Twelver orthodoxy today asserts that those who fought ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb were apostates who went against the “Imam of the time.” On this basis, Twelvers often excommunicate the likes of Mu’awiyah, Talha, Al-Zubayr, ‘Aisha and other companions of the Prophet who may have participated in conflicts against ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb.
Ironically, such beliefs conflict with various authentic traditions from ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb, where he, himself, absolved his enemies from disbelief and hypocrisy. These reports can be found in the hadith collections of every single major Muslim school that exists today. It can be found in:
- Zaidi sources
- Isma’ili sources
- Sunni sources
- Twelver sources
This report can be found in the main Zaidi hadith collection, Musnad Zaid. ‘Amr b. Khaled transmitted the report as follows:
From Zaid [b. ‘Ali b. Al-Hussain], from his father, from his grandfather, from ‘Ali:
A man once came to ‘Ali and said: “O Commander of the faithful, have the people of the Camel, Siffin and Al-Nahrawan apostatized?”
‘Ali said: “No. They are our brothers who have transgressed against us, so we fought them until they return to the Command of Allah.”Musnad Zaid pg. 365-366
As a reminder, let us briefly list the participants in each of the battles mentioned in the aforementioned report:
- Battle of the Camel: ‘Aisha, Talha, Al-Zubayr and their party
- Battle of Siffin: Mu’awiyah, ‘Amr b. Al-‘Aas, and their party
- Battle of Al-Nahrawan: The Khawarij
As seen from ‘Ali’s answer, none of these parties were declared to be apostates for fighting ‘Ali. Rather, it was merely a misunderstanding that led to the transgression of one party against another. Their transgression merely is a sin, not an act of apostasy.
A similar report can be found in the Ismaili collection, Sharh Al-Akhbar, by Al-Qadhi Al-Nu’man, as follows:
From Muhammad b. Dawud, with his isnad, from from ‘Ali (as):
He was once asked about the casualties at Al-Jamal: “Are they mushrikeen?”
‘Ali said: “No. They have fled from Shirk.”
He was then asked: “Are they hypocrites?”
‘Ali said: “No. The hypocrites do not remember Allah except a little.”
He was then asked: “So what are they?”
‘Ali said: “They are our brothers who have transgressed against us, so we were granted victory against them.Sharh Al-Akhbar 1/399
The Isma’ili Al-Qadhi Al-Nu’man then commented saying: “He, may the prayers of Allah be upon him, mentioned that they were among the people of transgression whom Allah commanded to fight and kill until they returned to the Command of Allah. That is how he dealt with them.
Al-Nu’man was referring to the following verse from Surah Al-Hujurat:
And if two factions among the believers should fight, then make settlement between the two. But if one of them oppresses the other, then fight against the one that oppresses until it returns to the ordinance of Allah . And if it returns, then make settlement between them in justice and act justly. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.Quran 49:9
In his Musannaf, Ibn Abi Shaybah, authentically transmitted the report as follows:
From Yahya b. Adam, from Mufaddal b. Muhalhal, from Al-Shaybani, from Qays b. Muslim, from Tareq b. Shihab:
I was with ‘Ali, and he was asked about the people of the River (Nahrawan): “Are they muhrikeen?”
He said: “They have fled from Shirk.”
He was then asked: “So are they hypocrites?”
‘Ali said: ” The hypocrites do not remember Allah except a little.”
He was then asked: “So what are they?”
He said: “They are a group of people who have transgressed against us.”Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah
This report is also transmitted with another isnad by Al-Marwazi in Ta’zim Qadr Al-Salah. Other isnads exist in other sources, such as Al-Sunan Al-Kubra etc.
This report can be found authentically transmitted in Qurb Al-Isnad by Al-Himyari, as follows:
Harun b. Muslim, from Mas’adah b. Ziyad, from Ja’far (as), from his father:
‘Ali never used to ascribe any of his enemies to shirk or hypocrisy. Rather, he used to say: “They are our brothers who have transgressed against us.”Qurb Al-Isnad pg. 94
Later Twelver Cop-Outs
These reports (and many others) explicitly absolved ‘Ali’s enemies from disbelief and hypocrisy. This theme is not exclusive to Sunni sources; rather, it can be observed authentically reported in the hadith collections of other Shi’ite schools, as presented in this article.
This narrative, however, contradicts with contemporary Twelver theology, which asserts that all of ‘Ali’s enemies were apostates. Twelver theologians and polemicists thus varied in their responses to this report as they attempted to wiggle their way out of its implications.
Twelver theologian, Al-Hurr Al-‘Ameli, seemed to have recognized that this report is irreconcilable with Twelver theology. Thus, he commented on it saying: ” This is interpreted in light of Taqiyyah” (Al-‘Ameli 15/83)
Al-‘Ameli’s attempt to pull the “Taqiyyah card” is futile: the report is transmitted through various independent routes, and it is definitely authentic to ‘Ali, who was the Caliph. ‘Ali did not need to employ Taqiyyah, since he was the leader at the time!
Similarly, this attempt to bypass the report ironically backfires against itself. Later Twelver transmitters fabricated reports that appropriated ‘Ali’s statement. These reports can be found in two sources:
The sixth century Twelver theologian, Al-Tabarsi (d. 548), cited a report that attempts to reconcile this hadith with later Twelver theology. It must be noted that this report does not have an isnad. There is a 4.5 century disconnection in its transmission.
Al-Tabarsi (d. 548) said:
A man from the people of Basrah came to ‘Ali b. Al-Hussain [d. 95], and said: “O ‘Ali b. Al-Hussain, your grandfather, ‘Ali b. Abi Taleb, killed believers!”
‘Ali b. Al-Hussain’s eyes thus teared till his hands were filled with tears, and he then slammed them on the sand. He said: “O brother of the people of Basrah! No! By Allah, ‘Ali never killed a believer. He never killed a Muslim. The people had not accepted Islam. Rather, they merely submitted, concealed their kufr and presented themselves as Muslims.
When they found proponents of Kufr, they made it apparent. The woman of the camel (‘Aisha) and the trusted individuals from Muhammad’s household knew that the people of the Camel, Siffin and Al-Nahrawan were cursed upon the tongue of Muhammad; and he he has failed who invents falsehood!”
A man from Kufah then said: “O Ali b. Al-Hussain, your grandfather used to say: they are our brothers who have transgressed against us!”
‘Ali b. Al-Hussain thus said: “Have you not read the Book of Allah [where he said]: ( And to ‘Aad [We sent] their brother Hud) [Quran 7:65]?
They are like them. Allah saved Hud and those with him, and he destoryed ‘Aad.”Al-Ihtijaj 2/40
This entire account is an embellished polemical fabrication that unsurprisingly has no isnad. The disconnection in its isnad is more than 4.5 centuries long: it simply is a pathetic attempt by a later Shi’ite polemicist to provide a Twelver-friendly explanation of ‘Ali’s statement..
In Al-Tafsir Al-Safi, Al-Ayyashi (d. 320) mentioned a brief excerpt from this report (Al-‘Ayyashi 2:150). Needless to say, the transmission of this report is similarly disconnected. Al-‘Ayyashi directly quoted Mufaddal b. ‘Umar (d. before 183), who was a severely criticized transmitter he never met.
These later forgeries that attempted to appropriate ‘Ali’s statement ultimately decontextualized it, since Ali explicitly negated disbelief and hypocrisy from his opponents and enemies in the authentic reports from various sources.
As evident, this later Twelver attempt to appropriate the report is futile due to the dubious transmission of the cited report. Similarly, it directly conflicts with Al-‘Ameli’s claim that this report was merely uttered out of Taqiyyah. It demonstrates how Twelver scholarship will arbitrarily pull the “Taqiyyah card” whenever faced with reports that conflict with Twelver theology. (We have further elaborated on this phenomenon in this article.)
Nevertheless, the appeals to these baseless reports and the appeal to Taqiyyah are mutually exclusive, and the Shi’ite polemicist cannot have his cake and eat it.
It seems as though Twlevers simply have a hard time accepting the fact that Ali is authentically reported to have openly absolved his opponents from disbelief. Various polemical Twelver cop-outs are thus presented to bypass this explicit and authentic report.
We are dealing with false claimants to ‘Ali’s legacy who will actively bypass and deflect any authentic statement of his that conflicts with the theology later laid out by Twelver theologians.
In this example, we observe how an authentically reported statement of ‘Ali in Sunni, Twelver, Zaidi, and Isma’ili sources is deflected by Twelvers today. Some attempted to deflect it by claiming it was merely an instance of “Taqiyyah.” Others cited fabrications that decontextualized ‘Ali’s statement and appropriated it to Twelver theology.
Proponents of both arguments, nevertheless, share one common trait: the desire to project their preconceived (Twelver) theology onto the statements and actions of the Imams.
And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they reply, “No! We shall follow that which we found our forefathers practicing.”Quran 31/21
Would they still do so if Satan were inviting them to the torment of the Blaze?
And Allah is the Witness of Abu Al-Abbas
Al-‘Ayyashi, Muhammad. Tafsir Al-‘Ayyashi. Edited by Hashem Al-Rasuli, Al-Maktabah Al-‘Ilmiyyah Al-Islamiyyah.
Al-Baghdadi, ‘Abdulaziz b. Ishaq. Musnad Zaid. Dar Al-Kutub Al-‘Ilmiyyah.
Al-Himyari, ‘Abdullah. Qurb Al-Isnad. Edited by Mu’assat Aal Al-Bayt, 1st ed., Mehr, 1413.
Al-Maghribi, Al-Nu’man. Sharh Al-Akhbar fi Fada’il Al-A’immah Al-Akhbar. Edited by Sayyed Muhammad Hussain Al-Jalali, 2nd ed., Mu’assasat Al-Nashr Al-Islami, 1431.
Al-Tabarsi, Ahmed. Al-Ihtijaj. Edited by Muhammad Baqir Al-Khurasani, Matabi’ Al-Nu’man, 1386.
Ibn Abi Shaybah, Abu Bakr. Al-Musanaf. Edited by Kamal Al-Hut, 1st ed., Maktabat Al-Rushd, 1409.