After completion of his final Hajj, Prophet Muhammad received a startling revelation: “O Messenger, announce that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not fulfilled His mission. And Allah will protect you from the people. Indeed, Allah does not guide the disbelieving people”1.
The tone and tender of the revelation is indicative of the significance as well as sensitivity of the message. The promise of divine protection indicates that perhaps the Prophet was expecting resistance from some quarters to the idea that had already been conveyed to him. Many leading Quran commentators, including Jalal-al-Din al-Suyuti and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi attest to its timing and link with a specific event about to occur 2.
On the way back from Makkah, almost halfway to Medina, the Prophet directed everyone in the crowd of thousands to stop in their tracks at a place called Ghadir Khumm, a strategic locale where pilgrims and traders would take a break before taking off in different directions. He began by declaring to the gathering of tens of thousands of people: ‘O People! Surely God is my Master, and I am the Master of all believers’. Muhammad then lifted Ali’s hand in the air, voice unwavering in his declaration: ‘For Whomever I am his maula [ master], Ali is also his maula. O God, befriend the friend of Ali and be the enemy of his enemy”3. Those present on the occasion thronged around Ali to congratulate him. For hours, Muslims lined up in queues to congratulate and pay allegiance to him, and thousands witnessed this extraordinary scene4.
The series of events and statements convinced many Muslims that Ali was being designated as the heir to the Prophet in both the political and spiritual sense. Ali was now to be a mirror reflecting the Prophet. If the believers saw Prophet Muhammad as both a spiritual and a temporal leader, then his heir and inheritor would be expected to inherit both roles as well, unless the designation was explicitly restricted to one facet.
(Dr. Hassan Abbas (2021): The Prophet’s Heir: The Life of Ali Ibn Abi Talib | Yale University Press) – (Painting by Fatimah Tayoob)