When we review in retrospect the important events involving the history of a nation we find that those events and their early evolutions were not dependent on most of the individuals and small groups who lived in those particular times. The presence or the absence of this soldier or that farmer or worker or merchant or politician did not affect those events.
Every individual except a very few was dispensable or it was possible to replace any of them with another person who could have performed a similar role.
There are of course some small groups and some individuals who perform important roles which other people cannot or do not want to perform. These small groups and a few individuals would be indispensable and the big events therefore would be connected strongly to these groups and individuals.
The presence of any of the small-role performers (and these are the overwhelming majority in every nation) in relation to the important event ought to be called incidental and dispensable. We say that the presence of such people or small group is incidental and dispensable in relation to an important event because that event could have been realized with or without such persons or group for everyone of them is easily replaceable.
As we look retrospectively at the onset of the faith of Islam and its gradual spread during the time of the Holy Prophet we find that Islam was strongly connected with the presence of a small number of individuals and groups.
It is needless to speak about the connection of the faith of Islam with the presence of the Messenger for he is the one who received the revelation carried the message and faced what no other person faced. He is the only man whose qualities qualified him to receive the revelation.
As the faith of Islam was dependent on the person of the Holy Messenger in its commencement and continuity during the period of the Prophethood we find that the continuity of Islam during that period was connected strongly and positively with three small groups who protected the life of the Messenger and offered great sacrifices in his defense.
The first of these small groups was the clan of Hashim.
This clan had offered what no other Meccan clan offered during the years the Holy Prophet spent between the beginning of his Prophethood and the beginning of his Hijra.
This group was privileged with the honor of defending the Holy Prophet during those years. No other Meccan clan shared this honor. The rest of the clans had chosen to take a hostile attitude towards the prophet his message and his clan. That hostile attitude threatened the Messenger and the members of his clan constantly with serious dangers.
Thus it would be justifiable to say that the presence of the rest of the Meccan clans in relation to the development of the message during that period was not only incidental but also a negative force for those clans did not offer as groups any assistance to the Messenger; in fact they impeded progress.
Some men and women related to these Meccan clans had believed in the Messenger and offered some sacrifices for him and his message but they did that as individuals.
The groups to which those persons belonged had taken hostile attitudes towards the Messenger and persecuted those individuals because they deviated from their hostile line.
Had Umayyad Makhzoom Zuhra Jumah and the rest of the Meccan clans been absent the Holy Prophet and his message could have been freed from many dangers. The Imam ‘Ali in one of his messages directed to Muawiya mentioned the following:
"Our people (the Meccan clans) wanted to kill our Prophet and annihilate our clan. They plotted and committed atrocities against us. They prevented us from the water and clothed us with fear. They forced us to live at a rugged mountain and started the fire of war against us and the Almighty decided for us to defend His religion and fight for His sacred cause.
Our believer was seeking the Divine reward and our unbeliever was trying to protect his honor. The rest of the Qureshite Muslims were free of what was surrounding us either through an alliance which protected them or through a relationship to a clan which was ready to defend them. Thus they were in a security against murder.
"Whenever the war became bloody and the companions were unwilling to fight the Messenger put the members of his House in the front protecting his companions through them from the heat of the swords and spears."1
The other two small groups with whom the continuity of the faith of Islam was positively connected at another stage of the development of the Islamic movement were the two tribes of Al-Khzraj and Al-Ous. The two tribes were privileged from among the non-Meccan Arab tribes by honor of their defense of the Holy Messenger and his message after the Hijrah. Had other tribes wanted to share with the two tribes this honor they could have acquired it; unfortunately they chose to oppose the Messenger instead of assisting him.
Thus the continuity of the faith of Islam was connected to these three small groups. The presence of the rest of the tribes and clans was dispensable and less than incidental in relation to the faith of Islam in that period. For the presence of those clans and tribes had a negative effect and was fraught with dangers which threatened the life of the Messenger and his message.
As we find these three small groups connected strongly with the message of Islam the history of this faith presents to us two men whose existence was indispensable and necessary during the period of Prophethood.
One of these two men was Abu Talib uncle of the Messenger his guardian during the days of his childhood and his main defender after the commencement of his Prophethood. The protection by this hero of his nephew and his defense against the threats of the Qureshites (the non-Hashimite Meccan clans) was a main factor in the continuity of life of the Messenger and his message.
The Meccan clans were burning with hatred towards the Messenger and anxious to shed his blood. What prevented them from that was the presence of Abu Talib the chief of Mecca who led the Hashimites and made out of them and himself an unbreakable fortress around the Messenger.
The readers of the Islamic history know how the Qureshite clans delivered to Abu Talib an ultimatum to stop his nephew from defaming their fathers and belittling their gods and ridiculing their minds; otherwise they would confront him and Muhammad on a battlefield until one of the two parties perished.
Abu Talib did not have any doubt that his acceptance of the Qureshite challenge meant his death and the annihilation of his clan; yet he did not pressure his nephew to stop his campaign. He only informed him of the Qureshite ultimatum and then he told him kindly:
"Save me and yourself my nephew and burden me not with what I cannot bear.”
When the Messenger rejected their ultimatum declaring to his uncle that he would not exchange his message with the possession of the whole universe Abu
Talib immediately reversed his attitude and decided to go along with the Messenger to the end. He called him after he turned his back: "Come back my nephew.”
When the Messenger came back the great uncle said to him: "My nephew go on. Say whatever you like I shall never let you down at any time."2 Abu Talib fulfilled this huge promise with distinction.
When a Meccan threw some dirt on the Messenger while he was prostrating Abu Talib went on brandishing his sword and holding the hand of his nephew until he came to the sacred Mosque. A group of the enemies were sitting there and when some of them tried to stand for Abu Talib he said to them: "By the One in Whom Muhammad believes if anyone from you stands up I will hit him with my sword." Then he went on putting dirt on their faces and beards.3
The Qureshite clans formed a strong alliance against Abu Talib and his clan and resorted to the weapon of starvation instead of confrontation. They knew that the Hashimites would fight if fought; and that they could not be annihilated without costing their adversaries great losses.
Thus the Meccan clans imposed an economical and social embargo against the Hashimites. This continued for three years during which time the Hashimites were forced to live at a rugged mountain called "Shi-ab Abu Talib." The Hashimites during that period were forced sometimes to eat leaves of trees to alleviate the pains of hunger.
During that period the main concern of the old hero was to protect the life of the Messenger. Abu Talib during those years often made some members of his own family (especially his son ‘Ali) lie at the bed of the Holy Prophet protecting him by his dearest son from danger of assassination.
A number of historians and hadith-recorders reported that Abu Talib died while he was a pagan. Some of them reported that the verse "It is not permissible to the Prophet and the believers to ask God to forgive the pagans even if they were akin to them after it became clear to them that those pagans are from the people of Hell " was revealed in relation to Abu Talib for the Prophet wanted to ask God to forgive him and the Almighty prohibited him from doing that.
Such statements were fabricated as a part of the smear campaign which the Umayyads and their allies waged against Imam ‘Ali. They tried by fabricating these hadiths to prove to the masses of the people that Abu Sufyan father of Muawiya was better than Abu Talib father of ‘Ali claiming that Abu Sufyan died while he was a Muslim and Abu Talib died while he was a pagan.
The recorders of the hadiths and the historians took these hadiths without paying attention to the evidence of their forgery. They did not try to examine these hadiths yet the date of the revelation of the above mentioned verse testifies that it was not revealed about a matter pertaining to Abu Talib.
The verse is a part of the chapter of Bara’ah (number 9). This chapter is totally Medinite with the exception of the last two verses (129 and 130). The verse which is the subject of our discussion is the 114th. The chapter of Bara-ah was revealed during the ninth year after the Hijrah. The Prophet ordered Abu Bakr to announce the first part of it during the days of pilgrimage of that year when he sent him as an "Amir Al-Hajj" (commander of the pilgrimage).
Then he sent ‘Ali to take that part from him and announce it because God commanded him that no one should deliver the revelation other than himself or a man from the members of his House. The chapter speaks of events that took place during the campaign of Tabouk which was during "Rajab" of the ninth year.
Since this chapter contains the above mentioned verse the verse could not mean Abu Talib. because he died in Mecca at least two years before the Hijrah.
Asking God to forgive a deceased usually takes place at the time of a funeral prayer. The wording of the verse indicates that for it says: "It is not permissible to the Prophet and the believers to ask God to forgive the pagans." This indicates that the Prophet was with other believers (in a congregational prayer) when he asked forgiveness for the pagans.
As a matter of tact the funeral prayer was not instituted before the Hijrah. The first prayer offered by the Messenger for a deceased was his prayer for Al-Bura Ibn Maarour from Medina.
It is likely that the verse was revealed after the Prophet offered a funeral prayer for one of the hypocrites who used to pretend Islam and conceal paganism. It is very likely that the verse was revealed when the Holy Prophet offered a funeral prayer for Abdullah Ibn Abu Salool who died during the ninth year and who was well noted in his hypocrisy his hatred to the Messenger and his adversity to the faith of Islam.
About him and his followers the chapter of Al-Munafiqoon ( the Hypocrites) was revealed before that time. Had the historians and hadith-recorders (who inadvertently mentioned the fabricated hadiths about Abu Talib's paganism) thought with some depth and logic they would not have committed this terrible historical error.
To say that Abu Talib was a pagan is to say that he was a believer in the divinity of idols. But this belief cannot co-exist with his belief in the truthfulness of Muhammad who denounced idols and considered their deification and worship a defiance to the Creator.
For Abu Talib to believe in the divinity of idols he either had to believe that Muhammad was deliberately misinforming people about God or that he was hallucinating. If Abu Talib were pagan and in spite of that he offered so much sacrifice for the sake of Muhammad he must have been insane or an unusual fool. Had he believed that his nephew was unbalanced or a conscious misinformant about God Abu Talib should have confined Muhammad and become his strong opponent rather than his formidable protector for the mission of Muhammad was expected to bring destruction and death to Abu Talib and his clan.
Abu Talib tied his fate to the fate of his nephew. He was unconcerned with what might happen to him and to his clan. He witnessed the dangers surrounding him and his clan and the difficulties that were accumulating around him because of his protection of his nephew. In spite of all what happened to him and to the members of his clan history does not record any harsh word on the part of Abu Talib to his nephew. On the contrary he offered himself and the members of his clan as redemption to his nephew.
He treated him better than any compassionate father treated his most beloved son. He told him: "Nephew continue your mission and say whatever you desire to say. By God I shall never leave you to any danger." Abu Talib was a man of great faith and strong belief in the truthfulness of Muhammad.
He lived with that mission about eleven years and the difficulties for Muhammad and for him increased in size by the passage of time. He was a man of unusual faith in the truthfulness of Islam. History witnessed distinguished companions running away when the danger grew. But Abu Talib did not run away nor did he lose his determination. He continued his sacrifice for the Prophet for the duration of his life.
This should give credence to what Al-Tabersi recorded through his channel to the Imam Jaafar Al-Ssadiq:
"While the Imam ‘Ali was sitting at the 'Ruhbah' in Kufa " surrounded by a group a man stood up and said: "Commander of the Believers you are in this great position at which God has placed you while your father is suffering in hell."
The Imam replied saying: "Be silent. May God disfigure your mouth. By the One Who sent Muhammad with the truth if my father intercedes for every sinner on the face of the earth God would accept his intercession."4
He concealed his faith and God rewarded him twice.He concealed his faith only to protect Muhammad. Had he revealed his belief in Islam the relation between him and the rest of the Qureshites would have been severed.
He wanted to maintain the dialogue between him and the Qureshites and not let it be discontinued for this could have led to an armed conflict in a decisive battle which might have led to the destruction of his clan. By this the Hashimite wall around Muhammad would fall and the Meccan pagans could reach him.
In spite of concealing his faith Abu Talib on more than one occasion made his belief in Islam clearly known.
While on his deathbed he said to the Hashimites: "I command you to be good to Muhammad. He is the most trustworthy of Quraish and the ever-truthful of the Arabs. He brought a message which is accepted by the heart and denied by the tongue for fear of hostility.
By God whoever walks in the path of Muhammad shall be on the right road and whoever follows his guidance shall have the happy future. Had there been a balance in my years I would have shielded him against dangers and defended him against adversaries.
"And you the Hashimites respond to Muhammad's invitation and believe him. You will succeed and be well-guided. Assist Muhammad; certainly he is the guide to the straight path."5
All Muslims are indebted to Abu Talib for the continuity of the Islamic Message is a result of the continuation of the life of the Messenger until God completed His message to mankind. The protection of Abu Talib to the Messenger was the main physical deterrent to the Qureshites.
I once made this statement in an Islamic seminar and the following question was raised: If God is the One Who wanted the message of Islam to continue and to spread was not He able to preserve it and spread it without Abu Talib and his protection to the Messenger?
In my reply I stated the following: Muslims believe that God was able to preserve the life of the Messenger and He was able to make all the children of Adam Muslims and believers in God His oneness and in the Day of Judgement. He could have made them obedient to all Heavenly laws. He was able to make all the Qureshite clans obedient to Muhammad. He was able also to make all people obedient to His command without creating Muhammad.
Yet in spite of our belief in all this we know that God did not do that. He did not make all people believers. He did not interfere directly to change their thinking and their belief. He rather left for them their freedom to choose. This means that God did not want to run the events of the world miraculously and through Divine intervention.
He rather wanted to run the affairs of the world in accordance with the natural means and courses. Therefore He sent revelations down to a human being named Muhammad and spread Islam through that person.
The Almighty did not choose to force the Qureshites to believe or disbelieve. The majority of the Qureshites chose to oppose Muhammad and Abu Talib chose to believe in his message and to defend him by all of what he had of men and means. This protection of Abu Talib to the Messenger was an important factor in preserving the life of the Messenger and the continuation of his mission until Abu Talib departed from this world.
To attribute paganism to a man such as Abu Talib who was so benevolent to all Muslims by guarding the life of the Messenger for about eleven years is one of the worst forms of ungratefulness. It is a reward of great favor by the worst insult.
Abu Talib was the first of two great men with whom the continuity of the faith of Islam was strongly connected and their presence in relation to the continuity of the faith of Islam was not incidental.
The other man with whom the continuity of the faith of Islam during the days of the Messenger was strongly connected is the son of Abu Talib ‘Ali who carried the same mission after his father's death but on a larger scale.
Numerous companions made great efforts for the sake of Islam and rendered to the Prophet of Islam assistance worthy of appreciation. It is sufficient to mention the three Caliphs: Abu Bakr ‘Umar and Uthman along with the numerous Meccan companions such as Al-Zubayr Talhah Abdul-Rahman Ibn Ouf Abu Obeidah Ibn Al-Jarrah Saad Ibn Abu Waqass Al-Miqdad Ibn Al-Aswad Abdullah Ibn Masud and Ammar Ibn Yasir.
Add to these people from the Medinites men such as Abu Dujana Qais Ibn Saad his father Saad Ibn Abadah Saad Ibn Maath and others from other communities such as Abu Dharr Salman Al-Farisi and hundreds of companions other than these. All these men endeavored in the way of God by sacrificing some of their wealth or their life or both.
If we review the period of the Prophethood and the roles which these righteous companions performed we find them indispensable as a group. Yet each one of them as an individual was replaceable by another companion to perform a role similar to his.
It was possible to replace Abu Bakr by ‘Umar to perform a role in a manner similar to his. It was possible to replace Abu Bakr ‘Umar and Uthman by Abu Obeidah Ibn Al-Jarrah Talhah and Al-Zubayr. It was possible to replace Saad Ibn Abadah by Saad Ibn Maath or by his son Qais Ibn Saad Ibn Abadah or to replace Abu Dharr by Salman or Ammar Ibn Yasir or Al-Miqdad Ibn Al-Aswad.
The roles of these companions were close or similar.
Had ‘Umar been the companion of the Messenger in the Cave at the night of the Hijrah instead of Abu Bakr Islam would not have lost by the exchange. But ‘Ali's role in guarding the life of the Messenger could not have been performed but by ‘Ali. It was easy for ‘Ali to perform the role of any other companion during the time of the Messenger but it was not easy for any other companion to perform ‘Ali's role.
It was easy for ‘Ali to be the companion of the Messenger in the Cave of Thour at the night of the Hijrah. But it was not easy for Abu Bakr or any other companion to lie on the bed of the Messenger redeeming the Messenger by his life resigning to receive the Qureshite attack which was expected to come from ten warriors supported by the rest of the Meccan pagans.
It was not possible for any of the companions of the Messenger to perform the role of ‘Ali at Badr where he destroyed nearly 50 percent of the Qureshites who perished at that battle. Thus he tipped the scale through his personal efforts in favor of the small Islamic army when the faith of Islam was at stake.
It was not possible for any companion to perform ‘Ali's role at Uhud when the companions ran away climbing the mountain not turning their faces to the Messenger while the Messenger was calling upon them to come to him. The Messenger was singled out to face thousands of pagans. No one remained with him except ‘Ali to confront the regiments which were seeking the life of the Messenger.
‘Ali faced them one after another and forced many of them to retreat until a few of the companions came back to defend their Prophet. Had ‘Ali run away as the others did and the pagans reached the Messenger the direction of the history could have been changed if the Almighty did not protect Islam and His Messenger by a very unusual miracle.
These are only a few of many events which prove clearly that ‘Ali's endeavor was a very substantial factor in bringing about the victory of the Faith of Islam and the defeat of its enemies. This proves that ‘Ali was the protective shield of the Messenger against the numerous dangers which surrounded his precious life. This means that ‘Ali had two important exclusive honors:
1. The continuity of Islam which was dependent on the life of the Messenger and his triumph during that period was strongly connected with ‘Ali's presence and endeavor.
2. The strong connection between the birth of the Islamic State and his presence. It was impossible for the Muslim State to be established if the enemies of Islam were to be victorious and able to destroy the new power.
Since the endeavors of ‘Ali had a clear effect in tipping the scale in favor of the new power at the decisive battles between the Messenger and his enemies it would be very true to consider the endeavor of ‘Ali one of the most important factors in the birth of the Islamic State.
How true the word of ‘Umar was when he said to a man accusing ‘Ali with conceit: "By God the pillar of Islam could not have been established without the sword of ‘Ali."
‘Ali's unusual bravery and physical strength alone could not make out of him a protective shield for the Messenger nor could they tie the continuity of Islam and the birth of the Islamic State to his existence. What made him so transcendent was his unusual sincerity to the Heavenly principles and his deep insight by which he discovered the unknown truths and through which his bravery and physical strength were directed to the service of the truth.
History witnessed many men equipped with physical strength and bravery. But the lack of knowledge of the truth or the absence of sincerity toward the truth made them spend what they were given of power in supporting falsehood and combating the truth; or made them self-worshippers spending all their energy for obtaining a false glory or cheap material.
Unlike these ‘Ali was an example of a different type of men whose knowledge made them directly witness the truth and enjoy sacrifices which other people found unbearable. He accompanied this world bodily while his soul was connected to the higher world. He and the ones whom he exemplified are the ones whom God had chosen to be the rulers on this earth!.
The strong tie between ‘Ali's endeavor and the birth of the Islamic State was not a product of chance. It was rather the product of spiritual evolution started at an early stage of his life. ‘Ali was being prepared for the unique honor since the days of his childhood.
He had the exclusive honor of having the strong ties to the great Messenger who took him to himself during the days of his childhood as a member of his own family. He directed the child's clear mind and illuminated nature towards the truth. He saturated him from the strength of his faith knowledge wisdom and purity.
At the hands of that teacher ‘Ali grew and his qualities developed. He became a mirror reflecting the lights of the Prophet.
"Abu Talib's wife Fatima the daughter of Asad (the lady whom the Messenger used to consider his second mother) gave birth to ‘Ali at the Kaaba. Thus he was the first human to be born inside the Ancient and Sacred House of God. His birth was thirty years after the birth of the Prophet and twenty three years before the Hijrah. His mother named him Haidrah (lion) or Asad. His father named him ‘Ali (high). The two names were appropriate for he was destined to be the lion of God and His Messenger as he was the highest person after the Messenger who "brothered" him among all Muslims.
"The capability of Abu Talib as a provider was below the need of his family especially with famine by which the Meccans were plagued at that period. The Prophet suggested to his uncle Al-Abbas that both of them try to lighten the burden of Abu Talib by taking some of his children. Abu Talib honored their request. Abbas took Jaafar and the Prophet took ‘Ali and kept him with him until the day of the commencement of his Prophethood."6
The Messenger and Al-Abbas were well-to-do and they were able to offer Abu Talib what he needed of food during that hard period and leave ‘Ali and Jaafar with their parents. But the Messenger chose that he and his uncle take the two children to them.
It seems that the Messenger seized upon the opportunity of the famine. He took ‘Ali to him trying to provide him through his upbringing with his spiritual food along with his bodily food preparing him to the great future which was awaiting him.
It appears that he was willing to do so even if Quraish did not have the famine. ‘Ali was the most valuable companion of the Messenger.
The Messenger himself informed us that his relationship to ‘Ali was not incidental. He told him: "‘Ali people are from various trees but you and I are from one tree."7
Of course the Messenger did not mean by this statement that ‘Ali was his relative and first cousin and that their grandfather was Abdul Mutalib because that is not important information. These facts are common place to people. Furthermore Al-Abbas and Al-Hamzah were children of Abdul Mutalib and Jaafar and Aqeel were brothers of ‘Ali. Their relationship to the Prophet is like that of ‘Ali to him exactly.
What the Messenger meant is that ‘Ali's soul resembles the soul of the Holy Prophet and that he was strongly connected to him as an extension of his personality. Thus he was from the Messenger of God as he spoke of himself: "And I am from the Messenger of God as one of two trees originated from one root and as the lower arm extending from the upper one."8
It seems that the Messenger took ‘Ali to himself while ‘Ali was still a small child for ‘Ali himself stated the following: "And you have known my place from the Messenger of God with the close relationship and the special position. He seated me on his lap while I was a small child embracing me making me join him in his bed touching his holy body and smelling the sweetness of his fragrance. He used to chew the food and put it in my mouth."9
The Prophet lived before the days of Prophethood as a world by himself. He lived in a society in which ignorance and idol-worshiping were prevalent sanctifying superstition and legalizing the unethical conduct.
Yet he was able to think of what the minds of the people of his society were unable to discern. The purity of his nature enabled him to see and hear what people could not see or hear. He lived in the midst of his society as an island of knowledge wisdom and civilization surrounded by an ocean of barbarism and ignorance.
‘Ali was destined to be a part of that independent world and to live in the atmosphere of that island without being affected by the surrounding society. He grew up as a light derived from the light of Muhammad.
His illuminated nature and keen mind enabled him to follow the steps of the Prophet living up to his principles and ideals. The Imam spoke of his growth under the direction of the Prophet Muhammad and the influence of his attachment to him in forming his high characters:
"And he (the Messenger of God) never found an untruth in my words or any wrong in my deeds. God had attached to him (Muhammad) from the time of his weaning the greatest of His angels to walk him through the path of virtue and to teach him the highest ethics of the world... and I was following him as a baby following his mother. He used to raise for me every day a banner of his ethics and command me to follow it.
"He used to seclude himself every year in Hira and I was with him while no one else could see him. And during the early period of Islam there was only one house sheltering the Messenger of God Khadijah and myself as their third seeing the light of revelation and smelling the fragrance of the prophethood."10
By that time ‘Ali arrived in his spiritual ascendance to a degree by which he became able to hear and see what the Messenger was hearing and seeing at the days of the commencement of his Prophethood. He (‘Ali) said that at an occasion which took place during the first few days from the commencement of his Prophethood the Prophet told him:
"... Certainly you hear what I hear and you see what I see but you are not a Prophet. You are a minister and you are on a good path." As ‘Ali had covered so much distance in his spiritual development before passing ten years of age it was only natural for him to add to his special position with the Prophet the other exclusive honor of being the first of the believers in the Prophethood of Muhammad and the fastest in response to his call.
- 1. Al-Sharif Al-Radhi Muhammad Ibn Al-Hussein Nahjul Balaghah collection of words of the Imam ‘Ali Part 3 pp. 8-9.
- 2. Ibn Hisham Biography of the Prophet Part 1 p. 266.
- 3. Khalid Muhammad Khalid Fee Rihab ‘Ali.
- 4. Al-Tabersi Al-Ihtijaj Part 1 p. 341.
- 5. Khalid Muhammad Khalid Fee Rihab ‘Ali.
- 6. Al-Hakim Al-Mustadrak Part 3 pp. 5-6 and so in Ibn Hisham Biography of the Prophet Part 1 p.246.
- 7. Al-Hakim Al-Mustadrak Part 2 p. 241.
- 8. Nahjul-Balaghah Part 3 p. 73.
- 9. Nahjul-Balaghah Part 2 p. 157.
- 10. Nahjul-Balaghah Part 2 p. 15.