AN ELECTION IN MEDINA
The masjid of the Prophet experiences a hectic day and hosts guests who have come from distant lands. Nobody wants to leave the town without hearing the result. All the Muslims have awoken in Medina to a critical day; the new caliph will be elected to conduct the works of the ummah (Islamic community). The morning sleepiness had been left behind; the sun shines on the people who are carrying out intense debates in the crowded masjid. The leading figures of muhajirs (Meccan immigrants) and ansars (residents of Medina) and military commanders are all there.
Ammar ibn Yasir says, “Recognize Ali if you don’t want people to fall into disagreement!” to Abdurrahman ibn Awf; it is he who will make the final decision. Miqdad ibn Aswad supports him, saying, “Ammar is right. If you recognize Ali, we will accept him willingly.”
On the other hand, Abdullah ibn Abi Sarh says, “Recognize Uthman if you don’t want the Quraishis to fall into disagreement!” Opinions are expressed, one by one. From the whispers in the crowd, the names of Ali ibn Ali Talib and Uthman ibn Affan are heard. The three-day period given for the election of the caliph is about to come to an end. All the options in the election that have been offered by the former caliph have been put forward, and everyone breathlessly awaits the decision of Abdurrahman ibn Awf. As time passes, the tension in the masjid rises. The speeches made to influence Abdurrahman, who has promised to listen to everyone, are followed by heated debates between the supporters of the Hashimites and Ummayyads. Abdurrahman prays for help from Allah, asking to be shown a direction in this difficult situation, brought about by the death of Umar.
Abdurrahman remembers the series of events that brought him to this complicated state and thinks back to the deathbed of Umar: the prominent figures of the Companions are standing before the Caliph, who has been wounded by a dagger. They whisper to him about the dangers that may occur in the community if he dies without appointing a new caliph in his place. The Caliph is worried and tired. He does not want to add another burden to the heavy burdens and responsibilities that he has endured for the ten years of his caliphate. From the lips of the Caliph came the following words: “If I complete my duty with my good deeds being equal to my sins, I am content.” Then we hear the names of Abu Ubayda and Abu Huzayfa’s freed slave, Salim. He refers to their value before the Prophet, and states that they are appropriate names for the caliph. The Caliph continues his words: “If I nominate my successor, a better man than me, namely Abu Bakr, also nominated his successor. Again, if I do not nominate a successor, remember that the best of men, namely the Prophet, did not nominate a successor. Whatever the case, I am confident that Allah Himself will protect the interests of Islam.”
Whenever the people see that he is awake, they insist that he appoint a successor. People are afraid that he will die before appointing a successor and this will lead to disagreements, as in the period of Abu Bakr, and they continue to ask him to name a successor. At last, Umar states his decision, after long hours have passed. His suggests that this is not only a responsibility for him, but will also be a reference point for following generations when taking important decisions. Umar says that he will give a list; on this list are Ali ibn Abi Talib, Uthman ibn Affan, Sad bin Abi Waqqas, Abdurrahman ibn Awf, Zubair ibn Awwam and Talha ibn Ubaydullah. All of these are prominent Companions to whom the Prophet gave the tidings of paradise in their lifetime. Umar thinks that these people, who have been approved of by Allah and the Prophet, cannot make mistakes in alliance. He adds the name of his son, Abdullah ibn Umar, on condition that he will not be elected as a caliph. Umar develops a formula that if the votes are equal after the election, the people will accept the decision of his son. If they do not accept this decision, the candidate of the group in which Abdurrahman ibn Awf is a member will be elected as a caliph. The course of events will make this formula effective and the will of Umar, which he gives while lying wounded on his bed, will be a burden on the shoulders of Abdurrahman ibn Awf.
Umar calls for the members of the committee that he had established and says to them, “I thought about the caliphate issue and I think you can be the leaders of these people. The caliph must be elected among you. This is because the Prophet approved of your deeds. If you choose the right path, I know that the people will not fall into disagreement; but I fear that you may disagree with each other and cause your people to fall into disagreement. When I die, take up the issue and settle it within three days. On the fourth day after my death, the person chosen by you should take the oath of office. He should be one of you. My son will sit with the committee as adviser and moderator, but he will not be eligible for election as caliph.”
Umar gives Suhayb the responsibility of leading the believers in prayers. Suhayb is also responsible for gathering and supervising the members of the committee that will choose the caliph. On the orders of Umar, if a candidate is nominated by four out of five committee members, that candidate will be the caliph. Anyone who opposes this decision will be executed. If the votes are equal for the candidates, the decision of Abdurrahman ibn Awf will be final. After the death of Umar the committee gathers. Abdurrahman suggests that he will withdraw from the candidacy and he states that he wants to be mediator. No one responds in a negative way to this suggestion, and he takes the duty of arbitration after withdrawing from the candidacy.
Abdurrahman asks the candidates to accept the election and support him against those who disagree and in return he guarantees that he will not practice nepotism and that he will work for the good of all Muslims. Without losing any time Abdurrahman starts his activities in order to see what the people think about the candidates and holds consultations with different sections of the community, including the army commanders and leading Companions. Meanwhile, the tribes from which the caliphate candidates have been selected go into action and start an intense campaign. The sources speak of a campaign that even included the shepherds in the mountains. This period makes the decision process much harder for Abdurrahman ibn Awf.
Finally, the model drawn up by Umar, who in the last decade displayed an important example of responsibility and prudence, becomes a source of inspiration for Abdurrahman ibn Awf. He addresses a crucial question to the two strong caliphate candidates before concluding the election.
“In the name of Allah do you promise to act in accordance with the book of Allah, the Sunnah of His Messenger and the policy of the two previous caliphs?” Ali replies to this question by saying “To the extent that my knowledge and strength allows” and Uthman just says “Yes”.
The time is up and the period of three days has come to a close. The curious crowds hold their breath, staring at Abdurrahman; they are getting impatient.
All that Abdurrahman ibn Awf, who is undergoing the most difficult test of his life, has to do is shake a hand. The hand shaken by Abdurrahman is the hand of Zu’n-nurayn Uthman ibn Affan, who has had the honor of marrying Ruqiyya and Ummu Khulsum, the two daughters of the Prophet.