Elaborate, explanatory notes from the author's 1859 translation of the Arabian Nights comprise a virtual encyclopedia of Middle Eastern life. Intriguing account of Islamic society as it existed during the Middle Ages considers importance of religion, literature, festivals, education, slavery, role of women in society, and rituals observed for the dead.
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ARAB SOCIETY in the Time of The Thousand and One Nights
By Edwin William Lane, Stanley Lane-Poole
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE confession of the Muslim's faith is briefly made in these words,—"There is no deity but God: Mohammad is God's Apostle,"—which imply a belief and observance of everything that Mohammad taught to be the word or will of God. In the opinion of those who are commonly called orthodox, and termed Sunnees, the Mohammadan code is founded upon the Kur-án, the Traditions of the Prophet, the concordance of his principal early disciples, and the decisions which have been framed from analogy or comparison. The Sunnees consist of four sects, Hanafees, Sháfi'ees, Málikees, and Hambelees, so called after the names of their respective founders. The other sects, who are called Shiya'ees (an appellation particularly given to the Persian sect, but also used to designate generally all who are not Sunnees), are regarded nearly in the same light as those who do not profess El-Islám (the Mohammadan faith); that is, as destined to eternal punishment.
I. The Mohammadan faith embraces the following points:—
1. Belief in God, who is without beginning or end, the sole Creator and Lord of the universe, having absolute power, and knowledge, and glory, and perfection.
2. Belief in his Angels, who are impeccable beings, created of light; and Genii (Jinn), who are peccable, created of smokeless fire. The Devils, whose chief is Iblees, or Satan, are evil Genii.
3. Belief in his Prophets and Apostles; the most distinguished of whom are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. Jesus is held to be more excellent than any of those who preceded him, to have been born of a virgin, and to be the Messiah and the word of God and a Spirit proceeding from him, but not partaking of his essence and not to be called the Son of God. Mohammad is held to be more excellent than all, the last and greatest of prophets and apostles, the most excellent of the creatures of God.
4. Belief in his Scriptures, which are his uncreated word, revealed to his prophets. Of these there now exist, but held to be greatly corrupted, the Pentateuch of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Gospels of Jesus Christ; and, in an uncorrupted and incorruptible state, the Kur-án, which is held to have abrogated, and to surpass in excellence, all preceding revelations.
5. Belief in the general Resurrection and Judgment, and in future rewards and punishments, chiefly of a corporeal nature: the punishments will be eternal to all but wicked Mohammadans; and none but Mohammadans will enter into a state of happiness.
6. Belief in God's Predestination of all events, both good and evil.
The belief in fate and destiny (el-Kadà wa-l-hadar) exercises a most powerful influence upon the actions and character of the Muslims. Many hold that fate is in some respects absolute and unchangeable, in others admitting of alteration; and almost all of them act in many of the affairs of life as if this were their belief. In the former case, it is called "el-kadà el-mohkam:" in the latter, "el-kadà el-mubram" (which term, without the explanation here given, might be regarded as exactly synonymous with the former). Hence the Prophet, it is said, prayed to be preserved from the latter, as knowing that it might be changed; and in allusion to this changeable fate, we are told, God says, "God will cancel what He pleaseth, and confirm;" while, on the contrary, the fate which is termed "mokam" is appointed "destiny" decreed by God.
Many doctors have argued that destiny respects only the final state of a certain portion of men (believers and unbelievers), and that in general man is endowed with free will, which he should exercise according to the laws of God and his own conscience and judgment, praying to God for a blessing on his endeavours, or imploring the intercession of the Prophet or of any of the saints in his favour, and propitiating them by offering alms or sacrifices in their names, relying upon God for the result, which he may then, and then only, attribute to fate or destiny. They hold, therefore, that it is criminal to attempt resistance to the will when its dictates are conformable with the laws of God and our natural consciences and prudence, and so passively to await the fulfilment of God's decrees.—The doctrine of the Kur-án and the traditions respecting the decrees of God, or fate and destiny, appears, however, to be that they are altogether absolute and unchangeable, written in the beginning of the creation on the "Preserved Tablet" in heaven; that God hath predestined every event and action, evil as well as good,—at the same time commanding and approving good, and forbidding and hating evil; and that the "cancelling" mentioned in the preceding paragraph relates (as the context seems to show) to the abrogation of former scriptures or revelations, not of fate. But still it must be held that He hath not predestined the will; though He sometimes inclines it to good, and the Devil sometimes inclines it to evil. It is asked, then, If we have the power to will, but not the power to perform otherwise than as God hath predetermined, how can we be regarded as responsible beings? The answer to this is that our actions are judged good or evil according to our intentions, if we have faith: good actions or intentions, it should be added, only increase, and do not cause, our happiness if we are believers; and evil actions or intentions only increase our misery if we are unbelievers or irreligious: for the Muslim holds that he is to be admitted into heaven only by the mercy of God, on account of his faith, and to be rewarded in proportion to his good works.
The Prophet's assertions on the subject of God's decrees are considered of the highest importance as explanatory of the Kur-án.—" Whatever is in the universe," said he, "is by the order of God."—"God hath pre-ordained five things on his servants; the duration of life, their actions, their dwelling-places, their travels, and their portions."—"There is not one among you whose sitting-place is not written by God, whether in the fire or in paradise."—Some of the companions of the Prophet, on hearing the last-quoted saying, asked him, "O Prophet, since God hath appointed our places, may we confide in this, and abandon our religious and moral duties?" He answered, "No: because the happy will do good works, and those who are of the miserable will do bad works."
The following of his sayings further illustrate this subject:—"When God hath ordered a creature to die in any particular place, He causeth his wants to direct him to that place."—A companion asked, "O Prophet of God, inform me respecting charms, and the medicines which I swallow, and shields which I make use of for protection, whether they prevent any of the orders of God." Mohammad answered, "These also are by the order of God." "There is a medicine for every pain: then, when the medicine reaches the pain it is cured by the order of God." —When a Muslim, therefore, feels an inclination to make use of medicine for the cure of a disease, he should do so, in the hope of its being predestined that he shall be so cured.
On the predestination of diseases, I find the following curious quotation and remark in a manuscript work by Es-Suyootee, who wrote in the fifteenth century, in my possession:—"El-Haleemee says, 'Communicable or contagious diseases are six: small-pox, measles, itch or scab, foul breath or putridity, melancholy, and pestilential maladies; and diseases engendered are also six: leprosy, hectic, epilepsy, gout, elephantiasis, and phthisis.' But this does not contradict the saying of the Prophet, 'There is no transition of diseases by contagion or infection, nor any omen that brings evil:' for the transition here meant is one occasioned by the disease itself; whereas the effect is of God, who causes pestilence to spread when there is intercourse with the diseased."—A Bedawee asked the Prophet, "What is the condition of camels which stay in the deserts? verily you might say they are deer, in health and in cleanness of skin; then they mix with mangy camels, and they become mangy also." Mohammad said, "What made the first camel mangy?"
Notwithstanding, however, the arguments which have been here adduced, and many others that might be added, declaring or implying the unchangeable nature of all God's decrees, I have found it to be the opinion of my own Muslim friends that God may be induced by supplication to change certain of his decrees, at least those regarding degrees of happiness or misery in this world and the next; and that such is the general opinion appears from a form of prayer which is repeated in the mosques on the eve of the middle (or fifteenth day) of the month of Shaabán, when it is believed that such portions of God's decrees as constitute the destinies of all living creatures for the ensuing year are confirmed and fixed. In this prayer it is said, " O God, if Thou hast recorded me in thy abode, upon 'the Original of the Book' [the Preserved Tablet], miserable or unfortunate or scanted in my sustenance, cancel, O God, of thy goodness, my misery and misfortune and scanty allowance of sustenance, and confirm me in thy abode, upon the Original of the Book, as happy and provided for and directed to good," etc.
The Arabs in general constantly have recourse both to charms and medicines, not only for the cure but also for the prevention of diseases. They have, indeed, a strange passion for medicine, which shows that they do not consider fate as altogether unconditional. Nothing can exceed the earnestness with which they often press a European traveller for a dose; and the more violent the remedy, the better are they pleased. The following case will serve as an example:—Three donkey-drivers, conveying the luggage of two British travellers from Boolák to Cairo, opened a bottle which they observed in a basket, and finding it to contain (as they had suspected) brandy, emptied it down their throats: but he who had the last draught, on turning up the bottle, got the tail of a scorpion into his mouth; and, looking through the bottle to his great horror saw that it contained a number of these reptiles, with tarantulas, vipers, and beetles. Thinking that they had poisoned themselves, but not liking to rely upon fate, they persuaded a man to come to me for medicine. He introduced the subject by saying, "O Efendee, do an act of kindness: there are three men poisoned; in your mercy give them medicine, and save their lives:" and then he related the whole affair, without concealing the theft. I answered that they did not deserve medicine; but he urged that by giving it I should obtain an immense reward. "Yes," said I; "'he who saveth a soul alive shall be as if he had saved the lives of all mankind.'" I said this to try the feeling of the applicant, who, expressing admiration of my knowledge, urged me to be quick, lest the men should die; thus showing himself to be no unconditional fatalist. I gave him three strong doses of tartar emetic; and he soon came back to thank me, saying that the medicine was most admirable, for the men had hardly swallowed it when they almost vomited their hearts and livers and everything else in their bodies.
From a distrust in fate some Muslims even shut themselves up during the prevalence of plague; but this practice is generally condemned. A Syrian friend of mine who did so nearly had his door broken open by his neighbours. Another of my friends, one of the most distinguished of the 'Ulamà, confessed to me his conviction of the lawfulness of quarantine and argued well in favour of it; but said that he dared not openly avow such an opinion. "The Apostle of God," said he, "God favour and preserve him! hath commanded that we should not enter a city where there is pestilence, nor go out from it. Why did he say, 'Enter it not' ?— because, by so doing, we should expose ourselves to the disease. Why did he say, 'Go not out from it?'—because, by so doing, we should carry the disease to others. The Prophet was tenderly considerate of our welfare: but the present Muslims in general are like bulls [brute beasts]; and they hold the meaning of this command to be, Go not into a city where there is pestilence, because this would be rashness; and go not out from it, because this would be distrusting God's power to save you from it."
Many of the vulgar and ignorant among modern Muslims, believe that the unchangeable destinies of every man are written upon his head, in what are termed the sutures of the skull.
II. The principal Ritual and Moral Laws are on the following subjects, of which the first four are the most important.
1. Prayer (es-saláh) including preparatory purifications. There are partial or total washings to be performed on particular occasions which need not be described. The ablution which is more especially preparatory to prayer (and which is called wudoo) consists in washing the bands, mouth, nostrils, face, arms (as high as the elbow, the right first), each three times; and then the upper part of the head, the beard, ears, neck, and feet, each once. This is done with running water, or from a very large tank, or from a lake, or the sea.
Prayers are required to be performed five times in the course of every day; between daybreak and sunrise, between noon and the 'asr, (which latter period is about mid-time between noon and nightfall), between the 'asr and sunset, between sunset and the 'eshè (or the period when the darkness of night commences), and at, or after, the 'eshè. The commencement of each of these periods is announced by a chant (called adán), repeated by a crier (muëddin) from the mádineh, or minaret, of each mosque; and it is more meritorious to commence the prayer then than at a later time. On each of these occasions, the Muslim has to perform certain prayers held to be ordained by God, and others ordained by the Prophet; each kind consisting of two, three, or four "rek'ahs;" which term signifies the repetition of a set form of words, chiefly from the Kur-án, and ejaculations of "God is most Great!" etc., accompanied by particular postures; part of the words being repeated in an erect posture; part, sitting; and part, in other postures: an inclination of the head and body, followed by two prostrations, distinguishing each rek'ah. These prayers may in some cases be abridged, and in others entirely omitted. Other prayers must be performed on particular occasions.
On Friday, the Mohammadan Sabbath, there are congregational prayers, which are similar to those of others days, with additional prayers and exhortations by a minister, who is called Imam, or Khateeb. The Selám (or Salutation) of Friday—a form of blessing on the Prophet and his family and companions,—is chanted by the muëddins from the mádinehs of the congregational mosques half-an-hour before noon. The worshippers begin to assemble in the mosque as soon as they hear it, and arranging themselves in rows parallel to, and facing, that side in which is the niche that marks the direction of Mekkeh, each performs by himself the prayers of two rek'ahs, which are supererogatory, and then sits in his place while a reader recites part or the whole of the 18th chapter of the Kur-án. At the call of noon, they all stand up, and each again performs separately the prayers of two rek'ahs ordained by the Prophet. A minister standing at the foot of the pulpit-stairs then proposes to bless the Prophet: and accordingly a second Selám is chanted by one or more other ministers stationed on an elevated platform. After this, the former minister, and the latter after him, repeat the call of noon (which the muëddins have before chanted from the mádinehs); and the former enjoins silence. The Khateeb has already seated himself on the top step or platform of the pulpit. He now rises and recites a khubeh of praise to God and exhortation to the congregation; and, if in a country or town acquired by arms from unbelievers, he holds a wooden sword, resting its point on the ground. Each of the congregation next offers up some private supplication; after which, the Khateeb recites a second khutbeh, which is always the same or nearly so, in part resembling the first, but chiefly a prayer for the Prophet and his family, and for the general welfare of the Muslims. This finished, the Khateeb descends from the pulpit, and, stationed before the niche, after a form of words differing slightly from the call to prayer has been chanted by the ministers on the elevated platform before mentioned, recites the divinely-ordained prayers of Friday (two rek'ahs) while the people do the same silently, keeping time with him exactly in the various postures. Thus are completed the Friday-prayers; but some of the congregation remain, and perform the ordinary divinely-ordained prayers of noon.
Excerpted from ARAB SOCIETY in the Time of The Thousand and One Nights by Edwin William Lane, Stanley Lane-Poole. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER I. - RELIGION.,
CHAPTER II. - DEMONOLOGY.,
CHAPTER III. - SAINTS.,
CHAPTER IV. - MAGIC.,
CHAPTER V. - COSMOGRAPHY.,
CHAPTER VI. - LITERATURE.,
CHAPTER VII. - FEASTING AND MERRY-MAKING.,
CHAPTER VIII. - CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION.,
CHAPTER IX. - WOMEN.,
CHAPTER X. - SLAVERY.,
CHAPTER XI. - CEREMONIES OF DEATH.,
AUTHORS AND WORKS QUOTED.,