Meaning of Al-‘Ismah

QUR’AN: and Allah has revealed to you the Book and the Wisdom, and He has taught you what you did not know[1]: As pointed out above it gives the reason why they cannot harm the Prophet in any way. Or may be it shows the reason of the full statement, and they do not mislead but their own souls, and they shall not harm you in any way. In any case, this revelation of the Book and this teaching of the Wisdom is the reason why their attempts to mislead the Prophet (s.a.w.) can never succeed. This is the foundation of his al- ‘ismah (sinlessness, infallibility).

The verse apparently shows that the basic factor from which al-‘ismah emanates is a sort of knowledge which prevents the knower from indulging in sin and mistake. In other words, knowledge prevents one from going astray. Likewise, all good characteristics, like bravery chastity and generosity are the forms of knowledge which are deep rooted in psyche and create their effects and at the same time prevent one from indulging in their opposites like cowardice or rashness, lack of desire or greed, miserliness or extravagance.
Although beneficial knowledge and perfect sagacity keep one clean and prevent his falling in quagmire of depravity or being soiled with filth of sins, (as we see in the people who have knowledge and wisdom, and steeped in piety and religion). However, it is such a cause as brings its effects most of the times but not always. The same is the case with all material and natural causes which are found in the universe. Look at anyone who is perfect in any field; you will find that his perfection does not protect him from mistake always and without any fail. It is a common trait of all causes which we see and observe.

The reason is that man possesses various powers of conscious­ness and at times some of them push the others to the back of the mind and man becomes oblivious of those factors. A man with faculty of piety will not be inclined to follow base desires as long as he is con­scious of the virtue of his piety; but a time may come when the fire of desire is inflamed and he being tempted by that desire becomes oblivious of the virtue of piety or his consciousness of piety becomes weak, and he commits what piety would never tolerate and indulges in base desires. The same is the case with all conscious causes found in man. Otherwise, man will never deviate from the effects of any of these causes as long as the cause remains intact. In short, whenever man goes against the dictates of virtue, it happens when some causes overpower the others and man forgets the dictates of virtue. But as for this faculty which is called the power of al-‘ismah it is a conscious cause emanating from knowledge which can never be overpowered. Had it been like other consciousness and comprehensions, it could have sometimes failed and deviated from the right path. This knowledge is not like other knowledge and comprehensions which we are familiar with and which can be acquired and learned from teachers.

Allah has pointed to this unique knowledge in this talk addressed particularly to His Prophet (s.a.w.) when he says: and Allah has revealed to you the Book and the Wisdom and He has taught you what you did not know. It is an exclusive talk which we cannot properly understand because we have not tasted this type of knowledge and consciousness. However, if we look at some of the Divine speeches -for example: Say: "Whoever is the enemy of Jibril – for surely he brought it down to your heart by Allah’s command…" (2:97). The faithful spirit has descended with it upon your heart that you may be of the warners in plain Arabic language (26:193-5) – we will clearly see that this sending down of the Book is rooted in knowledge. Some other verses show that this sending down of the Book refers to revel­ation and talking as may be seen in the following verses: He has made plain to you of the religion what He enjoined upon Nuh and that which We have revealed to you and that We enjoined upon Ibrahim and Musa and’Isa… (42: 1 3); Surely, We have revealed to you as We revealed to Nuh and the prophets after him… (4:163); "… / do not follow aught save that which is revealed tome…" (6:50); "… I only follow what is revealed to me from my Lord…" (7:203).

It is inferred from these various verses that al-inzal (sending down) means revelation of the Book and the Wisdom – and it is a sort of divine teaching to the Prophet (s.a.w.). Nevertheless, the teaching referred to by the words: and He has taught you what you did not know, is something quite different from the teaching through revelation of the Book and the Wisdom; the verses deal with the judicial decisions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) in various events and in the litigations which are brought to him for judgment, and that judgment is given by his own opinion. It has nothing to do with the Book and the Wisdom – although it depends on them – it is the result of his own view and opinion.
It appears from the above that the sending down and the teaching in the words: and Allah has sent down to you the Book and Wisdom and He has taught you what you did not know, refer to two categories of knowledge: one, teaching through revelation and sending of the faithful spirit to the Prophet (s.a.w.); two, teaching through inspiration created in the heart and the secret divine thought without the agency of any angel. This is what is supported by the traditions which have come to us about the prophetic knowledge. Therefore, the sentence: and He has taught you what you did not know, means: Allah has given you a particular knowledge which you could never get through the normal means which help man in learning acquired knowledge; that particular knowledge is given only by Allah to His chosen ones.

Clearly, this Divine gift which we call al-‘is,mah is a sort of knowledge and consciousness which is totally different from all other types of knowledge inasmuch as this knowledge is never overpowered by any other faculty; rather it overpowers all other faculties and uses them according to its own wisdom. In this way, it fully protects the holder of al-‘ismah from going astray and committing mistakes. It has come in the traditions that the Prophet and the Imams do have a spirit which is called the Holy Spirit; and it supports them and protects them from sin and mistake. It is this Spirit which is mentioned in the verse: And thus did We reveal to you a Spirit by Our command. You did not know what the Book was nor (what) the faith (was), but We made it a light guiding thereby whom We please of Our servants (42:52). (This meaning may be inferred if we take the apparent meaning of the verse that a guiding Spirit was sent to the Prophet, s.a.w.). Similarly, there is the verse: And We made them Imams who guided (people) by Our command and We revealed to them the doing of good and the keeping up of the prayer and the giving of the alms and Us (alone) did they worship (21:73). We shall explain in its place the meaning of this verse, God willing, that it refers to the support given by the Holy Spirit to the Imams for doing good and worshipping Allah.

The above explanations also show that the Book mentioned in the verse: and Allah has revealed to you the Book and the Wisdom and has taught you what you did not know, refers to the revelations sent for removing the peoples’ conflicts; as was mentioned in the verse: Mankind was but one people; so Allah sent the prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and He sent down with them the book with the truth, so that it might judge between the people in that in which they differed… (2:213), as was explained in the second volume of this book.
The wisdom mentioned in the verse refers to all Divine cog­nition sent through revelation which were beneficial for this world and the hereafter. The sentence: and He has taught you what you did not know, refers to something totally different from general cognition obtained from the Book and the Wisdom.

The above explanations show the shortcomings of some exegetes regarding exegesis of this verse. Some have taken the Book as the Qur’an and the Wisdom as the commandments found in it and have said that: what you did not know refers to the shari’ah and the knowledge of the unseen. Others have explained the Book and the Wisdom as the Qur’an and the sunnah and what you did not know as the shari’ah and the stories of the previous prophets and other such information. There are other such explanations; but what we have written in the explanation shows how weak such other explanations are.

Notes:

[1] 4:113; this popular discourse is taken from the english translation of the book ‘Tafseer Al Mizan’, by the late Allamah Tabataba’i (qs), available here.

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(في رحاب بقية الله – لنكون من جند الإمام (عج

الشيخ نعيم قاسم

انتهزوا فُرَصَ الخير فإنَّها تمرُّ مرَّ السحاب(1). إنَّها الفُرص التي أتاحها الله تعالى لنا في هذه الدنيا، فهو يتوب علينا كلَّما أخطأنا ثمَّ لجأنا إليه بطلب التوبة والمغفرة، وهو الذي يُرينا العبر والمواعظ من تجارب الآخرين كي لا نقع كما وقعوا، وهو المُنعم الذي لا إحصاء لنِعَمِهِ «وَإِنْ تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَةَ اللهِ لاَ تُحْصُوهَا»(2) لنستفيد منها في الخيرات والعمل الصالح، وهو الذي يبتلينا لإيقاظنا من غفلتنا لنستأنف حياتَنا في الطاعة، وهو الذي أمرنا بعباداتٍ تُقرِّبنا منه وتُعيننا في مواجهة هوى النفس، وهو الذي أرشدنا بفطرتنا إلى صوابيَّة الإيمان وأرسل لنا الأنبياء هداة ومرشدين… ومن الحكمة أن ننتهز هذه الفُرص استعداداً للآخرة.‏

 اغتنام الفرص‏

من الناس من يتراخى ويُهمِل ويسوِّف حتَّى يمرَّ وقت الشباب والقدرة على الإيمان والعمل الصالح. انتبه فقد يُغلقُ بابُ الفرص بتراكم الذنوب والانجذاب إلى المعاصي، أو بالموت المفاجئ لدنو الأجَل. قال رسول الله: «من فُتِحَ له بابُ خيرٍ فلينتهزه، فإنَّه لا يدري متى يُغلقُ عنه»(3)، وقال أمير المؤمنين علي(ع): «الفرصةُ سريعةُ الفوت بطيئةُ العَود»(4).‏

لا تعتمد على طول الأمل بحياة مديدة في هذه الدنيا، فربَّما داهمك الموت حيث تكون، فالأَجَلُ مؤقتٌ بإرادة الله تعالى وتقديره، وليس مرتبطاً بسنٍّ معينة أو احتياطات يتخذها الإنسان، فأنت لا تعلم عمرك في هذه الدنيا، قال تعالى: }إنَّ اللَّهَ عِندَهُ عِلْمُ السَّاعَةِ وَيُنَزِّلُ الْغَيْثَ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا فِي الأرْحَامِ وَمَا تَدْرِي نَفْسٌ مَاذَا تَكْسِبُ غَداً وَمَا تَدْرِي نَفْسٌ بِأَيِّ أَرْضٍ تَمُوتُ إِنَّ اللهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ سورة لقمان :34‏ )

اغتنم الفرص التي تهيأت لك في كل المجالات، واعمل بما أوصى به نبينا محمد(ص) أبا ذر الغفاري(رض): «يا أبا ذر، اغتنم خمساً قبل خمس: شبابك قبل هرمك، وصحّتك قبل سقمك، وغناك قبل فقرك، وفراغك قبل شغلك، وحياتك قبل موتك»(5). فالشباب قوة العنفوان، وما تنجزه خلاله كبيرٌ وعظيم، فإذا ما هرمت، يضعف بدنُك، وتهدأ نفسُك، وتقلُّ رغباتك، ولا تقوى على فعل أشياء مهمة، وعندها لا أثر فعَّالاً لاستقامتك، إذ لا قدرة لديك.‏

والصحة نعمة، ولا يعلم إلاَّ الله تعالى كم تدوم. أمّا إذا أنعم الله تعالى عليك بالمال، فاصرفه في الحلال، وأدِّ الحقَّ الشرعي من الخمس والزكاة، ولا تسرف فيه، ولا تكن بخيلاً، واستمر في تواضعك مع الناس، فلعلَّ حادثة أو سبباً ما يُذهب ما تبقى لك من مال، أو أن رزقك المقسوم الذي حصلت عليه غنياً في بداية حياتك انتهى فقراً في نهايتها، فانتبه كيف تحصل على مالك، وكيف تصرفه بما يرضي الله تعالى.‏

والفراغ آفة لمن أضاعه، ونعمة لمن ملأه بالخير والعمل والتعلم والتبليغ وصلة الأرحام… فكم من فراغ أدَّى إلى اليأس والفشل بسوء الاستفادة منه، فإذا ما استفدت من فراغك بإعداد برنامج عبادة وصلاح وعملِ خير فهو رصيدك قبل أن تنشغل مضطراً بما لا تستطيع معه أن تجد وقتاً فارغاً تملؤه كما تريد.‏

الحياة فرصة العمر‏

وأما الجامع لكل هذا فهو هذه الحياة الدنيا، وهي مسرح العمل، وهي التي تأخذ منها سعادة الدارين، أو تفشل فيها بخسارة الدارين، فلا ربح حقيقياً في الدنيا إلاَّ ويتبعه ربحٌ خالد في الآخرة، ولا خسارة بسبب المحرمات والآثام والالتهاء بزينة الدنيا الحرام إلاَّ ويتبعها جهنم وبئس المصير، فالحياة فرصة العمر المحدود لمصلحة الخلود، فانظر إلى حياتك في طاعة أوامر الله والانتهاء عن نواهيه، تسعد تَفُزْ.‏

اسمع نصيحة أمير المؤمنين علي(ع): «أيها الناس، الآن الآن من قبل الندم، ومن قبل «أَن تَقُولَ نَفْسٌ يَا حَسْرَتَا علَى مَا فَرَّطتُ فِي جَنبِ اللَّهِ وَإِن كُنتُ لَمِنَ السَّاخِرِينَ», أَوْ تَقُولَ «لَوْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ هَدَانِي لَكُنتُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ», أَوْ تَقُولَ حِينَ تَرَى الْعَذَابَ لَوْ أَنَّ لِي كَرَّةً فَأَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ»، فيردُّ الجليل (جلَّ ثناؤه): «بَلَى قَدْ جَاءتْكَ آيَاتِي فَكَذَّبْتَ بِهَا وَاسْتَكْبَرْتَ وَكُنتَ مِنَ الْكَافِرِينَ» (6).‏

 من جند الإمام (عج)

تفكَّر في كل هذا، والتفت إلى أنَّك في زمن الغيبة الكبرى للإمام المهدي(عج)، فما تقوم به على درب الصلاح يؤسس لالتحاقك بجند الإمام القائم(عج)، وما تستفيد منه في شبابك وصحتك وغناك وفراغك وحياتك جزءٌ من إعداد العدة اللازمة لتكون من أنصاره وأعوانه. يمكنك أن تكون واحداً من أولياء الله تعالى الموالين للحجة ابن الحسن(عج) بجهادك لنفسك واستقامتك على الجادة الصالحة، فاحذر من تضييع الفرصة، فتكون وحيداً لا ناصر له ولا معين، وكن واثقاً من أنَّ التزامك بالإسلام المحمدي الأصيل سيجعلك في ركب صاحب الزمان (أرواحنا لتراب مقدمه الفداء)، فتربح نفسك ودنياك وآخرتك مظلّلاً برضوان الله تعالى.‏

عن أبي بصير، قال الصادق(ع) في قول الله عزَّ وجلَّ: {يَوْمَ يَأْتِي بَعْضُ آيَاتِ رَبِّكَ لاَ يَنفَعُ نَفْساً إِيمَانُهَا لَمْ تَكُنْ آمَنَتْ مِن قَبْلُ أَوْ كَسَبَتْ فِي إِيمَانِهَا خَيْراً}, يعني خروجُ القائم المنتظر منَّا، ثم قال (ع): يا أبا بصير, طوبى لشيعة قائمنا, المنتظرين لظهوره في غيبته، والمطيعين له في ظهوره، أولئك أولياءُ الله الذين لا خوفٌ عليهم ولا هم يحزنون»(7).‏

*****‏

الهوامش:‏

(1) الليثي الواسطي, عيون الحكم والمواعظ, ص:89.‏

(2) سورة النحل، من الآية 18.‏

(3) الميرزا النوري, مستدرك الوسائل, ج 12, ص: 140.‏

(4) الليثي الواسطي, عيون الحكم والمواعظ, ص: 21.‏

(5) الحر العاملي, وسائل الشيعة, ج 1, ص: 114.‏

(6) الشيخ الطوسي, الأمالي, ص: 685.‏

(7) الشيخ الصدوق, كمال الدين وتمام النعمة, ص: 357.‏

Ibrahim (‘as) vs. Nimrud: Religion (Monotheism) vs. Religion (Polytheism)

The belief in a Creator of the Universe is etched into the fabric of our existence, and its effect is only weakened by our attachments to this world and this desires of this earthly body. Attachment to this world can come in many different shapes and sizes, from material objects to accumulation of power and wealth.

Prophet Abraham (‘as) was chosen by Allah (swt) to stand up to the height of worldly attachment and polytheism, Nimrud, king of Babylon, and to spread the message of monotheism to his people. His encounter/debate with Nimrud was to deal an embarrassing blow to the argumentation adopted by the oppressive king, who let the power and ‘lordship’ get to his head and considered himself a god, worthy of worship. The primitive nature of the people worshipping Nimrod along with other ‘lesser’ deities, reflects their mental mapping of their societies’ structure onto the realm of universal management of natural phenomena. They believed in a Supreme Creator God, yet needed something tangible and near to represent intermediaries and intercessors between the worshipper and the Supreme God. Yet slowly, their ‘lesser’ gods replaced the idea of a Creator, and became the focal point of their requests and prayers.

These primitive lived in such ignorance and decadence, that they felt threatened by this ‘foreign’ religion that has come to challenge the status quo. Because the implications of Prophet Abraham’s message where far wider than merely the practice of polytheism, not just affecting the position of Nimrud as lord-king, but also the socio-economic interests of the priests and aristocracy. This new challenge had to be suppressed at any cost.

Imam Khomeini speaking in 1983, during one of his sermons in a message to the pilgrims of Hajj:

‘No idols are worse or more dangerous than the oppressors which have been present throughout the course of history, from Adam to Ibrahim and to Muhammad, upon whom be peace, to eternity when the last idol-breaker shall issue the monotheistic cry from the Ka’aba. Are not the present superpowers big idols, which have forced the world to obey and worship them? They impose themselves upon the world through force and deceit. The great Ka’aba is the only place for breaking these idols. Ibrahim and Muhammad, upon whom be peace, raised the cry of monotheism from the Ka’aba, and their descendant the Mahdi will also do so in the world’s last days. Allah said to Ibrahim: "And proclaim the pilgrimage among men. They will come to thee on foot and [mounted] on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways" (al-Qur’an, 22:27). They are to be purified from all impurities, above all blasphemy as it is said in the Qur’an: "And an announcement from Allah and his Apostle, to the people (assembled) on the holy day of the great pilgrimage: that Allah and his Apostle dissolve (treaty) obligations with the pagans" (9:3).’

This is how Shariati introduces the story of Prophet Abraham (‘as) in his well known book ‘Hajj’ [1], that he wrote after going on the pilgrimage himself several times:

‘In the history of mankind, Ibrahim was the great rebel who opposed idolatry and established monotheism in this world. Although physically tired of sufferings, the prophet of responsibility and leadership had a sharp mind. His heart was full of love yet he carried an axe in his hand! Faith shined from the centre of kufr (rejecting God). A clear fountain of tawheed (monotheism), emerged from the sewage of polytheism!’ 

أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِي حَاجَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ فِي رَبِّهِ أَنْ آتَاهُ اللَّهُ الْمُلْكَ إِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّيَ الَّذِي يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ قَالَ أَنَا أُحْيِي وَأُمِيتُ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْتِي بِالشَّمْسِ مِنَ الْمَشْرِقِ فَأْتِ بِهَا مِنَ الْمَغْرِبِ فَبُهِتَ الَّذِي كَفَرَ وَاللَّهُ لاَ يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ

‘Did you not see him who disputed with Ibrahim about his Lord, because Allah had given him the kingdom? When Ibrahim said: "My Lord is He Who gives life and cause to die", he said: "I give life and cause death." Ibrahim said: "So surely Allah brings the sun from the east, then bring it (you) from the west." Thus he who disbelieved was confounded; and Allah does not guide aright the unjust people.’ [2:258]

Allamah Tabataba’i in his exegesis of the verses 2:258-260 has this to say:

‘It was Ibrahim’s claim that his Lord is Allah, and no one else. Namrud said: "No! I am your Lord and the Lord of everyone else." Ibrahim argued: "My Lord is He Who gives life and causes to die." Namrud said: "I give life and cause death." He wanted to show that he held the power which Ibrahim attributed to his Lord; therefore, Ibrahim should submit to him, and worship him, neither Allah nor other lesser deities deserved to be worshipped. Note that he did not add "and" in his reply; he did not say, "and I give life…" Why? Because the conjunctive "and" would have meant that he shared this power with Allah; and he did not want to admit any such "partnership" he wanted to be worshipped as the most supreme Lord of the universe. And it was for this very reason that he did not say either, "and the gods give life …" He could not honestly refute the argument of Ibrahim; so he resorted to sophism, fallacy and deception. When Ibrahim mentioned life and death, he meant life and death as we find them in living things. His argument was that these living things could only be created by One who was the source of life. Lifeless nature cannot bestow life on others when it has no life itself. Nor can other living things give life to others, because their life is their existence and their death their extinction – and a thing cannot create or destroy its own self.

If Namrud had interpreted Ibrahim’s argument honestly, he could not have refuted it at all. But he resorted to deception, interpreting life and death with an allegorical meaning. "To give life" really means, for example, to create a living fetus; but it may be used equally correctly (but in metaphorical way) if you rescue someone from an extremely dangerous situation. Likewise, "to cause to die" really means the act of God by which a soul departs from a body; but metaphorically it may be used for murder, etc. Taking advantage of this metaphorical usage, Namrud ordered two prisoners to be brought before him; one he ordered to be killed and the other was set free. It was at this stage that he uttered the words, "I give life and cause death." The courtiers were taken in by this ruse and accepted the "truth" of the argument. Ibrahim was not in a position to unmask the fallacy of this reply; he saw how Namrud has duped the audience with his deception and how blindly they agreed to his sophism. Nobody would have agreed with Ibrahim even if he had tried to expose that fallacy. Therefore, he switched to another clearer argument which his obstinate opponent could not twist in any way, and said: "So surely Allah brings the sun from the east; then bring it (you) from the west."

Ibrahim (a.s.) selected for his proof the authority of giving life and causing death, because nature, having no life or sense itself, cannot give life to any thing; and more evidently, it cannot be supposed to give life to animals and humans as it is accompanied by sense and perception. And the same is the case with death. Such a clear and indisputable proof failed to convince the people of Namrud. Their intellectual degradation and mental confusion had sunken far lower than the level which Ibrahim (a.s.) had credited them with. They thought that the life and death referred to included the metaphorical meaning of freeing from prison and killing. Thus, Namrud claimed, and they vouched that he gave life and caused death.

This talk shows how low the level of intellectual development was in that time, as far as abstract and non-material ideas were concerned. Do not be misled by their advanced civilization, signs of which are found in the archaeological remains of the Babylonia of the Chaldeans and the Egypt of the Pharaohs. Material advancement is one thing, and progress in abstract and non­material ideas is something else. We see the same phenomenon in this world of ours which has made a fantastic advancement in the material field, and has sunk so terribly low in morality, ethics and spiritual knowledge.’

 

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[1] ‘Hajj’, by Dr. Ali Shariati.

Prophet Ibrahim (as) and Imamate in the Holy Qur’an

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With the onset of another Hajj season, it is important to revisit the life the father of Monotheism and defender of the religion of Allah (swt), who lived in an age of darkness and ignorance and oppression (very much like today). He tried with all his being to stand in the way of the taqut (tyranny in all its forms) of his time, with absolute submission and complete awareness. Did he succeed, we’ll find out in the next post.

First, we have a duty as Muslims and followers of Prophet Ibrahim and Muhammad (upon them and their families be peace), to search within the Holy Quran for this doctrine we call Imamate (divine leadership), and look for its conditions and constraints and responsibilities. We have to assess whether it is continuous until the last day or temporary, and the implications of its continuity. 

From the Shi’ite point of view, Imamate (God-assigned leadership) is Allah’s bounty upon mankind by which the religion was perfected:

"Today I have perfected your religion and completed my bounty upon you, and I was satisfied that Islam be your religion." (Quran 5:3)

Imamate is the Grace (Lutf) of Allah which attracts mankind towards His obedience and keeps them away from His disobedience, without compelling them in any way. When Allah orders mankind to do something yet He is aware that either they can not do it, or it is very difficult for them to do it without His assistance, then if Allah does not provide His assistance, He would be contradicting His own aim. Obviously, such negligence is evil according to reason. As such, Grace (Lutf) is one of Allah’s character, and He is purified/exalted from inadequacy of lacking such attribute. In fact, the holy Quran states that: "Allah is Gracious to His servants…" (Quran 42:19).

The messengers of God were entrusted the responsibility of bringing new commandments from Allah to the people. They were warners as Quran testifies. However, some of the messengers were Also Imams/Guides. The successors of the last Messenger of God were not messengers/prophets, and as such, they did not bring any new massage nor did they cancel any of the regulations set by the Prophet (PBUH&HF). They just served as guides and guardians of religion. Their mission is to explain, elaborate Shari’a (Divine law) for the people. They clear up confusing things and events which may happen in each era. Also they are the only individuals who have the full knowledge of Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HF) after him, and as such, they are the only qualified people who can properly interpret the verses of the holy Quran and explain its meaning, as mentioned in Quran itself (See 3:7 and 21:7).[1]

Imamate in the different Schools of Thought

Two schools of thought hold very different views on what Imamate in Islam means. The first school deals with it solely as a political issue, limited to the concept of khalifah and political leadership of the ummah, with no religious, scientific or existential dimensions. This is the view of the followers of the Sahabah.

The Shi’a, on the other hand, believe that, like the prophets, a divinely appointed Imam should excel the community in all virtues, such as knowledge, bravery, piety, and should possess complete knowledge of divine law. If he does not, and Allah entrusts this high position to a less perfect person when a more perfect person is available, the inferior has been given preference over the superior, which is wrong rationally, and is against divine justice. Therefore no inferior person may receive Imamate from Allah when there exists a person superior to him. This necessitates an ever-enduring presence, since humanity remains in constant need of guidance towards its path to perfection. Therefore, to this school, it is unimaginable that this world remains devoid of an Imam at any instant in time. This school deals with Imamate in a complete Qur’anic approach, considering it a bounty and grace of Allah (swt) upon humanity by which the religion was perfected, and taking into account its existential, guiding, scientific, political and social aspects.

This first discussion hopes to make clear that Imamate:

  1. is continuous, irrespective of time

  2. is established and based on direct appointment by Allah (swt) and limited to a select few chosen by Him

  3. includes special qualities in line with the responsibilities of the Imam, like infallibility, special knowledge etc.

The main problem of the school of Sahabah with respect to Imamate, is that they went back and derived the defining laws for Imamate based on the historic context of the khilafat of the 3 that came after the Holy Prophet (saawa), and since their role (the khalifas) was limited to political leadership, it was logical to conclude that selection of a leader would be through consultation and election, since: this was something common amongst the arabs; and the government is a concern of the people, therefore requiring them to play an active role in it.

As a result they held that this leadership is temporary, since this position can only come into effect by election and the pledging of allegiance of the people. Therefore, the existence of the Imam rests upon this vital condition, without which there can be no Imam to lead the Ummah.

Imamate in the Holy Qur’an

Here I would like to address some questions we need to answer to arrive at a clear and undisputable conclusion on the issue of Imamate in the Quran:

  • What is meant by khilafah in the Qur’an? What are its conditions and limitations? What are the responsibilities of the khalifah?

  • Is Imamate continuous or broken (interrupted)?

  • If we prove that it is continuous, is it limited to a certain number of individuals or not?

  • If we prove that it is limited, how many Imams are there, and who are they? Have they been pointed out by the Holy Prophet (saawa)?

  • If the last of the Imams has been identified, is he alive or will be born at some point in the future?

If one studies the history of the prophets of God, he will find that they were from the same family. Allah, to whom belongs Might and Majesty, said:

وَإِذِ ابْتَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا ۖ قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي ۖ قَالَ لَا يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ

‘And when Abraham was tested by his Lord with certain commands and he fulfilled them. Then He said: Lo! I appoint you (Abraham) an Imam for mankind. (Abraham) said: And of my offspring (will there be Imam)? He said: My Covenant does not reach the wrong-doers (among them).’ (Quran 2:124)

Firstly, we learn from this verse that the Imamate is a matter that should decided by God Almighty, because in the verse of khilafah,

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً

‘And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth’ (Quran 2:30)

This verse shows that grammatically the khliafah is present at all times, since the verb ja’il (I am placing) is in present tense and indicates continuity, and this is confirmed by big scholars of tafsir Al Razi and Al Alousi. And when this verb is compared to other instances in the Qur’an, we find that it relates to Allah’s sunnah (swt), or divine decree, which means it is an existential act of God and cannot be changed or modified. Allah (swt) says ‘I am about to place a viceroy..’ and in the verse of Ibrahim above (2:124), He also says (I appoint you Imam …), therefore the Abrahamic Imamate is a divine decree and Allah’s decision, just as Prophethood is chosen by God Almighty, as in the verse:

اللَّـهُ أَعْلَمُ حَيْثُ يَجْعَلُ رِسَالَتَهُ

‘Allah knoweth best with whom to place His message.’ (Quran 6:124)

Therefore, there is no room in this Abrahamic Imamate for consultation or election or the phrase ‘extend your hand so that I can pledge allegiance’.

In another verse we find that the khilafah according to the Quran is not meant to be given to any individual in the general population, but is meant for a select few who have been given special divine knowledge (see also Quran 7:35):

هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَكُمْ خَلَائِفَ فِي الْأَرْضِ

‘He it is Who hath made you regents in the earth.’ (Quran 35:39)

Imamate given to Ibrahim (as) after Prophethood

Some scholars have tried to suggest that this status given to Ibrahim (as) is not Imamate but something else. What it is not, is Prophethood, since he was already given prophethood and Allah (swt) was already communicating with him. Also, in Quran 2:124, the verse shows that Ibrahim (as) has requested the Imamate for his progeny, which Allah (swt) didn’t grant him (the progeny) until a later stage in his life when he became an old man (see also Ibrahim:39, Hud:72 and Hijr:54). If this divine order of Imamate that was given to Ibrahim was at the beginning of his life before having been blessed with a progeny, he should have said ‘and of my progeny, if you bless me with a progeny?’, and he would be asking Allah (swt) for something he had no knowledge of.

This verse also indicates that this new status of Imamate was granted to Prophet Ibrahim (as) after the most severe and difficult test of sacrificing his son Isma’il (Quran 37:102-111). Therefore, it would not make sense for Prophet Ibrahim (as) to go through the most difficult tests and say this is to grant him Prophethood. This is confirmed by several famous and authentic tafsir and narrations, like Tafseer Al Kabir of Al Razi, Vol.4, pg42:

‘On the words in the aya ‘and of my progeny..’, he (Ibrahim) requested Imamate for his progeny mentioned by Allah (swt), so the verse would mean ‘Imamate would not reach the wrong-doers..’, and that on the surface the aya proves that this Imamate needs to be infallible overtly and covertly. We say: the Shi’a use this aya as proof for the infallibility of their Imams overtly and covertly. And we say: This is what the aya indicates, yet we do not take the covert infallibility into consideration, and the overt justice remains intact.’

Now, the last sentence is very strange, considering he agrees that the aya indicates the overt and covert characteristic of infallibility of the Imamate, yet he does not give a reason why he left out the covert aspect of it and settled with the overt justice! (Their testimony will be recorded and they will be questioned 43:19)

And in Tafsir of Al Tabari, Jami’ Al Bayan, Vol.2, pg 511, the scholar interprets the Imamate to be ‘a role model’:

‘And the scholars of interpretation differed … and others said the meaning of the Covenant is the covenant of Imamate, so the interpretation of the verse would be ‘I do not make of your children an unjust Imam to be a role model for my slaves’ , because it interpreted the ruler of emulation has been said here this Abtalna this possibility, this is the second resource.

This interpretation of the verse is not in line with the actual events and situation, due to the obvious fact that the father of Monotheism and Sheikh of the Prophets was already a prophet to his people, and someone of his stature to request the status of role model after being tested with such calamities is inconceivable and illogical.

The third reference is to be found in the tafsir of Ibn Kathir, Vol.1, commenting on the same verse he says:

‘The narration from Mujahid: who said, (on the verse) ‘My Covenant does not reach the wrong-doers (among them)’ means there cannot be an unjust Imam.’

So all of the scholars interpreted the Covenant as an Imamate. Therefore, if the Imamate is a covenant between the Imam and God, could it be reached by election and the Shura Council?

Abrahamic Imamate is Infallible

Most scholars agree that this Imamate in the Quran has to be infallible. The first reference to this can be found in Fakhr Al Razi’s Tafsir Al Kabir, Vol.4, pg 39, he says: ‘The aya indicates the infallibilityof prophets..’ , therefore irrespective of whether he interprets the ‘covenant’ to mean Imamate or Prophethood, he confirms that the aya indicates the infallibility of it. In the same tafsir of Al Razi, Vol.3, pg 10, where he is commenting on the verse 35 of Al Baqarah: ‘It is incumbent on the people to follow the Imam (in all aspects of religion and politics), and if he committed a mistake (or sin), they would need to follow him regardless, and that would be contradicting.’

Al Razi is saying that Allah (swt) ordered people to follow Ibrahim (as), and if he committed a sin, regardless how small, should they follow him or not? They cannot! Therefore, how can Allah (swt) order them to follow someone and forbid them at the same time? Then we have to conclude that this Imamate has to be infallible to avoid any contradiction in the aya.

Among those who also stated the infallibility, is Al Baydhawi in his tafsir ‘Anwar Al Tanzil wa Asrar Al Ta’weel’, known as Tafsir of Baydhawi, on the page referring to verse 124 of Al Baqarah, he says: ‘And this is proof of the infallibility of the great Prophets..’. And also Al Alousi in his ‘Rouh Al Ma’ani’ has indicated the same meaning.

Continuity of the Abarahamic Imamate

As shown above in verses 30 and 124 of Al Baqarah, that Ibrahim (as) requested the Imamate to continue through his progeny, which Allah (swt) agreed to on the condition that the unjust have no part in it, just as it is clearly stated in these verses:

وَتَرَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ فِي الْآخِرِينَ ﴿١٠٨﴾ سَلَامٌ عَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ ﴿١٠٩﴾ كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ ﴿١١٠﴾ إِنَّهُ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ﴿١١١﴾ وَبَشَّرْنَاهُ بِإِسْحَاقَ نَبِيًّا مِّنَ الصَّالِحِينَ ﴿١١٢﴾ وَبَارَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ وَعَلَىٰ إِسْحَاقَ ۚ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِهِمَا مُحْسِنٌ وَظَالِمٌ لِّنَفْسِهِ مُبِينٌ

‘And We left for him among the later folk (the salutation): (108) Peace be unto Abraham! (109) Thus do We reward the good. (110) Lo! he is one of Our believing slaves. (111) And we gave him tidings of the birth of Isaac, a prophet of the righteous. (112) And We blessed him and Isaac. And of their seed are some who do good, and some who plainly wrong themselves.’ (Quran 37:108-113)

Therefore, in Ibrahim’s progeny there exist the righteous and the those who plainly wrong themselves, and the above aya in Al Baqarah states that only the righteous can inherit the Imamate, so the Imamate has continued through the righteous progeny oh Ibrahim (as).

The question arises then: has the progeny of Ibrahim (as) been discontinued? No, it continued to our Holy Prophet Muhammad (sawaa). And did the Holy Prophet have a progeny of his own? Yes, he most certainly did, and it is continuous until the last day. So the Abrahamic Imamate has continued through the righteous and infallible progeny of Muhammad (sawaa), who are chosen by Allah (swt) directly.

Imamate in the School of Ahlul Bayt (as)

So from the above we see that even the Holy Quran contains a detailed view of Imamate, a view that is accurate and detailed, including the conditions stipulated by said

وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الْخَيْرَاتِ وَإِقَامَ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءَ الزَّكَاةِ ۖ وَكَانُوا لَنَا عَابِدِينَ

‘And We made them chiefs who guide by Our command, and We inspired in them the doing of good deeds and the right establishment of worship and the giving of alms, and they were worshippers of Us (alone).’ (Quran 21:73)

Some might argue that this verse is related to the Bani Isra’il. Yes it, this is the Abrahamic Imamate, where the conditions are continuing. These are the conditions and constraints. The Quran has given a complete system on the Imamate. Therefore, we as the followers of the Ahlul Bayt of Muhammad (sawaa), referred back to the Quran and investigated and contemplated on its verses. We then put these verses against the correct actions and narrations of our Prophet Muhammad (sawaa) (Nor doth he speak of (his own) desire. It is naught save an inspiration that is inspired, Quran 53:3-4) and (nd whatsoever the messenger giveth you, take it. And whatsoever he forbiddeth, abstain (from it), Quran 59:7), and asked:

‘Oh Prophet of Allah (swt), we read in the Holy Quran that the Imamate exists and that it is infallible and continuous, and when you are present you are the Imam and Imam of all Imams, then who are the Imams after you?’ He responds with the famous hadith: ‘The Imams after me are 12.’ So they are limited to a certain group, a group that succeeds the Holy Prophet (sawaa), not just any person or leader that comes along, the likes of Mu’awiyah and Yazid and Adbulmalik ibn Marwan. Is it logical that these kind of people succeed in the footsteps of the Prophet of Allah (sawaa)??

The narrations where the Holy Prophet indicated that his successors would be twelve, exceed 270 narrations from both schools of thought, or even more. Here are some examples:

In Sahih al-Bukhari (Arabic-English version), the tradition is as follows:

Sahih al-Bukhari Hadith: 9.329

Narrated Jabir Ibn Samura: I heard the Prophet saying, "There will be twelve commanders (Amir)." He then said a sentence which I did not hear. My father said, the Prophet added, "All of them will be from Quraish."

In Musnad Ahmad, the tradition is as follows:

The Prophet (PBUH&HF) said: "There shall be twelve Caliphs for this community, all of them from Quraish."

Reference: Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v5, p106

In Sahih Muslim, the traditions are as follows:

Narrated Jabir Ibn Samura: The Prophet (PBUH&HF) said: "The matter (life) will not end, until it is passed by twelve Caliphs." He then whispered a sentence. I asked my father what the Prophet said. He said, the Prophet added: "All of them will be from Quraish."

Sunni references:

Sahih Muslim, Arabic version, Kitab al-Imaara, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, v3, p1452, Tradition #5

Sahih Muslim, English version, Chapter DCCLIV (titled: The People are subservient to the Quraish and the Caliphate is the Right of the Quraish), v3, p1009, Tradition #4477

Again from Sahih Muslim:

The Prophet (PBUH&HF) said: "The affairs of people will continue to be conducted (well) as long as they are governed by the twelve men."

Sunni references:

Sahih Muslim, Arabic version, Kitab al-Imaara, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, v3, p1453, Tradition #6

Sahih Muslim, English version, Chapter DCCLIV (titled: The People are subservient to the Quraish and the Caliphate is the Right of the Quraish), v3, p1010, Tradition #4478

Also: The Prophet (PBUH&HF) said: "Islam will continue to be triumphant until there have been twelve Caliphs."

Sunni references:

Sahih Muslim, Arabic version, Kitab al-Imaara, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, v3, p1453, Tradition #7

Sahih Muslim, English version, Chapter DCCLIV (titled: The People are subservient to the Quraish and the Caliphate is the Right of the Quraish), v3, p1010, Tradition #4480

Again: The Prophet (PBUH&HF) said: "The Islamic religion will continue until the Hour (day of resurrection), having twelve Caliphs for you, all of them will be from Quraish."

Sunni references:

Sahih Muslim, Arabic version, Kitab al-Imaara, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, v3, p1453, Tradition #10

Sahih Muslim, English version, Chapter DCCLIV (titled: The People are subservient to the Quraish and the Caliphate is the Right of the Quraish), v3, p1010, Tradition #4483

More Sunni references of similar traditions:

Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v4, p501

Sunan Abu Dawud, v2, p421 (three traditions). Others such as al-Tiyalasi, Ibn al-Athir, etc.

And many more. Bear in mind that the writers and collectors of hadith like Bukhari were contemporaries of some of the Imams (as), and therefore we cannot be accused of placing these hadiths ourselves after the prophetic traditions became an actual fact.

So then we asked him, ‘O Messenger of Allah, what is their number, said: ‘Twelve’. We asked, ‘O Messenger of God, what is their parentage? He said: ‘They are of my offspring and progeny,’ because the Imamate only exists in the descendants of Ibrahim (as), it is impossible to be outside of his progeny, just as the Quran stated.

Then we asked the Messenger of Allah: ‘O Messenger of Allah your progeny are plenty, are all of them included? He said: ‘No, the progeny of my household,’ ‘But O Messenger of God we may on who it is, can you make it clearer for us?’ He then put a mantle on them, as it is in Sahih Muslim, and said: ‘By Allah, those are of my family (ahlul bayt).’

And further more he made them the equal of the Quran, "(‘Verily, I leave behind two precious things amongst you: the Book of Allah and my ahl al­bayt. Verily, the two will never separate until they come back to me by the side of the Pond. , which further proves their infallibility. [2]

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[1] See Shi’ite Encyclopedia at al-islam.org

[2] See http://www.al-islam.org/thaqalayn/nontl/index.HTM for a detailed study of this hadith