Did the Sahaba become Kafir? Pt. I

Originally posted on Shiitic Studies.


There are reports which indicate that all the companions were destroyed except three, these were then joined by four others, and they became seven who were saved.

Were the saved companions only seven?

Furthermore, if this destruction is taken to be limited to their fate in the next world then we do not doubt that many companions, those who betrayed the testament of the Prophet, will face severe consequences therein.

However, some of these reports speak of the Irtidad of most of the companions and also identify them as the Ahl al-Ridda (people of Ridda). Since the technical meaning of Ridda is apostasy (leaving Islam), and this has been its primary usage throughout Islamic history, it has led to the claim that most of the Sahaba became Kafir (with all the Fiqhi implications that this entails).

How true is this claim?

The Three

Humran b. A’yan, an intimate companion of al-Baqir عليه السلام, was once commiserating with the Imam about the fewness of the Shia when the Imam made an even bolder suggestion:

حمران قال: قلت لأبي جعفر عليه السلام: ما أقلنا لو اجتمعنا على شاة ما أفنيناها قال: فقال: ألا أخبرك بأعجب من ذلك قال: فقلت: بلى قال: المهاجرون و الأنصار ذهبوا إلا و أشار بيده ثلاثة

Humran said: I said to Abi Ja’far عليه السلام – How few we (the Shias) are! If we were to gather to eat a sheep we would not be able to finish it!

So he (the Imam) عليه السلام said: Should I not inform you of something even more bewildering? I said: Yes (do so).

He (the Imam) said: The Muhajirun and the Ansar all perished except for – and he gestured with his hand – three1.

Who were the Three?

They were the pillars of the Madhhab. They were the ones who recognized the true status of Ali and did not give Bay`a to the usurper. It was only when Ali was forced to give Bay`a, which he agreed to do in conformity with divine providence, that the three also agreed.

أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: كان الناس أهل ردة بعد النبي صلى الله عليه وآله إلا ثلاثة. فقلت: ومن الثلاثة؟ فقال: المقداد بن الأسود، وأبو ذر الغفاري، وسلمان الفارسي، رحمة الله وبركاته عليهم، ثم عرَف أناسٌ بعدَ يسير. وقال: هؤلاء الذين دارت عليهم الرحا وأبوا أن يبايعوا، حتى جاؤوا بأمير المؤمنين مكرَهاً فبايع، وذلك قوله تعالى: وَمَا مُحَمَّدٌ إِلاَّ رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ أَفَإِن مَّاتَ أَوْ قُتِلَ انقَلَبْتُمْ عَلَى أَعْقَابِكُمْ وَمَن يَنقَلِبْ عَلَىَ عَقِبَيْهِ فَلَن يَضُرَّ اللّهَ شَيْئًا وَسَيَجْزِي اللّهُ الشَّاكِرِينَ

Abi Ja’far عليه السلام said: The people were the people of Ridda after the prophetصلى الله عليه وآله except three. I said: Who are the three? He said: al-Miqdad b. al-Aswad, Abu Dhar al-Ghiffari and Salman al-Farsi, may Allah’s mercy and blessings be upon them, then the people came to know after a short while.

These (three) are those around whom the banner (of truth) revolved and they refused to give Bay`a (to Abu Bakr), until when they brought the Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام under coercion and he gave the pledge of allegiance.

That is (the interpretation of) His words the Elevated: “Muhammad is not but a messenger, messengers have come and gone before him, if he dies or is killed, will you turn back on your heels?! and whoever turns back on his heels then he will not harm Allah a thing and Allah will recompense those who are grateful” (3:144)2.

The Imam’s words ‘then the people came to know after a short while …’ is explicit in confirming that there were many who came to recognize their fault, and later acknowledged the Commander of the Faithful as the most rightful person for leadership. The distinction of the three is in holding on to Ali from the very beginning and not wavering from him.

That it was fear which paralyzed many of the others who might have otherwise been sympathetic to Ali’s cause is shown in the report below:

أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: جاء المهاجرون والأنصار وغيرهم بعد ذلك إلى علي عليه السلام فقالوا له: أنت والله أمير المؤمنين وأنت والله أحق الناس وأولاهم بالنبي عليه السلام هلم يدك نبايعك فوالله لنموتن قدامك! فقال علي عليه السلام: ان كنتم صادقين فاغدوا غدا علي محلقين فحلق علي عليه السلام وحلق سلمان وحلق مقداد وحلق أبو ذر ولم يحلق غيرهم؛ ثم انصرفوا فجاؤوا مرة أخرى بعد ذلك، فقالوا له أنت والله أمير المؤمنين وأنت أحق الناس وأولاهم بالنبي عليه السلام عليه السلام هلم يدك نبايعك فحلفوا فقال: إن كنتم صادقين فاغدوا علي محلقين فما حلق إلا هؤلاء الثلاثة

Abi Ja’far عليه السلام said: The Muhajirun, Ansar and others came after that (the coup at Saqifa) to Ali عليه السلام and said to him: You are by Allah the Commander of the Faithful, and you are by Allah the most rightful person and closest to the prophet, put forth your hand so that we can pledge allegiance to you, for by Allah we are going to die in front of you (in your defense).

Ali said: If you are truthful then come to me tomorrow having shaved your head (which would visually identify the ‘rebels’ to the authorities). Ali shaved, so did Salman, Miqdad and Abu Dhar, but no one else did.

Then they came a second time after the first and said: You are by Allah the most rightful person and closest to the prophet, put forth your hand so that we can pledge allegiance to you, and they swore an oath. He said: Come to me tomorrow having shaved your head if you are truthful, but no one shaved except three3.

The first ones to ‘come to know’ were four individuals.

The Seven

Another significant figure when talking of the companions who were committed to Ali’s cause is the number Seven.

قال أبو جعفر عليه السلام: ارتد الناس إلا ثلاثة نفر سلمان وأبو ذر والمقداد. قال: قلت: فعمّار؟ قال عليه السلام: قد كان جاض جيضة ثم رجع … ثم أناب الناس بعد فكان أول من أناب أبو ساسان الانصاري وأبوعمرة وشتيرة وكانوا سبعة فلم يكن يعرف حق أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام إلاّ هؤلاء السبعة

Abu Ja’far عليه السلام said: The people turned back except three individuals – Salman, Abu Dhar and Miqdad.

I said: What about Ammar?

He عليه السلام said: He swerved a bit then returned (to the truth) … then the people returned after that, so the first ones to return were Abu Sasan al-Ansari, Abu Amra and Shatira. Thus they became seven. None recognized the right of the Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام except these seven4.

The Imam’s words ‘then the people returned after that, so the first ones to return …’ mean that these four were not the only ones who returned, rather they were the foremost ones to return and join the three, bringing the count to seven, but it was not limited to this as time went on.

Seven being a significant number was susceptible to mystical speculation as seen in the report below:

علي بن أبي طالب عليهم السلام قال: خلقت الارض لبسبعة بهم ترزقون وبهم تنصرون وبهم تمطرون منهم سلمان الفارسي والمقداد وأبو ذر وعّمار وحذيفة رحمة اللّه عليهم. وكان علي عليه السلام يقول: وأنا إمامهم وهم الذين صلوا على فاطمة صلوات الله عليها

Ali b. Abi Talib عليه السلام said: The earth was created for seven. Because of them you are given sustenance, because of them you are assisted, and because of them is rain made to fall on you. Among them are Salman al-Farsi, al-Miqdad, Abu Dhar, Ammar and Hudhayfa – may Allah have mercy on them. Ali عليه السلام used to say: I am their Imam, and they are the ones who prayed (Salat al-Mayyit) upon Fatima (s).5

What about Ammar?

Once the four joined the original triad they could no longer be considered among the Ahl al-Ridda despite their earlier lapse. They too were saved.

This explains the Imam’s answer to another intimate companion, Abu Basir, who wondered whether Ammar can be considered among the people of Ridda after being told that he was not part of the Three.

قلت: فما كان فيهم عمار؟ فقال: لا؛ قلت: فعمار من أهل الردة؟ فقال: إنّ عمارا قد قاتل مع علي عليه السلام بعد ذلك

I said: Ammar was not among them?

He (the Imam) said: No.

I said: Ammar is from the people of Ridda?

He said: Ammar fought together with Ali عليه السلام after that6.

This also explains why – if the question is posed in an open-ended way without restricting the time-frame to the first instance immediately after the prophet’s death – the Imam does not restrict it to the Three but widens it out.

أبي بصير قال: قلت لأبي عبد الله عليه السلام: ارتد الناس إلا ثلاثة: أبو ذر، و سلمان، و المقداد؟ قال: فقال أبو عبد الله عليه السلام: فأين أبو ساسان، و أبو عمرة الأنصاري؟

Abi Basir said: I said to Abi Abdillah عليه السلام: All the people turned back except for three – Abu Dhar, Salman and Miqdad?

Abu Abdillah عليه السلام said: So where is Abu Sasan and Abu Amra al-Ansari?!7

The Three had a higher status than the Four

Of course, the Four who joined later cannot be compared to the original Three.

قال حمران: فقلت: جعلت فداك ما حال عمار؟ قال: رحم الله عمارا أبا اليقظان بايع وقتل شهيدا، فقلت في نفسي: ما شئ أفضل من الشهادة فنظر إلي فقال: لعلك ترى أنه مثل الثلاثة أيهات أيهات

Humran said: May I be made your ransom – what is the status of Ammar? He said: May Allah have mercy on Ammar Aba al-Yaqdhan, he pledged allegiance and died a martyr.

I said in my heart: What thing is better than martyrdom?

So he (the Imam) looked at me and said: Perhaps you think that he (Ammar) is like the three (in status)?! How far! How far! (from truth that opinion is)8.

The Best of the Three

We can even find a gradation among the Three.

 أبي بكر الحضرمي قال: قال أبو جعفر عليه السلام: ارتد الناس إلا ثلاثة نفر سلمان و أبو ذر و المقداد قال: قلت: فعمار؟ قال: قد كان جاض جيضة ثم رجع، ثم قال: إن أردت الذي لم يشك و لم يدخله شي‏ء فالمقداد، فأما سلمان فإنه عرض في قلبه عارض أن عند أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام اسم الله الأعظم لو تكلم به لأخذتهم الأرض و هو هكذا فلبب و وجئت عنقه حتى تركت كالسلقة فمر به أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام فقال له: يا أبا عبد الله هذا من ذاك بايع فبايع و أما أبو ذر فأمره أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام بالسكوت و لم يكن يأخذه في الله لومة لائم فأبى إلا أن يتكلم فمر به عثمان فأمر به، ثم أناب الناس بعد فكان أول من أناب أبو ساسان الأنصاري و أبو عمرة و شتيرة و كانوا سبعة، فلم يكن يعرف حق أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام إلا هؤلاء السبعة

Abi Bakr al-Hadhrami said: Abu Ja’far عليه السلام said: The people turned back except three individuals – Salman, Abu Dhar and Miqdad.

I said: What about Ammar? He عليه السلام said: He swerved a bit then he returned (to the truth).

If you want the one who did not waver and nothing of doubt entered him then it was al-Miqdad.

As for Salman then it came to his heart a thought that the Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام knew the greatest Name of God, which if he were to intone – the earth would swallow them up, and it is indeed so (it is true), because of this he was pulled by the scruff of his neck and it was stricken until it left a swollen lump (cyst). The Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام passed by him and said: O Aba Abdillah this (i.e. suffering) is because of that (the thought you had) – so give the pledge of allegiance.

As for Abu Dhar then the Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام had ordered him to remain silent, but he was not one to be affected by the blame of the blamer in regards his duty to Allah, he did not desist until he talked, so Uthman b. Affan passed by him and ordered that he be disposed of (and he was banished).

Then the people repented after that, so the first ones to return (to the truth) were Abu Sasan al-Ansari, Abu Amra, Shatira, and they became seven. None recognized the right of the Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام except these seven9.

Note that this judgment is limited to how they reacted in response to the order of Ali in the face of the usurpation of his right and does not speak to their overall merit10.

The Basis

It becomes clear from the preceding that the basis for judging the companions was their response to the Wasiyya (testament) of the Messenger of Allah and their commitment to it. In other words, the relative merit of each companion had to do with precedence in recognizing Ali’s right, paying allegiance to him and extending unquestioning obedience to him.

The reports seek to answer the question – who are the perfect role-models for the Shia among the companions?

  • Those who stood with with Ali from the earliest of times i.e. The Three.

Even within the three, who was it who submitted unquestioningly to what seemed unimaginable?

  • Miqdad

Does this mean that all the others became Apostates?

Having clarified this, that the number of companions who fulfilled their duty to Ali cannot be restricted to Three or even Seven, but is an unknown quantity that kept increasing with the passage of time, the bare historical fact is that most companions abandoned him. This being the case, are they to be considered Kafir?

There have been three positions about this historically speaking:

I. All who reject Ali are Kafirs to this Day

This position holds Imama (divine leadership after the prophet) to be an Essential element (Asl) of religion and one of its Dharuriyat (Necessities). Whoever rejects it cannot be a Muslim. This means that not only did most of the Sahaba became Kafir, but most of the Muslims who came after them are similarly Kafirs for rejecting the Wilaya to this day11.

This is the understanding of some Akhbari-inclined scholars. The most radical exponent of this notion was Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani (d. 1186) who considered the Mukhalif (non-Shia) to not only be Kafir but Najis (ritually impure) as well12. He says:

إنك قد عرفت أن المخالف كافر لاحظ له في الاسلام بوجه من الوجوه

You have known that the Mukhalif (i.e. Sunni) is a Kafir, he has nothing to do with Islam (he has no portion in Islam) in any way whatsoever13.

al-Bahrani considered this to to be the original position among the Shia before it was inverted:

المشهور بين متأخري الأصحاب هو الحكم باسلام المخالفين وطهارتهم، وخصوا الكفر والنجاسة بالناصب كما أشرنا إليه في صدر الفصل وهو عندهم من أظهر عداوة أهل البيت عليهم السلام والمشهور في كلام أصحابنا المتقدمين هو الحكم بكفرهم ونصبهم ونجاستهم وهو المؤيد بالروايات الإمامية

The dominant position among our recent scholars is to rule the Mukhalifin (non-Shia) to be Muslims and Tahir (ritually pure), and they restrict Kufr and Najasa specifically to the Nasibi, as we have alluded to in the beginning of this section, and they define it (Nasb) as the one who exposes his enmity to the Ahl al-Bayt.

The dominant position among our ancient scholars (however) was to judge all of them to be Kafir, deem them Nasibis and consider them Najis, and this (position) is the one that is supported by the reports of the Imamiyya …

al-Bahrani proceeds to quote the statements of early scholars to demonstrate this point14, before moving on to the more explicit words of near-contemporaries including Mulla Saleh al-Mazandarani (d. 1086), who says in his famous commentary on Usul al-Kafi:

ومن أنكرها يعني الولاية فهو كافر حيث أنكر أعظم ما جاء به الرسول وأصلا من أصوله

And whoever rejects it – that is the Wilaya – then he is a Kafir, for he has rejected the greatest of what the Messenger has come with, and an Asl (Essential) among its Usul (Essentials of Religion).

al-Bahrani ends his quotations of past views by this declaration from an otherwise obscure scholar residing in Najaf called al-Sharif b. Muhammad Tahir (d. 1138) who belonged to an Arab family, originally from the mountains of Amil, that had migrated to Safavid Persia15:

وليت شعري أي فرق بين من كفر بالله تعالى ورسوله ومن كفر بالأئمة عليهم السلام مع أن كل ذلك من أصول الدين؟ … ولعل الشبهة عندهم زعمهم كون المخالف مسلما حقيقة وهو توهم فاسد مخالف للأخبار المتواترة، والحق ما قاله علم الهدى من كونهم كفارا مخلدين في النار … والأخبار في ذلك أكثر من أن تحصى وليس هنا موضع ذكرها وقد تعدت عن حد التواتر وعندي أن كفر هؤلاء من أوضح الواضحات في مذهب أهل البيت

If only I knew! What difference is there between Kufr in Allah the Elevated and His Messenger and Kufr in the ‘Aimma, while all of that is from the Essentials of Religion? … Perhaps this mistake arises from their supposition that the Mukhalif is a Muslim in real terms, and this is a false conjecture which contradicts reports that are Mutawatir. The truth is in what Alam al-Huda (i.e. Sharif Murtada) said – that they are Kafirs who will abide in Hell …

The reports in this regard are more than can be counted, this is not the place to quote them all, they have surpassed the limit of Tawatur, and to me the Kufr of these is one of the clearest things in the Madhhab of the Ahl a-Bayt16.

II. It is only Those in the First Generation who became Kafir 

A more nuanced position is that belief in Ali as the divine successor was a Dharuri (Necessity) at one point in time, in the first generation, when the appointment and its implications were as clear as the mid-day sun, consequently its rejecter became Kafir, but this fact has become obscured, such that today, a well-meaning Sunni can conclude (based on mistaken but credible argument) that the Prophet did not appoint a successor (it has become Nadhari i.e. subject to dispute). The latter does not then become Kafir for denying the Imama.

This was the position that Muhaddith Astarabadi (the progenitor of Akhbarism of all people) subscribed to. He says:

قد كان كثير من المسائل في الصدر الأول من ضروريات الدين ثم صار من نظرياته في الطبقات اللاحقة بسبب التلبيسات التي وقعت والتدليسات التي صدرت، ومن هذا الباب خلافة أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام ومما يوضح هذا المقام ما تواترت به الأخبار عن الأئمة الأطهار عليهم السلام من انقسام الناس بعده صلى الله عليه وآله في الصدر الأول إلى مؤمن ومرتد ومن انقسامهم في الصدر اللاحق إلى المؤمن والضال والناصبي من غير ارتداد، كما قال الله عزوجل: اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ * صِراطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلا الضَّالِّينَ

A lot of issues that in the early age of Islam were from the Dharuriyat of the religion then became Nadhari in later generations, because of the obfuscations that occurred and the deceptions that surfaced. An example of this is the Khilafa of the Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام.

What sheds light on (the truth of) this position is what has come in the widely-disseminated (reaching Tawatur) reports from the pure ‘Aimma dividing the people after him (i.e. the Prophet) in the first generation into Mu’min (believer) and Murtad (apostate), and the division of the subsequent generations into Mu’min (believer), Dhal (misguided) and Nasibi (hater), without mentioning Irtidad (apostasy).

The way Allah Mighty and Majestic says: “Guide us (unto) the Straight Path, the Path of those whom you have blessed (i.e. the Mu’min who holds on to Wilaya), not of those whom you are angry upon (i.e. the Nasibi) nor of those misguided (the Dhal)”(1:6-7)17.

This is also position that Sayyid al-Khumayni flirts with, modifying it to further restrict the blame to the Hashiya (the most intimate circle of disciples), before ultimately rejecting it:

ويمكن أن يقال: إن أصل الإمامة كان في الصدر الأول من ضروريات الاسلام، والطبقة الأولى المنكرين لإمامة المولى أمير المؤمنين صلوات الله وسلامه عليه ولنص رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله على خلافته ووزارته كانوا منكرين للضروري من غير شبهة مقبولة من نوعهم، سيما أصحاب الحل والعقد، وسيأتي الكلام فيهم ثم وقعت الشبهة للطبقات المتأخرة لشدة وثوقهم بالطبقة الأولى، وعدم احتمال تخلفهم عمدا عن قول رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله ونصه على المولى سلام الله عليه، وعدم انقداح احتمال السهو والنسيان من هذا الجم الغفير، ولعل ما ذكرناه هو سر ما ورد من ارتداد الناس بعد رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله إلا أربعة أو أقل أو أكثر، والظاهر عدم إرادة ارتداد جميع الناس سواء كانوا حاضرين في بلد الوحي أو لا

It is also possible to say: The fundamental belief of Imama was in the first generation among the Dharuriyat of Islam, and the first Tabaqa who rejected the Imama of the Mawla the Commander of the Faithful صلوات الله وسلامه عليه and the Nass (designation) of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله concerning his Khilafa and deputyship were rejecting a Dharuri without there being a credible excuse from their like, especially the people of Hall and Aqd (i.e. the elite) [and more discussion about them will come].

Then doubt arose for later generations, because of the excessive trust that they had for the first generation, and (because of) not being able to entertain the possibility that these could have purposely disobeyed the instruction of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله and his Nass (designation) of the Mawla سلام الله عليه, and (because of them) disregarding the possibility of such a large crowd having forgotten or overlooked (that instruction).

Perhaps this that we have mentioned is the secret behind what has come of the apostasy of the people after the Messenger of Allah except four, or less or more. It is clear that it is not the apostasy of all the people – be they present in the land of revelation or not – that is meant18.

This position is supported in other reports discussed below.

When the People did what they did …

The main reason for Ali’s acceptance to give Bay`a, after his short-lived show of dissent, was just so that the masses do not exit Islam completely, so how can all of his contemporaries be deemed Kafir for not acknowledging his authority!

أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: إن الناس لما صنعوا ما صنعوا إذ بايعوا أبا بكر لم يمنع أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام من أن يدعو إلى نفسه إلا نظرا للناس و تخوفا عليهم أن يرتدوا عن الاسلام فيعبدوا الاوثان ولا يشهدوا أن لا إله إلا الله وأن محمدا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وكان الاحب إليه أن يقرهم على ما صنعوا من أن يرتدوا عن جميع الاسلام وإنما هلك الذين ركبوا ما ركبوا فأما من لم يصنع ذلك ودخل فيما دخل فيه الناس على غير علم ولا عداوة لامير المؤمنين عليه السلام فإن ذلك لا يكفره ولا يخرجه من الاسلام ولذلك كتم علي عليه السلام أمره وبايع مكرها حيث لم يجد أعوانا

Abi Ja’farعليه السلام said: When the people did what they did – when they gave allegiance to Abu Bakr, nothing prevented the Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام from calling to himself (i.e. gather support to rival them publicly) except his concern and fear for the people – that they would apostate from Islam, and begin worshiping the idols (anew), and cease witnessing that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله is his messenger.

It was more beloved to him to acquiesce to what they had done rather than them apostatizing from the whole of Islam.

Verily, it is (only) those who embarked on what they embarked on (i.e. perpetrated the crime) who are destroyed, as for the one who did not do that (i.e. play a decisive role in that), and entered into what the people entered into without knowledge nor enmity towards the Commander of the Faithful عليه السلام – then this (act of his) does not make him a Kafir, and it does not remove him from Islam, and that is why Ali kept quiet about his matter (i.e. right), and gave allegiance whilst compelled, when he could not find any supporters19.

This report is critical to our discussion. Recall that the Islamic polity was still unstable after the death of its unsurpassed leader, and there were a lot of Arab tribes whose allegiance had been to the prophet personally, and not the religion per se, the Jahiliyya was not far from their psyche.

This report makes it clear that had the Imam fought for his leadership i.e. begun a civil war, it would have caused irreparable damage to the polity because of the tenuous state it was in, such that even the outward Islam (the Islam of the Shahadatyn) would have been wiped out. On top of this, there were a lot of external and internal enemies waiting to exploit any infighting to make sure that the whole foundation of Islam crumbles.

They Are Not All the Same

The report also confirms that not all those who were present at that time are to be held equally responsible for contravening the Messenger’s order, thus the consequences of abandoning Ali cannot be applied uniformly.

Indeed, the protagonists differ relative to their role in the fiasco like in any other revolutionary moment (especially in the pre-modern age of communication black-out).

A large cross-section of the masses (especially those geographically distant) must have lacked specific knowledge of Ali’s right and his superiority, or, were quite unaware of the progression of the coup (because of the rapidity of events), becoming swept away by the wave of events.

Many of those who had some inkling of the prophet’s instruction about Ali, especially the Medinan residents, who were better placed to affect resistance, were riven by inter-tribal rivalry. Some may have had their doubts in the face of the status of the opponents of Ali (i.e. the elite among the  Qurashi Muhajirs), or did not feel in themselves the ability to influence the outcome because of some constraints, such as apathy and cowardice20. They faltered in coming to Ali’s aid and found it expedient to accommodate the status quo.

All these in their different categories can be said to be the majority. Their fate in the next world of “realities” is left to Allah

On the other hand, there were those who administered the whole thing. They had full knowledge of what the Prophet expected of them, because of their closeness to him, having spent days and nights administering to him. They could have used their positions of influence in the incipient society to enact the divine commandment, yet they engineered a golden calf and set him up over the people.

I think their fate in the next world is quite clear in the Imam’s report, indeed one can even infer an implicit indication of their status in this world from this.


Another key report which can be used as a lens to understand all the other reports is the one below:

الحارث بن المغيرة النصري قال: سمعت عبد الملك بن أعين يسأل أبا عبد الله عليه السلام قال: فلم يزل يسأله حتى قال له: فهلك الناس إذا؟ فقال: إي و الله يا ابن أعين هلك الناس أجمعون قلت: من في الشرق و من في الغرب؟ قال: فقال: إنها فتحت على الضلال إي و الله هلكوا إلا ثلاثة ثم لحق أبو ساسان و عمار و شتيرة و أبو عمرة فصاروا سبعة

al-Harith b. al-Mughira al-Nasri said: I heard Abd al-Malik b. A’yan asking Aba Abdillah عليه السلام – and he did not cease asking him – until he said to him: So the people were destroyed then (i.e. after the Messenger of Allah)?

He (the Imam) said: Yes, by Allah, O the son of A’yan, all the people were destroyed.

I (Abd al-Malik) said: Whomever was in the east and the west?

He said: It (the eastern and western lands) were conquered upon misguidance, yes, by Allah, they were all destroyed, except three, then joined Abu Sasan, Ammar, Shatira and Abu Amra, so they became seven21.

This report elaborates on the Halak (destruction) spoken about throughout and specifies it to be that of Dhalal (misguidance) i.e. they perished in Salvific terms. Thus the people in the east and the west from the different lands that were conquered did become Muslims (they cannot be considered Kuffar even though they gave Bay`a to the illegitimate rulers)  but were misguided (Dhal), because their conquerors introduced them to a corrupted Islam.


The careful reader must have noticed that I have not rendered Irtidad and its cognates as apostasy and its derivatives in the translation, but have gone for a more literal reading.

The reason for this is that such reports must not be looked at in isolation, and it becomes clear when we look at all the reports together that the Imams did not have the technical meaning in mind.

More on the linguistic implications of Irtidad will come in the second part where I will also concentrate on the third position which is the predominant position, especially among modernist Usuli scholars today.


  1. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 15, with a reliable chain; See also al-Kafi: Vol. 2 Pg. 244, No. 6.
  2. al-Kafi: Vol. 8 Pg. 245-246, No. 341. The chain is disputed, depending on the connection between Ibrahim b. Hashim and Hanan b. Sadir, also whether one accepts the status of Sadir al-Sayrafi, the principal narrator from the Imam. Allamah Majlisi considers it Hasan or Muwathaq (for Hanan was possibly a Waqifi).
  3. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 18, The report is reliable in so far as the Muhammad b. Ismail narrating from Fadhl b. Shadhan is accepted by some for being a Shaykh of Ijaza to Fadhl’s famous books.
  4. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 24, with a suspended chain beginning at Ali b. al-Hakam; But see al-Ikhtisas: Pg. 10 where a chain is given to Ali b. al-Hakam for the same report.
  5. al-Ikhtisas of al-Mufid: Pg. 5 with a reliable chain; See also Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 13.
  6. Same as No. 2 above.
  7. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 17, The report is reliable in so far as the Muhammad b. Ismail narrating from Fadhl b. Shadhan is accepted by some for being a Shaykh of Ijaza to Fadhl’s famous books.
  8. Same as No. 1 above.
  9. Same as No. 3 above.
  10. al-Miqdad obeyed the order of accepting Ali’s decision to give the Bay`a unquestioningly, Salman harboured the thought that Ali should use the Greatest Name of God to overpower his enemies once and for all (without being patient about the divine decree), while Abu Dhar was too scrupulous about the truth to remain quiet and had to publicly condemn the usurpers. We cannot then say that they sinned in the conventional sense of the word, what two of them did might be called lapses, which arose because of the righteous anger against the injustice done to Ali. Despite this, what was required in the face of this unimaginable betrayal was to submit totally to the unknown wisdom behind divine providence.
  11. With the sole exception of the Mustadh’af, who are taken to mean those with simplistic understanding and who do not possess any knowledge of this whatsoever.
  12. Their Najasa (ritual impurity) is a logical implication of their Kufr, however, it is noteworthy that even those who considered most Sunnis to be Kafir did not usually enforce these implications (perhaps due to Taqiyya).
  13. al-Hadaiq al-Nadhira: Vol. 18 Pg. 153. In fact al-Bahrani wrote a whole separate book to argue for this position (See his: al-Shihab al-Thaqib fi Ma`na al-Nasib).
  14. al-Bahrani quotes from the following ancients: Ibn al-Nawbakht from a lost source, Allamah Hilli from a lost source and also from his al-Muntaha, al-Mufid in his al-Muqnia, Ibn al-Barraj, al-Tusi in his Tahdhib, Ibn Idris in his al-Sarair, and claims that this is the well-known position of al-Murtada without quoting directly from him. I do not include these in the discussion because the interpretations of their words have been disputed.
  15. al-Bahrani quotes this from Sharif’s commentary to Muhaqiq Sabzawari’s Kifaya al-Muqtasid, in which the former attacks the latter in the strongest terms for his defense of the Islam of the Mukhalif.
  16. See his discussion in al-Hadaiq al-Nadhira: Vol. 5 Pgs. 175-177.
  17. al-Fawaid al-Madaniyya: Pg. 253.
  18. Kitab al-Tahara: Vol. 3 Pg. 329.
  19. al-Kafi: Vol. 8 Pg. 295, No. 454. The report is reliable because all its narrators are Thiqa, and the disconnection between Ibn Sama’a and Aban does not harm, the former having narrated it from multiple un-named narrators in the same Tabaqa, excluding the possibility of them conspiring to fabricate.
  20. Most societies (even contemporary ones) are populated by the wholly docile who would not turn against those in power however much just the cause.
  21. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 14, with a reliable chain; See also al-Kafi: Vol. 8 Pg. 253, No. 356.

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