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We Are Inclined To See Things Not As They Are, But As We Are

Abu Dharr

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Diffusing the Sunni-Shi‘i deep-seated sectarian schism requires a fact-based mind and an unprejudiced attitude that is guided by the immaculate ayats and sound surahs of the comprehensive Godly-perfected Qur’an along with across-the-board authenticated information from Allah’s Prophet (pbuh). A careful reading of the divinely-sourced Qur’an and the Prophet’s elucidation would have us deem all social beings prone to making mistakes.

This does not mean that all social beings are likely to become villains or criminals. By consensus among all Muslims – past and present— Prophets of Allah (swt) were amended when they made mistakes, took missteps, or erred. This does not mean the Prophets sinned, transgressed or committed a crime. Had that been the case they would never have become Prophets by the decree of Allah (swt) to begin with.

This is what is meant when all Muslims say that the Prophets of Allah are ma‘sum (trustworthy, dependable, and failsafe). For those who seek further lucidity on this matter please refer to the ayats in the leading Qur’an about Adam when he “disobeyed” Allah, and about Prophet Nuh when he tried to include his own son within the designation of (his) family, and about Prophet Yunus when he gave up on his own society and left them.

Prophet Musa punched a man resulting in that man’s death, and Prophet Harun “tolerated” the deviation of Bani Isra’il in the absence of his brother Prophet Musa, and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him (pbuh) and all the Prophets) when he granted some individuals permission to stay at home prior to the battle of Tabuk. This is not an exhaustive list of the Prophets’ unintentional flaws, or unpremeditated shortcomings, or inadvertent faults which, once again we have to repeat, do not amount to immoralities, misdeeds, or evils.

But in the heat of sectarian malaise, some biased Sunnis want to elevate the khulafa’ and other “sahabah” to a level of infallibility perfection and dependability under the designation of عدالة الصحابة (the unimpeachable validity-integrity of the companions). On the other hand, some subjective Shi‘is want to elevate the Imams to the status of perfect infallibility under the distinction of عصمة الأئمة [the infallibility of Imams].

These types of diehard divisionists are politely requested to anchor their minds in the meanings of the Qur’an as it explains to us the pertinent lifetime details of the Prophets (pbuh) and all social beings, and do away with their wrong-headed acrimony. This perception of the Prophets does not demean, degrade, or debase them.

Now let us go back with a Qur’anically-opened mind to the Prophet’s first generation of committed Muslims—the core of which were the Prophet’s immediate family, the Prophet’s proximate responders, and the Prophet’s adjoining supporters. How did they think about filling the vacancy that was left when their most beloved passed away?

They all knew that shura was required and they all knew that the Prophet (pbuh) had put forward Imam ‘Ali. Were they selfish, wanting to claim leadership because of personal ego, or family superiority, or community-self-centeredness, or tribal self-regard, or class interest? Our understanding of the disciplined struggle they sustained during and together with the Prophet’s lifelong jihad excluded the overwhelming majority of them from such egocentrism.

Much more to the point, their common jihad bonded them closer to each other: فألف بين قلوبكم فأصبحتم بنعمته اخوانا [“And He harmonized your hearts after which you, due to His blessing, became [ideological] brethren.” (Aal-‘Imran 103).

One of the chapters of those early years has to do with the appointment of a committee by ‘Umar when he was on his deathbed. It was to decide who shall be the ruler after ‘Umar dies. Here we have to state with honesty and candor that a fallible ‘Umar used his imperfect but sincere assessment as to who and how many individuals are to decide on nominating and validating the third ruler after the Prophet (pbuh).

We notice that the committee of six individuals appointed by ‘Umar excluded anyone from the Ansar but not from the Ahl al-Bayt as Imam ‘Ali was a member of that committee. It was also a provisional (temporary) committee that would disband once the third successor to the Prophet (pbuh) was decided upon—of course with the necessary popular approval and concurrence of the inhabitants of al-Madinah. We who are living in the 15th hijri century after all that happened, have to remind ourselves that communication and transportation at that time were sluggish and primitive. Besides, there were some influential committed Muslims who were far away from al-Madinah on military duty.

‘Umar made it clear that the committee’s decision has to be finalized within three days. This tells us that there was a possibility of internal strife if a leader was not agreed upon immediately and without delay.

With hindsight we can improve on the honesty and earnestness of ‘Umar and ask ourselves why was there no deputy or second-in-command who would assume the leadership position when the leader (khalifah) passed on? Could not that committee of six muhajireen been expanded later on to include representatives of the Ansar as well as those who were ardent supporters of Imam ‘Ali?

This committee within the exponential growth of that Islamic society could have developed into a house of representatives or a type of “parliament” through a comprehensive participatory arrangement or electoral engagement—thus fulfilling the mandatory requirement of shura. Reading the character of ‘Umar carefully it may be fair to say that with his discussions and meetings with Imam ‘Ali, a procedure of that type would have been agreed upon had ‘Umar not been assassinated. We must hasten to say here that the mannerly and respectful relationship between Imam ‘Ali and ‘Umar is absent, neglected or excluded in the conventional and even unconventional Islamic history books.

If an Islamic guidance council had been established, it may have saved us the tumult that resulted leading to and due to the assassination of ‘Uthman. Another question that should seek a well-structured answer is: is it permissible for an Islamic guidance council to disqualify or impeach or terminate a khalifah or a legitimate Islamic ruler when he becomes either physically incompetent or mentally-diminished or fails to carry out his Islamically defined duties?

Is it acceptable for a khalifah to resign from his post when the popular will turns against him? Most of these questions presented themselves to the Muslims during ‘Uthman’s time in office.

So, what happened within that six-member committee? It appears that they consigned/entrusted ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf to resolve who and how to decide on the third ruling successor to the Prophet (pbuh). It does not appear that there was any “brain-storming” of the issue among the committee members themselves. In that short period of a couple of days or so, the Prophet’s companion Suhaib, as recommended by ‘Umar, led the congregational prayers.

Some companions “camped out” at the residence of ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf awaiting his finding/pronouncement. Meanwhile ‘Abd al-Rahman was not content with earnest and devotional du‘a and prayers; he journeyed into the public square probing how people in al-Madinah felt about a future ruler. He also encouraged them to come to him and advise on this matter. He wanted to know not only how active committed Muslim men thought about who a new leader shall be, but he also consulted with prominent and active Muslim women—first and foremost among them were the Prophet’s wives.

After spending what appears to be three lengthy days, ‘Abd al-Rahman called on Imam ‘Ali and ‘Uthman to come and meet with him. He spoke to each one of them separately. He asked Imam ‘Ali: If I were to exclude you from the leadership position, who would you suggest to become the leader? Imam ‘Ali replied: ‘Uthman. Then ‘Abd al-Rahman asked ‘Uthman the same question. ‘Uthman replied: (Imam) ‘Ali. There are some legitimate concerns and doubts about this mainstream narrative as there was no one present to witness this session.

What seems to be reliable is the fact that ‘Abd al-Rahman spoke to each of them independently and discreetly. Then ‘Abd al-Rahman summoned the public to a “town hall” meeting. By the way, public gatherings were adjourned after it was openly announced typically by the muezzin saying الصلاة جامعة [Salat brings [us] together]. The masjid became filled and crowded with the faithful. Then ‘Abd al-Rahman ascended the minbar of the Prophet and was seated as the Prophet (pbuh) did unlike Abu Bakr who sat one step lower than the Prophet did, and ‘Umar who sat two steps lower than the Prophet on that minbar.

When ‘Uthman became the khalifah he said something to the effect that the third step down is a step too steep, and so he sat where the Prophet (pbuh) sat and not where Abu Bakr and ‘Umar modestly sat on the Prophet’s minbar. Surely, they who are securely committed to Allah, and they who have deserted the state-of-affairs of injustice and are striving hard in Allah’s cause, these are the ones who request Allah’s grace; for Allah is much-forgiving, immensely merciful – Al-Baqarah, 218

(To be continued)…

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 54, No. 2

Ramadan 22, 14452024-04-01

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