Fourth Point: An explanation that will eliminate the conflict between Shiite and Ahl as-Sunnah.
In connection with the Third Point, we shall indicate briefly a matter which is a point of dispute between the Shi’a and the Sunnis and has been magnified to such an extent that it has entered the books on the tenets of faith and among the fundamentals of belief.
T h e S u n n i s s a y : “Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) was the fourth of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs. Abu Bakr ‘al-Siddiq’ (May Allah be pleased with him) was superior to him and was more deserving of the Caliphate, therefore it passed to him first.” While the Shi’a say: “It was Ali’s right. An injustice was done to him. The most worthy of them all was Ali.” A summary of the arguments for their claims is this. They say: “The Hadiths of the Prophet about Ali, and through his title of ‘King of Sainthood,’ his being the source for the vast majority of the saints and spiritual paths, and his extraordinary knowledge, courage, and worship, and the Prophet’s (Peace and blessings be upon him) intense concern for him and towards his descendants all show that it was he who was the most worthy. The Caliphate was always his right; it was seized from him.”
T h e A n s w e r : The fact that Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) followed the first three Caliphs, whom he repeatedly acknowledged, and held the position of their Shaykhu’l-Islam, refutes these claims of the Shi’a. Furthermore, the victories of Islam and the struggles against its enemies in the time of the first three Caliphs and the events in Ali’s time, refute the Shi’a’s claims, again from the point of view of the Islamic Caliphate. That is to say the Sunnis’ claim is rightful.
I f i t i s s a i d that the Shi’a are two: one are the ‘Sainthood Shi’a,’ and the other are the ‘Caliphate Shi’a.’ Through mixing hatred and politics the second group may have been unjust, but the first group were not concerned with resentment and politics. However, the Sainthood Shi’a joined the Caliphate Shi’a. That is, some of the saints of the Sufi orders considered Ali to be superior and they endorsed the claims of the Caliphate Shi’a.
T h e A n s w e r : It is necessary to consider Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) in two respects. One is from the point of view of his personal perfections and rank, and the second is from the point of view of his representing the collective personality of the Prophet’s Family. As for this collective personality, it displays an aspect of the Most Noble Prophet’s (PBUH) essential nature.
And so, in regard to the first point, foremost Ali himself and all the people of truth gave precedence to Abu Bakr and Umar. They saw their ranks as higher in the service of Islam and closeness to Allah. As for the second point, in respect of being the representative of the collective personality of the Prophet’s Family and the collective personality of the Prophet’s Family representing an aspect of the Muhammadan Truth, Ali has no equal. Thus, the highly laudatory Hadiths about Ali look to this second point. There is a sound narration which corroborates this fact. The Most Noble Prophet (PBUH) decreed: “The descendants of each prophet are from himself. My descendants are those of Ali.”1
The reason the Hadiths praising Ali more than the other three Caliphs have become so widespread is that the People of Truth, that is, the Sunnis, spread many narrations about him in response to the Umayyads and Kharijites attacking and disparaging him unjustly. Since the other Rightly-Guided Caliphs were not subject to such criticism and detraction, no need was felt to spread Hadiths about them.
Furthermore, the Prophet (PBUH) saw with the eye of prophethood the grievous events and internal strife to which Ali would be exposed in the future, and in order to save him from despair and his Community from thinking unfavourably of him, he consoled him and guided his Community with important Hadiths like “Whosever master I am, Ali too is his master.”2
The excessive love of the Sainthood Shi’a towards Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) and-influenced by the Sufi Orders-their deeming him superior cannot make them answerable to the degree of the Caliphate Shi’a. For by reason of their way, those who follow the path of sainthood look towards their spiritual guides with love. And the mark of love is excess, it wants to see the beloved as greater than his rank. And that is how it sees him. Ecstatics may be forgiven excesses of love. So on condition their deeming Ali more worthy, which arises from their love, does not turn into disparagement of and enmity towards the other Rightly-Guided Caliphs and does not go beyond the fundamental teachings of Islam, it may be excused.
As for the Caliphate Shi’a, since political prejudice took a hold of them, they could not be saved from hatred and aggression, and they lost their right to be excused. Even, confirming the saying, Not for love of Ali, but out of hatred of Umar, since Persian national pride was wounded at Umar’s hand, they demonstrated their revenge in the form of love of Ali. So also Amr b. al-As’s rebellion against Ali and Umar b. al-Sa’d’s tragic war against Husain aroused in the Shi’a an intense anger and enmity towards the name of Umar.
The Sainthood Shi’a have no right to criticize the Sunnis, for the Sunnis have not decried Ali, indeed, they love him sincerely. But they avoid the excessive love which is described as dangerous in Hadiths. The Prophet’s praise of Ali’s followers in the Hadiths refers to the Sunnis. For those of Ali’s followers who love him in a moderate fashion are the Sunnis, who are the People of Truth. As excessive love of Jesus (Upon whom be peace) is dangerous for Christians, so has it been made clear in sound Hadiths that that sort of excessive love for Ali is dangerous.3
I f t h e S a i n t h o o d S h i ’ a s a y : “Once Ali’s consummate spiritual attainments are accepted, it is not possible to prefer Abu Bakr the Truthful to him,”
T h e r e p l y : It was as though the personal perfections of Abu Bakr ’Siddiq al-Akbar’ and Umar ‘Faruq al-A’zam’ (May Allah be pleased with them) had been placed in the pan of some scales together with their achievements in the time of their Caliphates, realized through their carrying out the functions inherited from prophethood, and in the other pan had been placed Ali’s (May Allah be pleased with him) extraordinary personal perfections together with the internal Caliphate struggles, which arose from the tragic events he was compelled to enter upon and were the object of suspicion and distrust, and the Sunnis saw that al-Siddiq’s, or al-Faruq’s, or Dhi’l-Nurayn’s pan weighed heavier, and so they preferred them.
Moreover, as is proved in the Twelth and Twenty-Fourth Words, prophethood is so elevated in comparison to sainthood that a tiny manifestation of it is superior to a large manifestation of sainthood. In regard to this, the successes of Siddiq al-Akbar and Faruq al-A’zam during their Caliphates became an indication for the Sunnis that their share in the legacy of prophethood and the establishment of its laws had been divinely bestowed. Since Ali’s personal perfections did not dismiss that greater share, which arose from the inheritance of prophethood, he acted as Shaykhu’l-Islam for Abu Bakr and Umar, the Shaykhayn al-Mukarramayn, in the time of their Caliphates, and esteemed them. How should the Sunnis, who love and revere Ali, not love and revere the Shaykhayn, whom Ali loved and revered sincerely? Let us make this truth clear be means of an example:
One of the sons of a very rich man is given twenty batmans4 of silver and four batmans of gold from his father’s legacy, and another is given five of silver and five of gold. So if the third is given three of silver and five of gold, of course the last two will receive less in quantity, but more in quality. Like this example, the lesser amount of the Shaykhayn’s share of the gold of the truth of ‘Divine immediacy,’ which was manifested in the legacy of prophethood and the establishment of its laws, would weigh heavier than the great amount of ‘Divine proximity’ and the perfections of sainthood which sprang from the jewel of sainthood. These points should also be taken into account when weighing them up. But if they are compared with one another from the point of view of personal courage, knowledge, and sainthood, the matter takes on another complexion.
Also, there can be no comparison in respect of the collective personality of the Prophet’s Family, which was represented in the person of Ali (May Allah be pleased with him), and of the Muhammadan Truth, which was manifested in that collective personality through the absolute legacy of prophethood. For contained in it is the mighty mystery of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him).
As for the Caliphate Shi’a, they have no rights before the Sunnis other than shame. For although they claim to have tremendous love for Ali, they disparage him, and their creed necessitates accusing him of immorality. For they say that although Abu Bakr al-Siddiq and Umar were acting unjustly, Ali feigned approval for them; according to Shi’i terminology, he dissimulated. That is, he was frightened of them and behaved hypocritically. But it is not love to see someone who was such a hero of Islam, won the title ‘Lion of Allah,’ and was the commander and guide of the faithful as simulating love for people he did not love out of fear and deception, as feigning approval for them in fear for more than twenty years, and as following wrongdoers. Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) would disclaim love that sort.
Thus, the People of Truth’s creed in no way disparages Ali, nor levels accusations of immorality at him. It does not attribute cowardice to such a remarkable courage, but says: “If Ali had not considered the Rightly-Guided Caliphs to be right, he would not have recognized them for a minute, nor obeyed them. It means that since he thought them right and preferable, he surrendered his endeavour and courage on the way of justice.”
I n S h o r t : Too much or too little of anything is not good. Moderation is the middle way, and that is the way the Sunnis have chosen. But, alas, like Kharijite ideas have infiltrated the Sunnis to an extent, so also addicts of politics and some atheists criticize Ali. They say, God forbid, that since he did not understand politics, he was not entirely worthy of the Caliphate and could not govern. And because of these unjust accusations of theirs, Alawis feel affronted at the Sunnis. Whereas the principles and basic beliefs of the Sunnis do not necessitate these ideas. Indeed, they prove the opposite. The Sunnis cannot be condemned because of ideas such as those which come from Kharijites and atheists. Rather, the Sunnis are firmer followers of Ali than the Alawis. They mention Ali in the laudatory fashion he deserves in all their khutbas and prayers. Particularly the saints and purified scholars, the vast majority of whom were of the Sunni school, recognized him as spiritual guide and the king of sainthood. The Alawis should ignore the Kharijites and atheists who have deservedly earned the enmity of both the Alawis and the Sunnis, and not take sides against the People of Truth. Some Alawis even abandon the Prophet’s Sunna out of spite for the Sunnis. Anyway, we have said too much on this matter, for it has been discussed to excess by the religious scholars.
And so, O Sunnis, who are the People of Truth, and Alawis, whose way is love of the Prophet’s Family! Quickly put an end to this meaningless, disloyal, unjust, and harmful dispute between you. Otherwise the atheistic current which is now so influential will make one of you a tool against the other, and use the one to crush the other. And after defeating the one it will destroy the tool. Since you are believers in Divine Unity, it is essential to leave aside unimportant matters which necessitate division while there are a hundred fundamental sacred bonds between you which command brotherhood and unity.
1. Tabarani, al-Majma’u’l-Kabir no:2630; al-Haythami, Majma’u’z-Zawa’id x, 333; al-Munawi, Fayzu’l-Qadir 223, no:1717.
2. Tirmidhi, Manaqib 19; Ibn Maja, Muqaddima 11; Musnad i, 84, 118, 119, 152, 331; iv, 281, 368, 370, 383; v, 347, 366, 419; al-Kattani, Nazmu’l-Mutanasir fi’l-Ahadithi’l-Mutawatir 24; al-Munawi, Fayzu’l-Qadir vi, 218; Ibn Hibban, Sahih ix, 42; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak ii, 130; iii, 134
3. Bukhari, Tarikhu’l-Kabir ii, 257; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Fada’ilu’s-Sahaba nos: 1087, 1221, 1222; al-Haythami, Majma’u’z-Zawa’id ix, 133; Ibnu’l-Jawzi, al-Ilali’l-Mutanahiya i, 223.
4. Batman: a weight varying from 5-30 lbs. (Tr.)
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