Sulaiman(sunni brother): How and when did the Shias come into existence? Was it after the demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and after the consultation of Saqifah Bani Saada where the successor of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) was selected? Was it a result of the confrontation between Ali (karam allaho wajhohoo) and Muawiya? Or did it come about due to the murder of Imam Husain (a.s.) at Karbala? Or was it was due to confrontation between the companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) that the Shias broke away from the main community of the Muslims?
Ja’far(shia brother): It is wrong to view Shias as a breakaway group that separated from the main body of the Muslims due to a particular incident like that of the false entity of Abdullah Ibne saba. The word ‘Shia’ was originally used with the meaning of ‘helper’ and ‘supporter’. Historical occurrences are different and to have a particular opinion about something is different. Shiaism denotes a school of thought that is related to the teachings of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). It also indicates the source of guidance after the passing away of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). Is it possible that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) left the world without providing clear-cut instructions to his followers as regards the leadership of the community? But after the demise of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) two types of views emerged. One believed that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) had appointed his Caliph on the basis of Divine instructions. The second view was that the Caliphate of the Prophet is a prerogative of the people (Shura).
The differing views caused a division in the Muslim community. Some followed the former and the rest followed the latter view. A series of incidents led to majority of the people aligning themselves with the latter view. The Shia school of thought was banished from the mainstream of the society. These people believed that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) had declared his successor a number of times. He even indicated the name of Ali (a.s.). He also ordered the people to follow Ahlul Bayt (a.s.). As regards the Shura we already know that it denotes the selection of the Caliph through election by the majority of the people. So let us see why the Shias support the former view?
Sulaiman:Before we proceed can you tell me why the number of Shias are less than the Sunnis if they (Shias) are on the right path?
Ja’far:Neither reason nor the Holy Quran implies that the minority is on the wrong path. The following verses of the Holy Quran imply that the majority of the people will be on the wrong!
Most people are not grateful.
(Surah Baqarah 2:243)
Most people do not know.
(Surah Araaf 7:187)
Most of the people do not believe.
(Surah Hud 11:17)
…and do not remember Allah save a little.
(Surah Nisa 4:142)
…little it is that you give thanks.
(Surah Araaf 7:10)
…so they shall not believe except a few.
(Surah Nisa 4:155)
Indeed! From this aspect the appointment of the Caliph assumes utmost importance after the demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.).
Yes. It is important. Don’t we see that a king or a ruler invariably appoints his successor in the event of his absence or before his death? Then, is it surprising that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) who was sent to guide the humanity till the end of the world had also appointed his successor?
Sulaiman:But the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) laid down the system of Shura (consultation) for electing a Caliph.
Ja’far:The system of Shura is valid from the etiquette point of view in cases where there is no explicit ruling in the Quran or traditions. However reason, Quran and Hadith prove that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) never explained the details of Shura. We also have the example of those Companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) who acted quite differently from other Muslims (that is they did not resort to shura). Moreover, the system of shura was not created to select the Caliph. It came into being much later. We have no available Quranic verse or hadith to justify shura. The Righteous Caliphs never quoted the ayat of shura to justify their caliphate. The method of selecting the second caliph was absolutely different from shura. On the other hand Umar Ibne Khattab had realised the dangerous situation and that is why he said that ‘Saqifah’ was an accident. As mentioned by Tabari, Abu Bakr said that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) died when the people had not been far away from Jahiliya. (They were newcomers to Islam). "My friends compelled me to accept caliphate."
(Sharh Nahjul Balagha of Ibne Abil Hadid).
Sulaiman:Then what according to you is the method taught by the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) for the selecting a Caliph?
Ja’far:According to Shias, people cannot select a caliph and neither do they need to select one. For they believe that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) appointed a specific person by the Command of Allah. One who possessed qualities and attributes suitable for the post of successor of the Messenger of Allah. And that he would guide the people and protect the faith. He would be the religious as well as the temporal leader.
Sulaiman:Who was that great personality? Was he a Prophet after the last Prophet and Messenger, Muhammad (s.a.w.s.)?
Ja’far:No, by Allah! He was not a Prophet. He was an Imam. He possessed all the qualities of a Prophet, except Prophethood. And he is the one who established irrefutable proofs. He was none other than Ali Ibne Abi Talib (a.s.). He was the first Muslim and the first warrior of Islam. He opened his eyes in the presence of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and grew up under his care. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) did not praise anyone as he praised Ali (a.s.).
Imam Ali (a.s.) describes in one of his sermons how he was trained and brought up by the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.). The following is an extract from Nahjul Balagha:
"Certainly you know my position of close kinship and special relationship with the Prophet of Allah - peace and blessing of Allah be upon him and his descendants. When I was only a child he took charge of me. He used to press me to his chest and lay beside him in his bed, bring his body close to mine and make me smell his smell. He used to chew something and then feed me with it. He found no lie in my speaking, nor weakness in any act.
From the time of his weaning, Allah had put a mighty angel with him to take him along the path of high character and good behaviour through day and night, while I used to follow him like a young camel following in the footprints of its mother. Every day he would show me in the form of a banner some of his high traits and commanded me to follow it. Every year he used to go in seclusion to the hill of Hera, where I saw him but no one else saw him. In those days Islam did not exist in any house except that of the Prophet of Allah- peace and blessing of Allah be upon him and his descendants – and Khadijah, while I was the third after these two. I used to see and watch the effulgence of divine revelation and message, and breathed the scent of Prophethood.
When the revelation descended on the Prophet of Allah- peace and blessing of Allah be upon him and his descendants- I heard the moan of Satan. I said, "O, Prophet of Allah, what is this moan?" and he replied, "This is Satan who has lost all hope of being worshipped. O’Ali, you see all that I see and you hear all that I hear, except that you are not a Prophet, but you are a vicegerant and you are surely on (the path of) virtue."
(Nahjul Balagha-Sermon no.192)
Sulaiman:Do you mean to say that this sums up the matter of Imamate? Does it end with the appointment of Imam Ali (a.s.)?
Ja’far:No, Imamate is not confined to only one person, Imam Ali (a.s.). It did not end with his martyrdom. Imamate is the belief in the continuous chain of twelve Imams (a.s.) as indicated by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). Each of them was the Hujjat (Proof) and the legatee of the previous Imam (a.s.).
Sulaiman:However we, the Ahle Sunnat, believe that the successor of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) was Abu Bakr (r.a.). Among his virtues was that he had assisted Islam in its nascent stage with his life and property. He also achieved the distinction of being the companion of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) in the Cave of Hera. Whereas Imam Ali (a.s.) did not have any such distinction. But we do not discriminate between the two exalted personalities (Abu Bakr and Ali ). We respect both of them.
Ja’far:It is one of the grave mistakes if we equate the difference among Sunnis and Shias to the difference of opinion as to whether Abu Bakr was the rightful Caliph or Ali.
Ja’far:The crux of the matter is whether the people are qualified to decide as to who should be the Successor of the Messenger of Allah? Or the matter has to be decided by the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) himself by Allah’s permission and the Holy Quran? Thus the Ahle Sunnat believe that it was upon the people to decide. (By the method of Shura or other type of consultations). And they selected Abu Bakr (r.a.) who in turn appointed Umar ibne Khattab (r.a.). Umar ibne Khattab (r.a.) appointed a committee of six people authorised to select a Caliph from among themselves. Then dissension arose among the people that resulted in the murder of Usman. After that the people elected Ali, who appointed his son Hasan (a.s.) as his successor. Hasan (a.s.) abdicated to Muawiya, who appointed his son Yazeed. This continued till the end of the Ummayyad dynasty and afterwards the Abbasid dynasty.
Sulaiman:What about the Shias?
Ja’far:The Shias believe that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) under Divine orders, appointed his successors, who were to be twelve in number and who succeeded each other continuously. The first of them was Ali Ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) and the last, Muhammad ibne Hasan al-Askari, al-Mahdi, al-Muntazar (the awaited one).
May Allah hasten his reappearance.
However the events that occurred after the passing away of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) did not allow complete implementation of the institution of Imamate. (Which in reality embraced religious as well as temporal aspects).