Story of Fadak

In the once populated Jewish territory of Khaybar, which is north of Madinah in a town known as Fadak, lay the start of one of the most contentious issues in the history of Islam – the right of inheritance of the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima al-Zahra.

Both schools of thought (The School of the Ahlul Bayt – also known as the Shia; and The School of the Companions – also known as the Sunni) have their own version on how the episode regarding Fadak unfolded. The position of the School of the Companions is that the family of the Prophet had no right to inherit Fadak because the Prophet himself narrated that he does not leave behind any bequests; while the School of the Ahlul Bayt claim otherwise and add that Fadak was not only Fatima al-Zahra’s right to inherit, but also that her father bestowed it to her during his lifetime by the decree of Allah. In addition, scholars who follow the Ahlul Bayt contest that by stripping Fatima of her resources also meant the weakening of Ali b. Abi Talib of the means to defend his rightful entitlement to the leadership of the community.

Both schools of thought relate that Fadak was a well-developed and productive farmland owned by the Jews of the Bani Nadir tribe (the Jews of Madinah) near Khaybar. The Jews who lived in Khaybar posed a persistent threat to the newly established Islamic community. Several attempts were made by them to destabilize and destroy the Islamic community, and thus the Prophet sent his army, led by Ali b. Abi Talib, to conquer their castle in the seventh year of the Hijrah. What remained after the acquisition was the Jewish village of Fadak.

After witnessing the defeat of Khaybar, the Jews of Fadak met with an envoy of the Prophet. Preferring survival, these Jews struck a settlement with the Prophet, and in this deal, they relinquished half of the settlement of Fadak. In addition, they also agreed to deliver half of their part of Fadak’s yearly production to the Prophet, and in return, the Jewish villagers could live peacefully under the protection of the Islamic state.

Therefore, after conquering Khaybar and taking possession of half of the land of Fadak and its yearly revenues without embattlement, the attention then turned towards the issue of its ownership. In accordance with Islam, land or wealth acquired through military intervention becomes the property of the Muslim community; but in all other circumstances, land or wealth acquired without the use of military might becomes the sole property of the Prophet, as indicated in the Qur’an where Allah says:

What God has bestowed on His Apostle and taken away from them – for this you made no expedition with either cavalry or camels: but God gives power to His apostles over any He pleases: and God has power over all things. (c. 59:6)

Allah further adds in the following verse:

What God has bestowed on His Apostle and taken away from the people of the townships belongs to God, to His Apostle and to kindred and orphans… (c. 59:7)

Thus, the followers of the Ahlul Bayt have long claimed that Fadak belonged to the Prophet and their belief is based on the Qur’anic verses mentioned above (c. 59:6-7), in addition to the recorded traditions.

According to the School of the Companions, they too believe that Fadak was the property of the Prophet since it was acquired without the use of force.[24] For example, it is narrated in the Sunni books of tradition that Umar is reported to have said, “The property of Bani Nadir was among that which Allah bestowed on His Messenger; against them neither horses nor camels were pricked, but they belonged specifically to the Messenger of Allah.”[25]

Therefore, the matter of Allah granting ownership of Fadak to the Prophet is not disputed in either school of thought. The disagreement amongst the schools began in regards to what the Prophet did with Fadak during his lifetime, and thus, they narrate the story of Fadak differently.

Shia scholars believe that during his lifetime, the Prophet bestowed Fadak upon his daughter Fatima al-Zahra. These scholars cite a letter written by Ali b. Abi Talib to the governor of Basra, Uthman b. Hunaif in which he stated, “Yes, Fadak was the only land under the heavens which was in our possession; but the inclinations of certain men lusted for it and the souls of others relinquished it.”

On the other hand, those who deny that the Prophet presented Fadak to Fatima al-Zahra reason that the notion that the Prophet would grant one of his children such an abundant gift and would neglect the others is unimaginable. They reason that this would mean that the Prophet would have acted contrary to the Islamic concept of parental fairness, since he had more children other than Fatima. In order to defend this theory, they cite the following tradition, “The companion Basheer b. Sa’d came to the Prophet telling him that he had given one of his sons a garden as a gift and requested the Prophet to be a witness thereto. The Prophet asked whether he had given a similar gift to all of his children. When he replied that he had not done so, then the Prophet told him, ‘Go away, for I will not be a witness to injustice.’”[26]

The Ahlul Bayt rebut that the Prophet acted fairly when he presented Fadak to Fatima al-Zahra for several reasons. Firstly, Fatima was no ordinary child from the Prophet’s children; and he showed her a lofty position through his exceptional treatment towards her. For example, he would stand up to greet her, offer his seat to her, and only permit the door to her home to be adjacent to his home and the mosque. The Prophet used to say the following about her, “Fatima is the mother of her father (Umme Abeeha).”[27] Secondly, she was the only daughter regarded and revered in the Qur’an and sunnah as the leader of all the women. Thirdly, she was the only child of the Prophet whom Allah had purified.[28] Fourthly, through her came the Prophet’s eleven descendents and successors. Lastly and most importantly, it was the decree of Allah to gift Fatima al-Zahra the land of Fadak.

The Ahlul Bayt scholars also draw upon Sunni references to solidify their belief that Fadak was indeed a gift to Fatima al-Zahra. For instance, when chapter 17, verse 26 was revealed in the Qur’an,[29] Sunni commentators say that it pertained to the Prophet bestowing Fadak upon his daughter Fatima al-Zahra. Sunni traditionalists narrated that the Prophet asked the Angel Gabriel in reference to, “And render to the kindred their rights” (c. 17:26) the following, “Who are the kinsmen and what is their due?” The Angel Gabriel replied, “Give Fadak to Fatima for it is her due, and whatever is due to Allah and the Prophet out of Fadak also belongs to her, so entrust it to her also.”[30]

As mentioned earlier, according to both schools of thought, Fadak belonged to the Prophet who then presented it to Fatima al-Zahra.[31] According to the Sunni version of events, after the departure of the Prophet and the succession of Abu Bakr, he (Abu Bakr) was obligated by the Prophet’s tradition to seize his (the Prophet’s) assets as public property. The Shia version argues that confiscation of Fadak and other properties were unwarranted based on the Qur’an and that Abu Bakr’s tradition was unfounded.

According to the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt, Fadak had been in Fatima al-Zahra’s possession for four years prior to the death of the Prophet. They also make a strong point that Abu Bakr had known all along that the Prophet gifted Fadak to Fatima al-Zahra because he had been present during the conquest of Khaybar and had known what the Prophet did with Fadak afterwards.

According to both schools of thought, upon becoming caliph, Abu Bakr ousted Fatima’s hired residents from the land of Fadak and confiscated the land along with other properties that she owned in Madinah. Fatima immediately went to Abu Bakr to protest the seizures and he dismissed her claim by citing the following tradition of the Prophet, “We, the folk of prophets do not leave bequests; what we leave is for alms.”[32]

Fatima al-Zahra employed various means to prove her entitlement to the land. First, she came seeking Fadak as an entitlement of a gift by her father; however, Abu Bakr refused her claim on the account of him hearing from the Prophet that prophets do not leave inheritance. She rebutted his argument by stating that the land was a gift, thus not considered a bequest. After Abu Bakr’s continued refusal to relinquish her property, Fatima then requested her right to inheritance according to the Qur’an for which Abu Bakr asked her to bring forth witnesses.

Some Sunni scholars question as to why Fatima al-Zahra claimed Fadak as her inheritance if it was a gift. The response is that Fatima al-Zahra was compelled to claim her right as an inheritance according to the Qur’an because Abu Bakr would not recognize it as a gift. Besides, if both schools of thought have recorded narrations that Fadak was gifted to Fatima al-Zahra during the life of the Prophet then Abu Bakr’s narration does not apply to this case. He had no grounds to claim it as the Prophet’s property because it no longer belonged to the Prophet.

According to other reports, Fatima al-Zahra claimed Fadak as being a gift from the Prophet, which Abu Bakr requested witnesses in which Fatima al-Zahra brought forward witnesses.[33] In some accounts, the witnesses were Ali b. Abi Talib, Umme Ayman (the wife of the Prophet), and Rabah, a freed slave of the Prophet.[34] In other accounts, the witnesses were Ali and Umme Ayman.[35] While in others, the witnesses were Ali, Hasan, and Husayn; and in some traditions, Umme Ayman[36] is also included, however Abu Bakr rejected all of these people. In some of the reports, Abu Bakr refused Fatima al-Zahra’s witnesses on account of them being her immediate family members. In other reports, he denied her witnesses on account that they fell short of the criteria needed to be witnesses.

In regards to the witnesses, Shia scholars disapprove of Abu Bakr requesting Fatima al-Zahra to bring forth witnesses on account of the following arguments: Fatima’s testimony alone should have sufficed, and there was no need for any witnesses on the account of Allah having purified her, which was also extended to Ali, Hasan, and Husayn.[37] In contrast, on a different occasion, Abu Bakr had accepted the testimony of one person, such as Jabir b. Abdullah al-Ansari, so why did he then deny Fatima al-Zahra’s testimony? The event is recorded in history as follows:

When the Prophet died, Abu Bakr received some property from al-Ala al-Hadrami. Abu Bakr said to the people, “Whoever has a money claim on the Prophet or was promised something by him should come to us (so that we may pay him his right).” Jabir added, I said (to Abu Bakr), “Allah’s Apostle promised me that he would give me this much, and this much, and this much (spreading his hands three times).” Jabir added, “Abu Bakr counted for me and handed me five hundred gold pieces, and then five hundred, and then five hundred (more).”[38]

Many more exceptions to the ‘verse of evidence,’ (c. 2:282) as recorded in the traditions narrated by the School of the Companions can be seen, such as in the example of Khazima b. Thabit. This individual gave evidence in support of the Prophet in a case concerning the sale of a horse, in which an Arab man had made a claim against the Prophet and his (Khazima’s) single testimony was considered sufficient, and through this the Prophet gave him the title of “Dhush Shahadatain” (the person whose single testimony is equivalent to two people) because he was regarded as being equal to two just witnesses.”[39] Thus, again why is it that Abu Bakr could not make an exception for Fatima al-Zahra?

A critical examination into Abu Bakr’s narration shows us the reason. Abu Bakr said, “I heard the Messenger saying, ‘We do not leave inheritance. What we leave behind is charity.’”[40] The Shia scholars deny such a tradition because it goes against the Qur’anic injunction regarding inheritance[41] and the verses that mention about past prophets inheriting.[42] Nonetheless, Abu Bakr upheld the above quoted alleged tradition in the face of Fatima al-Zahra’s claim and the clear verses of the Qur’an.

According to Sunni tradition, the hadith Abu Bakr quoted is considered as genuine, since it can be found in what they describe as sahih (authentic) books, such as Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih al-Muslim, thus making the tradition irrefutable. In addition to their own sources, they also refer to traditions from Shia books on the subject. For example, from one of the major four books of the Shia, al-Kafi by Shaykh al-Kulayni, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq has been quoted as saying that the Prophet said, “…And the ulama (Islamic scholars) are the heirs of the anbiya (prophets); and the anbiya did not leave dinars and dirhams (money) as inheritance; but they do leave knowledge. Therefore, whosoever takes knowledge has taken a great portion.”[43] In addition, in order to justify that Abu Bakr acted rightfully in denying Fadak to Fatima al-Zahra, Sunni scholars also cite the following tradition mentioned in the Shia books, “Women do not inherit anything of the land or fixed property.”[44] They also cite the
following hadith, “They (women) will get the value of the bricks, the building, the wood and the bamboo. As for the land and the fixed property, they will get no inheritance from that.”[45]

However, the Shia scholars do not remain silent when hadith are cited from their books in order to justify actions taken against Fatima al- Zahra. The scholars explain that the tradition regarding the “anbiya (prophets) not leaving inheritance” is not in reference to the traditional inheritance of heirs; but rather, it is in the context of inheriting the spirit and knowledge of Islam. Moreover, Shia scholars point not only towards the Qur’anic verses that mention prophets inheriting, such as Prophet Sulayman inheriting from Prophet Dawud,[46] but also, that Prophet Muhammad himself inherited from his father. Abdullah b. Abdul Muttalib (the Prophet’s father) left to Aminah (the Prophet’s mother) a legacy of five colored camels and a small flock of sheep which was inherited by the Prophet.[47]

In regards to the tradition that women are not permitted to inherit land or property, Shia scholars say that the tradition only applies to the inheritance of a wife from her husband. Thus, it is not applicable to Abu Bakr’s action in denying Fatima her right to inherit from her father. Plus they argue that had Abu Bakr’s tradition been accurate then Fatima al-Zahra and Ali b. Abi Talib would have known about it for several reasons. First, they were closest to the Prophet and such a tradition would have affected them both. In addition, Ali would have certainly been aware of the hadith since he was the “gateway” of Islamic knowledge. The Prophet used to refer to Ali as, “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate.” Secondly, they would have never come forward with such a claim if the tradition was accurate.

For the most part, Shia theologians and historians present undisputable arguments and we see that in all accounts, Fadak was rightfully the property of Fatima al-Zahra as it had been gifted to her; and if we presume that it was not gifted to her, then still, if analyzed objectively, one would conclude that she had a right to claim it as an inheritance. By virtue of Fatima al-Zahra’s stature, her testimony, coupled with the Qur’an, take precedence over Abu Bakr’s tradition and position. Thus, to justify Abu Bakr’s action falls short before Fatima al-Zahra’s grandeur. Although various reasons are cited by others to justify Abu Bakr’s claim, but the main intent behind the confiscation of Fadak is closely tied to the usurpation of the Islamic leadership after the Prophet, and thus the underlying reason for the confiscation of Fadak was to deny Ali and Fatima al-Zahra any economic power which would have enabled them to forge a greater stand against Abu Bakr’s leadership.

[24] Al-Tabari, The Last Years of the Prophet (English translation), 4:196; Futuhal Buldan, p.42; Tarikh al-Khamees, 2:64; Ibn Atheer, Tarikh al-Kamil, 2:85; Ibn Hisham, Seerah, 3:48; Ibn Khuldun, Al-Tarikh, 2, part 2
[25] Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:46, 7:82, & 9:121-22; Sahih al-Muslim, 5:151; Abu Dawood, Sunan, 3:139-41; Nasa’i, Sunan, 7:132; Ahmad al-Hanbal, al-Musnad, p.25, 48, 60, & 208; Al-Kubra (Al-Bayhaqi), Sunan, 6:296-99
[26] Sahih al-Muslim, Kitab al-Hibat, no. 14
[27] Bihar al-Anwar, 43:19
[28] Holy Qur’an, 33:33
[29] Holy Qur’an, 17:26, “And render to the kindred their due rights…”
[30] Narration can be found through al-Bazzaz, Abu Yala, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Marduwayh,
and others from Abu Said al-Khudri and through Ibn Marduwayh from Abdullah b. al-Abbas; al-Mustadrak, 4:63; History of Tabari, 3:3460; al-Istiab, 4:1793; Usud al-Ghabah, 5:567;al-Tabaqat, 8:192; al-Isabah, 4:432 [31] Ali b. Burhanuddin al-Halabi al-Shafi, comp., Siratu’l-Halabiyya, p.39
[32] Karmani’s commentary, Sahih al-Bukhari, 15:4
[33] Siratul Halabiyya, p.39
[34] Al-Baladhuri, More Facts on Fadak, comments from Futuhul Buldan, p.48
[35] Ibid
[36] Al-Yaqubi, al-Tarikh, 3:195-96
[37] Holy Qur’an, 33:33
[38] Sahih al-Muslim, 7:75-76; Ahmad al-Hanbal, al-Musnad, 3:307-308
[39] Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:24 & 6:146; Abu Dawud, Sunan, 3:308
[40] Sahih al-Muslim, Kitab al-Jihad Was`-Siyar, no. 49
[41] Holy Qur’an, 4:7 & 4:33
[42] Holy Qur’an, 27:16 & 19:5-6
[43] Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi, 1:42
[44] Al-Kulayni, Al-Kafi, 7:127
[45] Bihar al-Anwar, 104:351
[46] Holy Qur’an, 27:16
[47] Tabaqat b. Sa’d, part 1:39; Moulana Shibli al-Noumani, Siratan Nabi, 1:122

When Power and Piety Collide by Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini

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