Accordingly, Abu Bakr was elected at the age of 60 years, adopting the title of khilafat rasulillah (Vicegerent of the Messenger of God), a title which was soon simplified to khalifa (whence the word caliph was coined in western languages). Abu Bakr died in 13/634 after ruling for 2 years, 3 months and 10 days. He nominated Umar, whose age at that time was 52 years, ruled for 10 years, 6 months and 4 days; and died in 23/644. The third caliph Uthman was selected at the age of 70 years, who was assassinated in 35/656 after ruling for 11 years, 11 months and 14 days. Wardi writes in "Wu'az al-Salatin" (p. 217) that, "It was the Umayyads who engineered the murder of Uthman, with Muawiya instigating the murder and Marwan working out the death." Immediately after the murder of Uthman, a crowd rushed to Ali in the mosque, urging him to accept the caliphate. Eventually, Ali consented and became the fourth caliph. This implies that the temporal and spiritual powers once again joined together in Islam just 24 years, 8 month and 28 days after the death of Muhammad. Dr. Gustav Weil writes in "History of the Islamic Peoples" (New Delhi, 1914, p. 88) that, "Still from credible sources it is clear enough that Ali surpassed not only Muawiya but even Abu Bakr and Umar in his unfailing love of righteousness, in bravery and eloquence."
It can be said that Ali's succession to the caliphate was approved by the vast majority of Muslims in Medina, and also in most of the provinces of the state. He was however placed in a difficult time, and the dice of fate appears to have been loaded against him. The period of four caliphs were subdivided into four distinct periods. It falls to the lot of Ali that he should pilot the bark of Islam in times of the most dangerous internecine dissensions. To maintain a proper hold of state administration under such conditions was a difficult as to keep a boat steady on stormy waters. Nevertheless, Ali displayed a high example of affection and sympathy for brother-Muslims which is without parallel.
During Uthman's caliphate, all the important governorships of the Muslim states were in the possession of the unworthy members of the Umayyad family. Ali firstly dismissed them in the state, but Muawiya the governor of Syria revolted, demanding "revenge for the blood of Uthman". Ali promptly announced that the names of the assassins should be reported, so that they could be executed. He had also started enquiries, but the only witness to the assassination was Uthman's widow, Naila, who deposed that Uthman had been killed by two persons whose names she did not know. Abul Ala Mawdudi writes in his "Khilafat wa Mulukiyat" (Rampur, 1974, 3rd ed., pp. 115-17) that, "With due respect to Aisha, Talha, Zubayr and Muawiya, one could not help saying that legally their position was untenable. It was only during pre- Islamic days that tribes started wars of vengeance. Only Usman's relatives, who were alive at the time, had the right to demand reparation. If the ruler delayed arresting the criminals, then justice could be demanded by anyone. No law or Shariahpermitted the people to declare the government illegal, because of its failure to redress grievances. If Ali's enemies did not consider him the legally elected caliph, their demand for vengeance against Ali was meaningless." Criticizing Aisha, Talha and Zubayr, who recruited an army and marched from Mecca to Basra against Ali, crying for vengeance for Uthman's blood, Mawdudi remarks that, "This act was illegal as they should have gone to Medina, where Ali, the criminals, and Uthman's heir lived. The war they provoked led to the slaughter of 10,000 people for the blood of one. Even more illegal was the position of Muawiya, who rebelled against the central government when he took revenge for Usman's blood. He did not make this claim in his private capacity, but in his official position as the governor of Syria. He misused the resources of his government in that cause. He was not satisfied with demanding that Ali prosecute and punish the assassins, but urged that they be handed over to him, so that he himself might execute them." Mawdudi goes on to say that, "Muawiya's relationship with Usman was a private matter, the governorship was not involved. He had no right to claim vengeance as a governor against the caliph to whom allegiance had been given by all the provinces except those governed by himself. Rebellion against the central government by a provincial army meant the revival of pre-Islamic tribal laws."
After Ali had taken over as caliph, exactly what he had anticipated took place. Muawiya exercised the motives of old enmity and opposition towards Ali. The charge of Uthman's murder was trumpeted up against Ali and afforded Muawiya's excuse enough to unfurl the standard of revolt against him. Muawiya incited the Syrians against Ali to a feverish pitch by indoctrinating them with a belief in the false charge against Ali. "In order to discredit Ali further" writes Prof. N.A. Faris in "Development in Arab Historiography" that "the Umayyads made the Shiite movement a conspiracy against Islam, engineered by the Jewish convert Abdallah bin Saba, who was alleged to have been an ardent follower of Ali. Both Taha Husayn and Wardi, marshalling a great deal of impressive historical evidence, deny the existence of Ibn Saba and make him the creation of Umayyad propaganda." (cf. "Historians of the Middle East", ed. Bernard Lewis, London, 1962, p. 441).
In the cathedral mosque at Damascus, a meeting to mourn the murder of Uthman had been convened, his blood-stained shirt was exposed to the general view from the pulpit. According to Tabari (5th vol., p. 163), "It was during these bouts of mourning that the Syrians were told that they had to avenge Uthman's blood." Hence, Uthman was the symbol and slogan of Umayyad aspiration in contrast to Ali, and in order to solidify his rule in Syria, he got fabrication of many hadiths. For instance, it was propagated that "Syria is the chosen country of God and He sends those of His servants there whom He prefers to all others. O confessors of Islam, press forward towards Syria because God has chosen this country as His favouribe amongst the countries of the whole world"