World Shia Forum

Identity, Equality, Unity

Shia and Sunni commentary on Imam Ali (A.S.)

“Repeatedly Quran informs us that Prophet (SAW) is the last Messenger of Allah (SWT), but nowhere does it say that Divine Guidance ends after his demise! In fact it tells us, [Ar-Ra’ad:7] You are only a Warner and there is a guide for every people!

Hence before his demise Prophet (SAW) informed people on Divine Command, [Al-Maida: 3] This day have those who disbelieve despaired of your religion, so fear them not, and fear Me. This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favour on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion!

Prophet (SAW) told people that Imam Ali (AS) was the designated leader for the entire universe, but to no avail. Instead Imamate was usurped and governance was taken over by hypocrites. But even during the others’ caliphate Imam Ali (AS) was constantly approached to help them out whenever difficult situations arose, and when he was finally allowed to take over the caliphate of Islamic Ummah he revived the

Traditions (Sunnah) of Prophet (SAW).Imam Ali (AS) said, “The prophet and I are the branches of the same tree, and I follow him like a camel’s baby does its mother.”
Prophet (SAW)’ ten years in Medina was the model set for an Islamic Nation. Imam Ali (AS) during his four and a half years of apparent caliphate repeated the traditions of Prophet (SAW). He showed people how a true Divine Representative governs. He established a rule of equality and justice. He spent the money from government treasury on needy, poor, orphans and widows. The battles fought during his caliphate were all defensive. He encouraged piety and purity.Hence in today’s world too his rule has been recognised as the ideal period of Islam, because in Medina, during Prophet (SAW)’s time the model was being built up, but during Imam Ali (AS)’s caliphate it had to be implemented, and he did that completely. After 1400 years the United Nations has advised Muslims to adapt it as a model in their countries. This clearly proves that Imam (AS) revived Prophet (SAW)’s Sunnah, which is based on Divine Guidance, and is the Perfect Code of Conduct!” –Huma Hassan.
CH 6 from Tarek Fatah’s book Chasing A Mirage:

ISLAM CAME TO FREE HUMANITY from the clutches of the clergy.
Instead, the religion of peace has become a prisoner of war, held captive by
the very priesthood it came to eliminate. Muslims have been double-duped
for centuries—lied to by their leaders and the clerics who supposedly hold
the keys to heaven.
The falsehoods Muslims have been force-fed are not only about faith
but about early Islamic history. We have been indoctrinated to believe that
our faith banned slavery, when the fact is that for 1,400 years we have
institutionalized it. We are told that our ancestors gave equality to women,
yet we defend the most horrendous treatment of our mothers and daughters.
Growing up we were told that all Muslims were equal in the eyes of God,
only to fi nd out we were not equal in the eyes of man. We have been
programmed to believe that when we invade other countries, it is for their
good, but when we are invaded in return, it is wrong. The innumerable
glorious achievements of Muslim civilization make us all proud, but remain
tainted with countless lies that have been drilled into the minds of each
passing generation. When a lie goes unchallenged for over a millennium, it
unfortunately attains the legitimacy of gospel truth.
The fi rst falsehood imposed upon Muslims by our clerics concerns
the events immediately following the death of Prophet Muhammad in
632 CE. Almost all Muslim scholars, especially contemporary ones, have
repeated the legend, without any hesitation, that after the death of Allah’s
Apostle his successor was “elected” with unanimous consensus at the end
of an all-night conference of Muslim elders. In one example, Abul Ala
Maudoodi (1903–79), founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami political movement
Chapter 6
The Prophet is Dead | Chasing a Mirage
and the intellectual leader of world Political Islam, writes that it was Umar
*
who proposed that Abu-Bakr succeed the Prophet as a spiritual leader.

Then “all the people of Medina (who for all practical purposes were
representative of the entire country) without any pressure or incentive
and out of their love for him, took an oath of allegiance.” This version
of events is absolutely false, yet few Muslims know that or are willing to
discuss it. I intend to.
More than one scholar of Islam has cautioned me to avoid discussion
involving the companions of the Prophet. They suggest writing on this
subject is inviting danger. The militant terrorist organization Sepah-e-sahaba
(Soldiers of the Companions) has been created solely with the objective of
liquidating those who raise questions about these “companions.” This group
has assassinated hundreds of Muslims in Pakistan on the charge that they
were disrespectful to the Prophet’s companions.
The second fable that we Muslims have been forced to swallow since
our early childhood is the legend that after the death of the Prophet, an
era of universalism and meritocracy emerged in Arabia in which men
and women were judged solely on the basis of their piety, and not on
the colour of their skin, their race, or tribal ancestry. Again, not true.
Within hours of Muhammad’s death, tribalism was invoked and racial
identity was used to consolidate power and sideline opponents. To this
day, the internalized racism that was sanctioned and sanctifi ed in early
Islamic history devours the worldwide community of Muslims—the
Ummah—like a cancer.
Islamists argue that the period following the passing away of
Muhammad was Islam’s golden era and that we Muslims need to re-create
the caliphate of that time in order to bring the political system it was
associated with into today’s world. I wish to demonstrate that when
Muslims buried the Prophet, they also buried with him many of the
universal values of Islam that he had preached. The history of Islam can
be described essentially as the history of an unending power struggle,
where men have killed each other to claim the mantle of Muhammad.
This strife is a painful story that started within hours of the Prophet
closing his eyes forever, and needs to be told. I fi rmly believe the message
of the Quran is strong enough to withstand the facts of history. It is my
conviction that Muslims are mature and secure in their identities to face
the truth. This is that story.
*
Umar: He was to become the second caliph of Islam.

Abu-Bakr: The fi rst caliph of Islam, as the successor to Prophet Muhammad.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
բ
Muhammad’s death came at a time of great change in human history. Arabia
was not the only nation state that was evolving. China had just been reunifi ed
in 589 CE, leading to the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE), which historians mark
as a high point in Chinese civilization. It was the image of this China that
Muhammad had invoked when urging his fellow Arabs to seek knowledge.
Across the oceans, in India, the Gupta Empire had reached phenomenal
heights in science, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy, inventing the
concepts of zero and infi nity along with the symbols of the numbers from
one to nine. These were later adopted by the Arabs through trade and
became known as Arabic numerals. It is these numerals, developed by Hindu
mathematicians, that adorn the pages of every Quran in the Muslim world.
This was the globalized world into which Muhammad the internationalist
had pushed the tribal pastoral Arabs.
At the crossroads of human civilizations, Arabia and the Muslims found
themselves being propelled into the role of shaping the future. On its northern
borders, the Arabs found themselves caught between the two dominant
powers of the world, the Byzantines and the Persians. While Muhammad
was still young and working on the caravans of his wife Khadijah, the Sixth
Byzantine–Persian War broke out when between Eastern Rome and the New
Persian Empire in 603, both superpowers of the day contending for the control
of western Asia. In 627, while Muhammad was consolidating Muslim successes
against his naysayers in the Arabian Peninsula, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius
defeated the Persian army and regained Asia Minor, Syria, Jerusalem, and
Egypt. In Persia, Kavadh II sued for peace with the Byzantines and handed
back Armenia, Byzantine Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Weakened
by the wars against its western enemies, Persia fell into further chaos when,
in 628, Khusrau Parvez II, the new ruler of Persia, was murdered by his son.
Within decades, both the Byzantines and Persians, exhausted by centuries of
warfare, would be defeated by the new power emerging from Arabia.
Muhammad died on Monday, June 8, 632 CE. It is said that he breathed
his last as the searing heat of the midday summer sun beat down on the
city of Medina. Exactly where he breathed his last is disputed, however:
his wife Aisha said he died in her lap; his son-in-law and trusted lieutenant,
the poet/philosopher/warrior Ali ibn Abu Talib, said Muhammad died
resting on his shoulder; both accounts could be true, according to some
sources.
But with such confl icting versions of Muhammad’s last moments, it
was no coincidence that Ali and Aisha would fi ght Islam’s fi rst civil war  | Chasing a Mirage
against each other, in the Iraqi city of Basra, only twenty-four years after
the Prophet’s death.
Muhammad left behind no explicit instructions of what was to be
done once his people were without him, and within hours of his death, a
power struggle ensued that remains unresolved even today and has, over
a millennium, cost the lives of countless Muslims. By the time the sun set
on Medina on the day of his death, grief and mourning had given way to
intense arguments and a deepening division. Politics had overtaken piety,
and tribalism had resurfaced. Men who were of upstanding character and
known for their goodwill, who are still revered by the billion Muslims of
the 21st century, succumbed to the temptation of invoking noble ancestries
as the basis of their claims to leadership of the nascent Muslim Ummah.
Barely two months after the Prophet proclaimed that all Muslims were equal,
irrespective of their tribal or racial origin—that black and white, Arab or
non-Arab, had no superiority over one another—his followers were laying
claim to leadership based primarily on their tribal lineage, while denying
power to others simply based on where they were born.
Muslims today are deeply conscious of this troubling aspect of their
history, but few dare discuss it in public. Although the Quran enjoins Muslims
to speak the truth without fear, even if it hurts themselves or their families,
it is taboo to speak the truth about the battle over succession that started
among the Prophet’s companions even before he was given a burial.
The competing narratives of the sad events that unfolded that hot
summer day in June 632 are delivered in partisan sermons in front of captive
congregations, but never in an open discourse free of fear or reprisal. For
anyone who asks tough questions or suggests that all Muslims can learn
from this, that politics should be kept out of religion, vilifi cation awaits,
and a possibility of the frightening stigma of apostasy. The punishment for
apostasy is death.
Muhammad would have been traumatized to see that immediately after
his death his companions started feuding over power, at times with swords
unsheathed, and even threatened to burn down his beloved daughter Fatima’s
home. Their intentions were noble, their character was impeccable, and their
integrity unquestionable: they wanted to preserve the infant community and
protect its frontiers from enemies of Islam. But their methods and tactics
were badly fl awed. The legacy of this early debacle is such that even today,
power is rarely handed over in the Muslim world without bloodshed.
In not defi ning a political model under which Muslims could govern
themselves, the Prophet in his wisdom may very well have left it open to his
followers to develop governance according to the socio-economic conditions Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
they lived in. After all, even though it was the Prophet who had himself
authored the Medina Compact, which established the rules of governance
in the city state of Medina, he did not implement a similar agreement in
Mecca when he returned at the head of the conquering Muslim army.
If time, geography, and demographics could dictate different governing
systems in different cities in the lifetime of Muhammad, the question arises:
Why should Muslims of today search for a model of an Islamic State that
is rooted in the past? If such a model existed, why didn’t the Prophet apply
the Charter of the Medina Compact to Mecca? Is the concept of an Islamic
State a mirage? Are we being asked to chase one? Yes, on both accounts.
How Muslims should govern and who should govern them were the
questions that tore the community apart after Muhammad’s death. The same
questions still defi ne the confl ict that pits Muslim against Muslim today.
Nearly 1,400 years later, the problem remains unresolved.
But while Muslims may still be distraught at the early confl icts in Islam,
few, especially among the Islamist leadership, are willing to acknowledge
that the differences of opinion among the early Muslims were not over
the state of Islam, but the Islamic State. There was virtually no argument
among the protagonists about the principles of the new religion that was
attracting thousands to its fold every day. There was near unanimity
among his companions and followers over the call for “submission” only
to the Creator alone. But within hours of his demise, the clarion call of
the Quran for the equality of all human beings was forgotten. Rival groups
jostled for power, brokered and manoeuvred, setting the pattern for the
manner in which politics is practised even today in the Arab world.
This is a subject few Muslims are willing to discuss or analyze in a frank
and open debate. Historical depictions of these confl icts are written from a
partisan perspective where one or the other party to the confl ict is blamed for
the tragedies that unfolded. Few Muslim historians have addressed the cause
of the chasm that appeared among the leaders of the Muslim community
so soon after the death of the Prophet.
One such historian was the late Iranian scholar Ali Dashti. According to
him, early Islamic confl icts happened because “ambition for the leadership
replaced zeal for the religion as the pivotal motive.” Dashti’s blunt assessment
and frank analysis of the power struggles that engulfed early Islam resulted
in his book Twenty-Three Years being banned in Iran under the rule of both
the shah and Ayatollah Khomeini. The author was imprisoned, tortured, and
eventually exiled. Dashti wrote: “The study of the history of Islam shows
it to be a sequence of struggles for power in which the contestants treated
the religion as the means, not as an end. . . . The further the Prophet’s death  | Chasing a Mirage
receded into the past, the greater became the tendency to treat the religion
as a means, rather than as an end in itself—to use it as an instrument of
seizure of the leadership and the rulership.”
Today, the tendency to use religion as an instrument of political power is
refl ected in the competing visions of Islam offered by Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Final authority in both countries has been wrested from ordinary citizens
and preserved for the king in Saudi Arabia and the Supreme Leader in Iran.
In Iran, this leader is supposedly accountable only to God, but in actuality,
he is accountable to himself alone.
բ
The Prophet knew his last days in this world were at hand. He had been
ill for some time and was preparing his followers for the moment when he
would no longer be among them. The Muslims of the time included the
tribes of Arabia; the freed African slaves; the immigrants from Persia, Yemen
and Abyssinia; the women who were newly empowered by the message of
Islam; and the landless and the poor, who were being treated with justice
and equality for the fi rst time in their lives. They had smashed the symbols
of servitude, separation, and superstition. They had arisen with a zeal and
fervour the Arabs had never before known.
Two months earlier, during his last journey to Mecca for the hajj
pilgrimage, Muhammad had spoken about the completion of his mission
on Earth. Addressing pilgrims, Muhammad said: “Hear me O people, for I
know not if ever I shall meet you in this place after this year.” These were
not the last words of Muhammad, but it was to be his last formal speech. As
tens of thousands stood in rapt attention, Muhammad made stirring remarks
that still resonate today as the defi ning spirit of the Muslim community,
even among those who adhere to Islam merely as a culture, not a religion.
“Neither infl ict, nor suffer inequity,” he said, spelling out the principles of
social justice in a world where teeming millions believed it was their destiny
to suffer inequity.
Muhammad declared that everyone was equal before God, without
distinction of social class or racial origin: “O people, your Lord is one, and
your ancestor is [also] one. You are all descendants from Adam and Eve
who was born of earth. The noblest of you all, in the sight of God, is the
most devout. God is knowing and all wise [Quran sura 49:13]. An Arab is
superior to a non-Arab in nothing, but devotion.”
The spirit of equality and rejection of ethnic or racial superiority had
been explicitly revealed to Muhammad in an earlier revelation: “O mankind! Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you
into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may
despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah
is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and
is well acquainted (with all things).”
Multiculturalism and anti-racism emerged in North America and Europe
as stepping stones towards equality as late as the 20th century. But here was
the Prophet of Islam sowing the seeds of racial equality in the 7th century.
Muhammad came to a world where identity was primarily based on race
and being on the wrong side of the racial divide would mean a life sentence
into servitude, if not slavery. Tragically, the words of the Quran and these
anti-racist teachings of Muhammad were metaphorically paved over within
hours of his death.
Later that day, while returning from the plains of Arafat, Muhammad
again addressed the hajj pilgrims, reciting aloud the last revelation he had
received from God through the Archangel Gabriel. That verse completed the
Quran, a book whose words would change the course of human history—
triggering a fountain of knowledge at one time, but today providing intellectual
sustenance to Islamic extremists. This last revelation was a profound end to the
process that started twenty-three years earlier on the day the archangel is said
to have woken Muhammad from his meditation in a cave and commanded
him to “Read”—the fi rst word of the Quran.
Muhammad had been on a long journey of tribulations and triumphs.
Arabia had changed dramatically in the two decades since that lonely
dark night in the cave. Now, when Muhammad was about to unveil the
fi nal words of the Quran, scribes rushed to hear him, bringing writing
materials of parchment, bones, and leaves. His companions, some say
100,000 strong, gathered around, clinging to his every word as he recited
the fi nal verse of the Quran: “This day have I perfected your religion for
you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as
your religion.”
Within decades of Muhammad’s death, God’s instructions that the
Prophet had perfected and completed Islam would be conveniently interpreted
by scholars serving caliphs as the means to allow additions to Islam. Sultans
and caliphs would add layer after layer to the Islam that God had said he
perfected in his last revelation to Muhammad. To this day, Muslims are subject
to laws God never authorized either in the Quran or through his messenger,
Prophet Muhammad. The stoning of women, the killing of gays and lesbians,
the concept of royalty, the Velayat-e faqih, and tons of new concepts were
added to the faith of Islam by one ruler after another, invoking religion to  | Chasing a Mirage
pursue political power and luring the Ummah towards an Islamic State that
has not yet been consecrated after 1,400 years of waiting.
բ
If Muslims are to understand why our political systems have failed, or why
asking for a political framework modelled on the pattern set by the Rightly
Guided Caliphs of Islam is a recipe for failure, then the account of what
happened in 632 needs to be revisited. Islamists who demand the introduction
of an Islamic political system based on 7th-century political manoeuvrings
are neither willing to analyze the imperfect processes that led to bloodshed,
nor are they ready to concede that the bloodshed that occurred was a
result of political ambitions. The fi rst dynasty of Islam, the Umayyads of
Damascus, arose only after the blood of Muhammad’s own family had been
shed, but generation after generation of Muslims has been conditioned to
look the other way. Any discussion about the role of the early caliphs is
considered as bordering on blasphemy. The stature of the early caliphs and
the companions of the Prophet has been raised from their being mere mortals
to that of being at par with the Apostle of Allah and thus beyond reproach
or criticism, no matter how devastating the consequences of their actions.
If the political system introduced during the Golden Period of Islam by
the four Rightly Guided Caliphs resulted in the assassination of three of them,
triggered civil wars, led to secessionist confl ict, and caused the slaughter of
the Prophet’s family—who were left starving and thirsty on the plains of
Karbala in Iraq—surely that system cannot be seen today as the model for
tomorrow. If at all there is something from that time in history that Muslims
need to emulate, it is the personal character of Muhammad’s companions.
The integrity and the transparency of their lives, as well as their aversion to
pomp and show, could shame many of the Muslim leaders. Their truthfulness
and humility are what all Muslims need to embrace. These were men who
died leaving little inheritance for their families, such was their creed of social
justice and equity. But the political system they created, and then got killed
implementing, is best left as a subject for historians to discuss, rather than
offering it as a recipe to resolve the ailing condition of the Muslim world.
Perhaps the Prophet could foresee the turmoil that his death would
trigger and he talked about this in his last stroll in Medina before illness and
an excruciating headache took their toll. A few nights before he passed away
forever, Muhammad ventured to the cemetery of Baqi on the outskirts of
Medina. (This is where his son Ibrahim, his daughter Ruqqaiya, and many
of his companions lay buried; this too is the location of the house that his Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
daughter Fatima would later visit to grieve Muhammad’s death.) Only Abu
Muwayhibah, a man the Prophet had freed from slavery, accompanied him.
As the two men reached the cemetery, Muwayhibah quotes Muhammad
as saying: “Peace be unto you, O people of the graves. Happy are you, for
you are much better off than men here. Dissensions have come like waves
of darkness, one after another, the last being worst than the fi rst.”
Husayn Haykal, the Egyptian biographer of the Prophet, used a different
translation: “Peace be upon you who are in these graves. Blessed are you
in your present state to which you have emerged from the state in which
the people live on earth. Subversive attacks are falling one after another like
waves of darkness, each worse than the previous ones.”
The prophetic prediction of “dissensions” was already unfolding as the
Apostle of Allah trudged back home. No one dared ask him whom he had
chosen as his successor. Abd Allah bin Muslim Ibn Qutaybah, an Andalusian
historian of the 9th century, reports that Abdullah ibn al-Abbas, the Prophet’s
cousin, met Ali as the Prophet lay dying and said: “The Prophet is about to
die! Go, therefore and ask him if this affair [that is, the caliphate] shall be
ours, that he may declare it. But if it belongs to someone else, then he may
at least enjoin kindness towards us.”
The historian then reports that Ibn Abbas went to Umar and Abu-Bakr
and asked if the Prophet had left any instructions regarding his succession.
Both said that they knew nothing about any such instructions. On hearing
this, Ibn Abbas returned to Ali and said: “‘Stretch out your hand that I may
pledge allegiance (ba’yah) to you . . . Your own relatives will then offer their
ba’yah and all the people will follow suit.’ Ali, displaying caution, and his
desire for consensus, asked, ‘Will anyone quarrel with us concerning this
matter?’”
The next day the Prophet suffered a headache that left him in a painful
condition. Even as he lay perspiring in the stifl ing heat of the Arabian summer,
the dissension that he had predicted was surfacing among his trusted troops
and their commanders.
Muhammad, the visionary and statesman, even in his dying days was
carefully moulding a new people out of the clay of Arab tribal traditions.
On May 26, 632, just days before he slipped into the illness from which he
would not recover, Muhammad had authorized the last of his many military
campaigns. This time he ordered a three-thousand-strong expeditionary
force to attack the frontier of the Byzantine Empire in an area near the
Syria–Jordan border of today. A few years earlier, in the battle at Mu’ta,
Muhammad’s adopted son Zayd had died fi ghting the Byzantines and the
Prophet wanted to respond appropriately to the enemy. | Chasing a Mirage
However, his choice of the man to lead the expedition became a source
of much dissent. Muhammad broke all tradition and chose a young Black
African man, barely twenty years old, promoting him over many senior
and experienced commanders. There were murmurs of dissent, with many
Muslims reluctant to fi ght under the command of Osama bin Zayd, openly
expressing their unhappiness with the Prophet’s decision.
Muhammad is said to have personally prepared a ceremonial fl agpole,
with his own hands, and given it to young Osama. The camp was then erected
at Jorf, fi ve kilometres from Medina on the route to Syria. He ordered all
his followers at Medina to join it at once, not excepting even the renowned
companions. It is said that only Ali, his trusted lieutenant and son-in-law,
was required by him to remain with him at Medina, and was exempted
from going.
About a week after Muhammad had summoned the men to the Syrian
expedition under Osama, he perceived that the progress to join the camp
at Jorf was slow and poor, so he once again addressed the people to join
the Syrian expedition. Muhammad was daily becoming more ill and the
expedition weighed upon his mind.
The two groups within the young Muslim community were the Muhajirun
(the Meccans) and the Ansar (the Medinans). Veterans from both camps
were unhappy at being superseded by the young man who was the son of
a Black slave from Ethiopia, and openly expressed their reluctance to fi ght
under his command. The grumblings angered the ailing Muhammad, who
got up from his bed and, despite a high fever and a throbbing headache,
asked his wives Aisha and Hafsah to help him take a bath. The two bathed
him with water to cool his fever, dressed him up and bandaged his head to
ease his throbbing headache. They then helped him walk to the mosque,
where he went to the pulpit and addressed the congregation. Upset at the
dissension among the ranks over selection of the young Osama, the Prophet
told the congregation: “O people, dispatch Osama’s troops, for though you
question his leadership and the leadership of his father before him, yet he is
worthy of this command, even as his father was worthy of it.” He declared
from the pulpit that this discontent was a form of disobedience and that
Osama bin Zayd was the best choice. “Carry out the expedition to the Syrian
border,” he ordered.
It is only after his reprimand that people hastened to the camp to join
Osama’s army. However, despite the Prophet’s direct order to move towards
Syria, the army remained camped on the outskirts of Medina. The refusal to
follow a direct order of the Prophet was unprecedented. It was indicative of
things to come, though, as the power struggle would unfold.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
According to the Shia historians, there was more to the dissent than
just the age or the race of the young Osama. Knowing that Muhammad’s
end was near, some of the companions were reluctant to leave Medina at
such a critical time, fearful that, if they absented themselves, Ali ibn Abu
Talib might become the uncontested successor to Muhammad. Shia scholars
conclude that since Muhammad was aware he was about to die, he aimed
at keeping Ali and his family in Medina, while keeping all others away from
the city, so that Ali could establish himself as the Prophet’s successor in a
smooth transfer of power.
However, this does not explain why the Prophet would ask his fatherin-law, Abu-Bakr, ultimately his successor, to lead the prayers in his absence.
Speaking to the congregation, Muhammad said, “Look to these doors which
open into the mosque, and close them all save those which lead to the house
of Abu-Bakr, because I have known no better companion than he.” He later
asked Abu-Bakr to lead the prayers in his place, a task many saw as the
Prophet’s nod to Abu-Bakr being his successor.
Suffi ce to say that as his end neared, every decision Muhammad took,
every word he spoke, was seen and interpreted in the context of his succession.
Ali was his closest companion, and confi dant, with whom he had the closest
bond. Muhammad had described Ali in glowing terms. At one time he said,
“I am the city of knowledge and Ali is the key to that city.” Then, addressing
pilgrims who were accompanying him back to Medina after his last hajj in
Mecca, Muhammad told the congregation while he rested at a small lake
called Ghadir-e-Khumm:
*
“O my people! Allah is my guardian (Mawla) and
I am guardian of the faithful and I have superior right on and control over
their lives. And this Ali is the guardian of all those for whom I am a guardian.
O Allah! Love him who loves him and hate him who hates him.”
These words of the Prophet have been invoked over centuries to validate
the historical claims of the Shia over Sunnis and vice versa. Irrespective of
their claims, the divide in Islam is over politics, not piety. The question that
remains unanswered is why the Prophet did not clearly earmark his successor
or the system that would determine the leadership of his community in the
future. Or could we deduce from his silence that he foresaw the dissension
and division that would tear apart Muslims and become their destiny through
history, despite their immense contributions to human civilization. Perhaps the
Prophet never wanted to see Islam rise as a political power, but as a movement
of social justice and unadulterated monotheism for all of humanity, not just
*
Most Sunni scholars contest the authenticity of the Prophet’s speech at Ghadir-eKhumm, which no longer exists. | Chasing a Mirage
Muslims. After all, the Quran describes God as Rab ul alameen (Lord of all
humanity), not Rab ul Muslimeen (Lord of all Muslims). Among his last words
recorded by chronicler Ibn Ishaq is the profound statement, “I have allowed
only what the Quran allows and I have forbidden only what the Quran forbids.”
A profound statement that if taken to its logical extreme would nullify so
much of the dogma that has turned Muslims into an ossifi ed people unable
to break out of the mythologies that encase them in a stranglehold.
What if Muhammad did want to dictate his last will and testimony,
but was prevented from doing so during his illness? A credible account
of just such an incident is recounted by the late French historian Maxime
Rodinson, whose book Muhammad was described by the late literary critic
Edward Said as “a major contemporary Occidental work on the Prophet, and
is essential reading.” Iranian dissident Ali Dashti too recounts this episode
from Muhammad’s last hours in his book Twenty-Three Years.
Here is how narrators have detailed the events of the day when
Muhammad wanted to write or dictate his will, but was not allowed to. Ali
Dashti writes:
Later he awoke and, in evident awareness of death’s approach, said to
those around him, “Bring me an inkwell and the sheet, so that I may write
something (or cause something to be written) for you. After that, you will
not err in future.” Regrettably, this last request of the prophet was not carried
out. Those present were at fi rst astonished, and then began arguing amongst
themselves . . . Umar insisted against bringing the paper saying, “His fever is
too severe. You have the Quran. God’s book is suffi cient for us.”
Maxine Rodinson gives a slightly abridged account of what
happened:
After a time he [Muhammad] became delirious. He apparently asked
materials to write a document, which should keep the faithful from error.
Those present were much perplexed at this, wondering whether they
ought to trust the abstractedness of a sick man. Supposing that the new
text happened to contradict the Quran; surely it would sow the seeds of
dissension and dismay? Ought they to obey him when he was not in his
right mind? They argued so noisily that he gave up the idea and signed to
them to go away.
In the account by Husayn Haykal, after Muhammad angrily asked the
people to leave, his uncle al-Abbas felt concerned that the people would Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
lose something important if they did not hasten to bring writing materials.
However, Umar “held fi rmly to his judgment, which he based on God’s own
estimate of His Holy Book—in this scripture we have left nothing out.”
Before long, Prophet Muhammad had passed away. (According to Aisha’s
version of events, Muhammad raised his eyes, stared at the ceiling, said a
prayer, and then passed on forever.) As the wailing of the women reached a
pitch, a crowd gathered outside the house and in the courtyard. Chroniclers say
there was a sense of panic and fright among the people. Neither Muhammad
nor his companions had ever suggested that the Prophet was immortal, but
still Muslims found themselves in unchartered territory. Suddenly, the man
who had pulled them out of their pagan past, made them reject all that they
had treasured and thrust them into a position of strength against the thensuperpowers of the world—Persia, Byzantium, Egypt, and Abyssinia—was
no more. Who would lead them? What would become of them?
Frightened and in a state of shock, the people of the Oasis left their daily
chores and rushed to the house of Muhammad. In this pandemonium, the man
who had earlier stopped Muhammad from dictating his last will and testament
was in a complete state of denial. Upon hearing the news and hardly believing
it, Umar had returned quickly to the Prophet’s quarters. There, he went straight
to Muhammad’s bed and looked at his face. While the women were wailing
and beating their chests, Umar perceived the Prophet as being in a coma, from
which he believed he would soon emerge. When a colleague tried to convince
him of Muhammad’s death, Umar said to him in anger, “You lie.”
He then went to the mosque and started proclaiming at the top of his
voice that Muhammad had absented himself but would return. He threatened
to cut off the arms and legs of anyone who perpetuated false rumours of
the Prophet’s death.
At the mosque, the community was stupefi ed. They knew that the
Prophet had died, but here was Umar, one of his closest companions, violently
insisting otherwise. By now, Abu-Bakr had heard the news and had returned
to Medina. He fi rst went to see Muhammad, paid his respects to the departed
Apostle, covered his face, and then entered the mosque where Umar was
still speaking to the congregation. Abu-Bakr tried to calm Umar down.
After failing to persuade Umar to quieten, Abu-Bakr took the unusual step
of standing up and motioning the people to walk away from Umar’s tirade.
He then spoke to the people and made a profound speech that made a clear
distinction between God and his Messenger. Abu-Bakr reminded them that
Muhammad had warned them repeatedly that they must not honour him
in the same way as the Christians honoured Jesus. He was a mere mortal
like themselves. “Oh men, if anyone worships Muhammad, Muhammad  | Chasing a Mirage
is dead. If anyone worships God, God is alive, immortal.” He then quoted
the words that had been revealed to Muhammad after the battle of Uhud
(fought on March 22, 625 CE), when rumour had spread that the Prophet
had been killed and panic ensued:
Muhammad is only a messenger;
and many a messenger has gone before him.
So what if he dies or is killed!
Will you turn your back and go away in haste?
But he who turns back and goes away in haste
will do no harm to God.
But God will reward those
who give thanks (and are grateful).
The audience listened in stunned silence. The stirring speech by AbuBakr and his recitation of the Quranic verse put an end to the histrionics
of Umar, the chroniclers say. As he listened to Abu-Bakr, it fi nally dawned
on Umar that the Prophet was gone forever, never to return. His knees
buckled and the mighty warrior collapsed to the ground, fury making way
for fear, a silence replacing the sermon. Order was restored. However,
this chaotic incident, resulting from the histrionics of Umar, would pale
in signifi cance compared to what was to unfold in the coming hours
and days.
բ
The tussle that was about to unfold that fateful Monday in June 632 would
cause such a serious wound to the Muslim psyche that even today it remains
unhealed. The scars etched on the very consciousness of the Muslim soul
are hidden only to those who willfully choose to deny the existence of
such blemishes, and of course, the vast majority of the Ummah who are
blissfully ignorant of the sad side of their heritage and thus refuse to or
cannot learn the lessons. However, when these wounds do open up every
few years, thousands die. In 2006 alone, more than thirty thousand Iraqis
died as Sunni and Shia Arabs killed each other in a gory display of hatred
that goes back to the power struggles that unfolded after the death of the
Prophet of Islam.
The last prophecy of Muhammad—that “dissensions” would come like
waves of darkness, one after the other and getting worse each time—was
about to unfold.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
As the people started to leave the mosque of Muhammad, the paths were
separate. The men of Medina, known as the Ansar, including the tribes of
Khazraj and Aws, headed towards the courtyard of the clan of Banu Saidah—
the Saqifah—to gather around its ailing leader, Saad bin Ubadah, to plan
and strategize the future leadership of the Muslim community and their own
role in its future. The Meccans—the Quraysh—on the other hand gathered
in and around Abu-Bakr’s home with Umar taking the lead in asserting that
only one of them—the Meccans—should succeed the Prophet.
Incredible as it may sound, lost in this politicking were the people closest
to Muhammad, his family—the Banu Hashim clan. While the Quraysh of
Mecca and the Ansar of Medina started their jostling for power, the family
of Muhammad, with the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali ibn Abu Talib as their
leader, withdrew to his home to take care of the more mundane task of
preparing for the burial of the Apostle. Led by Ali, this small group included
Ibn al-Abbas
*
; the son of the Prophet’s adopted son Osama; as well as a few
trusted members of the Quraysh tribe, such as Zubayr and Talha.
There are fascinating, and at times, varying accounts of what transpired
that day, but one thing is clear: the debate between the leaders of the Meccans
and the tribal chiefs of Medina was acrimonious and went late into the night.
Sadly, God’s Messenger was the last thing on the minds of his followers. In
the disturbing words of historian Maxime Rodinson, “as night fell, everyone
had forgotten the body still lying in Aisha’s little hut.”
One member of Muhammad’s family was to suffer particularly great
hardship: in the days after losing her father, Fatima would also lose the
property her father had left for her as an inheritance, and later her husband
Ali would be murdered, her older son Hassan poisoned, and, in the great
tragedy that hangs over all Islamic history, Fatima’s younger son Hussain
would be beheaded and others of her family massacred by fellow Muslims. To
this day millions of Muslims mourn the tragedies that befell the daughter of
the Prophet, and while so many mutter endless platitudes about the equality
bestowed on women by Islam, they cannot explain how the one woman
who deserved justice was denied. Fatima was the Muslim Joan of Arc and
she was left to burn on the stake as men squabbled with each other for the
power they still seek, and which eludes them like a desert mirage.
Fatima’s shadow looms over us Muslims, not letting us escape the
transgressions our ancestors committed. Not until Muslims acknowledge
and accept responsibility, not until they face the truth and shed hypocrisy,
*
Ibn al-Abbas’ descendants would go on to form the Abbasid dynasty, which would rule
the empire from 750 until the Mongol invasion of 1258. | Chasing a Mirage
will they be able to face themselves in the mirror every morning. How could
we have done what we did to the family of the Prophet? We claim to adore
him, yet we refuse to accept the grave injustice committed against the person
he loved most—his daughter.
If there is a trait that has defi ned Muslim behaviour when it comes to
seeking power, it was set into motion in the burning sands surrounding the
oasis of Medina the day the Apostle died. It is indeed a miracle that Muslims
came out of that fateful power struggle as a community and survived as a
force to reckon with.
The tribal chiefs of Medina collected under tents in the courtyard of
Saad bin Ubadah (better known today as the Saqifah Banu Saidah) to decide
on the future of the Muslims and who should exercise authority over the
community. There was widespread agreement among them that the successor
to Muhammad must be from the Ansar, the tribe of Medina who had offered
sanctuary to the Apostle when his enemies wanted to kill him. The Medina
Arabs also formed the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community and as
such they felt it was their right to govern, now that the Prophet had died.
The Medinian deliberations were not held in secret. Soon word got out
to the Meccan immigrants who were assembled in Abu-Bakr’s home. Umar
realized that if the Quraysh of Mecca did not make a move quickly, the game
was over for them. He urged Abu-Bakr to go with him to the Saqifah and
confront the machinations of the tribal chiefs of Medina. Abu-Bakr, who
had just averted a serious confl ict inside the Prophet’s mosque, agreed, and
the two of them, along with their followers hurried to where the Medina
meeting was taking place. An unanswered question remains: why did Umar
and Abu-Bakr not take other Meccan companions of the Prophet with
them to the meeting of the Medina Arabs? After all, Ali, Uthman, Talha,
Zubayr, Saad bin Abu Waqqas—all very prominent members of the Meccan
faction—were close by.
As they entered the hall, they heard the ailing leader of the group, Saad
bin Ubadah,
*
urging the people of Medina to lay claim to the leadership of
the Muslims. “Strengthen your hold on this affair, for you have the rightful
claim to it . . .”
Another man from Medina, seeing Umar and Abu-Bakr entering the tent,
stood up and addressed them: “We are the Ansar, the Helpers of God and
the army of Islam. You, the Emigrants [from Mecca] are only a brigade in
*
Saad bin Ubadah: One of the Prophet’s closest companions, and the fi rst Muslim in
Medina. It was Saad who had prepared the arrangements for the Prophet to escape
to Medina.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
the army. Nonetheless, a group of you have gone to the extreme of seeking
to deprive us of our natural leadership and to deny our rights.”
The speaker continued to glorify the people of Medina, while paying
polite tribute to his guests, the Quraysh of Mecca. The speeches enraged
Umar. It is reported that he was “ready to put an end to this situation once
and for all by the sword.” Once more the cool head of Abu-Bakr prevailed
as he restrained Umar and stood up to address the gathering.
In a stunning invocation of tribal primacy and the nobility of family
lineage that went contrary to the Quran as well as the Prophet’s last speech,
Abu-Bakr argued that the next leader of the Muslims should come from
the Quraysh tribe of Mecca. He said they were the fi rst to embrace Islam,
and because of their noble lineage among the Arabs, deserved to succeed
Muhammad. He told the people of Medina gathered in the courtyard:
“The Muhajirun (Meccan Arabs) are the fi rst people on earth to worship
God truly, and the fi rst to accept faith in God and His Messenger. . . .
No man would dispute their right except a wrongdoer. We are therefore
the chiefs (Umara) and you (the people of Medina) are the subordinates
(Wuzura).”
Abu-Bakr went further, telling the gathering: “The Arabs do not and
will not recognize any sovereignty unless it belongs to the tribe of Quraysh.
The princes shall be from among us, whereas your group (people of Medina)
will furnish the viziers.”
The historian Tabari has a slightly different rendering of Abu-Bakr’s
speech from that above, but in that version too, it is clear that Abu-Bakr was
clearly pointing out to the supposedly divinely ordained superiority of the
Meccan Quraysh Arab tribe over all other Muslims, including the Medinans.
Abu-Bakr extolled the virtues of the Arabs of Medina, but emphasized to his
hosts that despite their high status, they should recognize the Meccan Arabs as
the “leaders” and consider themselves as no more than the “helpers.” He then
warned them that “only a wrongdoer would dispute” what he had said.
As the discussion heated up, the claim of racial superiority of the Meccan
Arabs angered the audience. One of them, a veteran of many battles, stood
up and proposed a dramatic new solution: shared sovereignty. The men of
Medina pursued their proposal of a dual succession to Prophet Muhammad,
while rejecting the notion of Meccan tribal superiority.
Umar rejected the idea of two concurrent successors, insisting that since
Prophet Muhammad was from the tribe of the Quraysh, only they had the
right to succeed him. He said: “Alas no two men can hold equal power
together by God. The Arabs would never agree to such an authority over
them when the Prophet is of another people. But they would not refuse to  | Chasing a Mirage
delegate the management of their affairs to those among whom prophethood
appears, that is the Quraysh.”
The back-and-forth arguments continued with both parties refusing to
give in. What is remarkable about the episode is that none of the chroniclers
mention any side invoking the Quran as a guiding principle to settle the
dispute. After all, the Quran states quite explicitly (chapter 49, verse 13) the
equality of all humans: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a
male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know
each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured
of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And
Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
One fear that the people of Medina voiced, that a man from neither
camp might seize offi ce, came to fruition within forty years when Caliph
Muawiyah
*
usurped power and founded the fi rst Muslim dynasty—the
Umayyads. During his life, the Prophet had preached about the essence of
humanity, the equality of all people, irrespective of their racial and tribal
origin, but as the sun set on Medina that evening, no one was asking the
question, What would Prophet Muhammad have done?
Seeing no solution in sight as the night wore on, Abu-Bakr changed
the subject and reminded the people of Medina of their own rivalries. In a
brilliant tactic, Abu-Bakr tried to pit the two tribes of Medina—the Khazraj
and the Aws—against each other. He posed the hypothetical question: “If
the men of Khazraj were to show their ambitions concerning this affair, the
men of the Aws would not fall behind. Likewise, were the men of the Aws to
seek it, those of the Khazraj would surely do the same. There are, moreover,
between these two tribes, deaths and injuries that can never be healed. If
therefore any man of either of you were to bellow out his claim to this offi ce,
he would place himself between the two jaws of a lion: to be chewed up by
his Quraysh opponent or wounded by his rival of the Ansar.”
The tactic worked. The two tribes of Medina that had been brought
together as one by Muhammad’s message of Islam were that night again
divided among themselves, debating who among them deserved to rule, if
not the Meccan Quraysh. This would not be the fi rst time the policy of divide
and rule would succeed, and it would not be the last time it would be used.
As the solidarity of the men of Medina crumbled, Abu-Bakr, sensing victory,
held up the hands of Umar and another Meccan, Abu Ubaydah bin Jarrah.
“Either one of these two men of the Quraysh is acceptable to us as leader of
the Muslim community,” he said. “Choose whomsoever you please.”

*
Muawiyah: Founded the Umayyad dynasty of Islam after defeating caliph Hassan, who
had succeeded his father Ali, the fourth caliph.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
Amid the confusion and bickering, a prominent notable of the Aws tribe
of Medina broke ranks and walked over to Abu-Bakr. Soon more followed,
and in the mayhem, Umar took his sword in one hand and raising the hand
of Abu-Bakr in the other, he declared: “O Abu-Bakr, stretch forth your hand
and I will give you my oath of fealty. Did not the Prophet himself command
you to lead the Muslims in prayer? You, therefore, are his successor. We
elect you to this position.”
The men of Medina were soon rushing to pledge their allegiance to
Abu-Bakr, lest their loyalties be questioned later. The ageing leader of the
two tribes of Medina, Saad bin Ubadah, in whose courtyard this drama
was unfolding, is said to have found himself nearly trampled by his own
followers as he fell over from his bed to the fl oor. This was the man who
had introduced Islam to the people of Medina. One historian reports Umar
cursing the old man, “Kill Sa’ad, may God kill Sa’ad.” Umar then stepped on
Saad bin Ubadah’s head, saying, “I intend to tread on you until your head is
dislocated.” At this, Saad bin Ubadah grabbed Umar’s beard, and said, “By
God, if you remove a single hair from it, you’ll return with no front teeth
in your mouth.” Abu-Bakr intervened and urged Umar to relent and not
harm Saad. The leader of the Medina Arabs was carried away to his home,
where he stayed for many days, deeply disillusioned at the turn of events
and the way he had been mistreated. For days, he was pressured to give his
oath of allegiance to Abu-Bakr, but like Ali ibn Abu Talib, Saad bin Ubadah
refused to do so.
It must have been heartbreaking for Saad to be treated with such disrespect
and ingratitude. As he lay on the fl oor, he must have remembered the endless
days of torture he had to undergo in the prison of the Meccan pagans who
had captured him and wanted to extract from him information about who
else was aiding Muhammad in Medina. At that time, the Prophet and his
handful of followers lived isolated on a street of Mecca, boycotted by the
city’s Quraysh Arab tribe and Saad and his group were secretly arranging
to smuggle out the Apostle to safety in Medina.
Liyakat Takim, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Denver,
in his book The Heirs of the Prophet, suggests that during the debate on the
succession of the Prophet, his companions reverted to practices that had
been current among pagan Arab tribes before the advent of Islam. He writes:
“Pre-Islamic mode of authority surfaced immediately after Muhammad’s
death when some of his followers invoked an erstwhile tribal procedure for
the selection of a chief. The convening of the tribal council and the selection
of Abu-Bakr as the fi rst caliph to succeed the Prophet was incipience of the
routinization of charisma. At the same time, it was the fi rst manifestation
of the re-emergence of the pre-Islamic polity.” | Chasing a Mirage
Takim, a Canadian of Tanzanian descent, believes that the re-emergence
of pagan Arab tribal norms continued after Abu-Bakr became the fi rst
successor to Muhammad. During Umar’s caliphate, for example, “Islam
came to be identifi ed with the Arabs. He tried to keep non-Arab Muslims
out of Arabia, especially from Medina.”
While the scramble for power and resulting ascension of Abu-Bakr took
place, the family of the Prophet was closeted inside his home, cut off from
the power brokering at Saqifah. But at Saqifah, the gathering scattered in
despair. Some men swore allegiance to Abu-Bakr, while others just walked
away in disillusionment. At his public ceremony in the Prophet’s Mosque
in Medina, Abu-Bakr gave a stirring speech, saying:
I am appointed to govern you, although I’m not the best of you. If I act well, you
must take me, and if I act unjustly, you must correct me. Truth is faithfulness
and falsehood is treachery. No nation has failed to fi ght for Allah, Allah has
punished it with abasement; nor has wickedness become widespread without
ever sending calamity. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and his Prophet. But
should I rebel against Allah, and his Prophet you will owe me no obedience.
Rise to your prayers and may Allah have mercy on you.
While Muslims would like to believe that the ascension of Abu-Bakr
was the result of an election that came about after vigorous debate and
consultations, the fact is that not a single member of the Prophet’s family,
the Banu Hashim clan, was consulted. Nor was there any input from the
tens of thousand of Muslims who lived in Mecca, or the Bedouin tribes in
the desert hinterland. Needless to say, not a single woman, not even the
wives or the daughter of the Prophet, had any say in the question of who
was now to lead the Muslims. By declaring that only Arabs belonging to
the Meccan Quraysh tribe could fi ll the seat of the caliph, Abu-Bakr set the
seal of authority on the theory of tribal and racial supremacy of the Arab
over the non-Arab for many centuries to come.
It was not until nearly four hundred years later that Abu-Bakr’s namesake,
a jurist by the name of Qadi Abu-Bakr Baqillani (d. 1013), would declare
that belonging to the Quraysh tribe was not a prerequisite to becoming
the caliph. Another four hundred years would pass before the great Ibn
Khaldun would demolish the idea of Arab ancestry and tribal lineage to
the Quraysh as a prerequisite for occupying the seat of the caliph. For
eight hundred years after the Prophet died, only the sons of one Arab tribe
dominated, while all other Muslims, especially non-Arabs, were considered
second class.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
Despite the fact that there is ample historical evidence about the
doctrine used to keep non-Arabs out of power for centuries, most Arab
commentators and Islamic historians are oblivious of the impact of this
ruling by Abu-Bakr. Of course, the Shia also dispute the validity of AbuBakr’s ascension, but their theory of succession is even narrower and more
restricted than that of the Sunni. The Shia also believe that only a person
of Arab descent can claim leadership of the Muslim community, the person
they refer to as their imam. However, in their doctrine, this Arab cannot
be just any Arab, but must prove to be a direct descendant of the Prophet’s
family from his daughter Fatima. Is it any surprise the Supreme Leaders
of Iran have all been men claiming to have Arab ancestry, not Persian?
բ
Complete denial over the events that led to the nomination of Abu-Bakr as
caliph is so pervasive that schoolbooks and even college history books state
as fact that Abu-Bakr was unanimously elected by the Muslim community.
The belief that Quraysh Arabs are superior is hardly ever challenged.
One example of how the theory of Arab Quraysh superiority is maintained
even today can be found in the booklet Islam and the Race Question. This
publication, authorized by UNESCO, was written in 1970 by Abdul Aziz
Kamil, the then-Egyptian minister of religious and charitable institutions.
On the qualities required for a Muslim to be a candidate for the position of
caliph, Kamil writes:
Islamic scholars have discussed the qualities required in a caliph who would
govern the affairs of Moslems. They were: learning, justice, competence,
and sound sense and organs—since these affect both a man’s judgment
and his actions; opinions differed, however, regarding the fi fth condition,
which was that he had to be related to the tribe of Quraysh. The last
condition rested on a unanimous agreement [emphasis mine] reached by
the Companions at a meeting which took place on the day following the
Prophet’s death.
Kamil accepts uncritically the myth that Abu-Bakr was elected, and that
the election was unanimous. He also manages to get UNESCO to validate the
myth. He fails to mention that Muhammad had never set a condition that
Muslim leaders should be from the Quraysh. Kamil does not acknowledge
that this condition was contrary to the Quran’s teachings on equality before
God, and thus could not be valid as practice within Islam. | Chasing a Mirage
բ
After Abu-Bakr assumed power, tension between the Ansar of Medina
and the Quraysh of Mecca showed signs of subsiding. (Many of the Ansar
had given allegiance, with only the ailing Saad bin Ubadah refusing to
acknowledge Abu-Bakr’s caliphate.) However, in the home of the Prophet,
resentment simmered among the Banu Hashim, who sat grieving around his
body. Snubbed by the rest of the Quraysh, seething with anger, they took
an unprecedented step: they buried the body of Muhammad right within
his own house. They allowed no one else to attend the funeral. Maxime
Rodinson writes: “Ali, Abbas, and their friends seem to have been anxious to
avoid such a ceremony in which Abu-Bakr, leading the funeral procession
would appear as the Prophet’s appointed successor.” It had been expected
that the Prophet would be buried at the Baqi cemetery, alongside his son
Ibrahim, his daughter Ruqqaiya, and many of his companions. Even Aisha,
dearly loved by Muhammad, who was the daughter of Abu-Bakr, is said
to have learned of the preparations only when she heard Ali and his Uncle
Abbas digging the grave in the middle of the night.
The dispute over succession had been resolved between the Ansar
and the Quraysh. However, Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali, disputed the
legitimacy of Abu-Bakr as the successor of Muhammad for many months.
He and Fatima withdrew themselves from the public arena, not opposing
Abu-Bakr, but more signifi cantly refusing to give their allegiance to the
new caliph. It was not as if Ali had not made attempts to challenge the
authority of Abu-Bakr. On the Tuesday night after burying Muhammad,
Ali along with Fatima is reported to have approached the tribal leaders of
Medina, seeking their support in his dispute with Abu-Bakr. The men of
Medina, having already tasted a meltdown on their own turf, did not wish
to prolong the crisis tearing at the heart of the young Muslim nation. They
told Ali that had he come to the Saqifah before Abu-Bakr and Umar came,
the Ansar would certainly have pledged allegiance to him.
Ali’s response refl ected his frustration with the entire political process.
He argued, “Should I have left the Messenger of God in his house unburied
and gone to quarrel with men over his authority?” Fatima, in equal distress,
added, “Abu al-Hasan [Ali] did only what he should have done. But God will
bring them [that is Abu-Bakr and Umar] to account for what they did.”
Having failed to win the support of the Medinian leaders, Ali and the rest
of Muhammad’s family went back to Fatima’s house. The next day Umar and
a group of Meccans surrounded the house and threatened to set it on fi re if
the people inside did not come out and pledge allegiance to Abu-Bakr.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
There are various versions of what happened next. In one, Umar at some
stage went in and brought out Ali by force. Defi ant in spirit, Ali refused to
be cowed, asking Umar, “What if I do not give allegiance?” To which Umar
replied, “We would cut off your head.” Ali retorted, “You would then have
killed the brother of the Messenger of God.”
Umar’s response, if correctly reported, must have devastated Ali. “That
you are the servant of God, yes we agree, but that you are brother of the
Messenger of God, no, we do not,” said Umar. Ali must have been enraged,
but is said to have turned the other cheek and demonstrated a calmness
that later became his defi ning trait.
In another, more tragic, version of the events at Fatima and Ali’s home—a
version that is dismissed by Sunni Muslims as untrue—when Ali refused to
come out of the house, Umar ibn al-Khattab and his men broke down the
door, throwing Fatima to the fl oor. Abi’l-Hasan Ali Bin Husain Masudi, as
quoted in the book Peshawar Nights, says that Fatima, who was pregnant at the
time, was so severely crushed behind the door that she had a miscarriage.
A few days later, Umar’s men again came to Ali’s house. This time
they detained and dragged Ali before Abu-Bakr, where he again refused to
submit to the new caliph.
It would take six more months and the death of his beloved wife, Fatima,
before Ali would succumb to pressure and give his allegiance to Abu-Bakr.
He was being treated as a social outcast and without Fatima, he was a very
lonely man.
Fatima had died a heartbroken and deeply disillusioned woman. The
daughter of the Prophet never spoke to Abu-Bakr after he took away her
father’s inheritance, the garden of Fadak. She never forgave Abu-Bakr for
what she thought was rightfully hers, bequeathed to her during the Prophet’s
lifetime. When Ali and Fatima went to Abu-Bakr to demand that he return
the garden of Fadak to its rightful owner, Abu-Bakr told the young couple, “I
did hear the Messenger of God say, ‘We prophets do not give any inheritance.
Anything we leave behind must remain as public charity.’ ”
Fatima must have been dumbfounded. Neither Ali nor Fatima, the
closest to the Prophet, had ever heard the Prophet say what Abu-Bakr was
suggesting he had heard the Prophet say.
The disinheritance of the daughter of the Prophet of Islam would set the
precedent of treating women as second-class Muslims. The trend towards full
gender equality that Muhammad had initiated was halted soon after his death.
If the daughter of the Prophet of Islam could be deprived of her inheritance,
what are the chances of the millions of daughters who are denied their just
inheritances to this day by families invoking Islamic laws? If Fatima could
be cheated and humiliated, is it any wonder that Muslim women in the 21st  | Chasing a Mirage
century fi nd their path to respect and dignity strewn with obstacles justifi ed
by religious laws? We treat these laws as if they came from the Quran itself,
when in fact they were created centuries after the death of the Prophet.
True to their nature, Ali and Fatima walked away from this encounter in
a mood of resigned disappointment. Fatima never forgave Abu-Bakr. Even
though Ali had given up his claim to the leadership of the Muslim community,
and yielded to Abu-Bakr, he remained bitter about the injustices he and
Fatima had suffered. The historian Masudi reports Ali telling Abu-Bakr in
one exchange, “You have defrauded us of our right and did not heed it.”
There is much to be said in defence of Abu-Bakr. The embryonic
community of Muslims was vulnerable, and he restrained the more aggressive
Umar, intervening on the side of caution, bringing calm to dangerous and
explosive situations. During the two years Abu-Bakr served as caliph, he
was forced to put down scores of revolts. Despite the criticism that has
been levelled against him, it is clear that during his reign he demonstrated
extremely high standards of character and personal integrity. He did not seek
personal wealth. He consulted his followers before making decisions—not
only the ruling elite, but also the common people and the poor. For that era
in history, it was a remarkable time of democratic rule.
Even in the matter of Ali and Fatima, there is evidence that Abu-Bakr
was cognizant of the hurt he had caused and genuinely regretted the turn of
events. Historian Tabari quotes Abu-Bakr as saying to one of his companions
on the eve of his reign: “I wish I had not searched the house of Fatima,
daughter of the Messenger of God, or allowed men to enter it, even if it was
shut for the purpose of inciting war . . . I wish I had asked the Messenger of
God who should take care of this charge after him.”
Was there a reason for Muhammad’s silence on the issue of who would
hold power after his death? Could it be that the Prophet wanted no one to
succeed him? The fi nal revelation of the Quran, the last words he received
from God, had been a specifi c instruction to Muhammad and the Muslims:
“Today I have completed your religion for you.” Nowhere in the Quran does
God suggest that an Islamic government be set up after Muhammad’s death.
Nowhere does Muhammad, in all of the hadith, or his collected sayings,
speak of an Islamic State.
Eventually the dust settled in the succession struggles, but they would
resurface repeatedly. This fi rst encounter left a mark on the politics of the
Arabs forever. Tribalism and racial identities of the pre-Islamic times triumphed
over principles of meritocracy and universalism preached by Muhammad and
as ordained by the Quran. Once it was settled that Quraysh Arabs deserved
to rule over the Ansar Arabs because of the former’s nobility and tribal
superiority, there was no stopping the argument that the Arabs were superior Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
to the Persians, the Africans, and the Indians. The pre-Islamic traditions of
Arab tribalism and family lineage to this day affect Arab attitudes of superiority
towards each other and, of course, their non-Arab co-religionists.
The Iranian scholar Ali Dashti writes that before the advent of Islam,
the Arabs used to boast about the superiority of the tribe, clan, or genealogy
over those of others. Their claims to superiority were not based on virtues
and graces, but on prowess in killing, plundering, and abducting other men’s
women. The teachings of Islam negated this concept and made piety the
measure of a person’s merit. Unfortunately, the new standard was not long
maintained in practice—to be precise, until 644, with the death of Umar, who
became second caliph of Islam after Abu-Bakr named him as his successor.
During the reign of the third caliph, Uthman,
*
nepotism prevailed over piety.
Devout men such as Abu Dharr Ghaffari

were thrust aside, and members of
the caliph’s clan, such as Muawiyah, were appointed to governorships. Later,
under the Umayyad dynasty (661–750), the great Islamic principle of nobility
through piety was simply ignored. Tribal pride was still of supreme importance,
but now the setting was broader. Men from the barren deserts of Arabia had
conquered vast territories. According to Dashti, “The conquest . . . intoxicated
the Arabs with pride.” It seemed clear to them that they were superior and the
conquered nations were inferior. Dashti writes that the Umayyads despised
the non-Arabs under their rule and even those who converted to Islam did
not enjoy the equality of rights enshrined in Islamic law.
Muslims around the world are told incessantly by Islamists that they
need to look back to the era of the fi rst four caliphs of Islam as the model
for their political aspirations for the future. However, submitted to even a
cursory scrutiny, the era reveals an incompatibility with the standards of
today’s secular democratic civil societies, where citizenship is based on human
created laws, not divine texts and specifi c race, religion, tribe, or clan. Yet
clerics feed this myth and make millions of young Muslims chase the mirage
our ancestors have been pursuing for a millennium without success.
In the 21st century, we Muslims have a choice. Either we can emulate the
great Muslim scientists and philosophers, such as Averroes and Kindi, Avicenna
and Khaldun, or we can follow the orthodoxy that labelled these giants as
apostates. In making that choice, we need to be aware that we sacrifi ce the
state of Islam when we chase the elusive mirage of an Islamic State.
ISLAM CAME TO FREE HUMANITY from the clutches of the clergy.
Instead, the religion of peace has become a prisoner of war, held captive by
the very priesthood it came to eliminate. Muslims have been double-duped
for centuries—lied to by their leaders and the clerics who supposedly hold
the keys to heaven.
The falsehoods Muslims have been force-fed are not only about faith
but about early Islamic history. We have been indoctrinated to believe that
our faith banned slavery, when the fact is that for 1,400 years we have
institutionalized it. We are told that our ancestors gave equality to women,
yet we defend the most horrendous treatment of our mothers and daughters.
Growing up we were told that all Muslims were equal in the eyes of God,
only to fi nd out we were not equal in the eyes of man. We have been
programmed to believe that when we invade other countries, it is for their
good, but when we are invaded in return, it is wrong. The innumerable
glorious achievements of Muslim civilization make us all proud, but remain
tainted with countless lies that have been drilled into the minds of each
passing generation. When a lie goes unchallenged for over a millennium, it
unfortunately attains the legitimacy of gospel truth.
The fi rst falsehood imposed upon Muslims by our clerics concerns
the events immediately following the death of Prophet Muhammad in
632 CE. Almost all Muslim scholars, especially contemporary ones, have
repeated the legend, without any hesitation, that after the death of Allah’s
Apostle his successor was “elected” with unanimous consensus at the end
of an all-night conference of Muslim elders. In one example, Abul Ala
Maudoodi (1903–79), founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami political movement
Chapter 6
The Prophet is Dead | Chasing a Mirage
and the intellectual leader of world Political Islam, writes that it was Umar
*
who proposed that Abu-Bakr succeed the Prophet as a spiritual leader.

Then “all the people of Medina (who for all practical purposes were
representative of the entire country) without any pressure or incentive
and out of their love for him, took an oath of allegiance.” This version
of events is absolutely false, yet few Muslims know that or are willing to
discuss it. I intend to.
More than one scholar of Islam has cautioned me to avoid discussion
involving the companions of the Prophet. They suggest writing on this
subject is inviting danger. The militant terrorist organization Sepah-e-sahaba
(Soldiers of the Companions) has been created solely with the objective of
liquidating those who raise questions about these “companions.” This group
has assassinated hundreds of Muslims in Pakistan on the charge that they
were disrespectful to the Prophet’s companions.
The second fable that we Muslims have been forced to swallow since
our early childhood is the legend that after the death of the Prophet, an
era of universalism and meritocracy emerged in Arabia in which men
and women were judged solely on the basis of their piety, and not on
the colour of their skin, their race, or tribal ancestry. Again, not true.
Within hours of Muhammad’s death, tribalism was invoked and racial
identity was used to consolidate power and sideline opponents. To this
day, the internalized racism that was sanctioned and sanctifi ed in early
Islamic history devours the worldwide community of Muslims—the
Ummah—like a cancer.
Islamists argue that the period following the passing away of
Muhammad was Islam’s golden era and that we Muslims need to re-create
the caliphate of that time in order to bring the political system it was
associated with into today’s world. I wish to demonstrate that when
Muslims buried the Prophet, they also buried with him many of the
universal values of Islam that he had preached. The history of Islam can
be described essentially as the history of an unending power struggle,
where men have killed each other to claim the mantle of Muhammad.
This strife is a painful story that started within hours of the Prophet
closing his eyes forever, and needs to be told. I fi rmly believe the message
of the Quran is strong enough to withstand the facts of history. It is my
conviction that Muslims are mature and secure in their identities to face
the truth. This is that story.
*
Umar: He was to become the second caliph of Islam.

Abu-Bakr: The fi rst caliph of Islam, as the successor to Prophet Muhammad.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
բ
Muhammad’s death came at a time of great change in human history. Arabia
was not the only nation state that was evolving. China had just been reunifi ed
in 589 CE, leading to the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE), which historians mark
as a high point in Chinese civilization. It was the image of this China that
Muhammad had invoked when urging his fellow Arabs to seek knowledge.
Across the oceans, in India, the Gupta Empire had reached phenomenal
heights in science, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy, inventing the
concepts of zero and infi nity along with the symbols of the numbers from
one to nine. These were later adopted by the Arabs through trade and
became known as Arabic numerals. It is these numerals, developed by Hindu
mathematicians, that adorn the pages of every Quran in the Muslim world.
This was the globalized world into which Muhammad the internationalist
had pushed the tribal pastoral Arabs.
At the crossroads of human civilizations, Arabia and the Muslims found
themselves being propelled into the role of shaping the future. On its northern
borders, the Arabs found themselves caught between the two dominant
powers of the world, the Byzantines and the Persians. While Muhammad
was still young and working on the caravans of his wife Khadijah, the Sixth
Byzantine–Persian War broke out when between Eastern Rome and the New
Persian Empire in 603, both superpowers of the day contending for the control
of western Asia. In 627, while Muhammad was consolidating Muslim successes
against his naysayers in the Arabian Peninsula, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius
defeated the Persian army and regained Asia Minor, Syria, Jerusalem, and
Egypt. In Persia, Kavadh II sued for peace with the Byzantines and handed
back Armenia, Byzantine Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Weakened
by the wars against its western enemies, Persia fell into further chaos when,
in 628, Khusrau Parvez II, the new ruler of Persia, was murdered by his son.
Within decades, both the Byzantines and Persians, exhausted by centuries of
warfare, would be defeated by the new power emerging from Arabia.
Muhammad died on Monday, June 8, 632 CE. It is said that he breathed
his last as the searing heat of the midday summer sun beat down on the
city of Medina. Exactly where he breathed his last is disputed, however:
his wife Aisha said he died in her lap; his son-in-law and trusted lieutenant,
the poet/philosopher/warrior Ali ibn Abu Talib, said Muhammad died
resting on his shoulder; both accounts could be true, according to some
sources.
But with such confl icting versions of Muhammad’s last moments, it
was no coincidence that Ali and Aisha would fi ght Islam’s fi rst civil war  | Chasing a Mirage
against each other, in the Iraqi city of Basra, only twenty-four years after
the Prophet’s death.
Muhammad left behind no explicit instructions of what was to be
done once his people were without him, and within hours of his death, a
power struggle ensued that remains unresolved even today and has, over
a millennium, cost the lives of countless Muslims. By the time the sun set
on Medina on the day of his death, grief and mourning had given way to
intense arguments and a deepening division. Politics had overtaken piety,
and tribalism had resurfaced. Men who were of upstanding character and
known for their goodwill, who are still revered by the billion Muslims of
the 21st century, succumbed to the temptation of invoking noble ancestries
as the basis of their claims to leadership of the nascent Muslim Ummah.
Barely two months after the Prophet proclaimed that all Muslims were equal,
irrespective of their tribal or racial origin—that black and white, Arab or
non-Arab, had no superiority over one another—his followers were laying
claim to leadership based primarily on their tribal lineage, while denying
power to others simply based on where they were born.
Muslims today are deeply conscious of this troubling aspect of their
history, but few dare discuss it in public. Although the Quran enjoins Muslims
to speak the truth without fear, even if it hurts themselves or their families,
it is taboo to speak the truth about the battle over succession that started
among the Prophet’s companions even before he was given a burial.
The competing narratives of the sad events that unfolded that hot
summer day in June 632 are delivered in partisan sermons in front of captive
congregations, but never in an open discourse free of fear or reprisal. For
anyone who asks tough questions or suggests that all Muslims can learn
from this, that politics should be kept out of religion, vilifi cation awaits,
and a possibility of the frightening stigma of apostasy. The punishment for
apostasy is death.
Muhammad would have been traumatized to see that immediately after
his death his companions started feuding over power, at times with swords
unsheathed, and even threatened to burn down his beloved daughter Fatima’s
home. Their intentions were noble, their character was impeccable, and their
integrity unquestionable: they wanted to preserve the infant community and
protect its frontiers from enemies of Islam. But their methods and tactics
were badly fl awed. The legacy of this early debacle is such that even today,
power is rarely handed over in the Muslim world without bloodshed.
In not defi ning a political model under which Muslims could govern
themselves, the Prophet in his wisdom may very well have left it open to his
followers to develop governance according to the socio-economic conditions Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
they lived in. After all, even though it was the Prophet who had himself
authored the Medina Compact, which established the rules of governance
in the city state of Medina, he did not implement a similar agreement in
Mecca when he returned at the head of the conquering Muslim army.
If time, geography, and demographics could dictate different governing
systems in different cities in the lifetime of Muhammad, the question arises:
Why should Muslims of today search for a model of an Islamic State that
is rooted in the past? If such a model existed, why didn’t the Prophet apply
the Charter of the Medina Compact to Mecca? Is the concept of an Islamic
State a mirage? Are we being asked to chase one? Yes, on both accounts.
How Muslims should govern and who should govern them were the
questions that tore the community apart after Muhammad’s death. The same
questions still defi ne the confl ict that pits Muslim against Muslim today.
Nearly 1,400 years later, the problem remains unresolved.
But while Muslims may still be distraught at the early confl icts in Islam,
few, especially among the Islamist leadership, are willing to acknowledge
that the differences of opinion among the early Muslims were not over
the state of Islam, but the Islamic State. There was virtually no argument
among the protagonists about the principles of the new religion that was
attracting thousands to its fold every day. There was near unanimity
among his companions and followers over the call for “submission” only
to the Creator alone. But within hours of his demise, the clarion call of
the Quran for the equality of all human beings was forgotten. Rival groups
jostled for power, brokered and manoeuvred, setting the pattern for the
manner in which politics is practised even today in the Arab world.
This is a subject few Muslims are willing to discuss or analyze in a frank
and open debate. Historical depictions of these confl icts are written from a
partisan perspective where one or the other party to the confl ict is blamed for
the tragedies that unfolded. Few Muslim historians have addressed the cause
of the chasm that appeared among the leaders of the Muslim community
so soon after the death of the Prophet.
One such historian was the late Iranian scholar Ali Dashti. According to
him, early Islamic confl icts happened because “ambition for the leadership
replaced zeal for the religion as the pivotal motive.” Dashti’s blunt assessment
and frank analysis of the power struggles that engulfed early Islam resulted
in his book Twenty-Three Years being banned in Iran under the rule of both
the shah and Ayatollah Khomeini. The author was imprisoned, tortured, and
eventually exiled. Dashti wrote: “The study of the history of Islam shows
it to be a sequence of struggles for power in which the contestants treated
the religion as the means, not as an end. . . . The further the Prophet’s death  | Chasing a Mirage
receded into the past, the greater became the tendency to treat the religion
as a means, rather than as an end in itself—to use it as an instrument of
seizure of the leadership and the rulership.”
Today, the tendency to use religion as an instrument of political power is
refl ected in the competing visions of Islam offered by Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Final authority in both countries has been wrested from ordinary citizens
and preserved for the king in Saudi Arabia and the Supreme Leader in Iran.
In Iran, this leader is supposedly accountable only to God, but in actuality,
he is accountable to himself alone.
բ
The Prophet knew his last days in this world were at hand. He had been
ill for some time and was preparing his followers for the moment when he
would no longer be among them. The Muslims of the time included the
tribes of Arabia; the freed African slaves; the immigrants from Persia, Yemen
and Abyssinia; the women who were newly empowered by the message of
Islam; and the landless and the poor, who were being treated with justice
and equality for the fi rst time in their lives. They had smashed the symbols
of servitude, separation, and superstition. They had arisen with a zeal and
fervour the Arabs had never before known.
Two months earlier, during his last journey to Mecca for the hajj
pilgrimage, Muhammad had spoken about the completion of his mission
on Earth. Addressing pilgrims, Muhammad said: “Hear me O people, for I
know not if ever I shall meet you in this place after this year.” These were
not the last words of Muhammad, but it was to be his last formal speech. As
tens of thousands stood in rapt attention, Muhammad made stirring remarks
that still resonate today as the defi ning spirit of the Muslim community,
even among those who adhere to Islam merely as a culture, not a religion.
“Neither infl ict, nor suffer inequity,” he said, spelling out the principles of
social justice in a world where teeming millions believed it was their destiny
to suffer inequity.
Muhammad declared that everyone was equal before God, without
distinction of social class or racial origin: “O people, your Lord is one, and
your ancestor is [also] one. You are all descendants from Adam and Eve
who was born of earth. The noblest of you all, in the sight of God, is the
most devout. God is knowing and all wise [Quran sura 49:13]. An Arab is
superior to a non-Arab in nothing, but devotion.”
The spirit of equality and rejection of ethnic or racial superiority had
been explicitly revealed to Muhammad in an earlier revelation: “O mankind! Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you
into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may
despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah
is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and
is well acquainted (with all things).”
Multiculturalism and anti-racism emerged in North America and Europe
as stepping stones towards equality as late as the 20th century. But here was
the Prophet of Islam sowing the seeds of racial equality in the 7th century.
Muhammad came to a world where identity was primarily based on race
and being on the wrong side of the racial divide would mean a life sentence
into servitude, if not slavery. Tragically, the words of the Quran and these
anti-racist teachings of Muhammad were metaphorically paved over within
hours of his death.
Later that day, while returning from the plains of Arafat, Muhammad
again addressed the hajj pilgrims, reciting aloud the last revelation he had
received from God through the Archangel Gabriel. That verse completed the
Quran, a book whose words would change the course of human history—
triggering a fountain of knowledge at one time, but today providing intellectual
sustenance to Islamic extremists. This last revelation was a profound end to the
process that started twenty-three years earlier on the day the archangel is said
to have woken Muhammad from his meditation in a cave and commanded
him to “Read”—the fi rst word of the Quran.
Muhammad had been on a long journey of tribulations and triumphs.
Arabia had changed dramatically in the two decades since that lonely
dark night in the cave. Now, when Muhammad was about to unveil the
fi nal words of the Quran, scribes rushed to hear him, bringing writing
materials of parchment, bones, and leaves. His companions, some say
100,000 strong, gathered around, clinging to his every word as he recited
the fi nal verse of the Quran: “This day have I perfected your religion for
you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as
your religion.”
Within decades of Muhammad’s death, God’s instructions that the
Prophet had perfected and completed Islam would be conveniently interpreted
by scholars serving caliphs as the means to allow additions to Islam. Sultans
and caliphs would add layer after layer to the Islam that God had said he
perfected in his last revelation to Muhammad. To this day, Muslims are subject
to laws God never authorized either in the Quran or through his messenger,
Prophet Muhammad. The stoning of women, the killing of gays and lesbians,
the concept of royalty, the Velayat-e faqih, and tons of new concepts were
added to the faith of Islam by one ruler after another, invoking religion to  | Chasing a Mirage
pursue political power and luring the Ummah towards an Islamic State that
has not yet been consecrated after 1,400 years of waiting.
բ
If Muslims are to understand why our political systems have failed, or why
asking for a political framework modelled on the pattern set by the Rightly
Guided Caliphs of Islam is a recipe for failure, then the account of what
happened in 632 needs to be revisited. Islamists who demand the introduction
of an Islamic political system based on 7th-century political manoeuvrings
are neither willing to analyze the imperfect processes that led to bloodshed,
nor are they ready to concede that the bloodshed that occurred was a
result of political ambitions. The fi rst dynasty of Islam, the Umayyads of
Damascus, arose only after the blood of Muhammad’s own family had been
shed, but generation after generation of Muslims has been conditioned to
look the other way. Any discussion about the role of the early caliphs is
considered as bordering on blasphemy. The stature of the early caliphs and
the companions of the Prophet has been raised from their being mere mortals
to that of being at par with the Apostle of Allah and thus beyond reproach
or criticism, no matter how devastating the consequences of their actions.
If the political system introduced during the Golden Period of Islam by
the four Rightly Guided Caliphs resulted in the assassination of three of them,
triggered civil wars, led to secessionist confl ict, and caused the slaughter of
the Prophet’s family—who were left starving and thirsty on the plains of
Karbala in Iraq—surely that system cannot be seen today as the model for
tomorrow. If at all there is something from that time in history that Muslims
need to emulate, it is the personal character of Muhammad’s companions.
The integrity and the transparency of their lives, as well as their aversion to
pomp and show, could shame many of the Muslim leaders. Their truthfulness
and humility are what all Muslims need to embrace. These were men who
died leaving little inheritance for their families, such was their creed of social
justice and equity. But the political system they created, and then got killed
implementing, is best left as a subject for historians to discuss, rather than
offering it as a recipe to resolve the ailing condition of the Muslim world.
Perhaps the Prophet could foresee the turmoil that his death would
trigger and he talked about this in his last stroll in Medina before illness and
an excruciating headache took their toll. A few nights before he passed away
forever, Muhammad ventured to the cemetery of Baqi on the outskirts of
Medina. (This is where his son Ibrahim, his daughter Ruqqaiya, and many
of his companions lay buried; this too is the location of the house that his Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
daughter Fatima would later visit to grieve Muhammad’s death.) Only Abu
Muwayhibah, a man the Prophet had freed from slavery, accompanied him.
As the two men reached the cemetery, Muwayhibah quotes Muhammad
as saying: “Peace be unto you, O people of the graves. Happy are you, for
you are much better off than men here. Dissensions have come like waves
of darkness, one after another, the last being worst than the fi rst.”
Husayn Haykal, the Egyptian biographer of the Prophet, used a different
translation: “Peace be upon you who are in these graves. Blessed are you
in your present state to which you have emerged from the state in which
the people live on earth. Subversive attacks are falling one after another like
waves of darkness, each worse than the previous ones.”
The prophetic prediction of “dissensions” was already unfolding as the
Apostle of Allah trudged back home. No one dared ask him whom he had
chosen as his successor. Abd Allah bin Muslim Ibn Qutaybah, an Andalusian
historian of the 9th century, reports that Abdullah ibn al-Abbas, the Prophet’s
cousin, met Ali as the Prophet lay dying and said: “The Prophet is about to
die! Go, therefore and ask him if this affair [that is, the caliphate] shall be
ours, that he may declare it. But if it belongs to someone else, then he may
at least enjoin kindness towards us.”
The historian then reports that Ibn Abbas went to Umar and Abu-Bakr
and asked if the Prophet had left any instructions regarding his succession.
Both said that they knew nothing about any such instructions. On hearing
this, Ibn Abbas returned to Ali and said: “‘Stretch out your hand that I may
pledge allegiance (ba’yah) to you . . . Your own relatives will then offer their
ba’yah and all the people will follow suit.’ Ali, displaying caution, and his
desire for consensus, asked, ‘Will anyone quarrel with us concerning this
matter?’”
The next day the Prophet suffered a headache that left him in a painful
condition. Even as he lay perspiring in the stifl ing heat of the Arabian summer,
the dissension that he had predicted was surfacing among his trusted troops
and their commanders.
Muhammad, the visionary and statesman, even in his dying days was
carefully moulding a new people out of the clay of Arab tribal traditions.
On May 26, 632, just days before he slipped into the illness from which he
would not recover, Muhammad had authorized the last of his many military
campaigns. This time he ordered a three-thousand-strong expeditionary
force to attack the frontier of the Byzantine Empire in an area near the
Syria–Jordan border of today. A few years earlier, in the battle at Mu’ta,
Muhammad’s adopted son Zayd had died fi ghting the Byzantines and the
Prophet wanted to respond appropriately to the enemy. | Chasing a Mirage
However, his choice of the man to lead the expedition became a source
of much dissent. Muhammad broke all tradition and chose a young Black
African man, barely twenty years old, promoting him over many senior
and experienced commanders. There were murmurs of dissent, with many
Muslims reluctant to fi ght under the command of Osama bin Zayd, openly
expressing their unhappiness with the Prophet’s decision.
Muhammad is said to have personally prepared a ceremonial fl agpole,
with his own hands, and given it to young Osama. The camp was then erected
at Jorf, fi ve kilometres from Medina on the route to Syria. He ordered all
his followers at Medina to join it at once, not excepting even the renowned
companions. It is said that only Ali, his trusted lieutenant and son-in-law,
was required by him to remain with him at Medina, and was exempted
from going.
About a week after Muhammad had summoned the men to the Syrian
expedition under Osama, he perceived that the progress to join the camp
at Jorf was slow and poor, so he once again addressed the people to join
the Syrian expedition. Muhammad was daily becoming more ill and the
expedition weighed upon his mind.
The two groups within the young Muslim community were the Muhajirun
(the Meccans) and the Ansar (the Medinans). Veterans from both camps
were unhappy at being superseded by the young man who was the son of
a Black slave from Ethiopia, and openly expressed their reluctance to fi ght
under his command. The grumblings angered the ailing Muhammad, who
got up from his bed and, despite a high fever and a throbbing headache,
asked his wives Aisha and Hafsah to help him take a bath. The two bathed
him with water to cool his fever, dressed him up and bandaged his head to
ease his throbbing headache. They then helped him walk to the mosque,
where he went to the pulpit and addressed the congregation. Upset at the
dissension among the ranks over selection of the young Osama, the Prophet
told the congregation: “O people, dispatch Osama’s troops, for though you
question his leadership and the leadership of his father before him, yet he is
worthy of this command, even as his father was worthy of it.” He declared
from the pulpit that this discontent was a form of disobedience and that
Osama bin Zayd was the best choice. “Carry out the expedition to the Syrian
border,” he ordered.
It is only after his reprimand that people hastened to the camp to join
Osama’s army. However, despite the Prophet’s direct order to move towards
Syria, the army remained camped on the outskirts of Medina. The refusal to
follow a direct order of the Prophet was unprecedented. It was indicative of
things to come, though, as the power struggle would unfold.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
According to the Shia historians, there was more to the dissent than
just the age or the race of the young Osama. Knowing that Muhammad’s
end was near, some of the companions were reluctant to leave Medina at
such a critical time, fearful that, if they absented themselves, Ali ibn Abu
Talib might become the uncontested successor to Muhammad. Shia scholars
conclude that since Muhammad was aware he was about to die, he aimed
at keeping Ali and his family in Medina, while keeping all others away from
the city, so that Ali could establish himself as the Prophet’s successor in a
smooth transfer of power.
However, this does not explain why the Prophet would ask his fatherin-law, Abu-Bakr, ultimately his successor, to lead the prayers in his absence.
Speaking to the congregation, Muhammad said, “Look to these doors which
open into the mosque, and close them all save those which lead to the house
of Abu-Bakr, because I have known no better companion than he.” He later
asked Abu-Bakr to lead the prayers in his place, a task many saw as the
Prophet’s nod to Abu-Bakr being his successor.
Suffi ce to say that as his end neared, every decision Muhammad took,
every word he spoke, was seen and interpreted in the context of his succession.
Ali was his closest companion, and confi dant, with whom he had the closest
bond. Muhammad had described Ali in glowing terms. At one time he said,
“I am the city of knowledge and Ali is the key to that city.” Then, addressing
pilgrims who were accompanying him back to Medina after his last hajj in
Mecca, Muhammad told the congregation while he rested at a small lake
called Ghadir-e-Khumm:
*
“O my people! Allah is my guardian (Mawla) and
I am guardian of the faithful and I have superior right on and control over
their lives. And this Ali is the guardian of all those for whom I am a guardian.
O Allah! Love him who loves him and hate him who hates him.”
These words of the Prophet have been invoked over centuries to validate
the historical claims of the Shia over Sunnis and vice versa. Irrespective of
their claims, the divide in Islam is over politics, not piety. The question that
remains unanswered is why the Prophet did not clearly earmark his successor
or the system that would determine the leadership of his community in the
future. Or could we deduce from his silence that he foresaw the dissension
and division that would tear apart Muslims and become their destiny through
history, despite their immense contributions to human civilization. Perhaps the
Prophet never wanted to see Islam rise as a political power, but as a movement
of social justice and unadulterated monotheism for all of humanity, not just
*
Most Sunni scholars contest the authenticity of the Prophet’s speech at Ghadir-eKhumm, which no longer exists. | Chasing a Mirage
Muslims. After all, the Quran describes God as Rab ul alameen (Lord of all
humanity), not Rab ul Muslimeen (Lord of all Muslims). Among his last words
recorded by chronicler Ibn Ishaq is the profound statement, “I have allowed
only what the Quran allows and I have forbidden only what the Quran forbids.”
A profound statement that if taken to its logical extreme would nullify so
much of the dogma that has turned Muslims into an ossifi ed people unable
to break out of the mythologies that encase them in a stranglehold.
What if Muhammad did want to dictate his last will and testimony,
but was prevented from doing so during his illness? A credible account
of just such an incident is recounted by the late French historian Maxime
Rodinson, whose book Muhammad was described by the late literary critic
Edward Said as “a major contemporary Occidental work on the Prophet, and
is essential reading.” Iranian dissident Ali Dashti too recounts this episode
from Muhammad’s last hours in his book Twenty-Three Years.
Here is how narrators have detailed the events of the day when
Muhammad wanted to write or dictate his will, but was not allowed to. Ali
Dashti writes:
Later he awoke and, in evident awareness of death’s approach, said to
those around him, “Bring me an inkwell and the sheet, so that I may write
something (or cause something to be written) for you. After that, you will
not err in future.” Regrettably, this last request of the prophet was not carried
out. Those present were at fi rst astonished, and then began arguing amongst
themselves . . . Umar insisted against bringing the paper saying, “His fever is
too severe. You have the Quran. God’s book is suffi cient for us.”
Maxine Rodinson gives a slightly abridged account of what
happened:
After a time he [Muhammad] became delirious. He apparently asked
materials to write a document, which should keep the faithful from error.
Those present were much perplexed at this, wondering whether they
ought to trust the abstractedness of a sick man. Supposing that the new
text happened to contradict the Quran; surely it would sow the seeds of
dissension and dismay? Ought they to obey him when he was not in his
right mind? They argued so noisily that he gave up the idea and signed to
them to go away.
In the account by Husayn Haykal, after Muhammad angrily asked the
people to leave, his uncle al-Abbas felt concerned that the people would Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
lose something important if they did not hasten to bring writing materials.
However, Umar “held fi rmly to his judgment, which he based on God’s own
estimate of His Holy Book—in this scripture we have left nothing out.”
Before long, Prophet Muhammad had passed away. (According to Aisha’s
version of events, Muhammad raised his eyes, stared at the ceiling, said a
prayer, and then passed on forever.) As the wailing of the women reached a
pitch, a crowd gathered outside the house and in the courtyard. Chroniclers say
there was a sense of panic and fright among the people. Neither Muhammad
nor his companions had ever suggested that the Prophet was immortal, but
still Muslims found themselves in unchartered territory. Suddenly, the man
who had pulled them out of their pagan past, made them reject all that they
had treasured and thrust them into a position of strength against the thensuperpowers of the world—Persia, Byzantium, Egypt, and Abyssinia—was
no more. Who would lead them? What would become of them?
Frightened and in a state of shock, the people of the Oasis left their daily
chores and rushed to the house of Muhammad. In this pandemonium, the man
who had earlier stopped Muhammad from dictating his last will and testament
was in a complete state of denial. Upon hearing the news and hardly believing
it, Umar had returned quickly to the Prophet’s quarters. There, he went straight
to Muhammad’s bed and looked at his face. While the women were wailing
and beating their chests, Umar perceived the Prophet as being in a coma, from
which he believed he would soon emerge. When a colleague tried to convince
him of Muhammad’s death, Umar said to him in anger, “You lie.”
He then went to the mosque and started proclaiming at the top of his
voice that Muhammad had absented himself but would return. He threatened
to cut off the arms and legs of anyone who perpetuated false rumours of
the Prophet’s death.
At the mosque, the community was stupefi ed. They knew that the
Prophet had died, but here was Umar, one of his closest companions, violently
insisting otherwise. By now, Abu-Bakr had heard the news and had returned
to Medina. He fi rst went to see Muhammad, paid his respects to the departed
Apostle, covered his face, and then entered the mosque where Umar was
still speaking to the congregation. Abu-Bakr tried to calm Umar down.
After failing to persuade Umar to quieten, Abu-Bakr took the unusual step
of standing up and motioning the people to walk away from Umar’s tirade.
He then spoke to the people and made a profound speech that made a clear
distinction between God and his Messenger. Abu-Bakr reminded them that
Muhammad had warned them repeatedly that they must not honour him
in the same way as the Christians honoured Jesus. He was a mere mortal
like themselves. “Oh men, if anyone worships Muhammad, Muhammad  | Chasing a Mirage
is dead. If anyone worships God, God is alive, immortal.” He then quoted
the words that had been revealed to Muhammad after the battle of Uhud
(fought on March 22, 625 CE), when rumour had spread that the Prophet
had been killed and panic ensued:
Muhammad is only a messenger;
and many a messenger has gone before him.
So what if he dies or is killed!
Will you turn your back and go away in haste?
But he who turns back and goes away in haste
will do no harm to God.
But God will reward those
who give thanks (and are grateful).
The audience listened in stunned silence. The stirring speech by AbuBakr and his recitation of the Quranic verse put an end to the histrionics
of Umar, the chroniclers say. As he listened to Abu-Bakr, it fi nally dawned
on Umar that the Prophet was gone forever, never to return. His knees
buckled and the mighty warrior collapsed to the ground, fury making way
for fear, a silence replacing the sermon. Order was restored. However,
this chaotic incident, resulting from the histrionics of Umar, would pale
in signifi cance compared to what was to unfold in the coming hours
and days.
բ
The tussle that was about to unfold that fateful Monday in June 632 would
cause such a serious wound to the Muslim psyche that even today it remains
unhealed. The scars etched on the very consciousness of the Muslim soul
are hidden only to those who willfully choose to deny the existence of
such blemishes, and of course, the vast majority of the Ummah who are
blissfully ignorant of the sad side of their heritage and thus refuse to or
cannot learn the lessons. However, when these wounds do open up every
few years, thousands die. In 2006 alone, more than thirty thousand Iraqis
died as Sunni and Shia Arabs killed each other in a gory display of hatred
that goes back to the power struggles that unfolded after the death of the
Prophet of Islam.
The last prophecy of Muhammad—that “dissensions” would come like
waves of darkness, one after the other and getting worse each time—was
about to unfold.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
As the people started to leave the mosque of Muhammad, the paths were
separate. The men of Medina, known as the Ansar, including the tribes of
Khazraj and Aws, headed towards the courtyard of the clan of Banu Saidah—
the Saqifah—to gather around its ailing leader, Saad bin Ubadah, to plan
and strategize the future leadership of the Muslim community and their own
role in its future. The Meccans—the Quraysh—on the other hand gathered
in and around Abu-Bakr’s home with Umar taking the lead in asserting that
only one of them—the Meccans—should succeed the Prophet.
Incredible as it may sound, lost in this politicking were the people closest
to Muhammad, his family—the Banu Hashim clan. While the Quraysh of
Mecca and the Ansar of Medina started their jostling for power, the family
of Muhammad, with the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali ibn Abu Talib as their
leader, withdrew to his home to take care of the more mundane task of
preparing for the burial of the Apostle. Led by Ali, this small group included
Ibn al-Abbas
*
; the son of the Prophet’s adopted son Osama; as well as a few
trusted members of the Quraysh tribe, such as Zubayr and Talha.
There are fascinating, and at times, varying accounts of what transpired
that day, but one thing is clear: the debate between the leaders of the Meccans
and the tribal chiefs of Medina was acrimonious and went late into the night.
Sadly, God’s Messenger was the last thing on the minds of his followers. In
the disturbing words of historian Maxime Rodinson, “as night fell, everyone
had forgotten the body still lying in Aisha’s little hut.”
One member of Muhammad’s family was to suffer particularly great
hardship: in the days after losing her father, Fatima would also lose the
property her father had left for her as an inheritance, and later her husband
Ali would be murdered, her older son Hassan poisoned, and, in the great
tragedy that hangs over all Islamic history, Fatima’s younger son Hussain
would be beheaded and others of her family massacred by fellow Muslims. To
this day millions of Muslims mourn the tragedies that befell the daughter of
the Prophet, and while so many mutter endless platitudes about the equality
bestowed on women by Islam, they cannot explain how the one woman
who deserved justice was denied. Fatima was the Muslim Joan of Arc and
she was left to burn on the stake as men squabbled with each other for the
power they still seek, and which eludes them like a desert mirage.
Fatima’s shadow looms over us Muslims, not letting us escape the
transgressions our ancestors committed. Not until Muslims acknowledge
and accept responsibility, not until they face the truth and shed hypocrisy,
*
Ibn al-Abbas’ descendants would go on to form the Abbasid dynasty, which would rule
the empire from 750 until the Mongol invasion of 1258. | Chasing a Mirage
will they be able to face themselves in the mirror every morning. How could
we have done what we did to the family of the Prophet? We claim to adore
him, yet we refuse to accept the grave injustice committed against the person
he loved most—his daughter.
If there is a trait that has defi ned Muslim behaviour when it comes to
seeking power, it was set into motion in the burning sands surrounding the
oasis of Medina the day the Apostle died. It is indeed a miracle that Muslims
came out of that fateful power struggle as a community and survived as a
force to reckon with.
The tribal chiefs of Medina collected under tents in the courtyard of
Saad bin Ubadah (better known today as the Saqifah Banu Saidah) to decide
on the future of the Muslims and who should exercise authority over the
community. There was widespread agreement among them that the successor
to Muhammad must be from the Ansar, the tribe of Medina who had offered
sanctuary to the Apostle when his enemies wanted to kill him. The Medina
Arabs also formed the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community and as
such they felt it was their right to govern, now that the Prophet had died.
The Medinian deliberations were not held in secret. Soon word got out
to the Meccan immigrants who were assembled in Abu-Bakr’s home. Umar
realized that if the Quraysh of Mecca did not make a move quickly, the game
was over for them. He urged Abu-Bakr to go with him to the Saqifah and
confront the machinations of the tribal chiefs of Medina. Abu-Bakr, who
had just averted a serious confl ict inside the Prophet’s mosque, agreed, and
the two of them, along with their followers hurried to where the Medina
meeting was taking place. An unanswered question remains: why did Umar
and Abu-Bakr not take other Meccan companions of the Prophet with
them to the meeting of the Medina Arabs? After all, Ali, Uthman, Talha,
Zubayr, Saad bin Abu Waqqas—all very prominent members of the Meccan
faction—were close by.
As they entered the hall, they heard the ailing leader of the group, Saad
bin Ubadah,
*
urging the people of Medina to lay claim to the leadership of
the Muslims. “Strengthen your hold on this affair, for you have the rightful
claim to it . . .”
Another man from Medina, seeing Umar and Abu-Bakr entering the tent,
stood up and addressed them: “We are the Ansar, the Helpers of God and
the army of Islam. You, the Emigrants [from Mecca] are only a brigade in
*
Saad bin Ubadah: One of the Prophet’s closest companions, and the fi rst Muslim in
Medina. It was Saad who had prepared the arrangements for the Prophet to escape
to Medina.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
the army. Nonetheless, a group of you have gone to the extreme of seeking
to deprive us of our natural leadership and to deny our rights.”
The speaker continued to glorify the people of Medina, while paying
polite tribute to his guests, the Quraysh of Mecca. The speeches enraged
Umar. It is reported that he was “ready to put an end to this situation once
and for all by the sword.” Once more the cool head of Abu-Bakr prevailed
as he restrained Umar and stood up to address the gathering.
In a stunning invocation of tribal primacy and the nobility of family
lineage that went contrary to the Quran as well as the Prophet’s last speech,
Abu-Bakr argued that the next leader of the Muslims should come from
the Quraysh tribe of Mecca. He said they were the fi rst to embrace Islam,
and because of their noble lineage among the Arabs, deserved to succeed
Muhammad. He told the people of Medina gathered in the courtyard:
“The Muhajirun (Meccan Arabs) are the fi rst people on earth to worship
God truly, and the fi rst to accept faith in God and His Messenger. . . .
No man would dispute their right except a wrongdoer. We are therefore
the chiefs (Umara) and you (the people of Medina) are the subordinates
(Wuzura).”
Abu-Bakr went further, telling the gathering: “The Arabs do not and
will not recognize any sovereignty unless it belongs to the tribe of Quraysh.
The princes shall be from among us, whereas your group (people of Medina)
will furnish the viziers.”
The historian Tabari has a slightly different rendering of Abu-Bakr’s
speech from that above, but in that version too, it is clear that Abu-Bakr was
clearly pointing out to the supposedly divinely ordained superiority of the
Meccan Quraysh Arab tribe over all other Muslims, including the Medinans.
Abu-Bakr extolled the virtues of the Arabs of Medina, but emphasized to his
hosts that despite their high status, they should recognize the Meccan Arabs as
the “leaders” and consider themselves as no more than the “helpers.” He then
warned them that “only a wrongdoer would dispute” what he had said.
As the discussion heated up, the claim of racial superiority of the Meccan
Arabs angered the audience. One of them, a veteran of many battles, stood
up and proposed a dramatic new solution: shared sovereignty. The men of
Medina pursued their proposal of a dual succession to Prophet Muhammad,
while rejecting the notion of Meccan tribal superiority.
Umar rejected the idea of two concurrent successors, insisting that since
Prophet Muhammad was from the tribe of the Quraysh, only they had the
right to succeed him. He said: “Alas no two men can hold equal power
together by God. The Arabs would never agree to such an authority over
them when the Prophet is of another people. But they would not refuse to  | Chasing a Mirage
delegate the management of their affairs to those among whom prophethood
appears, that is the Quraysh.”
The back-and-forth arguments continued with both parties refusing to
give in. What is remarkable about the episode is that none of the chroniclers
mention any side invoking the Quran as a guiding principle to settle the
dispute. After all, the Quran states quite explicitly (chapter 49, verse 13) the
equality of all humans: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a
male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know
each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured
of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And
Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
One fear that the people of Medina voiced, that a man from neither
camp might seize offi ce, came to fruition within forty years when Caliph
Muawiyah
*
usurped power and founded the fi rst Muslim dynasty—the
Umayyads. During his life, the Prophet had preached about the essence of
humanity, the equality of all people, irrespective of their racial and tribal
origin, but as the sun set on Medina that evening, no one was asking the
question, What would Prophet Muhammad have done?
Seeing no solution in sight as the night wore on, Abu-Bakr changed
the subject and reminded the people of Medina of their own rivalries. In a
brilliant tactic, Abu-Bakr tried to pit the two tribes of Medina—the Khazraj
and the Aws—against each other. He posed the hypothetical question: “If
the men of Khazraj were to show their ambitions concerning this affair, the
men of the Aws would not fall behind. Likewise, were the men of the Aws to
seek it, those of the Khazraj would surely do the same. There are, moreover,
between these two tribes, deaths and injuries that can never be healed. If
therefore any man of either of you were to bellow out his claim to this offi ce,
he would place himself between the two jaws of a lion: to be chewed up by
his Quraysh opponent or wounded by his rival of the Ansar.”
The tactic worked. The two tribes of Medina that had been brought
together as one by Muhammad’s message of Islam were that night again
divided among themselves, debating who among them deserved to rule, if
not the Meccan Quraysh. This would not be the fi rst time the policy of divide
and rule would succeed, and it would not be the last time it would be used.
As the solidarity of the men of Medina crumbled, Abu-Bakr, sensing victory,
held up the hands of Umar and another Meccan, Abu Ubaydah bin Jarrah.
“Either one of these two men of the Quraysh is acceptable to us as leader of
the Muslim community,” he said. “Choose whomsoever you please.”

*
Muawiyah: Founded the Umayyad dynasty of Islam after defeating caliph Hassan, who
had succeeded his father Ali, the fourth caliph.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
Amid the confusion and bickering, a prominent notable of the Aws tribe
of Medina broke ranks and walked over to Abu-Bakr. Soon more followed,
and in the mayhem, Umar took his sword in one hand and raising the hand
of Abu-Bakr in the other, he declared: “O Abu-Bakr, stretch forth your hand
and I will give you my oath of fealty. Did not the Prophet himself command
you to lead the Muslims in prayer? You, therefore, are his successor. We
elect you to this position.”
The men of Medina were soon rushing to pledge their allegiance to
Abu-Bakr, lest their loyalties be questioned later. The ageing leader of the
two tribes of Medina, Saad bin Ubadah, in whose courtyard this drama
was unfolding, is said to have found himself nearly trampled by his own
followers as he fell over from his bed to the fl oor. This was the man who
had introduced Islam to the people of Medina. One historian reports Umar
cursing the old man, “Kill Sa’ad, may God kill Sa’ad.” Umar then stepped on
Saad bin Ubadah’s head, saying, “I intend to tread on you until your head is
dislocated.” At this, Saad bin Ubadah grabbed Umar’s beard, and said, “By
God, if you remove a single hair from it, you’ll return with no front teeth
in your mouth.” Abu-Bakr intervened and urged Umar to relent and not
harm Saad. The leader of the Medina Arabs was carried away to his home,
where he stayed for many days, deeply disillusioned at the turn of events
and the way he had been mistreated. For days, he was pressured to give his
oath of allegiance to Abu-Bakr, but like Ali ibn Abu Talib, Saad bin Ubadah
refused to do so.
It must have been heartbreaking for Saad to be treated with such disrespect
and ingratitude. As he lay on the fl oor, he must have remembered the endless
days of torture he had to undergo in the prison of the Meccan pagans who
had captured him and wanted to extract from him information about who
else was aiding Muhammad in Medina. At that time, the Prophet and his
handful of followers lived isolated on a street of Mecca, boycotted by the
city’s Quraysh Arab tribe and Saad and his group were secretly arranging
to smuggle out the Apostle to safety in Medina.
Liyakat Takim, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Denver,
in his book The Heirs of the Prophet, suggests that during the debate on the
succession of the Prophet, his companions reverted to practices that had
been current among pagan Arab tribes before the advent of Islam. He writes:
“Pre-Islamic mode of authority surfaced immediately after Muhammad’s
death when some of his followers invoked an erstwhile tribal procedure for
the selection of a chief. The convening of the tribal council and the selection
of Abu-Bakr as the fi rst caliph to succeed the Prophet was incipience of the
routinization of charisma. At the same time, it was the fi rst manifestation
of the re-emergence of the pre-Islamic polity.” | Chasing a Mirage
Takim, a Canadian of Tanzanian descent, believes that the re-emergence
of pagan Arab tribal norms continued after Abu-Bakr became the fi rst
successor to Muhammad. During Umar’s caliphate, for example, “Islam
came to be identifi ed with the Arabs. He tried to keep non-Arab Muslims
out of Arabia, especially from Medina.”
While the scramble for power and resulting ascension of Abu-Bakr took
place, the family of the Prophet was closeted inside his home, cut off from
the power brokering at Saqifah. But at Saqifah, the gathering scattered in
despair. Some men swore allegiance to Abu-Bakr, while others just walked
away in disillusionment. At his public ceremony in the Prophet’s Mosque
in Medina, Abu-Bakr gave a stirring speech, saying:
I am appointed to govern you, although I’m not the best of you. If I act well, you
must take me, and if I act unjustly, you must correct me. Truth is faithfulness
and falsehood is treachery. No nation has failed to fi ght for Allah, Allah has
punished it with abasement; nor has wickedness become widespread without
ever sending calamity. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and his Prophet. But
should I rebel against Allah, and his Prophet you will owe me no obedience.
Rise to your prayers and may Allah have mercy on you.
While Muslims would like to believe that the ascension of Abu-Bakr
was the result of an election that came about after vigorous debate and
consultations, the fact is that not a single member of the Prophet’s family,
the Banu Hashim clan, was consulted. Nor was there any input from the
tens of thousand of Muslims who lived in Mecca, or the Bedouin tribes in
the desert hinterland. Needless to say, not a single woman, not even the
wives or the daughter of the Prophet, had any say in the question of who
was now to lead the Muslims. By declaring that only Arabs belonging to
the Meccan Quraysh tribe could fi ll the seat of the caliph, Abu-Bakr set the
seal of authority on the theory of tribal and racial supremacy of the Arab
over the non-Arab for many centuries to come.
It was not until nearly four hundred years later that Abu-Bakr’s namesake,
a jurist by the name of Qadi Abu-Bakr Baqillani (d. 1013), would declare
that belonging to the Quraysh tribe was not a prerequisite to becoming
the caliph. Another four hundred years would pass before the great Ibn
Khaldun would demolish the idea of Arab ancestry and tribal lineage to
the Quraysh as a prerequisite for occupying the seat of the caliph. For
eight hundred years after the Prophet died, only the sons of one Arab tribe
dominated, while all other Muslims, especially non-Arabs, were considered
second class.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
Despite the fact that there is ample historical evidence about the
doctrine used to keep non-Arabs out of power for centuries, most Arab
commentators and Islamic historians are oblivious of the impact of this
ruling by Abu-Bakr. Of course, the Shia also dispute the validity of AbuBakr’s ascension, but their theory of succession is even narrower and more
restricted than that of the Sunni. The Shia also believe that only a person
of Arab descent can claim leadership of the Muslim community, the person
they refer to as their imam. However, in their doctrine, this Arab cannot
be just any Arab, but must prove to be a direct descendant of the Prophet’s
family from his daughter Fatima. Is it any surprise the Supreme Leaders
of Iran have all been men claiming to have Arab ancestry, not Persian?
բ
Complete denial over the events that led to the nomination of Abu-Bakr as
caliph is so pervasive that schoolbooks and even college history books state
as fact that Abu-Bakr was unanimously elected by the Muslim community.
The belief that Quraysh Arabs are superior is hardly ever challenged.
One example of how the theory of Arab Quraysh superiority is maintained
even today can be found in the booklet Islam and the Race Question. This
publication, authorized by UNESCO, was written in 1970 by Abdul Aziz
Kamil, the then-Egyptian minister of religious and charitable institutions.
On the qualities required for a Muslim to be a candidate for the position of
caliph, Kamil writes:
Islamic scholars have discussed the qualities required in a caliph who would
govern the affairs of Moslems. They were: learning, justice, competence,
and sound sense and organs—since these affect both a man’s judgment
and his actions; opinions differed, however, regarding the fi fth condition,
which was that he had to be related to the tribe of Quraysh. The last
condition rested on a unanimous agreement [emphasis mine] reached by
the Companions at a meeting which took place on the day following the
Prophet’s death.
Kamil accepts uncritically the myth that Abu-Bakr was elected, and that
the election was unanimous. He also manages to get UNESCO to validate the
myth. He fails to mention that Muhammad had never set a condition that
Muslim leaders should be from the Quraysh. Kamil does not acknowledge
that this condition was contrary to the Quran’s teachings on equality before
God, and thus could not be valid as practice within Islam. | Chasing a Mirage
բ
After Abu-Bakr assumed power, tension between the Ansar of Medina
and the Quraysh of Mecca showed signs of subsiding. (Many of the Ansar
had given allegiance, with only the ailing Saad bin Ubadah refusing to
acknowledge Abu-Bakr’s caliphate.) However, in the home of the Prophet,
resentment simmered among the Banu Hashim, who sat grieving around his
body. Snubbed by the rest of the Quraysh, seething with anger, they took
an unprecedented step: they buried the body of Muhammad right within
his own house. They allowed no one else to attend the funeral. Maxime
Rodinson writes: “Ali, Abbas, and their friends seem to have been anxious to
avoid such a ceremony in which Abu-Bakr, leading the funeral procession
would appear as the Prophet’s appointed successor.” It had been expected
that the Prophet would be buried at the Baqi cemetery, alongside his son
Ibrahim, his daughter Ruqqaiya, and many of his companions. Even Aisha,
dearly loved by Muhammad, who was the daughter of Abu-Bakr, is said
to have learned of the preparations only when she heard Ali and his Uncle
Abbas digging the grave in the middle of the night.
The dispute over succession had been resolved between the Ansar
and the Quraysh. However, Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali, disputed the
legitimacy of Abu-Bakr as the successor of Muhammad for many months.
He and Fatima withdrew themselves from the public arena, not opposing
Abu-Bakr, but more signifi cantly refusing to give their allegiance to the
new caliph. It was not as if Ali had not made attempts to challenge the
authority of Abu-Bakr. On the Tuesday night after burying Muhammad,
Ali along with Fatima is reported to have approached the tribal leaders of
Medina, seeking their support in his dispute with Abu-Bakr. The men of
Medina, having already tasted a meltdown on their own turf, did not wish
to prolong the crisis tearing at the heart of the young Muslim nation. They
told Ali that had he come to the Saqifah before Abu-Bakr and Umar came,
the Ansar would certainly have pledged allegiance to him.
Ali’s response refl ected his frustration with the entire political process.
He argued, “Should I have left the Messenger of God in his house unburied
and gone to quarrel with men over his authority?” Fatima, in equal distress,
added, “Abu al-Hasan [Ali] did only what he should have done. But God will
bring them [that is Abu-Bakr and Umar] to account for what they did.”
Having failed to win the support of the Medinian leaders, Ali and the rest
of Muhammad’s family went back to Fatima’s house. The next day Umar and
a group of Meccans surrounded the house and threatened to set it on fi re if
the people inside did not come out and pledge allegiance to Abu-Bakr.Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
There are various versions of what happened next. In one, Umar at some
stage went in and brought out Ali by force. Defi ant in spirit, Ali refused to
be cowed, asking Umar, “What if I do not give allegiance?” To which Umar
replied, “We would cut off your head.” Ali retorted, “You would then have
killed the brother of the Messenger of God.”
Umar’s response, if correctly reported, must have devastated Ali. “That
you are the servant of God, yes we agree, but that you are brother of the
Messenger of God, no, we do not,” said Umar. Ali must have been enraged,
but is said to have turned the other cheek and demonstrated a calmness
that later became his defi ning trait.
In another, more tragic, version of the events at Fatima and Ali’s home—a
version that is dismissed by Sunni Muslims as untrue—when Ali refused to
come out of the house, Umar ibn al-Khattab and his men broke down the
door, throwing Fatima to the fl oor. Abi’l-Hasan Ali Bin Husain Masudi, as
quoted in the book Peshawar Nights, says that Fatima, who was pregnant at the
time, was so severely crushed behind the door that she had a miscarriage.
A few days later, Umar’s men again came to Ali’s house. This time
they detained and dragged Ali before Abu-Bakr, where he again refused to
submit to the new caliph.
It would take six more months and the death of his beloved wife, Fatima,
before Ali would succumb to pressure and give his allegiance to Abu-Bakr.
He was being treated as a social outcast and without Fatima, he was a very
lonely man.
Fatima had died a heartbroken and deeply disillusioned woman. The
daughter of the Prophet never spoke to Abu-Bakr after he took away her
father’s inheritance, the garden of Fadak. She never forgave Abu-Bakr for
what she thought was rightfully hers, bequeathed to her during the Prophet’s
lifetime. When Ali and Fatima went to Abu-Bakr to demand that he return
the garden of Fadak to its rightful owner, Abu-Bakr told the young couple, “I
did hear the Messenger of God say, ‘We prophets do not give any inheritance.
Anything we leave behind must remain as public charity.’ ”
Fatima must have been dumbfounded. Neither Ali nor Fatima, the
closest to the Prophet, had ever heard the Prophet say what Abu-Bakr was
suggesting he had heard the Prophet say.
The disinheritance of the daughter of the Prophet of Islam would set the
precedent of treating women as second-class Muslims. The trend towards full
gender equality that Muhammad had initiated was halted soon after his death.
If the daughter of the Prophet of Islam could be deprived of her inheritance,
what are the chances of the millions of daughters who are denied their just
inheritances to this day by families invoking Islamic laws? If Fatima could
be cheated and humiliated, is it any wonder that Muslim women in the 21st  | Chasing a Mirage
century fi nd their path to respect and dignity strewn with obstacles justifi ed
by religious laws? We treat these laws as if they came from the Quran itself,
when in fact they were created centuries after the death of the Prophet.
True to their nature, Ali and Fatima walked away from this encounter in
a mood of resigned disappointment. Fatima never forgave Abu-Bakr. Even
though Ali had given up his claim to the leadership of the Muslim community,
and yielded to Abu-Bakr, he remained bitter about the injustices he and
Fatima had suffered. The historian Masudi reports Ali telling Abu-Bakr in
one exchange, “You have defrauded us of our right and did not heed it.”
There is much to be said in defence of Abu-Bakr. The embryonic
community of Muslims was vulnerable, and he restrained the more aggressive
Umar, intervening on the side of caution, bringing calm to dangerous and
explosive situations. During the two years Abu-Bakr served as caliph, he
was forced to put down scores of revolts. Despite the criticism that has
been levelled against him, it is clear that during his reign he demonstrated
extremely high standards of character and personal integrity. He did not seek
personal wealth. He consulted his followers before making decisions—not
only the ruling elite, but also the common people and the poor. For that era
in history, it was a remarkable time of democratic rule.
Even in the matter of Ali and Fatima, there is evidence that Abu-Bakr
was cognizant of the hurt he had caused and genuinely regretted the turn of
events. Historian Tabari quotes Abu-Bakr as saying to one of his companions
on the eve of his reign: “I wish I had not searched the house of Fatima,
daughter of the Messenger of God, or allowed men to enter it, even if it was
shut for the purpose of inciting war . . . I wish I had asked the Messenger of
God who should take care of this charge after him.”
Was there a reason for Muhammad’s silence on the issue of who would
hold power after his death? Could it be that the Prophet wanted no one to
succeed him? The fi nal revelation of the Quran, the last words he received
from God, had been a specifi c instruction to Muhammad and the Muslims:
“Today I have completed your religion for you.” Nowhere in the Quran does
God suggest that an Islamic government be set up after Muhammad’s death.
Nowhere does Muhammad, in all of the hadith, or his collected sayings,
speak of an Islamic State.
Eventually the dust settled in the succession struggles, but they would
resurface repeatedly. This fi rst encounter left a mark on the politics of the
Arabs forever. Tribalism and racial identities of the pre-Islamic times triumphed
over principles of meritocracy and universalism preached by Muhammad and
as ordained by the Quran. Once it was settled that Quraysh Arabs deserved
to rule over the Ansar Arabs because of the former’s nobility and tribal
superiority, there was no stopping the argument that the Arabs were superior Chapter 6: The Prophet is Dead | 
to the Persians, the Africans, and the Indians. The pre-Islamic traditions of
Arab tribalism and family lineage to this day affect Arab attitudes of superiority
towards each other and, of course, their non-Arab co-religionists.
The Iranian scholar Ali Dashti writes that before the advent of Islam,
the Arabs used to boast about the superiority of the tribe, clan, or genealogy
over those of others. Their claims to superiority were not based on virtues
and graces, but on prowess in killing, plundering, and abducting other men’s
women. The teachings of Islam negated this concept and made piety the
measure of a person’s merit. Unfortunately, the new standard was not long
maintained in practice—to be precise, until 644, with the death of Umar, who
became second caliph of Islam after Abu-Bakr named him as his successor.
During the reign of the third caliph, Uthman,
*
nepotism prevailed over piety.
Devout men such as Abu Dharr Ghaffari

were thrust aside, and members of
the caliph’s clan, such as Muawiyah, were appointed to governorships. Later,
under the Umayyad dynasty (661–750), the great Islamic principle of nobility
through piety was simply ignored. Tribal pride was still of supreme importance,
but now the setting was broader. Men from the barren deserts of Arabia had
conquered vast territories. According to Dashti, “The conquest . . . intoxicated
the Arabs with pride.” It seemed clear to them that they were superior and the
conquered nations were inferior. Dashti writes that the Umayyads despised
the non-Arabs under their rule and even those who converted to Islam did
not enjoy the equality of rights enshrined in Islamic law.
Muslims around the world are told incessantly by Islamists that they
need to look back to the era of the fi rst four caliphs of Islam as the model
for their political aspirations for the future. However, submitted to even a
cursory scrutiny, the era reveals an incompatibility with the standards of
today’s secular democratic civil societies, where citizenship is based on human
created laws, not divine texts and specifi c race, religion, tribe, or clan. Yet
clerics feed this myth and make millions of young Muslims chase the mirage
our ancestors have been pursuing for a millennium without success.
In the 21st century, we Muslims have a choice. Either we can emulate the
great Muslim scientists and philosophers, such as Averroes and Kindi, Avicenna
and Khaldun, or we can follow the orthodoxy that labelled these giants as
apostates. In making that choice, we need to be aware that we sacrifi ce the
state of Islam when we chase the elusive mirage of an Islamic State.

*
Uthman: The third caliph of Islam, selected by a council of six peers named by Umar,
who was murdered.


Abu Dharr Ghaffari: A companion of the Prophet, better known for his advocacy of
the poor and sometimes referred to as the fi rst Muslim socialist.

About alitaj

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on August 8, 2012 by in WSF and tagged .
%d bloggers like this: