Those who have been following this column should have noticed by now at least a couple of incontestable particulars. The first is the fact that the Muhajireen and the Ansar were the critical mass of committed Muslims that made it possible owing to the Prophet’s leadership to finally have an Islamic society, an Islamic country, and an Islamic chain of command. The second is the fact that there was no premeditated hate or hostility among the overwhelming majority of these Muhajireen and Ansar.
More to the point, there was no polarization or counter-polarization between ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and Imam ‘Ali. Yes, they had their independent and sometimes differing points of view but never did that mean that they were enemies of each other as some sectarians would want their hangers-on to believe. Both Imam ‘Ali and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab were keenly aware of the staying power peculiar to the solidified bloc of both the Muhajireen and the Ansar that faced the munafiqeen, the posturing Arabians, and the untested Muslims internally, along with the surrounding geopolitical powers externally. Understanding this goes a long way in disputing the sectarian version of early Islamic history.
Notice from all that you have heard or “learned” about the few decades following our dear Prophet’s heavenly departure, there is no mention of the solid working relationship that fused together al-Muhajireen and al-Ansar who themselves were the first line of defense when it came to the Prophet (pbuh) and his committed family. This essential fact gets lost in the sectarian rally cry of “sahabah” and the sectarian rally cry of “Ahl al-Bayt.”
Now let us continue from where we left off. ‘Umar’s strict restrictions on the movement of the Muhajireen-and-Ansar-critical-mass in al-Madinah was meant to safeguard them and other committed Muslims from rank discrimination, influence peddling and any other form of individual or “clique” high-handedness. This plan sustained the principles and standards of the Prophet (pbuh) within Madinah’s general public. It also pushed back the fitnah of self-centeredness, tribal self-interest, and the cultural and historical diehard forces of jahiliyah.
‘Umar did not do this single-handedly nor did he do it on his own. He did it with the teamwork coming from those who “stayed the Prophetic course”. We may not be overstressing it if we say that this solid bloc was ‘Umar’s off-the-record Shura members. If only ‘Umar had lived longer, this body of selfless devotees may have become what the populace needed most: endorsed deputies and an approved “house of representatives.”
Obviously, the leader of the Muslims would be the one to make a final decision but at least we would have had vital and popular input in a systematic manner with what is called nowadays the “separation of powers.”
Another important decision ‘Umar did before he was attacked and before he passed away was to appoint a select number of individuals from the Muhajireen who will decide who the leader of the Muslims shall be. Notice that he did not impose anyone as leader of the Muslims. ‘Umar’s choices for this shura team were the ones that he deemed to be the dearest to the Prophet (pbuh) and the forerunners of the Muhajireen. Another thought that may have crossed ‘Umar’s mind was that these selected shura members were significant and effective in the eyes of Quraish.
Another consideration by ‘Umar was how Islamic public opinion viewed these shura team members. These selected members were: Imam ‘Ali, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, Talhah ibn ‘Ubaid Illah, al-Zubair ibn al-‘Awwam, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf, and Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas. With hindsight it appears that these alone were not enough to keep a growing Muslim public together. Some would say that this impromptu shura committee was less than satisfactory. ‘Umar himself would probably admit to his imperfections but never would he or anyone else who understood the social fabric of that time say that ‘Umar was selfish, clannish, or “taking sides”.
What ‘Umar did at that time and in that unsteady context was adroit. No one should underestimate the centrifugal forces that were surrounding al-Madinah and its committed core of ardent and loyal Muhajireen and Ansar. One thing we should keep in mind is that ‘Umar appointed that spontaneous shura council while he was on his death bed after he was fatally stabbed. Sure, ‘Umar was strict and austere but behind that appearance he was a man of conscience and steadfast fairness. He knew he was on his way out of this world and he wanted to do his utmost in choosing individuals who will do their best when they decide who will be the next unifying leader of the Muslim ummah.
This juncture in Islamic history should have settled into the civic Muslim mind in a way that highlights how important it is to have the Muslim public participate in deciding how and who their leader shall be. In his own dutiful way ‘Umar saw to it that the “transfer of power” among the critical mass of Muslims was done in a manner to avoid any serious divisions or dangerous discords.
We, the Muslims of the world today, having one thousand and four hundred years to think through this, are still ignorant of the courteous and thoughtful first chapters of our common history because that history has been hijacked by both “Sunni” and “Shi‘i” schizophrenic sectarians. Is it any wonder that the Muslims of the world are plagued by military rulers or rulers who are military puppets making it all the way up to the highest office via the barrel of the gun, as well as kings or princes who have made it all the way up to the royal palace via a bloodline?!
The Prophet’s council (the nomination of Imam ‘Ali) was not heeded at one go; not because of ill will in al-Madinah but because the ingrained tribalism (read nationalism) in Arabia was so entrenched and deep rooted that the critical mass of al-Muhajireen and Ansar had to find a procedure that honors Imam ‘Ali while maintaining the togetherness of the larger Muslim populace. To put it coarsely: the barrier between Imam ‘Ali and assuming in an “official” and “un-divisive” manner the everyday, hands-on leadership of the Muslim population (the outnumbered critical mass in addition to the preponderant ostensible Muslims) was tribalism/nationalism. And with over fourteen centuries of this being and remaining a barrier between the “theoretically most qualified to rule” and them assuming that practical position the Muslims of the world still have not overcome the barrier of nationalism. The ghost of nationalism stokes the souls of Muslim populations everywhere. Even those who are “pro-Imam ‘Ali”, and should know better, remain nationalists and unable to undo their own type of nationalism.
Many current day “Shi‘is” are “Shi‘is” in rituals but are nationalists in practice. Synchronizing current affairs with historical events, seldom are they who can clearly see that in today’s world we have another crop of neo-Umawiys – cloaked with “Shi‘i” customs and habits echoing the primary Umawiys who were cloaked with “Sunni” customs and habits. In some cases Shi‘i sectarianism is a sub-variant of that nationalism; in other cases nationalism itself is a sub-variant of sectarianism. Nonetheless, they both (nationalism and sectarianism) work hand in hand as they did to undermine the Khilafah/Imamat over fourteen hundred years ago.
We hope that all the above as well as the information in this column throughout the previous year or so will serve as a foreword for our coming articles about ‘Uthman and his time in office.
It looks like history is repeating itself.
Cry the beloved Khilafah… Cry the beloved Imamah…
And should they [your enemies] seek but to deceive you [Muhammad and the committed Muslims by their peaceful appearance] – behold, Allah suffices you. He it is who has strengthened you with His [decisive] support, and by giving you committed followers [the greater part of the Muhajireen and Ansar] – whose hearts He has brought together: [for], if you had spent all that is in, on, and of the earth, you could not have brought their hearts together [by yourself] – but Allah did bring them together. Indeed, He is cherished, wise - Al-Anfal, 62-63.