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Last Updated: 2010/11/21
Summary of question
Does the statement of Ḥaḍrat Ali (as), “Leave me and seek someone else”, not contradict the belief in the position of Imamah being divinely appointed?
The author of Nahj al-Balāghah (Peak of Eloquence), which is an authentic Shī‛ah book, narrates that Ali (as) refrained from accepting the office of caliphate and said, “Leave me and seek someone else” (Nahj al-Balāghah p. 136, p. 322 and p. 366-367).
Does this statement not invalidate the validity of the Shī‛ah school of thought? You, as followers of this school of thought, claim that Ali (as) was appointed to the office of caliphate and Imamah by the decree of Allah. If that is the case, then why did he refrain from accepting this position?
Concise answer

The appointment of Ali (as) to the position of Imamah and wilāyah by divine decree and that he was chosen for this position by Allah, has been established through strong and sound arguments. However, regarding the meaning of this statement, of the Commander of the Faithful’s, “Leave me and seek someone else”, it must be said that although the legitimacy of the position of Imamah is by virtue a divine appointment, its actualization and public reception and acceptance is dependent upon the acceptance and allegiance of the people. In this sermon (of which you only quoted a small portion of the beginning), Imam Ali (as) has pointed out the fact that the conditions for the actualization and acceptance of this office have not been completed yet and these are obstacles to it. By stating some of the issues, he wanted to complete the evidence for the people so that they may realize the importance of their duty and the burden that falls on their shoulders to remove the impediments in the way of the practical implementation of this divine trust; so that the people are completely prepared to fulfill their obligations in this regard and moreover his opponents have no excuse left to resort to. This claim can be substantiated by the fact that in subsequent sentences arat Ali (as) goes on to say, “We are facing an issue which has (several) faces and colors, which neither hearts can stand nor intelligence can accept.  Clouds are hovering in the sky, and faces are not discernible.  You should know that if I respond to your invitation, then I would lead you as I know how and would not care about what people may say nor listen to their admonishment.”

Detailed Answer

The divine status of the rank of Imāmah

Shī‛ahs believe that the rank of Imāmah is a religious one established by divine decree and appointment. It is not a temporal governance that may be bound by sociopolitical factors. Muslim historians and biographers of holy Islamic personalities have written, when the holy Prophet (pbuh) went towards the Bani ‛Āmis Ibn a‛a‛ah tribe to invite them to accept Islam and to solicit their support in carrying out his mission; in response to the holy Prophet (pbuh), one of them by the name of Biharah ibn Faras said, “If we follow you and Allah grants you success over your opponents, will you delegate successorship to us after yourself?”

The holy Prophet (pbuh) replied, الأمر لله یضعه حیث یشاء [1] “The matter of successorship is the prerogative of Allah (not mine); He may grant it to whoever He wishes.”

This statement, of the holy Prophet (pbuh), explicitly shows that the successorship of the Prophet (pbuh) is a divine office and appointing someone to it is the right of Allah and the Prophet’s (pbuh) and not that of the people. Therefore, the holy Prophet (pbuh) did not have an independent right, in a personal capacity, to determine his own successor, rather was done according to divine decree. In reality the wisdom behind the finality of Prophethood is related to the appointment of an infallible Imam. It is only through the existence of a divine appointee at the helm of the affairs of Islamic society that its interests are guaranteed the demise of the holy Prophet (pbuh).[2]

In this reply, it is not possible to discuss and prove this point of view in detail; however, it shall be explained in brief. For a detailed discussion it is possible to refer to compressive books, such as al-Ghadīr of ‛Allāmah Amīnī and al-Muraji‛at (The Right Path) of ‛Allāmah Sayyid Sharafuddin.

We shall now mention the Qur’ānic verses that show the divine nature of this office and the appointment of Ali (as) to that office by virtue of Allah’s decree:

1. ٱلْیَوْمَ أَکْمَلْتُ لَکُمْ دِینَکُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَیْکُمْ نِعْمَتِى وَرَضِیتُ لَکُمُ ٱلْإِسْلَٰمَ دِینًا “Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion.”[3]

Other than Shī‛ah scholars and commentators of the Qur’ān, a number of Sunni commentators and hadith narrators have transmitted some traditions from a number of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) that show the Qur’ānic verse mentioned was revealed to the Prophet on the day of Ghadīr-e-Khumm after the Prophet (pbuh) announced the wilāyah of Ali (as).

Based on an authentic chain of narrators, Khatīb Baghdādi has quoted Abu Hurayrah, a companion of the Prophet (pbuh), saying “Whoever fasts on the eighteenth day of Zilhijjah will have the reward of sixty months of fasting written for him. That day is the day of Ghadīr-e-Khumm and that is when the holy Prophet (pbuh) took the hand of Ali ibn Abī ālib in his hand and said ‘Am I not the one to hold authority over the faithful?’ All replied ‘Yes, O Messenger of Allah.’ He then stated ‘Whomever I am the master of, Ali too is his master.’ Upon which ‛Umar ibn al-Khattab said ‘Congratulations O son of Abī ālib, you have become my master and the master of all the Muslims. Without any delay, Allah revealed this verse: ٱلْیَوْمَ أَکْمَلْتُ لَکُمْ دِینَکُمْ...  “Today I have perfected your religion for you…”[4]

The above mentioned hadith has also been transmitted by Hākim Haskānī anafī, Ibn ‛Asākir Damishqī, Khawārizmī, Ibn Maghazilī, Sibt ibn Jawzī anafī and Ibrāhīm ibn Muhammad Javīnī.[5]

Another companion of the Prophet (pbuh), Abū Sa‛īd Khidrī, has also been quoted in another authentically transmitted narration, in which he says, “The Prophet (pbuh) called the people to accept the wilāyah (authority) of Ali (as) and took his hand and raised it. The people had not yet dispersed that the verse: ٱلْیَوْمَ أَکْمَلْتُ لَکُمْ دِینَکُمْ...  “Today I have perfected your religion for you…” was revealed, after which the Prophet (pbuh) proclaimed “Allahu Akbar for the perfection of religion and the completion of His blessing and His pleasure with my Prophethood and after me the guardianship of Ali (as).”[6]

We can clearly see that the narrations of Abu Hurayrah and Abū Sa‛īd Khidrī have explicitly stated that the verse of the ‘Perfection of Religion’ was revealed on the day of Ghadīr-e-Khumm and was regarding the Imamat and wilāyat of Ali (as).

2. یَٰٓأَیُّهَا ٱلرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَیْکَ مِن رَّبِّکَ ۖ وَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ “O Apostle! Communicate that which has been sent down to you from your lord, and if you do not, you have not communicated His message…”[7]

Regarding this verse, both the Shī‛ah and Sunni have quoted narrations that it was revealed on the day of Ghadīr and about the wilayāt of Ali (as).[8]

3. إِنَّمَا وَلِیُّکُمُ ٱللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُۥ وَٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱلَّذِینَ یُقِیمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَیُؤْتُونَ ٱلزَّکَوٰةَ وَهُمْ رَٰکِعُونَ “Your guardian is only Allah, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakāt while bowing down.”[9]

According to an authentic hadith transmitted by Shī‛ah scholars, this Qur’anic verse was revealed in the praise of arat Ali (as).  Sunni scholars have also transmitted numerous hadiths in this regard and have accepted its revelation to be in the praise of Ali (as).[10]  It is not possible practically to take the word ‘walī’ to mean friend and supporter, since friendship and support is related to all Muslims, not just those who give from their wealth while they are bowing down in prayer.

By taking into consideration this verse and complementing it with the abundantly transmitted (mutawatir) hadith of the Holy Prophet: من کنت مولاه فهذا علی مولاه “Whomever I am the master of, Ali too is his master”, it can clearly be understood that the position of Imamat and the holy Prophet (pbuh) is a divine status and one must be appointed to it by divine decree and intervention. It is not limited to the worldly aspect of governance and rulership.[11]

The meaning of the Commander of the Faithfull’s’ sentence “Leave me and seek someone else”

With regards to the meaning of the Commander of the Faithfull’s’ sentence “Leave me and seek someone else”, it must be mentioned that although the legitimacy of the office of Imamah is established through divine decree, its actualization and acceptance is dependent upon the allegiance and popular support of the people. In this sermon (of which you only quoted a small portion of the beginning), Imam Ali (as) has pointed out that the conditions for the actual implementation and acceptance of this office have yet to be completed, rather there are impediments to the fulfillment of those conditions. By stating this, he wanted to complete the evidence for the people so that they become obliged to remove the obstacles in this path and prepare themselves to accept its establishment and so there were no excuses left for his opponents to resort to. This is brought out by his subsequent sentence: “We are facing an issue which has (several) faces and colors, which neither hearts can stand nor intelligence can accept. Clouds are hovering in the sky, and faces are not discernible. You should know that if I respond to your invitation, then I would lead you as I know how and would not care about what people may say nor listen to their admonishment.”[12]

Ibn Abil-adīd (a Sunni scholar) has written in his commentary of Nahj al-Balāghah: “Regarding this sentence, the Imāmiyah school claims – those who had come to pay allegiance to Ali (as) were the same as those who had sworn allegiance to the previous caliphs, whereas ’Uthmān had deprived them of their rights and privileges. This was because the Bani ’Umayyah had plundered all the wealth during his reign. Therefore, after the death of ’Uthmān they told Ali (as) that their allegiance to him would be on the condition that he treat them in the same manner as Abu Bakr and ‛Umar used to because Abu Bakr and ‛Umar did not want the bayt ul-mal (public treasury) for themselves and their kinsmen. They wanted Ali (as) to divide the public property amongst them just as the first two caliphs Abu Bakr and ‛Umar used to. However, Ali (as) did not accept this condition and asked them to pay allegiance to someone else who was willing to accept their conditions and act in the footsteps of the first two caliphs.”[13]

In another section of his commentary, Ibn Abil-adīd quotes Imāmiyah scholars as saying: “Ali (as) did not negate his eligibility for the office of caliphate, rather he wanted to refrain from causing tension. Whereas Abu Bakr had declared in an instance that ‘I am not the best and most suitable person amongst you for this post.’”[14]

Regarding this sentence of arat Ali (as), Allāmah Majlisī has stated, “Whoever ponders over each and every word of this sentence will clearly understand what its meaning is. This is because Ali (as) continues to say in the following sentence that: We are heading towards a situation in which hearts cannot persevere and the path shall not be discernible.” Therefore the reason for Imām Ali (as) not accepting the position was the presence of obstacles and not because he had not been divinely appointed to this position or because he was not qualified for it.[15]

He continues to explain this narration: “The audience of this sermon are the people who, out of greed, wanted Ali (as) to give them precedence over others when granting privileges, honor, and position; therefore, they were requesting Ali (as) to accept the caliphate. It is for this reason that Talah and Zubayr broke their oath of allegiance to him, on the second day of taking it, and admonished him for treating everyone equally. Similarly, Abdullah Ibn ‛Umar, Sa‛īd Ibn al-‛Ās and Marwān and others like them did not accept what was divided amongst them. It was in response to such people that arat Ali (as) exclaimed, “Leave me and seek someone else”. This was because he wanted them to be left with no excuse and said that they shall have to face a situation which would be infested with colorful and multifarious occurrences that they would not be able to bear. He declared that by swearing allegiance to him they will not be rewarded that which they crave and in this regard he has not been moved by the admonition of any rebuker.[16]

Apart from the preceding discussion, another point that supports this opinion of the Imāmiyah Shī‛ah is the discourse of the Commander of the Faithfull’s, Ali (as), that has been quoted in Nahj al-Balāghah, where he says: “None in the Islamic community can be taken at par with the progeny of the Prophet (pbuh). One who was under the obligation cannot be matched with them. They are the foundations of religion and pillars of belief. The forward runner has to turn back to them while the follower has to overtake them. They possess the chief characteristics for vicegerency. In their favor is the will and succession (of the Prophet (pbuh)). This is the time when right has returned to its owner and diverted to its secure center of return.”[17]

In this expression, Imām Ali (as) explicitly claimed his right to the office of caliphate, though until then it had not been put in the right hands. When he had taken the office, it had been returned to its rightful place.

In another place in Nahj al-Balāghah, it has been mentioned that on the day of Shura (the consultative committee after the death of ‛Umar), “Someone said to me, ‘O son of Abī ālib, you are eager for the caliphate.’ Then I told him: ‘Rather, you are, by Allah, greedier, although more remote, while I am more suited as well as nearer. I have demanded it as my right, while you are intervening between me and it.”[18]

In another part of the same sermon, Imām Ali (as) says: “O Allah, I seek Thy succor against the Quraysh and those who are assisting them because they are denying me (the rights of) kinship, have lowered my position, and are united in opposing me in the matter (of the caliphate) which is my right.”[19]

The preceding arguments and discussions, and other similar ones that have been recorded in Nahj al-Balāghah and other first-hand references of the Islamic Ummah, clearly show that Ali (as) considered caliphate to be his undeniable and definite right. Moreover, the belief of the Shī‛ah school of thought that caliphate is Ali’s (as) undoubtable right stems from the Qur’ān, the abundantly transmitted narrations of the Prophet (pbuh) and the statements of Ali (as) himself.  However, his abhorrence and unwillingness in acceptance of the office of caliphate after ‛Uthman had its reasons, some of which we mentioned before.

[1] Sirah Ibn Hisham, vol. 2, pg. 66; Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, Ibn Kathir, vol. 3, pp.139-140; Kitab al-Thuqat, Ibn Haban, vol. 1, pp. 89-90; Sirah Halabiyyah, Ali ibn Burhan al-Din Halabi, vol. 2, pg. 3; Hayat al-Sahabah, Muhammad Yusuf Kandehlavi, vol. 1, pg. 69.

[2] Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, Amuzesh Aqa’id, vol. 2, pp. 303-304 (with some alteration).

[3] Maidah:3.

[4] Tarikh Baghdad, Khatib Baghdadi, vol. 8, pg. 290. It is noteworthy that Khatib Baghdadi has mentioned this hadith with two separate authentic chains of narrators.

[5] Shawahid al-Tanzil, Hakem Haskani, vol. 1, pg. 200; Tarikhe Madineye Dameshq, Ibn Asakir, vol. 42, pp. 233, 234 and 237; Manaqib Khawrazmi, pg. 135; Manaqib Ibn Maghazeli, pg. 19; Tadkirat al-Khawass, Sibt ibn Jawzi, pg. 36; dddddddd

[6] Shawahid al-Tanzil, vol.1, pg. 200; Manaqib Khawrazmi, pg. 135;kkkkk; Mahasin al-Ta’wil, Al-Qasemi, vol. 6, pp. 4 and 50.

[7] Maidah:67.

[8] Al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 289, hadith 4; Al-Durr al-Manthur, vol. 2, pg. 298; Shawahid al-Tanzil, vol. 1, pg. 249.

[9] Maidah:55.

[10] Shawahid al-Tanzil, vol. 1, pg. 209; Al-Kashaf, Mahmoud Zamakhshari, vol. 1, pg. 649; Al-Durr al-Manthur, Suyuti, vol. 2, pg. 293; Al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 289, hadith 4.

[11] For further information see: Proving Imam Ali's (as) imamate in the Quran, Question 6421(website: 7913), The Shia and the caliphate and succeeding the Prophet (pbuh), Question 1273 (website: ) and The features and characteristics of the Shia, Question 9835 (website: 9855).

[12] Nahjul-Balaghah, sermon 92.

[13] Abdul-Hamid ibn Abi al-Hadid Mu’tazili, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, vol. 7, pg. 34.

[14] Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah (Ibn Abi al-Hadid), vol. 1, pg. 170.

[15] Allamah Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 32, pg. 38.

[16] Ibid, pg. 36.

[17] لَا یُقَاسُ بِآلِ مُحَمَّدٍ ص مِنْ هَذِهِ الْأُمَّةِ أَحَدٌ وَ لَا یُسَوَّى بِهِمْ مَنْ جَرَتْ نِعْمَتُهُمْ عَلَیْهِ أَبَداً هُمْ أَسَاسُ الدِّینِ وَ عِمَادُ الْیَقِینِ إِلَیْهِمْ یَفِی‏ءُ الْغَالِی وَ بِهِمْ یُلْحَقُ التَّالِی وَ لَهُمْ خَصَائِصُ حَقِّ الْوِلَایَةِ وَ فِیهِمُ الْوَصِیَّةُ وَ الْوِرَاثَةُ الآْنَ إِذْ رَجَعَ الْحَقُّ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ وَ نُقِلَ إِلَى مُنْتَقَلِهِ Nahjul-Balaghah, sermon 2.

[18] وَ إِنَّمَا طَلَبْتُ حَقّاً لِی وَ أَنْتُمْ تَحُولُونَ بَیْنِی وَ بَیْنَه‏ Nahjul-Balaghah, sermon 172.

[19] Ibid.

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