What Is Eid-al-Ghadir and Why Do Shia Muslims Celebrate It?

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“Oh Allah, bear witness. ‘Oh people, Allah is my Lord and I am the lord (leader) of the believers. I am worthier of believers than themselves. Of whomsoever I had been Master (Mawla), Ali here is to be his Master (Mawla). Oh Allah, be a supporter of whoever supports him (Ali) and an enemy of whoever opposes him (Ali).”

Editor’s Note: As with all topics of contention, it is crucial that people are able to approach these matters in a mature and respectful manner. Discussion and debate are healthy and it’s important that we are able to speak openly about differences between the Islamic schools of thought.

Today, around the world, Shia Muslims will be celebrating an occasion of vital importance to them; an event that it is widely considered to be the one that split the Muslim world. Eid al Ghadir/Eid al Ghadeer is named after the event in which Shia Muslims believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), was appointed as the religious authority and leader after the Prophet by Allah (swt).

So what is Ghadir?

When and where?

The event of Ghadeer is named after the place in which it took place, beside the pond (ghadir) in the area of Khumm which is located in the modern-day city of Al-Juhfah in Saudi Arabia. The pond of Khumm is the place where people from different provinces and locations congregated and greeted each other before heading back to their respective towns and cities after performing the pilgrimage of Hajj.

On the 18th of Dhul Hijjah, the 10th year after Hijrah, after the first and last Hajj carried out by the Holy Prophet (pbuh), our beloved Prophet addressed the people in what is widely regarded as the last time in which he spoke to a large congregation of believing men and women.

What took place?

On the way back to Medina from Mecca, Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) ordered his companions and friends to stop at Ghadir Khumm. In this place, it is believed that the following Quranic verse was revealed and became the basis of the sermon which came thereafter:

Oh Apostle! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord, and if you do not, you have not delivered His message (at all); and Allah will protect you from the people.”

[Surah Maedeh: Verse 67]

It is believed that the final part of the verse (in bold) shows how mindful the Prophet was of the people’s reaction upon delivering this final message, one that was so great that if he did not pass it on, it would be as if he had never delivered the message of Islam to the people.

The sermon

After the revelation of the verse, the Prophet (pbuh) ordered for people leaving the Khumm area to return and for a makeshift pulpit to be installed so that he could be seen and heard by all. The sermon given was as such:

“Oh people, Allah the Most Kind the Omniscient has told me that no apostle lives to more than half the age of him who had preceded him. I believe that I am about to be called (to die) and thus I must respond. I am responsible and you are responsible, then what do you say?”

They (the people) replied, “We witness that you have informed, advised, and striven. May Allah bless you.”

The Prophet continued, “Do you not bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and Apostle, and that His Heaven is true, His Hell is true, death is true, the Resurrection after death is true, that there is no doubt that the Day of Judgment will come, and that Allah will resurrect the dead from their graves?”

They said, “Yes, we bear witness.”

He said, “Oh Allah, bear witness. ‘Oh people, Allah is my Lord and I am the lord (leader) of the believers. I am worthier of believers than themselves. Of whomsoever I had been Master (Mawla), Ali here is to be his Master (Mawla). Oh Allah, be a supporter of whoever supports him (Ali) and an enemy of whoever opposes him (Ali).”

After the people came to congratulate Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet (pbuh) continued to say:

“Oh people, I will go ahead of you and you will arrive at my Pond (in Heaven) which is wider than the distance between Basra and San’a. It has receptacles as numerous as the stars, and two cups of gold and two of silver. I will ask you about the two weighty things that I have left for you when you come to me to see how you dealt with them.

The greater weighty thing is Allah’s book, the Holy Qur’an. One end is in Allah’s hand and the other is in your hands. Keep it and you will not deviate.

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That other weighty thing is my family (Ahlulbayt) and my descendants. The Most Kind the Omniscient had told me that both of them, would not separate until they come to my Pond.”

The cause of disagreement

All schools of thought in Islam generally agree on the events of this occasion; the fact that it has been recorded by so many historians allows it to attain the status of ‘mutawatir‘, meaning something which is indisputable or is an undeniable truth.

However, the split comes from the interpretation of the word mawla used in the sermon as the interpretation differs based on the context in which it is being used. In the case of Shia Muslim belief, the word mawla is believed to be linked to the word wali, meaning leader, or religious authority. This then leads Shia Muslims to the belief that Ali was to become the religious authority and leader after the Holy Prophet, thus making him their Imam (and his sons from the lineage of the Prophet thereafter would also be their Imams, their leaders).

In contrast to this, the Sunni Muslim school of thought understands mawla to mean someone who is loved, or close in blood relation. This is taken from the context of the part after the use of the word mawla, where the Prophet said, “Oh Allah, be a supporter of whoever supports him (Ali) and an enemy of whoever opposes him (Ali).” This then suggests that people should continue to be supporters and friends to Ali due to his close blood relation to the Prophet and his love towards him.

The debate then rises as to why the Prophet (pbuh) would gather thousands of people to inform them of the above (in regards to his relationship with Ali), with many scholars pointing to the fact that the verse suggests that if the Prophet did not deliver this message, it was as if he had “not delivered His message (at all).” Further to this, the verse revealed right after the Prophet’s completion of this sermon is as follows:

Today I have perfected your religion and completed my favour upon you, and I was satisfied that Islam be your religion.”

[Surah Maedeh: Verse 3]

The Shia Muslim school of thought believes that this verse suggests that the completion of religion was due to the announcement of the Prophet’s immediate successor, as then there leaves no dispute as to who would succeed the Prophet (pbuh). Much of the turmoil in the aftermath of the Prophet’s (pbuh) death was, in fact, due to the dispute from people over his successor.

Furthermore, this leads on from the widely acknowledge hadith from the Prophet in which he says to Ali:

You will be to me like Aaron (Harun) was to Moses (Musa), except that there will be no Prophet after me.”

This leads Shia Muslims to believe, alongside this verse, that Ali is then the correct leader and had it not been for the fact that Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) was to be the final messenger, Ali would have been on the same pedestal and would have been a deputy over all the affairs and duties of the Prophet in his absence, in the same manner that Harun (as) did for his brother Musa (as) when he left to speak to his Lord.

The contrast here is the belief in the timing of this verse coming down; where Shia Muslims believe that it came down after the Prophet’s sermon in Ghadir, the Sunni Muslim school of thought widely disagrees with this and believe that it came down during the day of Arafah in that same final Hajj. Here it is understood that the ‘perfection of religion’ came when the Prophet (pbuh) addressed the Muslims on the day of Arafah, proclaiming the equality of men and women, regardless of race and creed, showing Islam to be a functioning, multicultural society in which Allah (swt) saw people as equals and only gaining more merit than others through their piety.

After Ghadir Khumm

After the Prophet’s death in the year 632, disputes over succession arose and led to the creation of the caliph system in which leaders of the Islamic nation are chosen by people and rulers. The first to succeed was Abu Bakr, then Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the third was Othman ibn Affan, and then the fourth caliph was Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Ghadir Khumm marks the day when many Muslims pledged allegiance to Ali upon the order of the Prophet (pbuh), inspired by what they believe was the Divine will of Allah (swt). In contrast to this, it also marks the day in which people recognized Ali as the right-hand man of the Prophet (pbuh) and for them to continue being supporters and friends to Ali due to his close blood relation to the Prophet and his love towards him.  This would later come to define the term ‘Shiat Ali’ (supporters of Ali or Shia Muslims).

Read more:

  • Event of Ghadir Khumm – (al-islam.org)
  • Source for Sermon: Al-Ihtijaj by Ahmad Ibn Ali al-Tabarsi. Volume 1, Pages 56–66
  • Sahih Muslim: Book 031, Number 5920
  • Sahih Bukhari: Volume 5, Book 59, Number 637
  • Sahih Tirmidhi: Volume 5, Page 642
  • Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: Volume 4, Page 317
  • Sunan Ibn Majah: Volume 1, Page 142
  • Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal: Volume 1, Pages 84,95,128

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