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Orientalists and the Event of Ghadir Khumm - Part 2


III. The Event of Ghadir Khum: From Oblivion to Recognition
The event of Ghadir Khum is a very good example to trace the Sunni bias which found its way into the mental state of the orientalists. Those who are well-versed with the polemic writings of Sunnis know that whenever the Shi'as present a hadith or a historical 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 or 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 event which 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 translation of Ibn Khaldun's The Muqaddimah would suffice to prove my point. (Ibn Khaldun is quoting the following part from Al-Milal wa al-Nihal, a heresiographic work of Ash-Shahristani.) According to Ibn Khaldun, the Shi'as believe that:
'Ali is the one whom Muhammad 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 suppositions, or (2) some of their transmitters are suspect, or (3) their (true) interpretation is very different from the wicked interpretation that (the Shi'a) give to them.' [8]
Interestingly, the event of Ghadir Khum has suffered the same fate at the hands of the orientalists. With the limited time and sources available to me at this moment, I was surprised to see that most works on Islam have ignored the event of Ghadir Khum, indicating, by its very absence, that the orientalists believed this event to be 'supposititions' and an invention of the Shi'as. Margoliouth's Muhammad & 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 ignored the event of Ghadir Khum. Why did these and many other western scholars ignore the event of Ghadir Khum? Since western scholars mostly relied on anti-Shi'i works, they naturally ignored the event of Ghadir Khum. L. Veccia Vaglieri, one of the contributors to the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953), writes:
'Most of the sources which form the basis of our [orientalists'] knowledge of the life of the Prophet (Ibn Hisham, Al-Tabari, Ibn Sa'd, etc) pass in silence over Muhammad's stop at Ghadir Khum, or, if they mention it, say nothing of his 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'as who used these words to support their thesis of Ali's 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 Khum.' [9]
Then we come to those few orientalists who mention the hadith or the event of Ghadir Khum but express their scepticism about its authenticity - 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 nineteenth century. He discusses the hadith of Ghadir Khum in his Muhammedanische Studien (1889-1890) translated in English as Muslim Studies (1966-1971) under the chapter entitled 'The Hadith in its Relation to the Conflicts of the Parties of Islam.' Coming to the Shi'as, Goldziher writes:
'A stronger argument in their [Shi'a's] favour...was their conviction that the Prophet had expressly designated and appointed Ali as his successor before his death...Therefore the 'Alid adherents were concerned with inventing and authorizing traditions which prove Ali's installation by the direct order of the Prophet. The most widely-known tradition (the authority of which is not denied even by orthodox authorities though they deprive it of its intention by a different interpretation) is the tradition of Khum, which came into being for this purpose and is one of the firmest foundations of the theses of the 'Alid party." [10]
One would expect such a renowned 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 Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Nasa'i in the footnote as the sources of hadith for Ghadir, he says: 'Al-Nasa'i had, as is well- known, pro-'Alid inclinations, and also Al-Tirmidhi included in his collection tendentious traditions favouring Ali, e.g., the tayr tradition.' [11] This is again the same old classical response of the Sunni polemicists - 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 Khum' 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'as but is also found among the Sunnis, viz., the Prophet on journey back from Hudaybiyya (according to others from the Farewell Pilgrimage) here said of Ali: 'Whomsoever I am lord of, his lord is Ali also!" [12]
Bhul makes sure to emphasize that the hadith and the event of Ghadir has 'its origins among the Shi'as'!
Another striking example of the orientalists' 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'as 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 Usman, which are stuck with knives, and the honey is sipped as typical of the blood of the usurping khalifahs. The festival is named Ghadir, 'a pool,' and the festival commemorates, it is said, Muhammad having declared Ali his successor at Ghadir Khum, a watering place midway between Makkah and al-Madinah." [13]
Coming from a Shi'i background of India, having studied in Iran for 10 years and lived among the Shi'a of Africa and North America, I have yet to see, hear or read about the dough and honey ritual of Ghadir!! I was more surprised to see that even Vaglieri, in the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, has incorporated this rubbish into her fairly excellent article on Ghadir Khum. She adds at the end: 'This feast also holds an important role 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. But do all orientalists know the difference between the Shi'as and the Nusayris? I very much doubt so.
A fourth example from the contemporary scholars who have treaded 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 Khum,' he describes the location of Ghadir Khum in the footnote as 'a spring between Makkah and al-Madinah where Shi'ite tradition asserts the Prophet declared, "Whosoever I am lord of, his lord is Ali also". [14] Although this scholar mentions the issue of Ghadir in a passing manner, still he wants to leave his readers with the impression that 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'i origin or invention of the hadith of Ghadir, I would just repeat what Vaglieri has said in the Encyclopaedia of Islam about Ghadir Khum:
'It is, however, certain that Muhammad did speak in this place and utter the famous sentence, for the account of this event has been preserved, either in a concise form or in detail, not only by Al-Ya'kubi, whose sympathy for the 'Alid cause is well-known, but also in the collection of traditions which are considered as canonical, 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 possible to reject them." [15]
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 Khum, or those which state that the sentence was pronounced at al-Hudaybiyya. The complete documentation will be facilitated when the Concordance of Wensinck has been completely published. In order to have an idea of how numerous these hadiths are, it is enough to glance 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'i literature of the early days as well as of the contemporary period. There is no need to wait for Wensinck's Concordance. The Shi'i scholars have produced great works on the issue of Ghadir Khum. Here I will just mention two of those. The first is 'Abaqat al-Anwar written in Persian by Allama Mir Hamid Husayn al-Musawi (d. 1304 AH) of India. Allama Mir Hamid Husayn has devoted two bulky volumes (consisting of about 1,080 pages) on the isnad, tawatur and meaning of the hadith of Ghadir. The second is Al-Ghadir in 11 volumes in Arabic by Allama Abdul Husayn al-Amini where he gives with full references the names of 110 sahaba of the Prophet and also 84 tabi'un (disciples of the sahaba) who have narrated the hadith of Ghadir. He has also chronologically given the names of the historians, traditionists, exegetists and poets who have mentioned the hadith of Ghadir from the first until the fourteenth Islamic century.


[8] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, tr. Franz Rosenthal, Vol 1, New York: Pantheon Books, 1958, p 403. In Arabic, see Vol 1, Beirut: Maktabatul Madrasah, 1961, p 348.

[9] Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1953, see under 'Ghadir Khum'.

[10] I Goldziher, Muslim Studies, tr. Barber and Stern, Vol 2, Chicago: Aldine Inc, 1971, pp. 112-113.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1911-1938, see under 'Ghadir Khum'.

[13] Thomas P Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam, New Jersey: Reference Book Publisbers, 1965, p. 138.

[14] Philip K Hitti, A History of the Arabs, London: Macmillan & Co, 1964, p 471.

[15] Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1953, see under 'Ghadir Khum'.

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