The rise of Islam was not anticipated or planned. In fact, it had become so common within the first three years since the introduction of the religion that many scholars were shocked by the progress. It should be mentioned that the religion spread immediately after the death of Prophet Muhammad Sall-Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam (Rane 31). Currently, Islam is a common faith in many countries. Despite the commonness of the religion, very few people register under the faith. It suffices to mention that there are countries that are ruled by Sharia law, a concept borrowed from Islam. Such countries have a majority of their citizens registered as Muslims. Rane (32) explains that an Islamic state is a form of government that is based on Sharia law. In such cases, the government is also called an ‘Islamic government.’
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Daniel (162) also explains that such states are typically referred to as caliphates. Caliphates are modeled and designed according to the rules and laws depicted by Prophet Muhammad. Therefore, it suffices to mention that Prophet Muhammad created the first caliphate. It is also crucial to point out that the caliphate and the caliph-led governments are two different concepts. Whereas the caliph-led governments are monarchies, caliphates engage in elections.
It is also important to note that there are some countries that can be described as a half caliphate. Such countries adopt Sharia law in one part of the country and democratic governance in the other areas of the country. An example of such a country is Sudan and South Sudan. This essay will look at the history of Islam, focusing mainly on the first Islamic state by Prophet Muhammad. The paper will show that the first caliphate and the current caliphates are very different. It will also prove that the first caliphate was not forceful, nor was it violent.
The first Caliphate
Lapidus (62) argues that the first caliphate was established in 622 CE. The caliphate was registered under the Constitution of Medina and was used to show the coming together of the Muslim nation. Daniel (168) observes that the first caliphate did not incorporate all Muslims; thus, it was not forceful. For example, the Shia Muslims were not part of the first Caliphate. One can argue that most of the Shia Muslims were Indian, yet the Indian culture did not encourage caliphates. However, a significant number of the Khawarijites were also not in the caliphate. Many other countries opened up to the idea of caliphates after the establishment of the first Caliphate, which showed the positive perceptions people had of the caliphate.
Even though the Shia Muslims were not part of the first caliphate, they joined later on. However, just like the Sunni Muslims, the Shia believed that fair elections were necessary for choosing the caliphates. It was assumed that they did not support the first caliphate because people did not vote for the leaders. Prophet Muhammad is perceived to be the greatest prophet; thus, all Muslims agree that he was the right person to lead the first caliphate (Coulson 52).
However, the rest of the leaders should have been voted in because some had other agendas. Lapidus (92) asserts that Muslims, who believe caliphate leaders should be voted, are criticized for not trusting Prophet Muhammad. Prophet Muhammad chose the first caliphate leaders; thus, it was assumed that he knew why he was picking them to lead. This argument has been used to reject the idea that the leaders should be voted and to support the idea that the prophet picks Muslim leaders.
The first caliphate had various leaders. Prophet Muhammad’s disciples were tasked with being the Rightly Guided Caliphs (Daniel 167). Prophet Muhammad also empowered a select few to act as the Shuras; The Shuras were tasked with creating the guiding principles of the Sharia law. Lapidus (63) observes that the Shuras had other duties, including consulting with the religious leaders on the Islamic teachings. They also had to ensure that their meetings were based on issues of public interest. It is not clear whether the Shuras only cared for the interests of the Muslims or everyone in the society, including the non-Muslims.
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The first caliphate was different from today’s caliphates, as it had respect for the institutions of the Caliphate. As Rane (43) observes, even though Prophet Muhammad literary established the caliphate, he had very high respect for the institutions of the Caliphate; for instance, the Shura. He did not try to manipulate the work and decisions of the Shura. In addition, Prophet Muhammad took the time to consult with the institutions before making critical decisions. For example, he had to consult with the Sahabah before going to battle against the pagan Arabs. At this point, Prophet Muhammad had only two options. The first option was to meet the enemies outside the walls of the Medina, while the second option was to wait and attack the enemies when they had entered the city. Prophet Muhammad is said to have taken into consideration the advice he got from the Shura.
It can be argued that there was a lot of democracy and freedom in the first caliphate. It is true that Prophet Muhammad appointed the first leaders. However, they were given the freedom they needed to do their work. The same example of the Shura can be used to show this freedom. Coulson (54) asserts that Prophet Muhammad decided to approve the decision not only because it was a good choice, but also because it involved a majority.
Initially, a member of the Shura, recognized as Salman al-Farsi, gave the suggestion. However, Prophet Muhammad allowed the entire court to deliberate on the pros and cons of the war strategy. A majority of the court members agreed that it was a good plan. It was only until then that Prophet Muhammad approved the plan. The detailed process of deciding to take up a choice was done in a democratic way. Lapidus (72) adds that Prophet Muhammad believed that a decision made by a group was better than decisions made by an individual.
Comparison of the first Caliphate and the current caliphates
The current Islamic state is very different from the first caliphate. Apart from the differences already noted, the current Islamic governments tend to be very restrictive. For example, the needs of women are set apart from those of men (Coulson 59).
The governments are also restrictive in terms of democracy. As mentioned, there are some caliphates that have opened up and adopted democracy in their systems. For example, the political and religious leaders of Saudi Arabia have decided to include women in the voting process. Consequently, women will have a say on who leads them. In addition, the government has taken steps to empower women who were initially not taken to school, neither were they offered jobs. Today, there are women who have been incorporated into the government to help with administrative duties and solve some of the women’s issues that male leaders cannot explain. It would appear that Prophet Muhammad’s vision for the caliphate is coming to pass.
Whereas Prophet Muhammad’s vision of the caliphate was a government that brought people together, there are caliphates that do the opposite of that today. For instance, what is termed ISIS or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant appears to go against the principles and guidelines set by the first Shuras. The leaders of ISIS do not make decisions for the benefit of the public. They even hold fellow Muslims captive in order to threaten other Muslims to support their cause. They also kill, torture, and humiliate both Muslims and non-Muslims in the name of religion (Coulson 78). In addition, the ISIS does not have any respect for democracy. The decisions that are made by the ‘rogue’ caliphates usually have political and economic agendas. For instance, they fight others to get more economic power for a small group of people.
Another difference is that a good number of the caliphates formed today do not bring Muslims together. For instance, there is a group of Muslims that detaches itself from the works and activities of ISIS. Coulson (91) observes that an enormous debate on which Muslims follow the Koran has been initiated as a result. Those who support ISIS believe that they are fighting the holy war. They also believe that it is their duty to cleanse the world of non-believers. However, the other group of Muslims that does not support the works of ISIS and similar groups claims that they are the true believers. They do not believe that Jihad should be interpreted to mean killing the non-believers. The constant struggle has set Muslims further apart as they possibly could be, a vision that Prophet Muhammad rejected.
The differences in opinion on what the caliphate should be and who should hold power can be traced back to the first caliphate. As mentioned, the different groups of Muslim faithful had different ideas on how leaders should be chosen. While others wanted the leaders to be picked directly by Prophet Muhammad, others believed that the leaders should be voted democratically. The same differences can be highlighted today; the ISIS believes that the prophet picks their leaders. Consequently, they are dictatorial and forceful because they believe that it is their right to rule others. Saudi Arabia is one of the few caliphates that allow the citizens to vote for their leaders.
In conclusion, the first caliphate was very different from the caliphates established today. One difference that can be cited is that the first caliphate was set up to bring Muslims together. A majority of the caliphates registered today set Muslims apart. In addition, the caliphates set today do not follow the guidelines that were set by the first Shuras. For instance, all caliphates should put the public interest first. A caliphate like ISIS does not abide by this obligation. In fact, it is used to enrich a few people. There are caliphates that try to borrow guidelines from the first Islamic government. For instance, Saudi Arabia has incorporated the voting system that allows both men and women to pick their leaders.
Coulson, Noel J. A History of Islamic Law. Edinburg: Edinburg University Publishers, 2011. Print
Daniel, Alan Dale. The Super Summary of World History Revised. New York: Xlibris Corporation, 2010. Print
Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Print
Rane, Halim. Islam and Contemporary Civilisation. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2010. Print.