The first pillar of Islam is the Shahada, or testimony of faith “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and apostle.” By simply testifying to these two things, a person enters into Islam and becomes a Muslim. Of course, one must do so sincerely and believe in these two testimonies in the heart, otherwise they are faithless hypocrites or pretenders in the sight of Allah. Some Muslims have the rigid view that the Shahadatain is only valid if read in Arabic, and that even the slightest variation or alteration of the formula is a sort of blasphemy. The Shi’a add a third testimony to the Shahada “I bear witness that Ali is the Wali (saint) of Allah, the Wasi (executor of the will) of the Apostle of Allah, and his immediate successor.” Some rigid Sunnis consider this third testimony as a heresy that nullifies a person’s faith in Islam. However, a more nuanced view is that the Shi’ite testimony “I bear witness that Ali is the Wali of Allah” is believed in by Sunnis and most other Muslims too, with the exception of the wretched but insignificant Nasiba sect (those who bear enmity to Ali and the Ahl-al-Bayt). However, the testimony that “Ali is the Wali of Allah” while certainly true, is nevertheless not an Article of Faith, nor is its testimony a condition for the acceptance of Islam. The Holy Qur’an and Sunna of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is altogether empty of such a testimony. Therefore, if a person testifies that “Ali is the Wali of Allah”, there is no problem with such a testimony, since it is true though not an Article of Faith. If a person reads it intending it as part of the Shahada through which a person enters Islam or refreshes their faith, it will be considered an innovation, but not a heresy. As for the testimony that Ali is the Prophet’s immediate successor [Khalīfatuhu Bilā Fasl], this is incorrect from the standard Islamic point of view of Ahlus Sunna (Sunni Muslims), because we hold that the Prophet’s immediate successor was Abu Bakr, while Ali was the Prophet’s fourth successor (Allah be pleased with them both). However, in the view of Ahlus Sunna, this is not an article of faith but rather a historical reality. It is only the Imamiya Shi’a who consider the issue of succession to the Prophet to be a theological matter and an article of faith. So if someone testifies that Ali is the Prophet’s immediate successor, such a person is obviously not a Sunni, but at the same time, they are not excluded from Islam since such a testimony is not tantamount to any heresy or kufr.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) himself taught a variation of the Shahada with extra wording, illustrating that there is no fixed or definite formula, but that if the essential Articles of Faith, particularly the Oneness of Allah and the Prophethood of Muhammad are confessed to that is sufficient for a person to be considered a faithful Muslim. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever bears witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, alone without any partner for Him, and that Muhammad is His servant and apostle, and that Jesus is the servant of Allah, His apostle, and His Word which He bestowed upon Mary, and a spirit from Him, and that Janna (Paradise) is real and the Hellfire is real, Allah shall enter him into Paradise upon whatever from his deeds.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
So we can see that in this version of the Shahada, the Prophet (peace be upon him) added testimony concerning Jesus and the reality of Heaven and Hell. However, the essential Shahada, or more precisely the Shahadatain, is to bear witness to the Oneness of Allah and the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Now the question arises whether the name ‘Muhammad’ can be substituted by the name ‘Ahmad’ or another descriptive name of the Prophet (peace be upon him)? Rigid Sunnis may even consider such an alteration of the Kalima al-Shahada as tantamount to blasphemy, but this is due to ignorance.
When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent his noble emissary, Dihya b. Khalifa (Allah be pleased with him) with the letter inviting Caesar Heraclius to embrace faith in him as God’s final prophet, Heraclius said: “Alas, by God, I know that your master is a prophet who has been sent and that he is the one whom we have been awaiting and whom we find in our book, but I am mortally afraid of the Romans; but for that, I would follow him. Go to Daghatir the bishop, and tell him of the affair of your master; for he, by God, is greater among the Romans than I, and his word has more authority with them. See what he says to you.” So Dihya went to Daghatir and told him what he had brought to Heraclius from the Messenger of God and to what he was summoning him. Daghatir said: “Your master, by God, is a prophet who has been sent. We know him by his description, and we find him by name in our books.” Daghatir then went inside, laid off the black robes he was wearing, put on white ones, took his staff, and came out before the Romans while they were in the church. “People of Rome,” he said, “a letter has come to us from Ahmad, summoning us to God.
وَإِنِّي أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لا إِلَهَ إِلا اللَّهُ ، وَأَنَّ أَحْمَدَ عَبْدُهُ وَرَسُولُهُ
I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Ahmad is His servant and His messenger.”
(The History of al-Tabari; Volume VIII, pp. 105—106)
The martyrdom of the illustrious holy man, Daghatir, is an example of a true Shahada, but notice his substitution of the name ‘Muhammad’ with ‘Ahmad’, since Ahmad is the second of the Prophet’s personal names. Hence, to alter the Kalima or the Shahada by substituting ‘Muhammad’ with ‘Ahmad’ is definitely correct and permissible, and the Muslims should revive this Sunna of such great martyrs of Islam as Daghatir (Allah be pleased with him).