Caliphate, Featured, Ruling

Part 1: Bay’a in Islamic History – The Rightly Guided Khilafah

What is the bay’a?

The bay’a (البيعة) is a ruling contract which governs the relationship between Muslims and the Islamic state. For those Muslims actually living in the lands under the authority of the Khilafah, the bay’a is their citizenship contract with the state.

The word bay’a in the Arabic language means selling (البيع), but the sharia gave it a new meaning which is the method of appointing a Khaleefah. This meaning is derived from the many ahadith such as the saying of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ: “Prophets ruled over the children of Israel, whenever a Prophet died another Prophet succeeded him, but there will be no Prophet after me. There will soon be Khulafa’ and they will number many.” They asked: ‘What then do you order us?’ He said: “Fulfil the bay’a to them, one after the other and give them their dues for Allah will verily account them about what he entrusted them with.”[1]

This sharia meaning is still in-line with the linguistic meaning of bay’a because sale is a contract of offer and acceptance, and the bay’a is also a contract of offer and acceptance, where the Muslim ummah offers her authority to a man to rule them by the Qur’an and sunnah.

Unlike most Islamic contracts which are one-to-one such as buying, selling, and marriage, the bay’a is one-to-millions i.e. between the Khaleefah and the Muslim ummah. This poses a challenge on how you get the free choice and consent of millions of people which is a condition in Islamic contracts.

How is free choice and consent of millions achieved in the bay’a?

Historically in the rightly guided Khilafah of the sahaba, the senior representatives of the people would contract the bay’a to the Khaleefah. The rest of the Muslims would accept their opinion and rush to pledge their bay’a to the newly appointed Khaleefah directly in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, which was the capital of the state, or indirectly through the governors in the other provinces.[2] The classical scholars called this contracting group the Ahlul hali wal-aqd which literally means the ‘people of solution and contract’.

Ahmad ibn Hanbal says: “The imamah is not effective except with its conditions […], so if testimony was given to that by the Ahlul hali wal-aqd of the scholars of Islam and their trustworthy people, or the imam took that position for himself and then the Muslims were content with that, it is also effective.”[3]

Mawardi says: “Imamate comes into being in two ways: the first of these is by the election of the Ahlul hali wal-aqd, and the second is by the delegation of the previous Imam.”[4]

Who are the political representatives (Ahlul hali wal-aqd) of the people?

The sharia has not defined who the people’s representatives are. This falls under manat ul-hukm (reality the rule is applied to). In any state the representatives of the people will be close to the government and so are found in the capital. This is why the representatives in the Islamic State’s capital Madinah used to contract the bay’a. In a tribal society these representatives will be senior members of the tribe or the tribal leader. The representatives will also need to be trusted individuals who are strong in the ideology of the state, which in the Khilafah is Islam. All of those contracting the bay’a in the rightly guided Khilafah were senior sahaba and tribal leaders, and were in fact all eligible for the post of the Khaleefah themselves. The main consideration is that the consent and free choice of the Muslim masses is achieved through these representatives for the bay’a contract to be valid and to prevent disputes and civil war.

Mawardi mentions: “There are three conditions regarding those eligible to make the choice:

  1. That they be just and fulfil all the conditions implied in this quality
  2. That they possess a knowledge by which they may comprehend who has a right to the Imamate and that they fulfil all the conditions implied by this knowledge
  3. That they possess the insight and wisdom which will lead them to choose the person who is most fitting for the Imamate and who is the most upright and knowledgeable with respect to the management of the offices of administration.

Those living in the country of the Imam do not possess any advantages over those living in other countries: it is rather that someone resident in the country of the Imam contracts to elect the Imam by custom not by any legal imposition of the shari’a; moreover such residents will come to know of the death of the Imam before people from other countries and usually the person who is most fitting for the succession is to be found in the country of the Imam.”[5]

We will now look at the bay’a of some of the previous Caliphs. This will show how there was continuity of the bay’a and its conditions throughout Islamic history from 1H/622CE to 1342H/1924CE, albeit misapplied because the bay’a was confined to a ruling family instead of meritocracy.

Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (11H/632CE – 13H/634CE)

After the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ passed away, the Ahlul hali wal-aqd met in the saqeefa (portico) of the Sa’ida clan of the Al-Khazraj tribe to appoint a new head of state. A heated debate ensued, and then Abu Bakr As-Siddiq was selected and given the bay’a, becoming the first Khaleefah of Islam. Sa’eed ibn Zaid was asked, “When was Abu Bakr confirmed by the people?” he said, “The day on which the Messenger of Allah ﷺ died; they disliked for even a part of a day to pass by without them being united as a group (with a leader to rule over them).”[6]

The Muslims of Madinah fell in to two main categories. The Muhajireen who emigrated from Makkah with the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, and the Ansar who consisted of two tribes called Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj. The Ahlul hali wal-aqd who contracted the bay’a to Abu Bakr consisted of tribal leaders, wazirs and those strongest in the ideology of Islam.

Key figures at the saqeefa:[7]

Sa’d ibn UbadahOverall leader of the Ansar
Al-Bashir ibn Sa’dLeader of Al- Khazraj
Usaid ibn HudayrLeader of Al-Aws
Abu Bakr As-SiddiqWazir, 10 promised jannah
Umar ibn Al-KhattabWazir, 10 promised jannah
Abu Ubaydah ibn al-JarrahArmy commander, 10 promised jannah
Hubab ibn al-MundhirArmy commander

Umar ibn Al-Khattab (13H/634CE – 23H/644CE)

When Abu Bakr became seriously ill and felt his death was fast approaching, he summoned the Ahlul hali wal-aqd who were the senior sahaba and said to them, “Verily, as you can clearly see I have been afflicted with a severe illness, and I feel certain that, because of the severity of my condition, I will soon die. Therefore, Allah has released you from the pledge that you have made to me, and my covenant with you (i.e., my covenant as your Khaleefah) has also come to an end. Allah has returned your affair to you (i.e., your ability to choose a leader among yourselves), so appoint over yourselves whomsoever you wish. Indeed, if you choose your new leader while I am still alive, you will be less likely to differ among yourselves after I am gone.”[8]

The sahaba were unable to reach a decision so they authorised Abu Bakr to decide who his successor should be. They said, “O Khaleefah of the Messenger Allah, your opinion is our opinion (i.e., appoint your successor for us).” He said, “Then give me some time, so that I can see what is best in the view of Allah and what is best for His religion and His slaves.”[9]

He consulted Abdul-Rahman ibn Awf and Uthman bin Affan[10] who were from the 10 promised Jannah, and other prominent sahaba before announcing his recommendation that Umar ibn Al-Khattab should be the next Khaleefah. The wider ummah accepted this decision and after the death of Abu Bakr, the inhabitants of the capital in Madinah gave their bay’a to Umar in the Prophet’s Mosque as was customary at the time.

As mentioned previously, Mawardi says: “Imamate comes into being in two ways: the first of these is by the election of the Ahlul hali wal-aqd, and the second is by the delegation of the previous Imam.”[11]

This method of the Imam nominating his successor continued throughout the Khilafah’s 1300 history. Unfortunately, those Khulufa’ who came after the Rightly Guided Caliphs, on the whole turned the nomination from one based on shura and meritocracy, to nominating family members as we will come to later.

Uthman bin Affan (23H/644CE – 35H/656CE)

When Umar ibn Al-Khattab was stabbed and his death was imminent, the Ahlul hali wal-aqd came and asked him to nominate a successor as Abu Bakr had done for him. Umar couldn’t come to a decision so he appointed a council of six candidates who were all from the 10 promised jannah to meet after his death and appoint a Khaleefah. Umar summoned Ali, Uthman, Sa’d, Abdul-Rahman ibn Awf, and al-Zubayr ibn Al-Awwam and said to them, “I have looked into the matter and consider you to be the chiefs and leaders of the people. This matter will remain among you alone.”[12]

Someone suggested to Umar that he appoint his son Abdullah ibn Umar who was one of the prominent scholars of Madinah who used to give fatawa (legal decisions) for people, and an expert on governmental affairs. Umar responded harshly to this suggestion, “Allah curse you! You were not saying this for Allah’s sake!”[13] Umar was known as the door against fitnah (tribulations)[14] and wanted to prevent the concept of hereditary rule appearing in the state. Due to Ibn Umar’s skills and expertise however he said to the council of six, “Abdullah ibn Umar will be there as an adviser, but he shall have nothing to do with the matter [of the actual appointment].”[15]

The council of the six:[16]

Abdul-Rahman ibn Awfshura, police
Ali ibn Abi Talibwazir, qadi
Uthman bin Affanwazir, shura
Sa’d ibn Abi WaqqasAmir of Jihad, Governor
Zubayr ibn al-‘Awamshura, police
Talha ibn Ubayd Allahshura, police. Talha was travelling so didn’t partake in the council.

Umar appointed Abu Talha Al-Ansari to select 50 men to protect the council. This is the role of the army in the appointment of the Khaleefah – they are protectors not appointers. Within the Khilafah the military should be kept separate from politics and ruling to prevent the dominance of military opinions in domestic and external affairs.[17] This can lead to halting the Islamic conquests and the emergence of an oppressive police state as we saw during the later Abbasid period where the army became the defacto power and authority in the state, with the Khaleefah becoming a mere figurehead.

The council of the six were the Ahlul hali wal-aqd and although their contracting of the bay’a to Uthman would be sufficient, Abdul-Rahman ibn Awf withdrew his candidacy and went around the capital Madinah seeking shura from the different clans of Quraysh and the Ansar, on who they wanted as the next Khaleefah. He found their opinions were in favour of Ali and Uthman, but that the people also wanted a continuation of Abu Bakr and Umar’s actions in ruling rather than any stark changes.

Abdul-Rahman said, “Now then, O Ali. I have looked at the people’s tendencies and noticed that they do not consider anybody equal to Uthman, so you should not incur blame (by disagreeing).” Then Abdul-Rahman said (to Uthman), “I gave the bay’a to you on condition that you will follow the sunnah of Allah and His Messenger, and the two Khaleefahs after him.” So Abdul-Rahman gave the bay’a to him, and so did the people including the Muhajireen, the Ansar, the chiefs of the army and all the Muslims.[18]

Ali ibn Abi Talib (35H/656CE – 40H/661CE)

After Uthman’s assassination at the hands of the rebels, the Islamic State was in a crisis and state of emergency. Al-Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet ﷺ and leader of Banu Hashim came to his nephew Ali and said, “Reach out your hand so that I may make bay’a to you, and that the people say that the uncle of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ has given bay’a to his paternal nephew, and so that there will not be two persons disputing your Khilafah.”[19] Ali then became the Khaleefah based on the contracting of one person from the Ahlul hali wal-aqd.

Is it sufficient and permitted for one person to contract the bay’a like this? Mawardi answers this question by listing four opinions of the scholars:

As for its formation by the election of the Ahlul hali wal-aqd, the ‘ulema, according to the different madhhabs, have different opinions as to the number of persons needed in the formation of the Imamate.

One group says that it can only be conferred by way of the majority of those of power and influence in each country, such that acceptance is general and submission to the Imamate is by a consensus; this madhhab is rejected by the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, that is to a succession arrived at by way of the election of only those who were present they made the oath of allegiance to him and did not expect any other person from outside to present himself for this election.

Another group say that the minimum number of persons that should gather for the formation of the Imamate is five or that it should be formed by one of them with the agreement of four others. They take two matters as their proof: the first that the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr (ra) was made by five persons together and that the people followed them in this matter. These persons were ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, Abu ‘Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Usayd ibn Hudayr, Bashir ibn Sa’d and Salim the freed-slave of Abu Hudhayfah (ra). The second proof is that ‘Umar set up a council of six persons so that one of them should take on the Imamate with the acceptance of the other five – and this is the opinion of most of the fuqaha and the mutakallimun from amongst the people of Basra.

Others from amongst the ‘ulema of Kufa say the Imamate comes into being by way of three persons, one of them taking charge by virtue of the acceptance of the other two such that there is one who decides the matter together with two witnesses, in the same way as the contract of marriage is made valid by the man in charge (the wali) and two witnesses.

Another group says that it comes about by way of a single person as ‘Abbas said to ‘Ali, may the pleasure of Allah be upon them both, “Reach out your hand so that I may make allegiance to you and that the people say that the uncle of the Messenger of Allah, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, has given allegiance to his paternal nephew and so that there will not be two persons disputing your succession.” They also say that it is ruling which when given, even by one person, has to be carried out.[20]

The strongest opinion is that the sharia has not specified any specific number of representatives to contract the bay’a. So even one person of sufficient standing and influence who Muslims will listen to, can contract the bay’a as Al-Abbas did with Ali.

To be continued…

Part 2: Bay’a in Islamic History – The Umayyad Khilafah
Part 3: Bay’a in Islamic History – The Abbasid Khilafah
Part 4: Bay’a in Islamic History – The Abbasid Khilafah within the Mamluk Sultanate
Part 5: Bay’a in Islamic History – The Ottoman Khilafah


[1] Sahih Al-Bukhari, 3455

[2] Dr Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee, ‘The Biography of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq’, Dar us-Salam Publishers, pp.250

[3] Ahmad, al-ʿAqīdah bi-Riwāyah al-Khallāl, 1/124

[4] Abu l-Hasan al-Mawardi, The Laws of Islamic Governance, translation of Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyah, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.12

[5] Ibid, pp.11

[6] Ibraaheem Shu’oot, ‘Abaatel Yajibu An-Tamuhhu Minat-Taareekh,’ pp.101

[7] Abu Ja`far Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari, ‘The History of Al-Tabari’, translation of Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk, State University of New York Press, Volume X, pp.1

[8] Sallaabee, ‘The Biography of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq’, Op.cit., pp.723

[9] Ibid, pp.724

[10] Tabari, Op.cit., Volume XI, pp.145

[11] Abu l-Hasan al-Mawardi, The Laws of Islamic Governance, translation of Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyah, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.12

[12] Tabari, Op.cit., Volume XIV, pp.145

[13] Ibid, pp.144

[14] Sahih Bukhari 7096

[15] Tabari, Op.cit., Volume XIV, pp.146

[16] Ibid, pp.145

[17] Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘The Islamic Personality,’ Volume 2, translation of Shakhsiya Islamiyya,, 5th edition 2003, pp.133

[18] Sahih Bukhari 7207,

[19] al-Mawardi, Op.cit., pp.12

[20] Ibid