An Analysis of the Incident of Pen and Paper

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10th Hijri is the year in which the Last Messenger of Allah, Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (s.a.w.a.) started to assemble his works with the permission of Allah and towards the end of the 10th Hijri announced his return towards the celestial world after pointing out his successor till the Day of Judgment. Thus, at the event of Ghadeer, he (s.a.w.a.) nominated his executor and his successor and again in the 11th Hijri when he (s.a.w.a.) was on his deathbed, a tragic incident of gigantic proportions took place.

The Incident of the paper

In simple terms we call it as the incident of the pen and ink. This incident took place in the 11th Hijri in the final days of Hazrat Mohammad Mustafa (s.a.w.a.) when he (s.a.w.a.) wished to pen down a document for the eternal guidance of the nation and said:

“Bring me pen and skin (of a goat) so that I may write for you thus you may never be deviated after me” (Historians have termed this incident as the incident of paper. Qirtas means paper and in those days animal skin was used for writing hence the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) asked for it. Today, in our terminology we call it as paper hence because paper is used for writing. Hence in this article we will replace skin with paper)

Were they also Muslims?

A few from those who were present wanted to obey the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) and brought paper and pen but Umar said: Stop! He is speaking in delirium. (Allah Forbid) The book of Allah is sufficient for us.
(Hayaat al-Qulub vol. 2 pg 998)

Chaos erupted and when it increased the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) disliked it and said: “Go away from me because this kind of a dispute is not worthy in front of the Messenger of Allah”
(Hayaat al-Qulub vol. 2 pg 998)

People left and only the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) relatives and close companions were left. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) hugged Imam Ali (a.s.) and took out his ring and said “Take this and wear it”. Then he gave his armor, sword and his war clothes and a special cloth, which he tied around his waist during wars to Imam Ali (a.s.) and said “Now take the name of Lord and return home.”

Next day, the condition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) worsened and he became unconscious. When he gained consciousness, he said “Call my beloved one” and became unconscious again. Ayesha said, “Bring Abu Bakr.” Abu Bakr was brought but when the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) gained consciousness and saw Abu Bakr he turned away his face and repeated his request. Hafsa said, “Bring Umar to him.” The Messenger (s.a.w.a.) turned away his face from him as well and for the third time he (s.a.w.a.) said, “Call my beloved one” Umm Salmah stood up and said, “Bring Imam Ali (a.s.) to him. Imam Ali (a.s.) was brought. Eliminating the all the other part of the incident it was written that according to the wish of the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) Imam Ali (a.s.) kept his (s.a.w.a.) holy head on his (a.s.) lap and the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) left this world in this very condition. This is incident of paper in brief.

Why did Umar not allow the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) to write the document?

What was the reason that Umar did not allow the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) to write his will? Umar, Abu Bakr and the entire group were aware that the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) had appointed Imam Ali (a.s.) as his successor on numerous occasions and, if again through his will he appoints Imam Ali (a.s.) as his successor then the companions would pay their allegiance to Imam Ali (a.s.) and they will lose the caliphate hence they tried their best that Messenger (s.a.w.a.) does not perform this action.

Excuse of tender age for caliphate and Prophet’s intelligent practice

The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) was aware that after his demise Ali (a.s.) will be kept away from caliphate through many excuses, one of which will be his young age. Hence, to explain to the people that Imamat and Caliphate is based on capability and not age. He (s.a.w.a.) knew that people would call Imam Ali (a.s.) young and usurp his right. Hence, he made an army and appointed ‘Osama’ a youth as commander of the army. Many people tried to refrain the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) to appoint Osama as the commander but he (s.a.w.a.) did not listen to anyone and made him as the chief of the army. But people did not allow this to happen.
(Tabaqat Ibn Saad Vol. 4 Pg 66, Taarikh Ibn Asaakir Vol. 2 Pg 291,
Kanz al-Ummal Vol. 5 Pg 313, Taarikh Ibn Khaldoon Vol. 2 Pg 484)

Companions rejected the command of the Messenger (s.a.w.a.)

It is amazing that Allah has not commanded the obedience of the Noble Messenger (s.a.w.a.) but with extreme emphasis. Please look at this verse carefully:

“And whatever the Messenger gives you, accept it, and from whatever he forbids you, keep back”
(Surah Hashr: Verse 7)

The Obedience of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.) is obligatory

“But no! By your Lord! They do not believe (in reality) until they make you a judge of that, which has become a matter of disagreement among them, and then do not find any straightness in their hearts as to what you have decided and submit with entire submission.”
(Surah Nisa: Verse 65)

This verse has a condition that unless people do consider the Noble Messenger (s.a.w.a.) as a judge in their disputes and differences and do not listen to his decisions they will not be called as believers. Then how is it possible that the one who refused to give the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) ink and pen on his request and does not participate in the army formed by him (s.a.w.a.) be a Muslim?

Need of a Will

Lastly, when the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a) witnessed that the proposal of sending people out of Madinah with the army did not actualize, he (s.a.w.a.) decided with the permission of Allah to compile his recommendations for Imam Ali (a.s.) in a will, which he had passed on to the people in the span of twenty-three years. Hence, a few days before his death on Thursday when he was on his bed and his house was filled with people he said, “Bring me pen and paper so that I may a write a thing, which if you act upon will never be deviated after me”

(Hayat al-Qulub Vol.: 2 Pg: 998, Late Allamah Majlisi says that this tradition of pen and paper is mentioned in different ways in Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and many reliable books of Ahle Tasannun and they have narrated from Ibn Abbas that he (s.a.w.a.) cried a lot and in such a way that the stones of the mosque became moist).

The Argument of Bani Hashim and Bani Umayyah

Bani Hashim and the wives of the Noble Messenger (s.a.w.a.) were insisting on writing the will; however, those who obstructed the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) to talk about his successor at the plains of Arafat intervened at his (s.a.w.a.) house as well. We have mentioned earlier that Umar had understood that if the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) writes the will, the plan of usurping the caliphate will be ruined and hence he screamed, “There is no need to bring a pen and paper as this man (!) is speaking in delirium: the book of Allah is sufficient for us.” The supporters of Umar and Bani Umayyah heard this and supported him. But the Bani Hashim were extremely angry and opposed this blasphemous statement. What would the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) do when such an allegation was attributed to him? He (s.a.w.a.) was very disappointed and asked everyone to leave, “Go away from me! It is inappropriate that a conflict should arise in the presence of Allah’s Messenger.”

Supporters of Umar and distortions of school of thought of Caliphs

The allies of Umar, especially the supporters of school of thought of caliphs, tried to cover the intolerant behavior of Umar b. Khattab. They attributed the words ‘delirium’ which Umar used to others who were present there and wrote, “They said: the Prophet of Allah is speaking in delirium” and relate this sentence to Umar , “He said: the pain of illness has taken over the Messenger. But the statement of Abu Bakr Johari in the book ‘Saqifah’ explains this point. The allegation of delirium started from the side of Umar and his supporters attributed this statement to the Messenger (s.a.w.a.). Johari has written this allegation from Umar: “Umar uttered a statement which meant that the pain of illness has taken over the Messenger”. Thus, it is concluded that Umar meant something else that cannot be mentioned and hence this implication was made. Unfortunately, Bukhari and Muslim and others have not narrated the exact words but have mentioned the meaning and the subject. However, it is very clear from ‘An-Nihaya’ of Ibn Aseer and Sharh Nahj al-Balaaghah of Ibn Abi al-Hadeed that the allegation of delirium was clearly made by Umar


Whatever may be the case but one thing is clear that after sending the opposing group out of the house, the Noble Messenger (s.a.w.a.) mentioned his will to his sincere companions. As per the tradition of Sulaim b. Qais al-Hilaali, he (s.a.w.a.) mentioned about each member of Ahle Bait (a.s.) and appointed them as this successor and caliph after him.
(Book of Sulaim Bin Qais al-Hilaali, vol. 4, p. 658)

The Ahle Tasannun has also recorded this incident in their books copiously but have kept the original topic as ambiguous.

The Role of Ibn Abbas

Ibn Abbas says towards the end of the tradition, “The Messenger (s.a.w.a.) recommended three things: First: to remove the polytheists from the Arabian Peninsula. Second: Give permission to the caravans just like I have permitted them. But he remained silent about the third will and as per other traditions: I have forsaken the third will.”
(Sahih Bukhari, Book of Maghaazi, Chapter 78; Sahih Muslim vol. 5)

It is worth noting that it is not found in any report or narration whatever has been ascribed to Ibn Abbas: I have forgotten this part or have not narrated it. It is not the case but the fear of Ibn Abbas from Umar because the third will was certainly about the caliphate and leadership of Imam Ali (a.s.) and household of the Messenger (s.a.w.a.). sBut Ibn Abbas was afraid of Umar and hence avoided to mention it. He also had contradictory views against the oppression and prejudice during the lifetime of Umar but never expressed it till the death of Umar. When people asked him the reason for delay in announcing the truth he said: I was afraid of him

Why did Umar stop the writing of document?

The question that troubled everyone was why Umar and his supporters did not allow the actualization of the intention of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.)? Did not the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) guarantee the safety of the nation from deviation till the Day of Judgment if the will was written? Can any news be better than that? Then why did they oppose this action? Why did they deprive the nation of this great immeasurable bounty? What can one say when the love for power, pelf and position, and jealousy, hatred and malice prevent the intellect from accepting the truth?! We know that Umar was conspiring behind the scenes; he knew why the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) was demanding a paper and pen. He knew very well that the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) wanted to give the people all the recommendations that he (s.a.w.a.) had made regarding the caliphate of Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) and Ahle Bait (a.s.) in form of a document and hence obstructed the same. Our words are not mere claims but have many witnesses. We will present two incidents here:

1. Umar bin Khattab had listened to the tradition of two weighty things (Hadis-e-Saqalain) many times over during the last days of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.), “I am leaving amongst you two weighty things, the Book of Allah and my progeny the Ahle Bait (a.s.); if you fasten unto both of them, you will never be deviated after me; for, they will not separate from each other till they meet me at the pond of Kauthar (in paradise).” Umar had heard about Allah’s Book and Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) progeny as the exegesis of ‘will not be deviated’. When the noble Messenger (s.a.w.a.) demanded paper and ink, Umar heard the same exegesis that he (s.a.w.a.) said: I am giving a document after which you will never be deviated. Umar was cunning enough to understand that Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.) has intended to write about the Book and the Progeny and hence, he sternly refused it, even using un-parliamentary language for the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in the process.

2. Ibn Abbas narrates: ‘In the initial days of the caliphate of Umar, I went to him. He looked towards me and said “May the camel’s blood be on you” (Probably this is a proverb in Arabs that if you hide a thing then chastisement befalls on you) if I question you and you hide the issue. Do you consider Ali (a.s.) righteous in caliphate? And do you believe that the Prophet of Allah has appointed him? I said: Yes – I asked my father regarding this affair; and he said that Umar confirmed: “I am telling you: the noble Messenger (s.a.w.a.) wanted to appoint Ali (a.s.) during his illness but I stopped it”
(Sharh Nahj al-Balaaghah by Ibn Abi al-Hadeed, vol. 12, p. 21)


Lastly, we consider it appropriate to mention here that there have been many attempts to distort this incident in order to reduce its gravity. For example, some people suggest that this tradition is reported from Ibn Abbas who was very young at that time and hence, it is not acceptable. Obviously, such a baseless argument has to be refuted outright but we will discuss it sometime later, Insha Allah.

May Allah grant us the grace to be on the right path and give us success in this world and the hereafter through the recommendation of Ahle Bait (a.s.)!

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