Bayʿa (Arabic: البيعة) denotes pledging allegiance to the Prophet (s), an Imam, ruler, or caliph. In Islamic tradition, the first bay'a was declared by 'Ali (a) and Lady Khadija (a), with the Prophet (s) after accepting Islam as their religion. The first and second al-'Aqaba allegiances are bay'as that took place in Mecca, and these two, particularly the second al-'Aqaba alleginace, paved the Prophet's (s) path to migrate to Medina. Muslims swore allegiance to the Prophet (s) when setting off to the Battle of Badr in Medina. The Bay'at al-Ridwan or Bay'at al-Shajara, happened in 6/628, in Hudaybiyya. Men and women pledged allegiance to the Prophet (s) after the Conquest of Mecca in 8/630. The last bay'a which occurred at the presence of the Prophet of Islam (s) was Muslims' allegiance to 'Ali (a) in Dhu l-Hijja 18, 10/March 16, 632 in a place called Ghadir Khumm. The subject of this bay'a was the leadership and succession of Imam 'Ali (a) after the Prophet (s).
Bay'a was common before Islam, in Prophet's (s) era, after the Prophet (s), and in all the governments claiming to represent Islamic governments.
Literal and Idiomatic Meaning
Bay'a is an Arabic word (root: ب ی ع) that means "shaking and pressing hands and striking your right hand to the right hand of another person in order to establish allegiance".
Before Islam, it was traditional among Arabs to shake each others' right hands when buying and selling, that meant to determine and finalize the deal and making themselves faithful to its terms. This act of handshake was called "bay'a" or "safqa" by which the deal was made. Furthermore, to obey the leader of the tribe, the members swore allegiance by shaking hands (Musafaha). Because of its similarity with deal, this action was named bay'a as well.
Accordingly, most researchers suggest that the idiomatic meaning of bay'a in Islamic sources and texts is putting your right hand in one's right hand, representing obedience and leadership of him. Gradually, with evolution and variation in the form of bay'a, presently this word also denotes the allegiance and loyalty which this action is a sign of it. Afterwards, it became more ordinary in its second meaning.
The popular meaning of bay'a in the Holy Qur'an, history, sunna, kalam, and Islamic political fiqh is the allegiance that a person pledges to an Imam, ruler, or other person in order to obey him in a particular subject or generally be loyal to the requirements of his oath and commitment.
Before Islam, bay'a was commonplace to accept the superiority of a tribe leader, or assigning a person to an important position. Some bay'as can be mentioned as examples of bay'a before Islam such as Quraysh's and Banu Kinana's bay'a with Qusayy b. Kilab, the great ancestor of the Prophet (s), at the time of his decision to exile Khuza'a from Mecca.
During Prophet's Presence
First Bay'a in Islam
The first bay'a in Islam was 'Ali's (a) and Lady Khadija's (a) allegiance to the Prophet (s) after becoming Muslim; however, Ibn Shahrashub believes Bay'at al-'Ashira in Yawm al-Dar in the third year of commencing Prophet's (s) mission (Bi'tha) to be the first bay'a in Islamic history: During this day, the Prophet (s) was ordered by God to ask people to accept Islam and to request for Banu Hashim's bay'a. On the basis of Shi'a and Sunni hadiths, only 'Ali (a), who was the youngest of the family, pledged allegiance to the Prophet (s).
First and Second al-'Aqaba Bay'as
Two other important bay'as occurred in Mecca were the first Bay'at al-'Aqaba (al-Ula) after 12 years of starting Prophet's (s) mission (621 CE), and the second Bay'at Aqaba (al-Thaniya) in 13th year of start of Prophet's (s) mission (622) which both took place during Hajj in al-'Aqaba (a place between Mecca and Mina). Especially the second bay'a was a preliminary to the Prophet's (s) Hijra to Medina.
Before the Battle of Badr
Bay'at al-Ridwan or al-Shajara occurred in the 6/628 in Hudaybiyya. This bay'a is mentioned in 10th and 18th verses of Sura al-Fath. In 10th verse, bay'a with the Prophet (s) is considered the same as bay'a with God. In this verse, breaking the oath of bay'a (Nakth) is castigated and reward in other world is considered for those who are loyal to their bay'a. In 18th verse, pious men are promised to obtain victory soon, along with stating satisfaction of this bay'a.
After the Conquest of Mecca
Another bay'a, in which men and women swore allegiance to the Prophet (s), was after the Conquest of Mecca in 8/630 which the 12th verse of Sura al-Mumtahana refers to. In this verse, the Prophet (s) is demanded by God to make pious Mecca women pledge allegiance (bay'a) with him. Subjects of this bay'a which is prominent as Bay'at al-Nisa' in tafsir, hadith, and history books are: to avoid Shirk, to avoid theft and fornication (Fahsha'), not to kill their own offspring, not to assign other's children to their husbands, and not to disobey with the Prophet (s) and perform good deeds.
How Women Had Bay'a with the Prophet (s)
Most of historians believe, when Prophet Muhammad (s) wanted to make the pledge, he prepared a bowl of water and put his hand in it, then he would read the terms of pledge and asked women to do the same. As other hadiths state, bay'a was done through shaking hands having clothes on them. On the basis of some hadiths, women's bay'a was in the form of oral bay'a. Apart from these, there have been other forms of bay'a for women referred to in some hadiths.
As what al-Qasimi has written, aside from some bay'as such as Bay'at al-'Aqaba al-Thaniya, Bay'at al-Ridwan, and Bay'at al-Nisa' which took place at Prophet's (s) presence and women participated in it, there has been no report of women having bay'a with caliphs or rulers. Seemingly, bay'a was specified only to men in later eras.
Bay'a with Imam 'Ali (a) in Ghadir Khum
According to some sources, the last bay'a occurring at Prophet's (s) presence was Muslims' bay'a with Imam 'Ali (a) in Dhu l-Hijja 18, 10/March 16, 632 in an area called Ghadir Khumm. The content of this bay'a was the leadership and succession of Imam 'Ali (a) after the Prophet (s).
After the Prophet (s)
This tradition lingered on after Prophet's demise. The feature of these bay'as was to select a person as Prophet's (s) caliph and Islamic territory ruler, then a particular group or ordinary people have bay'a with him. This change was first started at the Event of Saqifa. During Prophet's (s) funeral, some people such as 'Umar b. al-Khattab, Abu 'Ubayda al-Jarrah, and some people of Muhajirun and Ansar assembled in a place called Saqifa Bani Sa'ida. They disregarded their bay'a with Imam 'Ali (a) and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr, building his succession up. Afterwards, some people had bay'a with him, and some of them were obliged to have one. Bay'a with caliph was preserved by later caliphs like 'Umar b. al-Khattab and 'Uthman b. 'Affan, and was turned into a political tradition. Also, people had bay'a with Imam 'Ali (a), who took over the power owing to their insistence. After Imam 'Ali (a) was martyred, people had bay'a with Imam al-Hasan (a). Of other bay'as with Shi'a Imams (a) is people's bay'a with Muslim b. 'Aqil on behalf of Imam al-Husayn (a), and Khurasan people's bay'as with Imam al-Rida (a) as the crown-prince of al-Ma'mun.
In Umayyads and Abbasids Era
The tradition of bay'a with caliph continued in Umayyads and Abbasids era with changes in form and content. Even though it was with reluctance in some cases, it started to change significantly in form and content since Mu'awiya government. The majority of Sunni writers believe Mu'awiya applied various factors such as applying force and power, threat, allurement, promising a part of government's territory, establishing discords, and conspiracy in order to build up his and his family's caliphate, and making people have bay'a with him and his son Yazid.
Little by little, the core of bay'a was mixed with obligation and reluctance. In fact, what was important was having bay'a, not whether to have it freely and optionally or by force and reluctantly. As Yazid ordered his governor in Medina, Walid b. 'Utba, to arrest Imam al-Husayn (a), 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr, and some other people to have bay'a, otherwise they were threatened to death by cutting their heads. bay'a became a ceremonial event, since showing loyalty towards a caliph by bay'a was so common at the beginning of a government or during caliphate for the coming government of his successor or successors.
Some bay'as were only in return for promises or spending money and properties, so that the money spent by al-Muqtadir al-'Abbasi for bay'a had become 3 million dinars. In addition, when settling the army, caliph paid an amount of money as "Rizq al-Bay'a" in return for bay'a to the army. Apparently, al-Raghib al-Isfahani had looked to this concept of bay'a that stated this definition below the word bay'a: to obey generously in return for little gift. There has been reported special bay'a of army commanders and soldiers of caliph, at the age of al-Mansur al-'Abbasi, al-Mahdi al-'Abbasi, and 'Isa al-'Abbasi. Sometimes, a bay'a, which was for succession of caliph, was reversed by caliph himself and another successor was determined.
In Governments Claiming Caliphate
On the basis of Shahidi's opinion, the tradition of bay'a was common in all the governments claiming caliphate such as Khawarij, Fatimids, Umayyads, Andulus, and even Uthmaniyyun. It was common in Iran until the local governments were loyal to the center Islamic caliphate. It apparently was wiped out when Abbasid caliphate was thrown. In addition to governments, the tradition of bay'a existed between the rebellious groups. For example, Iraq people's bay'a with 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr, his friends' bay'a with Zayd b. 'Ali b. al-Husayn, bay'a with Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah knwon as al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, and Khurasan people's bay'a with Abu Muslim al-Khurasani on behalf of Ibrahim al-Imam.
According to historical and hadith sources, bay'a was pledged by a Sigha (contract) in which its subject was contained, and mostly the person stated it.
As it states from its literal meaning, bay'a is in the form of shaking or pressing hands with right hand. Some lexicologists believe this process was the same for "half" (swear) and Ta'aqud (deal). Because of this, "half" is called "Yamin" (means right). Consequently, bay'a is named Safqa. When looking at the Prophet's (s) tradition, men's bay'a was in the way of the mentioned way.
Some exegetes explain the sentence 'The hand of Allah is above their hands' in the 10th verse of Sura al-Fath as a pointing to carry out bay'a by shaking hands. Overall, these are other forms of bay'a in hadiths. Also, sometimes bay'a was pledged merely by announcing satisfaction by the person doing it, without shaking hands.
Bay'at al-Khass and Bay'at al-'Amm
Ibn Shahrashub has divided the Prophet's (s) bay'as into two kinds: Bay'at al-Khass (specific) and al-'Amm (public). Bay'at al-Khass was merely for a special group such as the two bay'as that Ansar had in al-'Aqaba and the bay'a of 'Ali (a) in Yawm al-Dar. Bay'at al-'Amm was for all Muslims, like Bay'at al-Ridwan.
In some cases, bay'a was conditional, meaning a commitment was required in profit of the person pledging bay'a. However, sometimes condition is implied from the main subject of bay'a. Apparently, the only conditional bay'a in the Prophet's (s) tradition was Bay'at al-'Ashira, in which caliphate and succession was for the one who pledged bay'a. Some conditions like conforming to God's book and sunna of the Prophet (s) were the conditions of bay'a for some caliphs.
Bay'a Through Proxy
Sometimes bay'a was carried out through a proxy. For instance, women's bay'a with Imam 'Ali (a) on behalf of the Prophet (s) in Hudaybiyya, Kufa people's bay'a with Muslim b. 'Aqil on behalf of Imam al-Husayn (a), and the Prophet's (s) bay'a with himself on the behalf of 'Uthman -who was not present- in Hudaybiyya. Also, after the lands under control of Islamic caliphate were expanded, and bay'a became common with caliphs, the issue of bay'a by the people of under-control lands was raised. People of these areas often pledged bay'a with local ruler on behalf of caliph.
Changes in the Form
Bay'a experienced some changes in form. Although the tradition of shaking or pressing hands still continued a long time, it was emphasized and guaranteed by Istihlaf (taking oath) in Umayyads age. Hajjaj b. Yusuf determined some particular oaths by the name of "Ayman al-Bay'a" to be taken at the time of bay'a and consisted of some oaths. According to Ibn Khaldun bay'a became royal and noble in later times. Even the tradition of shaking hands with caliph was eradicated except for some close people to him, since it was somehow considered a humiliation for caliph. Afterwards, bay'a was carried out in the form of kissing the ground, or the hand, or foot of the ruler. Ibn Khaldun thinks bay'a, in the form of this action in his era is fake. Al-Katani had talked about a kind of written bay'a common in his age, in which the person wrote a text denoting to conform to the ruler, or his testifying of the ruler's superiority was mentioned in that text. On the basis of historic texts, some special formalities and ceremonies were held to carry out bay'a with caliphs or rulers in different lands.
Kalam and Fiqh Discourses
The word bay'a became a political concept after Prophet's (s) demise. Even in view of some Sunnis, it turned into a political expression after the Event of Saqifa. Kalam and fiqh references of Sunnis have mentioned significant consequences for bay'a with ruler; however, hardly have they taken the nature of bay'a under question.
In later fiqh sources, either Sunni or Shi'a fiqhs, there are various opinions about the legal nature of bay'a. The majority of them, regarding the literal meaning of bay'a and inspiring from its similarity with "'Aqd al-Bay'" (dealing contract), explain bay'a as an 'aqd (contract) containing a mutual commitment. In their viewpoint, this commitment requires the one who pledges bay'a to obey and follow the person, conform to his orders, and be loyal to him. Also, the mentioned commitment requires the one who receives bay'a to rule according to Qur'an and Sunna, to support the other side of commitment, to run the situation honestly and wisely and so on. Some scholars explain the meaning of bay'a in 10th verse of Sura al-Fath "dealing the souls and pure selves in return for the heaven".
Thinking deeply about Prophet's bay'as, not only verifies bay'a has an 'aqd nature (means it establishes mutual duties), but also represents that in all of them no commitment was on Prophet's (s) shoulders in return for the commitment people took such as conforming to Islam, helping and obeying the Prophet (s), jihad with pagans and so on. Yet, mutual rights the two sides of bay'a have were discussed in a hadith. What is meant by the rights of the person pledging bay'a, supported by that hadith and Qur'an verses, is divine help and reward which actually are the consequences of conforming to the requirements of bay'a, not something which they do bay'a for. In Imam 'Ali (a)'s words, bay'a is considered as one of the ruler's rights towards people. Apparently, most researchers accordingly explained the concept of Bay'a as a pledge or giving obedience. Some of them think bay'a is not a mutual commitment and is similar to 'aqd al-hiba (gifting contract), and even some researchers believed it to be from iqa' (one-sided contract) subject. Some authors think bay'a is a one-side commitment, not mutual.
Main Elements and Conditions
Bay'a has three main elements, if its nature is 'aqd: the one who pledges bay'a, the one who receives bay'a, and the content of bay'a. Because of its 'aqd nature, the two sides must have required conditions like maturity, growth, and reason, as fiqh viewpoint states. However, bay'a for kids has been prescribed in some Sunni hadiths. In some hadiths, the ability of the person pledging bay'a is conditioned. One of the requirements which has been emphasized in fiqh sources is presence of option and lack of reluctance in each side of bay'a. Some Sunni sources consider bay'a with force or reluctance corrupted religiously, and alongside think it is legal and influential if some conditions are reached.
Political Attitude of Sunnis
Bay'a is one of the main controversial issues between Shi'a and Sunni. After bay'a was carried out for the important matter of Islamic succession and leadership in the Event of Saqifa, Sunni theologians attempted to justify theological foundations on the basis of this occurrence in later eras. This belief was discussed in their theological sources: Imamate is reachable through people's will and selection and through bay'a, or bay'a is the only way for a person to become Imam. Afterwards, the authors of Sunni political fiqh like al-Mawardi and Abu Ya'li al-Farra' considered Imamate as one of the "Branches of Faith" (Furu' al-Din) instead of "Roots of Faith" (Usul al-Din). They discussed conditions and consequences of bay'a on the basis of this theological point in their works.
The majority of Sunni groups think bay'a of a group called "Ahl al-hall wa l-'aqd" is the requirement for someone to become caliph. Some of them like al-Ash'ari think the least number of people pledging bay'a for Imamate is one, some believe it to be two, some three, some five, and some of them 40 people. Some Sunnis state vaguely a group of "Ahl al-hall wa l-'aqd" is enough. Some faqihs of them believe caliphate is possible only through bay'a. A number of new and contemporary faqihs consider bay'a of all the people a main element for strengthening a caliphate in addition to the mentioned bay'a. They divided bay'a into three phases: nominating for caliphate, bay'at al-khassa (allegiance of nobles) and bay'at al-'amma (general allegianace). Al-Mawardi has mentioned preliminaries and phases of bay'a with more elaboration and details.
New Political Attitude of Sunnis
Most of Sunni faqihs and authors have tried to analyze bay'a so that it is an 'aqd with mutual commitment. They have attempted to make bay'a as equal as the theory of "social contract" by Rousseau, which is from basic rights foundations in democratic systems, trying to view it similar to the election and voting.
If majority of people's give an allegiance with a ruler, it would be requisite for minorities, too. Seemingly, Muhammad 'Abduh has stated this viewpoint the first time. However, this theory has critics even among Sunnis.
Political Attitude of Shi'a
In Shi'a viewpoints, it is not plausible to do bay'a for every matter. Supposing bay'a is an 'aqd, its content must be legal and religious. For instance, Shi'a theologians consider the issue of Imamat or the succession of the Prophet (s) as something which cannot be proved by bay'a a group of people or all of them. According to many rational and narrative reasons, Imam must be determined through the Prophet (s) by God's order. In Shi'a faqihs viewpoints, using reasons of the necessity of being loyal to the commitment or condition like "O you who have faith! Keep your agreements" (Qur'an, 5:1) as the reasons of the necessity of being loyal to bay'a is possible. But these reasons are not able to legitimize the subject of 'aqd, but only signifies the necessity of being loyal to the conditions of the religious 'aqd.
Also, in view of Shi'a scholars, the nature of bay'a in Prophet's (s) era, considering its literal meaning and the necessity to obey the Prophet (s), was not insha'i, but it had an emphatic aspect by rational and narrative reasons. In this sense, bay'a was used to emphasize faith to the Prophet (s) practically and to commit to the requirement of faith, and in some interpretations to create a new motivation for helping and obeying the Prophet (s). Therefore, the core of legitimacy (mashru'iyya) and proving the position of leadership for the Prophet (s), and even the obligation to obey him did not require bay'a. As this emphatic aspect of bay'a is obvious in bay'as with caliphs, particularly when caliphate was determined by former caliph in advance like 'Umar b. al-Khattab and 'Uthman b. 'Affan. This view of Sunnis either sourced from the tradition of bay'a with leader of the tribe before Islam, or is according to the claim to select all or some of the Prophet's (s) successors by bay'a. However, none of these two are supportive.
Another problem Imami scholars find with it is presence of force and at least reluctance in most of Bay'a cases with caliphs by referring to real historical events, and even some Sunnis have accepted this. By considering many hadiths and historical reasons, after what happened in the Event of Saqifa, Imam 'Ali (a), Banu Hashim, and some of great companions of the Prophet (s) did not pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr, and later did it reluctantly. Apart from this, one of the founders of this bay'a (i.e. 'Umar) thinks of it as a tactless task (falta) and did not approve of its repeat. Only in Imam 'Ali (a)'s age, optional bay'a was carried out. Even with too much insistence of his friends, 'Ali (a) did not accept bay'a with force. According to historical sources, limited number of people did not pledge allegiance, without being deprived of social rights or violated.
Some Sunni authors, supporting their claims by some speeches or letters in Nahj al-balagha , in which it talked about the requisite of bay'a even for those who had not pledged bay'a, have claimed that Imam 'Ali (a) and Imam al-Hasan (a) had approved of proving Imamate by bay'a. But Shi'a researchers have rejected this opinion, since not only disagreeing with proving Imamate with bay'a is one of requirements of Shi'a theology, but also it was emphasized by Imam 'Ali (a) himself. Because of this and other reasons, we should apply these hadiths in order to make the opponent silent and persuaded, when debates and squabbles.
New Political Attitude of Shi'a
Although most of Imami contemporary faqihs state only an emphatic role for bay'a in presence of Imam, some of them state a role that is further than emphasis for bay'a to faqihs in the absence of Imam, meaning they state a kind of insha' (having neither good aspect nor bad). However, some faqihs do not differentiate between bay'a in presence of Imam and his absence. Moreover, some contemporary faqihs believe to achieve a kind of wilaya (superiority) and democratic legitimacy through Bay'a in the Age of Occultation. A limited number of these faqih think of bay'a as an "'aqd al-wikala al-lazim" (obligatory contract of advocacy) which its subject is inshai' for wilaya and giving control over others. Accordingly, will and bay'a of majority is must-done in comparison with those minorities who did not pledged bay'a. Explaining bay'a as 'aqd al-wikala and also the obligation of this kind of 'aqd is discussed and debated continuously.
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