A Shia/Sunni perspective on the Imamate

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SHAFAQNA - Imāmate or caliphate means leadership. It has become a term for leading the Muslims after the demise of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ), a term which nobody can deny because leadership is an instinctive need for any group of people. Muslims, Sunnis or Shī’ahs, disagreed with regard to how to appoint an imām, or a caliph, and what role he should assume.

This is one of the most serious of their disagreements, and other disagreements are no more than a natural outcome of this great difference. This is so because Imāmate, as viewed by the Shī’ahs, has to be supported by a text from the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ), and it is specifically relevant to the Twelve Imāms from among Ahlul Bayt (‘a).

Knowing the Islamic injunctions, following the departure from this world of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ), is achieved only by referring to these Imāms (‘a) or to accurate transmissions reported about them. When their statements disagree with those of others, what Ahlul Bayt (‘a) state must be accepted, since they are the safe custodians of the Sunnah of the Chosen One (ṣ).

With regard to Imāmate, the Sunnis say that an imām is to be elected according to the principle of shūra (mutual consultation), but they do not object if such an imām is appointed through the recommendation of an outgoing caliph to the one who would be his successor, as was the case with caliph Abū Bakr who recommended ‘Umar to be his successor. Also, they permit caliphate to be taken by force, by the sword, as was the case with the Umayyad, ‘Abbāside and Ottoman caliphates.

As regarding learning the Islamic injunctions, it according to them is to be acquired by consulting what is “authentic” of what the sahābah had narrated, without making any distinction among these sahābah.

They, thus, regarded all sahābah as equitable and trustworthy despite the fact that many of them became involved in both battles of the Camel and of Siffeen, and they took part in killing each other on those and other occasions, something which places a question mark about the “equity” of many of them and raises many questions. You will review ample details about the “equity” of the sahābah in a chapter to come, by the Will of Allāh.

Since the case is as such, since there are differences between the Shī’ahs and the Sunnis, and before we issue a verdict labeling a particular sect as “invalid” or preferring one method over another, we ought to take the time to look into the proofs and arguments of each party. We have dedicated our research for this purpose. We will be summarizing the texts which the Shī’ahs regard as proofs for upholding their Imāmite sect as well as the rebuttal of the Sunnis of the same:

1) Proofs Confirming the Imāmate of Ahlul Bayt (‘a)

2) Proofs Confirming the Number of Imāms from among Ahlul Bayt (‘a)

3) Proofs Regarding the Appointment by the Prophet (ṣ) of Ali ibn Abū Tālib (‘a) [as his successor]

Texts Relevant To Imāmate

1. Proofs Confirming the Imāmate of Ahlul Bayt (‘a)

Texts quoted from the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) referring to the Imāmate, after his demise, of the nation’s Ahlul Bayt (‘a) are numerous; here are the most famous among them:

According to Muslim’s Sahīh, relying on isnād which goes back to Zaid ibn Arqam, the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ), so Zaid narrated, said, “O people! I am a human upon whom the messenger of my Lord is about to call. I will surrender to the call, and I am leaving among you two weighty things: the first of them is the Book of Allāh wherein there is guidance and noor.

So, take the Book of Allāh, for in it there is guidance and there is noor. Uphold the Book of Allāh and adhere to it. And (the other are) my Ahlul Bayt (‘a). I commend to you, in the Name of Allāh, my Ahlul Bayt (‘a);I commend to you, in the Name of Allāh, my Ahlul Bayt (‘a); I commend to you, in the Name of Allāh, my Ahlul Bayt (‘a).[1]

In al-Tirmidhi’s Sahīh, through isnād traced to Jābir ibn Abdullāh [al-Ansāri], the latter said, “I saw the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) on the Day of ‘Arafa when he performed his [last] pilgrimage. He was riding his she-camel Quswa. He delivered a sermon, and I heard him saying, ‘O people! I have left among you that, so long as you uphold to it, you shall never stray: The Book of Allāh and my ‘itrat, my Ahlul Bayt’.[2]

Had there been only this hadīth, it would have sufficed to prove the authenticity of the Shī’ah sect which obligates clinging to Ahlul Bayt (‘a) in addition to clinging to the Glorious Book of Allāh. We find in this hadīth the order of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ), as clearly as can be, that we should uphold Ahlul Bayt (‘a) after his demise, and that such upholding, in addition to adhering to the Glorious Qur’ān, is the condition for one’s salvation versus straying.

Although Muslim and many other scholars of hadīth from among the Sunnis have included this hadīth in their Sahīh and musnad books, it is to my great amazement that I find most Sunnis not familiar with it. They deny it when they hear about it, as if it does not exist, saying that what is accurate in this regard is what Abū Hurayrah had said, that is, the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) said, “I have left among you two things that will never let you stray so long as you adhere to them or act upon them: the Book of Allāh and my Sunnah.”[3]

Having investigated the source of this tradition, I found out that it was not recorded in any of the Sahīh books. Al-Bukhāri, al-Nisā’i, al-Dhahabi and others have labelled it as “weak”[4]. It is narrated by al-Hākim in his Mustadrak which, according to the consensus of Sunni scholars, is regarded as being less [in prestige] than the Sahīh book of Muslim who stated it in this wording: “…the Book of Allāh and my ‘itrat, my Ahlul Bayt (‘a).”

Even if we suppose there is no difference between both narratives, we have to surrender to the fact that what is meant by the phrase “my Sunnah”, as it exists in al-Hākim’s narrative, is the Sunnah derived from the venue of the Household of the Prophet (ṣ), not from that of others, as is quite obvious in Muslim’s narrative. As for sticking to the narrative of al-Hākim wherein he says, “… the Book of Allāh and my Sunnah,” rejecting Muslim’s version of “… the Book of Allāh and my ‘itrat, my Ahlul Bayt (‘a),”

This goes against not only the consensus of the Sunni scholars of hadīth, who all regard the traditions narrated by Muslim with higher regards than those narrated by al-Hākim, it is also contrary to logic and reason because the word “Sunnah” by itself as narrated by al-Hākim does not convey a specific meaning, since all Islamic sects claim they follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (ṣ).

Moreover, there are many differences among these sects, and the reasons behind such differences are rendered to the differences in how the Prophet’s Sunnah was transmitted to them, i.e. through various venues, the Sunnah which explains and complements the Holy Qur’ān, the Sunnah the accuracy of which is agreed upon by all Islamic sects.

Hence, the differences in the transmitted hadīth led also to differences in interpreting the Qur’ān. The Sunnah of the Prophet (ṣ), therefore, became many Sunnahs and the Muslims, accordingly, split into sects and groups which are said to number thirty-seven. So, which of these Sunnahs is more worthy of being followed?

This question comes naturally to the mind of anyone who deeply discerns such differences. The above-quoted hadīth came to respond to such differences so that the Muslims would not be left puzzled with regard to their Islamic faith following the departure from this world of the one who convey it to them.

This is why there have been sacred instructions by the Prophet (ṣ) mandating that the purified Sunnah of he Prophet (ṣ) must be derived from the venue of the Ahlul Bayt (‘a) of the Prophet (ṣ), those who are described by the Qur’ān as tāhir, Purified, a description which is quite clear and accepts no other meaning. Such a derivation, and only such a derivation, brings security against dissension and straying.

It is here that two questions are put forth. The picture can never be completely clear unless we answer them:

First: Who are “Ahlul Bayt (‘a)” to whom reference is made by the tradition cited above?

Second: Why did the said tradition specify the derivation [of the Islamic injunctions] only from Ahlul Bayt (‘a) rather than from all the sahābah, as the Sunnis advocate?

Who Are Ahlul Bayt (‘a)?

In his Sahīh, relying on the isnād of Safiyya daughter of Shaybah, Muslim quotes the latter saying that ‘Ā’isha said, “The Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) came out wearing an unsown garment of black [camel] hair. He brought al-Hasan ibn Ali (‘a) and let him in. Then al-Husayn (‘a) came and he let him, too, in. Then Fātima (‘a) came in and he let her, too, in. Then Ali (‘a) came. He let him, too. Then he said [i.e. quoted the following verse],

‘Surely Allāh wishes to remove all abomination from you, O People of the House [of the Prophet] and to purify you with a perfect purification’ (Qur’ān, 33:33).”[5]

Also in Muslim’s Sahīh we read the following:

“When this verse was revealed: ‘Say: Come! Let us gather together our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then let us earnestly pray and invoke Allāh’s curse on the liars’ (Qur’ān, 3:61),

the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) called upon Ali (‘a), Fātima (‘a), al-Hasan (‘a) and al-Husayn (‘a) then said, ‘Lord! These are my Ahlul Bayt’.”[6]

From both of these traditions, it is quite clear that Ahlul Bayt (‘a), during the lifetime of the Prophet (ṣ), were: Ali (‘a), Fātima (‘a) and both their sons (‘a).

But What About the Wives of the Prophet (á¹£)?

In his Sahīh, Muslim quotes Zaid ibn Arqam citing the Prophet (ṣ) saying, “I am leaving with you two weighty things: one of them is the Book of Allāh, the most Exalted, the most Great, and it is the Rope of Allāh; whoever adheres to it is guided and whoever abandons it strays.” In the same tradition, people inquired whether his Ahlul Bayt (‘a) included his wives. “No,” said he, “By Allāh! A woman remains with the man for a period of time, then he may divorce her, whereupon she returns to her father and people. His Ahlul Bayt (‘a) come from his loins, his nearest in kin who are prohibited from taking charity after his demise.”[7]

To quote al-Tirmidhi’s Sahīh, where the compiler relies on the authority of ‘Amr ibn Abū Salamah, who was raised by the Prophet (ṣ), ‘Amr said,

“When this verse was revealed: ‘Surely Allāh wishes to remove all abomination from you, O People of the House [of the Prophet] and to purify you with a perfect purification’ (Qur’ān, 33:33)’

at the house of Umm Salamah, the Prophet (ṣ) called upon Fātima (‘a), Hasan (‘a) and Husayn (‘a). He put a garment over them while Ali (‘a) was behind him.

He placed the garment over them all then supplicated thus: ‘Lord! These are my Ahlul Bayt (‘a); so, do remove abomination from them and purify them with a perfect purification.’ Umm Salamah asked him, ‘May I be included with them, O Prophet of Allāh?’ He said, ‘Stay where you are, and you are in goodness.’”[8]

In his Musnad, [imām] Ahmad [ibn Hanbal] quotes Umm Salamah saying, “The Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) said to Fātima (‘a): ‘Bring me your husband and both sons.’ She brought them in. He put a garment made in Fadak then put his hand on them and said, ‘Lord! These are the Progeny of Muhammad; so, let Your salutations and blessings be upon Muhammad and the Progeny of Muhammad; surely You are the Praised One, the most Glorified.’ I lifted the garment in order to join them, but he pulled it from my hand and said, ‘You are in goodness.’”[9]

Despite the clarity of the previous proofs in identifying who Ahlul Bayt (‘a) are, some people oppose it and base their argument on the following verses from Surat al-Ahzab (Chapter 33 of the Holy Qur’ān), claiming that the term “Ahlul Bayt (‘a)” includes the wives of the Prophet (ṣ):

O Prophet! Say to your consorts: “If you desire the life of this world, and its glitter, then come! I will provide for your enjoyment and set you free in a handsome manner. But if you seek Allāh and His Prophet, and the abode of the hereafter, truly Allāh has prepared a great reward for the well-doers from among you.” O consorts of the Prophet! If any of you were guilty of evident unseemly conduct, the punishment would be doubled to her, and that is easy for Allāh. But any of you who is devout in the service of Allāh and His Prophet, and does righteous deeds, to her We shall grant a reward twice as much and We have prepared a generous sustenance for her. O consorts of the Prophet! You are not like any (other) women: If you fear (Allāh), do not be too complaisant of speech, lest one in whose heart there is a disease should be moved with desire: But speak a speech (that is) just. And stay in your houses, do not make a dazzling display, like that in the former times of ignorance, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, and obey Allāh and His Prophet. And Allāh only wishes to remove all abomination from you, you members of the family, and to make you pure and spotless. (Qur’ān, 33:28-33)

As is quite clear, the argument of those who say that “Ahlul Bayt (‘a)” is a term which includes the wives of the Prophet (ṣ) is based on “… And Allāh only wishes to remove all abomination from you, you members of the family, and to make you pure and spotless” falling in the same verse a portion of which deals with the wives of the Prophet (ṣ).

This claim can be refuted from many angles; here are some of them:

1. The revelation of Qur’ānic verses in reference to threatening the wives of the Prophet (ṣ) that they could be divorced followed by the Will of Allāh to purify Ahlul Bayt (‘a) with a perfect purification does not necessarily mean that on both occasions, the wives of the Prophet (ṣ) are implied simply because there are many verses in the Holy Qur’ān of this sort containing two different issues.

The reason why they both fall in the same verse is perhaps due to their coincidently took place at the same time. One such an example is derived from these verses: “Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine and that on which a name other than that of Allāh has been invoked, that which has been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death, that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild animal, unless you are able to slaughter it (in due way), that which is sacrificed on stone (altars).

The division (of meat) by raffling with arrows is also (forbidden): That is impiety. This Day those who reject faith have given up all hope of your religion: Yet do not fear them, but fear Me. This Day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion” (Qur’ān, 5:3).

You find in this verse how the subject revolving round the perfecting of the creed falls in the middle of the subject dealing with prohibitive foods!

2. What underscores the fact that the wives of the Prophet (ṣ) are not included in the meaning of this verse is that the subject relevant to the wives of the Prophet (ṣ) came in an Arabic pronoun specifically relevant to a group of females, whereas when the topic shifted to the purification of Ahlul Bayt (‘a), the pronoun changed to one relevant to a group of males.

3. The previously quoted authentic traditions recorded in the Sahīh books of both Muslim and al-Tirmidhi, as well as in Ahmad’s Musnad and in others all prove unequivocally that the wives of the Prophet (ṣ) are not included among Ahlul Bayt (‘a). When Umm Salamah, may Allāh be pleased with her, asked the Prophet (ṣ), “May I be included with them, O Prophet of Allāh?,” He said to her, “Stay where you are, and you are in goodness.” In Muslim’s narrative, people inquired whether his wives were among his Ahlul Bayt (‘a), and the answer came in the negative.

4. In the tradition of the two weighty things which Muslim, Ahmad and others narrate, the Prophet (ṣ) is cited as having said, “O people! I am leaving among you two things which, so long as you uphold them [both simultaneously], you shall never stray: the Book of Allāh and my ‘itra, my Ahlul Bayt,” it is quite clear that they have to be followed [with regard to all religious and secular issues].

If we suppose, just for the sake of debating, that the wives of the Prophet (ṣ) are the ones meant, or implied, in this tradition, in what way will the Muslims uphold them after the demise of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ), bearing in mind that they were obligated to remain in their homes? How would one answer this question, knowing that they all lived in one and the same century? If one says that upholding them means citing the traditions from them, we would respond by saying that among them are those who did not narrate one single tradition!

The “abomination” [rijs] which occurs in the verse saying, ““… And Allāh only wishes to remove all abomination from you, you members of the family, and to make you pure and spotless” means linguistically something filthy: a reference to sinning, while tahāra (cleansiness) linguistically connotes piety.

The meaning of the will of the Almighty, Praised and Glorified is He, to remove abomination from them, is to clear them of any sin and to raise their status above committing anything which points out to shortcomings in them. A sin, no matter how minor, is indicative of a flaw in the person who commits it. This means that Allāh Almighty wanted to purify Ahlul Bayt (‘a) from committing any sin, minor or major, and this is nothing but a proof of Infallibility and, hence, purification.

As regarding what is said that the meaning of “purification” in this verse is merely an indication of religious piety, that is, their own avoidance of committing what Allāh has prohibited them from committing while acting upon His Commandments, this claim is rejected because “purification” in such a sense is not relevant only to Ahlul Bayt (‘a) but to all Muslims. The Muslims are all obligated to act upon the injunctions of their creed:

“Allāh does not desire to put any hardship on you but to purify you, and so that He may complete His favor on you, perhaps you will be grateful”(Qur’ān, 5:6).

Thus, if we agree that those regarding whom this verse was revealed are infallible, we will find out that the wives of the Prophet (á¹£) are not among them because they are not infallible, let alone the fact that nobody, be he from the early generations or from the latter ones, made such a claim, knowing fully well that the Prophet (á¹£) threatened to divorce them and made other threats against some of them as you will see in a chapter to come.

Additional Proofs For The Infallibility Of Ahlul Bayt (‘a)

1. Hadīth al-Thaqalayn: Text of the tradition of the two weighty things: “O people! I am leaving among you two things which, so long as you uphold to them [both simultaneously], you shall never stray: the Book of Allāh and my ‘itra, my Ahlul Bayt (‘a),” where there is a directive from the Prophet (ṣ) that the condition for not straying is upholding the Book of Allāh (ṣ) and his ‘itra, Progeny.

It is not rational for anyone who believes there is a possibility that there is something wrong, or any crookedness, in it can expect it to be a safe haven against straying. This proves the Infallibility of both weighty things: the Book of Allāh, i.e. the greater weight which no falsehood can approach from front or back, and Ahlul Bayt (‘a), the great weight.

2. This Qur’ānic Verse:

“And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands which he fulfilled. He said, ‘I will make you an Imām (guide) to the nations.’ He pleaded: ‘What about my offspring?!’ He answered, ‘My promise is not within the reach of evil-doers’” (Qur’ān, 2:124).

Besides pointing out to the lofty status of Imāmate, this verse also indicates that the “promise” of Allāh, that is, Imāmate, cannot be the lot of an oppressor. A sin, minor or major, renders one who commits it an oppressor. Hence, an Imām has to be divinely protected from committing any sin or wrongdoing.

3. Evidence in Mustadrak al-Sahīhayn: Relying on the isnād of Hanash al-Kināni, al-Hākim cites the man saying that he heard Abū Dharr saying the following as he was holding to the door of he Ka’ba: “O people! Whoever knows me, I am who I am, and whoever does not, I am Abū Dharr. I heard the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) saying, ‘The similitude of my Ahlul Bayt (‘a) among you is like the ark of Noah: whoever boards it is safe [from drowning], and who ever lags behind it is drowned.”[10] Al-Hākim adds saying that the isnād of this tradition is authentic.

4. Also in Mustadrak al-Sahīhayn: Through the isnād traced to Ibn ‘Abbās, the same reference cites Ibn ‘Abbās quoting the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) saying, “The stars offer security for the people of the earth against drowning, while my Ahlul Bayt (‘a) are the security of my nation against dissension. If a tribe from among the Arabs opposes them, it will become the party of Eblis.”[11]

5. In al-Bukhāri’s Sahīh: In order to further clarify the lofty status with which Ahlul Bayt (‘a) were blessed, we would like to quote some traditions narrated in al-Bukhāri’s Sahīh and which address Ahlul Bayt (‘a) with “alaihimis-salām” (peace be upon them). They, rather than anyone else from among all the sahābah or the wives of the Prophet (ṣ), were thus addressed. Following are examples narrated by al-Bukhāri in his Sahīh:

Ali (‘a) has said, “I used to have an established portion of the war booties, and the Prophet (ṣ) gave me an established portion of the khums. When I was going to have a daughter by Fātima (‘a), peace be upon her, daughter of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ)…, etc.”[12]

Al-Bukhāri also wrote saying, “… and the Prophet (ṣ) knocked at the door of Fātima (‘a) and Ali (‘a), peace be upon both of them, on a night for the prayers…, etc.”[13]

In another narration, the following is stated: “… He said, ‘I saw the Prophet (ṣ), and al-Hasan (‘a) son of Ali (‘a), peace be upon both of them, looked like him…, etc.’”[14]

Also, the following is stated in the same reference: “… from Ali (‘a) son of al-Husayn (‘a), peace be upon both of them, he told him…, etc.”[15]

One may argue saying that this does not prove their distinction, but the question will then be, “Why then were they, rather than anyone else, thus greeted?”

6. Evidence From Hadīth: The Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) has ordered anyone who blesses him to also bless his Progeny concurrently. In a tradition recorded by al-Bukhāri in his Sahīh, relying on the isnād of Abdul-Rahmān ibn Abū Layla, it is recorded that “… He said, ‘Ka’b ibn ‘Ajrah met me and said, ‘Grant me a gift!’ The Prophet (ṣ) came out to see us, so we said to him, ‘O Messenger of Allāh! We have already come to know how to greet you, but how should we bless you?’ He (ṣ) said, ‘You should say: O Allāh! Bless Muhammad (ṣ) and the Progeny of Muhammad (ṣ) as You blessed Ibrāhīm and the progeny of Ibrāhīm; surely You are the oft-Praised, the oft-Glorified’.”[16]

The point of connection in this tradition between our master Ibrāhīm, peace be upon him and upon his progeny, on one hand, and our master Muhammad (ṣ) and his Progeny on the other is that Ibrāhīm, peace be upon him, was also a prophet, and his offspring were prophets to whom people referred after his demise.

Likewise, the offspring of Muhammad (ṣ) were the custodians of the Message brought by Muhammad (ṣ). The Muslims were ordered to refer to them after the demise of the Chosen One (ṣ) except they were Imāms (‘a), not prophets, as was the case with the progeny of Ibrāhīm. In a dialogue between the Prophet (ṣ) and Ali (‘a), the Prophet (ṣ) said, “Are you not pleased that your status with me is like that of Aaron to Moses except there is no prophet after me?”[17] We will later discuss this tradition.

It is concluded from all the above that Allāh, the most Sublime and the most Great, specifically granted purification and Infallibility to Ahlul Bayt (‘a) in their capacity as the ones to fill the vacuum left by the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) with regard to transmitting the Message to future generations, to safeguard it from those who distort or cast doubt about it.

What is the benefit of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) conveying the Divine Sharī’a if it is not safeguarded after his death by trustworthy persons? What happened to past creeds suffices to answer this question. The followers of the latter creeds used to derive their legislation from any source after the departure from this world of those who conveyed such creeds to them.

This is why distortion afflicted them as the most Great and the most Exalted One has said:

“Can you (O men of faith!) entertain the hope that they will believe in you, seeing that a party of them heard the word of Allāh, and distorted it knowingly after having understood it?” (Qur’ān, 2:75).

It needs not mentioned that safeguarding the texts of the Qur’ān against any addition or deletion is not by itself sufficient at any rate to safeguard the Divine Sharī’a from being distorted. Imāmate, thus, is considered as an extension of prophethood with regard to its general functions except what is relevant to the wahi, which is one of the particularities of prophethood.

What is meant by the Imāmate being the extension of prophethood is the safeguarding of the Sharī’a with knowledge and application. Hence, the Infallibility of the Imāms (‘a) is a must for transmitting the divine legislation to posterity via pure and genuine venues represented by the Twelve Imāms (‘a) who all belong to the Household of the Prophet (ṣ).

2) Proofs Confirming the Number of Imāms from among Ahlul Bayt (‘a)

The Chosen One (ṣ) has stated that the Imāms, or caliphs, after him were from Quraysh, and that their number is twelve. Relying on the authority of Jābir ibn Samrah, al-Bukhāri quotes Jābir saying that he heard the Prophet (ṣ) saying, “There shall be twelve amīrs…” He goes on to say that the Prophet (ṣ) said something which he (Jābir) did not hear, adding, “My father said to me [that what I did not hear was:] ‘All of them are from Quraysh.’”[18]

In Muslim’s Sahīh, one hadīth reads: “The faith shall remain standing till the time of the Hour, or you will be ruled by twelve caliphs, all from Quraysh.”[19] In the same reference, the following text exists: “People’s affairs will be in effect so long as they are ruled by twelve men.”[20]

In Ahmad’s Musnad, where the compiler relies on the isnād of Abdullāh ibn Mas’ūd, the latter says that he once asked the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) about those “caliphs.” The Prophet (ṣ) said to him, “They are twelve in number, as many as the tribes of the Children of Israel.”[21]

A text in the Torah of the People of the Book carries this meaning: “Allāh Almighty conveyed the glad tiding of [the birth of] Ishmael to Abraham and that He would multiply his progeny exceedingly and bring about from among his offspring twelve princes and a great nation.”[22]

The “great nation” referred to here is the nation of our master Muhammad (ṣ) whose lineage descended from Ishmael, peace be upon him. As for the twelve princes, they are the Imāms (‘a), or the caliphs, who succeeded the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) and who also descended from him. They are the ones referred to in the authentic traditions cited above.

This issue may be regarded as the most perplexing to the Sunni scholars who could not provide one single explanation, or any convincing argument, identifying these twelve caliphs referred to by many authentic traditions recorded in their own Sahīh books, so much so that this issue has become a puzzling riddle to them. Their interpretations of it are shaky, often reaching a dead end because of the inapplicability of the number “twelve” to any group of caliphs starting from the first four and passing by the Umayyads, the ‘Abbāsides and the Ottomans, or are they to be selected from all of these?!

We would like to bring about an example portraying the extent of their confusion while interpreting this tradition: Al-Suyūti has said, “From among the twelve [caliphs] are: the [first] four caliphs, al-Hasan (‘a), Mu’āwiyah, [‘Abdullāh] ibn al-Zubayr, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-Azīz. These are eight, and it is possible that the Mahdi, the ‘Abbāside [caliph] may be added to them since he is to the ‘Abbāsides what ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-Azīz is to the Umayyads. And al-Tāhir, the ‘Abbāside [caliph], too, [is among them] on account of his equity. Two remain; these are the awaited ones; one of them is al-Mahdi because he belongs to Ahlul Bayt.”[23]

When we talk about their puzzlement in solving the “riddle” of the twelve caliphs, we mean their scholars are the ones who are puzzled. As for their commoners, they most often never heard such traditions which fix the number of the successors of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) or the hadīth which enjoins upholding the two weighty things and many others which all point out to the merits of Ahlul Bayt (‘a) despite such occurrence in their Sahīh books.

I was quite astonished when Dr. Ahmad Nawfal, a professor at the College of Sharī’a, University of Jordan, as I debated with him, said that the tradition of the twelve caliphs is of my own invention, and that it does not exist in the Sunni books of hadīth.

Having said so, he immediately left, refusing to continue the debate. This took place after he had delivered a lecture in Manilla, answering questions raised by some attendants about the origin of Shī’ahs and Shī’ism. His answers were contrary to the truth, thus prompting me to oppose his falsification. I provided some traditions which prove that Shī’ahs follow Muhammad (ṣ), not Ibn Saba’, as he claimed.

We do not, by mentioning this incident, mean to scandalize this virtuous professor, may Allāh forgive him. We simply like to point out to the truth which has to be made clear, that is, fanaticism prompts some people to do more than that. This is really strange. How can one have the courage to answer questions about a subject while he is ignorant of the basic facts relevant to it? What if the issue deals with religious affairs? What is the judgment against one who issues verdicts without knowledge? Surely there is no power nor might except in Allāh.

So, while we see the Sunnis puzzled by the “riddle” of the twelve caliphs, while many of them are ignorant of the glittering authentic traditions leading to it, Imāmite Shī’ahs, followers of the Household of the family of the Prophet (ṣ), have already clarified the matter in this regard, explaining that those implied in the traditions cited above are the Twelve Imāms (‘a) from among the family of the Prophet (ṣ). Moreover, they derived proofs from traditions narrated through the venue of the Purified ‘itra and which exist in their books of hadīth clearly stating their names in a way which leaves no room for doubt. They are:

1. Ali ibn Abū Tālib (‘a), Ameerul-Mu’mineen (the Commander of the Faithful)

2. Al-Hasan ibn Ali (‘a), al-Sibt (the oldest grandson of the Prophet [‰])

3. Al-Husayn (‘a) ibn Ali (‘a), Sayyidul-Shuhadā’ (the master of martyrs)

4. Ali ibn al-Husayn (‘a), Zaynul-’Ābidīn (the best of worshipers)

5. Muhammad ibn Ali (‘a), al-Bāqir (the one who pierces through knowledge)

6. Ja’far ibn Muhammad (‘a), al-Sādiq (the truthful)

7. Mousa ibn Ja’far (‘a), al-Kāzim (the one who suppresses his anger)

8. Ali ibn Mousa (‘a), al-Rida (the one who accepts destiny)

9. Muhammad ibn Ali (‘a), al-Jawād (the generous one)

10. Ali ibn Muhammad (‘a), al-Hādi (the guide)

11. Al-Hasan ibn Ali (‘a), al-’Askari (the man in charge of the troops)

12. Muhammad ibn al-Hasan (‘a), al-Mahdi al-Muntazar (the awaited savior, the divinely-guided one, may Allāh hasten his holy reappearance).

Proofs Regarding the Appointment by the Prophet (ṣ) of Ali ibn Abū Tālib (‘a)

We have already explained the proofs testifying to the Imāmate of Ahlul Bayt (‘a) and the number of caliphs from among them as stated by the Prophet (ṣ) who indicated that they should be his successors in his nation. Following are proofs regarding the appointment by the Prophet (ṣ) of Ali ibn Abū Tālib (‘a). In addition to the above, there are unequivocal proofs testifying to the same, especially to the hadīth of the two weighty things.

Among the most famous narratives regarding the caliphate of Ali (‘a) is the one known as the sermon of al-Ghadīr after the conclusion of the Farewell Pilgrimage (Hijjatul-Wadā’) in 11 A.H. (632 A.D.) It was there and then that the Prophet (ṣ) declared to the people stating, at its conclusion, as narrated by al-Tirmidhi who relies on the isnād traced to Zaid ibn Arqam, the following: “To whosoever I have been the master, Ali henceforth is his master, etc.”[24]

Ibn Majah has included in his Sahīh a portion of this detailed sermon through isnād traced to al-Barā’ ibn ‘Āzib who said, “We accompanied the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) during his pilgrimage. He alighted at a distance of the road and ordered congregational prayers to be held.

Then he took the hand of Ali, peace be upon him, and said, ‘Do not I have more rights on the Muslims than the Muslims themselves have?’ They answered in the affirmative. Then he said, ‘Do not I have right over every believer more than he himself has?’ They answered in the affirmative. He then said, ‘This [Ali] is the master of whoever accepted me as his master. Lord! Be the friend of anyone who befriends him, and be the enemy of whoever antagonizes him.’”[25]

It exists in the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal who relies on the isnād of also al-Barā’ ibn ‘Āzib. The latter says, “We were in the company of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) on a trip. We stayed at Ghadīr Khumm. We were called upon to perform congregational prayers.

A couple of trees were swept under for the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) who performed the noon prayers then took the hand of Ali, peace be upon him, and said, ‘Do not you know that I have more rights on the believers than the believers themselves have?’ They answered in the affirmative. He (ṣ) asked them, ‘Do not you know that I have more rights on every believer than the believer himself has?’ They answered in the affirmative.

He then took Ali, peace be upon him, by the hand and said, ‘To whomsoever I have been the master, Ali [henceforth] is his master. O Lord! Befriend whoever befriends him and be the enemy of whoever antagonizes him.’ ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb met him thereafter and said to him, ‘Congratulations to you, O son of Abū Tālib! You have received the dawn and the sunset as the master of every believing man and woman.’”[26]

This hadīth is famous as the “Ghadīr hadīth” on account of this incident taking place at an area known as “Ghadīr Khumm” (Khumm swamp) which is located near Mecca. This is something the authenticity of which nobody can doubt especially since it has been narrated in many Sunni books of hadīth, so much so that some scholars have stated as many as 80 venues for it only from the Sunnis.

It becomes clear from the previous traditions that the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) extracted the Muslims’ admission of his mastership over them when he asked them, “Do not you know that I have more rights on the believers than the believers themselves have?… Do not you know that I have more rights on every believer than the believer himself has?”

It is understood that anyone who enjoys the status of having more authority over the believers than the believers themselves have is the believers’ leader as was, indeed, the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ): a leader. When he included Ali (‘a) besides himself in such a description by saying, “To whomsoever I have been the master, Ali [henceforth] is his master,” he practically bestowed upon Ali (‘a) the leadership after his own demise.

Shī’ahs celebrate this occasion every year on the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah which they call “Eid al-Ghadīr.” As for the Sunnis, they interpret this hadīth differently, claiming it does not refer to any caliphate. They interpret the word “mawla” [which exists in the original Arabic text] as “loved one” or “friend,” not “wali amr,” person in charge.

In their view, the meaning of this tradition is: “Anyone whose friend I am, this Ali is his friend, too”!!! The fact is that the word “mawla” has many meanings in Arabic. It is said that it has seventeen meanings including “one who is emancipated” or “servant,” etc. The word “mawla” in this hadīth is to be understood, besides what is stated above through many proofs, to connote leadership. Among such proofs are the following:

1. The verse saying,

“O Messenger! Deliver what has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not do it, then you will have not delivered His message (at all), and Allāh will protect you from the (evil) people” (Qur’ān, 5:67)

which was revealed, as stated in many books of tafsīr, shortly before the Ghadīr sermon. It contains the sense that there is an order from Allāh Almighty that has to be conveyed, and this order, as the wording of the verse suggests and from its very sharp tone, is of an extreme significance, point in the direction that what is meant is not mere friendship and support.

2. The verse saying

“This Day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion” (Qur’ān, 5:4)

was revealed, according to many scholars of exegesis, after the Ghadīr incident. It conveys the completion of conveying Muhammad’s message, something which could not have been completed without the appointment of Ali (‘a) and Ahlul Bayt (‘a) in general as the masters. It is far-fetched to say that the conveying became complete when the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) was told about his friendship with and love for Ali (‘a)!

3. The circumstances during which the Prophet (ṣ) delivered the Ghadīr sermon, in a burning desert, after having ordered the Muslims, who were said to have numbered more than ninety thousand, to assemble in order to extract from them an admission that Allāh and His Messenger were their masters before ordering them to accept the mastership of Ali (‘a) proves that the matter was not relevant to merely loving and befriending Ali (‘a).

4. The previous ahādīth, especially the one about the Two Weighty Things, in addition to the following ones, point as a whole to the caliphate of Ali (‘a) without permitting any room for doubt.

Additional Proofs for Ali’s Caliphate

In al-Tirmidhi’s Sahīh, relying on the isnād of ‘Imrān ibn Hasīn, the latter says, “The Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) dispatched an army under the command of Ali ibn Abū Tālib (‘a). The campaign was carried out, and Ali (‘a) won a female captive as his share of the booty.

Some people faulted him for doing so. Four of the companions of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) pledged to complain against him to the Prophet (ṣ). With signs of anger on his holy face clearly visible, the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) said to them, “What do you want from Ali? Ali is from me, and I am from Ali, and he is the master of every believer after me.”[27]

And consider the following verse of the Almighty: “

Your Master is Allāh and His Messenger and the Believers who uphold prayers and pay zakat even while prostrating (Qur’ān, 5:58).”

Most Sunni scholars of exegesis have stated that it was revealed in honor of Ali (‘a) when he gave his ring by way of charity, as he was prostrating during his performance of the prayers, to a poor man.

In al-Bukhāri’s Sahīh, Mis’ab ibn Sa’d quotes his father saying, “The Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) marched out to Tabuk after having left Ali (‘a) behind. Ali (‘a) said to him, ‘Are you going to leave me with the children and the women?’ He (ṣ) said to him, ‘Are you not pleased that your status to me is like that of Aaron to Moses except there shall be no prophet after me?’”[28]

This tradition proves that Ali (‘a) had all the positions occupied by Aaron, peace be upon him, among the Children of Israel with the exception of prophethood and which is explained by the Almighty, Praise and Exaltation are His, in these verses: “‘And give me a minister from my family, Aaron, my brother. Add to my strength through him, and make him share my task: So that we may celebrate Your praise without stint and remember You without stint: For You are He Who (ever) regards us.’ (Allāh) said, ‘Your prayer is granted, O Moses!’” It is clear from these verses that Aaron, peace be upon him was a vizier of Moses, a special aide and a partner in leading the nation.

What emphasizes this lofty status in his appointment as the caliph of the nation is that he was the most knowledgeable among all the sahābah according to what al-Bukhāri narrates from ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb . Ibn ‘Abbās has said, “‘Umar said, ‘The one who recites the Qur’ān the best is my father, while the most judicious among us is Ali.”[29]

One who is the most knowledgeable of the injunctions and the laws, as is well known, is the one who makes the best judge. Suffices to prove that he is the most knowledgeable among all the companions and the most wise is that he was the gate of the city of knowledge of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ). In Mustadrak al-Sahīhayn, relying on the isnād of Ibn ‘Abbās, the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) said, “I am the city of knowledge and Ali (‘a) is its gate. Whoever seek knowledge has to approach through the gate.”[30]

In al-Tirmidhi’s Sahīh, the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) is quoted as having said, “I am the city of wisdom and Ali is its gate.”[31] In Mustadrak al-Sahīhayn, it is stated that the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) said to Ali (‘a), “You must explain to my nation after me anything wherein they differ.”[32]

The Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) even made the mark of hating Ali (‘a) as one of the indications of hypocrisy as is clear from the narrative included by Muslim in his Sahīh with its isnād to Ali (‘a) who said, “By the One Who split the seed and created the breeze, it is a covenant from the Ummi Prophet (ṣ) to me that none loves me except a believer (mu’min) and none hates me except a hypocrite.”[33]

Even if the Prophet (ṣ) did not appoint a successor after him, is not the nation supposed to choose the one who has the most knowledge and with the most distinctions in order to be its leader? We have already clarified that Ali (‘a) was the most knowledgeable among the companions. They used to refer to him whenever they confronted a complex theological problem.

Similar to this is included by Abū Dawud in his isnād to Ibn ‘Abbās who said, “‘Umar brought a mentally retarded woman who had committed adultery. He consulted some people in her regard. ‘Umar ordered her stoned. Ali ibn Abū Tālib (‘a) passed by her and inquired about her. He was told that she was a mad woman by so-and-so who had committed adultery, so she was ordered to be stoned. He told them to take her back.

Then he went to him [to ‘Umar] and said to him, ‘O ‘Umar! Don’t you know that judgment against three categories of people is lifted: the mad person till he recovers, the one sleeping till he wakes up and the child till he attains mental maturity?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ Ali (‘a) said, ‘Then what is the matter with this woman that she should be stoned?’ ‘Umar said, ‘Nothing.’ She was sent back. ‘Umar kept making takbeer.”[34] Al-Bukhāri, too, includes part of the same incident in his own Sahīh.[35]

Moreover, Imām Ali (‘a) was famous as the “Imām of the ascetics” and he was also famous for his courage and extra-ordinary daring feats. He was the first commando in Islam. In every Islamic battle, he played a decisive role on the side of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ). In the Battle of Badr, he killed with his sword, Sayf al-Fiqār, thirty Qurayshite heroes.

In the battles of Uhud and Hunayn, he undertook a historic stand, jeopardizing his own life in defense of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) following the flight of the vast majority of the sahābah! In the Battle of Khandaq (moat), he stood to duel the giant of the polytheists, namely ‘Amr ibn Wudd al-’Āmiri whom he killed at the time when none of the other sahābah dared to face him although the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) had three times called upon them to do so.

He (ṣ) finally permitted Ali (‘a) to face the man although Ali (‘a) was quite young compared to most sahābah. In the battle for Khaybar, Allāh granted victory at his hands, so he was able to open the gate of the fort after the Muslims at the time could not do so. A large number of the sahābah failed collectively to open it.

Imām Ali (‘a) distinguished himself from the other sahābah by the fact that the time of jāhiliyya did not pollute him with its idols. He received his unique upbringing at the hands of the First Teacher of Humanity, Muhammad (ṣ), from whom he did not part for one moment as long as the Prophet (ṣ) lived. When the Prophet (ṣ) passed away, Ali (‘a) was tending to him. He, therefore, remained all his life receiving knowledge and wisdom from the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ).

Hence, he deserved to be the gate of the city of knowledge of the Prophet (ṣ), of his wisdom, and his brother. Al-Bukhāri narrates in his Sahīh, relying on the isnād of Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar saying, “The Prophet (ṣ) established ties of fraternity among his companions. Ali (‘a) came with tearful eyes and said, ‘O Messenger of Allāh! You have established ties of fraternity among your companions but did not establish a tie of fraternity between me and anyone else.’ The Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) said, ‘You are MY brother in the life of this world and in the Hereafter.’”[36] The Prophet (ṣ) even considered Ali (‘a) as being of him as al-Bukhāri has narrated: “The Prophet (ṣ) said to Ali (‘a), ‘You are of me, and I am of you.’”[37]

Ali (‘a) distinguished himself from the rest of the sahābah by acquiring the most merits as we are told by al-Hākim in his Mustadrak where he quotes Ahmad ibn Hanbal saying, “None among the companions of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) acquired as many virtues as Ali son of Abū Talib (‘a).”[38] And in Kanz al-’Ummāl, the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) is quoted as having said, “Allāh ordered me to marry Fātimah (‘a) off to Ali.”[39]

This happened after having rejected the offer of marriage from a number of the sahābah who sought her hand in order to earn the great honor of marrying a lady who was “part” of the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ), the Head of the Believing Women and of the residents of Paradise, the lady because of whose anger Allāh would be angry. It is quite true what one said: “Had Ali (‘a) not been created, Fātimah (‘a) would have had no match for marriage.”[40]

Having stated all the above, had the selection of the caliph been truly in the hands of the people, Ali (‘a) was the most distinguished among the sahābah, hence he was the most deserving of the caliphate.


[1] Muslim`s Sahīh, in a chapter about the virtues of Ali (`a), Vol. 5, p. 272, published by Dār Sādir, citing al-Nawawi`s Sharh.
[2] Al-Tirmidhi, Sahīh, Vol. 2, p. 308.
[3] Al-Hākim, Al-Mustadrak, Vol. 1, p. 93.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Muslim, Sahīh, Vol. 5, p. 287, in a chapter dealing with the virtues of al-Hasan (`a) and al-Husayn (`a), published by Dār al-Sha`ab.
[6] Muslim, Sahīh, Vol. 5, p. 268 (Dār al-Sha`ab), in a chapter dealing with the virtues of Ali (`a).
[7] Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 274.
[8] Al-Tirmidhi, Sahīh, Vol. 2, p. 209.
[9] Ahmad, Musnad, Vol. 6, p. 306.
[10] Al-Hākim, Mustadrak al-Sahīhayn, Vol. 2, p. 343.
[11] Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 149.
[12] Al-Bukhāri, Sahīh, Vol. 3, p. 171, in the Book of Sales, in a chapter dealing with handicrafts (published by the modern Riyadh library).
[13] Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 126, in the Book of Tahajjud.
[14] Ibid., Vol. 4, p. 486, in the Book of Merits, in a chapter about how the Prophet (á¹£) looked like.
[15] Ibid., Vol. 9, p. 418, in the Book of Tawhīd, in a chapter dealing with the will and the power of determination.
[16] Ibid., Vol. 8, p. 245, in the Book of Supplications, in a chapter dealing with saluting the Prophet (á¹£).
[17] Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 492, in the Book of Military Campaigns, in a chapter dealing with the Tabuk Campaign.
[18] Ibid., Vol. 9, p. 250, in the Book of Ahkām, in a chapter titled “There will be twelve princes.”
[19] Muslim, Sahīh, Vol. 4, p. 482, in the Book of Imāra, in a chapter about “People to follow Quraysh” (Dār al-Sha`ab), mentioned in al-Nawawi`s Sharh.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ahmad, Musnad, Vol. 1, p. 389.
[22] The Old Testament, Genesis, 17:20.
[23] Al-Suyūti, Tārīkh, p. 12.
[24] Al-Tirmidhi, Sahīh, Vol. 2, p. 298.
[25] Ibn Mājah, Sunan, Vol. 1, p. 43, in a chapter about the distinction of Ali ibn Abū Tālib (`a) (published by Dār Ihyā` al-Turāth al-`Arabi).
[26] Ahmad, Musnad, Vol. 4, p. 281.
[27] Al-Tirmidhi, Sahīh, Vol. 2, p. 297.
[28] Al-Bukhāri, Sahīh, Vol. 5, p. 492, the book of military campaigns.
[29] Ibid., Vol. 6, p. 10, in the book of exegesis.
[30] Mustadrak al-Sahīhayn, Vol. 3, p. 126.
[31] Al-Tirmidhi, Sahīh, Vol. 2, p. 299.
[32] Mustadrak al-Sahīhayn, Vol. 3, p. 122.
[33] Muslim, Sahīh, in the book of imān, in a chapter about loving Ali (`a), Allāh glorified his countenance, one of the dignitaries, Vol. 1, p. 262 (Dār al-Sha`ab edition).
[34] Ibn Dawūd, Sunan, in a chapter about a mad person stealing or being penalized according to the Sharī`a.
[35] Al-Bukhāri, Sahīh, the book of warriors, in a chapter about a mad man or woman should not be stoned.
[36] Al-Tirmidhi, Sahīh, Vol. 2, p. 299.
[37] Al-Bukhāri, Sahīh, Vol. 5, p. 43, in the book of the virtues of the sahābah.
[38] Mustadrak al-Sahīhayn, Vol. 3, p. 107.
[39] Kanz al-`Ummāl, Vol. 13, hadīth 37753. Dhakhā`ir al-`Uqba.
[40] Al-Manāwi, Kunooz al-Haqā`iq. It is also recorded by al-Daylami.

 

Sources – allaboutshia.com

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