Islam is a religion of peace, attained through non-coercive total submission to the Will of Allah. It is a faith in which the goal is to attain nearness to Allah through correct worship of Him, for as Allah has stated in the Quran,
‘And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me’ (Surah 51, adh-Dhariyat, verse 56).
However, such peace cannot be attained unless Allah, through His infinite Mercy and Justice, sends us perfect guides to show us the path to Him. This He did in the form of His prophets and their successors. The last prophet was Muhammad (pbuh). He is described in the Quran as a Mercy for the worlds (Surah 21, al-Anbiya verse 107), thus his message is universal, as Islam is a universal faith, for all times and all people.
The Prophet’s declared mission began in 610 CE (Common Era), from which time he began to receive revelation of the Quran through the angel Jibril, until just months before his demise in 632 CE / 11 AH (Al Hijrah). The Prophet never spoke from his own free will but always spoke as Allah willed –
‘Your companion (Muhammad) does not err, nor does he go astray, nor does he speak out of (his own) desire. It is nothing but revelation that is revealed (Surah 53, al-Najm verses 2-4).
Thus a major concern for the Prophet was to leave behind him a guide and leader for his community, who would continue the spiritual, social, moral, economic and political development of his people. However, this onerous task of leadership could only be laid on the shoulders of one chosen by Allah Himself. That chosen successor was Ali ibn Abi Talib (pbuh).
Ali was the Prophet’s paternal cousin, and also his son in law. Ali was merely ten years of age when he declared acceptance of the Prophet’s divine mission according to sunni sources.1
Indeed Ali is the only human to have ever been born inside the Kaaba; the first person whose face he looked upon was the Prophet’s. The Prophet raised Ali in his own home, nurturing his character with his own traits, so much so that eventually when Allah ordered the Prophet to declare his mission publicly to his near kin at the event Dawat al-Dhul Ashirah at the residence of Abu Talib (pbuh), Ali was the first, brimming with love, to again affirm the prophetic mission. The Prophet asked all the nobles present, ‘Who amongst you shall support me in this matter and be my brother, the executor of my will (wasi), and my successor (caliph)?’ All the listeners, with the exception of Ali, who was the youngest among them, kept silent. Ali (pbuh) responded by saying, ‘I will be your helper, O prophet of God.’ The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) then put his hand on the back of Ali’s neck and said, ‘This is my brother, executor of my will and successor, therefore, listen to him and obey him.’ This event has been narrated by many sunni scholars including al-Tabari.
On many occasions the Prophet declared that Ali was to him like Harun was to Musa (pbut), that is, a brother and successor, but there would be no prophet-hood after Muhammad.2
Finally, when returning to Madinah after the final pilgrimage, the Prophet received revelation:
‘O Apostle! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord; and if you do not do it, you have not delivered His message (at all); and Allah will protect you from the people ...’ (Surah 5, al-Maidah, verse 67).
What was this message that was central to the faith, so much so that if it had not been delivered it would be as if the prophetic mission was not complete? We come to find what it was from the Prophet’s actions that followed this revelation. He stopped at an oasis at Khumm, and gathered all the pilgrims numbering over one hundred thousand. He then delivered a speech in which he stated to the pilgrims:
It seems the time has approached when I shall be called away (by Allah) and I shall answer that call. I am leaving for you two precious things and if you adhere to them both, you will never go astray after me. They are the Book of Allah and my Progeny, that is, my Ahlul Bayt. The two shall never separate from each other until they come to me by the Pool (of Paradise).... Do I not have more right over the believers than what they have over themselves? (The people answered yes, so the Prophet continued).. For whoever I am his Leader (maula), Ali is his Leader (maula). O God, love those who love him, and be hostile to those who are hostile to him.3
Following this, we are told that the final revelation of the Quran ever to descend came from Allah –
‘Today I have perfected your religion and completed my favour upon you, and I am satisfied that Islam be your religion.’ (Surah 5, al-Maidah verse 3).
The above verse clearly indicates that Islam, without clearing up the matter of leadership after the Prophet, was not complete, and completion of religion was due to announcement of the Prophet's immediate successor, Ali. The appointment of Ali was by Allah Himself, it was not a personal matter of the Prophet.
However, this appointment was not well received. The Prophet fell ill shortly after this event due to poisoning, and during the height of his illness he again called upon those who were with him by his bed-side to bring him pen and paper so that he could write for them a document to prevent them from going astray. According to the Quranic instruction, the Prophet had to be obeyed under all conditions (surah 3, Aal-Imran verse 32, verse 132; surah 5, al-Maidah verse 92; surah 8, Anfaal verse 1; surah 47, Muhammad verse 33).
However, Umar ibn al-Khattab declared that the Prophet was hallucinating, not in control of what he was saying, and that the Quran was sufficient. The Prophet responded in anger and asked them all to leave him alone. Sunni sources again record this event and name it the Calamity of Thursday.4
Umar’s statements completely contradicted the Prophet’s last sermon that he was leaving the Quran and his progeny to be followed. The progeny referred to those mentioned in Surah 33, al-Ahzab verse 33 in which Allah stated that he had kept away any possibility of uncleanliness from the Ahlul Bayt, being Muhammad, his daughter Fatima, her husband Ali, and their sons Hasan and Hussain. It is through these Pure Ones that Allah would ensure the continued leadership of Islam.
However, Ali’s appointment was vehemently opposed, despite it being Allah’s Will. As soon as the Prophet left this world, his aggrieved family began to prepare his body for burial: Ali washed his noble body and lowered him into the grave. But in the meantime, probably one of the greatest treacherous schemes of all times was under way: companions who had displayed themselves to be close to the Prophet in his lifetime, were absent.
They had deserted the Prophet the moment he breathed his last, and greedily scrambled for power. A meeting was called at a hall, the Saqifa of Banu Saad. The Madinans set out to elect a leader, however the Qurayshi Makkans, hungry for power, arrived at the meeting, and a plan that had been hatched already was put into place: The Qurayshis claimed that only they could rule, and ignoring Ali’s appointment, Umar proceeded to elect his friend Abu Bakr. The election was not unanimous, but with coercion, the vote carried.
While the sincere leader chosen by Allah, Ali, was busy burying his brother the Prophet Muhammad, the community on the other hand ignored the Prophet’s will and set out on a course of power and material greed.
The tragedies of the Household of the Prophet thus began. Firstly, Ali’s title was usurped, yet he remained silent for the sake of unity of the community. Secondly, Fatima, the Prophet’s only daughter, was denied her inheritance by the caliph Abu Bakr: Fatima went to claim the garden of Fadak left to her from the Prophet. However, Abu Bakr and Umar declared that prophets did not leave inheritance. This directly contradicted the Quranic verses of previous prophets Daud and Zakariyya leaving an inheritance for their progeny (Surah 27, al-Naml verse 16; surah 19, Maryam verse 6). Thus Fatima was disinherited.5
Whilst Ali did not contest the newly elected usurping caliph / leader Abu Bakr, equally he did not pay him homage. Therefore, Umar set out with burning torches and a group of people towards the house of Ali and Fatima to force his pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr. The result of this horrific event was the burning of the door of Fatima’s house, which Umar pushed onto Fatima, crushing her and causing her to miscarry. The attack resulted in her untimely death. She was eighteen years of age.6
This catalogue of events makes very painful reading. However, the troubles for the Ahlul Bayt continued. According to hadiths, the prophets are all infallible, that is, they are sinless, pure, and perfect role models for us to follow. This trait of perfection exists in the progeny of the Prophet too, as evidenced in the verse above from Surah Ahzab.
Allah would not have allowed His faith to be controlled by imperfect humans with the possibility of corrupt traits of greed and power being their motivation for rule. Indeed sunni and shia sources mention that the leaders after Muhammad would be twelve, and all from Ali and Fatima (pbut)’s progeny, that is, Qurayshi.7 This office of leadership, of imamate, as being designated by Allah himself, is mentioned in the Quran;
O you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you; then if you quarrel about anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the last day; this is better and very good in the end. (Surah 4, al-Nisa verse 59)
Those with authority were not those who put themselves in positions of authority, but those infallible pure perfect characters who Allah had chosen for the preservation and continuation of the message. Indeed the Quran further states that,
‘(Remember) the day when We will call every people with their Imam; then whoever is given his book in his right hand, these shall read their book; and they shall not be dealt with a whit unjustly’ (Surah 17, Bani Israil verse 71).
However, Abu Bakr on his deathbed appointed Umar ibn al-Khattab as the next leader. Umar not only aggressively expanded Islam, conquering lands and taxing the subjects, but he also pursued a policy of appointing as governors the very people from the tribe of Banu Umayya who had been the enemies of the Prophet and Islam in Makkah. In fact the Banu Umayya were so opposed to the Prophet’s clan, the Banu Hashim, that their oppression was the cause of migration to Madinah.
Their leader, Abu Sufyan, continued to harass, torture, and declare war on the Prophet’s community time and again. It was only at the Prophet’s conquest of Makkah that Abu Sufyan, his wife Hind and their son Muawiya, accepted Islam in order to avoid reprisals. But a deep seated enmity lingered in their heart. When years later Umar appointed Muawiya as his governor of the conquered territories of Sham (present day Syria), a lust for power and revenge began to take shape in Muawiya’s heart – revenge for the fact that Ali personally had put many of Muawiya’s Umayyad family members to the sword in their battles against Islam.
On the death of Umar, again Ali’s rightful claim to leadership was overlooked, and Uthman bin Affan from the Banu Umayya was appointed as caliph. Deeply nepotistic and driven by wealth and comfort, Uthman appointed his own clan members as governors, and set generous stipends for them. He extended Muawiya’s dominion even further.
Finally, on his murder, when Ali was finally recognised and appointed as caliph, the Muslim ummah burst into dissent under the leadership of the Prophet’s wife Aishah, and Muawiya. Aishah, ignoring the Quranic verse directed at the Prophet’s wives to stay indoors (Surah 33, al-Ahzab verses 32-33), challenged Ali’s election and led an army against him. The battle of Jamal was fought around her camel. Such dissent was in fact treason, yet Ali was magnanimous even in victory. However no sooner had he dealt with this dissent that Muawiya refused to accept him as caliph, claiming the caliphate for himself. This resulted in the Battle of Siffin, a treacherous battle brought on by Muawiya’s obstinacy who had no qualms about spilling Muslim blood.
Thus Ali, the appointed successor to Muhammad, never had a moment’s peace in his rule. He was finally martyred by a dissenter, Ibn Muljim, whilst prostrating in morning prayer in Kufa, in 661 CE / 40 AH. Before his passing, Ali (pbuh) fulfilled Allah’s Will by appointing his son Hasan (pbuh) as the next Imam. Hasan also faced treachery from Muwaiya, who declared himself the caliph of the Muslim nation on Ali’s death. To avoid bloodshed, Hasan accepted a compromise, that he would not claim the caliphate but on Muwayia’s death, he would be allowed to lead the community. But Muawaiya reneged on his word: he had Hasan poisioned, and on his own deathbed he appointed his son Yazid as leader. Thus began the tyrannical dynastic rule of the Banu Umayya, the time old enemies of Islam, who now under the banner of their pseudo-Islam, claimed power simply for worldly gain and greed.
It is important to point out here that no matter which fallible politically motivated leader was in power, we Shias only recognise the rule of the true divinely appointed infallible imams: that is even though Imam Ali’s position was usurped, we still recognise him as the real leader of his time, and likewise with every other imam.
Yazid was a well known drunkard, a debauched and depraved character, who set out to change the very precepts of Islam that the Prophet had laid out for us. Imam Hasan was succeeded by his brother, the second son of Ali and Fatima (pbut), Hussain, the beloved grandson of the Prophet.
Hussain’s tragic death in fact was predicted by the Prophet, narrated by his wife Umm Salama, quoted by the sunni scholar Tabarani. Hussain faced a huge challenge: whereas his brother Hasan was inspired by Allah to be quietist, Hussain was inspired by Allah to rise up against the tyranny of Yazid, otherwise he would have changed the religion beyond such recognition that there would be no Islam left.
However, one might question, that when Hussain thus rose against Yazid’s army of thousands, with only 72 on his side, how would that have saved Islam? The answer is very simple: the horror of Muslims claiming to rule in the name of Islam, killing and slaughtering the Prophet’s grandson so mercilessly on the 10th Muharram 61 AH /680 CE, and then taking his women folk captive for over a year, was so terrible that the Muslims were eventually awoken as to the reality of what Yazid was trying to do – that was, to alter Islam to suit his worldly needs.
It was the effort of Hussain’s sister Zaynab (pbuh) that the tragedy of Karbala was laid bare. In the court of Yazid, as Hussain’s severed head was displayed before her, she being Ali’s brave daughter, gave sermons where she stood up to Yazid, admonished him for his tyranny, and vowed to expose the injustice that had been meted out to the Prophet’s family. And thus the murder of Hussain was exposed year in year out, through gatherings, majalis. The lovers of the Ahlul Bayt cry tears of anguish and blood at the loss of Hussain every year in the month of Muharram.
It is this ritual of mourning that to this day the enemies of Hussain try to suppress, in order to cover up the crimes of the Umayyads. For tragically, the Umayyads continued to rule for almost ninety years after the tragedy of Karbala, due to the silence and collusion of Muslims. To cover this guilt, to this day, we have ‘Muslims’ who try to find ways in which to prevent the remembrance of Hussain (pbuh).
We owe our lives to Hussain, for he not only saved the faith, but he offered the most supreme sacrifice, his entire family. Our entire faith,
our survival, our devotion to Allah, is due to Hussain. This booklet by Jafar Ali Asil thus answers why we will not allow the suppression of the commemoration of Hussain’s martyrdom, for Hussain (pbuh) was the epitome of love and devotion to Allah.
- 1. Biography of the Prophet by Ibn Hisham, vol 1, p.245.
- 2. Sahih Bukhari vol 5 Book 59, hadith no. 700, Sahih Muslim Book 31, hadith no, 5913.
- 3. This hadith has been narrated in full by the sunni scholar al-Imam al-Hafiz Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Hakim al-Naysaburi, al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn [Dar al-Ma’rifah li al-- Tiba’ah wa al-Nashr: Beirut), vol. iii, pp. 109-110). It has been narrated in part by Sahih Muslim, part 7, Kitab fada'il al-Sahabah [Maktabat wa Matba’at Muhammad ‘Ali Subayh wa Awladuhu: Cairo] pp. 122-123.
- 4. Sahih, Bukhari, Chapter: About the saying of the sick, vol 2, Sahih, Muslim, End of the book of al Wasiyyah, vol 5 p 75, Musnad, Ahmed, vol 1 p 335, vol 5 p 116 Tarikh, Tabari, vol 3 p 193, Tarikh, Ibn al Athir, vol 2 p 320.
- 5. Sunni references: Tabari, vol IX p 196 (The Events of the Year 11, English version); Tabaqat of Ibne Sad, vol VIII p 29; Yaqubi History, vol II p 117; Masudi in his Tanbih, p 250 (The last three are mentioned in the footnotes of Tabari’s book); al Bayhaqi, vol 4 p 29; Musnad, Ahmad Hanbal, vol 1 p 9; Tarikh, Ibn Katheer, vol 5 p 285-86; Sharah, ibn al Hadid, vol 6 p 46.
- 6. Sunni References: Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v1, p55; Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, by Ibn Hisham, v4, p30; History of Tabari (Arabic), v1, p1822; History of Tabari, English version, v9, p192.
- 7. Sahih Bukhari book 89 hadith no. 329; Sahih Muslim, book 20 hadith no. 4477,4478.