Appointment of Imam Ali (PBUH) and Issue of Successorship

Did Prophet Muhammad (pbuhahf) name Imam Ali (pbuh) as his successor?

One of the most controversial topics in Islam regarding the death of Prophet Muhammad (pbuhahf) is the schism that was born shortly after. To this day, the adherents of Islam are split between whether the Prophet had appointed a successor after him, or if he let the Ummah (community of Muslims) choose from amongst themselves a leader. With the Muslim world spilt, it is hard to believe such a religion that is described to be “perfected and completed” has people confused about who the rightful successor is, and the fear as to whether or not believing in one version over the other dooms one to eternal damnation.

When we look at religion as a whole, from the time of Prophet Adam (pbuh) to Muhammad (pbuhahf), we find that religion isn’t a book. Religion was always a man. It was a man that would come and establish the divine covenant and laws. He was the one whom the people held onto lest they go astray and commit acts of atrocities against the Lord and his people. Holding on tight to this man, was adhering to one’s own religion. 

This man is divinely chosen and appointed. Even God’s close angels had no choice whether or not Adam be made a ‘Caliph’ on Earth, rather it was entirely God’s command and decision. Those who were against that decision had to face the consequences, such as Iblis who was expelled from the heavenly planes due to his disobedience towards God in regards to his appointed Caliph. Thus proving that disobedience to the Caliph of God, is disobedience to the Almighty himself.

Now let us assume that when it comes to someone who isn’t a prophet, can the people choose the leader or is it still God’s choice? When we look in the Quran we find that the Children of Israel needed a leader, someone to guide their nation and act as God’s representative on Earth.


Have you not considered the assembly of the Children of Israel after [the time of] Moses when they said to a prophet of theirs, “Send to us a king, and we will fight in the way of Allah”? He said, “Would you perhaps refrain from fighting if battle was prescribed for you?” They said, “And why should we not fight in the cause of Allah when we have been driven out from our homes and from our children?” But when battle was prescribed for them, they turned away, except for a few of them. And Allah is Knowing of the wrongdoers.

 – Holy Quran, Al-Baqara verse 246

The Children of Israel wanted a king and went to a prophet of theirs to ask him to appoint one for them. This clearly shows how they knew, at that time, that this king had to be chosen and appointed by God, through His vicegerent on earth.

And their prophet said to them, “Indeed, Allah has sent to you Saul as a king.” They said, “How can he have kingship over us while we are more worthy of kingship than him and he has not been given any measure of wealth?” He said, “Indeed, Allah has chosen him over you and has increased him abundantly in knowledge and stature. And Allah gives His sovereignty to whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing [in favor] and Knowing.”

– Holy Quran, Al-Baqara verse 247

Just as the Angels did not have a say when God had chosen Adam as the Caliph over the Earth, the Children of Israel in this story also do not have a say over the ruler who God has appointed, regardless of whether the people like it or not.

Before the demise of the Prophet (pbuhahf), God had given him the task of delivering an important revelation to his followers, a message so great and important that if it was not delivered, it would be as if nothing of Islam was accomplished:

O Messenger, announce that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message. And Allah will protect you from the people. Indeed, Allah does not guide the disbelieving people.

– Holy Quran, Al-Ma’idah, verse 67 

This verse was revealed on the day of Ghadir Khum, an event which is well known to all Muslims. On that day, the Prophet (pbuhahf) clearly announced who is to be the next  ‘Mawla’ (or master) after him. This is why the Prophet had to convey God’s message. In order to perfect the religion, the Prophet (pbuhahf) had to complete it by appointing his next successor.

This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion.

– Holy Quran, Al-Ma’idah, verse 3

What Did the Prophet (PBUHAHF) Announce to His People in Ghadeer Khum?

Ziyad ibn Abi Ziyad narrated. I heard Ali ibn Abi Talib (pbuh) adjure the people and say:

“I adjure you by Allah, did any Muslim man hear the Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf) say what he said on the day of Ghadeer Khum? And twelve men who had been at Badr stood up and testified”. 

– Musnad Ahmad, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Book 5: Musnad Ali ibn Abi Talib, hadith 670 

What was Imam Ali (pbuh) pointing towards and reminding the Muslims about? Let us look at the narrations revolving around this event:

Yazid ibn Hayyan reported, I went along with Hosain ibn Sabra and Umar ibn Muslim to Zaid ibn Arqam and, as we sat by his side, Hosain said to him:

“Zaid you have been able to acquire great virtue, you saw Allah’s Messenger (pbuhahf), listened to his talk, fought by his side and prayed behind him. Zaid, you have in fact earned great virtue. Tell us O Zaid, what you heard from Allah’s Messenger (pbuhahf)”. He said: “By Allah, I have grown old and almost spent my age and I have forgotten some of the things which I used to remember from Allah’s Messenger (pbuhahf), so accept whatever I narrate to you, and which I do not narrate do not compel me to do that”. He then said: “One day Allah’s Messenger (pbuhahf) stood up to deliver a sermon at a watering place known as Khum situated between Mecca and Medina. He praised Allah, extolled Him and delivered the sermon and exhorted (us) and said: ‘Now to our purpose. O people, I am a human being. I am about to receive a messenger from my Lord (the angel of death) and I will respond to Allah’s call (would bid good-bye to you), but I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it’. He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of Allah and then said: ‘The second are the members of my household (Ahlulbayt). I remind you (of your duties) of the members of my family’ (He repeated it three times)”. Then Hosain said to Zaid: “Who are the members of his household? Aren’t his wives the members of his family?” Thereupon he said: “His wives are the members of his family (but here) the members of his family are those for whom acceptance of Zakat is forbidden”. He said: “Who are they?” Thereupon he said: “The family of Ali, the family of Aqil, the family of Ja’far and the family of Abbas”. Hosain said: “Acceptance of Zakat is forbidden to all those?” Zaid said: “Yes”. 

– Sahih Muslim, Abi Al-Hussein Muslim ibn Al-Hajjaj ibn Muslim, 2nd ed., Book 44: Book of the Merits of the Companions, p.782, hadith 2408a

So Prophet Muhammad (pbuhahf) in his sermon had asked his community to hold on to the two weighty things, the Book of Allah and the people of his household (Ahlulbayt), and it does not include the wives as Zaid had stated in the narration, but rather it was Imam Ali (pbuh) and his offsprings.

Just to confirm that the members of the household is exclusive to Ali and his family we also find in Sahih Muslim the following:

A’isha reported: “The Prophet (pbuhahf) went out one morning wearing a striped cloak of black camel’s hair, then Al-Hassan ibn Ali came so he took him under it, then Al-Hussain came and he took him under it (with them), then Fatimah came and he took her under it, then Ali came and he took him under it and then he said: {Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification}.” [Holy Quran, Al-Ahzab verse 33]

– Sahih Muslim, Abi Al-Hussein Muslim ibn Al-Hajjaj ibn Muslim, 2nd ed., Book 44: Book of the Merits of the Companions, p.787, hadith 2424

Thus, this verse was revealed in the Quran (Surah Al-Ahzab, verse 33). It was for Imam Ali, his wife and his two sons (pbut), the people of the Prophet’s household (the Ahlulbayt).

So why was it significant to hold on tight to Imam Ali (pbuh)?

It was narrated that Saeed ibn Wahb and Zaid ibn Yuthai’ said:

Ali adjured the people at Al-Rahbah saying: “Whoever heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf) speak on the day of Ghadeer Khum, let him stand up. And (of the people) around Saeed, six men stood up, and (of the people) around Zaid, six men stood up, and they testified that they had heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf) say to Ali (pbuh) on the day of Ghadeer Khum: “Does Allah not have more right over the believers?” They said: “Yes”. He said: “O Allah, whoever I am the Mawla (master) of, then Ali is his Mawla. O Allah, befriend those who befriend him and take as enemies those who take him as an enemy”. 

A hadith like that of Abu Is-haq was narrated from Amr Dhi Murr, i.e. from Saeed and Zaid, and he added to it: “support those who support him and desert those who desert him”.

A similar report was also narrated from Abu Tufail, from Zaid ibn Arqam, from the Prophet (pbuhahf).

– Musnad Ahmad,  Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Book 5: Musnad Ali ibn Abi Talib, hadiths 950, 951 

This account serves as an important reminder that God is the one who chooses. The Prophet (pbuhahf) was clearly appointing the ‘Master’ after him, for the people to hold on tight to. This event, at Ghadir Khum, is no different to when the Prophet of the Children of Israel declared that God appointed Saul as king. Just as it was a duty upon the Children of Israel to accept and obey the one who was appointed, the same was for the Muslim Ummah.

Abu Huraira narrated:

Allah’s Messenger (pbuhahf) said, “Whoever obeys me, obeys Allah, and whoever disobeys me, disobeys Allah, and whoever obeys the ruler I appoint, obeys me, and whoever disobeys him, disobeys me.”

– Sahih Bukhari, Abi Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma’il Al-Bukhari, 1st ed., Book 93: Book of Judgements, p.1764, hadith 7137

Imam Ali (pbuh) was the successor of Prophet Muhammad (pbuhahf) and the Prophet made this very clear. If this wasn’t clear enough, the Prophet also clarified it in another occasion when he described his relationship with Imam Ali being similar to another prophet and his successor.

Sa’ad narrated: 

Allah’s Messenger (pbuhahf) set out for Tabuk appointing Ali as his deputy (in Medina). Ali said, “Do you want to leave me with the children and women?” The Prophet (pbuhahf) said, “Will you not be pleased that you will be to me like Aaron to Moses, except there will be no prophet after me?” 

– Sahih Bukhari, Abi Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma’il Al-Bukhari, 1st ed., Book 64: Book of Military Expeditions led by the Prophet, p.1081, hadith 4416

Aaron and Moses (pbut) were two brothers, both were prophets. When Moses left the Children of Israel for 40 nights, Aaron was meant to be his successor upon the people. However, the Children of Israel oppressed Aaron. Aaron later died and so God had Joshua ibn Nun succeed after Moses (pbut). Similarly, when the Prophet (pbuhahf) left Medina to go to the Battle of Tabuk, he left behind Imam Ali (pbuh), who was to him like Aaron was to Moses. He (pbuhahf) elaborates that this similarity is not in the prophethood, but rather in the successorship when he said “except there will be no prophet after me”.

There are many other hadiths where the Prophet (pbuhahf) said the exact same message, some even with a clearer declaration of the caliphate (successorship) of Ali ibn Abi Talib (pbuh).

Asmaa’ bint Umais narrated: 

I heard the Prophet (pbuhahf) say: “O Allah I say as my brother Moses said: ‘And appoint for me a minister [assistant] from my family. Ali, my brother. Strengthen me through him. And let him share my task. That we may exalt You much. And remember You much. Indeed, You are of us ever Seeing.” [These were the verses concerning Aaron in the Holy Quran, Surah Taha verses 29-35]

– Kitab Fada’el Al-Sahaba, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, v.2, p.678, hadith 1158 (Online book)

From Amr ibn Maymoun that Ibn Abbas narrated: 

The Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf) went out with the people to the Battle of Tabuk, so Ali (pbuh) said to him: “Can I go out with you?” Then the Prophet of Allah (pbuhahf) said: “No”, so Ali cried. Then he (pbuhahf) said to him: “Will you not be pleased that you will be to me like Aaron to Moses, except that you are not a prophet? Verily I should not go except with you being my successor (khalifa) upon every believer after me.”

– Kitab Al-Sunna, Amr ibn Abi Asem, 3rd ed., p.589 (Online book)

Anas ibn Malik narrated: 

We told Salman: “Ask the Prophet (pbuhahf) who is his successor”. Salman said to him: “O Messenger of Allah, who is your successor?” He said: “O Salman, who was the successor of Moses?” He said: “Joshua ibn Nun”. He (pbuhahf) said: “Verily, my successor and my heir who pays my debts and fulfils my promises is Ali ibn Abi Talib.” 

– Kitab Fada’el Al-Sahaba, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, v.2, p.615, hadith 1052 (Online book)

Numerous narrations point to the fact that the Prophet (pbuhahf) did appoint Imam Ali (pbuh) as his successor. The incident at Ghadeer Khum is clearer than the sun but Iblis (may Allah curse him) succeeded in deviating the people from God’s chosen vicegerent.

Some argue that the Arabic word ‘Mawla’, which the Prophet (pbuhahf) announced in Ghadeer Khum (whoever I am the ‘Mawla’ of then Ali is his ‘Mawla’) means ‘Friend.’ The fact of the matter is, it means ‘Master,’ and anyone who can read and see the context of the situation can easily comprehend that.

Imagine being a companion of the Prophet and living in this situation; you’re in the scorching desert of the Middle East, with no air-conditioning, exhausted, and you are on your way back home from a religious pilgrimage. Suddenly, news reaches you that you must return back to the Prophet because he has something very important to announce, and if he doesn’t then it’s as if he did not convey God’s message. Now imagine that this important message from God was “Ali is my friend”! How would you feel? Was it worth it that the Prophet made his companions wait in the middle of the desert and recalled all the other Muslims who were on their way back home, building up such great and powerful suspense revolving around the situation only to hear, “This man is my friend?!” Can anyone with a rational mind truly believe that? How can an important message from God be so unimportant?! That’s of course, if this word meant ‘Friend’. However, this important message was meant to say that this man, Ali, is the successor and the ‘Master’ of all the believing men and women after the Prophet.

To prove that this was certainly the message and that the people at that time clearly understood this, let us look at this hadith.

Al-Baraa’ ibn Azeb narrated: 

We were travelling with the Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf) then we stopped at Ghadeer Khum, and we were called to prayer. The Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf) sat under two trees, he then prayed Dhuhr prayer (Noon prayer) and took Ali’s hand (pbuh) and said: “Do I not have more right over the believers than what they have over themselves?” They said: “Yes”, he said: “Do I not have more right over every believer than what he has over his own self?” They said: “Yes”. He said: “Whoever I am the mawla (master) of, then Ali is his mawla. O Allah, befriend those who befriend him and take as enemies those who take him as an enemy.” So Umar went to him after that and said to him: “Congratulations O son of Abi Talib, you became the ‘Mawla’ of every believing man and woman”.

– Musnad Ahmad, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, v.4, p.281 

– Kitab Fada’el Al-Sahaba, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, v.2, p.596, hadith 1016 (Online book)

Why would the Companions congratulate Imam Ali (pbuh) for being their friend?! Was the entire Muslim nation not a friend of Ali, to the extent that God inspires the Prophet to command them to befriend him?!

Obviously, the message was clear. God had chosen and appointed his next vicegerent, the successor of the Prophet (pbuhahf).

Imran ibn Hosain narrated:

The Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf) said: “Ali is from me, and I am from him, and he is the “Waly” of every believer after me.” (Waly is another word derived from Mawla)

– Kanz Al-Ummal, Al-Muttaki Al-Hindi, v.11, p.599, hadith 32883

– Kitab Fada’el Al-Sahaba, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, v.2, p.649, hadith 1104 (Online book)

Companions Pointing to Ali and the Will

Perhaps the most critical point that we would like to confirm is the writing of the Will of the Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf). In his Will he had dictated that Imam Ali (pbuh) will be his successor, and this had already been hinted at and established by the Companions of the Prophet who had informed Aisha but she denied them.

Al-Aswad narrated: 

In the presence of Aisha some people mentioned that the Prophet (pbuhahf) had appointed Ali by Will as his successor. Aisha said, “When did he appoint him by Will? Verily when he died he was resting against my chest (or said: in my lap) and he asked for a wash-basin and then collapsed while in that state, and I did not even perceive that he had died, so when did he appoint him by Will?” 

– Sahih Bukhari, Abi Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma’il Al-Bukhari, 1st ed., Book 55: Book of Wills and Testaments, p.676, hadith 2741

So here the wife of the Prophet denies that a Will was written. However, if what she is saying is the truth, then we have to say that our own Prophet does not practice what he preaches. When he commanded the prayer, he prayed, when he commanded the fasting in the month of Ramadan, he fasted, but for some reason when he commanded the writing of a Will before death, he didn’t do it!

Abdullah ibn Umar narrated:

Allah’s Messenger (pbuhahf) said: “It is not permissible for any Muslim who has something to Will to stay for two nights without having his last Will and testament written and kept ready with him.” 

– Sahih Bukhari, Abi Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma’il Al-Bukhari, 1st ed., Book 55: Book of Wills and Testaments, p.676, hadith 2738

And in the Quran it states:

It is prescribed that when death approaches any of you—if they leave something of value—a will should be made in favour of parents and immediate family with fairness. ˹This is˺ an obligation on those who are mindful ˹of Allah˺.

– Holy Quran, Al-Baqara verse 180

So if you have anything of value to leave behind, even if its a word of advice, then it’s upon a Muslim to write it in a Will before his death.

Since the Quran is ‘of value’, some have argued that his Will was the Quran, but is that true?

Ibn Abbas narrates:

When Allah’s Messenger (sawas) was on his death-bed and in the house there were some people among whom was Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the Prophet (pbuhahf) said, “Come, let me write for you a statement after which you will not go astray.” Umar said, “The Prophet is seriously ill and you have the Quran; so the Book of Allah is enough for us.” The people present in the house differed and quarrelled. Some said “Go near so that the Prophet may write for you a statement after which you will not go astray,” while the others said as Umar said. When they caused a hue and cry before the Prophet, the Messenger of Allah (sawas) said, “Go away!” Ubaidullah narrated: Ibn Abbas used to say, “It was very unfortunate that the Messenger of Allah (sawas) was prevented from writing that statement for them because of their disagreement and noise.”

– Sahih Bukhari, Abi Abdullah Muhammad ibn Isma’il Al-Bukhari, 1st ed., Book 75: Book of Patients, p.1438, hadith 5669

We can see here that the Quran was not the Will of Prophet Muhammad, for if it was his Will then why would he need to gather the people around his deathbed to inform them of the verses which he previously revealed to them?! And why would he (pbuhahf) say “let me write for you a statement after which you will not go astray”? Was he intending to write the entire Quran while he was sick and on his deathbed?! If he (pbuhahf) truly intended to say that the Quran was the Will, then why would he be angry when Umar said “the Book of Allah is enough for us” and commanded them to go away?! 

If the Book of Allah was truly enough for us, then how do we explain the numerous different sects that appeared afterwards? How do we explain the different interpretations of the verses and chapters in the Quran which Muslims today are cursing each other over? If the Book of Allah was truly enough then all these sects and schools of thought would not have existed in the first place. So clearly it was not enough, and every person will realise this when he looks at the situation while being unbiased towards a particular belief.

If Prophet Muhammad (pbuhahf) had been entirely prevented from writing his last Will, then we would have been doomed to find the truth. However, all thanks is due to God that the Will had been written and protected and has reached us to this day, in order to lead the people back to the path of guidance.

The Holy Will

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuhahf), on the night of his death, said to Ali bin Abi Talib (pbuh):

“O Father of Al-Hassan, bring me a pen and a paper’, so the Messenger of Allah (pbuhahf) dictated his Will until he came to this position where he said: ‘O Ali, there will be twelve Imams after me and after them there will be twelve Mahdis. So you, O Ali, are the first of the twelve Imams, Allah The Exalted has named you in His heavens Ali Al-Mortadha (Ali the Content), Amirul Mo’mineen (the Commander of the Believers), Al-Siddiq Al-Akbar (the Greater Truthful), Al-Farouq Al-A’tham (the Greater Judge and Differentiator between truth and falsehood), Al-Ma’moun (the Trusted), and the Mahdi (the Rightly Guided). These names may not be attributed to other than you. O Ali, you are my Vicegerent/Guardian on my own family, their living and their dead, and upon my women: Whomever I kept, she shall find me tomorrow, and whomever I divorced, I am innocent of her, I will not see her and she will not see me on the Day of Resurrection. And you are my Successor (Khalifa) on my nation after me. If death comes to you, hand it over to my son Al-Hassan, the Righteous and Benevolent. Then if death comes to him, let him hand it over to my son Al-Hussein, the Martyr, the Pure and Murdered. If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, the Master of Worshippers, Dhul Thafant (the one with hard skin on his knees) Ali. If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, Muhammad Al-Baqir (the Revealer of Knowledge). If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, Ja’far Al-Sadiq (the Truthful). If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, Musa Al-Kadhim (the Patient). If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, Ali Al-Ridha. If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, Muhammad Al-Thiqa Al-Taqqi (the Trustworthy, the God-Fearing). If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, Ali Al-Nasih (the Advisor). If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, Al-Hassan Al-Fadhil (the Meritorious). If death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, Muhammad the Safeguarded of the Family of Muhammad, peace be upon them. Those are the twelve Imams. Then there will be twelve Mahdis after him, so if death comes to him, let him hand it over to his son, the first of the close ones, he has three names, one like mine and my father’s and it is Abdullah (Servant of God), and Ahmad (the Praised), and the third name is Al-Mahdi (the Guided) and he is the first of the believers.”

– Al-Ghayba, Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan ‘Al-Toosi’, 3rd ed., p. 150, hadith 111

– Bihar Al-Anwar, Muhammad Baqir Al-Majlisi, 3rd ed., v.36, p.260-261, hadith 81 and  v.53, p.147-148, hadith 6

This is the Will of Prophet Muhammad (pbuhahf), it protects from misguidance because after his death we would know who to follow in order to remain on the guided path. The first vicegerent whom the people had to turn towards was Imam Ali (pbuh). The Will proves the successorship of Imam Ali (pbuh), just as it proves the successorship of Ahmad and Abdullah today. Imam Ahmad Al-Hassan (fhip), the first of the Mahdis and the leader of the Black Banners of the East, and his son the Qa’im of the Family of Muhammad, Abdullah Hashem Aba Al-Sadiq (fhip).

For those who doubt the Will, then we challenge you to bring another Will of Prophet Muhammad (pbuhahf). If you say there is no Will, then you are admitting that the Prophet left his nation to the wolves, and in complete misguidance. And if you believe that he must have left a Will, then this is the only one you will find.

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