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The Opinion of Imam Ali (A.S.) on Caliphate

A contributor mentioned that, in one of the sermons of Nahjul Balagha it is written that Imam Ali mentioned consultation as one of the reason why he has the legitimate right for Caliphate. Here, Ali is contradicting the Shia thesis that Muhammad wanted to appoint Ali as the Imam.
What you are referring to is not a sermon of Imam Ali to Muslims, and you have also taken it out of context. it was a part of his letter to Muawiyah when he refused to give his oath to Imam Ali (AS). Moreover, in contrary to your claim, in that letter Imam Ali (AS) did NOT say that he BELIEVES in the function of election for Caliphate. (Please see the full text of the letter below). He rather wanted to use the argument of his opponents against themselves.
When all the people of Medina unanimously swore allegiance to Imam Ali (AS), Muawiyah refused to comply apprehending danger for his own power, and in order to provide an excuse for his disloyalty, he claimed that since he did not participate in the election, the election of Imam Ali (AS) was unlawful, and thus there should be another general election. This was while Abu Bakr was elected by a very few number of people and there was no national vote so that one could consider the caliphate of Abu Bakr as a result of people's election. But the rulers who came after the Prophet
imposed upon people that this is what election means, and this became a principle imposed on people and assumed to be their verdict that whoever the nobles of Medina elect would be deemed to represent the entire world of Islam, and no person has right to question it, whether he was present at the time of election or not, and that no one has right to reconsider the matter.
People, from whom Muawiyah was later receiving support, were those who had clamored the loudest about that argument. But when the rulership of the Muslim State in the form of caliphate came to Imam Ali, they rebelled against it, many of them were rebelling even after having sworn the oath of allegiance to him.
Here, in this letter to Muawiyah, Imam Ali (AS) is quoting the argument which was once employed against him when he refused to give his oath to Abu Bakr. Imam Ali (AS) mentioned that if an election by people is the criterion to decide on the Caliphate, a general election took place in Medina to elect him as Caliph by Emigrants and Helpers and nobody can deny this fact. Therefore even according to the principles formulated by the opponents of Imam Ali (AS), his election was lawful, regular and bonafide.
Thus Muslim who already accepted such principles to legitimize the election of the Abu Bakr, have no the right to speak or act against him (Ali). And Muawiyah had no right to propose re-election nor to refuse allegiance when, in practice, he recognized this principle for Abu Bakr.
In his letter, the Imam wrote to Muawiyah: "Verily those who swore allegiance to Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman have sworn allegiance to me on the same basis on which they swore allegiance to them. On this basis, he who was present has no choice (to reconsider), and he who was absent has no right to reject. And consultation was confined to Emigrant and Helpers. If they agree on an individual and name him leader, it was supposed that it is Allah's satisfaction. If any one goes against such decision due to innovation, they (used to) return him from what he kept away, and if he refuses (to abide the decision) they (used to) fight him for following a course other than of the believers, and Allah will put him back from where he had run away."
"O' Muawiyah, if you use your brain without your tendencies and desires, you will find me the most innocent of all in respects to Uthman's blood, and you surely know that I was in seclusion from him, unless you conceal what is quite open to you and attribute all these false rumors to me."
In the above letter Imam Ali is using counter argument to demolish the argument of Muawiyah. This method is known as arguing with the adversary on the basis of his wrong premises so as to demolish his argument. On the point of religion, Imam Ali (AS) never regarded consultation with chiefs or the common vote to be the criterion of the validity of Caliphate, otherwise he would not have allowed himself to delay to give allegiance to Abu Bakr for the first six month of his Caliphate which is an undeniable fact held by all Muslims. This is proof of the fact that he did not regard these self- concocted methods as the criterion for the validity of caliphate. However, to place before Muawiyah meant opening the door to questions and answers.
He, therefore, attempted to convince him with his own premises and beliefs so that there could be no scope for interpretation or for confusing the matter. Imam Ali cited the above argument merely as a stopple against Muawiyah (and in another occasion to Talha and Zubair) simply to prove how fictitious and flimsy were the points raised by his enemies to deprive him of his just rights and how they would go back upon their accepted principles to harm him.
One may recall that such counter argument was used by Prophet Abraham in the Quran where he once claimed to be the worshipper of the Sun and the moon to show people that how a wrong premise would result in self- contradictory result.
On this occasion, Imam Ali (AS) did not argue on the strength of any saying of the prophet which would serve as his final say about the caliphate, because the grounds for refusal in his case was in respect of the style of the principle of the election. Therefore, in keeping with the requirements of the situation, a reply based on the opponent's principles could alone quiten him. Even if he had argued on the strength of the Prophet's command, it would have subjected to various interpretations and the matter would have prolonged instead of being settled. In fact Muawiyah's real aim was to prolong the matter that at some point his own authority might get support.
Imam Ali had already witnessed that soon after the death of Prophet (S.A.W all his sayings regarding to appointment of his successor had been set aside. Therefore, how after the laps of a long time, could one be expected to accept it when habit had been established to follow one's free will against the Prophet's commandments?
Moreover, there are many sermons in Nhajul Balagha where Imam Ali unequivocally states his right was usurped from day one of the death of the Mercy to Mankind, Muhammad (S.A.W. below is one example of it: Sermon 7/3 of Nahjul Balagha Survey of the period after the demise of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) [This is the famous sermon of Shiqshiqiyyah. It is so named because while Imam Ali was delivering it an Iraqi got up and presented a letter to him. He got busy in reading it. When he had finished the letter Abdullah Ibn Abbas requested him to continue his sermon. The Imam replied, " Ibn Abbas ! This speech of mine was extempore and was being delivered at the impulse of that moment like the Shiqshiqiyyah (the roar of a camel), it can't be continued." So far as the subject is concerned the sermon is self-explanatory.]
Beware! By Allah the son of Abu Quhafah (Abu Bakr)(2) dressed himself with it (the caliphate) and he certainly knew that my position in relation to it was the same as the position of the axis in relation to the hand-mill. The flood water flows down from me and the bird cannot fly upto me. I put a curtain against the caliphate and kept myself detached from it.
Then I began to think whether I should assault or endure calmly the blinding darkness of tribulations wherein the grown up are made feeble and the young grow old and the true believer acts under strain till he meets Allah (on his death). I found that endurance thereon was wiser. So I adopted patience although there was pricking in the eye and suffocation (of mortification) in the throat. I watched the plundering of my inheritance till the first one went his way but handed over the Caliphate to Ibn al-Khattab after himself. (Then he quoted al-A`sha's verse).
My days are now passed on the camel's back (in difficulty) while there were days (of ease) when I enjoyed the company of Jabir's brother Hayyan.(3)
It is strange that during his lifetime he wished to be released from the caliphate but he confirmed it for the other one after his death. No doubt these two shared its udders strictly among themselves. This one put the Caliphate in a tough enclosure where the utterance was haughty and the touch was rough. Mistakes were in plenty and so also the excuses therefore. One in contact with it was like the rider of an unruly camel. If he pulled up its rein the very nostril would be slit, but if he let it loose he would be thrown. Consequently, by Allah people got involved in recklessness, wickedness, unsteadiness and deviation.
Nevertheless, I remained patient despite length of period and stiffness of trial, till when he went his way (of death) he put the matter (of Caliphate) in a group(4) and regarded me to be one of them. But good Heavens! what had I to do with this "consultation"? Where was any doubt about me with regard to the first of them that I was now considered akin to these ones? But I remained low when they were low and flew high when they flew high. One of them turned against me because of his hatred and the other got inclined the other way due to his in-law relationship and this thing and that thing, till the third man of these people stood up with heaving breasts between his dung and fodder. With him his children of his grand-father, (Umayyah) also stood up swallowing up Allah's wealth(5) like a camel devouring the foliage of spring, till his rope broke down, his actions finished him and his gluttony brought him down prostrate.
At that moment, nothing took me by surprise, but the crowd of people rushing to me. It advanced towards me from every side like the mane of the hyena so much so that Hasan and Husayn were getting crushed and both the ends of my shoulder garment were torn. They collected around me like the herd of sheep and goats. When I took up the reins of government one party broke away and another turned disobedient while the rest began acting wrongfully as if they had not heard the word of Allah saying: That abode in the hereafter, We assign it for those who intend not to exult themselves in the earth, nor (to make) mischief (therein); and the end is (best) for the pious ones. (Qur'an, 28:83)
Yes, by Allah, they had heard it and understood it but the world appeared glittering in their eyes and its embellishments seduced them. Behold, by Him who split the grain (to grow) and created living beings, if people had not come to me and supporters had not exhausted the argument and if there had been no pledge of Allah with the learned to the effect that they should not acquiesce in the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed I would have cast the rope of Caliphate on its own shoulders, and would have given the last one the same treatment as to the first one. Then you would have seen that in my view this world of yours is no better than the sneezing of a goat.
Don't tell me this is the product of Sayyed Radhi. In fact, this particular sermon of Imam Ali was being circulated among the Sunni scholars 200 years before the BIRTH of Sayyed Radhi and they acknowledged that the above sermon is the genuine sayings of Imam Ali (AS), and I have 27 documents to prove this. In fact, Nahjul Balagha is not merely a Shi'ite source, and many Sunni scholars have also written commentary to it.
Prophet (S.A.W said: Whoever I am his prophet, Ali is his ruler.
- On the Khilafa of Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS):
Abdullah Ibn Masud narrated: The messenger of Allah (S.A.W) ordered me to follow him, on the night of the Jinn. I went with him until we reached the hight of Macca... (the prophet) said: "I was promised that the Jinn and human will believe in me. As to the human they believed in me, as to the Jinn you have seen"; he continued: "I feel that my end is drawing near." I said: O Messenger of Allah, won't you make Abu Bakr as your Caliph? He turned away from me, so I realized that he disagreed; I said: O Messenger of Allah, won't you make Umar as your Caliph? He
turned away from me, so I realized that he disagreed; I said: O Messenger of Allah, won't you make Ali as your Caliph? He said: "(That's) him. By the One whom there is no God beside Him, if you chose him and obeyd him He (Allah) entered you into Paradise all together."
Sunni references: - Majma' al-Zawa'id, by al-Haythami, v8, p314 - Also mentioned by al-Tabarani
A short history of Fadak after the Martyrdom of Fatima (AS) The motive which causes us to further pursue the history of Fadak and to extract the continuation of events after it for a period of three centuries from the texts of the historical books is to clarify three questions
a. The rule of annulment of inheritance from prophets made by the Holy Prophet (S.A.W), in other words, that the property of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) is a part of the public treasurey and belongs to all Muslims. This was claimed by the first Caliph Abu Bakr, and was rejected by his successors, both by the next two caliphs (Umar and Uthman), and by the Umayyads and the Abbasids. We must consider that the lawfulness and rightfulness of their caliphate depended upon the correctness and the lawfulness of the first caliph and his actions.
b. Imam Ali (as) and the descendants of Fatimah never had any hesitation regarding the rightfulness and justifiability of their claim. They insisted and confirmed that Fatima (as) had always been right and that Abu Bakr's claim had always been rejected, and they did not yield to the false claim.
c. Whenever one of the Caliphs made a decision to put into effect Allah's command, in regards to Fadak, to observe justice and equity, and to restore the right to the entitled one in conformity with Islamic rules, he used to return back the Fadak to the descendants of Fatima (as) and to hand it over to them.
1. Umar was the most harsh person in keeping Fatima (as) from Fadak and her inheritance as he himself confessed: When the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) died I came along with Abu Bakr to Ali ibn Abu Talib, and said: ' What do you have to say about what has been left by the Messenger of Allah? ', He replied: ' We have the most rights with the Holy Prophet (S.A.W). ' I (Umar) said: ' Even those properties of Khaibar? ' He said: ' Yes, even those of Khaybar. ' I said : ' Even those of Fadak? ', He replied: ' Yes, even those of Fadak.' Then I said: 'By Allah, we say no, even if you cut our necks with saws.'
Sunni reference: - Majma al Zawaid, vol 9 pp 39-40 As mentioned in the previous article, Umar took the document of Fadak and tore it up. But when Umar became caliph (13/634-23/644) he gave back the Fadak to the inheritors of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W. Yaqut al Hamawi, the famous historian and geographer, following the event of Fadak said: Then, when Umar ibn al Khattab became the caliph and gained victories and the Muslims had secured abundanr wealth (i.e the public treasury satisifed the caliphate's needs), he made his judgement contrary to that of his predecessor, and that was to give it (Fadak) back to the Prophet's heirs. At that time Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abbas ibn Abd al Muttalib disputed Fadak.
Ali said that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) had bestowed it on Fatima (as) during his life time. Abbas denied and used to say, 'This was in the possesion of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W), and I am sharing with his heirs.' They were disputing this with among each other and asked Umar to settle the case: 'Both of you are more conscious and aware to your problem; but I only give it to you.' [See note for this para]
Sunni references: - Mujam al Buldan, vol 4 p 238-9 - Wafa al Wafa, vol 3 p 999 - Tadhib al Tadhib, vol 10 p 124 - Lisan al Arab, vol 10 p 473 - Taj al Arus, vol 7 p 166
[ Note: The last part of the historic event has been inserted after wards to demonstrate the matter of inheritance by the brother of the deceased or the paternal uncle of the deceased when he has no sons. This problem is a matter of dispute between Islamic Sects. The judicial and the jursipridencial discussion is seperate from our goal. We are only discussing the matter historicaly. Abbas had no claim in this case because he had not shown that he had a share in this property, nor did his descendants consider it to be among their assests even when they had become caliphs and were reigning. They owed this estate either in their position as Caliphs, or they used to return it to the descendants of Fatima (as) when they had decided to be just governors.]
2. When Uthman ibn Affan became the caliph after the death fo Umar he granted Fadak to Marwan ibn al Hakam, his cousin, and this was one of the causes of the vindictive feelings among the Muslims towards Uthman, which ended in the revolt against him and his murder.
Sunni references: - as Sunan al Kubra, vol 6 p 301 - Wafa al Wafa, vol 3 p 1000 - Sharah, ibn Al Hadid, vol 1 p 198 - al Maarif, al Qutaybah, p 195 - al Iqd al Farid, vol 4 p 283, 485 - at Tarikh, Abul Fida, vol 1 p 168 - Ibn al Wardi, vol 1 p 204
In this way Fadak fell into the possesion of Marwan; he used to sell crops and products for at least ten thousand dinars per year, and if in some years its income decreased, this drop was not very pronounced.
This was its usual profit untill the time of the Caliphate of Umar ibn Abd al Aziz (in 100.718).
Sunni references: - Tabaqat, Ibn Sa'ad, vol 5 p 286-7 - Subh al Asha, vol 4 p 291
3. When Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan became the Caliph, he became the partner with Marwan and others in Fadak. He alloted one thrid to Marwan, and one thrid to Amr ibn Uthman ibn Affan and one thrid to his son, Yazid.
This was after the death of Imam Hasan (as). In the words of the Sunni historian, Yaqubi To make angry the progeny of the Holy Prophet.
Sunni reference: - at Tarikh, Yaqubi, vol 2 p 199
It was in the possesion of the three above mentioned persons untill Marwan became Caliph and then he completely took over posession over it. Then he donated to his two sons, Abd al Malik and Abd al Aziz. Then Abd al Aziz donated his share to his son (Umar ibn Abd al Aziz).
4. When Umar ibn Abd al Aziz becmae the Caliph he delivered a lecture and mentioned that: 'Verily, Fadak was among the things that Allah had bestowed on His Messenger, and no horse, nor camel was pricked against it.'
As he mentioned the case of Fadak during the past caliphates he said: Then Marwan gave it to my father and to Abd al Malik. It became mine and and al Walids and Sulaymans (two sons of Abd al Malik).
When al Walid became caliph I asked him for his share and he gave it to me. Then I gathered the three parts and I possess no property more preferable to me than this. Be witness that I returned it to its original state.
He wrote this to his governer in Medina (Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Amr ibn Hazm) and ordered him to carry out what he had declared in the speech be delivered. Then Fadak came into the possession of the children of Fatima (as).
This was the first removal of oppression by returning Fadak to the Children of Ali (as).
Shia reference: - al Awail, Abu Hilal al Askari, p 209
5. When Yazid ibn Abd al Malik became caliph (101/720-105/724) he seized Fadak and they (the children of Imam Ali (as)) were dispossesed. It fell into the possesion of the Banu Marwan as it had been previously.
They passed it from hand to hand untill their caliphate expired and passed away to Banu al Abbas.
6. When Abul Abbas Abdullah as Saffah became the first caliph of the Abbasid Dynasty (132/749-136/754) he gave back Fadak to the Children of Fatima (as) and submitted it to Abdullah ibn al Hasan ibn al Hasan ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib.
7. When Abu Jafar Abdullah al Mansur ad Dawaniqi (136/754-158/775) became the calpih, he seized Fadak from the children of Fatima (as).
8. When Muhammad al Mahdi ibn al Mansur became caliph (158/775-169/785) he returned Fadak to the children of Fatima (as).
9. The Musa al Hadi ibn al Mahdi (169/785-170/786) and his brother Harun ar Rashid (170/786-193/809) seized it from the descendants of Fatima (as) and it was in the possesion of Banu al Abbas untill the time that al-Mamun became the Caliph (193/831-218/833)
10. al Mamun al Abbasi gave it back to the descendants of Fatima (as). It is narrtaed through al Mahdi ibn Sabiq that: al Mamun one day sat to hear the complaints of the people and to judgein cases. The first utter complaint which he received caused him to weep when he looked at it. He asked where the attorney of Fatima (as), daughter of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W was? An old man stood up and came forth, arguing with him about Fadal and al Mamun also argued with him untill he overcame al Mamun.
Shia reference: - al Awail, p 209
al Mamun summoned the Islamic Jurisprudents and interrogated them about the claim of Banu Fatima. They narrated to al Mamun that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W gifted Fadak to Fatima (as) and that after the death of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W, Fatima (as) demanded Abu Bakr to return Fadak to her. He asked her to bring witnesses to her claim reagrding the gift. She brought, Ali, al Hasan, al Hussain and Umm Ayman, as her witnesses. They witnessed the case in her favor. Abu Bakr rejected their witness. Then al Mamun asked the scholars: 'What is your view about Umm Ayman?' They replied:'She is a woman to whom the Holy Prophet (S.A.W bore witness that she is an inhabitant of Paradise.' al Mamun disputed at lenght with them and forced them to accept the arguments put forth by proofs till they confessed that Ali, al Hasan, al Hussain and Umm Ayman had witnessed only the truth. When they unanimiously accepted this matter, he restored Fadak to the descendants to Fatima (as).
Sunni reference: - at Tarikh, al Yaqubi, vol 3 p 195-96
11. During the period of al Mamun's caliphate Fadak was in the possesion of Fatimah's descendants, and this was confirmed during the caliphate of al Mutasim (218/833-227/842) and al Wathiq (227/842 - 232/847).
12. When Jafar al Mutawakkil became the caliph (232/847-247/861), the one among them who was marked as an arch enemy of the progeny of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W, both of those alivce and of those dead, gave the order to recapture Fadak from the descendants of Fatima (as).
Shia references: - Kashf al Ghumnah, vol 2 p 121-2 - al Bihar, vol 8 p 108 - Safinah al Bihar, vol 2 p 351
13. When al Mutawwakil was killed and al Muntasir (his son) succeeded him (247/861-248/862), he gave the order to restore Fadak to the descendants of al Hasan and al Husayn and delivered the donations of Abu Talib to them and this was in 248/862.
Sunni references [ For 3 - 13 ]
- Futuh al Buldan, vol 1 p 33-8
- Mujam al Buldan, vol 4 p 238-40
- at Tarikh, Yaqubi, vol 2 p 199, vol 3 p 48, 195-96
- al Kamil, Ibn Atheer, vol 2 p 224-225, vol 3 p 457, 497, vol 5 p 63
vol 7 p 116
- al Iqd al Farid, vol 4 p 216, 283, 435
- Wafa al Wafa, vol 3 p 999-1000
- al Tabaqat al Kabir, vol 5 p 286-7
- Tarikh ul Khulafa, p 231-32, 356
- Muruj ad Dhahab, vol 4 p 82
- Sirah Umar ibn Abd al Aziz, Ibn al Jawzi, p 110
- Sharah, ibn Al Hadid, vol 16 p 277-78
14. It seemed that Fadak was recaptured from the descendants of Fatima (as) after the death of al Muntasir, because Abul Hasan Ali ibn Isa al Iribili (died 692/1293) mentioned: al Mutadid (279/892-289/902) retured Fadak to the descendants of Fatima.
Then he mentioned that al Muqtafi (289/902-295/908) seized it from them. It is said also that al Muqtadir (295/908-320/932) returned it to them.
Shia references: - Kash al Ghummah, vol 2 p 122 - al Bihar, vol 8 p 108
15. After this long period of recapturing and restoration, Fadak was returned to the possession of the usurpers and their heirs as it seems, no further mention was made in History and the curtain fell! Is it (then that) the judgement of (the times of pagan) ignorance they desire? And who (else) can be better than Allah to judge for a people of assured faith. [ 5 : 50 ]

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