The Event of Ghadir Khumm is the occasion during which the Holy Prophet (pbuh) of Islam declared…
Islam is the path that guides humankind towards the perception and fulfillment of their true worth. Its foundation is the fundamental belief that there is no God but Allah,1 the Originator of all creations, and the conviction that His plan for human beings intimately addresses every aspect of our basic nature and holds the keys to our well-being. Furthermore, it is only through the implementation of divine directives that humanity can realize its complete potential and truly advance towards greater personal, communal, and societal good. Indeed, God states, “and by the soul and that (Power) which designed it and inspired it with knowledge of evil and piety” 2 to remind us that He has created within each one of us a spark of awakening and a boundless ability to achieve on a regular basis what sadly people today consider to be extraordinary. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) reminds us of our God-given potential saying, “If people knew the virtue of knowing Allah (and hence the system He created) they would never extend their gaze to the splendor and bounties of the life of this world that Allah has granted to the enemies. Verily the inner knowledge of Allah is an intimate companion in every type of desolation, a friend in every type of loneliness, a light in every darkness, a source of strength from all weakness, and a cure for all ailments.”3
A Complete Code of Life
Thus, over a period of twenty-three years, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) delivered the message of God that proclaimed the complete and comprehensive code by which humanity could thrive and foster not only personal development, but also insure an inclusive and universal benefit to all groups of people without forsaking an individual’s rights or abandoning anyone in society. This is the purpose of Islam (the religion)—to provide order, balance, and meaning to the spiritual, physical, emotional, and psychological processes of life amidst personal interests, trials and tribulations, social disruption, technological advances, and the daily ebb and flow of life. Moreover, our religion indicates how humankind should view themselves, the surrounding world, and their interaction. If we contemplate, we will come to the realization that there is a natural system that determines all these conditions and, based on our choices and actions, a set of outcomes, some of which are positive and some which are not.
Completion is Not Always Perfection
As detailed by God’s religion, the ideals to which Muslims aspire are based on the fulfillment of His obligations and the avoidance of His prohibitions (i.e., the do’s and don’ts, halal vs. haram). This is the standard that determines whether a person will achieve taqwa (piety) and hence worldly and eternal success. Yet, piety and the achievement of this success is not solely dependent on what a person does or does not do, but rather the quality of all their actions. For example, if a person wants to build a house, they first lay down the foundation, then erect the walls, frame the windows, and finally construct a roof. One by one, once they have carried out all these actions, the house is [externally] complete. However, would this house be considered perfect without the final touches? Indeed, a house needs carpeting, paint on the walls, furniture, food and drink, and countless other amenities which beautify the home internally.
The Farewell Pilgrimage
In the tenth year AH, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) called on all the believers to accompany him on his last pilgrimage. This announcement reached the farthest regions of the Muslim world, including Yemen, where Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (p) was acting as the Prophet’s representative. Several accounts estimate that tens of thousands of Muslims responded to the call and performed this Hijjatul wada or farewell pilgrimage.4 During the hajj, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) delivered several sermons at different sites in which he reminded the believers of their responsibilities, clearly designated the matter of religious leadership (imamate), and emphasized the need for disseminating the crucial instructions that he was providing. On the seventeenth of Dhu al-Hijjah, following the completion of the hajj, the Prophet (pbuh&hp) announced that no one should tarry but rather make their way to Ghadir Khumm. The word spread quickly and some who had already embarked on their journey homeward returned to that shallow pond where thousands had now gathered. At this point, we should imagine the scene and consider the Prophet’s strategy in setting up this moment, which both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars detail as a pivotal juncture in history for an ummah5 that was not yet a quarter of a century old. Clearly, throughout his entire life, the words and advice of the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) were never without purpose or guidance, yet at this moment, he intended something profound to draw the attention of all Muslims everywhere.
Islam is Completed and Perfected
The Prophet’s message, delivered with such distinction, was an awe-inspiring declaration of the Oneness of God, His supremacy, and His code for humanity, as well as a reminder of the Prophet’s mission, and a comprehensive piece of advice on the religious and moral obligations of all Muslims. It even echoes today and should give us a reason to pause and consider where we stand with respect to what the Prophet (pbuh&hp) said on that fateful day, not just with respect to fulfilling our individual responsibilities as Muslims (such as prayer, fasting, hajj, and khums), but also in terms of the broader good and service to humanity. The fruition of the lofty fundamentals spelled out by the Prophet (pbuh&hp) in their entirety on that auspicious day is encompassed and embodied by wilayah (divine authority), because no sooner had he declared the mastership of Imam Ali (p) than the verse of the Holy Quran was revealed “On this day I have perfected your religion, completed My favors to you, and have chosen Islam as your religion.”6 Consider the weight of the Prophet’s statement, not just in its unequivocal declaration of Imam Ali’s mastership and leadership (for it would be unreasonable to consider this a declaration of mere friendship), but also in the subsequent validation that both itmam (completion) and ikmal (perfection) were established. Now, the house is complete with all its parts and perfected with everything that it needs to make it flawless.
Are We Striving for Perfection in Worship or Just Completion?
The significance of this pivotal event lies in the subtle and deep message God is relaying to us through His prophet (pbuh&hp), which is to fulfill our obligations (completion) with fidelity, while simultaneously aiming to make them the best possible (perfection). Is this not the key to being successful in life (e.g., in school or career)? A person does not just strive to complete university classes, they struggle and work hard for the best grades possible. Anything short of the best effort produces a less than desirable outcome. The same goes for our worship and devotion to God. An observant Muslim will pray five times a day, completing the required acts and number of units for each prayer, yet how much significance does it have if they prayed hurriedly or at the very end of the time, or they purposefully did not focus on what they were reciting? Or for instance, Muslims stop eating and drinking during the fast of the month of Ramadan, but they continue to gossip, lie, and slander others, or entertain devious thoughts and harbor ill will in their hearts. Thus, outwardly the act of worship is complete, but can we honestly say that it is perfect, and as such, has it had the impact it needed to have?
The Message of Ghadir Khumm Today
So, a Muslim might ask “what is the relevance of Ghadir Khumm to me today?” Aside from the clear delineation of divine guidance after the Prophet (pbuh&hp), the proclamation of this leadership speaks to the basic nature of humanity—that we all need to base our character and actions on a model. In the field of social learning, scientists propose that human beings are active information processors and can link their behavior to a set of consequences. Moreover, adopting a particular role model involves four processes: (1) attention or observing someone’s behavior with intent and focus in order to imitate it, (2) retention or the ability to memorize the behavior so that it can be emulated correctly, (3) reproduction or repeating the behavior over and over so it is truly adopted, and (4) motivation or the feedback a person receives from their surroundings about an emulated trait or action.7 Thus, a role model may be temporary and may change from time to time and from one epoch to another. Yet, the question we must all ask ourselves is why are modelled traits morally significant? This is the key, because God decrees and establishes morality, and it does not change over time or with fluctuating circumstances. Hence, a divine role model is one that God establishes upon the completion of the moral code (i.e., religion) and remains in effect [as an essential tool] for all people and for the rest of time, not just in terms of personal morality, but also for communal and social imperatives.
Thus, the wilayah of Imam Ali (p) is the measure of perfection when implementing this moral code, because if we examine his life we will notice the excellence in his personal, communal, and societal actions, not just in what he achieved on a case-by-case basis, but also how he maintained that excellence during social and political upheaval to preserve individual rights and the sanctity of the Muslim ummah. Eid al-Ghadir8 reminds us of this legacy and the responsibility of all of us to constantly perfect our actions, whether they include worship, akhlaq (ethics), career, or being more attuned to and aware of the state of society and the needs of others around us. This is one of the most challenging aspects of being a believer. Imam Ali (p) says, “purifying an action is more difficult than performing the action itself and making an intention free of all corruption and depravity (i.e., sincere) is more arduous than the lifelong struggle for the one acting.” 9 In propagating this great standard, Imam Ali (p) exemplified the pinnacle of character and worship and exhorted his followers to be wali (advocates) in society, particularly for those who are disenfranchised and without support. He wrote to Malik al-Ashtar, “Beware! Fear God when dealing with the issue of the poor (i.e., the difficulties they face) who have no patron, who are forlorn, indigent, helpless and are greatly conflicted in mind—victims of the vicissitudes of time. Among them are some who do not question their lot in life and who, notwithstanding their misery, do not go about seeking alms. For God’s sake, safeguard their rights, for on you rests the responsibility of protecting their interests. Do not treat their interests as of less importance than your own, and never keep them outside the purview of your important considerations.” 10
Thus, a true believer is one who constantly strives to perform additional acts of worship and devotion to God, while simultaneously improving what is they are already practicing. For example, we should not only make the effort to pray on time, but also better understand what we are reciting in each prayer, become more conscious of the significance of each act (e.g., prostration), and reduce the distractions in our minds. Or for instance, when giving charity, we must make it a habit to remind ourselves that this act of generosity is solely from God to not only the recipient, but to us as well (because He allowed us the capability and opportunity). We should regularly ponder on why we are doing something, is it for self-satisfaction or is it selfless? In this way, we can begin to cultivate the inner dimensions of what drives us to fulfill God’s obligations, and from there spread goodness to others through a genuine feeling of being blessed by Him.
1. Allah is the Arabic word for “God” in the Abrahamic religions.
2. Quran 91:7-8.
3. Al-kafi, v. 8, p. 247, no. 347.
4. Al-Tabrasi, Al-ihtijaj, vol.1, p.56.
5. Ummah is the whole community of Muslims bound by the ties of religion.
6. Quran 5:3.
7. Bandura, A., Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1986.
8. The annual commemoration of the Ghadir Khumm event.
9. Bihar al-Anwar, vol 1. ch. 77, p. 288.
10. The Richest Treasure: Imam Ali’s Letter to Malik al-Ashtar