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Rawad Wehbe


History 105A

November 9, 2010

Origins of Inter-Islamic Disputes

By the mid 7th century Islam had become the mechanism within Arabia which brought

its people together underneath a single community; the Umma. The people of the Hijaz may have

claimed to recognize Muhammad and his revelation but many of them did not honor their word.

The Ridda wars and military conquest after Muhammad’s death prove that Islam did not

assimilate itself into the rest of Arabia peacefully. Alone, the Umma was not a mechanism of

unification. After Muhammad’s death, much of the Umma that was constructed during his

leadership was lost. His successor, Abu Bakr, quickly responded with firm resolve as to re-

conquer the populations lost and even expand Islam further than ever before. By the middle of

the 7th century the Muslims had conquered most of south-western Asia. They held control of

Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, central Asia and northern India. The empire may have spread

through military conquest but the religion itself was popularly accepted among the populations.

Originally, military endeavors were justified by adhering to jihad for Islamic martyrdom and the

notion that everyone should be followers of Islam. Non-Arab converts, Mawālī, were also

assimilated into the Islamic Empire through such conquests. The Umma was now reinforced to

envelope all Arabs and non-Arabs in the region including Jews, Christians and even remaining

Zoroastrians. The implementation of Islamic rule upon a heterogeneous society began to stir

discontent among populations within the Islamic state. Claiming malpractice, Muslim subjects

began to revolt against the Islamic elite, who were justifying their claims to governing positions.
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The struggle for power created internal Islamic conflict which originated from the failure to

create a system of succession that ensured solidity and unification within the Umma.

The Umma was to theoretically take precedence over all other kinship ties. Realistically

deep-seated tribal conflicts between rival tribes continued to endure. After military conquest

during the middle of the 7th century, army encampments began to evolve into garrison cities,

such as Basra and Kufa. The cities were established in order to provide a place for soldiers to

reside after military conquests and act as a launching point for future campaigns. Although the

cities were not intended to hold large populations; soldiers including their wives, children and

slaves accounted peeked at over 100,000 residents within some cities. The problem this held was

the obvious heterogeneous tribal compositions included within each garrison city. The towns

were generally overcrowded and turbulent meaning that it was not a very comfortable

environment and did not have open space to live peacefully. The conditions established by these

garrison cities created the perfect environment for internal tribal conflict to surface. In order to

avoid potentially devastating rival confrontations the city of Kufa underwent multiple

organizational reforms in order to maintain peace and distribute stipends efficiently. Garrison

cities, such as Kufa, experienced a large influx of immigrants who wanted to benefit from the

conquests. This attracted Arabs, non-Arabs, new converts, relatives of governors, wealthy

merchants and entrepreneurs. Garrison cities underwent high levels of economic stratification

drawing a clear line between those who were prospering and those who were not. The diwan that

paid stipends for soldiers and residents within the cities quickly became a focal conflict point

among social groups. The diwan based on both a first come first serve distribution, meaning that

veteran soldiers received the most while new-comers the least, and sabiqa, meaning those who

converted to Islam first received higher stipends. Further unfair distribution began to create an
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air of discontent among social groups. For example, horsemen were being paid 2-3 times more

than infantry men. Entrepreneurs who invested in markets, bath houses and land reclamation

further widened stratification. The new elite began to enforce their presence in the garrison cities

and began to seek means of obtaining more powerful positions of governess.

The struggle for power among the Islamic elite is the most eminent explanation as to why

Muslims began to fight and kill each other. The Prophet Muhammad’s death created inevitable

strife since he left no guidelines of succession. Nobody at the time knew who or how the power

Muhammad held over the Umma should be transferred. Two elite groups began to emerge after

the prophet’s death; those who were the prophet’s companions and those who held powerful

positions before the genesis of Islam. In Kufa, during the rule of Umar b. al-Khattab, positions of

command remained explicit to those who possessed Islamic priority. Those who claimed rights

based on their tribal status, strength or wealth were left out of administrative roles. Umar was

aware of the heterogeneous nature of Kufa’s population and its imperativeness to the integrity of

the Islamic Empire. To ensure that Islamic hegemony would supersede all others, he reserved

leadership positions using sabiqa to submerge any tribal authority. Umar even distributed the

diwan based on sabiqa to further enforce his policy of Islamic priority. The taxation system was

another achievement under Umar’s caliphate which taxed non-Muslims called the, jizya. It

wasn’t until Uthman b. Affan’s succession of the caliphate that the prestigious tribal leaders,

wealthy merchants and military generals began to take control of the administration of the

Umma. By initially appointing his half brother, Walid b. ‘Uqba, Uthman weakened the hold

Muhammad’s companions had on the Umma. Those who had no Islamic priority were soon

replacing those in highest governing positions. In Kufa, early comers who were living

comfortably underneath Umar’s administration were threatened by Uthman’s radical changes in

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governmental structure. In Medina, the Qurra overthrew the governor appointed by Uthman and

replaced him with Abu Musa al-Ash’ari. Uthman’s failed to keep the Umma unified creating an

upset within administration diving Muslims between those who supported Uthman and those

who did not; a reoccurring theme in the future disputes.

Muslims on both sides championed their beliefs and justified their actions as necessary

bloodshed. Uthman’s murder, a watershed in Islamic history, had been justified by accusing the

ill-fated caliph of malpractice; appointing family members into powerful positions, using the

treasury for personal reasons, and distributing land grants to relatives. He was also criticized for

his failure to punish his half brother Walid for his drunkenness in the masjid. By violating the

Quran’s Sunna and his oath as caliph Uthman developed an unpopular image among the

Muslims. Ali’s succession increased tensions between those who supported Uthman’s views and

those who did not. Ali, who was supported by the Ansar, removed all of Uthman’s governors and

replaced them with his own relatives and supporters. This compromised Ali’s success as a caliph

since his actions began to resemble that of a conspiracy. Muslims who were not prospering

underneath Uthman’s rule banded with Ali and claimed him to be the rightful successor. At the

same time, Muslims who supported the Quraysh rule of Uthman revolted in Basra claiming that

Ali was behind Uthman’s murder in order to gain power through illegitimate means. Many

looked to Mu’awiya b. Abi Sufyan who they believed had the right to vengeance in order to

punish those behind the murder of Uthman. The fighting during the first fitna continued until Ali

was defeated by an internal force within his own regime that revolted against him.

The emergences of the Khawarij during the first and second fitna’s truly define the

internal conflicts within Islamic provinces. It was a Khawarij uprising the led to Ali’s death in

661 C.E. in a mosque in Kufa indicating a more internal dispute among Muslims rather than an
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external struggle for power. As literalist interpreters of the Quran the Khawarij began to

condemn and rebel on the basis that they were the only true Muslims and those who opposed

them were all sinners. These violent uprisings erupted throughout the first and second fitnas

during the 7th century in response to the Islamic elites struggle for power. They expressed

themselves through extreme levels of piety directing their opposition towards the growing socio-

economic polarization in the garrison cities. Justifying their opposition through religious means,

they demanded that a shura be established, their allegiance was only to god, and they would

command the good and forbid the evil. They called for fiscal equality among Muslims meaning

fair division of booty and stipends. They also advocated for equality among the Abrahamic

religions that were clearly being taken advantage of through unfair taxing. During the first fitna,

the Khawarij both justified Uthman’s murder, since he had violated his oath and struck against

Ali who had agreed to arbitration which would compromise the sanctity of the Quran.

The reasons behind the second fitna reflect those of the first, in that two equally justified

bodies of power had a claim to the caliphate. During the remaining years of the 7th century each

body of power had its own support and opposition depending on who would prosper or not

underneath the administration. At the cost of Muslim lives it was believed that war was

necessary to protect their interests and beliefs. Intending to bring the Arab people together the

Umma became a new interest among the existing elite which would bring the Muslims to fight

against one another. Nobody knew who should rule or in what context, leaving the position open

to many prominent yet diverse successors. The failure to establish a direct process of succession

after Muhammad’s death created an immeasurable flaw in the Umma; an environment where

Muslims could kill each other warranted by their independent and righteous claims to power.