Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

A Muslim Scholar’s Incriminating Statements on Islam Pt. 3

The Shiites Are Right!

Sam Shamoun

We have now come to the third part in our series.

Any of the readers that have taken the time to study the Islamic religion and its various branches should be familiar with the Shiite (Shi’a – “party,” i.e. the party or followers of Ali) sect of Islam, and some of the beliefs which distinguish it from the Sunni faith. One of the key essential differences between these two major branches is that the Shiites believe that Ali ibn Abu Thalib, Muhammad’s first cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful heir and successor to Muhammad who was supposed to become the ruler of the Muslim community when the latter died. However, due to hatred and jealousy, Ali was basically robbed of his right to succeed Muhammad as leader of the Muslims, since Abu Bakr was appointed to rule instead.  

Shiites will certainly be happy to discover that a Muslim convert and associate professor of Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian understanding at Georgetown University virtually agrees with the view that Ali was in fact Muhammad’s heir and successor, or at least acknowledges the fact that the Islamic sources testify that this is what Ali himself personally believed. 

For instance, Brown admits that Muhammad basically appointed Ali to be the master or leader of the Muslim community:

“Returning to Medina after the Hajj, Muhammad stopped his caravan at a small pool called Ghadir Khumm. Therefore, before all his retinue, he took Ali’s hand and announced, ‘Whoever’s master I am, Ali his master.' Not long after his return to Medina, Muhammad ordered a military expedition to be prepared against the Byzantines.” (Brown, pp. 60-61)

Now this tradition causes a bit of a problem for Sunni Muslims since there is no way around the fact that Muhammad’s statements imply that Ali was to assume the role that Muhammad had over his followers, with the exception being that Ali wouldn’t be functioning as a prophet since the Quran makes it clear that prophethood ended with Muhammad (cf. Q. 33:40). Since Muhammad was master in the sense of being the leader of Muslims, this means that Ali was basically being touted as Muhammad’s successor and subsequent leader, a point brought out more clearly by the following traditions:

1463. It was narrated from ‘A’ishah bint Sa’d, from her father, that ‘Ali went out with the Prophet to Thaniyyat al-Wada’, and ‘Ali was weeping and saying: Are you leaving me behind with those who stay behind (i.e., the woman, who do not go out on campaign)? [The Prophet] said: “Does it not please you to be to me as Haroon was to Moosa, except with regard to Prophethood?”

Comments: [Its isnad is saheeh, al-Bukhari (3706) and Muslim (2404)] (The English Translation of Musnad Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal: Hadith No. 1381 to 2822, Abu Abdullah Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hanbal Ash-Shaibani, translated by Nasiruddin Al-Khattab, edited by Huda Al-Khattab [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2012], Volume 2, Musnad Abu Ishaq Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas, p. 45)

1505. It was narrated that Sa’d bin Ibraheem said: I heard Ibraheem bin Sa’d narrate, from Sa’d, that the Prophet said to ‘Ali: “Does it not please you to be to me as Haroon was to Moosa?”

Comments: [Its isnad is saheeh, al-Bukhari (3706) and Muslim (2404)] (Ibid., p. 61)

1509. It was narrated that ‘Ali bin Zaid: I heard Sa’eed bin al-Musayyab say: I said to Sa’d bin Malik: You are a hot-tempered man, but I want to ask you something. He said: What is it? I said: The hadeeth of ‘Ali. He said: The Prophet said to ‘Ali: “Does it not please you to be to me as Haroon was to Moosa?” He said: I am pleased, I am pleased. Then he said: Indeed, indeed.   

Comments: [A saheeh hadith] (Ibid., pp. 62-63)

Muhammad’s comparison indicates that he truly believed that, just as God had sent Aaron to be leader over Israel alongside Moses, so too did Allah appoint Ali to lead and rule over the Muslim community along with his father-in-law.     

This may explain what Brown says next:

“In the century after Muhammad’s death, the Muslim community would pass through three civil wars to answer the questions of Muhammad’s political succession. The party that developed into Shiite Islam believed that the Muslim community should be led by the family of the Prophet, in particular his descendants through Fatima and Ali, the Companion whom they believed was the best and most knowledgeable. Another group, known as the Kharijites, contended that it was only the most pious Muslim, regardless of his descent, who could legitimately lead. The movement that became Sunni Islam offered the most pragmatic answer: whichever leader the Muslim community as a whole accepted was legitimate. In effect, this legitimated the status quo; whoever could establish political control over the Muslims was the de facto legitimate ruler of the Muslim community.

“In 656, Uthman, the third caliph to rule the Muslim community after Abu Bakr and Umar, was murdered in Medina by discontented rebels. Although the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali believed that he himself should have succeeded the Prophet, instead of Abu Bakr, he had contented himself with a background rule in Muslim political life. With Uthman’s death, however, Ali’s supporters (known as the Shi’a, hence ‘Shiites’), proclaimed him caliph. Mu’awiya, the son of Abu Sufyan and like Uthman a member of the Banu Umayya, protested the murder as well as Ali’s assumption of power. Then the governor of Syria, Mu’awiyya went to war with Ali in what became the First Civil War of Islam. Mu’awiyya’s victory in 660 marked the beginning of the Umayyad dynasty, which ruled until 750 CE.” (Ibid., pp. 81-82; bold and italic emphasis ours)

Brown’s claim that Ali thought that he should have been the one to have succeeded his deceased father-in-law and first-cousin, but chose to accept his fate basically for the purpose of maintaining unity within the Muslim umma, means that the Shiites are right. At the very least, it shows that Brown agrees with the Shiites over the issue of Ali being the rightful heir and successor to Muhammad; otherwise why even make such a statement in a book that is meant to be a short introduction to the life of Muhammad and the formation of the Muslim community?

The Shiites therefore have a friend in the person of Professor Brown and should thank him for speaking out in their defense (albeit indirectly). In fact, they should encourage their own community to read his short introduction to Muhammad’s life, and distribute it to their Sunni brethren in order to show them that even one of their own reputable scholars supports their view concerning Ali’s position as the only rightful successor and leader of the Muslims. 

Lord Jesus willing, we will have more articles in this series coming out some time in the near future.


Further Reading

Here are some websites which the present Shiite view of Islam:

Shia Pen

A Shi’ite Encyclopedia