Precedents of appointing successors in the tradition of Moses and Jesus (as)
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Precedents of appointing successors in the tradition of Moses and Jesus (as)

Precedents of appointing successors in the tradition of Moses and Jesus (as)

A majority of Muslims believe that prophet Muhammad (sa) did not clearly appoint a successor, nor did he provide instructions on how one should be chosen, and in effect he left it to the community of Muslims to decide. A 2008 article by Robert A. Campbell (1), a scholar of leadership at Cape Breton University, suggests that these assumptions place Islam at odds with the precedents established in Judaism and Christianity. What follows are excerpts from his argument in this article:

“Some observers (e.g., Jonathan Berkey) would suggest that one of the greatest problems facing Islam today is the same problem it has faced almost since its inception, namely, the issue of succession to Muhammad. 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 (2).

Summarizing the events of the fifty years following the death of Muhammad, with respect to succession, a complex picture emerges. Both are consistent with the precedents set by Moses and Jesus, as documented in scripture (3)(4). It would be logical and theologically sound to expect that Muhammad would have designated a successor. If 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.”


1) Campbell, Robert A. “Leadership succession in early Islam: Exploring the nature and role of historical precedents.” The leadership quarterly 19.4 (2008): 426-438.

2) 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, whichWe 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.” (42:13).

3) Moses and Joshua: The final verses of the book of Deuteronomy (34:1–12) tell of the death of Moses, as he is not allowed by God to cross over. His work is done (see Kirsch, 1998, pp. 349–353). This poses no problem for the Hebrews, because a successor to Moses has been selected, publicly identified and officially sworn in (see Hamlin, 1983, p.4). The account of the commissioning of Joshua is laid out in a sequence of verses in Deuteronomy 31. Not only does this pre-succession pep-talk take place in public, it also serves to link Joshua’s task back several generations (centuries) to the promise made to Abraham (see Hamlin, 1983, pp. xii, 5) in Genesis (15:18–21) that in exchange for worshipping God his offspring would inhabit the land of their forefathers (see Speiser,1964, pp.114–115).

4) Jesus and Peter: Unlike the plain language of the Hebrew Bible, the text of the gospels is full of parables, allegories, metaphors, and other literary devices (see Aune, 1985). However, it is still quite a simple matter to identify clear evidence that, at least in the form in which these books have come down to us, Jesus selects Peter to be his successor. The initial evidence for this comes in the form of a test. When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still other Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13–20).

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