Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eid al-Ghadir: The Dispute over Historical Memory

Eid al-Ghadir ("celebration" or "holiday"), which is this week, commemorates the event of Ghadir Khumm, when both Shi'i and Sunni Muslims agree that the Prophet Muhammad publicly identified his son-in-law 'Ali ibn Abi Talib as his "successor." Sunnis and Shi'is disagree as to the nature of the succession. Shi'is (Twelvers, Isma'ilis, and Zaydis) hold that 'Ali, the first Shi'i Imam, was named the Prophet's spiritual and communal/political successor and Sunnis holding that 'Ali was the Prophet's spiritual successor or that Muhammad was only highlighting the important status of 'Ali, and not naming him as his actual successor as head of the community. The event is recorded in both Shi'i and Sunni texts, including the famous Musnad of the medieval Sunni jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, one of the four surviving schools in the Sunni tradition.

Shi'is worldwide mark Eid al-Ghadir with celebration and special prayers, commemorating the life and role of Imam 'Ali. They reaffirm their identity as Shi'is, Muslims who hold line of the Prophet's family descending through Imam 'Ali and his wife Fatima, Muhammad's daughter, (Ahlul Bayt) in special regard. The majority (of Shi'is) Twelver Shi'is, Isma'ilis, and Zaydis all believe in the spiritual and communal/political authority of the first five, and in the case of the Isma'ilis six, Imams, male members of the Ahlul Bayt who they view as historical and, in some cases, current-if-occulted heads of the Muslim community. After the sixth, they believe in different lines of Imams.

In some mixed areas, such as Iraq and Yemen, where both Shi'is and Sunnis live, Eid al-Ghadir is a period of communal tension.

The Investiture of 'Ali at Ghadir Khumm, from 1307-1308, Northwestern Iran or Northern Iraq. Copied by Ibn al-Kutbi in a copy of the manuscript Kitab al-Athar al-Baqiya 'an al-Qurun al-Khaliya (Chronology of Ancient Nations). Held at the Edinburgh University Library.

Read articles, written by Shi'i authors, about Ghadir Khumm and its importance in Islamic history from a Twelver Shi'i perspective:

(1) "Event of Ghadir Khumm in the Qur'an, Hadith, History"

(2) "Orientalists and Ghadir Khumm"

(3) Ghadir Khumm in Sunni and Shi'i Texts, with References

Read two Isma'ili views of the event:

(1) "The Imamate in Isma'ilism"

(2) Ghadir Khumm

In the interest of balance, read an article about Ghadir Khumm from a critical Sunni perspective, generally speaking. It includes refutations of the Twelver Shi'i interpretation as well as sectarian inuendo common in such polemical exchanges between Shi'is and Sunnis, from both groups. It is somewhat difficult to find critical Sunni views of this event, as the bulk of material that initially turns up in most searches is Shi'i hagiographical material.

(1) "Hadith of Ghadir Khumm: A Sunni Perspective"


Emaun Kashfipour said...

Thanks for the last link, I've heard Sunni thoughts from Shia sources but never from Sunni ones.

إبن الصقلي said...

Glad it was useful. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

Re: sources, I'm of the view that it's always best to check the sources themselves, if you can, rather than rely on a potentially biased citation of those sources. Who knows what was edited out or not quoted? I'm speaking generally here.