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Ahl-e-Bait and Caliphate

Ahl-e-Bait and Caliphate

Publisher: www.alhassanain.org/english

Ahl al-Bayt And Caliphate

Author(s): Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari

Translator(s): Jalil Dorrani

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

The Distinguished Position of Ahl al-Bayt 4

Notes 6

Precedence and Priority 7

1) Will and Designation 7

2) Virtue and Superiority 9

3) Relationship and Lineage 10

The people said: “What proof is there against them in this?”  10

Criticism against The Caliphs 12

Abu Bakr 12

’Umar 13

‘Uthman 15

Mu’awiya’s Skilful Role in the Killing of ‘Uthman 16

Notes 20

A Bitter Silence 21

Islamic Unity 21

Two Outstanding Stances 24

Notes 25


One of the topics repeatedly discussed in Nahj al-Balaghah is that of the Ahl al-Bayt and Caliphate. Thus it is necessary to take up this discussion - which is related to the special topic of Caliphate after the Holy Prophet and the exclusive position of Ahl al-Bayt among the people.

The issues which have been set forth in this regard consist of the following:

• The distinguished and extraordinary position of Ahl al-Bayt and the fact that their knowledge and gnosis originates from an exceptional source and that they cannot be compared with others.

• Precedence and entitlement of the Ahl al-Bayt, especially Amir al-Mu’minin (A.S.), to the seat of Caliphate, whether through decree of will, merit or relationship.

• Criticism of the Caliphs.

• The philosophy behind ‘Ali’s forbearance and tolerance with regard to his indisputable right and its limits, in which he neither exceeded nor fell short in his criticism and objection.

The Distinguished Position of Ahl al-Bayt

    هُمْ مَوْضِعُ سِرِّهِ وَ لَجَأُ أَمْرِهِ وَ عَيْبَةُ عِلْمِهِ وَ مَوْئِلُ حُكْمِهِ وَ كُهُوفُ كُتُبِهِ وَ جِبَالُ دِينِهِ بِهِمْ أَقَامَ انْحِنَاءَ ظَهْرِهِ وَ أَذْهَبَ ارْتِعَادَ فَرَائِصِهِ لَا يُقَاسُ بِآلِ مُحَمَّدٍ صَلَّى اللّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ آلِهِ مِنْ هذِهِ الاُْمَّةِ اَحَدٌ، وَلايُسَوّى بِهِمْ مَنْ جَرَتْ نِعْمَتُهُمْ عَلَيْهِ اَبَداً. هُمْ اَساسُ الدِّينِ، وَ عِمادُ الْيَقينِ. اِلَيْهِمْ يَفىءُ الْغالى، وَ بِهِمْ يَلْحَقُ التّالى،

    وَ لَهُمْ خَصائِصُ حَقِّ الْوِلايَةِ، وَ فيهِمُ الْوَصِيَّةُ وَالْوِراثَةُ. اَلاْنَ اِذْ رَجَعَ الْحَقُّ اِلى اَهْلِهِ، وَ نُقِلَ اِلى مُنْتَقَلِهِ .

“They are the depository of His secret, shelter for His affairs, receptacle of His knowledge, source of His wisdom, caves of His books and mountains of His religion. With them, Allah straightened the bend in religion’s back and removed the trembling of its limbs… None from this Ummah can measure with the Aal (progeny) of Muhammad, blessings of Allah on him and his family. The one on whom their blessings flow can never be equal to them.

They are the foundation of religion and the pillars of certainty. The fast-pacers have to turn back to them and the slow-pacers have to strive to reach them. They possess the special qualities of the right of the vicegerency. The testament and the inheritance (of the Prophet) are concerning them. This is the time when truth has returned to its owner and has been moved to its place.”1

That which can be understood in these few sentences is the extraordinary spirituality that Ahl al-Bayt enjoy, which places them at a level far above the commonplace. At such a level, nobody can be compared to them. Just as in the case of Prophethood, it is wrong to uphold a comparison of other people to the Prophet; similarly in the affair of Caliphate and Imamate, with the existence of personalities at this level, it is absurd to speak of others.

    نَحْنُ شَجَرَةُ النُّبُوَّةِ وَ مَحَطُّ الرِّسَالَةِ وَ مُخْتَلَفُ الْمَلَائِكَةِ وَ مَعَادِنُ الْعِلْمِ وَ يَنَابِيعُ الْحُكْمِ

“We are the tree of Prophethood, the place of descent of the Message, the place of frequentation of Angels, the treasure-troves of knowledge and the fountainhead of wisdom.”2

    أَيْنَ الَّذِينَ زَعَمُوا أَنَّهُمُ الرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ دُونَنَا كَذِباً وَ بَغْياً عَلَيْنَا أَنْ رَفَعَنَا اللَّهُ وَ وَضَعَهُمْ وَ أَعْطَانَا وَ حَرَمَهُمْ وَ أَدْخَلَنَا وَ أَخْرَجَهُمْ بِنَا يُسْتَعْطَى الْهُدَى وَ يُسْتَجْلَى الْعَمَى إِنَّ الْأَئِمَّةَ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ غُرِسُوا فِي هَذَا الْبَطْنِ مِنْ هَاشِمٍ لَا تَصْلُحُ عَلَى سِوَاهُمْ وَ لَا تَصْلُحُ الْوُلَاةُ مِنْ غَيْرِهِمْ

”Where are those who falsely and unjustly claimed that they are “the firmly rooted in knowledge” (3:7) other than us, although Allah raised us in position and kept them down, bestowed upon us knowledge but deprived them, and entered us (in the fortress of knowledge) but kept them out. With us guidance is to be sought and blindness (of misguidance) is to be changed into brightness. Surely the Imams (divine leaders) are from the Quraysh. They have been planted in this line through Hashim. It would not be appropriate for other than them, nor would leaders other than them be suitable (for this position).”3

    نَحْنُ الشِّعَارُ وَ الْأَصْحَابُ وَ الْخَزَنَةُ وَ الْأَبْوَابُ وَ لَا تُؤْتَى الْبُيُوتُ إِلَّا مِنْ أَبْوَابِهَا فَمَنْ أَتَاهَا مِنْ غَيْرِ أَبْوَابِهَا سُمِّيَ سَارِقاً

“We are the near ones, the companions, the treasure holders (of his knowledge) and doors (to the Message). Houses are not entered save through their doors. Whoever enters them through other than their doors is called a thief. “4

    فيهمْ كَرائِمُ الْقُرْآنِ، وَ هُمْ كُنُوزُ الرَّحْمنِ. اِنْ نَطَقُوا صَدَقُوا، وَ اِنْ صَمَتُوا لَمْ يُسْبَقُوا .

“The exalted verses of praise of Qur’an are about them (i.e. the descendants of the Prophet) and they are the treasures of Allah, the Compas­sionate. When they speak, they speak the truth, but when they remain silent no one can speak unless they speak.”5

    هُمْ عَيشُ العلمِ و مَوتُ الجَهل يُخْبِرُكُمْ حِلْمُهُمْ عَنْ عِلْمِهِمْ وَ ظَاهِرُهُمْ عَنْ بَاطِنِهِمْ وَ صَمْتُهُمْ عَنْ حِكَمِ مَنْطِقِهِمْ. لَا يُخَالِفُونَ الْحَقَّ وَ لَا يَخْتَلِفُونَ فِيهِ وَ هُمْ دَعَائِمُ الْإِسْلَامِ وَ وَلَائِجُ الِاعْتِصَامِ. بِهِمْ عَادَ الْحَقُّ إِلَى نِصَابِهِ وَ انْزَاحَ الْبَاطِلُ عَنْ مُقَامِهِ وَ انْقَطَعَ لِسَانُهُ عَنْ مَنْبِتِهِ. عَقَلُوا الدِّينَ عَقْلَ وِعَايَةٍ وَ رِعَايَةٍ لَا عَقْلَ سَمَاعٍ وَ رِوَايَةٍ فَإِنَّ رُوَاةَ الْعِلْمِ كَثِيرٌ وَ رُعاتَهُ قَليل

“They are life for knowledge and death for ignorance. Their forbearance tells you of their knowledge, their outward self of their inner self, and their silence of the wisdom of their speech. They do not oppose the truth nor do they differ (among themselves) about it. They are the pillars of Islam and the asylums for its protection. With them, the truth has returned to its proper place and falsehood has departed from the place in which it settled, and its tongue has been severed from its root. They have understood the religion with comprehension, insight and adherence to its precepts, not through (mere) hearsay and narration. Indeed the narrators of knowledge are many, but its guardians are few.”6

Aside from these aphorisms in Nahj al-Balaghah, an incident has been narrated where Kumayl ibn Ziyad Nakha’i says:- ‘Amir al-Mu’minin (A.S.) [during the period of Caliphate and his stay in Kufa] took hold of my hand and together we went towards the graveyard, which was on the outskirts of the city.”

As soon as we reached a silent spot in the desert, ‘Ali (A.S.) sighed deeply and began to speak.

At the outset of his talk, he said:- “O Kumayl the hearts of the sons of Adam are in the rank of vessels. The best vessels are those which best preserve their contents. Thus, whatever I say, you record it.”

In this talk which is quite lengthy, ‘Ali (A.S.) divides the people from the viewpoint of pursuance of the true path into three categories. Thereafter he expresses anguish for the reason that he does not find anyone worthy enough to be entrusted the numerous mysteries which are stored in him. However, in the end of his speech, he says: Of course it is not such that the earth remains entirely devoid of any men of God. In every age there are such individuals, although they may be few:

    اللَّهُمَّ بَلَى لَا تَخْلُو الْأَرْضُ مِنْ قَائِمٍ لِلَّهِ بِحُجَّةٍ إِمَّا ظَاهِراً مَشْهُوراً وَ إِمَّا خَائِفاً مَغْمُوراً لِئَلَّا تَبْطُلَ حُجَجُ اللَّهِ وَ بَيِّنَاتُهُ وَ كَمْ ذَا وَ أَيْنَ أُولَئِكَ؟ أُولَئِكَ وَ اللَّهِ الْأَقَلُّونَ عَدَداً وَ الْأَعْظَمُونَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ قَدْراً يَحْفَظُ اللَّهُ بِهِمْ حُجَجَهُ وَ بَيِّنَاتِهِ حَتَّى يُودِعُوهَا نُظَرَاءَهُمْ وَ يَزْرَعُوهَا فِي قُلُوبِ أَشْبَاهِهِمْ هَجَمَ بِهِمُ الْعِلْمُ عَلَى حَقِيقَةِ الْبَصِيرَةِ وَ بَاشَرُوا رُوحَ الْيَقِينِ وَ اسْتَلَانُوا مَا اسْتَوْعَرَهُ الْمُتْرَفُونَ وَ أَنِسُوا بِمَا اسْتَوْحَشَ مِنْهُ الْجَاهِلُونَ وَ صَحِبُوا الدُّنْيَا بِأَبْدَانٍ أَرْوَاحُهَا مُعَلَّقَةٌ بِالْمَحَلِّ الْأَعْلَى أُولَئِكَ خُلَفَاءُ اللَّهِ فِي أَرْضِهِ وَ الدُّعَاةُ إِلَى دِينِهِ آهِ آهِ شَوْقاً إِلَى رُؤْيَتِهِمْ

“Indeed the earth is never devoid of one who rises for Allah with a proof, either openly and publicly, or fearfully in secret, in order that Allah’s proofs and signs should not perish. How many are they and where are they? By Allah, they are few in number, but they are the greatest in esteem before Allah.

Through them Allah guards His proofs and signs until they entrust them to others like them and sow the seeds thereof in the hearts of those who are similar to them. Knowledge has led them to real understanding and so they have associated themselves with the spirit of conviction. They find easy what those living in ease regard as hard.

They are familiar with what the ignorant find oppressive. They live in this world with their bodies here but their souls are attached to the highest station. They are the vicegerents of Allah on His earth and the callers to His religion. How I yearn to see them!”7

In these sentences, although the names of Ahl al-Bayt are not mentioned even in the form of a hint, yet if we look at similar sentences in Nahj al-Balaghah regarding the Ahl al-Bayt, it becomes obvious that the sentences are in reference to the Ahl al-Bayt.

From all that we have narrated in this saying from Nahj al-Balaghah, it becomes clear that apart from the subject of the Caliphate and the leadership of the Muslims in political affairs, the issue of Imamate has been eloquently and clearly expressed with the particular meaning of the term ‘proof’ (hujjah) as held by the Shi’ah.


1. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 2.

2. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 109.

3. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 144.

4. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 154.

5. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 154.

6. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 239.

7. Nahj al-Balaghah, Hikmah no.146.

Precedence and Priority

In Nahj al-Balaghah this matter has been rationalized on three principles:

1) The will and designation of the Holy Prophet.

2) The worthiness of Amir al-­Mu’minin, (A.S.) and the fact that the robe of Caliphate was suitable only for him.

3) The close genealogical and spiritual relation that Hazrat had with the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A.).

1) Will and Designation

Some reckon that the matter of designation has not been mentioned in Nahj al-Balaghah at all and what is referred to is only the matter of competency and worthiness. Such reckoning is incorrect because first of all, just as it was mentioned in the previous chapter, in Sermon No.2, ‘Ali (A.S.) very explicitly says about Ahl al-Bayt:

    وَ فِيهم الوَصِيَّةُ وَ الْوِراثَةُ

i.e. the testament and the inheritance of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A) are concerning them.

Secondly, ‘Ali (A.S.) on many occasions has spoken about his right in such manner that one cannot explain them save by the mailer of appointment and clarification of his right to the seat of Caliphate by means of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A.). In those talks, ‘Ali (A.S.) does not wish to say that why they have kept him aside and appointed others in spite of comprehensiveness of the conditions. By his talks it is meant that they have robbed his certain and definite right. It is evident that it is only by designation and previous appointment by the Holy Prophet that one can speak of certain and definite right. Competency and worthiness establishes potential right and not actual right and in the case of potential right it is wrong to speak of snatching away of certain and decisive right.

Now we shall mention some instances where ‘Ali (A.S.) reckons the Caliphate to be his just right. For example it is mentioned in sermon No.6 that at the beginning of his Caliphate when he became aware of the revolt of Ayesha, Talha and Zubair and decided to confront them, he said (after mentioning a few points on the current state of affairs) :

    فَوَاللهِ مَا زِلتُ مَدْفُوعاً عَنْ حَقِّي، مُسْتَأْثَراً عَلَيَّ، مُنْذُ قَبَضَ اللهُ تعالى نَبِيَّهُ صلى الله عليه وآله حَتَّى يَوْمِ النَّاسِ هذَا

“By Allah, from the day the Prophet passed away until today, I have been continually deprived of my right, with others being given preference to me.”

In Sermon No.170 which is in effect not a sermon and it would have been better if Sayyid Razi (may Allah exalt his position) brought it under the section of maxims of ‘Ali (A.S.), he narrates an incident which is as follows: ‘­In the presence of some people, a person approached me and said: “O son of Abu ­Talib! You are greedy of Caliphate.”

I replied:

    بَلْ أَنْتُمْ وَ اللَّهِ لَأَحْرَصُ وَ أَبْعَدُ وَ أَنَا أَخَصُّ وَ أَقْرَبُ وَ إِنَّمَا طَلَبْتُ حَقّاً لِي وَ أَنْتُمْ تَحُولُونَ بَيْنِي وَ بَيْنَهُ وَ تَضْرِبُونَ وَجْهِي دُونَهُ فَلَمَّا قَرَّعْتُهُ بِالْحُجَّةِ فِي الْمَلَإِ الْحَاضِرِينَ هَبَّ كَأَنَّهُ بُهِتَ لَا يَدْرِي مَا يُجِيبُنِي بِهِ

“Rather, you are, by Allah, greedier although more remote, while I am more suited as well as nearer. I have only demanded it as my right while you are preventing me from it and turning me away from it.” When I rebuked him with (my) argument (and proof), he rose up as if bewildered, not knowing what reply to give me about it.’

It is not known who the person making such an objection was, and when this objection was made. Ibn Abi al-Hadeed says:- The person who objected was Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas and it was on the day of the “Shura” (Assembly). Thereafter he says: However the Imamiah believe that the person who objected was Abu ‘Ubaydah and it was on the day of Saqifah.

Following these sentences, it has been mentioned that ‘Ali (A.S) said:

    اللهم اني استعديك علي قريش و من اعانهم فانهم قطعوا رحمي و صغَّروا عظيم منزلتي و اجمعوا على منازعتي امرا هولي

“O Allah, I seek Thy succor against the Quraysh and those who are assisting them because they have denied me (the rights of) kinship, have belittled my high position and are united in opposing me on a matter (Caliphate) which is my right.”

Below these sentences, lbn Abi al-Hadeed says:- “Sentences like the above sentences of ‘Ali based upon grievance against others and the fact that he has been unjustly deprived of his certain right has been narrated to the extent of successive transmission and is in conformity to the views of Imamiah who say that ‘Ali has been appointed by indisputable designation and nobody had any right to take the seat of Caliphate under any circumstances.

Ibn Abi al-Hadeed himself is the supporter of ‘Ali’s superiority and excellence. According to him, inasmuch as the sentences of Nahj al-­Balaghah impart the purport of the Imam’s priority, it is needless to explain it. However the above sentence according to him needs to be justified since it has been stipulated that the Caliphate has been the special right of ‘Ali (A.S.) and this cannot be conceived but by appointment and the fact that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A.) has fixed the responsibility and clarified the right on behalf of God.

One of the companions of ‘Ali (A.S.) belonging to the tribe of Bani-Asad asked ‘Ali (A.S.) as such:

    ­ » كيف دفعكم قومكم عن هذا المقام و انتم احق به «

“How is it that your people have deprived you of this station (Caliphate) whereas you were most worthy of it?”

Amir al-Mu’minin (A.S.) responded to this question and his reply is the same as what has come down in Sermon No. 160 in Nahj al-Balaghah. ‘Ali (A.S.) explicitly states that greed and avarice on the one hand and negligence (of the interests of the people) on the other hand were the only factors leading to such a situation.

    » فانها كانت اثرة شحت عليها نفوس و سخت عنها نفوس آخرين «

“It (the matter of the Caliphate) was an act of appropriation (of something) for which some became greedy and others relinquished”.

This question and answer took place during ‘Ali’s Caliphate at the time when he was involved (in opposition) with Mu’awiya and his wiles. Amir al-Mu’minin (A.S.) disliked discussion of this matter under such circumstances. So, before replying, he reproved him saying that every question has its own appropriate place and time and that it was not proper to discuss the past at that moment. He told him that the issue of the day was that of Mu’awiya.

    و هلم الخطب في ابن ابي سفيان ...

“Come now to the affair of Ibn Abi Sufyan (Mu’awiya)…”.

Anyhow, just as it was his usual temperate method, he did not refrain from answering and clarifying the past realities. In the Sermon of Shiqshiqiya, he explicitly says:

    أرى تراثي نَهباً

“I witnessed the plundering of my inheritance..”.

It is obvious that by inheritance he did not mean family or kinship inheritance but spiritual and divine inheritance.

2) Virtue and Superiority

The second issue after the subject of distinct designation and definite right is the subject of virtue and superiority. This matter too has repeatedly been mentioned in Nahj al-Balaghah. In the Sermon of Shiqshiqiya, ‘Ali (A.S.) says:

    و اما و الله لقد تقمصها ابن ابي قحافة و انه ليعلم ان محلي منها القطب من الرحي ينحدر عني السيل و لا يرقي الي الطير

“By Allah, the son of Abu Quhafah (Abu Bakr) dressed himself with it (the Caliphate) while he certainly knew that my position in relation to it was the same as the position of the axle in relation to the mill. The torrent (of knowledge and virtue) flows down from me and birds cannot rise up to (the loftiness of) my position.”

In Sermon No.195, he first recalls the level of his submission and faith towards the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A.) and then recounts his sacrifices and help in various instances. Thereafter, he narrates the incident of the demise of the Holy Prophet when his head rested on his chest, and then mentions the event of giving ‘Ghusl’ (Ablution) to the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A.) with his own hands while the angels were assisting him in this work and he could listen to their humming voices and perceive the manner in which a group amongst them would come and another group amongst them would depart while sending salutations upon the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A.). And right until the last moment of the Holy Prophet’s burial, the murmuring of the angels did not cease reaching ‘Ali’s ears.

After recalling his various special positions - the position of his submission and belief, (contrary to some of the other companions) his unequalled sacrifices, his relationship with the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A.) and the fact that the Holy Prophet breathed his last on his very lap, he says:

    فمن ذا أحق به مني حيًا و ميتًا

“Thus who has greater rights with him than I, during his life or after his death?”

3) Relationship and Lineage

Just as we are aware, moments after the Holy Prophet’s demise, Sa’d b. ‘Ubadah al-Ansari claimed the Caliphate and a group amongst his tribe gathered around him. Sa’d and his followers chose the place of Saqifah for this very purpose. However Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and Abu ‘Ubaydah al-Jarrah reached there and prevented the people from falling for Sa’d b. ‘Ubadah’s plot and instead took allegiance from the people in Abu Bakr’s favor.

In this assembly, words were exchanged between the Muhajirin and Ansar and various factors played their role in determining the ultimate fate of this gathering.

One of the so-called winning cards, which the Muhajirin and the supporters of Abu Bakr played, was that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.A.) was from Quraysh and that they themselves belonged to the Holy Prophet’s clan. In the commentary of Sermon No.65, Ibn Abi al-Hadeed says:


‘Umar addressed the Ansars: “The Arabs will never agree to have you as the head of the state since the Prophet was not from amongst you. Certainly the Arabs will not oppose if the Caliphate is allowed to one in whose house rests the Prophethood Who can oppose us in connection with rulership and inheritance of Muhammad whereas we are his ones and his relatives.”

Again, just as we are aware, during that very moment, ‘Ali (A.S.) was fulfilling his personal responsibility of burying the Holy Prophet’s body. After the termination of this event, ‘Ali (A.S.) enquired from those present in that gathering about the reasoning put forth by both the opposite groups and after listening to them he criticized and rejected the reasoning of both the groups. In this connection, the sayings of ‘Ali (A.S.) are the same which Sayyid Razi has mentioned in Sermon No.65.

‘Ali (A.S.) asked: “What did the Ansars say?” They replied: “There should be one chief from us and one from amongst you.” Amir al-Mu’minin said: “Why did you not argue that the Prophet (S.A.W.A.) had instructed that whoever is good amongst the Ansars should be treated well and whoever is bad he should be forgiven!”

The people said: “What proof is there against them in this?”

Amir al-Mu’minin said: “If the government was (to be) from among them, there would have been no instruction (to others) for them.” That is, giving instructions to others about them is proof that the government belongs to other than them.

Then he said: “What did the Quraysh plead?” The people said: “They argued that they belong to the lineal tree of the Prophet.” Then Amir al-Mu’minin said:-

    احتجوا بالشجرة و اضاعوا الثمرة

“They defended themselves with the plea of the tree but neglected the fruit.”

­In other words, if the tree indicates true relationship where others are the branches of that tree and the Prophet is one of those branches, then Ahl al-bayt of the Prophet are the fruits of those branches.

In Sermon No.160, a part of which was narrated earlier, there is a repertoire of questioning and answering between one Asadi man and ‘Ali (A.S.) wherein the latter argues in connection with the matter of relationship too. His expression is as such:

    أما الِاسْتِبْدَادُ عَلَيْنَا بِهَذَا الْمَقَامِ وَ نَحْنُ الْأَعْلَوْنَ نَسَباً وَ الْأَشَدُّونَ بِالرَّسُولِ الله صلى الله عليه واله نَوْطاً

“As for the predominance over us in this station (of Caliphate), when we are the loftiest in lineage and the strongest in relationship with the Messenger of Allah (s)….”

The reasoning of relationship set forth by ‘Ali (A.S.) is a kind of logical dispute. Taking into account the fact that others had fixed the matter of genealogical relationship as the main argument and proof, ‘Ali (A.S.) would say:

“Leaving aside all other matters like designation, virtue and worthiness, if we take into consideration the same lineage and relationship which others wish to rely on, I would still be more worthy than the other claimants to the seat of Caliphate.”