In the ages past, the temporal and spiritual leaderships were the preserve of particular families. When Islam made its advent, the world was being crushed by these hereditary leaderships. Those who wielded the sceptre acted as autocrats although they had inherited the authority from their fathers, or in accordance with the will of outgoing kings, or usurped authority through machinations or superior prowess. Public good or interest of the people never had any say in the selection of the potentate. The entire income of the country was treated as personal property of the rulers whose ingenuity was always on the lookout for increasing their incomes, accumulating vast treasures and making their lives as pleasurable as possible. It was not [uncommon] that the kings displayed ostentatious magnificence and pageantry that defied one’s imagination, and is now known only to those who have studied history. These rulers alienated from the common man by impassable barriers, were regarded as descendants of celestial beings.
The masses were, on the other hand, extremely poor and in great distress. The ever-increasing taxes, burdensome levies) conscriptions and forced labour had crushed the common man beyond description and they were forced to live like the beasts of burden.
There was also another dominion. It was the spiritual empire. Its sovereignty was vested in a particular family or its chosen individuals. Spiritual leadership was the domain of these people who were revered as demigods. Inherited by the son from his father and thus continuing from generation to generation, it had its own economic benefits. Those who were possessed of ecclesiastical authority manipulated it for satisfying their carnal desires. Treated as the intermediary between God and His creation, they had the power to make lawful what was unlawful and vice versa. They promulgated religious laws at their sweet will. The Qur’an has in its own inimitable manner given a vivid description of these people which cannot be improved upon by any one.
“O you who believe : surely many of the priests and monks (of the people of the book) devour the substance of men in falsehood and hinder (people) from the way of Allah.” [Qur'an 9:34]
Among the Christians these priests were known by the name of ‘clergy.’ A Syrian Christian scholar has defined the word as follows:
“This name was given by the Christians to the persons ordained, or set apart, for the service of religion. Their name signifies ‘a share’ or ‘inheritance’ almost in the same sense as Pentateuch assigns priestly rights to the ‘sons of Levi’. . . Among the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews a class was ordained for performing religious rites. The Christian church had, from the very beginning, ministers who formulated its policies. If the church was affluent and prosperous, the clergymen took full advantage of it. They were not merely priests and spiritual guides, but were also treated as the source of wisdom and knowledge. Under the Roman Empire they were exempt from all taxes. They were also not required to do any social service. They had, in a way, a dominion over the people, within their own sphere and even outside it.’” [P.Bustani, Da'iratul Ma'arif
[The] Zoroastrianism of Iran was not different from Christianity. A particular clan was marked out for priesthood. During the past ages, the function was allocated to a tribe of Media and under Zoroastrianism, the clan of ‘al-Moghan held the charge of spiritual leadership.
The priestly clan was regarded as the viceregent of God on earth, created to administer the kingdom of God. It was the prerogative of a particular clan to give birth to the holy men who were regarded as sharers of divinity and inherited the charge of oratories or fire-temples.
[The] Brahmins in India had the monopoly of everything sacred and spiritual. The religious law allocated them the highest place in society which could never be attained by anyone not belonging to that caste. “A Brahmin who remembers the Rig Veda,” says the Manu Shostra, “is absolutely sinless, even if he debases all three worlds.” Neither could any tax be imposed on a Brahmin, nor could he be executed for any crime. All religious rites were to be performed by the Brahmin alone. Islam abolished both these hereditary dominions which had been an instrument of tyranny and misery of the people of which the history of countries like Rome, Iran and India are replete with examples. Islam entrusted the responsibility of electing the Caliph to the Muslims – particularly those who were judicious and well-informed among them, and prescribed the method of mutual consultation for it. This was the reason why the holy Prophet had not expressly indicated who will be the head of the Muslim commonwealth after him. Had it been necessary or a part of his religious duty, the Prophet would have certainly done so. Had not Allah ordained the Prophet?
“O Messenger: Make known that which hath been revealed unto thee from thy Lord, for if thou do it not, thou will not have conveyed His Message. Allah will protect thee from mankind. Lo ! Allah guideth not the disbelieving folk.” [Qur'an 5:67]
At another place the divine revelation had clearly stated:
That was Allah’s way with those who passed away of old – and the commandment of Allah is certain destiny – who delivered the messages of Allah and feared Him, and feared none save Allah. Allah keepeth good account. [Qur'an 33:38,39]
Ubaydullah b. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Utba narrated that Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘When Allah’s Apostle was on his death-bed and there were certain persons in his house, the Prophet said: Come near, I will write for you something after which you will not go astray
. Some of them said, ‘Allah’s Apostle is seriously ill and you have the Qur’an. Allah’s Book is sufficient for us.’ So the people in the house differed and started disputing. When their differences increased and discussion became louder, Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Go Away.’
The Prophet remained alive for three days after this incident, but he did not ask for the writing material nor specified who would be his successor. He did in fact express a number of his last wishes but never mentioned the topic of his viceregency.
Of the directions he gave during this period one was: ‘(Offer) prayers and be considerate to those placed in your charge (i. e. slaves and bondswomen).’ ‘Ali also relates, ‘The Prophet had given instructions in regard to prayer and poor-due and mildness to those placed under one’s charge.’
‘A’isha and Ibn ‘Abbas narrate: ‘When the time for departure of Allah’s Apostle arrived, he started covering his face with a black blanket and remained so for a while. Then he uncovered his face and said, ‘Allah’s curse be on the Jews and Christians for they took the graves of their prophets as places of worship.’ The Prophet thus warned and forbade his followers to act like them.
In regard to the incident relating to the Prophet’s desire to bring some writing material to him, ‘Abbas Mahmud al-’Aqqad writes:
“The allegation that ‘Umar came in the way of Prophet’s dictating a testament and nomination of ‘Ali as the Caliph is extremely contemptible and baseless. Such an imputation on the character of any distinguished person amounts to his insult, much less a man like ‘Umar. In fact the Prophet did not ask for paper to make a testament for nominating ‘Ali or anybody else as a Caliph, for it was not at all necessary to make a testament for the purpose. One word, a mere gesture, as he made for Abu Bakr to lead the prayer, was enough for it. Everybody understood what the Prophet wanted of Abu Bakr.
‘The Prophet remained alive for three days after asking for paper, but he did not demand it again. Nobody could dare interpose himself between ‘Ali and the Prophet. Fatima, the wife of ‘Ali was present with the Prophet until he breathed his last. If the Prophet had so wished, he would have sent for ‘Ali and nominated him as his successor.
Apart from the Prophet’s reticence, which was not because of any compulsion or pressure, his usual practice was to deny positions of authority to the members of his family and he did not even consider the common rules of inheritance proper for the Apostle Of God. Now, if one were to see it in the light of his practice and reticence on this occasion, he would find that nobody interposed himself nor the Prophet ever had any intention of nominating ‘Ali as his Caliph.
AI-’Aqqad has also discussed the question of transmission of caliphate through inheritance. He has rightly observed that: “Had it (inheritance) been one of the commandments of God, then it was queer that the Prophet left this world without any male successor,” and the Qur’an to take its final shape without saying anything about the caliphate being transferred to a member of the Prophet’s household. And, had it been the Will of God or a religious necessity, it would have certainly taken effect as a thing determined made against what had been destined would have been in vain in the same way as all the labours made against laws of nature end up in a fiasco.
Therefore, there is no explicit direction, no circumstantial indication, nor any Providential will to support those who assert transference of caliphate though inheritance and hold it to be confined to Hashimites.
Oath of Allegiance to Abu Bakr
The Muslims of Medina, both [the] Ansar and Muhajirin, were sapient [discerning] and influential and their decision would have been accepted by all in the Arabian Peninsula and outside it. But they stood at the crossroads when the Prophet bid farewell to the world. They had either to make a concerted effort for spreading the message of Islam, and for it to unanimously elect a leader who was respected by all for his moral virtues. Such a leader had to be very close to the Prophet during his lifetime, enjoyed his confidence and also been entrusted with responsibilities on crucial occasions. Alternatively, if Muslims were not united and lacked unanimity of thought and action, Islam was likely to break up in numerous factions like other religions which had splitted on the issue of leadership.
Actually, the situation was even more complicated because the divisive forces instantly surfaced in Medina, the hometown of Bani-Qahtan whose two tribes, the Aus and Khazraj, had welcomed the Prophet in their town, provided asylum to the persecuted Muslims and treated them as their brothers with an exemplary magnanimity and self-sacrificing zeal that had been praised by God:
“Those who entered the city and faith before them, love those who flee unto them for refuge.”
Medina had been the hometown of these people where they had been living for centuries before the immigrants had come to settle there. Therefore, it was not at all astonishing if they considered one of them to be entitled to succeed the Prophet as the leader of the community. Such a claim was rather justified in the obtaining circumstances and polity [realm] of Arabin city states. ‘Umar lost no time in grasping the complexity of the situation and the psychological reasons behind it. He visualised through his God-gifted intelligence and foresight, as he had on several occasions earlier, the grave danger that lay ahead. He knew that any delay on the part of those who were responsible for maintaining unity and consensus among Muslims could be disastrous.
He, therefore, did not procrastinate in the election of the Caliph. He made haste because certain Ansars of Medina had mooted the question of having the Caliph from their own ranks. They were not entirely unjustified in their proposal since they were the original inhabitants of the city, but their two powerful clans, the Aus and Khazraj, had been at loggerheads for a long time in the recent past. ‘Umar also knew that the people of Arabia would be agreeable to accept the leadership of guraish only because they had held that position in the past. He, therefore, induced the Muslims to pledge fealty to Abu Bakr at Thaqifa Bani Sa’eda so that no internal dissensions might crop up among the Muslims. It was the time when the Prophet had just died and his burial had yet to take place and unanimity among Muslims was still intact. If a leader of Muslims was elected at the moment, he would naturally superintend the last rites of the Prophet as their leader.
The next day, people swore allegiance to Abu Bakr in the Mosque of the Prophet. Abu Bakr said after praising the Lord, “Lo : I have been charged with the responsibility of acting as your chief. I am not the best among you; if I do well, support me; if I make any mistake, counsel me. To tell the truth is faithful allegiance; to conceal it is treason. Those who are weak among you are strong in my sight until I restore their rights to them; and the strong are weak in my sight until I make them restore the rights of others. Of a fact, the people who give up striving in the way of God are abased; the people who allow lewdness to flourish among them are made to suffer hardships by Allah. As I obey Allah, obey me; if I neglect Allah and His Apostle, I have no more right to your obedience. Now come and perform the prayers. May Allah have mercy on you.”
The election of Caliph Abu Bakr was not fortuitous, nor was it the result of any collusion that one may claim that there was some secret understanding between certain persons which came to fruition. It had been ordained by God, the Most Wise, since He had decided in His Mercy that Islam shall live and prosper. The election of the first Caliph was also in accordance with the usage of the Arabs who decided all matters of significance through an unfettered discussion and consultation and elected a chieftain who was ripe in age, mature in Judgement, sincere and accomplished in leading the people in war and peace. This had been their practice since ages past.
An eminent Muslim penman, Justice Amir ‘Ali, who happened to be a Shia, has described the practice of the Arabs in this regard. He says :
“Among the Arabs, the chieftaincy of a tribe is not hereditary, but elective; the principle of universal suffrage is recognised in its extremest form, and all the members of a tribe have a voice in the election of their chief. The election is made on the basis of seniority among the surviving male members of the deceased chieftain’s family. This old tribal custom was followed in the choice of a successor to the Prophet, for the urgency of the times admitted of no delay. Abu Bakr, who by virtue of his age and the position he had held at Mecca occupied a high place in the estimation of the Arabs, was hastily elected to the office of Khalifa (Caliph) or vicegerent of the Prophet. He was recognised as a man of wisdom and moderation, and his election was accepted with their usual devotion to the faith by ‘Ali and chief members of Mohammad’s family.”
The Muslims, especially the Arabs, were really spared of hereditary autocracy by the election of Caliph Abu Bakr. [A] Dynastic form of government is based on [an] ancestral relationship in which race and blood assume undue importance and more often than not a particular person or his family comes to be sanctified as exalted and holy. Had anyone belonging to Bani Hashim been elected as the first Caliph, for which they were “undoubtedly fully qualified, their religious and spiritual authority would have combined with their temporal ascendancy, and Islam would have developed a form of priesthood akin to the clerical system of the Christians. This would have surely given birth to an organised church and priestly order with all the attendant evils of this system in Christianity, Zoroastrianinsm and Brahminism. Religious, spiritual and political leadership in Islam would have combined with an autocratic form of government in which all the powers would have converged in a particular family, allowing it full scope for exploitation of the people. The coming generations would have regarded them as their rulers possessing supernatural powers. Entitled to receive tithes and tributes from their followers, they would have lived a life of ease and pleasure. But this would have been contrary to the spirit and objective of the teachings of the Prophet who had forbidden Banu Hashim to receive the poor-due. The purpose behind this directive was that the Prophet never wanted his progeny to become bloodsuckers, living on the earnings of others. Abu Huraira relates, “Once Hasan b. ‘Ali had taken a date received by way of charity. As soon as the Prophet saw it, he made Hasan vomit it, saying, ‘Do you not know that we never take anything of charity?‘ ” Another lengthy report handed down from ‘Abdul Muttalib b. Rabi’a b. al-Harith contains the words, “Charity is like dirt of [in the] hands of the people which is not permissible to the Prophet and his progeny.”
[The] Prophet’s household and the progeny of Hashim have been spared the ignominy thus described by the Qur’an : “O you who believe! Surely many of the priests and monks devour the substance of men in falsehood.” [Qur'an 9:34]Contrarily, the Prophet always used to encourage his near relations to face tribulation and danger. ‘Ali has also referred to this practice of the Prophet in one of his letters to Mu’awiyah in which he wrote : “When the fire of battle was hottest and the people seemed [to lose] hope, the Prophet used to ask the members of his family to go ahead and save others from the enemy’s swords and lances. It was thus that ‘Ubayda b. Harith was killed in Badr, Hamza in Uhad and Ja’afar in Muta.
And, if the two leaderships (the spiritual and temporal) had been conferred upon Bani Hashim by way of inheritance, it would have remained with them perpetually. Certain Quraishites had then candidly observed that had [the] Bani Hashim been made rulers over you, statecraft would have become their exclusive preserve and no other clan of the Quraish would ever have become rulers.
All those who have studied the history of [the] reformatory and revivalist movements would be conversant with the endeavours initiated for a religious renaissance which ended up with the advancement of any particular family, carving out a personal kingdom, or enabling any particular family to attain political influence. That is why those who are endowed with insight and comprehension of religious spirit, are always sceptical of these movements as they are never sure about their ultimate outcome. It would be relevant to recall here the conversation between Heraclius and Abu Sufian after the Prophet sent a letter to the former inviting him to Islam. It shows the reaction of Heraclius and what he wanted to know about the Prophet in order to form an estimate of him and his mission. He asked Abu Sufian: ‘Had there been any king in his family?’ When Abu Sufian replied in negative, Heraclius remarked: ‘Had it been so. I would have surmised that he was trying to recover his lost kingdom.’ It is apparent that God had in His Wisdom already destined that nobody from the Prophet’s family or one of the Hashamites should immediately succeed him as his Caliph. The question asked by Heraclius shows his knowledge of history. He wanted to ascertain if the man claiming prophethood was interested in establishing a hereditary kingdom. But, if a hereditary kingdom had actually come to be established in spite of it through a near relation of the Prophet succeeding him, the verdict of history would have nevertheless been that the prophetic mission of the Apostle of God was meant to vest his descendants with the mantle of kingship, power and glory rather than for preaching the message of God. It was an affair preordained by God that Abu Bakr of the clan of Bani Taym should be elected as the vicegerent of the holy Prophet. Abu Bakr was succeeded by ‘Umar of Bani ‘Adi. ‘Uthman belonging to Banu Umayyah took over from ‘Umar and then ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, the worthiest man in his clan, in fact, among the companions of the Prophet then alive, was chosen to take up the responsibility. The line of succession had by then removed all chances of any misunderstanding that the temporal authority and command belonged to the household of the Prophet. The sequence of succession left no occasion for anyone to make an allegation about graft or jobbery against the Prophet’s family.
Steadfastness of Abu Bakr
All the biographers of the Prophet and scholars of Traditions are agreed that the Prophet had said, “We prophets do not bequeath anything to anyone; whatever we leave goes to charity.“
Ahmad, the compiler of [the] Musnad, an authoritative work on Traditions, relates from Abu Huraira that Allah’s Apostle said, “My descendants shall not apportion dinar and dirham amongst them. Whatever I shall leave, apart from the maintenance of my wives and their agent, shall go to charities.
Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawud have recorded the above report of Abu Huraira which has been handed down by Malik b. Anas. Bukari relates from ‘Urwah who heard it from ‘A’isha: “When the Prophet died and his wives expressed the desire to ask ‘Uthman to approach Abu Bakr for giving them their share of Prophet’s inheritance, ‘A’isha intervened to say: ‘Did you not listen the Prophet saying that we do not bequeath any property! Whatever we leave goes to charities.’
A similar report finds a place in the Sahih of Muslim. The approach of the Prophet in the matter of inheritance was not only befitting of a messenger of God but also in keeping with his demeanour. Whenever there was any occasion of danger or it became necessary to bear some loss, the Prophet asked the members of his own household or one belonging to Bani Hashim to step forward, but where any advantage was to be had, he asked them to fall behind. In the battle of Badr, as stated earlier, he sent forward Hamza, ‘Ali and Abu ‘Ubayda to face the three veteran warriors of the enemy. A major source of income for the Muslim community, since the time of the Prophet to this day, is zakat or the poor-due, but the Prophet made it unlawful for his own progeny and the descendants of Banu Hashim to derive any benefit from it. On the occasion of farewell pilgrimage, the Prophet abolished interest bearing loans and announced simultaneously,: “The first of our usury I abolish is that of my own uncle ‘Abbas b. ‘Abdul Muttalib.” On the same occasion he annulled the claims of blood-vengeance and the first claim on blood he proclaimed to have been remitted was that of Ibn Rabi’a b. al-Harith, b. ‘Abdul Muttalib, his own nephew. The proclamation made by him was:
“The usury of the day of Ignorance is abolished, and the first of our usury I abolish is that of my own uncle, ‘Abbas b. ‘Abdul Muttalib, and all of it is abolished. And claims of blood-vengeance belonging to the pre- Islamic days have been waived. The first claim on blood I give up is that of Ibn Rabi’a b. Al-Harith.” Soon after Abu Bakr took over as Caliph, he had to face a difficult problem – a delicate issue for him since it involved a perplexing question of emotional nature. It was a question relating to Shari’ah, but had a political aspect also. It was also a sensitive matter and required to be dealt with in accordance with the pronouncement and practice of his departed master, the Messenger of God.
Bukhari has narrated this incident on the authority of A’isha:
“Fatima and ‘Abbas called upon Abu Bakr and demanded the legacy of Allah’s Prophet. Both asked for the land in Fidak as well as the Prophet’s share (of booty) in Khaybar. Abu Bakr said to them, ‘I have heard the Prophet saying, “We do not bequeath any property to anyone; whatever we leave is to be deemed as charities.” Therefore, I will allow only maintenance to the descendants of the Prophet. According to another report Abu Bakr replied : “I have heard that the prophets do not have legatees [heirs] but I will meet such of their expenses as were defrayed by the Prophet.”"
There are other reports also which corroborate the determination of Abu Bakr never to deviate, [not] even slightly, from the practice of the Prophet and follow only what he knew to be the Prophet’s will. Fatima, however, continued to insist on her right of inheritance either because she was not aware of the Prophet’s will or she considered the Caliph competent to meet her wishes. Be that as it may, both held [steadfastly] to their views.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal relates Fatima as saying to Abu Bakr: ‘You know better what you had heard from the Prophet.’
Fatima remained alive for six months after the death of the Prophet. She held herself aloof from Abu Bakr which shows that her grievance also persisted. Such complaints and misunderstandings are, however, not uncommon among near relations. Often one becomes very touchy about minor matters, particularly if one considers oneself to be right. But the differences between Fatima and Abu Bakr never developed into animosity. Fatima’s resentment was marked by a restraint which speaks of her civility and cordiality which were the essential features of her character. ‘Amir narrates that when Fatima became seriously ill, Abu Bakr paid a visit to her and asked for the permission to see her. ‘Ali said to Fatima, “Abu Bakr is standing at the door and wants to come in. If you have no objection allow him to see you.” Fatima asked, “Would you like me to permit him?” ‘Ali replied in affir- mative and she gave her consent. Abu Bakr went in and offered his apologies and Fatima was no more displeased with him. We bring the discussion on this issue to an end with the observations of ‘Abbas Mahmad al-’Aqqad who writes in the Al-’Abqariyat al-Islamiyah that “it is not at all reasonable to doubt the fidelity of Abu Bakr to the Prophet simply because he did not allow Fatima to inherit the legacy of the Prophet. If this was his attitude in the case of Fatima, he had also disallowed inheritance to his own daughter A’isha, since there could be no legatees to a Prophet under the Islamic law. In fact, Abu Bakr never wanted to refuse inheritance to the legatees of the Prophet, one of whom was his own beloved daughter A’isha, but he did not want to deviate from the will of the Prophet and the religious injunctions. To uphold religion was in his view more important than to save any family from the financial loss.
Abu Bakr had no other choice save what he decided in the matter of Prophet’s inheritance. He knew that the prophets do not have legatees as the Prophet had himself told him. When Abu Bakr was about to die, he instructed A’isha to forego everything he had given her in favour of the Muslims, although she was entitled to possess them as a legacy and gift from her father.