It was the 18th day of Dhu al Hejja, 10 A.H. and the noble Prophet (SAW) was returning to Medina after performing his last Hajj, when in a land called the Ghadir al Khum, he ordered for all the pilgrims to take a halt. He had an important mission to accomplish in that hot and dry desert. The last Messenger of Allah (SAW) was to deliver a verse, under Divine Commandment; a verse that would perfect the religion of Islam!
"O Apostle! Deliver what has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you from the people; " (The Glorious Qur'an, 5:67).
The Prophet (SAW) was shedding tears! Were these the pearls of excitement or was the dear Prophet (SAW) worried about something? Or were these the tears of consolation over the news that he no longer needed to be concerned about the destruction of the beautiful Garden of Faith that he had so carefully nurtured over the last twenty-three years? Or were these the tears of joy of reaching certitude through Divine Mercy - relief after Allah's assurance that the Garden of Divine Unity and Justice would not be left without a perfect guardian even after his departure from this world!
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) commanded all his traveling companions, the number of which has been recorded in history as 120,000, to wait patiently for those who were still lagging behind to join in. Curious faces stared at each other in wonder: What was the reason behind this strange commandment? What was so important that the Messenger (SAW) had suddenly ordered for everyone to gather around at this torrid landscape in the scorching desert heat? It certainly had to be something exceptionally significant!
The sounds of the call for the noon prayer (adhan) started rising from all corners. Now, after leading the noon prayers, the Prophet (SAW) instructed for the camel-saddles to be heaped up together such that he could climb onto an improvised pulpit and that everyone from the large gathering could clearly see him and hear him. He then began to advance to the middle of the crowd that filled the whole plain in anticipation of a historic event, in order to implement the categorical command of Allah. With every step that the Prophet (SAW) took upwards the pile, hearts were beating faster in anticipation of what was to happen!
He then began to deliver his address, in a powerful, clear and compelling tone, so that everyone was able to hear him or at least be aware of what was transpiring. After praising and thanking Allah, to Whom alone belong Absolute Power, Wisdom and Vision, and Whose Governance, Knowledge and Perception are free of defect and decline, he said: "O people, I will soon be responding to the call of my Lord and departing from your midst. I will be held to account, as you too will be. Will you not bear witness that there is none worthy of worship other than Allah, the One and Unique? Do you not testify that Muhammad is His servant and messenger? Are not paradise, hellfire and death all realities? Is it not true the Day of Requital and Resurrection will definitely come, and that Allah will restore to life those who lie buried in the ground?" The voice of the multitude arose in response: "Indeed we bear witness to all of that."
Then he continued: "Now that the Day of Requital lies before us, and you believe in the raising of the dead on the Plain of Resurrection and that you will enter the presence of your Prophet on that day, pay heed to the manner in which you treat the two weighty (thaqalayn) and precious legacies I leave you as I depart for the Hereafter.
"That which is the greater of the two is the Book of Allah. It is in your hands as well as His, so lay hold of it firmly lest you fall into misguidance. The lesser of the two legacies is my progeny and the people of my household. Allah has informed me that my two legacies shall never be separated from each other until the Day of Resurrection. O people do not turn away from these two legacies. As long as you have recourse to them, you will never go astray the Book of Allah and my family."
At this point, the Prophet (SAW) called his cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Taleb (AS) to his side. He took hold of his hand and raised it up high, thereby presenting him with all his qualities and attributes to the gathered throng. Then the Messenger of Allah (SAW) asked: O people, who are more deserving of the believers than their own persons?" They answered: "Allah and His Messenger know better." He continued: "For whomsoever I was his master, Ali (AS) is now his master. (Man kuntu mawlahu fa hadha Aliyun mawlahu). O Lord, love whomsoever loves Ali (AS) and be the enemy of whoever is Ali's (AS) enemy. O Allah, aid whoever aids him and humble his enemies. O Lord, make him the pivot of truth."
After completing his speech, the Prophet (SAW) requested the people to convey what he had said to those who were absent.
The one who was thus installed on the seat of Islamic leadership on that day, in accordance with Divine Command and by virtue of the Prophet's (SAW) declaration; who was entrusted with the guidance of the Ummah, was none other than Ali (AS) The most worthy and renowned man in the Islamic community, he who was a treasury of knowledge and an incarnation of virtue, had been selected as the leader of the Muslims, and by proclaiming the important matter of Imamate and caliphate the Prophet (SAW) had given a decisive and binding command to the Ummah.
The assembled multitude had not begun to disperse when Gabriel, the angel of Revelation revealed this verse to the Prophet (SAW).
"This day I have perfected for you your religion and, completed My favor on you and chosen for you, Islam as a religion"(The Glorious Qur'an, 5:3).
According to al-Ya'qubi, "This verse, revealed at Ghadir al Khum, was the last verse to be revealed to the most noble Messenger (SAW).
The Prophet (SAW) left the place where he was standing, while all around the sound of takbir was to be heard as the pilgrims expressed their warm and enthusiastic feelings towards Ali (AS). People came up to him in groups and congratulated him on his appointment as leader, addressing him as their master and the master of every believer, man and woman. The well-known poet Hassan ibn Thabit who was present on that occasion, composed and recited to the people, with the permission of the Prophet (SAW), an eloquent ode in honor of the auspicious event.
Many hearts that had gathered at this momentous point of Islamic history recalled some sensitive moments in the life of this divinely appointed leader, Ali (AS). Some reminisced about the day when Allah had revealed the message: "And warn your nearest relations" (The Glorious Qur'an, 26:214) - and the dear Messenger (SAW) had invited his closest relatives to the house of his uncle, Abu Taleb. There were forty of them in all when the Prophet (SAW) addressed them in these words: "O, children of Abdul Mutallib! I swear by Allah that I know of no other young man who has presented his relatives and his tribe with something better than what I have to offer to you! I have brought to you the best of this world and of the Hereafter. Allah has commanded me to invite you towards Him. Who from amongst you is prepared to support me in my mission such that he shall be my brother and my successor?"
All faces turned away from him - excepting Ali (AS), who was then only ten years old! Although he was very young and unripe of age, he stood up most confidently and declared: "O Messenger of Allah! I shall be your supporter and your helper in your mission!"
It was immediately after this bold and sincere declaration that the Messenger (SAW) tapped Ali (AS) on his young shoulder and announced: "This is my brother, my successor and my vicegerent (khalifa) among you. Listen to him and obey him."
Many now recalled how that meeting had ended with the elders of the family parting from that gathering, mocking Ali's (AS) father, Abu Taleb, with the words: "He has just ordered you to listen to your son, and to obey him"; least guessing that in times to come, both Islamic and many non-Islamic historians would hail Ali (AS) as the greatest leader ever born in the history of mankind.
All through his entire lifetime, Ali (AS) proved to be the most sincere, faithful and loyal supporter of the Prophet (SAW) and his divine mission. Whether it was in the fields of ethics and behavior, or in the realms of knowledge and wisdom; whether it was in the battlefields of the holy wars (jihad) or whether it was in the matters of delivering justice and administration - Ali's (AS) contribution to the cause of Allah and the establishment of His Religion has been undisputed. Any discussion on the character or the life of Ali (AS) would require volumes to do any justice, even to the historical data that is available regarding him.
Since our discussion is focused on the aspect of Velayat, let us conclude with a Tradition (Hadith) that has been related through Imam Ja'far as Sadiq (AS). It has been recorded that as regards the importance of Velayat and Imamate, he said in the course of a sermon:
"Allah has illumined His religion with the Imams from the Household of the Prophet (SAW) and made them the abundant spring from which knowledge of religion gushes forth. Whoever recognizes the claims of the Imams, based on sound knowledge and insight, will taste the sweetness of faith and come to know the luminous and beautiful visage of Islam. For Allah has appointed the Imams to be His proof among men and their guide; has placed on their heads the crown of sublimity and leadership; caused the light of His Own splendor to shine on their beings; and sustained and supported them with inexhaustible heavenly power. It is only by means of causes that Allah's grace reaches His servants, and Allah does not accept men's knowledge of Himself except by means of their recognition of the Imam. The Imam is versed in all the complexities, problems and metaphoric aspects of revelation, and he is chosen by Allah from among the descendants of Hussain (AS). Whenever an Imam departs for the realm of eternity to meet Allah, he appoints another Imam from among his own offspring in order to illumine the path men should travel. Allah has chosen all of them to lead the Ummah in order that they should guide the people and judge justly among them. They are among the choice descendants of Adam, Nuh, Ibrahim, and Isma'il (PBUT). The jewel of their being shone in the world even before their bodies were fashioned of clay. Allah made their existence the substance of life for all men and the firm pillars of Islam." (al-Qunduzi, Yanabi' al-Mawaddah, pp. 23, 524)
He has said in another Tradition:
"Even if there were only two people left on earth, one of them would be an Imam. The last person to close his eyes on the world will be the Imam, so that no one will be to argue before Allah that he was left without an Imam" (al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 180).
It has been recorded that a person called al-A'mash asked Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (AS): "How will people benefit from the existence of an absent (gha'ib) Imam?"
He answered: "In the same way that they benefit from the sun when it is hidden behind a cloud" (al-Qunduzi, Yanabi' al-Mawaddah, p. 21).
1. Musavi Lari, Sayyid Mujtaba, Imamate and Leadership.
2. Mutahhari, Morteza, Master and Mastership.
3. Allamah Sayyid Sharafuddin, "Rahbari-e- Imam Ali (AS)", translated into Persian by Imami, Muhammad.