It was on one of those days when Muhammad of Najd and I had become very intimate friends that I received a message from London ordering me to leave for the cities of Karbala and Najaf, the two most popular Shiite centers of knowledge and spirituality. So I had to put an end to my company with Muhammad of Najd and leave Basra. Yet I was happy because I was sure that this ignorant and morally depraved man was going to establish a new sect, which in turn would demolish Islam from within, and that I was the composer of the heretical tenets of this new sect.
'Ali, the fourth Khalifa of the Sunnites, and the first one according to the Shiites, was buried in Najaf. The city of Kufa, which was a distance of one fersah (league), i.e., an hour's walk from Najaf, was the capital of 'Ali's caliphate. When 'Ali was killed, his sons Hasan and Husain buried him outside Kufa at a place called Najaf today. In the course of time, Najaf began to grow, while Kufa gradually fell into decay. The Shiite men of religion came together in Najaf. Houses, markets, madrasas (Islamic schools and universities) were built.
The Khalifa in Istanbul was kind and generous to them for the following reasons:
1- The Shiite administration in Iran was supporting the Shiites. The Khalifa's interfering with them would cause tension between the states, which in turn could lead to warfare.
2- The inhabitants of Najaf included a number of armed tribes supporting the Shiites. Although they did not have much significance in terms of weaponry and organization, it would be unwise for the Khalifa to run the risk of getting into trouble with them.
3- The Shiites in Najaf had authority over the Shiites all over the world, particularly those in Africa and India. If the Khalifa disturbed them, all the Shiites would rise against him.
Husain bin 'Ali, the Prophet's grandson, i.e., his daughter Fatima's son, was martyred in Karbala. The people of Iraq had sent for Husain in Medina and invited him to Iraq to elect him their Khalifa. Husain and his family were in the territory called Karbala when the Iraqis gave up their former intention and, acting upon the order given by Yazid bin Muawiya, the Umayyad Khalifa living in Damascus, set out with the intention of arresting him. Husain and his family put up a heroic last-ditch fight against the Iraqi army. The battle ended in their death, so the Iraqi army was the winning side. Since that day, the Shiites have accepted Karbala as their spiritual center, so that Shiites from all over the world come here and form such a huge crowd that our religion of Christianity does not have a likeness to it.
Karbala, a Shiite city, contains Shiite madrasas. This city and Najaf support each other. Upon receiving the order to go to these two cities, I left Basra for Baghdad, and thence to a city named 'Hulla' situated alongside the Euphrates.
The Tigris and Euphrates come from Turkey, cut through Iraq, and flow into the Persian Gulf. Iraq's agriculture and welfare are due to these two rivers.
When I was back in London, I proposed to the Ministry of Colonies that a project could be drawn up to change the beds of these two rivers in order to make Iraq accept our proposals. When the water was cut off, Iraq would have to satisfy our demands.
From Hulla to Najaf I traveled in the guise of an Azarbaijani tradesman. Establishing close friendships with Shiite men of religion, I began to mislead them. I joined their circles of religious instruction. I saw that they did not study science like the Sunnites, nor did they have the beautiful moral qualities possessed by the Sunnites. For example:
1- They were extremely inimical towards the Ottoman State. For they were Shiites and the Turks were Sunnites. They said that the Sunnites were disbelievers.
2- The Shiite scholars were entirely absorbed in religious teachings and had very little interest in worldly knowledge, as was the case with priests during the period of standstill in our history.
3- They were quite unaware of Islam's inner essence and sublime character, nor did they have the smallest notion of the time's scientific and technical improvements.
I said to myself: What a wretched sort of people these Shiites are. They are sound asleep when the whole world is awake. One day a flood will come and take them all away.
Several times I attempted to entice them to revolt against the Khalifa. Unfortunately, no one would even listen to me. Some of them laughed at me as though I had told them to destroy the earth. For they looked on the Khalifa as a fortress impossible to capture. According to them, they would get rid of the caliphate with the advent of the promised Mahdi.
According to them, Mahdi was their twelfth imam, who was a descendant of Islam's Prophet and who disappeared in the Hijri year 255. They believed he was still alive and would one day reappear and rescue the world from this state of utter cruelty and injustice, filling it with justice.
It is consternating! How come these Shiite people believe in these superstitions! It was like the superstitious doctrine, "Jesus Christ will come back and fill the world with justice," held by our Christians.
One day I said to one of them: "Isn't it fard for you to prevent injustice like the Islamic Prophet did?" His reply was: "He managed to prevent injustice because Allah helped him." When I said, "It is written in the Qur'an, If you help Allah's religion, He will help you in return (25).' "If you revolt against the torture of your shahs, Allah will help you" He answered, "You are a tradesman. These are scientific matters. You cannot understand this."
The mausoleum of Ali the Amir-ul-Muminin was profusely decorated. It had a splendid yard, a gold-covered dome, and two tall minarets. Every day great numbers of Shiites visited this mausoleum. They performed namaz in jamaat in it. Every visitor first stooped in front of the threshold, kissed it, and then greeted the grave. They asked for permission and then entered. The mausoleum had a vast yard, which contained numerous rooms for men of religion and visitors.
There were two mausoleums similar to that of 'Ali's in Karbala. One of them belonged to Husain and the other belonged his brother Abbas, who had been martyred with him in Karbala. In Karbala the Shiites repeated the same practices as they did in Najaf. The climate of Karbala was better than that of Najaf. It was surrounded with graceful orchards and lovely brooks.
During my mission to Iraq I met with a scene that gave relief to my heart. Some events heralded the end of the Ottoman Empire. For one thing, the governor appointed by the administration in Istanbul was an uneducated and cruel person. He acted as he wished. The people did not like him. The Sunnites were uneasy because the governor restricted their freedom and did not value them, and the Shiites felt indignant over being governed by a Turk while among them there were Sayyids (26) and Sharifs (27), the Prophet's descendants, who would have been a much better choice for governorship.
The Shiites were in an utterly woebegone situation. They lived in squalid and dilapidated environments. The roads were not safe. Highwaymen always awaited caravans, and attacked whenever they saw that there were no soldiers escorting them. For this reason, convoys would not set out unless the government would appoint a detachment to escort them.
The Shiite tribes were mostly warlike with one another. They killed and plundered one another daily. Ignorance and illiteracy were dreadfully widespread. This state of the Shiites reminded me of the time when Europe had been under an ecclesiastical invasion. With the exclusion of the religious leaders living in Najaf and Karbala and a small minority, who were their votaries, not even one out of every thousand Shiites knew how to read or write.
The economy had collapsed entirely, and the people were suffering utter poverty. The administrative system was quite out of order. The Shiites committed treasons against the government.
The State and the people viewed each other with suspicion. As a result, there was no mutual aid between them. The Shiite religious leaders, totally given to vituperating the Sunnites, had already relinquished knowledge; business, religious and worldly alike.
I stayed in Karbala and in Najaf for four months. I suffered a very serious illness in Najaf. I felt so bad that I completely gave up hope of recovery. My illness lasted three weeks. I went to a doctor. He gave me a prescription. Using the medicine, I began to recover. Throughout my illness I stayed in an underground room. Because I was ill, my host prepared my medicine and food in return for an insignificant sum of money and expected great thawab for serving me. For I was, so to speak, a visitor of 'Ali the Amir-ul-Muminin. The doctor advised me to have only chicken broth during the first few days. Later on he permitted me to eat chicken as well. The third week I had rice soup. After becoming well again I left for Baghdad. I prepared a report of one hundred pages on my observations in Najaf, Hulla, and Baghdad and while on the way. I submitted the report to the Baghdad representative of the Ministry of Colonies. I waited for the Ministry's order on whether I should remain in Iraq or return to London.
I wished to go back to London. For I had been abroad for a long time. I missed my homeland and my family. Especially, I wanted to see my son Rasputin, who had been born after my departure. For this reason, I appended to my report a petition for permission to return to London for a short time at least. I wanted to give an oral report of impressions about my three years' mission in Iraq and to get some rest in the meantime.
The Iraq representative of the Ministry advised me not to call on him often lest I should arouse suspicion. He also advised to rent a room in one of the inns alongside the Tigris River, and said, "I shall inform you of the Ministry's answer when we receive the mail from London." During my stay in Baghdad I observed the spiritual distance between Istanbul, the capital of the caliphate, and Baghdad.
When I left Basra for Karbala and Najaf, I was very much anxious that Muhammad of Najd would swerve from the direction I had led him. For he was an extremely unstable and nervous person. I feared that the aims I had built upon him might be spoilt.
As I left him he was thinking of going to Istanbul. I did my best to dissuade him from the notion. I said, "I am very anxious that when you go there you may make a statement whereby they will pronounce you a heretic and kill you."
My apprehension was quite the other way round. I was anxious that upon going there he should meet profound scholars capable of setting his fallacies right and converting him to the Sunni creed and thus all my dreams should come to naught. For there was knowledge and Islam's beautiful morality in Istanbul.
When I found out that Muhammad of Najd did not want to stay in Basra, I recommended that he go to Isfahan and Shiraz. For these two cities were lovely. And their inhabitants were Shiites. And Shiites, in their turn, could not possibly influence Muhammad of Najd. For Shiites were inefficient in knowledge and ethics. Thus I made it certain that he would not change the course I had charted for him.
As we parted I said to him, "Do you believe in Taqiyya?" "Yes, I do," he replied. "The unbelievers arrested one of the Sahaba and tormented him and killed his parents. Upon this he made Taqiyya, that is, he said openly that he was a polytheist. (When he came back and said what had happened), the Prophet did not reproach him at all." I advised him, "When you live among the Shiites, make Taqiyya; do not tell them that you are Sunni lest they become a nuisance for you. Utilize their country and scholars! Learn their customs and traditions. For they are ignorant and stubborn people."
As I left, I gave him some money as zakat. Zakat is an Islamic tax collected in order to be dealt out to the needy people. In addition, I gave him a saddled animal as a present. So we parted.
After my departure I lost contact with him. This made me utterly uneasy. When we parted we decided that both of us were to return to Basra and whichever party was back first and did not find the other party was to write a letter and leave it with Abd-ur-Rida. bersambung.....