One of the excuses for ignoring the emphatic Shari‘ah obligation of re-instituting the Caliphate is the claim that it is an impossible dream which cannot be realised. According to this argument, the Caliphate is deemed to be a Utopia which present-day Muslims cannot bring to fruition. This is despite the fact that the Caliphate previously existed for several centuries and succeeded in spreading Islam to many lands. Even after the Mongols invaded Baghdad and killed the Caliph in 656 H (1258 CE), a catastrophe which the noted scholar Taj al-Din al-Subki described as “a tribulation that was not limited but rather afflicted all other Muslims” [Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyyah al-Kubra, 8/272], the Caliphate endured and, only two hundred years later, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. This victory was foretold by the Prophet ﷺ, who said: “Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will her leader be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!” [Musnad Ahmad, al-Hakim, al-Jami‘ al-Saghir]
A society ruled by a Caliph would be far superior to the dysfunctional societies in Muslim countries today but this does not exclude the fact that problems and difficulties may arise, as they did in the past.
Bukhari includes in his Sahih the following narration on the authority of ‘Abdullah:
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said to us, “You will see after me, selfishness (on the part of other people) and other matters that you will disapprove of.” They asked, “What do you order us to do, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) (under such circumstances)?” He said, “Pay their rights to them (to the rulers) and ask your right from Allah.” [Sahih al-Bukhari #7052]
And as we shall see, even when the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ ruled us, they made mistakes. It should be noted here that these were mistakes and not wilful transgressions against the Shari‘ah.
‘Umar (r) makes a mistake and is corrected by a woman
Ibn Kathir relates in his exegesis of the Qur’an:
Umar bin al-Khattab (r) stood up on the Minbar of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and said, “O people! Why do you exaggerate concerning the dowry given to women? The Messenger of Allah ﷺ and his Companions used to pay up to four hundred Dirhams for a dowry, or less than that. Had paying more for a dowry been a part of Taqwa or an honour, you would not have led them in this practice. Therefore, I do not want to hear about a man who pays more than four hundred Dirhams for a dowry.”
He then went down the Minbar, but a woman from Quraysh said to him, “O Leader of the Faithful! You prohibited people from paying more than four hundred Dirhams in a dowry for women?”
He said, “Yes.”
She said, “Have you not heard what Allah sent down in the Qur’an?”
He said, “Which part of it?”
She said, “Have you not heard Allah’s statement:
‘And if you have given one of them a Qintar, take not the least bit of it back; would you take it wrongfully without a right and with a manifest sin?’ [4:20 (a Qintar was a large amount)]”
He said, “O Allah! Forgive me…”
He then went back and stood up on the Minbar saying, “I had prohibited you from paying more than four hundred Dirhams in a dowry for women. So, let everyone pay what he likes from his money.” [Ibn Kathir 2/411]
And in another version the second Caliph is quoted as saying: “Indeed, a woman has challenged ‘Umar and she has defeated him.” [Musannaf ‘Abd al-Razzaq #10420]
This shows that it was possible for the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ to make mistakes, since they were not free from error. It also underlines the importance of taking the ruler to task if he does something wrong or errs. And perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that in the Caliphate, legislation is not left to the whim of the ruler but is set in stone by Allah. This is very different from both modern-day dictatorships and democracies in which the rules and regulations which are applied benefit a self-perpetuating elite and harm the poor.
Abu Bakr (r) and the riddah wars
Abu Bakr (r) is considered, according to the orthodox view, to be the best Caliph to rule the Muslims, yet even he had to deal with serious problems. In a series of battles known as the riddah wars, he quelled rebellions throughout the Islamic state. False prophets also appeared. Al-Tabari relates in his celebrated history:
“There had come to him delegations of apostate Arabs, who confirmed [the observance of] prayer but held back [payment of] the alms tax [zakat]. But Abu Bakr did not accept this from them…” [The History of al-Tabari – Volume X: The Conquest of Arabia, SUNY Press, Albany, 1993, p. 40]
He also mentions:
“After the Apostle of Allah ﷺ had died and Usamah had departed, the Arabs apostatized in large or small groups, and Musaylimah and Tulayhah feigned [divine] inspiration, so that the situation regarding the two of them became serious.” [Ibid., pp. 41-42]
And he also states, regarding Abu Bakr’s determination in facing the apostates who would not pay zakat:
“But Allah strengthened Abu Bakr’s resolution in the truth, and he said: ‘If they refuse me [even] a hobble [camel’s rope], I shall fight them for it.’” [Ibid., p. 45]
After sending letters with delegations to the apostates, Abu Bakr fought them and was eventually victorious. Tulayhah was defeated and embraced Islam, and Musaylimah was killed [Cf. al-Tabari, op. cit.].
The whole of the Arabian Peninsula came under the authority of Islam, followed shortly afterwards by a wave of conquests that would include the entire Middle East and North Africa.
The Sultan is the Shade of Allah on Earth
The Islamic ruler, while not presiding over a Utopia, brings relief to all the citizens of the Islamic state by his compliance with the commands and prohibitions of Allah (swt). The Messenger of Allah said:
“The Sultan is the Shade of Allah on Earth.” [Graded Sahih by al-Suyuti in al-Jami‘ al-Saghir]
The Sultan brings relief by the coolness of his justice, and repels harm from his people in the same way as shade prevents the heat of the Sun. The Sultan, through the power of Islam, stops the strong from exploiting the weak and the rich from exploiting the poor.
In his inaugural address as the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (r) insisted, “The weak among you is strong in my sight. I will surely try to remove their pain and suffering. And the strong among you is weak to me. I will, if Allah wills, fulfil the rights in full.” [Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, 2/661]
The Islamic ruler provides relief by ensuring the fair distribution of wealth and regulates the accumulation of wealth by the rich, as stipulated by Allah who says, “so that it (wealth) does not become something which merely revolves between the rich among you” [59:7].
In his Kitab al-Amwal (Book of State Revenue), Abu ‘Ubayd (d. 224 H) narrates the content of a letter of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz to Basra, in which the latter commands:
“Take special care of the Ahl al-Dhimma [Non-Muslim citizens] who have advanced in age and grown weak, and their means of livelihood have shrunk. Grant them from the Muslim treasury what is suitable for them.” [The Book of Revenue – Kitab al Amwal – Abu ‘Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam, translated by Professor Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Garnet Publishing, Reading, 2003, p. 42]
And Abu ‘Ubayd also relates regarding ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (r), that “he passed by an old dhimmi begging at doors, and said: ‘We have not done justice to you if we have taken jizya from you in the prime of your youth and neglected you in your old age.’ He then ordered from the treasury what was suitable for him.” [Ibid.]
Abu ‘Ubayd also mentions the following:
“ ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz wrote to ‘Abd al-Hamid, who was in ‘Iraq, that he should pay stipends of the people to them. ‘Abd al-Hamid wrote back to him that he had paid the stipends to the people, but there were still some wealth left in the treasury. He (‘Umar) wrote back to him, ‘Look now for people who are in debt, but who have not taken these loans for extravagance or unnecessary expenditure, and pay on their behalf.’ He replied, ‘I have already paid on their behalf and yet there is wealth left in the treasury.’ ‘Umar wrote to him, ‘Seek out those bachelors who do not have wealth, but wish that you arrange their marriages. Get them married and pay the dower on their behalf.’ He replied, ‘I have arranged the marriage of all I could find, but wealth is still left in the treasury.’ ‘Umar wrote back after receiving information about these expenditures, ‘Look now for those on whom jizya has been imposed, but who are unable to manage their land. Grant them loans to strengthen their ability to manage their land.’ ” [Ibid., p. 250]
Compare this to the various dictatorships and democracies in the Muslim world today. We now know from the Pandora Papers how the kings, prime ministers and presidents of our lands enrich themselves at our expense and conceal their ill-gotten gains in off-shore tax havens. All this while so many millions live in poverty.
During this blessed month, we can all supplicate to Allah just before we break our fasts. Let us all pray for the imminent return of the Caliphate upon the way of Prophethood, which the Messenger of Allah ﷺ has promised us will return, and then it will truly be an Eid we can all celebrate.