History of the Saracens/Othman

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Hejirah 23-35. a.d. 643-655.

During the three days which Omar survived his mortal wound,[1] his friends came about him, soliciting him to make his will, and name a successor. Disliking this task, he merely observed, that if Salem were alive he should approve of none so well as him. Upon this they named several to him, but with all they proposed he still found some fault or other. Some recommended Ali, on account not only of his valour and other great qualities, but also of his near relationship to Mohammed. But Omar thought him scarcely serious enough for so weighty a charge. Then Othman Ebn Affan was named; and Omar rejected him also, as likely to misuse his authority by favouring his own friends and relations. When they saw that they could not name any one but Omar would take an exception to him, they suspected, not without apparent reason, that all the objections proceeded from a desire that his son should succeed him. But his son being mentioned to him, he answered, that it was enough for one in a family to have to give an account of so weighty a charge as the caliphate. At last, when they could not persuade him to name a successor, to meet their wishes in some degree he appointed six persons, who were to consult upon and determine the matter within three days of his decease. During their deliberations his son was to be present, but was not to have a right of voting. The six commissioners were Othman, Ali, Telha, Zobeir, Abdarrhaman[2] Ebn Auf, and Saed Ebn Abi Wakkas; all of whom had been the familiar acquaintance and companions of Mohammed. Omar being dead, they met to consult; and Abdarrhaman said, that for his part he would willingly lay aside all pretensions to the office, provided they would agree to choose one of their own number.

All of them agreed at once to this proposition but Ali, who thought himself injured, because he had not been the immediate successor of Mohammed. At last, when Abdarrhaman had sworn that he would neither vote for nor favour any man whatsoever that should offer himself, Ali also gave his consent. Upon this, Abdarrhaman consults with the rest, who inclined to Othman Ebn Affan. Accordingly, Othman was chosen caliph, and inaugurated three days after Omar’s death.[3] Abulfaragius says, that Abu Obeidah (whom he puts in the room of Abdarrhaman) came to Ali, and asked him if he would take the government upon him, upon condition that he should be obliged to administer according to what was contained in the book of God, the tradition of his prophet, and the determination of two seniors. Ali answered, that as for the book of God, and the tradition of his prophet, he was content; but he would not be obliged to be determined by the constitutions of the seniors. The same terms being offered to Othman, he embraced them without exception, and was immediately chosen caliph.

As soon as he was established in the government, Othman followed the example of his predecessors, and sent his forces abroad to enlarge his dominions. In a short time, Maho’l Bassorah, and what remained of the borders of Ispahan and Raya was taken; so that the poor Persian king was now eaten up on all sides, and had very little left him. The same year that Othman was made caliph, Birah and Hamden were taken, and Moawiyah, who was then prefect of Syria, and afterwards caliph, invading the territories of the Grecian emperor, took a great many towns, and wasted the country.

We have already observed, that Othman was suspected of being too much inclined to favour his friends, and that upon this account Omar had judged him unworthy of succeeding him. This inclination showed itself plainly enough now that he had got the government into his hands, and was in a capacity to indulge it. Notwithstanding the signal services that Amrou Ebn Al Aas had done the Saracens by adding Egypt to their empire, Othman deposed him, and deprived him of the prefecture, or lieutenancy of Egypt, for no just reason that ever I could learn, but only because he had a mind to prefer his own foster-brother, Abdallah Ebn Said, to a place of such dignity and profit. A greater imprudence than this he scarcely could have committed; for Amrou, having been a considerable time in Egypt, had made himself familiar with the persons and the customs of the Egyptians, and had also won the love and confidence of the people. On this account, and by reason of his admirable skill in military affairs, he was, without doubt, the fittest men among the Saracens for so important a charge. The order, however, of the caliph must be obeyed, but the result soon showed how ill-advised it was;[4] for Constantine, the Grecian emperor, sent one Manuel, a eunuch, with an army, to retake Alexandria, in which he succeeded by the help of the Greeks in the city; who, maintaining a secret correspondence with the emperor’s army, then at sea, received them at their landing; and Alexandria, which Amrou had taken four years before, was now once more in the hands of the emperor. It was now evidently seen of what use Amrou had been in Egypt, and it was not long before he was restored to his former dignity; for the Egyptians, conscious of treachery and disloyalty to their sovereign, and fearing lest, if they again fell into the hands of the Greeks, they should be punished according to their deserts, humbly petitioned the caliph for the restoration of their old general Amrou, on account both of his thorough acquaintance with the state of their country, and of his experience in war. The request was no sooner made than granted, the exigency of affairs indispensably demanding it. Amrou, being now reinstated in authority, advanced against Alexandria with his whole force, ordering the Copts, of whom there were a great many in his service, under the command of the traitor Mokaukas, to provide the necessaries for the army in its march. When Amrou encamped before Alexandria, he found the Greeks well prepared to oppose him. They gave him battle for several days together, and held out bravely. The obstinacy of their defence so provoked him, that he swore, if God gave him the victory, he would pull down the walls of the town, and make it as easy of access as a bagnio. He was as good as his word; for when, after a short time, he had taken the town, he demolished all the walls and fortifications, and entirely dismantled it. However, he dealt very merciful with the inhabitants, and saved as many of their lives as he could: for the Saracens were killing all they met, and he had great difficulty in stopping the bloodshed. In the place, therefore, where he first succeeded in staying their fury, he built a mosque, which upon that account was called, “the mosque of mercy.” Manuel, the emperor’s general, being totally defeated, retired, with as many of his men as he could carry off, to the sea-shore; where, weighing anchor with all possible speed, they hoisted sail, and returned to Constantinople. From that time, this most flourishing city, once the metropolis of Egypt, dwindled away and declined apace; so that there is little belonging to it that is worth taking notice of besides its excellent haven, and a few factories.

About this time, Moawiyah invaded Cyprus, which shortly capitulated, the Saracen general agreeing to share the revenues of the island with the Grecian emperor. By this agreement the Cyprians engaged themselves to pay seven thousand and two hundred ducats yearly to Moawiyah, and the like sum to the emperor. The Mohammedans enjoyed this tribute near two years, and were then dispossessed by the Christians. The same year that Moawiyah agreed with the Cyprians, Othman sent Abdallah Ebn Amir and Saïd Ebn Al Aas to invade Khorassan; and, to stimulate their enthusiasm, told them “That whoever got there first should have the prefecture of that territory.” They took a great many strong places, and so straitened Yezdejird, that the Persian king, so far from being able to meet the Saracens in open field was obliged to fly from fortress to fortress to save himself. And that nothing should be wanting to complete his misery, he was at last betrayed by a treacherous servant, a calamity which often befalls princes in adversity. For those who have any private pique against them take advantage of their misfortunes to revenge themselves; others, again, hoping to ingratiate themselves with the conquering party, scruple at nothing that will win their favour, though it prove the utter ruin of their former masters.

Yezdejird, being distressed on all sides, called in Tarchan, the Turk, to his assistance, who accordingly came with an army. But the Turk’s stay was short, for Yezdejird, taking offence at some trifle, sent Tarchan back again. In this desperate circumstance he could have done nothing more imprudent. He would have acted a much wiser part had he put up with a great many little affronts, rather than send away the allies who were indispensable to his subsistence. Upon this Mahwa, a person of note, who had an old grudge against his master, Yezdejird, took the advantage of the Turk’s anger, who highly resented the indignity, and sent to Tarchan, telling him, “That if he would come back and revenge the affront, he might reckon on his assistance.” Upon this Tarchan returned. Yezdejird made the best preparation he could to meet him, but was completely beaten. In his flight, the traitor Mahwa set upon him, and destroyed the shattered remnant of his army, which had escaped from the Turks. Yezdejird got off himself, and coming to a mill, in which he hoped to be able to defend himself, offered the miller his belt, his bracelets, and his ring, for the use of it; but the churlish brute, considering neither the worth of the things which were offered him, much less the compassion which humanity binds us to show to all in distress, and especially to our princes, told him, “That he earned four pieces of silver with his mill every day, and if he would give him that sum he would let it stand still for his benefit; but on no other terms.” Whilst they were debating this matter, a party of horse, who were in search of him, came up and immediately slew him. He was the last king of the Persians and it is from the commencement of his reign that the Persian era, which is in use to this day in Persia, begins, being called Yezdejirdica after him. Thus the Persian government was entirely destroyed, and all the territories belonging to it fell into the hands of the caliph in the thirty-first year of the Hejirah, which began on the twenty-third day of August, in the year of our Lord 651.[5] Othman, though a religious man in his way, and well disposed, was nevertheless very unfit for government. He committed a great many impolitic acts, which alienated the minds of his subjects, and gave occasion to his enemies both to murmur and to rebel against his government. The first that we hear of, who began to make a stir, and talk publicly against the caliph, was one Abudar Alacadi, who, in the thirty-first year of the Hejirah, openly railed at him, and made it his business to defame him. Othman took no other notice of this conduct, than by forbidding him to come into his presence. Upon this, Abudar went into Syria, where he continued to defame the caliph, and to exaggerate every fault or error that could be charged against him. Moawijah, at that time lieutenant of Syria, wrote to Othman, who thereupon sent for Abudar to Medina, and put him into prison, where he continued till his death, which was but the year after.

But this was only the beginning of troubles to the caliph, for the Saracens grew every day more and more disaffected. Factious and uneasy spirits, when once they have begun to disturb a government, will never rest till they are either themselves entirely crushed, or else succeed in obtaining their ends. The murmuring increased daily, and almost every province in the empire had some private wrong to complain of, in addition to the grievances which were common to all; so that in the five and thirtieth year of the Hejirah all things were in a flame. Every man’s mouth was full of grievous accusations against the caliph, and of complaints of his maladministration. The following were the principal matters that they had to lay to his charge:—the recall of Hhakem Ebn Al Aas to Medina, who had been banished by the prophet, and had not been reinstated by either of his predecessors, Abubeker or Omar:—the removal from his prefecture of Saïd Ebn Abi Wakkas, one of the six to whom Omar had committed the election of a caliph, and the substituting for him a man of scandalous conversation, a drinker of wine, and notorious for other debaucheries:—lavish gifts to his friends out of the public treasure, having, for instance, bestowed upon Abdallah four hundred thousand ducats, and a hundred thousand on Hhakem:—the removal of Amrou Ebn Al Aas from the lieutenancy of Egypt, to make room for Saïd Ebn, Abi Sharehh. This Saïd had been one of those who helped to write the Koran, and afterwards apostatized, and renounced the profession of Mohammedanism. For all which Mohammed had resolved to kill him; when, in the eighth year of the Hejirah, he took Mecca, but had, at Othman’s entreaty, spared his life, and was content with simply banishing him. Another grievance was “that when he was first made caliph, he presumed to sit upon the uppermost part of the suggestum, or pulpit, where Mohammed himself used to sit, although Abubeker always sat one step lower, and Omar two.” These, and a great many other things, made the people murmur at him.[6] At last, in a public assembly, he told them from the pulpit, “That the money which was in the treasury was sacred, and belonged to God, and that he (as being the successor of the prophet would, in spite of them, dispose of it as he thought fit; and threatened and cursed all who should presume to censure or murmur at what he said.” Upon this Ammar Ebn Yaser boldly declaring his disapprobation, Othman commanded him to be beaten, and immediately some that stood by fell upon him, and beat him till he swooned. These proceedings so incensed the Arabs, that they, gathering together, flew to arms, and encamped within a league of Medina. From their camp they sent an insolent message to the caliph, demanding of him either to do that which was right and just (i. e. what they thought so), or else resign the government. The poor caliph, for the sake of quiet, would now have done anything with all his heart. But it is a common observation, that discontented and seditious subjects are not to be pacified by complying with their demands, for the more is granted by the prince in such circumstances, the more insolent they become. However, the caliph went into the pulpit which was in the mosque at Medina, and there solemnly, before the whole congregation, called God to witness that he was heartily sorry for what was passed, and sincerely repented.[7]

But it was all to no purpose, for by this time the provinces were in an uproar, and the strength of the rebels increased daily. Almost every province sent some of its chief men to represent its grievance, and they, meeting together at Medina, determined to depose Othman. Upon this occasion, Malec Alashtar brought two hundred men with him from Cufah;[8] and there came one hundred and fifty from Bassorah, and six hundred from Egypt. The caliph being now in great perplexity, sent Mogeirah Ebn Shabah and Amrou Ebn Al Aas to treat with the malcontents, and endeavour to persuade them to leave their complaints to be decided on by the Koran and the Sunnet, i. e., the traditions of Mohammed. But they had very little thanks for their pains, for the rebels used them scurvily. Then he sent Ali to them, who ever since the death of Mohammed had expected to be caliph, and had a very considerable party. Him they received with more reverence, and he bound himself to see that all that Othman promised should be performed; and to make them the more easy, Othman and Ali set both their hands to a paper, in which they promised to remove all just causes of complaint. Then the Egyptians demanded to have Abdallah Ebn Saïd removed from the lieutenancy of Egypt, and Mohammed, the son of Abubeker, put in his room; which Othman readily complied with, and forthwith signed the appointment of Mohammed. This condescension of the caliph apparently satisfied them, for the confederacy broke up, and every man returned to his own country. The storm seemed to be blown over, and any man would have thought that the caliph had no reason to doubt of going to the grave in peace. But what will not treachery do? Nothing was omitted by the caliph’s enemies which might foment and keep alive the prejudices which the people had already conceived against him. Ayesha, Mohammed’s widow, was his mortal enemy. Certainly it would much better have become one that pretended to have been the wife of an inspired prophet, to have spent the days of her widowhood in devotion and good works, than in doing mischief and embroiling the state. But she was so prejudiced in favour of Telha, the son of Zobeir, whom she would fain have raised to the dignity of caliph, that no consideration of virtue or decency could hinder her from doing every thing in her power to compass the death of Othman. Another of his greatest enemies was Mohammed, Abubeker’s son, the same whom the Egyptians had desired for their prefect. But none did him more harm than Merwan Ebn Al Hhakem, his own secretary, who may justly be looked upon as the principal cause of his ruin,[9] which his enemies at last effected in the following manner.

As the Egyptians who had gathered together to depose Othman were upon their journey homewards from Medina, accompanied by Mohammed, the son of Abubeker, their new lieutenant, they met with a messenger carrying letters from the caliph to Abdallah Ebn Saïd, at that time lieutenant of Egypt. Him they detained and seized his letters; which being opened were found to contain orders to Abdallah from the caliph to this effect. “As soon as Mohammed, the son Abubeker, and N. and N. &c., shall arrive in Egypt, cut off their hands and feet, and impale them.” This letter had Othman’s seal and superscription; the whole business being managed by the villainy of the secretary Merwan, who had written this letter of his own accord, as, to the great injury of the caliph, he had done many others, and so arranged the departure of the messenger as that he could not fail to fall into the hands of the Egyptians, on purpose to re-kindle the differences which by the care of Ali, and the condescension of the caliph had in a great measure been composed. It is no hard matter to guess how Mohammed, Abubeker’s son, and the Egyptians with him, were affected with this letter. Their indignation knew no bounds; and no ill language, no revenge was thought sufficient for him, that had designed to perpetrate such cruel treachery. They immediately hasten back to Medina, loudly declaring all the way against the falsehood and perfidiousness of the caliph, and congratulating themselves on their fortunate but narrow escape from so imminent a danger. Such stories as this seldom lose any thug in the telling, and no wonder then if they excited the most angry feelings, especially if we consider that the old wound was but just skinned over, and not healed; for besides the faction at court, there was also a great many disaffected persons, who spared not to say the worst of the caliph. The news of the return of the Egyptians, and how, if they had not accidentally intercepted Othman’s letter to Abdallah, they must have suffered the utmost cruelty, flew quickly over the country. The detestation of the caliph became universal, and the deputies from Cufa and Basora, who upon the accommodation of their differences had returned, had scarce got home, before they were alarmed with the evil tidings, and set out again to assist the Egyptians in deposing Othman. This letter, they thought, excused whatsoever they did, and even those who did not believe that the caliph had written it, nevertheless, in order to gain their own ends, did not scruple to make use of it to vilify him. At last, they besieged him in his own house. Othman, in the meantime, offered to make them every satisfaction that could reasonably be demanded, and declared his repentance for what he had done amiss. But all in vain; they were resolved to be revenged on one who in truth had never designed to injure them. When he saw himself reduced to this strait he sent for his cousin Ali, and asked him; “If he had a desire to see his cousin murdered, and his own kingdom rent in pieces?” Ali answered, “By no means:” And upon this sent his two sons, Hasan and Hosein, to defend him, and keep the gate, to protect him from violence. I am verily pursuaded, that Ali did not mean any harm personally to the caliph. Still, whether the prospect of succeeding him, made him loath to disoblige the Mussulmans, who were altogether set against Othman, or from some other reason, it is plain, that he did not assist him with that zeal and vigour which might otherwise have been expected. It is true, he sent Hasan and Hosein; but they, when the besiegers had straitened the caliph, by cutting off his supply of water, left him to their mercy. Then Mohammed, Abubeker’s son, and Ammar Ebn Yaser with several others, entered the house, where they found the caliph with the Koran in his lap. They immediately fell upon him, and one of them wounded him in the throat with a dart; a second stabbed him with his sword. As soon as he fell, another sat upon his breast, and wounded him in nine places. Thus died Othman,[10] the third after Mohammed, when he was eighty-two years old, and after having reigned nearly twelve. Authors differ concerning the time of his being besieged in his house; but it seems to have been about six weeks. His corpse lay unburied for three days: at last it was removed, (by whose order I find not) bloody as it was, and buried in the same clothes he was killed in, without so much as being washed, and without the least funeral solemnity. A remarkable instance of the vanity of human greatness and the uncertainty of all worldly felicity.[11]

As to his person, he was very tall, of a good countenance, dark complexion, and a large beard. His way of living was commendable enough for a Saracen. He was very diligent in the performance of his religious exercises; fasting very often, and being frequent in reading and meditating on the Koran. His charity was unbounded; his riches very great. Though he was hardly used at the last, yet it cannot be denied, that he had given occasion to the discontent of the people which a more politic governor would have avoided. For he was so blindly disposed to promote his own family and friends, that he scarce ever considered their merit. From such a course much inconvenience must necessarily follow to any government, for many would at this rate be put into places of the greatest trust, who, however, were by no means qualified for the discharge of the important duties committed to them; and whenever they did anything amiss, the caliph who appointed them was sure to come in for a great share in the reflections which were made upon their errors or abuses. Moreover, through the treachery of that villain his secretary, many ill things were laid to his charge, in which he had never a hand. For it was a common thing with Merwan to set Othman’s seal to letters to the governors of the different provinces, which the caliph had never written, but which conveyed oftentimes the most scandalous and grievous commands. By which means, aversion was excited against him with good reason apparently, and this ill feeling was constantly fomented by his enemies, who never rested till at last they succeeded in depriving him both of his government and his life.[12]

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Hejirah 23. Which year beginning on the 18th of November, in the year of our Lord 643, the greatest part of it answers to the year 644.
  2. Abulfaragius, instead of Abdarrhaman puts in Abu Obeidah; but I have chosen rather to follow Eutychius and Elmakin, because there are more authors than one who say positively, that Abu Obeidah died of the plague in Syria, in the 18th year of the Hejirah.
  3. There is some variety in the accounts of the time of Othman’s inauguration. Some say there was but one day left of the last month in the twenty-third year of the Hejirah. Others say it was on the 20th day of the first month (Moharram) of the twenty-fourth year.
  4. Shortly after the government of Egypt had been consigned to Abdallah Ebn Saïd, the final reduction of Africa, from the Nile to the Atlantic, was projected by Othman, and a reinforcement of upwards of 20,000 Arabs marched from Medina, accompanied by Zobeir, and other distinguished chieftains, and joined the Arabian camp at Memphis. Mills quotes the following account:—“With the sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, Abdallah, the general of Othman, conducted 40,000 valiant Arabs from the camp at Memphis, to the conversion or subjugation of the unknown regions of the west. After a painful march they pitched their tents before the walls of Tripoli, whilst a reinforcement of Greeks, who were advancing to relieve the city, were surprised and cut to pieces on the sea shore. But the siege was suspended by the appearance in the field of the prefect Gregory, with 100,000 Roman troops, and Moorish or barbarian auxiliaries. The representative of the Greek emperor rejected with disdain the usual choice of conversion or tribute, and the Saracenic general broke up his camp before the walls of Tripoli. In the midst of a sandy plain, the battle was prolonged for several days, from, the earliest appearance of light, till a noon-day sun compelled the soldiers of each army to seek the shelter of their tents. But Zobeir, a genius in war, terminated this irregular conflict. A part of the Mussulman force had been separated from their general, and the commander of the division sent twelve of his bravest soldiers to penetrate the camp of the Greeks. In the darkness of the night they avoided the enemy, and with a perseverance which despised all refreshment of the senses, reached their Mussulman brethren in the battle of the morning. The searching eye of Zobeir met not Abdallah. ‘Where,’ said he, ‘is our general?’ ‘He is in his tent,’ was the reply. ‘Is the tent a station for the general of the Mussulmans?’ indignantly exclaimed the indefatigable Saracen, on finding that Abdallah had really retired from the field. ‘Nay,’ replied the chief, when he was discovered by Zobeir, ‘a price has been set on my head; one hundred thousand pieces of gold, and the hand of the daughter of the prefect, have been offered to any Christian or Mussulman, who shall take the head of the general of the Saracens into the camp of the enemy. She is fighting by the side of her father, and her incomparable charms fire the youth of both armies. My friends have solicited me to quit the field, as the loss of their general might be fatal to the cause.’ ‘Retort on the infidels,’ said the undaunted Zobeir, ‘their unmanly attempt: proclaim through the ranks, that the head of Gregory shall be repaid with his captive daughter, and the equal sum of one hundred thousand pieces of gold.’ The adventurous Saracen conceived and executed a plan for the overthrow of the Greeks. On the following morning, a part only of the Mussulman army carried on the usual desultory conflict with their foes as long as the heat was supportable. The Mussulmans retired to their camp, threw down their swords, laid their bows across their saddles, and by every appearance of lassitude deceived the enemy into security. But at the signal of Zobeir, a large body of his troops, fresh, active, and vigorous, sprang from the concealment of their tents, and mounted their horses. The Romans, astonished and fainting with fatigue, hastily seized their arms, but their ranks were soon broken by the impetuous Saracens. Gregory was slain, and the scattered fugitives from the field sought refuge in Sujetala. But on the first attack, this city yielded; and, in the division of the spoil, two thousand pieces of gold were the share of every horseman, and one thousand pieces of every foot soldier. The spirited daughter of Gregory had animated, by her courage and her exhortations, the soldiers of her country, till a squadron of horse led her captive into the presence of Abdallah. The affecting testimony of her tears at the sight of Zobeir, proved that he was the destroyer of her father. ‘Why do you not claim the rich reward of your conquest?’ inquired Abdallah, in astonishment at the modesty or indifference of Zobeir at the sight of so much beauty. ‘I fight,’ replied the enthusiast, ‘for glory and religion, and despise all ignoble motives.’ The general of the Saracens forced, however, upon the reluctant chief the virgin and the gold, and pleased his martial spirit with the office of communicating to the caliph at Medina the success of his faithful soldiers.”
  5. Sir John Malcolm, in his History of Persia, gives the following account of Yezdejirh, after the battle of Jaloulah, mentioned at page 215:—“In a.d. 640, and the twentieth of the Hejirah, Saïd Ebn Wakass, who continued to govern all that part of Persia which he had conquered, from his fixed camp, or rather, new city of Cufah, was recalled by Omar, on account of a complaint made against him by those under his rule; and a chief, named Omar Yuseer, was appointed his successor. Yezdejird, encouraged by the removal of a leader that he so much dreaded, assembled an army of one hundred and fifty thousand men, from the provinces of Khorassan, Rhé , and Hamadan; and, placing it under the command of Firouzan, the bravest of the Persian generals, resolved to put the fate of his empire at issue on one great battle. The caliph, when he heard of these preparations, ordered reinforcements to be sent to his army in Persia from every quarter of his dominions, and committed the whole to the chief command of Nooman. The Arabian force assembled at Cufah, and from thence marched to the plains of Nahavund, on which the Persian army had established a camp, surrounded by a deep entrenchment. During two months, these two great armies continued in sight of each other, and many skirmishes were fought. The Persian general appearing determined not to quit his position, but the zealous valour of the leader of the faithful became impatient of delay. He drew up his army in order of battle, and thus addressed them:—‘My friends! prepare yourselves to conquer, or to drink of the sweet sherbet of martyrdom. I shall now call the tukbeer three times; at the first, you will gird your loins; at the second, mount your steeds; and at the third, point your lances and rush to victory, or to paradise. As to me,’ continued Nooman, with a raised and enraptured voice, ‘I shall be a martyr! When I am slain, obey the orders of Huzeefah Ebn Aly Oman.’ The moment he had done speaking, the first sound of the tukbeer, ‘Allah Akbar,’ or ‘God is great,’ was heard throughout the camp; at the second, all were upon their horses; and at the third, which was repeated by the whole army, the Mohammedans charged with a fury which was irresistable. Nooman was, as he predicted, slain; but his army gained a great and memorable victory. Thirty thousand Persians were pierced by their lances, and eighty thousand more were drowned in the deep trench by which they had surrounded their camp. Their general, Firouzan, with four thousand men, fled to the hills; but such was the effect of terror on one side, and of confidence on the other, that the chief was pursued, defeated, and slain, by a body of not more than one thousand men. The battle of Nahavund decided the fate of Persia; which, from its date, fell under the dominion of the Arabian caliphs. Yezdejird protracted, for several years, a wretched and precarious existence. He first fled to Seistan, then to Khorassan, and lastly to Merv. The governor of that city invited the Khakan of the Tartars to take possession of the person of the fugitive monarch. That sovereign accepted the offer; his troops entered Merv, the gates of which were opened to them by the treacherous governor, and made themselves masters of it, in spite of the desperate resistance of the surprised, but brave and enraged inhabitants. Yezdejird escaped on foot from the town during the confusion of the contest. He reached a mill, eight miles from Merv, and entreated the miller to conceal him. The man told him he owed a certain sum to the owner of the mill, and that, if he paid the debt, he should have his protection against all pursuers. The monarch agreed to this proposal; and after giving his sword and belt as pledges of his sincerity, he retired to rest with perfect confidence in his safety. But the miller could not resist the temptation of making his fortune by the possession of the rich arms and robes of the unfortunate prince, whose head he separated from his body with the sword he received from him, and then cast his corpse into the water-course that turned the mill. The governor of Merv, and those who had aided him, began, in a few days, to puffer from the tyranny of the Rhakan, and to repent the part which they had acted. They encouraged the citizens to rise upon the Tartars, and not only recovered the city, but forced the Khakan to fly, with great loss, to Bokharab. A diligent inquiry was made after Yezdejird, whose fate was soon discovered. The miller fell a victim to popular rage; and the corpse of the monarch was embalmed, and sent to Istakhr, to be interred in the sepulchre of his ancestors.”
  6. Among other circumstances which prejudiced the people against Othman’s rule was the following, which we quote from Dr. Weil: “In consequence of the multiplied variations which had crept into the readings of the Koran, Othman had caused all the different copies which could be found to be collected together and burnt, excepting one, which alone, sanctioned by his own authority, he directed all believers to receive as the only genuine transcript of the revelations of the prophet. Moreover, he confided the editorship and revision of this new and authentic edition to those men who were the most devoted to him, rather than to those who were the most learned.” See also at the end of Abubeker’s reign an allusion to this proceeding. We are also told by the same author, that when Othman made his pilgrimage to Mecca, he introduced several innovations, and amongst others, he followed the practice of his heathenish predecessors, and erected a spacious tent on the plains of Mina, under which he distributed various provisions to the pilgrims, although the prophet had carefully abolished this custom as a relic of heathenism. Major Price adds, that on his return to Medina another incident occurred which produced an unfavourable impression on superstitious minds. In superintending some workmen whom he had employed to sink a well about two miles from the city, the prophet’s seal, which he wore on his finger, and which had hitherto securely passed from hand to hand through his predecessors, to his great mortification dropped into the well, and notwithstanding the most diligent search, could never afterwards be recovered.
  7. “The clamours of the assembly on this occasion were so violent and outrageous, that the caliph descended from the pulpit in no small degree of terror. It is recorded by some authors, that part of the assembly proceeded to the extremity of pelting the aged monarch with stones; that they dragged him from his place, broke his staff upon his own head, and otherwise treated him with such marks of indecent violence and indignity, that he swooned away, and in this state was conveyed to his palace.” Price.
  8. Dr. Weil and Major Price both give us detailed accounts of the revolt at Cufah, which bad taken place a short time previous to the above transactions, about the year 33 of the Hejirah. We learn from these authors that it was principally occasioned by the tyranny of the governor, Saïd Ebn Aas, who was a cousin of Othman’s. Besides exciting the hatred of the principal inhabitants, he had particularly offended Malec Alashtar, who was one of their great favourites; and from that time the house of Malec became the resort of all the disaffected, who sought every opportunity of bringing contempt, not only upon the administration of Saïd, but also upon that of the caliph. An officer whom Saïd had sent to expostulate with the rebels, having been severely chastised by them, that governor complained to Othman of their proceedings, who instructed him to remove Malec and his obnoxious associates to Syria, where their conduct would be properly watched by the vigilant Moawiyah. The latter governor endeavoured to conciliate these insurgents by mildness, but they still continued to revile the caliph and his family; and one day, after a sharp discussion upon the subject, they actually fell upon Moawiyah, and seized his beard, who, however, only cried out, “You are not in Cufah! By heaven, if my Syrians knew of your insults, I could not prevent your being torn to pieces.” The governor did not treat them with his usual severity, but transferred his turbulent charge to Abdarrhaman, the governor of Hems, whose inflexible temper, and harshness of manner, soon reduced them to submission, and they were permitted to return to Cufah, though Malec, at all hazards, continued to reside at Hems. In the 34th year of the Hejirah, the presence of Saïd was required at Medina, and during his absence Malec returned to Cufah and resumed his place at the head of the malcontents. Upon the return of Saïd the inhabitants assembled in great numbers upon the walls, to intercept Iris entrance into the town. Alarmed at their appearance, Saïd retraced his steps to Medina, when the caliph, thinking it prudent to make a virtue of necessity, acceded to the wishes of the people, who desired that Abu Musa might be appointed governor in the room of Saïd. Upon this occasion Othman sent an address to the Cufians, and through the mediation of Ali, and the gold of Merwan, the secretary of the caliph, their seditious proceedings were appeased for the time. That the rebels were never permanently reconciled to the government of Othman, we may learn from the facts stated in the text.
  9. Merwan seems to have been the evil genius of Othman. According to Major Price, the imbecile old caliph frequently advised with Ali, but the malignant influence of this secretary perpetually interposed to prevent his taking advantage of the good counsel he received. Though, however, his conduct was so injurious to the interests of the caliph, he seems to have been exceedingly attached to Othman. See the end of the present reign. Dr. Weil quotes the following story of this secretary from Ebn Abdah Hhakem:—“I When Abdallah Ebn Saïd was extending his conquests in Africa, he despatched Menvan, with other Arabians, to report to Othman the progress of his arms, and during the journey, Merwan met with a remarkable adventure, which he subsequently related thus: One evening, my travelling companion asked me to accompany him to visit a friend who resided in the vicinity; I consented, and accordingly he turned off the road and conducted me to a convent. Upon pulling the bell, a man made his appearance, and admitted us; and after bringing each of us a small bed, he talked to my companion in his own gibberish, and in such a way that I began to feel alarmed. He then came to me and asked the degree of my relationship to the caliph. ‘He is my cousin!’ I replied. ‘Has the caliph anymore relations?’ ‘None, except his children.’ ‘Art thou lord of the holy land?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then,’ continued he, ‘if you can become so, do it! Listen! I wish to tell you something, but I am afraid you are too weak to bear it.’ ‘What! do you tell me that?’ said I, ‘one who—Here he interrupted me, and turned again to my companion, and said something more in his gibberish. Then he repeated to me the same questions, and upon my giving him the same answer he said: ‘Thy lord will be killed! the ruler of the holy land will be his successor; therefore, seek thou to be ruler!’ This prophecy threw me into a great consternation. ‘Did I not tell thee, thou wouldst be unable to bear it?’ said he. ‘Why,’ I replied, ‘should not the news of the death of the prince of the faithful and lord of the Mussulmans afflict me? I travelled on to Medina, and lived there an entire month without mentioning this scene to Othman. At length, one day I went to visit him, and found him setting on a divan, with a fan in his hand; and I then related to him the whole of the adventure, but stopped short and burst into tears at the part touching his death, but he said, ‘Speak on, and I will also speak!’ I then told him the whole, and taking the edge of his fan, he threw himself upon his back, and rubbed his heels with so much fury that I regretted having mentioned the subject. He then said, ‘You have told me the truth! know that when the prophet returned home from Tabuc, he gave a portion of the booty to each of his companions, and to me a double portion, which I thought was on account of my having so much assisted him in the campaign; but he said to me ‘Not on that account do I give it thee, but to show the people the high position you hold.’ I then drew back, and Abdarrahman Ebn Auf followed me, and said, ‘What hast thou said to the ambassador of God that he watches thee so intensely?’ Whereupon, thinking I must have displeased Othman, I waited till he went to prayers, and then advanced towards him and said, ‘Abdarrahman has just told me so and so. I will do penance before God if I have said anything wrong!’ He replied, ‘You have done nothing wrong, but you will either commit a murder or be murdered! prefer the latter!’” This Merwan afterwards became caliph and was murdered by his wife.” See the Reign of Merwan I.
  10. Hejira 35. July 10, a.d. 655.
  11. The following additional particulars of this siege are extracted from Major Price:” The palace of Othman was invested by the Egyptian and other insurgents, who insisted that if Merwan’s letter was despatched by authority, the life of the caliph must expiate the crime. During the siege one of the order of the prophet’s companions came forward, and requested that Othman would appear upon the terrace as he had something to his advantage to communicate. The caliph complied and the conference was opened, when one of the besieged suddenly drew his bow from the battlements of the palace, and killed the officious adviser on the spot. The besiegers with eager vociferation demanded, that the murderer should be delivered up.; but Othman firmly and magnanimously refused, declaring that those should never suffer whose only crimes were loyalty and devotion. But the issue of the contest was considerably accelerated by this useless piece of treachery. The assailants set fire to the palace gates and forcibly rushed in through the doors by the terraced roofs: on the other hand Merwan and Saïd Ebn Aas, at the head of five hundred Mamelukes prepared to give the rebels a gallant reception. The aged and venerable caliph now endeavoured to dissuade his adherents from a fruitless opposition. He told them that on the previous night the prophet had appeared to him in a dream, and upon hearing his complaints, had desired him not to be afflicted, for on the succeeding evening he should feast with him in paradise. Merwan in reply, solemnly protested that whilst he possessed a spark of life, the slightest injury should not touch his master. Othman then offered freedom to all his slaves who would lay down their arms, and many of them accepted his conditions. In the meantime the insurgents had forced their way into the interior of the palace, and a short and sanguinary contest ensued in the courts. Merwan, who stood conspicuous at the head of his people, received a stroke from a scimitar, which laid him senseless; whilst Saïd was shortly afterwards compelled by a wound to quit this scene of blood and outrage. The contest, notwithstanding, raged with unabated fury until Mohammed the son of Abubeker made his way into the apartment where Othman sat with his eyes intently fixed on the sacred pages of the Koran. He seized his sovereign by the beard, but Othman appealing to the memory of his father, he retired without doing him further injury. Kennauah the son of Basher then entered the room and was preparing to strike, when several others rushed in with naked swords and drew the first blood of the de fenceless monarch. Naylah the wife of Othman threw herself upon her husband, and endeavoured to ward off the stroke of a scimitar, but in this effort of tenderness she lost the fingers of one hand, and the unhappy caliph soon afterwards expired under repeated wounds. Three days elapsed before his murderers would permit his body to be buried. At length, through the intercession of Ali, permission was granted; and having placed his corpse upon one of the palace doors which they tore off as a substitute for a bier, they consigned his mutilated remains to a recess between the public burying-place of Medina, and that of the Jews, three of the Ansars, insisting that it should not be laid among true believers. At a subsequent period, however, Moawijah took the spot into the Mohammedan enclosure.”
  12. Ahmed Ebn Mohammed Al Makari alludes to a tradition quoted by several respectable writers, which says that Othman sent an army to the conquest of Andalusia. But he also adds, that it is incontrovertibly proved, that the Arabs never invaded Spain till the caliphate of Al Walid, and that Cairwan, the city from whence the expedition is said to have started, was not built until twelve years after the death of that caliph.—Don Pascual de Gayangos.