“O Messenger, deliver [to the people] what has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not do so, then you will not have delivered His message; and Allah will protect you from the people.” (5:67)
Upon the Prophet’s death, a successor was needed to lead the Muslim community (ummah) and state. Prophet Muhammad was the “seal of the prophets” (khatim al-anbiya) and, therefore, could not be succeeded by another prophet (nabi). The majority of the community selected Abu Bakr (r. 632-4) as the successor to the Messenger of Allah (khalifat rasul Allah), whence the word ‘caliph’ in western languages.
A small group in Medina held that the Prophet had designated his cousin and son-in-law Ali as his successor. According to sources, in March 632, when returning from his final pilgrimage to Mecca, the Prophet stopped at Ghadir Khumm (literally ‘pond of Khumm’ in Arabic, the marsh located in an area between Mecca and Medina), gathered the pilgrims, took Ali’s hand and said: “Man kuntu mawlahu fa Aliyyin mawlahu” (“He whose Mawla I am, Ali is his Mawla“).
This minority group came to be known as shi’at Ali, “party of Ali,” or simply Shi’a. This event, which falls on 18th of Dhu’l Hijja in the Muslim lunar calendar, is commemorated by Shi‘a Muslims as Eid al-Ghadir.
The Shi’a believed that ‘the Islamic message contained inner truths that could not be understood through human reason and therefore, the successor was also responsible to explain the message of Islam. A person with such qualifications, according to the Shi’a, could belong only to the Prophet’s family (ahl al-bayt), ‘whose members alone could provide the legitimate channel for explaining and interpreting the teachings of Islam.’ (Daftary)
‘The Shi’a emphasised the importance of the Imam’s kinship to the Prophet as prerequisites for possessing the required religious knowledge (‘ilm) and authority…the Shi’a also held that after Ali the leadership of the Muslim community was the exclusive prerogative of Alid, descendants of Ali belonging to the ahl al-bayt.’ (Daftary)
Accounts of event at Ghadir Khumm
Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s account (d. 855)
An eminent scholar from the early Sunni interpretation and founder of the Hanbali school of law, Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. ca. 855), who lived in Baghdad, has the following account in his Musnad (ca. 800) of what the Prophet’s Companions witnessed at Ghadir Khumm:
“We were with the Messenger of Allah in his journey and we stopped at Ghadir Khumm. We performed the obligatory prayer and a place was swept for the Messenger under two trees and he performed the midday 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: “He whose Mawla I am, Ali is his Mawla (“Man kuntu mawlahu fa Aliyyin mawlahu”). O Allah! Support whoever supports him [Ali] and oppose whoever opposes him.” And Umar met him [Ali] after this and said to him: “Congratulations, O son of Abu Talib! Now morning and evening you are the Mawla of every believing man and woman.”‘
The Messenger of Allah said: ‘I have left among you two weighty matters; if you cling to them, you shall not be led into error after me… The Book of Allah…and my progeny, the People of my House. These two shall not be parted until they return to the Pool [of Kawthat in Paradise].”
Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 875)
A Persian scholar who compiled Sahih Muslim (ca. 800), one of the major collections of hadiths of Sunni Islam, broadly recognised as authentic, left the following account:
“The Messenger of Allah said: “I am leaving among you two weighty matters: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it…The second are the members of my household. I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family.”
Qadi al-Nu’man (d.974), the foremost Fatimid jurist
Al-Qadi Al-Nu’man “codified Ismaili law by systematically collecting the firmly established legal hadiths transmitted from the ahl al-bayt.”1 He subsequently compiled the Da’a’im al-Islam (The Pillars of Islam) under close supervision of Imam al-Mu’izz who endorsed it as the official code of the Fatimid state. In the Da’a’m, al-Nu’man states:
Prophet Muhammad said: ‘I am leaving among you two matters of great weight (al-thaqalayn), the Book of Allah and my kindred (itrati), the People of my House (Ahl al-Bayt), and these two shall never be separated until they return to me at the Pool [of Kawthar in Paradise on the Day of Judgement]…”
“The stars are a pledge to the world that it will not be drowned, and my family are a pledge to the community that it will not go astray.”2
1Farhad Daftary, A Short History of the Ismailis, Edinburgh University Press
2James W. Allan, “Islamic Art and Doctrinal Pluralism,” Diversity and Pluralism in Islam Edited by Zulfikar Hirji, I.B. Taurus Publishers, 2010
Professor Azim Nanji, The Imamate in Ismailism, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Farhad Daftary, A Short History of the Ismailis, Edinburgh University Press, 1998
Compiled by Nimira Dewji