THE English word Caliph is a translation of the Arabic word ‘Khalifa’. Khalifa is the short form of ‘Khalifatu Rasulilah’ which means ‘successor of the Messenger of God’ i.e. the Holy Prophet [PBUH]. The mission of Holy Prophet was to encourage people to enter the field of Islam. The objective was to enlighten and awaken people to the divine truth that there is no power more omnipotent and omnipresent other than Allah. He is the creator of universe and will sustain till the end of the world. The divine injunctions are documented in the Holy Quran and it is incumbent upon all believers to follow it for all times to come.
In terms of conception, after the Prophet, there is a need for a successor to carry forward the Prophet’s message and to act in the capacity of a guide for the Muslim Ummah. This role has to be played by a trusted and responsible guardian who can act with full responsibility of ensuring compliance of the holy injunctions throughout the various levels. Islamic history boasts of four such formidable personalities who acted in the privileged roles of Caliph to further the cause of Islam and to spread the Prophet’s word after his death.
The Caliphs truly followed in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet and were therefore titled as “Khulafa e Rashideen’ i.e. the rightly guided caliphs. In terms of hierarchy and order the Khulfafa e Rashideen followed a sequence commencing from Hazrat Abu Bakar Siddiq (RA), Hazrat Umar (RA), Hazrat Usman (RA) and Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA) if one were to undertake a detailed study of their individual lives over the course of Arabian history one would be inundated with instances where their mannerisms have been a true reflection of a believer, just the way the Holy Prophet [PBUH] had guided. They also had the privilege of working so closely to the Prophet and observing him in his exemplary conduct, getting groomed by him that it was but natural to assume a disposition which could be close to perfection.
Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) was one of the closest companions of the Holy Prophet apart from being the first caliph, his daughter Hazrat Aisha (RA) was in wedlock with the Holy Prophet whom he loved dearly. Hazrat Abu Bakr was one of those companions who were given the glad tidings of entering heaven by the Holy Prophet during his life time. He was the most trusted companion of the Holy Prophet and also earned the title of “As-Siddiq” (the most truthful and sincere person in faith) from the Holy Prophet. He alone accompanied amongst all the companions with the Holy Prophet [during migration from Makkah to Madinah. He participated in all the battles of Islam with the Holy Prophet, who held him in high esteem. When the Holy Prophet first invited his closest friends and relatives to Islam, Abu Bakr was among the earliest to accept it.
Hazrat Umar, who took over after the death of Abu Bakr, entered the fold of Islam in an interesting manner. One day at a meeting with kuffar the question arose: ‘Who will kill Muhammqad’ Umar volunteered to execute this task. He picked up his sword and set off. Along the way he met Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas who asked: “Umar where are you off to/” Umar replied: ‘To slay Muhammad,” Hazrat Sa’d said: ‘Umar, first tend to your own home, both your sister and brother-in-law have accepted Islam.” this made Hazrat Umar furious and he went to their home and assaulted them. Only when they said, “Umar, you can do what you like, but you cannot turn our hearts away from Islam.” It took a transformational effect on him. He was moved by the words of the Holy Quran which his sister shared with him. He went straight to Prophet’s house and vowed allegiance to him. He made no secret of his acceptance of Islam and openly gathered Muslim prayers.
The boldness of his personality and his extraordinary courage raised the morale and spirits of Muslims of Mecca. The soundness of ‘Umar’s judgement, his dedication to the Holy Prophet [PBUH], his forthrightness and integrity won for him a trust and confidence from the Prophet which was second only to that given to Abu Bakr. The Prophet gave him the title ‘Farooq’ which means the ‘separator of Truth from falsehood.’ During the Caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar was his closest assistant and adviser. Subsequent to Hazrat Umar, the caliphate was taken in the hands of Hazrat Uthman. He was most modest of all the companions. Once Holy Prophet [PBUH] was sitting with some of his companions and shin of his leg was not covered, in the meantime somebody informed him about arrival of Hazrat Uthman (RA), Holy Prophet [PBUH] immediately covered it and remarked “Even angles have regard for the modesty of Uthman”.
He was a strict follower of the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet. Somebody asked him the reason for smiling after wudu. He replied he had seen the Holy Prophet smiling after making wudu, so he smiled to follow him. He was extremely God fearing. Tears used to roll down his face because of Allah’s fear. Sometimes he wept and cried seeing a corpse or a grave because of fear of Allah. He used to say, “Grave is the first stage among all the stages of the Hereafter. If a person is successful there, he would be successful on Day of Judgement too. If a person faces difficulty in the grave, other stages would also be difficult for him”.
The title of caliphate went to Ali ibn Abi Talib after Hazrat Uthman. After the assassination of Hazrat Uthman, the insurgents approached Hazrat Ali (R.A.) to be the Khalifah as the city of Medina had descended into a chaos and anarchy. Hazrat Ali was a very brave man. He participated in almost all the battles against the non-believers during the time of the Holy Prophet [PBUH]. The stories of his bravery are famous in the history and also because of bravery Hazrat Ali was popularly called ‘Asadullah (The Lion of Allah)’. The mission of each caliph centred around a common theme; to reinforce the Prophet’s message and inculcate the divine injunctions in the lives of all Muslims. To create a surrounding based on peace, equality, justice and they were successful in this. They continue to serve as apt examples till eternity for us to learn from and to follow.
— The writer is a senior banker with interest in Religion.