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Hadith of the Twelve Successors

The hadith of the twelve successors, or twelve caliphs (Arabic: حديث الاثني عشر خليفة‎, romanizedḥadīth al-ithnā ‘ashar khalīfah) is an Islamic prophecy, attributed to Muhammad. It is most popular among Twelver Shiites, as they interpret the prophecy was fulfilled by The Twelve Imams. The hadith (classified as Sahih) is widely accepted by all Muslims but its interpretation varies heavily.

Sunni viewEdit

According to the prophecy there will reign twelve caliphs—presumably the first being crowned upon Muhammad's death—and after which the caliphate would cease to exist and mark the beginning of the judgement day or armageddon. It is stated that all twelve caliphs will be from the tribe of Quraysh. Interpretation of the hadith varies widely among Sunni scholars; some have openly claimed that they do not know the meaning.[1]

Another interpretation is that the prophecy was fulfilled by the Rashidun Caliphs.[2] Some commentators, such as Ibn Kathir and Ibn Taymiyya, link this hadith with the biblical account of Moses and his twelve deputies.[3][4][5][6]

Imam Muslim on Sahih Muslim wrote: Rasulullah s.a.w said: "This religion (Islam) will remain standing until twelve caliph, which all of them is from Quraysh, rule over you." (Sahih Muslim)

Imam Abu Dawud on Shahih Abi Dawud wrote: Masyruq said: We were sitting with Abdullah bin Mas'ud to learn Al-Qur'an from him. Someone asked him: Did you ask Rasulullah s.a.w how many caliphs will rule this ummah? Ibnu Mas'ud answered: Of course we asked this thing from Rasulullah s.a.w and he answered: "Twelve, like the amount of the leaders of Banu Israel." (Shahih Al-Bukhari)

Shia viewEdit

Shia Muslims believe in the concept of Imamah, while rejecting the Sunni view of Caliphate and the four khalifs namely: Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali (in chronological order). According to Shias, there is no tradition or proof which states that the number of leaders (which can be referred to as khalifs, Imams, or amirs) will be anything other than twelve. The twelve successors from the hadith (traditions of Muhammad) are already known as The Twelve Imams.

Two hadiths form the basis and understanding of the 12 successors of Muhammad: the hadith of the two weighty things and the hadiths regarding the 12 khalifs. One of the most authentic hadith (traditions of the sayings of Muhammad) is Hadith thaqalain in which Muhammad tells the Muslims that he is leaving behind two weighty things, The quran and his ahlul bayt. Al-Tirmidhi in his Sunan[7] records the following tradition: Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah said: "I saw the Messenger of Allah - upon whom be God's peace and benedictions - in the course of his hajj pilgrimage on the day of ‘Arafah. The Prophet (S) was seated on his camel, al-Qaswa', and was delivering a sermon. I heard him say: 'O people, I am leaving among you that which if you hold on to you shall never go astray: the Book of Allah and my kindred, my household (ahlul bayt)."

This tradition was recorded by many other sources[8][9][10]

Muhammad also repeated this hadith at a place called Ghadir Khumm. Al-Nasa'I[11] records the following tradition:

Al-Nasa'i narrates from Muhammad ibn al-¬Muthanna, he from Yahya ibn Hammad, from Abu 'Uwwanah, from Sulayman, from Habib ibn Abi Thabit, from Abu al-¬Tufayl, from Zayd ibn Arqam, who said, "When the Messenger of Allah (S) returned from the last hajj and came down at Ghadir Khumm.... "Then he declared: 'I am about to answer the call (of death). Verily, I have left two precious things (thaqalayn) among you, one of which is greater than the other: the Book of God and my ‘Itrah, my Ahlul Bayt. So watch out how you treat them after me. For, indeed, they will never separate until they return to me by the side of the Pond.' Then he said, 'Verily, God is my master (mawlaya) and I am the wali of every believer.' Then he took ‘Ali's hand and declared, 'To whomever I am his wali, this one is also his wali. My God, befriend whoever befriends him and be hostile to whoever is hostile to him.'" Abu al-Tufayl says: "I said to Zayd, 'Did you hear it from the Prophet(S)?' He replied, 'There was no one in the caravan who did not see it with his eyes and hear it with his ears,'"

Among others who have recorded it in their books are bukhari in his tarikh,[12] Muslim in his sahih,[13] the musnad of ahmad bin hanbal,[14] sunan of abu dawud,[15] and al tabarani:[16]

These hadiths indicate that Muhammad left the Muslim community (umma) to the leadership of specific members of his progeny (ahlul bayt) and clearly established the first of these 12 imams/khalifs as his cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn-abu talib. Having established the importance of following the teachings of his ahlul bayt as the guides for the understanding of the quran for members of his community, Muhammad also informed his companions that the number of leaders/imams/khalifs after him will specifically be twelve in number. The following references are taken from the “sahih” books of Sunni Muslims:

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: “Islam will continue to be triumphant until there have been twelve Caliphs, all of them from Quraysh.” Sahih Muslim[17]

Narrated Jabir ibn Samura: The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: “This matter (life) will not end, until it is passed by twelve Caliphs.” He then whispered a sentence. I asked my father what the Prophet said. He said, the Prophet added: “All of them will be from Quraysh.” Sahih Muslim[18]

The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: “There will be after me twelve Amir (Prince/Ruler), all of them from Quraysh.” Sunan al-Tirmidhi[19]

Narrated Jabir ibn Samura: I heard the Prophet saying, “There will be twelve commanders (Amir).” He then said a sentence which I did not hear. My father said, the Prophet added, “All of them will be from Quraysh.” Sahih al-Bukhari[20]

The conclusion of the Shia school is that Muhammad left the world with the quran and his ahlul bayt as guides for humanity. Similar to the 12 tribes of bani Israel (Quran 2:60-61) and the 12 disciples of Jesus (Bible Revelation 21:14), Muhammad also left his community with 12 heirs to guide the community and protect the interpretation of the Quran. Of note, very few of God's chosen messengers and guides ever attained worldly power. As such, the concept of the twelve successors is not a prophecy of worldly leaders, but rather spiritual guides (imams) and the notion that these twelve must be worldly leaders to be successors of Muhammad is rejected. These twelve imams are not a monarchy, but rather are spiritual leaders in the line of Abraham as promised to him in the Quran 2:124:[21] “And when his Lord tried Ibrahim with commands, he fulfilled them. He said: Surely I will make you an Imam for mankind. (Ibrahim) said: And of my offspring (will there be Imams)? He said, my covenant does not include the unjust”.

Biblical ProphecyEdit

"And for Ishmael, I heard his prayer; Behold, I will bless him and make him father of twelve descendants, twelfth King will be born and I will be born and I will make him a great nation." Genesis 17:20

The above-mentioned prophecy is taken from English translated versions of the Genesis creation narrative found in both the Tanakh and The Bible. The earliest know example is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Est. 408 BCE to 318 CE.

Fihr, which is the founder of Quraish tribe, is a descendant of Prophet Ishmael.

Fihr (Quraish) bin Malik bin Nadhr bin Kinanah bin Khuzayma bin Mudrikah bin Ilyas bin Mudhar bin Nizar bin Ma'ad bin Adnan bin Udad bin al-Muqawwam bin Nahur bin Tayrah bin Ya'rub bin Yasyjub bin Nabit bin Ishmael bin Abraham.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Beliefs: Twelve Successors". Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 11, 2013. Retrieved January 24, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Tarikh ibn Kathir 250
  4. ^ Tarikh ibn Kathir, volume 6, p. 249-250
  5. ^ Tarikh ibn Kathir, 6:248; Kanz al-Ummal, 13:27; Al-Haskani, Shawahid al-Tanzil, 1:455, Tradition No. 626.
  6. ^ Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal v1 p398 and p406; Mustadrak al-Hakim, 4:501; Al-Dhahabi, Talkhis al-Mustadrak 4:501. I; Ibn Hajar Asqalani, Fath al-Bari 16:339; #Ali ibn Abu Bakr al-Haythami, Majma al-Zawa'id 5:190; Ibn Hajar Al-Haythami, Al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqa, vol 12; Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa, Vol 10; Jami' al-Saghir 1:75; Kanz al-Ummal, 13:27
  7. ^ Al-¬Tirmidhi in his Sunan (v, 662, no. 3786)
  8. ^‘arafat
  9. ^ al-¬Hakim al-¬Tirmidhi, Nawadir al-usul, 68, 50th asl
  10. ^ al-¬Tabarani, al-¬Mu’jam al-¬kabir, iii, 63, no. 2679
  11. ^ Al-¬Nasa'i in his al-Sunan al-kubra, 96, No. 79 in the chapter "Khasa'is ‘Ali"
  12. ^ Al-Bukhari, al-¬Ta'rikh al-¬kabir, iii, 96
  13. ^ Muslim, Sahih, bab fada'il ‘Ali, no. 2408
  14. ^ Ahmad, Musnad, iii, 17, iv, 366
  15. ^ Abu Dawud, Sunan, as mentioned in Sibt ibn al-¬Jawzi, Tadhkirat khawass al-ummah, 322
  16. ^ al-¬Tabarani, al-¬Mu’jam al-¬kabir, iii, 2679, 2681, 2683, 3052, 4969, 4970, 4971, 4986, 5026, 5028
  17. ^ Sahih Muslim (Arabic version) Kitab al-Imaara, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, v3, p1453
  18. ^ Sahih Muslim (Arabic version) Kitab al-Imaara, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, v3, p1452
  19. ^ Sunan al-Tirmidhi (Arabic) Chapter of Fitan, 2:45 (India) and 4:501 Tradition # 2225 (Egypt) Hadith #2149 (numbering of al-‘Alamiyyah)
  20. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari (English) Hadith: 9.329, Kitabul Ahkam. Sahih al-Bukhari (Arabic) 4:165, Kitabul Ahkam. Hadith #6682 (numbering of al-‘Alamiyyah)
  21. ^ quran 2:124