In the matter of Tabarra, there are two broad divisions among Muslims. One group rejects Tabarra outright and condemns the practice.

The other group practices Tabarra as part of religion and devotes time and effort to observe it like other acts of worship be it prayers, fasting, hajj and so on.

The first group, which incidentally forms the majority, believes that Tabarra has nothing to do with Islam and if it were part of Islam then Muslims, especially the companions and taabe’een (second generation companions) would have been practicing it from the beginning.

We reproduce a debate that dispels all false notions of this group about tabarra. Tabarra is not merely cursing, although it is part of it. More importantly, Tabarra means to distance oneself (تباعد) from someone.

It is in this respect that all Muslims, including their chiefs and the foremost companions, practiced Tabarra whether they realized it or not.

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) proves tabarra is practiced by all Muslims

The backdrop of the debate is in Medina at a time when the Muslim king Walid, from the progeny of Marwan (may Allah curse both of them) was killed in Syria. A group of Mutazelah along with the other chiefs of religion were discussing at length on the procedure to select the successor to Walid. This group included illustrious personalities of the time like Amr Ibn Obaid, Waasil Ibn Ataa, Hafs Ibn Saalim, among others.

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) was also present.

When the discussion extended beyond limits with no concrete result in sight, it was decided that a person would represent the group in a discussion with Imam Sadiq (a.s.) on the appointment of the next caliph. The group selected Amr Ibn Obaid as its representative.

After presenting his arguments, Amr Ibn Obaid advanced the name of Muhammad Ibn Abdillah Ibn Hasan (Ibn Ali Ibn Abi Talib) as a worthy successor.

Imam Sadiq (a.s.): Do you all agree with Amr Ibn Obaid?

The people affirmed Amr’s choice.

Imam (a.s.) praised Allah and invoked blessings on the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and said: When Allah is disobeyed we feel sad and when Allah is obeyed we are pleased. O Amr! Tell me if this nation places their affairs on your neck and without any bloodshed delegates the authority of their affairs to you and authorizes you to appoint as a ruler whoever you wish, whom will you appoint as a master or a ruler?

Amr Ibn Obaid: I will form a Shura (committee) of the Muslims.

Imam (a.s.): Shura of all the Muslims?

Amr: Yes

Imam (a.s.): Will Shura include the jurists and the best of the community?

Amr: Yes

Imam (a.s.): Quraysh and non-Quraysh? Arab and non-Arab?

Amr: Yes

Imam (a.s.): Tell me O Amr! Do you do Tawalla with Abu Bakr and Umar or do you Tabarra with them?

Amr: I do Tawalla with them.

Imam (a.s.): O Amr! Only if you do Tabarra with Abu Bakr and Umar, you would be permitted to select a successor (as you have described by forming a Shura).  It is clear you are in opposition to Abu Bakr and Umar and are doing Tabarra from them.

(Imam a.s. is pointing out to Amr Ibn Ubaid that contrary to his claim of Tawalla, he is in fact doing Tabarra from Umar, given that his choice of Shura and its composition differed vastly from that of Umar.)

Umar, without any consultation, appointed Abu Bakr as caliph and paid him allegiance.

Next Abu Bakr also without any consultation handed over caliphate to Umar.

Umar constituted a Shura of six members and did not include any Ansaar (helpers) among them. Except the six, he expelled the Quraysh too. And then regarding the Shura he imposed such conditions that neither you nor your companions are pleased with it.

Amr: What did he do?

Imam (a.s.): He ordered Sohaib (Ibn Sinaan Ibn Maalik) to lead the prayers for three days and only these six members would consult each other. Among these six, the seventh will be none except Abdullah Ibn Umar, but there will be no opinion from his side. Thereafter, Umar made a will to the Muhaajireen (immigrants) and the Ansaar present there as follows: If three days pass and after consultation the six members don’t agree on paying allegiance to one of the members, then behead all six of them. If before the passage of three days, four of them agree upon someone and two of them oppose those four, behead the two dissenting members.

O Amr! Are you and your companions satisfied with the formation of Shura among the Muslims according to Umar’s opinion?

They replied: No

  • Al-Kaafi vol. 5 p. 23
  • Tahzeeb al-Ahkaam vol. 6 p. 148
  • Wasaail al-Shia vol. 15. p. 41
  • Mir’aat al-Uqool vol. 18 p. 348
  • Al-Ehtejaaj vol. 2 pp. 362-363

Many interesting points are evident from the aforementioned, some of which have been highlighted here:

  1. Concept of Tabarra and Tawalla is often misunderstood. Muslims usually take it in the meaning of love for Tawalla and hatred for Tabarra. Although, this is also true, but a more accurate relationship is with respect to association or dissociation. The literal meaning of Tabarra is تباعد – which means to distance or dissociate (Lisaan al-Arab vol. 1, p. 356).
  1. Tabarra or distancing from the companions was common among Muslims, only that they needed someone to point this out to them. Just like Ibrahim (a.s.) points out to the infidels when he smashes their idols and makes them confess – ‘Then they turned to themselves and said: Surely you yourselves are the unjust.’ (Surah Ambiya (21): Verse 64)
  1. By distancing oneself, the person is making his displeasure known. This distancing, known as Tabarra, could be with regards to the misguided acts or poor judgment of the pseudo-caliphs, companions and wives. A person may claim to love these personalities (Tawalla) but is actually doing Tabarra, a fact underscored by Imam Sadiq (a.s.) in front of Abu Bakr and Umar’s lovers.
  1. Even Umar did Tabarra from Abu Bakr by forming the Shura instead of directly appointing a successor as Abu Bakr had done. Likewise Muawiyah did Tabarra from both Abu Bakr and Umar by appointing Yazid as his successor in his life time, a fact highlighted by Ayesha to Muawiyah.
  1. Umar gave the command to kill all members of the Shura, if necessary. At a time when Shias are being condemned for criticizing the companions, Muslims should reflect on Umar’s attitude towards companions. He nonchalantly sanctioned the cold-blooded killing of companions including the brother of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his true successor Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.). Killing Muslims is worse than simply criticizing them. Umar needs to be condemned ahead of the Shias.
  1. Muslims often defend Umar’s Shura by drawing instances from the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) life. First and foremost, the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) never constituted a consultative council for matters of legislation and appointing a successor the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) falls in this category. Secondly, even if we accept for the sake of argument that caliphate is a matter for the Shura, then the members of the Shura should be broad-based including all Muslims as was the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) practice and even acknowledged by Amr Ibn Ubaid and all Muslims. By short-listing a random list of Muslims that did not give adequate representation to the various tribes, Muhaajireen and Ansaar, Umar has done Tabarra from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).