SUCCESSORS OF THE HOLY PROPHET
THE SYSTEM OF KHILAFAT IN ISLAM
At the death of the Holy Prophet, the Muslims lost
not only their prophet but also their spiritual, religious
and political leader. The Holy Prophet had not designated
any successor during his own lifetime and the young
Muslim community could not possibly survive without
one. Someone had to lead the community and provide spiritual,
social, legal and political direction. A leader, therefore,
had to be selected who would not only be acceptable
to the people but also worthy of the Prophet's ideals
and objectives. The choice of the Muslims fell on Abu
Bakr who was then elected as the first Khalifah or Successor
of the Holy Prophet. This election or nomination of
leaders in the Muslim community grew into an institution
called the Khilafat or Caliphate.
Like many other Islamic institutions, the system of
Khilafat changed and evolved over a period of time.
Not all Khalifahs were elected in exactly the same manner,
nor were the political conditions identical at the demise
of each Khalifah that would merit the adoption of one
fixed system of election. Similarly, not all Khalifahs
were alike in their piety, statesmanship, courage, foresight
As long as the Holy Prophet was alive, he kept in check
the tribal rivalries that existed among the Arabs. After
his death, these rivalries came out in the open and
played a significant role in manipulating the power
vested in the office of the Khilafat.
The system of Khilafat, in one form or another, lasted
some 626 years after the death of the Holy Prophet.
During this period five distinct Caliphates existed
among the Muslims, all belonging to the House of Quraysh.
1. The Pious Caliphate 632 661 AD
2. The Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus 661 750 AD
3. The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad 750 1258 AD
4. The Umayyad Caliphate of Spain 929 1031 AD
5. The Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt 909 1171 AD
In the following pages we will briefly describe the
main outlines of the various caliphates, their ascension
to office and their ultimate decline.
THE CALIPHATES AFTER PROPHET MUHAMMAD
Name of Khalifah Dates, AD yrs.
The Rightly Guided Caliphs of Medinah (632 6G1 AD)
1. Hazrat Abu Bakr 632 634 2
2. Hazrat Omar 634 644 10
3. Hazrat Uthman 644 656 12
4. Hazrat Ali 656 661 5
The Umayyad Caliphs Of Damascus (661 750 AD
1. Muawiah 661 680 19
2. Yazid-I 680 683 3
3. Muawiah II 683 683 1
4. Marwan 683 685 2
5. Abdul Malik 685 705 20
6. Walid I 705 715 10
7. Sulaiman 715 717 2
8. Omar II (bin Abdul Azeez) 717 720 3
9. Yazid II 720 774 4
10. Hisham 724 743 19
11. Walid II 743 744 1
12. Yazid 1II 744 744 1
13. Ibrahim. 744 744 1
14. Marwan II 744 750 6
The Umayyad Caliphs of Spain (929 1031 AD)
1. Abdur Rahman III 929 961 32
2. Hakam II 961 976 15
3. Hisham II 976 1009
1010 1013 33
4. Muhammad II 1009 1010 1
5. Sulaiman 1009 1010
1013 - 1016 4
6. Abdur Rahman IV 1018
7. Abdur Rahman V 1023
8. Muhammad III 1023 - 1025 2
9. Hisham III 1027 1031 4
The Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad (750.1258 AD)
I. Abul Abbas as Safah 750 754 4
2. Abu Jafar al Mansoor 754 775 21
3. Al Mahdi 775 785 10
4. Al Hadi 785 786 1
5. Haroon al Rashid 786 809 23
6. Al Ameen 809 813 4
7. Al Mamoon 813 833 20
8. Al Mu'tasim 833 842 9
9. Wathiq 842 847 5
10. AI Mutawakkil 847 861 14
11. Muntasir 861 862 1
12. Musta'in 862 866 4
13. Al Mu'tazz 866 869 3
14. AI Muhtadi 869 870 1
15. Mu'tamid 870 892 22
16. Mu'tazid 892 902 10
17. Al Muktati 902 908 6
18. AI Muqtadir 908 932 24
19. AI Qahir 932 934 2
20. AI Razi 934 940 6
21. AI Muttaqi 940 944 4
22. AI Mustakfi 944 946 2
23. AI Muti 946 974 28
24. AI Tai 974 991 17
25. AI Qadir 991 1031 40
26. Al Qaim 1031 1075 44
27. Al Muqtadi 1075 1094 19
28. Al Mustazhir 1094 1118 24
29. Al Mustarshid 1118 1135 17
30. AI Rashid 1135 1136 1
31. AI Muqtafi 1136 1160 24
32. AI Mustanjid 1160 1170 10
33. Al Mustadi 1170 1180 10
34. AI Nasir 1180 1225 45
35. Al Zahir 1225 1226 1
36. AI Mustansir 1226 1242 16
37. AI Musta'sim 1242 1258 16
Around 945 AD, during the period of Al Mustakfi, the
Abbasid Caliphate became very weak and various other
groups controlled the real power. The names of some
of these dynasties are given below:
Buwaihids 945 1055 AD
Saljuqs 1037 1157 AD
Crusades fought against
the Christians 1096 1244AD
The Fatimid Caliphs of Egypt (909 1171 AD)
1. Ubaydullah Al Mahdi 909 934 25
2. Al Qa'im 934 946 12
3. Al Mansoor 946 962 16
4. AI Muizz 962 975 13
5. AI-Azeez 975 996 21
6. Al Hakeem 996 1021 25
7. AI Zahir 1021 1036 15
8. Al Mustansir 1036 1095 59
9. Al Musta'li 1095 1101 7
10. AI Amir 1101 1130 29
11. AI Hafiz 1130 1149 19
12. AI Zafar 1149 1154 5
13. AI Faiz _ 1154 1160 6
14. AI Azid 1160 1171 11
The fourteenth and last of the Fatimid Caliphs was
dethroned in 1171 A.D. by Salahuddin the Great, the
famous warrior of the Crusades. With the fall of Al
Azid ended the Fatimid dynasty which was founded by
Al Mahdi some 262 years ago.
THE PIOUS CALIPHATE OF MEDINAH (632 661 AD)
1. Hazrat Abu Bakr 632 634 A.D. 2 years
2. Hazrat Omar 634 644 A.D. 10 years
3. Hazrat Uthman 644 656 A.D. 12 years
4. Hazrat Ali 656 661 A.D.5 years
After the death of the Holy Prophet, the period of
the four successors, Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman and All,
is known as the Pious Caliphate. This was the most critical
period for the State of Islam. The transition from the
absolute authority of the Messenger of God to the authority
of an elected successor was not easy for the Muslims.
The Pious Caliphate, which lasted 29 years, was notable
for the remarkable expansion of the Islamic State and
the democratic election of the Khalifahs. However, this
Caliphate was also riddled with internal dissension,
apostasy and factional strife.
The most significant feature of the Pious Caliphate
was its system of election. All the four Khalifahs were
elected in one way or another. In the case of other
dynastic Caliphates that followed, this system of election
was replaced in favour of direct nomination of family
The Khalifahs in the Pious Caliphate were the heads
of State with no constitutional or political check on
their authority. But this did not mean that they could
do whatever they wanted. The Khalifahs had to exercise
their authority according to the commands and principles
of the Quran and the Hadith. In the later Caliphates,
as we will see, this restraint on the Khalifahs was
removed and they literally did whatever they pleased.
Another notable feature of the Pious Caliphate was
the Shura or the Consultative Body which advised the
Khalifah on all important matters. During the later
Caliphates, this Shura was dissolved and the decision
making rested solely with the Khalifah himself.
During the period of the Pious Caliphate, a Public
Treasury was set up to receive Zakat and other taxes
and to meet the expenditures of general administration,
warfare and social programs. In the later Caliphates,
this Public Treasury became the personal property of
The other notable aspect of the Pious Caliphate was
the extreme simplicity with which the Khalifahs led
their lives. They lived in ordinary homes, did their
own household work, and had no bodyguards and their
doors were always open to any complainant. On the other
hand, the Khalifahs in the later Caliphates lived like
kings in their lofty castles, enjoying the worldly pleasures
and were inaccessible to the common public.
It was indeed a great blessing for Islam that the immediate
Successors of the Holy Prophet were men of great wisdom,
courage and saintly character. Although they were heads
of the Islamic State, supreme commanders of the Muslim
armies and chief justices of the judicial system, yet
they led a life completely free from any pomp and show.
Many a times visitors from distant areas would come
to the Khalifah's court and ask the question, "Where
is the Khalifah?" while all the time the Khalifah
sat in front of them dressed in ordinary clothes, indistinguishable
from the common people.
To the Pious Khalifahs their office was a sacred trust
and a responsibility to be discharged with great honesty,
diligence and perseverance. They paid no heed to the
honour and prestige vested in their office and devoted
their lives whole heartedly to the betterment of their
subjects and to spreading the message of Islam.
Now we will read brief accounts of the first four Khalifahs
who succeeded the Holy Prophet and made up the Pious
HAZRAT ABU BAKR (632 634 A.D.)
Abu Bakr was nearly the same age as the Holy Prophet,
being only two and a half years younger than him. His
real name was Abdullah but he was commonly known by
his kunniyat, Abu Bakr. He belonged to the tribe of
Quraysh and his genealogy unites his forefathers with
that of the Prophet's.
The sudden death of the Holy Prophet in 632 A.D., threw
the Muslim world in complete confusion. The Muslims
in Medinah became divided into two camps: the Ansar
and the Mohajereen. Each group was trying to promote
its own people for the position of the successor.
Abu Bakr addressed the Ansar and told them that as
far as service to Islam was concerned, no one could
rival the Ansar. But the people of Arabia, he said,
would not acknowledge a leader from other than the Quraysh.
At this the Ansar suggested that there be a chief from
the Quraysh and a chief from among themselves. Omar,
however, strongly disagreed with this proposal saying
that two chiefs could not stand together. Abu Bakr suggested
that the people select their leader from either Omar
or Abu Obaidah, both of whom were present there. But
both of them declined, saying that they could not possibly
give preference to themselves over Abu Bakr.
When the situation started to get tense, Omar took
hold of Abu Bakr's hand and swore allegiance to him.
This seemed to settle the matter. After this Abu Obaidah
and all others present, came forward and swore allegiance
to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr then rose and addressed the Muslims:
"I am not the best among you; I need all your
advice and all your help... In my sight the powerful
and the weak are alike and I wish to render justice
to both. Obey me if I obey God and His Prophet; if I
neglect the laws of God and the Prophet, I have no more
right to your obedience. If I do well, support me; if
I make a mistake, counsel me."
On becoming Khalifah, Abu Bakr faced a number of problems,
three of which are noteworthy:
(i) The appearance of false prophets
(ii) The apostasy movement among the various tribes
(iii) Refusal by many Muslims to pay the Zakat
The success of the Holy Prophet's mission gave ideas
to many ambitious persons in different parts of Arabia
to lay similar claims to prophethood. Asad Ansi was
the first to rise in Yemen. He was followed by Musaylmah
in central Arabia and Tulayha in northern Arabia. Even
a woman, by the name of Sajah, claimed to be a prophetess.
She married Musaylmah and joined forces with him. Abu
Bakr dispatched forces to fight these pretenders and
seekers of political power. Of the four, Aswad Ansi
and Musaylmah were defeated and killed while Tulayha
and Sajah ultimately embraced Islam.
Musaylmah, who was known among the Muslims as Musaylmah
the Liar, died at the hands of Wahshi, the Abyssinian
slave. Wahshi was also responsible for Hamzah's death
in the battle of Uhud but had embraced Islam since the
Conquest of Mecca. In his later life Wahshi used to
tell the people how he had killed both, the best of
men and the worst of men.
The apostasy movement, in which various Arab tribes
were renouncing Islam, was very serious. The motives
of this movement were purely political in which the
tribal chiefs were in fact renouncing their allegiance
to the Successor of the Holy Prophet. Abu Baler also
sent troops to deal with the apostates and suppress
The third problem facing the new Khalifah was the refusal
by many people to pay the Zakat or the obligatory alms.
When the Zakat was first introduced during the life
of the Holy Prophet, many people paid it only in deference
to the Prophet's wishes. Soon after he died, these people
refused to pay it any more. Zakat had become an essential
Islamic institution and fulfilled the needs of the State
and the poor. Abu Bakr, therefore, came down hard on
those who did not pay it. He vowed to collect Zakat
from every one who was paying it during the Holy Prophet's
After attending to the above three problems, Abu Bakr
turned his attention to areas outside Arabia. Under
the command of Khalid bin Walid, the Muslim army first
quashed the rebellion in Bahrain which had started after
the death of Mundhir, the ruler of that area. Then,
the Muslim forces fought a battle against the Persians
who had been helping the rebels of Bahrain. After this,
Khalid bin Walid advanced to the Syrian frontier. There,
after defeating the Roman armies in the battles of Ajnadam
and Yarmook, the Muslim forces took the whole of Syria
under their control.
Little over two years after becoming the Khalifah,
Abu Bakr fell ill and after a fortnight's illness, passed
away on August 23, 634 A.D. Abu Bakr took the office
of Khilafat at the most crucial time in Islamic history
when the rising of false prophets, rebellion, disunity
among the Muslims, and political developments outside
Arabia, all threatened the new born state of Islam.
He crushed the influence of the false prophets, brought
unity among the Muslims and put an end to rebellions
at home and abroad.
Abu Bakr was an extremely gentle and pious person.
He was one of the first few people to embrace Islam
and was a constant companion of the Holy Prophet. It
was Abu Bakr who accompanied the Prophet during his
escape from Mecca and gave his daughter, A'isha, in
marriage to him after the death of his first wife, Khadijah.
Abu Bakr, therefore, was always held in high esteem
by the Holy Prophet who appointed him to lead the Prayers
during his last illness. Abu Bakr was a wealthy man
and always gave generously in the cause of Islam.
HAZRAT OMAR BIN KHATTAB (634 644 A.D.)
Just before Abu Bakr passed away, he consulted some
prominent Muslims regarding a suitable successor. Everyone
suggested Omar's name, who was then nominated to be
the next Khalifah.
As soon as Omar took the office of Khilafat, he continued
with the expansion of the Islamic state initiated by
his predecessor. During the period 633 642 A.D., the
Muslims fought a number of battles against the Persians.
Some of these battles were:
Battle of the Chains fought during Abu Bakr's time
Battle of Namaraq
Battle of Jasr
Battle of Buwaib fought during Omar's time
Battle of Qadisiya
Battle of Jalula
Battle of Nihawand
In the last battle of Nihawand, the Persians were finally
defeated and large parts of Iran came under the Muslim
On the Syrian front, Muslims had already defeated the
Romans in the battle of Yarmook, fought during the time
of Abu Bakr. After the fall of Yarmook, the Muslims
laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. A treaty was eventually
negotiated between the Muslims and the people of Jerusalem
according to which:
o the inhabitants' life, property and churches were
o Islam was not to be forced on them
o the inhabitants were to pay the "jizya"
or poll tax
o the Greeks were to be turned out of the City
In the year 639 A.D., Amr bin A's was sent towards Egypt.
After a siege of seven months of the fort of Fustat
and a heavily fought battle at Alexandria, the whole
of Egypt came under the Muslim rule.
Omar not only conquered a vast area during his ten
year Khilafat, but also implemented a great system of
administration. Omar governed the state of Islam on
the principle of democracy. Some of his administrative
achievements are given below:
o He formed a Consultative Body of advisors called
the Shura, and sought its advice and help in all important
o For the sake of convenience of administration, he
divided the empire into provinces and appointed a governor
for each province
o He strictly forbade the Arabs from holding or owning
any land in the conquered territories
o He introduced a system of old age pension
o He introduced the Muslim era of Hijrah
o He established a department of finance
o He founded schools and mosques in different parts
of the Islamic state
In the year 644 A.D., Omar was fatally stabbed by a
Persian slave while he was saying his Prayer in the
mosque. Omar bin Khattab was truly a great man. His,
brilliant conquests, personal bravery and able administrative
qualities, helped greatly in putting the young Islamic
state on the right footings. He was very simple, honest,
impartial and fore sighted. He was extremely strict
in the following of Islamic principles, yet very kind
and sympathetic at heart. He lived a very simple and
Omar was always concerned about the proper discharging
of his duties as the religious and political leader
of the Muslims. He used to walk the streets of Medinah
at night to make sure that the people were sleeping
well and not in need of anything.
At Tabari, the great Muslim historian, narrates a conversation
Omar had with Salman which shows the genuine fear of
God the great Khalifah had in his heart. Omar once asked
Salman: "Am I a King or a Khalifah?" To this
Salman replied: "If you have collected a tax of
even one dirham from the people and applied it unlawfully,
you are a King, not a Khalifah."
On hearing this Omar is reported to have wept.
HAZRAT UTHMAN BIN AFFAN (644 656 A.D.)
When Omar was on his death bed, he appointed a council
to elect the next successor. The council consisted of:
Abdur Rahman bin Auf
Abdur Rahman was not willing to shoulder the great
responsibility and opted out of the election in favour
of the other five. He was, therefore, appointed to seek
a common consensus for the next Khalifah. Abdur Rahman
took the opinions of the council members and other prominent
Muslims and the majority votes were in favour of Uthman.
He was, therefore, declared as the elected Khalifah
and everyone took the oath of allegiance at his hand.
During the Khilafat of Uthman, the borders of the state
of Islam were extended further to the east, north and
west. In the east, the Persian King Yazdigard, tried
to instigate rebellion in the country against the authority
of Islam. The rebellion was crushed and the whole of
Iran came under Muslim rule.
In the north, the Muslim forces under Muawiah fought
against the Roman armies once again with the result
that Asia Minor also came under Muslim control.
In the west, the Muslims defeated the Roman forces
sent to invade Egypt by sea and annexed this large territory
to the Muslim state.
During the first half of his Khilafat, Uthman ruled
the state with good reputation and was well liked by
the people. Then, a number of charges began to be laid
against the Khalifah by the same people who once spoke
very highly of him. Some of these charges were:
o that Uthman had appointed his relatives and kinsmen
to important posts in the government
o that Uthman was extravagant and gave away large sums
of money to his relations
o that Uthman burned copies of the Holy Quran
It is true that Uthman did appoint some relatives to
high positions but, in each case, the person was deserving
of the appointment. In some cases, he dismissed his
appointed kinsmen when the public complained about it.
Similarly, Uthman's generosity towards his relatives
was completely misunderstood by the public at large.
Whatever Uthman gave, he gave from his personal property
and not from the State Treasury. Before becoming the
Khalifah, Uthman was one of the biggest owners of camels
and goats and was known among his people as Uthman Ghani,
meaning Uthman the Self Sufficient. But he gave away
all these to his relatives, and towards the end of his
Khilafat he had only two camels left and these, too,
were meant for the pilgrimage.
The charge of burning the Holy Quran also was not founded
on facts. When Uthman standardized the Holy Quran, he
had all the other un authentic versions collected and
burned for the sake of preserving only the authentic
copies. This action of his was misunderstood by the
people, who raised a great commotion that the sacred
Book was burnt.
Although Uthman gave numerous explanations for his
misunderstood conduct, the wave of dissent and revolt
against him started to spread throughout the state.
At the same time, the age old jealousy and rivalry between
the Hashemite and the Umayyad started to resurface.
An important reason for the rapidly deteriorating political
situation was also the extreme simplicity and kindness
of Uthman's character. Uthman often dealt too kindly
with the criminals and the rebels.
At last, the various parties who wanted to depose Uthman,
joined forces and entered Medinah. Uthman refused to
fight and shed the blood of fellow Muslims. The rebels
surrounded his house and while he was reading the Quran,
assassinated him on June 17, 656 A.D.
Uthman was a very pious, kind, gentle, honest, and
dutiful person. He was famous for his generosity and
lived a very simple life. He was thought of very highly
by the Holy Prophet who had given two of his daughters
in marriage to him. He had great love for his fellow
Muslims and eventually sacrificed his own life rather
than shed their blood.
HAZRAT ALI BIN ABU TALIB (656 661 AD)
With the death of Uthman, a state of complete disorder
and anarchy ruled in the city of Medinah. After five
days of political wrangling. Ibne Saba, leader of the
Egyptian rebel group supported the cause of Ali on the
grounds that he was the rightful Khalifah in whose favour
the Holy Prophet had made a will. On June 23, 656 A.D.,
six days after the death of Uthman, Ali was chosen as
the fourth successor of the Holy Prophet and the public
swore allegiance at his hand one by one.
Soon after his election, Ali moved the capital of the
Muslim State from Medinah to Koofah in Iraq, which was
a more central place. After leaving Medinah in 656 A.D.,
Ali never had the opportunity to visit that place again
in his life.
Immediately after the election of Ali, a cry of revenge
arose throughout Arabia for the blood of the murdered
Khalifah. Talha and Zubayr were among those who requested
Ali to punish the murderers of Uthman. But the assassination
of Uthman was not the work of a few lonely individuals.
A number of important tribal chiefs were involved in
the conspiracy. Realizing the political sensitivity
of the Islamic state, Ali did not consider it proper
to take any immediate action. He told the public that
justice would be carried out in due course.
To further pacify the rebels, Ali took steps to change
all the provincial governors and asked them to step
down. All except Muawiah complied. Muawiah, from the
House of Umayyah, had been appointed governor of Syria
by Omar himself. He was a very ambitious man and had
accumulated great power in a short time. The refusal
by Muawiah to obey the Khalifah's orders set the stage
for an eventual armed conflict between the two.
In the beginning, Talha and Zubayr demanded from Ali
that assassins of Uthman be brought to justice. But
when Ali did not comply with their demand, they advanced
towards Basrah to raise an army. On the way they met
A'isha, the wife of the Holy Prophet, who was returning
from the pilgrimage. She was shocked to learn of the
murder of the pious Khalifah and decided to join Talha
and Zubayr in an effort to punish the assassins. The
three marched towards Basrah at the head of a small
army. There, in December 656 A.D., a battle was fought
with the forces of Ali which is known as the Battle
of Jamal. In this battle, Talha and Zubayr were both
killed and the army, then under the command of A'isha,
was defeated. Ali treated A'isha with due honour and
sent her back to Medinah in the escort of her brother,
Muhammad bin Abu Bakr.
Next year, in 657 A.D., Ali once again wrote to Muawiah
to submit to him in the interest of Islam. Muawiah again
refused to submit until the blood of Uthman, who was
also from the House of Umayyah, was avenged. At this
open disobedience, Ali could find no other recourse
but to declare war against Muawiah.
With an army of fifty thousand men, Ali marched towards
Syria. Muawiah also raised a large army in Syria and
advanced to meet Ali. In July 657 A.D., the two armies
met at a place called Siffin. The battle was fought
only for a day or so but both sides suffered heavy casualties.
Finally, it was decided that each side will appoint
a representative and these two persons will be given
full powers to make a judgment in the dispute.
The Two persons thus selected for arbitration were
Abu Moosa Asharee representing Ali's group and Amr bin
A's, representing Muawiah's party. These two persons
met at a place called Dumatul Jandal, located between
Tabuk and Kufa. Their decision was that both Ali and
Muawiah should give up their claims to Khilafat and
that a third person should be elected as Khalifah.
There were people in Ali's group who were basically
against arbitration and were not prepared to accept
such a decision. Some 12,000 of these men separated
from Ali's group and caused great disorder and havoc
in the empire. They were known by the title of "Kharijites"
meaning Outsiders. Their movement grew with time, causing
great hardship to not only Ali but also to the later
Khalifahs of the House of Umayyah.
After the fateful decision by Abu Moosa Asharee and
Amr bin A's, rebellions broke out all over the land
and the political stability of the Islamic state started
to deteriorate very rapidly. Finding the situation very
serious, Ali agreed to negotiate a treaty with Muawiah,
in the interest of Islam. Under this agreement, Muawiah
retained control of Syria and Egypt while the rest of
the empire remained under Ali's rule.
The Kharijites were not happy with this peaceful development
and decided to kill Ali in Kufa, Muawiah in Damascus
and Amr bin A's in Fustat, all in the course of one
night, the 27th of January 661 A.D. That night, Amr
bin A's escaped death and someone else who was leading
the Prayer, fell victim to the assassin's sword. In
Damascus, Muawiah escaped with relatively minor injuries
from which he soon recovered. In Kufa, Ali was attacked
while he was going to the mosque to say his morning
Prayer, and was mortally wounded. Two days later, he
Ali was not only the Holy Prophet's cousin and son
in law, but was also the second person to believe in
him at the young age of thirteen. Ali was brave, courageous
and a model of simplicity. He never had any servant
or maid in the house and he and his wife, Fatimah, did
all the house work themselves. He led a pure and unselfish
life. When the responsibility of Khilafat fell on his
shoulders, he fulfilled it in the best interest of Islam.
ACCESSION OF HAZRAT HASAN
On the death of Ali, his eldest son Hasan was elected
as the Khalifah. As soon as Muawiah learned of this,
he invaded Iraq and a battle ensued between Muawiah's
and Hasan's armies. Hasan realized the seriousness of
the situation and sent a letter of submission to Muawiah.
Hasan agreed to abdicate his right to Khilafat in favour
of Muawiah on the condition that after Muawiah's death,
Hasan's younger brother Hussain will be made the Khalifah.
After this agreement, Hasan retired with his family
to Medinah, where he was poisoned to death at the instigation
of Yazid, the son of Muawiah.
The Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus (661 750
At the end of the Pious Caliphate and the abdication
by Hasan, Muawiah proclaimed himself the new Khalifah
and moved the capital from Kufa to Damascus. From that
day on till the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate 89 years
later, all Khalifahs came from the House of Umayyah.
In each case the reigning Khalifah nominated his successor
from his own family. Thus the system of Khilafat that
started with Abu Bakr as a democratic institution became,
under the Umayyads, a dynasty and a monarchy.
The Umayyads also took over the Public Treasury and
made it into a family possession. Similarly, the Shura
or the Consultative Body set up under the Pious Caliphate
disappeared and free criticism of the state policy was
no longer tolerated. While the Pious Khalifahs used
to live a very simple life, the Umayyad Khalifahs lived
in castles and palaces. The practice of drinking and
gambling was re introduced in the society and a new
era of worldly pleasures and comforts dawned on the
empire of Islam.
During the reign of the Umayyad Caliphate, the borders
of the Islamic State were further extended in all directions
and the Muslim world produced some of its best generals
during this period. Uqbah conquered North Africa and
founded the famous city of Kairouan; Qutaybia crossed
the Oxus River and brought Transoxiana under Muslim
rule; Muhammad bin Qasim took the flag of Islam into
Sindh, a province of India; while Tariq bin Ziyad and
Moosa bin Nusair marched into Spain, annexing this area
to the Islamic State.
With the enlargement of the empire, Umayyads introduced
a number of reforms and made numerous innovations and
improvements to the administrative system.
There were 14 Khalifahs in all in the Umayyad dynasty.
Some of these only reigned for a year or so. The notable
Umayyad Khalifahs include Muawiah, Abdul Malik, Walid
I, Omar bin Abdul Aziz and Hisham. Omar bin Abdul Aziz
is also considered by many Muslims to be the Mujaddid
or Reformer of the first century of Islam.
With the rising power of the House of Abbas, the Umayyad
Caliphate came to a close in the year 750 A.D. Some
members of the House of Umayyah went to Spain and there
they founded first an Emirate and later on the Caliphate.
We will read more about this in the section on the Umayyad
Caliphate of Spain and now we move on to the Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad (750 1258
Towards the end of the Umayyad Caliphate, the people
started raising charges of worldliness and neglect of
Islamic principles against the Khalifahs. Also, people
started showing sympathy and devotion to the Hashemite,
the clan of the Holy Prophet. Meantime, the descendants
of Abbas, an uncle of the Prophet, started pressing
claims to Khilafat. They united with the descendants
of Ali to emphasize the rights of the House of Hashim.
Finally, a coalition was formed by the Abbasids, the
Shiites and the Khurasanians, which opposed the existing
Khilafat of the Umayyads and promised a return to orthodox
religion and the forming of a religious government.
With the murder of Marwan II, the last of the Umayyad
Khalifahs, Abdul Abbas was proclaimed the new Khalifah
and the system of Caliphate passed from the House of
Umayyah to the House of Abbas. The first act of the
new Abbasid Khalifah was to undertake wholesale killing
of the members of the Umayyad clan. He also moved the
capital of the empire from Damascus to Baghdad.
The authority of the new Abbasid Khalifah, however,
was not recognized throughout the Islamic empire. Spain
and large parts of Africa remained outside the Abbasid
rule and in the eastern part of the empire, independent
The Abbasid Caliphate lasted over five hundred years.
Some notable figures in this period were: Al Mansoor,
Haroon al Rashid and al Mamoon. Around the year 946
A.D., the Buwaihids came to power and dominated the
Khilafat for the next hundred years. From this time
on, the Abbasid Khalifahs were only figureheads and
the real power was wielded first by the Buwaihids and
later on by the Saljuqs. It was during the period of
the Saljuqs that the Crusades were fought against the
Christian empires of Europe.
Throughout the Crusades, the Khalifahs of Baghdad remained
engrossed in their internal struggles and passed their
days idly and extravagantly. This mode of life continued
till the capture of Baghdad by Halakoo Khan, the grandson
of Genghis Khan. Halakoo Khan devastated the city of
Baghdad and killed al Musta'sim, the last Khalifah of
the Abbasid Dynasty, in 1258 A.D.
When the Abbasid Caliphate replaced the Umayyad dynasty,
the period of conquests came to a close and the empire
of Islam entered a period of civilization. Fields of
education, music, agriculture, architecture, painting,
calligraphy, science and literature were patronized
by the Abbasid Khalifahs and received their special
attention. The Abbasid reign, therefore, produced some
great Muslim scientists and philosophers, some of whom
are mentioned below:
Ali al Tabari physician
al Razi physician
Ali ibne Abbas physician
Ibne Sina (Avicenna) physician, philosopher, astronomer
Al Khawarizmee astronomer, mathematician, geographer
founder of Algebra, Arabic numerals and
the negative sign
al Asturlabi astronomer and the inventor of astrolabe
al Mahani astronomer and a scholar of solid geometry
al Beruni physical and mathematical scientist,
Omar al Khayam mathematician, astronomer, poet
Nasiruddin Tusi astronomer, mathematician
Ibne Hayyan (Geber) father of modern chemistry
al Ghazali philosopher
al Kindi philosopher
al Farabi philosopher
Ibne al Athir historian
Firdausi writer and poet
al Battan; astronomer
al Farghani astronomer
al Jahiz zoologist
al Damiri zoologist
The Umayyad Caliphate of Spain (929 1031 AD)
When the first Abbasid Khalifah started the massacre
of Umayyad dynasty, a member of the House of Umayyah,
Abdur Rahman, escaped to Spain. There he established
himself as a ruler and founded the Umayyad dynasty in
For 173 years (756 929 AD), the Umayyads ruled in Spain
under the titles of Amirs and Sultans. Then, in the
year 929 AD, Abdur Rahman III assumed the titles of
Khalifah and Amir al Mu'mineen, and thus laid the foundation
of the Umayyad Caliphate in Spain.
Over the next 102 years, there were nine Khalifahs
in this dynasty but only the first three had long reigns.
Abdur Rahman III
Hakam II, and
By the year 1031 AD, the Caliphate system ended in
Spain and the country plunged into total anarchy. Out
of this disorder emerged a number of small kingdoms.
These petty kingdoms continued till Ferdinand conquered
Cordova in 1236 AD and Seville in 1248 AD
The period of Umayyad Caliphate in Spain, or Andalus
as the Arabs called it, was one of the most glorious
in the history of Islam. Both, Abdur Rahman III and
his son Hakam II were great patrons of science and literature.
Muslim Spain produced some great people in these fields,
some of whom are listed below:
ibne Rushd (Averroes) philosopher, astronomer
al Arabi a great Muslim mystic
ibne Khaldun a great Muslim historian
Ali ibne Hazn scholar, thinker, writer
Ibne Abdul Rabbi distinguished author
Ibne Zaydun poet
al Baytar botanist and pharmacist
al Baqi geographer
al Idris geographer
Al Masuni famous travelers
al Zarqali astronomers
al Zahrawi physician
Ibne Zuhr physician
Solomon bin Gabirol
Ibne Bajjah philosophers
Spanish women were not confined to house work, either,
and contributed much to the greatness of the Muslim
civilization in Spain. Some of the well known names
of Muslim women in Spain include:
Nazkun Zaynab Hamda
Hafsa al Kalzyha Safiyah
Maria A'isha Hasana
Umm ul Ullah al Walladha al Aruziah
Miriam Asma Umm ul Hina
THE FATIMID CALIPHATE OF EGYPT (909 1171 AD)
The Fatimids claimed themselves to be the direct descendents
of Ali and Fatimah. According to them, Ubaydullah al
Mahdi the founder of the Fatimid Caliphate was the great
great grandson of Ismail, the son of the sixth Imam
Jafar al Sadiq.
After the death of Imam Jafar al Sadiq, a schism appeared
among the Shiites. A majority recognized Moosa al Kazim
as the 7th Imam and these Shias are known as the "Twelvers".
The others recognized Muhammad al Mahdi, son of Ismail,
as the 7th Imam and these people are known as the Ismailis.
Ubaydullah used to be an Ismailite Imam in Syria and
was invited to head the North African Ismailite movement.
He accepted the invitation, declaring himself the great
great grandson of Ismail. In 909 AD, he reached Tunis,
the capital of the Aghlabids and drove Ziadatullah,
the last Aghlabid ruler, out of the country. After this
he proclaimed himself Imam under the title of Ubaydullah
al Mahdi and thus established the Fatimid Caliphate
in North Africa.
There were 14 Khalifahs in the Fatimid dynasty who
ruled North Africa for about 262 years. The last of
the Fatimid Khalifahs, al Azid, was dethroned by Salahuddin
the Great, the famous warrior of the Crusades.
The contribution of the Fatimids to the progress of
science and literature was not as great as under the
Abbasids or the Umayyads of Spain. Nevertheless, a number
of the Fatimid Khalifahs patronized various fields of
learning and the Khilafat produced its share of some
well known Muslim scholars. Many schools and colleges
were established by the Khalifahs. The famous al Azhar
academy was established by Khalifah al Aziz.
Generally speaking, the period of the Fatimid Caliphate
was a period of prosperity for the country. Most of
the Fatimid Khalifahs were liberal, considerate to their
subjects, great warriors and good administrators. The
administration of the Fatimids was essentially patterned
after the Abbasids. The Khalifah was the spiritual as
well as the temporal head of the State.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF SECTS IN ISLAM
Like other religions in the world, Islam has its share
of religious dissension and sects. At numerous times
during the course of Islamic history, political events
and ideological and theological issues divided the Muslim
community into various groups which then started to
identify with specific causes. At present there are
more than 72 sects in Islam.
Basically, there are two main divisions in Islam: the
Sunnis and the Shias. All other sects developed from
these two main streams. To give an idea of their relative
proportions, about 85% of all "Muslims" living
today belong to the Sunni stream of Islam while about
15% belong to the Shia stream. Some important sects
of Islam and their relationship with the two main streams
are shown below:
Sunni Stream of Islam: Ahle Hadith (Traditionists)
Shia Stream of Islam: Zaydis
Seveners: Nizaris or Ismailis
Musta'lis or Bohras
THE SUNNI MUSLIMS
As mentioned above, the main body of Muslims comprises
the Sunnis who accept the authority and the bona fide
status of the first four "Pious" Khalifahs
and the comprehensive system of Islamic law, the Shari'a.
There are four distinct orthodox law schools recognized
by the Sunnis. These are: the Malikis, Hanafis, Shafi
and Hanbalis. These schools are based on the interpretation
of Islamic law by the four well known Islamic jurists
and theologians of the first three centuries of Islam:
Imam Malik bin Anas, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Muhammad
bin Idris al Shafi and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal. Although
the founders of the four schools of law differ significantly
on many matters related to the regulations of worship
and the law, there is a certain cohesion within the
Sunni community which allows this variance to exist
without destroying the fundamental unity of beliefs
in this stream of Islam.
A majority of the Sunni Muslims belong to the Ahle
Hadith or Traditionists sect. They give particular importance
to the sayings and doings of the Holy Prophet, as recorded
in the various books of Hadith. Over the years, many
sects developed which took issues from some of the main
beliefs of the Traditionists. Of these sects we will
discuss only two in this book: the Wahabis and the Ahmadis.
The Wahhab sect rose in the middle of the eighteenth
century within the Arabian Peninsula. The Wahhabi movement
was started by Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab (1703 1793
AD) who was a native of Najd, a province in north central
Arabia. He preached a strict puritanical Islam which
forbade the veneration of holy places, religious relics
and holy men. Amir Muhammad ibne Sa'ud of Dar'iyyah
accepted Wahhabi beliefs and his descendents, the House
of Sa'ud, did much to propagate and establish Wahhabi
doctrines in Arabia and surrounding areas. During the
spread of the political influence of the House of Sa'ud,
numerous armed conflicts occurred with the Ottoman Empire
The Ahmadiyya movement was founded in 1889 as a sect
of Islam by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India. Mirza
Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the Mujaddid of the fourteenth
century of Islam and the Promised Messiah and the Promised
Mahdi whose advent had been foretold in the Hadith of
the Holy Prophet Muhammad. The Ahmadis generally follow
the Hanafi school of law.
We will read about the beliefs of Ahmadi Muslims and
the history of this movement in some detail in Section
THE SHIA MUSLIMS
The Shia stream of Islam traces its origin in political
developments dating back to the period of Uthman, the
third successor of the Holy Prophet. At the death of
Omar, the second Khalifah, a council of six persons
was entrusted with the task of electing the new Khalifah.
The backers and supporters of Ali commonly referred
to as the partisans of Ali, showed visible disappointment
at the outcome and called the election a "conspiracy"
to withhold the Khilafat from the Prophet's own family.
This was the first seed of dissension which appeared
in Islam and eventually divided the otherwise united
During the reign of the Umayyad Khalifahs, the supporters
of the House of Ali led many unsuccessful religious
revolts. They never recognized the authority of the
Umayyad Khalifahs and followed their own Imams who were
the direct descendents of Ali. The Shias eventually
split into many sects, four of which are noteworthy.
Zayd was the son of Ali Zayn al Abidin, the grandson
of Hussain and the great grandson of Ali bin Abu Talib.
Zayd was killed in an armed conflict against the Umayyad
Khalifah, Hisham. Since his death, his supporters and
followers broke away from the mainstream of Shias and
became a distinct sect by themselves. Of all the Shias,
Zaydis are the closest to Sunnis in their beliefs. Today
the Zaydi Shias are mostly found in Yemen.
The Twelver Shias or Asna ashariya
These comprise the largest group of the Shias today
and exhibit most of the classical Shia doctrines. The
Twelver Shias are known by this name because they follow
the twelve Imams, all belonging to the House of Ali.
Their twelfth Imam, Muhammad al Mahdi, is believed by
them to be still alive and in hiding. The Shias believe
in the messianic return of this Imam in the latter days
According to the Shias' belief, Ali inherited all the
spiritual abilities of the Holy Prophet and was thus
the only rightful successor of his. The Shias, therefore,
reject the Khilafats of Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman and
that of the Umayyad dynasty that followed.
The Shias do not accept many Ahadith of the Holy Prophet
which were transmitted by A'isha, the wife of the Holy
Prophet, whom they consider an enemy of Islam. The Shia
also differ from the Sunni Muslims in many other areas
such as the regulations governing the ablutions, Adhan,
Prayer, pilgrimage and the declaring of one's faith.
The Shias also retain the pre Islamic custom of legal
temporary marriage for the sake of pleasure, called
One important difference between the Sunnis and the
Shias concerns the functions and status of the Khalifah.
Shias believe that the physical descent of the Khalifah
directly from Prophet Muhammad gave him divine endowment
of wisdom, saintliness and grace. The Shias also consider
the Khalifahs infallible and impeccable and regard them
with a deeper veneration than do the Sunnis. The Sunnis
looked at the Khalifah as a popular choice of the believers
and did not associate any supernatural powers with him.
The Sunnis believed that the Khalifah must be from the
Prophet's tribe, the Quraysh. The Shias chose their
Khalifahs (or Imams) from a still narrower circle of
the Prophet's immediate family.
Today, the Twelver Shias are predominant in Iran. Outside
Iran, there are large Shia communities in Iraq, Pakistan,
India and Lebanon.
The Sevener Shias
The division of the Shias into the Twelver and the
Sevener sects occurred after their sixth Imam, Jafar
al Sadiq. At the death of Jafar al Sadiq in 765 AD,
the Twelvers made his younger brother, Moosa alKazim,
their seventh Imam. A dissenting group, later called
the Seveners, followed the line of Jafar al Sadiq's
direct descendents. Since Jafar al Sadiq's own son,
Ismail, had predeceased him, the Seveners recognized
the new Imam in the son of Ismail named Muhammad al
Mahdi. For this reason the Sevener Shias are also referred
to as the Ismailis.
The Ismailis developed highly esoteric doctrines around
their Imam which could not be easily understood by the
common man. The Ismailis continued to recognize their
own Imams for the next 144 years, right through the
period of the Abbasid Caliphate. Then in 909 AD, an
Ismailis Imam by the name of Ubaydullah overthrew the
Aghlabid dynasty centered in Tunis, took on the name
of Ubaydullah al Mahdi and established himself as the
first Khalifah of the Fatimid dynasty in North Africa.
In this way the institution of Khilafat was also established
among the Ismailis.
Then at the death of the Fatimid Khalifah al Mustansir
in 1095 AD, the Ismailis divided into two sects. The
ones who followed the younger son of al Mustansir by
the name of al Musta'li who became the next Khalifah,
are called Musta'lis. The others who followed the elder
son by the name of al Nizar, who was imprisoned, are
The Nizari Ismailis
The Nizaris took their leader al Nizar into a mountain
fortress and for a number of years led a life of secrecy
and terror. They were notorious for carrying out well
planned assassinations of their enemies and opponents.
In 1817 AD, one Nizari Ismaili Imam was given the title
of Agha Khan by Qajar Shah of Iran. This Imam later
moved to India where his dais or missionaries had considerable
success in converting the local Hindu population to
their doctrines. Since then the title of Agha Khan has
been retained by the Nizari Ismailis for their Imams.
The Musta'li Bohras
The Musta'lis continued to follow the direct line of
al Musta'li. But the visible line of Musta'li Imams
ended in 1130 AD when al Musta'lis son, al Amr, died
leaving only an infant son by the name of al Tayyeb.
The Fatimid Caliphate continued through the new Khalifah
al Haftz who was the grandson of al Mustansir. But since
Al Hafiz and the other Khalifahs that followed him were
not in direct line of descent from al Musta'li, the
Musta'li Shias did not recognize them as their Imams.
According to the Musta's belief, the infant son of
al Amir is in hiding and is considered by them as the
invisible Imam. The Musta'fs of Yemen managed to convert
large numbers of Hindus in Gujrat, a province in western
India. These converts are known in India and Pakistan