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Incident of Saqifa

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Early Islam
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The Event of Saqīfa Banī Sāʿida (Arabic: وَقعَة سَقیفَة بَني ساعِدَة) was the first political event that took place right after the demise of the Prophet (s) in 11/632. In this event, Abu Bakr b. Abi Quhafa was chosen as the first caliph and leader of the Muslim community. The event took place when Imam Ali (a) and other Companions were occupied with performing burial ceremonies for the Prophet (s). It started when a group of the Helpers under the leadership of Sa'd b. 'Ubada gathered in a place called the Saqifa (portico) of Banu Saʿida to appoint a leader after the Prophet (s).

According to some historians, the Helpers gathered in the saqifa only to appoint a leader for Medina, but when some of the Immigrants entered the sessions, the conversations were shifted to deciding who would succeed the Prophet (s) as the leader of all Muslims, and eventually Abu Bakr was chosen for the position. Apart from Abu Bakr, who was the representative of the Immigrants, Umar b. al-Khattab and Abu Ubayda al-Jarrah, two other Immigrants, were also present in the event.

The historians report that the election of Abu Bakr was not initially accepted by all. After the Insident of Saqifa, Imam Ali (a), Fatima (a), and others like Fadl and Abd Allah, the sons of the Prophet's uncle Abbas, Salman al-Farsi, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Miqdad b. Amr, and Zubayr b. Awamm were among those who objected to Abu Bakr's caliphate. The Shi'a maintain that the Event of the saqifa and its result were against the instructions of the Prophet (s) regarding the succession, according to which Imam Ali (a) was to succeed the Prophet (s).

Sunnis have argued for the legitimacy of Abu Bakr's caliphate by appealing to the principle of consensus.

Western scholars of Islamic Studies and some orientalists such as Lammens, Caetani, and Madelung have studied the Event of the Saqifa in detail.

Place

File:سقیفه بنی ساعده قرن 15ق.jpg

Main article: Saqifa Bani Sa'ida

the Saqifa was a portico that belonged to Banu Saʿida, a major Khazrajite clan based in Medina. Prior to the advent of Islam, the public sessions of the clan where held in this place. When the Prophet (s) moved to Medina, the place lost its significance.

The Details of the Event of the Saqifa

The main account of the event seems to have been narrated by Abd Allah b. Abbas on the authority of Umar b. al-Khattab. The account is reported by Ibn Hisham, al-Tabari, Abd al-Razzaq b. Hammam, al-Bukhari, and Ibn Hanbal with different chains of transmitters. All other accounts are based on this account, a summary of which is as follows. When the people in Medina were informed of the demise of the Prophet (s), a group of the Helpers gathered in the Saqifa to decide about the issue of leadership. In the beginning of the session, Sa'd b. 'Ubada, the chief of the tribe of Khazraj who was very sick at the time, delivered a speech with the help of his son. He mentioned a number of reasons to argue that choosing the successor of the Prophet (s) was the right of the Helpers, and he urged them to take this position. The audience generally affirmed his statements and proclaimed that they would choose Sa'd as their leader and would obey him. However, some of the participants mentioned that the Immigrants would probably disagree with this decision, and thus suggested that there should be one ruler from the Helpers and one from the Immigrants.

The news of the gathering reached Abu Bakr and Umar, and the two, together with Abu Ubayda al-Jarrah, rushed to the Saqifa. There, Abu Bakr delivered a speech in which he argued for the superiority of the Immigrants and the Qurashites were more deserving of the succession to the Prophet (s). His statements were accepted by some of the audience and rejected by others. Some of the participants mentioned that Ali (a) deserved that position and no one else should be chosen as the Prophet's (s) successor. However, Abu Bakr was able to convince the majority of the participants to choose the successor of the Prophet (s) from the Quraysh and suggested Umar or Abu Ubayda as two candidates for that, but the two refuse Abu Bakr's suggestion. Umar reports the course of events as follows, "At that moment, voices were raised, and vague words were heard from every corner such that we got afraid that disagreements may ruin things. For that reason, I told Abu Bakr, ‘Bring your hand so that I pledge my allegiance to you.’" But before Umar, Bashir b. Sa'd, one of the Khazrajite rivals of Sa'd b. 'Ubada held Abu Bakr's hand and pledged his allegiance to him. Afterwards, the participants rush to pledge their allegiance to Abu Bakr such that they almost stepped on the sick Sa'd b. 'Ubada. This led to a severe conflict between Umar, Sa'd, and Qays b. Sa'd, which ended with the intervention of Abu Bakr.

The Conversations at the Saqifa

Many conversations occurred between the Helpers and the Immigrants who joined them, all of which had a role in the final decision. However, the most influential speech was that of Abu Bakr and his companions. The most important talks in that event belonged to the following:

Sa'd b. 'Ubada: He spoke mainly in the beginning of the session and prior to the coming of Abu Bakr and his companions. Because he was sick, his speech was delivered to the audience with the help of his son. The main themes of his speech were the following: the virtues and excellence of the Helpers, their superiority over the other Muslims, their service to Islam and to the Prophet (s), and the fact that the Prophet (s) was pleased with them when he passed away. With these points, he stated that the Helpers should choose a leader from themselves. Against the suggestion of choosing one leader from the Helpers and one from the Immigrants, he said that the suggestion was a failure and a retreat.

Abu Bakr: Abu Bakr's sayings in this gathering determined the direction toward which it moved. He talked several times, and the main themes of his speeches were the following: the advantages of the Immigrants over the Helpers—including being the vanguard in accepting the Prophet's call, faith and worshipping God, their kinship with the Prophet (s)—which made them more deserving of the succession to the Prophet (s) than the Helpers, and the virtues of the Helpers and their being better fitted to be viziers, not caliphs.

Al-Habab b. al-Mundhir: He spoke in the Saqifa two or three times, and his speech each time contained instigation and threat against the Immigrants, and especially against Abu Bakr and Umar. He also repeated the suggestion of choosing one ruler from each tribe.

Umar b. al-Khattab: Umar mostly reinforced Abu Bakr's statements by mentioning some points, including the claim that the Arabs would not disagree with the succession of the Prophet's relatives and the impossibility of choosing two rulers, because two swords do not fit in one sheath.

Abu Ubayda al-Jarrah: In his speech, he warned the Helpers against changing the religion and ruining the unity of the Muslims.

Bashir b. Sa'd: He was one of the Helpers from the tribe of Khazraj. He spoke several times and affirmed the arguments of Abu Bakr and his companions. Urging the Helpers to fear God and respect Muslims' rights, he warned them against disagreeing with the Immigrants.

Abd al-Rahman b. Awf: He spoke about the place and virtues of such figures as Abu Bakr, Umar, and Ali (a), and reminded the Helpers that they did not have such personalities among them.

Mundhir b. Arqam: He was one of the Helpers. In the Saqifa and against the arguments of Abu Bakr and Abd al-Rahman b. Awf, he introduced Ali (a) as the one who had all the mentioned virtues. He stated that if Ali (a) is ready to accept the position, no one would oppose him. Mundhir's saying was affirmed by a group of the Helpers who proclaimed that they would only pledge their allegiance to Ali (a).

The Participant Groups

Most available reports of the Event of the Saqifa in Sunni sources indicate that the Helpers and Immigrants were generally present in the event. However, many sources have mentioned two phases for the people's pledging their allegiance to Abu Bakr: the first phase was during the Event of the Saqifa, and the second phase occurred on the next day when the rest of the Medinans pledged their allegiance. These reports challenge the claim that the majority of the Immigrants and Helpers were present in the event.

Historical studies show that, from the Immigrants, only Abu Bakr, Umar, and Abu 'Ubayda, probably together with a few of their servants and companions, were present in the gathering. Some scholars also mention that Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhayfa, was one of the first individuals who pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr at the Saqifa, but none of the reliable early sources mention his presence. Considering the evidence, some scholars have concluded that the number of the Immigrants present at the Saqifa was very small. The most well-known Helpers present at the Saqifa were Sa'd b. 'Ubada, his son Qays, Bashir b. Sa'd, Usayd b. Hudayr, Thabit b. Qays, Mundhir b. Arqam, al-Bara' b. 'Azib, and al-Habab b. al-Mundhir.

The Motivation of the Helpers for Gathering at the Saqifa

According to some scholars, the gathering of the Helpers at the Saqifa was caused by their concern for their future after the demise of the Prophet (s). They were especially worried that after the conquest of Mecca, the formation of a united Quraysh would throw the balance of power out of kilter.

The proponents of this theory do not see it unlikely that the Helpers were informed of a plan devised by a group of the Immigrants for the succession to the Prophet (s). Some other scholars maintain that the gathering at the Saqifa was a result of the following factors:

  • Because of their great sacrifices, the Helpers regarded the new religion of Islam as their own child and did not see anyone as more compassionate to it as themselves.
  • The Helpers were afraid that the Quraysh would try to take revenge on them, as their prominent figures were killed by the Helpers during the battles at the time of the Prophet (s). This worry may have been reinforced by the fact that the Prophet (s) had informed them of the oppression of the rulers after him against them and had instructed the Helpers to remain patient.
  • According to some scholars, the Helpers felt that the Quraysh would not accept the sayings of the Prophet (s) regarding Ali's (a) succession to him.
  • According to some others, Abu Bakr announced in the mosque of the Prophet (s) that the Apostle of God (s) had died. So a group of the Medinans gathered around him and pledged their allegiance to him as the successor of the Prophet (s). This created a misunderstanding in the minds of a group of the Helpers that it was permissible to appoint a caliph from them, which led to the gathering at the Saqifa.

The Standpoint of the Companions and the Prominent Figures of the Quraysh

Ali (a) and Ahl al-Bayt (a), together with some of the Immigrants and Helpers—such as 'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib, Fadl b. Abbas, al-Zubayr b. al-'Awwam, Khalid b. Sa'id, Miqdad b. 'Amr, Salman al-Farsi, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, Ammar b. Yasir, al-Baraʾ b. 'Azib, and Ubayy b. Ka'b—opposed the election of Abu Bakr as the caliph.

Some of these figures pointed out in several occasions that Abu Bakr was not qualified to be the successor to the Prophet (s). Some of their statements in this regard include the following:

  • Fadl b. al-Abbas accused the Quraysh of negligence and hiding the truth, and stated that the family of the Prophet (s) and especially Ali (a) were more deserving of the caliphate.
  • In his conversations with the people, Salman al-Farsi called the allegiance at the Saqifa a mistake and stated that the succession to the Prophet (s) was the right of Ahl al-Bayt (a), which would lead the society to all good.
  • Abu Dharr was not in Medina on the day of the Event of the Saqifa and was informed of what had happened when he arrived in the city. It is reported that he spoke about the right of Ahl al-Bayt (a) to the caliphate as soon as he was informed of the event, and once more during the caliphate of 'Uthman. He said that the caliphate of Ahl al-Bayt (a) would bring about abundant blessings and good.
  • Miqdad b. Ammar called the acceptance of the decisions of the Saqifa by the Muslims shocking and stated that Imam Ali (a) was the rightful successor of the Prophet (s).
  • Towards the end of his life, Umar b. al-Khattab said in a public lecture, “The allegiance with Abu Bakr was a slip that occurred and God saved the people from its evil. Whoever acts in that way for choosing the caliph, kill him!”
  • When Abu Sufyan, who had been sent by the Prophet (s) on a mission out of Medina, returned and was informed of the demise of the Prophet (s) and the allegiance at the Saqifa, he asked about the reaction of Ali (a) and Abbas b. Abd al-Muttalib. When he was told that they had kept their silence, he said, “By God, if I stay alive, I will take their feet to high places … I see dust that would not descend unless by a rain of blood.” It is reported that he recited some poems in favor of Ali (a) and criticizing Abu Bakr and Umar.
  • Many years later, in a letter to Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, Mu'awiya wrote, “Your father and his Faruq were the first ones who deprived Ali (a) of his right and opposed him. They collaborated and urged Ali (a) to pledge his allegiance to them. When Ali (a) refused, they made wrong decisions and dangerous plans against him, so Ali (a) pledged his allegiance to them.”

Ali’s (a) Reaction

Timeline of Imam 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) life
Mecca
599 Birth
610 The first person who believes in Islam
619 Demise of Abu Talib (Father)
622 Laylat al-Mabit: sleeping in the place of the Prophet (s)
Medina
622 Hijra to Medina
624/2 Participating in the Battle of Badr
625/3 Participating in the Battle of Uhud
626/4 Demise of Fatima bt. Asad (Mother)
627/5 Participating in the Battle of Khandaq and killing 'Amr b. 'Abd Wadd
628/6 Writing the content of Hudaybiyya peace treaty
629/7 Victorious of Khiybar castle in the Battle of Khaybar
630/8 Participating in Conquest of Mecca and breaking idols by the order of the Prophet (s)
630/9 Successor of the Prophet (s) in Medina in the Battle of Tabuk
632/10 Participating in Hajjat al-Wida'
632/10 Event of Ghadir
632/11 Demise of the Prophet (s) and his burial by Imam 'Ali (a)
Three caliphs period
632/11 Incident of Saqifa and beginning of Caliphate of Abu Bakr
632/11 Martyrdom of Lady Fatima (a)
634/13 Beginning of Caliphate of 'Umar b. al-Khattab
644/23 Participating in Six-Member Council
644/23 Beginning of Caliphate of 'Uthman b. 'Affan
Caliphate
655/35 Beginning of his Caliphate
656/36 The Battle of Jamal
657/37 The Battle of Siffin
658/38 The Battle of Nahrawan
661/40 Martyrdom

The historians agree that Ali (a) did not pledge his allegiance to Abu Bakr on the day of the Saqifa. However, there is disagreement as to when and if he pledged his allegiance afterwards.

Al-Shaykh al-Mufid maintains that “the view of the scholars of the Shi'a and the true opinion is that Amir al-Mu'minin Ali b. Abi Talib (a) never pledged his allegiance to Abu Bakr.” During the first days after the Saqifa, when the supporters of Abu Bakr tried to force him to pledge his allegiance to Abu Bakr, Imam Ali (a) said to them, “I am more deserving of the caliphate than you, and I will not pledge my allegiance to you. You are more deserving of pledging your allegiance to me. You took the caliphate away from the Helpers arguing that … because you were closer to the Prophet and were his kin, you were more deserving of the caliphate than them. Now, I argue against you by the same reasons that you mentioned against the Helpers. If you fear God, be fair with me, and accept from me the same thing that the Helpers accepted from you; otherwise, you will have knowingly done wrong”.

It is reported that Ali (a) had a gentle but frank and lengthy debate with Abu Bakr, in which he condemned Abu Bakr for neglecting the right of Ahl al-Bayt (a) in the Event of Saqifa. Abu Bakr accepted the arguments of Ali (a) and was about to abdicate and pledge his allegiance to the Imam (a), but he consulted some of his companions and eventually refused to do so. On different occasions, Ali (a) objected to the decision made at the Saqifa and reminded people of his right to succeed the Prophet (s).

Al-Shiqshiqiyya Sermon is one of the most well-known speeches of the Imam (a) in this regard. In the beginning of this sermon, Imam Ali (a) says, “Beware! By Allah, the son of Abu Quhafah [Abu Bakr] 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 up to me.”

It is reported that after the Event of the Saqifa and before the demise of Fatima (a), Ali (a) and Fatima (a) would go together to the houses and gatherings of the Helpers and ask them for support. The helpers would say in response, “O daughter of the Prophet! We have already pledged our allegiance to Abu Bakr. Had Ali (a) come forth, we would not have chosen anyone else.” Then Ali (a) would respond, “Was I to leave the Prophet (s) unburied and argue about the caliphate?!”

Fatima’s Reaction

After the Event of the Saqifa, Fatima (a) severely opposed it and proclaimed that it was a transgression of the instructions of the Prophet (s). She articulated her opposition most clearly in her sayings when the supporters of Abu Bakr besieged her house and tried to force Ali (a) to pledge his allegiance to Abu Bakr and also in her well-known Fadakiyya Sermon, which she delivered at the mosque of Medina.

It is reported that Fatima (a) further referred to the Saqifa in the last days of her life, when the women of the Helpers came to visit her, as a violation of the Prophet's commands and warned about the consequences of this disobedience for the future of Islam.

The Saqifa in the View of Western Islamicists

  • Henri Lammens: In 1910, the Belgian scholar Henri Lammens (1862-1937) published an article entitled Triumvirate of Abu Bakr, 'Umar, and Abu 'Ubayda, in which he argued that the close cooperation of these three men in the lifetime of the Prophet (s) and their plans for the succession resulted in the caliphate of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. Had Abu 'Ubayda not died during the caliphate of Umar, he would have certainly become the third caliph. Although Lammens does not speak of a conspiracy to attain the caliphate, his claim certainly implies this term. He claims that A'isha and Hafsa informed their father of all the hidden thoughts and decisions of their husband.
  • Leone Caetani: The Italian orientalist Leone Caetani talks about a deep rift between Abu Bakr and Banu Hashim, and considers Abu Bakr's claim to succession in the Event of the Saqifa surprising. He indirectly accepts the seriousness of Ali's claim to the succession. Later, Caetani affirmed Lammens' theory of the triumvirate of Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubayda.
  • Wilferd Madelung: In his book The Succession to Muhammad, Madelung has thoroughly explores the topic of the succession to the Prophet (s). Unlike most historians, he believes that the gathering at the Saqifa was not initially intended to choose a successor for the Prophet (s). The Helpers simply thought that after the demise of the Prophet (s), the allegiance to him had expired and the integrity of the society was in danger. So they decided to choose a ruler from themselves for their own city, Medina. This is why they gathered without informing the Immigrants, whom they thought would return to Mecca. And those who did not want to return, the Helpers thought, would have no problem with the rule of a Helper over Medina.

Madelung maintains that it was only Abu Bakr and Umar who believed that the successor of the Prophet (s) should rule over all the Arabs, and the Qurashites are the only ones deserving of the succession. He holds that prior to the demise of the Prophet (s), Abu Bakr had the plan to become the successor of the Prophet (s) and to surpass his rivals, the most important of whom were Ahl al-Bayt (a). The gathering at the Saqifa provided an opportunity for Abu Bakr to reach his goal. In that gathering, he first suggested that Umar and Abu Ubayda, who did not have any chance, should succeed the Prophet (s). It is clear that this suggestion was not serious and was intended only to create arguments among the participants and lead to the conclusion of the session in his favor.

Madelung believes that the point made by some Sunnis and Western scholars that Ali (a) was not a serious candidate because of his young age and inexperience compared to Abu Bakr and Umar is false and that there are other reasons why Ali (a) was not chosen for the caliphate.

The Event of the Saqifa in Shiite Theology

The Shi'a believe that the gathering at the Saqifa and its result were violations of the clear instructions of the Prophet (s) regarding the succession. The Shi'a have appealed to some Quranic verses, historical events, and hadiths mentioned in Sunni sources, the most significant of which is the Event of Ghadir. According to the Shia, in that event, the Prophet (s) introduced the succession of Ali (a) to himself as the perfection of his prophetic mission.

Muhammad Rida al-Muzaffar mentions seventeen massively transmitted or well-known hadiths related to the events in which the Prophet (s) clearly or with some ambiguity pointed to the succession of Ali (a) to himself, such as the Event of Warning the Close Kin, Hadith al-Ghadir, the Event of the Covenant of Brotherhood, the stories related to the succession in the battles of Khandaq and Khaybar, the Hadith of the Fixer of the Shoes, and such hadiths as the following: “Ali is of me and I am of Ali, and he is the guardian of all believers after me,” “For every prophet, there is an executor of his will, and the executor of my will and my inheritor is Ali b. Abi Talib,” and “I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is its gate.” The verses 5:55[1], 33:33[2], and 3:61[3] are among the Quranic verses which Shiite apologists use to demonstrate the succession of Ali (a) to the Prophet (s).

The Results of the Event of Saqifa

Many scholars maintain that several historical events after the demise of the Prophet (s) were the consequences of the Event of Saqifa, including the following:

  • Confiscation of Fadak: Some historians maintain that the purpose of the confiscation of Fadak was to weaken Ahl al-Bayt (a) economically. This measure would strengthen the rule of the first caliph and would prevent the family of the Prophet (s) from opposing the caliph's rule.
  • The Tragedy of Karbala: According to some scholars, the course that was taken for choosing the Prophet’s successor in the Event of Saqifa led to a chaos in how a caliph was to be chosen: once in the middle of a conflict between the Helpers and a few individuals from the Quraysh, once with the will of the first caliph, once in a six-member council, and once with Mu'awiya appointing his son Yazid as his successor and requiring everyone to pledge his allegiance to him—to a person who caused the tragedy that took place in Karbala.

The Saqifa and the Principle of Consensus

One of the sources of jurisprudence among Sunnis is the principle of consensus, which is also used to justify the election of Abu Bakr in the Event of the Saqifa.

According to some Shiite scholars, the Sunnis have used the principle of consensus against the Shiite view on imamate and in order to negate the need for an infallible Imam. They initially used it to justify the decision made at the Saqifa and then extended it to other doctrines.

Monographs

The Event of Saqifa and its details are recorded in the sources of Islamic history, such as Tarikh al-Tabari and Tarikh al-Ya'qubi. There are also a number of monographs that specifically deal with this episode and provide an analysis of its details. Some of the most significant of these monographs are the following:

  • Al-Saqifa, written by Abi Salih al-Salil b. Ahmad b. Isa.
  • Al-Saqifa wa bay'a Abi Bakr, written by Abi Abd Allah Muhammad b. Umar al-Waqidi (130/747-8 - 207/822-3).
  • Al-Saqifa, written by Abi Mikhnaf Lut b. Yahya b. Sa'id (157/773-4).
  • Saqifa wa ikhtilaf dar ta'yin khalifa (published in 1334 sh/1955-6, Tehran), written by Sahab b. Muhammad Zaman al-Tafrishi.
  • Al-Saqifa, written by Abi Isa al-warraq Muhammad b. Harun.
  • Al-Saqifa, written by Muhammad Rida Muzaffar.
  • The succession to Muhammad, written by Wilferd Madelung.
  • Saqifa, barrisi-i nahwa-yi shikl giri'i hukumat pas az rihlat-i payambar, written by Murtada Askari.
  • Al-Saqifa wa l-khilafa, written by Abd al-Fattah Abd al-Maqsud.
  • Al-Saqifa wa fadak, written by Ahmad b. Abd al-Aziz al-Jawhari al-Basari.
  • Mu'tamir al-saqifa, dirasa mawdu'iyya li akhtar hadith fi tarikh al-islam al-siasi, written by Baqir Sharif al-Qarashi.
  • Mu'tamir al-saqifa, nadira jadida fi al-tarikh al-islami, Sayyid Muhammad Tijani Samawi.
  • Nagofti-hayi az saqifa, written by Najm al-Din Tabasi

Notes

  1. إِنَّما وَلِيُّكُمُ اللَّهُ وَرَسولُهُ وَالَّذينَ آمَنُوا الَّذينَ يُقيمونَ الصَّلاةَ وَيُؤتونَ الزَّكاةَ وَهُم راكِعونَ Your guardian is only Allah, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakāt while bowing down.
  2. إِنَّما يُريدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجسَ أَهلَ البَيتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُم تَطهيرًا Indeed Allah desires to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household, and purify you with a thorough purification.
  3. فَمَن حاجَّكَ فيهِ مِن بَعدِ ما جاءَكَ مِنَ العِلمِ فَقُل تَعالَوا نَدعُ أَبناءَنا وَأَبناءَكُم وَنِساءَنا وَنِساءَكُم وَأَنفُسَنا وَأَنفُسَكُم ثُمَّ نَبتَهِل فَنَجعَل لَعنَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَى الكاذِبينَ Should anyone argue with you concerning him, after the knowledge that has come to you, say, ‘Come! Let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, our souls and your souls, then let us pray earnestly and call down Allah’s curse upon the liars.’

References