Ali bin Abi Talib: The Fourth Caliph in Islam –Part Two
Hasan Yahya, Ph.ds
Arab American Encyclopedia- Historical Personalities
From this point onwards, authority was divided in the Islamic world. The Umayyads continued to pass the Caliphate down through the ages among their family; but their now existed in Iraq a separate Islamic community that did not recognize the authority of the Umayyad Caliphs. Rather they recognized only the successors to ‘Ali as authorities, and they gave these successors the title Imam, or spiritual leader of Islam, both to differentiate their leaders from the more worldly and secular Umayyads and because Abu Muhammed Hasan ibn ‘Ali, the second Imam, ceded the Caliphate to the Umayyads. A grand total of ten Imams succeeded ‘Ali, passing the Imamate down to their sons in hereditary succession. However, the eleventh Imam, Hasan al-Askari, died without a son, and the Shi’ites were thrown into disarray. Shi’a Islam divided into several different sects, the most important of which was the Qat’iyya (“those who are certain”). The Qat’iyya believed that Hasan al-Askari did indeed have a son, Muhammed al-Mahdi; one of the Qat’iyya sects believed that Muhammed al-Mahdi, the twelfth Imam, had hidden himself and remained in hiding. This sect was called Ithna-‘Ashari (Twelver) or Imami (Imam) Shi’a, and was the form of Shi’a that eventually came to exclusively represent Shi’ism.
The civil war between the followers of ‘Ali (Shi’a ‘Ali) and the Umayyads produced another Islamic faction, the Kharjites, which would be a force in early Islamic history. The Kharjites were originally followers of ‘Ali who grew disaffected when ‘Ali began bargaining with the Umayyads. ‘Ali’s strength had always been his religious piety and his firm conviction that the Islamic world had strayed from its ethical and religious principles. He attracted followers that were equally devout and equally zealous—when he began to strike bargains with the Umayyads, some of these followers felt that now ‘Ali, too, had betrayed Islam. They formed a separate faction, the Kharjites, and took it upon themselves to carry the banner for Islamic purity. One of their most significant first acts was the assassination of ‘Ali.
Many people in early Islam agreed in principle with the Kharjites and mourned the steady secularization of the Islamic leadership and the Islamic world. However, many who did not agree with the Kharjites still rallied around them. Throughout the Umayyad and the early Abassid period, the Kharjite movement was the center of almost all the opposition to these two caliphate dynasties. There are still Kharjites around today, mainly in North Africa and southern Arabia, but they were the most significant oppositional group in early Islam.
The Umayyads do not fare well in Islamic history which tells a tale of an unremitting line degenerate and weak caliphs; western historians have for the most part accepted this history. But the truth may be somewhat grayer. The Umayyads saw a great expansion of Islamic empire and were responsible for building a highly efficient and lasting governmental structure. The Umayyad caliphs could be startlingly brilliant both militarily and politically. And there is no question, that Islamic material and artistic culture has its roots in the Umayyad dynasty and the courts of Umayyad power.
This is not to say that the Umayyad caliphate was not unmarred by degeneracy and downright cruelty. But the Umayyads seem to be fairly uninterested in religious questions or the religious obligations of their position—it is rather as secular and secularizing rulers that their interest and greatness lies.
(594 words) www.hasanyahya.com
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