Saqifah Bani Sa’idah (سَقِيفَة بَنِي سَاعِدَة, Saqīfah Banī Sāʿdah), commonly known as simply Saqifah, (ٱلسَّقِيفَة as-Saqīfah), was a roofed building in Medina used by the Banu Sa’idah clan of the Banu Khazraj tribe. Saqifah is significant as the site where, after Muhammad‘s death, some of his companions gathered and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr, electing him as the first Caliph.
Gathering at Saqifah
During Muhammad’s lifetime, the Muslims in Medina were divided into two groups; the Muhajirun, who had converted to Islam in Mecca and migrated to Medina with Muhammad, and the Ansar, who were originally from Medina and had invited Muhammad to govern their city.
In the immediate aftermath of the death of Muhammad in 632, a gathering of the Ansar took place in the Saqifah (courtyard) of the Banu Sa’ida clan. The conventional wisdom of historians, as well as the general belief at the time, was that the purpose of the meeting was for the Ansar to decide on a new leader of the Muslim community among themselves, with the intentional exclusion of the Muhajirun. However, it may be that the Ansar, with a similar thinking that precipitated the later Ridda wars, considered that their allegiance to Muhammad had elapsed with his death and expected that his community would now disintegrate. For this reason, they may have simply been seeking to re-establish control over Medina under the belief that the majority of the Muhajirun would return to Mecca anyway.
Nevertheless, Abu Bakr and Umar, both prominent companions of Muhammad, upon learning of the meeting became concerned of a potential coup and hastened to the gathering. Upon arriving, the two learned that the candidate for the position was Sa’d ibn Ubadah, chief of the Banu Sa’ida. Abu Bakr addressed the assembled men with a warning that an attempt to elect a leader outside of Muhammad’s own tribe, the Quraysh, would likely result in dissension as only they can command the necessary respect among the community. He then took Umar and another companion, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, by the hand and offered them to the Ansar as potential choices. Habab ibn Mundhir, a veteran from the Battle of Badr, countered with his own suggestion that the Quraysh and the Ansar choose a leader each from among themselves, who would then rule jointly. The group grew heated upon hearing this proposal and began to argue amongst themselves. The orientalist William Muir gives the following observation of the situation:
The moment was critical. The unity of the Faith was at stake. A divided power would fall to pieces, and all might be lost. The mantle of the Prophet must fall upon one Successor, and on one alone. The sovereignty of Islam demanded an undivided Caliphate; and Arabia would acknowledge no master but from amongst Koreish.
Umar hastily took Abu Bakr’s hand and swore his own allegiance to the latter, an example followed by the gathered men. He later stated that he felt it was necessary to demand an immediate pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr on top of a formal agreement, so as to avoid conflict if the Ansar later reneged and chose another leader. The meeting broke up when a violent scuffle erupted between Umar and Sa’d ibn Ubadah, perhaps indicating that the choice of Abu Bakr may not have been unanimous, with emotions running high as a result of the disagreement.
Abu Bakr was near-universally accepted as head of the Muslim community (under the title of Caliph) as a result of Saqifah, though he did face contention as a result of the rushed nature of the event. Several companions, most prominent among them being Ali ibn Abi Talib, initially refused to acknowledge his authority. Abu Bakr later sent Umar to confront Ali regarding this, resulting in an altercation which may have involved violence. However, after six months the group made peace with Abu Bakr and Ali offered him his allegiance.
The election has been viewed as controversial for a number of reasons. It is notable that aside from the Ansar who initiated the meeting, the only prominent Muslims who attended the meeting were Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubaidah. Later accounts suggest that Salim Mawla ibn Abu Hudhayfa was also involved, though this cannot be confirmed by standard sources. Nevertheless, the absence of so many of the Muhajirun (including Muhammad’s own family, whose attendance would have been vital for any legitimate consultation) has been viewed as problematic. Umar himself described Saqifah as a falta (hasty affair), though he defended their actions on account of the urgency of the situation. Due to its questionable legal authority, following Umar’s own ascension to the Caliphate, he warned the Muslims against using the example of Saqifah as a precedent for appointing his successor.
Most notable in his absence was Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was at the time performing the ritual bathing of Muhammad’s body alongside the latter’s immediate family. Muhammad’s relatives were disgruntled by the haste with which the election took place, denying them a voice in the proceedings. Ali himself may have been reasonably expected to assume leadership, being both cousin and son-in-law to Muhammad. The theologian Ibrahim al-Nakhai stated that Ali also had support among the Ansar for his succession, explained by the genealogical links he shared with them. Whether his candidacy for the succession was actually raised during Saqifah is unknown, though it is not unlikely. The fact that first-hand accounts of the meeting are restricted to solely Umar’s testimony contributes to the general uncertainty of the proceedings.
- Hawa, Salam (2017), The Erasure of Arab Political Identity: Colonialism and Violence, Taylor & Francis, p. 47, ISBN 978-1-317-39006-0
- Fitzpatrick, Coeli; Walker, Adam Hani (2014). Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-61069-178-9.
- Madelung, Wilferd (1997). The Succession to Muhammad. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. ISBN 0-521-64696-0.
- Lecker, Michael (2011). Kate Fleet; Gundrun Krämer; Denis Matringe; John Nawas; Everett Rowson (eds.). ““Bashīr b. Saʿd” in: Encyclopaedia of Islam”. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_23705.
- Muir, William (1892), The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall : from Original Sources (2nd ed.), London: The Religious Tract Society, p. 2
- Mavani, Hamid (2013), Religious Authority and Political Thought in Twelver Shi’ism: From Ali to Post-Khomeini, Routledge, p. 2, ISBN 978-1-135-04473-2
- Hoffman, Valerie J. (2012). The Essentials of Ibadi Islam. Syracuse University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8156-5084-3.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia