Introduction – is it reasonable to assume the Prophet ﷺ did, or did not address the matter of leadership after him.


The Messenger of Allah , Muhammed  was a man who held supreme religious, political, social, and spiritual authority over all of the muslims. He was the focal point of the entire  Arabian Peninsula; his leadership was of paramount importance. So engrossed was he in worrying about his nation, the Prophet ﷺ ensured that he maintained stability and was on the constant watch for any signs of external or internal threats. When he would embark on battles or travel away from Medina, he ensured a governor was left behind to be in maintain order in his place.  

As he was nearing his death, he was cognisant of the fact many tribes in the Arabian Peninsula had not truly embraced Islam and harboured great malice and hypocrisy.  Mecca had only recently succumbed after being long time enemies of the Muslims , having partaken in several wars against them, barred them from returning to their homes or from preforming – until the very end- pilgrimage. There is no doubt it had harboured hypocrites who only submitted after the eventual dominance of Islam had left them no choice. Even within Medina, Muhammed [saw] was often challenged by the hypocrites, who would attempt to torment discord in the community and at many times took advantage of his absence to do so ; as mentioned remedied by the Prophet ﷺ leaving behind a governor when he was absent.

Perhaps even more pertinent were the external enemies – the Byzantines and the Persians. When the Prophet ﷺ left for Tabouk upon hearing that the external enemies were mounting an attack, he left behind Ali ibn Abi Talib عليهم السلام in his place as narrated in the famous ‘Hadith al-Manzila [1] (حدیث المنزلة)’. Though opinions differ as to whether the Prophet ﷺ left him in charge of the city , or only his family members and appointed someone else to look after the city, what is pertinent here is that he ensured someone had been left behind to look after the city.  Could a man who gave this degree of attention in ensuring there were no power vacuums in his absence , die without giving any tangible attention with regards to who would succeed him?

One may claim that he had left his nation to choose amongst themselves through the means of Shūrā (شورى) , which is generally rendered to mean consultation. However, we do not find at any point the Prophet ﷺ clearly stating that when he passes away, the Muslims are to consult among themselves. It would only seem rational for a leader to either nominate one after him, as the first Caliph, Abu Bakr ibn Abi Quhafa had sone so, or set the conditions to best facilitate others to consult among themselves as was done by Umar ibn al-Khattab in the Shūrā he had specifically defined as far as its members and upon what conditions they must abide by. If we were to accept the Sunni view, then Muhammed ﷺ never explicitly gave a speech detailing to his Ummah as to who should lead after him, or how to choose the leader after him. One would at least expect some reference to the fact he was going to return to his Lord, and that the Muslims should begin to choose themselves, even if he neither wanted to nominate , nor define the conditions by which the others nominated. We are therefore led to believe, if we were to take the Sunni position, there was abject and deafening silence by the Prophet ﷺ on arguably one of the most pertinent matters of all – leadership after him and the stability of his nation.

If we avert our attention away from seventh century Arabia and focus on many of the countries and study the manner in which they handle political succession and stability, America is one particularly powerful exampleIn many political hierarchies, the position of president or leader is one that is highly protected. If the president were to die or be unable to perform his duties, the the vice president would assume the position of president. If the vice president were to also coincidentally die or be unable to perform his role, then there is an individual known as the designated president. This individual is not allowed to be within the same building or area as the president and vice president.

This is seen a means of insurance, whereby there will always be someone who can take immediately power and authority and that the nation is never left without a leader. When the president is still in power, the next one is chosen as the president elect, and ready to soon take charge. Even in countries like the United Kingdom, when parliament is dissolved for elections, the prime minister still retains power until the next one is chosen and a smooth transition can be facilitated.

In light of this, are we really to believe that the Prophet ﷺ who had never left a city behind without appointing governor in his place, would not make it clear as to what protocol people ought to follow pertaining to leadership after him?

However, we find that he indeed make an announcement. If there was ever a time to officially declare and reaffirm your successor, it would be shortly before your death. At Ghadir Khumm, Muhammed ﷺ raised the hands of Ali ibn Abi Talib عليهم السلام  and declared him as his successor.  What better time to do this, than when he was just about to pass away? When studying and examining the words of the Prophet ﷺ, the context of Ghadir Khumm, and he aftermath, it leaves no room for doubt that indeed, he had not neglected addressing the crucial matter of leadership after him, but empathically did so.