Some readers may think that this is becoming an “anti-Shi‘i” column. If so, that is because the fossilized sectarian homily is entrenched in certain cultures and particular individuals. We do not intend to “scare away” those whose emotions override their minds. For that reason and to give them a helping hand we will look at the other side of the sectarian coin in this article hoping that the truth shall make us all free – free of bigotry, of bad judgment and bad behavior.
One of the first ruptures from the central Islamic authority in al-Madinah after the Prophet’s passing on was a widespread separatist impulse among the Arabians who had just become residents of the Islamic realm. That separatist impulse could not understand zakat to be for the welfare of all Muslims. They would even refuse to use the word zakat. True to their tribal and clannish selves, they would call zakat an itaawah (royalty, a heavy fine, or a financial penalty).
They were simply incapable of understanding zakat to be in the common interest which of course it is meant to be in an Islamic economic order. Add to that the fact that nomadic Arabians far away from the Islamic ambiance of al-Madinah were more comfortable with their pre-Islamic customs and traditions than they were with the cultivated and civilized society of al-Madinah. Their social lives were punctured with acrimony, intransigence, and drinking [intoxicants] among other undesirable traits.
Many youths belonging to the affluent Bani Umayyah and a few among Bani Hashim spent their time more in a jahili fashion than in an Islamic manner – drinking fermented brews, going out hunting, and courting gentlewomen. One such character who epitomized such misconduct was Yazid the son of Mu‘awiyah, and his pals.
The historian al-Mas‘udi (a grandson of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud) has this to say about Yazid: He [Yazid] was a person given to entertainment, procuring predatory birds and animals as well as [hunting] dogs. He was addicted to drinking [alcoholic beverages]. During his heydays singing and songs were booming in Makkah and al-Madinah. Entertainment centers sprung up and people began to go public with their drinking and imbibing. [Isn’t this so similar to MbS nowadays?] These Yazidi aspects were shared by Yazid’s functionaries. (See Muruj al-Dhahab [Meadows of Gold] by al-Mas‘udi.)
For those who want to dig deeper into corrupt personalities they should take a close look at the Umayyad al-Walid ibn ‘Uqbah who was ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan’s half-brother [having the same mother]. He was in his early years a sprightly Quraishi young man. He was one of Quraish’s poets, an apparent brave and princely Quraishi gentleman. He assumed the position of Kufah’s governor during the rule of ‘Uthman. A closer look at this person’s lifestyle and we discover that he was not what you would call “a committed practicing Muslim.” He treated himself to consuming alcoholic drinks; his residence was a virtual refuge for the villains in ‘Iraq along with other jahili and prejudiced behavioral components. Read more about this administrator of Kufah in the book Al-Aghani as well as in Al-Isaabah by Ibn Hajar.
Al-Harith ibn Khalid al-Makhzumi was appointed governor of Makkah by ‘Abdullah ibn Marwan [an Umayyad]. This al-Harith was in love with ‘A’ishah bint Talhah. One day she sent a message to al-Harith telling him to delay commencing al-Salat until she was done with her tawaaf.
Orders went out to the muezzins to put the adhan [the call to salat] on hold until she completed her tawaaf. And they followed his orders. The Muslim public took issue with such an offense so much so that Ibn Marwan had to dismiss al-Harith from his position as governor of Makkah.
Juxtapose these wayward figures with the towering personalities whose pre-Islamic character was irrefutably terminated by their Islamic character. Who in his right mind can equate the qualities of Imam ‘Ali, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and many other Muhajireen and Ansar with the characters of al-Walid ibn ‘Uqbah, al-Harith ibn Khalid al-Makhzumi and other Umayyad officious persons? The committed Muslim generation belonging to the Prophet (pbuh) was scrupulously conscious of Allah’s direct and urgent presence. They were selfless, humble, and very profound in their understanding of Allah (swt) and His Prophet (pbuh).
The time has come for Islamic thinkers in their prime to wipe clean those pages in history books that harp on a non-existent animosity between Imam ‘Ali and those who preceded him in the “executive office”. Imam Zayd ibn Zayn al-‘Abideen ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Husyan may have been the first to set the record straight when he said: My grandfather [Imam] ‘Ali made history [in his relationship with the khulafa’]; therefore, I shall be at peace with those he [Imam ‘Ali] was at peace with and whoever he fought, I shall fight.
Obviously, Imam ‘Ali did not fight the khulafa’; he fought the king and wannabe kings.
If we were to scan the opinions of Shi‘i scholars we will be able to find scholars who are harsh and antagonistic towards Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman and those who are pleasant and friendly towards Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman. We choose to highlight a couple of the latter and quote what they said about the khulafa’ as it serves no decent purpose to quote those who bad-mouthed the khulafa’. And we choose to quote scholars who preceded the Islamic Revolution in Iran so that we can perhaps bypass some of the sectarian mental barriers that have been rising higher and higher in the post-Islamic Revolution years.
The first Shi‘i scholar is al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin who wrote the book أعيان الشيعة [A‘yan al-Shi‘ah, meaning Prominent Shi‘is], he said: We [the Shi‘is] say: their [the three khulafa’s] affair is consigned to their Sustainer Who knows their discretions as well as their confidentialities. We must respect them as a matter of respecting our Prophet (pbuh).
The second Shi‘i scholar is Muhammad Husayn Aal Kashif al-Ghita’ in his illustrious book أصل الشيعة وأصولها [The Origin of Shi‘ism and Its Foundations] when he says:
1- They [the khulafa’] are [of] the best people on earth.
2- He [Imam ‘Ali] saw that the first and second khalifah did their best in spreading the word of tawhid and in priming the military, and in expanding into new frontiers. They were not self-seeking nor were they despotic.
3- The Islamic revenue was dispersed appropriately towards its military ends.
4- Those khulafa’s merits and services to Islam can only be disputed by sticklers and obstinate contenders – those who cannot find it within themselves to appreciate what is laudable.
And be not like those who have drawn apart from one another and have taken to conflicting views after all evidence of the truth has come to them; these are the ones for whom tremendous suffering is in store [on the Day of Judgment] – Al-‘Imran, 105.