Company in Cave: Criterion for Superiority and Caliphate?

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Adapted from the book, ‘Peshawar Nights’, the Sixth Session

The matter of caliphate and being the immediate successor of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) has been at the forefront of differences between Shias and their opponents. Shias believe in Ameerul Momineen Ali Ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon both of them) to be the rightful Imam and the immediate successor of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny). The Ahle Tasannun also believe in the caliphate of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) but after three rulers who were not directly appointed by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny). One of the proofs which they cite to defend the caliphate and superiority of the first of the three rulers is that he was with the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) when the latter took shelter in a cave during his migration (Hijrah) from Makkah al-Mukarramah to Madinah al-Munawwarah.

Couple of questions which should arise in the mind of any wise person here are –

  • Does merely staying with the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) in the cave makes a person eligible for caliphate?
  • Does this so-called companionship in the cave grant superiority to a person over all others?

Ahle Tasannun scholars believe that the answer to both these questions is in the affirmative. Have they ever asked themselves that when the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) safely moved out of his house in Makkah al-Mukarramah unscathed and unnoticed, what prompted him to take shelter in a cave? There is an answer to this question as well but we will respond to that separately. For now, our response to the aforementioned two questions around companionship and superiority is that if few hours of staying together make a person a superior companion and eligible for caliphate then what about Imam Ali (peace be upon him) who possesses many more characteristics through which both, his superiority and his eligibility for caliphate, can be easily proved? We present only two proofs as a response to both questions and the Ahle Tasannun scholars themselves confess to these facts:

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) was trained by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) since childhood

During a famine in Makkah, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) told his uncle Abbas, that the latter’s brother, Abu Talib (peace be upon him), had too many children, and that his means of livelihood were narrow. Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) recommended that each of them ask Abu Talib (peace be upon him) for one child to support so that the heavy burden on him would be reduced. Abbas agreed.

They went to Abu Talib (peace be upon him) with their offer and he accepted. Abbas took Ja’far al-Tayyaar (may Allah be pleased with him) under his guardianship and the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) took Imam Ali (peace be upon him).

Maliki continues, “Imam Ali (peace be upon him) remained continuously with the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) until the latter was formally declared the Prophet of Allah.”

Ahle Tasannun references:

  • ‘Al-Fusool al-Muhimma’ by the famous theologian Noor al-Deen Ibn Sabbaagh al-Maaliki, chapter ‘Tarbiah al-Nabi,’ p. 16
  • ‘Mataalib al-So’l’ by Muhammad Ibn Talha Shaafe’i, chapter 1, p. 11

Imam (peace be upon him) was the first to declare belief in the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) (i.e. apparently believe in him although he believed in him since birth)

While several accounts supporting the above exist in reliable books of Ahle Tasannun, it suffices to mention two narrations below:

1) Imam Ali (peace be upon him) declared his belief in the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) and followed him as a Prophet of Allah (peace be on him and his progeny) when Ali (peace be on him) was only thirteen. He was the first male to accept Islam. The Prophet’s wife Khadija (peace be upon her) was the only person to accept the Prophet (peace be on him and his progeny) before Ali (peace be on him).’

Ahle Tasannun Reference:

  • ‘Al-Fusool al-Muhimma’ by the famous theologian Noor al-Deen Ibn Sabbaagh al-Maaliki, chapter ‘Tarbiah al-Nabi,’ p. 16

2) It is related from Anas Ibn Maalik and others that “The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) was ordained Prophet of Allah on Monday and Imam Ali (peace be upon him) declared his faith in him on Tuesday.”

Ahle Tasannun references:

  • Jaame’ al-Tirmidhi, vol. 2, p. 314
  • Faraaid al-Simtain by Hamwini
  • Mawaddah al-Qurbah by Mir Syed Ali Hamadaani Shaafe’i
  • Al-Sawaaiq al-Muhriqah by Ibn Hajar al-Haithami

Conclusion:

It requires minimal intellect and sagacity for a person to understand that someone who was trained by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) since childhood is by far superior to a few hours of companionship in a cave. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) is clearly superior to any other companion from the aspect of not just staying with the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) but being with him from his birth till the burial of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in which none of the so-called great companions and self-proclaimed caliphs participated including the one in the cave. Despite all of this, if someone still does not accept Imam Ali (peace be upon him) as the rightful and immediate successor of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) then all we can do is only pity him and thank Allah for having granted us intellect to follow the right path.

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