Is Caliphate a religious matter in Islam?
Caliphate in Islam was never a divinely decreed and religious matter like all other matters for which specific instructions were revealed during the revelation of Quran in the life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. It was a worldly matter and for such matters there is commandment in the Quran for the Prophet and after him the Muslims to consult each other and make decisions based on mutual consultation process: (Al Quran 3:159)...And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when you have decided upon a course of action, place your trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him. (Al Quran 42:38)…..and whose rule [in all matters of common concern] is consultation among themselves.
Had there been a specific and clear instruction on selection of Caliph/Imam similar to all important religious matters such as salaah (5 times prayers), distribution of property, rules of zakat (obligatory charity) etc. there would not have been dispute after the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Had it been very clearly mentioned from Allah ﷻ and His Prophet who will be the successor Caliph there would not had been the slightest contention among the companions because clear evidence on religious matters were readily accepted by them regardless of their personal like or dislike and that is the reason why Prophet Muhammad ﷺ praised them: “The best of my followers are those living in my generation (i.e. my contemporaries). and then those who will follow the latter. There will come after you, people who will bear witness without being asked to do so, and will be treacherous and untrustworthy, and they will vow and never fulfill their vows, and fatness will appear among them." (Sahih al-Bukhari 3650) They were best in following and obedience in everything that Allah ﷻ specifically commanded. It was later generations that interpreted this matter of caliphate under the light of religion and sanctioned it as a religious matter giving proofs for this interpretation. In fact it was exactly due to this reason why the first successor and rightly guided Caliph named Abu Bakr (r.a), the first and foremost of all Muslims never referred to himself as a Caliph (representative) of Allah ﷻ. In fact he always referred to himself as a Caliph of Prophet and not of Allah ﷻ because one can represent someone in their absence and Allah ﷻ is never absent but Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is absent after his passing away. When writing a letter of covenant with the Christians of Najaran, he represents himself as a representative of the Prophet ﷺ and his own people:
“In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This is the written statement of Abdullah Abu Bakr, the Khalifa (Caliph) of Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him), the Prophet and Messenger of Allah. He affirms for you the rights of a protected neighbor in your selves, in your lands, your religious community, your wealth, retainers, and servants, those of you who are present or aboard, your bishops, monks, and monasteries, and all that you own be it great or small. You shall not be deprived of any of it, and shall have full control…” (Abu Yusuf - Kitab Al Kharaj)
Additionally we also find that when the second successor of the Prophet ﷺ and rightly guided Caliph Umar bin Khattab (r.a) was on his deathbed he was advised to appoint a successor to which he declared openly in front of entire gathering, which included senior companions of the Prophet, that he would not like to appoint a successor like Abu Bakr did on his death (by appointing Umar) and would instead follow the Prophet’s example who never appointed a successor: Salim bin Abdullah narrated from his father who said: "It was said to 'Umar bin Al-Khattab: 'Perhaps you should endorse your successor.' He said: 'If I appoint a successor, then indeed Abu Bakr appointed a successor. And if I do not appoint a successor, the Messenger of Allah(s.a.w) did not appoint a successor."' (Jami at-Tirmidhi 2225)
It is known that Umar (r.a) never appointed anyone and in fact left it for the Shura (consultative council) of senior most companions of the Prophet ﷺ to decide whoever they chose best. Please note that Hazrat Ali (r.a) was part of this shura and never raised a hue and cry claiming that it was his right above all others to be chosen as a Caliph and neither did any among the Companions, who were known for their piety and righteousness contradicted this statement of Umar (r.a).
Issue of successorship after Prophets passing away
After Prophet Muhammad ﷺ passed away there were three groups formed as a result of contention over matter of his successorship and leadership. First group was the Ansaar (helpers), who were originally Madinah citizens and had gathered at the place of Saqeefah in Madinah, to elect a leader for all Muslims. The second group was the Muhajireen (emigrants), all Makkan Muslims who had settled in Madinah after the migration and were all from the tribe of Quraysh. The Muhajireen went to Saqeefah to stop the Ansaars (helpers) from selecting one of their own and remind them that the Prophet ﷺ had clearly advised the Muslims that Quraysh should always have authority over the Muslims: “Authority of ruling will remain with Quraysh, and whoever bears hostility to them, Allah will destroy him as long as they (i.e. Quraysh) abide by the laws of the religion.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 3500) “This religion would continue to remain powerful and dominant until there have been twelve Caliphs (rulers).” and “all of them will be from the Quraysh.” (Sahih Muslim 1821 f)
This is because they were the most educated and informed about Islam than anyone else due to their accepting Islam 13 years prior to the acceptance of Islam by Ansaar (helpers). The group of Muhajireen that went to Saqeefah included the most senior and experienced companions of all such as Abu Bakr (r.a), Umar (r.a) and Abu Ubayda bin Jarrah (r.a). They went to inform the Ansaars to stop their election and choose one from the Quraysh. After some debate and argument they were able to convince the Ansaars in choosing Abu Bakr (r.a). Furthermore by reminding the council that the Prophet ﷺ preferred the rule of Quraysh, they were also told that Abu Bakr (r.a) was leading the prayer in the absence of the Prophet and continued to do so till his death, therefore since he was the best to lead the Muslims in prayers then they deduced that he should be chosen to take care of political matters as well.
A third group had gathered at the house of Ali (r.a), the Prophet’s cousin and son in law, who were mainly supporters of Banu Hashim, the Prophet’s own clan and part of his family. They had gathered because they thought the successorship should go to one of the Hashmis as they are more entitled to this matter than anyone else. With Ali (r.a) being at the forefront of Hashmis many supporters gathered at their house wanted them to lead. Knowing that the majority of Muslims, Ansaar and Muhajireen, gathered at Saqeefah had already made Abu Bakr (r.a) as their leader and Banu Hashim were a minority third group, therefore the majority vote went for Abu Bakr (r.a) and there was no turning back on this. In fact after Ali (r.a) had known that Abu Bakr (r.a) was elected he gave the following response to Abu Sufyan who had come with Abbas (r.a), the Prophet’s uncle, to convince Ali (r.a) to revolt against the majority vote: "O People! Steer clear through the waves of mischief by boats of deliverance, turn away from the path of dissension and put off the crowns of pride. Prosperous is one who rises with wings (i.e. when he has power) or else he remains peaceful and others enjoy ease. It (i.e. the aspiration for Caliphate) is like turbid water or like a morsel that would suffocate the person who swallows it. One who plucks fruits before ripening is like one who cultivated in another’s field.." (Nahjul Balagha - Sermon 5)
Despite the fact that Ali (r.a) was not pleased with the decision that took place at Saqeefah, he nevertheless, did not accept the offer to revolt on the ground that this would create dissensions among the Muslims. His displeasure was legit because the council at Saqeefah did not take Hashmis vote in to consideration. Nevertheless Ali (r.a) was convinced later and gave Bayah (pledge of allegiance) to Abu Bakr (r.a) many months after the latter’s election:
Ali (r.a) recited tashahhud and said “We recognise your moral excellence and what Allah has bestowed upon you. We do not envy the favor (i. e. the Caliphate) which Allah has conferred upon you; but you have done it (assumed the position of Caliph) alone (without consulting us), and we thought we had a right (to be consulted) on account of our kinship with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).” He continued to talk to Abu Bakr (in this vein) until the latter's eyes welled up with tears. Then Abu Bakr spoke and said: “By Allah, in Whose Hand is my life, the kinship of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) is dearer to me than the kinship of my own people. As regards the dispute that has arisen between you and me about these properties, I have not deviated from the right course and I have not given up doing about them what the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to do.” So Ali said to Abu Bakr: “This afternoon is (fixed) for (swearing) allegiance (to you).” So when Abu Bakr (r.a) had finished his Zuhr prayer, he ascended the pulpit and recited Tashahhud, and described the status of Ali, his delay in swearing allegiance and the excuse which had offered to him (for this delay). (After this) he asked for God's forgiveness. Then Ali b. Abu Talib recited the Tashahhud extolled the merits of Abu Bakr and (said that) his action was not prompted by any jealousy of Abu Bakr on his part or his refusal to accept the high position which Allah had conferred upon him, (adding:) “But we were of the opinion that we should have a share in the government, but the matter had been decided without taking us into confidence, and this displeased us (Banu Hashim). Hence the delay in offering allegiance.” The Muslims were pleased with this (explanation) and they said: “You have done the right thing.” The Muslims were (again) favorably inclined to Ali since he adopted the proper course of action. (Sahih Muslim 1759 a, Book 32 Kitab Al Jihad)
This is part of original piece written on July 6, 2019 - https://www.quora.com/Can-Muslims-prove-that-prophets-other-than-Muhammad-advocated-traditional-jihad
Jihad means "struggle" and has a wider meaning in Islam. In Islam Jihad is divided in to 2 types: Jihad Al Akbar (Greater Struggle) and Jihad Al Asghar (Lesser Struggle). Jihad as in fighting actually belongs to the 2nd category of struggle i.e. Jihad Al Asghar because despite the fact that fighting an enemy is not something easy yet struggle against one's evil commanding soul called Nafs (lower self in humans) is considered greater form of struggle. You can read more on this topic here: The Quran on Jihad as Struggle vs Jihad as Fighting
Nevertheless Jihad (struggle) as in fighting is a very important aspect of Islam, it will always remain an important duty of the Ummah (Muslim Community) and this can be easily understood by comparing the other religions with its universal teachings. Unlike Islam the propagation of message of previous religions was limited to their own community and not universal. Islam is not for a particular community, it is sent for the entire human race and there is no restriction in its mission of propagation. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was sent for entire humankind unlike Prophets of previous nations who were only sent to their own communities. The scope of Allah’s message expanded and encompassed the entire humankind with the arrival of His Final Messenger. Since that is the difference in Islam therefore Jihad as in fighting became part of the religion for the sake of defending its mission. Its quite evident that no prophet ever came or his followers ever lived but faced hostility, persecution and death which cause their message to be forgotten or changed but Allah ﷻ sent a successor prophet or messenger to revive its teachings. Since Islam has a universal approach and there will not be any Prophets after Muhammad ﷺ this faith has been specifically given permission to conduct Jihad as in fighting to protect itself in the face of aggression.
A typical example that can assist in understanding this better is the case of Bani Israel (children of Israel), whose history informs us that after their exodus from Egypt, they lived in the the Sinai Desert for 40 years without a homeland. Then Allah ﷻ decided for them to conquer a nearby land under Prophet Joshua (alaihi salaam) which was the land of Canaan. This land was given by Allah ﷻ to them for conquest so they can exit the desert area which they inhabited for half a century. However after this conquest all wars was to be ceased, no further conquest were allowed because the purpose of war was only establishment of a secure land for settlement and safe environment for practicing their faith and nothing more. After resettlement, the Israelis were then ruled for three to four hundred years by multiple religious leaders called the judges or kohens whose main concern was guiding religious services and practices of the Israelis, their concern was not political power. The twelve tribes of Israel lived under loose confederation, and no political power was necessary until they began facing continuous attacks for many years by neighboring nations such as philistines, Canaan, Moabs, Edomites etc. This led towards the formation of a Kingdom of Israel, first political power establishment of their history. It was not until Prophet Samuel (alaihi salaam) that Israelis requested him to establish a king over them to protect against attacks of neighboring nations. Allah ﷻ gave them a king by the name of Saul and this became the beginning of the establishment of first political power among Israelis and eventually leading towards establishment of Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This is also why Prophet Moses (alaihi salaam) was a preacher prophet and not a political leader and neither were those who succeeded him like Prophet Aaron (alaihi salaam) and Prophet Joshua (alaihi salaam) and their successors. It was not until it became a necessity to protect against aggressive neighbors is why unity under one authority and establishment of political power became necessary.
A major reason why political power was not a major concern for Allah ﷻ in the case of nations prior to Islam because the previous nations had a succession of Prophets and were never left without guidance. After arrival of the final Messenger ﷺ and revelation of the Quran two things changed in human religious history:
Part of this was originally written on Quora on July 12, 2020 - Were Persians forced into accepting Islam? Did Islam borrow its Hadith & Quran Teachings from Zoroastrianism & Persian?
What is commonly understood, in the non-Muslim world, in particular the Western countries, that the followers of Zoroastrianism were converted, or must have converted, by force after the Islamic Arab conquest of Persia. After scrutinizing the history of Islam in Persia, one cannot believe in such allegations. In fact there is ample evidence that despite the overthrow of the Zoroastrianism following Persian Dynasty, Islam was spread through peaceful and other non-violent means among Zoroastrians as well as other faiths.
In Pre-Islamic Iran (Persian) the Zoroastrian priests enjoyed an enormous influence in the state, due to their relations with ruling dynasty and with their authority persecuted people’s of other faiths such as Sabians, Christians, Jews, Buddhists. This created a hatred for established religion and the dynasty and so the people of these faiths viewed the Muslim Arab conquest of Persian as means of liberation from their persecution. Islam tolerated their religion and practices for light tribute (jizya, a tax on non-Muslims) that gave them exemption from military service and their property, family and lives were under the protection of Islamic state. In fact the fire worshipers of Zoroastrian faith were also allowed to practice their faith and live in harmony with others and were even given the title of Ahl al-Kitab (people of the book) like Jews & Christians as taught in the prophetic hadith: “Follow the same sunna with them that you follow with the people of the Book” (as recorded in Book 17, Hadith 43 of Muwatta Malik) The term ahl al-kitab is generally translated in English as “People of the Book” and understood as referring to Jews and Christians in many instances in the Quran (depending upon context). But from a broader perspective the term includes all those nations and people who have ever received a divine revelation from Allah ﷻ. The famous Muslim of 20th century Muhammad Asad translates the term as “Followers of the earlier revelations” (such as in Al Quran 98:1) and used it throughout his English Translation. This means all those nations who ever received a divine book from Allah ﷻ which would include Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians may be even Chinese or any nations who claim to have ever received a divine book. Hence we notice that after the fall of Sassanid Empire, the central Zoroastrian religious authority had no support to rely on and the followers of this creed would find the transition to Islam a simple and easy one, owing to the numerous points of similarity in the old creed and the new such as Ahuramazda and Ahriman were qual to Allah ﷻ and Iblis, the accursed; the creation of the world in six periods; the angels and the demons; the story of the primitive innocence of man; the resurrection of the body and the doctrine of heaven and hell. Islam enjoined to pray five times a day just as they had been by the Avesta.
In his Preaching of Islam, Professor T. W. Arnold argues that the political and national sympathies of the conquered Persians were also enlisted on behalf of the new religion through the marriage of Husayn (alaihi salaam), the son of the 4th rightly guided Caliph Ali (alaihi salaam) and the grandson of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, with Shahbanu, one of the daughters of Yazdagird, the last monarch of the Sassanid dynasty. In the descendants of Shahbanu and Husayn the Persians saw the heirs of their ancient kings, and this may also explain the devotion of many Persians towards Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s) and Shiaism. The widespread conversion to Islam among Persians could not have been forcibly because the fact that many fire worshiping communities and their places of worship exist in Iran, till this day. In the 10 Century CE, three centuries after the conquest of the country, fire-temples were to be found in Iraq, Fars, Kirman, Sijistan, Khurasan, Jibal, Azharbaijan and Arran, i.e. in almost every province of Persia. Al-Sharastani also (writing as late as the twelfth century), makes mention of a fire-temple at Isfiniya, in the neighbourhood of Baghdad itself, the capital of Abbasid Caliphate. Another factor that led towards many Zoroastrians accepting Islam may have been the class system that was part of their religion with priesthood on the top and the artisans, laborers, the lowest class, at the bottom of the societal hierarchy. Islam was the faith that made the lower classes equal in faith and brotherhood with other Muslims.
Professor Arnold also adds how acceptance of Islam by Persian nobles and ruling class spread Islam. About close of the 8th Century CE, Saman, a noble of Balkh, having received assistance from Asad bin Abdallah, the governor of Khurasan, renounced Zoroastrianism, embraced Islam and named his son Asad after his protector : it is from this convert that dynasty of the Samanids (CE 874-999) took its name. About the beginning of the 9th Century CE, Karam bin Shahriyar was the first king of the Qabusiyyah dynasty who became a Muslim, and in 873 CE a large number of fire-worshippers were converted to Islam in Daylam through the influence of Nasir al-Haqq Abu Muhammad. In the following century, about CE 912, Hasan bin Ali, a Zaydi Shia revolutionary who on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, who is said to have been invited the inhabitants of Tabaristan and Daylam, who were Magians, to accept Islam; many of them responded to his call. In the light of the given facts, it is surely impossible to attribute the decay of Zoroastrianism entirely to violent conversions by Muslim conquerors.
Muhammad Asad - Message of the Quran - Chapter 98