Muhammad’s mission, like many other prophets, was to call people to the worship and submission of the one true God. After his death this mission was left to those whom followed his teachings. Those who truly followed in the Prophet’s foot steps were proclaimed The Rightly Guided Caliphs. They were Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Uthman and Ali, and were the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs, all of which were amongst the earliest and closest companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Each of these Caliphs contributed greatly to the development of Islam as well as the contradictory emergence of the Sunni and Shi’ite schism.
Abu Bakr was the first of the four Caliphs and ruled from 632-634 A. C. Abu Bakr was unfortunate to have the burden of leadership placed on him during the most sensitive of Muslim times. Since the death of Muhammad was quickly spreading, many Muslims and tribes decided to rebel, refusing to pay Zakat. Also, many claimed that the prophethood of Muhammad had been placed on them, this only made the tribes revolt stronger. He had to deal with the threat of two powerful empires, the Roman Empire and the Persian, of which threatened Islamic state in Medina.
Abu Bakr himself led a charge against the revolting tribes who attacked Medina and forced them to retreat. Although the threat of the Roman army still remained, Muhammad had already sent out an army and when he died, Abu Bakr took over. With fierce determination he said “I shall send Usama’s army on its way as ordered by the Prophet, even if I am left alone. ” Throughout the rule of Abu Bakr, troops went from one victory to another from attacking Romans. Another contribution of the Caliph was that he encouraged many of Muhammad’s friends to commit his teachings to memory.
Memories all of which were written down to form the Qu’ran. All together without his leadership; the people of Islamic faith would have gone riot. He helped restore stability to the Islamic people. On top of this, he contributed to the writing of the Qu’ran and the keeping of the people safe with all his military forces. During the Caliphate of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar was his closest assistant and adviser. When Abu Bakr died on the 23rd of August 643 A. C, all the people of Medina swore allegiance to ‘Umar who became the second Caliph.
Upon taking charge ‘Uman spoke to the people with conviction and said “O people, remain conscious of God, forgive me my faults and help me in my task. Assist me in enforcing what is good and forbidding what is evil. Advise me regarding the obligations that have been imposed upon me by God… ” ‘Umar did exactly that. He enforced the good and forbade evil. Within the first years of his leadership he completed Islam’s conquest of Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and Persia. During ‘Umar’s Caliphate, he was majorly responsible for the vast expansion of Islam and was considered a highly effective military leader.
He also commanded the construction of the Mosque, also know as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. When ‘Umar returned to Medina from Hajj he raised his hands and prayed, “O God! I am advanced in years, my bones are weary, my powers are declining, and the people for whom I am responsible have spread far and wide. Summon me back to Thyself, my lord! ” Before his death, ‘Umar went to a Mosque to lead in prayer where he was attacked and stabbed several time and fell under the assassins dagger. Before he died, the people asked him to nominate his successor. Umar appointed a committee of the Prophets followers to appoint the leader among themselves. ‘Umar died in the first week of Muharram, 24 A and Uthman was appointed as his successor. Uthman became the Third Rightly Guided Caliph in 644 A. C. From all the Caliphs he was the one more interest in religion than politics. During his Caliphate he completed the compilation of the Qur’an that still remains till today. Uthman ruled for twelve years, the first six years were marked to have been filled with peace and tranquility.
The second half of his rule took a brutal turn. Rebellion rose, the Jews and the Magians were taking advantage of the whispers that were passing among the people and began conspiring against Uthman. Although with the size of his army he could have stopped all of them, he remembered the words of Muhammad, “Once the sword is unsheathed among my followers, it will not be sheathed until the Last Day. ” Uthman didn’t want to be the first of the Caliphs to spill the blood of Muslims, so instead he tried to reason with them.
This hardly did him any good and after a long battle the rebels broke into his home and murdered him. The last words Uthman spoke were that of the Qur’an 2:137, which speaks of God being all hearing and all knowing. He took his last breath on the Friday afternoon of June 656 A. C Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad himself was the final Caliph. At first he was very much reluctant to take the position but after he was urged by the other companions of the Prophet he accepted.
Ali was responsible for the tradition of scholarship, although he too was assassinated. During his Caliphate internal tensions in the Muslim communities came to surface which lead to a period of civil war and political conflicts which ultimately led to the split in Muslims allegiances. This now known as the Sunni and Shi’ite schism. The differences between Sunni and Shi’ia Muslims are not in the written word, but rather they have political differences centred around who should be recognised as the leader of the Muslim community.
The Sunni’s make up an estimate of 90% of Muslims in the world today and they believe that the leader of Muslims should be chosen among the descendants of the tribe of Muhammad, the Quraish tribe but not necessarily from the family of Muhammad. The world ‘Sunni’ itself mean tradition and in turn means that they support the Caliphate of all the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs. The Shi’ites on the other hand only make up 10% of the Muslim population and the word Shi’ite means ‘the party of Ali’ and they believe that the leader of the Muslim community must be a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, the official term of a blood relative being ‘Imam’.
This meaning out of all the Caliphs they only support the rule of Ali. Every single Caliph had an important part to play in the development of Islam and many people have them to thank for their religion and faith being as strong as it is today. Each of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs contributed to the safety and growth of Islam. Although with the split of Muslims that result of the Sunni and Shi’ite schism, everything was eventually kept under control. If conflicts do arise between the two, it will never result in another civil war as they have learnt from the past of the devastations it can cause.