Of Grudges and Caliphs: The Memory of the Elections of Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and 'Uthman

By Aaron Hagler
Submitted to Session P5122 (Succession and Legitimate Caliphate, 2018 Annual Meeting
7th-13th Centuries;
It is well-known that the most divisive figure in terms of sectarian memory is 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. A key component of Ali's character, both to Sunnis and to Shi'a, is his repeated failure to be appointed as the unanimous leader of the umma. Even when he was finally appointed, it was over a fractured state on the verge of a civil war. The memory of Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and 'Uthman is naturally divergent depending upon the identity, sources, patronage, and academic pedigree of a given author. Drawing upon the fields of mnemohistory and historiography, this paper will explore the presentations of the moments when each of these three men were appointed in sources written by Sunni authors (such as Ibn al-'Adim’s Bughyat al-Talab fi Ta'rikh Halab, Ibn al-Athir’s al-Kamil fi al-Ta'rikh, Ibn Kathir’s al-Bidaya wa-l-Nihaya, and others), those written by Shi'i authors (such as al-Ya'qubi’s Ta'rikh and al-Mas'udi’s Muruj al-Dhahab), and a selection critical earlier sources (such as al-Dinawari’s al-Akhbar al-Tiwal, Baladhuri’s Ansab al-Ashraf, and of course al-Tabari’s Ta'rikh al-Rusul wa-l-Muluk). The paper’s scope will expand beyond the moments of appointment—which, as “well-known” sites of memory, are likely to offer little in the way of substantive disagreement, even among sources of divergent sectarian perspective—and will instead focus on the elements of the narrative that “set up” those moments to communicate the authors’ intended meanings. This paper will explore not only the literary-narrative strategies these authors have for communicating their intended meanings, but also attempt to trace evolutions in the stories and to tie those developments to contemporaneous events. Most especially, this paper will demonstrate that these stories— patently important in their own right—have a second (and perhaps more important) function: establishing the appropriate context—be it Sunni or Shi'i—for the divisive careers of 'Ali and his descendants.