A group of Muslims (Sunnis) believe that the Prophet of Islam (S) died not having selected his successor and they believe that this responsibility belongs to Muslims themselves to select their leader. They undertake this act through Ijma (consensus) which is one of the reasons given in the Divine Law. They add that this program was implemented the first time for the first caliph who was selected with the consensus of the Ummah.
And he selected the second caliph and introduced him as such. And the second caliph selected a council of six people to select the person who should succeed him. This Council consisted of: Imam ‘Ali, peace be upon him, Uthman, Abdal Rahman ibn Awf, Talha, Zubayr and Sa’d bin Abi Waqas.
This Council, with a majority of Sa’d ibn Waqas, Abdal Rahman and Talha voted for Uthman. (The second caliph had directed that if the Council should be divided three to three, the side that Abdal Rahman ibn Awf (‘Uthman’s son-in-law) was on would be the person selected). Towards the end of Uthman’s reign, the people arose against him for several reasons and before he had a chance to select his successor or select a Council, he was killed. At this time, the majority of the people turned to ‘Ali, peace be upon him, and selected him as their caliph.
They pledged their allegiance to him as the successor of the Prophet, other than Mu’awiyah who was the governor of Damascus and who was certain that Imam ‘Ali would not support him. He then raised the flag of opposition which was the beginning of disgraceful events in the history of Islam and caused the shedding of the blood of a great many innocent people. Here, in order to intellectually and historically clarify what happened, several questions arise, a few of which will be mentioned here below.
1. Can the Ummah select the successor to the Prophet?
The answer to this question is that if we take the meaning of imamate to be external leadership of an Islamic society, the selection of a leader on behalf of society with the vote of the people is possible. But if we take imamate to mean that which we have previously mentioned and as the Holy Qur’an has described, doubtlessly, no one other than God can chose the Imam and the caliph. The conditions for imamate, according to the commentaries on the Holy Qur’an, is knowledge of all of the principles and practices of Islam, a knowledge whose base is in heaven and relies upon the knowledge of the Prophet so that he can guard and preserve the Divine Law of Islam.
Another condition is that Imam must be immaculate and infallible, free from sin and error and is the selected of the Divine immaculateness so that the station of imamate and spiritual and material, external and internal leadership of the imamate can be assumed as well as austerity, piety, courage which is necessary to confirm this important post. The discrimination of these conditions can clearly only be done through God and the Prophet. It is He Who knows in whose spirit immaculateness has shown its rays, and it is He Who knows who has the highest knowledge needed for leadership, the sufficient courage and spiritual strength.
Those who placed the selection of the Imam and the caliph of the Prophet in the hands of the people, in truth, changed the meaning of imamate in the Holy Qur’an and limited it to meaning only leadership and giving organization to the affairs of this world of the people. Otherwise the conditions of imamate in the general and complete sense can only be determined by the Creator and it is He Who knows who has these qualities.
The Holy Prophet, as well, could not have been selected by the vote of the people, but must rather have most definitely been selected by God Almighty, because other than God, no one can discern the necessary qualities in the Prophet.
2. Did the Prophet not select a Person to succeed him?
There is no doubt that the precepts of Islam were universal and eternal and according to the direct verses of the Holy Qur’an, special to no time or place. There is, also, no doubt that at the time of the death of the Holy Prophet, the precepts of Islam had not moved beyond the Arabian peninsula. On the other hand, 13 years of the life of the Prophet in Mecca were spent in struggle against polytheism and idol worship and 10 years of the life of the Prophet, which began from the time of the migration to Medina which was the period of the blossoming of Islam, was spent mainly in conflicts and wars imposed upon him by the enemies.
Even though the Holy Prophet spent night and day endeavoring to have Islam be better understood and to teach the precepts of Islam, but is it clear that many of the Islamic issues needed more time and a person similar to the Holy Prophet was needed to be able to do so and to accept this heavy responsibility. Beyond this, the foreseeing of future events and providing the preliminaries for the school was among the most important tasks which was something that every leader thought about and would never allow himself to forget.
Beyond this, the Prophet of Islam had provided commands for all of the affairs of life from the most simple possible. Could it be, then, that he would not have provided for the important issue of the person who was to succeed him and not determine the imamate for the Muslims?