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The Political Method of the Selection of the Caliph by Vote and Its Disagreement with the Shi'ite View (Part 3)

imam ali (a.s)

The first caliph was selected through the vote of the majority of the companions, the second caliph by the will and testament of the first, and the third by a six-man council whose members and rules of procedure were organized and determined by the second caliph. Altogether the policy of these three caliphs, who were in power for twenty-five years, was to execute and apply Islamic laws and principles in society in accordance with ijtihad and what appeared as most wise at the time to the caliphs themselves. As for the Islamic sciences, the policy of these caliphs was to have the Holy Qur’an read and understood without being concerned with commentaries upon it or allowing it to become the subject of discussion. The hadith of the Prophet was recited and was transmitted orally without being written down. Writing was limited to the text of the Holy Qur’an and was forbidden in the case of hadith. [1]

After the battle of Yamamah which ended in 12/633, many of those who had been reciters of the Holy Qur’an and who knew it by heart were killed. As a result Umar ibn al-Khattab proposed to the first caliph to have the verses of the Holy Qur’an collected in written form, saying that if another war were to occur and the rest of those who knew the Qur’an by heart were to be killed, the knowledge of the text of the Holy Book would disappear among men. Therefore, it was necessary to assemble the Qur’anic verses in written form. [2]

From the Shi'ite point of view it appears strange that this decision was made concerning the Qur’an and yet despite the fact that the prophetic hadith, which is the complement of the Qur’an, was faced with the same danger and was not free from corruption in transmission, addition, diminution, forgery and forgetfulness, the same attention was not paid to it. On the contrary, as already mentioned. writing it down was forbidden and all of the written versions of it that were found were burned, as if to emphasize that only the text of the Holy Book should exist in written form.

As for the other Islamic sciences, during this period little effort was made to propagate them, the energies of the community being spent mostly in establishing the new sociopolitical order. Despite all the praise and consecration which are found in the Qur’an concerning knowledge ('ilm), [3] and the emphasis placed upon its cultivation, the avid cultivation of the religious sciences was postponed to a later period of Islamic history.

Most men were occupied with the remarkable and continuous victories of the Islamic armies, and were carried away by the flood of immeasurable booty which came from all directions toward the Arabian peninsula. With this new wealth and the worldliness which came along with it, few were willing to devote themselves to the cultivation of the sciences of the Household of the Prophet, at whose head stood Ali, whom the Holy Prophet had introduced to the people as the one most versed in the Islamic sciences. At the same time, the inner meaning and purpose of the teachings of the Holy Qur’an were neglected by most of those who were affected by this change. It is strange that, even in the matter of collecting the verses of the Holy Qur’an, Ali was not consulted and his name was not mentioned among those who participated in this task, although it was known by everyone that he had collected the text of the Holy Qur’an after the death of the Prophet. [4]

It has been recounted in many traditions that after receiving allegiance from the community, Abu Bakr sent someone to Ali and asked for his allegiance. Ali said, "I have promised not to leave my house except for the daily prayers until I compile the Quran." And it has been mentioned that Ali gave his allegiance to Abu Bakr after six months. This itself is proof that Ali had finished compiling the Qur’an. Likewise, it has been recounted that after compiling the Qur’an he placed the pages of the Holy Book on a camel and showed it to the people. It is also recounted that the battle of Yamamah after which the Qur’an was compiled, occurred during the second year of the caliphate of Abu Bakr. These facts have been mentioned in most works on history and hadith which deal with the account of the compilation of the Holy Qur’an.

These and similar events made the followers of Ali more firm in their belief and more conscious of the course that lay before them. They increased their activity from day to day and Ali himself, who was cut off from the possibility of educating and training the people in general, concentrated on privately training an elite.

During this twenty-five year period Ali lost through death three of his four dearest friends and associates, who were also among the companions of the Prophet: Salman al-Farsi, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, and Miqdad. They had been constant in their friendship with him in all circumstances. It was also during this same period that some of the other companions of the Holy Prophet and a large number of their followers in the Hijaz, the Yemen, Iraq, and other lands, joined the followers of Ali. As a result, after the death of the third caliph the people turned to Ali from all sides, swore allegiance to him and chose him as caliph.


1. Tarikh-i Tabari, vol.lll, p.377.

2. 27ahih ofBukhari, vol. VI, p.98; Tarikh-i Ya'qubi; vol.ll, p.113.

3. Ya'qubi, vol.ll, p.lll; Tabari; vol.lll, pp.129-132.

4. Editor's note: The word ilm means science in its most universal sense, like the Latin scientia, and applies to the religious as well as intellectual, rational and philosophical forms of knowledge. Generally it is distinguished from ma'rifah or irfan which is Divine knowledge and may be compared to the Latin sapientia. Certain Muslim masters, however, consider 'ilm in its highest sense to stand above irfan since it is a Divine Quality, one of God's Names being al-'Alim, He Who knows.

Taken from the book: SHI'A

By Allamah Seyyed Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai

Other links:

Further Evidence of the Significance of the Tradition of Al-Ghadir: Part 1

Further Evidence of the Significance of the Tradition of Al-Ghadir: Part 2

Further Evidence of the Significance of the Tradition of Al-Ghadir :Part 3

Who is the Family of the Prophet?

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