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A Critical Synopsis of the Attack Upon the House of Faṭima al-Zahra’ (s) Between Certainty and Doubt

In this study, we seek to address the complicated context surrounding the death of Fāṭima bt. Muḥammad (s). Given the paramount importance of the daughter of the Prophet Muḥammad, Fāṭima’s life is of great interest to the Muslim world and scholars of Islam alike. Fāṭima was the object of intense devotion and deep love of the Prophet Muḥammad and her elevated spiritual status in the Ahl al-Bayt (Holy Household) is undisputed. Her marriage with ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (the first Shīʿa Imam and fourth “rightly guided Caliph”) and their resultant Sayyid / Sharīf lines of descent has impacted the sociological and political makeup of the Islamic world in profound ways—especially since tracing lineage to the Prophet Muḥammad through Fāṭima was one of the main claims to legitimacy by Muslim leaders. Moreover, the theological status of Fāṭima as the intercessor on the Day of Judgement and her exalted status in the eyes of believers has resulted in consistent interest and research on her figure and heritage within Islam over time.

In addition to her later legacy, Fāṭima was also a powerful and central figure in the events of early Islam. She was an eloquent orator involved in the political events of her time and was known for her staunch and unwavering commitment to justice. In recent times, questions surrounding Fāṭima’s contested death—which occurred shortly after the death of the Prophet—and her secret burial have been raised not only from non-Shīʿī Muslim quarters, but also from reformist trends within contemporary Shīʿism itself which particularly reveres Fāṭima as the mother of the Imams. This renewed questioning and interest in the life and death of Fāṭima provides an opportunity to revisit some of the main historical, theological, and doctrinal issues related to her and why almost 1,400 years after her passing, her life and legacy are as relevant to Muslims today as they were during her life itself.

Introduction to the Problem of Historical Method

One of the primary concerns in investigating any historical incident whether it be relevant to sacred history or any other historical event is the ability to utilise a standard which is considered dependable. In other words, prior to assessing what might be termed as evidence; we must consider viably what is the standard by which we may judge something to be valid evidence. For example, the vast majority of Muslims regardless of their sect, will have no qualms accepting traditional accounts of anything which is considered to be a merit of someone they hold venerable regardless of the recourse to investigate the reliability and transmission of the merit which is recounted. On the other hand, if they were to read something which portrays or calls into question the nature of the person they venerate or hold in high esteem; they will immediately cite the protocol of calling into question whether the source exists, where it is found and more importantly, how reliable the transmission of the account is. This is perhaps a very human thing to do and is most likely implemented conventionally with not just historical figures but also of personalities contemporary to ourselves and their immediate social circles too. Yet admittedly, this standard is ultimately inconsistent, and inconsistency is the sign of an incomplete and deficient methodology.

Methodological Concern (Internal Considerations Pertinent to Muslims and Particularly Shīʿī Historiographers)

When discussing the event of the attack upon Fāṭima al-Zahrā’, one will undoubtedly have at least two stumbling blocks and obstacles which function as distractions in the wider discussion of whether or not the historical event is considerably something worthy of placing their trust in its occurrence, namely:

  • How does the source data surrounding the event reach us and can it be depended upon?

  • Doesn’t this merely lead to a level of insult to the Muslims of other theological schools who venerate and uphold the righteousness of the parties involved in the attack (primarily the first two historical Caliphs)?

One must therefore consider a historical methodology which ultimately is consistent in allowing us the scale by which we may judge the veracity of one event over another. Ultimately in the way that such debates and discussions pan out on social media, online forums and other open platforms of discussion is by merely reducing the discourse to what shall be referred to within this paper as Jurisprudential Authenticity which we shall define as the level of rigour required in the area of deriving laws from narrations, namely ḥalāl and ḥarām (permissible and prohibited) by the jurists of Shīʿa Islam. This concerning practice is one imposed upon the Shīʿa due to the ignorance and rigidness of some individuals which is not based upon an accurate understanding of how classical scholars engaged with such historical texts, admittedly whilst this methodology is an outgrowth of Sunnī engagement with history within the 20th century; one shall find that even such an outgrowth which has poured into Shīʿa circles finds no historical basis amongst the early scholars of tradition even within classical Sunni discourse.

This paper shall therefore advance the quotations of several grand authorities in this field who would often be assumed to upon the assumption of source criticism utilise this strict approach in authenticating texts for historical purposes in order to demonstrate that amongst the pillars of this particular field, they did not hold the rigid assumptions of unattainable criteria currently advanced by the proponents of this modern skeptical camp.

How is History to be Studied?

One general problem which was elucidated and elaborated upon within the introductory segment is the classical dilemma of how one is to understand and study history? Traditionally one finds that in this modern era of Postmodern thought and simplistic attempts at justifying anything which one wishes to believe, there are abilities which are far reaching in their consequences which have allowed virtually anyone to cast doubt upon anything from religious jurisprudence, creedal statements and beliefs, historical events or even moral values quite simply because it does not suit their presuppositions and desires.

There are generally three methodologies which one could utilise when analysing Islamic history or indeed any historical reports which have reached us through written documentation, they are categorised as follows:

1. To accept all historical reports which exist in every single documented historical work, to accept such reports and believe in them wholeheartedly and consider them reliable.

This is not something which any rational mind would ever say, because naturally historical works are themselves filled with contradictory accounts and clear opposing accounts, one does not find many historical accounts of pre-modern history except that we likewise find an opposing claim and varying account of its circumstances in another historical work. There is no doubt that histories have been written by the victors of history, that governments and dominant parties have traditionally played a role by rewriting history and constructing it in a way which suited the trajectory that they wished to move forward into. Much like the books of hadith, history works have also witnessed fabrication, individuals would work alongside the rulers of their era and praise individuals who led the way for these tyrants as righteous, governments have always played a crucial role in rewriting such history and distorting our true understanding of history.

Therefore, it makes no sense that one would ever be able to accept such an uncritical methodology in approaching any history, let alone Islamic history.

2. Rejection of all historical reports, to close off the ability to historically research.

Whilst this approach has been adopted by both individual as well as historical and religious groups particularly in regards to certain generations and what occurred between them, this again is not a feasible method and to argue agnosticism on all historical events would strip history and all its lessons of all meaning, hence invalidating the very study of history. Clearly, advocating this position is neither rational nor fruitful.

3. To judge and make preferences critically between historical reports, namely, to attempt to use historical filtration between what might be deemed accurate in history and what would be considered a fabrication and to accept the former and reject the latter.

This methodology requires one to ponder upon what might be considered the most important question put forward throughout this entire paper, namely how does one perform the act of filtering and preferring a particular report within Islamic history?

Some have argued that in order to do this one ought to use a very popular method utilised in deriving jurisprudential rulings namely find a reliable chain of narration by Jurisprudential authenticity standards. They would argue just as one analyses the chain of narration for jurisprudence, one ought to do it for history as well, in order for this report to be considered a binding authority, therefore they would argue that a report depends upon our understanding of the reporters veracity according to the science of judging the reporters for the purpose of jurisprudence.

This approach is one which is controversial.It is is far from being rational and consistent with the approach of classical scholars and the giants in their respective fields of approaching reports. Anyone familiar with Uṣūl al-Fiqh or the science studied by jurists in order to determine the difference between a clear cut and final jurisprudential ruling will know that the demand met by such a science is certainty in order to claim that this is the command of Allah and make such a ruling incumbent upon the practitioner of the religion.

Our scholars have generally followed suit in the same way in regard to how they engage with historical reports, they clearly distinguish between Jurisprudential Authenticity and Historical Authenticity, we shall cite several examples to demonstrate this approach.

1) Al-Shaykh Kāshif al-Ghiṭā’:

Yes, the report of Zayd b. Arqam and Ibn Wakīda both of which have been transmitted in some reliable books - and what is meant here by reliable is historical reliability, not reliability around which the derivation of Divine law is based upon, such as the division of reports into ṣaḥīḥ, ḥasan, muwaththaq. Rather, it is from those types of reliability like when we say Tārīkh al-Ṭabarī and Tārīkh Ibn al-Athīr are both reliable.

It is sufficient for someone like the author of al-Biḥār, and al-Ṭurayḥī in al-Muntakhab to transmit a report and for this definition of reliability to be established, let alone for it to be transmitted by al-Sayyid b. Ṭā’ūs in al-Luhūf, or by al-Shaykh al-Mufīd in al-Irshād and so on.[1]

2) ʿAllāmah al-Sayyid Muḥsin al-Amīn al-ʿĀmilī:

Nahj al-Balāgha is not a source of Divine law for there to exist a need to investigate its chains and to establish their connection to ʿAlī (a). It is a selection of his statements concerning admonitions, counsel and types of speech that preachers adopt to convey their message across. The intent of its compiler was nothing besides collecting some of his (a) previous statements that fit within the field of eloquence and rhetoric, similar to what others have compiled from the words of the eloquent ones from the Jāhilīyyah period or from the Muslims, companions or otherwise, with a chain or without a chain. We do not see you objecting against anyone who transmits a sermon or a statement without a chain when it appears in a book that exceeds the required conditions, except Nahj al-Balāgha. This is nothing but the presence of something in the soul, especially when the majority of what is in it is transmitted with chains in famous and well transmitted books.[2]

These two citations demonstrate that men highly praised for their critical analysis of the religion from amongst our scholars have always been clear that in regards to historical reports, one is not bound nor even would it be rational to engage with the criteria of Jurisprudential Authenticity, rather one is meant to distinguish between the two different types of engagement. This was not merely their methodological approach but rather also the methodology of others from amongst even the greatest of hadith scholars of our Sunni brothers in the science of ʿIlm al-Rijāl nonetheless!

For example, Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal:

I heard al-ʿAbbas say, I heard Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal when he was asked - while he was at the door of Abī al-Naḍr – and it was said to him, O Abā ʿAbdillah, what is your opinion on Mūsa b. ʿUbayda al-Rubdhī and on Muḥammad b. Isḥāq? He said, as for Muḥammad b. Isḥāq is concerned then he is a man from whom these traditions were written as if he intended to write Maghāzī or its like. As for Mūsa b. ʿUbayda then there is no issue with him, but he would transmit rejected traditions from ʿAbdullah b. Dinār from Ibn ʿUmar from the Prophet (p).[3]

Yaḥya b. Maʿīn is very specific in his report from the narrator who states that Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal when asked about the reliability of Muḥāmmad b. Isḥāq and another narrator was quick to differentiate between their reliability as reporters in the area of Jurisprudential reliability and their reliability in history, showing that even classical Hadith scholars like Ahmed clearly distinguished between the two fields.

Yaḥya b. Maʿīn:

I asked him about al-Bakkā’ī – meaning Ziyad, and he said: There is no problem with him in Maghāzī, but otherwise no.[4]

Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī:

Sayf b. ʿUmar al-Tamīmī the author of al-Riddah, he was called al-Ḍabyyī and other names, Kufī, weak in hadith, a pillar in history. Ibn Ḥibbān has committed an atrocity in his opinion regarding him. From the 8th generation, he died in the time of al-Rashīd.[5]


The position which has persisted is that Ibn Isḥāq is a source of emulation in the Maghāzī literature and the dates relating to the Prophet’s (p) life, even though at times he has mentioned rare things. He is not a binding authority in what is permissible and prohibited.[6]

Ibn Kathīr:

Al-Wāqidī has numerous good addendums and compiled works of history generally. He is from the grand leaders of this field. He is truthful in and of himself, and verbose – like we have explained in the discussion concerning his ʿadālah and weakness in our book al-Takmīl fi Maʿrifah al-Thiqāt wa al-Ḍu’afā’ wa al-Majāhīl.[7]


Another type of [mursal] report is that which is disconnected by the later Tābiʿīn who were known to take from everyone. The scholars of hadith were aware of the weakness of that which they (the later Tābiʿīn) would do irsāl in. This type of mursal is not accepted in the matters of law, but it is accepted in matters that do not pertain to law, such as supplications, merits of actions, Maghāzī and anything else that resembles them.[8]

Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr al-Qurṭubī:

It is a famous book amongst the biographers, what is in it is well-known amongst the people of knowledge. It contains information so well-known that it suffices for its chains, because it resembles tawātur in the way in which people accepted it and deem it knowledge.[9]

Ibn Taymīyyah:

The likes of what has been become famous amongst those scholars, such as al-Zuhrī, Ibn ʿUqbah, Ibn Isḥāq, al-Wāqidī, al-Umawī and others. Most of them contain reports which are mursal. However, if a mursal is transmitted while corroborated by different perspectives, especially by those who give special attention to this matter and pursue it, it is like a musnad. In fact, some of that which is popular amongst the scholars of Maghāzī, and has reached a degree of abundance, is stronger than that which is reported with a solitary chain.[10]

…these battles which are from the category of such reports are not known to have been mentioned by the people of knowledge in the well-known books of Maghāzī and Siyar. The giants of this subject have not mentioned them either, such as Musa b. ‘Uqba, ‘Urwah b. al-Zubayr, al-Zuhrī, Ibn Isḥāq and his teachers, al-Wāqidī, Yaḥya b. Saʿīd al-Umawī, al-Walīd b. Muslim, Muḥammad b. ʿĀ’idh and others. They have not been mentioned in the ḥadīth, and nothing was revealed in the Qurān regarding them. In conclusion, the battles of the Messenger of Allah (p), especially the battles in which physical combat took place, are well-known, famous, recorded, and mutawātir according to people of knowledge aware of its details. They are mentioned in the books of scholars of ḥadīth, jurists, exegetes, Maghāzī, Siyar and its like. This is what motivates one to narrate them.[11]

When discussing the story of Umm Ḥabībah, Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzīyah says:

If it is said that rather it is established her marriage took place after the conquest, because the tradition which Muslim has narrated is authentic (sahih) and its chains contain narrators who are trustworthy and strong in memory, while the tradition regarding her marriage occurring in Ḥabasha is from the reports of Muḥammad b. Isḥāq which is mursal – while people differ on basing their arguments on the masānīd (connected reports) of Ibn Isḥāq, let alone his marāsīl – then how can it be relied upon when it contradicts the established reports? This is the methodology utilized by some later scholars in authenticating the hadith of Ibn ʿAbbās.

Then the response is: 1) What this claimant is saying holds true when both reports are equal in their value, in which case one of them is preferred based upon what was mentioned. However, after arriving at the invalidity of one of the reports, and ascertaining it, then there is no reason to concern oneself with it, because no dispute is known between even two scholars of history and Maghāzī and the biographers of the Messenger of Allah that the marriage of Umm Ḥabībah occurred after the conquest. No one of them has transmitted this, and if one does happen to say such a thing, then they knew of the invalidity of his statements and did not doubt the matter.

2) The claim that the marāsīl of Ibn Isḥāq do not oppose the authentic and connected reports, nor resist it, then the response to this is that the reliance in this matter is not only on the report of Ibn Isḥāq be it connected or disconnected, rather upon the mutawātir transmission according to the scholars of Maghāzī and Sīrah. The people of knowledge have mentioned this.[12]

In this particular case, a scholar with the diligence of Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawzīyah demonstrates that in the methodology of history, one can even prefer the bulk of historical material which does not reach the level of Jurisprudential Authenticity and prefer it over an authentic report according to the standards of Jurisprudential Authenticity reported by no less than Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj in his famous work Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim. Rather Ibn al-Qayyim demonstrates that the important fact is in viewing that which is collectively reported and transmitted by historians as opposed to attacking individual reporters within history books.

Contemporary Salafi Historian, Dr. Di’yā’ al-ʿAmrī:

There is no doubt that subjecting every historical report we wish to accept, to the same conditions required for validating hadith is a type of abuse. The reports on which these conditions are applied are not enough to cover the different eras of Islamic history, which produces gaps in our history. If we were to compare that approach with the histories of the world, then much of it is based on single reports, or unknown historians. In addition to that, they are full of gaps.

Hence, for this reason, in subsequent eras it is enough to attain trust in the ʿadālah of the historian and in their precision in recording history, in order to accept what they have recorded, alongside utilizing the principles of hadith criticism in history when there is contradiction between two historians.[13]

These quotes all satisfy and quench the thirst of those who have adopted a more rigorous approach in line with those of the neo Ahl al-Ḥadīth of the Ahl al-Sunnah and demonstrate that even amongst their own ranks, one does not find the methodology of demanding Jurisprudential Authenticity to be one consistent with the pillars of the Hadith sciences from amongst their classical scholars nor even their contemporary historians.

One however finds that for those who may wish to dismiss this list and retort that they think that Shi’a scholars of Hadith would demand a more strict level of rigidness and that neither Sayyid Muhsin al-Amīn nor Shaykh Kāshif al-Ghiṭā’ are specialists in ḥadīth sciences, they would most likely find that to their surprise the methodology highlighted of distinguishing between Jurisprudence and historical accounts is even the practice of the pillars and revivalists of the Shi’a Hadith sciences such as none other than Sayyid Abū al-Qāsim al-Khū’ī.

These accounts demonstrate that someone as prominent and rigorous as Sayyid al-Khū’ī did not hesitate to accept historical reports about the upright nature of prominent figures even when these reports lacked the level of Jurisprudential Authenticity because he recognised that history and Jurisprudence are two different areas of study which both require very differing standards when measuring their reliability.

What are some of the concerns when analysing and authenticating historical reports?

It remains for us to highlight some of the criteria which would therefore be utilised when verifying historical reports and what criteria would be considered valuable and useful in allowing us to sift through that which is conventionally dependable and gives us confidence in its reliability and that which is completely unreliable. As opposed to studying the chains of narration as is the practice in Jurisprudential Authenticity, historical investigation is more concerned with:

  • The number of sources which transmit the account

  • Are these sources which transmit the account mutually dependent upon one another? Or are they independent accounts?

  • Are the reports transmitted by only one particular sect or group or by numerous groups?

  • Can we think of a feasible reason to assume that all these reporters gathered upon a lie and that this lie passed through all these sources for that reason?

  • Does this account have a more plausible opposing narrative or conflicting account?

  • If there is a conflicting account, is it more plausible?

  • Are there any good rational reasons or a good textual basis for rejecting the account transmitted by historians?

Sample of Shīʿa Scholars and Their Views on the Attack

One of the methods which has traditionally been utilised by proponents of the historical veracity of the attack upon the house of Fāṭima has been to traditionally cite as many scholars as possible ranging from the earliest to the more contemporary scholars of the sect in order to demonstrate that the belief that the event occurred is neither a new development nor an unscholarly one but rather a view which has existed from the earliest collective memory of the Imāmī Shīʿa school of thought and has continued to be accepted amongst the most astute of scholars. Whilst this method normally yields fruit and is an admirable one, it is not the primary concern of this study which hopes to target a more focused question and area of concern namely the critical study of history and how critical scholars approached the incident of the door.

This section will therefore focus upon the following questions:

  1. Was the incident one which the more critical and earlier Imāmī scholars believed in?

  2. How widespread was this belief amongst the Imāmīyyah?

  3. Is this account one which only the Imāmīyyah believed in?

  4. What about those scholars from amongst the Shīʿa who have highlighted a difference of opinion on the issue and have expressed doubts in the occurrence of the incident?

Many modernists and proponents of more rigid methodologies which exclude a minimalistic approach to the authenticity of texts have traditionally cited scholars such as Shaykh al-Mufīd, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī and Sharīf al-Murtaḍa as primary cases of men who did not accept the authenticity of just any narration but rather raised the bar and demanded the criteria of mass-attestation (tawātur) in the transmission of narrations. These names often recur and the idea that they held a rigorous standard for authenticating texts is often mentioned in order to demand a more rigorous criteria in how we approach texts, therefore it is only befitting that whilst addressing the issue of the beliefs of our school and what was known to its scholars, that we try to cite the more prominent scholars known for their diligence and strict approach towards authenticating reports in order to assess their words on the matter.

Shaykh al-Ṭūsī states in numerous places throughout the work Talkhīṣ al-Shāfī (the abridged summary of his teacher, Sharif al-Murtaḍa’s al-Shāfī fī al-Imāmah) the following statements:

“Al-Balādhurī, quoting al-Madā’inī from Maslamah b. Muḥārib from Sulaymān al-Tamāmī from Abū ʿAwn, says: “Abū Bakr sent (ʿUmar) to ʿAlī (a) requiring him to swear the oath of allegiance to him, but he refused, and also refused with him a number of others. Fāṭima (s) met ʿUmar at the door and said to him, `O son of al-Khaṭṭāb! Are you really going to burn my house door?!’ He said, `Yes. And this is stronger than what your father had brought (!).’ ʿAlī went and swore it.”

“This same incident is narrated by Shīʿa from many avenues. It is interesting that it is also narrated by the mentors of Sunnī narrators of hadith, but they used to narrate what would safeguard them. They may be alert to some of what they narrate, so they stop their narration thereof. Yet what “choice” can one have when he sees his house door set to fire so that he would be forced to swear fealty?”

What is curious is the usage of the term “narrated by Shīʿa from many avenues.” This quote seems to indicate that not only was Shaykh al-Ṭūsī who was a very diligent and renowned traditionist familiar with these accounts, he wholeheartedly affirmed them and more important viewed as being multiply attested in terms of transmission.

Furthermore, he goes on to state:

“One of their offenses which were held in contempt was their beating Fāṭima (s). It is narrated that she was whipped, and it is well known and without any contention among the Shi`as is that ʿUmar hit her on the stomach, so she miscarried Muḥassan. Such a narrative is quite famous among them. Add to this their attempt to burn her house when some people sought shelter in it, refusing to swear the oath of allegiance to him (to Abū Bakr).

Nobody denies this narrative at all because we have proven how such a narrative is transmitted by way of the Sunnīs via al-Balādhurī and others, and the narratives transmitted by the Shīʿa are numerous, and there are no contradictions in them.”

Again, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī is clear upon the sheer bulk of the transmissions which were minimally available to him, he serves as a witness that minimally at his time and amongst the circles of renowned authority and diligence of individuals such as Shaykh al-Mufīd and Sharīf al-Murtaḍa with their strict standards of evidence in Ḥadīth transmission, this account was the dominant account and laid beyond dispute within his own Shi’a circles.

Rather than litter bomb a list of all the authorities who have accepted such an account, this paper shall content itself with a profile sampling of highly respected and authoritative figures whose acceptance of the event would be more surprising if the evidence were based upon absolutely dubious evidence and be found to be lacking in evidence to their generations.

1. Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī (d. 76 A.H)

Whilst we are aware of the numerous disputes pertaining to the book of Sulaym and even the very existence of Sulaym which has been discussed since minimally the time of Ibn al-Ghadā’irī the scholar of Rijāl, it is worth pointing this reference out because even if we are to assume that the work remains a fabrication and a pseudo-work, it nonetheless sheds an eye on the perceived historical narrative that a group of at latest mid-second century Shi’as were spreading around. This would minimally require a point of address from the Imams who would be expected to counter this claim which had began to circle in the earliest of Shi’a groups. So whether or not Sulaym is a reliable figure or Abān b. Abī ʿAyyāsh fabricated the work as is believed by some, it would neither affect the usage of this early witness. Sulaym’s book has been successfully translated numerous times and given that a large portion of the work focuses upon this attack and all its details, it is beyond the scope to quote the entirety of it and it is recommended for the reader to return to Kitāb Sulaym for details.

2. Sayyid Ismāʿīl b. Muḥammad al-Himyarī (d. 173 A.H)

Sayyid al-Himyarī in one of his famous poems makes reference to the attack upon al-Zahrā’ when he states:

Beaten, she was, and of her rights deprived,

And was made to taste after his demise of wounds.

God sever the hands that her did they hit,

And of that who agreed thereto and followed suit.

God may never forgive him nor

Spare him of the horror of leaving the grave.[14]

The poetry makes an interesting witness that provides proof that the account was circulating in the time of Imam al-Ṣadiq and al-Kāẓim and was known to their companions.

3. Aḥmad b. Abī Yaʿqūb al-Yaʿqūbī (d. 292 A.H):

“It came to the knowledge of Abū Bakr and ʿUmar that a group of the Muhājirūn and Anṣār assembled with ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib at the house of Fāṭima (s) daughter of the Messenger of Allah. They went in a group till they assaulted the house. ʿAlī (a) went out carrying his sword. ʿUmar met him and they had a brawl. ʿAlī (a) subdued ʿUmar and broke his sword. They entered the house by force, so Fāṭima (s) went out and said, “I plead to you in the Name of Allah to get out or else I shall uncover my hair and complain to Allah against you!” Everyone in the house went out. The people stayed for days and one by one swore the oath of allegiance save ʿAlī (a) who did not do so except six months later or, according to some, forty days.”[15]

4. Shaykh Muḥammad b. Ibrahīm al-Nuʿmānī (d. 360 A.H)

“They did wrong to Fāṭima, the infallible Prophet’s daughter, to a degree that she (s) recommended in her will to be buried secretly at night and that none of her father’s nation was to offer the prayer (prayer for the dead) for her except those few ones she had mentioned.

If there was no calamity in the history of Islam bringing shame and disgrace other than the calamity of Fāṭima (s) until she left to the better world angry with her father’s nation leaving her bitter will that no one was to attend her burial except very few loyal companions, it would be sufficient evidence for the ignorant and for those, whose hearts were sealed, to see what a great sin they had committed when they wronged Fāṭima, her husband and her sons (peace be upon them) and when they preferred the oppressors to the Prophet’s family, who were the elite of Allah. Allah said:

“For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts which are in the breasts.”[16]

5. Shaykh Ibn Bābuwayh al-Ṣadūq al-Qummī (d. 381 A.H)

Shaykh al-Ṣadūq explicitly states in commenting upon a narration in his book Maʿānī al-Akhbār namely the saying of Amir al-Muʿminīn (a) “For you is a treasure in paradise” the following words:

“And I have heard some of my Shaykhs mention that this treasure is none other than his son al-Moḥsin and he was miscarried in the incident in which Fāṭima was squeezed between the two doors.”[17]

One should note that it is a very valuable testimony as he narrates this from his own Shaykhs and they are men who lived during the minor Occultation and some of them are even companions of the Imams (a) themselves.

6. Shaykh Abū al-Ṣalāḥ al-Ḥalabī (d. 447 A.H)

He mentions in his book Taqrīb al-Maʿārif amongst the negative deeds of some of the Companions when he states:

“They harmed ʿAlī (a) because he did not go along with what they wanted him to do, and they were rough when they spoke to him and exaggerated in their threats to him. They brought firewood to burn his house and assault it with men without his permission. They brought him tied-up, thus forcing his wife, daughters, women and kinsfolk from Banī Hāshim and others to go out of their homes. They surrounded him with their unsheathed swords and promised to kill him if he refused to swear fealty to them.”[18]

Additionally, we shall cite the words of two prominent theologians known to the Shīʿa world to demonstrate that this account had reached a point of being accepted historical fact amongst the most diligent of our scholars.

7. ʿAllāmah Ḥasan b. al-Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī (d. 726 A.H)

He states in his work Kashf al-Murad fi Sharḥ Tajrīd al-Iʿtiqād:

“The researcher-imam Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, namely Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasanibn al-Hasan, may Allah have mercy on his soul, has said, “... And he sent people to the house of the Commander of the Faithful (a) when he refused to swear the oath of allegiance to him (to Abu Bakr), so he set it ablaze while Fāṭima (s) and a number of Banī Hāshim were still inside it.”

ʿAllāmah al-Ḥillī added to the above his saying, “And they took ʿAlī (a) out by force, and with him al-Zubayr was inside the house. They broke the latter’s sword and took him out of the house. Fāṭima (s) was beaten, and she miscarried a son named Muḥassan.”[19]

8. Al-Fāḍil al-Miqdād al-Suyūrī al-Ḥillī (d. 826 A.H):

The renowned theologian al-Fāḍil al-Miqdād also records in his work Sharḥ al-Lawāmiʿ, the following:

“When ʿAlī (a) and a group of others refused to swear the oath of allegiance (to Abū Bakr), and when they sought shelter at the house of Fāṭima (s), rejecting such fealty, he (Abū Bakr) sent her (s) ʿUmar who hit her on her stomach, causing her to miscarry a son named Muḥassan. He also lit a fire in order to burn their house although Fāṭima (s) and a group of Banī Hāshim were all inside it. They took ʿAlī (a) out by force, handcuffing him with his own sword’s suspenders. Nobody should say that only the Shi`as narrate this incident, for someone may say so only to scandalize them. We say that this incident has been narrated by way of the opponents. It is narrated by al-Balādhurī and Ibn ʿAbd al-Birr as well as by others. It is supported by what he had said at the time of his death: `How I wish I left the house of Fāṭima alone and did not expose it (to invasion of privacy).’”[20]

The testimony of hostile sources about the belief of the Imāmīyyah on this point

When one reads the books of the theological interlocutors of the Shīʿa, they would find that the issue of the attack upon the house of ‘Alī and the physical attack upon Fāṭima is from the issues which these early writers seemed to acknowledge hands down is the position of the Imāmīyyah in regards to the martyrdom of Fāṭima. They would attribute this position to the Shi’a and criticise this position.

1. Muṭahhar b. Ṭāhir al-Maqdisī (d. After 355 A.H)

In his work al-Bad’ wa al-Tārīkh, he attributes this position to the Shīʿa stating:

“And Moḥsin was born, he is the one whom the Shīʿa claim was miscarried from the strike of ʿUmar, and many of the traditionists do not know Moḥsin (namely do not affirm his existence).”[21]

Note that this writer is of those who was a contemporary to the beginning of the Major Occultation and his attribution to the Shīʿa of this belief means that the belief was a commonly known belief of the Shīʿa by this point and more importantly was known to the people.

2. Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Malatī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 377 A.H)

He mentions in his work al-Tanbīh wa al-Radd, the following as the belief of Hishām b. al-Ḥakam, the companion of al-Imam al-Ṣādiq (a):

Hishām, May the curse of Allah (swt) be upon him, claimed that the Prophet (p) has mentioned in text the Imamate of ‘Alī (a) in his life, by saying, "Whoever I am his Master I shall raise ‘Alī (a) as his Master." And also his saying to ‘Alī (a), "You are to me as what Hārūn (a) was to Mūsa (a) except that there shall not be any Prophet after me." And also his saying, "I am the city of knowledge and ʿAlī (a) is its gate." Also the saying, "To ʿAlī (a) you shall fight for the interpretation (ta’wīl) as how I fought for the tanzīl (the descended verses of Qur'an)." As he is also the successor of the Messenger of Allah (s) and his Caliphate is in his progeny and he is the Caliph of Allah upon his nation, and that he is the best nation and most knowledgeable. It is forbidden that he is inattentive, forgetfulness, ignorance, or inability, and that he is infallible and that Allah Exalted and Mighty He has appointed him to creation as an Imam so that he would not neglect them, and the example of one who is mentioned by text about his Imamate is like the texts mentioned about Qibla (prayer) and other obligatory actions (i.e. they are explicit). And that Abū Bakr came to Fāṭima (a), and that he kicked her stomach and so she had a miscarriage and the reason for that and her death was because of that and that he usurped Fadak from her.”[22]

The fact that al-Malatī states that this is clearly the belief of Hishām, namely one of the elite disciples of the Imam demonstrates again that in the time of Hishām, this issue was something believed by prominent companions of the Imam such as al-Hishām.

3. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Shahristānī (d. 548 A.H):

“He (Ibrahīm b. Sayyār al-Naẓẓām) was inclined to rafḍ (rafiḍism), and he disparaged the major companions. He said…. And he increased in the lie (falsehood), he (al-Naẓẓām) said: ‘That ʿUmar hit the stomach of Fāṭima on the day of Bayʿah until she dropped her fetus from her stomach, and he (ʿUmar) shouted: ‘Burn her house, and whoever is in it!’. And no one was in the house except for `Alī, Fāṭima, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn.'”[23]

What ought to be noted here before others cry foul play and accuse us of stating that this is a historical narration or the belief of al-Shahristani is the following:

a. He identifies this a “Rafiḍī” belief by stating al-Naẓẓām the Muʿtazilī overlaps with Shīʿa beliefs and highlighting this as one.

b. Al-Naẓẓām according to all works of Tarājim and historical biographical entries was a contemporary of the second century hijri, that would mean that by the second century hijri this account had already been a dominant and known one.

Doubts Pertaining the Attack on Fāṭima al-Zahrā’

It is not uncommon to hear several doubts which are traditionally utilised as a means of undermining the entire body of accounts pertaining to the attack on Fāṭima as found within the works of the Shīʿa Imāmīyyah and even others. These doubts generally range from reasonable to unrealistic nitpicking and ultimately it is the duty of the educated and those with a degree of knowledge to attempt to engage with what may have originally be offered as sincere reasons for why some may find difficulty believing in the accounts, ultimately all that one may offer at this stage is some possible answers to these doubts and those who wish to continue disbelieving in the accounts are of course free to do so and will continue to do so. The hope behind the answers here is that reasonable and unbiased minds may find them more persuasive and convincing and from Allah comes success. In regards to doubts posited by the scholars of the Shīʿa in regards to the attack upon Fāṭima, they are to be addressed and dealt with in the same way that any historical disagreement between Shīʿa scholars are addressed, namely one is to scrutinise whether or not there is a more plausible narrative which is presented historically to explain Fāṭima’s early death. One is to also ask why the Imams and early scholars were so silent to voice disagreements and rejection of what has been clearly demonstrated to be an early position and a commonly known position from the formative period of Shīʿa Islam.

These doubts can be divided into approximately three appropriate sections:

  1. Evidential Concerns

  2. Historical Concerns

  3. Statements of Shi’a Scholars which provide a reason for doubt

Evidential Concerns:

Doubt 1: These reports ultimately are not authentic according to the standards of ʿIlm al-Rijāl utilised by the scholars and therefore are not binding upon the Muslim to believe in.

Response: Ultimately several pages were dedicated to demonstrating that the Muslim scholars of Ḥadīth had never dedicated a stringent criterion which is normally dependable for Jurisprudential authentication or the authentication of ḥalāl and ḥarām and that this is something acknowledged by both Sunnī and Shīʿa scholars of Ḥadīth in historical matters in addition to historians themselves. None the less, it is a claim which ultimately demonstrates a level of ignorance about the nature of ʿIlm al-Rijāl amongst the Shīʿa and the fact that there are different methodologies, if one wished to claim for example that none of the narrations meet a particular scholar’s criteria in ‘Ilm al-Rijāl, that may very well be true, but the onus would be upon the protagonist to demonstrate why everyone should accept that individual scholar’s criteria and principles in ʿIlm al-Rijāl above all others prior to putting forward this particular doubt, but only after demonstrating why it would be intelligent to utilise such a stringent standard which was never previously used by Sunnī or Shīʿa ḥadīth scholars in the formative periods of Islamic scholarship.

Secondly, the question fails to take into account that several narrations actually meet the criteria of several strict Shīʿa Rijāl scholars even utilising a stringent method designated for Jurisprudential needs; for example:

The narration contained in the book Kanz al-Fawā’id of Abū al-Fatḥ al-Karājakī.

The narration contained in the book Dalā’il al-Imāmah of Ibn Jarīr b. Rustam al-Ṭabarī

The narration of Ibn Ṭā’ūs in his book Muhaj al-Daʿwah

All these narrations are minimally authentic according to the principles of several prominent scholars of Hadith.

Doubt 2: The Book of Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī is weak and serves as the sole source for the major details of the attack.

Response: Whilst many have argued that Kitab Sulaym is the sole source for the major events featured when discussing the attack on Fāṭima al-Zahra and the attack on her house, including the breaking of her rib, her being hit and the miscarriage of her child Mohsin, this is actually based upon a common misconception that it is an independent sole source for these particular details, something which is not actually accurate.

In reality, Kitab Sulaym does not independently narrate any major details except that those details are found within other dependable sources of history, ʿAllāmah al-Māmaqānī in his great work Tanqīh al-Maqāl states:

And I ask Allah to give me success in extracting all the narrations from the Aṣl (book) of Sulaym in their wording and their general content from authentic and multiply attested chains, and demonstrate that the narrations in question are not things which he is the sole narrator of. And upon Allah I depend for the support and success.

And he mentions numerous sources from our classical scholars who reported the events with dependable chains from amongst them are:

Furāt b. Ibrahīm al-Kūfī (d. 3rd century A.H)

Al-Ṣadūq (d. 381 A.H)

Ibn Qūluwayh (d. 368 A.H)

Muḥammad b. Mas’ūd al-ʿAyyāshī (d. 329 A.H)

Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. al-Nuʿmān al-Mufīd (d. 413 A.H)

Abū al-Fatḥ al-Karājakī (d. 449 A.H)

Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī al-Ṣaghīr (d. 5th century)

Ibn Shahr Āshūb al-Mazandarānī (d. 588 A.H)

Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-Ṭabrasī (d. 620 A.H)

Sayyid Raḍī al-Dīn Ibn Ṭā’ūs (d. 664 A.H)

These are but ten particular scholars who in their respective works have been found to mention the same events which befell upon Fāṭimah al-Zahrā’ as are recorded in the book of Sulaym and demonstrate that Sulaym himself is not the sole source for the major details of the incident of the attack.

Historical Doubts:

Doubt 3: Why didn’t Imam ʿAlī the brave lion of the Message of Islam do absolutely anything to defend Fāṭima al-Zahrā’? Was he a coward all of a sudden despite his miraculous bravery in other events?

Response: The Shīʿa have always been consistent in arguing that Imam ʿAlī far from being a coward was specifically told by the Messenger of Allah that certain criteria had to be met in order for him to offer a defensive attack against the party which came and sieged his house. Imam ʿAlī was told to specifically ensure that he had a sufficient number of supporters to assist him, this is made clear in a narration which is confirming of the content found in Kitab Sulaym which is found in the book of al-Ghayba of al-Shaykh al-Ṭūsī.

Narrated on the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās who states, the Messenger of Allah stated in his will to Imam ʿAlī: O ʿAlī, the Quraysh will most certainly rise against you, and they will unite upon your oppression and humiliation, so if you find supporters then fight them, and if you do not find supporters then restrain your hand and safeguard your blood…”

Therefore one finds that the attitude of not only dismissing the event of the attack but also imputing those who affirm it as implying cowardice on behalf of Imam ʿAlī is slightly disingenuous or minimally one which is selective with the facts accepted by the party of Shīʿa who affirm the event without compromising upon the belief of Imam ʿAlī’s bravery.

Doubt 4: Was Imam ʿAlī silent when Fāṭima was hit?

Response: According to both the Book of Sulaym and the History of al-Yaʿqūbī, Imam ʿAlī was not silent as Fāṭima was slapped and made his position very clear that if it were not for the will of the Messenger of Allah commanding him to refrain from fighting then he would have fought more.

Doubt 5: Did the city of Madina during the time of the Prophet have actual doors on the houses?

Response: Ultimately this question deserves an answer, however it minimally would not be one which undermines an entire case when it can be demonstrated that the narrations ultimately also mention, Fāṭima was slapped, she was whipped, kicked in the stomach and hit on the side with a sword, so even if we submitted that the houses had no doors, it would neither undo the narrations that threaten her house with destruction nor the above incidents mentioned and would at best undermine poetry and narrations mentioning her being crushed behind a door.

Nonetheless, it seems that the doubt is based upon an apologetic sentiment concerned with undermining the incident, it shall suffice us to quote several narrations pertaining to the presence of doors found within the narrations of the Ahl al-Sunnah in order to show that ironically it would be absurd to claim that the Muslims gathered together as independent sects and conspired to fabricate and retrospectively project the existence of doors back into first century Madina.

“When the Prophet got the news of the death of Ibn Ḥāritha, Jaʿfar and Ibn Rawaha he sat down and looked sad and I was looking at him through the chink of the door. A man came and told him about the crying of the women of Jaʿfar. The Prophet ordered him to forbid them. The man went and came back saying that he had told them but they did not listen to him. The Prophet (p) said, "Forbid them." So again he went and came back for the third time and said, "O Allah's Apostle! By Allah, they did not listen to us at all." (ʿAisha added): Allah's Apostle ordered him to go and put dust in their mouths. I said, (to that man) "May Allah stick your nose in the dust (i.e. humiliate you)! You could neither (persuade the women to) fulfill the order of Allah's Apostle nor did you relieve Allah's Apostle from fatigue.””

If as some claim, the doors of Madina were merely curtains or thin veils, then it would make no sense for there to be a “chink of the door”.

Ibn ʿAbbas narrates: “I had been eager to ask ʿUmar bin Al-Khaṭṭāb about the two ladies from among the wives of the Prophet regarding whom Allah said 'If you two (wives of the Prophet namely ʿAisha and Hafsa) turn in repentance to Allah, your hearts are indeed so inclined (to oppose what the Prophet likes). (66.4) till ʿUmar performed the Hajj and I too, performed the Hajj along with him… My Anṣārī companion, on the day of his turn, went (to the town) and returned to us at night and knocked at my door violently and asked if I was there.”

Once more, if the doors had been mere curtains or did not exist, it would not make sense to describe someone as having “knocked at my door violently” when such an act would be impossible without a fairly strong physical door.

Jābir also narrates in al-Bukhārī: “I came to the Prophet in order to consult him regarding my father's debt. When I knocked on the door, he asked, "Who is that?" I replied, "I" He said, "I, I?" He repeated it as if he disliked it.”

Doubt 6: The narrations about the attack on the door seem subject to difference and hence internal contradiction, hence they cannot be trusted and should be discarded.

Response: There is no contradiction or discrepancy that is anything more than surface level and beyond reconciliation and understanding. This approach is a very simplistic approach to scripture which is utilised by non-Muslims when attempting to critique the Qurān let alone historical accounts narrated by varying individuals.

The issue lies in an atomistic reading of the narrations where we look for conflict as opposed to read them holistically and organically like historical accounts from varying witnesses. Rather the real issue is that certain narrations only focus upon minute details from parts recalled by the narrators and therefore when read individually will give only some of the event and not the entire event as a picture.

For example, one finds when referring back to the book of Sulaym that it as an early account makes clear that there were four separate incidents where these individuals came to the house of Fāṭima.

The First Encounter: Before the raiding party actually gained entry into the house during which Fāṭima was first addressed at the door.

The Second Attack: When the party returned and actually pushed the door onto Fāṭima and caused the miscarriage.

The Third Attack: When Fāṭima tried using her remaining strength to prevent the party from taking her husband.

The Fourth Attack: An independent event which occurred after Abu Bakr wished to return Fadak and addressed her in an actual letter, this action is protested by ʿUmar, Fāṭima is slapped during this encounter as is recalled by Shaykh al-Mufīd.

Many of the accounts can be easily understood whilst understanding the chronology and sequence of events as are posited in the book of Sulaym which minimally provides an interpretative framework to understand these apparent discrepancies.

What can be understood in conclusion of discussions pertaining to the death of Fāṭima, the daughter of Muḥammad is that the following minimal facts can be inferred from the overview of historical data and scholarly citations:

i) The view that Fāṭima was attacked by the second historical caliph was an early view which circulated amongst the 2nd and 3rd century Shīʿa milieu.

ii) The view had become a very dominant and vocal one as is evidenced from the statements of both Shīʿa scholars and their theological interlocutors, so much so that the views were prominently held by figures such as Hishām b. al-Ḥakam, the companion of al-Ṣādiq and al-Kāẓim.

iii) No alternatives views have circulated as early Shīʿī understandings and narratives for the death of Fāṭima and therefore any other conclusions are making an argument from silence.

iv) most prominent contemporary doubts levelled against the narrative have been based upon assumptions which are not vindicated through historical analysis.

Doubts Based Upon the Statements of Shi’a scholars Themselves

In regards to doubts posited by the scholars of the Shīʿa in regards to the attack upon Fāṭima, they are to be addressed and dealt with in the same way that any historical disagreement between Shīʿa scholars are addressed, namely one is to scrutinise whether or not there is a more plausible narrative which is presented historically to explain Fāṭima’s early death. One is to also ask why the Imams and early scholars were so silent to voice disagreements and rejection of what has been clearly demonstrated to be an early position and a commonly known position from the formative period of Shīʿa Islam. It is not sufficient for one to merely hide behind the statement of their Marjaʿ on this issue or any other celebrity scholar or prominent speaker, for evidence in issues of history are to be measured out and discussed, free of emotional sentiment and the problem of sugar-coating and glossing over evidence for the sake of appeasing those who might disagree with us within society.

For example, would it make sense to deny the narrations discussing the role of Paul of Tarsus in distorting the Message of Prophet ʿĪsa just because our Christian neighbours respect Paul of Tarsus, or should we cease praising for example, the Prophet Sulaymān just because some Christians view the Prophet in a negative light and believe that his ending was not a righteous one. If one felt they had independently good reasons to deny the narrations, that would be a separate matter but to do so for the sake of appeasing others at the expense of accurate scholarly research would be problematic to say the least. Article reviewed by Sayed Ammar Nakshwani, Sheikh Nuru Mohammed and Islamic Education Team of The World Federation of KSIMC.

[1] Jannah al-Ma’wa, p. 222. [2] Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 1, p. 79. [3] Al-Nukat ʿala Muqaddimah Ibn al-Ṣalāh, v. 2, pg. 888. [4] Tārīkh Ibn Maʿīn, p. 113. [5] Taqrīb al-Tahdhīb, v. 1, pg. 407. [6] Tadhkirah al-Ḥuffāẓ, v. 1, pg. 173. [7] Al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, v. 3, pg. 277. [8] Dalā’il al-Nubūwwah, v. 1, pg. 40. [9] Al-Tamhīd, v. 18, pg. 339. [10] Al-Ṣārim al-Maslūl, v. 1, pg. 147. [11] Minhāj al-Sunnah, v. 8, pg. 116. [12] Jalā’ al-Afhām, v. 1, pg. 244. [13] Dirāsāt al-Tārikhīyyah, pg. 27. [14] Ṣirāṭ al-Mustaqīm, v. 3, pg. 13. [15] Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, v. 2, pg. 126. [16] Kitāb al-Ghaybah, pg. 56. [17] Maʿānī al-Akhbār pg. 206. [18] Taqrīb al-Maʿārif pg. 233. [19] Kashf al-Murād, pg. 402. [20] Al-Lawāmiʿ al-Ilāhīyyah pg. 302. [21] Al-Bad’ wa al-Tārīkh, v. 5, pg. 20. [22] Al-Tanbīh wa al-Radd, pg. 25. [23] Al-Milal wa al-Nihal, v. 1, pg. 57.


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