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Ghadir Khumm : From Oblivious to Recognition

Adopted from the Book : "Shi'ism; Imamate and Wilayat" by : "Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi"

The event of Ghadir Khumm is a very good example to trace the Sunni bias that found its way unto the mental state of Orientalists. Those who are well-versed with the polemic writings of Sunnis know that evidence in support of their view, a Sunni polemicist would respond in the following manner;

Firstly, he will outright deny the existence of any such hadith of historical event.

Secondly, when confronted with hard evidence from his own sources, he will cast doubt on the reliability of the transmitters of that hadith or event.

Thirdly, when he is shown that all the transmitters are reliable by Sunni standards, he will give an interpretation to the hadith or the vent that will be quite different from that of the Shi'as.

These three levels form the classical response of the Sunni polemicists in dealing with the arguments of the Shi'as. A quotation from Rosenthal's ranslation of Ibn Khaldun's The Muqaddimah would suffice to prove my point. (Ibn Khaldun is quoting the following part from al-Milal wa n-Nihal, a heresiographic work of ash-Shahristani) According to Ibn Khaldun, the Shi'as believe that.

Ali is one whom Muhammed appointed. The (Shi'a) transmit texts (of traditions) in support of (this belief)... The authority of the Sunnah and the transmitters of the religious law do not know these texts. [1] Most of them are supposititious, or [2] some of ther transmitters are suspect, or [3] their (true) interpretation is very different from the wicked interpretation that (the Shi'ah) give to them.1

Interestingly, the event of Ghadir Khumm has suffered the same fate at the hands of Orientalists. With the limited time and resources available to me at this moment, I was surprised to see that most work on Islam have ignored the event of Ghadir Khumm, indicating, by its very absence, that the Orientalists believed this event to be 'supposititious' and an invention of the Shi'as. Margoliouth's Muhammad and the Rise of Islam (1905), Brockelmann's History of the Islamic People (1939), Arnold and Guillaume's The Legacy of Islam (1931) Guillaume's Islam (1954), von Grunebaum's Classical Islam (1963) Arnold's The Caliphate (1965), and The Cambridge History of Islam (1970) have completely ingnored the event of Ghadir Khumm.

Why did these and many other Western scholars ignore the event of Ghadir Khumm? Since Western scholars mostly relied on anti-Shi'a works, they naturally ignored the event of Ghadir Khumm. L. Veccia Vaglieri, one of the contributors to the second edition to the Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953), writes:

Most of those sources which from the basis of our knowledge of the life of Prophet (Ibn Hisham, al-Tabari, Ibn Sa'd, etc) Pass in silence over Muhammed's stop at Ghadir Khumm, or, if they mention it say, nothing of ihs discourse (the writers evidently feared to attract the hostility of the Sunnis, who were in power, by providing material for the polemic of the Shi'is who used these words to support their thesis of Ali right to the caliphate). Consequently, the western biographers of Muhammad, whose work is based on these sources, equally make no reference to what happened at Ghadir Khumm.2

Then we come to those few western scholars who mention the hadith or the event of Ghadir Khumm.

express their scepticism about its authority _the second stage in the classical response of the Sunni polemicists.

The first example of such scholars is Ignaz Goldziher, a highly respected German Orientalist of the nineteeth century. He discusses the hadith of Ghadir Khumm is his Muhammedanische studien (1889-1890) translated into English as Muslim Studies (1966-1971) under the chapter entitiled as" The Hadith in its Relation to the Cnonflicts of the Parties of Islam," Coming to the Shi'as, Goldziher writes:
A stronger argument in their [Shi'as] favour ... was their conviction that the Prophet had expressly designated and appointed Ali as his successor before this death .. Therefore the Alid adherents were concerned with inventing and authorizing tranditions which prove Ali's installation by direct order of the Prophet. The most widely known tradition (the authority of which is not denied even by orthodox authorities though they deprived it of its intention by a different interpretation) is the tradition of Khumm, which came into being for this purpose and is one of the firmest foundation of the these of the Alid Party.3

One would expect such a renowed scholar to prove how the Shi'as were concerned with inventing" traditions to support their theses, but nowhere does Goldziher provide any evidence. After citing at-Tirmidhi and al-Nasa'i in the footnote as the source for hadith of Ghadir Khumm, he says "Al-nasa'i had , as is well known , pro-'Alid inclination and also at -Tirmidhi include in his collection tendentious traditions favouring 'Ali e.g., the tayr tradition."4 This is again the same old classical response of the Sunni polemicist ---discredit the transmitters as unreliable or adamantly accuse the Shi'as of inventing the traditions.

Another example is the first edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (1911-1938) which has a short entry under "Ghadir Khumm" by F. Bhul a Danish Orientalist who wrote a biography of the Prophet. Bhul writes, "The place has become famous through a tradition which had its origin among the Shi'is but is also found among sunnis, viz., the prophet on journey back from hudaibiya (according to others from the farewell pilgrimage) here said of 'Ali: Whomsoever I am his lord, 'Ali is also his Lord" Bhul makes sure to emphasize that the hadith of Ghadir has "its origin among the Shi'is!"

Another striking example of the Orientalist' ignorance about Shi'ism is A Dictionary of islam (1965) by Thomas Hughes. Under the entry of Ghadir he writes. 'A festival of the Shi'ahs on the 18th of the month of Zu 'l-Hijjah, when three images of dough filled with honey are made to represent Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and Uthman, which are struck with knives, and the honey is sipped as typical of the blood of the usurping Khalifahs. The festival is named for Ghadir, 'a pool, 'and the festival commemorates, it is said, Muhammad having declared 'Ali his successor at Ghadir Khumm, a watering place midway between Makkah and Madinah."5 Coming from a Shi'a family that traces its ancestory back to Prophet himself, having studied in Iran for ten years and lived among the Shi'as of Africa and North America, I have yet to see, hear or read about the dough and honey ritual of Ghadir! I was more suprised to see that even Vaglieri, in the second edition of the Encyclopaedia, has incorporated that nonsense into his fairly excellent article on Ghadir Khumm. He adds at the end that, "This feast also holds on important place among the Nusayris." It is quite possible that the dough and honey ritual is observed by the Nusayris; it has nothing to do with the Shi'as and the Nusayris? I very much doubt so.
A fourth example from the comtemporary scholars who have treated the same path is Philip Hitti in his History of the Arabs (1964). After mentioning that the Buyids established "the rejoicing on that [day] of the Prophet's alleged appointment of 'Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khumm, "he describes the location of Ghadir Khumm in the footnote as" a spring between Makkah and al-Madinah where Shi'ite tradition asserts the Prophet declared, 'Whomsover I am his lord, Ali also is his lord."6 Although this scholar mentions the issue of Ghadir in a passing manner, he classifies the hadith of Ghadir is a "Shi'ite tradition".

To these scholars who, consciously or unconsciously, have absorbed the Sunni bias against Shi'ism and insist on the Shi'ite oirigin or invention of the hadith of Ghadir, I would just repeat what Vaglieri has said in the Encyclopaedia of Islam about Ghadir Khumm.

It is, However, certain that Muhammad did speak in this place and utter the famous sentence, for the account of this event has been presented, either in a concise form or in detail, not only by al-Ya'kubi, whose sympthy for the Alid cause is well known, but also in the collection of traditions which are considered cononical, especially in the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal, and the hadiths are so numerous and so well attested by the different isnads that it does not seem possibel to reject them.

Vaglieri continues, "Several of these hadith are cited in the bibliography, but it does not include the hadith which, although reporting the sentence, omit to name Ghadir Khumm, or those which state that the sentence was pronouced at al-Hudaybia. The complete documentation will lbe facilitated when the Concordance of Wensinck have been completely published. In order to have an idea of how numerous these Hadiths are, it is enough to glace at the pages in which Ibn Kathir has collected a great number of them with their isnads".

It is time the Western scholarship made itself familiar with the Shi'ite literatuer of the early dasi as well as of the contemporary period. The Shi'a scholars have produced great works on the issue of Ghadir Khumm. Here I will just mention two of those:

1. The first is Abaqatu l-Anwar in eleven bulky volumes written in Persian by Mr. Hamid Husayn al- Musawi (d. 1306 AH.) of India. Allamah Mir Hamid Husayn has devoted three bulky volumes (consisting of about 1080 pages) on the isnad, tawatur and meaning of the hadith of Ghadir. An abriged version of this work in Arabic translation entitled as Nafahatu'l-Azhar fi khulasati 'Abaqati 'l-Anwar by sayyid 'Ali al -Milani has been published in twelve volumes by now; and four volumes of these (with morden type-setting and printing ) are dedicated to the hadith of Ghadir.

2. The second work is al-Ghadir in eleven volumes in Arabic by Abdul Husayn Ahmed al- Amini (d.1970) of Iraq. 'Allamah Amini has given with full refrences the names of 110 companions of the Prophet and also names of 84 tabi' in (disciples of the companions) who have narrated the hadith of Ghadir. He has also chronologically given the names of the historians, tradionalist exegetist and poets who have mention the hadith of Ghadir from the first till fourteenth Islamic century. The late sayyid 'Abdu 'l-'Aziz at -Tabataba'i has stated that there probably is not a single hadith that has been narrated by so many companions as the number we see (120) in the hadith of Ghadir. However,comparing that number to the total number of people who were present in Ghadir Khumm, he states that 120 is just ten percent of the total audience. And so he rightly gave the following title to his paper: "Hadith Ghadir: Ruwatuhu Kathiruna lil-Ghayah ... Qaliluna lil-Ghaya -- Its Narrators are very Many ... Very few."7

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1. Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah, rt. Franz Rosenthal, vol, I (New York : Pantheon Bools, 1958) p.403. In original Arabic see vol.1 (Beirut : Maktabatul Madrasah, 1961) p.348.

2. EI, p.993 under "Ghadir Khumm."

3. Goldziher, Muslim studies, tr. Barber and Sterm, vol.2 (Chicago : Aldine Inc. 1971) pp.112-113.

4. Ibid

5. Hughes, Thomas p.A Dictionary of Islam (New Jersey: Reference Book Publishers, 1965) p.138

6. Hitti, P.k History of the Arabs (London: Macmillan & Co, 1964) p.471.

7. At-Tabataba'i, 'Abdu 'l-Aziz , al-Ghadir fi t-Turathi 'l-Islami (Qum: Nashr al-Hadi, 1415) p.7-8

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