Persia/Chapter 18

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The Persians are the most decided deists in the world. They not only profess the unity of God, but they insist also on a singleness of person in his essence, and charge the Christians with blasphemy in adoring a deity composed of three persons. All their divines agree upon this point, as well as on the omniscience and omnipotence of the divinity: they differ only in this particular, that some consider these qualities as attributes, while others hold them to be part of the essence of God.

They believe in the resurrection, the last judgment, and a future state. As soon as the body is deposited in the tomb, the two angels of death, Monkyr and Nekyr, appear and question the deceased respecting his religion, faith, and works. His answers are inscribed in a great book, which will be delivered in at the day of judgment. After this examination, the souls of the good proceed to Barzak, and those of the wicked to the valley of Bairouth: there they abide till the general resurrection, neither enjoying nor suffering, but by anticipation of their eternal happiness or misery. An intermediate place between paradise and hell, receives for eternity the spirits of those who have not done either good or evil.

On the day of resurrection, the souls will appear together with the bodies which formerly belonged to them: they will assemble in a vast plain near Mecca. The judgment will take place by means of a pair of scales, each of which will be as large as the superficies of the heavens. In one, called the basin of light, will be placed the book of good actions; in the other, or the basin of darkness, the book of bad actions. After this examination, the spirits will cross the famous bridge, Poulisirath, laid over hell, on which the separation will take place. The good will traverse it with the rapidity of lightning which flashes and disappears, but the wicked will he tumbled from it into the infernal regions.

The Persians admit seven degrees of felicity and torment; but differ respecting their nature. Some doctors assert that the soul of the good will revel in purely spiritual joys, such as the sense of its qualities, the knowledge of all the sciences, &c.: while others represent paradise as the theatre of the most refined pleasures of sense, peopling it with houris, or celestial females, to whose beauty the imagination which creates them can alone do justice. According to the former, the pains of hell will consist of mental torments, and, according to the latter, of bodily sufferings. In this future state, the women will live apart from men, but in the arms of youthful Ganymedes they will enjoy delights of which this nether world affords no image.

In adopting the Koran, the Persians have acknowledged the divine mission and the prophetic character of its author. According to them, there have been 280,000 prophets since the creation of the world. Adam was the first of them, and Mahomet the last. All the epithets attached by the Musulmans to the name of that impostor, would fill a volume. One of the most extraordinary, is that of ignorant: they repeat it with enthusiasm, proclaim it with emphasis, and find in this ignorance a manifest proof of the divine nature of his mission; upon the ground that the less learning a prophet possesses, the more manifest it is that the doctrine he preaches must be from heaven.



We have seen that it is an article of the Persian confession of faith, that Ali was the lieutenant of God: in an axiom which is very common with them, they demonstrate the respect which they pay him. Mahomet, say they, is a city of knowledge, and Ali is the gate to it. Setting no bounds to their veneration or their fanaticism, they exalt him above human nature, attribute miracles to him, and almost deify him: nay, there is a sect, whose members inhabit the countries contiguous to the sources of the Djihoun and the Sind, to the north of Kandahar, who regard him as God, though they admit the divine character of the Koran, and follow its precepts. It is chiefly among the lowest class of the people, that these exaggerated notions are current: this caliph's name always figures in their oaths, and instead of commending themselves to the divine protection, they invoke that of Ali. The superior orders, however, make a great difference 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!