Ali was not a Shi’a nor was Umer a Sunni
**This is a re-posting of the six parts series of this topic in its entirety due to its importance”
My attempt here is not to discredit any side, Sunni or Shi’a rather I am trying to shed some light upon the historical origins of differences between Sunnis and Shi’as. It would only be fair to look at an important fact that is to have closer look at the relationship between the main characters of this dispute which I think both parties recognize. Certainly there are a lot of materials written about this dispute. Unfortunately it has exhausted a great amount of mental energies on both sides and in many cases has caused thousands of lives throughout history.
Shi’a and Sunni dispute is not spiritually fundamental rather it is culturally fundamental. Both parties share the same fundamental principles of Islam which make them fundamentally spiritually united. Their disagreement is mainly over their visions of leading the Muslim affairs. One vision is very much influenced by their cultural values and adherence to certain leaders based on tribalism. This vision has played a major role in the nomination process of the first Caliphate Abu Bakr, which had forced Imam Ali to submit to the harsh reality of Muslim’s choice, of their leader, instead of opposing such cultural movement.
Majority of Muslims were still tribal people on the outset and were infant in their understanding of Islam. Whereas the second vision that is the vision of Ali, is the vision of the ideal principles which is the true representation of the prophetic vision. I believe all major Muslim leaders, Ali, Umar, Abu Bakr and others have recognized this crucial factor and its danger to the future of Islam. All parties have acted responsibly with the issue of leadership. Ali has decided to postpone his vision for a later time when conditions are suitable to be implemented. I am not suggesting here that the vision of the companions, Abu Bakr, Umar, and others is a deviated from the true path of Islam rather I believe it represents the vision of the majority of Muslims and it was somehow imposed upon them. So the companions had to accommodate for this vision to lead the Muslim affairs and to preserve the integrity of Islam, for Islam were faced with serious challenge immediately upon the death of the prophet; most Arab tribes have reverted to polytheism. Hence, Ali had realized the situation which made him come to terms with the issue of leadership. So Ali has decided to rise above these circumstances and joined the companions in leading the Muslims.
These leaders have adopted different visions, but they have never tried to depart away from each other despite their differences. They have remained under the same roof of unity for the greater purpose of Islam. Those two visions were in co-operation to serve the Muslim interests. Unlike today Sunni and Shi’a; their visions are not for the general Muslim interests rather it is geared towards ripping the Muslim unity apart.
It is clear from many statements made by Imam Ali in Nahjul balagha that he was indeed the rightful successor of the Prophet Muhammad, but he made great efforts to make this matter belong to him alone and he handled it at the time according to his role as a maintainer of Islam. Shi’as seems to have taken the responsibility of restoring Ali’s rights for the leadership without his permission.
Frankly speaking, in light of what is happening today among Muslims, their deep divisions and internal fighting, I do not see any possibility of Muslim unity regarding issues of beliefs, not now and not until the Day of Judgment. But I do believe that it is possible for those factions to unite themselves over the same principle which had united our great early Muslim leaders that is to serve the general Muslim interests. It is fine to have different visions. It is fine to have different approaches to life, if all are to initiate their mission from the same starting point; the same fountain of wisdom “the Quran” and carrying the same light of Muhammad within them. I believe those two principles of mission are the only way out of our Muslim misery and divisions. It had worked in the early stage of Islam on the hand of Ali, Omar, and others despite their differences of leadership; and it should work now, should both sides adopt a similar approach towards life and towards each other.
So I do not expect myself to bring a magical solution to this problem nor would I expect anyone to do so. My intention here is to begin an intellectual debate to discuss the various elements of this dispute and try to identify its relevance to the ultimate goals of Islam.
Early history of Islam shows that these two great personalities of Islam, Ali, and Omar have enjoyed fairly good relationship. Umar and Abu bakr throughout their reign sought advises from Imam Ali in various matters. However there are some recorded accounts, which suggest that relations between Ali and Umar went sour over the issue of Abu Bakr nomination to succeed the prophet. Without going into details of this alleged bitterness between them, if we examine the overall relationship between them and try to look beyond those limited moments of disputes, we shall find lots of evidences to suggest that these leaders were in very good terms and enjoyed a great level of co-operation to look after the Muslim affairs.
Obviously during that time there was no mention of the idea of Sunni or Shi’a, but there was only the mention of Islam. Those great leaders seemed very busy administrating the Muslim affairs. This principle seemed to be the top priority which occupied their minds.
There was no evidence that these leaders have wasted a single moment over the difference of visions both have. Unlike their followers who not only wasted their intellectual energies and lives over this dispute but they did not spare a single moment to look after the welfare of Muslims.
Here I must be realistic, and not play dumb, to pretend that there was no dispute over the two visions. In all fairness, there were indications to such dispute and confusion among Muslims and leaders at this early stage of Islam. Such dispute was very prominent and publicly discussed. But whatever dispute was there it remained within the framework of Islam. Both parties remained under the tent of unity, because their ultimate goal was the welfare of the Muslim people, where as today, the ultimate goal of Shi’a and Sunni is the “welfare” of their schools of thoughts. Both parties make sure to keep injecting new materials and publications of hate against each other or to prove each other ’s falsehood.
This dispute was exploited to cause the disunity among Muslims and the creation of different factions.
This dispute started immediately after the death of the prophet and precisely during Abu Bakr’s nomination. During this time the sentiments of sectarian symptoms made some attempts to present itself among Muslims of Arabia. According to Muslim history when the news of Abu Bakr’s nomination spread in Arabia, the uncle of the prophet Al-Abass bin Abdul-Mutalib and Abu Sufyan Bin Harb, went to Imam Ali and offered their allegiance and military support if he were to revolt against Abu Bakr’s nomination (1).
This proposal of Abu Sufyan, to Ali regarding leadership, represents the first symptoms of the vicious sectarian divisions which Muslims suffer today.
Now let’s pause for a moment, and try to make sense of what is happening here. We must really focus on these crucial moments of history between these rivals; as Sunni and shi’a suggest. We must make sincere efforts to truly analyze the depth and dimensions of these moments which followed the prophet’s death. We should have close look at how these disputing persons dealt with the dilemma of leadership of Muslims after the prophet, which is considered to be the fundamental issue of dispute among Muslims, Sunni, and Shi’a.
Let’s ponder now, on what Ali would do to such enticing offer from this prominent Arab tribesman, Abu-Sufyan. These moments should provide great lessons and wisdom to the followers of Ali and Umar.
One might say that, for Ali this is the golden opportunity to gain power; yes whether he desired such power or not or whether he deserved it or not; we shall see what he did with this offer.
Such offer seemingly would guaranty the outcome to his favor in achieving the leadership, for two reasons; first reason is, considering the prestige, prominence and high position of Abu Sufyan among the Arabs, who will deliver when he promises. And the second reason is Ali’s spiritual status in Arabia and among Muslims and his close relationship to the Prophet.
Seemingly, to Ali this was the golden moment; he must seize it to assume the throne of power. This power, Shi’a has been fighting for.
If I were Ali, I would jump at this precious moment, you would do too, and anyone with common sense would accept such offer.
But nay, Ali’s common sense is uncommon. His common sense is not like my common sense, and your common sense, for he is not a common individual.
His mind operates with his pure sense which emanates from his divine disposition” Fitrata Allah” as he states: “I have been born on “fitra” disposition” (2)
Where this “fitra-disposition” never been corrupted by any impurities of this world;
No idol worshiping ever;
no burying new born females or whatever action which might infect his pure nature.
He is the shadow of the prophet.
His common sense draws its energy from the reservoir of the prophetic knowledge, for he is the gate to the prophet’s knowledge, as our beloved messenger declared him to be.
What did Ali do with this offer of revolt against the dear friend of the prophet, Abu Bakr? The man accompanied our beloved messenger in the cave.
Here is what Ali Did;
He refused this offer; offer to the glory of this world!
Why did he refuse?
What was he afraid of?
Was he afraid of the new ruler; Abu Bakr or did he doubt the viability of such offer.
What was his response to their enticing offer?
What did he say to his people regarding his intention to deal with his rightful claim to leadership?
Did he sit down with Al-’Abass and Abu Sufyan for more discussions of this matter?
Did he make specific arraignments for future plan to deal with this issue?
Did he make attempts to conspire with Abu Sufyan against Abu Bakr.
No, none of the above.
Then what did he say to them and to the Muslims.
What he said to Abu Sufyan and the Muslims would only add more mystery to the paradox.
Would only add mystery to the unknown;
Would only add more glory to the man whom we call Ali;
O God… I could only feel the gravity of these moments that he is experiencing.
Between accepting this offer or choose something else which is not in their offer.
The moments of making a decisive choice between accepting the out come of the new nomination or seek his rights to the leadership.
Between the seat of worldly power or the seat of glory of principles
Between unity or disunity
Between order or chaos
Between falling into the abyss of evil or stay in the shining light of “Mohammad”
What did he choose?
He chose Islam
he chose Muslim unity.
he chose the seat of glory of principles.
He chose an offer which was not offered by anyone; this offer was already with him; the pleasure of Allah.
By now, you are eager to hear and read Ali’s words to the Muslims regarding the issue leadership.
These words have been uttered by Imam Ali long ago.
They have been documented by our historians long ago.
They have been repeated by our speakers long ago.
They have been recited on the pulpit by clergies long ago.
But why is it that we seem not to remember them;
We seem not to know they exist, even though its words have stricken our ear drums for so many times; over and over again.
No matter how many times we hear them it will not make any difference.
It will not mean anything.
Our conscious has become numb;
our ears have become def; our hearts have become blind;
our sense of fairness has been suspended.
Because all of our tools of judgment have been seized by the words of our schools of thoughts;
by the words of our religious scholars;
by the words of hate among each other;
by the words of annihilation of the opponent;
As if we never have heard of these words of Ali.
Now let’s relax and think for a moment.
Try to raise your head above the powerful iron bars of your school of though;
for only one moment or as long the words of Ali would lasts.
Here are the words of Ali;
the words of the gate of knowledge;
the words of the father of Al-Hussain;
the words of the brother of “Mohammad”;
the words of the gentle worrier of Islam;
Here are the words of Amirul-mu’mineen Ali Bin Abi Talib;
Steer clear through the waves of mischief by boats of deliverance, turn away from the path of dissension, and put off the crowns of pride. Prosperous is one who rises with wings (i.e. when he has power) or else he remains peaceful and others enjoy ease. It (i.e. the aspiration for Caliphate) is like turbid water or like a morsel that would suffocate the person who swallows it. One who plucks fruits before ripening is like one who cultivated in another’s field.
If I speak out they would call me greedy towards power but if I keep quiet they would say I was afraid of death. It is a pity that after all the ups and downs (I have been through). By Allah the son of Abu Talib is more familiar with death than an infant with the breast of its mother. I have hidden knowledge, if I disclose it you will start trembling like ropes in deep wells. “ (3)
Surely, if these words are read to the stones, they will shatter them into pieces.
Unfortunately Muslims today, Sunni and Shi’a are steering the “waves of mischief” by “boats” of damnations.
Both are striving to be on “the path of dissension”
Both of them are boasting about their “crowns of pride”
Non of them is willing to be prosperous, by “rising with wings” above the boundaries of their ideologies to seek peace and reconciliation.
This was Ali at time of mischief and divisions.
He gave up his right to the leadership for Islam.
Are we ready to give up our silly disputes for Islam?
1- Nahjul Balagha -Muhammad ‘Abdah-Arabic
2- Nahjul-balagha sermon #5 english version and Khutba page 93 arabic version of Muhamad ‘Abdah
3- Sermon page #159 Muhammad ‘Abdah –Arabic
In this part I will elaborate on sermon#5, which is mentioned in part-II of this essay. This sermon is very important in relationship to Sunni and Shi’a dispute. Its importance stems from the time frame of delivery which was extremely sensitive and charged up with high emotions. And certainly it is fair to say that such reality would present a great challenge to the individual’s character and faith.
When we examine Imam Ali’s approach and prudent way to deal with these crises it becomes evident that these difficult moments truly represent one the most shining moments of Imam Ali as a leader and maintainer of Islam. He was very clear in his vision and resolute to defend the truthfulness of Islam and the well being of Muslims. These moments have truly put his conviction, in Allah and His messenger, on the test for those who doubted his true spiritual station in Islam. Those sensitive times Ali was faced with had made the light of Prophet Mohammad glow through him and made the magnificent reality of the dimensions of Prophet Muhammad manifest itself through Ali’s course of action regarding leadership of Muslims. So Imam Ali had a great responsibility to safeguard Islam from its followers first and second from the enemies of Islam.
“Steer clear through the waves of mischief by boats of deliverance”
-When Imam Ali had assessed the danger of the shaky political situation of Muslims regarding leadership, after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, he quickly warned his people by urging them to be vigilant in dealing with the issue of leadership and not allow themselves to be swept away by the “waves of mischief “; Imam Ali, here, referred to the extent and the seriousness of such situation in describing it in the likeness of “waves” for such waves are powerful enough to rip through the Muslim unity and the future of Islam. And he offered the means to combat these waves of mischief, and the eminent divisions among Muslims, through observing the fundamental principles of Islam; he refer to such principles in the likeness of “boats- Sufun” plural of “Safina-boat”. Here Imam Ali seems to refer to several options of ways or boats to salvation or deliverance. These ways or boats are; fearing Allah, adhering to the teaching of the Quran and the messenger of Allah, and following the house hold of the prophet “Ahlul-bait” all of which he considered to be the boats of deliverance, which will enable Muslims to see clear in the face of these waves of mischief. But we see here that Imam Ali did not single out “Ahlul-Bait” rather he made reference to several boats of deliverance; in the plural form. The reason for this, in my opinion, that the notion of Ahlul-bait was not fully comprehended by the majority of Muslims at that stage of Islam. So he offered many ways of salvation, as he stated it, in plural form as “boats of deliverance” for any one of these boats should be a representation of the other ones; following Ahlul-bait ought to lead to salvation and so as with other boats, for Ahlul-bait have striven to call for unity of Allah and the unity among Muslims.
Sermon#5-“… turn away from the path of dissension..”
Here Imam Ali has identified the dangerous path, should the Muslims get engaged in this dispute; leadership succession, and he called it to be the path of dissension. As an Imam of Muslims who is aware of his position and responsibility, he recognized such path of dispute would have dangerous consequences on the future of Islam and Muslim unity, so he asked the Muslims to turn away from this path.
Such path would lead its followers to various paths, none of which represent the path towards Allah’s pleasure because such paths are not within the shadow of the mercy of Allah.
These kinds of paths are susceptible to man made ideas and thoughts which are not sanctioned by the Lord of this universe, for they are governed and influenced by human vices and desires which seeks its knowledge from the lower realm of existence; the world of vanishing matter; amusement and game.
It is worth mentioning here that in the original Arabic passage of Imam Ali’s sermon#5, the word “dissension” which is rendered here, was “Munafara” which, according to “Lisan Al-‘Arabs” literally means; “repulsion; intellectual contest to score points or desire to claim intellectual victory against the other side”
The choice of such term by Imam Ali is so concise and very much foretells the current situation of Sunni and Shi’as, and it represent the never ending intellectual dispute among them. Clearly engaging in these paths will lead to repulsion and disunity; and sure it did.
As Imam Ali had described it to be “Munafara” we find each side has a great desire to refute each other’s ideas and their continuous attempts to expose each other’s dirty laundry. Imam Ali has warned Muslims from the consequences of this dispute right from the beginning of these events. Such desire of dispute will feed on the various elements of the human lower realm of existence; seeking power, prestige which ultimately will encourage such people to resort to more lethal methods in achieving their proclaimed rights. Consequently it will cause sectarian violence of which we are already in the midst.
So Imam Ali is commanding Muslims to turn away from such path of arguments and scoring points against the other. But unfortunately, we see Imam Ali’s followers are doing just the opposite.
Sermon#5 “…and put off the crowns of pride..”
This statement is truly extraordinary to be said many years ago which is a true representation of the situation of Muslims today. Both parties are so proud of their opinions in regard to leadership issue and no one is willing to compromise for reconciliation for the sake of Islam.
In many cases they become too stubborn and very opinionated even though there is no legitimacy in their argument and they continue to disagree, just for the sake of disagreement. Many times I have seen one party is willing to reject the other side’s argument just because it is sanctioned by the opposite side, even though such argument is in accordance to Islamic teaching.
This kind of behavior is due to the pride of both sides. And this kind of pride is very much rebuked by Allah (SW) in His Holy Book:
2:206 And whenever he is told, “Be conscious of God,” his false pride drives him into sin: wherefore hell will be his allotted portion-and how vile a resting-place!
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُ اتَّقِ اللّهَ أَخَذَتْهُ الْعِزَّةُ بِالإِثْمِ فَحَسْبُهُ جَهَنَّمُ وَلَبِئْسَ الْمِهَادُ (2:206
This false pride is very cruel disease of the heart and it would quickly progress into an indispensable characteristic of the individual, consequently it will project itself, to the ill hearted, as a “crown” where Imam Ali has described it to be, which makes someone very happy and unwilling to take off. This description of path given by Imam Ali, as being “crowns of boasting” is truly very accurate projection of both parties today and prominent behavior of Sunni and Shi’a in relationship to the legitimacy of their historical claims to the leadership issue.
Imam Ali had warned his followers from the dangers of this path, but no one is really adhering to his calling.
Sermon#5 “..Prosperous is one who rises with wings or else he remains peaceful and others enjoy ease.”
This statement is extremely important and would shed light on the wisdom behind Imam Ali’s peaceful approach toward the nomination of Abu Bakr. Here, he is referring to two possible options which were available to him or to any one in a similar situation. The first one is conditional to the support of people and he called such support as, “wings” He meant that such support was not there for him at the time of Abu Bakr’s nomination. Hence he could not oppose this nomination because he lacked the support of people. This means that if people had paid their allegiance to him and Abu Bakr rebels against him then he will be obliged to rise with the support of people (wings) to subdue such rebellious movement, which he did take such action, when he was elected and he had such “wings” by Muslims after Utman’s death, against Mu’awyia.
Hence Imam Ali believes that the popular support of people is the crucial principle for legitimizing leadership and no one has the right to oppose it and it becomes an obligatory, on the elected leader, to protect the will of the people. This notion was reiterated by Imam Ali in other sermon; #173:
Sermon #173: “By my life, if the question of Imamah was not to be decided unless all the people were present, then there would be no such case. But those who agreed about it imposed the decision on those who were absent, so much so that he who was present could not dissent and the one who was absent could not choose (any one else). “
In this sermon #173 Imam Ali clearly sets the guideline for legitimizing any nomination of leadership. He emphasized on the main principle of nomination that is support of the majority, when he said:
Sermon#173: “By my life, if the question of Imamah was not to be decided unless all the people were present, then there would be no such case.”
He also adds that the majority’s choice has its own power to enforce their popular decision upon all people who were not present when he said:
Sermon#173 “But those who agreed about it imposed the decision on those who were absent”
This is truly remarkable that Imam Ali has defined for all Muslims the importance of the majority’s will in choosing their leader and destiny.
It is worth mentioning here that these words of Imam Ali (sermon#173) truly represent the true governmental system of the “consultative Assembly committee” which is similar to the modern democratic system today.
Imam Ali considers allegiance in the political race to be an obligatory principle of legitimizing leadership. This raises an important question regarding the legitimacy of the first three Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman, leadership.
Shi’as hold the view that leadership of those three leaders is not legitimate for it is stripped away from Imam Ali and it was not in accordance to the will of the prophet of Islam. Frankly speaking the answer to this question is very sensitive and requires an open mind and impartiality, and only then the answer becomes clear. Shi’as has become very emotional about this issue which made them lose focus on the main objectives of Islam and they have galvanized themselves around the issue of leadership only. Consequently, they have forgot the ultimate goals of Islam, which can not be achieved unless through unity of Muslim’s objectives.
On the other hand, we find the Sunnis have completely abandoned the teaching of Ahlul-Bait whom are a true guide for all Muslims. Although they deny such accusations and they maintain that they love Ahlul-Bait and they never disrespect them. It is true that they may not disrespect them but I am not sure what do they mean by loving them. It seem that their love to Ahlul-Bait is very silent one and it is similar to loving nice scenery or beautiful painting hanged on the wall.
If Sunnis could only follow Ahlul-Bait’s teachings, which represent the Prophet Mohammad teachings, in the same enthusiasm and reverence, they hold toward the teachings of the companions of the Prophet, they will certainly gain a lot of knowledge and a lot more enhanced vision towards Islam and the world.
Sunnis do not have to abandon the teachings of the Companions rather they must open up intellectually to include the true manifestations of our beloved Prophet of Islam through his Ahlul-Bait.
One of the reasons for such approach, of Sunnis towards Ahlul-Bait, in my opinion, that they are intimidated by some of the strange religious practices of the Shi’as. In addition, of course, the political and religious factors which steered Sunnis away from Ahlul-Bait’s teachings, by corrupted Muslim leaders throughout history. And the first of such leaders certainly would be Mu’awyia bin abi Sufian. Unfortunately, Sunnis today are very much influenced by Mu’awya’s philosophy even though they are unaware of it. Many Sunnis are under the false presumptions that they are following the philosophy of the great Muslim leaders Abu Bakr, Umar, and etc…
In the next posting I will discuss the question of “Were all three Caliphate, Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman legitimate?
To be continued
Until next time