56 A.H.   /   676 A.D.

Precedents for nomination or election of Caliph.

THE election of a Caliph on each succession had been followed by serious peril to the peace of Islam. The choice was supposed to be a privilege vested in the inhabitants of Medina, "Citizens," as well as "Refugees"; but the practice had been various, and the rule had been oftener broken than observed. The Prophet himself nominated no one. Abu Bekr we may say was chosen by acclamation.1 He again, on his deathbed, named 'Omar successor; and 'Omar, establishing yet another precedent, placed the choice in the hands of electors. It is true that on both these last occasions the succession was ratified by the homage of Medina; but that was little more than formal recognition of appointment already made. At the fourth succession, the election of 'Ali, though carried out under compulsion of the regicides, resembled somewhat the popular election of the first Caliph. Then followed the rebellion of Talha and Az-Zubeir based on the allegation that homage had been extorted from them. After that ensued the struggle between Mu'awiya and 'Ali, which ended in the so-called Arbitration of Duma, and the double Caliphate. On the death of 'Ali, who declined to nominate a successor, his son Al-Hasan was elected, not, as heretofore, by the people of Medina, but by the citizens of Al-Kufa. And, finally, we have the first

1 Mohammad, as we have seen, appointed him on his deathbed to lead the prayers; but he made no express nomination.


example of abdication, when Al-Hasan resigned his rights into the hands of Mu'awiya, and left him sole Khalifa, or Successor, of Mohammad.

Initiative no longer possible at Medina.

Whatever rights Medina may originally have possessed, circumstances had now materially altered the means of exercising them. Abandoned as the seat of government, Medina had practically lost the privilege of choosing a successor to the throne, or even of confirming the nomination made by others. Succession, as in the case of Al-Hasan, followed necessarily, and at once, upon the death of the reigning Caliph, and Medina had now no choice but to acquiesce in what had already taken place elsewhere. The elective function was thus, from the course of events, transferred to the inhabitants of the seat of government, wheresoever that might be.

Danger at each succession.

Again, the troubles which followed the election of 'Ali might recur at any moment. Az-Zubeir and Talha raised the standard of revolt on the plea of compulsion, while between 'Ali and Mu'awiya there followed a long and doubt­ful contest. These internecine struggles had imperilled the fortunes of Islam. Not only had the ranks of the Faithful been seriously thinned, but, from without, enemies might have taken dangerous advantage of the strife; as indeed would have been the case in the contest between 'Ali and Mu'awiya, had the latter not made a truce with the Byzantine Court while civil war impended. But if a similar opportunity again offered, the foes of Islam might not be so forbearing, and a fatal wound might be inflicted on an empire torn by intestine conflict.

Mu'awiya's design to nominate his son.

Influenced by such considerations, and also no doubt by the desire of maintaining the Caliphate in his own line, Mu'awiya entertained the project of declaring his son, Yezid, to be his heir-apparent. By securing thus an oath of fealty throughout the Muslim world, he would anticipate and prevent the peril of a contested election. Ziyad was favourable to the scheme, but enjoined deliberation, and a cautious canvass throughout the provinces. He also counselled Yezid, who was devoted to the chase and careless of public affairs, to amend his ways in preparation for the throne, and show before the people a character more fitted for the higher dignity in prospect. Al-Moghira


likewise was favourable to the project. But it was not till both these counsellors had passed away that Mu'awiya found himself in a position to proceed with the design.

Yezid declared heir-apparent, 56 A.H. 676 A.D.

So soon as Mu'awiya felt sure of adequate support, and especially Medina would not resent the invasion of her elective privilege,1 deputations from all the provinces and chief cities presented themselves at Damascus. These, received in state, affected to press the nomination; and accordingly, without further ceremony, the oath of allegiance was taken by all present to Yezid as the next successor. Syria and Al-'Irak. having without demur tendered homage, Mu'awiya set out for Mecca with a retinue of 1000 horse, ostensibly to perform the lesser pilgrimage, but in reality to obtain the assent of the two Holy Cities to the succession of Yezid.

Mecca and Medina forced to swear allegiance.

The leading dissentients at Medina were Al­-Hosein, son of 'Ali, 'Abd ar-Rahman, son of Abu Bekr, and the two 'Abdallahs, sons of 'Omar and Az-Zubeir. Mu'awiya on entering the city received them roughly, and so, to avoid further mortification, these left at once for Mecca. The remainder of the citizens consented to the nomination of Yezid, and took the oath accordingly. Continuing his journey to Mecca, the Caliph carried himself blandly towards its people for the first few days, which were occupied with the rights of the lesser pilgrimage. But as his time of departure drew nigh, he stood up to address them on his errand, and though his speech was gilded with assurances that the rights and privileges of the city would be respected, there was at the first no response. Then 'Abdallah, son of Az-Zubeir, stood up, and declared that the recognition of an heir-apparent would run counter to all the precedents of Islam. On this the Caliph urged the risks to which Islam was

1 When Merwan, governor of the City, placed the matter before the men of Medina, he was at first violently opposed. Amongst others, 'Abd ar-Rahman, son of Abu Bekr, said, "This thing is naught but fraud and deception. In place of election, the right to which vesteth in this City, ye will now make the succession like unto that of the Greeks and Romans—where one Heraclius succeedeth another Heraclius." On this, Merwan quoted from the Kor'an "Say not unto your parents, Fie on you! neither reproach them" (Sura xvii. 24); signifying, it may be, that the very practice of nomination, now opposed, had been introduced by Abu Bekr himself in appointing 'Omar. 'Abdallah, son of 'Omar, is said to have been gained over by the gift of ten thousand golden pieces.


ever and anon exposed from a contested succession. Others then spoke thus:—"We consent," they said, "to any one of these three things. First, do as the Prophet did, and leave the election to the citizens of Medina. Or, secondly, do as Abu Bekr did, and nominate a successor from amongst Koreish.1 Or, thirdly, like 'Omar, appoint electors who shall, from amongst themselves, choose a candidate to succeed thee. Only, like them, thou must exclude thine own sons and thy father's sons." "As for the first course," replied Mu'awiya, "there is none now left like unto Abu Bekr, that the people might choose him. And for the rest, verily I fear the contention and bloodshed that would follow if the succession be not fixed aforehand." Then finding his arguments of no effect, he called out the bodyguard, and at the point of the sword caused the city to take the oath.

Mu'awiya's action becomes the received precedent of Islam.

The example of Syria, Al-'Irak, and the Holy Cities was followed throughout the Empire without reserve. And ever after, the precedent more or less prevailed. The fiction of an elective right vested in the whole body of the Faithful, though still observed more or less in form, ceased now to have reality, and the oath of allegiance was without hesitation enforced by the sword against recusants. The reigning Caliph thus proclaimed as his successor the fittest of his sons, the one born of the noblest mother, or otherwise most favoured, or (in default of issue) the best qualified amongst his kinsmen. To him, as heir-apparent, an anticipatory oath of fealty was taken, first at the seat of government and then throughout the Empire, and the succession followed as a rule the choice. Sometimes a double nomination was made, anticipating at once thus two successions: but such attempt to forestall the distant future too often provoked, instead of preventing, civil war. The practice thus begun by the Umeiyads was followed equally by the 'Abbasids, and proved a precedent even for later times.

Yezid and his mother.

M'awiya had other sons, but Yezid's mother, Meisun,

1 That the Caliph must he of Koreish stock was axiomatic, excepting with the Khawarij, who denounced all privilege. The stricter Khawarij held that their should be no Caliph, but only a council of State. If there were a Caliph, they were indifferent as to what stock he came from.


was of noble birth, and as such her son took precedence.1 The story of this lady has special attraction for the early Arab writers. Amid the courtly luxuries of Damascus, she pined for the freedom of the Desert, and gave vent to her longing in verse, of which the following famous and often translated lines may be taken as a specimen:—

"The tent fanned by desert breeze is dearer to me than these lofty towers.
I should ride more joyously on the young camel than on the richly caparisoned steed.
The wild blast over the sandy plain is sweeter far to me than flourish of royal trumpets.
A crust in the shade of the Bedawi tent hath better relish than these courtly viands.
The noble Arab of my tribe is more comely in my sight than the obese and bearded men around me.
O that I were once again in my desert home! I would not exchange it for all these gorgeous halls."

The lady's verses, coming to Mu'awiya's ears, displeased him. Like 'Ali, he had become from luxurious living obese and portly, and felt the taunt of his wife aimed at himself. So he dismissed Yezid with his mother to the tents of her tribe, the Beni Kelb, where in boyhood he acquired his Bedawi taste for the chase and a roving life.

1 By Mohammadan law, the son of the bondwoman is equally legitimate with the son of the free. But the Arab sentiment of noble birth prevailed; and it still prevails, as we daily see in such minor principalities as Afghanistan.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
Answering Islam Home Page