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The Rightly-Guided Caliphs (Al-Khulafa-ur-Rashidun)

The Rashidun [Pioud or Rightly-Guided] were the first four caliphs after Muhammad. It started simply: Muhammad was the political leader of the Umma. After him, the four "rightly-guided caliphs" expanded Islam in to include all of Arabia, modern Iraq and Iran, and parts of modern Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and the central Asian republics -- within 30 years of Muhammad's death.

Of all the institutions of Islam the caliphate is the oldest, the most fundamental, and in essence the most enduring. Mahomet enjoyed absolute rule over his people as a divinely inspired and guided prophet. He led the public prayers; he acted as judge; he ruled. If he consulted with others or paid attention to public feeling or local usage, it was as a matter of policy; the ultimate decision lay with himself. He was the state.

On his death a leader was put in his place of similar authority, though without the divine prophetic guidance. He was called the "successor " {khalifa, caliph) of the Prophet, later also the amir-al-mu'minin, commander of the faithful, and was elected by the Moslems, just as the Arab tribes had always elected their chiefs. He was thus an absolute ruler, but was democratically elected; and such is the essence of the caliphate among Sunnite Moslems to this day. For them it has been a matter of agreement from the earliest times that the Moslem community must appoint such a leader (Imam). The Shi'ites, on the other hand, hold that the appointment lies with God, and that God always has appointed, though his appointment may not always have been known and accepted. Their position may be called a legitimist one. Some few heretical sects have held that the necessity of a leader was based on reason, not on the agreement of the community. But, for all, the rule of the leader thus appointed is absolute, and all authority is delegated from him and, in theory, can be resumed by him at any time. Just as God can require unreasoning obedience from his creatures (his "slaves" in Arabic), so can the caliph, his representative on earth.

After the death of Mahomet the question arose who was to be his " representative." The choice lay with the community of Medina; so much was understood; but whom were they to choose? The natives of Medina believed themselves to be now once more masters in their own house, and wished to promote one of themselves. But the Emigrants asserted their opposing claims, and with success, having brought into the town a considerable number of outside Moslems, so as to terrorize the men of Medina, who besides were still divided into two parties. The Emigrants' leading spirit was Omar; he did not, however, cause homage to be paid to himself, but to Abu Bekr, the friend and father-in-law of the Prophet.

Abu Bekr proved himself quite equal to the perilous situation. In the first place, he allowed the expedition against the Greeks, already arranged by Mahomet, quietly to set out, limiting himself for the time to the defence of Medina. On ihc return of the army he proceeded to attack the rebels. The holy spirit of Islam kept the men of Medina together, and inspired in them an all-absorbing zeal for the faith; the Arabs as a whole had no other bond of union and no better source of inspiration than individual interest. As was to be expected, they were worsted; eleven small flying columns of the Moslems, sent out in various directions, sufficed to quell the revolt. Those who submitted were forthwith received back into favour; those who persevered in rebellion were punished with death.

The holy war against the border countries which Mahomet had already inaugurated, was the best means for making the new religion popular among the Arabs, for opportunity was at the same time afforded for gaining rich booty. The movement was organized by Islam, but the masses were induced to join it by quite other than religious motives. Nor was this by any means the first occasion on which the Arabian cauldron had overflowed; once and again in former times emigrant swarms of Bedouins had settled on the borders of the wilderness. After the subjugation of middle and north-eastern Arabia, Khalid b. al-Waltd proceeded by order of the caliph to the conquest of the districts on the lower Euphrates. Thence he was summoned to Syria, where hostilities had also broken out. Damascus fell late in the summer of 635, and on the 20th of August 636 was fought the great decisive battle on the Hicromax (Yarmuk), which caused the emperor Heraclius finally to abandon Syria.

Meanwhile the war was also carried on against the Persians in Irak, unsuccessfully at first, until the tide turned at the battle of Kadisiya (Kadessia, Qadislya) (end of 637). In consequence of the defeat which they here sustained, the Persians were forced to abandon the western portion of their empire and limit themselves to Iran proper. The Moslems made themselves masters of Ctesiphon (Madain), the residence of the Sassanids on the Tigris, and conquered in the immediately following years the country of the two rivers. In 639 the armies of Syria and Irak were face to face in Mesopotamia. In a short time they had taken from the Aryans all the principal old Semitic lands-Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Assyria and Babylonia. To these was soon added Egypt, which was overrun with little difficulty in 640.

Abu Bekr, the first caliph, died after a short reign on the 22nd of August 634, and as a matter of course was succeeded by Omar. Abu Bekr nominated his successor, Omar, and that nomination was accepted and confirmed by the people. So a second precedent was fixed. It is an absolute condition, laid down in tradition, that the caliph must be of the tribe of Koreish (Quraish), that of the Prophet. To Omar's ten years' Caliphate belong for the most part the great conquests. He himself did not take the field but remained in Medina with the exception of his visit to Syria in 638; he never, however, suffered the reins to slip from his grasp, so powerful was the influence of his personality and the Moslem community of feeling. His political insight is shown by the fact that he endeavoured to limit the indefinite extension of Moslem conquest, to maintain and strengthen the national Arabian character of the commonwealth of Islam,* and especially to promote law and order in its internal affairs. The saying with which he began his reign will never grow antiquated: " by Allah, he that is weakest among you shall be in my sight the strongest, until I have vindicated for him his rights- but him that is strongest will I treat as the weakest, until he complies with the laws." After the administration of justice he directed his organizing activity, as the circumstances demanded, chiefly towards financial questions - the incidence of taxation in the conquered territories, and the application of the vast resources which poured into the treasury at Medina.

The duties of this democratically elected autocrat are, in theory, generally stated as follows. He shall enforce legal decisions and maintain the divinely revealed restrictive ordinances; guard the frontiers and equip armies; receive the alirs; put down robberies, thieving, highwaymen; maintain the Friday services and the festivals; decide disputes and receive evidence bearing on legal claims; marry minors, male and female, who have no guardians; divide booty. He must be a free, male, adult Moslem; must have administrative ability; must be an effective governor and do justice to the wronged. So long as he fulfils these conditions he is to be absolutely obeyed; private immorality or even tyranny are not grounds for deposing him. This is a position reached by Islam practically. But a caliph who openly denied the faith would be as impossible as an unbelieving pope. The caliph, therefore, is the highest executive officer of a system assumed to be definite and fixed. He, in a word, administers Islam; and the content of Islam is determined by the agreement of the Moslem people, expressed immediately through the 'ulema, and ultimately, if indirectly and half-consciously, by the people.

But it was impossible for the caliph personally to administer the affairs of the empire, and by degrees the supreme office was radually put into commission, until the caliph himself became a mere figurehead, and vanished into the sacred seclusion of his palace. The first need which appeared was that of a means of regulating and administering the system of taxation and the revenues of the state. Immense sums flowed into Medina from the Arab conquests; the surplus, after the requirements of the state were met, was distributed among the believers.

It must not be brought against him as a personal reproach, that in dealing with these he acted on the principle that the Moslems were the chartered plunderers of all the rest of the world. But he had to atone by his death for the fault of his system. In the mosque at Medina he was stabbed by a Kufan workman and died in November 644.

Before his death Omar had nominated six of the leading Mohajir (Emigrants) who should choose the caliph from among themselves-Othroan, Ali, Zobair, Talha, Sa'd b. Abi Waqqis, and Abdarrahman b. Auf. The last-named declined to be a candidate, and decided the election in favour of Othman. Under this weak sovereign the government of Islam fell entirely into the hands of the Korcish nobility. We have already seen that Mahomet himself prepared the way for this transference; Abu Bekr and Omar likewise helped it; the Emigrants were unanimous among themselves in thinking that the precedence and leadership belonged to them as of right. Thanks to the energy of Omar, they were successful in appropriating to themselves the succession to the Prophet. Othman did all in his power to press forward this development of affairs. He belonged to the foremost family of Mecca, the Omayyads, and that he should favour his relations and the Korcish as a whole, in every possible way, seemed to him a matter of course. Every position of influence and emolument was assigned to them; they themselves boasting!y called the important province of Irak the garden of Koreish. In truth, the entire empire had become that garden. All Moslems had a right to a certain share of this, which was regarded as booty. Omar, the second caliph, regulated this distribution and also the system of taxation, and the result was the first divan and the constitution of Omar, looked back to now by all Sunnite Moslems as an ideal. The sources of revenue were (i) the poor-rate (zakdt), a tithe paid by every Moslem; (ii) the fifth of all booty; (iii) the poll-tax (jizya) on non-Moslems; and (iv) the landtax (kharaj) also on non-Moslems. Thus the constitution determined the position of all non-Moslems in a Moslem state.

The ideal was that the Moslems should be kept apart as a superior, fighting caste, and that the non-Moslems should support them. The Moslems, therefore, were forbidden to acquire land in conquered countries. The non-Moslems must retain their lands, cultivate them and pay the land-tax (the Arabic word is also used of revenue from the work of a slave) and the poll-tax (the Arabic word means also "ransom"), and give contributions in kind to support the local Moslem garrisons which were massed in great camp-cities at strategic points. If a non-Moslem embraced Islam he entered the ruling caste; his land was distributed among his non-Moslem fellows, and he no longer paid the land-tax but rather received support from the public funds. The amount of these pensions varied with the standing of the pensioner from 10,000 dirhems (a dirhem equalled about a franc) to the widows and relations of the Prophet down to 300. This bureau had, therefore, not only to keep the books of the state, but also to maintain a list of all Moslems, classified genealogically and socially. Its registers were kept by Greeks, Copts and Persians; the Arabs, it may be said in general, adopted the method of administration which they found in the captured countries and drew upon the trained services of their inhabitants. Such a system led naturally to wholesale conversions to Islam; and the consequent decline in revenue, combined with large donations of lands by Othman, the third caliph, to his own family, gradually broke it down.

Against the rising tide of worldliness an opposition, however, began to appear. It was led by what may be called the spiritual noblesse of Islam, which, as distinguished from the hereditary nobility of Mecca, might also be designated as the nobility of merit, consisting of the "Defenders" (Ansar), and especially of the Emigrants who had lent themselves to the elevation of the Koreish, but by no means with the intention of allowing themselves thereby to be effaced. The movement was most energetic in Irak and in Egypt. Its ultimate aim was the deposition of Othman in favor of Ali, whose own services as well as his close relationship to the Prophet seemed to give him the best claim to the Caliphate. Their party was a mixed one. To it belonged the men of real piety, who saw with displeasure the promotion to (he first places in the commonwealth of the great lords who had actually done nothing for Islam, and had joined themselves to it only at the last moment. But the majority were merely a band of men without views, whose aim was a change not of system, but of persons in their own interest.

In the year 656 the leaders of the rebels came from Egypt and Irak to Medina with a numerous following; and the caliph tried the plan of making promises which he did not intend to keep. But the rebels demanded his abdication, besieging him in his own bouse, where he was defended by a few faithful subjects. As he would not yield, they at last took the building by storm and put him to death, an old man of eighty. His death in the act of maintaining his rights was of the greatest service to'his house and of corresponding disadvantage to the enemy.

The mass of the mutineers summoned Ali to the Caliphate, and compelled even Talha and Zobair to do him homage. But soon these two, along with Ayesha, the mother of the faithful, who had an old grudge against Ali, succeeded in making their escape to Irak, where at Basra they raised the standard of rebellion. Alt in point of fact had no real right to the succession, and moreover was apparently actuated not by piety but by ambition and the desire of power, so that men of penetration, even although they condemned Othman's method of government, yet refused to recognize his successor. The new caliph, however, found means of disposing of their opposition, and at the battle of the Camel, fought at Basra in November 656, Talha and Zobair were slain, and Ayesha was taken prisoner. But even so Ali had not secured peace.

The movement that had raised Ali to the Caliphate did not really take any personal interest in him. Religion proved for him a less trustworthy and more dangerous support. Ali was unable to convert enthusiasm for the principle inscribed on his banner into enthusiasm for his person. It was necessary that he should accommodate himself to the wishes of his supporters, which, however, were inconsistent. When negotiations failed and war was resumed, the Kharijites refused to follow Ali's army. He succeeded in disposing of them without difficulty at the battle of Nahrawan, but in his success he lost the soul of his following. For they were the true champions of the theocratic principle; through their elimination it became clear that the struggle had in no sense anything to do with the cause of God. Ali's defeat was a foregone conclusion, once religious enthusiasm had failed him; the secular resources at the disposal of his adversaries were far superior.

Fortunately for him he was murdered (at the end of January 661), thereby posthumously attaining an importance in the eyes of a large part of the Mahommedan world (Shi'a) which he had never possessed during his life. The first patriarchal period of conquest, unearned wealth and the simple life - called by Moslems the period of the "four rightly guided caliphs," - passed rapidly into the genuinely Arab empire of the Omayyads, with whom came an immediate development of organization in the state.

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