Parts 28b

The meaning of the oath of allegiance Icon

January 17, 2020

Differences of the sort in Islam include those:

  1. between Ali on the one hand, and Mu’awiyah, as well as az-Zubayr, Talhah, and ‘A’ishah on the other,
  2. between al-Husayn and Yazid, and
  3. between Ibn az-Zubayr and ‘Abd-al-Malik.


When ‘Uthman was killed, the important Muslims were dispersed over the various cities. They were not present when the oath of allegiance was rendered to ‘Ali.

  • Of those who were present, some rendered the oath of allegiance to him.
  • Others, however, waited for the others to come and agree on an imam.

Among those who waited were, for instance:

  • Sa’d (b. Abi Waggas)
  • Sa’id (b. Zayd)
  • (‘Abdallah) b. ‘Umar
  • Usamah b. Zayd
  • al-Mughirah b. Shu’bah
  • ‘Abdallah b. Salim
  • Qudamah b. Maz’un
  • Abu Sa’id (Sa’d b. Malik) al-Khudri
  • Ka’b b. ‘Ujrah
  • Ka’b b. Malik
  • an-Nu’man b. Bashir
  • Hassan b. Thabit
  • Maslamah b. Makhlad
  • Fudalah b. ‘Ubayd
  • other important personalities from among the men around Muhammad.

Those who were in the various cities:

  • also refrained from rendering the oath of allegiance to ‘Ali
  • preferred to seek revenge for ‘Uthman

And so they left matters in a state of anarchy.

Eventually, the Muslims formed an (electoral) council (shard) to determine whom they should appoint.

They suspected ‘Ali of negligence when he kept silent and did not help ‘Uthman against his murderers, but they did not suspect him of having actually conspired against ‘Uthman.

That would be unthinkable.

When Mu’awiyah openly reproached ‘Ali, his accusation was directed exclusively against his keeping silent.

Later on, they had differences. ‘Ali was of the opinion that the oath of allegiance that had been rendered to him was binding and obligatory upon those who had not yet rendered it, because the people had agreed upon (rendering the oath) in Medina, the residence of the Prophet and the home of the men around Muhammad.

He thought of postponing ‘Uthman’s revenge until unity was established among the people and the whole thing was well organized. Then it would be feasible.

Others were of the opinion that the oath of allegiance rendered to ‘All was not binding, because the men around Muhammad who controlled the executive power were dispersed all over the world and only a few had been present (when the oath to ‘All was rendered).

(They thought that) an oath of allegiance requires the agreement of all the men who control the executive power and that there was no obligation to confirm a person who had received it from others or merely from a minority of those men.

Thus, they thought that the Muslims were at the time in a state of anarchy and should first seek revenge for ‘Uthman and then agree upon an imam.

This opinion was held by Mu’awiyah, by ‘Amr b. al-‘As, by the Mother of theMuslims, ‘A’ishah, by az-Zubayr and his son ‘Abdallah, by Talhah and his son Muhammad, by Sa’d, by Sa’id, by an-Nu’man b. Bashir, by Mu’awiyah b. Hudayj, and by others among the men around Muhammad who followed the opinion of those mentioned and who hesitated, as we have mentioned, to render the oath of allegiance to ‘Ali in Medina.

However, the men of the second period after them agreed that the oath of allegiance rendered to ‘All had been binding and obligatory upon all Muslims.

They considered (‘Ali’s) opinion the correct one and clearly indicated that the error was on Mu’awiyah’s side and on that of those who were of his opinion, especially Talhah and az-Zubayr, who broke with ‘Ali after having rendered the oath of allegiance to him, as has been reported. Still, it was not considered acceptable to declare both parties at fault, for such a thing is not done in cases of independent judgment.

Such became the general consensus among the men of the second period as to one of the two opinions held by the men of the first period.

Ali was asked about those who had died in the Battle of the Camel and the Battle of Siffin. He replied: “By God, all of them who die with pure heart will be admitted by God to paradise.” He referred to both parties. This remark was reported by at-Tabari and by others.

The probity of none of these men should be doubted. No aspersion should be cast on them in this connection. It is well known who they were. Their words and deeds are models to be followed. Their probity is perfect, in the view of orthodox Muslim opinion.

The only exception would be a statement by the Mu’tazilah with regard to those who fought ‘Ali, 345 but no true believer pays attention to this statement or stoops to consider it seriously. He who looks at the matter impartially will find excusable, not only the differences among all the people (the Muslims) with regard to the affair of ‘Uthman, but also all the subsequent differences among the men around Muhammad.

He will realize that (these quarrels) were temptations inflicted by God upon the Muslim nation, while He vanquished the enemies of the Muslims and made the Muslims rulers of the lands and country of their enemies, and while they established cities in the border territories, in al-Basrah and al-Kufah (the ‘Iraq), in Syria, and in Egypt.

Most of the Arabs who settled in those cities were uncivilized. They had made little use of the Prophet’s company and had not been improved by his way of life and manners, nor had they been trained in his qualities of character.

Moreover, they had been uncivilized in pre-Islamic times, had been possessed by group feeling and overbearing pride, and had been remote from the soothing influence of the faith.

When the (Muslim) dynasty came to be powerful, (these Arabs) were dominated by (Meccan) emigrants and (Medinese) Ansar, belonging to the Quraysh, the Kinanah, the Thaqif, the Hudhayl, and the inhabitants of the Hijaz and Yathrib (Medina), who had been first to adopt the faith of Islam. They were scornful and disliked the situation. They saw that they themselves possessed the older pedigree and the greater numerical strength, and that they had beaten the Persians and Byzantines. They belonged to such tribes as the Bakr b. Wa’il, the ‘Abd-al-Qays b. Rabi’ah, the Kindah and the Azd of the Yemen, the Tamim and the Qays of the Mudar, among others. They grew scornful of the Quraysh and overbearing against them. They weakened in their obedience to them. They gave as the reason for their (attitude) the unjust treatment they received from them. They sought protection against them. They accused them (the Quraysh, etc.) of being too weak for military expeditions and of being unfair in distributing (the booty). These complaints spread and reached the Medinese with their well-known attitude. They considered the matter important and informed ‘Uthman about it. He sent to the cities to get reliable information. He sent (‘Abdallah) b. ‘Umar,Muhammad b. Maslamah, Usamah b. Zayd, and others.

They noticed nothing in the (conduct of the) amirs (of the cities) that might call for disapproval, and found no fault with them. They reported the situation (to ‘Uthman) as they saw it. But the accusations on the part of the inhabitants of the cities did not stop. The slanderous stories and rumors grew continually. Al-Walid b. ‘Uqbah, the governor of alKufah, was accused of drinking wine. A large number of Kufians testified against him, and ‘Uthman punished him (as required by the religious law) and deposed him. Then, some of the people of those cities came to Medina to ask for the removal of the governors. They complained to ‘All, ‘A’ishah, az-Zubayr, and Talhah. ‘Uthman deposed some of the governors, but the people still continued their criticisms. Then, Sa’id b. al-‘As, the governor of al-Kufah, went on a mission (to ‘Uthman). When he returned, he was intercepted by (the Kufians) on the road and sent back deposed. Then differences broke out between ‘Uthman and the men around Muhammad who were with him in Medina. They resented his refusal to depose (his officials), but he did not want to (depose them) except for cause. They then shifted their disapproval to other actions of (‘Uthman’s). He followed his own independent judgment, and they did the same. Then, a mob banded together and went to Medina, ostensibly in order to obtain redress of their grievances from ‘Uthman. In fact, they thought of killing him.

There were people from al-Basrah, al-Kufah, and Egypt among them. Ali, ‘A’ishah, az-Zubayr, Talhah, and others took their side, attempting to quiet things down and to get ‘Uthman to accept their view of the situation. He deposed the governor of Egypt, and the people who had come to Medina left, but then, after having gone only a short distance, they came back. They had been deceived, they believed, by a forged letter which they had found in the hand of a messenger who was carrying it to the governor of Egypt.

The letter stated that they were to be killed on their return to Egypt. ‘Uthman swore that (the letter was not genuine), but they said= “Let us have your secretary Marwan.” Marwin, too, swore (that he had not written the letter). Then ‘Uthman said= “No more evidence is needed.”

Thereupon, however, they besieged ‘Uthman in his house. They fell upon him in the night when (his defenders) were not careful, and killed him. That opened the door to the (ensuing) trouble.

All the (persons involved in the affair of ‘Uthman) can be excused in connection with the occurrence. All of them were concerned with Islam and were not neglectful with regard to any aspect connected with the Muslim religion. After the event, they considered the matter and applied their independent judgment. God observes their circumstances. He knows these men. We can only think the best of them. What we know about their conditions, as well as the statements of the Speaker of the Truth (Muhammad praising those men), require us to do so.


When the great mass of Yazid’s contemporaries saw his wickedness, the Shi’ah in al-Kufah invited al-Husayn to come to them, saying that they would take his side. AlHusayn was of the opinion that a revolt against Yazid was clearly indicated as a duty, because of his wickedness. (That duty, he felt,) was especially incumbent upon those who had the power to execute it. He felt that he had (that power) in view of his qualifications and strength. His qualifications were as good as he thought, and better.

But, regrettably enough, he was mistaken with regard to his strength. The group feeling of the Mudar was in the Quraysh, that of the Quraysh in Abd-Manaf, and that of ‘Abd-Manaf in the Umayyads. The Quraysh and all the others conceded this fact and were not ignorant of it. At the beginning of Islam, it had been forgotten.

People were diverted by fearful wonders and by the Revelation, and by frequent visitations of angels in aid of the Muslims. 346 Thus, they had neglectedtheir customary affairs, and the group feeling and aspirations of pre-Islamic times had disappeared and were forgotten. Only the natural group feeling, serving the purpose of military protection and defense, had remained and was used to advantage in the establishment of Islam and the fight against the polytheists. The religion became well established in (this situation). The customary course of affairs was inoperative, until prophecy and the terrifying wonders stopped. Then, the customary course of affairs resumed to some degree. Group feeling reverted to its former status and came back to those to whom it had formerly belonged. In consequence of their previous state of obedience, the Mudar became more obedient to the Umayyads than to others.

Thus, al-Husayn’s error has become clear. It was, however, an error with respect to a worldly matter, where an error does not do any harm. 347 From the point of view of the religious law, he did not err, because here everything depended on what he thought, which was that he had the power to (revolt against Yazid). Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn az-Zubayr, Ibn ‘Umar, (al-Husayn’s) brother Ibn al-Hanafiyah, and others, criticized (al-Husayn) because of his trip to al-Kufah. They realized his mistake, but he did not desist from the enterprise he had begun, because God wanted it to be so.

The men around Muhammad other than al-Husayn, in the Hijaz and with Yazid in Syria and in the ‘Iraq, and their followers, were of the opinion that a revolt against Yazid, even though he was wicked, would not be permissible, because such a revolt would result in trouble and bloodshed. They refrained from it and did not follow al-Husayn (in his opinion), but they also did not disapprove of him and did not consider him at fault. For he had independent judgment, being the model of all who ever had independent judgment. One should not fall into the error of declaring these people to be at fault because they opposed al-Husayn and did not come to his aid. They constituted the majority of the men around Muhammad. They were with Yazid, and they were of the opinion that they should not revolt against him. Al- Husayn, fighting at Kerbela’, asked them to attest to his excellence and the correctness of his position. He said= “Ask Jabir b. ‘Abdallah, Abu Sa’id (al-Khudri), Anas b. Malik, Sahl b. Sa’d, Zayd b. Arqam, and others.” 348 Thus, he did not disapprove of their not coming to his help. He did not interfere in this matter, because he knew that they were acting according to their own independent judgment. For his part, he also acted according to independent judgment.

Likewise, one should not fall into the error of declaring that his murder was justified because (it also) was the result of independent judgment, even if (one grants that) he (on his part) exercised the (correct) 349 independent judgment. This, then, would be a situation comparable to that of Shafi’ites and Malikites applying their legal punishment for drinking date liquor (nabhdh) 350 to Hanafites. It should be known that the matter is not so. The independent judgment of those men did not involve fighting against al-Husayn, even if it involved opposition to his revolt. Yazid and the men around him 351 were the only ones who (actually) fought against (al-Husayn). It should not be said that if Yazid was wicked and yet these (men around Muhammad) did not consider it permissible to revolt against him, his actions were in their opinion binding and right. It should be known that only those actions of the wicked are binding that are legal. The (authorities) consider it a condition of fighting evildoers that any such fighting be undertaken with a just (‘adil) imam. This does not apply to the question under consideration. Thus, it was not permissible to fight against al-Husayn with Yazid or on Yazid’s behalf. In matter of fact, (Yazid’s fight against al-Husayn) was one of the actions that confirmed his wickedness. Al-Husayn, therefore, was a martyr who will receive his reward. Hewas right, and he exercised independent judgment.

The men around Muhammad who were with Yazid 352 were also right, and they exercised independent judgment. Judge Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi al-Maliki 353 erred when he made the following statement in his book alQawasim wa-l-‘Awasim= “Al-Husayn was killed according to the law of his grandfather (Muhammad).” Ibn al-‘Arabi fell into that error because he overlooked the condition of the “just (‘adil) imam” which governs the fighting against sectarians.

(3) Ibn az-Zubayr felt about his revolt as al-Husayn had (about his). He was under the same impression (as alHusayn regarding his qualifications). But his error with regard to his power was greater (than that of al-Husayn). The Bane Asad were no match for the Umayyads in either pre-Islamic or Islamic times. It does not apply in the case of Ibn Zubayr, as it does in the case of Mu’awiyah against ‘Ali, that the error is expressly indicated to lie on his opponent’s side. In (the case of Mu’awiyah against ‘Ali), the general consensus has decided the question for us. 354 In (the case of Ibn az-Zubayr), we do not have (a general consensus). The fact that Yazid was in error was expressly indicated by the fact of Yazid’s wickedness, but ‘Abd-al-Malik, who had to deal with Ibn az-Zubayr, possessed greater probity than anybody else. It is sufficient proof of his probity that Malik used ‘Abd-al-Malik’s actions as proof,355 and that Ibn ‘Abbas and Ibn ‘Umar rendered the oath of allegiance to ‘Abd-al-Malik and left Ibn az-Zubayr with whom they had been together in the IHijaz. Furthermore, many of the men around Muhammad were of the opinion that the oath of allegiance rendered to Ibn az-Zubayr was not binding, because the men who held the executive power were not present, as (they had been) when it was rendered to (‘Abd-alMalik’s father) Marwan. Ibn az-Zubayr held the opposite opinion. However, all of them were using independent judgment and were evidently motivated by the truth, even though it is not expressly indicated to have been on one side. Our discussion shows that the killing of Ibn az-Zubayr did not conflict with the basic principles and norms of jurisprudence. Nonetheless, he is a martyr and will receive his reward, because of his (good) intentions and the fact that he chose the truth.

This is how the actions of the ancient Muslims, the men around Muhammad and the men of the second generation, have to be judged. They were the best Muslims.

If we permitted them to be the target of slander, who could claim probity! The Prophet said= “The best men are those of my generation, then those who follow them,“repeating the latter sentence two or three times-“Then, falsehood will spread.” 356 Thus, he considered goodness, that is, probity, a quality peculiar to the first period and to the one that followed it. One should beware of letting one’s mind or tongue become used to criticizing any of (the ancient Muslims). One’s heart should not be tempted by doubts concerning anything that happened in connection with them. One should be as truthful as possible in their behalf. They deserve it most. They never differed among themselves except for good reasons. They never killed or were killed except in a holy war, or in helping to make some truth victorious.

It should further be believed that their differences were a source of divine mercy for later Muslims, so that every (later Muslim) can take as his model the old Muslim of his choice and make him his imam, guide, and leader. If this is understood, God’s wise plans with regard to His creation and creatures will become clear.


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