The transformation of the caliphate into royal authorityJanuary 20, 2020
Royal authority is the natural goal of group feeling. It results from group feeling, not by choice but through (inherent) necessity and the order of existence, as we have stated before.287 All religious laws and practices and everything that the masses are expected to do requires group feeling.
Only with the help of group feeling can a claim be successfully pressed, as we have stated before. 288
Group feeling is necessary to the Muslim community. Its existence enables (the community) to fulfill what God expects of it. It is said in (the sound tradition of) the Sahih= “God sent no prophet who did not enjoy the protection of his people.“289
Still, we find that the Lawgiver (Muhammad) censured group feeling and urged (us) to reject it and to leave it alone. He said= “God removed from you the arrogance of the pre-Islamic times and its pride in ancestors. You are the children of Adam, and Adam was made of dust.” 290 God said= “Most noble among you in God’s (eyes) is he who fears God most.” 291
Muhammad censured royal authority and its representatives. He blamed them because of their enjoyment of good fortune, their senseless waste, and their deviations from the path of God.
He recommended friendship among all Muslims and warned against discord and dissension.
Muhammad believed that all of this world is a vehicle for (transport to) the other world. He who loses the vehicle can go nowhere. When the Lawgiver (Muhammad) forbids or censures certain human activities or urges their omission, he does not want them to be neglected altogether.
Nor does he want them to be completely eradicated, or the powers from which they result to remain altogether unused. He wants those powers to be employed as much as possible for the right aims. 292 Every intention should thus eventually become the right one and the direction (of all human activities) one and the same.
It was in this sense that Muhammad said= “He who emigrates to God and His Messenger emigrates to God and His Messenger, but he who emigrates to gain worldly goods or to marry a woman emigrates to where he emigrates.” 293
Muhammad did not censure wrathfulness 294 in the intention of eradicating it as a human quality. If the power of wrathfulness were no longer to exist in (man), he would lose the ability to help the truth become victorious.
There would no longer be holy war or glorification of the word of God. Muhammad censured the wrathfulness that is in the service of Satan and reprehensible purposes,295 but the wrathfulness that is one in God and in the service of God, deserves praise.
Such (praiseworthy) wrathfulness was one of the qualities of Muhammad.
Likewise, when (the Lawgiver Muhammad) censures the desires, he does not want them to be abolished altogether, for a complete abolition of concupiscence in a person would make him defective and inferior. He wants the desires to be used for permissible purposes to serve the public interests, so that man becomes an active servant of God who willingly obeys the divine commands.Likewise, when the religious law censures group feeling and says= “Neither your blood relatives nor your children will be of use to you (on the Day of Resurrection),” 296 (such a statement) is directed against a group feeling that is used for worthless purposes, as was the case in pre-Islamic times.
It is also directed against a group feeling that makes a person proud and superior. For an intelligent person to take such an attitude is considered a gratuitous action, which is of no use for the other world, the world of eternity. On the other hand, a group feeling that is working for the truth and for fulfillment of the divine commands is something desirable.
If it were gone, religious laws would no longer be, because they materialize only through group feeling, as we have stated before.297 Likewise, when the Lawgiver (Muhammad) censures royal authority, he does not censure it for gaining superiority through truth, for forcing the great mass to accept the faith, nor for looking after the (public) interests. He censures royal authority for achieving superiority through worthless means and for employing human beings for indulgence in (selfish) purposes and desires, as we have stated. If royal authority would sincerely exercise its superiority over men for the sake of God and so as to cause those men to worship God and to wage war against His enemies, there would not be anything reprehensible in it.
Solomon said= “O my Lord .. . give me royal authority, such as will not fit anyone after me.” 298 He was sure of himself. (He knew) that, as prophet and king, he would have nothing to do with anything worthless. 299 When ‘Umar b. al-Khattib went to Syria and was met by Mu’awiyah in full royal splendor as exhibited both in the number (of Mu’awiyah’s retinue) and his equipment, he disapproved of it and said= “Are these royal Persian manners (kisrawiyah), O Mu’awiyah?” Mu’awiyah replied= “O Commander of the Faithful, I am in a border region facing the enemy. It is necessary for us to vie with (the enemy) in military equipment.” ‘Umar was silent and did not consider Mu’awiyah to be wrong.300 He had used an argument that was in agreement with the intentions of the truth and of Islam. If the intention (implied in ‘Umar’s remark) had been to eradicate royal authority as such, ‘Umar would not have been silenced by the answer with which Mu’awiyah (excused) his assumption of royal Persian manners. He would have insisted that Mu’awiyah give them up altogether. ‘Umar meant by “royal Persian manners” the attitude of the Persian rulers, which consisted in doing worthless things, constantly practicing oppression, and neglecting God. Mu’awiyah replied that he was not interested in royal Persian manners as such, or in the worthlessness connected with them, but his intention was to serve God. Therefore, (‘Umar) was silent. The same applies to the attitude of the men around Muhammad towards abolishing royal authority and its conditions, and forgetting its customs. (The men around Mubammad) were wary of the admixture of worthless things that might be found in (royal customs).
When Muhammad was about to die, he appointed Abu Bakr as his representative to (lead the) prayers, since (praying) was the most important religious activity.
People were thus content to accept (Abu Bakr) as caliph, that is, as the person who causes the great mass to act according to the religious laws.
No mention was made of royal authority, because royal authority was suspected of being worthless, and because at that time it was the prerogative of unbelievers and enemies of Islam. Abu Bakr discharged the duties of his office in a manner pleasing to God, following the Sunnah of his master (Muhammad). He fought against apostates until all the Arabs were united in Islam. He then appointed ‘Umar his successor. ‘Umar followed Abu Bakr’s example and fought against (foreign) nations. He defeatedthem and permitted the Arabs to appropriate the worldly possessions of (those nations) and their royal authority, and the Arabs did that. (The caliphate), then, went to ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan and ‘Ali. All (these caliphs) renounced royal authority and kept apart from its ways. They were strengthened in this attitude by the low standard of living in Islam and the desert outlook of the Arabs. The world and its luxuries were more alien to them than to any other nation, on account of their religion, which inspired asceticism where the good things of life were concerned, and on account of the desert outlook and habitat and the rude, severe life to which they were accustomed. No nation was more used to a life of hunger than the Mudar. In the Hijaz, the Mudar inhabited a country without agricultural or animal products. They were kept from the fertile plains, rich in grain, because the latter were too far away and were monopolized by the Rabi’ah and Yemenites who controlled them. 301 They had no envy of the abundance of (those regions). They often ate scorpions and beetles. They were proud to eat ‘ilhiz, that is, camel hair ground with stones, mixed with blood, and then cooked.
The Quraysh were in a similar situation with regard to food and housing.
Finally, the group feeling of the Arabs was consolidated in Islam through the prophecy of Muhammad with which God honored them. They then advanced against the Persians and Byzantines, and they looked for the land that God had truthfully promised and destined to them. They took away the royal authority of (the Persians and the Byzantines) and confiscated their worldly possessions.
They amassed enormous fortunes. It went so far that one horseman obtained, as his share in one of the raids, about 30,000 gold pieces. The amounts they got were enormous. Still, they kept to their rude way of life. ‘Umar used to patch his (sole) garment with pieces of leather. 302
‘Ali used to say= “Gold and silver! Go and lure others, not me!” 303 Abu Musa 304 refrained from eating chicken, because chickens were very rare among the Arabs of that time and not (generally) known to them. Sieves were altogether non- existent among (the Arabs), and they ate wheat (kernels) with the bran. 304a Yet, the gains they made were greater than any ever made by other human beings.
Al-Mas’udi 305 says= “In the days of ‘Uthman, the men around Muhammad acquired estates and money. On the day ‘Uthman was killed, 150,000 dinars and 1,000,000 dirhams were in the hands of his treasurer. The value of his estates in Wadi I-Qura and Hunayn and other places was 200,000 dinars.
He also left many camels and horses. The eighth part of the estate of az-Zubayr after his death amounted to 50,000 dinars. He also left 1,000 horses and 1,000 female servants.
Talhah’s income from the ‘Iraq was 1,000 dinars a day, and his income from the region of ash-Sharah 306 was more than that. The stable of ‘Abd-ar-Rahman b. ‘Awf contained 1,000 horses. He also had 1,000 camels and 10,000 sheep. Onefourth of his estate after his death amounted to 84,000. Zayd b. Thabit left silver and gold that was broken into pieces with pickaxes, in addition to the (other) property and estates that he left, in the value of 100,000 dinars. AzZubayr built himself a residence in al- Basrah and other residences in Egypt and al-Kufah and Alexandria. Talhah built one in al-Kufah and had his residence in Medina improved. He used plaster, bricks, and teakwood. Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas built himself a residence in al-‘Aqiq, (a suburb of Medina). He made it high and spacious, and had balustrades put on top of it. Al- Miqdad 306a built his residence in Medina and had it plastered inside and out. Ya’la b. Munyah 307 left 50,000 dinars and estates and other things the value of which amounted to 300,000 dirhams.” End of the quotation from al-Mas’udi. Such were the gains people made. Their religion did not blame them for (amassing so much), because, as booty, it was lawful property. They did not employtheir property wastefully but in a planned 308 way in (all) their conditions, as we have stated. Amassing worldly property is reprehensible, but it did not reflect upon them, because blame attaches only to waste and lack of planning, as we have indicated. Since their expenditures followed a plan and served the truth and its ways, the amassing (of so much property) helped them along on the path of truth and served the purpose of attaining the other world. Soon, the desert attitude of the Arabs and their low standard of living approached its end. The nature of royal authority-which is the necessary consequence of group feeling as we have stated 309 showed itself, and with it, there came (the use of) superiority and force. Royal authority, as (the early Muslims) saw it, belonged in the same category as luxury and amassed property. (Still,) they did not apply their superiority to worthless things, and they did not abandon the intentions of the religion or the ways of truth. When trouble arose between ‘All and Mu’awiyah as a necessary consequence of group feeling, they were guided in (their dissensions) by the truth and by independent judgment. They did not fight for any worldly purpose or over preferences of no value, or for reasons of personal enmity. This might be suspected, and heretics might like to think so. However, what caused their difference was their independent judgment as to where the truth lay. It was on this matter that each side opposed the point of view of the other. It was for this that they fought. Even though ‘Ali was in the right, Mu’awiyah’s intentions were not bad ones. He wanted the truth, but he missed (it). Each was right in so far as his intentions were concerned. Now, the nature of royal authority requires that one person claim all the glory for himself and appropriate it to himself. It was not for Mu’awiyah to deny (the natural requirement of royal authority) to himself and his people. (Royal authority) was a natural thing that group feeling, by its very nature, brought in its train. Even the Umayyads and those of their followers who were not after the truth like Mu’awiyah felt that.310 They banded together around him and were willing to die for him. Had Mu’awiyah tried to lead them on another course of action, had he opposed them and not claimed all the power for (himself and them), it would have meant the dissolution of the whole thing that he had consolidated. It was more important to him to keep it together than to bother about (a course of action) that could not entail much criticism. ‘Umar b. ‘Abd-al-‘Aziz used to say when(ever) he saw al-Qasim b. Muhammad b. Abi Bakr= 311 “If I had anything to say about it, I would appoint him caliph.” Had he (really) wanted to appoint him as his successor, he could have done it, but he was afraid of the Umayyads who held the executive authority, for reasons mentioned by us. He was not able to take the power away from them, because to do so would have caused a split. All this was the consequence of the tendencies inherent in royal authority, as the necessary consequence of group feeling. When royal authority is obtained and we assume that one person has it all for himself, no objection can be raised if he uses it for the various ways and aspects of the truth. Solomon and his father David had the royal authority of the Israelites for themselves, as the nature of royal authority requires, and it is well known how great a share in prophecy and truth they possessed. 312 Likewise, Mu’awiyah appointed Yazid as his successor, because he was afraid of the dissolution of the whole thing, in as much as the Umayyads did not like to see the power handed over to any outsider. Had Mu’awiyah appointed anyone else his successor, the Umayyads would have been against him. Moreover, they had a good opinion of (Yazid). No one could have doubts in this respect, or suspect that it was different with Mu’awiyah. 313 He would not have been the man to appoint Yazidhis successor, had he believed him to be (really) so wicked. Such an assumption must be absolutely excluded in Mu’awiyah’s case. The same applies to Marwan b. al-Hakam and his son(s). Even though they were kings, their royal ways were not those of worthless men and oppressors. They complied with the intentions of the truth with all their energy, except when necessity caused them to do something (that was worthless). Such (a necessity existed) when there was fear that the whole thing might face dissolution. (To avoid that) was more important to them than any (other) intention. That this was (their attitude) is attested by the fact that they followed and imitated (the early Muslims). It is further attested by the information that the ancients had about their conditions. Malik used the precedent of ‘Abd-al-Malik (b. Marwan) as argument in the Muwatta. 314 Marwan belonged to the first class of the men of the second generation, and his excellence is well known. 315 The sons of ‘Abd-al-Malik, then, came into power one after the other. Their outstanding religious attitude is well known. ‘Umar b. ‘Abd-al-‘Aziz reigned in between them. He eagerly and relentlessly aspired to (follow) the ways of the first four caliphs and the men around Muhammad. Then came the later Umayyads. As far as their worldly purposes and intentions were concerned, they acted as the nature of royal authority required. They forgot the deliberate planning and the reliance upon the truth that had guided the activities of their predecessors. This caused the people to censure their actions and to accept the ‘Abbisid propaganda in the place of (the Umayyads’). Thus, the ‘Abbasids took over the government. The probity of the ‘Abbasids was outstanding. They used their royal authority to further, as far as possible, the different aspects and ways of the truth. (The early ‘Abbasids,) eventually, were succeeded by the descendants of ar-Rashid. Among them there were good and bad men. Later on, when the power passed to their descendants, they gave royal authority and luxury their due. They became enmeshed in worldly affairs of no value and turned their backs on Islam. Therefore, God permitted them to be ruined, and (He permitted) the Arabs to be completely deprived of their power, which He gave to others. “God does not do an atom of injustice.” 316 Whoever considers the biographies of these caliphs and their different approaches to truth and worthlessness knows that what we have stated is correct. Al-Mas’udi 317 reports a similar judgment concerning the Umayyads on the authority of Abu Ja’far al-Mansur. “When al-Mansur’s paternal uncles mentioned the Umayyads in his presence, he said, “Abd-al-Malik was a tyrant who did not care what he did. Sulayman was concerned only with his stomach and with sexual pleasure. ‘Umar was a one-eyed man among the blind. Hisham was their man.” He continued= “The Umayyads continued to hold on to the power that had been established for them and to preserve it, and to protect the power that God had given them. They aspired to lofty matters and rejected base ones. Eventually, the power passed to their wasteful descendants who were only concerned with the gratification of their desires and with sinful pleasures. They were ignorant of God’s attitude to sinners, and they felt safe from His punishment. At the same time, they prostituted the caliphate. They made light of the privileges of leadership and showed themselves too weak for political leadership. Therefore, God stripped them of their power. He humiliated them and deprived them of their prosperity.” “Then, ‘Abdallah b. Marwan was brought into the presence (of al-Mansur). He had fled from the ‘Abbasids and gone to the country of the Nubian king. He now told alMansur about an experience he had had with that ruler. He said= I had been staying there a little while when their ruler came to me. He sat down on the ground, although I had valuable carpets spread out (to sit on). 318 I asked him what it wasthat prevented him from sitting upon our garments, and he replied, ‘I am a ruler, and it behooves every ruler to humble himself before the greatness of God, since God has raised him (to his exalted position).’ Then, he asked me why we drank wine, though it is forbidden in our Scripture. I replied= ‘Our slaves and followers made bold to do that.’ Then he asked why we permitted our animals to ride down the green crops, although destruction is forbidden us in our Scripture. I replied= ‘Our slaves and followers did that in their ignorance.’ Then, he asked why we wore brocade and gold and silk, although this was forbidden us in our Scripture. I replied= ‘We lost our royal authority and accepted the help of non-Arab peoples who adopted our religion. They wore these things against our will.’ The Nubian ruler, thereupon, reflected a while. He drew figures on the ground with his hand and said (to himself), ‘Our slaves and followers and non-Arabs who adopted our religion …’ Then he raised his head to me and said, ‘It is not as you say. No, you are people who have declared (to be) permitted that which had been forbidden you by God. You committed deeds you had been forbidden to do. And you used your royal authority unjustly. Therefore, God stripped you of your power. He humiliated you because of your sins. God is taking a revenge which has not yet finished its full course. I am afraid that you will be punished while you are staying in my country, and that the punishment will then affect me, too. Hospitality lasts three (nights). Therefore, get yourself the provisions you need and leave my country.’ Al-Mansur wondered (at that story) and reflected (some time about it).” It has thus become clear how the caliphate is transformed into royal authority. The form of government in the beginning was a caliphate. Everybody had his restraining influence in himself, that is, (the restraining influence of) Islam. They preferred (Islam) to their worldly affairs, even if (the neglect of worldly affairs) led to their own destruction, while the mass (of the people, at least,) escaped. When ‘Uthman was besieged in his house, al-Hasan, alHusayn, ‘Abdallah b. ‘Umar, Ibn Ja’far, 319 and others came and offered to defend him. But he refused and did not permit swords to be drawn among Muslims. He feared a split and wanted to preserve the harmony that keeps the whole thing intact, even if it could be done only at the cost of his own destruction. At the beginning of his (term of) office, ‘Ali himself was advised by al- Mughirah to leave az-Zubayr, Mu’awiyah, and Talhah in their positions, until the people had agreed to render the oath of allegiance to him and the whole thing was consolidated. After that, he might do what he wanted. That was good power politics. ‘Ali, however, refused. He wanted to avoid deceit, because deceit is forbidden by Islam. Al-Mughirah came back to him the following morning and said= “I gave you that advice yesterday, but then I reconsidered and realized that it was not right and was not good advice. You were right.” ‘Ali replied= “Indeed, no. I know that the advice you gave me yesterday was good advice and that you are deceiving me today. However, regard for the truth prevented me from following your good advice (of yesterday).” 320 To such a degree were these early Muslims concerned with improving their religion at the expense of their worldly affairs, while we patch our worldly affairs by tearing our religion to pieces. Thus, neither our religion lasts nor (the worldly affairs) we have been patching. 320a It 321 has thus been shown how the form of government came to be royal authority. However, there remained the traits that are characteristic of the caliphate, namely, preference for Islam and its ways, and adherence to the path of truth. A change became apparent only in the restraining influence that had been Islam and now came to be group feeling and the sword. That was the situation in the time of Mu’awiyah, Marwan, his son ‘Abd-al-Malik, and the first ‘Abbasid caliphs down to ar-Rashid and some of his sons. Then, the characteristic traits of the caliphatedisappeared, and only its name remained. The form of government came to be royal authority pure and simple. Superiority attained the limits of its nature and was employed for particular (worthless) purposes, such as the use of force and the arbitrary gratification of desires and for pleasure. This was the case with the successors of the sons of ‘Abd-al-Malik and the ‘Abbasids after al-Mu’tasim and alMutawakkil. They remained caliphs in name, because the Arab group feeling continued to exist. In these two stages caliphate and royal authority existed side by side. Then, with the disappearance of Arab group feeling and the annihilation of the (Arab) race and complete destruction of (Arabism), the caliphate lost its identity. The form of government remained royal authority pure and simple.
This was the case, for instance, with the non-Arab rulers in the East. They showed obedience to the caliph in order to enjoy the blessings (involved in that), but the royal authority belonged to them with all its titles and attributes. The caliph had no share in it.
The same was done by the Zanatah rulers in the Maghrib. The Sinhajah, for instance, had such a relationship with the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids), and the Maghrawah and also the Banu Yafran (Ifren) with the Utnayyad caliphs in Spain and the ‘Ubaydid(-Fatimids) in al-Qayrawan.
Thus, the caliphate at first existed without royal authority. Then, the characteristic traits of the caliphate became mixed up and confused. Finally, when its group feeling had separated from the group feeling of the caliphate, royal authority came to exist alone.