Table of Contents
The origin of the institution of Caliphate is early Islam is a matter of controversy among medieval and modern historians and writers.
The accidental origin
It is usually said that caliphate was born by accident. The episode of Saqifa Bani Sa’ida necessitated the formation or establishment of it. The meeting may have been planned by Ansars there, but Abu Bakr or Umar were too busy in funeral rites of the Prophet that they paid no heed to the matter, until the matter required urgency and they had to rush their and find a way-out right there.
Dozens of European historians and number of Muslim too have maintained that it came into being due to tribal customs. There is a great element of truth in this. It also explains why the Prophet didn’t nominate someone from his kin or from his close companions since he knew the tribes had their own way of choosing their chief. The chief would one of the oldest, wisest, and most respected. The chiefs rarely from the same forefathers, some did but that was due their character rather than their blood. In addition, the procedure followed in the election of Khalifa was same as it was in primitive Arabs. The first step required few elder leaders to elect the chief. The second would be popular consent with bayt. This principle was preserved in 4 elections of orthodox Caliphs with little changes here and there.
Islamic origin of the Caliphate
The Quran and Sunnah are rather silent on succeeding political leadership after the Prophet. The word ‘Khalifa’ has been used only two times in Quran and that too in different context. So it is safe to assume that the orthodox Caliphate had no precise Islamic origins. Nonetheless, Islam did impact and inspire the nature of the Caliphate. The Khalifa was an Imam, that is he would lead prayer. He would be authority in Quran and Sunnah. Quran had also instructed Muslims to arrive at any decision in Shura (consultation), which was largely followed by the Caliphs, although it use started to dwindle in last days of Usman.
In short, the origin of the Caliphate lay chiefly in the tribal customs and habits of the Arabs, guided and influenced indirectly by Islam. It was a product of accident rather than design or conscious of thought or understanding of the constitutional issues involved.
Equality of all believer
Early tribes of Arab were democratic, not in a sense of today’s liberal democracy. They were equal in a way that the Khalifa was to get Bayt from all of the believers. Moreover the doors of the Khalifa were always open for anyone to complain or discuss something.
Early Caliphate was not a rule of any particular family or clan. Each one of the orthodox Caliphs were from different families. In fact, all of them rejected the idea of having their sons succeed them. Umar strictly prohibited his son from ever thinking of it. Ali, on demands of some of his followers, never nominated Hasan for Khilafat.
No party system
There were no parties in that era, only handful of wise and elder electors. The consensus was then driven everyone through Bayt. There were however deliberations on major policies, companions argued over the course of the government and presented their views. This represented an element of opposition.
All 4 Caliphs were elected in one way or another. Really speaking, it was a peculiar system of election, for it was virtually a kind of indirect election. It consisted of two stages that we defined earlier in “Tribal Customs” heading.
The people generally didn’t oppose the choice of a new Caliph. Any opposition or refusal, could justify use of force against those who opposed or refused. To this extent, Ali was justified in taking up arms against Muawiyah.