Question: Assess the main achievements of the first four caliphs (632 to 661 AD). How powerful and united was the Arab Empire at the death of Ali? {1996}

Question: Assess the main achievements
of the first four caliphs (632 to 661 AD). How powerful and united was
the Arab Empire at the death of Ali? {1996}

Abu Bakr,, was the father-in-law of Mohammed
and was the first converts to Islam. After the demise of Mohammed, Abu

Bakar's main objective was to maintain the heritage of the prophet. However,
distance tribes refused to recognize Abu Bakr's authority as their treaty
relation was with the late Mohammed only. Thus after learning about
the death of Mohammed, their nomadic instincts recoiled at the prospect
of being subordinate to the men at Medina. These tribes refused allegience
to Abu Bakr, Mohammed's successor as they felt that they had no part in
electing him. This *repudiation is known as The Ridda or Apostasy. In fact,
many of the tribes involved had never formally adopted Islam and thus they
reverted to paganism soon after the death of Mohammed. In order to reassert
control over Medina, Abu Bakr sent Khalid, one of the pagan Korayish military
leaders Mohammed converted on entering Mecca, to reconvert these tribes.

He succeeded and the Arabs members, who were now convinced of the power
of the Medina, expanded his Moslem army. Khalid also launched a surprise
invasion eastward across the Euphrates and surrounded the provincial capital
of Hira. Being a Ummayad, Abu Bakr had political and military powers to
complement his religious authority and at the start of Abu Bakr's reign,
the Arabs were able to conquer the whole of the Middle East. In less than
a century, the mobile Moslems were able to successfully defeat the Byzantine
and in the entire fertile cresent.

At about 634, when Khalid was marching
into Damascus, Omar another Ummayad, succeeded Abu Bakr as the next Caliph.

Omar being more worldly and ambitious, asserted control over the raiding
armies and gain control over the independent and far flung army commanders
who were left to make their own decisions during Abu Bakr's reign.

Omar issued military orders to Khalid but
instead of attacking Damascus, Khalid was to gain control of the surrounding
territories and eventually, the Arabs plunderes as far south as Gaza in

Palestine. The battles in Palestine ended in Arab victories and with the
weakening of Damascus' power, it was conquered together with other major
cities of the northern region by 636 AD.

After the Persians' failed attempt to launch
an offensive to regain control over the Western Mesopotamia. The Moslem
army under the orders of Omar, counterattacked from the direction of Syria
and destroyed the Persian army. They then proceeded to capture the entire

Mesopotamia. Thus by 637, both Mesopotamia and Syria came under the Medina's

In 639, a Bedouin General named Amr was
sent to the frontier of Egypt with 4000 men and plundered across Eastern

Egypt to the Nile Valley. Thus in 642, Amr captured the Byzantine Capital
at Alexandria, but there was a brief recapture by the Byzantines
in 645 but a Moslem counterattack drove the Byzantines out of Egypt by


Caliph Omar also organised Syria and Mesopotamia
into a single province, while Egypt was to exist as another. Governors
appointed to rule the respective regions were Ummayads. In 640, Omar appointed

Muawiya as the governor of Syria-Mesopotamia and in 642, he appointed his
foster brother to administer Egypt. Although these governors owed their
loyalty to Caliph Omar but in reality, they had absolute powers therefore
they soon overtook Medina in importance.

In 644, a member of the small but
growing "Shites" sect murdered Omar.

Caliph Othman reigned from 644-655 A.D.

Although Othman like the earlier two caliphs, was an Ummayad, he was not
as competent as them. In terms of character, Othman was uninspiring as
he was cowardly, weak and guilty of Nepotism hence causing even more resentment.

During his reign, the resentment for the Ummayad clans by the other clans
intensified but the Ummayads continued to prosper at the expense of other
clans. Lesser wealth was now coming back to Medina as the areas of conquests
got smaller. Arab Expansion began to slow down during Othman's reign as
firstly there were no longer pressures on land among the Arabs. The Arabs
now have sufficient land and thus had little need to expand their territories.

Secondly, expansion was beginning to reach the natural boundaries such
as the high plateau and unfriendly populations of Persia and Anatolia i.e.

Eastern Turkey. Thus this gave the non-Ummayad Arabs more opportunities
to channel their energies into intrigue against the Ummayads. In 656, Caliph

Othman was assassinated