Do not let this heading intimidate you, dear reader, for you are, by the Grace of Allah, walking on the path of righteousness so that you may in the end reach what pleases Allah, Glory and Exaltation to Him. Do not, therefore, let Satan's whispering, or your own conceit, or any abominable fanaticism control you or divert you from arriving at the anticipated goal, at the lost right, at the Garden of Eternity.
As we have already indicated, those who call themselves “Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`a” are the ones who believe in the legitimacy of the four “righteous caliphs,” namely Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali. This is known to everyone in our time. But the sad fact is that Ali ibn Abu Talib was not originally counted by “Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`ah” among the “righteous caliphs;” they did not even recognize the legitimacy of his caliphate; rather, his name was added to the list at a very late time in history: in 230 A.H./844 A.D., during the lifetime of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
As for the sahaba who were not Shi`as, as well as the caliphs, kings, and princes who ruled the Muslims from the time of Abu Bakr and till the reign of the Abbaside caliph Muhammad ibn al-Rasheed al-Mu`tasim, they never recognized the caliphate of Ali ibn Abu Talib at all. Moreover, some of them used to curse him and regard him non-Muslim; otherwise, how did they justify cursing him from their pulpits?!
We have already come to know how Abu Bakr and Umar treated him with excluding and expelling him from their government, then Uthman came after them to go to extremes in demonstrating his contempt for him, more than both of his friends, underestimating him to the extent that he once threatened to banish him just as he had banished Abu Dharr al-Ghifari.
When Mu`awiyah became the ruler, he went to the extreme limits in cursing him and ordering people to do likewise. Umayyad rulers, therefore, were consistent in every town and village in doing so for as long a period as eighty years.1
Actually, the cursing, charging, and dissociation from him and his Shi`as, went on beyond that. The Abbaside caliph al-Mutawakkil, for example, went as far in his hatred for Ali as desecrating his grave and the grave of his son Imam al-Husayn ibn Ali in the year 240 A.H./854 A.D.
Al-Waleed ibn Abd al-Malik, who was the “commander of the faithful” of his time, delivered a sermon one Friday in which he said, “The hadith saying that the Messenger of Allah once said (to Ali, as): `Your status to me is like that of Aaron to Moses' was altered from: `Your status to me is like that of Qarun to Moses' because the listener became confused.”2 Such was the malice of these rulers against the Brother of the Prophet.
During the reign of al-Mu`tasim, when there was a substantial increase in the number of atheists, apostates, and fabricators of hadith, who ascended the seat of the “righteous” caliphate, and when people were distracted during al-Mu`tasim's time by marginal problems, in addition to the dilemma caused by Ahmad ibn Hanbal labelling the Holy Qur'an as being infinite in its pre-existence..., people blindly followed the creed of their kings, believing that the Holy Qur'an was “created.”
When Ahmad ibn Hanbal withdrew his theory regarding the Holy Qur'an, being apprehensive of al-Mu`tasim, he became after that quite famous among scholars of hadith3 like a shining star. It was then decided to add the name of Ali ibn Abu Talib to the list of the “righteous caliphs.”
It is quite possible that Ahmad ibn Hanbal was dazzled by the authentic ahadith enumerating Ali's virtues which surfaced against the wish of the rulers of the time, especially since he is the one who has said, “Nobody among all people has received as many ahadith in his favor as Ali ibn Abu Talib.” It was then that the number of the “righteous caliphs” was increased to four, and Ali's caliphate was regarded as “legitimate” after being rejected due to its “illegitimacy.”
In the Tabaqat, regarded by the Hanbalis as their main reference, Ibn Abu Ya`li quotes Wadeezah al-Himsi as saying:
I visited Ahmad ibn Hanbal after having added the name of Ali, Allah be pleased with him,4 to the list of the three [“righteous caliphs”]. I said to him, “O Abu Abdullah! What you have done discredits both Talhah and al-Zubayr!” He said, “What a foolish statement you have uttered! What do we have to do with those folks' war, and why do you mention it now?” I said, “May Allah lead you to righteousness, we have mentioned it only after you added the name of Ali and mandated for him (of honors because) of the caliphate what is mandated to the Imams before him!” Said he, “And what stops me from doing so?” I said, “One tradition narrated by Ibn Umar.” He said to me, “Umar [ibn al-Khattab] is better than his son, for he accepted (i.e. recommended) Ali's caliphate over the Muslims and listed him among the members of the (consultative) council of shura, and Ali referred to himself as the Commander of the Faithful; am I the one to say that the faithful did not have a commander?!” So I left.5
This incident clarifies for us the fact that the narrator is the leader of “Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`ah” and their spokesman, and that they rejected Ali's caliphate because of what Abdullah ibn Umar, the Sunnis' faqih, says, a statement which al-Bukhari records in his Sahih. Since they claim that al-Bukhari's Sahih is the most authentic book next to the Book of Allah, it is mandatory on them to reject Ali's caliphate and not to recognize it.
We have discussed this “tradition” in our book So Ask the People of Remembrance, and there is no harm in repeating it here in order to make the benefit general.
In his Sahih, al-Bukhari quotes Abdullah ibn Umar saying, “During the lifetime of the Prophet, we used to regard Abu Bakr most, then Umar ibn al-Khattab, then Uthman ibn Affan, may Allah be pleased with them.”6
Al-Bukhari quotes another tradition narrated by Ibn Umar which is more frank than this one. In it, Abdullah ibn Umar says:
During the lifetime of the Prophet, we did not regard anyone as being the peer of Abu Bakr, then Umar, then Uthman, then we leave the rest of the Prophet's companions without making any distinction among them.7
Upon the premises of this “tradition,” which the Messenger of Allah neither mandates nor endorses, but one which is no more than the brainchild of Abdullah ibn Umar and his biased views and well known grudge and animosity towards Ali, do “Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`ah” base their sect and justify their attitude as to why they did not recognize Ali's caliphate.
It is through “traditions” such as this one that Banu Umayyah permitted cursing, condemning, taunting, and belittling Ali. Their rulers since the reign of Mu`awiyah and till the days of Marwan ibn Muhammad ibn Marwan in 132 A.H. ordered the cursing of Ali from the pulpits. All those who supported him or did not endorse such animosity were killed.8
Then the Abbaside government started in 132 A.H./750 A.D. with the reign of Abul-Abbas al-Saffah [the blood-shedder]; it was then that dissociation in various means from Ali and from those who supported him continued, and the means of this dissociation varied according to the then prevailing conditions and circumstances because the Abbaside dynasty was erected on the ruins of Ahlul Bayt and those who followed their line. Some rulers, if the government's interest demanded, did not publicly curse Ali but were secretly doing more than what the Umayyads did.
They learned from the historic experience which highlighted the oppression to which Ahlul Bayt and their supporters were subjected: such oppression drew the sympathy of people to them; therefore, the rulers cunningly tried to tilt the situation in their favor.
They, therefore, sought to be close to the Imams from Ahlul Bayt not out of love for them, nor recognizing their confiscated rights, but in order to contain the public uprisings which broke out near the borders and which threatened the government's very existence.
This is what al-Ma'mun son of Haroun al-Rasheed had done to Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Rida. But when the government was in full control, and internal dissent was contained, it went to extremes in insulting these Imams and their Shi`as as the Abbaside caliph al-Mutawakkil did. He became quite famous for his hatred of Ali and for cursing him and even desecrating his grave and the grave of his son al-Husayn.
It is because of these facts that we have said that “Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`ah” refused to recognize the legitimacy of Ali's caliphate till many years after Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
It is true that Ahmad ibn Hanbal was the first person to promote this notion, but he could not convince the scholars of hadith, as we have pointed out to adopt his view due to their following in the footprints of Abdullah ibn Umar. A long time was needed to convince people of it and to let them accept Ahmad ibn Hanbal's view, a view which might have presented the Hanbalis as seeking justice and nearness to Ahlul Bayt. This distinguished them from other Sunni sects such as the Malikis, Hanafis, and Shafi`is who were vying to gain supporters. They, therefore, had no choice except to accept the view and adopt it.
As time passed by, “Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`ah” became unanimous in endorsing Ahmad ibn Hanbal's view, and they agreed to make Ali the fourth of the “righteous caliphs,” requiring the faithful to respect him as much as they respected the other three.
Is this, then, not the greatest proof that “Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`ah” were Nasibis who hated Ali and tried their best to belittle and disrespect him?
One may ask the following question: “How can this be true while we nowadays see `Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`ah' loving Imam Ali and seeking Allah to be pleased with him?”
We say: Yes, after the passage of time, and the death of the Imams from Ahlul Bayt, the rulers had no worry, nor did they face any threat against their government, and when the dignity of the Islamic government disappeared and the Mamlukes, Moguls, and Tatars took control of it, and when the creed weakened and many Muslims were diverted with arts, singing, amusement, promiscuity, wine and concubines..., and when one generation succeeded another that lost the prayers, followed its own low desires..., when right seemed wrong and wrong seemed right, when corruption prevailed on the land and the sea..., it was then and only then that Muslims eulogized their ancestors and sung the praise of their glory.
It was then that they yearned for their past history and legacy, calling them their “golden ages.” The best of times, from their viewpoint, is the age of the sahaba who conquered many lands, expanded the Islamic kingdom in the east and the west, subduing the Kaisers and Caesars.
It was then that they started praying to Allah to be pleased with all of them, including Ali ibn Abu Talib, became acceptable. Because “Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama`ah” believe in their justice, all of them, they could not exclude Ali from their list of sahaba.
Had they excluded him, their scheme would have become evident to everyone who is wise and who researches, so they misled the public into believing that the fourth caliph was the gate of knowledge Ali ibn Abu Talib, Allah glorified his countenance. We ask them, “Why do you then refuse to emulate him with regard to your religious and secular matters if you truly believe that he was the gate of knowledge?
Why did you deliberately forsake that gate and prefer to emulate Abu Hanifah, Malik, al-Shafi`i, and Ibn Hanbal, as well as Ibn Taymiyyah, those who do not even come close to the loftiness of Ali's deeds, merits, and honorable descent, for what is the distance between the earth and Pleiades, or how can one compare the sword with the sickle, or how can one compare Mu`awiyah to Ali, if you only follow reason?”
All this can be said were one to set aside all the ahadith narrated about the Messenger of Allah mandating upon all Muslims to follow Imam Ali after the Prophet and to emulate him. Someone among Ahlul Sunnah may say, “Ali's merits, his being the foremost in embracing Islam, his jihad in the cause of Islam, his deep knowledge, his great honors, and his asceticism are known to all people; rather, Ahlul Sunnah know and love Ali more than Shi`as do.”
Such is the statement repeated by many of them these days. To these we say: Where were you9, and where were your ancestors and scholars when Ali was being cursed from the pulpits for hundreds of years? We never heard, nor does history document any fact, that even one single person among them resented it or prohibited it or was killed because of his loyalty and love for Ali.
Nay! We will never come across even one name among all the scholars of Ahlul Sunnah who did so. Instead, they were close to the monarchs, rulers, and governors because of the allegiance they had sworn to them, because of being pleased with them, and because they issued for them verdicts legalizing the killing of all “rejectionists” who were loyal to Ali and his progeny, and such people are present even in our own time.
Christians have for many centuries borne enmity towards the Jews whom they regarded as criminals. They accused them of being responsible for killing Jesus Christ son of Mary. But these Christians weakened, and the tenets of their creed disappeared, and many of them became apostates. The Church was consigned to the waste basket due to its opposing stand towards science and scientists.
In contrast, the Jews gained power, and such power gained momentum when they occupied Arab and Islamic lands by force. Their influence spread in the east and the west, and they established the “state of Israel...” It was only then that Pope John Paul II met Jewish rabbis and cleared them of the crime of killing Jesus, for such are some people, and such is our time.