For all that Muhammad contributed to his growing community -- and by the volumes of hadith you'd realize that's a good plenty -- he failed to prepare the ummah for continuing after his death. So when Muhammad died the community was in disbelief and then suddenly the thoughts of who would fill Muhammad's leadership role overwhelmed them. Although some believed Muhammad's son in law Ali should be the rightful successor, others didn't want the tribe of the prophet having both political power (such as the caliphate was) and religious "power." By power, I mean since Muhammad was the channel for the divine revelation and that made his tribe well thought of. Something like that anyway. Nothing much was written down except some parts of the Revelation that were considered especially valuable or needed for community affairs. If people had a problem, they'd simply go ask Muhammad. But once he died, who would they now seek for answers? Muhammad had divine discernment and insights, but what about a new leader? Could he do the same?
In chapter 5 of No God but God, Reza Aslan speaks of the successors of Muhammad - the "rightly-guided ones," although three quarters of the way through this chapter I chuckled at how these people didn't seem to have high doses of rightly-guidedness. Granted Aslan fit many many years of history into about thirty pages so I know this is not the complete story. It's just one man's thoughts based on his reading and understanding of history. Not to mention this man is Shi'ite so I just get the impression his views of certain people aren't the same as what a Sunni might think. :-) You'll probably understand what I mean as you continue reading this post.
After Muhammad's death, Abu Bakr was chosen as his first successor. One thing I found worth noting of him was the fact that he supplemented his income by milking a neighbor's cow! The Caliph's role was more secular - tribal shaykh, community war leader and chief judge, "upholding the institutions of the Muslim faith, but [not playing] a significant role in defining religious practice" (which would be the job of religious scholars and is the subject of the next chapter.)
I found the discussion of why Aisha disliked Ali interesting and it made more sense to me why Abu Bakr stripped Muhammad's inheritance from Fatima and Ali and gave it to Muhammad's wives once I found out Aisha was the new Caliph's daughter! Bad blood plus long-held grudges made the whole Battle of the Camel make better sense when it came to Aisha leading the fighters in this Islamic civil war years later. But I'm ahead of myself.
The shocking (hey, even I was shocked) inheritance stripping aside and the fact that Abu Baker handpicked his successor (which totally disregarded tribal tradition and Muslim precedent), Reza Aslan didn't have much else negative to say about Abu Bakr. And the next Caliph he seemed to admire as a great warrior and even better diplomat, however, before reading about Umar's rise to this leadership position, I had written in my notes: author does not like Umar. Although I'd not made note of it in the post where I discussed hijab briefly, I remembered how Aslan made me think Umar was misogynistic. And then today I felt Umar a great big bully in how he threatened Fatima, Ali and the rest of the Banu Hashim if they didn't accept the decision of the tribal council or shura. (pg. 117)
But Umar seemed a great caliph from the little shared in this chapter. Unfortunately he met his untimely death at the hands of a "mad Persian slave."
The next Caliph - Uthman - was painted in a very unfavorable light. So much so that I asked myself why people actually used this name for their sons! Yeah, it was bad. Uthman dipped from the public treasury and gave much money to his family, he put his family into powerful positions across the Islamic lands and he even authorized a Quran burning! Well, all the copies that differed from the version canonized under his rule that is. All these things made him very unpopular, according to Reza Aslan. He was eventually killed by rebels as he was reading the Quran.
Finally! Finally Ali, the golden boy who some thought should have been the first Caliph and was passed over each time - was made the ruler. He thought Uthman had permanently tainted the "caliph" title so he went by another name, one Umar made famous, Amir al-Mu'manin, "Commander of the Faithful." Since he didn't seek to punish Uthman's murderers he alienated a sizable number of tribes bent on retribution. Aisha never liked Ali since the time she was falsely accused of adultery and Ali insisted Muhammad needed to divorce her to get away from the taint of this scandal. She lead an army against Ali and though her side was defeated, the ummah continued to splinter.
One of Uthman's relatives in Damascus set out to control some of the tribes and eventually Ali's army and Mu'awiyah's (the guy in Damascus) army clashed. The fight ended when Mu'awiyah thought his forces would lose so he told them to put copies of the Quran on the end of their swords. Ali took this as a sign for "surrender for arbitration" so a hakam was brought in to mediate between the two sides. This proved to be a disaster for Ali as part of his allies the Kharijites (who were the al Qaeda types of those times) abandoned him. Ali was forced to deal with his former allies "in what was less a battle than a massacre" and then with Mu'awiyah who had reassembled his troops, captured Egypt and later pronounced himself Caliph in Jerusalem while Ali's attention was on the Kharijites. Before heading into battle against Mu'awiyah, Ali went into a mosque to pray when a Kharijite pushed his way through the crowd and struck Ali on the head with a poisoned sword. The poison killed Ali two days later.
Shi'ite Muslims remember Ali as the first imam: "the Proof of God on Earth." (pg. 136)
So then the ummah was no more a Caliphate, but kingdoms (Aslan notes that Arabs hated absolute monarchies) and the author spoke briefly of the Umayyads in Damascus (and I think it's neat now to remember that I was in the huge Umayyad mosque last year -- it's the one with the shrine to John the Baptist), the Abbasids in Baghdad, the Fatimids in Cairo and then the rise of the Turks which eventually ushered in the long-reining Ottoman Empire.
After Muhammad's death, some tribes stopped paying the tithe tax because they thought Muhammad's death annulled their oath of allegiance. Abu Bakr dealt "ruthlessly with the rebels" because he knew their defection would cause political instability and their money was needed for the small Muslim community in Medina. These campaigns came to be known as the Riddah Wars and I took note of them because this is where Aslan says apostasy equals treason came into play. Although "apostasy and treason were nearly identical terms in seventh-century Arabia," he says this relationship has endured in Islam until today and is why the death penalty is imposed in some Muslim countries if you convert out of your Muslim faith. (see pg. 119) I find this extremely unfortunate since I'm all about freedom of choice as I believe one's relationship with God is something a person needs to decide for herself. It's not mom's, dad's, grandfather's or the community's decision to make for me as I alone answer to God on Judgment Day.
In the last two chapters Aslan has mentioned in passing that at this time in history one had to become a "client of an Arab" in order to convert to Islam. Does anyone know what this means?
This chapter ends with quotes from reformer Ali Abd ar-Raziq who argued basically for the separation of mosque and state. While the religious arguments were settled by God through Muhammad in the revelation, he claimed the Caliphate was a secular, civil institution that "all Muslims felt free to question, oppose and even rise up against." On the other hand, you have Sayyid Qutb who argued one could not separate the religious from the secular, "therefore, the only legitimate Islamic state is that which addresses both the material and the moral needs of its citizens." (pg. 138)
Note: I talked to Samer about this chapter and got the Sunni version of many of these stories. It's amazing how history is very different depending on what side is telling, huh?
I welcome your thoughts.