How did `Umar ibn Al-Khattāb رضی الله عنه become Caliph?


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بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم

It is incorrect to state that Shura (mutual consultation) was not done in the nomination of Umar (رضّى الله عنه) . Before Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) finalized his decision to appoint Umar (رضّى الله عنه) , he in fact mutually consulted the prominent Muslims, including Abdur Rahman ibn Awf (رضّى الله عنه) , Uthman bin Affan (رضّى الله عنه) , Ali ibn Abi Talib (رضّى الله عنه) , and Talhah ibn Ubayd-Allah (رضّى الله عنه) . During the nomination of Uthman bin Affan (رضّى الله عنه) , the Shura council consisted of six representatives; the same is the case with the nomination of Umar (رضّى الله عنه) , in which at least this many prominent figures mutually consulted each other. The only difference here was that Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) met the prominent figures seperately, as opposed to conjoining them in one room at the same time, as Umar (رضّى الله عنه) would do in the nomination of Uthman (رضّى الله عنه) . Based on this fact, it would be a lie to say that Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) did not use Shura. We read:

At the beginning of Jumada al-Ukhra (13 AH), Abu Bakr caught a fever and its intensity continued unabated for a fortnight. When he grew sure of his last hours drawing near, he sent for Abdur Rahman bin Awf and held consultation (Shura) with him regarding the Caliphate…following this, he called Uthman bin Affan and put the same question to him. He (Uthman) said in reply: “Umar’s internal self is better than his external one; he is superior to us all.” When Ali was consulted, he made almost the same answer. Then came Talhah…

(Tareekh al-Islam, Vol.1, pp.312-313)

In another narration, we read:

When ill-health overtook Abu Bakr and the time of his death approached, he summoned Abdur Rahman bin Awf and said: “Tell me about Umar ibn Khattab.” Abdur Rahman replied: “You are asking me about something of which you know better…By Allah, he is even better than the opinion you hold about him.” Then he (Abu Bakr) called Uthman bin Affan and asked him: “Tell me about Umar ibn Khattab.” Uthman replied: “You know him better than us.” Abu Bakr said: “Still, O Abu Abdullah!” Uthman answered: “Indeed, in my opinion, his inner self is better than his outer self and no one among us can parallel him.”

(Ibn Saad; Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Vol.3, p.199)

Ibn Saad mentions that Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) then consulted all the prominent leaders of the Ansars and Muhajirs. We read:

And he (Abu Bakr), besides these two, consulted Abu al-Awar (Saeed ibn Zayd) and Usayd ibn Al-Hudayr–as well as other big leaders of the Ansars and the Muhajirs–so Usayd said: “Indeed, after you O Abu Bakr, I consider him (Umar) the best. He is happy on happy occasions and sad on sad occasions. His inside is better than his outside. No one is more suited to bear the burden of this Caliphate.”

(Ibn Saad; Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Vol.3, p.199)

During the process of Shura, it was only Abdur Rahman bin Awf (رضّى الله عنه) and Talhah (رضّى الله عنه) who raised any objections to Umar (رضّى الله عنه) , but then Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) countered these points of contention, and then Abdur Rahman (رضّى الله عنه) and Talhah (رضّى الله عنه) both agreed with Abu Bakr’s rebuttal, so the matter was settled. As for Uthman (رضّى الله عنه) and Ali (رضّى الله عنه) , they both favored Umar (رضّى الله عنه) .

Therefore, we have established that the principle of Shura was very much involved in the nomination of Umar (رضّى الله عنه) ; the prominent representatives–including all the major figures of the Ansars and Muhajirs–selected Umar (رضّى الله عنه) after mutual consultation. Furthermore, Umar (رضّى الله عنه) secured the “consent of the governed”. We read:

…[Abu Bakr] said addressing this audience:

“I have not appointed any relative of mine as Caliph, and I have not installed Umar as Caliph on my own. I have rather done it only after holding consultations with men of sound judgment. Are you then agreed to his being your Caliph?”

Hearing this, they (the masses) said: “We all agree with your choice and opinion.”

Following this, he (Abu Bakr) said: “You should then carry out Umar’s orders and obey him.”

(Tareekh al-Islam, Vol.1, pp.313-314)

We read:

Abu Bakr looked out over the people from his enclosure…He said (to the people): “Will you be satisfied with him whom I have left as (my) successor over you…?” They responded: “We hear and obey.”

(The History of al-Tabari, Vol.11, pp.146-147)

Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) would even ask the people’s permission before finalizing his will. After writing in his will that Umar (رضّى الله عنه) was to be the Caliph, he asked Uthman (رضّى الله عنه) to read the will outloud to the people (i.e. the masses) and ask if they approved of it. We read:

(Uthman said): “Will you (all) pledge allegiance to the person in whose favor a will has been made in this letter?

The people said: “Yes.” …All accepted and agreed to pledge allegiance to Umar. Then Abu Bakr called Umar in solitude and gave him whatever advice he wanted to.

(Ibn Saad; Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, Vol.3, p.200)

Similarly, we read:

Then the Caliph (Abu Bakr) summoned all the people of Medinah to assemble in the court of the Mosque. He addressed them from the window of his house which opened into the court. (Abu Bakr said): “O people! I have appointed Umar ibn al-Khattab as my successor. He is not my relative, but he is the best among you. Are you satisfied with him? Will you obey him?” The people answered with one accord, “yes, we will obey him.” The Caliph was pleased and prayed for God’s favour on Umar and the Muslims.

(A Short History of Islam, by Mazhar ul-Haq, p.223)

So we can see that the matter is not at all as our Shia brothers portray. Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) did not at all install Umar (رضّى الله عنه) as a tyrant over the people. Rather, Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) gave his suggestion as Umar (رضّى الله عنه) , and he first passed it through the people, asking them if they accepted him as their Caliph. From this behavior, we can clearly see how truly important it is for the Ahlus Sunnah that the “consent of the governed” is attained; even the most powerful man from amongst the Muslims had to obtain the permission of the masses in order to appoint his successor. Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) –the Caliph of an emerging super-power–had the modesty and decency to have his own will “proof-read” by the people. The principles of popular sovereignity and self-determination were therefore upheld.

Furthermore, Shaikh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari states:

According to the majority of scholars, the status of a heir to the throne (wali al-ahd) is only one of recommendation that requires approval from the nations prominent and influential figures after the demise of the Khalifa [i.e. consent of the governed]…the majority of the Umma’s scholars are of the view that if a Khalifah or ruler appoints his successor without the approval of those in power, then this is permissible, but it will only serve as an suggestion. After his demise, the nation’s influential and powerful people have a right to accept his leadership or reject it.

(Shaikh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, http://www.sunnipath.com)

Qadhi Abu Ya’la al-Farra al-Hanbali states in his Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah (The Rules of Governance):

“It is permissible for a Caliph to appoint a successor without the approval of those in power…without the backing and presence of the prominent figures of the community. The logical reason behind this is that appointing someone a successor to the throne is not appointing his Caliph, or else, there will be two Caliphs; thus there is no need for the influential people to be present. Yes, after the demise of the Caliph, their presence and approval is necessary…Caliphate is not established merely with the appointment of the (previous) Caliph, rather (after his demise) it requires the approval of the Muslim Ummah.”

(al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah, p.9)

One other point worth mentioning here is the fact that Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) made it a point not to elect his own relative or son to the Caliphate. The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs disliked hereditary rule, as this is not the way of the Ahlus Sunnah; to create such a dynastic rule based on bloodline (on the Shia model) would be unjust and unethical. Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) said to the people:

“Nor have I appointed (as Caliph) a relative.”

(The History of al-Tabari, Vol.11, p.147)

In another account, he said:

“I have not appointed any relative of mine as Caliph.”

(Tareekh al-Islam, Vol.1, p.314)

Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) said on his deathbed:

“After holding consultations with the Muslims, I have selected the best among the Muslims to take care of them and look after their peace and welfare…(O Allah) make Umar a good Caliph…”

(Tareekh al-Islam, Vol.1, p.315)

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