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Ghadir

Introduction

'When he (the Prophet) had completed its (Hajj) ceremonies, he left for Medina accompanied by the multitudes previously mentioned. He arrived at the pool of Khum (Ghadir Khum) in al-Juhfa, where the roads of the people of Medina, the people of Egypt and the people of Iraq cross. That was on Thursday, Dhil-Hijjah 18 [when] Jibreel (Gabriel), the faithful, brought down Allah's revelation saying: "0 Messenger! Deliver that which has been sent down to thee from thy Lord" (5:67). And he commanded him to point out Ali to the people and proclaim to them the revelation concerning him about the wilaya and the obligation of obedience upon everyone. Those of the people who were in front were near al-Juhfa. The Prophet of Allah commanded that those who advanced should be halted at that place. He forbade them to sit down under five gum acacia trees (sumurat) which were close to each other. When the summons to prayer was given for the noon prayers, he went towards them (the trees) and prayed at the head of the people under them... When he had completed his prayers, he stood delivering a speech in the middle of the people, on the saddles of the camels. He made them all hear, raising his voice, saying:

 

"...O people, the Kind, the Knower, informed me that a Prophet has not lived but half the age of his predecessor and that I am about to be recalled and I responded. I am to be interrogated and you are to be interrogated. What will you say?" The people said, "We bear witness that you have proclaimed the message and that you have given the advice and that you have made the endeavour, may Allah reward you!" He said, "Would you not bear witness that there is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad 

 

is His Servant and His Messenger; that His Garden is true; that His Fire is true; that death is true; that the hour comes of which there is no doubt; and that Allah will resurrect those in the graves?" They said, "Yes. We bear witness to that." Then he said, "0 Allah, bear witness [to that]," [and he continued], "0 people! Do you hear?" They said, "Yes." He said, "I am preceding you to the Pond (al-Hawd) and you will rejoin me at the Pond...See to it how you will look after the Two Treasures (ath-Thaqalayn) after me." A caller called out, "What are the Two Treasures, 0 Messenger of Allah?" He said, "The Bigger Treasure (ath-ThaqIu'l-Akbar) is the Book of Allah, one end of it is in the Hand of Allah and one end is in your hands. If you adhere to it you will not go astray. The Smaller Treasure (athThaqIu'l-Asghar) is my Family (' Itrati). The Kind, the Knower, informed me that they will not separate until they rejoin me at the Pond. I wished that from Allah for them. Do not precede them so that you may not perish. Do not fail to reach them so that you may not succumb." Then he held the hand of Ali and raised it until the white of the armpit could be seen and all the people recognized him. He said, "0 people, who is more worthy (`aw1a) [in the eyes of] the believers than their ownselves?" They said, "Allah and His Messenger know better is my Master and I am the master of the believers and I am worthier in their eyes than their ownselves. Whoever has me for his master has Ali for his master." He said it thrice, and according to Ahmad, the imam of the Hanbalis, four times.1

The above proclamation at Ghadir Khum regarding the wilaya of Imam Ali occurred in the last year of the Prophet's life (10 AH/632 AD). Fourteen centuries have passed since then, and looking at the number of books and studies written on the subject of wilaya, both by the proponents as well as opponents, the proclamation at Ghadir Khum proved to be one of the most pivotal events for the determination of the direction of the political-religious history of Islam. Questions about the 

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1 'Abd al-Husayn Ahmad al-Amini al-Naafi, AI-Ghadir fi al-Kitab wa al-Sunna wa al-Adab, Vol 1, Beirut, 1967, p 9-11, and all the Sunni and Shi`i sources cited therein. 

historicity of that event, whether raised by the Sunni scholars or by their western counterparts, who, more than often, followed the Sunni sources in their conclusions about the early history of Islam, have overlooked the political-religious implications of Ghadir Khum on the subsequent conceptualization of Islamic leadership (imama) among Muslims in general. The event at al-Juhfa, moreover, unfolded the Qur'anic presupposition in the matter of the direction that human society must follow in order to attain the final goal for which it has been created. On studying the Qur'an in its entirety the following general view emerges about human society which directly affects the question of leadership (imama) of that society.

To begin with, the Qur'an states more than once that Islam is not a new religion but the culmination of Allah's spiritual and temporal commands made known throughout human history through the mediatorship of divinely appointed prophets like Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus), and the other prophets, the last in that line being Muhammad, peace be upon him. Thus, the Prophet is the bearer of divine revelation that puts forth the divine commands for the guidance of humanity. This guidance lays the foundation of human social organization by providing a set of laws and rules by which the believers manage their affairs and through which their public order is governed or should govern itself. Accordingly, the divine guidance forms the basis for relations between man and Allah, on the one hand, and, between all people, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, as well as between man and all aspects of the creation, on the other. Furthermore, the divine guidance also contains rational principles which should help human intellect to infer detailed rules to organize the Muslim society and proffer the means to resolve conflicts between individuals and between individuals and the public order which has taken upon itself to implement the essential elements of the divine directives.

It is relevant to point out that unlike any other legal-politicalsocial system, Islamic revelation clearly points toward an 

integrated concept of life based on the intricate relationship between this world and the hereafter. It regulates the conduct of the public order and of the individual in all aspects of human concern, linking the mundane and transcendental concerns in an inseparable whole. In this linkage, the will of Allah is decisive in guiding the inter-relationship of humans, and of man and his Creator.2 The Qur'an regards the knowledge of the All-Knowing and All-Powerful Creator a priori through the precise creation of the innate disposition (fitra) in humanity, which, if it heeds to the call of the divine guidance, would attain 'prosperity' (alfalah).

These preliminary considerations about the Qur'anic view of divine guidance explain the inter-relationship of the Islamic norms provided in the Shari'ah, that divine scale of justice and equity, and the leader (imam) who exercises the divinely invested authority in him to lead the Muslim community to the prescribed goal of creating an ethical order on earth. The Shari'ah norms and the divinely appointed leadership fulfill humanity's need for the authoritative guidance based upon spiritual values giving man the existential meaning of his position in the universal context of Islamic revelation. The interdependency between the divine norms and the divinely appointed authority to attain the Qur'anic prosperity rejects the notion of separation between temporal and spiritual spheres of human activity. Moreover, the connection between divine guidance and the creation of the Islamic world order, as a consequence, marked the inevitable interdependency between the religious and the political in Islam.

The entire question of wilaya and its ramifications for the qualified leadership (imama) to further the divine plan and to enable Allah's religion to succeed must be seen from the perspective of the Islamic promise of the creation of an ethically just order on earth. More importantly, the belief in the wilaya of 

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2 This is the meaning of the word the Qur'an applies so often to indicate the divine purpose in endowing humanity with guidance, namely, al-falah. Usually translated as 'prosperity,' jalah signifies the good of both this and the next world for those who have responded to the divine guidance. 

Imam Ali gave rise to the group of dedicated individuals among the associates of the Prophet who formed the nucleus of the early Shi'a. These early followers of Imam Ali represented the growth of discontent among the Muslims who refused to acknowledge and regard as legitimate the rule of those whom they considered usurpers of a position of leadership that rightfully belonged to Ali ibn Ali Talib and his descendants. The period also caused the predicament of the Muslim community precipitated by the Muslim political power under the khilafah which led to revolutions and rebellions as well as to discussions and deliberations. This is depicted in the early Islamic fiqh (theology cum jurisprudence)3 literature that emerged toward the end of the second/eighth century. Early fiqh wove together the various threads of Islamic legal practice with the doctrinal underpinnings of early Muslim groupings. Consequently, the juridical opinions in the early fiqh works were formulated by taking into consideration whether certain legal or political injunctions affected the legitimacy of one or the other leader among the associates of the Prophet favoured by each faction. In other words, the legitimacy of a leader allowed him to be used as a valid legal-religious precedent required to establish the authoritativeness of Islamic practices. Thus, even when a particular ruling went against explicitly textual evidence provided by the Qur'an, the overriding consideration for the early Muslim scholars was the preservation and legitimation of the authority in power, a consideration that came to be justified under the rubric of al-masalih al-'amma (the general welfare of the Muslim community).

The most important issue throughout Shi`i history has been.

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3 Fiqh in its early usage was not limited to legal jurisprudence. It dealt with doctrinal and credal matters connected with basic Islamic beliefs, including the subject of Muslim authority after the Prophet's death. This early trend in fiqh writing continued much later as is evidenced in many works of fiqh that were written in the sixth/twelfth-thirteenth century which began with a prologue on the main tenets of Islam. See article, Fiqh in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition; also Introduction to my work: The Just Ruler in Shiite Islam: The Comprehensive Authority of the Jurist in Imamite Jurisprudence, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. 

 

access to the right guidance as an important consequence of the acknowledgement of the wilaya of Imam Ali. For the Shi`as, the right guidance had continuously been available to the Ummah even though the Imams, except for the short period of Imams Ali and Hasan's khilafah, were not invested with political authority and were living under the political power exercised by the de facto governments. The possession of the wilaya (notwithstanding the Imam's lack of political power, he still had the right to demand obedience from his followers) was clearly seen in the Imam's ability to provide religious leadership by interpreting divine revelation authoritatively. What was decided by him through interpretation and elaboration was binding on the believers.

 

The interpretation of the divine revelation by the Imam, only because of his position as the wali of Allah, was regarded as the right guidance needed by the people at all times. It was, moreover, the divine guidance that theologically justified the superstructures erected on the two doctrines of Imami Shi`ism: the justice of Allah and the designation of the Imam, free from error and sinful deviations, in order to make Allah's will known to humanity. The belief in divine justice demanded that Allah do what was best for humanity; and the belief in divine truthfulness generated the confidence that Allah's promise would be fulfilled. The proof that Allah was doing what had been promised was provided by the divinely created institutions of the prophethood (nubuwwa) and the imamate (through the wilaya) to guide humanity toward the creation of an ideal public order. In response to the dilemma created by the end of the manifest leadership of the Imams through the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, and the continued need of the community to their guidance, the Shi`i leaders expounded the theological and legal content of the Islamic revelation through meticulous study of the Qur'an and elaborated upon the teachings of the Imams, in which a prominent place was given to the faculty of reasoning (al-Aq1). 

 

The importance of reason in the exposition of the fundamental tenets of Islam was in accord with the Imami Shi`i rational theology, in which reason was prior to both sources of revelation, the Qur'an and the Sunnah. This does not mean that the revelation was not regarded as all-comprehensive. However, it was reason that acknowledged the comprehensiveness of the revelation by engaging in its interpretation and discovering all the principles that the believers needed to know. In addition, there was recognition of a fundamental need of interpretation of the revelation by reason, all the more so when the authority invested with divine knowledge was in occultation. At any rate, the decisive responsibility to guide the community by interpreting revelation rationally needed authorization from a divine source, a sort of designation to assume the wilaya similar to that which was initiated at Ghadir Khum that could guarantee to Muslims the availability of right guidance based on Islamic revelation. Ostensibly, only such an authorized person could assume the authority that accrued to the Imam as the rightful successor to the Prophet. Moreover, only the investiture of the wilaya (which reserved the right to demand obedience, depending on legal-rational circumstances) and the assuming of political power (qudra or saltana), which could exact or enforce obedience) could establish the rule of justice and equity on earth, as promised by the Islamic revelation.

 

In light of the above, the central position of the event at Ghadir Khum for Islam becomes evident. The proclamation by the Prophet on that occasion gave rise to the tension between the ideal leadership promoted through the wilaya of Ali ibn Abi Talib and the real one precipitated by human forces to suppress the purposes of Allah on earth. The acknowledgement of the validity of the declaration about the wilaya at Ghadir Khum, in some sense, became the yardstick for measuring the true faith in the divine promise for humanity. Consequently, the entire theological question of qualified leadership to further the divine plan and to enable Allah's religion to succeed must be seen from the perspective of the Islamic promise of the creation of an 

 

ethically just order on earth by the rightful possessor of the wilaya. The relationship of the leadership (imama) and the possession of the wilaya make it impossible to conceive an ideal public order in Islam without this leadership being invested in the person in whom the wilaya functions as a divine designation. It was for this reason that in Imami Shi`ism the concept of wilaya assumed a pivotal status as a precondition to the establishment of the ideal public order based on the divine scale of justice. However, it was important for the Imami theologians to secure the Qur'anic origins of the doctrine of wilaya and connect it with the notion of human obligation, the fulfillment of which was regarded as necessary to attain prosperity in this and the next world. At this point, let us turn our attention to the tradition that was to become the cornerstone of the Imami theory of political authority. 

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