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Why is ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (‘a) regarded as the waṣī [executor of will] and successor of the Prophet (ṣ)?

Why is ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (‘a) regarded as the waṣī [executor of will] and successor of the Prophet (ṣ)?

Reply: As we already stated, the Shī‘ah have a firm belief that the position of caliphate is determined through revelation [tanīī] and that after the Holy Prophet () the Imāmah [leadership] is in some respects like prophethood [nubuwwah]. Just as the Prophet () has to be appointed through Divine decree, the waṣī [executor of will] of the Prophet () too must be designated by Him, the Glorious and Sublime.

The biography of the Messenger of Allah () is a testimony to this belief; for, in many occasions he designated ‘Alī (‘a) as his successor [khalīfah]. Here, we shall mention only three of these occasions:


1. At the Commencement of the Prophetic Mission. When the Prophet () received from God the commission to invite his relatives to the doctrine of monotheism as it is confirmed by the the verse, الأَقْرَبِينَ عَشِيرَتَكَ وَأَنذِرْ ﴿ “Warn the nearest of your kinsfolk,”[1] he addressed them by saying:

أخي يكون أن علىٰ الأمر هذا في يوازرني فَأيّكم

فيكم؟ وصيّي و خليفتي و وزيري و

“Which of you will assist me in this affair so that he would my brother [akhī], minister [wazīrī], successor [khalīfatī], and the executor of my will [waī] among you?”

The only person who gave a positive response to this heavenly call was ‘Alī ibn Abī ālib (‘a). Then, facing his relatives, the Messenger of Allah () said:

“.أطيعوه و له فاسمعوا فيكم خليفتي و وصيّي و أخي هذا إنّ

“Verily, he (‘Alī) is my brother, the executor of my will and my successor among you. So, listen to him and obey him.”[2]


2. During the Tabūk Expedition. The Prophet () said to ‘Alī (‘a):

بعدي؟ لانبيّ أنّه إلاّ موسىٰ من هارون بمنزلة منّي تكون أن ترضىٰ أما

“Are you not satisfied that you are to me as Hārūn (Aaron) is to Mūsā (Moses) except that there will be no prophet after me?”[3]

That is to say, “Just as Hārūn (‘a) is the executor of will and the immediate successor of Mūsā (‘a), you are my successor.”


3. In the 10th Year after Hijrah. On his return from the Farewell Pilgrimage [ajjah al-Widā‘], at a place called Ghadīr Khumm the Messenger of Allah () introduced ‘Alī (‘a) before a mammoth assembly (of pilgrims) as the walī [guardian] of the believers, male or female, saying:

“.مَوْلاَهُ عَلِيٌّ فَهٰذَا مَولاَهُ كُنْتُ مَنْ

“Of whosoever I am master [mawlā], then ‘Alī is also his master [mawlā].”

The important and noteworthy point is that at the beginning of his speech, the Prophet () asked:

أنفسكم؟ من بكم أولىٰ أَلستُ

“Have I more authority over you than you have over yourselves?”

And the Muslims unanimously replied in the affirmative. Therefore, it must be noted here that in this hadīth the Prophet () meant by the word, “mawlā” the absolute guardianship over the believers, and we can conclude that the Prophet () had established ‘Alī (‘a) in the same position which he had. And on that very day assān ibn Thābit versified the historic event of Ghadīr as follows:

نبيّهم الغدير يوم يناديهم

مناديا بالرّسول واسمع بخمّ

نبيّكم؟ و مولاكم فمن :فقال

التّعاميا أهناك يبدوا لم و :فقالوا

نبيّنا أنت و مولانا إلهٰكَ

عاصيا الولاية في منّا تلق لم و

فإنّني عليّ يا قم :له فقال

هاديا و إماماً بعدي من رضيتك

وليّه فهذا مولاه كنت فمن

مواليا صدق اتباع له فكونوا

وليّه وال اللّهم :دعا هناك

معاديا عليّاً عادى للذي وكن

Their Prophet calls on them on the day of Ghadīr Khumm; now, listen to the call of the Prophet:

Then he said to the people: “Who is your Master [mawlā] and your guardian [walī]? Then, without showing inattention, they said:

“Your Lord is our Master [mawlā] and you are our guardian [walī], and no one among us today disobeys you.”

Then he said: “Stand up O ‘Alī! For, I am indeed well pleased that you are the Imām and guide after me.”

[Then he said:] “Therefore, of whomsoever I am master, ‘Alī is his master also. May you be their true supporters!”

He then prayed, saying: “O Allah! Be Thou a Friend of those who are his (‘Alī s) friends, and be Thou an Enemy of those who are his enemies.”[4]

The hadīth on Ghadīr is among the mutawātir[5] hadīths, which is narrated not only by the Shī‘ah ‘ulamā’ but also by approximately 360 Sunnī scholars[6] and the number of transmitters reaches 110 Companions. Twenty six prominent Muslim ‘ulamā’ have written a separate book about the chain of transmission and transmitters of this hadīth.

Abū Ja‘far abarī, the renowned Muslim historian, has compiled the chain of transmission and transmitters of this hadīth in two bulky volumes. For further information, one may refer to the book, Al-Ghadīr

[1] Sūrah ash-Shu‘arā’ 26:214.

[2] Tārīkh a-Ṭabarī, vol. 2, pp. 62-63; Tārīkh al-Kāmil, vol. 2, pp. 40-41; Musnad Ahmad ibn Ḥanbal, vol. 1, p. 111; Ibn Abī’l-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāghah, vol. 13, pp. 210-212.

[3] Sīrah Ibn Hishām, vol. 2, p. 520; Ibn ajar (al-‘Asqalānī), A-awā‘iq al-Muriqah (Egypt, 2nd Edition), Book 9, Chapter 2, p. 121.

[4] Khwārazmī al-Mālikī, Al-Manāqib, p. 80; Sib ibn Jawzī al-anafī, Tadhkirat Khawā al-Ummah, p. 20; Ganjī Shāfi‘ī, Kifāyah a-ālib, p. 17; and others.

[5] Mutawātir: a tradition from the Prophet () or an infallible Imām, repeatedly and widely narrated in an uninterrupted sequence, through successive reliable narrators. [Trans.]

[6] See, for example, Ibn ajar, A-Ṣawā’iq al-Muḥriqah (Egypt, 2nd Edition), Book 9, Chapter 2, p. 122.

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