- The word, khalifah (caliph in English) is short for khalifatu rasulillah (successor to the messenger of Allah). This title was first used by Abu Bakr, who became the first elected Amirul Mu’meniin (ruler or literally commander of the believers).
- The second was `Umar ibn al-Khattab, the third `Usman ibn `Affan and the fourth was `Ali ibn abi-Talib.
- As successors to the Prophet, all four were sincere and dedicated in not only following the teachings of Islam in their own lives, but also in seeing that the law of God, as given in the Quran and sunnah, was enforced in the ‘Islamic State’ – as best as they could.
As-Salamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah Brother Muhammad,
Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
What gives them their very special status in Islam?
You know that the four righteous caliphs were not only the imams (guides and leaders) and rulers of the Muslims, immediately following Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), but also they were among the closest of the prophet’s companions who understood the real spirit of Islam.
In fact, they could become its living embodiment after the prophet’s time.
The word, khalifah (caliph in English) is short for khalifatu rasulillah (successor to the messenger of Allah). This title was first used by Abu Bakr, who became the first elected Amirul Mu’meniin (ruler or literally commander of the believers).
Islam, as a way of life has three aspects: Its basis is a creed, embodied in the practical life of the believers, who form an exemplary community. That is to say:
(a) Islam as a creed exists in the minds and spirits of the Muslims: that is its internal ideological aspect.
(b) It has an outward aspect visible in the everyday lives of the believers: that is its external cultural aspect.
(c) The people who believe in Islam and practice it form a coherent community of Muslims [the Muslim nation] who are united by the faith and practice of Islam: that is its socio-political aspect.
Islam was realized in all the three aspects in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). After the initial stages of struggle and development, the prophet established Islam as a religion, a culture and a Polity, with Madinah as its capital. Thus, it was natural for Muslims to have a khalifah of the Prophet, to take his place as the leader and commander of the Muslims, after the death of the prophet.
Arabia had no experience of what could be called ‘a systematic government’ until Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) established one there, with the Quran as ‘its constitution’. After the prophet’s time, it was God’s will that the same legacy is carried on by deserving persons, who could take up the khilafah to continue the tradition started by the prophet.
Who Were The 4 Righteous Caliphs?
The first one to take up this burden was Abu Bakr, who was one of the earliest to become a follower of the prophet. The second was `Umar ibn al-Khattab, the third `Usman ibn `Affan and the fourth was `Ali ibn abi-Talib.
As successors to the Prophet, all four were sincere and dedicated in not only following the teachings of Islam in their own lives, but also in seeing that the law of God, as given in the Quran and sunnah, was enforced in the ‘Islamic State’ – as best as they could.
They performed as rulers of the people, with the full awareness that sovereignty belonged to God alone, and the caliph was a khalifaha in another sense too: the vicegerent of God on earth, like every other human on earth. The mission of the khalifah, as ruler, was to create conditions conducive for the people to live in peace and justice.
At the time he took office, Abu Bakr told the people:
“Obey me as long as I obey God and His messenger. When I disobey Him and His prophet, then obey me not.”
Why are they to be followed?
As declared by Abu Bakr here, the foundation of the khilafah was the Quran and sunnah. The four khulafa’ were so loyal and devoted to the cause of Islam that they never deviated from the principles, laid down in the Quran and the example of the prophet.
They never presumed to impose their will on the people, in the name of religion or God-given authority. This is the reason why those four caliphs are called al-Khulafa’ ur-Rashidun or ‘the Righteous Caliphs’.
The four of them were the closest companions to the prophet and they were eager to follow in his footsteps. None of them assumed the pretensions of the latter day “kings” and “sultans” of a decadent age.
As rulers and judges, they were even handed and impartial; they treated their “subjects” with equity and equality; they were kind to the poor and the suffering, and they were literally the first among equals.
For the foregoing reasons, the four Righteous Caliphs are honored, as next only to the prophet of Islam. In fact, we should strive to become the worthy followers of those early leaders of Islam.
Finally, praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds!
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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