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Election of the Head of State
Political Issues
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

According to the Quranic injunction: amruhum shooraa bainahum1, one of the salient features of an Islamic State is that it is based on the principle of consultation. The stress and style of the verse demands that the head of state be appointed through consultation; the system be based on consultation; everyone have an equal right in consultation; whatever done through consultation only be undone through consultation; everyone part of the system have a say in its affairs; a majority opinion decide any disagreement which many arise, and the reins of power be transferred to the party in whom the majority reposes its trust.

In this regard, there are some people who believe that the government established by the successors of the Prophet (sws) resembled the presidential system of government of today. We are afraid that this point of view is not correct. It is clear that the distinguishing feature of a presidential system of government is that in it the president is elected directly by the citizens of a state. A historical analysis of the Rightly Guided Caliphate, however, reveals that the head of state was elected by the members of the Majlis-i-Shooraa (parliament) and not by all the citizens. Therefore, if at all a comparison needs to be made, it would be more appropriate to say that the system of government in the Rightly Guided Caliphate was closer to a parliamentary one. A brief historical analysis is thus presented.

Immediately after the death of the Prophet (sws), Hadhrat Umar proclaimed the Khilaafat of Hadhrat Abu Bakr in the Thaqeefah of Bani Saa`ida being sure of the fact that the leaders of the Quraish would not differ with him and would, in fact, endorse his step, considering the delicacy of the situation which had arisen in the Thaqeefah. The Quraish, of course, were the party which enjoyed the confidence of the majority of the Muslims of Arabia and as such had the right to nominate the president2. Later, Hadhrat Umar stated the reason for his step and warned the people that no one should dare present it as a violation of the Quranic principle: amruhum shooraa bainahum:

"No one among you should have the misconception that the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr took place suddenly. No doubt, the oath was pledged in this way, but the Almighty protected the Muslims from its evil consequences [which may have arisen] and remember! there is none among you like Abu Bakr, whose greatness cannot be surpassed. Now if a person pledges an oath of allegiance to someone without the opinion of the believers, no one should pledge allegiance to him as well as to whom he [himself] pledged allegiance because by this both of them shall present themselves for execution." (Bukhari, Kitab-ul-Hudood)

At the time of the death of Hadhrat Abu Bakr also, the general confidence enjoyed by the Quraish persisted. Since no other tribe of the Arabs including the Ansaar had challenged this position, they continued to hold their position of authority, and there was no need to turn to the general public in this regard. Therefore, the leaders of the Quraish, the ruling party, nominated Hadhrat Umar as the new Ameer-ul-Momineen, and both the Ansaar and the Muhaajireen---the two big tribes of the Muslims---accepted the appointment. Consequently, without any difference of opinion, Hadhrat Umar, in direct accordance with the Islamic constitution, assumed the position of Khilaafat. Ibni Sa`ad reports:

"When ill-health overtook Abu Bakr and the time of his death approached, he summoned Hadhrat Abdur Rehman Bin Auf and said: `Tell me about Umar Bin Khattaab'. Abdur Rehman replied: `You are asking me about something of which you know better'. Abu Bakr said: `Although [this is correct, I still want your opinion]'. Abdur Rehman answered: `By God! he is even better than the opinion you hold about him'. Then he [Abu Bakr] called Uthman Bin Affaan and asked him: `Tell me about Umar Bin Khattaab'. Hadhrat Uthman replied: `You know him better than us'. Abu Bakr said: `Still! O Abu Abdullah! [I want your opinion]'. [At this] Hadhrat Uthman answered: `Indeed, in my opinion, his innerself is better than his outer and no one among us can parallel him'." (At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa, Vol 3, Pg 199)

Ibni Sa`ad mentions that Hadhrat Abu Bakr, besides these two, consulted all the big leaders of the Ansaar and the Muhaajireen:

"And he, besides these two, consulted Abul Awar Saeed Bin Zaid and Aseed Bin Al-Hudhair as well as other big leaders of the Ansaar and the Muhaajireen, so Aseed said: `Indeed after you O Abu Bakr! I consider him the best. His innerself is better than his outer. No one is more suited to bear the burden of this Khilaafat'." ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 199)

After this Ibni Sa`ad reports that some people differed from Hadhrat Abu Bakr's opinion but he satisfied them. He then called Hadhrat Uthman and said:

"Write: In the name of Allah the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful. This is the will of Abu Bakr Bin Abee Quhaafah which he made at the end of his worldly life, when he is about to leave it and at the beginning of his next life when he is about to enter it--- at a time when disbelievers accept faith, the defiant express belief and liars speak the truth. I make Umar Bin Khattaab your Khaleefah. Therefore, listen and obey him." ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 200)

This letter was sealed, and according to Hadhrat Abu Bakr's directive, Umar Bin Khattaab and Aseed Bin Saeed accompanied Hadhrat Uthman while he took the letter out to the people and said:

"Will you pledge allegiance to the person in whose favour a will has been made in this letter. The people said: Yes." ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 200)

Ibni Saad reports:

"All accepted and agreed to pledge allegiance to Hadhrat Umar. Then Abu Bakr called Umar in solitude and gave him whatever advice he wanted to." ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 200)

When Hadhrat Umar was severely wounded and his death looked imminent, the political situation was still unchanged. The Quraish still enjoyed the majority mandate of the Muslims. Therefore, according to the Islamic constitution only an election of a leader by the majority group was required. The people who held responsible positions asked Hadhrat Umar, as reported by Ibni Sa`ad:

"Will you not leave a will for us? Will you not appoint a Khaleefah for us? ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 343)

Hadhrat Umar, however, adopted another way: he entrusted the matter to six big leaders:

"I have deliberated on the matter of Imaamat-i-Aamah (Khilaafat) and have reached the conclusion that there is no difference among the people in this affair as far as it is one of you. If there is any difference, it is within you. Therefore, this matter is entrusted to the six of you---Abdur Rehman, Uthman, Ali, Zubair, Talha and Saad." ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 344)

He further said:

"Rise, and make anyone amongst yourselves as the Ameer." ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 344)

However, since there was a chance that some miscreants might create disorder or that these six might prolong matters, Hadhrat Umar appointed the Ansaar as the custodians over the six because, being a minority group, they were not a party to the whole affair3. Ibni Sa`ad narrates through Ans Bin Malik:

"Umar Bin Khattaab summoned Abu Talha Ansaari just before his death . When he arrived Hadhrat Umar said: `Abu Talha take fifty men from your tribe Ansaar and go ye to these people of the shooraa. I believe that they would have assembled at the house of someone amongst themselves. Stand at their door with your comrades and let no one go inside and do not give them more than three days for electing a leader'." ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 364)

Ibni Saad reports that when all of them had assembled, Abdul Rehman Bin Auf opined that three of them should withdraw themselves in favour of three others. Consequently, Zubair withdrew in favour of Ali, and Talha and Sa`ad withdrew in favour of Uthman and Abdur Rehman Bin Auf respectively. Then he asked Uthman and Ali to give him the right to decide, if he himself withdraws: when both agreed, he said to Ali:

"You have the honour of being among the earliest who accepted Islam as well as being a relative of the Prophet of Allah. By God! If you are entrusted with Khilaafat, promise that you will rule with justice and if Uthman is made the Khaleefah, you shall listen and obey him." ("At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 339)

After Hadhrat Ali agreed, he turned to Hadhrat Uthman and repeated what he had said; when both showed their approval, he said:

"O Uthman! extend your hand! When he did so, Hadhrat Ali and others pledged their oath of allegiance." (At-Tabaqaat-ul-Kubraa", Vol 3, Pg 339)

There can be two opinions about the Khilaafat of Hadhrat Ali, since it was a period of immense turbulence and chaos. We leave this discussion, since the point has already been made.


From this historical analysis, it is evident that the Rightly Guided Caliphs were not elected directly by the general masses; instead, they were elected by the parliament. As such their system of government resembled the parliamentary system of government rather than the presidential one.








1. Their affairs of state are run by their mutual consultation) (42:38)

2. Consequently, the hadith: al aaimatu min Quraish (the rulers should be from the Quraish) is only an application of the Quranic principle amruhum shooraa bainahum in the period of the Prophet (sws) and as such is no eternal directive.

2. Hadhrat Umar had said: Call the leaders of the Ansaar to you, but they have no share in your imaarat." ("Al-Imaamah-Wassiyaasah", Ibni Qutaiba, Pg 28)

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