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The succession to Muhammad: a study of the early caliphate (book)

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The succession to Muhammad: a study of the early caliphate
Author Wilferd Madelung
Language English
Published 1998, UK
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Pages 432
Full text PDF version of the book

The succession to Muhammad: a study of the early caliphate, written by Wilferd Madelung, the Christian orientalist and researcher in Islamic studies. Using many sources, he has written the book about the succession of the Holy Prophet (s) and his true caliph. This book begins with the story of pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr and continues until the time of Marwanids.

The Author

Main article: Wilferd Madelung

Wilferd Ferdinand Madelung (born on December 26, 1930 in Stuttgart) is among the contemporary Islamic scholars. He received his PhD in Islamic studies in 1957 from the University of Hamburg.

Goal of Writing

Madelung mentioned his goal of writing the book to make reconsideration of most western historians' serious mistrust in Islamic sources of early Islam, which were called old myths and taking a new look at the analysis of these events based on the sources which are the closest in time to that period and his effort in making a balance between concision and loyalty to texts and traditions.


The author first takes a look at the issue of kinship in the Holy Qur'an and the role of previous prophets' (a) families in supporting the prophets (a) and preserving their heritage and makes this conclusion that based on the Holy Qur'an, natural successor of the Holy Prophet (s) could not be Abu Bakr. He writes that, "Insofar as the Qur'an expresses the thoughts of Muhammad (s), it is evident that he (s) could not have considered Abu Bakr his natural successor or have been pleased by his succession."

In the preface, Madelung mentions the viewpoints of two witnesses to the event, i.e. Aisha and 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas. His discussion is actually a reaction to the talks of those western researchers who have introduced the reports of these two based on prejudice and under influence of love and hatred and have considered what is to the favor of Shia among forgery of later periods.

Chapters of the Book

The book continues with four chapters and a conclusion:

  • Abu Bakr: the Successor of the Messenger of God and the caliphate of Quraysh. In this chapter, Madelung extensively discusses those events occurred in Saqifa Bani Sa'ida and the way of choosing Abu Bakr and other related events
  • 'Umar: Commander of the Faithful, Islamic meritocracy, consultation and Arab empire. In this chapter, the author mostly discusses the way of distribution of political power by 'Umar especially with regards to Banu Hashim and Imam Ali (a) and also mentions some important issues such as the killing of the caliph and the victories
  • 'Uthman: the Vicegerent of God and the reign of 'Abd Shams. The main discussion of the issues in this chapter is the grounds and issues related to the murder of the caliph which have been organized under the two sections of "the grievances against the caliph" and "crisis and revolt". In this chapter, the author also mentions other events of the time of 'Uthman as well
  • Ali: the counter-caliphate of Hashim. This chapter begins with the heading "Succession dispute and the battle of the Camel", the discussion about how Imam Ali (a) became caliph and the event of the Battle of the Camel and continues to discuss the event of Siffin under the title of "Mu'awiya and Siffin" and finally ends with the title of "Arbitration, Kharijite revolt, and end" under which he discusses about the events of the time of Imam Ali (a) and his martyrdom
  • Conclusion: Restoration of the Community and despotic kingship. In his conclusion, he discusses the way of pledging allegiance to al-Hasan b. Ali (a), Mu'awiya's approach for taking the power and the events of Umayyad period until the death of the first Marwanid caliph.


The book has seven excursuses as following:

  1. The Burial of Muhammad (s)
  2. Muhammad’s (s) Heritage: which discusses the issue of Fadak
  3. The Marriage of 'Uthman b. 'Affan
  4. Domanial Land in Iraq under 'Umar
  5. Notes on the Sources for the Crisis of the Caliphate of 'Uthman
  6. Musa b. Talha and the Umayyads
  7. The Marriages and Children of al-Hasan b. 'Ali (a)