The story of the succession to the Prophet Muhammad and the rise of the Rashidun Caliphate (632-661 AD) has been familiar to historians from the political histories of medieval Islam, which lend a factual credibility to scholarly narratives, and the competing perspectives of Sunni and Shii Islam, which focus on the legitimacy of their claims. While descriptive and varied, these approaches have long excluded a third reading in which the conflict over the succession to the Prophet is treated as a parable, the motives, sayings, and actions of the protagonists revealing profound links to previous texts and an irony with regard to political and religious issues.
In a controversial break from previous historiography, Tayeb El-Hibri privileges the literary and artistic triumphs of the medieval Islamic chronicles and maps the origins of Islamic political and religious orthodoxy. Considering the patterns and themes of unified narratives, including the problem of defining qualification according to religious merit, nobility, and skills in government, El-Hibri offers an insightful critique of both early and contemporary Islam and the concerns of legitimacy shadowing various rulers. In building an argument for reading the texts as parabolic commentary, El-Hibri also highlights the Islamic reinterpretation of biblical traditions, both by Quranic exegesis and historical composition.