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  The Origins and Early Development of Shi`a Islam

Chapter 2

Saqifa: The First Manifestations

In any attempt to determine the origins of Shi'i feelings in
Islam, one must try to examine in detail the earliest incident
in which such feelings manifest themselves. The history of a
people in every branch, be it political, cultural, religious, or
constitutional, is an unbroken continuity. No religious or
political organization nor any particular viewpoint within a
religious tradition can be properly understood without due
reference to its first tangible appearance.
Historically the event of the Saqifa is inextricably connected
with the emergence of the Shi'i viewpoint. The Saqifa, after
which the event is named, was an old assembly hall in Medina
where the people used to discuss and resolve their crucial
problems. It was there that, as soon as the news of the
Prophet's death came out, the people of Medina gathered
together to choose their leader. It was there that a group of
Muhajirun forced on the Ansar their wish for the acceptance
of Abu Bakr as the sole leader of the community. In this
meeting at the Saqifa, some voices were raised in support of
`Ali's claims to the caliphate; thus "Saqifa" should be taken as
a generic name for the first split among the Muslims. To
ignore it in tracing out Shi'i history and subsequent
development in Islam would certainly lead to misunderstand-
ing and wrong conclusions. It is thus an historical imperative
to examine the proceedings of the Saqifa and attempt to
ascertain the points raised therein which ultimately found
expression in the establishment of the Shi'i discipline in
A characteristic historiographical problem has to be
seriously taken into consideration before any attempt can be
made to outline the Saqifa incident. One may well question
the authenticity of the reports in ascertaining the exact details
of what occurred in the selection of the first successor of the
Prophet. The controversial nature of the subject itself and the
difficulty inherent in the source material make the task of this
investigation far from easy. This difficulty becomes still more
serious when we note that the earliest extant report on the
event was committed to systematic writing not before the first
half of the second century of Islam, and during the reign of
the first two 'Abbasid caliphs. This was the time when the
division of the Muslim community into Shi'i and Sunni
groupings had set deep into the hearts of Muslims, and both
camps were accusing each other of deviation from the true
path of Islam. In these circumstances it seems quite possible
that the different reports describing the proceedings of Abu
Bakr's selection would have been circulated from different
quarters according to their respective interests. One might,
therefore, suspect the reports of the historians of Shi'i
sympathies such as Ibn Ishaq, Ya'qubi, and Mas`udi as being
biased in favour of the Shi`is; and similarly the writings of
Ibn Sa'd, Baladhuri, and even Tabari as reporting in Sunni
colour. Nevertheless, a close scrutiny of all early sources
named above shows that the event of the Saqifa is reported, in
its broad outline and essential points, in very similar ways,
with of course some differences in details, in treatment of the
material, and in emphasis on one report or the other. These
differences are clearly indicative of the inclinations of the
respective writers or their informants towards one side or the
other, and can be discerned, though not without some
difficulty. Similarly those reports of the very few writers who
take extreme positions to support one particular view can also
be easily distinguished when compared with other accounts.
For a study of this nature, it would be most appropriate to
extract and examine the earliest known coherent tradition as
a basis for comparison with accounts recorded by other
writers. The earliest extant work which reports the Saqifa
episode is that of Muhammad b. Ishaq b. Yasar (born 85/704,
died 151/768), whose Sirat Rasul Allah was the first
comprehensive biography of the Prophet. His report, though
concise and brief, gives almost all the essential information of
the event without dwelling on many of the details and
different reports given by the writers who immediately
followed him. The shortness of Ibn Ishaq's account of the
Saqifa is easily understandable in that his work deals mainly
with the life and career of the Prophet. The event of the
Saqifa in all its details is thus beyond the scope of his work;
that the incident is mentioned at all is probably due to the fact
that it took place before the burial of the Prophet. This is
evident from the arrangement of the closing chapters of his
biography, which deal with: 1: The illness of the Prophet, 2:
His death, 3: The affair of the Saqifa of Bani Sa`ida, 4:
Funeral preparations and burial of the Prophet.
Ibn Ishaq first introduces the event in only a few lines and
without citing his authorities.
1 It is Ibn Ishaq's usual
technique to introduce first a collective tradition by combining
different reports into a simple narrative which serves as an
introduction to the detailed account which follows. In this he
proves himself to be a loyal pupil of his master Az-Zuhri, who
was the first to introduce collective traditions.
2 Thus what
appears to be simply an introductory paragraph in Ibn Ishaq's
narrative of the Saqifa is given by others with different isnads
(chain of transmitters) and with slightly varying words and
lengths. After this brief introduction Ibn Ishaq relates the
whole event in one single tradition of considerable length,
which runs to about three and a half pages
3 and covers almost
all the essential points of the event. This tradition deserves a
few observations. Firstly, the whole story is related in the
very words of the second caliph, `Umar b. al-Khattab, from
one of his Friday sermons in the mosque of Medina. `Umar
being a strict disciplinarian in observance of religious
formalism, Friday prayers must have been attended by a
great number of people in Medina, and his exposition must
have had such a wide circulation among both the Muhajirun
and the Ansar that it could not be a later fabrication attributed
to him. Secondly, this speech is reported almost unanimously
by the majority of the historians who followed Ibn Ishaq,
such as Tabari and even Baladhuri, who often wrote
selectively to support the Sunni viewpoint of his day. Thirdly,
it is beyond any doubt true that `Umar b. al-Khattab himself
played the most important role at that crucial moment, took
the initiative in the fateful event of the Saqifa, and indeed was
the moving spirit in the selection of Abu Bakr. A unanimously
accepted report in his own. words is therefore of the greatest
historical importance. Fourthly, Ibn Ishaq begins the tradi-
tion by prefixing the words "in connection with these events
(Saqifa) `Abd Allah b. Abi Bakr told me..." This indicates
that, besides `Umar's account, Ibn Ishaq was aware of other
reports and detailed accounts, but for the sake of brevity
picked out the one which he considered the most reliable and
at the same time comprehensive enough to cover the entire
The isnad of this tradition in Ibn Ishaq is direct, short,
based solely on Medinese informants, and prefixed with the
verb of certainty and personal contact, haddathani, "he told
me". The isnad reads: "`Abd Allah b. Abu Bakr told me from
(1) Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri (2) from `Ubayd Allah b. `Abd Allah
b. `Utba b. Mas`ud (3) from `Abd Allah b. al-`Abbas." Both
`Abd Allah b. Abi Bakr
4 (born ca. 60/679-80, died ca. 130/747-
8) and Zuhri
5 (born ca. 51/1671, died 124/742) belonged to the
third generation (Tab`i Tabi`un) after the Prophet, and to the
second generation of traditionists. Both were pioneers of
Muslim historiography, and both received their material
from the Tabi`un, who in turn were either eye-witnesses to the
events while in their early youth or had received the
information from the Companions of the Prophet. With the
recent researches in Islamic historiography by Nabia Abbott
and others, it is now established beyond any doubt that the
life, wars, and career of the Prophet, collectively known as
Sira, along with subsequent events, became an object of
historical research beginning with the generation that
followed Muhammad. In this connection there appear names
such as Aban
7 (born ca. 20/641, died ca. 100/718-19), the son
of the Caliph `Uthman; `Urwa b. az-Zubayr b. al-`Awwam
(born 23/644, died 94/712-13); Wahb b. Munabbih
9 (born
34/654-5, died 110/728-9); and others. This interest in
historical research gathered great momentum by the third
generation and reached its climax in the Sira or Maghazi
works of two of Ibn Ishaq's most prominent teachers, Zuhri
and `Abd Allah b. Abi Bakr. It is reasonable to assume that
these two pioneers of historical writing in Islam must have
interested themselves in the event of the Saqifa, which was
certainly the most important event that took place at the time
of the death of the founder of Islam. It is equally reasonable
to assume that Ibn Ishaq preferred to narrate the event as it
was handed down to him from his two most intimate and
respected teachers rather than to quote from other sources,
especially when his interest in the Saqifa was limited to the
events related to the death of the Prophet. It is also important
to note that these two authorities, especially Zuhri, appear in
almost all the later works which describe the Saqifa incident.
Baladhuri and Tabari, whose interest in the event is not
confined to the events connected with the death of the
Prophet, quote these two sources in their accounts of what
they consider to be one of the most important historical events
in Islamic history.
In Ibn Ishaq's narrative, Zuhri's authority is `Ubayd Allah
b. 'Abd Allah b. `Utba b. Mas`ud,
10 one of Zuhri's four most
trusted and esteemed teachers. These four were Sa`id b. al-
11 (died 94/712-13), under whom Zuhri sat for ten
years as a faithful student, 'Urwa b. az-Zubayr, Aban b.
'Uthman, and 'Ubayd Allah b. 'Abd Allah. All four are
among the most distinguished and recognized authorities on
Fiqh, Sira, and Maghazi. Zuhri is frequently quoted as
expressing his highest regard for them, and described them
as the "four seas of knowledge" and "the four seas of the
12 Three of them, with the exception of Aban, are
also among the famous illustrious seven lawyers of Medina.
All these four have been credited with leaving written works
for the following generations in addition to what they had
transmitted orally to their pupils. Our interest in these four
celebrated scholars of Islamic history is due not only to the
fact that one of them appears in Ibn Ishaq's isnad, but also to
the fact that their names frequently appear in many of the
isnads of the Saqifa event recorded by other writers.
A word must be said concerning 'Abd Allah b. al-`Abbas
(born three years before the Hijra, died 68/687-8), who
appears as the last authority in Ibn Ishaq and in many other
Saqifa accounts written by the historians and traditionists
who followed Ibn Ishaq. It will suffice to say that he has
always been respected as one of the most trustworthy
authorities in all periods and among all schools of thought in
Islam, not only in Qur'anic exegesis but in other branches of
learning cultivated at Medina. Re was in fact one of the
distinguished founders of the Medinese school of learning
and scholarship, which devoted itself mainly to religious
sciences. Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Da'ud, Tirmidhi, An-Nasa'i,
Ibn Maja, followed by many others, unanimously accepted
his traditions. In the scholarly research for which he was well
known, he gathered information concerning the life of the
Prophet by questioning senior companions.
14 Not only did
he witness the event of the Saqifa as a young man, but he also
must have carefully preserved the information received from
his father Al-`Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, who was
undoubtedly involved in the controversy which engulfed
Medina immediately after the death of the Prophet. It is not
surprising therefore that `Abd Allah b. al-`Abbas appears in
almost all the sources describing the Saqifa.
The second author of note who deals with the Saqifa is
Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad b. Sa`d (born ca. 168/784-5),
who wrote the first systematic and comprehensive biograph-
ical work, Kitab at-Tabaqat al-Kabir (The Book of Classes),
dealing with important personalities from the Prophet down
to the time of his own death in 230/844-5. In arranging his
material he deals in detail with the lives and careers of the
first generation of Muslims, especially the Companions and
close associates of the Prophet. One would have expected that
Ibn Sa`d, while writing a long forty-one page
15 biography of
Abu Bakr, would have discussed the event of Saqifa in much
greater detail than his predecessor Ibn Ishaq. As it was
perhaps one of the most important and most crucial events in
the entire career of Abu Bakr, it is surprising that Ibn Sa`d
does not seem to be interested in the proceedings as such. He
clearly attempts to hush up all those reports which might
reflect on the controversial character of the selection of Abu
Bakr, and carefully selects only those traditions which exalt
Abu Bakr's undisputed excellence and qualifications for the
leadership of the community at the death of the Prophet. He
makes every effort to praise and glorify the first caliph's
virtues, his services to Islam, and the qualities which befitted
him for immediate succession to Muhammad. Indeed he uses
the same technique in writing `Ali's biography to show that
he was the best candidate for the office in his time. In this he
proves himself the true representative of the Sunni tradition
in Islam of the early third century and of the piety of the
Medinese school, both of which were built on the Murji`a
doctrine. This doctrine, in its more refined and developed
form in the third century, required a Muslim to refrain from
any discussion which might tarnish the respect and honour
with which the early personalities of Islam, especially the
Companions, were regarded. Anyone reading Ibn Sa`d's`
biography of Abu Bakr will immediately notice that the
writer is interested in presenting only the best qualities and
virtues of his subject. A brief summary of Ibn Sa`d's
arrangement of the material will help in understanding how
he wishes his reader to look at Saqifa.
Ibn Sa`d begins by writing two pages on the clan, family
name, and title of Abu Bakr.
16 Even in this biographical data
his main emphasis is on his title of As-Siddiq, the truthful. He
inserts a tradition to the effect that after Muhammad's ascent
to heaven (Mi`raj), which he feared people would not accept,
the angel Gabriel assured him that Abu Bakr would do so
since he was a Siddiq. The second section, entitled "Abu
Bakr's Conversion to Islam",
17 contains five traditions all to
the effect that Abu Bakr was the first among men to believe
in Muhammad's Prophethood and completely ignores many
traditions which describe `Ali as the first man to become
18 This is followed by the third section, with the
heading, "Description of the Cave and the Migration to
19 in which Ibn Sa`d records twenty-six traditions.
These traditions emphasize Abu Bakr's close friendship with
Muhammad, that he was "only one of the two" when
Muhammad took refuge in the cave on his way to Medina,
and that his services were invaluable at that critical moment.
Then, after a few traditions about Abu Bakr's abode at
Medina, he immediately records Abu Bakr's brotherhood in
faith with `Umar b. al-Khattab and the Prophet's declaration
that Abu Bakr and 'Umar were the leaders or Lords of the
adults of Paradise of all times, with the exception of the
Prophets and the apostles. This is followed by the traditions
which describe Muhammad's special favour to Abu Bakr
when he ordered the latter's house to be built adjoining the
mosque in Medina while others were denied this honour,
that Abu Bakr defended Muhammad in all the battles, and
that the Prophet appointed him as his standard-bearer at
Tabuk. The last five traditions in this section describe
Muhammad's statements that if he was to choose a friend
(Khalil) for himself he could name no one other than Abu
Bakr, that "No one is more beloved to me in my entire
community than Abu Bakr," and that "The most zealous and
vigilant after me in my community is Abu Bakr."
The fourth section, entitled "Description of the Prayer
which the Prophet Ordered Abu Bakr [to lead] before his
20 is perhaps the most indicative of Ibn Sa`d's attitude.
Here he gives ten traditions, the first five of which describe
the Prophet's insistence that only Abu Bakr must lead the
prayer while Muhammad was sick. The following three
traditions describe Muhammad's request for writing material
to write down his will and command to the effect that Abu
Bakr should succeed him, so that people should not doubt or
disagree on this question. When `Abd ar-Rahman, the son of
Abu Bakr, went out to bring the writing material, people said,
"Sit down. Who could dispute over Abu Bakr?" In the ninth
tradition, `A'isha the widow of the Prophet is reported to
have replied when she was asked: "O mother of the faithful,
who did the Prophet appoint to succeed him?" "Abu Bakr,"
she replied. "Who after Abu Bakr?' she was asked. "'Umar,"
she answered. "Who after `Umar?" again she was asked. "Abu
`Ubayda b. al-Jarrah," she answered, on which the enquirer
kept silent. The section closes on the tenth tradition, coming
back to the topic given to the heading, saying, "The Prophet
was sick for thirteen days; whenever he felt better he led the
prayer, but whenever his condition was not so well Abu Bakr
led the prayer." It is interesting to note here that except for
two rather unimportant reports, all of these traditions are
reported from `A'isha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, whose
rivalry with and dislike for both `Ali and Fatima are well
Anyone who reads this section of Ibn Sa'd will immediately
feel that the author has a specific task set before him. The
entire section is carefully planned to show that Abu Bakr, by
the special favours and indications shown by the Prophet,
was beyond any doubt the only deserving candidate to
succeed the dying Prophet. The author becomes so impatient
that he even abandons the main theme of the section, and in
the second tradition, which would have otherwise been under
the event of the Saqifa, describes 'Umar's argument against
the Ansar in favour of Abu Bakr, based on the latter's being
the leader of the prayer. The tradition reads: "When the
Prophet died, and the Ansar suggested [in the assembly of the
Saqifa), `Let us have a leader from among ourselves and a
leader from among yourselves (Muhajirun),' `Umar said, 'Did
not you know, O people of Ansar, that the Prophet appointed
Abu Bakr to lead the people in prayer?' The Ansar said `Yes.'
'Then would you like to prefer yourselves to Abu Bakr?' 'We
take refuge in God, to prefer ourselves over Abu Bakr,' said
the Ansar."
Immediately after this section, Ibn Sa`d comes to the event
of the Saqifa. Unlike other writers before and after him, he
does not name this section "Affair (amr) of the Saqifa", but
gives the heading, "Description of the Homage [paid] to Abu
Bakr" (Dhikr bay 'at Abi Bakr). One cannot fail to see that in
the four preceding chapters Ibn Sa`d has carefully prepared
a psychological background for his reader to accept his
account of the undisputed selection of Abu Bakr on the basis
of his merits and qualities so far enumerated. On the Saqifa
he records a total of fifteen traditions
22 of which only six
directly or indirectly are related to the Saqifa. The first
tradition reports that when the Prophet died 'Umar came to
Abu 'Ubayda b. al-Jarrah and said, "Open your hand and I
will pay homage to you (Li ubaya'uka) because the Prophet
declared you trustworthy of this community." Abu 'Ubayda
replied, "O 'Umar, I never found you so misled since you
accepted Islam. Would you do me fealty while there is among
you As-Siddiq only second of the two [in the cave]?" The
second tradition is almost identical.
The third tradition is a peculiar example of Ibn Sa`d's
treatment of the subject. In this report he extracted a small
sentence from the lengthy three-page tradition reported by
Ibn Ishaq and others in the form of 'Umar's speech in the
mosque of Medina. Ibn Sa`d's fragment reads: "Ibn `Abbas
said, 'I heard `Umar saying, while describing Abu Bakr's
bay`a, "There is none among you to whom people would
devote themselves as they did to Abu Bakr." ' " In the fourth
tradition Ibn Sa'd can no longer completely ignore the
controversy which arose on the question, but even this is
presented as an argument in favour of Abu Bakr. It reads:
"When people held back from Abu Bakr, he said, 'Who could
be more deserving for this thing (amr) than I? Was I not the
first to pray with the Prophet?' Then he mentioned those
good deeds [lit. attributes] which he performed with the
Prophet." The fifth tradition is, in fact, the only one which, on
the authority of Abu Bakr's grandson, Qasim b. Muhammad
b. Abi Bakr,
23 refers to the debate of the Saqifa. It is hurriedly
hushed up in only seven lines; the rest of the tradition deals
with the distribution of some goods by Abu Bakr. The rest of
the ten traditions have hardly anything to do with the Saqifa
event as such, and are mainly devoted to Abu Bakr's
excellence, frugality, simplicity, devotion, and piety.
There is hardly any need for further comments on Ibn
Sa`d's treatment of the Saqifa. It should suffice here to note
that an historical investigation into the controversial nature
of the subject was outside the scope of his work. Nevertheless,
his importance as an early writer cannot be overemphasized.
He is one of the foremost authorities of his time and represents
a school of biographer-traditionists of great importance; in
any study of the Saqifa he cannot be ignored. Ibn Sa'd
becomes much more important when we notice his adherence
to the "pious" traditional technique and the adoption of many
a tradition given by him in this subject by those who followed
him. He represents a school which came to dominate the
development of the Sunni point of view in Islam. His
presentation of the Saqifa leads his reader to believe that Abu
Bakr's selection went smoothly, without any noticeable
opposition or controversy, and that it was readily and
instantly accepted by everyone, including 'All, who himself
admitted the former's superior claims and merits.
We now must turn to Ibn Sa`d's younger contemporary
Ahmad b. Yahya b. Jabir al-Baladhuri
24 (died 279/892-3),
whose voluminous Ansab al-Ashraf is perhaps the most
important historico-biographical work of the third century.
On the one hand, he follows Ibn Sa`d in technique and
incorporates much of his material; on the other, he goes much
deeper and collects every possible report and version of the
Saqifa event from divergent sources and different schools.
While Ibn Sa'd depends mainly on Medinese informants,
Baladhuri finds them unsatisfactory; he goes further and
frequently quotes Mada'ini; who takes up a kind of middle
position between Kufan and Medinese traditionists. He also
narrates from Ibn al-Kalbi, Abu Ma`shar, `Awana, and, in at
least two cases, even from the Shi`i Abu Mikhnaf.
25 He
thereby demonstrates not only his keen historical interest in
investigating the event of the Saqifa but also its great
importance in the annals of early Islam. The pietistic attitude
which was a dominant characteristic of the Medinese schools,
especially when dealing with the differences among the
prominent companions, was not so prominent with the more
historically-minded authors of the Kufan and Basran schools.
Baladhuri's preservation of the latter tradition is thus of
considerable importance for the present discussion.
In Baladhuri's scheme, the Saqifa is treated in a manner
similar to that of Ibn Ishaq, with the events connected with
the death of the Prophet. In the chapter entitled "Affair of the
Saqifa", Baladhuri records a total of thirty-three traditions,
seven of which are exactly identical to material in Ibn Sa'd.
In this Baladhuri shows his great respect for his elder
contemporary, whom he always quotes with the direct verb,
haddathani (he told me), indicating that he took Ibn Sa`d's
material not from the Tabaqat but by direct dictation from
Ibn Sa`d himself.
27 The rest of the twenty-six traditions deal
with the controversy over the question of succession, the
heated debates which took place in the Saqifa, rival claims of
the Ansar and the Muhajirun, `Ali's protest over the selection,
the opposition of Banu Hashim and some of the Ansar to Abu
Bakr, and Abu Bakr's own statement that though he was not
the best candidate, he accepted the caliphate to save the
community from dissension. Eleven of these twenty-six
traditions are taken from Mada'ini, who frequently quotes
Zuhri, whose own isnads often go back to the sources of the
"four seas of the Quraysh" discussed above.
28 The most
revealing point here is that four of these twenty-six traditions
a complete description of the controversial debate in the
Saqifa; 2: Abu Sufyan's offer of help to `Ali; 3: Abu Bakr's
statement that though he was not the best candidate, he
accepted the caliphate only to avoid dissension; and 4: a small
part of `Umar's speech that even if Abu Bakr's selection was
a hasty affair, it did save the community from evil) are
narrated by Baladhuri from Ibn Sa'd with the verb "he told
me". Ibn Sa'd knew these traditions and found them
important enough to transmit them orally to Baladhuri but
he himself shrank from including them in his Tabaqat.
The long speech of `Umar which describes the Saqifa in
full and comprises the comprehensive account in Ibn Ishaq,
as we have seen above, is reported by Baladhuri three times;
first (No.1173) from Ibn Sa`d, where only a small sentence
justifying Abu Bakr's merits (as in Tabaqat) is reported; a
second time (No. 1176) when only the first part of it is given;
then finally the full text (No. 1181), as in Ibn Ishaq, is
recorded. In all three places the final three authorities are the
same as in the Sira: Zuhri, `Ubayd Allah, and Ibn `Abbas,
though the first authorities change in all three instances. In
No.1173 Zuhri's narrator is salih b. Kaysan;
29 in No.1176 it
is Mu`ammar b. Rashid
30 and in No.1181, the full text is
taken by Baladhuri from Mada'ini through Ibn Ju`daba.
There are a few differences between the text of Mada'ini
quoted by Baladhuri and that of 'Abd Allah b. Abi Bakr
quoted by Ibn Ishaq. To conclude it will suffice to say that
although Baladhuri displays a tendency in favour of Abu
Bakr's excellence for the office, as is evident from the order of
preference in the arrangement of the material, he does not
suppress many traditions which show the inclination of some
of the important companions towards `Ali.
The picture of the Saqifa still remains rather incomplete
until one takes into consideration Baladhuri's younger
contemporary Ibn Wadih al-Ya`qubi (died 284/897). Anyone
reading Ya`qubi's rendering of the Saqifa immediately after
Ibn Sa'd and Baladhuri will notice a sharp contrast both in
substance and in emphasis. Whereas Ibn Sa'd would have us
believe that Abu Bakr faced hardly any opposition from those
who favoured 'Ali, Ya`qubi would impress upon his reader
that there was rather serious opposition to Abu Bakr from a
group which supported `Ali's rights to the caliphate.
Unlike Ibn Sa'd and Baladhuri, Ya'qubi does not give
separate traditions prefixed by isnad, nor does he follow his
sources verbally except in quotations and direct speeches.
This is his method throughout his history, the Saqifa being
no exception. Opening with the heading, "Information
(khabar) of the Saqifa of Banu Sa`ida and the Fealty to Abu
Bakr", he writes a cohesive, uninterrupted four-page narrative
from all the sources available to him.
32 It of course paraphrases
many traditions into one continuous account, but all the
quotations and speeches are faithfully preserved without any
transformation. This is evident from comparisons with other
sources before and after him.
As regards his sources, we know that, as a general rule and
perhaps for the sake of a literary cohesive text, he rarely cites
his authorities. Nevertheless, it is usually not difficult to
ascertain their identity.
33 In the case of the Saqifa, some of his
sources, such as Mada'ini and Abu Mikhnaf, are the same as
those used by Tabari. Here we must point out that it is beyond
any doubt an historical fact that the event of the Saqifa
became an object of keen historical interest right from the
very beginnings of historical writing in Islam. This is evident
from Ibn Nadim's and Tusi's Fihrists, Najashi's Rijal and
other bibliographical works which list numerous treatises on
the Saqifa under the names of a great many writers beginning
from the early second century onward. For example, both
Abu Mikhnaf
34 and Mada`ini 35 are reported to have written
independent treatises on the subject, and when we read the
Saqifa account in Tabari, Baladhuri, and others, we find a
number of traditions on their authority. Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid
(died ca. 656/1258) in his voluminous Sharh Nahj al-Balagha,
a mine of valuable historical material composed with the help
of a rich library of rare manuscripts in his possession, writes
forty pages on the Saqifa
36 that incorporate some of these rare
treatises which survived until his time. Among these is a text
by Abu Bakr Ahmad b. `Abd al-Aziz al-Jawhari
37 (died
298/910-11), who cites many early authorities in his treatise
on the Saqifa. A modern scholar of note, Agha Buzurg at-
Tehrani, records in his exhaustive work on Shi`i literature a
great number of treatises written down on the Saqifa in the
early centuries of Islam.
38 Many of them considerably pre-
date Ya`qubi; a few of them even originate from the circle of
traditionists who gathered around the Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq
(died 148/765-6).
By the time Ibn Sa`d, Baladhuri, and other Sunni writers
set out to write, Sunni Islam had already defined and fixed its
attitudes and loyalties based on the Murji'i principles of
synthesis and tolerance. It was, therefore, natural for these
writers to suppress or ignore any report that might clash with
the accepted norms of the day. Most of that material which
could support the Shi`i position in favour of `Ali was
thus either suppressed or conveniently suspected of being
fabricated. This was exactly what happened to Ya'qubi There
is a common tendency to suspect his accounts, which could
support the Shi`i cause, mainly because he himself was a Shi'i
But quite logically, if Ya`qubi can be suspected of bias in
favour of the Shi`i position, why cannot other historians of the
opposite affiliation be equally suspected of suppressing those
reports which serve the Shi'i purpose? In this situation, we
feel that Ya`qubi's history should be considered a valuable
compendium of historical documents which survived the
tendentious efforts of the historians of the majority party. The
argument for the overall authenticity of his material is
enhanced by the fact that most of his Saqifa material is also
reported in fragmentary fashion by his non-Shi'i successors.
We may thus conclude that certain data handed down to us by
Ya`qubi, but omitted by his three predecessors, are of immense
historical importance for the reconstruction of the Saqifa
event. These four writers cover every point of view and leave
little to be added by the encyclopaedic annalist Muhammad
b. Jarir at-Tabari (died 311/9234). He generally displays a
remarkably unbiased and uncommitted attitude in his history,
undoubtedly the most comprehensive that has survived to us.
He does not base his selection of sources on religious
affiliations, but uses them according to his own historical
judgement in relation to each event. He builds his narrative
by recording several parallel and co-ordinated traditions or,
wherever necessary, by giving divergent reports coming to
him from different sources. In the latter case he gives his own
historical opinion either by explaining how each event is to be
placed and interpreted or by arranging his material in order
of preference. This second method he uses when reporting on
the Saqifa. He completely ignores Ibn Sa`d's account of the
event, incorporates most of the material of Ibn Ishaq, Ya`qubi,
and Baladhuri through his own sources, and makes some
additions of his own. He reports 'U mar's speech on the Saqifa
in full, exactly as did Ibn Ishaq, but the former's authority is
'Abbad b. `Abbad
39 (Al-Muhallabi) from 'Abbad b. Rashid, 40
while the last three authorities are the same as in Ibn Ishaq.
He is also the one who, alone among all the historians of Islam,
preserves Abu Mikhnaf's treatise on the Saqifa.
41 On the
whole, Tabari's history presents a balanced and unbiased
account of the Saqifa. He makes it absolutely clear that there
was a strong body of support for `Ali, but on the other hand,
emphasizes that Abu Bakr was duly elected by the majority of
the people.
There is little need to examine in detail the works of those
writers who followed these five early sources. Subsequent
authors, such as Mas`udi
42 (died 344/955-6), Ibn Athir 43
(died 630/1232-3), Ibn `Abd Rabbih
44 (died 327/938-9), and
even Suyuti (died 911/1505-6) in his specialized work on the
subject of the caliphate,
45 add hardly anything substantially
important to our knowledge on the event. Later Shi`i works
by authors such as at-Tabrasi
46 and al-Majlisi 47 are mainly
polemic in nature and give a very tendentious pro-Shi'i
account of no historical value.
In an attempt to reconstruct the events at the Saqifa, the
best approach is to take, as a basis, Ibn Ishaq, who is not only
the earliest authority, but also the one whose work has reached
us in the recension of Ibn Hisham (died 218/833), himself a
die-hard Sunni and earlier than the other four writers
mentioned above. Moreover, Ibn Hisham never hesitates in
his task of editing Ibn Ishaq's Sira to correct or comment on
any point with which he disagrees, and he often inserts some
additional information he thinks was overlooked or omitted
by the author.
48 Ibn Hisham makes none of these comments,
additions, or corrections in the account of the Saqifa, however.
The tradition of the Saqifa in the Sira is thus an account
recorded by a writer of Shi~leaning,
49 approved by an editor-
critic of Sunni belief, and also reported by the majority of the
writers following Ibn Ishaq through different authorities, as
we have seen above. For other necessary details not presented
by Ibn Ishaq, we must draw from our other four authorities.
It is our intention here to base our reconstruction of the
Saqifa on a translation of `Umar's speech as recorded by Ibn
50 Since a speech of this sort naturally is not supposed
to cover every detail, frequent breaks will be utilized to draw
in other sources and attempt to form a complete picture of the
proceedings. Sources of the additions filling the gaps will be
given within the narrative so that the reader will be able to
notice them immediately.
Before narrating 'Umar's speech, Ibn Ishaq opens with an
introduction, without isn4d, which can be found in Baladhuri
(I, p. 583) on the authority of Ahmad b. Muhammad
b. Ayyub
52 from Ibrahim b. Sa`d 52 from Ibn Ishaq from
Zuhri. It reads as follows:

"When the Apostle died, this clan of the Ansar gathered round
Sa'd b. 'Ubada in the hall of Banu Sa`ida; and 'Ali and az-Zubayr
b. al-'Awwam and Talha 'Ubayd Allah separated themselves
in Fatima's house while the rest of the Muhajirun gathered round
Abu Bakr accompanied by Usayd b. Hudayr with the Banu
`Abdu'l-Ashhal. Then someone came to Abu Bakr and 'Umar
telling them that this clan of the Ansar had gathered round Sa'd
in the hall (Saqifa) of Banu Sa`ida: 'If you want to have command
of the people, then take it before their action becomes serious.
Now [the dead body of] the Apostle was still in his house, the
burial arrangements not having been completed, and his family
had locked the door of the house. 'Umar said, 'I said to Abu Bakr
"Let us go to these our brothers of the Ansar to see what they are
doing." ' "

After this Ibn Ishaq records 'Umar's famous speech, for
which the chain of transmitters has been examined in each of
our sources above. Passing over those parts which do not deal
with the Saqifa, it reads:

"In connection with these events [selection of Abu Bakr] 'Abd
Allah b. Abu Bakr told me from Ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri from
'Ubayd Allah b. 'Abd Allah b. 'Utba b. Mas`ud from 'Abd Allah
b. 'Abbas who said, 'I was waiting for 'Abd ar-Rahman b. 'Awf in
his station in Mini while he was with 'Umar in the last pilgrimage
which 'Umar performed. When he ['Abd ar-Rahman] returned
he found me ['Abd Allah b. al-`Abbas] waiting, for I was teaching
him to read the Qur'an. 'Abd ar-Rahman said to me: "I wish you
could have seen a man who came to the Commander of the
Faithful ['Umar] and said, 'O Commander of the Faithful, would
you like a man who said, "By God, if 'Umar were dead I would do
fealty to so-and-so."? Fealty given to Abu Bakr was an unpre-
meditated affair (falta) and was ratified." ' "

Here we must point out that this speech, though recorded
by the vast majority of writers, includes neither the name of
the person who talked to 'Umar nor the name of the one to
whom he wished to pay fealty, except in Baladhuri, I, pp. 581,
582. In tradition No.1176 Baladhuri quotes 'Umar as saying
that the person speaking to 'Umar was Zubayr, and that the
person Zubayr wanted to hail as caliph was 'Ali. In tradition
No. 1181, Baladhuri gives only one name: "`Umar delivered
a sermon in which he said that 'so-and-so says if 'Umar dies
we Will pay our homage (baya`na) to 'Ali. "'Baladhuri's report
can be confirmed by later writers such as Ibn Abi '1-Hadid,
who gives the name of 'Ali on the authority of al-Jahiz
54 It is,
however, of great importance to note that it was 'Ali's name
which caused 'Umar to deliver such an important and fiery

"'Umar was angry [when he heard this) and said, 'God willing,
I shall get up among the men tonight and warn them against
those who desire to usurp power over them. 'I ('Abd ar-Rahman)
said, 'Do not do it, Commander of the Faithful, for the festival
brings together the riff-raff and the lowest of the people; they are
the ones who will be in the majority in your proximity [assembly]
when you stand among the people. I fear lest you should stand
and say something which they will repeat everywhere, not
understanding what you say or interpreting it correctly; so wait
until you come to Medina, for it is the home of the Sunna and you
can confer privately with the jurists (fuqaha') and the nobles of
the people. You can say what you like and the jurists will
understand what you say and interpret it properly.' 'Umar
replied, 'By God, if He wills, I will do so as soon as I reach
"We came to Medina at the end of Dhu'l-Hijja and on the
Friday I (Ibn 'Abbas) returned [to the mosque] quickly when the
sun had set ... 'Umar sat on the pulpit, and when the muezzins
were silent he praised God, as was fitting, and said: 'Today I am
about to say to you something which God has willed that I should
say and I do not know whether perhaps it is my last utterance. He
who understands and heeds it let him take it with him wherever
he goes; and as for him who fears that he will not understand it,
he may not deny that I said it.'
"... I have heard that someone [Zubayr as in Baladhuri said,
'If 'Umar were dead I would do fealty to so-and-so ['Ali].' Do not
let a man deceive himself by saying that acceptance of Abu Bakr
was a hasty mistake (falta) which was ratified. Admittedly it was
that, but God averted the evil of it. There is none among you to
whom people would devote themselves as they did to Abu Bakr.
He who accepts a man as ruler without consulting the Muslims,
such acceptance has no validity for either of them: and they are
subject to death [punishment.]
"What happened was that when God took away His Prophet
[from among us], the Ansar opposed us and gathered with their
leaders in the Saqifa [hall] of Banu Sa`ida, and 'Ali and az-Zubayr
and their companions [and those who were their supporters]
withdrew from us, while the Muhajirun gathered to Abu Bakr."

From `Umar's own statement, it is clear that there was
serious opposition to Abu Bakr's candidacy not only from the
Ansar, but also from `Ali and his supporters. Thus, no sooner
had the news of Muhammad's death come out than the Ansar
of Medina, undoubtedly fearful of Meccan domination and
perhaps aware of their designs, hastily assembled in the
Saqifa Banu Sa`ida to elect a leader from among themselves.
`Umar b. al-Khattab, upon hearing people saying that
Muhammad was dead, stood and furiously remonstrated that
the Prophet could not die. Claiming that Muhammad had
simply disappeared for a time, he threatened he would kill
anyone who claimed that Muhammad was dead.
55 Abu Bakr,
who had been at his house in Sunh, a suburb of Medina, then
arrived on the scene. Hearing `Umar's altercations, he went
straight into the Prophet's house. Discovering that Muham-
mad had passed away, Abu Bakr came back and confirmed
his death to the people gathered around `Umar.
At this point we have three different versions. The first
reports that when Abu Bakr was addressing the people, an
informant came and told him and `Umar about the Ansar's
meeting in the Saqifa. Both Abu Bakr and 'Umar, along with
those around them, then rushed to the Saqifa. This version
must be rejected on the simple grounds that Abu `Ubayda b.
al-Jarrah does not appear anywhere in this tradition, contra-
dicting all other reports, where he is one of the three most
important persons in the whole drama. The second version
reports that after confirming the death of the Prophet to the
people, Abu Bakr and `Umar went to the house of the Prophet
and joined his relatives, who were busy with the burial
preparations. Two informants then came and told them about
the Saqifa, whereupon the three-Abu Bakr, `Umar, and Abu
`Ubayda--ran to the Saqifa. This version also does not appear
to be correct because: I: it presupposes that these three most
important companions were completely unaware of both the
serious tension, often conflict, which had been developing
over the last few years between the Muhajirun and the Ansar,
and the gravity of the situation under the circumstances; 2: it
contradicts `Umar's statement that 'Ali and his supporters
separated themselves from the others and locked the door of
the house; 3: it is a tradition recorded only by Baladhuri (I, p.
581), and on a rather weak isnad. The third version, which is
repeatedly narrated by all of our sources with the exception
of Ibn Sa'd, reports that after addressing the people regarding
Muhammad's death, Abu Bakr, along with 'Umar and Abu
'Ubayda, went to the house of; most probably, Abu 'Ubayda.
There they met to deliberate on the critical leadership crisis
which had arisen owing to the death of the Prophet, and
certainly keeping in view the resentful feelings of the Ansar
which had been developing for quite some time.
56 It was
there that the council of the Muhajirun was interrupted by
an informant who rushed in to tell them what the Ansar were
doing. Hearing that, Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and Abu 'Ubayda
rushed to the Saqifa to prevent any unexpected development.
Returning again to 'Umar's speech, we are told:

"I told Abu Bakr that we should go to our brothers the Ansar,
so we went off to go to them when two honest fellows ['Uwaym
b. Sa`ida
57 and Ma`n b. 'Adi 58] met us and told us of the
conclusion the people had come to. They asked us where we were
going, and when we told them they said that there was no need
for us to approach them and we must make our own decision. I
said, 'By God, we will go to them.' And [when we arrived] we
found them [the Ansar] in the hall of Banu Sa`ida. In their midst
was a man wrapped up. In answer to my inquiries, they said that
he was Sa'd b. 'Ubada and that he was sick. When we sat down
there, a speaker pronounced the Shahada and praised God as was
fitting and then continued: 'We are God's Helpers and the
squadron of Islam. You, O Muhajirun, are a family of ours and a
company of your people have come to settle down [among us].' I
[at this point 'Umar interrupted and] said: 'And look, they were
trying to cut us off from our origin and wrest authority from us.
When the Ansar's speaker finished, I wanted to speak, for I had
prepared a speech in my mind which pleased me much. I wanted
to produce it before Abu Bakr and to repulse the roughness and
asperity of the speaker of the Ansar. But Abu Bakr said, 'Gently,
'Umar!' I did not like to anger him and so he spoke. He was a man
with more knowledge and dignity than I, and by God he did not
omit a single word which I had thought of and he uttered it in his
inimitable way better than I could have done. Abu Bakr said: 'Ali
the good that you have said about yourselves you duly deserve.
But the Arabs will not recognize authority except in this tribe [lit.
clan] of Quraysh. They are the best and the noblest of the Arabs
in descent, blood, and country [i.e. settled in the centre).'"

An addition from Baladhuri (I, p.582) completes Abu
Bakr's speech and shows further how he argued against the
Ansar: "We are the first people in Islam; and among the
Muslims, our abode is in the centre, our descent is noblest,
and we are nearer to the Prophet in relation; and you [Ansar]
are our brothers in Islam and our partners in religion; you
helped us, protected us and supported us, may God reward
you His best. So we are the rulers (umara') and you are the
deputies (wuzara'). The Arabs will not submit themselves
except to this clan of the Quraysh. Certainly a group from
among you [present] knows well that the Prophet said, 'The
leaders are from the Quraysh (al-a'immat-u min al-Quraysh),
therefore, do not compete with your Muhajir brothers in
what God has bestowed upon them."'
Now we return again to 'Umar's speech.

"[Abu Bakr said,] 'So I offer you one of two men; accept
whichever you please.' Thus saying he took hold of my hand and
that of Abu 'Ubayda b. al-Jarrah, who was sitting between us.
Nothing he ever said displeased me more than that. By God, I
would rather have come forward and have had my head struck
off--if that were no sin-than rule over a people of whom Abu
Bakr was one...

In Ya`qubi's account (II, p.123), "[Abu Bakr said] The
Quraysh are closer to Muhammad than you, so here is `Umar
b. al-Khattab, for whom the Prophet prayed, "O God, confirm
his faith," and the other is Abu `Ubayda, whom the Prophet
declared "a trustee of this Umma"; choose either one whom
you like and pay homage to him.' But both of them refused
and said, 'We cannot take preference over you, you are the
companion of the Prophet and only second of the two [in the
cave at the time of the Hijra]."' In one of Baladhuri's accounts
(I, p.582), when Abu Bakr suggested the name of 'U mar, the
latter exclaimed: "And while you are alive? Who could set
you aside from your place in which the Prophet had installed
you?" Ya`qubi (II, p.123) describes Abu 'Ubayda as saying:
"O people of Ansar, you were the first to help [Islam] so do not
be the first to differ and change." Ya'qubi continues: "Then
'Abd ar- Rahman b. 'Awf stood and said: 'You have your
merits, but you do not have [any one among you] like Abu
Bakr, `Umar, and 'Ali.' On this, one of the Ansar, AI-Mundhir
b. Arqam,
59 sharply replied: 'We do not reject the merits you
have mentioned; indeed there is among you one with whom
no one can dispute, if he seeks this authority, and that man is
'Ali b. Abi Talib."'
It was at this stage of suggestions and counter suggestions
by Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and Abu 'Ubayda for each other that
Al-Hubbab b. Mundhir
60 from the Ansar offered a compromise
solution. Thus continues 'Umar:
"One of the Ansar said, 'I am the rubbing post and the fruitful
propped-up palm [i.e. a man who can cure people's ills and is held
in high esteem because of his great experience]. Let us have one
ruler from among ourselves, and another ruler from among
yourselves, O Quraysh.' Altercations waxed hotter and voices
were raised until, when a complete breach was to be feared, I said,
'Stretch forth your hand, Abu Bakr.' He did so and I paid him
homage; the Muhajirun followed and then the Ansar. [In doing
so] we jumped on Sa'd b. 'Ubayda and someone said that we had
killed him. I said, 'God kill him."'

Here ends 'Umar's historic speech, accepted by almost all
of those who wrote on the Saqifa. Before we proceed further
it might be of interest to note 'Umar's reply to Hubbab's
suggestion as it is recorded by Tabari (I, p.1841) in a separate
account narrated by Abu Mikhnaf: "'Umar said: 'How
preposterous; two swords cannot be in one sheath. By God,
the Arabs will never agree to your authority while their
Prophet is from others [i.e. from ourselves]."'
It is also Tabari (I, p. 1818) who records for us from one of
his most trusted and frequently cited authorities, Abu
Ma`shar, that even after 'Umar's homage to Abu Bakr, there
were still some of the Ansar who protested against the
decision and exclaimed: "We will not pay our homage to
anyone except 'Ali." But this and some other similar voices
were lost in the tumult and, following the examples of 'Umar
and Abu 'Ubayda, those of the Muhajirun present paid
homage to Abu Bakr, and were followed by the. Ansar for one
reason or another, as we shall see presently.
Before we describe the events which followed the assembly
of Saqifa, it would be helpful to examine briefly the complex
situation and unique circumstances which made Abu Bakr's
selection possible. Firstly, clan rivalries among the Quraysh,
or among the Muhajirun in particular, made it easier for
them to accept the leadership of Abu Bakr-a man of an
insignificant branch, Banu Taym b. Murra.
62 Because of its
inconspicuous place among Meccan ruling clans, Banu Taym
had never been involved in the power struggle and political
conflicts that had plagued the rival clans of the Quraysh.
Secondly, the Muhajirun, as a whole, were also fearful of the
possibility of Medinan domination should the' Muhajirun
involve themselves in their own clannish rivalries and
internecine fighting. To them Abu Bakr was thus the best
compromise candidate. Thirdly, as far as the Ansar were
concerned, we should take note of the deep-rooted and old
enmity between the Banu Aws and the Banu Khazraj. Sa`d
b. `Ubada 62 was the chief of the Khazraj; the Banu Aws
accordingly found it much more tolerable and profitable to
submit themselves to a Qurayshite leader than to allow a chief
of the rival tribe to rule over them. This is evident from the
fact that the first among the Ansar to pay homage to Abu
Bakr was one of the chiefs of the Banu Aws, Usayd b.
63 According to Tabari (I, p.1843), "Some of the
Aws, among them Usayd b. Hudayr, spoke among themselves,
saying, 'By God, if the Khazraj become rulers over you once,
they will continue to maintain this superiority over you and
will never let you have any share in it, so stand up and pay
homage to Abu~ Bakr.' Then they [the Aws] stood and paid
homage to Abu~ Bakr." We may also recall that this Usayd '0.
Hudayr was the only one from the Ansar who took part if' the
deliberations of the Muhajirun, certainly knowing of Sa`d b.
`Ubada's candidacy and thus acting against him and the
As for the Banu Khazraj, they realized that their position
was far too weak to face a united front of the Muhajirun and
the Banu Aws, their old rivals, or rather enemies, in the city
politics of Medina. The constant wars and deadly feuds
between the Aws and the Khazraj are commonplace stories
of the ayyam al-`Arab ("Battle Days") literature. Thus the
Khazraj found it unwise to lag behind in giving support to
and gaining the favour of the ruling authority upon which
agreement had very nearly been reached. Moreover, Sa'd b.
`Ubada was envied by some of his own cousins or clansmen,
as was a common feature of the Arab clans; and according to
some the first who paid homage to Abu Bakr was Sa`d's own
cousin Bashir b. Sa`d.
64 It is thus clear that as a result of group
politics, clan rivalries, and personal jealousies, Abu Bakr was
able to exact homage from most of the people. To these factors
must be added the overall impression in the sources that Abu
Bakr did enjoy a certain prestige and was held in high esteem
for his sobriety, old age, his close association with and support
of Muhammad, and his valuable services to Islam from the
very advent of the Prophet's mission. Thus the impact of his
personality, which grew over the years under the Prophet,
should not be ignored in analysing the results of the Saqifa.
The material preserved in the sources also strongly suggests
that Abu Bakr and `Umar had formed an alliance long before,
possibly with Abu `Ubayda b. al-Jarrah as a third member,
and that these three did carry considerable weight and
influence in the newly emerging Islamic nobility, as well as in
group politics against the old Meccan aristocracy.
65 Finally,
it must also be noted that Abu Bakr's succession was realized
neither through a free election in any sense of the term nor
through a free choice of the community. It was simply a
decision by a particular group from among the Muhajirun
which was hastily forced or thrust upon all others. Its success
was due only to the delicate existing group conflicts in
Medina. This is obvious from `Umar's own statement quoted
above that, "Admittedly it was a hasty affair (falta) but God
averted the evil of it" The arguments advanced by `Umar
and Abu `Ubayda in favour of Abu Bakr-lineage in the
Quraysh, early conversion to Islam, long companionship to
the Prophet, services to the cause of Islam, and lastly his close
relationship to and the esteem in which he was held by
Muhammad---are in effect of the same nature as those
advanced in favour of `Ali against Abu Bakr, and they
certainly lend more strength to `Ali's claims than to those of
Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr's only exclusive claim to the succession-
his leadership of the prayer during the Prophet's illness-
reflects later theological colour, and the traditions pertaining
to it are often confused and contradictory.
Keeping in view the arguments and counter-arguments
at the Saqifa, the choice of Abu Bakr seems to have been
an accident of circumstances. The conflict between the
supporters and the opponents of Abu Bakr centred on
considerations of what is necessary under the circumstances,
and what ought to be. The former principle soon resulted in
the establishment of a mighty and sweeping caliphate-empire.
The latter principle of what ought to be led a group of the
community, though small, to develop its own interpretation
of Islamic ideals and polity.
The task of consolidation of Abu Bakr's authority as the
successor to the Prophet, however, was still far from complete
after the Saqifa meeting. `Ali b. Abi Talib, the most important
candidate from the Prophet's family, as is unanimously
attested by Sunni and Shi`i sources alike, along with his Close
associates and the family of Hashim, was not even aware of
the decision taken in the Saqifa. They came to hear about it
only when, after securing homage at the Saqifa, Abu Bakr,
along with his supporters, came to the mosque of the Prophet
and an unusual tumult arose from the gathered mob. Though
the timing of the events which followed is confused,
66 it is
perhaps at this point that 'Ali and a number of his supporters
both from the Ansar and the Muhajirun assembled in
Fatima's house and started deliberating on what was to be
done. Besides numerous references to this effect, it is also
supported by the first part of 'Umar's speech when he said,
"And 'Ali and Zubayr with their companions withdrew from
us." Abu Bakr and 'Umar, fully aware of 'Ali's claims and also
of the respect he commanded in a certain group of the
companions, and fearing lest there be some serious reaction
on his and his partisans' part, summoned them to the mosque
to pay homage. They refused to come. 'Umar, with his cut-
and-thrust policy, advised Abu Bakr to act promptly before it
was too late. The two men marched to 'Ali's house with an
armed party, surrounded the house, and threatened to set it
on fire if 'Ali and his supporters would not come out and pay
homage to the elected caliph. 'Ali came out and attempted to
remonstrate, putting forward his own claims and rights and
refusing to honour Abu Bakr and 'Umar's demands. The
scene soon grew violent, the swords flashed from their
scabbards, and 'Umar with his band tried to pass on through
the gate. Suddenly Fatima appeared before them in a furious
temper and reproachfully cried:
"You have left the body of the Apostle of God with us and you
have decided among yourselves without consulting us, and
without respecting our rights. Before God, I say, either you get
out of here at once, or with my hair dishevelled I will make my
appeal to God."

This made the situation most critical, and Abu Bakr's band
was obliged to leave the house without securing 'Ali's
67 He could not, however, resist for long and had to
yield before the growing pressure. The traditions vary and
are often contradictory as to when he was reconciled with
Abu Bakr. According to one or two very weak and isolated
traditions, which clearly reflect later theological tendency,
'Ali paid homage to Abu Bakr instantly, only complaining
that he had not been consulted; according to some others he
did so the same day but under compulsion and with the
conviction that he had better claims to the office. But
according to the most commonly reported traditions, which
must be accepted as authentic because of overwhelming
historical evidence and other circumstantial reasons, 'Ali held
himself apart until the death of Fatima six months later.
Insisting that 'Ali should have been chosen, a number of
his partisans from among both the Ansar and the Muhajirun
who had delayed for some time in accepting Abu Bakr's
succession were fain to yield, however. They gradually, one
after the other, were reconciled to the situation and swore
allegiance to Abu Bakr. Their names and number vary in
different sources, but the most distinguished among them
and most commonly recorded by the majority of the sources
are as follows.

1 Hudhayfa b. al-Yaman,
70 a Medinese halif of the Aws and a
most distinguished Companion of the Prophet. Known as a
great warrior who fought at Uhud and served the Prophet as
a special counsellor at Khandaq, his personal loyalty and
attachment to 'Ali remained unchanged even after his
allegiance to Abu Bakr. Before his death, he asked his two
sons to support 'Ali, which they did until they were killed at
the battle of Siffin while fighting for 'Ali against Mu'awiya.
2 Khuzayma b. Thabit,
71 from the tribe of Aws, whom the
Prophet called "Dhu`sh-Shahadatayn", the one whose testi-
mony was worth that of two men. He fought alongside `Air at
the battles of Al-Jamal and Siffin and was killed in the latter
by Mu`awiya's army.
3 Abu Ayyub al-Ansari,
72 whose father, Khalid b. Kulayb,
belonged to Banu Najjar and whose mother was from the
Khazraj. He was one of the most important Companions
among the Ansar and was the host of the Prophet in Medina
until his house was built. He fought for the cause of ~Ali in the
battles of Al-Jamal, Siffin, and Nahrawan.
4 Sahl b. Hunayf,
73 from the tribe of Aws, who fought for the
Prophet at Badr and other battles. He was a great friend of
`Ali, came with him from Medina to Basra, and fought at
Siffin. `Ali appointed him governor of Persia.
5 `Uthman b. Hunayf,
74 brother of Sahl and a great favourite
of `Ali, who appointed him governor of Basra.
6 Al-Bara'a b. `Azib al-Ansari ,
75 from the tribe of Khazraj and
one of the aristocrats of Medina representing pro-'Alid Ansar.
He came with 'Ali to Kufa and fought for him at Al-Jamal,
Siffin, and Nahrawan.
7 Ubayy b. Ka'b, 76 from a branch of the Banu Khazraj and one
of the leading jurists and Qur'an readers among the Ansar.
8 Abu Dharr b. Jundab al-Ghifari, 77 one of the earliest followers
of Muhammad, an ascetic, and extremely devoted to piety.
He had always been a most vocal supporter of 'Ali and is one
of the four pillars of the first Shi'a. The Caliph 'Uthman
exiled him to his birthplace, a small village known as Rabdha,
where he died.
9 `Ammar b. Yasir,
79 a south Arabian affiliated with the clan of
Makhzum of the Quraysh, an early convert to Islam, and one
of the four pillars of the first Shi'a.
10 Al-Miqdad b. 'Amr, 79 a south Arabian either from Kinda or
Bahra, adopted by a certain Aswad b. 'Abd Yathuth of the
Banu Makhzum. He was one of the seven early converts to
Islam and one of the four pillars of the first Shi'a.
11 Salman al-Farisi,
80 a Persian by origin and an ardent follower
and companion of the Prophet, who ransomed him from
slavery and adopted him as his mawla and member of the Ahl
al-Bayt. He had always been an ardent supporter of 'Air, and
his support to 'Ali at the time of Abu Bakr's selection has been
mentioned distinctly even by Baladhuri.
12 Az-Zubayr b. al-`Awwam,
81 one of the most distinguished
Companions of the Prophet from the Quraysh. He was the
most energetic supporter of `Ali and no doubt sincere in his
enthusiastic attitude. He came out of the house of Fatima,
sword in hand, when 'Umar arrived there and tried to force
those in the house to pay homage to Abu Bakr. A serious
encounter between him and ~Umar is recorded by almost all
of our historians. It was, however, only twenty-five years later
that ambition made him strive for the caliphate, which
resulted in the battle of al-Jamal between him and `Ali.
Khalid b. Sa`id,
82 from the clan of Umayya, only third or
fourth after Abu Bakr to become Muslim, and the only one
from this clan who seriously resisted Abu Bakr's succession
in favour of `Ali. As the representative of the Prophet, he was
at San`a' when Muhammad died. When he reached Medina
a few days after Abu Bakr's selection, he offered his allegiance
to `Ali saying, "By God, no one among all the men is more
entitled to take the place of Muhammad than you." Though
`Ali declined to accept his homage, Khalid refused to
recognize Abu Bakr for three months.

The seriousness of their opposition to or resentment of
Abu Bakr before they become reconciled to him is almost
impossible to ascertain, since the Shi`i sources exaggerate this
to the extreme
83 whereas the Sunni sources try to ignore or
minimize it as much as possible.
84 Historically it cannot be
denied, however, that these men formed the nucleus of the
first 'Alid party, or the Shi'a. It cannot be claimed that all
were equally enthusiastic and warm supporters; some of them
were lukewarm supporters who recognized `Ali's position as
the most worthy for the office of the caliphate because of his
personal merits, but nevertheless paid homage to Abu Bakr
without much resentment. The attitude of `Ammar, Miqdad,
Abu Dharr, and Salman must have been different from that
of the others. These four companions are regarded by all the
Shi`is as "the Four Pillars" (al-arkan al-arba`a) who formed
the first Shi`a of `Ali. After `Ali's compromise with Abu Bakr,
however, reasons for further opposition on the part of his
supporters ceased to exist and this elite of the first Shi'a
dwindled away physically. But can ideas, once introduced,
ever die out? The later years in the history of the development
of Islamic thought provide an answer to this question.

Notes to Chapter 2

1 Ibn Hisham, IV, pp. 306 f.
2 `Abd al-'Aziz ad-Duri, "Al-Zuhri, A Study on the Beginnings
of History Writing in Islam", BSOAS, XIX (1957), p.8
3 Ibn Hisham, IV, pp 307-10
4 Tahdhib, V, p.164
5 Wafayat, IV, pp.177 f.; Tahdhib, IX, p.445
6 Studies in Arabic Literary Papyri (Chicago, 1957-72), I,
pp. 5-31; II, pp. 5-64
7 Tahdhib, I, p.97
8 Wafayat, III, pp.255 ff.
9 ibid., VI, pp. 35 f.
10 Tahdhib, VII, p. 382; Aghani IX, pp. 135 ff.
11 Ibn Sa'd, II, pp.379 ff.
12 Ibn Sa'd, II, p. 382; Aghani; IX, p.137
13 Ibn Sa'd, II, pp.365 ff.
14 See W. Montgomery Watt, "`Abd Allah b. al-'Abbas", El2
15 Ibn Sa'd, III, pp. 169-213
16 ibid., pp. 169-71
17 ibid., pp.171-2
18 See Ch. 1, footnote 51
19 Ibn Sa'd, III, pp. 172-8
20 ibid., pp.178-81
21 ibid., p.179
22 ibid., pp. 181-5
23 Ibn Sa'd, V, p.187; Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib, VIII, p.333; Wafayat,
IV, pp.59 f.
24 For the life and work of Baladhuri, see Goitein's introduction
to Volume V of the Ansab, pp. 9-32
25On these early writers, see, respectively, Ibn Nadim, Fihrist,
pp.100 if., 95, 277, 91, 93
26Ansab al-Ashraf ed. Muhammad Hamidullah (Cairo, 1960),
I, pp. 579-91
27 Goitein, op. cit., p. 18
28 See footnote 12
29 Dhahabi, Mizan, II, p.299
30 ibid., IV, p.154
31 ibid., p. 436
32 Ta'rikh (Beirut, 1960), II, pp. I23-6
33 E. L. Petersen, `Ali And Mu'awiya In Early Arabic Tradition
(Copenhagen 1964), pp.169 ff.
34 Najashi, Rijal, p.245
35 Ibn Nadim, Fihrist, p.101
36 Sharh Nahj al-Balagha, ed. Muhammad Abu'l-Fadl Ibrahim,
2nd ed. (Beirut, 1965), II, pp. 21-6o
37 ibid., pp. 44-6o. For Al-Jawhari see Adh-Dhari`a, XII, p.206
38 Adh-Dhari`a ila Tasanif ash-Shi`a, 24 volumes, Najaf, passim
39 Dhahabi; Mizan, II, p.367
40 ibid., p.365
41 Tabari, I, pp.1837-45
42 Muruj adh-Dhahab, ed. Daghir (Beirut 1965), II, p.301, and at-
Tanbih wa'l-Ishraf (Beirut 1965), p. 284, in both of which he
mentions Saqifa only in passing, referring his reader to his exclusive
work on the subject, which unfortunately is lost.
43 Al-Kamil fi't-Ta'rikh, II, pp.221 if in which his account of
Saqifa is almost the same as that of Tabari
44 A1-`Iqd al-Farid, IV, pp.257 ff.
45 Ta'rikh al-Khulafa', ed. 'Abd al-Hamid, (Cairo, 1964),
46 Al-Ihtijaj, ed. Muhammad Baqir al-Khursan (Najaf 1966),
I, pp. 89-118
47 Bihar al-Anwar
48 A. Guillaume, translating the Sira, collected all the assertions
and comments of Ibn Hisham and arranged them separately at the
end of the book under the heading, "Ibn Hisham's Notes". There
are 922 notes of various length, some of them are as long as a page
or more. See A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad (Oxford, 1955),
pp. 690-798
49 This is a common accusation levelled against Ibn Ishaq. See,
however, Nabia Abbott's comments on this subject in Studies in
Arabic Literary Papyri (Chicago, 1957-72), I, p. 97. The remarkable
lack of any partiality in a fragment of the Ta'rikh al-Khulafa' leads
Abbott to question the accuracy of such accusations.
50 For the translation of Ibn Ishaq's account, I have largely drawn
on Guillaume's translation of the Sira.
51 Dhahabi; Mizan, I, p.133
52 ibid., p.33
53 Ibn Hisham, IV, pp.306 f.
54 Hadid, Sharh, II, p.25
55 Later he explained to Ibn 'Abbas that he wrongly understood
the Qur'anic verse (11, 143) which says, "Thus we have made you a
middle people that you may be a witness against men, and that the
Apostle may be a witness against you." Ibn Hisham, IV, pp.311 f.
56 e.g. Tabari, I, p.1683
57 Isti`ab, III, p.1248
58 ibid., IV, p.1441
59 ibid., p.1449. His father's name must be `Arfaja.
60 ibid., I., p. 316
61 On these rivalries, see Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at
Mecca, pp. 4-8, 16-20, 141-4; idem, Muhammad at Medina (Oxford,
1956), pp.151-91
62 Isti`ab, II, p. 594
63 ibid., I., pp.92 if. Ya`qubi's description of him (II, p.124) as a
Khazraji leader must be a scribal error.
64 Isti`ab, I., pp.172 if. Our sources are not clear on who paid
homage first. Ya'qubi, loc. cit., says it was Bashir b. Sa'd, while
according to Baladhuri, I, p. 582, it was Usayd b. Hudayr.
65 See Henri Lammens, "Le 'triumvirat' Abou Bakr, 'Omar, et
Abo `Obaida", Melanges de la Faculte Orientale de l'Universite St
Joseph de Beyrouth, IV (1910), pp.113-44
66 From here on, our sources are utterly confused about the
timing of the sequence of events, since each tradition is recorded
separately. We are not, therefore, sure whether the demand of
homage from 'Ali and his supporters was made immediately after
they came to the mosque from the Saqifa, or after the burial of the
Prophet on the following day when general homage was being paid
to Abu Bakr. A careful reading of the sources (e.g. Baladhuri, I,
p. 582) strongly suggests, however, that it was demanded as soon
as they came to the mosque from the Saqifa.
67 Many versions of this tradition may be found in Baladhuri, I,
pp. 585 f.; Ya'qubi, II, p. iz6; Tabari, I, p. 1818; Abu Bakr al-
Jawhari in Hadid, Sharh Nahj al-Balagha, II, pp.47, 50, 56 f.; 'Iqd,
IV, pp.259 f. Al-Imama Wa's-Siyasa, I, pp.12-13, (though its
attribution to Ibn Qutayba is incorrect, it is certainly a very early
work extremely rich in sources) gives a very detailed account of the
episode of 'Umar and Abu Bakr's attack on the house of Fatima and
the force used to secure 'Ali's homage. Also L. V. Vaglieri, EP
article "Fatima", who, commenting on these events, says "Even if
they have been expanded by invented details, they are based on facts."
68 Ya'qubi, II, p. 126; Baladhuri, I, p. 586; Tabari, I, p. 1825; 'Iqd,
IV, p.260; Hadid, II, p.22
69 For the details and certain differences in names see Ya'qubi,
loc. cit.; Baladhuri, I, p. 588; 'Iqd, IV, p.259; Hadid, II, pp. 50 ff.
70 Ibn Sa'd, VI, p.15; Isti`ab, I, p.334
71 Ibn Sa'd, IV, pp. 378 ff.; Isti`ab, II, p.448
72 Ibn Sa'd, III, pp 484 ff.; Isti`ab, II, p.424; IV, p. 1606
73 Ibn Sa'd, III, pp.471 f.; Isti`ab, II, p.662
73 Isti`ab, III, p.1033
75 Ibn Sa'd, IV, p.364; Isti`ab, I, pp.155 _
76 Ibn Sa'd, III, p. 498; Isti`ab, I, pp. 65 f.
77 Ibn Sa`d, IV, p.219; Isti`ab, IV, pp.1652 f.
78 Ibn Sa`d, III, p. 246; Isti`ab, III, pp.1135 ff
79 Isti`ab, IV, pp.1480 ff
80 Ibn Sa`d, IV, p.75; Isti`ab, II, p.634
81 Isti`ab, II, p.510
82 Ibn Sa`d, IV, p.97 Isti`ab, II, pp.420 ff For his support to `A1i,
see Baladhuri, I, p.588; Ya'qubi, p. 126; Hadid, II, p.58
83 e.g. see Tabarsi, Ihtijaj, I, pp.118-89
84 e.g. see Ibn Sa'd, III, pp. 181-5