The Rashidun: Ali ibn Abi Talib

Ali ibn Abi Talib
In 656, the reign of the third caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate, Uthman ended bloody. The nepotism and rise of corruption of Caliph Uthman caused dissent and chaos within the Islamic community. Then, Mohammad ibn Abu Bakar, son of Caliph Abu Bakar, led the murder of Caliph Uthman. The Caliphate then fell in the hands of son-in-law and cousin of Prophet Mohammad, Ali ibn Abi Talib. His reign saw the rise of division and chaos.

Ali Ibn Abi Talib was a close companion and a relative of the Prophet Mohammad. Born in 600, he was younger than the Prophet. He was related to the Prophet by blood. Abu Talib was Mohammad’s uncle and later guardian after the latter’s parent passed away. Ali and the Prophet were very close indeed. He was the first male convert to the Islamic faith. During the flight of the Prophet from Mecca to Yathrib or Medina, Ali was said to have prepared to fight and protect the Prophet with his life. Ali joined Mohammad and joined him in all battles. In 623, he became the son-in-law of the Prophet when Mohammad’s daughter, Fatimah, married Ali. The relation bear fruit. He had two sons, Hasan and Husayn, and two daughters, Zaynad and Umm Kulthum.

In 632, the Prophet Mohammad passed away, leaving no clear successor to the Islamic political entity. Arguments on who would succeed the Prophet as the political leader rose. One group argued that an election should be made to decide who would be the next leader. The group that supported this motion were called the ahl al-sunna wa-l-Jama’ah or the People of Customs and Community. But otherwise, they were called Sunni or People of the Customs. Meanwhile, another group wanted the blood relatives of the Prophet to succeed. They were called the Shia’t Ali or Supporters of Ali, or simply, Shia. The Sunnis continued the election. Ali was present. The results of the election, however, disappointed the Shias. Abu Bakar won the election and became known as the first Rashidun Khalifah or Caliph. The Shias saw this act as usurpation of the position that Ali should have. After two years, two more senior companions succeeded Abu Bakar, Umar and Uthman. Ali waited for his turn. When Uthman was killed in 656, Ali rose to power. The Shias rejoiced for his rise.

His reign, however, was marked by challenges. Upon his rise, the murderers of the previous Caliph was never served. This angered a lot of officials. Just after his ascension, Aisha, the youngest wife of Mohammad, along with other Mohammad’s living companion, Talhah and Zubayr. The rebellion culminated at the Battle of Camel (came from Aisha who watch from a camel during the battle). Ali’s forced defeated Aisha’s. She was captured and imprisoned. Soon after his victory in the Battle of Camel, another rebellion sparked. Muwawiya from the Ummayya clan, Governor of Damascus, and relative of Caliph Uthman, rose up to arms after getting dissatisfied with the punishment of the late Caliph’s murderers. He two sides faced off in 657 with the Battle of Siffin. The Battle, however, resulted in a stalemate and no side seemed to have taken the upper hand. After the battle, negotiations between both sides began. However, a group of Ali’s supporters condemned the negotiations and became furious on Ali. Known as the Kharajite or seceders, they rose up against Ali. At Ali’s new capital in al-Kufah in 661, a group of Kharajite entered the mosque were Ali was present. The Kharajites then murdered Caliph Ali. His death resulted to a much more chaotic situation.

The Rashidun Caliphate disintegrated into Civil War. Shias and Sunni fought each other for supremacy. Muwawiya tried to elevate his position. In 661, he established a new Caliphate, the Ummayyad Caliphate. But Shia resentment against the Ummayyad continued. Shias supported the claim of Husayn to the Caliphate. This, however, resulted to the martyrdom of Husayn in Karbala.

The reign of Ali was momentous for the Muslims. It marked the clear division between the Sunni’s and the Shias. This leading eventually with a civil war causing the fall of the Rashidun and the rise of a new Caliphate, the Ummayyad.

See also:
Adamec, L. Historical Dictionary of Islam. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2009.

Esposito, J. Oxford Dictionary of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Marshall Cavendish. Illustrated Dictionary of the Muslim World. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2011.

Schulman, J. The Rise of the Medieval World: A Biographical Dictionary. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Wynbrandt, J. A Brief History of Saudi Arabia. New York: Facts On File, 2010. 

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