Jafaris say when the Prophet (pbuh) was ill, he wanted some paper to dictate his will but that Hz. Umar prevented it. If it is true, why did Hz. Umar do something like that?

The Details of the Question
Jafaris say when the Prophet (pbuh) was ill, he wanted some paper to dictate his will but that Hz. Umar prevented it. If it is true, why did Hz. Umar do something like that?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The Incident of Qirtas

a) The Attitude of the Companions when the Prophet Wanted Pen and Paper (Qirtas):

It is necessary to mention “the Incident of Qirtas”, which is closely related to Hz. Abubakr’s election as the Caliph. For, this incident is one of the evidences that Shiite put forward to state that it was the right of Hz. Ali to become the Caliph. (1)

When the disease of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) got worse on Thursday, five days before his death, he said, “Bring me a pen and some paper; I shall write something after which you will not go astray.”

The Companions who were there heard this. Hz. Umar was among those who heard it. He opposed bringing pen and paper because he interpreted the wish of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) as follows:“The disease of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) got worse. We have the Book of Allah; it is sufficient for us.” In our opinion, what made Hz. Umar think like that was the statement of the Messenger of Allah on Dhul-Hijjah 18, the end of 10th year of the Migration, which was about 2 months and 10 days before his death:  

"O people! Know that I am only a human being and the messenger of my Lord (Azrael) will come to me. I will respond to his call. I am leaving behind two precious things (thaqalayn) among you. The first of the two is the Book of Allah. In it is guidance and light. So get hold of the Book of Allah and adhere to it. The second is my Ahl al-Bayt (family). I urge you to remember Allah regarding my Ahl al-Bayt."(2)

In the hadith above and similar ones that the Messenger of Allah said on the last days of his life, he advises his ummah to adhere to two things so as not to go astray: the Quran and Ahl al-Bayt, or the Quran and the Sunnah. Muslims were not supposed to go astray if they adhered to them firmly. What was meant by his Ahl al-Bayt was his Sunnah. For, like all of the Companions, Ahl al-Bayt were the guards of the Sunnah. They supported the Sunnah by their character.

In our opinion, Hz. Umar opposed the advice to be written when the Prophet (pbuh) was very ill. According to him, the Prophet (pbuh) had recently explained to his ummah what to do to avoid going astray. There was no need for the advice of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) at that time, when he was seriously ill since the Muslims had the Quran, which was full of guidance, and the Sunnah, which could not be separated from the Quran and which was almost as valuable as the Quran (3). [The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) died on Monday, Rabiul-Awwal 12 in 11 H.]

Some of the Companions who were there supported Hz. Umar when he opposed bringing pen and paper and regarded his view appropriate. However, some Companions did not support his view and opposed his view. According to them, pen and paper should have been brought and the advice of the Messenger of Allah should have been written. When the discussion between them lengthened and loud voices were heard, the Messenger of Allah said, “Move away from me. There can be no discussion in my presence. Leave me alone."(4) Thus, the discussion in the presence of the Messenger of Allah and the incident of Qirtas ended.

b) The Incident of Qirtas According to Ibn Abbas and Hz. Aisha

According to al-Kamil, theIncident of Qirtas reported from Ibn Abbas is as follows: Five days before the death of the Messenger of Allah, that is, on Thursday (5), at the beginning of the month of Rabiul-Awwal in 11 H, the disease and pain of the Messenger of Allah got worse. (Tears were coming down from his eyes down his cheeks.) Thereupon, he said, “Ituni bi diwatin wa baydaa = Bring me pen and paper. Aktub lakum kitaban la tudilluna ba’di abadan = I shall write you something after which you will never go astray.” Fa tanaza’u = Upon this, they/ the Companions argued in the presence of the Prophet though it was not appropriate to argue (6). They said, “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is certainly talking in his sleep due to his disease.(7) They started to repeat it near him. Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah said, “Leave me alone. The condition I am in is better than that which you ask me about.” He advised three things: The polytheists to be driven out of the Arabian Peninsula, the delegates coming to Madinah to be entertained in the same way as he did.” Ibn Abbas, who narrated the incident said, “He avoided saying the third one, or I forgot it.”(8)

As it is seen, the incident is a bit different here. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) explained two of the three things that he would advise with pen and paper and he did not explain the third one; or he explained it too but the narrator forgot it or did not say it. That is how the Incident of Qirtas took place according to Ibn Athir. 

We think a hadith reported by Hz. Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (pbuh), is also related to the Incident of Qirtas:

Hz. Aisha stated the following: When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) got ill, she said to me,

“Call your father Abu Bakr and your brother (Abdurrahman) to write something. I fear that somebody will wish and say, ‘I deserve (Ana awla) the caliphate more’ after my death.”

After that, the Messenger of Allah gave up this view by thinking “Allah and the believers will accept only Abu Bakr.”(9)

As it is seen, the writing that was wanted to be written related to the caliphate during the days of illness was related to Hz. Abu Bakr. If this narration is regarded as the basis for the evaluation, it showed that Hz. Abu Bakr deserved the caliphate more and that his caliphate would prevent conflicts. Besides, we can deduce the indication that Hz. Abu Bakr would be the first caliph after the Messenger of Allah.

c) The Incident of Qirtas and the Theory of Will

The Shiite used the Incident of Qirtas, which was reported this or that way, as an evidence from the Sunnah for the theory of “will” of the imamate for political reasons – this is important – after a very long time.(10) They did everything they could to show the interpretation of this incident to be related to the caliphate of Hz. Ali. According to Shia understanding, Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) wanted pen and paper in order to appoint Hz. Ali as the Caliph but Hz. Umar and the others who knew what he would will prevented him. Thus, the caliphate was grabbed from Hz. Ali unjustly. Hence, the Companions – God forbid – became oppressors, grabbers and even unbelievers and apostates.(11) For, according to Shia, imamate is based on the appointment of Allah. Allah appoints imams/caliphs as He appoints prophets. This appointment was going to be made by Allah and the Messenger of Allah. The appointment occurs by “nass” and the announcement of the Messenger of Allah. Or, the imam announces the imam after him by nass. The decree about it is the same as the decree about the prophethood. People have no right to choose the imam. The imam is the deputy of the Messenger of Allah; therefore, his caliphate has to take place with the permission of Allah and the Messenger of Allah. If people choose the imam/caliph, they will influence him, which is out of question.  

According to Shia belief, the crime committed by Hz. Umar, Hz. Abu Bakr and Hz. Uthman is very big. They did not accept the imam that Allah appointed and that the Prophet (pbuh) would announce. According to them, not to accept the imam appointed by Allah can lead the Companions, Hz. Umar, Hz. Abu Bakr and Hz. Uthman to unbelief and apostasy. Their enmity to the Companions except a few of them and the three rightly guided caliphs originates from this incident.(12) However, Sunnis do not discriminate among the Companions, do not criticize them and regard Shiite and the people of bid’ah as believers and Muslims.(13)

d) The Importance of Imamate in Shia in Four Points

Imamate is very important in Shia. In Sunnis, there are six principles of belief. In Shia, there are five principles of belief: Tawhid (oneness), prophethood, justice, resurrection after death and imamate.

According to them, it is necessary for a person to believe that imams (14) are appointed by Allah and the Messenger of Allah one by one and that imamate will continue up to Doomsday with the descendants of Hz. Ali in order to be a believer. According to some of them, a person who does not believe in the principle of imamate/caliphate can be regarded as a believer. Imams are sinless and innocent like prophets; they are protected from crimes, mistakes, doing wrong things and all kinds of disgrace. Imams are people that protect shari’ah and apply it; therefore they need to be sinless and innocent like prophets.(15) Otherwise, they will not be reliable.

According to them, imams know all divine decrees and ilms. They learn them from the Prophet (pbuh) or the imams before them. They are not in need of learning from others and a teacher. They learn new things through inspiration. They answer all questions. They do not say, “I do not know.” What is more, they do not wait or think for the answer; they do not delay giving answers.(16)

According to Shia, the imam is a hujjah (evidence) for Allah's slaves. The imam is Allah's hujjah on earth. If there were no imams, people would be excused when they did not obey Islamic decrees. They use verse 165 of the chapter of an-Nisa for evidence:

“Messengers who gave good news as well as warning, that mankind, after (the coming) of the messengers, should have no plea against Allah."(17)

Sending imams is hujjah just like sending imams. The titles like “Hujjatullah”, “Ayatullah” and “Ayatullahul-Uzma” in Iran come from this belief.

According to Shia belief, obedience to imam is fard in any case. Obedience to the imam/caliph is obedience to Allah. He who loves imams/caliphs loves Allah. He who refuses their orders is regarded to have refused the orders of Allah and the Messenger of Allah. Since imams are innocent, they will not make any mistakes; since they know divine ilms and decrees, their orders are always Allah’s orders.(18)

In Sunni belief, caliphs are also human beings; they can make mistakes. There are no innocent people except prophets. Even the greatest Companions and saints can make mistakes.

e) A Brief Analysis of the Incident of Qirtas

It will be useful to analyze theIncident of Qirtas, which we have dealt with briefly, in terms of a few points. 

Firstly: In fact, not all of the Companions held the same view in theIncident of Qirtas, which is a small detail. The Companions had different views related to other issues too. It is normal. It is understood that eventually the view of Hz. Umar and those who thought like him was accepted since pen and paper were not brought.

Secondly: After theIncident of Qirtas, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and some of his Companions did not accuse the others of oppression, grabbing and preventing the appointment of the imam. If there had been oppression and grabbing, first the Prophet (pbuh), then the Companions who were truthful and just would have opposed it. Besides, Hz. Ali, who was ready to sacrifice everything for the truth would have acted in the same way.  

Thirdly: During the last illness of the Prophet (pbuh), some other incidents related to Hz. Fatima, Hz. Uthman and other Muslims took place in addition to theIncident of Qirtas.(19) One of them is about Hz. Abu Bakr, as it is mentioned above. However, Shia give great importance to the Incident of Qirtas and want to associate it with Hz. Ali with strained interpretations.  

Fourthly: Although paper and pen were not brought, the Messenger of Allah expressed his will. According to a report from Ibn Abbas, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) expressed his will orally. In that case, there was no prevention and Hz. Ali was not appointed as the imam. The Messenger of Allah lived for five days after the Incident of Qirtas.

Fifthly: The Incident of Qirtas is an incident that Shia started to deal with a lot in terms of politics and make interpretations a long time after it happened. If this incident had been related to the appointment of Hz. Ali as the Caliph, would the followers of Ali not have mentioned it at once and when Hz. Abu Bakr was chosen as the Caliph?

Sixthly: According to a narration from Hz. Aisha, the request and will of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to dictate something about the caliphate was not related to Hz. Ali but to Hz. Abu Bakr. However, Sunnis did not exaggerate this narration unlike Shia and did not interpret it as “the appointment of Hz. Abu Bakr as the Caliph”. The Companions did not do anything like that either. They regarded it as only a little sign for the caliphate of Hz. Abu Bakr and his deserving it.

Seventhly:The illness of the Prophet (pbuh) lasted for about thirteen days. He lived for four more days after he wanted pen and paper on Thursday.(20) Meanwhile, he gave several orders and instructions along with advice. On the day he died, he seemed very well and the Companions who came to the mosque thought that he had recovered. Hz. Abu Bakr also thought like that and went to his house in Sunh, which was about 2 miles/3 km away from the mosque.

If the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had wanted to make an appointment or give an order about caliphate, he would have done it during those four days somehow. However, he did not mention it again. Maybe he did not regard it important and gave up.

If we evaluate the issue based on the points like that, it would be easier to reach a healthier and more balanced conclusion.

f) How Sunnis View the Imamate belief of Shia

The explanations above can be evaluated from those points in terms of Sunni view.

- According to Imamiyya, imamate can be completed by believing. According to Sunnis, imamate is among secondary issues. It is regarded as a detail. It is not among the principles of belief. There are six principles of belief.

- According to Shia, it is essentially wajib for Allah to appoint an imam.(21) According to Sunnis, it is also wajib to appoint a caliph. However, a caliph can be appointed by Muslims through different ways.

- According to Shia, imams/12 imams are innocent/sinless like prophets. They do not commit sins. They are the people whom Allah orders people to obey. They are the treasure of Allah's ilm, the conveyor of revelation and the principles of tawhid. They do not commit minor or major sins. According to Ahl as-Sunnah, nobody is innocent/sinless except prophets. Even the Companions and the notables among them can commit sins. Ahl as-Sunnah do not criticize all Companions but they accept that they can commit minor or major sins. They do not attribute innocence and infallibility to caliphs. They are like the other people in terms of committing crimes. They can make mistakes.  

- According to Shia, a person who denies the sinlessness/innocence of imams is regarded not to recognize them. "A person who does not recognize them is an unbeliever."(22) In the grave, after the questions, "Who is your Lord, Who is your prophet?", people will be asked the question "Who is your imam?" Those who say, "My imam is Ali" will attain salvation.(23) Not to recognize the imam is the reason for not being able to attain salvation in a sense. In Ahl as-Sunnah, there is no such thing as to accept thesinlessness/innocence of caliphs. There is no question about it in the grave.  

- In Shia, imamate gives superiority to the people coming from the descendants of Hz. Ali after the Messenger of Allah (pbuh); it elevates them to the degree ofsinlessness/innocence; and it shows that they have “special knowledge” that others do not have. According to Ahl as-Sunnah, there is nobody having the attribute ofsinlessness/innocence except the Messenger of Allah (pbuh); and they do not accept that a group among Muslims have special knowledge. Every Muslim can know and learn the Quran and Islam. To know divine ilms cannot be restricted to a group (Ahl al-Bayt) from the descendant of Hz. Ali; it is contrary to the spirit and essence of the Quran. Superiority (value, honor) in the presence of Allah is through taqwa. However, Ahl as-Sunnah loves the descendants of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Ahl al-Bayt.(24)

- According to Shia, imamate is the right of the people who are descendants ofHz. Ali. According to Sunnis, caliphate is not restricted to a certain dynasty or group. The best example of it is the Rightly Guided Caliphs.


1- For the other evidences put forward regarding the issue, see Ahl al-Bayt, Hadiths about Hz. Ali; Tarikhul Khamis, II, 200; Adam Mez. Onuncu Yüzyılda İslam Medeniyeti, translated by. Salih Şaban, İstanbul 2000, p. 87-88; Peygamberimizin Hayatı, II, 708.
2- Ahmed b. Hanbal. Musnad, I-IV, Beirut, ty. IV, 369; Ahl al-Beyt, 45, 78; al-Kamil, II, 320; Onuncu Yüzyılda İslam Medeniyeti, p. 87; Şibli Numani. Hz. Ömer ve Devlet İdaresi, I-II, translated by Talib Yaşar Alp, İstanbul 1980, p. 1000 ff.
3- The term thaqalayn indicates this closeness of value. see al-Mufradat, p. 79; Ahl al-Beyt, p. 45.
4- Musnad, I, 325; Ibn Sad, at-Tabaqatul-Kubra, I-VIII, Beirut, nd. II, 242; Hizmetli. İslam Tarihi, p. 456; al-Kamil, II, 320
5- Hz. Prophet died on Monday.
6- Some wanted pen and paper to be brought while others did not want them to be brought.
7- “Inne Rasulallahi Sallallahu alayhi wa sallama Yahjuru.”
8- al-Kamil, II, 320; Hizmetli, İslam Tarihi, p. 456; Sah. Bukhari, IV, 66,
9- et-Taj, III, 309; K. Fadail. Muslim Fadailus-Sahaba, 11; al-Halabi, Insanul Uyun, I-III, Beirut 1980, III, 456; İslam ve Hilafet, p. 156,
10- Hizmetli, İslam Tarihi, p. 437.
11- Fığlalı, E. Ruhi. İtikadi İslam Mezhepleri, İstanbul 1985, p. 127-128.
12- İtikadi İslam Mezhepleri, p. 127-128; İslam ve Hilafet, p. 135 ff; Muhammad Rıza al-Muzaffar. Şia İnançları, translated by Abdülbaki Gölpınarlı, İstanbul 1978, p. 50, 57-58.
13- İtikadi İslam Mezhepleri, p. 127 ff;
14- On İki İmam.
15- Şia İnançları, p. 51-52
16- ibid, p. 52 ff.
17- an-Nisa, 4/121
18- Şia İnançları, p. 53 ff.; İtikadi İslam Mezhepleri, p. 118, 127-129; Hz. Ömer ve İslam İdareleri, p. 100.
19- Siratun-Nabi, IV, 328; Advice of goodness to Ansar.
20- Hz. Ömer ve Devlet İdaresi, p. 100, 104. see Sah. Bukhari, K. Ilm.
21- İtikadi İslam Mezhepleri, p. 129; Hizmetli, İslam Tarihi, p. 514.
22- İtikadi İslam Mezhepleri, p. 128; al-Qummi, Abu Jafar Ibn Babawayh, Risalati Itiqadatil-Imamiyya, Şii İmamiyyenin İnanç Esasları, translated by E. Ruhi Fığlalı, Ankara 1978, p. 113.
23- ibid, p. 130.
24- İtikadi İslam Mezhepleri, p. 141-142; Ahl al-Beyt, see part 1 and 2; Hizmetli, İslam Tarihi, p. 514.

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