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Saqifah Bani Sa'idah 3.jpg
A modern view of the approximate area where the gathering at Saqifah occurred
Observed byMuslims
SignificanceAbu Bakr being elected as the first caliph of Islam
ObservancesPrayers, naat, nasheed

Saqifah (Arabic: ‎, romanizedSaq?fah) of the Saida clan refers to the location of an event in early Islam where some of the companions of the Islamic prohpet Muhammad gathered and pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr, as the successor of Muhammad and the first caliph. The event at Saqifah, which took place shortly after Muhammad's death in 11 AH (632 CE), is among the most controversial in early Islam, due to the exclusion of a large number of Muhammad's companions, including his immediate family.[1][2] Saqifah denotes in Arabic a covered communal place for conversation but the word is synonomous in historical texts with this particular event.[3]


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.[4]

In the immediate aftermath of Muhammad's death in 11 AH (632 CE), a gathering of the Ansar took place in the Saqifah (courtyard) of the Saida clan.[2] The conventional wisdom of historians was that the purpose of the meeting was for the Ansar to decide on a new leader for the Muslim community among themselves, with the intentional exclusion of the Muhajirun. However, it is more likely 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 disintegrate. For this reason, they may have simply been seeking to re-establish control over their city, Medina, under the belief that the majority of the Muhajirun would return to Mecca anyway.[5]

Nevertheless, Abu Bakr and Omar, both companions of Muhammad, upon learning about the meeting, hastened to the gathering and reportedly forced their way into Saqifah.[6][7] Abu Bakr and Omar and another companion, Abu Ubaidah, were likely the only members of the Muhajirun who attended the Saqifah gathering.[8][note 1]

When they arrived, Abu Bakr warned the Ansar that Arabs will not recognize the rule of anyone outside of Muhammad's tribe, the Quraysh. Muhajirun, Abu Bakr argued, had the most noble lineage, had accepted Islam earlier, and were nearer to Muhammad in relation.[10][11][12][13] He then took Omar and Abu Ubaidah 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 should choose separate rulers from among themselves. A heated argument ensued this proposal,[14] about which the author W. Muir writes:[15]

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.

The stalemate reportedly continued through the night and into the next day.[16] As evident from the early accounts, eloquent speeches gave way to a shouting match, with different groups competing for power.[17][18] Sa'd ibn Ubadah, the chief of the Khazraj tribe of the Ansar, reportedly accused the attending Muhajirin of colluding together.[19] In a decisive move, Omar took Abu Bakr's hand and swore his allegiance to him, an example eventually followed by the Ansar after ibn Ubadah was beaten into compliance.[19][20]


The outburst of violence at Saqifah, according to the author W. Madelung, indicates that a substantial number of the Ansar must have initially refused to follow Omar's lead. Otherwise, Madelung argues, there would have been no need to beat up Sa'd ibn Ubadah, who was the chief of the Khazraj, the majority tribe of the Ansar.[21] Even after Omar's pledge to Abu Bakr, some of the Ansar reportedly insisted that, "We will not pay allegiance to anyone except Ali."[22][23][24] Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, however, was holding vigil over Muhammad's body, alongside other close relatives, and was likely unaware of the ongoing Saqifah meeting.[25][26]

It has been suggested that two factors allowed the handful of Muhajirun at Saqifah to impose their will upon the Ansar:[27] The first factor was that two key figures broke rank with the rest of the Ansar and backed Abu Bakr: Usaid ibn Hudair, a leader of the rival tribe of Aws, and Bashir bin Sa'ad, an internal rival of Sa'd ibn Ubadah among the Khazraj tribe.[27][28] The second factor was the timely arrival of the Aslam tribe in great numbers, who filled the streets of Medina. The Aslam tribe, residing outside of Medina, were the enemies of the Ansar and readily supported Abu Bakr. Omar would often point out that, "It was only when I saw the Aslam that I became certain of [our] victory."[27]

While Omar defended its outcome, he considered Saqifah to be a hasty decision or falta.[29][30] In particular, by his own admission, "We feared [that] if we left the people [the Ansar] without a pledge of allegiance they might after our departure suddenly make a pledge [to another person]."[31] Madelung suggests that that other person was Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, and that the rushed nature of Saqifah was out of the fear that the Ansar might put forward the case of Ali among themselves.[32]

Madelung points out that Abu Bakr did everything in his speech to avoid raising the case of Ali for the caliphate.[32] According to Madelung, Abu Bakr was well aware that a broad shura, in which Ali was to be on option, would have almost inevitably led to the election of Ali:[33] The Ansar would have likely supported Ali because of their family ties with him,[note 2] and the same arguments that favored Abu Bakr over the Ansar (kinship, service to Islam, etc.) would have arguably favored Ali over Abu Bakr.[33][35][36] Madelung adds that the straightforward logic of dynastic succession would have almost certainly prevailed in a general shura in favor of Ali.[37]

As a result, the Saqifah event has been criticized as a "backroom deal" and a "coup" which was heavily influenced by pre-Islamic tribal politics.[2][38][39][40][41][42][43][44] In particular, aside from the Ansar who initiated the meeting, the only prominent Muslims who participated were Abu Bakr, Omar and Abu Ubaidah. Later accounts suggest that ibn Abu Hudhayfa was also involved, though this cannot be confirmed by standard sources.[45] Nevertheless, the meeting could not reach a consensus in the absence of so many of the Muhajirun and, in particular, in the absence of Muhammad's own family, whose attendance would have been vital for a legitimate outcome.[46][47][48] Due to its questionable legal authority, Omar later warned Muslims against following ever the example of Saqifah.[49][50] Muhammad's relatives were disgruntled by the haste with which the election took place, denying them a voice in the proceedings.[2]

The fact that the first-hand accounts of the meeting are solely restricted to Omar's testimony contributes to the general uncertainty about the proceedings.[9][note 3]


Muhammad had been buried before the participants of the Saqifah gathering scattered.[51][52] With the help of the Aslam and Aws tribes, Omar then dominated the streets to secure pledge of allegiance of Medinans.[53] Several companions, most notably, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, initially refused to acknowledge Abu Bakr's authority.[2][54][55][56]

To cement his new authority, Abu Bakr ordered his aides, among them Omar, to confront Ali, resulting in an altercation which may have involved violence.[57][58][59] In an act of passive resistance, however, Ali continued to hold out against Abu Bakr's pressure until his wife, Fatimah, died a few months later.[60] According to the Shia, Fatimah died from the injuries that she suffered in a raid on her house, ordered by Abu Bakr. This claim is rejected by the Sunni.[61] Fatimah's dying wish was that Abu Bakr and Omar should not attend her funeral.[62][63][64]

Ali reportedly turned down proposals to actively pursue his claims to the caliphate for the sake of preserving the unity of Islam in a cricital time, perhaps also exacerbated by the demoralizing factor of Fatimah's death.[65][66][67][68] When a poem started to circulate among Ali's clan that ended with, "Surely, we have been cheated in the most monstrous way," Ali forbade the poet to recite it, adding that the wellfare of Islam was dearer to him than anything else.[69]

As a result, Abu Bakr was almost universally accepted at the time as successor to Muhammad.[2] However, the conflicts after Muhammad's death are considered as the roots of the current division among Muslims.[70] Those who had accepted Abu Bakr's caliphate later became the Sunni, while the supporters of Ali's right to caliphate eventually became the Shia.[71]


  1. ^ It is likely the three were also accompanied by personal attendants, family members and clients.[9]
  2. ^ Ali's paternal great-grandmother, Salma bint Amr, had been a member of the Khazraj tribe.[34]
  3. ^ The Ansar were probably unwilling to give accounts of their defeat in a cause that was later commonly derided as un-Islamic. This, combined with the early deaths of Abu Bakr, Abu Ubaidah and Salim, left only Omar to provide a report on the meeting.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 32)
  2. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  3. ^ Lecomte, G. (2021). "Al-Safa". Encyclopaedia of Islam (Second ed.). Brill Reference Online.
  4. ^ Hawa, Salam (2017), The Erasure of Arab Political Identity: Colonialism and Violence, Taylor & Francis, p. 47, ISBN 978-1-317-39006-0
  5. ^ Madelung, Wilferd (1997). The Succession to Muhammad. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. ISBN 0-521-64696-0.
  6. ^ Abbas, Hassan (2021). The Prophet's heir: The life of Ali ibn Abi Talib. Yale University Press. p. 92. ISBN 9780300252057.
  7. ^ Hazleton, Lesley (2009). After the Prophet: The epic story of the Shia-Sunni split in Islam. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 60. ISBN 9780385532099.
  8. ^ Madelung 1997, p. 32
  9. ^ a b c Madelung (1997, p. 32)
  10. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 92)
  11. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 62)
  12. ^ Jafri, S.H.M. (1979). The origins and early development of Shia Islam. London: Longman. p. 36.
  13. ^ Momen (1985, p. 19)
  14. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 30-31)
  15. ^ Muir, William (1892), The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall : from Original Sources (2nd ed.), London: The Religious Tract Society, p. 2
  16. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 62)
  17. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 93)
  18. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 64)
  19. ^ a b Hazleton (2009, p. 65)
  20. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 31)
  21. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 33)
  22. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 35)
  23. ^ Jafri (1979, p. 37)
  24. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 93)
  25. ^ Jafri (1979, p. 39)
  26. ^ Momen, Moojan (1987). An introduction to Shi?i Islam: The history and doctrines of Twelver Shi?ism. Yale University Press. p. 18. ISBN 9780300035315.
  27. ^ a b c Madelung (1997, pp. 33, 34)
  28. ^ Jafri (1979, p. 37)
  29. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 30)
  30. ^ Momen (1985, p. 19)
  31. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 31)
  32. ^ a b Madelung 1997, p. 37
  33. ^ a b Madelung 1997, pp. 36, 40
  34. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 36)
  35. ^ Jafri (1979, p. 38)
  36. ^ Momen (1985, p. 19)
  37. ^ Madelung 1997, pp. 41, 42
  38. ^ Gross, Max (2012). "Shi'a Muslims and Security: the Centrality of Iran". In Seiple, Chris; Hoover, Dennis; Otis, Pauletta (eds.). The Routledge handbook of religion and security. Routledge. p. 58. ISBN 9781136239328.
  39. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 58)
  40. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 94)
  41. ^ Jafri (1979, pp. 37, 38)
  42. ^ Momen (1985, pp. 18, 19)
  43. ^ Cooperson, Michael (2000). Classical Arabic Biography: The Heirs of the Prophets in the Age of al-Ma'mun. Cambridge University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-139-42669-5.
  44. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 56)
  45. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 32)
  46. ^ Madelung (1997, pp. 32)
  47. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 93)
  48. ^ Momen (1985, p. 19)
  49. ^ 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
  50. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 30)
  51. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 94)
  52. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 65)
  53. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 43)
  54. ^ Fitzpatrick & Walker (2014, p. 3)
  55. ^ Jafri (1979, pp. 40, 41)
  56. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 32)
  57. ^ Fitzpatrick & Walker (2014, p. 186)
  58. ^ Vaglieri, Veccia (2021). "Fima". Encyclopedia of Islam (Second ed.). Brill Reference Online. p. 7.
  59. ^ Jafri (1979, p. 39)
  60. ^ Fitzpatrick & Walker (2014, pp. 3, 4)
  61. ^ Abbas (2021, pp. 97-99)
  62. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 73)
  63. ^ Abbas (2021, pp. 103, 105)
  64. ^ Vaglieri (2021, p. 7)
  65. ^ Abbas (2021, p. 105)
  66. ^ Hazleton (2009, p. 76)
  67. ^ Jafri (1979, p. 44)
  68. ^ Momen (1985, pp. 19, 20)
  69. ^ Madelung (1997, p. 37)
  70. ^ Jafri (1979, p. 23)
  71. ^ Badie, Dina (2017). After Saddam: American Foreign Policy and the Destruction of Secularism in the Middle East. Lexington Books. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4985-3900-5.

Further reading

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