The Event of Saqeefah and Its Aftermath
By: Syed Mohsin Naqavi
As soon as news of the passing away of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) spread in Madinah, political scrambling and an open power struggle, which had so far been underground, came out in the open. Some people of Madinah gathered at a place called the saqifaha of Banu Saeda. Speeches were made. Various parties started pushing and pulling and clamoring for power. The ansaar (the people of Madinah) claimed that they were in the majority and therefore the leader should be chosen from among them. At this Abu Bakr made a speech and cited a hadith: 'I have heard the Prophet saying that the Imams after me will be from among the Quraysh.' Violence broke out . In this confusion Umar pulled Abu Bakr out of the crowd and stretching his (Abu Bakr's) hand said: 'I do bayat on your hand and accept you as the khaleefa of the Prophet.' Seeing this, many other among the muhajiroon (i.e. the people of Quraysh from Makkah) followed Umar in accepting Abu Bakr as Khaleefa. The ansaar who although were in the majority, saw that any more counter-claim was a lost cause and finally resigned themselves to accepting Abu Bakr as the ruler of the State.
While all this was going on, Ali (A.S.) and the rest of Banu Hashim were busy in performing the funeral rites of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.). The leaders did not get round to come back to the Prophet's house until the third day after his death. Although, some historians, Haykal among them, have reported that the Prophet's body was brought out for all Muslims to pay him their last respects. We are told that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) passed away on a Monday and he was buried on the following Wednesday. We have often wondered about this delay in the burial. The only explanation we can come up with is as follows. Because of the intense political activity, nobody, who had the slightest ambition for a government office, could leave the mainstream gathering for a moment. People were coming in groups of two, three or four, to pay their last homage to their Prophet (S.A.W.). Ali (A.S.) and all the other Banu Hashim must have been under tremendous pressure to delay the burial until the last Muslim in Madinah came and paid his respects to the Prophet (S.A.W.). No large congregational funeral prayers were held and people came in small groups. That must be the reason that the burial did not take place for three days.
The Banu Hashim realized that a fast one had been pulled on them. An oligarchy of the Quraysh, who had always resented the honor and respect accorded to Banu Hashim in the Arab History, were able to subdue the large but silent majority and grabbed power for their own vested interests. They gathered around Fatima Zahra (A.S.).
Ali (A.S.) and Fatima Zahra (A.S.) on the other hand, were above and beyond personal considerations and tribal group-feelings. They did take the Prophet's mission seriously. They believed whatever was in the Holy Qur'an and whatever else was uttered by the Prophet (S.A.W.) were nothing less than divine commands. Ghadeer-e-Khum had happened only three months ago. Therefore, the couple would go to every household in Madinah and knock at the door and remind every family of the event of Ghadeer-e-Khum and ask them how they could completely ignore the apostolic edict and accept a faulty decision imposed upon them with the threat of violence. This went on for three consecutive nights. Everyone would agree with Fatima Zahra (A.S.) but would also say that it was now too late, what was done was done. In other words, fait accompli took precedence over the Prophet's command.
Of course, the ruling party was not unaware of these activities. Umar urged Abu Bakr to take quick and decisive action. Abu Bakr sent his slave named Qunfud to fetch Ali (A.S.) to his presence. Ali (A.S.) came and asked why was he called. Before Abu Bakr could say anything, Umar said: 'You have been called in to acknowledge the government in power like everybody else.' Ali (A.S.) said: 'You should accept me as the Khaleefa instead of asking me to accept somebody else. Have you forgotten Ghadeer-e-Khum?' He then turned to Abu Bakr and said: You grabbed power over the people of Madinah by claiming that you are one of the Quraysh and therefore closer to the Prophet (S.A.W.). I turn the same argument against you and say that I am the closest to the Prophet (S.A.W.). If that is the reasoning then no one deserves to become Khaleefa other than me.'
The Attack on Fatima Zahra's House
Both Umar and Abu Bakr were left speechless. However, they were not going to give the matter any rest. Umar collected an armed party, took some fire and approached the house of Fatima Zahra (A.S.) where Ali (A.S.) and some other people of Banu Hashim were sitting. Umar called at the door and said: 'O daughter of the Prophet, I want everyone out of this house and if they don't I will set it on fire.' Fatima Zahra (A.S.) came to the door and protested. However, she also saw the fire and was frightened. Umar kicked the door in which hit her and she fell. She was carrying a baby which she lost. Ali (A.S.) came out and was arrested. He was dragged in the streets of Madinah with a rope tied around his neck. When Fatima Zahra (A.S.) came to, she ran outside and tried to hold on to the hem of Ali (A.S.)'s dress at the same time protesting and begging the party to let Ali (A.S.) go. Qunfud started hitting her hand with a stick until she had to let go of the dress.
While all this was going on, Abu Bakr arrived at the scene. Fatima Zahra (A.S.) turned to him and said: 'Unless you let Abul Hasan (Ali (A.S.)'s name) go, I will let my chadar down and with my hair disheveled I would beg Allah that His wrath may befall you all.' Abu Bakr was shaken, as if there was a magic in those words. He looked to Umar and said: 'Let's go, let's go from here!' The armed party had to leave.
Years later, Abu Bakr would be full of remorse for his actions against Fatima Zahra (A.S.). Tabari has reported that on his death-bed Abu Bakr said: O how I wish I had not violated Fatima Zahra's home.
The Episode of Fadak
But there was no softening in the attitude of the ruling party towards Fatima Zahra (A.S.). The state of Fadak which was in Fatima's possession and was being managed by her, was confiscated by the government of Abu Bakr. Fatima Zahra (A.S.) came to Abu Bakr and protested. Abu Bakr replied that it belonged to the state. Fatima (A.S.) said that it was her by way of gift (hibah). Abu Bakr asked for witnesses to the act of gift-giving. Fatima (A.S.) presented Ali (A.S.) and her maid, Umm Ayman. Abu Bakr said that the witness was incomplete according to the Islamic law. It should either consist of two men or one man and two women. Fatima presented her children Hasan (A.S.) and Husayn (A.S.). That too was rejected by Abu Bakr because both of them were minors.
Fatima Zahra (A.S.) then said that if the government does not accept the law of gift then the state of Fadak should come to her anyway because it was her father's personal property. Abu Bakr, at this, cited a hadith. He said: I have heard the Prophet (S.A.W.) saying - We the prophets do not leave any inheritance, everything after us belongs to the community.' Fatima Zahra (A.S.) presented one argument after another from the Qur'an, citing Zacharia's prayer in which he asks Allah for an heir who would inherit from him (19:2-6), and Solomon's inheritance from David (27:16) and all other places where the mention of a prophet's inheritance has been made. Fatima Zahra (A.S.) is reported to have delivered a long and passionate speech, which has been preserved by our historians in its entirety. It is considered a masterpiece of Arabic oratory.
Here our historians differ as to exactly what happened. One report says that Abu Bakr still refused to accept Fatima Zahra's claim and she left dejected, angry and greatly aggrieved. This is the version favored by the authors of the article 'Fadak' in the New Encyclopedia of Islam. Another report tells us that Abu Bakr was put to shame by Fatima Zahra's reasoning and eloquence and he actually did write a document releasing the state of Fadak to her. In the meantime Umar arrived and tried to wake Abu Bakr up to the realities of politics and the need to feed the Muslim armies. He then snatched the document away from Fatima Zahra's hands and tore it up.
We feel we must elaborate the politics of the confiscation of Fadak for our readers. The Prophet (S.A.W.) had reserved the income of the state of Fadak for his family (qurba), the poor (masaakeen), the orphans (yataama) and the wayfarer (ibn-us-sabeel), exactly as the Qur'an had decreed. Foreseeing his death in the near future he made his daughter, Fatima Zahra (A.S.) in-charge of that management after him. Of course, Fatima Zahra (A.S.) was not a person who would plunder that trust. She was the Prophet's daughter, termed as the most truthful woman in the Muslim community. Neither was it that she had not seen money before. She was born to a mother who was well-known for her enormous wealth in Arabia and lived like a princess. Indeed, Fatima Zahra (A.S.) did manage the income from Fadak with equity and justice as the Prophet (S.A.W.) himself had been doing, for a period of six months. Had the state of Fadak stayed with her she would have continued with that redistribution of wealth in the community according to the spirit of the Islamic law. A natural consequence of that would have been that all the needy, or at least a great majority of them would look up to Fatima Zahra (A.S.). Thus there was danger that a group strongly loyal to the family of the Prophet (S.A.W.) would emerge in the community. The people who had taken over the reins of power by means of political maneuvering at Saqifah knew the consequences very well. By denying any place in the ruling cabinet to Ali (A.S.) the ruling party took away all and any political power from the family of the Prophet (S.A.W.). By confiscating the state of Fadak they broke the economic power of the family of the Prophet (S.A.W.). The triumph of the ruling party over one group that could ever threaten them was complete.
Either way, Fatima Zahra (A.S.)who was in no position to exert any political pressure on any group or party anyway, her spiritual and moral authority had also been challenged by the ruling party by declaring her claim to the state of Fadak as being untruthful; and it was no one else but Fatima Zahra (A.S.)the woman declared to be most truthful by the Holy Qur'an at the event of mubahila. But it was the strength of her character and personality that Banu Hashim still refused to accept Abu Bakr's authority. Zuhri has recorded that not a single man from the family of Banu Hashim came to Abu Bakr's side as long as Fatima Zahra (A.S.) was alive. We can however imagine the hurt and pain she had gone through. She kept a brave face but inside she was broken hearted.
The Bayt-ul Ahzaan
She would now stay home and weep for her father. Historians have recorded some lines of a lament she used to recite:
'O Father! Untold pain and hardship was inflicted on us after you,
If those hardships would befall the bright days, they would turn into dark nights,
And if mountains were subjected to that pain they would crumble into dust.'
The people of Madinah complained to Ali (A.S.) that Fatima Zahra's weeping and wailing was disturbing their everyday lives. Ali (A.S.) then built a little room outside of Madinah in the graveyard of Baqee for her. Every morning she would take her children to that apartment and stay all day praying, weeping and wailing. This apartment was known as Baytul-Ahzan or, 'the house of sorrows'. The place and sign of this structure were still to be seen until the early part of this century. Ibn Saud, the father of the present rulers of Saudi Arabia, had it razed to the ground.
The Apology from the Shaykahyn
A few days later both Umar and Abu Bakr visited Fatima Zahra (A.S.) at her house. She refused to see them. Ali (A.S.) persuaded her at least to listen to what they had to say. A curtain was draped in the middle of the courtyard inside the walls of her house. She sat on one side of the curtain with her back to it, the visitors being on the other side. She asked tersely as to the reason of their visit. They both said that they had come to apologize for their wrongdoings and excesses. She refused to acknowledge the apology. Instead, the following dialogue ensued between them.
Fatima: If I remind you of some of the sayings of my father, would you confirm them?
Abu Bakr: Yes.
Fatima: Do you remember that my father had said - Fatima is a piece of me, whoever hurts her actually hurts me and whoever hates her actually he hates me?
Abu Bakr: Yes, I remember.
Fatima: So, now I say that you have shown enmity towards me, you have hurt me; get out of my house, I have nothing more to say to you.
Thus ended this meeting. Our historians have reported that Fatima Zahra (A.S.) was never reconciled to Abu Bakr and Umar and she strictly asked Ali (A.S.) never ever to call those two to her funeral.
We stated earlier that both Ali (A.S.) and Fatima Zahra (A.S.) had shown all along that they were above and beyond personal considerations and any partisanship or party-politics. One example of this attitude in Fatima Zahra's family was their relationship with Asma bint Umays. Asma's father, Umays, was very close to the Prophet (S.A.W.) so Asma and her sister used to spend a lot of time with the family of the Prophet(S.A.W.). Asma was married to Jaafar, Ali (A.S.)'s elder brother. Asma migrated to Abyssinia with her husband since he was the leader of this expedition. They returned to Madinah after fourteen years of stay there and the old relationship was revived. They had two sons, Abdullah and Muhammad. Later on, Ali (A.S.) and Fatima Zahra's two daughters were married to these two sons of Jaafar and Asma. In the 9th year of Hijra, Jaafar was killed in action at Mauta. Asma became a widow and some time later Abu Bakr married her. She had a son and a daughter by Abu Bakr. In spite of all the hardships that Fatima Zahra (A.S.) suffered during Abu Bakr's rule, her relationship with Asma was unchanged. Asma would come to Fatima Zahra's house and help with the domestic chores while Fatima Zahra (A.S.) would confide in her. After Abu Bakr died and after the passing away of Fatima Zahra (A.S.) Ali (A.S.) married Asma and adopted the two children she had from Abu Bakr. Ali (A.S.) loved these children dearly and raised them like his own, that was notwithstanding the grave differences he had had with Abu Bakr.
The Invention of Taboot and Its Relationship to Fatima Zahra (A.S.)
One day when Asma came to see Fatima Zahra (A.S.) she noticed that Fatima Zahra (A.S.)had done the washing for her children and the clothes were hung for drying and she was now cooking. Fatima Zahra (A.S.) looked to Asma and confided in her that it was the last day of her life. She urged Asma to look after her children after her who were still very young. She then said to Asma that she did not like the way Arabs take the remains of a woman for burial. They would just cover the body with a sheet which showed the outline. Asma then prepared a coffin by putting together palm-twigs. It had an arched roof made of palm-leaves. Fatima Zahra (A.S.) liked it and smiled at the sight.
This is the origin of the invention of Taboot. Every Imambara in our religious custom has a Taboot as a symbol to the memory of Fatima Zahra (A.S.)which is decorated with a green cover and taken out in the assembly during the commemoration of Fatima Zahra’s death anniversary.
The Passing Away of Fatima Zahra (A.S.)
After finishing the cooking, she said to Asma that she was going to the inner apartment. She would be reciting prayers and the Qur'an. As long as Asma would keep hearing the sounds of her recital Asma should assume that she was alive. When the recital stops she would know that Fatima Zahra (A.S.) was gone from this world. Saying this, Fatima Zahra (A.S.) entered the inner apartment. The recital continued for a while and then it stopped. Asma then knew that Fatima Zahra (A.S.) was no more. She called Ali (A.S.). Ali (A.S.) prepared the shroud with Asma's help and performed the burial rites. While this was going on, Ayisha and Abu Bakr came along. Asma prohibited them from coming near the coffin. Ayisha complained to Abu Bakr. Asma explained to Abu Bakr that it was according to the express wish of Fatima Zahra (A.S.)
It is reported that when Ali (A.S.) was washing the remains of Fatima Zahra (A.S.)at one point he screamed and wept. Later, his cousin, Abdullah ibn Abbas, asked him about it. Ali (A.S.) (A.S.) explained that the door that was kicked in on her actually broke her ribs. Out of her pride, though, Fatima Zahra (A.S.) never disclosed her full injuries to anyone. That was what he discovered when bathing her remains.
Ali (A.S.) (A.S.) buried the remains of Fatima Zahra (A.S.) during the night. The next morning the news spread in Madinah that the daughter of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) had passed away.
Now the ruling party realized that although they had gained the power, their legitimacy was in doubt because they had left their Prophet (on whose authority and in the name of whose mission they had taken over the power to rule) unburied while they were tangled in the power struggle. There was nothing they could do now to correct that mistake. But there was something else they could do. The leaders also knew that what they had done with Fatima Zahra (A.S.) was a grave wrong. We have already quoted Tabari's report about Abu Bakr's remorse on his deathbed about his own actions. Umar too, knew full well that he had caused a serious injury to Fatima Zahra (A.S.). He must have had a guilty conscious about it. It was this feeling that caused him to take the action described below. A party under the leadership of Umar bin Khattab gathered at the place where Fatima Zahra (A.S.) had been buried. They threatened to dig the grave up so that they could offer the funeral prayers. One historian has noted: As if Ali (A.S.) had buried her without offering the funeral prayers! When Ali (A.S.) heard of this he took his sword out and stood by the grave and challenged anyone who would so much as think of digging the grave. The party and the leader both were intimated and had to back off.
For a long time after her passing away, when her maid would be asked how did Fatima Zahra (A.S.) spend the last days of her life, the maid would remember two things: that she never smiled after her father passed away - she was always sad, and that she could not sit up straight, when she would try to sit she would bend over to one side.
Tabari and Diyar Bakri have noted that Fatima Zahra (A.S.) died ninety-five days after the death of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) and that she was eighteen years old at that time. Yaqoobi tells us that Fatima Zahra (A.S.) was buried during night.
Muhaddith Dehlavi in his Jazb-al-Quloob has noted that Fatima Zahra (A.S.) was interred at Baqee but there is another report from Imam Jaafar As-Sadiq that she was buried in the apartment where she breathed her last.
Both her apartment and the mark of her grave in the Baqee cemetery were to be found until the early part of this century in Madinah. Once again, both those relics were obliterated by the Saudi rulers by ploughing over(the 8th day of Shawwaal in 1925).
Fatima Zahra (A.S.) lived a hard life and suffered untold pain and misery at the hands of her enemies. Her pain and misery have continued fourteen hundred years after her departure from this world.