First of all, the criteria by which we investigate history is completely different from the legal methodology in the eyes of the intellectuals and academically. History is all about collecting the data.
Some have raised the argument that since those who attacked Lady Fatima (peace be upon her) before were known as bad people, so we don’t need to raise the issue of this event.
We agree that these people and events should not be mentioned in an abusive or insulting way, but if there is a need to mention these events, then it needs to be addressed in an academic form with evidences and proofs, because some of these companions narrated traditions from the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family). In the procedure of authenticating a tradition, it is very important to mention such incidences for the academic purpose to know if the traditions are reliable or not.
Whenever the discussion happens from the newcomers of Islam, always the question rises, which method should be taken – the method of Companions or the method of the Household of the Prophet? What is the difference between the Shias and the Sunnis? It becomes important to put the history and the facts on the table, so that the newcomer to Islam is given an opportunity to investigate, verify and choose the path that satisfies him/her.
The coming generation also asks the questions about the history of Shias and Sunnis. Why Shias and why Sunnis? When did this happen historically?
It is necessary to inform these people without creating any kind of sensitivity against other Muslims. The emphasis should be made that, no matter how displeasing the historical record, in the end we are all brothers and sisters in Islam, and we need to respect each other regardless of what the historical background reflects. Though there are Sunnis who have great respect for certain people who have committed very serious mistakes and have not shown any signs of repentance, which we openly disagree with, we have complete respect for our brothers and sisters and have love for them.
Some people say that narrating the event of Lady Fatima’s death serves no purpose and has no relevance in this day and age. What is the point of reciting such an event?
This teaches us a beautiful lesson of unity through our Imam Ali (peace be upon him) – when there is a larger external danger, then our internal community disagreements should be put aside until the greater threat is removed. But the questions arise: can the Companions of the prophet do such a thing? Those who were around him all the time, could they do such a thing?
The Muslims in both schools of thought agree that the Companions of the Prophet were certainly not infallible. That means that they could make mistakes and commit errors. Many errors have been recorded in history by several companions of the Prophet, even by some of his wives. Some of these errors have been compiled by Sayed Abdul Hussain Sharfuddin in his three books, starting from an-Nass wal Ijtihad, al-Muraja’at, and al-Fusul al-Muhima. He compiled many incidents from the books of the Sunni companions. Tabari and Ibn Qutayba, who are Sunni historians, mentioned this event as well. And not just that, but Sahih Bukhari indicates that there was a severe tension between Sayyida Fatima and a few people who accompanied the Prophet.
Some people have argued that the evidences from the traditions for this evidence are weak and not worthy of much discussion.
First of all, the criteria by which we investigate history is completely different from the legal methodology in the eyes of the intellectuals and academically. History is all about collecting the data. In Islamic history, the collection of historical data requires some sort of authentication. If it was true that we have to rely upon chains of narrations for history, none of the Islamic or non-Islamic history could be proven. We would hardly know anything about recent and ancient figures such Abraham Lincoln, Salahuddin Ayyubi, Gamal Abdul Nasser or Khalid bin Walid.
What happened with Lady Fatima is not just mentioned by Shia historians but Sunni historians also. That is a serious issue, because she had a forgiving nature just like her father and was known for her lofty character and high level of morality and had a very gentle personality, almost never allowing herself to be angry with others. Now, if such a person was upset from these companions, that means that these companions committed unforgivable and unjust acts.
So what are the events of what happened with Lady Fatima and these companions?
Fatima is the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet of Islam lived in the Arab community for 63 years of his life. For years before he began to preach, people knew him as trustworthy. The trust somehow began to change after he propagated Islam. Many elites from the idol worshipers felt threatened by Islam. People began to convert to Islam in groups until the time came that the whole Muslim community used to benefit from the light of knowledge, spirituality, and religion, and the Prophet kept bestowing his favors upon his nation day after day, month after month, year after year. The irony is that many people who seek for power and kingdom forget who helped them.
After the Prophet died, the Muslim history indicates that many of the companions began to seek power. And based on the authentic traditions, Imam Ali was appointed by the Prophet to lead the Muslim community. But those people who were seeking for power were able to convince many of the companions to overthrow the appointed successor of the Prophet and take over the charge of the political leadership.
When this happened, Imam Ali was one of the obvious companions and relatives of the Prophet opposing the government. Therefore, a sensitivity was created between the leading government with the opposition party which was lead by Imam Ali and the Hashimites and a group of companions who were in the minority. Although it was very difficult and he did oppose the government that came to power after the Prophet, Imam Ali, preferring the benefit of the Muslim society and Islam, chose not to go beyond verbal opposition. If he chose to fight with the few on his side, his loss from society would have been a loss for the community, which would cause greater problems. He did so to keep the bloodshed away and to preserve the Muslim unity due to the various threats surrounding the Muslim society in that time, not to mention the invasion of the Roman army and their occupation of territories on the Arabian peninsula. The Romans were aiming to attack Medina, the capital of Islam of the time, and a Muslim civil war would have been disastrous. But the government wanted more than Imam Ali’s silence. They wanted Imam Ali to offer his pledge of allegiance to the political leadership of the time.
The government ended up taking the wealth and resources from Imam Ali and Fatima Zahra in the form of the enormous garden of Fadak, which had great economical value which could support Imam Ali’s political campaign economically. It was that great. After that was confiscated by the government, they finally approached the house of Imam Ali and Lady Fatima to force Imam Ali to pledge them allegiance.
The history emphasizes from both schools of thought, Shias and Sunnis, that Fatima – the daughter of the Prophet – refused to open the door. Willing puppets insisted on breaking the door and raiding the house of the daughter of the Prophet. That house, which even the Prophet, being the father of Fatima, never entered without her giving permission, was now rudely entered, by a series of events recorded by historians.
Some of the details vary, but all the events sum up into brutally hurting and injuring the daughter of the Prophet – the sum is that the daughter of the Prophet was hurt by the door being rammed upon her and she was squeezed between the door and the wall. She screamed asking God’s refuge. In a matter of seconds, after barging in the house, Imam Ali was surround by such companions, tied, and taken. They took him, leaving the daughter of the Prophet in pain, injury, and hurtful situation. That is briefly what happened to the Lady of Light, Fatima Zahra.
Imam Ali clearly mentions in Nahjul Balagha that he had two options: either to fight or to have patience. And he chose to observe patience and avoid any kind of bloodshed, clashes, or civil war, due to the reasons previously that the invasion of the Roman Empire on the Islamic community was a greater threat.
Do you think that the notion of Muslim unity requires we not mention this incident as doing so would cause disunity, a disunity which opponents of the Muslim community might take advantage of?
As you know, I have worked with non-Muslims and our Sunni brothers in several projects, and we keep our differences aside. They know that I have some criticisms on some of the companions of the Prophet, and they might disagree with me, but they also know that I have full respect for them and the willingness to work with them on various projects which could reflect the strength of our Islamic unity and is better for all of us. And as I always say, we can agree to disagree on some things. So I ask Allah to give every human being the willingness and tolerance to embrace each other with our differences, no matter how big or small they are.
Shaikh Safdar Razi is an instructor with the Alqaem Institute, which offers seminary-level classes to students in Michigan as well as through the Internet.
This article originally appeared in a previous issue of Islamic Insights.