Fadak between Abu Bakr and Fatimah


Muhammad al-Khider

19 May 1999

Fadk is a hamlet in Hijaz that used to be inhabited by a group of Jews. After Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam had accomplished the conquest of Khaybar, Allah cast fear into the hearts of those Jews.They therefore conclude a treaty with Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam in terms of which Fadak was ceded to him. Thus, not having been conquered by force of arms, it became the personal property of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam.

The difference between the Khalifah Abu Bakr and Sayyidah Fatimah was an acceptable difference in which either side had an opinion founded on proof. However, sensitivity towards the person of Sayyiduna Abu Bakr has led some people to view the issue out of its proper perspective, with the result that an anthill was transformed into a mountain.

To illustrate this with an example: if we had to substitute the two sides in this dispute—Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and Sayyidah Fatimah—with two Shi‘i jurisprudents, or two of the Maraji‘ of the Shi‘ah, each side would be seen to retain the dignity of his position, and no vehement criticism would be directed at either side. The position of both disputants would then be viewed with equal respect and appreciation, in consideration of the fact that both persons base their claims upon textual evidence and proof, albeit that one of the two opinions would ultimately take precedence over the other.

However, when it comes to Abu Bakr and Fatimah there is a complete change of attitude. To the Shi‘ah Abu Bakr is the enemy, and for as long as he be the enemy he will be considered evil incarnate, and error is inseparable from any of his judgements. Thus it is that sentiments have become the standard by which matters such as this are judged. Sentiments do not qualify as a standard to judge by even in trivial disputes. What remains then to be said for the use of sentiments as a criterion in the study of history and the formulation of religious precepts from it?

To the unbiased observer—who does not submit to sentiment, but yields only to the Truth, wherever it is might be—this is an issue that must be approached tentatively.

The status of Fadak

The land of Fadak can be only one of two things:

  • It was either INHERITED by Fatimah from Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam,
  • or it was a GIFT given to her by Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam on the day of Khaybar.


Its status as inheritance is contained in the report documented by al-Bukhari, Muslim and others, wherein it is stated that:

after the demise of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam, Fatimah came to Abu Bakr requesting her inheritance from the Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, from Fadak, his share in Khaybar, and other places. Abu Bakr said: “I heard Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam saying, ‘We do not leave inheritance. What we leave behind is charity.’ ” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Jihad was-Siyar, no. 49)

The same reported in Musnad Ahmad reads:

We, the Prophets, do not leave heirs. (Musnad Ahmad, vol. 2 p. 462)

Fatimah radiyallahu ‘anha became displeased with Abu Bakr, since she viewed the issue in light of the general scope of the verse, “Allah directs you in (the matter of the inheritance of) your children: to the male a portion twice the portion of the female.” (Surah an-Nisa:11)

At this point, let us be neutral, and let us forget that the person requesting her inheritance is a personality whom we love and respect because she is the daughter of our Prophet, and that she has that revered position both within our hearts and with Allah. Let us say: The words of Muhammad sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam takes precedence over the words of anyone else. Therefore, if a hadith like this is authentic, what reason have we to lay blame at the door of Abu Bakr for following the dictates of the hadith and for applying it in practice?

The fact of the matter is that the hadith “We, the Prophets do not leave heirs” is authentic by both the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah. Why is it then that Abu Bakr is condemned for appropriating an authentic statement of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam, and that he be accused of fabricating the hadith in order to dispossess Fatimah of Fadak?

With the Ahl as-Sunnah the authenticity of the hadith by the Ahl as-Sunnah is in no need of clarification. The following section clarifies the authenticity of the hadith in the sources of the Shi‘ah and by their standards.

Authenticity of the hadith

Al-Kulayni narrates in al-Kafi:

Abu ‘Abdillah (Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq) says that Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam said: “… And the ‘Ulama are the heirs of the Ambiya; and the Ambiya did not leave dinars and dirhams as inheritance; but they left knowledge. Therefore whosoever takes knowledge has taken a great portion.” (al-Kafi, vol. 1 p. 42)

Regarding the authenticity of this hadith, ‘Allamah Muhammad Baqir Majlisi states in his commentary on al-Kafi, entitled Mir’at al-‘Uqul:

[This] hadith has two chains of narration. The first is majhul [contains an unknown narrator], and the second is hasan or muwaththaq. [Together] they do not fall short of being sahih. (Mir’at al-‘Uqul, vol. 1 p. 111)

It is then a fact that this hadith is reliable. Why do the ‘ulama of the Shi‘ah refrain from using it, despite the fact that it so well-known in their ranks?

The strange thing here is that the hadith is authentic enough for Khomeini to utilise it as evidence of the validity of his monumental political theory of Wilayat al-Faqih (the Rule of the Jurisprudent). He writes under the heading “Sahihat al-Qaddah” (the authentic narration of al-Qaddah):

‘Ali ibn Ibrahim narrates from his father, from Hammad ibn ‘Isa, on the authority of [‘Abdullah ibn Maymun] al-Qaddah that Abu ‘Abdillah [Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq] ‘alayhis salam said: Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam said: “Whoever walks a path seeking therein knowledge, Allah will lead him on a road to Jannah… And the ‘Ulama are the heirs of the Ambiya; and the Ambiya did not leave dinars and dirhams as inheritance; but they left knowledge. Therefore whosoever takes knowledge has taken a great portion.” (al-Kafi, Kitab Fadl al-‘Ilm, Bab Sifat al-‘Ilm wa-Fadlihi, hadith no. 2)

To this narration Khomeini appends the following remark:

The narrators of this tradition are all reliable and trustworthy. The father of ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim [namely Ibrahim ibn Hashim] is not only reliable; he is one of the most reliable and trustworthy narrators. (al-Hukumat al-Islamiyyah, p. 133, published by Markaz Baqiyyat Allah al-A‘zam, Beirut)

Thereafter Khomeini points to another narration to the same effect that is recorded in al-Kafi with a weak chain of narration, and comments as follows:

This narration has been narrated with a slight difference to the same effect through another chain of narration that is weak, meaning that the chain is authentic up to Abul Bakhtari, but Abul Bakhtari himself is weak. That narration is as follows:

[It is narrated] from Muhammad ibn Yahya, from Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa, from Muhammad ibn Khalid, from Abul Bakhtari, that Abu ‘Abdillah [Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq] ‘alayhis salam said: “Verily the ‘Ulama are the heirs of the Ambiya. That is because the Ambiya do not leave dirhams or dinars as inheritance, but they leave their words.” . (al-Hukumat al-Islamiyyah, p. 133)

It might be concluded from the above that the hadith which states that “the Ambiya do not leave dinars and dirhams as inheritance, but they leave knowledge” is authentic in one of its two chains of narration, as attested to by Khomeini, and before him by Majlisi. Why should an authentically narrated statement of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam be spurned when it is a matter of consensus that there can be no Ijtihad when a Nass (text) exists? Again, why does this hadith qualify to be used in support of Wilayat al-Faqih, but not for the issue of Fadak? Is this issue being judged subjectively?

The prayer of Zakariyya

The argument in favour of the Ambiya leaving inheritance that appropriates as proof the words of Zakariyya ‘alayhis salam in Surah Maryam “Grant me from Your side an heir who will inherit me and inherit the posterity of Ya‘qub” is a pathetic argument that lacks logic in every respect. That is for the following reasons:

  • It is not fit or proper for a pious man to ask Allah for an heir to inherit his possessions. How can it then be found acceptable that a noble prophet like Zakariyya ‘alayhis salam asked Allah for a son to inherit his wealth? What Zakariyyah ‘alayhis salam really asked for was a son who would bear aloft the standard of Prophethood after him, and in whom the legacy of the progeny of Ya‘qub would continue.
  • It is well know that Zakariyya ‘alayhis salam was a poor man who earned his living as a carpenter. What wealth could he have had that would prompt him to request an heir from Allah? In fact, it was a general rule with the Ambiya that they did not hoard anything beyond their need, and that they spent any surplus in charity.
  • The word al-irth (inheritance) does not refer to material possessions exclusively. It is also used to denote knowledge, prophethood or sovereignty. Examples of such usage are found in Surah Fatir:32, where Allah says: “Thereafter We gave the Book as inheritance (awrathna) to such of Our servants as We have chosen”; and in Surah al-Mu’minun:10-11, where Allah says: “Those are the Inheritors (al-warithun) who will inherit Paradise.”
  • The aforementioned hadith which states that “the Ambiya do not leave dinars and dirhams as inheritance, but they leave knowledge” explicitly negates the possibility of the Ambiya leaving a material legacy as inheritance. This alone is sufficient proof.

Sulayman as the heir of Dawud

The same is applicable to the argument in which the verse “And Sulayman inherited Dawud” (an-Naml:16) is used as proof that the Ambiya do leave a material inheritance. The inheritance in this case was not of material possessions. Rather, it was of prophethood, wisdom and knowledge. This is proven by the following two facts:

  • It is well known that Dawud ‘alayhis salam had 100 wives and 300 concubines. He had numerous children from these wives and concubines. If this verse is assumed to speak of the inheritance of material possessions, why is Sulayman mentioned as the sole heir?
  • If this verse is assumed to speak of material inheritance there does not remain much sense for it being mentioned in the Qur’an, since it is then reduced to an ordinary and trivial matter. “Material inheritance is not something laudable, neither to Dawud nor to Sulayman ‘alayhimas salam. Even a Jew or Christian inherits the material possessions of his father. The purpose of this verse is to extol the excellence of Sulayman and to make mention of that which was granted specifically to him. Inheriting material possessions is an ordinary and trivial matter that is common to everyone, like eating, drinking and burying the dead. This is not the kind of thing that would be mentioned about the Ambiya, since it is simply inconsequential. Only such things would be related about the Ambiya which carry lessons or benefit. Things like ‘He died, and his son inherited his property,’ or ‘They buried him,’ or ‘They ate and drank and slept’ is not the kind of information that would be conveyed in the stories of the Qur’an.” (Mukhtasar Minhaj as-Sunnah, vol. 1 p. 240, with minor adjustments)

A Woman’s Inheritance

A more astounding revelation—of which many people happen to be uninformed—is the fact that in the Fiqh of the Imami Shi‘ah a woman does not inherit land or fixed property. Why do the Shi‘ah find it acceptable for Sayyidah Fatimah radiyallahu ‘anha to inherit Fadak, when their own jurisprudence does not allow the succession of a woman to land or fixed property?

  • In al-Kafi al-Kulayni has included a chapter entitled “Women do not inherit land”. In this chapter he narrates a hadith from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, “Women do not inherit anything of land or fixed property.” (al-Kafi, vol. 7 p. 127, Kitab al-Mawarith, hadith no. 1)
  • Al-Tusi in Tahdhib al-Ahkam, and al-Majlisi in Bihar al-Anwar have narrated from Maysarah that he asked Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq about what a woman inherits. The Imam replied: “They will get the value of the bricks, the building, the wood and the bamboo. As for the land and the fixed property, they will get no inheritance from that.” (Tahdhib al-Ahkam, vol. 9 p. 299; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 104 p. 351)
  • Al-Tusi records in Tahdhib al-Ahkam and al-Istibsar from Muhammad ibn Muslim that Imam Muhammad al-Baqir said: “A woman will not inherit anything of land and fixed property.” (Tahdhib al-Ahkam, vol. 9 p. 298; al-Istibsar, vol. 4 p. 152)
  • He also records from ‘Abd al-Malik ibn A‘yan that either Imam Muhammad al-Baqir or Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq said: “Women will have nothing of houses or land.” (Tahdhib al-Ahkam, vol. 9 p. 298; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 104 p. 351)

In addition, if Fadak had to be inheritance, the wives of Rasulullah sallallahi ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam like ‘A’ishah, and his daughters like Zaynab and Umm Kulthum would have had a share in it. However, Abu Bakr, for the sake of the hadith, did not give anything of it to the wives or daughters of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam, not even to his own daughter ‘A’ishah. Why are the wives and the other daughters of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam not mentioned as parties in the dispute over Fadak, and why is all attention focused only on Sayyidah Fatimah?


All of the above concerns the status of Fadak as inheritance from Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam. On the other hand, if it is maintained that Fadak was a gift from Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam—as claimed by al-Kashani in his tafsir, as-Safi (vol. 3 p. 186)—the matter needs to be looked into.

This claim is first and foremost contradicted by authentic reports of both the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah which state that Sayyidah Fatimah radiyallahu ‘anha requested Fadak as her inheritance from Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam. However, even if this claim is assumed to be authentically transmitted, we still cannot accept it. We cannot accept it since it is diametrically opposed to the precept of parental fairness to children espoused by Islam.

The Sahabi Bashir ibn Sa‘d came to Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam, telling him that he had given one of his sons a garden as a gift, and requesting Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam to be witness thereto. Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam asked whether he had given a similar gift to all of his children. When he replied in that he had not in fact done so, Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alih wasallam told him, “Go away, for I will not be a witness to injustice.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Hibat, no. 14)

Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam denounced the act of giving one child more than the other as injustice. Is it then at all plausible that one such as he, as an infallible Nabi who refuses to be witness to injustice, would himself perpetrate that injustice? Is it imaginable that he, who is entrusted with the Trust of the Heavens, could breach a mundane trust of this world by giving Fadak as a gift to Fatimah alone amongst all his daughters? We all know that Khaybar was taken in the 7th year after the Hijrah, and that Zaynab died in the 8th year, and Umm Kulthum in the 9th year after the Hijrah. How can it then be thought that Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam would give something to Fatimah but not to his other daughters?

In any event, what is reliably contained in the documented reports is that when Sayyidah Fatimah requested Fadak, she requested it as her inheritance, and not as a gift that was given to her by Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam.


It is therefore concluded that Fadak was neither inheritance nor a gift. This was exactly the position of Imam ‘Ali. When he became the Khalifah he did not treat Fadak as the estate of his deceased wife Sayyidah Fatimah, by taking a quarter for himself and distributing the remaining three quarters between Hasan, Husayn and Umm Kulthum according to the rule “to the male twice the share of the female”. This is an established fact of history. Why is Abu Bakr execrated for something which was also done by ‘Ali? In fact, Sayyid Murtada (known as ‘Alam al-Huda) narrates in his book on Imamah entitled ash-Shafi, that when ‘Ali became the khalifah he was approached about returning Fadak. His reply was: “I am ashamed before Allah to overturn a matter that was prohibited by Abu Bakr and continued by ‘Umar.” (al-Murtada, ash-Shafi fil-Imamah, p. 231; and Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, vol. 4)

I was on the verge of closing the file on the Fadak issue and a discussion of the various arguments surrounding it, when my eye fell on a narration which throws light upon the condition of those who are bent upon finding fault with Abu Bakr, by whichsoever means they can, legitimate or illegitimate.

Al-Kulayni narrates in al-Kafi:

Abul Hasan [Imam ‘Ali ar-Rida] came to [the ‘Abbasid khalifah] al-Mahdi and found him redressing grievances and returning property to its owners that was unrightfully appropriated. He [Imam Rida] asked, “What about our grievance? Why is it not redressed?” Al-Mahdi asked. “And what might that be, Abul Hasan?” He replied, “When Allah granted his Prophet the conquest of Fadak…” Al-Mahdi asked, “Abul Hasan, describe to me the extent of this property.” He [Imam Rida] replied, “One side of it is Mount Uhud. Another side is al-‘Arish in Egypt. Another side is the coastline. Another side is Dawmat al-Jandal.” (al-Kafi, Bab al-Fay’ wal-Anfal, vol. 1 p. 543; also Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 48 p. 156)

How can a piece of land in Khaybar possibly fit this description? Is this the extent to which people will allow themselves to be duped and deceived?

[EXPLANATORY NOTE: Mount Uhud, of course, is in Madinah. This is given as the south-eastern point. The north-eastern point is stated to be Dawmat al-Jandal, a location close to the Saudi-Jordanian border. Al-‘Arish lies in Egypt, on the edge of the Sinai desert. It is given as the north-western point. The western boundary is stated as the western coastline of the Arabian peninsula. The area described here corresponds roughly to the area lying between latitudes 25 and 30, and longitudes 35 and 40. It is the entire north western quarter of the Arabian peninsula, and is twice as large as modern Jordan.]