Islamic Studies Ghadir Khumm
Arzina Lalani
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0105


Ghadir Khumm is well known in the history of Islam as the site where Muhammad pronounced a significant declaration in favor of ʿAli b. Abi Talib, his cousin and son-in-law. The announcement took place during his return journey from the farewell pilgrimage on 18 Dhuʼl Hijja amid a noteworthy gathering and was destined to have a far-reaching impact on the dynamics of the Muslim community. All Muslims concur on the historicity of the event even if the statements therein remain open to interpretation. The Ghadir Khumm tradition is among the most extensively acknowledged and substantiated of traditions and exists in several variations in classical Islamic sources. The pool (ghadir) in the valley of Khumm is situated three miles from al-Jahfa (al-Juhfa) on the way from Mecca to Medina. Because it was a strategic meeting area from which travelers would disperse to their respective routes, Muhammad called for a congregational prayer and asked for an improvised pulpit to be raised. After a contextual brief, he uttered the famous saying “man kuntu mawlahu fa ʿAli mawlahu” (he whose mawla I am, Ali is his mawla). Exegetical sources suggest that this declaration was made after Muhammad’s initial hesitance on this matter continued. A repeat command was given in Qurʾan 5:67, “O Messenger, deliver [to the people] what has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not do so, then you have not delivered His Message; and God will protect you from people,” which confirmed his protection from the people. Muhammad then carried out these instructions with the Ghadir Khumm declaration that the Shiʿa believe to be a nass—a clear designation for ʿAli to lead the Muslims after the Prophet. Those who later formed the Sunni community accept this historic declaration unanimously but maintain that this was a call for ʿAli to be held in affection and esteem rather than a confirmation of his succession.

General Overviews

The existing findings on Ghadir Khumm are innumerable, substantive, and controversial in interpretation. The earliest evidence for Ghadir Khumm is the poetry of Hassan b. Thabit (see Ibn Thabit 1971), which was composed and recited spontaneously on site as people began congratulating ʿAli. But Horowitz 1904 and Goldziher 1971 deem this poem spurious and regard the verses of Kumayt as the earliest evidence for this tradition. Some historical sources, including Ibn Hisham, al-Tabari, and Ibn Saʻd ignore this incident, yet al-Tabari appears to have compiled a treatise on Fadaʾil al-ʿAli in his later years, as noted in Rosenthal 1989 in an introduction to al-Tabari’s translation of the Taʼrikh. Kohlberg 1992 offers a succinct summary of this controversy. Other early historical sources, such as al-Baladhuri 2003 and Ibn Qays 1994, include substantial details on the Ghadir Khumm event. Besides the early works of the Sunni tradition (see Ibn Hanbal 1949 in History of the Tradition), exegetical sources clearly convey the evidence of Muhammad’s initial reluctance to relay a certain message in favor of ʿAli, which he takes care of after the command in Qurʾan 5:67. This is followed by the revelation of God’s favor in Qurʾan 5:3, which is debatable in some Sunni exegeses. Further evidence from early Tafsir (al-Qummi 1966) is rather comprehensive, as it includes reports on the plotters who lay in wait to kill Muhammad after his announcement. The Ghadir Khumm tradition first became important during the Abbasid period, when the Alids needed to assert their rights against the Abbasids, according to Goldziher 1971, but Madelung 2009 insists that ʿAli was the first teacher of the Shiʿa and that he first publicized the Hadith of Ghadir Khumm when he asked witnesses of the event to come forward and testify to this outside the mosque in Kufa. ʿAli therefore strongly believed that the community as a whole had turned away from him. This was unacceptable to Sunni historiography, which spread the imaginary tale of the Shiʿa erroneously begun by Ibn Sabaʼ, a Yemeni Jew stirring up the rebellion against ʻUthman. Al-Tabari relied on Sayf b. Umar, a Kufan historian whose account of early Islamic history heavily influenced later Sunni historiography (see Rosenthal 1989 and Madelung 2009). Al-Baladhuri 2003 does not use Sayf as a source.

  • al-Baladhuri. Ansab al-Ashraf. Vol. 2. Edited by Wilferd Madelung. Beirut, 2003.

    An early historical source for the life, career, and progeny of ʿAli b. Abi Talib, including traditions on Ghadir Khumm and ʿAli’s appeal to the Kufans after the arbitration to testify to this pronouncement.

  • Goldziher, Ignaz. Muslim Studies. Vol. 2. Translated by C. R. Barber and S. M. Stern. London: Allen and Unwin, 1971.

    Introduces the Ghadir Khumm event and tradition as a basis of Shiʿi legitimacy but asserts that it became important only as a weapon against the Abbasids.

  • Horovitz, Josef, ed. Die Hashimijjat des Kumait. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1904.

    For Horovitz and Ignaz Goldziher, it is the poem of al-Kumayt (d. 126/743) that forms the earliest attestation of the Ghadir Khumm event, as they consider Hassan’s verses spurious. Also see J. Horovitz, “KumaytKumayt,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., edited by P. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. Van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006). This is an explicit account of the Ghadir Khumm event by a Shiʿi poet, which is presented as a prophetic rather than a divine pronouncement.

  • Ibn Qays, Sulaym. Kitab Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilali. Vol. 2. Edited by Shaykh Mohamed Baqir al-Ansari. Qom, Iran: Nashr al-Hadi, 1994.

    Contains substantial details of the Ghadir Khumm event and notes the several versions and interpretations. Extends its coverage to the walaya (faith) and to ʿAli’s descendants as well.

  • Ibn Thabit, Hassan. Diwan of Hassan Ibn Thabit. Edited by Walid N. ʿArafat. E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series. 2 vols. London: Luzac, 1971.

    These verses are the earliest evidence of the Ghadir Khumm event capturing the sentiments of Muhammad appointing ʿAli .

  • Kohlberg, Etan. A Medieval Scholar at Work: Ibn Tawus. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1992.

    Contains a summation on this controversy of al-Tabari compiling a treatise in his later years on Fadaʾil al-‘Ali, which Franz Rosenthal notes in his translation of the introduction of al-Tabari.

  • Madelung, Wilferd. “Sayf b. Umar: Akhbari and Ideological Fiction Writer.” In Le Shiʾsme Imamite Quarante ans après: Hommage à Etan Kohlberg. Edited by M. A. Moezzi, M. Bar-Asher, and Simon Hopkins, 325–337. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009.

    Views Sayf as valuable early source material. But as a historian, he was an ideological fiction writer, although his reports narrated by a single narrator tend to be genuine. Also see Madelung, “Shiʿa,” in Encyclopedia of Islam, 2d ed., Vol. 9, edited by P. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. Van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs, 420–424 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006), in which he discusses ʿAli as the first teacher of the Shiʿa.

  • al-Qummi, Abu’l Hasan Ali b. Ibrahim. Tafsir al-Qummi. Vol. 1. Edited by al-Tayyib al-Musawi al-Jaza’iri. Najaf, Iraq: N.p., 1966.

    See pages 171–175. This exegetical work is rather comprehensive and includes reports about the plotters who lay in wait to kill Muhammad after his announcement at the Ghadir Khumm. There is clear evidence from this and other Tafsir literature of Muhammad’s initial reluctance to relay a certain message in favor of ʿAli, which is carried out upon the command given in Qurʾan 5:67, followed by the revelation of God’s favor in Qurʾan 5:3.

  • Rosenthal, Franz, trans. The History of al-Tabari. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

    This introductory volume is a groundbreaking contribution to Islamic historiography, revealing meticulous scholarship on al-Tabari’s writings. Invaluable to all scholars of Arabic and Middle Eastern history.

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