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Summary of 9.5 "Early Application II"

We reviewed the various methods used to select the rulers after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  In the last program we dealt specifically with the choice of the third and fourth Caliphs, Othman and Ali.  We indicated that in all cases the principle of free choice is there even though the specific mechanism may vary depending on the needs of the specific time.  In each case there was Bia’a which is the oath of allegiance and loyalty which is more than a referendum.  There is also commitment to obey the leader and to advise him to follow the path of Islamic Law.  We ended this section by discussing how this concept can be applied in modern terms.  We said that there all kinds of possibilities which may include nomination, consultation with nomination, public election (one person one vote), or people elect an assembly who then chooses one person to be the ruler.  Which ever case works so long as the free choice of the people is ascertained.  We indicated that the methods discusses are based on the views held by the overwhelming majority of Muslims (90%).  There are also a minority of Muslims known as the Shia who have a different view from that of the majority of Muslims.  They believe that the Prophet did appoint his cousin Ali to succeed him and Ali was supposed to appoint his successor and so on; thus every person appoints their successor rather than letting it be a matter of free choice.


9.6 Imamite Concept I

Host:  What is the logic behind the rational of those who suggest that the successor should be appointed as apposed to the majority who believe that the leader should be chosen?

Jamal Badawi:

I will make reference to Tabataba’i a well known Shia writer.  There are a number of points that he raises.  First of all, he says that in order to have leadership of the Muslim community it should combine first the ability to rule (administrative skills), knowledge of Islam and Islamic jurisprudence and involves spiritual leadership.  He said that a leader must combine all of these qualities in order to be effective and as such he should be someone who is very special and who is specifically chosen by God and the Messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  The second argument is that any leader should worry about the destiny of his people, especially after his death and as such it is only logical that he should appoint a successor to himself.  It is normal that when a person is traveling, needs help somewhere else usually appoints someone to run the affairs and keep things intact and in an orderly fashion.  They said that the Prophet did that when Islam expanded and other places came under the rule of Islam he appointed people to supervise the establishment of justice and running of people’s affairs.  They say that if this is what the Prophet did during his lifetime then it is only logical that he would appoint someone at the time of his death.  Third, they say that Prophetic Tradition covers so many details in various aspects of worship and if there are so many details about these small issues, how could it be that the Prophet would not say something about the succession which is even more important.


Host:  What is your response to this argumentation?

Jamal Badawi:

First of all, the Sunni view (majority of Muslim’s view) is that a leader should combine all of the qualities we listed above.  This however different from saying that one particular person should be perfect in all of them because human beings are human beings.  So people should try to chose the person who can best provide good overall leadership in all of these.  Leadership doesn’t mean that everything is one person’s hands because there is always the danger that this may become dictatorial.  Leadership means that there is a person who is capable of providing the overall leadership but this doesn’t preclude assistance and help of people who have better qualities in areas that are better than the leader.  This person could be appointed to look after certain things.  People with highly specialized knowledge of Islamic Jurisprudence can also be appointed or consulted in certain issues pertaining to that.  I am not saying that a leader should be from the worst but rather from the best but again assistance form others is needed.  It is almost like collective leadership if we take leadership from a broader sense.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) indicated that each person is in a sense a leader and has his contribution to make to the overall Muslim community.  As far as the argument that Prophet Muhammad appointed deputies during his lifetime this is only logical because no one person can do all the work.  This doesn’t mean that by extension of the same logic he should succeed someone to exceed him after his death.  It is different when one appoints people in their lifetime and under their supervision it is different than appointing a ruler after one’s death.  The question of mentioning certain details in Prophetic Tradition and leaving out who should rule the people are not analogous.  In the Prophetic Tradition we find details pertaining to the issue of worship but the this matter is an issue which Umur Towqeefia which are done exactly as God and His messenger explained to us.  The pure acts of devotional worship are matters which are done out of a person’s conviction in obedience to God which is an expression of the manifestation of the love of God and following the way God has determined.  The question of choosing a ruler is a judgmental matter, which is important but doesn’t require a text indicating the details of who should be the rulers.  There are guidelines and a basic criteria as to who should be chosen and who the people should chose in order to have a good system of government.  Afterall this is a matter of judgement that need not be specified because it varies from time to time, place to place and from person to person so long as the guidelines are adhered to.


Host:  Is it true that if a ruler appoints the next ruler this means that the people may not make the right decision?

Jamal Badawi:

For a leader to be appointed, which is not desirable, if looked at from the logical standpoint does not solve the problem because people are either committed to Islam or not.  If the people were committed to Islam and tried to follow the true path then they will try their best that the person they choose is one of the best.  If people are not committed to Islam and do not follow it’s rules it would not solve their problem to say that X must be their ruler.  In the end to have order and cohesion  a ruler must be excepted. Still it comes down to the people’s decision to accept a particular ruler to run their affairs.  So from a practical standpoint it doesn’t help much for the ruler to be specified.


Host:  Is there any support in the Quran for the succession of Ali?

Jamal Badawi:

In the Shia view yes but not in the Sunni view.  According to the great overwhelming majority of Muslims there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever in the Quran which says that Ali is supposed to be the ruler after the Prophet.  In fact, there is evidence to the contrary which we touched on before and some we can discuss when we deal with the concept of Shura, mutual consultation as provided for in the Quran.

Again to present the other side of the argument from the minorities opinion we find some of the Shia writers, like Tabataba’i, refer to an Aya in the Quran which doesn’t say it but is interpreted to mean that Ali should be the successor.  This verse appear in (5:55) “Your (real) friends are (no less than) Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers,- those who establish regular prayers and regular charity, and they bow down humbly (in worship).”  Some Shia writers present the argument that this verse was revealed in reference to Ali.  They say that one time a poor person entered into the Mosque of the Prophet and Ali was praying and no body was able to help the poor person and during his prayer Ali who was bowing in rooko’ extended his hand to the poor person so that the poor person could take his ring as charity.  They say that the term wali used in the verse which they interpret to mean guardian or successor to the Prophet.  In a way they say it refers to Ali being the successor to the Prophet.  But this stretches the verse a little too far in terms of interpretation.


Host:  Can you explain this a little more?

Jamal Badawi:

There are aspects of that interpretation which are questionable from the linguistic standpoint from the historical standpoint and from the context of the verse in general.  First of all, linguistically the term wali or awlia appear in the Quran in different places to mean friend, helper and supporter.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the successor to the Prophet (PBUH).  It has various shades of meaning which carry all of these meanings together.  Many times the Quran uses the term wali in the plural which is awlia.  The historical aspect of it is quite questionable.  For example, one of the great Muslim writers, Ibn Kathir, in his commentary on the Quran said that when the authenticity of that particular story was examined it was found to have many weaknesses.  Some of the narrators who said that they heard the story from a specific person who was proven to have never actually seen this take place.  Not to go into to much discussion of this but there is a good discussion of this in volume two of Ibn Kathir on page 71 where there is indication that the authenticity of that particular story is quite questionable.  In fact he says that some historians say that this verse was revealed with respect to another companion of the Prophet, Obada Ibn Samid who decided to break his allegiance with others and take the allegiance and support of the Muslims.

As I mentioned earlier there are logical questions about that particular interpretation.  It has been the custom of devoted Muslims like Ali that when they stand in prayer they are in so much concentration and devotion to God, one is not supposed to move and is supposed to focus their entire attention to what they are reciting, which is even much more so in the cases of highly devoted people like Ali.  It is narrated that some people had operations (surgery) while praying and did not feel anything because of their full devotion to God.  To say that Ali was listening and moved in his prayer and pointed at the poor man in order for him to take his ring seems unlikely and not the usual mannerisms of prayer that a Muslim follows.  More importantly is the context of this verse.  One can not take a verse in isolation and try to build a theory on it.  The verses immediately before and after it shows that the whole context of the verse is to advise Muslims not to seek alliance and support of those who do not believe in God or those who rejected the message of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  With this overall context of having friendship and support form among the believers there is no room to say that this verse in the middle of all the other verse specifically speaks of one person to be the successor of the Prophet (PBUH).


Host:  Is there any evidence in the Sunna for naming of Ali?

Jamal Badawi:

Again from the Sunni standpoint there is no inclusive evidence in the Prophetic sayings that say that Ali should be the first Caliph after him and that he was appointed and not to be chosen.  There are important things that must be looked at when we deal with Sunna.  With the Quran where one is Sunni or Shia they admit that this verse is in the Quran it may be just a matter of understanding the meaning and its context.  In the case of Prophetic Tradition there are four points that one has to keep in mind.  First, there are certain traditions attributed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by Shia writers which from the Sunni standpoints are not accepted and question its authenticity.  Some Muslim writers even wonder whether it was attributed to the Prophet in support of a specific political or idealogical view.  I am sure there are equivalent feelings on the part of the Shia where they do not accept all Prophetic Traditions which Sunni Muslims believe to be authentic.  This is a matter that goes back to the sciences of Hadith and how Prophetic Traditions were narrated and preserved.  There have been tremendous efforts on the part of the main stream, Sunni, of Islam to verify the sayings of the Prophet.


Second, even when the sayings of the Prophet have been accepted in both Sunni and Shia references we find that the wording might not be exactly the same and the differences are not minor but in some cases there are major differences in the Shia sources which gives the saying an entirely different meaning from that which the majority of Muslims accept.  Third, is that even we assume that the same saying is accepted by all Muslims we find that the interpretation and the meaning attached to the sayings are not always the same.  Finally, to understand those sayings one has to put it in the proper context and the context of other sayings of the Prophet and the overall teaching of the Quran and Sunna while keeping in mind the psychology of the Prophet and his companions.  These are all relevant aspects that must be considered before one interprets the meaning of a specific saying.


Host:  Can you elaborate on this?


Jamal Badawi:

For example of the Prophet telling Ali, his cousin, “Don’t except to be to me what Aron was to Mosses” and we know that Aron was the contemporary of Moses.  There is a reference where the Prophet makes a prayer “Oh Allah support those who support Ali and be the enemy of those who are enemies of Ali.  If we go back to the text of these sayings in authentic sources of Hadith we find for example that in one occasion Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was preparing for a battle in Tabouk and before he left he left Ali in charge of the people in Medina.  Ali was a little disappointed because he wanted to join other companions of the Prophet in the battlefield so he asked the Prophet “Are you leaving me behind just to look after the women and children?”  He felt this was not so good, so the Prophet said “Wouldn’t you like to be to me like Aron was to Moses?”  This is an interesting remark because Moses appointed Aron to be in charge of the Israelites when he went to Mount Sinai as a temporary caretaker till he came back.  It is obvious that we can not stretch this Prophetic saying to mean that as I appointed you during my temporary absence in Tabouk that you must be appointed as the ruler after my death.  It is just a duty and responsibility that someone had to carry and Ali was the right person to cary that responsibility, and it could have been other persons as well.  Some Shia writers make the analogy that Moses and Aron means the succession.  It is useful to point out that it is believed that Aron died during the life of Moses.  This has nothing to do with the analogy of succession at all.  As far as the Prophet’s prayer for God to support those who support Ali, Sunni Muslims would say Amen to this.  Among the Sunni traditions everybody loves and respects Ali.  Even in the early days when people had a difference of opinion with Ali they still loved him and respected him as one of the great companions of the Prophet.  These are elements which show that if there had been praise for Ali that there was also praise for other companions of the Prophet as well.  The context in which this was mentioned doesn’t mean that it is a specific requirement for Ali to be chosen as the ruler.  The Prophet has been quoted to recommend that people be kind and considerate to his household which includes his wives, Ali and his descendants.  Ali was his cousin who was married to his daughter Fatimah.  Again it is quite natural and doesn’t mean that one must have all their rulers for all time to come from this particular lineage.


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