Extracts from an article by
The name “Shī‘a” or “Shi‘ite” entered the Western media’s common vocabulary during the Islamic Revolution of Iran, and it is being frequently heard now in context of the war in Iraq when reporters or commentators say that sixty to sixty-five percent of the Iraqis are “Shi‘ite” or “Shī‘a Muslims”.
If you travel across the Middle East and Asia, you will soon realize that besides the similarity and uniformity found among the Muslims on basic issues, there is also a great diversity in the world of Islam. Not only in the composition of its membership but also in thought and practice: there are different theological sects and a variety of spiritual brotherhoods.
However, the most the important division in Islamic theology has placed the Muslims into two main schools of thought: the Sunni and the Shī‘a. The Muslims who believe that ‘Alī was the immediate successor and caliph of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) are known as “Shī‘a”. The name “Shī‘a” is a short form of the Arabic phrase: “Shī‘atu ‘Alī – a follower of ‘Alī.” ‘Alī, son of Abu Tãlib, was the cousin and the son-in-law of the Prophet of Islam. [see note 1 below]
Out of almost a billion Muslims in the world, about fifteen percent are Shī‘a Muslims……
It is important to note that in most Muslim communities and for most part of the their history, the Shī‘as have lived in peace and harmony with the Sunni Muslims. Polemics in religious writings on both sides has been part of our history, but that was limited to the learned and the educated elite, and it never degenerated into physical violence against one another. Unfortunately, in the last twenty years, the Shī‘a Muslims have been persecuted on religious and political grounds in certain Muslim countries, especially in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. In Pakistan, by the Sipah-e Sahaba group; in Afghanistan, by the former Taleban government; and in Iraq, by Saddam’s former regime.
B. WHO IS A MUSLIM?
The Sunnis and the Shī‘as both are Muslims, so let us first define a “Muslim”. A Muslim is one who believes in the following three principles of Islam:
This is the belief that there is only One God who is the origin and creator of the universe. This is the foundation stone of Islam and is reflected in the famous sentence that says that, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allâh”.
This is the belief that God sent thousands of prophets and messengers to guide the human society. Some of the most important prophets of God in whom a Muslim must believe are: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
A Muslim must also believe that Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet and final messenger of God. No prophet or messenger is to come after him. This is reflected in the famous saying: “I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God”.
Resurrection and Life Hereafter (Qiyâmat).
This is a belief that at the end of time, all human beings will be resurrected by God and will be held accountable for their worldly life. The life in hereafter will be an eternal life. However, whether it will be blissful or full of sorrow depends on how we spend our present life.
All Muslims agree that the above three principles are the minimum requirement for joining into the fold of Islam. Anyone who does not believe in all three of the above principles cannot be called a Muslim.
All the Muslims —the Sunnis as well as the Shī‘as— also agree on the following important issues:
The Qur’ãn is the Word of God revealed upon Prophet Muhammad, and that it is unaltered, and the main source of Islamic views. For example, one of the earliest Shī‘a scholar, Shaykh as-Sadûq (d. 381/991), said: “Our belief is that the Qur’ãn, which Allãh revealed to His Prophet Muhammad (s) is the one between the two covers. And it is that which is in the hands of the people, & is not greater in extent than that… And he who asserts that we say that it is greater in extent than this (the present text) is a liar.” Not only this most famous of the early Shī‘a scholar believes in the integrity of the Qur’ãn, even the most famous contemporary scholar of the Shī‘a world, the Grand Ayatullãh Sayyid Abul Qãsim al-Khu’ī has written, al-Bayãn, in which he convincingly proves the integrity of the Qur’ãn. (You may see its English translation published by the Oxford University Press in 1998 under the title “The Prolegomena of the Qur’ãn”.)
The Sunna (sayings and deeds) of the Prophet of Islam is, after the Qur’ân, the main source of guidance for the Muslims.
The Ka‘ba in Mecca is the symbolic House of God, and that Muslims face its direction whenever they stand for their daily prayers.
The following famous tenets of Islam are accepted by both Muslims, the Sunni as well as the Shī‘a:
* the five daily prayers (salât),
* the fasting during the month of Ramadhân (sawm),
* paying of religious charity and monetary dues (like zakât),
* the performing of pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).
C. WHO IS A SHĪ‘A MUSLIM ?
A Shī‘a Muslim believes in all the issues mentioned above. What makes a Shī‘ī different from a Sunnī are two main concepts: leadership and justice.
(1) Leadership (imâmat):
Shī‘ī school of thought believes that Islam is a complete way of life, and therefore it is inconceivable that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would have ignored the issue of leadership after his death.
Shī‘as are of the opinion that the Prophet not only gave importance to the issue of leadership and succession but also clearly appointed ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib as his successor and caliph, and also mentioned that the leadership of Islam will continue in his family. We believe that whatever the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did was done in accordance with the will of God. The Sunni Muslims are of the opinion that Prophet Muhammad set no guidelines for the institution of leadership after his death, and that it was upon the Muslims themselves to come up with a system of leadership. And, therefore, you see a variety of methods were used for appointment of leaders and caliphs:
through a limited selection by a small group of people in Saqīfa as happened in the case of the first caliph;
through a will written by the first caliph appointing the second;
through a committee of six people hand-picked by the second caliph as happened in case of the third caliph;
through people’s power when the masses insisted on ‘Ali to become their ruler;
through military superiority as witnessed in case of Mu‘awiya; and also
through hereditary in case of the Umayyids and the ‘Abbasids.
Shī‘ism bases its arguments on the divine precedence in which God never left the issue of leadership in the hands of the people; He appointed the prophets and their successors. Professor Wilfred Madelung of the Oxford University makes an interesting observation in his book, The Succession to Muhammad, published in 1997. He writes, “The Qur’ãn advises the faithful to settle some matters by consultation, but not the succession to prophets. That, according to the Qur’ãn, is settled by divine election, and God usually chooses their successors, whether they become prophets or not, from their own kin.” (p. 17) The Prophet of Islam, from the very first day of his mission started introducing ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib as his successor. He clarified that this was done by the will of God.
Names of the Shí‘a Imams (successors of the Prophet) and their era of leadership:
- ‘Ali bin Abi Talib 632-661
- Hasan bin ‘Ali 661-669
- Husayn bin ‘Ali 669-680
- ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin 680-712
- Muhammad al-Bãqir 712-735
- Ja‘far as-Sãdiq 735-765
- Musa al-Kãzim 765-799
- ‘Ali ar-Riza 799-818
- Muhammad bin ‘Ali 818-835
- ‘Ali an-Naqi 835-868
- Hasan al-‘Askari 868-873
- Muhammad al-Mahdi 873-Living in Occultation.
The Twelfth Shí‘a Imam (or successor of the Prophet) is believed to have gone into occultation (that is, he is alive but is not known to anyone). This occultation will last till the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam as the Saviour who will establish the Kingdom of God on earth. The Shí‘as believe that the Mahdi will be assisted in his mission by Jesus.
Appointment of ‘Ali by the Prophet:
From the very first day of his mission, Prophet Muhammad started introducing ‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib as his successor. Islam began when the Prophet Muhammad became forty years old. Initially, the mission was kept a secret. Then three years after the advent of Islam, the Prophet was ordered to commence the open declaration of his message. This was the occasion when Almighty Allãh revealed the verse “And warn thy nearest relations.” (26:214)
When this verse was revealed, the Prophet organized a feast that is known in history as “Summoning the Family — Da‘wat dhu ’l-‘Ashīra”. The Prophet invited around forty men from the Banu Hãshim and asked ‘Ali bin Abi Tãlib to make arrangements for the dinner. After having served his guests with food and drinks, when the Prophet wanted to speak to them about Islam, Abu Lahab forestalled him and said, “Your host has long since bewitched you.” All the guests dispersed before the Prophet could present his message to them.
The Prophet then invited them the next day. After the feast, he spoke to them, saying:
“O Sons of ‘Abdu ’l-Muttalib! By Allãh, I do not know of any person among the Arabs who has come to his people with better than what I have brought to you. I have brought to you the good of this world and the next, and I have been commanded by the Lord to call you unto Him. Therefore, who amongst you will support me in this matter so that he may be my brother (akhhí), my successor (wasiyyí) and my caliph (khalifatí) among you?”
This was the first time that the Prophet openly and publicly called the relations to accept him as the Messenger and Prophet of Allãh; he also uses the words “akhí wa wasiyyí wa khalífatí— my brother, my successor, my caliph” for the person who will aid him in this mission. No one answered him; they all held back except the youngest of them — ‘Ali bin Abí Tãlib. He stood up and said, “I will be your helper, O Prophet of God.”
The Prophet put his hand on the back of ‘Ali’s neck and said:
“Inna hadhã akhhí wa wasiyyí wa khalífatí fíkum, fasma‘û lahu wa atí‘û — Verily this is my brother, my successor, and my caliph amongst you; therefore, listen to him and obey.” 
This was a very explicit statement because the audience understood the appointment of ‘Ali very clearly. Some of them, including Abu Lahab, even joked with Abu Tãlib saying that your nephew, Muhammad, has ordered you to listen to your son and obey him! At the least, this shows that the appointment of ‘Ali bin Abí Tãlib was clear and explicit, not just implied. After that, the Prophet at various places emphasized the issue of loving his Ahlul Bayt, seeking guidance from them, and drew the attention of the people to the special status that they had in the eyes of God and His Messenger. (See 42:23)
Then the Formal Declaration:
Finally, just two months before his death, the Prophet clearly appointed ‘Ali in Ghadir Khumm as the leader (religious as well as political) of the Muslims. He said, “Whomsoever’s Master I am, this ‘Ali is his Master.” He also said, “I am leaving two precious things behind, as long as you hold on to them both you will never go astray: the Book of Allãh and my progeny.” 
Question: Why have many Western scholars ignored the event of Ghadir Khumm? Since Western scholars mostly relied on anti-Shi‘a works, they naturally ignored the event of Ghadir Khumm. L. Veccia Vaglieri, one of the contributors to the second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953), writes:
“Most of those sources which form the basis of our knowledge of the life of Prophet (Ibn Hishãm, al-Tabari, Ibn Sa‘d, etc.) pass in silence over Muhammad’s stop at Ghadir Khumm, or, if they mention it, say nothing of his discourse (the writers evidently feared to attract the hostility of the Sunnis, who were in power, by providing material for the polemic of the Shī‘is who used these words to support their thesis of ‘Ali’s right to the caliphate). Consequently, the western biographers of Muhammad, whose work is based on these sources, equally make no reference to what happened at Ghadir Khumm.” 
Then she writes:
“It is, however, certain that Muhammad did speak in this place and utter the famous sentence, for the account of this event has been preserved, either in a concise form or in detail, not only by al-Ya‘kubi, whose sympathy for the ‘Alid cause is well known, but also in the collection of traditions which are considered canonical, especially in the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal; and the hadiths are so numerous and so well attested by the different isnãds that it does not seem possible to reject them.” Vaglieri continues, “Several of these hadiths are cited in the bibliography, but it does not include the hadíth which, although reporting the sentence, omit to name Ghadir Khumm, or those which state that the sentence was pronounced at al-Hudaybiya. The complete documentation will be facilitated when the Concordance of Wensinck have been completely published. In order to have an idea of how numerous these hadiths are, it is enough to glance at the pages in which Ibn Kathir has collected a great number of them with their isnads.”
(2) Justice (`adl):
The Shī‘a school of Islamic thought values justice so highly that the belief in justice has become its hallmark in theological books. The Shī‘as believe that justice must prevail and exist at all stages of existence. They believe that God is just in His dealing with mankind; that God does not compel anyone to believe or to disbelieve in Him; that God does not compel human beings to do good or evil — it is entirely left upon them to make the right choice in light of the guidance provided by the prophets and messengers. This belief in importance of justice permeates down to human level: the Shī‘as believe that the Prophet and the Imams who succeeded him must also upheld highest standard of justice; that even the religious leaders and prayer-leaders must be upright in their character. Based on this emphasis of the concept of justice, Shī‘a Muslims are not permitted to co-operate or work with an unjust and tyrant ruler, and they are also expected to strive for a just social order in human society. This is the underlying basis of the various Shī‘ī movements in history in which they have risen against the rulers and governments of their own times.
D. SUMMARY OF SHĪ‘A BELIEFS
In conclusion, a Muslim is one who believes in the following three principles
Monotheism — Tawhíd.
Prophethood — Nubuwwa.
Life Hereafter — Qiyâmat.
A Shi‘a Muslim is the one who believes in the following five principles
Monotheism — Tawhíd.
Prophethood — Nubuwwa.
Life Hereafter — Qiyâmat.
Justice — `Adl.
Leadership — Imâmat.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
-  Prophet Abraham has been described in the Qur’ãn by both names: “muslim – one who submits to God” (3:67) as well as “shī‘a –follower (of Prophet Noah)” (37:79-83)
-  See Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam (London: Yale University Press, 1985) p. 282 that is somewhat outdated now. Also see the figures given by Yann Richard, Shi‘ite Islam, tr. Antonia Nevill (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995) p. 2-5. The figures in these two books have been modified with the information given in the latest versions of various encyclopaedias.
-  Most Muslim historians and commentators of the Qur’ãn have quoted this event. See the following Sunni sources: at-Tabari, at-Ta’ríkh, vol. 1 (Leiden, 1980 offset of the 1789 edition) p. 171-173; Ibn al-Athír, al-Kãmil, vol. 5 (Beirut, 1965) p. 62-63; Abu ’l-Fidã’, al-Mukhtasar fi Ta’ríkhi ’l-Bashar, vol. 1 (Beirut, n.d.) p. 116-117; al-Khãzin, at-Tafsír, vol. 4 (Cairo, 1955) p. 127; al-Baghawi, at-Tafsír (Ma‘ãlimu ’t-Tanzíl), vol. 6 (Riyadh: Dar Tayyiba, 1993) p. 131; al-Bayhaqi, Dalã’ilu ’n-Nubuwwa, vol. 1 (Cairo, 1969) p. 428-430; as-Suyuti, ad-Durru ’l-Manthûr, vol. 5 (Beirut, n.d.) p. 97; and Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanzu ’l-‘Ummãl, vol. 15 (Hyderabad, 1968) pp. 100, 113, 115. For further references, see ‘Abdu ’l-Husayn al-Aminí, al-Ghadír, vol. 2 (Beirut, 1967) pp. 278-289.
In English see, Rizvi, S. Saeed Akhtar, Imamate: the Vicegerency of the Prophet (Tehran: WOFIS, 1985) pp. 57-60. For an elaborate discussion on the isnãd and meaning of the Prophet’s hadíth in this event, and also the variations in the early Sunni and Shi‘a sources, see Dr. Sayyid Tãlib Husayn ar-Rifã‘í, Yawmu ’d-Dãr (Beirut: Dar al-Azwã’, 1986).
-  For further discussion on the event of Ghadír Khumm, see the chapter “Ghadír Khumm & the Orientalists” of my Shi’ism: Imamate & Wilayat.. For authenticity of this version of the hadíth (that is, “Book of Allãh and my progeny” as opposed to “Book of Allãh and my sunnah”), see the Sunni author, Hasan bin ‘Ali as-Saqqãf, “The Book of Allãh and What Else?” The Right Path, vol. 6 (# 3 & 4 Oct-Dec 1997) p. 44-49.
-  EI2, p. 993 under “Ghadir Khumm”.
* * *
Extracts from "The Truth Withstands Scrutiny"
You can tell a vision from an illusion by close examination. “But the deeds of those who cover their perception to shield ignorance from the ego-annihilating effects of the Light of the Truth are like (a person moving towards) a mirage in the Desert; the thirsty one supposes it to be water until he comes up to it and finds that it is not.” (Qur’an 24:39)
People thirsty for spiritual knowledge, wandering in the desert of worldliness, selfishness, and nationalism (tribalism, racism, sexism, elitism, materialism, intellectualism, ritualism, etc.) will run after an illusion and nearly (if not actually) deify the person who pointed them in the direction of the mirage. Then comes a person Allah sends who knows where the real oasis is. He or she tries to get the pitifully misguided people to stop and realize that this thing they think is real can be seen through. It lacks substance. It’s illusionary. Undeniable proof makes it obvious that he or she is correct. Yet, that God-sent guide is often viewed with contempt and sometimes hostility, by mommy, daddy, preachers, teachers, governors, and their own children, students, disciples, and political constituents who have come to revere the illusion as unquestionable, infallible truth.
The issue I wish to examine is the controversial issue of Imamah – Divinely-Guided Leadership. I am not using this title, Imam (leader), generally. I am talking about the extremely high office, right next to Prophethood that can only be held by a man chosen by God, and His Messenger, and the Imam preceding him, starting with Ali, son of Abu Talib (peace be upon him). I contest that this is the office that preserved the real meaning of the Ummal Kitab (Mother of the Book) and the infallible Muhammadan explanations. I thus call you to a revolution of consciousness, conscience, and behavior.
No one can claim to believe in Allah and not believe in His Most High Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny). The Message would not be known without this Most Truthful and Trustworthy Messenger, who never spoke without Allah’s Infallible Permission. So many times in the Qur’an does Allah say, “Obey Allah, and His Messenger”, “Obey Allah, and His Messenger”, “Obey Allah and His Messenger.” It does not say, “Obey Allah, and His Book.” When we obey what is in the Book, we are obeying Allah. The Book is not Allah. But the Book is God’s Infallible Word. Prophet Muhammad did not compose the Book. Allah composed the Book. And the Book commands us (I count 37 times) to obey Allah and His Messenger …………….
If I obey what is in the Book, I obey Allah. And if I follow the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, I obey the Messenger, continuing Divine guidance after the Prophet’s passing.
Problem! Which set of reports contain the most reliable traditions of the Holy Prophet?
It is obvious. We simply cannot exclusively rely on the Qur’an without Muhammad’s Prophetic input. Allah Himself through the Qur’an testifies to that fact. All of our questions and directions are not covered by the Qur’anic Text. Qur’an commands us to offer our prayers. But the Qur’an does not tell us how to offer the prayers. Do we hold our hands or drop them to the side? Can women lead prayers? Can women and men stand side by side in prayers? What is Wajib (compulsory)? What is forbidden? How can we know for sure?
Prayer is just one issue. There are also the issues of Zakat, Khums, private and public property, Hajj, fasting, at least fifty menstruation issues, what constitutes proof in prosecuting fornication, theft, rape, murder, etc.? When is homicide justifiable? How do you perform the wedding rites, burial rites, birth rites, etc.? The issues just go on, and on, and on. The Qur’an has no answer to any of these questions. During Muhammad’s time, there issues were decided by him. His decisions were enshrined by Muslim scholars and clerics into books of sacred traditions (Hadith). But political/economic/social forces broke the original Muslim community into sects. There was only one Prophet, but there are over 100 contradictory “traditions” reported on some of these issues! There are over 200 variations of prayer in the four so-called “Sunni” schools of Islamic law alone! Where did all these “traditions” come from?
Adult Muslims, men and women, need to acquire a fair degree (at least) of political sophistication. The Muslim community was never, and is not now, a monolithic Shangri-La. Problems with opportunists, ego-centric narrow minded zealots, the spiritually weak, the gullible, and all kinds of criminals existed during Prophet’s time. Allah gave the Prophet’s community power. Ambitions rose like weeds in the hearts of the undeserving. The Muslim governments ceased being ruled by saintly men very early on. For the most part, whoever controls the government writes the history. In a theocracy, the party in charge builds the Masajid (mosques), and ego controls the pulpit. So how did so many traditions appear, contradicting one another?
Sultans, Shahs, kings, and other arrogant impotent potentates claimed to be the heirs to Prophet Muhammad’s authority. Since they often lacked knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah, they always made sure they tied the turban on somebody who would not get too big for his britches. And if they did, they were executed. Independent scholars who attracted a following were considered princely rivals and killed quickly, without ceremony, record or remorse. Most Muslims never knew the “go down”. Loose ends were cut off and/or denied public access. Each one of the Top Eleven descendants of Prophet Muhammad, who were considered the Divinely-Chosen Imams (peace be upon them), was murdered!
Ali ibn Abu Talib was assassinated in the mosque during morning prayers in Ramadan by a lunatic fanatic. His other ten top descendants met their deaths at the hands of jealous Muslim rulers. Ali’s son Hasan was assassinated by his own wife, who was an agent of the governor of Syria, Muawiyah (son of the Prophet’s arch enemy Abu Sufyan). Muawiyah was Imam Ali’s worst enemy. Muwayiah’s son brutally butchered Imam Hussain, Hasan’s brother, and almost all the males in his entire family! Yazid ibn Muawiyah ambushed Hussain’s small entourage of 73 males and a few less females with a whole battalion (literally) of cavalry men. They were detained in the desert during summer, for three days deprived of food and water. They were then set upon and slaughtered. Seventy-two men, boys, and infants were murdered. The other top-ranked eight descendants were all poisoned in prison without fanfare, as most Muslim scholars who rise out of obscurity are murdered today – without remorse, record, or legitimate reason. The deed is most often done so quietly; it doesn’t even make the papers.
In the meantime, “the monkeys” that the governments pay and train to become religious scholars and clerics keep right on guessing about these issues. They are not trained to know what the Prophetic Precedents. They are trained to lick the hand that feeds them. So each one is jealous of the other one. The ones that work in the Big Mosques are jealous of anyone who might compete for their fat cat cushy job. And the ones who work in the little mosques are envious of the fat cats and anyone who exhibits more brilliance than they do in Islamic learning and understanding (which is not usually too difficult).
Therefore, petty, jealous, government-sponsored, pseudo-intellectual, wannabe religious leaders are bogusly enshrined and continue to enshrine all kinds of personal opinions and pseudo-religious government policies as Prophet Muhammad’s Sunnah. They suppress the people’s natural curiosity and keep them ignorant and Qur’anically illiterate. These mosques are operated without dynamic programs or imaginative agencies designed to solve the people’s problems of poverty, ignorance, disunity, and the intrusion on Islamic populations by anti-Islamic influences from both foreign and domestic sources.
In fact, the cleric caretakers of the Masjids act to opiate the people until the sultans, kings, and presidents need them to whip the people up to get involved in another “Jihad” to keep their profligate parties in power. Allah and His Prophet did not entrust these people with the reins of leadership (Imamah) of the Muslim community. They were usurped from their rightful owners by lovers of power who never hesitate to use murder, intrigue, and nationalistic rhetoric to accomplish their designs.
The Preservation of Prophet Muhammad’s Traditions is the Most Important Function of the Office of the Imamah
We strongly assert that this God-appointed office was given to none other than Ali ibn Abu Talib. He in turn chose his successor (Imam Hasan ibn Ali) by God’s order, and Imam Hasan chose his successor, Imam Hussain. Imam Hussain chose his successor, Imam Ali ibn Hussain, and so on, until the 12th Imam. Within these 12 houses, we find the Divine Light of the Prophetic Tradition. These men and their top students preserved the Prophetic Tradition despite near relentless government interference and brutal suppression. And today, since an Islamic Revolution based on the principles taught by these twelve houses toppled one of the world’s oldest, richest, and most powerful, despotic monarchies on the planet, the Shah of Iran, the Saudi royal propaganda machine has launched an all-out attack on the Shias.
Five hundred thousand Shias lost their lives in Operation Desert Storm, and they never touched Saddam. The whole thing was a set up and engineered by the filthy oil “a-rich-a-crats,” who saw themselves as next. So they staged a fictitious threat and sic-ed their well-paid Kafir Super Jinns on the followers of the Imam in southern Iraq. Kuwait was just bait. Saddam was never the target.
Saddam was an integral part of the set-up. Saddam and his elite forces who terrorized their own people for decades were never touched. They did, however, obliterate Saddam’s Shia enemies on international television. The whole world watched, and they still don’t know what happened. Can you imagine the Prophet Muhammad calling in the whole Kafir world to Arabia in order to defend himself from anybody? Yet Muslim clerics all over Arabia produced Hadiths showing the legitimacy of King Fat Head’s action. The Muslims didn’t even scratch their heads. This episode of the Muslims being hoodwinked to back might rather than right is just a continuation of what happened almost 1400 years ago.
After Imam Ali and Imam Hasan, the Muslim nation was ruled by the very same family whom Prophet Muhammad struggled against in Mecca and Medina. I am referring to none other than the infamous family of the arch statue worshiper Abu Sufyan. This is the same Abu Sufyan whose wife chewed on the liver of Prophet Muhammad’s Uncle Hamza, whom she also had assassinated. This is the mother and father of the first Muslim dynasty, the Omayyad. How they rose to power, stepping over the corpses of the Prophet’s family whom they murdered, is a lesson in Machiavellian tyranny.
Then the Family of Abbas rose to revenge Al-Hussain and restore the reins of power to the Holy Imam. Abbas was the youngest brother of Abu Talib. He apparently did not support the Prophet but rather supported Abu Sufyan until Mecca was conquered. He then became a Muslim. Opportunism? God knows.
All but two of the Omayyad chiefs were mercilessly executed. These two fled to Africa. The Abbasid forces gave chase but lost the trail in Egypt. These Abbasid forces founded the city of Cairo on the spot where they lost their escaped fugitives. The fugitives escaped to North Africa. There they founded the Moorish Omayyad Dynasty that ruled Spain for 800 years! A mosque was built on the spot where the Abbasid warriors congregated for Salat. This masjid was called Al-Azhar, after Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah Zahra (peace be upon her).
Unfortunately, the Abbasids reneged on their intention to restore the reins of power to the Imam. Though the Abbasids claimed to be Shia, the taste of power corrupted them to their core. The Imam (Ja’far as-Sadiq – founder of Islamic jurisprudence) was jailed and poisoned by his cousin, the Abbasid Commander. The four (so-called) Sunni Imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafa’i, and Hanbal, were paid to contest with the Imam in an attempt to diminish his almost universal popularity. All four of these “Imams” were former students of the Imam!
Yes! It was the Imam-murdering, nepotistic Omayyads who paid a man from Bukhara to collect “Hadiths” from their paid agents. The most famous of these most often-quoted sources of Prophet’s sayings and deeds was Abu Hurayra. Abu Hurayra, whose association with Prophet did not begin until after the battle of Khayber, was a fixture in the Omayyad palace in Syria. He was an active agent for Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan, the governor of Syria and the arch enemy of Imam Ali and Imam Hasan ibn Ali.
One needs to study the life of Abu Hurayra. Many of the narrations he rendered and said he heard the Prophet say are true, but he could not have heard the Prophet say these things, because he was not even Muslim, nor did he live in Medina at the time! Many narrations he reports are flat out fiction to build up his employers, the Banu Omayya and/or put down Banu Hashim or the family of Abu Talib. Yet this man is the most often repeated source of “authentic” traditions!
In the meantime, wives of the Prophet like Umm Salamah, who was very close to the Holy Prophet and lived a very long time, were practically overlooked. Fizza, the Ethiopian companion of Fatimah, the greatest of all Hafizs (male or female), was ignored. Fatimah was ignored. All the grandsons of Prophet and their sons and daughters were ignored. All the Imams were ignored. All of their top students, whose dissertations, supplications, essays, and poems are the basis of classical Islamic culture, were ignored. With all these wells of wisdom ignored while ignoramuses like Abu Hurayra were raised to the level of infallibility by a government grateful for his “Uncle Tom” services, it is no wonder why ignorance dominates the Muslim psyche. Muslims acted and continue to act like Prophet never said:
“I am the City of Knowledge, and Ali is the Gateway to It.”
It is very unwise to think that you are a Muslim who does not follow somebody’s account of Prophet Muhammad’s traditions. And it is equally unwise to follow a school of thought blindly, without knowledge of the pros and cons. Open your eyes, and wake up. Do not be stubborn and arrogant. We are never too young or too old to grow in knowledge. Only a fool refuses to face facts. Only a bigot prefers the false status quo to the unveiled Truth of a matter. There is no shame in not knowing. But there is great shame in not knowing because one has covered up his or her perception, so ignorance is shielded from the ego-annihilating effects of the Light of the Truth. It is big shame, and a bigger sin.
“As for those who cover their perception to truth, I will chastise them,” says Allah. (Qur’an 3:56) “Cursed by the tongue of David were those from the Children of Israel who cover their perception of truth.” (5:78) “And a party of the Children of Israel believed, and a party were those who cover their perception to truth.” (61:14)
The issue that faces us is the same issue that faced the mosaic dispensation of Islam. Will we accept the Divinely-Guided Leadership of the Imams and their top students’ account of the Prophet’s traditions, or will we wallow in racist, tribal, nationalistic, cultural error, following lusts, rejecting curiosity and reason, condemning scholarship, and empowering murderers?
When truth is applied, falsehood must flee the way darkness flees from light. Only a Satan stands in defiance of the Evident Truth. And the Truth not only will withstand scrutiny. It invites scrutiny.
(Shaikh Ali Abu Talib is a revert to Islam and a former student of Imam Mubarak Hassan, Sayyid Masoom Abidi, and Ayatollah Murtadha Qazwini. He is the co-founder and organizer of Jamaatul Muqeemoonas Salat, GrassRoots Calling, and the QINA (Qur’anic Institute Of North America) Projects.)