Ghadir Khumm and the Orientalists 6

Ghadir Khumm and the Orientalists 6

The Meaning of "Mawla"

The last argument in the strategy of the Sunni polemicists in their response to an event or a hadith presented by the Shi'as is to give it an interpretation that would safeguard their beliefs. They exploit the fact that the word "mawla" has various meanings: master, lord, slave, benefactor, beneficiary, protector, patron, client, friend, charge, neighbor, guest, partner, son, uncle, cousin, nephew, son-in-law, leader, and follower. The Sunnis say that the word "mawla" uttered by the Prophet in Ghadir does not mean "master or lord", it means "friend".
On the issue of the hadith of Ghadir, this is the stage where the Western scholarship of Islam has arrived. While explaining the context of the statement uttered by the Prophet in Ghadir Khumm, L. Veccia Vaglieri follows the Sunni interpretation. She writes:On this point, Ibn Kathir shows himself yet again to be percipient historian: he connects the affair of Ghadir Khumm with episodes which took place during the expedition to the Yemen, which was led by 'Ali in 10/631-2, and which had returned to Makkah just in time to meet the Prophet there during his Farewell Pilgrimage. 'Ali had been very strict in the sharing out of the booty and his behavior had aroused protests; doubt was cast on his rectitude, he was reproached with avarice and accused of misuse of authority. Thus, it is quite possible that, in order to put an end to all these accusations, Muhammad wished to demonstrate publicly his esteem and love for 'Ali. Ibn Kathir must have arrived at the same conclusion, for he does not forget to add that the Prophet's words put an end to the murmuring against Imam Ali.(1)
Whenever a word has more than one meaning, it is indeed a common practice to look at the context of the statement and the event to understand the intent of the speaker. Ibn Kathir and other Sunni writers have connected the event of Ghadir Khumm to the incident of the expedition to Yemen. But why go so far back to understand the meaning of "mawla", why not look at the whole sermon that the Prophet gave at Ghadir Khumm itselfa Isn't it a common practice to look at the immediate context of the statement, rather than look at remote events, in time and space When we look at the immediate context of the statement uttered by the Holy Prophet in Ghadir Khumm, we find the following:
1. The question that the Prophet asked just before the declaration. He asked, "Do I not have more authority upon you (awla bi kum) than you have yourselvesa" When the people replied, "Yes, surely," then the Prophet declared: "Whosoever's mawla am I, this 'Ali is his mawla." Surely the word "mawla", in this context, has the same meaning as the word "awla: have more authority".(2)
2. After the declaration, the Prophet uttered the following prayer: "O Allah! Love him who loves 'Ali, and be enemy of the enemy of 'Ali; help him who helps 'Ali, and forsake him who forsakes 'Ali." This prayer itself shows that 'Ali, on that day, was being entrusted with a position that would make some people his enemies and that he would need supporters in carrying out his responsibilities. This could not be anything but the position of the mawla in the sense of ruler, master and lord. Are helpers ever needed to carry on a 'friendship'.
3. The statement of the Prophet in Ghadir that: "It seems imminent that I will be called away (by Allah) and I will answer the call." It was clear that the Prophet was making arrangements for the leadership of the Muslims after his death.
4. The companions of the Prophet congratulated 'Ali by addressing him as "Amirul Muminin - Leader of the Believers. This leaves no room for doubt concerning the meaning of mawla.
5. The occasion, place and time. Imagine the Prophet breaking his journey in mid-day and detaining nearly one hundred thousand travelers under the burning sun of the Arabian desert, making them sit in a thorny place on the burning sand, and making a pulpit of camel saddles, and then imagine him delivering a long sermon and at the end of all those preparations, he comes out with an announcement that "Whosoever considers me a friend, 'Ali is also his friend!" Why Because some (not all the hundred thousand people who had gathered there) were upset with 'Ali in the way he handled the distribution of the booty among his companions on the expedition to Yemen! Isn't that a ridiculous thought.
Another way of finding the meaning in which the Prophet used the word "mawla" for 'Ali is to see how the people in Ghadir Khumm understood it. Did they take the word "mawla" in the sense of "friend" or in the meaning of "master, leader"
Hassan ibn Thabit, the famous poet of the Prophet, composed a poem on the event of Ghadir Khumm on the same day. He says: He then said to him: "Stand up, O 'Ali, for
I am pleased to make you Imam& Guide after me.
In this line, Hassan ibn Thabit has understood the term "mawla" in the meaning of "Imam and Guide" which clearly proves that the Prophet was talking about his successor, and that he was not introducing 'Ali as a "friend" but as a "leader".
Even the words of 'Umar ibn al-Khattab are interesting. He congratulated Imam 'Ali in these words: "Congratulations, O son of Abu Talib, this morning you became mawla of every believing man and woman."(3) If "mawla" meant "friend" then why the congratulations Was 'Ali an 'enemy' of all believing men and women before the day of Ghadir These immediate contexts make it very clear that the Prophet was talking about a comprehensive authority that 'Ali has over the Muslims comparable to his own authority over them. They prove that the meaning of the term "mawla" in hadath of Ghadir is not "friend" but "master, patron, lord, or leader".(4)
Finally, even if we accept that the Prophet uttered the words "Whomsoever's mawla I am, this 'Ali is his mawla" in relation to the incident of the expedition to Yemen, even then "mawla" would not mean "friend". The reports of the expedition, in Sunni sources, say that 'Ali had reserved for himself the best part of the booty that had come under the Muslims' control.
This caused some resentment among those who were under his command. On meeting the Prophet, one of them complained that since the booty was the property of the Muslims, 'Ali had no right to keep that item for himself. The Prophet was silent; then the second person came with the same complaint.
The Prophet did not respond again. Then the third person came with the same complaint. That is when the Prophet became angry and said, "What do you want with 'Alia He indeed is the waliy after me."(5)
What does this statement prove It says that just as the Prophet, according to verse (33:6) had more right (awla) over the lives and properties of the believers, similarly, 'Ali as the waliy, had more right over the lives and properties of the believers. The Prophet clearly puts 'Ali on the highest levels of authority (wilayat) after the Prophet himself. That is why the author of al-Jami'us-Saghir comments, "This is indeed the highest praise for 'Ali."

In this brief survey, I have shown that the event of Ghadir Khumm is a historical fact that cannot be rejected that in studying Shi'ism, the pre commitment to Judeo-Christian tradition of the Orientalists was compounded with the Sunni bias against Shi'ism. Consequently, the event of Ghadir Khumm was ignored by most Western scholars and emerged from oblivion only to be handled with skepticism and re-interpretation.
I hope this one example will convince at least some Western scholars to re-examine their methodology in studying Shi'ism; instead of approaching it largely through the works of heresiographers like ash-Shahristani, Ibn Hazm, al-Maqrizi and al-Baghdadi who present the Shi'as as a heretical sect of Islam, they should turn to more objective works of both the Shi'as as well as the Sunnis.
The Shi'as are tired, and rightfully so, of being portrayed as a heretical sect that emerged because of political circumstances of the early Islamic period. They demand to represent themselves instead of being represented by their adversaries.

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These writers represent the Salafi/Wahhabi camp, and their anti-Shi'a works has been distributed world-wide with the courtesy of the petro-dollars of certain Middle-Eastern countries, especially after the Sunni masses started getting inspiration by the revolution of Iran which was led by Shi'a 'ulama'.
Fajru 'l-Islam, p. 33 as quoted and then refuted by Muhammad Husayn Kashiful 'l-Ghita', Aslu 'sh-Shi'a wa Usûluha (Iran - Qum: Al-Imam 'Ali Institute, 1415) p. 140, 142; also see the latter's English translation, The Shi'a Origin and Faith (Karachi: Islamic Seminary, 1982). Fazlur Rahman, Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976) p. 171-172.



1. EI2 p. 993-994 under "Ghadir Khumm".

2. Al-Amini gives the names of 64 Sunni traditionalists who have quoted the preceding question, included among them are Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ibn Majah, an-Nasa'i, and at-Tirmidhi. See al-Ghadir, vol. 1, p. 370-371.

3. See al-Amini, al-Ghadir, vol. 1, pp. 270-283 for references from Sunni sources.

4. These contexts are from al-Amini's al-Ghadîr as summarized in Rizvi, Imamate: the Vicegerency of the Prophet.

5. See an-Nasa'i, Khasa'is 'Ali bin Abi Talib, p. 92-93; at-Tirmidhi, Sahih, vol. 5, p. 632 (hadith # 3712), and al-Jami'u 's-Saghir.