Dialogue between Abdullah b. al-Abbas and Umar b. al-Khattab

Abdullah b. al-Abbas (who is from the tribe of Bani Hashim and was the first cousin of Ali and the Prophet) and Umar b. al-Khattab held many discussions. On one occasion, during the caliphate of Umar they debated whether the Bani Hashim should hold the caliphate. This dialogue is of particular interest, since it highlights the issues at hand.[14]

Umar, “Do you know why the people did not elect you [the family of the Prophet] to the caliphate?”
Ibn Abbas, “No, I do not know.”
Umar, “I know what the reason was.”
Ibn Abbas, “What was it?”
Umar, “The Quraysh hated to see the prophethood and caliphate vested in one house. If that would have happened, you would have wronged the people!”
Ibn Abbas, “Can Amir al-Mumineen (Umar) control his anger if I want to say something?”
Umar, “Feel free to say whatever you want to say.”
Ibn Abbas, “If you say that Quraysh hated to see this [prophethood and caliphate vested in one family] then (know that) in the Qur’an, Allah has said about some of the companions [who had lived during the time of the Prophet], “That is because they hate the revelation of Allah, so He has made their deeds fruitless.”[15] And if you say that we [Bani Hashim] will do injustice if both the prophethood and caliphate are vested in our family, then if we are supposed to do mischief, we will do mischief even without being caliphs or successors, simply because we are the family of the Prophet and the closest people to him. However, we will not do that because our stance, morality, and attitude mirror the attitude of the Prophet, about whom Allah says, “Verily, you stand on an exalted standard of character.”[16] Also Allah said, “Lower your wing to the believers who follow you.”[17] We will not depart from him (the Prophet), so why are you worried that if we become caliphs we will do mischief? If you say, “The Quraysh chose Abu Bakr and Umar,” then Allah answers, “Your Lord creates and chooses as He pleases. No choices have they in the matter.”[18] Plus you know Umar, that Allah has chosen certain people from among His creatures to lead humanity. If the Quraysh had joined their vision with the plan of Allah, then the community would have been prosperous and successful.”
Umar, “Calm down Ibn Abbas. You members of the Bani Hashim, your heart only wanted to deceive the Quraysh permanently, and you hold perpetual hatred and animosity towards the Quraysh.”
Ibn Abbas, “Calm down Umar, do not say that the hearts of Bani Hashim are deceitful. Their hearts are part of the heart of the Messenger of Allah. It is the same heart of the Messenger of Allah that Allah has cleansed and purified, and they are the family of the Prophet whom Allah describes as, “Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, O members of the family of the Prophet, and to make you pure and immaculate.”[19] If you speak about animosity and grudges in our hearts, this would be natural given that our right has been usurped from us and it is in the hands of a transgressor.”
Umar, “What are you saying Ibn Abbas? I have heard some bad things about you, and if I mention them to you, I would lose respect for you in my eyes.”
Ibn Abbas, “What have you heard about me? Tell me. If it is false, I will defend myself. If it is true, I will never lose respect for you in my eyes.”
Umar, “I have heard you telling people that this issue [the khalifah] was taken from the family of the Prophet out of jealousy and by way of injustice.”
Ibn Abbas, “Regarding jealousy, yes it is true because Iblis (Satan) was jealous of Adam and forced him out of Paradise. We are the children of Adam, and there is always jealousy among us. If you say “transgression,” you know better who has the right in this matter [the khalifah], and you Umar are the best person to answer this question. Did you not say that the Arabs are closer to the non-Arabs to the Prophet, and did you not say that the Quraysh are closer than the other tribes are to the Prophet? If you have said that and if you come to the Quraysh, then who among them is closest to the Prophet? Of course, they are the Bani Hashim. I am using the same analogy that you used. We have more right to the caliphate than anyone from the Quraysh.”
Umar, “Stand up and go home.”
Ibn Abbas stood up and as he was leaving Umar said, “You who are leaving, come back! Despite what has happened between us, you are still respected in my eyes.”
Ibn Abbas answered, “You who are the caliph now, we also have to preserve your right.”
After Ibn Abbas left, Umar turned to the people around him and said, “I never saw Ibn Abbas discuss something with anyone and not defeat him.”

[14] Tarikh al-Tabari, 5:30; Qasas al-Arab, 2:363; Ibn al-Atheer, Al-Kamil fil-Tarikh, 3:63; Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 3:107
[15] Holy Qur’an, 47:9
[16] Holy Qur’an, 68:4
[17] Holy Qur’an, 26:215
[18] Holy Qur’an, 28:68
[19] Holy Qur’an, 33:33

When Power and Piety Collide by Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini

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