Why did Ali (a.s.) not speak up when Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was insulted in Pen and Paper event?

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In their bid to defend the second ‘caliph’ in the incident of the Pen and Paper, the skeptics try to shift the blame towards Ali (a.s.). They argue:
Why didn’t Ali (a.s.) speak up when the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) requested for pen and paper so that he could leave behind a document that would prevent the Muslims from going astray forever? Ali (a.s.), who was known for his bravery and fearlessness remained a mute spectator at this critical juncture.


When the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) demanded pen and paper to write a document to guide the nation till the Day of Judgement, the second ruler made the objectionable comment that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was in delirium.

This is widely reported in the books of the Ahle Tasannun and there is not much by way of detail in terms of who else was present in the room and what each companion had to say about it.

Regards Ali (a.s.), there is no specific mention about his presence in the room. But what is clear from other reports is that in his (s.a.w.a.) last days, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) requested the wives and companions to summon Ali (a.s.), but they dilly-dallied and tried to keep Ali (a.s.) as far away from the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) as possible. So, it is quite possible that Ali (a.s.) was not present in the room when the incident of the Pen and Paper transpired.

Also, had Ali (a.s.) been present, it is highly probable that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) would have requested him (a.s.) for pen and paper. Ali (a.s.) being the de facto secretary of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), he (a.s.) played an instrumental role in recording all things important be it the Quranic revelation or the treaty of Hudaibiyya. Recording the final document / will of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) would also have been the responsibility of Ali (a.s.), subject to his presence in the room.

Nonetheless, even assuming Ali (a.s.) was present in the room, there are FOUR reasons why he (a.s.) chose to remain discreet.

Firstly, Allah says:

O you who believe! Do not advance before Allah and His Apostle and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing. (Surah Hujurat (49): 1)

Ali (a.s.) was not one to oppose divine orders or precede Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.). Since the Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.) did not command him to do anything, he could not take any action without the direct command or permission of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.).

Secondly, seeing the sharp division in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) chamber at the time, if Ali (a.s.) had spoken out even slightly in defence of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), it would have triggered factionalism among Muslims at that sensitive stage. The group backing Umar would have used it as an excuse to insist that what Umar said about the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) going into delirium was accurate, and that Ali (a.s.) was merely doing his duty in supporting the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), as was his habit.  

The delirium accusation against Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.) was a very dangerous and serious allegation at a sensitive moment in Islamic history. The hypocrites could have used it at a later stage to question everything legislated by Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in the Quran and the Shariah, including the Ghadeer announcement. Hence, the most prudent course of action was to ignore it and not give it more importance than necessary.

Ali (a.s.) acted pateintly like his counterpart in Bani Israel – Haroon when he said to his brother Moosa (peace be upon them): ‘…surely I was afraid lest you should say: You have caused a division among the children of Israel and not waited for my word.’ (Surah Taha (20): 94)

Thirdly, if Ali (a.s.) were to object to Umar at the time, it would have led to a dispute in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.). The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) explicitly stated that such disputes are not acceptable in the company of the prophets.

When they disagreed, some of them said: ‘Present to Allah’s Messenger what he has demanded.’

Others said: ‘What Umar said is correct.’

The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: ‘Leave me be, for it is not fitting for me to engage in dispute.’^1

In another narration, Ibn Abbas affirmed this.^2

Fourthly, even if Ali (a.s.) had intervened and ensured that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) got to document his bidding to the nation (will), Umar and his party would have dismissed it as the act of a delirious person. Also, this would have had far-reaching consequences for Islam as explained in the second point.

Since Ali (a.s.) is with the truth and truth is with Ali (a.s.) and turns at Ali’s (a.s.) bidding, there can be no doubt that the best course of action during the Pen and Paper event (and all events) is exactly what Ali (a.s.) chose to do.

1.         Sahih al-Bukhari (published by Dar al-Fikr), Volume 1, page 37, Umdah al-Qari, Volume 14, page 298, Al-Durar by Ibn Abd al-Barr, page 270, Al-Mawaqif by Al-Iji, Volume 3, page 650, Al-Ihkam by Ibn Hazm, Volume 7, page 984, Istimta’ al-Asma’ by Al-Mazini, Volume 14, page 447, Sharh al-Mawaqif by Al-Jurjani, Volume 8, page 376. Also, refer to: Sharh Nahj al-Balagha by Al-Mu’tazili, Volume 12, page 87, and refer to: Fath al-Bari, Volume 8, page 101, and Umdah al-Qari, Volume 14, page 298.

2.         Refer to: Sahih al-Bukhari (published by Dar al-Fikr), Volume 4, pages 31 and 66, Volume 5, page 137, Sahih Muslim (published by Dar al-Fikr), Volume 5, page 75, Al-Musannaf by Al-San’ani, Volume 6, page 57, Volume 10, page 361, Al-Musnad al-Humaidi, Volume 1, page 242, Musnad Abi Ya’la, Volume 4, page 298, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra by Ibn Saad, Volume 2, page 242, Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, Volume 2, page 320, Istimta’ al-Asma’ by Al-Mazini, Volume 14, page 447, Al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, Volume 5, page 247, Fath al-Bari, Volume 8, page 101, Umdah al-Qari, Volume 14, page 298, Volume 15, page 90, and Volume 18, page 61

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