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  The Origins and Early Development of Shi`a Islam

Chapter 3

`Ali and the First Two Caliphs

The discussion above will suffice to elucidate our view that
the origins of Shi`i feelings and inclinations may be found in
the conception of the sanctity for which the Banu Hashim
were widely known, in the special consideration with which
'Ali was held by Muhammad (who was, above all, fully
conscious of his family's traditionally religious heritage and
exalted position), and lastly, in the events in favour of 'Ali
which took place during Muhammad's lifetime. Since the
first convergence of these convictions focused on the questions
and issues involved in the Saqifa incident, this episode marks
both the first open expression of and the point of departure
for what ultimately developed into the Shi`i understanding of
Islam. However, after the initial defeat of 'Ali's supporters
and his own recognition of Abu Bakr's administration six
months later, circumstances were such that Shi'i tendencies
lost most of their open and active manifestations. The period
of the caliphates of Abu Bakr and 'Umar, between the Saqifa
episode and the Shura (the election of 'Uthman), is thus one
of comparative dormancy in the history of the development
of Shi'ism.
Nevertheless, a close scrutiny of the early sources, and
especially a careful comparison of the Shi'i and Sunni early
records, reveals two distinct and important undercurrents in
operation throughout this period ; firstly, 'Ali's passive attitude
towards the ruling authorities; and secondly, the attempts of
Abu Bakr and 'Umar to displace Banu~ Hashim, and especially
'Ali, from their prerogative claims to the leadership of the
community according to their own understanding of the new
order and the form they felt it should take. Both of these
trends apparent in this period form an inseparable phase in
the development of Shi`i ideas and therefore should be taken
into consideration.
'Ali's passive attitude can easily be illustrated by comparing
the active role played by him during the lifetime of
Muhammad with his completely inactive and withdrawn life
in the period immediately following the Prophet's death. The
most active and enthusiastic participant in all the enterprises
in the cause of Islam and a great warrior in the forefront of all
the battles fought under Muhammad,
1 'Ali suddenly reverted
to leading a quiet life, almost confined to the four walls of his
house. This marked contrast cannot have been without
serious causes.
2 Seeing 'Ali's firm conviction that he had the
best claims to succeed Muhammad, as is evident from all the
sources, one would have expected him to fight for his rights
to the bitter end. He did not resort to this course of action,
however, even though such opportunities presented them
selves. He declined to make use of the strong military support
offered to him by Abu Sufyan to fight for his rights, for he
considered that such action would lead to the destruction of
infant Islam.
3 At the same time, on the other hand, he did not
recognize Abu Bakr and refused to pay him homage for six
months. In addition to the demoralizing factor of Fatima's
death, which occurred six months after the succession of Abu
Bakr, what perhaps compelled 'Ali to reconcile his position
with the existing order was the serious eruption of apostasy
and rebellion among the Arab tribes in the peninsula. This
coincidence of Abu Bakr's succession and the rebellion of the
tribes naturally forced people in Medina to forget whatever
ideological or personal differences they had and to unite
themselves against a common danger. Such a serious external
threat to the very existence of the Islamic order proved to be
a great advantage to Abu Bakr in reducing internal opposition
to his rule. The character of 'Ali as presented by both Sunni
and Shi'i sources alike suggests that his feelings of love,
dedication, sincerity, and undivided loyalty to the cause of
Islam were above personal considerations. From the age of
thirteen he had been committed to the service of the mission
of the Prophet; seeing such a dangerous and widespread
rebellion of the tribes against Islam, 'Ali had no choice but to
reconcile himself with the existing order. This he did. But he
did not take any active part in any of the apostasy wars, thus
still preserving his withdrawn attitude; nor did Abu Bakr ask
him to participate in the wars outside Medina.
In spite of maintaining his withdrawn and passive attitude
towards Abu Bakr and 'Umar, 'Ali did occasionally help the
caliphs. This co-operation rendered to the ruling caliphs
appears to have been of the same nature as that expected of
any reasonable opposition leader. He recognized that, under
the circumstances, the solidarity, security, and integrity of the
community could only be preserved if the diverse groups
which it comprised were willing to co-operate and maintain
harmonious relations among themselves. Yet within this
framework he attempted, again as was to be expected, to
correct what he regarded as mistakes of the government, and
criticized policies which differed from his viewpoint.
The points of difference in religious and political matters
between 'Ali on the one hand, and Abu Bakr and 'Umar on
the other, are difficult to ascertain because both the Sunni
and the Shi`i source materials are extremely tendentious. The
Sunni sources, such as the works of Ibn Sa'd and those who
followed him, were written in the period when the recognition
of the first four caliphs as the Rashidun was firmly established
in the fama`a. (The English term "orthodoxy", which is
usually used for the central body of the Muslims, is in an
Islamic context not only incorrect but misleading; we shall
therefore use the Arabic term fama`a for this so-called
orthodoxy.) Naturally, every effort was made to show as much
agreement as possible, at least between 'Ali, Abu Bakr, and
'Umar. 'Uthman tends to be excluded in religious and
political matters, though attempts were nevertheless made to
save even 'Uthman's position by blaming the abuses of his
caliphate on Marwan, his notorious secretary. On the other
hand, the Shi'i sources give a completely different and
extreme view of 'Ali's disagreement, not only with 'Uthman,
but also with Abu Bakr and 'Umar, on almost every matter,
whether religious or political. In short, according to the Sunni
sources, 'Ali was a valued counsellor of the caliphs who
preceded him; according to the Shi`i sources, he was the
person who, dominated by his heroic love and sense of
sacrifice for the faith and disregarding his personal grievances,
saved the caliphs from committing the serious mistakes to
which they were often prone and which would otherwise
have been suicidal for Islam. 'Umar is thus often reported to
have said: "Had there not been 'Ali, 'Umar would have
perished." It is very interesting to note that this statement is
reported by some of the important early Sunni authors too.
4
Apart from some of the serious points of disagreement
between 'Ali and his first two successful rivals, for which
there is unanimous historical testimony, as we shall point out
below, exactitude in the determination of the mass of this
material is probably beyond our reach. The truth, however,
seems to have been, as Veccia Vaglieri suggests, that "`Ali was
included in the council of the caliphs, but although it is
probable that he was asked for advice on legal matters in view
of his excellent knowledge of the Qur'an and the Sunna, it is
extremely doubtful whether his advice was accepted by
'Umar, who had been a ruling power even during the
caliphate of Abu Bakr."
5 Moreover, evidence of `Ali's opinions
not being accepted on religious matters is manifested in the
fact that his decisions very seldom find a place in the later-
developed Sunni schools of law, whereas 'Umar's decisions
find common currency among them. On the other hand, 'Ali
is a frequently quoted authority on matters of law in all Shi`i
branches.
6 On political and administrative matters, his
disagreement with 'Umar on the question of Diwan (distri-
bution of stipends) and his absence from all the wars fought
under 'Umar can be well cited. Without further elaboration,
it may safely be assumed from our evidence that, regardless
of the exact nature of his feelings and aspirations, 'Ali
maintained a passive and withdrawn attitude towards the
caliphates of both Abu Bakr and 'Umar.
'Ali accepted the political realities of his day, but never the-
less remained convinced of the fact that he was better
qualified for the caliphate and that he had been unjustly
deprived of the leadership of the community. 'Ali's feelings
regarding his predecessors are best expressed in his own
words in one of his famous speeches at the mosque of Kufa
during his own caliphate. This historic exposition of 'Ali,
known as ash-Shaqshiqiyya, is recorded by Ash-Sharif ar-
Radi in the Nahj al-Balagha,
7 which contains 'Ali's sermons,
speeches, letters, and maxims. As with most of the material
presented in this valuable work, there can hardly be any
doubt as to the authenticity of this speech, since it was
reported by many early authors long before Ash-Sharif ar-
Radi 'Ali says:

"Nay, by God, the son of Abu Quhafa [Abu Bakr] had exacted
the caliphate for himself while he knew full well that my position
in it was like that of the pivot in a mill; the flood waters flow down
beneath me and the birds do not soar high up to me; yet I hung
up a curtain before it and turned aside from it [the caliphate]. I
then started thinking whether I should attack with a severing
hand or should watch patiently the blind darkness in which the
old man becomes decrepit and the young man old, in which the
believer tries his utmost till he meets his Lord, and I came to the
conclusion that patience in a situation like this was wiser. So I
adopted patience, although there was a mote rankling in my eye
and a bone sticking in my throat on seeing my heritage being
plundered, till the first one [Abu Bakr] died and handed over the
reins of the caliphate to another person ['Umar] after him. [Here
'Ali quotes a verse from the poet A`sha, which reads] 'How vast
is the difference between this day of mine when I am on the back
of the camel [i.e. suffering from the hardship of a rough journey]
and the day of Hayyan, brother of Jabir [i.e. when he was
comfortably placed under the power and prestige of Hayyan.
8
How hard did they [Abu Bakr and 'Umar] squeeze its udders
and how they made it [the caliphate] travel on a rugged path,
which inflicts deep wounds and is rough to the touch, in which
one stumbles frequently and has to offer excuses, so that its rider
is like the rider of a difficult mount: if he draws its reins tight, its
nose is pierced, and if he relaxes it, he plunges into destruction.
And so the people were afflicted, by God, with stumbling,
refractoriness, capriciousness, and cross-purposes. But I kept
patience in spite of the length of time and the severity of the
ordeal, until he ['Umar] went his way."
9

'Ali thus describes his feelings towards the reign of his two
predecessors and summarizes their periods in the caliphate.
Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid, writing a long commentary on this speech,
explains major characteristics of the first two caliphs, their
policies in arranging the affairs of the community, their
attitude towards 'Ali, and 'Ali's reservations about the
handling of matters by them.
We may now turn to the second observation made above
concerning this interim period in the development of Shi'ism:
the attempts made by both Abu Bakr and 'Umar to displace
the Banu Hashim in general and 'Ali in particular from
prerogatives in the leadership of the Umma. The first and
most important step in this direction was taken by Abu Bakr
on the day following the Prophet's death, when Fatima came
to claim the estate of Fadak. She asserted that this estate was
given to her father unconditionally as his share of the spoils
of Khaybar.
10 Quoting Muhammad's words: "We [the
Prophets] do not leave as inheritance what we make legal
alms," Abu Bakr refused her claim, maintaining that Fadak
belonged to the community as a whole and that Fatima,
although entitled to the usufruct, could not hold the right of
ownership.
11
This question of inheritance soon became one of the most
debated problems in the conflict between the Shi'a and their
opponents.
12 It might seem that Abu Bakr's refusal in effect
meant that no claims would be justified on family grounds.
To acknowledge the justice of one claim of inheritance based
on family ties would open the door to further and more
extensive claims, and Abu Bakr felt that to accept the rights
of the family of 'Ali to the inheritance of Fadak might be
regarded as equal to admitting their rights to the succession
of the Prophet in all spheres, spiritual as well as material.
This fear was perhaps based on the grounds that Muhammad,
as leader of the community, was entitled to one fifth of the
spoils of war (Khums), and by this special right he became
owner of the Fadak. To inherit a property as a token of an
exalted position and prerogative was somewhat different
from an ordinary inheritance. It is almost unanimously
reported that after this event Fatima did not speak to either
Abu Bakr or 'Umar till her death six months later. She asked
'Ali to have her buried at night, and not to allow Abu Bakr
and 'Umar to take part in her funeral. 'Ali accordingly carried
out her wishes and buried her at night, with only the family
members accompanying her coffin.
13
The caliphate of Abu Bakr lasted just over two years, and
on his deathbed he explicitly appointed 'Umar, already a
ruling power behind him, as his successor. The way he
arranged the problem of succession after him leaves us in no
doubt that Abu Bakr had made up his mind in favour of
'Umar since his assumption of the caliphate. He took careful
measures to preclude any possibility of opposition to his
nomination of `Umar and made sure that the latter should
not face any difficulty. He was fully aware of `Ali's claims to
the caliphate and the support and respect he enjoyed from a
certain group. Abu Bakr therefore first called 'Abd ar-
Rahman b. `Awf, told him about his decision, and after some
persuasion secured his consent. The only other person whom
the dying caliph called in to make his decision known was
`Uthman b. `Affan. When the news of Abu Bakr's decision
came out, some of the prominent Companions of the Prophet
became extremely disturbed and apprehensive. Under the
leadership of Talha, they sent a delegation to protest against
the decision and tried to persuade the Caliph not to nominate
`Umar.
14 Nothing could change Abu Bakr's mind, and he
asked `Uthman to write down his testament in favour of
`Umar. The community at large had no share in the choice
and was told by the Caliph to accept his nomination and obey
'Umar as the new caliph after him, for he could not think of
anyone more suitable than him. The testament he announced
before the people reads:

"This is a testament of Abu Bakr, the successor of the Prophet
of God, to the believers and the Muslims... I have appointed as
ruler over you 'Umar b. al-Khattab, so listen to him and obey
him. I have not made him your ruler except for [your] good."
15

Anyone reading the account of 'Umar's nomination by
Abu Bakr will immediately notice that the decision was
neither based on the method of consultation with the elite of
the people, nor was the opinion of the community in general
sought before the choice was made. It was simply Abu Bakr's
own personal and arbitrary decision, which he wanted to be
endorsed by only those of the Companions whom he
considered most important from a clannish point of view, as
will be seen below.
For our interest, however, at once the most important and
revealing point is that in this entire process of the nomination
of `Umar by Abu Bakr, 'Ali was totally ignored and excluded
from the ranks of those the dying Caliph called for
consultation, if consultation it was, and whose support he
tried to secure. In fact, as all of our sources unanimously
report, from all the Companions of the Prophet only two,
'Abd ar-Rahman b. 'Awf and 'Uthman, were selected by Abu
Bakr for consultation and then were entrusted with the
charge of wholehearted support for 'Umar.
16 This in all
probability must have been on the suggestion of 'Umar
himself, who planned to counteract any possible opposition
from the Banu Hashim by appealing to this branch of the
Quraysh. 'Abd ar-Rahman belonged to the Banu Zuhra and
'Uthman to the Banu Umayya, both of which had been
serious rivals of Banu Hashim before Islam. The emergence
of these two Companions was very characteristic in many
ways, especially for the development of the later history of the
caliphate, for they represented the wealthiest circles of the
Muslim community.
17 'Abd ar-Rahman was 'Uthman's
brother-in-law, and the two men could be expected to support
each other. The former also had the wholehearted support of
Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, a fellow clan member and cousin from
the Banu Zuhra. In this way the direct support and influence
of the most important political elements among the Muhaji-
run were secured to oppose any possible activity from the
Banu Hashim and their partisans in favour of `Ali's candidacy.
'Ali's serious disagreements with the policies of 'Umar in
both political and religious matters will be discussed below in
connection with the selection of 'Uthman. Here it may be
pointed out in passing that during the most active and
eventful ten years of 'Umar's caliphate, in which the most
spectacular conquests of Persian and Byzantine provinces
took place and in which all the prominent Companions of the
Prophet took active part, 'Ali remained uninvolved. Nor did
'Ali hold any office under 'Umar, as had been the case under
Abu Bakr and would continue later under 'Uthman. The
only exception was his being in charge of Medina during
'Umar's journey to Palestine, when he took with him all the
other leading Companions of the Prophet and military
commanders to approve regulations of the conquest and the
Diwan. 'Ali alone was absent from the historic surrender of
Jerusalem and Syria. 'Umar is reported to have strictly
prevented the Banu Hashim from going out of Medina.
18
This is evident from the very fact that neither 'Ali nor any
other member of the Banu Hashim has been reported to have
taken part in any activity outside the capital.
'Umar's attitude towards 'Ali is best illustrated by a
dialogue which took place between the former and Ibn
'Abbas. On a certain occasion 'Umar asked Ibn 'Abbas, "Why
did `Ali not join us and co-operate with us? Why did the
Quraysh not support your family while your father is the
uncle and you are the cousin of the Prophet?" "I do not know,"
replied Ibn 'Abbas. "But I know the reason," said 'Umar.
"Because the Quraysh did not like to allow both the
Prophethood and the caliphate to be combined in your house,
for with this you would feel arrogant and rejoice."
19 In
another version, when ~Umar heard some verses of Zuhayr b.
Abi Sulma which described the glory, nobility of descent,
and virtues of the clan of Banu 'Abd Allah b. Ghatfan, he said
to Ibn 'Abbas: "I do not know any other clan among the
Quraysh to whom these verses can be better applied than the
Banu Hashim, because of their relationship and superior
claims to the Prophet, but the people did not like to allow the
Prophethood and the caliphate in your family so that you
would become arrogant and rejoice at it among the people.
The Quraysh, therefore, preferred to choose the leader for
themselves and they made the right choice and were guided
by God in that." "O, Prince of the Faithful," said Ibn `Abbas,
"as for your statement that the Quraysh chose their own
leader and were guided in the right choice, it may be correct
if the choice of Quraysh for their leader was in the same sense
as the choice of God from among the Quraysh. As for your
statement that the Quraysh did not like to allow both the
Prophethood and the caliphate to be with us, it is not
surprising, for God has described many people who disliked
'what God has sent down to them and thus render their deeds
fruitless'."
20 At this point ~Umar became angry and said: "I
have heard many things about you but I ignored them
because of my regard for you. I am told that you think that we
have taken away the caliphate from you through oppression
and because of envy." "As for oppression, it is evident," said
Ibn 'Abbas, "and as concerns envy, so it is obvious; Satan
envied Adam and we are the children of Adam." 'Umar lost
his temper and retorted, "Alas, O Banu Hashim, your hearts
are full of hatred, rancour, and false pretensions." "Be gentle,
O Prince of the Faithful," said Ibn `Abbas, "and do not
describe the hearts of the people from whom God has
removed all kinds of uncleanliness and purified them with
complete purification.
21 Moreover, the Prophet himself
belonged to the Banu Hashim." "Let us leave this topic," said
`Umar.
22 The dialogue speaks for itself and needs no
comment. It will suffice to say that it is one of the most
revealing statements in explaining the attitude of 'Umar
towards 'Ali on the one hand, and the Hashimite attitude
towards 'Ali's predecessors in the caliphate on the other.
However, the dominating personality of 'Umar and his
realistic understanding of the tides of the time were strong
enough not to allow any manifestation of discontent during
his rule, which was continuously involved in the conquest of
rich new lands for Islam. The occupation of Abu Bakr with
quelling the rebellion of the apostate tribes within the Arabian
peninsula, and of 'Umar in conquering foreign lands, served,
consciously or unconsciously, to keep internal feuds at rest.
On the whole, the caliphate of `Umar, as that of his predecessor
Abu Bakr, characterizes a period in which Islamic ideals of
simplicity, justice, equality, devotion to the cause, zeal for the
faith, and a socio-economic equilibrium according to their
understanding of these, were best represented. After a
successful rule of ten years, however, the powerful caliph met
his end by the dagger of a Persian slave and died on 26 Dhu'l-
Hijja 23/3 November 644.
Unlike Abu Bakr, 'Umar during his long caliphate could
not develop complete trust and confidence in any one person
to justify nominating him as his successor.
23 He nevertheless
restricted the choice to six of the early Companions among
the Muhajirun, who had to choose one of themselves as the
new caliph. The members of this committee, later referred to
by the Muslim jurists and theorists as the Shura or electorate
body, were: 'Uthman, 'Abd ar-Rahman b. 'Awf, Sa'd b. Abi
Waqqas, 'Ali, Zubayr, and Talha, with `Umar's own son 'Abd
Allah only in the capacity of an advisor, not as a candidate.
24
Two conspicuous factors are to be observed here. First, the
community at Medina as a whole had no say in the selection
of the new leader, as both candidacy and decision-making
power were confined to the six persons nominated by the
Caliph; thus the principle of so-called democracy or election
by the people in choosing their leader cannot be applied.
Second and more important is the fact that the Ansar of
Medina were completely excluded from expressing their
opinion in the affair of the leadership. Perhaps this was due
either to their pro-`Alid sympathies manifested at the Saqifa,
or to `Umar's desire to eliminate any possibility of an Ansari
being suggested as a candidate. This proved to be a serious
blow to the political influence of the Ansar, and one from
which they were never able to recover.
It is not intended to record here in detail the events of the
Shura as such, but rather to recall what had a direct bearing
on the development of Shi'ism. According to the unanimous
account given by our sources, 'Umar meticulously laid down
the regulations which had to be followed by the committee.
These regulations were that: 1 : the new caliph must be one of
this committee, elected by the majority vote of its members;
2: that in the case of two candidates having equal support, the
one backed by 'Abd ar-Rahman b. `Awf was to be nominated;
3: that if any member of the council shrank from participating,
he was to be beheaded instantly; and lastly, 4: that when a
candidate had been duly elected, in the event of one or two
members of the conclave refusing to recognize him, this
minority, or, in the case of equal division of three members on
each side, the group opposed to `Abd ar-Rahman, were to be
slain. To enforce this order 'Umar called in Abu Talha al-
Ansari
25 of the tribe of Khazraj, commanding him to select
fifty trusted persons from his tribe to stand at the door of the
assembly with swords in hand to ensure that the members of
the committee should follow these orders.
26 By appointing
the Khazrajites, who immediately after the death of the
Prophet had wanted the leadership for themselves, 'Umar
guaranteed that his orders would not be taken lightly.
There is hardly any room to doubt the authenticity of the
report that 'Umar imposed such stern regulations on the
members of the committee. Few accounts in the early history
of Islam have received such unanimous historical testimony
as that of 'Umar's arrangements of the Shura and the
regulations laid down by him. A comparison of the texts of
Baladhuri, Ya'qubi, Tabari; and Mas`udi, followed by
numerous other historians such as Dhahabi and Ibn al-Athir,
shows that the basic account is the same in all of them. All
these writers cite different authorities belonging to different
and often conflicting schools of thought and inclination.
27
Nabia Abbott
28 has recently published a papyrus fragment of
Ibn Ishaq's Ta'rikh al-Khulafa' (with valuable commentary)
which deals with the Shura and the terms fixed by `Umar.
Ibn Ishaq wrote at least one hundred years before any one of
the historians cited above, and it is of great importance to note
that the account given by Ibn Ishaq is strikingly the same.
This confirms the account of our historians. Besides this
unanimous historical testimony, the circumstances of the
time and other guiding factors strongly attest to the accuracy
of the account. When we compare 'Umar's characteristic
sternness dominant in his personality and the decisive policies
that characterized his rule, with the nature of the regulations
imposed by him on the members of the electorate council at
such a critical moment, the two factors are in conformity with
each other. In addition, the manner in which all the historians
record the conditions makes it clear that, on the one hand,
'Umar was sure that only one of these six companions could
become the next caliph, but, on the other hand, he was certain
that they would oppose each other in order to avail themselves
of the opportunity for leadership. He was therefore afraid of
critical dissension among the possible candidates and the
disastrous consequences this would have for the young
community. This is clearly evident from the report that
'Umar called in the members of the Shura and said: "I looked
around and found that you are the leaders of the people and
the caliphate cannot go except to one of you; but I am afraid
that dissension will arise among you and [because of your
dissension] the people will also split among themselves."
29
Thus motivated, he laid down such stringent restrictions as
he deemed necessary to protect the community from the
effects of disastrous schism.
These measures, however, did simultaneously accomplish
two main purposes which seem to have been in the mind of
the dying Caliph, and which he must have thought to be in
the best interests of the community. On the one hand, these
measures saved the young Umma, though only for the time
being, from serious dissension; on the other hand, through
these meticulous arrangements 'Umar completed the task of
keeping the caliphate away from the Banu Hashim, an
endeavour he had undertaken immediately after the Prophet's
death. Being fully aware of `Ali's claims and remembering
that he had not even recognized Abu Bakr for six months,
'Umar knew that 'Ali would not agree to make his claims the
subject of debate in a self-instituted council of electors unless
he was bound to do so under compulsion. Though aware of
the considerable ambitions of both Zubayr and Talha, 'Umar
also realized that 'Ali and 'Uthman, among all other members
of the council, carried much more weight and realistically
were the only ones who had the support necessary to advance
themselves as serious candidates, each backed by his own
clan, the Banu Hashim and the Banu Umayya respectively.
'Umar also seems to have realized that 'Ali stood a much
better chance of success now than 'Uthman on the grounds
which have been discussed in Chapter I. It was no longer
possible for the Caliph to simply ignore the claims of `Ali; and
had he not forced him to become a member of the Shura, he
would have given the Prophet's cousin and the candidate of
the Banu Hashim a free hand to strive for office for himself.
30
By bestowing both the chairmanship and the final authority
of the committee on 'Abd ar-Rahman b. 'Awf, 'Umar
effectively blocked the chances of 'All and virtually guaran-
teed the nomination of 'Uthman. This was such an obvious
fact that almost all of our sources record it in the very words
of 'Ali himself. When he heard the regulations laid down by
'Umar and that 'Abd ar-Rahman was given the casting vote,
'Ali remonstrated, saying:
"By God, the caliphate (Amr) has again been taken away from
us because the final authority rests in the hands of 'Abd ar-
Rahman, who is an old friend and brother-in-law of 'Uthman,
whereas Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas is 'Abd ar-Rahman's cousin from
the Banu Zuhra; naturally these three will support each other,
and even if Zubayr and Talha vote for me it would be of no
use."
31
In this way, 'Umar dealt a final blow to the superior claims
of the Banu Hashim by giving their old rivals, the Banu
Umayya, a new lease of power. The clan of Umayya, on its
part, saw this as its golden opportunity, and Abu Sufyan in
particular regarded the accession of 'Uthman as the return of
the entire clan to a position of power which they should at all
costs preserve.
32
'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet's uncle and head
of the Banu Hashim, is reported to have warned 'Ali not to
participate in the Shura and to maintain his freedom of
action,
33 but 'Umar's provisions precluded such a course of
action. All of our sources agree that 'Ali yielded only under
direct pressure, threatened by fear of arms if he declined to
abide by 'Umar's will.
34 When one recalls 'Ali's protests
twelve years earlier against the nomination of Abu Bakr after
the death of the Prophet, it is not difficult to imagine how
deeply disappointed 'Ali must have been to see, for a third
time, another man given preference over him. This he
describes in his speech of Ash-Shaqshiqiyya, the first part of
which has been quoted above:

"`Umar [from his deathbed] entrusted it [the choice of caliph]
to six persons among whom he claimed one was I. By God, and
what a council [i.e., "what chance did I stand in it?"]. When did
doubt about me cross anyone's mind, even in the case of the first
of them [Abu Bakr] so that I was associated to a member of his
like?
35 But I went along with them in all situations and I dropped
low when they dropped and flew up when they flew. Then one of
them [Sa'd] inclined towards his companion ['Abd ar-Rahman]
while 'Abd ar-Rahman swayed in favour of his brother-in-law
['Uthman], and they did other unmentionable things."
36

It is by no means easy to establish what really transpired in
the deliberations and debates of the council which resulted in
the appointment of 'Uthman. In the mass of the material
handed down to us, there is, however, a commonly reported
tradition, at once very important and most revealing. It is said
that, after three days of long debates and wrangling, at the
time of the morning prayer when the Muslims assembled in
the mosque to hear the decision of the electoral body, 'Abd ar-
Rahman b. 'Awf first offered the caliphate to 'Ali on two
conditions: one, that he should rule in accordance with the
Qur'an and the Sunna of the Prophet; and two, that he must
follow the precedents established by two former caliphs.
Accepting the first condition, 'Ali declined to comply with
the second, declaring that in all cases in which he found no
positive law of the Qur'an or decision of the Prophet, he
would only rely on his own judgement. 'Abd ar-Rahman
then turned to 'Uthman and put the same conditions before
him. `Uthman readily consented to them, whereupon 'Abd
ar-Rahman declared him caliph.
37 As will be discussed below,
this point was later made the basis of the differences between
Sunny and Shi`i legal theory and practice, whereby the Shi`i
jurists rejected the decisions of the first three caliphs.
This tradition bears the unanimous testimony of both
Sunni and Shi`i historians alike, and therefore its authenticity
can hardly be questioned, as has been done by some scholars.
If later Sunni theologians attempted to ignore it, it was simply
because of the fact that the tradition compromised the newly
established concept of the acceptance of the first four caliphs
as the Rashidun (rightly guided), and their decisions as
precedents for the foundation of the fama`a. Apart from this
historical evidence, the most convincing factor in support of
the accuracy of this tradition lies in 'Ali's own independent
nature and in the marked individuality of his character.
When we try to delineate 'Ali's character from his conversion
to Islam at the age of ten or so until his death, the following
characteristics emerge. He was uncompromising in his
principles, straightforward, and above all too stern in his
religious outlook, a factor which may have contributed to the
later failure of his own caliphate. These features predominate
throughout his career. It is not possible here to go into the
details of his biography, but the clearest expressions of his
independent attitude are to be found in instances such as
when he insisted that hadd (punishment) be carried out on
'Abd Allah b. 'Umar for the murder of Hurmuzan.
38 On
another occasion, when all others refused to administer the
flogging punishment on Walid b. 'Uqba, guilty of drunken-
ness, 'Ali took this task on himself.
39 A still stronger
manifestation of his rigid adherence to principles was when
he issued orders of dismissal to Mu'awiya and other Umayyad
governors, though advised by his friends to first consolidate
his strength in the capital.
40
As has been discussed above, even during 'Ali's period of
general inactivity there were points of serious disagreement
between him and the Caliphs Abu Bakr and 'Umar. He was
entirely opposed to 'Umar on the question of Diwan, and
recommended the distribution of the entire revenue, holding
nothing in reserve, a policy which 'Umar did not accept.
41
Involving, as it did, so many administrative and financial
questions, this disagreement can hardly be considered
insignificant, and in fact it was only one of several major
disputes to which the sources allude. Nasr b. Muzahim al-
Minqari (died 212/827), one of the earliest writers of great
importance and credibility, preserved for us the revealing
correspondence exchanged between 'Ali and Mu'awiya.
Mu'awiya, in his letter to 'Ali, besides accusing him of
responsibility for the murder of 'Uthman, which is the main
theme of the letter, levelled other charges against him as well.
One of them was that 'Ali tried to rebel against Abu Bakr,
delayed in recognizing him as the caliph, did not co-operate
with the first two caliphs during their caliphates, and
continually disagreed with them.
42 'Ali in his reply, while
rejecting all other accusations as false, argued that his delay
in recognizing Abu Bakr and his resentment towards him
was due to the fact that he considered himself better qualified
for the leadership of the community on the same grounds as
Abu Bakr had put forward against the Ansar. That is, if the
Quraysh had better claims as against the Ansar because of the
former's relationship to the Prophet, then the Banu Hashim
had the strongest rights, being nearest to the Prophet in
relationship.
43
'Abd ar-Rahman knew these differences full well and at
the same time he also knew equally well 'Ali's independent
and uncompromising nature. But this time, with the deaths
of the dominating personalities of Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and Abu
'Ubayda b. al-Jarrah, it was not so easy to set 'Ali aside without
serious cause, for his possible rivals (or rival in the person of
'Uthman) were much inferior to him in many ways. The
deed was, however, accomplished by involving 'Ali in an
elective committee in which he had no chance of gaining
solid majority support, and then offering him the caliphate
on terms which would be unacceptable to him.
'Uthman was a weak man; apart from considerations of
family relationships and personal friendship, this weakness
was probably one of the reasons why 'Abd ar-Rahman
supported him. Realizing the weakness of his own claims to
the office, 'Abd ar-Rahman wanted to establish as caliph a
man who would rely on him and serve his interests, which
were those of the Quraysh aristocracy and the rich. 'Ali, who
belonged to the poor and ascetically minded (zuhhad) class,
had little in common with such interests and is reported to
have repeatedly denounced worldly comforts by saying, "O
gold and silver, try to tempt someone other than me."
44 In
contrast to this attitude, 'Abd ar-Rahman and other members
of the Shura were men of prosperity and wealth, and now,
with the conquests of the Byzantine and Persian empires,
they were avidly seeking the tremendous new opportunities
opened up before them. 'Uthman's caliphate provided them
with such an opportunity and within a few years they had
accumulated enormous wealth and had become the richest
people of the community. `Uthman himself left at his death
100,000 dinars, 1,000,000 dirhams, and estates worth over
100,000 dinars in addition to herds of horses and camels.
Similarly the riches of `Abd ar-Rahman, Zubayr, Talha and
Sa`d b. Abi Waqqas are described as running into millions.
45
Apart from group politics and party partisanship, it was
therefore quite natural for such men to elect someone
representing their own class.
The selection of 'Uthman did not pass without serious
protest from `Ali himself and opposition from some of his old
and ardent partisans. Keeping in view the long-standing
disputes between the Banu Hashim and the Banu Umayya,
going back to the days of Hashim b. `Abd Manaf and his
brother 'Abd ash-Shams over the religious and political
leadership of the Quraysh, one can well imagine Banu
Hashim's feelings now that the new authority stemming from
Muhammad, a Hashimite, had been taken over by an
Umayyad. The speeches made and the harsh words ex-
changed between the supporters of 'Ali and those of 'Uthman,
following 'Abd ar-Rahman's announcement of the selection
of the latter, manifest not only partisanship for one or the
other, but the trends of thinking and the fundamental
differences in approach. Ibn Abi Sarh, a notorious Umayyad,
once condemned to death by the Prophet,
46 spoke enthusi-
astically in support of 'Uthman, with whom he had been
suckled by the same wet-nurse, and said to 'Abd ar-Rahman,
"If you desire that the Quraysh should not split among
themselves, then appoint 'Uthman." On this 'Ammar b. Yasir,
an ardent supporter of 'Ali, rebuking Ibn Abi Sarh and
referring to his past anti-Islamic career, reproachfully said,
"Since when have you become an advisor to the Muslims?"
47
A heated exchange of words followed between the Banu
Hashim and the Banu Umayya. Here the statement of
'Ammar is worth noting, when he said, "O people, God has
made us most honourable through His Prophet and distin-
guished us through His religion, but you are turning away
from the people of the house (Ahl al-Bayt) of your Prophet."
In reply to this, someone from the clan of Makhzum, an old
rival of the Banu Hashim, retorted, saying: "This is a matter
to be settled among the Quraysh themselves [`Ammar was a
South Arabian]. Who are you to interfere in our affairs ?"
48
The protest 'of Miqdad in favour of 'Ali was even stronger
than that of `Ammar. He said: "It is very hard to see how the
people are paying their respect to the members of the family
(Ahl al-Bayt) of their Prophet after him. It is indeed shocking
to see that the Quraysh have forsaken and by-passed the man
who is the best among them." Then someone asked Miqdad:
"Who are these Ahl al-Bayt, and who is that man from them?"
"Ahl al-Bayt means Banu `Abd al-Muttalib and the man is
`Ali b. Abu Talib," replied Miqdad.
49 These protests may be
taken as some of the documented remnants of much more
serious vocal disputes: fragments that survived the dominant
trends in the history of this critical period of Islam. What
must particularly be noted here is the frequent use of the term
Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet in relation to the leadership of the
community. Keeping in mind the importance of the noble
families and the concept of sacerdotal lineages among some
sections of the Arabs, as discussed in Chapter 1, it is easily
understandable that some people were shocked to see the
family of the Prophet so deprived after his death.
The most significant point in this whole event of the Shura,
however, lies in `Ali's historic refusal to follow the precedents
established by the first two caliphs. This intransigent
declaration of `Ali forms the most important and the earliest
theoretical point which ultimately gave rise to the later
development of two different schools of law under the titles of
Shi`i and Sunni, the former including the Ithna `Ashari,
Isma`ili, and Zaydi, the latter including the Hanafi, Maliki,
Shafi`i and Hanbali. If ideological differences between the
two schools date back to the event of the Saqifa, the
differences, in legal matters at least theoretically, must be
dated from `Ali's refusal to follow the precedents of the first
two caliphs. This refusal thus serves as a cornerstone in the
development of Shi'i legal thought. An exponent of the
history of ideas would tell us that it often takes a considerably
long time for a given idea to present itself in a complete form,
and as we shall see later, the idea expressed by `Ali in the
Shura took at least fifty years to become manifest in a
distinguishable independent form and was not fully devel-
oped until the imamate of Ja`far as-Sadiq.
To conclude this phase, we can remark that the selection of
'Uthman was very largely based on economic, social, and
tribal considerations, as exemplified by the speeches made on
his behalf. On the other hand, the protests against `Uthman's
nomination and in support of `Ali from men like `Ammar
and Miqdad were very largely based on religious aspirations.
The arguments put forward by these supporters of `Ali, as
quoted above, concerning his relationship with the Prophet
and his unsurpassed services to Islam, practically echo the
statements made in favour of `Ali's cause at the Saqifa over a
decade earlier. Despite his passive and withdrawn attitude,
`Ali still retained a devoted core of supporters in the Muslim
community.


Notes to Chapter 3

1 For 'Ali's active participation and unceasing services in
furthering the cause of Islam during Muhammad's lifetime, the
fullest and most reliable source is Ibn Hisham's Sira.
2 This contrast is pointed out by Veccia Vaglieri, in El2 article
"`Ali".
3 Tabari, I, p.1827; Baladhuri, I, p.588
4 e.g. Isti`ab, III, p.1104. For Shi'i sources see Majlisi, Bihar,
VIII, p.59; Ihtijaj, I, p.103
5 L.V. Vaglieri, El2 article "'Ali"
6 For the Ithna 'Asharites, see Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi and Furu'
al-Kafi; for the Isma'ilites, see Qadi Nu'man, Da`a'im al-Islam
7 Some scholars have questioned the authenticity of the Nahj al-
Balagha and have suggested that it was written by Ash-Sharif ar-
Radi himself and attributed to 'Ali. This allegation, in light of my
own research on the subject, is absolutely without foundation. Ash-
Sharif ar-Radi, the compiler of the Nahj al-Balagha, died in
406/1115, but most of the material of the Nahj al-Balagha I have
found word-for-word in sources written long before the fifth century
of Islam. These sources include, for example, Na~ b. Muzahim al-
Minqari's Waq`at Siffin, Ya`qubi's Ta'rikh, Jahiz Al-Bayan wa`l-
Tabyin, Mubarrad's Kamil, Baladhuri's Ansab al-Ashraf and many
other standard works of the second, third, and fourth centuries. I
am currently preparing a critical translation of the Nahj al-Balagha
in which these sources will be fully analyzed and cited.
8 Hayyan had a princely estate in Al-Yamaha where he used to
keep the poet A`sha, of the tribe of Banu Qays, under his protection
and in luxury and comfort. After the death of Hayyan the poet lost
all those privileges and was stricken by poverty, wandering about
from place to place. By quoting a`sha, 'Ali compares his prestigious
status and active life during the lifetime of the Prophet with the
negligent attitude of the people towards him after the death of the
Prophet. See Hadid, Sharh, I, pp. 166 f.
9 Nahj al-Balagha, ed. Muhammad Abu'l-Fadl Ibrahim (Cairo,
1963), I, p.29. For other references before Ash-Sharif ar-Radi see
Ibn Abel's Hadid, Sharh, I, pp.205 f. and passim, where Abu Ja`far
Ahmad b. Muhammad (d. 274/887) Kitab al-Mahasin, Ibrahim h.
Muhammad ath-Thaqafi (d. 283/896) Kitab al-Gharat, Abu 'Ali
Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab al-Jubba'i (d. 303/915), and Abu `l-
Qasim al-Balkhi (d. 502/1108) Kitab al-Insaf, are quoted. Also see
Saduq (d. 381/991), `Ilal ash-Shara'i`, p. 68; Ma`ani, Al-Akhbar,
p.132; Mufid (d. 413/1022), Irshad, p. 166; Tusi (d. 460/1067),
Amali; p.237
10 Ibn Sa'd, II, pp. 314 ff; Ibn Hisham, III, pp.352, 368; Ya`qubi,
II, p.127; Isti`ab, II, p.57'. Also cf. Vaglieri, El2 article "Fadak".
For the Shi'i position see Tabarsi, Ihtijaj, I, pp.131-149
11 Various versions in Ibn Sa'd, II, pp. 314 ff; Bukhari, Sahih, II
p. 435. For the Shi'i position, see Ya`qubi, II, p.127, also Amini,
A`yan, II, pp.461 ff.
12 Jahiz, Rasa'il, ed. Sandubi, "Min Kitabihi fi'l-`Abbasiyya",
p.300
13 Tabari, I, p. 1825; Bukhari, Sahih V, p. 288; Ibn Sa'd, VIII,
p. 20; Mas`udi, Tanbih, p.288; Ibn Hajar, Sawa`iq, pp.12 f.
14 See the whole account in Tabari, I, pp.2137 ff.; Ya`qubi, II,
p. 136 f.; Hadid, Sharh,, I, p.163 ff.
15 Ya`qubi, ibid.; also see Tabari, I, p. 2138 ; 'Iqd, IV, p. 267, with
slight variations in wording
16 Tabari, I, p.2137; Ya`qubi, loc. cit.; Hadid, Sharh,, I, p. 164.
Also see Mubarrad, Kamil, I, p.7
17 cf. Mas`udi, Muruj, II, pp.332 f.
18 cf. Vaglieri, E12 article "`Ali"
19 Tabari, I, p.2769
20 Reference to Qur'an, XLVII, 9
21 Reference to Qur'an, XXXIII, 33
22 Tabari, I, pp.2770 f.
23 Abu 'Ubayda b. al-Jarrah,, in whom 'Umar had full confidence
and who was one of the triumvirate, had died in the plague of 639-
640.
24 Ibn Sa'd, III, pp. 6i f., pp.331 if; Baladhuri, V, pp. i6 ff.;
Ya'qubi, II, pp. 160 ff.; Tabari, II, pp. 2778 if.; Mas`udi, Tanbih,
pp.290 f.; Dhahabi, Ta'rikh, II, pp.74 ff.; Hadid, Sharh, I,
pp. 163 ff; pp. 185 ff.; 'Iqd, IV, p.275
25 Isti`ab, IV, pp. 1697-9; Tahdhib, III, p.414
26 Ibn Sa'd; III, pp.341 ff.; Baladhuri, V, p. 18; Ya`qubi, II.. p.
160; Tabari, I, pp.2770 ff.; Mas`udi. Tanbih, p.291 ; 'Iqd, IV, p.275;
Hadid, Sharh, I, p. 187
27 e.g., see different isnads in Tabari, loc. cit., and Baladhuri,
loc. cit., where the reports of Muhammad b. Sa'd from Waqidi,
a die-hard pro-'Uthinanid, are exactly the same as that of Abu
Mikhnaf, a confirmed Shi'i. Even reports going back to 'Umar's son
'Abd Allah and that of Ibn 'Abbas are the same.
28 Studies, I, pp. 80-99
29 Ibn Sa'd, III, pp.344 ff.; Baladhuri, V, pp. 16, 18; Tabari, I,
p. 2778; 'Iqd, IV, p.275
30 See 'Umar's conversation with the members of the Shura and
especially with 'Ali and 'Uthman in Tabari, I, p.2779; Baladhuri,
V, p. 16. The oldest source or. this subject, the fragment of the
Ta'rikh al-Khulafa records the same conversations of 'Umar with
the electors and indicates at least 'Umar's awareness (though not his
acceptance) of the strength of 'Ali's claims. See Abbott, Studies, I,
p. 81. Also see Ibn Sa'd, III, pp.62 and 339 ff, where a later
version incorporates some dramatic changes in the tradition at the
expense of 'Ali.
31 Baladhuri, V, p. 19; Tabari, I, p.2780; 'Iqd, IV, p.276; Hadid,
Sharh, I, p.191
32 Aghani; VI, pp.334 f.
33 Baladhuri, V, p.19; Tabari, I, p.2780; 'Iqd, IV, pp.275 f.
34 Baladhuri, V, pp. 21 f.; Tabari, I, pp.2779 f.
35 i.e. "When my personal excellence was not questionable in
comparison to Abu Bakr, how can it be then compared to men like
Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, 'Abd ar-Rahman, and 'Uthman etc.?"
36 See note 8 above
37 Baladhuri, V, p.22; Ya`qubi, I, p. 162; Tabari, I, p.2793; 'Iqd,
IV, p.279; Hadid, Sharh, I, pp. i88, 194
38 Baladhuri, V, p.24; Tabari, I, p.2796
39 Baladhuri, V, p. 33 ; Mas`udi, Muruj III, p.225
40 Tabari, I, pp. 3082 ff, 3085; Dinawari, Akhbar, p. 142; Mas`udi,
Muruj, II, pp.353 f.; Ya`qubi; II, p. 180
41 See Vaglieri, El2 article "`Ali,"
42 Minqari, Waqi`at Siffin p.87
43 ibid., p.89
44 Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima, pp.542 f; 'Iqd, IV, p.313; also see
Mas`udi, Muruj, II, pp.425 ff
45 For the details of each one's wealth, see Ibn Khaldun, loc. cit.;
Mas`udi, Muruj, II, p.332
46 Baladhuri, V, p. 49; Tabari, I, p.2871
47 Tabari, I, p.2785; 'Iqd, IV, p.279
48 ibid.
49 Tabari, I, pp.2786 f.; 'Iqd, loc. cit.

 

 

Index