In response to the article, “The lost moral of Islam’s divide,” (June 21), letter-writer A.K. Merchant (June 23) alleges that the first three Caliphs, by disobeying the Prophet’s command designating Hazrat Ali as his successor, sowed the seeds of the Shia-Sunni divide. This is a wrong and very prejudiced charge. All historical accounts of the succession imbroglio were written centuries after the Prophet’s passing (in 632 AD), as proved by the fact that the four most quoted historians on the issue, namely, Ibn Qutayba, Ibn Asam al-Kufi, al-Yaqubi and al-Tabari, died in the years 889, 926, 900 and 923 respectively.
This huge gap between the said event and its recording, mars the credibility of the narrative and makes it impossible to presume that the Prophet left behind instructions regarding his successor that were disobeyed. For whatever reasons Hazrat’s Ali candidature was rejected, it was certainly not due to any theological differences or personal enmity between him and the first three Caliphs. As for the hadees quoted by Mr. Merchant about the two “precious gifts” of the Prophet — the Koran and his family — it is strongly contradicted by another hadees in Kitab al-Hajj of the same collection (Sahih Muslim) which quotes the Prophet as saying, “I have left behind [just] one thing which if you adhere to, you will never go astray: the ‘Book of Allah’.” There is no mention of the Prophet’s family here.
Nonetheless, what is being unfortunately missed in the continuing Shia-Sunni polemic is that the election of the first four Caliphs is a 1,400-year-old fait accompli. Therefore, it would be grossly imprudent to let it come in the way of establishing an entente cordiale between Shias and Sunnis. After all, the present-day Sunnis hold Hazrat Ali and the Prophet's family in high esteem, and had nothing to do with the tribal politics of Seventh Century Arabia.
A. Faizur Rahman,