Chapter 2 – Roots of Political Schism in Islam

This is a serialization of the book titled ‘Crisis in Islam’. The full book and its Endnotes may be accessed at:


The conflict in Islam was, still is and will remain political. Most attempts at portraying what happened in the history of Islam as ideological or intellectual have not been successful. They were mostly attempts to camouflage the political struggle so as to prevent the embarrassment caused by people discovering that the damage done to Islam had resulted from a struggle for power and not as Fuqahā want us to believe, that it was an ideological struggle to interpret the will of Allah. Understanding the political conflict in early Islam will enable us to trace the cause of current events.

But in order to find the roots of that political struggle, we need to go back to the social environment in which Islam was born.

Mecca differs from most cities in history in having been the site of pilgrimage for thousands of years. Not many other cities have received such honor, as most cities in human history rose and fell over a period of centuries, except Mecca, which was respected and revered before Islam and continued to be so after its birth. The Arabs used to visit Mecca for other reasons than those for which Ibrāhim (Abraham) built his house in it.[1] Pre-Islam Mecca was the centre of religion, trade, poetry and culture. In short it was the pre-Islam Arab’s political, economic and cultural capital; the metropolis of its era, despite the absence of a proper political entity or order holding that together. The verse referring to Mecca (Al-Qasas 28:57) “Have we not established for them a safe sanctuary to which are brought the fruits of all things as provision from Us? But most of them do not know.” This (28:57) could not be interpreted as Allah was describing Mecca after the birth of Islam, but rather as since Ibrāhim erected the foundation of his house. Most Muslims believe that it shall remain like that until the Day of Judgment.

It thus becomes apparent how much power and prominence anyone who controls Mecca would wield.  The elders of the tribe of Quraysh[2] made sure that their hold on Mecca was firm as it gave them power over all of Arabia, and the loss of their control would have deprived them of that power and authority.

Islam was born into that reality of Mecca. Prophet Muhammad was born to a less influential house of the clans of which Quraysh was composed. His clan ‘Banu Hāshim (the Hāshemites)’ was neither as large in number nor as wealthy as other clans of Quraysh such as Makhzoom, Zuhra and Umayya for example.[3] The elders of the powerful clans of Quraysh despised the less fortunate Hāshemites. It thus becomes naturally understandable that when Muhammad declared his message and invited Quraysh to follow him, the elders of these haughty clans were up in arms against him. They realized quite early that the success of that Hāshemite would lead to the erosion of their rule and power. They also believed that, should Muhammad succeed, Arabs would turn away from Mecca, and that would finish their prosperous trade and deprive them of their riches, which were their means of maintaining power.

Most of Quraysh was hostile to Muhammad’s call so much so that the Qur’an orders Muhammad to limit the call in the early days to his inner circle “And warn [O Muhammad], your closest kindred” (Ash-Shu’araa 26:214). Hence Muhammad appealed early to his clan, and only a few of them followed and even fewer from the rest of Quraysh and a few Arabs from outside it who had gathered from all over Arabia and beyond in anticipation of the call.[4] In fact most of Muhammad’s life was fighting back Quraysh so much so that one cannot but ask by what right has Quraysh held on to power throughout Islamic history?

When the enmity of Quraysh did not succeed, they offered Muhammad money and authority but he declined. Eventually they resorted to coercions and imposed total blockade on Muhammad and his followers. They made a pact among themselves banning all dealings with the Muslims, banishing them to a small barren valley outside Mecca belonging to Muhammad’s uncle and patron ‘Abu Tālib’. There are no exact details of the suffering by the Muslims during the three years they stayed in the ‘Abu Tālib’s Valley’. There are, however, anecdotes telling of the serious hardship suffered by them in what would be classified in today’s language as a total blockade, which in turn exposed the enmity fostered by the powerful clans of Quraysh towards the Hāshemites in general and Muhammad in particular.[5] I believe that this episode of Islamic history had been purposely removed from the annals of history to avoid the embarrassment caused by exposing some of the oppression carried out by some of Quraysh elders who later allegedly converted to Islam and assumed high positions. It is by no means the only such episode in Islamic history that received such a purposeful omission.

This is the starting point of understanding how the struggle around Islam and later within Islam has always been political.  I doubt if any of Quraysh elders was fighting in defence of Al-Lāt and Al-‘Uzza[6], but rather was, first and foremost, fighting in defence of his social, political and economic position. It is inconceivable to suggest that when ‘Utba Ibn Rabi’a Ibn ‘Abd Shams (Mu’āwiya’s maternal grandparent) took up arms to fight the Muslims and get slain in the Battle of Badr at the hands of ‘Ali or Hamza, he was indeed fighting for Hubal.[7] This political struggle that existed inside Quraysh at the birth of Islam permeated Islam and propagated in one form or another through the centuries and reached us as an historical and cultural heritage, which Muslims live consciously or subconsciously today. It delineates the borders of the conflict today.

When Islam prevailed and the Prophet entered Mecca without a fight, Quraysh adopted Islam willingly, forcedly or hypocritically. These three categories of Qurayshis adopting Islam were summed up in the famous saying of the Prophet in which he is reported to have said after entering Mecca: “He who entered the House of Allah is safe; he who entered the house of Abu Sufyān is safe and he who entered his own house and closed its door is safe”.[8] The believers would have naturally entered the House of Allah (Ka’ba); the non-believers would have entered the house of Abu Sufyān, the head of Quraysh opposition to Islam, while the doubters would have stayed indoors. But there were among them many hypocrites whose identity would never be known, as the Prophet did not intend these deep wounds in Quraysh to be exposed. Indeed there were even Bedouin hypocrites in Medina where the Prophet set up his State of the Faithful. These hypocrites were referred to repeatedly in the Qur’an: “And among those around you of the Bedouin are hypocrites, and [also] from the people of Medina. They have become accustomed to hypocrisy. You do not know them, We know them. We will punish them twice; then they will be returned to a great punishment.” (At-Tawba 9:101). So if at the time of the Prophet both Mecca and Medina had so many hypocrites, would it be surprising to find them today deeply entrenched among Muslims?

The political struggle inside Quraysh did not completely disappear even after the victory of the Prophet in entering Mecca; it seemed superficially weakened but it remained nevertheless. This was manifested during the last illness of the Prophet before his departure. His close companions comprising of many elders of Quraysh gathered in his house on the infamous Thursday four days before his death. There are several stories of what happened that day differing in some of the details, but the gist of the event is not in question. The Prophet asked for ink and paper in order for him to dictate a testament, after which they would never go astray. Some of those present realized that the Prophet might nominate a successor, which would have put an end to any pretender to power from Quraysh. There arose some commotion in the room and some of those present went as far as to insult the Prophet, when one of them is reported to have said that the Prophet was raving. Another is reported to have said that they did not need a will from the Prophet as they had the Qur’an. This angered the Prophet, who had never seen such poisoned atmosphere among his companions, and ordered them out declaring that there should be no disputes in the audience of a Prophet. They all left. The Prophet passed away on the following Monday with none of those who were with him on Thursday having returned to see him before his death. The famous Hadith pontiff and Prophet’s cousin Ibn ‘Abbās described that grave incident as ‘The Thursday’s Calamity’. Would any researcher in history be able to describe what happened on that Thursday, as had been reported, except to have been a political incident in addition to its having been a serious disobedience to Divine Command “And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty. “(Al-Hashr 59:7).[9]

Collectors of Hadith and historians have filled books in which they categorize the Prophet’s Companions and early Muslims. Repeatedly they wrote about how pleased and satisfied the Prophet was with this and that Companion. How is it possible that the Prophet was happy and satisfied with the Companions he threw out of his house of Thursday and never saw after that? Is there not enough ground to doubt such description regarding those Companions and to carry on repeating the famous ending when describing that Companion by saying: ‘The Prophet died satisfied with him’?

The political struggle within Islam erupted into an open confrontation on the day the Prophet passed away. On that day, while the Prophet was still being buried, the most significant political conference in the history of Islam took place. But despite its gravity and its impact on Islamic history since that day, little has reached us on who attended it and the details of what took place. The little that had transpired is based on sporadic tales and tangential comments made on other occasions about it. It is generally accepted that when a dignitary dies, he receives the respect and burial worthy of him and his position among his people. Muhammad is the most important Arab that ever lived. Yet on his death, his closest companions decided that it was more important to convene a conference to select a successor. Those Muslim elders could not wait until the Prophet was buried. A few of the elders of Medina (Ansār) met in the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’, one of the main clans in Medina, to discuss the matter of the management of their affairs after the departure of the Prophet. As soon as the elders of Quraysh (Muhājireen) heard of the meeting, they left Muhammad’s uncle, cousin and few of their supporters to bury him while they rushed to the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’ to fight the political battle for a successor.[10] They were among those who refused the Prophet’s request to write a testament or nominate a successor claiming they had the Qur’an. If there is any need for a proof to the political nature of schism in Islam, then the timing and nature of the conference in the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’ should be a sufficient proof.

The elders of Quraysh wanted to ensure that the Ansār of Medina were not left alone in case they decided to choose a successor to lead the Muslims and create a de facto state difficult to challenge. It seems that the significance of the political conference in the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’ and what took place in it was so serious that the political establishment, in the following decades, ensured that as little as possible of it got recorded in any of the historical annals, so that the conference remains until today one of the greatest secrets of Islam. The few bits of information of what happened during that conference enable us to piece together a rather incomplete story about what took place.[11]

Before I look into what happened in the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’, it is important to shed some light on the whole concept of Caliphate and how it came to be because it is at the heart of politics in Islam. There is no reference in the Qur’an or the Hadith to Caliph or Caliphate as a political concept or system for Government[12]. It is for this reason that the Prophet did not set up a state apparatus despite the twelve years he spent in Medina managing the affairs of the believers. He acted as a leader of the Umma and not a head of a state, giving a clear message that whoever comes after him should emulate that practice. Yet no sooner had he gone than the clans of Quraysh decided that political power as they experienced it before Islam had to be resurrected and thus came up with the term ‘Caliphate’. The historical records show that the first time the word ‘Caliph’ was used was when Abu Bakr was called ‘the Caliph of Allah’ to which he is reported to have said: ‘I am the Caliph of the messenger of Allah’. It is in     the light of this fact that Caliphate and Caliph should be understood as political terms created in order for religion to be used as a justification to exercise power.

It may be summed up in this way: the Ansār wanted the Caliph after Muhammad to be from among them, while the Quraysh elders argued that it should be from among them as they were the Prophet’s tribe. The Muslims in Medina heard from the top of minarets a declaration that Abu Bakr, (Muhammad’s Companion and father-in-law) was chosen as the first Caliph to succeed Muhammad. The elder of the Ansār, Sa’d Ibn ‘Ubāda, who refused to swear allegiance to Abu Bakr, stayed in Medina until ‘Umar succeeded Abu Bakr. There was a short encounter between the two after which Sa’d left Medina to Syria where he died mysteriously.[13] Despite my unwillingness to delve deeply into details of historical events, I need to pause and look at the relevance of Sa’d’s position on the ‘bay’a’[14] of Abu Bakr as the first Caliph to succeed the Prophet.

There are numerous references in the Prophet’s biography and books of history that demonstrate the elevated position of Sa’d Ibn ‘Ubāda in Islam[15]. These reports demonstrate the position of Sa’d in the eyes of the Prophet and consequently in his own community. In short Sa’d was the head of the Medina Ansār. Whatever one thinks of Sa’d, his position regarding the political decision to appoint Abu Bakr as first Caliph is very significant. Needless to say, Sa’d was not alone in his rejection of ‘bay’a’ of Abu Bakr as there were others from Ansār who objected to it, but with so little having reached us about who did what and why, we are not in any position to make definite conclusions. But the killing of the head of Ansār, who fought every battle with the Prophet and was steadfast in the battles of Uhud and Hunain[16] when many Muslims fled, raises another question which the history of Islam had simply glossed over. Is it not a natural right of his family, the Ansār and Muslims in general, to know why Sa’d was assassinated? Who was behind his assassination and who benefited from it? Is it not the right of Muslims in general to know the secret behind the assassination of the leader of those Ansār described in the Qur’an as “….who gave shelter and aided – it is they who are the believers, truly” (Al-Anfaal 8:74), who had not committed a crime against the Prophet and Islam, and did not need to fabricate the Hadith “Islam effaces previous misdeeds”,[17] to argue his belief? Or was it politics, which found it expedient to turn a page?

It is necessary to pause and make a careful consideration of the conference in the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’, because its impact on Islam and its relevance are active today. During the last weeks of the Prophet’s life, he ordered the formation of a battalion to be sent to fight Sherhabeel Ibn ‘Amro Al-Ghassāni, and his Roman allies in the area of southern Syria to avenge the defeat and killing of Zaid Ibn Hāritha earlier in the battle of Ma’uta in the year 8AH.[18] This came to be known as ‘Osama Ibn Zaid’s Battalion’, as he put Osama Ibn Zaid Ibn Hāritha in its command.[19] The battalion, which the Prophet ordered all able Muslims to join, consisted of all the Muhājireen and Ansār, including their elders and the Prophet’s closest companions from Quraysh. Some of the elders reacted with indignation at having to serve in a battalion led by a man who had just come of age. The Prophet is reported to have said that he did not do that out of his own desire, implying Divine order. Indeed when he realized that there was some hesitation in joining the battalion, he is reported to have said “May Allah curse whoever lagged behind the army of Osama”.[20] The army of Osama departed from Medina during the last week of the Prophet’s last illness. It would be reasonable to expect that all the elders and Companions followed the Prophet’s order and joined the army. The following relevant question becomes therefore inevitable: If the battalion had left Medina with all the elders in it, how did they come back on the day the Prophet died to hold their political conference in the shed, considering that they were quite some distance away from Medina? Why indeed there was such an urgency to select a successor even before the Prophet was buried? There had been some suggestions that the urgent need for selecting a successor for the Prophet was predicated on a need to protect the Umma. Anyone who was so concerned that Muslims were going to go astray after Muhammad’s death ought to question his own faith. The Lord who sent Muhammad as his messenger and then called him to his side ought to know how to protect His religion.

It is unavoidable to ask some relevant questions about the conference. Who attended it and what was discussed or argued? Knowing who attended would verify once and for all the claim made later that the conference, which resulted in swearing allegiance (bay’a) to Abu Bakr, was indeed proper having been made by the majority of the Prophet’s Companions and in proper consultation within the Umma. Knowing what was discussed or argued would eliminate the conjecture about the bases on which the Caliph was chosen. Was the consideration for the selection based on piety, jihad and early belief or was it really based purely on the trivial argument that Quraysh was entitled to it because it was the Prophet’s tree? It is reported that when ‘Ali Ibn Abi Tālib, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was told after he finished burying the Prophet that Abu Bakr was chosen as the Caliph, he enquired as to what had happened in the meeting. When he was told that Quraysh argued that it was entitled to it by virtue of being the Prophet’s tree, he is reported to have commented, “they held on to the tree but lost the fruit”![21]

As we do not have solid historical records of what went on during that conference, all that is left to us is conjecture based partly on piecing together scattered comments made by some of the Prophet’s Companions. One significant indicator of what dominated the discussions inside that conference came in the often-quoted statement made by one member of Quraysh to one Hāshemite: “Quraysh hated that you should combine both the Prophecy and the Caliphate”.[22]

It is difficult for anyone reading such a statement not to conclude that it is anything but political. Quraysh’s desire has little to do with Divine Will, religion and whether or not there was an Hāshemite whose early belief, jihad and piety entitled him to be a Caliph. In short, the elders of Quraysh decided that no Hāshemite should succeed the Prophet irrespective of his competence for that responsibility. So the first Caliph came from Taim clan, the second from ‘Uday clan, and the third from Umayya clan until it unavoidably reached an Hāshemite. [23]

The political conference in the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’ also established a very serious principle in the history of Islam in preventing the succession of any of the Ansār to the Caliphate. The principle that the Caliphate should rest with Quraysh has been an accepted principle not to be breached. Even today, when people aspire to claim positions in fundamentalist Islamic movements, they seem to count on being from the Prophet’s tree as legitimizing these claims. When Ibrāhim Al-Badry (Abu Bakr Al-Baghdādi) declared himself as the new Caliph in the newly established ‘Islamic State’, he made sure to highlight that he is a descendant of Muhammad through his lineage to Imām Hussein, Muhammad’s grandson.[24]

The natural consequence of the principle established in the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’ conference was the total barring of the Ansār from taking positions of authority in the new Islamic state. So much so that the sons of Tulaqa’ (released)[25] as they were known, assumed positions of authority to the exemption of early ‘Muhājireen’ and Ansār “….who gave shelter and aided -” (Al-Anfaal 8:74). In fact the history of Islam that was carefully written in the following decades and centuries, omitted the names of the early Ansār and made us forget them. How many a Muslim today, who would readily recognize Abu Sufyān, who only converted to Islam after the fall of Mecca to Muhammad, knows anything about or even heard the name of Al-Bara’ Ibn Ma’roor Al-Ansāri? Al-Bara’ was one of the early Ansārs who adopted Islam; swore allegiance to Muhammad (bay’a) in what came to be known as ‘First ‘Aqaba’ and is reported to have prayed towards Mecca even before the divine command “So turn your face toward Al-Masjid Al-Harām” (Al-Baqara 2:144).[26] How many a Muslim know Abul-Haytham Mālik Ibn At-Tayhān Al-Ashhaly, one of the first six who made ‘bay’a’ to Muhammad and witnessed both First and Second ‘Aqaba?[27] How many Muslims know the names of the twelve ‘Nuqaba’ (Elite Leaders) of Medina whom the Prophet chose as the guides and leaders of their clans prior to Hijra to Medina?[28] After arriving safely among them in Medina, the Prophet chose to ‘Āakhā/ Fraternize’ between each of them and one of the Meccan ‘Muhājireen’. Allah referred to them in the following verse “And [also for] those who were settled in Al-Medina and [adopted] the faith before them. They love those who emigrated to them and find not any want in their breasts of what the emigrants were given but give [them] preference over themselves, even though they are in privation. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful.” (Al-Hashr 59:9)

There are several more Hadiths in praise of the Ansār than there are in favour of the Muhājireen. This would make sense because, while most of Quraysh was persecuting the Prophet and his followers, the Ansār in general chose Islam willingly; inviting Muslims to Medina and giving them shelter and protection at great sacrifice. There was less room for hypocrisy among the Ansār than among the Meccans, some of whom chose Islam once they realized its potential of victory.[29]

The decision by Quraysh to monopolize the rule of Muslims did injustice to non-Qurayshi and denied them their right to equality. The question that has never been addressed in Islamic history remains valid today: why were the Ansārs prevented from Caliphate or any higher position of authority in the Muslim State? Who decided that and by what justification? Why else would Khālid Ibn Al-Walid, who killed the Muslims in the battle of Uhud, assume first line leadership ahead of any knight from the Ansār, were it not for the fact that he represented the powerful Makhzoom clan of Quraysh who had the political backing of Umayya, Zuhra, Taim and ‘Uday?[30]

This political discrimination crept even into prayer. Most Muslims hear the Friday prayer’s sermon being concluded for a praise of the so-called ‘Promised Ten’.[31] These are the ten men who we are told were at different times promised Paradise by the Prophet. I am not contesting the authenticity or otherwise of the reporting, but I believe that it is proper to ask why the ‘Promised Ten’ are all from Quraysh? Is it conceivable that the Prophet never promised a single Ansāri to enter Paradise and thus be entitled to be mentioned among those promised ones during the sermon? Why is ‘Ammār Ibn Yāsir not among the ten considering that he was, together with his parents, the first to be publicly promised Paradise by the Prophet? In fact ‘Ammār Ibn Yāsir became a Muslim before eight of the Ten mentioned in the sermon.[32] Should this fact not be enough to have his name leading the list of those promised Paradise? Is it not at the root of the faith that Allah has ordained that those who responded to the call of Islam earlier (forerunners) assume a higher position in His saying: “And the first forerunners among the Muhājireen and the Ansār and those who followed them with good conduct – Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the great attainment.” (At-Tawba 9:100)?

‘Ammār is an example of the ‘Sabiq/Forerunner’ from Muhājireen. The ‘Sabiq /Forerunner’ from among Ansār are those who swore allegiance ‘bay’a’ at ‘Aqaba and were ahead in belief long before any Qurayshi who converted after them, irrespective of how high a position he held in Quraysh. If an objector objects to this assertion, then he should come up with evidence from the Qur’an and not revert to a statement from one of the latter ‘fuqahā’ about how revered this companion or that had been. Or indeed to rely on some fabricated Hadith like the one: “Those who were best among them before the advent of Islam would continue to be the best among them after Islam”[33]. Such Hadith, and others in the same vein, were invented in order to lift the status in Islam of some of the evil men in Quraysh, who opposed Islam, killed Muslims and caused great hardship and harm to early Muslims, simply because they later adopted Islam. If such Hadith has any credence, then Allah would not have chosen Muhammad from a small clan in Mecca to deliver his message, but would have rather chosen one of the respected elders in Quraysh to deliver his message, as he mocked them in his book saying: “And they said, “Why was this Qur’an not sent down upon a great man from [one of] the two cities?””(Az-Zukhruf 43:31) Indeed if the Hadith is true then Allah would appear to be unfair and partisan!

The conference in the ‘Shed of Banu Sa’ida’ furthermore set in motion a sequence of events that led to creating serious precedents in Islam. In the decades and centuries that followed that conference, one of the so-called theological differences between Sunni and Shi’a, which I still define as political, has been that the Sunni fuqahā considered the Shi’a to be at fault in insisting that the Caliphate was a Divine Order to rest in the descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fātima. The Sunni fuqahā have argued that the Imām of the Umma and subsequently the Caliph should be left to the Umma to choose freely through consultation and proper ‘bay’a’. I doubt if many would challenge such a doctrine if it were really ever implemented in Islam. But the truth of the matter is that it never took place.

‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattāb, the second Caliph after the Prophet, is reported to have described the ‘bay’a’ of Abu Bakr as ‘a slip’.[34] I doubt that ‘Umar meant that Abu Bakr was not eligible for the position of Caliph. But he was referring to the seriousness of the way it took place. The ‘bay’a’ of Abu Bakr was undoubtedly a political decision! Abu Bakr on his deathbed nominated ‘Umar as his successor. This was the beginning of nominations that were to follow and then superseded by inheritance. But most Sunni fuqahā insist that the Prophet did not appoint a successor, although Shi’a fuqahā dispute that and insist the Prophet indeed nominated his cousin and son-in-law, ‘Ali, to be his successor. The Sunni fuqahā’s argument has always been that the Prophet need not nominate a successor because all the Companions were around and the Qur’an was their guide to enlighten them on what to do. However, they seem unable to explain why Abu Bakr felt the need to appoint a successor or indeed whether he was wise in having done so. Was Abu Bakr more concerned for the protection of Islam than his Noble Master? Or was the decision of Abu Bakr no more than a political one to prevent the Caliphate from reaching an Hāshemite?

‘Umar, for his part, appointed a committee of six from among whom the next Caliph was to be chosen. This decision had nothing to do with consultation or proper public ‘bay’a’.[35] All the members of the committee were from Quraysh. Not one member of the committee was from the Ansār, however early and pious a Muslim he was, even though they constituted half the Muslim Umma. Not one member of the committee was a non-Qurayshi Muhājir – people like Al-Miqdād Ibn Al-‘Aswad, Abu Dharr Al-Ghifāri, and ‘Ammār Ibn Yāsir, all of whom were early Muslims who adopted Islam before some members of the committee of six converted to Islam and certainly before ‘Umar himself became a Muslim.[36] How could that committee be described as anything but political in order to keep the Caliphate in Quraysh and possibly out of reach of an Hāshemite?

‘Umar’s committee did not stop at being truly non-consultative and formed of six from Quraysh, and constituted such that it would certainly have to lead to a non-Hāshemite Qurayshi, but had a few more twists to it. ‘Umar ordered that if the committee did not agree within three days, then members of it who objected should be beheaded. If the committee ended up divided in two halves, then his son ‘Abdullāh Ibn ‘Umar should make the judgment but if that failed, then the side of ‘Abdur-Rahmān Ibn ‘Auf should prevail and the other be killed if they refused.[37] A new precedent in Islam was set by ‘Umar – that of legitimizing the killing of a Muslim simply because he refused to agree with the others on the outcome of a consultation to select a Caliph, a measure which has no foundation in Islam. ‘Umar knew that ‘Ali and ‘Abdur-Rahmān Ibn ‘Auf would not be on the same side, and because of the family connections among the six, it was almost guaranteed that ‘Ali was not intended to be selected. This reality did not escape the sharp observation of ‘Ali when he later referred to the committee of six and its expected outcome.[38] It is reported that ‘Abdur-Rahmān Ibn ‘Auf offered ‘Ali the ‘bay’a’ provided that the latter swore to adhere to the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the path of the two predecessors (Abu Bakr and ‘Umar). However, when ‘Ali agreed to follow the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and his own ‘Ijtihād’ (independent reasoning), Ibn ‘Auf offered the same to ‘Uthmān Ibn ʻAffān who readily accepted the ‘bay’a’. Needless to say, no public consultation took place and none of the Ansār or non-Qurayshi Muslims were consulted.

The Caliphate had thus moved from Abu Bakr (Taim), to ‘Umar (‘Uday) to ‘Uthmān (Umayya). A reader of history ought to pause here and reflect on why ‘Ali was eliminated? Why did Ibn ‘Auf insist on the next Caliph being chosen only if he committed himself to the path of his predecessors and rejected the right of independent reasoning? Did this incident establish the latter policy of the Sunni fuqahā that the gate of ‘ijtihād’ had long been closed leading to the dark ages into which Islam had slipped, denying the freedom of thinking and interpretation?

I believe that it is time that the selection and Caliphate of ‘Uthmān be looked at from within Qur’anic text. The question to be asked is: Irrespective of the process of his selection, was ‘Uthmān entitled to become a Caliph?

I shall not discuss any historical merits of the man or what he was supposed to have sacrificed in the cause of Islam as related in books of history, as it concerns me the least. I am interested in Qur’anic dicta on which Muslims seem nominally to agree. There are a few verses in the Qur’an which, when read together, seem to suggest that ‘Uthmān should have never become a Caliph.

In the eighth chapter, Allah orders the faithful not to turn away from battle when facing their enemies saying:

“O you who have believed, when you meet those who disbelieve advancing [for battle], do not turn to them your backs [in flight]. And whoever turns his back to them on such a day, unless swerving [as a strategy] for war or joining [another] company, has certainly returned with anger [upon him] from Allah, and his refuge is Hell – and wretched is the destination.” (Al-Anfaal 8:15-16)

Moreover, in the ninth chapter Allah puts the Muslims on notice regarding what happened in the battle of Hunain saying:

“Allah has already given you victory in many regions and [even] on the day of Hunain, when your great number pleased you, but it did not avail you at all, and the earth was confining for you with its vastness; then you turned back, fleeing. Then Allah sent down His tranquillity upon His Messenger and upon the believers and sent down soldiers angels whom you did not see and punished those who disbelieved. And that is the recompense of the disbelievers.” (At-Tawba 9:25-26)

There could be no dispute regarding Allah’s curse on those who fled in the battle of Hunain by virtue of his eternal determination cited in verse (Al-Anfaal 8:16) that whoever turned his back away in battle shall incur his wrath. But almost all books of history and Sirat refer to ‘Uthmān as one of those who fled in the battles of Uhud and Hunain[39]. How then a man who incurred Allah’s wrath could be selected the ‘Prince of the Faithful’, and Allah’s Caliph on Earth? The question that arises here is: Had ‘Uthmān not been made a Caliph, would Islam’s history have been different?

When ‘Uthmān was finally killed by Muslims who allegedly travelled all the way from Egypt to Medina in protest at his policies including having let his clan of Umayya rampage throughout the Muslim land, the Caliphate landed with ‘Ali by default as there was no other Qurayshi contender to it and the Muslim Umma was in turmoil. Again there was no proper ‘bay’a’ as suggested by some.

So when was the ‘bay’a’ achieved through consultation as Muslim fuqahā keep telling us?[40] Was it achieved in the ‘bay’a of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmān or ‘Ali? Or was it achieved during the dynasty of Banu Umayya, which established the inheritance rule that had existed from the first century Hijri until the end of the Ottomans? Why have the Shi’a been blamed for short-sightedness for having believed that the Imām had to be a descendant of Fātima and ‘Ali when the Sunnis have had no problem in having the Caliph being a descendant of Umayya or Abbās? There is no dispute between Shi’a and Sunni fuqahā based on ideological or theological principles as they claim. The conflict is a political one between different clans in Quraysh that existed before Islam; carried on to Islam and continues to be powerful and active today. The struggle has been between the ‘House of ‘Ali’ and the ‘House of ‘Aisha’,[41] which is commonly known as Shi’a and Sunni. I know that such a statement will draw rejection from many. But I believe that it is time we cast an eye over our history. This is what I am trying to do. The fundamentalists of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ and other armed groups today are in fact only fighting along these lines calling for the elimination of those whom they claim belong to the ‘House of ‘Ali’ as I define it.



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