The differences of opinion on the Caliphate
24. The differences of Muslim opinion concerning the laws and conditions governing the caliphate
The institution called “the Caliphate” or “imamate” substitutes for Muhammad in as much as it serves, like him, to preserve the religion and to exercise (political) leadership of the world.
Its leader is “the caliph” or “the imam.” In later times, he has also been called “the sultan,” when there were numerous (claimants to the position) or when, in view of the distances (separating the different regions) and in disregard of the conditions governing the institution, people were forced to render the oath of allegiance to anybody who seized power.
The name “imam” is derived from the comparison (of the caliph) with the leader (imam) of prayer, since (the caliph) is followed and taken as a model like the prayer leader. Therefore the caliphate is called the “great imamate.”
The name “caliph” (khalifah) is given to the caliph, because he “represents” (kh-l f) the Prophet in Islam.
One uses “caliph” alone, or “caliph of the Messenger of God.” There is a difference of opinion concerning the use of “caliph of God.”
Some consider (this expression) permissible as derived from the general “caliphate” (representation of God) of all the descendants of Adam, implied in the verse of the Qur’an, “I am making on earth a caliph,” and the verse, “He made you caliphs on earth.” 212
But, in general, it is not considered permissible to use (the expression “caliph of God”), since the verse quoted has no reference to it (in connection with the caliphate in the specific sense of the term).
Abu Bakr forbade the use (of the expression “caliph of God”) when he was thus addressed. He said, “I am not the caliph of God, but the caliph (representative, successor) of the Messenger of God.”
One can have a “caliph” (representative, successor) of someone who is absent, but not of someone who is present (as God always is).
The position of imam is a necessary one. The consensus of the men around Muhammad and the men of the second generation shows that (the imamate) is necessary according to the religious law.
At the death of the Prophet, the men around him proceeded to render the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr and to entrust him with the supervision of their affairs. Never were the people left in a state of anarchy. This was so by general consensus, which proves that the position of imam is a necessary one.
Some people think that the necessity of the imamate is rational and that the consensus which happens to exist merely confirms the authority of the intellect in this respect. As they say, what makes (the position of imam) intellectually (rationally) necessary is the need of human beings for social organization and the impossibility of their living and existing by themselves. One of the necessary consequences of social organization is disagreement, because of the pressure of cross-purposes.
As long as there is no ruler who exercises a restraining influence, this (disagreement) leads to trouble which, in turn, may lead to the destruction and uprooting of mankind. Now, the preservation of the (human) species is one of the necessary intentions of the religious law.This very idea is the one the philosophers had in mind when they considered prophecy as something (intellectually) necessary for mankind.
They are wrong.
One of its premises is that the restraining influence comes into being only through a religious law from God, to which the mass submits as a matter of belief and religious creed. This premise is not acceptable. The restraining influence comes into being as the result of the impetus of royal authority and the forcefulness of the mighty, even if there is no religious law.
This was the case among the Magians 214 and other nations who had no scriptures and had not been reached by a prophetic mission. Or, we might say (against the alleged rational necessity of the caliphate)= In order to remove disagreement, it is sufficient that every individual should know that injustice is forbidden him by the authority of the intellect.
Then, their claim that the removal of disagreement takes place only through the existence of the religious law in one case, and the position of the imam in another case, is not correct.
Disagreement may be removed as well through the existence of powerful leaders, or through the people refraining from disagreement and mutual injustice, as through the position of the imam. Thus, the intellectual proof based upon that premise does not stand up.
This shows that the necessity of (the position of imam) is indicated by the religious law, that is, by general consensus, as we have stated before.
Some people, such as the Mu’tazilah al-Asamm and certain Kharijites, think that the position of imam is not necessary at all, neither according to the intellect nor according to the religious law. They think that it is necessary only to observe the religious laws.
When Muslims agree upon (the practice of) justice and observance of the divine laws, no imam is needed, and the position of imam is not necessary. Those (who so argue) are refuted by the general consensus.
They believed so because they tried to escape the royal authority and its overbearing, domineering, and worldly ways. They had seen that the religious law was full of censure and blame for such things and for the people who practiced them, and that it encouraged the desire to abolish them.
The religious law does not censure royal authority as such and does not forbid its exercise. It merely censures the evils resulting from it, such as tyranny, injustice, and pleasure-seeking.
It praises justice, fairness, the fulfillment of religious duties, and the defense of the religion. It states that these things will of necessity find their reward (in the other world).
Both the former and the latter come with royal authority.
Thus, censure attaches to royal authority only on account of some of its qualities and conditions, not others. (The religious law) does not censure royal authority as such, nor does it seek to suppress it entirely. It also censures concupiscence and wrathfulness 216 in responsible persons, but it does not want to see either of these qualities relinquished altogether, because necessity calls for their existence.
It merely wants to see that proper use is made of them. 217 David and Solomon possessed royal authority such as no one else ever possessed, yet they were divine prophets and belonged, in God’s eyes, among the noblest human beings (that ever existed).218
Furthermore, we say to them= The (attempt to) dispense with royal authority by (assuming) that the institution (of the imamate) is not necessary, does not help you at all. You agree that observance of the religious laws is a necessary thing. Now, that is achieved only through group feeling and power, and group feeling, by its very nature, requires (the existence of) royal authority.
Thus, there will be royal authority, even if no imam is set up. Now, that is just what you (wanted to) dispense with.If it has been established that the institution (of the imamate) is necessary by general consensus, (it must be added that the institution of the imamate) is a community duty 219 and is left to the discretion of all competent Muslims. 220
It is their obligation to see to it that (the imamate) is set up, and everybody has to obey (the imam) in accordance with the verse of the Qur’an, “Obey God, and obey the Messenger and the people in authority among you.” 221
It is not possible to appoint two men to the position (of imam) at the same time. Religious scholars generally are of this opinion, on the basis of certain traditions. Those traditions are found in the book, “On Leadership (imarah),” in the Sahih by Muslim.223 They expressly indicate that this is so.
Others hold that (the prohibition against two imams) applies only to two imams in one locality, or where they would be close to each other. When there are great distances and the imam is unable to control the farther region, it is permissible to set up another imam there to take care of public interests.
Among the famous authorities who are reported to have held this opinion is Professor Abu Ishaq al-Isfariyini,224 the leading speculative theologian. The Imam al-Haramayn 225 also showed himself inclined toward it in his Kitab al-Irshad. The opinions of the Spaniards and Maghribis often make it evident that they, too, were inclined toward it.
The numerous religious scholars in Spain rendered the oath of allegiance to the Umayyads and gave the Umayyad ‘Abd-ar-Rahman anNasir and his descendants the title of Commander of the Faithful. This title is characteristic of the caliphate, as we shall mention 2 26 Somewhat later, the Almohads in the Maghrib did the same thing.
Some scholars have rejected (the possibility of more than one imam) with reference to the general consensus. This is no evident (proof), for if there existed a general consensus on the point, neither Professor Abfi Ishaq nor the Imam al-Haramayn would have opposed it. They knew better (than any one else) what the consensus meant. Indeed, the imam al-Mazari 227 and an-Nawawi 228 have been refuted 229 on the basis of the afore-mentioned evident sense of the traditions (in Muslim’s Sahih).
Certain more recent scholars have occasionally argued in favor of (a single imam) with the argument of mutual antagonism 230 referred to by the divine revelation in the verse, “If there were other gods except God in the two (heaven and earth), they (heaven and earth) would have been destroyed.” 231
However, nothing of relevance in this connection can be deduced from the verse, because its (force as an) argument is in the field of the intellect. God called our attention to (the verse), so that we might have a rational proof of the oneness of God in which we are enjoined to believe, and so that, as a result, (this dogma) might be more firmly grounded.
On the other hand, what we want to find out in connection with the imamate is why it is forbidden to set up two imams (at the same time), and that is something that belongs to the field of religious law and religious obligations (rather than to the field of the intellect).
Thus, the (verse of the Qur’an quoted) cannot be used for any deduction (in this connection), unless we establish it as belonging to the field of the religious law by the addition of another premise, namely, that quite generally from an increase in number there results corruption, and we are to keep away from anything that may lead to corruption. Then, (the verse) can be used for deductions in the field of religious law. And God knows better.
The conditions governing the caliphate are:
- freedom of the senses and limbs from any defect that might affect judgment and action.
There is a difference of opinion concerning a fifth condition, that is, (5) Qurashite descent.
The necessity of knowledge is obvious. The imam can execute the divine laws only if he knows them. Those he does not know, he cannot properly present. (His) knowledge is satisfactory only if he is able to make independent decisions. Blind acceptance of tradition is a shortcoming, and the imamate requires perfection in (all) qualities and conditions.
This (‘adalah) is required because the imamate is a religious institution and supervises all the other institutions that require (probity). Thus, it is all the more necessary that (probity) be a condition required of (the imamate). There is no difference of opinion as to the fact that the (imam’s) probity is nullified by the actual commission of forbidden acts and the like. But there is a difference of opinion on the question of whether it is nullified by innovations in dogma (made or adopted by the imam).
The imam must be willing to carry out the punishments fixed by law and to go to war. He must understand warfare and be able to assume responsibility for getting the people to go (to war). He also must know about group feeling and the fine points (of diplomacy). He must be strong enough to take care of political duties. All of which is to enable him to fulfill his functions of protecting the religion, leading in the holy war against the enemy, maintaining the (religious) laws, 233 and administering the (public) interests.
Freedom of disability
Examples are defects or incapacitations such as insanity, blindness, muteness, or deafness, and from any loss of limbs affecting (the imam’s) ability to act, such as missing hands, feet, or testicles, is a condition of the imamate, because all such defects affect the (imam’s) full ability to act and to fulfill his duties.
Even in the case of a defect that merely disfigures the appearance, as, for instance, loss of one limb, the condition of freedom from defects (remains in force as a condition in the sense that it) aims at perfection (in the imam). Lack of freedom of action is connected with loss of limbs. Such a lack may be of two kinds. One is forced (inaction) and complete inability to act through imprisonment or the like. (Absence of any restriction upon freedom of action) is as necessary a condition (of the imamate) as freedom from bodily defects.
The other kind is in a different category. (This lack of freedom of action implies that) some of (the imam’s) men gain power over him, although no disobedience or disagreement may be involved, and keep him in seclusion. Then, the problem is shifted to the person who has gained power.
If he acts in accordance with Islam and justice and praiseworthy policies, it is permissible to acknowledge (the imam). If not, the Muslims must look for help. They must look to persons who will restrain him and eliminate the unhealthy situation created by him, until the caliph’s power of action is re-established.
The condition of Qurashite origin
This is based upon the general consensus on this point that obtained in the men around Muhammad on the day of the SagIfah. 234 On that day, the Ansar intended to render the oath of allegiance to Sa’d b. ‘Ubadah.
They said= “One amir from among us, and another from among you.” 235 But the Qurashites argued against them with Muhammad’s statement, “The imams are from among the Quraysh.” 236 They also argued that Muhammad had exhorted them “to do good to (those of the Ansar) who do good, and leave unpunished those of them who do evil.” 237
The Qurashites) said, if the leadership were to be given to (the Ansar), the latter would not have been recommended (to their care as indicated in Muhammad’s statement). The Ansar bowed to these arguments and retracted theirstatement (just quoted), “One amir from among us, and another from among you.”
They gave up their intention to render the oath of allegiance to Sa’d. It is also well established by sound tradition that “this thing (the Muslim state) will always remain with this Qurashite tribe.” 238 There are many other similar proofs.
However, the power of the Quraysh weakened.
Their group feeling vanished in consequence of the life of luxury and prosperity they led, and in consequence of the fact that the dynasty expended them all over the earth. (The Qurashites) thus became too weak to fulfill the duties of the caliphate.
The non-Arabs gained superiority over them, and the executive power fell into their hands. This caused much confusion among thorough scholars (with regard to Qurashite origin as a condition of the caliphate). They eventually went so far as to deny that Qurashite descent was a condition (of the imamate). They based themselves upon the evident sense (of certain statements), such as Muhammad’s statement, “Listen and obey, even should an Abyssinian slave, with (a head as black as) a raisin, be your governor.” 239
This, however, is not a valid proof. It is just a hypothetical parable which, in an exaggerated form, is meant to stress the duty of obedience. There is also ‘Umar’s statement, “If Salim, the client of Abu Hudhayfah, were alive, I would appoint him,"-or= “… I would not have had any objection against him.” 241 This statement also has nothing to do (with the problem in question).
The opinion of one of the men around Muhammad (such as ‘Umar, in this particular case) does not constitute a proof. Furthermore, people’s clients belong to them. 242 Salim’s group feeling in his capacity as client was that of the Qurashites.
It is group feeling that is important when specific descent is made a condition of the imamate. ‘Umar had a high opinion of the caliphate. He thought, as he looked at it, that the conditions governing it were (all but) disregarded. Thus, he turned to Salim, because, in his opinion, the latter abundantly fulfilled the conditions governing the caliphate, including his client relationship which provided for group feeling, as we shall mention. 243
Only, a pure (Qurashite) descent was not there. (‘Umar) considered it unnecessary, because the importance of descent lies solely in group feeling, and (group feeling) may result from a client relationship (such as that of Salim, as well as from common descent). The reason for ‘Umar’s (statement) was his desire to look after (the best interests of) the Muslims and to entrust their government to a man beyond reproach who (would not commit acts for which he, ‘Umar,) would be held responsible.
Among those who deny that Qurashite descent is a condition (of the imamate) is Judge Abu Bakr al-Bagillani. 244 The Qurashite group feeling had come to disappear and dissolve (in his day), and non-Arab rulers controlled the caliphs.
Therefore, when he saw what the condition of the caliphs was in his day, he dropped the condition of Qurashite origin (for the imamate), even though it meant agreeing with the Kharijites.
Scholars in general, however, retain Qurashite descent as a condition (of the imamate). (They maintain that) the imamate rightly belongs to a Qurashite, even if he is too weak to handle the affairs of the Muslims. Against them is the fact that this involves dropping the condition of competence, which requires that (the imam must) have the power to discharge his duties. If (his) strength has gone with the disappearance of group feeling, (his) competence, too, is gone.
If the condition of competence be eliminated, that will reflect further upon knowledge and religion. In this case, then, all) the conditions governing the institution (of the imamate would no longer be considered, and this would be contrary to the general consensus.
Is there wisdom of making descent a condition of theimamate?
We say= All religious laws must have (specific) purposes and significant meanings of their own, on account of which they were made. If we, now, investigate the wisdom of Qurashite descent as a condition (of the imamate) and the purpose which the Lawgiver (Muhammad) had in mind, (we shall find that) in this connection he did not only think of the blessing that lies in direct relationship with the Prophet, as is generally (assumed). Such direct relationship exists (in the case of Qurashite descent), and it is a blessing.
However, it is known that the religious law has not as its purpose to provide blessings. Therefore, if (a specific) descent be made a condition (of the imamate), there must be a (public) interest which was the purpose behind making it into law. If we probe into the matter and analyze it, we find that the (public) interest is nothing else but regard for group feeling.
Group feeling protects and helps people to press their claims. It frees the incumbent in the position (of imam) from opposition and division. The Muslim community accepts him and his family, and he can establish friendly terms with them.
The Quraysh were the outstanding, original, and superior leaders of the Mudar. Their number, their group feeling, and their nobility gave them power over all the other Mudar.
All other Arabs acknowledged that fact and bowed to their superiority. Had the rule been entrusted to anybody else, it may be expected that their opposition and refusal to submit would have broken the whole thing up.
No other Mudar tribe would have been able to sway them from their attitude of opposition and to carry them along against their will. The community would have been broken up. The whole thing would have been torn by dissension. Muhammad warned against that.
He showed himself desirous to have them agree and to remove dissension and confusion from among them, for the sake of establishing close contact and group feeling and improved protection.
No dissension or confusion but rather) the opposite (could be expected to be the case), were the Quraysh to be in power. They were able, through superior force, to drive people into doing what was expected of them. There was no fear that anybody would oppose them. There was no fear of division. The Quraysh were able to assume the responsibility of doing away with (division) and of preventing people from (splitting up). Therefore, Qurashite descent was made a condition of the institution of (the imamate). The Quraysh represented the strongest (available) group feeling.
Qurashite descent of the imam, it was thus (hoped), would be more effective (than anything else in organizing the Muslim community and bringing harmony into it.
When Qurashite affairs were well organized, all Mudar affairs were likewise well organized. Thus, all the other Arabs obeyed them. Nations other than the Arabs submitted to the laws of the Muslim community. Muslim armies entered the most remote countries.
That happened in the days of the conquests. It remained that way later on in the (Umayyad and ‘Abbasid) dynasties, until the power of the caliphate dissolved and the Arab group feeling vanished. The great number of the Quraysh and their superiority over the Mudar subtribes is known to all diligent students of, and experts in, Arab history, biography, and relevant conditions. Ibn Ishaq mentioned this in the Kitab as-siyar, and (so did) other (authors).245
If Qurashite descent is a condition of the imamate was intended to remove dissension with the help of (Qurashite) group feeling and superiority, and if we know that the Lawgiver (Muhammad) does not make special laws for any one generation, period, or nation, we also know that (Qurashite descent) falls under (the heading of) competence.
Thus, we have linked it with the condition of competence and have established the overall purpose of (thecondition of) Qurashite (descent), which is the existence of group feeling.
Therefore, we consider it a (necessary) condition for the person in charge of the affairs of the Muslims that he belong to people who possess a strong group feeling, superior to that of their contemporaries, so that they can force the others to follow them and the whole thing can be united for effective protection.
Such group feeling as a rule does not comprise all areas and regions. The Qurashite group feeling, however, was all-comprehensive, since the mission of Islam, which the Quraysh represented, was all-comprehensive
The group feeling of the Arabs was adequate to that mission.
Therefore, the Arabs overpowered all the other nations. Currently however, each region has people of its own who represent the superior group feeling there.
When one considers what God meant the caliphate to be, nothing more needs to be said about it. God made the caliph his substitute to handle the affairs of His servants.
He is to make them do the things that are good for them and not do those that are harmful. He has been directly told so. A person who lacks the power to do a thing is never told directly to do it.
The religious leader, Ibn al-Khatib, 246 said that most religious laws apply to women as they do to men. However, women are not directly told to follow the religious laws by express reference to them in the text, but, in Ibn al-Khatib’s opinion, they are included only by way of analogical reasoning.
That is because women have no power whatsoever. Men control them, except in as far as the duties of divine worship are concerned, where everyone controls his own actions.
Therefore, women are directly told (to fulfill the duties of divine worship) by express reference to them in the text, and not (merely) by way of analogical reasoning.
Furthermore, (the world of) existence attests to (the necessity of group feeling for the caliphate). Only he who has gained superiority over a nation or a race is able to handle its affairs. The religious law would hardly ever make a requirement in contradiction to the requirements of existence.