The Story of Khum and the Analysis of the Sixty-Seventh Verse of Al Ma’idah

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by

Shaykh Uthman Khan


Prophet Muhammad laid the foundation of a great religion known as the seal of the Abrahamic religions, and himself being the seal of the prophets. The religion of Islam was that religion that replaced the great religions of Judaism and Christianity. The followers of the two preceding religions were known as the ahl al-Kitāb or the people of the book. The message within the scriptures echoed the same concepts of strict monotheism according to the Prophet and the Qur’ān, and Muslims believe that over time the religions of the ahl al-Kitāb became distorted with tahrif or changes. After the advent of Islam and the demise of the Prophet the Muslim’s search for the caliphate gave rise to many crisis and eventually created the two major groups within the religion of Islam, the Sunni and the Shiite. Designating the leader of the Muslims was the debated issue and history speaks in one direction and the individual opinions speak in another direction.

The sixty-seventh verse of the fifth chapter of the Qur’ān is one whose cause of revelation is of importance in this subject matter. There has been a difference of opinion within the different sources regarding its cause of revelation while the famous story of the ghadīr khum is the point of discussion. It is the story wherein the Shia claim that ‘Ali’s designation as the leader of the Muslims was clearly established by the prophet’s saying man kuntu mawlāhu fa ‘Ali mawlāhu (whoever’s master I am, so ‘Ali is a master to them).  The story of ghadīr is in Sunni sources as well however the Sunni scholars have interpreted it as mentioning the greatness of ‘Ali and not necessarily his designation as the leader of the Muslims. It is similar to the mention of the ten companions promised paradise[1] and other prophetic narrations mentioning the greatness of various companions[2]. The Sunni scholars equally plausibly interpret this not to mean a designation of succession but to try and acknowledge ‘Ali’s service to the Muslim umma and changing the image of the people towards ‘Ali after the expedition to Yemen[3].

The key word within the narrations is mawlā, which means master, and also means client (slave)[4]. Many important jurists of Islam were the latter mawālī and black men like Bilāl the Abyssinian and the ‘Atā b. abī Rabāh the African. Being a mawlā did not necessarily mean a low status. The Mamlūk was the slave dynasty. In the story of khum the word mawlā means master or leader. It is important to note that the prophet was brought up by abu Tālib (‘Ali’s father) upon the death of both his parents and grandfather. Thus it is only true that ‘Ali grew up with the Prophet who was his cousin and very close to him. He was the first male to accept Islām. Muslims have come to the conclusion that the first Muslim was his wife khadījah and the first male Muslim was Ali (but he and his brother Ja’far were still young). However the first adult male was Abū Bakr.

There are a few preliminary theological points to note prior to delving into the subject matter. Firstly the Shiite theology was built in order to justify their existence. The main point of distinction is the doctrine of the Imāmate that distinguishes the Shias and the Sunnis. Otherwise the two shahādah are the same. The problem is when adding ‘Ali into the picture. Secondly it can get more complicated because many of the Shiite believe that Imāms are more honored than the ulū al-‘azm (arch prophets, or those have received a scripture) except Muhammad[5]. Such statements trouble the Sunnis because the Imāms in Sunni Islam are ranked below the prophets. Thus the Imāms are somewhat semi-divine human beings in Shī‘ī theology.  The third point is that ‘Ali ruled as a leader of the Muslims and not as an Imām of his party. Fourthly regarding the companions of the Prophet, Sunni theology teaches that all companions are adūl or just, and we should not smear our tongues by criticizing them. The Shī’ī however have named certain prominent companions of Muhammad as hypocrites and have criticized them.

The fifth point is regarding the Imams, Many contemporary Shiites says the Imāms are righteous scholars or ‘ulamā abrār. The Sunni also say that the Imāms were pious individuals and scholars. Abū Hanīfah of kūfa was a student of Ja ‘far al-Sādiq (the sixth Imām), and Mālik was a friend of Ja ‘far. However the Sunnis say that they shouldn’t be deified. The Imām is one who either ideally is chosen through shūrah or by any means acquires power. So long as he can keep the borders of the Muslim’s state safe, and rules somehow justly he is legitimate.

In this paper I wish to examine this verse from Sunni and Shiite sources and analyze the different perspectives. Writing on this topic looking at all the tafsīr works would become the core of a very large book and thus I wish to view the more predominant original sources dating up to 1000 AH. The Shiites believe that the cause of revelation of this verse suggests the designation of ‘Ali as the leader of the Muslims while the Sunni scholars did not hold this view. Within Sunni sources I have used al-Tabarī (310/923), al-Qurtubī (671/1273), al-Rāzī (605/1209), al-Naysābūrī (728/1327), and al-Wāhidī (468/1075). As for the Shiite sources I used al-Tūsī (459/1067), his student al-Tabarsī (548/1153), and finally al-Qummī (919/1513).

I wish to acknowledge the work done by Dr Mahmoud Ayoub and his famous book “the Qur’ān and its interpreters” in which he discusses the exegesis of the Qur’ān looking at many different sources and puts everything in one place making it easy for the reader to find what he/she is looking for. Similarly, his paper, ‘The Speaking Qur’an and the Silent Qur’an: A Study of the Principles and Development of Imāmī Shī’ī tafsīr’ wherein Dr Ayoub specifically dedicates one chapter discussing the Shī’ī tafsīr of verse sixty-seven of al-mā’idah. I had refrained from reading his chapter not to be influenced in my thinking and keep my thoughts objective until I had finished gathering my thoughts and formulating my paper.

Sunni Sources

I wish to start by using al-Tabarī[6] due to his seniority within the scholars of tafsīr. Regarding this verse al-Tabarī states that this verse is connected with the previous verses and deals specifically with the Jews and the Christians. Verses sixty-four until sixty-six specifies the Jews and the Christians and upon this idea Tabarī also states that verse sixty-seven is a continuation of the subjects of discussion i.e. the Jews and the Christians. He mentions that the Surah had talked about their religions, the alterations within their religions, their changing of their books, and replacing the verses with others, thus the connection of this verse with the Jews and the Christians is quite apparent. The second point is that in the verse the Prophet is told being told that Allah will save him from the people and this is in reference to the fact that the followers of the Prophet were very few compared to the followers of the other faiths, however this shouldn’t cause the prophet to fear the people rather he should fear Allah and no one else. Finally al-Tabarī explains that Allah is telling him that if he falls short in conveying the message that was revealed to him, even if it is a small portion, it is as if he didn’t convey the message at all.  Following his usual style of quoting narrations and hadīth al-Tabarī quotes sayings from the companions of the Prophet or their companions mentioning that the Prophet used to have his followers alongside him to guard him from anyone willing to harm him and upon the revelation of this verse, he informed them that they can stop guarding him because god had promised to protect him. Thereafter al-Tabarī mentions the different narrations pertaining to the cause of revelation (asbāb al-nuzūl) of this verse. He says that certain scholars have said this verse was revealed about a Bedouin who intended to kill the Prophet while he was resting under a tree but Allah protected him. Al-Tabarī mentions a second opinion stating that this verse was revealed regarding the Quraysh whom Muhammad was fearful of. This fear was justified because they had wanted to eliminate him from the world for his claim of prophethood. Finally al-Tabarī concludes this section mentioning various narrations from ‘Ā’isha stating that the Prophet never hid any knowledge and anyone claiming that he did have lied.

Al-Qurtubī[7] following his style of tafsīr focused on deriving religious rulings (mas’ala) from this verse. He starts of by mentioning that this verse according to him has two parts. The first is regarding the initial part of the verse and the second regarding the later part of the verse. He mentions how the Prophet used was afraid of the polytheist in the beginning of Islam and therefore he would refrain from spreading the word of Islam openly rather he would do it in a hidden manner. He mentions that ‘Umar was the first person to openly practice religion claiming that god is not to be worshipped in a hidden manner. Al-Qurtubī claims that this verse is refuting the ones who have claimed that Muhammad had hidden certain aspects of religions out of threat of death or injury (taqiyyah[8]). He says that this verse clarifies that the Prophet didn’t hide anything because if he did there would be no point to for the latter part of the verse, “and if you didn’t then you didn’t convey the message”. Regarding the asbāb al-nuzūl he mentions that certain opinions hint that this verse was referring to the situation of Zaynab bint al-Jahsh and her marriage with the Prophet. He clarifies that the Prophet did not hide any verses and concludes by cursing ‘the rejecters’ (rawāfidh) for saying that the Prophet hid some knowledge that the people were in need of. From this point on al-Qurtubī brings the same narrations mentioned by al-Tabarī however he does mention one detail regarding the body guards that they were assigned by his uncle Abū Tālib. Thereafter he brings the issue of this verse being a mekkan or medinan verse and concludes by the mentioning of the variant recitations in this verse.

Al Rāzī[9] has taken his typical analytical approach to the Qur’ān and derives a few mas’ala from within this verse. The first being the variant recitations within and their meanings in the context of the verse. Secondly he mentions the benefit and reasons why God would say, “and if you didn’t then you didn’t convey the message”. The third is the causes of the revelation of this verse. Finally the fourth point being how one can one make sense of the fact that Allah mentioned his protection for the Prophet yet the Prophet lost his teeth in the battle of Uhud. I wish to look at the third point, which is the cause of revelation of this verse. He mentions ten different causes of revelation and concludes with his preference. The tenth is my the focal point where he says, “this verse was revealed in mentioning the greatness of ‘Ali b Abī Tālib. And when this verse was revealed He grabbed his arm and said, “whoever’s master I am, so ‘Ali is a master to them. O Allah befriend who befriends ‘Ali and ‘show enmity to those who show enmity to ‘Ali”. Thereafter Umar met him and said, “glad tidings to you O son of Tālib. You have become my leader and the leader of all the believers. Al Rāzī completes the third point by mentioning his preferred perspective. He insists that even if the narrations regarding a specific cause of revelation are many, one must first look at the verses coming before and after the verse being dealt with. In this case many of the previous verses are in reference to the Jews and the Christians, and many of the following verses reference them as well. Thus in his opinion it is incorrect to interpret this verse in a meaning which is strange (ajnabī) to it; strange while looking at the verse preceding and following it.

I briefly glanced at gharā’ib al-Qur’ān by Nidhhām al- Dīn al Naysābūrī[10] wherein he did tafsir of the group ten verses from fifty-nine to sixty nine. I was most interested in the asbāb al-nuzūl section and thus focused my attention there. He mentions the different causes of revelation however of the many different opinions he starts off with the story of khum and mentions a similar narration to the one by al Rāzī. I also glanced into al-Wāhidī’s asbāb al-nuzūl[11] and he mentioned the story of khum very briefly with no details. He only says, “This verse was revealed on the day of ‘Ghadir Khumm’ about ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, May Allah be well pleased with him”. Thereafter he moves on to the next incident.

Shiite Sources

Al-Tūsī was the teacher of al-Tabarsī and in his tafsīr al-tibyān[12] he starts of by mentioning the variant recitations and moves on to talk about the asbāb al-nuzūl. He says that there are four possibilities. The first is that a Bedouin tied to kill the Prophet with his sword and his sword fell out of his hand. Thereafter he went to a tree and continued to hit his head against that tree until his brain scattered. The second is that the prophet was afraid of the Quraysh and thus this verse was revealed. Another version al-Tūsī adds is that the prophet used to have bodyguards with him because he was afraid of the Quraysh and upon the revelation of this verse he asked them not to guard him any longer because Allah had promised to protect him. The third explanation is that of Aisha wherein she says that this verse was revealed to remove any doubts that prophet Muhammad hid some knowledge because of fear (taqiyyah). The fourth narrative is that which is of relevance and it is interesting that al-Tūsī brought this narration as the last possibility. Al-Tūsī  says Abū Ja‘far and Abū ‘Abd Allāh say that when Allah ordered the Prophet to make ‘Ali the leader he felt that this will be hard upon his companions, and thus this verse was revealed to help the prophet be strong to stand up to what he was ordered to do. Thereafter he completes explaining the verse the way the other Sunni or Shiite scholars have done so.

Al-Tabarsī[13] starts off by mentioning the variant recitations within the verse just like his master. He focuses on the word risālātih recited as risālatah by the Imāms Nāfi‘, Ibn Āmir and Abū Bakr the student of ‘Asim. Thereafter explaining the reasons for the recitation ‘risālātih’, he states that the ones who recite in plural form justify their recitation by the fact that the prophets were sent with many missions (risālātih) such as monotheism (al-tawhīd), and religious doctrine (sharī ‘ah). Thus when the missions are many then the word would be better recited in plural form. He then proceeds to analyze the word risālatah grammatically. Thereafter he mentions the cause of revelation starting with the opinion of those who say that the Prophet was afraid of the Quraysh and thus this verse was revealed to remove that fear. The second opinion he gives is that this verse was revealed to remove any doubts the Prophet hid certain revelations out of fear. Al-Tabarsī mentions a third possible cause of revelation which he ascribes to ‘Ayāshī who mentions with a chain of narration to ibn ‘Abbās and Jābir b. ‘Abd Allah who said, “Allah order Muhammad May Peace and blessing be upon Him to appoint ‘Ali for the people and tell them about his succession, however the Prophet May Peace and blessing be upon Him feared that they will say that he preferred his cousin and they will blame him. Thus Allah revealed this verse and established his leadership on the pond of khum.” Al-Tabarsī mentions yet another narration of whom ibn ‘Abbās is responsible to have said that this verse was revealed regarding ‘Ali, so the Prophet took his hand and said, “whoever’s master I am, so ‘Ali is a master to them. O Allah befriend who befriends ‘Ali and show enmity to those who show enmity to ‘Ali”. Another narration he mentions which is similar to the one from ‘Ayāshī  is from Abū Ja‘far and Abū ‘Abd al-Salām that Allāh revealed to the Prophet to appoint ‘Ali as the leader and he feared that this will be hard upon his companions, so Allāh revealed this verse giving him strength to stand up to the order of Allāh. Thereafter he mentions that the meaning of the verse is that if you hide a verse from those revealed to you then you haven’t conveyed your message. Al-Tabarsī completes this section by mentioning the tafsīr of the final part of this verse “and Allāh will save you from the people”.

Al-Qummī[14] takes a different approach than that of al-Tūsī and al-Tabarsī by starting off the discussion with the cause of revelation. He mentions that this verse was revealed upon the prophets returning from his final pilgrimage (haj), and thereafter mentions a long narration with the mention of the Prophet asking his companions several questions and replying with, “O Allah, witness this” . In the same narration there is the mention that the Prophet turned to his right he stayed quiet for a little while and then said,  “listen I have left among you two things that if you hold them you will not go astray, the book of Allāh and my family, because my lord, who is the gentle and the all aware informed me that they will not not be separated until they will both be brought to the spring (hawdh)”. Al-Qummī moves on to say that the verses of the 110 chapter of the Qur’ān (al-nas}r) were revealed on the last day of the tashrīq. Upon this he says Prophet Muhammad gathered the people in masjid Khīf and gave a sermon wherein he said, “ O people I leave behind me two weighty things.” Upon asking the companions were told that the two weighty things were the book of Allah and his family, the ahl al bayt. He mentions that Prophet Muhammad then described, as above, that the two will not be separated like the two fingers, until they both reach the hawdh. Upon this one group of companions gathered and realized that the Prophet wished to pass the leadership of the muslims to his household. Thus a group of four companions went out to mecca and entered the ka‘bah and made an agreement amongst themselves that if Muhammad dies or is killed they will not give the leadership to the ahl al bayt ever. Upon this the verse was revealed, “ Or have they devised an affair? But indeed, We are devising. Or do they think that We hear not their secrets and their private conversations? Yes, and Our messengers are with them recording.”[15] Thereafter, the Prophet went the prophet went to the pond of khum where the verse from al-mā’idah (sixty seven) was revealed to him.  Upon this revelation he gave a sermon there and asked the people present, “do you know who is your master (walī)?” and they all replied Allāh and his prophet. In the same narration al-Qummī mentions that the Prophet took the hand of ‘amīr al-mu’minīn’ (referring to ‘Ali) and raised it up so high that the whiteness of his armpits were visible and said, “ Listen whoever’s master I am, so ‘Ali is a master to them.”

The narration mentions that ‘Umar stood up and asked the prophet if this decision was from Allāh and his prophet. At this the Prophet said yes and told him that ‘Ali was leader of the believers and on the day of judgment Allah will have him sit on the bridge (al-sirāt) and will enter his friends into paradise and his haters into hell. The story continues to talk about fourteen individuals who discredited what Prophet Muhammad had said and decided to kill the prophet. The sat near the ‘aqabah with seven on the right and seven on the left with the intention to attack the Prophet. As the Prophet came closer to that location angel Jibrīl informed him of their plot and also told him of their names. The Prophet eventually called out their names and upon hearing their names they left their posts, however kept their animals there and ran within the midst of the people. The prophet knew who they were by the information of the angel and also by their rides that they left behind. The story goes on to talk about the Prophet who said, “what is the situation of those people who became allies that if Muhammad dies of is killed they will never give the leadership to the ahl al bayt” and those individuals came to Prophet and swore that they never said anything like that nor never intended that and haven’t hid anything from the prophet. Upon this al-Qummī stats that god revealed the verse, “They swear by Allah that they did not say anything while they had said the word of disbelief and disbelieved after their Islam and planned that which they were not to attain. And they were not resentful except that Allah and His Messenger had enriched them of His bounty. So if they repent, it is better for them; but if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And there will not be for them on earth any protector or helper.”[16]

Crystallization of Shiism[17]

According to the Shiites Ghadīr khum is where the prophet gave an actual text (nass), declaration, or designation nominating ‘Ali as his successor. This is the famous declaration, “anyone whose master I am Ali is also his master”. That meant that ‘Ali was the designated successor of the Prophet. The Shiites here add other interesting story indicating that the final designation came from God. When the prophet went on his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem in the mīrāj, in paradise he saw a similitude, a phantom of ‘Ali, and he was told that ‘Ali was his successor[18]. These are the events already during the life of the Prophet. Later after the prophets death one of the important defining moments in the development of Shiism was the Thaqīfa event. This is a roofed area of banū sā ‘idāh in madina where the helpers (ansār) met to choose a successor to the prophet or an amīr (chief) for them. This was when ‘Abū Bakr received the oath of allegiance first from ‘Umar, then from ‘Abū ‘Ubaydah b al-Jarrāh, and then the ansār. This is an important event because according to the Shiite narrative ‘Ali had no doubt he was to be the successor but this was passed over. ‘Ali was passed over again when ‘Abū Bakr nominated ‘Umar and was passed over when ‘Uthmān was given the oath of allegiance and chosen by ‘Abd al-Rahmān b al ‘Awf. With the death of ‘Uthmān there was actually no other person from one of the two important houses, (house of Hāshim and ‘Umayyah) that could be the leader except ‘Ali. ‘Ali was given the oath of allegiance (bay ‘ah) in the mosque in Medina. There are questions of who was there and who wasn’t. Eventually Ali finally did become the khalīfa, but it wasn’t through designation rather through acclimation. ‘Ali was given bay ‘ah in Medina by majority of the immigrants and the helpers. He ruled for less than 4 years and eventually during this brief rule that the term Shī ‘at-’Ali was coined possibly by Mu ‘āwiyah.

According to the Shī’ī narrative it seems the problem for ‘Ali started possibly with ‘Ā’ishah the prophets wife being unhappy with the election of ‘Ali and her participation in the battle of the camel. The battle of the camel did a great deal to solidify the division between the ummah, between the Shiite and what later came to be known as the Sunna. Ali won the battle of the camel and returned ‘Ā’ishah to Medinah with honor and good protection. The next major event was the war of Siffīn, which dragged on for weeks and claimed many lives and actually threatened the Islamic state with destruction. Finally there was an arbitration (tahkīm) which was inconclusive but ‘Ali in fact lost his ‘caliphal’ authority by accepting arbitration. At any rate the two battles (camel and siffīn) were very important. The next important event is the precedent set by ‘Ali’s son al-Hasan who for the Shiite is the second Imām. He was a practical man and he saw the reality of his inability to hold his party together and the unnecessary bloodshed, which may go on, and thus he chose to leave politics completely and sit in Medina until he died.

While Hassan lived in Medina, Mu ‘āwiyah ruled as the khalifa, and he coined the two terms, shīat-’Ali and ahl al-sunnah wa al-Jamā ‘ah. Shī ‘ah is a word which occurs in the Qur’ān that means a party or group and what Mu ‘āwiyah wanted to do according to the implication of the terms was to unite the Muslims around the way (sunnah) of the prophet. For a while they were known as the shī ‘at-’Ali and the ‘Uthmāniyyah (followers of ‘Uthmān) but after ‘Ali’s death they became the shī ‘a and the ahl al-sunnah wa al-Jamā ‘ah. The next crucial event in the way of the crystallization of Shīism was the tragedy of Karbalā and the tragic death of Hussayn the second son of ‘Ali, his small group of followers, his own children, and other relatives in that massacre on the tenth of Muharram (first month of the lunar calendar) in the 61/ 680 CE. Hussayn had some hope of uniting the people of kūfa and in some way restoring the rule, if not of the prophet in Medina but very soon it became clear that this was not going to happen. The question is why didn’t Hussayn withdraw and go somewhere while things got better. Shiites say that Hussayn wanted to establish a criterion by which Islam as a faith primarily and as a political power secondarily had to rest on a sacrifice or an act that would forever present the dividing line between monarchical rule and a true Islamic caliphate. That did happen and probably the battle of Karbala became an example of self-sacrifice and courage in the Muslim community that made the relationship based on love of the Prophet’s family between Sunni and Shiites something common that Hussayn became a martyr not of the Shiites but of Islam in general. The Shiite philosophy and commemoration of the event of Karbala, even though it is observed by the minority (Shiites), it became an event with profound historical significance. Those who were filled with remorse and wanted to avenge the blood of the grandson of the prophet helped crystalize Shiism. (Ayoub, 2014)

Analysis of Tafsirs

Reading the different tafāsīr showed me that initially the concept of leadership was more a political issue than a theological issue in the earlier writings however the later writing started to show a type of animosity towards the other side. This was especially clear in al-Tabarī versus al-Qurtubī’s work. al-Qurtubī did seem to have more rigidity in his approach towards anyone who didn’t uphold the Sunni perspective. This was very clear in his inflexible attitude towards the rawāfidhh. Secondly al-Tabarī didn’t mention the story of khum which perhaps signifies that the story of khum’s connection with this verse was added later on and al-Tabarī didn’t feel it had anything to do with this verse. This is interesting because there were many sunni scholars who had blamed al-Tabarī for being a Shiite or sympathetic towards the Shiite. I looked at the verse three of the fifth chapter of the Qur’ān wherein Allah mentioned the completion of his religion[19] (because this verse was revealed during the same journey) and even there was no story of Khum mentioned there.

Another point is that both Al-Tūsī and al-Tabarsī mentioned the story of khum as the cause of revelation however only as the last opinion. Nevertheless both their styles matched one another. Keeping the view of the scholars and their opinions in front it is very unusual that the earlier scholars didn’t pay too much attention to the story of khum as related to verse sixty-seven as was done by the later scholars. By not paying too much attention perhaps hinted towards its being a political issue not having any theological implications. The political nature of the issue prior to its becoming a theological battle seems to be the root cause, and after it became a theological dilemma the Sunni scholars seemed to have either hid the narration and not mention it at all while the Shiite relied on this narration heavily to prove the designation of ‘Ali as the successor. However such an issue regarding succession only seems to have become theological when then masses became rigid in their acceptance of historical facts, i.e. the crisis of succession during the time of the Abu Bakr and after that[20]. I find that if succession weren’t an issue or overlooked the Sunni extremists would still accept the Shiites and vice versa.

Finally looking at al-Qummī I found that his narrative did include a lot of other verses of the Qur’an to support his perspective which may or may not be true. The story of the ones who wanted to kill the Prophet is found within Sunni sources however the reference is that there were certain hypocrites who intended to kill the prophet. I found the same reference to the hypocrites within the Shiite sources however connecting this story with certain individuals who went to the ka‘bā and made a plan over there was only found in al-Qummī (of the tafāsīr I viewed). It is known that many Shiites did believe that Abū Bakr and ‘Umar were hypocrites and thus from their perspective it can be seen that they were part of the ones who wanted to kill the Prophet, however there was no mention of who those persons actually were, even in al-Qummī’s narrative talking about verse sixty-seven. I glanced at verse seventy-four of chapter nine in the Qur’ān, a verse which al-Qummī had referenced in his narrative and he quotes his chain of narration to Ja’far b Muh’ammad (the sixth Imām of the twelvers) to have said that there were seven hypocrites and they were,  “fulān and fulān  (so and so), and ‘Abd al-Rahmān b. al-‘Awf, Sa ‘d b. abī Waqqās, Abū ‘Ubaydah, Sālim Mawlā Abū Hudhayfah, and Mughīrah b. Shu‘bah. From fulān and fulān the reference was Abū Bakr and ‘Umar as I found in al-kāshānī’s (1090/1680) famous work, al-sāfī[21]. After looking in Tabatabā’ī (1401/1980) he hinted towards the story but didn’t mention any names.[22]


Tafāsīr and exegesis is a continuous process and continues to change over time. There were clear differences in mentality from the earlier mufassirīn and the later. It is only a matter of time that when we will stumble upon a more objective tafsīr which echoes all narrations and perspective without any bias or prejudice. The postcolonial world did give birth to a lot of extremists (ghulāt) who didn’t appreciate history rather didn’t consider it of any importance in the formation of religion. However the truth is that if one overlooks historical facts and evidences one will become confused and eventually indoctrinate oneself based on a rigid mentality. The same is true for the Shia and the Sunni.

The theological points within Sunni and Shia Islam as well as the differences within them are a very vast topic and going into details would form the core of a very detailed book. There may be a type of subjectivity in the books I made reference to and read prior to compiling and critiquing the tafāsīr however I tried my best to ensure complete neutrality in this matter. The purpose of this work is to present both sides of the spectrum to ensure fairness and I hope that this contribution will shed some light on the topic of the Tafsīr analysis and assists readers in being rational and tolerant within Sunni and Shia relations.


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Imamah (Shia Twelver doctrine). Wikipedia. Last modified on 1 May 2014. Available at: (Accessed Feb 27 2014).

Kashānī, Muhsin Fayd. Al-Sāfī fī kalām Allah al-Wāfī. Available at: (Accessed Mar 20 2014).

Tabatabā’ī, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn. Al-Mīzān fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān. Available at: (Accessed March 20 2014).

Taqiyyah. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available at. (Accessed Feb 2 2014).

Wehr, Hans. Maulan pl. mawālin. A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. (1976).

[1] ‘Ali b Ali b Muhammad b Abū al-‘iz al-dimashqī, Sharah al’Aqīdah al-Tahāwiyyah, Mu’assasah al-Risālah, (1997), available at:, (Accessed March 3 2014).

[2] Ibid, Many examples are given in the text by al-Dimashqī.

[3] Expedition of ‘Ali b abu Tālib, Wikipedia, last modified on 14 December 2013, Available at:, (Accessed March 5 2014).

[4] Maulan pl. mawālin, Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, (1976) Pg 1101.

[5] “The Imams are superior to the prophets (except Muhammad) and the entire creation. The Covenant of the Imams was taken from them (the prophets), the angels and the entire creation. The (major prophets called) ulul-‘Azm (Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa and ‘Isa ) attained the status of ulul-‘Azm on account of loving the Imams.”

Imamah (Shia Twelver doctrine), Wikipedia, last modified on 1 May 2014, Available at:, (Accessed Feb 27 2014).

[6] Abū Ja ‘far Muhammad b Jarīr al-Tabarī, Jāmi‘ al-bayān ‘an Ta’wīl Āy al-Qur’ān, Vol 4,  Dar Al Salam, Cairo, (2007), Pg 2954-2957.

[7] Abū ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b Ahmad al-Ansārī al-Qurtubī, Al-Jāmi‘ li Ahkām al Qur’ān, Vol 3 Maktaba Al ‘Asriyyah, Beirūt,  (2005), Pg 441-442.

[8] Taqiyyah, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Available at:, (Accessed Feb 2 2014).

[9] Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzi, Al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr wa Mafātīh al Ghayb, Dār al Fikr, Lebanon, (1981), Pg 51-53.

[10] Nidhhām al-Dīn al-Hasan b Muhammad b al-Husayn al-Qummī al-Naysābūrī, Tafsīr Gharā’ib al Qur’ān  wa Raghā’ib al-Furqān, Vol 2, Dār al-kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, (1996),  Pg 616, 617.

[11] Alī b Ahmad al-Wāhidī, Asbāb al-Nuzūl, Translated by Mokrane Guezzou, Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan, (2008), Pg 70-71.

[12] Abū Ja’far Muhammad b Hassan al-Tūsī, Al-Tibyān fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān, available at:, (Accessed Mar 3 2014).

[13] Abū ‘Ali Fadhhl b Hasan al-Tabarsī, Majma‘ al-bayān li ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān, Available at:, (Accessed Jan 20 2014).

[14] Abū al-Hasan ‘Ali b Ibrāhīm al-Qummī, Tafsīr Al-Qummī, Available at:, (Accessed Jan 20 2014).

[15] Qur’ān, 43:79-80

[16] Qur’ān, 9:74

[17] Mahmoud Ayoub, The Ithnā ‘Ashariyyah or Twelver Shī ‘ah, Class Presentation, Hartford Seminary, Hartford, CT, April 3 2014.

[18] Thomas Patrick Hughes, A dictionary of Islam; being a cyclopaedia of the doctrines, rites, ceremonies, and customs, together with the technical and theological terms, of the Muhammadan religion, W. H. Allen, (1885), Pg 203.

[19] Qur’ān 5:3

[20] Mahmoud Ayoub, The Crisis of Muslim History: Religion and Politics in Early Islam, Oneworld, 2003.

[21] Muhsin Faydh Kashānī, Al-Sāfī fī kalām Allah al-Wāfī, Available at:, (Accessed Mar 20 2014).

[22] Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabā’ī, Al-Mīzān fī Tafsīr al-Qur’ān, Available at:, (Accessed March 20 2014).

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