The 18th of Dhu 'l-Hijja is celebrated
in the Shí'a world as the 'idd of Ghadir
Khumm in which Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w.) said about
Imam 'Ali: "Whomsoever's master (mawla) I am,
this 'Ali is also his master." This event is of such
significance to the Shí'as that no serious scholar
of Islam can ignore it. The purpose of this paper is
to study how the Orientalists handled the event of
Ghadir Khumm. By "orientalists", I mean the Western
scholarship of Islam and also those Easterners who
received their entire Islamic training under such
Before proceeding further, a brief narration of
the event of Ghadir Khumm would not be out of place.
This will be especially helpful to those who are not
familiar with the event. While returning from his
last pilgrimage, the Prophet received the following
command of Allãh: "O the Messenger! Convey what
had been revealed to you from your Lord; if you do
not do so, then [it would be as if] you have not
conveyed His message [at all]. Allãh will protect
you from the people." (The Qur'ãn 5:67)
Therefore he stopped at Ghadir Khumm on the 18th
of Dhu 'l-Hijja, 10 AH to convey the message to the
pilgrims before they dispersed. At one point, he
asked his followers whether he, Mohammad, had more
authority (awla) over the believers than they
had over themselves; the crowd cried out, "Yes, it
is so, O Apostle of Allãh." Then he took 'Ali by the
hand and declared: "Whomsoever's master (mawla)
I am, this 'Ali is also his master - man kuntu
mawlahu fa hadha 'Aliyun mawlahu." Then the
Prophet also announced his impending death and
charged the believers to remain attached to the
Qur'ãn and to his Ahlul Bayt. This summarizes the
important parts of the event of Ghadir Khumm.
The main body of this paper is divided as
follows: Part II is a brief survey of the approach
used by the Orientalists in studying Shí'ism. Part
III deals with the approach used to study Ghadir
Khumm in particular. Part IV is a critical review of
what M.A. Shaban has written about the event in his
Islamic History AD 600-750. This will be
followed by a conclusion.
2. Study of Shí'ism by the Orientalists
When the Egyptian writer, Mohammad Qutb, named
his book as Islam: the Misunderstood Religion,
he was politely expressing the Muslim sentiment
about the way Orientalists have treated Islam and
Muslims in general. The word "misunderstood" implies
that at least a genuine attempt was made to
understand Islam. However, a more blunt criticism of
Orientalism, shared by the majority of Muslims,
comes from Edward Said, "The hardest thing to get
most academic experts on Islam to admit is that what
they say and do as scholars is set in a profoundly
and in some ways an offensively political context.
Everything about the study of Islam in the
contemporary West is saturated with political
importance, but hardly any writers on Islam, whether
expert or general, admit the fact in what they say.
Objectivity is assumed to inhere in learned
discourse about other societies, despite the long
history of political, moral, and religious concern
felt in all societies, Western or Islamic, about the
alien, the strange and different. In Europe, for
example, the Orientalist has traditionally been
affiliated directly with colonial offices."
Instead of assuming that objectivity is inhere in
learned discourse, Western scholarship has to
realize that precommitment to a political or
religious tradition, on a conscious or subconscious
level, can lead to biased judgement. As Marshall
Hudgson writes, "Bias comes especially in the
questions he poses and in the type of category he
uses, where indeed, bias is especially hard to track
down because it is hard to suspect the very terms
one uses, which seem so innocently neutral..."
The Muslim reaction to the image portrayed of them
by Western scholarship is beginning to get its due
attention. In 1979, the highly respected scholar
trained in Western academia, Albert Hourani, said,
"The voices of those from the Middle East and North
Africa telling us that they do not recognize
themselves in the image we have formed of them are
too numerous and insistent to be explained in terms
of academic rivalry or national pride."
This was about Islam and Muslims vis-à-vis
When we focus on the study of Shí'ism by
the Orientalists, the word "misunderstood" is not
strong enough; rather it is an understatement. Not
only is Shí'ism misunderstood, it has been ignored,
misrepresented and studied mostly through the
heresiographic literature of their opponents. It
seems as if the Shí'ites had no scholars and
literature of their own. To borrow an expression
from Marx, "they cannot represent themselves, they
must be represented," and that also by their
The reason for this state of affairs lies in the
paths through which Western scholars entered the
field of Islamic studies. Hodgson, in his excellent
review of Western scholarship, writes, "First,
there were those who studied the Ottoman Empire,
which played so major a role in modern Europe. They
came to it usually in the first instance from the
viewpoint of the European diplomatic history. Such
scholars tended to see the whole of Islamdom from
the political perspective of Istanbul, the Ottoman
capital. Second, there were those, normally
British, who entered Islamic studies in India so as
to master Persian as good civil servants, or at
least they were inspired by Indian interest. For
them, the imperial transition of Delhi tended to be
the culmination of Islamicate history. Third,
there were the Semitists, often interested primarily
in Hebrew studies, who were lured into Arabic. For
them, headquarters tended to be Cairo, the most
vital of Arabic-using cities in the nineteenth
century, though some turned to Syria or the Maghrib.
They were commonly philologians rather than
historians, and they learned to see Islamicate
culture through the eyes of the late Egyptian and
Syrian Sunni writers most in vogue in Cairo. Other
paths-that of the Spaniards and some Frenchmen who
focused on the Muslims in Medieval Spain, that of
the Russians who focused on the northern
Muslims-were generally less important."
It is quite obvious that none of these paths
would have led Western scholars to the centres of
Shí'a learning or literature. The majority of what
they studied about Shí'ism was channelled through
the non-Shí'i sources. Hudgson, who deserves our
highest praise for noticing this point, says, "All
paths were at one in paying relatively little
attention to the central areas of the Fertile
Crescent and Iran, with their tendency towards
Shí'ism; areas that tended to be most remote from
And after the First World War, "the Cairene path to
Islamic studies became the Islamicist's path par
excellence, while other paths to Islamic studies
came to be looked on as of more local relevance."
Therefore, whenever an Orientalist stuided
Shí'ism through Ottoman, Cairene or Indian paths, it
was quite natural for him to be biased against Shí'a
Islam. "The Muslim historians of doctrine [who are
mostly Sunni] always tried to show that all other
schools of thought other than their own were not
only false but, if possible, less than truly Muslim.
Their work described innumerable 'firqahs' in terms
which readily misled modern scholars into supposing
they were referring to so many 'heretical sects'."
And so we see that until very recently, Western
scholars easily described Sunni'ism as 'orthodox
Islam' and Shí'ism as a 'heretical sect'. After
categorizing Shí'ism as a heretical sect of Islam,
it became "innocently neutral" for Western scholars
to absorb the Sunni scepticism concerning the early
Shí'a literature. Even the concept of taqiyyah
(dissimulation when one's life is in danger) was
blown out of proportion and it was assumed that
every statement of a Shí'a scholar had a hidden
meaning. And, consequently, whenever an Orientalist
studied Shí'ism, his precommitment to
Judeo-Christian tradition of the West was compounded
with the Sunni bias against Shí'ism.
One of the best examples of this compounded bias
is found in the way the event of Ghadir Khumm was
studied by the Orientalists, an issue that forms the
main purpose of this paper.
3. Ghadír Khumm: From Oblivion to Recognition
The event of Ghadir Khumm is a very good example
to trace the Sunni bias that found its way into the
mental state of Orientalists. Those who are
well-versed with the polemic writings of Sunnis know
that whenever the Shí'as present a hadíth or a
historical evidence in support of their view, a
Sunni polemicist would respond in the following
Firstly, he will outright deny
the existence of any such hadíth or
Secondly, when confronted with hard evidence
from his own sources, he will cast doubt
on the reliability of the transmitters of that
hadíth or event.
Thirdly, when he is shown that all the
transmitters are reliable by Sunni standards, he
will give an interpretation to the
hadíth or the event that will be quite different
from that of the Shí'as.
These three levels form the classical response of
the Sunni polemicists in dealing with the arguments
of the Shí'as. A quotation from Rosenthal's
translation of Ibn Khaldun's The Muqaddimah
would suffice to prove my point. (Ibn Khaldun is
quoting the following part from al-Milal wa 'n-Nihal,
a heresiographic work of ash-Shahristãni.) According
to Ibn Khaldun, the Shí'as believe that
'Ali is the one whom Mohammad appointed. The (Shí'ah)
transmit texts (of traditions) in support of (this
belief)...The authority on the Sunnah and the
transmitters of the religious law do not know
these texts.  Most
of them are supposititious, or
 some of their
transmitters are suspect, or
 their (true)
interpretation is very different from the wicked
interpretation that (the Shí'ah) give to them.
Interestingly, the event of Ghadir Khumm has
suffered the same fate at the hands of Orientalists.
With the limited time and resources available to me
at this moment, I was surprised to see that most
works on Islam have ignored the event of Ghadir
Khumm, indicating, by its very absence, that the
Orientalists believed this event to be
'supposititious' and an invention of the Shí'as.
Margoliouth's Mohammad and the Rise of Islam
(1905), Brockelmann's History of the Islamic
People (1939), Arnold and Guillaume's The
Legacy of Islam (1931), Guillaume's Islam
(1954), von Grunebaum's Classical Islam
(1963), Arnold's The Caliphate (1965), and
The Cambridge History of Islam (1970) have
completely ignored the event of Ghadir Khumm.
Why did these and many other Western scholars
ignore the event of Ghadir Khumm? Since Western
scholars mostly relied on anti-Shí'a works, they
naturally ignored the event of Ghadir Khumm. L.
Veccia Vaglieri, one of the contributors to the
second edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam
Most of those sources which form the basis of
our knowledge of the life of Prophet (Ibn Hishãm,
al-Tabari, Ibn Sa'd, etc.) pass in silence over
Mohammad's stop at Ghadir Khumm, or, if they
mention it, say nothing of his discourse (the
writers evidently feared to attract the hostility
of the Sunnis, who were in power, by providing
material for the polemic of the Shí'is who used
these words to support their thesis of 'Ali's
right to the caliphate). Consequently, the western
biographers of Mohammad, whose work is based on
these sources, equally make no reference to what
happened at Ghadir Khumm.
Then we come to those few Western scholars who
mention the hadíth or the event of Ghadir
Khumm but express their scepticism about its
authority-the second stage in the classical response
of the Sunni polemicists.
The first example of such scholars is Ignaz
Goldziher, a highly respected German Orientalist of
the nineteenth century. He discusses the hadíth
of Ghadir Khumm in his Muhammedanische Studien
(1889-1890) translated into English as Muslim
Studies (1966-1971) under the chapter entitled
as "The Hadíth in its Relation to the Conflicts of
the Parties of Islam." Coming to the Shí'as,
A stronger argument in their [Shí'as'] favour...was
their conviction that the Prophet had expressly
designated and appointed 'Ali as his successor
before his death...Therefore the 'Alid adherents
were concerned with inventing and
authorizing traditions which prove 'Ali's
installation by direct order of the Prophet. The
most widely known tradition (the authority of
which is not denied even by orthodox authorities
though they deprive it of its intention by a
different interpretation) is the tradition of
Khumm, which came into being for this
purpose and is one of the firmest foundation of
the theses of the 'Alid party.
One would expect such a renowned scholar to prove
how the Shí'as "were concerned with inventing"
traditions to support their theses, but nowhere does
Goldziher provide any evidence. After citing at-Tirmidhi
and al-Nasã'i in the footnote as the source for
hadíth of Ghadir Khumm, he says, "Al-Nasã'i had, as
is well known, pro-'Alid inclinations, and also at-Tirmidhi
included in his collection tendentious traditions
favouring 'Ali, e.g., the tayr tradition."
This is again the same old classical response of the
Sunni polemicists-discredit the transmitters as
unreliable or adamantly accuse the Shí'as of
inventing the traditions.
Another example is the first edition of the
Encyclopaedia of Islam (1911-1938) which has a
short entry under "Ghadir Khumm" by F. Bhul, a
Danish Orientalist who wrote a biography of the
Prophet. Bhul writes, "The place has become famous
through a tradition which had its origin among the
Shi'is but is also found among Sunnis, viz., the
Prophet on journey back from Hudaibiya (according to
others from the farewell pilgrimage) here said of
'Ali: Whomsoever I am lord of, his lord is 'Ali
also!" Bhul makes
sure to emphasize that the hadíth of Ghadir has "its
origin among the Shí'is!"
Another striking example of the Orientalists'
ignorance about Shí'ism is A Dictionary of Islam
(1965) by Thomas Hughes. Under the entry of Ghadir,
he writes, "A festival of the Shi'ahs on the 18th
of the month of Zu 'l-Hijjah, when three images of
dough filled with honey are made to represent Abu
Bakr, 'Umar, and 'Uthmãn, which are struck with
knives, and the honey is sipped as typical of the
blood of the usurping Khalifahs. The festival is
named for Ghadir, 'a pool,' and the festival
commemorates, it is said, Mohammad having declared
'Ali his successor at Ghadir Khum, a watering place
midway between Makkah and al-Madinah."
Coming from a Shí'a family that traces its ancestory
back to the Prophet himself, having studied in Iran
for ten years and lived among the Shí'as of Africa
and North America, I have yet to see, hear or read
about the dough and honey ritual of Ghadir! I was
more surprised to see that even Vaglieri, in the
second edition of the Encyclopaedia, has
incorporated that nonsense into her fairly excellent
article on Ghadir Khumm. She adds at the end that,
"This feast also holds an important place among the
Nusayris." It is quite possible that the dough and
honey ritual is observed by the Nusayris; it has
nothing to do with the Shí'as. But do all
Orientalists know the difference between the Shí'as
and the Nusayris? I very much doubt so.
A fourth example from the contemporary scholars
who have treaded the same path is Philip Hitti in
his History of the Arabs (1964). After
mentioning that the Buyids established "the
rejoicing on that [day] of the Prophet's alleged
appointment of 'Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khumm,"
he describes the location of Ghadir Khumm in the
footnote as "a spring between Makkah and al-Madinah
where Shí'ite tradition asserts the Prophet
declared, 'Whomsoever I am lord of, his lord is 'Ali
this scholar mentions the issue of Ghadir in a
passing manner, he classifies the hadíth of
Ghadir is a "Shí'ite tradition".
To these scholars who, consciously or
unconsciously, have absorbed the Sunni bias against
Shí'ism and insist on the Shí'ite origin or
invention of the hadíth of Ghadir, I would
just repeat what Vaglieri has said in the
Encyclopaedia of Islam about Ghadir Khumm:
It is, however, certain that Mohammad did speak
in this place and utter the famous sentence, for
the account of this event has been preserved,
either in a concise form or in detail, not only by
al-Ya'kubi, whose sympathy for the 'Alid cause is
well known, but also in the collection of
traditions which are considered canonical,
especially in the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal; and
the hadiths are so numerous and so well attested
by the different isnãds that it does not
seem possible to reject them.
Vaglieri continues, "Several of these hadiths are
cited in the bibliography, but it does not include
the hadíth which, although reporting the sentence,
omit to name Ghadir Khumm, or those which state that
the sentence was pronounced at al-Hudaybiya. The
complete documentation will be facilitated when the
Concordance of Wensinck have been completely
published. In order to have an idea of how numerous
these hadiths are, it is enough to glance at the
pages in which Ibn Kathir has collected a great
number of them with their isnads."
It is time the Western scholarship made itself
familiar with the Shí'ite literature of the early
days as well as of the contemporary period. The
Shí'a scholars have produced great works on the
issue of Ghadir Khumm. Here I will just mention two
1. The first is 'Abaqãtu 'l-Anwãr in
eleven bulky volumes written in Persian by Mir Hãmid
Husayn al-Musawi (d. 1306 AH) of India. 'Allãmah Mir
Hãmid Husayn has devoted three bulky volumes
(consisting of about 1080 pages) on the isnãd,
tawãtur and meaning of the hadíth of
Ghadir. An abridged version of this work in Arabic
translation entitled as Nafahãtu 'l-Azhãr fi
Khulãsati 'Abaqãti 'l-Anwãr by Sayyid 'Ali al-Milãni
has been published in twelve volumes by now; and
four volumes of these (with modern type-setting and
printing) are dedicated to the hadíth of Ghadír.
2. The second work is al-Ghadír in eleven
volumes in Arabic by 'Abdul Husayn Ahmad al-Amini
(d. 1970) of Iraq. 'Allãmah Amini has given with
full references the names of 110 companions of the
Prophet and also the names of 84 tãbi'ín
(disciples of the companions) who have narrated the
hadíth of Ghadir. He has also chronologically
given the names of the historians, traditionalists,
exegetists and poets who have mentioned the
hadíth of Ghadir from the first till the
fourteenth Islamic century.
The late Sayyid 'Abdu 'l-'Azíz at-Tabãtabã'í has
stated that there probably is not a single hadíth
that has been narrated by so many companions as the
number we see (120) in the hadíth of Ghadír.
However, comparing that number to the total number
of people who were present in Ghadír Khumm, he
states that 120 is just ten percent of the total
audience. And so he rightly gave the following title
to his paper: "Hadíth Ghadír: Ruwãtuhu Kathíruna
lil-Ghãyah...Qalíluna lil-Ghãyah - Its Narrators
are Very Many...Very Few".
4. Shaban & His New Interpretation
Among the latest work by Western scholarship on
the history of Islam is M.A. Shaban's Islamic
History AD 600-750 subtitled as "A New
Interpretation" in which the author claims not only
to use newly discovered material but also to
re-examine and re-interpret material which has been
known to us for many decades. Shaban, a lecturer of
Arabic at SOAS of the University of London, is not
prepared to even consider the event of Ghadir Khumm.
He writes, "The famous Shí'ite tradition that he
[the Prophet] desginated 'Ali as his successor at
Ghadir Khumm should not be taken seriously."
Shaban gives two 'new' reasons for not taking the
event of Ghadir seriously:
"Such an event is inherently improbable
considering the Arabs' traditional reluctance to
entrust young and untried men with great
responsibility. Furthermore, at no point do our
sources show the Madinan community behaving as if
they had heard of this designation."
Let us critically examine each of these reasons
given by Shaban.
1. The traditional reluctance of the Arabs
to entrust young men with great responsibility.
First of all, had not the Prophet introduced many
things to which the Arabs were traditionally
reluctant? Did not the Meccans accept Islam itself
very reluctantly? Was not the issue of marrying a
divorced wife of one's adopted son a taboo among the
Arabs? This 'traditional reluctance,' instead of
being an argument against the designation of 'Ali,
is actually part of the argument used by the Shí'as.
They agree that the Arabs (in particular, the
Quraysh) were reluctant to accept 'Ali as the
Prophet's successor not only because of his young
age but also because he had killed their leaders in
the early battles of Islam. According to the Shí'as,
Allãh also knew about this reluctance and that is
why after ordering the Prophet to proclaim 'Ali as
his successor ("O the Messenger! Convey what had
been revealed to you..."), He reassured His
Messenger by saying that, "Allãh will protect you
from the people." (5:67) The Prophet was
commissioned to convey the message of Allãh, no
matter whether the Arabs liked it or not.
Moreover, this 'traditional reluctance' was not
an irrevocable custom of the Arab society as Shaban
wants us to believe. Jafri, in The Origin and
Early Development of Shí'a Islam, says, "[O]ur
sources do not fail to point out that, though the
'Senate' (Nadwa) of pre-Islamic Mecca was
generally a council of elders only, the sons of the
chieftain Qusayy were privileged to be exempted from
this age restriction and were admitted to the
council despite their youth. In later times more
liberal concessions seems to have been in vogue; Abu
Jahl was admitted despite his youth, and Hakim b.
Hazm was admitted when he was only fifteen or twenty
years old." Then Jafri quotes Ibn 'Abd Rabbih,
"There are no monarchic king over the Arabs of Mecca
in the Jahiliya. So whenever there was a war, they
took a ballot among chieftains and elected one as
'King', were he a minor or a grown man. Thus on the
day of Fijar, it was the turn of the Banu Hashim,
and as a result of the ballot Al-'Abbãs, who was
then a mere child, was elected, and they seated him
on the shield."
Thirdly, we have an example in the Prophet's own
decisions during the last days of his life when he
entrusted the command of the army to Usãmah bin Zayd,
a young man who was hardly twenty years of age.
He was appointed over the elder members of the
Muhãjirín (the Quraysh) and the Ansãr; and, indeed,
many of the elders resented this decision of the
Prophet. If the
Prophet of Islam could appoint the young and untried
Usãmah bin Zayd over the elders of the Quraysh and
Ansãr, then why should it be "inherently improbable"
to think that the Prophet had designated 'Ali as his
2. The traditional reluctance to entrust
untried men with great responsibility.
Apart from the young age of 'Ali, Shaban also
refers to the reluctance of the Arabs in entrusting
"untried men with great responsibility." This
implies that the Arabs selected Abu Bakr because he
had been "tried with great responsibilities." I
doubt whether Mr. Shaban would be able to
substantiate the implication of his claim from
Islamic history. One will find more instances where
'Ali was entrusted by the Prophet with greater
responsibilities than was Abu Bakr. 'Ali was left
behind in Mecca during the Prophet's migration to
mislead the enemies and also to return the
properties of various people which were given in
trust to the Prophet. 'Ali was tried with greater
responsibilities during the early battles of Islam
in which he was always successful. When the
ultimatum (barã'at) against the pagan Arabs
of Mecca was revealed, first Abu Bakr was assigned
to convey it to the Meccans; but later on this great
responsibility was taken away from him and entrusted
to 'Ali. 'Ali was entrusted with safety of the city
and citizens of Medina while the Prophet had gone on
the expedition to Tabûk. 'Ali was appointed the
leader of the expedition to Yemen. These are just
the few examples that come to mind at random.
Therefore, on a comparative level, 'Ali bin Abu
Tãlib was a person who had been tried and entrusted
with greater responsibilities more than Abu Bakr.
3. The behaviour of the Madinan community
about declaration of Ghadir Khumm.
Firstly, if an event can be proved true by the
accepted standard of hadíth criticism (of the
Sunnis, of course), then the reaction of the people
to the credibility of that event is immaterial.
Secondly, the same 'traditional reluctance' used
by Shaban to discredit the declaration of Ghadir can
be used here against his scepticism towards the
event of Ghadir. This traditional reluctance,
besides other factors that are beyond the scope of
this paper, can be
used to explain the behaviour of the Madinan
Thirdly, although the Madinan community was
silent during the events which kept 'Ali away from
caliphate, there were many among them who had
witnessed the declaration of Ghadir Khumm. On quite
a few occasions, Imam 'Ali implored the companions
of the Prophet to bear witness to the declaration of
Ghadir. Here I will just mention one instance that
took place in Kufa during the reign of Imam 'Ali,
about 25 years after the Prophet's death.
Imam 'Ali heard that some people were doubting
his claim of precedence over the previous caliphs,
therefore, he came to a gathering at the mosque and
implored the eyewitnesses of the event of Ghadir
Khumm to verify the truth of the Prophet's
declaration about his being the lord and master of
all the believers. Many companions of the Prophet
stood up and verified the claim of 'Ali. We have the
names of twenty-four of those who testified on
behalf of 'Ali, although other sources like
Musnad of Hanbal and Majma' az-Zawã'id of
Hãfidh al-Haythami put that number at thirty. Also
bear in mind that this incident took place 25 years
after the event of Ghadir Khumm, and during this
period hundreds of eye witnesses had died naturally
or in the battles fought during the first two
caliphs' rule. Add to this the fact that this
incident took place in Kufa which was far from the
centre of the companions, Medina. This incident that
took place in Kufa in the year 35 AH has itself been
narrated by four companions and fourteen tãbi'in
and has been recorded in most books of history and
In conclusion, the behaviour of the Madinan
community after the death of the Prophet does not
automatically make the declaration of Ghadir Khumm
improbable. I think this will suffice to make Mr.
Shaban realize that his is not a 'new'
interpretation; rather it exemplifies, in my view,
the first stage of the classical response of the
Sunni polemicists-an outright denial of the
existence of an event or a hadíth which supports the
Shí'a view-which has been absorbed by the majority
of Western scholars of Islam.
5. The Meaning of "Mawla"
The last argument in the strategy of the Sunni
polemicists in their response to an event or a
hadíth presented by the Shí'as is to give it an
interpretation that would safeguard their beliefs.
They exploit the fact that the word "mawla"
has various meanings: master, lord, slave,
benefactor, beneficiery, protector, patron, client,
friend, charge, neighbour, guest, partner, son,
uncle, cousin, nephew, son-in-law, leader, follower.
The Sunnis say that the word "mawla" uttered
by the Prophet in Ghadir does not mean "master or
lord", it means "friend".
On the issue of the hadíth of Ghadír, this is the
stage where the Western scholarship of Islam has
arrived. While explaining the context of the
statement uttered by the Prophet in Ghadir Khumm, L.
Veccia Vaglieri follows the Sunni interpretation.
On this point, Ibn Kathír shows himself yet
again to be percipient historian: he connects the
affair of Ghadir Khumm with episodes which took
place during the expedition to the Yemen, which
was led by 'Ali in 10/631-2, and which had
returned to Mecca just in time to meet the Prophet
there during his Farewell Pilgrimage. 'Ali had
been very strict in the sharing out of the booty
and his behaviour had aroused protests; doubt was
cast on his rectitude, he was reproached with
avarice and accused of misuse of authority. Thus
it is quite possible that, in order to put an end
to all these accusations, Mohammad wished to
demonstrate publicly his esteem and love for 'Ali. Ibn Kathir must have arrived at the same
conclusion, for he does not forget to add that the
Prophet's words put an end to the murmuring
Whenever a word has more than one meaning, it is
indeed a common practice to look at the context of
the statement and the event to understand the intent
of the speaker. Ibn Kathir and other Sunni writers
have connected the event of Ghadir Khumm to the
incident of the expedition to Yemen. But why go so
far back to understand the meaning of "mawla",
why not look at the whole sermon that the Prophet
gave at Ghadir Khumm itself? Isn't it a common
practice to look at the immediate context of the
statement, rather than look at remote events, in
time and space?
When we look at the immediate context of the
statement uttered by the Holy Prophet in Ghadir
Khumm, we find the following:
1. The question that the Prophet asked just
before the declaration. He asked, "Do I not have
more authority upon you (awla bi kum) than
you have yourselves?" When the people replied, "Yes,
surely," then the Prophet declared: "Whosoever's
mawla am I, this 'Ali is his mawla."
Surely the word "mawla", in this context, has
the same meaning as the word "awla: have more
2. After the declaration, the Prophet uttered the
following prayer: "O Allãh! Love him who loves 'Ali,
and be enemy of the enemy of 'Ali; help him who
helps 'Ali, and forsake him who forsakes 'Ali." This
prayer itself shows that 'Ali, on that day, was
being entrusted with a position that would make some
people his enemies and that he would need supporters
in carrying out his responsibilities. This could not
be anything but the position of the mawla in
the sense of ruler, master and lord. Are helpers
ever needed to carry on a 'friendship'?
3. The statement of the Prophet in Ghadir that:
"It seems imminent that I will be called away (by
Allãh) and I will answer the call." It was clear
that the Prophet was making arrangements for the
leadership of the Muslims after his death.
4. The companions of the Prophet congratulated
'Ali by addressing him as "Amirul Mumineen - Leader
of the Believers". This leaves no room for doubt
concerning the meaning of mawla.
5. The occasion, place and time. Imagine the
Prophet breaking his journey in mid-day and
detaining nearly one hundred thousand travellers
under the burning sun of the Arabian desert, making
them sit in a thorny place on the burning sand, and
making a pulpit of camel saddles, and then imagine
him delivering a long sermon and at the end of all
those preparations, he comes out with an
announcement that "Whosoever considers me a friend,
'Ali is also his friend!" Why? Because some (not all
the hundred thousand people who had gathered there)
were upset with 'Ali in the way he handled the
distribution of the booty among his companions on
the expedition to Yemen! Isn't that a ridiculous
Another way of finding the meaning in which the
Prophet used the word "mawla" for 'Ali is to
see how the people in Ghadir Khumm understood it.
Did they take the word "mawla" in the sense
of "friend" or in the meaning of "master, leader"?
Hassãn ibn Thãbit, the famous poet of the
Prophet, composed a poem on the event of Ghadir
Khumm on the same day. He says:
He then said to him: "Stand up, O 'Ali, for
I am pleased to make you Imam & Guide after me.
In this line, Hassãn ibn Thãbit has understood
the term "mawla" in the meaning of "Imam and
Guide" which clearly proves that the Prophet was
talking about his successor, and that he was not
introducing 'Ali as a "friend" but as a "leader".
Even the words of 'Umar ibn al-Khattãb are
interesting. He congratulated Imam 'Ali in these
words: "Congratulations, O son of Abu Tãlib, this
morning you became mawla of every believing
man and woman." If
"mawla" meant "friend" then why the
congratulations? Was 'Ali an 'enemy' of all
believing men and women before the day of Ghadir?
These immediate contexts make it very clear that
the Prophet was talking about a comprehensive
authority that 'Ali has over the Muslims comparable
to his own authority over them. They prove that the
meaning of the term "mawla" in hadíth of
Ghadír is not "friend" but "master, patron, lord, or
Finally, even if we accept that the Prophet
uttered the words "Whomsoever's mawla I am,
this 'Ali is his mawla" in relation to the
incident of the expedition to Yemen, even then "mawla"
would not mean "friend". The reports of the
expedition, in Sunni sources, say that 'Ali had
reserved for himself the best part of the booty that
had come under the Muslims' control. This caused
some resentment among those who were under his
command. On meeting the Prophet, one of them
complained that since the booty was the property of
the Muslims, 'Ali had no right to keep that item for
himself. The Prophet was silent; then the second
person came with the same complaint. The Prophet did
not respond again. Then the third person came with
the same complaint. That is when the Prophet became
angry and said, "What do you want with 'Ali? He
indeed is the waliy after me."
What does this statement prove? It says that just
as the Prophet, according to verse 33:6, had more
right (awla) over the lives and properties of
the believers, similarly, 'Ali as the waliy,
had more right over the lives and properties of the
believers. The Prophet clearly puts 'Ali on the
highest levels of authority (wilãyat) after
the Prophet himself. That is why the author of
al-Jãmi'u 's-Saghír comments, "This is
indeed the highest praise for 'Ali."
In this brief survey, I have shown that the event
of Ghadir Khumm is a historical fact that cannot be
rejected; that in studying Shí'ism, the
precommitment to Judeo-Christian tradition of the
Orientalists was compounded with the Sunni bias
against Shí'ism. Consequently, the event of Ghadir
Khumm was ignored by most Western scholars and
emerged from oblivion only to be handled with
scepticism and re-interpretation.
I hope this one example will convince at least
some Western scholars to re-examine their
methodology in studying Shí'ism; instead of
approaching it largely through the works of
heresiographers like ash-Shahristãni, Ibn Hazm, al-Maqrizi
and al-Baghdãdi who present the Shí'as as a
heretical sect of Islam, they should turn to more
objective works of both the Shí'as as well as the
The Shí'as are tired, and rightfully so, of being
portrayed as a heretical sect that emerged because
of political circumstances of the early Islamic
period. They demand to represent themselves instead
of being represented by their adversaries.
* * *
Peace be upon you,
O my Master, Amiru 'l-Mu'minin!
O the trustee of Allãh in His
His representative among His
and His convincing proof for His
Peace be upon you,
O the upright religion of Allãh
and His straight path.
Peace be upon you, O the great
news about whom they disputed and about whom they
will be questioned.
I bear witness, O Amiru 'l-Mu'minin,
that the person who doubts about
has not believed in the
and one who equates you to others
from the upright religion which
the Lord of the universe has
chosen for us and
which He has perfected through
on the day of Ghadir.
(Excerpts from Ziyãrat of the Day
 These writers
represent the Salafi/Wahhãbi camp, and their anti-Shí'a
works has been distributed world-wide with the
courtesy of the petro-dollars of certain
Middle-Eastern countries, especially after the Sunni
masses started getting inspiration by the revolution
of Iran which was led by Shí'a 'ulamã'.
 Fajru 'l-Islãm,
p. 33 as quoted and then refuted by Mohammad Husayn
Kãshiful 'l-Ghitã', Aslu 'sh-Shí'a wa Usûluhã (Qum:
Mu'assasa al-Imam 'Ali, 1415) p. 140, 142; also see
the latter's English translation, The Shí'a Origin
and Faith (Karachi: Islamic Seminary, 1982).
 Fazlur Rahman,
Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976)
 This is a
revised and expanded version of a paper first
published simultaneously in the bi-monthly The Light
(June 1990) magazine and in Ghadir (Toronto: ISIJ &
NASIMCO, July 1990) under the title of "Orientalists
& the Event of Ghadir Khumm".
 Said, E.W.,
Covering Islam (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981) p.
 Hodgson, M.G.S.,
The Venture of Islam, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1974) p. 27.
 Hourani, A.
"Islamic History, Middle Eastern History, Modern
History," in Kerr, M.H. (ed) Islamic Studies: A
Tradition and Its Problems (California: Undena
Publications, 1979) p. 10.
 Hodgson, op.
cit., p. 39-40.
 Hodgson, op.
cit., p. 66-67.
 Ibn Khaldun,
The Muqaddimah, tr. Franz Rosenthal, vol. 1 (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1958) p. 403. In original
Arabic, see vol. 1 (Beirut: Maktabatul Madrasah,
1961) p. 348.
 EI2, p. 993
under "Ghadir Khumm".
Muslim Studies, tr. Barber and Stern, vol. 2
(Chicago: Aldine Inc., 1971) pp. 112-113.
 EI1, p.
134-135 under "Ghadir Khumm".
 Hughes, Thomas
P., A Dictionary of Islam (New Jersey: Reference
Book Publishers, 1965) p. 138.
 Hitti, P.K.,
History of the Arabs (London: Macmillan & Co., 1964)
 EI2, p. 993
under "Ghadir Khumm".
'Abdu 'l-'Azíz, al-Ghadír fi 't-Turãthi 'l-Islãmi (Qum:
Nashr al-Hãdi, 1415) p. 7-8.
Islamic History AD 600-750 (Cambridge: University of
Press, 1971) p. 16.
 Jafri, S.H.M.,
The Origin and Early Developments of Shí'a Islam, p.
 Haykal, M.H.,
Hayãt Mohammad (2nd edition) p. 478; also see its
translation, The Life of Mohammad, tr. al-Fãruqi (n.p.:
American Trust Publications, 1976) p. 492.
 See Ibn Sa'd's
at-Tabaqãt and other major works on sirah.
 For more
details, see Rizvi, S.S.A., Imãmate, p. 120-121.
 For full
references, see al-Amini, al-Ghadír, vol. 1 (Tehran:
Mu'assasatu 'l-Muwahhidi, 1976) p. 166-186.
[Also see section on
Reminders by Imam 'Ali [a] in Ghadir Khumm:
Appointment of Imam 'Ali in the Qur'an, Hadith,
 EI2 p. 993-994
under "Ghadir Khumm".
 Al-Amini gives
the names of 64 Sunni traditionalists who have
quoted the preceding question, included among them
are Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ibn Mãjah, an-Nasã'i, and at-Tirmidhi.
See al-Ghadír, vol. 1, p. 370-371.
[Also see section on
Acknowledgement of Authority in Ghadir Khumm:
Appointment of Imam 'Ali in the Qur'an, Hadith,
 See al-Amini,
al-Ghadír, vol. 1, pp. 270-283 for references from
[Also see section on
Oath of Allegiance in Ghadir Khumm: Appointment
of Imam 'Ali in the Qur'an, Hadith, History]
 These contexts
are from al-Amini's al-Ghadîr as summarized in Rizvi,
Imãmate: the Vicegerency of the Prophet.
 See an-Nasã'í,
Khasã'is 'Ali bin Abi Tãlib, p. 92-93; at-Tirmidhi,
Sahíh, vol. 5, p. 632 (hadíth # 3712), and al-Jãmi'u