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THE MOSQUE OF OMAR.
(With an Engraving.) This mosque takes its name from Omar, the first Mohammedan master of Jerusalem, the second Caliph, or Vicar,* after Mohammed. His General, Abu-Obeidah, after taking Damascus, and other cities of Syria, sent part of his army to Jerusalem, by command of Omar, to lay siege to the city, in the year of our Lord 637. Ardently had Mohammed longed for “the Holy City,” seat and burial-place of so many ancient Prophets; and now the conquest is attempted.
The defenders of Jerusalem did valiantly, until, after ten days' hard fighting, Abu-Obeidah came with the remainder of his men, and sent a summons “ to the chief commanders of the people of Ælia,” (as Jerusalem was then called,) "and to the inhabitants thereof,” requiring them to testify that there is but one God, and that Mohammed is His Prophet. In that case, he would leave the city free. Or, if they refused this, he demanded tribute. If they neither consented to apostasy nor tribute, the enemy would destroy
* "Caliph,” or Khaleefah, is an Arabic word of exactly the same signification as Vicarius, or Vicar. The Caliphs were, in reality, the Vicars of Mohammed : the Popes, the Roman Caliphs, profanely call themselves Vicars of Christ. VOL. XIX. Second Series.
those that fought for them, and make slaves of their children.
As yet undaunted, the besieged held out through four months more ; but then seeing that the Saracens would not relinquish the prize, but bring up reinforcements, and continue the attack as long as necessary to wear out the Christians, the Patriarch Sophronius went to the wall, and held a parley with Abu-Obeidah. Their conclusion was, that the city should be surrendered upon condition that the inhabitants received articles of security and protection from the hands of the Caliph Omar himself, and not from any deputy.
Intelligence of this proposal came to Omar at Medina, and, considering the great respect which the Christians had for their Holy City, he thought it not beneath his dignity to go thither, and take possession. Mounted on a red camel, carrying provisions before him and luggage behind him, in Eastern simplicity, rather than Eastern pomp, the old Caliph set out from his own sacred city. Travelling by easy stages, and administering justice at his pleasure, and with a very high hand, in every place, he approached Jerusalem. And it was on this journey, we may note, that the Caliph pronounced a law still in force in all Mohammedan countries,-although its execution in Turkey is for the present suspended,—that every one who embraced the religion of Mohammed, and afterwards returned to his original religion, should be put to death.
A brief parley with Sophronius was enough to settle the conquest of Jerusalem. Omar, with his own hand, wrote these few words :
“In the name of the God of mercy, the Merciful.
“ From Omar, son of the scribe, to the people of the city of Ælia, is granted security for their persons, and their children, and their wives, and their goods, and all their temples. The temples shall not be destroyed, and shall not be emptied."
This was a grant of life, but there was no guarantee for liberty; and the articles which he had imposed on Damascus, and which are still the law of oppression over all the lands conquered from Christendom, became binding on the people of Jerusalem.
The gates were thrown open, and Omar, followed by Abu-Obeidah and the army, entered without bloodshed. Sophronius received his new master, ond attended him in a visit to the church of the Resurrection. While they were there, the time came for prayer, according to Mohammedan custom ; and the Caliph, standing still, said to the Patriarch, “I wish to pray.” “O Emir of the believers, pray where thou art,” answered Sophronius. But, remembering the promise he had just written, Omar only answered, “ Lá,"_“No." Hurrying to the door, he knelt on one of the steps outside, and recited the accustomed prayer. Then, sitting down, he said to the Patriarch, “If I had prayed in the temple, the Moslems would have come after me, and taken possession of it, saying, “Omar prayed here.'” And then he wrote down an order, forbidding every Moslem to pray upon that step, except it were one by himself alone : nor might they use force, in order to pray there, nor stand there to publish for prayers. “But show me,” said he, “ a place where I may build a mosque.”
Sophronius led him at once to the open space on Mount Moriah, where the first and second temples, that of Solomon and that of Herod, bad stood. In contempt of the Jews, the Christians emptied into the desolated place the rubbish of the city; and perhaps to prevent the conqueror from refusing the offer of such a site, and demanding another, to the greater injury of the city, the Patriarch told him of a stone (sakhrat) that, according to tradition, marked the spot where Jacob was when God spake with him. Omar bade him point out the stone ; but it was covered with rubbish. That mattered little. The Caliph reverently took up some dirt in his mantle. The Moslems did the same, and in a very short time the stone was clear and clean. Omar then gave orders to lay the foundations of a great mosque around it, and soon arose the edifice that still bears his name.*
After taking this account of the founding of the mosque
• Historia Saracenica, a Georgio Elmacino Arabicè exarata. Lib. L.