Saturday, 1 January 2011

Saqifa Plot


The "pen and paper" episode set the scene for the takeover plot in "Saqifa" after the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632.
Sahabas left the dead body of the Prophet and rushed to Saqifa to elect Abu Bakr as their leader.



This article shall seek to unravel one of the most dramatic events in Islamic History, the event of Saqifa that ultimately led to a victorious Abu Bakr attaining the station of Khalifa following the death of the Prophet (s).

The venue

One would have expected the forum for debating the issue of succession would be a grand one, but the reality is it took place at a place "where Arabs would meet to scheme evil activities".

Ghiyathu'l lughat, by Ghiyath'd-Din, p 228 by Muhammad ibn Jalaladeen Rampuri Ghiyathu'din (Nawal Kishor Press, Lucknow, 1867)


The Saqifa meeting was given preference to burying the Prophet.

Umdahthul Qaree Volume 11 page 167 Bab Rajm
Saheeh al Bukharee, Sharh Kirmanee, Volume 23 page 219
Irshad al Saree Volume 10 page 35

All three contain the proud admission of Umar:

"By Allah, when matters that we were faced with following the death of the Prophet, namely his Ghusl, shrouding and funeral, we deemed the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr to be of greater importance"

Kanz al Ummal Volume 3 page 140, Bab Khala Fatha ma'al Amara:

"Urwa narrates that Abu Bakr and Umar were not present at the time of burial, the Prophet (s) was buried before they had returned"
Mull Ali Qari in Sharra Fiqa Akbar, p 175 (publishers Muhammad Saeed and son, Qur'an Muhall, Karachi ):

"the Sahaba viewed the appointment of the Imam as so important that they preferred it to attending the Prophet's funeral, because the Muslims need an Imam so that orders can be made on Jihad, and so that Islamic Laws can be implemented".


Prominent men were debating over the Prophet successor whilst his body was being laid to rest.

The events as described by the Hanafi scholar, Allamah Shibli Numani:
"It is apparently surprising that no sooner did the Prophet die than the struggle for Caliphate commenced and even the burial of the body of the Founder of Islam became a matter of secondary consideration in the quarrels that arose over the question of succession. Who can for a moment conceive the spectacle of the Prophet lying dead, while those who asserted their love and attachment towards him in his lifetime, without even waiting to look to his remains being suitably interred, were hurrying away to see that others did not secure the headship of the state for themselves!It is still more surprising that this act is attributed to the persons (Abu Bakr and Omar) who are the brightest stars of the Islamic firmament and the unpleasantness of the act becomes still more poignant when it is remembered that those persons who were connected with the Prophet by ties of blood and kinsmanship ('Ali and the Banu Hashim) were naturally affected by his death and the sad bereavement prostrated them with grief, which, coupled with their anxiety to perform the last offices to the dead, hardly left the room for ulterior considerations".

Al Farooq, by Allamah Shibli Numani, translated by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan Vol 1 p 85-86

Ibn Abbas states:

"(The body of the) Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, remained on the bier from Monday when the sun was declining, till Tuesday when the sun was declining. The people said funeral prayers over him when the body was on the bier close to (the site of) his grave. When they wanted to bury him, they moved it towards the site of his feet and then the body was placed inside and Al-Abbas Ibn Aal Muttalib, al Al Fadl Ibn Al Abbas, Qutham Al Abbas, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib and Shuqran having entered the grave".

Tabaqat by Ibn Sa'd,Volume 2 page 372 English translation by S.Moinul Haq, Kitab Bahavan publishers


The episode of Saqifa actually begins from the point that Rasulullah (s) died.

He had ordered companions join the expedition led by Usamah. They refused to go and lingered near Medina. Three key figures Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubaydah were participants in that expedition, and Sunni Imam Khandlawi adds that when returning to Medina:

"Usamah along with 'Umar and Abu 'Ubaidah (Radiallahu 'Anhum) returned to Madinah and went straight to the [residence of the] Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu 'alaihi was Sallam) who had passed away".

Hayatus Sahaba, by Maulana Khandlawi, translated by Majid Ali Khan, Volume 1 p 541

Umar was seeking to deny the death of the Prophet:

"Some of the hypocrites allege that the Messenger of God is dead. By God, he is not dead but has gone to his Lord as Moses b. Imran went and remained hidden from his people for forty days. Moses returned after it was said that he had died. By God, the Messenger of God will [also] return and will cut off the hands and feet of those who allege that he is dead".

The history of al-Tabari, Volume 9 p 184

Hadhrath Abu Bakr went in to the house and kissed the Prophet (saaws)'s forehead, and said said:

"If anyone amongst you used to worship Muhummud (saws) then Muhummud is dead but (if any one of) you used to worship Allah then Allah is alive and shall never die. Allah (swt) said: -

'Muhummud is no more than an Apostle, and indeed (many) apostles have passed away before him...(till the end of the verse)...Allah will reward to those who are thankful'. (3:144)".

1. Sahih al Bukhari, Volume 5 hadith number 733
2. The history of al-Tabari, Volume 9 p 185 - 186


Hadhrath Ali (as) was at the time to quote Shahrastani:

"...occupied in carrying out what the Prophet had ordered him to do, that is, to prepare him for burial, perform the burial itself, and remain by his grave, without entering upon any dispute or argument".

Al Mihal al Nahal, by Allamah Muhuummud b. Add'al Karim Shahrastani, page 19 - English translation by A.K.Kazi and J.G.Flynn (publishers Kegan Paul International, First Edition 1984)


Hadhrath Umar receives information that the Ansar have gathered at the Saqifa:

"It is related by Omar that as they were seated in the Prophet's house a man cried out all of a sudden from outside: 'O son of Khattab (Omar" pray step out for a moment'. Omar told him to leave them alone and go away as they were busy in making arrangements for the burial of the Prophet. The man replied that an incident had occurred i.e., the Ansar were gathering in force in the Thaqifah Bani Sa'idah and, as the situation was grave, it was necessary that he (Omar) should go and look in to the matter lest the Ansar should do something which would lead to a war. On this Omar said to Abu Bakr, 'Let us go'.

Al Faruq, by Allamah Shibli Numani, Vol 1 p 87

The modern Sunni scholar Dr Rahim in his simplified analysis of history writes:

"Being informed of the proceedings of the Ansars, Abu Bakr Umar and Abu Ubaidah hastened to the meeting place and were there just in time to interrupt the finalization of the Ansars choice of Sa'd ibn Ubaidah to the successorship of the Prophet. Ali was at that time busy in preparing the coffin of the Prophet, and did not know anything about the meeting of the Ansars to elect a successor".

A Short history of Islam, by Dr Rahim, page 57, printed Ishaquia Press, Karachi


Discussions at Saqifa

"Umar said: When I saw that they wanted to cut us from our root and wrest authority from us, I wanted to make a speech, which I had composed in my mind. As I used to treat Abu Bakr with gentle courtesy to some extent and considered him more sober and gentler than me I conferred with him about the speech. When I wanted to speak he said gently so I did not like to disobey him...He said 'Now then: O men of the Ansar, you deserve all the fine qualities that you have mentioned about yourselves, but the Quraysh, for they represent the best in lineage and standing. I am pleased to offer you one of these two men; render your oath of allegiance to any one of them you like. Thus saying he took hold of my hand and that of Abu Ubaydah b. al-Jarrah".

The history of al Tabari, Volume 9 page 193, English translation by Ismail Poonawalla

Poonawalla, the translator of this edition of al-Tabari then adds a further segment of the speech of Hadhrath Abu Bakr to the Ansar, under footnote 1343:

"Baladhuri, Ansab 1, 582, cites the speech of Abu Bakr which shows how he argued against the Ansar. He states: "We are the first people to accept Islam. We are in the Center among the Muslims with respect to our position, and we are the noblest with respect to our lineage, and we are the nearest to the Messenger of God in relationship. You are our brethren in Islam and our partners in religion...The Arabs will not submit themselves except to this clan of Quraysh...You had not better compete with your Muhajirun brethren for what God has decreed for them".

The history of al Tabari, Volume 9 page 193, footnote 1343, English translation by Ismail Poonawalla

In extolling the virtues of the Muhajireen, Hadhrath Abu Bakr also said that they were:

"the first on earth to worship Allah and were the patrons and the clan of the Prophet who tolerated and suffered with him and adversities and injuries inflicted upon them by their own folk who disbelieved them and all other people opposed them and alienated them".

Tarikh al Tabari Vol 3, p 219 quoted from 'On the political system of the Islamic State' by Muhammad S. El-Awa, p 30

Halabi further expands on Hadhrath Abu Bakrs' words:

"We are the relatives of the Apostle...and therefore we are the people who are entitled to the caliphate...It will be advisable to have the leadership among us and for you to be the Viziers".

Sirah, by al Halabi,Volume 3 page 357

While Hadhrath Abu Bakr had put forward the names of Hadhrath Umar and Abu Ubaydah as his choice of successors, they declined, this is what their reply was, as is quoted by the Sunni historian Yaqubi:

"By God we cannot give preference over you while you are the companion of the Messenger of God and the second of the two [in the cave at the time of the Hijrah]". Abu Ubaydah put his hand on Abu Bakr's hand and Umar did the same [in ratifying the bargain]. The Meccans who were with them did the same. Then Abu Ubaydah cried "O people of the Ansar, you were the first to help [the Prophet] so do not be the first to change and convert back to paganism". Next Abd al-Rahman b. Awf stood up and said, 'O people of the Ansar, although you do not have among you [anyone] like Abu Bakr, Umar and Ali'. [Thereupon] Mundhir b. al-Aqram stood up saying, 'We do not deny the merits of those you have mentioned. Indeed there is among you a person with whom if he seeks authority, none will dispute [i.e. Ali]".

Tarikh, by al Yaqubi, Volume 2 page 113-114, quoted from History of Tabari, Volume 9 English translation by Ismail Poonawalla p 193 - 194

What happens next is a proposed compromise by Hubab i.e. that there be two Khalifa, one from the Ansar the other from the Quraysh 1 Hadhrath Umar immediately rejected the proposal:

History of Tabari, English translation, Volume 9 p 194

"How preposterous! Two swords cannot be accommodated in one sheath. By God the Arabs will never accept your rule since their Prophet is not from you, but they will not reject the rule of one from whom is their Prophet. If anyone refuses our authority, we will [produce] a clear rebuttal and an evident proof. Who would dispute us with regard to Muhammad's authority and rule except the falsely guided one, or the erring one, or the one damned when we are his close associates and kinsfolk".

History of Tabari, English translation, p 194 see footnote 1347 quoted Tabari Vol 1 p 1841

What we now present to you are Hadhrath Umar's own commentary of what went on following his rejection of Hubab's proposal, he is narrating this event to the people during his period as Khalifa:

"Voices rose and clamorous speech waxed hotter. I feared [total] disagreement so I said to Abu Bakr, 'Stretch out your hand so that I may give you the oath of allegiance'. He did so and I gave [him] the oath of allegiance; the Muhajirun followed and then the Ansar. [In so doing] we jumped on Sa'd b. Ubadah so someone said that we had killed him. I said, '[May] God kill him! By God, nothing was mightier than the rendering of the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr. We feared that if [we] left [without rendering the oath of allegiance], no agreement would be hammered out later. It was either to follow the Ansar in what we did not like, or else to oppose them, which would have led to disorder (fasad)".

History of Tabari, English translation, Volume 9 p 194

What Hadhrath Umar seems to have forgotten when recollecting the event is the fact that not all those present in the Saqifa gave Bayya to Hadhrath Abu Bakr, and they were adamant that their loyalties lay with another man:

"Umar stood up saying, "Who among you would be agreeable to leave Abu Bakr whom the Prophet gave precedence?" and he gave him the oath of allegiance. The people followed [Umar]. The Ansar said, or some of them said "We will not give the oath of allegiance [to anyone] except Ali".

History of Tabari, English translation, Volume 9 p 186


Hadhrath Umar made this confession during his own Khilafath.
This is what we find in Tabari, Ibne Abbas narrates:

"While I was waiting in a station (manzil) in Mina, Abd-al Rahman bin Awf came to me saying came to me saying, "Today I saw a man who came to the Commander of the Faithful (i.e. Umar) and said I have heard so and so saying: If the Commander of the Faithful is dead I would give my oath of allegiance to so and so. The Commander of the Faithful said that he would get up among the people that evening and warn them against the group of the Faithful who want to usurp power".

The History of Tabari, Volume 9, The Last Years of the Prophet, translated by Ismail Poonawalla, p191-192

Tabari then goes on to record the momentous speech given by Hadhrath Umar in a famous tradition:

"It has reached me that someone of you said 'If the Commander of the Faithful is dead, I will give the oath of allegiance to so and so'. Let a man not deceive himself by saying that the oath of allegiance given to Abu Bakr was an event that happened without consultation (faltah). Admittedly it was so, but God averted it's evil".

The History of Tabari, Volume 9, The Last Years of the Prophet, translated by Ismail Poonawalla, p193

al Bukhari also records Hadhrath Umar's sermon in similar wording, and this addition:

"I have been informed that a speaker among you says, By Allah if 'Umar should die, I will give the pledge of allegiance to such and such person'. One should not deceive oneself by saying that the Pledge of allegiance given to 'Abu Bakr was given suddenly and it was successful. No doubt, it was like that, but Allah saved (the people) from its evil, and there is none among you who has the qualities of 'Abu Bakr. Remember that whoever gives the Pledge of allegiance to anybody among you without consulting the other Muslims, neither that person, nor the person to whom the Pledge of allegiance was given are to be supported, lest they both should be killed".

Sahih al Bukhari, Arabic-English Volume 8 hadith number 817, page 540


Poonawalla in his translation of this edition of Tabari writes in footnote 1308 relating to Hadhrath Umar's speech as follows:

"According to Baladhuri, Ansab I, 581, this was Zubayr, and the person whom he wanted to hail as caliph was 'Ali. Ibn Abi al-Hadid, on the other hand reports that the person who said it, according to al-Jahiz, was Ammar b. Yasir or, according to ahl al hadith, Talha; but the person they wanted to hail as caliph was 'Ali. It was thus Ali's name that made 'Umar disturbed and caused him to deliver a fiery speech".

The History of Tabari, Volume 9, The Last Years of the Prophet, translated by Ismail Poonawalla, p189, footnote 1308


Quraysh resented the Banu Hashim.

Mu'awiya admits that Imam Ali's rights were indeed snatched.

"We and your father used during the lifetime of the Prophet used to consider the right of Ibn Abi Talib binding upon us, and his excellence was well above ours. Despite this when Allah chose for the Prophet what he had in store for him?He took him to Himself. Then your father and his Faruq were the first to snatch it and oppose him, they both worked together on this?If it was injustice, then your father founded it and we are his partners. We followed his guidance and imitated his action".

Waq'at Siffin by Minqari p118-120 (Cairo edition 1962); Ansab al Ashraf by Baladhuri Volume 2 page 393-397 (Beirut edition 1974); Masudi Muruj ud Dhuhab Vol 3 page 197 - 201 (Beirut 1969 edition)

Hadhrath Umar sought to justify the position that the people disliked the Prophethood and caliphate to run through the same family.

Abdullah ibne Abbas narrates that Hadhrath Umar asked:

"..Ibn Abbas! What prevented 'Ali from coming with us?' I replied, 'I do not know'. He continued, 'Ibn Abbas your father is the paternal uncle of the Messenger of God. You are his cousin. What has prevented your people from putting you [in authority]?' I replied that I did not know. He continued 'But I do know, they do not like you being put in charge of them'. I said 'Why, when we are good to them?' Umar replied O God [grant] forgiveness. They do not like you to combine Prophethood and the caliphate among yourselves, less it bring about self-aggrandizement and pride. You will perhaps say, 'Abu Bakr did this'. No indeed, but Abu Bakr did the most resolute thing he could. If he had made (the caliphate) yours, he would not have benefited you despite your close ties of relationship [to the Prophet]".

The History of Tabari, Volume 14, English translation, by G. Rex Smith, p136-137

Al Tabari records a further, more heated discussion between the two individuals; again the narrator is Abdullah ibne Abbas:

"(Umar) said, "Do you know, Ibn Abbas, what kept your people from [being put] over (Quraysh) after Muhammad's death". I did not want to answer, so I said, "If I do not know then the Commander of the Faithful will tell me". Umar said, "They were unwilling for you to combine the Prophethood and the caliphate, lest you magnify yourselves among your own people and be proud. Quraysh made the choice for themselves; they were right and have been granted success". I said, Commander of the Faithful, if you permit me and not get angry with me, I shall speak". He allowed me to do so, so I said "As for you saying, Commander of the Faithful, that Quraysh have made their choice for themselves and that they were right and have been granted success, if Quraysh had made the same choice for themselves as God did for them, then right would be theirs, unrejected and unenvied. As for your saying that (Quraysh) were averse to the Prophethood and caliphate being ours, God has described one people as being averse and said, "This is because they were averse to what God revealed, so He made their works fruitless'". 'Umar said, "Far from it indeed, Ibn Abbas. I used to hear things about you of which I was reluctant to inquire, lest they bring about your removal from your position with me". I said, "What are they Commander of the Faithful If they are right, they should not [be such as to] remove me from my position with you; if they are false, then someone like me will remove the falsehood from himself". 'Umar said, "I have you saying they have turned (the caliphate) away from you out of envy and injustice". I replied, "When you say out of injustice, Commander of the Faithful, it has already become clear to the ignorant and the thoughtful alike; when you say out of envy, Iblis was envious of Adam, and we are his offspring who are envied". 'Umar said, "Far from it! You hearts Bani Hashim, have refused [to show anything] other than unchanging envy and increasing spite and malice". I replied, "Take it easy Commander of the Faithful; do not deceive the hearts of a people from whom God has removed uncleanness, and whom He has purified completely, as being envious and malicious. The heart of the Messenger of God is one of the hearts of the Banu Hashim".

The History of Tabari, Volume 14, English translation, by G. Rex Smith, p137-138



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