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Dreaming of the Caliphate
Critical Muslim, issue No 14 ‘Power”, 2015


It was during Saddam Hussein’s disastrous annexation of Kuwait in 1990 that I had an idle daydream of what a tired old tyrant sitting on the throne of Iraq might be persuaded to do towards the end of his life. Like many observers I realised that the organized looting of the wealthy suburbs of Kuwait City by units of the Iraqi army was not playing well to the newly ‘liberated citizens of the 19th province of greater Iraq’ or to the other Arab states stretched along the Persian Gulf . It looked shoddy, the operation of a bored mobster, a gangster upto his eyebrows in debt without imagination, style or finesse.

And then in an instant I knew what council a Machievellian Vizier should whisper into the ear of Saddam, if he was going to successfully cloak his crimes and gather to himself the mantle of history. As his first troops crossed the frontier posts he should have simultaneously unfurled the black banners of the Abbasid Caliphs from Baghdad and the ruins of Samara. He should have sent out a public invitation to all the Muslim community leaders of the world whilst appealing to each Islamic nation to send one delegate for every million of their people, and so gather together to elect and acclaim a new Caliph. To complete this propaganda coup he would then publicly resign as President of Iraq and then publicly recite the humble oath of the first Caliph Abu Bakr in the courtyard of his hometown mosque at Takrit whilst modestly stepping forth into the television cameras as a mere Emir – allowing others to make what they would of his newly adopted name of Saladin and the gift of an ancient cloak-like mantle. His armies would have also been renamed after the first great Arab generals: such triumphant heroes as Khalid ibn al-Walid, Saad ibn Abu Waqqas and Amr ibn Al-As. The long wireless whip cords of the tank columns would be decorated with black and green silk pennants and their sides painted with swirling calligraphy and loaded down with cheering children and ullullating women. National frontiers within greater Arabia would be abolished and his armies told not to stop until all the oil pipelines of Arabia had been switched off, in advance of negotiating a fair, pre-1967 physical frontier between Israel and Palestine. Brotherhood would be declared between Sunni and Shia, who would have been acknowledged as the fifth school of the Sharia tradition. As an act of contrition for the foolish border wars with Iran he would penitently be filmed walking barefooted across the land of Iraq to serve as floor sweeper in the shrine-mosques of Najaf and Karbala. The equality, egality and universalism of women with men, black with white, south with north, Arab with Turk, Muslims with all the peoples of the book would be declared as the cornerstone of every state wishing to claim to be Islamic. Oil revenues would be poured into a brand new worldwide Bayt al Hikma foundation, setting up free hospitals and universities with a network of hospitable courtyard library-schools which would be open to all who walked in with the open mind of a scholar or the tattered cloak of a dervish. Eternal Jihad would be declared against just three enemies: ignorance, disease and poverty….

And then I switched back to reality, to watch Japanese televisions, Korean freezers and Chinese dishwashers being loaded onto American trucks by units of the Iraq army driving through the streets of Kuwait in European made armoured-cars. The day dream of a charismatic renaissance of Islam was replaced by the grubby reality of oil states capable of waging high tech warfare but not yet capable of building and designing their own pan-Arabic bicycle let alone car. A surge of annoyance flowed through my veins, but then came a trickle of a smile. For I began to examine each cherished detail of my absurd historical fantasy and slowly realized how much they all owed to pride and glory, and nothing to either the example or teaching of the Prophet.

The whole mesmerizing edifice of the Caiphate, that world-wide medieval super-power of yore, is one of the most potent dreams for anyone interested in a revival of Muslim culture. It is also the oldest curse, the most persistent heresy. But first let us remind ourselves of some of the attractions as we settle back and think of all the stirring examples of the glory of Islamic culture as represented by the Caliphate. But don’t be too focused, for it is best to let your eyes dwell on the soft focus of centuries of grand mosque architecture, beautifully illuminated Korans and walled palace gardens. And the glory of those maps that chronicle the vast extent of the Imperial Caliphate all coloured in attractive shades of ever expanding green. Then allow yourself to feel a bit maudlin for the abolition of the last Caliph in 1924 before settling down and fingering a period that can usefully be considered an example for our contemporary world. The Ottoman Caliphate? This is a good start surely, the community that defended the heartland of Islamic culture from the cannons and the battleships of all the most aggressive European states for 500 years. It is a human edifice to be desperately proud of if you are Turkish, but grounded on exactly what spiritual or moral foundations? For the Ottoman Empire was a conquest state pure and simple, based on the very successful military formula of balancing the élan of Turkish tribal cavalry from Central Asia with a salaried army of professional engineers, muskeeters and artillerymen recruited by enslaving the boys of the Christian minorities. This modern Sparta had no historical links real or imagined with Arabia, the Arabs, the founders of Islam, let alone a saintly scholar, or the family of the Prophet Muhammad or his teachings. It arose from out of a hotch-potch of emirates that squabbled over the border badlands between the old Byzantine and Seljuk Empires. It was a dynastic kingdom par excellence based on a Darwinian like code of the survival of the fittest often assisted by the murder of the brothers of the ruler. Each new generation princes were bred from captured concubine slaves – which in no way could be seen to be following the open, family-centred example of the Prophet’s household. The Ottomans did not even bother to claim the Caliphate until the 18th century, though they were proud enough of having destroyed its last medieval traces when they conquered the Mameluke Sultanate of Egypt in 1516 and dispatched the last heir of the Abbasids to Istanbul.

So let us look instead at the Abbasids, surely a role model for a modern Islamic dream of a Caliphate. Descended, so their genealogists assured us from an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad and stretching in a grand chain from the 8th to the 13th century. But once again it is best not to look at the details too closely. For the Abbasids first rose to power as capable warriors fighting on behalf of the true family of the Prophet Muhammad. But there was a satanic double-standard at the heart of this state, revealed in the story of how the first Abbasid Caliph left a key to a secret treasury to his heirs. These subterranean vaults were found to be stacked full of the neatly labelled corpses of all the members of the Prophet’s family that had been poisoned and secretly assassinated whilst the Abbasid state had publicly espoused their cause as their most loyal supporters. This habit would continue until all of the Prophet’s descendants were killed or had escaped to far distant lands. While even the most sympathetic historian cannot make much of the first eponymous founder of this dynasty, for Abbas the uncle of the Prophet is not a hero of early Islam. He was however rich, clever and well connected, and so he made his peace with Islam, and cut his deal as a canny survivor, once he realized his nephew was on the point of victory after a bloody eight year struggle between Mecca and Medina. So let us look further back, to the Ommayads, that first dynasty that conquered an Arab Islamic Empire that stretched from Spain to Central Asia. Perhaps they represent our ideal polity? Their monuments, such as the dome of the Rock, the Great Mosque of Damascus and the Great Mosque of Cordoba remain powerful totemic symbols of Islamic culture. They led a broken patchwork of tribes from one of the poorest regions of the ancient world and established from this one of the greatest Empires that our world has ever known. An Arab can indeed take great pride in this masterly human achievement, and look over the Ommayad Empire as a true equal to the conquest Empires of Alexander the Great and Turkic Tamburlane. But like these two blood-soaked military geniuses, the Ommayads can make no claim to any spiritual value. Indeed they are to an almost comic extent, the bad guys of early Islam, desperately keen to maintain the Arabs as a race apart, fed by a tribute of bullion and slaves from the conquered races and nations. With one notable exception they certainly had no interest in converting their subjects to Islam and making of them a near equal to the ruling warrior caste of Arabs. While the traditional histories remembers how they waged war on the Islamic heartlands, opposing such heroes of real Islam as Ali, his son Husayn and even destroying the Kaaba when they besieged holy Mecca. To add a further graft of villainy, this dynasty is of course descended from Abu Sufyan and his witch-like wife Hind who were the great motivators of the pagan opposition to the Prophet Muhammad in his lifetime. So despite their Arab armies riding west into France, south into the Sudan and east into the borders of China no one could ever seriously contemplate the Ommayad caliphate as a role model for true Islam.

Which takes us back right towards the origin of the story. To the first four Caliphs: Abu Bakr, Omer, Uthman and Ali who ruled for less than thirty years from 632-661. This was indeed a time of true heroes, when sovereign rulers cared for the poor, orphans and widows of the community as much as they directed the affairs of the state. When they shopped for their own households in the market place, darned their own clothes, led the prayers and theological discussions, fasted the hardest during the month of Ramadan, led the prayers as Imam and could chant the whole (yet unwritten Koran) through the night, and remember the traditions better than any scholar. But even as we venerate this age of fully engaged moral leadership, we must be careful to do one thing. We must begin to detach these rulers from the bloody soaked human glory of the imperial conquests of the Arab Caliphate. Think of Ali, of the endless stories that circulate about his bravery and self-sacrifice as a young soldier fighting during the lifetime of the Prophet but yet nothing is attached to him of a military nature during the period of conquests. For it seems clear through a proper study of the traditions and early historians that their arena of personal authority, their role of direct supervision was centred on the two cities of Mecca and most especially Medina – even if Omar did once famously make the journey to Syria to inspect the garrison bases and even if Abu Bakr did present the armies of Bedouin Arabs with their lance-standards as they rode out of the oasis of Medina. While the first armies of Arab conquest were always led by a very different stamp of man, such vaultingly ambitious, brave and clever generals such as Khalid ibn al Walid and Amr ibn al-As. These two generals might remain role models of Arab masculinity, political dexterity and ferocious bravery but no-one remotely familiar with the early histories can see them as guiding lights of Islamic morality or spirituality. Once again it is useful to recall, that Khalid ibn al Walid and Amr ibn al-As were the chief commanders of the pagan resistance to the Prophet Muhammad before they converted to Islam - just when they recognized that the tide was about to turn. While the early historians also record for us such scoundrels who did so well for themselves from the early days of Empire, the Zayyad’s and Mughira ibn Shuba’s of the early Arabic Empire, who in their bare-faced sensual self advancement can only be usefully compared to Flashman or a Maupassant anti-hero. While at such cities as Basra the traditions correctly remember that the first Arab conquests of southern Iraq were often led by their tribal sheikhs, with only a very sketchy sense of connection to the Islamic heartland. So that side by side with the advance of Arab armies with an Islamic banner about them we must also imagine a more nuanced scenario, the disordered migration of Arab clans and tribes into the shattered lands of the Persian and Byzantine Empires. This would have had much in common with how the German tribes, the Franks, Vandals, Anglo-Saxons and Visigoths pouring over the Rhine and occupying the provinces of France, Spain, North Africa and Britain once the formal power of the Roman Empire through its legions had been broken. A fascinating epic indeed, but not for one second was it a conscious attempt to make a heaven on earth.

So what does all this ancient history tell a Muslim looking for a historical role model for a future Islamic state. Be proud as an Arab of the Arab Empires, of the Caliphates of the Ommayads and the Abbasids, just as the Turks will be proud of the vigour of their ancestors carving out the Ottoman and Seljuk Empires, and just as modern Uzbeqs raise statues to Tamburlane and Mongols to Genghis Khan, and the British and French cherish their own violent history of Imperial conquests, but less us all be clear that all this talk of Empires and Caliphates is emotive blood pride and has nothing whatever to do with religion.

And then we must make the final step towards knowledge, and remind ourselves of the political situation at the end of the life of the Prophet when the Caliphate was first forged. Muhammad was interested in all of human nature and linking it with a permanent achievable morality upheld by a compassionate, forgiving conscious universe. His teaching, his moral example, his revelations were all about this direct connection between humankind and the unitary deity. He brilliantly brushed aside the intermediary role of divine kings, priests, temples and acolytes to connect the Arab speaking humans of his day towards the single, moral centre of the universe. Seen in this bright white revolutionary light it is comically absurd to think that he was interested in systems of government, the title and powers of rulers, their governors, judges and administrators. This is borne out by the example of his life. There was no Empire, no Caliphate declared or dreamt about during his lifetime. Indeed Omar and most of the Companions believed that they were the last generation and that the world would end before the Prophet died.

It is true that the Prophet appointed commanders for some three dozen military expeditions and embassies, but this was as an essential need of both warfare and the Arabian desert. And it is clear that once they returned to the oasis, just like the Emir of a trading caravan, they surrendered this authority on their safe return to the oasis. For the whole frame of Muhammad’s teaching was to break these fences between man and the deity, and in the process make each and every human responsible for their own moral choices. Each time you erect an authority figure, who thinks on behalf of other humans, who decides what is wrong and right, you weaken the first and essential purpose of Islam, which can usefully be imagined as an electrical charge connecting humans to their God. Who is closer to you than their jugular vein.

But to remind oneself of true early Islam, it is always useful to follow the actual day by day narrative of the Prophet’s life. By the time he undertook what is known as the Farewell Pilgrimmage (631 AD) it seems clear that he knew that his life was coming towards its end. This pilgrimage drew together the largest concentration of sincere Muslims of Arabia that he was likely to ever address. So does he use the occasion to delegate authority, appoint a succession council, create a heirachy of officials, in short sort out anything of a political, financial or administrative nature. No, he does not. Because he does what he thinks most important, which is to recite the Koran in its entirety twice and make a skilfull, quick summary of his teaching in his very public Farewell Sermon. Half way back on the journey from Mecca to Medina at the campsite near the rock pool of Ghadir Khum, he makes some sort of declaration in favour of his son-in-law Ali as the male head of his household, which was obviously not considered by his contemporaries at the time to have any political bearing. For all its subsequent importance in Shiite theology this declaration was also something of an afterthought, made after the whole Pilgrimmage was over. It is also a very understandable and practical decision for Ali was not only the father of Muhammad’s only male grandchildren, his cousin, first disciple and close confidante, but was also the son of Abu Thalib, Muhammad’s uncle who had been the recognized sheikh of Muhammad’s own Hashim clan throughout the Prophet’s early life. Then very shortly after Muhammad returns home to Medina he makes an appointment that is bitterly resented by most of his followers, for out of loyalty to his adopted son and ex-slave boy Zayd ( killed in a disastrous recent battle on the Syrian frontier) he appoints Zayd’s own son, the very young and inexperienced Usama, to be the leader of the next military expedition. In the grumbling from the clan chiefs about this appointment ( the most important tactical one in Muhammad’s gift) we have not evidence of treason but a wonderfully revealing instance of how the Prophet was considered by his contemporaries, to be both highly fallible about the affairs of this world, whilst at one at the same time being revered beyond all men as the mouthpiece of the divine. In this one instance one can emphatically see the clear division between temporal and spiritual authority in the early Islam. It was whilst trying to sort out this squabble that the Prophet went one night to pray over the dead in the cemetery, “O people of the graves! Happy are you that you are so much better off than men here. Dissensions have come like waves of darkness one after another the last being worse than the first.”

Once again crucially revealing evidence that the Muslim community was even in its heyday of being led by the Prophet, yet also full of discussion, multiple view points and disobedience. There never has been a golden period of hallowed political obedience in Islam, not then, not now. After this prayer session the Prophet was caught in the grips of a mortal fever, but in the mosque that morning despite being visibly ill he continued to try and urge his followers to march out and place themselves under young Usamahs’ command. This was only half heartedly achieved by his most obediently loyal followers who then drifted back to the oasis once the news of the seriousness of his fever became better known. Indeed the fever so overwhelmed him that for the next ten days he was cared for in Aisha’s hut. In this period of devestating weakness he asked Abu Bakr to lead the prayers but revived enough to lead them himself on Monday morning. It was his last public action.

Abu Bakr had been relieved to see the Prophet attend the dawn prayers that Monday and so left Muhammad’s courtyard in order to visit one of his wives, Habiba bint Kharidja, who lived out in a farmhouse in the Medina hamlet of al-Sunh. By midday he – and everyone in the entire oasis - knew something had gone terribly wrong. The scattered hamlets of Medina were filled with the screams of men and the wails of the women (no matter that the Prophet had detested too public a display of emotion). By the time that Abu Bakr returned to the mosque courtyard the place was in total uproar. Abu Bakr slipped through the hysterical displays of grief and quietly entered his daughter Aisha’s hut. A thick cloak covered in the embroidery of the Yemen was draped over the still body of Muhammad. He raised the cloth to kiss the forehead of the dead Messenger of God and murmured, “You are dearer to me than my father and mother. You have tasted death as God decreed: a second death will never overtake you.” Then he pushed his way through the crowd and tried to interrupt Omar, who was ranting at the crowd outside, threatening them with the most dire punishments if he heard any more rumours about the death of the Prophet. He promised to cut off both the hands and feet any man who dared whisper that Muhammad was dead. Omar tried to explain to the crowd “he has gone to his Lord as Moses ibn Imran went and was hidden from his people for forty days, returning to them after it was said that he died. By God, the apostle will return as Moses returned…” Perhaps he also imagined the reborn Prophet leading them to a triumphant military victory, just as the tribes of Israel had been allowed to enter the Promised land only after the death of Moses. Much later he would confess to another hidden belief: that the Prophet would not die until he had prayed over the grave of the last of the believers. Nothing that Abu Bakr could do, neither tugging at his clothes nor trying to whisper in his ear, could halt the passionate flow of Omar’s rhetoric. Abu Bakr gave up this unequal struggle and moved away to another corner of the courtyard where his calm, measured voice gradually summoned some of the people over to listen to him.

“O people. To those who used to worship Muhammad, Muhammad is dead. But for those who used to worship God, God is alive and can never die.” He reminded the crowd of the Prophet’s own Koranic recitation of his mortality, “ Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers the like of whom have passed away before him. Will it be that, when he died or is slain, you will turn back on your heels?”

Omar’s passion dried up at this sound. In his own recollection, “directly I heard Abu Bakr …my feet were cut beneath him and I fell to the ground.” If this was the reaction of Omar, most steadfast and iron-willed of believers, the panic that filled the hearts of other Muslims can be readily imagined. One contemporary recalled the mood of that day as being “like sheep on a rainy night”. It was ironical that old Abu Bakr, known to be a highly sensitive man, not strong of voice and given to tears when he recited the Koran, should have yet emerged as by far the strongest character at this critical moment.

Then a messenger came hurrying to Abu Bakr and Omar to inform them that a meeting of some of the chieftains of the Medina clans had been called. Although many commentators like to give a whiff of treachery to this gathering, they had every right to assemble. The population of Medina had made a highly personal oath of loyalty to the Prophet Muhammad, who as their appointed judge-like arbitrator had not only ended the recurrent civil wars of the oasis but had led them from victory to victory. They had no desire to sink back into civil war, and now that their chosen chief had gone, they were in need of another guide. Undoubtedly the man who had called them together, Sad ibn Ubada of the Beni Sadah clan, had political aspirations, but these might have only extended to a recognized position within oasis politics. Omar had by now recovered his poise and bravely insisted that he would lead a delegation of the Meccan Muslims – the Muhajirin - to this critically important meeting of the Ansar – the Muslims of Medina. They were met by ‘two honest fellows’ who advised Omar to call his own meeting of Muhajirin and leave the men of Medina to their own deliberations. Omar characteristically brushed this advice aside and forcibly declared, “By God, we will go to them.” They arrived at a critical moment but they were also clearly impressed by the implicit Muslim faith that governed the actions of every speaker. Omar was incensed to hear the Muhajirin described as just another clan who had been welcomed into the Medina oasis, and was preparing a suitably proud and invective reply when Abu Bakr lent across, lightly touched his arm and whispered, “Gently Omar.” Abu Bakr was right: an aggressive speech from Omar at this juncture would have backfired. As Omar later described it, “He [Abu Bakr] was a man with more knowledge and dignity than I, and by God he did not omit a single word which I had thought of but he uttered in his inimitable way better than I could ever have done.’ So in a measured, calm and tactful speech Abu Bakr repeated the Prophet’s praise for the men of Medina but insisted that now that Islam had become an Arabian-wide phenomenon they would have to choose a candidate from out of the Prophet’s own Quryash tribe from the city of Mecca if they wished to retain the respect of the great bedouin tribes, the kings of Yemen and the borderland chiefs in Syria and Oman. Abu Bakr, who was of venerable age, finished by proposing two candidates for the assembly to choose from. He made no mention of himself. A clamour of excited voices soon filled the hall as Abu Bakr’s ideas were debated by the rival clan chiefs of Medina. A respected old sheikh called out, “ I am the rubbing post and the fruitful propped-up palm” ( a traditional oasis idiom which asserted that he was a greybeard whose good advice had proved fruitful over many a long year) and then suggested that the men of Medina elect one ruler and the men of Mecca another. This intriguing suggestion was broken by Omar who roared out, “Who will willingly take precedence over the man that the Prophet ordered to lead the prayer!” It was an unanswerable assertion. Omar made use of the brief silence to quickly seize the hand of Abu Bakr and pledge public allegiance to him. One by one his example was followed by the small delegation of Muhajirin that accompanied them. The solemnity of the occasion swept the clansmen of Medina along in a surge of emotion and they soon too plighted their troth. In the process Sad ibn Ubada (who seems to have weakened by fever) was pushed aside and smothered.

The next day at the dawn prayers this accidental coup was formalised. As the worshippers filed into the mosque, Abu Bakr was already sitting in the pulpit and led the prayers. Immediately these were over, Omar got up an addressed the packed ranks of the assembled faithful. He repeated his oath of loyalty (the bay’a) and described Abu Bakr to the congregation by quoting from the Koran [sura 9.40.] “the best of you, the Companion of God’s Messenger, the second of two when they were both in the cave” (when they fled from the persecution at Mecca). With one voice the congregation acclaimed Abu Bakr as ‘Khalifat Rasul Allah’, the successor to the Messenger of God. The title Khalifa can also be translated as ‘Vice-regent’ and by long-established usage is customarily rendered ‘Caliph’ in English.

Thus was the first Caliph acclaimed, by acclamation of the assembled faithful at the end of the morning prayer after a highly confusing succession of events. Abu Bakr’s reply to the congregation took the form of an oath in exchange, just as Muhammad had replied to that first midnight pledge of faith to the people of Medina at Aqaba. It should be engraved in stone on the gates of every Presidential palace and in the public reception hall of every Muslim monarch. It should be stamped on the front of every identity card and passport so that their police and security forces of the Muslim world are daily reminded of this great and noble contract between the governed and the governor.

“I have been given the authority over you, and I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me; and if I do wrong, set me right. Truth consists in loyalty and disregard for truth is treachery. The weak amongst you shall be strong in my eyes until I have secured his rights, if God wills it: and the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others, if God wills it. Obey me for so long as I obey God and His Messenger. But if I disobey God and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience. Arise from your prayer, God have mercy upon you!”

Ali had clearly been too preoccupied by the burial of the Prophet to take part in the discussions over the succession. As a thirty year old young father he may not have wished to be nominated as the political successor to Muhammad – indeed when encouraged to put forward his candidature by both his uncle Abbas and the old leader of Mecca, Abu Sufyan, he indignantly rejected the suggestion. But he most certainly expected to have been consulted and listened too. He was certainly the most conspicuous of the Muslims to abstain from joining in the oath to Abu Bakr in the subsequent few months. During this period Ali had withdrawn to his house where he now heard with a leaden heart the last whispered conversation that had taken place between the Prophet and his daughter Fatimah. She had been seen to weep and then to laugh. She now explained to her husband that she had wept when her father had warned her that he was about to die. “Then he told me that I would be the first of the people of his house to follow him” and therefore I laughed. This was to be Ali’s heritage: the death of his beloved wife just a few months after the death of his adopted father, his cousin, his mentor, his father-in-law, Muhammad the Prophet of God. To make things worse, an unpleasant row had developed between the ailing Fatimah and Abu Bakr. As Aisha would explain to later generations of Muslims, the Messenger of God died without leaving a dinar, a dirham, a sheep or a camel to his name while his battle armour was in pawn to a Jewish merchant for thirty measures of barley. His family did not expect anything other from a man who so passionately taught that every believer had a duty to care for the poor, the old, the sick, orphans and the needs of travellers. However they did expect that his lands – especially those in Khaybar and Fadak oasis – would pass onto them. Abu Bakr refused to allow this, quoting as his evidence a remembered saying of the Prophet: “We do not have heirs, whatever we leave is alms.” All that Abu Bakr allowed the surviving daughters and grandsons to directly inherit was a parcel of property in the oasis: seven small garden plots that had been left to the Prophet in the will of a childless Jewish convert (from Medina’s Beni Nadir clan) to Islam who had died at the battle of Uhud. These little gardens were made into an endowment that was jointly administered by Ali. Fatimah was furious and Ali quoted the Koran in her support, for sura 26, 16 gives the clear example of how the prophets of old had heirs: “Solomon became David’s heir and Zachariah said who will inherit from me..” It was to no avail. While Fatimah was alive the row was impossible to heal. Only after her death was Ali able to explain his position in a face-to-face meeting with Abu Bakr. Ali declared, “I know well your pre-eminence. But you did confront us with a thing accomplished, leaving us no say in the matter, and we felt that we had some claim as the nearest in kinship to the Messenger of God.”

No one can find a blueprint that sets up a God-ordered system of Islamic government, a Caliphate, from out of these chance succession of events. It was messy, full of compromise and accommodation, like all political life. But these good men persevered in attempting to live a good life, and in the process preserved the message and example of the Prophet Muhammad. In this they are heroes. But as a Moroccan friend once confessed to me, with both laughter and sadness in his eyes, ‘I know history is but day-dreaming and that our real life is in our actions but that is also our greatest freedom because no-one can prohibit them, and the angels do not record our dreams..”

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