Imam 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a), Part I [Lecture 4]

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Hamid Algar

Jumada' al-Akhirah 25, 1422 2001-09-13

Occasional Paper

by Hamid Algar


-A brief look at the history of the life of Imam Ali [AS] and his status with relation to the Prophet (SAW)

-The event of Saqifah, and events that transpired after the death of the Prophet [sAW]

-A look at the lives of the three caliphs, and the role of Imam Ali [AS] during their reigns

A Brief History of the Life of Imam Ali [AS]

This is a look at that person that from the point of view of Shi’i Islam is the third from among the ma’sumin, the third of the presenters of the quality of inerrancy – ‘ismah which is shared by the Prophets and the Imams – Imam Ali bin Abi Talib [AS] the first of the Imams [AS]. Have spoken in the previous lecture looking at verses of the Quran which allude to him, also hadith of the Prophet [sAW] which indicate the special status of Ali [AS] as his successor, his successor as him [sAW] being the last of the Prophets. Today will look at his ascension, to power in the office of the caliphate. Imam Ali [AS] was born on the 13th Rajab approximately 22 BH (before Hijrah). The father of Imam Ali [AS] was Abu Talib, the paternal uncle of the Prophet [sAW]. His mother was Fatima bint Asad. It is said in Shi’i tradition (Sunni tradition is only partly in agreement) that Imam Ali [AS] uniquely among all humans was born in the Ka’bah – which is the structure in Makkah which is the point of orientation of the Islamic prayer, the main focus of the Hajj, the first house of monotheistic worship, for mankind, according to Islamic tradition. Therefore the birth of Imam Ali [AS] within the Ka’bah is seen to be of particular symbolic significance, it means that from his very first origins he was intimately related to monotheistic worship, precisely because he was born within the house of God, he is therefore known as ‘maulud al-ka’bah’ – ‘the one born in the ka’bah’. Not only was he from the outset intimately linked to the house of monotheistic worship, he also had a close relationship in addition to the biological relationship to the Prophet [sAW] himself, it is said that in his early childhood, in Makkah, Abu Talib found his sources under strain, It was difficult to provide for all his children. Therefore the Prophet [sAW] took Imam Ali [AS] his young cousin, under his care, to lighten the burden on Abu Talib. Therefore Imam Ali [AS] grew up with the Prophet [sAW] from the age of 5 onwards, and remained closely with him in childhood except for a short absence in the time of the Hijrah. This closeness implies that the Prophet [sAW] himself undertook the upbringing, education and spiritual upbringing of Imam Ali [AS], and Imam Ali [AS] was involved intimately in all affairs of the life of the Prophet [sAW]. An indication of this remarkable closeness is one of the sayings of the Prophet [sAW] where he says:-

‘Ali is from me and I am from Ali’.

When reviewing textual proofs for the doctrine of the Imamate, there is that incident when Imam Ali [AS] uniquely among the relatives of the Prophet [sAW] , stood up to declare his belief in the message of the Prophet [sAW] and was accordingly declared to be his successor (khalifah) and trustee (wasi) and his heir (wali). This event took place according to different versions when Imam Ali [AS] was 9, 10, or 11 years of age. Irrespective of the precise age at which Imam Ali [AS] declared his belief in the message of Islam it is certain that he was the first or the second person to embrace Islam. It is possible that he was simply the first male to do so, and was preceded in his profession of Islam at the inception of the Prophetic mission by Khadijah [AS] the wife of the Prophet [sAW], the mother of Bibi Fatima [AS]. When sectarian traditions in later Islamic history cause controversies to emerge relating to the sacred virtues of Imam Ali [AS] and the first of the Caliphs Abu Bakr, inevitably the factor of the file in embracing Islam became controversial, it is certain that Abu Bakr was the among the earliest to embrace Islam, among Sunnis it is said that he was the first male, and if not the first adult male to embrace Islam. But what is certain is that Imam Ali [AS] was one of the first people to embrace Islam, most probably only preceded by Khadijah [AS], the wife of the Prophet [sAW]. When the migration occurred, it is known that Imam Ali [AS] stayed behind in Makkah, sleeping in the bed of the Prophet [sAW] in order to conceal from the enemies of Islam in Makkah that the Prophet [sAW] had left, and to ward any possible events happening. And in fact the polytheists broke into the house of the Prophet [sAW] with the intention of killing him and instead found Imam Ali [AS] there in his bed. Soon thereafter, Imam Ali [AS] also left Makkah to go to Madinah – but before he did so there was another task to fulfil on behalf of the Prophet [sAW], concerning the trusts that had been given to the Prophet [sAW] by the people of Makkah. Because of the general reputation of the Prophet [sAW] for trustworthiness and honesty, many people in Makkah had given their valuables to the Prophet [sAW] for safekeeping. Imam Ali [AS] had to return these to their owners before leaving on behalf of the Prophet [sAW].

He left Makkah for Madinah accompanied by the two Fatimahs, his mother and Bibi Fatimah [AS] and a number of other close relatives– he caught up with the party of the Prophet [sAW] in Kubah just outside Madinah. During the madinan period in the life of the Prophet [sAW] after Hijrah, Imam Ali [AS], fulfilled a variety of important tasks. A symbolic bonding took place between the migrants from Makkah and the helpers in Madinah – one of the migrants from Makkah was assigned a person from Madinah as a brother, a kind of spiritual but also practical brotherhood, whereby, the migrant was taken into the household of the helper until he could establish his own household. One exception to this rule was the relationship of brotherhood between the Prophet [sAW] and Imam Ali [AS], the Prophet [sAW] would not accept anyone as his brother except Imam Ali [AS] even though he was not a helper in Madinah but a migrant. The following year Imam Ali [AS] married Bibi Fatimah [AS] the daughter of the Prophet [sAW]. Children followed, Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussein [AS], the grandsons of the Prophet [sAW] who were the second and the third of the Imams. A male child was later still born under circumstances of depraved foul play (mohsin). And two daughters, Laylah and Umm Kulthum (the mother of Kulthum). It is worth emphasising that while Fatimah [AS] the daughter of the Prophet [sAW] was still alive, Imam Ali [AS] did not take any other wives. Out of respect for Fatimah [AS] and out of respect for the Prophet [sAW]. Throughout the life of the Prophet [sAW] in Madinah, in which the community was established and the power of the Muslims spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Imam Ali [AS] at the side of the Prophet [sAW] took part in all the important battles that took place – Badr, Uhud .On the occasion of Uhud a stone was thrown at the Prophet [sAW] by one of the enemies, one of his teeth was broken causing him to bleed. He was taken care of by Bibi Fatimah [AS], who wiped the blood away from the cheek of the Prophet [sAW], and stopped the bleeding. On this occasion Imam Ali [AS] also established a protective shield around the Prophet [sAW], it is said unanimously by all sources, Sunni and Shiah – that a large number of the Muslims forces had prematurely dispersed imagining that the battle had been won, enabling the enemy to regroup and attack the Prophet [sAW] due to the initiative of Imam Ali [AS] that the Prophet [sAW] was protected from the hostility of the enemies.

Also significant in the military career of Imam Ali [AS] was the battle of Khaibar. In a fortified Jewish settlement outside Madinah, In the battle that took place there, Imam Ali [AS] is recounted to have lifted up a heavy iron door or gate and used it as a shield, against the enemy. In all of these cases he acted as a commander, and as a standard bearer under the Prophet [sAW]. There were a number of military expeditions in which Imam Ali [AS] was the commander himself, for example the expedition against the yemen which took place in 10 AH. When the Prophet [sAW] in that same year undertook the last campaign of his life to Tabuk, in southern Syria, he left Imam Ali [AS] behind in his place as the governor of Madinah. In view of his military prowess, Imam Ali [AS] entered tradition, and this is the language found in Sunni and Shiah traditions as the conquering lion of Talib, Asadullahu talib. One of the central factors to the image of Imam Ali [AS] that emerged is his prowess, and courage as a warrior.

Imam Ali [AS] was also one of the foremost scribes of the Prophet [sAW], the Prophet [sAW] was unlettered an attribute that is referred to in the Qur’an on a number of occasions. Unlettered is used rather than illiterate, although the practical meaning of both words is the same – because illiteracy is regarded as a defect in others, but in the case of the Prophet [sAW] the fact that he was unlettered is a providential virtue, therefore in order to establish that distinction it is said that the Prophet [sAW] is unlettered rather than illiterate. Why was it regarded in this case as a providential virtue? Because the revelation to be received was in the form of a book, and given the unlettered nature of the Prophet [sAW] he lacked previous knowledge of books – therefore the advent of the written angle was untouched by previous books. However the revelation was recorded in a written form as a text. The revelation of the Qur’an was followed in immediately in almost all cases in its entirety, by the whole process of preservation of the text. Firstly and most important to begin with – memorisation. People in circles of the Prophet [sAW], would memorise portions of the Quranic text, Arabs at that time had less acquaintance with the written word - and therefore relied on memory and had an enhanced ability to memorise texts. There was also the recording of the text on a variety of mediums such as paper – the materials were diverse – rocks, dried palm leaves, fragments of parchment, animal skins – all of these were used to record the text. One of the scribes designated with recording the text was Imam Ali [AS].

It is said in Shi’ah tradition and this is only partly confirmed in Sunni tradition that Imam Ali [AS] already in the lifetime of the Prophet [sAW] compiled a complete record of the Quranic revelation. The quarrel is that the compilation of the text as a uniform text of the Quran, as a book between two covers took place in the time of Uthman with the exception of the complete text of the Qur’an that is said to have been prepared by Imam Ali [AS] together with a commentary. In addition to acting as a scribe with respect to the Quranic revelation, Imam Ali [AS] also acted as a scribe with respect to other compilations aswell. For example documents that the Prophet [sAW] needed to be wrote, he wrote, for example the treaty of Hudaibiyyah – the treaty of the armistice of Hudaibiyyah. At one point in the conflict between the Muslims and polytheists, an armistice was agreed upon which would permit the entry of the Muslims into Makkah the following year for performing the pilgrimage rites. Later the terms of this agreement were violated by the polytheists, thereupon the process of the conquest of Makkah began. The text of the treaty of Hudaibiyyah was written down by Imam Ali [AS]. Once Makkah was conquered and Islam was firmly established, Imam Ali [AS] was entrusted by the Prophet [sAW] with the destruction of the idols in the courtyard of the Ka’abah, the idols worshipped by the tribes of Makkah – the Aus and the Khazraj.

Imam Ali [AS] also prepared the body of the Prophet [sAW] for burial after his death. He washed the body of the Prophet [sAW] prior to burial and then preceded to undertake the burial. The burial of the Prophet [sAW] coincided with one of the decisive events of early Islamic history, the gathering in Madinah at a place known as the Saqifah. Saqifah was the assembly hall, part of the culture in Madinah and presumerably other cities at that time is that a gathering place was used for one or more tribal groups. Although Islam came to overcome tribal divisions and affiliations, they persisted during the lifetime of the Prophet [sAW] and for a long time afterwards – these were the factors the complicated and burdened early Islamic History. As soon as the news of the death of the Prophet [sAW] in 10 AH spread in Madinah, a number of citizens of Madinah gathered in Saqifah. Primarily, initially the Ansar. The first written account we have of what transpired in Saqifah, dates from 150 years after the event – a complete picture of events that took place after the death of the Prophet [sAW] had begun to crystalise in both Sunni and Shi’i tradition, and indeed complement each other. The broad outlines of what transpired are more or less identical in Sunni and Shiah tradition, significant details are however subject to difference, there is no reason to dispute the fundamental narrative, although the details maybe different.

The Event of Saqifah

When the Prophet [sAW] died the Ansar gathered in Saqifah – at that time Imam Ali [AS] along with two others of the companions of the Prophet [sAW] from the migrants were in the house of Bibi Fatimah [AS]. Abu Bakr, Umar, and other of the muhajirun were in a different location again. Word reached Umar of what was underway at Saqifah, that the Ansar without participation of the migrants (muhajirin) were trying to determine who should emerge as the head of the community i.e. how the succession of the Prophet [sAW] should take place. Umar who seems to have taken the initiative in this matter persuaded Abu Bakr that they should immediately go to the Saqifah in order that they could intervene in the discussions that were underway and to forestall the attempts made by the Ansar to assume leadership of the Muslim community. Once they arrived there, the Ansar began to relate the services they had rendered to Islam by receiving the Prophet [sAW] and the other migrants on their arrival in Madinah and on this basis they were entitled to select a ruler of the community. They were interrupted by Umar, but initially he was ignored, he began to speak again and was this time interrupted by Abu Bakr, who approached the matter more intelligently and cautiously than Umar had done. He did not attempt brow beat the Ansar but rather said that it is a matter of pragmatic reality only the migrants, or a group from among them could prove accessible to the Arabs throughout the community because the tribal group from which the migrant emerged (the Quraish) had the highest prestige throughout the Arabian Peninsula, and no higher rank could be claimed by any of the Ansar. And he said by way of consolation:-

‘We the Quraish (i.e. the migrants from Makkah) should be the rulers (‘umara’a) and you (the Ansar) should be their assistants or administrators (wuzara’a)’

At this point the choice of an individual had not been made by Abu Bakr and Umar at least not openly, and Abu Bakr having completed his rationale for selecting the successor from the migrants took the hand of Umar and another of the migrants Abu Ubaidah who had accompanied them – then invited all those present to select one of the three – Umar, Abu Bakr or Abu Ubaidah. At this point for the first time in the discussion the name of Imam Ali [AS] was mentioned, some of the Ansar present said that if one from among us is not to be the ruler, then the person that we choose and who is unequalled is Imam Ali [AS]. This lead to further stormy discussions and a lot of angry accusations between Umar and some of the Ansar at which point then Umar interrupted the discussion, and took the hand of Abu Bakr in a dramatic gesture, lifting it up, and pledging loyalty to him, and he was followed in this act by the other migrants that were present on the occasion. In other words the discussion was foreclosed, and Umar by this sudden gesture recognised Abu Bakr and invited others to follow and gradually the majority of those present followed the lead provided by Umar. You could see from this affair whoever participated however you may evaluate it in ethical terms, the motivations of the participants, and it was far from being a voting process. It is inceasingly said in recent times that it is a distinguishing feature on Sunni political thought especially in relationship to the succession to the Prophet [sAW], that the leader should be ‘elected’. As opposed to or in contrast with the very obvious and clear persistence in Shia Islam which says that is should be left to the choice of the community to select who should be the leader, the ‘successor’ to the Prophet [sAW] is the natural leader. Umar described what had happened as a ‘faltah’ – an Arabic word which means something like an ‘abrupt and sudden happening’, he says in a sentence which is apparently paradoxical that, ‘there was a faltah but it was not by means of a faltah’ by which he means that there was a sudden and abrupt event, but it was not as a result of a sudden and abrupt event. By which he presumerably meant that despite the circumstances, a certain stability in rule was undoubtedly established. From a polemical point of view it might by said that the outcome in question was something of a coup d’etat in that is was a sudden assumption of power, by means of a process that was somewhat persuasive and somewhat coercive. After there had been a swearing of allegiance by the majority of those present to Abu Bakr, on the insistence of Umar – there was a gathering in the mosque of Medina, where other members of the community who had not been present in Saqifah came and gave their oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr. Ali [AS] then was summoned to the mosque by Abu Bakr and Umar in order for him to swear the oath of allegiance, this he refused to do. And he left and thereafter went back to the house of Fatimah [AS]. He was pursued there by Umar who told him that he should show solidarity with the other migrants and swear his loyalty to Abu Bakr, saying that the Ansar had chosen him because of his close relationship to the Prophet [sAW], Ali [AS] replied that he also had a close relationship with the Prophet [sAW], if not closer than Abu Bakr, again he refused to swear allegiance, and on this occasion was allowed to go by Umar freely.

On another occasion, a number of other companions of the Prophet [sAW] from among the Migrants and some of the helpers had gathered at the house of Fatimah [AS] to discuss the situation regarding the allegiance of Imam Ali [AS] to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr and Umar came with an armed party to the house of Bibi Fatimah [AS], and threatened to burn the house down, unless those who were present came forth in order to confront them. Bibi Fatimah [AS] responded, that they should restrain themselves because there were children in the house and that if they did not she would come out against all of them as the surviving daughter of the Prophet [sAW]. Umar however pushed the door open, and it is said that the door fell upon Bibi Fatimah [AS], causing her to have a miscarriage, the baby Mohsin, her third son, was born still born – Ali [AS] still refused to give alliegance. The details of this series of coercive events, the attempts to threaten coercion are of course matters of contention (between Sunnis and Shiahs) but what is certain is that Ali [AS] refused to swear allegiance to Abu Bakr for an extended period. In order to as it were amend the historical record, that is found in Sunni sources that as soon as Ali [AS] had found out that Abu Bakr had been made the Caliph, he hurried to him to swear alleigance, and he left the house running only half dressed – the reality of the matter is however that there is no historical evidence for the giving of allegiance of Ali [AS] to Abu Bakr for at least six months into the caliphate of Abu Bakr. And then the allegiance appears to have been motivated obviously after a significant delay, of course not out of any acceptance of the legitimacy of Abu Bakr, but because of the political circumstances in which the Muslim community was. There were a number of wars underway some of the tribes that had embraced Islam and sworn allegiance to the Prophet [sAW], had risen up in rebellion against Madinah. There were also wars for expansion outside Saudi Arabia – and because of these circumstances Imam Ali [AS] finally swore allegiance to Abu Bakr. On the other hand you see that throughout the Caliphate of Abu Bakr, which spanned 13 years, that Imam Ali [AS] remained separate from political life. Imam Ali [AS] who had participated in every battle during the time of the Prophet [sAW] did not take part in a single battle that was waged during the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar or Uthman. This must also be taken at least as a sign of the dissatisfaction of Imam Ali [AS] with the rule exercised by the first three caliphs.

The Caliphate of Abu Bakr and a Look at What Prompted the Muslims to Disobey the Prophet (SAW) with Regards to His Successor

Then extent of his participation in public life is that during the caliphate of Umar he acted briefly as the governor of Madinah whilst Umar was on a campaign against Palestine – other than that however we see him concentrating on teaching religion and teaching and preaching in Madinah. That, and Abu Bakr and Umar, on occasion sought his advise occasionally on legal matters. Umar was reported to have said on one occasion when he was about to have a dubious verdict, ‘Had it not been for Ali, then certainly Umar would have been lost’. Apart from this, this scholarly concentration of Imam Ali [AS] on teaching and preaching during this period, was an indication that from the very outset the institution of the Imamate although including the claim to legitimate political rule was not essential to it, Imam Ali [AS] although having been denied the political leadership of the community was still the Imam – he is already the Imam now. Because the Imamate does not even primarily mean the assumption of political rule, but there are other functions aswell. Although an explicit doctrine for the Imamate had not yet come into being it can certainly be said that the concentration of Imam Ali [AS] on these matters was explicitly an indication that the Imamate was far more than a simple claim to political power. These events form the historical origin to the Sunni/Shiah division, so soon in Islamic history a fundamental division appeared, this division had a whole series of connotations. This resulted in a number of different schools of thought, which had a great deal in common but also had their own personality and identity.

One of the questions that will inevitably arise, is that if indeed if the Prophet [sAW] had nominated Imam Ali [AS] as his successor at least twice, once in the feast of the kinsmen, then at Ghadir Khum, if there are these numerous hadith specifying the relationship between Imam Ali [AS] and the Prophet [sAW], there are also many allusions to this fact in the Quran – then how was it that the wishes of the Prophet [sAW] were disregarded so soon after his death, by people so close to him aswell i.e. Abu Bakr and Umar. There is no clear and satisfactory answer. The verse in the Qur’an that relates to Ghadir Khum, the ayah where if the Prophet [sAW] does not convey what Allah [sWT] has told him then his whole message will be worthless, this is interpreted by Shiah Muslims to be about the nomination of Imam Ali [AS]. The verse concludes with:-

‘…'and surely will God protect thee from (the mischief) of men'…’ (5:67)

From this we can conclude that there was opposition to the Prophet [sAW] from amongst the Muslims themselves. Those with an outward sense of Islam, but inwardly they sympathised with the enemies of Islam i.e. the Jews of Madinah and provinces in Makkah. A lot of verses in the Qur’an enjoin obedience on the Prophet [sAW], and it would be reasonable to conclude that the repetition of this verse is because of the reluctance of some of the Muslims to obey the Prophet [sAW]. From another point of view you might say that it was necessary to establish the principle that the corollary obedience to Allah [sWT] is to be obedient to the Prophet [sAW]. It is probably true to say that the consolidation of the doctrine of unconditional obedience to the Prophet [sAW] took time to establish, even on theoretical terms. One more consideration that maybe advanced, is that although the proclamation of Imam Ali [AS] at Ghadir Khum as the next leader had been heard by a considerable number of people – it had not been heard by the totality of the Muslim community – communications in those days were primitive, and it might therefore have been the case therefore that there were those amongst the early Muslims who were unaware of the proclamation of the Prophet [sAW].

The Caliphate of Umar

Abu Bakr died two years after appointement as a caliph and was preceded by Umar. It appears that nomination of Umar as the successor was preceded by protestation by a few people. Abu Bakr called Uthman to his place with some parchment so he could write his written testament as to who should succeed him. While he was writing he lost consciousness temporarily, and then Uthman added to the written document that I appoint Umar as Caliph. And when he recovered consciousness he gave the written document to Uthman. It is curious that we see Abu Bakr appointing a successor, whereas from the Sunni point of view, the Prophet [sAW] supposedly left matters to the judgement of the community. The whole concept that the first four Caliphs were appointed in some process of orderly consultation, through democratic process, is not historically correct. The emergence of Abu Bakr as the first caliph – lacked consultation and was abruptly turned in the favour of appointment of Abu Bakr by Umar. The emergence of the second Caliph was by means of appointment by Abu Bakr.

Umar ruled for 10 years and was eventually assassinated – he nominated a council to choose the next leader from. This council included six people and included Imam Ali [AS] aswell. The council was headed by Abd al-Rahman bin Auf, who had been opposed to the nomination of Umar. Abd al-Rahman was the chair of the council, and he made it incumbent upon the candidates that if they wanted to succeed Umar in the Caliphate then they should follow three principles when they ruled firstly the Qur’an, then the Sunnah and thirdly the traditions of Abu Bakr and Umar. Imam Ali [AS] refused the third condition, he refused to acknowledge as a valid source of legal rulings, as a valid basis of rule the traditions established by Abu Bakr and Umar – this refusal therefore excluded him from nomination. The choice of the committee under the persuasion of Abd al-Rahman bin Auf found Uthman now worthy of choice as the choice of being the third Caliph.

The Caliphate of Uthman

One of he issues upon which Sunnis and Shiahs differ on the legal plain is the sources of Islamic Law. Although the substantive content of Sunni and Shi’i law overlap to a very great degrees but still the process by which those contents are elaborated and the sources for which these two schools of law rely on are substantially different. From the Sunni point of view the traditions of Abu Bakr and Umar are a valid supplementary sources of law, valid as the Qur’an and Sunnah. In Sunni tradition there are some questions marks over the traditions established by Uthman, but as far as the first two (Umar and Abu Bakr) they are referred to popularly as the Shaykhain i.e. the two elders, whose authority is unquestioned. From the point of view of Shiah Islam the two caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar their rulings are not regarded as being valid.

Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman and the totality of the Muhajirun and Ansar are in their totality regarded from the point of view of Sunni tradition as being the companions of the Prophet [sAW], Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman – the Sahaba. The literal translation, conveys an intimate, ongoing close relationship but the definition in Sunni Islam is much broader – it is an individual, of mature age, who has been in the presence of the Prophet [sAW] even on one occasion qualifies as being a companion. The effect of this loose definition of Sahaba assumes the fact that the effect of the presence of the Prophet [sAW] on this person would have a permanent effect on the person’s faith – elevating the status of the individial. Therefore in Sunni Islam it gradually became a fact that the companions are equally deserving of respect and veneration, whatever the complexity and controversy in their life. There even is a hadith the veracity of which is questionable that, ‘My companions are like the stars, whichever one you follow you will be rightly guided.’ Quite apart from the fundamental antagonism which has been seen here, there have been numerous differences of opinion and even armed clashes between different companions. Therefore there is great difficulty in saying that all of them were right and well intentioned, Sunni Islam does not see the companions as being sinless, they however are regarded as having committed any significant wrong in the community, and criticism of them is seen as not being justified.

In Shi’i Islam which takes are more distinguishing view and says that being a companion (i.e. having accompanied the Prophet [sAW]) of the Prophet [sAW] is not a guarantee of moral rectitude of that person. Sunni Islam sees the companions as a crucial source of guidance after the death of the Prophet [sAW] particularly the four caliphs. Whereas Shi’i Islam does not take this view of the companions and insists that some of the companions were misguided, and insincere. The caliphate of Uthman began peacefully enough, but it was very soon marred by nepotism, with significant fortunes of the state treasury being given to the relatives of the caliph. During this period Muawiyah his relative gained control of key provinces in Syria, basing himself in Damascus. Also other positions of power were given to his relatives. On one occasion the governor of Kufa in Southern Iraq, lead the prayers in the state of intoxication, and it was only after significant pressure that he was punished and removed from office. He also expelled from Madinah a person who was a companion of the Prophet [sAW] and an associate of Imam Ali [AS], one of those who upheld his cause, Abu Dar Ghafari – he was expelled from Madinah in order to silence him. Imam Ali [AS] strongly advised Uthman against his actions, he came out strongly in favour of Abu Dar Ghafari and in order to show his support, and register his displeasure to Uthman he accompanied Abu Dar to the outskirts of Madinah, accompanied by his sons Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussain [AS]. The downfall of Uthman did not however come at the hands Imam Ali [AS] but rather from soldiers coming from Egypt who had rebelled, they surrounded and besieged the house of Uthman in Madinah. Imam Ali [AS] tried to find a peaceful solution to the situation and send his sons Imam Hassan [AS] and Imam Hussain [AS] to guard the house of Uthman. They were unsuccessful, and the house was overrun, and Uthman was killed. This created a complex situation a chaotic situation whereby Imam Ali [AS] emerged finally as the caliph not by means of consultation but by means of popular acclamation, in the aftermath of the military uprising. There were therefore potentially four different ways in which succession took place for the four different caliphs. Later Sunni commentators refer to these four caliphs as the Khulafa rashidin, the rightly guided caliphs. This is in some sense justifiable as their rules (maybe with the exception of Uthman) stands in sharp contrast to the corruption and hereditary rule instigated by the Umayyads in Syria thereafter.

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