Recently I was asked by a sincere Muslim whose parent are belong to both major Muslim sects, Sunni and Shi’a. His question was very important in respect to the bitter dispute between Sunni and Shi’a which is in reference to the alleged abuse of the daughter of the holy Prophet (sAaww), Fatima (as), by the first two Muslim Caliphs Umer and Abu Bakr. Due to the importance of this question I am publishing the answer to shed some light on this issue perhaps it may be of benefit to other Muslims who are entangled with the various historical traps which have taken its tole on the Muslim unity and the physical and spiritual well being of all Muslims.
Here is the question and my reply to it.
Comment and question by reader
I have read quite a few of your posts by now and MashAllah I have enjoyed myself reading each of them. I too like to be called a Muslim what we all really are rather than a Shi’a or a Sunni. However my dad’s side is all shi’a and my mom’s side is pretty much all Sunni. I have studied a bit of both schools of thought. There is a tradition that Bibi Fatima was hurt by the 2 caliphs Hazrat Umer in particular and this tradition is found in Sunni books as well. Bibi Fatima also said she didn’t want to see them at her funeral. Furthermore her house was burnt down and the baby she was carrying also died. If this is true, how can one expected to still respect the 3 caliphs?
Adill Hissan, Katib reply:
Wa 3laikum assalam Aun
First I would like to thank you for reading my posts and I am truly delighted to know that you have enjoyed them. And my apology for the delay because it slipped my mind and I thought I have replied to you.
The concerns you have raised in your comment is extremely important and I am certain it is shared by many wonderful young Shi’a Muslims and those who are sincerely trying to find a proper approach to the elements of disputes which has been hampering the progress of Islamic unity among Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.
As you have indicated in your comment above that “my dad’s side is all Shi’a and my mom’s side is pretty much all Sunni”, therefore this put you in a very unique and challenging position. You have a golden opportunity to find a reconciliatory approach in respect to this ugly dispute.
Now in respect to this historical account, regarding the nature of treatment which is allegedly committed by the first two Muslim Caliphs, Umer (rAa) and Abu Bakr (rAa) against the honourable Lady Fatima (as), please know that such allegations have been around for 1400 hundred years and it has played a major role in the breakup of Muslim unity. I am not in favour of dwelling into such issues because it serves no purpose at all and it would absolutely hinder any efforts towards Muslim Unity. However, I allude to some facts in respect to this particular event, and that is this alleged story of abuse recently has been challenged by some prominent Shi’a Muslim scholars, such as Ayatollah Muhammad Hussain Fadtlallah of Lebanon.
Furthermore, For the sake of argument, such allegations do not conform to any logic or social and cultural norms of the Arabs or any race; in other words it is very hard to believe that Imam Ali would not perform his duty as a husband to provide a protection to his wife from the alleged attackers. If you take any ordinary Arab man or any Man, would not let any attackers to get away with attacking his house or wife. What if this Man was Imam Ali who is very well known for his bravery and honor. And worst than that we find Imam Ali has enjoyed a reasonable and good relationship with those two Caliphs or “the abusers of his wife; as alleged” Hence this story does not meet any standard of social or cultural norms.
Furthermore, it is not about whether this story is true or not rather it is about will it serve the general interests of Muslims and the ultimate goals of Islam or not. This dispute is very much related to Imam Ali (as) alone since Bibi Fatima is his wife. It would be more appropriate to see how Imam Ali (as) has dealt with those two respectful Caliphs in light of this alleged account.
I am not in favour of rejecting out right such allegations not because they might be true or not rather it is of no avail to the other side who firmly believe in them. I have learned in my humble experience that Shi’a Muslims are very emotional about this issue and that the majority firmly believe in it. Therefore it would be unfruitful task to disprove its authenticity. It is like telling our Christian brothers that Jesus is not the son of God. Therefore we must focus on what is really relevant to our Muslim needs and aspirations.
Hence, I truly believe that it is important to respect those early Muslim leaders despite whatever alleged abuses on their part for two simple reasons. The first reason is that the major figure of this dispute is Imam Ali (as) and he consistently showed respect and extended his hands of cooperation for the service of Islam and Muslim interests. Those who claim to be the followers of Ali or “shi’at Ali” ought to follow Imam Ali’s example in respect to his dealings and relationship to these Muslim Caliphs. If Shi’a Muslims see themselves not necessarily required to love those leaders in questions but at least they are expected to honour the path of Imam Ali in respect to his relationship to these Muslim leaders and the manner he (as) dealt with them. In addition, if Shi’a Muslims , followers of Ali, may rationalise the peaceful approach of Imam Ali(as) in regard to the alleged incident, and say that because he wanted to prevent bloodshed and preserve Muslim unity or to abide by the prophet (as) instructions regarding leadership issue and etc… I say to that, that all of these sentiments are good assumptions and it is important to remember that these sentiments and concerns are all still very much present and that the same challenges and concerns which had faced the Muslims and Imam Ali, which merited his peaceful approach, calls upon all of us to adopt the same path of Imam Ali towards the companions in question. Today we face the same reasons which led Imam Ali (as) to adopt and take an appropriate course of action to deal with these companions.
The second reason is that these Muslim figures have become part of the Sunni faith and they represent the main principles of their religious doctrine. Hence respecting them has become detrimental to the prospects of Muslim unity. In other words to respect those leaders is respecting Muslim unity and the integrity of Islam. And respecting them is no longer about their persons rather is about the integrity of Muslim unity and progress, as Imam Ali who has done just that.
Muslims must be prepared to make some sacrifices for the sake of Muslim unity and the general Muslim interests. It cost nothing to show respect but it cost a lot not to.
Shi’a Muslims are not required to go around and shout to the world their respect to these Caliphs rather they must abstain from disrespecting them at least as show of respect to Imam Ali who has never disrespected them while he expressed his bitter disagreement over the issue of leadership but maintained his line of respect to them. And Allah knows best.