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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 final agreement of the council and commanded to cut off any opponents' head. 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”? Where was any doubt about me with regard to 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] While he was in bed because of his injury, '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: sleeping in the place of the Prophet (s)
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
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 Holy 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 through different ways. They reasoned that the selection of the caliph must be assigned to people. It is people who choose their Imam. However, Abu Bakr reversed his opinion at the end of his lifetime by selecting Umar as his successor.

Umar chose a new method, confessing that selecting Abu Bakr had not been Muslims' option. He declared Muslims must participate in choosing their own caliph from now on.[4] Consequently, he established a council comprising of 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 number of 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 who were opposed to 'Abd al-Rahman's vote must be castigated by cutting off their heads. Another command of him was to cut the head of all the members if they were unable to 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 'Uthman would be elected by the council. 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 supporter of 'Uthman.[9]

Sa'd stated he had the same vote with 'Abd al-Rahman, whatever he decides. Zubayr gave up nominating for caliphate in favor of Imam Ali (a). 'Abd al-Rahman announced he was not seeking 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 very important 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 Holy Qur'an, the Prophet's (s) tradition (sunna), and Abu Bakr's and 'Umar's approach in caliphate. Imam Ali (a) responded: "I hope I will act according to 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 as 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; Bilādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 2, p. 261.
  7. Suyūṭī, Tārīkh al-khulafāʾ, p. 129-137.
  8. 'Abd al-Rahman was 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.


  • Bilādhurī, Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā al-. Ansāb al-ashrāf. Edited by Suhayl Zakār wa Riyāḍ Ziriklī. Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1417 AH.
  • Ibn Abī l-Ḥadīd, ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd b. Hibat Allāh. Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha. Egypt: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿArabīyya, 1382-1387 AH.
  • Ibn al-Athīr al-Jazarī, ʿAlī b. Abī l-Karam. Al-Kāmil fī l-tārīkh. Beirut: Dār Ṣādir, 1385 AH.
  • Ibn Qutayba al-Dīnawarī, ʿAbd Allāh b. Muslim. Al-Imāma wa l-sīyāsa (Tārīkh al-khulafāʾ). Bierut: Dār al-Aḍwāʾ, 1410 AH.
  • Ibn Saʿd, Muḥammad b. Manīʿ al-Baṣrī. Al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-'Ilmīyya, 1410 AH.
  • Masʿudī, ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn al-. Murūj al-dhahab wa maʿādin al-jawhar. Qom: Dār al-Hijra, 1409 AH.
  • Suyūṭī, Jalāl al-Dīn b. Abī Bakr al-. Tārīkh al-khulafāʾ. Aleppo: Dār al-Qalam al-ʿArabī, 1413 AH.
  • Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-. Tārīkh al-'umam wa l-mulūk. Beirut: Dār al-Turāth, 1387 AH.
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