Shiism in the Course of History 2

Shiism in the Course of History 2

Abu 'l-Wafa' al-Ghunaymi al-Taftazani, another Sunni scholar, says the following: "Numerous researchers of the past and the present, in both the East and the West, have expressed erroneous views concerning Shiism. People then unquestioningly repeat these views, without adducing the slightest evidence or proof. One of the reasons that have led to Shiism being thus unjustly treated is that those who originate and spread such views are unacquainted with the books of the Shi'ah themselves and rely exclusively on the writings of their enemies. Western imperialism has also played a role in this regard by constantly attempting to sow dissension among Shi'is and Sunnis and propagating unfair and controversial theses in the name of unfettered academic research."(1)

These remarks permit us to grasp well the depth of the distortion that has taken place, the extent of deviation from the truth, as well as the mentality of those who have been inspired by their own impure motives or influenced by political factors. Instead of giving primacy to the interests of the Qur'an, Islam and the unifying qiblah of all Muslims, they compete with each other in sowing dissension and causing disunity; Islam itself is sacrificed to their goals, and the common enemy of all Muslims profits.
It is essential to add the following point, that the designation Shi'ah in the time of the Prophet, (PBUH&HP), did not apply to a group that was seeking to detach itself from the rest of the Muslims. It is simply that a certain number of Muslims in the time of the Prophet considered Imam Ali, (PBUH), superior to all others in his knowledge of the truths of Islam and the values and aims of the Prophet's mission. They were profoundly attached to him on account of his lofty insight and vision, his link to the source of all perfection, and, in short, all his moral and spiritual qualities. He inspired them as a perfect specimen of humanity worthy of their imitation.

It is of course true that the Shi'ah first appeared on the scene as a distinct group after the death of the Most Noble Prophet, (PBUH&HP), when the close companions of Imam Ali, (PBUH), refused in the wake of the meeting at the Saqifah to swear allegiance to Abu Bakr and proclaimed themselves as a party among the Muslims dedicated to defending the clear and unambiguous texts providing for the entrusting of rule over the Muslims to Imam Ali (PBUH).(2)

Rejecting the attempt made at the Saqifah to neutralize his claim and the recourse that has had to the thesis of "the welfare of the Muslims," they separated themselves from the majority and formed a group devoted to him.
In this group were to be found such outstanding Companions as Ammar, Abu Dharr, al-Miqdad, Salman and Ibn 'Abbas, whose sincerity, devotion and commitment had been praised by the Prophet Thus he said of Ammar and his parents: "Be patient and steadfast, O family of Yasir, for Paradise is your destiny."(3) "O Ammar, glad tidings be unto you, for the oppressors will kill you."(4)

He also proclaimed the kindness and favor God had shown to four great personages: "Allah has enjoined on me the love of four people, and informed me that He himself loves them."When asked who they were, he replied:"Imam Ali (repeating the name three times), Abu Dharr, Salman, and al-Miqdad."(5)
He spoke as follows of the sincerity and piety of Abu Dharr:"The blue sky has not sheltered, nor has the earth borne, one more honest than Abu Dharr; he lives upon earth with the same ascetic detachment as 'Isa the son of Maryam."(6)

Referring to the station in the hereafter of three persons, he said:" Paradise longs for three persons: Imam Ali, Yasir, and Salman."(7) The Prophet supplicated for Ibn Abbas as follows:"O Allah, teach him the science of interpreting the Qur'an, make him erudite in all things religious, and establish him as a believer."(8) These then were the devoted followers of Imam Ali, (PBUH), men convinced that he should have been the immediate successor of the Messenger of God, (PBUH&HP), and that the caliphate was his indubitable right.

That which was a matter of dispute and disagreement after the death of the Prophet was the question of succession to the political leadership, not the Imamate, which included the spiritual dimension of the Prophet's legacy. No one at the Saqifah had anything to say about choosing an Imam, and the question was not even raised. Was this because nobody had the least doubt concerning Imam Ali's supremacy in spiritual matters, or was it that because none of the claimants to the caliphate and the succession was qualified for the Imamate no one laid claim to The truth of the matter is unclear.
For some time then there was no mention of the Imamate. But, after the death of several of the caliphs, the question gradually came to the fore, and some of the caliphs, like Mu'awiyah, for all his lack of commitment to Islam, began calling themselves Imams.

The topic discussed in works of theology is the Imam and the Imamate, while the terms used in books of history and the oral and written statements of Sunni scholars are caliph and caliphate. Imam Ali and his descendants, recognized as the leaders of the Shi'ah are however consistently referred to as Imams. This reflects the Shi'i belief that strict and precise adherence to the criteria of religion, unswerving piety, and a whole series of other special qualities, must be present in the person of the Imam. One of the pupils of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, (PBUH), Hisham b. Hakam, wrote a book on the subject of the Imamate in which he set forth its theoretical bases.(9)
In addition to the office of prophethood, which comprised the responsibility for receiving and conveying revelation to mankind, the Prophet was the ruler of the Muslims, empowered over all their affairs. From the moment on that the Muslims established a collective existence; all the societal affairs of the people were regulated by the Prophet: the appointment of governors, commanders, and judges; the distribution of booty; the issuance of orders for war and so on. He implemented divine commands and ordinances in accordance with the ruling function that was vested in him, and it was the duty of the people to obey his commands and instructions.

Rulership, the administration of society, and the establishment of public order and security were thus part of his prophetic function; prophethood and spiritual leadership on the one hand and leadership and rule on the other were both combined in a single divinely chosen person. The dispute that occurred after his death relate only to leadership and rule, so that those people who aspired to the position of rule after the Prophet never advanced any claim of special communication with God or the receipt of revelation, nor did they present themselves as spiritual leaders or guides. Their whole ideal was to seize the reins of power and administer the affairs of the Muslims, paying attention only to the need of preserving the unified society of Islam from disorder and discord by means of careful strategy and plan.

When the people swore allegiance to Abu Bakr after the death of the Prophet, (PBUH&HP), Abu 'Ubaydah proposed to Imam Ali, (PBUH):"Abandon this matter to Abu Bakr. If you survive him, you are worthier of the office of caliph than anyone else, for none can doubt your abundant faith, virtue, and intelligence. Furthermore, you preceded others in your profession of Islam, and you enjoy the additional advantage of being related to the Messenger of God by blood and by marriage." Imam Ali replied: "O Migrants! I entreat you by God not to remove governance from the Household of the Prophet, and to establish it in your house; do not deprive the People of Muhammad's House of their station and office."(10)



1. al-Radawi, Ma'a Rijal al-Fikr fi al-Qahirah, pp. 40-41.

2. al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. II, p.446.

3. al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol. III, p. 383.

4. al-Tirmidh i, Jami' al-Sahih, Vol. V, p. 233.

5. Ibn Majah, al-Sunan, Vol. I, p. 53.

6. al-Tirmidhi, Jami' al-Sahih, Vol. V, p. 334.

7. al-Tirmidhi, Jami' al-Sahih, Vol. V, p. 332.

8. al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol. III, p. 536.

9. Ibn Nadim, al-Fihrist, p. 263.

10. Ibn Qutaybah, al-Imamah wa al-Siyasah, Vol. I, p. 12