By Haider Hobbollah
Translated by Syed Ali Imran (Canada)
(pg. 83-101 of Risālah Salām Madhhabī)
If the topics of tawḥīd and shirk are deemed to be one of the greatest points of contention between the Imāmīyyah and Salafīyyah, then the subject of the companions of the Prophet (p) is an even bigger issue as it is a point of contention between all Sunnīs and the Imāmīyyah. We will briefly mention a few points regarding this topic, addressing members of both sects:
Rejecting the Right of Ijtihād in Understanding History
1) We believe that every Muslim has the right to do ijtihād in the various discussions that fall under the umbrella of the two testimonies (shahādatayn). Some of the most pertinent of these discussions are matters concerning history. Islamic history is a vast field of academic study and a source of various opinions and various approaches exist for its analysis and understanding.
As such, we do not find it logical for one side to revoke the right of another party in their understanding and analysis of history. We ask our Sunnī brethren to reconsider their position on the inability of the companions to have made grave errors, and that if a Muslim does ijtihād and comes to the conclusion that some of the companions did indeed make errors, that there is no issue with this opinion, whether we agree with their conclusions or not. In order to arrive at some degree of agreement, it is upon the Ahl al-Sunnah to open the door of ijtihād in history and in particular matters related to the first-century hijrī and what transpired between the companions. Likewise, it is upon the Shī‘a to allow other Muslims to do ijtihād in matters of history as well.
This is the key to pulling a chaotic situation back on the tracks of appropriate academic investigation. Many companions of the Prophet (p) have been a subject of dispute amongst the Muslims, hence the principle of ‘adālah of all companions is disagreed upon by the Imāmīyyah, and the concept of Imāmah is disagreed upon by the Sunnīs, so as long as these areas remain a point of contention, there is no reason to feel detested by it, rather the way to deal with such issues is only through academic engagement.
The matter of history is the key to understanding and it is necessary that we all contemplate over this history with credible methods and tools of investigation.
Between Mistakes of the Companions and Disbelief
2) When a Shī‘ī does ijtihād in the matter of the companions and arrives at the conclusion that some of the companions made errors, given that a Shī‘a does not accept the principle of ‘adālah of all companions, let alone their infallibility, then does believing in this conclusion imply they have committed an act of disbelief (kufr)?
No matter how much you believe that the Shī‘a are mistaken in their conclusions, but their mistaken belief does not mean they have committed disbelief. Even if you believe the Qurān clearly speaks of the ‘adālah of the companions, others may not understand nor interpret those verses to be conclusive evidence for the integrity of all companions, and as long as that is the case, you cannot accuse them of holding a position ‘against the Qurān’, let alone against the Prophet (p).
It is necessary to always differentiate between a mistaken conclusion and disbelief, or enmity, or any other similar charge. Otherwise, in every historical matter or issue of theology there happens to be a dispute, one party would be accused of disbelief and in the end nothing will be left of the Muslim Ummah.
The problem, however, is that some act provocatively by framing the Imāmī Shī‘ī view of the infallibility of the Ahl al-Bayt in a very negative way, by arguing that there are no sacred figures in Islam. This is while they themselves, without even realizing, ascribe sanctity to tens and thousands of companions. So if you conduct ijtihād in the matter of the companions and see them enjoy a certain extent of sanctity – and we respect your ijtihād – then leave others to conducting their own ijtihād in the matter of their Imams, as per evidence. It is not appropriate for any group to excommunicate another, or slander another just because they believe in the sanctity of a certain individual.
It is also necessary to acknowledge that the fact that some companions were mistaken is not a matter that is only found in Shī‘ī books of ḥadīth and history, rather if we were to just pause for a moment and reflect, we would see that the Shī‘a themselves rely upon and resort to tens of sources and works of the Ahl al-Sunnah to make their point. This shows that the ḥadīth and historical heritage of all Muslims do contain such discourse regarding the companions, which once again only allows one to grant greater room to accept and acknowledge the ijtihād of each other on this matter.
The Imāmī Textual Heritage and the Issue of the Companions
3) Just as we have invited the Sunnīs to revisit their positions, we also invite the Imāmī Shī‘a to revisit their understanding of the companions of the Prophet (p) by putting aside all remnants of historical and sectarian tensions. Is it really the case that some of the decisions made by some of the companions were a planned conspiracy, disbelief and apostasy, or was it merely a mistake and a lapse in judgement and ijtihād? Is it really the case that all the companions disbelieved – as some have opined- except a few companions that one can count on one hand?
The Shi‘ī textual heritage is full of reports indicating that many companions were beyond satisfactory. In fact, some contemporary Shī‘a scholars have written works on the companions who the Shī‘a deem to be righteous and acceptable, and this list goes beyond 150 companions.
We invite the Imāmīyyah to dispel this attribution and image of the Shī‘a which presents them as if not only do they disagree with the companions, but rather they accuse all of them of deviance and crime, except a handful of them. It is necessary to revisit this image in order to arrive at a much more nuanced stance, not tarnished by ideology.
There are various Shī‘ī traditions that indicate a very acceptable stance towards the companions in general, such as in the work written by Shaykh Ḥurr al-‘Āmilī (d. 1104 AH) in his treatise Risālah fī Ma’rifah al-Ṣaḥābah. In this work he recounts the names of 481 companions and says:
Know that most of the names that will be mentioned are void of any explicit tawthīq (attestation of reliability) and madḥ (praise), but if there is no dhamm (condemnation) narrated about them and there is nothing known about them that would warrant a condemnation, then their companionship itself is a type of praise.
Shaykh Ḥurr al-‘Āmilī has put forth a principle here that when it comes to the companions of the Prophet (p), the companions are praiseworthy individuals unless known otherwise. It is not the case that the primary position regarding the companions of the Prophet (p) according to the Shī‘a is that they are all condemned unless known otherwise.
Gathering all the Shī’ī reports and traditions that present a positive outlook of the companions can also assist in painting a much better picture of what was occurring in early Islamic history.
Cursing of Revered Figures
4) Perhaps what we have discussed so far on the topic of the companions is absolutely nothing in front of the topic which we are about to address now; a topic that is an arena for bloodshed between Sunnī and Shī‘a relationships. This is the topic of cursing of the companions.
Although the famous and popular position of the Shī‘a scholars is that it is not obligatory to curse the companions, and in fact they do not allow cursing when it can result in harm for the Shi‘a themselves, but the fact of the matter is – and I will be very blunt and clear on this – that the general Imāmī atmosphere is such that they do not prohibit nor see any problem with cursing some of the companions. In fact, cursing some of the companions is a habitual practice amongst a few of the Shī‘a and it is a practice that has intensified in recent times despite internal disputes and debates on this matter amongst the Shī‘a.
Regardless of theoretical and ijtihādī discussions, our message is one that rejects this practice and we do not consider it to be a desirable practice as far as a healthy religious culture is concerned. We invite the Shī‘ī Imāmīyyah Marja’īyyah to maintain a clear position against this malicious practice which has gone out of control. We believe that slandering the revered figures of other Muslims and harming their sentiments is not a justified practice – will any Imāmī accept and tolerate the cursing of any one of the Ahl al-Bayt? If any person were to do such a thing, the Shī‘a themselves will consider them to be disbelievers and give the religious verdict of execution for blaspheming against the Ahl al-Bayt. So why do we not respect the sentiments of the rest of the Muslims today by not slandering their revered figures, just as we expect and demand respect of our revered figures?
Furthermore, why do we not expect them to react when we permit ourselves to curse their revered figures publicly, completely inattentive to their sentiments and rights upon us as Muslims, but if they were to say anything about our revered figures we will be ready to issue statements on their disbelief and execution for blasphemy?
Our message is that we need to do away with this habit that is prevalent amongst some Shī‘a, and as well as do away with the logic of excommunicating one another. If there does need to be an approach to dealing with this matter, then it needs to be done through conveying one’s opinion with evidence, and the Shī‘a need to explain what they consider to be the truth regarding what occurred in the first Islamic century. This is a much better approach and in line with a ḥadīth from ‘Alī (a) where he has been reported to have said: I dislike that you be known as cursers and abusers.
We announce our absolute rejection of complete intolerance towards the companions and as well as a rejection of the culture of excommunication of anyone who has an opposing opinion to the Ahl al-Sunnah on the matter of ‘adālah of the companions. Likewise, we reject the apparent phenomenon of cursing, swearing and slandering the revered figures of other Muslims, like some of the companions and mothers of the believers. In addition, we reject all other disgraceful behaviour that is committed in this same vein, like the events that take place on the 9th of Rabī‘ al-Awwal in some minority Imāmī communities.
We demand that such disgraceful discourse be changed to a more academic one, one where each group can freely, yet ethically and calmly, express their views regarding what transpired in history.
I do not know why there is so much insistence in silencing critics of some of the companions, while these are opinions on matters of history and are subject to criticism only within an academic context. If we are convinced with the strength of our opinion regarding the ‘adālah of all companions, then let others critique this principle and respond to them with the strength of logic, knowledge, and evidence – not with excommunication, intimidation, criminalization and repression.
Has silencing others on the subject of the companions by the Ahl al-Sunnah ever result in anything, after more than a thousand years? It has not resulted in anything except further turmoil, challenges, even the downfall of some Islamic governing systems here and there, and further insistence on being provocative by the other party in remaining insolent.
I also do not know why is there so much insistence in the practice of verbal cursing, given it is not obligatory and it is not considered from the principles of beliefs of the Shī‘a? Is the shedding of Muslim blood today such a trivial matter that we are willing to allow and be content with it, while the propagation of slander is a great magnificent act that we must remain insistent on it – even though it is not obligatory as per the verdict of the greatest of Imāmī jurisconsults?
Why don’t such people investigate and see whether even one of the greatest Imāmī jurisconsult obligates such cursing and slander? Is this an obligatory religious duty? Does it not behoove one to abandon this recommended act – if it is actually proven to be recommended – for the sake of the protection of Muslim blood and to safeguard the unity and dignity of the Muslim Ummah?
Was it not the Umayyad dynasty that initiated the practice of swearing, slandering and cursing in Islamic history – as per the belief of many – by cursing ‘Alī and his progeny on the pulpits? It is not necessary for the opponents of the Bani Umayyah to imitate them, rather their opponents should be far lofty in practice than them and insist on maintaining an ethical demeanour while being critical of history and highlighting the shortcomings that occurred.
Is it desirable that the Muslim Ummah today – instead of reviving itself – remains fighting with one another over historical matters in a way that it ends in the cursing, swearing and repression of a whole group of people? Is it expected that we remain happy and delighted with such practices while we see that the Islamic Ummah falling behind on many fronts due to these fights, or is it expected that we take this matter very seriously and instead, give reform and rectification of the Muslims utmost priority?
Mothers of the Believers – Between Neutrality and Reverence
5) In same light, is the discussion regarding one’s position on the mothers of the believers, especially ‘Āisha who is described as the mother of believers whether we like it or not. Accusing her or any of the other wives with obscenities and slandering them is simply a rejected and condemned act, let alone publishing such opinions in the public sphere!
Some Imāmī Shī‘a scholars have referred to the wives of the Prophet (p) as mothers who are revered. ‘Allāmah Muḥammad Baḥr al-‘Ulūm (d. 1326 AH) says: “Know that the word mother has three meanings: biological mothers, mothers of milk kinship, and mothers of reverence and magnificence – and the wives of the Prophet (p) are from the third category as they are the mothers of the believers…”.
The honour of the Prophet (p) is our honour, and the Shī‘a consider all Prophets to be free from any detested quality and upon this principle some scholars have mentioned that a wife of a Prophet cannot commit adultery because that is one of those detested qualities. It is for this reason some have interpreted the betrayal of some of the wives of the Prophets as mentioned in the Qurān in some other meaning and not in the typical meaning of betrayal that is understood in context of marriage which is related to obscene acts like adultery. One can refer to the works of exegesis for more information.
Inviting Shī‘ī Religious Figures to a Clear Bold Stance
We implore the religious figures who are sources of recourse for people, to follow the footsteps of the religious jurisconsults such as Sayyid ‘Alī Sīstānī, Sayyid ‘Alī Khāmina’ī, Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍlullah, Sayyid Maḥmūd Hāshimī and Shaykh Muḥammad Āsif Muḥsinī, who have all issued statements and religious verdicts clarifying their positions against the practice of cursing the companions or slandering any one of the wives of the Prophet (p). We implore religious figures to not suffice with just silence on this matter even if they agree with the statements of the aforementioned jurisconsults.
However, is the solution to the problem violence, killing and butchering of the Shi‘a wherever they are found? Is such behaviour, verdicts of excommunication and raiding the Shi‘a as some do, behaviour that is in line with maintaining the honour of the Prophet (p), or is violence only going to result in greater problems? Is it not better that we put an end to the source of radicalism and confront each other with justice and implement a strategic roadmap to deal with such radicalism?
Inviting Sunnī Religious Figures to a Clear Stance
6) In a similar vein, we have various observations and criticisms on certain positions taken by many of the Ahl al-Sunnah. We find it necessary for them to also reconsider their approach for the sake of Muslim unity, in line with the practice of the Prophet (p) who has commanded us to do so, as found in numerous traditions present in the books of both groups. What I’m referring to is the revival and greater presence of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt – as considered by the Shī‘a – amongst the general Muslim populous.
Why is one of the greatest tragedies, which befell the grandson of the Prophet (p) and his family and his companions in Karbalā’, kept hidden? Why is there a forgetful and indifferent attitude taken towards this event? If our slogan is indeed the love of the family and companions of the Prophet (p), then we must be loyal to it so that our bonds of friendship can increase around it and for there to be a greater opportunity of being connected with one another as Muslims.
We implore you to revive the remembrance of the Ahl al-Bayt and the Imams of the Shī‘a who all of the Ahl al-Sunnah respect and revere, and to have a clear stance on all those who oppressed the Ahl al-Bayt throughout the course of history, especially in the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid eras, and to be fair with the Prophetic household by condemning Yazīd b. Mu‘āwiyah and his allies instead of critiquing the stance of Ḥusayn by saying he revolted against the leader of his time!
Does anyone despise and hate Ja’far b. Muḥammad al-Ṣādiq or have enmity with Zayn al-‘Ābidīn Sayyid al-Sājidīn ‘Alī b. Ḥusayn b. ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib, or do all Muslims feel proud of them and the family of the Prophet (p) in general? Aren’t the traditions in praise of the Ahl al-Bayt in the books of the Muslims more than what can be enumerated?
Do there not exist an abundance of reports in the books of the Ahl al-Sunnah that speak of the Umayyad and ‘Abbāsid caliphate in a negative way, whereas the general culture amongst the Sunnīs or at least what is purported by them, is that the Umayyad history was all glorious or that its good was greater than its evil by a great margin?
If a Sunnī has an issue with an Imāmī who follows the Ahl al-Bayt, this also does not mean that one extends this issue to the Ahl al-Bayt themselves – as if one will take revenge against those who they have an issue with by taking revenge against figures who are revered by all of us.
قُلْ أَغَيْرَ اللَّهِ أَبْغِي رَبًّا وَهُوَ رَبُّ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ ۚ وَلَا تَكْسِبُ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ إِلَّا عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۚ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُم مَّرْجِعُكُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ
[6:164] Say, “Is it other than Allah I should desire as a lord while He is the Lord of all things? And every soul earns not [blame] except against itself, and no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. Then to your Lord is your return, and He will inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.”
مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا
[17:15] Whoever is guided is only guided for [the benefit of] his soul. And whoever errs only errs against it. And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. And never would We punish until We sent a messenger.
Significant steps have to be taken by the education ministries of the Islamic world, the cultural and propagational institutes, as well as religious institutions, in order to revive the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt who were from the most knowledgeable ones with regards to revelation and that which was revealed upon the Prophet (p) and were also amongst the most understanding of the Qurān and Sunnah.
We hope that all of the Ahl al-Sunnah become familiar with the Ahl al-Bayt and their teachings and that there is greater remembrance of theirs and what occurred with them. For what reasons are works like Nahj al-Balāgha or al-Ṣahīfa al-Sajjādīyyah or the Risālah al-Ḥuqūq and other valuable works of the Ahl al-Bayt missing from the life of a Sunni Muslim?
Likewise, we hope that the Imāmī Shī‘a become more familiar with many of the companions and the tābi‘īn with whom they see no issue with. Why is the history of the conquests where many companions participated in kept hidden and there is insistence in rejecting any positive quality that the companions possessed or indifference towards it?
If you have an issue with a certain companion or so, this does not mean that you eradicate and dismiss even their good qualities, or that you become indifferent towards all the noble companions. How is this not possible, while we see that the Qurān goes as far as to praise the disbelievers in some of their qualities despite their disbelief, and the Sunnah of the Prophet (p) also attests to this.
Qurānic Logic On Justice and Fairness
وَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مَنْ إِن تَأْمَنْهُ بِقِنطَارٍ يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ وَمِنْهُم مَّنْ إِن تَأْمَنْهُ بِدِينَارٍ لَّا يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ إِلَّا مَا دُمْتَ عَلَيْهِ قَائِمًا ۗ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا لَيْسَ عَلَيْنَا فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ سَبِيلٌ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
[3:75] And among the People of the Scripture is he who, if you entrust him with a great amount [of wealth], he will return it to you. And among them is he who, if you entrust him with a [single] silver coin, he will not return it to you unless you are constantly standing over him [demanding it]. That is because they say, “There is no blame upon us concerning the unlearned.” And they speak untruth about Allah while they know [it].
Though some people from the Ahl al-Kitāb do not return back the trusts, this does not prevent the Qurān from mentioning those from the Ahl al-Kitāb who do return back the trusts and are considered trustworthy people. This is the culture the Qurān is creating and alluding towards, a culture of justice and fairness.
لَتَجِدَنَّ أَشَدَّ النَّاسِ عَدَاوَةً لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا الْيَهُودَ وَالَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا ۖ وَلَتَجِدَنَّ أَقْرَبَهُم مَّوَدَّةً لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّا نَصَارَىٰ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّ مِنْهُمْ قِسِّيسِينَ وَرُهْبَانًا وَأَنَّهُمْ لَا يَسْتَكْبِرُونَ
[5:82] You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, “We are Christians.” That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant.
The Qurān teaches us that our enmity with some groups of people or individuals should not push is to behave with them unjustly and unfairly. Likewise, Allah (swt) says in the Qurān:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُحِلُّوا شَعَائِرَ اللَّهِ وَلَا الشَّهْرَ الْحَرَامَ وَلَا الْهَدْيَ وَلَا الْقَلَائِدَ وَلَا آمِّينَ الْبَيْتَ الْحَرَامَ يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَرِضْوَانًا ۚ وَإِذَا حَلَلْتُمْ فَاصْطَادُوا ۚ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ أَن صَدُّوكُمْ عَنِ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ أَن تَعْتَدُوا ۘ وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ
[5:2] O you who have believed, do not violate the rites of Allah or [the sanctity of] the sacred month or [neglect the marking of] the sacrificial animals and garlanding [them] or [violate the safety of] those coming to the Sacred House seeking bounty from their Lord and [His] approval. But when you come out of ihram, then [you may] hunt. And do not let the hatred of a people for having obstructed you from al-Masjid al-Haram lead you to transgress. And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
[5:8] O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.
We say all of this because we believe that the truth has the right to be uttered and followed. As such, we can get closer to one another and understand the history of our revered figures and as well as increase our respect for Islam and its deeply rooted traditions.
Ending on this same point, we also want to point the attention of both groups – the Sunnīs and the Imāmīyyah – towards the remembrance of Imam Zayd b. ‘Alī b. al-Ḥusayn b. ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib, and his feats, piety and religiosity, as he is also one of the symbols of the Ahl al-Bayt who are respected by all Muslims today as far as we know.