Abu Talib: Empires against the uncle of the Prophet [Part 5]


Abu Talib: Empires against the uncle of the Prophet [Part 5]

It appears from all this that Abu Talib’s biggest crime, after all, is that he was the father of Imam ‘Ali.


It appears from all this that Abu Talib’s biggest crime, after all, is that he was the father of Imam ‘Ali.

The correlation between all that I’ve mentioned in “Part 4: Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri” and the topic of Abu Talib, is the Anti-‘Alid agenda and heavy nasibi [1] sentiments during the Umayyad era. One of the essential Umayyad methods of increasing their own legitimacy and decreasing the legitimacy of their opponents was to circulate narrations and traditions that apparently tainted the image of those they felt threatened by.

‘Ali b. Abi Talib and his descendants were always perceived as a threat by the Umayyads, as they certainly knew the ‘Alid claim to leadership was far greater their own, and the ‘Alids had the general sympathies of the Muslims [who had not yet been indoctrinated by Umayyad propaganda, or who were not fearing for their lives due to their terror]. A simple way to belittle their ‘Alid opponents was to discredit their forefather, Abu Talib, whom they felt they could attribute kufr to, so that his spiritual rank would decrease in the eyes of Muslims. 

Discrediting Abu Talib

Although some today may feel such an attempt would be irrelevant to their political battles, as the ‘Alids of their time were Muslim and the deeds of Abu Talib were not inherited by his offspring, this is actually incorrect. Arab customs, particularly during that time period in their society, was incredibly tribal and the actions and deeds of forefathers were associated with a family and clan for a very long time well after the individual’s passing. Often times, the clan would entirely be known for a specific deed or action their forefather had done which effected many people.

In this case, through the Anti-‘Alid propaganda of Abu Talib’s rejection of Islam and dying upon polytheism and disbelief, the Umayyad’s could cite that as a flaw in their opponents while citing the fact that their own forefather Abu Sufyan became Muslim and died upon it. This ultimately lead back to the pre-Islamic tribal rivalry that existed between Banu Umayyah and Banu Hashim. Although the Hashimis generally got over those sentiments and moved on from the tribalistic view of the world to an Islamic and Muhammadi view of the world, the Umayyads had not done so as much.

There’s plenty of evidence and reason to believe that the Umayyads [in general] felt that the Hashimis had ‘won the game of thrones’ through the Prophet Muhammad’s claim of prophecy and thus gained the support and influence of all the Arabs and surrounding regions. They most likely viewed Islam as a simple philosophy backed with mere metaphysical jargon that was used by the Prophet in order to gain control and power over them, concluding the “competition” between the clans. This is exemplified in the poetry of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid b. Mu’awiyah, after the martyrdom of the great ‘Alid martyr and grandson of the Prophet, al-Husayn b. ‘Ali [and his family at Karbala], when his honorable head was brought on a spike to the court of Yazid, he exclaimed:

I wish my forefathers at Badr could witness
How the Khazraj are [now] annoyed by the thorns,
They would have cheered and shouted happily,
Then they would have said, ‘May your hands never be hurt, O Yazid!’
We have killed the masters of their chiefs
And equated it with Badr, and it has been so, indeed
I shall not be from the Khandaf if I do not avenge,
From the family of Ahmad for what he did to us!
Banu Hashim played a game for the kingdom,
No news arrived [from the heavens], and no revelations descended! [2]

Along with forged virtues of their Umayyad forefathers that sought to shift the narrative favorably towards themselves, the Sufyanids and Marwanids simultaneously propagated narrations that belittled the Ahlul Bayt – particularly ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and his father. It appears from all this that Abu Talib’s biggest crime, after all, is that he was the father of Imam ‘Ali.

The Abbasid Empire and Abu Talib

While most tend to focus on the transgressions of the Umayyad dynasty against the ‘Alids, and their pro-Umayyad & anti-‘Alid propaganda through interpolations and forgeries in the hadith corpus, the ‘Abbasids played just as big of a role in the circulation of the latter. The ‘Abbasids had capitalized on widespread opposition to the ruling Umayyad dynasty, which they defeated and essentially wiped out. Their overthrow of the government and ascension to power was justified on the grounds that the Umayyads had been godless and oppressive rulers, as well as the fact that the ‘Abbasids were more closely related to the Prophet than the Umayyad’s were. The ‘Abbasids were from the Prophet’s clan of Banu Hashim, whereas the Umayyads were from Banu Umayyah – a different clan of Quraysh altogether.

So, the revolution against the Umayyad’s had been raised by the ‘Abbasids under the banner and phrase of restoring it to al-rida min aali Muhammad, “the one pleasing [to God] from the family of Muhammad”. Through such phrases, the ‘Abbasids were able to rally the support of the Shi’a, coupled with the claim that they’d restore the rights of leadership of the Ummah to the rightful descendants of the Prophet. Naturally, the Shi’a assumed this to mean the ‘Alid descendants, since the ‘Abbasids were using tactics such as holding reenactments of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn at Karbala to gain the sympathy of the people and rally them against the Umayyads [3].

Once in power, the ‘Abbasids realized the problem that the Shi’a and, more importantly, the ‘Alids posed for them. The wave of opposition to the Umayyads that the ‘Abbasids rode to their power had been primarily created by the Shi’a and the ‘Alids who had already given up a great number of martyrs in the struggles against the Umayyads. Meanwhile, the most prominent members of the ‘Abbasids had always been on rather cozy terms with the Umayyads during many of the decades of strife and had only joined the opposition at a later point. The descendants of Abu Talib had a greater claim to leadership in terms of their impressive martyr count, their constant struggles and genuine efforts against oppression since the advent of the Umayyad era, and generally had more “revolutionary” credentials than the ‘Abbasids did.

Another aspect of the Abbasid claim rested on their physical connection to the Prophet, in terms of their lineage and being descendants of the uncle of the Prophet, al-‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib. But once in power, since both the ‘Alids and ‘Abbasids were descendants of men who were paternal uncles of the Prophet, it was fruitless for the ‘Abbasids to merely cite their ancestry, lineage, and relationship to the Prophet Muhammad while facing the challenges posed by the Talibids.

The claim of the Shi’a that the ‘Alids were more entitled to rule than others in Banu Hashim was because ‘Ali b. Abi Talib had been one of the closest, if not the closest, companion of the Prophet Muhammad and his virtues and spiritual rank was well known – whereas al-‘Abbas had only accepted Islam late, a year or more before the conquest of Mecca in 8 AH. The ‘Abbasids, therefore, had to find other more effective arguments to counter the Shiite narrative and claims for the ‘Alids.

Hence, in the second century, the ‘Abbasids were very keen on legitimating their rule and reports from Ibn al-Musayyib became authoritative proof-texts in discrediting their ‘Alid rivals. In a society that believed virtue and vice was inherited from one’s ancestors, as we mentioned before, Abu Talib’s death as a pagan polytheist was viewed as a dishonorable stain on the purity and social capital of the ‘Alids [Hasanids and Husaynids].

The ‘Abbasids further argued that al-‘Abbas, as a paternal uncle, was the closest male relative to the Prophet and thus inherited authority directly from him. There was surely a great incentive for the ‘Abbasids and their partisans in circulating reports that effectively discredited the ancestor of their rivals as a hell-bound polytheist [4].

Abu Talib after death

The discussion surrounding any person’s fate in the hereafter is one that is, quite simply, unnecessary and incredibly subjective. Particularly in regard to those whom Allah did not specifically mention or doom in the Qur’an, and those that require supplemental texts to substantiate their fate. The definitively established Qur’an cannot be definitively specified by texts that that are subjectively established. This is the case for Abu Talib, whose alleged denial of testifying to Allah’s Oneness and ultimate doom in the afterlife, is a belief adhered to by those who use subjective texts that we proved to be weak in the earlier parts of this research.

A person’s afterlife is a grave matter that one ought not to speak on without sufficient proof and evidence. So how can any Muslim declare polytheism as the faith of the Prophet’s dearest uncle? The one who praised the Prophet excessively in his poetry – the likes of which he never did for his own sons at any level, yet recited and wrote the best of it for his nephew. Abu Talib sacrificed his wealth, his time, his resources, his energy, his property, and his life itself when he put all of that on the line supporting the Prophet against the Quraish – the most powerful adversaries anyone could have faced in that society.

The most elite members of society who dominated the economic arena and had monopolized the religious market with their pocket-profiting polytheism, swore enmity towards the Prophet, so aiding him was signing ones final will and testament. Abu Talib sacrificed all that he had and could manage to give, as the chief of Banu Hashim, to supporting, aiding, and protecting the Prophet from the many reaches of harm that were intended and attempted towards him.

The ‘Abbasids used whatever they could to discredit the ‘Alids, or at the very least, even the playing field between them in terms of virtue and religious authority – whereby [to the ‘Abbasids] their brute force and military power became their real distinction. Nonetheless, we are simply not obligated, whatsoever, to be in any bit concerned with Abu Talib’s fate in the afterlife, and ought to rather be more concerned with the actions he carried out during his human life, which every Muslim must learn and take heed from.

And that, perhaps, is the greatest tragedy that was born from the atrocious accusations and false claims against our master Abu Talib – that the Ummah lost a role model, a symbol of self-sacrifice, upmost loyalty, and selflessness, in the honorable uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. A personality with such nobility, honor, and virtuous character, unjustly and tragically cast out of our hearts and minds, and out of whom we consider as “Sahaba”. Often times, while in love with the beauty of the more famous figures and their narrated accounts, most people tend to overlook or forget about some of the less-talked about but equally, if not greater, men of service and sacrifice.


[1] A practitioner/believer of nasb: Anti-‘Alid sentiments ranging from sensitivities of ‘Ali’s mention, to cursing and waging war on him. Officially began with the Anti-‘Alid behaviors and insults of the Sufyanids.

[2] Tabari, Tarikh, (8/187)

[3] Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd Edition

[4] Donner, The Death of Abu Talib


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