A Critical Analysis of Early Caliphate in Islam – POLITICAL PRACTICES OF QURAYSH

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SHAFAQNA – After securing the caliphate, the Quraysh group turned its attention to seizing authority of the various regions. Thus, whoever posed a threat or was uncooperative with the new powers was quickly removed from their positions. This meant the removal of competent and experienced people, including members of their own families, such as the removal of Umar b. al-Khattab’s two sons, Zayd b. al-Khattab and Ubaydallah b. al- hattab, as well as the removal of Abu Bakr’s son, Abdul Rahman b. Abu Bakr.

In their place, Umar appointed more conforming men, such as Sa’d b. Abi al-Waqqas to govern Kufa, Abu Musa al-Ashari to govern Basra, and Mu’awiyah b. Abu Sufyan to govern Shaam (Syria). By including non-Quraysh members into the administration, the party reflected an illusionary bi-partisan government.

Before assuming the role of the third caliph, Uthman b. al-Affan had agreed to follow all of the policies of his predecessors, Abu Bakr and Umar b. al-Khattab; however, after becoming caliph, he reverted to the pre-Islamic Arab custom of nepotism.

Fully aware of Uthman’s tendencies to backslide and knowing that the masses despised favoritism, Umar warned him that the Quraysh would lose their power if he did not refrain from nepotism,[1] however Uthman did not heed his warning. Unlike Abu Bakr and Umar, Uthman filled the official positions with his own tribesmen – people who were undeniably incompetent individuals, such as Abu Sufyan, Marwan b. al-Hakam, Mu’awiyah b. Abu Sufyan, Al-Waleed b. Uqbah, Abdullah b. Abi Sarh, and Sa’ed b. al-Aas.

In doing so, he incensed many companions of the Prophet – even those who had previously sided with the Quraysh such as Lady Aishah, the wife of the Prophet. Particularly upset were those who lost power – not because of their incompetence, but rather, due to Uthman’s nepotism – people such as Amr b. al-Aas, who lost Egypt; al-Mugheerah b. Shu’bah, who lost Kufa; and Abu Musa al-Ashari, who lost Basra. To replace them, Uthman appointed other inept and corrupt individuals from the Bani Umayyah. As a result, some of those townships revolted, and in Kufa for example, the people ousted Uthman’s choice and reinstated Abu Musa al-Ashari.[2] It appears that Uthman was not interested in restoring order and credibility to the government, but rather, to fill the offices with his own family members, even though they had no qualification, experience, or integrity.

Uthman’s nepotism eventually led to his assassination and the awaited succession of Ali b. Abi Talib to the caliphate in 35 AH. After the Khawarij murdered Ali b. Abi Talib during his caliphate, the power base once again shifted to the Quraysh group under the rule of Mu’awiyah b. Abu Sufyan.

Learning from Uthman’s errors, Mu’awiyah balanced political office by incorporating tribal groups and making use of Umar’s practice of appointing allies from outside his tribe to official positions. Hence, Amr b. al-Aas, al-Mugheerah b. al-Shu’bah, Abu Huraira, al-Numan b. Basheer, and Abdul Rahman b. Khalid all found places in the new administration of Mu’awiyah. He went as far as learning how to appease Lady Aishah, a woman who was known to voice her opposition against those whom she deemed as a roadblock in the way of her own objectives, such as Ali b. Abi Talib and Uthman b. al-Affan.


[1] Ibn al-Atheer, Al-Kamil fil-Tarikh, 3:67
[2] Ibn Sa’d, Al-Tabaqat, 5:33

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