It is an established fact from the traditions of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) that Islam will not come to an end till there are twelve caliphs amongst the Muslims. It will survive till the Day of Judgment and that the Imams (a.s.) will continue to exist till the last era. The twelve Caliphs will be from the Quraish and the Bani Hashim.
However, some commentators of Sunan al-Tirmidhi and the author of Fath al-Baari (the commentary on Saheeh al-Bukhari) have interpreted the world ‘twelve’ to refer to the caliphs of Bani Umayyah, who followed the companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). They suggest that this tradition cannot be cited as a merit but is used only to indicate the steadfastness of the Islamic kingdom. They include Yazid Ibn Muawiyyah and his son Muawiyyah Ibn Yazid but not Usmaan, Muawiyyah and Abdullah Ibn Zubair because they were among the companions. They also do not draft Marwan Ibn Hakam in the list because he took the allegiance of the people after the people had paid fealty to Ibn Zubair and hence consider him a usurper. Moreover, as per Fath al-Baari, there is a dispute about his companionship. The list continues from Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan followed by Walid till Marwan Ibn Muhammad.
I wish I had known what made these writers interpret the traditions of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) in this mischievous and malicious manner! Is this how we reward the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) for his message? Is this not an insult to his (s.a.w.a.) sayings?
If this was his (s.a.w.a.) purpose and intent, what is the benefit and use of such traditions and what do they achieve?
From where do they know that through these traditions the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) intended the despotic rulers of Bani Umayyah with the exceptions of Muawiyyah and Marwan?
From where do they know that the companions are excluded from these traditions? Then why did he (s.a.w.a.) not say, ‘after my companions’, instead of ‘after me’ as has been reported by a number of narrators?
Any interpretation that includes Muawiyyah and his successors from the Bani Umayyah is clearly false and unacceptable because they were not chosen as caliphs through consensus. Rather, they were despots and the worst of the despots at that.
When things reach to such a despicable state of interpretation, the original quote is completely removed from its apparent import, fearing the establishment of the truth of the Shiite faith. None of these tyrants enjoyed any particularity over the other. In which case, a great number of probabilities unfold. Possibly, it is an indication to the caliphs after Abd al-Malik and when he (s.a.w.a.) said, ‘after me’, he (s.a.w.a.) meant after Abd al-Malik. Or it is an indication to the caliphs after Hesham. Or it could also mean six caliphs each from the Bani Umayyah and the Bani Abbas or the caliphs after Bani Umayyah. It could also imply the caliphs after Saffaah or Mansoor or other despots of Bani Abbas. It could also mean those from the Bani Umayyah who ruled over Spain or the Fatemids who governed Egypt, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, none of these probabilities can be said to have an edge or preference over the others.
Moreover, why these traditions should not be interpreted as a means of merit and praise when the terms used in some narration clearly imply glorification?
Is it correct to equate these oppressive tyrants and sinners with the chiefs of the Bani Israel and the companions of Prophet Eesaa (a.s.) as has come in a number of traditions?
This is in addition to the evidence of the number of caliphs being restricted to twelve.
(Abridged from the English translation of the book ‘Muntakhab al-Asar’, vol. 1, (published by Naba Publications, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran) by Ayatollah Lotfollah Saafi Golpaygani (may Allah prolong his life))!