In this lesson we will examine the often violent struggle for leadership of Islam after the death of Muhammad.
I. Muhammad’s Final Years
A. Muhammad’s family.
1. Muhammad had six children by his first wife, Khadijah, two sons who died in infancy and four daughters. The youngest daughter, Fatima, married the son of his uncle Abu Talib, named Ali.
2. After Khadijah’s death Muhammad started to contract other marriages, all but one of them to widows.
a. As was customary for Arab chiefs, some of these marriages were contracted to cement political alliances.
b. Others were marriages to wives of his companions who had fallen in combat, women who were in need of protection. Remarriage for widows was difficult in a society that placed a high value on a bride's virginity.
c. However, talk of the political and social motives behind many of Muhammad's marriages should not obscure the fact that Muhammad was attracted to and enjoyed the company of women as friends as well as spouses. His life reflects the Islamic outlook on marriage and sexuality.
3. Next to Khadijah, his favorite wife was Aisha, the daughter of Muhammad’s closest companion Abu Bakr. They were married in 623, when she was nine, but did not consummate the marriage until she reached puberty.
B. Muhammad’s death.
1. In the spring of 632 Muhammad led his largest group of pilgrims to Mecca during his lifetime on what came to be called his “Farewell Pilgrimage.”
2. On the return trip to Medina, Muhammad contracted a fatal illness. He appointed his longtime friend, AbūBakr, to lead the daily prayers and the weekly worship service.
3. He spent his last days in the apartment of Aisha, dying in her arms at the age of sixty, in June of 632.
II. The “Rightly Guided Ones”
When Muhammad died he had no son, and had appointed no one as his official successor. The first four men to lead the ummah (community) came to be known by most Muslims as the Rashidun, the “Rightly Guided Ones.”
A. Abu Bakr (ruled 632-634).
1. Immediately the controversy over who should succeed Muhammad centered on whether it was more important for the successor to be related to the prophet, or more important that the successor be chosen by the ummah from among the companions of Muhammad who came with him from Mecca.
2. Those who favored a blood relative supported Ali as Muhammad’s successor, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law.
3. But instead, after a tribal consultation, the ummah chose Abu Bakr, Aisha’s father.
4. He was given the title “the Successor to the Messenger of God” – Khalifat Rasul Allah, or in modern terms, caliph.
5. Abu Bakr was a successful military leader and highly regarded for his integrity and devotion to Muhammad.
6. Before his death Abu Bakr appointed Umar ibn al-Khattab to be his successor.
B. Umar (ruled 634-644).
1. Umar was another companion of Muhammad from the Meccan period, once a bitter opponent of Islam who converted to the faith.
2. He came to be known as Amir al-Mumanin, “Commander of the Faithful.”
3. Umar continued the formal development of Islam by establishing a calendar and appointing professional reciters of the Quran.
4. During his rule the territory the community controlled continued to expand into Iraq, Syria, and Egypt.
5. Umar was insistent that the political leadership (the caliphate) did not have absolute religious authority.
6. In 644 he was stabbed by mad Persian slave. Before he died he appointed a six-man advisory council called the shura which eventually elected Uthman inb Affan over Ali as his successor.
C. Uthman ibn Affan (ruled 644-656).
1. Uthman was a prominent member of the Umayyad clan within the tribe of Quraysh, and an early convert to Islam.
2. Uthman was deeply loved by Muhammad, and married two of Muhammad’s daughters. For this distinction, he earned the title Dhu al-Nurayn (“He of the Two Lights”).
3. In 651 Uthman appointed a committee to collate the various textual versions already in existence and cull disparate verses and sections committed to memory by various Companions in order to produce a final canonical edition of the Quran. Once the text was finalized Uthman ordered any variant manuscripts to be collected and burned.
4. Part of his policy was to appoint relatives from his own clan as governors. This nepotism led to dissastisfaction among many Muslims, and sometime in June 656, a cabal of angry Egyptians burst in and assassinated him while in a mosque at Medina.
D. Ali ibn Abu Talib (656-660).
1. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, one of the very first converts to the new faith. He became famous for his bravery in battle.
2. Ali claimed that Muhammad designated him as his successor, and those who supported this claim came to be known as the ““Party of Ali” – Shiatu Ali, or Shiah.
3. Ali’s tenure was marked by internal strife known as the first civil war (fitnah).
a. A faction of Muslims who did not trust Ali’s leadership, led by Muhammad’s widow Aisha, led rebels into battle against Ali at “Battle of the Camel” in 656. Ali was victorious.
b. Another faction in Damascus, led by Uthman’s closest kin, Muawiya, rebelled, believing Ali was slow to pursue those responsible for Uthman’s murder. At the Battle of Siffin in 657, Ali’s forces were on the verge of destroying Muawiya’s when he told his bodyguards to put pages from the Quran on their lances, and shout "The law of the Lord! That shall decide between us!" This led to arbitration and put an end to the conflict temporarily. A group of Ali’s troops disagreed with his decision to accept truce and came to be known as Kharijites, “Seceders.”
4. Ali was assassinated by a Kharijite named Abd al-Rahman, who attacked him with a sword while Ali was in mosque
III. The Division
A. The second civil war.
1. When Ali died the community pledged loyalty to his son Hasan, who died soon afterward in 671.
2. In Damascus Muawiya decided he was powerful enough to designate the new leader of Islam, his own son Yazid. establishing his own dynasty, named for his clan, the Umayyads.
3. Hasan’s brother Husayn and several others in Medina objected to Yazid’s leadership, and tried to lead a rebellion against him.
4. This proved unsuccessful, and Husayn tried to flee to Iraq for safety. Yazid’s forces intercepted Husayn’s party at the city of Karbala, and massacred them in 680.
B. The aftermath of the second civil war.
1. Muawiya’s power grew into the ruling dynasty of Islam, named for his ancient clan, the Umayyads. The Umayyad Dynasty was in control from 661-750.
2. Those who accepted the Umayyad Dynasty and the legitimacy of the Rashidun came to be known as Sunnis (from sunnah, the customary practice of Muhammad). Most Muslims (85%) are Sunni.
3. Those who rejected the mainstream and believed that Ali should have been the first successor became known as Shia, the “partisans of Ali.” Around 15% of Muslims are Shia. Every year many Shiites commemorate the massacre at Karbala in a ten day period of mourning and self-flagellation called Ashura.