Why didn’t Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) wrest back the caliphate ?
One of the many alterations which occurred in the Islamic society after the martyrdom of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was that the family of the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) was completely sidelined. During the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), the Ahle Bait (a.s.) enjoyed a deserving focal status. But during the period of the first two caliphates, they were ignored. Not only were they kept away from the political affairs, but there was prohibition imposed on narrating the traditions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in the praise and merits of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) so that the people remain ignorant regarding their merits and loftiness so as to reduce their influence on the Islamic nation, and in parallel, their rights were usurped and they were made economically weak.
In the return journey from his last Haj, in the land of Ghadeer-e-Khum, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had already announced Ali (a.s.) to be his caliph and successor. All the Muslims accept this fact that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) made the following announcement with respect to Imam Ali (a.s.): “Of whomsoever I am the master, this Ali is his master”. The Ahle Tasannun (people who pretend to be following the Sunnah) accept this fact but refuse to accept him as the first caliph. They claim that the silence of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) was his support to the caliphate of the others. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said, “Ali is with the truth and truth is with Ali”. Therefore, Ali paying allegiance to the caliphs and not revolting against them means he was satisfied with their caliphate. The Ahle Tasannun and those who keeps views like them consider the silence of Imam Ali (a.s.) as his support to the two caliphs, whereas the Shias believe that caliphate was his right and it was snatched away from him (a.s.). This caliphate was given to him by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) upon the order of Allah which cannot be usurped. Therefore, Imam Ali (a.s.) was in no need to have anyone accept his caliphate. An Urdu poet has painted this picture thus:
Why would he fight for the caliphate
Who rejected the status of being God
Anyways, the silence of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) and he not revolting to wrest back his right does not prove that his opponents were right. Truth is always with Ali despite anyone being against him, but he (a.s.) did not use force to regain his right. There are various reasons for this silence and this article, we shall take a cursory view of a few of them.
The hunter, the flower and the nightingale kept guessing
My silence in the meadows was a meaningful secret
Covenant with the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)
There are various reasons mentioned in books on why didn’t Ameerul Momineen (s.a.) use force to wrest back his rightful caliphate from its usurpers. One of the reasons is that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) himself has stopped Ali (a.s.) from doing so. Apart from Bihar-ul-Anwar and other Shia sources, the scholars of the Ahle Tasannun have also mentioned this point in their books. For example:
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said, “O Ali, your position is like that of the Kaba. It is approached (by people) and it does not go (to anyone). Then if this nation approaches you and submit caliphate to you, then accept it. But if they do not come to you, then do not go to them until they come to you.”[Aale Muhammad by Allamah Hassam-ud-Deen Hanafi, pg 624]
Another similar tradition is mentioned in another Sunni books by the name of Ghayat-ul-Maraam.
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said, “O Ali, your position is only like the Kaba. It is approached (by people) and it does not go (to anyone). Then if this nation approaches you and presents you the caliphate, accept it from them. And if they do not come to you, do not go to them.” [Ghayat-ul-Maraam Fi Rijal-il-Bukhari Ila Sayyad-il-Anaam by Allamah Shaikh Muhammad b. Dawood al-Hamudi al-Shafi’i pg 73]
It is clear from these above traditions that Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) simply acted upon the advice of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and chose to remain silent. But intermittently, he kept clarifying his right for the people and kept reminding them of the incidents and traditions in which the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) mentioned about his (a.s.) caliphate, but people did not accept his arguments. Therefore, acting on the advice of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), he observed silence and did not revolt.
Another reason which is mentioned in traditions that Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) feared that the Muslim would turn into apostates. At that time, Islam was in its nascent stages and many people had accepted Islam just five years ago or even less than that. In such a scenario, conflicts between two groups of Muslims would develop hatred towards Islam in the hearts of such newly converted Muslims and they would give up Islam. Not only would these new Muslims return to their old religion but even those non-Muslims who were inclined towards Islam would turn away from it.
Shaikh Sadooq (a.r.) in his book Elal-us-Shara’e has collected traditions under this topic. According to one tradition, a companion of Imam Sadiq (a.s.) by the name of Zurarah b. Ayan asked him the reason why Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) not inviting people towards him. Imam (a.s.) that Ali (a.s.) feared that the people would turn back to apostasy. [Elal-us-Shara’e: vol 1 pg 149]
This could be the very reason why the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) advised Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) against revolting against the usurpers of caliphate. Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) himself did not prefer that fact that people should think negatively about Islam because of him. Their belief in oneness of God and the prophethood of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) would at least keep them as Muslims. Otherwise, due to the discord arising on the dispute over caliphate, they would turn away even from the above two and move out from the folds of Islam. Another implication would be that the enemies of Islam would take advantage of this internal conflict and not let Islam develop into the religion it later became.
The third reason why Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) had to remain silent was the lack of supporters. Any mission required sincere helpers and even Ali (a.s.) needed such supporters and helpers. In order to take back his rightful caliphate from its usurpers, he (a.s.) was in need of such followers who would not only support him but also very well understood his philosophy. It was not impossible for Ali (a.s.) to form an army but he could not find the sincere people as he wanted. He (a.s.) also mentioned this to Abu Sufiyan when he approached Imam (a.s.) offering support. Abu Sufiyan had offered that if Imam (a.s.) wished, he would form an army of the Banu Umayyah and its ally tribes and support Ali (a.s.) to take back the kingdom of his cousin (the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)) from the two caliphs. Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) replied to him thus,
“Even if I had forty people from the early converts from the Muhajirs and Ansars supported me, I would have fought against that man (the first caliph)” [Book of Sulaim b. Qais: p 303; Sharh-e-Nahjul Balagha: v 2 p 47]
From the above tradition, it becomes clear that Ali (a.s.) did not only wish to take away the rule from the caliphs but also wanted to have such supporters who were sincere Muslims, who gave preference to religion and had the pain for religion in their hearts. It was easy to form and army but the lust for power by these people would eventually harm Islam. Now even despite lack of supporters if Imam Ali (a.s.) would revolt against the caliph, then he would definitely be overpowered and he and his followers would be killed. Then these usurpers would spoil the face of religion to such an extent that nothing from its originality would remain. The silence of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) protected Islam from this great harm. Today the entire world is aware of the fact that there are two faces of Islam: one that of Ali (a.s.) and his family and the other that of his opponents.
Other reason related to the above one was that he (a.s.) did not intend to put the lives of his Ahle Bait (a.s.) and his followers into danger. We find the following words from him (a.s.) in Nahjul Balagha,
“Then I saw that apart from my family members, there is no supported to defend me. Thus I did not intend to put their lives in danger.” [Nahjul Balagha: Sermon 217]
History is full of evidences of the ill-treatment meted out to the family of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) at the hands of the Muslims themselves. It is witness to the killings of the members of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) for the sake for power, sometimes through poison and at other times through murder. If Ali (a.s.) would have revolted, the opponents would not hesitate to eliminate the entire Ahle Bait (a.s.) and the lamp of guidance would be extinguished forever.
Apart from the aforementioned few reasons, there are other reasons mentioned in the traditions of the Holy Infallibles (a.s.) regarding the silence of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.). Whatever decision or steps he (a.s.) took in that chaotic atmosphere was only for the sake of safety of Islam and the Muslims. For the bravest of all Ali (a.s.), it was easier to form and army and revolt but he chose the more difficult path and acting upon the will of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) remained patient. This patience from Ali (a.s.) not only protected the lives of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) and the Shias of that time, but also paved the path of guidance for the Shias of the future on what stand to take in the face of oppressive opponents. It is also absolutely clear that he (a.s.) was not satisfied with the caliphate of the two caliphs. His silence is no indication that he endorsed the deeds and actions of the caliphs or he had forsaken the claim to his rightful caliphate. He (a.s.) on multiple occasions made it clear that his opponents were oppressors and that he was a victim. A clear proof of the same is his heart rendering sermon in Nahjul Balagha by the name of “Sermon of the Shiqshikiya”.