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Ten Years' Captivity in the Mahdi's Camp 1882-1892

The Khalifa nominated his own judges


Thus

was Nur completely overawed, and did his utmost to comply with the Khalifa's and Yakub's wishes. He discharged all the Copts employed in the beit el mal, and replaced them by blacks. Awad, formerly head clerk of the Kassala Mudirieh, he appointed as his assistant, and through his astuteness and knavery he lost no opportunity of forcibly extracting money from the people.

CHAPTER XIX.

SOCIAL LIFE AT OMDURMAN.

System of public security and justice in Omdurman--The court of small causes--Bribery and corruption--The story of the slave and her mistress--How the Khalifa deals with quarrelsome persons--Thieves and pickpockets--The story of Zogheir--Usurers and their trade--The chief of police--Brigandage--Disproportion of males to females in Omdurman--How the Khalifa overcame the difficulty--Immorality--The marriage ceremony.

It may be imagined that fear of the Khalifa and his tyrannical rule would produce at least a feeling of public security and immunity from lawlessness; but the following chapter will show that this is not the case.

In the early years of Mahdiism there was no discipline, and laws were entirely put aside, because the whole population was at war and everyone on the move. They were living on the captured wealth and prosperity

of the Government. At that time there were not many robbers. When we were living in Kordofan we were perfectly safe, and could sleep with our doors open at night. No one ever thought of taking precautions against thieves, though nothing would have been easier than to break into our loosely-built straw huts.

After the capture of Khartum, and when Omdurman became a large city, the former prosperity of the country gradually began to wane, famine broke out, and then public security became seriously threatened. Thieves increased in such alarming numbers as to be a terror to all; and in 1888-89 they became so bad that people scarcely dared to go to sleep. It is true the punishment of cutting off hands and feet was freely exercised; but even this had little effect, chiefly because robbery and corruption went hand in hand, and a thief had no difficulty in disposing of a bribe.

As I have already narrated, the Khalifa nominated his own judges, with Ahmed the Kadi el Islam as their head; a special court was also established to deal with the innumerable marriage disputes which form so large a part of Moslem legislation. Abdullah specially instructed his judges to consider these cases from their external rather than from their internal aspect.

The usual proofs required are the evidence on oath of witnesses. The witness is obliged to wash himself before taking an oath, so that he may be pure. He then places his right hand on the Kuran, and says, "Hakk kitab Allah" ("By God's book"), following it by his statement. In cases of complaints, the defendant only has the right to take an oath, whereas the complainant must produce witnesses. If no witnesses are forthcoming, the defendant has only to take an oath, and is then acquitted.

The real sense and meaning of an oath is absolutely ignored. Hundreds of oaths are taken every day in the market court on the smallest trifle, perhaps not exceeding a piastre. The falsehood of the individual taking the oath is frequently quite apparent; but unless the witnesses come forward, the most flagrant case will go unpunished.


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