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Summary on Chapter4 of Muhammad and the Believers

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The Struggle for Leadership of the Community, 34 – 73 / 655-692 In the generation after Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E. (that is, from about 31/650 until 73/692), the community of Believers was torn apart internally by a bitter dispute over the question of leadership. This dispute manifested itself particularly in two periods of open strife among the Arabian leadership of the Believers’ movement, which we can call the First and Second Civil wars (35-40/656-661 and 60-73/680-692, respectively). Because many of the key participants in these events were actually related to one another by blood or marriage, the Civil Wars— particularly the First— have something of the quality of an extended and very bitter family quarrel. The loss of unity manifested in the Civil Wars has made them very painful events for many Muslims up to the present. For many contemporaries, it was simply heartbreaking that the companions of Muhammad, who had worked shoulder to shoulder for over two decades— and with resounding success— to spread God’s word and to establish the rule of God’s law on Earth, should now come to blows. Later Muslim tradition, reflecting this discomfiture, referred to these events as fitan (singular, fitna), a Quranic word meaning “seduction” or “temptation”— in this case, implying the temptation to pursue personal 146 MUHAMMAD AND THE BELIEVERS power and worldly advantage at the expense of communal or spiritual interests. It is not clear when this term is first used, but it may go back to the Civil Wars themselves. Background of the First Civil War As we have seen, on the death of Muhammad in 11/632, the Believers in Medina agreed to recognize Abu Bakr as their political leader. This act not only secured the succession but also institutionalized the notion that the Believers should remain a single, united community. We also noted that Abu Bakr was succeeded bv ‘Umar ibn alKhattab (ruled 13-23/634-644) and then by ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan (ruled 23-35/644-656) and how under these leaders the first great wave of expansion of the Believers’ movement took place. There can be little doubt that these first leaders of the community were recognized by the Believers because, at the time they were selected, they embodied in important ways the central values to which the Believers were dedicated. The Believers at this time were still very much united in their goals and outlook, and all three men chosen to lead them had been close associates of Muhammad from early in his career. Those who held the position of leadership bore the title amir al-mu’minin, “commander of the Believers,” a title about which I shall have more to say presently. We should not allow the apparent smoothness of succession to mislead us into thinking that the question of leadership was simple or clear-cut, even in those early days. For one thing, the Qur’an seems supremely unconcerned with the question of temporal leadership. It offers no explicit guidance whatsoever on how succession is to be arranged or even on the requirements for leadership of the community. Nor, apparently, had Muhammad clearly designated anyone to succeed him. It was therefore not a straightforward matter for the early Believers to decide what leadership of the commu- The Struggle for Leadership of the Community, 34 – 73 / 655-69 2 147 nity meant, let alone who should exercise it or how the selection should be made, and in fact each of the three commanders of the Believers was chosen in a different manner. As we have seen, Abu Bakr was acclaimed leader at a meeting involving many Medinese Helpers and some Meccan Emigrants. ‘Umar was appointed by Abu Bakr on his deathbed to be his successor. ‘Umar, on the eve of his own death, named six leading contenders for leadership of the community and instructed them to meet as a council (shura) and come to unanimous agreement on which one of them should be his successor. (To provide the conferees with an incentive to avoid deadlock, he also left instructions that if they had not reached unanimity within a few days, those in the minority should be killed.) Numerous reports also suggest that some people may have refused to recognize one or another of the new commanders of the Believers for a time after their selection. Many of these reports involve the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, although it is not clear how many of them are later inventions designed to bolster the claim of ‘Ali’s descendants. There are reports involving other persons as well. The fact that Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman each received broad support on their accessions, however, enables us to deduce a few things about what the early Believers seem generally to have been concerned with in choosing their leaders. All three had been close associates of Muhammad during his lifetime, and their dedication to the Believers’ movement was beyond any doubt. Although they were all from the tribe of Quraysh and were Meccan Emigrants (like most of Muhammad’s earliest followers), each was from a different clan of Quraysh, and none was from the prophet’s clan of Hashim. Their broad acceptability to the early community suggests that the Believers generally did not yet see narrow genealogical or lineage criteria, beyond their membership in Quraysh, as a decisive factor in choosing their leaders— in striking contrast to the social traditions of Arabia. Rather, their close association with Muhammad and their 148 MUHAMMAD AND THF. BELIEVERS reputation for piety and upright behavior seem to have been the paramount concerns in their selection. The Believers’ more or less consistent support of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and, during the first years of his reign, ‘Uthman, was doubtless facilitated by the fact that during these roughly twenty years the Believers’ movement was enjoying phenomenal worldly success, probably beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. As we have seen, during this time they vanquished their opponents in Arabia and expanded their presence in new areas at a pace that must have suggested to many that God was, in fact, on their side, and that their goal of establishing a public order based on their understanding of God’s word was, in fact, in accord with God’s will. The glow of such success, which had brought to them resources, lands, and slaves, probably made it easier for many to ignore whatever irritations or complaints they may have had— to dwell on which, in the context of such God-granted success, might have seemed not only petty but even positively blasphemous. But conditions appear to have changed during the reign of ‘Uthman, and dissatisfaction with ‘Uthman’s leadership of the community became increasingly acute, starting sometime around 30/650-51— that is, about twenty years after Muhammad’s death. A number of practical factors can be proposed to explain this increasing tension among the Believers. By the early 30s/650s, the Believers had to go farther afield from their amsar to wage raids and campaigns of conquest, and the areas to be raided or conquered were less developed, more rural, and hence less rich in booty than the rich lands of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt that had been conquered earlier. There were also more migrants coming to the amsar as muhajirun among whom stipends had to be divided. There are hints in the sources that the governors tried to reduce or eliminate stipends altogether, and this doubtless led to some grumbling. Another sore point involved the disposition of the conquered lands. Almost immediately after the conquests, there had emerged a The Struggle for Leadership of the Community, 34-73/655-692 149 TEXT OF QUR’AN 8 (ANFAL/SPOILS): 41 Know that whatever you take as booty, one-fifth is for God and His apostle and the close kinsmen and orphans and poor and the ibn alsabil. . . (The last term, usually translated “wayfarer,” is interpreted by some as poor Believers or poor muhajirun. The implication is that the four-fifths not reserved for God and His apostle— or later, for the state— should fall to the conquerors as booty.) dispute between the soldiers who had participated in the campaigns and the amir al-muminin, ‘Umar, over this issue. The soldiers wished to see all conquered lands divided among themselves, with only the traditional one-fifth reserved for the amir al-muminin ; they pointed to Qur’an 8:41 and to the prophet’s division of the lands of Khaybar as warrant for their claim. ‘Umar (and later ‘Uthman), on the other hand, argued that conquered lands whose inhabitants were still in occupation— which in most districts were the majority— were different from the regular soldiers’ booty of war and became collective property of the whole community; the inhabitants of the land should remain on them and pay taxes for the benefit of all of the Believers. Only abandoned lands, in their view, were booty to be divided among the soldiers. The picture is not clear, however; many places reached ad hoc agreements with the conquerors, and sources provide very contradictory and confusing accounts of how landholding and taxation actually developed. In addition to the tension over distribution of lands, moreover, there was resentment among many of the soldiers who had actually effected the conquests (or, as time went on, those soldiers’ sons), because some well-connected individuals from the tribe of Quraysh, such as Talha ibn ‘Ubaydallah and Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam, increasingly emerged as large landowners of great wealth. But this came about 150 MUHAMMAD AND THE BELIEVERS through caiiphal grants or through various real estate transactions (including trades for properties in Arabia), not because they had participated in the conquest, which is what irked the soldiers. One of ‘Uthman’s governors in Iraq, Sa‘id ibn al-‘As, enraged the soldiers in an address by referring to Iraq as “a garden for Quraysh”; his arrogant remark sparked a mutiny— led by a hero of the conquests there, Malik al-Ashtar al-Nakha‘i— that eventually caused Sa’id to be ejected from the town by the Kufans. A further practical problem that faced the amir al-muminin, particularly by ‘Uthman’s time, was that of management of what was becoming a far-flung empire. As the areas controlled by the Believers grew, the proper supervision of distant military commanders, governors, sub-governors, tax agents, and the sometimes turbulent amsar themselves, w’ith their mixed tribal populations, became ever more challenging. Moreover, this was happening at a time w’hen the core of the Believers’ movement, those from Mecca and Medina, w’as changing; as the years passed, more and more of the Believers who had actually known the prophet died off, and many others were becoming too old to be active as military commanders or governors. ‘Uthman and his main subordinates increasingly had to look to a younger generation of Believers to hold important posts; yet the qualifications and commitment of many of these younger Believers were less obvious to those around them. Indeed, one of the charges raised against ‘Uthman w ? as that of using “youths” in important posts. In addition to these practical concerns, there were probably other factors related to social and economic realities that generated tension among the Believers, but of which little record has survived. These may have included social disagreements among tribesmen of various tribes now living in close proximity in the amsar. The earlier settlers of the amsar saw themselves being swamped by increasingly large waves of newer immigrants from Arabia, including both new fighters and families of those already there. In addition, there was competition The Struggle for Leadership of the Community, 34-73/655-692 151 among individual leaders or tribal groups for influence with the local commander or governor, disputes over pay and benefits received from (or demands of military service to) the state, and squabbles stemming from the tribesmen’s differing access to private economic activities such as pastoralism, commerce, or artisanship. Also very important was a growing sense among the Medinese Helpers and some other Arabian Believers, especially those early converts of humble origins, that the affairs (and financial benefits) of the new state were being increasingly dominated by powerful members of Quraysh. Abu Bakr had followed closely the policy inaugurated by Muhammad himself in his last years of providing important posts to some of those Meccans who had earlier been among his bit- terest opponents— the policy of “conciliation of hearts” that had so incensed some of his earliest followers. Abu Bakr s appointment of Khalid ibn al-Walid, ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, and Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan, all of whom had joined the Believers’ movement late in Muhammad’s life, can be seen in this light. On his accession, ‘Umar moderated this policy, and relied more heavily for important appointments on those who had been early adherents of the prophet; he dismissed some, like Khalid ibn al-Walid, whom he considered to be too concerned with worldly affairs. Yet his policy was hardly consistent in this regard; he retained ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, widely known for his worldly orientation, as governor of Egypt after ‘Amr conquered it. As important as these practical issues may have been, however, there is good reason to think that the internal tensions that afflicted the community of Believers in the 30s/650s also revolved around the question of piety and how it related to leadership of the community. Competition over land, pay, status, and influence were important not only in their own right, but especially because the Believers sawin them indications that some of their leaders were not acting in accordance with the high principles of piety (including equitable treatment of all Believers) that were a central concern of the Believers’ movement. Differences in status or influence or wealth were 152 MUHAMMAD AND THE BELIEVERS irksome, but people had long been familiar with such things; what was intolerable to many Believers seems to have been the thought that their leaders should be lax in trying to eliminate such inequities, or worse still, should be actively engaged in favoritism, giving some Believers an advantage over others. This concern came to a head during the time of the third amir al-muminin, ‘Uthman— resulting, as we shall see, in his murder. A number of ‘Uthman’s policies seem to have aroused sharp opposition. One charge raised against him was that of favoring members of his own family, the Umayyads, for important (and probably lucrative) positions such as key governorships. For example, he removed two governors in Iraq who were well-known companions of the prophet and heroes of the conquest, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas and Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari, and replaced them with his half-brother Walid ibn ‘Uqba and another relative, ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amir ibn Kurayz (who was also granted by ‘Uthman large date plantations in the vicinity). When Walid ibn ‘Uqba was forced to resign in disgrace (for drunkenness), ‘Uthman replaced him with another Umayyad, his second cousin Sa‘id ibn al-‘As. He also took the governorship of Egypt out of the hands of the redoubtable ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, who had conquered it and then managed its affairs and who was very popular with his troops, and replaced him with ‘Abd Allah ibn Abi Sarh, a foster brother and close ally of ‘Uthman and his family.
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