Six-Member Council

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Members of
the Six-Member Council

selecting the third caliph

Imam Ali (a)
Uthman b. Affan
Abd al-Rahman b. Awf
Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas
Zubayr b. al-'Awam
Talha b. Ubayd Allah

The Six-Member Council refers to the council Umar b. al-Khattab (d. 23/644) assigned for selecting the next caliph, which led to Uthman b. Affan being elected as the third caliph of Muslims. Umar had obliged all the people to conform to the council's final agreement and commanded to cut off any opponents' heads. Imam Ali (a) had anticipated the council would select Uthman since the appointed members all had the same bias.

The Story of the Council

Imam Ali (a):

But good Heavens! What had I to do with this "council"? There was no doubt about me concerning the first of them that I was now considered akin to these ones? But I remained low when they were low and flew high when they flew high.

Nahj al-balagha, Al-Shiqshiqiyya Sermon

Umar b. al-Khattab was killed in 23/644 by someone by the name of Firuz or Abu Lu'lu', the slave of Mughira b. Shu'ba. According to some sources, he was injured in Dhu l-Hijja 26, 23/November 3, 644 and died after three days.[1] At his death bed, Umar b. al-Khattab began to think about his successor. He believed if Mu'adh b. Jabal, Abu Ubayda al-Jarrah, and Salim mawla Hudhayfa had been alive, he would have handed the caliphate to them.[2] Yet none of the mentioned people were present at that time; therefore, he devised a new plan for selecting the next caliph.[3]

Establishment of the Council

Timeline of Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (a) life
599 Birth
610 The first person who believes in Islam
619 Demise of Abu Talib (Father)
622 Laylat al-Mabit: Ali (a) risked his life by sleeping in the Prophet's (s) bed to impersonate him and thwart an assassination plot so that Prophet Muhammad (s) could escape from Mecca in safety and migrate to 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 Khaybar 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
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

After the Prophet's (s) demise, some of the Prophet's companions gathered together in a place called Saqifa and selected Abu Bakr as the caliph of Muslims (incident of Saqifa), disregarding the Event of Ghadir in which the Prophet (s) had introduced Imam Ali (a) to the Muslims as the caliph. The companions made people pledge allegiance (bay'a) to Abu Bakr in different ways. They reasoned that the selection of the caliph must be assigned to people. Therefore, it is people who choose their Imam. However, Abu Bakr reversed his opinion by selecting Umar as his successor at the end of his lifetime.

Umar chose a new method, confessing that selecting Abu Bakr had not been Muslims' option. He declared that Muslims must participate in choosing their own caliph from now on.[4] Consequently, he established a council comprising six people who would select one of themselves as the caliph by consulting with each other. The followings are the members of the council: Ali b. Abi Talib (a), Uthman b. Affan, Talha b. Ubayd Allah, Zubayr b. Awam, Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, and Abd al-Rahman b. Awf.[5]

Based on Umar's opinion, more votes for a person results in his caliphate. If there was a disagreement between the two groups of three on a candidate, the opinion of Abd al-Rahman group is preferred. Umar also commanded to cut off the head of any member opposing the idea of the majority. If there was a dispute between the two groups, the group opposed to Abd al-Rahman's vote must be castigated by cutting off their heads. Another command was to cut all the members' heads if they could not select the caliphate after three days.[6] Fifty people from Ansar were responsible to monitor conformation to Umar's will.[7]

The Bias of Council

Some say it was predictable that the council would elect Uthman. As Imam Ali (a) had anticipated, Sa'd would not disagree with his cousin Abd al-Rahman. On the other hand, Abd al-Rahman, who was Uthman's brother-in-law[8] would vote for him. Concerning these factors, even if both Talha and Zubayr were Imam Ali (a)'s advocates, it would be useless; since Abd al-Rahman was a supporter of Uthman.[9]

Sa'd stated he had the same vote with Abd al-Rahman, whatever he decides. Zubayr gave up nominating for the caliphate in favor of Imam Ali (a). Abd al-Rahman announced he was not seeking a caliphate. Talha, who was Abu Bakr's cousin and Imam Ali (a)'s opponent, gave up nominating in favor of Uthman. Therefore, the only candidates were Imam Ali (a) and Uthman,[10] meaning 'Abd al-Rahman's vote became crucial and notable.

Abd al-Rahman's Decision

Abd al-Rahman b. Awf consulted with people, especially with the elite and rulers. Ultimately, he declared his decision. He asked Imam Ali (a) if he could act according to the Qur'an, the Prophet's (s) tradition (sunna), and Abu Bakr's and Umar's approach in the caliphate. Imam Ali (a) responded: "I hope I will act according to the Qur'an and the Prophet's (s) tradition as much as my knowledge, my power, and my effort are" (means I will not go on the approach of previous caliphs). Then, Abd al-Rahman stated his conditions for Uthman, and he immediately accepted. As the result, Abd al-Rahman b. Awf pledged allegiance to Uthman.[11]

Some references have stated that Imam Ali (a) believed Abd al-Rahman's condition (acting like the previous caliphs) was a deception. He told Abd al-Rahman: "You selected Uthman so that to regain caliphate. This is not the first time you get united against us (Ahl al-Bayt (a)) and deprive us of our right. This has become a custom against us"[12]


  1. Masʿūdī, Murūj al dhahab, vol. 2, p. 320-321; Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 159-160.
  2. Ibn Qutayba, al-Imāma wa l-sīyāsa, vol. 1, p. 42.
  3. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 3, p. 344.
  4. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 3, p. 344.
  5. Suyūṭī, Tārīkh al-khulafāʾ, p. 129.
  6. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 160; Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 2, p. 261.
  7. Suyūṭī, Tārīkh al-khulafāʾ, p. 129-137.
  8. Abd al-Rahman was the husband of Uthman's sister
  9. Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 1, p. 188.
  10. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-'umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 3, p. 296; Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 1, p. 188.
  11. Ibn al-Athīr, Al-Kāmil fī l-tārīkh, 1385 AH, vol. 3, p, 66 ; Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 162; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-'umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 4, pp. 230-233, 302.
  12. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 162; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-'umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 3, p. 296, 302; Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 1, p. 194.


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  • Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd b. Hibat Allāh. Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha. Egypt: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿArabīyya, 1382-1387 AH.
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