The Muslim majority believe that Abu Bakr was the people’s choice and no one else stood a chance against him.
How accurate is this view?
More importantly, was Saqifah a legitimate operation to begin with, and what was its biggest drawback even after accounting for its other flaws?
View of Muslim scholars on caliph selection
The Muslim majority maintains that Abu Bakr was the popular choice at the time and no one else stood a better chance than him in leading the nation.
The Indian scholar, Nasibi, Shibli Nomani records his twisted view on caliphate and personality of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.):
The reason why Ali did not go to the Saqifah was not because he was prostrated with grief at the loss of the Prophet or because he was too disconsolate to think of the caliphate but because the Muhajireen and the Ansar were gathered at the Saqifah and none of them would have backed up Ali’s claim, for Abu Bakr was the acknowledged head of the Muhajireen while Saad Ibn Obadah was the chief of the Ansar.
- Al-Farooq vol 1 p 93 (English translation)
Ali’s (a.s.) superiority and suitability for caliphate never in doubt
Best way to counter the bias and prejudice against Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) is to turn to history to ascertain who in fact would have been the popular choice in Saqifah, had he only been present.
We narrate some reports among several to illustrate this point:
a) Ahmed Ibn Himam narrates:
During the days of Abu Bakr’s caliphate, I visited Ubadah Ibn Samit (companion of Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and asked –
O Ubadah! Did the people consider Abu Bakr superior to others before he assumed caliphate?’
Ubadah: We are silent from answering you and you too should remain silent and not probe in the matter.
By Allah! Ali was worthier for caliphate than Abu Bakr just as Allah’s Prophet was worthier for prophethood than Abu Jahl.
- Al-Ehtejaj v 1 p 196-197
- Bait al-Ahzan p 96-97
b) Ansar to Fatima Zahra (s.a.) when she sought their support for Ameerul Momineen’s (a.s.) caliphate after they had selected Abu Bakr:
O daughter of Allah’s Prophet! We have already pledged allegiance to this man (Abu Bakr). Had your husband approached us earlier, we would most certainly have supported him.
Ameerul Momineen (a.s.): Should I have abandoned the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) body without burying him only to dispute with people over caliphate?
- Bait al-Ahzan p 91
- Behar al-Anwar v 28 p 186, 355
- Minhaj al-Barah v 15 p 124
Saqifah was flawed from the start and got worse
The selection process at Saqifah was illegitimate to begin with since there was no mandate for it from the Quran and the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). In fact, the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) passed away on the same day and never instructed Muslims to gather at a place after his death to select a leader. Particularly, at the cost of his funeral!
If anything, the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had already settled the matter of caliphate only a few weeks earlier in the Ghadeer sermon. On his deathbed he (s.a.w.a.) instructed the companions to immediately enroll in Osama Ibn Zaid’s army. And when they refused to comply with his instruction (which was rooted in divinity like all other instructions), he (s.a.w.a.) ordered them to bring pen and paper so he (s.a.w.a.) could write a will that would save them the need to gather at Saqifah. Even this request of a dying prophet was refused!
Saqifah lacked validity in the absence of majority of companions
The Muslims state that the basis of Saqifah is rooted in consultation (Shura), which is advocated by Quran and practiced by Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
This argument does not hold water considering that selection of caliph was already determined and announced by the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in Ghadeer. Even if one were to resort to consultation for a valid purpose like warfare as in the time of Prophet (s.a.w.a.), the right method would be to consult all companions present in the location like the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did in his lifetime.
But Saqifah saw most of the companions missing as it was held abruptly without prior arrangements. Moreover, Bani Hashim were busy with the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) funeral.
As Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) protested:
Regarding your argument against the Ansar that you are from the seed from which the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) sprung and one of his tribe, there is other one (i.e. Ali a.s. himself) who has the nearest relation of kinship to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). And concerning your argument that you have been accepted by the consultation of the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), how did it happen that most of the companions were absent (on the day of Saqifah) and did not swear allegiance to you?!
- Sharh Nahj al-Balagha v 18 p 416
Plainly, there was no need for Saqifah after the Ghadeer announcement. Even then, had Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) been present in Saqifah along with a majority of Muslims, his superior right to caliphate would have been evident like the midday sun to everyone leaving no scope for any contender to claim otherwise.