by Abu Dharr (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 12, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1443)
When the heartbreaking news got out that Allah’s most beloved Prophet (pbuh) has joined heavenly company the Ansar (not ‘Umar or Abu Bakr) called for convening a meeting in what is known as Saqifat Bani Sa‘idah (the sun-shelter of the Sa‘idah ancestry). It appears that the Ansar aspired to have one of them as the successor to the Prophet (pbuh). If that were to have happened, it would in all likelihood have been Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubadah who was the head of the Khazraj community in al-Madinah.
When the call went out to convene at the Saqifah, a number of the Muhajireen got word of it and made it to the meeting. It seems like there was an earnest contention between the Ansar and the Muhajireen (the core base of the Prophet’s defenders) as to who is the most suitable person to be in charge of leading and keeping the ummah together after the Prophet’s heavenly departure.
In the midst of an intense debate Abu Bakr spontaneously stood up and spoke his heart and mind. The gist of what he said was that it can only be someone from Quraish (meaning a Quraishi muhajir) who will be able to keep the Islamic house undivided and un-conflicted. The general population, (beyond the Hashimis, Muhajireen, and Ansar), have a lingering culture and long history that still thinks a lot of Quraish.
Abu Bakr expressed his opinion that if someone from the Khazraj would assume the highest office it may trigger the generational rivalry between the Aws and Khazraj (a rivalry and hostility that preceded the Prophet’s arrival in al-Madinah and had lasted for about 120 years). Likewise, if someone from the Aws would assume the highest office it may trigger the same generational rivalry which the Prophet (pbuh) and the Ansar’s (now post-Aws and post-Khazraj) common commitment put to rest but may possibly come back to destabilize the ummah.
This observation by Abu Bakr brought both blocs of the Ansar (the Aws and the Khazraj) to their rational selves. They knew that the cultural embers of a hot-blooded century of the pre-Islamic belligerent past could conceivably burst out into renewed warfare to everyone’s detriment. Abu Bakr suggested that the Ansar agree to either ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab or Abu ‘Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah as the person capable of managing and holding the ummah together and leading the true and tried Muslims (Hashimis, Muhajireen and Ansar) along with the newcomers and tenderfeet Muslims (the tens of thousands in Arabia who had just jumped on the victorious Islamic bandwagon) into an era of more solidification and better association.
At this climactic and discerning moment ‘Umar was afraid that everyone may disperse which would leave a dangerous vacuum that could be manipulated by an array of threatening internal and external enemies and thus the well-taken advice of Abu Bakr would dissipate. It was at this sensitive moment within those delicate psychological undercurrents in al-Madinah and the considerable uneasy social forces in Arabia that ‘Umar approached Abu Bakr and appreciated him as the successor to the Prophet (pbuh) at the Saqifah. This is what ‘Umar said speaking to Abu Bakr in the presence of the Saqifah attendees:
ألم يأمر النبي بأن تصلي أنت يا أبا بكر بالمسلمين؟ فأنت خليفته ونحن نبايعك فنبايع خير من أحب رسول الله منا جميعا
Did not the Prophet charge you with leading the [congregational] prayers of the Muslims? Hence you [should] be his successor. And we give our approval to you and by doing so we approve of the one whom the Messenger of Allah from among all of us valued the most.
Thus ‘Umar and Abu ‘Ubaidah from among the Muhajireen approved of Abu Bakr; they did so after Bashir ibn Sa‘d, a prominent leader among the Ansar’s Khazraj endorsed Abu Bakr as leader. At that point all Muhajireen and Ansar present came forward and approved of Abu Bakr as the successor to the Prophet (pbuh). This Bay‘at [pledge of loyalty] is referred to as al-Bay‘at al-Khaassah [the particular or specific Bay‘at]; that is because the number of tried and committed Muslims who approved of Abu Bakr’s leadership at the Saqifah were not many.
The following day Abu Bakr went to the Masjid (the civic, town hall, upper house, and legislative body of the Muslims) ascended the minbar whereby the general Muslim public there and then endorsed Abu Bakr as the successor to the Prophet (pbuh). This is referred to as the general or public Bay‘at.
Parallel to these aforementioned developments, Imam ‘Ali along with al-Zubair, with other members of Bani Hashim, proceeded to the home of beloved Fatimah, the Prophet’s cherished daughter where they were initially engaged with the Prophet’s funeral preparations. There should be no doubt that upon learning what had transpired at the Saqifah, Imam ‘Ali may have felt slighted because he was excluded from this Bay‘at arrangement and/or he may have had a presentiment that the general neophyte Muslim crowds (the hundred-thousand-plus) who had become Muslims in the past couple of years after the liberation of Makkah would not be able to decisively unite around him because of the psychological, cultural, social, tribal and military overtones and undercurrents together, referred to above.
Whatever way one may take these developments to mean, the fact of the matter is that Imam ‘Ali endorsed the leadership of Abu Bakr after honorable Fatimah passed away months later according to some sources, or days later according to other sources. The bottom line is Imam ‘Ali “allowed”, “accepted”, or “tolerated” the governance of Abu Bakr – unlike what would emerge later when Imam ‘Ali did not allow, accept or tolerate the power grab of the taliq Mu‘awiyah.
In a khutbah that ‘Umar later gave he mentioned that Imam ‘Ali and al-Zubair along with others with them took to noblewoman Fatimah’s home and in ‘Umar’s own evaluation of the pressing circumstances, time was of the essence and the unity of Muslims was at a critical crossroad that demanded a prompt and preemptory decision at the Saqifah.
This account of events in this writer’s view pretty much sums up what sectarians zero in on when they rant and rave about their jaundiced interpretation of that early 23-year-generation of (combat-proven and committed) Muslims. Some of these hardened sectarians shrink this thoughtful and tactful civic and civil interaction among thousands of committed Muslims on one side [Hashimis, Muhajireen, Ansar] and tens of thousands of less than committed Muslims on the other side [al-A‘raab, munafiqeen, those with diseased hearts, and spreaders of false and misleading information], to a rivalry and enmity between two persons: Imam ‘Ali and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. This unrefined and crude reading of our common Islamic history is what feeds mild sectarians and fires up wild sectarians.
Let us pose some uncomfortable questions – uncomfortable because no systemic and significant and objective rational effort has been dedicated to these early pages of our collective history. They have been unreasonably hijacked by egocentric sectarians (Shi‘is) or conveniently ignored by other contemptuous sectarians (Sunnis).
Why didn’t the attendees of the Saqifah (Muhajireen and Ansar) put forward Imam ‘Ali as the leader of the Muslim ummah? Surely, they were aware of what the Prophet (pbuh) said at Ghadir Khumm? Were they enemies of Imam ‘Ali? Or were they conspiratorial? Were they obsessed with power or were they prejudiced against Imam ‘Ali? If the answer is “yes” then the laudable mention of the Muhajireen and Ansar in the Qur’an would have to be refuted! So, do we honor the ayats of the Qur’an or the misaligned and madcap history version of sectarians? The answer is obvious.
If Imam ‘Ali (who was the most qualified to lead the Muslims, no doubt) understood the Prophet (pbuh) to have insisted and stipulated that he, and only he, be the leader of the Muslims after him (pbuh) with disregard to the critical mass of the Prophet’s supporters (Muhajireen and Ansar), then why did he (Imam ‘Ali) endorse Abu Bakr as the head of state? Remember, in the Islamic literature that we all have (Sunnis and Shi‘is) no one refers to Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, or ‘Uthman as Imam.
Imam ‘Ali could have stopped short of approving of Abu Bakr as khalifah. He did not. Was an insightful Imam ‘Ali duped? Was a courageous Imam ‘Ali coerced? Was an outspoken Imam ‘Ali silenced, and if so, by whom?
What happened at the Saqifah is not without its imperfections but the question is: did the Saqifah affair amount to a “power grab”? Were the Ansar and Muhajireen power mongers? And if it turns out that all these Muhajireen and Ansar devotees of the Prophet (pbuh) were opportunists, frauds, or phonies, then who would there be to support Imam ‘Ali if he were to become the head of state?
In the progeny of Imam ‘Ali there were grandchildren whose names were ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. Shi‘i sectarian literature claims that the Prophet (pbuh) had only one daughter – Fatimah. That literature tells us that ‘Umar broke Fatimah’s ribs which resulted in her death… it also says that ‘Uthman will appear on Judgment Day with two [Satanic] horns to his head!!!
What is needed now is for those who belong to the Shi‘i context to undergo a cultural revolution and purge their educational institutions from such sectarian nonsense that only serves the interests of the Zionists and Imperialists. Anyone who is versed on current affairs can see MI6, the CIA, and Mossad giving visas to Shi‘i sectarians as well as finances and other necessary access and accommodations to inflame Muslim public opinion with hate speech, abhorrent lectures, and revulsive films and motion pictures.
The educational and media programs in any Islamic form of government have to be free of sectarian hatred and divisive texts. The Islamic Revolution in Iran has to be saved in spite of its sectarians. A sound understanding of our first Islamic chapters in history should be projected as a fellowship of pioneering Muslims who were sensitive to and careful of Islamic togetherness and selflessness. Imam ‘Ali was not an enemy of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. Abu Bakr and ‘Umar were not enemies of Imam ‘Ali.
Let us slap the sectarians on the face by saying that Imam ‘Ali was not a power-hungry Imam and ‘Umar was not a power-crazy khalifah. Both of them were very concerned and dedicated to the solidarity and unity of the Muslims, even though they had their differences. Some of these differences were acknowledged by ‘Umar before he passed away. But these differences were not differences of hostilities or “acts of war.”
Imam ‘Ali is one who understood very well the hostile forces that were entrenched in Arabia – some with an Islamic veneer and the hostile forces that were contiguous to Arabia with all the ramifications that come with failing superpowers. Imam ‘Ali understood extremely well the workings of the Byzantines through their clients in the Levant and he understood exceptionally well the Persian Empire’s waning.
Notice that when they speak about the immediate years after the Prophet (pbuh) passed away and the committed Muslims who were trying their best to deal with their leadership issues, most if not all sectarians never mention the stratagems and scheming of the world powers around Arabia. That’s like talking about Saudi Arabia and omitting the involvement and intrusion of the “superpowers” today in the affairs of that neo-Umayyad kingdom.
Indeed, Allah has turned in His mercy to the Prophet, as well as to al-Muhajireen [those who have abandoned the jurisdiction of evil and oppression in Makkah], and al-Ansar [those who have sheltered and supported the deen [in al-Madinah] – [all] those who followed him [the Prophet] in the hour of [military] distress, when the hearts of some of the other committed muslims had well-nigh swerved [from the deen]. And once again: He has turned to them in His mercy – for, behold, He is compassionate toward them, exceptionally merciful. (Al-Tawbah, 117)
To be continued…