The reluctance of those pure souls (the Companions) and the other great personalities – who in the beginning did not give the oath of allegiance; however, later on (as some people mention) did give the oath of allegiance – and also the large number of people who, in those specific and particular conditions gave the oath of allegiance in a particular way (as has been mentioned in history) is also neither confirmed nor established.
With his sword drawn out of the sheath and with the help and support of his gang, Umar roamed the streets of Medina threatening the people with death and forced them to give their oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr.
Please note the following points:
1. The belief of the Shia, who are of the People of the Text – through the utilization of the logical and related proofs – is this: the Imamate is a position that one is appointed into by Allah, and after the Prophet, that individual whose persona possesses all of the characteristics embodied in Islam except for Nubuwwah (prophethood) and who shares in the continuation of the same divine blessings of that personality (the Prophet) in all ways and forms is the one whose Wilayah (mastership) over all affairs of the society must be designated and appointed by Allah the Most High. The Commander of the Faithful, according to the countless texts (ahadith) and other proofs was the appointed caliph and the true Imam, and deviation from him to anyone else – even if all of the people are in agreement over that other person – is not permissible and is a case of: "Giving preference to one whom Allah has relegated low and leaving behind the one whom Allah has given preference to."
Just as the Prophet is not permitted to grant the station or position of prophethood to anyone else, so too the Imam is not permitted to grant the station or position of Divinely-appointed leadership to anyone else. Therefore, supposing that after Imam Ali was refused (the station of caliphate) and then later on, the oath of allegiance was taken from him, or this noble personality – due to events that came up later on (which will be mentioned ensuing) – was rendered helpless to pledge the oath of allegiance, then the true meaning and significance of this sort of oath of allegiance was not achieved by this (forced act), and the correctness of the actions of the other party is not accepted.
2. If the caliphate (of Abu Bakr) was based on the truth, then this would imply that the hesitance of Imam Ali and Sayyidah Zahra (peace be upon them) and a large number of people and revered companions was not proper and that they were not on the path of the truth.
It is known that there are definite and decisive narrations from the noble Prophet of Islam which state that Ali is on the Truth, and the Truth is with Ali, and these two will never separate from one another. Therefore, if someone says that Imam Ali was not with the truth in this event or did not speak the truth or did not act upon the truth, then he is belying the Prophet.
Thus it is with no uncertainty that we say that Imam Ali, in this event and all other events and circumstances, was always on the truth, and his refusal to give the oath of allegiance was also not the refusal to be on the truth; rather, his refusal was the denial of falsehood.
3. The refusal of Imam Ali and a group of others to give oath of allegiance to the caliphate from the point of view of history is not something that can be denied, and even one of the contemporary poets from Egypt who was known by the title of "Poet of the Nile" in his poems has also admitted this. The refusal (to give the oath of allegiance) was so commonly accepted and indisputable such that in one of the letters that he wrote to Imam Ali, Muawiyah has mentioned this fact and in reply, Ali did not deny that he had not given the oath of allegiance; rather, the rightfulness and legitimacy of his denial and refusal and the oppression that he faced is mentioned in his own words in this writing (to Muawiyah) when he wrote: "You also want to taunt me by saying that when I refused to accept the caliphate of the First Caliph, I was dragged like a camel with a rope round my neck, and every kind of cruelty and humiliation was leveled against me." (Nahj al-Balagha, letter 28)
To summarize our point, not only is there no room for doubt or skepticism that Imam Ali and the rest of the clan of Bani Hashim and a large number of the companions refused to give their oath of allegiance to the caliph, rather, their refusal was known and evident for all to see.
However, if it is claimed that after those harsh and coarse events that took place, Imam Ali and those who supported him gave their oath of allegiance and that their oath of allegiance was by way of their own inward pleasure and their pure heart and intention, then it is not possible to substantiate this (claim), since the hadith (of this event) is a single narration (khabar-e-wahid), and in the terminology of the science of hadith, it is doubtful (mashkuk). In this hadith, many contrasts and irregularities can also be seen, which this point in time is not the place for discussion. Anyway, we are not able to classify their oath of allegiance as an authentic oath of allegiance that would have any basis in the Islamic legislation.
At this point we mention some reasons that IF indeed this oath of allegiance did occur in history, then why it may have taken place.
1. It was seen (by Imam Ali) that to stand up to what had occurred (the events of Saqifah) would not be possible except by resorting to an armed struggle, which was not conceivable, since it would have resulted in an internal war between the Muslims. The condition and situation (that the Muslim Ummah was in) was such that very recently, through the pains and troubles of the Noble Prophet and through the assistance of Imam Ali and others, the seed of true faith and conviction in the Oneness of Allah had just been sown in the hearts of the believers, and an internal war would not have served the cause of Islam. It would be through this act that the very foundations of Islam would be put at in danger and would force the Muslims to stand up in ranks against one another, whose outcome or conclusion would never be reached.
It was Imam Ali who had helped the Prophet in the establishment of this foundation (of Islam). It was through his truthfulness and sincerity and by putting his life in his own hands and through his self-sacrifices at all places and all times from the very first day (that built the religion). His heart throbbed for this religion, and he saw that if the defense of his own self meant the desolation and annihilation of these foundations, then for sure he would choose to save Islam and try to maintain the unity of the Muslims in face of the opposition of the Kuffar and would give this precedence to the adjudication of the truth. This would allow Islam to progress and advance, even though such a progress would be slower and take much longer.
Allah forbid that the religion come to a complete standstill and the movement that the Prophet had brought forth with the help of the people should stop for even one moment (if a war would take place amongst the Muslims) just so the groundwork could be laid down for the advancement of the religion of Islam and in order for the mandate and establishment of the Wilayah and Caliphate of Ali to take root in the future, just as happened later on.
With the passing of time, the truthfulness of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and the blunders and mistakes of deviating from the (true) Imam that had been appointed was made apparent, and on their own, the people developed an attraction for the Noble Qur'an and the Ahlul Bayt and the true belief in the Imamate.
The opportunity also arose for the Ahlul Bayt to guide the people to the pure springs of Islam, the teachings of the religion, the exegesis of the Qur'an, and the true religion of Islam with all of its rules and regulations, political teachings, societal and ethical instructions, and guidelines. More important than all of this, the correct divine theological beliefs were conferred to the people.
However, if an internal war had taken place in Medina, then the corruption, deviation, sedition, and revolts that would have stemmed from this act would have put all things in danger of complete annihilation, and it was because of this reason that Imam Ali rejected the advice from Abu Sufyan for him paying oath of allegiance to Imam Ali, and considered this as an act that would initiate sedition and revolt.
2. The second reason for Imam Ali (hypothetically) giving oath of allegiance is that, just as can be deduced from a study of history, this noble personality had fear or concern for the life of himself and that of his family, and this fear or concern was something that Abbas, his uncle, was able to discern. It was his uncle who advocated him to pay the oath of allegiance, since if he was to be killed, then it would be Islam and the Muslims, who at that time were desperately in need of knowledge and enlightenment, who would have been in disadvantage and loss.
It was in such a circumstance in which it was not possible to have recourse in force and also one in which complete submission was also not in the best interest to deal with the situation that Imam Ali was very careful and critical (in how he dealt with the situation).
This noble personality, by choosing the path that he did, fulfilled a very heavy responsibility that was upon him; he exposed the truth, and at the same time, observed what was best for Islam in its entirety. His precious soul, which was ready to sacrifice its self in the path of Islam, was also protected, so that his blood would not have been shed uselessly simply to affirm the power of truth, and so that the fire of revolt, through which all things are scorched, would not be lit, and so that the opportunity (of Imamate and leadership of the community) whose acquisition was expected in the future would not go away.
In summary, Imam Ali acted according to the testament that was left by the Prophet and did not even cringe in carrying out the will by the amount of the head of a needle. The arena or environment that would cause the feelings or emotions of any brave, courageous, powerful person to be stirred or stimulated were all witnessed; however, he did not perform any act that he should not have performed, nor did he utter any words that should not have been issued. He acted with complete knowledge and by observing and weighing all angles of the situation.
However, all of these conditions and situations prove the truthfulness of Imam Ali and his desire for Islam and his acting not for his own sake. It is clear that this noble personality was completely annihilated and drowned in the Truth, and that which was important to him and had any value to him was Islam, the endurance of the code of Islam, and the interests of the Muslims.
In the conditions that he was put in, neither his staying quiet nor giving oath of allegiance by force and through coercion would give any credence to the rightfulness of the state of affairs at that time. Such an oath of allegiance would not absolve anyone of their religious responsibility, nor would it pardon anyone of their code of conduct.
Ayatollah Saafi Gulpaygani is a Marja Taqleed of the Shia world. He lives and teaches in the holy city of Qom.
Editor's Note: This article is the first of many questions on a variety of religious topics that were answered by Ayatollah Gulpaygani and translated into English by Shaikh Saleem Bhimji. The entire series is available online at al-mubin.org.