The heart of Shiism is the issue of succession to the Prophet. The Shias believe that the successors to the Prophet must come only from his households.
This sounds innocent enough, except that these successors have to be Ali and his descendants. And by Ali’s descendants, they mean through the line of Husayn. Hassan, the older brother of Husayn, is also considered as one of the heirs, but none of his descendants is given similar privilege.
This in itself is problematic, because the members of Prophet’s household do not just consist of Ali’s family. They include also Prophet’s wives and the family of Abbas, his uncle. They would also include the family of his adopted son, Zayd bin Haritha, whose son, Usama bin Zayd, was considered by the Prophet as his grandson.
To some extent, Prophet’s in-laws, such as Uthman who married two of his daughters, or those whose daughters the Prophet married, such as Abu Bakar and Umar, are also included as the members of his household. If we want to go further, then the family of Salman al Farisi is also included, because, when Salman was freed from slavery, the Prophet made him the member of his household.
For reasons known only to them, the line of succession has to be as the above mentioned. No two ways about it.
The real problem with this idea is that it effectively makes the succession to the Prophet hereditary, which has no basis whatsoever, except in their fancy. They beautify this fabricated idea by hiding behind the love for Ahlul Bayt (the members of the Prophet’s household).
Since there is no basis for this assertion, they extrapolate the verses of the Quran by saying that the issue of succession is preordained. They claim that Allah has divinely appointed the successors to the Prophet. They call these successors imams, whom they consider infallible.
To further support their claim, they either extrapolate the authentic sayings of the Prophet (ahadith, plural of hadith) by giving false meanings to these, or they fabricate other ahadith to achieve similar purpose.
Since their claim is contrary to what the companions say or believe, they reject these companions, accepting only a handful. They not only revile these companions, but calling them disbelievers and worse.
By rejecting these companions and calling them infidels, the main body of Sunnah is therefore lost. This is because the Sunnah of the Prophet is known only through his companions, since they lived with him and knew him intimately. To make up the loss, they fabricate their own body of ahadith, consisted mainly of the sayings they attribute to the descendants of the Prophet. The descendants of the Prophet, however, are free from these lies attributed to them.
That, in the nutshell, is what Shiism is all about. It is not as innocent as it is made out to be, as I have narrated at length in the Introductory Remarks.
Like everything else, to understand this issue properly, we need to look at how it developed, what makes their teachings heretic, and why most of them are deviated from the true Islam. Since the matter appears to originate from the issue of succession, it is better to start from there.
As we know, after the death of the Prophet, Abu Bakar replaced him. After Abu Bakar, Umar took over.
From Seerah, we know that the Prophet did not deliberately appoint his successor. For instance, he never said: “Abu Bakar would replace me.” When the Prophet was sick towards the end of his life and could no longer lead the prayer, however, he ordered Abu Bakar to take his place as the imam (the leader to lead the prayer).
Aisha, the wife of the Prophet and the daughter of Abu Bakar, objected to that appointment, saying: “Abu Bakar is a softhearted person who is prone to extreme sadness. So, if he stands in your place, he would not be able to lead the people in prayer.”
She proposed that the job be given to Umar instead, because Umar is a man of strong character.
The Prophet ignored her objection and again ordered Abu Bakar to lead the prayer. Aisha objected again, three times in the row. Other women who were there, including the other wives of the Prophet, appeared to agree with Aisha, until the Prophet was exasperated and said: “Woe to you. You are like the female companions of Joseph. Order Abu Bakar to lead the people in prayer.”
These are strong words from the Prophet, alluding to Zuleikha and her friends who plotted for the incarceration of Prophet Joseph, as we have narrated in the Story of Prophet Yusuf.
Why did Aisha object rather strongly to the appointment of Abu Bakar to lead the prayer? Did not Abu Bakar use to lead the prayer before, when the Prophet was not around, or when he was appointed as the leader of the expedition?
To appreciate this event, we must understand that, during their time, prayer was the most important duty. It was led only by the leader. The Prophet was the leader, therefore he always led the prayers. In the expeditions not involving the Prophet, leaders would be appointed and they would lead the prayers.
The importance of the imam (leader) leading the prayer is clearly illustrated in the expedition of Dhaat as-Salaasil. The Prophet had appointed Amr al Aas, who had just joined the fold of Islam a few months earlier, to be the leader of this expedition.
When Amr’s delegation came near Dhaat as-Salaasil, a place north of Madinah, near the border of Roman Province of Syria at that time, he was informed that the enemy had mobilized a large army. With a small contingent of 300 men, he felt the task entrusted to him was too risky, so he sent a message to Madinah, asking for reinforcements. The Prophet sent reinforcements under the leadership of Abu Ubaydah bin al Jarrah.
When the time for prayer came, Abu Ubaydah, being the senior companion, wanted to lead the prayer, but Amr objected to it: “I am the leader of this delegation. You are only the leader of the reinforcements. You have no right to lead the prayer.”
Despite his status as the senior companion, who had embraced Islam from the beginning, and despite being included among the Ten Promised Paradise, Abu Ubaydah did not object to that, and throughout the expedition, Amr led the prayer.
Aisha understood this. Hence, when her husband, namely the Prophet, ordered her father, namely Abu Bakar, to lead the prayer, she took it as the hint that her father should succeed the Prophet as the leader, because the Prophet was already nearing the end of his life.
Aisha was later quoted as saying that she did not want to burden her father with the task of being the successor of the Prophet, for she knew the job was not going to be easy. She felt that the job should be shouldered by a stronger person, which was why she proposed that it should be Umar instead.
From the above, we see that the issue of leading the prayer was not as we understand it now. Nowadays, the prayer is not led by the “real” leader, but by an appointed official whose job has nothing to do with leadership.
During the times of the companions, up to the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, all the way to the Umayyah Dynasty, and some period of Abbassiyah Dynasty, the prayers were always led by the real leaders. When the caliphs were present, no one would dare to lead the prayers other than the caliphs.
It is for this reason that Aisha objected to the Prophet’s order. She wanted to free her father from being selected as the successor to the Prophet. If it is just a matter of leading the prayer, as we understand it now, then Abu Bakar was more than competent to do it.
It turned out that her fears came true. Her father was eventually elected as the first caliph.
That said, the order to lead the prayer is not exactly as unambiguous as saying that “Abu Bakar will be my successor.” He only hinted at his successor, without making it unequivocally. For that reason, as soon as the Prophet died, a group among the Ansars (the helpers, namely the natives of Madinah) appointed Sa’d bin Ubadah to be their leader. They preferred to have their own leader for themselves. As for the others, they can have their own leader.
But the potential dispute leading to disunity was settled when Umar, along with Abu Bakar and Abu Ubaydah, intervened, saying that the Islamic nation can only have one leader. Else, unity could not be maintained. Thus, after a short exchange of words, some were heated ones, the office of the Caliphate was handed unanimously to Abu Bakar.
In those days, the way to accept one’s leadership was simple. You take his hand, and give him your pledge of obedience (bay’ah). Those who are bent on painting false picture said that Ali did not give his pledge of obedience until Fatima died. They said that Ali did not dare hurt the feeling of Fatima by giving his bay’ah to Abu Bakar, because Fatima wanted her husband to carry out the job of her father.
Fatima was above all that.
They further said that when Ali finally came to give his bay’ah six months later (Fatima died six months after the death of her father, the Prophet), Abu Bakar asked: “What has delayed you from giving me your bay’ah?”
Ali answered: “I was compiling al Quran. Now that it is done, I am coming to give you my bay’ah.”
Now, anyone with basic knowledge on history would know that such cannot be the truth. If truly Ali had compiled the Quran, as the above story suggested, then Abu Bakar would not have entrusted the task of compiling the Quran to Zayd bin Thabit, who was quoted as saying that moving mountain would have been an easier task, for the integrity of the Words of God lies in his hand. It would have been easy just to take the work done by Ali.
The authentic reports said that Ali gave his bay’ah even from the beginning, on the first or second day of Abu Bakar’s caliphate, according to Ibnu Kathir.
Those who want to believe otherwise are not the supporters of Ali, but people who want to paint bad picture not only to Ali, for he was above the desire to seek the worldly post, but to the companions as a whole. If the Prophet had made it known that he wanted Ali to be his successor, the companions would not have abandoned that instruction as soon as the Prophet died.
Ali was also reported to have said that had the Prophet made him a successor, then he would have fought for the post even if the whole world turned against him.
There was no question, therefore, that Ali did not regard the appointment of Abu Bakar to be legitimate.
When Abu Bakar came to his end, he was intent on appointing Umar to be his successor, a decision he reached after much thought. He consulted his leading companions about his opinion. They all agreed, including Ali.
The only voice of caution, if at all it can be called that way, came from Abdul Rahman Auf (or from Ali and Talha according to some). Abdul Rahman said that Umar is the best man for the job, but he is rather too harsh in his ways. Abu Bakar simply replied that once Umar assumes the job, the burden of Caliphate will soften him.
Some reports, which appear more romantic than authentic, tell us that Umar was very reluctant to take the job. Like Abu Bakar, Umar was not keen on the difficult job. Abu Bakar, however, had made up his mind. Not in the mood for negotiation, Abu Bakar simply said: “Take that sword and bring it to me.”
Not quite getting the message, Umar asked: “What do you want it for?”
“So that I can cut your head off. You had asked me to take this burden, and God knows how much I didn’t want it. But when your time comes, you refuse to take it.”
Whether or not such event really took place, the appointment of Umar was made through direct selection by his predecessor, who felt that Umar had an edge over all others.
When Umar felt his time was near, he was in anguished over the issue of his successor. There were many qualified companions to replace him, but there was no clear choice. Ali was foremost in his mind, but unlike his predecessor who seemed to have a clear choice, Umar thought that a few others beside Ali were equally qualified.
For that reason, he formed a committee of six leading companions. They had to choose one among themselves. They were Ali bin Abu Talib, Uthman bin Affan, Abdul Rahman bin Auf, Zubayr bin Awwam, Talha bin Ubaydillah, and Sa’d bin Abu Waqqas.
Abdul Rahman soon relinquished his right to be appointed as a caliph, and acted instead as the supervisor to the process. The others also said that they were not keen for the job while Ali and Uthman were still around. Thus, the final choice would be between Ali and Uthman. The final choice fell on Uthman.
It was during Uthman’s time that the idea of Ali’s right to caliphate first appeared. This we shall cover in the next installment.