Featured, History

After the Rightly Guided Caliphs, were the Caliphs generally corrupt?

This is a common claim found in the history books of the orientalists such as Sir William Muir who wrote many books on the history of the Caliphate and Sir Hamilton Gibb who is famous for translating ibn Batuta’s travel books. These books are on the reading lists of most Arabic degrees at western institutions such as SOAS where Gibb did his MA in Arabic in 1922.

Abdulwahab El-Affendi in his book ‘Who needs an Islamic State?’ summarises Islamic Political History saying:

“When the dust settled over the momentous struggles unleashed by the murder of Uthman in 36/656, the Muslims found themselves under the despotic regime of Muawiya. The Ummayad state was not recognized as legitimate by most Muslims, but only tolerated. It faced numerous revolts until it finally collapsed following the triumph of the Abbasid revolution in 132/750. The Abbasids soon fell short of the expectations of Muslim idealists who fought the Umayyads in the hope that their fall would herald the return of the Righteous Caliphate. Shi’i and Khawarij revolutionaries therefore continued to challenge the Abbasid state.”

There are four points in refutation of this claim.

  1. History must be taken from unbiased sources.

In the book Nizam ul-Islam by Sheikh Taqiudeen an-Nabhani it states “that history must not be taken from the enemies of Islam who harbour hatred towards it. Instead history must be taken from Muslims themselves after an extensive research so as not to adopt a distorted image.”

Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنْ جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَنْ تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِين

“You who have iman! If a deviator brings you a report, scrutinize it carefully in case you attack people in ignorance and so come to greatly regret what you have done.”

(Al-Hujuraat, 6)

  1. A common issue when studying history is to judge an entire era or state by specific events such as a bad ruler. We see this today when a Muslim commits an error and all Muslims face collective blame.

In Nizam ul-Islam it states “that the generalisation in study of the society should not be taken from the history of individuals or from one aspect of the society. For example, it would be wrong to pass judgment on the history of Ummayad era by studying the history of Yazid’s era. Or to pass judgment on the history of the Abbassid era from some incidents of their Caliphs.”

An example of this is Abdulwahab El-Affendi who in in his book ‘Who needs an Islamic State?’ quotes a statement from Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan, the Ummayad Caliph who told a Makkan congregation at the start of his rule that ‘anyone who after today says to me, “be conscious of Allah,” I will have him beheaded’, as evidence of corrupt rulers who didn’t accept accountability.

However, Ibn Khaldun states: “Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan is one of the greatest Arab and Muslim Caliphs. He followed in the footsteps of Umar ibn al-Khattab, the Amir of the Believers, in regulating state affairs”.

We have two contradictory views on Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan so who is right?

Firstly, context is extremely important when viewing a historical event. After Yazid died Abdullah ibn Zubair became the Caliph based in Makkah. However, he didn’t have bayah from all areas of the state. The Ummayads still claimed they were the Caliphs. Saeed ibn Al-Musayyab refused to give bayah to either Abdullah ibn Zubair or Abdul-Malik saying, “Not until people are united.” He was given 50 lashes by the Waali of Medina for this.

Eventually Abdullah ibn Zubair was defeated by Abdul-Malik through his commander Hajjaj bin Yusuf. Those who gave bayah to Abdullah bin Zubair would see this as Abdul-Malik usurping the Caliphate, whereas Abdul-Malik saw it as dealing with people who he saw as rebels and transgressors.

Secondly, in Nizam ul-Islam it states that “History has three sources: History books, archaeological objects and narration.”

History books such as those of the orientalists are not trustworthy unless corroborated by other sources as they contain bias. An example are history books on the Bosnian war which make sweeping statements that Muslims were forcibly converted by the Ottomans.

History books based on narration however are acceptable. So Tabari, ibn Kathir, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Athir, Suyuti and Muhammad as-Sallabi are all ok.

Thirdly, the last source of history is Archaeological objects. Nizam ul-Islam states:

“Archaeological objects (excavation and antiquities) would provide historical facts if studied honestly. Although they by themselves do not provide a historical timeline, they however denote occurrence of some events. If one examines the Islamic antiquities found in their countries, be they buildings, instruments, or any other thing, one can conclude that nothing was present in the Islamic world except Islam, the system of Islam and rules of Islam. Additionally, the Muslims way of life and actions conducted were Islamic.”

If we look to the Archaeological objects of Abdul-Malik’s rule what do we see?

  • He built the Dome of the Rock Masjid in Al-Quds which shows his love for Islam and the Prophet ﷺ.
  • He was the first to mint gold dinars which meant he implemented the economic system of Islam. The coins didn’t have his head on them like the Roman coins or in a monarchy like Britain but had the kalimah (declaration of Islamic faith).
  • He conquered much of North Africa and we know that North Africa to this day is Muslim and contains mosques from the beginning of its conquests.

Therefore Abdul-Malik implemented Islam both internally and externally.

  1. It’s important to bear in mind that bad news is reported and good news isn’t. This is true in the media today and also true in history. People generally remain silent when things are good as there is no munkar to forbid and this can give a distorted view.
  1. The Caliphate is not a utopia and Islam came for human beings and not angels. We study the events of the past in order to learn from those mistakes and prevent their re-occurrence in the future.

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

When your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am putting a khaleefah on the earth,’ they said, ‘Why put on it one who will cause corruption on it and shed blood when we glorify You with praise and proclaim Your purity?’ He said, ‘I know what you do not know.’

(Al-Baqara, 2:30)

In the book Mafaheem Hizb ut-Tahrir the opening line is: “Since the middle of the twelfth century Hijri (eighteenth century C.E.) the Islamic world has been rapidly declining from its correct position and sinking horribly to the abyss of decline.”

After studying what caused the decline of the Caliphate the book then details the concepts which underpin the way to reverse this decline.

In the book Ajhizat dowlatul-Khilafah (Institutions of the Caliphate State) it gives a practical example of how a historical political action will not be repeated in the future.

“Though the Khalifah is allowed to appoint a wali with a general or specific wilayah, it is proved that at the time of weakness of the Abbasid Khulafaa, the general wilayah helped in the wilayaat ruling independently of the Khalifah, where the Khalifah became a mere symbol whose name was mentioned in the congregational duaas and in whose name money was symbolically minted. Thus, granting general wilayah caused harm to the Islamic state.

Since it is allowed to appoint the wali with a general or a specific authority; and since the general authority of the wali might lead to harm and great danger to the state, we accordingly adopt giving the wali specific authority in areas that would make it difficult for the wali to separate from the state if his taqwa declines. From examination we find the areas that strengthen the wali are the army, judiciary and the funds. Thus, these areas must be separated from the wali’s authority and be kept connected to the Khalifah like any other organisation in the Khilafah state i.e. these areas must remain under the jurisdiction of the Khalifah.”