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An Introduction to Shi'i Islam:
The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism

by Moojan Momen

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Chapter 2


       The Question of the Succession to Muhammad

The succession to Muhammad is clearly the key question in Shi'i Islam
and the principal factor separating Shi'is from the Sunni majority.
The question is not only who was the successor of Muhammad but also
the nature of the role of this successor, for it is on both these
points that Shi'is and Sunnis disagree.
  On the death of Muhammad, an ad hoc assemblage of a number of the
notables in Islam elected, by general consensus, Abu Bakr to be the
Caliph or successor to Muhammad. This was envisaged as being a
temporal appointment designed to continue the position of Muhammad as
the head of the city of Medina and of a confederacy of tribes, which
was the emerging Muslim state. A conspicuous absentee at this meeting
of election was 'Ali. the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law. There were
a number of persons who considered that in view of a number of
statements made by Muhammad in his lifetime, 'Ali should have occupied
the leading position--not only as temporal head (Caliph) but also as
spiritual head (Imam).
  In order to understand the personality of 'Ali and his position it
is necessary to return to the very beginning of Islamic history and
trace, firstly, 'Ali's part in it and, secondly, the close
relationship between the Prophet and 'Ali. Thirdly, it is also
necessary to examine those Traditions, many accepted by both Sunnis
and Shi'is, that are considered by Shi'is to mean that 'Ali was the
rightful successor of Muhammad.
  The Prophet was brought up in the house of Abu Talib, 'Ali's father
and thus Muhammad was very close to his young cousin from the time of
the latter's birth. Indeed, the two may be regarded as foster-
brothers, despite the difference in age between them.
  'Ali was only nine years old[1] when Muhammad first became aware of
his prophetic mission. After Khadija, the Prophet's wife, 'Ali was the
first person to acknowledge the Prophet's mission and become a
believer. After 'Ali's conversion Zayd became a Muslim and then Abu
Bakr and others.
  It was three years after the onset of Muhammad's mission that he 


decided to make a public announcement of it. The occasion he chose was
a gathering of his own clan. For Shi'is this meeting has a further
significance, for, according to both Sunni and Shi'i sources, at this
meeting Muhammad made a significant statement regarding 'Ali's
relationship to himself. The following is an account of that episode
according to the history of Tabari, who is regarded by both Sunnis and
Shi'is as one of the most reliable of the chroniclers of the life of
the Prophet. Tabari describes how, after the revelation of the
Qur'anic verse: 'Warn your closest relatives',[3] Muhammad prepared a
meal and invited some forty members of the clan of 'Abdu'l-Muttalib
(i.e. the Banu Hashim). After the meal Muhammad was about to address
the company when Abu Lahab made a jest and dispersed the gathering.
And so Muhammad invited them again the following evening to a meal.
The following is a description of what occurred after the meal in the
words of 'Ali as recorded by Tabari: 

  Then the Apostle of God addressed them saying: 'O family of 
  'Abdu'l-Muttalib, by God, I do not know of anyone among  the Arabs
  who has brought his people anything better than  what I have
  brought you. I have brought you the best of  this world and the
  next. God Almighty has ordered me to  call you to Him. And which
  of you will assist me in this  Cause and become my brother, my
  trustee and my successor  among you.' And they all held back from
  this while I ['Ali], although I was the youngest of them in age,
  the most diseased in eyesight, the most corpulent in body and
  thinnest in the legs, said: 'I, O Prophet of God, will be your
  helper in this matter. ' And he put his arm around my neck and
  said: 'This is my brother, my trustee and my successor among you,
  so listen to him and obey.' And so the people arose and they were
  joking, saying to Abu Talib ['Ali's father]: 'He has ordered you
  to listen to your son and obey him.'[4]
This passage is interpreted by Shi'is as indicating that from this
early stage in Muhammad's career and at a time when 'Ali was only
about thirteen years old, Muhammad had already picked 'Ali out as his
  Over the ensuing years 'Ali was constantly at Muhammad's side. When
the night came for the flight from Mecca to Medina, it was 'Ali who
took on the dangerous task of sleeping in the Prophet's bed and thus
fooling the assassins that had been sent to murder the Prophet. After
Muhammad's successful escape, 'Ali remained in Mecca long enough to
settle the Prophet's debts and then together with some of the Muslim
women he too slipped away to Medina.
  A short while after the arrival of the exiles in Medina another
significant event occurred. Muhammad decreed that each Muslim should
become the brother of another Muslim. Thus Abu Bakr and 'Umar became
brothers, as did Talha and Zubayr, and 'Uthman and 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn
Awf. All authorities, whether Sunni or Shi'i, are agreed that Muhammad
singled out 'Ali to be his own brother. The


following is the account as given in the Sahih of at-Tirmidhi, a
collection of Traditions accepted as authoritative by the Sunnis:

The Apostle of God made brothers between his companions, and 'Ali came
to him with tears in his eyes crying: 'O Apostle of God! You have made
brethren among your companions but you have not made anyone my
brother.' And the Apostle of God said to him: 'You are my brother in
this world and the next.'[5]

During the Medinan period 'Ali acted as Muhammad's secretary and
deputy. Whenever there were important documents to be written, such as
the treaty of Hudaybiyya, it was 'Ali who wrote them. The Prophet's
daughter, Fatima, was given in marriage to 'Ali and the children of
this marriage, Hasan and Husayn, were the only grandchildren of the
Prophet to survive into adult life.
  'Ali was one of the most courageous and able men in the Muslim army.
He was appointed the standard-bearer at the battles of both Badr and
Khaybar. At Khaybar (AH 7) the following Tradition is related by
several Sunni and Shi'i histories. This is the version found in a
Sunni collection of Traditions, the Sahih of Muslim:

  The Apostle of God said on the day of Khaybar: 'I shall  certainly
  give this banner to a man who loves God and his Apostle and
  through whom God will give victory.' 'Umar ibn al-Khattab said: 'I
  never wished for leadership except on that day.' And he also said:
  'And so I leapt up towards it hoping to claim it as a right.' And
  the Apostle of God summoned 'Ali, the son of Abu Talib, and gave
  it to him and said: 'Go! And do not turn aside until God gives you

  When the Prophet left to go on his longest expedition, to Tabuk,
'Ali was left in charge at Medina. According to some accounts, 'Ali
felt insulted to be left with the women and children while, according
to others, rumours were spread that 'Ali had been left behind because
it was feared he would bring misfortune to the expedition. In any
case, 'Ali went to the Prophet voicing his discontent at being left
behind. It was at this time, according to numerous Sunni and Shi'i
Traditionists, that the famous Hadith of Manzilat Harun (position of
Aaron) was revealed. According to this Tradition, Muhammad said to
'Ali: 'Are you not content to be with respect to me as Aaron was to
Moses, except that after me there shall be no other Prophet.'[7] The
implication was that 'Ali was to be Muhammad's chief assistant in his
lifetime and his successor after him.
  An episode that has been given great prominence in Shi'i works is
called the episode of the Mubahala. The usual Shi'i accounts of this
episode are as follows: Muhammad in the ninth year of the Hegira sent
out a series of letters to nearby rulers, summoning them to accept
Islam. At Najran, which was a Christian town on the route between
Medina and the Yemen, the leaders assembled to decide what they should


After some discussion it was pointed out that  Jesus had prophesied
the Paraclete or Comforter, whose son would conquer the Earth.
However, it was felt this could not refer to Muhammad who had no son.
Then a great book called al-Jami' was consulted which contained the
writings and traditions of all the prophets. In this book reference
was found to how Adam had seen a vision of one brilliant light
surrounded by four other lights and was told by God that these were
five of his descendants. Similar things were found in the writings of
Abraham, Moses and Jesus. And so it was decided to send a deputation
of their learned men to Medina to ascertain the truth. At Medina,
after a great debate, it was decided to engage in Mubahala (mutual
cursing), referring the matter to God and calling down God's curse on
whomever was the liar. It was at this time that the verse of Mubahala
(Qur'an 3:61) was revealed. The contest was set for the next day and
all the people of Medina came out to witness it. Muhammad came out
with only 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn and they stood under a cloak.
The Christians asked Muhammad why he had not brought the leaders of
his religion and Muhammad replied that God had commanded this. Then
the Christians remembered what they had read in al-Jami' and became
convinced that Muhammad was the figure prophesied by Jesus. The
Christians withdrew from the contest and agreed to pay tribute. From
this episode, Muhammad, 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn became known as
Ahl al-Kisa (the people of the cloak).
  When the Qur'anic Sura of Bara'a was revealed towards the end of the
year AH 9 and Abu Bakr was sent to read it to the people of Mecca,
Muhammad sent 'Ali out after him and caused him to return. Then the
Sura was given to 'Ali to take to Mecca to read. When questioned
regarding this, the Prophet is reported, in both Sunni and Shi'i
sources, to have said: 'Gabriel came to me and said: "Do not let it
[the reading of the Sural be performed by anyone other than yourself
or someone from you [i. e. your family] on your behalf."'[8]
  'Ali's many personal qualities are amply attested to in various
histories and collections of Traditions. Among the statements
regarding 'Ali and his family made by the Prophet and accepted as
authentic by both Sunnis and Shi'is are the following: 

 1. There is no youth braver than 'Ali.[9]
 2. No-one but a believer loves 'Ali and no-one but a hypocrite
    (munafiq) hates 'Ali.[10]
 3. I am from 'Ali and 'Ali is from me.[11]
 4. The truth circulates with him ('Ali) wherever he goes.[12]
 5. I am the City of Knowledge and 'Ali is its Gate (Bab).[13]
 6. On one occasion the Prophet was about to eat some poultry and he
    said: 'O God! Send me the man you love most among mankind to eat


    bird with me. ' And 'Ali came and ate with him.[14]
 7. The Prophet said in reply to someone who had complained about    
'Ali: 'What do you think of one who loves God and his Prophet and who
in turn is loved by God and his Prophet?' Also: 'The most loved of
women to the Prophet of God is Fatima and the most loved of mell is
 8. On one occasion, the Prophet called 'Ali and began whispering to
him. After a time those present began saying: 'He has been a long time
whispering to his cousin.' Later, the Prophet said: 'It was not I that
was whispering to him but God.'[16]
 9. The Prophet took the hand of Hasan and Husayn and said: 'Whoever
loves me and loves these two and loves their mother and father, will
be with me in my station on the Day of Resurrection.'[17]
10. The Prophet said: 'Hasan and Husayn are the chiefs of the youths
of paradise.'[18]
  It was during the last year of the Prophet's life that, according to
Shi'is, he confirmed 'Ali's position as his successor. The occasion
was the Farewell Pilgrimage when the Prophet performed the pilgrimage
to Mecca for the last time. Having completed the rites of the
Pilgrimage, the Prophet set out on the return journey to Medina,
accompanied by a large concourse of the Muslims, including all of his
leading disciples. At a place called Ghadir Khumm, Muhammad caused the
caravan to be stopped and from an improvised pulpit delivered an
address. Once again, the principal Sunni and Shi'i sources show no
disagreement over the facts of the episode. The following is the
account given in Ibn Hanbal, a Sunni collection of Hadith:

  We were with the Apostle of God in his journey and we stopped at
  Ghadir Khumm. We performed the obligatory prayer together and a
  place was swept for the Apostle under two trees and he performed
  the mid-day prayer. And then he took 'Ali by the hand and said to
  the people: 'Do you not acknowledge that I have a greater claim on
  each of the believers than they have on themselves?' And they
  replied: 'Yes!' And he took 'Ali's hand and said: 'Of whomsoever I
  am Lord [Mawla], then 'Ali is also his Lord. O God! Be Thou the
  supporter of whoever supports 'Ali and the enemy of whoever
  opposes him.' And 'Umar met him ['Ali] after this and said to him:
  'Congratulations, O son of Abu Talib! Now morning and evening
  [i.e. forever] you are the master of every believing man and

  Finally there is the highly controversial episode in the last days
of Muhammad's life which is usually called the Episode of Pen and
Paper. Muhammad, while in his terminal illness and only days before
his death called for pen and paper. The following is the account
related by al-Bukhari, the Sunni Traditionist, on the authority of Ibn

  When the Prophet's illness became serious, he said: 'Bring me
writing materials


  that I may write for you something, after which you will not be led
into error.' 'Umar said: 'The illness has overwhelmed the Prophet. We
have the Book  God and that is enough for us.' Then the people
differed about this and spoke many words. And he [the Prophet] said:
'Leave me! There ought not to be quarrelling in my presence.' And Ibn
'Abbas went out saying: 'The greatest of all calamities is what
intervened between the Apostle and his writing.'[20]

  Shi'is claim that what Muhammad wished to write down was the
confirmation of 'Ali's successorship. Sunnis have advanced various
alternative explanations. Shi'is also claim that the Prophet died with
his head in 'Ali's lap. Some Sunni Traditions support this while
others state that the Prophet's head was on the lap of his wife,
  To 'Ali was given a number of privileges not accorded to the other
companions of the Prophet. Apart from the fact that the Prophet's
daughter was given to 'Ali in marriage, when many others including Abu
Bakr and 'Umar had been suitors, 'Ali was the only man allowed to come
and go as he pleased in the Prophet's house. At one stage the Prophet
ordered all the doors of the various houses opening onto the Mosque of
the Prophet in Medina to be blocked off, except for the doors from his
own house and from that of 'Ali.[21]
  There are also a number of other statements which both Sunni and
Shi'i sources agree were made by Muhammad and to which Shi'is point as
evidence of the position of 'Ali and his family and the fact that 'Ali
was Muhammad's successor:
 1. Hadith of the Two Weighty Matters (ath-Thaqalayn)
This is a very widely reported statement of Muhammad. The following is
the version in the Sunni collection of Hadith by Ibn Hanbal: 'The
Apostle of God said: "I have left among you two weighty matters which
if you cling to them you shall not be led into error after me. One of
them is greater than the other: The Book of God which is a rope
stretched from Heaven to Earth and my progeny, the people of my house.
These two shall not be parted until they return to the pool [of
  This Hadith, which is repeated in many slightly variant forms, is
reported by some Traditionists to have been uttered by Muhammad on the
road between Mecca and Medina. There has been some disagreement as to
exactly who is meant by the phrase 'the people of my house' (Ahl al-
Bayt). Some Sunni sources state that Muhammad's wives should be
included. But Shi'i writers point to several Traditions that can be
found in Sunni as well as Shi'i sources that confine the meaning of
this phrase to 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn. For example, when the
verse of al-Mubahala was revealed (see above), several Sunni sources
record that the Prophet then defined the people of his house as being
the four persons under his cloak.[23] Similarly, when the verse of
purification (Qur'an 33:33, see p. 155) was revealed, according to the


Traditionist, at-Tirmidhi, its meaning was confined to these four
 2. The hadith of the Safina (Noah's Ark) Once again many Sunni
sources have reported this Tradition in various forms: 'My family
among you are like Noah's Ark. He who sails on it will be safe, but he
who holds back from it will perish.'[25]
 3. On one occasion when four of the Muslims complained to the Prophet
concerning something that 'Ali had done, the Prophet grew angry and
said: 'What do you want from 'Ali? 'Ali is from me and I am from 'Ali.
He is the guardian [wali] of every believer after me.'[26] And in
another context: 'You are my successor [i.e. guardian of the religion,
wali] in this world and the next.'[27]
 4. The Prophet is reported to have said: 'No one may execute my
affairs except myself and 'Ali.'[28]
 5. The Prophet said: 'As for 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn, I am at
war with whoever fights against these and at peace with whoever is at
peace with these.'[29]
  Apart from these and the previously-quoted Traditions which are
accepted by both Sunnis and Shi'is, the Shi'is have numerous other
Traditions extolling 'Ali:
 1. The Fourth Imam is reported to have said: 'The Apostle of God
taught 'Ali a matter [harf] which opened up one thousand matters each
of which in turn opened up a thousand matters.'[30]
 2. 'Ali said: 'I am Muhammad and Muhammad is I.'[31]
 3. 'Ali said in the Hadith an-Nuraniyya: 'Muhammad is the Seal of the
Prophets [khatim al-anbiya] and I am the Seal of the Successors
[khatim al-wasiyyin].'[32]
  In addition to these hadith, certain verses of the Qur'an are held
to relate to 'Ali and his succession to Muhammad:
 1. 'You are a warner and to every people there is a guide.'[33] Many
sources, including even Sunni ones such as as-Suyuti, acknowledge that
when this verse was revealed, Muhammad said: 'I am the warner and you,
O 'Ali, are the guide and through you will be guided those who are to
be guided.'[34]
 2. 'Your guardian [wali] can only be God, His apostle and those who
say their prayers, pay alms [zakat] and bow down before God'[35] The
word wali can mean either friend, helper or master. Many of the
commentators both Sunni and Shi'i are agreed that this verse refers to
'Ali and was revealed after 'Ali had given his ring away to someone in
need who had entered the mosque while prayers were in progress.[36]
The verse itself can be translated: 'Those who pay alms while bowing
down before God,' thus referring more closely to this episode.


The Events at the Saqifa

If, as the Shi'is assert, Muhammad had clearly indicated his desire
that 'Ali should be his successor, how did it come about that Abu Bakr
was elected the first Caliph? This is a very complex matter and
central to the whole issue is what occurred at the Saqifa (Portico) of
the Banu Sa'ida, a branch of Khazraj tribe of Medina. The facts of
what happened are, in broad terms, agreed by the most reliable of both
Sunni and Shi'i writers.[37] When Muhammad died, his daughter, Fatima,
her husband, 'Ali, and the rest of the family of Hashim, gathered
around the body preparing it for burial. Unbeknown to them, two other
groups were gathering in the city. One group consisted of Abu Bakr,
'Umar, Abu 'Ubayda and other prominent Meccans (the Muhajirun) and the
second of the most important of the Medinans (the Ansar). The second
group was gathering in the portico of the Banu Sa'ida. It was reported
to Abu Bakr that the Ansar were contemplating pledging their loyalty
to Sa'd ibn 'Ubada, chief of the Khazraj. And so Abu Bakr and his
group hurried to the Saqifa. One of the Ansar spoke first saying that
as the Ansar had been the ones who supported and gave victory to Islam
and since the Meccans were only guests in Medina, the leader of the
community should be from the Ansar. Abu Bakr replied to this very
diplomatically. He began by praising the virtues of the Ansar, but
then he went on to point out that the Muhajirun (the Meccans) were the
first people in Islam and were closer in kinship to the Prophet. The
Arabs would accept leadership only from Quraysh and so Quraysh should
be the rulers and the Ansar their ministers. One of the Ansar
proposed: 'Let there be one ruler from us and one ruler from you. For
we do not begrudge you this matter but we fear to have ruling over us
a people whose fathers and brothers we have killed (in fighting
between Mecca and Medina before the conquest of Mecca by
Muhammad).'[38] And so the argument went back and forth until Abu Bakr
proposed: 'Give your allegiance to one of these two men: Abu 'Ubayda
or 'Umar. ' And 'Umar replied: 'While you are still alive? No! It is
not for anyone to hold you back from the position in which the Apostle
placed you. So stretch out your hand.' And Abu Bakr stretched out his
hand and 'Umar gave him his allegiance. One by one, slowly at first,
and then rushing forward in a mass, the others did likewise.
  A pro-Shi'i historian, Ya'qubi, has recorded that one of the Ansar
did briefly advance the claim of 'Ali during the discussions at the
Saqifa but even from Ya'qubi's account it is clear that there was no
real discussion of this claim.[39]
  It is possible to speculate as to the reasons why Abu Bakr was
elected to the leadership. Certainly clan rivalry played a great part.


Quraysh there was a certain amount of envy and enmity towards the
prestige enjoyed by the house of Hashim. Thus 'Umar is reported to
have said to 'Ali's cousin at a later date: 'The people did not like
having the Prophethood and Caliphate joined together in your
house.'[40] Abu Bakr, however, came from a relatively insignificant
clan which had no pretensions to power. The Ansar had been
contemplating choosing the chief of Khazraj as their leader and so
when Abu Bakr came forward as a candidate, the Aws tribe who had been
the great rival of Khazraj in Medina were only too eager to have this
alternative. Khazraj themselves were not totally united and several
leading men of that tribe were among the first to pay obedience to Abu
Bakr, presumably having some grudge against their chief. And so, all
in all, Abu Bakr was an expedient choice for the majority, although it
cannot be denied that he enjoyed considerable prestige in the
community anyway.
  With respect to the above speech by Abu Bakr at the Saqifa, in which
he refuted the claims of the Ansar to the leadership and advanced the
claims of Quraysh, Shi'i historians have pointed out that with respect
to each of the points which Abu Bakr mentioned, 'Ali was superior to
Abu Bakr. Thus if Quraysh were closer in kinship to the Prophet than
the Ansar, then 'Ali was closer than Abu Bakr. If Quraysh were first
to accept Islam, then 'Ali was the first of them to do this. If
Quraysh were more entitled to leadership among the Arabs than the
Ansar on account of their nobility, then 'Ali and the house of Hashim
were the most noble clan within Quraysh. And 'Ali's services to Islam
and his close personal companionship with the Prophet, were at least
equal, if not superior, to Abu Bakr's. Moreover, if selection of the
leader was to have been by consensus, then why was the house of
Hashim, the house of the Prophet, not consulted? The best that can be
said of the affair at the Saqifa is that, in the words of 'Umar, it
was a falta, which means an affair concluded in haste and without
  Both Sunni and Shi'i sources are agreed that after allegiance had
been given to Abu Bakr at the Saqifa and at the mosque, 'Umar with a
crowd of armed men marched to 'Ali's house demanding that he also
pledge his allegiance to Abu Bakr. It is even indicated that a threat
was made to bum down 'Ali's house if he refused. Words were exchanged,
and according to some accounts, even blows, until Fatima, 'Ali's wife
and the daughter of the Prophet, appeared and put the attackers to
shame by threatening to make a personal public appeal.
  Both Sunni and Shi'i sources agree that 'Ali was urged by such
persons as his uncle al-'Abbas, and even Abu Sufyan of the house of
Umayya, to set himself up as an alternative leader and to have
allegiance paid to him. Abu Sufyan even offered to fill Medina with
armed men to enforce 'Ali's leadership.[42] It is impossible to
assess, however, how strong the party


that looked to 'Ali at this time was. But 'Ali refused to split the
community, particularly when, shortly after Abu Bakr assumed the
Caliphate, a large number of the Arabs apostatised from Islam and a
campaign had to be waged against them. Under the Caliphates of 'Umar
and of 'Uthman also, 'Ali did not advance his claim.
  There is disagreement between Sunni and Shi'i historians as to
'Ali's attitude to the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and later to those of
'Umar and 'Uthman. Sunni historians are anxious to portray 'Ali as
having been loyal to the leadership of the first three Caliphates and
indeed a trusted adviser in their councils. Some of these sources even
state that 'Ali gave his allegiance to Abu Bakr on the day of the
Saqifa. The Shi'i historians, of course, completely reject this view.
They portray 'Ali as feeling deeply hurt that his rights had been
usurped in this underhand manner and only refraining from open
rejection of Abu Bakr in order to avoid dissension and strife at a
critical time. Shi'i sources maintain that 'Ali did not in fact give
his allegiance to the new Caliph until after Fatima's death, which
occurred six months after the death of the Prophet.
  Conflict between the Prophet's family and the new Caliph began from
the day after the death of the Prophet. Fatima laid claim to the
estate of Fadak, which had been the personal property of the Prophet
and had come to him out of the booty of the expedition to Khaybar. Abu
Bakr refused this claim, stating that the property belonged to the
whole community, the Prophet having said: 'No one shall inherit from
me, but what I leave is for alms.'
  During the brief two-year period of Abu Bakr's Caliphate, whatever
initial support there may have been for 'Ali's candidature melted away
in the face of 'Ali's own refusal to advance a claim. However, despite
this, there was a handful of men who steadfastly refused to give their
allegiance to Abu Bakr or to anyone other than 'Ali. Four of these
men, 'Ammar, Miqdad, Abu Dharr and Salman were acclaimed by Shi'is as
the first four of their number and, according to many Traditions,
these four were shortly joined by another three.
  Shi'i historians scornfully point out that whereas the theoretical
justification for the choice of Abu Bakr as Caliph was that this was
the consensus of the Muslims, even this claim cannot be made for
'Umar's succession to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr, on his death-bed, appointed
'Umar as his successor and secured his succession by obtaining pledges
of support for 'Umar from several prominent persons. Once again, 'Ali
was passed over and was not even consulted.
  Under 'Umar's Caliphate, 'Ali remained withdrawn from public affairs
but still refusing to encourage sedition by advancing an alterative
claim. The Sunni historians once again minimise the disagreements,[43]
whereas the Shi'is show 'Ali openly disagreeing with


some of`'Umar's decisions and publicly showing his contempt for the
Caliph on several occasions.[44]
  'Umar appointed a council of six men to decide the leadership after
him. Although the council included 'Ali, it was weighted in such a way
as to make it unlikely that he would be elected. Two of the members of
the council, Sa'd and 'Abdu'r-Rahman who were cousins, were naturally
inclined to support 'Uthman, who was 'Abdu'r-Rahman's brother-in-law,
and moreover, under 'Umar's terms for setting up a council, the
casting vote was to be given to 'Abdu'r-Rahman.
  The most commonly quoted Traditions state that the result of the
deliberations of the council in 644 was that 'Abdu'r-Rahman offered
the Caliphate to 'Ali on the condition that he should rule in
accordance with the Qur'an, the example of the Prophet and the
precedents established by the first two Caliphs. 'Abdu'r-Rahman must
have known of 'Ali's disagreement with some of the policies of the
first two Caliphs and so it was inevitable that 'Ali would refuse to
bind himself to follow their precedents. 'Abdu'r-Rahman then offered
the Caliphate to 'Uthman on the same condition and he accepted.
  Even those historians who are staunchly Sunni can scarcely disguise
the fact that 'Uthman's Caliphate was something of a disaster for
Islam. in place of the strict piety, simplicity and probity that had
characterised the leadership of the community under Muhammad and the
first two Caliphs, 'Uthman's leadership was marked by nepotism and a
love of wealth and luxury. He was a weak-minded man who allowed his
relative, Marwan, to dominate him and to run the affairs of the
community. 'Uthman was of the house of Umayya and soon members of this
family were placed in the highest positions in the community, despite
the fact that, in former days, this family had been the most
implacable and the most powerful of the enemies of the Prophet in
Mecca and had led the Meccans against the Prophet once he was
established in Medina.
  Soon there was disaffection in the provinces of the rapidly
expanding Muslim empire. ln Egypt there was a rising against their
Governor, a foster-brother of 'Uthman, who was one of the few people
that the Prophet himself had condemned to death at the conquest of
Mecca for the crime of interpolating the Qur'an and apostatising (he
had been saved by 'Uthman's intervention). In Kufa (Iraq), the
Governor, 'Uthman's half-brother, was disgracing himself by appearing
drunk in public. Delegations from Egypt and Iraq arrived in Medina in
656 voicing strong protests to the Caliph. They found support among
many of the prominent citizens of Medina such as Zubayr and Talha, who
each had aspirations for the Caliphate, and 'A'isha, the wife of the
Prophet, who supported Talha.


  'Ali was placed in a difficult position. The rebel delegations
appealed to him to support their protests and he certainly sympathised
with their grievances. But 'Ali, also, was not one to foment discord
or to support rebellion. 'Uthman appealed to him to placate the rebels
and 'Ali did his best to mediate, urging the Caliph, at the same time,
to alter his policies. However, in the end, after the rebels found
themselves betrayed by the Caliph, 'Uthman's house was attacked and he
was killed.
  Immediately after the murder of 'Uthman, a crowd surrounded 'Ali
urging him to accept the Caliphate. 'Ali was at first reluctant to
accept, given the circumstances, but he was urged to do so from all
sides. The Muhajirun, the Ansar and the delegations from the provinces
were all urging acceptance upon him. So eventually he consented. The
year was 656; it was 24 years since the death of the Prophet of Islam;
after almost a quarter of a century in the wilderness, 'Ali had come
to the position that he had considered rightfully his all along.
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