When Allah ordered the Prophet (saw) to start calling people at the very beginning of Islam, Allah ordered him to start with his clan and close relatives.
وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ
"And warn, (O Muhammad), your closest kindred." (Qur'an 26:214)
The Prophet (saw) started the mission addressing society collectively, by calling the elites and leaders of his clan. He ordered Ali (ra) to prepare a banquet and invite all the leaders of his clan (Banu Abd al-Muttalib). Ali cooked the meal and invited about forty men. The invitees however left before the Prophet could speak with them. He invited them again and after eating he said (according to the narration in question):
ِيا بَنِي عَبْدِ المُطَلِبْ، إنِي والله ما أَعْلَمُ شَابًا فِي العَرَبِ جاءَ قَوْمَهُ بأفْضَلَ مِمَا جِئتُكُم به، قَدْ جِئْتُكُم بخيّرِ الدُنيا والآخِرَة، وقَدْ أَمَرَنِي اللهُ تعالى أن أَدْعُوكُم إليهِ، فأيُكُم يؤازِرُنِي على هَذَا الأمرعَلَى أن َيَكون أَخِي وَوَصِيّ وَخَلِيفَتِي فِيْكُم ؟ ... (علي) أَنَا يا نَبِيّ اللهِ أكونُ وَزِيرَكَ عَلَيْهِم. فَأَخَذَ بِرَقَبَتِي ثُمَ قَالَ: إنَّ هَذَا أَخِي وَوَصِيِي وخَلِيفَتِي فِيكُم، فَاسْمَعُوا لَهُ وَأَطِيعُوا. قال: فقام القومُ يَضْحَكُون فيقولون لأبي طالب: قَدْ أَمَرَكَ أنْ تَسْمَعَ لابْنِكَ وتُطِيعْ.
"O Banu Abd al-Muttalib, I, indeed, don't know of any Arab youth who came to his people with a notion better than I came with.
I came to you with the goodness of this world and the Here After. Allah (swt) ordered me to call you to Him.
Who is going to support me regarding this matter and he will be my brother, mister, and Caliph among you? …
(Ali said) I am the one O the Prophet of Allah who is going to be your minister (wazir) among them. The Prophet then touched his neck and said: 'This is my brother, minister and caliph among you, you have to listen and obey him.'
The people went laughing and said to Abu Talib (Ali's father) 'he (Muhammad) ordered you to listen and obey your son.'" (Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 322, Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh, Vol. 1, p. 259)
The narration is not sound
The Isnad of this narration is not sound as it was narrated by Abd al-Ghafar ibn al-Qasim who was a Shi'ite liar, fabricating hadiths and scholars of hadith criticism don't accept his narrations.
Ibn Kathir for instance said:
تَفَرَّدَ بِهَذَا السِياقِ عَبْدُ الغَفْارِ بن القَاسِم أَبِي مَرْيَم ، وَهُوَ مَتْرُوكٌ كَذَابٌ شِيعِيّ ، اتَهَمَهُ عَلِيّ بن المَدِينِي وَغَيْرِه بِوَضْعِ الحَدِيثِ ، وَضَعَّفَهُ الأَئِمَةُ رَحِمَهُمُ الله
"This Hadith with this context is only narrated by Abd al-Ghafar ibn al-Qasim Abu Marriam and he is a Matruk (scholars reject his hadiths) Shi'ite liar.
Ali ibn al-Madini (a leading scholar in hadith criticism) rightly accused him of fabricating hadiths and the scholars consider him Da'eef (his hadith is not acceptable)." (Ibn Kathir Tafsir al-Qur'an, Vol. 6, p. 180, Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah, Vol. 3, p. 38)
The same thing is said by Imam Ghazali in his book Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Deen (Vol. 2, p. 233).
Abu Dawud (the compiler of the hadith collection Sunan Abu Dawud) said:
أَنَا أَشْهَدُ أَنَّ أَبَا مَرْيَمَ كَذَّابٌ
"I bear wetness Abu Marriam (the narrator) is a liar." (Aqili, ad-Du'afa' under the letter (ع))
Ibn Hajar included a large number of leading scholars who criticized him and accused him of fabrication:
ِعَبْدُ الغَفْارِ بن القَاسِم أَبِي مَرْيَم الأنْصَارِيّ رَافِضِيّ لَيْسَ بِثِقَةٍ قَالَ عَلِيّ بن المَدِينِي كَانَ يَضَعُ الحَدِيثِ وَيُقَالُ كَانَ مِنْ رُؤُوسِ الشِيعَة
ورَوَى عَبَاسٌ عَنْ يَحيّى لَيْسَ بِشَيء
ّوقال البُخَارِي عَبْدُ الغَفْارِ بن القَاسِم بن قَيْسِ بن فَهْدِ لَيْسَ بِالقَوِي ...
ْسَمْاكَا الحَنَفِيّ يَقُولُ لأبِي مَرْيَمَ فِي شَيّءٍ ذَكَرَهُ كَذَبْت ...
ٍوقال أَحْمَدُ بنُ حَنْبَلِ كَانَ أَبُو عُبَيْدَةَ إِذَا حَدثَنَا عَنْ أَبِي مَرْيَمَ يَصِيحُ النَّاسُ يَقُولُونَ لَا نُرِيدُهُ قَالَ أَحْمَدُ كَانَ أَبُو مَرْيَمَ يُحَدِثُ بِبَلَايَا فِي عُثْمَان
ِوقَالَ أَبُو حَاتِم والنَسَائِيّ وغَيْرَهُمَا مَتْرُوكِ الحَدِيث ...
وقال الدَارَقُطْنِيّ مَتْرُوكٍ ... وذَكَرَهُ السَاجِيّ والعَقِيلِيّ وابن الجَارُودِ وابْن شَاهِينٍ فِي الضُعَفَاء
"Abd al-Ghafar ibn al-Qasim is an untrustworthy Shiite.
Ali ibn al-Madini said 'he was fabricating the hadith.
It was also said he was one of the leaders of Shiites.
Abas narrated Yahya saying he is nothing (in terms of trustworthiness).
Bukhari said Abd al-Ghafar is not strong. …
Samaka said to him when he narrates a hadith, you made a lie. …
Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal said people did not want to hear Hadiths narrated by him because he narrates awful things about Uthman (ra).
Abu al-Hatim, Nasa'i and others said his hadith is Matruk (unaccepted). …
Al-Daraquttni said he is Matruk. … Saji, 'Uqilim ibn al-Jarudi, ibn Shahin (shcolars of compilations of narrators criticism) mentioned him in the weak narrators. (Du'afa')'" (Ibn Hajar, Lisan al-Mizan, Vol. 4, p. 42)
Rational Objections (Matn of Text)
Whilst this situation refers to the concept of collectiveness of dawah at the very beginning of the Prophet's call, some of the details of the narration are problematic.
How did the Prophet appoint an eight-year-old child as a leader upon these leaders of Quraysh?
The Prophet (saw) was known for his wise choices when appointing people based on their previous leadership before embracing Islam, such as the case of Umar, Abu Sufyan and others. So why would he not do the same with the best leaders of Quraysh?
This was a valid objection mentioned in the narration by the disbelievers when they sarcastically said to Abu Talib (Ali's father and the leader of Banu Abd al-Muttalib) 'he (Muhammad) ordered you to listen and obey your son.'
How could the Prophet (saw) ask people to follow and obey Ali (ra) when they have not yet obeyed the Prophet himself?
How could they obey the representative of an entity before obeying the entity?
It does not make sense. It does not also make sense when someone chooses successors before having followers.
At the beginning of the dawah, the prophet was seeking for protection and a tribe to adopt his message and help him to spread it.
So, what kind of protection would an eight-year-old child, living under the protection and adoption of the Prophet, could provide the Prophet at this crucial time?
The answer is nothing and so it is not useful having him as a leader and protection giver.
Finally, there are other sound narrations of the same situation contradicting the last part of the narration.
Shawahid of the Narration
There are other versions of this narration where the Prophet either did not mention the last part or refused Ali when he raised his hand for approval as his brother or a successor in his family. In addition, the purpose of seeking protection and taking care of his family was necessary if he was hurt himself, and it had nothing to do with leadership after him.
This is also elaborated in ahadith where he visited over 40 tribes, some who interestingly wanted to succeed him after he died and he stated "Allah places authority wherever he wills" rejecting such conditions - never stating Ali was his successor.
It was narrated:
مَنْ يَضْمَنُ عَنِّي دَيْنِي وَمَوَاعِيدِي ، وَيَكُونُ مَعِي فِي الْجَنَّةِ ، وَيَكُونُ خَلِيفَتِي فِي أَهْلِي ؟ " فَعَرَضَ ذَلِكَ عَلَى أَهْلِ بَيْتِهِ ، فَقَالَ عَلِيٌّ : أَنَا ، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : "عَلِيٌّ يَقْضِي عَنِّي دَيْنِي ، وَيُنْجِزُ مَوَاعِيدِي."
"Who could guarantee my religion (in delivering it to people) and my responsibilities and he would be with me in Paradise and my successor (caliph) in my family? He told that to his clan. Ali answered 'I am.' The Prophet replied, 'Ali will pay off my debts and accomplish my responsibilities.'" (Ahmed, Fadda'il as-Sahabah)
In other narrations, the Prophet (saw) said:
فَأَيُّكُمْ يُبَايِعُنِي عَلَى أَنْ يَكُونَ أَخِي وَصَاحِبِي ؟
"Who of you is going to give me the pledge to be my brother and companion?" (Musnad Ahmed, Tarikh Dimashq and Tahdhib al-Kamal,)
These narrations and many other narrations make more sense as the Prophet (saw) was asking for someone to keep his debt and responsibilities (Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 322) in case he was hurt when delivering the message. The Prophet (saw) later appointed Ali (ra) to return the deposits to people after the migration.
So it seems that the narration fits the job he was later appointed to, especially in light of his age. The second narration fits his story with the Prophet as a companion as the husband of his beloved daughter.
There are about ten narrations of the event, only one of them claims the issue of obedience and following of Ali (ra) or his Khalifa.
This narration is not a sound narration. In addition, the Prophet's purpose of the banquet, as mentioned in other hadiths, was looking for protection against the opponents of his message and protecting his family if he was hurt - it had nothing to do with leadership after him.
Tabari, Tarikh at-Tabari
Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi at-Tarikh
Ibn Kathir Tafsir al-Qur'an
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah
Ghazali, Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Deen
Ibn Hajar, Lisan al-Mizan
Ahmed, Fadda'il as-Sahabah
Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq
Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.
Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.
Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come