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Islamic Monarchy - Abbasids, Military Rulers, Turko-mongol Ideals, Genghis (chinggis) Khan, Post-mongol Period

religious caliph ibn authority

The question of leadership in the Islamic world is a complicated one. Although until recently monarchies were the most common form of government, Muslim understandings of a ruler's role, qualifications, and relationship to religious and worldly authority have been the focus of intense discussion and have shifted radically since a very early period. Literally hours after the death of Muhammad in 632 C.E., disagreements arose about the identity, qualities, and selection of the caliph, or successor to the Prophet (Ar., khalifah). Although it was clear that the caliph should function as the political, military, and religious leader of the community, the method of choosing a caliph was ill-defined at first. Many felt that the caliph should possess special religious qualities, whether noteworthy piety, early conversion to Islam, or blood relation to Muhammad. But the first four caliphs—Abu Bakr (r. 632–634), 'Umar ibn al-Khattab (r. 634–644), 'Uthman ibn 'Affan (r. 644–656) and 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (r. 656–661)—all had varied reputations for piety and differing relations to Muhammad, and were chosen in four unrelated fashions.

It was only in 661 at the accession of Mu'awiya that the Umayyad caliphate (661–750) became the first Islamic dynastic and caliphal monarchy. Knowledge of the Umayyad family is difficult to extract from the generally negative portrayal of them in later historical sources, but one criticism of them did highlight the fact that they were considered by some to be temporal kings (Ar., muluk), not religious authorities. Although this charge is difficult to evaluate, it may be said that the Umayyads managed to restrict the caliphate to their own family, forming a dynasty of kings whose political and military authority was evident but whose religious authority may well have been in question.

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