The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs: Ali ibn Abu Talib
The figure of the last Rightly Guided Caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib became a source of dissent and discord in the Muslim ummah (the community of the faithful created by the Prophet) in spite of the fact that Ali himself was a champion of peace rather than strife. As a result of the civil war initiated by the relative of Ali’s predecessor Caliph Uthman, the governor of Egypt Muawiyah, Ali was assassinated, the Caliphate’s capital was moved from Kufa to Damascus while the new Umayyad dynasty founded by Muawiyah became the rulers of the Muslim state in place of the Rashidun Caliphs.
Ali was the Prophet’s cousin. He was the only person graced with having been born inside of the Kaaba. When Prophet Muhammad lost his parents, he was brought up in the home of his uncle, when the uncle lost his money while Muhammad on the other hand made a fortune after marrying Khadija and becoming a successful merchant, he took Ali into his home in his turn. It was here that Ali became the first person after the Prophet’s wife to adopt Islam at the age of 10. The Prophet loved his cousin very much. He married his daughter to him and used to call him Murtadha (the chosen one) and Mawla (the loved one)
Ali was very tame-tempered and a man of righteous living. He was always and everywhere by the Prophet’s side in his earthly life, took part in all the battles for the cause of Islam. On his way back from the last pilgrimage, the Prophet halted his caravan at a place called Ghadir Khumm and declared that Ali was his brother and heir. However, after the Prophet died, Ali and his family were too busy arranging the funeral so they did not attend the election of the new head of the ummah. As a result the choice of the new head of the Muslim community was vested in Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s close friend and companion, who upon the election called himself ‘deputy (in Arabic, ‘caliph’) of the Messenger of Allah’.
At first Ali attempted to assert his rights, however, later on he followed the commandment of modesty demonstrated by the Prophet himself and recognized Abu Bakr as the ruler. He remained loyal to both the succeeding Caliphs Umar and Uthman. After Umar’s death Uthman and Ali pointed at each other as the successor. To decide which one of them must be named Caliph, they were both asked the same question, if they swear to abide by the Book of Allah, the laws of the Prophet and the customs of the preceding Caliphs, to which Ali said he would do his best and Uthman said he would certainly do as requested.
Uthman’s policy led to discontent and clamour among the nobility. Unlike his predecessor Umar, Uthman was not a man of personal modesty, he viewed the state treasury as his own purse, lived in luxury and handed out offices to his relatives galore. As a result, a conspiracy was formed which brought about Uthman’s murder. Ali became the Caliph. However, he remained head of state for 5 years only for the brewing tumult did not cease.
Uthman’s relatives were not happy with the election of Ali. A flood of accusations of unwillingness to punish Uthman’s assassins was directed at Ali, the first accuser being the Prophet’s wife Aisha. She was joined by Uthman’s relative, the governor of Egypt Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan and one of the Prophet’s topmost generals Saad ibn Abu al-Waqqas. Aisha raised a mutiny in Basra which Ali managed to suppress.
In the meantime the number of the Caliphate’s provinces swearing allegiance to Ali was growing. At last, the rebels were ready to give battle. It took place near Siffin in July 657. The rebel army was on the brink of defeat before they attached the Quran rolls to their banners and thus diverted Ali from completing the routing.
Ali was murdered by his own companions who declared him a coward in the Siffin battle. Muawiyah, who stayed alive, took advantage of Ali’s death to seize power and reshape the Muslim state with his heirs at the head.
This was the end of the Right Guided Caliphs and the Rashidun Caliphate with the last Caliph Ali.