Abu Amra al-Ansari - A Forgotten Man in Early Shi`ism
قلت لأبي عبد الله عليه السلام: ارتد الناس إلا ثلاثة: أبو ذر، و سلمان، و المقداد؟ قال: فقال أبو عبد الله عليه السلام: فأين ... أبو عمرة الأنصاري؟
I said to Abi Abdillah عليه السلام: all the people turned back except for three - Abu Dhar, Salman and Miqdad? Abu Abdillah عليه السلام said: so where is … Abu Amra al-Ansari?
Who was Abu Amra?
There exists Ikthilaf over the real name of Abu Amra among the scholars but it is most likely Bashir. The problem is compounded when he is confused in the sources for his father Amr b. Mihsan.
al-Kalbi gives it as follows [See: Nasab Ma`ad wa al-Yaman al-Kabir]
ابو عمرة بشير بن عمرو بن مِحصن بن عَمرو بن عَتِيك بن عمرو بن مَبْذول، واسمه عامر بن مالك بن النجار بن ثعلبة بن عمرو بن الخزرج الأَنصاري
Abu Amra Bashir b. Amr b. Mihsan b. Amr b. Atik b. Amr b. Mabdhul - and his i.e. Mabdhul’s name was A`mir - b. Malik b. al-Najjar b. Tha`laba b. Amr b. al-Khazraj al-Ansari.
This means he was from the Ansar, helpers who welcomed the prophet in Madina, specifically, from the Amr b. Mabdhul of the Banu al-Najjar who were Khazraji.
Abu Nuaym says [See: Ma`rifat al-Sahaba]:
شهد بدرًا وأُحدًا والمشاهد
He witnessed Badr, Uhud and the rest of the battles.
He was a very early convert to Islam and participated in all the battles which gives him a station that we cannot fathom. He has a few narrations from the prophet recorded in the books of Hadith.
The Banu Najjar Connection
The Muslim sources on genealogy assert that Ali and Muhammad’s great grandmother, the mother of Abd al-Muttalib b. Hashim, was Salma bint Amr from the clan of Banu Najjar of the Khazraj. Abd al-Muttalib spent his childhood with his mother in Madina, before he was claimed by his uncle Muttalib and brought to Makka after the death of his father Hashim.
This explains why the Banu Hashim always saw the Banu Najjar of the Khazraj as their Akhwal [maternal uncles].
Abd al-Muttalib said in verse [See: Ta`rikh al-Tabari]
أبلغ بني النجار إن جئتهم ... أني منهم وابنهم والخميس
Tell the Bani al-Najjar if you reach them … That I am one of them, their son and of their company
يا طول ليلي لأحزاني وأشغالي ... هل من رسول إلى النجار أخوالي
O how long is my night due to my sorrows and worries … Would someone serve as a messenger to my maternal uncles (the Bani) Najjar
Another piece of evidence is that most accounts regarding the circumstances preceding the death of the prophet’s father, Abdallah, place his final illness in Madina, where he is said to have stayed with his maternal uncles, the Banu Adiyy b. al-Najjar, among whom he eventually died and was buried
This pre-existing relation helps explain why this particular branch of the Khazraj were overly represented in the move of the prophet from Makka to Madina. A move which gave him safety when all other doors were closed.
As`ad b. Zurara of the Bani Najjar was critical to the prophet’s migration to Madina. He was the first to accept Islam from among the inhabitants of Yathrib. This happened when he and a small group of five others [all from Khazraj, including another member of the Bani Najjar] happened to meet the prophet when they went to seek settlement for a dispute from the Qurayshi elders [specifically Utba b. Rabi`a]. They returned next year in what is called the first pledge of Aqaba [delegation of the inhabitants of Yathrib that pledged their support to Muhammad prior to the Hijra].
In the accounts of the first pledge of Aqaba, 10 of the 12 men listed were from the Khazraj and 3 of those were from the Banu al-Najjar. Of the 70 or so men and 2 women who pledged their allegiance to Muhammad during the second meeting of Aqaba, 62 men and one woman were from the Khazraj and 12 of these were of the Banu al-Najjar.
The prophet initially resided with them when he emigrated to Madina [specifically with Abi Ayyub al-Ansari who was of the Banu Najjar], similarly, his Masjid and later homes were built in the Najjari quarter.
No surprise then that the prophet said [See: Sahih al-Bukhari]:
خير دور الأنصار بنو النجار
The best of the Ansari homes [in terms of genealogical honour] are those of the Banu Najjar.
It is my thesis that Abu Amra being from the Najjar would have added reason to support Ali because there was a familial relation between them. But this is not the main reason why most of the Ansar placed their hope in Ali.
How do we explain Ansari support? There is no doubt that the major driving force behind it was the coalescing of grievance felt by the Ansar as a result of the consolidation of the Qurayshi monopoly. They saw in the sympathetic figure of Ali [who had also been sidelined by the Qurashis] someone who could redress that balance.
A Witness at Ghadir
وفي اسد الغابة لابن الاثير روى بسنده عن الاصبغ بن نباتة قال: نشد علي (ع) الناس في الرحبة: من سمع النبي (ص) يوم غدير خم ما قال الا قام، ولايقوم الا من سمع رسول اللّه (ص) يقول، فقام بضعة عشر رجلا فيهم ابو ايوب الانصاري، وابو عمرة بن عمرو بن محصن ... فقالوا: نشهد انا سمعنا رسول اللّه (ص) يقول: الا ان اللّه عزوجل وليي، وانا ولي المؤمنين، الا فمن كنت مولاه فعلي مولاه، اللهم وال من والاه، وعاد من عاداه، واحب من احبه، وابغض من ابغضه، واعن من اعانه
Ibn Athir reports in Usd al-Ghaba via his chain to al-Asbagh b. Nabata who said: Ali عليه السلام called out to the people in al-Rahba: whoever heard what the prophet صلى الله عليه واله وسلم said on the day of Ghadir should stand, no one should stand except if he heard the messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه واله وسلم directly. More than ten men stood up among them Abu Ayyub al-Ansari and Abu Amra b. Amr b. Mihsan … they said: we bear witness that we heard the messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه واله وسلم saying: Verily Allah Mighty and Majestic is my master, and I am the master of the believers, whomsoever’s master I am then Ali is also his master, O Allah be a guardian to the one who takes him as a guardian, and be an enemy to the one who makes him an enemy, and love the one who loves him and hate the one who hates him and aid the one who comes to his aid.
The Secret Bay`a
We are told that the first Bay`a [pledge of allegiance] to Ali was given at Abu Amra’s home by a few of the closest Ashab. Kufan tradition maintains that it was al-Ashtar who extended his hands first. This happened, in one of the greatest ironies of history, on Friday the 18th of Dhul Hijja 35 AH. It was followed by the public pledge at the Masjid the next day.
The fact that he got this private Bay`a from the Ansari warriors of the Bani Najjar [who were the core of the early Muslim armies] is significant. Ansari support in Madina was critical to nullifying the claims of Talha and Zubayr in that period of paralysis when Madina was over-run by forces from the provinces.
قال ابن السَّمَرْقَنْدِي: أخبرني العباس بن هشام عَن أبيه قال: بويعَ علي بن أبي طالب بن عَبْد المُطَّلِب بن هاشم بن عَبْد مَنَاف بالمدينة، يوم الجُمعة حين قُتِل عُثْمَان، لاثنتي عشرة ليلة بقيت من ذي الحجة فاستقبلَ المُحرم سنة ستّ وثلاثين وقال غير عباس: وكانت بيعتهُ في دار عمرو بن محصن الأنصاري ثم أحد بني عمرو بن مبذول يوم الجمعة، ثم بويع بيعة العامة من الغد، يوم السبت في مسجد رَسُول اللَّه (ص)
Ibn al-Samarqandi said: al-Abbas b. Hisham narrated to me from his father that: Ali b. Abi Talib b. Abd al-Muttalib b. Hashim b. Abd Manaf was given the Bay`a in Madina, on Friday, the day Uthman was murdered, twelve nights remaining from the month of Dhul Hijja, the coming Muharram being the new year thirty six [after Hijra]. And someone other than Abbas said: His Bay`a was in the house of Amr b. Mihsan al-Ansari whereupon Bani Amr b. Mabdhul swore fealty on a Friday, then the public oath was on the next day, Saturday, in the Masjid of the messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه واله وسلم
ابي المليح قال: لما قتل عثمان، خرج علي الى السوق، وذالك يوم السبت لثماني عشره ليلة خلت من ذى الحجة، فاتبعه الناس وبهشوا في وجهه، فدخل حائط بني عمرو بن مبذول، وقال لأبي عمرة بن عمرو بن محصن: اغلق الباب فجاء الناس فقرعوا الباب فدخلوا ...
Ibn Mulayh said: when Uthman was killed, Ali came out to the market, and that was on Saturday, eighteen nights having passed from Dhul Hijja, the people followed him and thronged in front of him, so he entered the walled garden of Bani Amr b. Mabdhul and said to Abi Amra b. Amr b. Mihsan: close the door, but the people came and banged on the door and entered …
To be continued ...