Analysis of Wilferd Madelung’s book “The Succession to Muhammad”

August 2, 2012 by islamistruth

 Written by Farid

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم

As promised, here are some thoughts on the book “The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate” by Wilferd Madelung. Refer to the wikipedia article for a brief bio about the man:

To start off, Madelung relied on Abu Mikhnaf, Al-Mufeed, and Nasr bin Muzahim extensively. He also said that Al-Waqidi is the more reliable source when it came to the crisis in the caliphate of Uthman (p. 373). Ironically, Madelung, often mentions that the witness of certain reports were pro-Ali or pro-Uthman, and thus, their narration supports their view, so it should be considered unreliable. This is a positive step forward. However, Madelung rarely applies this to the base sources. He will never reject a narration from Nasr bin Muzahim’s Waq’at Siffeen that depicts Mu’awiyah as a bloodthirsty war monger even though Nasr was a rafidhi. Instead, he will rely on these sources blindly. Due to this, Madelung relied on Nasr bin Muzahim continuously for tens of pages without casting any doubt on the contents of the narrations. This is extremely problematic especially since Madelung, in most cases, assumes that narrations attributed to witnesses should be accepted as authentic unless there is something seriously wrong with the matn. Due to this, he rarely ever accuses someone in the chain of attributing a false view to a narrator.

On pages 18-27, Madelung quotes several contradictory narrations attributed to A’isha and Ibn Abbas. Instead of attempting to either weaken the ones with weak chains, he chooses to assert that both are liars that fabricated narrations that supported their own views. He also drew a picture that they both hated each other. He says (p.22): “It will be seen that both of them were prepared to invent stories to bolster their claims and to discredit their opponents.” However, we only have to go as far as Fadha’il Al-Sahaba by Al-Imam Ahmad to see that they both praised each other and saw each other in a great light.

I also found another thing ironic about his approach. He was hell-bent on proving that the shaikhain were two faced. Take for example the bay’ah of Abu Bakr (p. 39-40). Every knows that Abu Bakr didn’t want the khilafa for himself and he would rather be a follower and follow Omar or Abu Obaida. I’m not aware of a difference of opinion from the sources that suggest this. Madelung, instead, argues that Abu Bakr knew that nobody would accept Omar or Abu Obaida as khalifa, and he was hinting for them to give bay’ah to him. In other words, Madelung twisted the obvious and clear meaning of the narration to one that suited a hypocritical Abu Bakr. Was this because Madelung has approached this issue with preconceptions in mind? Was it because he had his mind filled with non-sense from all the Shia historical writings that he’s been eating up? Wallahu a’alam.

Similarly, Madelung implies that Omar did not want Ali to become the khalifa (refer to the section titled “Umar: Commander of the Faithful). How is this accurate when Omar himself appointed six people up for shura and included Ali as one of them? According to the narration in the Saheehain, Omar was asked by the Muslimeen to appoint a leader. He said to them that istikhlaaf was practiced by Abu Bakr, and that Abu Bakr is greater than him, but that leaving the matter without specifying a single person was the way of the Prophet (pbuh), and thus, he chose that option. So, once again, Madelung against the clear and obvious narration and uses his baseless interpretation to change the outlook of the reader regarding this historical event.

Rarely, we will see Madelung attempt to take a page out of the book of the Muslims by using their terms and supposedly attempting their version of historical criticism. One time (p. 127), he argues that an isnad is excellent. However, when we take a closer look, we realize that Al-Waqidi is the main narrator of the chain.

He also seems to be ignorant when it comes to marifat al-ruwaat (knowing who the narrators are). For example, he states that Al-Hussain bin Isa, the shaikh of Amr bin Hammad, is Al-Hussain bin Isa bin Muslim Al-Kufi, when in reality, he is Al-Hussain bin Isa bin Zaid bin Zain Al-Abideen. This is clear when one examines the qara’in that surround who he narrated from and who narrated from him.

Furthermore, my biggest issue in the book is that the author rarely gives any weight to the Sunni version of history, and more importantly, he attempts to re-invent the wheel by introducing this new methodology of historical criticism. Moreover, he completely disregards accusations of forgery against the Shia historians. Mind you, these accusations have nothing to do with rejecting the innovator for the sake of his innovation, but rather, due to clear evidences that so-and-so is in fact a liar. As we are all aware, there are thiqaat from the Shia, and yet, we rarely find quotes from them in this book.

His tone and word choice, at times, seem childish, especially when describing Mu’awiyah. He mentions things that have nothing to do with the text, for example, referring to him as a taleeq, or a coward with no battle experience. He also goes on to examine the psyche of Mua’wiyah when he makes his decisions regarding war preparation and politics instead of simply doing the job of the historian, which is to state the facts in an orderly fashion. At times, I feel like I am reading a novel instead of an academic historical work.

Most importantly, I did learn from this that Sunnis are light years ahead of Orientalists when it comes to judging the basis of historical material. See the works of Sulaiman Al-Oda and Yahya Al-Yahya for example, wa lillahi al-hamd.

  1. You have given an analysis of the great Historical research work of the most eminent Professor Emiritus Wilferd Madelung, the reciepiant of the Giorgio Levi Della Vida Award in Islamic Studies. He is also the Winner of the Best Book Award of 1997.This Leading contemporary Islamicist is nineteenth recipient of LDV prize of the Center for Near Eastern Studies and was awarded this distinction which is given to individuals who have demonstrated a life-long commitment to scholarship, education and professional service in their field .
    In a comprehensive study of early Islamic history, Wilferd Madelung examines the conflict which developed after Muhammad’s death for the leadership of the Muslim community. He pursues the history of this conflict through the reign of the four’ caliphs to its climax in the first inter-Muslim war. The outcome of the war, which marked the demise of the reign of the Early Companions, resulted in the lasting schism between Sunnite and Shi’ite Islam. Contrary to recent scholarly trends. The author brings out Ali’s (a) early claim to legitimate succession, which gained support from every right thinking person particularly the entire Shi’a communities, and offers a most convincing reinterpretation of early Islamic history. This book will make a major contribution to the debate over succession. Wilferd Madelung’s book The Succession to Muhammad has been awarded the Best Book of the Year prize 1997 .

    With some 15 books and edited volumes, 60 articles and chapters in various journals and collective volumes, 130 encyclopaedia entries and more than 160 book reviews, Wilferd Madelung has made major contributions to many aspects of medieval Muslim history and thoughts. With particular reference to religious schools and movements in early Islam, his studies, based on a vast array of primary sources, have enriched the discipline’s understanding of almost every major Muslim movement and community – not only early Imami Shi‘ism and the later developments of Twelver, Ismaili and Zaydi Islam but also the lesser known aspects of Sunni, Khariji and the Mu‘tazili schools of theology and philosophy.
    From your absolutely negative analysis as expected it becomes crystal clear that either you are not literate enough to understand English or too biased to digest the truth . The Writer is a devout Christian, not a muslim, neither a shia nor Sunni , why he should be partial to be favouring one sect and condemning the leadership of the other sect altogather . It seems that the truth is too bitter to sink in and therefore your analyser does not seems to be pleased with any view of his inferences he came out after extensive studies and researches of the contemporary History much of which was earlier written on the tip of the sword or at best with near vision of the hanging of the Sack of Gold and silver coins . But the truth has come out with his revealations and I congratulate
    him for absolute truth which will go a long way in opening the eyes of the deviants who are believing and practicing an Islam which has been so much innovated , altered and polluted that it hardly has any semblence of the original Islam brought by the Prophet Mohammad (saaws) This all happened because the greedy self seekers who had attached themselves with the Islamic movement , immidiately after the demise of the Prophet of Islam (s) the wested interests started trying to milk the success of the Holy Cow of Islam and just forgot the Prophet’s parting instructions that only those will be stead fast on Islam and will be liberated who will keep Tammassuk both with Qora’an and Ahlebayt. (a s) Moaviah and son Yazeed said this in words, others kept it in their chest to claim leadership and ruling rights.” who said any divine revelation came , it was all Mohammad’s attempt to rule Qoraish ” .

    Zaheer Husain Khan