This lecture look at the Prophet [SAW], and his daughter Bibi Fatima [AS] who constitutes the link in between the Prophet [SAW] and the line of the Imams [AS].
Last time looked at the relationship between the family of the Prophet [SAW] and the Quran. The point of departure from the previous lecture was the hadith in which the Prophet [SAW] specified that he is leaving behind after his departure from the world – two entities of great value – the book of God and his family. Looked at general characteristics of the Quran – belief in which is shared by all Muslims, respective of their school of thought. Looked at verses of the Quran which are of particular significance to Shi’i Islam with respect to either the single person of Imam Ali [AS], the first among the twelve Imams [AS], or the family and lineage of the Prophet [SAW] as a whole, that was supplemented by the study of hadith of the Prophet [SAW], which made explicit, that which was implicit.
Brief History of the Prophet [SAW]
This lecture look at the Prophet [SAW], and his daughter Bibi Fatima [AS] who constitutes the link in between the Prophet [SAW] and the line of the Imams [AS]. Sometimes it has to be conceded that when an exposition is made of Shi’ism whether by it’s adherents or outsiders, inadequate attention is given to the person and the mission of the Prophet [SAW] only those intimate periods and aspects where the life of the Prophet [SAW] intersects decisively with the life of Imam Ali [AS] – only then is particular importance given to the Prophet [SAW]. However there is no doubt that the person and the accomplishment of the Prophet [SAW] is essential to the Shi’i historical consciousness as it is important to the consciousness of other Muslims.
Born 570 AD about 40 years before the beginning of his Prophetic mission. There is a difference of opinion as to when he was precisely born, Sunnis say 12th Rabi al-Awwal, Shi’i say 17th Rabi al-Awwal. Mission began 610 AD. The mission begins with the revelation of the first verses of the Quran. The Prophet [SAW] is the recipient and transmitter of the Quranic message and has no authorial engagement in the text itself. However we must guard against the belief that the Prophet [SAW] was a messenger in the sense external to the message, or that the message was external to him. There was an organic and close relationship between the Prophet [SAW] and the Quran, not in the authorial sense, but in the sense that the whole being of the Prophet [SAW] became imbued with the Quranic message. This is hinted at in (26:194):-
‘Came down with it the Spirit trusted,’
‘Upon thy heart (O’ Our Apostle Muhammad!) that thou may be the warner.’ (26:193-194)
In other words that which recieves the Quran is the heart of the Prophet [SAW] it is not simply his memory or his intellect but his heart. The heart can be taken in at least two senses, it is the centre of the Prophet’s [SAW] being, the Quran was revealed or descended to the centre of the Prophet’s being and from there it radiated, permeated out into all aspects of his being, and his life and activity. The second important connotation of the word heart in the Quranic usage is that the heart is not so much the organ of emotion as the organ of vision. Therefore the Quran was received to the organ of inward vision of the Prophet [SAW]. The verse then continues, ‘…that thou may be a warner’, the purpose of revelation is due in part so that the Prophet [SAW] may be ‘a warner’.
The early preaching of Islam, and proclamation of the Quran as revelation began some few years later with the incident of the gathering of the principle relatives of the Prophet [SAW] and the proclamation to them of his mission and the request that they aid him. Imam Ali [AS] as yet a child responded positively to this request. The conditions in Makkah did not significantly improve, persecution surrounded the earliest believers, with the result that two years later in 615 AD a partial migration of Muslims took place to neighbouring Ethiopia, where conditions were more favourable. In 620 AD about 10 years after the preaching of Islam in Makkah had begun the Prophet [SAW] was contacted by citizens of the nearby city of Madinah. Persons belonging to the two principle tribes in Madinah the Aws and the Khazraj, they intimated to him that they wished to embrace Islam and invited him to come to that city to assume governance of it. This took place two years later in a seminal event in Islamic History called the Hijrah (the migration) in 622 AD. The word Hijrah simply means migration, it is however a migration of particular significance in that from being the leader of a small persecuted community in Makkah, now the Prophet [SAW] has the obedience and loyalty of the inhabitants of a city.
It is therefore a transformation of considerable significance. The acquisition of political authority by means of migration is not, as written by some western scholars a radical break without transition. The Quran confirms for us, that every messenger has necessarily had a people following him, over whom he has had authority which includes the political. For example we find in 10:47:-
‘To every people (was sent) a Messenger: When their Messenger comes (before them), the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.’ (10:47)
i.e. the messenger will adjudicate among them. The Hijrah is the starting point of the Islamic era, the first month of the year in which the hijrah took place is regarded as the beginning of the Islamic era. The fixing of the calendar, as beginning in the Hijrah is regarded to have been the work of the 2nd Caliph ‘Umar. There is however evidence that the choosing of the Hijrah as the point of departure of the Islamic calendar occurs already in the lifetime of the Prophet [SAW]. Documents that have been preserved in history , point to the fact that the Hijrah was used already in the lifetime of the Prophet [SAW] as a point of departure for the new era. For example there is a letter of the Prophet [SAW] to some of the tribal chieftans in Arabic which is dated in the text in the 7th year after Hijrah. Therefore Hijrah is an extremely important event which resulted in the foundation of the Muslim community and the acquisition of political authority. Two years later the first battle took place between the nascent Muslim community in Madinah and the Polytheists in Makkah – resulting in victory, but the following year this was followed by defeat in the battle of Uhud.
Military confrontation continued and reaches a climax in 5 AH (627 AD) in the battle variously known as the Battle of the Ditch (Khandak), or the battle of the confederates. The first desigination arises out of the fact that at the suggestion of an Iranian companion of the Prophet [SAW], Salman (al-farsi) a ditch was dug around the perimeter of the city of Madinah in order to prevent attack. The second designation used for the battle is the battle of the confederates (Ahzab),because all the major enemies of the Prophet [sAW] had come together in a plan to uproot and overwhelm the Muslim community in Madinah. This confederation included some of the tribes in the vicinity of Madinah which had not as yet embraced Islam or pledged their loyalty to the Prophet [SAW], the polytheists in Makkah, some of the Jewish community in the region of Madinah although they had pledged loyalty to the Prophet [SAW] in political terms, also a group within the city of Madinah itself who had apparently accepted Islam but who were rooting for the overthrowing of Islam and the return of the previous order, this group is referred to in the Quran as the hypocrites or the Munafiqin. These groups came together but were ultimately defeated by the Muslims. The Quran mentions that the polytheists were overthrown by divine intervention and military strategy.
It was only a matter of time only before Makkah was liberated from the polytheists and this occurred in 630 AD, 10 AH. The Prophet [SAW] returns to Makkah, enters the courtyard of the Ka’abah and with the aid of Imam Ali [AS] cleanses the Ka’abah of all forms of idols, and all places of polytheistic worship. Thereafter we see the gradual spread of Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula, so that by the time of the passing of the Prophet [SAW] in 632 AD the virtual entirety of the Arabian Peninsula has accepted however superficially Islam as the religion and the political authority of the state established by the Prophet [SAW]. This is a brief outline of the outer dimensions, the visible historical dimensions of the life of the Prophet [SAW], with particular emphasis on the clashes and conflicts that accompanied the rise of Islam.
The Seal of the Prophets
But obviously such an overview, or even a more detailed examination of these events would not do justice to the person of the Prophet [SAW], and the nature of his mission and its historical impact. In order partly to illustrate this we can turn to the Quran and examination of key verses that point to that lasting dimensions and the Prophet’s [SAW] impact. First the fact that the Prophet [SAW] is designated in the Quran the title the ‘Seal of the Prophets’.:-
‘Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the seal of the Prophets: And Allah has full knowledge of all things.’ (33:40)
This expression denotes in part the fact that the Prophet [SAW] is chronologically speaking the last of the Messengers, the fact that he is the last of the messengers has the following corollary, firstly that the book that he has brought the Quran must necessarily be preserved in its textual integrity for the guidance of mankind otherwise one could hypothesise it would be an act of Divine injustice to allow one scriptural revelation to be destroyed or distorted and not to replace it with another for the guidance of mankind. Secondly with regards to the Quran the designation of the Prophet [SAW] as the seal of the Prophets must also imply a comprehensiveness of that guide, a comprehensiveness in the scriptural guide that has been provided i.e. in the Quran. A guide to the ordering of their life in this world in all essential aspects, a guide to the understanding of creation and the universe, not in a detailed sense but in general terms. A guide on how to orient themselves towards the reality of the hereafter. So this is part of what is implied in the Prophet [SAW] being the seal of the Prophet. But the expression ‘seal’ has a particular significance. You could ask, would it after all have not been possible for the word ‘last’ to have been used. The word ‘seal’ implies not only the closing of something, the bringing of something to culmination or completion, it also implies a certain authority. The Prophet [SAW] is the seal of the Prophets by means of him placing the seal of authenticity and authority on all the preceding Prophets. He has therefore a certain particular relationship to all the Prophets that came before him. An explication of this part of the verse by the Prophet [SAW] himself, is when he has been recorded to have said that:-
‘I was the first of the Prophets to have been created and the last of them to be sent.’
The first of the Prophets to be created not in his biological form, clearly, which took place at a relatively advanced point in history. But in the sense of his spiritual nature and his contestance of Prophethood, that came at the very beginning. He therefore according to the history of things inaugurates the cycle of Prophethood, and terminates it. Sometimes the parallel is drawn to a seed which give rise to a tree, which is the proof of the tree, the Prophet is the seed of the Prophethood and also the mature fruit of that tree which that tree ultimately bears. From the specifically Shi’i point of view, the fact that the Prophet [SAW] has brought to an end the Prophethood, implies precisely the necessity of a new series of guides for humanity, guides who will not be the recipients of revelation but who will have the same function of exemplifying in their own persons, which are protected from sin and error – the Divine Will to guide humans.
‘Hujjah’ is a word that can be translated as ‘proof, evidence, or argument.’ There is a hadith from the Prophat [SAW] that says:-
‘The earth shall at no time be empty of a Hujjah.’
What is meant here by ‘proof’is an individual chosen by God, and protected from sin and error, who will be proof of the Divine Will to guide mankind, according to His Will. This verse (33:40) in which the expression occurs ‘seal of the Prophets’ begins with the statement that, ‘Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah…’ You have to see the verse in context with respect to the verses of the chapter, the preceding verse speaks of the prohibition of adoption in the formal sense of the word, that is to say, the adopted parent assumes the paternity of a child whom he takes into his care. Adoption of the infant, for example an orphan is a meritorious matter, however it is not permitted that the facts about the paternity of the child be suppressed and that a fictitious assumption of paternity be made by the adopting father. At the time of the revelation of this verse, a certain individual (Zaid) was very close to the Prophet [SAW] and was known as ‘the son of Muhammad’, this previous position was abrogated. However in this verse, Shi’i interpreters see in this verse an allusion to the fact that the lineage of the Prophet [SAW] passes not through any man or son, but rather through his daughter Fatima [AS]. In the authority verse the verse in which the believers are called upon to obey Allah [SWT], to obey the Messenger and the holders of authority from among them ‘Holders of authority’ being interpreted by Shi’i commentators as being the Imams. Obedience to the Messenger is established as being a corollary or even being a part of obedience to Allah [SWT]. However the relationship that the Quran puts forward that makes this mandatory for the believers is not restricted to obedience.
Love and Obedience
There is an important verse:-
‘Say (O’ Our Apostle Muhammad) ‘If ye do love God, then follow me, God will love you and forgive you your sins; Verily God is Forgiving, Merciful.’ (3:31)
Here the language used is not the language of obedience but the language of love, not that there is a contradiction between these two, rather they complement each other. Therefore the primary criteria and authenticity for the love Allah [SWT] is following the Prophet [SAW]. For ‘following’ here a different verb is used as for the obedience verse, ‘following’ implies a close imitation of an ideal model of behaviour, manifested by the Prophet [SAW], then the consequence of that will be the love of Allah [SWT], that is to say once the believers authenticated their love of Allah [SWT] by following the Messenger, then not as a matter of consequence because Allah [SWT] is above all causative relations, in His Wisdom He will secure Islam upon the believers. The love of following the Prophet [SAW] is the axis upon which turns God’s love for man and man’s love for God. You can refer to (68:4):-
‘And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character.’ (68:4)
What is meant here by the mighty or the exalted character? In the first place it means the moral excellence, the possession of inerrancy, in addition to that many commentators of the Quran both Sunni and shi’i have seen here an indication that the Prophet [SAW] is the best of all humans, the allusive language ‘exalted character’ means that the Prophet [SAW] is at the very apex of humanity. Other verses of the Quran informs the Prophet [SAW] and the believers that he belongs to the human species like all others – however at the same time he is at the apex of the human species, this is indicated in this concise verse. These verses indicate something of the significance of the Prophet [sAW] within Islam in general terms.
Specific Functions of the Prophet [SAW]
As for his specific functions you can refer to (33:45-46):-
‘O Prophet! Truly We have sent thee as a Witness, a Bearer of Glad Tidings, and a Warner –’
‘And as one who invites to Allah’s (Grace) by His leave, and as a lamp spreading light.’ (33:45-46)
There are a whole series of epithets indicating the functions of the Prophet [SAW]. Witness to the Divine Will to guide, witness to the impermanence of this world and the reality of Allah [SWT]. A giver of glad tidings – glad tidings of reward and salvation in the hereafter for the believers, and a warner at the same time, these two ‘giver of glad tidings’ and ‘warner’ complement each other and balance each other. A warner of retribution and punishment in the hereafter for those who neglect or deny guidance. One who summons to Allah [SWT] by means of His permission. Some commentators have seen a difference here between between the dual functions of warning and giving glad tidings on the one hand, and calling to Allah [SWT] on the other hand. The giving of glad tidings holds a promise of paradise and reward – warning, clearly is a warning against hell fire and punishment. So the key for motivation in response is hope and fear respectively – hope for reward and paradise – fear for hell fire and punishment. That is a different matter from responding to the messenger and revelation out of a desire for Allah [SWT] Himself – worshipping him and getting close to him. Therefore in the view of these commentators the verse proceeds as a summons to Allah [SWT] directly without reference to reward or punishment – with His permission. In this summoning he is divinely guided – and finally the verse ends with the fact that the Prophet [SAW] was sent as a light giving lamp. The function of a lamp is to illumine one’s surrounding and to realize where one is – and to proceed in the desired direction. More can said about the status of the Prophet [SAW] the place that he holds, and the veneration of all his kinsfolk on the basis of the Quran, hadith of the Prophet [SAW] and other sources – however the focus of the lecture primarily at this point is to say that the reverence given to the persons of the Imams [AS] should not be taken to imply any diminished veneration for the person of the Prophet [SAW] himself.
Succession to the Prophet [SAW]
It is of course true that if we compare in the cases of Sunni and Shi’i Islam that the nature, quality and extent of the succession of the Prophet [SAW] differs in both cases, and this has some consequences. With respect to Sunni Islam – that ultimately three modes of succession to the Prophet [SAW] are claimed, alleged or imagined – arose. Firstly and most obviously the political- after the death of the Prophet [SAW] the institution known as the caliphate came into being. And although it underwent very swift regeneration, transformation into hereditary rule – still the ruler was seen as the successor to the political authority of the Prophet [SAW]. Then it may be said the scholars of Sunni Islam– did in a way exercise succession to the Prophet [SAW]. In that they had inherited knowledge from him and were perpetuating that dimension of his heritage. A hadith accepted by both Shi’i and Sunni Muslims is the one that says that:-
‘The scholars are the heirs of the Prophet [SAW].’
The scholars inherit from the Prophet [SAW] the quality of learning. In a diffuse sense those that perpetuate, cultivate the knowledge of the Prophet [SAW] the knowledge of religion, and Islam are said to be his heirs. Then there is a third sort of succession which emerges in the world of Sunni Islam – and that is that of the Sufis who claim initiatic descent from the Prophet [SAW] through a chain of spiritual authorities. These forms of descent were deduced in the gradual unfolding of Sunni Islam. However the Prophet [SAW] in all of these schemes alone remains the sole possessor of inerrancy. Inerrancy is the joint attribute of the Prophet [SAW], and his divinely appointed Imams [AS]. And it follow that a person coming after the Prophet [SAW] and who in once sense or another lays claim to being his heir does not possess the attribute of inerrancy. Moreover the context to the succession to the Prophet [SAW] in Shi’i Islam is a unified one and is not divisible into these three separate aspects – it is not divisible into political, scholarly and spiritual as in the case of Sufis. The Imams [AS] are comprehensively and integrally the heirs to the Prophet [SAW] in all of these aspects. This being the case the Imams [AS] definitely have an infinitely higher profile in Shi’i Islam than even the most beloved personages of Sunni Islam. The first four caliphs are seen as righteous persons and holders to reward, this is however in no way comparable to the status of the Imams [AS] in Shi’i Islam. With respect to the ‘ismah – inerrancy of the Prophet [SAW] it is only restricted to the Prophet [SAW] in Sunni Islam but also the definition of its scope is not as categorical as in the case of Shi’i Islam. There are those theorists or theologians who regard it as rationally possible that the Prophet [SAW] and those before him by obvious extension the other prophets could have engaged however temporarily in minor sins. Why ‘rationally possible’ because these people do not want to go so far as to say that the prophets actually did commit sins. It is possible that they could have done so – but there fundamental purpose as prophets is not diminished. In Shi’i Islam the inerrancy of the Prophets and Imams [AS] is categorical and comprehensive and does not even include the hypothetical possibility of a minor sin or error being committed.
The life of Bibi Fatimah [AS]
The second possessor of this inerrancy is Bibi Fatimah [AS]. The most common attribute given to her is Zahra – meaning the resplendent. Interestingly enough the Prophet [SAW] in some occasions addressed her as, ‘the mother of her father’. Indicating the extremely close relationship between himself and his daughter and the great solicitude that Fatimah [AS] gave to the well being of her father. Fatimah [AS] was born from the first wife of the Prophet [SAW], Bibi Khadijah [AS], about five years after the beginning of the mission of the Prophet [SAW]. There is a difference in dating between the Sunni and Shi’ah traditions. According to Sunni traditions she was born on 20th Jumada al-akhirah. She was the youngest daughter of the Prophet [SAW]. From an early age onwards she was particularly close to the Prophet [SAW] in a fashion which indicated a particular status for her. Before the Hijrah, the Prophet [SAW] was praying in the courtyard of the Ka’abah still at a time when Makkah was full of idolatry the enemies of the Prophet [SAW] whilst he was in prayer – threw dung on his back. Bibi Fatimah [AS] although yet still a child went forward to cleanse this from the back of her father and reproached the evil-doers who were responsible for that. She migrated to Madinah very soon after the Hijrah in the company of Imam Ali [AS] who was to become her husband, together with other ladies of the household of the Prophet [sAW] including Umm Kulthum.
When she was 15, the Prophet [SAW] was approached first of all by Abu Bakr (who was to be the first caliph), then by Umar (who was to be the second caliph), with the request to marry her – these requests were both turned down by the Prophet [SAW] himself. Then Imam Ali [AS] proposed and his proposal for marriage was accepted, Imam Ali [AS] and Bibi Fatimah [AS] were married in 5 AH. The material circumstances of the Prophet [sAW] himself and the early Muslims were very simple. It is said that the dowry that was provided to Bibi Fatimah [AS] consisted simply of a coated chain mail that had been booty at the battle of Badr, that had been apportioned to Imam Ali [AS] as his share. He sold this for 450 Dirhams, which was the dowry. She participated actively despite her tender years in the battle of Uhud, which of course represented a temporary setback for the Muslims. It is said that she bought food and water for the fighters, cared for the wounded and on this occasion directly for the Prophet [SAW] himself since one of the idolators had thrown a stone at the Prophet [SAW] resulting in the breaking of one of this teeth and bleeding. Fatimah [AS] came forward to wipe blood from the face of the Prophet [SAW] when bleeding did not stop – it is said that she burned a reed mat that was near by and used the ashes to staunch the flow of blood. She was therefore in every sense of the word close to the Prophet [SAW].
Imam Hassan [AS] was born on 15th Ramadhan, then followed by Imam Hussain [AS] on 3rd Sha’ban. Hassan [AS] and Hussain [AS] were the second and third Imams [AS], the grandsons of the Prophet [sAW]. This is a brief chronological account of the life of Bibi Fatimh [AS].
Surah 108 of the Quran is one of the shortest chapters of the Quran consisting of three verses – it was revealed after the death in succession of two sons of the Prophet [SAW] – who had been born to Bibi Khadijah [AS] but who died very quickly in infancy. The opponents of Islam in Makkah had mocked the Prophet [SAW] with the assumption that his line would die out and that he would have no male heir to perpetuate his line. Thereupon this brief chapter of the Quran was revealed:-
‘Surely We have given you Kausar,
Therefore pray to your Lord and make a sacrifice.
Surely your enemy is the one who shall be without posterity.’ (108:1-3)
Al-Kauthar is a word derived from the root kathra meaning abundance. The commentators of the Quran have glossed this meaning in numerous ways – simply to mean abundant, good ‘khair al-kathir’, or it may alternatively be in fact is the name of a spring in paradise. It is permissible to see here as Shi’ah commentators have done that there is an allusion to the person of Bibi Fatimah [AS] a lineage would spring from her from her union to Imam Ali [AS]. The chapter is a refutation of the mocking claim of the unbelievers that the Prophet’s lineage will down out – but on the contrary in this chapter he is reassured in what is the original Arabic in the emphatic form that, ‘Surely We have given you Kausar,’ And that abundance can historically be seen as the descendants of the Prophet [sAW] through his daughter Fatimah [AS] and his son-in-law Imam Ali [AS]. From them, their descendants a very large group of persons, their descending from the Prophet [sAW] came into being. They remain in the world – remain well known. Whereas the descendants of the opponents to the Prophet [sAW] in Makkah remain obscure and not well known – their lineage in historical purposes was cut off. This verse is in the nature of a prediction, the verse is revealed in Makkah , whereas the marriage of Imam Ali [AS] to Bibi Fatimah [AS] took place after the Hijrah in Madinah. The fact that we have here in the past tense, ‘Surely We have given you Kausar’ should not be taken as negating this aspect of the verse – it is indeed a prediction, and a very firm prediction – so sure is it that this event will happen, it is as if it is already happened i.e. has happened right now (assuredly). In the Quran itself is here an indication of the significance of Bibi Fatimah [AS] and her marriage to Imam Ali [AS].
In the last year of the life of the Prophet [SAW], the archangel Gabriel, the medium of the Prophet [SAW] came to the Prophet [SAW] twice. It was generally a custom of the angel Jibril to come to the Prophet [SAW] once a year in order to review with him the text of the Quran up until it had been revealed to that point. In the last year of his life Jibril came to him twice. And this was taken by the Prophet [SAW] as an indication that he would die soon thereafter. He conveyed this to his daughter Fatimah [AS] and she was inconsolable with grief about this forewarning of his death. He [SAW] consoled her however by the fact that she would be out of all persons of the family of the Prophet [SAW], the first to meet him in paradise, and that she was the foremost of all the leading women. This was the last exchange between the Prophet [SAW] and his daughter Fatimah [AS]. It is said that so close was her relation to her father that even in a number of outward respects she resembled her father. She resembled him in her manner of speech, in the way that she walked – above all in the simplicity and honesty of her way of life. Such is the veneration in which her father held her, that whenever she would come into his presence he would smile and rise to his feet. This was her father and of course as Messenger of God a personage of very high prestige and authority. It is said also that whenever he left Madinah to participate in a military expedition the last person that he would go to say farewell was Fatimah [AS]. And when he returned from those expeditions the first person that he would meet was likewise Bibi Fatimah [AS].
Important Traditions about the Special Status of Bibi Fatimah [AS]
All of this indicates a close relationship between father and daughter – however this close relationship goes beyond simple natural feelings between a father and daughter. The following two traditions are of particular importance. There is a tradition in which the Prophet [SAW] says (this is found in the two principal books of Sunni tradition Sahih Bukhari and Muslim as well as in Shi’ah books):-
‘Fatimah [AS] is a part of me, whoever causes her to rejoice, has made me rejoice. Whoever has grieved her has grieved me. Whoever has grieved me has grieved Allah[sWT]. And whoever has grieved Allah [SWT] is an unbeliever.’
This is a very strong emphasis on the love and esteem in which Fatimah [AS] was held by the Prophet [SAW], to such a degree that grieving her – causing her disquiet, pain, discomfort or trouble is equated to grieving Allah [SWT], causing offence to Allah [SWT] and leading to the loss of the quality of faith itself. Then another hadith of relevance, is the hadith in which the Prophet [SAW] says that:-
‘Among all women in the world, the one most beloved of him was his daughter Fatimah [AS], and among all men the one most beloved of him was Imam Ali [AS].’
Therefore it can be concluded that the offspring of Bibi Fatimah [AS] and Imam Ali [AS] were the offspring of those who were the most beloved of the Prophet [SAW]. This has a significance transcending the sphere of personal emotion and attachment. It means that the descendants of these two – do not simply have Divine authority but they were offspring of those who were most beloved to the Prophet [SAW] as well.
After the death of the Prophet [SAW]
As to what befell Bibi Fatimah [AS] after the death of the Prophet [SAW] , Bibi Fatimah [AS] was grief stricken and inconsolable, to the extent that she asked some of the companions of the Prophet [SAW] how they had so easily thrown soil on the body of the Prophet [SAW] in the course of burying him, in other words did they not find this to be so painful as to be difficult. This was however just a reproach made in grief. More serious and an indicator of what was to come, was the question of Fadak. Fadak is a village with some arable land attached to it outside of Madinah which had been the personal property of the Prophet [SAW] and as heir to the Prophet [SAW], Fatimah [AS] came forward after his death – asking that the ownership of this land be properly assigned to her. This was refused by Abu Bakr on the grounds that the Prophet [SAW] had allegedly said that, ‘We the Prophets leave behind no legacy apart from knowledge.’ A hadith which was not well known, but apparently Aishah who was a widow of the Prophet [SAW] and of course the daughter of Abu Bakr had heard the Prophet [SAW] say this. The claim of Fatimah [AS] was therefore denied. There is of course Quranic evidence to the contrary:-
‘And Sulaiman was Dawood’s heir, and he said: O men! we have been taught the language of birds, and we have been given all things; most surely this is manifest grace.’ (27:16)
Sulaiman inherited from Dawood – whatever is the scope and nature of that inheritance, clearly Prophets do inherit from each other. Fadak became symbolic for the denial of the claims of the family of the household of the Prophet [SAW] – not because it was material goods, this was insignificant, symbolically it was a denial of the legitimate claims of the household of the Prophet [SAW]. Later during the life of Imam Ali al-Rida [AS], there were attempts made by the Abbasid Caliphs to co-opt him. And in order to satisfy Imam Ali al-Rida [AS] the caliph of the day offered to return to him Fadak. In other words it was still a live issue, in that point in time. Imam Ali Al-Rida [AS] said that:-
‘The entirety of the Muslim world is Fadak’
i.e. that rule of the entirety of the Muslim world is legitimately ours. In the short term however this denial of access to, and benefit from Fadak induced in Fatimah [AS] a hostility to Abu Bakr. She then retired effectively from public life, she died in 3rd Jumada al-akhir 11 AH. She was approximately 18 years of age at that time, obviously a very premature and early death. She died 75 days after the death of her father. As for the reason of death, what occasioned the cause of death, it is difficult to be certain. There is however the following account, when Abu Bakr was proclaimed caliph in a somewhat hasty fashion, allegiance was not sworn to him by Imam Ali [AS] or by Fatimah [AS]. Umar who was to be the second caliph is recounted to have in all sources – come to the house of Fatimah [AS], and to have said that:-
‘After the Prophet [sAW] there is no-one more in the world that I revere more than you, however cease permitting the opponents of the caliphate of Abu Bakr to gather in your house. From now on such gatherings will not be permitted.’
This is the least of what happened because this account taken from Sunni sources where there is no reason to invent a story of the discourtesy of Umar towards Bibi Fatimah [AS]. Other accounts which enlarge upon this say Umar in an obvious state of excitement came to the house – he pushed the door open violently and the door hit Bibi Fatimah [AS] causing her to miscarry the child with which she was at that point pregnant with. It may or may not be the case that some injury sustained on this occasion had something to do with her death. However one of the principle grievances of Umar is precisely this incident. That he came into the house of Bibi Fatimah and upbraided her for her refusal to give allegiance to Abu Bakr and for allowing the opponents of Abu Bakr to gather in her house. The degree of her disquiet of what had transpired was such that she made instructions for her burial to be taken place at night in the city of Madinah so that no-one should see it. She instructed that her body should be carried to the cemetery in a closed wooden box. Muslims are of course not buried in coffins they are buried in shrouds, but she did not wish to have her shrouded body exposed to public view, therefore it was taken as far as the cemetery in a wooden box. She also forbade attendance to the funeral prayer those who had offended her in her lifetime. Her funeral prayers were carried out by Imam Ali [AS] who also placed her in her grave.
However one interprets the precise circumstances of her death the conclusion is inevitable, that it marked the beginning of the sad and tragic events and misfortunes that befell the Ahl al-Bait [AS]. One of the features that is seen to be in common with all the fourteen Ma’sumin, with the exception of course Imam Mahdi [AS], is that they died as martyrs, because of some injustice inflicted upon them. In the case of the Prophet [SAW] it is said that, his death was ultimately due to a poisoned morsel of wheat which was fed to him by a Jewish woman at the conclusion of one of the military expedition from the city of Madinah. There is no way of ascertaining this for sure, but it is definite that all the bearers of the Divine Word, the guides of mankind in the form of the Imams [AS] are seen to have struggled and suffered tremendously. As we can see in the case of the Prophet [SAW] and the ordeals that he underwent as mentioned in the Quran. Part of what is inherited from the Prophet [SAW] and indeed from the entire line of prophets before the Prophet [SAW], is struggling, suffering and martyrdom – there is a distinct coloring to religious, sacred history in that it is a history of struggle against difficulty.
If it is said that Bibi Fatimah [AS] is the second of the ma’sumin, then in what sense is she inerrant. She never exercised the office of prophet or Imam. We have a number of sayings from her relating what her father said. But she is not a figure of authority in the sense of being a leader of the community, rather her inerrancy consists of the actions that she took in the lifetime of the Prophet [SAW] and thereafter, and her moral purity. Above all she is designated as the confluence of two lines in her person – not simply in the biological sense but also spiritual. The line of the prophets which ends with the Prophet [SAW], and the line of the Imams [AS] which begins with Imam Ali [AS]. Therefore she is the junction of the two lines, both of which are characterized by ‘Ismah, therefore it is entirely rational that she was a person of such meritorious character.
This article is transcription of a lecture which delivered by Hamid Algar in 2001.