Page:Frederic Shoberl - Persia.djvu/104

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PERSIA.

ference between Mahomet, the apostle of God, and Ali, the son-in-law of that apostle: and though they regard Ali as his legitimate successor, they are far from making him his equal.

Not only do the Persians maintain the justice of Ali's rights to the crown to the exclusion of the first three caliphs, rights which he derived from Mahomet himself, but they admit no legitimate princes excepting his descendants. These princes are twelve in number. Ali is the first, and Mehdi the last. They bear the title of Imam, that is, spiritual and temporal guide or chief. From the nobleness of their origin may be inferred the qualifies with which they are endowed. Supernatural knowledge, perfect sanctity, and the power to perform miracles, are some of the most remarkable of their attributes.

The twelfth Imam was but five years old when he succeeded to the Imamat; and he disappeared at the age of twelve years. Opinions are divided respecting him. The Sunnites consider him as destined to appear again towards the end of time, to call all the nations of the earth to the knowledge of Islamism; adding, that three hundred and sixty celestial spirits will assist him in this mission, and that he will be the vicar of Jesus Christ, in the august office of the Imamat. The Shiites, on the other hand, believe, that he still dwells in this world, living unknown by men in a sequestered cave: his return is the object of their wishes and expectations, for he is to re-assert the rights of his house, to establish a universal caliphate over the whole surface of the earth, and to bring all mankind to the true faith, as is denoted by the surname of Mehdi, or director, which he bears. His proper name is Mohammed. This opinion has favoured the ambition of a multitude of impostors, who have given themselves out for this Imam, and who, by the assumption of so sacred a character, have collected numerous partisans. What blood has it again cost humanity to establish and overthrow their power!



CHAPTER III.

RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES




SECTION I.

PURIFICATIONS.

Purifications form one of the most essential practices of the Mahometan religion. "The body appears before God as well as the soul; it must therefore be cleansed from all stain, previously to the performance of any religious act." Such is the