Prof. Dr. Hamdy Shaheen

Prof. Dr. Hamdy Shaheen


The change in societal values is considered one of the most prominent causes of political change, and the reverse relationship also holds true, where major political changes lead to significant changes in social and individual values. Islamic history is replete with many examples of this.

The Intermingling of Values Due to the Expansion of Islamic Conquests

The vast movement of Islamic conquests that the Islamic state witnessed during the caliphate of Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) led to its emergence as a global state with multiple ethnicities, religions, and languages. The ruling Arab element became fewer in number compared to the incoming waves of people, and the moral adherence to the values of the era of prophethood and the beginnings of the rightly guided caliphs, such as asceticism in worldly matters, adherence to the highest religious ideals, and pride in them, declined. The sense of this change reached the point where Umar, in the later years of his caliphate, said, "O Allah, I have become weary of them and they have become weary of me, so take me to You." It also reached the point where a man asked Ali ibn Abi Talib during his caliphate: "Why did the Muslims disagree with you, but not with Abu Bakr and Umar?" He replied: "Because Abu Bakr and Umar were rulers over people like me, and I am a ruler over people like you!" Uthman ibn Affan warned of the dangers that would result from this rapid social openness, saying in his speech at the beginning of his caliphate: "The affairs of this nation will lead to innovation after the completion of three things among you: the fulfilment of blessings, the coming of age of your children from the captives, and the recitation of the Qur'an by the Bedouins and non-Arabs," indicating that the Qur'an would be interpreted incorrectly due to linguistic inexperience and inherited previous cultures.

The Movement of Islamic Conquests Led to a Decline in Moral Adherence to the Values of the Prophetic Era and the Early Caliphs

However, these fears did not prevent the fulfillment of rights and the spread of justice among the people of the conquered lands. The cry of Umar ibn al-Khattab still echoes through the ages when he said to Amr ibn al-As, his governor in Egypt: "Since when have you enslaved the people, Amr, while their mothers gave birth to them as free individuals?! "

The Dialectic of Islamic Unity Values and National Pride

It was not conceivable that the people of the conquered lands would completely shed their cultural heritage merely by entering Islam. Over time, intellectual misguidances and doctrinal deviations emerged, leaving their marks on some Islamic sects, theological disputes, and philosophical schools. Some of these even formed noisy sects that opposed Islam entirely and organized revolutionary movements against the state, such as the Rawandiyya, Khurramites, and Mazdakites.

Over Time, Intellectual Misguidances and Doctrinal Deviations Emerged Among the People of the Conquered Lands

The spread of Islam in those lands sometimes intertwined with the nationalist sentiments of their inhabitants and their ethnic pride in their previous global civilization before Islam. Calls for equality between Arabs and others arose, and populist and nationalist claims were sometimes concealed behind slogans of equality. The Umayyad state responded by further disseminating Islam and deepening its influence, as well as promoting the Arabic language, Arabizing state systems, and aspects of life in those regions. Some responses were characterized by increased Arab nationalism and disdain for others. However, it did not take long for these nationalist sentiments to manifest in independent states, as happened in the second Abbasid era, weakening the unity of the state and the authority of the caliphate.

National pride and religious zeal coexisted over several centuries, with neither necessarily being opposed to the other. In these independent states, prominent scholars emerged who served both the world and religion, and great centers of civilization emerged that made enduring contributions to Islam. Can history forget figures like al-Bukhari, Muslim al-Nisaburi, al-Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah? Can the brilliance of cities like Bukhara, Samarkand, Nishapur, Ghazna, and Herat be overlooked? This is just in the East; what about the West, including Al-Andalus and its cities like Cordoba, Toledo, and Seville, as well as Fez, Marrakesh, and Shinqit? The great historical impact of the Almoravids, who prolonged the life of Islam in Al-Andalus for centuries, the Ghaznavids in their conquest of India, and the Seljuks who dominated Asia Minor and sowed the seeds of the Ottoman Empire, still resonates.

Political and Social Values Vary in Their Levels of Understanding and Commitment, Such as Shura (Consultation) and Freedom

Values of Political Freedom and Shura

The understanding and levels of commitment to political and social values can vary, including values such as Shura and the practice of political freedom. Some of the major events of the Fitna (civil strife) during the time of Uthman and Ali can be understood in this light. All parties agreed on the acknowledgment and pursuit of these values, but they differed in their understanding of their boundaries and the alignment between those concepts and the higher interests of the emerging state, its unity, and the stability of its political system. The revolutionaries interpreted this understanding as a pretext for a rampant revolution seeking to depose the caliph. However, the caliph did not comply, as he saw the insurgents as a rebellious group not bound by agreements and contracts, including the allegiance and deposition, while acknowledging their right to express their opinions and positions peacefully. The revolution led to his death, and with it the stability of the state and its golden age experiment, resulting in the emergence of a new political and value system.

With the Passage of Time, Diligence Diminished, Stagnation Prevailed, and the Sciences of Life Were Neglected, While the West Focused on Those Sciences

Values of Learning and the Debate Over the Most Noble Sciences

Learning is considered one of the greatest values ​​of Muslims, and based on it, they flourished with magnificent civilization. The desire for and ability to learn vary among individuals, while collectively, sciences are distinguished between 'individual obligations' and 'communal obligations.' Muslims maintained this delicate balance between these two types of sciences during their prosperous eras. However, during periods of decline and weakness, their compass was disrupted. Some began to differentiate between noble and base sciences, placing the religious sciences at the highest levels and the natural sciences such as mathematics, astronomy, and medicine at the lowest.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505 H/1111 CE) said in comparing Fiqh and medical sciences: "God forbid that I equate between the two in honour and rank! "  The religious sciences captivated many sharp minds, and they indeed achieved great accomplishments. However, over time, diligence diminished, stagnation prevailed, while the vibrant sciences of life, including medicine, engineering, astronomy, physics, and others, were neglected. Meanwhile, Western nations advanced by prioritizing these sciences, harnessing their political power and economic resources to support them. The nation paid a hefty price for its lag in these sciences, as it stood helpless against those who seized the crisis of knowledge and their overwhelming material strength.


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Establishing the Caliphate System and Recognizing the Ummah's Right to Choose Its Leaders

Despite the great calamity of the Prophet's death (peace be upon him), the Muslims did not neglect to aspire to their future. They disliked remaining without a leader, even for a day, leading the Ansar to gather at the Saqifa of the Banu Sa'ida to discuss it. Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him) was chosen as the first of the rightly guided caliphs on the day the Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away, even before his burial, in a remarkable practice of Shura (consultation).

Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) confirmed the Ummah's right to choose its caliph, which remained the method after, saying: “If any person gives the Pledge of allegiance to somebody (to become a Caliph) without consulting the other Muslims, then the one he has selected should not be granted allegiance, lest both of them should be killed.” 

Shura wasn't a political act that people resorted to when the caliph died; rather, it was a method of governance.

The Sustainability of Shura and its Breadth

Shura was not merely a political act that people resorted to upon the death of a caliph or when he was nearing his death; rather, it was a method of governance. The evidence of caliphs practicing Shura in their governance is abundant and cannot be fully listed. Amir al-Mu'minin Umar ibn al-Khattab would allow intelligent youth to attend his Shura councils and say, “No one should be prevented from expressing their opinion due to their young age, as knowledge is not based on age or seniority, but rather Allah places it wherever He wills.” The circles of consultation expanded to encompass military planning to achieve the best outcomes, as well as the jurisprudential matters that arose. Abu Bakr, upon facing an issue, would gather the leaders and the virtuous for consultation, and if they reached a consensus, he would act accordingly. Umar consulted even on the matter of wine punishment, and he would even consult women in their matters, taking their opinions into consideration.

Preserving the Islamic State’s Unity

Abu Bakr realized the political motivations behind the Ridda (apostasy) movement—that it meant dismantling the state in favor of tribalism. He confronted it with strength and decisiveness. When Amir al-Mu'minin, Umar ibn al-Khattab, removed Khalid ibn al-Walid from the general command of the army, some sought to incite Khalid to rebel. But his response was, “Never, as long as Ibn al-Khattab lives.” This statement strongly indicates the determination of the people, leaders, and soldiers alike, to maintain the unity of the state and obedience to the caliph, even in the darkest moments of anger.Top of Form

Balancing Rights and Duties between Caliphs and Subjects

The caliphs understood that their appointment by the people did not grant them sanctity or immunity. Abu Bakr said in his speech when he became the caliph: “I have been appointed your leader, but I am not the best among you.” Umar declared at the beginning of his caliphate that it was a test from Allah and that he was a servant of the Ummah. It is no surprise that the Ummah, represented by its opinion leaders, imposed the salaries of the caliphs, as happened at the beginning of the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar. When Abu Bakr passed away, he ordered the return of all the money he had taken from the public treasury as salary.

Illustrating the importance of this issue during the era of the Rashidun Caliphs, Umar once asked Salman al-Farisi, “Am I a king or a caliph?" Salman replied, “If you took from the lands of the Muslims a single dirham or less or more and then misused it, then you are a king, not a caliph.

The Rightly Guided Caliphs realized that when the people chose them, it did not make them immune or sacred.

Obeying Obeying the Caliph is obligatory, as long as it aligns with Allah’s Sharia. This was the approach of the Rightly Guided Caliphs in governance. Abu Bakr said, “Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Messenger; but if I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience.” Umar said, “No one should be obeyed in disobedience to Allah.” The Caliphs acknowledged the right of the subjects to criticize and correct them. Abu Bakr stated in his first speech, “If I do well, support me; and if I do wrong, correct me.” Al-Bukhari narrated in “The Great History” that when Umar asked the companions what they would do if he deviated from righteousness, Bashir ibn Saad told him that they would correct him. When a man said to Umar, “Fear Allah!” he replied, “There is no good in you if you do not say it, and there is no good in us if we do not accept it.” The Caliph must acknowledge their mistakes if they recognize them. Uthman ibn Affan, in response to criticism, wrote to the people of Kufa, “I am not a scale that doesn’t incline.”

The most reliable reports suggest that Saad ibn Ubada, Ansar’s candidate for caliphate on the day of the Saqifah, did not pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr or Umar afterwards. Narrations in Bukhari also mention that Ali ibn Abi Talib and a group from Banu Abd Manaf initially refused to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr until six months after the death of Fatimah, the Prophet's daughter. Political awareness at the time allowed for such disagreements without causing harm, as the majority's allegiance to Abu Bakr was sufficient, and “unanimity was not necessary,” as Ibn Taymiyyah states. Umar tore up the land grant document issued by Abu Bakr to Uyainah bin Hisn, the leader of Fazarah, when he became a Muslim, as it was no longer necessary to soften his heart to accept Islam. Ayinah complained to Abu Bakr, asking, “Are you the leader or Umar?” He replied, “Indeed, it is Umar, if Allah wills.”

A number of companions opposed Umar's decision to leave conquered lands as Muslim states’ endowments, advocating for them to be divided among Muslims like the spoils of war. Umar was so troubled by this opposition that he prayed to Allah to save him from it. During Uthman's caliphate, the opposition escalated into anger and rebellion, resulting in his assassination. The armed conflict continued during Ali ibn Abi Talib's caliphate, culminating in wars among Muslims.

Keeping Up with the State’s Vast Expansion

Since the conquests began yielding their fruits, new needs emerged, and the Rightly Guided Caliphs exerted efforts to keep pace with them. One such effort was the administrative delegation policy adopted by Abu Bakr in managing the conquering armies, as he did with Khalid ibn al-Walid, unleashing the potential of the great conqueror. When Umar became caliph, his policy tended towards centralized control over settled conquests and states, with the fear of prominent leaders becoming an infatuation.Top of Form

Since the conquests began yielding their fruits, new needs emerged, and the Rightly Guided Caliphs exerted efforts to keep up with them.

This policy did not pass without the caliph realizing the necessity of changing the management approach of the conquered lands, even if he contradicted it. This is evident in his rebuke of Muawiyah, the governor of the Levant, when he would parade in a procession, with people stopping at his door to attend to their needs. Muawiyah argued with the abundance of the enemy's eyes and the necessity of making them aware of the authority's grandeur. Umar, then let him be. Similarly, Umar kept the senior companions close to him to benefit from their opinions and appointed governors based on their competence and obedience rather than their popularity.

Umar also recognized the importance of establishing new cities according to the growing needs of the state. He ordered the construction of Basra, Kufa, and Fustat. The first two were needed as stable camps for the armies close to the battlegrounds, while Fustat was made the new capital of Egypt to prevent the danger of residing in Alexandria due to its vulnerable maritime location.

Facing the Consequences of Becoming a Global State

The Islamic state transitioned into a global entity, which resulted in changes in power dynamics and political effectiveness. The number of early Muslims, who were the pillars of the state and the original bearers of the message, decreased due to death and assimilation with the conquests. Umar sought to prioritize them and maintain their status and influence by organizing the Diwan al-Jund (military register) and giving them the greatest financial rewards. However, the emergence of the political effectiveness of Arab tribes and the increasing influence of new territories imposed a new reality. The dissatisfaction of the provinces with their governors intensified despite frequent changes, as they “were not satisfied with a governor, and no governor was satisfied with them.” Umar also realized the danger of the formation of a Qurayshite aristocracy receiving the greatest rewards, arousing the resentment of the tribes. He announced that if he lived until the following year, he would equalize the grants among the people, but he died before he could fulfill this promise. 

The most prominent feature was the development of the concept of “Ahlul-Hal wal-'Aqd,” so they no longer were the earlier Muslims.

The most prominent feature was the development of the concept of Ahlul-Hal wal-'Aqd (the decision-making Muslim committee), so they no longer were the participants of the Battle of Badr and the earlier Muslims. The numbers and influence of these early companions declined, while the leadership of tribes and provinces, which played a major role in the conquests and the state's resources, emerged. The rebilion against Uthman and his martyrdom in the capital city by groups of those was the declaration of the new reality. Despite this, the Rashidun Caliphs continued to try to rely on the early companions. Uthman did not submit to the will of the rebels who sought to depose him because they were not Ahlul-Hal wal-'Aqd, and so did Ali, who refused to accept their allegiance, stating, “This matter is not for you to decide; it is only for the people of Badr.” However, he was forced to accept the inevitability of change and move the caliphate from Medina to Kufa, justifying that the wealth and men were in Iraq.
The Rashidun Caliphs also recognized the consequences of the emergence of large groups of servants and slaves who had no protection or control. They did not fit within the tribal organization of the Muslim community. Many of them joined the rebels against Uthman, forming a severely dangerous element of the state. They became the backbone of the workforce in society because Arabs were content to employ their slaves in their markets. Umar expressed his concerns when he saw that they composed most of those in the marketplace, saying to his companion, “If this continues, your men will need their men, and your women will need their women.” When one of them, Abu Lu'lu'a, stabbed him, Umar said to Ibn Abbas, “You and your father were fond of having many non-Arab disbelievers in Medina!”

Umar recognized the danger of this problem before it happened, fearing that the vast conquests would overwhelm the sincere Muslims' capacity to absorb these masses flocking to the heart of state and society, calling them to the true religion. He used to say, “I wish there was a mountain of fire between us and the Persians, so they couldn’t reach us and we couldn’t reach them!” He advised the Arabs, after their wealth had increased, on the importance of investment for the future and urged them to work themselves and not succumb to unemployment and dependency.

Despite Umar's fear of the increase in the numbers and influence of non-Muslims, he and those who followed him acknowledged their rights to care and justice. It was Umar who gave assistance to the poor among the dhimmis from the Muslim treasury, and Ali ibn Abi Talib ordered his official on Modar to treat the subjects, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, with kindness and justice, as they were either brothers in religion or equals in humanity.  


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