Shi'ah Explanation

In this connection there is another explanation about which the Shi'ah claim that it is supported by the contents of the verses in question as well as history. Therefore let us consider this explanation in two parts. First let us see what history says and then what the Quranic verses say.

(i) If we consider this question from historical point of view, we can find a great deal of evidence in favour of our explanation. Most of the books written on this subject emphasize that history and traditions both agree that the following Qur'anic verse was revealed at Ghadir al-Khum: This day the unbelievers have lost hope of ever harming your religion; so fear them not and have fear of Me! This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you; and have chosen for you Islam as a religion. The research work, al-Ghadir has proved this point. Apart from the books of traditions, the books of history also tell us the same story.

The History of Ya'qubi is one of the oldest and the most reliable books on Islamic history, and is regarded as authentic both by the Shi'ah and the Sunnis. It consists of two volumes both of which have been translated into Persian by the late Dr. Ayati. The book is superb and was written in the early third century, apparently during the period between the end of Mamun's reign and the early period of that of Mutawakkil. This book which is a book of history, not of tradition, is one of those books which have mentioned the event of Ghadir al-Khum. Many other books including those written by the Sunnis also have mentioned this incident.

As the tradition says, when the Holy Prophet returning from his farewell pilgrimage36 reached a place situated near Juhfah37 and known as Ghadir al-Khum he asked the caravan to halt and announced that he wanted to talk to the people on a subject. Then he ordered that a pulpit be arranged for him.

Accordingly a raised platform of pack saddles etc. was prepared. The Holy Prophet mounted it and talked in detail. He said: "Do I not have more authority over you than yourselves?" All those present said: "Yes, you have." Then the Holy Prophet said: "This Ali is the master of him whose master I am." This was the occasion when this Qur'anic verse was revealed: This day the unbelievers lost all hope of ever harming your religion; so fear them not and have fear of Me! This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you.

If we want to discuss this question from historical point of view, we should study those books which have mentioned this event, especially those written by the Sunnis. Quotations from these books can be found in the books like al-Ghadir, which was published in Mashhad a few years back and is an excellent worth-reading summary of this question.

The argument of the Shi'ah is based on the historical background of this verse. They say that they find that the phrase, 'this day' does not mean today. Then what day does it mean? When a reference is made to the occasion for the revelation of this verse, it is found that not one or two but tens of continuous reports say that this verse was revealed at Ghadir al-Khum on the day the Holy Prophet appointed Imam Ali as his successor.

(ii) Internal Evidence existing in the Verse

In the verse itself there are internal indications which corroborate what is confirmed by history. The verse in question says: This day unbelievers lost all hope of ever harming your religion. Let us compare this verse to a number of other verses which warned the Muslims and said that the believers including the People of the Book and others were always intriguing against them and loved to turn them away from their religion:

"Many of the people of the Book long to make you disbelievers after your belief, through envy on their own account." (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:109)

Thus we see that while several other verses of the Quran say that the disbelievers long to destroy the religion of the Muslims, the verse under discussion says that now they have lost all hope of harming it and their hostile activities against the Muslims have come to an end. So fear them not and have fear of Me. Allah says: Have fear of Me. What does that mean? Is Allah an enemy of His own religion? No. This verse stipulates the same basic principle regarding Allah's favour that has been mentioned in so many other verses. One such verse says:

"Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts." (Surah ar-Ra'd, 13:11)

Giving the reason for this another verse says:

"That is because Allah never withdrawn the grace He has bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in their hearts." (Surah al-Anfal, 8:53)

Allah says that He does not withdraw any favour bestowed by Him on a people unless they themselves by their own doings want it to be withdrawn. This is one of the basic principles mentioned in the Qur'an.

Specific (Mohkamat) and Ambiguous (Mutashabihat) Verse

In connection with this verse it appears to be necessary to mention a point which may be found useful on many occasions. As a tradition says, some verses of the Qur'an explain some other verses. The Quran is a Book which is manifest and manifesting. It itself says that its verses are of two types: specific and ambiguous. It calls the specific verses the mother verses, which is of course a queer expression:

"Allah is He who revealed the Book to you, some of its verses are specific and they are the mother of the Book, and others ambiguous." (Surah Ale Imran, 3:7).

The ambiguous verses are those which can be interpreted in different ways, while a specific verse can be interpreted only in one way. The Qur'an calls the specific verses mother verses because with their help the ambiguous verses can be interpreted. In case we come across a verse of the Qur'an which can be interpreted in several ways, we have no right to fix its meaning. We should refer to other verses to find out how it can best be expounded. An ambiguous (Mutashabih) verse does not mean a vague or an unintelligible verse. It only means a verse that can be interpreted in more than one ways resembling each other.

For example there are several verses in the Qur'an relating to Absolute Divine Will which state that everything depends on the Will and Pleasure of Allah. They make no exception.

One of such verses is the following verse which is ambiguous for this very reason:

"(Muhammad) Say: 0 Lord! Owner of sovereignty! You bestow sovereignty on whomsoever you Will and withdraw sovereignty from whomsoever You Will. You exalt whomsoever You Will and You abase whomsoever You Will. In Your Hand is all that is good. No doubt You are able to do everything." (Surah Ale Imran, 3:26).

This verse is ambiguous or mutashabih because it can be interpreted in more than one ways. It says only that everything depends on the Will of Allah. This is possible in two way: One way is to say that Allah's Will is absolutely unconditional. Some people have interpreted this verse in that way and have inferred from it the wrong conclusion that it is possible that in the presence of all the conditions conducive to honour, disgrace appears and similarly it is possible that all the conditions conducive to humiliation are followed by honour and power. According to them, success in this world and the Hereafter has no pre-requisite conditions, for everything depends on the Will of Allah. As a result it is possible that a people or an individual attains complete success in his worldly affairs without any pre-requisite conditions or fails utterly without any tangible reason.

Similarly a people may be taken to the peak of Paradise or to the lowest level of Hell for absolutely no reason. Unfortunately some Muslims called Asharites have drawn this conclusion from this verse. They say that it would not be something impossible if the Holy Prophet goes to Hell or Abu Jahl goes to Heaven. But this is a wrong interpretation of the verse, which only says that everything depends on the Will of Allah, but is silent as to how this Will on which success and failure, honour and disgrace depend, actually operates. That is why it can be interpreted in several ways.

But when we refer to other verses of the Qur'an, they serve as its mother verses and explain what this verse actually signifies. For example one verse expressly says: That is because Allah never changes the grace He has bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in their hearts. Another verse says: Surely Allah changes not the condition of a people until they change that which is in their hearts. Each of these two verses says something which the other verse does not say. The second verse says that Allah does not change the condition of a people whether it is good or bad, unless they themselves take action to change it. Otherwise Allah neither withdraws His favour nor disfavour. Only people themselves change their condition. The first verse is not concerned with the unhappy condition. It talks only of Allah's grace. But it mentions an additional point. It says: That is because Allah never changes... Allah is not such as to withdraw His grace from any people for no reason, because that would be against His wisdom, His perfection and His Divinity. These are the mother verses in relation to the verse under discussion. The verses relating to Allah's Will say only that everything depends on His Will. Other verses explain how this Will operates and what law it has. This point has been expressed in the Qur'an at several places in the form of a firm principle. According to it those who are grateful to Allah for His bounties, that is those who put them to a proper use, will continue to enjoy them, but those who are ungrateful and abuse His bounties, will be deprived of them.

So the verse, This day the unbelievers have lost all hope of ever harming your religion; so fear them not, and have fear of Me, means that the unbelievers do no longer pose any threat to the Muslim world. 'Have fear of Me.' means: be afraid of yourselves, for if there is any danger now, that lies in your being ungrateful to Allah and not taking full advantage of His bounties. Should the Muslim not act properly, the law is bound to come into force against them. Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change that which is in their hearts. Henceforward no danger from outside threatens Muslim society, but danger from inside does threaten it.

Question and Answer

Question: We absolutely agree with you that Imamat is a supreme leadership that covers this worldly as well as the next worldly affairs. The arguments advanced by you show that it was the exclusive right of Imam Ali to assume this leadership. Then why did he decline to do so when people offered to take their allegiance to him after the assassination of Uthman?

Answer: This question has been discussed in the book, Khilafat and Wilayat which has been published lately. The answer to your question is clear from what Imam Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, himself said. When people came to him to pledge their allegiance to him, he said:

"Leave me alone and look for somebody else, for we are looking forward to a many-sided situation."

It is a wonderful expression! What he meant was that the situation was complicated, and it was necessary to study it from various angels. He continued to say:

"The atmosphere is overcast and the route has changed beyond recognition."

In the end he said:

"If I rule over you, I would follow the way I know and would not act as you want."

What Imam Ali said shows that he fully realized that since the time of the Holy Prophet the situation had deteriorated a great deal and undergone a complete change. Imam Ali made his position quite clear. He wanted the people to give him an undertaking that they would follow him because it was that what the pledging of their allegiance meant. He did not say that his Khilafat would be void if they would not pledge their allegiance to him. He wanted them to make a sincere promise that they would give him an unflinching support and follow his dictates.

All Shi'ah and Sunni historians agree that Umar appointed a six-member council for the selection of his successor. Imam Ali himself was one of its members. Three members of this council withdrew in favour of three others. Zubayr withdrew in favour of Imam Ali; Talhah in favour of Uthman and Sa'd ibn Waqqas in favour of Abdur Rahman ibn 'Awf. Out of the three remaining persons Abdur Rahman said that he was not a candidate. Now two persons remained. The choice was with Abdur Rahman. Whomsoever he selected, he would become the Caliph. First he came to Imam Ali and said:

"I am ready to pledge my allegiance to you provided you give me a word that you would act according to Allah's Book, His Prophet's Sunnah and the policy pursued by Abu Bakr and Umar."

Imam Ali said:

"I am willing to accept the condition that I would follow Allah's Book and His Prophet's Sunnah (path), but leave aside the policy of Abu Bakr and Umar."

Then Abdur Rahman went to Uthman and said the same thing to him. Uthman willingly agreed to act according to Allah's Book, His Prophet's Sunnah and the policy followed by Abu Bakr and Umar. Although Uthman readily promised to follow the policy of Abu Bakr and Umar, but as Muhammad Taqi Shari'ati has pointed out, he actually did not act accordingly. If we make a comparison, we will find that Imam Ali behaved exactly like the Holy Prophet. His conduct was closer to that of the Shaykhayn (Abu Bakr and Umar) also, as far as they followed the Holy Prophet's style. Imam Ali did not accept the condition that he would act as the Shaykhayn acted, because to do so would have meant the endorsement of their deviations also, and as such he could not oppose those deviations any more. For example, disparity and discrimination between the Muhajirs (immigrants) and the Ansar (helpers) was introduced during Umar's time. Imam Ali was severely against this policy. Has he said that he would follow the policy pursued by Abu Bakr and Umar, he would have been compelled to affirm the actions taken during Umar's time. Imam Ali did not want to tell a lie nor could he go back on his word. That was the reason why he said that he did not want to become the Caliph.

We know that Abu Bakr and Umar had some deviations. Still after Umar's death Imam Ali was not willing to make a promise that he would act as Abu Bakr and Umar did. As such it was but natural that after Uthman's death when the condition had immensely deteriorated, and in his own words the future was many-sided, Imam Ali told those who wanted him to act as they desired, that if he took over the government, he would do what he himself deemed correct not what they wanted. These words of Imam Ali do not mean that he rejected the offer of government. He only explained his position.

Question: We find that the Qur'an has laid great stress on the question of unity. How did it happen that in spite of its importance the question of Imam Ali's Imamat was not expressly mentioned in the Quran, nor did the Holy Prophet refer to this subject on as many occasions as he should normally have?

Answer: Here two points have been raised. The first point is: Why has this question not been expressly mentioned in the Qur'an? The other point is whether the Holy Prophet has or has not referred to this subject on several occasions and whether the Holy Qur'an has or has not mentioned this subject at several places. As far as the second point is concerned; we say that it is a historical question. Even many of the Sunnis admit that the Holy Prophet referred to it on several occasions, not only at Ghadir al-Khum, but other places also. The details are in the books on the question of Imamat. On the occasion of Tabuk addressing Imam Ali, he said: "You are to me what Harun was to Musa, although there will be no prophet after me." On the occasion of the Battle of Khayber he affirmed Imam Ali's position by saying: "I will give the flag tomorrow to a man who loves Allah and His Prophet and whom Allah and His Prophet love." Even during the early period of Islam addressing the Quraysh he said: "Whosoever of you pledges his allegiance to me first, he will be my legatee and Vazir (according to a report he said: will be my legatee, Vazir and caliph)." Such a person was Imam Ali only.

The same case is with the Qur'an. This question has been mentioned not only at one or two but at several places. The only question is why the Qur'an has not mentioned Imam Ali by name. Incidentally this question has been dealt with in the book, Khilafat and Wilayat also. As we believe that there has been no alteration in the Qur'an and nothing has been added to it or subtracted from it, we are sure that Imam Ali's name has not been mentioned anywhere in it.

Two reasons of it have been given. One of them, which have been fully explained in Muhammad Taqi Shari'ati's book is that the Qur'an has its own style. It always deals with such subjects in the form of a principle, and not as an individual case. This is in itself a merit of the Qur'an. When the verse, Today I have completed your religion for you, was revealed, the unbelievers were disappointed because they were always saying that so long as that man (Prophet) was alive, nothing could be done, but as soon as he died everything would be finished. But their last hope was foiled when they saw that the Holy Prophet had taken a step to ensure the continued existence of his community and had appointed a successor of him.

Another point which the Sunni writers also have mentioned is that during the last days of his life the Holy Prophet was worried about the future of his followers and had that fear which has been expressed in the Qur'an by the words, 'And have fear of Me'. According to a report which the Sunnis have also related, Abu Muzayhabah, a slave of 'Ayisha, says:

"During the last days of the Holy Prophet's life once I saw him coming out of his room and going towards the Baqi graveyard at midnight. I said to myself that I would not leave him alone. So I followed him. From a long distance I saw him praying for the forgiveness of Allah for those who were buried in the Baqi'. I heard him saying what meant: "You are fortunate to have gone away and achieved salvation. Bad times are imminent like pieces of dark night."

This report shows that the Holy Prophet visualized the impending ugly events, the dispute about Khilafat being one of them no doubt.

In reply to the question why the Qur'an has not mentioned Imam Ali's name, two explanations have been given: Firstly it is the special style of the Qur'an to describe various problems in the form of principles; and secondly the Holy Prophet and Almighty Allah did not like to mention his name expressly because they knew that in any case the question of Khilafat was going to be distorted and misinterpreted out of selfishness.

As Prophetic sayings have been misinterpreted, so a Qur'anic verse expressly naming Imam Ali also would have been misinterpreted. The Holy Prophet said: "This Ali is the master of him whose master I am." Can there be any thing more express than this?

Anyhow there is a lot of difference between violating an express saying of the Holy Prophet and violating a verse naming Imam Ali on the day very next to the demise of the Prophet. That is why I have quoted the following event in my preface to the book, Khilafat and Wilayat:

A Jew with a view to upbraid the Muslims for the ugly events of the early period of Islam once during his caliphate said to Imam Ali:

"As soon as you buried your Prophet you began to quarrel about him."

The Imam gave a wonderful reply. He said:

"We were not at variance with him. We disagreed only about the instructions we received from him. But your feet were still wet with sea-water, when you said to your Prophet: "Appoint for us a deity similar to the deities our opponents have." Thereupon your Prophet said: "Surely you are an ignorant people."

So there is much difference between what happened to the Muslims, and what happened to the Jews. In other words, the Muslims did not differ about the Prophet himself. They differed about the meaning and significance of his instructions only. Hence what they did could be explained away by saying that they misunderstood what the Holy Prophet had said. (Though actually that was not the case).

Anyhow, there is a great deal of difference between misunderstanding or misinterpreting a saying of the Prophet and between ignoring or altering an express verse of the Qur'an.

Question: The above question may be expressed in this way. It is true that the Qur'an must lay down principles only. But the principle of succession and government in Islam is certainly of great importance. A name may not be mentioned by the Qur'an. But the procedure must have been laid down in very clear terms.

For example it could be revealed to the Holy Prophet that he should designate his successor, and that successor also should designate his successor, and so on till the end. Similarly it should also have been laid down clearly whether the question of succession is to be decided by designation or election. In short, the question of succession should not have been left vague, because it is not such a simple question for Islam which is a religion that has come to rule. The problem is not whether the name of Imam Ali should have been mentioned or not. But in view of the difference of opinion in regard to the method of succession and the form of government it was necessary that a clear procedure was laid down.

At least it could be revealed to the Holy Prophet that it was his duty to designate his successor. Even in that case the people might not have agreed as to who was the successor. But it would have been clear that the Holy Prophet himself had appointed his successor and that there was no question of any sort of election by the Muslims. Similarly there was another question, whether the Holy Prophet's direct successor should nominate his successor or the next Imam, or should leave the question to the choice of the people. As far as I know this problem also has been left vague in the Quran. In any case no procedure has been expressly laid down.

The second point is that some time back I read a book relating to the system of government in Islam. In that book many sayings of Imam Ali and others were quoted, all to the effect that the question of Khilafat depended upon the Muslims and that it was up to them to express their opinion about it. For example Imam Ali said on various occasions: "A Caliph was to be appointed by the Muslims and selected by the people concerned." He also said that the question of Khilafat was not to be decided by him, and it was up to the Muslims to hold consultation and express their opinion about it. In this book many arguments have been collected in support of the view that the question of government was an elective question and no individual was authorized to designate his successor. What is your opinion in this regard?

The third point is: If we presume that the twelve Imams have succeeded one another, what is the permanent procedure now for the appointment of the head of Muslim society? Does there a Divine ordinance exist in this respect? Will the future appointments be based on the principle of election or some other principle? Was it stipulated that the twelve infallible Imams would be appointed by a Divine ordinance and then, for example, during the occultation of the twelfth Imam, election would be held.

Has it been expressly laid down anywhere? Is it our own inference that a qualified mujtahid fulfilling all the necessary conditions should be the head of the government during the occultation of the twelfth Imam? In fact the Qur'an should have given a constitutional law to the Muslims directing them that the first twelve Imams following the Holy Prophet would be appointed by a Divine ordinance and then the Muslims would be free to elect their ruler, or it should have been expressly said that then the jurist of the Muslims would be their ruler. But, anyhow the issue remains unsolved since the death of the eleventh Imam, and has caused dissension and disputes. How is this problem to be resolved from our point of view?

Answer: We have already dealt with some of these points, but you have again turned the question of Imamat into a question of the government only. As we have already pointed out the question of Imamat is different from that of government and the question of government in the presence of an Imam is exactly like that in the presence of the Prophet. In other words both the cases involve a situation governed by a special law. Just as the question as to who should be the head of the State does not arise during the lifetime of the Prophet, similarly in the presence of an Imam of those characteristics in which the Shi'ah believe, this question is only secondary and hypothetical.

The questions of the form of government can be considered only with reference to the times when no Imam is present, for we do not have any time when no Imam is in existence; but there can be a time when no Imam is present, and that is why we do not deny the significance of the Qur'anic verse saying that the affairs of the Muslims are settled by consultation. But obviously only those affairs are to be settled by consultation which are not covered by any Divine law or command, not those in respect of which some Qur'anic ordinance, or instruction exists.

As for the points mentioned in the book, Government in Islam, I have not studied this book thoroughly. Anyhow, this book has unfortunately been unilateral to a great extent. It has produced only a certain set of arguments and totally missed the arguments going contrary to them. This is a big defect, for one should give all the arguments and then should see which of them are stronger and more reliable.

Another defect of this book is that many quotations in it have been taken out of their context.

I have not made a thorough study of the book, but those who have made, say that the heads and tails of many sentences reproduced in this book, have been cut off, with a result that their meanings have been distorted. If these missing parts were added to these sentences, they would have quite a different significance. Furthermore, no Imam is present, regarding which there is no dispute.


  1. The first part of the book, Khilafat and Wilayat, which has recently been published, contains Muhammad Taqi Shari'ati's lectures which he delivered at Husayniyah Irshad some four years ago. In his lectures he dealt with the same subject with which I am dealing. Therefore the two books maybe considered to be supplementary to each other.

  2. The Holy Prophet performed his farewell pilgrimage during th6 last year of his life, some two months before his demise. He died on 28 Safar or according to the Sunnis on 12 Rabi'ul Awwal. He reached Ghadir al-Khum on 18th Zil Hijjah, that is two months and 10 days before his demise or two months and 24 days according to what the Sunnis say.

37.Some of you might have been to Juhfah. I visited the place during my second Hajj journey. Our visit to Medina was delayed. So we took an opportunity to visit Jaddah. There is some difference in the juristic opinion whether or not one can assume the ritual state of ihram at jaddah. Actually it may be said that this is not a juristic difference but a geographical one. The ritual state of ihram can be assumed from any point lying parallel to any of the miqats. A man who is well-versed in the geography of Arabia, may be able to say definitely whether or not Jaddah fulfils this condition. In the beginning we ourselves did not believe that it did, but later when we obtained maps of Arabia in Makkah and Medina, we found that Jaddah was parallel to one of the miqats, provided those maps were accurate. If those who proceed from Jaddah to Makkah, want to assume the ritual state of ihram from one of the actual miqats, they come from Jaddah to Juhfah, which lies on the way to Medina and is the miqat of the people of Syria. Ghadir al-Khum is situated near Juhfah. It is the place at which the Muslims returning from Makkah after performing pilgrimage disperse. Some go to Medina and others to their respective places.