I had written a detailed response on Quora analysing this explanation that is advanced to explain the event of Ghadir Khumm. It is reproduced below.
For this response I’d like to examine the favourite context that is used to explain away the importance of Ghadir Khumm as simply a way to respond to unhappy soldiers from the Yemen expedition who were upset with ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.
I consider it a pseudo-context and so would like to title the rest of my analysis as:
THE CASE OF THE YEMENI RED HERRING
My assertion, that I shall try and prove below, is that Yemeni Unhappiness and Ghadir Khumm were two entirely different matters that have been conflated to create this pseudo-context.
I’d like to bring forth some case studies of Companion unhappiness, the way the Prophet (s) dealt with it, and then draw a comparison and some conclusions.
Unhappiness Case Study 1
Narrated Anas bin Malik: When Allah favored His Apostle with the properties of Hawazin tribe as Fai (booty), he started giving to some Quarries men even up to one-hundred camels each, whereupon some Ansari men said about Allah's Apostle, "May Allah forgive His Apostle! He is giving to (men of) Quraish and leaves us, in spite of the fact that our swords are still dropping blood (of the infidels)"
When Allah's Apostle was informed of what they had said, he called the Ansar and gathered them in a leather tent and did not call anybody else along with them.
When they gathered, Allah's Apostle came to them and said, "What is the statement which, I have been informed, and that which you have said?" The learned ones among them replied,"
O Allah's Apostle! The wise ones amongst us did not say anything, but the youngsters amongst us said, 'May Allah forgive His Apostle; he gives the Quarish and leaves the Ansar, in spite of the fact that our swords are still dribbling (wet) with the blood of the infidels.' "
Allah's Apostle replied, I give to such people as are still close to the period of Infidelity (i.e. they have recently embraced Islam and Faith is still weak in their hearts). Won't you be pleased to see people go with fortune, while you return with Allah's Apostle to your houses? By Allah, what you will return with, is better than what they are returning with."
The Ansar replied, "Yes, O Allah's Apostle, we are satisfied' Then the Prophet said to them." You will find after me, others being preferred to you. Then be patient till you meet Allah and meet His Apostle at Al-Kauthar (i.e. a fount in Paradise)." (Anas added:) But we did not remain patient.
Source - Sahih al-Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 53, Number 375
Here are the key take-aways from this example:
- It is also about dispute over war booty where some Ansari Companions openly challenged the Prophet (s) accusing him of nepotism
- When the Prophet (s) hears about it,
- He gathers them privately in a tent
- He does not call anybody else along with them
- He then allows them to have their say, and he listens to them
- After hearing that, he gives his own explanation
Unhappiness Case Study 2
"Az-Zubair told me that he quarrelled with an Ansari man who had participated in (the battle of) Badr in front of Allah's Apostle about a water stream which both of them used for irrigation. Allah's Apostle said to Az-Zubair, "O Zubair! Irrigate (your garden) first, and then let the water flow to your neighbor." The Ansari became angry and said, "O Allah's Apostle! Is it because he is your cousin?"
On that the complexion of Allah's Apostle changed (because of anger) and said (to Az-Zubair), "Irrigate (your garden) and then with-hold the water till it reaches the walls (surrounding the palms)." So, Allah's Apostle gave Az-Zubair his full right. Before that Allah's Apostle had given a generous judgment beneficial for Az-Zubair and the Ansari, but when the Ansari irritated Allah's Apostle he gave Az-Zubair his full right according to the evident law. Az-Zubair said, "By Allah ! I think the following Verse was revealed concerning that case: "But no by your Lord They can have No faith Until they make you judge In all disputes between them." (4.65)"
Source - Sahih al-Bukhari (English translation), volume 3, book 49, number 871
Let’s see what happened in this example:
- Al-Zubayr b. 'Awwam is a cousin of the Prophet (s), just like 'Ali. An Ansari Badri, i.e. very senior Companion, has a conflict with al-Zubayr. They come to the Prophet (s) for resolution and the Prophet (s) gives a ruling.
- The Ansari Companion is not happy, and accuses the Prophet (s) of nepotism by saying "Is it because he is your cousin?"
- The complexion of the Prophet's face changes, due to anger.
- In this conflict resolution, we notice that the Prophet (s)
- Talks to them privately as the only parties to the conflict
- He does not call anybody else along with them
- He allows them to have their say, and he listens to them
- After hearing that, he gives his ruling that directly correlated to the issue at hand
Unhappiness Case Study 3
The Prophet sent 'Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus (of the booty) and I hated Ali, and 'Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave-girl from the Khumus). I said to Khalid, "Don't you see this (i.e. Ali)?" When we reached the Prophet I mentioned that to him. He said, "O Burayda! Do you hate Ali?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Do you hate him, for he deserves more than that from the Khumus."
Source - Sahih Bukhari - Volume 5, Book 59, Number 637
Can you see the consistency of the Prophet (s)? A private meeting with just the concerned person(s) and his (s) words clarified the context of complaint and responded to it.
From other narrations in Sahih Bukhari and al-Tabari etc. we know that Khalid b. al-Walid had earlier been sent to Yemen in 9 AH and then ‘Ali was sent to replace him a few months before the hajj in the month of Ramadan. And ‘Ali then joined the hajj directly from Yemen in Dhu’l hijja of 10 AH.
This narration shows that Burayda accompanied Khalid back to Medina. Notice the “When we reached the Prophet” in the narration. Clearly he didn't like to stay on under the command of someone he hated.
So this meeting of Burayda with the Prophet (s) was most likely in Madina before he even set out for the hajj journey and probably many months before it.
Was There A Burayda Meeting At Ghadir Khumm?
However, there exist another set of narrations from Burayda, where he is again complaining about ‘Ali, but this time the Prophet (s) responds differently.
From Ibn Abbas, who in turn reported Burayda as saying:
‘I was together with Ali in the invasion of Yemen wherein he once treated me harshly. So when I got back to the Messenger of Allah - peace and salutation of Allah be upon him - I mentioned 'Ali and diminished his personality. Accordingly, I observed a change in the expression of the Messenger of Allah - peace and salutation of Allah be upon him - and he thus remarked:
‘O' Burayda! Have I not a greater claim [mastery] on the believers than they have on themselves?
I responded: Yes, indeed, O Messenger of Allah. He then asserted: ‘Of whosoever I am the master (mawla) then Ali is his master (master).’
Source - Musnad Ahmad b. Hanbal, vol. 5, p. 347
But this one seems very relevant to Ghadir Khumm since it contains the man kuntu mawlahu fa ‘Ali mawlahu statement. So let’s examine it some more.
Here are the facts gleaned from examining all the narrations from Burayda b. Husayb that mention the man kuntu mawlahu declaration of the Prophet (s):
- Burayda b. Husayb is one out of 110 Companions who narrated the man kuntu mawlahu narration in Sunni sources.
- None of these narrations, on Burayda’s authority, mention Ghadir Khumm (or al-Juhfa) as the location.
- None of the man kuntu mawlahu narrations from the any of the other 109 Companions mention Yemen at all.
- None of the man kuntu mawlahu narrations from the any of the other 109 Companions mention any unhappiness of anyone whatsoever on any topic whatsoever.
So it seems that this second instance of Burayda’s backbiting of ‘Ali in the presence of the Prophet (s) was not at Ghadir Khumm but was a separate event, most likely in Medina but this time after his return from the hajj. This is because the Prophet (s) was repeating something he had already mentioned at Ghadir Khumm as a reminder of ‘Ali’s position.
He also got agitated with Burayda, unlike the first time when he had complained months ago.
Recall, from earlier above, that Burayda had already complained once to the Prophet (s) about ‘Ali on his return from Yemen along with Khalid b. al-Walid in 9 AH, and the Prophet (s) had given a different response then without signs of anger.
What About Those Other Unhappy Yemeni Soldiers?
There is no clarity in any of the sources on how many people were unhappy with ‘Ali in the matter of the Yemeni spoils.
So let’s try and do an estimate.
- The total number of soldiers sent with 'Ali, from Medina, was probably around 300 as mentioned in al-Sirah al-Halabiyya, Nur al-Din al-Halabi al-Shafi’i, under the section Expedition of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib towards the land of Manhaj
- Some of the Companions returned to Medina along with Khalid b. al-Walid whom 'Ali was replacing.
- If Yemen was largely converted by the time 'Ali left to join the hajj (as confirmed by historical sources), it stands to reason that there would also be Yemeni soldiers amongst the Muslim army. After all, why would you not allow local soldiers with local knowledge to join your own forces, when they have adopted Islam? And with the vast area of Yemen under Islam, you would need to have local Yemeni soldiers who will also join you in any skirmishes with the remaining Yemeni's who refuse jizya and fight the Muslims.
- In any case, the unhappy soldiers were in all likelihood very few in number, a handful.
Could some of these Yemeni soldiers have been amongst the unhappy soldiers? It is quite possible, as we do not know for a fact that it was only Medinan soldiers.
Even if the Yemeni soldiers were not involved, if a scene had been created by the complainers in front of them, based on booty arising in Yemen, it would stand to reason that the issue resolution also involved them so that there were no misunderstandings later.
So what happened next?
Timing Of Ghadir Khumm And The Yemeni Red Herring
The perfect time for giving an address to deal with Yemeni unhappiness would have been during the hajj days.
Narrated Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari : Allah's Apostle said, "It is not lawful for a man to desert his brother Muslim for more than three nights. (It is unlawful for them that) when they meet, one of them turns his face away from the other, and the other turns his face from the former, and the better of the two will be the one who greets the other first."
Source - Sahih Al Bukhari - Book of Good Manners And Form (Al-Adab) Volume 008, Book 073, Hadith Number 100
If we assume that the Sunni narrative is true, why would the Prophet (s) wait for 18th Dhu’l hijja, the date of the Ghadir Khumm event, before clarifying this major misunderstanding about 'Ali, a major Companion of the Prophet (s)? Surely he found out about it as soon as 'Ali and his troops arrived from Yemen for the hajj.
The best time to resolve the conflict would have been as soon as the complaints were made, and in Makka itself.
In light of the hadith quoted just above, how could the Prophet (s) have happily continued with the rites of hajj knowing that some of his Companions festered ill-will against 'Ali, and not try and resolve it as soon as possible?
Location Of Ghadir Khumm And The Yemeni Red Herring
There is this misconception that the Shi’a say that everyone continued to Ghadir Khumm before going their own way. Well, I have never said that for the same logical reason that it is simply silly.
You cannot expect hujjaj from areas south of Makka to travel quite a distance the wrong direction towards Ghadir Khumm and then turn back. At least I have never accepted that and seen no evidence of that in the sources.
So here’s the thing.
Yemen is south of Makka!
Any affected soldiers from Yemen would have already returned to their hometown directly from the hajj.
Furthermore, the crowd at Ghadir Khumm that had around 100-120,000 people, whilst missing the Yemenis, included many people who were from towns nearby to Medina. They were not just purely Medinan people as this narration from Sahih Muslim shows.
"As the caravan moved on the number of participants swelled till, according to some of the narrators, it reached more than one lakh and thirty thousands. The Farewell Pilgrimage is one of the most important occasions in the sacred life of Muhammad (May peace be upon him)."
Source - Sahih Muslim, Book 007, Number 2802
Why would the Prophet (s) choose to stop all those 110-120k people, with no relevance to the episode of unhappiness, as a belated reaction to the complaints of a handful of soldiers?
Why would you stop a hajj caravan of that magnitude, who are tired after days of a very physically demanding 'ibada, who have just heard several sermons by the Prophet (s) during the days of hajj, including his major Arafa address, and give them yet another sermon - just because a handful of pathetic people developed rancour in their hearts for 'Ali?
And why does that sermon - in narrations that specify Ghadir Khumm or the area of al-Juhfa as the location and on the authority of 109 Companions of the Prophet (s) - make no mention of that bitterness whatsoever? Every other conflict resolution, as we saw, involved a mention of the problem.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, this would be completely against the established method of dealing with complaints as practiced by the Prophet (s).
Sermon At Ghadir Khumm
Having discussed the Yemeni Red Herring, I’d like to end my response with one narration of the Ghadir Khumm event that is confirmed sahih according to Bukhari and Muslim.
Read it and tell me if you still honestly think this was about unhappy Yemeni soldiers!
[Al-Hakim al-Naysaburi says:] ... from Zayd ibn Arqam, may God be pleased with him, who said:
"The Messenger of Allah (s) while returning from his Last Hajj came down at Ghadir Khumm and ordered (us) towards the big trees, and the ground underneath them was swept.
"Then he said, 'I am about to answer the call (of death).
Verily, I have left behind two precious things amongst you, one of which is greater than the other. The Book of Allah, the Exalted, and my 'itrah (i.e. Ahl al-bayt). So watch out how you treat these two after me, for verily they will not separate from each other until they come back to me by the side of the Pond.'
Then he said 'Verily, Allah, the Almighty and the Glorious, is my master (mawla) and I am the master (mawla) of every believer.'
Then he took 'Ali, may God be pleased with him, by the hand and said, 'This ('Ali) is the master of whomever I am his master. O God, love whoever loves him and be the enemy of his enemy.'"
[Al-Hakim adds:] "This hadith is sahih in accordance with the conditions of sihhah laid down by the Shaykhayn (al-Bukhari and Muslim), although they have not recorded it in its full length.
Source - al-Mustadrak `ala al-Sahihayn, Haydarabad: Da'irat al-ma`arif al-nizamiyyah (4 vols), 1334-42 AH vol. 3, p. 109