The relation between the ideological and the theological realms in Islam. Theories of the Caliphate and the Imamate in Islam and the historical development of Shi'ism as a distinct school of Islamic thought.
Imam Ali Foundation has published books and book translations of high quality concerning many subjects, especially regarding a wider understanding of Islam both in its dogmatic and legal aspects.
Dear Reader, the book which you have in your hands treats a most important topic regarding the relation between the ideological and the theological realms in Islam. It concerns theories of the Caliphate and the Imamate in Islam and especially the historical development of Shi'ism, which insists upon a strict observance of Koranic and prophetic texts in everyday life.
The first text represents the inspired thought of the martyr Sayyed Mohammad Baqir As-Sadr, who was highly reputed for the intellectual quality, scientific value and objectivity of his works. Dr. Abdul Jabbar Chararah has been given the great distinction, and privilege, to annotate this work and to present it here, in order to facilitate its access to the public.
Imam Ali Foundation
Imam Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the author of this study, was a reverent scholar and one of the most eminent jurists of our time. He struggled diligently in the way of God; his devotion to Islam was complete to the point of martyrdom, which he finally attained in 1979.
An endless source of learnedness, his genuine gift, he was unrivaled in the study of legal principles and jurisprudence. Imam al Sadr was a rare mind in the area of logic and the logic of inquiry, and sought to renew Islamic thought in the face of contemporary intellectual challenges in philosophy, economy and sociology. By setting forth his theses, observations and positions, he helped to establish firmly the Islamic School. He refurbished theological studies, enriched knowledge of the Qur'an and secured the pillars of a sober scientific method in every subject he took up through his pen.
In the probing study of Shi'ism before us, Imam al-Sadr brought to bear a sedate, scholarly method supported by that impeccable logic for which he is so well known. At every step, he has the depth of a skilled expert who knows from the very outset how to take the reader wherever true logic dictates. He handled this weighty subject with concision in a way unmatched by anyone, thanks to his strength of argument, compactness, evenness and subtlety of expression, to say nothing of the sheer elegance of his presentation.
This, despite the number of points and allusions made. These may be perfectly comprehensible to cultured or attained persons, but less so to those inexperienced in this kind of extended theological inquiry. The allusions are not easily understood by those uninitiated in the area of debate and argumentation, or who have never before had to deal with either Prophetic traditions (hadi`ths) or historical events.
In view of the significance of the subject matter, style and treatment, it is regrettable that this study has not received the attention it deserves. Nor has it been properly edited and commented on, for proper guidance through all the evidence invoked. We have yet to be enlightened on its references or the context of its arguments - which should reveal to the reader the soundness of the logic and leave him or her reassured, in turn, as to the logic of their soundness.
This study was originally written in Baghdad in 1970 AD/1390 AH as a preface to a book by Dr. `Abdullah Fayyad entitled History of the Imamites and Their Shi'ite Predecessors, and published in Baghdad by Matba`at As`ad. The first independent edition was published in Cairo in 1977 AD/1397 AH, under the supervision of Mr. Talib al-Husaym al-Rifai.1 In the same year, but just earlier, it was also published in Beirut by Dar al-Ta`aruf lil-Matbu`at.
These two editions, however, have failed to measure up to their goal, since there was little effort to edit or accurately to determine the text. Neither are the Prophetic traditions expounded nor the texts properly supported, to say nothing of the many printing errors.
Nevertheless, the Cairo edition is provided with Mr. al-Rifais helpful comments; it is also the more precise of the two, having fewer errors. The two editions have different titles - the Cairo going by Shi'ism, an Authentic Phenomenon Within the Call of Islam,2 the Beirut by A Study Concerning Guardianship.3
The result was that there arose a need for this study to be given the attention it rightly deserved in terms of textual editing, exactness and commentary. I have made every effort to determine the precise expressions by benefiting from the editions just mentioned, with a view to the necessary corrections. As to the title, I have heeded the view of the eminent Ayatullah al-Sayyid Mahmud al-Hashimi, who suggested to me that it be The Emergence of Shi'ism and the Shi'ites. It was the most appropriate one.
Finally, I have seen it fit to append another scholarly study, adhering to the very same sober method he used, to this solid research by the late Imam al-Sadr. I hope to analyze something to which he pointed without much elaboration, instead relying on its obvious sense on the assumption that it has been related by several transmitters and handed down through many biographical works: namely, the intellectual and moral preparation for Imam `Ali's spiritual leadership (imamah) and political succession (khilafah) to the Prophet.
First of all, only printed copies, together with the preface in the introductory section of Dr. `Abdullah Fayyad's History of the Imamites and Their Shi'ite Predecessors, have been available to me. But since the Cairo copy that came out under Mr. Talib al-Husayni al-Rifai's supervision is the better and more accurate one, I have basically relied on it. In order to determine the text and to rectify the errors and whatever seems doubtful, I have referred to the other two editions, that of Beirut and that of Baghdad (the one included in the introduction to Dr. Fayyad's book).
Secondly, I have devised a new layout for the study; it is now divided into an introduction and two chapters. The first chapter is entitled “What is the origin of Shi'ism?” - exactly as the author wished by way of presentation. I broke it up into three discussions. The first deals with what the title it carries says, “The First Path - Denial,” that is, “Neglecting the Succession.” This title appears in the Cairo edition. The Second Discussion deals with the path of affirmation, epitomized by the consultative system. The Third Discussion presents the affirmative path, exemplified by the preparation and investiture of whomever was to lead the Ummah, or the community. The second chapter is called “How did the Shiites become Shiite?” It, too, is divided into three discussions. The first is concerned with the two principal trends that accompanied the development of the Ummah; the second with intellectual authority and guidance; and the third with the issue of spiritual and political Shi`ism.
Thirdly, I have consulted those references given by Imam al-Sadr, and have been able to establish the specific texts he relied on. I have, therefore, indicated the volume of the Tradition source left out, along with the page numbers. All told, twenty-three references were given. I have attached the word “Imam” to them, thereby retaining the original text written in the notes and distinguishing them from my own comments.
Fourthly, with respect to those texts which Imam al-Sadr does quote or refer to, I have sought to provide the source, based on the information he gives. I have also made available the references to the ayat of the Qur'an and to the Prophetic hadiths.
Fifthly, wherever needed, I have documented the views and ideas evoked by the Imam.
Sixthly, in order to clarify the objects of discussion, or to reinforce through evidence and proof, I have in many cases made the appropriate comments.
I implore God to render pure this work before Him. Praise be to God, Lord of the World.
Dr. Abd al Jabbar Sharrarah
Some scholars who study Shi`ism describe it as a phenomenon that is incidental to Islamic society. They observe the Shi segment within the body of the Islamic community precisely in its quality of a segment, one that first came into being, through the passage of time, as a result of specific societal events and developments, leading to the intellectual and doctrinal formation of one part only within the larger body; a part which gradually broadened later.1 Beyond this assumption, these scholars differ as to the particular events and developments that led to the rise of such a phenomenon.
Some assume that `Abd Allah b. Saba'2 and his alleged political activity were at the origin of the rise of the Shi`ite bloc. Others trace the phenomenon of Shi`ism back to the era of Imam `Ali's Caliphate and whatever political and social circumstances had taken shape within the pale of events of the time. Still others claim that, within the historical sequence of the Islamic community, the appearance of the Shi`ites occurred through still later events than these.3
As far as I can tell, what has prompted many of these scholars to believe that Shi`ism was a phenomenon merely incidental to Islamic society is precisely that the Shiites of early Islam represented but a tiny portion of the Ummah. This fact may have inspired the feeling that what was not Shi`i must have then been the predominant pattern in Islamic society, and that Shi'ism was the exception, an accidental phenomenon whose causes can be discovered through developments relating to the opposition to the dominant order.
But to consider either numerical majority or relative minority as grounds enough for distinguishing the dominant order from the exception, or the original root from the schism, lacks logical rigour. It is incorrect to describe “non-Shi'ism” as dominant simply on the basis of a numerical majority; and, based on numerical inferiority, to relegate “Shi'ism” to an incidental phenomenon and the idea of schism.
That would not agree with the nature of creedal divisions, since many divisions can remain within the fold of a single message and arise only through the differences attending the process of defining certain of the message's features. No two credal divisions ever have numerical equivalence, although both sides may at bottom be seeking to express the same message on whose nature they disagree.
Hence, under no circumstances can we build our conception upon a creedal division between Shi'ism and other currents within the Islamic Mission4 based on numbers alone; just as we may not link the birth of the Shi'i thesis, as it occurs within the framework of the Islamic Mission, with the advent of the word “Shi'ites” or “Shi'ism” taken as a technical term or proper noun for a clearly defined group among the Muslims. This is because the advent of names and technical terms is one thing, and the development of the content, the actual current and the thesis are another. If we cannot find the word “Shiites”5 in current usage at the time of God's Messenger, or immediately following his death, this does not mean that the Shiite current and thesis did not exist.
With this frame of mind, then, let us turn to the issue of “Shi`ism” and “Shi`ites” in order to answer the following two questions:
What is the origin of Shi'ism?
How did the Shi'ites emerge?
With respect to the first question - “What is the origin of Shi`ism?” -one may safely regard Shi'ism as a consequence that is natural to Islam, representing a thesis whose realization is imperative for the Call (or Mission of Islam1) if the latter's sound progress is to be assured.
It is possible for us logically to infer this thesis from the Call of Islam, led by the Prophet, because its formation was natural and due to particular circumstances. The Prophet had put into practice a revolutionary leadership, and drove for a comprehensive change of society, its conventions, structures and ideas. But the road to such a change was not to be a short one. It was long, extending the length of that deep spiritual chasm separating pre-Islam from Islam. The calling pursued by the Prophet had to begin with the man of pre-Islam in order to create a new being out of him; it was from the pre-Islamic world that the man of Islam would issue, carrying the new light to the rest of the world. This Mission had to extirpate every last root and vestige in him of pre-Islam.2
Within a short period of time, this remarkable leader was able to make quite amazing progress in the drive for change. But this drive had also to continue its lengthy path even after his death. The Prophet had known for some time that his term was nearing an end. He openly announced it at the “Farewell Pilgrimage.”3 Death hardly took him by surprise. That means that he had ample opportunity to ponder the fate of the Mission beyond his lifetime, even if we disregard the element of a liaison with the hidden world, or for that matter the direct Grace of God evinced by the Message revealed to him.4
In the light of this, we may note that the Prophet had before him three possible paths to choose from with respect to the future. First, the path of denial; second, the affirmative path (for example, consultation); third, appointment.5 These will constitute the three discussions to be taken up below.
Based on such an attitude, the Prophet would have assumed a stance of denial with respect to the Mission of Islam, being content to pursue his own leadership role and to direct the Mission only while he lived. He would thus have abandoned it to circumstance and chance. But such a position of denial cannot be assumed for the Prophet, because it would have to arise from one of two issues that fail to apply to him.
This consists of the belief denial and neglect cannot affect the fate of the Mission, and that the Ummah that would soon inherit the Call of Islam was capable enough to assume the responsibility of protecting it and ensuring against its distortion.
In fact, this belief has absolutely no basis. Rather, the pattern of events was such as to point to something else. This is because the Call - being from the outset a mission for revolutionary change aimed at constructing an Ummah and at eradicating every root of pre-Islam from it - would become exposed to the worst dangers if the stage were suddenly voided of its leader, or abandoned by him without any pre-arrangements.
Firstly, there are the inherent dangers engendered by trying to confront this vacuum without any advance planning, and by the urgent need to take a makeshift position while still under the massive shock of having lost the Prophet.
If the Messenger had abandoned the stage without planning the course of the Islamic Mission, the Ummah would for the first time have faced the responsibility of managing the most serious problems of its mission without a leader but brandishing not the slightest prescription. The situation called for immediate and swift application - despite the gravity of the underlying problem - because a vacuum cannot persist.2
Indeed, a hasty measure was taken at a moment of shock for the Ummah, reeling as it was from the loss of its leader. This was the shock which, by its very nature, was to upset the course of thinking in Islam, leaving it in such disarray that its effects induced a well-known Companion to announce that the Prophet neither has nor will die.3 But such a measure could not but entail danger, with the most undesirable consequences.
Second are the dangers emanating from a message that is not consummated at a level that could allow the Prophet to be certain of anticipating the actual procedures soon to be taken, and to keep within the fold of the Islamic Call. That would not have enabled him to prevail over latent dissensions that continued to survive in crevices deep inside the hearts of the Muslims, which dissensions were based on the divisions between the Muhajirun (those who migrated to the City of Medina) and the Ansar (native Medinans); the Quraysh and the rest of the Arab tribes; Mecca and Medina.4
Third, there axe dangers arising from that segment of society which passes under the cover of Islam; but against which it used to conspire during the Prophet's lifetime. This is the group that the Qur'an collectively calls the “Hypocrites.”5
If we add to them a good number of those who embraced Islam after the taking of Mecca, who were more resigned to the new order of things than open to truth as such, we can then assess the threat posed as all these elements seized their opportunity for a broad initiative, doing so just when - the stage being cleared of the leader as the custodian - a large vacuum had existed.6 Hence, the gravity of the situation after his departure was not something that could have been hidden from any leader seasoned in doctrinal matters, let alone the Seal of the Prophets.7
It might well be true that Abu Bakr, moreover, had no intention of leaving the scene without a positive intervention ensuring the future of political authority, on the argument that there was need of precaution under the circumstances.8 It may also be true that people rushed to `Umar, when he was wounded, imploring him: “O Commander of the Faithful, if you would only nominate someone.”9
This was done out of fear of the vacuum that the Caliph would soon leave behind, notwithstanding the political and social solidity which the Islamic Mission had attained a decade after the passing away of the Prophet. Also, `Umar may well have named six persons10 in his will in deference to the latter's presentiment of danger. He must have seen the depth of this perilous situation on the Day of the Saqifah and what Abu Bakr's Caliphate would bring in its train, in view of its doubly improvised appearance, since he declared that “Abu Bakr's oath-taking was an oversight from whose evil God has shielded us.”11
Abu Bakr himself regretted his hasty acceptance to become the sovereign as he bore the heavy responsibility that went with it, in that he became aware of the seriousness of the situation and the need to venture some quick solution. When he was censured for accepting to be sovereign, his words were: “God's Messenger has died, and the people only recently were in a state of faithless ignorance. I took alarm that they might be beguiled, but my companions charged me with the task.”12
If all of the above is valid,13 at any rate, it stands to reason that the Prophet and exemplar of the Call to Islam would have been the most aware of the danger of denial,14 most perceptive and farsighted in his understanding of the nature of the situation and the exigencies of the change he pursued in an Ummah newly emerging from faithless ignorance, in the words of Abu Bakr.15
The second issue which could explain why the leader would have disavowed the fate of the Mission, or its progress, after his death goes as follows. Despite his awareness of the danger of the situation, he did not attempt to fortify the Mission of Islam against this danger, supposedly because he was mindful of the advantages. And so, his only concern was to protect the Mission while he lived in order to benefit from it and to enjoy the gains, caring little to secure its fate beyond his own lifetime.
This explanation cannot hold true for the Prophet, even if we should refuse to describe him as a Prophet dedicated to God through everything connected to the Message, making him out instead to be a leader with a message no different from any other. Yet, in the entire history of message-bearing leaders no one matches Muhammad in his earnestness toward the Call or, to his last breath, in his devoted sacrifice for its furtherance. His whole life proves it. Even as he lay on his deathbed, his illness worsening, he was concerned about a battle he had earlier planned. Preparing to deploy Usamah's forces, he repeated: “Make ready the army of Usamah, send it forth, send off Usamah!” as he fainted now and then.16
If the Prophet's attentiveness toward a single problem of military interest relating to the Call could go to that length, as he slowly expired on his deathbed; if knowing that he will die before plucking the fruit of victory did not prevent him from tending to the battle; in short, if he could maintain active interest while drawing his last few breaths of life - how, then, could one possibly think that the Prophet did not lived through moments of anxiety over the fate of the Call? How could he not have planned for its welfare in the face of anticipated dangers?
Finally, there is one record in the Prophet's life, during his last illness, which is sufficient to refute the entire case for the “first path.” It shows that nothing was more remote for such an outstanding leader as our Prophet Muhammad than to assume the position of denial with respect to the future of the Call, simply because of a lack of sensitivity to the dangers or to a disinterest in its nature.
This record, upon whose line of transmission all fair-minded Muslims - whether Sunni or Shi'i -without exception agree upon, is as follows. With certain men present in the house where he was about to face death, including `Umar b. al Khattab, the Prophet made a request: “Bring me the inkwell and tablet17 that I may write you an epistle. After this you shall never stray.”18
This attempt by the leader - the soundness and authoritative transmission of whose account, once again, is roundly accepted - points unequivocally to the fact that he did reflect on the future. He saw clearly the necessity to provide a plan by which the Ummah can be fortified against deviation and the Mission of Islam protected from dissolution or ruin.
Hence, it is not possible to presuppose a position of denial19 for the Prophet.
The second path consists in the hypothesis that the Prophet had mapped out the future of the Islamic Mission after his death, adopting an affirmative stance by establishing a custodianship and an experienced leadership for the Ummah based on a consultative order, where the first, doctrinally-steeped generation would bring together both Muhajirin and Ansar. Representing the Ummah, this is the generation that was to constitute the base for political authority and the mainstay for the leadership of the Mission as it expanded.
It should be noted, however, that the situation which generally prevailed for the Prophet, including the Mission and those who promoted it, was not conducive to this course. In fact, it tends to contradict such a hypothesis. That he held the mission's leadership which came immediately after him to a system of consultation operated by the Ummah's first generation of Muhajiran and Ansar, or ever opted for such a course, is highly questionable. Here are some points of clarification.
Had the Prophet adopted an affirmative position towards the future of the Mission that envisaged setting up straightaway a system of consultation to be emulated after his death, with the Mission's command resting on a leadership emanating directly from such a system, the most obvious thing would have been for him to take measures to apprise the Ummah and those actively engaged in its cause of some system of consultation, its limits and particulars. He would have informed them about its religious and sacred character, or prepared the community intellectually and spiritually in order for it to accept such a system, it being a community which originated partly among clans. For before Islam, the Ummah did not live by political consultation, but rather by an arbitrary tribal and clan system based on domination through power, wealth and hereditary relations.1
It is obvious that the Prophet did not seek to give advice on a consultative system, whether in respect of its legal particulars or its intellectual concepts. Naturally, if this were ever undertaken, it would have been reflected in the hadiths handed down from the Prophet. It would certainly have been reflected in the minds of people - at least the Ummah's first generation comprised of both Muhajirin and Ansar whose responsibility it should have been to apply such a system of consultation. But we simply do not find any legal notion in the hadiths of the Prophet delimiting any such order.2 There are no particular traits within the mentality of the Ummah, or that of the first generation, that specifically reflect such advice.
Actually, the early generation contained two currents. The first was the one led by the members of the Prophet's Household; the other expressed itself at the Saqifah and in the Caliphate that emerged after the passing of the Prophet. Clearly, the former meant belief in Guardianship (wisayah) and the Imamate3, along with an emphasis on close kinship to the Prophet; and none of that reflected any belief in the idea of consultation.4
Regarding the second tendency, all the records and the evidence concerned with the: Prophet's actual practice yield a picture which leaves little doubt that he did not believe in the system of consultation (as suggested); nor did he build a practical policy based on it. The same attitude is found among other groups within that generation of Muslims which witnessed the death of the Prophet.5 This is supported by the fact that Abu Bakr, his physical state worsening, inaugurated `Umar b. al-Khattab and ordered `Uthman to record the oath. He wrote:
In the Name of God the Merciful and Compassionate. That is what Abu Bakr, Successor of God's Messenger, has obligated the Faithful and the Muslims with. Peace be with you. To God I give praise before thee. Thereupon, I place `Umar b. al-Khattab at your service. So hearken and obey!6
`Abd al-Rahman b. `Awf then interjected, saying, “And what becometh of you, O Successor of God's Messenger.” To which he replied, “I am to depart. But you have increased my torment: as you watch me deposit this trust upon someone from your midst, each of you scowls, demanding all to himself...”7 It is clear, from this succession and the disapproval of the opposition, that the Caliph was not thinking in the spirit of any system of consultation. He took it as his right to designate a successor, and to expect compliance with this designation from the Muslims. This is why he commanded them “to hear and to obey.”8 It was not a question of presenting or announcing a candidate, but one of investiture and obligation.
`Umar, in turn, found it within his right to impose a successor upon the Muslims. He did it through a circle of six persons, to whom he assigned the task of designation, leaving the rest of the Muslims no role whatsoever in the selection.9 But this meant that his method of succession did not express the spirit of consultation, any more than did that of the first Caliph. Upon being asked by the populace to appoint a successor, `Umar declared, “If one of two men - Salim Mawla Abi Hudhayfah and Abu `Ubaydah b. al-Jarrah - had come to me, I would have done that with him, as I trust him; had Sahm been living, I would not have set it up as a consultation.”10
On his deathbed, Abu Bakr told `Abd al-Rahman b. `Awf in confidence, “I wish I had asked the Messenger of God to whom is the right. No one then would have challenged it.”11 When the Ansar had gathered at Saqifah in order to make Sa`d b. `Ibadah the Amir, someone from their midst called out: “When the Qurayshi Muhajirs refuse, they or some group in their midst say, `We are Muhajirun. We are [the Prophet's] clan and the first to have embraced Islam.' To which we retort, `One Amir from us, one from you'; less than this we shall never accept.”' But in his address, Abu Bakr answered them: “We are the Muhajir clans of the Muslims and the first to embrace Islam. In this respect, the populace comes after us. We axe the clan of the Messenger of God and, of all the Arabs, foremost in kinship [to him].”12 When the Ansar, proposed that the Caliphate alternate between the Muhajirin and the Ansar, Abu Bakr answered:
When the Messenger of God was sent the Arabs were too self-important to abandon the religion of their forefathers, so they opposed and distressed him. But God has marked off those of His people who migrated as being the first [al-Muhajirin al-awwalin] to have faith in him. In all the earth, they were the first to worship God; they are his [i.e. the Prophet's] friends and his kin, the mostt deserving to rule after him. None but the unjust would contest this... 13
Encouraging the Ansars rigidity was al-Habbab b. al-Mundhir, who contended, `.`Stay your course! People are under your sway, and should anyone insist, then let there be one Amir from us and another from them...”14 'Umar responded by saying: “As likely as two swords sheathed together! Who shall' quarrel with us, his Friends and kinsfolk, about the authority of Muhammad, or what he has bequeathed, but a deceiver - one given to sin and tangled in failure?”15
In sum: the method used by the first and second Caliphs to appoint a successor; the absence of any disapproval of it by most Muslims; the spirit that dominated the thinking of the Muhajirin and the Ansar (the two rivals of the first generation on the Day of Saqifah); the initial tendency which clearly set the Muhajirin on the path to establishing a principle restricting all power to themselves; the Ansar's exclusion from power; the emphasis on what the Prophet has bequeathed, justified in terms of the precedence enjoyed by his clan above all others; the readiness of many Ansar to accept the idea of two Ami`rs (the one from the Ansar, the other from the Muhajirin); Abu Bakes expression of regret, upon becoming Caliph, for failing to ask the Prophet about who was most qualified after him: etc.16 - all this makes it clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that the thinking adopted by that segment of the first generation of Muslims to whom power was transferred after the Prophet's death was not based on consultation. No definite idea about such a system had existed. How then can one imagine the Prophet giving legal and intellectual notification of a consultative system, or preparing a whole generation of Muhajirin and Ansar for the transfer of leadership within the Mission of Islam based on such a system? How can it be so if no conscious application of such a precise system or concept to be found?17 By the same token, one cannot imagine that the Messenger, as the leader, could have put this system in place, given it legal and conceptual definition, and then failed to apprise the Muslims of it or to educate them in it.18
All that only proves that the Prophet never intended to offer consultation as an alternate system. It is unlikely that it was proposed in any manner corresponding to its importance, and later to vanish altogether from every quarter and every political tendency.19 What makes this truth quite plain are the following points.
First of all, by its very nature the consultative system was new for the kind of milieu that had never seen, before the prophethood of Muhammad, any finished system of governance,' which makes it all the more necessary that a concentrated effort to inculcate it would have been undertaken, as indicated above.20
Secondly, being a foggy notion, “consultation” is ill-suited as something having any chance of being implemented, however much one tries to expound its details, measures and standards of preference in the event of disagreement; or, indeed, whether these standards depend at all ran number and quantity, or on quality and experience, etc. - in short, all the things that might have given the idea its features and suitability for implementation21 right after the Prophet's death?
Thirdly, in one forth or another, in fact consultation enunciated for the Ummah an exercise of authority by way of mutual consultation and a determination of political self-determination the responsibility for which attaches to a great number of people (namely, all those implicated in the consultation). Therefore, if it were a legally-sanctioned political rule, to be implemented after the Prophet, it would have been presented to as many of these people as possible. And they would have had a positive view of consultation, each bearing his measure of the responsibility.22
These points prove that if the Prophet were to adopt the consultative system as a substitute for what existed during his own lifetime, he would have been duty-bound to give full scope to preparing for the idea of consultation, both in terms of depth and in a general psychological sense. He would have had to fill every gap, disclose every detail that could make it a practical idea.
At that level, he would need to give it quantity, quality and depth - which was an impossible thing to do. But all these features then would have had to be expunged anyways from the Muslims' midst, the Prophet's own contemporaries. For one would think that the Prophet had to present the idea of consultation in an appropriate form, on a scale called for by the situation, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in order to make it comprehensible to the Muslims; before political impulses were suddenly awakened, obscuring the truth and forcing the people to suppress whatever they happened to hear from the Prophet about consultation, its precepts and details.
But this hypothesis, too, is not practicable. Whatever may be said about these impulses, they did not apply to ordinary Muslims, the Companions of the Prophet who had no part in political events after his death, or in raising the pyramid of the Saqifah.
Their position was only secondary, though one that always represents a numerically large portion of every society, regardless of how much politics may impinge upon it.23
Had consultation been proposed by the Prophet in the desired dimensions, the politically-motivated would not have been the only audience to hear its stipulations. On the contrary, different people would have heard them. These stipulations would have been reflected naturally among the common people who had known the Prophet; just as the Prophetic traditions recorded by the Companions themselves did, in fact, with respect to the superiority of Imam `Ali and his Guardianship (wisayitihi).
How, then; can political impulses have failed to prevent hundreds of hadiths by the Prophet concerning Imam `Ali, his Guardianship and religious authority24 from reaching us through the Companions, even though they conflicted with the dominant current at the time; whereas nothing has come down to us that conveys the least information about the notion of consultation.25
Indeed, those who typified the dominant current frequently disagreed in their political stances. It was in the interest of one or the other faction to use consultation as a slogan against the other. Still, we do not know of any of these factions having employed this slogan as a judgement actually taken from the Prophet. For example, one might observe Talhah's rejection of Abu Bakr's designation of `Umar, over which he was indignant.26 Despite this, he never contemplated playing consultation as a card against this designation, or to condemn Abu Bakr's stance by claiming that he contradicted what the Prophet had said about consultation and selection.
The second point is this. If the Prophet had decided to make the first generation -- one that included both the Muhujirun and the Ansar from among his Companions - overseers of the Islamic Mission after he was gone, responsible for continuing the drive for change, this would have obliged him, as the leader, to enlist their broad intellectual and apostolic commitment in such a way as to maintain certain theoretical depth; in the light of which they could consciously seek practical application.
In this way, from the Divine Message itself would issue solutions to the constant problems faced by the Islamic Mission; especially as the Prophet, auguring the fall of Khusraw and Caesar,27 knew that the Islamic Call would soon see a grand victory. He knew that the Islamic Ummah would shortly include new peoples in its ranks and extend over great distances. It would soon be its responsibility to inculcate these peoples in Islam, to fortify itself against the dangers represented by this expansion, and to apply the provisions of the Law to the inhabitants of the lands conquered.
This was in spite of the fact that, of all generations, the first that inherited the Call was the most inculpable, the most prepared to sacrifice. But it was one that showed no indication of any special preparation to assume the custodianship of the Mission, let alone a deep or wide-ranging instruction in its notions. The records that warrant this rejection of this are too many to be included here.
Indeed, in this connection one might observe that, all .told, what the Companions have managed to transmit in stipulations from the Prophet in the area of legislation does not exceed a few hundred hadiths.28 At the same time, the Companions numbered close to twelve thousand, as reckoned by the history books.29 The Prophet used to live among thousands of them in a single city, with a single place of worship, morning and night. Therefore, would there not have been in these records some indication of a special preparation?
Actually, the Companions were known to avoid putting questions to the Prophet. Instead, awaiting a querying Bedouin arriving from out of town, they would allow one from their midst to overhear the answer.30
They were of the opinion that it was more convenient to abstain from asking about the legal provisions of decrees that had not yet come to pass. With this idea in mind, `Umar proclaimed from the pulpit, “I forbid anyone to ask about what does not exist. It is God who discloses that which He brings forth...”31 “It is not permissible,” he insisted, “for anyone to ask about what is not. God has given His Decree for what He brings forth into existence...”32 One day, a man came to Ibn `Umar asking about something.
He replied, “Do not ask about something that is not. I heard `Umar b. al-Khattab denounce the person who asked about what is not...”33 A man also queried Ubayy b. Ka`b concerning a particular problem; the latter told him: “My son, has what you ask me about come to pass?” “No.” “Then allow me to defer my answer until it has,” Ubayy b. Ka`b returned.” 34
`Umar one day was reciting the Qur'an, and then stopped at the words:
“And (We) produce therein Corn, and grapes and nutritious plants, olives and dates, enclosed gardens, fruits and abban [`fodder'].35
Then he said, “We know all of these, but what is the `abb'.. By God, this is onerous. You are not accountable for what you cannot understand. Follow only what appears limpid to you in the Book, and act accordingly. What you do not know leave to the one who can master it ...”36
In sum, the Companions tended to be averse to all questioning beyond the limits of current, definable problems. This tendency, of course, led to the scanty number of legal stipulations transmitted from the Messenger. But beyond that, it led to the need for sources other than the Book and the Prophetic Tradition (sunnah) - such as juridical discretion (istihsan), analogy (qiyas) and other types of independent legal judgement (ij'tihad) in which the personal identity of the interpreter comes into play.37
Their aversion thus paved the way for an infiltration of the legislative process by the human personality through men's particular tastes and ideas. And such a tendency was furthest removed from the special apostolic preparation required by this generation. Such a preparation implies extensive training and instruction in the legal resolution of problems soon to be faced during its leadership.
Just as the Companions had refrained from querying the Prophet, so they failed to collect his sayings and traditions (sunnatihi),38 although these comprised Islam's second (legislative) source.
Collection is the only method of preserving and protecting them from loss or distortion. Based on Yahya b. Sa'd (who transmitted, in turn, from `Abd Allah b. Dinar), al-Harawi uttered these disparaging words: “Neither [the Prophet's] Companions nor those who followed used to write the sayings [hadith]. Instead they conveyed them verbally and committed them to memory.”39
In fact, according to Ibn Sa`d's Tabaqat, the Second Caliph had been confused as to the best position to take with respect to the Prophetic Tradition (sunnat al-rasul). This persisted for a month, after which he announced -a prohibition against recording any of it.” Thus it was that the Messenger's practice, the most important source for Islam after the Holy Book itself, was given over to fate, subject to forgetfulness here, to distortion there and, finally, to the passing away over a course of about 150 years of all those who had it stored in their memory.”40
The exception in this regard were those who upheld the (rights of the) Prophetic Household (ahl al-bayt). They tirelessly began recording and collecting from the very first period. There are narratives relating how the Imams had collected a voluminous book in which are gathered the words of the Messenger himself in the handwriting of `Ali b. Abi Ta1ib's4142
Does anyone honestly believe that an artless course - if, indeed, even artlessness is pertinent - such as eschewing all questioning about an event prior to its occurrence, or of refusing to record the Prophet's practices once they materialize, can ever make one equal to the task of heading the new apostleship at the most critical and most difficult phase of its protracted course? Does one really believe that the Messenger has left his Tradition (sunnatahu) scattered about without record or precision, while enjoining adherence to it?43
Or, would it not have been necessary to establish the statutes of “consultation” and to fix its norms (if indeed he were preparing the way for such a system), so as to set it on a stable and definite path, where idiosyncracies would not come into play. 44
Is not the only reasonable explanation for this approach by the Prophet that he prepared Imam `Ali as the leading authority and for a practical leadership after he is gone; indeed, pouring immeasurable knowledge (“a thousand doors”) and turning his Tradition entirely over to him.45 Events after the Prophet's death have confirmed that the generation of Muhajirin and Ansar could not truly claim to be in possession of definite instructions for the many significant problems confronted by the Mission of Islam.
So much so that neither the Caliph nor his circle of supporters had any clear idea of how to govern the prodigious land area, over which Islam had triumphed, according to the religious rule of law - whether to distribute it to the soldiery or to make it an endowment for collective use by the Muslims.'46
Is it conceivable that the Prophet would assure the Muslims of their imminent triumph over the “Land of Khusrow and Caesar,”47 making the Muhajirin and Ansar custodians over the Mission of Islam to preside over this conquest, but then fail to inform them how the religious rule of law needed to be implemented over these great expanses of land that would soon to come into the fold of Islam?
What is more, the generation contemporary with the Prophet did not posses any clear, definite idea even of purely religious matters, although the Prophet performed his acts hundreds of times in his Companions' full view. One may mention, by way of example, the prayer for the dead. This is an act of worship that had been openly performed by the Prophet numerous times. He performed it at public funerals, which were open to all participants and worshippers.
Despite this, the Companions apparently did not consider it necessary to know the ritual itself so long as the Prophet performed it and so long as they followed him, step by step. As a result, they disagreed after his death over how many times to utter exaltations to God during prayers over the dead. Al-Tahawi related, on the authority of Ibrahim:
God's Messenger died while people were still arguing over the exaltation of God at funerals. One could hardly wish for less than to hear a man say, “I heard the Messenger exalt God five times'; and then another to say, “I heard the Messenger exalt God four times.” They disagreed on this until the death of Abu Bakr. When `Umar succeeded him and saw how people disagreed, he became very troubled.
So he communicated to some men from among the Companions of the Messenger the following: “You are fellows to the Companions of the Messenger: when you bring disagreement to the people, they will [continue to] disagree after you. When you bring agreement concerning a matter, people will agree on it.” It was as if he had roused them from sleep. For they answered, “What an excellent view, O Commander of the Faithful!”48
Hence, the Companions used mostly to rely on the Prophet, while he lived, sensing no immediate need to understand the legal rulings or notions so long as they were in his charge.49
It might be argued that this depiction of the Companions, together with whatever the records say about their lack of fitness to lead, contradict what we generally believe - namely, that the moral education given them by the Prophet was tremendously successful; since it brought into being a towering, apostolic generation.
The answer to this is as follows. In the foregoing, we have tried to establish an actual picture of the entire generation that witnessed the Prophet's death, without finding anything that might contradict in any significant way the positive value of the moral education given by the Prophet during his noble life. The reason is that we believe Prophetic moral education, at the same time, to be a stupendous instance of Divine (Grace) - indeed the revival of a messengership quite unique in the lengthy history of prophethood - we find that neither this belief nor a realistic valuation of the product of such an education can stand solely on a picture of the final results, separate from the circumstances and conditions. Nor can it be had by noting the quantity apart from the quality.
To clarify, let us consider the following example. Supposing there is a teacher teaching the English language and its rules to a number of pupils. Now, let us suppose we would like to evaluate his teaching abilities. We cannot be satisfied with the teaching of the subject matter alone, nor with what the pupils managed to assimilate or to grasp of the English language and its rules. Rather, we would tie this to the time frame he needed to teach. We would also have to determine the pupil's prior standing; their initial proximity or distance to an English environment; the amount of difficulty or exceptional toil met with in the process of teaching hindering its natural course; and, finally, the which the teacher had in view as he taught his pupils the rules of language. The final product is as much a function of the teaching process as it is of various other pedagogical conditions.50
Concerning the valuation of the moral education given by the Prophet, one must take into consideration:
One, the brevity of the period in which the Prophet had been able to provide moral education; it did not exceed two decades from the oldest companionship of those few who befriended him at the outset; it does not exceed one decade relative to the Ansar, and is no more than three or four years relative to the enormous numbers entering Islam -starting from the Accord of Hudaybiyyah and onwards to the triumph over Mecca.
The second consideration concerns the (general) situation prevailing before the Prophet had begun to play his role, the one experienced intellectually, spiritually, religiously and behaviorally. It includes whatever people happened to be bound to out of naivety, intellectual idleness and impetuousness in diverse areas of life. I find no need to elaborate the point further, it being self-evident that Islam was not a project for superficial social change, but rather for a change at the roots. It was the revolutionary construction of a new community. This implies a vast spiritual parting of ways between, on the one hand, the new situation realized through the Prophet's efforts to educate the Ummah; and, on the other, the one that preceded.51
The third consideration has to do with the profusion of events in this period - all kinds of political and military struggles that took place on numerous fronts. This is a matter that distinguishes the nature of the relation between the Prophet and his Companions from the type of relation that existed between a person like Jesus Christ and his disciples. It was not a relation that was quite that of a teacher or mentor devoted exclusively to the training of his pupils, but one that corresponded to the Prophet's position alike of mentor, military leader and head of state.52
The fourth concerns what the Muslims collectively faced as a result of their friction with the People of the Book53 and various religious cultures encountered through social and doctrinal struggle. This friction, along with what those imbued in previous religious cultures had maintained within this forum, in opposition to the new Call, was a source of constant agitation and disturbance. It is widely known that it gave shape to an intellectual current based on Israelite legends,54 which crept rather spontaneously or inadvertently into many areas of thought.55 A careful perusal of the Qur'an is enough to reveal both the scope of the content of counter-revolutionary thought and Divine Revelation's concern to guard against and to contest its ideas.56
Fifthly, the goal which the mentor, at that stage, strove to achieve at a general level was the creation of a healthy popular base that would permit those presiding over the new Mission - whether in his lifetime or thereafter - to collaborate with it and to persevere along the path of experiment. At the time, the short term objective, as such, was not to raise the Ummah up to the level of the leadership itself, in a way that required complete understanding of the Message or a comprehensive grasp of its precepts.
It did not demand absolute adherence to its ideas. At that stage, to define the goal with this in mind is quite logical, and necessary with respect to the nature of the drive for change. It would be unreasonable to prescribe a goal that is incompatible with practical possibilities. Practical possibility in a situation such as the one Islam faced could never exist except within the limits alluded to here, since the spiritual, intellectual and social division between the new Mission and the corrupt reality that prevailed at the time did. not allow people to rise to a level at which they could immediately lead the Mission.
We shall elaborate on this in the next point,57 demonstrating its modality -which is that the continuity of guardianship with respect to the new and revolutionary experience is best embodied in the imamate of the Prophetic Household (ahl al-bayt) and `Ali's Succession. It was inevitable, imposed by the logic of change upon the course of history.
Sixthly, the Prophet left behind a large portion of the Ummah comprised of those who became Muslims after the Conquest - that is, who entered Islam after Mecca had been won over58 and after the new Mission had become politically and militarily preponderant in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Prophet had had scant opportunity to deal with these Muslims in the brief period that followed the conquest. The bulk of his dealings with them, in his capacity as sovereign, was strictly a function of the juncture that the Islamic State was passing through. It was at that juncture that the idea of “those whose hearts were brought together” (al-mu'allafah qulubuhum) appeared, one that acquired a place in the legislation concerning almsgiving (zakat)59 and other procedures. But this part of the Ummah was not isolated from others; it merged with them. It was influential and was, in turn, influenced.
Viewed within the framework established by these six issues, Prophetic moral education yielded prodigious results; it achieved a unique transformation and brought up a righteous generation wellsuited for what the Prophet was aiming for: to form a sound, popular base that could rally support around the leadership in this new experiment.
But this generation appears then to have acted as a sound, popular base so long as well-guided leadership was embodied in the Prophet. If the leadership had been able to maintain this Divine course, the base would have played its true role. This in no way implies that it was ready in practice to assume this leadership, or itself to steer the Islamic experiment.
Such a readiness requires a greater degree of pious and spiritual merging with the Call, much better comprehension of its precepts, concepts and various perspectives on life. It required a more thorough cleansing of its ranks of the “Hypocrites,” infiltrators and “those whose hearts were brought together60 - who collectively continued to form a portion of this generation having a certain numerical importance,61 and historical factuality.
This segment had its negative effects, as indicated by the sheer bulk of what the Qur'an says about the Hypocrites, their schemes and postures. It nevertheless had individuals - such as Salman, Abu Dharr, `Ammar and others - whom experience was able to mold exquisitely for an apostolic purpose and of assimilating in its crucible.62
That these individuals were found among the larger generation taken as a whole, in my view, hardly proves that the latter ever collectively attained the kind of level that could justify vesting it with the tasks of the Islamic experiment simply on the basis of consultation.
Even the majority of these individuals - as lofty of manner, deeply loyal or sincere as they may have been towards the Call of Islam - did not have in them anything that justified assuming they were apostolically qualified to preside, either intellectually or culturally, over this experience. Islam is not just a human outlook to be intellectually worked out in the course of practice and application,63 and its concepts crystallized through faithful experimentation.
It is the very Message of God whose precepts, or concepts, are delimited and endowed with the general legal provisions demanded by the experience.64 Leadership in the Islamic experiment cannot do without a grasp of the details and limits of the Message; it has to attend to its precepts and concepts.65
Otherwise, it will be forced to look to mental precedents and to its own tribal underpinnings. And that would lead to certain regression for the course of the experiment; particularly when one notes that Islam constitutes the seal of all the heavenly messages: it has to stretch over time, transcending the limitations of era, region and nation.66
This fact did not permit the leadership that was to establish the foundation for this temporal span to engage in trial and error, heaping mistake upon mistake over time until the resulting hiatus threatened the entire experiment with breakdown and collapse.67
All of the above suggests that the instruction administered by the Prophet to the Muhajirin and the Ansar, at a general level, was not such as would be required for the preparation of a leadership intellectually or politically mindful of the future of the Islamic Call and the drive for change. It was a kind of instruction, rather, that was conducive to building a watchful popular base, one which could rally around the Mission's present and future leadership.
Any hypothesis claiming that the Prophet had been planning to hand over leadership of the experiment and custodianship after his death immediately to the Muhajirin and Ansar would entail, among other things, having to accuse the most sensible and discerning leader in the entire history of reform, one bearing a Divine Message, of being incapable of distinguishing between two things: a level of awareness called for by the popular base of the Mission, and one called for by the Mission's leadership, intellectual and political guidance.
The Call of Islam is for change and a new way of life. It aims at building a new Ummah, extirpating every root and trace of pre-Islam.
Collectively, the Islamic Ummah had hardly been under the aegis of this movement of change for more than a single decade, at most. In the logic of doctrinal missions - or any calling for change, for that matter - this short span of time was insufficient to raise a generation under the tutelage of the Call to some level of awareness, objectivity and emancipation from the dregs of the past.68
It did not allow it to fathom fully what this new Call offered; nor could it help it, leaderless, to qualify for custodianship, bear full responsibility and complete the drive for change. The logic of doctrinal missions impels toward doctrinal tutelage for the Ummah for a longer period of time, permitting it to adapt to the custodians' higher level.69
This is not something that can simply be inferred. It describes a truth demonstrated by the events that took place after the Prophet's death. It manifested itself within half-a-century or less of practice by the Muhajirin and the Ansar - leading and assuming custody of the Mission. No sooner had a quarter of a century of custodianship passed than the “Rightly-Guided Caliphate” and the Islamic experiment led by the Muhajirin and the Ansar began to -crumble under the heavy blows delivered by Islam's old enemies70 - although from within, not from without.
The latter were able gradually to penetrate the executive centers and furtively to exploit the leadership, which they then impudently and fiercely wrenched control of. They compelled the Ummah, its first and foremost generation, to abdicate its identity and headship. Governing was thus transformed into hereditary kingship,71 characterized by a disregard for respectability, slaying of the innocent,72 squandering of wealth,73 suspension of punishments and freezing of legal rulings,74 and playing with people's destinies. Land and spoils became the Quraysh's only requital, as the sons of Bani Umayyah jostled over the Caliphate.75 The situation in which the experiment found itself after the Prophet was gone, along with the consequences that shook it violently a quarter-century later, support -our reasoning - which is that an immediate transfer of political and intellectual authority to the Muhajirun and the Ansar after the Prophet's death was a step too early to take and not at all timely.
Therefore, that the Prophet had ever taken such a step is simply untenable.
The third hypothetical path is that of affirmation, representing the preparation and investiture of whomever will lead the Ummah. This is the only path in keeping with the natural order of things. It is especially reasonable in light of the conditions surrounding the Islamic Call, the people promoting it and the Prophet's own conduct.1
The third option, then, is that the Prophet had adopted an affirmative stance toward the future of the mission after his death, selecting at God's behest a person for candidate whose presence was intrinsic to the Islamic Mission. Consequently, he would have to prepare this person for an apostolic mission2 and special leadership, so that intellectual authority and political guidance of the experiment may be vested in him...
The purpose was to continue building, after the Prophet's departure, the leadership of the community and its doctrinal edifice, supported by a vigilant popular base composed of Muhajirin and Ansar. Further, it was to permit the community to draw ever closer to a level qualifying it to shoulder the responsibilities of leadership.
Hence, it appears that this path is the only one likely to secure a healthy future for the Mission and to protect the experiment as it grows.3 Certain widely and continuously-reported traditions about the Prophet indicate that he endeavoured to provide special apostolic preparation and doctrinal instruction to one person working for the Islamic Call; this, at a level suited for intellectual and political authority. To this person he entrusted intellectual and political leadership as well as the future of the Call of the Ummah after him.4 This illustrates that the Prophet as leader acted in accordance with the third path, as beckoned to and imposed by the very nature of the circumstances we saw above.
The only propagator of Islam designated for such apostolic preparation, to be handed over the future of the Islamic Call and set up as intellectual and political leader, was 'Ali b. Abi Talib. The Prophet nominated him for this task insofar as his presence was an intrinsic part of the Islamic Mission. He was the foremost Muslim and fighter for its cause all during the tenacious struggle against its foes. This is not to mention his place in the life of the Prophet himself. For he was a foster son to him, opening his eyes for the first time in the Prophet's lap. He grew up in his care, and had ample opportunity to interact with him and to follow in his footsteps, certainly more than any other human being did.5
There is a brimful of evidence from the lives of both the Prophet and Imam `Ali that the former had been been providing Ali with special apostolic training. The Prophet used to single him out for the concepts and truths he transmitted concerning the Call of Islam. For instance, whenever `Ali exhausted his line of questioning with the Prophet, the latter would anticipate him, thereby contributing further to the cultivation of his mind.6 They would spend long hours, day and night, in private. The Prophet opened `Ali's mind to the ideas of the Mission; he taught him about the problems to be encountered along the way and the practical approach adopted until the last day of his noble life.
In his al-Mustadrak, al-Hakim relates the words of Abu Ishaq: “I asked al Qasim b. al-`Abbas, `How is it that `Ali is the heir of the Messenger of God?' He replied, Because among us he is the first to reach him and the closest in clinging to him...”7
In Hilyat al-Awliya' Ibn `Abbas' asserted that “We used to discuss how the Prophet had sworn `Ali in with seventy oaths, which he would never have asked of anyone else.”8
In al-Khasa'is, al-Nassa'i relates that Imam `Ali had stated, “I had a status with the Prophet that no other person possessed. I used to call on the Prophet of God every night. If he was praying, he would finish off with praisngs to God. When not praying, he would admit me in.”9
It is also related that Imam `Ali had said, “My visitations to the Prophet were of two kinds: one by night and another by day...”10 And al Nassa'i recounts that he used to say, “Whenever I questioned the Prophet he obliged; when I remained silent he anticipated me...”11 This is also related by al-Hakim in his al-Mustadrak, with a note on its soundness, based on two famous authorities, or shaykhayn12 al Bukhari and Muslim. Al-Nassa'i says that Umm Salamah declared the following:
About the one to whom Umm Salamah has sworn allegiance: “Of all people `Ali is closest to God's Messenger ...On the very morning that Gods Messenger was to die, [the Messenger] sent for 'Ali. I believe he had dispatched him for something. Then he asked thrice: Has `Ali arrived vet? The latter returned before sunrise. When he came back we knew that [the Messenger] was in some need of him. So we left the house. And that same day we were with the Messenger at A'ishah's house, which I was the last to leave, sitting behind the door, very near to them. `Ali was leaning over him. He was the last person with him, as far as we know. The Messenger took him in confidence and imparted his secrets.13
In his famous Qasi`ah Sermon, Imam `Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, described his unique relationship with the Prophet and the meticulous preparation and moral education he enjoyed:
You well know my place of close kinship and special standing with God's Messenger. He put me in his lap when I was a child, embraced me close to his heart, offered me shelter at his berth. And there, admitted into physical contact with him, I scented his fragrance.
He chewed the food bits to feed me. Never did he find in me a mendacious word nor a patterer's deed. I used to follow him as the weaned young camel does its mother's trail. And every day he would bring up some new teaching in morals, admonishing me to emulate him. Every year he retired to [the Cave of] Hira', where I alone would see him. No single roof then had joined God's Messenger and Khadijah in Islam but that I was its third member.
I witnessed the light of the revelation and the message, and inhaled the scent of prophethood.14 These and other testimonies give us a picture of the kind of special apostolic preparation that the Prophet was accustomed to giving Imam `Ali as instruction for leadership in the Mission of Islam. There are a great many records about Imam `Ali's life after the death of the Prophet which reveal the special training for leadership whose effects were duly reflected in him.
The Imam excelled, indeed was an authority, in resolving difficult problems for the leaders who governed at the time.15 But there is not a single occasion known from the Caliphate period when Imam Ali consulted another, either for an opinion in Islam or for a way to rectify a situation. On the other hand, we know of tens of instances in which those leaders felt the need to refer to Imam `Ali, despite certain wariness.
But if there is abundant evidence that the Prophet had been giving special training to the Imam in order to continue the leadership of the Mission after he was gone, the evidence is no less great that the Prophet as leader of the Ummah had made known his plan; and that intellectual and political leadership over the Mission was transferred by him to Imam 'Ali. This is observable in the hadiths of “al-Dar,”16 'alThaqlayn” (“the Two Weighty Things”),17 “al-Manzilah,”18 al“Ghadir”19, indeed, of tens of other Prophetic traditions.”20
Within the framework of the Islamic Call, Shi'ism is thus embodied in the thesis postulated by the Prophet - at God's behest - aimed at securing the future of the Mission. Accordingly, it is not a phenomenon that was foreign to this stage of events, but a necessary result. It was natural to the Call's genesis, exigencies and initial circumstances, which drove Islam to give birth to “Shi-`ism.”
More particularly, it required of the first leader that he prepare the second leader for the experiment21 through whose hands and those of his successors this experiment will continue to develop in a revolutionary sense. Only then could it draw closer to its goal of change: tearing out every root and vestige of the pre-Islamic past and constructing a new community in accordance with the exigencies of the Call and its responsibilities.
So far we have learned how “Shi'ism” emerged. But whence did the “Shiites” themselves and the attendant division within-the Islamic Ummah originate? This is what we shall now try to answer.
If we observe closely the first stage of the Ummah's existence, the Prophet's lifetime, we shall find from the very outset of the Islamic experience two distinct currents. They coexisted within the same community newly brought to life by the Prophet. Their disaccord led to a doctrinal division immediately following the Prophet's death, one which sundered the Ummah into two sections.
One section was fated to rule, and thus to encompass the majority of Muslims; while the other was shunned from rule, destined to become a minority opposition within the general fold of Islam. Shi'ism was this minority. Herein lie three areas of discussion.
The two chief tendencies closely associated, from the start, with the emergence of the Islamic Ummah during the Prophet's lifetime are:
One, the current representing a belief in the devotional acts of religion, its arbitral power and the unconditional acceptance of religious stipulations for every aspect of life.1
The second is a current which sees religious faith as eliciting devotional deed only within the special scope of overt and covert acts of worship. It believes in the possibility of independent legal Judgement (ijtihad) and free discretion for the amendment and improvement of religious stipulations according to benefits (masalih) which might accrue in other domains of life.2
The Companions, being foremost in faith and enlightenment, were the best fit to create an apostolic community (Ummah risaliyyyah); so much so that in all of human history no doctrinally-cohesive generation has been nobler, more magnificent or unsullied than the one brought up by the Prophet. Despite this, one must accept the existence of a wider tendency - beginning while the Prophet was still alive - proffering independent legal judgement as a way of determining “benefit” and inferring it from the circumstances. It emphasized, on the other hand, devotional acts in strict accordance with the letter, religiously stipulated.
The Prophet on many occasions suffered indignation on account of this tendency, even in his last hours, as he lay on his deathbed (as we shall see).3 But there is the other tendency, which consists in a belief in and acceptance of the arbitral power of religion, such that devotional acts accord with both the religious stipulations and every aspect of life.
One of the reasons behind the spread among Muslims of the tendency toward independent legal judgement is that it seemed to cohere with man's natural inclination to exercise his discretion, especially in view of a perceived or valued benefit rather than of some resolution whose significance he can hardly fathom.
This current counted several bold representatives from among the more well-placed Companions. One case in point is `Umar b. al-Khattab, who used to argue with the Prophet and to exercise independent legal judgement on a number of issues in a way that was at variance with the provisions of the law. He believed this to be permissible so long as he thought his judgement did not impugn “benefit.” In this respect, one may note his position regarding the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and his protestations against it.4
It is observable in regard to several other issues, including the call to ritual prayer (al-adhan), where he exercised his free discretion by omitting the phrase, “Come to the best of deeds” (hayya `ala khayr amal)5; his position concerning the Prophet's legalization of mut'at al-hajj (“marriage during the pilgrimage”)6; and other positions on independent legal Judgement.7
These two currents were both reflected in the assembly called by the Prophet on the last day of his life. Al-Bukhari related in his Sahih the words of Ibn `Abbas:
When death was upon God's Messenger, and at [his] house were men who included `Umar b. al-Khattab, the Prophet said, “Come! let me write you an epistle by which you will never go astray...” `Umar then said, “The Prophet is overcome with pain, but we [still] have the Qur'an. We count on God's Book.” Those present at the house disagreed and quarreled with each other. And one of them said, “Approach that the Prophet may write you a letter by which you shall never go astray.” Another repeated what `Umar had said. When the inanities and the disputing persisted, the Prophet told them, “Leave!'8
This event alone suffices to show the chasm that separated the two currents, the true extent of their incompatibility and rivalry. In order to depict the deeprootedness of independent legal judgement as a current, one may compare this event to the disagreement that erupted among the Companions over Usamah b. Zayd's installation as army commander, despite the Prophet's explicit ordinance to that effect.
The Prophet finally stepped outside to address the crowd: “O People! what is this talk surrounding my appointment of Usamah as commander. You contest his appointment now just as you previously did his father's. But by God, the latter was as fit to command then as his son surely is now!”9
The two currents, whose rivalry began in earnest during the Prophet's own lifetime, were reflected in the Muslims' position regarding the thesis of the Imam's preeminence in the Mission after the Prophet. Those representing the devotional tendency (as opposed to the one for independent legal judgement) found in the Prophet's stipulation the reason for accepting this thesis without hesitation or readjustment.
The advocacy of independent legal judgement was viewed as offering the possibility of release from the pattern established by the Prophet, whenever a judgement imagined to be more harmonious with the circumstances was called for. By the same token, one observes that Shi`ites arose immediately after the Prophet's death, representing the Muslims who adhered in practice to the thesis of the Imam's preeminence and leadership, the first steps of whose implementation the Prophet had declared obligatory right after his departure. The Shi'ite current embodied, from the first, a repudiation of the Saqifah Council's attempt to paralyze the thesis for Imam `Ali's preeminence and to transfer authority to someone else.
In his Ihtijaj, Tabarsi related Aban b. Taghlab's words:
I told Ja`far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq, “May I be offered in sacrifice for you! Is there anyone among the Companions of God's Messenger who disclaims Abu Bakr's action?” He replied “Indeed. Twelve men repudiated it. Among the Muhajirin were Khalid b. Said, Ibn Abi al`Asi, Salman al-Farisi, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari al-Miqdad b. al-Aswad, `Ammar b. Yasir and Buraydah al-Aslami. Among the Ansar were Abu al-Haytham b. al-Tayhan, `Uthman b. Hanif, Khuzayma b. Thabit Dhu al-Shahadatayn, Ubayy b. Ka'b, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari.10
It may be argued that the Shi`ite current stood for religious devotion according to the text, while the tendency that opposed it represented independent legal judgement, with the implication that the Shi'ites had rejected independent legal judgement and did not allow themselves any right to exercise it. Yet observably, Shi'ites do make use of it constantly in legal practice.
The answer is that the kind of independent legal judgement practised by Shi`ites, and which they deem permissible - indeed, obligatory in a collective sense (wajiban kifa'iyyan) - is the one used to derive a juridical ruling from the legal text. It is not judgement applied to the legal text by virtue of either an opinion held by the practitioner or some conjectured benefit.” That is not permissible.
The Shi'ite current disallowed the exercise of independent legal judgement in any such sense. Whenever we speak of the rise of two currents at the beginning of Islam, one often intends the following. One, where the devotion act is based on the explicit text; two, a tendency toward independent legal judgement But by independent legal judgement one could mean either the rejection or the acceptance of the explicit text.11
The rise of these two tendencies is natural to every mission of comprehensive change seeking alteration at the root, where corruption prevails. It can have various kinds of effects, depending on the surviving vestiges of the past; and it may vary according to the extent to which the individual becomes immersed in the moral values of the new Message and according to his attachment to it.
Hence, we know that the current which stood for the devotional act based on the explicit text represented the greatest degree of adherence to, and the most complete acceptance of, the Divine Message. But it did not reject independent legal judgment within the framework of the text nor the effort to derive a legal ruling (hukm) there from.12
What is important to note in this regard also is that the devotional act based on the explicit text does not imply a rigidity or inflexibility incompatible with the exigencies of evolution or any kind of initiative for renewal in the life of man. Devotion so based means, rather, as we now know, devotion through religion. It means embracing it in its entirety without leaving anything out. Such a religion carries within it all the elements that make for resilience and the ability to adjust to the times. It embraces all kinds of change and evolution. Devotion through religion based on the stipulated text is devotion through all these elements, but with every fiber of one's ability to create, invent and renew.13
These are general features aimed at expounding Shi'ism in its definition as a “natural phenomenon” within the fold of the Islamic Call and of its appearance as a (self-conscious) response to this natural phenomenon.
The leadership belonging to the Prophetic Household and to Imam Ali, played out in the “natural phenomenon” so far alluded to consists of two types of authority.
The first is intellectual authority; the second, authority associated with governing and societal activity. Both were embodied in the person of the Prophet. In the light of what we have learned with respect to circumstances, the Prophet had had to determine the most fitting extension of his rule which could sustain each of these two authorities, in order that intellectual authority might fill any lacunae to be faced by the Muslim mind. A proper notion needs to be advanced - i.e. the Islamic viewpoint - on any intellectual or life issues evoked. It must explicate what appears ambiguous and obscure in the Holy Book.1
The Qur'an constitutes the primary source for intellectual authority in Islam. Finally, the purpose is for socio-political authority to resume its course and to lead the trek of Islam along a societal path.
These two types of authority are combined within the Household of the Prophet by force of those circumstances we considered earlier. Prophetic traditions have always confirmed this. The prime example of a tradition dealing with intellectual authority is the hadith of the “Two Weights” (hadith al-thaqlayn), where the Prophet proclaims:
I am about to be summoned [before my Lord], and must comply. I leave with ye two weighty things: God's Book, a rope from Heaven to Earth; and my progeny, the members of my Household. God the Gracious, the All-Knowing has informed me that they shall separate not to the day when they will be restored to me at the Basin. You behold how, you do by them after I am gone!2
The chief example of a Prophetic stipulation concerning authority in the exercise of leadership over society is hadith al-Ghadir. It is presented by Tabarani, on the grounds of its universally-accepted soundness, through Zayd b. Arqam's words:
The Messenger of God gave his sermon at Ghadir Khum beneath some trees, declaring. “O People, I am about to be summoned [before my Lord], and must comply. I shall be held to account and ye shall be held to account. But what will you say?” They replied, “We shall testify that you have delivered [the Message], striven and counseled. May God reward you for it!”
He then told them, “Would you not testify that there is no god but God [Allah], and that Muhammad is his Servant and Messenger that His Paradise is real and His Hell-Fire real; that death is real; that the resurrection after death is real; that the Hour shall without a doubt come; that God resurrects all those who lie in their graves?” They said: “Nay, we shall testify to all this!” To which he replied, “O God be Thee Witness! O People God is my Guardian and I guardian of the faithful. I am more so than their own selves. For whomsoever I am a guardian, he too [i.e. `Ali] is his guardian. Lord, guard over the one who guards over him, and be a foe to his foe.”3
Thus, of a considerable number of like traditions, these two outstanding Prophetic hadiths provide for the embodiment of both kinds of authority in the Prophet's Household. The Islamic current upholding the devotional act based on the Prophet's full stipulations believed in these authorities, and comprised those Muslims who were the benevolent friends of the Household.
But whereas the socio-political authority belonging to every Imam implies the exercise of power while he lives, intellectual authority is a permanent, unconditional reality unconfined to the period of his lifetime. Therefore, it has a living, practical meaning for every period. So long as the Muslims needed a definitive understanding of Islam, an acquaintance with its provisions, legality, prohibitions, concepts and moral values, there will be need for an intellectual Divinely-defined authority epitomized, firstly, by the Book of God; secondly, by the Prophet's Tradition (sunnat rasulihi) and that of the immaculate descendents, if the Household, who never have and never would diverge from the Books as indeed the Prophet himself has stipulated.4
Fronts they very outset, the second tendency, which upholds independent legal judgement rather than the devotional act according to the text, had decided. with the death of the Prophet on transferring the authority for exercising political power to some leading personalities of the Muhajirin, thereby conforming with shifting and rather maleable considerations.
Immediately following the Prophet's death, the transfer of power to Abu Bakr was based on what came out of the limited discussions at the Saqifah session.5 `Umar later ascended to the Caliphate after being appointed by Abu Bakr6; `Uthman followed suit through an undesignated appointment by `Umar.7 Accommodation, a third of a century after the Prophet's passing, led to the infiltration to positions of power by the offspring of all those Meccans who had held out to the last (al-Tulaqa)8 and who just yesterday had been fighting Islam.
All that relates to political authority in its exercise of power. Intellectual authority, on the other hand, was difficult to institute in the members of the Household. Independent legal judgement therewith led to dispossession of their political authority, since the latter's institution entailed the creation of objective conditions for a transfer of power to them and a merging of the two kinds of authority.
However, it was equally difficult to acknowledge intellectual authority in a power-wielding Caliph, the requirements of intellectual authority being different from those of the exercise of power. The feeling that a person is qualified to exercise power did not automatically imply that his installation as intellectual leader - the highest authority after the Qur'an and Prophetic Tradition in matters of theoretical understanding - was thought feasible. This kind of leadership required a high degree of refinement and theoretical comprehension, and clearly none of the Companions was more adequately endowed with it than the rest, if the members of the Household are excluded.9
The result was that the balance of intellectual authority continued to swing for some time. The Caliphs, in many instances, dealt with Imam `Ali on the basis of his intellectual authority, or something approaching that. So much so that the Second Caliph repeated many times that “If not for 'Ali, `Umar would surely have perished.
God forbid that there be a problem and no Abu Hasan to [solve] it...”10 Nevertheless, after the Prophet's passing, the Muslims in time became accustomed to see Imam `Ali and the Household as ordinary subjects, whose intellectual authority was not indispensable, but transferable to some reasonable substitute. That substitute was rot to be the Caliph himself, but the Prophet's Companions.
The principle of the Companions' collective authority was gradually postulated thus, in place of the authority of the Household. The substitute became palatable once the properly appointed authority was passed over, because the Companions' generation was said to have kept close company with the Prophet, thrived while he lived, embraced his experience, heeded his words and practice.11
For all practical purposes, the members of the Household lost their God-given distinction to form part of the intellectual authority merely as Companions. But the Companions themselves were apt to experience sharp differences and conflicts, which sometimes reached the point of hostilities, with each party drawing the other's blood, impugning his honour, hurling accusations of deviation and betrayal.12
These differences and accusations, occurring as they did inside the intellectual leadership and doctrinal authority itself, engendered all manner of intellectual and doctrinal conflict13 within the body of the Islamic community. The latter reflected the conflictual dimensions of the intellectual leadership established by independent judgement.
Hadith al-Ghadir is widely reported in books on traditions by both Shiites and Sunnis. The experts reckon the number of Companions who reported this hadith to be over a hundred. Those belonging to the following generation [al-tabi'in] who relate it number over eighty; those in the second century Hijri who committed the Qur'an and the traditions to memory nearly sixty individuals.
Cf al-`Allamah al-Amini, Kitab al-Ghadir. In this book, the `Allamah al-Amini offers a number of hadiths reported by Zayd b. Arqam in their different version. It appears that Imam al-Sadr collected these accounts in exactly the same form. (Cf. “al-Ghadir” I:31-6; also, in the Appendix, see how the hadith in question was presented, including in Sunan Ibn Majah I:11 (of the Introduction)). See Musnad Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal IV:281, 368 (Dar Sadir).
Here I would like to draw attention to a point whose clarification I consider to be of the utmost importance. Some investigators try to distinguish between two aspects of Shi'ism, the first Spiritual Shi'ism and the second Political Shi`ism. Spiritual Shi ism is believed to be the earlier of the two.1 It is also thought that the religious heads, or imams, of Imamate Shi'ism (descended from Husayn) had retreated from politics after the massacre of Karbala', devoting themselves only to guidance and worship, keeping aloof of worldly affairs.
The reality, though, is that Shi'ism has never at any time since its birth been a purely spiritual tendency. Rather, it was born in the midst of Islam as a thesis for the continuation by Imam 'Ali of intellectual, social and poetical leadership alike after the Prophet, in the manner illustrated above with respect to the conditions that had given rise to Shi'ism. Because of those conditions, it is not possible to isolate the spiritual from the political side in this thesis, certainly no more than it is to isolate it in Islam itself.
Therefore, Shi'ism cannot be subdivided in this way except in the event where it no longer implies defending the future of the Call after the Prophet, a future that is in equal need of intellectual authority as it is of political leadership over the Islamic experiment. And here there existed a wide range of allegiances to Imam `Ali among the Muslims, inasmuch as he was considered to be just the person fit to resume the role of governing arrogated by the three Caliphs.
This is precisely the loyalty that brought him to power after the Caliph `Uthman's murder.2 But it was neither spiritual nor political Shi'ism, since Shiites believe `Ali to be an alternative to the three Caliphs, the Prophet's direct successor (khalifah). The allegiance extended by Muslims to the Imam had a wider range than Shi`ism proper, taken as a whole. But although spiritual and political Shi`ism developed within the broad limits of this loyalty, it cannot be regarded as an instance of a compartmentalized Shi`ism.
Imam `Ali commanded spiritual and intellectual loyalty from the most prominent Companions at the time of Abu Bakr and `Umar - as illustrated by Sahnan, Abu Dharr, 'Ammar and others. But this hardly means that it was a spiritual Shi'ism divorced from the political side. It was an expression of faith by the Companions in Imam `Ali's political as well as intellectual leadership of the Islamic Mission after the Prophet. On the one hand, their faith in the intellectual side of his leadership was reflected in the spiritual fidelity alluded to above; on the other, their faith in the political was reflected in their struggle with the Caliph Abu Bakr, and against the attempt to divert power away from Imam `Ali toward another figure.3
In fact, the compartmental view of spiritual Shi'ism was not unrelated to the emergence of political Shi`ism. Nor did it arise in the mind of Shi'ite man except in resignation to a fait accompli.
As a definite formula for continuing the Islamic leadership in the hope of building the Ummah - a way of implementing the great drive for change begun by the Prophet - the embers of Shi`ism were all but put out inside and transformed into pure belief ensconced in the heart of man for solace and hope.
We now come to what is alleged to be the abandonment of politics and the withdrawal from worldly affairs by the Imams of the Household descended from Husayn. In the light of the foregoing, we might reiterate that Shi`ism made for the continuation of Islamic leadership, and that Islamic leadership simply meant pursuing that project of change which the Prophet had begun, in order to complete the construction of the Ummah on the basis of Islam.
It is not possible, therefore, to imagine the Imams relinquishing the political aspect without renouncing Shi'ism altogether. What contributed to the idea that they had abandoned the political aspect of their leadership was their seeming failure to mount military action to overturn the prevailing situation, the political aspect of leadership being taken strictly in its narrow military sense.
But there are many explicit utterances by the Imams which make it plain that an Imam is always ready to take the military course, provided he found enough assistance and the capacity to realize the Islamic objectives beyond the military campaign itself.4 When we trace the course of the Shi'ite movement, we notice that its leadership, comprised of the Imams of the Household, believed the transference of power alone to be insufficient.
The realization of change in an Islamic sense is impossible so long as this power was not shored up by a popular base conscious of the goals of power, believing in its theory of governance, acting to defend it, explaining its stances to the larger populace and braving the storms.
Midway through the first century after the Prophet's death, the Shiite leadership, shunned from power, sought constantly to return to rule in the ways it deemed proper. It was convinced of the existence of popular bases of consciousness, or vigilant Muhajirin, Ansar and all those who emulated their best actions.
However, half-a-century later, when little remained of these popular bases, and with indecisive generations5 newly emerging under the influence of deviationism, the accession to power by the Shiite movement would never have achieved the larger goal; the popular bases that reinforced consciousness and sacrifice no longer existed. In the face of this situation, there were only two possible avenues for action:
One, action for the sake of rebuilding the popular and conscious bases that could properly pave the way to a transfer of power.
Two, stirring the Islamic Ummah's conscience and will; safeguarding some degree of life and stalwartness to fortify the Ummah against abdicating unconditionally its identity and honour to deviationist rulers.
The first option was the one chosen by the Imams themselves; whereas the second was taken by the revolutionary partisans of 'Ali as they sought through fearless sacrifice to sustain the Islamic conscience and will. The Imams used to support the more sincere among them. Imam `Ali b. Musa al-Rida once said to Caliph Ma'mun, in reference to Zayd b. `Ali al-Shahid, that he was one of the learned from the House of Muhammad.
He was angered for the sake of God, fought enemies until he was killed in God's way. Abu Mus'a b. Ja`far has related to me that he heard his father Ja'far b. Muhammad say: “May God have merry on my uncle Zayd. He made summons on behalf of al-Rida, of the House of Muhammad. Had he triumphed, he would have fulfilled his promise. Zayd b. `Ali did not call what was not in his right to do so. He was more heedful toward God than that. He simply) said: I summon you to al-Rida, of the House of Muhammad.”6
In one account, those of the House of Muhammad who ventured forth were mentioned before Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, who then answered, “I and my partisans will always be well so long as there is someone from the House of Muhammad who ventures forth. How I long for him to venture forth! And incumbent upon me is the maintenance of his dependents.”7
In sum, the Imams' abandonment of direct military action against the deviationist rulers did not imply that they had foresaken the political aspect of their leadership and devoted themselves solely to worship. It expressed merely a difference in the form of social action, and was limited by the actual conditions. It also expressed a profound grasp of the nature of reform activity and the method by which to achieve it.
Initiated by the Prophet, the intellectual and moral preparation for 'Ali b. Abi Talib's Guardianship and Succession proceeded along two parallel but complementary lines: the preparation of Ali and of the Ummah, both at the same time. While the Prophet, as Leader, was committed to a special intellectual and doctrinal education for `Ali that conformed to a rigorous daily schedule, he also took charge of the Muslim Ummah's mental adjustment.
He undertook to educate it intellectually and doctrinally in order firmly to establish `Ali's Guardianship. He wanted to ensure that `Ali was qualified to lead the journey, the whole experience, of Islam immediately after he departs. According to numerous sources, as we shall see, direct Revelation was another interposing factor pointing in this direction.
Invariably, the Qur'an comes down sometimes lauding Ali's virtues and other times pointing to his special qualities. It identifies him as being unique, to the point of making the delivery of God's Message conditional upon the announcement of his Guardianship or its proclamation to the Ummah. We shall be seeking to establish this in our appendix to Imam al-Sadr's already deep and original inquiry.
We shall arrange our own study into three discussions. The first discussion will present 'Ali's intellectual and moral preparation for the task of leading after the Prophet. The second will deal with the intellectual and moral preparation of the Muslim Ummah for the sake of this task. The third will demonstrate the pertinence of `Ali's unique and special knowledge of the Qur'an to this task.
In this summary essay, we shall try to shed light on these facts by relying on the accepted rules and principles of scholarly investigation, without exaggeration or artifice. The study will be based on had'ith and exegetical works written by scholars, traditionists, renowned researchers and prominent Sunnis. We pray that God may extend His assistance.
One may, in all certainty, state that `Ali b. Abi Talib's apostolic preparation, both “moral and intellectual,” began upon the Prophet's first burst of Divine Revelation. The latter took practical steps in order to reach his intended goal of entrusting `Ali with the task of leading, “socially and politically” immediately after his death. It would appear from the course of events - and from what biographical works, histories and the more reliable transmitters have related - that this was achieved in two ways.
First, as Leader, the Prophet was himself committed to taking `Ali under his tutelage from childhood, taking charge of his moral education, attending to him, doing his utmost never to be separated from him except when necessary.
Second, of all the Companions, `Ali was singled out in terms of status, knowledge and position, which pertained to the very existence and future of Islam.
A. With regard to the first point, biographical works and books in traditions all have endeavoured to illustrate many pertinent details. But the matter of the Prophet taking `Ali under his charge since childhood and educating him in his own house was a conspicuous part of his noble life.1 It is enough to recall what Imam 'Ali himself has stated in his sermon known as “al Qasiah”:
You well know my place of close kinship and special standing with God's Messenger. He put me in his lap when I was a child, embraced me close to his heart, offered me shelter at his berth. And there, admitted into physical contact with him, I scented his fragrance. He chewed the food bits to feed me. Never did he find in me a mendacious word, nor a patterer's deed. I used to follow him as the weaned young camel does its mother's trail. And every day he would bring up some new teaching in morals, admonishing me to emulate him. Every year he retired to [the Cave of] Hira' where I alone would see him. No single roof then had joined God's Messenger and Khadijah in Islam but that I was its third member. I witnessed the light of the revelation and message, and inhaled the scent of prophethood ...2
The picture related by Imam 'Ali himself regarding the manner in which the Prophet used to treat him reveals the true dimensions of the purpose.
A special training was intended for `Ali. Extraordinary care and effort were taken to ensure that he remain very close to the light of Divine Revelation and exposed to the “fragrance of prophethood”; that he be one of three persons in the Prophet's house at the time of revelation. Occupying such an eminent place, he imbibed his first lessons and instruction directly from the Prophet. All this was reflected in his intellectual and doctrinal make-up, for “Never shall he bow down to any idol.”3 Never at any moment was his mind confounded by idolatry, as his behaviour shows: “Not a mendacious word, nor a patterer's deed ....”
All this reveals, without the shadow of a doubt, a special moral preparation. What is noteworthy in this respect is that the Prophet's commitment to put `Ali in his special care was not limited to the period of childhood or boyhood. And it did not stop at any specific phase -the Prophet had made sure that `Ali was always at his side, day and night; as when `Ali says, “My visitations to the Prophet were of two kinds: one by nigh and another by day...”4 Indeed, one never finds the Messenger of God ever separated from or leaving behind `Ali, except in the instance where it was necessary to protect the Prophet's life, or to safeguard the Islamic Call against danger. To corroborate, let us mention one example for each occasion.
i) The first context is linked to the protection of the Prophet's life. On the night of his blessed flight to Medina, the Prophet had left `Ali behind to lie in his bed5 as a subterfuge against the Meccans lying in wait for him; it allowed him to evade their plot to kill him.6 With this, God revealed the following: “And there is he who barters himself to earn the satisfaction of God...” (Qur'an II:207, “al-Baqarah”) - as recalled by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.7
ii) The second context is linked to the protection of the Islamic Mission. The Prophet had wished to go on one of his military expeditions called Tabuk. So he left 'Ali behind in Medina as his vicegerent (khalifah).8 Ibn Ubayy b. Salul, who headed the group of “Hypocrites,” had remained in the city, and the situation demanded that the Prophet leave `Ali behind in the hope of forestalling any unexpected development that might threaten the Prophet's reign in Medina. Said al-Tabari:
With the Messenger of God departed [i.e. to Tabuk], among the “Hypocrites” and the irresolute who stayed behind figured `Abd Allah b. Ubayy, who was brother to the Banu `Awf b. al-Khazraj. Abd Allah b. Nabtal was brother to Banu `Amr b. `Awf, and Rifa`ah b. Zayd b. al Tabun to Banu Qaynuqa`. And all - that is all those mentioned - were among the most infamous of the “Hypocrites”; they counted among those who used to conspire against Islam and its people.
He also added: “Ibn Hamid has told us that Salamah related from Ibn Ishaq - who related it from `Umar b. Ubayd, who related it from Hasan al-Basri - that God has brought down [these words: `Indeed they had plotted sedition before, and upset matters for thee...”' (Qur'an 9:48, “al-Tawbah”).
But here, the “Hypocrites” understood that, with `Ali remaining in Medina, the opportunity was lost. “The Hypocrites,” continues al-Tabari, thus started to calumniate about `Ali b. Abi Talib. They claimed that he was [chosen to be] left behind only because he was a burden to [the Prophet, who wanted only release from him.
When they made these claims, `Ali took his sword and went off to find God's Messenger at Jurf, situated at some distance from Medina, and there told [him]: “Prophet of God! The Hypocrites allege that you have kept me behind; that you find me a burden and that you seek release from me.”
[The Prophet] replied, “They lie. I left you behind for what [lay in wait behind me. Do you not consent, O 'Ali, to having the same position with respect to me that Aaron did with Moses, save that no Prophet shall ever come after me?” With this, `Ali returned to Medina, and God's Messenger resumed his journey.9
The Messenger of God has [chosen] to leave `Ali behind in Medina during one of his expeditions. So `Ali said to him: “O Messenger of God! You have left me behind with the women and the children.” I heard God's Messenger reply, “But you consent to be related to me in the same station that Aaron was to Moses, save that there shalt be no prophethood after me.”12
One striking fact is that the Prophet used to express anxiety and apprehension at `Ali's absence from him; he eagerly awaited him and sought reassurance. Ibn Kathir13 related Umm `Atiyyah's statement that “The Prophet sent off fighters, and among them was `Ali. I heard the Prophet say: `O God, do not take my life before you let me see 'Ali again’.14
Occasionally, it happened that when offered a meal, the Prophet could not bear eating it alone; nor was he satisfied with praying to God that `Ali may join him, but that this be made an opportunity for demonstrating the station and rank of `Ali. It is recorded about Anas b. Malik that he related, “The Prophet had a fowl (in one account a `roasted fowl'15) and uttered: `O God, bring me this your most beloved person, so he may eat this fowl.'
And God brought him”, who then ate it with him...”16 It is noteworthy that some accounts speak of an attempt , after that appeal, to turn `Ali away upon his arrival at the Prophet's house; but it was thwarted by the Prophet's own intervention, according to what Ibn Kathir has related.17 However, the apparent sense of the account is that the Prophet meant also to affirm and to establish that `Ali was best loved by God.18
All this leaves little doubt that our Prophet's special education of `Ali was aimed at preparing and training him for the responsibility of leading the Mission of Islam, and not merely to become part of its political staff or personnel. The Prophet was committed to educating and to training the Companions collectively, but not to the same degree or with the same method and attention as he was with `Ali. This shows that the responsibility 'Ali had been charged with was much weightier than that of the other Companions.
B. The second way alluded to above concerns the fact that 'Ali had been singled out; it concerns his competence in knowledge -particularly Qur'anic - and the positions which were historically decisive to the Prophet and to the Mission. It concerns his firm training in the provisions of the law. There is abundant evidence for this. Anyone who persuses the books on traditions, biography and history would profit immensely in this regard.19
Let us now cite some examples that support our idea, together with the evidence for them.
The Prophet had undertaken, both on his own and by Divine Command, the task of inculcating `Ali, as he did no one else, in the learned and intellectual knowledge of the Qur'an. He hoped to do it with respect to the root principles and sources of learning, reflective wisdom and its rules, and by instructing him in the provisions of the law, its allowances and prohibitions.
Tradition has it that 'Ali uttered, “The Messenger of God has taught me countless pathways to knowledge, opening for me a thousand others for each one...”20 `Ali himself sometimes used to hasten to the Prophet in quest of knowledge, learning and judgements. At other times, the Prophet himself initiated the instruction: “Whenever I questioned the Prophet, he obliged; when I remained silent, he anticipated me...”21 At one time, he declared, “God has given me an inquisitive tongue and a sensible heart..”22 In this connection, Imam 'Ali stated in a lengthy hadith,
Every verse that has come down to the Messenger of God he recited or dictated to me, and I wrote it down in my own hand. He taught me its interpretation and explanation, its abrogating and abrogated parts, clear and allegorical verses, particular and general injunctions. He invoked God that He may give me understanding of it and that I may commit it to memory.
So I did not forget a single verse of God's Book, not any knowledge that he transmitted to me. I wrote it down, from the moment of his invocation. The Messenger of God spared no knowledge taught to him by God concerning what is allowed and what prohibited, no command or proscription - now and for ever - but that he taught it to me and that committed to memory. And I have not forgotten one letter of it ...23
Al-Suyuti asserts that Mu`ammar - as related by Wahb and, after him, Abu al-Tufayl - said the following: “I heard 'Ali giving an address and saying: `Ask me. By God, nothing will ye ask that I shall not discuss. So ask me about the Book of God and, by God, there is not a verse that I shall not know - whether it was revealed at night or in the day, on a mountain or on shore...”'24 Al-Suyuti also affirms, “Verily, none of the Companions dared to say, `Ask me,' except `Ali...”25
Everything that 'Ali had talked about, of which history has left reliable record, was attested to by the prominent Companions. The scholars and the most prominent among them own to it. In his al Hilyah, Abu Na'im records that Ibn Mascud had said, “The Qur'an has come down in seven recitals, none of which is without its explicit [zahir] and implicit [batin] meanings. And `Ali b. Abi Talib [understood] both the explicit and the implicit meanings.”26
It is related that Ibn `Abbas had uttered: `By God, 'Ali b. Abi Talib was given nine-tenth of the knowledge.”27 Also quoted from him are the words: “We used to discourse over how the Prophet had assigned `Ali sundry [lit., seventy] responsibilities which he assigned to no one else.”28
In practice, `Ali was the authority for the Companions in respect of every learned or administrative question that occurred to them, every juridical dilemma. It is affirmed of `Umar b. al-Khattab, the Second Caliph, that he said, “Without `Ali, `Umar would have perished,”29 also uttering, “God forbid that there be a problem and no Abu Hasan to [solve] it..”30 He is further said to have declared: “The most decisive [aqda] of us is Ali 31 where “decisiveness” implied knowledge of all the legal provisions. where “decisiveness” implied knowledge of all the legal provisions. where “decisiveness” implied knowledge of all the legal provisions. where “decisiveness” implied knowledge of all the legal provisions. where “decisiveness” implied knowledge of all the legal provisions.
The task of educating the Ummah to receive `Ali's Caliphate and direction over the advance of Islam after the Prophet, began early on -when the Prophet was first commanded (by God) to give admonition and to communicate his Message:
“Divulge what ye have been commanded and turn away from the idol-worshippers” (Qur'an 25:94 “al-Hajar'').
According to al-Tabari, `Before this, in the three years prior to his being sent forth and commanded to come out openly with the call to God, he had been concealing his [God-given] command; then this was revealed to him: `And admonish thy nearest kinsfolk”' (Qur'an 26:214 “al-Shu'ara”). In this connection, al-Tabari transmitted `Abd Allah b. Abbas' statement about `Ali b. Abi Talib, who said:
When that verse was revealed to God's Messenger ...he called upon me, saying, “O `Ali God hath commanded me to admonish my nearest kinsfolk. But I am uneasy, for I know: when I divulge this Command, what I shall face from them will be to my utter dismay.
I held my silence on it, until [the Archangel] Gabriel came to me and said: `O Muhammad, if ye do not make good what you have been ordered to do, your Lord shall punish thee.' So bring forth a bit of nourishment, add to it a cut of leg, fill our jars with milk and bring together Banu `Abd al-Mutallib that I may speak and convey to them what I have been commanded. With that, I shall have done what He has ordered me to do: to call them to God.' On that day they were forty strong, more or less, including his uncles Abu Talib, al-Hamzah, al-`Abbas, Abu Lahab...
So the attempt was made. After they had drunk and eaten, al Tabari goes on,
The Messenger of God spoke: “O Banu `Abd al-Mutallib, I know of no younger man among the Arabs, who has brought his people something better than what I am bringing to you [now]. I come to you with the best of this world and of the next. God has commanded me to call you to Him. And so, which of you will help me with this matter, becoming a brother, caretaker and successor to me.”
[`Alil explained, “Everyone recoiled from this. Although I was not their equal to age and still the most bleary-eyed of the lot, I called out: I will, O Prophet of God, I shall be your aid in that. He took me by the nape, declaring, `This shalt be my brother, caretaker and successor - among ye all. So hearken and obey (' The people, he continued, then took to laughing, saying to Abu T-alibi “He orders you to hearken and to obey, your son!”
This narrative makes it clear that the first act of mental preparation for the acceptance of `Ali, as Guardian and Successor, occurred in a private milieu (that of the nearest kinsfolk). It took place alongside the announcement of Muhammad's calling and the declaration of his prophethood.
However, the preparation of the Ummah had another aim. Barely was the Qur'an being gradually revealed, certainly far from complete, when 'Ali began fighting alongside the Prophet. Qur'anic verses were thus revealed which praised 'Ali's excellence and virtues - all in the same vein. Based on al-Suyuti's account, Ibn `Asakir has written that “Nothing has been revealed in God's Book on a person as much as on `Ali...”1
He cited Ibn `Abbas as saying that “About `Ali there are 300 [Qur'anic] verses.”2 We shall adduce some of the verses, or ayat (sing., ayah), which are noted by more than one person as having been revealed about `Ali. Falling within our purview, they mark the reality of the Ummah's preparation and education in this respect.
i) There are these words of God:
“To those who have faith and perform deeds of righteousness the All-Merciful shall bring Love” (Qur'an 19:96 “Maryam”).
According to various chains of transmission (asanid), several of those who had memorized the Qur'an stated that these verses were revealed about 'Ali, on the grounds that “there is no Muslim who does not have love for `Ali...”3
It is related that al-Barra' b. `Azib has asserted that the Prophet said to `Ali b. Abi Tahb, “O `Ali, say, `Grant me, Lord, Thy keep and, in the hearts of the faithful, Love.' And so God revealed, `Truly, those faithful...' - which is about `Ali.”4
ii) God says: “These two adversaries quarrel over their Lord...” 'Ali is recorded as saying, “On the day of Resurrection, I shall be the first to fall on my, knees before the All-Merciful on account of the disputes.” Qay s explains that “About them was revealed `These two adversaries quarrel over their Lord...,' they being those who disputed on the Day of Badr: 'Ali, Hamzah, `Ubaydah, Shaybah b. Rabi'ah...”5
iii) God says:
“And God turned back the faithless, for all their rage; they availed themselves of naught. God suffices for the faithful in their fight” (Qur'an 33:25 “alAhzab”).
More than one authority has related that `Abd Allah b. Mas`ud read `Ali into the phrase “God suffices for the faithful in their fight.”6
iv) God says:
“O ye who have faith, heed God and be amongst those who are true” (Qur'an 9:119 “al-Tawbah”).
More than one memorizer and traditionist has related Ibn `Abbas' remark that “that was [a reference] especially to 'Ali b. Abi Talib.”7
v) God says:
“Those who harm the men and women of faith for no reason are wont to bear with clear calumny and offense” (Qur'an 33:58 “al-Ahzab”).
The view transmitted through various channels is that it has to do with `Ali, as a number of “Hypocrites” used to bring harm to and tell lies about him.8
Thus established is that these verses were revealed in order to show the position of `Ali, the greatness of his personality, his large role in the life of the Prophet and of the Mission. The faithful needed to be adverted of these realities and to comply with them. This is confirmed by Prophetic hadiths that proffer these senses. The Companion Sa`d b. Abi Waqqas declared,
Mu'awiyah ordered me to curse Abu al-Turab. I replied that so long as I can recall the three things said to him by the Prophet, I shall not curse him. For me to possess just one of them would be dearer than the rarest of cattle: the Prophet had made him vicegerent during one of his expeditions. `Ali said, “O Prophet of God, you have left me behind with the children and the women.”
I heard God's Messenger answer, “But you do consent to be related to me in the same station that Aaron was to Moses, save that there shalt be no prophethood after me.”9 I heard him say also on the Day of Khaybar, “Truly, I shall give the standard to a man who loves God and His Messenger, and whom ? d and His Messenger love in return.” We strained toward it then.10 [And the Messenger] said, `Bring `Ali to me!” [With this] his eyes were sore; so he put spittle in, them and handed the standard over to [`Ali]. God then granted him victory.
Then the following verse was revealed,
If anyone disputes with you over this, now that you have received knowledge, say, “Come, let us call upon all our sons and all your sons, all our women and all your women, ourselves and yourselves; and humbly make our supplication, invoking God's curse upon all those who lie!” (Qur an 3:61 ` Al `Umraan” ).
And the Messenger called on 'Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn, declaring, “Lord, these are my family!” This is related by Muslim11 and Tirmidhi.12 In this account given by Sa`d, certain things need to be emphasized:
A) The revelation of the verse called ayat al-mubahalab (“Verse of Imprecation”), mentioned in his account above, concerns `Ali, his wife al-Batul, his two sons Hasan and Husayn.
B) These are, exclusively, all the Members of the Household.13 Accordingly, it is understood that they are the ones intended by the ayat al-tathir (“Verse of Putification”) - namely, where God says:
“And God only wishes to remove all sully from thee, ye Members of the Household, to make thee wholly pure” (Qur'an 33:33 “al-Ahzab”)
And in this verse `Ali's inculpability, trustworthiness, eminence - indeed, impeccancy (ismah) - become evident.
Thus begins the question of entitlement, since `Ali occupies the rank of Successor, Guardian and the one who was to steer the course of the community. As al-Raghib al-Isfahani said,
None is more eligible to be God's Vicegerent nor apt to complete his worship of God and clear His land than the pure of spirit, from whom all defilement has vanished. Just like the body, the soul has its defilement; although the former can be directly seen, whereas that of the soul is perceived only through insight. No one is equal to the Caliphate who is not pure of spirit because to be Caliph is to emulate God according to what is humanly possible. As for the impure in both word and deed, every- vessel that carries him leaks...14
It is evident from this that, after lauding `Ali's excellence and virtues, the Qur'an elevates him to a chastened level of absolute “purification,” and then to a level that is of the greatest consequence, since it likens his soul to that of the Prophet Muhammad, as is clear from the “Verse of Imprecation.” It was on this basis that the Prophet had time and again declared, `Ali is of me and I am of `Alt.”15
When certain persons tried to complain about `Ali, hoping to upset his station and position, the Prophet returned, “What do you want with `Ali?” repeating this three times; and then, “'Ali is of me and I am of him.”16 In order to thwart those sceptical of the exalted position accorded to 'Ali by the Prophet to ensure his waliyyah (“guardianship”) and successorship (khilafah) in everything of consequence to the Muslims, God declared:
“Your Guardian [wakiyukum] is God, His Messenger and those faithful who establish regular prayer and regular charity - these are wont to bow down [in worship]” (Qur'an 5:58 “al-Ma'idah”).
Al Zamakhshari pointed out that this blessed verse was revealed about `Ali when a beggar gestured the Prophet who, though bent over in prayer, surrendered his ring to him.17 To remove the ambiguity and to preempt all speculation about what was intended by the term Waliyy or was meant to be designated in these texts, the Prophet on more than one occasion stated that “Ali-is of me and I am of 'Ali. And after me, he shall be the Guardian [wali] of every believer...”18
In order to confirm `Ali's Guardianship and momentous role in relation to the Call of Islam, the Prophet stated: “`Ali is of me and I am of `Ali. And no one can carry out my task [that is, in his capacity of messenger and prophet] but myself and `Ali...”19 This notion was finely established in practice, publicly and in the light of day, in connection with the matter concerning the delivery of “Surat alBara'ah,”20 Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal transmits in his Musnad from Abu Bakr al-Siddiq. Abd Bakr said that,
the Prophet had sent him with Surat al Baraa'ah to the Meccans. He had trecked for three days, when the Prophet told `Ali, “Catch up to him!” `Ali returned Abu Bakr and delivered the surah himself. When Abu Bakr arrived before the Messenger, he said, “O Messenger, has anything [unseemly] come to light in me? He answered, “I have seen nothing but goodness from you But I was told that no one but myself or someone of my kin shall ...”21
In the Kashsha, it is related that after Abu Bakr had travelled part of the way - in order to deliver Surat al-Bara'ah - Gabriel descended to say: “O Muhammad, only someone of your kin shall deliver thy Message. So send `Ali.22
The Qur'an puts the seal on the vitally important theme of intellectual and moral preparation with this last thing revealed in ayat al-tabligh (“V'erse of the Delivery”), and again with ayat al-ikmal (“Verse of Perfection'''), which followed the haidth of al-Ghadir. With that, there should be no difficulty.
The story of Ghadir handed down by the transmitters, with some differences, is as follows. When the Prophet returned from his Pilgrimage of Farewell, he received this insistent revelation:
“O Messenger, convey what has been revealed unto thee from thy Lord; if not, ye shall fail to deliver His Message. And God will protect thee from men” (Qur'an, 5:70 “al-Ma'idah”)23
He halted the caravan at Ghadir Khum, gathering the people at midday in the intense heat to address them.
I am about to be summoned [before my Lord], with which I must comply. I leave thee two weighty things one of which is the rater: God's Book and my progeny and (according to Muslim's account, 24“the members of my householdl”]. Ye behold how you do by them after I am gone! They shall separate not to the day when they will be restored to me at the Basin.
He then uttered, “Truly, God is my Guardian and I am guardian for every believer.” He took `Ali's hand and proclaimed:
The one for whom I have been guardian:25 here is his friend, his guardian. Lord, be the Friend of whomever befriends him, foe to whomever is inimical to him, disappoint the one discontented with him, assist the one who assists him,26 and wherever he roams let Truth roam with him...'27
This important event was followed by one more revelation:
“This day have I perfected for you thy religion, completed my favour upon you and countenanced Islam [`the Submission to God] as your religion...” (Qur'an 5:4 “al-Ma'idah”).
In some reports, the Prophet's statement after receiving revelation or, that memorable day of Ghadir - namely, the 18 Dhu al-Hujjah28 - was: “God is Greater! Praise be to God that religion has been perfected and His Favour completed.
He has countenanced my mission and the Guardianship of `Ali after me.”29 According to Ahmad's account, “`Umar b. al-Khattab met him [i.e. Ali] and, after offering his felicitations, said to him, `You are Guardian to every man and woman of faith, morning and night!”30
What is regretable is that some people begrudged `Ali for being given such rank and distinction. Some became increasingly clamorous and argumentative when the Prophet singled him out for this honour. The Prophet was, therefore, compelled to remind them that he was a Messenger sent by the Lord of all creation, that he must fulfil what he has been commanded to do –
` And he does not speak from whim; it is but a revelation revealed” (Qur'an 53:3-4 “al-Najm”).
This is evidenced by what Tirmidhi reported from Jabir b. `Abd Allah: “The 'Messenger called on `Ali on the Day of Ta'if, and whispered to him in secret. People then said, `His whispering to his uncle's son has lasted long.' The Prophet said, `It was not I who whispered to him, but God...”31
Maymun, based on Zayd b. Arqam, related that a number of the Prophet's Companions had doors leading to the place of worship [masjid]. One day, the Messenger barred them, with the exception of `Ali's. He spoke about all these persons; rose, praised and extolled God. “Now, I have been commanded to bar all these doors except `Ali's.” About this he declared `But I say to you, I have neither barred nor gfned anything. I have been commanded something and complied...”32
In this manner, whenever the Prophet used to single `Ali out for distinction, thereby excluding others, he made it clear to the Ummah that it was by God's command. It took place when `Ali was dispatched, in place of Abu Bakr, to deliver Surat al-Bara'ah; and again on the “Day of Whispering” at Ta'if, on the “Day of Ghadir,” and so on.
What is noteworthy about the most decisive moments in Islamic history and in the life of the Prophet - insofar as they helped safeguard the Islamic experience and its future - is that the Prophet used to send off and to call for `Ali as he did no other person. He used to do this on account of the critical nature of these situations, in order to ward off unexpected dangers.
This occurred during the great Battle of Badr, while `Ali carried the standard and slew some leading personalities among the Idolaters. It was repeated on the Day of Uhud, when he slew Talhah b. `Utbman, the banner bearer of the Idolaters.
Al-Tabari reported that, after 'Ali b. Abi Talib had slain the banner beaters [i.e. the “brigade commanders'], the Prophet caught sight of a group of Idolaters, and asked 'Ali to move against them. So he did, dispersing them all and killing `Amr al Jamhi. Then [the Prophet] noticed [another) gr oup of Idolaters, and told 'Ali to move against them. He dispersed them and killed Shaybah b. Malik. Thence, Gabriel asked: “This, O Prophet, is consolation”; whereupon the Prophet announced, “He is of me and I am of him.” And Gabriel said: “And I am of both of you.”
Al-Tabari adds that they then heard a rejoicing voice, “No sword is there like Dhu al-Fiqar, no vigorous youth like `Ali.”33
Based on al-Bukhari and Muslim, it is sufficient just to refer to what Sa`d b. Abi Waqqas has reported concerning the Day of Khaybar.”34 Al-Tabarani and Ibn Abi Hatim related about Ibn `Abbas that he uttered: “God censured the Companions of God's Messenger in places but spoke of `Ali only well.”35
When the verse on “purificatio” (tathir) was revealed in the house of Umm Salamah the Prophet called on Fatimah, Hasan, Husayn and `Ali He then draped them in a shroud, saying: “Lord these are the members of my household. So remove all sully and wholly purify them.” Umm. Salamah asked, “Am I not among them, O Prophet, He answered, “Do not change your place, as you are fortunate.”
In the foregoing, we have noticed a special kind of relationship between 'Ali and the Qur'an. It emerged and developed to a point where, in the Prophet's own words,
The Qur'an is with `Ali; and `Ali is with the Qur an. They shall gseparate not to the day when they will be restored to me at the Basin.1
Moreover, if it grew and developed to a point where `Ali had had to do battle over the Qur'an's interpretation, just as he did over its revelation,2 what then are its repercussions for the intellectual and moral preparation for his succession?
One can assert, first of all, that the Prophet had himself sought to nurture and to entrench this sort of relation - by the Command of God, as he was wont to say. It appears that there was an important objective for whose realization just such theoretical and practical steps or procedures were needed. One can equally demonstrate this objective in the light of the following observations:
(i) The logic of the Shariah (Islamic Law), complete.and eternal, must guarantee that the Qur'an is understood - insofar as it is the fundamental source3 of this eternal law - along with its interpretation and provisions. To make the Qur'an the arbitrator among worshippers and nations is precisely what God has commanded us to do, as when He says:
“Do they then seek a judgement from the [Time of Pagan] Ignorance [al jahiliyyah]? Who is better in judgement than God for a people convinced?” (Qur'an 5:53 “al-Ma'idah”).
Consequently, we must rely on the Qur'an for everything small and big, but disavow the judgements of the days of Ignorance, which are those of impulse. Likewise, God has forbidden us to appeal to a false god, for He asks:
“Do you not see how those who claim to have faith in what has been revealed to you and what has been revealed before you want to appeal to a false god. They have been commanded to disavow it. But Satan wishes to lead them far astray” (Qur'an 4:60 “al-Nisa”).
Here, the Qur'an has rendered the choice of appealing to anything other than what God has brought down, or anyone other than the Prophet, as being one for the arbitration of Satan,4 who will lead them inexorably astray. The Qur'an affirms that appealing to anything else than what God has revealed is sinful, iniquitous and constitutes unbilief.
“The ones who judge not by what God has brought down, these are the sinful” (Qur'an 5:50 “al-Ma 'idah”);
“The ones who judge not by what God has brought down, these are the iniquitous” (Qur'an 5:48 “al-Ma'idah”);
“The ones who judge not by what God has brought down, these are the unbelievers” (Qur'an 5:47 “al-Ma'idah”).
Our Prophet Muhammad was called on to turn the leaf on sinfulness, iniquity and unbelief.
Therefore, in the logic of the Qur'an, the failure to refer to its provisions brought down by God means appealing to a false god.5 If referring to the provisions of the Qur'an has been Divinely ordained, being the Will of the Lord; if this demands obtaining God's judgement as revealed in the Qur'an; then there must presumably be a person both qualified and fully prepared to carry out this Divine Command. There can be no one else but the Prophet, or someone “of him” to discharge and to impart it in his place6 - someone qualified like himself and prepared for the task.
(ii) Strong, longstanding disagreement has existed among scholars -especially in areas that are of importance to people and to their lives - for no other reason than a lack of grasp of the Qur'an. Imam `Ali referred to this issue when he disparaged similar disagreement while the Qur'an was there in their midst:
A case goes before one of them for judgement; so he passes judgement based on hts opinion. The very same case goes before another, who judges differently from the first. Thereupon the judges gather before the leader who appointed them He approves all of their options - although their Lord is One and their Prophet is One and their Book is One!
Has God really commanded them thus to disagree, and so they merely obey? or did He command them against it, and they now disobey? Has God revealed a deficient religion fox whose perfection He seeks their assistance? Are they His partners, that they need only pronounce themselves and He to give His consent? Or has God brought down a perfect religion, but the Prophet failed to convey or to achieve it? Yet God says:
“...nothing have we omitted from the Book” (Qur an 6:38 “al An`am”)...
We have sent down the Book to you explaining every manner of thing - a Guidance and a Mercy...” (Qur an 16:89 “al-Nahl”)
He also recalls that each part of the Book confirms the other, that the Qur'an has no discrepancies;
“Were it from anyone but God, they would surely have found many discrepancies” (Qur'an 4:82 “al-Nisa”).
The Qur an is clear and comely.7
Accordingly, the preparation of someone qualified for expounding the Qur'an must be assumed.
(iii) `Ali's expertise in the Qur'anic sciences; his knowledge of the Qur'an itself in its explicit and implicit aspects, the clear and the allegorical verses, the general and the particular; his unique ability to understand its verses and to discern its provisions - all of these were recognized by learned Companions, as we have indicated.8
Prophetic traditions support and help establish them. The latter are also supported by what the exegetes and specialists in traditions on 'Ali, in particular, have recorded, among other sources. The Prophet has said, “O `Ali, God Almighty and Sublime has commanded me to draw you closer to me and to teach you that you tray become mindful. And so, this verse has been revealed:
`and for retentive ears to retain it' [Qur'an 69:12 `al-Haqah'].
You are an ear retaining my knowledge...”9
Reported also is the following statement by `Ali.
This is the Qur'an. Ask it to speak, but it will not. Rather, I apprise you of it. Verily, it contains knowledge of what is to come, discourse on what is bygoe medicament for your illness and the ordering of your affairs...10
Thus Imam `Ali established that this Qur'arri contains much that is weighty and of profound meaning; it contains cures for bodily ills and a regular code for every aspect of life - all of which no one but 'Ali -or the emulator of `Ali - can either procure or grasp. Therefore, it becomes clear that besides him no one, without exception, was more qualified to understand the Qur'an, as obligated to realizing the Divine Command and to executing the Will of the Lord in order to end iniquity, sinfulness and unbelief - according to the texts and the factsthan he.
This is a most logical, most sound assumption, one that explains the intellectual and practical measures taken by the Prophet to give `Ali a singular knowledge of the Qur'an, its sciences and judgements - as the most reliable traditions make clear.
Finally, the context requires us to deal with the inevitable question, and that is the following. If every such measure, every intellectual and practical step was taken for the sake of `Ali b. Abi Talib's succession to the Prophet, why then is there not a covenant written in definitive and satisfactory form that neither gives pretext to its detractors nor elicits speculation?11
The answer to this is that the texts and all the interconnected narratives adduced here - announcing the Prophet's promulgation of `Ali's Guardianship, Assistantship, Succession and Command after his own death - relate to situations and occasions too numerous to list.
But one matter of singular religious and worldly importance to the Prophet brought him finally to make an official public announcement on the Day of Ghadir, which he repeated several times, as we saw in this Appendix and as we found out from Imam al-Sadr's study. This bearly touches on what is determinable through the natural logic of events and the eternal, final law of God. But it is sufficient to anyone who deigns to hear out what he sees.
The Prophet, nevertheless, wanted to diminsh the Ummah's pains. He honoured the Ummah with the Lord's gracious care, keeping it from stumbling and falling astray. He proclaimed on his deathbed, in the very last hour of his noble life, “Come! let me write you an epistle by which you will never go astray...”12
Around him were gathered some eminent Companions. He wanted it indeed to be a written covenant witnessed by the gathering. However, “what a calamity” occurred (in the words of Ibn `Abbas) when something abruptly came between the Prophet and the writing of the epistle, according to al-Bukhari, who related the following:
When the Prophet's pain worsened, he called our `Bring me material on which I can write you my epistle; after this you shall never stray. `Umar then said, The Prophet is overcome with pain, but we [still] have the Qur'an. We count on God's Book.” They agreed and became more clamorous. The Prophet said, “Leave! Quarreling in ry house is inappropriate.” Ibn `Abbas then left saying13 ‘What a calamity has come between the Prophet and his epistle...14
It may be appropriate here to recall a dialogue, related by Ibn `Abbas, between 'Umar b. al-Khattab (earlier during his Caliphate) and himself. Its gist is as follows. `Umar asks him,
“O `Abd Allah, you will pay in blood, if you keep silent ... Does `Ali have any outstanding issue concerning the Caliphate?” “Yes,” I replied. So `Umar said, “There was only convulsed speech, which cannot establish an argument nor dispel a difficulty ...In his state of illness, [the Prophet] wanted to announce [`Ali's] name, but I prevented that out of pity and concern for Islam Messenger of God knew what was in my mind and abstained ... 15
Whether this is true or not, Caliph `Umar's effort was subsequently confirmed on more than one occasion. It transpired that at one time as related by al-Tabari addressing Ibn `Abbas, he said “My people are loathe to have Prophethood and the Caliphate joined in thee...”16
It appears that the Prophet's abandonment of the idea of writing and malting out a covenant had two aspects to it The first is that of the disagreement, quarreling and clamour that took place in his house just when he intended to write the covenant. This aspect was argued to the point where he was accused of blathering deliriously (in one version), or of being overcome with pain (in another version17). This is quite serious, since it touches the root of prophethood and the veracity of the Message. Yet the matter had been repeatedly clarified by the Prophet, as we saw. So, let the issue be examined on its own merits and let us make our choice.
Secondly, the Prophet had taken his precautions against just such an eventuality. He prepared the battalion headed by Usamah b. Zayd, and ordered its deployment, whatever the circumstances. So anxious was he to have it deployed, that by some accounts nothing could deflect his attention from it, not even the severity of his illness.18
Let us relate an account found in Ibn Sa`d's al-Tabaqat corroborating this. After mentioning the battalion's preparations, Ibn Sa`d relates how the illness struck the Prophet on a Wednesday, causing him to become feverish; when he awoke Thursday morning he gave the standard to Usamah and told him, “Go into battle in the Name of God and in His Path. Fight those who deny Him.” So [the latter] went out standard in hand, under pledge, and gave it to Buraydah b. al-Hasib al Aslami.
He then camped at al Jurf, a place only three miles from Medina. Some Muhajirin and Ansar were with him, including Abu Bakr, `Umar and Abu Ubaydah. But people were asking, “Is he [i.e. the Prophet] installing this youth above the First Muhajiran?” This greatly angered the Prophet, who put a headcloth around his head and climbed the pulpit.
Now then, O People! What is this talk surrounding my appointment of Usamah as commander. You contcst his appointment now just as you did previously his father's. But by God, the latter was as fit to command then as his son surely is now! For me, he was one of the most beloved. Both are deserving of every kindness. So, make a point of showing kindness to him, for he is one of the best among you.
The Prophet then went to his house, on Saturday, 10 Rabi' al-Awwal, with the illness growing worse. He gave order to “Carry out Usamah's deployment!”19
From all these situations, words and course of events it appears the Prophet intended the following:
1) To adapt the intellectual and psychological climate by appointing Usamah as commander over the Muhajiran and the Ansar. The latter's acceptance of him marked a precedent for 'Ali's own accession to the position of Guardian and Caliph. In this manner, no one would object to his being younger than most.
2) To adapt the political and security climate by preempting likely elements of opposition,20 in order for `Ali to acceded to the position of Caliph. This goal the Prophet was committed to and had planned with vigilance in the hope of bring it to fruition, as we have shown.
However, a different turn of events took place than the one intended. And so, he wished to lessen the Ummah's pains, to avoid the vagaries of trial and error. He wished for the Ummah to hold fast to the Holy Book and to the Immaculate Family in order to be saved from the wilderness and from perdition. Hence his abandonment of the idea of an absolute, definitively written convenant: so the Ummah may continue to be tested, which is the way of God. For God asks,
“Do men think they will be left alone on saying, `We have faith,' without being tested? Those before them we have tested, and God shall know who believes, just as He shall know who denies” (Qur'an 29:1-3 “al-`Ankabut”).
God has willed all this, just as surely the Prophet had wished for the faithful to believe firmly in the one he appointed over them as his successor. Moreover, he intended their belief to be a reflective one and for their Shi'ism to be sincere - so as to continue to carry out the Divine Will under the latter's blessed leadership. The object is to remove iniquity, sinfulness and unbelief from existence:
God hath promised those of you who have faith and work rightful deeds that they will be made heirs on earth just as surely as those before them were made heirs; that He will consolidate the religion He countenanced for them; that He will surely change them after their fear - secure in [their] worship of Me, and without associating anything with Me. If any deny after this, they are the sinful. (Qur'an 24:55 “al-Nur”)
Muharram 1414 AH
Dr. 'Abd al-Jabbar Sharrarah
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