Old as some issues are in our socio-cultural life, they are not resolved as they are reduced to intellectual trivialities or reasoned clich├ęs. It is why two debating parties would continue to delve into ordained scripts to pluck verses in or out of context to justify a position without considering the trajectory of events surrounding the context, hence the development of a single or multiple impression, interpretation or perception regarding the text under reference or incident under discussion. This often makes our critique of issues run in circles and end within boxed ideologies. It also makes it difficult for us to appreciate and appropriate the “other” point of view since we hardly give consideration to the “circumstantial wisdom” that is normally found in all systems of beliefs or ideologies, which must have served a justifiable cause or end. This is why an interfaith debate such as that of a Muslim and a Christian, or intrafaith, like that of a Shiite and a Sunnite, may end as exercise in polemics than of a compromise given to reason of the necessity of the existence of one another for the benefit of all.
In a recent development in our social life the Shiites in Nigeria who are mainly of Ithna Ashriyayya (Twelvers) persuasion, the kind of Shiite creed in control of the socio-cultural life of the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran, introduced a marked day of celebration, 18th of Dhul Hijja lunar calendar, in the name of Ghadir Khum, as their counterparts elsewhere do, each passing year. Ghadir Khum literally translated as pond of Khum, is a location about 180 kilometers away from both Makka and Medina where the Prophet is said to have once delivered a long sermon to already a fatigued Muslim caravan, on a journey back to Medina after the farewell pilgrimage, Hajj al-wada’. This piece, as the title foretells, is an attempt to give an assessment of the after events of the death of Prophet of Islam in the light of what some scholars among the Sunnites and Shiites Muslims agree to be an authentic Hadith, The Hadith of Ghadir Khum (Note: Ibn Taimiyya takes exception to the Hadith) and to also make some postulation in search of a reasonable template on which debates among the two groups can make more meaning.
There is a wide gap of difference between the two groups regarding the content and the context of the Hadith in question, but trimming its details to the contentious textual reference point may help discussion, since both the two groups agree to the importance of Nass, which is simply defined as an unambiguous and explicit reference or declaration by Allah or His messenger on anything of interest. In this, it is found in the matn(text) of the Hadith this clear reference, "Of whomsoever I am the mawla, Ali is his mawla". And it is with this that Shiite scholars of the Twelvers conclude – among some who don’t, like Sharif Murtadha- that the Prophet actually named a successor, a Calipha before his demise. A position which his close companions, chief , who were, Abubakar, Umar, Abu Ubaidah Ibn al-Jarrah,, Othman Ibn Affan, Talha Ibn Ubaidillah, az-Zubair Ibn al-Awwam, Abdurrahman Ibn al-Auf and Sa’ad Ibn Abi Waqqas did not honor. S.H.M. Jafri, the Shiite author of one of the most comprehensive books written about Shiism, in English, this decade, The Origins and Early Development of Shi`a Islam, described these companions with anti-people power hungry bourgeois labels akin to those found in literatures of Marxist orientation. On the other hand the Sunnites believe it to be only an occasion out of many, like it, in which Ali was praised by the Prophet and identified with uprightness and sincerity, as he did to many others like Umar, who was once referred by the Prophet as the like of a Prophet if only there would be one after himself.
Maula is an Arabic word that means many synonyms in English: ‘Protector’, ‘supporter’, ‘master’, ‘lord’, ‘vicar’, guardian. In usage, Maula can mean, 'supporter', ‘slave’, ‘emancipated slave’, ‘helper’, ‘friend’, ‘loved one’ specific to the context in which it is used. But it is an unfortunate favor of history, as it’s said above, that the two groups do not share same context for the Hadith .This leaves discussants with the alternative of checking the attitude of the people involved with the Hadith and with particular emphasis to Ali Ibn Abi Talib on whose person the controversy is hinged. In this, Sunnites and some of the Twelver scholars are unanimous in their understanding that Ali Ibn Abi Talib did not see The Hadith of Ghadir Khum as his ordainment with the Caliphate. A knowledge which many Shiite Muslims in Nigeria may not have due to possibly the nature of scholarship in the Shiite world, which imposes a lot of requirements for knowledge expression and freedom of opinion formation among its adherents (will elaborate later).
In all the authentic reports recorded in Shiites books, none states clearly where Ali ever made reference to Hadith of Ghadir Khum as a nass confirming his ordainment as the Caliph after the Prophet. While both the Sunnites and the Shiites recorded him as having seen himself as most fit for the office, his often quoted sermon, Shaqshaqiyya, only referred to others as taking the office despite knowing him to be the fittest for it. Also the companions who supported his leadership against Abubakr immediately after the death of the Prophet, prominent among who were, according to S.H.M Jafri, Az-Zubayr b. al-`Awwam, Khalid b. Sa`id, Salman al-Farisi,Al-Miqdad b. 'Amr, Ammar b. Yasir, Abu Dharr b. Jundab al-Ghifari, Ubayy b. Ka'b, Al-Bara'a b. `Azib al-Ansari, Uthman b. Hunayf, Sahl b. Hunayf, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, Khuzayma b. Thabit, Hudhayfa b. al-Yaman, were never known to have attributed their position to any textual reference or Hadith of Ghadir Khum in particular. Their reasons for supporting Ali were his piety and closeness in kin with the Prophet. Others who preferred Abubakr were of the opinion that, in addition to his piety, blood relation must not serve as a criteria in the leadership of Muslim community since Islam in all its values represent a complete departure from the norms that confer merit on the basis of blood ties as they must not set a precedence on which blood ties may come to be very critical on choosing a Muslim community leader.
Also the fact that Ali himself and all the thirteen mentioned above soft pedaled on their position and later submitted to the leadership of Abubakr and subsequently Umar, confirm further that theirs’ were only perspectives not belief in the existence of a divine command that made them support Ali’s leadership. In the case of az-Zubair Ibn al-Awwam, twenty five years later he fought against Ali and on the side of Aishah during the famous battle of Camel after the assassination of Uthman. We should also know that Zubair was a maternal cousin to Ali and the Prophet himself.
Again, all the history books that captured the events that followed the death Umar, which saw Othman and Ali addressing the community of believers saddled with the duty of the selection of the next Muslim leader, did not quote Ali mentioning the Hadith of Ghadir Khum, with the hope of securing popular endorsement. But rather he spoke at length about his other virtues which he saw as necessary insights that qualify him for the tough job of leading the Muslim community then. It is interesting to know that according to Ahmad Alkatib in his extraordinary critical work, The Development of Shiite Political Thoughts from Consultation to the Guardianship of the Jurist-Consult, a Twelver Shiite scholar of the fifth century A.H, Sharif Murtadha, recorded in his book, Al-Shafi’, that Abbas bin Abd al-Muttalib spoke to Ali during the illness of the Prophet, so that he ask the Prophet, who will be in charge of affairs after him, and that if it is for his family he should reveal it and if it is for some other people, he entrust his family with the knowledge. Ali said, “We went to the Messenger of Allah when his illness became serious and we said O Messenger of Allah, choose a successor for us”, He said. “No, I fear that you will be divided regarding him, as the children of Israel became divided over Harun, but if Allah knows any goodness in you, He will choose for you (a leader)”. Still Murtadha maintained that Ali said the same when he was confronted by the community of believers to name his successor in the event of his attack by Abdurrahman Ibn Muljam and was obviously dying. When they insisted on Hassan, his son, he said: “I do not command, nor prevent you, you can discern better”.
The tradition of not naming a successor continued among the family of the Prophet as even the remaining Imams of the Twelver Shiites, as the authentic reports from Shiite books show have never had one endorsing the other for the leadership of the Muslim community of their times. Ranging from Hassan, Hussain, Ali Ibn Hussain, Muhammad Al-Baqir, Ja’afar Al-Sadiq, Musa Al-Kadhim, Ali al-Rida, Jawwad, Ali al-Hadi, Hassan Askari and the last Imam, Muhammad Ibn Hassan Al-Askari(his existence is put to serious doubt by scholars, a topic for another day). In fact it is lack of such clear endorsement from one Imam to the other that created Isma’iliyyah sect immediately after the demise of Ja’afar al-Sadiq, with the claim that Isma’il, his dead eldest son only went into occultation to return at the end of the world as Mahdi.
Why in spite of all these we still have Shiites celebrating Ghadir Khum across the globe? The answer as it is said above is rooted in the issues surrounding the intellectual development of Shiism. This especially when it is considered that the first books that formed the pillar of Shiism in its intellectual history were written some 300 - 460 years after Hijra, Kutubul Arba,’(the four books). That was after the last Imam have purportedly gone into occultation and the Shiites were lost on how to live without leadership. They are Al-Kafi,(Usul, Furu’ and Raudah), Man La Yahduruhu Al-Faqih by Kulayni and Saduq, respectively, Tahdhibal Ahkam and Istisbar both by Tusi. That was when the major books by Sunni Scholars including Arrisalah, by Al-Shafi’ on principle of jurisprudence were long written with some like Muwatta by Malik, almost 200 years older than Al-Kafi. The effect of this is the increase in the margin of error in Shiite literature as according to some Shiite scholars of Usooli(fundamentalists) orientation, out of the 11,156 Hadith recorded in Al-Kafi, 9,485 are adjudged to have been fabricated. In the book are Hadith of various shades with some of disparaging remarks and attribution of disbelief to the companions of the Holy Prophet; Tahrif al-Qur’an, the claim that Qur’an has been changed to accommodate views that are not originally there; attribution of disbelief to any who do not follow Shiite ways; ascription of infallibility to the Shiites Imams and their ordainment with the exclusive right to lead humankind. Shiites of Akbaari(extremists) orientation still keep and uphold the virtues of these Hadith.
The processes of collecting the Hadith in these books, according to the Usoolis, did not reflect any effort to screen and establish their authenticity mostly because science of Hadith was foreign to the Shiites of those eras. When they started studying it they insisted that each Hadith in these books must be screened on its own to establish its authenticity. Even then, there has not been an effort to publish a version of each of the books with a set of authentic reports according to the criteria of science of Hadith of any value. A Mujtahid, scholar with the right of an opinion according to Shiite scholarly categorization, Dr. Musa Al-Musawi, in his critical work, al-Shia wa- ltashih: Al-Sira’ baynal Shi’a wal Tashayyu’, blamed the generality of Shiite scholars for not publishing revised editions of these books citing how Ayatollah Tabatabai Al-Barujerdi once initiated a project of revising another book, Bihar al-Anwar by Al-Majlisi, a Shiite Safavid scholar of 17th century, only for the project to be abandoned after his death.
Add to this is the existence of Shiites literature, Mu‘jam Rijal al-Hadith, by al-Khu’I and Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal by al-Kashshi, where most of the Hadith reporters relied on by the four books under discussion, Zurara Ibn A’yun, Muhammad ibn Muslim, Abu Basir al-Muradi, al-Mufaddal ibn ‘Umar, were cursed by Shiites Imams, Muhammad Baqir or Ja’afar Sadiq. S.H.M Jafri, in his aforesaid book, tried to shield and drop these curses by claims of the practice of Taqiyya(dissimulation) on the part of the Imams with the sole purpose of protecting their “cursed” students from the tyrannical leadership of their times. An argument which can hardly pass, because the attribution of Taqiyya(dissimulation) to the Imams cannot avail a dispassionate observer with a logical and rounded criteria of checking the validity of any text attributed to an Imam. This has been a source of concern even among members of Shiite communities as knowledge and opinion expression has been the exclusive preserve of a very few people who are tagged with the epitome of scholarship in the Hauzah (religious schools) in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and Pakistan, since they are the only ones, seen with the mysterious insight into what can constitute what is right or wrong. Dr. Musa al-Musawi in the aforementioned work, recalled how an Ayatollah ( his name not mentioned) in the Islamic Republic of Iran once publically said that Fatima after the demise of the Prophet of Islam have continued receiving revelation in place of the Prophet and not a single voice even from the high scholars contradicted him. The issues in the intellectual development of the Shiites make it difficult to engage Shiite scholars on the basis of the reports in their books for they can easily say a quoted Hadith is not authentic if it doesn’t serve their interest in an ongoing discussion as their quotes from Sunnites sources are interpreted only by all implications not explications, and sometimes with utter disregard to the context and the history surrounding the elements of the quotes.
It seems for a reasonable debating template to be obtained with the Shiites on socio- religious discourses there is the need for review of all their primary sources of inspiration and present to the world a relatively closed set of reference materials that give a semblance of uniformity of substance. While in Al-Kafi and according to the Usoolis, only two third of the Hadith collected are fabricated, Ahmad Al-Katib in his in depth scholarship and scrutiny thinks 90% of them are fabricated. Renner Brunner a German scholar with specialty in Twelvers Shiite Islam, believes most of their modern practices, spiritual and temporal including the Iranian political ideology rely more on what the famous Egyptologist, Jan Assmann developed and conceptualized as cultural memory, sustained by centuries of practices built around many unverified collected Hadith that in point even falsify the authenticity of the Qur’an. It is from such adherence that the Ghadir Khum celebrations each year survived to be entrenched on the Nigerian soil.
Ibraheem A. Waziri, Software Development Unit, IACC, ABU, Zaria