After the death of its founder, the Islamic community was faced with a number of internal and external challenges. Its very existence depended on the ability of its members to cope with them by rallying around one leader. The most dangerous scenario was a potential conflict over the leadership of the umma between the helpers ( ansár ) of Medina and the emigrants ( muhájirún ), the first Meccan Muslims who had accompanied Muhammad to Medina after he had to flee from his native city. This rift could have led to the election of two rival leaders and, as a result, to the inevitable split of the community into Meccan and Medinan “branches.” Were this to have happened, Muslim unity would have been fatally ruptured. 1
The other challenges were external. Upon the news of Muhammad’s death, there appeared in different parts of Arabia a number of individuals claiming divine guidance and prophetic status. Their preaching of their own religious messages threatened to undermine the hard-won position of Islam as the religion of if not all the Arabs, then at least the majority of them. 2 Finally, many Bedouin allies of Mecca and Medina, who had made their pacts with Muhammad, no longer felt obligated to maintain loyalty to his successor. In practice, this meant their refusal to contribute the obligatory zakát tax to the Muslim communal treasury. While some tribes canceled their agreements with the Muslim state in Medina altogether, others pledged to remain within the coalition as long as they were exempt from the zakát . This disloyalty on the part of the Bedouin tribes was fueled by their deeply ingrained desire to be independent of outside political control. In refusing to render the zakát to the new head of the umma , Bedouin tribal leaders hoped to regain their treasured independence, especially in the light of appearance in various corners of Arabia of several new prophets, who preached a message similar to Muhammad’s.