Why did Imam Ali (A.S) remain silent for 25 years?

SHAFA- The validity of the Ahadith confirming Ali (AS) as the Caliph and the Imam is beyond question. But the question remains: Why did Ali (AS), the rightful successor to the Prophet (PBUH), remain silent after the latter’s death and made no effort to press his rights? Why did he not awaken society from its slumber? The answer is that Imam Ali (AS) never hesitated to press for his rights and always reminded people of the rightful place of the Prophet’s (PBUH) Household as successors, but he never attempted to take back his rights by force. We will consider the historical reports about this in the following paragraphs.

How the Imam pressed for his rights in different situations

When the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (AS), was informed of the strife between the Emigrants and the Helpers in Saqifa, and also of their bragging about themselves, he asked: ‘What was the Helper’s argument?’ They answered: ‘Since, we have sheltered the Prophet (PBUH), one leader shall be chosen from the Helpers and one from the Emigrants.’ the Imam (AS) said: ‘If the leader were supposed to be chosen from the Helpers, why did the Prophet (PBUH) then urge us to be kind to those Helpers who were righteous and upright and merciful towards those of them who were sinful?’

A man asked the Imam (AS): ‘How does this statement indicate that leadership does not belong to the Helpers?’ He responded: ‘If leadership were their due, there would be no need to advise us to treat them kindly, since those in power do not need kindness.’ Then, the Imam asked: ‘What was Quraysh’s argument?’ They reported that the Quraysh members said that they were the Prophet’s (PBUH) tribe. the Imam (AS) commented: ‘They took the tree and left the fruit’ (Nahjul-Balagha, Sermon 67). Sharif Al-Radhi quotes Imam Ali (AS) in Nahjul-Balagha as composing the following lines of poetry as a reaction to the Quraysh’s stance:

  1. You say you have seized power through a council
  2. But the council members were all absent
  3. And if you have resorted to kinship and won power
  4. Then, there are others closer to the Prophet (PBUH) that you are. (Aphorism 190)

5. Sometime after Saqifa, they brought Ali to the Mosque forcefully to make him pledge allegiance, but he resisted their demand and said: ‘I am more entitled to the Caliphate than you. The right thing to do is for you to take an oath of loyalty to me. You snatched the power and caliphate from the hands of the Helpers by claiming to be the relatives of the Prophet (PBUH) but now you are depriving his family from their right to caliphate!’

  1. Surprisingly, in that gathering it was Umar ibn Al-Khattab who demanded that Ali (AS) pledge allegiance and said: ‘I will not let go of you until you give the oath.’ However the Imam, who by means of divine knowledge knew about this man’s future, revealed Umar ibn Al-Khattab’s true motive behind his insistence through a proverb: ‘You only milk a cow if at least half of it is going to be yours!’
  2. Abu Ubayda Al-Jarrah employed a more moderate tone. He turned to Ali and said: ‘Cousin! You are young, but they are the elders of this community; you are not as experienced as they. That is why I deem Abu Bakr as the fittest for assuming authority over Muslims. Let him be Caliph! In the future, if you are alive, you will be more worthy and qualified than anyone else, since no one doubts your wisdom, virtue, eminence, and your kinship to the Prophet.’ In response to Abu Ubayda, the Imam (AS) said: ‘The successor of the Prophet (PBUH) must have all the qualities that you have just mentioned, but the Caliph chosen at Saqifa lacks them:
  • Knowledge of the Quran
  • Knowledge of religious laws
  • Good awareness of the Prophet’s tradition (Sunna)
  • Good awareness of social affairs and matters
  • Eagerness to eradicate corruption and wrong-doings from society
  • Fair distribution of public wealth

I do not see these qualities in the present Caliph to take an oath to him; I see them rather in myself’ (Al-Imama wa Al-Siyāsa, 1/11-12).

Amr ibn Wathila says: ‘I was eavesdropping outside the house in which the Council of Six was formed, when I heard Ali saying: “I will provide you with an argument so compelling that neither the Arabs nor non-Arabs can refute it.” Then he said: “Is there anyone among you who believed in Islam earlier than me?” All of them said: “No!” Ali (AS) continued, “Is there anyone among you about whom the Prophet (PBUH) said something like this: ‘And whoever I am the master of, then Ali is his master. O God! Love those who love him, and be an enemy to those who are enemies to him.’?” Again, they all answered, “No”’ (Al-Ṣawāʿiq, 75)

In the year 35/656, Imam Ali (AS) accepted the position of Caliph as a religious duty. On that day, the Imam said, in the presence of the Prophet’s Companions: ‘Who amongst you has heard this sentence at Ghadir Khumm: “And whoever I am the master of, then Ali is his master. O’ God, Love those who love him, and be an enemy to those who are enemies to him”?’ Some, including Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari, Sahl ibn Hanif, Khuzayma ibn Thabit, Abd Allah ibn Thabit al-Ansari, stood up and said: ‘We heard what has just been said’ (Usud Al-Ghāba, 3/307 and 5/205).

  1. The Imam’s (AS) reasoning and arguments regarding his legitimacy are not restricted to the instances just mentioned, rather he would break his silence and proclaim the truth on many occasions.
  2. After Prophet’s (PBUH) death, his daughter Fatimah (SA), her sons Hassan (AS) and Hussain (AS), and even Abdallah ibn Jaʿfar, and Ammar ibn Yasir confirmed Ali’s (AS) rightfulness on the basis of what had transpired at Ghadir. It is interesting to note that when the relation between Muawiya and Amr ibn Al-As went sour, the latter uttered in an ode extolling many of Ali’s (AS) noble characteristics and pointed to his appointment by the Prophet (PBUH) as his successor at Ghadir Khumm (See al-Ghadīr, 2/159 onwards). In reality, those who form friendships and alliances based on material interests, at times of disagreement, find their ties of friendship and their unity shattered. Accordingly, Amr ibn al-As in his ode reveals this to be a reality. Therefore, the arguments he deployed (for Ali’s (AS) rightfulness) are indicative of the fact that Ali (AS) and his descendants never gave up trying to protect the rights of the people and guide them to the right path.

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