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Saqifa Bani Sa'idah

Saqifa is one of the most dramatic events in Islamic History that ultimately led to a victorious Abu Bakr attaining the station of Khalifa following the death of the Prophet(saww).  The episode actually begins from the point that Rasulullah(saww) died, upon receiving news of the Prophet (saws)'s death the companions who were ordered by the Prophet(saww) to join the expedition led by Usamah returned to Madinah. Three key figures Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubaydah were participants in this aborted 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

(a) Hadhrath Umar receives information that the Ansar have gathered at the Saqifa
Numani identifies the fact that Hadhrath Umar had personal receipt about a meeting the Ansar were involved in. This was not general information available to all the Sahaba, this was information given privately to Hadhrath Umar:

"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) please 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

They set out to go to the Saqifa on the way we read that Abu Ubaydah joins them. He did not leave with them from the Prophet’s(saaws) residence so we presume that he must have met them at a specific place. On route two companions whom Hadhrath Umar recounts as "pious fellows" seek to discourage them from proceeding further. They reject the plea and make their way to the Saqifa.
 1. The history of al Tabari, Volume 9 page 188, English translation by Ismail Poonawalla
 2. The history of al Tabari, Volume 9 page 192, English translation by Ismail Poonawalla

(b) Discussions at Saqifa 
The meeting at Saqifa was a gathering of the Ansar, Hadhrath Abu Bakr, Hadhrath Umar and Abu Ubaydah were the only members of the Muhajireen who attended the meeting. Upon arrival at the Saqifa one of the Ansar stood up and began to extol the virtues of the Ansar. Upon hearing this:
 1. The history of al Tabari, Volume 9 page 186, English translation by Ismail Poonawalla
 2. The history of al Tabari, Volume 9 page 193, English translation by Ismail Poonawalla

"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 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. Hadhrath Umar immediately rejected the proposal:
"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
Those debating at Saqifa were the Ansar (vast bulk of the tribe) and what historians have incorrectly quoted the Muhajireen. The Sunni group Idara Isha'at e diniyat (P) Ltd. undoubtedly fully aware of the true facts seek to convince their readership that a free and frank debate involving all the companions occurred, they write:

"After the demise of Rasulullah Sallallahu alahi wa sallam all the prominent Sahaba Radhialllahu anhum gathered at a place called the Saqifa Bani Saad".
 Aqaaidul Islam, by Idara Isha'at e diniyat, English translation by Moulana Zahier Ahmad Ragie, published by Idara Isha'at e diniyat, page 127

What one should ask this group is 'why were only three prominent companions from the Muhajireen present at Saqifa? Were men such as Hadhrath Ali and the other members of Banu Hashim, Hadhrath Uthman, Talha, Zubair, Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas not prominent?

The modern day Sunni scholar El Awa manages to clarify this incorrect approach as follows:

"To consider the Muhajirin as party is incorrect because those of the Muhajirin who attended the Saqifa meeting were Abu Bakr, Umar b. Al Khattab, and Abu 'Ubaida b. al-Jarrah. The Muhajirin had not delegated them any authority nor did they represent any specific political group connected with them".
 On the political system of the Islamic State, by Muhammad S. El Awa page 32 (American Trust Publications, Indiana)

(c) No mention of the Qur'an, Sunnah, ijma or qiyas at the Saqifa 

In the eyes of the Wahabies "The sources for the creed ('aqeedah) are: The Book of Allah, the authentic Sunnah of his Messenger sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam and the consensus (ijma) of the Pious Predecessors" 1. In addition to this, the four Ahl'ul Sunna Imams have added the principle of Qiyas (analogical reasoning). Curiously the debate at Saqifa was devoid of all four principles, why is that? We believe that everything is contained with Allah (swt)'s book. As it was Hadhrath Umar himself who had said just days earlier "the Qur'an is sufficient for us" then why did he not plead to the parties to turn to the Book of Allah (swt) and reach a conclusion in light of Allah (swt)'s commands?
 General Precepts of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah, by Shaykh Naasir al-Aql, English translation by Abu 'Aaliyah Surkheel ibn Anwar Sharif, page 13 (Message of Islam First edition, 1999)

The Sunnah was also not used or suggested, comments on tribal superiority were given precedence, nothing else. Ijma (consensus of the companions) a pivotal part if Islamic jurisprudence in the eyes of the Ahl'ul Sunnah was not even entertained. Hadhrath Abu Bakr and Hadhrath Umar did not seek the counsel of the other companions as to whether / or not they should proceed to the Saqifa and discuss the issue of succession. Why did these two prominent companions take it upon themselves to go to the Saqifa? Why did they ignore the principle of ijma?

(d) The Saqifa meeting was given preference to the Prophet (saaws)'s funeral
This is an attested fact. These prominent men were debating over the Prophet (saaws) successor whilst his body was being laid to rest. Is this not truly amazing? Allah (swt) sent 124,000 Prophet's to guide mankind. Is there any evidence that when these Prophets' died; their companions failed to attend their funerals, and instead chose to participate in the selection of their immediate successors? If no such precedent exists then why did the Seal of Prophet (saaws)'s companions adopt this approach?

It is common for a person to become the subject of stern condemnation and ridicule of he fails to attend a friend or relatives funeral. It can lead to friendships ending and families becoming divided because we will all die one day and it is expected that those closely linked to the deceased will attend. Relatives frequently fly thousands of miles to reach a deceased loved one's funeral. Compare this to men who were close associates of the Holy Prophet (saaws). Rather than remain close to him and participate in his funeral they departed from the very room where his body was laid to rest, entered the debate at Saqifa, never looking back, never asking for proceedings to be delayed until after the funeral, they preferred the lengthy discussion of who will lead the Ummah than the funeral of the Leader of mankind. We would ask our readers to spare some time to these points. Lest there remain any doubt over the events as described by us we will shall quote the words of 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

If any doubt remains with regards to the non attendance of Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubaydah at the funeral of the Prophet (s), then allow us cite the following Sunni commentaries of Saheeh al Bukharee:

  1. Umdahthul Qaree Volume 11 page 167 Bab Rajm
  2. Saheeh al Bukharee, Sharh Kirmanee, Volume 23 page 219
  3. 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"

Can there not be anything clearer than Umar's own admission? If Nasabi still wish to deny it, then allow us to round up the matter with a narration from 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"

Rather than feel ashamed at this fact, The Ahl'ul Sunnah Ulema feel proud at the actions of their leaders, Mull Ali Qari in Sharra Fiqa Akbar, p 175 (publishers Muhammad Saeed and son, Qur'an Muhall, Karachi ) as follows in his discussion on Imamate

"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".


(e) Conclusion 

The contention that Sunni Islam believes in a democratic system of Caliphate has no bearing on reality. Democratic election never took place at the Saqifa, the whole Ummah did not vote on the issue. More importantly to describe the concept of khilafth as democratic if kufr, the famous Gettysburg address had described democracy as "The Government of the people, appointed by the people for the people". This is contrary to Islamic Sharia, which is based on the fact that sovereignty belongs to Allah (swt) not the people. It is like confusing democracy with the concept of shura (consultation) of the entire community, then this likewise did not occur Hadhrath Umar was not voted by the Muslim Ummah, Hadhrath Abu Bakr nominated him. Hadhrath Uthman was voted by a committee of six men not the Muslim public at large. Mu'awiya took the reigns by force not through election. Similarly the Banu Ummayya rule that followed had no democratic system of Caliphate rather we had what the late Wahabie scholar Maudoodi describes as 'Mulukiyat' (Kingdom) where there was hereditary succession.

The point made is that the meeting at the Saqifa was haram, undoubtedly haram since the priority incumbent by the ordinances of Islam are to bury the dead as fast as possible. This is the Seal of all Prophets!

The second point made is that the Saqifa was a shameful meeting as it was occurring while the Seal of Prophets was being buried.

The third point is that the Holy Prophet would not leave the Muslims in such a dilemma - one that the authors would have us believe took the Muslims to the level of committing a sin - he left a successor.

The fourth point made is that what gave the companions the right to appoint a Khalifa when that was not their prerogative, and still more since the man who was Allah's Khalifa was duped and was not kept informed while he shouldered the burden of burying the Holy Prophet?

The excuse is that the opinion of the companion overrides the Qur'an and the Sunnah since Ijma'a (of a handful of Muhajirs) is given as the excuse. But Ijma'a came after the Qur'an and Muhammad (saws). And Ijma'a is a belief of the followers of the institution, and we the Shi'i who follow the family can here point out that the Qur'an and Sunnah override Ijma'a when the opinion of the companions overrides the Qur'an. It is clear that this concept was developed by the followers of the companions after analyzing history. At no point did the companions say that the Khilafath of Hadhrath Abu Bakr came about via ijma. On the contrary as we have stated earlier Hadhrath Umar had stated that it was a mistake, no consultation took place, meaning the ijma of the companions was not sought.