Expansion of the Muslim dominion during Khilafat-e-Rashida – Part II

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Fazal Malik, Canada

Hardly half a year had passed since the election of the new Khalifa, Hazrat Usmanra that the revolt began in the Persian lands. The exiled Persian king Yazdegerd III deployed spies who travelled through Persia, inciting the population to revolt. Hazrat Usmanra took a decisive step, clearing the territory of all insurgent influences and as a matter of strategic necessity to prevent further attacks, he posted the Muslim forces on the borders of Afghanistan, Turkistan and Khurasan, which were now annexed to the Muslim domain. 

The Persian Empire had been subdued; they would impose a threat no more. Not the ones to be outdone, the Byzantine Empire now struck.

Roman Emperor Constantine I chose Byzantium as the site for the new “Rome” with Constantinople (Istanbul) as its capital. This was in 330 AD, five years after the Council of Nicaea where Constantine had established Christianity as Rome’s official religion.

In 364 AD, Emperor Valentinian I divided the empire into western and eastern sections, putting himself in power in the west and his brother Valens in the east. It was the Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire, that clashed with the Muslims in the seventh century. Before the war with the Arab Muslims, an impressive geographical area boasted their pride; the pride which now demanded that the nomads from Arabia should be thrown back to oblivion. The war with Arabia had proven costly for the Roman Empire. Despite losses of massive proportions, they had not accepted defeat and waited for an opportune moment to strike back.

The demise of Hazrat Umarra provided them with such an opportunity. Or so they thought.

Encouraged by the outlaying communities of the former Byzantine Empire, they launched a massive military operation against the Muslims. Overwhelmed and taken by surprise, the Governor of Syria Hazrat Muawiyara asked the Khalifa Usmanra for help and received thousands of troops in response. 

The first victory was the battle of the Masts off the Lycian coast in 655 AD, where the Muslims won a decisive naval victory over the Byzantines. It was a victory on two major fronts. It drove the elite Roman forces out of their stronghold and it initiated the formation of the first Muslim navy to protect the nation against further Byzantine attacks. 

On the North African front, the last of the Roman strongholds that revolted had to be eliminated, and places as far as Tripoli fell to the rule of the Muslims. Finally, the Byzantium dreams to eliminate the Muslim dominion were crushed. The Byzantines were pushed back to Costantipole and, suffering from internal warfare, would not face the Muslims for another century and that too for very different reasons.

With Muslim ruled land ranging from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, the Arabian tribes migrating en masse to far flung lands and non-Arabs coming into ever increasing contact with the Muslims, there were massive administrative challenges. Hazrat Usmanra, an excellent administrator, kept abreast of issues and needs of his constituents, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, by establishing a system of inspection throughout the Muslim dominion and initiated systems to protect the public from market fluctuations in response to supply and demand of the economy. In addition to investing in infrastructure such as roads, buildings and rest stops, he formalised the civil and military service pay codes.

With the expansion of the dominion, the Arabic language was evolving and the issue of the standardisation of the Holy Quran came to being. The Holy Quran was written down in script and arranged in order during the life of the Holy Prophetsa; and the collection of all the sources into one standard book was completed during the life of the first Khalifa, Hazrat Abu Bakrra, who was helped by Hazrat Umarra.  Alarmed by the reports of mispronounced recitation of the Holy Quran, Hazrat Usmanra tasked a former scribe, Hazrat Zaidra bin Thabit and some other prominent members of the Quraish to produce a standard copy of the text, as spoken in the dialect of the Quraish. Multiple copies of the original were made and sent to major cities in the Islamic domain, such as Damascus, Basra and Kufa.

All the while the progression of Islam continued an impressive climb, the opposing forces worked to undermine the success of Khilafat. In the year 656 AD, Hazrat Usmanra was martyred and Hazrat Alira was elected as the Khalifa. As foretold by the Holy Prophetsa almost three decades ago, the Khilafat of Hazrat Alira ibn abi Talib would be the last for another thousand years!

The war clouds could be seen over the deserts of Arabia, but Hazrat Alira did not take pride in the vast resources of Arabia under his command or the ample weaponry or army that it had built over the past decades. He turned his attention towards Allah and sought refuge in Him. His reign was short but one hallmarked with traits of previous khulafa. During his lifetime, the centre of Khilafat was moved from Medina to Kufa.

The martyrdom of Hazrat Usmanra had left a deep wound in the hearts of Muslims and the safety of citizens, from Tripoli to Damascus to Medina, was of paramount importance. Hazrat Alira promptly established a police force and continued to invest in the infrastructure throughout the dominion. The expanded dominion, new Muslims with foreign dialects and languages, and social issues of new kinds awaited the new Khalifa. 

Although the standardised calligraphy of the Holy Quran was compiled during the time of Hazrat Usmanra, the standard pronunciation of the Holy Quran, without any doubt to the meaning of the words, was of paramount importance. The Holy Quran was revealed in a poetic form in a culture that valued language and particularly poetry. It was during the time of Hazrat Alira that the codification of the Holy Quran with rules of qirat [recitation] was standardised. Rules of recitation were firmed up and Arabic grammar, as a subject, was first taught.

Growing up in the house of the Prophetsa, Hazrat Alira had a unique understanding of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah. His knowledge and wisdom was such that the Holy Prophetsa declared him to be the “Seal of all Knowledge”, or a person whose wisdom could not be surpassed. The depth of his religious knowledge was so profound that all three Khulafa-e-Rashideen called upon his aid in various legal problems.

Hazrat Alira was an exceptional jurist who evolved ijtihad to new heights. Ijtihad refers to exercising independent juristic reasoning to provide answers where the Holy Quran and Sunnah are silent. This would apply mostly to social conditions and not religious issues. The concept of ijtihad can be traced to the sixth century Hijrah when the Holy Prophetsa appointed Hazrat Muazra bin Jabal as the jurist to Yemen. 

His eloquent speech and sermons form an integral part of general Islamic culture.  A large number of his sermons, letters, commentary and narrations are contained in a book titled Nahj al-Balaghah (The Peak of Eloquence). A major portion of the book contains a lengthy discussion on the balance between rights and duties. 

The period of Khilafat-e-Rashida came to a sudden end one fateful day during Ramadan of 661 AD when Hazrat Alira was martyred while praying in the mosque in Kufa. This was a turning point in history of Islam and the beginning of a new chapter with Hazrat Muawiyyara as the first Umayyad Khalifa. During the period of Khilafat-e-Rashida, the khalifa was chosen for his piety and virtue; however, from the Umayyad period onward, it became a dynasty with khilafat being passed down based on blood relations.

Under the Umayyads, the migration of Arab tribes continued throughout the dominion as it had for the past twenty years. Individual Christians and Jews, depending on their own experience with Muslims, their interests and prejudices, portrayed Islam in very different ways. Few wrote about their interactions. None of the writers used the words Islam or Muslim; instead they spoke of Saracens, Arabs, Turks, Pagans, Moors, or simply those who followed the law of Muhammadsa.

As Arabic became the dominant language of the new Muslim Empire and as conversion to Islam facilitated entry into government service, growing numbers of Christians started converting to Islam. Towards the middle of the eighth century, leaders of the Christian communities started looking on with alarm and sought ways to stem the conversions. They felt an urgent need to convince Christians not to convert. Islam had to be explained to an average Christian as evil. This led to defamatory biographies of the Holy Prophetsa, something that soon becomes a staple of anti-Muslim polemics.

Various apocalyptic traditions had long predicted mass conversions to a “false” religion. Just as Jews had used these traditions to explain the successes of Christianity, now both Christians and Jews employed them to explain those of Islam. Islam became a manifestation of the Antichrist and there was a surge of apocalyptic activity among the Jews and Christians living in the Muslim Empire.

Among the Jews, for example, Abu Isa of Isfahan in the early eighth century claimed to be a prophet and the Messiah, his movement thriving for almost a century. The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, an extremely popular work originally written in Syria around 692, was translated into many languages to deter Christians from leaving their faith. The central theme of the book (and most, if not all apocalyptic literature) was that the Muslims were made to rule over the Christians not because God loved the Muslims, but because the Christians had sinned exceedingly. The idea was to convince the average Christian that the Muslim presence was permanent, at least until the apocalyptic end was ushered in and the Messiah revived the glory of Rome.

However, the expansion of the Muslim dominion into an empire and the freedom of faith in the early part of the rule up until around the 11th century, meant that the apocalyptic efforts of the Christians were mostly in vain and Islam, as a religion, spread at a much greater speed with people entering its domain on their own free will.

As time moved forward and the Umayyad rule fell to the Abassid and eventually to the Ottoman, the teaching of love for many turned towards the sword and the words of the Holy Quran, for many more, were lost in the dust of greed. It was not until the 19th Century that the prophetic words of the Holy Prophetsa came to being and the Messiah was raised so that the people of the world would see their God once again. 

This Messiah was to break the sword and win the hearts of each man, woman and child on this planet. Today, the Ahmadiyya institution of Khilafat is a manifestation of the teachings of the Holy Quran, a guidance for anyone who wishes for peace to reside in their heart. 

Primary sources used for this article:

Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, History of Islam. Darussalam (2000)

Ahmad ibn Yahya Al-Baladhuri, Origins of Islamic State (Kitab futuh al-Buldan). Columbia (1916)

David Nicolle, The Great Islamic Conquests AD 632-750. Osprey (2009)

William Muir, The Caliphate – Its Rise, Decline and Fall. Edinburgh (1924)

N Saifi, An Outline of Early Islamic History. Tabshir, Rabwah.

Shibli Numani, Al-Farook. Dar ul Ishaat. (Urdu Translation)

Al-Tabari, History of al-Tabari (Tarikh al-rusul waI muluk). (1993)

Encyclopedia of Islam. Brill Publishing

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