Saqifa and the Appointment of the First Caliph

The events following the demise of the blessed Prophet Muhammad, and the method of electing the first Caliph, have arguably been the most influential in creating the initial major split between his nation. The Centre for Intra-Muslim Studies (CIMS) convened to discuss the divisive issue of the gathering of Saqifa from both the historical Sunni perspective by Mufti Abdul Majeed Nadeem, and Shia perspective by Syed Hadi Rizvi, with a view to increase understanding between different traditions. Whilst both the sects agree upon the material facts of the meeting and the outcome, there is a big difference with respect to the legitimacy of the method of electing Caliph Abu Bakr.

Soon after the death of the Prophet, before his final burial rites had taken place, a select group convened to decide who should be the ruler of the Muslims after the Prophet. Such an important meeting was convened without the presence of many prominent companions, particularly Imam Ali and the rest of Banu Hashim, and only a few Muhajirun were present. What ensued was a heated and divisive discussion with much dissent. Ultimately, Caliph Abu Bakr was elected, although this was not accepted unanimously amongst the Prophet’s companions. The turning point during the debate was Caliph Abu Bakr citing that he had heard the Prophet say, “The leader of the Muslims will be from the tribe of Quraysh.” In addition, it was argued that the Caliph ought to be chosen on the basis of proximity to the Prophet. Whilst it is clear that Imam Ali did not immediately accept this decision, he did eventually come to accept it around six months later.

According the mainstream Sunni position, the appointment of Caliph Abu Bakr was legitimate as no explicit instruction or guidance had been given by the Prophet regarding his successor, and therefore it was left to the Muslim to decide. The Shia grievance is the exclusion of Imam Ali from the meeting despite his rank and close relation to the Prophet. Furthermore, they refer to previous instructions of the Prophet appointing Imam Ali as his successor. As expected, the formal presentations opened up many areas for further discussion which were summarised by the chair, Dr Muhammad Khalid and then addressed during the round table discussion.

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