The Hadith of Ghadir Khumm


In 632 AD Mekka had been conquered by the Muslims and the Prophet saws then made his last religious pilgrimage to Mekka, a few months only before his death. This pilgrimage came to be known as the Farewell Pilgrimage. During the pilgrimage atop Mount Arafat the Prophet addressed the Muslim masses, some 100,000 people, in what came to be known as the Farewell Sermon, an important sermon in Islamic tradition. After completion of the Hajj, the Prophet returned to his home in Medina and on March 10 632 AD he made a stop at the pond of Khumm, Ghadir Khumm, a desert oasis just outside the city of Al-Juhfah, halfway Mecca and Medina. This incident led to the main controversy and schism within Islam: the Sunni and Shia schools of thought. When the group had reached the oasis, according to Shia sources, Qor’anic verse 5:67 was revealed:

“O Messenger (Prophet), deliver to the people what has been revealed to you from your Lord and if you do not do so then you will not have delivered His message and Allah will protect you from the people. For God does not guide those who reject Faith.”

According to mainly Shia sources, the Prophet addressed his fellow travelers and praised his son in law and nephew Ali ibn Abi Talib (raa); these words have not been generally accepted by Sunni and Shia Muslims:

‘It seems the time approached when I shall be called away (by Allah) and I shall answer that call. I am leaving for you two precious things and if you adhere to them both,  you will never go astray after me. They are the Book of Allah and my Progeny, that is my Ahlul Bayt. The two shall never separate from each other until they come to me by the Pool (of Paradise). Then the Messenger of Allah continued:

“Do I not have more right over the believers than what they have over themselves?”

People cried and answered:

“Yes, O’ Messenger of God.”

Then followed the key sentence denoting the clear designation of ‘Ali as the leader of the Muslim ummah.  The Prophet [s] held up the hand of ‘Ali and said:

Whomsoever’s mawla I am, this Ali is also his mawla. O Allah, befriend whosoever befriends him and be the enemy of whosoever is hostile to him.’

Immediately after the Prophet [s] finished his speech, the following verse of the Qur’an was revealed:

“Today I have perfected your religion and completed my favour upon you, and I was satisfied that Islam be your religion.” (Qur’an 5:3)

Firstly, the hadith of Ali being mawla after the Prophet saws, cannot be found in the most authoritative hadith collections: those of imams Al Bukari. One can be found in Sahih Muslim ahadith, but it may be a bit far fetched, still, to proclaim that the Prophet indeed appointed his son in law to be his successor. It appears rather that the ummah was given a protective role towards the Prophet’s family than an obedient one. Further, some other Sunni sources regard it as possible that the Prophet spoke these words about ‘Ali ra, but that they have been wrongly interpreted by Shiite Muslims. These are the ahadith in question in Muslim’s collection:

Book 031, Number 5920:

Yazid b. Hayyan reported, I went along with Husain b. Sabra and ‘Umar b. Muslim to Zaid b. Arqam and, as we sat by his side, Husain said to him: Zaid. you have been able to acquire a great virtue that you saw Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) listened to his talk, fought by his side in (different) battles, offered prayer behind me. Zaid, you have in fact earned a great virtue. Zaid, narrate to us what you heard from Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him). He said: I have grown old and have almost spent my age and I have forgotten some of the things which I remembered in connection with Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him), so accept whatever I narrate to you, and which I do not narrate do not compel me to do that. He then said: One day Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) stood up to deliver sermon at a watering place known as Khumm situated between Mecca and Medina. He praised Allah, extolled Him and delivered the sermon and. exhorted (us) and said: Now to our purpose. O people, I am a human being. I am about to receive a messenger (the angel of death) from my Lord and I, in response to Allah’s call, (would bid good-bye to you), but I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it. He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of Allah and then said: The second are the members of my household I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family. He (Husain) said to Zaid: Who are the members of his household? Aren’t his wives the members of his family? Thereupon he said: His wives are the members of his family (but here) the members of his family are those for whom acceptance of Zakat is forbidden. And he said: Who are they? Thereupon he said: ‘Ali and the offspring of ‘Ali, ‘Aqil and the offspring of ‘Aqil and the offspring of Ja’far and the offspring of ‘Abbas. Husain said: These are those for whom the acceptance of Zakat is forbidden. Zaid said: Yes.

Book 031, Number 5923:

Yazid b. Hayyan reported: We went to him (Zaid b. Arqam) and said to him. You have found goodness (for you had the honour) to live in the company of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and offered prayer behind him, and the rest of the hadith is the same but with this variation of wording that lie said: Behold, for I am leaving amongst you two weighty things, one of which is the Book of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, and that is the rope of Allah. He who holds it fast would be on right guidance and he who abandons it would be in error, and in this (hadith) these words are also found: We said: Who are amongst the members of the household? Aren’t the wives (of the Holy Prophet) included amongst the members of his house hold? Thereupon he said: No, by Allah, a woman lives with a man (as his wife) for a certain period; he then divorces her and she goes back to her parents and to her people; the members of his household include his ownself and his kith and kin (who are related to him by blood) and for him the acceptance of Zakat is prohibited.

Sahih Bukhari gives a different account of the events at Ghadir Khumm:

Volume 5 Book 59 Number 637

Narrated Buraida:
The Prophet sent ‘Ali to Khalid to bring the Khumus (of the booty) and I hated Ali, and ‘Ali had taken a bath (after a sexual act with a slave-girl from the Khumus). I said to Khalid, “Don’t you see this (i.e. Ali)?” When we reached the Prophet I mentioned that to him. He said, “O Buraida! Do you hate Ali?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you hate him, for he deserves more than that from the Khumus.”

A conflict had arisen between ‘Ali and his soldiers during an expedition to Yemen concerning the distribution of war booty (among which cloths, gold and female slaves) and the Prophet settled the dispute apparently at Lake Khumm after completing the Farewell Pilgrimage.

Secondly Verse 5:3 was revealed on Mount Arafat at the end of the Farewell Sermon, according Sunni tradition, which is also stated in Al Bhukhari’s ahadith in Volume 5 Book 59 Number 689. These apparently misunderstood words led to the most important and perhaps only schism in Islam: the controversy that led to the rise of the Sunni and Shi’a schools of fiqh. The controversy mainly concerns the explanation of the word mawla. This word has several meanings: master, lord, owner, benefactor, helper, beloved one, ally, cousin, friend, brother in law, but also slave or servant. Shia scholars emphasize the meaning lord, master or helper and claim that the Prophet announced his succession on this occasion; Sunni Islam denies this emphasis. Sunni Islam says that it is a premature and hasty conclusion that the Prophet indeed appointed his son in law to be his successor. Bukhari’s following ahadith deny that the Prophet saws appointed his son in law to be his immediate successor:

Volume 1, Book 11, Number 649:

Narrated Anas:

The Prophet did not come out for three days. The people stood for the prayer and Abu Bakr went ahead to lead the prayer. (In the meantime) the Prophet caught hold of the curtain and lifted it. When the face of the Prophet appeared we had never seen a scene more pleasing than the face of the Prophet as it appeared then. The Prophet beckoned to Abu Bakr to lead the people in the prayer and then let the curtain fall. We did not see him (again) till he died.

Apparently another person than ‘Ali was allowed to lead the religious community. Nor had the Prophet indeed appointed a successor of caliph, not even according to his son in law’s own words:

Volume 5, Book 59, Number 728:

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Abbas:

‘Ali bin Abu Talib came out of the house of Allah’s Apostle during his fatal illness. The people asked, “O Abu Hasan (i.e. Ali)! How is the health of Allah’s Apostle this morning?” ‘Ali replied, “He has recovered with the Grace of Allah.” ‘Abbas bin ‘Abdul Muttalib held him by the hand and said to him, “In three days you, by Allah, will be ruled (by somebody else ), And by Allah, I feel that Allah’s Apostle will die from this ailment of his, for I know how the faces of the offspring of ‘Abdul Muttalib look at the time of their death. So let us go to Allah’s Apostle and ask him who will take over the Caliphate. If it is given to us we will know as to it, and if it is given to somebody else, we will inform him so that he may tell the new ruler to take care of us.” ‘Ali said, “By Allah, if we asked Allah’s Apostle for it (i.e. the Caliphate) and he denied it us, the people will never give it to us after that. And by Allah, I will not ask Allah’s Apostle for it.”

A third objection against the Shia version of this Hadith of Ghadir Khumm maybe that it seems very unlikely, even according Shia narration that the Prophet would postpone an announcement as important as his succession until after Hajj on his way home, when the pilgrims had already left the Haramayn and split up on their seperate ways home and only a small group was left.

Fourthly, the word ‘mawla’ can be found in numerous Qur’anic verses, but never directly stating ‘Ali ra successor of the Prophet saws. It tells about different people and situations and never do we find any direct reference to ‘Ali raa being the Prophet’s successor. The Qur’an simply doesn’t say that ‘Ali is Prophet Muhammad’s successor. Some verses that Shi’ite Muslims like to quote as guidance are for example these:

You will find friends only in God and His Apostle and in the believers (5: 55)

And say those who disbelieve: “why hath not a sign been sent down unto him (Muhammad)”; Verily thou art a warner and for every people there is a guide” Quran (13:7)

Shia sources acknowledge that Verse 5:55 does not clearly state ‘Ali to be the Prophet’s successor and say that this uncertainty led to the event at Ghadir Khumm. Verse 13:7 is one of the Verses that are mentioned in connection with the doctrine that Allah swt had appointed the Prophet’s progeny with a leading position, however, the Verse discusses leader figures asssigned by Allah swt in general and for every people, without stating names. The Shi’ite claim is therefore not worthless, but it is not proved either.

The misunderstanding concerning Ali’s position led to controversy and also conflict between ‘Ali and his supporters on the one hand and Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, both the Prophet’s fathers in law and first two caliphs after his death. ‘Ali, however, later accepted their caliphate. ‘Ali had not much support from the umma for any rivalry claim to the first caliphate, however, the conflict didn’t concern only succession but mostly the Prophet’s inheritance too. ‘Ali’s position in the ummah, however, remained somewhat isolated, but this may be due to his withdrawn lifestyle.

‘Ali ra’s position is the first main issue of controversy within the Islamic community. The second controversy is about the caliphate in general. Sunni Islam believes in twelve caliphs after the Prophet’s death, who will all be members of the Arabian tribe of Quraish. This is mentioned in Bukhari’s ahadith: Volume 9 Book 89 Number 306 and 329.

Shia Islam has at least three different views: the Shia mainstream believes in twelve Imams, the two other schools believe in respectively seven and three Imams. However, Shi’ites believe unanimously that the Prophet’s progeny through his daughter and son in law Fatima and ‘Ali bring forth the Imams.

In conclusion I would say that Shi’ite teachings cannot sufficiently prove the claim that the Prophet’s progeny has a role as successors, added to this that Qur’anic Verse 33:40 clearly states that Prophetic revelation ends with Muhammad saws:

‘Not is Muhammad the father of any of your men but he is Allah’s Messenger and the seal of the Prophets. Allah is All-Knowing on all things’.

Yet Shi’ite Islam, that entered a separate development after the Prophet’s death, was in a convincing way able to confirm the rise of a new religious community, thanks to the revelations received by Muhammad. There are more schools of thinking in Islam that recorded his life and works in a way that shows some characteristic differences, yet they largely confirm one and other: a man named Muhammad brought new religious teachings to Arabia and the world in the years 620 -632 AD.

Sources:,,, USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts University of Southern California

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