Caliphate of the Rightly Guided Caliphs vs the Umayyads

Map of Expansion of the Caliphates

The rightly guided caliphate was the period of spread of Islam to various corners of the world. The companions and the soldiers of Allah fought for the cause of Allah and to spread the revealed word of Allah to the far corners of the world. The four guided caliphs were not interested in worldly interests but preservation of the religion of Allah and abiding by the teachings of Muhammad (pbuh). As for Banu Umayyah, the love of the world had crept into their hearts and they transformed the honorable system of caliphate into a kingship. They began to indulge in worldly pursuits and the chasing of power. This alienated them from the common people especially the Islamic scholars, who would avoid them.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said, “The caliphate of Prophecy will last thirty years; then Allah will give the kingdom to whom He wishes” (Abu Dawud). This is exactly what happened because after thirty years, the Umayyad dynasty took over and the caliphate system began to resemble the kingdoms of emperors and kings where the son inherits power from the father. This was the first most controversial difference between the first four caliphs and the Umayyad dynasty. This step was initiated by Mu’awiyah, the first Umayyad Caliph. Before him during the time of the rightly guided caliphs, the leader would be chosen by his peers or appointed by the previous caliph. But this changed when Mu’awiyah appointed his son Yazid to be caliph before his death. This was a new and alien concept never practiced before in Islam where a father appoints his own son, thereby, becoming a monarchy (Kuiper, 2012). Many of the companions contested to this, such as, Hussein, Ibn Umar, Ibn Zubayr, and others. They did not want the Islamic caliphate to turn into hereditary empires like the Romans and Persians. This very controversy led to another thing which never existed before: a second caliphate existing simultaneously in Mecca by Ibn Zubayr.

Another difference between the earlier righteous caliphate and the later Umayyad leadership was that the former focused on expansion due to concern for spreading the word and religion of Allah all across the world, whereas, the latter focused on secular issues and securing their own power interests. They began to focus on administrative concerns and trying to manage the large empire that was under their control even at the expense of ignoring religious concerns, which bothered many devout Muslims (Nawwab, Speers, & Hoye, 1968, p. 57). A brother would turn against brother, an uncle against nephew to try and remove power from one and secure it for himself. Execution of political opponents became a common phenomenon (Najibabadi, 2001, p. 119 & 166). Rather than trying to secure leadership of the next caliph to a worthy person, which was the way of the rightly guided caliphs, the Umayyad kings would do everything in their power to assure the success of their own sons to inherit it after them. Perhaps this is why after 90 years of leadership, they “rarely shook off their empire’s reputation as a mulk – that is, a worldly kingdom” (Nawwab, Speers, & Hoye, 1968, p. 63).

Another difference between the first four caliphs and the Umayyad dynasty was that the latter used money to secure power and influence people (Najibabadi, 2001, p. 253). They lived lavish lives and threw heavy loads of wealth on people to keep them content so that they will not oppose their leadership. They would even offer provinces for rule to opponents provided they accept the right of caliphate for the Umayyads and would be under them in hierarchy (Najibabadi, 2001, pp. 251-253). The first four caliphs, however, were beyond such petty politics. They took utmost care in ensuring that the public treasury is not used for personal gain. They would only take from it what was necessary to survive and even then would feel guilty about it. They would utilize the wealth that Allah granted them through conquests for what benefits Islam and the Muslims. This is because they were trained under the guardianship of the best man to walk the face of the earth: Muhammad (pbuh) (Najibabadi, 2001, p. 22). He had instilled within them a strong desire for the afterlife and Allah’s pleasure. Having lived a life of kufr and then converted, they appreciated the gift of Islam and did not take it for granted.

However, not everything about the Umayyad dynasty was bad. They had some good aspects as well. For example, the Umayyad Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz was an exception to all of the other caliphs. He was brought up in Medina around pious Muslim scholars and was a devout Muslim. When he came into power, he reversed many of the corrupt policies of the Umayyads particularly their obsession with worldly gains. He discontinued impermissible practices, such as, imposing of a poll tax on converts. Umar bin Abdul Aziz wanted to bring the government back to the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Because of his justice, he was well liked even by his enemies (Nawwab, Speers, & Hoye, 1980, p. 60). A descendent of Umar bin Al-Khattab through his mother, he had justice in his blood. He paid no attention to tribal loyalties as his predecessors and treated all Muslims equally (‘Umar II, 2007). He was liked by all segments of the Muslim society including his critics. (Kuiper, 2012)

In conclusion, the first four caliphs led an exemplary lifestyle as foretold by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). They did not waste their time chasing the worldly pleasures, rather, they focused on expanding the message of Islam far and wide and keep justice throughout the empire. They made sure to follow the example laid out to them by their beloved prophet and did not turn away from his teachings. The Umayyad dynasty, however, was completely self-centered and focused on expansion for the purpose of obtaining territory and wealth. They used this obtained fortune for self-interests or as bribes. The people did not view them as devout like the first four, rather, corrupt, stingy, vengeful, and unjust. Umar bin Abdul Aziz was their only caliph that tried to revive the earlier methodology of the first four caliphs among them, however, after his demise they went back to their old ways.


Kuiper, K. (Ed.). (2012, August 17). Umayyad Dynasty. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Najibabadi, A. S. (2001). The History of Islam (Vol. II). Riyadh: Darussalam.

Nawwab, I. I., Speers, P. C., & Hoye, P. F. (Eds.). (1968). Aramco and Its World—Arabia and the Middle East. Washington, D.C.: Arabian American Oil Company.

‘Umar II. (2007, July 11). Retrieved December 10, 2016, from Encyclopedia Britannica:

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