By Dr Showkat Hussain
Islam, as a way of life and a faith, offers solutions to most quests and queries. But Islam itself is in a dilapidated state and is in search of a Musalman. An ordinary brain with just shallow knowledge of current affairs of the Muslim world can say that Islam and Muslims are two entities always at loggerheads with each other. Islam stands for confluence, but Muslims for conflicts. Islam stands for peace (Salah), prosperity (falah) and better deeds (Khairil Amal). But Muslims for terror, horror and disgrace. Islam stands for unity but Muslims for disunity and discord. Islamic preaching and Muslim practices are polarised. For example Islam is one. Muslims are many. The Quran is one; interpretations, translations and descriptions are numberless. The gap between Islam and Muslims is widening which has contributed to the formation of many sects and groups.
A careful study of Islam reveals that the bone of contention among various groups of Muslim is not about the fundamentals of Islam, but less important rituals. To substantiate this viewpoint let me cite an example. The holy month of Ramadan is a blessed month in which the Quran was revealed and Muslims observe fast from dawn to dusk. The end of this testing month is followed by Eid celebrations, which depend on the sighting of the crescent. The appearance of the crescent sometimes becomes so controversial that worship gets consigned to the flames of hatred and intolerance, lurching the Ummah into chaos and confusion.
Statistically Muslims represent a quarter of the global population. In just 14 hundred years Islam had an astonishing and immense impact on every orbit of life, culture and people. Islam wants mankind to be always nearer to Allah, prohibits and restricts man’s actions and intentions which distance him from the path. In fact, the Ummah takes priority over tribe, language, culture, geography, caste, creed and colour, but deliberate negligence in this regard has left the Ummah shaken and distorted. Today Muslims are ethnically, theologically, geographically, socially, culturally, economically and politically diverse. This diversity is increasing with no hope of condensing it.
The Prophet’s (SAW) death not only deprived this Ummah of its spiritual and temporal leader but also put it into a quandary on who the next leader ought to be, resulting in the split of the Ummah into two main camps: Shias and Sunnis. Those who supported Ali (RA), believed that succession ought to remain within the Prophet’s (SAW) descendants; were named as Shias, whereas those who elected Abu Bakr (RA) as the successor to the Prophet (SAW), designated him as caliph of Muslims, were termed as Sunnis. This early dichotomy between Shias and Sunnis seems to have been largely political, but for Shias the choice of a suitable leader was and is deeply a religious matter. This dissension continues divide in the Ummah.
Shia version of succession
Shias believe the authority must be lawfully and divinely vested in leaders. For them the term Imam refers to immaculate descendants of the Prophet (SAW) believed to have been designated by God as the Prophet’s (SAW) heirs. Each imam appointed his successor before his death; eleven Imam’s lived earthly lives, the twelfth imam, Imam Mehdi (RA), believed to have gone into occultation and will appear at an apocalyptic time when earth would be in abysmal darkness of chaos, corruption and oppressions. This 12th Imam will make the light of justice and generosity prevail by implementing God’s will.
Epoch making event of Ghadir Khumm
Ghadir Khumm is a place at a distance of a few miles from Mecca on the route to Medina. It is here where Hajis disperse to their respective destinations. When the Prophet (SAW) was returning from the Haj (Hajat-ul-Vida), he stopped at this place (Ghadir Khum) on 18th Zilhaj to make an important announcement to the pilgrims who were about to disperse. A special pulpit was erected for him to address the largest gathering of pilgrims before his death, three months later. Holding Ali’s (RA) hand in his hand the Prophet (SAW) asked his followers:
“Am I not superior in authority and person to the believers”. The crowd reciprocated with one voice, “It is so, O, Apostle of God”. The Prophet (SAW) then declared, “Munkunta Moula Faheza Ali-un Moula (He of whom I am the moula, of him Ali (RA) is also moula). O: God be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of him who is his enemy”.
As far as the authenticity of Ghadir is concerned, it is beyond doubt, as most Sunni scholars and authorities have recorded it in their annals. Most noteworthy are Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal in his Musnad, Tirmazi, Nasai, Ibni Maja, Abu Dawood and other Sunni writers followed by other biographical workers. People like ibn-i-Kathir, a staunch supporter of the Sunni viewpoint, has also recorded the Ghadir event with full detail, which makes it futile to doubt the authenticity of the event. The Ghadir tradition witnessed and recorded by all the companions who were accompanying the Prophet (SAW) during his farewell pilgrimage, is the most debated, the most argued, the most discussed tradition despite being the most controversial. A famous scholar of present times, Hussain Ali Mahfuz, in his penetrating research on the event of the Ghadir Khumm has recorded with full documentation that the tradition has been narrated by at least 110 companions of the Prophet (SAW); 84 tabiun, 355 ulema, 25 historians, 27 traditionalists, 11 exegesis, 18 theologians and 5 philologists. This doctrinaire discord between Shias and Sunnis on the nature of the leader after the Prophet (SAW) resulted in the schism within the community.
Those who rallied support for Ali (RA) believe that the succession must remain within the Prophet’s immaculate descendants, arguing their faith on the verse 124 of chapter 2nd of the Quran: “And remember that Ibrahim (AS) was tried by his Lord with certain commands which he fulfilled. He (Lord) said, “I will make thee the Imam of the people” where upon Ibrahim pleads, and what about my offspring, Allah replies My covenant will not go to the evil doers.”
As promise was extended to Ibrahim’s (AS) offspring, the Prophet (SAW) being a direct descendant of Ibrahim (AS) and his heirs, 12 in total, are all descendants from Fatima (RA) and Ali’s (RA) marriage. Both Sunnis and Shias revere these Imams.
The bone of contention between the two main sects, Shias and Sunnis, has not been the authenticity of the Ghadir tradition, nor the declaration of the Prophet (SAW) in favour of Ali (RA), but the real disagreement is about the meaning and interpretation of the word, Moula. Shias take the word as leader, guardian, master and patron and therefore nominated successor of the Prophet (SAW).
Sunnis, on the other hand interpret the word, Moula in the meaning of friend, nearest kin, and confident, and thus assert that the Prophet (SAW) simply meant to exhort his followers to hold his cousin and the husband of his only surviving daughter Fatima (RA) in high esteem and affection.
The question of succession was primarily religious or political, both Shias and Sunnis accept the eternity of the Prophet’s (SAW) message and him as the seal of prophets of Allah, which makes the dichotomy of succession less important. Eventually, the Shias were appeased when Ali (RA) became the fourth caliph of Muslims. Now everything was apparently smooth but the honeymoon could not last long as Kharijites’s martyred Hazrat Ali (RA). Following the martyrdom of Hazrat Hussain (RA), schism developed between Shias and Sunnis. But Ali’s (RA) position and that of the family of the Prophet (SAW) is unique in Islam; Muslims send peace and blessings on the Prophet (SAW) and his descendants on a daily basis.
Ali (RA) declared his faith at the age of ten and was trusted by the Prophet with special missions, and was famous for his wit, wisdom, knowledge, bravery, charity, justice and generosity. He was entrusted with the responsibility of preparing the Prophet’s (SAW) body for burial and consigning it to grave. For Shias Ali (RA) has become a patent personality and the first Imam in the hierarchy of Imammat, For Sunnis, Ali (RA) is the fourth caliph and a revered one along with the first three caliphs.
But, unfortunately all the scholarship and merits of this great companion of the Prophet (SAW) got consigned to deliberate ignorance and conspiratory negligence. For this grave crime of Muslims, Ghadir will always lament. Ali (RA), who was well versed in many fields from astronomy to zoology, which is exhibited by his book Nahjul-Balagha, is a stranger even in his own native land.
The United Nations has advised Arab countries to take Ali (RA) as an example in establishing a regime based on justice and democracy which is yet a distant dream in these countries.
The UNDP quoted the following sayings of Ali (RA) in its 2002 Arab human development report:
i) “So who have an appointed himself an Imam (ruler) of the people must begin by teaching himself before teaching others. His teaching of others must be first by setting an example rather than with his words, for he who begins by teaching and educating himself is more worthy of respect than he who teaches and educates others.”
ii) “Your concern with developing the land should be greater than your concern for collecting taxes, for the latter can only be obtained by developing; whereas he who seeks revenue without development destroys the country and the people.”
iii) “Seek the company of the learned and the wise in search of solving problems of your country and the righteousness of your people.”
iv) “No good can come from keeping silent to government or speaking out of ignorance.”
v) “The righteous are men of virtues, whose logic is straight-forward, whose dress is unostentatious, whose path is modest, whose actions are many and who are undeterred by difficulties.”
vi) “Choose the best among your people to administer justice. Choose someone who does not easily give up, who is unruffled by enmities, someone who will not persist in wrongdoings, who will not hesitate to pursue right once he knows it, someone whose heart knows no greed, who will not be satisfied with a minimum of explanation without seeking the maximum understanding, who will be the most steadfast when doubt is cast, who will be the least impatient in correcting the opponent, the most patient in pursuing the truth, the most stern in meting out judgement, someone who is unaffected by flattery and not swayed by temptation, and these are but few.”
—The author is a physician specialist, ISM.