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Last Updated: 2011/05/08
Summary of question
Did the Ansar believe in the caliphate of Abu Bakr and is that why they did bey’ah with him?
The Ansar opposed Abu Bakr and did bey’ah with Sa’d bin Ubadah, and Ali sat in his home and wasn’t with either group. Afterwards, all of the Ansar did bey’ah with Abu Bakr; the reason for their bey’ah can be one of the following:
1- They were forced to do bey’ah
2- It became clear to them that Abu Bakr was more deserving of the caliphate
3- There was no particular reason for their bey’ah with him
Other than these three reasons there can be no other reason for their bey’ah.
If the Shia say that they were forced to give bey’ah, it is a lie, because there was no fighting and battle or even threat and no one drew any weapons in those days. It also can't be said that the Ansar were frightened and forced to do so because they were over two thousand outstandingly courageous horse riding warriors from the same tribe. They had fought many battles against all Arabs in those eight years and had been subject to death in all of them and were, at the time, fighting the ceasar of Rome in Mu’tah and other places. Therefore, it is impossible for them to have been scared of Abu Bakr and merely two of his companions; Abu Bakr had no fellow tribesmen and hardly any wealth there, so there is no way that the Ansar were forced to do bey’ah with him! The truth of the matter is that they did bey’ah with him without any fear or doubt, without any second guessing.
Also, if they knew that the truth wasn’t with him, they would never let their cousin (Sa’d bin Ubadah) go and turn to a person who didn’t have a big tribe, nor much wealth, nor a palace with guards, because they had no fear to compel them to do so, nor were they after wealth or position. Such a great consensus on doing bey’ah with Abu Bakr shows that they all knew that the truth was with Abu Bakr.
Therefore, the only reason they did bey’ah with him was that they had a justifying reason from their prophet proving that the caliphate truthfully belonged to Abu Bakr. When they found out that the caliphate didn’t belong to their tribe, what do you think caused them to deny the clear and explicit appointment of Ali by the prophet (if it was actually so)?!! It is impossible for all of them to have supported one who had oppressed them and stolen their right!!
Concise answer

In our view, doing bey’ah and pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr without the presence of Imam Ali (as) and without his consultation, who, compared to the prophet, according to the famous hadith of manzilah, was like Prophet Harun for Prophet Musa, doesn’t bear much value. Also, the initial opposition of the Ansar, and Sa’d bin Ubadah’s refusal to do bey’ah till the end of his life, are all reasons that show this matter wasn’t a consensual one. You mentioned fear, and pointed out that it is impossible to have existed, but you forgot to say anything about deception and trickery, which can play a much more critical role in such situations! Maybe this was a major factor in the Ansar doing bey’ah!

Detailed Answer

This question needs to be divided into three sections, and each of them analyzed separately:

1- Why did Imam Ali (as), as you put it, sit in his home and didn’t support any of the two groups?

2- Are there really no other reasons for the Ansar doing bey’ah with Abu Bakr, other than the three you mentioned, and was their reason really because they became aware of the truth regarding the caliphate?

3- Why didn’t the Ansar do bey’ah with Imam Ali (as)?

What is interesting is that in the beginning you have said that Imam Ali (as) wasn’t present in this story! This is true and something that all Muslims, Shia and Sunni, agree on! According to some very authentic Sunni sources, he refused to do bey’ah with Abu Bakr as long as Lady Fatimah (as) was by his side[1]!

Wasn’t Imam Ali (as) the brother of the prophet, and hadn’t he (the prophet) said that for the prophet, Imam Ali (as) is like how Prophet Harun was for Prophet Musa[2]? Wasn’t Imam Ali (as) actively present in all times of need and in all battles? What was the big issue that caused the imam to not be present in the decisive time when the successor of the prophet was being chosen, or, to put it another way, what was the reason that drove those in Saqifah to solve the issue of caliphate in the absence of such a personality as Imam Ali (as)?!

To grant an impossibility, if the Shia were to withdraw from their belief about the prophet’s direct appointment of Imam Ali (as) as his immediate successor, considering his merits and qualities, don’t you think it would still be necessary for those managing the scene of Saqifah to first consult with him and then choose the caliph?! Please review the history of the prophet’s time and answer in an unbiased fashion whether Imam Ali's (as) role was any less then Abu Ubaydah Jarah’s; why was he offered the caliphate while Imam Ali (as) wasn’t?!

What you said about Ali not being on either side of the Ansar or others is true, but have you ever thought why?! If you ask us, we will say it is because he was busy preparing the prophet for burial, while the rest were busy in a campaign for elections and getting chosen! If you have any other reason for why he refused to give bey’ah for six months after that incident, please present it.

As for the next topic, which is about the bey’ah of the Ansar, we will first give Umar, the second caliph’s account of the story of Saqifah and what happened there, and will provide our analysis afterwards. Our source is the Musnad of Ahmad bin Hanbal, which is one of the most prominent of Sunni sources[3]:

In the last Hajj that the second caliph participated in, one person said: If Umar dies, we will do bey’ah with so and so! Umar heard of this, and recounted the story of Saqifah in a sermon for the people. He said that at that time, Ali and Zubayr and others gathered in the home of Fatimah (as) and didn’t take part in this matter. At the same time, all of the Ansar without any exception had gathered in the Saqifah of Bani Saa’idah. Me (Umar) and Abu Bakr along with a number of the Muhajerin went to the Ansar and gathered next to them. I wanted to say some things but Abu Bakr preceded me and said that the people won't accept the caliphate of anyone not belonging to the tribe of Quraysh, because the Quraysh are the best of all Arabs because of their tribe and residence. Then, Abu Bakr suggested two individuals (Umar and Abu Ubaydah) as candidates for the caliphate! But we didn’t accept and did bey’ah with him instead! The Ansar asked for two leaders; one from the Ansar and the other from the Muhajerin. After explaining how Abu Bakr became caliph, Umar went on to say that doing bey’ah with Abu Bakr was something unaccounted for[4]! But Allah protected us from its bad outcomes. He went on to conclude that no one should ever speak of practicing this method of bey’ah ever again!

You cannot have any other description of what took place in Saqifah other than that which the second caliph himself has said, because he was there, unlike us and you who weren’t.

There are several points in this sermon of Umar, namely:

1- Some very prominent figures of the Sahabah, such as Ali (as) and Zubayr, who in Sunni hadiths, are of the ten individuals who have been vowed paradise (عشرة مبشرة)[5], refused to do bey’ah with Abu Bakr and gathered in Lady Fatimah’s (as) home!

2- The Ansar arranged a meeting independently and without the presence of individuals who later on became caliphs of the Islamic nation, and Abu Bakr and Umar went to the meeting without being invited and got involved in their debate as the opposing group!

3- In order to convince the Ansar, Abu Bakr presented an argument that if one pays close attention to, will see that it eventually proves the Shia’s beliefs! He said that the people won't accept anyone from other than Quraysh and the tribe of the prophet and there won't be a consensus on an individual not from them; such an argument proved convincing and caused the Ansar to change their mind about their demand regarding the caliphate! After hearing of what had taken place in Saqifah and that the Ansar had said that they wanted a leader just like the rest, Imam Ali (as) asked why it hadn’t been said to the Ansar that: The prophet had asked that after him, the righteous of the Ansar be rewarded and the unrighteous forgiven,…If they were the ones to be in power after the prophet, such a request by the prophet wouldn’t make sense (because this request was addressing the rulers after him, and if they themselves were to be rulers, it wouldn’t make sense for him to be addressing them). Ali (as) then asked what the argument of the Quraysh (Muhajerin) was for taking over the caliphate. He was told that they said: We are from a family tree to which the prophet belonged to! Ali (as) said with astonishment: They have argued with a tree but have spoiled its fruit (which is the family of the holy prophet)![6] In other words, if what matters in becoming caliph was belonging to the Quraysh, Ali was from both Quraysh and was of the Bani Hashem, in addition to being the son-in-law and brother of the prophet, making him more deserving of such a position! If the Quraysh in general, were partly from a tree that the prophet belonged to, then why wasn’t Ali (as), who was the fruit of that tree, at least considered a candidate for such a position?!

4- Another point that can be seen in the words of the second caliph is that in the beginning, Abu Bakr proposed that the people do bey’ah with Umar or Abu Ubaydah, but the two didn’t accept and did bey’ah with him instead! Keeping in mind that other prominent figures from the Muhajerin weren’t present in this dialogue, and that the Ansar were after something else from the start, such a dialogue in such a small group of people and the offering of the caliphate to one another without the consultation of the other Sahabah and the household of the prophet, seems like something that would be in the favor of and a confirmation of the Shia view that this was a conspiracy and that things had been planned for beforehand so that they could take control of the caliphate! Regardless of what their reasons for such an act could have been! Umar’s prevention of the prophet writing his last will in the final moments of his life is another point that should be taken into consideration here and helps us in our judgment.[7]

5- If the only reason why the people did bey’ah with Abu Bakr was that they had a convincing reason from their prophet that showed caliphate was the right of Abu Bakr, the question arises that with what permission did the first caliph offer the caliphate to two other individuals (Umar and Abu Ubaydah)?! If one of the two had accepted the offer, whose right would the caliphate be then?

6- Finally, the second caliph admitted that doing bey’ah with Abu Bakr was something unaccounted for and that no one else should ever practice such a method ever again! In addition to undermining the claim of the Sunni school of thought that the caliphate of Abu Bakr was consensual among the Sahabah, it also brings up the question about why such a method should never be repeated again, even if the existing circumstances are the same as the ones when the prophet passed away?! Were these three individuals aware of a secret that the rest were unaware of?! Isn't it an insult to the rest of the Sahabah that whenever the second caliph decides to do bey’ah with an individual, the rest must follow and should disregard their own opinion and not do the same as him?! Is all of this indicative of a consensus, or of the fact that some are only going by their own tastes and opinions?!

Firstly, we must say that opposite to what you said, all of the Ansar didn’t do bey’ah, one of them being Sa’d bin Ubadah who had been introduced as the first candidate for the position. After what took place in Saqifah, someone called out: “You have killed Sa’d bin Ubadah with what you did!” The second caliph said: “May Allah kill him!”[8] He left Medinah for Damascus[9] and was suspiciously killed, to the extent that some associate his death with the jinns![10] What problem could the jinns have with this companion of the prophet that the other companions were devoid of that made only him their enemy?! Maybe these jinns had something to do with the wolves that had killed Prophet Yusuf!

In any event, the truth of the matter is that most of the Ansar did do bey’ah, but regarding what you said about their reason being one of three things, we must say that such a bey’ah wasn’t without any aim, and that generally speaking, no incident of such significance ever takes place without an aim. Also, it is true that none of them were forced by the sword to do bey’ah, but there are no prominent Shia scholars who claim that a battle or fight broke out and that force was the cause of their bey’ah. In any case, your conclusion that they must have had access to something that clearly showed the caliphate belonging to Abu Bakr is an incorrect one, because:

As some thinkers have said, there are three factors that can contribute to the deviation of a society which are: wealth, compulsion and deception. In other words, war and the spilling of blood, bribing and buying people, or false reasoning and trickery and deception and making scenes and capitalizing on the disunity of others are all things that can be used to change the direction of a society.

We agree that the Ansar didn’t do bey’ah because of force nor bribing and wealth and positions; what you said here is true, but taking the history of the advent of Islam into consideration, we see that there was great tension and conflict among two important tribes of the Ansar, the Aws and Khazraj before the dawn of Islam, that had been resolved by the prophet when he came to Medina and after their conversion to Islam. Nevertheless, traces of this animosity still existed from that time, providing grounds for the revival of conflict in certain conditions and situations, even when the prophet was still alive. Examples of this can be found in authentic Sunni sources. These two tribes had gone to the verge of war regarding issues such as the incident of Ifk[11]. In another case, the two tribes were recounting old memories and this led to anger and them drawing weapons on each other. It was after this that verse 101 of surah Ale Imran was revealed: “And how would you be faithless while the signs of Allah are recited to you and His Apostle is in your midst?”[12]

Based on what was said, we cannot deny that the conversion to Islam of the Ansar hadn’t solved all the issues they had with each other, and there were always chances of conflict making its way back between them. Don’t you deem it possible that some individuals were aware of these sensitive circumstances and had planned beforehand, to put the Ansar at a crossroad; either to accept the caliphate of Sa’d bin Ubadah and as a result, the superiority and preference of a tribe over the other and the possibility of war breaking out, or to prevent such a situation from taking place by accepting the leadership of an individual outside of themselves to maintain the balance between the Aws and Khazraj?! All of this took place without any need to spend any money or bribe or threaten anyone. The Quran informs us that such a thing has taken place in previous nations. For instance, we will pose a question similar to yours. Did the Sameri force Bani Isra’el to turn from worshipping God to worshipping the Ba’al?! He was able to misguide a nation whose prophet was still alive, and whose brother, Harun, was in direct contact with and residing amongst, to the extent that Harun was close to being killed in this incident![13] Did the Sameri use bribery and wealth to reach his goals and to draw the people towards him, or did he deceive the women and use their jewelry to achieve what he was after and build the golden calf for worship?![14]

Is it that unlikely for history to repeat itself for the Islamic nation? Especially keeping in mind the hadith that the Sunni school narrates, that everything that took place for Bani Israel will take place for the Muslim nation as well?![15]

Also, regarding the reason the Ansar had for choosing Abu Bakr, it had to either be a specific direct injunction by the prophet in regard to the caliphate, which is something the Sunni school believes never existed and that the caliph was approved by the consensus of the learned and wise men, or their reason could be his relation with the prophet, something that they themselves argued with in Saqifah, and we pointed out the fallacy in this argument through the words of Imam Ali (as) and that if that was the case, then Ali (as) was more deserving of such a position and that would be a reason for Imam Ali (as) becoming caliph, because he was much closer to the prophet.

As for why the Ansar didn’t do bey’ah with Ali (as), we must say that those taking care of the issue of caliphate acted so fast that they didn’t even wait for the prophet to be buried so that they could at least consult with the Harun of the Muslim nation (meaning Imam Ali (as)), and as was said, considering the pressure and propaganda that was dominant at the time and the danger of conflict breaking out between two of the Ansar’s tribes, they rushed in doing bey’ah with Abu Bakr without any further ado, although some of them regretted their bey’ah later, when Lady Fatimah (as) said some things to them and asked them to support Ali (as); they said: If you had told us these things earlier, we would have never preferred anyone over Ali (as)![16] Did they give Imam Ali (as) a chance to voice his opinion? The only way such a thing seems possible is if he had abandoned the prophet’s body like everyone else and tried to get his right too! This is something that the imam was avoiding, or else he could have done that too. As he himself says: “We have a right that if we are given, then all the better, and if we are denied it, we prefer to, as the second person (and not the caliph), to ride the back of the camel, no matter how long that takes.”[17]

In addition to all of this, the Shia believe that imamate and leadership of the Muslim nation can only be determined by divine decree, therefore, considering all of the clear injunctions by the prophet about Imam Ali (as) being his successor, there remains no room for any of these theories and conjectures, because when there is a nass or legal injunction, all ijtihad and personal opinions are invalid.

The Shia believe that in that event, the Ansar were after appointing a leader for themselves and not for the whole of the Muslim nation. This process was hindered by others and by an incorrect assessment of the circumstances of the time by the Ansar, all of which led to disunity and dilemmas in the Muslim nation that still exist today, although, let it not remained unmentioned, later on, the Ansar somewhat redeemed themselves and were good supporters of Imam Ali (as) when he was caliph and helped him in times of despair such as in the battle of Siffin. We hope that Allah rewards them for their actions and accepts them as examples of the verse “الا من تاب و آمن و عمل عملا صالحا فأولئک یبدل الله سیئاتهم حسنات و کان الله غفورا رحیما”.[18]

[1] Sahih Bukhari, vol. 5, pp. 82 and 83, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1401 (AH).

[2] Ibid, vol. 4, pg. 208 and vol. 5, pg. 129.

[3] Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, vol. 1, pp. 55-56, Dar Sader, Beirut, without date, we recommend that you read this story yourself and without any abridgment and from a critical perspective from this book (which is an authentic) and other books of the Sunni school of thought.

[4] The second caliph used the word فلته” which means something

that is unaccounted for and isn't supposed to happen. See: Lisan al-Arab, vol. 2, pg. 67.

[5] Ibn Kathir Dameshqi, Tafsir al-Quran al-Adhim, vol. 4, pg. 463, Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, Beirut, 1419 (AH).

[6] Nahjul-Balaghah, pp. 98-99, Dar al-Hijrah Publications, Qom, without date.

[7] Sahih Bukhari, vol. 5, pp. 137-138.

[8] Sahih Bukhari, vol. 4, pg. 194.

[9] Asad al-Ghaabah, vol. 1, pg. 433, biography of Sa’d bin Ubadah.

[10] Qurtubi, Al-Jame’ li Ahkam al-Quran, vol. 1, pg. 317, Naser Khosro Publications, Tehran, 1364.

[11] Ibn Kathir Dameshqi, vol. 6, pp. 18-19, Tafsir al-Quran al-Adhim.

[12] Ibn Abi Hatam, Tafsir al-Quran al-Adhim, vol. 3, g. 72, Nazaar Mustafa al-Baaz Library, Saudi Arabia, 1419 (AH).

[13] A’raf:150.

[14] Ibn Kathir Dameshqi, Tarsir al-Quran al-Adhim, vol. 5, pg. 276.

[15] Sahih Tirmidi, vol. 4, pg. 135, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1403 (AH).

[16] Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 30, pg. 124, Al-Wafa’ Publications, Beirut, 1404 (AH).

[17] Nahjul-Balaghah, pg. 472, Dar al-Hijrah Publications, Qom.

[18] Furqan:70.

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