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The Saqīfah (Arabic: السقيفة), also known as Saqīfah banī Sāˤidat (Arabic: سقيفة بني ساعدة), was a roofed building used by the tribe called the banū Sāˤidat of the faction of the banū Khazraj tribe of the city of Medina in the Hejaz, northwestern Arabia.
Significance of Saqifah
The name of the house is used as shorthand for the event, or the gathering, which was a crucial turning point in the history of Islam. On the day Muhammad died (June 8, 632 CE), the Medinan Muslim or "Ansar" gathered in the Saqifah to discuss the future and leadership of the Muslims. There were two Ansar tribes, the Khazraj and the Aws; both were present. However, the Muhajirun, or Muslim emigrants from Mecca, had not been notified of the gathering. When Muhammad's companions, Abu Bakr and Umar, learned of the gathering, they rushed to the meeting. After a tumultuous debate, the details of which are highly contested, those who gathered there gave their allegiance, or bay'ah, to Abu Bakr as the new leader of the Islamic community. There were some Muslims who felt that Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, should have been the new leader. They initially refused to take the oath to Abu Bakr and were known as the Shi'at Ali or "partisans for Ali". Some of them even thought that Ali himself didn't take the oath.
Over time, disaffection with the government of the caliphs strengthened the ranks of the Shi'at Ali. This eventually led to the separation of the Muslim community into the Sunni and Shi'a traditions. Sunnis believe Abu Bakr, one of the early converts to Islam, Muhammad’s closest companion, adviser and father-in-law, was his first successor. In contrast, the Shi'ah believe that Ali, first male convert to Islam and Muhammad's first cousin and son-in-law, and his lineal descendants (known as Imams) had a divinely ordained right to lead the community religiously and politically.
Ibn Ishaq's account
According to this account, after the death of Muhammad the Ansar gathered at the Bani Sa'ida's saqifah while the closest relatives of Muhammad, Fatimah and Ali and their relatives, were preparing Muhammad's body for burial. Abu Bakr and Umar were sitting with some of the Muhajirun, the emigrants from Mecca. Having heard that the Ansar were meeting, they went to join them. There, Abu Bakr addressed the Ansar.
Abu Bakr argued that only a leader from the Quraysh, Mecca's leading clan, could keep the community intact. Only the Quraysh were universally recognized as a noble clan, worthy of leadership. He suggested that the meeting choose either Umar or Abu Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah (both Quraysh) as a leader.
One of the Ansar suggested that the Ansar should choose a leader for themselves and the Meccans should choose another for themselves. The meeting became loud and unruly. Umar is reported to have said that he feared that the unity of the Muslim community would dissolve then and there. So he seized Abu Bakr's hand and loudly swore the bay'ah to him as the leader of the Muslims. The Muhajairun followed his lead and then the Ansar. One man, Sa'd ibn Ubadah, the leader of the Khazraj faction of the Ansar, protested. Umar's words, as reported to Ibn Ishaq, were, "we jumped on Sad ibn Ubada and someone said we killed him.
The next day, the Muslim community of Medina gathered for prayers and Umar spoke, praising Abu Bakr and urging the community to swear allegiance to him. Ibn Ishaq says that the bulk of the community did so.
According to The Succession to Muhammad by Wilferd Madelung, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Ismaili Studies in London, Umar later described the event as a faltah, a precipitate arrangement (p. 30).
I have been informed that a speaker amongst you says, "By God, if 'Umar should die, I will give the pledge of allegiance to such-and-such person." One should not deceive oneself by saying that the pledge of allegiance given to Abu Bakr was given suddenly and it was successful. No doubt, it was like that, but God saved (the people) from its evil, and there is none among you who has the qualities of Abu Bakr. Remember that whoever gives the pledge of allegiance to anybody among you without consulting the other Muslims, neither that person, nor the person to whom the pledge of allegiance was given, are to be supported, lest they both should be killed.
- Guillaume, A. The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, 1955
- Madelung, W. The Succession to Muhammad, Cambridge University Press, 1997
-  Shia view of the matter
-  Early Troubles