The Events of Saqifa
While Imam Ali (A) was busy attending to the burial of the Holy Prophet (S), the Muhajireen of Makka and the Ansar of Madina had lost no time in contesting the matter of the Caliphate. They had gathered at a place called Saqifa bani Sa'da and each group was putting forward its merits and claiming the Caliphate.
One can only wonder at their actions, because only two months ago the Holy Prophet (S) had openly declared that Imam Ali (A) would be his successor. In their greed, these so-called Muslims even forgot that their beloved Holy Prophet (S) lay as yet unburied.
The Muhajireen claimed that they had a greater right to the Caliphate because they had been Muslims for longer and had supported the Holy Prophet (S) in Makka when he had very few friends. They also claimed to be his kin and said that they had migrated from their homes in Makka in very difficult circumstances, leaving behind all their wealth and property.
The Ansar insisted that they had a greater right to the Caliphate because they had given the Holy Prophet (S) shelter in Madina when he could live in Makka no longer. They had also protected him in his time of need and had fought at his side in battles against powerful enemies. They recalled how for 13 years he had preached amongst the Makkans and only a handful had become Muslims. They argued that it was the Ansar who had given Islam strength and consolidation.
When Umar bin Khattab and Abu Bakr bin Qahafa reached Saqifa, the arguments had almost been settled in favour of the Ansar, who had chosen Sa'd bin Ubadah to lead the Muslims. Umar did not find this acceptable at all as he had already planned to bring in a man from the Muhajireen. He urged Abu Bakr to make a speech and turn the situation. Abu Bakr rose and said that the Arabs would not accept any Caliph who was not from the tribe of Quraish, which was the tribe of the Holy Prophet (S). He also praised the merits of the Ansar to keep them quiet. The Ansar were not fooled by the clever words of Abu Bakr and while there was some silence, Abu Bakr received help from an unexpected quarter.
The two main tribes of the Ansar were the Aws and Khazraj. The old enmity between them had been settled long ago by the Holy Prophet (S), but now it came out into the open.
To stop the selection of Sa'd bin Ubadah who was the chief of the Khazraj, Bashir bin Sa'd from the tribe of Aws suddenly went forward and gave his allegiance to Abu Bakr. He was followed by three other men from Aws. Suddenly, the tables had turned and now the Muhajireen had the upper hand.
Despite protests from the tribe of Khazraj and a few followers of Imam Ali (A), Abu Bakr was elected as the first Caliph. How strange was their behaviour! While Abu Bakr and Umar sold their religion for their greed, the people of Aws sold their religion for fear that the Khazraj might come to power. The rest of the people followed like sheep, too weak or uncaring to protest. The few who did raise their voices to defend the unrecognised rights of Imam Ali (A) were ignored and outnumbered.
The members of Bani Hashim and some loyal Muslims were too occupied with the passing away of the Holy Prophet (S) to give any thought to worldly affairs. By the time they learnt of the happenings at Saqifa, it was too late to do anything.
When Imam Ali came to exercise his right to the Caliphate as per the orders of the Holy Prophet (S) at Ghadeer Khum, his claim was rejected and he was forced to return to his house. Later, Abu Bakr sent Umar to Bibi Fatimah's (A) house, where Imam Ali (A) and some friends had gathered. Umar had instructions to bring Imam Ali (A) to Abu Bakr to pay the oath of allegiance to him. When Imam Ali (A) refused to do this, Umar threatened to burn down the house. Imam Ali (A) then came out with Abbas and Zubayr. From the open door was heard the sound of Bibi Fatimah (A) weeping.
She was saying,
"O Father, how soon after your death are troubles pouring on our head at the hands of the son of Khattab and the son of Abu Qahafa. How soon they have ignored your words of Ghadeer Khum and your saying that Ali was to you as Haroon was to Musa."
Hearing these heartrending words, the companions of Umar could not keep themselves from weeping and turned back.
However Umar was bent on humiliating Imam Ali (A). He insisted that Imam Ali (A) be led to the mosque tied with a rope so that he could not escape.
The Muslims now saw an amazing sight. The Lion of Allah , the man who was the champion of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khayber and Hunayn, was being led by the cowardly Umar, who had run away from the battle of Uhad when the Holy Prophet (S) was injured.
It was a measure of the patience of Imam Ali (A) that he did not use force in the interests of Islam. He knew that nothing could be gained by fighting, and a civil war would destroy the Muslims.
When Imam Ali (A) was brought in front of Abu Bakr, Umar insisted that if he did not give the oath of allegiance, he should be killed. Imam Ali (A) replied,
"Will you kill a man who is a servant of the Lord and a brother of the Apostle of the Lord?"
Umar then turned to Abu Bakr who had remained silent till then, asking him to decide Imam Ali's (A) fate. However, Abu Bakr said that so long as Bibi Fatimah (A) was alive, he would not force her husband to give allegiance to him.
After that Imam Ali (A) was released and he went directly to the grave of the Holy Prophet (S) where he stood, reflecting on how the attitude of the people had changed now that his brother had left this world.