Part 3

Yahya bin Aktham

by Ibn Khaldun Icon

A parallel or similar story is that reported by all (the historians) about Yahya bin Aktham, the judge and friend of al-Ma’mun.

He drank wine together with al-Ma’mun and got drunk one night.

He lay buried among the sweet basil until he woke up. The following verses are recited in his name:

O my lord, commander of all the people! He who gave me to drink was unjust in his judgment. I neglected the cupbearer, and he caused me to be, As you see me, deprived of intelligence and religion.

The same applies to Ibn Aktham and al-Ma’mun that applies to ar-Rashid.

What they drank was a date liquor (nabidh) which in their opinion was not forbidden. There can be no question of drunkenness in connection with them. Yahyi’s familiarity with al-Ma’mun was friendship in Islam. It is an established fact that Yahya slept in al-Ma’mum’s room.

It has been reported, as an indication of al-Ma’mun’s excellence and affability, that one night he awoke,102 got up, and felt around for the chamber pot. He was afraid to wake Yahya b. Aktham. It also is an established fact that the two used to pray together at the morning prayer.

How does that accord with drinking wine together! Furthermore, Yahya b. Aktham was a transmitter of traditions. He was praised by Ibn Hanbal 103 and Judge Ismi’il.

At-Tirmidhi published traditions on his authority. The hadith expert al-Mizzi mentioned that al-Bukhari transmitted traditions on Yahya’s authority in works other than the Jami’ (as-Sahih). 106 To vilify Yahya is to vilify all of these scholars.

Furthermore, licentious persons accuse Yahya b. Aktham of having had an inclination for young men. This is an affront to God and a malicious lie directed against religious scholars. (These persons) base themselves on storytellers’ silly reports, which perhaps were an invention of Yahya’s enemies, for he was much envied because of his perfection and his friendship with the ruler.

His position in scholarship and religion makes such a thing impossible. When Ibn Hanbal was told about these rumors concerning Yahya, he exclaimed= “For God’s sake, for God’s sake, who would say such a thing!” He disapproved of it very strongly.

When the talk about Yahya was mentioned to Ismi’il, he exclaimed= “Heaven forbid that theprobity (‘adalah) 107 of such a man should cease to exist because of the lying accusations of envious talebearers.”

He said= “Yahya b. Aktham is innocent in the eyes of God of any such relationship with young men (as that) of which he is accused. I got to know his most intimate thoughts and found him to be much in fear of God. However, he possessed a certain playfulness and friendliness that might have provoked such accusations.”

Ibn Hibban mentioned him in the Thiqat. 109 He said that no attention should be paid to these tales about him because most of them were not correct.

A similar story is the one about the basket reported by Ibn ‘Abdrabbih, author of the ‘Iqd, in explanation of how al-Ma’mun came to be al-Hasan b. Sahl’s son-in-law by marrying his daughter Buran.

One night, on his rambles through the streets of Baghdad, al-Ma’mun is said to have come upon a basket that was being let down from one of the roofs by means of pulleys and twisted cords of silk thread. He seated himself in the basket and grabbed the pulley, which started moving. He was taken up into a chamber of such-andsuch a condition-Ibn ‘Abdrabbih described the eye and soul-filling splendor of its carpets, the magnificence of its furnishings, and the beauty of its appearance. Then, a woman of extraordinary, seductive beauty is said to have come forth from behind curtains in that chamber.

She greeted al-Ma’mun and invited him to keep her company. He drank wine with her the whole night long. In the morning he returned to his companions at the place where they had been awaiting him. He had fallen so much in love with the woman that he asked her father for her hand.

How does all this accord with alMa’mun’s well-known religion and learning, with his imitation of the way of life of his forefathers, the right-guided (‘Abbasid) caliphs, with his adoption of the way of life of those pillars of Islam, the (first) four caliphs, with his respect for the religious scholars, or his observance in his prayers and legal practice of the norms established by God!

How could it be correct that he would act like (one of those) wicked scoundrels who amuse themselves by rambling about at night, entering strange houses in the dark, and engaging in nocturnal trysts in the manner of Bedouin lovers! And how does that story fit with the position and noble character of al-Hasan b. Sahl’s daughter, and with the firm morality and chastity that reigned in her father’s house!

There are many such stories. They are always cropping up in the works of the historians. The incentive for inventing and reporting them is a (general) inclination to forbidden pleasures and for smearing the reputation of others. People justify their own subservience to pleasure by citing men and women of the past (who allegedly did the same things they are doing). Therefore, they often appear very eager for such information and are alert to find it when they go through the pages of (published) works.

If they would follow the example of the people (of the past) in other respects and in the qualities of perfection that were theirs and for which they are well known, “it would be better for them,” 111 “if they would know.”

I once criticized a royal prince for being so eager to learn to sing and play the strings. I told him it was not a matter that should concern him and that it did not befit his position. He referred me to Ibrahim b. al-‘Mahdi 113 who was the leading musician and best singer in his time. I replied= “For heaven’s sake, why do you not rather follow the example of his father or his brother? Do you not see how that activity prevented Ibrahim from attaining their position?” The prince, however, was deaf to my criticism and turned away.

Further silly information which is accepted by many historians concerns the ‘Ubaydid (-Fatimids), the Shi’ah caliphs in al-Qayrawan and Cairo. 114 (Thesehistorians) deny their ‘Alid origin and attack (the genuineness of) their descent from the imam Ismail, the son of Ja’far as-Sadiq. They base themselves in this respect on stories that were made up in favor of the weak ‘Abbasid caliphs by people who wanted to ingratiate themselves with them through accusations against their active opponents and who (therefore) liked to say all kinds of bad things about their enemies. We shall mention some such stories in our treatment of the history of (the ‘Ubaydid-Fatimids). (These historians) do not care to consider the factual proofs and circumstantial evidence that require (us to recognize) that the contrary is true and that their claim is a lie and must be rejected.

They all tell the same story about the- begilnli g of the Shi’ah dynasty. Abu ‘Abdallah al-Muhtasib 115 went among the Kutamah urging acceptance of the family of Muhammad (the ‘Alids). His activity became known. It was learned how much he cared for ‘Ubaydallah al-Mahdi and his son, Abu1-Qasim. Therefore, these two feared for their lives and fled the East, the seat of the caliphate. They passed through Egypt and left Alexandria disguised as merchants. Isa anNawshari, the governor of Egypt and Alexandria, was informed of them.

He sent cavalry troops in pursuit of them, but when their pursuers reached them, they did not recognize them because of their attire and disguise. They escaped into the Maghrib. Al-Mu’tadid 116 ordered the Aghlabid rulers of Ifriqiyah in al-Qayrawan as well as the Midrarid rulers of Sijilmasah to search everywhere for them and to keep a sharp lookout for them. Ilyasa’, the Midrarid lord of Sijilmasah, learned about their hiding place in his country and detained them, in order to please the caliph. This was before the Shi’ah victory over the Aghlabids in al-Qayrawan.

Thereafter, as is well known, the (‘Ubaydid-Fatimid) propaganda spread successfully throughout Ifriqiyah and the Maghrib, and then, in turn, reached the Yemen, Alexandria and (the rest of) Egypt, Syria and the Hijaz. The (‘Ubaydid-Fatimids) shared the realm of Islam equally with the Abbasids.

They almost succeeded in penetrating the home country of the ‘Abbasids and in taking their place as rulers. Their propaganda in Baghdad and the ‘Iraq met with success through the amir al-Basasiri, one of the Daylam clients who had gained control of the ‘Abbasid caliphs. This happened as the result of a quarrel between al-Basasiri and the non-Arab amirs.117 For a whole year, the (‘Ubaydid-Fatimids) were mentioned in the Friday prayer from the pulpits of Baghdad.

The ‘Abbasids were continually bothered by the (‘UbaydidFatimid) power and preponderance, and the Umayyad rulers beyond the sea (in Spain) expressed their annoyance with them and threatened war against them. How could all this have befallen a fraudulent claimant to the rulership, who was (moreover) considered a liar?

One should compare (this account with) the history of the Qarmatian. His genealogy was, in fact, fraudulent. How completely did his propaganda disintegrate and his followers disperse! Their viciousness and guile soon became apparent.

They came to an evil end and tasted a bitter fate. If the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids) had been in the same situation, it would have become known, even had it taken some time.

Whatever qualities of character a man may have,. They will become known, even if he imagines they are concealed from the people The (‘Ubaydid-Fatimid) dynasty lasted uninterruptedly for about 270 years.

They held possession of the place where Ibrahim (Abraham) had stood and where he had prayed, the home of the Prophet and the place where he was buried, the place where the pilgrims stand and where the angels descended (to bring the revelation to Muhammad).

Then, their rule came to an end. During all thattime, their partisans showed them the greatest devotion and love and firmly believed in their descent from the imam Ismail, the son of Ja’far as-Sadiq. Even after the dynasty had gone and its influence had disappeared, people still came forward to press the claims of the sect. They proclaimed the names of young children, descendants of (the ‘UbaydidFatimids), whom they believed entitled to the caliphate.

They went so far as to consider them as having actually been appointed to the succession by preceding imams. Had there been doubts about their pedigree, their followers would not have undergone the dangers involved in supporting them.

A sectarian does not manipulate his own affairs, nor sow confusion within his own sect, nor act as a liar where his own beliefs are concerned. It is strange that Judge Abu Bakr al-Baqillani'122 the great speculative theologian, was inclined to credit this unacceptable view (as to the spuriousness of the ‘Ubaydid-Fatimid genealogy), and upheld this weak opinion. If the reason for his attitude was the heretical and extremist Shi’ism of (the ‘Ubaydid-Fatimids, it would not be valid, for his denial of their ‘Alid descent) does not invalidate 123 (the objectionable character of) their sectarian beliefs, nor would establishment of their (‘Alid) descent be of any help to them before God in the question of their unbelief.

God said to Noah concerning his sons= “He does not belong to your family. It is an improper action. So do not ask me regarding that of which you have no knowledge.“124 Muhammad exhorted Fatimah in these words= “O Fatimah, act (as you wish). I shall be of no help to you before God.”

When a man comes to know a problem or to be certain about a matter, he must openly state (his knowledge or his certainty). “God speaks the truth. He leads (men into) the right way.”

Those people (the ‘Ubaydid-Fatimids) were constantly on the move because of the suspicions various governments had concerning them. They were kept under observation by the tyrants, because their partisans were numerous and their propaganda had spread far and wide. Time after time they had to leave the places where they had settled. Their men, therefore, took refuge in hiding, and their (identity) was hardly known, as (the poet) says: If you would ask the days what my name is, they would not know, And where I am, they would not know where I am.

This went so far that Muhammad, the son of the imam Isma’il, the ancestor of ‘Ubaydallah al-Mahdi, was called “the Concealed (Imam).” 127 His partisans called him by that name because they were agreed on the fact he was hiding out of fear of those who had them in their power.

The partisans of the ‘Abbasids made much use of this fact when they came out with their attack against the pedigree of (the ‘UbaydidFatimids). They tried to ingratiate themselves with the weak (‘Abbasid) caliphs by professing the erroneous opinion that (the ‘Alid descent of the ‘Ubaydid-Fatimids was spurious).

It pleased the ‘Abbasid clients and the amirs who were in charge of military operations against the enemies of the (‘Abbasids). It helped them and the government to make up for their inability to resist and repel the Kutimah Berbers, the partisans and propagandists 128 of the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids), who had taken Syria, Egypt, and the Hijaz away from (the ‘Abbasids).

The judges in Baghdad eventually prepared an official statement denying the ‘Alid origin (of the ‘Ubaydid-Fatimids). 129 The statement was witnessed by a number of prominent men, among them the Sharif ar-Radi 130 and his brother al-Murtada, 131 and Ibn al-Bathawi.

Among the religious scholars (who also witnessed the document) were Abu Hamid al-Isfarayini, 133 al-Quduri, 134 as-Saymari 135 Ibn al-Akfani, 1 36 al-Abiwardi, 137the Shi’ah jurist Abu ‘Abdallah b. an-Nu’man,138 and other prominent Muslims in Baghdad. The event took place one memorable 139 day in the year 1011 in the time of al-Qadir.

The testimony (of these witnesses) was based upon hearsay, on what people in Baghdad generally believed. Most of them were partisans of the ‘Abbasids who attacked the ‘Alid origin (of the ‘UbaydidFatimids).

The historians reported the information as they had heard it. They handed it down to us just as they remembered it. However, the truth lies behind it. Al-Mu’tadid’s 140 letter concerning ‘Ubaydallah (addressed) to the Aghlabid in al-Qayrawan and the Midrarid in Sijilmasah, testifies most truthfully to the correctness of the (‘Alid) origin of the (‘Ubaydid-Fatimids), and proves it most clearly. AlMu’tadid (as a very close relative) was better qualified than anyone else to speak about the genealogy of the Prophet’s house. 141

Dynasty and government serve as the world’s market place, 142 attracting to it the products of scholarship and craftsmanship alike. Wayward wisdom and forgotten lore turn up there. In this market stories are told and items of historical information are delivered. Whatever is in demand on this market is in general demand everywhere else.

Now, whenever the established dynasty avoids injustice, prejudice, weakness, and double-dealing, with determination keeping to the right path and never swerving from it, the wares on its market are as pure silver and fine gold.

However, when it is influenced by selfish interests and rivalries, or swayed by vendors of tyranny and dishonesty, the wares of its market place become as dross and debased metals. The intelligent critic must judge for himself as he looks around, examining this, admiring that, and choosing this.

A similar and even more improbable story is one privately discussed by those who attack the (‘Alid) descent of Idris b. Idris b. ‘Abdallah b. Hasan b. al-Hasan b. ‘All b. Abi Talib, who became imam after his father in Morocco.

They hint at the punishable crime of adultery by insinuating that the unborn child left after the death of the elder Idris was in fact the child of Rashid, a client of the Idrisids. How stupid of these God-forsaken men! They should know that the elder Idris married into the Berber tribes and, from the time he came to the Maghrib until his death, was firmly rooted in desert life. In the desert, no such thing could remain a secret.

There are no hiding places there where things can be done in secret. The neighbors (if they are women) can always see and (if they are men) always hear what their women are doing, because the houses are low and clustered together without space between them.

Rashid was entrusted with the stewardship of all the women after the death of his master, upon the recommendation of friends and partisans of the Idrisids and subject to the supervision of them all.

Furthermore, all Moroccan Berbers agreed to render the oath of allegiance to the younger Idris as his father’s successor. They voluntarily agreed to obey him. They swore that they were willing to die for him, and they exposed themselves to mortal danger protecting him in his wars and raids.

Had they told each other some such scandalous story or heard it from someone else, even a vengeful enemy or scandal-mongering rebel, some of them at least would have refused to do those things. No, this story originated with the ‘Abbasid opponents of the Idrisids and with the Aghlabids, the ‘Abbasid governors and officials in Ifriqiyah

This happened in the following manner. When the elder Idris fled to the Maghrib after the battle of Fakhkh, 144 alHadi sent orders to the Aghlabids to lie in wait and keep a sharp watch out for him.

However, they did not catch him, and he escaped safely to the Maghrib. He consolidated his position, and his propaganda was successful. Later on, arRashid became aware of the secret Shi’ah leanings of Wadih, the ‘Abbasid client and governor of Alexandria, and of his deceitful attitude inconnection with the escape of Idris to the Maghrib, and (ar-Rashid) killed (Wadih).

Then, ashShammakh, a client of (ar-Rashid’s) father, suggested to arRashid a ruse by means of which to kill Idris. (Ash-Shammakh) pretended to become his adherent and to have broken with his ‘Abbasid masters. Idris took him under his protection and admitted him to his private company.

Once, when Idris was alone, ash-Shammakh gave him some poison and thus killed him. The news of his death was received by the ‘Abbasids most favorably, since they hoped that it would cut the roots and blunt the edge of the ‘Alid propaganda in the Maghrib. News of the unborn child left after Idris’ death had not (yet) reached them.

Thus, it was only a brief moment until the (‘Alid) propaganda reappeared. The Shi’ah was successful in the Maghrib, and Shi’ah rule was renewed through Idris, Idris’ son. This was a most painful blow to the ‘Abbasids. Weakness and senility had already taken hold of the Arab dynasty.

No longer could (the ‘Abbasids) aspire to the control of remote regions. Far away as the elder Idris was in the Maghrib, under the protection of the Berbers, ar-Rashid had just enough power, and no more, to poison him with the help of a ruse.

Therefore, the ‘Abbasids now had recourse to their Aghlabid clients in Ifrigiyah. They asked them to heal the dangerous breach caused by (the Idrisids), to take measures against the woe that threatened to befall the dynasty from that direction, and to uproot (the Idrisids) before they could spread. Al-Ma’mun and the succeeding caliphs wrote to the Aghlabids to this effect. However, the Aghlabids were also too weak (to control) the Berbers of Morocco, and might better have tried to embarrass their own rulers as (the Idrisids embarrassed them), because the power of the caliphate had been usurped by non-Arab slaves, who diverted to their own purposes its entire control and authority 145 over men, taxes, and functionaries.

It was as the contemporary (‘Abbasid) poet described it= A caliph in a cage Between Wasif and Bugha He says what they tell him, Like a parrot. The Aghlabid amirs, therefore, were afraid of possible intrigues and tried all kinds of excuses.

Sometimes, they belittled the Maghrib and its inhabitants. At other times, they tried to arouse fear of the power of Idris and his descendants who had taken his place there. They wrote the ‘Abbasids that he was crossing the borders of his territory.

They included his coins among their gifts, presents, and tax collections, in order to show his growing influence and to spread terror about his increasing power, to magnify (the dangers) which would lie in attacking and fighting him, as they were being asked to do, and to threaten a change in allegiance if they were forced to that. Again, at other times, they attacked the descent of Idris with the (aforementioned) lie, in order to harm him.

They did not care whether the accusation was true or not. The distance (from Baghdad) was great, and, weak-minded as the ‘Abbasid children and their non-Arab slaves were, they took anybody’s word and listened to anybody’s noise. They went on in this manner until the Aghlabid rule came to an end.

The nasty remark (about the Idrisid genealogy) then became known to the mob. Some slanderers listened eagerly to it, using it to harm the Idrisids when there were rivalries. Why do such God-forsaken men stray from the intentions of the religious law, which knows no difference between definite (fact) and (mere) guess?

Idris was born in his father’s bed, and “the child belongs to the bed.” 147 It is a (Muslim) article of faith that the descendants of Muhammad are above any such thing (as adultery). God removed every turpitude from them and cleansed them. Idris’ bed is free of all uncleanliness and all turpitude.

This is decided in theQur’an.148 Whoever believes the contrary confesses his guilt and invites unbelief. I have refuted the accusation against Idris here at length, in order to forestall doubts and strike out against the envious. I heard the story with my own ears from a man who was hostile to (the Idrisids) and attacked their descent with this lying invention.

In his self-deception, he passed on the story on the authority of certain historians of the Maghrib who had turned their backs on Muhammad’s descendants and were skeptical concerning their ancestors. But the situation (of the Idrisids) is above all that and not susceptible of such a taint.

No space should be devoted to refuting such an accusation, since) to deny a fault where (the existence of) a fault is impossible is (in itself) a fault. 149 However, I did defend them here in this world and, thus, I hope that they will defend me on the Day of Resurrection.

It should be known that most of those who attack the (‘Alid) descent of (the Idrisids) are themselves persons who claim to be descendants of Muhammad or pretend to be connected with his descendants, and who envy the descendants of Idris.

The claim to (Muhammadan) descent is a great title to nobility among nations and races in all regions. Therefore, it is subject to suspicion. Now, both in their native Fez and in the other regions of the Maghrib, the descent of the Idrisids is so well known and evident that almost no one can show or hope to show as well-established a pedigree. It is the result of continuous transmission by the more recent nations and generations on the authority of the older preceding ones. The Idrisids count the house of their ancestor Idris, the founder and builder of Fez, among their houses.

His mosque is adjacent to their quarter and streets. His sword is (suspended) unsheathed atop the main minaret of their residence. There are other relics of his which have been attested to many times in an uninterrupted tradition, so that the tradition concerning them is almost as valuable as direct observation (as to its reliability). Other descendants of Muhammad can look at these signs which God gave to the Idrisids.

They will see the Muhammadan nobility of the Idrisids enhanced by the majesty of the royal authority their ancestors exercised in the Maghrib. They will realize that they themselves have nothing of the sort and that they do not measure up even halfway to any one of the Idrisids.

They will also realize that those who claim to be Muhammad’s descendants but do not have such testimonies to confirm their claim as the Idrisids have, may at best find their position conceded (as possibly true), because people are to be believed with regard to the descent they claim for themselves, but there is a difference between what is known and what is mere guess, between what is certain and what is merely conceded as possibly true.

When they realize these facts, they are choked in their own spittle (which they swallow in impotent jealousy). Their private envy causes many of them to wish that they could bring down the Idrisids from their noble position to the status of ordinary, humble persons.

Therefore, they have recourse to spite and persistent malevolence and invent erroneous and lying accusations such as the one discussed. They justify themselves by the assumption that all guesses are equally probable.

They should prove that!

We know of no descendants of Muhammad whose lineage is so clearly and obviously established as that of the descendants of Idris of the family of al-Hasan.

The most distinguished Idrisids at this time are the Banu ‘Imran in Fez. They are descendants of Yahya al-Juti b. Muhammad b. Yahya al-‘Addam b. alQasim b. Idris b. Idris. They are the chiefs of the ‘Alids there. They live at the present time in the house of their ancestor Idris. They are the leading nobility of the entire Maghrib. We shall mention them in connection with the Idrisids, if God wills.

They are the descendants of ‘Imran b.Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. Yahya b. ‘Abdallah b. Muhammad b. ‘All b. Muhammad b. Yahya b. Ibrahim b. Yahya alJuti. The chief of their (house) at this time is Muhammad b.Muhammad b. Muhammad b. ‘Imran.

To these wicked statements and erroneous beliefs one may add the accusations that weak-minded jurists in the Maghrib leveled against the imam al-Mahdi, the head of the Almohad dynasty. 152 He was accused of deceit and insincerity when he insisted upon the true oneness of God and when he complained about the unjust people before his time. All his claims in this respect were declared to be false, even down to his descent from the family of Muhammad, which his Almohad followers accept.

Deep down in their hearts it was envy of al-Mahdi’s success that led the jurists to declare him a liar. In their self-deception, they thought that they could compete with him in religious scholarship, juridical decisions, and religion. He then turned out to be superior to them. His opinion was accepted, what he said was listened to, and he gained a following.

They envied this success of his and tried to lessen his influence by attacking his dogmas and declaring his claims to be false. Furthermore, they were used to receive from al-Mahdi’s enemies, the Lamtunah kings (the Almoravids), a respect and an honor they received from no one else, because of the simple religion (of the Almoravids).

Under the Lamtunah dynasty, religious scholars held a position of respect and were appointed to the council, everybody according to his influence among his people in his respective village.

The scholars, therefore, became partisans (of the Almoravids) and enemies of their enemies. They tried to take revenge on al-Mahdi for his opposition to them, his censure of them, and his struggle against them. This was the result of their partisanship for the Lamtunah and their bias in favor of the Lamtunah dynasty. Al-Mahdi’s position was different from theirs. He did not share their beliefs.

What else could be expected of a man who criticized the attitude of the ruling dynasty as he did and was opposed in his efforts by its jurists? He called his people to a holy war against them.

He uprooted the dynasty and turned it upside down, despite its great strength, its tremendous power, and the strong force of its allies and its militia. Followers of his killed in the struggle were innumerable. They had sworn allegiance to him until death. They had protected him from death with their own lives.

They had sought nearness to God by sacrificing themselves for the victory of the Mahdi’s cause as partisans of the enterprise that eventually gained the upper hand and replaced the dynasties on both shores.

Al-Mahdi himself remained always frugal, retiring, patient in tribulation, and very little concerned with the world to the last; he died without fortune or worldly possessions.

He did not even have children, as everybody desires but as one often is deceived in desiring. I should like to know what he could have hoped to obtain by this way of life were it not (to look upon) the face of God, for he did not acquire worldly fortune of any kind during his lifetime.

Moreover, if his intention had not been good, he would not have been successful., and his propaganda would not have spread. “This is how God formerly proceeded with His servants.

The (jurists’) disavowal of (al-Mahdi’s) descent from Muhammad’s family is not backed up by any proof. Were it established that he himself claimed such descent, his claim could not be disproved, because people are to be believed regarding the descent they claim for themselves.

Leadership over a people is vested only in men of their own skin. But al-Mahdi exercised leadership over all the Masmudah. They agreed to follow him and be guided by him and his Harghah group, and, eventually, God gave complete success to his propaganda. In this connection, it must be realized that al-Mahdi’s power did not depend exclusively on his Fatimid descent, and the people did not follow him on that account (only).

They followed him because of their Harghah-Masmudah group feeling and because of his share in that group feeling which was firmly rooted in him. (Al-Mahdi’s)Fatimid descent had become obscured and knowledge of it had disappeared from among the people, although it had remained alive in him and his family through family tradition. His original (Fatimid) descent had, in a way, been sloughed off, and he had put on the skin of the Harghah-Masmudah and thus appeared as one of their skin.

The fact that he was originally of Fatimid descent did not harm him with regard to his group feeling, since it was not known to the members of the group. Things like that happen frequently once one’s original descent has become obscured.

One might compare (with the above) the story of Arfajah and Jarir concerning the leadership of the Bajilah. 158 Arfajah had belonged to the Azd but had put on the skin of the Bajilah so successfully that he was able to wrangle with Jarir over the leadership before ‘Umar, as has been reported.

This example makes one understand what the truth is like.

He further needs a comprehensive knowledge of present conditions in all these respects.

He must compare similarities or differences between the present and the past (or distantly located) conditions. He must know the causes of the similarities in certain cases and of the differences in others. He must be aware of the differing origins and beginnings of (different) dynasties and religious groups, as well as of the reasons and incentives that brought them into being and the circumstances and history of the persons who supported them.

His goal must be to have complete knowledge of the reasons for every happening, and to be acquainted with the origin of every event. Then, he must check transmitted information with the basic principles he knows. If it fulfills their requirements, it is sound.

Otherwise, the historian must consider it as spurious and dispense with it. It was for this reason alone that historiography was highly considered by the ancients, so much so that at-Tabari, al-Bukhari, and, before them, Ibn Ishaq and other Muslim religious scholars, chose to occupy themselves with it.

Most scholars, however, forgot this, the (real) secret of historiography, with the result that it became a stupid occupation. Ordinary people as well as (scholars) who had no firm foundation of knowledge, considered it a simple matter to study and know history, to delve into it and sponge on it. Strays got into the flock, bits of shell were mixed with the nut, truth was adulterated with lies.

A 160 hidden pitfall in historiography is disregard for the fact that conditions within the nations and races change with the change of periods and the passing of days. This is a sore affliction and is deeply hidden, becoming noticeable only after a long time, so that rarely do more than a few individuals become aware of it.

This is as follows.

The condition of the world and of nations, their customs and sects, does not persist in the same form or in a constant manner. There are differences according to days and periods, and changes from one condition to another. This is the case with individuals, times, and cities, and, in the same manner,it happens in connection with regions and districts, periods and dynasties.

The old Persian nations, the Syrians, the Nabataeans, the Tubba’s, the Israelites, and the Copts, all once existed. They all had their own particular institutions in respect of dynastic and territorial arrangements, their own politics, crafts, languages, technical terminologies, as well as their own ways of dealing with their fellow men and handling their cultural institutions.

Their historical relics testify to that.

They were succeeded by the later Persians, the Byzantines, and the Arabs. The old institutions changed and former customs were transformed, either into something very similar, or into something distinct and altogether different.

Then, there came Islam with the Mudar dynasty. Again, all institutions underwent another change, and for the most part assumed the forms that are still familiar at the present time as the result of their transmission from one generation to the next.

Then, the days of Arab rule were over. The early generations who had cemented Arab might and founded the realm of the Arabs, were gone. The power was seized by others, by non-Arabs like the Turks in the east, the Berbers in the west, and the European Christians in the north.

With their passing, entire nations ceased to exist, and institutions and customs changed. Their glory was forgotten, and their power no longer heeded.

The widely accepted reason for changes in institutions and customs is the fact that the customs of each race depend on the customs of its ruler. As the proverb says: “The common people follow the religion of the ruler.”

When politically ambitious men overcome the ruling dynasty and seize power, they inevitably have recourse to the customs of their predecessors and adopt most of them. At the same time, they do not neglect the customs of their own race.

This leads to some discrepancies between the customs of the (new) ruling dynasty and the customs of the old race. The new power, in turn, is succeeded by another dynasty, and customs are further mixed with those of the new dynasty. More discrepancies come in, and the discrepancy between the new dynasty and the first one is much greater (than that between the second and the first one).

Gradual increase in the degree of discrepancy continues. The eventual result is an altogether distinct (set of customs and institutions). As long as there is this continued succession of different races to royal authority and government, discrepancies in customs and institutions will not cease to occur.

Analogical reasoning and comparison are well known to human nature. They are not safe from error. Together with forgetfulness and negligence, they sway man from his purpose and divert him from his goal. Often, someone who has learned a good deal of past history remains unaware of the changes that conditions have undergone. Without a moment’s hesitation, he applies his knowledge (of the present) to the historical information and measures the historical information by the things he has observed with his own eyes, although the difference between the two is great.

Consequently, he falls into an abyss of error.

This may be illustrated by what the historians report concerning the circumstances of Al-Hajjaj. 164 They state that his father was a schoolteacher. At the present time, teaching is a craft and serves to make a living. It is a far cry from the pride of group feeling. Teachers are weak, indigent, and rootless.

Many weak professional men and artisans who work for a living aspire to positions for which they are not fit but which they believe to be within their reach.

They are misled by their desires, a rope which often slips from their hands and precipitates them into theabyss of ruinous perdition. They do not realize that what they desire is impossible for men like them to attain. They do not realize that they are professional men and artisans who work for a living.

They do not know that at the beginning of Islam and during the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid dynasties, teaching was different.

Scholarship was not a craft back then. It was transmitting statements that people had heard the Lawgiver (Muhammad) make. It was teaching religious matters-that-were not known, by wavy of oral transmission.

Persons of noble descent and people who shared in the group feeling (of the ruling dynasty) and who directed the affairs of Islam were the ones who taught the Book of God and the Sunnah of the Prophet, (and they did so) as one transmits traditions, not as one gives professional instruction.

The Qur’an was their Scripture, revealed to the Prophet in their midst. It constituted their guidance, and Islam was their religion, and for it they fought and died. It distinguished them from the other nations and ennobled them. They wished to teach it and make it understandable to the Muslims.

They were not deterred by censure coming from pride, nor were they restrained by criticism coming from arrogance. This is attested by the fact that the Prophet sent the most important of the men around him with his embassies to the Arabs, in order to teach them the norms of Islam and the religious laws he brought.

He sent his 10 companions and others after them on this mission.

Then, Islam became firmly established and securely rooted. Far-off nations accepted Islam at the hands of the Muslims. With the passing of time, the situation of Islam changed. Many new laws were evolved from the (basic) texts as the result of numerous and unending developments.

A fixed norm was required to keep (the process) free from error. Scholarship came to be a habit. 166 For its acquisition, study was required.

Thus, scholarship developed into a craft and profession. This will be mentioned in the chapter on scholarship and instruction. 167 The men who controlled the group feeling now occupied themselves with directing the affairs of royal and governmental authority. The cultivation of scholarship was entrusted to others. Thus, scholarship became a profession that served to make a living.

Men who lived in luxury and were in control of the government were too proud to do any teaching. Teaching came to be an occupation restricted to weak individuals.

As a result, its practitioners came to be despised by the men who controlled the group feeling and the government. Now, Yusuf, the father of al-Hajjaj, was one of the lords and nobles of the Thaqif, well known for their share in the Arab group feeling and for their rivalry with the nobility of the Quraysh.

Al-Hajjaj’s teaching of the Qur’an was not what teaching of the Qur’an is at this time, namely, a profession that serves to make a living. His teaching was teaching as it was practiced at the beginning of Islam and as we have just described it.

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