By Qadi Bohlool Bahjat Âfandi
But the matter that we are discussing and one which we consider important is as follows: Ahmad bin Abde Rabb, a well-known and established scholar ofAhle-Sunnat, in the third volume of his book, Iqdul Farid, under the heading of “Discussion of Mamoon with the scholars of Baghdad regarding the superiority of Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.),”mentions as to how Mamoon, the Abbasid caliph, debated with the scholars of Baghdad regarding the superiority of Ali (a.s.).
Ibne Abde Rabb has recorded the complete debate in his book and this humble writer presents the gist of the same. Ibne Abde Rabb relates that Ishaq bin Ibrahim bin Ismail bin Hammad bin Zaid, who was among the well-known scholars and jurists of Baghdad, said, “One day Yahya bin Aksam, a judge of Haroon Rashid’s time, came to my house and said, ‘The caliph has ordered that forty scholars of Baghdad be selected for a debate and discussion on religious problems and Shariat. So could you suggest some names that I can note down?” Ismail bin Hamad says that I mentioned some names but Yahya only jotted down the scholars regarding whose calibre he was certain.
At last forty names were listed. Yahya took their word to report at his house early the next morning. They arrived at Yahya’s place and recited their morning prayers there. In reply to our question Yahya said, “The caliph has invited you forty gentlemen to discuss and debate an important matter.” In due course we departed to the Caliph’s palace and entered his presence and seated ourselves by his permission. Mamoon was dressed in a resplendent garment while the people wore black. When we sat down, the caliph took off his turban and robe and ordered us to do the same so that we are comfortable. He ordered many kinds of luxuries to make us feel at ease. Thereafter, he asked us questions regarding the rules of Sharia and we replied to the questions accordingly.
Finally, the caliph said, “The purpose of our calling you all here was not this; we have invited you to prove an important matter by discussion.” And he said, “I am Mamoon the Caliph, the follower of Islam and I consider Hazrat Ali to be the most superior among all creatures and most deserving of caliphate. I invite all of you to accept this belief and to express your opinion here.” Ishaq bin Ibrahim says, “I said: Caliph! Please tell us why you consider Ali (a.s.) most superior so that others may also know about it.” Acceding to the request, Mamoon said, “O Ishaq! What factors prove superiority?
In other words, what qualities are required to establish the preeminence of a person over another?” “Good deeds are very much necessary,” replied Ishaq. “What was the best deed on the day the holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) invited people to Islam?” the Caliph asked. Ishaq said: “Sincerity in testimony is most superior for it had preference over Islam.” “It is correct,” said the Caliph, “Wasn’t Ali bin Abi Talib the foremost in accepting Islam?” Ishaq said, “Yes! But at that time he was not mature (baligh). The first atured person to accept Islam was Abu Bakr.” Upon this, Mamoon said, “Did Ali accept Islam due to divine inspiration (ilhaam) or on the Prophet’s invitation?” Ishaq says, ‘I became immersed in deep thought.’ Mamoon said, “O Ishaq. You can’t say that he accepted it by Ilham, because revelation had descended only upon the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.). You must say that Ali (a.s.) entered the fold of Islam upon invitation of the holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).” The Caliph repeated, “Ishaq, did the holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) not impose a duty on a young child who was not yet capable of carrying it out?” Ishaq says: I again sunk into the ocean of thoughts while the caliph said, “Allah has said: And I am not of the Mutakallafeen. That is I do not impose duties on those who are incapable of fulfilling them.
So it is clear that Ali (a.s.) entered the fold of Islam at an age when he was mature enough to bear responsibilities. Ishaq said: The caliph repeated the question, “O Ishaq! Have your scholars and jurists written and recorded traditions to prove the superiority of anyone in the way they have written about Ali (a.s.)?” Ishaq said, “Traditions indicating the superiority of Ali (a.s.) easily outnumber others.”
Mamoon further said, “Are the traditions in support of the superiority of Abu Bakr comparable to the reports indicating the superiority of Ali (a.s.)?” Ishaq said, “No, they are not as much.” The caliph again asked, “Are all the traditions in praise of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman put together equal to the merits of Ali (a.s.)?” “They are not equal,” they confessed. On this juncture the caliph asked, “Do you read the Quran?” “I do,” said Ishaq.
The caliph asked, “Have you not read Surah Hal Ataa (also called as Surah Dahr)?” Ishaq said, “I began to recite the Surah till I reached, “And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive.” (Verse 8) The Caliph asked, “O, Ishaq, regarding whom was this verse revealed?” Ishaq said, “For Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).”
Mamoon said, “Do you know the hadith of those who were given the glad tidings of Paradise?” “Yes, I know”, he replied. Mamoon said, “Wouldn’t a person who doubts this hadith become a disbeliever?” Ishaq said, “God forbid! He will not be a disbeliever because it is a solitary report.” He said, “O Ishaq! What would happen to a person who doubts Surah Hal Ata?” “He would become a disbeliever,” Ishaq replied. Mamoon said, “Then how do you give preference to solitary doubtful report in comparison to a clear and manifest verse of the Holy Quran?” Ishaq says, ‘I became silent’. The caliph asked another question, “Are you familiar with the Hadith-e-Tayr (Tradition of the roasted bird)?” He said, “Yes I know”, and recited the hadith.
Caliph asked, “Is this Hadith authentic?” “It is authentic,” they all replied in unison. He said, “O Ishaq, did the Almighty accept the Prophet’s prayer?” I said, “God forbid! He did not reject it! He accepted it.” Mamoon said, “In such an such event did the Almighty answer the Prophet’s prayers and sent His most beloved creature to share the bird which was gifted to him? “Yes,” replied Ishaq.
Mamoon said, “O Ishaq! Who was sent in response to the prayer of the Prophet (s.a.w.s) to partake the roasted bird?” Ishaq said, “It was Ali (a.s.).” Again Mamoon asked, “O Ishaq! Did the Almighty and the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) know who the most superior person of the Ummah was?” “Yes, they were aware of it,” replied Ishaq. Mamoon asked, “In the event of the Almighty and the Prophet knowing the most superior person of Ummah would they give him preference or not?” Ishaq said, “They preferred the most superior one.”
Mamoon said, “In this way Ali (a.s.) was the most superior of all creatures.” Ishaq said, “But Abu Bakr also possessed merits. Mamoon said, “He had but here we intend to prove the most superior one! Nevertheless, tell me what merit of Abu Bakr you intended?” Ishaq said, “The fortieth verse of Surah Taubah says: He being the second of the two, when they were both in the cave, when he said to his companion: Grieve not, surely Allah is with us. (Surah Taubah: 40) The caliph said, “Companionship does not prove superiority, because it is possible that the two people have contrary beliefs. Have you not seen the verse: 53 “His companion said to him while disputing with him.” (Surah Kahf: 37) Ishaq said: This verse is important because it says, “Do not grieve, indeed Allah is with us.” The caliph said, “O Ishaq! I thought you preferred truth and were free of all bias. But now that you have come to rebellion and bias, tell me if the grief of Abu Bakr was from Allah or from his own side?
In case you say it was from Allah, why did the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) told him to desist from it? If you say it was of his own what was his merit?” Ishaq said, “The verse, “Then Allah sent down peace” is revealed in the Quran.” The Caliph asked, “On whom did the Almighty send peace, the Prophet (s.a.) or Abu Bakr?” Ishaq said: I said, “Peace descended on the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.).” Mamoon said, “In the 26th verse of Surah Tauba the Almighty says: Allah sent down His tranquillity upon His Apostle and upon the believers. Do you know who were the recipients of peace along with the Prophet (s.a.)?”
Ishaq said, “O caliph! You tell us.” Mamoon said, “During the Battle of Hunain, all the companions were routed due to their flight from the battlefield. Only seven persons from Bani Hashim remained with the holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib was holding the rein holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) camel. And five people surrounded the Prophet. Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.) was fighting the infidels single handedly.
If it is so, then peace descended only upon the Messenger of Allah (s.a.) and on Ali ibn Ibne Talib (a.s.). Ishaq said: “This has become clear to all of us and we accept your argument.” Mamoon again asked, “O Ishaq! After the sincere acceptance of belief, the next great deed is Jihad. Do you know anyone equal to Ali (a.s.) with regard to Jihad? Ishaq said, “I asked which battle do you mean? Let us consider Badr.” 54 Mamoon said, “How many infidels were killed at Badr.” “Sixty two,” replied Ishaq. The caliph asked, “Of these how many were slain at the hands of Ali (a.s.)?” “Twenty of them were killed by Ali (a.s.) alone,” replied Ishaq, “And the rest were collectively killed by the companions.” At this juncture Mamoon asked, “Shall I give the example from the battle of Hunain?” “Yes,” replied Ishaq.
The Caliph said, “The companions were defeated in the battle of Hunain. Only seven people remained. It was only Ali (a.s.) who faced the infidels. Where were the rest of the companions?” Ishaq said, “At that time Abu Bakr was in conference with the holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).”
Mamoon said, “Was the Prophet (s.a.) in need of Abu Bakr’s advice regarding that matter?” Ishaq said, “Whatever the holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did was based on revelation and he was not in need of anyone’s advice.” Now Mamoon said, “In case there was no necessity of advice or interference of Abu Bakr and other companions, what was the difference whether a person was a warrior or not?”
Ishaq said: I said, “Anyone who is present in a battle qualifies for reward, whether he fights or not.” Mamoon said, “Ishaq! Don’t you see that the Almighty says in Holy Quran: Allah has made the strivers with their property and their persons to excel the holders back a (high) degree.. (Surah Nisa: 95) Ishaq said, ‘I could offer no reply’. But Mamoon continued, “Are you familiar with Hadith-e-Mawaddah?”
Ishaq said, “Yes,” and related the text of the hadith exactly as it is. Mamoon said, “This hadith clearly proves that while none has a right of Wilayat over Ali (a.s.), the Wilayat of Ali (a.s.) will be obligatory forever upon all the people including Abu Bakr and Umar. In this way how is it possible, O Ishaq, what can make anyone excel Ali (a.s.)?”
Ishaq said: Since I could not reply to 55 this objection I remained silent. Mamoon again said by way of argument, “O Ishaq! Do you know about Hadith-e- Manzilah?” “Yes,” replied Ishaq. Mamoon said, “Do you know that Haroon was the real and blood brother of Hazrat Moosa (a.s.)?” “Yes, I know,” replied Ishaq. Mamoon said, “And you also know that brotherhood existed between Ali bin Abi Talib and the holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)?” “Yes, I know,” replied Ishaq. Mamoon said, “What other position did Haroon have with Moosa?”
Ishaq said, “The position of legatee and vicegerency.” Now Mamoon said, “The relation of Ali (a.s.) with the holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was not but of Vicegerency and legatee.” Ishaq relates: We, the forty selected scholars of Baghdad had no way but to agree to the absolute reality. We all accepted this inwardly and outwardly. But Mamoon looked towards the sky and said, “O my God, be a witness that I have proved the superiority and Wilayat (guardianship) of Ali ibne Abi Talib and invited the people to the right path but only You are the Guide.”
The humble writer Qazi Bahjat says: The report of Allamah Ibne Abde Rabb is famous among the jurists of Ahle Sunnat. It is mentioned in the third volume of his book Iqdul Farid pg. 37 under the heading: Discussion of Mamoon with the scholars of Baghdad. But here it is necessary to clarify a few points.
Firstly: Though Mamoon proved the superiority of Ali (a.s.), at the same time, he oppressed the eighth grandson of Ali (a.s.), Imam Reza (a.s.) to such an extent that ultimately he caused the Muslim nation to mourn from the great Imam (a.s.). Yes! How effective and lightning is the role of history in depicting the evil deeds and crimes. What Mamoon had said was correct: Allah is the only One to guide.
Secondly: According to the report of Ibne Abde Rabb, among the people present in the assembly of Mamoon were forty accomplished scholars of that time who witnessed the debate and discussion.
Now we have a question: In such clear matters, which are easily comprehended even by the masses, how is it that the learned scholars of the centre of learning (Baghdad) were in need of the debate of Mamoon to understand it?
Actually, if there is an important problem, it is the duty of the religious scholars to solve it for the public. It was not the duty of Mamoon because after all the scholars were the religious judges, and not Mamoon, who was a military and dynastic ruler. Pity! Indeed, a great pity!
In order to conceal the obvious realities, elaborate mazes have been constructed for the succeeding generations so that even now people are confused and can’t reach the truth. Yes! Many accomplished scholars who were in cahoots with the ruler and caliphs of their time in order to fulfil their desires issued numerous religious decrees. In this the helpless ummah was continuously subjected to eat the poisonous fruits of the evil trees.
Thirdly: The well-known book Aqaid Nasafi, after the mention of Caliphs in a serial order says: “The superiority of Ali (a.s.) was according to the order of the Caliphate.” That is, the first Caliph was superior to the second the second to the third and the third superior to the fourth. According to Nasafi, the status and position in the eyes of Allah is according to the choice of the people and according to the order of Caliphate!
Please note how illogical this statement is! It is nothing but a rigid dogma thrust upon us. If it were true, the first caliph would have been superior to the second one, and the second superior to the third and third superior to Amirul Momineen Ali ibne Abi Talib (a.s.)! This view is absolutely absurd and false!
This book, Aqaid Nasafi is the work of Allamah Nasafi a well-known Sunni scholar. This humble writer was also a Sunni and had been a religious judge of the Hanafi School of jurisprudence. He had studied the book of Nasafi in detail many times and also regularly taught it to students. In spite of this he refutes the views expressed therein and hopes that the readers must not object to his opinion at first glance and must not say that he is against the opinion of past senior scholars. For, the sayings of senior scholars are not the ultimate proof for us except if they are proved with or supported by authentic arguments and reliable documentation. Now this servant will disprove the statement that superiority is based on the order of Caliphate. It is a statement without any proof and foundation.
Yes, Nasafi says, “Superiority is based on the order of succession.” Meaning that the merit and status of the caliphs was based on the order in which they were made caliphs! But yours truly demands proof for this statement. Blind following is vulgar, and dogmatism an ignorant act! In order to prove any article of Islamic act, it is necessary to support it with a concrete proof because to prove a command without argument is first of all a useless pursuit. Secondly it is preference without reason, and in this there are two problems.
In order to establish a decree, two kinds of proofs may be given: Rational and traditional. But a rational proof is not independent of a traditional evidence, whereas the latter alone can establish an Islamic law. We have thus proved through arguments based on reason that Ali (a.s.) was the superior most person.
Readers are requested to refer to the preceding discussion. Secondly there are the traditional proofs about which the Muslim nation has no doubt whatsoever and they are accepted by all without exception: The first of these are the verses of Holy Quran and secondly the prophetic traditions. Other sources of Islamic laws like Qiyas, Ijtehad and Ijma are beyond the scope of our discussion. The verses of holy Quran say: Say: I do not ask of you any reward for it but love for my near relatives. 58 …to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! And to purify you a (thorough) purifying.
Translation from Persian: Syed Athar Husain Rizvi