The Hadith of Ghadir Khumm

Niall Christie

Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Tabrisi, from Al-Ihtijaj (The Argumentation)

One of the Shi‘ite claims for the rightful leadership of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib is a hadith traditionally dated from shortly before the Prophet’s death in 632, which is said to record the last sermon given by the Prophet, given at Ghadir Khumm.[1] Shi‘ite interpreters claim that it indicates that Muhammad appointed ‘Ali to be his successor as the leader of the Muslim community, but Sunni interpreters dispute this. Much of the debate centres around the correct understanding of the Arabic words “mawla” and “wali,” which have several meanings including both “master” and “friend.” Needless to say, the text can be understood very differently depending on which meaning one accepts.
There are several versions of this sermon. The following extracts are drawn from al-Ihtijaj, a defense of Shi‘ism by an early 12th-century Shi‘ite scholar, Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Tabrisi. The translation has been edited for clarity.

The Hadith of Ghadir Khumm

Praise belongs to Allah Who is exalted above all the creation in His Oneness, and is near to His creation in His loneliness. Sublime is His authority, and great are the pillars of His names. His knowledge encompasses everything while He is lofty in status. He subdues all the creation through His power and evidence. He has always been praiseworthy and shall always be praised. […] I testify that He is Allah, Whose holiness overspreads all ages, Whose light overwhelms perpetuity, Who enforces His command without consulting an advisor. There is no partner with Him in His planning, nor is there any discrepancy in His management. He shaped whatever He originated without a pre-existing model, and created whatever He created without getting assistance from anyone, burdening Himself, or having any need to find out a solution. He originated it in His will, thus it came into being, and He formed it in His intention, thus it became distinct. So, He is Allah, the One that there is no god but He, Who is proficient in skill, and beautiful in action. He is the just Who never oppresses, and the most generous to Whom all affairs are referred. […] Nevertheless, Allah is not satisfied with me until I convey what He has sent down to me. Then, the Prophet recited again the following verse: “O Messenger! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord—with regard to ‘Ali[2]—and if you do not, you will not have conveyed His message at all, and Allah shall protect you from (evil) people.”

O people! Know that Allah has assigned ‘Ali as a guardian and a leader for you, whose obedience is obligatory for the immigrants, the helpers,[3] and those who follow them in goodness, and for everyone, whether nomad or city resident, Arab or non-Arab, free or slave, young or old, white or black, and for every monotheist. Ali’s decree is to be carried out, his saying is sanctioned as law, and his command is effective. Cursed is whoever opposes him, blessed with mercy is whoever follows him, faithful is whoever acknowledges his (virtues and rights). Indeed, Allah has covered him and those who listen to him and obey him with mercy and forgiveness. O people! This is the last stand I make in this gathering; Thus, listen, obey, and submit to the command of your Lord, for Allah, the mighty and the majestic, is your mawla, then Muhammad, who is now addressing you, is your mawla. Then, after me, ‘Ali is your wali and your imam[4] by the command of Allah, your Lord. Then, leadership shall be in my , within his offspring, until the Day you meet Allah and His Messenger. Nothing is lawful except what Allah declared so (in His book), and nothing is unlawful except Allah declared so in His book, for Allah, the mighty and the majestic, has informed me of the permissible and the forbidden things, and I have made known to ‘Ali what my Lord has taught me of His Book, the permissible, and the forbidden things. O people! There is no knowledge except that Allah has kept its account in the heart of me, and I have recorded the details of all the knowledge that I was taught, in (the heart of) the leader of the pious, (‘Ali). Certainly, there is no knowledge except that I have taught it to Ali, and he is the evident imam. O people! Do not stray from him, nor should you flee from him, nor should you refuse his guardianship and his authority, for he is the one who guides to truth and acts upon it, and crushes falsehood and it, accepting no blame, in the path of Allah, from any blamer. He is the first to believe in Allah and in His Messenger; and he is the one who offered his life as a sacrifice for the Messenger of Allah.[5] He was with the Messenger of Allah when no one among men worshipped Allah in the company of His Messenger other than him. O people! Prefer him over all others, for Allah has indeed preferred him, and turn to him, for Allah has indeed appointed him as your guide. O people! He is an imam authorized by Allah, and Allah shall never turn to anyone in mercy who denies his authority, nor shall He ever forgive him; this is a decisive decree by Allah that He shall do so to anyone who opposes His command about him, and shall torment him with the most painful torment, which lasts forever and ever. Hence, beware lest you oppose him, and thus, arrive at a fire whose fuel is people and stones, prepared for the disbelievers. […] O people! Reflect on the Qur’an and comprehend its verses. Look into its clear verses and do not follow its ambiguous parts, for by Allah, none shall be able to explain to you its warnings and its mysteries, nor shall anyone clarify its interpretation, other than the one that I have grasped his hand, brought up beside myself, the one about whom I inform you that whomever I am his mawla, this ‘Ali is his mawla; and he is ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, my brother, the executor of my will, whose appointment as your guardian and leader has been sent down to me from Allah, the mighty and the majestic. O people! Verily, ‘Ali and the pure ones among my offspring are the lesser weight, and the Qur’an is the greater weight. Each one informs about the other and agrees with it. They shall never part until they return to me at the Pool (of al-Kawthar in Paradise on the Day of Judgement). Behold! They are the trustees of Allah amongst His creation, and His people of wisdom on His earth. […]

O Allah! You did send down, “This day, I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and was satisfied that Islam be your religion.”[6] You also said, “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never shall it be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter, he shall be one of the losers.”[7] O Allah! I implore You to witness that I have conveyed Your message. O people! Allah, the mighty and the majestic, has indeed perfected your religion through ‘Ali’s leadership. Thus, whoever does not follow his example, and the example of those of my children from his loins, who will take his position until the Day of Judgement—when deeds are presented before Allah, the mighty and the majestic—they are the ones whose deeds become vain and fruitless, and they shall be in Hellfire forever. “Their torment shall not be lightened, nor shall it be postponed.”[8] O people! This is ‘Ali, who has been my greatest aid, the most worthy of you before me, the closest in relation with me, and the dearest to me amongst you all.

Questions for Consideration
  1. What rationales does the writer use to prove that ‘Ali should be the leader of the community after the Prophet?
  2. In what ways does he aim to convince his listeners that they should accept this declaration?
  3. What arguments might a supporter of one of the Sunni caliphs use to counter this argument?

  1. Arabic: “The Pond of Khumm,” three miles from al-Juhfa, between Mecca and Medina.
  2. “With regard to ‘Ali” is not in the standard text of this Qur’anic verse (5: 67).
  3. I.e. The Muslims who immigrated from Mecca to Medina (the muhajirun), and the Muslim converts of Medina who helped them (the ansar).
  4. At the basic level, a prayer leader, but understood by Shi‘ites to also mean the rightful spiritual leader of the Muslim community.
  5. During the hijra, ‘Ali took the Prophet’s place in his bed to conceal Muhammad’s departure from the Meccans, and was almost killed in the process.
  6. Qur’an 5: 3.
  7. Qur’an 3: 85.
  8. Qur’an 3: 88.


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