Shi’ism in the Eyes of Sunnis

1Shi’ism in the Eyes of Sunnis

It must be emphatically said at the outset of this section that at the beginning, following the demise of the Prophet (pbuh), there was not at all such things as Shi’ism and Shi’i Islam or Sunnism and Sunni Islam. The two concepts were the products of subsequent times and subsequent generations. At that time, there were only pristine Islam, the best generation of Muslims (sahabah), the exemplary nascent Muslim society, and all the problems that the people were attempting to come to terms with and successfully triumph over following the departure of their Prophet (pbuh). Definitely, this entire group of Prophet’s companions, with a hierarchy of merits which they all shared, by the texts of both the Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition were the best community that has ever lived and will ever come to live.
It could be postulated, in addition, that some of the most challenging tests, tribulations and difficulties, on virtually all fronts, cropped up unerringly during the era of the companions not as a result of the natural flow of events, but rather as a result of a deliberate and predetermined design and strategy. This might have been so because it was only the first Muslims who could generate and leave to posterity an invaluable legacy as to how best to deal with those tests, tribulations and challenges without the physical presence of the Prophet (pbuh), if and when they, or some of them, recur. The first generations of Muslims, it goes without saying, were exceptional teachers and role models. They were standard setters to all those who were to come after them. Thus, following the loss of their own teacher and the teacher of all teachers, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), they were not to leave the life scene without creating and teaching due lessons about some of the most crucial and sensitive facets of human culture and civilization. Indeed, the legacy of the earliest Muslims is a supreme gift not only to fellow Muslims, but also to entire human race.
One of the most pressing issues that emerged after the Prophet’s death was the subject of succeeding the Prophet (pbuh) and leading the community. At the same time, however, that was the most critical and most intense matter about which afterwards there was never in any age a full consensus. Once the helpers of Madinah (ansar) gathered at their gathering place to discuss and possibly elect a successor, immediately after the Prophet (pbuh) had died, the fate of the Muslim community was never to be the same again.
Unlike their Shi’i counterparts, Sunnis believe that choosing caliphs, or successors, is a political rather than a religious matter. It is a political functionary only. The commandments of religion are contained in the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah. There is no mention about the Prophet’s caliphs or successors in them, whereas the Qur’an explicitly proclaimed that it is a Book which has been sent “…as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims.” (Al-Nahl, 89).
God also says that Islam as a religion and a complete way of life has been perfected and transmitted during the Prophet’s life. “This day those who disbelieve have despaired of (defeating) your religion; so fear them not, but fear Me. This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion…” (Al-Ma’idah, 3). The revelation of this particular verse during the Prophet’s farewell pilgrimage presaged the imminent death and departure of the Prophet (pbuh). As it also meant that from then on, religion and many people’s relationship with and commitment to it would start to degenerate. This dreadful thought caused ‘Umar b. al-Khattab to weep. When asked by the Prophet (pbuh) what made him weep, he replied: “What made me cry is that our religion is being perfected for us. Now it is perfect, but there is nothing which is perfect that it is bound to deteriorate.” The Prophet (pbuh) then approved of what ‘Umar had said. Commenting on this verse, Ibn Kathir (d. 775 AH/ 1373 CE) wrote: “This, indeed, is the biggest favor from Allah to this Ummah, for He has completed their religion for them, and they, thus, do not need any other religion or any other Prophet except Muhammad (pbuh). This is why Allah made Muhammad (pbuh) the final Prophet and sent him to all humans and Jinn. Therefore, the permissible is what he allows, the impermissible is what he prohibits, the Law is what he legislates and everything that he conveys is true and authentic and does not contain lies or contradictions.” The Qur’an likewise announces: “And the word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can alter His words, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing.” (Al-An’am, 115).
Accordingly, the Prophet (pbuh) was instructed to announce and convey that which has been revealed to him from his Lord, “…and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message. And Allah will protect you from the people. Indeed, Allah does not guide the disbelieving people.” (Al-Ma’idah, 67).
Indeed, everything about the activities of the Prophet (pbuh) including the minutest details is fully documented. No will of his is on record, and as such it is a fact that the Prophet (pbuh) made no will. It is alleged in some quarters, especially Shi’is as mentioned earlier, that just before his death the Prophet (pbuh) had expressed the desire to record his will, but some companions, especially ‘Umar, frustrated the attempt. However, the Prophet’s wife, ‘A’ishah (d. 59 AH/ 678 CE), refuted this allegation and observed that the Prophet (pbuh) did not express any desire to record his will.
It may be even recalled that during his illness the Prophet (pbuh) attended the mosque on two occasions and addressed the people. On one occasion, he reprimanded the people for their objection to the command of an expedition against Syria by Usamah b. Zayd (d. 54 AH/ 673 CE). If the Prophet (pbuh) in spite of his illness could advocate the cause of Usamah’s command, he could have advocated the cause of the succession of ‘Ali as well, if he had so desired. What is more, during his death-illness, which lasted approximately thirteen days, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have uttered some remarkable statements in relation to prayers, monotheism in worship and social relations. Yet, even during the cited incident according to which the Prophet’s effort to record his will on succession and leadership was allegedly frustrated by the people – or immediately afterwards — the Prophet (pbuh) still managed to dictate three orders to the people, two of which were: “Expel the pagans from the Arabian peninsula, respect and give gifts to the foreign delegates as you have seen me dealing with them”. If the Prophet (pbuh) really wanted to command something else, which was supposed to be far more important, and the people frustrated him in his attempt, there was no reason whatsoever for the Prophet (pbuh) not to reveal it when he later spoke of those three orders, or when he later spoke of many other things before he eventually passed away.
Masudul Hasan further explains that the Prophet (pbuh) did not pass away suddenly. He had ample time to settle his affairs before his death. Even at the farewell pilgrimage three months before his death, he knew that his end was nigh. He had been sent by God to complete his mission. If the nomination of a successor was to be a part of the divine mission with which he had been entrusted, he would have nominated a successor to complete his mission. As he did not nominate a successor, and as his mission had been completed, it means that the nomination of a successor was not part of his mission. After him, whosoever was to succeed him was to be temporal ruler only, and the right to choose such ruler vested in the people.
If, on the other hand, as another scenario almost unanimously put forth and rather aggressively publicized practically by all Shi’is, the Prophet (pbuh) did designate in most unambiguous terms ‘Ali and then his offspring with his wife Fatimah as his successors, but numerous companions of the Prophet, especially a number of those most eminent and closest to the Prophet (pbuh), driven by selfishness, ambition and a great desire for power, cunningly denied ‘Ali and ahl al-bayt their right and made sure that the Prophet’s will never materialized nor became a recognized and widespread truth — that, too, would be grossly illogical, unfounded and thus unacceptable. It would be so because here we are talking about exceptional persons who met the Prophet (pbuh), willingly accepted Islam and followed him, struggled for the cause of Islam, and in the end died as Muslims. They were the Prophet’s helpers and the helpers of the truth. Consequently, they are praised in many Qur’anic verses, such as: “You are the best nation produced (as an example) for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.” (Alu ‘Imran, 110).
“And the first forerunners (in the faith) among the Muhajirun and the Ansar and those who followed them with good conduct — Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the great attainment.” (Al-Tawbah, 100).
“Certainly was Allah pleased with the believers when they pledged allegiance to you, (O Muhammad), under the tree, and He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down tranquility upon them and rewarded them with an imminent conquest…” (Al-Fath, 18). Only on this particular occasion the companions numbered one thousand four hundred. Among them there were almost all the leading companions whom many Shi’is target with their slandering and vituperations.
The Prophet (pbuh) also said, for example: “Love for the Ansar (natives of Madinah) is a sign of faith and hatred for the Ansar is a sign of hypocrisy.”
“Do not abuse my companions for if any one of you spent gold equal to Uhud (in Allah’s Cause) it would not equal a handful of one of them or even half of that.”
“The best people are those living in my generation, then those coming after them, and then those coming after (the second generation).”
It is thus unconceivable that a majority of those people whom the Qur’an and Sunnah accorded such glowing tributes betrayed their master and his revolutionary message as soon as he had gone. They became bitterly divided pertaining to some of the most vital subject matters, putting their own greed, ambitions, as well as personal and tribal interests ahead of anything else. In due course, a majority of them went astray and only a tiny minority remained loyal and fully committed to the truth and its ways. In his discourse about the origins and early development of Shi’ism, Farhad Daftary keeps reiterating that it was a case of a minority of the companions, who zealously maintained that the succession to the Prophet (pbuh) was ‘Ali’s legitimate right, and persisted in holding that all religious matters should be referred to ‘Ali, who in their opinion was the sole person possessing religious authority — versus the majority of the companions who opposed the former and supported the caliphate of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar b. al-Khattab and ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan (d. 36 AH/ 656 CE), the usurpers who usurped ‘Ali’s inherent right. “This minority group, originally comprised of some of ‘Ali’s friends and supporters, in time came to be known as the Shi’ah of ‘Ali, or the party of ‘Ali, and then simply as the Shi’ah.” With regard to this central Shi’i viewpoint, furthermore, one ultimately feels compelled to wonder, if such was the case where then a huge chunk of the Prophet’s efforts, optimism, expectations and seemingly outstanding, yet miraculous, results and triumphs, went. Were some of them in vain, so to speak? Were some things just illusions, mirages, acts of most profound and cunning forms of hypocrisy and two-facedness? Indeed, it was unfeasible that immediately following the Prophet’s death, relative falsehood, prejudice, injustice and despair took over and ruled, despite the fact that just a short while ago the total religion had been perfected, duly conveyed and elatedly established, resulting in falsehood, darkness and ignorance to vanish. In equal measure, it was impossible that a great many companions who were most acclaimed and at the same time most intimate with, and closest to, the Prophet (pbuh), were most responsible for the early religious failings and calamities that befell the nascent Muslim community.
Shahrastani concluded his elaborate defense of the Prophet’s companions against Shi’i onslaughts by categorically exclaiming: “This shows how great is their standing in the eyes of God, as well as the esteem and honor in which they were held by the Prophet (pbuh). It is a matter of wonder to me how the adherents of a religion can allow themselves to slander them, and ascribe unbelief to them, seeing that the Prophet (pbuh) said: ‘Ten of my companions are in Paradise: Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, Talha, Zubayr, Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas, Sa’id b. Zayd, Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf and Abu Ubaydah b. al-Jarrah.’ Moreover, other traditions exist in favor of each one individually. If there are unfavorable reports about some of them, these reports must be treated with circumspection, because the Rafidis (Shi’is) have been found guilty of many lies and fabrications.”
Our attitude towards the companions should be that of love, respect, peace and purity of our hearts and tongues, even though they were not all alike and their virtues and merits greatly varied. God describes this approach by saying: “And (there is a share for) those who came after them, saying, ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith and put not in our hearts (any) resentment toward those who have believed. Our Lord, indeed You are Kind and Merciful’.” (Al-Hashr, 10). We should therefore keep mentioning the companions’ virtues and try to emulate them, while remaining silent about any mistakes they made – and they surely did some for the reason that they were neither angels nor infallible mortals — and about anything untoward that occurred between them, for such is none of our business and is bound to bring us no benefit, just as it did not to those who throughout history were actively engaged in those polemics. Caliph ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz encapsulated this outlook when he said: “Those from whose blood Allah has kept our hands exempt, we shall not soil with it our tongues.”
The same methods featuring certain Shi’i fabrications, manipulations, embellishments and overly exploitation of human emotions, have been employed in the case of the Ghadir Khumm episode as well, where alleged spiritual investiture of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib most explicitly and most dramatically had taken place. On the whole, Sunnis too accept that the said episode came to pass, but in a different context, with some different fine points and with a different set of goals. When the Prophet (pbuh) was performing his farewell pilgrimage, ‘Ali was still in Yemen where he about two and a half months earlier was dispatched with an army to invite people to Islam. When ‘Ali came from Yemen he went to Makkah to meet the Prophet (pbuh) there. He hurried to him and left one of his companions in charge of his army. That man dressed some of, or all, his men in the army with linen clothes that were entrusted to ‘Ali. When the army approached Makkah, ‘Ali went out to receive them and found that they were dressed in the linen clothing. “Woe to you,” he said, “what is this?” “I dressed them so that they might look handsome when they came to the people,” the man replied. ‘Ali asked him to remove the clothing before he came to the Prophet (pbuh). He did so and returned them to the booty, but the army expressed resentment at their treatment. When the people, i.e., the army, complained about the behavior of ‘Ali and their clamoring grew louder and stronger, the Prophet (pbuh) who with the people was on his way from Makkah to Madinah following the pilgrimage, stopped at Ghadir Khumm and said in a sermon what he said as regards wilayah (mastership) in order to defend ‘Ali and vindicate his actions, lest the situation should get out of control. So serious was the incident that resolving it could not wait for the Prophet’s and the people’s return to Madinah. Additionally, the Prophet (pbuh) also said in favor of ‘Ali and his overall actions and judgments: “O people, do not complain of ‘Ali. By God, he is too tough in the matters of God (or in the way of God) (to be blamed).”
As seen, there was nothing in the event about spiritual investiture of ‘Ali, as presupposed by Shi’is. The Prophet (pbuh) only singled out and called people’s attention to ‘Ali’s exceptional attributes and traits which warranted consideration and appreciation, just as he was in the habit of doing not only about ‘Ali, but also about other eminent companions. If, hypothetically, the Prophet (pbuh) intended to carry out a directive of ‘Ali’s investiture, he would certainly have done it during the pilgrimage, especially during the farewell sermon, when a larger multitude of people were available and when the Prophet (pbuh) was really up to conveying some of the most emphatic messages to the community knowing all too well that he was going not to see many of them again. After the pilgrimage, many groups of pilgrims went back their own separate ways. Many did not use the Makkah-Madinah rout, while the Makkans remained in Makkah, their hometown, and therefore could not attend and bear witness to the Ghadir Khumm episode. Having been executed with recourse to this strategy, with reference to the alleged fundamental religious tenet of Ali’s inauguration, the whole matter seem to have been rather anticlimactic and so, definitely was not an affair of such fundamental and pivotal significance as in certain circles understood.
As regards the authentic Prophet’s words about the two things which he was leaving to the people to follow, lest they go astray, which are the Qur’an and ahl al-bayt, or the members of the Prophet’s household, firstly, the scholars differ considerably concerning the meaning and extent of ahl al-bayt. In any event, apart from ‘Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn, the wives of the Prophet (pbuh), too, are included as members of ahl al-bayt, because the Qur’an mentions the idea in the context of lengthily addressing the wives of the Prophet (pbuh). (Al-Ahzab, 28-34). It follows that other daughters of the Prophet (pbuh) are also included within the definition. According to some accounts, the members of the Prophet’s family are the family of ‘Ali, the family of ‘Aqil (d. 67 AH/ 686 CE), the family of Ja’far (d. 8 AH/ 629 CE) and the family of ‘Abbas (d. 33 AH/ 653 CE), since they were not permitted to receive charity after the Prophet (pbuh) had died. Some scholars went so far as to extend the concept to the whole of the Banu Hashim and the Banu al-Mutallib. Some even thought that the whole Ummah (Muslim community) is the family of the Prophet (pbuh).
Secondly, not only that the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said that he was leaving the Qur’an and ahl al-bayt to the people to follow, but also, as per another authentic tradition, he said that he was leaving the Qur’an and his Sunnah (traditions and way of life) also to be followed. What is the relationship between these two proclamations of the Prophet (pbuh)? These two bona fide statements of the Prophet (pbuh) not only do not contradict each other, but also greatly support and explain each other. In their most profound actual meanings, they are like one. The Prophet’s Sunnah, as a way of life, was perfectly typified by each and every member of his household, certainly more than anyone else, due to their constant proximity to and most intimate contacts with the Prophet (pbuh) which allowed them to be the immediate, and often first, recipients of his knowledge, wisdom and counsel. That qualified them to become the legitimate sources of Islamic jurisprudence, as well as the ideal exemplars to be emulated by the succeeding generations of Muslims. Hence, the way of life of the members of the Prophet’s family – spirituality-wise — was in so many ways the way of life of the Prophet (pbuh) himself. Talking about the way of life of the Prophet’s family members is as good as talking about the way of life (Sunnah) of the Prophet (pbuh). This status of the Prophet’s family members was possible, principally, because of the successful functioning of the Prophet’s family as an institution and his houses as family education and development centers. At any rate, however, in the two above mentioned traditions of the Prophet (pbuh), it is meant that the Holy Qur’an, first, the Prophet’s Sunnah, second, and then the members of the Prophet’s household, and by extension all companions of the Prophet (pbuh), are guarantors that a person, or a society, that sticks to and follows them will not go astray. Muhammad Abu Zahrah stated that although both traditions (hadiths) are very sound and mutawatir (successive narration), the state of being mutawatir of the one with the words “the Qur’an and Sunnah” is stronger than the same state of the one with the words “the Qur’an and ahl al-bayt”.
It was owing to this undeniable veracity that the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) were instructed to keep maximizing the roles and functions of their houses, while unreservedly enjoying personal and family comfort, privacy and security in them. Their houses were to be transformed into the centers of learning and spiritual upbringing for the members of ahl al-bayt (the Prophet’s family), wherefrom all other Muslim houses and households were bound to benefit. Their personalities, similarly, were to be transformed into priceless sources of knowledge and guidance, ultimately positioning themselves as legitimate and substantial references to the Ummah (community). The Qur’an says: “And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former times of ignorance; and establish regular prayers, and give Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, you members of the Family (ahl al-bayt), and to make you pure and spotless. And recite what is rehearsed to you in your houses, of the Signs of Allah and His Wisdom: for Allah understands the finest mysteries and is well-acquainted (with them).” (Al-Ahzab, 33-34). Surely, this was one of the reasons why the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) are called in the Qur’an “the Mothers of believers” (ummahat al-mu’minin) (Al-Ahzab, 6). By analogy, the Prophet (pbuh) could also be looked at as the father of, or a fatherly figure to, believers. The Qur’an reveals that Prophet Lut described the women of his nation as his daughters (Hud, 78). That said, it becomes apparent why some scholars, as mentioned earlier, were of the view that the whole Ummah (Muslim community) is the family (ahl al-bayt) of the Prophet (pbuh).
Subsequent to the passing away of the Prophet (pbuh), the people eventually elected Abu Bakr as their caliph and temporal leader. The office was purely a political matter, not a religious one, which had to be administered in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. Thus, different views were expressed in the process and even several heated exchanges came to pass. But once Abu Bakr became elected as a result of a consultative method, all the people ultimately accepted the decision in good faith knowing all too well that the process had nothing to do with religion and thus, all disputes thence arising ought to come to an end and misunderstandings be ironed out. If not, some essential religious issues, as a consequence, might have been implicated and their inviolability unnecessarily imperiled and even compromised. They also knew that election of a functionary is for a limited period only, and when that period is over the people will stand facing the same problem all over again. Upholding this egalitarian spirit, although ‘Ali might have been of the view that he was more qualified for the caliphate job, he in the end accepted the verdict and gave allegiance to Abu Bakr. However, he is reported to have done so sometime later, most probably after six months, after the death of his wife Fatimah. ‘Ali appears to have refrained temporarily from swearing allegiance to Abu Bakar partly because of a misunderstanding that had taken place between his wife Fatimah and the latter on the subject of inheritance. As a result, Fatimah became angry with Abu Bakr and kept away from him, and did not task to him till she died. When she died, ‘Ali buried her at night without informing Abu Bakr, and he said the funeral prayer by himself. Both al-Bukhari and Muslim (d. 262 AH/ 875 CE) related that “when Fatimah was alive, the people used to respect ‘Ali much, but after her death, ‘Ali noticed a change in the people’s attitude towards him. So ‘Ali sought reconciliation with Abu Bakr and gave him an oath of allegiance. ‘Ali had not given the oath of allegiance during those months (i.e., the period between the Prophet’s death and Fatimah’s death). ‘Ali sent someone to Abu Bakr saying” ‘Come to us, but let nobody come with you’…” Another reason for ‘Ali’s deferment of swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr was his unhappiness that he and the other members of ahl al-bayt were not consulted in the question of the rule, and they thought that they got a right in it on account of their near relationship to the Prophet (pbuh).
Indeed, when the Prophet (pbuh) did not nominate a successor, that was not by any means an omission or an accident. We must hold that such omission to nominate a successor was deliberate and in accordance with the Will of God. Although the choice of the people fell on Abu Bakr as the first caliph, he never coveted the office for himself. He always viewed the caliphate as a great burden and responsibility, rather than a privilege and a source of enjoyment If, under the circumstances, there had been any indication that the Prophet (pbuh) wanted ‘Ali to be the caliph, Abu Bakr, unquestionably, would have been the last man to stand in the way of ‘Ali. Also, ‘Ali himself and the people in general would have repeatedly referred to such Prophet’s will, reminding everyone about it, and would have voiced their most tenacious disapproval at its violation. However, nothing of the kind came down to us in any form. The caliphate could not be claimed on the basis of inheritance. It was a political office, and the community was free to choose, whomever they liked. If for some reason, ‘Ali was not at first chosen, this could not be made a ground for religious grievance. When ‘Ali was about to breathe his last, he was asked to appoint a successor. He replied in the negative, adding that he was going to adopt the practice of the Prophet (pbuh) who, too, did not appoint a successor. “If God wills good for you, He will draw you together around the best among you, just as He did draw you together around the best among you after the Prophet’s death,” was ‘Ali’s closing reasoning. Here even on his deathbed, ‘Ali explicitly acknowledged that there was no divine will relating to Muslim leadership. He also accepted the legitimacy of Abu Bakr’s caliphate, and by extension the caliphate of all his predecessors, the same as he always throughout his exceptionally dynamic and avant-garde life-story, did.
Ibn Khaldun (d. 809 AH/ 1406 CE) summed up the matter of the caliphate and whether it is a matter of election or divine appointment and inheritance, and whether it is a religious matter or one of the general public interests, when he said: “Some wrongly assume the imamate to be one of the pillars of the faith. It is one of the general (public) interests. The people are delegated to take care of it. If it were one of the pillars of the faith, it would be something like prayer, and Muhammad (pbuh) would have appointed a representative, exactly as he appointed Abu Bakr to represent him at prayer. (Had he done so), it would have become generally known, as was the case with prayer. That the men around Muhammad (pbuh) considered the caliphate as something analogous to prayer and on the strength of that attitude argued in favor of Abu Bakr’s caliphate, is merely another proof of the fact that no appointment of an heir had taken place. It also shows that the question of the imamate and succession to it was not as important then as it is today…” Thus, to Ibn Khaldun, the caliphate or imamate – which he uses interchangeably and which to him mean the same thing – denotes a substitute for the Prophet (pbuh) inasmuch as it serves, like him, to preserve the religion and to exercise political leadership of the world.
‘Ali never raised the issue of the Prophet’s will on succession because there was none. His personal feelings and perceptions towards the whole thing and its then unfolding processes were in fact a part and reflection of those novel developments, and were identical to the essence of the feelings and perceptions of many others whose preferences likewise did not materialize. The interests of the community had to be ahead of personal interests; and the interests of the community must be tailored according to the mandate of the Islamic tawhidic (the Oneness of Allah) worldview and message. What happened in relation not only to the election of Abu Bakr, but also the other three rightly guided caliphs, including ‘Ali as the forth one, was the Islamic style of egalitarianism, meritocracy, consultative consensus and social equality at its best. Corroborating further the above assertions, once ‘Ali was asked if he had the knowledge of any divine inspiration besides what was in God’s Holy Book. He replied: “No, by Him Who splits the grain of corn and creates the soul, I do not think we have such knowledge, but we have the ability of understanding which Allah may endow a person with, so that he may understand the Qur’an.” Moreover, when ‘Ali eventually decided to swear an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr he is reported to have said to him “We know well your superiority and what Allah has given you, and we are not jealous of the good what Allah has bestowed upon you, but you did not consult us in the question of the rule and we thought that we have got a right in it because of our near relationship to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh).” The story on the meeting between ‘Ali and Abu Bakr, as al-Bukhari narrated, continues: “…Thereupon Abu Bakr’s eyes flowed with tears. And when Abu Bakr spoke, he said: ‘By Him in Whose Hand my soul is to keep good relations with the relatives of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) is dearer to me than to keep good relations with my own relatives. But as for the trouble which arose between me and you about his property, I will do my best to spend it according to what is good, and will not leave any rule or regulation which I saw Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) following, in disposing of it, but I will follow.’ On that ‘Ali said to Abu Bakr: ‘I promise to give you the oath of allegiance in this after noon.’ So when Abu Bakr had offered the Zuhr (noon) prayer, he ascended the pulpit and uttered the tashahhud (bearing witness to God’s Oneness and Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood) and then mentioned the story of ‘Ali and his failure to give the oath of allegiance, and excused him, accepting what excuses he had offered; Then ‘Ali (got up) and praying (to Allah) for forgiveness, he uttered tashahhud, praised Abu Bakr’s right, and said, that he had not done what he had done because of jealousy of Abu Bakr or as a protest of that Allah had favored him with. ‘Ali added: ‘But we used to consider that we too had some right in this affair (of rulership) and that he (i.e., Abu Bakr) did not consult us in this matter, and therefore caused us to feel sorry.’ On that all the Muslims became happy and said: ‘You have done the right thing.’ The Muslims then became friendly with ‘Ali as he returned to what the people had done (i.e., giving the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr).”
When Abu Bakr died, ‘Ali delivered an oration which was a faithful summing up of the character and personality of Abu Bakr. He highly praised him therein. During the caliphate of ‘Umar, ‘Ali not only took the oath of allegiance to ‘Umar, but also married his daughter Umm Kulthum to him. ‘Ali held the office of the Chief Justice. He acted as the principal Counselor of ‘Umar. He acted as the Chief Secretary a well. The services of ‘Ali were highly appreciated by ‘Umar. Once on a pulpit in a mosque in Kufah when he himself became the caliph, ‘Ali openly declared that after the Prophet (pbuh) the best persons among Muslims were Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. Next, when the mantle of the caliphate passed to ‘Uthman, ‘Ali continued to serve the government as the Chief Justice. However, most accounts are silent about the other activities of ‘Ali for the duration of ‘Uthman’s caliphate. Finally, following the tragic murder of ‘Uthman, many people desperately turned to ‘Ali with the prospect of him leading the community next. At first, ‘Ali was reluctant to accept the offer running away both from it and those who were offering it to him. However, after the people’s perseverance, on account of ‘Ali having been the most outstanding candidate left, ‘Ali reluctantly agreed. He did so fully aware of how bad and precarious the situation had become, and how direly his contributions and services were needed for safeguarding the future of Islam and the Muslim community.