Judaism, Christianity and Islam share common origins, possess a scripture that is central to their internal view of history and faith, and are associated with key personalities who served as founders, reformers and transmitters of tradition and the will of God 1. So, for example, we read in the Qur’an:

“In matters of faith, He has laid down for you [people] the same commandment that He gave Noah, which We have revealed to you [Muhammad] and which we enjoined on Abraham and Moses and Jesus: “Uphold the faith and do not divide into factions within it.””2.

As Yusuf Ali suggests in commenting on this verse, from an Islamic perspective, God’s religion is the same no matter whether it was revealed to Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad. What differs is the time and context in which the revelations took place 3.

The historical narrative that Muslims have constructed places Muhammad and Islam within a framework of Jewish and Christian precedents. If, as I will outline in what follows, Jewish and Christian scripture record that Moses and Jesus, as founders of their respective religious traditions, named successors, then on the basis of internal consistency arguments alone it is logical to suggest both that Muhammad would have appointed a successor and that there should be some record of that appointment within the corpus of Islamic sacred literature.

The account of the commissioning of Joshua is laid out in a sequence of verses in Deuteronomy 31:

“The Lord said to Moses, “The time is now approaching for you to die. Summon Joshua and present yourselves at the meeting tent that I may give him his commission.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the meeting tent. And the Lord appeared at the tent in a column of cloud, which stood still at the entrance to the tent” 4.

These verses provide a clear statement of the transfer of power from Moses to Joshua. Finally, the actual commission takes place:

Then the Lord commissioned Joshua, son of Nun, and said to him, “Be brave and steadfast, for it is you who must bring the Israelites into the land which I promised them on oath. I myself will be with you.”5

With respect to the succession story in particular, Silver makes two interesting points about the way it was interpreted and utilized in the medieval period. First, he indicates that the rabbis often pointed to this story in order to defend their own claims to exercise leadership and to appoint successors. Second, Jews would commonly use this story polemically against Muslims in debates over the superiority of their respective prophets, arguing that when it came to providing for the next generations of the faithful Moses had succeeded where Muhammad had failed 6.
In a related story that is unique to John’s gospel, Jesus appears to all of the disciples after the resurrection and has this exchange with Peter:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” 7.

Treating this account independently, it could serve as clear evidence that Jesus wanted Peter to succeed him, but when it is viewed against the background of the story of denial, it provides an even stronger affirmation.

Therefore, consistent with the precedents set by Moses and Jesus, as documented in scripture, it would be logical and theologically sound to expect that Muhammad would have designated a successor. Second, if in fact Muhammad did appoint a successor we should be able to find some indication in historical documents or the sacred literature of Islam of who that individual was.

(Campbell, R. A. (2008). Leadership succession in early Islam: Exploring the nature and role of historical precedents. The leadership quarterly19(4), 426-438.)

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  1. 1- Armstrong, K. (1993). A history of God. New York: Ballantine
  2. 2- The Holy Quran (42:13)
  3. 3- Yusuf Ali, A. (1999). The meaning of the Holy Qur’an. Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications.
  4. 4- Deut. 31:14–15
  5. 5- Deut. 31:23
  6. 6- Silver, D. J. (1982). Images of Moses. New York: Basic Books.
  7. 7- John 21:15–17