Some individuals who intensely dislike the khulafa’ will ask: why didn’t Abu Bakr let the general Muslim public, through a process of Shura, decide who the ruler after him shall be? Why did Abu Bakr select ‘Umar to be the ruler of the Muslims after him? We all know that Shura [an open and inclusive public consultation without necessarily suggesting ultimate agreement] is a requirement for an Islamic social contract between a ruler and the citizens in an Islamic ummah.
This type of question-objection by those who disapprove of the Khulafa’ fails to understand and take into consideration the turbulence and turmoil that broke out during the two years of Abu Bakr’s leadership. Virtually all of the Muslim citizens who were not included in the rankings of Ahl al-Bayt, al-Muhajiroon and al-Ansar were in their own ways either militarily assaulting the Islamic authority in al-Madinah or watching what the outcome will be when Hurub al-Riddah [the Abandonment Wars] come to an end.
In today’s terminology, Abu Bakr considered Islamic society to be in a “state of emergency” as the very central authority of Islam in al-Madinah was in ominous if not existential danger. Besides, how is it possible to conduct an open and fair Shura when virtually all of Arabia was destabilized internally by “Arabian tribalism/factionalism” and menaced externally by superpower Byzantine and Persian interventionism?
The best that could be done in those dire circumstances was to consult with the tested and proven and dedicated Muslims as to who shall selflessly and responsibly assume the commanding position; and that is what Abu Bakr reasonably did.
This, to a certain degree, should explain why Imam ‘Ali understood the delicate decisions made by the Khulafa’. Imam ‘Ali was acutely aware of the internal tribal breakaway tensions in Arabia as well as the Byzantine interference through their surrogates along with the Persian interference through their surrogates within the clannish composition of the Arabians. The Prophet (pbuh), the Qur’an, and Islam were located within a people and a culture that had its own long running traditions, persistent practices, and a withstanding way of life – crude as it was.
all of this did not disappear completely with the stroke of an [Islamic] pen. There were remnants of the past, residues of earlier periods, traditions of ancient times, and enduring tribal frictions that effectively climaxed in the century preceding the Prophet (pbuh), the Qur’an, and Islam.
The Arabian Peninsula was spiritually tormented and politically shattered before the advent of Rasul-Allah. The internecine friction and feud gave way to outside Byzantine and Persian intrusion. There was animosity between al-Manadhirah (the proxies of Persia) and the Ghasasinah (the backups of Byzantium). The tribe of Bakr was at an infamous war with the tribe of Taghlib. The clan of ‘Abas was in conflict with the clan of Dhubyan. And then there were the century long hostilities between al-Aws and al-Khazraj in Yathrib [known as al-Madinah after Islam].
These long-lasting disagreements, unfathomable antagonism and serious strife ran very deep in the psychology of the Arabian people who were now Muslims and being ruled by the Khulafa’. The only common denominator among all these desperate, distracted, and despondent Arabians was their language – the pride of their culture. Raiding and killing in that pre-Islamic chaotic century became the norm. There was enough bad blood around Arabia that the Allah (swt) in His insightful ayah says:
وألف بين قلوبهم. لو أنفقت مافي الأرض جميعا ما ألفت بين قلوبهم ولكن الله ألف بينهم انه عزيز حكيم -الأنفال 63
Whose hearts [these Arabians] He has brought together: [for], if you [O Muhammad] had expended all that is on [and of the] earth, you could not have brought their hearts together [by yourself] – but Allah did bring them together. Verily, He is magnificent, wise – Al-Anfal, 63
Generations of nomadic attacks and counter-attacks were neutralized by the Qur’an and the Prophet (pbuh) but they did not become extinct.
Imam ‘Ali with his Islamic awareness and acumen was scanning this whole issue with its multi-dimensions. He knew that the provisional Khilafah with all the sincere and steadfast struggles of the Khulafa’ was threatened by pre-Islamic, un-Islamic, non-Islamic, and anti-Islamic entities coming from all directions – past, present, and potentially the future. Insurrectionist movements, thinking that the Islamic Armed Forces were spread thin, erupted in Najd and Yemen. Opposition to the Khulafa’, Imam ‘Ali knew, would be working into the hands of the common enemies, and there were legions of them.
‘Umar appointed Salman as the governor of al-Mada’in in ‘Iraq [about a 40-minute drive nowadays from Baghdad] and appointed ‘Ammar as the governor of al-Kufah. These were the “right hand men” of Imam ‘Ali. You, minus any prejudice, can see how the followers of Muhammad (pbuh) were working together with good will and in good faith.
The sectarians—the majority of whom are narrow-minded—miss the mark by dismissing the study of the origin, development, and structure of that Arabian Peninsula and society and the behavior of influential individuals and indigenous groups within their transition and transformation from Jahiliyah to Islam. Anytime and anywhere there is a deep-rooted and far reaching social transformation from the customary and conventional to the innovative and enlightened there is bound to be tension and opposition.
This was the case when Islam simultaneously reformed and revolutionized Arabia. The Khulafa’ were aware of this and more so was Imam ‘Ali. The high standards of Islam aimed at removing ‘asabiyah [ethnic preferentialism, cultural superiority, tribal favoritism, racial prejudice, and national discrimination]. The Qur’anic and Prophetic social model ordains utter equality among all.
ان أكرمكم عند الله أتقاكم. الحجرات 13
Verily, the noblest among you [people] in the sight of Allah is the one who is most conscious and [always] on guard concerning Allah’s merited power presence [on earth]. Indeed, Allah is all-knowing, ever proficient. - Al-Hujurat, 13
To further explain this, our dearest Prophet (pbuh) said and all the Khulafa’ and Imam ‘Ali heard, understood and took to heart his guidance:
المؤمنون اخوة. تتكافأ دماؤهم ويسعى بذمتهم أدناهم وهم أعلى يدا على من سواهم.
Committed Muslims are brothers [to each other]. Their bloodlines are synergistic. The most humble among them is as responsible and reliable as the others. And they [the committed Muslims] surpass the other people [who are in their jahiliyah].
Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and Imam ‘Ali were all privy to the Prophet (pbuh) in his farewell address when he said:
أيها الناس! ان الله تعالى أذهب عنكم نخوة الجاهلية وفخرها بالآباء. كلكم لآدم وآدم من تراب. ليس لعربي على عجمي فضل الا بالتقوى
O people! Truly Allah most exalted has dispelled the zeal and haughtiness of jahiliyah from you and its [jahiliyah’s] ancestral pomp [and grandeur]. All of you are [descendants] of Adam and Adam originates from soil. No Arabian has preference over a non-Arabian except for [the quality of] taqwa [averting Allah’s immediate corrective power].
Another Prophetic statement that dwells on and seeks to abolish this clannish solidarity, tribal unity, and national pride is:
من قاتل تحت راية عمية يغضب لعصبية أو يدعو الى عصبية أو ينصر عصبية فقتل قتل قتلة جاهلية
Whoever goes to war fighting under a blind and inconsiderate banner—a person who rants and raves due to ‘asabiyah or who promotes ‘asabiyah or who adds force to ‘asabiyah and then he dies in the process [know that] he dies a death of jahiliyah.
If words were not enough, the Khulafa’ and Imam ‘Ali lived through the actual fraternity of committed Muslims when the Prophet (pbuh) designated each Muhajir to become for all practical purposes the brother of an Ansari. Some mindless people especially those who are entrenched in their myopic sectarianism fail to realize that this fraternity of the Muhajiroon and Ansar, who were the bedrock of the Prophet’s mission, took place during and after many years of acrimony between the Makkans and the Madinians.
We will continue to bring back to life and back to our thinking minds the details that are swept under the carpet by Shi‘i sinister sectarians; the same sectarians who consider it an act of devotion to curse and condemn the Khulafa’ when there is no proof that Imam ‘Ali cursed and condemned the Khulafa’. And if there are some Sunni sectarians out there who feel like these articles are a relief for them, we tell them wait until we clear this phase of history and begin to open up and uncover the sectarianism of those who are “Sunnis” because the Sunnis have their servile sectarians.
This may take months or even years but eventually with Allah’s help and guidance the full spectrum of sectarianism is going to be in the spotlight on these pages. We do not take comfort in the fact that Shi‘i sectarians incite Sunni sectarians or in the fact that Sunni sectarians instigate Shi‘i sectarians.
This writer, though, feels that the generational breakthrough of an Islamic Revolution in Iran is being gradually choked by its sectarians along with the seculars and liberals who are ever ready to pounce on every opportunity to sideline Walayat al-Faqih and demote an Imam to such cultural terms as “Rahbar” or “Agha”. When the Sunnis ever reach positions of governmental decision-making, they will also have their sectarians to deal with. Better for the Sunnis to prepare for that now, than to be shocked and set back by it when it rears its ugly face, and shifts its dirty hands.
Like Imam ‘Ali who could see the full range of variables and dynamics at work during the time of the Khulafa’ we, too, are able to see the full range of variables and dynamics at work in Islamic Iran. And as Imam ‘Ali offered advice to the legitimate rulers of his time, we also are offering advice to the legitimate rulers in our time.
Mind you, the Shi‘i sectarians don’t consider Imam Khomeini and Imam Khamene’i to be Islamically legitimate rulers with the same mentality that they don’t consider Abu Bakr and ‘Umar to be Islamically legitimate rulers. The Khilafah and Walayat al-Faqih find themselves in the same position vis a vis the sectarians.
And he turned away from them, and said, “O my people! Indeed, I delivered to you my Sustainer’s message and gave you good advice, but you did not like those who gave [you] good advice” – Al-A‘raf, 79.