Imamah: Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib

Hadith 27: The Messenger of Allah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam ordered for the doors (of the masjid) to be closed except for the door of `Ali.
May 15, 2018
Imamah: Zaynul ‘Abidin Ali ibn Husayn
May 25, 2018

Imamah: Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib


Thus far, in our investigation of Imamah we have learnt that it has no root in the noble Qur’an or blessed Sunnah of the Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. On the contrary, it contradicts the clear verses of the Qur’an. While this is not surprising bearing in mind the Shia disregard for the Qur’an, what we find truly astonishing is that the words and actions of the Ahlul Bayt themselves, whom the Shia claim to so ardently follow, are also at striking variance from the Shia concept of Imamah which they ascribe to them. This effectively makes the doctrine of Imamah an open violation of the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt as well.

Aside from the ambiguous texts which the Shia usually cite in an attempt to prove that the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appointed Sayyidina ‘Ali as Khalifah after him, the Shia Hadith legacy is teeming with evidence that the noble Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and his esteemed Household too believed in the Concept of Shura, that is the right for the Ummah to select its own leaders.

Sharif al Murtada, amongst the senior Shia scholars of the fourth century, records the discussion that ensued between Sayyidina ‘Abbas and Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhuma during the final illness of the Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The narration goes thus:


‘Abbas ibn ‘Abdul Muttalib spoke to Amir al Mu’minin (‘Ali ibn Abi Talib) during the illness of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, to ask the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam who will be in charge of affairs after him, and that if it is for us (the Ahlul Bayt) he should reveal it; and if it is for some other people, he should entrust it to us.

Amir al Mu’minin (‘Ali) said, “We went to the Messenger of Allah when his illness became serious and we said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, choose a successor for us.’ He said, ‘No! I fear that you will be divided regarding him, as the children of Israel became divided over Harun, but if Allah knows any goodness in you, He will choose for you (a leader).’”[1]


One would have noticed the non-existence of any “will” or declaration from the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appointing Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu as Khalifah, and instead that the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam left the matter as Shura (a consultative issue). ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu himself explained this when refusing Abu Sufyan’s offer of assistance to instil him as the khalifah. Imam Ja’far reports on the authority of his forefathers:


When Abu Bakr was appointed as Khalifah, Abu Sufyan came to Imam ‘Ali and he said to him, “Do you agree, O children of ‘Abd Manaf that ‘Taym’ will be leaders over you? Stretch your hand I will pay my allegiance to you, by Allah, I will fill Madinah with horses and men.”

‘Ali withdrew from him and then said, “Woe unto you O Abu Sufyan this is of your shrewdness, the people have agreed upon (the leadership of) Abu Bakr. Do you still wish for Islam the crookedness of Jahiliyyah, when you are (now) Muslim? I swear by Allah that you will never bring any harm to Islam, even if you are still the source of strife (fitnah).”[2]


Emphasising Sayyidina ‘Ali’s stance with regards to the Ummah having the right to choose its leaders is that he, along with being a member of the electoral committee appointed by Sayyidina ‘Umar, actively participated in its proceedings. Furthermore, he was the first to pledge his allegiance to ‘Uthman after ‘Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Awf radiya Llahu ‘anhuma.[3]

After the dreadful murder of Sayyidina ‘Uthman at the hands of the rebels, we find Sayyidina ‘Ali once again refusing to don the mantle of Khilafah without it being first subjected to the Shura process.

The rebels had called upon Sayyidina ‘Ali to assume power immediately after the killing of Sayyidina ‘Uthman, but he refused them in the following words, making known his own position on how a Khalifah is appointed:


‘Ali said addressing the rebels, “This matter is not for you to decide. This belongs to the Muhajirin and Ansar, the one they appoint will be the leader.”


Yet even when the Muhajirin and Ansar came to him and offered to swear allegiance to him, he declined twice. When they insisted for the third time, he said:


Leave me and seek someone else for the post… whoever you will appoint I will be the most obedient and loyal to anyone you choose. I would rather be an advisor than a leader.[4]


The same narration also mentions Sayyidina ‘Ali offering the Khilafah to Talhah and Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhuma instead, who in turn declined it. It was only then did he accede to the nomination.

If the Shia concept of Imamah was an established belief— well-known to the people— and upheld by Sayyidina ‘Ali it would not have been permissible for him to reject the rebels, first, and claim that this right belonged to the Muhajirin and Ansar only.

Furthermore it would not have been permissible for him to proffer the excuse, “I would rather be an advisor than a leader,” and instead offer the Khilafah to Talhah and Zubair.

We find Sayyidina ‘Ali reiterating this stance to Sayyidina Muawiyah when he refused to swear fealty until the murderers of ‘Uthman were brought to justice. Sayyidina ‘Ali wrote:


My appointment in Madinah is binding upon you in Syria because the people who swore their allegiance to me were the same people who swore allegiance to Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman. Thus the one present has no other alternative to choose nor the absent the right to reject. Definitely Shura is the right of the Muhajirin and Ansar. When they agree on a person and call him the leader, therein lies the pleasure of Allah.[5]


One would notice a pattern starting to emerge, one which is void of any mention of divine appointment or Imamah. On the contrary we find Sayyidina ‘Ali emphasising time and again that the right to appoint a leader is the right of the Muhajirin and Ansar.

Further testimony to Sayyidina ‘Ali’s belief in the system of Shura being the constitution of the Muslims is the narration of Sulaim ibn Qais al Hilali, wherein he narrates that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said:


What is obligatory of the laws of Allah and Islam upon the Muslims is that if their leader dies or is killed, they should not perform any act, begin anything new, move to do anything, or start anything unless they choose for themselves a chaste leader, who is learned, scrupulous, and well versed in the tradition matters.[6]


Sayyidina ‘Ali practically demonstrated this in his last moments, after being fatally wounded by ‘Abdul Rahman ibn Muljim, when the Muslims urged him to appoint a successor. His reply was:


The Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not appoint a successor so how can I? However if Allah desires good for the people, He will unite them around the best of them after me just as he united us around the best amongst us after the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.[7]


Sharif al Murtada reports a similar narration with slight variation in wording and containing the addition:


When they informed ‘Ali that they would unite around Hassan (after him), he replied, “I do not instruct you to do so nor do I prohibit you.”[8]


The attitude of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu to the matter of Khilafah has become manifest, and it is in full conformity with the belief held by the Ahlus Sunnah wa l-Jama’ah. As for the doctrine of Imamah and divine appointment it finds no root in the early years of history.

The abdication of Sayyidina Hassan in favour of Sayyidina Muawiyah further illustrates the fact that the Ahlul Bayt never held the belief of Divine Appointment.

How could it be permissible for an infallible appointed by Allah, holding an office equal to or rather greater than that of Nubuwwah, to abdicate in favour of a fallible individual, more so when according to Shia thought he is regarded as one of the most depraved persons of society?

The only logical conclusion is that the doctrine of Imamah was never the belief of the Ahl al Bayt but rather a preconceived notion by a small group of unscrupulous individuals who propagated it in secret without the knowledge of the Ahlul Bayt.

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[1] Al Shafi vol. 4 pg. 149, vol. 3 pg. 295

[2] Al Shafi vol. 3 pg. 252, Ibn Abi Al Hadeed: Sharah Nahj al Balaghah vol. 1 pg. 222

[3] Al Tamhid wa al Bayan pg. 26

[4] Tabari vol. 3 pg. 450, Nahj al Balaghah Tahqiq Salih Subhi pg. 136

[5] Nahjul-Balaghah, Letter #6

[6] Kitab Sulaim ibn Qais al Hilali pg. 182, Bihar al Anwar vol. 8 pg. 555

[7] Hakim vol. 3 pg. 79, Bayhaqi: Dalail vol. 7 pg. 223

[8] Al Shafi vol. 3 pg. 293, Tathbit Dalail Nubuwwah vol. 1 pg. 212

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