Context of Ghadir Khumm
Al-Ghadir is the topic of much of the controversy between Sunnis and Shias ever since the first centuries of Islam. Unlike the logical and linguistic approach that many take when discussing the intricacies of these events, we have chosen to provide readers with a contextual view of the event, which provides the reader with the details of what led to what happened at Al-Ghadir.
According to the Shia understanding of the events, what triggered the event of Ghadir was Allah’s order to designate Ali as the successor of the Prophet (peace be upon him). This has been studied and refuted in our article on Ayat Al-Tableegh.
However, what Shias overlook, even when quoting Sunni sources, is the clear context that Sunnis provide. Instead, Shias suggest that Sunnis are shallow with their understanding of Ghadir and that Sunnis believe that the Prophet (peace be upon him) declared Ali as a “friend” for no reason. This oversimplification is an offense to the rational argument that Sunnis bring, as we shall show by providing the full context below.
Al-Tirmithi narrated in his Sunan (3725):
Abdullah bin Abi Ziyad narrated to us: Al-Ahwas bin Jawab narrated to us, from Yunus bin Abi Ishaaq, from Abi Ishaaq, from Al-Baraa’ that he said: The Prophet (peace be upon him) sent two armies and placed Ali bin Abi Talib in charge of one and Khalid bin Al-Waleed in charge of the other. He said, “If there is a battle, then Ali (shall lead).” He (Al-Baraa’) said: Ali then conquered a fort and took a slave-girl. Khalid then wrote to the Prophet (peace be upon him) a complaint. He (Al-Baraa’) said: I came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and read it. His face changed and he said, “What is your issue with a man that loves Allah and His prophet and is loved by Allah and His prophet?” I (Al-Baraa’) said: “I seek refuge by Allah from the anger of Allah and His messenger, and I am but a messenger.” He then became quiet.
Al-Tirmithi declares this report as hasanun ghareeb, however, it is not the strongest report, due to some weakness and Yunus and the possible tadlees of Abi Ishaaq.
In another report, Al-Tirmithi (3712) proves greater clarity:
Qutaiba bin Sa’eed narrated to us: Ja’afar bin Sulaiman Al-Dhaba’ee narrated to us: From Yazeed Al-Rishk, from Mutarrif bin Abdullah, from Imran bin Husain, he said: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) sent an army and placed Ali bin Abi Talib in charge of it. He then got a slave-girl and they condemned him. Then, four of the companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) agreed and said, “When we go back to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) we will tell him about what Ali did.”
Al-Tirmithi also grades this report as hasanun ghareeb.
Both of the reports above clearly state that the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and mainly Khalid bin Al-Waleed had issues with Ali bin Abi Talib due to what occurred in Yemen. However, the reports from Al-Baraa’ bin ‘Azib and Imran bin Husain are not as detailed as we would like. Luckily, Buraida bin Al-Husaib, one of the primary narrators of the events of Ghadir, gives us the much desired detailed account that we were hoping for.
Imam Ahmad narrated in his Musnad #22967:
From Yahya bin Sa’eed from Abd Al-Jaleel, he said: I entered upon a group with Abu Mijlaz and the sons of Buraidah. Abdullah bin Buraida said: My father (Buraida) said: I hated Ali like no other, and I loved a man from Quraish simply because he hated Ali. He (Buraida) said: That man was sent on a horse and I traveled with him simply because he hated Ali. He (Buraida) said: We then received captives of war. He (Buraida) said: They wrote to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) to send someone to split it into five (shares). He (Buraida) said: He sent Ali, and within the captives was a slave-girl which was from the best of the captives. He (Buraida) said: He split it into five (shares) and distributed, and he came out with (water) dripping from his head. We said: “O’ Abu Al-Hasan what is this?” He (Ali) said: “Didn’t you see the slave-girl from the captives? I distributed and split into gives and she became in the fifth, then she was included in the ahlulbayt of the Prophet (peace be upon him), then she became into the share of the family of Ali, so I slept with her.” He (Buraida) said: A man wrote to the Prophet (peace be upon him). I (Buraida) said: Send me. He sent me as a confirmation. I then read the letter and confirmed the content. He (Buraida) said: He then took my hand and the letter, and said, “Do you hate Ali?” He (Buraida) said: I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do not hate him, and if you love him, then love him more, for by Him who has my soul in His hand, Ali’s rights to the fifth is greater than a slave-girl.” He (Buraida) said: After the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him), there was nobody that I loved more than Ali.
The chain is authentic.
In another authentic report in Khasa’is Ali by Al-Nasa’ee (81), Buraida goes to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to complain after coming from Yemen. The Prophet (peace be upon him) then tells him, “Whosoever I am his mawla then Ali is his mawla.”
From the three reports above, we can come to the following conclusions: The conflict that occurred between some of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Ali occurred in Yemen. The conflict revolved around a slave-girl that Ali took for himself. Ali justified it by stating that he had the right of determining what fell into his khums, which angered some of the companions, who wanted the slave-girl for themselves.
When the complaints reached the Prophet (peace be upon him), he sided with Ali and pointed out that he is deserving of more than just a mere slave-girl. He condemned them for holding grudges against him as well.
Ali finally arrives in Makkah to meet the Prophet (peace be upon him) and around a week later, the Prophet (peace be upon him) calls out to the people saying, “Whosoever I am his mawla then Ali is his mawla,” and this ultimately ends any bitterness that may have possibly remained in the hearts of those that got into conflict with Ali.
Note: Some Shias might find it weird that Ali had intercourse with a slave-girl. However, this is halal and was practiced by the Prophet (peace be upon him) who had intercourse with Mariya, who gave birth to his son Ibrahim. Shia historians also write in the biography of Ali that he had children from slave-girls, including Khadijah, Maymouna, Um Kalthoom the younger, and a daughter named after his first wife, Fatima. (See I’lam Al-Wara p. 211 / Manaqib Aal Abi Talib 3/484)
The narrations above provide a clear context and sequence of events that allow us to understand what led to the events at Ghadir Khumm. We shall examine the true meaning of these words in our article on the meaning of mawla.