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Calligraphy of Abu Bakr

Calligraphy of Abu Bakr



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Abu Bakr

Abu Bakr Abdullah ibn Uthman Abi Quhafa (Arabic: أَبُو بَكْرٍ عَبْدُ ٱللهِ بْنِ عُثْمَانَ ابي قحافة ‎ c. 573 CE – 23 August 634 CE) [note 1] was a companion and, through his daughter Aisha, [1] a father-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as the first of the Rashidun Caliphs.

Initially a rich and respected businessman, Abu Bakr later became one of the first converts to Islam and extensively contributed his wealth in support of Muhammad's work. He was among Muhammad's closest companions, [2] accompanying him on his migration to Medina and being present at a number of his military conflicts, such as the battles of Badr and Uhud.

Following Muhammad's death in 632, Abu Bakr succeeded in the leadership of the Muslim community as the first Rashidun Caliph. [3] During his reign, he overcame a number of uprisings, collectively known as the Ridda wars, as a result of which he was able to consolidate and expand the rule of the Muslim state over the entire Arabian peninsula. He also commanded the initial incursions into the neighbouring Sassanian and Byzantine empires, which in the years following his death, would eventually result in the Muslim conquests of Persia and the Levant. Abu Bakr died of illness after a reign of 2 years, 2 months and 14 days.


Short Biography of Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A)

Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.), popularly known as Abu Bakr, is the first Caliph after the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.). His full name is Abdullah bin Abu Quhafah Uthman bin Aamer Al Qurashi Al Taymi. His lineage joins with that of the Prophet (S.A.W.) six generations before himself, in Murrah Ben Kaab.

Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) was born in Makkah in the year 573 AD (Christian Era), two years and some months after the birth of the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.). Abu Bakr (R.A.) was brought up within his decent good parents, thus he gained a considerable self-esteem and noble status. His father Uthman Abu Quhafah accepted Islam on the Day of Victory in Makkah. His mother Salma bint Sakhar, also known as Umm Al Khair, embraced Islam early, and migrated to Madinah.

His physical appearance:

Abu Bakr (R.A.) was a slim white man with slight shoulders, thin face, sunken eyes, protruding forehead and the bases of his fingers were hairless. [As his daughter Aisha (R.A.) describe the physical appearance of her father Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.)]

Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) spent his early childhood, like other Arab children of the time, among the Bedouins. In his early years, he played with the camel calves and goats, and his love for camels earned him the nickname "Abu Bakr", meaning ‘the father of the camel's calf.’

In 591 AD at the age of 18, Abu Bakr (R.A.) went into trade and adopted the profession of cloth merchant, which was his family's business. He started his business with the capital of forty thousand dirhams. In the coming years Abu Bakr (R.A.) traveled extensively with caravans (camel train, series of camels carrying passengers from one place to another). Business trips took him to Yemen, Syria, and many other countries in the current Middle East. His business flourished and though his father was still alive, Abu Bakr (R.A.) came to be recognized as chief of his tribe because of his many qualities such as knowledge about the history of Arabs tribes (genealogical knowledge), politics, trade/business, his kindness and many other.

Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) was remarkably virtuous. Even before Islam, he had made intoxicants forbidden for himself. Once a person asked him:

Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) has never prostrated to idols. Once in a gathering of the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) and his Sahaba (Companions), Abu Bakr (R.A.) said:

Even before Islam, Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) obtained great values, high ethics, and good behaviors within the ignorant society. He was well-known among the people in Makkah as a leader over the others in morality and values. Thus, he had never been discarded or criticized for any deficiency among Quraish tribe.

His Acceptance of Islam:

Abu Bakr Siddq (R.A.) has accepted Islam after a long search for the true religion. In fact, Abu Bakr (R.A.) was the first man to respond and believe in Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.). His immediate acceptance for Islam was a consequence of the steadfast friendship with the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.). Abu Bakr (R.A.) knew the Prophet (S.A.W.) as a truthful, honest, and noble person, that he has never been untruthful to people, so how he would be untruthful to Allah?

When Abu Bakr (R.A.) embraced Islam, the Prophet (S.A.W.) was overjoyed, as Abu Bakr (R.A.) was a source of triumph for Islam, due to his intimacy with Quraish tribe and his noble character that Allah Has exalted him.

In fact, Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) had always doubted the validity of idolatry and had very little enthusiasm for worshipping idols. So when he accepted Islam, he did his best to attract other people to it. Soon Uthman bin Affan (R.A.), Abdul-Rahman bin Awf (R.A.), Talhah bin Ubaydillah (R.A.), Saad bin Abi Waqqas (R.A.), Al-Zubair bin Al-Awwam (R.A.) and Abu Ubaydah bin AI-Jarrah (R.A.) all flocked to join Mohammad (S.A.W.). The Prophet (S.A.W.) once said:

As the number of Muslims rose to thirty-nine, Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) asked the Prophet's (S.A.W.) permission to call the people openly to Islam. After persisting in this request, the Prophet (S.A.W.) gave his consent and they all went to the Makkah’s Holy Mosque (Kaaba) for preaching. Abu Bakr (R.A.) delivered a sermon which was the first ever in the annals of Islam. When the unbelievers among the Quraish heard it, they fell upon Abu Bakr (R.A.) and the Muslims from all sides. Abu Bakr (R.A.) was beaten so severely until he fell unconscious and was near death. When he at last regained consciousness, he immediately enquired: “How is the Prophet?” In spite of all his pain and injuries, his first thought was only for the Prophet (S.A.W.), his love for him was so unbounded that he considered himself with nothing but the Prophet's (S.A.W.) well-being.

His wife Qutaylah did not accept Islam and he divorced her. His other wife, Um Ruman, became a Muslim. All his children, except Abul Rehman, accepted Islam.

His Title “As-Siddiq” (The Truthful):

As-Siddiq, the most well-known of Abu Bakr's (R.A.) titles, comes from the word ‘Sidq’ which means truthfulness. Therefore, the word As-Siddiq means a person who is constantly truthful or who constantly believes in the truthfulness of something or someone. In Abu Bakr's (R.A.) case, in the truthfulness of the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.). The title 'As-Siddiq' was given to Abu Bakr (R.A.) by none other than the Prophet (S.A.W.).

When the Prophet (S.A.W.) and his Companions (Sahaba) suffered immensely from the harm of Quraish, the Prophet (S.A.W.) commanded his Companions to migrate to Madinah. As narrated by Aishah (R.A.) that the Prophet (S.A.W.) said to the Muslims:

The people of Makkah have noticed that the Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.) has got adherents and supporters in another place and they have noticed the migration of the Prophet's (S.A.W.) Companions. Fearing the departure of the Prophet (S.A.W.) from Makkah, they planned to kill him. Hence, the angel Gabriel informed Prophet (S.A.W.) to leave Makkah.

While the Prophet's (S.A.W.) house was besieged by a group of swordsmen from all the tribes of Makkah, he left his cousin, Ali bin Abi Talib (R.A.), in his bed, slipped unnoticed from the house, and departed with Abu Bakr (R.A.) in the early hours of the morning. Their journey from Makkah to Madinah was full of adventure. As soon as the besieging swordsmen discovered that they were tricked, they went in search of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and Abu Bakr (R.A.). A public prize of a hundred camels was offered to anyone who might find them. However, it happened that when they hid in a cave named Thaur (where they spent three nights), a spider spun its web at the opening of the cave, and a pigeon built its nest there. The swordsmen followed their tracks until they reached their hiding place, but, seeing the web and the early hours of the morning, they went home, telling everyone that further pursuit was fruitless.

The incident is described in the Al-Quran as follows:

His role in Battles of Badr and Uhud:

Badr was the first large-scale engagement between the Muslims and the non-believers of Makkah which took place on Badr, near Madinah, on 17th Ramadan, 2 AH (March 13th, 624 AD).


A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims

Abu bakr was the son of abu qahafa, and made his living as a merchant in Makkah. He accepted Islam after Khadija, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and Zayd bin Haritha.

It is said that Abu Bakr gave more material support to Muhammad than anyone else. In Makkah, he freed many slaves but there is no evidence that he gave any help to Muhammad. Muhammad, of course, did not want any help from Abu Bakr or from anyone else, but at one time in Makkah, his clan, the Banu Hashim, was in a state of siege for three years, and was in great distress.

There is no evidence that Abu Bakr made any attempt to relieve the distress of the beleaguered clan but there is evidence that several unbelievers brought essential supplies to it, and they did so at grave peril to their own lives.

When Muhammad was ready to migrate from Makkah to Yathrib, Abu Bakr offered him a camel. But Muhammad refused to ride the camel without paying its price. First he paid the price of the camel to Abu Bakr, and then he rode it.

Abu Bakr accompanied Muhammad in the journey, and was with him in the cave.

Abu Bakr's daughter, Ayesha, was married to Muhammad, and she was one of his many wives in Medina.

Dr. Montgomery Watt writes in his article on Abu Bakr in the Encyclopedia Britannia, Vol. I, page 54 (1973), as follows:

“Before the Hegira (Mohammed's migration from Mecca to Medina, A.D. 622), he (Abu Bakr) was clearly marked out as second to Mohammed by the latter's betrothal to his young daughter 'A'isha and by Abu Bakr's being Mohammed's companion on the journey to Medina.”

According to this article, these then were the two essential qualifications of Abu Bakr to become the “second” to Muhammad, viz. (1) his daughter was married to Muhammad, and (2) he traveled with Muhammad from Makkah to Medina!

Are the heads of states and leaders of nations chosen on the basis of qualifications like these? If they are, then Abu Bakr had no fewer than sixteen competitors for the throne of Arabia. There were at least sixteen other men whose daughters were married to Muhammad at various times one of them was Abu Sufyan himself, and two of them were Jews.

The second argument in this article is no less “forceful” than the first. According to this argument, Abu Bakr became the head of the state of Medina because once upon a time he traveled with Muhammad from one city to another – a truly remarkable exercise in “scientific logic.”

In Makkah, the Prophet had made Abu Bakr the “brother” of Umar bin al-Khattab in Medina, he made him the “brother” of Kharja bin Zayd.

At the siege of Khyber, Abu Bakr was given the banner, and he led troops to capture the fortress but without success.

In the campaign of Dhat es-Salasil, Muhammad Mustafa sent Abu Bakr with 200 other ranks under the command of Abu Obaida bin al-Jarrah to reinforce the troops of Amr bin Aas. The latter took command of all the troops. Abu Bakr, therefore, served two masters in the same campaign – first Abu Obaida and then Amr bin Aas.

There were many battles and campaigns of Islam but there is no evidence that Abu Bakr ever distinguished himself in any of them.

In the Syrian campaign, the Apostle of God placed Abu Bakr under the command of Usama bin Zayd bin Haritha.

The Apostle never appointed Abu Bakr to any position of authority and responsibility, civil or military. Once he sent him to Makkah as the leader of a group of pilgrims to conduct the rites of Hajj (pilgrimage). But after Abu Bakr's departure, the Apostle sent Ali ibn Abi Talib to promulgate, in Makkah, the ninth chapter of Al-Qur’an al-Majid (Surah Bara'ah or Immunity), the newly revealed message from Heaven. Abu Bakr was not allowed to promulgate it. Ali promulgated it.

The only other distinction of Abu Bakr was that just before the death of the Apostle, he led the public prayers.

Montgomery Watt

From 622 to 632 he (Abu Bakr) was Mohammed's chief adviser, but had no prominent public functions except that he conducted the pilgrimage to Mecca in 631, and led the public prayers in Medina during Mohammed's last illness. (Encyclopedia Britannia, Vol. I, page 54, 1973)

Some writers have claimed that Abu Bakr belonged to the “first Muslim family.” Probably, it means that all members of his family accepted Islam before all members of any other family did. But if the son and the father of a man are members of his family, then this claim cannot but be false.

Abu Bakr's son, Abdur Rahman, fought against the Prophet of Islam in the battle of Badr. It is said that when he challenged the Muslims, Abu Bakr himself wanted to engage him in a duel but was not allowed to do so by the Prophet.

Abu Bakr's father, Abu Qahafa, lived in Makkah. He did not accept Islam until Makkah surrendered to the Prophet in A.D. 630. Abu Bakr himself is said to have brought him before the Prophet, and it was only then that he accepted Islam.

The family all members of which accepted Islam before any other family, was the Yasir family. Yasir, his wife, and their son, Ammar, all three accepted Islam simultaneously, and they were among the earliest Muslims.

When Muhammad Mustafa, the Messenger of God, died, Abu Bakr (and Umar) did not attend his funeral. They went first to the outhouse of Saqifa, and then to the Great Mosque, to get and to count their votes. In the meantime, Muhammad had been buried.

When Abu Bakr took charge of the government, he did not allow the Muslims to observe a period of mourning at the death of their Prophet. There was neither a state funeral for Muhammad Mustafa, the Last and the Greatest Messenger of God on Earth nor there was any official or even non-official mourning over his demise. It appeared as if his death and his burial were matters of least importance in the psyche of his own companions.


Qur’anic History and the Role of Islamic Calligraphy

© User mrfiza | Shutterstock.com

Calligraphy is a fundamental element and one of the most highly regarded forms of Islamic Art.

The word calligraphy comes from the Greek words kallos, meaning beauty, and graphein, meaning writing. In the modern sense, calligraphy relates to “the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skilful manner.” 1 Islamic calligraphy is one of the most sophisticated in the world and is a visual expression of the deepest reverence to the spiritual world.

The Holy Qur’an mentions, with regard to the revelation of the Holy Qur’an “And we have arranged it in the best form.” 2

In this verse, the phrase “in the best form,” indicates the putting together of parts to form a strong, integral, consistent whole. Therefore, the Arabic word tartil is translated as a reflective, measured and rhythmic recitation. 3 The Islamic scholar Hafiz Fazle-Rabbi has elaborated that this word, when used in the context of writing, can refer to calligraphy, as a means of beautifying the writing. 4

It is narrated by Hazrat Amir Muawiya ra that the Holy Prophet Muhammad sa said, regarding the correct style of Qur’anic writing: “O Muawiya, keep the correct consistency of your ink under the inkpot, make a slanting cut to your pen, write the ‘Ba’ of Bismillah prominently, also sharply write the corners of the letter ‘Seen’, do not make an incorrect eye of the letter ‘Meem’, write the word Allah with great elegance, elongate the shape of the letter ‘Noon’ of the word Rahmaan, and write Raheem beautifully, and keep the pen at the back of your right ear so you will remember that.” 5

The act of calligraphy is intriguing in that it leaves a tangible trace of a physical act. But that written trace does not merely record an action. In some Muslim areas, calligraphy was actually considered to leave clues as to the calligrapher’s moral fibre. Indeed, the quality of the calligraphy was believed to hold clues as to the character of the calligrapher. The tools used in calligraphy: the paper on which it was written, the writing implements, the gold leaf used in illumination—all required a diverse set of skills. 6

Calligraphy holds, perhaps, pride of place as the foremost and most characteristic of the modes of visual expression in Islam. After years of practice, calligraphy becomes second nature to a master calligrapher. However, the dots always allow for a quick assessment as to whether or not the proportions are correct.

It is mentioned in Kanzul-Ummaal, (Treasure of the Doers of Good Deeds) as narrated by Saeed ibn-e-Sakina, that Hazrat Ali ra saw a person writing Bismillah and then said, “you have to write it in a beautiful manner, because if you do this, then Allah will bless and forgive you.” 7

The great Egyptian writer, Taha Hussein, once said: “Others read in order to study, while we have to study in order to read.” 8 His complaint was more than justified. The intricacies of calligraphy can take years to master.

In Praise of Calligraphy

Islamic calligraphy was not only acclaimed by the Muslim world, it was also considered a great artistic mode of visual expression.

Pablo Picasso was so inspired by Islamic calligraphy that he said: “If I had known there was such a thing as Islamic calligraphy, I would never have started to paint. I have strived to reach the highest levels of artistic mastery, but I found that Islamic calligraphy was there ages before I was.” 9

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, started his creative career inspired by geometry and the art of calligraphy. In his biography it was mentioned that calligraphy workshops influenced Apple’s graceful, minimalist aesthetic. These experiences, Jobs said later, shaped his creative vision. 10 Indeed, in his Stanford commencement address in June 2005, Jobs said: “If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.” 11

Martin Lings, also known as Abu Bakr Siraj ud-Din, was an English writer and scholar who also penned a biography of the Holy Prophet sa . His teaching has guided and inspired the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation in all its work with the sacred arts of the Holy Qur’an. Lings believed that the pinnacle of Islamic art was Arabic calligraphy, which transmits the verses of the Holy Qur’an into visual form. 12

Indeed, the history of Arabic calligraphy is inextricably linked with the history of Islam. There is also a close relationship historically between each Arabic script and its common usage. According to the history of written language, Arabic is only second to the Roman alphabet in terms of widespread usage today. 13

The great artist Pablo Picasso famously said, “If I had known there was such
a thing as Islamic calligraphy, I would never have started to paint. I have strived to reach the highest levels of artistic mastery, but I found that Islamic calligraphy was there ages before I was.” Paolo Monti | Wikpedia Commons | Released under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0

Pre-Islamic Arabs relied heavily upon oral traditions for the retention of information and for communication. Later, calligraphy became an invaluable tool for communication.

The Alphabet Family Tree

It is very hard to trace the origins of Arabic script, but there is evidence that it was very well-known to the Arabs in Arabia although they did not widely use the script and actually depended instead on verbal and oral traditions. It is believed that the recent Arabic Script was most likely developed from the Nabataean script, which was itself derived from the Aramaic script. It should be noted that all of these Semitic languages (Phoenician, Canaanic, Aramaic, Nabataean, etc.) were not more than slang versions of Arabic which had become separate languages with the passage of time due to limited communication with central Arabia. But Arabia preserved pure Arabic, especially in remote areas. The most interesting and mysterious phenomenon was that Arabic was an incredibly rich language, in stark contrast to the primitive Arabs who used it, indicating that they themselves did not create the Arabic language. This phenomenon supported the theory that the language was not man-made but actually a result of divine revelation. Arabia provided the perfect environment to preserve it because it was less influenced by external factors, unlike other parts of the world. While the Arabic language is very ancient, it was not known to be a written language until perhaps the third or fourth century C.E. Some studies claim that the written scripts of Arabic were known much earlier, around 2500 B.C., but on a smaller scale, as the Arabic language at that time was exactly the same Arabic at the advent of Islam.

Bearing in mind that all of the Semitic civilisations in Levant and ancient Iraq were Arab civilisations, and had been inhibited by Arabs since time immemorial, it is hard to identify exactly when and where the Arabic alphabet originated.

Comparison of letter forms in Nabatean, Arabic, Syriac, and Hebrew. en.wikipedia.org | Released under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0

History, then, suggests that it was not Muslims who created the alphabet at the time of the advent of Islam due to the needs of the time. The very fact that the Holy Qur’an was recorded and successfully disseminated in Levant and Iraq without any language barriers posing problems, at the time of the Holy Prophet sa and then the Caliphs after his demise, proves that the Arabic language and alphabet predated them.

However, while there is solid evidence that the Arabic language and script are quite ancient, the accuracy of tracing the history of this rich language is very difficult especially due to the biased studies and research of many orientalists and scholars who vehemently tried to deny the existence of the Arabs as a nation due to their distinct enmity towards Islam.

The Early Development of Arabic Scripts

If we look into the history of the Arabian Peninsula and the origin of the Arabic language, archaeologists have found inscriptions that show a close relationship between Arabic scripts and some earlier scripts such as the Canaanite, Aramaic and Nabataean alphabet, that were found in the north of the Arabian Peninsula. These inscriptions were dated as far back as the 14th century B.C.E.

Arabic Musnad

The first Arabic script, Arabic Musnad, which probably developed from the above-mentioned languages, does not possess the cursive aesthetic that most people associate with modern Arabic scripts. Discovered in the south of the Arabian peninsula in Yemen, this script reached its final form around 500 B.C.E. and was used until the 6th century. It did not look like modern Arabic, as its shapes were very basic and resembled the Nabataean and Canaanite alphabets more than the Arabic shapes. 14

During the sixth and seventh centuries, the revelation of Islam had a major impact on the development of Arabic calligraphy. The Arabic alphabet is written from right to left like Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and other scripts from the same linguistic family.

Early Calligraphic Script: Al-Jazm

The first form of an Arabic-like alphabet is known as the Al-Jazm script, which was used by northern tribes in the Arabian Peninsula. Many researchers think the roots of this script originate from the Nabatean script, and yet the early Arabic scripts also seem to have been affected by other scripts in the area, such as the Syriac script.

A panel showing ancient Arabic Musnad script dating back from around 700 B.C.E. around Yemen.
User Jastrow | en.wikipedia.org | Public domain work Funerary inscription about the pre-Islamic poet Imrul-Qays, ca. 328 C.E.
Wikimedia Commons | Released under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0

The Al-Jazm script continued to develop until the early Islamic era in Makkah and Madinah in the west of the Arabian Peninsula.

In the first Islamic century, the art of calligraphy was born. The first formal scripts that emerged were from the Hijaz region of the Arabian Peninsula, most possibly from the city of Madinah. Those are early “Kufic” Qur’anic scripts and with a stately verticality and regularity in them called ma’il.

Other scripts, such as the Mukawwar, Mubsoott, and Mashq scripts, did not survive the progression of Islam, even though they had been used both before and during the early days of Islam. 15

An example of Al-Jazm script.

Other Known Early Islamic Scripts

Over the course of their development, different Arabic scripts were created in different periods and locations.

For example, before the invention of the Kufi script the Arabs had several other scripts, the names of which were derived from their places of origin, such as Makki from Makkah, Hiri from Hira and Madani in Madinah.

It has been narrated by Abu Hakima Abdi, that he used to write various books in Kufi. Once, Hazrat Ali ra should say after, fourth successor to the Holy Prophet sa saw him while he was writing, and said: “Try to write boldly and in a prominent manner, also try to make your pen beautiful,” so Abu Hakima cut his pen and started writing again. Hazrat Ali ra continued to stand beside him and then said “use the best ink with the writing pen and make the writing beautiful just as Allah has revealed his beautiful message.” 16

Tumari was another script, which was formulated by the direct order of Muawiya, and became the royal script of the Ummayad dynasty.

Kufi Script

Kufi was invented in the city of Kufa (currently in Iraq) in the second decade of the Islamic reign, taking its name from its city of origin and, as mentioned earlier, was derived from an earlier script call Ma’il.

Kufic script from the 9th-10th centuries. User 50 Watts | Flickr.com | Released under CC BY 2.0

As a calligraphic historian, the problem remains of identifying calligraphy without dated, signed specimens. While we have the names of scripts such as Mukawwar, Mubsoott, Mashq, Jalil, Ma’il, etc., there is no way to definitively link them to known examples.

In the early stages of its development, the Kufic script did not include the dots that we know from modern Arabic scripts. If we examine Kufic script inscriptions, we notice particular characteristics such as angular shapes and long vertical lines. In addition, the script letters were wider originally, which made writing long content more difficult. Still, the script was used for the architectural decoration of buildings, such as mosques, palaces and schools. 17

The grand impression in the Dome of the Rock is one example of early Arabic script—this monument, with the earliest examples of Qur’anic script and which was created only seven decades after the Hijra, was inspirational.

Kufic script from the Holy Qur’an, 11th century. Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art.

The Kufic script continued its development through different dynasties, including the Umayyad (661 – 750 C.E.) and Abbasid (750 – 1258 C.E.) dynasties. On this page, are some examples of Kufic scripts and their different developmental stages:

During the third century, the whole structure of calligraphy in the Islamic domains changed dramatically. Qur’ans were copied in huge numbers with various degrees of artistic skill. The thick, straight, flat Qur’anic scripts were introduced. Once paper was introduced, the use of parchment and vellum died out, along with their characteristic scripts.

Islamic Dirham from the Abbasid period with Kufic scripts on both sides.
Hussein Alazaat | Flickr.com | Released under Creative Commons BY 2.0

When the Dome of the Rock was restored by the order of the Caliph Al-Ma’mun (reigned 813-833 C.E.), a barely visible narrow belt of inscription was added in Thuluth script. This was eventually to become the most important script in calligraphy.

The Baghdad Period

For the historian, facts were better documented at the beginning of the 10th century C.E. Baghdad became the greatest city in terms of art, knowledge and sciences related to Islamic calligraphy. In the over 500-year-history of the Abbasid Caliphate, this city saw the emergence of the art of calligraphy as a fine art and the rise of the great founding teachers, admirers and their followers.

Ma’mun’s vizier Umar ibn Musida stated, in praise of Arabic calligraphy: “The scripts are like a garden of the sciences. They are a picture whose spirit is elucidation. The body is swiftness. The feet are regularity. Its limbs are skill in the details of knowledge. Its composition is like the composition of musical notes and melodies.” 18

Pioneers of Islamic Calligraphy and Writing

Writing was very important during the early years of the evolution of Islam.

Some of the captives of the Battle of Badr could not afford to pay ransom to be freed but they could read and write. The Prophet sa told them that they would be freed if they each taught ten Muslim children to read and write. This was beneficial for both the captives and the Muslims. As a result, the captives taught the Companions to read and write in a very short time. By virtue of this initiative, the number of those who were literate in Madinah increased tremendously. 19 Among them was Zayd bin Thabit ra , who became one of the primary scribes to write down revelations to the Holy Prophet sa and worked on compiling the pages of the Qur’an. Although only a child at the time, the Messenger sa of Allah appointed him to write down revealed verses, which allowed him to later fulfil the duty of the compilation of the Qur’an, enabling the Qur’an to be formatted in the book we see today. 20

Now in a very brief introduction, I will consider three major calligraphers’ work and their contribution to Islamic calligraphy.

Abu ‘ali Muhammad Ibn ‘ali Ibn Muqlah Shirazi hailed from Iran and was a statesman, poet, and calligrapher living in the late 9 th century. In addition, he served as the vizier, or prime minister, several times under the reign of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad.

Letter proportions in Arabic calligraphy
Jessica Bordeau | Smashing Magazine | Released under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0.

One of his most important contributions to calligraphy was recognising that a system of proportion was needed that would allow people to easily copy and replicate scripts, while also making them easier to read and more elegant. His first script, therefore, obeyed strict proportional rules. In his system, the dot that we know today was used for measuring the proportions of the lines, and a circle with a diameter equal to the alif’s height as a measuring unit for letter proportions.

Ibn Muqlah’s system was incredibly important in the standardising of the cursive scripts. Moreover, his system made prominent cursive styles of writing, making them acceptable—and even worthy—for use in the writing of the Holy Qur’an.

Proportions in Arabic calligraphy.
Jessica Bordeau | Smashing Magazine | Released under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0.

Three elements together form the basis for proportion in Arabic calligraphy. The first is the height of the alif, which is a vertical, straight stroke that can comprise of between three to twelve dots. The second element pertains to the width of the alif, which is formed when the calligrapher presses the tip of their pen to the paper. The square impression left on the paper determines the width of the alif. The final element consists of the hypothetical circle that could be drawn around the alif, with the alif as its diameter. All Arabic letters should fit within this circle.

Ibn Al-Bawwab

Ibn al-Bawwab was an Arabic calligrapher and illuminator of the 11 th century, and lived in Baghdad. He came from a common lineage and was a craftsman in his youth. In time, he also became an important religious figure. It is possible that that he was the first really significant artist in Islam. A skilled painter, he also pursued his artistic talents by both writing the scripts and illuminating his own works, which was rarely done by calligraphers of the era. Not only did he refine the methods of Ibn Muqlah, he also taught many students and is believed to have produced at least 64 written and calligraphied copies of the Qur’an.

The Ibn al-Bawwab script at Chester Beatty Library is the earliest example of a Qur’an in a cursive script.

In addition, Ibn al-Bawwab also was credited with the invention of both the Muhaqqaq and Rayhani scripts. Because of the consistency and beauty of the scripts, those penned by Ibn al-Bawwab were considered quite valuable and were sold for high prices even while he was alive. Working in all six styles, he is considered to have improved all of them, especially the Naskh and Muhaqqaq scripts.

Ibn al-Bawwab brought an elegance to Ibn Muqlah’s system and, while retaining the mathematical accuracy and precision of Ibn Muqlah, added artistic flourish and flair to the system. In this way, he was in part responsible for promulgating the contemporary method, in which the script maintains internal proportion by using the dot—made by the proper pen for the script—as the unit of measurement. Although Ibn al-Bawwab is said to have penned a large number of secular works in addition to the copies of the Qur’an he produced, only fragments of his secular work remain. As far as his Qur’ans, only one—written in the Reyhan script—has survived, which is in the Chester Beatty Collection in Dublin, Ireland.

Yaqut al-Mustasimi

The third great calligrapher was Yaqut al-Mustasimi, from the thirteenth century, also from Baghdad, who was a slave in the house of the last Abbasid caliph, al-Mustasim Billah.

An example of Thuluth script thought to be by Al-Mustasimi.

The caliph was so inspired by his work that he gave his surname to him so that when, in the future, people praised his work, they would also remember him.

It is said that he wrote 364 written copies of the Qur’an. He transformed calligraphy yet again, bringing even more elegance to Ibn al-Bawwab’s method. Moreover, his “seven students”—the most famous seven of the many that he taught—are said to have disseminated his style (and their own versions of his style) far and wide, thereby making it the new standard. Unlike with Ibn al-Bawwab, he has left a multitude of authenticated works to study.

Committed to his work during the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258, he took refuge in the minaret of a mosque so he could finish his calligraphy practice. Several copies of his work still exist and are highly prized by collectors.

Other New Scripts

Around 1500 C.E, nearly two hundred years after Mustasimi, Turkish calligraphers invented a style called Diwani which was rather difficult to read. In order to set governmental or ministerial documents apart from ordinary documents, they made this script the official script of the Ottoman sultans. The other invention of Turkish calligraphers was a beautiful and decorative shape of twisted letters called Tughra, which was used to form the name of the Ottoman emperor, and was employed to authenticate the Sultan’s orders. It was used essentially as a seal or signature.

After the invention of Kufi script in Kufa and the spread of it throughout the Muslim world, the western part of the Islamic world did not experience any equivalent developments on par with the eastern area.

The western region in the Islamic world, including the whole of North Africa, used to be called the Maghreb, consisting of modern Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and even Spain.

It appears that a cultural separation occurred between Maghreb (west) and Mashregh (east) in the Islamic world. This separation is quite visible in terms of calligraphic development. So we have a beautiful Kufi script called Maghrebi Kufi and others, called Kairouani, Sudani and Fasi.

Six Major Scripts

Kufi (Place of development)

Deewani (Writing of the Court)

Ta’liq (Hanging style script)

Kufic Script

The Kufic script is derived from the Hijazi Script, whose origin may be traced to Hirian, Nabatean and Ma’il, and as mentioned above, derives its name from the city of Kufa in Iraq.

Kufic is noted for its proportional measurements, angularity, and squareness. Kufic is one of the earliest styles to be used to record the word of God in the Qur’an. One of the early Kufic inscriptions can be seen inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Ceramic bowl decorated with calligraphy. User Mocost | Flickr.com | Released
under Creative Commons BY 2.0

During the first three centuries of the Islamic period (7th-9th century C.E.), the Holy Qur’an was written and recorded in Kufic script.

Plaited Kufi script.
Library of Congress, African and Middle Eastern Division.

Thuluth Script

The name “Thuluth” (meaning “a third” in Arabic) refers to this style because one-third of each letter slopes and because it refers to the width of the pen used to write the script.

This script is called the king of calligraphy it was first formulated in the 7th century C.E. and fully developed in the 9th century. Thuluth is a more imposing and impressive style. Not often used for long texts or the body of a work, it most suited titles or epigrams. As it evolved over the centuries, examples of its many forms can be found on architectural monuments of all sorts.

Naskh Script

Naskh means “copy” in Arabic. It is one of the earliest scripts, redesigned by Ibn Muqlah in the 10th century C.E., using the comprehensive system of proportion mentioned above. It is noted for its clarity in reading and writing, and was used to copy the Qur’an. In contrast to the Thuluth script, Naskh script would be used in longer body text.

Diwani Script

The name of this script derives from “Diwan,” the name of the Ottoman royal chancery. Created by Housam Roumi, this script was used in the courts to write official documents (as mentioned above) and reached the height of its popularity under Suleyman I the Magnificent in the sixteenth century.

Developed during the 16th century, it reached its final shape in the 19th century.

An example of Diwani script. Jessica Bordeau | Smashing Magazine | Released under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 Diwani script.
User cactusbones | Flickr.com | Released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0. Another example of Diwani script. Mehmet Izzet al-Karkuki | Public Domain

Ta’liq Script

Ta’liq means “hanging” and refers to the shape of the letters. It is a cursive script developed by the Persians in the early part of the 9th century. It is also known as Farsi (Persian).

The letters are rounded and have a lot of curves. While this makes it less legible, the script is often written with a large distance between lines to give more space for the eye to identify letters and words.

Nasta’liq Script

The Nasta’liq is a refined version of the Ta’liq script. Nasta’liq is the most popular contemporary style among classical Persian calligraphy scripts. Indeed, it is known as “bride of the calligraphy scripts.”

Shekasteh script

In the 17th century a more cursive form of Nasta’liq was produced called Shekasteh.

Riqa Script

The word Riqa means “a small sheet,” which could be an indication of the medium on which it was originally created. The Riqa style of handwriting is the most common type of handwriting. It is known for its clipped letters composed of short, straight lines and simple curves.

Riqa is a style that has evolved from Naskh and Thuluth.

Other Calligraphic Styles

Signature of an Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magni cent. metmuseum.org.

Tughra was used by the Ottoman sultans as their signature. It was supposed to be impossible to imitate. For this reason, then, the tughra was often used as a stamp of authority and the royal emblem of the sultan. The genius of the tughra was that it was difficult to forge, and that meant that it could be used to authorise and legitimise anything from royal decrees to official coins of the realm. The official emblem would often include the name of both the sultan himself, and that of his father, along with the phrase “eternally victorious.”

These calligraphic symbols were so difficult to make that they required a special artist, employed by the court, to design and execute the tughra. An illuminator would then add colour, scroll designs and gold leaf, essentially “decorating” the tughra.

From the use of the first tughra in 1324, these forms became increasingly ornate and elaborate. The tughra shown above belonged to the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-566). It contains three vertical shafts and a number of concentric loops in complex, graceful, flowing lines.

Be sure to read the second part of this series next month in our July edition.

2.Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Furqan, Verse 33.

5.Allama Ala wud Din Ali Bin Husam ud Deen, Kanzul-Ummaal, (Treasure of the Doers of Good Deeds), p486 and ref. no. 29566.

7.Allam Ala wud Din Ali Bin Husam ud Deen, Kanzul-Ummaal, p486 and ref no. 69558.

9.Jurgen Wasim Fremgen, The Aura of Aliph: The Art of Writing in Islam, (New York: Prestel, 2010).

10.Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011).

13. Yasin Hamid Safadi, Islamic Calligraphy, Thames and Hudson, London, 1979

16.Allama Ala wud Din Ali Bin Husam ud Deen, Kanzul-Ummaal, p.486 and ref no. 29559.


Calligraphy: Layout of the Hilya

The hilya or “adornment” is a calligraphic portrayal of the Prophet according to a traditional Arabic account of his physical appearance.Ý This brief description, most commonly in the version of Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law `Ali, begins with a simple and straightforward physical description, stressing his normal yet highly attractive appearance. It then moves into impressions of his character and his charismatic personality eulogies and praise of the Prophet are customarily added to this account. The Prophet’s illiteracy, a characteristic mentioned at the conclusion of these texts, is regarded as a sign of the miraculous character of the Qur’anic revelation. He is also referred to here as the Seal of the Prophets, an expression taken from the Qur’an (33:40), which is commonly understood to mean that he is the final messenger sent by God to humanity. At least since the 16th century, Muslims in the Ottoman Turkish regions have expressed their devotion to the Prophet by making exquisite calligraphic copies of this text, hanging them in their homes and workplaces in places of honor.

This remarkable example of Islamic art indicates one way in which believers approach the Muhammad of faith.Ý As an artistic creation, it is a calligraphic icon that represents the physical person of the Prophet without crossing over into a visual portrait. Many Muslims used this artifact as a devotional aid. According to a saying of Muhammad recorded in one of the standard collections, ìFor him who sees my hilya after my death it is as if he had seen me myself, and he who sees it, longing for me, for him God will make Hellfire prohibited, and he will not be resurrected naked at Doomsday.î Although there are miniature paintings depicting Muhammad in some medieval manuscripts, those tended to be produced privately for elite patrons, rather than as public religious art such as one sees in Christian churches. Muslims have largely rejected the representation of human and animal forms in deliberately religious art. But calligraphy, ideally suited to transmitting the word of God in a beautiful physical form, was the religious art par excellence in Muslim cultures. In this way, it was possible to have a symbolic reminder of the presence of the Prophet Muhammad without creating any kind of “graven image” that would be unacceptable to Muslim sensitivities. For those who revere the Muhammad of grace, the historical details of his life and his legal pronouncements are of less interest than his beauty and his compassion for those in need.Ý There is an immense literature on the subject of the physical appearance of the Prophet, stressing his remarkable beauty, and in the process creating legends of his miraculous deeds.Ý

Typically, the description of Muhammad is contained within a main circular disk that is the heart of the composition, which frequently has a slim lunar crescent surrounding the circle, recalling the description of the Prophet as the primordial light of the world. Four smaller disks containing the names of Muhammad’s principal successors remind the viewer of the role of tradition in transmitting his legacy. In a section at the top in large letters are the words “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” the phrase that begins nearly every section of the Qur’an. Highlighted below the text is a phrase from the Qur’an in which God announces the universal role of Muhammad: “We only sent you as a mercy for creation” (Qur’an 21:107), or “Truly, you are great in character” (Qur’an 68:4). The framing of this description by Godís words, proclaiming the cosmic role of the Prophet, signals the unique spiritual position that Muhammad holds. The section at the bottom of the composition contains the portion of the hilya text that spills over from the disk above, followed by prayers and blessings on the Prophet, together with the signature of the calligrapher.

Rasheed Butt, a master calligrapher from Pakistan, has adapted the characteristic Ottoman form of the hilya with his own innovations.ÝStylistically, he combines brilliantly colored floral decoration with extensive use of gold leaf in clouds outlining the calligraphy, and he favors a symmetrical circular outline to the main disk in place of the lunar crescent.Ý The calligraphy of the Arabic text follows the classical naskh and nasta`liq styles, with long and graceful lines. But it is in terms of content and overall design that Rasheed Butt has made dramatic new contributions. Noting that there are other contemporary descriptions of the Prophet’s physical appearance besides that given by `Ali, Rasheed Butt has introduced the use of two such additional texts, sometimes as independent compositions, but also in double or triple compositions on a large scale.

The two hilya compositions on display here include one single hilya and one double composition.Ý The single hilya contains the text of the description of the Prophet according to a Bedouin woman named Umm Ma`bad, the circumstances of which are explained in a charming story.Ý When Muhammad and his close companion Abu Bakr left Mecca in 622, they were on their way to Medina, where Muhammad had been invited to become the leader of the city.Ý When they stopped by the tent of Umm Ma`bad, she wanted to offer them hospitality, but she told them that her goats were giving no milk because of drought.Ý When the Prophet offered to milk one of her goats himself, she readily agreed, and to her amazement the goat produced abundant milk.Ý After the departure of Muhammad and Abu Bakr, her husband arrived, and she related the story of her remarkable visitor, including a description of the Prophet’s appearance, which is used both in the single hilya and alongside the description by `Ali in the double hilya.Ý The context makes it clear that the important part of this story is the compassion of the Prophet, both in providing sustenance to the Bedouin woman and in relieving her of the embarrassment of not providing hospitality to a stranger.

Text of single hilya, account of Umm Ma`bad

Top section: “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”

Upper text circular area is surrounded by four small disks containing the names of the first four Caliphs or successors to the Prophet Muhammad, i.e., Abu Bakr (upper right), `Umar (upper left), `Uthman (lower right), and `Ali (lower left). Each disk contains in small letters the blessing, ìMay God be pleased with him.î

Upper text translation:

Umm Ma`bad, describing the messenger of God (may God bless him and grant him peace), said, “I saw a man, pure and clean, with a handsome face and a fine figure. He was not marred by a skinny body, nor was he overly small in the head and neck. He was graceful and elegant, with intensely black eyes and thick eyelashes.Ý There was a huskiness in his voice, and his neck was long. His beard was thick, and his eyebrows were finely arched and joined together.Ý When silent, he was grave and dignified, and when he spoke, glory rose up and overcame him.Ý He was from afar the most beautiful of men and the most glorious, and close up he was the sweetest and the loveliest.Ý He was sweet of speech and articulate, but not petty or trifling. His speech was a string of cascading pearls, measured so that none despaired of its length,

Middle section: “We only sent you as a mercy for creation” (Qur’an 21:107). This verse, in which God addresses the Prophet Muhammad, is a fundamental Qur’anic statement about the universal role of the Prophet.

Lower text translation (continues from above):

“and no eye challenged him because of brevity. In company he is like a branch between two other branches, but he is the most flourishing of the three in appearance, and the loveliest in power.Ý He has friends surrounding him, who listen to his words.Ý If he commands, they obey implicitly, with eagerness and haste, without frown or complaint.îÝ May God bless him and grant him peace.Ý God, pray for and grant peace to Muhammad, your servant, your Prophet and your messenger, the illiterate Prophet, and to his family and companions, and grant him peace. Written with the grace of God Most High by Rasheed Butt, may God forgive him.

Text of double hilya

Left side, account of Umm Ma`bad

Top section: “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”

Upper text circular area is surrounded by four small disks containing the names of the first four Caliphs or successors to the Prophet Muhammad, i.e., Abu Bakr (upper right), `Umar (upper left), `Uthman (lower right), and `Ali (lower left). Each disk contains in small letters the blessing, ìMay God be pleased with him.î

Upper text translation:

Umm Ma`bad, describing the messenger of God (may God bless him and grant him peace), said, “I saw a man, pure and clean, with a handsome face and a fine figure. He was not marred by a skinny body, nor was he overly small in the head and neck. He was graceful and elegant, with intensely black eyes and thick eyelashes.Ý There was a huskiness in his voice, and his neck was long. His beard was thick, and his eyebrows were finely arched and joined together.Ý When silent, he was grave and dignified, and when he spoke, glory rose up and overcame him.Ý He was from afar the most beautiful of men and the most glorious, and close up he was the sweetest and the loveliest.Ý He was sweet of speech and articulate, but not petty or trifling. His speech was a string of cascading pearls, measured so that none despaired of its length and no eye challenged him because of brevity.

Middle section: “Truly, you are great in character” (Qur’an 68:4) with the date 1420 (1999).

Lower text translation (continues from above):

“In company he is like a branch between two other branches, but he is the most flourishing of the three in appearance, and the loveliest in power.ÝHe has friends surrounding him, who listen to his words.Ý If he commands, they obey implicitly, with eagerness and haste, without frown or complaint.îÝ May God bless him and grant him peace. God, pray for and grant peace to Muhammad, your servant, your Prophet, and your messenger, the illiterate Prophet, and to his family and companions, and grant him peace. Written by Rasheed Butt, may God forgive him.

Right side, account of `Ali

Top section: “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”

Upper text circular area is surrounded by four small disks containing four different variations on the name of Muhammad, i.e., Muhammad (upper right), Ahmad (upper left), Hamid (lower right), and Mahmud (lower left). Each disk contains in small letters the blessing, ìMay God bless him and grant him peace.î

Upper text translation:

From `Ali (may God be pleased with him): when he used to describe the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace), he said, “He was not excessively tall nor overly short, but was of medium stature among the people.Ý His hair was neither short and curly nor long and thin. He was a strong man, but not stout or fat.Ý His face was entirely white and round, and he had intensely black eyes and long eyelashes. He was big in the shoulders and back. He was not hairy except on his chest, and he had hard hands and feet.Ý When he walked, he pulled himself forward as though he were walking downhill, and when he turned, he turned his whole body.Ý Between his shoulder blades was the seal of prophecy, for he is the Seal of the Prophets.”

Middle section: “Truly, you are great in character” (Qur’an 68:4) with the date 1420 (1999).

Lower text translation (continues from above):

He was the most generous of men in his heart, the most truthful of them in speech, the mildest of them in temper, and the noblest of them in descent.Ý Anyone who saw him immediately felt awe, and anyone who partook of his knowledge loved him.Ý The one who described him says he has never seen anyone like him, either before or after him. May God bless him and grant him peace.Ý God, bless and grant peace to Muhammad, your servant, your Prophet and your messenger, the illiterate Prophet, and to his family and companions, and grant them peace.


Early History of Abu Bakr

Abu Bakr’s story begins when he was born in 573 CE, in Mecca. Abu Bakr is Uthman Abu Quhafa’s son and member of the Quraysh tribe.

His birth name is Abdullah, but his nickname was obtained because of his fascination with camels, which interprets as “father of a camel’s calf”.

Abu bakr was raised in a wealthy family and was provided with a great education. He loved the arts and allowed himself to develop his passion for poetic art.


Islamic Calligraphy and the Illustrated Manuscript

The Arabic script contains a full range of letters of manipulable size and shape, making it fertile ground for calligraphic ornamentation. Islamic artistic traditions depend heavily on the use of geometric, floral and textual patterns because the Prophet Muhammad warned against idol worship. This is understood as a prohibition of using animal and human forms in texts, textiles and architecture. Islamic calligraphy and illustrated manuscripts have been highly prized for millennia.

The Qur'an, God's word as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, was transmitted in the Arabic language. Initially, the Qur'an was passed orally by huffaz--those who memorized and recited the contents of the Qur'an by heart. However, the caliph Abu Bakr initiated the creation of manuscripts of the Qur'an in the seventh century. It was not long before aesthetic considerations came to the fore. The Arabic script contains a full range of letters of manipulable size and shape, making it fertile ground for calligraphic ornamentation. As Anthony Welch has stated,

The calligraphic tradition, initially growing out of the demand for illuminated Qur'ans, was later used to embellish both religious and secular art in the Islamic world, and often appeared in books alongside (or integrated into) paintings. Calligraphy and manuscript decoration became important court art traditions in different parts of the Islamic world.

Some of the earliest examples of calligraphic masterpieces came from Baghdad, during the Abbasid dynasty (758-1258.) These pieces show a marked Byzantine influence. Persian calligraphy under Turkish dynasties demonstrates both Turkish and Persian influence. However, the tradition of illustration under Mongol rule was to become an extraordinary and unprecedented amalgam of existing styles fused with modified and recreated East Asian motifs. This synergy of techniques and influences would lead the tradition of Mongol calligraphic book painting to new heights of sophistication and achievement. Centuries later, the sixteenth-century Safavid dynasty under Shah Tahmasp would also give the illustrated book the pride of place during an era of tremendous art patronage and output.


A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims

Muhammad ibn Ishaq, the biographer of the Prophet of Islam, writes in his Seera (Life of the Messenger of God):

Umar said: “And lo, they (the Ansar) were trying to cut us off from our origin and wrest authority from us. When he (an Ansari) had finished (his speech), I wanted to speak, for I had prepared a speech in my mind which pleased me much. I wanted to produce it before Abu Bakr and I was trying to soften a certain asperity of his but Abu Bakr said, ‘Gently, Umar.'

I did not like to anger him and so he spoke. He was a man with more knowledge and dignity than I, and by God, he did not omit a single word which I had thought of and he uttered it in his inimitable way better than I could have done.

He (Abu Bakr) said: ‘All the good that you have said about yourselves (the Ansar) is deserved. But the Arabs will recognize authority only in this clan of Quraysh, they being the best of the Arabs in blood and country. I offer you one of these two men: accept which you please.' Thus saying he took hold of my hand and that of Abu Ubayda b. al-Jarrah's. ”

Muhammad, the Messenger of God, had not been dead an hour yet when Abu Bakr revived the arrogance of the Times of Ignorance by claiming before the Ansar that the Quraysh, the tribe to which he himself belonged, was “better” than or “superior” to them (the Ansar) “in blood and country!”

How did Abu Bakr know about this “superiority” of the Quraysh? Qur’an and its Bringer, Muhammad, never said that the tribe of Quraysh was superior to anyone or that it had any superiority at all.

In fact, it were the Quraysh who were the most die-hard of all the idolaters of Arabia. They clutched their idols, and they fought against Muhammad and Islam, with cannibalistic fury, for more than twenty years. The Ansar, on the other hand, accepted Islam spontaneously and voluntarily. They entered Islam en bloc and without demur.

The “superiority” of the Quraysh which Abu Bakr flaunted in Saqifa, before the Ansar, was a pre-Islamic theme which he revived to reinforce his claim to khilafat.

Only a few days earlier, Umar had withheld pen, paper and ink from Muhammad when the latter was on his deathbed, and wished to write his will. A will, Umar said, was unnecessary because “the Book of God is sufficient for us.” But in Saqifa, he and Abu Bakr forgot that Book, according to which superiority is judged not by blood and country but by piety. In that Book this is what we read:

Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is most righteous of you. (Chapter 49 verse 13)

In the sight of God only those people are superior who have high character, who are God-fearing and who are God-loving. But the one thing to which Abu Bakr and Umar did not advert in Saqifa, was the Book of God. Before entering Saqifa, they had forgotten that the body of the Apostle of God was awaiting burial and after entering, they forgot the Book of God – a curious “coincidence” of forgetfulness!

Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah

The Qur’an has rejected all superiority on account of language, color of skin or other ineluctable incidences of nature, and recognizes only superiority of individuals as that based on piety. (Introduction to Islam, Kuwait, 1977)

Abu Bakr's claim of the superiority of the Quraysh on the grounds of blood and country, was the first symptom of the recrudescence of paganism in Islam!

Sir John Glubb

On events following the death of the Prophet of Islam.

This wild scene was scarcely over when a man hastened up to Abu Bakr to inform him that the people of Medina were gathering in the guest hall of the Banu Saeda clan, proposing to elect Saad ibn Ubada, shaikh of the Khazraj tribe, as their successor to the Prophet. Mohammed was not dead an hour before the struggle for power threatened to rend Islam into rival factions.

The mild and quiet Abu Bakr and the fiery Umar ibn al-Khattab set off in haste to meet this new challenge. They were accompanied by the wise and gentle Abu Ubaida, one of the earliest converts, of whom we shall hear more later.

Ten years before, the Helpers had welcomed the persecuted Prophet into their homes and had given him their protection, but Mohammed had gradually become famous and powerful, and had been surrounded by his own Quraish relatives (sic). The men of Medina, instead of being the protectors, of the Muslims, found themselves in a subordinate position in their own town.

Criticism was silenced during the Prophet's lifetime, but he was scarcely dead when the tribes of Aus and Khazraj decided to throw off the yoke of Quraish. “Let them have their own chief,” the men of Medina cried. “As for us, we will have a leader from ourselves.”

Once more Abu Bakr, a frail little man of sixty with a slight stoop, was faced with a scene of excited anarchy. He confronted it with apparent composure. “O men of Medina,” he said, “all the good which you have said of yourselves, is deserved. But the Arabs will not accept a leader except from Quraish.”

“No! No! That is not true! A chief from us and another from you.” The hall was filled with shouting, the issue hung in doubt, the anarchy only increased.

“Not so,” replied Abu Bakr firmly. “We are the noblest of the Arabs. Here I offer you the choice of these two, choose to which you will swear allegiance,” and he pointed to his two companions, Umar and Abu Ubaida, both Quraishis. (The Great Arab Conquests, 1967)

Sir John Glubb has referred to the “wild scene” which followed immediately at the death of the Apostle. It is true that there was much chaos and confusion. But most of it was engineered by pragmatic necessity. As soon as Abu Bakr arrived on the scene, he convinced everyone that the Apostle was dead, and confusion came to an end. Confusion was kept up as long as it was needed but now it was needed no more.

The Ansar were watching the events. It occurred to them that the refusal of the Muhajireen to accompany the army of Usama to Syria their refusal to give pen, paper and ink to the Prophet when he was on his deathbed and wanted to write his will and now the denial of his death, were all parts of a grand strategy to take the caliphate out of his house.

They were also convinced that the Muhajireen who were defying the Prophet in his lifetime, would never let Ali succeed him on the throne. They, therefore, decided to choose their own leader.

But the Ansar were outmaneuvered by the Muhajireen. The Ansar did not have an intelligence system working for them but the Muhajireen had. The man who informed Abu Bakr and Umar what the Ansar were doing, was himself an Aussite of Medina. As already pointed out, he squealed on the Khazraj.

Actually this spy met Umar and informed him about the assembly of the Ansar in Saqifa. Abu Bakr was in the chamber of the Prophet. Umar called him out. He came out and both of them sped toward Saqifa. They also took Abu Obaida with them. They formed the “troika” of king-makers.

The Ansar in Saqifa were not conspiring against Abu Bakr or Umar or against anyone else. They were debating a matter that affected Islam and all Muslims. The arrival of the “troika” in their assembly, surprised the Khazraj but pleased the Aussites. The latter now hoped to foil their rivals – the Khazraj – with the help of the “troika.”

Sir John Glubb says that Abu Bakr and Umar “set out in haste to meet this new challenge.” How is it that Abu Bakr and Umar alone had to meet a challenge that was “threatening” not them but the whole Muslim umma? Who gave them the authority to meet this “challenge?” After all, at this time, they were just like any other member of the community. And how is it that they did not take anyone else into their “confidence” except Abu Obaida as if they were on a secret mission?

The historian further says that the men of Medina found themselves in a subordinate position in their own hometown. It is true but it did not happen in the lifetime of the Prophet. The latter had treated the Ansar as if they were kings, and they had the first place in his heart. But as soon as he died, everything changed for them, and they ceased to be masters in their own homes.

Muhammad Husayn Haykal:

“How much more exacerbating must this brief outing have been for Muhammad when at the same time he had to confront such momentous matters as Usama's mobilized army and the threatened fate of al-Ansar as well as of the Arab umma, newly cemented together by the religion of Islam?” (The Life of Muhammad)

The underlined part of this question is highly cryptic. It appears that there was a recognition of the threat. Both the Prophet himself and his Ansari friends, had a presentiment of some evil which hung like a cloud over them. But who could threaten the Ansar and for what reason?

In the context of the events, it was plain to see that the only people who could threaten the Ansar were their own erstwhile guests from Makkah – the Muhajireen. No one other than the Muhajireen, in the whole Arabian peninsula, was in a position to pose a threat to the security of the Ansar.

The Aus and the Khazraj were jealous and suspicious of each other. They were, therefore, open to exploitation by their opponents. And since their leaders were aware of this weakness in their ranks, they were on the defensive in Saqifa. And when one of their leaders said to the Muhajireen: “We shall choose two leaders – one from us and one from you,” it became obvious that he was speaking from a position of weakness, not strength. Merely by suggesting joint rule, the Ansar had betrayed their own vulnerability to their opponents.

Clausewitz wrote that a country could be subdued by the effects of internal dissension. A party can also be subdued by the same effects. It was essentially the effects of internal dissension which defeated the Ansar. The Ansar had taken the fatal false step. Saad ibn Ubada had warned them that they were revealing their own weakness to their opponents but the harm done could not be reversed especially since the Aussites believed that the Muhajireen would be more even-handed with them than Saad ibn Ubada of the Khazraj.

In the animated, bitter and protracted debate in Saqifa, Abu Bakr told the Ansar, among other things, that the Arabs would not accept a leader who is not from Quraysh. But he would have been closer to the truth if he had said that a non-Qurayshi leader would not be acceptable to himself, to Umar and to a few other Muhajireen.

After all, how did he know that the Arabs would not accept the leadership of a non-Qurayshi? Did the Arab tribes send delegations to him to tell him that they would not acknowledge an Ansari as a leader? Abu Bakr lumped all Arabs with a handful of Muhajireen who wanted to capture power for themselves.

John Alden William

The origins of the caliphate-imamate have been the most troubled questions in Islamic history. The majority party, the Sunnis, have left documents that seem to indicate the caliphate came into being suddenly, and as a response to the death of the Prophet in 632. So long as the Prophet lived, he had been the perfect ruler - accessible, humane, fatherly, a warrior and a judge, and “always right” for his people. Now he was unexpectedly dead.

Confronted by this loss, and with no successor to him, the Community began to split into its component tribes. By quick action, Abu Bakr and Umar, succeeded in having one of themselves accepted by all as a ruler. A detailed version of the events by Umar, when he in turn was ruler, is as follows:

“I am about to say to you something which God has willed that I should say. He who understands and heeds it, let him take it with him whithersoever he goes. I have heard that someone said, ‘If Umar were dead, I would hail so-and-so' (i.e. Ali – Editor). Let no man deceive himself by saying that the acceptance of Abu Bakr was an unpremeditated affair which was (then) ratified.

Admittedly it was that, but God averted the evil of it. There is none among you to whom people would devote themselves as they did to Abu Bakr. He who accepts a man as ruler without consulting the Muslims, such acceptance has no validity for either of them . (both) are in danger of being killed.

What happened was that when God took away His Apostle, the Ansar (Medinians) opposed us and gathered with their chiefs in the hall (Saqifa) of the Banu Saida and Ali and Zubayr and their companions withdrew from us (to prepare the Prophet's body for burial – Ed.) while the Muhajireen (emigrants from Mecca) gathered to Abu Bakr.

‘I told Abu Bakr that we should go to our brothers the Ansar in the hall of Banu Saida. In the middle of them was (theirleader) Sa’ad ibn Ubada (who) was ill. Their speaker then continued: We are God’s helpers and the squadron of Islam. You, O Muhajireen, are a family of ours and a company of your people came to settle.

And lo, they were trying to cut us off from our origin (in the Prophet's tribe – Ed.) and wrest authority from us . I wanted to speak, but Abu Bakr said, Gently, Umar. I did not like to anger him so he spoke in his inimitable way better than I could have done. He said, ‘All the good that you have said about yourselves is deserved. But the Arabs will recognize authority only in this clan of Quraysh, they being the best Arabs in blood and country.

I offer you one of these two men: accept which you please. Thus saying he took hold of my hand and that of Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah who (had come with us).'“ (Themes of Islamic Civilization, 1971)

By quick action, Dr. Williams says, Abu Bakr and Umar, succeeded in having one of themselves accepted as a ruler. Actually, by quick action, Abu Bakr and Umar succeeded in having both of themselves accepted as rulers. Their quick action also guaranteed that Ali (and the Ansar) would be kept out of the ruling conclave.

In Saqifa, power and authority passed into their hands, and there they were to remain. Even after their death, the rulers of the future were going to be men groomed only by themselves. This was the master-stroke of their grand strategy. “Quick action” yielded an astonishingly rich payoff to them!

The keynote of Abu Bakr's speeches in Saqifa was subtlety. It was also one of the secrets of his success. Though he was a candidate for caliphate and was a member of the opposition to the Ansar, he presented himself to them as a disinterested, non-partisan, third party. If he had entered Saqifa as a candidate or as a spokesman for the Muhajireen, the opposition of the Ansar would have stiffened. But he said to them:

“I offer you one of these two men – Umar and Abu Obaida. Acknowledge one of them as your leader.”

Abu Bakr praised the Ansar and acknowledged their great services to Islam but above all, by successfully affecting to be uncommitted and disinterested, he succeeded in disarming them. About the Muhajireen, he said that they had precedence in accepting Islam, and that they belonged to the tribe of the Prophet himself. The Ansar, of course, could not deny these claims. He further strengthened the case of the Muhajireen by quoting before them a tradition of the Prophet in which he was alleged to have said:

“The leaders will be from the Quraysh.”

As a quid pro quo for recognizing him as amir (prince, khalifa), Abu Bakr offered to make the Ansar his wazirs (ministers). But this offer was a mere sop to the Ansar. They never became wazirs or advisers or anything in the government of Saqifa.

In recapitulating the events of Saqifa, Umar groused that the Ansar were “trying to cut us off from our origin.”

What were those origins from which the Ansar were trying to cut Umar off, and by what means? This statement lacks precision. In point of fact, was it not Umar who was trying to cut the Ansar off from their origins?

From time to time, it appears that Umar suffered a loss of memory. There were times when he forgot the commandments of God as revealed in Al-Qur’an al-Majid, as he himself admitted and there were also occasions when he forgot the declarations and statements of the Apostle of God. Thus it appears that he had no recollection of two incidents in the life of the Apostle, one connected with the Second Pledge of Aqaba (A.D. 622), and the other connected with the battle of Hunayn (A.D. 630), and both connected with the Ansar.

At the Second Pledge of Aqaba, Abul Haithum of Yathrib (the future Medina), asked Muhammad Mustafa the following question:

“O Messenger of God! what will happen when Islam becomes strong will you then leave Yathrib and return to Makkah, and make it your capital?”

“Never,” was the emphatic reply of the Messenger of God to Abul Haithum and his companions. “From this day, your blood is my blood, and my blood is your blood. I shall never forsake you, and you and I shall be inseparable,” he assured them.

The time came when Islam became strong and viable, and Muhammad Mustafa remembered his pledge to the Ansar. He made Medina – their city – the capital of Islam. Muhammad never told the Muhajireen that his blood was their blood or their blood was his blood. It was, therefore, Umar who was trying to cut the Ansar off from their origins, and not the other way round. The second incident took place immediately after the battle of Hunayn. The Prophet ordered the Ansar to assemble in a tent in Jirana, and when they did, he addressed them as follows:

“. I shall never abandon you. If all mankind went one way, and the men of Medina went the other verily, I shall go the way of the men of Medina. The Lord be favorable unto them, and bless them, and their sons, and their sons' sons for ever.”

Muhammad, the Messenger of God, told the Ansar that he would go their way even if the rest of the world went some other way. In opposing and checkmating the Ansar, one can see which way the Muhajireen went. Muhammad and the Ansar had chosen one direction in which to travel but in Saqifa, the Muhajireen chose a divergent direction for themselves!

Umar also griped about the “authority” which, he said, the Ansar were trying to “wrest from us.” This statement again lacks precision. What “authority” was Umar talking about? And what “authority” did he have anyway? Who gave him the authority that the Ansar were trying to wrest from him? And why did he go into Saqifa? Didn't he go there to wrest authority from the Ansar?

The meeting in the outhouse of Saqifa had only one item on its “agenda,” and that was “authority.” It were Abu Bakr and Umar who succeeded in grasping that authority. Once it was in his grasp, Umar could afford to become a critic and he could afford to berate the Ansar for trying to cut him off from his “origin,” and for trying to wrest “authority” from him.

As noted before, when the Prophet died, Abu Bakr was not present in the Mosque. He was in Sunh, at some distance from Medina. His absence threw Umar into the greatest agitation. He brandished a sword in the air and threatened to kill anyone who said that the Prophet had died. This near-hysteria was caused by the fear lest the Muslims in the Mosque give bay'ah (the pledge of allegiance) to Ali ibn Abi Talib, and acknowledge him as their ruler. But not knowing when Abu Bakr might come, he turned to Abu Obaida, and said to him:

“O Abu Obaida! hold out your hand, and I will give you my pledge of loyalty so that you will become the amir of the Muslims. I have heard the Apostle of God say that you are the Ameen (trustee) of this umma.”

But Abu Obaida refused to accept Umar's pledge of loyalty, and reproached him, saying:

“How on earth, O Umar, can you offer khilafat to me while a man like Abu Bakr is present among us? Have you forgotten that he is the ‘sincere' one, and is the second of the two when both of them were in the cave?'“

Abu Obaida's reply left Umar speechless. He probably became “hysterical” again, threatening to kill anyone who might say that the Apostle was dead, and remained that way until Abu Bakr came. When Abu Bakr came, he (Umar) was at once cured of his “hysteria.”

Moments later, the “troika” of Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Obaida, barged into Saqifa. There Abu Bakr invited the Ansar to give their pledge of loyalty to Abu Obaida (or to Umar).

Within less than an hour, Abu Obaida ibn al-Jarrah, the grave-digger of Medina, had received the offer of the crown of Arabia twice – first from Umar and then from Abu Bakr. He must have been truly a most remarkable man to be courted, not by one, but by two king-makers!

Actually, apart from the fact that he was an early convert to Islam, Abu Obaida had little else to show. About him, the British historian, Sir William Muir, writes in his Life of Mohammed:

“There was nothing in the antecedents of Abu Obaida to sustain a claim to the caliphate. He was simply named by Abu Bakr as being the only other Coreishite present.”

Sir William Muir is right in pointing out that there was nothing in the antecedents of Abu Obaida to sustain a claim to the caliphate. But then, what was there in the antecedents of Umar himself to sustain such a claim? When and where did he distinguish himself in service to Islam, either in the field or in the council?

Here the historian is expressing surprise that Abu Bakr could offer the caliphate to Abu Obaida, a man who had nothing in his antecedents. But he probably didn't realize that in the situation under study, the matter of the antecedents of a candidate for caliphate, had no relevance at all. The king-makers would offer the caliphate to any man among the Muhajireen as long as that man was not Ali ibn Abi Talib or any other member of the clan of Muhammad Mustafa, the Messenger of God!

Sir William Muir says that Abu Bakr named Abu Obaida simply because he was the only other Coreishite present. Again he is right. It should, however, be borne in mind that Abu Bakr and Umar were engaged in the most important task of appointing the supreme head of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

One may ask if they could afford to be so casual as they were. And what would have happened if instead of Abu Obaida, another Qurayshi – Abu Sufyan – had been present? Would Abu Bakr have offered the caliphate to him? Most probably, he would have. After all, Abu Sufyan was not only a member of the tribe of Quraysh but also was one of its chiefs which neither Abu Obaida nor Umar nor even he himself was.

Umar and Abu Bakr were going around offering the throne of Arabia to some “eligible” man. But was this throne their personal property which they could bestow upon anyone they happened to like? If it was, then who gave it to them?

After all they did not inherit it. If it was not, then what right they had to offer it to anyone? They were going around offering something that was not theirs. If they did not come into its possession by lawful means – by means approved by God – then they were in possession of something they clearly had usurped.

The contest for leadership, after the death of Muhammad, was open only to members of the tribe of Quraysh, and to no other Muslims. Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Obaida – “the troika” – had made the rules of that contest, and those rules were inflexible. Now the Banu Hashim were also a clan of the Quraysh, and they too had to be excluded from the contest for power. But how? This posed a problem for the “troika.”

The “troika” managed to circumvent the problem with the resourcefulness that is essential for survival in the desert. It declared in effect that the clan of Banu Hashim had produced a Prophet for the Arabs – a very great honor for them – and that they ought to be content with it as for his successors, it would not be in the interests of the umma if Banu Hashim produced them also therefore clans other than the Banu Hashim ought to produce them.

Who those clans were going to be, it was for the “troika” to decide. The clans to which the members of the “troika” themselves belonged, would, of course, come first.

Thus what proved to be the most valuable asset for the tribe of Quraysh, viz., membership of Muhammad, the Apostle, in it, proved to be a severe “liability” for the Banu Hashim. The latter were “disqualified” from taking part in the contest for power merely because Muhammad belonged to them!

Umar made a 180-degree veer in Saqifa. Before going into Saqifa, he was predicting that if the family which produced the Prophet, were also to produce his successors, the “Arabs” would rebel against it. But when he confronted the Ansar in Saqifa, he prophesied that the “Arabs” would never accept the leadership of a man if he did not belong to the tribe to which the Prophet himself had belonged. He and Abu Bakr laid claim to the caliphate on the ground that both of them were members of the same tribe as Muhammad whereas the Ansar were not.

The late Maulana Abul Ala Maududi of Pakistan has bestowed some extravagant encomiums upon the Quraysh. He says that the members of the tribe of Quraysh were men of extraordinary skills and abilities, and they produced all the leaders of the Muslims. To make his claim convincing, he has quoted statements purporting to their excellence, which he says, were made by the Prophet and Ali ibn Abi Talib.

But it is entirely possible that the Ansar would have produced leaders just as great or in fact even greater than the Quraysh did. But the “troika” blackballed them in Saqifa, and the Muslim umma could never benefit from their talents for leadership.

The authenticity of the statements in praise of the Quraysh which Maududi has attributed to Ali, is open to question. Ali would have found very little to praise in Quraysh. He was not even fourteen years old when they made the first attempt to thwart Muhammad. Ali took up their challenge. His sword was always dripping with their pagan or crypto-pagan blood. He and they were in a state of life-long confrontation with each other.

The Shia Muslims are opposed to the principle of selection of a leader on the basis of assumptions or mere “seniority.” According to them, the controlling considerations in choosing a leader must not be his affiliation to the Quraysh or his age but his character, integrity, competence and experience. Character comes first. How does the leader of the Muslims orient himself toward life – not just to this or that role, not for the moment, but enduringly, comprehensively?

The choice of a leader deserves the most serious investigation reaching far beyond the ethical conduct. After all, the leadership of the Muslims (caliphate) is not the prize in a morality contest. The leader (caliph) must be a man not only of high character and integrity but also of outstanding ability and vast experience.

In other words, selection of the best candidate – best in every sense of the term high in personal integrity but one with ability which has been demonstrated, proven – not once or twice but repeatedly, must be the rule. And of course, he must have that extra but indispensable and yet elusive quality called taqwa.

The electors, if there is such a body, have an obligation for a careful and thorough examination of all the attributes of fitness and personal background of the man who would be a candidate for the highest office in Islam. They must weigh his competence, judgment, independence and philosophical outlook in terms of whether he is the man whom they can conscientiously endorse as the potential caliph.

As we have seen, character and competence of the candidate or candidates for caliphate were not discussed in Saqifa. They were “irrelevant” issues. The rhetoric of the Muhajireen and the Ansar was generated by only one question, viz., should the leader of the Muslims be a Muhajir or an Ansari?

The Ansar conceded defeat in Saqifa when confronted with the sophistry of their opponents, the Muhajireen, that the caliphate of the Muslim umma was the exclusive “right” of the Quraysh because Muhammad himself was a Qurayshi!


Timeline: The Life and Death of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi

July 28, 1971 – Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al Badri was born in al Jallam, a small village in central Iraq. He was raised in a devout Sunni family that claimed descent from the Prophet Mohammed. The family moved to Samarra when he was a young child.

1991 – Al Badri enrolled in the Shariah college of the University of Baghdad.

1996 – Al Badri graduated from the University of Baghdad. He then enrolled at the Saddam University for Islamic Studies to study Koranic recitation.

1999 – Al Badri graduated with a master’s degree in Koranic recitation and enrolled in a doctoral program in Quranic sciences. He taught classes at al Jah Zaidan Mosque to pay for school.

2003 – Al Badri joined a local resistance movement after U.S. and coalition forces invaded Iraq. He started going by the nom de guerre, Abu Dua.

January 2004 – U.S. forces swept up Abu Dua in a raid near Falluja that targeted his brother-in-law. He was processed and detained at Camp Bucca. At the camp, he befriended members of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

December 8, 2004 – Abu Dua was released from Camp Bucca and connected to AQI through a family relative. He traveled to Damascus and worked on aligning the group’s online propaganda with Salafi-Jihadist ultraorthodoxy.

March 13, 2007 –Abu Dua returned to Baghdad and defended his doctorate dissertation in Quranic Sciences. He earned his Ph.D. with a grade of “very good.”

2007-2010 – Abu Dua rose the ranks of AQI which rebranded as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). He joined the group’s Sharia Committee and rose to the number three position as ISI’s top spiritual advisor.

April 18, 2010 – The top two ISI commanders died in a raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces outside Tikrit.

May 16, 2010 – ISI’s Shura Council elected Abu Dua as its emir in a nine-to-two vote. He adopted a new nom de guerre, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

2010-2013 – Iraqi security forces tried and failed to arrest Baghdadi at least six times.

August 2011 – Baghdadi sent an operative to set up an ISI branch in Syria. The group, Jabhat al Nusra, became a rival to Baghdadi’s group.

April 2013 – Baghdadi attempted to merge al-Nusra with ISI, but the Syrian offshoot pledged allegiance to al Qaeda’s Ayman al Zawahiri instead. Breakaway elements of al Nusra joined with Baghdadi to form the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Late 2013 – Fighters from ISIS and al Nusra fought one another in Syria. Zawahiri failed to negotiate a compromise between the two groups.

February 2014 – Zawahiri expelled ISIS from al Qaeda.

February 2014-June 2014 – ISIS seized territory from al Nusra and other rebel Islamist factions to become the dominant jihadist faction in Syria.

June 10, 2014 – ISIS routed Iraqi Security Forces and seized control of Mosul, Iraq.

July 4, 2014 – Baghdadi ascended the pulpit of the Grand Mosque in Mosul and declared himself the caliph of the Islamic State.

November 13, 2014 – ISIS released an audiotape of Baghdadi after reports he had been killed or injured in a U.S. airstrike.

March 18, 2015 – An airstrike in the Nineveh province of Iraq seriously wounded Baghdadi but failed to kill him.

May 14, 2015 – Baghdadi urged Muslims to emigrate to the Iraq and Syria in an audiotape released by ISIS. The tape mentioned the conflict in Yemen just seven weeks after the start of the Saudi-led coalition’s aerial campaign.

December 26, 2015 – Baghdadi threatened to establish an ISIS branch in the Palestinian territory in an audiotape released by ISIS.

October 2016 – Baghdadi was spotted several times in the town of al-Bukamal on the Iraq-Syria border.

November 2, 2016 – Baghdadi urged followers in an audiotape to fight to the death against coalition forces attacking Mosul, Iraq.

June 16, 2017 – Moscow said it had “high probability” a Russian airstrike near Raqqa killed Baghdadi.

September 1, 2017 – The counter-ISIL coalition said Baghdadi was probably still alive.

September 28, 2017 – Baghdadi released his first audiotape since the liberation of Mosul. He referenced developments in the Syria peace process and North Korean nuclear threats against the United States.

July 4, 2018 – Baghdadi’s son was killed fighting Syrian government forces in Homs, according to ISIS.

August 23, 2018 – Baghdadi urged followers to “persevere” in the fact of losses in Iraq and Syria. He referenced the detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson by Turkey.

Kurdish-led fighters advance on the Islamic State group's last bastion in eastern Syria, confining holdout jihadists to a tiny pocket on the edge of Baghouz villagehttps://t.co/IS8NV0jn1Bpic.twitter.com/L7dYpmVmQz

— AFP News Agency (@AFP) March 19, 2019

April 23, 2019 – Baghdadi appeared in a video for the first time in five years. He acknowledged ISIS’s defeat at Baghuz, Syria, and referenced the Easter Sunday terrorist attack in Sri Lanka.

September 16, 2019 – Baghdadi urged followers in an audiotape to free detained ISIS members held in prison camps in Iraq and Syria.

October 26, 2019 – Baghdadi died during a U.S. special operations raid in Idlib, Syria.

October 31, 2019 – ISIS confirmed Baghdadi’s death and names his successor, Ibrahim al Hashemi al Qurayshi.

Andrew Hanna, a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, contributed to this timeline. Sources include reporting by The New York Times, The Washington Post and a report by The Brookings Institution.

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