This is perhaps one of the other main contentions raised against the idea of the confirmation of Ali ibn Abi Talib at Ghadir. The question that is asked is, how is it that some of the close companions of the Prophet [saw] went against his command, and sought leadership for themselves? And why did Ali ibn Abi Talib not protest? [The reality is, he did protest and there is irrefutable evidence of this, that he and other companions did so].
This section will be structured in the following manner:
- Quranic evidence from the previous Prophets of God
- Quranic evidence from the life-time of Muhammed [saw] himself.
However, in order to address this particular question, we have to understand that the Prophet of God did not have at the time 120,000 loyal, devout companions. Rather the companions were in groups. There were the Muhajiroon, the Ansar who were of the people from Medina. There were also those who converted at the very end of his life time during the conquest of Mecca, such as Abu Sufiyan and others, and a percentage who converted from the conquests – many of whom turned apostate or rebelled during the Ridda wars. As it has been established, other than those of Medina, we find that only four members of those who converted after the conquest of Mecca transmitted more than one tradition, the majority of them transmitting none at all.
The only people who really knew the Prophet [saw] were the Muhajiroon and the Ansaar. There is no doubt among them there may have been many good companions, and Shia muslims respect many prominent ones such as Abdullah ibn Abbas [ra], Jabir ibn Abdullah and his father [ra], Abu Ayyub [ra], Abdullah ibn Ma’sud [ra], Abu Sa’id al Khudri [ra], Salman Al Farsi [ra], Harat Bilal [ra], Ammar ibn Yassir [ra], and many others. Shia’s also do not make a comment on the general masses, many of whom were not prominent , the elderly, women, the children, those who mainly converted very late among them, and their judgement will be upon Allah [swt].
Quranic evidence from the previous Prophets of God
The Quran must now be sought on guidance for this issue. Has there in the noble Quran ever been a case where a Prophet of God has appointed a successor, and those who had obeyed that Prophet of God among them a number turned away from obeying who he had chosen? It is pertinent to note here that the Quran is a reminder for all of humanity. When Allah [swt] gave these stories, it was not simply to educate them about what happened, but as an example and a warning for the companions, those who came after them, and everyone up until the day of judgement. One can not state that as a body of human beings, the Sahaba were not also capable of committing the same mistakes any other large body of human beings had done.
We find in the noble Quran that when Prophet Musa [as] went up into the mountain stating it would be for 30 days, Allah [swt] in order to test the children of Israel extended this by ten days. In those ten days, a prominent companion of Musa [as] Samiri and other companions thought he would not return or had died. Before Musa [as] had left , he had appointed Harun in charge of the people during the month he was away. However, after Musa [as] was not returning , the people disobeyed Harun and many turned back. It is important to note that there were a fair number who did not, but in this case, most of them did turn back.
[Allah] said, “But indeed, We have tried your people after you [departed], and the Samiri has led them astray.”
So Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved. He said, “O my people, did your Lord not make you a good promise? Then, was the time [of its fulfillment] too long for you, or did you wish that wrath from your Lord descend upon you, so you broke your promise [of obedience] to me?”
And Aaron had already told them before [the return of Moses], “O my people, you are only being tested by it, and indeed, your Lord is the Most Merciful, so follow me and obey my order.” They said, “We will never cease being devoted to the calf until Moses returns to us.”
Reference: Noble Quran [ 20:85-87]
[Moses] said, “O Aaron, what prevented you, when you saw them going astray, From following me? Then have you disobeyed my order?” [Aaron] said, “O son of my mother, do not seize [me] by my beard or by my head. Indeed, I feared that you would say, ‘You caused division among the Children of Israel, and you did not observe [or await] my word.’ “
Reference: Noble Quran [ 20:92]
Thus we can see from the above that the children of Israel, who had been saved by Allah [swt] from the terror of Fir’awn, and had seen wondrous miracles from the entire sea splitting, and were favoured above all lost their way when the Messenger among them had left. Some remained Loyal, and some prominent among them erred and led many others to errr.Interestingly, in Saheeh Al Bukhari, Muhammed [saw] tells Ali ibn Abi Talib when leaving him behind in Medina:
“…O Ali, are you not pleased that you are unto me like Harun [Aaron] was to Musa [Moses], except that there is no prophet after me”.
Reference: Sahih Bukhari [H3706, Book 62 H57/ Vol 5, book 57, Hadith 56 – ENG]
Not only was Ali ibn Abi Talib similar in the sense he was also left behind in Medina to look after the people when the Prophet left to Tabouk, but also similar in the remarkable sense in which he was left to lead the people some of whom stayed loyal and many of whom turned away after the death of the Messenger [saw]. In the case of the children of Israel it was when they thought Musa [as] had died and wouldn’t return.
Quranic evidence from the life-time of Muhammed [saw] himself.
A number of times in the noble Quran do we see Allah[swt] reprimanding the muslims for running away en-masse from battles. During the battle of Uhud, it is widely accepted the archers placed on the mountain disobeyed the Prophet [saw] who warned them not to leave their post because they thought they needed to obtain some war booty for themselves. We find in the same battle, when Muhammed [saw] was deserted and had very few companions around him, such as Abu Dujana [ra] , Ali ibn Abi Talib and others, there were rumours spread that he had died, which caused many of the muslims to flee.The following verse was revealed to severely reprimand them:
“Muhammad is not but a messenger. [Other] messengers have passed on before him. So if he was to die or be killed, would you turn back on your heels [to unbelief]? And he who turns back on his heels will never harm Allah at all; but Allah will reward the grateful”
Reference: Noble Quran [3:144]
Ibn Kathir writes regarding this verse:
“When Muslims suffered defeat in battle at Uhud and some of them were killed, Shaytan shouted, “Muhammad has been killed.” Ibn Qami’ah went back to the idolators and claimed, “I have killed Muhammad.” Some Muslims believed this rumor and thought that the Messenger of Allah had been killed, claiming that this could happen, for Allah narrated that this occurred to many Prophets before. Therefore, the Muslims’ resolve was weakened and they did not actively participate in battle. This is why Allah sent down to His Messenger His statement.”
Reference: Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Just as we found the children of Bani Israel losing faith after the absence of their leader, believing he was dead, we too here see that in the absence of Muhammed [saw] with the belief he had died, many began to question and revert back and lose resolve.
Some may claim that the Sahaba are not ‘infallible’. This is really a play on rhetoric, and a straw man because no-one claims that they are. However what is claimed that one can not merely regard any large body of people who naturally within that large body will include people ov varying ranks , faiths, and resolve as all righteous and pious – this is illogical. From the people of previous Prophets [saw] to the people of Muhammed [saw] and until the day of judgement, any large body of fallible human beings will include people of all kinds and ranks in their character. The fact so many deserted the Prophet [saw] and had their faith severely weakened to deserve a reprimand by virtue of divine revelation clearly demonstrates them falling into similar traps as those of previous prophets of God.
Furthermore, one may argue that this was early on , and that during the end of the life-time of Muhammed [saw] they began to learn and reflect and had greater resolve. However, evidence from both the Quran and widely accepted historical sources clearly hi lights this was not the case. Only a couple of years before the death of the Prophet [saw] many deserted him at the battle of Hunayn. We find in the noble Quran:
“Truly Allah has given you victory on many battle fields, and on the Day of Hunayn (battle) when you rejoiced at your great number but it availed you naught and the earth, vast as it is, was straitened for you, then you turned back in flight.”
Reference: Quran [9:25]
“The two armies met in Humayn, a valley between Makkah and At-Ta’if. The battle started in the early part of the morning, when the Huwazin forces, who were lying in ambush, descended on the valley when the Muslims entered. Muslims were suddenly struck by the ambush, the arrows descended on them and the swords struck them. The Huwazin commander ordered them to descend and attack the Muslims as one block, and when they did that, the Muslims retreated in haste, just as Allah described them. The Messenger of Allah remained firm in his position while riding his mule, Ash-Shahba’. He was leading his mule towards the enemy, while his uncle Al-`Abbas was holding its right-hand rope and ﴿his cousin﴾ Abu Sufyan bin Al-Harith bin `Abdul-Muttalib was holding the left rope. They tried to hold the mule back so it would not run faster toward the enemy. Meanwhile, the Messenger of Allah was declaring his name aloud and saying,
«إِلَيَّ عِبَادَ اللهِ إِلَيَ أَنَا رَسُولُ الله» (O servants of Allah! Come back to me! I am the Messenger of Allah! He repeated these words, «أَنَا النَّبِيُّ لَاكَذِبْ. أَنَا ابْنُ عَبْدِ
Reference: Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Very few companions remained with the Prophet [saw]. Of a force of tens of thousands who accompanied him , less than 1% remained according to most of the historical sources. The Messenger of Allah [saw] seeing the fleeing companions began to shut of them and adjure them to return , and remind them who he was lest they forgot that it was their duty to defend him and the religion.
For all those who try to justify what they acted in this way, the fact remains that Allah [swt] reprimands those who turned in flight, rather than understanding that they had no choice but to do so. The Prophet [saw] furthermore shouts at them to return to him, and does not seem to think they are all justified in running away because of ambush from the enemy. If a large number were willing to flee several battles during the life of the Prophet [saw] one should not claim that the majority were all steadfast, pious, and strong in resolve because Quranic evidence and clear historical facts do not demonstrate this.
Additionally one must also note that in the noble Quran, those who were ardent and pious have been known to change. Shaytan is a prime example, of Jinn who was such a pious worshipper and was elevated to a rank in which he was with the angels. However, when Allah [swt] appointed Adam as one superior to him, despite all the servitude and the status he had gained, the jealousy caused him to rebel against the command of Allah [swt]. How often in history have we seen power, authority, and control, turn even a man who was once good into something else?
What occurred after the death of the Prophet [saw] was just that – a chaotic power struggle. After all , the power vacuum left by the Prophet [saw] would have certainly been attractive to a nation still divided by tribes, with affiliations and vested interests. Old rivalries between the two tribes of the Ansar – the Aws and Khazraj resurfaced. We find each party coveted power in order to secure their own safety and interests. Whoever replaced Muhammed [saw] would be in rule of all of Arabia and potential further lands after conquests, as well as the supreme leader of the muslims. Right after the death of Muhammed [saw] men seeking authority all over Arabia broke their treaties and many turned back as apostates during the Ridda wars.
Also worthy of note, Abu Bakr, Umar and other companions were prominent and had a high status. Many were confused in what had occurred and many wished avoid fighting and bloodshed, and so went a long with what had occurred at Saqifah.