What are the things that indicate the order of the caliphate of the four caliphs? Was it Hz. Ali's right to be the first caliph? Do the Companions not make any mistakes? Is it impossible for them to err?

The Details of the Question
Does a person exit the religion of Islam if he does not accept the caliphate of Hz. Abu Bakr, Hz. Umar and Hz. Uthman and regard their caliphate wrong? Is the consensus of the Companions regarded as evidence in religion? Is whatever they do unquestionably right? For instance, may they have paid allegiance to Hz. Abu Bakr instead of Hz. Ali by mistake as the Shias claim, giving the right of caliphate of Hz. Ali to Hz. Abu Bakr?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

- If a person does not accept the caliphate of the first three caliphs, he does not exit the religion of Islam but he becomes a person of bid'ah.  

- The consensus or the practice of the Companions regarding an issue can be used as evidence regarding that issue.

- All Companions are mujtahids. If they are wrong in their ijtihads, they gain one thawab; if they are right, they gain two thawabs.  

Besides, it is not possible to regard the consensus of the Companions regarding a very important issue like the caliphate as a mistake. 

1) The State of the Four Caliphs among Other Companions

After stating that the most virtuous people among the ummah are the Companions, at-Taftazani explains that Hz. Abu Bakr received the nickname of as-Siddiq (the veracious) because of approving the prophethood and Ascension of Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) without any hesitation. (1) This explanation is short and not very clear but we see one of the reasons why Hz. Abu Bakr is the most virtuous one among the Companions. It is his high quality in belief and surrendering, his unshakable loyalty to Allah and His Messenger. In addition, there are other reasons that make him the most virtuous one among the Companions and ummah. Issues like his being one of the first believers, doing a lot of favors, his share in the belief of the people coming after him, supporting the Messenger of Allah with his wealth and life at the most dangerous times, his understanding of Islam and worshipping elevate him to the highest rank among the ummah and Companions.

After that,at-Taftazani states that Hz. Umar was given the nickname al-Faruq (the one who distinguishes between right and wrong)  because he distinguished between right and wrong in his decrees and cases.(2) It is indicated here that he surrenders himself to the truth, that is, to Islam, that he regards the truth as superior to anything and that this characteristic of his is outstanding. When he became a Muslim, he challenged Quraysh and hence the whole world without fearing and by risking death.(3) It is understood how he supports the truth and how strongly he believes with this characteristic of his. It becomes apparent that one of the reasons for his superiority is this.(4)

Then, he mentions that Hz. Uthman married Ruqayya, the daughter of the Messenger of Allah first, that he married Umm Kulthum, another daughter of the Messenger of Allah when Ruqayya died, that he was called Dhun-nurayn (the owner of two luminous lights) because of it and that the Prophet said to him, "If I had another daughter, I would marry her off to you."(5) We understand from it that the Prophet liked Hz. Uthman very much and that he was pleased with him. He does not like anyone acting on his own soul and pleasures. The friends of the Prophet (pbuh) are believers and pious people. Yes, if he likes Hz. Uthman, loves him and states that he is pleased with him with his statement, we also need to follow the Messenger of Allah and like and love Hz. Uthman; we need to have positive ideas about him and we must not criticize him. Since the Prophet liked him and married his daughters off to him, it means he proved that he was a believer and a pious person. For, believers do not marry their daughters off to an unbeliever. It means he was a believer. He was a pious person (muttaqi) with the definition of the Prophet. Even the angels felt modest in his presence.(6)

After that, at-Taftazani states that Hz. Ali al-Murtada is one of the slaves of Allah who worshipped Him and that he made this apparent through his sincerity.(7) The reason why Nasafi and other Ahl as-Sunnah kalam scholars mention Hz. Ali as al-Murtada is to show that Allah and His Messenger were pleased with him. (8) That is, Allah and His Messenger love Hz. Ali very much. He liked both of them, too. He gained their consent. This state of Hz. Ali's is mentioned in hadiths.(9) Taftazani points out that Hz. Ali's worshipping, sincerity and ascetism were outstanding. A person whom Allah and His Messenger love, and are pleased with and who is the son-in-law of the Messenger of Allah is definitely a believer and a pious person; he deserves to be praised and loved. Besides, Allah states in a verse that he is the friend of the Messenger of Allah.(10)

According to at-Taftazani, salaf (the Companions, most of them and tabiun) listed the order of the superiority of the four caliphs based on the order of their caliphate. Taftazani states the following decree: "It is apparent that they would not have done so if they had not had any evidence about it."(11)

2) Implications from Some Hadiths about the Order of Superiority of the Four Caliphs:

In fact, if hadiths are viewed with this issue in mind, it will be seen that there implications of the degrees and order of the caliphs in them:

Muhammad b. Hanafiyya's father asked Hz. Ali, "Who is the best man after the Messenger of Allah?" Hz. Ali answered it as Hz. Abu Bakr, Hz. Umar and Hz. Uthman.(12) If the hadith about the people who were given the glad tiding of Paradise is viewed, it will be seen that first Hz. Abu Bakr then Hz. Umar and then Hz. Uthman arrived at Aris Well.(13) This might be an implication of their order of virtue. Once, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), Hz. Abu Bakr, Hz. Umar and Hz. Uthman were on Mount Uhud and it started to shake; the Prophet (pbuh) said, "O Uhud! Stop! There is a prophet, a siddiq and two martyrs on you."(14)

Bukhari mentions the names of the Companions in this hadiths in the order of "Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman"; similarly, the Messenger of Allah mentioned Hz. Abu Bakr (Siddiq) first, and Hz. Umar and Hz. Uthman after him. Is it not an implication of his superiority that he mentioned Hz. Abu Bakr first? Besides, he stated through this hadith that Hz. Umar and Hz. Uthman would be martyred.

In another hadith reported by Hz. Ali, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

"I, Abu Bakr and Umar were together. I, Abu Bakr and Umar worked together. I, Abu Bakr and Umar walked together."(15)

This shows that Hz. Abu Bakr comes first followed by Hz. Umar among the ummah and Companions in terms of superiority.

In a hadith included in Bukhari, the following narration from Abdullah b. Umar exists: He said,

"We did not regard anybody as equal to Abu Bakr, then Umar and then Uthman. After that, we did not compare any Companions of the Messenger of Allah in terms of superiority."(16)

When this hadith is taken into consideration, a few aspects come to mind:

Firstly, as a scholar among the Companions,Abdullah b. Abbas (death H. 68) mentions something that is accepted by almost everybody and known by everybody. It is the fact that no Companion is regarded equal to the four caliphs, primarily Hz. Abu Bakr.(17) The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) definitely knew that his Companions thought like that. If he had not known so, he would have corrected their views. 

Secondly, when Abdullah b. Abbas (ra) reports the hadith, he mentions Hz. Abu Bakr first and the other caliphs included in the ten Companions who were given the glad tiding of Paradise. It is understood from this that Hz. Abu Bakr is the first one in terms of virtue and that Abdullah b. Abbas also holds this view.

Thirdly, according to this hadith, the four caliphs are superior to all of the other Companions; the order of superiority among them is in accordance with this order.   

Fourthly, the Companions of the salaf regarded the caliphs mentioned here superior to all Companions but they did not discuss about the superiority of the other Companions among themselves. This issue occurred afterwards.(18)

The order of the caliphate of the four caliphs, their activities in their caliphate and the incidents happening in their caliphate can be regarded as implications of their virtues.

After discussing the issue, at-Taftazani states the following and accepts the order of their caliphate as it was:

"Salaf (the Companions and Tabiun) hesitated about regarding Hz. Uthman superior to Hz. Ali but they regarded the superiority of Hz. Abu Bakr and Hz. Umar over the others, love of the two sons-in-law of the Prophet (pbuh) (Hz Uthman and Hz. Ali) and acting justly as signs of Ahl as-Sunnah."(19)

Then, he explains how each of them became caliphs. According to him, there is consensus about the caliphate of the four caliphs."The wars (Jamal and Siffin) that occurred during the caliphate of Hz. Ali was not due to disagreement about his caliphate but mistakes of ijtihad."(20)

As it is seen, Taftazani views the wars during the period of Hz. Ali as wars that occurred due to mistakes of ijtihad just like the other Ahl as-Sunnah scholars. He does not criticize or condemn the Companions. On the contrary, he elevates them.  Taftazani does not accuse them of being sinners or aberration. He mentions the correctness of Hz. Ali's ijtihad and the mistake of Muawiya's ijtihad. Mujtahids gain thawabs even when they make mistakes; therefore, Muawiya is not accused of aberration and being a sinner here; he is mentioned as a mujtahid in a good way. For, a mujtahid who makes a mistake cannot be accused of aberration and being a sinner (fasiq).(21)

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states that some verses imply the four caliphs to replace the position of the Messenger of Allah after his death in the order of caliphate and that they inform about them with their most famous characteristics:  

The beginning of the last verse of the chapter of al-Fath foretells explicitly the lofty qualities and virtues that made the Companions the most elevated of humankind after the prophets; and allusively it indicates the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, who would succeed to the Prophet’s (pbuh) position after his death through the institution of the Caliphate, and foretells the fine attributes which were what most distinguished each of them and marked them out. It is as follows:

And those who are with him” alludes to Abu Bakr the Veracious, who was distinguished by being among the Prophet’s ((pbuh) special followers and party to his conversation, and again being included among his special followers by being the first to die.

While “are strong against the unbelievers” points to Hz. Umar, who in the future would cause the countries of the globe to tremble at his conquests, and with his justice would descend on tyrants like a thunderbolt.

And “compassionate among each other” gives news of Hz. Uthman, who in the future when the most serious dissension was being fomented, would sacrifice his own life and spirit out of his perfect compassion so that the blood of Muslims should not be spilt; he preferred to be martyred wrongfully while reading the Qur’an.

And “You will see them bow and prostrate themselves in prayer, seeking grace from Allah and His good pleasure” tells that with his complete worthiness to undertake the Caliphate and government, and his heroism, and his choosing perfect asceticism, worship, poverty, and frugality, and whose bowing and prostrating in prayer was corroborated by everyone, Hz. Ali was not responsible for his position in the future and the wars and strife in which he was involved, and that his intention and wish were for divine favor.

"This is their similitude in the Towrah.” It cites these qualities of the Companions that are mentioned in the Torah, which for an unlettered person like the Prophet (pbuh) belonged to the World of the Unseen.

"... And their similitude in the Gospel is: like a seed which sends forth its blade, then makes it strong; it then becomes thick and it stands on its own stem (filling) the sowers with wonder and delight. As a result, it fills the Unbelievers with rage at him...”(al-Fath, 48/29)

The Companions will seem weak and small number at first but within a short time they will grow like seeds and acquire such strength and loftiness that they will cause the unbelievers to swallow their hatred and choke.   

The verses predict the following: due to their weakness and small number, the Companions accepted the Treaty of Hudaybiya, but within a short time they will grow and acquire such strength and loftiness that, planted by the Hand of Power in the field of the face of the earth, they will multiply in most elevated, powerful, fruitful, and plentiful fashion. This is true in comparison with the shoots of mankind at that time, since these latter are short, weak, defective, and scant due to neglect and heedlessness. The Companions will grow strong causing illustrious governments to rage at them in envy, jealousy, and anger.

The prediction also makes the following further slight hint: it indicates through the word “forgiveness” that, although while praising the Companions’ excellent qualities they have been promised the greatest rewards, in the future they will commit serious errors due to strife. For, forgiveness indicates the existence of faults. At that time, it will be forgiveness, the greatest bounty, that the Companions will want. (22)

Implication for the Four Caliphs

The following verse also indicates the four caliphs to come after the Messenger of Allah just like the last verse of the chapter of al-Fath:

"All who obey Allah and the Messenger are in the company of those on whom is the Grace of Allah― of the Prophets (who teach) the sincere (lovers of Truth), the witnesses (who testify), and the Righteous (who do good): ah! How a beautiful fellowship!"(an-Nisa, 4/69)

It is as follows:

The verse above describes the people of the Straight Path and the groups of the Prophets, the caravan of the veracious, the community of the martyrs, the class of the Righteous, and those who follow them. These are the members of mankind who truly receive the divine bounties. Furthermore, having indicated explicitly the most perfect of those five groups in the world of Islam, it indicates their leaders and chiefs by mentioning their well-known attributes. In addition, with a flash of miraculousness giving news of the Unseen, it specifies one aspect those chiefs’ positions in the future.

Yes, “of the Prophets” looks explicitly to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), and the phrase “the veracious” looks to Abu Bakr, the veracious. It also indicates that he would be second after the Prophet (pbuh) and first to succeed him, and be known by the special title of veracious and be seen at the head of all honest and upright people.

 Then “the Martyrs” refers to Hz. Umar, Hz. Uthman, andHz. Ali (May Allah be pleased with all of them) together. It intimates that the three of them would succeed to the Caliphate after the veracious one, and that the three of them would be martyred and the merits of martyrdom added to their other virtues.

The Righteous” alludes to distinguished persons like the Companions of Suffa, Badr and Ridwan.

While with its explicit meaning, “And how goodly a company are these!” encourages others to follow them, and with its implicit meaning, by showing the generation that succeeded them to be honoured and illustrious, it alludes to Hz. Hasan, who as the fifth Caliph affirmed the hadith

After me the Caliphate will last thirty years”(23) – in order to show its great value despite its brief duration. (24)

The word "goodly" in the verse “And how goodly a company are these!” is expressed with the Arabic word "hasuna". In Arabic, both Hasan and Hasuna are written with the same letters.

As it is seen, there are a lot of signs about the unknown in the verses the Quran clearly or indirectly. They indicate the order of the caliphate of the four caliphs.


(1) Hashiyatul-Kastali p. 177-178.
(2) ibid, p. 178.
(3) Tarikhul-Islam, p. 172 ff.
(4) The Messenger of Allah stating the religiousness of Hz. Umar due to a dream Sahihul-Bukhari, IV, 201.
(5) Hashiyatul-Kastali p. 178.
(6) For hadiths about him, see Sahihul-Bukhari IV, 196 (the chapter about those who were given the glad tiding of Paradise), IV, 202 ff.
(7) Hashiyatul-Kastali p. 178.
(8) Sharhu'l-Aqaid p. 322.
(9) Sahihul-Bukhari IV, 207 (This state is explained in the hadith about the Battle of Khaybar. Besides, while setting off for the Expedition of Tabuk, the Messenger of Allah states that his position near him is like the position of Hz. Harun (Aaron) near Hz. Musa (Moses).
(10) see al-Maida 5/55; at-Tabari, Muhibbuddin Ahmad b. Abdullah Zakhairul-Uqba,
Cairo, 1357, p. 102 ff.
(11) Hashiyatul-Kastali ala Sharhil-Aqaid p. 178.
(12) Sahihul-Bukhari IV, 195 (Fadail-Bab, 5).
(13) Sahihul-Bukhari IV, 196.
(14) Sahihul-Bukhari IV, 197; 204.
(15) Sahihul-Bukhari IV, 197.
(16) Sahihul-Bukhari IV, 203.
(17) For the word adala, see al-Mu'jamul-Wasit p. 588; al-Mufradat p. 325.
(18) For the issue of the four caliphs being more virtuous than the whole ummah, see al-Haytami, Ahmad b. Hajar, as-Sawaiqul-Muhriqa, p.
210, 213; Subulus-Salam IV, 127 (the chapter of witnessing); Hashiyatul-Kastali p.
(19) Hashiyatul-Kastali ala Sharhil-Aqaid p. 179.
(20) Hashiyatul-Kastali ala Sharhil-Aqaid p s. 180.
(21) see Sharhul-Aqaid p. 325, Hashiyatul-Kastali ala Sharhil-Aqaid p. 180-181.
(22) see Nursi, Lem'alar, p. 29-32.
(23) Tirmidhi, Fitan, 48.
(24) see Nursi, Lem’alar, p. 33-34.

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