The age of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs was one of the brightest and most heroic times in Islamic history. The four caliphs who took command after the death of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) were Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, Umar ibn Al-Khattab, Uthman bin Affan, and Ali bin Abi Talib, (RAA) , and under their rule the Islamic Empire would continue to expand to great heights and shine in its faith. Known for their justice and piety, the Rightly-Guided caliphs would become known as the most noble leaders in history and untouchable examples of honorable caliphs for all those who came after them.
After the death of the Prophet (SAW) , Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq (RAA) was the natural choice as his successor due to being the Prophet’s (SAW) closest companion during his life. Abu Bakr (RAA) before converting to Islam was a successful businessman, and was said to be worth about 40,000 dirhams (a sizeable amount of money at the time). After the Prophet (SAW) began receiving revelations about Islam, however, he was the first man and second person to become Muslim after Khadijah (RAA) . He also became known as Al-Siddiq (the Truthful One); when Muhammad (SAW) returned from his night journey (Israa wal Ma’raaj) and the Quraysh were ridiculing him for his story, he defended and supported the Prophet (SAW) . As his best friend, Abu Bakr (RAA) would continue to support the Prophet (SAW) throughout his lifetime, in whatever way he could. When Abu Bakr (RAA) was elected as the next caliph, he became the first to assume the title of “Khalifat Rasul Allah,” or deputy to the Messenger of God, in 632 A.D.
The two years of Abu Bakr’s (RAA) caliphate dealt largely with the issue of ridda, or apostasy. Now that the Prophet (SAW) had died, many had gone back to their old religious traditions of polytheism, which was a threat to the nascent Islamic state where religion was intricately intertwined with government and politics. There were six main places where rebellions against the new Islamic state occurred.
Of these six rebellions, four took place in the form of “false prophets” who emerged claiming they were the new prophet to be followed after Muhammad (SAW) : al-Aswad al-Ansi in Yemen, Musaylima from the tribe of Hanifa in the Yamama, Tulayha from the tribes of Asad and Ghatafan, and the self-claimed “prophetess” Sadjah from the tribe of Tamim. Oftentimes, the rebellion involved the refusal to pay taxes to Medina, as well as refusal to obey the new Caliph and any representatives sent there from Medina. Abu Bakr (RAA) dealt with each of these threats in order to preserve the stability of the area and the state.
Because of his great military experience, Khalid ibn al-Walid was sent out with a large army of Muslims to quell these revolts. Tulayha was the first to be defeated, at the battle of Buzakha, and then soon after Tamim abandoned its support of Sadjah and resubmitted its pledge towards Islam and the state. The most serious battle would be between the Muslims and Musaylima in Yamama, who had caused the largest revolt in central Arabia and was finally defeated in the battle of ‘Akraba, and the area was brought back under the control of Islam again. The apostasy in Yemen and the other two rebellions were also finally put down and their leaders captured, and Abu Bakr (RAA) showed leniency towards them which caused many to in turn become strong supporters of Islam.
After the apostasy was dealt with, Abu Bakr (RAA) redirected his focus to the continued expansion of the Islamic state, and made small grounds in expanding into the Persian Empire, as well as solidifying Islamic control over large parts of Syria. Lastly, the united Muslim forces would defeat an enemy in Palestine at in mid 634 A.D.
Abu Bakr (RAA) then died a few months later, and was buried next to the Prophet (SAW) . Umar ibn al-Khattab (RAA) was to be the next leader of the Muslims.
Umar ibn al-Khattab (RAA) was another great companion of the Prophet (SAW) . Strong-willed and devoted to the Prophet (SAW) and to Islam, he was at first an adamant enemy of the religion when it initially emerged. This all changed, however, when one night he heard his sister, Fatimah, and brother-in-law Saeed bin Zayd reciting Qur’an; while he first was in a rage at hearing them recite, he later calmed down and actually listened to the words, and their profoundness compelled him to convert to Islam. From then on, he became one of the strongest champions of the religion.
Umar (RAA) easily assumed power after Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (RAA) passed away, aided by the fact that many companions recognized him as the one who would succeed him, in 634 A.D. When Umar (RAA) became caliph, expansion of the Islamic empire was already well underway. During the decade he was caliph, the Muslims would gain control over and move further into areas such as Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and al-Djazira (the northern area between the Tigris and Euphrates). This could not have been done, however, without the amazing political and strategic genius of Umar.
In order to keep the Islamic Empire as united as possible, Umar (RAA) would appoint commanders such as Abu ‘Ubayd bin Masood and Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas, who had relatively weak tribal and local connections and as such would not be prone to setting themselves up as independent leaders in the new territories. There were times when Umar (RAA) appointed well-known and respected companions to high positions, such as how Mu’awiya bin Abu Sufyan succeeded his brother Yazid as governor of Damascus in 639 A.D., and ‘Amr bin ‘As in conquesting Egypt.
While this expansion was going on, however, Umar stayed mostly in the city of Medina, from where he would institute some major changes in the Islamic state and in the lives of the Muslims. While the Muslims as conquerors often simply adopted existing administrative structures in the new territories as well as coins, personnel, and language, Umar also instituted a register (diwan), containing the names of everyone who was entitled to a receive money from the military. In allocating the money, precedence of Islam, or the length one had been a Muslim, as well as tribal and family affiliations was considered. This policy helped prevent the Muslims from dividing themselves into separate, independent leaders or aristocracies in the areas which they conquered.
So, while everyone conquered by the Muslims were granted protection of their persons and property and the right to practice their own religion, the lands as a whole became a kind of trust for the benefit of future Muslim generations. During this time, Umar (RAA) also instituted the calendar, which dated from the Hijra, and a good number of religious and civil ordinances regarding prayer, Hajj, fasting, penal law (hudud), and many other aspects as well. He also aided in the collection of the Holy Qur’an into one uniform book.
Under Umar (RAA) , the title of caliph gained further respect and prestige. While he had assumed the title of Caliph, he also became known as “Amir al-Mu’minin,” or the “Commander of the Believers.” Unfortunately, at the height of his command of the Muslims and the Islamic Empire, Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RAA) was assassinated in 644 A.D. by Abu Lu’lu’a, a Christian slave of the governor of Basra (Al-Mughira bin Shu’ba) who stabbed him in the back with a poisoned knife while he was prostrating in prayer.
On his deathbed, Umar (RAA) called for a council (or shura) to choose a successor, and Uthman bin Affan (RAA) was proposed as the next to take command of the Islamic nation.
The noble and God-fearing man that he was, Uthman bin Affan (RAA) did not want to take on the responsibilities of being a caliph. Being a caliph would mean being responsible for every single thing that occurred within the Islamic domain, which at that point had gotten to be pretty large. However, it was the people’s choice who they believed to be the most honorable and fitting for the duty of governing them, and Uthman (RAA) was their pick. In fact, he was so reluctant and terrified of the responsibility that the people had to threaten to kill him if he did not accept the position.
Uthman (RAA) was a wealthy merchant from the Umayyad clan of Mecca. Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) message first aroused negativity amongst the Umayyads, but five years later Uthman (RAA) converted to Islam and became the first Muslim of high social and economic standing. He was most known for his immense generosity and modesty, and married two of the Prophet’s (SAW) daughters (he married Umm Kalthoum after the death of Rukayya.) Prophet Muhammad (SAW) highly respected Uthman (RAA) – in one instance, the Prophet (SAW) was sitting with his legs revealed when Abu Bakr (RAA) and Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RAA) entered to speak with him individually. However, when Uthman (RAA) entered, the Prophet (SAW) sat up and straightened his clothing. When Aisha (RAA) asked why he straightened out his clothing only when Uthman (RAA) entered, the Prophet (SAW) said, “Should I not be shy of a man around whom the angels are shy?”
During his rule, Uthman (RAA) mostly continued the policies of his predecessor. Under his command, the Islamic Empire expanded to include Iran, the Caucuses, Cyprus, as well as most of North Africa. He was admired for his generosity – in one event, he sent hundreds of camels carrying goods on their back to supply his people. He also established one universal way of reciting the Holy Qur’an. At that time, there was a different way of reciting the Qur’an in each of the seven major cities, so Uthman (RAA) gathered Sayyidna Zayd bin Thabit, Abdullah bin Zubayr, Saeed ibn al Aas, and Abdur Rahman bin Harith, as well as other companions, and gave them the task of putting the surats in order and making transcripts of the original copy. He burned the other differentiating transcripts of the Qur’an, so that it became uniform in script and sequence.
Uthman (RAA) also made a cohesive central government, to which he appointed his kinsmen as governors in an attempt to easily impose his authority. However, this didn’t fare well with some groups who accused him of favoritism. Sadly, it was because of this misguided rumor that rebels broke into his home and assassinated him. Uthman bin Affan (RAA) was killed while he was reading the Holy Qur’an.
Ali bin Abi Taleb would be the last of the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs. He was the cousin of the Prophet (SAW) , his son-in-law having married his daughter Fatima, as well as one of the first to believe in the Prophet’s (SAW) message. He was a very close companion of the Prophet (SAW) his entire life, and was trusted him immensely. This was illustrated most during a time described in the Qur’an when the Prophet (SAW) was to be attacked in his bed at night by some men of the tribes of Quraysh. However, Allah (SWT) warned the Prophet (SAW) of the impending attack, and Allah (SWT) made the men waiting outside fall asleep and thus be completely unaware when the Prophet quietly slipped away in the night on his Hijra to Medina with Abu Bakr. Ali instead took the Prophet’s (SAW) place in his bed. When the Quraysh men awoke they rushed into the Prophet’s (SAW) room, but when they pulled back the covers they realized it was Ali and stopped before they killed him. However, this story shows how willingly Ali risked his life for the sake of the Messenger of God, and would do so again many times in the future.
Ali became the caliph in 656 A.D. He said to the Muslims that he felt they were being torn apart by inner-fighting, and he actively sought to end this, advising the citizens of the Islamic empire that they should seek to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as they could to behave as true Muslims. Ali also favored an equal distribution of tax revenue among the Muslims, and appointed them to high-ranking posts according to their experience and ability rather than tribal affiliation and/or family ties to him, even with his own brother.
Upon his ascension to the caliphate, however, Ali’s reign would from the start be marred by fighting between the Muslims; it would be one of the more turbulent periods in Islamic history. One of the first things Ali would be required to do was to put down a rebellion initiated between Aisha (RAA) , the mother of the believers, and Talha and Al-Zubayr. The reason for the revolt was stated as being that Ali had failed to take revenge for the death of Uthman against the rebels that had killed him. The conflict came to a head in the “Battle of the Camel,” which took place the last month of 656 A.D., and both Talha and Al-Zubayr were killed while Aisha (RAA) was respectfully escorted back to Medina.
After this, Ali would begin replacing some provincial governors with companions of the Prophet (SAW) , and then transferred the capital of the empire from Medina to Kufa, in Iraq. However, a second conflict soon arose between Ali and Mu’awiya, the governor of Damascus. Mu’awiya was still upset by the death of Uthman, and would not pledge allegiance to Ali until he felt Uthman’s death had been avenged. They went to battle against each other on the plain of Siffin in the summer of 657. However, Ali seemed to be gaining a small advantage, and Mu’awiya’s opposing army soon hoisted copies of the Qur’an on the end of their spears, thus inviting Ali to resolve the conflict through consultation of the Qur’an rather than further violent combat.
Tired of fighting and wanting to at last settle the conflict, both sides set down their arms and agreed that two arbitrators, Abu Musa Ash’ari would represent Ali and Amr bin ‘As would represent Mu’awiya. The arbitration would eventually fail, however, with both sides claiming the other was still wrong. This led to the Battle of Nahrawan, which took place in the summer of 658 between Mu’awiya and Ali once again. However, Ali could not defeat Mu’awiya in battle, and Mu’awiya would eventually take control of Egypt, the Hijaz, and Yemen.
Then, in 661 A.D. during the month of Ramadan, Ali (RAA) would be assassinated after being struck with a poisoned sword while going to the morning prayer, by Abdulrahman bin Muldjam Muradi. He died two days later, but only after issuing the instructions that if he were to live, he would decide punishment for his attacker, but if he died he wanted only his attacker to be killed, and no others in retribution, in a quick and humane way. He recited: “Lo! Allah loves not aggressors.” (2:190)
And so ended the time of the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali, (RAA) , who were all close companions of the Prophet (SAW) and beloved to the Muslim nation. This period was marked by a simplicity, piety, justice, and equality that had never been seen before. It was under these Caliphs that the Muslims would see an extraordinary expansion of the Islamic Empire, from the sands of Egypt to the lands of Iraq and Persia, and thus strongly establish Islam outside of the Arabian Peninsula. Although the Muslims were a minority in these newly-conquered lands, the foundation was being laid for a slow transformation of these societies into the light of Islam, and they would soon become a part of the larger Muslim nation in one of the greatest empires on the face of the earth.
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