In our present era, it is most disturbing for many Muslims and non-Muslims alike to witness the escalating rise in sectarian violence between the Shi’a and Sunni followers of Islam, particularly in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Some people, including Muslims, ask why the Shi’a and Sunni are violently murdering each other; is there something in the history of the Muslims that continues to spark such hatred and violence today; why does one sect accuse the other of heresy; and why is one sect of the Muslims considered as “mainstream,” while the other wing is branded unconventional and literally pacified?
Unquestionably, seeded in the history of Islam is the answer - in particular, the political course that was taken following the death of the Holy Prophet and the way in which the early history of Islam was written. They say that history is bound to repeat itself and this is much more apparent today because the remnants and unconsciousness of Muslims in regards to their own history is affecting Muslims today.
The account of the Muslims is not the classical historical case of not knowing their past, but rather, it is of not knowing the truth of its past. Thus, a closer examination into the past political and historical accounts of Islam is needed.
As a Muslim scholar, I get numerous questions from Muslims, both of the Shi’a and Sunni following (but mainly from Sunni parishioners), as to the differences between the Shi’a and Sunni communities. The answer does not lie in a simple stated sentence or two, but rather, it requires an honest, detailed account and interpretive explanation of the past.
Hence, a truthful and comprehensive contemporary account must be told in order for sincere seekers to understand what happened to the Muslims, and why, in particular, some refer to themselves as being Shi’a.
Over fourteen hundred years have passed since Prophet Muhammad bonded rival tribes, united neighbors, and partnered others to form one community - the Muslim ummah. However, from the moment that Prophet Muhammad publicly declared his prophethood and message until now, the internal relationship of the Muslim ummah has yet to synthesize fully because of the Shi’a-Sunni division.
This is not to say that there is an internal rift within Islam, far from that! Muslims are united in the same God, they recite the same Holy Qur’an, face the same qiblah (direction of prayer), fast the same month (of Ramadhan), and perform the pilgrimage to the same House (Ka’abah).
Nonetheless, there is a domestic struggle and this strain is embedded in the historical and political account of Islam; in particular, the caliphates1 of Abu Bakr,2 ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab,3 and ‘Uthman Ibn al-Affan.4
For many Muslims, the first three caliphs are highly revered and the unquestioning belief in the righteousness of them as the “rightly guided” caliphs lies at the heart of many Muslims’ faith. Nonetheless, the stark realization that these caliphs made severe misjudgments may surprise some, perhaps even bewilder or shatter their belief. Uncovering the truthful facts of the first three caliphs may seem disrespectful for some; however, this is actually a respectful attempt to restore Islam to its pristine, original form brought by Prophet Muhammad.
As difficult as it may be, we (Muslims) must be able to objectively examine the history of these three caliphs, re-examine and filter out our hadith sources, and then make sound judgment based on facts.
Since the “split” of the Muslims (Shi’a and Sunni) can be summoned to have intensified during the administration of the first three caliphs, and much of today’s estrangement of the Muslims can be traced back to their government, consequently, this book will outline the character, actions, qualifications, and consequences of these three individuals.
The reports are based solely on the historical accounts of Sunni sources, such as the respected texts: Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih al-Muslim, and other renowned Sunni scholars. Thus, no claim can be argued that the author is vindictively judging the three caliphs from outside sources. Furthermore, the readings will also cover the view of the Shi’a and shed some light as to why the Shi’a have been marginalized throughout the Muslim history.
As a scholar of Islam and a member of the Muslim ummah, this writing is not intended to be derogatory, or as an attempt to maliciously blame some, or as a means to jostle the past of the Muslims; nor is it an opportunity by the author to insult or expose the weaknesses of some companions.
Rather this work is an attempt to shed light and present an unbiased account of their actions and the subsequent results on the ummah, such as their plans to dominate the Muslim leadership, the need to develop the science of Hadith (Prophetic traditions), discordant ideological interpretations, and the emergence of the schools of thought.
Furthermore, this work is not meant to stir sectarian conflict or to cause a deeper fissure amongst the schools either. I am well aware and sensitive to the fact that this is a delicate issue and I take to practice every means possible to express my sentiments and academic knowledge respectfully and rationally.
Throughout the years of humbly serving my faith, I have maintained an open venue to foster intrafaith engagements and reconciliation. The time has come for Muslim scholars to set aside their differences and rise to the occasion and challenges by addressing their internal division in an honest, academic, and composed fashion.
All provocations and polemics must desist on both fronts and a deep knowledge of being acquainted first-hand about each other’s history, ideology, and stance are critical ingredients for any plausible discussions or solutions to arise.
For many years, it has been rumored that the Shi’a do not favor the companions of the Prophet; however, the reality is that the Shi’a have always revered, respected, and acknowledged many of the companions. Over 100,000 companions lived during the time of the Prophet - most were sincere, but not all of them and even the Holy Qur’an attest to this (al-Qur’an, c. 635 & c. 9:1016).
We recognize and pay tribute to those who sincerely serviced, sacrificed, and gave their lives for the sake of Islam and the Prophet.7 The Shi’a are highly recognized for paying their respect to many companions of the Prophet who were martyred to advance Islam. We make yearly pilgrimages to their places of burial - their mausoleums and even to the battlegrounds where they lost their lives. Despite the love we have for the faithful martyrs of Islam, still we are continuously branded as those who dislike the companions.
The Shi’a have primarily been the most misunderstood of the Muslim schools of thought. It has been the case throughout Muslim history and until now that the Shi’a ideology and its followers are persecuted and ridiculed. In recent times, it is been more accelerated politically after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Muslim world then witnessed an increasing attack against Shi’a Islam and its followers. A tsunami effect of ignorance and prejudice batters the Shi’a.
Unsubstantially described as “interpreting their own form of Islam,” the Shi’a have been hammered with radical accusations as being “renegades” and “rebellious” by those who believe that the Shi’a doctrine is some form of a “cult” or that it is at “odds” with mainstream Muslims.
Some known and well-respected Sunni scholars, from the past until the present, have from time to time labeled the Shi’a followers as “innovators,” some even going as far as calling them “heretics.” Such labeled biases spread doubt and fear amongst the ummah, and even worse, mistrust.
What is more is that intellectual and moderate Muslim leaders have largely ignored the incredulous accusations and labeling. The silence by those religious leaders has engendered more ignorance and division amongst the Shi’a-Sunni schools and their followers.
The fallacy about Shi’a Islam needs to end and this is where my duty and obligation lies, for Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“To make it known and clear to mankind and not to hide it.” (3:187)
I stand to defend any dehumanizing portrayal of the Shi’a by adversaries, and it is my duty to expunge the rumors that have beleaguered us (Shi’a) for many centuries.
An honest and unabashed work is far overdue on this subject. I have no secret agenda, nor the need to practice the license of taqiyyah,8 and I stand free of any association to proselytize the Shi’a school of thought.
These are far from my objective; rather, my aim is to put forward the historical truth objectively about what some of the companions did systematically during the life of the Prophet and following his death, and to allow the reader to make his or her own sound conclusion.
Every Muslim, in fact, every human being bears the moral responsibility of seeking out the truth. For those who are sincerely searching for the truth, they must put aside any personal opinion and approach this work without pretense or prejudice views.
Although the history of Islam has hitherto led a tenuous path, the damage is not irreparable, for Allah says in the Noble Qur’an:
“Allah does not change the condition of the people until they change what is within them.” (c. 13:11)
The Muslims have freedom of choice and the Muslims still have the opportunity to liberate themselves and go forward as an ummah, united in submission to Allah.
I welcome any contributing comments provided they are based and structured academically and rationally, mutually accepted amongst the various Muslim scholars, and free of personal rhetoric.
Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini
Orange County, California
1. Caliph (caliphs) is the person intended to be the successor (leader) to Prophet Muhammad.
2. (Abu Bakr) Abdullah Ibn Abi Quhafah, his mother is Salma bint Shakher. He is the father of Aishah the wife of the Prophet. He was born fifty-one years before the Hijrah; died on the 22nd Jumadi al-Awwal, 13 ah and assumed the caliphate after the Prophet’s death for a period of two years and four months.
3. ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab was born forty years before the Hijrah. He accepted Islam six years after the advent of Islam and was appointed by Abu Bakr to be the second successor to the Prophet and reined for ten years. He was assassinated in 23 ah in Madinah. He appointed Mu’awiyah Ibn Abu Sufyan as the governor of Damascus.
4. ‘Uthman Ibn al-Affan was chosen by ‘Umar to be in the group of six candidates for succession. His tribe, Bani Umayyah, swept and dominated important political and military leadership. He assumed the caliphate in 23 ah and during his reign, the “fitna kubra” (great mischief) occurred. He was killed in his home by revolutionist in 35 ah in Madinah.
5. Holy Qur’an, 63:1, “When the hypocrites come to you they say, ‘We bear witness that you are indeed the apostle of God.’ God knows that you are indeed His Apostle, and God bears witness that the hypocrites are indeed liars.”
6. Holy Qur’an, 9:101, “Round about you [Muhammad and his community] and among you in Madinah are hypocrites and they are obstinate in hypocrisy. You do not know them, We know them, twice shall We punish them and in addition shall be sent to a grievous penalty.”
7. Holy Qur’an, 9:100, “And as to the foremost from among the Muhajireen (Immigrants) and Ansar (Helpers) and those who followed them in goodness, Allah is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him...”
8. Taqiyyah is a form of concealment of one’s belief in order to protect one’s life, property, family, etc.
First, my gratitude must be expressed to Sister Fatma Saleh, her imprint on this book is unspoken. Second, much appreciation goes to Shaykh Saleem Bhimji for the typesetting and cover design; and his wife, Sister Arifa Hudda for the editing of this work. Publication of this book was made possible by the Ahlul Bayt Society (www.12imams.com ).
It is customary in Islam that when the name of Allah, Prophet Muhammad, the other prophets, or imams (descendants and successors of Prophet Muhammad) is enunciated, the following phrases are mentioned: Allah - “Glorified and Exalted is He” (Subhannah wa-tallah). Prophet Muhammad- “Peace be upon him and his family.” After the names of prophets, imams from the family of Prophet Muhammad and his daughter - “Peace be upon him/her.”
With great respect, admiration, recognition, and praise, I have omitted the mentioned phrases for the sake of continuity.
1. Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi, Vol. 2; Bab al-Asabiyah, p. 308, hadith 3.
2. The original name of Madinah was Yathrib, but it later became known as Madinatul Nabi (the City of the Prophet) after the migration (Hijrah) of the Prophet from Mecca to Madinah.
Thus, a group formed that consisted of several companions who belonged mainly to the Quraysh tribe. Amongst those who were at the forefront of this power group were some of the most prominent companions, such as Abu Bakr Abdullah Ibn Abi Quhafah, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, ‘Uthman Ibn al-Affan, Al-Mugheerah Ibn Shu’bah, Abu Musa al-Ashari, Salim Mawla Abi Hudayfah, Husayd Ibn Hudayr, Basheer Ibn Sa’d, Muhammad Ibn Muslim, Ma’adh Ibn Jabal, and Zayd Ibn Thabit.
This Quraysh group began its development at a time when the Prophet was setting roots in Madinah. In the span of a few years, the Prophet had revolutionized, empowered, and united dissident tribes to form an Islamic nation. His word was the word of God and the faithful flocked to his calling.
All the same, he was still a mortal human being whose mortal life would eventually come to an end. The Quraysh group, who sought future ambition, knew that their power was limited, that is as long as the Prophet was alive. Aware that the Prophet was mortal, hence they bided their time and craftily considered the future structure of the Muslim leadership that would come after the death of the Prophet and what their role would be.
Consequently, this group resolved to complete rule of the Muslim ummah to be in their hands. They might have begun some internal conflicts had some not agreed amongst themselves to allow three subdivisions of the Quraysh to hold power successively: the tribe of Taym, the tribe of Uday, and the tribe of Fihr.
Initially, they planned to first allow Abu Bakr to represent his tribe of Taym; then ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab would represent his tribe of Uday, and then Abu Ubaydah Ibn al-Jarrah would represent his tribe of Fihr; however, as it happened, ‘Uthman Ibn al-Affan (from the Umayyah tribe) later replaced Abu Ubaydah Ibn al-Jarrah. Finally, after the tribe of Fihr had completed its turn, the tribe of Taym would then take control again and the cycle would continue. They felt that this rotating agreement would ensure harmony within the Quraysh group and preserve the stability of their order.
However, the group excluded one vital section of Quraysh, namely the Bani Hashim tribe, the one to which the Prophet belonged. They did so overtly, under the pretext that Bani Hashim was already too powerful since the Prophet sprang from them. As ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab explained, “The reason we did not want Bani Hashim to assume power after the death of the Prophet was that Quraysh disliked seeing both prophethood and leadership (imamah) vested in the family of Bani Hashim.”1
This is precisely where the start of the problem began for Muslims. Initially it did not stem from Islamic ideology, or interpretation of the revelations, or the sunnah, but rather, from the old Arab rivalry that was deeply entrenched and seeded into the jealous veins of some of the branches of the Quraysh tribes. Just as ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab said, they “disliked” seeing another family invested with so much interest.
In the tenth year of the Hijrah (632 CE), the day came when the Prophet stunned the ummah by indicating that he would soon leave the world while returning from his first and last pilgrimage, forever known as the “Farewell Pilgrimage.” Surrounded by over 100,000 hujjaj (pilgrims) in the blazing heat, near the oasis pond of Ghadir Khum,3 the Prophet was intercepted with a revelation that forced him to stop the pilgrims in their track to hear a new revelation from Allah. The revelation was as follows:
After praising God, the Prophet openly spoke to the pilgrims that the Angel Gabriel had reviewed the Holy Qur’an with him twice that year instead of once, and this was a sign that his time of death was near.4
Then the critical question was at hand, the Prophet asked the pilgrims if he had more authority (wilayah) over the believers than they had over themselves, to which they all replied, “yes.” Then the Prophet raised the hand of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib and said, “Whosoever’s master (mawla) I am, this ‘Ali is also his master (man kuntu mawlahu fa hadha Aliyun mawlahu).”
The order was sealed and ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib became the Prophet’s successor by Divine order. At this point, the Prophet publicly took the oaths from those present, including Abu Bakr, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab,5 Ammar Ibn Yasir, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Salman al-Farsi, al-Miqdaad Ibn al-Aswad, and Abdullah Ibn al-Abbas. Some even approached ‘Ali to congratulate him personally, like ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, who said, “Congratulations Ibn Abi Talib! Today you became the leader (mawla) of all believing men and women.”6
An excerpt of the Prophet’s farewell sermon:
It is probable that I will be called soon and I will respond. So I leave behind me among you two weighty [very worthy and important] things: the Book of Allah, which is a rope stretched between the heavens and the Earth; and my progeny [Ahlul Bayt]. For verily Allah, the Merciful, the Aware informed me that these two would never become separated from each other until they meet at the Fount of Abundance.7 Therefore, be careful how you will treat these two in my absence.
This was not the first time that the Holy Prophet had named ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib as his successor (aside from referring to the designated members of his Ahlul Bayt that were to succeed him) on numerous occasions, such as in the “Feast of the Clan” (al-Indhar).8 Moreover, portions of the Holy Qur’an refer to ‘Ali Ibn Talib’s successionship.9
Although critically ill and approaching his final days, the Prophet repeatedly ordered them to join the dispatch of Usama, but they (the first three-caliphs and other companions who were present) declined to do so. Sensing that the Prophet would soon depart, the elite members of the group wanted to be in Madinah for the moment of the Prophet’s death in order to assume power, quite possibly, the precise reason why the Prophet wanted them to be away.
The situation escalated to the point where the Prophet strongly warned them by saying, “May the curse of Allah be upon the one who stays behind and does not join the army of Usama.”10 Aside from that, they still refused and the imminent time of the death of the Prophet was drawing near.
Gravely ill, and surrounded by some of the companions, the Prophet requested a pen and paper to narrate his will, a hadith he said that would guard the nation from misguidance.11 Sensing that the Prophet again wanted to name his successor (‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib) one last time, the companion, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab spearheaded the Quraysh group by interceding and declaring, “We have the book of Allah, and it suffices for us.” He then accused the Prophet of Islam of hallucinating (yahjor) because of his illness.12 An argument ensued over ‘Umar’s comment and the Prophet angrily requested them to leave.13 & 14
The power ambition was too much to let pass, because long afterwards and during his reign, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab said regarding that day, “I knew the Prophet was going to mention the name of ‘Ali as his successor, so I objected to that and refused.”15
After challenging the will of the Prophet, it is not surprising to witness centuries of unsettling political and ideological differences within the ummah. Perhaps, during the eras of the first four caliphs, Islam was still a spiritually inclined faith and united and bonded by primarily one following - one ummah - but the aspirations of some permitted the way of division. The institute of the khalifah was reduced to a mere political acquisition and many Muslims began their slow turn away from what Islam had intended. Corruption and greed earmarked the powerhouses of government and institutes that later sprung up during the Bani Umayyah and Bani Abbas dynasties. It can be said that the era of corruption by these dynasties had been intricately connected to the “Calamity of Thursday.”
1. Ibn al-Atheer, Al-Kamil fil-Tarikh, 3:24; Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:223
2. Successorship (khalifah or imamah) according to both schools of thought, Ahlul Bayt and Companions, is the representation of Prophet Muhammad, in the affairs of deen (faith) and duniyah (life).
3. Ghadir Khum (which is close to today’s al-Juhfah in the Arabian Peninsula). It was the center point where routes from different provinces met and then parted to go their separate ways.
4. Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:435
5. Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Musnad Ahmad, 4:281; Sirr al-Alamin; Al-Tabari, Al-Riyadh al-Nadhirah, 2:169
6. Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Musnad Ahmad 4:81, Ibn Abu Yallah al-Musilli, Musnad; Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Shibah, Al-Musnaf; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; Sirr al-Alamin, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali; Al-Milal wal-Nihal, Abu al-Fattah al-Shahrestani; Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihaya, 5:209; Ibn Katheer al-Shami; Al-Sawaeq al-Muhriqah, Ibn Hajar al-Askalani, p.26; Tafseer al-Tabari, 3:310; Muhammad Ibn Jarrer, Allamah Amini in Al-Ghadeer, 1:283, has compiled over sixty prominent Sunni sources that narrated the congratulations of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar to Imam ‘Ali on his succession by the Prophet on the Day of Ghadir.
7. See Holy Qur’an, 108:1-3
8. “Feast of the Clan,” after the revelation of c. 26:214 (“And warn thy nearest relations”), the Prophet made a feast and invited his extended family, so he could announce his prophethood and invite them to embrace his message. It was also the same event, in which the Prophet first declared that ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib would be his successor and caliph after him.
9. See Holy Qur’an, 5:55 and 4:59
10. Shahristani, Al-Milal wal-Nihal, 1:29
11. The Messenger of God said, “Bring me a tablet (lawh) and an inkpot (dawat), so that I can write for you a document, after which you will not go astray.” A person said that the Messenger of God was talking “deliriously.” Tarikh al-Tabari, Vol. 9 translated by Ismail. K. Poonawala p. 175.
12. In the older Sahih al-Bukhari books, the term “yahjor” can be found, but in the latest versions, the hadith has been modified as, “that the Prophet has been overwhelmed by pain.”
13. Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad wal-Seer, 2:118; Sahih al-Muslim; Ithbat al-Wasyah; Musnad Ahmad, 3:346
14. For full details read Inquiries about Shi’a Islam by the same author.
15. Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 3:114
As the Prophet’s body lay in wait, ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib and the immediate family of the Bani Hashim were busy preparing the Prophet’s body for burial. With the family of the Prophet being preoccupied, several members of the Ansar tribe arranged for a private meeting far away from the Prophet’s mosque at a place called Saqifah Bani Sa’idah. They had grown concerned about the leadership (khalifah) of the ummah and wanted to ensure a smooth transition of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib’s office post.
Despite having welcomed the Muhajireen into their town, the Ansar had all along been fearful and cautious of their domination in Madinah; even more, they were fearful of the power their relatives maintained in Mecca. Concerned that the Muhajireen might make the initial move to secure leadership of the ummah, the Ansar took a pre-emptive measure to discuss and uphold their support of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib. This was their initial plan; however, the meeting took a turn. Some members of the Ansar sensed that the leadership was going to slip away from ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib, hence they began to discuss the seizing of leadership for themselves.
Large in numbers and a formidable tribe to contend with, some of them felt that the Ansar had rights for leadership since they were the ones who had fully participated in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khaybar, and Hunayn, as well as the two “Bayahs of Ridhwan.”3 In addition, the Holy Prophet had stated the following about the Ansar, “Only a believer loves the Ansar, and only a hypocrite dislikes them.”4 Moreover, they were quite familiar with the old rivalry of the Quraysh tribe.
Envy and blood feud, although dormant, was deeply felt amongst the Quraysh tribe. In particular, their jealousy was directed against ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib for numerous reasons - including the fact that he stood as a stark reminder about the lives of the members of the Quraysh that he took away in defending Islam in the various battles.
In one battle alone, ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib took the lives of seventy elite members of the Quraysh. This was ingrained too deep into the memory of those Quraysh families to ignore and no matter how much they embraced Islam, the loss of their family members was far greater for some or too fresh in their memories to forget. The Ansar were quite familiar with this, but on the other hand, they did not have to contend with such animosity and rivalry - they had no loss of relatives that could be traced back to ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib’s valor and they had no township quarrels with the Quraysh tribe.
The shaded area of Saqifah belonged to Bani Sa’idah Ibn Ka’ab Ibn al-Khazraj from the tribe of Khazraj (from the Ansar of Madinah). The meeting location was not accidental, for it was there that the Khazraj, led by Sa’d Ibn Ibadah used to gather underneath the shaded canopy to legislate and resolve town matters.
That day, both tribes of the Ansar - the Khazraj and Aws were present at the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, the following were in attendance: Sa’d Ibn Ibadah, Ibn al-Aas, Anas Ibn Malik, al-Mugheerah Ibn Shu’bah, Khalid Ibn al-Waleed, Abd al-Rahman Ibn Auf, Basheer Ibn Sa’d, Ma’adh Ibn Jabal, and Usayd Ibn Hudayr.5 Other individuals from the Muhajireen who found out about the meeting came later, such as Abu Bakr, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, and Abu Ubaydah Ibn al-Jarrah.
At the meeting, the Ansar initially recruited Sa’d Ibn Ibadah for the leadership of the Muslim community, however on that day he was extremely ill to the point that he could barely speak or move.6 He was the only man other than ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib that the Quraysh group feared during the time of the Holy Prophet. Sa’d Ibn Ibadah was also popular amongst the Muslims - both the Muhajireen and the Ansar, due to the fact that during the battles he used to carry the flag of Islam until combat started, at which point he would pass it over to ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib.7
However, not everyone at the meeting agreed to his nomination. Some of those present began to bicker, hence the old rivalry between the two tribes surfaced. When they realized that a mutual consensus would not be reached, they resounded to the following statement, “We will never pay allegiance (to anyone) except to ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib.”8
As the tension grew at the meeting, two members from the Aws tribe, Awaim Ibn Sa’ad and Maen Ibn Obed left the meeting unnoticed. Fearing that the leadership of the Muslim community would fall into the hands of their former rivals, the Khazraj, they sought to inform ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab about what was taking place.9
After the two men informed ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab about the private meeting, ‘Umar grew anxiously impatient. As it so happened, ‘Umar had intended for Abu Bakr to be present when the death of the Holy Prophet would occur, but Abu Bakr was away in an outlying area of Madinah called al-Samh.
Hence, as the news of the Prophet’s death began to spread quickly and the shock and sadness amongst the Muslims grew, ‘Umar needed to react in order to buy some time to join the meeting - and there were two reasons for this. First, ‘Umar needed Abu Bakr to return so that both of them could attend the private meeting at Saqifah; and the other reason was to act as if the Prophet was not dead in order to delay the official appointment of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib.
Thus, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab came out of the Prophet’s mosque and into the streets shouting and negating the news that the Prophet had died and even threatened to dismember anyone who said otherwise! ‘Umar cried out, “Verily, the Messenger of Allah - by Allah - has not died, and will never die.”10 Although the Holy Prophet’s body lay in wait, ‘Umar continued to say that his soul had gone to Heaven like the soul of Prophet Isa11 and promised a resurrection by saying, “The Prophet will come back.”12
Upon Abu Bakr’s return, ‘Umar informed him about the undisclosed meeting at Saqifah and both of them headed out, along with Abu Ubaydah Ibn al-Jarrah, to the meeting.
The Saqifah meeting played out like a well-rehearsed theatrical production. Having been given some details about the meeting, ‘Umar and Abu Bakr entered and found the Ansar locked in a bitter dispute. Sensing that the leadership was about to fall into the hands of Sa’d Ibn Ibadah from the Tribe of Khazraj, Abu Bakr immediately began to play on the emotions of the Tribe of Aws to provoke them so that they would not pay allegiance to their opponent, however his ultimate intention was to put forward his own proposal.
After sympathizing with the Aws, Abu Bakr then turned the tables and said that they (the Quraysh) were better suited for leadership than any other group. Abu Bakr said, “We, the Muhajireen were the first to accept Islam; we possess the most notable pedigree; our abode is the most central; we have the best leaders; and we are nearest of kin to the Prophet of Allah.” Abu Bakr then appeased both tribes by saying that they too were worthy for some form of leadership of the ummah but that ultimate authority must reside with the Muhajireen. Abu Bakr continued his argument by quoting the words of the Prophet, “My successors are twelve…,” but instead of saying, “…and all of them are from Bani Hashim,”13 he changed it and said, “…and all of them are from Quraysh.”14 To which ‘Umar seconded his statement.
However, a member of the Ansar, al-Habbab Ibn al-Mandhar, saw through Abu Bakr’s facade. He realized the ploy being undertaken and quickly discredited their claim to leadership. Al-Habbab claimed that since the Ansar were the ones who approached the Prophet and supported him throughout his entire mission, that they had the first right for leadership.
After his statement, the tone of the meeting rapidly intensified as fiery words were exchanged between him and ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, which eventually led to ‘Umar physically assaulting him and breaking his nose.
Abu Bakr immediately pacified the firestorm and proposed two candidates from the Quraysh for the position of caliph, Abu Ubaydah Ibn al-Jarrah and ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab. Abu Bakr declared, “I advise you to choose one of those two men, so pay allegiance to whomsoever you like.”
By offering the caliphate to others, Abu Bakr absolved himself of any accusations that he might be seeking the caliphate for himself. However, Abu Ubaydah Ibn al-Jarrah immediately declined the offer, and ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab promptly interrupted Abu Bakr by taking up the Arab custom of respecting the elderly and stated, “God forbid that we do that, while you are alive amongst us,” to Abu Bakr.
Then ‘Umar, as if on cue, abruptly held out his hand towards Abu Bakr and said, “Stretch out your hand, and I will pay allegiance to you.” Some of the Ansar agreed, namely: Ma’adh Ibn Jabal, Usayd Ibn Hudayr, Basheer Ibn Sa’d, and Zayd Ibn Thabit. They stood up and declared (on the grounds that the Prophet was from the Muhajireen, hence his successor should also be from the Muhajireen), “As we supported the Prophet, we will support his successor.”15
Upon seeing the members of the Ansar offer allegiance to Abu Bakr, ‘Umar related, “My heart was strengthened and others followed them.”16 Hence, that ended the nomination process by confirming Abu Bakr as the khalifah of the ummah.17 Abu Bakr accepted gracefully saying, “May Allah reward you with goodness, O people of the Ansar.”18 Afterwards, in his own words, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab stated, “The Quraysh examined [the situation] and chose a leader for themselves, and they were successful in their choice.”19
However, it can be seen that the caliphate was predetermined and confined to three people: Abu Bakr, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, and Abu Ubaydah Ibn al-Jarrah - hence, their conversation was not spontaneous.
As mentioned earlier, the members of the Quraysh, in particular: Abu Bakr, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, Abu Ubaydah Ibn al-Jarrah, al-Mugheerah Ibn Shu’bah, Abd al-Rahman Ibn Auf, Khalid Ibn al-Waleed, Muhammad Ibn Muslim, Ma’adh Ibn Jabal, Basheer Ibn Sa’d, and Usayd Ibn Hudayr had already agreed to this sequence of events long before the Saqifah meeting occurred, just like they had agreed that Abu Bakr would take control on behalf of the Tribe of Taym first.
Most of the others present followed ‘Umar in giving their allegiance to Abu Bakr,20 but the core of the Ansar who supported ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib refused, maintaining, “We will not pay allegiance to anyone except ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib.”21 The only leader of the Ansar who remained steadfast and refused to pay allegiance to Abu Bakr was Sa’d Ibn Ibadah, who was ill and unable to move.
He told ‘Umar, “By Allah, if I was able to stand, you would have heard from me a roaring which would have filled the streets and alleyways of Madinah and would have been painful to you and your companions.”22 He then turned to Abu Bakr and said, “I will never pay allegiance to you! Even if ‘Ali pays allegiance, I still will not do so.” In return, despite his illness, ‘Umar assaulted him just as he had accosted al-Habbab Ibn al-Mandhar.23
Later on ‘Umar recounted, “We attacked Sa’d Ibn Ibadah, and he was then trampled and the people said, ‘Sa’d has been killed.’” Therefore, ‘Umar said, “May Allah kill Sa’d.” Perceiving him as a threat, ‘Umar accused Sa’d Ibn Ibadah of hypocrisy and wanting the leadership for himself and hence wanted to kill him, but Abu Bakr restrained him.24
If Sa’d Ibn Ibadah had really sought leadership, he could have obtained it easily since the Saqifah (shaded area) was his home territory and he was favored among the Muslims. Most likely, he would have obtained the caliphate much easier than Abu Bakr, but like ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib later said, Sa’d Ibn Ibadah was upset when he saw the people giving allegiance to Abu Bakr, not because he wanted the leadership for himself, but because he wanted the leadership to go to ‘Ali, as the Prophet had dictated. Thereafter, Sa’d Ibn Ibadah rode to Huran in Syria, where after the death of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar determined his fate by sending Muhammad Ibn Muslim to kill him.25 & 26
The events of Saqifah did not end on that day. ‘Umar’s primary concern was not to channel the political leadership towards Abu Bakr, but rather to keep it away from ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib. ‘Umar sought to prevent ‘Ali and the Bani Hashim from reaching the khalifah by any means possible. Thus after he became khalifah, ‘Umar ensured that ‘Uthman would succeed him, despite knowing that he would bring his tribesmen from the Bani Umayyah to power.
‘Umar later said to ‘Uthman, “‘Uthman, what keeps me from appointing you is your bigotry (asabiyah), and the preference that you give to your family and clan over other Muslims.”27 Still, ‘Umar handed the rein of khalifah to ‘Uthman, who as ‘Umar had predicted, ruled by nepotism and favoritism until a defiant faction of the Muslims murdered him.
Overall, as Ibn Abil Hadid says,28 “It was ‘Umar who stood strongly behind Abu Bakr and paved the way for him to assume the leadership. If he had not backed him, it would have been impossible for Abu Bakr to reach where he reached [the khalifah].” Nonetheless, the fate of the ummah was sealed on that day, a day which ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab himself later called, “One of the errors of pre-Islamic times (Faltah29 min falataat al-jahiliyyah).”30 Even more he said, “Whoever goes back to it [the same method used to select Abu Bakr as the khalifah], then kill him.”31 ‘Umar also admitted his mistake by saying, “God protected the Muslims from the dangers and risks of this immense error [meaning having elected Abu Bakr].”32
Nonetheless, the effects of Saqifah are felt even today. Had the Saqifah not happened and had the Muslims followed the Prophet’s command, then most likely, there would be no Sunni or Shi’a Muslim. The Muslims would have been united under the banner of obedience to Allah and the leadership that Allah Himself ordained. Instead, once others obtained power, they held it firmly and did not allow anyone else outside their circle to share in it. As a result, they held absolute control over the ummah until the fall of the Bani Umayyah.
It can be argued that the issue of political leadership is solely a political issue and something to be left, buried in the past. Nevertheless, the influence of the ruling group extended beyond politics because for nearly 100 years they banned the transcription of the Prophet’s sayings for fear that the narrations referring to the right and merits of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib to the caliphate spread among the masses.
As a result of not recording the hadith until centuries later, scholars had to argue over which statements of the Holy Prophet were authentic and which were fabrications and this led to the need to develop the Science of Hadith. Perhaps the most damaging of all was that the ummah was deprived from a valuable source of Divinely inspired guidance.
Given the severe calamity that the shift in leadership brought, one might ask: Why did ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib not fight for his right to lead the ummah? The answer is best given in his own words:
O Allah! I beseech Thee to take revenge on the Quraysh and those who are assisting them, for they have cut asunder my kinship and overturned my cup and have collaborated to contest a right to which I was entitled more than anyone else. They said to me, ‘If you get your right, that will be just, but if you are denied the right that too will be just.
Endure it with sadness or kill yourself in grief.’ I looked around but found no one to shield me, protect me, or help me except the members of my family. I refrained from flinging them into death and therefore closed my eyes despite the dust; kept swallowing saliva despite the suffocation of grief; and endured pangs of anger although it was bitterer than colocynth and more grievous than the bite of knives.33
Although ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib knew that the ummah would suffer without his leadership, he also knew that it would destroy itself if he attempted to take the leadership by force; and thus he abstained from the caliphate until the murder of ‘Uthman. Even then, he was still hesitant, but at that moment in time, Islam was on the brink of annihilation and there was no one else to save it except for him. However, the extent of the damage done by the group, unfortunately, had already severely crippled the Muslim ummah.
1. The Ansar (the Helpers) consisted of two tribes, the Aws and the Khazraj who lived in the oasis desert of Yathrib which is about 250 miles northeast of Mecca. These two tribes had been at bitter and deadly odds with each other for many years and with the Prophet’s assistance, they put aside their differences and invited the Prophet and his followers to Yathrib, which was later renamed Madinah.
2. Those who migrated with the Prophet from Mecca to Madinah are known as the Muhajireen - a term that means someone who is fleeing. The Muhajireen were the indigenous inhabitants of Mecca, mainly from the tribe of Quraysh.
3. The Pledge of Ridhwan: In Dhul-Qa’dah, 6 ah, the Prophet decided to perform the umrah (the lesser pilgrimage) to the Ka’abah which had been until then denied to the Muslims due to the hostility of the Meccans. Fourteen hundred Muhajireen and Ansar showed readiness to go with him. Lest there be any misgivings in any quarter about his intentions, he directed the Muslims not to carry any arms other than swords, and he himself put on the robes of ihram and took camels to sacrifice.
The Muslims camped at Hudaibiyah, ten miles from Mecca. An envoy was sent to the Meccans to obtain their permission for visiting the Ka’abah but it was rejected. Instead, the Meccans collected a force to prevent the Muslims from entering Mecca. The Quraysh sent Budayl of the tribe of Khuza’ah, to tell the Prophet that he was not allowed to visit the Ka’abah. The Prophet said that he had not gone there to fight but to perform the pilgrimage.
The Quraysh deputed ‘Urwah ibn Mas’ud al-Thaqafi to have a talk with the Prophet, but nothing came out of it. The Prophet then sent Karash ibn Umayyah to the Quraysh, but the messenger was mistreated, and it was only with difficulty that he escaped without being killed. The vanguard of the Quraysh attacked the Muslims, but it was captured.
The Prophet demonstrated great clemency and set the captives free. Ultimately, ‘Uthman (who belonged to the same clan in which Abu Sufyan belonged) was sent to persuade the Quraysh to allow the Muslims to visit the Ka’abah. News came that the Quraysh had killed ‘Uthman. The Muslims took a pledge on the hands of the Prophet, known as “Bay’at al-Ridhwan” to stand by him to the last. Referring to this pledge, the Qur’an says:
Indeed God was well pleased with the believers when they swore allegiance to thee under the tree, and He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down tranquility on them and rewarded them with a near victory. (48:18)
4. Sahih al-Muslim, 1:33, hadith 75
5. Tarikh al-Ya’qubi, 2:123; Ibn Hajar, Al-Isabah, 1:325
6. Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:455
7. Usud al-Ghabah, 4:20; Ansab al-Ashraf, 2:106
8. Tarikh al-Tabari, 3:198; Ibn al-Atheer, 5:157
9. Al-Uqdul Farid, 3:63
10. Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:442; Sirat Ibn Hisham, 4:305
11. Al-Shahrestani, Al-Milal wal-Nihal, Vol. 115; Sunan al-Darimi, Vol. 1
12. Ibn Katheer, Al-Kamil fil Tarikh, 2:323; Sirat Ibn Hisham, 4:305
13. Al-Qanduzi, Yanabi al-Muwaddah, c. 77
14. Abu Nuaym, Haliyat al-Awliyaa, 1:86
15. Sirat Ibn Hisham, 4:494
16. Al-Kamil fil al-Tarikh, 2:231
17. Musnad Ahmad, 1:239, 405, & 442; Tarikh al-Madinah al-Munawarah, 3:1006
18. Musnad Ahmad, 5:185
19. Tarikh al-Tabari, 5:13; Ibn al-Atheer, Al-Kamil fil al-Tarikh, 3:63 & 3:288
20. Al-Imamah wal-Siyasah, Vol. 9
21. Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:446 & 3:198; Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:111; Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, 1:55
22. Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:459
23. Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:457-463
24. Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:459
25. Ansab al-Ashraf, 1:589; Abd al-Fattah Abd al-Maqsud, Al-Saqifah wal-Khalifah, 13; Al-Aqd al-Farid, 4:247
26. For further reference regarding the death of Sa’d Ibn Ibadah see, Al-Khulafa al-Rashidun by the Egyptian author Taha Husain, p.33. He says in his book that politics killed Sa’d Ibn Ibadah, meaning that they wanted to keep him away from power because they deemed his as a threat to the regime, and he was a man who insisted that the khalifah and the succession goes to the rightful people, the people appointed by Allah.
27. Tarikh al-Tabari, 3:292
28. Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 1:174
29. In this context, the term “faltah” can be defined with any of the following: an unexpected event, a sudden occurrence, a slip or lapse, and something that only happens once and would never happen again.
30. Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:459
31. Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 2:29
33. Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 217