The Descent of Bolshevism/The Karmathians

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The Descent of Bolshevism by Ameen Rihani
The Karmathians


CHAPTER III

The Karmathians


Among the foremost disciples of Kaddah of Ahwaz was an Arab of Bahrein called Karmat or Quermut, who in the latter part of the ninth century (880 A. D.) established in Irak a secret society of his own and, like his master Kaddah, took to preaching in allegories. Like him too, he taught the doctrine of "hidden and revealed imams," but he added that while the imam is hidden,his cause must be revealed and upheld by missionaries. And he, Hamdan Quermut, first assumed this modest role and soon became the leader of a new movement. It is curious how his followers were transformed by degrees, as they advanced in the secret order, from true and pious Mohammedans to atheists and anarchists, in a word, to Mazdakites.

His ladder, which was broad at the base, tapered at the top to a point, from which the Karmathian plunged headlong into a regenerated world of absolute freedom and equality. The Koran is full of mysteries, Quermut warned the climber as he set his ladder firmly on the ground of faith; and mysteries must be taught and explained. The early teachers of Islam were often wrong; only seven imams are infallible; the others are all in error. Climb, climb higher. Every infallible imam had a prophet who was obeyed in all things; the last imam was Ismail. Another step, and Quermut is his prophet. Still another, and the traditions vanish from view. The next disposes of religion itself; prayers, fasting,alms, the pilgrimage are no longer essential to salvation. For behold, you are reaching the top, the vanishing point and you are free to entertain any belief or unbelief so long as you recognize no authority, temporal or spiritual, but that of Quermut, the new Prophet. Thus the Karmathian gradually sheds his creed, renounces his faith, but is in duty bound to fight against all Muslem power and authority.

For since Islam combined the spiritual and civil power in one ruler called khalif and imam, these secret societies were origginallya protest against one or more of its tenets as well as against its established governments. And since it was founded as much on the sword as on the Koran, and united in the person of the khalif the functions of pontiff and sovereign, almost in all the sects, secret or otherwise, the chief ground of the schism is the contested succession to the throne. And the Karmathians, who secretly coveted the throne, made certain concessions at first to religion. But while they adopted the two fundamental doctrines of Islam, that is, the omnipotence of God and the fixedness of Fate, they declared all the others, even as the Wahhabys of today, vain and futile. Nay, they are snares contrived to exalt a certain portion of mankind at the expense of the vast majority. And they the Karmathians would free the majority from these snares. They would utterly destroy the foundation of all existing order, set men free from the despotism of all morals and laws and creeds, and re-establish their direct allegiance to God.

Some of these so-called high mysteries are entertained also by the Sufis of today. But Sufism does not prompt to action and rebellion. The Sufi detaches himself from the world and all its tyrannies and evils,—rises on the ladder to the vanishing point, so to speak, and stays there,—while the Karmathians, the Ismailites and other kindred sects, would fight to substitute the reign of Allah for the reign of man on earth. And the Arab is no where so well at home as in metaphysical abstractions and the desert. He is most credulous, is more believing, in fact, than religious. His deep sense of the possibilities that may be hidden in the depths of the unknown, induces in him a ready easy credence in any message supposedly divine. If one prophet, why not another? Mohammed has by no means closed the Arab nation's account with Allah. This is the religious reason for Quermut's great success. The political reason is still more plausible.

The Abbaside khalifs were usurpers. Most of them were tyrants and profligates. Moreover, they favored the foreigners at court, even though they secretly plotted against them, more than they did the Arabs. The Khalif Mo'tasem's Turkish guards at the palace soon became a power in Baghdad. And the Karmathians, aroused by their intrigues, found in them additional cause for revolt. They disclaimed the Abbasides, abhorred their worldly pomp, denounced their tyranny and their unpatriotic conduct, and finally declared war upon them. Their battle-cry was, "Allah liveth forever, Allah sufficeth us!"

And combining thus the religious and the political issues, based on the wholesale negations excepting only Allah, for both worlds, they raised the standard of revolt; and for a century or more they were a terror to the Khalifs of Baghdad and the undisputed masters of Arabia. And Quermut, not long after his first missionary activities, became the Prophet, the Guide, the Director. He was also called the Camel, the Word, even the Holy Ghost—the Herald of the Messiah. The Millenium madness, which was upon Europe at that time, had reached, it seems, Arabia, and Quermut, the Universal, incorporated it into his Scheme of Salvation.

Most of his followers were of the Beduin tribes, who found Islam too irksome, too exacting, and were ready to join any movement that would offer encouragement to their liberal and looting spirit. And they were desperate, indomitable fighters. Under the leadership of two Generals, Abu-Saidand his son Abu Taher, they conquered first the provinces of Oman and Bahrein and established themselves at Hasa behind the burning sands of the Red Desert, where they themselves were secure against any attack or invasion. Northward they marched to Irak, laying waste everything before them; to upper Syria, where they stormed and captured the city of Baalbek, putting its inhabitants to the sword. There were no novices among the Karmathians in action, at war. They all had mastered the higher mysteries, and were fighting like demons to establish the reign of Allah on earth. No army of the Khalifs could withstand their desperate attacks and their slaughter. They threw themselves into the jaws of death, blindly obeying the command of their leaders.

But Mecca is the ultimate goal of every Muslem, and every Muslem rebellion. Without it, no victory is complete. Towards Mecca, therefore, commanded by Abu Taher, the Karmathians swept over the desert. And like swarms of locusts, wave after wave, they descended upon the City at the height of the pilgrimage season and committed, in the name of Allah, the most unspeakable crimes and abominations. Thirty thousand of the pilgrims were slain; the well of Zamzam was choked with the dead; the House of God, the Kaaba, was polluted; the Holy Veilwas torn in shreds; and the Black Stone, the most sacred relic of Islam, was carried off to Hasa. But it was restored twenty years later.

And although their atrocities had the effect of uniting for a time all the Mohammedan factions against them, they continued for many years after the capture of Mecca and the sacking of the Kaaba, to achieve one victory after another and spread the terror of their power in the land. It was a war waged by anarchy and rapine, not only against Islam, but against Society and all organized governments. "The sect of the Karmathians," says Gibbon, "may be considered as the second cause of the decline and fall of the empire of the Khalifs."

And the death of Abu Taher, their great General, may be considered as one of the principal causes of the decline and fall of the Karmathians. The Beduins themselves, who first joined the movement and were chiefly responsible for its success, turned against it when its power began to wane. At the close of the tenth century, after the death of Abu Taher, the Karmathians were defeated in Irak and soon after they lost the control of the pilgrimage. The Beduin tribes therefore had no longer any use for them. Not only did they refuse them their support, but they revolted against what remained of their authority. The revolt became general, and one after another of the provinces recovered their independence. One Beduin sheikh alone, it is stated, besieged and took Katif, the capital of Bahrein.

The Wahhabys of today continue to rule in Hasa, maintaining their independence even against the new King of Hijaz. And under their Mohammedan puritanism is the smouldering fire of the Karmathians. They, too, once captured and sacked the Holy City of Mecca and still nourish, under the guise of piety and the assumption of learning, the most dangerous designs against it and Islam.

Like the Mazdakites, like the Khawarij, the Karmathians were not completely destroyed. They had other successors than the Wahhabys. Straggling bands of freethinkers and freebooters, followers of Abu Taher and Quermut, continued to rove on the borderland of Society till the middle of the eleventh century, when their famous slogan was beginning to be heard among the hills of Persia and Syria and was soon to be embodied in one of the most fiendishly criminal movements against law and order that is recorded in the history of the world.