Rashidun Caliphate and the First Four Muslim Caliphs of the Islamic World

Following the death of Muhammad in 632, a caliphate called the Rashidun Caliphate emerged. Lasting from 632 to 661, the Rashidun Caliphate was the first of four caliphates of the Islamic World. The other three major Islamic Caliphates were the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750), the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1517), and the Ottoman Caliphate (1517-1924).

Within the Rashidun Caliphate, there were four Caliphs (also known as the “Rightly Guided” Caliphs) who in so many ways had very close relationship with the Prophet Muhammad.

World History Edu explores the four Islamic Caliphs of the Rashidun Caliphate: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali.

Abu Bakr

After intense disagreements among the followers of Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr emerged as the first successor to the prophet, thus becoming the first caliph of the Muslim world (unmah). Hailing from the Banu Taym clan, Abu Bakr was arguably the closest companion of Muhammad. He is known as one of the first persons to convert to Islam, at which point he set aside a significant portion of his wealth to the propagation of the Islamic faith.

As a close companion of Muhammad, Abu Bakr fought side by side with the prophet during the battles of Uhud (625) and Badr (624).

Under Abu Bakr’s reign, the Rashidun Caliphate started the Islamic conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. He also began making some advances into the Byzantine and Sassanian empires.

About two years into his reign, Abu Bakr died of natural illness in 634. He was then succeeded by a Muslim jurist Umar from the Banu Adi clan of the Quraysh tribe.

Did you know: Through Abu Bakr’s daughter Aisha the Islamic prophet Muhammad was the son-in-law of Abu Bakr, 1st Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate?

Caliph Abu Bakr

A Persian miniature illustrating the vowing to Abu Bakr at Saqifah

Umar ibn al-Khattab (Umar, Son of Al-Khattab)

Umar (born: 584 CE; died: 644 CE) was not just one earliest followers of Muhammad he was also the father-in-law of the prophet. He was a very knowledgeable Muslim jurist who was praised for his fair and honest approach in deciding cases.

Also known as Al-Farooq (“the one who can differentiate between right and wrong”), Umar’s reign witnessed never-before-seen expansion of the Islamic Caliphate into areas in the Byzantine Empire and the Sasanian Empire. It took Umar about two years (642-644) to bring Persia to its knees. He was the caliph that introduced religious freedoms for the Jews in Jerusalem. Umar’s 10-year reign ended after he was assassinated in 644 by Piruz Nahavandi, a Persian Sasanian soldier and blacksmith.

While Sunnis mourned the death of Umar, Shia Muslims rejoiced. This was primarily due to long-standing disagreements over succession. A six-member committee that was set up prior to Umar’s death proceeded to elect Uthman as Umar’s successor.

Uthman ibn Affan

Rashidun Caliphate

The Rashidun Caliphate reached its greatest extent under the third Caliph Uthman, in 654

Born in either 576 or 573 CE into the distinguished Bana Umayya clan of the Quraysh tribe, Utman was the third Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate. He was also the husband of Umm Kulthum and Ruqayyah, both of who were the daughters of Muhammad and Khadija.

Uthman was in his mid-60s when became caliph following the death of Caliph Umar. During his reign, he was able to spread Islamic rule to Iran (formerly Fars) and some parts of Khorasan (present day Afghanistan). Uthman is also credited with making a standard copy of the Qur’an in order to maintain the sanctity of the religious writings.

Like his predecessor Umar, Uthman’s reign was not devoid of questions over his ascension; there were troubling numbers of protests as well. In the end, Uthman was assassinated in 656 when a protest in front of his house turned into a full-blown siege.

Uthman was succeeded by his very influential brother-in-law Ali.

Did you know: Caliph Uthman was sometimes called “The Possessor of Two Lights” due to his marriage to two of Muhammad’s daughters?

Ali ibn Abi Talib

Ali was the second son-in-law of Muhammad to be elected caliph during the Rashidun Caliphate. He was also the last caliph of his caliphate. His reign began in 656 and ended in 661 when he was assassinated.

In the eyes of his supporters (mostly Shia Muslims), he was the first rightful caliph and successor to Muhammad. The Sunnis, on the other hand, see him as the fourth caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate. Regardless, he holds a very important place in both Sunni and Shia sects.

Caliph Ali was born inside the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site. As a result of that, he was given the epithet “Son of the Kaaba”. As the first male to accept Islam, he is often praised for his just reign and unshakable faith. A very trusted companion of Muhammad, Ali fought in beside the prophet. He also married Muhammad’s youngest daughter Fatimah. In his later life, he tied the knot with another relative of Muhammad – Umamah bint Zaynab, the granddaughter of Muhammad.

On January 27, 661, while praying in the Great Mosque of Kufa, Caliph Ali was attacked by a Kharijite. The leader sustained life-threatening injuries that took his life two days later.

All throughout his reign, he was plagued by a brutal civil war known as the Frist Fitna (656 – 661). The war saw supporters of Uthman’s cousin and governor of the Levant, Muawiya, and Ali’s supporters lock horns in a number of bloody battles.

Muawiya and his kinsmen from Umayyads were aggrieved by Ali’s inability to bring to justice the people who killed Caliph Uthman. In the end Umayyads prevailed over Ali’s supporters; Muawiya, who had significantly bigger forces than the supporters of Ali, proclaimed himself the new caliph following the assassination of Caliph Ali. Muawiya I thus became the first caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Caliph Ali

The Investiture of Ali at Ghadir Khumm, an illustration from Al-Biruni’s Chronology of Ancient Nations

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