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The Debates of Hesham ibn Hakam

The Debate of Hesham with the chief of the Kharajites (Khawarej)
Hesham, who was never defeated in debates, was a universal champion and his fame spread every where. He was always victorious over his opponents in every debate. Every one was anxious to witness his debates. Haroon, the most powerful caliph of the time, who was to a certain extent among the opponents, was also more anxious than others to watch the discussion and the speech of Hesham.
So one day, he ordered Yahya ibn Khaled, his minister to arrange a meeting and put Hesham face to face with Abdullah ibn Yazid Abazi,[43] the chief of the Kharajites,[44] who was also one of the famous learned men of the time. The caliph also sat in a secret place behind the curtain in such a manner that he was able to listen to their discussions clearly but they could not see him.
Then the caliph ordered Yahya ibn Khaled Barmaki to ask Abdullah to put forth his questions to Hesham. Yahya, by the order of Haroon, turned his face to Abdullah and said: "Put forth your questions to Aba Muhammad, Hesham." Hesham (by taking this opportunity) said: "The Khawarej have no right to ask us about anything."
Abdullah -Why is this so?
Hesham - Because you were the people who first believed as we did in the justice of the man (i.e. Amirul Mu'mineen Ali [a], his Imamate and virtue, and then separated yourself from us and initiated intrigues and enmity with him. As we still have the same belief, so your first faith and agreement is a proof for us; your later opposition and enmity does not harm us and your arrogation is not accepted as an injury to us. This is so because the contradiction made after acceptance is not effective, your witnessing as an enemy of mine is acceptable if it is useful to me as your enemy. But if it is harmful to me as your enemy it is unacceptable.
Yahya ibn Khaled - O Hesham, you have almost defeated Abdullah and have brought him to the verge of defeat at the edge of a cliff. However, treat him moderately, as the caliph wants you to continue the discussion with him (although he did not hint at all that the caliph was present behind the curtain).
Hesham - I am ready for debate, but there is a difficult point. The point is that it may be possible that our discussion may be lengthy and reach a place where there may occur some problems and complications and both of us may not accept the reality due to obstinacy, enmity and the critical nature of the topic. If it is advisable then appoint someone as a judge between us so that he may he able to make us return at the time of our deviation from the right path.
Abdullah - By God, Abu Muhammad (Hesham) has suggested a just proposal.
Hesham - Now, that it is time to appoint a referee; who should be this referee and a follower of which religion? Should he be one of my supporters or one of your friends? Should he oppose both of our beliefs or be opposed to the Muslim community and Islam?
Abdullah - You should select anyone whom you like, because you are a just man and I am satisfied with your selection.
Hesham - In my opinion it is a difficult task because if that judge comes from among my supporters then you will not be safe from his party spirit; and if he comes from among your supporters then I may not be safe. On the contrary, if he is from among the opponents and against both of our beliefs, then none of us may be safe from the harm of his unjustified arbitration. Then it is advisable that one man from each side oversees our speech; and witnesses our discussion and debate and arbitrates according to justice and fairness.
Abdullah - Very well, it is a just suggestion and I was also expecting the same from you.
Then, Hesham turned his face towards Yahya and said: "O Vizir (minister) be a witness that I have disapproved of his reasoning and have condemned him and have made him helpless. He has nothing to say anymore and I also do not need to debate with him."
Haroon shook the curtain and said to Yahya: "What does this Shia (Mutakallem) theologian say? He is still discussing with Abdullah about the rules and regulations, and the introduction of the topic. He has not yet started the actual debate. How he is claiming that he has condemned him and discarded his religion? Ask Hesham to prove his claim."
Yahya turned his face towards Hesham and said: "Amirul Mu'mineen (Haroon) orders you to prove the truth of your claim and explain how have you condemned this learned man and nullified the Kharajite sect?
Hesham - Is it not true that in the beginning these Kharajites were of the same opinion as we were concerning the matter of Imamate and the Wilayah of Amirul Mu'mineen [a], until the problem of the arbitration occurred in the Battle of Siffin? They acted rudely and shamelessly towards Amirul Mu'mineen [a] and called him an infidel because of the acceptance of the arbitration although they themselves compelled him (Hazrat) to accept this matter. Now this learned man who is himself respectable and reliable among his followers, has accepted the arbitration and judgement of the two men without any compulsion and force - one of these two men is my follower who is an infidel according to his Khawarijite belief and the other is his own supporter. Both of them have different beliefs and are opposed to each other. Now if he is right in choosing the arbitration and has chosen the right path, then there is no cause for him to criticize Amirul Mu'mineen [a] who is more worthy and wise. And if he has made a mistake then he is himself an infidel and his wickedness does not harm us. He has given evidence of his own infidelity. So first it is most necessary to check out his infidelity and his faith, enabling us to see whether he is himself an infidel or a Muslim. This is necessary before checking his opinion regarding the matter of the infidelity of Ali [a].
When the discussion of Hesham reached this point, Haroon became uneasy because of the clear reasoning and knockout proofs of Hesham. But he was so enchanted by his speech that he involuntarily applauded him and ordered to give him a reward. It is to be noted that Hesham was skilful in the practical sciences, and it is a fact that his discussions and speeches have been completely based upon intellectual, philosophical and theological reasoning in addition, as we noticed in the above story, he has used his own particular technique and has defeated his opponents.
[43] In some books, the name of the father of Abdullah has been recorded as Zayd, which is apparently wrong.
[44] Kharajites area group of people who were at first the followers of Imam Ali [a] and Shias. Then at the Battle of Siffin, due to the insistence of the army, the problem of arbitration occured. According to this, one person from Mu'awiyah's side and one person from Imam Ali's [a] side should be appointed and whatever they announced, all other people should obey their decision. Contrary to the desire of Amirul Mu'minin, Abu Musa Ashary was appointed from Ali's side and Amr As from Mu'awiyah's side was appointed for this purpose. After some time Amr As cheated him cleverly and cunningly and the story ended in favour of Mu'awiyah. As a result of this trickery a group came out as opponents against Ali [a] and said: Ali [a], because you accepted the arbitration of Mu'awiyah and Amr As who were infidels, we do not accept you anymore. Their slogan was: "There is no verdict except that of Allah." At last Ibn Muljim, who was one of them, killed Ali [a].

God is Omnipotent
One day, the famous learned materialist of Hesham's time, Abdullah Deisani asked him: Do you believe there is a Creator?
Hesham replied: Yes
Deisani - Is He omnipotent?
Hesham - He is overwhelmingly powerful.
Deisani - Can He put the whole world in an egg in such away that neither the egg becomes bigger nor the world smaller?
Hesham - (As he saw that he had no forceful answer, he asked for time): Give me sometime for the answer.
Deisani - You have one year's time.
Hesham decided to go on a journey. He rode on a horse and reached Imam al-Sadiq [a]. He asked for permission to enter. He was given the permission. He entered and said respectfully: O son of the Prophet [s], Abdullah Deisani has asked me a question and I am not able to answer him. Except for you and God, there is no one who can solve it.
Imam al-Sadiq [a]- What is the question?
Hesham gave the details of the matter.
Imam al-Sadiq [a]- O Hesham, how many physical senses do you have?
Hesham - Five.
Imam al-Sadiq [a] Which is the smallest of them?
Hesham - My eye.
Imam Al-Sadiq [a] -What is the size of the lens of your eyes?
Hesham - It is just like a lentil or even smaller than that.
Imam Al-Sadiq [a] -Look around you and above your head and tell me what do you see there?
Hesham - I see the sky, the earth, houses, forests, hills and rivers.
Imam Al-Sadiq [a]: He, who is capable of putting all these things, which you are seeing, in a very small lentil or less than that, can also put the whole world in an egg, such that neither the world becomes smaller nor the egg bigger.
Hesham put his face on the ground and kissed the hands and feet of the Imam and said: This is enough for me: and he returned to his own house.
The next day, Deisani came to him and said: I have only come to say hello to you. I wanted to know about your welfare. I have not come for the answer to my question.
Hesham said: If you have come for the answer to your question, then I have your answer.

Debate of Hesham with Nazzam
Although it is clear in the Qur'an and it is also found in most of the Qur'anic verses and traditions from the household of the Prophet [s] that dwellers in the Paradise and the Hell will remain there forever. Words like "Khaledoon", "Khaledeen and Mokhallad" (all meaning eternity) and other derivations of this term which have been used in the Qur'an and clearly give the same meaning. Nazzam was opposed to the idea of the eternity of Heaven and Hell. That is he was of the opinion that the pious men and the dwellers of Paradise and the evil doers of Hell will not remain there forever.
One day, Nazzam happened to meet Hesham at a meeting and discussed with him about this matter, the details of which are as follows: Nazzam - If the dwellers of Paradise will live eternally in the Paradise, then in this way, they will have life and eternity like God and they will also remain until God exists. Such a thing is impossible.
Hesham - The eternal stay of the dwellers of the Paradise originates from God and by His order. It is He who bestows this eternal life to them. This is different from the Eternity of the Creator, because God is self-existing and His existence is self-characteristic, but the existence of the dwellers of Paradise is due to Him.
Nazzam - He repeated his first question and insisted that the eternity of the heavenly people and the matter of Kholood (eternity) is impossible.
So for Hesham there was no way but to set forth so many questions.
Hesham asked him - So what will be their ultimate fate?
Nazzam - Suddenly everyone in Paradise will feel some kind of sudden faintness and unconsciousness.
Hesham - You have not read the Qur'an or else you have read it but have not understood where it points out: "Whatever a man will wish for in the Paradise, will be given to him." Therefore, if the heavenly people would request eternal life, do you think that the Almighty God would not fulfil His promise and He would not accept their demands?
Nazzam - God will not allow him to think of such thing, and this type of thought will not occur to them and as a result they will not ask for such a thing.
Hesham - If a heavenly body sees fruits on a tree and stretches his hand out to pick it and at the same time the fruit of another tree attracts him and he also stretches his other hand to grasp that. And suddenly while both his hands are stretched in between the branches of the trees, as you say, the unconsciousness will overcome them and their hands will become senseless and in that condition they will be left hanging between two trees. It seems that the heavenly people have been left hanging! Therefore, so much for your belief that unconsciousness will suddenly overcome them and this type of situation will follow the heavenly people forever!!!.
Nazzam - It is impossible! It is impossible! That such a thing will happen.
Hesham - O' Nazzam, your idea is wrong and your false belief is more absurd. Do you think that a group of persons, who have been created and assigned to live for sometime in Paradise on the basis of their goodness, will be destroyed? It is a matter of fallacious thinking and ignorance and I wonder about you. You are so ignorant!!

The Divine Help
Hesham, by the help of his personal talent, bravery and special boldness, used to stand against the opponents of Wilayah and Imamate and defend the Prophet's chaste household without any fear and anxiety. It was because of this obstinacy and intrepidity that the caliph had decided several times to kill him and at last due to anxiety, fear and serious heart trouble, Hesham sacrificed his life.
Among his bold debates, there is a story which is quoted by Allamah Mohsen Amin as follows: One day, Yahya ibn Khaled Barmaki, the minister, asked Hesham in the presence of the caliph Haroon al Rashid - Tell us, is it possible that a right cause happens to face opposition from two sides and that the beliefs of two persons who are quite different to each other (like two poles) may be right or that both of their opinions may be correct?
Hesham: It is impossible.
Yahya: If two persons have different opinions regarding one and the same religious matter, is it possible that both of them may be right or both of them wrong?
Hesham: The reply of this question is also clear according to the previous answer. It is not possible that both parties may be right. This sort of thing is impossible and certainly one of them may be right and the other wrong.
Yahya: (to put Hesham in an awkward position and provoke the wrath of Haroon he said) So, O' Hesham, when Ali ibn Abi Taleb and Abbas[45] ibn Abdul Mutallib had disputes about the inheritance of the post of caliphate, and put the arbitration before Abubakr*: Who was right and who was wrong.
Hesham (He thought to himself that if he would say that Ali was in the wrong, he would become an infidel and would have exceeded the bounds of religion. If he would say that Abbas's claim was futile and he was in the wrong, then Haroon would order immediately to kill him. This was an unusual problem and till that day this type of discussion had not happened and he had no ready answer for this question before hand.)
Hesham thought of the sayings of Imam Al-Sadiq [a] who used to say: "Till you defend our cause by the help of your speech, you will be favoured by the Holy Spirit." So I became hopeful and understood that I would not be condemned, insulted or defeated. Suddenly a reply occurred to me I said: Neither Ali [a] nor Abbas was mistaken and neither of them was in the wrong. Rather both of them were right and their difference was not an actual difference and they had no conflict between themselves, but apparently it seemed like that. Their story is just like those two angels of the heaven who are mentioned in the Qur'an and they took their dispute to Hazrat Dawood [a]. So which angel was right and which one had made a mistake? Or would you say that both of them were wrong? Whatever would be your answer regarding that matter; my answer would be the same regarding Ali [a] and Abbas.
Yahya: In my opinion, neither of these angels made a mistake rather both of these angels were right. In fact, they had no dispute and the exposition of their difference was only to attract the attention of Hazrat Dawood [a] and to let him know of the Decree of God.
Hesham: Therefore, I would say regarding Ali [a] and Abbas that they had no dispute concerning the matter of caliphate and in fact both of them were of one and the same opinion. Their retelling of the dispute was only to inform the caliph (Abubakr) about his mistake and their action was similar to the action of those angels.
Yahya gave no answer at all. He was looking at Haroon amazed and ashamed. The caliph who was very much impressed by Hesham's attractive speech, applauded and praised him.
[45] Abbas was the uncle of the Prophet [s] and the ancestor of all Abbaside Caliphs including Haroon, and for this reason, this dynasty of Islamic Caliphate is called Abbasides

The debate which became the cause of the death of Hesham
That very day, Baghdad witnessed the most sensational struggle of the champion of speech Hesham ibn Hakam - the debate between truth and falsehood, the interesting and hilarious debate!
Yes, it was a wonderful scene. The scene ended in Hesham's victory as usual, but it was so much a cause of unrest for Haroon that when he came out of the meeting, he was extremely irritated and had become just like a wounded wild animal. Upon leaving the meeting Haroon uttered some aminous threats such as: By God, I will kill him. Who was he? By God, I will kill him! I will make him burn in fire!
Hazrat Abdul Azim[46] Hasani quotes: "Haroon al-Rashid said to Ja'far ibn Yahya Barmaki: I would like you to gather all speculative theologians (orators) at a meeting and have them discuss on the subjects concerning themselves. I will hide myself in a place where they will not be able to see me but where I will be able to hear their speeches and listen to their disagreements. Yahya ibn Khaled fulfilled the caliph's order and asked the speculative theologians to gather at his home and he decorated a place for the caliph, a bit removed from their sight.
The caliph and a huge number of speculative theologians gathered together and were waiting for Hesham ibn Hakam. Hesham suddenly entered the meeting. He paid respect to all the people present and did not pay any attention to Ja'far Barmaki. In the meantime, some one in the gathering asked him: O' Hesham, why do you think Ali [a] is more pious than Abu Bakr? God says: "The second one of them (i.e. the Prophet [s] and Abu Bakr hid themselves in the cave "Thaur" on the night of migration) said to his friend: Don't be sad, God is with us."
Hesham: O' man, tell me, why was Abu Bakr sad? Was God happy and pleased about his sadness or was He not pleased? That man remained silent and avoided giving an answer.
Hesham: If you think, God was pleased about the sadness of Abu Bakr, then why did the Apostle of God tell him not to be sad. Did the Prophet [s] prohibit him from committing the acts to please God? If you deem, God was not pleased with the grief of Abu Bakr, then can you be proud of a thing which was contrary to that of God's pleasure. O' man you yourself know better what God has said in their respect: Thus the Creator sent His peace and tranquillity to His Prophet and believers"[47]
(It is obvious that this verse of the Qur'an does not prove any superiority of Abu Bakr. Whereas a group of Sunni learned men have taken this verse as a token of honour and virtue for the caliph there is a reference to another verse of the Qur'an which notes clearly: "Thus the creator sent down His peace and tranquillity on His Apostle."[48] This is the clear proof that the above verse is not related to Abu Bakr rather the pronoun in the verse of the cave refers to the Holy Prophet.[49]
Then Hesham turned towards that man and said: "You have quoted traditions and we have also quoted the Prophet that paradise is waiting to receive four persons: Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Miqdad ibn Aswad, Ammar Yaser and Abu Dharr al-Ghaffari. The name of our lord Ali ibn Abi Taleb has been referred to in the tradition, but the name of your respectful Abu Bakr is not among them. So the superiority of Ali to Abu Bakr is indisputable.
Similarly, you have said and we also believe and the people also say. There are four persons who have defended the sanctity of Islam: Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Zubair ibn Awam, Abu Dajjanah Ansari and Salman Farsi. Here, the name of our Imam is at the top but your leader is deprived of this honour too. So for this reason, we prefer our leader to yours.
Similarly, you believe and we have also said and every one says that there are four reciters of the Qur'an from the Prophet's period: Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Abdullah Masoud, Ali ibn and Zayd ibn Thabet. Ali ibn Abi Taleb has been given this honour but Abu Bakr is not graced by this virtue. For this reason, we prefer Ali to him.
Moreover, you have quoted and we, shias have also quoted and other people are also in agreement with us that there are four sacred and purified persons: Ali ibn Abi Taleb [a], Fatimah [a], Hasan [a] and Husayn [a]. The lofty place of our leader Ali ibn Abi Taleb is seen among those exalted people also but your leader is deprived of this virtue here too. So for this reason Ali [a] is preferred over Abu Bakr.
Furthermore, you and others have said and we have also quoted that there are four pious and good men: Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Fatimah, Hassan and Husayn [a]. The name of our respected leader is among them but the name of your leader is not found there. This is the reason that we consider our leader to be more able and count him higher than others.
And after all, you have narrated and we have also quoted and other people also say the same thing that there are four martyrs on the right path: Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Ja'far ibn Abi Taleb, Hamzah and Obaidullah ibn Harith. It is obvious that the name of our spiritual leader is at the top of the list of the Martyrs on the Right Path and he is the leader of the martyrs, but Abu Bakr is deprived of this virtue also. For this reason we prefer Ali to others. Hazrat Abdul Azim Hasani says: Haroon who was carefully listening to the speech of Hesham, suddenly put the curtain aside and Ja'far also asked the people to leave the house. All of them in a very frightened state went out. Haroon also left the meeting furiously as he was uttering: "Who was he? By God, I will kill him and make him burn in fire."
[46] Hazrat Abdul Azim ibn Abdullah ibn Ali. Zaid ibn Hasan ibn Hasan Mujtaba [a]. the exalted son, his burial place is at the city of Rey which is a sacred visiting place for shias. Sheikh Mufid has quoted this story in his book Ekhtesas, with reference to that holy man.
[47] A part of verse No. 40 of Surah Taubah.
[48] Surah 9. verse 40.
[49] Surah 48, verse 26.

The Cause of the Death of Hesham
The fame of Hesham had spread everywhere and people used to come from every corner of the world in groups to listen and witness the fascinating debates.
Haroon who was very much annoyed and alarmed by the matter considered the speeches of Hesham as the biggest danger to the caliphate, and had decided several times to kill Hesham. He had warned him of his death, especially on that very day when Yahya ibn Khaled had arranged the meeting by the order of Haroon and he had listened to the convincing speech of Hesham personally and had sworn to kill him.
At last he called for Hesham and ordered to imprison and kill him. So, Hesham had to escape to Kufa and hid away for some time in the house of Bashir Nabbal where he was too ill. However much they asked him to see a doctor he would refuse saying: I shall die and shall not recover from this illness. Finally Bashir brought a few doctors. When they finished their examinations Hesham asked them about his illness.
Some of them said: We do not know what the illness is, and others told him something else as a result of their examinations. Hesham said: You are telling a lie; my illness is due to my heart trouble which is affected by the fear I have. It cannot be treated.
After a time, he died of the same heart illness in 379 A.H. in Kufa. At the time of his death, he made his will to take out his corpse at night after bathing and shrouding and put a note on his coffin which noted that: This is Hesham ibn Hakam. This was done so that the couflien of the caliph would know that he has died and free from prison those who were arrested due to being his relatives.
When the news of his death reached Haroon, he said: "Thank God, I got rid of his mischief."
When the news of the death of Hesham was brought to the 8th Imam [a], he prayed to God for his forgiveness and said: A great pillar of defence for Wilayah and Imamate has vanquished.[50] Hazrat Jawad al-Aimma [a] also used to say about him that: God may bless him as he used to endeavor to clarify the doubts of the opponents and defend our right cause and faith.
The date of Hesham's death is also not free from ambiguity and controversy. Some have written[51] that Hesham died in 179 A.H. in Kufa during the caliphate of Haroon al-Rashid and others have thought his date of death to be 188 A.H.[52] and other writers as 199 A.H.[53]
This was the brief story of the life and bold debates of Hesham, his defence of the cause of Wilayah and Imamate and his ultimate fate. Countless blessings be showered upon his sacred soul and all followers and searchers of the Truth! Now we will finish this book with Hesham's own prayer as quoted by Younus ibn Yaqub. Hesham always prayed as follows: O' Creator bestow upon us the reward for the necessary or unnecessary deeds we have done or will perform in the future which are according to the commands of your Apostle and his sacred household [s]. (Peace be upon him and all of them according to the merit). O God, accept all these deeds from them and us and bestow upon us the blessing according to your own lofty and proper dignity.
[50] Ghahramanan e Islam, Heroes of Islam by. Mr. Ali Akbar Tashaiod, vol.2.
[51] Rejal, by Abu Umar Kashi, quoted through Fazl ibn Shazan.
[52] Al Fehrest, by Ibn Nadim.
[53] (Ayan- al- Shiah)

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