Shia propagandists often cite verse: 67 of Surah al-Ma’idah as proof for their false claims, they claim that this verse was revealed on the day of Ghadir Khumm in connection with `Ali ibn Abi Talib. This is one of the greatest examples of misrepresentation, wherein narrations are presented to the unsuspecting Sunni public as if it is the only material which exists on the revelation of the verse. He knows that most— if not all— of his listeners or readers are laymen who first of all do not know any Arabic; and even if they do, they do not have access to the books on tafsir. This article clarifies the misrepresentation in this regard and clarifies the correct meaning of this verse.
The Verse of Tabligh
یٰۤاَیُّهَا الرَّسُوۡلُ بَلِّغْ مَاۤ اُنۡزِلَ اِلَیۡكَ مِنۡ رَّبِّكَ ؕ وَ اِنۡ لَّمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهٗ ؕ وَاللہُ یَعْصِمُكَ مِنَ النَّاسِ ؕ اِنَّ اللہَ لَا یَهۡدِی الْقَوْمَ الْکٰفِرِیۡنَ
O Messenger! Convey that which was revealed to you from your Rabb. If you will not do so, you would not have conveyed His message. And Allah protects you from the people. Verily Allah does not guide the people who transgress.
This verse is called Ayat al Tabligh (the Verse of Conveyance) on account of the word balligh (the imperative form of the verb ballagha i.e. to convey) in it.
The ahadith which have come down to us, which state the circumstances of its revelation, may be divided into four categories:
- Ahadith which state that the verse was revealed during a military expedition, when a bedouin Arab crept up on Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam and tried to kill him with his own sword.
- Ahadith which speak of Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam dispensing with the services of guards after the revelation of the verse.
- Ahadith which state that his uncle ‘Abbas radiya Llahu anhu used to be amongst those who guarded him until the revelation of the verse.
- Ahadith which state that his uncle Abu Talib used to send someone with him to guard him wherever he went, until the revelation of the verse.
The first three categories do not contradict one another. They may all be speaking of the same thing, the only difference between them being that each of the three of them deals with a specific aspect of the revelation of the verse. The ahadith of the first category speak of the place and the incident of the bedouin; those of the second category inform us what steps Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam took after the revelation of the verse; while the solitary narration in the third category informs us that his uncle ‘Abbas used to be amongst those who used to guard him.
It is only with the fourth category that a problem is encountered. The ahadith of first three categories all concur on the fact that the verse was revealed after the hijrah. However, the introduction of the name of Abu Talib into the circumstances of revelation places it well before the hijrah. So here we have a contradiction.
Closer inspection of the isnad (chains of narration) of the two narrations in question reveals problems with the reliability of some of their narrators. We may thus conclude that this version is unacceptable, firstly on account of the fact that it contradicts more authentic material, and secondly because it has been handed down to us through unreliable chains of transmission.
The above is a very brief synopsis of the narrated material surrounding the 67th verse of Surah al Ma’idah which is to be found in the well-known works on tafsir. Our intention in presenting this synopsis is to give the reader a general overview of the narrations contained in the major sources of tafsir, and especially narrated tafsir (al tafsir bi al ma’thur). This has the advantage of demonstrating to the objective observer the incongruity of narrations Shia propagandists have been known to latch on to in their mission to convince the Ahlus Sunnah that the Qur’an does in fact speak of the Imamah of Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, and that this claim is borne out by the mufassirin of the Ahlus Sunnah themselves.
In Shia propagandist works we encounter another category of narrated material, other than the four we have mentioned here. In this fifth category of narrated material we find the revelation of the verse being linked to the stopover at Ghadir Khumm on the return journey to Madina after the Farewell Hajj. The claim they make in this regard is quite simple and straightforward: They claim that this verse was revealed on the day of Ghadir Khumm in connection with ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.
The Shia propagandist is ingenious. Being an expert in the art of misrepresentation, he presents this narration to the unsuspecting Sunni public as if it is the only material which exists on the revelation of the verse. He knows that most— if not all— of his listeners or readers are laymen who first of all do not know any Arabic; and even if they do, they do not have access to the books on tafsir.
Being thus assured that they will never discover his dishonesty in concealing the existence of alternative material on the issue, he goes ahead to convince his listener or reader that the quotation which he has supplied him with is the unadulterated truth. He emphasises the fact that he has taken this quotation not from a Shia source, but from a Sunni one. The Sunni reader/listener is thus left with the impression that what he is getting is the truth, since it comes, in a manner of speaking, from the horse’s mouth.
The source given for the above claim is the book Asbab al Nuzul by Abu al Hassan al Wahidi. (Asbab Nuzul al Qur’an, p. 204) Al Wahidi narrates most of the material in his book with their complete isnad. Therefore, quoting material from al Wahidi without stating the nature of the isnad on the authority of which he has quoted is basically an act of deception. It is relatively easy to deceive the public with such quotations, since they lack a proper understanding of the nature of a quotation by isnad. The lay person looks only to the author of the book, and not to the chain of narrators on whose authority the author narrates. To deceive him is therefore quite simple.
To understand exactly how illogical this approach is, we need to compare it with a parallel case. Let us assume we have a book on science. This book quotes the theory of an earlier scientist about the invalidity of whose theories there exists consensus amongst the experts in the field. Note that the author of the book merely quotes that theory; he does not lend his own weight to it by defending or supporting it. The question now is: can we take this particular theory and ascribe it to the author of the book, and omit any reference to the fact that he is merely quoting, and not supporting it? We very obviously cannot do so, and if we do so we will be dishonest.
Similarly, quoting from al Wahidi without mentioning that he narrates it on the authority of a chain of narrators, and without proving the authenticity of the chain of narrators is also dishonest. When we encounter a quotation from al Wahidi, the first question we need to ask ourselves is: Is it narrated with an authentic chain of narration? This question can only be answered by referring back to the original book.
In the book Asbab Nuzul al Qur’an we find that this statement, which is ascribed to Abu Sa’id al Khudri radiya Llahu anhu, is narrated via a chain of narration which runs as follows:
al Wahidi — Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al Saffar — Hassan ibn Ahmed al Makhladi — Muhammad ibn Hamdun ibn Khalid — Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al Hulwani — Hassan ibn Hammad, Sajjadah — ‘Ali ibn ‘Abis — al A’mash and Abu al Jahhaf — ‘Attiyah (ibn Sa’d al ‘Aufi)— Abu Sa’id al Khudri…
Thus, the statement “al Wahidi narrates from Abu Sa’id al Khudri” is extremely elliptical, since it completely omits any reference to the fact that what al Wahidi narrates is narrated on the authority of the nine persons who stand between himself and Abu Sa’id. Only when the reliability of these nine persons is proven may we with confidence say that “al Wahidi narrates from Abu Sa’id al Khudri.”
Critical scrutiny of the isnad reveals the following flaws:
- ‘Ali ibn ‘Abis: This narrator lived in Kufa during the latter half of the second century A.H. There is consensus amongst the rijal critics that he was an unreliable transmitter. His unreliability stems from the fact that the material transmitted by him was for the greater part uncorroborated or contradictory to more reliable versions. In the case of this particular narration he has transmitted a hadith of which no trace can be found anywhere else. Since his own reliability is already seriously questionable, we cannot by any objective standards place confidence in the lone narration of one such as he. Ibn Hibban sums up the reason for dismissing him as a hadith transmitter in the following words: “Mistakes of his in transmitting hadith were so serious that he deserved to be abandoned (as a narrator).” Abu Zur’ah al Razi states: “He is munkar al hadith (meaning that he transmits uncorroborated material, or material which contradicts more reliable versions); he transmits uncorroborated ahadith on the authority of reliable narrators.”
- ‘Attiyah al ‘Aufi: ‘Attiyah al ‘Aufi appears in the isnad as the person who narrates from Abu Sa’id al Khudri radiya Llahu anhu. He lived and was active as a hadith transmitter in Kufa, where he died in 111 A.H. or 127 A.H. He transmitted hadith from figures amongst the Sahaba such as Ibn ‘Umar, Ibn ‘Abbas, Zaid ibn Arqam and Abu Sa’id al Khudri radiya Llahu anhum. The muhaddithin have called his reliability as a narrator into question, especially when he narrates from Abu Sa’id. This is on account of the habit termed tadlis al shuyukh by the muhaddithin. His practise of this habit is explained by Ibn Hibban in his Kitab al Majruhin in the following words:
He heard some ahadith from Abu Sa’id al Khudri. When Abu Sa’id died he sat with (the Shia mufassir) al Kalbi and listened to his stories. Thus when al Kalbi used to say “Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam said…” he used to memorise it. He now gave al Kalbi the kunyah “Abu Sa’id” and started narrating from him. When it was asked “Who narrated this to you?” he used to say: “Abu Sa’id”. The people would think that he meant Abu Sa’id al Khudri, when in reality it was al Kalbi. It is therefore not allowed to use him as an authority or to write his ahadith, except if it is in the sense of amazement.
This is then the state of the narration which Shia propagandists so brazenly thrust in the faces of their Sunni readers or listeners. There is another narration which holds connection with this one. It was originally documented in the tafsir of Abu Bakr ibn Mardaway (died 410 AH), but his tafsir is no longer extant. It has been preserved, albeit without isnad, by al Suyuti in his book al Durr al Manthur. (vol. 2 p. 298) The text of this narration runs as follows:
Ibn Mardaway recorded from Ibn Mas’ud that he said: “In the time of Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam we used to read: “O messenger, convey what has been revealed to you from your Rabb that ‘Ali is the Master of the Believers; If you do not do so, you would not have conveyed His message. And Allah protects you from the people…
This narration, as can be clearly seen, has come down to us stripped of its chain of narration. The chain of narration is usually regarded as the chief indicator of authenticity.
However, it is not the only indicator. In the absence of the isnad, which would have pinpointed the exact person responsible for this blatant forgery, we still have the significant fact that this narration assails the sanctity of the Qur’an.
This narration contains an addition to the wording of the verse which is not to be found amongst any of the qira’ah (variant readings) of the Qur’an, neither the mutawatir readings nor the shaadh ones. In fact, it can be found nowhere except in a single, lone narration preserved without isnad in a work of the fifth century. The work of Ibn Mardaway is in no way free from narrations by the extremists of the Shia. We have earlier seen, in the case of ‘Attiyah al ‘Aufi, how Shia narrations crept into Sunni compilations as early as in the days of the Tabi’in.
Classical Shia works like the tafsirs of ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim al Qummi and Furat ibn Ibrahim al Kufi, the Kitab al Qira’ah of Ahmed ibn Muhammad al Sayyari, al Ihtijaj by Ahmed ibn ‘Ali al Tabrasi, the book al Manaqib by Ibn Shahrashub and the book Kashf al Yaqin by Ibn Tawus all contain narrations which state that the name of ‘Ali radiya Llahu anhu was mentioned in this verse, but “they” (meaning the Sahaba radiya Llahu anhum) removed it from there.
It is therefore not at all inconceivable that this narration found its way into the tafsir of Ibn Mardaway through an isnad going back to its Shi’i originator.
Shi’ism and Sirah
Nevertheless, let us now look at the issue from a different angle. Let us for a moment assume that the name of Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu anhu was in fact mentioned in this verse, and the matter which Allah ordered Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam to convey to the ummah was Sayyidina ‘Ali’s imamah, an issue so important that failure to convey it would be tantamount to complete failure. This scenario fits snugly into the Shia picture of the Sirah of Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam. There is a stark difference between the Shia and the Ahlus Sunnah in the way either of them conceives of the Sirah, or life history, of Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam. It is the contrast between failure and success.
To the Ahlus Sunnah, the mission of Muhammad salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam was a successful one, the most successful mission of any messenger of Allah. And nowhere is his success reflected more clearly than in his followers. He succeeded in establishing Islam upon earth, and iman in the hearts of his followers. His followers were of such a calibre that they earned praise from Allah Himself, in the Qur’an, the Torah as well as the Injil. Therefore, when Allah says to His Messenger: “Convey, and I will protect you against the people,” it is impossible that those “people” could be the same people who stand so highly praised in the Holy Scriptures. The people against whom Allah promised to protect him could therefore have been none but the unbelievers.
To the Shia, on the other hand, the Sirah of Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam is incessantly clouded by fear, doubt and suspicion. Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam is constantly having to cajole and blandish his followers in fear that they might openly turn against him. With the exception of a minute group of persons consisting of his daughter, her husband, their two infant sons and three or four others, he cannot trust anyone. His wives, their fathers, the husbands of his other daughters, his closest friends, his scribes, his military commanders — all of them are tainted with hypocrisy, and eagerly await the moment of his death to usurp power. In short, two decades of tireless effort has brought him nothing but a handful of sincere followers; the rest are all hypocrites. He is under continuous pressure from this sea of hypocrisy which surrounds him, and he is forced to take recourse to taqiyyah (meaning to act or speak falsely for the sake of convenience, dissimulation).
In the case of this verse, he is hesitant to announce that Allah has decreed ‘Ali radiya Llahu anhu to be his successor; so hesitant that he has to be sounded a severe warning about it and given the assurance that he will be protected from harm. A contemporary Shia scholar, Muhammad Rida al Mamaqani, writes:
He, may my soul be his ransom, [meaning Rasulullah salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam] practiced the greatest taqiyyah. This is clear to anyone who studies his life. Sufficient proof thereof is the Verse of Tabligh and the Verse of Wilaya. On the whole, regarding the status of taqiyyah there is no difference whatsoever between the Rasul salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam, the Infallible Imam and the common people.
To the Shia, therefore, the “people” against whom Allah would protect him were none other than his own companions. The people with whom he lived and who stood by his side, who shared his happiness and grief, who assisted him in times of hardship, who were ever ready to sacrifice their lives and their posessions for him and for his cause — these same people were in reality his enemies whom he was afraid to offend. In the Shia view of Sirah, and in their opinion about the circumstances under which the verse was revealed, these were the people against whom Allah had to protect His Messenger.
But ultimately, even though his person was protected against them, his mission was thwarted by those very same “enemies”, and a struggle of twenty three years ended in disgraceful failure (na’udhu billah) when this entire community, which he had given twenty three years of his life to build, reverts back to kufr, with the exception of a mere handful.
It is for this reason that we will conclude here by saying that acceptance of this kind of narrations is tantamount to subscribing to a view of Sirah wherein Muhammad salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam is reduced to one of the most unsuccessful leaders who ever lived. That view of Sirah, as much as it might be camouflaged and paraphrased, lies at the very heart of Shi’ism.
 Surah al Ma’idah: 67
 Tafsir Ibn Kathir vol. 2 pp. 77-79
 Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 20 p. 502-504
 Kitab al Majruhin vol. 2 p. 176
 Kitab al Majruhin vol. 2 p. 176
 Mulla Hussain Nuri Tabrasi, Fasl al Khitab fi Ithbat Tahrif Kitab Rabb al Arbab, cited by Ihsan Ilahi Zahir, al Shia wa l-Qur’an pp. 215-217
 footnotes to ‘Abdullah al Mamaqani, Miqbas al Hidayah fi ‘Ilm al Dirayah vol. 1 p. 78 footnote no. 5