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Imam Ali the successor of Prophet

Ghadir and the meaning of “Mawla” in the Light of Sunni Sources. By D.A. Naqavi

Considering the circumstances at the event of Ghadir, is it sensible that “mawla” means “friend” and “helper”? Supposing it to be true, did Muslims fulfill the obligation of help and friendship after the demise of the holy Prophet?

Part 1

The event of Ghadir is one of the most important evidences concerning the Imamate of Imam Ali (A.S.). Ghadir is an accepted historical fact that both, Shi’a and Sunni scholars unanimously have narrated it. As the event is not deniable, the opponents attempt to reject its implications by misinterpreting the hadith. “Mawla” is a key word meaning “master” that has misinterpreted as “helper” or “friend”. The paper is to examine the right meaning of “mawla” in this hadith in the light of Sunni sources.

The Event of Hadith al-Ghadir

The Event of Hadith al-Ghadir

All the Shi’a and Sunni scholars acknowledge that, in the 10th of the Hijra year, the Prophet of Allah (S.A.W), returning from his last pilgrimage, gathered together all his companions at Ghadir al-Khum on the 18th of Dhi’l-Hijja. Some of those who had gone ahead were called back by order of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) and those who had lagged behind were awaited.

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) ordered a pulpit to be prepared. He mounted the pulpit and delivered a long sermon, a greater part of which contained the virtues and merits of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (A.S). He recited most of the verses, which had been revealed in praise of Ali and reminded the people of the Holy rank of the vicegerency of Imam Ali (A.S.). Then the Holy Prophet said, “O you people! Have I not the greater claim than you have on your lives?” The crowd with one voice shouted “Certainly, O messenger of Allah!” Then the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) declared: “Of whomsoever I am the mawla (master) this Ali is his mawla.” (من كنت مولاه فهذا علي مولاه)[1] After this, he raised Ali’s hand and prayed to Allah. “O Allah, be you a friend to him who is a friend to Ali, and be an enemy to him who is an enemy to Ali. Help him who helps Ali and forsake him who forsakes Ali.”

Then a tent was pitched by order of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) who ordered the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (A.S.) to sit in the tent. The whole umma (people) was commanded to offer bay’ah (allegiance) to Ali. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) said that he gave this instruction in compliance with the command of Allah. The Caliph Umar was pioneer among the companions to offer allegiance on that day. Seizing Ali (A.S.) by the hand, he said: “Congratulations to you, Ali! This morning has brought you a great blessing. You have become my mawla (master) and the mawla of all believing men and women”.[2]

Some of great Sunni ulama have written books on this topic. For instance, the well-known scholar, commentator and historian of the third century of hijra, Abu Ja’far Muhammad bin Jarīr Ṭabarī (died 310 A.H.), gives complete details of the hadith of Ghadir in his book Kitābu’l-Wilāyah and has narrated it through seventy five chains of transmission. Ibn Ḥajar ‘Asqalānī after narrating the hadith, says that Ibn ‘Uqdah has examined and recounted this hadith from 70 companions, even more.[3]

[1]– The Holy Prophet repeatedly has presented such a phrase for Imam Ali in different occasions using the words like “wali” or “mula”.

[2]– the hadith of Ghadir al-Khum, with slight different accounts, is narrated by most of Sunni eminent scholars in their books, some of them are as follow:

الإمام احمد بن حنبل (متوفي 241)، مسند احمد، بيروت، دار صادر، ج4، ص 281؛ عمرو بن أبي عاصم (متوفي 287)، كتاب السنة، بيروت، المكتب الإسلامي، 1413 – 1993، ص590 (باب من كنت مولاه فعلي مولاه)؛ النسائي (متوفي 303)، السنن الكبرى، بيروت، دار الكتب العلمية، 1411 – 1991، ج 5، ص130 (باب قول النبي (ص) من كنت وليه فعلي وليه)؛ الحاكم النيسابوري (متوفي 405)، المستدرك ، ج3، ص109

(Hakim Nayshaburi after narrating this hadith mentions that this hadith is sahih (authentic) according the terms of sheikhayn (Bukhari and Muslim), but they have not related it.)

أبي بكر أحمد بن موسى ابن مردويه (متوفي 410)، مناقب علي بن أبي طالب (ع) وما نزل من القرآن في علي (ع)، قم، دار الحديث، 1424، ص231؛ الثعلبي (متوفي 427)، تفسير الثعلبي، بيروت، دار إحياء التراث العربي، 1422 – 2002، ج4، ص92؛ الخطيب البغدادي (متوفي 463)، تاريخ بغداد، بيروت، دار الكتب العلمية، 1417 – 1997، ج8، ص284 (رقم: 4392)؛ الحاكم الحسكاني (متوفي القرن 5)، شواهد التنزيل، مؤسسة الطبع والنشر التابعة لوزارة الثقافة والإرشاد الإسلامي- مجمع إحياء الثقافة الإسلامية، 1411 – 1990، ج1، ص200؛ ابن عساكر (متوفي 571)، تاريخ مدينة دمشق، بيروت، دار الفكر للطباعة والنشر والتوزيع، 1415، ج42، ص221؛ الذهبي (متوفي 748)، سير أعلام النبلاء، بيروت، مؤسسة الرسالة، 1413 – 1993، ج8، ص335

(Dhahabi mentions that this hadith is perfectly authentic with sound chain of narrators (هذا حديث حسن عال جدا), and its text is repeatedly narrated – mutawater.)

ابن كثير (متوفي 774)، البداية والنهاية، بيروت، دار إحياء التراث العربي، 1408 – 1988، ج5، ص227؛ آلوسى سيد محمود (متوفي 1270)، روح المعانى فى تفسير القرآن العظيم،‏ تحقيق: على عبدالبارى عطية، بيروت، دارالكتب العلميه، 1415‏، ج‏3، ص: 359

[3]– ابن حجرعسقلاني (متوفي 852)، تهذيب التهذيب، بيروت، دارالفكر للطباعة والنشر والتوزيع، 1404 – 1984، ج7، ص297 .

A Doubt about the Meaning of 'Mawla'

A Doubt about the Meaning of 'Mawla'

There are some doubts regarding the word “mawla”. According to Shi’a explanation in this hadith “mawla” means “one who has a greater claim on others”, although it is known that “mawla” means lover, helper, and friend. The Prophet (S.A.W) knew that Ali (A.S) had many enemies, and so he wanted to exhort the people that whomsoever he loved or was friend or helper to, Ali also loved him and was his friend and helper. The reason he demanded allegiance from the people was that he did not want them to cause Ali (A.S.) trouble.

Answer

There are many proofs that the only rightful possible meaning of “mawla” in this hadith is “master”; some of them are as follows:

1- The Verse of Iblāgh (Delivering)

1- The Verse of Iblāgh (Delivering)

The first proof is the Holy Qur’an and the revelation of the verse:

يَاأَيهَُّا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَّبِّكَ وَ إِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ وَ اللَّهُ يَعْصِمُكَ مِنَ النَّاسِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يهَْدِى الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ[1]

“O Apostle! deliver that which has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you from the people.” (5.67)

There are different ideas among scholars regarding what the Prophet (S.A.W) was apprehensive about, such as: criticizing Ahl al-Kitab (Jews and Christians), delivering Divine message to Ahl al-Kitab, conveying God’s words to polytheists, criticizing idols, issuing some controversial laws etc. This verse was revealed only few months before the demise of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W), at the time that was culmination of his mission, when he has presented almost all shari’a, has conquered Mecca and cleansed it from idolatry and idolaters, Ahl al-Kitab had been defeated, and Islam had become the dominant religion in Arabian Peninsula. Does it make sense that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) hesitates at the climax of his life about the issues that he used to do without any hesitation even at the time when he was really weak and vulnerable?

In addition, the warning contained in this verse says: “If you do it not then (it will be as if) you have not delivered His message (at all)…” shows that the message which the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) had been ordered to deliver was of great importance. It was, in fact, essential to the completion of Prophethood itself. Therefore, the issue in question was surely the matter of the imamate, the conferring of authority on one who would guide the people according to the tenets of Islam after the death of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W).

Also, it is narrated from many great companions of the Prophet (S.A.W) that this verse was revealed about Imam Ali (A.S). Some of these companions are as follows: Ibn Abbās (highly honored by all Islamic sects),[2] Ibn Mas‘ūd (one of the writers of wahi – revelations),[3] Abī al-Sa‘īd al-Khidrī,[4] Barā’ bin ‘Āzib,[5] Jābir bin Abdullah,[6] Abdullah bin Abī Awfá,[7] Muhammad bin Ali,[8] Abī Hurayrah,[9] Ḥudhayfah bin Yamān.[10]

[1]– مائدة، 67 .

[2] – الحاكم الحسكاني، شواهد التنزيل، ج1، ص249؛ فخرالدين رازى ابوعبدالله محمد بن عمر (متوفي القرن 6)، مفاتيح الغيب، بيروت، دار احياء التراث العربى، ‏1420، ج12، ص401.

[3]– جلال الدين السيوطي (متوفي 911)، الدر المنثور، بيروت، دار المعرفة للطباعة والنشر، ج2، ص298 .

[4] – ابن أبي حاتم الرازي (متوفي 327)، تفسير ابن أبي حاتم، صيدا – المكتبة العصرية، ج4، ص 1172 (رقم:6609)؛ الواحدي النيسابوري (متوفي 468)، أسباب نزول الآيات، القاهرة، مؤسسة الحلبي وشركاه للنشر والتوزيع، 1388 – 1968، ص135؛ الحاكم الحسكاني، شواهد التنزيل، ج1، ص249؛ جلال الدين السيوطي، الدر المنثور،ج2، ص298 .

[5]– فخرالدين رازى ابوعبدالله محمد بن عمر، مفاتيح الغيب، ج12، ص401 .

[6]– الحاكم الحسكاني، شواهد التنزيل، ج1، ص249.

[7]– الحاكم الحسكاني، شواهد التنزيل، ج1، ص249.

[8]– فخرالدين رازى ابوعبدالله محمد بن عمر، مفاتيح الغيب، بيروت، ج12، ص401.

[9]– الحاكم الحسكاني، شواهد التنزيل، ج1، ص249.

[10]– الحاكم الحسكاني، شواهد التنزيل، ج2، ص391.

2- The Verse of Ikmāl al-Dīn (perfection of religion)

2- The Verse of Ikmāl al-Dīn (perfection of religion)

The second circumstance that proves the point is the revelation of the verse:

الْيَوْمَ يَئسَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تخَْشَوْهُمْ وَ اخْشَوْنِ الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَ أَتمَْمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتىِ وَ رَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْاسْلَامَ دِينًا[1]

“Today the faithless have despaired of your religion. So do not fear them, but fear Me. Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion.” (5:3)

According to all Shi’a and many Sunni sources, this verse was revealed at the event of Ghadir. However it is famous among Sunni sources that this verse was revealed on the day of Arafa, but the very sources mostly mention that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) died 81 or 82 days after revealing this verse, and it is unanimously accepted that he passed away at 10th Rabi‘ al-Awwal, which is compatible with the event of Ghadir. In addition, establishing some rules of Shari’a at the last months of the Prophet’s life does not make unbelievers to despair of Islam, but rather it would be much more important thing; something that keeps Islam alive and strong, and guarantees its efficiency after the death of the Prophet (S.A.W) just like the time of his presence, which is Imamate and vicegerency.

In addition, many Sunni reputable scholars have narrated that it was revealed on the day of Ghadir.[2] Also some of them hold the view that perhaps this verse was revealed twice, once at the close of the day of Arafa and then again on the day of Ghadir. Even in this case, the revelation of the Qur’anic verse in question for the second time, particularly in different circumstances and with such serious instructions that people might be put to great inconvenience and suspense, could not simply mean that they should be friends of Ali (A.S.). Either the Holy Prophet’s performance was meant to indicate great significance or it was frivolous; and certainly, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) is free from all frivolous actions.

[1]– مائدة، 3.

[2]– some of them are as follows:

الحاكم الحسكاني، شواهد التنزيل، ج1، ص200؛ الخطيب البغدادي، تاريخ بغداد،ج8، ص284 (رقم: 4392)؛ ابن عساكر، تاريخ مدينة دمشق، ج42، ص233؛ أبي بكر أحمد بن موسى ابن مردويه، مناقب علي بن أبي طالب (ع) وما نزل من القرآن في علي (ع)، ص231.

3- Considering the Circumstances

3- Considering the Circumstances

In that hot desert, where there was no protection for the travelers, the Prophet (S.A.W) gathered the whole umma. People sat in the shade of the camels, with their feet covered, in the scorching heat of the sun. In these conditions, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) delivered a long address, which Khārazmī and Ibn Mardawīyah in their Manāqib, and Tabarī in his Kitāb al-Wilāyah and others have narrated.

Is it sensible to think that the Prophet (S.A.W) would require thousands of his followers to spend three days in the blazing desert to swear allegiance to Ali (A.S.) merely to indicate that Ali (A.S.) was their friend? In fact, there was no one in the whole Community who did not already know the close association between the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) and Ali (A.S.) or had not heard about him.

It is reasonable to conclude therefore, that these arrangements were made not merely to indicate that people should befriend Ali. The event, in fact, marked the completion of the Prophet’s message: the establishment of the Imamate, the source of the umma’s guidance after the death of the Prophet.

Part 2

Since the event of Ghadir is not deniable, the opponents attempt to misinterpret the hadith. “Mawla” is a key word in this hadith which means “master”, but they misread it as “helper” or “friend”. There are many evidences to prove the right meaning of the word, among which some of them, including the verse of Iblāgh (Delivering), the verse of Ikmāl al-Dīn (perfection of religion), and considering the circumstances; were examined in the part one. There are some other reasons examined in part two to clarify the right meaning of “mawla”.

4- The Primary Meaning of 'Mawla'

4- The Primary Meaning of 'Mawla'

The word “mawla” has different meanings, but it has only one basic meaning and the rest of the meanings are derived. The basic meaning of the word “mawla” or “wali” is master. For instance, the “wali” of “nikah” (wedlock) means one who acts as attorney, or trustee; the “wali” of a child is his father, who has full authority over him; the “wali ‘ahd” (heir apparent) of a king means “one whose right to rule cannot be denied if he outlives the ancestor”.

Some of reputable Sunni scholars have acknowledged that the primary meaning of “mawla” is “master”. Among them is Sibt bin Jawzī, who after giving ten meanings of the word in his Tadhkirah al-Khawās, proves that none of them except the tenth one, which is “master”, corresponds with what the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) meant to say. He says: “The hadith specifically means obedience; so the tenth meaning is correct, and it means ‘mastery over others’”. Sibt bin Jawzī adds, “Asking people that am I the master of the believers? And, do I have more rights over the believers than they have over their own selves? Clearly proves the Imamate or vicegerency of Ali (A.S), and that obedience to him is obligatory.”[1]

Muhammad bin Ṭalḥa Shafi‘ī in his Maālib al-Su’ūl says that the word “mawla” has many meanings, for instance: “master”, “helper”, “successor”, “truthful one”, and “leader”. He then says that this holy hadith furnishes an inner interpretation to the verse of Mubāhalah[2]:

فَمَنْ حَاجَّكَ فِيهِ مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ فَقُلْ تَعَالَوْاْ نَدْعُ أَبْنَاءَنَا وَ أَبْنَاءَكمُ‏ْ وَ نِسَاءَنَا وَ نِسَاءَكُمْ وَ أَنفُسَنَا وَ أَنفُسَكُمْ ثُمَّ نَبْتهَِلْ فَنَجْعَل لَّعْنَتَ اللَّهِ عَلىَ الْكاذِبِين[3]

Should anyone argue with you concerning him, after the knowledge that has come to you, say,” Come! Let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, our souls and your souls, then let us pray earnestly and call down Allah’s curse upon the liars.”(3.61)

In this verse, Allah Almighty has called Ali (A.S) the “self” of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W). There was no separation between the self of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) and the self of Ali (A.S.) since He combined the two with the pronoun referring to the Holy Prophet (S.A.W). Muhammad bin Talha adds: “In this hadith the Holy Prophet indicated that whatever obligations the believers had in respect to him, they had also in respect to Ali (A.S.). As the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) was certainly master of the believers in all of their matters, their helper, leader, and chief – all of these being connotations of the word “mawla” – then it follows that he meant the same thing for Ali (A.S) also.[4]

Objection: In view of Shi’a statement, since the word “mawla” has a number of meanings, it would be wrong to conclude that it was used in this case to indicate a single meaning, “master”, to the exclusion of other meanings.

Answer: the opponent’s objection recoils upon them as to why they have restricted its meaning to “friend” and “helper” when it has many other meanings; so, this specification without any specific object is void. The objection they have made comes back to them and not to us because the meaning that we have specified is not without the specified object. The verses of the Holy Qur’an, the hadith, and the indications presented by Shi’a and Sunni scholars, all prove the same meaning which we have given.

[1]– سبط ابن الجوزي (متوفي 654)، تذكرة الخواص، قم، امير، 1418، ص37 .

[2]– According to the unanimous view of reliable commentators and traditionists of both sects, no one else except Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Husain were present with the Prophet (S.A.W) at the imprecation (Mubāhalah). The phrase in the Holy verse, “our sons and your sons, our women and your women” refer, respectively, to Hassam, Husain, and Bibi Fatima; and the other person, who could be identified as “ourselves” in the Holy group, was the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (A.S). Hence, this word “ourselves” proves the unity of self between the Prophet Muhammad and Ali.

[3]– آل عمران/61 .

[4]– محمد بن طلحة الشافعي (متوفي 652)، مطالب السؤول في مناقب آل الرسول (ع)، تحقيق: ماجد ابن أحمد العطية، ص95 .

5- The Phrase 'after me'

5- The Phrase 'after me'

If “mawla” or “walī” did not mean “one who has a greater claim on others”, the latter phrase “after me” would be meaningless. This sentence, which the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) repeatedly, not only at Ghadir but many times, uttered from his sacred tongue, proves that “mawla” and “walī” mean “one who has authority over all others” because he said that rank in particular was granted to Ali (A.S.) after him.

6- 'Have I not a greater claim on you than you have on yourselves'?

6- 'Have I not a greater claim on you than you have on yourselves'?

The way in which the hadith has been narrated in, itself proves that the word “mawla” means “master”. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W), in his address at Ghadir, asked the people: “Have I not a greater claim on you than you have on yourselves?” This refers to the words of the Holy Qur’an:

النَّبىِ‏ُّ أَوْلىَ‏ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنفُسِهِم‏[1]

“The Prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than they have on themselves.” (33:6)

All of them said with one voice that he had a greater claim on them than they had on themselves. After that, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) said: “Of whomsoever I am the ‘mawla’, this Ali is also his ‘mawla’”. So from the context of his speech, it follows that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) meant “authority” or “mastery over others” when he used the word “mawla”.

[1]– احزاب، 6 .

7- Ali's Argument Based on the Hadith of Ghadir

7- Ali's Argument Based on the Hadith of Ghadir

If this hadith and the word “mawla” had not been proof of Ali (A.S.) as Imam and Caliph, he would not have repeatedly argued from it. Particularly important is the evidence given by almost thirty companions at Rahba, al-Kufa, which many of Sunni distinguished scholars have narrated.[1]

Ali (A.S) stood before the people and asked them to bear witness about what they had heard the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) saying about him at Ghadir al-Khum. Thirty (more or less, according to different accounts) of the companions, including twelve Badris (those who had fought in the Battle of Badr, and held significant place among Muslims), stood up and said that they saw on the day of Ghadir the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) holding up Hazrat Ali’s hand and saying to the people: Do you know that I have greater claim on the believers than they have on their own selves?” All of them said: “Yes”. Then the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) said: “Of whomsoever I am “mawla”, this Ali is his “mawla”.

Question: still it is questionable that instead of a word with different possible meanings, why not the holy Prophet (S.A.W) expressed his intention clearly, so there would not be any doubt about the Imamate of Imam Ali (A.S.).

Answer: hadith al-Ghadir including its context and other indications, clearly proves the vicegerency of Imam Ali (A.S). When it is possible to doubt about the meaning of hadith al-Ghadir, surely it would be possible to reject the existence of a clear hadith, as some opponent scholars have rejected or neglected the hadith of Ghadir in their works.

Conclusion

Whatever interpretation you may give to the word “mawla”, it is an acknowledged fact that the companions made a promise to the Prophet (S.A.W) on that day. Even if we suppose for the moment that by “mawla” the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) meant merely “friend” or “helper”, does friendship mean that they should set fire to Ali’s house, terrify his family, and threaten him with drawn swords, after the death of the Holy Prophet? Didn’t they break their pledge? Did they fulfill the conditions of friendship?

[1]– some of them are as follows:

الإمام احمد بن حنبل، مسند احمد، ج1، ص 119؛عمرو بن أبي عاصم، كتاب السنة، ص593؛ الخطيب البغدادي، تاريخ بغداد، ج14، ص239 (رقم: 7545) .

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الواحدي النيسابوري، أسباب نزول الآيات، القاهرة، مؤسسة الحلبي وشركاه للنشر والتوزيع، 1388 – 1968.

Dilawar Ali Naqavi

Dilawar Ali Naqavi

Pakistani Researcher

Iran-Mashhad Seminary member and M.A. student in Quranic Interpretation and Sciences.

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