In the 10th year after Hijri (A.H.) or roughly 632 C.E., the Holy Prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad al-Mustafa (pbuh), performed the final pilgrimage (Hajj) of his lifetime to the sacred city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. After completing the rites of Hajj, the Holy Prophet (pbuh), along with his family, companions, and followers left Mecca for the city of Medina and their homes. Along the way, a most unexpected event happened. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) suddenly ordered all who were with him to stop. A feeling of immense anxiety was in the air and it was apparent that something very important was about to unfold. Those who had gone ahead were summoned back and those who were behind were allowed to catch up. The location was Ghadir Khumm, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had just received – among the last and most significant revelations from Almighty God, making it one of the most important responsibilities in the Prophet’s lifetime.
An unusual stopping point
According to the narrations of the 10th-century theologian Shaykh al-Mufid, he relates in his book, ‘Kitab al-Irshad,’ that the plane of Ghadir Khumm was not considered one to be suitable for travelers as a resting place. Located near what is now the Juhfah region, the area lacked the water and plant life needed to sustain travelers, their riding animals, and any livestock. Aside from this, the heat of the desert was unbearable. Shaykh al-Mufid describes the condition of the travelers on that day where they were found “[wrapping their] cloaks around their feet because of the scorching hot ground.” (Kitab al-Irshad, p. 120)
A major revelation
Essentially, al-Mufid clarifies that the reason for stopping all the travelers under such severe conditions was too important to ignore or be delayed by the Holy Prophet (pbuh). He further elaborates that God, the Most High, Himself selected this location, for if the travelers went beyond this point, they would have dispersed to their homes and destinations. The divine command warranted that the message be delivered at once and it was a message in the truest sense. God revealed to His Prophet, “O Messenger, proclaim what is revealed to you from your Lord. If you did not do so, it will be as though you have not conveyed His message. God protects you from men. He does not guide the unbelieving people.” (5:67)
A singular message
From the revelation itself, it becomes clear why the Holy Prophet (pbuh) did not wish to delay preaching this message to the people. Almighty God had placed a gentle, yet severe, condition on His Beloved Prophet, that if he did not “proclaim” what was revealed, it would have been as though he did not convey His [entire] message. So then what was this message? What was so important in the sight of God that He would have considered all His Messenger’s efforts to be incomplete had this singular message not been delivered? This becomes evident in the sequence of events that unfolded immediately after the revelation.
Two weighty things
According to Shaykh al-Mufid, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) then ordered the masses to assemble. In another narration from Kitab al-Kafi, al-Kulayni narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) commanded for something, “…like a pulpit to be arranged.” (Al-Kafi, Vol. 8, p. 23) He then summoned Ali ibn Abi Talib to climb up as well and stood him to his right. Thereafter, al-Mufid narrates that the Prophet then addressed the crowd. In his sermon, he revealed that his own time was ending and that his departure from this world was near. He went on to say, “I leave behind among you two things which, if you [hold] to them, you will never go astray – that is the Book of God and my family (Ahl al-Bayt).” (Kitab al-Irshad, p. 121)
Successorship after Prophethood
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) made sure to state in no uncertain terms that Prophethood was at an end. Speaking to the crowd, he made this abundantly clear: “O people, Ali’s relationship with me is like the relationship of Harun to Musa except that there will be no Prophet after me.” (Al-Kafi, Vol. 8, p. 22) The proclamation removed any doubts that Muhammad al-Mustafa (pbuh) was the last Prophet of God. Yet it also was one of the foremost declarations of the successorship of Ali ibn Abi Talib (p) after him.
The Holy Prophet then asked the crowd, “‘Am I not better suited (to rule) you than yourselves?’ ‘By God, yes!’” they answered. Al-Mufid says that the Prophet then continued without interruption to address the masses, and then raised the arms of the Commander of the Faithful (p) such that the whiteness of his underarms was visible, and said, “Whoever I am the master (mawla) of, this man, Ali, is his master. O God, befriend whoever befriends him, be hostile to whoever opposes him, support whoever supports him and desert whoever deserts him.” (Kitab al-Irshad, p. 121) Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) effectively declared, after being divinely commanded, the authority of Imam Ali (p) over the people.
Completion of the religion
After the Holy Prophet delivered this message, he received yet another major revelation from God. According to the sermon of Amir al-Muminin, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (p) narrates regarding the Event of Ghadir Khumm that, “On that day He (God) sent this verse, ‘On this day I have perfected your religion, completed My favors to you, and have chosen Islam as your religion.’ (5:3) My divine authority (wilayah) was equal to completion of [the] religion and the pleasure of God, most Majestic is whose mention.” (Al-Kafi, Vol. 8, p. 23) Effectively, the original message to “proclaim” was so significant that had the Holy Prophet (pbuh) not done so, not only would Almighty God have considered His message insufficient, but as seen here, the religion of Islam itself would have been incomplete. By the Prophet (pbuh) proclaiming his divinely appointed successor as he did, God Almighty revealed that on, “this day” (the day of Ghadir Khumm), the religion was now perfected as opposed to being imperfect without this proclamation of successorship.
Divine authority (Wilayah)
The Event of Ghadir Khumm highlighted the significance of the concept of divine authority (wilayah). It is an authority granted and supported by God directly. The appointment of Imam Ali (p) as Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) successor was effectively the granting of divine authority to him by God. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did nothing of his own accord as elucidated in the Holy Qur’an, “He (Muhammad) does not speak out of his own desires. (53:3) It (whatever he says) is a revelation which has been revealed to him.” (53:4) According to the Ahl al-Bayt school of thought, successorship after the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was a matter for God, the Most High, alone to determine as was seen in the Event of Ghadir al-Khumm.