Shia propagandists often cite verse: 55 of Surah al-Ma’idah – commonly referred to as the verse of wilayah – as proof for their false claims, that it refers to `Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu `anhu and is a proof for his wilayah. Once again through the deceptive art of misrepresentation, narrations are presented to the unsuspecting Sunni public which are portrayed to be the correct interpretation 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 whereby they can examine the true meaning of the verse. This article clarifies the misrepresentation in this regard and clarifies its correct meaning.
The Verse of Wilaya
اِنَّمَا وَلِیُّكُمُ اللّٰهُ وَ رَسُوْلُه وَالَّذِیْنَ اٰمَنُوا الَّذِیْنَ یُقِیْمُوْنَ الصَّلٰوةَ وَیُؤْتُوْنَ الزَّکٰوةَ وَهُمْ رٰکِعُوْنَ
Your Wali is only Allah, His Messenger, and the believers who establish salah and give charity, and they bow down.
Meaning and context
This verse is called the “Verse of Wilaya” due to the appearance of the word wali in it. Linguistically the word wilaya may have one of two meanings.
Wilaya as Authority
The one meaning is authority. The wali would then be the possessor of authority. The Shia have arbitrarily latched on to this meaning, seeking thereby to prove the Imamah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu by coupling this meaning of the term to the narrations which will come under discussion in due course — the gist of which is that Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu once gave his ring to a beggar whilst in the state of ruku’, and that the verse was revealed on that occasion — they draw the conclusion that the only legitimate authority in the Muslim community is that of Allah, His Messenger and the Imam. Any other kind of authority, like that of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhum, for example, is then illegitimate and contradicts the Qur’an.
Wilaya as Friendship
The other meaning of Wilaya, which in this sense might also appear as walayah, is a relationship of affection, attachment and solidarity in which each individual becomes the friend and protector of the other. In this sense the wali is then that person or entity whom you regard as your friend, your ally, the one with whom you associate, who can be counted upon to protect you and defend your rights. In this sense it stands opposed to terms such as “enemy”, “foe” and “adversary”.
In order to see which of these two meanings apply to the verse, one needs to look at the context in which it stands. The Verse of Wilaya is the 55th verse of Surah al Ma’idah. In order for us to get the complete picture of the context in which it stands, we need to go back a few verses. In verse 51 Allah Ta’ala says:
یٰۤاَیُّهَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا الْیَهُوۡدَ وَالنَّصٰرٰۤی اَوْلِیَآءَ ۘ بَعْضُهُمْ اَوْلِیَآءُ بَعْضٍ ؕ وَمَنۡ یَّتَوَلَّهُمۡ مِّنۡكُمْ فَاِنَّهٗ مِنْهُمْ ؕ اِنَّ اللہَ لَا یَهۡدِی الْقَوْمَ الظّٰلِمِیۡنَ
O you who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians as your auliya’ (plural of wali). They are the auliya’ of one another. Whoever amongst you takes them as his auliya’ is one of them. Verily Allah does not guide the unjust people.
It can be seen from this verse that Allah Ta’ala is definitely not speaking of Wilaya in the sense of authority. What is being spoken of here is taking non-Muslims as allies, friends and protectors.
When Allah then says in verse 55 that “your true wali is only Allah, His Messenger and the believers” it is clear that it is Wilaya in the sense of mutual solidarity and friendship, and not Wilaya in the sense of authority, that is meant. This meaning of Wilaya is repeated again in verse 57:
یٰۤاَیُّهَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا الَّذِیۡنَ اتَّخَذُوۡا دِیۡنَكُمْ هُزُوًا وَّ لَعِبًا مِّنَ الَّذِیۡنَ اُوۡتُوا الْکِتٰبَ مِنۡ قَبْلِكُمْ وَالْكُفَّارَ اَوْلِیَآءَ
O you who believe, do not take as your auliya’ those who take your religion for a mockery and fun from amongst those who received the Scripture before you, and from amongst the disbelievers.
In light of the fact that in the preceding as well as successive verses Wilaya is used in the sense of the relationship we have described earlier, it is unacceptable, and indeed most incoherent, to claim that in this verse, in the middle of the two, it has been used in the sense of authority. The meaning of the verse of Wilaya is therefore that a Muslim’s allegiance should be only to Allah, His Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and the believers. Of the exclusive and pre-emptive right to authority which the Shia seek to read into it, the verse does not speak at all.
This is further corroborated by an authentic narration documented by Ibn Jarir al Tabari and others, which states that verse 51 was revealed in connection with ‘Ubadah ibn Samit radiya Llahu ‘anhu and Abdullah ibn Ubay, both of whom had Wilaya relationships with the Jews of Madinah. ‘Ubadah radiya Llahu ‘anhu came to Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and announced that he was severing all ties of Wilaya with them, while Abdullah ibn Ubay insisted on keeping ties with them, saying that he feared a turnabout of circumstances. It was then that the 55th verse of al Ma’idah was revealed.
The main grounds for forcing the verse out of its context are the narrations which exist, according to which the verse was revealed when Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu gave his ring to a beggar whilst in the position of ruku’. In what follows we will investigate the authenticity of those narrations.
It must be remembered, as a matter of principle, that untruthfulness in narrating hadith was a very real phenomenon in the early centuries of Islam, the result of which has been that a lot of spurious, unauthentic material was brought into circulation. Much of this material was later included into hadith collections by compilers who were motivated more by a desire to document a largely oral tradition, than to separate authentic from unauthentic material.
Whoever thereafter wishes to utilise the material thus compiled will first have to ascertain the authenticity of the material he wishes to quote. By failing to first prove the authenticity of one’s quoted material, the entire argument which is based upon that material is rendered useless.
After this very important introductory remark, we now launch into a study of the available narrated material. We will first look at what has been narrated from some of the Sahaba, and thereafter at what has been narrated with chains of narration that go back only as far as the Tabi’in.
1.Narrations from Sahaba
The sources at our disposal contain narrations of the supposed incident whose isnad (chains of narration) go back to four different Sahaba. They are:
a) Sayyidina Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhuma
b) Sayyidina ‘Ammar ibn Yasir radiya Llahu ‘anhu
c) Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu
d) Sayyidina Abu Rafi’radiya Llahu ‘anhu
a)Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu
There are at least three separate isnad from Ibn ‘Abbas in which this story is recounted.
The first isnad from Ibn ‘Abbas
The first is recorded by Abu Bakr ibn Mardaway in his Tafsir and al Wahidi in his book Asbab al Nuzul. Ibn Mardaway’s Tafsir has not survived, but al Wahidi’s book has been published a number of times, and it is known from al Suyuti’s al Durr al Manthur (vol. 2 p. 293) that these two sources have at least the last portion of their isnad in common. This last portion is as follows:
Muhammad ibn Marwan — Muhammad ibn al Sa’ib — Abu Salih — Ibn ‘Abbas.
This isnad is one of the most famous chains of forgery. Each one of the three narrators before Ibn ‘Abbas was a notorious liar. Abu Salih, whose name was Badham or Badhan, was described as a liar by his own student Ismail ibn Abi Khalid.
The next narrator, Muhammad ibn al Sa’ib al Kalbi, was one of the most notorious liars of Kufa. His biography in al Mizzi’s Tahdhib al Kamal is filled with statements of the ‘ulama of his time who denounced him as an extremely unreliable reporter, and even a blatant liar.
Two of the statements in his biography are of particular interest here. The one is a statement by his kinsman Abu Janab al Kalbi who records Abu Salih as saying that he never narrated any tafsir to Muhammad ibn al Sa’ib. The second is an admission of guilt by Abu Salih. Imam Sufyan al Thowri narrates that al Kalbi said: “Whatever tafsir I narrated from Abu Salih is untrue. Do not narrate it from me.”
The third person in this isnad is Muhammad ibn Marwan, who is also known as al Suddi al Saghir (the younger Suddi). In him we have another notorious forger whose mendacity was exposed by both his contemporaries and the ‘ulama who came after him.
This particular chain of narration (al Suddi al Saghir, from al Kalbi, from Abu Salih) became so infamous amongst the ‘ulama that it was given the epithet Silsilat al Kadhib, meaning the Chain of Mendacity.
The second isnad from Ibn ‘Abbas
The second isnad from Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu is also documented in the Tafsir of Ibn Mardaway.
It runs through al Dahhak ibn Muzahim from Ibn ‘Abbas. The weak point in this isnad lies in the fact that al Dahhak never met Ibn ‘Abbas, leave alone narrate from him.
In the book al Jarh wa al Ta’dil by Ibn Abi Hatim al Razi there is a narration which throws some light upon the link “al Dahhak — Ibn ‘Abbas”. Ibn Abi Hatim narrates with an authentic isnad from ‘Abd al Malik ibn Abi Maisara that he asked al Dahhak: “Did you personally hear anything from Ibn ‘Abbas?” Al Dahhak replied in the negative. ‘Abd al Malik then asked him: “So this which you narrate (from him), from whom did you take it?” Al Dahhak replied: “From this one and that one.”
This shows that al Dahhak did not exercise great care about the persons from whom he received the material he later transmitted from Ibn ‘Abbas. Having been a contemporary of Muhammad ibn as-Sa’ib al Kalbi, it is not at all improbable that he might have heard the story of the beggar from him.
The third isnad from Ibn ‘Abbas
The third isnad from Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu runs through the famous mufassir Mujahid ibn Jabr, from Ibn ‘Abbas. It is narrated by ‘Abd al Razzaq al San’ani in his Tafsir. He narrates it from ‘Abd al Wahhab ibn Mujahid, who narrates it from his father Mujahid. ‘Abd al Wahhab ibn Mujahid is described by the rijal critics as matruk, which implies that his unreliability is a matter of consensus amongst them. Imam Sufyan al Thowri described him as a liar. There is reasonable doubt about whether he ever heard hadith from his father.
An alternative narration from Ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu
From the above it can be seen that not one of the various narrations from Ibn ‘Abbas are authentic. What adds to the baselessness of that report is the fact that they contradict another more reliable report from Ibn ‘Abbas on the tafsir of this verse. This report is documented in the Tafsir of Ibn Jarir, who narrates it with his isnad from the Tafsir of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talhah. According to this report Ibn ‘Abbas was of the opinion that the words “and those who believe, who establish salah and give charity, and they bow down” in the verse refer to all Muslims in general.
This interpretation by Ibn ‘Abbas is not only in harmony with the meaning of Wilaya as outlined above, it also agrees with the use of the plural form (“those who believe”) in the verse.
b) ‘Ammar ibn Yasir radiya Llahu ‘anhu
The hadith featuring Sayyidina ‘Ammar ibn Yasir radiya Llahu ‘anhu as its narrator is recorded in al Mujam al Awsat (vol. 6 p. 294, no. 6232) of al Tabrani. Its isnad runs as follows:
Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al Sa’igh — Khalid ibn Yazid al ’Umari — Ishaq ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Hussain — Hassan ibn Zaid — his father Zaid ibn Hassan — his grandfather — ‘Ammar
This isnad suffers from a serious defect. Khalid ibn Yazid al ’Umari is an extremely untrustworthy narrator who has been denounced as a liar by Yahya ibn Ma’in and Abu Hatim al Razi. Ibn Hibban says that he transmits forgeries on the authority of trustworthy narrators. Al ’Uqayli says that he transmits baseless narrations.
In this particular case he presents his forgery in the name of a completely unknown narrator, Ishaq ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Hussain. This name is nowhere traceable in the biographical dictionaries of hadith transmitters. Hassan ibn Zaid, his father Zaid ibn Hassan, and his grandfather Sayyidina Hassan ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhum were historical figures, but it is evident that their association with this hadith is completely fictional, being fabricated as it is by a known forger, Khalid ibn Yazid al ’Umari.
c)’Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu
The hadith with Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu as its narrator was contained in the Tafsir of Ibn Mardaway, a source which is no longer extant.
However, Hafiz Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir has stated that this narration, like that of ‘Ammar and Abu Rafi’, is unreliable “due to the weakness of their isnad and the fact that their narrators are unknown”.
The fact that amongst all hadith sources it is only in the relatively late Tafsir of Ibn Mardaway (who died in the year 410 AH) that this narration appears, is a further indication of its spuriousness.
d)Abu Rafi’ radiya Llahu ‘anhu
This narration too, is recorded by Ibn Mardaway. Fortunately it is also recorded by al Tabrani in his work al Mujam al Kabir (vol. 1 pp. 320-321), so unlike the previous case, we are in a position to conduct a first-hand investigation into its isnad.
Before going into that it must first be noted that this narration differs from all of the above versions in that it does not recount the story of the beggar. It only speaks of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam waking up from his sleep and reciting this verse. Thereafter he tells Abu Rafi’ that there will come a people who will fight ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, and that it will be incumbent upon people to fight them.
In al Durr al Manthur (vol. 2 p. 294), where it is stated as being recorded by Ibn Mardaway, al Tabrani as well as Abu Nuaim, there is an addition which goes that after reciting the verse Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: “Praise be to Allah who completed His favour for ‘Ali.” This addition must be from the book of either Ibn Mardaway or Abu Nuaim, since it does not appear in al Mujam al Kabir. It is neither in Hilyat al Auliya’ of Abu Nuaim, so it must be from another of his works which is not available to us.
The isnad in al Mujam al Kabir is not free from serious defects. The second narrator in the chain, namely Yahya ibn al Hassan ibn Furat, is totally unknown, while its fourth narrator, Muhammad ibn ‘Obaidullah, is regarded as unreliable by the vast majority of critics. For example, Abu Hatim describes him as “da’if al hadith, munkar al hadith jiddan” (weak in hadith, narrates extremely unique and uncorroborated material), and Ibn Ma’in says about him “laysa bi-shay’ (as a hadith transmitter he amounts to nothing)”. Ibn ‘Adi concurs with Abu Hatim that he narrates completely uncorroborated material.
Summary of Narrations from Sahaba
From the above it can be seen that not a single one of the various narrations from Sahaba that may be adduced as evidence that the Verse of Wilaya refers to Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, is authentic.
Shia writers often quote material of this kind from Sunni sources, seeking to mislead their uninformed Sunni readership by the amount of sources they are able to produce. A general principle that must be kept in mind with regard to such attempts at deception is that any narration is only as good as its chain of narration. Any material quoted must therefore first be authenticated before it can be used to substantiate any argument.
Hereafter we proceed to look at narrations of the beggar-incident whose chains of narration go back only as far as the Tabi’in.
2.Narrations from Tabi’in
Besides the previously discussed narrations from Sahaba, the sources provide us with reports from four of the Tabi’in in which mention is made of the incident of the beggar.
Below we discuss these four reports.
Before actually looking at them we need to take cognisance of the following principle:
Narrations such as these, which terminate at the Tabi’in, but speak of incidents which allegedly happened during the time of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam must be treated with care. The reason for that is that the Tabi’i who narrates something which he claims happened during the time of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not actually witness the incident. The only way he could have knowledge of it is by someone informing him.
The crucial question is: Who is his informant? To some people the logical answer to this question is that the Tabi’in were informed by the Sahaba, for the simple reason that the Tabi’in were the students of the Sahaba.
However, this is an oversimplification. It is a fact that the Tabi’in were informed of incidents from the time of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam by their teachers the Sahaba. But it is equally true that the phenomenon of hadith forgery made its appearance during that same early stage, when the adherents of the various unorthodox sectarian groupings, like the Khawarij and the extremist Shia were seeking to legitimate their doctrines by bringing into circulation hadith material which they projected back to the time of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Traditions of this kind are then later taken up by unsuspecting orthodox narrators who transmit it, often without naming of their sources. In this way spurious material finds its way into orthodox literature. Hafiz Ibn Hajar, in his introduction to Lisan al Mizan, makes mention of the statement of a member of one of the early heterodox sects that they used to invent hadith in support of their doctrines. He then remarks upon it that
this, by Allah, is the most decisive argument against those who regard the mursal hadith (the kind of hadith in which a Tabi’i narrates directly from the Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, without any mention of his immediate source), since the innovation of the Khawarij took place early in the history of Islam when there were still many Sahaba alive; and thereafter in the time of the Tabi’in after them. These people, when they took a fancy to something, used to make it into a hadith and publicise it. It might then well happen that a Sunni hears it and then, thinking well of [the person from whom he hears it,] he goes on to narrate it. This narration will then be narrated from him by another person. Eventually those will come along who regard hadith with interrupted chains of narration as authoritative. They will then accept such a hadith as proof, while the origin of it is what I have mentioned.
We will now proceed with an investigation into the authenticity of the four reports narrated from Tabi’in. The four Tabi’in from whom the incident of the beggar is narrated are:
a) ‘Utbah ibn Abi Hakim
b) Salama ibn Kuhayl
c) Ismail ibn ‘Abd al Rahman al Suddi
d) Mujahid ibn Jabr
a) ‘Utbah ibn Abi Hakim
The first narration is that of ‘Utbah ibn Abi Hakim which is documented in the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir from its original source, the Tafsir of Ibn Abi Hatim. ‘Utbah says:
They (those who believe, who establish salah and give zakat, and they bow down) are the believers and ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.
‘Utbah gives a double meaning to the phrase in italics. He understands it to refer to the believers in general, in harmony with the context. At the same time he also understands it to refer specifically to Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
The only reason for him reading that specific meaning into the verse must be the fact that he had heard of the incident of the beggar. Otherwise the text by itself does not support that deduction. So now the question is: From whom did he hear it? From a Sahabi, or from someone else? He himself does not state the identity of his source.
‘Utbah’s source could not have been a Sahabi, since he himself is not a Tabi’i in the strict sense of the word. He lived during the time of the younger generation of Tabi’in, like Sulaiman al A’mash, but did not get to meet any of the Sahaba. All the sources from whom he transmitted hadith were of the Tabi’in, and some of them were his own contemporaries. One of his contemporaries was the notorious forger Muhammad ibn as-Sa’ib al Kalbi whose role in the forgery of the hadith narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas has already been discussed. It is therefore not wholly inconceivable that ‘Utbah ibn Abi Hakim received his information about the incident of the beggar also from al Kalbi, and if not from him then from some other equally untrustworthy source.
b) Salama ibn Kuhayl
Salama ibn Kuhayl was a Tabi’i from Kufa who had met none of the Sahaba except Jundub ibn Abdullah and Abu Juhayfah. The vast majority of his teachers were of the elder and middle generation of the Tabi’in. His saying was also recorded in the Tafsir of Ibn Abi Hatim from where it was reproduced and preserved by Ibn Kathir (vol. 2 p. 71). He mentions the incident of the beggar as the cause of revelation for this verse.
Since this is once again a report by a person who did not actually witness the incident, a similar line of reasoning is applicable to it as to the previous case.
However, aside from asking questions about who Salama’s source for this information could have been, it is of particular interest to us to note that according to the Shia rijal critics, Salama ibn Kuhayl was persona non grata. Abu ‘Amr al Kashi, the prime rijal critic of the Shia, narrates from the fifth Imam Muhammad al Baqir that Salama ibn Kuhayl, amongst others, was responsible for misleading alot of people, and that he is of those about whom Allah has said in the Qur’an: There are some people who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day,” but (in reality) they do not believe.”
With their Imam himself having condemned Salama ibn Kuhayl as a hypocrite who is guilty of leading people away from the truth, we fail to understand how the Shia can venture to make an argument out of his statement.
c) Ismail ibn ‘Abd al Rahman al Suddi
The third report which recalls the incident of the beggar comes from Ismail ibn ‘Abd al Rahman al Suddi, a contemporary of Salama ibn Kuhayl who also lived in Kufa. His statement is recorded in the Tafsir of Ibn Jarir al Tabari (vol. 6 p. 186). He says:
Thereafter [i.e. after the preceding ayat] Allah informs them [the believers] with whom they should have Wilaya, saying: “Your wali is only Allah, His Messenger and the believers who establish salah and give zakat, and they bow down.” This refers to all believers, but a beggar passed by ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu while he was in ruku’ in the masjid, so he gave him his ring.
This shows that al Suddi is of the opinion that the verse is not specific, and that it applies to all believers in general. However, he does mention the incident of the beggar, and states it here almost as an afterthought. It is obvious that he is influenced by two things.
Firstly he is influenced by the context in which the verse appears. The context definitely provides no grounds for restricting the meaning of the verse to any particular incident or person, and that is what causes him to say that the scope of the verse is general so as to include all believers.
On the other hand he is also influenced by a report which reached him about the incident of the beggar. Our quest is to investigate with what degree of authenticity that report was handed down to him.
We know that at the time when al Suddi lived many reliable hadith narrators from amongst the elder and middle generations of the Tabi’in were alive. But we also know that there were also numerous notorious forgers and liars, who for the sake of propagating their heresies, resorted to forgery and invented history. For the critic it is thus not simply as easy as to accept whatever is narrated, but to investigate.
Al Suddi did not personally witness the incident, nor was he ever in contact with anyone who could have witnessed it. His informant therefore had to be another person. He himself does not state the name of his informant, nor of the eye witness from who the informant received the report.
The general failure of all of these persons — ‘Utbah ibn Abi Hakim, Salama ibn Kuhayl and al Suddi — to mention the names of their sources points strongly to the fact that the whole incident was nothing more than hearsay, more of a rumour than an authenticated report. It was brought into circulation by an unscrupulous person whose identity has remained a mystery. Thereafter it was circulated by word of mouth, with some commentator mentioning the incident but refraining from naming their sources, and other less scrupulous persons projecting it right back to the Sahaba. Not a single one of the various chains of narrations fulifil the requirements of authenticity.
d) Mujahid ibn Jabr
We earlier discussed the narration transmitted from Mujahid by his son ‘Abd al Wahhab. That narration was on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas.
In the Tafsir of Ibn Jarir al Tabari there is another narration from Mujahid in which mention of the story of the beggar is made (vol. 6 p. 186). The statement appears there as Mujahid’s own, and not as his narration from Ibn ‘Abbas.
However, the person who narrates from him, namely Ghalib ibn ‘Obaidullah, is regarded as extremely unreliable by the rijal critics. His unreliability, like that of ‘Abd al Wahhab ibn Mujahid, is a matter of consensus amongst the ‘ulama. Abu Hatim describes him as “matruk al hadith, munkar al hadith”(one upon whose extreme unreliability there is consensus, an unreliable narrator of uncorroborated reports); al Daraqutni says simply “matruk”(technically meaning that he is extremely unreliable by consensus); and Ibn Ma’in says “laysa bi thiqah” (he is not reliable).
At this some point some readers might get the impression that the rijal critics condemned these narrators as unreliable only because they narrate material which is unpalatable to them. To this we might reply by saying that this kind of response might be expected from someone who has no knowledge of the methodology of the Muhaddithin in criticising narrators. Having here seen quotations from the rijal critics on a few narrators who all happen to narrate the same hadith, the mind of the non-adept could be expected to jump to the generalisation that “it is only because these narrators narrate material favourable to Shi’ism that they have been censured.” The tendency to generalise in this way would be even stronger if considered that in this critical examination the person might be seeing the destruction of something which he had once thought to be an incontrovertible argument. Such persons would be well-advised to read up on the methodology of hadith criticism.
That is only the first part of our reply. The second part is that this particular person, Ghalib ibn ‘Obaidullah, does not only narrate this one saying from Mujahid. He is known to have transmitted other material as well. In Ibn Hajar’s work Lisan al Mizan there is a hadith which he narrates, the text of which is that Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam gave Muawiyah an arrow and told him: “Keep this until you meet me in Jannat.” The hadith is squarely denounced as a forgery by way of this very same Ghalib ibn ‘Obaidullah.
This condemnation of his hadith is definitely not a result of prejudice based on the type of hadith which he transmits. That much even the Shia will agree to. It was simply on account of the person’s unreliability and untrustworthiness, which is, as we have already said, a matter of consensus amongst the Muhaddithin.
If anyone feels that Ghalib ibn ‘Obaidullah has been unfairly dealt with by the rijal critics merely because he narrated something in support of Sayyidina ‘Ali’s pre-emptive right to the Khilafa, let him ask himself if he would would feel the same about the fact that that same Ghalib narrates this hadith about Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam telling Muawiyah to keep the arrow until he meets him again in Jannat. An honest response to this question is sure to reveal exactly where the real prejudice lies.
Alternative narrations from the Tabi’in
The above four narrations are not the only ones that have come down to us from the Tabi’in. They are contradicted by another, much better known narration, that has reached us from a person no less in status, that is Imam Muhammad al Baqir, who is regarded by the Shia as their fifth Imam. This narration is documented in al Tabari’s Tafsir (vol. 6 p. 186). It runs as follows:
Hannad [ibn Sari] — ‘Abdah [ibn Sulaiman] — ‘Abd al Malik [ibn Abi Sulaiman] — Abu Jafar [i.e. Imam Muhammad al Baqir]:
‘Abd al Malik says: I asked Abu Jafar about the verse: “Your wali is only Allah, His Messenger and those who believe, who establish salah and give zakat, and they bow down.” We asked: “Who is meant by those who believe?” He replied: “Those who believe.” We said: “A report reached us that that this verse was revealed in connection with ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.” He said: “‘Ali is one of those who believe.”
This narration shows that the incident of the beggar had become quite popular, despite the fact that none of its narrators is able to produce a chain of narrators that is free from serious defects. It had become so popular, in fact, that ‘Abd al Malik ibn Abi Sulaiman — who is recognised by the Shia as a Tabi’i who narrates from Imam Muhammad al Baqir — thought to refer the matter to the Imam himself. The Imam made it clear to him that the verse refers to all believers in general. When told about the claim that it refers specifically to Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu, the Imam makes is clear that Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu is neither the specific subject of the verse, nor is he excluded from it, since he too, is a believer amongst the believers. He mentions nothing at all in confirmation of the incident of the beggar.
To the Shia mind, so used to thinking of the illustrious members of the Ahlul Bayt in the despicable terms of taqiyyah, the Imam might well have been “covering up the truth”. But to any person who truly loves and respects the Family of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam this is an honest and straightforward answer. Only an anxious and prejudiced mind would care to read meaning into it that is not there.
From this discussion the following conclusions may be drawn:
Firstly, the context of the verse is general, and gives no cause for believing it to refer to any specific person.
Secondly, the incident of the beggar is recorded in reports narrated from four different Sahaba. Not a single one of those four reports is free from serious defects in the chains of narration. They are further contradicted by other narrations which are more reliable.
Thirdly, narrations from the Tabi’in suffer from a common defect, in that the names of the sources who relate the incident are not disclosed. Some of them suffer from the further defect of untrustworthy narrators. They are contradicted by a report in which Imam Muhammad al Baqir himself attests to the fact that the verse is general and unrestricted in meaning. With this being the state of the historicity of the incident of the beggar, there is no way in which it could ever be claimed, with confidence and in full honesty, that the 55th verse of Surah al Ma’idah was revealed in respect of Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
 Surah al Ma’idah: 55
 Tafsir Ibn Kathir vol. 2 p. 68
 See al Wahidi, Asbab al Nuzul no. 397
 See Abu Jafar al `Uqayli, al Du`afa’ al Kabir vol. 1 p. 165
 See al Mizzi, Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 25 pp. 246-253
 See Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 26 pp. 392-394
 See as-Suyuti, Tadreeb al Rawi vol. 1 p. 181
 See Tafsir Ibn Kathir vol. 2 p. 71
 Ibn Abi Hatim, al Jarh wa al Ta`dil vol. 4 tarjamah no. 2024
 Ibn Hajar, Taqrib al Tahdhib no. 4263
 Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 18 p. 517
 Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 18 p. 517
 Ibn Jarir al Tabari, Jami` al Bayan vol. 6 p. 186
 See Lisan al Mizan vol. 2 pp. 740-743
 Tafsir Ibn Kathir vol. 2 p. 71
 Majma` al Zawa’id vol. 9 p. 134
 Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 26 p. 37
 al Kamil vol. 6 p. 114
 Lisan al Mizan vol. 1 p. 18
 Ibn Kathir vol. 2 p. 71
 See Taqrib al Tahdhib no. 4427
 Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 19 p. 300
 `Ali ibn al Madini, Kitab al `Ilal, cited by Dr. Bashshar `Awwad Ma`roof in a footnote to Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 11 p. 317
 Rijal al Kashshi, cited in al Ardabili, Jami` al Ruwat vol. 1 p. 373
 Lisan al Mizan vol. 5 p. 404
 see al Ardabili, Jami` al Ruwat, vol. 1 p. 519 no. 4187