I have tried to understand why Muhammad was not explicit about succession, but all I have found are sectarian answers. One group says Muhammad was explicit, another group says Muhammad deliberately left the matter to the will of the Umma. But I've read a number of (secular, non-sectarian) biographies and other books about Muhammad, and I find nothing in them that would explain why there is disagreement on the matter.

Are there any scholars who explore Muhammad's reasons for not being explicit, without bringing in sectarianism, or appealing to Muhammad's superhuman qualities, or appealing to divine wisdom? Scholars who analyze the issue from a secular standpoint?

Edit: I am not interested in which sect is "correct", or whose view is "stronger", or which POV is more "viable". I am interested in Muhammad's reasons for not being explicit. Here's why I can't accept any claims that he was indeed explicit: the Qur'an addresses Muhammad's family problems (the scandal over Aisha in the desert), and the proper formality to be observed when interacting with Muhammad. Although I have not read the Hadith, I have heard that they even go so far as to address issues of personal hygiene. I am shocked that while these issues are enshrined in Islam's holy writings, there is not a single word about succession therein. I am very curious about the reasons for this rather glaring omission.

Edit #2: I am not interested in Qur'anic allusions or implicit references. If Islam's holy writings are explicit about Muhammad's family matters and personal hygiene, I am wondering why the issue of succession was addressed only by allusions and implicit references, not whether the allusions and implicit references are considered valid as a means of choosing Muhammad's successor.

  • Hello and welcome to the site. A couple of points: Are you sure about your conclusion that neither of the two sects' positions are correct? Have you studied all available sources? And finally a scholarly source may not be necessarily secular or unreasonably neutral.
    – infatuated
    Jun 19, 2016 at 0:40
  • 1
    Thank you for your welcome. I must admit that I am baffled by your questions. I do not know what makes you think I've reached a conclusion about correctness, or why you would ask whether I've "studied all available sources". I would think it's obvious I'm not interested in sectarian "correctness", or the sources I might use to determine which sect is "correct". I do not understand your final comment at all. If my question is not clear, please do tell me where it is unclear, and I will make edits if possible. Again, thank you for your kind welcome. Jun 19, 2016 at 1:41
  • My pleasure. Well, now I'm baffled! You seem to clearly suggest that you have reached a conclusion as to which POVs are or are not viable. Perhaps I should've not used the word "correct" to indicate which view or narrative you've found to be stronger in terms of supporting historical evidence and coherence, ....
    – infatuated
    Jun 19, 2016 at 8:19
  • but I believe an extensive critical study of all sects' views + contrasting them against the full range of primary sources (Quran + hadith corpora + histories) that they draw or not draw on to support their conclusions can lead us to more or less definite judgements about their relative strength over one another and ultimately their correctness. But I am not sure whether you're still in a position to rule out all major views in Islam. So it would be of benefit if your specified which sources/biographies you've so far read.
    – infatuated
    Jun 19, 2016 at 8:30
  • Thank you. I am not interested in which POV is viable, or whose view is stronger, or all the major views of succession in Islam. I have edited my question in an attempt to be more clear. Again, please let me know if I have not been clear enough. Jun 19, 2016 at 16:31

1 Answer 1


Author Lesley Hazleton, in her book After The Prophet, suggests that Muhammad was reluctant to name a successor during his lifetime because he knew it would cause strife among his more powerful followers, such as Abu Bakr, Omar, and Aisha. When Muhammad, on his deathbed, indicated that he wished to write down some final instructions, those attending him refused his request for pen and paper. Hazleton suggests it was because everyone feared he would name a successor other than themselves, most likely Ali, who had not been invited and was not present at the time.

  • Ah! I am glad that you finally found your answer and thanks for sharing your source. IMHO, Hazleton seems to have accurately identified the misgivings the Prophet had for declaring his successor and the reasons therefor, but I wonder what she has to say about the incident at Ghadir Khumm.
    – infatuated
    Jun 21, 2016 at 10:16
  • Thank you. I hope the answer I've posted here will not be the only one. Please forgive me, I am not interested in the incident at Ghadir Khumm. I am, as I hope I made clear with my edits and with my other comments to you, interested in why the matter of succession was handled so differently from personal hygiene and Muhammad's family matters, and whether there are scholars who address that specific question without getting into sectarianism. Jun 21, 2016 at 17:00
  • The reason I bring up Ghadir Khum is that it can undermine the central premise of your question: i.e. non-explicity of the Prophet on this issue. Because as you must know, Islam is not based solely on Quran but also on hadith (sayings of and narrations about the Prophet). Shias argue that Prophet was indeed explicit at Ghadir Khum on succession (which is recorded as part of hadiths) with Quran including only implicit references to it.
    – infatuated
    Jun 21, 2016 at 17:21
  • So if you confine your implicity thesis exclusively to the Quran, then that would hold true universally with all groups including secular scholars. But in its current form it is questionable.
    – infatuated
    Jun 21, 2016 at 17:23

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