Leadership through Unified Agreement
Throughout Muslim tradition, leaders were expected to be generous and
charismatic, and wisdom was valued over treasure, and these attributes instilled respect
within his followers. This notion of leadership was further cemented after Muhammad’s
death. The caliphate had come into existence by “the consensus of the men around
Muhammad” and the caliph was the chief executive of the umma.
The caliph was not a
religious leader but a leader of a religious community.
During the time of Muhammad
the method of unified agreement was practiced in order to decide the necessity and
position of the caliphate in general—this system was directly influenced by Muhammad
and therefore God. In turn, the Sunni method of succession most similarly and
successfully employs this method through their notion of an election committee, and is
therefore most representative of the ideal Islamic way.
History is not nearly as straightforward as this in deciding the most Islamic,
correct method for the succeeding rulers after Muhammad. The Muslim community
became divided into three forceful sects over this issue. The Kharijites believed that the
leader of the Muslim community could be any good Muslim, even a slave, provided he
has the community's support yet must live completely free from sin. The Sunni’s believe
that the caliphs are in charge politically and militarily but did not succeed Muhammad’s
Conversely, Shiite leadership of the Muslim community is vested in
the Imam who, though not a prophet, is the divinely inspired, religio-political leader of
the community, and most importantly, he must be the direct descendant of the Prophet
Muhammad and Ali.
The fundamental difference between Sunni and Shii Muslims is the
Shii doctrine of the imamate as distinct from the Sunni Caliphate.
While these Arabic-
speaking populations were united under a common language and a common kinship,
A Reader on Classical Islam
. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New
Jersey, 1994. 121
Ahmed, Akbar S.
I.B. Taurus, 1999. 44