Karram Allah Wajhah

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Karram Allah wajhah (Arabic: كَرَّمَ اللهُ وَجْهَه, literally: May God honor his face) is an honorific phrase used by Sunni Muslims after Imam 'Ali (a)’s name, whereas they use “radi Allah ʿanhu” (may God be pleased with him) for other companions of the Prophet (s). Shi'as use the phrase “ʿalayh al-salam” (peace be upon him) for Imam ʿAli (a), instead of “karram Allah wajhah.”

Sunni scholars exclusively use the sentence “karram Allah wajhah” for Imam ʿAli (a) because he never prostrated for an idol. However, ʿAbd al-ʿAziz bin Baz, the Wahhabi mufti, believes that such an exclusive use was a Shiite heresy.

Hafiz Rajab Bursi believes that the exclusive use of “karram Allah wajhah” for Imam ʿAli (a) by Sunnis is a reason for his superiority over the other three caliphs. Some Shiite researchers cite the reason why this phrase was exclusive to Imam ʿAli (a) as well as Quranic verses such as “My pledge does not extend to the unjust” and “yet some of them are those who wrong themselves” to argue that the first three caliphs were not competent for the position of imamate, since on these verses those who commit sins have wronged themselves and are unjust, and so God’s pledge, i.e. imamate, does not extend to them.

The Notion

“Karram Allah wajhah” (literally: “may God honor his face” if it is read as a prayer, or “God has honored his face” if it is read as a past declarative sentence) is an honorific phrase used by many Sunni Muslims after mentioning Imam ʿAli (a). Ibn Hajar Haytami and Muʾmin Shiblanji, two Sunni scholars, have interpreted the phrase as saying that “God has protected him from worshiping anything but God.” In some Sunni works, the phrase “karram Allah wajhah fi-l-janna” (may God honor his face in the heaven/God has honored his face in the heaven) is also used for Imam ʿAli (a).

Ahmad b. Hanbal, one of the four major Sunni jurists, has cited the Hadith of Flag according to which when the Prophet (s) handed over the flag to Imam ʿAli (a) in the Battle of Khaybar, he described the Imam as “wa-lladhi karram wajh Muhammad” (and who has honored Muhammad’s face).

Exclusiveness to Imam ʿAli (a)

According to Ibn Kathir and Ibn Hajar Haytami, two Sunni scholars, the honorific phrase “karram Allah wajhah” is exclusively used for Imam ʿAli (a) by many Sunni scholars. For caliphs other than Imam ʿAli (a) and for other companions of the Prophet (s), they often use the phrase “radi Allah ʿanhu” (may God be pleased with him), but they use “karram Allah wajhah” only for Imam ʿAli (a), and not for the early three caliphs or other Sahaba. Ahmad b. Muhammad Khafaji and Muhammad b. Ahmad Safarini, two Hanafi scholars, have also said that the phrase was common among Sunni Muslims. In books written in the twentieth century, too, the phrase “karram Allah wajhah” is also exclusively used for Imam ʿAli (a).

The Reason for the Exclusive Use

Sunni scholars have given the following reasons for the exclusive use of “karram Allah wajhah” for Imam ʿAli (a):

  • Having never prostrated for idols: Ibn Hajar Haytami and Muʾmin Shiblanji have said that the reason why the phrase “karram Allah wajhah” is exclusively used for Imam ʿAli (a) was that he never prostrated for an idol. Ibn Hajar said that Abu Bakr also never prostrated for idols, although in ʿAli’s case this is agreed by all and is not a matter of disagreement. Moreover, in response to those who say that there were other Sahaba such as 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas and 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar who never prostrated for idols, Haytami says that they were born after the destruction of polytheism. So, they are not like those who were born in the period of idolatry but never worshiped idols.
  • ʿAli’s Respect for the Prophet (s) before his birth: According to Jalal al-Din Dawani, a Muslim theologian and philosopher, when Fatima bt. Asad was pregnant with Imam ʿAli (a), whenever she saw Muhammad (s) she involuntarily stood up as a respect for him. The reason was that the baby in her womb moved in such a way that forced her to stand up. Dawani says that this story was the reason why Sunni scholars exclusively used “karram Allah wajhah” for Imam ʿAli (a).

Wahhabi Prohibition of its Exclusive Use for Imam ʿAli (a)

According to Mahdi Farmanian, a researcher of Islamic denominations, Wahhabis have prohibited the use of “karram Allah wajhah” after the name of Imam ʿAli (a). According to Qasimuf, a scholar of Wahhabism, Ibn Taymiyya has refused to use “karram Allah wajhah” for Imam ʿAli (a) in many of his books.

ʿAbd al-ʿAziz bin Baz, a Wahhabi mufti, believes that the exclusive use of “karram Allah wajhah” for Imam ʿAli (a) was a Shiite conspiracy and heresy. Muhammad Salih al-Munajjid, a student of ʿAbd al-ʿAziz bin Baz, also believes that the phrase was first used by Shiʿas who were then followed by ignorant scribes. They have not adduced evidence for their claims.

According to Adib Darrasufi, a Shiite scholar of the thirteenth century, Shiʿas often use the following honorific phrases for Imam ʿAli (a): “ʿalayh al-salam” (peace be upon him), “salam Allah ʿalayh” (God’s peace be upon him” or “salawat Allah ʿalayh” (God’s greetings be upon him). Muhammad Asif Muhsini, an Afghan Shiite scholar, believes that the phrase “karram Allah wajhah” is only used by Sunni scholars for Imam ʿAli (a).

Reasons for the Superiority of Imam ʿAli (a)

Muhammad Thaqafi Tihrani believes that the exclusive use of the phrase for Imam ʿAli was because, from among the early caliphs, only ʿAli (a) did not worship idols. From this he infers that of these caliphs only Imam ʿAli (a) was qualified for the position of imamate, since one who has worshiped idols is not competent for this position.

(The interior of the dome of Mosque of Muhamamd Ali Pasha in Cairo, in which the phrase “radi Allah taʿala ʿanhu” (May God the Exalted be pleased with him) is used for the three caliphs and “karram Allah taʿala wajhah” (may God the Exalted honor his face) is used for Imam ʿAli (a))

Notes

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