Did Ameerul Momineen Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) pray behind the claimants of caliphate?

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Some Muslims, in order to prove Abu Bakr’s claim to caliphate, cite Ali Ibn Abi Talib’s (a.s.) ‘respect’ for him, reflected in the latter’s readiness to pray congregational prayers behind Abu Bakr. They claim that this not only proves Abu Bakr’s superiority but that Ali (a.s.) accepted his superiority and that of the other caliphs by praying behind them in congregational prayers.


There are no concrete evidences for this and other preposterous notions. No book of note from either sect has claimed that Ameerul Momineen Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) prayed behind the caliphs as a follower. The Sihaah-e-Sittah – the so-called sisters of the Quran (as per their nomenclature) – fail to provide any incident of this nature.

Like other lies and allegations, this claim is designed to sidetrack the discussion from the main topic of Ali Ibn Abi Talib’s (a.s.) supreme authority and the laughable claims of those who challenged his authority.

    1. Ali Ibn Ismail Ibn Meesam al-Tammar’s reply

Shaikh Mufeed (r.a.), the great Shia theologian and scholar records an incident when Ali Ibn Ismail Ibn Meetham al-Tammar (r.a.) was asked whether Ameerul Momineen Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) prayed behind the rulers.

Ibn Tammar (r.a.) replied – He prayed in the congregation treating the rulers as just another pillar of the mosque (i.e. ignoring the leader of the congregation and praying individually).

  • Al-Fusool al-Mukhtaarah p. 69
    2. Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) surpasses the caliphs in Khaiber

While there is no proof for the claim that Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) prayed behind the caliphs, there are plenty of reports proving that the caliphs were compelled to accept his leadership in battle. The expedition of Khaiber was one such instance when the caliphs after suffering humiliation at the hands of the Jews saw the banner of Islam being given to Ali (a.s.) who finally led the Muslims to victory in Khaiber.

All Sihaah-e-Sittah have recorded the humiliation of the caliphs in Khaiber and Ali’s (a.s.) eventual victory. Although Nesaai did not record it in his Sunan he documented it in his Khasaais.

Leading in battle bears resemblance to leading in prayers as also leading the nation as a whole. When Abu Bakr was not fit to lead Ali (a.s.) in battle where is the question of leading Ali (a.s.) in congregational prayers. This is how the 18-year old Osama Ibn Zaid argued with Abu Bakr when the latter claimed caliphate.

Osama reminded Abu Bakr, “You very well know that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had ordered you and Umar to proceed towards the expedition under my command while the opinion and command of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) regarding you is better and preferable to your own opinions regarding yourselves. Your position was not hidden from the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) who made me your commander and not you my commander. Thus opposing the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is hypocrisy and deceit…”

  • Al-Majma’ al-Raaiq by Sayyid Hebah al-Deen chapter 5 pp. 104-107
  • Uyoon al-Balaaghah fi Uns al-Hadhir wa Naqlah al-Musaafir of Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi (r.a.)

The report in Sahih Muslim is particularly relevant over here:

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) informed: …. Isa Ibn Maryam (a.s.) would then descend and their (Muslims’) commander would invite him to come and lead them in prayer, but he would say: No, some amongst you are commanders over some (amongst you). This is the honour from Allah for this nation.

  • Sahih Muslim Book of Faith (Book 1), traditions 302, 293

The report clearly shows that commander in battle has precedence in leading those under his command. So if Abu Bakr was always under the command of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.), then how can he lead Ali (a.s.) in prayers? Rather Ali (a.s.) is more deserving of leading him as also all the caliphs, since they were always under his command and never the other way around.

    3. Ali (a.s.) is worthier of leading prophets than Abu Bakr is of leading Ali (a.s.)

When it comes to leading congregational prayers there is no peer for Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) who on reappearance will lead Prophet Isa (a.s.) in prayers. Even the extremists who are loathe to admit even a single virtue for the Mahdi (a.t.f.s.), admit that Prophet Esa (a.s.) will pray under the Mahdi’s (a.t.f.s.) leadership.

  • Sahih Muslim p. 193 part 2
  • Musnad-o-Ahmed Ibn Hanbal vol. 3
  • Al-Sawaiq al-Muhriqah, chap 11, p. 254, Section 1
  • Nuzool-o-Isa Ibn Maryam (a.s.) p. 57 by Jalaal al-Deen Suyuti
  • Faraaid al-Simtain p. 43

Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) who will lead Prophet Isa (a.s.) in prayers is the son of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.). By consensus of scholars of both sects, Ali (a.s.) is the father of the Imams (a.s.) and is superior to them. Rather, Ali (a.s.) is the self (nafs) of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.). When Ali’s (a.s.) son is the one who will lead Isa (a.s.) in prayers, then Ali (a.s.) is even worthier for this task. If Ali’s (a.s.) status makes him worthier to lead the highest ranking divine prophets (a.s.), where is the question of Ali (a.s.) praying behind those inferior to him!

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