The Era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs

‘The Era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs’

Jasmine Shavers


Beware its 5 page paper

Its June 8, 632, screams and cries can be heard through the streets of Medina, the prophet has died. “Abu Bakr slipped through the hysterical displays of grief, and quietly entered his daughters Aisha’s room. An embroidered cloak from the Yemen was draped over the still body of Muhammad. He raised the cloth to kiss the forehead of the dead messenger of God and murmured, “You are dearer to me than my father and mother. You have tasted death as God decreed: a second death will never overtake you.” This was a devastating moment in history that brought even the prophets closest companions to their knees, because his death was so abrupt. However with the death of the prophet of Muhammad Islam had no ended but was just beginning, with Muhammad having set the environment and standard of the Islamic way of life. From Muhammad receiving revelations from God in 610, teaching the Islamic faith secretly within the city walls of Mecca, had since come a long way. It was from Muhammad becoming the arbitrator for the city of media, that he went on to transform the city of Medina. Thus, “creating a new kind of community, which emphasized the mutual obligations of Muslims to each other.” (Fisher, 31)

In addition, within the next few years Muhammad went on to bring the great city of Mecca under Islam rule, and Islam rapidly began to evolve, not only religiously but politically and economically. Islam had begun to set itself on the map, but with the death of the prophet Islam became threatened. Furthermore before his death Muhammad failed to choose a successor after him. However this decision of a successor was left in the hands of his trusted counselors thus ushered in the era of the “Rightly Guided Caliphs.” Looking at the reign of each caliph, the political, economical and religious definitive decisions they made were important to the survival and expansion of Islam then and today. Within this paper I will go on to analyze the reign of each caliph, address the problems in which the caliph and the Muslim community had to grapple with. In addition to this I will explain the important and significant events that took place during their reign in order to draw on a conclusion whether the period was indeed rightly guided.

Abu Bakr became the successor of the prophet in 632, and although his reign was short, under his rule significant events took place, that made the Middle East and Islam what it is today. For example, abruptly at the beginning of Abu Bakr’s reign, he had to deal with rebels in the surrounding Arabia, which felt they were not obligated to pledge their allegiance to him since the prophet died. To immediately deal with these rebels, Abu Bakr ordered General Khalid to subdue the revolts, in which he was successful. What was very significant about this event was this began the early conquests. Thereafter, other generals began following Khalid, pushing farther after just two years under Abu Bakr; Islam was established in all of Arabia. Furthermore, the early victories of the apostasy wars, and the conquering of Arabia, made it possible for Islam to venture in Syria, and Mesopotamia. During Abu Bakr’s reign the Muslim community saw great wealth, however in the beginning the Muslim community had to grapple with these revolts who threatened all that was Islam. Sadly, Abu Bakr dies of old age, and Umar is chosen as his successor.

Under Umar’s reign Islam was at its greatest political height, conquering great countries and empires. If Islam was not under the leadership of Umar, Islam and the middle would cease to be what it is today. Many decisive battles and conquest took place during Umar’s reign, which was important to the future of Islam.  For example immediately upon becoming successor of Abu Bakr, the Muslim armies conquered all of Syria and Palestine, although they later lost control of these areas. However the most important battle of Islam and of the Muslim army that allowed for Islam to regain both Syria and Palestine was the battle of Yarmuk.

During this battle under General Khalid, the Muslim army fought against the strong military of the Byzantine Empire. The Muslim armies’ first attempt to conquer the Byzantine Empire was unsuccessful, because they were outnumbered; however in the two day battle of Yarmuk, the Muslim army prevailed, thus conquering the Byzantine State. What was most significant about this battle was that, when the Muslim army lost Syria and Palestine and the Byzantine state regained control of these areas, Islam was in potential danger. The Byzantine state, and the Persian Empire which were aware of the Muslim army, were looking to embark on Arab lands. Furthermore, the Muslim army would continue to conquer significant countries and the greatest empires of the Middle East including Jerusalem, the Persian Empire in the great four day battle at Qadisiyyah in 637. While under Umar’s rule Islam Had greatly expanded, and the Islam Empire was establishing and growing stronger rapidly.

Umar made crucial administrative decisions, which titled him as the second founder of Islam. For example he began appointing governors over the new provinces, to keep order and collect taxes. However what was most important in Umar’s reign is that he began a consensus of the people in the Middle East, and register or Diwan. This Diwan was an annual salary that both Arabs and non-Arabs received. Furthermore, he created the Muslim calendar which implied that” a new state and community had been born.”(Fisher 43) Under Umar’s reign Islam went from small and insignificant to dominating the whole of what today is the Middle East.

Although Umar had been assassinated during his reign, within his reign Islam had expanded extensively, and had grown economically. Islam’s government begun to take a dramatic turn during the reign of Umar with the creation of the Diwan, and the Islamic calendar, now then entering as the successor of Umar, is Uthman.

Within Uthmans reign he began to characterize Islam even more politically. For example Islam was rapidly expanding and with Uthman’s permission, the Muslim army continued to venture in foreign land, and victoriously brought empires, such as the Byzantine empire of Tunisia, and Libyan Sahara under Islam rule. (Rogerson) As a result the cities of Medina, and Mecca were becoming even more prosperous. In addition to that, Uthman began characterizing the government and the role of government. For example, he made significant changes to the old system Diwan that Umar had created, making dramatic changes to the salary rolls, and obtaining the financial records of the Diwan. What was significant about this was that within a few years, after having fully evaluated and made changes to the Diwan, he increased the tax revenue and the salary for all recipients by 25% making it possible that even widows, those on welfare and new recruits were getting a significant amount. (Rogerson, 242) Furthermore, Uthman began to divide up the authorities of governors among the provinces, as a way to manage that one man was not playing the role of many jobs. What was most significant about this was it was a way that Uthman tried to centralize the government of the garrison cities.

Under Uthman reign he made very significant changes to the Muslim community thus increasing the well being of the community. For example, Uthman began what is called today as the clean water act, improving the sanitation of the water. Also, Uthman disagreed with Umars regulations of women, the amount men could own and foreign slaves and ultimately he lifted all these restrictions. In addition to this Uthman was the first to canonize the Koran.

However Uthmans reign was seen as a rather controversial one that created diverse issues and which ultimately lead to his death. Uthman began to appoint family members from his clan the Umayyad’s as important officials and officers within the government. According to Rogerson ‘The Heirs of Muhammad,’ Uthman did this not to see that his clan gain control after his death, but as those right and qualified for the job. However many within Islam saw this in a negative way, and eventually Uthman was killed. Although Uthmans reign later caused controversy his succession was important to Islam politically and economically, and religiously. After Uthman’s death, Ali the cousin and close companion of the prophet became the fourth and last caliph.

Ali was the cousin and close companion of Muhammad, although younger, he had grown up with the prophet, and although he had been passed over several times to be Caliph, his time came after the death of Uthman. However, immediately beginning his reign he was faced with resistance, and opposition within the Muslim community. It was during Ali’s reign that the first fitnah’s or civil wars took place. For example, Islam was shocked with the death of Uthman, and when Ali became caliph he did not immediately try to revenge against those who had murdered Uthman. Consequently, revolts broke out, and plots to go against Ali and kill him began to form. The first of these revolts was the legitimists, headed by Aisha, who went head on to fight Ali and his army, in the battle of the Camel. The Legitimists lost; however, Ali was faced yet again with more revolts. (Fisher 46) The governor of Syria Muawiyah led his army from Syria to meet with Ali and his army to battle, however, Ali and Muawiyah tried to make negotiations, but this was unsuccessful. Eventually Muawiyah and his army stormed into Iraq overtook Ali, and Muawiyah proclaimed himself as Caliph. (Armstrong, 33-34)

Although the reign of Ali was short, Ali’s reign was very significant because he chose to follow after the ways of the prophet closely, though many during his time disagreed. For example, instead of Ali immediately trying to revenge upon those that killed Uthman, he knew that this would cause continuing bloodshed with Islam, and knew that this was not what the prophet wanted. He tried his best to gain control of the situations within the Muslim community, because he did not want the heart of Islam to be destroyed because of revenge, and of the revolts. Furthermore, Ali knew that the Muslim community was about unity, and sought to preserve that when it came to the negotiations with Muawiyah. Ali was a “decent, pious man defeated by the logic of practical politics” (Armstrong, 36) however in the end he was overthrown, and then killed, for not having kept to the ways of the Koran, and for not being a true Muslim.

In conclusion, although I have not fully mentioned, and talked about every small detail of each caliph’s reigns, I focused on pinpointing the significant events and details that are important to the history of Islam, and that was important for the future of Islam also. The definitive decisions, accomplishments, and choices that each caliph made were important to the survival of Islam, as well as the expansion of the Islamic State.  If the decisions made by the caliphs were not made who is to stay the Middle East would be what it is today, it is possible that it would not. For example if any of the caliphs would not have made the decisions to send expeditions into foreign land, or to subdue the revolts, or even to improve the government and well being of the Muslim community, Islam could possible still be small and insignificant as when it started out. I believe that it is important to look at the decisions that the caliphs made all around, however messy, not just from a religious point of view but politically and economically. Some may argue that Islam was in danger of losing its identity, because of politics, however this dynamic really help shaped Islam and the Muslim community. The Muslim community went through some trying times however, prevailed in the end. Although the reign of some of the caliphs was misguided, and controversial, this truly was a period that was rightly guided.

Works Cited

Rogerson, Barnaby. The Heirs of Muhammad: Islam’s First Century and the Origins of the Sunni-Shia Split. New York: Woodstock, 2007. Print.

Armstrong, Karen. Islam: A Short History. New York, 2000. Print.

Hazleton, Lesley. The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam after the Prophet. New York, 2009. Print.

Fisher, Ochsenwald. The Middle East: A History. New York, 2010. Print.

Esposito L John. Islam: The Straight Path. New York: Oxford, 2011. Print.



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