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Baqir Sadr’s Thesis

One day, I came across a Persian translation of a work by a celebrated Iraqi Shia scholar, Imam Muhammad Baqir Sadr: Tashayou Ya Islam Rasteen (Shi’ism or the True Islam). It is a short booklet published by Chopkhane Haydary, Iran, and apparently makes a very convincing case for Shi’ism. To avoid confusion, I decided to study each chapter carefully and to confront a Sunni brother with the evidence that Baqir Sadr presents.

Imam Sadr starts the book by explaining that being a minority, as Shias are, does not mean that Shias are in the wrong. He also points out that there is a good deal of confusion among the masses about the origin of Shia sect. He says that to find the origin of Shia sect, one has to keep in mind the totality of the message of Islam and the fact that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, had brought about a total change in the society. Considering the fact that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was well aware of the coming of his death, he must have been thinking of the future of Islam, which would have left him with three possibilities:

  • To take a negative approach and consider his mission important only during his own lifetime and, therefore, leave the question of succession to the turn of events

  • To take a positive approach and leave the matter of leadership to be decided by the council of Makkan immigrants (muhajireen) and Madinan supporters (ansar)

  • To take a wise and logical approach and under divine guidance (literally, the order of Allah) choose a capable person, train him, and breathe into him the true spirit of Islam.

These three possibilities occupy the first three chapters of the book. I studied the first chapter carefully. A brief account of the main arguments therein are:

The Prophet, upon whom be peace, certainly would not have taken a negative approach, leaving the future of Islam to the turn of events, for two reasons:

  • Would such negligence on his part have any effect on the future of Islam, or were his Companions quite capable of carrying on the message without altering or deviating from it? Obviously, this is not logical, since Islam had just been established and was facing many threats. Under such circumstances, the loss of its leader would mean a great vacuum in the leadership and would have led to hasty decisions in order to fill that vaccum. Sadr points out the fact that after the Prophet’s death, one of the famous Companions was shouting in the streets and marketplaces that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was not dead and shall never die. Muslims were still divided among themselves. There were the muhajireen and ansar, Makkans and Madinans, Quraishites, and others. It was also a good opportunity for the hypocrites and enemies of Islam to mount an attack on the religion. It was obvious that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was well aware of the then-prevailing conditions. He would not have taken the chance of leaving the Muslim nation without a leader. Judge for yourself, Sadr proclaims:

Abu Bakr felt it his duty to interfere in choosing the next leader of the Muslims. And when ‘Umar was stabbed, the people were asking him to nominate a successor. And that was at a time when the Islamic government was strong and centralized.1

It is also noteworthy that ‘Umar considered the selection of Abu Bakr at Banu Saqifah to be a very hasty decision, and that Allah had saved the Muslims from any bad consequences.2 Thus, a man with the insight and wisdom of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, would have at least realized the problems that the Muslims would be facing if he were to leave them without appointing a successor, concludes Sadr.

  • Another possible reason for this negative approach would be that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was only concerned with the mission during his own life, not considering the future of his mission. Certainly such an assumption is quite unthinkable of any concerned leader, not to mention the Prophet, upon whom be peace, who was commissioned by Allah!

These were the main arguments that were put forward in the first chapter. They were quite convincing to me at the time.

Having grasped the argument, I discussed the first chapter of this book with Jamaal Zarabozo, who was at the time also attending the University of California at Davis. He was a Muslim American convert whom Allah had blessed with a great deal of knowledge (he is now a well-known author and scholar). Considering that he himself had to study and choose between Shia and Sunni after he had embraced Islam, he was qualified to help in this matter. The night before the meeting with him, I prayed to Allah to guide me to the truth.

I confronted him with the issue, “How is it possible that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar nominated someone as their successors, but the Prophet of Allah neglected such an important matter, a matter upon which rested the future of Islam?”

“But the case of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, is quite different than that of Abu Bakr or ‘Umar,” he answered. “For the Prophet’s word would have been binding on the people, but Abu Bakr’s word would not have been so.” Upon hearing this, I felt as if suddenly everything became crystal clear. These few words, apparently not very significant, put all of the pieces together. I wanted to argue on this point, but my heart had felt the truth. Nevertheless, I was not willing to believe.

“You are absolutely right, but am I not being convinced too easily?” I asked. His response was that there were people who simply saw the face of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and they became Muslims. Therefore, I should not be surprised at reaching the truth so quickly.

The Invalidity of Baqir Sadr’s Thesis

Now the reader might be wondering how these few words helped me reach the truth. As I mentioned earlier, the root of the difference between the Shia and Sunni goes back to the question of the successor to the Prophet, upon whom be peace. The sects known as Shia consider ‘Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, to be the first khalifah .Was ‘Ali divinely appointed to be the khalifah or not? Despite all of their differences, Shias and Sunnis agree on one thing: the sincerity and devotion of ‘Ali to Allah and his willingness to sacrifice anything for His cause. One need only recall how this devoted young man accepted Islam at an early age and risked his life by sleeping in the Prophet’s bed the night the latter migrated to Madinah, as the assassins planned to kill the Prophet, upon whom be peace. He was well known for fighting valiantly in the defense of Islam. One may go on and on in describing the virtues of ‘Ali, but this should suffice.

Thus ‘Ali’s obedience to Allah and His Prophet, upon whom be peace, and his willingness to further the cause of Islam is indisputable. If the Prophet had ordered him to jump off a cliff or into a deep well, he would certainly have done so without any hesitation.

Now let us consider what would have happened if ‘Ali was told by the Prophet that he is to be the leader of the Muslim nation and that this is what Allah would be pleased with.

‘Ali’s response under such circumstances would be very clear. He would have done everything in his capacity to become the leader of the Muslims because that was the order of the Prophet.

According to the Shia scholars, after the farewell hajj (pilgrimage) at a place called Ghadir Khumm, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, took ‘Ali’s hand and brought him to his right side. Then he said to the assembled gathering, “Am I the authority whom you obey?” They answered in one voice, “We obey your directions.” Then he said, “For whosoever I am the master (maula) and the authority, ‘Ali will be his master. O God! Be friendly with the friends of ‘Ali and be an enemy to the enemies of ‘Ali.” Then ‘Umar ibn al-Khattb said to ‘Ali, “May this position be pleasing to you, for now you are my master and the master of all the believers.”3 Thus we see that according to the Shias, not only ‘Ali but a large number of the Companions were well aware of his imminent succession to the Prophet, upon whom be peace.

We may assume, for the sake of argument, that such an event occurred but under different circumstances. Let us imagine that one day during his twenty-three years of prophethood, Muhammad, upon whom be peace, called ‘Ali up to his quarters and privately told ‘Ali that he would be his successor. Suppose the Prophet even asked ‘Ali to keep this nomination secret until he had died, for reasons known only to Allah.

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1 Tarikh at-Tabari, vol. 5, p. 24. Quoted by Imam Muhammad Baqir Sadr, Tashayou ya Islam Rasteen, (Tehran, Iran: Chopkhane Haydary, 1980), p.15. This book has been translated into English by Ali Akbar Mahipoor.

2 Tarikh at-Tabari, vol. 3, p. 20, quoted Ibid., p. 16.

3 Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Tabatabai, Shi’ite Islam (New York: State University Press, 1975) p. 180; Sadr, pp. 72–73.