The succession to muhammad

In this way, there emerged two stresses which led to sectarian and ideological differentiation. First, there were disputes over matters concerning God and the afterlife, and secondly, disputes over the legitimate administration and shaping of the earthly Muslim community (umma). The latter preceded the former, but in time the two came to be symbi-otically related. Thus the first major rending of the Muslim community arose over the succession to the Prophet at his death in 632. Although Abu Bakr (c. 571-634), the father of the Prophet's most influential wife, 'A'isha (c. 613-78), was able to establish himself as amir (or "commander") with the support or acquiescence of the majority of the community, and thus ensure the continuance of the Muslim polity, his actions were opposed by a minority, including 'All (599-661), the husband of Fatima (c. 604-32), the Prophet's last surviving daughter.

While it appears that these tensions over the succession emerged primarily between dissonant personalities, there were serious political differences at stake as well. The supporters of Abu Bakr included most of the Meccans, and favoured the continued importance of the city's dominant tribe of Quraysh, since it had been the Prophet's tribe, and most of the earliest Muslims had been its members. The party of 'All, by contrast, enjoyed the loyalty of many Medinans, and claimed to favour a more inclusive policy in line with the unambiguous universalism of the Qur'an (9:33; 21:107; 34:28; 48:28; 61:9). Though the differences largely lay dormant during the highly successful caliphates of Abu Bakr (r. 632-4) and 'Umar I (r. 634-44), the powers of the ruler, or ''the Prophet's successor/deputy'' (khalifa), as well as ''leader of the believers'', grew apace, adding to the tensions, especially as Arab Muslims had no long experience with any central authority. These tensions came to a head as the expansion slowed under the third caliph, 'Uthmin (r. 644-56), leading to his assassination in a revolt which brought 'Ali (656-61) to power.

In fact, the traumatic upheaval of 656 led to the complete breakdown of the system established twenty-four years earlier upon the death of the Prophet, and resulted in a civil war (fitna) that lasted the length of 'All's reign. The war brought into the open all of the competing groupings, and laid the foundation for many subsequent sectarian alignments. During the war, 'Ali successively confronted, first, Abu Bakr's daughter 'A'isha with her relatives Talha and al-Zubayr, near Basra (656);second, Mu'iawiya, the governor of Syria, who championed the Umayyad clan within Quraysh (battle of Siffin, 657);and third, the so-called Khawarij, or ''rebels'', at Nahrawan in Iraq (658). Those loyal to 'A'isha and Mu'awiya, although representing different nuances of the Qurashi viewpoint, did not co-operate, and may have initially differed on the question of whether 'Uthmian had died as a perpetrator or as a victim of wrongdoing. The parties of 'All and the Khawarij both considered the assassination of 'Uthman to have been just, but 'Ali's willingness to negotiate with Mu'iwiya led the Khiriji purists to rebel against him, on the grounds that there should be no negotiation over what is right.

Such fratricidal events were immensely traumatic for the young community, and many refused to take sides. However, four parties had emerged by the end of 'Ali's reign, driven more by a passionate concern for the qur'anic insistence on justice than by substantial differences over doctrine. Of these parties, it was Mu'awiya who succeeded in maintaining political control, inaugurating the Umayyad dynasty which endured from 661 until 750; but the other three groups maintained an open or covert existence, and became crucibles within which distinctive doctrinal alignments began to take shape. Thus the mainstream tendency which was to become Sunnism emerged mainly from those loyal to 'A'isha, and the Khawarij maintained a powerful presence for several generations, while 'Ali's supporters became known as the Shi'a, the ''Faction''. Within each alignment there was no shortage of internal complexity and shifting allegiances.

Umayyad vigour and acumen permitted the restoration of Muslim political unity, and required control of many of the ideological manifestations associated with the other groups. Under the Umayyads, the caliph acquired the title ''God's deputy'' (khalifat Allah), a term probably connected with the one favourable appearance of the term khalifa in the Qur'an, in 38:26: ''O David, We have made you a deputy on the earth;therefore judge among the people with truth.'' Through the use of their claim to a divine stewardship over the earth, as well as ongoing military campaigns to spread their rule, the Umayyads succeeded for a considerable time both in establishing one of the world's great empires, stretching from the Atlantic to the Indus and to the borders of China, and in managing internal opposition to their dynasty. Their political success powerfully strengthened the evident legitimacy of their rule among many Muslims, especially among the Syrian troops who were the mainstay of their dynasty and its chief beneficiaries.

the kharijites

Despite Umayyad success, opposition continued. All three of the groups which had been eclipsed during the First Civil War (656-61) continued to exist and to promote their opposition. All three contended again with the Umayyads during the Second Civil War (680-92), which proved longer and more disastrous than the first. In this period, each of the three oppositions underwent further ideological development. The most confrontational was the radical Khawarij, who initially rejected any compromise with the caliphate, insisting that the sins of the caliphs not only destroyed their legitimacy but imposed a duty of resistance to them upon every individual Muslim. The revulsion felt by the Khaarijites against the caliphs was such that they held that the committing of major sins negated faith, and thus placed the sinner outside Islam. Adopting the slogan Li hukma illa li'Llah (judgement is God's alone; cf. Qur'an 6:57; 12:40, 67; 18:26), the Kharijites appeared to vest authority directly in the text of the Qur'an as the primary manifestation of God's will; human political authority was de-emphasised and undermined in consequence.

Nevertheless, any radical Kharijite faction which ''came out'' to fight the Umayyads would typically elect one of its number as commander, adopting a caliphal title. Those who refused to submit would be considered sinners and apostates, and could legitimately be robbed and killed. Unlike the Shl'a, who insisted that a leader must be a descendant of the Prophet, and the proto-Sunnis, who required that the caliphs be of Quraysh, the Khaarijites elected whomever seemed best for the office, with the condition that his moral character be exemplary. Sometimes this is read as a democratic principle, despite the exercise by the commander of absolute authority on condition that he eschewed major sins. Such groups, however, proved unstable, because of the possibility of undermining or disqualifying a leader by accusing him of sin,and in consequence, the Kharijites were unable to effect any positive political programme. Moreover, their incessant violence against fellow Muslims made them unpopular among the general public, and the government was generally able to marginalise and suppress them.

The Second Civil War also saw the emergence of a more moderate trend among the Kharijites, including groups such as the Sufriyya and the Ibadiyya, neither of whom required immediate revolution against illicit rulers. The Ibadiyya not only preached a patient waiting for the right circumstances, but also declined to regard sinners as apostates, preferring to qualify them as ingrates towards God's blessings (kuffar bi'l-ni'am) rather than as polytheists (mushrikUn). This offered some scope for peaceful coexistence with other Muslims, and this in turn helped the Ibaadiyya to maintain an existence as a small but distinctive Muslim sect, which survives to this day in communities in Oman, Libya and Algeria. In time, the Ibadis participated in and influenced the evolution of kalaam theology, notably through their continuing severe strictures against sin, which helped to maintain the focus of discussion on that issue. The Khaarijite focus on sin also implied that human beings were responsible for it (Qur'an 4:79), and this led naturally to a doctrine of free will, which clashed with the more deterministic belief that may have been held by some pre-Islamic Arabs, and by the larger number of early Muslims (4:78). On the issue of free will they thus appear to parallel or to anticipate the position of later alignments such as the Qadarais and the Mu'tazilites, whom they also resemble in asserting the belief in the created status of the qur'anic text.

the qadaris

It was the tension between free will and determinism that gave rise to the first properly theological dispute in Islam. The pre-Islamic Arabs had tended to believe in a predetermined fate (dahr), and hence received the Qur'an in the same spirit. The early caliphs seem also to have upheld this view, particularly Mu'awiya (661-80), 'Abd al-Malik (685-705), and 'Umar II (717-20), in connection with each of whom epistles or traditions of a deterministic hue have been associated. Usually, modern scholars have seen determinism as a position congenial to the rulers, since it logically appears to diminish concern with the morality of their actions and of one's response to their rule. Determinism also naturally brings to the foreground the principle of the absolute, exalted majesty and power of God.

On the other hand, pietists tended to worry about whether their actions were acceptable to God, and whether they could not do better by increasing their efforts to live in a way pleasing to Him. The origins of such pietism in early Islam are obscure; however, it is quite certain that there were considerable numbers of individuals passionately concerned about their own conduct, and determined to conform their lives to God's will. This tendency is first notably attested at Basra, a city with large concentrations of Kharijites, and of Ibadis in particular. The foundation of this pietistic school in Basra is associated with the name of al-Hasan al-Basri (646-728), a non-Arab Muslim (mawla), who was born in Medina but moved to Basra after 663. Al-Hasan criticised the Umayyad governors of Iraq, and, despite his opposition to violent rebellion in the Kharijite mode, was forced into hiding between the years 705 and 714. Connected to his political dissent was his rigorist view of sin. With his leading disciple Qatada ibn Di'ama (d. 735), he denied that a sinner could exculpate himself by claiming that God was the source of all human actions. In an epistle dated to the final years of the seventh century addressed to the caliph 'Abd al-Malik, al-Hasan cites numerous qur'anic verses which indicate that humans are responsible for their actions. For him, God creates only good, and evil comes either from humans or from the devil. The human agent chooses freely whether or not to sin, and although God has foreknowledge of that person's choice, it is not a predetermining knowledge.

Shortly after al-Hasan's death, a group of Basran Kharijites led by Shabab al-Najrana proposed a more thoroughgoing doctrine of free will, in which God neither knows in advance nor decrees human actions. This idea, with its apparent diminution of divine authority over creation, was attacked in an epistle attributed to the caliph 'Umar II. Himself strongly determinist in his convictions, the caliph nonetheless regarded al-Hasan's type of moderate Qadarism as acceptable. Qadari dissent became more active with Ghaylan al-Dimashq! (d. between 731 and 735), a government secretary of Coptic origin, who launched a revolutionary campaign against the Umayyad caliph Hishaam (r. 724-43). The movement gained momentum only after Ghaylaan's death, and culminated in the coup of Yazid III against al-Walid II in 744, which led to a brief implementation of the Qadar! political agenda, including a limited caliphate in which Yazaid agreed to step down if he failed to uphold the programme. This sat well with Qadarai ideas of free will; the caliph was fully responsible for his actions and thus had to remove himself or be removed if he fell into grave sin. However, the political failure of the movement sent Qadarism into a period of eclipse.

The Qadaris subsequently continued in two forms: a pietistic trend that was eventually re-absorbed by the proto-Sunnl hadith scholars, and a more doctrinally defined alignment that eventually joined Mu'tazi-lism. The distinction made between the two was marked by the trad-itionists' subsequent appropriation of al-Hasan al-Basri and Qatada as exemplars of early Muslim piety, and by a condemnation of the hardline Qadaris who had attempted to revolt against the government: Ma'bad al-Juhani (d. 699), and Ghaylan.

the shl'a

The stronghold of ongoing loyalty to the memory of 'All was his former capital, the Iraqi city of Kufa. The Shi'a were convinced that the tragic dissensions among the Muslims following the Prophet's death were the result of a sinful abandonment of the Prophet's own family. All would be well if a divinely chosen, rightly guided imam from the Prophet's house took the reins of power in place of the corrupt and worldly dynasts of the time. In time, this early ''philo-'Alism'' developed into messianic expectations and an adulation of those who, being descendants of 'All, were thought to be the designated leaders of the righteous community.

The catalyst for this process was the traumatic massacre of 'All's son al-Husayn (626-80) with his family at Karbala' in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, a Shi'ite revolt in Kufa (685-7), led in the name of 'All's son Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya by al-Mukhtar al-Thaqafi, was already replete with messianic expectations and overtones, which persisted even after its failure. This Shi'ite revolt also saw the emergence of extreme doctrines in some circles, which condemned even the caliphates of Abua Bakr and 'Umar I. Divisions within nascent Shi'ism, and the failure of Mukhtar's revolt, ensured that there were no further Shi'ite rebellions until the Umayyad period had almost drawn to a close, when the revolt of Zayd ibn 'All in Kufa (740) failed as disastrously as had that of al-Husayn sixty years before. Despite its limited geographical spread, and its political failures, the early Shi'a's simple political solution to the problem of Umayyad autocracy gained considerable support, particularly as conditions worsened towards the end of the Umayyad era.

The early Shi'a were heavily subdivided, each group defined by the imam to whom it paid allegiance. These groups differed also in the energy with which they promoted their imam's political leadership, and quiescent groups tended to survive longer. From the point of view of their Sunni opponents, the most moderate group was the Zaydis, descended from Zayd ibn 'Ali, who held that an imam could be elected, and that the imamate of an inferior candidate (mafduul) could be accepted. Such a doctrine readily validated the rule of Abui Bakr and 'Umar I, and thus raised few problems for the rulers and the Sunni majority. They were opposed by the emerging group of the Imimls, also called the Twelvers after the death of their eleventh imam, and the disappearance, or ''occultation'' (ghayba), of their twelfth in 874. A major catalyst in the emergence of Twelver Shi'ite thought was the Kufan Hisham ibn al-Hakam (d. 795 or later). Hishim held that each imam had been designated by his predecessor by a specific appointment (nass). All the imams were infallible, and the imamate was confined to the descendants of 'Ali and Fatima. Thus, every elected imam was a usurper, even when ''acclaimed'' by the troops. Such a hard-line stance necessarily brought the Imamis into conflict with the Abbasid state, which had supplanted the Umayyads in the year 750.

Hishiam is also thought to have entertained anthropomorphic ideas that Twelvers later discarded, such as the belief that God is contained in a physical body, since only bodies can have existence. He rejected, however, the extreme anthropomorphism which taught that God had a form like a man, which doubtless was too redolent of Christian belief ever to be acceptable among Muslims. Hishiam also seems to have been the first to have described the divine attributes as substantives, a theme later taken up in Sunni discourse. Like proto-Sunni traditionists, Hishiam also favoured predestination over free will, although he also assigned to humans responsibility for their actions. Interestingly, most of these early metaphysical views came to be reversed among the Shi'a, whose continuity was assured more by their definitions of political legitimacy than by an abstract theological programme.

A further important subdivision of Shi'ism after 850 was the Isma'ilis, who recognised seven imams culminating in Isma'il ibn Ja'far al-Sidiq (d. by 765). Once politically inactive, and engaged in esoteric speculations whose history is now obscure, they began an intense and well-organised revolutionary activity around 878, and for much of Islamic history the Isma'ilis were the most significant of the many Shi'ite branches. In later times, Abu'l-Hasan al-Nasafi and others brought them the Neoplatonist doctrines which have distinguished them since, but which had little or no influence on other Muslims in the early period.

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