“The succession to the Prophet is the key question in Shi’ite Islam, and a principal factor separating them from the Sunni majority. It is seen that the Prophet had nominated Ali bin Abu Talib as his successor by rule of nass (investiture) and nass wa-ta’yin (explicit investiture). During the period of the Prophethood, the designation was made by nass from time to time, whose main term was wali (helper, lover, guardian or attorney), as it is said in Arabic: wali amru’l raiyya (the guardian of the subject), or wali ahad (one who succeeds to the office). Different terms were also used on different occasions for the succession of Ali bin Abu Talib in the Koran, such as Noor, Imam-i Moobin, Rasikhul fi’l Ilm, Ulul Amr, Ilmul Kitab etc. While the most frequent words used in hadiths, denoting Ali’s succession were Hujjatullah (God’s proof), Sayedu’l Muslimin (leader of the Muslims), Shabih Harun (like Aaron), Sahibu’l lawa (the master of the standard), Sahibu’l hanz (master of Kawthar pool), Babu’l Ilm (gate of the knowledge) etc.
The nass wa-ta’yin was made after the farewell pilgrimage of the Prophet. On Monday, the 20th Zilkada, 10, the Prophet received a revelation before his farewell pilgrimage:- “And you proclaim to the people for pilgrimage. They will come to you on foot and lean camel, coming from every remote place.” (22:27)
Due proclamation was made among the Muslims to join the pilgrimage, and the Prophet himself left Medina on Saturday, the 25th Zilkada, 10. He reached Mecca on Wednesday, the 7th Zilhaja, 10, and performed the pilgrimage. He delivered a historical sermon at the plain of Arfat. He left Mecca on 14th Zilhaja, 10. His caravan reached a little before noon to a pond (ghadir), known as Khum, on 18th Zilhaja, 10/March 16, 632. It is situated about 3 miles north-west of Mecca in the heart of the desert, called Sahara’i Huja, about 3 miles from the town, al-Jahfa. Here, the Prophet received the following Koranic revelation: –
“O’ Apostle! Deliver what has been revealed upon you from your Lord, and if not, you have not delivered His message. And surely God will protect you from men.” (5:67). This Koranic verse is known as the Ayat al-Ghadir.
The town al-Jahfa was a junction from where the routes for Medina, Egypt, Syria and Iraq radiated in different directions. On its border is a pond (ghadir) with a vast open plain, embosomed with trees and bushes, which had been swept off. Under the shade of two trees, a big pulpit for the Prophet was erected with the camel-saddles. He mounted it and placed Ali on his right. He then delivered a sermon, thanking God for His bounty and stated that he felt that he would die soon. He repeated that he would be leaving two heavy weights i.e., the Koran and his Ahl al-Bayt, with them. The two were inseparable. If people held both fast they would never go astray. The Prophet then asked his audience if he was not superior to the believers. The crowd answered in the affirmative. He then declared: “Whose Master (mawla) I am, this Ali is his Master (mawla).” He then prayed, “O God, be the friend of him who is his friend, and be the enemy of him who is his enemy.” After the sermon, the Prophet dismounted and retired to his tent. He asked Ali to accept the people’s congratulation and allegiance. It clearly means that he had done what was assigned to him: “Know that the sole duty of Our Messenger is to convey (al-balagh) clearly (the divine words) (5:92). On that day, the Koranic verse revealed: “This day I have perfected (akmaltu) your religion, and completed My favours unto you, and I have chosen Islam for your religion (din) (5:3).
The bone contention between the Shi’ites and Sunnites is not, however, and never has been, the authenticity of the event of Ghadir Khum, but the real disagreeent is in interpretation of the word mawla used by the Prophet. The Shi’ites unequivocally take the word in the meaning of leader, master or patron. The Sunnis interpret it in the meaning of a friend, or the nearest kin and confident. But, it does not seem to be logical for the Prophet to keep more than a hundred thousand people in such unbeatable heat, and keep them waiting in such condition until those who have left behind reach the place, and then all to tell them was that “Ali is the friend of believers.” Besides, how can we justify the revelation of verse 5:67 which was revealed before the speech of the Prophet. Is it logical to say that God warned His Prophet that if he did not convey the message of “friendship of Ali,” he has spoiled all he had done?! Also what danger can be imagined for Prophet if he stated “Ali is the friend of believers?” Furthermore, how can the phrase “Ali is the friend of believers” complete the religion? In fact, when a word has more than one meaning, the best way to find out its true connotation is to look at the association (qarinah) and the context. The word awla used by the Prophet gives a good association for the word mawla.
At the end of his address, the Prophet said twice: “Behold! Haven’t I conveyed the message of God? It is incumbent upon every one who is present to inform the absent for they may understand it better than those who are present” (Bukhari, 5:688). It suggests that the Prophet was conveying a very important message, which was going to be transferred to all coming generations. This message could not have been a simple friendship.
It must be known that some 127 meanings of the word mawla have been given in the lexicons, mostly master, lord, guardian or one who deserves superior authority. As the words ana awla (I am superior) indicate that mawla means awla (superior). What the Prophet meant by this sentence was, God is superior in right and might to him and he is superior in right and might to the faithful and Ali is superior in right and might to all those to whom the Prophet is superior.
The earliest source of the event of Ghadir al-Khum is Asma bint Umays (d. 38/658), the wife of Jafar Tayyar bin Abu Talib. Her report has been documented in at-Tarikh (Beirut, 1960) by the historian Yaqubi (d. 284/898). Hassan bin Thabit (d. 40/661), a famous poet had vividly versified the event in his Diwan of 228 poems. Suleman bin Qays al-Hilali (d. 82/701) also is ranked among the earliest authorities. Kumyt bin Zaid (60-126/680-744) however is considered as the most earliest authority by the German scholars, Horovitz and Goldzier. Among the prominent Companions, who had related the event of Ghadir al-Khum are Abuzar Ghafari (d. 32/653), Huzaifah al-Yameni (d. 29/650), Abu Ayub Ansari (d. 50/670), Ammar bin Yasir (d. 37/657), Salman al-Faras (d. 36/657), Abdullah bin Abbas (d. 86/705) etc. Among the earliest Umayyad historians, the most famous were Ibn Shihab az-Zuhari (50-125/670-744) and Ibn Ishaq (d. 152/769).
The historians and compilers of the hadiths between 10/632 and 300/912 were mostly under pressure of the ruling powers of Umayyad and the Abbasid, therefore, they avoided to refer the event, such as Ibn Hisham (d. 218/833), Ibn Sa’d (d. 230/845) and Tabari (d. 310/922). Nevertheless, Nisai (d. 151/768), Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 241/855), Tirmizi (d. 279/893), Ibn Majah (d. 283/897), Abu Daud (d. 276/890) and Yaqubi (d. 284/898) had demonstrated their impartiality, whose bold assertion lends colour to this historical event. In sum, Hussein Ali Mahfuz, in his researches, has recorded with documentation in Tarikh ash-Shi’a (Karbala, n.d., p. 77) as quoted by Dr. S.H.M. Jafri in Origins and Early Development of Shi’a Islam (London, 1979, p. 20) that the tradition of Ghadir al-Khum has been narrated by at least 110 Companions, 84 tabi’un, 355 ulema, 25 historians, 27 traditionists, 11 exegesis, 18 theologians and 5 philosophers.