|A case study of
Da'wat dhu 'l-'Ashira
Many students of Islamic history begin with the
assumption that if an event or a statement has not been
reported in the earliest sources of Muslim history or
hadith like as-Sirah an-Nabawiyya of Ibn Hishãm
or Sahíh of al-Bukhãri, it must be a later
fabrication and therefore not credible. They tend to
ignore the biases and limitations that are imposed on
the writer by the ruling powers as well as by
self-inclination. Biases are not only relevant in
fabrication of mythical persons, events and statements,
they are equally relevant in ignoring and silently
bypassing certain historical figures and stories.
This paper intends to examine the way Muslim
historians have dealt with the first open call to Islam
known as Da'wat dhu 'l-'Ashira.
2. The First Open Call to Islam
Islam began when the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon
him and his progeny) became forty years old. Initially,
the mission was kept a secret. Then three years after
the advent of Islam, the Prophet was ordered to commence
the open declaration of his message. This was the
occasion when Almighty Allãh revealed the verse "And
warn thy nearest relations." (26:214)
When this verse was revealed, the Prophet organized a
feast that is known in history as "Summoning the Family
- Da'wat dhu 'l-'Ashira". The Prophet invited
around forty men from the Banu Hãshim and asked 'Ali bin
Abi Tãlib to make arrangements for the dinner. After
having served his guests with food and drinks, when the
Prophet wanted to speak to them about Islam, Abu Lahab
forestalled him and said, "Your host has long since
bewitched you." All the guests dispersed before the
Prophet could present his message to them.
The Prophet then invited them the next day. After the
feast, he spoke to them, saying:
O Sons of 'Abdu 'l-Muttalib! By Allãh, I do not
know of any person among the Arabs who has come to his
people with better than what I have brought to you. I
have brought to you the good of this world and the
next, and I have been commanded by the Lord to call
you unto Him. Therefore, who amongst you will support
me in this matter so that he may be my brother (akhhí),
my successor (wasiyyí) and my caliph (khalifatí)
This was the first time that the Prophet openly and
publicly called the relations to accept him as the
Messenger and Prophet of Allãh; he also uses the words "akhí
wa wasiyyí wa khalífatí- my brother, my successor,
my caliph" for the person who will aid him in this
mission. No one answered him; they all held back except
the youngest of them - 'Ali bin Abí Tãlib. He stood up
and said, "I will be your helper, O Prophet of God."
The Prophet put his hand on the back of 'Ali's neck
"Inna hadhã akhhí wa wasiyyí wa khalífatí fíkum,
fasma'û lahu wa atí'û - Verily this is my brother,
my successor, and my caliph amongst you; therefore,
listen to him and obey."
This was a very explicit statement because the
audience understood the appointment of 'Ali very
clearly. Some of them, including Abu Lahab, even joked
with Abu Tãlib that your nephew, Mohammad, has ordered
you to listen to your son and obey him! At the least,
this shows that the appointment of 'Ali bin Abí Tãlib
was clear and explicit, not just implied.
3. Why Doesn't Ibn Hishãm Mention this Da'wat?
One of the questions raised in relation to this issue
is why 'Abdu 'l-Malik Ibn Hishãm (d. 213 AH) does not
mention this event in his as-Sirah an-Nabawiyya -
The Biography of the Prophet? After all, he is the
earliest of all historians.
What is known as the Sirah of Ibn Hishãm is
actually the summary of the book of Mohammad Ibn Ishãq
(born in 85 AH in Medina and died in 151 AH in Baghdad).
The unabriged version of Ibn Ishãq's history book does
not exist anymore. So the question has to be
reformulated: "Did Ibn Ishãq mention the Summoning of
the Family event?"
The political considerations that influenced Ibn
Hishãm in deleting certain events and maintaining others
is clear from his own statement. While listing the items
that he has omitted, Ibn Hishãm writes, "...things which
it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would
distress certain people...all these things I have
omitted." Editors of
the 1955 Egyptian edition of the Sirah write that
Ibn Ishãq had quoted events that would not have pleased
the 'Abbãsids "like the participation of al-'Abbãs with
the infidels in the battle of Badr and his capture by
the Muslims-the narration that Ibn Hishãm later on
omitted out of the fear of the 'Abbãsids."
Praises of Imam 'Ali bin Abi Tãlib, especially the
traditon of dãr, were among the items that Ibn
Hishãm has deleted in summarizing the Sirah of
Ibn Ishãq. "The tradition of dãr" is about the
Summoning of the Family event mentioned above.
The fact that Ibn Ishãq had mentioned the Summoning
of the Family can be seen through those who have
narrated events from Ibn Ishãq by sources other than Ibn
Hishãm. For example, at-Tabari (d. 310 AH) narrates the
same event through Ibn Ishãq. Shaykh Abu Ja'far at-Tûsi
(d. 460 AH) also narrates the same event through two
different chains of narrators: one of those two is on
the authority of Ibn Ishãq through at-Tabari.
This clearly shows that what has come to be
recognized as the earliest and the most authentic
historical account is not free from bias in ignoring
certain events and in narrating others.
Ibn Ishãq himself has been accused of having Shí'ite
leanings. If true, this could be one of the
considerations that prompted Ibn Hishãm to omit the
items that he thought supported the Shí'ite cause.
However, al-Khatíb al-Baghdãdi in Ta'ríkh Baghdãd
and Ibn Sayyidi 'n-Nãs in 'Uyûnu 'l-Athar, both
Sunni historians, have defended Ibn Ishãq against all
kinds of accusations including that of having Shí'ite
4. Self-Censorship by At-Tabari
The case of Mohammad bin Jarír at-Tabari (d. 310 AH)
is even more interesting. The event of Da'wat dhi 'l-'Ashira
given above is based on the version of at-Tabari's
monumental work in history: Ta'ríkhu 'l-Umam wa 'l-Mulûk.
At-Tabari has also authored a famous commentary of the
Qur'ãn: Jãmi'u 'l-Bayãn 'an Ta'wíl Ãyai 'l-Qur'ãn.
It is interesting to compare the history of at-Tabari
with his Qur'ãnic commentary in relation to the present
In his Ta'ríkh, at-Tabari has quoted the words
used by the Prophet for 'Ali in the Feast in its
"akhhí wa wasiyyí wa khalífatí:
my brother, my successor, my caliph."
But in his at-Ta'wíl (vol. 19, p. 74), while
discussing the relevant verse in which the Prophet was
ordered to call his relations to Islam, at-Tabari
exercises self-censorship and has concealed the clear
and the explicit impact of the Prophet's words by
recording it as follows:
"akhhi wa kadha wa kadha:
my brother, and so-and-so, and
Ibn Kathír, another famous Damascene author of al-Bidãyah
wa an-Nihãyah (vol. 3, p. 40), has used the
Ta'ríkh of at-Tabari as his main reference. However,
when he comes to the event of the Feast, he abandons the
Ta'ríkh of at-Tabari and uses the altered version
of Jãmi'u 'l-Bayãn of at-Tabari! This is not
surprising since it is known that Ibn Kathír had anti-Shí'a
5. Self-Censorship In Modern Times
A modern writer of Egypt, Dr. Mohammad Husayn Haykal,
wrote a famous book on the Prophet's biography known as
Hayãt Mohammad. Haykal had first published the
Prophet's biography in his weekly paper as-Siyãsa.
The event of the Feast was published in the supplement
of issue # 2751 (12 Dhu 'l-Qa'dah 1350) p. 5, column 2.
One of his critics wrote a letter to the paper accusing
Haykal of using Shí'ite sources for that statement about
Imam 'Ali. Haykal responds to this accusation in the
supplement of issue # 2758, p. 6, column 4, by denying
that he used a Shí'ite source "since all traditions do
speak of this behaviour of 'Ali;" and quotes the
hadith from Sahíh of Muslim, Musnad of
Ahmad and others.
Haykal resisted the pressure to omit the Prophet's
statement about 'Ali when the biography was finally
printed in a book form. In the first edition of Hayãt
Mohammad, Haykal narrates the event of the Feast as
"...When they had finished eating, he [the Prophet]
said to them, 'I do not know any person among the
Arabs who has come to his people with something better
than what I have come to you; I have come to you with
the best of this world and the hereafter. My Lord has
ordered me to call you unto him.
"'So who among you will help me in this matter, so
that he may be my brother, my successor, and my caliph
"All of them turned away from him and wanted to
leave him but 'Alí stood up although he was still a
child who had not reached maturity and said, 'O
Messenger of Allãh, I shall be your helper! I will
help you against whomsoever you fight.' The Banu
Hãshim smiled, some of them laughed, and their eyes
moved from Abu Tãlib to his son; and then they left in
the state of ridicule."
Haykal has quoted the important words in the initial
statement of the Prophet asking for support; but
conveniently left out the Prophet's entire response to
'Ali's readiness to help him!
In the second edition, Haykal seems to have given
into the pressure of the bigots and even deleted the
crucial words of the Prophet and just wrote: "...he said
to them, '...So who among you will help me in this
matter? All of them turned away from him..."
This clearly shows that he doesn't doubt the actual
"Summoning of the Family" event but he lacked the
intellectual courage to stand by the logical conclusion
of his initial findings in the study of history.
6. The Isnãd of "Summoning the Family"
The opponents of the Shí'a view naturally have tried
to question the credibility of some of the narrators of
this famous event.
Ibn Taymiyya, well known for his anti-Shí'a
sentiments, has adamantly declared it to be a fabricated
hadíth. He has attacked the credibility of 'Abd
al-Ghaffãr bin al-Qãsim known as Abu Maryam al-Kufi.
Abu Maryam is the source of Ibn Ishãq in narrating the
event of "Summoning the Family". However, the only basis
for questioning the credibility of Abu Maryam is his
Shi'a links; but, as any unbiased person knows, that is
not a sufficient ground to reject his narration. Shi'a
biographers of narrators have counted him among the
reliable narrators of hadíth from the fourth, fifth, and
sixth Shi'a Imams (a.s.).
Salma bin al-Fadhl (d. 191), the foremost disciple of
Ibn Ishãq, is also recognized as credible in narrating
the Prophet's biography from his master. He is quoted as
saying, "I have heard the al-Maghãzi from Ibn
Ishãq two times;" and he is well known among the
scholars of hadith for historical narration from
Ibn Ishãq. According
to Mutã' at-Tarãbíshí, Salma bin al-Fadhl's narration of
historical nature are accepted by all.
Ibn Mu'ín says, "Salma [bin al-Fadhl] al-Abrash ar-Rãzi
was a Shí'i as already written and there is no defect in
him... Abu Zuhra says, 'The people of Ray did not like
him because of his undesirable [i.e., Shi'í] beliefs.'"
Adh-Dhahabi writes the following about Salma: "He was
steadfast in prayer and full of humility in his beliefs;
he died in 191 A.H."
Shaykh Salím al-Bishri had raised the issue why al-Bukhãri
and Muslim do not mention this tradition in their
Sahíhs. Sharafu 'd-Dín al-Musawi responded as
"The tradition conflicts with the views of the two
Shaykhs, Bukhari and Muslim, in respect of the Caliphate
and that is why they have not recorded it in their
Sahíhs. They have also scrupulously avoided
recording a number of other genuine traditions which
stipulated the Caliphate in favor of Amir al-Mu'minín
lest the same serve as a weapon in the hands of the
Shí'as, and so intentionally concealed the truth. Not
only Bukhari and Muslim but also many other Shaykhs
(i.e., senior traditionists) among the Ahl al-Sunnah
followed this practice...They used to conceal everything
of this nature and are well known for their creed of
concealment of facts (favoring 'Ali and the Ahl al-Bayt).
Hafiz Ibn Hajar has related this from them in Fath
"Anyone who knows the behaviour of Bukhari towards
Amir al-Mu'minín and other members of the Ahl al-Bayt
also knows that his pen invariably omits mentioning the
clear traditions of the Holy Prophet in their favor, and
that his ink dries up before relating their
distinguished, excellent qualities and one will not be
surprised at his skipping over this and other similar
traditions. There is neither might nor power but by
Allah, the High and the Great."
This brief review on the self-censorship that was
exercised by the early historians and compilers of
hadíth proves that absence of an event in the well known
"early" books of Islamic history and hadíth does not
necessarily mean that that event is a later invention by
the Shí'as or is not considered credible. One must go
beyond the artificial limits of "early" and official
history of the Muslim people and also study the other
"non-orthodox" sources to fully comprehend the real life
drama that unfolded in the early days of the history of
* * *
 Most Muslim
historians and commentators of the Qur'ãn have quoted
this event. See the following Sunni sources: at-Tabari,
at-Ta'ríkh, vol. 1 (Leiden, 1980 offset of the 1789
edition) p. 171-173; Ibn al-Athír, al-Kãmil, vol. 5
(Beirut, 1965) p. 62-63; Abu 'l-Fidã', al-Mukhtasar fi
Ta'ríkhi 'l-Bashar, vol. 1 (Beirut, n.d.) p. 116-117;
al-Khãzin, at-Tafsír, vol. 4 (Cairo, 1955) p. 127; al-Baghawi,
at-Tafsír (Ma'ãlimu 't-Tanzíl), vol. 6 (Riyadh: Dar
Tayyiba, 1993) p. 131; al-Bayhaqi, Dalã'ilu 'n-Nubuwwa,
vol. 1 (Cairo, 1969) p. 428-430; as-Suyuti, ad-Durru 'l-Manthûr,
vol. 5 (Beirut, n.d.) p. 97; and Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanzu
'l-'Ummãl, vol. 15 (Hyderabad, 1968) pp. 100, 113, 115.
For further references, see 'Abdu 'l-Husayn al-Aminí,
al-Ghadír, vol. 2 (Beirut, 1967) pp. 278-289. In English
see, Rizvi, S. Saeed Akhtar, Imamate: the Vicegerency of
the Prophet (Tehran: WOFIS, 1985) pp. 57-60. For an
elaborate discussion on the isnãd and meaning of the
Prophet's hadíth in this event, and also the variations
in the early Sunni and Shi'a sources, see Dr. Sayyid
Tãlib Husayn ar-Rifã'í, Yawmu 'd-Dãr (Beirut: Dar al-Azwã',
 Ibn Hishãm, as-Sírah
an-Nabawiyya, vol. 1 (Cairo: Mustafa al-Halabi & Sons,
1955) p. 11-12; also see its English translation by A.
Guillaume, The Life of Mohammad (Lahore: Oxford
University Press, 1955) p. 691. See also the
introduction by Dr. Asghari Mahdawi to the 6th century
Persian translation by Rafí'u 'd-Dín Hamadãni of the
Sirah entitled as Sirat-e Rasûlu 'l-lãh (Tehran, Bunyad-e
Farhang-e Iran, 1360 [solar] AH) p. nûn.
 Ibn Hishãm, as-Sirah,
vol. 1, p. 10.
 Abu Ja'far at-Tusi,
Kitãbu 'l-Ãmãli, vol. 2 (Najaf: Maktabatu 'l-Haydari,
1964) p. 194-196.
 See the
introduction to as-Sirah an-Nabawiyya, vol. 1, p. 15-17;
also see Guillaume, The Life of Mohammad, p.
 See the 1879
edition of EJ Brill, Leiden (vol. 3, p. 1173), the 1908
edition of Dãru 'l-Qãmûsi 'l-Hadíth, Cairo (vol. 1&2, p.
217), and also the 1961 edition of Dãru 'l-Ma'ãrif,
Cairo, edited by Mohammad Abu 'l-Fadl Ibrãhim (vol. 2,
p. 321) in which the original words are intact. Even at-Tabari's
1988 English translation published by State University
of New York, vol. 6 (translators: WM Watt and MV
McDonald) p. 90-91 has maintained the original words of
the Prophet without any omission.
 Antonie Wessels, A
Modern Arabic Biography of Mohammad (Leiden: EJ Brill,
1972) p. 223, 245; also see 'Abdu 'l-Husayn Sharafu 'd-Dín
al-Musawi, al-Murãji'ãt, annotated by Husayn ar-Rãzi
(Beirut: n.p., 1982) p. 189.
 Haykal, Hayãt
Mohammad (Cairo: 1st edition) p. 104.
 Haykal, Hayãt
Mohammad (Cairo: 2nd edition, 1354) p. 139-140.
 Ibn Taymiyya,
Minhãju 's-Sunnah, vol. 4 (Cairo: al-Matba'atu 'l-Kubra
al-Amíriyya, 1322) p. 81.
 Sayyid Abu 'l-Qãsim
al-Khû'I, Mu'jam Rijãli 'l-Hadíth, vol. 10 (Beirut:
Madinatu 'l-'Ilm, 1983) p. 55-56.
 Mutã' at-Tarãbíshí,
Ruwãt Mohammad bin Ishãq bin Yasãr fi 'l-Maghãzi wa 's-Siyar
wa Sã'iri 'l-Marwiyãt (Damascus: Dãru 'l-Fikr, 1994) p.
 S. Sharafu 'd-Dín
al-Musawi, al-Murãji'ãt, p. 129; also its English
translation by M. A. H. Khan, The Right Path (Blanco,
Texas: Zahra Publication, 1986) p. 85-86.
[Also see Yasin al-Jibouri's
translation of Al-Muraja'at]
Mizãnu 'l-I'tidãl, vol. 2 (Egypt, Dar Ihyã'i 'l-Kutubi
'l-'Arabiyya, n.d.) p. 192.
 Sharafu 'd-Dín al-Musawi,
al-Murãji'ãt, p. 191-192