Shattering the Mirage: A Response to ‘Abdul Hussain Sharaf al Din’s al Muraja’at: Letter 29 and 30

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Letter 29

 

Thul-Hijjah 20, 1329

 

I. Believing in Our Arguments Regarding the Hadith’s Sanad

II. Doubting its General Application

III. Doubting its being Binding

 

1) All what you have mentioned regarding the authenticity of the status hadith is indeed beyond any doubt. Al Amidi has stumbled in a way which has proven his distance from the science of hadith, and from traditionists. I have bothered you with mentioning his views in clarifying what is already clear. This is my mistake for which I invoke your forgiveness, since you are apt to forgive.

 

2) I have come to know that there are others besides al Amidi from among your arbitraters who claim that there is no proof that the status hadith has a general application, and that it is restricted to its own context. They support their view by the hadith’s text itself, saying that the Prophet’s statement is due only to its time context, that is, when he left him in Medina during the Battle of Tabuk.

The Imam, peace be upon him, asked him: “Why do you leave me with women and children?” His answer, peace be upon him and his progeny, was: “Aren’t you pleased that your status to me is similar to that of Aaron to Moses, except there will be no Prophet after me?” as if he salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam explained that his position to him is like that of Aaron to Moses when the latter left him to represent him among his people when he left for the Tur Mountain [Mount Sinai]. The gist of the Prophet’s statement would be something like: “You are to me, during this Battle of Tabuk, like Aaron to Moses who had to depart to communicate with his Lord.”

 

3) Your arbitrators may even say that this hadith is not a binding proof, even if its implication is general, and a restricted hadith cannot be applied in its general sense, and peace be with you.

 

Sincerely,

S

 

Letter 30

 

Thul-Hijjah 22, 1329

 

I. Arabs Regard it General

II. Disproving Claim of Restriction

III. Disproving its Non-Binding Application

 

1) We refer their argument that the hadith lacks a general application to Arabs who are very well familiar with their language and grammar. You are the Arabs’ authority whose view is invincible and undisputed. Do you see your nation doubting the generality of this status hadith? I do not think so. You are above that. Persons of your prestige do not doubt the generality of the additive gender and its inclusion of all implications.

If you, for example, say: “I have granted you my judicial power,” will your power be restricted to a few matters rather than others? Or will your statement be general and inclusive of all implications? Allah be Praised! You do not see it other than general, and its meaning as inclusive! If the Muslims’ ruler says to one of his subjects: “I have appointed you my own vicegerent over people,” or “granted you my own status, or position, over them, or granted you my own wealth,” will it come to mind anything other than the general meaning of such a statement? Or will the speaker wish to select some matters rather than others? If he said to one of his ministers: “You may enjoy during my lifetime the same position ‘Umar enjoyed during the lifetime of Abu Bakr, but you are not my friend,” would this statement be seen, according to common rules, as implying a few situations rather than all?

I do not see you saying accepting anything other than its general application, and I do not doubt at all that you interpret the statement of the holy Prophet: “Your status to me is like that of Aaron to Moses” except as indicative of generality of application, following the guidelines of its similar texts in the Arabic language and its norms of speech, especially when he excluded Prophethood, thus making its generality inclusive of everything else quite clear. You are surrounded by Arabs; so, ask them if you wish.

 

2) As regarding the debater’s statement claiming that this hadith is restricted to its context, this claim is rejected on two grounds:

First, the hadith itself is generalizing, as you know. The assumption “If we presume that it is specific” does not exclude it from its general meaning, because whoever makes an assumption does not confine his assumption to only one single possibility. Say, if one person in the state of najasa (impurification) touches Surat al Kursi [verse of the Throne] for example, and you tell him: “Nobody in the state of najasa should touch the holy Qur’an,” will your statement be confined to Surat al Kursi only, or will it be general regarding the entire text of the holy Qur’an?

I cannot imagine that anyone will understand that it is restricted to Surat al Kursi in particular. If a physician sees his patient eating dates and forbids him from eating anything sweet, will the prohibition be taken to imply only dates, or will it be general to include everything sweet?

I do not consider the one who claims its meaning to be restricted as one adhering to the common concepts of the basics of language; rather, he will then be distant from its grammar, far from commonsense, a foreigner to our world. So is the one who claims that the status hadith is applied specifically to the Battle of Tabuk alone; there is no difference between both cases.

Second, this hadith was not articulated by the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam upon leaving ‘Ali ‘alayh al Salam as his representative in Medina during the Battle of Tabuk; otherwise, the debater will have had the right to claim its restricted application. Our sahih books are sequential through the Imams among the Prophet’s purified progeny ‘alayh al Salam proving that it was said on other occasions to which the researcher may refer. Sunni sunan bear witness to this fact, as researchers know. We say that the wording of this hadith testifies to the fact that the claim that it was said only during the Battle of Tabuk is groundless, as is already obvious.

 

3) Their claim that the specified generalization cannot be binding over the rest is an obvious mistake and a serious error. Nobody would say so except one who approaches matters like someone riding a blind animal in a dark night. We seek refuge with Allah against ignorance, and we thank Him for our sound health.

Specifying the general does not exclude it from being applied as a testimony against the rest as long as the specified matter is not general, especially if it is related to this hadith. If a master tells his servant: “Be generous to everyone who is visiting me today save Zaid.” If the servant surrounds only Zaid with generosity, he will not only be disobeying his master and become liable for his error, according to the judgment of all the wise, he will also deserve to be punished a punishment commensurate with his mistake.

No wise man would listen to his excuse if he produces one; nay, even his excuse will seem to them to be even worse than his guilt. This is so only because of its obvious general implication, having been specified, regarding the rest, as is obvious.

You very well know that Muslims have always been accustomed to use as proof the specified generalizations without any exception. The ancestors among the companions and the tabi’in, as well as those who followed the latter, and so on till today, especially the Imams among the progeny of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and all other Imams among the Muslims, do just that. This is a matter which does not need raising any doubts.

Suffices you for proof what the four Imams and other Mujtahids have said in their chapters on being aware of the branches of legislative rules as proofs of their explanations. The wheel of knowledge has been spinning on acting upon generally accepted facts. There is nothing general that does not have room for a specification. If these generalities are dropped, the door of knowledge will be shaken. We seek refuge with Allah, and peace be with you.

 

Sincerely,

Sh

 
 
 

Discussions

 

Sunni interpretation

The lacklustre response from the pen of Sheikh Salim al Bishri is to be expected since it was the hand of ‘Abdul Hussain holding it; as we have come to learn.

‘Abdul Hussain argues strongly for an organic interpretation, the way the Arabs of old would have understood this Hadith. There can be no understanding that is more accurate and precise than the person to whom these words were said. Did ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu understand the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam words to mean that he had been appointed the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam successor?

Al Zuhri related from ‘Abdullah ibn Ka’b ibn Malik — and Ka’b ibn Malik was one of the three whom Allah pardoned for their absence at Tabuk — that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas informed him that ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib emerged from the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam home during his final illness:

 

عن الزهري قال أخبرني عبد الله بن كعب بن مالك الأنصاري وكان كعب بن مالك أحد الثلاثة الذين تيب عليهم أن عبد الله بن عباس أخبره أن علي بن أبي طالب رضي الله عنه خرج من عند رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم في وجعه الذي توفي فيه فقال الناس يا أبا حسن كيف أصبح رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال أصبح بحمد الله بارئا فأخذ بيده عباس بن عبد المطلب فقال له أنت والله بعد ثلاث عبد العصا وإني والله لأرى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم سوف يتوفى من وجعه هذا إني لأعرف وجوه بني عبد المطلب عند الموت اذهب بنا إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فلنسأله فيمن هذا الأمر إن كان فينا علمنا ذلك وإن كان في غيرنا علمناه فأوصى بنا فقال علي إنا والله لئن سألناها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فمنعناها لا يعطيناها الناس بعده وإني والله لا أسألها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم

The people said, “O Abu al Hassan; How is the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam this morning?”

He said, “All praise be to Allah, he is well this morning.”

‘Abbas ibn ‘Abdul Muttalib took him by the hand and said to him, “I swear by Allah, in three days’ time you will be a subject. By Allah, I think that the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam will die of this illness. I recognise the look of death in the faces of the Banu ‘Abdul Muttalib when they are dying. Let us go to the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and ask him who will take charge over this matter (Caliphate). If it is for us, then we will know that, and if it is for someone other than us, we will know and he can advise him to look after us.

‘Ali replied, “By Allah, if we ask him for it and he refuses us, then the people would never give it to us afterwards. By Allah, I will not ask it from the Messenger of Allah.[1]

 

The are three major issues to be learnt from this hadith that are pertinant to our discussion.

  • As far as ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was concerned the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had not nominated anyone.
  • He did not consider himself nominated — even though the Hadith likening him to Harun ‘alayh al Salam was told to him on his face.
  • He understood the position of Caliphate to be nomination by people; not divine appointment.

This is the undeniable truth and the most clear evidence that the Hadith likening him to Harun ‘alayh al Salam did not refer to succession.

The next step is to understand why the Hadith has been misunderstood, as is the case in the correspondence above.

In letter 26 he writes:

 

He regarded his status to himself as similar to that of Aaron to Moses, without any exception other than Prophethood, and its exception reflects generality.

You also know that what distinguished Aaron from Moses was mostly his being the vizier of his brother, his de facto participation in his brother’s Message, his vicegerency, and the enforcement by Moses of people’s obedience to Aaron as his statement, to which references is included in the Holy Qur’an (20:29-32), and which clearly says:

“And let my brother Aaron, from among my household, be my vizier, to support me and take part in my affair,”

and his statement:

“Be my own representative among my people; reform them, and do not follow the path of corrupters (Qur’an 7:142),”

and the Almighty’s response:

“O Moses! Granted is your prayer (Qur’an 20:36).”

According to this text, ‘Ali is the Prophet’s vicegerent among his people, his vizier among his kin, his partner in his undertaking — not in Prophethood — his successor, the best among his people, and the most worthy of their leadership alive or dead. They owed him obedience during the Prophet’s lifetime as the Prophet’s vizier, just as Aaron’s people had to obey Aaron during the lifetime of Moses.[2]

 

Is the resemblance as striking as ‘Abdul Hussain claims? Harun ‘alayh al Salam was only Musa’s ‘alayh al Salam deputy during his life and not after his death since there is consensus among the scholars that Harun ‘alayh al Salam passed away before Musa ‘alayh al Salam.[3] If this really was a case of Caliphate, and the only difference between ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and Harun ‘alayh al Salam was prophethood; then ‘Ali’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu succession only becomes the exact replica of Harun’s ‘alayh al Salam succession of Musa ‘alayh al Salam when it is restricted to the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam life.

Was Harun’s ‘alayh al Salam appointment permanent or was it temporal? If we say it was temporal, then there is no argument for his succession as Khalifah after the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam return. However, if we say it was permanent how do we account for this verse?

 

وَلَمَّا رَجَعَ مُوْسٰى إِلٰى قَوْمِهِ غَضْبَانَ أَسِفًا قَالَ بِئْسَمَا خَلَفْتُمُوْنِيْ مِنْۢ بَعْدِيْ أَعَجِلْتُمْ أَمْرَ رَبِّكُمْ وَأَلْقَى الْأَلْوَاحَ وَأَخَذَ بِرَأْسِ أَخِيْهِ يَجُرُّهُ إِلَيْهِ قَالَ ابْنَ أُمَّ إِنَّ الْقَوْمَ اسْتَضْعَفُوْنِيْ وَكَادُوْا يَقْتُلُوْنَنِيْ فَلَا تُشْمِتْ بِيَ الْأَعْدَاءَ وَلَا تَجْعَلْنِيْ مَعَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِيْنَ

And when Musa returned to his people, angry and grieved, he said, “How wretched is that by which you have replaced me after my [absence]. Were you impatient over the matter of your Lord?” And he threw down the tablets and seized his brother by [the hair of] his head, pulling him toward him. [Harun] said, “O son of my mother, indeed the people oppressed me and were about to kill me, so let not the enemies rejoice over me and do not place me among the wrongdoing people.”[4]

 

There’s no arguing that Harun ‘alayh al Salam is already a prophet, but if he was Musa’s ‘alayh al Salam successor until death, what would make Musa ‘alayh al Salam rebuke him so harshly?

Musa ‘alayh al Salam went alone for communion with Allah, and left the entire Banu Isra’il under the care of Harun ‘alayh al Salam. When the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam left for Tabuk he left with the entire army, and ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu remained behind with the frail, women, and children. As a matter of fact ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was left in charge of the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam family, and it was Muhammad ibn Maslamah who was left in charge of the affairs of Madinah during the Prophet’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam absence.

Ibn Kathir writes:

 

Yunus ibn Bukayr quoted Ibn Ishaq as stating, “Having made his arrangements, the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam decided to set off. When, on a Thursday, he departed, he made camp at Thaniyyat al Wada’; with him there were more than 30 000 men. The enemy of Allah, ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy pitched his camp lower down. When the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam set forth again, ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy remained behind, along with a group of the hypocrites and the people of doubt.”

Ibn Hisham stated, “The Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam placed Muhammad ibn Maslamah al Ansari, in command of Madinah. Al Darawardi related that it was Siba’ ibn ‘Urfutah whom he left in command at the time of the expedition to Tabuk.”

Ibn Ishaq went on, “The Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam left ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib behind to care for his family, ordering him to stay with them. The hypocrites spread lies about ‘Ali, maintaining that the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam found his presence onerous and wished to alleviate this. When they said this, ‘Ali took up his weapons and proceeded forth, catching up with the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam while the latter was camped at al Jurf. ‘Ali told him what people were saying and he responded, ‘They lie; I left you there to care for those I have left behind. Go back and act on my behalf with my family as well as your own. Are you not content, ‘Ali, to have the same position with me as Harun had with Musa? There will, however, be no prophet after myself.’ ‘Ali returned and the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam departed on his journey.”

Ibn Ishaq went on, “Muhammad ibn Talhah ibn Yazid ibn Rukanah related to me — from Ibrahim ibn Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas — from his father Sa’d, (who said) that he heard the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam make this comment to ‘Ali.”

Al Bukhari and Muslim both related this through Shu’bah — from Sa’d ibn Ibrahim — from Ibrahim ibn Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas — from his father. [5]

 

It cannot be said that this was specific transfer of succession to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu merely on account of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam leaving him in charge of affairs in Madinah in his absence since ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was tasked with taking care of the Prophet’s immediate family; and the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appointed someone else, in charge of Madinah during his absence. Therefore, leaving someone behind to take care of Madinah does not automatically make the person left in charge a khalifah.

The only plausible explanation for this Hadith, therefore, is in light of its context. The exhortation to participate in the expedition of Tabuk was so strongly phrased in the Qur’an that no one wanted to remain behind. Allah even praised the crying of those who had no mount, on account of which they were absent. ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu felt uneasy about remaining behind and the rumours in Madinah prompted him to join the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam reassured him that his remaining behind was no different from Harun ‘alayh al Salam remaining behind when Musa ‘alayh al Salam went for private communion with Allah.

This demonstrates the error in the version of the Hadith cited by ‘Abdul Hussain which states that it was necessary for ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu to remain behind. The response to this narration, even after we have pointed out the flaws in the Isnad, is that the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appointed many other people over his family, and over the city of Madinah during his numerous military campaigns. It firstly proves that someone other than ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu could perform this task. Furthermore, to understand ‘Ali’s responsibilty as a basis for him being the candidate for Caliphate, opens the door for all the others before and after him who were appointed by the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to take charge of the affairs of Madinah.

Being likened to a Prophet is not unique to ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu were likened to those prophets who are of the highest rank. ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud relates:

 

After the Battle of Badr, the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam asked his Companions what they though should be done with the prisoners of war.

Abu Bakr said, “O Messenger of Allah! They are your people and your kinsmen, so spare them and take your time with them. Perhaps Allah will forgive them.”

‘Umar said, “O Messenger of Allah! They expelled you and they rejected you. Bring them forward and smite their necks.”

‘Abdullah ibn Rawahah said, “O Messenger of Allah! Look for a valley filled with dry brush. Make them enter it, then set them a fire.”

‘Abbas said, “You have broken your ties of kinship.”

The Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam went inside without saying anything. The people began saying to each other things like, “He will act upon the opinion of Abu Bakr,” others said, “He will take the opinion of ‘Umar,” and yet others said, “He will accept the opinion of ‘Abdullah ibn Rawahah.”

The Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam then came out to them and said, “Allah makes some people’s hearts so gentle that they become gentler than milk, and Allah makes some peoples hearts so hard that they become harder than stone. O Abu Bakr! You are like Ibrahim ‘alayh al Salam who said, ‘And whoever follows me is from me, and whoever disobeys me, then You, O Allah, are Forgiving and Merciful.’ And Abu Bakr, you are also like ‘Isa ‘alayh al Salam who said, ‘If you punish them, then they are indeed Your slaves, and if you forgive them, then indeed you are the Mighty, the Wise.’”

Then he addressed ‘Umar and said, “O ‘Umar! You are like Nuh ‘alayh al Salam who said, ‘Do not leave of the unbelievers anyone on Earth!’ And ‘Umar, you are also like Musa ‘alayh al Salam who said, ‘O My Lord! Make their hearts harder so they will not believe until they see a painful punishment!’”[6]

 

All that remains to be said is that the Hadith under discussion has been narrated in relation to the expedition of Tabuk. There are no reliable reports which indicate otherwise.

 

NEXT⇒ Letter 31 and 32


[1] Sahih al Bukhari, Kitab al Maghazi, Hadith: 4182.

[2] Al Muraja’at, letter 26.

[3]Fath al Bari, vol. 7, p. 93; Sharh Muslim, vol. 15, p. 249.

[4] Surah al A’raf: 150

[5] Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah, vol. 7 pg. 155.

[6] Musnad Ahmed, vol. 6 pg. 138, Hadith: 3632 [Risalah edition].