Government in Islam
Martyr Ayatullah Dr Muhammad Husayni Behishti &
Martyr Dr Muhammad Jawad Bahonar
In many cases it is the duty of every individual to support what is right and to see that law is enforced in an equitable manner. But there are cases in which this duty requires more energy, more specialized knowledge and more powerful machinery than an individual can possess. The vital duty of `exhorting to good and restraining from evil' demands that in such cases all people should co‑operate to set up a powerful social organization having enough authority to undertake the required task. In an ideological society the organization charged with this responsibility is called "Government".
Under the social system of Islam a government comes to power in one of the following three ways:
(1) By appointment by Allah, which automatically means its recognition by the people.
(2) By appointment by the Prophet, which also means recognition by the people.
(3) By appointment, or in other words election by the Muslims.
Appointment by Allah
Appointment by Allah in the then newly‑founded society of Medina the holy Prophet was in charge of the government. He was assigned this post by Allah. The Muslims were told by the holy Qur'an to obey him in their social affairs.
"Say: Obey Allah and the Messenger". (Ale Imran, 3:32). "Obey Allah and His Messenger and do not quarrel among yourselves lest you lose your courage and strength ". (Surah al‑Anfal, 8:46).
This government began with the proclamation regarding the formation of the Muslim ummah and the issue of certain charters, following the arrival of the holy Prophet in Medina. The pledging of their allegiance to the holy Prophet by the representatives of Medina shortly before his migration (Hijrah), and by the various groups of the Muhajirs and the Ansar on other occasions, was a national and popular recognition of his Divine appointment.
During this period the governors, the judges, the army commanders, the treasury officers and other important functionaries were appointed by the Prophet himself, and had to discharge their duties within the framework of Islamic law. Their powers were also normally determined by the Prophet. In ideological societies the founder of the movement, which culminates in the formation of a society naturally holds the reins of the government himself, for, being the founder of the ideology, he knows its dimensions and implications better than anybody else. Moreover, his competence and efficiency having already been proved, naturally he is the fittest person to assume the leadership of the new society.
(2) Appointment by a Prophet
In many cases a Prophet appoints somebody to manage the affairs of the society. Such appointments have two forms:
(a) In his lifetime he appoints, in the territory under his control, governors, judges and commanders. As his appointees, these people exercise the power given to ‑them by the Prophet. They are in reality his deputies. They derive their authority to rule from the order of the Prophet. They are just like the officials appointed to various posts by the central authority of any country.
(b) The second forts of an appointment by a Prophet is that of his own successor. According to the Shi'ah belief, the holy Prophet appointed Imam Ali (P) to succeed him as the head of the Muslim ummah. The Shi'ah in this respect rely on a number of traditions which have been reported by the authentic Sunni sources also. The tradition of al‑Ghadir is one of them.
Tradition of al‑Ghadir
In the 10th year of the Hijri era, while returning from his last pilgrimage, the holy Prophet assembled his companions at a place called Ghadir al‑Khum and spoke to them. From his talk on various occasions during this journey, people were apprehending that the end of his life was imminent. Naturally at this stage they expected him to make clear as to who would succeed him as the head of the newly‑founded Islamic society. As expected, he took up this question in his speech and said:
"Have I not more authority over the Muslims than they have over themselves?"
All the Muslims exclaimed with one voice:
"Yes, you have; you are the Prophet of Allah". The holy Prophet then said:
"Ali is the master of him whose master I am. May Allah be the friend of him, who is the friend of Ali, and the enemy of him who is the enemy of Ali. May He love him, who loves Ali, and hate him who hates Ali. May He support him who supports Ali and let down him who lets down Ali". (Kanz al‑Ummal, vol. 6 p. 403).
This tradition has been handed down by 110 companions of the Prophet and is recorded in authentic books.
Besides this tradition, there are other sayings of the Prophet in which he referred to the leadership (Imamate) and succession (Caliphate) of other Imams. For example, he is reported to have said that the number of his successors would be twelve. (al‑Sahih by Muslim, vol. 1 p. 119 and al‑Sahih by Bukhari, vol. 4 p. 164). According to another tradition he once pointed to Husayn ibn Ali (P) and said:
"He is an Imam, son of an Imam, brother of an Imam and father of nine Imams". (al‑Minhaj by Ibn Taymiyyah, vol. 4 p. 210).
The traditions are largely accepted by all or most of the non‑Shi'ah Muslims also but they interpret them differently. For example, concerning the tradition of al‑Ghadir they say that in his speech the Prophet did not appoint Ali to be his successor, but only introduced him as a fit person to succeed him, subject to his selection by the people.
It is evident that on the basis of this interpretation also the net result is the same, for the founder of an ideology being the best judge of the level of the faith, knowledge and competence of his associates, and because of his love for and interest in the expansion and consolidation of the principles propounded by him, will naturally introduce only that person for the leadership of the society who is most fit for that position and most loyal to the cause dear to him.
As such, it is the duty of the people also to accept the person so introduced, and pledge their allegiance to him, if they are really loyal to the ideology and give it preference over their personal inclinations and desires. In fact at the time of the Prophet's demise the majority of the newly‑founded Muslim society consisted of neophytes who did not have deep knowledge of Islam. Their pagan nature had not undergone a total change, and they were not yet fully accustomed to new intellectual and social values. Hence, it was too early for the ummah to be in a position to use its discretion in the selection of its leader. The same is still the case even in many ideological societies of the 20th century.
Anyhow, a ruler appointed by the Prophet is both a leader and a ruler of the society like the Prophet himself. The society being ideological, naturally its head is expected to take measures to safeguard its ideological borders as well as to guide the people to mould their lives according to its principles.
According to a tradition what Imam al Sadiq (P) has said in this connection comes to this: A leader is a religious guide also. It is his duty to work for the progress and prosperity of the Muslims. Leadership is the basis as well as the principle of Islam.
Salat, Saum, Zakat, Hajj and Jihad are performed under the aegis of the appointed leader (Imam). Under him the public treasury expands and the injunctions of Islam, and its penal laws, are enforced. The frontiers become safe. (Usul al‑Kafi, vol. 1 p. 198 ‑ 205).
(3) Election by the people
This form of government is accepted by all Muslim sects, with the difference that the Shi'ah regard it as justified only during the occultation of the Imam of the Age. Otherwise the Shi'ah, give preference to those who were appointed or designated by the Prophet and the Imams. But according to the Sunnis immediately on the death of the holy Prophet, this form became the only right form of the government.
From the Shi'ah point of view, since the major occultation of Mahdi, the Imam of the Age in 329 A.H. no particular person has been appointed to be the Head and Leader of the Muslim ummah. That is why in the traditions related to leadership during this period only the general qualities and characteristics required to be possessed by a leader have been mentioned. This shows that it is up to the people themselves to choose a person as their leader, having those qualities and characteristics.
Main qualifications of a ruler during the period of occultation
(1) Faith in Allah, His revelations and the teachings of His Prophet.
The Qur'an says:
`Allah will never let the disbelievers triumph over the believers". (Surah al‑Nisa, 4:141).
(2) Integrity, adherence to the laws of Islam, and earnestness about their enforcement. When Allah told the Prophet Ibrahim (P) that he had been appointed the Imam and Leader, the latter asked whether anyone of his family would also attain that position: In reply Allah said:
`My covenant does not include the wrong‑doers". (Surah al‑Baqarah, 2:124).
The Prophet Daud (P) was told by Allah: "O Daud! We have made you Our ‑representative on the earth. Therefore judge rightly between people". (Surah Sad, 38:26).
(3) Adequate knowledge of Islam, appropriate to his prominent position.
"Is he who guides the people to the truth more worthy to be followed or he who does not guide unless he himself is guided?" (Surah Yunus, 10:35).
(4) Enough competence for holding such a position and freedom from every defect not in keeping with Islamic leadership.
(5) His standard of living being equal to that of the low‑income people.
In this connection there is enough material in the sermons of Imam Ali (P) and in the epistles he sent to his officials. In a number of epistles it has been emphasized that an administrative officer should be free from love of money, ignorance, inefficiency, outrage, timidness, bribery, and violation of Islamic injunctions and traditions and should not be guilty of shedding blood.
The commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (P) says:
"You should remember that it is most inappropriate that a person, under whose charge the honour, the life, the property and the laws of the Muslims are placed should be:
• A lover of money and consequently should attempt to mis‑appropriate the property of other people;
• An ignorant person and consequently should mislead them;
• An unreliable person with whom others do not like to have relations;
• Discriminative in his treatment and favouring the influential people only;
• Accepting bribe and deviating from the course of justice and law, disregarding the laws and divine traditions and thus injuring the interests of the ummah". (Nahj al‑Balaghah).
In his charter to Malik al Ashtar Imam Ali (P) said:
"You must strictly refrain from shedding the blood of the innocent. There is nothing more provocative, more catastrophic and more destructive than indulging in that". (Nahj al‑Balaghah).
Once Imam Ali (P) received a report that a certain commander of a town in Persia was corrupt and fond of wine and women. He immediately wrote a letter to him, in the course of which he said:
"A man of your character is not fit to be entrusted with the defence of the borders or to be allowed to issue any order. Such a man is not fit to be promoted and no confidence can be reposed in him". (Nahj al‑Balaghah).
By this very letter the Imam recalled the officer concerned and asked him to relinquish his post.
These qualifications of those who are appointed to a high
office, are the natural corollary of an Islamic government.
As we have already stated:
• The Muslim ummah is an ideological society;
• Islamic law is the basis of the administration of this society;
• It is the joint responsibility of all the people to see that this law is implemented.
• In many cases it is inevitable to set up a vast organiza tion for this purpose.
• As this organization, including its head, is set up with a view to realize the aspirations of Islam and to establish the system and the laws of this religion, it is necessary that its leaders and functionaries should be aware of these aspirations and should have faith in them. They should be honest, competent and efficient. Should they not have these qualifications, the basic aims and objects of the organization can hardly
Role of Shura and Bay’at
In this study we propose to deal with two questions namely consultation (Shura) and role of allegiance (Bay’at) briefly:
Role of consultation
In Islam consultation has an important role in connection with social questions.
(a) Administrative affairs
In the Qur'an the holy Prophet was commanded:
"Hold consultation with them in regard to the conduct of affairs". (Surah Ale. Imran, 3:159).
Describing the characteristics of the believers the Qur'an says: "Whose affairs are a matter of counsel". (Surah al‑Shura, 42:38).
In the life account of the holy Prophet we find many instances of his consultation with his companions. For example, on the occasion of the Battle of Badr when he received the report that the caravan of Quraysh had escaped and was beyond the reach of the Muslims, and that the well‑equipped enemy had moved from Mecca with the intention to fight, he consulted his companions as to the action to be taken. It was with their consent that he decided to join the battle. He made consultations on the occasions of the Battle of Ohad and the Battle of the Ditch also. When Imam Husayn Ibn Ali (P), while on his way from Mecca to Kufah, received the report of the martyrdom of Muslim Ibn Aqeel he consulted his companions whether he should continue his journey.
From such evidence we learn that the management of government affairs and social questions should not be despotic and dictatorial.
(b) Election of the ruler
Certain Muslim sects are of the opinion that the election of a ruler (or Head of the State) is dependent on the voting of men of integrity, knowledge, virtue, and sound judgement. (al‑Ahkam al‑Sultaniyyah by Mawardi pp. 5 ‑ 6).
There is a difference of opinion as to the number of the voters necessary to form an electoral council. Some people (like Ahmad Ibn Hanbal) are of the view that a meeting of all men of opinion among the Muslim ummah is necessary. Others think that a meeting of a lesser number is also enough. According to a certain sect, the competent persons only nominate someone as a candidate for the caliphate, but the real factor in determining his election is the vote of the people. This sect regards the pledge of allegiance as a vote and considers the vote of the majority to be enough. (al‑Shakhsiyyah al‑Dawliyyah by Muhammad Kamil Yaqut p. 463).
Our comments in this connection are briefly as follows:
In those cases in which there is no special evidence that the holy Prophet designated a particular person to be the Head of the State, it is the general duty of the Muslim society to elect an eligible candidate to enforce the Islamic injunctions in the best possible manner. As a head of the state or ruler he must have certain qualifications. It is the duty of those who influence public opinion to introduce such persons to the masses and prevent the nomination of every Tom, Dick and Harry.
Secondly, none of the electoral councils held since the demise of the holy Prophet aimed at the introduction of a nominee. They were always held for the purpose of election and appointment. Thirdly the pledge of allegiance by all other people did not amount to election. That was only a proclamation of their loyalty to the ruler elected or appointed by the council.
(2) Role of the pledge of allegiance
The pledge of allegiance is a sort of covenant of loyalty and obedience which is concluded with a new ruler, or in certain cases it is a renewal of a covenant already existing. In the latter case it amounts to a vote of confidence in the government in power facing some extraordinary situation.
Usually the pledge of allegiance is accompanied by giving hand to the ruler in token of an undertaking to give him full support in all battles of life.
On several occasions on which the Muslims took the pledge of allegiance to the Prophet, the undertaking they gave was quite definite. At Aqabah the representatives of the people of Medina undertook to support him against his enemies in any battle anywhere.
A special undertaking was included in the text of the pledge taken at Hudaybiyah, known as Bay'at al‑Rizwan. (Surah al‑Fath, 48:18). The same was the case with the pledge taken by the immigrant women. (Surah al‑Mumtahina, 60:12).
Anyhow, though a pledge of allegiance concerns the government affairs, it has nothing to do with the appointment of a ruler. It only means the acknowledgement of his power and influence by the person taking the pledge, who declares his loyalty to the ruler concerned.
We know that Islam has emphatically enjoined adherence to all covenants in more than 30 verses of the Qur'an. To live up to one's commitments is necessary for the maintenance of one's good relations with others. All agreements, whether they are at the limited level of the individuals, or are concluded between the ummah and the rulers or between the Muslim society and other societies should be respected. Anyhow a pledge of allegiance should not be construed to mean that loyalty is obligatory in all conditions. There are two pre‑requisites of the validity of a pledge: Firstly it should have been taken under proper conditions; and secondly the ruler must be abiding by the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and must not personally have done anything to make him unfit for holding his office.
Loss of eligibility to rule
If a leader of congregational prayers loses his integrity, he is no longer fit to lead prayers. If the guardian of a minor becomes mentally unsound, he will be removed from guardianship by the authorities concerned. We have already said that a ruler must have certain qualifications. If he loses these qualifications, for example, he becomes lax in his faith in Islam, infringes Divine laws, misappropriates funds out of public treasury, or governs tyrannically, in all these cases he is no longer fit to be the Head of a Muslim State.
However, the deposition of a ruler being a very grave matter affecting the interests of the whole nation, it must be thoroughly discussed at the meeting of a general assembly and the final decision in this respect should be taken by competent persons only. Everybody cannot express his individual opinion on such a vital question. Some authorities are of the opinion that the question of the deposition of a ruler should be decided only by the Islamic Legislative Assembly after due deliberations. (al‑Shakhsiyyah al‑Dawliyyah by Muhammad Kamil Yaqut).
According to the Shi'ah doctrine, this question cannot arise during the government of the Imams designated to Imam by the holy Prophet. According to the Shi'ah view all Imams are infallible and immune from every sin and slip. Their position is above that of ordinary integrity and purity. Anyhow, this question can arise even for the Shi'ah during the occultation of the designated Imam. In any case, the purity and fitness of the ruler is a vital question in the social system of Islam, and it is a big social duty of the Muslims to keep a constant watch over the activities of the rulers.
Caliphate and Imamate
Caliphate: Caliphate is another term signifying the supreme social and religious leadership. It also implies the question of the succession to the holy Prophet. A caliph is a person who, as a successor to the Prophet, assumes the leadership of the Muslims in regard to their secular and religious affairs.
The rulers who came to power after the demise of the holy Prophet invariably called themselves the caliphs, or successors to the Prophet, irrespective of the fact whether they were good or bad. The designation of Caliph continued till the downfall of the Ottoman Government in 1922.
The question of Caliphate has two aspects:
(1) Historical aspect in the sense that every Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman ruler, and even the Umayyads of Andalus, the Fatimid rulers of Egypt, and the rulers of several other dynasties, called themselves caliph of the Prophet and ruled under this designation. This is a historical fact and there can be no controversy about it.
(2) Legal aspect in the sense whether anyone of them was really fit to hold this position in accordance with the true standards of Islam, which were valid not only in those days but which are valid for all times. To deal with this aspect of the question, we have to go through a detailed discussion of the various questions related to the government:
Does the accession to the position of Caliphate depend on designation by the holy Prophet as is maintained by the Shi'ah in respect of the succession of the twelve Imams on the basis of authentic evidence?
Or is the question of succession to be decided by a council? If so, by which council and consisting of how many people? Does the opinion of the people decide the question of accession to Caliphate, or is their duty only to pledge their allegiance and to declare their loyalty?
For a person to accede to Caliphate is it enough to have been designated by the preceding caliph or is it necessary that this designation be ratified by a council or by a general election?
What are the conditions of the accession to Caliphate? Can a caliph be deposed? If so, by which authority? These are the questions which the Muslim scholars have discussed exhaustively in their detailed or short books.
Imamate: With the advent of the Prophet of Islam and the express declaration by the Qur'an that he was the last Prophet, the age of Prophethood came to an end. Now no new religion can be revealed. Islam is the last Divine religion. But still there are certain needs of the Muslim society which should be met, such as:
(1) All the functions of a ruler and a government, including the settlement of legal disputes and maintenance of law and order.
(2) Propagation of Islam and the expansion of the sphere of its social and governmental influence.
(3) Exposition of the Qur'an and the religious law.
(4) Constructive education of the people, in the sense that the imam being a model of all virtues and being free from all sins and faults sets a practical example and a standard of virtuous life. People can, without any hesitation, acknowledge him to be their leader and attain salvation under his guidance.
According to the Sunnis the first two duties are within the jurisdiction of the caliph. During the period of the companions of the Prophet, the third was also to some extent included among his functions, in the sense that his exposition of the Qur'an and the law was authentic. But in this respect he was not distinguished from other companions, because this function did not exclusively pertain to him.
As for the fourth function, especially at its full‑fledged level, they do not consider it to be a necessary qualification of a caliph.
In contrast, the Shi'ah believe that all these functions are combined in the person of an imam designated by the holy Prophet. Anyhow, the governmental functions, dispensing justice, and taking action to expand Islam through propagation and jihad, are possible only when the reins of governmQnt are actually in the hands of an Imam, otherwise when he does not have `a free hand', that is, he is not in power, he cannot practically perform these functions, though he possesses all the necessary qualifications and capabilities to do so.
As for the other two functions, they imply complete knowledge of Islam and moral leadership of the highest calibre. This is a position which can neither be assigned nor withdrawn, by anybody. It is not subject to voting or the issuance of an order. An imam has full knowledge of the Divine commandments and Islamic standards. He possesses all the virtues, and is the mirror of Islam. His knowledge and worth are an undeniable fact and a Divine gift. They are not conferred on him by any human being. To enable you to comprehend the Shi'ah logic in this respect let us quote a portion of the lengthy sermon of Imam al‑Riza (P) from Usul al‑Kafi, volume one.
• "Imamate is religious leadership. It entails the management of the affairs of the Muslim society and
improving and exalting the position of the Muslims.
• An Imam protects the Divine bounds; defends the Divine religion and invites the people to Allah by
means of logic, argument and good advice.
• An Imam is a trustee of the people appointed by Allah.
• He is His sign and His vicegerent on the earth.
• He is immune against all sins and free from all defects.
• He is peerless in his time. None can attain his position.
• No scholar can equal him.
• All virtues are manifested in him.
• He has many kinds of knowledge which cannot be polluted by ignorance.
• He is an indefatigable guardian of the ummah.
• He is the source of purity, piety, knowledge and devotion.
• He is truly fit to be a leader. He knows the intricacies of politics.
• He is infallible; enjoys Divine support and is free from every fault and slip.
• Allah has given him such a position that he is His sign to the people and a model of virtue and excellence".
In short just as the Prophet of Islam was elevated to the rank of Prophethood on account of his superior qualities, his successor also should at least be the second to Prophet.
In view of these basic criteria of the ruler and leader of the ummah, and in pursuance of what the holy Prophet said about the chiefship of Imam Ali (P), a number of prominent Muslims and well‑known companions of the Prophet seriously supported the selection of Ali (P) as the ruler immediately after the demise of the holy Prophet. They believed that he alone could lead, on correct lines and to its logical end, the movement started by the Prophet and advance to a fruitful stage for the deliverance of humanity from all anti‑God and anti‑man propensities.
This group of the supporters and followers of Ali (P) and the believers in the necessity of his rulership came to be known as Shi ah.
The word, Shi ah means a group of friends and followers. It is better if we quote the words of Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (P) in regard to the origin and interpretation of this word.
In one of his letters Imam Ali (P) says:
"This letter is from the servant of Allah ‑ Ali, Amir al‑Mo'minin to his Shi'ahs; and this name ‑ Shi'ah ‑ is the name which Allah adores, and has put it down in the Qur'an; Surely one of his (Noah's) Shi'ahs was Ibrahim (P).  And you are (in fact) the Shi'ah of the Prophet Muhammad (P)".
The Qur'an says:
"One of them belonged to his Shi ah (supporters) and the other an enemy". (Surah al‑Qasas, 28:15).
Here Shi'ah means a group of supporters.
There are certain sayings of the holy Prophet in which he referred to the Shi'ah of Ali (P).
Once he pointed to Ali (P) and said: "By Him in whose hands my life is, this man and his Shi'ah will be successful on the Day of Resurrection". (al‑Durr al‑Manthur ‑ commentary on the verse 7 of Surah al‑Bayyinah ‑ by Suyuti).
On other occasions also he used similar expressions. Such instances have been mentioned in Sawaiq al‑Aluhriqah by Ibn Hajar Shafi'i and in Nihayah by Ibn Athir.
Thus the Muslims from the Prophet's time were conversant with the idea that Ali (P) would be an Imam and would have followers who would be a model of true Muslims.
After the demise of the holy Prophet while the Hashimites and some of his other companions were busy in arranging his funeral, a group of the Muhajirs and the Ansar assembled at Saqifah to decide the question of Caliphate.
This group at last announced that Abu Bakr had been elected the ruler of the Muslim ummah. The Hashimites and some other companions refused to pledge their allegiance and openly criticized the decision. They held that Ali (P) was superior in every respect, and the holy Prophet had already hinted at his imamate. Imam Ali (P) himself said:
"By Allah! We are the most deserving of Caliphate, because we belong to the House of the Prophet. Among us there are people who understand the Qur'an, have enough knowledge of the Qur'an and the Sunnah and are conversant with the problems of the society. They defend the rights of the people against all violations and distribute wealth equitably. Such persons deserve to hold the reins of the government". (al‑Imamah wal‑Siyasah by Ibn Qutayba).
Some other companions of the Prophet, like Salman and Abuzar made similar statements in public and before. (Ibn Abil Hadid Mo'tazali vol. 2 p. 17 and Tarikh Ya'qubi vol. 2 p. 148).
But as the newly‑founded Islamic society was threatened by the danger of external enemies and internal hypocrites, Imam Ali (P) avoided to take action against the government and did not like to disrupt Muslim unity in those critical circumstances. He declined to accept the proposal of Abu Sufyan to declare himself to be the caliph and start a struggle and join fighting.
Anyhow, the question of the fitness of Ali (P) for Caliphate could not be shelved. A number of the companions of the Prophet stuck to this position. Gradually his supporters or the Shi'ah became a distinct body. Some scholars have collected, from various sources (e.g. Isabah, Usud al‑Ghaba, Isti'ab) 300 names of the companions who were Shi'ah.
The second caliph came to power on the basis of his nomination by the first. This added to the worry of the Hashimites and the close associates of Imam Ali (P). They apprehended that in future also, in contravention of the instructions of the Prophet, the caliphs would be appointed on the basis of their nomination by their predecessors.
The six‑member committee appointed by the second caliph, though it included Imam Ali (P), was formed in a way that he was left out, and Uthman was appointed to be the third caliph.
The foundation of the Umayyad power was laid in Syria during the time of the second caliph. Now as Uthman belonged to this family, the power of the Umayyads was further increased and consolidated. The administration of several other areas of the Muslim territory was handed over to the relatives of the caliph. Gradually justice and equality of Islam gave place to discrimination and partiality, and an oligarchical government was set up.
These events added to the resentment of the people and strengthened the Shi'ah movement. Abuzar, the wellknown companion of the Prophet was expelled from Medina because he criticized the rulers for their hoarding of money and mishandling of public property. He was continuously persecuted, till he died. Another companion, Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, who raised his voice against the expulsion of Abuzar earned the displeasure of the caliph. He was also harassed till his death.
At last the resentment of the people reached its boiling point. Some people revolted. Uthman was killed. Under the pressure of public opinion Imam Ali (P) became caliph. But it was too late.
The Umayyads, who were old enemies of Islam, were now appearing in the garb of the defenders of the faith and by means of their unlimited wealth and power had entrenched themselves in Syria and several other points of the Muslim territory.
A new class of aristocrats having huge income had sprung up. Naturally Imam Ali (P), who was dedicated to upholding justice and equality and doing away with paganism and corruption, could not put up with this situation.
He dismissed Mu'awiyah and restrained the aristocrats from playing with public treasury. Bat the resistance of the deviators and self‑seekers increased, and by and by three groups rose to fight against Imam Ali (P).
(1) The haughty aristocrats who instigated the Battle of the Camel. They were defeated, but this conflict cost the Muslims dearly.
(2) The Umayyads under the command of Mu'awiyah, the supporters of aristocratic and racist government and the revivers of despotic imperialism who caused the Siffin affair. When they were about to be defeated, they resorted to a ruse to stop fighting. Mu'awiyah was able to continue his unlawful government.
(3) The foolish pietists who during the Battle of Siffin were instigated to rise against Imam All (P). They caused the Battle of Nahrawan. During this struggle the way of Imam Ali (P) became distinct from that of others and all the good Muslims who liked him rallied round him.
After the martyrdom of Imam Ali (P), the field was open to the old enemies of Islam to do what they liked. The Umayyads were now masters of the whole Muslim world. They trampled on the Islamic principles and standards to the utmost possible extent. Their tyrannies and massacres, their open violation of the Islamic laws, their hostility to the Shi'ah and the members of the Holy Family, who were the champions of Islamic justice, and above all the tragedy perpetrated by them at Karbala, and the massacre at Medina a year later, made the position of the Shi'ah extremely difficult. But these events also galvanised the Shi'ah and turned them into a compact body, having as their distinctive feature two important doctrines in the Islamic and social fields. These doctrines of Imamate and justice were derived from the Book of Allah and the sayings of the Prophet and the Shi'ah regarded their observance as a pre‑requisite of being a perfect Muslim.
Doctrines of Justice and Imamate
According to the Shi'ah belief, one of the principles of the Islamic Faith is that of human freedom and responsibility and Divine justice with regard to the prescription of duties and the recompense and retribution on the basis of the deeds performed out of free will. The Shi'ah also believe in the setting up of a just system of the distribution of wealth, equal opportunities of employment and respect for the rights of all individuals.
The Shi'ah deduced the principle of justice from the fundamentals of Islam and wanted it to be observed both by the rulers and the ruled. But the rulers gradually propagated the philosophy of predestination. They wanted the people to believe that all their misfortunes were the outcome of a preordained fate, to which they had no alternative but to submit patiently. These rulers insisted that the people should exercise no free will, should make no efforts to change the existing situation and should not feel any responsibility towards the social events.
Further, the rulers maintained that their own actions should be interpreted on the basis of a sort of ijtihad. In other words it should be conceded that they had a right to have their own private opinions and could not be blamed even if they were wrong.
The Shi'ah strongly opposed this attitude. They declared that according to the teachings of Islam man was a responsible being who could exercise his will, that society was a product of human determination, and that changes in history could be brought about by the efforts of resolute and purposive men.
At the same time they put forward definite criteria of ijtihad so that every selfish and irresponsible opinion might not be termed as such.
Doctrine of Imamate
With regard to the Imamate and headship of the ummah the Shi'ah believe that:
Firstly, the head and the ruler of the Muslims should be a person, whose individual and social life may be the best model of the Islamic way of life. Not only his Muslim followers should be able to accept him as an object of imitation, but even the non‑Muslims may find in him and his leadership the best example of Muslim conduct.
Secondly, if it is known that Allah or His Prophet has designated a person to be the leader of the Muslims, he will automatically be given preference over all others. Our being obedient to Allah and His Prophet necessitates that we must not accept any Imam in the presence of one designated by them. There can be no doubt that to know the worth and capability of an individual there is no source more reliable than Allah and His Prophet.
Evil consequences of the infringement of this doctrine
(a) The violation of this doctrine culminated in the total collapse of the Islamic system of government. Gradually it took on the colour of hereditary despotism. In the name of Islam, paganism, egotism and feudalism of the Roman and Sasanid emperors were revived in a new form. Injustice and chaos prevailed and all‑round human development, freedom of thought, equitable distribution of wealth and the selection of competent persons for the administration of public affairs came to an end.
Lady Fatimah‑tuz‑Zehra (P), daughter of the holy Prophet in her last public address delivered before the Muhajirs and Ansar women, said:
"I wonder what characteristic of Ali displeased the people that they ceased to support him. By Allah! They did not like his sharp sword, his steady steps, and his strictness in the implementation of the Divine commandments. But by Allah! they themselves are the losers. People never suffered injustice under Ali. He always took them to the spring of justice and knowledge, and slaked their thirst".
Then she made the following forecast:
"What they have done is like a pregnant she‑camel. Wait till it delivers. Then you will draw from it a bowl of blood and deadly poison instead of milk. That is how the doers undergo a terrible loss and the coming generations reap the unlucky fruit of what their predecessors sowed. Rest assured that commotion and turmoil will overtake you. I warn you that you will be confronted with sword, coercion, chaos and despotic tyranny. Your property will be carried off as booty and your people will be threshed like ripe corn". 
(b) Muslims lost competent authority on Islamic knowledge
Those, who were the interpreters of revelation and the exponents of Islamic knowledge, were cast aside, while what the companions of the Prophet had learnt from him was limited. For a long time the caliphs did not pay attention to the recording of hadith. They even discouraged that.
With the expansion of the sphere of Islamic influence the needs and the problems of the society increased. In these circumstances there was the need of a reliable source fully aware of the spirit of the Qur'an to impart knowledge like the Prophet himself on a scale commensurate with the expansion of the Muslim world. Especially the need of a source above all suspicion of selfishness and serving the cause of any evil power was strongly felt.
Though such a source actually existed, unfortunately the Muslim society could not be benefited by it. On the other hand, the evil rulers, with a view to advance their own selfish ends, employed some prominent scholars and heavily bribed them out of public treasury to fabricate traditions in their interests and against those of their rivals. This false propaganda was rampant during the time of the Umayyads.
Anyhow, the Shi'ah never forgot the doctrine of Imamate, nor did they accept the validity of the evil governments. They continued to be guided by the traditions of the imams, for they knew that the Prophet had said:
"I am leaving two precious things with you: the Book of Allah (Qur'an) and my Progeny (Ahl al‑Payt). They will not be separated from each other". And that is no wonder, because an ideological school and its leader are not separable. Without a suitable leader there can be no certainty of its continuance.
Back to the main discussion
What we have said so far makes it clear that the Shi'ah do not believe in anything additional to the fundamentals of Islam and its teachings. In actual fact they are the upholders of true Islamic principles and advocates of a right and just government. It is significant that in their most serious clashes with the rulers of the time, these very objectives were always conspicuous. Let us mention a few instances: Ibn Ziyad said: "Ibn Aqeel, you are a bad man. The people of this city were living calmly. There was no disunity. You came here and provoked discord. You are instigating one group against another".
Muslim Ibn Aqeel said:
"No, that's not true. The people here believe that your father killed many pious and freedom‑loving persons out of them, and caused the blood to flow. He revived the traditions of Khusrow and Caesar. I have come to invite the people to justice and to the commandments of Allah". Ibn Ziyad said:
"Do you think you have a claim on this government?" Muslim said: "It's not a question of thinking. We're sure". 
During the imamate of Imam Husayn (P), Mu'awiyah received certain reports about him. He wrote a letter to him, warning him against creating trouble. In reply Imam Husayn (P) wrote a detailed letter to Mu'awiyah, enumerating many of his (Mu'awiyah's) crimes, including the killing of those who opposed his tyranny, and the innovations he had introduced in the religion. In the end Imam Husayn (P) wrote:
"You ordered your assignee (Ibn Sumayyah) to kill those who adhered to the religion of Ali, and he carried out your orders. You know well that the religion of Ali is the same as that of the Prophet. It is because of your using the name of this very religion that you are occupying your present position. You say that I should not create trouble. But I do not find any trouble bigger than your government. In these circumstances I think the best thing I can do is to fight against you". (al‑Imamah wal‑Siyasah vol. 1 p. 190)
Zayd ibn Arqam was shocked at the criminal treatment which was being meted out to the Prophet's family by the Umayyads. Once addressing the close associates of ibn Ziyad, he said:
"You people are no better than slaves. You killed the son of Fatimah and made Ibn Marjanah your ruler. He kills the pious, and he has enslaved you. You submit to humiliation. What an unlucky lot you are !" (Tabari)
In the course of all these encounters there was a talk of injustice, humiliation, slavery, manslaughter, trampling of the rights, and also of religious injunctions, rightful government and the supremacy (walayat) of the Holy Family. All this talk is purely Islamic.
It wants to defend only what is right and just, for that is what Islam connotes. In a wider sense it wants but to defend men and his humanity.
All these events took place before the insurrection of the Iranians against the Umayyads and their rallying round the Holy family. Hence the notion that Shia'ism is an Iranian invention is only fantastic. It is either a selfish distortion of history or a biased exaggeration of the Iranian role in the big changes in the history of Islam.
Historical investigation shows that the Iranians opposed the Umayyad government because of its injustice, tyranny and undue discrimination against the non‑Arab Muslims
The inception of the Safawid government in Iran and its wars with the Ottomans in the early 10th century also have nothing to do with the beginning and development of Shia'ism. The events and the movements of the early Islamic years and the philosophical and scholastic studies of the Shi'ah preceded the Safawids by centuries. Hence how can it be imagined that they had any hand in the development of Shia'ism?