Part I: The Historical Bckground Of Shi'ism
 


The Termination of the Caliphate of 'Ali Amir al-mu'minin and His Method of Rule The caliphate of Ali began toward the end of the year 35/656 and lasted about four years and nine months. During his period as caliph Ali followed the ways of the Holy Prophet and brought conditions back to their original state. He forced the resignation of all the incompetent political elements who had a hand in directing affairs and began in reality a major transformation of a "revolutionary" nature which caused him innumerable difficulties.

On his first day as caliph, in an address to the people, Ali said, "O People, be aware that the difficulties which you faced during the apostolic period of the Prophet of God have come upon you once again and seized you. Your ranks must be turned completely around so that the people of virtue who have fallen behind should come forward and those who had come to the fore without being worthy should fall behind. There is both truth (haqq) and falsehood (batil).

Each has its followers; but a person should follow the truth. If falsehood be prevalent it is not something new, and if the truth is rare and hard to come by, sometimes even that which is rare wins the day so that there is hope of advance. Of course it does not occur often that something which has turned away from man should return to him."

Ali continued his radically different type of government based more on righteousness than political efficacy but, as is necessary in the case of every movement of this kind, elements of the opposition whose interests were endangered began to display their displeasure and resisted his rule.

Basing their actions on the claim that they wanted to revenge the death of Uthman, they instigated bloody wars which continued throughout almost all the time that Ali was caliph. From the Shi'ite point of view those who caused these civil wars had no end in mind other than their own personal interest. The wish to revenge the blood of the third caliph was no more than an excuse to fool the crowd. There was no question of a misunderstanding.

After the death of the Holy Prophet, a small minority, following Ali, refused to pay allegiance. At the head of the minority there were Salman, Abu Dharr, Miqdad, and Ammar. At the beginning of the caliphate of Ali also a sizable minority in disagreement refused to pay allegiance. Among the most persistent opponents were Sa'id ibn 'Ass, Walid ibn 'Uqbah, Marwan ibn Hakam, 'Amr ibn 'Ass, Busr ibn Artat, Samurah ibn Jundab, and Mughirah ibn Shu'bah.

The study of the biography of these two groups, and meditation upon the acts they have performed and stories recounted of them in history books, reveal fully their religious personality and aim. The first group were among the elite of the companions of the Holy Prophet and among the ascetics, devout worshipers and selfless devotees of Islam who struggled on the path of Islamic freedom. They were especially loved by the Prophet. The Prophet said, "God has informed me that He loves four men and that I should love them also."

They asked about their names. He mentioned Ali and then the names of Abu Dharr, Salman and Miqdad. (Sunan of Ibn Majah, Cairo, 1372, vol. I, p. 66.) 'A'ishah has recounted that the Prophet of God said, "If two alternatives are placed before Ammar, he will definitely choose that which is more true and right." (Ibn Majah, vol. I, p. 66.)

The Prophet said, "There is no one between heaven and earth more truthful than Abu Dharr." (Ibn Majah, vol. I, p. 68.) There is no record of a single forbidden act committed by these men during their lifetime. They never spilled any blood unjustly, did not commit aggression against anyone, did not steal anyone's property, never sought to corrupt and misguide people.

History is, however, full of accounts of unworthy acts committed by some of the second group. The various acts committed by some of these men in opposition to explicit Islamic teachings are beyond reckoning. These acts cannot be excused in any manner except the way that is followed by certain groups among the Sunnis who say that God was satisfied with them and therefore they were free to perform whatever act they wished, and that they would not be punished for violating the injunctions and regulations existing in the Holy Book and the Sunnah.

The first war in the caliphate of Ali, which is called the "Battle of the Camel," was caused by the unfortunate class differences created during the period of rule of the second caliph as a result of the new socioeconomic forces which caused an uneven distribution of the public treasury among members of the community. When chosen to the caliphate, Ali divided the treasury evenly as had been the method of the Holy Prophet, but this manner of dividing the wealth upset Talhah and Zubayr greatly.

They began to show signs of disobedience and left Medina for Mecca with the alleged aim of making the pilgrimage. They persuaded "the mother of the Faithful" (umm al-mu'minin), A'ishah, who was not friendly with Ali, to join them and in the name of wanting to revenge the death of the third caliph they began the bloody Battle of the Camel. This was done despite the fact that this same Talhah and Zubayr were in Medina when the third caliph was besieged and killed but did nothing to defend him.

Furthermore, after his death they were the first to pay allegiance to Ali on behalf of the immigrants (muhajirun) as well as on their own. Also, the "mother of the Faithful," A'ishah, did not show any opposition to those who had killed the third caliph at the moment when she received the news of his death. It must be remembered that the main investigators of the disturbances that led to the death of the third caliph were those companions who wrote letters from Medina to people near and far inviting them to rebel against the caliph, a fact which is repeated in many early Muslim histories.

As for the second war, called the Battle of Siffin, which lasted for a year and a half, its cause was the covetousness of Mu'awiyah for the caliphate which for him was a worldly political instrument rather than a religious institution. But as an excuse he made the revenge of the blood of the third caliph the main issue and began a war in which more than a hundred thousand people perished without reason. Naturally, in these wars Mu'awiyah was the aggressor rather than the defender, for the protest to revenge someone's blood can never occur in the form of defense.

The pretext of this war was blood revenge. During the last days of his life, the third caliph, in order to quell the uprising against him, asked Mu'awiyah for help, but the army of Mu'awiyah which set out from Damascus to Medina purposely waited on the road until the caliph was killed. Then he returned to Damascus to begin an uprising to revenge the caliph's death. After the death of Ali and his gaining the caliphate himself, Mu'awiyah forgot the question of revenging the blood of the third caliph and did not pursue the matter further.

After Siffin there occurred the battle of Nahrawan in which a number people, among whom there could be found some of the companions, rebelled against Ali, possibly at the instigation of Mu'awiyah. These people were causing rebellion throughout the lands of Islam, killing the Muslims and especially the followers of Ali. They even attacked pregnant women and killed their babies. Ali put down this uprising as well, but a short while later was himself killed in the mosque of Kufa by one of the members of this group who came to be known as the Khawarij.

The opponents of Ali claim that he was a courageous man but did not possess political acumen. They claim that at the beginning of his caliphate he could have temporarily made peace with his opponents. He could have approached them through peace and friendship, thus courting their satisfaction and approval. In this way he could have strengthened his caliphate and only then turned to their extirpation and destruction. What people who hold this view forgot is that the movement of Ali was not based on political opportunism. It was a radical and revolutionary religious movement (in the true sense of revolution as a spiritual movement to reestablish the real order of things and not in its current political and social sense);

therefore it could not have been accomplished through compromise or flattery and forgery. A similar situation can be seen during the apostleship of the Holy Prophet. The infidels and polytheists proposed peace to him many times and swore that if he were to abstain from protesting against their gods they would not interfere with his religious mission. But the Prophet did not accept such a proposal, although he could in those days of difficulty have made peace and used flattery to fortify his own position, and then have risen against his enemies. In fact, the Islamic message never allows a right and just cause, nor a falsehood to be rejected and disproven through another falsehood. There are many Quranic verses concerning this matter.

The Benefit which the Shi'ah Derived from the Caliphate of Ali

During the four years and nine months of his caliphate, Ali was not able to eliminate the disturbed conditions which were prevailing throughout the Islamic world, but he was successful in three fundamental ways:

1. As a result of his just and upright manner of living he revealed once again the beauty and attractiveness of the way of life of the Holy Prophet, especially to the younger generation. In contrast to the imperial grandeur of Mu'awiyah, he lived in simplicity and poverty like the poorest of people. He never favored his friends or relatives and family above others, nor did he ever prefer wealth to poverty or brute force to weakness.

2. Despite the cumbersome and strenuous difficulties which absorbed his time, he left behind among the Islamic community a valuable treasury of the truly divine sciences and Islamic intellectual disciplines. Nearly eleven thousand of his proverbs and short sayings on different intellectual, religious and social subjects have been recorded. In his talks and speeches he expounded the most sublime Islamic sciences in a most elegant and flowing manner. He established Arabic grammar and laid the basis for Arabic literature.

He was the first in Islam to delve directly into the questions of metaphysics (falsafah-i ilahi) in a manner combining intellectual rigor and logical demonstration. He discussed problems which had never appeared before in the same way among the metaphysicians of the world. Moreover, he was so devoted to metaphysics and gnosis that even in the heat of battle he would carry out intellectual discourse and discuss metaphysical questions.

3. He trained a large number of religious scholars and Islamic savants, among whom are found a number of ascetics and gnostics who were the forefathers of the Sufis, such men as Uways al-Qarani, Kumayl al-Nakha'i, Maytham al-Tammar and Roshaid al-Hajari. These men have been recognized by the later Sufis as the founders of gnosis in Islam. Others among his disciples became the first teachers of jurisprudence, theology, Quranic commentary and recitation.

The Transfer of the Caliphate to Mu'awiyah and Its Transformation into a Hereditary Monarchy

After the death of Ali, his son, Hasan ibn Ali, who is recognized by the Shi'ah as their second Imam, became caliph. This designation occurred in accordance with Ali's last will and testament and also by the allegiance of the community to Hasan. But Mu'awiyah did not remain quiet before this event. He marched with his army toward Iraq, which was then the capital of the caliphate , and began to wage war against Hasan.

Through different intrigues and the payment of great sums of money, Mu'awiyah was able gradually to corrupt the aides and generals of Hasan. Finally he was able to force Hasan to hand the caliphate over to him so as to avoid bloodshed and to make peace. Hasan handed the caliphate to Mu'awiyah on the condition that the caliphate would be returned to him after the death of Mu'awiyah and that no harm would come to his partisans.

In the year 40/661 Mu'awiyah finally gained control of the caliphate. He then set out immediately for Iraq and in a speech to the people of that land said: "I did not fight against you for the sake of the prayers or of fasting. These acts you can perform yourself. What I wanted to accomplish was to rule over you and this end I have achieved." He also said, "The agreement I made with Hasan is null and void. It lies trampled under my feet." With this declaration Mu'awiyah made known to the people the real character of his government and revealed the nature of the program he had in mind.

He indicated in his declaration that he would separate religion from politics and would not give any guarantees concerning religious duties and regulations. He would spend all his force to preserve and to keep alive his own power, whatever might be the cost. Obviously a government of such a nature is more of a sultanate and a monarchy than a caliphate and vicegerency of the Prophet of God in its traditional Islamic sense. That is why some who were admitted to his court addressed him as "king." He himself in some private gatherings interpreted his government as a monarchy, while in public he always introduced himself as the caliph.

Naturally any monarchy that is based on force carries with it inherently the principle of inheritance. Mu'awiyah, too, finally realized this fact, and chose his son, Yazid, who was a heedless young man without the least religious personality, as the "crown prince" and his successor. This act was to be the cause of many regrettable events in the future. Mu'awiyah had previously indicated that he would refuse to permit Hasan ibn Ali to succeed him as caliph and that he had other thoughts in mind. Therefore he had caused Hasan to be killed by poisoning, thus preparing the way for his son, Yazid.

In breaking his agreement with Hasan, Mu'awiyah made it clear that he would never permit the Shi'ah of the Household of the Prophet to live in a peaceful and secure environment and continue their activity as before, and he carried into action this very intention. It has been said that he went so far as to declare that whoever would transmit a hadith in praise of the virtues of the Household of the Prophet would have no immunity or protection concerning his life, merchandise and property.

At the same time he ordered that whoever could recite a hadith in praise of the other companions or caliphs would be given sufficient reward. As a result a noticeable number of hadiths were recorded at this time praising the companions, some of which are of doubtful authenticity. He ordered pejorative comments to be made about Ali from the pulpits of mosques throughout the lands of Islam, while he himself sought to revile Ali. This command continued to be more or less in effect until the caliphate of Umar ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz, when it was discontinued.

With the help of his agents and lieutenants, Mu'awiyah caused elite and the most outstanding among the partisans of Ali to be put to death and the heads of some of them to be carried on lances throughout different cities. The majority of Shi'ites were forced to disown and even curse Ali and to express their disdain for him. If they refused, they were put to death.