadas, where he staked a claim to a mine which, unlike many of its neighbours, seemed to contain only limestone, quartz, and an inexhaustible supply of Californian mud.
This new setback drove Williamson back to San Francisco, where he enlisted on a cargo ship bound for Bordeaux. A disastrous and near-lethal passage via the Horn did nothing to dampen his love of adventure, and after touching briefly in France, he joined an Irish fire-fighter who planned to work on the construction of the Panama Canal. Fifty men a day were dying of malaria in this first, ill-fated attempt to cut a channel across the Isthmus, and wages were high; but the fire-fighter’s wife was soon convinced that Panama was ‘no country for a white man’, and the threesome, afflicted with the malaria that was to dog Williamson for the rest of his life, travelled on to California. The bankruptcy of the railroad company that took them on left them penniless; but under Williamson’s direction they formed a travelling theatrical troupe, barnstorming out-of-the-way settlements with a vaudeville act whose highlight was Williamson’s unusual gift for juggling. A severe winter trapped the party in the Nevadas, but they reached the coast safely on skis made for them by a sympathetic Swede. Here Williamson struck out alone yet again, this time trying his luck as an amateur boxer. He won his first three bouts in the San Francisco championships, but his career as a pugilist was cut short when he accepted a beer laced with opium in the city’s red light district (the ‘Sodom of the Pacific’, and, in the view of local preachers, the probable cause of the 1906 earthquake). He awoke with a hangover, in the fo’c’sle of a ship, and realised that he had been ‘crimped’ – his senseless form sold to a short-handed and unscrupulous captain.
The Sitka Brave turned out to be a whaler. Crewed mainly by shanghai’d landsmen, the large, square-rigged brig welcomed Williamson as a seasoned mariner, and he soon became fourth mate on a journey which scoured the ironbound coasts of the Bering Straits. While the captain was ashore, wearing a wig to charm the Eskimo ladies of easy virtue who eked out a living in the Alaska settlements, the brig was often left in Williamson’s charge. Eight months later the Sitka Brave returned to ’Frisco for a long-overdue refit, but Williamson chose to remain with her for a second tour of the frozen Northern waters. After this, another visit to inland California ended with a fruitless search for work with his Aunt Amy, who was now somewhere in the high hills, awaiting the Second Coming. He returned to San Francisco, where he signed up with the former captain of the Sitka Brave, now the proud owner of a schooner, for a trading voyage to the South Seas. He was eighteen years old.
Williamson now set up as a small trader in the Caroline Islands, specialising in the sea-cucumbers which are a delicacy for the Chinese palate the world over. He soon acquired considerable expertise in the harvesting and storage of the creatures; but again, as so often before, his fortunes were suddenly overturned. Arrested in his outrigger canoe by the Spanish colonial authorities, he was accused of selling rifles to rebel tribesmen, and thrown into a Manila jail.
Conditions in the prison were appalling, and Williamson later recalled this period behind Spanish bars as the worst in his life. Detainees lived in constant fear of beating, interrogation, or death by garrotting. On one occasion Williamson was punished by being placed in a metal tank which gradually filled with water, and he could only save himself from drowning by desperately working a pump, a torment which was prolonged for several hours. After this ordeal he was forced to work in a chain gang, hobbling to work in the docks each morning holding an iron ball.
Famously, the Englishman’s instinct in a prison is to attempt to escape. Williamson managed to bribe a guard to leave his shackles unlocked, and then, judging his moment, raced past the guards and down an alley. Shots rang out all around him, but he reached his destination, the United States consulate, unharmed. ‘Help me!’ he cried, as he raced in, and the employees rushed to bolt the door behind him. On the other side, the Spanish soldiers were shouting and banging at the door.
The consul who now coolly surveyed the desperate and ragged escapee was Alexander Russell Webb (1846-1916), later to win fame as one of America’s leading converts to Islam. Having heard his story, Webb contacted the British consulate, only to learn that the British authorities were so anxious to avoid association with a possible rebel that they would not lift a finger to help. But a visit by the American consul to the docks turned up the English captain of a tramp steamer. Disguised as a drunken sailor, Williamson lurched down to the docks, and was hidden on board until the ship was warped from the quay, and laid a course for the British colony of Hong Kong.
Williamson’s nautical skills were by now sufficiently developed to land him the position of quartermaster on a crack liner, the SS Chusan, heading for Singapore and India. In Bombay he was paid off, and found work in the P and O offices. His spare time was spent wandering the streets of the Gateway to India, where he contemplated, as thousands of others have done before and since, the extremes of the human condition which the city displays to passers-by. All the religions of the world were present, their conspicuous performers side-by-side with hawkers, beggars, scorpion-eaters, and prostitutes in cages. Temples, churches and mosques offered havens of peace, and everywhere there was the mingling of sanctity, destitution and indulgence for which India is famous. The spiritual yearning kindled during his solitary wanderings in the Californian sierra broke surface again, and he took to wondering when God would send him a sign. He was still a teenager, but he had seen much of the world and of humanity. Which of the many roads should he take? Which would lead him most surely towards the Maker of such marvels?
The sign he was praying for came during his next sea-crossing. On the SS Siam, en route to Aden, Williamson found in the small ship’s library a book by Imam Abdullah Quilliam, then the Shaykh al-Islam of the British Isles. He read it again and again, fascinated. Here, it seemed, was the answer to the questions which had been raised in his mind during years of spectacular experience, energised by the earnestness of which the teenage mind is so often capable. Here was a monotheism far closer to his practical, English outlook than the mysteries of Trinity, reinforced by a no-nonsense set of clear rules for worship and the conduct of his life. This was no religion for dreamers or nancy-boys. It was a faith for tough, single-minded men of independent spirit.
On landing at Aden his luck suddenly began to change. An Arab runner brought him a request to pay a visit to the Assistant Resident. The official turned out to be an old friend of his father, and immediately offered him a position with the Aden Constabulary. Discreetly adding two years to his official age, Williamson accepted with alacrity. Here was a chance to earn good money, which at the same time afforded the opportunity to live among Muslims and to see how their faith worked in practice. The work was dangerous, particularly in the harbour district, but Williamson’s skill with his fists and his Service revolver, acquired in the hard school of the Wild West, soon made him an exemplary policeman in the eyes of the authorities.
Less satisfactory was the youth’s inexplicable desire to associate with the natives. Aden was administered from British India, and a stern social apartheid dictated how burra sahibs might behave in the presence of the local population. Williamson visited the mosque and the tomb of Imam Abu Bakr al-Aydarus, as well as making the acquaintance of the sayyids and other religious notables of the Arabian port. Although the ulema advised him to take his time and not rush into an ill-considered conversion, the colonial authorities came to the opinion that the brawny Bristol policeman was Not Quite The Thing. A crisis flared when another constable who had publicly converted and announced that he had memorised much of the Qur’an even before joining the Faith, was deported to India. Williamson was summoned to the Assistant Resident, and to various Army padres, and was given a good talking-to about the Christian duties of all white servants of the Raj. If he did not pull his socks up, he might be deported like his predecessor.
He paid no attention. After a year of study under the courteous and patient ulema of Aden, Williamson wrote passionate letters to his father and his Aunt Amy, inviting them to the truth of Islam. He then travelled to the court of the Sultan of the neighbouring town of Lahj, where he made his formal shahada, and was circumcised using the wire-and-egg method familiar to many converts of the time. Henceforth he was Abdullah Fadhil, a fact which, on his return to Aden, he lost no time in proclaiming to the local European community.
The reaction of the colonial authorities was swift. The Muslim constable was packed off to India, and it was put about that he was suffering from ‘a touch of the sun’. In Bombay, his request to be released from the police was granted, and he was offered a free passage back to England. This he refused, since his heart was set on returning to the Middle East. However he soon found that invisible hands obstructed his plans. No shipmaster heading for Arabia would take him on, thanks to the determined efficiency of the Raj authorities. Yet he eluded official scrutiny by buying the ticket of a Basra-bound horse-dealer, and soon found himself in the great Ottoman city, exploring its bazaars and mosques, and improving his Arabic with every hour that passed.
At the time, Basra was a centre of Protestant missionary activity. This had made no discernable impression on the Muslim population, but had made significant inroads among the local Ottoman Christians. Abdullah Fadhil soon found himself at the centre of religious controversies, with the local Arabs recognising him as their natural spokesman when confronted with Westerners. One of these debates took place in the house of a Basran notable, who had invited Sunnis, Shi‘a, Jews, Sabians and two American missionaries to celebrate a feast day under his roof. One of the Americans turned out to be Samuel Zwemer, probably the best-known missionary in the Middle East in those days. Zwemer demanded a debate, and although the missionary’s fluent Arabic placed him on the linguistic high ground, Abdullah defended, without much difficulty, the Qur’anic doctrine of the absolute Unity of God against Zwemer’s insistence that within God there are three distinct persons. A further point to which Hajji Abdullah adverted was the unity which characterised the Muslim world. Southern Iraq contained both Shi‘i and Sunni Muslims, who rarely intermarried, but who treated one another as brother Muslims; in stark contrast to the deep divisions separating the Christians of Basra, who were divided between Protestant, Jesuit and Chaldean churches, between whom there lurked a bitter and sometimes fatal rivalry.
The new convert was safe from the Christians religiously, but he soon discovered that the long arm of the Raj could reach him even in Ottoman lands. The British Consul ordered him to report to the consulate, with a view to returning him to England, and even managed to pressurise the Ottoman governor into accepting this situation. But the former cowboy and gold-panner was not so easily corralled. He apologised to his hosts, and vanished into the Arabian night.
For the next two years, Abdullah studied Arabic and Islam under the ulema of Kuweit. He also spent time travelling through the flat immensities of the northern Arabian deserts, where he learned to love the camel and the Arabian horse. Buying and selling these animals brought him a modest income, with which he was able to contemplate the next great turning-point of his life: joining the Hajj caravan of 1894.
The point of departure was to be the walled city of Zubair, from which three thousand pilgrims would set out through the territories of the Rashid family, hereditary rulers of Najd. In the hajjis’ bazaar of Zubair he bought seven pack camels, and loaded them with a tent, rugs, cooking pots, coffee, rice, flour, ghee and sugar, enough, he hoped, for the first weeks of the journey, which would bring him to the city of Hail.
The caravan assembled in the month of Shawwal. Iranian and Indian pilgrims had joined the Arabs of Iraq, following the bayraq (caliphal banner) carried by the Amir al-Hajj. This spectacular flag would accompany them throughout the pilgrimage. By day it took the form of a nine-foot red and green banner adorned with the crescent and star and the Shahada. At night it was topped by a great lantern. So long as this great symbol was visible, those lost in crowds during the Hajj, or in the northern wilderness of Arabia, could always make their way back to the Amir’s side.
Discipline on the caravan was strict and efficient. Outriders went ahead to check the road for obstacles or Bedouin raiders, while a second group followed up the rear to gather any items of value left behind by the great mass of humanity as it lumbered slowly across the dry terrain. In the evening, scholars would preach, recite the Qur’an, and sing the praises of the Blessed Prophet.
Abdullah had bought a delul, a swift riding camel, and would often ride up to the standard bearer and the drummer who headed the procession, to chat with the Amir’s entourage. He would then rest and watch in fascination as, for a whole hour, the great caravan moved past. Different languages, sects, and genders were united in fellowship as they travelled along the ancient Darb Zubayda, the road fortified and supplied with wells by the great and pious Abbasid princess a thousand years before.
In the month of Dhu al-Qa‘da the pilgrims reached Hail. In a customary act of hospitality, the local Amir, Muhammad al-Rashid, slaughtered enough camels to feed every member of the caravan. The English pilgrim watched as entire camels were tipped into great cauldrons, and as vast hills of rice were served out to the hungry guests. An even greater feast ensued the following day when the Baghdad caravan arrived, punctual to the hour.
Two weeks later the united procession sighted the magnificent city walls of Madina. The spectacle of the well-tended market gardens, filled with melons, oranges and date palms, was a delight to the tired eyes of the English pilgrim. He left his camel at the Manakha, the caravan-plaza between the Mosque and the Ottoman barracks at al-Anbariyya, found a small top-floor apartment in an ancient house, and then, having performed wudu from an earthenware jug, entered the Mosque.
Inside, past the Bab al-Salam, all was peace. The Garden of Fatima, the doves, the rows of quiet pillars, each with its name and venerable associations, formed a fitting environment for the rites of visitation to the presence of the Holy Prophet. All around, too, were scholars; for in those times the mosques of Mecca and Madina were great universities, and pilgrims sojourning in the holy cities were able not only to worship, but to attend classes on every subject of law, doctrine, and scriptural interpretation. Few indeed were the ulema who did not hope to retire to Madina; and those who did, including many of the greatest Ottoman scholars, found corners in the capacious mosque where they would expound the classical texts to an immense variety of students and pilgrims who had come from every land of Islam.
The time for Hajj was fast approaching; and the young Abdullah was soon obliged to tear himself away from the solemn, pious circles of sages, in order to learn the secrets of the ihram garment, which was all that would protect him from the blazing sun and bitter nights for the next few weeks. His caravan took the road past Quba’ and Dhu al-Hulayfa, towards the desert city in the south. From the basalt hills that crowded around the Mecca road now resounded the ancient cry, Labbayk, Allahumma, labbayk!
The suburb of Kudayy, then the City itself. The great mosque of those days had almost no exterior, with houses being built up against its walls, and the effect of entering was that of leaving narrow shaded streets and bazaars suddenly to be dazzled by the sun which blazed down upon the Ka‘ba itself. Marble paths led to the House through the gravel, around which were Sinan’s famous arcades and the ancient ashlar minarets. Following his mutawwif, Abdullah made the seven rounds, and then prayed at the maqams of Ibrahim, Isma‘il, and Muhammad, invoking peace upon all of them. He entered the Pavilion of Zamzam, and watched as amphorae were lowered by ropes into the cool depths by busy attendants. Finally came the rite of Sa‘y, the sevenfold procession along the open street, flanked with clothiers and bookshops, that stretched in a straight line between the little hills of Safa and Marwa.
Abdullah was performing the Qiran type of pilgrimage, and after this first Umra he left with his comrades for Mina, pausing to pay his respects at the tomb of Sayyida Khadija. The Day of Tarwiya was spent in the great city of tents at Mina. Before the advent of motor transport this was a beehive of the recitation of the Qur’an and religious poetry, with each tent resonating with the sonorities proper to some corner of the Islamic domains. But after the Fajr prayer, the multitudes left for Arafat, some with pack-animals, while others struggled along with sacks, babies and other baggage. The traditional Namira sermon was delivered in the Caliph’s name, and the hajjis held out their hands in prayer, until the voice of a cannon and the burst of fireworks overhead announced that the sun had set and the multitudes could make their way towards Muzdalifa. Abdullah himself, with typical tenacity, had insisted on spending the day at the summit of the Mount of Mercy beside the great white pillar, and he spent some anxious minutes trying to locate his Mutawwif’s flag in the huge crowds when he descended once more to the plain, which was packed with praying, weeping, jostling pilgrims. Not far away, equal to the other pilgrims in their white ihram, and seemingly unprotected by guards, rode the Sherif of Mecca and the Turkish governor.
The pebbles of Muzdalifa were flung at the Devil’s Pillars, animals were sacrificed, and another tawaf and procession along the Street of Running brought Abdullah the pilgrim’s crown. Twice again, in 1898 and 1936, would he repeat the rites of Hajj, each visit bringing a new range of experiences and reflections; but it was his first stay in the grand and ancient City which supplied the most profound and extraordinary memories of his life, which he would cherish and revisit in his old age.
Old age lay far ahead, however; and the return to Zubair provided the Hajji with ample time to consider his next move. He realised that his aspirations had been more radically changed by the pilgrimage than by the experience of conversion itself. Before his Hajj he had cherished the hope of returning to America and resuming the cowboy’s life he had once loved so passionately. Grown to man’s estate, he had felt confident that his vigour and independence would allow him to carve out a substantial ranch, where he could employ cowboys of his own. But the visit to the Ka‘ba seemed to have instilled a different set of priorities. He decided to settle down in the East, trusting to Allah to provide. And in due course, He did.
Hajji Abdullah became a trader along the Kuwait coastline, up the mighty Shatt al-Arab and into the Iraqi hinterland. On occasion he would take prime Arab horses to Bombay, to be sold to the British cavalry. His growing business connections allowed him access to European goods never before seen in Iraq. His arrival in the marketplace of Zubair on a penny-farthing provoked a riot, as terrified Arabs prayed for deliverance from the ‘Jinn of the Big and Little Wheel’, while others drew their daggers and attempted to pounce on the young man in Arab robes who was riding about on it, and must certainly be Shaytan himself. On another occasion he brought consternation to a desert encampment when he produced a phonograph and played a Qur’anic recording which he had made with a mullah of Zubair – possibly the first recording ever made in Iraq. An evening’s explanation of the box’s nature and purpose could not persuade the sons of the desert that the box was not filled with jinn, who had been trapped inside by some magical process.
He spent a total of twelve years trading in horses, amassing a small financial competence which allowed him to acquire a medium-sized dhow. Never able to ignore the salt in his veins, he embarked on a series of expeditions ranging from Bushehr to the Trucial Coast (now known as the United Arab Emirates), and, inevitably, he came once again to the attention of the British authorities. An official report described him as ‘one William Richard Williamson professing to be Haji Abdullah Fadhil, a Moslem Arab’. But imperial suspiciousness had faded; and the British Muslim mariner enjoyed generally cordial relations with the British gunboats which periodically stopped and searched local vessels, looking for rifles, slaves, and other contraband.
It was during this period that the Hajji traded in his camelhair tent for a comfortable house in Basra, and his mind slowly turned to thoughts of matrimony. Until that time he had always brushed the subject aside with the laughing observation that ‘a day’s hunting with the hawk is worth many women’, but he now sought out the hand of a young Zubair girl, breaking with local custom by insisting on seeing her face before agreeing to the match. Married life suited him well, and he later acquired a wife in Baghdad as well, together with a large brood of children.
The Gulf was at the time one of the world’s most productive pearl-fisheries. Modern Arabian absentmindedness about pollution, reinforced by the depredations of a giant starfish, have drastically reduced the oyster population of those waters; but in the Hajji’s time it was a perennial temptation for a man blessed with a good dhow and a willing crew to hire a team of divers and head for the pearl banks, hoping and praying for a fortune.
The favoured season was known as al-Ghaws al-Kabir, the ‘Great Dive’, extending from May until mid-September. It is a time of sandy winds and intense heat; indeed, to this day the waters of the Bahr al-Banat off Qatar register the highest sea temperatures recorded anywhere in the world. The pearl banks, which were informally allocated to the tribes of neighbouring coasts, were at their most fruitful off Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial Coast. Halhul Island, sixty miles east of Qatar, is surrounded by beds which, in their heyday, gave birth to pearls which came to adorn the crowns of many Indian and European monarchs.
In Hajji Abdullah’s time the Great Dive would involve approximately four thousand vessels. The excitement was enhanced by the knowledge that the whole enterprise was, in essence, a form of gambling. Many were the ships which returned to port empty-handed; but the discovery of a large pink or white pearl would bring riches to the entire crew, from the nakhooda (captain) to the lowliest cook on board. To Abdullah, it was all reminiscent of his gold-panning days, and he joined in the preparations with relish.
Thus did the English Hajji set sail in his forty-ton dhow, the Fath al-Khayr. He had laid in ample stores, although he knew that the pearling ships could remain at sea indefinitely. Food could be obtained from the sea itself, given that the waters of the Gulf teem with delicious fish; and water could be had by sending divers down to fill skins from the numerous underwater freshwater springs whose locations had been known for generations.
The dive would begin each day at dawn, after prayers. The divers would rhythmically fill and empty their lungs, utter a short prayer, close their noses with ivory pegs, expel their remaining breath, and then, clutching a lead weight and a basket, jump into the sea. The best could work at a depth of twenty fathoms, filling the basket with oysters before being pulled to the surface after a couple of busy minutes beneath the waves, always on the alert for sharks, barracudas, or venomous sea-snakes. The work would continue all day, until, after the Maghrib prayers the crew would eat, and then prise open the oysters in search of the gleaming pearls.
The Hajji never struck it rich on the pearl-beds. Accepting the decree of Allah, he instead travelled to Damascus, where he spent two precious years in the city’s madrasas improving his knowledge of Islam. On his return, he sold his dhow and found work with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which needed qualified guides for its prospecting activities, once it was rumoured that there was some possibility of oil being present in the region. In 1935, he led the company’s negotiations with the ruler of Abu Dhabi, thereby heralding the arrival of the oil industry. His advice was also sought out by Imperial Airways, which needed to survey the coast for emergency landing areas suitable for the flying boats which then plied its England-India route.
The Hajji left the oil business in 1937, and retired to a small house in the village of Kut al-Hajjaj near Basra. Here he raised children and grandchildren, amazing them with tales of his remarkable life. For fifteen years thereafter, until his health failed him, he was a regular sight at the Ashar Mosque in Basra, and seldom missed the opportunity of attending a well-delivered class on religion. Back at home, he would sit with his amber and black prayer beads, his collection of religious books, and – a lifetime indulgence – a set of penny-Westerns with titles like Two-Gun Pete and Mayhem in Dodge City. Nothng could be more remote from the quiet desk-bound career which his father had planned for him on a distant Victorian afternoon; but the Hajji, whose path through life demonstrated so colourfully the universal appeal of Islam and the resilience of his native temper, would not have had it any other way. Loved by his large and vigorous family, he passed into the mercy of his Lord with a heart as serene as it was full of years.
This article also appeared in Seasons, the Zaytuna Journal.
Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, writing as Professor H. M. Léon, M.A., D.C.L., F.S.P., etc. (1916)
In the Numismatical department of the British Museum there is preserved a curious and interesting gold coin, over twelve hundred and thirty years old, on which is inscribed in unmistakable Arabic characters the declaration that ‘There is no Deity but Allah, The One, Without Equal, and Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah,’ and the further declaration, engraved around the margin of the coin, ‘Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, Who sent him (Muhammad) with the doctrine and the true faith to prevail over every other religion.’
This coin was engraved, struck and issued by Offa, King of Mercia, or ‘Middle England’ (an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, which extended on both sides of the River Trent from the North Sea to Wales), from 757 to 796. The name, originally restricted to the district around Tamworth and Lichfield and the Upper Trent valley, refers to a ‘march,’ a moorland, or frontier, which had to be defended against hostile neighbours; in this case such ‘alien enemies’ being the Welsh, the ‘Ancient Britons,’ who for centuries contended with the Anglo-Saxon invaders for supremacy in that region.
A number of smaller states were gradually incorporated with Mercia, the first settlements being probably made during the second half of the sixth century of the Christian era. The kingdom was, however, of but little importance until the accession of Penda in 626 (C.D.), who rapidly, by his vigorous policy and equitable rule, attained a supremacy over the other kingdoms, particularly after his victory at Hatfield (or Heathfield) over Edin, the powerful Deiran king, in 633. In 655, however, Penda was defeated and slain at Winwaed by Oswin, king of Northumbria,  and for the time being Mercian supremacy was terminated. Wulfhere, the nephew of Penda (659-675), pushed back the Northumbrians, and extended the boundary of the kingdom southward to the Thames. Wulfhere was the first monarch of this kingdom to renounce paganism and embrace Christianity. One of his successors, Ethelbald (716-757), further spread the boundaries of Mercia, by making large encroachments upon the territories of adjoining states. But the mightiest kings of Mercia were Offa (757-796) and Cenwulf (806-819). After the death of the latter monarch the kingdom rapidly declined, and in 828 it was merged in the realm of Egbert, king of Wessex.
King Offa, in whose reign the interesting coin we have under consideration was struck, succeeded to the throne of Mercia in 757, he being the ninth monarch of that kingdom in succession from Wybba, the father of Penda (to whom allusion has previously been made). He found the kingdom much weakened, and probably the early years of his reign were occupied by him in restoring rule and order within his territory. In 771 he began a career of conquest: he defeated the army of the King of Kent in 775, and fought successfully against the West Saxons (779) and the Welsh. As a protection against these lattter marauders he constructed a great earthwork which extended along the whole border between England and Wales, from the north coast of Flintshire, on the estuary of the Dee, through Denbigh, Montgomery, Salop, Radnor and Hereford, into Gloucestershire, where its southern termination is near the mouth of the Wye. Portions of this rampart still stand to a considerable height, though much of it has been almost obliterated by the ravages of time, the elements, and human beings. A vast amount of labour must have been expended to construct this work. Nearly parallel with it, some two miles to the eastern or English side, is an inferior rampart termed Watt’s Dyke, which was also constructed by Offa and completed about 765 (C.D.). It is conjectured that the space between the two dykes may have been a species of neutral zone for trading purposes.
Offa had cordial relations with the Roman See. Two Legates, George and Theophylact, visited Mercia, and were received by the king at a court held at Lichfield in the year 786. The report which these ecclesiastics made to Pope Adrian I, attributed to 787, is printed in Birch’s Cart. Sax., No. 250. In this document there is direct reference to the vow made by King Offa to Pope Adrian I, through the Legates to send 365 mancuses to the ‘Apostle of God’ (i.e. the Pope), ‘as many as there are days in the year, as alms for the poor, and for the manufacture of lights for the church.’
This donation by Offa appears to have been the origin of what has ever since been known as ‘Peter’s Pence,’ and won from the Pope the grant of a Mercian archbishopric.
The importance of this grant by Offa will be hereafter seen, when we come to more particularly discuss the origin of the interesting coin we have now under consideration.
The coinage of the kingdom of Mercia appears to have been the most important of all the coin-striking kingdoms of the Heptarchy. The earliest Mercian coins are those which belong to the sceat class. These were usually of silver,  and weighed from eight to twenty grains.
These early Mercian sceattae bear the names of Penda and Ethelred. The coins of the former are of purely Roman types, but those of the latter show a mixture of Roman and native design, thus pointing to a somewhat later date. The inscriptions on Penda’s coins are in Roman and Runic characters, but those of Ethelred are in Runes (the ancient alphabet of the heathen Northmen) only.  The name of the king in each instance is given on the ‘reverse’ side of the coin.
From the death of Ethelred (704) to the reign of Offa (757-796), a period of over half a century, there are no numismatic records of Mercia.
Offa did not strike any sceattae, and his coins mainly consist of the ‘penny’ class. They were of silver and weighed from eighteen to twenty grains. It is believed that Offa was the first monarch to introduce the ‘penny’ into England. The form of this coin, but not the type, was derived from thedenier of Charlemagne. 
Offa’s coins of the ‘Penny series’ are remarkable for their artistic excellence both in execution and design, and in this respect far surpass the issues of many succeeding rulers. The types are not only numerous but varied. They can be classified into two series: those bearing the bust of the king, and those in which the bust is absent. The bust, when present, is original in character, and exhibits undoubted attempts at portraiture. The designs on the reverse of the coins are decidedly ornamental, and comprise for the most part elaborately formed crosses or floral patterns. The busts upon the coins are well formed, and the head bears a life-like expression, the hair being usually arranged in close curls or plaits, but in some of the specimens it is loose and flowing. The inscriptions are generally in Roman characters, but here and there traces of Runes survive. There are no indications of mint-names, but we may conclude that the principal Mercian mint was in London. The coins themselves, however, prove that after the defeat of the King of Kent and his army in 775, at Otford (about three miles north of Sevenoaks and eight-and-a-half miles north-north-west of Tunbridge, Kent), when Kent became a fief of Mercia, Offa made use of the Canterbury mint. 
The remarkable gold coin of Offa bearing the Arabic inscription has furnished much food for reflection amongst the students of numismatics, and it is generally conceded that it is one of the rarest and most remarkable coins in the world.
Many treatises and papers have been written upon the coin and its origin, and numerous theories propounded with regard to the same.
So far back as November 25, 1841, a paper by Monsieur Adrian de Longperier, of Paris, was read before the Numismatic Society of London  upon this very coin. Mr. J. Y. Akerman, in a paper read before the same society on March 24, 1842, and printed in the Numismatic Chronicle, vol. v. pp. 122-124, also considers the raison d’être of this coin being struck. It is referred to by Mr. Herbert A. Grueber, F.S.A., in his Handbook of theCoins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum (published 1899).  The coin is fully described in Kenyon’s Gold Coins of England, 1884, pp.11, 12, and is illustrated in the frontispiece to that work, Fig. 13. It was made the subject of an exhaustive and extremely interesting article by Mr. P.W.P. Carlyon-Britton, F.S.A., President of the British Numismatic Society,  and as recently as 1914 was the subject of an excellent paper by Mr. J. Allan, M.A. (British Museum Staff, Coin Department). 
The theories put forward by the above learned gentlemen, all of them well versed in numismatical lore, and by some other individuals, whose names are not so well known to fame, may be classified under the following heads:-
(1) That Offa had become a convert to Islam, and took this means of declaring his acceptance of that Faith by stamping the Kalima, or Islamic Confession of Faith, upon his coins.
(2) That, without knowing the meaning of the Arabic words upon the coin, possibly merely regarding them as so much ornamentation, Offa had the coin struck off, merely adding, in order to identify himself with the same, the words ‘Offa Rex’ stamped also thereupon.
(3) That, as many pilgrims proceeded from England to the ‘Holy Land’ of Palestine, then under the dominion of the Muslims, this coin was struck, bearing this Arabic inscription in order that it might be the more readily accepted by the Muslims, and thus facilitate the journey of the pilgrims are assist them in trading (which may of them did) in those lands.
(4) That the piece was not a coin intended for general circulation, but was struck specially as a mancus and as one of the quota of 365 gold pieces which Offa had vowed to pay annually to the Pope of Rome.
Undoubtedly something can be said in support of each of these theories, but in these matters one must carefully consider all the circumstances of the time and weigh the pros and cons upon the subject. The first theory, namely that Offa had accepted Islam, appears to me to be absolutely untenable. At that time Islam was naught more to the Western world than the absolutely living embodiment of ‘Anti-Christ.’ Its tenets were not only not understood, but were wickedly misrepresented, and it was this wilful misrepresentation of ‘The Faith Most Excellent,’ and the colossal ignorance and superstition of the mob, that made the series of crusades possible. Even to-day, twelve centuries after the passing away of Offa, the most profound ignorance exists among the masses as to Islamic doctrines and ethics. Is it then at all probable that Offa, who had petitioned the Pope to grant him an Archbishop for his kingdom, and had voluntarily vowed to pay 365 golden pieces each year to that pontiff (and we know from authentic documents and records that up to his death such tribute was regularly paid by Offa), and had received with open arms and the greatest honour the legates from Rome, should become a Muslim? At that period in the world’s history for Offa to have done so would have meant for him, not merely the loss of his throne, but probably his life also.
Most of his other coins are stamped with a cross and bear his bust! That is not very Islamic.
True that the cross may have been placed upon the coins, and deeply indented therein, so as to enable the same to have been the more easily divided into halves or quarters; but the cross is there, and we cannot conceive any ‘True-Believer’ placing such an emblem upon any coin issued by him.
Furthermore, after the conquest of Kent by Offa in 775, and the adding of that territory to his kingdom, we find the Archbishops of Canterbury acknowledging Offa (and subsequently his successor Coenwulf) as their overlord. This is amply proved by one of the coins struck by the Archbishops of Canterbury (who possessed the right of minting money) at that period.
Jaenberht (766-790) is the first Archbishop of Canterbury of whom coins are known. During his episcopate Offa conquered Kent, and as Jaenberht’s coins were struck under his supremacy, they always bear that ruler’s name on the reverse. The obverse types are a star, a cross potent or pommée, or the name of the archbishop in three lines only. The reverse is always the same with one exception, namely, with Offa’s name at the end of a cruciform object.
The next archbishop was Aethelheard (793-805); he was elected to that office in 791, but did not receive the pallium until 793. During this interval he appears to have struck coins with the title of Pontifex instead of Archiepiscopus. His early coins bear the name of Offa; but those struck after 796 that of Coenwulf. Those with the name of Offa have for obverse and reverse types:- a star, a cross, the Christian monogram, etc. 
Is it likely that these archbishops, whose territory had been conquered by Offa, who had set up a rival archbishop to them in his own dominions, would have put the name of Offa on their coins if he had accepted Islam? Rather would we not have seen them denouncing him as ‘an infidel,’ and rousing the populace in revolt against him and his rule?
The first theory therefore appears to be absolutely untenable.
Let us now consider the theory that without knowing the meaning of the Arabic words upon the coin, and possibly regarding them as pure ornamentation, Offa had the coin struck, adding the words ‘Offa Rex’ to the original superscription.
Mons. Adrian de Longperier inclines to this view. He says:-
‘However strange this piece may appear, it is yet susceptible of explanation. The faults of orthography to be traced in the legend, which is reversed in its position with the words OFFA REX, show that it is a copy of a Mussulman dinar, by a workman unacquainted with the Arabic language, and indeed ignorant of the fact of these characters belonging to any language whatsoever. Examples of a similar description of coin were put in circulation by the French bishops of Agde and Montpellier in the thirteenth century. In the present case, we cannot see an intentional adoption of a foreign language, as on the coins of Russia, Spain, Sicily, Georgia, and even Germany. On the moneys of Vassili Dimitrivitch, of Dmitri Imamvicht, on that of the Norman princes William and Roger, and the Mozarbic dinar of Alfonsus, we find Arabic legends appropriated to the very princes by whose commands they were struck. One silver piece of Henry IV, Emperor of Germany, bears on the reverse the name of the Khalif Moktader Billah-ben-Muhammad; but this is merely the result of an association between those princes.’ 
In support of the views of Mons. A. de Longperier, it is worth noticing that in later times there were issued by Christian princes coins having inscriptions partly in Roman and partly in Arabic characters, and some were issued by Crusaders with entirely Arabic inscriptions.
In Mr Carlyon-Britton’s paper upon this coin  he quotes five specimens of this description of coin, namely:-
(1) A gold coin of Alfonzo VIII, of Castile (1158-1214, Christian date), the Arabic inscription on the obverse side whereof reads thus: El Imam al- bay’ata el mesiahyata el Baba ALF. Bismiel ab Walibu wa errooh el kaddûs Allahoo wahido mam aman wa’ tamada yekdon salminan. The translation whereof if: ‘The pontiff of the church of the Messiah, the Pope. ALF. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, one God. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’
The reverse side of the coin bears an inscription in Arabic of which the following is a translation: ‘Prince of the Catholics (Amir el Katolikin), Alfonso, son of Sancho. May God help and protect him.’ Around the margin of the coin we find this legend also in Arabic characters: ‘This dinar was struck in the city of Toledo, 1235 of (the era of) Assafar.’
The era of Assafar dates from 30 B.C., that being the date of the submission of Spain to the Romans, consequently the coin in question dates from the year 1197 of the Christian era.
The other coins exhibited by Mr Carlyon-Britton are:
(2) Silver ‘staurat’ drachma struck at St. Jean d’Acre about 1251 under Louis IX (1251-1259).
(3) Gold besant struck by Crusaders at St. Jean d’Acre in 1251.
(4) Early imitation by Crusaders of dinars of El Amir (Fatimite Khaliph from 1101 to 1130 C.D. = 494 to 524 Hegira), and attributed to the regency of Bohemund I of Antioch under Tancred.
(5) Imitation of a dinar of about the time of Hisham II (Hegira 400-403), independent Amawu Caliph in Spain. Found in Spain.
Of the above five coins, three of them (1 to 3) contain Christian inscriptions written in Arabic language and character; the latter two (4 and 5) are written in corrupted Arabic. No.4 has a small Maltese cross in the centre of the reverse side.
The third suggestion, namely that the coin was coined by Offa for the use of such of his subjects as made the pilgrimage to the ‘Holy Land,’ does not seem very probable. The number of such pilgrims, of necessity, would be limited to a comparative few, and the monarchs of those days, even if they were as pious as King Offa is stated to have been, were not distinguished for any particular solicitude for the comfort of their subjects. The majority of these rulers would rather grind out from their subjects the uttermost farthing they could extort, rather than go to the expense and trouble of providing special coins for their use while on a pilgrimage.
There remains, therefore, but the fourth proposition to consider, and here we find ourselves on much surer ground. We have already seen that Offa had made a vow that he would pay 365 gold pieces every year to the Pope, and that probably, in consideration of the faithful fulfilment of that vow, the occupant of the pontifical throne had bestowed an Archbishop upon Mercia. The exact date of Offa’s vow we do not know, but it may fairly be presumed that he made it to the two papal legates, George and Theophylact, who visited him in 786.
The date upon Offa’s coin now becomes extremely important.
The coin bears the date Hegira 157, equivalent to 774 of the Christian era. This date does not, however, prove that Offa’s coin was struck in that year (twelve years prior to the visit of the legates); but as the piece is manifestly a copy of an Arabic dinar of that year (Hegira 157), made by a person who did not understand Arabic (otherwise, why did he place the words OFFA REX in an inverted position to the Arabic characters), all that the date, 157 Hegira, demonstrates is that Offa’s coin was struck in, or, what is more probable, subsequently to the year 774 of the Christian era.
What appears to us to be the most probable origin of this coin is that when Offa made his vow, the question arose as to what was to be the size and weight of each of the 365 ‘gold pieces.’ In reply to such a query on the part of the king, who would naturally desire to know the exact extent of his liability, what would be more natural for one of the legates to hand Offa a coin, and say, ‘365 gold pieces like this’?
Arabic coins were well known at Rome. Countless pilgrims from the Holy Land passed through the Eternal City on their return from Palestine, many of whom laid offerings at the foot of the papal throne. It is fair to presume that amongst such offerings so made, that Arabic gold coins, then in free circulation in Syria, would be included, and high ecclesiastics, such as the legates, would easily become possessed of the same, and might preserve them as curiosities; or it may have been that, seeing that the Arab dinar was of a known weight and quality of gold, one of those coins was especially brought to England to fix thereby the standard and quality of ‘the gold pieces’ to be paid as tribute by Offa.
If such was the case, and Offa so received a sample coin, the Mercian king, according to the almost slavish superstitions of that period, would naturally desire to scrupulously perform his vow to the very letter, and to accomplish this object he would have the sample coin faithfully imitated and struck in his own mint, and stamped in addition with his own name and title, ‘OFFA REX,’ in order that no question could thereafter arise as to the exact fulfilment of the vow in regard to the species of coin promised, or as to the identity of the sender of the contribution. That Offa did keep his promise is certain, for in the papal letter sent in 798 by Pope Leo III to Offa’s successor, King Coenwulf, requesting that monarch to continue the donation, it is distinctly so stated.  It may, therefore, be reasonably presumed that Offa’s coin was struck about 787, and was one of the 365 gold pieces sent to Rome in pursuance of his vow.
It is significant to know that this particular coin – so far as we know, the only one now extant – was purchased by a certain Duke de Blacas, an enthusiastic numismatist, in Rome, about a century ago.
No similar coin has been found in England. All this goes to show that the coin was not struck to be put into circulation in England, but was coined for a special purpose, such probably being the payment by Offa of the promised tribute to Rome.
If such be the case, then what bitter irony, unconsciously, accompanied the gift! One of the claims of the Head of the Catholic Christian is that he is the ‘Apostle of God,’ and the ‘Vice-regent of Christ upon the earth.’ Yet, here to his teeth his faithful servitor, Offa, sends as a tribute 365 golden coins, on each of which is plainly stated: There is but One Allah, the Only God, the True, and Muhammad is His Prophet!
Well might Cowper write the lines:
‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform’!
 This was the period when England was divided into what was termed the Heptarchy, or seven kingdoms. These were: Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Northumbria, Wessex, Sussex, and Essex. So far as is known, only the first five kingdoms named above struck coins.
 The origin of the Runic writing has been a matter of prolonged controversy. The runes were formerly supposed to have originated out of the Phoenician or the Latin letters, but it is now generally agreed that they must have been derived, about the sixth century B.C., from an early form of the Greek alphabet which was employed by the Milesian traders and colonists of Olbia and other towns on the northern shores of the Black Sea. The Runic alphabet (the oldest of which contained 24 runes, divided into 3 families, each of 8 runes) is called the Futhorc, from the first six letters thereof, f, u, th, o, r, c. The old Norse word run originally meant ‘secret’ or magical. The oldest extant Runic records probably date from the first century of the Christian era, the latest from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century; the greater number are older than the eleventh century, when, after the conversion of the Scandinavians to Christianity, the Futhorc was superseded by the Latin alphabet.
 The letters £ s. d., which are used as abbreviations for pounds, shillings, and pence, owe their origin to certain Latin words used to denote coins. Thus £ signifies libra, a pound sterling; s signifies solidus. The Romans divided their coinage thus: one libra equaled 20 solidi, each solidus being equal to 12denarii (the denarius thus being, as the modern English penny is to-day, the 240th part of the libra or pound); d signifies denarius, a penny, a word derived from the Latin deni, ten each, from decem, ten. The denarius was the principal silver coin of ancient Rome. The earliest money of Rome was of bronze, and the standard was the as. In 269 B.C. the as was fixed by law at a low valuation, and a silver coin was introduced, with the denarius = to 10 asses, and thequinarius = to 5 asses. The penny (Anglo-Saxon, penig; German, Pfenning, Pfennig) probably derives its name from the Middle Latin word panna, itself derived from the Latina, patina, a shallow bowl. After the sceattae the penny is the most ancient of the English coins, and was the only one current among the Anglo-Saxons. It is first mentioned in the laws of Ina, King of the West Saxons, about the close of the seventh century of the Christian era. It was at that time a silver coin, and weighed about 22.5 troy grains. Halfpence and farthings were not coined in England until the reign of Edward I., but the practice previously prevailed of so deeply indenting the penny with a cross mark that the coin could be easily broken into two or four parts as was required. In 1672 an authorized copper coinage was established in England and halfpence and farthings were struck in copper. The penny was not introduced until 1797, and at the same period the coinage of two-penny pieces was begun; but these latter being found unsuitable were withdrawn. The penny of the present bronze coinage is of only half the value of the old copper coin.
 In Anglo-Saxon times mints for the coinage of money existed at London, Canterbury, and Malmesbury, and coins are extant bearing the names Dorovernis (Canterbury), Londuni(London), and Mealldenus (Malmesbury), showing the place where they were struck.
Lecture by Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam Effendi.
On Sunday evening last His Honour the Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles (Abdullah Quilliam Effendi) delivered a lecture at the Liverpool Mosque, his subject being ‘The Jews Under Christian Rule.’ Brother J. Bokhari Jeffery presided, and there was a large attendance.
The Sheikh in the course of his lecture said:- During the Muslim occupation of Spain the Jew shared every advantage with the Mussulman, but when the Christian arms had become victorious and the Moors had retired across the Straits of Gibraltar, the Jew found he had changed masters, and certainly not to his advantage. To avoid persecution many Jews nominally professed Christianity, albeit they remained Jews at heart, and in secret clung to their ancient faith. To search out and punish these pseudo-Christians that most dreadful engine of torture and oppression, the Inquisition, was devised. The horrors of that dreadful tribunal are almost beyond human language to portray, and no human fancy could imagine more terrible persecution and instruments of torture than those devised and used by the Christian monks under Torquemada, the Chief Inquisitor.
At first the situation of the Jews who had not apostatised was preferable to that of those who had professed Christianity, but the flame of fanaticism, diligently fanned by the priests, suddenly burst into a furious blaze, and in the year 1492 a decree was passed that all Jews must leave Spain. Queen Isabella was completely under priestly influence, and readily assented to the scheme, but Ferdinand, her husband, through motive of policy rather than humanity, long hesitated to put the decree in force. When at last, the dread edict had gone forth, Arbanel, a Jew of the highest position and worth, a man regarded almost as a second Daniel for his authority among his own race, and the respect he had gained from the oppressors of his nation, managed, like Esther of old, to penetrate into the presence of the sovereigns, and cast himself at their feet before the royal throne. With all the eloquence he could command, he implored that his people might not be driven forth from the land they had so long occupied, and offered a bribe of 300,000 ducats, that the decree might be recalled. Ferdinand appeared to be relenting, when suddenly into the royal presence strode the gloomy form of Torquemada, the Chief Inquisitor, clothed in his monkish robe, and wearing a crucifix. Giving a contemptuous glance at the Jew, and a haughty look at the abashed rulers, he held aloft the crucifix, with its figure of Christ attached thereto. ‘Judas Iscariot,’ he said, in tones of biting sarcasm, ‘sold his master for 30 pieces of silver, but the price has gone up, and I see you are ready to sell him for 300,000. Here he is; take him and sell him.’ The appeal to religious bigotry was successful, the Jew’s offer was refused, and the stern edict against the children of Israel remained.
The story of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain is one of the most touching episodes in the history of a race. The Hebrews, under Muslim rule, had come to love Spain as a second Canaan, and even after enduring years of persecution under their Christian rulers, they still loved its soil and were loath to leave it. They visited the graves where the corpses of their ancestors were mouldering in the dust, and with tears and lamentations bade them a long farewell. Sometimes they removed the tombstones, and carried them with them in their wanderings, so that the hand of the Gentile should not put them to a base use after their departure.
Along every highway which led to the coast proceeded a melancholy procession of Jewish people, with downcast eyes and heavy hearts, bearing with them such portion of their worldly wealth as they were able to carry away. Bands of Christian robbers lurked along the roads to attack them and deprive them of such gold or other valuables as they possessed, and many who had been among the richest in the land reached the seaports little better than penniless wanderers. No Christian nation would receive them, and alone among the nations of the world the Ottoman Turk welcomed them and gave them shelter and protection.
In Portugal also the Jews reaped their full measure of woe. Not only was the order given for the expulsion of the Jews, but, to add to their bitterness, their children were taken from them to be baptised and brought up as Christians, until at last the Hebrew mothers in despair cast their babes into rivers and wells, and then slew themselves.
The stories of massacres of the Jews in both Spain and Portugal seem almost incredible, but are, alas, too true. The Israelite historian Graetz, in his great work of eleven volumes, ‘Geschichte des Judenthums,’ thus portrays the sufferings of his race: ‘Spain was full of the corruption of dungeons and the crackling pyres of innocent Jews. A lamentation went through the beautiful land which might pierce bone and marrow; but the sovereigns held back the arm of the pitiful.’
‘Let the Christian, if he dare, attempt to justify such conduct,’ exclaimed the Sheikh in his peroration. ‘The garments of the Christian are red with the blood of the martyred Jew, but, praise be to God, the robes of the Muslim are spotless as the new fallen snow in this particular.’