Caliphate, Ruling

The Beginning of Hereditary Rule in the Caliphate

Hereditary Rule started from the time of Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan (41H/661CE – 60H/680CE) when he was Khaleefah, so we will discuss some key events concerning his rule in order to fully understand why he embarked on this course of action.

This is an extract from the article Part 2: Bay’a in Islamic History – The Umayyad Khilafah

The Civil War between Mu’awiyah and Ali

Disputes broke out many times throughout the Khilafah’s 1300-year history over who should govern the state. One thing remained constant however and that was the bay’a. No Khaleefah ever came to power without the bay’a, and this method of appointing the ruler continued until 1924.

During the civil war between Mu’awiya and Ali, Mu’awiya never claimed the Khilafah for himself or took the bay’a for himself. Rather he made his bay’a conditional on Ali handing over Uthman’s assassins which Ali was unable to fulfil at that time.

Abu Muslim Al-Khawlani and a group of people said to Mu’awiyah: “Do you disagree with Ali or are you like him?” So Mu’awiyah said: “No, By Allah! I know that Ali is better than me, and he has more right to the leadership than me. However, do you not know that Uthman was killed wrongfully!? I am his cousin (‘Uthman’s cousin), and I am asking for his blood, so go to Ali and tell him this. So let him give up the killers of Uthman and I will give up (the leadership).” So they went to Ali and told him and spoke to him about it, but he did not give them up to Mu’awiyah.[1]

As discussed previously Al-Abbas contracted the bay’a to Ali in Madinah, the capital of the Khilafah, and all the Muslims in Madinah consented to this. Mu’awiya was not involved in the contracting of the bay’a and his consent was not necessary for Ali to become the Khaleefah because the Ahlul hali wal-aqd i.e. senior sahaba were in Madinah.

Once the bay’a is contracted legitimately to a Khaleefah (bay’a al-in’iqaad), then the rest of the ummah is bound by this bay’a and have to fulfil its conditions. This entails obedience to the Khaleefah inwardly and outwardly as the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Whosoever gave a bay’a to an Imam, giving him the clasp of his hand, and the fruit of his heart shall obey him as long as he can, and if another comes to dispute with him, you must strike the neck of that man.”[2] This is called the bay’a of obedience (bay’a at-taa’ah). If the ummah withhold their bay’a of obedience and rebel, then it’s the right of the Khaleefah to use force if necessary to quell the rebellion and reunite them with the state. This is what Ali did when he confronted Mu’awiya.

When the Byzantine Emperor heard about this dispute, he tried to take advantage of it and marched to Ash-Sham with a large number of troops. Mu’awiyah wrote to him, saying: “By Allah, if you do not give up and go back to your own country, Oh cursed one, I shall reconcile with my cousin against you, and I shall drive you from all of your land and leave you no room on earth, vast as it is.” At that point, the Byzantine Emperor got scared and refrained from fighting, and he sent a message asking for a truce.”[3]

This shows that Islam was always the central reference point in the Khilafah even though elements were misapplied from time to time through weak ijtihad by the Khaleefahs.

Who were the Ahlul hali wal-aqd in Mu’awiya’s time?

After the abdication of al-Hasan ibn Ali, Mu’awiyah was accepted as the legitimate Khaleefah by the Ahlul hali wal-aqd (political representatives of the ummah) residing in Madinah, Iraq and Ash-Sham,and by the majority of the Muslim masses. The capital of the Khilafah moved from Kufa to Damascus where Mu’awiyah and his tribe Banu Umayyah, and the Yamani tribal groups which gave him support were now based. Part of the Ahlul hali wal-aqd were therefore now based in Ash-Sham. Quraysh, the sahaba and tab’ieen were dispersed throughout the Khilafah but there was still a strong powerbase in Madinah and Mu’awiya would not have a legitimate bay’a without their consent.

In Ash-Sham, Mu’awiya was primarily dependent on Banu Kalb who were part of the Yamani tribes from Southern Arabia who had settled there before Islam. They were initially Christian Arabs and part of the Byzantine Empire, but started converting to Islam during the time of the Prophet ﷺ and throughout the Rightly Guided Khilafah. One of Mu’awiya’s wives was Maysun bint Bahdal al-Kalbiyah, the daughter of a leader of Banu Kalb and the mother of Yazid ibn Mu’awiya.

A number of Muslim Yamani tribes also settled in Ash-Sham during the time of Abu Bakr, when he wrote a letter to Yemen requesting they join the Islamic conquest of Ash-Sham.[4] Some of the prominent Yamani tribes were Kalb, Tanukh, Judham, Azd and Taghlib.[5]

Another tribal group was the Qaysi tribes from Northern Arabia who settled in Ash-Sham and Iraq during the Islamic conquests of the Rightly Guided Khaleefahs, and so were relative newcomers to the region. The Qaysi tribes consisted of Tamim, Ghatafan, Hawazin, Banu Amir, Thaqif, Banu Sulaym and Bahila to name but a few.[6]

These tribal groupings became a powerbase during the time of Mu’awiya and throughout the Umayyad period, and were effectively part of the Ahlul hali wal-aqd who supported the Umayyad Khaleefahs. This shift in the people of power and influence is important to understand when we come to discuss the bay’a to Yazid ibn Mu’awiya.

Qaysi and Yamani tribal groupings

As mentioned previously, al-Hasan’s motivation for resigning from the Khilafah was to restart the Islamic conquests which had halted after Uthman’s assassination, and to deal with the other territories who had taken advantage of the situation and rebelled in the East. Al-Hasan said, “I have been thinking of going to Madinah to settle there and yielding (the Khilafah) to Mu’awiya. The turmoil has gone on for too long, blood has been shed, ties of kinship have been severed, the roads have become unsafe, and the borders have been neglected.”[7]

[insert image of Islamic conquest infographic with link to article]

Once Mu’awiya became Khaleefah the conquests resumed on three fronts:

1.            Byzantine Empire

2.            North Africa

3.            Sijistan, Khorasan and Transoxiana in the East which had rebelled

Mu’awiya outlined his foreign policy when he said, “Tighten the stranglehold on the Byzantines so that you will be able to gain control over other nations.”[8]

The Beginning of Hereditary Rule

Mu’awiya’s rule marks the end of the Rightly Guided Khilafah and the beginning of the Umayyad Khilafah based on hereditary rule. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The Khilafah in my Ummah will be for thirty years. Then there will be mulk (kingdom) after that.”[9]

Ibn Kathir says, “The first monarchy began with the rule of Mu‘awiyah, making him the first king (malik) in Islam and the best of them all.”[10]

The reason the ulema used the title Malik for the Umayyad and Abbasid Khaleefahs was because these Khaleefahs were not following completely in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ when it came to ruling. Abu Bakr, the first Khaleefah was given this title because Khaleefah means successor, and Abu Bakr was a successor to the Prophet ﷺ in ruling. Mawardi says, “He is called the Khaleefah (successor) as he stands in for the Messenger of Allah at the head of his Ummah and so it is permitted for someone say, ‘Oh Khaleefah of the Messenger of Allah!’ or for someone to say, ‘Khaleefah’ on its own.”[11]

Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “By Allah, I do not know whether I am a Khaleefah or a king, for if I am a king then this is a tremendous matter.” Someone said, “Amir al-Mu’minin, there is a distinction between the two of them.” He said, “What is it?” He said, “A Khaleefah does not take except what is due and he does not use it except in the right way, and you, praise be to Allah, are like that. The king treats people unjustly, and takes from this one and gives to that one.” ‘Umar was silent.[12]

It should be noted that the Khaleefah was never sovereign like the Byzantine and Persian Emperors because sovereignty was always to the sharia.

How did Mu’awiyah make Yazid his successor?

In the year 56H/675CE, Mu’awiya made his son Yazid the wali al-ahd (heir apparent), instigating the start of hereditary rule within the Khilafah which would last until 1924.

Al-Hasan al-Baṣri said: Two men put disorder into people’s affair. First, ʿAmr ibn al-ʿAs when he advised Mu’awiya to raise the copies of the Qurʾan and they were lifted up. He said, “Where are the reciters (al-qurraʾ)?” Then the Khawarij asserted that judgement only belongs to Allah. This assertion of Allah’s judgement will continue until the Day of Rising.

Second, al-Mughira ibn Shuʿba, when he was Mu’awiya’s governor over Kufa and Mu’awiya wrote to him, “When you read my letter, come to me, dismissed from your office.” But he delayed and when he finally came to him, Mu’awiya asked, “What took you so long?” Al-Mughira replied, “An affair that I had to settle.” He said, “And what was that?” He said, “The bay’a for Yazid’s succession after you.” He said, “And did you complete it?” He replied, “Yes.” Then Mu’awiya said, “Return to your post.” When al-Mughira departed, his companions asked him how it went and he replied, “I have placed Mu’awiya’s foot in a stirrup of error, in which it will remain until the Day of Rising.”

Al-Hasan al-Basri added: Therefore, they have taken bay’a for their sons and were it not for that, it would have been a matter of consultation (shura) until the Day of Rising.[13]

After receiving al-Mughira ibn Shuʿba’s advice on appointing his son Yazid, Mu’awiya embarked on a campaign to bring this in to fruition.

The first attempts at taking bay’a for Yazid started prior to 50H because al-Mughira ibn Shuʿba died during the plague of Kufa in 50H. Mu’awiya’s initial attempts failed due to widespread opposition from the sahaba and the Ahlul hali wal-aqd of the regions.

When Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan, Governor of Iraq and Khorasan died in 53H. Mu’awiya again attempted to bring up the issue. He sent 100,000 dirhams to Abdullah ibn Umar but Ibn Umar refused to be bribed and this attempt also failed.[14]

Then in the year 56H Mu’awiya finally managed to force the issue and made Yazid the wali al-ahd (heir apparent) by taking the bay’a from the Ahlul hali wal-aqd of the regions.

Ibn Kathir narrates the events of 56H. This was the year in which Mu’awiyah called on the people, including those within the outlying territories, to pledge allegiance to his son, Yazid, to be his heir to the Khilafah after him. Almost all the subjects offered their allegiance, with the exception of ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Abu Bakr, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar, al-Hussain bin ‘Ali, ‘Abdullah bin Az-Zubayr and Ibn ‘Abbas.

Because of this, Mu’awiyah passed through al-Madinah on his way back from Makkah upon completion of his ‘Umrah, where he summoned each one of the five aforementioned individuals and threatened, intimidated and imprisoned them. The speaker who addressed Mu’awiyah sharply, with the greatest firmness amongst them was ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, while ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar bin al-Khattab was the most soft spoken amongst them. Mu’awiyah then delivered a sermon, having stood these five men below the pulpit in full view of the people, after which the people pledged allegiance to Yazid as they (five sahabi) stood in silence without displaying their disagreement or opposition for fear of being humiliated and threatened. This was done in the other regions of the country in order to facilitate the progress of pledging allegiance to Yazid.[15]

The five sahabi remained silent and did not rebel against Mu’awiya because they were acting on the hadith of the Messenger ﷺ, ‘There will be ameers, you recognise (something of what they do) and you reject (some). Whosoever recognised, he would be absolved (of sin) and whosoever rejected, he would be safe. But whosoever accepted and followed (what they do, he would not be safe).’ They (the Sahabah) asked ‘Shouldn’t we fight them?’ He ﷺ said: ‘No, as long as they pray.’[16]

Imam Nawawi explains the meaning of the, ‘Shouldn’t we fight them?’ He said; ‘No, as long as they pray’. In it is the meaning of what preceded this, that khurooj (rebellion) is not allowed against the Khulufaa’ due to their oppression or transgression as long as they don’t change anything from the principles of Islam.[17]

Imam Nawawi’s explanation of the hadith on accounting the rulers

The five senior sahabi were part of the Ahlul hali wal-aqd and as such Mu’awiya had to get their consent for the bay’a after his death to be valid.

The Five Senior Sahabi of Madinah
al-Hussain bin Ali
Abdur-Rahman bin Abu Bakr
Abdullah ibn Umar
Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr
Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas

When Mu’awiyah came to Madinah he sent for al-Hussain bin Ali saying, “Oh cousin, the people have been able to acknowledge Yazid except for five persons of the Quraysh whom you lead. Oh cousin, what is your purpose in disagreeing?” He replied, “Do I lead them?” Mu’awiyah replied that he did.[18]

It should be noted that bay’a is a contract between the Muslims and the Khaleefah. Bay’a cannot be given to a successor while the previous Khaleefah is still in office, as Mu’awiya did. Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr said to Mu’awiya, “Allegiance to both of you can never be combined.”[19]Making Yazid the crown prince was not a valid bay’a but simply a contract of nomination (wilayatul ‘ahd). After Mu’awiya’s death the Muslim representatives were free to dispose of this nomination and choose someone else if they so wished. This is similar to Abu Bakr’s nomination of Umar. The bay’a was only given to Umar ibn Al-Khattab after Abu Bakr had passed away.

Although Mu’awiya tried to justify his actions by what Abu Bakr did in nominating Umar, this is invalid because as discussed earlier Abu Bakr took shura from the ummah and chose someone based on meritocracy not familial ties. The people said to Abu Bakr, “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.”[20]

Mu’awiya had initially tried to take bay’a for Yazid via his governor in Madinah Marwan ibn Al-Hakam. He wrote to Marwan to take the bay’a and Marwan addressed the people: “The Ameer of the Believers has decided to appoint his son, Yazid, as his successor over you, according to the sunna of Abu Bakr and ʿUmar.” Abd ar-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr stood up and said, “Rather, according to the sunna of Khusraw and Caesar! Abu Bakr and ʿUmar did not appoint their sons to it, nor anyone from their families.”[21]

Later when Mu’awiya came in person to Madinah to take the bay’a, Abu Bakr’s other son Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr said to him, “You want us to entrust you to Allah in the affair of your son, but, by Allah, we will not do that. By Allah, return this affair as a matter of shura among the Muslims or we will bring it against you all over again.”[22]

From these statements it is clear that the core issue on why the sahaba opposed Yazid was due to him taking the bay’a through hereditary rule rather than shura and meritocracy. If Mu’awiya had chosen based on merit then he would have chosen al-Hussain or Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr or another of the sahabi, as the sahaba are of a distinguished rank unmatched by anyone as Allah says, “The forerunners (sabiqun) – the first of the Muhajirun and the Ansar – and those who have followed them in doing good: Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him.”[23]

As mentioned 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.”[24]But he puts conditions on this delegation if he is appointing a close relative. He says, “If the Imam wants to entrust the Imamate to a successor he should strive to arrive at a clear decision as to who has the greatest claim to it and who best fulfils its conditions. If, in his effort to decide, someone becomes clear to him, then this choice should be examined: if it is neither his son nor father, he may, on his own, make the bay’a to him and may delegate authority to him without taking council with any of the electors. There is a difference of opinion, however, as to whether or not there must be some sign of acceptance on their part of the contracting and execution of his act of allegiance.

Some of the ‘ulama of the people of Basra maintain that the electors’ (Ahlul hali wal-aqd) acceptance of his transfer of allegiance must exist before it is binding on the Ummah as it is a right which belongs to the electors and the transfer of Imamate is not binding on the Ummah except with the acceptance of those amongst them involved in the election.

The valid position is that this transfer of allegiance stands and that their acceptance of it is not taken into consideration as the act of allegiance to ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, was not dependent upon the acceptance of the companions and as the Imam has more right over the Imamate than them – his choice of another for the Imamate takes precedence and his word in the matter is executed.

If the successor is his son or father there are three differences of opinion as to whether he is permitted to carry out the transfer of Imamate alone.

The first of these is that it is not permitted until he has sought counsel of the electors and they consider that he is worthy of this post: if this does happen his act of allegiance to a successor is validated as this seeking of council is like an assessment of his integrity and has the same value as a testimony and the appointment conferred on him over the Ummah has the same value as a legal judgement.[25]

Why did Mu’awiya appoint his son?

The capital of the Khilafah was now in Damascus and as such, some of the Ahlul hali wal-aqd from the Arab tribes were in Ash-Sham. Mu’awiya feared that the Arab tribes in Ash-Sham would not accept someone from outside Banu Umayyah to lead them. He said to Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr after he refused to give bay’a to Yazid, “Take it easy, man. Don’t go close to the Syrians. I fear that they will anticipate me regarding you (i.e. kill you) unless I announce in the evening that you have pledged allegiance. Afterwards do whatever seems proper to you.”

After failing to get support from the sahaba in Madinah, Mu’awiya ascended the minbar, praised Allah and said, “We found what people say is wrong. They claim that Ibn ʿUmar, Ibn az-Zubayr and Ibn Abi Bakr did not pledge allegiance to Yazid, but they did hear, obey and pledge allegiance to him.” But the Syrians said, “No, by Allah! We will not be satisfied until they pledge allegiance to him in public. If they don’t, we will cut off their heads!” Mu’awiya replied, “Glory be to Allah, how quick people are to harm Quraysh! I do not want to hear this kind of talk from anyone after today.”

Then he descended. The people said, “Ibn ʿUmar, Ibn Abi Bakr and Ibn az-Zubayr pledged allegiance,” whereas they said, “No, by Allah, we did not pledge allegiance.” But the people maintained that they did (pledge allegiance). Mu’awiya then departed and returned to Syria.[26]

Ibn Khaldoon says, “What prompted Mu‘awiyah to give precedence to his son Yazid and appoint him as Khaleefah, rather than anyone else, was the belief that this would serve the interests of the Muslims by uniting them and bringing them together behind one man, with the approval of the decision-makers at that time, who were from Banu Umayyah, because at that time Banu Umayyah would not accept anyone (as Khaleefah) except one of their own number. They were the strongest clan of Quraysh and the ones who had the greatest influence.

So Mu‘awiyah preferred Yazid, over others who may have been thought more qualified than him for that reason, and he overlooked others who were more virtuous in favour of one who was less virtuous, because he was keen to keep the Muslims united behind one leader, which is a matter of great importance in Islamic teachings. It is not possible to think of any other motive for Mu‘awiyah than that, because his good character and the fact that he was a Sahaabi would rule out any other motive.

The fact that some of the senior Sahaabah were present and kept quiet indicates that there was nothing suspicious in what Mu‘awiyah did, because such people would not be deterred from speaking out against something wrong, and Mu‘awiyah was not one of those who would be too arrogant to accept the word of truth. All of them were too noble to do that, and their good character would rule it out.”[27]

He also says, “Mu’awiyah issued instructions for Yazid to become Khaleefah for fear of the Muslims becoming divided.”[28]

One of the benefits cited for a monarchy is the clear line of succession for future rulers of the kingdom. Historically, this was seen as providing a stable system that prevents a power vacuum after the King dies. While Mu’awiya may have had good intentions in appointing Yazid and wanting to stabilise the Khilafah after his death, in actuality this deviation from shura and instituting hereditary rule had the opposite effect. Allah says, “Perhaps you dislike something which is good for you and like something which is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know.”[29]


[1] Al-Dhahabi, ‘Tarikh al-Islam – Ahd ul-Khulufa’ Rashida,’ ‘Vol. 3, pp.540

[2] Sahih Muslim 1844a,

[3] Dr Ali Muhammad As-Sallaabee, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib,’ International Islamic Publishing House, Vol.2, pp.178

[4] Sallaabee, ‘The Biography of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq’, Op.cit., pp.628

[5] Hugh Kennedy, ‘The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the 6th to the 11th Century,’ 2nd Edition, Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd, pp.92

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibn Sa’d, at-Tabaqat al-Kubra at Tabaqat al-Khamisah min as-Sahabah, 1:331

[8] Sallaabee, ‘Hasan ibn Ali, his life and times,’ International Islamic Publishing House, pp.170

[9] at-Tirmidhi 2226,

[10] Ibn Kathir, ‘The Caliphate of Banu Umayyah,’ translation of Bidiyah wan-Nihiya, Darussalam, pp.21

[11] Abu l-Hasan al-Mawardi, The Laws of Islamic Governance, translation of Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyah, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.27

[12] Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, ‘History of the Khalifahs who took the right way,’ translated by Abdassamad Clarke, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.146

[13] Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, ‘History of the Umayyad Caliphs,’ translated by T.S.Andersson, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.24

[14] Ibn Athir, Al-Kamil, Volume 3, ‘The year 56H,’ pp.351

[15] Ibn Kathir, ‘The Caliphate of Banu Umayyah,’ translation of Bidiyah wan-Nihiya, Darussalam, pp.82

[16] Sahih Muslim 1854a,

[17] Imam Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim

[18] 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 XVIII, pp.186

[19] Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, ‘History of the Umayyad Caliphs,’ translated by T.S.Andersson, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.24

[20] Ibid, pp.724

[21] Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, ‘History of the Umayyad Caliphs,’ translated by T.S.Andersson, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.24

[22] Ibid, pp.24

[23] Holy Qur’an, Surah At-Tauba, verse 100

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

[25] Ibid, pp.18

[26] Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti, ‘History of the Umayyad Caliphs,’ translated by T.S.Andersson, Ta Ha Publishers, pp.24

[27] Ibn Khaldoon, al-Muqaddimah, pp.109

[28] Ibid, pp.106

[29] Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqara, verse 216

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