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Replies to Questions by Shias and a review of their beliefs

The issue of the Khilafat : Shia Vs Sunni by

Posted by answersforshiafriend on February 3, 2010

Up From Shi’ism by Farhad Amirebrahimi

Sunnis believe the election by which Abu Bakr, one of the leading companions of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), was chosen to be the leader of the Muslims was valid; Shias do not accept the election results and believe that ‘Ali, Prophet’s cousin and one of the leading Muslims, should have become the leader. The following pages will deal with this issue in an unbiased way.

Baqir Sadr’s Thesis

One day, I came across a Persian translation of a work by a celebrated Iraqi Shia scholar, Imam Muhammad Baqir Sadr: Tashayou Ya Islam Rasteen (Shi’ism or the True Islam). It is a short booklet published by Chopkhane Haydary, Iran, and apparently makes a very convincing case for Shi’ism. To avoid confusion, I decided to study each chapter carefully and to confront a Sunni brother with the evidence that Baqir Sadr presents.

Imam Sadr starts the book by explaining that being a minority, as Shias are, does not mean that Shias are in the wrong. He also points out that there is a good deal of confusion among the masses about the origin of Shia sect. He says that to find

the origin of Shia sect, one has to keep in mind the totality of the message of Islam and the fact that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, had brought about a total change in the society. Considering the fact that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was well aware of the coming of his death, he must have been thinking of the future of Islam, which would have left him with three possibilities:

  • To take a negative approach and consider his mission important only during his own lifetime and, therefore, leave the question of succession to the turn of events
  • To take a positive approach and leave the matter of leadership to be decided by the council of Makkan immigrants (muhajireen) and Madinan supporters (ansar)
  • To take a wise and logical approach and under divine guidance (literally, the order of Allah) choose a capable person, train him, and breathe into him the true spirit of Islam.

These three possibilities occupy the first three chapters of the book. I studied the first chapter carefully. A brief account of the main arguments therein are:

The Prophet, upon whom be peace, certainly would not have taken a negative approach, leaving the future of Islam to the turn of events, for two reasons:

  • Would such negligence on his part have any effect on the future of Islam, or were his Companions quite capable of carrying on the message without altering or deviating from it? Obviously, this is not logical, since Islam had just been established and was facing many threats. Under such circumstances, the loss of its leader would mean a great vacuum in the leadership and would have led to hasty decisions in order to fill that vaccum. Sadr points out the fact that after the Prophet’s death, one of the famous Companions was shouting in the streets and marketplaces that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was not dead and shall never die. Muslims were still divided among themselves. There were the muhajireen and ansar, Makkans and Madinans, Quraishites, and others. It was also a good opportunity for the hypocrites and enemies of Islam to mount an attack on the religion. It was obvious that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was well aware of the then-prevailing conditions. He would not have taken the chance of leaving the Muslim nation without a leader. Judge for yourself, Sadr proclaims:

Abu Bakr felt it his duty to interfere in choosing the next leader of the Muslims. And when ‘Umar was stabbed, the people were asking him to nominate a successor. And that was at a time when the Islamic government was strong and centralized.1

It is also noteworthy that ‘Umar considered the selection of Abu Bakr at Banu Saqifah to be a very hasty decision, and that Allah had saved the Muslims from any bad consequences.2 Thus, a man with the insight and wisdom of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, would have at least realized the problems that the Muslims would be facing if he were to leave them without appointing a successor, concludes Sadr.

  • Another possible reason for this negative approach would be that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was only concerned with the mission during his own life, not considering the future of his mission. Certainly such an assumption is quite unthinkable of any concerned leader, not to mention the Prophet, upon whom be peace, who was commissioned by Allah!

These were the main arguments that were put forward in the first chapter. They were quite convincing to me at the time.

Having grasped the argument, I discussed the first chapter of this book with Jamaal Zarabozo, who was at the time also attending the University of California atDavis. He was a Muslim American convert whom Allah had blessed with a great deal of knowledge (he is now a well-known author and scholar). Considering that he himself had to study and choose between Shia and Sunni after he had embraced Islam, he was qualified to help in this matter. The night before the meeting with him, I prayed to Allah to guide me to the truth.

I confronted him with the issue, “How is it possible that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar nominated someone as their successors, but the Prophet of Allah neglected such an important matter, a matter upon which rested the future of Islam?”

“But the case of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, is quite different than that of Abu Bakr or ‘Umar,” he answered. “For the Prophet’s word would have been binding on the people, but Abu Bakr’s word would not have been so.” Upon hearing this, I felt as if suddenly everything became crystal clear. These few words, apparently not very significant, put all of the pieces together. I wanted to argue on this point, but my heart had felt the truth. Nevertheless, I was not willing to believe.

“You are absolutely right, but am I not being convinced too easily?” I asked. His response was that there were people who simply saw the face of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and they became Muslims. Therefore, I should not be surprised at reaching the truth so quickly.

The Invalidity of Baqir Sadr’s Thesis

Now the reader might be wondering how these few words helped me reach the truth. As I mentioned earlier, the root of the difference between the Shia and Sunni goes back to the question of the successor to the Prophet, upon whom be peace. The sects known as Shia consider ‘Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, to be the first khalifah .Was ‘Ali divinely appointed to be the khalifah or not? Despite all of their differences, Shias and Sunnis agree on one thing: the sincerity and devotion of ‘Ali to Allah and his willingness to sacrifice anything for His cause. One need only recall how this devoted young man accepted Islam at an early age and risked his life by sleeping in the Prophet’s bed the night the latter migrated to Madinah, as the assassins planned to kill the Prophet, upon whom be peace. He was well known for fighting valiantly in the defense of Islam. One may go on and on in describing the virtues of ‘Ali, but this should suffice.

Thus ‘Ali’s obedience to Allah and His Prophet, upon whom be peace, and his willingness to further the cause of Islam is indisputable. If the Prophet had ordered him to jump off a cliff or into a deep well, he would certainly have done so without any hesitation.

Now let us consider what would have happened if ‘Ali was told by the Prophet that he is to be the leader of the Muslim nation and that this is what Allah would be pleased with.

‘Ali’s response under such circumstances would be very clear. He would have done everything in his capacity to become the leader of the Muslims because that was the order of the Prophet.

According to the Shia scholars, after the farewell hajj (pilgrimage) at a place called Ghadir Khumm, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, took ‘Ali’s hand and brought him to his right side. Then he said to the assembled gathering, “Am I the authority whom you obey?” They answered in one voice, “We obey your directions.” Then he said, “For whosoever I am the master (maula) and the authority, ‘Ali will be his master. O God! Be friendly with the friends of ‘Ali and be an enemy to the enemies of ‘Ali.” Then ‘Umar ibn al-Khattb said to ‘Ali, “May this position be pleasing to you, for now you are my master and the master of all the believers.”3 Thus we see that according to the Shias, not only ‘Ali but a large number of the Companions were well aware of his imminent succession to the Prophet, upon whom be peace.

We may assume, for the sake of argument, that such an event occurred but under different circumstances. Let us imagine that one day during his twenty-three years of prophethood, Muhammad, upon whom be peace, called ‘Ali up to his quarters and privately told ‘Ali that he would be his successor. Suppose the Prophet even asked ‘Ali to keep this nomination secret until he had died, for reasons known only to Allah.

Was ‘Ali Violating the Prophet’s Command?

In both cases, that is, public or private nomination, we would have found ‘Ali to have been aware of this great task. When the Prophet, upon whom be peace, passed away, the question arose whether ‘Ali would fulfill this duty of becoming the Prophet’s successor or not. He would have known his responsibility to the Muslims. He would have known that he was divinely chosen for this task by Allah and His Prophet. He would have known that he would be asked on the Day of Judgment about his conduct regarding this matter. Did he fulfill his obligation or just sit quietly and leave everything to the turn of events?

Thus, the questions posed by Imam Sadr concerning the Prophet, upon whom be peace, may also hold true for ‘Ali himself! The fact that ‘Ali was alive and well, and quite capable of interfering in events at the time of the election, puts a great burden on his shoulders.

Without further discussion, it should be very clear that ‘Ali would not have kept quiet about this matter. He would have gone to the Muslims, especially Abu Bakr, and said, “O Abu Bakr, on such and such date, the Prophet, in private, chose me as his successor. Allah is my witness and I call for your resignation and demand that you all pledge your allegiance to me.”

And, of course, if ‘Ali’s nomination had been made public, as the Shias claim with their narration of Ghadir Khumm where ‘Umar supposedly pledged his allegiance to ‘Ali, it would have been easy for him to substantiate his claim of being the rightful successor.

We should, however, keep in mind that we are not talking about political rivals. Rather, we are talking about two noble men who sincerely loved Allah and His Prophet and to gain their pleasure they had sacrificed everything. Therefore, even if ‘Ali had no witness except Allah, surely Abu Bakr would not have doubted ‘Ali’s words about such a grave and important matter.

Now since Abu Bakr continued to be the khalifah, and did not give a pledge of allegiance to ‘Ali, this would imply, if the stories of his nomination were true, not only disobedience to him but also disobedience to Allah and His Messenger. This also means that if ‘Ali had taken the matter to Abu Bakr and he had refused to relinquish the office, the only way for ’Ali would have been to take over the khalifah by force. In which case, ‘Ali would have no cause to fear because he was a divinely appointed successor and, as such, Allah’s help would surely have come to him. Not only would he have ousted Abu Bakr but also strengthened Islam.

Certainly there is no historian, Shia or Sunni, who claims that this ever happened. In fact, ‘Ali was one of Abu Bakr’s closest advisors. This was owing to the fact that ‘Ali was respected for his knowledge and understanding of legal matters.

The above argument has been brought to the attention of Shia scholars. Their response is that since at the time Islam was weak and Muslims were divided, any such civil strife would have led to great bloodshed and perhaps an end to Islam. Therefore, ‘Ali kept quiet. But these scholars forget that it is Allah Who sent us Islam, and it is our duty to obey His commandments. The future is in His hands. The command to ‘Ali, according to the Shia, was to become the successor of the Prophet. For ‘Ali to speculate over the outcome would have been tantamount to putting his own judgment and wisdom over that of Allah, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. And this, of course, ‘Ali would have never done.

Abu Bakr—A Study in Contrast

Right after Abu Bakr’s election, very serious problems developed. Muhammad Rashid Feroze writes :

The first setback to Abu Bakr was the great opposition of a large number of the Companions, led by ‘Umar to sending the Muslim army under the command of Usama b. Zayd to the territory of Qada’a. They opposed Usama’s command of the army because he was not yet eighteen years of age.

They chose ‘Umar b. Al-Khattab as their representative. He was asked to suggest to Abu Bakr that either the army should not be sent, or Usama be dismissed. They wanted to appoint a commander with experience of active service on the battlefield.
Caliph Abu Bakr thought about the objections of these Companions for a long while that day. He then recalled the time when the Prophet, upon whom be peace, came to the mosque with his head wrapped up and said, “O People, let the army of Usama go.”

The Prophet repeated these words three times and continued: “You condemn his command now, you were also critical of his father’s command. By Allah, he was qualified for command! By Allah, his son is one of the most capable men after him!”
When Abu Bakr recalled this hadith [saying of the Prophet, upon whom be peace], he decided to send the army of Usama, because this was the order of the Prophet of Allah, upon whom be peace, even though it might lead to the loss of his own life.
Meanwhile, ‘Umar arrived and asked Abu Bakr not to send the army. Abu Bakr replied: “By Him in whose hands is the life of Abu Bakr, if I would have thought that wild beasts would attack me, I would dispatch the army of Usama as ordered by the Prophet, upon whom be peace. Even if nobody remained in the city except myself, I would send this army.”

When ‘Umar saw that Abu Bakr was determined to dispatch the army, he asked him to dismiss Usama and give the command to one of the well-known heroes of Islam, such as Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas or Khalid b. Walid. But Abu Bakr firmly rejected this proposal. The army led by Usama had a great impact at that time, for most of the tribes had given up Islam after the death of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and they had refused to pay zakah [welfare money for the poor]. They thought that Islam would come to an end after the Prophet’s death. The purpose of dispatching the army commanded by Usama was to create fear in the hearts of the tribes who had given up Islam. The tribes said among themselves: “If the Muslims had no power, they would not have sent this army.”

This was an example of the wisdom and genius of Abu Bakr at a crucial juncture in the history of Islam.

Later on, Abu Bakr made further preparations for Jihad against those who had given up Allah’s faith and launched a full-fledged war against them. They included almost all the tribes of Arabia, except the Quraysh and Thaqif. Abu Bakr was faced with eleven sources of turmoil and anarchy and wanted to nip the evil in the bud. He assembled the leaders of the Muslim community and appointed them to quell the rebellion against Islam in eleven different areas as follows:

  • Khalid b. Walid was sent to Talha al-Asadi, with instructions to go, after dealing with Talha, to Malik b. Nuwaira.
  • Ikrama b. Abi Jahl was sent to fight Musailma al-Kazzab, who had claimed to be a prophet after giving up Islam.
  • Al-Muhajir b. Abi Umayya was sent to deal with al-Ansi al-Kazzab, and to fight Kinda in Hadramawt.
  • Khalid b. Sa’id was sent to Syria to quell the rebellion of the leaders of that area.
  • Amr b. al-‘As was sent to Qada’a and Wadi’a.
  • Hudhayfa b. Hisn was sent to subdue the people of Daba.
  • Arfaja b. Harthama was sent to Mahra.
  • Shurahbil b. Hasana was sent to help Ikrama b. Abi Jahl, and thence to Qada’a.
  • Ma’n b. Hajiz was sent to Bani Sulaym and the people of Hawazin.
  • Suwayd b. Muqrin was sent to Tahama in the Yemen.
  • Al-Ala b. Hadrami was sent to Bahrai

The names of the leaders of the eleven armies dispatched by Abu Bakr to suppress the rebellion of the tribes gives an idea of the great efforts made by him. It was necessary to prepare these armies for the march throughout the country to announce that Islam was strong and alive. These armies achieved victories after very tough battles in which a large number of the Companions fell as martyrs, including memorizers of the Qur’an. All this sacrifice was made to strengthen Islam and to keep the banner of the faith flying.

Abu Bakr made these great efforts without counting the odds or fearing difficulties involved in running his mission. He wanted to fight the world that had turned its back on Islam and to bring it to the right path.4

Thus we see that Islam was in clear jeopardy, yet the Almighty Allah saved the Muslims, because they were obedient to His commands.

The claim that ‘Ali did not fight Abu Bakr for the khalifah for the sake of Islam is an absurd one. What would have happened if, in the third year of prophethood, when the command of Allah was given to the Prophet, to invite his relatives and kin to Islam, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, had wavered. “Well, we are very few now and we might all be killed if we make our mission public. Therefore, to protect Islam I shall remain quiet!” This kind of approach toward events clearly excludes the hand of Allah in man’s affairs and views life as an interaction of material forces, which of course is an idea that no Muslim would subscribe to.

Thus, in short, if ‘Ali was given any hint by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, to be his successor, he would have done everything to assure his succession. We can safely conclude that ‘Ali was by no means commanded by the Prophet to be the khalifah, neither privately nor publicly. This leaves the election of Abu Bakr as sound and legitimate.5

In my research for this work I came across an amazing statement made by the Shia scholar Tabatabai. This statement is an appropriate end for this section. Tabatabai wrote :

Obviously, according to religious principles, one must force him who has deviated from the truth to follow the truth; one must not abandon the truth for the sake of one who has abandoned it. When the first Caliph [Abu Bakr] was informed that some Muslim tribes had refused to pay religious tax, he ordered war and said, “If they do not give me the tithes which they gave to the Prophet, I shall fight against them.” Evidently by saying this he meant, most of all, that truth and justice must prevail at all costs. Surely the problem of the legitimate caliphate was more important and significant than tithes, and Shi’ism believes that the same principle applied by the first Caliph to this matter should have been applied by the whole early community to the problem of succession to the holy (sic) Prophet.6

Needless to say, who would have been more qualified than ‘Ali, as the Shias believe, to carry this responsibility on behalf of the early community?

Venturing Beyond Reality and Reason

As for the remainder of Imam Baqir Sadr’s book, he tries to prove that the only solution to the problem of succession to the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was the nomination of ‘Ali. He also tries to show how everyone was aware of the issue. He presents more evidence to substantiate his claim.

He quotes from Ihtejaj, by the Shia historian Tabarsi, that, “One day Eban b. Taglah asked Imam Jahar as-Sadiq [the sixth Imam of the Shias], ‘May my life be sacrificed for you. Did any of the Companions of the Prophet stand against Abu Bakr and blame him for accepting the position of khalifah?’ He answered, ‘Yes, twelve of the Companions condemned his position as khalifah. From the Muhajireen there was Khalid b. Sa’id b. al-‘As, Salman al-Farsi, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Miqdad b. Aswad, Ammar Yasir and Baridah Aslami. And from the Ansar there was Abu al-Hatim b. Teyhan, ‘Uthman b. Haneef, Hazimah b. Thabit, Dhulshadatayn, ibn Abu Ka’ab and Abu Ayyub al-Ansari.’”7

Although the preceding quotation mentions condemnation of Abu Bakr’s khilafah, there is no mention in it of anyone espousing ‘Ali’s khilafah. Even if they did, it is amazing that ‘Ali himself kept quiet concerning his “divine right.”

Sadr also tries to portray the Companions of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, especially ‘Umar, as having political ambitions! The favorite incident quoted by Imam Sadr and other Shia scholars is one that took place a few days before the death of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. He asked for paper and pen so that he might dictate something, after which they would never go astray. ‘Umar said that we have the Book of Allah with us and, furthermore, the Prophet is deeply afflicted with pain. At this point an argument took place over providing the pen and paper that the Prophet had asked for. The Prophet then asked them to leave the room.8

Imam Sadr argues that the Prophet had felt the danger that would threaten his mission after his death. He wanted to save the Muslims from future problems by leaving a will for ‘Ali. This incident is presented as the alleged proof that the Prophet was going to finalize ‘Ali’s khilafah. This is presented in such a manner, in Sadr’s book, that it leads the reader to believe that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, died immediately after this event, without having a chance to pronounce ‘Ali’s succession.

I am forced to make a few comments on this point.

First, it would be very strange to relate this incident to ‘Ali’s khilafah since, according to the Shia sources, his nomination had already been made public at Ghadir Khumm.

Second, if it was such an important announcement, why did not the Prophet, upon whom be peace, ask again for the paper and pen before his death? We know that Allah had already completed His religion (see the Qur’an, 5:3), so what could have been left out?

Third, this shows that when we look at an incident with biases, it is very easy to interpret it in favor of our particular view.

Fourth, if what the Prophet, upon whom be peace, had to say was to complete and protect Allah’s guidance, would it be right to assume that Allah did not make it possible for the Prophet to make the final will in favor of ‘Ali? This is to again consider world events as mere interactions of material forces, which excludes the Hand of Allah. If Allah had willed it, the Prophet could have lived not only a few more days but maybe a hundred more years, if that was necessary to complete this guidance from Allah!

Imam Sadr tries, in many ways, to prove the weakness and incapability of the Companions of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, to carry the message of Islam. He says that there were about twelve thousand Companions from whom a great number spent most of their time in the presence of the Prophet, yet there are only a few hundred ahadith that have been reported by them.9

A casual look at Sahih Muslim shows that it contains more than three thousand ahadith! And we know that Sahih Muslim is only one of the six standard Sunni collections of ahadith.

After reading the entire booklet, I became convinced that the claim of the Shia with respect to ‘Ali’s divine appointment as the successor of the Prophet Muhammad had no basis.

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