The most important reason which the Sunnis bring forth in support of Abu Bakr’s caliphate is that of the ‘so-called’ ijma (consensus) of the Sahabah (companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

We will examine in detail the subject and refute the claim of ijma as just another afterthought to justify Abu Bakr’s caliphate.

Students of Islamic history like the scholars are already aware of how the ijma for Abu Bakr’s caliphate came into being and therefore we need not go into the details. Nonetheless, we will briefly examine the ijma claim to see whether there is any truth to it.

The supporters of the ijma claim say that the event at Saqifah took such a turn that a group among those gathered there came together and paid allegiance to Abu Bakr as the rightful and deserving caliph of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

Regarding the ijma argument advanced by Muslims in support of Abu Bakr, the following words of Sa’ad Taftazaani , the author of Sharh al-Maqaasid, an important book on Ilme Kalam, should suffice:

‘Whenever we say that there was unanimity and consensus for Abu Bakr’s caliphate, we do not claim this in the real meaning of unanimity and consensus because we acknowledge that there was another group (at Saqifah) which was unanimous against Abu Bakr. Moreover, it is not that all the people (at Saqifah) willingly gave their approval for his caliphate. Rather, it was after difference of opinion arose between the Muhajireen and the Ansar,  combined with the internal conflicts between the two groups of Ansar viz Aws and Khazraj and by the lone allegiance paid to him by Umar at Saqifah that paved the way for Abu Bakr’s eventual caliphate.’

  • Sharh al-Maqaasid vol 5 pg 254-267

Muslims despite knowing and acknowledging in their own books that a large section of the Muslims of the time were opposed to Abu Bakr’s caliphate attempt to downplay the matter by saying – it is better that we adopt silence and avoid discussion on these matters because the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) himself would remain silent whenever there was a conflict between the companions. Hence there should be no attempt to delve and analyze on this matter (of caliphate).

At this juncture, it is appropriate to present the views of Sa’d Taftaazani to understand as to how the Sunnis have fallen in distress due to this claim of ijma of Abu Bakr, and how they try to wriggle out of it.

Sa’ad Taftazaani says:

All Muslim scholars are unanimous in the Imamat (caliphate) of Abu Bakr, and by having good opinion (husn-e-zann) about them, it can be concluded that if all these scholars were not having clear proofs for Abu Bakr’s Imamat, they would not have been unanimous in their views about it.

  • Sharh al-Maqaasid vol 2 pg 298

In reply, we state – If the matter boils down to this (having good opinion about the Muslim scholars) regarding Abu Bakr’s Imamat, then it is clear that the matter of Abu Bakr’s caliphate is rooted in the good opinion about the companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and to follow their judgment (taqleed) in this matter.

Moreover, if it is a matter of taqleed, then there is no need to exert ourselves to bring Quranic verses and traditions in order to prove this matter. Rather, at the very beginning, we should state that in this matter we are following the companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and since they have done such a thing, we are simply following the path traced by them. This implies that there is no need to discuss the caliphate of Abu Bakr through Quran and traditions, but to merely say that we are following the companions in this regard and since they ‘considered’ him as a caliph, we are required to do likewise.

Taftazaani continues – It is necessary to respect the companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and we should desist from taunting and criticizing them and should interpret those traditions which portray their defects and mistakes committed by them in a manner which is contrary to the apparent and the interpretation of these traditions should be done with specific instances of the Muhajireen and Ansar – thus overlooking all their defects and mistakes.

Taftazaani’s view on the proofs advanced by the Shias

After establishing the Ahle Tasunnan viewpoint on caliphate, Taftazaani discusses the Shiite viewpoint on the subject. He says:

‘They state that after the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) there was no other Imam except Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) because (they claim that) the Imam possesses certain conditions such as being infallible, nominated by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and being superior to his contemporaries, and except for Ali b. Talib (a.s.) none of the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) possessed these attributes.’

Then Taftazaani started attacking the great Shia scholar – Khwaaja Naseeruddin Tusi (r.a.) and other Shia scholars and showed audacity and disrespect towards them.  We reproduce his actual comment over here.

Sa’ad Taftazaani says:

‘Shias while proving the Imamat of Ali (a.s.) have established their arguments in some manner through arguments based on intellect and traditions.  They criticize all those who assumed the leadership of the Muslim nation after the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and attribute considerable faults and defects to them to the extent that they have considered mutawatir (unbroken and continuous) many of the traditions that have been narrated in this context.’

‘Why is it that these traditions have been famous amongst them and were narrated emphatically by them at all times and were compatible with their innate nature? They consistently and pertinently listen to these criticism and objections  but they do not ponder as to how these defects and mistakes were hidden from the great companions from the Muhajir and Ansar and the transmitters of traditions who have been considered as trustworthy and reliable. None of them (Muhajir, Ansar and transmitters) have brought any argument against the other, and they have not mentioned anything that could indicate whether these traditions are correct.’

‘The criticism (of Abu Bakr and the caliphs) started doing the rounds after the period of the Imams (a.s.) and silly obstinacies and wicked heresies began to manifest and the matters of religion fell in the hands of evil scholars, and tyrant rulers started governing the people.’

‘It is very strange that one of their scholars, who was from those responsible for this nuisance and confusion and who appears to have not seen any of the transmitters nor narrated any tradition in religious matters,  has filled his books with traditions and narrations which criticize and object to the pious companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Now, if you see the book ‘Tajreed al-Eteqaadaat’ written by Khwaaja Naseeruddin Tusi (r.a.), you will see how he has supported the false ideas and affirmed to the lies and fabrications.’

Reply to Taftaazani’s objection against Shias

The root of the matter lies in the fact that we, in many of our books concerning beliefs, have established the matter of Imamat of Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) from the books of Ahle Tasunnan. From their most reliable books like the Sihaah Sittah or ‘sisters of the Quran’, we have proved that our arguments are valid and correct. In all our arguments and proofs, we have always used an appropriate and decent manner and language and we have not been impolite or disrespectful towards any of the scholars of Ahle Tasunnan – many of whom have professed love for Ahle Bait (a.s.). We have established the definite nomination and clear selection of Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) from the Quran and reliable traditions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and also his infallibility and his superiority over all the companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

All these arguments and proofs have been established from reliable books of Ahle Tasunnan as well as the views of their scholars and we have not adopted any deviant approach towards the same.

We have analyzed arguments and proofs brought forth by the Muslims regarding the Imamat of Abu Bakr. Our analysis is transparent and clear-cut. We do not have recommendations or orders or separate traditions in our books from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). We use the very traditions that are widely prevalent in the books of the Ahle Tasunnun.

Moreover with regards ijma concerning the Imamat of Abu Bakr, the Muslims have, under difficulty and helplessness, admitted that such a unanimity and consensus was never achieved.

Also, we have analyzed their most important proof regarding the Imamat of Abu Bakr that he was the best of the companions and have proven from their own books that this argument too holds no ground.

Honestly, what is the fault of the Shias if the books of Ahle Tasannun show that the Imamat of Abu Bakr was incomplete and irregular and easily refutable whereas the proofs regarding the Imamat of Ameerul Momimeen Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) are perfect and irrefutable.