Skip to content


October 28, 2014


Book Links

Table of Content
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6




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 and charisma.

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. These were:

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.


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.


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 members.

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 Khalifahs.

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 Caliphate.

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 this rebellion.

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 time.

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.


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 rule.

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 given protection

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 matters

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 unostentatious life.

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.


When Omar was on his death bed, he appointed a council to elect the next successor. The council consisted of:

Abdur Rahman bin Auf
Uthman, and

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.


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 passed away.

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.


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 AD)

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 Caliphate.

The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad (750 1258 AD)

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 dynasties arose.

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
and trigonometry
al Beruni physical and mathematical scientist,
philosopher, historian
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 Spain.

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. These were:

Abdur Rahman III
Hakam II, and
Hisham II

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
Mohyuddin ibne
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
Ibne Jubayr
Al Masuni famous travelers
Ibne Batuta
al Majirite
al Zarqali astronomers
Ibne Aflah
al Zahrawi physician
Ibne Zuhr physician
Solomon bin Gabirol
Ibne Bajjah philosophers
Ibne Tufayl

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
Itimad Busina


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.


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


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 Wahabis

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 of Turkey.

The Ahmadis

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 5.


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 community.

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.

The Zaydis

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 of Islam.

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 Mutah.

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 called Nizaris.

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 as Bohras.

Previous Next

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: