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Wednesday 27th of October 2021
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Saqifa and the Logic of History

Saqifa and the Logic of History

"Mohammed died at Medina on June 8, 632, without leaving any instructions for the future government of the Muslim community..."
This statement occurs in the article captioned Caliphate, on page 643, volume 4, 14th edition (1973) of the Encyclopedia Britannia. It is a patent piece of propaganda but the Encyclopedia Britannia, that great disseminator of knowledge, has swallowed the line.

It is the most divisive historical canard in Islam, but surprisingly, it goes unchallenged, century after century.

The Orientalists may not challenge this time-honored falsehood but it nevertheless raises some fundamental questions. These questions which relate to the ethos of Islam and the political philosophy of Muhammad, the Apostle of God, are listed below.

All of them rest on the premise that Muhammad did not (repeat not) appoint his own successor nor did he give any instructions to his companions for the future government of the Muslim community.

Therefore, when he died, his umma (people) found itself in a state of utter bewilderment.

 

1. Did Muhammad, the Messenger of God, and the Founder of the Government of Medina, consider himself qualified to appoint his own successor or not?

2. What could be the possible, hypothetical reason(s) for Muhammad's failure to appoint his own successor?

3. Since Muhammad did not appoint his own successor, did he charge the Muslim community with the task of electing or selecting its own leader?

4. Since the Muslim community lacked guidance for the selection of a leader, did the companions of Muhammad, by their common consent, and before appointing a leader (or even after appointing a leader) prepare a set of rules or guidelines to which they adhered (subsequently)?

5. What was the attitude and the conduct of the principal companions of Muhammad toward the leadership of the Muslim community after his death?

6. What was the practice of Muhammad in regard to the selection and appointment of officers?

7. What is Quran's verdict on Muhammad's practice?

8. What did Muhammad actually do about his succession?

9. What actually happened after the death of Muhammad?

10. What importance does the question of succession have in history in general?

An attempt has been made to answer these questions as follows:

Question 1

Did Muhammad, the Messenger of God, and the Founder of the Government of Medina, consider himself qualified to appoint his own successor or not?

Answer

No one would suggest, least of all a Muslim, that Muhammad was not qualified to appoint his own successor. A Muslim cannot imagine that the Apostle lacked the ability to select a successor for himself.

The Arabs were a notoriously arrogant, ignorant, turbulent and lawless breed. Muhammad promulgated the laws of God among them, and he compelled them to respect and to obey those laws. He created a political organization called the State or the Government of Medina. In that State, his powers were unlimited. He chose all its functionaries, civil and military. He could appoint an officer or he could dismiss him, arbitrarily, and without giving any reason(s) to anyone for doing so.

Muhammad's pattern of conduct was consistently consistent. He was, in fact, so consistent that he became almost "predictable." All Muslims knew that he would select and appoint capable men for all key positions, and they also knew that he would do so without consulting them. He did not even delegate authority to any of his companions to appoint officers. Muhammad, the Apostle of God, alone was qualified to select and to appoint his own successor, and no one else could have done it for him.

Question 2

What could be the possible, hypothetical reason or reasons for Muhammad's failure to appoint his own successor?

Answer

If Muhammad died without nominating his heir and successor, he is laid open to the charge of dereliction of duty. Whoever claims that he did not nominate his successor, is suggesting that he launched the frail vessel of Islam on turbulent seas without a compass, without a rudder, without an anchor and without a captain, and left it completely at the mercy of wind and wave. It is to presuppose that he was unmindful of the most vital interests of the Muslim umma, and that he was heedless of the welfare of the generations of Muslims yet to come. Such "heedlessness" on his part could have had three possible reasons, viz.,

(a) All members of the Muslim umma had become intelligent, wise, God-fearing and God-loving; and each of them had acquired perfect knowledge of the interpretation of Qur'an. Also, every individual was equal, in every respect, of every other individual. It was impossible for Satan to tempt or to mislead any of them. Therefore, Muhammad could leave the duty of selecting and appointing his successor to blind chance. He could take comfort in the thought that whoever was made the leader of the community by the drift of events, would be the right man; and the government of Medina and the community of the faithful, both could be entrusted to his care.

But such was not and could not be the case. It is impossible even for two individuals to be identical in ability, character and temperament. Muhammad knew that all the Arabs who had accepted Islam, were not necessarily sincere Muslims. Among them, there was a very large number of "hypocrites" or "nominal Muslims." Their presence in Medina is attested by Qur'an itself. They professed Islam outwardly but at heart they remained pagans. They were the enemies of Muhammad, of Islam, and of the State he had founded. They constituted a "fifth column" of paganism in Medina, ready to seize the first opportunity to subvert Islam. If Muhammad were to leave the new State without a head, he would, in effect, place in the hands of these ideological saboteurs, the very weapons with which they would destroy it.

Muhammad knew all this, and he died, not suddenly, but after a protracted illness. He had abundant time to attend to the important affairs of State the most important of which was the selection and nomination of his own successor. One thing he could not do, was to abandon his government, which was the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, to the care of some unknown favorite of fortune or some swashbuckling adventurer.

(b) Mohammed did not really love Islam. He was animated only by personal ambition. He wanted to bring the Arabian Peninsula under his control, and Islam was the means through which he succeeded in doing so. But once he realized his ambition he did not care if after his death, the government which he had founded, held together or went to pieces. He did not care if, after his death, the Arabs remained faithful to Islam or they relapsed into idolatry and barbarism.

What can be more absurd than to imagine that Muhammad did not love Islam? In Makkah, he endured torture, hunger, thirst, privation, indignity and exile, all for the sake of Islam. Once in Medina, he was called upon to make even greater sacrifices for Islam. Two of his uncles, three of his cousins, two adopted sons, and one foster brother, and numerous friends were killed in the defense of Islam. In due course, he became the sovereign of Medina but nothing changed in his lifestyle. Many members of the new community were destitute, and he fed them. He fed them his own food so that quite frequently, he and his children had to go hungry. This went on year after year. He made all these and countless other sacrifices only to make Islam viable and strong.

In Makkah, the Quraysh had offered Muhammad power, wealth and beauty if he would abandon his mission as Prophet of Islam. But he spurned them all. In spurning them, he was spurning "ambition." Perhaps it did not even occur to him that there was such a thing as ambition. The mainspring of his work for Islam was only his love for it. This love sustained him from beginning to end. He did have one "ambition" in life, and that was to see Islam become everlasting. He realized this "ambition" since we know that Islam is everlasting.

(c) Mohammed did not appoint his successor because he was afraid of opposition. Muhammad was an absolute stranger to fear. He challenged paganism at a time when he was all alone in the whole world, and that whole world was seething with hostility toward him. Paganism spent all its power to break him but it failed. He broke it. By dint of personal courage, he triumphed over a whole world. In two out of the five major campaigns of Islam, the Muslims were defeated, and they fled from the battlefield. But he stood firm and did not flee, and in fact, became the rallying point of the fugitives. His presence of mind revived the courage of the Muslims, and they returned to the battle.

After the battle of Hunayn, all Arabia was at the feet of Muhammad, and no tribe or even a coalition of tribes could challenge his power. His power, within the peninsula, was supreme. The question of his being afraid of anyone's opposition, therefore, does not arise.

Question 3

Since Muhammad did not appoint his own successor, did he charge the Muslim community with the task of electing or selecting its own leader?

Answer

The appointment of the Chief Executive of the community of the faithful was an important matter. Muhammad realized its importance. But for some unknown reason(s), he refrained from appointing him. The only possible reason that he did not appoint him can be that he charged the community with this duty.

But neither Abu Bakr and Umar nor the latter-day Sunni historians, ever made such a claim. They never claimed, for example, that Muhammad Mustafa said:

"O Muslims! I do not wish to appoint my own successor,"

or

"I cannot appoint my own successor,"

or

"I lack the ability to appoint my own successor. Since I lack this ability, I charge you with this responsibility. When I die, you elect or select a leader for yourselves."

No one has ever tried to attribute any such statement to Muhammad Mustafa. Muhammad Mustafa did not give his companions the authority to appoint even a petty official much less the future head of the State of Islam!

Question 4

Since the Muslim community lacked instructions for the selection of a leader, did the companions of Muhammad, by their common consent, and before selecting a leader (or even after selecting a leader) prepare a set of rules or guidelines to which they subsequently adhered?

Answer

The companions of Muhammad did not prepare, at any time, a set of rules to guide them in selecting a leader. In this matter, they adhered to the rule of expediency. First they appointed a leader, and then they formulated a "rule" or a "principle" for his selection. The Muslims "appointed" the first four, the "rightly-guided" caliphs. The appointment of each of them led to the discovery of a new "rule" or a new "principle." These four "principles" were duly incorporated in the political thought of the Muslims.

But soon a new caliph came to power in Syria. His rise led to the discovery of a new "principle" known as "Might is Right." This "principle" made the first four "principles" obsolete. From this time, caliphate was to be the prize of the candidate who could use brute force more brutally than his opponents. This "principle" has found the most universal acceptance among the Muslims throughout their long history.

Question 5

What was the attitude and conduct of the principal companions of Muhammad toward the leadership of the Muslim community after his death?

Answer

The Sunni Muslims say that Abu Bakr and Umar were the principal companions of Muhammad Mustafa. It were both of them, the principal companions, who seized the government of Medina at a time when Ali and all members of Banu Hashim were busy with his obsequies.

 

As soon as the Prophet died, his principal companions gathered in the outhouse of Saqifa to claim leadership of the community. This leadership, in their opinion, was so important that they could not pause even to bury their dead master and benefactor. The naked struggle for power erupted within minutes of the death of the Prophet. Zamakhshari, one of the most authoritative Sunni scholars and historians, writes in this connection:

"It was the consensus of all the companions that after the death of the Prophet they had to appoint his successor immediately. They believed that doing so was more important than even to attend the funeral of their master. It was this importance that prompted Abu Bakr and Umar to address the crowd of Muslims. Abu Bakr said: ‘O people, listen to me. Those of you who worshipped Muhammad, let them know that he is dead; but those who worshipped God, let them know that He is alive, and will never die.

Since Muhammad is dead, you should now decide who should be your future leader.' They said: ‘You are right; we must have a new leader.' We Sunnis and Mu'tazilis, believe that the community of the Muslims must at no time be without a leader. Sheer logic dictates this. Also, the Apostle of God had enacted laws, and had promulgated orders about the defense of Islam, the defense of Medina and the defense of Arabia. After his death, there ought to be someone to enforce his laws, and to execute his orders."

From the foregoing testimony, it is obvious that the companions of the Prophet realized how important it was for his umma to have a leader. They knew that if there was no one to implement the laws and orders promulgated by him, his umma would fall into disarray.
The situation reeks with irony. The companions were convinced that it was vitally important for the Muslim umma to have a chief executive but there was one man who was not convinced that it was important, and he was Muhammad! After all, if he were, he would have given it a chief executive. He was the only man to whom it did not occur that there ought to be someone to implement the laws and orders which he himself had promulgated.

The principal companions did not attend his funeral. For them, much more important than attending the funeral of their master, was to find a new leader. The problem was quite complex but they "solved" it by appointing one out of themselves, i.e., Abu Bakr, as the new leader of the Muslims.

Two years later, Abu Bakr lay dying. On his deathbed, he appointed Umar his successor, and the leader of the Muslims. In appointing Umar as his successor, he not only knew that he was discharging his most important duty but he was also aware that if he did not, he would be answerable to God for his failure to do so.

"Asma, the wife of Abu Bakr, says that when her husband was on his deathbed, Talha came to see him, and said: ‘O Abu Bakr! you have made Umar the amir of the Muslims, and you know well that he was such a tyrant while you were the khalifa. But now that he will have a free hand, I do not know how he will oppress the Muslims. In a short time you will die, and you will find yourself in the presence of God. At that moment you will have to answer Him for your action. Are you ready with an answer?' Abu Bakr sat up in the bed, and said: ‘O Talha! are you trying to frighten me? Now listen that when I meet my Lord, I will say that I have appointed the best man as the amir of the Muslim umma.'"

Abu Bakr added that his knowledge of and long experience with Umar had convinced him that no one in the Muslim umma could carry the burden of khilafat as well as he (Umar) could. He was, therefore, confident that his answer would satisfy God.

Abu Bakr knew that he would have to vindicate himself in the Tribunal of God for appointing Umar the ruler of the Muslims. He was convinced that he could not have chosen anyone better than Umar to be his successor. And Talha's anxiety for Abu Bakr's accountability to
God, only points up his own conscientiousness about his duty "to command others to do good and to forbid them to do wrong."
Irony again! All companions were idolaters before Muhammad, the blessed Messenger of God, converted them to Islam. Now, as devout Muslims, they were aware that they were answerable to God regarding their obligation to appoint his successor. But curiously, incredibly, there was one man who apparently had no awareness that, some day, he too might have to stand in the Tribunal of God, and be questioned regarding his obligation to appoint his successor.

He was Muhammad, God's Own Messenger! Muslims believe that Abu Bakr was ready to defend his action in appointing his successor, with an answer which he knew, would satisfy God. Do they also believe that Muhammad, their Prophet, was ready, to defend his failure to appoint his own successor, with an answer that God would find satisfactory?

After the death of Abu Bakr, his successor, Umar bin al-Khattab, ruled as khalifa for ten years. During the later years of his life, he was often seen engrossed in deep thought. Whenever questioned by his friends what he was thinking about, he said: "I do not know what to do with the umma of Muhammad, and how to appoint an amir who would lead it after my death."

Umar obviously considered appointing his successor a matter of great importance since he was devoting so much of his time and attention to it.

Umar's anxiety regarding the leadership of the umma after his own death, was shared by Ayesha, the widow of the Prophet. Tabari, the historian, reports the following in this connection:

"When Umar was dying, he sent his son to Ayesha seeking her permission to be buried near the Apostle and Abu Bakr. Ayesha said: ‘With the greatest pleasure,' and she added: ‘Give my salam to your father, and tell him that he must not abandon the Muslims without a leader otherwise there would be chaos after his death.'"

Ayesha was showing great solicitude for the welfare of the Muslims just as she should have. When Umar was dying, she counseled him not to abandon the Muslim umma without a leader, or else, she warned, chaos would follow his death. It is amazing that Ayesha never counseled her own husband to appoint a leader for the Muslims, and she did not warn him that chaos would follow his death if he left them leaderless.

But Ayesha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, had good reasons to be "discreet" with her husband, and did not bring up, for discussion with him, the subject of the appointment of a successor, at any time.

Question 6

What was the practice of Muhammad Mustafa in regard to the selection and appointment of officers?

Answer

During the last ten years of his life, Muhammad organized more than eighty expeditions. He sent out many of them under the command of some officer; others he led in person.

Whenever Muhammad sent out an expedition, he appointed one of his companions as its captain. He ordered the rankers to obey him, and he made him (the captain) answerable to himself. When the expedition returned to Medina, he debriefed the captain. It never so happened that he told the members of an expedition or a reconnaissance party that they had to elect or select their own captain.
In the event when Muhammad was himself leading an expedition out of Medina, he appointed a governor for the city, and made him responsible for maintaining law and order during his own absence. He never told the citizens that in his absence, it was their duty to elect or select a governor for themselves.

In 630 when Muhammad captured Makkah, and incorporated it into the new State, he appointed an administrator for that city, and he did so without consulting either the Makkans or his own companions.

Source : A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims by Sayed Ali Asgher Razwy

 


source : www.sibtayn.com
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