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The Saqīfah (Arabic: السقيفة‎), also known as Saqīfah Banī Sā'idah (Arabic: سقيفة بني ساعدة‎), was a roofed building used by a Jewish tribe called Banu Sa'idah, a faction of Banu Khazraj tribe of the city of Madinah in Hejaz, western Arabia. Saqifah is significant for being the site of a hasty assembly of some companions of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, where they decided about the successor to the Prophet right after his death, a controversial decision that is believed to have originated the oldest division in Islam between the Shia and Sunni denominations.

Event of Saqifah[edit]

The name of the house is used as shorthand for the event, or the gathering, which was a crucial turning point in the history of Islam, on the day Muhammad died (June 8, 632 CE), the Medinan Muslim or "Ansar" gathered in the Saqifah to discuss the future and leadership of the Muslims. There were two Ansar tribes, the Khazraj and the Aws; both were present. However, the Muhajirun, or Muslim emigrants from Mecca, had not been notified of the gathering. Muhammad Ibn Jarir Tabari writes in his Ta'rikh at page 456, Volume II that ‘Umar came to the door of the Prophet's house but did not enter. He sent a word to Abu Bakr: "Come immediately; I have urgent business with you." Abu Bakr sent message to him that he had no time. ‘Umar sent another message: "We have come across a critical issue. Your presence is required."

Abu Bakr came out and was informed openly in the presence of other companions, about the gathering of the Ansars in the Saqifah by Umar. ‘Umar said that they should go there at once and both of them moved. After a tumultuous debate, the details of which are highly contested, those who gathered there gave their allegiance, or bay'ah, to Abu Bakr as the new leader of the Islamic community. There were some Muslims who felt that Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law should have been the new leader, they initially refused to take the oath to Abu Bakr and were known as the Shi'ah Ali or "Follower of Ali." They did so because Ali himself didn't take the oath as described by Shia sources. On the other hand, Sunni sources like, Sahih Bukhari, Seerat Ibn Ishaq, Seerat Ibn Hatham, Tareekh Ibn Kathir, Tareekh e Al-Tabari, Tareekh Ibn Khaldun and almost all other sources heavily disagree with Shia Historians on the matter of pledges of allegiance of Ali with first Caliph Abu Bakr and then with Umar and Uthman.[1][2][3]

Though Sunnis do not give much importance to this event, shias consider the Event at Saqifah to be one of the turning points in Islamic history where Ahl al-Bayt, the household of Muhammad suffered many tribulations afterwards.

Ali (as per Shia sources) observed passivity in the years following the event of Saqifah. Even though Ali first peacefully resisted the violent urge for allegiance to Abu Bakr, he chose not to defy the decision as this would have caused much fitna (infighting) among the early Muslims. The Sunnis consider this to be wrong as Ali would take active participation in the stately matters and was one of the chief advisors and policy makers of the early Islamic nation. Shias however consider this later constructive approach to have been motivated by Ali's concern for fate of the Muslim Ummah rather than approval of the caliphs, as the Ummah would've fared worse if the caliphs were left to their own devices in their decision makings. Ali would later publicly voice his disapproval of the leadership and conduct of the first three caliphs as well as the pressing life that he endured under their rule.

Ibn Ishaq's account[edit]

One of the earliest accounts of Saqifah is to be found in Ibn Ishaq's sira, or biography of Muhammad, it is based on the words of Umar himself, as reported to Ibn Ishaq by Ibn Al-Abbas.

According to this account, after the death of Muhammad the Ansar gathered at the Bani Sa'ida's saqifah while the closest relatives of Muhammad, Fatimah and Ali and their relatives, were preparing Muhammad's body for burial. Abu Bakr and Umar were sitting with some of the Muhajirun, the emigrants from Mecca. Having heard that the Ansar were meeting, they went to stop Ansar from it. One three Muhajirun went to Saqifah as they had no intentions to select a ruler, but only to stop the Ansar. There, Abu Bakr addressed the Ansar.

Abu Bakr argued that only a leader from the Quraysh, Mecca's leading clan, could keep the community intact. Only the Quraysh were universally recognized as a noble clan, worthy of leadership, he suggested that the meeting choose either Umar or Abu Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah (both Quraysh) as a leader.

One of the Ansar suggested that the Ansar should choose a leader for themselves and the Meccans should choose another for themselves. Abu Bakar mentioned the sayings of Muhammad and convinced a large number of Ansar that the leader could only be from Quraysh , but some Ansar still insisted that the leader should be chosen from them. The meeting became loud and unruly. Umar is reported to have said that he feared that the unity of the Muslim community would dissolve then and there. So he seized Abu Bakr's hand and swore the bay'ah to him as the leader of the Muslims, the Muhajirun followed his lead and then the Ansar.

Ultimately all the people present over there rendered allegiance to him without any fight.

At the end, Muslims were saved from internal conflict due to the wisdom of Omar. If they hadn't gone to Saqifah, Ansar would have chosen a leader from amongst them which would have caused disunity.

The next day, the Muslim community of Medina gathered for prayers and Umar spoke, praising Abu Bakr and urging the community to swear allegiance to him. Ibn Ishaq says that the bulk of the community did so.

Other sources[edit]

According to The Succession to Muhammad by Wilferd Madelung, senior research fellow at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London,[4] Umar later described the event as a faltah, a precipitate arrangement (p. 30).

Similarly, according to one hadith, or oral tradition, recorded by Sahih al-Bukhari, Umar is reputed to have said:

I have been informed that a speaker amongst you says, "By God, if 'Umar should die, I will give the pledge of allegiance to such-and-such person." One should not deceive oneself by saying that the pledge of allegiance given to Abu Bakr was given suddenly and it was successful. No doubt, it was like that, but God saved (the people) from its evil, and there is none among you who has the qualities of Abu Bakr. Remember that whoever gives the pledge of allegiance to anybody among you without consulting the other Muslims, neither that person, nor the person to whom the pledge of allegiance was given, are to be supported, lest they both should be killed.[5]

Also, it is narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari that Umar said:

“When he (the Apostle) died, the Ansar opposed us. They gathered in the Saqifa Banu Sa'eda. Ali, Zubayr and their friends also opposed us.”[citation needed]

Francesco Gabrieli, an Italian arabist, writes in his The arabs-A compact history that:

"At the tumultuous council held in the headquarters of the Banu Saidah in Medina, Umar, almost as a surprise, imposed Abu Bakr as khalifa or successor of the Envoy of God. Like so many events and institutions, the caliphate was born of an improvisation."[6]

The Sunnis maintain that this incident saved the Muslims from a major conflict. If the Muhajirun hadn't acted on time, the Ansar would have selected a leader. Muhajirun would not accept it because of prophetic traditions which stated that the leader should be from Quraysh only. This would have caused internal discord, which was timely realized by Omar, at the end, everything was peacefully settled. Shias argue that any opposition to the appointment of Ali, whose caliphate was ordained by Allah and announced by Prophet Muhammad on at the pond of Khumm, would come from the very people who assembled at Saqifa and determined succession in violation of the Prophet's declaration.


  1. ^ Ibn Khaldun, Abdur Rehman (2003). Tareekh Ibn Khaldun Volume II (First ed.). Karachi, Pakistan: Nafees Academy. pp. 178–200. 
  2. ^ Ibn Kathir Damishque, Amad ud Din (2003). Tareekh ibn Kathir Volume VI (Offict ed.). Urdu Bazar, Karachi Pakistan: Nafees Academy. 
  3. ^ Ibn Hatham, Abdul Malik (2000). Seerat Ibn Hatham (1st ed.). Cairo, Egypt: Al-Falah Foundation. p. 291. ISBN 977-5813-80-8. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:82:817
  6. ^ Francesco Gabrieli, The Arabs – A Compact History, 1963

Other references[edit]

  • Guillaume, A. The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, 1955
  • Madelung, W. The Succession to Muhammad, Cambridge University Press, 1997

External links[edit]

  • [2] Shia view of the matter
  • [3] Early Troubles