For centuries, the issue regarding the land of Fadak has been a topic of debate & argument between the Shias and Sunnis. The Shia’s strongly believe that this area of land was gifted to Hadhrat Fatima (sa) by the Prophet (pbuh) during his lifetime. Soon after the Prophet’s (pbuh) death, the first caliph Abu Bakr took Fadak under his control and Syeda Fatima (sa) demanded it back. Her demand was not accepted as it is clear from history and instead the issue was turned into a matter of inheritance rather than a gift. Therefore, Syeda Fatima (sa) went ahead and claimed her right over the land through Qur’anic verses even when it came to getting her right under the pretext of an inheritance.
This issue (alongside many others) as it is evident from the many narrations led Hadhrat Fatima (sa) to remain angry with the caliph till the time she left the world. One may wonder as to why such a noble and spiritual lady who was guaranteed the status of being the leader of all women in paradise, made such a huge deal out of a possession that was in its essence materialistic. We would like to explore the symbolic meaning the Fadak held amongst the eyes of Fatima (sa) and her family in order to answer the question: Why Fadak Matters?
What was Fadak
Fadak was an area of land – a village – in the area then known as Hijaz. Half of it was given to the Prophet (pbuh) following a peace treaty that was made with the Jews of Khyber. Alongside Fadak, other areas of land and some of the castles of Khyber were also given to the Prophet (pbuh). The land of Fadak was known for its dates as almost a dozen date trees were planted by the Prophet (pbuh) himself and were a blessing for the people. Furthermore, the land generated a large amount of income that was used to finance the state and as well as for funding the wars and battles that took place. It was used heavily soon after the Prophet’s demise in the Ridda wars during the caliphate of Abu Bakr.
It Didn’t Matter
From a purely materialistic stand point, the issue of Fadak has been downplayed by the Ahlul Bayt (as). As a matter of fact even when Imam Ali (as) had become the formal caliph, he did not take the land back and the explanation for that is recorded in a narration below:
Ibrahim Al-Karkhi narrated: I asked Abu Abdillah (as): “For what reason did Amir-ul-Momineen (as) reject Fadak when he ruled the people?” He answered: “For following the example of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) when he gained victory over Makkah and Aqeel ibn Abi Talib had sold his house. It was asked: “Messenger of Allah, will you not return to your house?” He (pbuh) said: “And did Aqeel leave any house for us? Surely we, the Ahlul Bait, do not seek the return of something which was wrongfully taken from us.” This is why he (Ali (as)) did not seek the return of Fadak when he ruled.”
The Ahlul Bayt are the awliya of Allah (swt) and they rule for the people whether they are in a formal position of leadership or not. They are entrusted with the responsibility of restoring the rights of the people from whom it has been snatched and do not worry about taking their own rights as they are entitled to it whether others like it or not. The Imams (as) for example do not need to be in a position of formal power over the state to be an Imam. Furthermore, if Imam Ali (as) had taken it back during his own caliphate, the people propagating against Imam Ali (as) would have simply found another excuse to bad mouth and tarnish the reputation of the Imam. Imam Ali (as) further explains his position on the issue of Fadak in a letter he sent to the governor of Basra, Uthman bin Hunayf during his own caliphate:
“Verily, under the sky we had only Fadak as our personal property but we were deprived of it, it tempted them, they took it by force and we had to bear the wrench patiently and cheerfully, the best judge is the Lord Almighty. What was I going to do with Fadak or with any other worldly possession? I never wanted them for myself. I know that tomorrow my lodging will be my grave. Its darkness will cover my traces and will not allow my condition to reach this world.”
Imam Ali (as) who knew very well that the right over the land belonged with Fatima (sa) and her family, downplays it in the above letter where he states that what was he to do with such worldly possessions. This causes us to ponder forward that if such is the case, then why was such a big issue made during the early days after the demise of the Prophet (pbuh) regarding the issue of Fadak?
Undermining the Daughter of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)
Perhaps the biggest cause of disappointment, anger and frustration that occurs out of the episode on Fadak, is due to the way the daughter of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was undermined. The reason why Fadak matters is the way the Hadhrat Fatima’s (sa) claims were belittled. In essence, she was not only accused of being wrong, but was implied to have been lying and not knowing the rights of her own inheritance. In order to understand the severity of any of these accusations, we must first understand the status of Hadhrat Fatima (sa). Of course her status cannot be justified despite books being written on her relatively short life; however a few ahadith can shed light on her lofty position.
. . . When the Prophet died, I (Ayesha) asked her about it. She (Fatima) replied. “The Prophet said: ‘Every year Gabriel used to revise the Qur’an with me once only, but this year he has done so twice. I think this portends my death, and you will be the first of my family to follow me.’ So I (Fatima) started weeping. Then he said. ‘Don’t you like to be the most superior of all the ladies of Paradise or the most superior of all the lady believers? So I laughed for that.”
In the above narration from Sahih Bukhari, we are told about the status of Hadhrat Fatima (sa) in heaven as she will be the chief & leader of all the women of paradise. In another authentic narration recorded in Musnad ibn Hanbal, the Prophet (pbuh) mentions the four most exalted women of all times:
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “The most excellent of the women of all worlds are: Mary the daughter of Imran, Khadija the daughter of Khuwaylid, Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad, and Asiya the wife of Pharaoh”
The narrations on her lofty position and status are plenty; however it is enough for us to recognize the fact that she will be the leader of all women in paradise. If one sincerely ponders over these narrations and recognizes the significance of the position given to her, it should suffice. To imply that the daughter of the Prophet (pbuh) had no idea over what her own inheritance rights were is nothing short of incomprehensible. In a portion of Hadhrat Fatima’s (sa) famous sermon of Fadak regarding this, she says the following:
O Muslims! Will my inheritance be usurped? O son of Abu Quhafa! Where is it in the Book of Allah that you inherit your father and I do not inherit mine? Surely you have come up with an unprecedented thing. Do you intentionally abandon the Book of Allah and cast it behind your back? Do you not read where it says: And Sulaiman inherited Dawood’?
And when it narrates the story of Zakariya and says: `So give me an heir as from thyself (One that) will inherit me, and inherit the posterity of Yaqoob’ And: `But kindred by hood have prior rights against each other in the Book of Allah’
And: Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance) to the male, a portion equal to that of two females’ And, If he leaves any goods, that he make a bequest to parents and next of kin, according to reasonable usage; this is due from the pious ones.’ You claim that I have no share! And that I do not inherit my father! What! Did Allah reveal a (Quranic) verse regarding you, from which He excluded my father? Or do you say: `These (Fatima and her father) are the people of two faiths, they do not inherit each other?!’ Are we not, me and my father, a people adhering to one faith? Or is it that you have more knowledge about the specifications and generalizations of the Quran than my father and my cousin (Imam Ali)?
Thus, what severely matters is the fact that the daughter of the Prophet (pbuh), the leader of all the women of paradise, was accused of not knowing her own rights.
Usurpation of Authority
Another reason why the issue of Fadak is crucial in history is due to its relation to the authority that the Imams had. The usurping of Fadak was not just an issue of the rights of Fatima (sa) being snatched, rather it symbolizes the rights of Imam Ali (as) as a rightful successor and the Imams onward being snatched. It indicated that the right of leadership and authority of the Imam of the time was taken away by the appointed caliphs not just during the regime of the Khulafa-e-Rashida rather onward to the regimes of Bani Ummayah & Bani Abbas as well. In an incident that took place between an Abbasid caliph and Imam Musa Kadhim (as), the Imam describes the extent of Fadak that belonged to him and explicitly implies how it was more about the authority that Fadak entailed, rather than just a mere garden that was taken away.
Ali ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah has narrated from certain person of our people (that I think is al-Sayyari) from Ali ibn Asbat who has said the following: “In one of the meetings of abu al-Hassan Musa (as), with al-Mahdi (one of ‘Abbassid ruler) the Imam found him paying reparations (for the damages caused to people). The Imam said, ‘O Amir al-Mu’minin, what has happened to the reparations due to us?’ He then asked, ‘What damage is caused to you, O abu al-Hassan (as)?’ He (the Imam) said, ‘Allah, the Holy, the Most High, granted victory to His Holy Prophet (pbuh), and the land of Fadak and its surrounding areas came under his control without any armed struggle. Allah sent a message to His Holy Prophet (pbuh). It said, “Give the relatives their rights.” The Messenger of Allah did not know who they were. He turned to Jibril to find out and Jibril turned to his Lord for the answer. Allah then sent revelation to him to give possession of Fadak to Fatima (sa). Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah called Fatima (sa), and said to her. “O Fatima, Allah has commanded me to give possession of Fadak to you.” She then said, “O Messenger of Allah, I have accepted the offer from Allah and from you.” Thereafter her representatives lived there during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah. When Abu Bakr took control he expelled her representatives there from. She went to Abu Bakr and asked him to reverse his decision and return Fadak to her but he said to Fatima (sa), “Bring to me a black or white person to testify that Fadak belonged to you.” Fatima (sa), brought Amir al-Mu’minin Ali, (as), and ’Umm Ayman who both testified in favour of Fatima (sa). He then wrote, “Fatima must not be disturbed in the matters of Fadak.” Fatima (sa), then left with the document. On the way ‘Umar came from the opposite direction and asked, “What is it in your hand, O daughter of Muhammad?” Fatima (sa), said, “It is a document that ibn Abu Quhafa has written for me.” He said, “Show it to me.” Fatima (sa), refused to hand it over to him but he snatched it away from her hand and read it. He then spit on it wiped out its writing and tore it into pieces. He said, “This was not captured by forces of the camels and horses of your father so that you can tie the rope around our necks.’”
“Al-Mahdi said, ‘O abu al-Hassan define for me the boundaries of Fadak.’ The Imam said, ‘On one side it borders the mountain of ’Uhud. On the other side is ‘Arish Misr. Also it borders Sayf al-Bahr and on one of its sides is Dawmat al- Jandal.’ Then he asked the Imam, ‘All of it?’ He said, ‘Yes, O Amir al-Mu’minin, this is all that came to the Messenger of Allah without the use of the forces of the camels and horses.’ “He said, ‘This is a large area but I will look into it.’”
From a historical perspective, we know that Fadak was a piece of land in Hijaz. However in the above narration we see that the Imam (as) speaks of the lands that the Islamic empire had rule over and implies that the rightful ruler of these lands is the Imam himself. With the coup d’état launched over the land of Fadak during the first caliph’s regime, the household of Ali (as) that was bound to resort to other means of income and therefore creating an imbalance in their life. It was another attempt out of the many to keep Imam Ali (as) busy with problems so that he may not be able to settle and focus on issues that displayed his authoritative nature. It would be absurd to think otherwise, but Abu Bakr knew very well that the argument presented by Fatima (sa) was not just to reclaim her right, but rather to reclaim the usurped rights of her husband Imam Ali (as). She herself took this step and used Fadak as a twofold argument against the caliph of the time – it is clear that had the caliph agreed with her argument towards Fadak and upheld her as a truthful person on that day. She would have very easily used this position to demand the rights of her husband restored as well; something the caliph was not willing to do.
The land of Fadak over time had been shuffled in the hands of politicians and the descendants of Fatima (sa). Every now and then a caliph would come and decide to return it back to the descendants until another caliph would come and snatch it back. This constant snatching and returning depicts that the issue was just not over a mere piece of land, but rather purely of a political nature vested with hatred towards the family of the Prophet (pbuh) as they were continuously alienated from their rights, weakened, imprisoned, tortured and killed for centuries.
Ultimately, Lady Fatima (sa) herself summarizes the state of the usurpers in her own sermon of Fadak with the following words:
“Nevertheless, I see that you are inclined to easy living; dismissed he who is more worthy of guardianship (Imam Ali); You secluded yourselves with meekness and dismissed that which you accepted.”
 Nahj ul-Balagha, Letter 45