Free «Legitimacy Succession in Islam» Essay Sample

Legitimacy Succession in Islam

The election of caliphs and the other related aspects attract much attention from the scholars of Islam. However, little is said about the legal aspect of succession. This paper is aimed to discuss scholars’ view on succession and to explore the theories of succession in Islamic world. Most of researchers that are mentioned in this paper agree that the legitimacy of caliphs is granted via sacred trust, while caliphs are appointed by God and are more important than the prophets.

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Before Islam, the Arabs lived in tribes, where the leader was chosen by the council of the wisest elderly. In customary law, the leader of the tribe had more authority than the council. Despite the council’s prerogative to have the final say, the decision was determined by either disapproval or approval of the legitimate position of the tribe’s leader (Nazeer 168). The emergence of Islam and its prevalence led to the creation of a state, in which the Prophet ruled according to the principles of virtue and social justice. Thus, Islam is aimed to set the principles of divine government established in Quran and to make the state strong, ordered, and united. However, different scholars interpret the process of succession and legitimacy, and the task is to compare their views on legitimacy succession in Islam.

Nazeer stated that the only sovereign ruler of the state is Allah that rules via Quran. Therefore, the actions of any political leader should be consistent with the Quran. He writes that the Quran functions as a sort of Constitution that embodies a unique value system and a spirit of its own (168). Considering this, the author defines authority as “a sacred trust to be experienced by the members of the Umma fir implementing the will of Allah and for the betterment of the Muslim community at large” (Nazeer 169). Thus, it is possible to draw definition and criteria of legitimacy as the degree to which the leaders of the state use sacred trust and imlement the principle of equity in justice that are already established in Quran. Authority may be viewed as sacred trust, while leadership replaces prophecy in defense of the state. Sunni thinkers believe that rule in Islam is neither divinely ordained nor testamentary.

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In the Arab world, one may notice the syncretism of political and religious spheres, where the ruler had to perform moral authority for the entire community. All of Rightly-Guided Caliphs except for Uthman considered themselves to rule in the name of the Prophet. They execute administrative duties and remain religious leaders who are leading the prayers, acting within the Quranic norms. For example, Abu Bakr acted in the name of the Prophet’s spirit, considering himself to be the Successor of the Messenger of God rather than God’s Deputy (Liew 48). After his death, Umar also viewed caliphate’s office to be a commitment to the Prophet. Umar thought of himself as having lower status than the Prophet, and Abu Bakr believed that caliphal office should serve to safeguard the Muslim community from sedition and disunity.

The end of Uthman’s caliphate may be considered to be a break from tradition aimed to articulate the legitimacy of caliphate. Therefore, many scholars state that Uthman’s ruling made the things go wrong, which caused resistance to his policy. During this troubled period, Uthman attempted to compensate the loss of caliphate’s religious and moral character by stating that the caliph has God-given authority akin to the divine rights of kings in medieval Europe (Ayoub 50). According to Crone and Hinds, the saying, “I am the servant of God and His deputy” is attributed to Uthman’s reign (5-6). Hence, it may be concluded that caliph’s success and his legitimacy is assessed with consideration of caliph’s claims about his own legitimacy and the extent to which he gives himself authority in term of Quran. Uthman claims about the caliphate office as sommething directly bestowed upon him by God. Uthman denied his successorship to the Prophet: “As for telling me to abdicate, I shall not remove a shirt that Almighty God has placed on me, and by which He has honored me and set me apart from others. As for surrendering my office, I would rather be crucified than give up the mandate of Almighty God and His caliphate” (Al-Tabari 196). Uthman represented himself as person of absolute power on earth. As a result, his reign is believed to be troublesome both for him and the entire Muslim community.

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In contrast to Uthman, Ali represents the combination of a political successor and the spiritual mentor of the Muslims due to his religious and spiritual idealism. Though the disadvantage of Ali’s reign was the inability of morally uncompromising leadership to adapt to new socio-political standards of expanding Islam Empire, his idealism made him self-righteous despite changing circumstances (Zaman 279).  The righteous caliphs who were considered successful were ruling with consideration of the Prophet’s legacy and Quranic norms of social life and political order. The successful caliph, whose policy was approved, had to consider the Quran, the Sunni, and the respected elderly’s opinion of political affairs in the Muslim community. In addition, the righteous caliph had to be not only a sophisticated political leader but also a spiritual one, who needed to have sufficient authority and support among the citizens. The caliphs were appointed by God to administer the prophets’ legacy on earth. Nevertheless, the expansion of the Islam Empire has brought considerable changes into legitimacy succession rules. Caliphate passed through a number of transformations that were marked with transition to the monarchic kingship, which was more evident when the rulers moved away from the memory of the Prophet into the other imperial centers (Liew 48). These changes were expressed on institutional level and via the way caliphal legitimacy was articulated.

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