Truth be said, and every Muslim should take stock of this fact: family, ancestral, clannish, and ethnic self-centeredness even though mitigated by Rasul-Allah and the uncompromising critical mass of supporters around him, that tribal ‘asabiyah did not die out. At times when an aggravating “social” or “kinship” issue would emerge this ‘asabiyah would make itself known in that Arabian Peninsula emergent Islamic society fourteen centuries ago.
Consider the following information about the military campaign of Bani al-Mustaliq: As the Prophet of Allah set out with a contingent force comprising mostly of al-Muhajireen and al-Ansar—remember these are the cream of the crop of that budding Islamic society—as it happened, a person from the Muhajireen crowd struck another person from al-Ansar crowd on his back. These two individuals “got into a fight”.
The person belonging to al-Ansar called upon his fellow Ansar for help saying يا معشر الأنصار! [O Ansar kinsfolks]. Countering that, the person from the Muhajireen called upon al-Muhajireen for help, saying: يا معشر المهاجرين! [O Muhajireen kinsfolks]. This scuffle was brought to the attention of the Prophet (pbuh). His response was (and he is speaking to them and to all Muslims that carry a communal ego: ما لكم و لدعوة الجاهلية [What is it with you that you express yourselves with a jahili cliché].
The Prophet (pbuh) was then told the reason for raising such a slogan was a Muhajir striking an Ansari. Then the Prophet (pbuh) said: Renounce it [‘asabiyah: cliquish sticking together] for the reason that it smells horrible [دعوها فانها منتنة]. At that moment ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul said: (لئن رجعنا الى المدينة ليخرجن الأعز منها الأذل. ) سورة المنافقون: 8 [But if we return to al-Madinah the superior [of us] will expel the inferior [among us]; meaning that the upper class Ansar will kick out of al-Madinah the lower class Muhajireen. It could also mean that the first class ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul will drive out the lower-class Muhammad (pbuh).
This incident proves that there were less than sincere Muslims or dual loyalist Muslims or breakaway Muslims within the first Islamic society in al-Madinah. The rivalry between Makkah and Yathrib, dating back to the time before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) migrated to al-Madinah, was not psychologically, expressively and totally eliminated.
This dormant ‘asabiyah would break out with a vengeance as we will see during the power-grab of Bani Umayyah. We will see that the Umayyad clan had an axe to grind against Bani Hashim—the bloodline of our dearly loved Prophet (pbuh). The Umayyad officials bolstered their ‘asabiyah, among other things, by recruiting Machiavellian politicos, foxy functionaries, and opportunistic underlings.
The power hungry ‘asabiyah initiators surrounded themselves with the best communication talents money could buy—a throng of public speakers, poets and versifiers. After the khulafa’ and Imam ‘Ali, the public sphere was beleaguered with promoters and supporters of ‘asabiyah.
It was Imam ‘Ali’s teamwork with the Khulafa’ that blocked the comeback of ‘asabiyah the instant Allah’s Prophet passed on to heavenly peace when Sakhr ibn Harb, otherwise known as Abu Sufyan, extended his hand to Imam ‘Ali saying: “hold out your hand so that I may pay allegiance to you. By Allah! I will assemble a massive combination of forces and manpower against Abu Bakr.” The Imam turned away from him saying: “By Allah! You do not seek the visage of Allah.” Imam ‘Ali’s precise understanding of the ‘asabiyah underground in his society and among his people had him propel the Islamic public interest and unity forward even if that meant he would have to “take a back seat” as it were.
Imam ‘Ali cooperated with the critical mass of Muhajireen and Ansar who were worthy of it and Imam ‘Ali amnestied those who were being militarily misled as we learn from his behavior with his defeated antagonists at the battle of al-Jamal. Imam ‘Ali even excused the Khawarij, not because of their waywardness and criminality, but because they were motivated by earnestness and sincerity in what they erroneously thought to be truth and justice.
We invite the sectarians to go to the Qur’an as their reference. And to help them out we direct them to the following surah and ayah:
وان يريدوا أن يخدعوك فان حسبك الله هو الذي أيدك بنصره وبالمؤمنين الأنفال 62
And should they seek but to deceive you [O Muhammad by their display of peace] – behold, Allah is sufficient for you! He it is who has supported you with His [decisive] support, and [by giving you] committed Muslim [followers] -- Al-Anfal 62
وألف بين قلوبهم لو أنفقت ما في الأرض جميعا ما الفت بين قلوبهم ولكن الله ألف بينهم انه عزيز حكيم الأنفال 63
Whose hearts He has brought together: [for], if you had expended all that is on [and of the] earth, you [Muhammad] could not have brought their [Muhajireen and Ansar’s] hearts together [by yourself] – but Allah did bring them [your base of critical mass support] together. Definitely, He is magnificent, wise -- Al-Anfal 63
If nothing else, in this turbulent generation when sectarians are trying to rip us apart, we are in need of understanding these ayats and other ayats as much as we are in need of food and water. Understanding these ayats is necessary for our survival and our rebirth as a unified ummah. Can we agree that there was no animosity between Imam ‘Ali and the Khulafa’? Obviously if the Khulafa’ were usurpers of power, Imam ‘Ali would not have acted as a team with them.
Imam ‘Ali is not someone who would submit to illegitimate rulers or deal with them because of fear or favor. Let’s assume for a moment that Imam ‘Ali was “diplomatic” with the Khulafa’ when they were alive, but would he be tactful with them after they had passed away, when it is Imam ‘Ali who eulogizes the Khalifah ‘Umar by saying:
قوم الأمد وداوى العمد... ذهب نقي الثوب قليل العيب أصاب خيرها (يعني الخلافة) وسبق شرها. أدى الى الله طاعته واتقاه بحقه.
He [‘Umar] stayed the [Prophetic] course and assuaged the [‘asabiyah] intensification. He passed on untainted with hardly any defects. He garnered its [the post-Prophetic authority’s] benevolence and he preceded its malevolence. He offered Allah his obedience and he avoided Allah[’s retribution] as it comes due. This writer would not be surprised if the sectarians omitted this statement from Nahj al-Balaghah as it unmistakably defies their narrow-mindedness concerning the relationship between Imam ‘Ali and ‘Umar.
There should be no doubt that some of the hadith narration personalities that were considered above reproach by al-Bukhari (d. 256), Muslim (d. 261), and al-Kulaini (d. 229) were actually tainted by the widespread sectarian polarization during the third Hijri century.
The conveniently omitted fact-of-the-matter by both Sunni and Shi‘i sectarians is the reality that the psychological tug-of-war between those who were psychologically reborn and remade by the Prophet (pbuh) and the Qur’an on one side, and those who were still living in their pre-Islamic psychologies and mentalities even though they may have publically expressed their Islamic faithfulness on the other—the distance between these two population segments was very significant.
Not only was it very significant and relentless, it also extended for a long time. Not all the Arabians had the same level of Islamic commitment. We invite the Muslims who have culturally inherited a prejudiced view of Islamic history to open up the educative Qur’an and learn that those who were emotionally and spiritually “re-made” by Allah (swt) and the Prophet (pbuh) were the pioneers who led the way in the company of the Prophet (pbuh) from the Muhajireen and Ansar.
Those were the ones who had the radiance of divine commitment permeate their hearts and minds. They had no second thoughts about obeying Allah (swt) and His perfect Prophet (pbuh).
As for those who became Muslims the day Makkah was liberated and many thereafter, these were the types who “jumped on the Islamic bandwagon”. Their two decades of wars and hostilities against the Islamic pioneers (Ahl al-Bayt, al-Muhajireen, al-Ansar) were either suppressed or camouflaged. The majority of these types were to all appearances as “Islamic” as the founders and pioneers who sacrificed life and limb for an Islamic civil society and the Prophet’s leadership.
This ayah should help the jaundiced out of their biased reading of the first chapters of Islamic history:
… Not equivalent are those who spent [of what they had fleetingly from among the Muhajireen and Ansar] before the [grand military] breakthrough [and liberation of Makkah] and did their combat-duty [and those who did not do so of latter-day Muslims]; they [the former] are of a higher rank than those who would spend and fight [only] after it [the grand military breakthrough and liberation of Makkah] – although Allah has promised each the best of rewards. And Allah is well versed on what you do -- Al-Hadeed: 10